TCM TiVo ALERT
August 15–August 22
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
ON THE WATERFRONT (August 17, 11:30 pm): There is so much to enjoy and admire about this 1954 film. The story is complex yet simple – the struggle facing Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) as to whether he should do the right thing or the smart thing, and the repercussions that decision has on him, his brother, other longshoremen and those living near the dock. The acting is brilliant with Brando at his best and fantastic performances by the supporting cast, in particular, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. Steiger plays Charley, Terry's older brother, and Cobb is Johnny Friendly, a ruthless union boss who runs the docks and the longshoremen. Charley, who is Friendly's right-hand man, begs Terry not to testify against Friendly. Terry was a promising boxer years earlier who threw a fight at the request of Charley because Friendly bet against him. He's a shell of himself now – confused and disillusioned by always listening to his brother. This gives us the iconic quote, "I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am." The film takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions - anger, joy, hostility, frustration, sympathy, sadness and happiness. It's rare for a movie to not only do that, but do it exceptionally well.
JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (August 22, 4:45 pm): A large ensemble cast of brilliant actors – Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Richard Widmark and Maximilian Schell – and memorable small roles played by Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich make this a must-see riveting drama. It also makes you question the responsibility of people who commit atrocities or do nothing to stop them. The movie is a post-World War II military tribunal in which three American judges (Tracy as the chief judge in an extraordinary role) are hearing the cases of four former German judges (Lancaster is the main ex-jurist) accused of committing war atrocities for passing death sentences on people during the Nazi regime. The film is horrifying, hard-hitting, and pulls no punches, including showing real footage of piles of dead bodies found by American soldiers at the end of the war. Sometimes it's not an easy film to watch, but it's a very important one.
ED’S BEST BETS:
A FACE IN THE CROWD (August 16, 12:00 am): Budd Schulberg wrote and Elia Kazan directed this prescient look at celebrity and media-made pundits in the story of Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a drifter discovered in jail by the hostess (Patricia Neal) of a morning radio show in Pickett, Arkansas, and who, through the sheer force of his “down home” personality eventually makes his way to New York, where he becomes not only an entertainment superstar, but a respected wielder of opinion; powerful enough to make a nondescript senator into a formidable presidential candidate. Rhodes, however, is rotten to the core, and as his fame and power increase, the monster within him begins to break out. It’s up to Neal, as a Frankenstein, to destroy the monster she created before he destroys us, and she does it in a quite unique way. Neal, of course, is her usual superb, and Griffith gave the best performance of his career, playing against type and should have gotten the Oscar. But he wasn’t even nominated, due to the less than stellar box office of the movie and the liberal backlash against director Kazan for supposedly “naming names” before Congress. (In reality he didn’t name anyone who wasn’t already named again and again.) What eventually brought critics around to giving this film another look was Francois Truffaut, who championed the film as a modern-day classic and a warning.
ST. MARTIN’S LANE (August 18, 12:00 pm): Any time we can watch Charles Laughton, Vivien Leigh, and Rex Harrison all in the same film is a good time indeed. And all three shine in this film about the world of buskers, or street entertainers that inhabit the lowest rung of London’s entertainment ladder for a few pence, mingling with the high society types who attend the theater and dine at the fancy restaurants and who look down on the buskers as little more than beggars. It’s the same with the police, who roust the buskers at every turn, but still they persevere. Leigh plays Liberty, a young pickpocket whom Laughton befriends. Taken with her beauty and ability to dance, he transforms her into a street artist. But Liberty has bigger goals. She wants to make it over the invisible line and become a legitimate performer. Harrison is a songwriter for the legitimate stage with whom Libby falls in love. The film plays out beautifully, avoiding the easy route of melodrama for something more substantial. It was also Leigh’s final film before Gone With The Wind, and provides us with a good look at her extraordinary beauty and range of talent. Laughton, of course, is Laughton, and he doesn’t let the viewer down for one second, while Harrison, in the early part of his career, shows us the promise that later allowed him to bloom in a smaller role. Anyone who has seen buskers at street corners or on subway platforms will find this film fascinating.
WE DISAGREE ON ... MANPOWER (August 22, 2:00 am)
ED: B-. For what it is, Manpower is a decent programmer, although with that star power, it should be much, much more. It’s yet another example of Warner Brothers' unique talent for recycling plots. Believe it or not, this film began life in 1932 as Tiger Shark, directed by Howard Hawks and starring Edward G. Robinson. It shifted locales in 1937, becoming Slim, a film about telephone linemen starring Pat O’Brien and Henry Fonda. Shake again a few years later and it’s now King of the Lumberjacks in 1940 with John Payne and Stanley Fields. And now, in 1941, we have Manpower. We’re back to the lineman gimmick and it’s Eddie G. Robinson and George Raft fighting for the favors of Marlene Dietrich. Though it’s a decent film, expertly directed by the great Raoul Walsh, the film does commit one cardinal sin: it makes Dietrich almost superfluous as she becomes lost in the bromance between Robinson and Raft’s characters. (In reality they hated each other offscreen.) If one approaches it for what it is, a mere programmer and late night fodder, then it’s worth watching. I will say that it’s certainly the sort of picture I’d see if I were up late.
DAVID: C-. There are very few actors in the history of cinema who are in the same class when it comes to talent, screen presence and charisma as Edward G. Robinson. That's what makes Manpower so disappointing. I've seen Eddie G. in some lousy films – A Bullet for Joey, Dark Hazard, I Loved a Woman to name a few – and yet I enjoyed his performances. I can't say the same for Manpower. It's dull and lifeless – and as Ed points out, had been done several times before – and Robinson adds nothing to the film. The cast alone should make it good as it includes some very talented actors such as Alan Hale (Skipper's dad), Frank McHugh, Eve Arden and Ward Bond, and the combination of Eddie G. and Marlene Dietrich sounds promising. Also, Robinson and George Raft played well off each other in plenty of other movies despite their personal dislike for each other. In this film, Robinson is the foreman of a crew constructing power lines. He used to be a lineman (for the county?), but moved into management after a near-death accident that left him injured and gave him the politically-incorrect nickname Gimpy. Raft is a buddy who works the line. The two fall for Dietrich and a silly love triangle ensues. The storyline is lifeless and at 104 minutes, it's too long. Despite the attempts at action, it's a boring movie.
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.