TCM TiVo ALERT
December 15–December 22
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE DIRTY DOZEN (December 19, 5:15 pm): If you're looking for a movie that includes misfits blowing up stuff and people – particularly Nazis – while also being entertaining and filled with action, The Dirty Dozen delivers on all fronts. The cast is excellent, led by Lee Marvin (who's always great in these types of war films), Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas and John Cassavetes. Yes, there's a dozen guys on this mission and yet director Robert Aldrich is able to show the personalities of each of them. He takes about two-and-a-half hours to do so, but it's worth it. This 1967 film greatly influenced other directors and other studios – this was a huge box-office success – to do movies with a similar violent genre. But nothing has been able to surpass the original.
THE MORTAL STORM (December 19, 10:00 pm): It's quite surprising that this hard-hitting anti-Nazi film was made in 1940 and released about 18 months before the United States got involved in World War II. It's an extraordinarily powerful movie about what happens to a group of friends in a small Bavarian town when the Nazis take over Germany and attempt to conquer Europe. Not only is the acting outstanding, particularly Jimmy Stewart as an anti-Nazi, and Robert Young, who become a Nazi zealot, but the story is uncompromising and tragic. It's one of Stewart's finest roles. It still holds up well.
ED’S BEST BETS:
ALICE ADAMS (December 18, 9:00 am): This little underrated gem from RKO stars Katharine Hepburn as a pretty small-town girl from a lower class family whose aspiration is to be accepted by the upper crust. While her family struggles just to get by Alice puts on airs, going to great length to project herself as born of social status and wealth. Unfortunately for her, nothing is working, as the people whose acceptance she craves ignore her. But she finally finds love in the person of unpretentious Fred MacMurray, but the moment of truth arrives when she has to introduce him to her parents. The family dinner-table scene is a classic.
CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (December 18, 9:30 pm): Barbara Stanwyck was one of the very, very few that could go from playing in tear jerkers (Stella Dallas) to corporate dramas (Executive Suite) to steamy crime dramas (Double Indemnity) to Westerns (The Maverick Queen) to screwball comedies (The Lady Eve) and distinguish herself in each genre. And this gentle romantic comedy is no different. Here she plays Elizabeth Lane, a Martha Stewart type, a columnist for “Smart Housekeeping,” and a woman touted as “the greatest cook in the country,” with a perfect home in the ‘burbs, a perfect husband, and a perfect baby. She’s the role model to millions of readers. The only problem is that Elizabeth Lane is none of the above. She’s unmarried, no child, lives in the city, and the closest she’s even been to a stove is how near she sits to the restaurant’s kitchen. Trouble ensues when a war hero (Dennis Morgan), as part of a publicity stunt for her magazine, is granted a visit to her “farm.” And, to make things worse her boss, played by Sydney Greenstreet, is coming along. How can she pull of this charade and not get fired? Stanwyck pulls it off beautifully, giving yet another top-notch performance as the harried columnist. Morgan is excellent as the visiting war hero, and it’s nice to see Sydney Greenstreet in a role other than as the bad guy. He acquits himself rather nicely here. This is the perfect film for those who want to see light holiday fare during this time, and a perfect film for those that have not yet had the pleasure of sampling Stanwyck’s work in comedies.
WE AGREE ON ... 12 ANGRY MEN (December 16, 10:30 am)
ED: A+. I love ensemble pieces, especially when they’re as well acted as this one. Produced by its star, Henry Fonda, who, along with Reginald Rose, who write the teleplay in 1954, raised the $350,000 necessary for filming. Fonda also chose the director, a young television veteran named Sidney Lumet, who would be making his feature film debut. Fonda and Lumet then turned to Broadway to assemble a wonderful supporting cast that served to drive the movie as well. Begin watching it and one is quickly caught up in the plot of a ghetto teenager on trial for his life, accused of the murder of his father. Lesser films would get bogged down in the give-and-take dialogue that fuels the film, especially as the jury retires to a cramped, hot, and muggy room to deliberate. All but one are ready to vote “guilty.” The one holdout, Fonda, is not so much convinced that the boy is innocent, but that the prosecution has failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As Fonda begins to make his case, we can easily see that a lesser director and actors would take this and make it into a borefest, but here Lumet concentrates on the jurors and the reasons behind their stances. Although Lee J. Cobb and Ed Begley threaten to steal the show, pay attention to Jack Warden, who is motivated more by the fact he has tickets to that night’s Yankee game than the defendant’s innocence, and Martin Balsam as the jury foreman more interested in being liked than serving justice. One on the main strengths of the movie is that we get to see the inner lives of each man as he wrestles with Fonda’s arguments. It makes for compelling viewing and a film that will stay with its viewer long after it has ended. It only serves as further proof that a film need not be a big production or loaded with superstar actors in order to become a classic.
DAVID: A+. Like Ed, I love quality ensemble pieces, and there are few films that can match 12 Angry Men in terms of quality acting and brilliant directing. Director Sidney Lumet is able to make viewers feel like they're sitting in a hot room where the jurors discuss and argue not only the evidence against the case, but how their own experiences and prejudices impact their decisions. The sweat beading on the foreheads of the jurors and soaking through their shirts on what is the hottest day of the year as the film progresses are excellent touches. Except for a few minutes at the beginning and end, and a couple of short scenes in an attached bathroom, the entire film occurs in that jury room. While the plot is somewhat predictable – perhaps that's merely my opinion as I've seen it a half-dozen times – the acting is amazing. Henry Fonda as Juror 8, an architect and the only one to initially vote not guilty, is, well, Henry Fonda. Good luck finding more than perhaps a handful of films in which he's in and doesn't excel. Lee J. Cobb, Juror 3 and the final holdout, was always outstanding in the role of the short-tempered, angry, intimidating hot-head, and he's flawless here. Ed Begley is also excellent as Juror 10, a bigot who believes "those people" living in slums, such as the murder suspect, are less human than him. As Ed mentioned, Jack Warden and Martin Balsam are two to watch. Fans of Jack Klugman will get a kick out of the film as he plays a smaller but important role as a man who grew up in the slums. But my favorite cast member is Joseph Sweeney as the elderly, observant Juror 9, who is the first to side with Fonda's character and change his vote to not guilty. The character's role is vital to the movie, and Sweeney's portrayal of the warm, gentle man whose final observation discredits the lone "eyewitness" to the murder is exceptional. The film is about intolerance, and jumping to conclusions based on a person's ethnicity and (lack of) social standing without bothering to learn all the facts. It was released in 1957 and, unfortunately, remains relevant today.
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.