Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cinéma Inhabituel for May 15-31

A Guide the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


The Sterling Hayden festival continues with the films, except for a few gems, progressively getting worse.

May 20: It’s a night of Hayden Westerns, with the great cult classic, Johnny Guitar, first up at 8:00 pm. The rest are all celluloid mediocrities, unless you’re really into Westerns.

May 27: A mixed bag, with the best of the bunch leading off the night and closing it. At 8:00 pm, Hayden stars with Bette Davis in 1952’s The Star. Davis is captivating as a star whose best days, along with her money, are now behind her and she must find some way to salvage her life. Watch it for Davis, as this has become something of a camp classic over the years.

At 3:30 am, it’s the role Hayden is probably best remembered for – the paranoid general Jack D. Ripper, who threatens the world with nuclear Armageddon when he launches a squadron of bombers against Russia in Dr. Stangelove Or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb, director Stanley Kubrick’s wonderful 1964 satire on Cold War brinksmanship. The film is also notable for its star, Peter Sellers, playing three roles, including the President and Dr. Strangelove, whom director Kubrick was said to have based on then Harvard professor Henry Kissinger.


May 22: A wonderful night begins at 8:00 pm with 1946’s The Stranger. Welles is a Nazi war criminal hiding in a small New England town pursued by federal agent Edward G. Robinson. Loretta Young plays the young innocent schoolteacher whom Welles married. Welles is his usual excellent, but it’s Robinson’s film, as his masterfully understated agent, grabs the spotlight, not easy to do when working with Welles. If you can’t out act him, under act him, I guess.

At 10:00 pm, it Welles in the director’s chair as he helms the classic adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1962). Anthony Perkins stars as Joseph K, a clerk accused of an unspecified crime. As he pleads his innocence he is further caught up in an impenetrable web of bureaucracy from which there is no escape. Also starring the incredible Jeanne Moreau and the underrated Suzanne Flon.

At 12:15 am comes a movie made for French TV that Welles directed and stars in, The Immortal Story, from 1968. Set in the Portuguese colony of Macao in the 1860s, Welles plays Mr. Clay, an aging, wealthy merchant who, unable to sleep at night, has his clerk, Elishama, read to him. One night the clerk picks the prophecies of Isaiah, but Mr. Clay wants to hear real stories of events that happened to real people. He recounts a story he heard as a child about a sailor who was paid by a wealthy man to sleep with his wife. When Elishama remarks that the story is in fact a commonplace legend, Mr. Clay arbitrarily resolves to make the story come true whatever the cost and asks Elishama to hire a sailor and a prostitute to act out the roles. Co-starring Jeanne Moreau, Roger Coggio, and Fernando Rey, it was adapted from a novel by Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen) by Welles and Louise de Vilmorin.

Wrapping up the night at 1:30 am is F For Fake (1973), a free-form documentary by Welles about fakery that focuses on the famed art forger Elmry de Hory and de Hory’s biographer, Clifford Irving, who wrote the fraudulent Howard Hughes autobiography. It then touches on Hughes and Welles’ own career, which began with a faked resume and a phony Martian invasion. Welles’ talents as a storyteller are on full display here and the film is a pure delight.

May 29: The last night of the Welles festival starts with a bang and ends with a bang. At 8:00 pm it’s the classic The Third Man (1949), with Welles unforgettable as Harry Lime, who invites old friend, pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) to postwar Vienna with the promise of a job. When Martins arrives he learns that Harry had died, and his subsequent investigation of his friend’s death opens a can of worms about the corruption engendered by the city’s black market and the man controlling it.

At 10:00 pm, it Welles starring with Claudette Colbert in the excellent, but weepy, Tomorrow is Forever (1946). Welles plays a WWI soldier, missing and presumed dead, who returns home years later to discover his wife has remarried.

