Friday, April 22, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for April 23-30

April 23–April 30


FROM THE LIFE OF THE MARIONETTES (April 23, 4:15 am): This is one of Ingmar Bergman's darker films, which is saying something because he made a lot of dark films. It's also one of his more fascinating movies and largely goes under the radar. This was originally made for German television in 1980 with two characters seen briefly in his 1973 film Scenes From a Marriage, which was a Swedish TV miniseries later cut when released in theaters. It's a complex film with Bergman taking a deep dive into the themes of many of his works – love, sex, marriage, death, regret and tragedy. The marriage of Katarina and Peter Egermann is in shambles with the couple arguing and the wife having other lovers. Peter sees a prostitute who has the misfortune of having Katarina as her first name. In a fit of rage, Peter kills her. The film questions what drove Peter, a respectable businessman, to commit murder. As he did in several other films, Bergman gives his viewers a lot to ponder and leaves it to them to determine what they are viewing.

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (April 29, 1:15 am): I've recommended this film a few times over the year, and with good reason: it's a must-see. A large ensemble cast of legendary actors – Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Richard Widmark and Maximilian Schell – and memorable smaller roles played by Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich make this drama one of the most riveting films made. It also makes you question the responsibility of people who commit atrocities or do nothing to stop them. It's about a post-World War II military tribunal in which three American judges (Tracy as the chief judge in an extraordinary role) are hearing the cases of four former German judges (Lancaster is the main ex-jurist) accused of committing war atrocities for passing death sentences on people during the Nazi regime. The film is horrifying, hard-hitting, and pulls no punches, including showing real footage of piles of dead bodies found by American soldiers at the end of the war. You have to decide for yourself if being German during the regime of Adolf Hitler is a war crime. 


THE SEARCHERS (April 25, 1:00 pm): It’s an old axiom among serious film buffs that John Wayne was a limited actor. While that’s true to a certain extent, just give him a good script and a director like John Ford or Howard Hawks to keep him in line and milk a good performance out of him and he’s not only good – he’s compelling to watch. Wayne is a Civil War veteran obsessed with tracking down the Comanches that killed his family and slaughtered his niece. He also hates Indians with a passion, and Ford paints an interesting character study as Wayne pursues the kidnappers. Not to be missed, even for those that aren’t exactly crazy about Westerns.

DUCK SOUP (April 26, 9:15 am): 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 ... WOMAN IN THE DUNES (April 24, 2:00 am)

ED: C. The Japanese are the last people I would have expected to make an “art” film. Simply, they don’t need to, for directors such as Ozu, Kurosawa, and Kenji Mizoguchi made their superbly crafted films into masterpieces simply by following everyday stories or adapting classic works of literature, as Kurosawa did with Shakespeare. Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes (1964) is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by author Kobo Abe. Abe’s novel is a complex tome about the meaning of freedom in today’s society, a variation of the Myth of Sisyphus as elaborated by Camus. Like the novels of Henry James, many of which are internally, as opposed to externally, driven, it really does not translate into a movie, for movies cannot capture the necessary depth that makes the story work. Metaphors only go so far; one needs a solid storyline to move the film along, otherwise it tends to become mired in its own heaviness, which is the case with Woman in the Dunes. Yes, I know that Abe adopted the screenplay himself. His other adaptations of his works, The Face of Another and The Man Without a Map, work because they are externally based and entail movement towards a goal. Woman in the Dunes only proves that what works in a novel does not necessarily work in film, as both a separate crafts.

DAVID: A. I first saw this film a couple of years ago and was very impressed. That Ed thinks it's worthy of only a C gave me pause. Was my memory of Woman in the Dunes faulty? So I watched it on Hulu the other day. It's absolutely brilliant. The story is a parable about an entomology teacher out in the sandy dunes of a small rural village in Japan collecting beetles. He oversleeps and is stuck there for the night. The villagers invite him to stay in a deep sandpit with a woman who lives there. It turns out to be a trap, and no matter what he does, he cannot escape – kind of like a sandy Hotel California. On top of that, the sand on the pit's walls fall making life in the house at the bottom very dangerous. He manages to escape once, only to be caught because he does not know how to leave the village to get help. He decides to take on various tasks to pass the time, and after seven years in the pit, the man has the chance to legitimately escape. But he's found his purpose, and after all that time, the life he had in Tokyo is long gone. Why do some of the people in the village live in sandpits and others don't? Damn if I know. However, watching the film, it is something I never question. That's what makes it work. It takes an impossibly unlikely scenario and makes you believe it is actually happening. As Roger Ebert wrote in his glowing review of this 1964 film: "There is never a moment when the film doesn't look absolutely realistic, and it isn't about sand anyway, but about life." A few other items about the film: the music score heightens and sometimes mocks the tension, it's surprisingly erotic and the visuals of the sand are extraordinary.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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