A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
The Star of the Month this May is Robert Ryan. It’s a good choice because Ryan made a lot of war films and this is the month of the Memorial Day marathon. On the other hand, Ryan made a lot of run-of-the-mill programmers, so there’s not really a lot of choice pickings.
May 6: The entire day is devoted to Ryan, with the better films being shown in the evening. During the day, Ryan films worth viewing include the anti-red hysteric, The Woman on Pier 13 (1950) at 12:15, Clash By Night with Barbara Stanwyck (1952) and directed by Fritz Lang, at 1:30 pm, and Berlin Express (1948) with Merle Oberon at 4:45 pm.
The evening’s choices include Bad Day at Black Rock (1954) with Spencer Tracy at 8:00 pm, and the superb boxing noir, The Set-Up (1948) at 4:00 am.
May 13: The best of the night include Billy Budd (1962) at 8:00; the bizarre The Boy With the Green Hair (1948) at 12:15 am, followed by God’s Little Acre (1958) at 1:45.
The evenings of May 2, 3, 4 & 5 are devoted to a festival of films from expatriate actors and directors.
May 2: The evening begins at 8:00 with the superb 2009 documentary, Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood. Narrated by Sigourney Weaver, the film presents a solid overview. It’s followed at 10:15 by the ultimate expatriate film, Casablanca (1943), Three Smart Girls (1937) from director Henry Koster, Ninotchka (1939), written by expatriate Billy Wilder and directed by expatriate Ernst Lubitsch, and finally, at 4:00 am it’s Carnegie Hall, directed by expatriate Edgar G. Ulmer. One of the interesting stories about Lubitsch was that Joseph Goebbels had considered using a photo of him for a poster of what the ultimate Jew looked like to be placed in public areas and in textbooks.
May 3: The evening starts off slowly at 8:00 with Joe May’s 1934 Music in the Air from Fox starring Gloria Swanson and John Boles. At 9:45 comes Fritz Lang’s superb look at mob mentality, Fury (MGM, 1936), starring Spencer Tracy as the unfortunate victim who manages to survive and return for revenge. Then it’s an encore of Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood at 11:30, followed by Karl Freund’s wonderful slice of gothic horror, Mad Love (1935), a remake of The Hands of Orlac starring expatriate Peter Lorre as the maddest of mad doctors who grafts a murderer’s hands onto concert pianist Colin Clive, whose own hands were crushed in an accident, because he’s in love with Clive’s wife. At 3:00 am, it’s the Bogart vehicle, All Through the Night (1941). Bogart is gangster “Gloves” Donahue, whose investigation of the murder of his favorite cheesecake baker leads him to a nest of Nazi spies. With Peter Lorre, Kaaren Verne, and the movies’ naughtiest Nazi, Conrad Veidt. Veidt was a most interesting character. A renowned actor in Germany (He played Caesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, among other great move roles.), Veidt’s beloved wife, Ilona, was Jewish, and when he had to state his ethnicity on employment forms he always put down “Jude” (Jewish) even though he wasn’t. When the Nazis came to power, he and Ilona fled to England. He became a British subject in 1939. He was Carl Laemmle’s choice to play Dracula in the 1931 film originally scheduled to be directed by Paul Leni.
May 4: We begin at 8:00 with MGM’s 1944 The Seventh Cross, Austrian expatriate Fred Zinnemann’s first “A” film, starring Spencer Tracy, with German expatriate Felix Bressart in support. At 10:00 pm, it The Killers (1946) from German expatriate director Robert Siodmak, followed at midnight by director Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair with German expatriate Marlene Dietrich. At 2:00 am, it’s Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940) with expatriates Albert Bassermann and Martin Kosleck, and Comrade X (1940) starring Hedy Lamarr and Felix Bressart.
The TCM Spotlight this month shines on American International Pictures. The studio grew out of American Releasing Corporation (ARC), a company founded by former sales manager of Realist Pictures, James H. Nicholson and entertainment lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff. The duo served as executive producers while Roger Corman and Alex Gordon handled the production – and sometimes directorial – duties. Among the company’s writers were such names as Charles B. Griffith, Richard Matheson, and Charles Beaumont. The company also served as a springboard to young actors, counting Fay Spain, John Ashley, and Jack Nicholson among its roster of stars.
The company got off to a rocky start until Arkoff began quizzing film exhibitors. They told him adults were home watching television while the teenagers were the primary moviegoers. Using that information, AIP began targeting the teenage audience. They would pitch a proposed title to the exhibitors, ask them what they thought, and if the response was positive, have in-house artists such as Albert Kallis create eye-catching posters, and assign a writer to create a script.