At midnight, it’s Welles in a supporting role as a film mogul in the Liz Taylor-Dick Burton drama, The V.I.P.’s (1963). Terrence Rattigan wrote the screenplay about a group of fog-bound passengers at London’s Heathrow Airport, each with a personal drama.

The night ends with Welles as Cardinal Wolsey to Paul Schofield’s Thomas More in the classic A Man For All Seasons (1966). Better than this it doesn’t get.


It wouldn’t be Memorial Day on TCM without the annual marathon of war films.

May 23: Begin with the sturdy submarine drama, Destination Tokyo, at 8:30 am. The 1943 film, starring Cary Grant as a submarine captain on a mission inside Tokyo Bay, still holds interest today, even as time has made some of it perhaps a bit campy. John Garfield and Dane Clark shine as crewmen, and Alan Hale plays the role he’s best known for, that being Alan Hale.

Immediately following at 10:00 am is Howard Hawks’ excellent Air Force, also from 1943. The story of the B-17 bomber Mary Ann and its crew still makes us sit up and notice, no matter how many times we’ve seen it. The movie is a sheer hoot on many levels, beginning with the typical cross-section of America crew. John Garfield shines as the cynical tail gunner Winocki, and Harry Carey, Sr. is notable as the grizzled veteran White. John Ridgley plays the pilot, “Irish” Quincannon, and George Tobias is the Jewish mechanic Weinberg. Look for Quincannon’s death scene, one of the corniest in movie history, and lines such as “Fried Jap coming down.” Hawks takes what could have become two hours of sheer boredom and makes it into diverting entertainment.

Dial ahead to 10:00 pm and it’s the estimable 1989 Civil War story, Glory, about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Army, the first African-American fighting unit in the war. It’s a chapter of history we were never taught in school, and grabs our attention from start to finish. Matthew Broderick is top-billed as the company’s commander, General Robert Gould Shaw, but it’s the performances of Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington that truly stand out. Washington won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance, but, frankly, Freeman outdid everyone with a truly understated piece of acting.

Finally, at 3:00 am it’s Westbound, a 1959 Western from director Budd Boetticher. Randolph Scott stars as Union Captain John Hayes, who has orders to establish a stagecoach line to transport gold from California to the East. But he runs into trouble in the small Colorado town of Julesberg, particularly from Clay Putnam, a pro-
Confederate hotel owner played by Andrew Duggan and his gang, led by the vicious Mace (Michael Pate). Any Boetticher-Scott collaboration is guaranteed entertainment, and this film is no different.

May 24: Awake at 6:00 am to Humphrey Bogart in Columbia’s 1943 war drama, Sahara, with Bogart as a tank commander in North Africa who finds himself surrounded by the enemy. Bogart is wonderful to watch as he carefully plots his moves, knowing one slip could be his last.

Following at 8:00 am is more Bogart, this time in John Huston’s 1942 thriller, Across the Pacific. This time, Bogie must save the Panama Canal from Japanese saboteurs led by the villainous Sydney Greenstreet. It also stars Mary Astor as a woman of mystery, a sort she played in the previous year’s The Maltese Falcon.

At noon, it’s William Wellman’s, The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), the story of famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith), as he follows the fortunes of Company C of the 18th Infantry during their campaigns in North Africa and Italy. Robert Mitchum was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for his work as Lieutenant Walker. It’s a war story as only Wild Bill Wellman can tell it.

Speaking of Italy, at 4:00 pm is the tense 1945 drama A Walk in the Sun, from director Lewis Milestone, starring Dana Andrews, Richard Conte and John Ireland as members of a platoon that must capture a key farmhouse during the landing at Salerno. Of particular note is the excellent performance of Huntz Hall as Private Carraway.

