Saturday, June 13, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for June 15-22

June 15–June 22


HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (June 20, 8:00 pm): A very funny and clever film about a boxer/amateur pilot Joe Pendleton (played by the charming Robert Montgomery) who crashes his plane and is mistakenly taken to heaven by angel. He survives, but the angel doesn't want him to suffer. A check by the angel's boss, Mr. Jordan (played by the equally charming Claude Rains) show Pendleton is correct. But by the time they go to put him back in his body, it's too late. The body has been cremated. The angels have to find Pendleton another body – one that can be a champion boxer. They find a rich guy who is killed by his wife and his personal assistant who are lovers. This 1941 movie is a joy to watch. Warren Beatty uses the exact same story (except he's a quarterback for the then-Los Angeles Rams) with many of the same character names in the excellent Heaven Can Wait in 1978.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (June 21, 8:00 pm): Buster Keaton's last independent silent film – and one of the last silent films he ever made – is the legendary actor at his best. The stunts are stunning, including one of the most memorable in cinematic history. The facade of a house falls forward with Keaton, who is in front of it, saved by perfectly hitting his mark standing where the empty third-story window lands. It is an insane stunt that could have easily killed Keaton. Don't try this at home, kids. It's a perfect example of Keaton's physical comedic style. Keaton is basically the entire movie as the plot is paper-thin. Keaton is the small college-graduate son of a riverboat captain, who's about to lose his broken-down paddle steamer and livelihood to a wealthy rival. Keaton's character is in love with the daughter of his father's rival. Besides the physical comedy, there's some other exceptionally funny moments in the film such as Keaton attempting to get his father out of jail by giving him a loaf of bread with tools obviously inside. It's a silent film classic.


MYSTERY STREET (June 19, 9:45 pm): This is a neat little B-thriller that stands out today as one of the first procedural police dramas from Hollywood. Starring Ricardo Montalban as a Cape Cod detective and Bruce Bennett as a Harvard professor, it follows the discovery of the remains of a murdered B-girl on a Cape Cod beach straight through to the arrest of her killer. It’s an early exercise in forensic science as they trace the clues step-by-step, interview witnesses, and even overcome class prejudice to finally lead them to the murderer. It’s intelligent, well written and expertly acted. Look for Elsa Lanchester as an eccentric landlady.

RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (June 20, 6:00 pm): Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and director Sam Peckinpah make for a winning combination in this Western about two ex-lawmen who have fallen on hard times and agree to accompany a gold shipment from a mine to the town below. The temptation to steal the hoard gets the better of one and leads to a deadly rift between the two former close friends. And if that weren’t enough, the situation is further complicated by the presence of a young woman named Elsa (Mariette Hartley), who married one of the miners but changed her mind and fled, joining up with Scott and McCrea. This enrages the miner she wed, and he and his brother head out to get her back, leading to a violent conclusion. Containing great dialogue, tense situations and a director who never lets up, this is one to see.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MEAN STREETS (June 20, 3:45 am)

ED: A-. This is the film that made critics sit up and take notice of young Martin Scorsese. It has all the hallmarks of a Scorsese film: expressionistic lighting, fluid camerawork, sudden outbursts of violence, and that wonderful eclectic soundtrack. Scorsese would refine these techniques over time, but Mean Streets contains that raw, passionate energy of youth. It’s also a claustrophobic film, set in the confined world of Little Italy, with its main character, Charlie (a superb performance by Harvey Keitel), a lower rank Mafioso who inhabits a dark world of pool halls, cinemas, and bars. We first see him coming out of confession, rather unhappy with his penance. But as we follow him into the bar, symbolically lit in red, and see his chaotic, violent friend, Johnny Boy (another winning performance from Robert DeNiro) stroll in with “Jumping Jack Flash” in the background, we immediately realize that Johnny Boy is the personification of Charlie’s penance. “You send me this, Lord,” Charlie says. Stay tuned for the argument between the two over Johnny Boy’s debts in the back room. Though more than a bit raw, it shows the Scorsese yet to come. Mean Streets is a wonderful character study of a man trapped in his environment with no way out, torn between the entreaties of his girlfriend to leave the life behind and move away with her, and his loyalty to his uncle. One also gets a distinct whiff of the personal in the film, which only adds to its charm. It’s a brilliant film, and though flawed, it’s still better than most directors in their prime.

DAVID: B-. My biggest issue with Mean Streets is I saw it for the first time about six months ago. Having heard glowing praise – it's on several lists of the greatest films of all-time – I expected to be blown away by this movie. It's good, even very good, but I can't consider it great. I'm sure it was ahead of its time when it was released in 1973, and the talents of director Martin Scorsese and actors Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel are obvious. But having seen so many other Scorsese-DeNiro films, this one just doesn't measure up to Taxi DriverRaging BullThe King of Comedy and Goodfellas, for examples. I'm not going to bother to mention other films directed by Scorsese and/or starring DeNiro and Keitel that are better than Mean Streets as I think you get my point. Ed's description of this film as "more than a bit raw" and "flawed" are accurate. It has moments of brilliance quickly followed by scenes that drag and seem pointless. It's unpolished, which isn't a bad thing, but it comes across at times as lacking focus. While the soundtrack is excellent, there's far too much music in the movie to the point of distraction. Overall, the film is compelling and interesting, the lead actors are fantastic and Scorsese does an admirable job directing just his third film. But, simply put, it could have been better.

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

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