A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
STAR OF THE MONTH: FRANK SINATRA
December 16: Three good musicals from MGM: On The Town (1949) at 9:00 pm, Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), following at 11:00, and 1945’s Anchors Aweigh at 12:45 am.
December 23: It’s the ludicrous The Miracle of the Bells (1948) at 8:45 pm (Bad Movie Alert), followed by High Society (1956) at 11:00 pm. Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Louie Armstrong co-star in this remake of The Philadelphia Story.
December 30: Two solid films tonight: The marvelous, and still powerful, The Man With the Golden Arm (1956) at 9:15 pm, followed by Frank as comedian Joe E. Lewis in The Joker is Wild (1957) at 11:30 pm.
TCM SPOTLIGHT: GIRLFRIENDS
December 28: A good double feature worth catching: The Children’s Hour (1961) at 8:00 pm, with the original These Three (1936) immediately following at 10:00. I’m always partial to the original, but both versions are excellent adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play, The Children’s Hour, about how scandalous gossip ruins the lives of two schoolteachers. Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon co-star with Joel McCrea in the original, while Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn star with James Garner in the remake.
December 18: An excellent double feature of Barbara Stanwyck Christmas movies begins at 9:30 with the classic comedy Christmas in Connecticut (1945), with Stanwyck as a homemaking columnist who can’t cook a lick being called upon to entertain a war hero and her publisher for the holidays. Remember the Night (1940), a bittersweet comedy written by Preston Sturges, follows at 11:30. Prosecutor Fred MacMurray takes pity on shoplifter Stanwyck, and instead of letting her stay in jail over the Christmas holidays, takes her home to his family for the holidays with the predictable results.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
December 20: Director Eric Rohmer is highlighted in a late night double feature beginning at 2:30 am with his 1969 film, My Night at Maud’s. Jean-Louis Trintignant is a devout Catholic who moves to a provincial town and vows to marry Francoise (Marie-Christine Barrault, a ravishing blonde he notices at mass. Vidal (Antoine Vitez), an old school friend, invites him to date the recently divorced Maud (Francoise Fabian) and Jean-Louis ends up staying the night, engaged in a philosophical discussion with Maud in her bedroom. But he’s determined to win Francoise over, and although he and Maud have terrific chemistry, his stubbornness gets in the way. It’s a delightful, though somewhat dense, film that demands the viewer’s attention.
Following at the ungodly hour of 4:40 am is La Collectionneuse (The Collector Girl), a comedy from 1967. It’s a wonderful psychological comedy, exploring Rohmer’s favorite theme of rationalization versus eroticism. Adrien (Patrick Bauchau), an art collector, and Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle), a painter, are staying at a friend’s house in St. Tropez. Also staying there is Haydee (Haydee Politoff), a carefree spirit who beds a different man each night. At first, Adrien is repulsed by her behavior, calling her “a collector of men.” But as time passes, he becomes more and more intrigued and attracted to her. His tension between adhering to his moral principles or casting them aside and sleeping with Haydee comprises the core of the film. It’s Rohmer’s first color feature and is beautifully photographed, with excellent performances from all concerned.
December 27: At 2:45 am is Ingmar Bergman’s 1982 masterpiece, Fanny And Alexandria. Fanny and Alexander are the children of Emilie and Oskar Ekdahl, a prosperous theatrical family in Uppsala at the beginning of the 20th century. When Oskar falls ill during Christmas season and passes away, their mother Emilie is devastated. Shortly afterwards, she marries Edvard Vergerus, a rigid, demanding bishop. The household changes from a footloose and happy one into a cheerless, unhappy one. This affects the children deeply, especially Alexander, an imaginative boy, whose stubbornness in the face of his new situation causes him to constantly butt heads with the icy Edvard. Isak, their grandmother’s longtime friend, manages to kidnap the children and shelters them in his house, which is filled with puppets and mysterious objects. Reality and fantasy become blurred from here onward, but, in the end, the cruel bishop meets his fate and Emilie finally makes it back to the family home. Definitely recommended.
THE MARX BROTHERS AND THE THIN MAN
December 31: In the morning and afternoon it’s a Marx Brothers marathon. All five of their Paramount films will air along with A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. In the evening, it’s the complete Thin Man series with William Powell and Myrna Loy. What a way to see in the New Year!
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
December 19: Leading off at 2:00 am is director Andrzej Zulawski’s graphically weird Possession. Isabella Adjani and Sam Neill are a couple who see their marriage come crashing down around them after Adjani takes a lover. Neill has a nervous breakdown, but stays with Adjani literally ‘till death does them part. They live in an apartment next to the Berlin Wall and slash themselves with electric knives. She has a very messy miscarriage in a subway station and later gives birth to a tentacled monster that later becomes her lover. Think of a combination of The Exorcist and Repulsion on acid.
At 4:00 am, it’s Louis Malle’s Black Moon from 1975, a bizarre, dark and surreal film that opens with a war around the world between men and women. To escape the war, a young girl flees to a fantasy world with talking animals and unicorns, plus one really strange family. This film is so weird I can’t even describe it adequately. The best thing is to see it for yourself. By the way, intended as an allegory on the modern world, it flopped miserably at the box office.
December 26: A Larry Cohen double feature begins at 2:00 am with his 1976 murder mystery, God Told Me To. Tony Lo Bianco is an NYPD detective investigating a series of homicides whose perpetrators all claim to have been acting at the behest of the Almighty. “God” turns out to be an extraterrestrial beget by a nonconsensual union of alien and human. Look for Andy Kaufman as a cop who goes berserk in a parade.
Following at 3:30 am is It’s Alive (1974), Cohen’s story of a demonic killer baby on a rampage. Shocking when first released, it seems almost tame today due to the relative lack of gore.
December 29: A morning and afternoon of sci-fi and fantasy movies. Nothing new, but highlights include It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) at 6:30 am, The Valley of Gwangi (1969) at 9:45 am, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) at 3:00 pm, and Jason and the Argonauts (1963) at 6:15 pm.
Two great B-noirs are being shown in the evening. First up at 10:15 pm is the great Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears (1949). Liz is a housewife who, through a fluke set of circumstances, comes into a briefcase filled with $60,000. And she’ll do anything to hang on to it, even if it includes murder. At 2:00 am, it’s John Payne in Phil Karlson’s 1952 noir, Kansas City Confidential. Payne is a down-on-his-luck ex-con who finds himself framed for a million dollar armored car heist. He’s determined to catch the culprits and clear his name even if it means going to Mexico. Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs shows the influence of this film.