TCM TiVo ALERT
February 1–February 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (February 1, 12:45 am): TCM shows this film regularly and we are very lucky that it does. This is the greatest anti-war war movie ever made, and that includes Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator, which is a brilliant piece of cinema. The message of All Quiet on the Western Front is as strong today as it was when it was released in 1930. Beautifully filmed and flawlessly directed by Lewis Milestone, it's about a group of German youths who sign up to fight in World War I after being whipped into a frenzy by a teacher. The boys learn firsthand the horrors of war. What's amazing about this film is it's about Germans fighting and killing Allied soldiers and we have sympathy for every one of them. And it pulls no punches showing the senseless deaths of young men in battle. The final scene is one of the most tragically beautiful you'll ever see in cinema. This timeless and important film comes with my highest recommendation.
CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (February 6, 6:00 am): This 1937 film had the potential to be a complete disaster. Spencer Tracy, with a Portuguese accent, saves Freddie Bartholomew, a spoiled rich boy who, after being rescued, is stuck on a fishing schooner. The potential obstacles are buying Tracy's accent and hoping Bartholomew gives the performance of his life. Amazingly, both occur in this fantastic film. Tracy won the Oscar for Best Actor, and would win it again the following year for Boys Town. Captains Courageous also features the always-excellent Lionel Barrymore as the ship's captain and solid performances from a cast that includes John Carradine, Melvyn Douglas and a young Mickey Rooney. It's a great coming-of-age film, adapted from English novelist Rudyard Kipling's 1897 book of the same name. The sappy ending doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE PUBLIC ENEMY (February 2, 11:45 pm): It’s the picture that catapulted Jimmy Cagney to stardom, a no holds barred look at the life of a criminal from youth to his premature demise, directed in a stark manner by William A. Wellman, King of the Pre-Code directors. Although Warner Bros., the studio that made the film, tries to coat it with a veneer of “social injustice and economic conditions” leading to crime, the picture is violent from start to finish. And it’s such gorgeous violence at that. Cagney is a virtual dervish of bad intentions, knocking off anyone in his way, and even ending a relationship by smacking his dame in the face with a grapefruit. The film was a huge influence on Martin Scorsese when he made Goodfellas, and we can see why, as it’s the first gangster film to use popular music in its soundtrack. This rave is not directed at cinephiles, who have all seen this one, but at those for whom the movie experience is relatively new. Watch it, you’ll love it.
THE 400 BLOWS (February 6, 12:00 pm): Again this is a rave directed at those for whom serious move viewing is a somewhat new experience. Francois Truffaut’s autobiographical film about a young man (Jean-Pierre Leaud), left entirely to his own devices at home by his neglectful parents, who turns to a life of petty crime. The film becomes a tribute to the resilience and spirit of the young man in spite of his clueless parents and equally clueless teachers, all of who are too eager to absolve themselves of him rather than deal with his problems. Much as been said and written about this remarkable film, which was Truffaut’s directorial debut. Don’t let its art house reputation deter you from this most interesting film.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . WINGS (February 1, 10:00 pm)
ED: A. Many cinephiles hate this movie, not so much because it won Best Picture, but for what film didn’t win: Sunrise. Yes, the Academy chose Wings as Best Picture over Sunrise, a film now seen as one the all-time classics of the cinema. But let’s take the historical content out of it and praise it for what it was.Wings is a great example of the blockbuster epic, with special effects that were unmatched in its day. It’s the ultimate Buddy War Film, with Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen as Our Heroes, rivals who bond in training and war, proceeding to sail through the skies of Europe without letting such things like plot get in the way – a fact we really don’t notice until we think it over well after the film ends. Clara Bow, who came on like a house afire thanks to It, is the love object of Rogers, and she’s not bad in this. Gary Cooper also shines, as the sardonic young cadet who comes on the scene and just as quickly disappears in an air battle. The real credit for this film, though, has to go to the director, William A. Wellman. Not only are the airborne fight sequences top notch – and which will still blow viewers away even in these CGI infested times – but he also brings a verve to the quieter scenes, such as the establishing shot of lovers Jack and Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston), who are introduced on a swing in a garden with the camera perched on the swing between them, giving the illusion of the world flying around them. Wellman displays his knack for craftsmanship throughout the film, knowing how to use the camera to capture a person’s face and body and tell us what he or she is thinking or feeling. Any director could simply film a dogfight, but Wellman does with cameras placed in such a way as to capture the human drama that takes place inside the formidable machines of war. That’s way I grade this film as high as I do. It’s not so much the story as it is in how it’s told.
DAVID: B-. I wholeheartedly agree with Ed's assessment of the aerial sequences, particularly the dogfights, of Wings. To this day, they are impressive, exciting and can leave a viewer on the edge of his/her seat. The problem with this film is nearly everything shot on the ground. That part of the film is largely directionless with a minimal plot. To be perfectly honest, the ground scenes are really boring. To make matters worse, the version shown is 144 minutes long so viewers are watching a lot of dull acting with a very dull storyline. The notable exception is the powerful trench cave-in scene that shows hundreds of dead soldiers. There is no doubt this 1927 epic is groundbreaking and the aerial scenes are breathtaking at times. I recommend anyone who hasn't seen the film to view it. But you also have to realize you're going to get some bad with the good. The main characters, played by Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen, spend far too much time vying for the affection of Jobyna Ralston, who loves Arlen. Clara Bow, "The It Girl," is somewhat wasted in this film as literally the girl next door to Rogers. Kudos to director William A. Wellman for working in a gratuitous scene of a scantily-clad Bow. I would rate this film higher if attention was paid to developing a compelling story, it was 30 minutes shorter and the awful attempts at comic relief from El Brendel were left on the cutting-room floor.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.