By Ed Garea
STAR OF THE MONTH
As we know, TCM is devoting the month of February, along with the first three days in March, to its annual “31 Days of Oscar” festival. As the programmers at TCM find new ways to repackage the same batch of films, so we here at Cinéma Inhabituel have to find new way to package our reporting of it. Hence, we will feature a different film each day, a film that is usually not discussed and sometimes overlooked. If this goes over well with our readership, we may make it an annual event.
In other news, Sally Field has been chosen as Robert Osbourne’s new co-host on The Essentials, replacing Drew Barrymore.
February 1: Our choice for the day is the 1931 Western epic, Cimarron, starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne as a husband and wife fighting to survive in the early days of the Oklahoma Territory. It airs at the wee hour of 3:00 am. Won: Best Picture, Best Writing, Adaptation (Howard Estabrook), & Best Art Direction (Max Ree). Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Richard Dix), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Irene Dunne), Best Director (Wesley Ruggles), & Best Cinematography (Edward Cronjager), 1931.
February 2: Our pick here is The Great Lie, a 1941 soap opera from Warner Brothers starring Bette Davis and Mary Astor, airing at 1:45 pm. The legend surrounding the film is that Davis and Astor, having read the script, knew it was a dog. They re-worked the scenes to give it substance and bite, improving dialogue and changing situations to fit the new dialogue. The result was a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Astor. Astor’s character was a pianist, and her piano training in real life came in handy for the role. On seeing the film, classical pianist and MGM star Jose Iturbi marveled at her fingerwork in playing Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor.” Won: Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mary Astor), 1942.
February 3: At 11:00 am, it’s John Garfield and Maureen O’Hara in the 1943 RKO thriller The Fallen Sparrow. Set in 1940 New York City, Garfield is a returning volunteer from the Spanish Civil War who finds that a war buddy of his has been murdered. Worse, he has brought back a keepsake from the war that the Nazis, led by the rotten Walter Slezak, want very badly. Frankly, it’s a muddled movie bordering on noir, but the performances of Garfield, O’Hara and Slezak help make up for the film’s deficiencies. Look for John Banner (Schultz!) as Anton. Nominated: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Roy Webb), 1944.
February 4: Any day when the 1937 classic La Grand Illusion is aired is a grand day, indeed, even if it airs at midnight. It was directed by Jean Renoir and boasts a cast that includes Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Erich Von Stroheim, Marcel Dalio, Dita Parlo, and Jacques Becker in a story of French POWs and their German captors during World War I. The title is a mocking reference to the slogan that World War I was known as “the war to end all wars.” When this film was made, the next war was already in the planning and anticipated with a sense of dread in almost every European country. A bit of trivia: Gabin wears the uniform previously worn by Renoir, who served in the French air force. Nominated: Best Picture, 1939.
February 5: We’re in a bit of a quandary today, with so many wonderful films on the slate. But our recommendation is ‘G’ Men with Jimmy Cagney from Warner Bros. in 1935. Cagney is in top form as “Brock” Davis, a lawyer put through law school by powerful gangster “Mac” McKay (William Harrigan). When Davis’ friend, an FBI agent, is shot dead by other of gangdom’s finest, Davis joins the FBI. After receiving his training, he travels to New York City and tells the mobsters, including McKay, that he will return to get each and every one of them. And get them he does, putting his knowledge of the gangland to good use with both guns blazing. Margaret Lindsay and the underrated Ann Dvorak are on hand to supply the eye candy, and Robert Armstrong and Lloyd Nolan (in his film debut) are part of the Good Guys at the Bureau. Barton MacLane is the main heel and acquits himself nicely. By the way, note the absence of submachine guns. The newly enforced Production Code outlawed the use of the weapon as it was thought it would corrupt the youth of America. The film airs at 12:30 pm. Nominated: Best Writing, Original Story (Darryl F. Zanuck), 1936.
February 6: At noon, it’s the 1959 directorial feature film debut of Francois Truffaut, The 400 Blows. This is a touching story of a young adolescent (Jean-Pierre Leaud) who descends into a life of petty crime through bad parenting, bad schooling, and bad friends. After he is nabbed by the police, his parents leave him to the mercies of the system, where he is placed in a prison from which he escapes at the end. It was the first of Truffaut’s autobiographical “Antoine Doinel” series. Look for future director Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) as a policeman. Nominated: Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen (Francois Truffaut, Marcel Moussy), 1960.
February 7: For those looking for a nice change of pace, may we suggest a good Western? Yes? Then tune into The Professionals at 5:45 pm. It boasts a tight script and direction combined with lots of action in a story of a Texas millionaire who recruits a band of adventurers to rescue his wife, who was kidnapped by a Mexican revolutionary. And get a load of this cast: Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Jack Palace, Woody Strode, Ralph Bellamy, and the smokin’ hot Claudia Cardinale. The beautiful Maria Gomez and the ubiquitous supporting actor Jorge Martinez De Hoyos join in the fun. While it’s not at the top tier of Westerns, it’s one or two short steps right below and always entertaining. Nominated: Best Director (Richard Brooks), Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Richard Brooks), Best Cinematography, Color (Conrad L. Hall), 1967.