Midnight sees the airing of King Vidor’s groundbreaking 1925 war epic, The Big Parade, starring John Gilbert as a young enlistee who learns all too soon about the horrors of war. It’s followed at 3:00 am by the classic Grand Illusion (1938) from director Jean Renoir about French prisoners led by Pierre Fresnay, Jean Gabin and Marcel Dalio versus their German jailer, Erich Von Stroheim. It’s a richly layered and touching film that has lost none of its punch over the years. If anything, it’s gained in stature over the decades and today is seen as one of the seminal films about war.

May 25: Begin at 12:30 pm with From Here to Eternity (1953), based on James Jones’ novel about the prewar military at Pearl Harbor. Stay tuned at 2:45 pm for The Dirty Dozen (1967), followed at 5:30 pm by Clint Eastwood starring in Kelly’s Heroes (1970).

The evening begins at 8:00 pm with 1948’s Battleground, perhaps the best film ever made about The Battle of the Bulge. At 10:15 pm, it’s George C. Scott in his Oscar winning role as Patton (1970), followed by the silly Battle of the Bulge (1965), with Henry Fonda in one of the most absurd roles of his career and Robert Shaw as a German tank commander obsessed with the war. Finally it’s the rarely shown B-actioner, The Tanks Are Coming (1953), starring Steve Cochran as a tank commander who is at first disliked by the crew, but by the end is the hero of his men. Look for George O’Hanlon, later the voice of George Jetson, as one of the crew. Believe it or not, this is the one to catch if you’ve never seen it.


May 17: 10:00 pm sees the airing of the classic The Blue Angel from 1930 with Marlene Dietrich in her star-making role as nightclub chanteuse Lola Lola, who seduces and destroys stuffy professor Emil Jannings.

Late night sees two from Europe, beginning at 2:15 am with Here’s Your Life, a 1968 coming-of-age tale of a working-class boy in the rural Sweden during World War I. I can’t comment on this one as I haven’t seen it, but it is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Eyvind Johnson. It’s followed at 4:15 am by Ingmar Bergman’s All These Women from 1964. This one I have seen and I can only comment that it is one of Bergman’s few misfires. It’s the story of a pretentious critic, Cornelius (Jari Kulle) who attempts to write a biography of a famed cellist. Though he never gets to interview his subject, he learns much about him from his long string of girlfriends and tries to use this knowledge to blackmail the cellist into performing a composition the critic has written. Kulle, who was so wonderful in Bergman’s Smiles on a Summer Night (1955), is merely annoying and irritating in this film. It seems Bergman is trying to emulate Fellini, but he lacks Fellini’s insight and playfulness, replacing it with physical humor for its own sake, which fails miserably. It’s for the Bergman completist only.

May 31: Two early ‘50s drama from Japan make up the late night bill. First, at 2:45 am is Ginza Cosmetics (Ginza kesho), a 1951 production from director Mikio Naruse and Shintoho Film Distribution. It’s a slice-of-life drama about a few days in the life of geisha Yukiko, the single mother of a young, smart boy who lives in the Ginza quarter of Tokyo. Not only is she struggling to bring up her son alone, but she also faces financial and sexual problems, as well as the disapproval of society as she nears the end of her career as a bar hostess. It’s moving without being maudlin, as events taking place naturally, matter-of-factly, without being theatrical. The performance of Kinuyo Tanaka as Yukiko is first-rate and richly layered, as she brings depth to a character usually overlooked in contemporary Japan. Highly recommended.

Following at 4:15 am is Naruka’s Wife (Tsuma), a 1953 black comedy from Toho Company about an unhappy couple married for 10 years. The crux of the problems between the two is that husband Tochi (Ken Uehara) simply doesn’t make enough money for wife Mihoko (Mieko Takamine) to enjoy the lifestyle she would like. As a consequence she has to work, and her expressed disinterest in domestic duties has Tochi questioning her fitness as a spouse. Things come to a head when Tochi falls for recently widowed co-worker Fusako (Yatsuko Tanami), whose entry into the scene spurs Mihoko into action to save her marriage. But is her husband really worth the effort?

