Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for December 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


This month’s star is Hollywood icon Cary Grant. He’s been in so many memorable movies that it seemed as if he was always around. Born Archibald Alexander Leach in Bristol, England, he left school at age 14, and lying about his age and forging his father’s signature on a permission slip, Grant joined Bob Pender’s troupe of knockabout comedians, where he learned pantomime and acrobatics, and even the Cockney accent, as he toured the English provinces.

In July 1920, he was one of eight Pender boys selected to go to America for the Broadway show Good Times, which ran for 456 performances. When the boys returned to England, Grant stayed behind and worked various productions on the stage. In 1931, he signed with Paramount, where his name was changed to “Cary Grant.” His first film was This is the Night in 1932. It was Mae West who made him a star when she chose him to co-star in She Done Him Wrong (1933). West was taken with Grant’s combination of virility and gentlemanly manners. From there, Grant never looked back and become one of Hollywood’s most popular stars until his retirement at the age of 62. Many of his films are considered classics by film buffs around the world.

December 1 - We begin with a night of early Grant, starting with his first feature, This is the Night at 8:00 pm. Following at 9:30 and 10:45 are two films with Mae West, She Done Him Wrong, and I’m No Angel. Then, at 12:30 am, it’s the World War I drama, The Eagle and the Hawk (1933), followed at 2:00 am by 1932’s Hot Saturday. Rounding out the evening at 4:00 am is Suzy (1936), with Jean Harlow and Franchot Tone.

December 2: Two early morning flicks - The Toast of New York (1937) at 6:00 am, followed by the biopic Night and Day (1946) at 8:00.

December 8: A night of vintage Grant, beginning at 8:00 pm with An Affair to Remember (1957), with Deborah Kerr. At 10:00 pm it’s the classic Topper (1937), followed at midnight by the 1948 comedy with Myrna Loy and Melvin Douglas, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. At 1:45 am is the George Stevens directed classic, The Talk of the Town (1942), with Grant in the offbeat role (for him) of playing an anarchist framed for arson and murder. He is hiding out at the home of his friend Jean Arthur, who has rented her house for the summer to Harvard law professor Ronald Colman. It makes for a most thoughtful comedy, and one that will stick with the viewer for long afterward.

December 9: Again a spillover from the night before, with two films on the slate. At 7 am it’s the heartwarming Room For One More, followed by 1943’s wartime comedy/drama Mr. Lucky.

December 15: A slate of adventures, beginning with Grant as a submarine commander in 1943’s Destination Tokyo. At 10:30 am, the genre shifts to a war comedy with Howard Hawks’ I Was a Male War Bride (1948), with Ann Sheridan. At 12:30 am, it’s the classic adventure Gunga Din (1939), followed at 2:45 am by Howard Hawks’ 1939 Only Angels Have Wings.


December’s Friday Night Spotlight is dedicated to the films of overlooked director Charles Walters. Walters began his Hollywood career as a choreographer, and was given a break as a director with the 1947 musical Good News. The movie was a hit, and Walters went on to helm some of the finest MGM musicals of that golden age of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, when every film that came off the assembly line was a hit.

December 5: We begin with Good News at 8:00 pm, and go on to 1948’s Easter Parade with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire at 9:45. Then at 11:45, it’s the reunion of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in The Barkley’s of Broadway (1948). At 1:45 am, it’s The Belle of New York (1952), and a rare non-musical, Three Guys Named Mike (1951) at 3:15.

December 12: We begin with Judy Garland in Summer Stock (1950) at 8:00 pm. At 10:00 pm, it’s Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer in the delightful Lili (1953). Esther Williams proves she’s Dangerous When Wet (1953) at 11:30. At 1:15 am, it’s Joan Crawford in the overwrought romantic musical Torch Song from 1953, and finally, Esther Williams and Red Skelton in 1951’s Texas Carnival.


Thursdays in December are dedicated to Christmas Classics with some of our holiday favorites scheduled for us to enjoy.

December 4: Start at 8:00 pm with the wonderful Barbara Stanwyck/Fred MacMurray Remember the Night (1940). Boasting a witty screenplay by none other than Preston Sturges, MacMurray is an assistant D.A. who, rather than send shoplifter Stanwyck to jail for the holiday while awaiting trial, takes her home with him for the holiday. He first tries to take her to stay with her mother in Indiana, but her mother wants no part of her. So he takes her to his childhood home for a very merry Christmas where they fall in love. Sturges said of the movie that it “had quite a lot of schmaltz, a good dose of schmerz and just enough schmutz to make it box office."

Next up are Stanwyck and Gary Cooper in Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (1941) at 10:00 pm. Then it’s Garland and Van Johnson in MGM’s In the Good Old Summertime (1949) at 12:15, followed by one of the greatest Christmas films - Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien starring in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at 2:15. Garland sings what later became a holiday standard, “Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas” in this heartwarming slice of turn-of-the-century Americana.

December 11: The picks tonight begin with Ernst Lubitsch’s Holiday classic, The Shop Around the Corner (1940) at 8:00 pm. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan star as co-workers who have no idea that they are secret romantic open pals. At 9:45, it’s Robert Mitchum and Wendell Corey wooing war widow Janet Leigh in 1949’s Holiday Affair. And at 11:30, Monogram Studios makes a contribution to the season with It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947), starring Victor Moore, Don DeFoe, and the lovely Ann Harding. Lay aside any prejudice against the Poverty Row studio and just sit back and enjoy. It’s a good movie.


December 2: Warren William is always fun to watch, and beginning at 10:15 am, TCM is running a slew of his films, beginning with the funny political satire Dark Horse (1932), with Guy Kibbee and the young Bette Davis. Following at 11:45 is the naughty Pre-Code Under Eighteen (1932) with Marian Marsh. At 1:15 pm, it’s The Woman From Monte Carlo, a rather ordinary programmer save for the fact that it’s the only American appearance of German actress Lil Dagover, who was most famous from 1919’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. At 2:30 pm, it’s Don’t Bet on Blondes (1935) with Claire Dodd and Guy Kibbee, and we end with 1946’s Fear, from Monogram, at 3:30 pm. William is a detective who uses psychological means to wring a confession out of suspect Peter Cookson.

