Saturday, February 14, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for February 15-22

February 15–Febuary 22

CAGED (February 20, 1:30 pm): Unlike nearly all the others in the unusual but often-visited women-in-prison film genre, Caged is well acted. Eleanor Parker was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar as the young innocent Marie Allen, Agnes Moorehead is great as warden Ruth Benton, and Hope Emerson was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as the deliciously evil matron Evelyn Harper. Almost anything bad you can imagine happens to Marie  her new husband is killed in a robbery, she ends up in prison because she is waiting in the getaway car, she's pregnant while serving her sentence, she's victimized by other inmates and Harper, she has to give up her baby for adoption, and finally becomes bitter and hardened from all of her bad experiences. The story is similar to other women-in-prison movies minus the T&A. We still get a shower scene (no nudity as this is during the Code era) and the stereotypical prison lesbian . But there's a huge difference between Caged and the women-in-prison films of the 1970s. It's not only the excellent acting, but the powerful dialogue and actual plot  it was nominated for a Best Writing Oscar  that makes this gritty, stark, realistic film stand out among others in the genre.

DOG DAY AFTERNOON (February 22, 1:00 am): There are certain 1970s crime-dramas that capture the gritty, almost completely disgusting, lives of cops, pimps, two-bit hoods and drug dealers in New York City during that decade. They include SerpicoThe French ConnectionThe Taking of Pelham 123The Seven-Ups and Dog Day Afternoon. Based on a botched 1972 robbery at a Brooklyn Bank, Dog Day Afternoon (1975) is about two would-be robbers (expertly played by Al Pacino and John Cazale) who are far from professionals. The entire robbery is botched seconds after it starts when a third guy gets cold feet and runs out of the bank. Also, the heist is after the bank's daily monetary pickup so there's only a little more than $1,000 to rob. The interplay between Sonny (Pacino) and the police detective sergeant (veteran character actor Charles Durning), who is the hostage negotiator, is memorable. The scene where Sonny screams "Attica! Attica!" is so good that it's worth watching the movie just for that. 


PSYCHO (February 17, 12:00 am): One of Hitchcock’s greatest films, it can be truly said to be his last great movie. Who else would kill off his leading lady before the picture was not even halfway through? It's based on the novel by Robert Bloch, who was influenced by the Ed Gein case in Wisconsin, but Hitchcock takes it to an entire new level, aided by wonderful performances by Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, and Martin Balsam. The film still holds its shock value today, including the famous shower scene where the violence was not explicit, but left to the imagination to fill in the blanks. I remember my cousin, who saw this in the theater, swearing to me that he saw Janet Leigh stabbed in the chest. Such is the power of suggestion and Hitchcock was a master at it.

THE PRODUCERS (February 21, 6:15 pm): Mel Brooks began his directorial career with a film reviled at the time by many critics, but now justly seen as one of the classics of cinema. Two Broadway producers (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) discover that they can make more money putting on a flop than financing a hit. All they have to do is raise more cash than they need for the play. But they just to find a sure-fire flop, for they have pre-sold somewhere around 10,000% of the play, and if it’s a hit, they can’t pay off the backers. Their vehicle is a musical titled “Springtime for Hitler,” the love story of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun in song. They chose the worst director, the worst actor, and have signed the play’s author, a nutty Nazi living in Greenwich Village. I won’t say any more in case you’re one of the few that hasn’t yet seen this classic.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . GIANT (February 16, 1:00 pm)

ED. B-. Giant is one of the greatest overrated films of all time. Give people a wide, lush screen populated by plenty of beautiful people and an overwrought, rambling soapy plot, so thick the bubbles rise, and audiences think it’s profoundly wonderful. No, it’s simply Camp in its highest form. It’s the granddaddy of such soapy tripe as DallasDynastyFalcon Crest, and others. Note that the actors are not so much acting as they are posing; the film is almost a series of iconic stills. Based on another self-important novel by Edna Ferber and directed by George Stevens, it’s a picture postcard with a message. And that message, in case you don’t get it, or turned it off, is that racism and sexism are bad. Very bad. Rock Hudson spends a scene driving that point home by whomping on James Dean. So, given all this, why do I give Giant the grade I do? Because it is an example of High Camp, that’s why. Besides, the picture is pretty to look at (remember that Stevens was a top cinematographer before turning full-time to directing), and the performances overall are not bad, at least during those times when they’re allowed to act. Taylor is excellent, given the scope of her part, and Hudson is finally being seen today not merely as a pretty mannequin, but as someone capable of delivering a decent performance. Dean, for his part, is not as bad as some say, but not as good as others attest. One can see that he still had a way to go before he could master his craft, and the fact that he was killed after making only three pictures leaves us wondering what he could have accomplished if he had lived. At any rate, Giant is a film one cannot take seriously in any form. It is best viewed in a small gathering with friends like Crow T. Robot or Tom Servo. I'm sure David, my partner, will trash this film, and he’s right to do so. But he misses the irony of the whole experience. For me, this is a film that any serious film buff should see at least once. More than that should be taken at your own risk. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the movie is that Liz Taylor gives birth to Dennis Hopper. Think about it.

DAVID: D+. I certainly can't argue with Ed's assessment that Giant is one of the most overrated films of all time. It's that and so much more – or more accurately, so much less. I can think of dozens of better ways to spend nearly three and a half hours including various types of torture though sitting through this film should also be considered a kind of torture. It's hard to describe how bad this film is. For such a long movie, it doesn't tell much of a story, and what we get on the screen is incredibly dull, self-important, overwrought and a rambling mess. How James Dean became a legendary actor after over-dramatic performances in three fair to poor movies is something I'll never understand. Giant is the worst of the films – and the worst of his performances. Elizabeth Taylor, who I barely find tolerable as an actress, is passable in this movie and Rock Hudson shows he's as mediocre in "serious" films as he was in those romantic comedies. The story moves at a snail's pace and isn't good to begin with. The makeup used to show the three of them aging is laughably bad, particularly for a supposed epic. It's bloated, way too long and even its attempts to deliver messages against racism and sexism fall flat.

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

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