TCM TiVo ALERT
May 15–May 22
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (May 16, 6:00 am): What's better than Edward G. Robinson hunting Nazis? Not much. This 1939 movie from Warner Brothers was the first anti-Nazi film made by a major Hollywood studio. It came out a few months before the start of World War II and it would be more than 2 1/2 years after this film premiered that the United States would go to war with Germany. In this film, Eddie G. plays an FBI agent trying to break up a ring of German-Americans who are loyal to the Nazis and are spying here out of loyalty to their country of origin. It's based on a series of articles written by a former G-Man who investigated Nazi spies before the start of World War II. I wish Eddie G. was in the film more, but the supporting cast of Nazis, led by George Sanders, Francis Lederer and Paul Lucas, do a fine job until he arrives.
THE STRANGER (May 22, 8:00 pm): To repeat: What's better than Edward G. Robinson hunting Nazis? How about this 1946 film directed by Orson Welles, who co-stars with Eddie G.? In this movie, the war is over, but there are escaped Nazis in the United States. One of them is Welles, a former high-ranking Nazi who has changed his identity. The war criminal is now a New England prep school teacher married to Loretta Young, the daughter of a United States Supreme Court justice. When another German comes to visit, Welles calmly takes him to the woods and kills him so that his identity remains a secret. Welles is fantastic as the ruthless war criminal who'll do anything to protect his identity and his life. Eddie G. does a masterful job as a Nazi hunter on Welles' trail. Welles wanted to cast Agnes Moorehead in Eddie G.'s role. I'm glad that didn't work out. While not as adventurous as some of the other films Welles directed, it's an excellent movie with great action, suspense and drama. It's also the first Hollywood film to show footage of the victims of Nazi concentration camps - an incredibly powerful image that stays with the viewer.
ED’S BEST BETS:
MACBETH (May 15, 12:00 am): In the late ‘40s, burning with desire to make a film of Macbeth, Orson Welles turned to a most unlikely choice: Republic Studios. About the best thing one could say of Republic was that it was the Cadillac of Poverty Row studios, which wasn’t saying much. But when one is desperate, any port in the storm will do. And Republic, known for its Gene Autry and Roy Rogers Westerns, was as anxious to have Welles come aboard. Herbert Yates, Republic’s owner, had long wanted to move into the world of “prestige films” and leave his B-movie legacy behind. Welles would be just the man to kick things off in that direction. At first, everything went swimmingly: Welles brought the picture in well under budget, probably because he failed to lure any big names for the film. No star wanted to take his or her chances working for the eccentric director - especially at a place like Republic. (For instance, Welles wanted Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth, but husband Laurence Olivier quickly squashed that notion.) Yates even held his temper when Welles took his usual good time in editing the film. The prestige the film would bring the studio would justify any delays. However, when the film was previewed in Salt Lake City, Denver, and San Francisco, it was totally savaged by critics who claimed the director’s use of heavy, authentic, Scotch accents made the film incomprehensible to American audiences. Yates recalled the prints and had associate producer Richard Wilson do a repair job. Wilson redubbed about 65% of the film and cut about 20 minutes, leaving the film with a running time of 88 minutes. But word of mouth killed any chance it had in America and England. It did quite well, though, in non-English speaking countries, especially France and Germany. Archivists at UCLA put the original film back together in 1980. Because the film is quite watchable and because it’s rarely shown on television (the last time I saw it was on PBS about 25 years ago, I’d say), it’s a must for the cinephile. It’s a real Essential.
THRONE OF BLOOD (May 15, 2:00 am): The only thing better than watching Orson Welles’s Macbeth is to watch Akira Kurosawa’s Macbeth: Throne of Blood. Kurosawa is a better director than Welles, and he had a better cast, led by the great Toshiro Mifune, for this adaptation set in feudal Japan. Despite the usual trepidations of those concerned over a Shakespeare play translated for the Japanese audience, we can tell them to relax. The film is a masterpiece - Kurosawa is one of the great stylists and the film is a masterful blend of Noh drama, Shakespeare, and the American Western. For those who love Shakespeare, tune in and delight in Kurosawa’s adaptation. For those that have never seen a Japanese film in its original form, start with this one - it’s impossible to go wrong. And for those who always wanted to watch it, but were hesitant to tune in, now’s your chance. Personally, the film is one of my top favorites. I have it on DVD and watch it every time it airs on TCM. I have also exposed friends and loved ones to it as well. It’s just too good to pass by.
WE DISAGREE ON ... MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (May 18, 11:45 am)
ED: A. This film, considered one of the classics of American cinema, is one I’m conflicted over. The story, about a young idealist named to the Senate after his state’s junior senator dies, and who finds nothing but corruption in the Senate, is a good idea that, for my taste, was not hashed out fully. The character of Jefferson Smith is just too “Gee Whiz” at the beginning to be taken seriously, and his fight against the Senate over his bill a little too much, especially the ending, where Claude Rains suddenly grows a conscience and confesses all. But the reason I give it the grade I do is because of the performances, especially those of Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Harry Carey (as the vice-president), Edward Arnold, and Thomas Mitchell. How Arthur missed out on an Oscar nomination beats me. Capra does a wonderful job directing the actors, discouraging any scenery chewing (especially on the part of Rains) and using cuts to emphasize the full effect of the picture. Except for that last scene with Rains, he really had it down. As I said, the performances and the direction were first-rate, if not exactly the plot.
DAVID: B-. This is a classic film. But if you look at it objectively it's the cliched formula Frank Capra used a few too many times. It's ridiculously corny, preachy, sentimental with an ending you know is going to happen as soon as Mr. (Jefferson) Smith, played by James Stewart, goes to Washington. After a senator from an unnamed Western state dies, the state's political power-brokers look for a replacement. They eventually decide on Smith believing him to be a sap they can easily control. He's the incredibly naive and idealistic head of the state's Boy Rangers who doesn't realize he's supposed to be a puppet of the political machine. Of course, he's way out of his element in the Senate, but eventually wises up thanks to his sassy secretary (Jean Arthur). Stewart's filibuster scene toward the end of the film followed by Sen. Joe Paine's (Claude Rains) attempt to commit suicide out of guilt and his subsequent admission that he was part of the conspiracy to discredit Smith are almost unbearable to watch. However, I agree with Ed that the acting is exceptional. I've never seen a film with Stewart or Arthur that a viewer could criticize either for their performances, and they've both very good here despite the lines they're reading and how over-the-top preachy the film is.
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.