The film marked another notch for Toho, which was on quite a roll during the early ‘50s, having just made the critical and financial hit Ikiru in 1952, with the blockbusters Gojira and Seven Samurai still to come in 1954. The film was also made during what could be called a Golden Age of Japanese filmmaking, with such directors as Akira Kurosawa, Yusuhiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Masaki Kobayashi at the peak of their creative powers. Mikio Naruse belongs in this esteemed company, but perhaps because of all the creative artistry, is unfortunately overlooked. He deserves much, much more.


May 16: At 10:30 am, it’s Bomba in Bomba and The Hidden City, a 1950 opus from Monogram. Bomba is wounded and helped by the simple village girl Leah (Sue England). Over time he learns she is really Zita of Kampari, the rightful heir to the throne whose father was overthrown by the evil Hassan (Paul Guilfoyle). The rest you can figure out.

Bad Movie Alert! Airing at 2:30 am is one of the undiscovered gems of bad moviedom – An American Hippie in Israel (1972), a laff riot from would-be auteur Amos Sefer. As if the title alone weren’t enough to warn us, the film features an inane plot, pretentious direction, terrible acting, and high school-level special effects. In other words: TOTAL ENTERTAINMENT! Don’t miss it!

May 18: Beginning at 8:00 pm, it’s a psychotronic double feature. First up is the classic The Hunchback of Norte Dame from 1939 with Charles Laughton in one of his greatest performances as Quasimodo. Following at 10:15 is Tower of London, a 1939 production from director Rowland Lee and Universal with Basil Rathbone as the ambitious Richard III and Boris Karloff as Richard’s executioner henchman, Mord. The film is not seen that often on television, which adds another reason to see it, apart from the performances of Rathbone and especially Karloff. Vincent Price has a small role as the unfortunate Duke of Clarence. In 1962, he would play Richard himself in Roger Corman’s remake.

May 26: A great psychotronic drama is airing at a lousy hour. Scheduled for 5:15 am is Boris Karloff in Devil’s Island from Warner Bros. in 1940. Karloff is Dr. Charles Gaudet, a surgeon accused of treason for treating an escaped convict. He’s sent to the notorious prison, where the commandant, Col. Lucien (James Stephenson) uses a miniature guillotine to clip his cigars. Boris leads a prisoner revolt and is sentenced to death, but Lucien offers to spare his life if he can operate on the Colonel’s daughter. Karloff’s operation is successful, but Lucien reneges on the deal, but Karloff escapes the island with the help of Madame Lucien (Nedda Harrigan). It’s a good, tight B-movie ably guided by director William Clemens.

May 28: TCM devotes this evening to the theme of time travel films, starting at 8:00 pm with the Leslie Howard romance, Berkeley Square, from 1933. Following at 9:45 is Time After Time, a 1979 sci-fi flick directed by Nicholas Mayer. The plot is quite intriguing: Jack the Ripper (David Warner) steals H.G. Wells’ (Malcolm McDowell) time machine and heads for modern-day San Francisco with Wells in hot pursuit. It’s a delightful film highlighted by the performances of Warner, McDowell, and Mary Steenburgen as a young woman who helps H.G. Wells in his quest to send the Ripper back.

At 11:45, it’s Chris Marker’s acclaimed short, La Jetee (1962), followed by 1965’s Dr. Who and the Daleks, with Peter Cushing marvelous as the time-traveling doctor. At 2:15 am, it’s Rod Taylor in the original The Time Machine from 1960, and at 4:15 am, it’s Taylor once again as an astronaut thrown forward in time into a post-apocalyptic Earth in the 1956 film, World Without End.

May 30: And we end this issue’s psychotronic tour right where we began – with another Bomba adventure. At 10:30 am, it’s The Lion Hunters, a cheaper-than-usual production from Monogram with Bomba out to save his feline friends from being massacred by a pair of unscrupulous hunters. It’s notable only as the movie debut of Woody Strode. He plays a native (naturally).

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