TCM TiVo ALERT
May 1–May 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (May 1, 3:45 am): Orson Welles' brilliant follow to Citizen Kane stars Joseph Cotten (one of film's greatest actors in only his second movie) as Eugene Morgan, a charming and successful automobile manufacturer in the early 1900s. Twenty years after he returns to town, Eugene falls in love with Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello), a former flame who is widowed. But Isabel's son, George (played by Tim Holt), steeped in his family's tradition and name, interferes in the love affair between his mother and Eugene, who want to marry. The film is beautifully shot with incredible acting and a compelling storyline about those who go to unbelievable lengths to keep their pride at the expense of their own personal happiness and of their families.
THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (May 6, 12:30 pm): Leslie Howard is perfectly cast as the title character in this film about the Scarlet Pimpernel, a mysterious hero who saves the lives of French nobles during the height of that country's revolution. Howard is an effete English nobleman who is so meek that even his wife doesn't suspect he is the heroic Scarlet Pimpernel. The storyline is entertaining and smart with a wry sense of humor, the film is fast paced and the acting is excellent. Howard's ability to go from the weak English aristocrat to the heroic Pimpernel is remarkable and makes this film a fun one to watch.
ED’S BEST BETS:
WHITE HEAT (May 1, 10:15 pm): Jimmy Cagney was never better than in this gangster saga of a psycho gang leader dominated by his mother. Edmund O’Brien is also great as the federal agent that goes undercover to help catch him. And don’t forget Margaret Wycherly in probably her best performance as Cagney’s mother. With Virginia Mayo as Cagney’s disloyal wife and Steve Cochran as gang member “Big Ed,” a man with big ideas and nothing else. It boasts one of the best endings in the history of film.
GALLIPOLI (May 2, 10:00 pm): Peter Weir’s masterpiece about the failed invasion of Turkey in World War I, recreates not only stirring battle scenes, but also the culture of patriotism and mythology that led a volunteer army of Australians and New Zealanders to fight in a European war that meant little or for both nations. Mark Lee and Mel Gibson are exceptional as the two Australian buddies who enlist, one out of patriotic fervor, and the other out of comradeship and a chance at glory and promotion. The Battle of Gallipoli is still remembered and commemorated today in Australia and New Zealand as “Anzac Day.”
WE DISAGREE ON ... IMITATION OF LIFE (May 1, 8:00 pm)
ED: C+. The professional wrestler known as The Rock used to have a slogan, “Know your damn role.” The slogan fits this remake of the 1934 original perfectly. This film is a lot slicker and boasts better production values than the original, but in the end it’s a maudlin, preachy, lifeless, and rather shameless piece of celluloid notable only for the performances of a talented cast. In this version, Lana Turner as a movie star replaces the hard-driving executive Claudette Colbert played. Lana is bad because she devotes so much time to her career that she neglects daughter Sandra Dee, who winds up playing patty cake with Lana’s boyfriend, John Gavin. Turner’s maid, Juanita Moore, is subservient, which is good (she knows her damn role) and has a daughter who can pass for white, as in the original. But the kid is ambitious and doesn’t want Mommy around to inform people that she is black (bad - she doesn’t know her damn role). The kid thus becomes the villain of the piece; she degrades her mother at every turn and ends up worrying Mother to death. Only then is the kid truly sorry, realizing she didn’t know her damn role. The film fits the classic definition of “contrived,” for I can’t buy into one second of this suds-filled melodrama. The original’s also no favorite of mine, but I can let it pass because of the time it was made. Back then it’s theme almost seemed liberating, as it pushed the African-American characters to the forefront with little or almost none of the usual stereotyping to common to films of that era. But this is the late ‘50s. We should be beyond that point in dealing with race relations, and the fact that Hollywood still doesn’t get it at this late point is yet another indictment against an industry that should have us looking forward rather than backward.
DAVID: B+. Ed makes a persuasive argument and I agree with some of his points. The film's cast is talented, actually very talented. As for the production values, they are exceptional, and the storyline holds a lot of promise. Based on those attributes, this movie should rate an A+. But for some of the reasons Ed articulated – I personally felt frustrated watching the supposedly enlightened Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) employing only "House Negroes" after making it big and never really treating her maid/best friend Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore), who is black, as her equal – I dropped it a full letter grade to B+. But make no mistake about it, this is a fine film with many levels of a sophisticated story shown in very subtle ways that the viewer may not pick up on them watching it one time. The most significant examples occur when Johnson is dying. In one case, Meredith is hugging Johnson as she dies and the camera shows for just a few seconds a photo behind them of the dead woman's smiling daughter, the same girl who rejected her mother's love because of her color. The daughter, Sarah Jane, is so light-skinned that she passes for white and enjoys the benefits of not being black except when people see her mother and reject the daughter. The other is while Sarah Jane is devastated by the passing of the mother – who died of a broken heart because of her daughter's rejection – she is also almost relieved, hoping that will change her life, which has already spiraled out of control. The movie's strength isn't in its attempts to show racial tension, but in its presentation of the breakdown of family bonds. Turner is the star and gets top billing. However the best performances come from Moore and Susan Kohner, who plays Sarah Jane when she's older.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.