February 8: A lovely film the kids can watch is being shown at 8:30 am. It’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm from MGM in 1962, and stars Laurence Harvey and Karl Boehm as storytelling brothers Wilhelm and Jacob. Claire Bloom is also on hand as Wilhelm’s wife, Dorothea. The Cinerama release, featuring George Pal’s puppetoons and an animated dragon, combines a biography of the brothers with three fairy tales: “The Dancing Princess,” starring Yvette Mimieux; “The Cobbler and the Elves,” starring Harvey; and “The Singing Bone,” featuring Terry-Thomas, Buddy Hackett, and Otto Kruger. Won: Best Costume Design, Color (Mary Wills). Nominated: Best Cinematography, Color (Paul Vogel), Best Art Direction-set Decoration, Color (George W. Davis, Edward C. Carfagno, Henry Grace, Richard Pefferie), Best Music,
Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment (Leigh Harline), 1963.
February 9: At 9:00 am, it’s the World War II flying drama, Bombardier, from RKO in 1943 and starring Pat O’Brien and Randolph Scott as two officers competing for the Anne Shirley while training pilots for battle. Given the well-worn story, it still comes off nicely, thanks to an excellent, fast-moving script from John Twist. Nominated: Best Effects, Special Effects, 1944.
February 10: A nice little mystery from MGM is airing at 12:30 pm entitled Mystery Street, from 1950, and stars Ricardo Montalban and Bruce Bennett as criminal pathologists who try to solve case where they have nothing to go on except the victim’s bones. It’s an ahead-of-its-time look at the science of forensic pathology and presages such procedural police dramas as the CSI and the NCIS series. Nominated: Best Writing, Motion Picture Story (Leonard Spigelgass), 1951.
February 11: We would be forever remiss if we didn’t recommend Vittorio DeSica’s 1948 classic from Italy, The Bicycle Thief, airing at 12:15 am. It’s the grim, realistic tale of a workingman in Postwar Italy who finally lands a job putting up movie posters around Rome. His job depends on his owning a bicycle, and when it is stolen, he desperately searches throughout the city with his young son looking for the means to feeding his family. It is an extremely moving story made even more powerful with a non-professional cast. Won: Voted the Most Outstanding Foreign Language Film by the Academy Board of Governors. Nominated: Best Writing, Screenplay (Cesare Zavattni), 1950.
February 12: A great Western is being shown at 8:00 pm. It’s titled The Gunfighter, from 20th Century Fox in 1950, and stars Gregory Peck as Jimmie Ringo, “the fastest gun in the West,” a title that brings with it constant challenges from gunslingers who want the title for themselves. Also starring Helen Westcott, Jean Parker, Karl Malden, and Skip Homeier. This is one of the most powerful psychological Westerns ever and one we consider an Essential. Nominated: Best Writing, Motion Picture Story (William Bowers, Andre de Toth), 1951.
February 13: A different kind of horror story is on tap this day at 11:00 am. It’s from Warner Brothers in 1956 and is titled The Bad Seed. Starring Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormick, Henry Jones, Eileen Heckart, and William Hopper, this is the story of a mother who suspects her seemingly perfect 8-year old daughter is a natural born killer. It’s a bit stagy, as it’s based on a Broadway play, but still retains its spellbinding power. Also with Paul Fix, and Jesse White. Nominated: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Nancy kelly), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Eileen Heckart), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Patty McCormick), and Best Cinematography, Black and White (Harold Rosson), 1957.
February 14: After all these heavy pictures we’ve been recommending, it’s time for a lighter, sophisticated type of film. For today, we’ve chosen Skylark, from Paramount in 1941, which airs at 11:45 am. Starring Claudette Colbert, Ray Milland, and Brian Aherne, it’s the story of a woman neglected by her business-minded husband (Milland). When he trades their cook to an advertising client in order to secure an account, it’s the last straw and occurs just at the moment when she is deciding what to do she meets handsome lawyer Aherne, but Milland isn’t about to let her go without a fight. Nominated: Best Sound Recording (Loren L. Ryder), 1942.
February 15: With a full slate of crime dramas, we’ve chosen one that would normally be overlooked when compared to the other heavyweights scheduled for the day. That film is T-Men, from tiny Eagle-Lion Films, in 1947, which airs at 9:00 am. Directed by the great Anthony Mann, it’s a taut story told in semi-documentary fashion about undercover Treasury agents infiltrating a counterfeiting ring. A great cast that includes Dennis O’Keefe, Mary Meade, Wallace Ford, Jane Randolph, Alfred Ryder, Charles McGraw, and Lassie’s mother, June Lockhart, helps keep the movie, and our attention, riveted. Nominated: Best Sound, Recording (Jack Whitney), 1948.