Sunday, March 29, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for April 1-7

April 1–April 7


WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (April 4, 8:00 pm): This 1957 film, directed by Billy Wilder, is one of the absolute best suspense movies you'll ever see. The story takes many interesting twists and the acting is outstanding, particularly Charles Laughton as an ill, but still brilliant, barrister who takes the case of a man, played by Tyrone Power in his last role, charged with murder. All of the evidence points to Power's character, Leonard Vole, as the killer, but Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) can't resist defending him. Things take a turn for the worse – or maybe it doesn't – when Vole's wife, played by Marlene Dietrich, is called as a witness for the prosecution. The ending is so unexpected and executed exceptionally well by all parties involved in the film. It is a shock that's heightened by the closing credits asking moviegoers to not reveal the ending to anyone who hasn't seen it.  

BEN-HUR (April 5, 1:30 pm): It's nearly four hours long, but it's one of cinema's most spectacular epics. Charlton Heston has his critics, but I can't think of any other actor who could have played the lead character in this film any better. Heston is Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince who ends up getting in a lot of trouble when reunited with an old friend, who happens to be a Roman tribune with a real mean streak. The incredible chariot race is reason enough to watch Ben-Hur. It's one of the most spectacular scenes you'll ever seen in film. Add to that Ben-Hur's time as a galley slave on a Roman boat and the preparation he does to exact revenge and you have an epic film in every way possible. My lone disappointment is the miracle at the end of the film as it comes across as forced. But it doesn't detract from the overall excellence of the movie.


LAURA (April 4, 10:15 pm): One of the great noirs – a film that works on every level, keeping us enthralled with each slight twist of the plot. It also boasts a great cast, including Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Gene Tierney, Dame Judith Anderson, and Vincent Price. How can one not love a film that opens with “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died,” spoken off screen by Webb? We focus on Dana Andrews as the detective investigating her murder – and who falls in love with her. But it’s Clifton Webb, as the acerbic critic Waldo Lydecker, a snob par excellence who seems just as captivated as Andrews with Laura, who walks away with the film. And as Laura, Gene Tierney is simply wonderful; her beauty answering any questions we might have as to her allure. It’s a film I can watch multiple times without ever becoming bored.

GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE (April 6, 3:30 pm): It’s one of the most incredible films ever made, and it comes from MGM, yet. Produced by William Randolph Hearst, it’s practically an advertisement for fascism, as party-hearty president Walter Huston is knocked for a loop in a car accident. When he comes out of his coma, he’s a changed man and uses dictatorial powers to take over, wiping out both unemployment and crime. If you haven’t seen this one yet, and the odds are great that you haven’t as this is rarely shown, by all means record and watch it. You’ll be knocked for a loop.


ED: B+. This is a slick, highly entertaining piece of fluff from director Howard Hawks with standout performances from Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell as two singers that turn the heads of various men in two continents. Monroe was never better than in this film as the seductive Lorilei Lee. Russell gives a tremendous and sly comic performance as Monroe’s buddy, and the chemistry between the two is what moves the movie. The stars keep their characters likable while turning the men into mere foils for their constant battle-of-the-sexes wisecracks. Based on the venerable play from Anita Loos with script from Charles Lederer, Hawks’s movie version features the show stopping number, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” from Marilyn Monroe. Madonna may have managed to imitate Monroe’s in her “Material Girl” video, but Monroe shows why she can never be duplicated. Look for Jane’s standout routine as well, a number titled “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love,” a great number she sings and dances with a group of shipboard Olympic athletes dressed in gold lame bathing trunks. The number has become an enduring camp classic over the years. Thanks to Hawks, under the surface lies a feminist subtext that raises the film above that of a mere gold digger celebratory fest. Monroe may be singing about diamonds being a girl’s best friend, but what she’s really aiming at is financial independence.

DAVID: C-. I honestly wonder what Howard Hawks was thinking when he directed this film. If it was just for the money, I can accept that. If he thought he was directing something worthwhile, he was kidding himself. This 1953 musical about a pair of gold-digging showgirls (Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell) looking to marry rich guys is a one-trick pony – and the trick is tired and overdone. While only five years older than Monroe, Russell looks to be at least a decade older and has very little sex appeal here. Since her character is supposed to be sexy, though not as much as Monroe, there's a basic problem with casting Russell. As for Monroe, her ditsy blonde act, which we've seen in so many films, is too over-the-top here. How convenient that Monroe's boyfriend is very wealthy. Even so, it doesn't stop her from leading on an older, married man (Charles Coburn) because he's got even more money. I still can't figure out if she's supposed to be using him to get his wife's diamond tiara or is just overly friendly. Monroe can't sing or dance yet her character sings and dances. Her performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is famous more for how she looks than how she performs it. The plot, if you can call it that, is plodding and predictable: Russell falls for the private detective hired by the father of Monroe's boyfriend, who's concerned she's marrying the naive guy for his money. The music and dancing is forgettable and poorly performed. As Ed mentioned, the film is fluff and campy, but it's not that entertaining.

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

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