TCM TiVo ALERT
March 8–March 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
LITTLE BIG MAN (March 12, 5:30 pm): This is a history of the many legends of the Wild West as told by Jack Crabb, a 121-year-old man who supposedly lived through them. Dustin Hoffman is positively brilliant in the lead role, showing amazing versatility playing the character in a variety of scenarios and at different ages. The makeup is fantastic, and while Hoffman is the star of this 1970 film, he has a solid supporting cast including Martin Balsam as a snake oil salesman and Chief Dan George, who plays his Indian "father." It's a great combination of comedy and drama told through a very liberal telling of historical events.
IN COLD BLOOD (March 14, 3:30 am): A groundbreaking true-crime film, In Cold Blood is a solid big-screen adaption of Truman Capote's book of the same name . Like the book, the film is largely based on the true story of two hoods who kill a family of four in Kansas for money, that isn't there. Told in flashbacks and exquisitely filmed in black and white, this 1967 movie, done in documentary style, is gripping and fascinating, even though we know the outcome almost immediately. It conveys the coldness that some people have toward others in society. It's also shows that Robert Blake, who plays one of the killers, could act when given an interesting role.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (March 8, 4:30 pm): Burt Lancaster is at the top of his form as Winchell-esque columnist J.J. Hunsecker, a man that can make or break someone with a flourish of his pen. Tony Curtis is Sidney Falco, a botton-feeding press agent who will do anything to get his client’s names in Hunsecker’s columns. Besides the lead performances (and Curtis is a revelation as Falco), there’s Elmer Bernstein’s great jazz score and some wonderful camera work by James Wong Howe that seems to capture the essence of New York City nightlife in the late ‘50s. A classic no matter how one slices it.
DEAD END (March 14, 12:00 am): I first saw this film as a teenager on The Late, Late Show and never forgot it. It’s a pretty intense look at the gap between the rich and the poor in New York City, even though it‘s romanticized through the Hollywood filter. Two things about the movie stand out. The first is Humphrey Bogart as Baby Face Martin, a wanted gangster who comes back to visit his old neighborhood. At this point in his career, Bogie’s still playing hoodlums, but at least this time he gets to play one with more than one dimension, and he clearly makes the most of it. Check out the scene where he meets the old love of his life Francie (Claire Trevor) and watch his face go from hopefulness to sheer revulsion when she tells him what she’s been doing for a living while he was away. The second thing about the film that stands out is the performance of the Dead End Kids. In prior films concerning juvenile delinquents, such as The Mayor of Hell and Wild Boys of the Road, there was always the underlying hope that these poor kids could be redeemed by the system. What makes this film so refreshing is that these kids are totally unredeemable; the system is there to crush them, not rehabilitate them. Joel McCrea is the ostensible star of the film, a boyhood chum of Martin who has grown up to be an unemployed architect. He’s torn between Dreena (Sylvia Sidney) his boyhood sweetheart, and the alluring Kay (Wendy Barrie), a rich woman who wants him to give this all up to come away with her. It’s a film that still moves the viewer today and one to catch.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . KID GALAHAD (March 10, 6:15 pm)
ED: C+. Elvis as a boxer! What will they think of next? But imagine an Elvis film where Ol’ Liver Lips isn’t even the main focus. Elvis is Walter Gulick, a sweet guy who has just finished his time in the army and has returned to his hometown with hopes of becoming an auto mechanic. Instead he becomes a sparring partner, and later a boxer with a series of big fights. The problem with the film is that Gig Young is the main focus. He’s Willy Grogan, a sleazy fight promoter who exploits his fighters, has a gambling addiction, and is rotten to girlfriend Lola Albright. It’s almost impossible to root for a guy like this. The film is watchable, thanks to the efforts of its director, B-movie maestro Phil Karlson, who brings a lot of energy to the fight scenes. Also adding to our enjoyment is the performance of Charles Bronson as a curmudgeonly trainer, sort of on the same level with Burgess Meredith in the Rocky films. Oh yeah . . . Elvis sings, of course. For the Elvis fan it’s happy, happy, joy, joy. For the non-Elvis fan it can be tough slogging, as the film has no crossover appeal.
DAVID: B+. This 1962 film is certainly not a classic, but it's a fine romantic comedy that is amusing and comes across as a spoof of a genre in which a guy from nowhere makes it big when he gets a lucky break. It's actually as good as the 1937 version of the film and that's impressive as the original starred Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Wayne Morris, the latter in the role Elvis played 25 years later. Ed is correct that Presley fans, particularly those like myself, who enjoy his films – even the bad ones though not the really, really bad ones – probably like this more than non-Elvis fans. However, Presley does a fine job in the title role. It's actually one of his best performances. Yes, the bar was set low when you consider some of the garbage Elvis was in, but he's very good in this. I disagree with Ed about Gig Young as the low-life fight promoter. There's a certain attraction to his character who has very few redeeming values, but still captures the audience's attention with a fine performance. Charles Bronson is very good as Elvis' trainer. There aren't any memorable songs, but the soundtrack is pleasant. If you understand you're watching Elvis and not Olivier, you'll enjoy it.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.