TCM TiVo ALERT
December 1–December 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (December 2, 11:30 am): How do you take a 400-page classic book and turn it into a great film? I don't know, but I imagine those working on the 1946 film adaption of Great Expectations, led by the skilled direction of David Lean, who co-wrote the screenplay, worked very hard to accomplish that goal. And what's more incredible is Lean – known for lengthy but excellent movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and The Bridge on the River Kwai – did it in under two hours. The film is blessed with an outstanding cast, including John Mills, Alec Guinness, Martita Hunt, Jean Simmons and Valerie Hobson, and the screenplay is an excellent adaption of Charles Dickens' wonderful book. It's a delightful, entertaining film about a young orphan, Pip, who is taken to London at the expense of a mysterious benefactor who believes him to be a man with "great expectations."
MAN HUNT (December 3, 3:00 am): Expertly directed by Fritz Lang, this is a 1941 film – that takes place in 1939 – about a famous big-game hunter, played by Walter Pidgeon, who comes across Hitler's residence in 1939 and has the Führer in his sights. The gun is empty. He then decides that it's probably a good idea to kill Hitler, but he's caught as he takes another shot. What follows is, as the movie title states, a man hunt in which Pidgeon dodges in and out of danger chased by George Sanders, playing the naughty Nazi role he perfected over the years. Well-acted, well-directed and well-paced, Man Hunt is an outstanding film.
ED’S BEST BETS:
IN WHICH WE SERVE (December 2, 3:30 pm): Written, codirected and scored by costar Noel Coward, this is the magnificent story about the crew on a British fighting ship told via flashback. Unlike many films about World War Two, this one remains fresh and marks the film debuts of Richard Attenborough, Daniel Massey, and the infant Juliet Mills. Codirector David Lean’s first directing credit. The film was so thoroughly effective that the Nazis placed Noel Coward on a special hit list.
HAXAN (December 5, 5:45 am): An amazing, unconventional semi-documentary from Sweden in 1922 about the history of witchcraft based on actual incidents from the records of witch trials, torture during the Inquisition, and demonic possession. Look for writer-director Benjamin Christensen playing none other than Satan. Visually stunning, with genuine scares aplenty.
WE DISAGREE ON ... AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (December 6, 3:30 pm)
ED: A+. During the early ‘50s the Freed Unit at MGM made three classic musicals: Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, and this one. Made when star Gene Kelly was at the top of his creative powers with the studio, it was flawlessly acted by its cast, and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Kelly is Jerry Mulligan, an ex-GI and struggling American artist who stayed in Paris after the war ended. He is “discovered” by a socially connected heiress (Nina Foch) with an interest in more than Jerry’s art. In turn Jerry falls for Lise (Leslie Caron), a young girl already engaged to a cabaret singer. In addition to the two women, Jerry is entertained by Adam Cook (Oscar Levant), a would-be concert pianist. Fans of the musical form know that plot is the last thing they need worry about. It’s the music and the dancing. Both are well represented here, with the Gershwins supplying the music, and Kelly and Caron the dancing. The film is built around a simple idea: Kelly wanted to make a film with a lengthy ballet scene based on Gershwin’s tone poem. Freed and Minnelli took the idea and ran with it, adding plot complications plus some stunning backgrounds that bring to mind the works of the French impressionists. This is definitely a move for the eyes as well as the ear. Levant adds a safety valve of acerbic wit whenever the romantic complications threaten to become leaden. He does this simply by playing Oscar Levant, which he does in every film he’s in. However, his performance here tops all the others. Nina Foch provides a solid support, proving she’s come a long way since her B-ingénue days at Fox, and Leslie Caron, a discovery of Kelly’s, provides the eye candy as well as an underdog to root for along with Kelly. Those who have seen it know what I’m talking about, while to those that haven’t, I recommend this as a definite Must See.
DAVID: B-. Gene Kelly is among the two best dancers in the history of cinema with Fred Astaire, of course, being the other. Kelly was more physical and muscular than what most people think of dancers. He was quite charming and how can anyone hate that wonderful smile? During his career in Hollywood, Kelly fancied himself a visionary. An American in Paris is a perfect example. Kelly wanted a lengthy ballet-heavy dance performance that showcased Paris through the works of French impressionist paintings so that's what he did in the final number leading to the conclusion of this film. The concept is admirable, but the implementation is quite frankly boring – and it goes on for 16 minutes. I'm not a fan of musicals though there are some I greatly enjoy including Singin' in the Rain with Kelly (which also at one point spends more than 20 minutes on a daydream/dance that has little to do with that movie's plot). An American in Paris is a good film. Why else would I give it a B-? But it's certainly not a classic. Also, unfortunately it was a leader in Hollywood's move away from film noir toward lighter movies in the 1950s. The plot is basic as are the characters in the movie. Kelly wants to be a great painter, but is offended when a rich socialite takes an artistic and sexual interest in him. Kelly has two buddies: one wants to be a concert pianist and the other a cabaret singer. There's a simplistic love triangle with a happy ending. Leslie Caron, the female lead and the girl Kelly wants, could dance, but was a lousy actress. I've never understood her appeal as she always seemed way too young for her love interests. Her characters never have any depth, which is probably why she was in this film. I don't buy for a second the contention that a musical doesn't need to have a plot, and that we should primarily concern ourselves with the singing and dancing. When the music stops, why should our enjoyment or interest stop with it? The songs are good, the dancing – except the final one – is also entertaining, the scenery is magnificent and, as usual, MGM spared no expense when it came to the color of its big-time productions. It's good, but it's not a movie I'd ever seek out to watch.
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.