TCM TiVo ALERT
May 8–May 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (May 12, 8:00 pm): More than any Humphrey Bogart film made after Casablanca, this 1948 classic showed his versatility at a time when he could have played the tough guy with a heart of gold for the rest of his career. In this film, he is down on his luck and desperate enough to do anything. He meets another guy (Tim Holt) in a similar situation. They meet an old kooky prospector (Walter Huston in one of his finest roles) and the three decide to search for gold. Huston's son, John, wrote and directed this movie. Things go well, but Bogart's character becomes consumed with paranoia and convinced the others are trying to cheat him. While Holt holds his own, this is Bogart and Walter Huston's film. It's an excellent morality tale with an ironic ending. And it's got that iconic. though often misquoted, line: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges."
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (May 12, 12:15 am): An authentic film that pulls no punches about three soldiers returning home from World War II attempting to adjust to civilian life. The film features incredible performances by the legendary and lovely Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Fredric March and Harold Russell (an actual WWII vet who lost both his hands in the war). The film won seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Unlike some multi-Oscar films, this one is truly a classic that remains as real and as powerful as it must have been to movie-goers when it was released in 1946, only a year after the war ended. It's very touching, beautiful and so real. It’s nearly impossible to not be emotionally moved while watching this extraordinary film.
ED’S BEST BETS:
TOUCH OF EVIL (May 8, 8:00 pm): A brilliant noir from Orson Welles about international narcotics officer Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) who becomes entangled in a web of corruption when he investigates a sleazy border town’s crooked sheriff (Welles). Heston’s bride, Susan (Janet Leigh), becomes the innocent pawn in their struggle. With spectacular performances from Marlene Dietrich as the town’s madam, Dennis Weaver as a quirky motel night manager, and Akim Tamairoff as a sleazy small-time crime boss. Also look for Joseph Cotton as a police surgeon, and best of all, Mercedes McCambridge in drag as a male Mexican gang leader. With fabulous photography by Russell Metty and a superb Latin rock score by Henry Mancini. The film never disappoints for one minute. I hope TCM is showing the restored version rather than the version put out by Universal after they took the film away from Welles and butchered it.
THESE ARE THE DAMNED (May 14, 3:15 pm): Runaway radioactivity gave us giant bugs and prehistoric monsters in the ‘50s. Now, in 1962, director Joseph Losey brings the chills much closer to home with this piece of science fiction. The film begins with an American tourist (Macdonald Carey), disenchanted with modern life, being mugged by a group of Teddy Boys led by the young Oliver Reed. After he recovers, he meets bohemian sculptor Freya (Viveca Lindfors), the mistress of Bernard (Alexander Knox), a stuffy bureaucrat in charge of a top-secret project whereby a race of radioactive children is being bred for survival in a post-nuclear world. This film seemingly has everything: juvenile delinquency and atomic angst, two of the most popular film subjects in B-dom. But this is much more than a run-of-the-mill SciFi/JD flick. It’s the reigning anarchy of youth in the streets versus the cold bureaucracy represented by the concrete and steel warrens of the secret project. Either way, we’re done for, Mate, unless we wake up. Also, check out the fantastic score by James Bernard, whose “Black Leather Rock” will have you singing it long after the film ends.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE BORN LOSERS (May 11, 8:00 pm)
ED: B-. This film, which marks the first appearance of Billy Jack, is the best of the four films starring Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack, and that isn’t saying much. Born Losers is a simple, straightforward, biker exploitation film, made before he began to take himself ultra-seriously. Here he takes on a gang of local outlaw bikers almost single-handed. Guess who wins? You gotta love the bikers, with names like “Child,” “Speechless,” and “Gangrene.” Elizabeth James, who wrote the film under the nom de plume of E. James Lloyd (Gee, I wonder why?), the female about whom all the fuss is over, looks as if she’s just stepped off the stage of Shindig. She can’t act, either, which adds to the fun. But then she’s co-starring with Laughlin, whose idea of acting is to stand still and imitate Charles Bronson in the expression department. Watch for Jane Russell, obviously in need of money, who’s along for the ride in a great over-the-top performance as an angry parent of one of the vics. Made in the days before the Code imploded and graphic violence became the norm, it has a quaintness about it that makes it seem as though it came straight out of Biker Flicks 101. One critic called it “a crass, simple-minded and dumb film.” Yes, it’s all that and less. Why else would we watch it? For fans of bad movies, and especially bad biker films, this is a must.
DAVID: A-. With the exception of Easy Rider, this is my favorite biker movie. The genre isn't the most sophisticated, but for pure enjoyment, it's hard to top it. Tom Laughlin debuted his iconic Billy Jack character in this 1967 film. It's truly an independent film, one that Laughlin originally funded and finished with an influx of money from American International Pictures. Billy Jack is a half-breed Indian and Vietnam veteran who is the only person in his quaint California town to stand up to a tough biker gang, called the Born Losers Motorcycle Club. The Losers are terrorizing the town, beating up a guy in a car for bumping into one of their motorcycles and mouthing off. He sort of has it coming, but Billy stops it. Billy ends up getting arrested for using a rifle. It only gets worse in the town. The Losers rape a series of young women and intimidate them and witnesses to shut up so none of them can be convicted of their crimes. But Billy doesn't take crap from anybody. When Ed mentioned the bikers' names, he forgot "Cueball" and "Crabs." Elizabeth James, who wrote the script, is Vicky, a bikini-clad local who is abducted and raped by the gang members with Billy knocked silly trying to protect her. Vicky agrees to be the gang's sex toy if they leave Billy alone. But, c'mon, we're talking about Billy Jack. He goes right into the gangs' lair, bloodied and injured, with a shotgun intent on getting Vicky out of there. The gangs' leader, Daniel (I guess being around guys named Cueball, Gangrene and Speechless, a person with an actual first name is a novelty), dares Billy to shoot him right between the eyes. Bam, that's exactly what he gets. The town's cops are of no help, giving Billy an anti-hero persona. When the cops get involved, they only screw things up such as shooting Billy at the end of the film, thinking he's one of the gang members trying to escape. The actors who play the bikers are pretty good. Jeremy Slate's Daniel has a wild persona wearing a pair of giant white sunglasses with a maniacal laugh. Was Laughlin a brilliant actor? Hell, no, but he knew his audience. He's cool, understated and kicks serious ass. It's not the most sophisticated film, but it's one with excellent action, a ton of violence with Billy as a one-man wrecking crew. His second film, Billy Jack, plays more on the character being an outcast for being a half-Indian, but it's also a lot of fun to watch. The later Billy Jack films, including Billy Jack Goes to Washington (read my Train Wreck Cinema article here), are ridiculous. But Laughlin was able to make The Born Losers and Billy Jack into cult classics.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.