TCM TiVo ALERT
April 8–April 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (April 11, 2:15 pm): If you consider all of the films starring music bands put together quickly to capitalize on their popularity, you'd be hard-pressed to find more than a handful that are even mediocre. This one starring the Beatles is the best of the bunch – by a lot. The film is a look at a couple of days in the lives of the Fab Four at the height of Beatlemania as they run from screaming fans and prepare for a TV show in which they'll perform. While I'm a huge Beatles fan, I much prefer their music from 1965 to 1969. However, the songs in this 1964 film are among the best of the early Beatles' music, including the title track, "Can't Buy Me Love," and "I Should Have Known Better." The script is clever and the four come across as charming and witty, at ease with funny one-liners and amusing sight gags. They'd try to repeat the magic a year later with "Help!" The soundtrack is better, but the film is a silly throwaway piece of fluff more in tune with this genre.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (April 14, 9:00 pm): This is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films. It features of his main go-to storylines about a case of mistaken identity involving international espionage. Hitchcock always got the most out of Cary Grant, and this is certainly a perfect example. James Mason as the deliciously evil Phillip Vandamm steals every scene he is in. But that doesn't mean Grant and Eva Marie Saint are window-dressing. The movie features two of Hitchcock's most iconic scenes – Grant attacked by a crop-duster airplane and Grant and Saint climbing down Mount Rushmore to escape from baddie Martin Landau. This is one of Hitchcock's finest efforts, which is saying a lot as the master director's career was filled with the best cinema has to offer.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE KNACK . . . AND HOW TO GET IT (April 8, 10:30 am): Director Richard Lester scored a big hit with A Hard Day’s Night in 1964 and everyone wondered how he would follow it. This was the follow up movie, and it is just as delightful. For anyone wondering about exactly what “the knack” is, it’s the “art” of scoring with women. Colin (Michael Crawford) is tired of having missed out on the sexual revolution, so he enlists his good friend, skirt-chasing Tolen (Ray Brooks) to teach him the ropes. Both meet their match, however, in Nancy (Rita Tushingham), a girl just arrived on the London train, and who, with bags in hand, is looking for the local YWCA. Tushingham is a marvel in this film – the perfect representation of an English “bird” from the mid-‘60s, and she gives the boys much more than they bargained for when they sized her up. Lester’s direction – the frequent cutting and fast-paced editing – brought more than a touch of the French New Wave to the film. It’s almost as if Jean-Luc Godard had a sense of humor. Lester also employed an innovative use of the camera while filming outdoor scenes, capturing the unrehearsed and candid reactions of onlookers and overdubbing their scenes with a running dialogue, in itself a neat trick that adds to our appreciation. However, for all Lester’s pyrotechnics, the real star of the movie behind the scenes is screenwriter Charles Wood. Lester may have given us pretty postcards of London, but it’s Wood, who adapted the original successful Off-Broadway play by Anne Jellico, who captures the essence of “Swingin’ London” and makes the film a “must see.”
FOOTLIGHT PARADE (April 11, 12:15 pm): More of the same from Warner's, only this time it's Jimmy Cagney as a producer of short musical prologues for movies fighting time and a rival company’s spies in order to get his product ready. Joan Blondell steals the movie as Cagney’s lovesick secretary. With Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler as the eternal juveniles. Cagney wows us in the finale with Ruby Keeler in the “Shanghai Lil” number. And is that really John Garfield in a cameo at the beginning of the number? Meanwhile, try to spot Dorothy Lamour as an uncredited chorus girl. This was her screen debut.
