TCM TiVo ALERT
March 23–March 31
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (March 23, 12:00 am): There are few actors who had the presence of Burt Lancaster – that voice, the athletic build and his ability to become one with the characters he portrayed. In this 1962 film, he plays Robert Stroud, a murderer, who from all accounts was not a nice guy. In the film, Stroud has a dark side, but comes across overall as a decent person. While in solitary confinement, Stroud adopts and trains a sparrow. After a while, he's got an entire bird collection and inspires other inmates to get birds. When some of the birds get sick, Stroud discovers ways to cure them, and becomes an expert on bird diseases. The concept may sound boring, but the screenplay is outstanding and the acting is first-rate. Besides Lancaster, the cast includes Telly Savalas as a fellow prisoner, Thelma Ritter in the performance of her career as Stroud's mother, and Karl Malden as the warden at Leavenworth. Most of the film – and the book of which it is based – takes place at Leavenworth. Stroud served some time at Alcatraz, where he wasn't permitted to have birds making the title catchy but inaccurate.
AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (March 31, 10:00 pm): What a fantastic film! It's directed by Louis Malle and is largely autobiographical about his life at a Catholic boarding school in occupied France in 1944 during World War II. Malle's character becomes friends with another boy at the school, who is actually Jewish and being hidden from the Nazis by the school's headmaster, a priest. It's a very moving coming-of-age film that stays with the viewer long after it ends.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE PENALTY (March 29, 12:00 am): Lon Chaney is always fascinating to watch and his performance in this film ranks with his best. He plays Blizzard, an embittered, cunning and sadistic gangland boss. His embitterment reaches back to when a negligent surgeon amputated his legs after an accident suffered in childhood. Ethel Grey Terry is a government agent whose task in to infiltrate Chaney’s gang. The film becomes a bit melodramatic at times, but Chaney is always worth the time, especially watching him performing stunts without the use of his legs. If anyone ever perfected the art of acting in the silents, it was Chaney.
ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (March 31, 4:30 am): Director Louis Malle made many a fine film, but none better than this 1958 effort about a woman and her ex-paratrooper lover who plot to kill her husband in the “perfect crime.” It’s a dark, stylish noir thriller that owes much to the influence of Hitchcock and Melville. (In fact, Hitchcock himself greatly admired the film.) Of course, things do go wrong, but they go so deliciously wrong as to keep us totally enthralled. What really makes the film is the strong, sensuous performance of star Jeanne Moreau. Malle later claimed to have discovered her, but Moreau was already a star of the stage and a veteran of B-movies before she met Malle. But this was the film that made Moreau a star. Photographed by none other than Henri Decae, it contains some breathtaking shots of Moreau and Paris at night. For those who haven’t yet seen it, it’s a definite “Must See.” And for those who have seen it, it still rates a revisit.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . CAMELOT (March 27, 10:30 pm)
ED: C. Camelot is perhaps the most overrated musical ever made. The originals 1960 Broadway hit by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe was a cultural milestone of sorts, to be associated forever with the youthful Kennedy Administration. Unfortunately, the film version was made in 1967, when the aura created by the Kennedy had given way to counter-cultural rebelliousness. The move tries to walk a thin line between an old-fashioned Hollywood musical and the themes of the ‘60s culture. What we get is a big, lumbering, almost three-hour borefest. Richard Harris as King Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere are excellent, but Franco Nero as Lancelot is awful as a romantic lead and a disaster as a singer. It also could have used a better director than Joshua Logan, who seems to miss the finer points of what he was trying to show us under all the costuming and lavish sets. At times it descends into something worthy of Monty Python. It’s only for Harris and Redgrave that I am giving it a “C.” They make the film bearable.
DAVID: D-. This is less a disagreement about Camelot and more about who has a greater hatred of this piece of garbage movie. As someone who typically doesn't like musicals, you better wow me to have a shot at getting my approval. Camelot certainly wowed me. But it was "Wow, this movie really sucks," "Wow, when will this boring film end? What? It's three hours, wow," and "Wow, I can't believe this film was released in 1967. That's the same year that groundbreaking classic films such as The Graduate, In Heat of the Night, and Bonnie and Clyde came out." In typical Hollywood style, it was also the same year that saw the release of Doctor Doolittle, another classically bad movie. What makes Camelot so awful? So as not to waste our readers' time, I'll be as brief as possible. The movie is too long; it's very dull and we're talking about King Arthur and sword fighting and things that are supposed to provide action; the music was dated in 1967 so imagine it today; everyone overacts; and most of the actors can't sing. If I want to hear Richard Harris sing badly, I can torture myself with "MacArthur Park." Like the cake in that horrible song, someone left Camelot out in the rain as the end product is all wet. I rarely recommend people avoid a film as nearly all have something worthy to see. Camelot falls into that tiny minority of movies with no redeeming value. It's a dreadful film.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.