Friday, March 13, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for March 15-22

March 15–March 22


FURY (March 16, 10:00 am): This is director Fritz Lang's first American film, and it's one filled with suspense, revenge, mob rule, hostility, intolerance and action. Spencer Tracy established himself as one of Hollywood's best actors when Fury was released in 1936. Tracy was busy that year with a secondary but important role in San Francisco and he co-starred in Libeled Lady. In Fury, Tracy plays Joe Wilson, who is accused of a crime he didn't commit. While he sits in jail, waiting for the police investigation into the crime, the local townspeople get worked up and go to lynch him. Unable to get inside, they torched the jail with Wilson killed in the fire – or so it seems. The great plot-twist is that Joe escapes, but is presumed dead, with the people responsible for the incident facing murder charges. With the help of his brothers, Joe seeks revenge against his would-be killers. Tracy does a great job going from a hardworking, mild-mannered guy into one controlled by anger and vengeance. The film moves from a love story to suspense to a courtroom drama. Interestingly, it was released by MGM, best known at the time for its big-budget musicals.

THE CITADEL (March 18, 2:00 pm): Robert Donat (a greatly under-appreciated actor) stars in this moving film about an idealistic doctor who begins his medical career treating Welsh miners with tuberculosis. He becomes disenchanted and moves to London with his wife, played by the wonderful Rosalind Russell, to be a doctor to the rich. The film is a damning indictment on physicians who get into medicine for the money. Most of the doctors who treat the wealthy are portrayed as social climbers and largely incompetent. It can be a bit cliched at times, but the acting is solid and the story is touching.


WAGES OF FEAR (March 16, 1:45 pm): A gripping and gritty drama about four down and out men who are hired by an American oil company in South America. Their task is to drive trucks of nitroglycerin over rugged and treacherous terrain to be used for blowing out oil fires in wells. If they complete the trip, they will be paid $2,000 each. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot does a wonderful job chronicling the lives and relationship of the four men (Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, and Peter Van Eyck) while keeping the suspense on full. Clouzot never lets us relax for a minute as the men fight the terrain, their fears, and ultimately, each other. It’s light years away from what Hollywood was providing at the time, which makes viewing it even more essential for the film buff.

ST. MARTIN’S LANE (March 20, 6:00 pm): Any time we can watch Charles Laughton, Vivien Leigh, and Rex Harrison all in the same film is a good time indeed. And all three shine in this film about the world of buskers, or street entertainers that inhabit the lowest rung of London’s entertainment ladder for a few pence, mingling with the high society types who attend the theater and dine at the fancy restaurants and who look down on the buskers as little more than beggars. It’s the same with the police, who roust the buskers at every turn, but still they persevere. Leigh plays Liberty, a young pickpocket whom Laughton befriends. Taken with her beauty and ability to dance, he transforms her into a street artist. But Liberty has bigger goals. She wants to make it over the invisible line and become a legitimate performer. Harrison is a songwriter for the legitimate stage with whom Libby falls in love. The film plays out beautifully, avoiding the easy route of melodrama for something more substantial. It was also Leigh’s final film before Gone With The Wind, and provides us with a good look at her extraordinary beauty and range of talent. Laughton, of course, is Laughton, and he doesn’t let the viewer down for one second, while Harrison, in the early part of his career, shows us the promise that later allowed him to bloom in a smaller role. Anyone who has seen buskers at street corners or on subway platforms will find this film fascinating.  

WE DISAGREE ON ... VICTOR VICTORIA (March 20, 4:15 am)

ED: A. I consider this as the last great movie Blake Edwards directed. I think he knew it also, because he later directed a TV-movie based on the Broadway production, also starring wife Julie Andrews. And Edwards takes the art of female impersonation to its ultimate height: Julie Andrews is a woman playing a man playing a woman. When she comes on stage as Victoria she must be slightly imperfect because she’s known off-stage as Victor. Where she’s successful in this is the source of much of the comedy in the film, which as Roger Ebert said, “is a lighthearted meditation on how ridiculous we can sometimes become when we take sex too seriously.” Andrews is a starving signer who befriends Toddy, marvelously played by Robert Preston, who comes up with an idea: Since there are no jobs for female singers, but plenty for female impersonators, why shouldn’t Andrews assume a false identity and pretend to be a drag queen? It’s a deliciously screwy idea, and one we can only find in a sex farce. When James Garner enters the scene, falls in love with her and refuses to believe she’s not a woman, the fun starts. Add Lesley Ann Warren as Julie’s jealous friend, and Alex Karras as Garner’s bodyguard, and it gets even better. All the gags depend on split-second timing and people being in the wrong place at the right time. That Edwards pulls it off is further testament to his directorial prowess at the time. This is a hilarious film precisely because the characters seem to be people first and genders second, which makes them even more likable. And they must be likable for the film to work, which it does and does well.

DAVID: B-. Except for a couple of Pink Panther films with Peter Sellers, I can't think of any other movies directed by Blake Edwards that come close to great. He made a number of good films, including Victor Victoria, during his career. However, we are not here to debate the directing skills of Edwards. We are writing about this particular film. Victor Victoria is a good movie, just not as good as Ed describes. A remake of a 1933 German film, the movie is about Victoria (Julie Andrews, who was Edwards' wife) is a talent singer unable to find work in pre-World War II Paris. With the help of Toddy (Robert Preston), she becomes a sensation as a great female impersonator with the twist being, of course, that she's a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. An American night club owner/mobster (James Garner) sees the act and ends up falling in love with Victoria (who now goes by the stage name of Victor), convinced the singer is a woman. Andrews is a delight and Lesley Ann Warren as Garner's girlfriend and Alex Karras as Garner's bodyguard are good. Preston is over-the-top in his portrayal of Toddy, becoming a gay cliché. Garner is competent, yet uninspiring in his role. He is supposed to play it straight (no pun intended), but Garner really doesn't bring anything special to the character.

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

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