TCM TiVo ALERT
February 1–February 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (February 2, 3:30 pm): This 1955 film combines the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller with the action of a great martial-arts movie done in a Western style. The cast is filled with all-stars, led by Spencer Tracy playing a mysterious stranger with the use of only one arm. Robert Ryan is the main bad guy, aided by Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine, along with Dean Jagger as the town's alcoholic sheriff and Walter Brennan as its undertaker. It's obvious from the moment the stranger, John J. Macreedy (Tracy), gets off the train in Black Rock that, well, it's going to be a bad day there. Macreedy has a reason to be in town. That reason and his presence in Black Rock results in a lot of havoc for the townsfolk. The best scene is when Macreedy, using martial arts and only one hand, beats up Coley Trimble (played by Borgnine in my favorite role of his in cinema) in a bar fight. He only hits Trimble about five times and the fight lasts for about two minutes, but it's incredibly effective. See for yourself. A smart story with excellent action and great acting.
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (February 5, 11:45 pm): An absolute classic, directed by Frank Capra, about a runaway snobby socialite (Claudette Colbert) and a reporter (Clark Gable). This movie really put the two actors on the movie map even though they both already had about 20 credits to their names. It's a wonderful screwball romantic comedy with great chemistry between the pair. The story takes place over more than one night despite the title. It's a wonderful film with two of cinema's most famous scenes. The first has Colbert successfully hitching a ride, after Gable fails, by lifting up her skirt and showing her leg. The other has the two of them sharing a room and Gable putting up a blanket to separate them, calling it "the walls of Jericho," which ties in nicely at the end of the film. Released in 1934, it has aged well.
ED’S BEST BETS:
FORBIDDEN PLANET (February 2, 1:45 pm): It’s one of the best sci-fi films ever made, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, though it seems somewhat dated today. Leslie Nielsen leads a mission to plant Altair 4 to find out the fate of an expedition that landed there 20 years ago. What they discover is that one man (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter (Anne Francis) are left of the original expedition. Pidgeon leads them on a fantastic tour of a lost civilization that populated the planet years ago. Though way ahead of Earth in technology, they were suddenly wiped out one night while on the verge of their “greatest discovery.” Then when crewmembers begin dying mysteriously, a search is conducted for their killer. What they ultimately discover about the monster and the planet keeps us in thrall. Don’t let the Shakespeare connection throw you off; for sci-fi fans, it’s a must. And for those that aren’t so sure, it’s still an intelligent movie nonetheless.
JOAN OF PARIS (February 3, 1:45 am): This is a different kind of war film, and one of the first to celebrate the Resistance in France. Joan (Michele Morgan) is a waitress who accidentally gets caught up in the pursuit of five RAF pilots, who are stranded in France, and their Free French leader, Paul Lavallier (Paul Henried), who must get them out of the country. It won’t be easy, because the Gestapo, led by Herr Funk (Laird Cregar), is hot on their trail. As events build, Funk gets Joan in a compromising position: if she betrays the fliers, he’ll save Paul. But Joan betrays Funk and leads everyone to safety, all the while knowing that she will die because of her decision. It’s a film that boasts several excellent performances. Cregar is magnificent as the Gestapo chief, oozing villainy, and Morgan is wonderful as the doomed Joan. Look for Alan Ladd in a bit part as “Baby,” one of the downed pilots.
WE DISAGREE ON ... THE FORTUNE COOKIE (February 7, 12:15 pm)
ED: B+. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond have joined forces once again to produce another comedy masterpiece. Walter Matthau is right on target as an ambulance-chasing shyster who convinces his cameraman brother-in-law Jack Lemmon to sue for damages after a football player crashes into him and sends the unfortunate Lemmon to the hospital. Lemmon is fine after his near-tragedy, but Matthau convinces him to fake various injuries so he can sue everyone concerned for negligence. Lemmon is not so sure about the plan, but after he sees that this could lead him to get back with his ex-wife, he goes whole hog for the scheme. However, what Lemmon did not anticipate is that the Cleveland Brown (Ron Rich) who ran into him feels absolutely lousy about what happened and is beginning to find solace in the bottle. This, in turn, magnifies Lemmon’s guilt. This was the first pairing of Matthau and Lemmon and the chemistry between the two is fantastic. This was also Matthau’s breakout role as a comic actor and won him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I’ve often wondered – has Billy Wilder ever made a bad movie?
DAVID: A+. This is one of those films in which the only disagreement between the two of us is the level to which we love this movie. In Ed's case, The Fortune Cookie is a B+ movie. A very good grade, but it's an A+ to me. It's the first time Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon team up and it's their best. It's also Billy Wilder's finest and most clever comedy. It's cynical, somewhat dark while also hysterically funny. The plot is simple enough: Lemmon is Harry Hinkle, a rather pathetic TV cameraman, who gets knocked silly by a Cleveland Browns player during a game on the sidelines. His brother-in-law is an unscrupulous attorney "Whiplash" Willie Gingrich (Matthau) who convinces Harry to fake more serious injuries to get a fat fraudulent settlement from an insurance company. (Wilder apparently had a thing for insurance company fraud as a plot.) Matthau steals the film as he takes the insurance scheme further and further until poor naive Harry finally stands up for himself. There are excellent performances by Ron Rich as Boom Boom Jackson, the Browns player who accidentally runs into Harry, Judi West as Harry's conniving ex-wife Sandy, and Cliff Osmond as the insurance investigator who questions the severity of the injury. And to answer Ed's question about a bad Billy Wilder film, you have to go to his last one – the lifeless Buddy Buddy from 1981 that also stars Lemmon and Wilder. Most either didn't see it or forget it, which is a good thing as it was one of the very few misses in Wilder's career.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.