Friday, May 22, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for May 23-31

May 23–May 31


TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (May 23, 5:30 pm): Gregory Peck shows great versatility in this film as a merciless brigadier general demanding Air Force bombers continue more dangerous missions to hit German targets during World War II. Peck pushes them beyond their limits and shows no mercy, removing the unit's commanding officer when he speaks up for his men. Peck's character evolves as the unit suffers heavy casualties, but never becomes warm and fuzzy. The film is one of the finest examples of the psychological impact of war, particularly on those in leadership positions, with Peck giving a standout and memorable performance.

TO SIR, WITH LOVE (May 27, 3:15 pm): A 1967 JD film with Sidney Poitier teaching at a poor predominantly white high school on the East End of London to make ends meet. Poitier has to deal with racism as well as try to reach kids who are doomed to lives of poverty, violence and misery. It's a bit unrealistic with Poitier impacting the lives of nearly every kid, teaching them about respect, and being honorable. But Poitier is wonderful and many of the kids, who are virtual unknowns, put in solid performances. The title song is a classic, sung by Lulu, who plays one of the students. 


GRAND ILLUSION (May 24, 3:00 am): This is a “Must See” in every sense of the word. Jean Renoir directed this classic about three French prisoners in a German POW camp and their relationship with the Commandant. Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, and Marcel Dalio (remember him as the croupier in Casablanca?) are the prisoners and Erich Von Stroheim is the Commandant. It was the first foreign film to be nominated for an Oscar, but more importantly, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels banned any showings during World War II. That alone should ensure it immortal status.

PATTON (May 25, 10:15 pm): George C. Scott was never better in this biopic of World War II’s most iconic general, and the Academy knew it as well, awarding him the Best Actor Oscar for his efforts (which he refused). It’s a good, old-fashioned epic. We knew who the Good Guys were and who the Bad Guys were, and never the twain did meet. There are historical inaccuracies galore, but this is Hollywood. If it’s a case of legend versus fact, print the legend. Karl Malden is excellent as General Omar Bradley, and Michael Bates makes for a feisty Montgomery, with whom Patton was always in competition. Does it tell us much about the inner Patton? Not really, but just go along for the ride. You won’t be disappointed.

WE DISAGREE ON ... FURY (May 30, 10:30 pm)

ED: B. This film, Fritz Lang’s first in America, is an excellent drama of lynch mob and mob rule in a small American town, with Spencer Tracy as their innocent victim. I love Lang’s cynicism, especially the scenes of women gossiping, and then a quick cut to chickens clucking in a barnyard, or close-up of people joyfully holding their babies up for a better view of Tracy as the courthouse burns out of control. But this is a film that would have served us better if it were made in the Pre-Code era, and at an MGM where Irving Thalberg was in control. In the final scenes, where Tracy somehow comes to his senses, admits to conspiring for the deaths of his torturers, and the reconciliation between Tracy and Sylvia Sidney, with Tracy embracing the American Dream, not only went against the grain of the picture, but were said to have been forced on the film by MGM and Louis Mayer, who hated the idea of the film and Lang as well. Also cut were scenes of African-Americans listening to a radio speech by the movie’s district attorney condemning lynching, and another where an African-American laundress is singing a song of freedom while hanging out the wash. The interference by MGM is what lowers the grade for me as it compromises the integrity of the film and Lang’s vision, for Lang had the unusual ability to understand and display the darker parts of the human spirit.

 Fritz Lang's first American film after leaving Nazi Germany is one of his finest. Fury is a gritty, cynical film about mob-rule mentality. It looks like it's from Warner Brothers, but it's an MGM production. It was made in 1936, but remains fresh nearly 80 years later. It's Spencer Tracy's first great role, and among four films in 1936 in which he starred. RiffraffSan Francisco and Libeled Lady were the other three. For many actors, that would be an excellent cinematic career. For Tracy, it was a single year. In Fury, Tracy is a "Typical Joe" – he's even named Joe Wilson – who's operating a gas station and saving money so he can be reunited with his fiancée, Katherine Grant (Sylvia Sidney), and be married. On his way to see her, Joe is stopped in a small town and through circumstantial evidence is arrested for kidnapping a young girl. Lang does a perfect job of showing step by step the way gossip escalates into an angry, violent mob. The visuals are outstanding. Tracy, who is innocent, is taken to the local jail. The tension outside among the town's residents mounts to the point that a mob overwhelms local law enforcement, burns the building down and presumably kills Joe. We find out later that Joe miraculously escaped and isn't dead. With the help of his brothers, he is making those who tried to kill him pay for his "murder." The range shown by Tracy – going from a happy-go-lucky guy to a dark, angry, bitter man seeking revenge – is outstanding, and one of his finest performances. As for the scripted ending, I'm fine with it though I will concede it gets a little preachy. After an impassioned plea from Katherine, Joe realizes he's wrong and goes to the courthouse to stop the convictions of the 22 people charged with his murder. In his speech, Joe said he used to be proud of his country, but his ideals died in that fire. As Ed mentioned, there is some disappointment that a few of the scenes Lang filmed didn't make it into the finished product. But what we have is an exciting and insightful film that does a splendid job of showing the dark side of humanity – first with the mob and then with Joe. 

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

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