TCM TiVo ALERT
September 1–September 7
DAVID'S BEST BETS:
BEING THERE (September 3, 8:00 pm): Peter Sellers was known for his versatility as an actor. He often played more than one character in films and could easily go from maniacal to subdued while always being interesting. Being There is one of Sellers' last films and his finest role. He is a simple-minded gardener in this 1979 film who learns everything from watching TV. One circumstance leads to another and Chance (Sellers) ends up being an adviser to the president of the United States with what he says interpreted to be brilliant advice. It is a clever, funny, heartwarming and beautiful. Melvyn Douglas as a wealthy businessman and adviser to the president is outstanding, and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Sellers was nominated for Best Actor, losing to Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer). During his acceptance speech, Hoffman said he couldn't believe he beat Sellers; neither can I.
PLANET OF THE APES (September 7, 8:00 pm): Along with 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968's original Planet of the Apes is the greatest science-fiction film I've ever seen. Whenever it airs, I stop everything and watch it even though I've seen it at least 50 times and I own the entire DVD collection of the original five Apes films. Charlton Heston is among a group of astronauts who land on a strange planet and come across mute and not intelligent humans. They think they're going to run the place in a few weeks. It turns out the planet is actually controlled by talking apes. The interaction between Taylor (Heston) and three key apes - Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter) and particularly Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) - are the keys to this movie. The ending is among the best you'll ever see. It turns out Taylor time traveled and landed on a post-apocalyptic Earth. So many of the lines are iconic, the makeup and costumes are incredible for its time (years ahead of its time), and the cinematography is amazing.
ED'S BEST BETS:
HITLER’S CHILDREN (September 4, 1:00 pm): There’s junk, and there’s junk, but this one is great junk. Bonita Granville is Anna, a German girl born in America. Tim Holt is Karl. He’s in love with Anna, but he’s also in the Hitler Youth. Guess what comes first? Anna, for her part, just doesn’t get the whole Nazi thing. Given a chance to be a good little Nazi and study at the University of Berlin, Anna denounces the system and the Fuehrer instead. It’s one thing to denounce the system, but the Fuehrer? You can guess what happens to Anna from here, but I will tell you there’s a great scene where she’s publicly flogged at a concentration camp. No surprise here, but this film was RKO’s biggest moneymaker for 1943.
SAFE IN HELL (September 5, 12:15 pm): This is one of the most adult of the Pre-Code films, and brutally frank to boot. Dorothy Mackaill is a whore in New Orleans who believes she’s killed one of her johns. So she hotfoots it to the island of Tortuga, where she can’t be extradited. Unfortunately, she’s stepped from the frying pan right into the fire, as Tortuga is a sanctuary for every kind of pervert imaginable. To say this is one of the seamiest movies ever made is a definite understatement. Leonard Maltin says it’s more astonishing than entertaining, but I disagree. This is great low-class fun, and Mackaill fits the part perfectly.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . OUR TOWN (September 2, 6:30 am)
ED: A. Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about life in the fictional New Hampshire town of Grover's Corners in the years 1900 through 1913 is one of the theater's best-loved examples of Americana. Producer Sol Lesser and director Sam Wood have turned it into a film, and a pretty good one at that. You see, it all depends on how you look at it. One thing is for sure - it can’t be taken at face value because it depicts an America that most likely never existed. In that respect it’s like the Hardy Family series. So we look at other aspects, such as the performances, the mise-en-scene, the art direction, the scoring, sound, and photography. The performances are superb, led by a young William Holden and Martha Scott, who came over from the Broadway production. The film also has a treasure-trove of excellent supporting actors, led by Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, Fay Bainter, and Stuart Erwin. It was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Scott). The score, by Aaron Copland, is memorable, and was also nominated, as was William Cameron Menzies for Art Direction. Wood is a competent, if unspectacular, director, whose job was to implement producer Lesser’s plan. A large part of that plan involves changing the end from tragic to happy. It’s 1940, and we’re pretty sure that World War II is only a matter of months away, so who needs a downer? Take it for what it is, enjoy the performances and revel in Holden, so young and full of life.
DAVID: D+. If corny, sappy, dated films about life in a small town that's about as authentic as a $3 bill is your thing, then Our Town is your movie. Only William Holden's performance and a nice musical score saves this film from being a complete bomb. But I'm not watching a movie for the musical score or to see a single actor do a good job. The play has probably been done by thousands of high schools nationwide during the past 75 years and I'm sure several of them are as "good" as this 1940 film. Among the most annoying aspects of this movie is Frank Craven, the narrator who tells us more than anyone could ever want to know about the good people of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, during the early years of the 20th century. There's nothing interesting about the film and the characters. It's as if the film's plot is intended to be boring, and the folksy message beats the viewer over the head repeatedly to the point you give up hope of being entertained. In the play, Martha Scott's character, Holden's wife, dies during childbirth. In this film, she starts to drift into death, sees her deceased loved ones, remembers some of her memories and recovers to deliver the baby. Simply put: it's a bad movie.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.