December 3: A night of Ingmar Bergman classics, featuring the films we’ve seen and loved over the years. It begins at 8:00 pm with Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). Following in order are Wild Strawberries (1957) at 10:00, The Seventh Seal (1957) at 11:45, Through a Glass Darkly (1961) at 1:30 am, Winter Light (1962) at 3:15 am, and the rarely seen The Silence (1964) at 4:45. For those new to Bergman, all are worth the time. Just check the synopsis in the TCM TiVo Alert and choose.

December 12: A mini-marathon of Edward G. Robinson begins at 7:30 am with 1930’s The Widow From Chicago, worth catching for Robinson’s performance. At 8:45, it’s Smart Money from 1931, the only film where both Robinson and James Cagney appeared together. Also on the slate is Tiger Shark from 1932 (10:15), directed by Howard Hawks and remade several times by Warner’s; Bullets or Ballots (1936) with Joan Blondell and Humphrey Bogart at 2:45 pm; Kid Galahad (1937), with Bette Davis and Bogart; and The Last Gangster (1937) at 6:00 pm.


December 11: We could call this morning and afternoon mini-marathon “The Women of Psychotronica.” It starts at 8:15 am with a film I’ve never seen before, Miss Robin Crusoe from 20th Century Fox (1953). It’s a distaff take on Defoe’s classic story with Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke) as a shipwrecked woman fighting to survive on a desert island. Rosalind Hayes is Friday, and George Nader is along for the ride as Jonathan. The only thing I know about it - and the reason I’ll be tuning in - is that it’s said to be a laff riot. And that’s enough of a recommendation for me.

At 9:30 am, it’s Island of Lost Women from WB (1959), with Jeff Richards and John Smith as downed flyers that find themselves trapped in a reclusive scientist’s estate. He happens to have three beautiful daughters living with him, so take it from there.

Hammer takes over at 11:00 am with the study Prehistoric Women, a laff riot from 1967 with Martine Beswick as the queen of the evil brunette tribe that hold blondes as slaves. Great stuff.

It’s Hammer again at 12:45 with The Viking Queen (1967). Don Murray is a Roman captain who tries to stop his troops and the Druids from destroying a Briton settlement ruled over by the titular character, Salina, played by the equally singularly named Carita. This woman has all the screen presence of the Invisible Man and is a hoot to watch emote on the screen. Hammer had big plans for her, but everything fizzled with this movie.

Hammer had better luck with the 2:30 pm film, She (1965) because they had the good sense to star Ursula Andress as the immortal queen. It’s by no means a screen classic, but it is a lot better than the 1935 RKO original. Unfortunately, Hammer didn’t know when to quit and followed this film up with the wretched 1968 The Vengeance of She, in which the queen of the lost city possesses the body of a young innocent, played by the immortal Olinka Berova, a Czech actress best known for films in her home country. If she was trying to make a name for herself in the English-speaking world, she should have tried something else.

The day ends at 6:15 with the film that made Raquel Welch the poster girl of teenage boys everywhere, Hammer’s One Million Years B.C. (1966). Raquel is Loana, a sexier version of Wilma Flintstone. Her rival is Nupondi (Martine Beswick), and yes, they get into the inevitable catfight. There’s also animation by Ray Harryhausen, though the producers ran out of money and reverted to the old lizards-with-horns glued on in one scene. The dialogue never gets beyond grunting, but who cares? Raquel sports a fur bikini, which is enough to get us to tune in.

December 13: TCM Underground gives us a double feature of psychotronica, beginning with the absurd The Manitou (1978) at 2:30 am, and followed by the sublime The Beast With Five Fingers (1946) at 4:15. The latter’s plot is the old chestnut of a murdered pianist’s hand returning to wreak revenge, but it’s never been done better. Robert Alda stars, but Peter Lorre walks away with the movie as the late pianist’s secretary. Luis Bunuel asserted he wrote the screenplay but both director Robert Florey and the producers disputed Bunuel’s claim.

Friday, November 28, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for December 1-7

December 1–December 7


TRILOGY OF FAITH (December 3, 1:30 am): To me, there is no greater or more important film director than Ingmar Bergman. TCM is showing six of his films on December 3, starting with Smiles of a Summer Night at 8:00 pm, a very funny film from someone whose body of work featured few comedies. After that are Bergman's two best-known pieces, Wild Strawberries at 10:00 pm and The Seventh Seal at 11:45 pm. For those who have never seen a Bergman film, these are his most approachable and among his finest, and I would highly recommend watching them. For those who have seen those and other Bergman movies, and are looking for more, the three films that follow The Seventh Seal, know collectively as the "Trilogy of Faith," are essential viewing. It starts with Through a Glass Darkly at 1:30 am, followed by Winter Light at 3:15 am and The Silence at 4:45 am. Rather than give you a short synopsis on each of the films, I urge you to click here and read my analysis and thoughts on the three.

ROLLER BOOGIE (December 6, 2:00 am): Yeah, this 1979 film is awful, and one that's I've wanted to write a Train Wreck Cinema article about for a long time. The plot is unbelievably terrible, including the male lead wanting to be an Olympic roller skater. High-society girl Linda Blair resists at first, but eventually falls in love with him while he gives her skating lessons. Along the way, they foil a plan from mobsters who wants to buy their favorite roller-skating rink. It's laughably awful, but a film that I can never not watch when it's on. Easily the best scene is toward the beginning with the rink filled with dancers getting down to Earth, Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland."


SHE DONE HIM WRONG (December 1, 9:30 pm): Mae West at her absolute peak as she adapted her Broadway hit, “Diamond Lil” into a film. Mae is Lady Lou, a saloon singer and nightclub owner in the gay ‘90s who has more men friends than she can count. Unfortunately, one of them is a jealous criminal who has escaped and is looking for his lady, not knowing she hasn’t exactly been faithful in his absence. For her part, though, Mae is more interested in seducing young Captain Cummings (Cary Grant), a local temperance league preacher. It’s filled with hilarious double entendres and ribald situations, including the song, “I Wonder Where My Easy Rider’s Gone?” This film not only rescued Paramount Studios from bankruptcy, but also spurred the formation of the Legion of Decency. Not a bad day’s work.