WE DISAGREE ON ... THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (April 12, 10:00 am)
ED: A++. To say this film stands as a unique event in the history of film – and musicals – is putting it mildly. It is a grand experiment in which all the words are sung. The score, written by Michel Legrande, includes not only the famous main theme and other songs, but also the bridging dialogue between songs in the style of the lines used in opera to link passages. As with any experiment, director Jacques Demy was taking a chance: this would either work or it would fail. When we think about it, the film could easily sink as a lightweight romantic musical. But it doesn’t. As time passes the film continues to stand out as a poignant, very bittersweet look at how true love sometimes doesn’t have a happy ending. The other remarkable thing about the film is the pastel colors. Demy used the bright, vibrant colors in an attempt to mimic the studio-bound artificiality and style of the classic Hollywood musicals. I must admit when I first saw this film in the ‘80s, I wasn’t that impressed because time had faded the colors. But Demy had acquired the rights to his film a few years before his death in 1990. After his death, Agnes Varda, Demy’s widow, restored the film to its original bright colors, and the difference is remarkable. I must also confess that the film took me a while to fully appreciate. I have now seen it at least five times and with each viewing my appreciation for its style, acting, and direction increases. Of course, it helps that Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo are probably the most beautiful couple ever in a musical. (Danielle Licari dubbed Catherine and Nino was dubbed by Jose Bartel.) After taking voluminous notes during my last screening and analyzing those notes, I am now convinced that not only is this film a masterpiece, but also one of the milestones in the history of film – and anyone who knows me also knows I do not make such judgments without a lot of thought in the process. My revised grade reflects this thought. I also bump up the grade in anticipation of my partner degrading the film, as he hates the vast majority of musicals, which in this case is somewhat surprising as it is a French film and he usually goes bananas over any film from France. To me, any degrading of this film is tantamount to throwing paint on a Picasso.
DAVID: C. Please pass the paint because like a Picasso painting, this film is far from perfect. Actually, it's mediocre at best. Ed is correct about a few things though he overstates my disdain of musicals. I don't like a vast majority of them. There are only some I truly hate – My Fair Lady and Camelot immediately come to mind. He is also correct that I have a lot of affection for good French films. I really wanted to like this movie, but I can't. It's just not good. Ed found it very bittersweet – and if we're only discussing the ending I agree. However, overall, the film comes across as too sentimental and overly cute. In the past few months, I've watched three films directed by Jacques Demy. The first was The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), which like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) stars Catherine Deneuve, has beautiful cinematography, fantastic color and way too much singing; though unlike Umbrellas the dialogue is spoken and not sung. I didn't like it. Next was this film followed by 1972's The Pied Piper with Donovan in the lead role. I wasn't expecting anything from The Pied Piper (I only watched it because I'm a huge Donovan fan), but it's an absolutely brilliant, very dark tale that involves anti-Semitism, death, a damning indictment of religion with incest and classism thrown in as well. Hopefully this shows that I gave Demy a few chances. But The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has too many flaws for me to give it a grade higher than a C. It's one of the most predictable films I've seen in a while. Guy Foucher (Nino Castelnuovo), a 20-year-old mechanic in love with Geneviève Emery (Deneuve), fears he's going to get drafted into the French military and be shipped off to Algeria. A few minutes later, he gets a letter saying he's been drafted and going to fight in the colonial war in Algeria. The two are heartbroken and have sex for the first time – she's 17 and helps her mother who runs an umbrella store. I was guessing she was going to get pregnant, and what do you know, she gets pregnant. The film becomes bogged down at this point because the plot is ignored in favor of the endless singing and the look of the movie. While at war, Guy isn't writing enough letters to Geneviève and then it looks like she's the one who is distant. Whatever happens, she ends up marrying a rich guy her mother approves of and while not happy, she accepts her new life with the wealthy man. The two raise the child as if he's the father. Guy returns from the war, with an obligatory limp, to find out the umbrella store and Geneviève are gone. He ends up marrying a woman who took care of his ailing aunt shortly after the elderly woman dies. The saving grace of this film is the coda that occurs six years later. Guy is still married, has a son and a gas station. Geneviève and the daughter Guy never met are back in Cherbourg – she's still married but her husband is not traveling with them – and they just happen to stop at his gas station. It's her first time back in the city in years. They recognize each other, talk and she asks Guy if he wants to meet his daughter. He declines and the two share a tender and sad moment before she drives away. The film ends with Guy kissing his wife and playing with his son in the snow. The ending is well done. If only the rest of the film had that emotion and clarity, it would have been significantly better. Also, Remy relies a lot on bright colors yet we barely see the sharp yellows, blues and reds of the umbrellas sold at the store. Singing every line comes across as a gimmick and after a while, an annoyance, particularly during the more mundane conversations.
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