A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
STAR OF THE MONTH: ANTHONY QUINN
Well, it seems TCM has shot their load of good Anthony Quinn flicks in the first two weeks. Now we’re left with the also-rans, and a few good pics where he has a small part.
April 22: It’s a night devoted to Quinn's Westerns, with his dark Western, Man From Del Rio (1955), at 8:00. Quinn plays an uneducated Mexican gunfighter who wins the town over with his courage. At 9:30 pm, it gets a little better with Guns for San Sebastian (1968), with Quinn as a Mexican bandit masquerading as a priest who is roped into helping defend a town against an Indian attack. At 11:30, it’s Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears (1973) with Quinn as a deaf gunfighter who fights for Texas independence. At 1:45 am, Quinn is again a Mexican bandit in the Robert Taylor-Ava Gardner vehicle, Ride, Vanquero! (1953). Finally, at 3:30 am, Quinn is Crazy Horse in They Died With Their Boots On (1942), starring Errol Flynn as George Custer, late of the Battle of Little Bighorn.
April 29: At 8:00, it’s The Wild Party (1956). This is one of the few Quinn films I’ve missed over the years and I’m looking forward to watching it, as everything I’ve heard about it is bad. But then again, it co-stars Carol Ohmart, and she’s always worth looking at in a movie. The plot has Quinn as a former pro football player who has fallen on hard times. Look for Nehemiah Persoff as a hipster, of all things, and Jay Robinson (Caligula in The Robe) as a psycho who swings a mean switchblade.
At 9:45, it’s another mediocrity, The Naked Street (1955). Quinn is Mob boss Phil Regan, who goes to elaborate lengths to help little sister Anne Bancroft, who is preggers by lover Farley Granger, but Granger is currently sitting on Death Row. So with a little finagling, Quinn manages to get Farley sprung, but later lives to regret it. It’s another bad film for Quinn, and one so bad I recommend it to all bad film fanatics.
Quinn then stars in a movie that was a pleasant shock to me when I first saw it. Flap (1970), which airs at 11:30 pm, stars Quinn as Flapping Eagle, a dim-witted tribal revolutionary and con man who takes on the U.S. government over the mistreatment of his tribe. It’s funny and touching, thanks in large part to a excellent script from Clair Huffaker (from his novel Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian) and its director – Sir Carol Reed. It’s one to watch, even at this late hour.
Following at 1:30 am is The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) with Quinn back in form in a slob role playing the mayor of a small Italian town that has hidden a million bottles of wine from the Germans during the waning days of World War II. It’s produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, so we know it’s of dubious quality, a mechanical film with not one moment of spontaneity.
To wrap up the evening, it’s Quinn in a supporting role as an engineer in the John Wayne-Laraine Day quite watchable action-adventure, Tycoon (1947). This was Quinn’s last film in Hollywood as he was taking a hiatus to start a Broadway stage career. He would not appear in another film until The Brave Bulls in 1951.
FRIDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT
The Friday Night Spotlight in April is devoted to special effects man and art director A. Arnold Gillespie. As we mentioned previously, Gillespie worked with special effects at a time when CGI was just a dream. His skill, though, was such that he was nominated 13 times from 1939 to 1963, winning four of those times, for special effects work. Today, with the advent of computer graphics and green screens replacing mattes, it’s a different, and some would say less interesting, world.
April 17: Beginning at 8:00 pm, it’s Green Dolphin Street (1947, Special Effects). 10:00 pm – Royal Wedding (1951, Special Effects). 12:15 am – Scaramouche (1952, Special Effects). 2:30 am – The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959, Special Effects).
April 24: The evening begins at 8:00 pm with Forbidden Planet (1956, Special Effects). 10:00 pm – North By Northwest (1959, Special Effects). 12:30 am – Ben-Hur (1959, Special Photographic Effects). And at 4:30 am – How the West Was Won (1962, Special Visual Effects).
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
April 19: At 3:30 am, it’s the stunningly gorgeous The Makioka Sisters from Toho Studios and director Kon Ichikawa, from Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s 1943 novel, Sasameyuki (Fine Snow). Made in 1963, it had been filmed twice before in 1950 (by Shintoho Film Distributors) and in 1959 (by Daiei) as Sasameyuki. The film is set in prewar Japan and chronicles the activities of the four Makioka sisters, Tsuruko, Sachiko, Yukiko, and Taeko, who hail from a wealthy industrial family in Ozaka and gather each year in Kyoto for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. The family, once powerful, is in a period of decline, and with Japan’s defeat, all the sisters really have left to hold onto are the traditional rituals and customs, which the eldest sisters believe will preserve the family’s greatness. Director Ichikawa shows most of the exalted customs to be outdated, archaic, and inflexible to the point of absurdity, especially seen in the light of a changing Japan in the postwar era. As one who read the original novel and seen this version, I can say that it is an excellent illustration of what happens when filmmakers try to adapt a classic of literature. Characters and their motives as described in the novel are not fully translated to the screen, with the result that they seem to come out of empty space with no real relevance to the plot. I have also read that the studio forced changes in the script from the director to sanitize the plot and give it happy ending. My only comment is that I take all film adaptations of classic literary works with a grain of salt. (Literature is art, film is craft.) I do recommend this film highly, though, for its photography and the performances, especially Keiko Kishi, who was magnificent as the office flirt, “Goldfish,” in Ozu’s Early Spring (1956), as the eldest and most rigid sister, Tsuruko.