I’M NO ANGEL (December 1, 10:45 pm): Mae West again, and why not? This is another gem. Mae is Tira, a circus sideshow entertainer whose real talent is luring men backstage after the show and swindling them out of money and jewelry. Cary Grant is Jack Clayton, a millionaire victim of Tira’s who is the only man to win her heart. The plot makes little sense, but go with it; after all, we’re not tuning in to see an intricate plot, but to see the great Mae West in action before the bluenoses shut her down. And there’s much to see with Mae’s one-liners flying around, lines such as “It’s not the men in your life, it’s the life in your men,” and “When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.” That’s the Mae West we want to see.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . ADVISE AND CONSENT (December 5, 8:15 am):

ED: B-. The early ‘60s saw a slew of political intrigue and conspiracy movies: The Manchurian CandidateSeven Days in May, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man,Fail-Safe, and Dr. Strangelove. Compared with these heavyweights, this is one of the weaker movies of the bunch. Now I’m not saying this is a bad movie; it’s not. It boasts an excellent cast and a good script. However, the one failing is the direction by Otto Preminger, which tends to be stilted at times. Also, in comparison to The Best Man, which covers much of the same territory, it pales in comparison. Hence the grade.

DAVID: A-. This 1962 film about the confirmation process of a secretary of state nominee (Henry Fonda) was ahead of its time. Having the president (Franchot Tone) dying while the proceedings are occurring is overdramatic, but the storyline rings true with politics of later years that saw and still see numerous presidential nominees have their entire lives scrutinized just for the sake of partisanship and not for the betterment of the country. The cut-throat style of politics shown in this film is about as authentic as it gets. It relies a lot on dialogue, but the script is so good that it elevates the quality of the film. Add the excellent all-star cast  Fonda, Lew Ayres, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford and Burgess Meredith (in a small but memorable role)  and great directing by Otto Preminger, who makes the viewer feel like a Washington insider, and you get a film that's interesting, intelligent and compelling.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Theory of Everything

Dinner and a Movie

The Theory of Everything 1200 Miles Away

By Steve Herte

It’s been six years since I lost my girlfriend, Helene, to cancer. We knew each other intimately for almost 35 years. She was my dinner companion, my fellow movie critic, my duet partner; in short, my everything. We did everything but get married. She was married once for a short time, and we knew that, although we were otherwise compatible, that we weren’t compatible when it came to marriage. She was an “Oscar” and I’m a “Felix,” if you know what I mean, and those two types can never co-habituate for any lengthy period of time. Still, not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.

At this week's karaoke night, I did my annual tribute to Helene, as November 14th was the anniversary of her passing. I had with me a list of songs she loved to sing. "We Built This City" by Starship, "I Want a New Drug" by Huey Lewis and the News, and "Sussudio" by Phil Collins were appropriate selections. It was Helene who introduced me to karaoke a long time ago at a restaurant called Casey's Café in Brooklyn (no longer in business). I was nervous. It was the only place where the audience would "Boo" if you were bad. But I was well-received and the rest is history. Then one day we discovered, through a mutual friend, Muldoon's bar and the karaoke host, David Swirsky. Dave so impressed us that we followed him when he moved to Gabby O'Hara's, where I've sung ever since.

As to movies, we never missed a movie featuring Bill Murray, John Goodman or Gene Hackman (her favorites), and she was tolerant of my love of animation. If the movie involved water, such as Deep Impact or The Perfect Storm, we were there (she was a Pisces). She loved trying new foods and would have totally enjoyed my Friday night this week. I hope you do too. Enjoy!

The Theory of Everything (Focus Features, 2014) Director: James Marsh. Writers: Anthony McCarten (s/p), Jane Hawking (book). Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior, Sophie Perry, Charlie Cox, Finlay Wright-Stephens, Maxine Peake, Harry Lloyd, Alice Orr-Ewing, David Thewlis, Thomas Morrison, Michael Marcus, Gruffudd Glyn, Paul Longley, Emily Watson, Guy Oliver-Watts, & Simon McBurney. Color, 123 minutes.

Now the Academy Awards ceremony has a contest! If not for the fact that after two weeks of playing in New York nearly every seat in the theater I was in was occupied, but for the superb acting of the entire cast. Mostly it is for the incredible performance of Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. Not since Heath Ledger’s Joker have I been so convinced and slack-jawed by a portrayal.

Based on the book My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking, this film begins in 1963 at Cambridge University, just before she met Stephen Hawking. Even though her girlfriends warn her about “scientists” and how strange they are, when Stephen speaks to Jane (Jones), she’s attracted to him from the first.

The relationship grows despite the fact that he prefers not to dance at the Spring Ball and triumphs in his achieving his doctorate in a dissertation on black holes and singularities. Then the ALS that has dogged his life makes its first effects known in a terrifying fall on the pavement of the quad. Called “motor-neuron disease,” the doctor gives Stephen two years to live, but Jane still wants to marry him and fight it.

The marriage is one of the happiest days in his life but the degenerative disease progresses. Jane and he have a son and a daughter before the nearly total paralysis takes over and he’s wheelchair-bound. An electric wheelchair operated by a joystick helps give him more mobility and takes some of the burden off Jane.

The wear and tear of the job of caring for her husband as well as the two children shows and her friend recommends Jane join the church choir, where she meets Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Cox) who not only lifts her spirits, but becomes a friend of the family and actually helps out at home. It’s not until Jane and Stephen’s second son arrives that the talk begins. “Is it Stephen’s or Jonathan’s?” And Jonathan decides to step back.

Stephen is invited to a concert in Bordeaux. He flies there by plane but Jane (who hates flying), Jonathan and the two first children travel by car. Stephen is hospitalized by a seizure at the concert and, when Jane arrives she is told that only a tracheotomy will save him. However, he will lose the capability of speech. Given all the options, and being a fighter by nature, she chooses the tracheotomy.

Conversations have now become extremely difficult, and Jane uses a color-coded “letter board” to speak to Stephen. He, in response to the color, raises his eyebrows to indicate which letter he wants. It’s a slow and tedious method. They hire Elaine Mason (Peake), who, by virtue of her enthusiasm (and good looks) connects with Stephen and succeeds in communicating with him.

Soon a new invention is added to Stephen’s wheelchair – a computer with a monitor and a “clicking” device whereby Stephen is able to construct entire sentences and speak them, albeit robotically. (“It’s American! Don’t you have any other voices?” Jane asks.) But at least Stephen now has a voice and a way to write his book. Originally he entitles it “A History of Time,” but realizing how long it takes to write it using the device, he inserts “Brief” before “History” and it becomes a best seller.

