TCM TiVo ALERT
January 1–January 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE ODD COUPLE (January 2, 8:00 pm): This is an excellent film though not as great as the television series primarily because the show is one of the five greatest TV programs of all time. The film, released in 1968, about two years before the TV show, follows the familiar storyline of divorced sportswriter Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) allowing longtime friend, Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon), a photographer recently separated from his wife, to move in with him. Oscar is a slob and Felix is a neurotic neat-freak. The interaction between Matthau and Lemmon, which is so good in so many films, is outstanding here, second to only to 1966's The Fortune Cookie, the first movie in which they're paired together. Lemmon's opening scene in which he repeatedly fails to kill himself is hysterically funny. No matter how many times I watch it, I can't stop laughing when Felix calls Oscar at Shea Stadium, where the latter is covering a New York Mets game, about not eating hot dogs at the ballpark because he's making franks and beans for dinner that night. The calls distracts and angers Oscar to the point he turns away from game and misses a triple-play. The comedic timing between Matthau and Lemmon is excellent. The first season of the TV show is largely taken from the film, including a number of failed attempts by Oscar to have a good time with the Pigeon Sisters because of Felix's longing for his wife.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (January 3, 3:00 am): The special effects in this 1981 science-fiction movie set in 1997 were cheap-looking when it was released. So what draws in the viewer? A great storyline with a solid, reliable group of actors - Donald Pleasence, Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton and Ernest Borgnine - in supporting roles. Also, Kurt Russell, the movie's star, along with Adrienne Barbeau and Isaac Hayes, who have key parts, give the performances of their cinematic careers. Manhattan is abandoned by the general population and turned into a no-rules maximum-security prison with one caveat - it's not really maximum security as there is no security at all. If you end up there, you're on your own. After terrorists hijack Air Force One, the president (Pleasence) crash lands his escape pod on Manhattan. The government determines the only way to retrieve him is to send in Snake Plissken (Russell), a former soldier turned outlaw, to the island to retrieve the president. He's got 24 hours to succeed and be a free man. If he fails, an explosive injected into his body will kill him. The film is fast, engaging and filled with action. It's certainly not a cinematic masterpiece, but it's a hell of a fun ride and a cult classic.
ED’S BEST BETS:
HORSE FEATHERS (January 1, 8:00 pm): It doesn’t get much better, or funnier than this, unless one counts Duck Soup. The only thing in the film funnier than Chico and Harpo passing themselves off as football players is Groucho as the president of the university. Add the drop-dead gorgeous Thelma Todd as the “college widow,” and we have a near perfect comedy. There are many great scenes in the picture: Groucho’s installment as college president, The Marxes in the speakeasy, where Groucho mistakenly recruits Chico and Harpo as “student-athletes,” the classroom scene, Groucho and Todd in the boat on the lake, and, of course, the football game. The only glitch in the film is that Zeppo has practically nothing to do but show up to remind us that there are four Marx Brothers. Just tune in and be prepared to laugh.
CHILDREN OF PARADISE (January 4, 2:30 am): Marcel Carne’s masterpiece about acting and the theater comes to television, and I couldn’t be happier. Filmed under rather daunting conditions in Occupied France in 1943-44, Carne didn’t release it until 1945, in part because of the scandal involving his star, Arletty, who was under house arrest due to her lengthy affair as Luftwaffe Colonel Hans Soehring’s kept woman; he thought that, if given enough time, it would blow over. It didn’t and he finally released the film in March 1945. Though the story is set in 1827 Paris and is about three men who vie for the affections of the beautiful artiste Garance (Arletty), there are coded politics contained within. One had to be exceptionally clever - and close-mouthed - to get it past the Nazis. And yes, it is a definite “must see.”
WE DISAGREE ON ... ON THE TOWN (January 7, 2:15 pm)
ED: A-. Produced in the Golden Age of MGM musicals, On the Town is a delight for the eyes and the ears. This musical about three sailors in New York City on 24-hours shore leave, marks an important departure in the history of the movie musical. Prior musicals were studio bound, never leaving the soundstage. Director Gene Kelly, who earlier managed to shoot a Brooklyn Bridge sequence in 1947’s It Happened in Brooklyn, wanted to shoot this film on location. However, the studio allowed him only a week of shooting, hence the breakneck pace of the movie, which often used hidden cameras for the crowd scenes. The other innovation Kelly made was to emphasize dancing over the singing. Hitherto, musicals were dominated by song, but On the Town is noted for its dancing, including the use of dance to advance the plot. From this point forward, dance became the driving factor in MGM musicals. Not that music was forgone entirely: though the songs “New York, New York” and “Come Up to My Place” were the only songs kept from Leonard Bernstein’s original score for the Broadway musical, MGM employed Betty Comden and Adolph Green to write new lyrics for some of the original songs, and Roger Edens wrote six new songs for the movie. All of this innovation and styling would have been for naught if the movie turned out to be a dud. Not to worry - On the Town is one of the best musicals in the history of Hollywood. The dance numbers meld perfectly into the plot and enhance the musical numbers. Having Frank Sinatra to warble five of the songs didn’t hurt, either. Were I to teach a course on the history of the Hollywood musical, this film would not only be featured on the syllabus, but would be lionized for the breakthrough film it was.
DAVID: C. As you can read from Ed's review, many cinephiles, particularly fans of song-and-dance films, love On the Town. It has a certain charm to it, but is vastly overrated and too over-the-top for me to consider it a classic. I consider it nothing more than an average movie with a few good moments. There's too much of an "aww, shucks, golly, gee whiz" feel to the film that it become a corny, very dated musical with dancing thrown in for good measure like Oklahoma! and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. There's a couple of problems with the song-and-dance focus - Gene Kelly wasn't much of a singer as he was more of a melodic talker, and Frank Sinatra was certainly no dancer. The plot is so predictable that the viewer knows right away that when the three sailors meet the three women with whom they fall in love that each is a fait accompli. The songs aren't good or memorable. The dancing by Kelly, Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller can be entertaining, but it's not enough to make me want to watch the movie again. The sailors are on 24-hour leave and looking for love. You would think that would make the film fast paced, and it is at times, and yet there are decent portions of it that drag like an anchor is tied to the movie.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.