TCM TiVo ALERT
July 1–July 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE (July 4, 1:30 pm): Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas co-starred in a number of excellent films, but besides Seven Days in May, this is their best. The Devil's Disciple is a delightfully funny and fun story of a straight-laced preacher (Lancaster) and a colonial rebel (Douglas) during the Revolutionary War. Add Sir Laurence Olivier as British General John Burgoyne and a screenplay based on the George Bernard Shaw play and you've got an outstanding film that's a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a film fan. The chance to see Lancaster, Douglas and Olivier together is reason enough to see this. On top of that, it's lively, filled with action and incredibly entertaining.
THE GREAT DICTATOR (July 5, 9:30 pm): TCM shows this 1940 Charlie Chaplin masterpiece on a regular basis so it often gets overlooked. As he did in so many of his roles, Chaplin brilliantly portrays the film's protagonist, known as "a Jewish barber," with great empathy and humility while still being funny. And when you mention funny, his impersonation of Adolf Hitler - the character in the film is named Adenoid Hynkel - is spot-on and highly entertaining. The film, made before the United States was at war with Nazi Germany, has several iconic scenes, including Hynkel playing with a bouncing globe, and a chase scene between the barber and storm troopers. Chaplin's brilliance lied in his ability to make people think about the world while making them laugh. There is no finer example of that than The Great Dictator. The ending is beautiful. It's too bad life rarely turns out to have a happy Hollywood ending, but that doesn't diminish from the entertainment and importance of this landmark film.
ED’S BEST BETS:
1776 (July 4, 1:30 am): A musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence? You’re kidding, right? No, we’re not kidding, and furthermore, it’s quite good. Based on the play, it retains many of those originally performed it. William Daniels is splendid as John Adams, Ken Howard makes for a most effective Thomas Jefferson, and Howard DaSilva is the spitting image of Ben Franklin. Throw in Virgina Vestoff as Abigail Adams and Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson, and the film really rocks. Watch out, however, for John Cullum as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. He brings down the house with “Molasses to Rum to Slaves.” Other numbers to look for include “But Mr. Adams,” “Cool Cool, Considerate Men” (my favorite), and the heart tugging “Mama Look Sharp.” American history was never this much fun.
DUCK SOUP (July 5, 8:00 pm): There are very few comedic masterpieces in film history. This is one of the best and probably the best antiwar movie ever made. Imagine - Groucho becomes dictator of Fredonia at the whim of Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), to whom the government owes large sums of money. Chico and Harpo work as spies for Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of neighboring Sylvania, which has its eyes on Fredonia. Trentino hopes to marry Mrs. Teasdale and take over Fredonia, but Groucho stands in his way. Eventually their rivalry leads to war. And what a war! Every vestige of nationalism is lampooned, from Paul Revere’s ride to the draft. It has great dialogue and sight gags galore, each managing to top the previous one. It’s incredible to believe, but this film bombed at the box office so badly that Paramount cancelled the Marx Brothers’ contract. Today it’s a classic of the genre. With the gorgeous Raquel Torres and the hysterical Edgar Kennedy, whose encounters with Chico and Harpo are truly side-splitting.
WE DISAGREE ON ... THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (July 7, 9:30 pm)
ED: A. This is a remarkable fantasy film, all the more so in that it was made in the days before CGI, using incredible Technicolor photography by Georges Perinal and Osmond Borradaile. (Oscar winning, by the way.) The production design by Vincent Korda is just as impressive. This is not a remake of the Douglas Fairbanks silent, but introduces a totally new story, also drawing from the Thousand-and-One-Nights tales. And the story chosen is both remarkable and enthralling, starring producer Alexander Korda’s discovery, Indian actor Sabu, who plays Abu, a thief amongst the many merchants that make up the marketplace of Bagdad. He and Prince Ahmad (John Justin), the rightful ruler of Bagdad who was overthrown by his evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) fight to vanquish Jaffar, who also has designs on the Prince’s love, the sultan’s daughter (June Duprez). Along the way we are treated to such visual delights as a flying carpet, a deadly six-armed dervish, a full-size mechanical horse, a stolen all-seeing ruby eye, and the Genie of the Lamp, played by the great Rex Ingram, who walks away with the picture despite the best efforts of Veidt. It’s one of the few pre-1960 films parents can show their children, as it’s made in Technicolor and is one helluva an adventure. And the score by Miklos Rozsa fits the film perfectly and enhances our viewing pleasure.
DAVID: B-. This is one of those films that should be great fun with colorful characters and costumes in an exotic location with a story filled with action and adventure. Don't get me wrong, it came close, but fell short of my expectations. Conrad Veidt as the evil Jaffar is wonderful as is Rex Ingram as the genie. Sabu is also quite charming as Abu, the boy thief. The biggest problem with this film is the love story between Ahmad the Prince (John Justin) and the Princess (June Duprez). Movies like this have the cliche love story between the naive, beautiful princess and the handsome prince who's been wronged as a central focus. The film is supposed to be exciting, but it sacrifices some action for romantic scenes – the kind that make kids say, "Eww, that's gross," and make adults wonder "What is this silly love story doing in a film for kids?" So it loses points because of that. However, there are plenty of great moments as Ed mentioned. The flying carpet is cool as is the ruby eye and the genie. Lose the love story focus, edit it down another 15 minutes and you'd have a real winner of a movie.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.