April 21: It’s an evening devoted to the great Sophia Loren and features three of her best films: Marriage, Italian Style (1964), at 8:00 pm; Two Women (1961) at 11:00 pm, for which Sophia won the Best Actress Oscar; and The Gold of Naples (1954) at 1:00 am, a film by Vittorio DeSica composed of six stories of life in Naples. Going against the grain is the 1972 H-Bomb Man of La Mancha, at 3:00 am. Loren was the only one in the damn thing who gave a good performance, not to mention she was the only one that could sing. Kicking the evening off at 8:00 pm is a short, Human Voice, directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti. It’s based on Jean Cocteau’s one-woman play of the same name, with Sophia as Angela, a woman in the twilight of her years on an emotional roller coaster in her last conversation with the man she loves, who is leaving her for anther woman. Son Edoardo, by the way, is married to Sasha Alexander of Rizzoli and Isles fame on TNT.
April 26: From Czechoslovakia comes the 1966 Pearls of the Deep, airing at 2:00 am. It’s an uneven anthology of five stories, each based on a work by the noted Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. The problem with omnibus compilations, especially with each segment being directed by a different filmmaker, is that the quality can vary widely. (Think of the Edgar Allen Poe-based film, the 1968 Spirits of the Dead, with three segments directed by Vadim, Malle, and Fellini.) Vera Chytilova, who directed the wonderful Daisies in 1966, helms one of the episodes, but as I haven’t as yet seen this one, I’m proceeding with caution.
A much better Czech film follows at 4:00 am, A Report on the Party and the Guests, from 1968, directed by Jan Nemec. It’s a stunning, Kafkaesque allegory about a group of picnickers psychologically forced into submission by a group of strangers led by Rudolf. The picnickers are led into a clearing where they are interrogated. When one of the men objects to Rudolf, he is abused until another man shows up to apologize for Rudolf’s behavior, explaining that it was only a practical joke. He invites the “guests” to his birthday banquet and they trek to a lake, where they are joined by others. When the meal begins it’s discovered that not everyone is in their proper assigned seats, and they are told to reseat themselves. When one of the guests becomes upset because her husband has left the table due to Rudolf’s rudeness, Rudolf declares that he has ruined the banquet and organizes a search party armed with police dogs and guns to look for him. When the film premiered in Prague, it was quickly banned and taken out of circulation. The director himself was later exiled for his documentary short, Oratorio for Prague, which shows the invasion by Soviet tanks. He would not return until 1990.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
April 18: A psychotronic double feature is on tap for today, beginning at 12:25 pm with Children of the Damned from 1964, no relation to the excellent 1960 Village of the Damned, but once again starring those wonderful space children with their wonderful special powers. It’s followed by the 1958 crap classic, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, at 2:00 pm.
Victor Buono has given us some eccentric performances over his career, none weirder, though, than his turn in the 1964 horror film, The Strangler, which airs at 4:30 am. Buono is a rather corpulent 30-year-old lab technician with a fetish for dolls and a hatred for women. He’s already killed 7 of them, all nurses, before the film opens with him dispatching number 8, another nurse, by strangling her with her own stockings while she undresses to go to sleep. He strangles number 9, who happens to be his invalid mother’s dedicated sanitarium nurse, and the shock of this gives mom (Ellen Corby), who treated our protagonist horribly as a youth, her final, fatal heart attack, which was probably the whole point of his rampage. The cops are now onto him, too late to save victim number 10, but in time to save number 10’s co-worker before she buys it.
April 20: The evening’s theme is “Hitching a Rise,” and several good films are on the agenda, starting at 8:00 pm with Robert Aldrich’s noir classic, Kiss Me Deadly (1955), which served as an inspiration to the French New Wave. Other films to catch this night are Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water (1962), at 1:45 am; Edgar G. Ulmer’s B-classic, Detour (1945), at 3:30 am, and director Ida Lupino’s genuinely creepy The Hitch-Hiker, from 1953 at 4:45 am.
April 22: It’s an entire morning and afternoon of Andy Hardy films, beginning at 6:00 am with the last in the series, Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958). They travel backward in time, with the best of the bunch being The Courtship of Andy Hardy (1942), featuring a young Donna Reed, at 1:00 pm; Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary (1941), at 4:30 pm; and Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940), at 6:15 pm.
April 23: A double feature of horror begins at 2:00 pm with 1932’s The Mystery of the Wax Museum, starring Glenda Farrell, Fay Wray, and Lionel Atwill. It’s followed at 3:15 pm by its remake, House of Wax, from 1953, starring Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, and a young actor named Charles Buchinsky, who later gained fame as Charles Bronson.
April 25: Another double feature, this one of monsters, begins at 7:30 am with 1933’s sequel, Son of Kong, followed at 8:45 am by the 1958 Japanese classic, Rodan.