TCM TiVo ALERT
July 8–July 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
BALL OF FIRE (July 12, 4:00 pm): Think of this film as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs if Snow White was a hot nightclub performer, played by Barbara Stanwyck, hiding from the police and her mob boyfriend, and the dwarfs were brilliant but eccentric professors putting together an encyclopedia about everything. Director Howard Hawks – with the assistance of Billy Wilder, who co-wrote the screenplay from a short story he wrote – does a great job blending the two worlds together to make an outstanding romantic comedy. The main professor, Bertram Potts (played by Gary Cooper), is focusing his work on American slang. The slang of 1941 is dated, but the scenes that have Potts learning the slang words of the day from Stanwyck's character, Sugarpuss, are hysterical with Cooper doing an excellent job as the straight man. Also of note are the wonderful acting performances of the other professors, all who are considerably older than Potts. It's a funny, entertaining film that leaves the viewer with a smile on his/her face for most of the movie.
PLANET OF THE APES (July 14, 9:15 am): Along with 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968's original Planet of the Apes is the greatest science-fiction film I've ever seen. Whenever it airs, I stop everything and watch it even though I've seen it at least 50 times and I own the entire DVD collection of the original five Apes films. Charlton Heston is among a group of astronauts who land on a strange planet and come across a group of mute and simple-minded humans. They think they're going to run the place in a few weeks. It turns out the planet is actually controlled by talking apes. The interaction between Taylor (Heston) and three key apes – Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter) and particularly Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) – are the keys to this movie. The ending is among the best you'll ever see. It turns out Taylor time traveled and landed on a post-apocalyptic Earth. So many of the lines are iconic, the makeup and costumes are incredible and years ahead of its time, and the cinematography is amazing.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (July 9, 11:00 pm): The 1951 original, of course, which is one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made and a courageous retort to the hysteria of the day. Michael Rennie is pitch perfect as Klaatu, an alien who comes here on a good will mission and is shot for his troubles. He wants to convene a confab of scientists and world leaders. The government, on the other hand, want to keep him prisoner in order to pump information from him. There are two things they hadn’t considered, however. One is that he is a vastly superior being, able to see through our heavy-handed trickery, and his robot, Gort, capable of burning the planet to a cinder. Klaatu easily escapes the government’s attempts at imprisonment, and grabbing a briefcase with the initials “J.C.” (How’s that for symbolism?), ventures out into the world to contact the people he needs to see by himself. It’s when he stops at a rooming house run by Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee!) that he meets young war widow Patricia Neal and her son, Billy Gray. They provide the humanity and drama as the government launches a manhunt for Klaatu. Director Robert Wise captures the hysteria of the times perfectly, and the film is the first to feature a rational being from outer space who is not out to kill or enslave us, though he does give the nations of Earth a stern warning at the end. If you haven’t seen this one, catch it by all means – and ignore the lame 2008 remake.
KING KONG (July 14, 1:00 pm): Is there anyone out there who hasn’t seen this film? Along with The Lost World, it’s the granddaddy of the “monster-on-the-loose” films and still holds its grip on us to this day. The search for and capture of a gigantic ape on a previously unknown island is stuff of our childhoods and I know of few people who aren’t in love with this adventure. Animator Willis O’Brien created one of the classic creatures of filmdom which, combined with an intelligent script, continues to dazzle with each viewing. The addition of Fay Wray only ratchets up the mythic heat with a modern take on Beauty and the Beast: She and co-stars Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot do an admirable job of acting, but it’s Kong we’ve come to see. And when he finally dies in a hail of bullets atop the Empire State Building, there’s not a dry eye left in the house, for he proves to have more humanity than his captors.
WE DISAGREE ON ... THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (July 12, 2:00 pm)
ED: A. This is a lovely fantasy directed by the great Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and with and Mankiewicz film, there’s more than meets the eye. On the surface, it’s about a young, feisty widow, Lucy Muir, who, along with her young daughter and maid, moves into a broken-down cottage in a costal village. She soon learns that she’s not alone in her new home – a raffish, grouchy ghost Daniel Gregg, of a former sea captain also lives there, and he’s not happy about having to share his digs. At first he makes his presence known to scare her off, and when that doesn’t work, merely to aggravate her. Before long, however, they begin fighting, flirting, and eventually falling in love, even though such a relationship is doomed from the start. When Lucy’s source of income dries up, Gregg suggests she ghostwrite (no pun intended) his racy memoirs of the life of the sea, so that she can have a new source of badly needed income. Those who are looking for realism would be advised to look elsewhere. This is a romantic fantasy, after all, a story about a woman falling in love with a man who might well be just a figment of her imagination. And that points to the deeper level of the film – a story of a woman wishing to escape from the controlling climate of her family in London coming to begin a new life who finds Captain Gregg a reassuring presence, a strong able man who won’t die like her husband. He represents Lucy’s desire for independence, urging her to value herself, according to film historian Jeanine Basinger in her excellent study, A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Woman, 1930-1960. As Lucy, Gene Tierney is ravishingly beautiful and has excellent chemistry with Rex Harrison, who plays Captain Gregg. This was back in the days when Harrison was a first-rate talent, before he began merely playing himself in the ‘60s. He is vibrant, strong, and elegant, the scenes where he and Lucy are writing the book are touching and appealing. George Sanders is also aboard playing his specialty, a scoundrel. He’s a married rogue who almost marries Lucy until, almost by accident, she discovers that he’s married. Natalie Wood, in only her third film, plays Lucy’s young daughter. Watching Wood in this film it’s hard to believe she wasn’t more of a seasoned actress. It’s a beautifully made film and serves as a harbinger for Mankiewicz’s later classics, such as A Letter to Three Wives, No Way Out, All About Eve, Five Fingers, and The Barefoot Contessa. Charles Lang’s cinematography was nominated for an Oscar, and Bernard Herrmann is among his best scores.
DAVID: C+. This is a cute movie, but nothing special. It's an odd love story between the widowed Lucy Muir (played by the beautiful Gene Tierney) and a gruff and grumpy sea captain, Daniel Gregg (played by the often-annoying Rex Harrison) in the early 1900s. The oddity of this 1947 film is Gregg is dead and is supposedly haunting his old house as a ghost. The film starts off as a comedy of sorts with Gregg pulling silly tricks to scare away Muir, turns combative, becomes strange as they fall in love, back to drama and ending more focused as a romantic fantasy film. It's as if director Joseph L. Mankiewicz didn't know what to do so he threw out a bunch of stuff and hoped style wins out over substance. After all, what kind of relationship can you have with a ghost? The other possibility is Gregg is a figment of Muir's imagination. In a book about this film, written by critic Frieda Grafe, Mankiewicz described it as "hack work." I think the director is a little hard on himself, but even he acknowledged that this movie is not a classic. Tierney is fine, though hardly spectacular, and Harrison is well, Harrison. Ed mentions above that this film was "back in the days when Harrison was a first-rate talent." To me, no such time existed. He never impressed me as an actor and while his performance here isn't as terrible as My Fair Lady or Doctor Doolittle, it's yet another example of Harrison overacting to the point of hurting the film. His limited range of emotions are anger, impatience and love. George Sanders is enjoyable, as usual, playing his role as a heel.
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.