Stephen and Jane drift apart as Elaine becomes closer, and he invites Elaine to fly with him throughout America for a lecture tour. (Actually, more of a question and answer session.) In answer to one question about the fame and fortune he responds, “I was recently asked if I was the real Stephen Hawking and I told them no. The real Stephen Hawking is much better looking.” But when asked about how he deals with the concept of God, he hesitates for a long time before giving a brilliant answer that neither accepts nor denies the existence of a creator.

The film starts and ends with a scrim-shot of the family reunited and about to be presented to Queen Elizabeth II, and Stephen Hawkings’ receiving a knighthood. In the formal garden after the ceremony, Jane thanks Stephen for including her in the presentation and tells him he can always refuse the knighthood. Electronically, Stephen says, “Look what we made,” as they watch their children, Robert (Prior), Lucy (Perry) and Timothy (Wright-Stephens) play on the grounds.

Director James Marsh is to be commended on a wonderfully constructed movie, including his reversal of time through previous scenes at the end. The cinematography was excellent and the soundtrack appropriate for the emotional content of the scenes. In two hours and three minutes I gained a new understanding and respect for Stephen Hawking from the story. The movie is definitely for adults and children able to understand what is happening. Young children will be bored with it. But it will attract several award nominations and probably win a few.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

1200 Miles
31 West 21st Street (bet. 5th and 6th Aves.)New York

I’m glad I keep a database of all the restaurants where I’ve had the pleasure (sometimes not) of having dined, because the feeling of déjà vu crops up more and more. Thankfully, in this case it proved to be false. 1200 Miles may look like other restaurants from the street – large window on the street with the name in gold lettering and white-washed nouveau classical masonry surrounding the entrance but inside it’s a minimalist, sleek, almost antiseptically white expanse with dark hardwood floors, splashes of color here and there, and black pipe railings on the stairways. The unobtrusive lights appear bright because of the reflection from the glazed white brickwork on the north wall next to the bar.

The young lady at the Captain’s Station led me to table near the back with a comfortable banquette on one side and a chair on the other. The lighting was almost ideal. I did need the votive candle on the table to read certain things on the menu but it was not dark. She left me the menu card with cocktails and beverages on the reverse side and the wine book.

My waiter, a genial young man, took my water preference and asked if I wanted a cocktail. I had not even looked at either menu, so he left to give me more time. When he returned I triumphantly announced that I would like to try the “Smoking Pistoleros.” He grimaced slightly and told me they ran out of the Mezcal ingredient. But I had a backup. I ordered the drink called “A Pear Grows in Amsterdam” – Bols Genever gin, Warwick Farms pear liqueur, St. Elizabeth allspice dram, lemon, egg white, angostura. He brought me the drink in a small tumbler. The egg white formed foam on top of the golden potion and one taste proved it to be an excellent Holiday (especially Autumnal) drink. Usually pear-flavored cocktails taste like medicine but not this one. It was pleasant, sweet and slightly spicy in a pumpkin pie sense.

My waiter sang the praises of the duck entrée and the special appetizer of the evening, and I had to agree they both sounded tempting. But I was in the mood for something radically different. I explained that I wanted to make it a three-course dinner, that I had the appetite to do so and all the time in the world so that it would not be rushed. He understood.

I saw the wine first, a 2013 Chenin Blanc ‘Clarksburg’ The Terraces by Quarry vineyards, Napa California. I’ve loved Chenin Blanc since the sixties and it was a delightfully crisp, light wine to go with my meal choices.

The first course was listed simply as “Soup” – Vegetables (i.e. green and wax beans, carrots, and others), chicken minestrone, small elbow-shaped pasta, consommé, pesto –on the menu. “This is one soup?” I asked. “You’re not the first one to ask that question,” he said. “Yes, it is.” It was a tomato-y red and the basil accentuated the combination of tender vegetables and pasta to make a totally unique experience. It wasn’t just minestrone, or consommé; it was all of the above.

If you’ve been following my articles you know I love pasta and the second course was exactly that. The Agnolotti of Butternut Squash – on a Swiss Chard fonduta (a Fontina cheese), stem pickle, garnished with Fiore sardo (grated Pecorino cheese) and candied orange zest – proved to be three lovely al dente pockets filled with sweet creamy squash on a beautiful green cheesy bed. It was so good I forgot I had a delicious wine to go with it.

When my waiter placed a steak knife on my table after removing the previous dish I should have gotten a clue that something was amiss, but I said nothing. Then, when another server brought the perfectly prepared, mouth-wateringly arranged duck entrée, I knew. “This is fish?” “No, it’s duck.” “But I ordered the Rockfish.” He took the dish away.

After multiple apologies from my waiter and an acknowledgment from myself that maybe I should talk nasally and loud like Fran Drescher (most of the patrons spoke that way – it was horrendously noisy in the restaurant), we were at an understanding and he assured me my entrée would not take long.

The Grilled Rockfish – padron peppers, Romanesco broccoli, savory tomato jam, and herbs – was worth the wait. The flaky, tender fish had a delicate, buttery flavor by itself but mixed with the spicy sauce it was heavenly. I contemplated a side dish when I saw the beautiful French fries on the next table but was glad I didn’t. The dish filled me nicely, but not enough to not have room for dessert.

The Banana Brûlée – steamed banana-hazelnut cake, warm chocolate ganache, hazelnut gelato - was not anything like a Crème Brûlée, but was similarly prepared. The dish was made upside down, sliced bananas on the bottom with a ring of cake containing the ganache filling the middle, and the caramelized crust on top. It was served inverted with the homemade gelato and nuts. Wonderful.

I decided to have an after-dinner drink rather than coffee and the menu provided the option called Chocolate & Spice – Michter’s rye, Chopin chocolate liqueur, Ramazotti Amaro, green Chartreuse, velvet falernum (a sweet Caribbean syrup – flavors of almond, ginger & cloves), whole egg, cardamom bitters, and cinnamon. Holiday time again! The drink brought warm thoughts of a fireplace at Christmas time with snow-coated evergreens outside while sipping eggnog. I was happy.

