TCM TiVo ALERT
April 23–April 30
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE APARTMENT (April 24, 3:15 pm): Director Billy Wilder's follow-up to the overrated Some Like It Hot, this wonderful comedy-drama stars Jack Lemmon as an opportunistic office worker who sort of sleeps his way to the top. Well, he lets his office managers use his apartment as a place to have sex with their various mistresses. Because of that, he gets promoted to the personnel department, where his supervisor, Fred MacMurray, excellent at playing sleazy characters, convinces his new assistant to let him have the apartment on an exclusive basis. MacMurray's latest mistress is the company's elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine), who Lemmon likes a lot, but doesn't say anything to her. A fabulous cast with one of Hollywood's best directors and an intelligent, funny script, and you have 1960's Oscar winner for Best Picture. It was nominated for nine others, winning four of those. Incredibly, MacMurray wasn't even nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (April 26, 10:00 pm): I'm not a fan of musicals so when I recommend one, watch it. Singin' in the Rain is the greatest musical ever made. It's funny, it's charming, the singing is great and the dancing is unbelievable. While Gene Kelly's numbers are spectacular, Donald O'Connor's performance of "Make 'Em Laugh" is the best in the film. O'Connor had a unique physical style of dance that included him taking a number of pratfalls and other things that later took a toll on his body. The plot isn't exceptionally strong, but it's quite clever – spoofing Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies.
ED’S BEST BETS:
MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (April 23, 2:00 pm): A great vintage Pre-Code horror film from Warner Brothers in two-strip Technicolor process with Glenda Farrell as a reporter investigating the sudden disappearance of young women. Could it have something to do with wax sculptor Lionel Atwill? He has his eyes of Glenda’s friend, Fay Wray. Tune in and find out. This film was later remade in 3-D as House of Wax, starring Vincent Price, but I much prefer the original. It has that ‘30s sass, especially from Farrell in the lead that the later version completely lacks.
THE BIG HOUSE (April 25, 10:45 pm): Technically, it wasn’t the first prison drama to come from Hollywood, but it was the first one that talked, and it was certainly one of the most powerful, setting the template for years to come. They’re all here, the prison characters that have become cliché over the years: the innocent (Robert Montgomery), jailed for vehicular manslaughter and thrown into a cell with two of the hardest convicts ever to break a rock: forger and thief Chester Morris, and the totally uncouth and murderous Wallace Beery, aptly nicknamed “Machine Gun” for his antics outside the walls. Lewis Stone is the warden, trying hard to keep a lid on this simmering pot that could explode at any minute. Directed with innovation by George William Hill and written by his wife, Frances Marion, who toured San Quentin with notebook in hand to record observations of prison life and conversations with convicts and officials alike. The best thing about this film is, except for an unnecessary romantic subplot, it still packs quite a punch when seen today, which is quite a compliment.
WE DISAGREE ON ... HOW THE WEST WAS WON (April 24, 4:30 am)
ED: A. This epic Western, boasting four directors and an all-star cast, follows four generations of one family, told in five segments beginning in 1839 as they travel through the Erie Canal on their way West. Other segments chronicle their experience in homesteading, surviving the Civil War, witnessing the expansion of the railroad, and facing notorious outlaws. It all spells E-p-i-c, and even more foreboding is that it was made especially for Cinerama. It’s also 165 minutes in length. So the recipe for disaster is in place: four directors, all-star cast, Cinerama process, and a lengthy running time. However, for all that baggage, the film acquits itself nicely. The directors happen to be John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, and Richard Thorpe, who directed the connecting segments – directors experienced not only with action movies, but also some damn good Westerns. Despite its length, the film never fails to keep our attention, the atmosphere is grand, the photography downright awesome, the characters clearly defined, and the picture never lets up with the action. One factor that definitely worked in its favor was in splitting the film into segments and using a different director for each segment, as directing a film this long can become a Herculean task that can wear down the best director. The film also touches all the bases: runaway wagon trains, daunting river rapids, buffalo stampedes, The Rockies and Monument Valley, the coming of the telegraph and the Pony Express, Indian attacks, railroad barons, and dangerous outlaws. Ford’s direction of the Civil War episode was John Ford at his best. The audience is always taking a chance when watching an epic; many of them turn out to be long, tedious affairs. But How The West Was Won could also be subtitled “How To Make an Epic.” And that’s why it’s a favorite of mine.
DAVID: B-. This film comes with an impressive pedigree. It's a Western with John Ford as one of its directors and an all-star cast including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. The movie poster touted "24 Great Stars in the Mightiest Adventure Ever Filmed!" Spencer Tracy provides the narration, and it's beautifully filmed in Cinerama, a very advanced, very expensive process for 1963, when it was released. It's a good film, thus my grade of B-, so I'm not going to trash it for argument's sake. However, for nearly every step forward, it take a step back. While the cast is great, we don't get to spend much time with them. It seemed like the movie was trying to fit in as many film legends as possible just to say they're in it. There's little to no character development and most of the actors either have cameos or small roles. Because of that, the viewer can't get attached to the characters as they leave the screen almost as fast as they entered a few minutes prior. There's some nice work such as Ford's Civil War segment, which, surprisingly, lasts about 15 minutes in a film that is ridiculously long – almost three hours. The overall length would be fine if portions of it weren't also boring and pointless. Epics tell the story of a character or two or three, and allow the audience to see the development of that person or people. That doesn't happen here as it's a story of four generations of one family. That wouldn't be an issue if there was a solid storyline. There's a lot of potential in this movie, and some of it is realized. Of all the great actors in the film, a decent amount is dedicated to a character played by George Peppard, who is quite good. The movie has great scenery and a beautiful look, but it should have been tighter (shorter!) with more focus.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.