Tuesday, April 28, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for May 1-7

May 1–May 7


THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (May 1, 10:15 pm): This is Orson Welles' amazing follow to Citizen Kane starring Joseph Cotten (one of film's greatest actors in only his second film) as Eugene Morgan, a charming and successful automobile manufacturer in the early 1900s. Twenty years after he returns to town, Eugene falls in love with Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello), a former flame who is widowed. But Isabel's son, George (Tim Holt), steeped in his family's tradition and name, interferes in the love affair between his mother and Eugene, who want to marry. The film is beautifully shot with incredible acting and a compelling storyline about those who go to unbelievable lengths to keep their pride at the expense of their own personal happiness and of their families. Were it not for Citizen Kane, this would have been Welles' masterpiece. It also showed his versatility as a director as the two films are about completely different topics.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (May 4, 12:15 am): The last American film directed by Fritz Lang is an excellent one with Dana Andrews convinced by his newspaper publisher father-in-law to plant clues implicating him in the murder of a woman. The plan is to prove the weakness of circumstantial evidence and make a fool out of the local district attorney. The problem is the plan works and Andrews' father-in-law is killed in a car crash with the evidence that he didn't do it burned to a crisp. This leaves Andrews on death row and heading for the chair. The concept and subsequent plot twists are fascinating and riveting, and the film's conclusion is outstanding and brilliantly executed (pun intended).


THE OFFICE WIFE (May 1, 6:45 am): This is a good, solid, Pre-Code soaper featuring two of the most beautiful women of their era: Dorothy MacKaill and Joan Blondell. The plot is already worn by this time - a secretary (MacKaill) in love with her boss (Lewis Stone), but who can’t fool around until she learns his marriage has hit the rocks, and it’s full steam ahead. Actually MacKaill is the replacement for the boss’s original secretary, who also was in love with him and quit when she learned he was getting married. (I don’t know about you, but I’m rather confused as to how Lewis Stone can be such a stud muffin.) MacKaill is fine in her role, but it’s Blondell, who steals the film playing the younger wisecracking sister. We first see her in the bathtub, and later pulling underwear on and off. Well, it is Pre-Code. Also look in the opening scenes for Blanche Friderci as a cigar-smoking, mannishly dressed lesbian getting a writing assignment from boss Stone. Made in 1930, it has the usual hindrances for an early talkie, such as stilted dialogue and obvious blocking, but it does entertain and entertain well.

QUEEN CHRISTINA (May 2, 10:00 pm): When History meets Hollywood, Hollywood always comes out the victor, and this film is a testament to how convincingly Hollywood could revise the past, especially in terms of glamour. And in these terms, Garbo comes out as a clear victor. This is one of her most popular films, both with critics and the public, and unlike some of her others, it has withstood the test of time quite well. Garbo makes for a most glam Christina, who in real life was rather plain, and with the help of co-stars John Gilbert, Ian Keith and Lewis Stone, gives us an excellent portrait of one of history’s most unique characters. The direction by Rueben Mamoulian is excellent, keeping the motion picture moving, which could be quite a challenge in Garbo’s other films. Gilbert, whose reputation was by this time in tatters, acquits himself nicely as the Queen’s lover, Don Antonio de la Prada, and Stone makes for an effective Chancellor Oxenstierna, who was the Queen’s adviser. The real reason this film continues to stir up interest is because of the Swedish Garbo, now known to be bisexual, playing a Swedish queen who was also known to be bisexual. For those with a prurient interest this film will not disappoint, given the strictures of its time, but beyond this it is a solid, entertaining film. Even those who are not exactly fans of Garbo will have no trouble liking this one.

WE DISAGREE ON ... I WANT TO LIVE! (May 4, 8:00 pm)

ED: BI Want to Live! is a good film with a good, but over the top performance from its lead, Susan Hayward, a prostitute-crook who - according to the picture - is framed for murder and condemned to the gas chamber. Robert Wise, the director, stand backs and lets Hayward rip. It’s a typical Hayward performance, not all that removed from her previous turn as Lillian Roth in I’ll Cry Tomorrow, for she was at her best playing troubled characters, where she could fully emote. Wise also spent some hours prepping by going to San Quentin and watching actual executions to give the film a truthful ring, as he knew the execution scene would be the pivotal scene in the film. All well and good, but the film comes across more as a propaganda piece for the abolition of capital punishment than as a human drama. Sure, Hayward may portray Graham with more than a few character flaws, but the impression we’re supposed to take away is the Graham is really just a party girl who was framed by two skels out for revenge. Again, it’s one of Hayward’s patented two hankie performances, playing to the viewer’s sympathy by pulling out all the stops, such as parading around Graham’s infant child as a symbol of the righteousness of her innocence. Yes, it is a good film and ably directed, but its flaws prevent it from being graded higher.

DAVID: A. Let's not quibble about the factual accuracy of this film. It's one perspective of the life and death of Barbara Graham, a career criminal who insists she was framed for murder. We also shouldn't quibble about what Susan Hayward does with this role. She is brilliant and memorable playing Graham. I strongly disagree with Ed that this is a typical Hayward performance. Yes, she played other girls-in-trouble before, but never with the emotional intensity and shattering tragedy in her flawless portrayal of Graham in this film. While there are many film fans who don't know her or only recognize the name, Hayward was one of the finest actresses of her era. She earned a remarkable five Best Actress Oscar nominations between 1947 and 1958, winning in the latter year for her performance in I Want to Live! Hayward's ability to show the many sides of Graham in this film – from prostitute/career criminal to convicted murderer who is about to be executed – is something that stays with the viewer long after the movie ends. Hayward is at her best waiting for the reprieve she never receives while those around her prepare the gas chamber for her death. Her performance is devastating and heartbreaking. Whether Graham was guilty or not – and this film wants to convince you she was innocent – I Want to Live! shows the unpleasant realities of capital punishment in a way never before presented. It is a groundbreaking piece of cinema that gives the viewer pause. Director Robert Wise does some great work here with interesting framing, jump cuts and overhead shots. I agree with Ed that Wise lets Hayward do her thing without interference. But why shouldn't he? Hayward gives a haunting and captivating performance. Adding to the quality of the film is a great moody jazz score.

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

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