1200 Miles has been open for a little over a year and I learned that the name is the distance from France to Algiers. I guess I’ll just have to return to try that incredible duck dish. Maybe I’ll change my speech pattern. When I spoke to the couple at the next table the gentleman said that he thought I was from New Mexico. Hmmm.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Lion: King of the Beasts and the Silver Screen

By Steve Herte

I can anticipate the first question: Why write about lion movies, that is, movies featuring lions? I can only answer that it all goes back to childhood. Animals always fascinated me; as a child I was surrounded by the stuffed representations relatives gave me as crib and later bedmates. However, as I grew older, it was the big cats that caught my attention. And of the big cats, the most majestic is the lion. I was always glued to the television set whenever a wildlife show was on, and when the show featured lions, I was happier than a pig in mud.

There is something indefinably regal about the lion, and I’m not alone in that opinion. The philosopher Nietzsche was also fascinated with the lion, referring to it as the “blond beast” in his writings. (Many readers thought he was referring to Aryans, but it was indeed the lion, an animal Nietzsche revered for its strength.) Frankly, ever since I learned as a teenager that, according to the horoscope, I was a born under the sign of Leo (and at the time, I liked what I read about the sign as the characteristics all applied to me),  I have been collecting all things leonine. I have figurines in every medium from lead crystal to bubblegum, calendars, clothing, wall hangings, computer icons and sound effects, sun catchers and tableware, even a Pez dispenser, all of them representations of lions. When I visited Las Vegas, I stayed at the MGM Grand and was privileged to see Cowboy – perhaps the great great grandson (maybe another great is needed) of Leo the famous MGM lion who roared at the beginning of every film.

I’ve always made it a point to see any movie including or featuring lions, and was surprised that Kitty-cat did not have a cameo in the most recent Addams Family movie. When it was suggested that I compile a list of lion movies, I pounced on the opportunity, so presented here are my top 10 movies about or featuring lions. It was impossible to rank them from one to 10 because they are all great to me (especially the two that are actually trilogies).

Born Free (Columbia, 1966): A true story adaptation of the book by Joy Adamson about Elsa the lioness, an orphaned female cub raised to maturity by Adamson, but who must be trained to return to the wild. This one is a two-handkerchief movie that had me singing its theme song long after it left the theaters. I considered making it my personal theme song for a while, and Andy Williams performed it beautifully. The film is well made and follows the book (which I read later) pretty closely. Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers are excellent as Joy and George Adamson.

The Chronicles of Narnia (Buena Vista, 2005-2010): The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Prince Caspian (2008), and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  (2010): A wonderful adaptation of author C. S. Lewis’ series of fantasy novels set in the fictional realm of Narnia. Four siblings play hide-and-seek in a big house when the youngest, Lucy (Georgie Henley) hides in a wardrobe closet that opens onto the parallel universe of Narnia where the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) rules and has made winter the only season. She convinces her brothers Peter (William Moseley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and her sister Susan (Anna Popplewell) to join her in Narnia where they have adventures with talking animals, meet the enormous lion Aslan (who brings back the Spring to Narnia with the melodious baritone voice of Liam Neeson) and eventually become ruling kings and queens.

My favorite quote from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader spoken to Lucy by Aslan: “Things never happen the same way twice, dear one.”

The Ghost and the Darkness (Paramount, 1996): The notorious “Man-eaters of Tsavo” have been the subject of quite a few movies. This movie is a remake of Bwana Devil (U.A., 1952), the first American movie to be photographed in 3-D and color. It starred Robert Stack as Bob Heyward, the chief engineer on the East African railway project, who must go after the lions that have been killing off his workers.

The Ghost and the Darkness follows the same plot: A railway line is being constructed by the British to facilitate transport of goods between their African colonies but a pair of mane-less male lions team up against them. No matter what was done, or who was hired to rid the workers of this seemly supernatural pair, the lions evaded capture with an eerie intelligence. I found myself cheering for the lions. Before they were shot, they had killed 35 people over a nine-month period. When I saw them posed in the Field Museum in Chicago several years later, I learned that their mane-less condition was due to the thorny bush countryside in which they successfully camouflaged themselves. It had the net effect of literally tearing out their manes. This is the reason several people have mistaken them for females. Michael Douglas plays Charles Remington, the hunter hired by bridge engineer, Colonel John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer), who finally thwarts their uncanny attacks.

The Last Lions (National Geographic, 2011): A heart-rending documentary from the husband-and-wife team of Dereck and Beverly Joubert about a female lion and her cubs as she tries to keep them fed and safe from the many dangers in the African veldt, the most dangerous being that of poachers, who have depleted the lion population from half-a-million 50 years ago to only 20,000 today. Jeremy Irons narrates. The Jouberts emphasize the threat of poachers in decimating the number of lions while noting the lion’s pride of place on the list for eco-tourists, an industry that brings in $200 billion worldwide. The Jouberts also make a strong case for both our moral duty to protect lions (as well as other big cats like leopards, tigers, cheetahs, and pumas) and the economic benefit such protection would make. It is a difficult film to watch, especially for such an animal lover as myself. I have no idea how long it took to film this movie but several of the scenes were difficult to watch because they depict in graphic detail how brutal nature can be to the vulnerable cubs. One scene in particular shows the lioness abandoning a cub whose both rear legs were broken in a wildebeest stampede, but who calls pitifully to her while dragging itself forward.

Secondhand Lions (New Line, 2003): A comedy about a great way to spend a summer vacation! Haley Joel Osment plays Walter, a young boy whose mother Mae (Kyra Sedgwick) sends him off to the country to be cared for by his two eccentric uncles Garth (Michael Caine) and Hub (Robert Duvall). The irresponsible gesture turns out to be a positive influence on his development into manhood as he befriends a full-grown male lion living in the cornfield. Needless to say he isn’t shy at the end of the movie. Don’t ask why the lion is there. It’s just fun.

Madagascar 1, 2, & 3 (Dreamworks, 2005-2012): This animated series features the adventures of Alex the lion, Melman the giraffe, Marty the zebra and Gloria the hippo (respectively voiced by Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer, Chris Rock, and Jada Pickett Smith), who are convinced by a quartet of scheming penguins to leave the safe confines of the New York metropolitan zoo to return to Africa, but are accidentally re-routed to Madagascar instead. In the second installation they all leave Madagascar and finally make it to Africa where a different set of adventures await. In the third movie the bored penguins decide to leave Africa for Europe and the four main characters chase after them to keep them out of mischief. All wind up in a traveling circus whose final destination is New York.

