TCM TiVo ALERT
December 8–December 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE FOUNTAINHEAD (December 8, 4:30 pm): That this movie was ever made is a surprise, particularly by a big studio – Warner Brothers – starring Gary Cooper and directed by King Vidor. That Ayn Rand, the author of the book of the same name, wrote the screenplay is a complete shock. For those not familiar with Rand, she was a novelist who wrote about "Objectivism," a political philosophy of individualism, rational self-interest, not contributing to society for the greater good, and to this day is the darling of Neo-Cons and Libertarians. This 1949 film is based on her 1943 book, "The Fountainhead," and is about Howard Roark (Cooper), a brilliant architect who works in a quarry as a laborer rather than practice his craft because he wouldn't have complete control over the buildings he wants to design. Interestingly, Rand agreed to write the film's screenplay only if she had complete control over it. (She did have to change a couple of things because of the Hays Code such making a rape scene into one of submissive passion, and having a character commit suicide rather than divorce as the latter was a no-no under the Code.) A fellow architect, with inferior ability, asks Roark to design a building. Roark agrees to even give the guy all the credit as long as the structure is built to his exact design. However, the firm that owns the building changes it so Roark purposely blows up the structure. He is arrested, goes on trial and defends himself by delivering a speech about his right to do what he wants with his building. Yeah, the story sounds ridiculous. But it's a fascinating film that looks into the passion and conviction of a principled man in a world with far too few principles. Cooper and Patricia Neal, who's character becomes his lover (and the two had a legitimate affair during the filming of this movie), are excellent. Vidor does a great job making the film believable enough to inform and entertain.
LARCENY INC. (December 9, 10:45 am): No one played Edward G. Robinson's mobster character for laughs better than Eddie G. himself. In this 1942 film, his character, J. Chalmers "Pressure" Maxwell gets out of prison after serving his time with plans to go straight. His dream of opening a dog racing track in Florida is thwarted when he's unable to get the financing because of his gangster background. But Pressure has enough money to buy a failing luggage store next to the bank that rejected his loan request. With the help of a couple of dim-witted buddies, Jug Martin (Broderick Crawford) and Weepy Davis (Edward Brophy) – great criminal flunky names! – they start digging underground to get to the bank's safe. One of the funniest scenes has them breaking a utility line and oil comes pouring out of the hole with Jug and Weepy, covered in the stuff, thinking they struck a gusher . While the luggage store is just a cover for their criminal plans, it becomes a very successful business. There's a secondary plot involving Pressure's adopted daughter (played by Jane Wyman) and an inept luggage salesman (played by Jack Carson) that is amusing, but takes a back seat to Eddie G.'s charisma and comedic skills.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE TALK OF THE TOWN (December 8, 1:45 am): A splendid, intelligent comedy written by Irwin Shaw and Sidney Buchman, directed by George Stevens, and brought to vivid life by Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Ronald Colman. Grant is Leopold Dilg, an anarchist who was framed and sent to prison. He’s escaped and hiding in the home of childhood friend Nora Shelley (Arthur). She has rented the house for the summer (and acts as cook-housekeeper) to renowned Harvard law professor Michael Lightcap (Colman). It’s a battle of wits and philosophy between the radical humanist Dilg and the conservative book-bound Colman, and not a word of dialogue is wasted. Arthur acts as mediator, showing Colman’s character that there is more to the law than is contained in the books, as Colman comes to the realization that 100 years of precedents is not the be-all and end-all of justice. Look for Glenda Farrell in a wonderful performance as the local beautician who has important information about Dilg’s case and from whom Colman must get that information (in a wonderfully comic scene), and Edgar Buchanan as Dilg’s lawyer.
THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (December 9, 10:30 pm): When one looks up the term “action picture,” a still from this film should be under the definition. Quite simply, this is the role Errol Flynn was born to play, and he’s quite good in it. Give him such villains to play against as Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone, and this film just can’t be beaten. Olivia de Havilland shines as Maid Marian, with Una O’Connor and Herbert Mundin in fine form as the comic relief. The best thing about the film is its refusal to take itself seriously, which amps up our enjoyment even more. Michael Curtiz directed with a nearly flawless style. It’s simply one of those rare films I can watch over and over without growing bored.
WE DISAGREE ON ... BULLETS OR BALLOTS (December 12, 2:45 pm)
ED: B-. Bullets or Ballots is a pretty good movie. Any film starring Eddie G. and Joan Blondell has to be good. But it’s not that good. Yeah, the vastly underrated Barton MacLane shines as the main heel, but there’s Humphrey Bogart, again being wasted as MacLane’s toadie as yet another one-note supporting character. And this film came right after his breakout performance in The Petrified Forest. It would mark the beginning of a few years stretch in which Bogart essentially played the same criminal character. Nor was it one of Eddie G.’s favorite flicks. He noted in an interview long ago that fans assumed that he rose in the morning, got dressed, ate breakfast, and then shot Humphrey Bogart before going to work. No, this is a film where the cast is good, the script relentlessly ordinary, and the direction lacking.
DAVID: A-. This is a classic gritty Warner Brothers gangster film with all of the right elements. Bullets or Ballots (1936) is the first of five films to team Edward G. Robinson with Humphrey Bogart. Eddie G. is great as a police detective who goes undercover to infiltrate a gang that includes Bogie, who is suspicious of the supposed ex-cop. Bogart shines as the calculating bad-guy character he perfected before becoming the anti-hero a few years later. Joan Blondell is her typical excellent self, and Barton MacLane gives one of his best performances. The ending, in which both of them get it to comply with the Hays Code, is somewhat of a let-down. But the film packs a lot of action and snappy dialogue into 82 minutes, and is such a joy to watch. Based on the true story of a New York City cop, it's an underrated and lesser-known film. But it is must-see viewing for fans of the Warners gangster film genre and lovers of classic movies for the first-time pairing of Robinson and Bogart. Myah!
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.