TCM TiVo ALERT
November 23–November 30
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (November 23, 6:00 am): This 1932 Pre-Code movie is a joy to watch for many reasons. It's an entertaining film, the acting is very good, there's some good action, and the casting couldn't be more absurd (and offensive to Asians). Boris Karloff plays the sinister Fu Manchu who is looking for the tomb of Genghis Khan to take his mask and sword and lead a rising of his fellow Asians to destroy the white race. Myrna Loy is great – and really, really hot – as his obedient and completely subservient daughter who Manchu mistreats to such extremes that it becomes funny. One of the best scenes in the film has Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) placed underneath a large ringing bell as a form of torture to get him to break down and provide Manchu with the location of Khan's tomb. Manchu also has a death ray that is used against him. It's a lot of fun and only 68 minutes in length.
BEDLAM (November 23, 1:30 pm): Another excellent film starring Karloff only this one is much darker and really showed how great of an actor he was. In this 1946 RKO picture, Karloff's character runs an insane asylum in 18th century London. He is devious and cruel, horribly mistreating the patients at the madhouse, and going to great lengths to make sure no one finds out what's actually happening there. When a young, innocent woman (played by Anna Lee) gets too nosy, she finds herself committed and subjected to all the horrors Karloff's character can come up with. While it has some of the traits of a horror film, it's more of a disturbing film as you could easily see how a place like this could exist.
ED’S BEST BETS:
BATTLEGROUND (November 25, 12:30 pm): The first film depicting an actual World War II battle, released in 1949, when memories of the war were still fresh in the minds of the soldiers that fought in it. Employing an excellent ensemble cast, including James Whitmore, Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, John Hodiak, and George Murphy, it’s the story of the 101st Airborne Division and its brave stand at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge as told by writer Robert Pirosh and director William Wellman. Seen as somewhat dated today when compared to the awe-inspiring realism of the Band of Brothers mini-series, the film was considered as cutting edge when first released in terms of realism and faithfulness to history. It’s still well worth your time and still retains its punch after all these years.
THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (November 28, 6:15 pm): It’s the scientists (led by Robert Cornthwaite) versus the military (led by Kenneth Tobey) in this sci-fi classic about the discovery of a flying saucer and its occupant near the North Pole. The occupant is alive and represents a wealth of knowledge from an advanced society. One problem: he lives on blood and regards humans as only necessary for his subsistence. Also, he’s busy breeding more of him. Written by Charles Lederer, produced by Howard Hawks, and directed by Christian Nyby (though many film historians assert that it was Hawks who actually directed the movie and giving Nyby, his film editor by trade, a director’s credit), it combines horror and thrills with dark comedy, utilizing its setting well to give the film a claustrophobic feeling. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again. And if you haven’t – this is one film you can’t afford to miss. Also of note is composer Dimitri Tiomkin’s haunting score, achieved with a theremin.
WE DISAGREE ON ... FELLINI SATYRICON (November 29, 2:00 am)
ED: B+. When I first saw this film in 1974 I thought it was a masterpiece. Today, I’m not so sure; I see it now more as a child of its time, the Woodstock Generation, the let-it-all-hang-out generation. However, having seen the more recent Caligula, Fellini’s experiment remains more ambitious and daring than Caligula or practically any other “risqué” film, for that matter. As Roger Ebert noted: “Films like this are a reminder of how machine-made and limited recent product has become.” Based on a loose interpretation of Pretronius’s classical novel of Ancient Rome, written in the time of Nero, it was filmed in Fellini’s usual episodic style, which had worked so well in films like I, Vittelloni, The Nights of Cabiria, La Dolce Vita, and 8½, and failed so miserable with Felllni’s Roma, which was nine chapters looking for a film. The question, though, is: Does It Work? Well, yes and no. Much of the problem with the film is the fragmentary nature of the source material, which was presumed lost until fragments were discovered. It would have helped if Fellini had opted to fill the holes in, but he seemed to have been obsessed with the idea of incompletion itself, which seems to go hand-in-hand with the characters we observe. It’s the problem that happens when filmmakers attempt to adapt a classic and complex work of literature. This is one reason why film is not art. While the visuals, such as the scenery and art direction, possess the usual rich Fellini texture, we find that we really can’t identify with any of the characters, which means that we end up not caring about them, as if we were mere spectators in a sideshow. And “sideshow” is the right word, for no other director since Tod Browning has been as fascinated with human grotesquery. We see a wide gallery of them: giants and dwarfs, obese fatties and human skeletons, transvestites and hermaphrodites – some painted and costumed by choice, others au natural. Showing a world of amorality, cruelty, self-loathing and passion for its own sake may be daring, but without a form of compelling context, all this excess becomes tedious and merely empty spectacle. But maybe that's the point – not a celebration of the Summer of Love, but a display of the process of its collapse.
DAVID: C-. When it comes to cinema's greatest directors, Federico Fellini belongs in the conversation. A true master of his craft, Fellini has made numerous classics. Ed mentioned four of them, and you can add Amarcord, Juliet of the Spirits, Fred and Ginger, and La Strada, among others. However, Fellini Satyricon doesn't deserve to be on the list. It's a well directed but unsatisfying porn film. Fellini is better than this – significantly better than this. The 1969 film is designed to shock, and at times it succeeds. But it's neither compelling or entertaining. The 138-minute film wanders aimlessly through ancient Rome, when Nero was emperor and it appears everyone's goals were to get laid and be disgusting. While I'm hardly a prude, the film does next to nothing to arouse, titillate or make the viewer think. The film goes from one fragmented scene to another, and it never seems to end because in all, there are 25 different sections with the only (very loose) connection being a young adventurer of sort Encolpio (Martin Potter). Even Encolpio is left to often wonder: what the hell is going on in this film? Fellini shows some pointless and disgusting scenes of over-the-top bloody animal sacrifices, a vulgar feast, and a whorehouse filled with obese people, There's no doubt Fellini was an extraordinarily creative director, but there's nothing creative about this film except its shock value. I'm not going to top Ed's brilliant analysis of this film. But I am left wondering: if we share the same opinions of this movie – though he is far more articulate – why our grades are so different?
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.