The Lion King (Buena Vista, 1994): This heralded animated feature concerns Simba, a cub born to reigning Lion King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones), and who by birthright is destined to be the next Lion King. But Mufasa’s brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) conspires with hyenas to cause Mufasa’s death and convinces Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) that he was to blame for his father’s death. Simba goes into exile on his uncle’s advice while Scar takes over the pride. In exile Simba (Matthew Broderick – adult voice) meets Timon (Nathan Lane), a meerkat and his pal Pumbah (Ernie Sabella), a warthog, and lives the good life up to maturity until his childhood playmate Nala (now also mature and voiced by Moira Kelly) discovers him in the jungle. Love blossoms, and she tries to convince him to come back to Pride Rock and face Scar. But not until a celestial visitation from Mufasa does Simba return to vanquish the usurper. Throughout, the characters Rafiki (Robert Guillaume), a wise, old mandrill and adviser to Lion Kings, and Zazu (Rowan Atkinson), the harried avian care-taker and teacher of cubs, keep the film light with their comic antics.

I knew from the trailers that this movie would be, as Ed Sullivan would say, “Really big!” and would seriously augment my collection with leonine mementos, which it did. I saw the movie when it opened in Radio City Music Hall and the Broadway show in the New Amsterdam Theater while it was in previews in 1997. This resulted in two T-shirts, two baseball caps, several small figurines, a Mache sculpture and a Swarovski crystal Simba. I even went to see an exhibit of Julie Taymor’s costume designs at the World Financial Center before the Broadway show opened.

The Wild (Walt Disney Pictures, 2006): A young lion named Ryan (voiced by Greg Cipes) admires and idolizes his dad, Samson (Kiefer Sutherland) in a city zoo as he tells the tales of his exploits in “The Wild.” Ryan is accidentally shipped back to the wild and his dad, along with Bridget, a giraffe (Janeane Garofalo), Benny, a squirrel (James Belushi), Nigel, a koala (Eddie Izzard), and Larry, a snake (Richard Kind) have to go after him and bring him back. The Kicker – dad was born in captivity and knows nothing of being the King of the Jungle. They are taken captive by a herd of wildebeest led by the evil Kazar (William Shatner) who has decided not to be the prey anymore.  Both Samson and Ryan have to become the lions they really are to escape before the volcano blows.

African Cats (Disneynature, 2011): A docudrama featuring two stories – the parallel “growing up in Africa” stories of Leyla, the alpha lioness, and her single cub Mara in a pride of lions, and Sita, the cheetah (corny) with five cubs and their trials and tribulations while trying to wean their progeny. Leyla’s pride has six lionesses and one male “Fang” (he has one broken tooth and looks like a loser from the beginning, but he challenges a crocodile and wins). Across the river is Kali, an incredibly fit black-maned lion and his four sons “in their prime” (no females – can you guess where this is going?). The story shifts back and forth from Sita’s little family fending off hyenas (once unsuccessfully) and finding food, to Leyla’s injuries when kicked by a zebra and her exile from the pride when Kali and his boys take over. It’s an African tennis match, excellent photography throughout, including the expected Disney happy ending.

Samuel L. Jackson’s narration proves better than Jeremy Irons’ in The Last Lions, but he’s over-the-top dramatic and contributes several times to making a scene predictable. 

The Wizard of Oz (MGM, 1939): This movie made it into my top 10 because I could see it over and over again and still enjoy it. It’s not a “lion” movie per se, but the allegorical “Cowardly Lion” so beautifully played by Burt Lahr. Later, in 1975, the role was re-created in the Broadway Show The Wiz by Ted Ross. I admit, the concept of a lion being cowardly is distasteful but the story is a fantasy after all. When I read the book I learned of all the liberties Hollywood took with the story (ruby slippers showed up better on screen than silver slippers – corrected in The Wiz, and Glinda is introduced as the Good Witch of the North, not the South – also corrected in The Wiz) as well as the courageous deeds performed by the lion that were not included in the movie. One such instance was on the yellow brick road. In the book, the road was not always continuous and had increasingly serious gaps. At one point no one but the lion was able to jump the gap and he carried the others as he leapt across. Later, the gap was too large even for him and the Tin Woodman had to cut down a tree for them to cross. But I guess the movie would have been five hours long if all the side-stories were included.

With every Top 10 list there can also be additional movies that one might consider as runners-up. This one is no exception. In an inclusive list of “Lion Movies” these cannot be ignored. They vary in degrees of, shall we say, dignity? But with the invaluable help of my editors, I let you be the judges of their merit.

Clarence, the Cross-eyed Lion (MGM, 1965): I was 15 when I saw this comedy in the theater, but I remember it fondly. A lion unable to hunt because of its double vision is mistakenly accused of going after villagers but he is only scavenging food where he can. Dr. Marsh Tracy (Marshall Thompson) a veterinarian takes him to his study center and his daughter Paula (Cheryl Miller) adopts him. Together they foil a black market operation on transport of gorillas.

Later, the actually strabismic lion co-starred in the television show Daktari (1966-1969), a spin-off of the movie that starred Thompson and Miller in the same roles. Clarence provided many light moments to the serious business of saving animal life in Africa. The series got its title using the popularity of a John Wayne’s 1962 safari movie for Paramount, Hatari!.

The African Lion (Buena Vista, 1955): This documentary from Disney and narrated by Winston Hibler follows the three-year filming project of Alfred and Emma Milotte in Africa. Though lions figure in the movie, the bulk of the film encompasses the territory they “rule.” As with most Disney films, the narration at times tends to be too “cute” and the music tends to be overstated.

Zebra in the Kitchen (MGM, 1965): Feeling sympathy for the poor caged animals in the zoo, a young boy (Jay North) sets them free. Unfortunately the town isn’t too happy with wild animals turning up all over town. I can see why Jay got the part of Dennis the Manace. Directed by Ivan Tors and starring Martin Milner, Andy Devine, and Joyce Meadows. Not really a “lion” movie as such, but there is a lion in it.

Napoleon and Samantha (Buena Vista, 1972): Major, a former circus lion, cared for by a clown who moves to Europe is taken as a pet by two children (the title couple), and when Napoleon’s grandfather dies they refuse to let Major go. Instead they take him on a journey to a hermit friend of theirs and experience dangerous adventures along the way.