Observing that the majors were ignoring the lucrative drive-in marker, AIP made it the focus of their early output, releasing youth oriented double features with titles like I Was A Teenage Frankenstein, High School Hellcats, Hot Rod Girl, Blood of Dracula, Teenage Caveman, and The Cool and the Crazy.
In the ‘60s, AIP contracted Corman’s Poe cycle of films and hit box office gold with 1963’s Beach Party, starring the duo of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. They also made several motorcycle gang films, including Devil’s Angels, The Born Losers (which introduced the character of Billy Jack), and Hells Angels ’69. The studio also exploited the hippie/psychedelic scene with The Trip, Riot on Sunset Strip, Maryjane, Wild in the Streets, and Psych-Out.
In addition, AIP served as the U.S. distributor for many Italian giallo, sword and sandal, and what were referred to as “macaroni combat” films, usually with a faded or young American star and an Italian or Spanish cast. Japanese and South Korean sci-fi films were also added to the roster, including many Godzilla sequels and Korean products such as Yongary, Monster of the Deep.
During its heyday, AIP was a major force is what used to be known as the “B-Movie” market, cashing in on pop culture trends and creating some of their own. Frankly, it’s about time TCM celebrated this groundbreaking studio and one can only hope that more AIP films will be added to the playlist in the future.
May 5: The is the best night for psychotronic fans with The Fast and the Furious (1954) leading off at 8:00, followed by The Beast With a Million Eyes (1955) at 9:30, A Bucket of Blood (1959) at 11:00, High School Hellcats (1958) at 12:15, The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959) at 1:45 am, Attack of the Puppet People (1958) at 3 am, and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966) at 4:30.
May 12: The scene shifts to the ‘60s, beginning with Pit and the Pendulum (1961) at 8:00, ”X” – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) at 9:30, Dementia 13 (1963) at 11:00, Black Sabbath (1964) at 12:30 am, The Comedy of Terrors (1964) at 2:30 am, and Master of the World (1961) at 4:15 am.
May 8: A double feature of Italian Director Michelangelo Antonioni begins at 2:00 am with L’Avventura (1960), with Monica Vitti, Lea Massari, and Gabriele Ferzetti, followed by Blow-Up (1966). L’Avventura, a favorite of the art house crowd, begins with Anna (Massari), who’s in a troubled love affair, on an ocean cruise with a yacht full of rich passengers. When they disembark on an island near Sicily, Anna is not among the passengers, and for much of the film, Anna’s best friend (Vitti) and her lover (Ferzetti) search for her while dealing with the emotional impact of her disappearance. Blow-Up has been shown several times. It concerns a photographer (David Hemmings) who may have inadvertently photographed a murder. Its easy my favorite film from the director with excellent performances from stars Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave.
May 13: At 6:00 am, it’s the seldom seen Shooting Straight (RKO, 1930) with Richard Dix as a compulsive gambler wanted for murder who attempts to redeem himself for the love of a minister’s daughter. Following at 7:30 is Loretta Young, Winnie Lightner and Norman Foster in Play Girl (WB, 1932), the story of a young innocent (Young) who falls hard for a compulsive gambler (Foster). It’s a good film with a good cast.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B -HIVE
Though the tribute to American International was entirely composed of psychotronic films, there are still several other good ones on the schedule.
May 9: There are few things I enjoy more than an Old Dark House thriller, and at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am, TCM is running one of the earliest, if not the earliest, made with sound. It’s The Bat Whispers, directed by Roland West and released by United Artists in 1931. Yes, it’s old; yes, it creaks; and yes, it still entertains. A sound remake of West’s classic silent, The Bat from 1926, it stars Chester Morris and Una Merkel. The search is on for the notorious thief known only as The Bat and he may be hiding out at a spooky old countryside estate populated by a wealthy dowager (Grayce Hampton), her lame-brained maid (Maude Eburne), and her fortune-hunting niece (Merkel). Morris is a detective looking for The Bat. Not until every plot possibility is overturned will we learn the identity of The Bat, which makes the film so much fun. Also, the visuals are fantastic, as is the use of miniature sets. At the end of the film, Morris comers out from behind a curtain to implore the audience not to divulge the plot’s secrets. If Old Dark House mysteries enchant you, this is a Must See. If not, see it anyway; you might be entertained.
May 14: Gerald Mohr takes over the role of Michael Lanyard from the ailing Warren William in The Lone Wolf in London (Columbia, 1947). The main problem with the film is that Lanyard is supposed to be suave and charming and Mohr is anything but. It’s followed at 10:30 by the Bowery Boys in Ghost Chasers (Monogram, 1951). The boys are after a fake medium in this appealing installment.