TCM TiVo ALERT
February 23–February 29
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
ALL THE KING'S MEN (February 24, 6:00 pm): This is the best political film ever made and one of the 10 greatest movies of all-time. I could watch this 1949 classic over and over again – and have. Broderick Crawford is brilliant as Willie Stark, a do-gooder who fails as a politician until he learns to work the system, gets dirt on friends and foes, and becomes a beloved populist governor. There are other incredible performances, particularly John Ireland as Jack Burden, a journalist who "discovers" Stark and helps him climb the political ladder, stepping over anyone in the way; and Raymond Greenleaf as Judge Monte Stanton, Burden's mentor and role model. If you love politics, this is the best movie on the subject ever made. If you hate politics, you'll love this film as it gives you plenty of reasons to confirm your belief on the subject.
NETWORK (February 24, 12:15 am): This brilliant film is not only the best satire of television ever made, but it is about two decades ahead of its time showing how reality TV could and did capture the attention of the viewing audience. As the years pass, this 1976 film becomes more relevant as society's interest in the obsession of pseudo celebrities and our insatiable appetite for around-the-clock garbage news increase. At times, you can see yourself in the film watching some of the crap that litters the airwaves today. You know it's awful and/or outrageous, but you can't help but watch. The film shows the mental breakdown of anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) and how it captures the attention of viewers whose voyeur tendencies only grow. Finch, Faye Dunaway (as an overly ambitious and sexy network executive), and Beatrice Straight (in a bit but important role as the wife of a TV executive played by William Holden) won Oscars in three of the four acting categories. Like Finch, Holden was nominated for Best Actor (two lead male actors?), but obviously didn't win. Finch's "Mad as Hell" speech is one of cinema's finest and one of its top five most iconic moments. It's drop-dead serious while also being outrageously funny.
ED’S BEST BETS:
DAY FOR NIGHT (February 26, 3:30 pm): This is one of Francois Truffaut’s wittiest and most subtle films – a film about the making of a film. While on the set of Je vous presente Pamela (Introducing Pamela), the story of an English wife running off with her French father-in-law, we also get to know the cast and crew shooting the film, each with his or her own set of problems. Hence the title: a technical cinematographic term for simulating a night scene while shooting during the day. Special filters and optical processors are employed to create the illusion. While Nathalie Baye and Jean-Pierre Leaud are wonderful in their roles, Valentia Cortese steals the picture as the fading actress Severine. For those new to Truffaut, this is the perfect introduction and one not to miss.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (February 26, 8:00 pm): After Blazing Saddles became a big hit, people wondered how Mel Brooks could top himself. And then came Young Frankenstein, and that question was answered. This is a wonderfully hilarious spoof of the old Universal horror films, concentrating on Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939). Written by Brooks and Gene Wilder (who also stars as the descendent of Frankenstein), the film combines the zaniness of Brooks with the more restrained satire of Wilder. Peter Boyle is marvelous as The Monster, complete with a zipper in his neck, and Madeline Kahn hits all the right notes as Frankenstein’s prudish fiancée. With Cloris Leachman as Frau Brucker, Terri Garr as Inga, Frankenstein’s lab assistant, and Marty Feldman in a brilliant turn as Frankenstein’s gofer Igor. Watch for Gene Hackman spoofing the blind hermit from Bride of Frankenstein. He comes close to walking away with the film. They don’t make ‘em any better – or funnier – than this.
WE DISAGREE ON ... M*A*S*H (February 24, 10:00 pm):
ED: C+. Virtually everyone knows the story by now, thanks to the hugely popular television show. But not everyone knows it began as a series of comic novels by Richard Hooker and was made into a film directed by Robert Altman. The success of the film with both critics and audiences made the reputation of Altman. I went to this movie when it opened, looking forward to a good, cutting-edge comedy. However, what I got was a plot that careens back and forth and a disjointed script. It seems more like a series of episodes, and for an anti-war film, I never got the sense of the futility of war at all. Instead what I got was a bunch of characters who seemed to be having the time of their lives. The football game that takes up most of the second half seems to come from out of nowhere, and I had trouble with the change in the character of “Hotlips,” since there was no justification provided for her metamorphosis from by-the-book nurse to a wild and carefree woman. Also not in the film’s favor is a soundtrack where the overlapping dialogue blots out the plot points. The acting is an example of superb ensemble acting, and added to the occasional chuckle, is the reason I gave it the grade I did. But the film pales in comparison to the mediocre 1953 Battle Circus, with Humphrey Bogart as a MASH surgeon and June Allyson as the nurse in love with him. That film has actually aged better than this one.
DAVID: A-. This 1970 movie does an excellent job of combining the dark side of war – the gory "meatball" surgery conducted by doctors close to the front line during the Korean War on soldiers who either die, get sent home because of the severity of their wounds or are patched up to go back to the fighting to possibly get shot again or killed – with a comedic side. The doctors and nurses work long, brutal shifts that take their toll. To keep the violence from consuming them, they try to forget their situation by having fun. They pull pranks, have sex, drink a lot, play football and make jokes while operating on seriously wounded soldiers. One of the best quips comes from Trapper in response to Hot Lips pointing out that a Korean is "a prisoner of war." Trapper says, "So are you, sweetheart, but you don't know it." Ed is correct that the script is disjointed, but director Robert Altman makes it work. It significantly helps that the film boasts a cast of excellent actors including Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye, Elliott Gould as Trapper John, Robert Duvall as Frank Burns, and Sally Kellerman as Hot Lips. The first few seasons of the TV show, before Alan Alda gained way too much control and turned episode after episode into preachy sermons, are very similar to the movie. A final note: for Ed, whose opinion I greatly respect, to contend 1953's Battle Circus has aged better than M*A*S*H and the latter pales in comparison is wrong. Battle Circus is an unwatchable, boring film that even Humphrey Bogart couldn't save.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.