Hercules (Paramount, 2014): The latest attempt at filming a mythological hero features Dwayne Johnson in the title role. Though the hair looks good on him, the story is rather thin and vacillates between myth and reality. Of the Twelve Labors, only four are featured including the first, the killing of the Nemean Lion, which for five seconds was a great special effect. After that, Hercules must have washed the skin in hot water because it shrank severely (including the head), otherwise he never could have worn it.

The Lion (20th Century Fox, 1962): Here’s an interesting situation. Ex-wife Christine (Capucine) summons Robert Hayden (William Holden), a lawyer, all the way from America to East Africa to help raise their 11-year-old daughter, Tina (Pamela Franklin), whose best friend is a full-grown male lion named King that she’s had since it was cub. But what about hubby number two, John Bullitt (interesting name), played by Trevor Howard, who manages the game reserve they live on? We can easily imagine, especially as the love between the two ex’s rekindles.

Before Hayden arrived they were getting along well with the local tribe. But he saves the life of a dying chief left for dead by his people. A huge faux pas! The chief’s son, Oriunga (Paul Odour) has his ambition of taking over the chiefdom and marrying Tina dashed by the resurrection of his dad. Now he has to kill a lion to be chief and his sights turn to Tina’s pet. It doesn’t go well for him as Tina sics the big cat on him. Oriunga is fatally mauled, Bullitt kills the lion, and Tina turns from him to Robert as her father. With one bullet, Bullitt loses a wife and daughter as they both return to America with Robert. Hmm. Sounds like a moral. Don’t get divorced, and if you do, don’t move to Africa. That is unless you have Jack Cardiff as a director. Then all your scenery will be stunning.

Fluffy (Universal, 1965): Scientist Daniel Potter (Tony Randall) wants to prove that a wild animal can become a pet with the right training. (Okay…) His choice is Fluffy, an adult male lion. Look out suburbia! After realizing that he’s creating a mass panic with his neighbors he and Fluffy hole up in a hotel, where they meet the owner’s daughter (Shirley Jones). She’s the only one who is not intimidated by Fluffy. In fact, quite the opposite, she loves the two of them. But the fun really starts when circumstantial evidence gets Fluffy accused of man-eating and the three now find themselves on the run from the police. Not a laugh riot but a cute idea typical of the Sixties.

Pride (BBC TV movie, 2004): As I was watching this movie I was thinking, “How long did it take to make this film? Lions do not pose for you and act out a complete story.” It’s the story of a lioness cub named Suki (voiced by Kate Winslet) who leaves her pride to mate with a male across the river. She learns a lot about pride living there and eventually returns to her home pride to defend it against interlopers. Yes, they’re all real lions, but they’re speaking with the voices of Helen Mirren (Macheeba), Rupert Graves (Linus), Sean Bean (Dark), Martin Freeman (Fleck), Robbie Coltrane (James), Jim Broadbent (Eddie), and John Hurt (Harry). Matching the voices to the computer graphics allowing the lions to look like they’re talking is remarkable. That and the dangerously close photography kept the film from verging on silly.

Fearless Fagan (MGM, 1952): Based on the true story published in Life magazine in 1951 of Private Floyd C. Humeston, this story of a circus clown named Floyd Hilston (Carleton Carpenter) who raised a lion named Fagan from cub to gentle adulthood is endearing. Rather than leave his lifelong friend to a cruel lion tamer, he brings the animal with him when he’s drafted into the Army. At Fort Ord, he hides Fagan in the woods and sneaks off each day to be with him and play his favorite song, “The Loveliest Night of The Year” on the phonograph. At night, Fagan stays in Hilston’s van. His attempt to request time to find Fagan a home is dismissed as bunk by his sergeant.

When singer Abby Ames (Janet Leigh) arrives to entertain the base she has an opportunity to meet both Floyd and Fagan but her fear of Fagan makes her break her promise to Floyd and she tells Colonel Horne (Wilton Graff) and eventually, Floyd is arrested. The sergeant backs Floyd and is assigned the job of finding Fagan a home, but to no avail. Abby starts to like Floyd and, through her suggestion of publicity, the story makes front-page headlines and a nearby farm family agrees to take Fagan in. But when Fagan escapes and terrorizes the WACS in their base, they change their tune and Fagan is remanded to the lion tamer.

It’s not hard to guess what comes next. Fagan is mistreated and attacks the trainer but is injured and runs off. Only with difficulty do Floyd and Abby get him back to his cage. Floyd is hospitalized in the process and Abby takes Fagan back to Hollywood. Upon recovery, Hilston’s sergeant (Keenan Wynn) approves a leave of absence for Floyd to visit Abby and Fagan. He nearly has a heart attack when he sees a lion-skin rug on the floor but his fears are allayed when he goes out back and sees Fagan splashing in Abby’s pool.

The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (U.A., 1947): In his last appearance in a film, Harold Lloyd plays a kind of precursor to the Nutty Professor movies except he’s not a professor, just a mild-mannered laid-off bookkeeper with very little to live on. The “Diddlebock” is a cocktail that releases him from his inhibitions, and with his newfound courage, he buys a bankrupt circus. This comes with Jackie, the lion whom he brings when he tries to sell the circus to a banker. There is a particularly funny scene on the ledge of a skyscraper with Harold and his friend “Wormy” (Jimmy Conlin) and the lion.

Lions have shown up as a surprise element in many comedies. Just the presence of a huge male behind a closed door, calmly descending a staircase, or sitting quietly behind unsuspecting people can evoke a giggle. Then, when the lion belts out a roar and everyone scatters in fear the laughs really begin.

In The Circus (U.A., 1928), Charlie Chaplin escapes a horse by running into a lion’s cage at the circus. Fortunately the lion is sleeping, but Charlie manages to lock himself in. When he finds a small sliding door he thinks he’s free but it leads to the tiger’s cage (not sleeping) right next door.

Hold That Lion (Columbia1947) features the Three Stooges – Moe, Larry and Shemp – on the run to escape a train conductor because they haven’t the money to purchase tickets. They hide in a crate, which is also housing a lion. Of course, they discover the lion, and, in their panic to get away, they let it loose on the train.

And of course, though not released with the original film, there is the scene where the Marx Brothers take the place of the snarling Leo in the MGM opening logo for A Night at The Opera.

