TCM TiVo ALERT
October 8–October 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (October 12, 11:30 am): This is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films and that is saying a lot. Robert Walker as the crazed Bruno Anthony is hypnotically amazing. His character wants his father dead and believes he's struck a quid pro quo deal with tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger). Walker and Granger were solid actors, but Hitch brought out the best in them. Also, the plot of this film is unique and interesting. The two are strangers who meet on a train, talk about solving their problems, namely Walker's father and Haines' wife. Walker suggests they kill the other's problem and no one will be the wiser as they don't know each other. Haines thinks Walker is kidding until the latter kills the former's wife and wants Haines to kill Walker's father. The tension and drama are top-shelf.
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (October 14, 12:00 am): My recommendation of this 1971 dystopian film comes with a caveat – only watch it once. The film is absolutely brilliant, but it's also incredibly disturbing and violent. I was blown away the first time I saw it years ago. I've had several other opportunities to watch it and simply can't make it through the first 20 minutes. It's on Netflix so I can watch it anytime I want, but again, I can't get through it. However, if you've never seen it before, watch it. It's horrifying in parts, but the story is told so well and the acting is superb. Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is the leader of the Droogs, a gang of thugs who get high on drug-laced milk and then terrorize London with "a little of the old ultraviolence," They brutally beat up, rape and/or kill arbitrary people for kicks (pun intended). The scenes are graphic, but some include a bit of entertainment. You'll never hear the song "Singin' in the Rain" the same way again. Alex is caught by the authorities and agrees to go through a process to remove his violent behavior by being repeatedly exposed to graphically violent scenes. He's then sent out into the world without the ability to defend himself, and payback is a bitch. Director Stanley Kubrick points the finger at people and government for society's violence and its failings. It's very well done, but be warned again, it's deeply disturbing.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE GENERAL (October 9, 6:00 am): Buster Keaton’s at his absolute height in this tale of a Confederate engineer whose train, “The General,” is stolen by Yankee spies. He must get it back, which leads to a riotous chase through the Southern countryside. There’s another reason he must get it back - his girl, Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), is aboard that train. She believes Johnnie (Buster) to be a coward because he’s not fighting in the war, but the authorities turned him down, believing he’ll serve the war effort better as an engineer. He grabs “The Texas” and begins chasing his beloved train. Filled with sight gags aplenty, the film never lets up for a minute. It’s a “must see” for those who haven’t yet seen it, and a “must see again” for those who have. A classic no matter how one cuts it.
X THE UNKNOWN (October 10, 11:45 am): Hammer made some really good science fiction movies in the 50s and 60s. This one moves from an absurd premise – intelligent mud from deep in the earth is looking for energy to feed on and sucks us completely in with an intelligent script from Jimmy Sangster, intelligent acting from star Dean Jagger and (especially) Leo McKern, and decent, considering the budget, special effects. It’s the first of the “blob” movies. Watch for Anthony Newley and Ian McNaughton as a pair of comic relief soldiers that later fall victim to the blob. McNaughton went to on produce Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
WE DISAGREE ON ... ADAM’S RIB (October 11, 6:00 pm)
ED: B. Of all the films Tracy and Hepburn collaborated on, this is one of the better efforts, a cheeky romp written especially for them by the husband and wife team of Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. Add the smooth direction of George Cukor and some wonderful performances by the supporting cast, and this case of married lawyers battling in the courtroom and later at home becomes a harmless and enjoyable way to spend around two hours. In any film dealing with the battle of the sexes one must tread carefully to keep the comedy fresh and funny, which is why Cukor was the perfect choice to direct. He knows when to proceed and when to take the reins in. Tracy is magnificent as Adam Bonner, who sees wife Amanda as perverting the course of justice by using this case as a forum for women's rights instead of a cut-and-dried case of attempted murder. It would be easy to cross the mine and present Adam simply as a misogynist or a curmudgeonly traditionalist. The genius of Gordon and Kanin was instead to portray Adam as a lawyer who refused to see the case beyond what it essentially was: a case against vigilantism and no more. As mentioned earlier, a wonderful supporting cast helps the film, with David Wayne, Tom Ewell, Jean Hagen, and especially Judy Holliday (her performance here led to her being signed to play Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday, which won her the Oscar), providing performances that only caused the leads, in particular Hepburn, who needs someone strong to play off, to up the volume, as it were, instead of simply coasting. It also provides Tracy with one of the best lines in the history of cinema: “Licorice, mmmm. If there's anything I'm a sucker for, it's licorice." Is it a great film? Not really. But is it an enjoyable one? Yes.
DAVID: C-. Despite some amusing moments and a strong performance by Judy Holliday as the ditsy wife who is the defendant in the criminal case at the center of this film, there isn't a lot to enjoy. As I've written numerous times, Katharine Hepburn is cinema's most overrated actress. While Spencer Tracy was an extremely talented actor, he was often dragged down to his former lover's level in the films they did together. This is no exception. In this "battle of the sexes" comedy, Adam Bonner (Tracy) is a prosecuting attorney and his wife, Amanda (Hepburn), is a defense attorney. She is outraged that a woman (Holliday) was charged with attempting to murder her two-timing husband, who she shoots but doesn't kill. Amanda believes that if the roles were reversed a man would not face a similar charge. She maneuvers to defend the woman pro bono while Adam prosecutes the case. As Bosley Crowther, in a largely positive review of the film in late 1949 for The New York Times, wrote: "To be sure, the plot is a frail one and the argument is not profound. As a matter of fact, it gets quite fuzzy and vagrant as the picture goes along. And that is the one plain weakness of the whole thing: it is but a spoof, and the authors are forced to wild devices and shallow nonsense to wind it up." Crowther is too polite. I realize it's supposed to be a comedy, but Hepburn's acting goes even more over-the-top than usual. That makes for a rather implausible story and, quite frankly, a film very difficult to enjoy. The antics Amanda pulls in the courtroom makes a mockery of feminism. To call it a timeless classic – and while Ed doesn't call it one, other critics do – is ridiculous as its humor doesn't hold up well today. I wasn't around in 1949, but I'm sure I wouldn't have found it funny then either.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.