Tuesday, April 14, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for April 15-22

April 15–April 22

EXECUTIVE SUITE (April 17, 1:15 pm): A fascinating look inside the cutthroat world of the business boardroom as allegiances are formed through a variety of ways, including blackmail and seduction, as top executives at a major furniture company fight it out to see who will run the company after the president drops dead on the sidewalk. The dialogue is riveting and the storyline is compelling. A large part of the film takes place inside an office, particularly the boardroom, which normally detracts from a film. But this is quite the engaging movie. The film's strength is its all-star cast – William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Frederic March and Walter Pidgeon are at the top of the bill.

KNIFE IN THE WATER (April 20, 1:45 am): Roman Polanski's directorial debut from 1962 is filled with suspense and drama and remains one of his finest films. It's a psychological thriller about an arrogant rich man and his bored wife who invite a young hitchhiker for a ride on their boat. The wealthy husband's primary goals on the trip are to show off all his possessions, including his younger trophy wife, and brag of his accomplishments. The man and the hitchhiker get into a heated argument, after much tension, with the man knocking the other off the boat, and fearing his committed murder. That's not the case, and what ensues shows that even on his first film, Polanski had an incredible talent to tell a compelling story. The Polish government quickly banned the film and Polanski left for Paris. 


RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS (April 15, 6:30 am): A wonderful film from MGM about the court of Nicholas II of Russia and the evil monk Rasputin, who came to have such a influence. As Leonard Maltin notes, a good film that should have been great, an opinion with which I concur. The production was troubled, the script by Charles MacArthur was never really on point, and the direction by Charles Brabin and his successor, Richard Boleslavsky was weak. What the set needed was a driving director, not two who couldn’t establish their authority. But this was the first – and only – time all three Barrymores – Lionel, John, and Ethel – acted together in a picture, and that makes it worth catching. Lionel, by the way, has the meatiest role as Rasputin, and he makes the most of it. It’s also the film debut of Diana Wynyard.

KISS ME DEADLY (April 20, 8:00 pm): This is one of director Robert Aldrich’s best films, a moody and violent film that seemingly moves at the speed of sound. Ralph Meeker makes for a fine Mike Hammer in the lead, playing what my just be the most unsympathetic and violent private eye in the history of film. From the time Hammer pulls over to pick up distraught hitchhiker (Cloris Leachman) who has just escaped from a mental institution, the film never lets up for one minute as Meeker growls, punches, and kicks his way from one encounter to the next, using the same nefarious tactics as his criminal foes and serving as an unwitting accomplice in the search for the mysterious box that contains “the great whatzit.” This is a film truly ahead of its time and was a huge influence on the French New Wave, who even went ga-ga over the way the opening credits come up on the windshield of Hammer’s sports car. Its influence can also be seen in such later American films as Repo Man and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I would list Kiss Me Deadly as one of my Essentials.

WE DISAGREE ON ... INTOLERANCE (April 19, 12:00 am)

ED: A. When we sit down and think about it, Intolerance is one of the wildest films ever made. This is director D.W. Griffith’s follow up to The Birth of a Nation, one of the most intolerant films ever made. And the critics called him on it. So what does D.W. do? He makes Intolerance, in which he castigates his critics for their intolerance of his racist views by showing intolerance through four distinct ages: ancient Babylon, Calvary, 16th century France, and modern-day America, with each story depicting a disaster resulting from with a government edict or a puritanical group that imposes their mistaken beliefs upon others. He’ll show us. Just for the sheer chutzpah alone, this film gets an “A.” D.W. is obviously the type of guy who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan. So, taken from this point alone, Intolerance is worth the time. But there’s more to it other than the overly melodramatic story. This is what critics mean when they use the word “epic.” Just take a look at the sets for the Babylonian sequence. They positively towered over the streets of Hollywood, looking as if an ancient city had suddenly sprouted up right in the midst of Los Angeles. The credit – or blame – for this magnificent piece of true Americana slob art goes to Frank “Huck” Wortman, who served as Griffith’s chief set builder, carpenter, and all-around “go to” guy. He saved Griffith money by taking thin wood and covering it over with plaster to make it look imposing. And it worked - the sets are stupendous. The real value of the film lies in its interest to students of film history, and that is why I give it the grade I do.

DAVID: C-. The sheer arrogance and self-importance of D.W. Griffith is on full display in this 1916 film that drags on for almost 3 1/2 hours. Ed is dead-on when he wrote Griffith made Intolerance as a response to critical outrage over his intolerant and offensive The Birth of a Nation a year prior. In Birth, which is about 10 minutes shorter in length than Intolerance, Griffith makes heroes out of the Ku Klux Klan. Offended that people were angry about his racist epic, Griffith made Intolerance a year later to show his critics that they were wrong about him. He goes so over the top that Intolerance is one of those films you have to force yourself to finish, usually not in a single sitting, just to say you've seen it. It's incredibly long, boring and often confusing. I don't doubt that Griffith purposely did that as rather than using a gentle touch, he preferred to smash the audience in the face with a metal shovel to prove what he "genius" he believed himself to be. The film started as the current-day American love story and grew and grew and grew. None of the four stories are compelling and all are extraordinary heavy handed. For a silent film, there is way too much "dialogue" in the form of title cards. However, what saves this from the trash heap is some of the sets – particularly in the Babylon story – are visually impressive, and Griffith uses some innovative, though often frantic, camera angles. If you are a cinephile and haven't seen this, watch it just to check it off your list. If you're a casual film fan or someone who watches movies to be entertained, stay far away from Intolerance. I saw it once and never plan to view it again. I'm not a bad person and don't deserve to be punished.

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

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