If you enjoy the sheer beauty and power of lions, the way they move and sound, no matter how silly the story is, you can see why they can steal the scene. I was surprised at how many I found in movies and still I can’t help but feel I missed some. No doubt if you look you’ll find many more lion appearances in films not mentioned here, depending on how back in time you go. I seem to remember a lion in an episode of The Little Rascals, but it was only Jack Roach in a lion suit (Buried Treasure, 1926).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for November 23-30

November 23–November 30


THE FRESHMAN (November 24, 11:45 pm): It's a shame that Harold Lloyd is either largely forgotten or most film fans never heard of him because he was a brilliant comedian during cinema's silent days. (Of course his peak was about 90 years ago so it's understandable, but disappointing nonetheless.) In this 1925 film, Lloyd plays Harold Lamb, a naive guy who goes to college thinking life on campus is like it is in the movies. He learns out the hard way that the two are not the same and comes across to his classmates as a fool. He tries out for the football team and goes from being the water boy to playing the key role in the big game with hilarious results. Lloyd was the master of the sight gag, typically better at it than Buster Keaton and that's saying a lot, and there are plenty of them in this film. The plot is predictable, but Lloyd makes this a fun and funny film to watch and enjoy.

TOM THUMB (November 26, 9:15 am): A delightful 1958 film based on the classic fairy tale with Russ Tamblyn bringing great energy and an outstanding ability to entertain in the title role. The best part of this film, with a mostly British cast, is the performances of Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers as two criminals who try to exploit Tom by tricking him to be a part of their various swindles. It's geared toward a younger audience though there is plenty of humor, particularly from the two bumbling, very funny bad guys, to keep the interest of adults. The handful of songs are entertaining. While the special effects are dated, they are charming as well as impressive for its day.


LA POINTE COURTE (November 23, 4:00 am): Director Agnes Varda gained international renown with this study of a husband and wife trying to rescue their marriage interwoven with the life and times of Ste, a fishing village on the Mediterranean. Known only as Him and Her, the couple comes to the village because it’s the place where He grew up and still loves, while She is from Paris and has the requisite cosmopolitan tastes. Will they be able to work things out? Meanwhile, we are drawn into the drama that plagues the town: Will the father let his daughter marry the man she loves, even if he's kind of a wimp? Will the cops arrest the guy who harvested his shellfish from an off-limits stretch of water? Will the big-city couple stay together or split up? The movie’s climax takes place at the annual water-jousting tournament (which actually takes place in Ste each year), a sort of slow-motion skirmish where men knock each other off boats with medieval-style lances while onlookers cheer their favorites. This is the sort of film that will pull one in slowly and once in, it never lets up for a minute. The village life and drama is fascinating and the individual dramas compelling.

IL SORPASSO (November 28, 1:30 am): Road pictures are always fun to watch, and this is among the best. One Sunday morning, blowhard Vittorio Gassman demands to use the phone of shy law student Jean-Louis Trintignant’s phone. From this innocuous beginning, the two get acquainted, which leads to a invitation from Gassman for Trintignant to accept a ride that turns out to be a multi-day journey up the Tyrrhenian coast. During their voyage, the contrasting natures of the blustery, hot dogging, middle-aged Gassman and the quiet, conservative, scholarly young Trintignant clash and eventually rub off on one another as they both discover their perceived family lives aren’t what they supposed them to be, and which can only end tragically. Both Gassman and Trintignant are superb, and, along with director Dino Risi’s eye for analogy, make this a film to be caught and savored.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . WINGS OF DESIRE (November 25, 5:00 am):

ED: B-. Wings of Desire, a film about two angels Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), who amble through Berlin offering solace to those in pain, even though they are invisible. Things go wrong when Damiel is inspired to seek mortality after watching an American actor (Peter Falk) shooting a movie, and a beautiful trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin) at a circus. This is a two-hour movie that only seems like five hours. If you want to see this, by all means record it, even of you’re staying up to sit through it. You will fall asleep. Wim Wenders is notorious for his arty-farty films, and this is no different. The idea of two angels wandering the streets of Berlin listening to people’s thoughts is amusing for about 10 minutes max, but Wenders stretches it out for about 90 minutes. The kicker is that none of the thoughts our angels are listening to has any sort of point whatsoever. I’m sure a lot of pseudo-intellectuals will wring their hands over this, looking for Deep Meaning, but take it from me, this is nothing more than pretentious hogwash. Oh well, the cinematography is excellent and it does boast a good performance from Bruno Ganz. For those who can’t quite place Ganz, he probably better known for being a phenomenon on You Tube for his portrayal of Hitler in Downfall, which many clever people have taken and made into parodies of Old Screwball by titling them “Hitler Discovers Hostess Is No Longer Making Twinkies,” or “Hitler Meets the Tralololo Man.” Stick with those - they’re far more entertaining than Wings of Desire.

DAVID: A. If you love film, you will love Wings of Desire, an ingenious and moving picture from 1987. The visually-stunning film focuses on Damiel (Bruno Ganz), an angel in Berlin around the end of the Cold War. He stands on top of tall buildings, in a crowd or nearly anywhere, watching people and listening to their thoughts, many of them quite depressing. Damiel and Cassiel (Otto Sander), an another angel featured in the film, can't really do anything to directly comfort people except touch someone's shoulder to give a little hope to those with troubled existences. It's beauty is in its subtlety. The acting is brilliant, particularly Ganz and of all people, Peter Falk, who plays himself. Falk is in Berlin to film a movie, and it turns out, he was angel who chose to give up his immortality to become a person. Falk's ability to play himself with an unexpected twist is one of the most compelling aspects of this most compelling film. Damiel is growing tired of being an angel and yearns to be a human. He tells Cassiel: "It would be rather nice, coming home after a long day to feed the cat, like Philip Marlowe; to have a fever, and blackened fingers from the newspaper; at last to guess, instead of always knowing.” Damiel falls in love with Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a beautiful trapeze artist who fears she will fall. For Damiel, it's love at first sight. He longs for the simple things humans experience, but often don't notice, such as touching someone or having a conversation. Damiel risks his immortality to have an opportunity at love. Is the film's tempo slow? Perhaps, but that allows the viewer to better understand Damiel's existence as an angel and the quandary he faces in choosing mortality and love. I agree with Ed about the excellent cinematography. It was done by Henri Alekan, who also had the same job in the 1946 French version of Beauty and the Beast, another magnificent film. Rather than a Deep Meaning, the film provides a simple lesson: It is the small things in life that make it worth living.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.