Thursday, August 6, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for August 8-14

August 8–August 14


THUNDER ROAD (August 12, 10:45 pm): There are few actors with greater screen presence than Robert Mitchum. In this 1958 film, he's a fearless Korean War vet who makes the high-speed and dangerous car deliveries for his family's moonshine business. His family and the other moonshiners with illegal distilleries in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee are feeling the heat from not only the feds, but from a big-shot, big-money gangster who wants to buy them out at a fraction of their business profits. Those who resist wind up either having their business destroyed or are murdered. Mitchum, who co-wrote the story and produced the film, is outstanding in one of his finest roles. He's got to make his last run even though he knows he's got little chance to succeed. It's an excellent film with tons of action. End notes: Mitchum wrote his son's character for Elvis Presley, who loved the script, but his manager, the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, killed the idea by asking for a ridiculous amount of money for Elvis to take the role. This was a common with Parker, who never wanted Elvis to act in serious films. Instead the role went to James Mitchum, Robert's son. 

VIVA LAS VEGAS (August 13, 8:30 am): For the most part, if you've seen one Elvis film from the 1960s, you've seen them all. While 1964's Viva Las Vegas doesn't stray too far from the Elvis Formula – he has a rugged-type job, somehow gets into a jam, sees a pretty girl, sings some songs, gets into a fight, gets the girl and lives happily ever after – it is significantly better than most of them. That's not much of a compliment, but this is one of Presley's best films. The reason? The on-screen and off-screen chemistry between Elvis, who plays race-car driver Lucky Jackson, and Ann-Margaret, who plays Rusty Martin, his love interest in one of her sexiest roles. While not the best actress to play opposite Elvis, Ann-Margaret is the most entertaining and interacts better with him than any other. Rusty is a swimming instructor and dancer, great excuses for her to wear skimpy clothes. But it's more than a T&A film. There's some great dance numbers that are filmed nicely with the use of several different camera angles, the excellent theme song along with a few other musical numbers, an exciting car race (of course Elvis is a race-car driver, a job he had in several of his films), and Presley's charisma, rarely captured during this era. Is it a masterpiece or even Elvis' best movie? No, but it's very entertaining to watch.


SAHARA (August 11, 12:00 am): In 1943, Humphrey Bogart was loaned out to Columbia to star in this war picture about a British-American tank crew stranded in North Africa just ahead of a horde of German soldiers. Bogart is accompanied by his surviving crewmen (Bruce Bennett and Dan Duryea), a Sudanese soldier (Rex Ingram), his Italian prisoner (J. Carroll Naish), and a downed German pilot (Kurt Krueger) as they search for water in the desert. This little multi-cultural cast makes for some fine drama as they must find and defend their source of water before the Germans arrive. Based on a Soviet film Trinadtstat (1937), the screenplay was penned by Communist Party stalwart John Howard Lawson, along with the director, Zoltan Korda. Thanks to Korda, much of the propaganda was toned down in favor of the grim tension that makes this film one worth catching. It was shot in Brawley, California, in the Borego Desert just north of Mexico. There’s little actual fighting in the film. Bogart and wife Mayo Methot provided most of the fighting during the off-hours in the aptly named Brawley. The battling couple staged their own version of World War II almost every night after getting liquored up. This is a film that will please both fans of war films and fans of Bogart alike.

HORSE FEATHERS (August 14, 9:30 pm): It doesn’t get much better, or funnier than this, unless one counts Duck Soup. The only thing in the film funnier than Chico and Harpo passing themselves off as football players is Groucho as the president of the university. Add the drop-dead gorgeous Thelma Todd as the “college widow,” and we have a near perfect comedy. There are many great scenes in the picture: Groucho’s installment as college president, The Marxes in the speakeasy, where Groucho mistakenly recruits Chico and Harpo as “student-athletes,” the classroom scene, Groucho and Todd in the boat on the lake, and, of course, the football game. The only glitch in the film is that Zeppo has practically nothing to do but show up to remind us that there are four Marx Brothers. Just tune in and be prepared to laugh.

WE DISAGREE ON ... TOMMY (August 13, midnight)

ED: B-. This is a case of averaging out three different parts of a film to come up with a grade. The music in the film is A+, based as it is on The Who’s groundbreaking rock opera. The performances, led by Ann-Margaret (who is great in the role of Tommy’s mother), Tina Turner, and Robert Powell, rates a B. But the story rightfully deserves an F, and Ken Russell’s direction is an F-minus.  Russell makes the movies his own: a self-indulgent mess, taking the dark subtlety of the album and shaping it into what is a truly incomprehensible piece of garbage. We get to see Oliver Reed (Was he sober for one minute in this film?) sing – badly. We get to see Jack Nicholson sing – badly. This is truly a cringe-worthy movie, but if you must see it, see it for Ann-Margaret, Elton John and that wonderful music, which somehow manages to survive even this.

DAVID: D+. Giving this "film" a D+ is generous. I'm a huge fan of the Who and Tommy is one of their best albums. But whoever decided to let Ken Russell direct this 1975 film and adapt the screenplay from the album is a moron. Russell turned the groundbreaking rock opera into something beyond a bad acid trip with one ridiculously awful scene after another. The casting is also terrible Ann-Margaret and Oliver Reed in the lead roles, and bit and wasted parts for Jack Nicholson, Eric Clapton and Tina Turner. None of them, even those who sing for a living, are any good in this film. The movie version largely ruins the songs from the 1969 album that made the Who into one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Roger Daltrey, the band's lead singer, in the title role is one of the few bright spots when he's singing. When he's acting – this was his first acting job and got better in later roles – he's laughably silly playing the "deaf, dumb and blind kid" with a glazed-over look on his face. He's better after Tommy becomes a religious cult leader as a result of being a pinball champion. Elton John is entertaining in his cameo as the reigning pinball king and Who drummer Keith Moon is strangely amusing as Tommy's child-molesting Uncle Ernie. Pete Townshend, who came up with the concept, wrote all but one of the album's songs and was the driving force behind the Who, should have put the brakes on Russell's "vision." Compare this to Quadrophenia, the Who's greatest album. The 1979 film based on the 1973 rock-opera album about Jimmy, a young Mod who finds himself a social outcast, not only does the record justice, but is an outstanding movie. The same can't be said of Tommy. The album's concept is certainly unusual, but Russell takes it much further resulting in a terrible film. What's amazing is he would go on to make even worse movies.

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

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