Thursday, April 28, 2016

TCM TiVo ALERT for May 1-7

May 1–May 7


FURY (May 3, 9:45 pm): Director Fritz Lang's first American film, this is filled with suspense, revenge, mob rule, hostility, intolerance and action. Spencer Tracy plays Joe Wilson, accused of a crime he didn't commit. While he sits in jail, waiting for the police investigation into the crime, the local townspeople get worked up and go to lynch him. Unable to get inside, they torched the jail with Wilson killed in the fire – or so it seems. The great plot-twist is that Joe escapes, but presumed dead, with the people responsible for the incident facing murder charges. With the help of his brothers, Joe seeks revenge against his would-be killers. Tracy does a great job going from a hardworking, mild-mannered guy into one obsessed with anger and vengeance. The film moves from a love story to suspense to a courtroom drama.

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (May 6, 6:30 am): In Seven Days in May, Burt Lancaster teams up with Kirk Douglas (the two co-starred in seven movies during their cinematic careers) to make a memorable and outstanding film. Lancaster is the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and is leading several of its members in a conspiracy to remove the president (Fredric March) from office because he signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. Douglas is a Marine Corps colonel and military adviser who finds out about the proposed coup and tells the president. It's among the best political thrillers ever made. An interesting tidbit: the shots taken outside the White House were done with the permission of President John F. Kennedy (those scenes were done in 1963 before his assassination that year), but Pentagon officials weren't cooperative, refusing to permit Douglas to be filmed walking into that building. 


THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (May 7, 6:15 pm): The 1951 original, of course, is one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made and a courageous retort to the hysteria of the day. Michael Rennie is pitch perfect as Klaatu, an alien who comes here on a good will mission and is shot for his troubles. He wants to convene a confab of scientists and world leaders. The government, on the other hand, want to keep him prisoner in order to pump information from him. There are two things they hadn’t considered, however. One is that he is a vastly superior being, able to see through our heavy-handed trickery, and his robot, Gort, capable of burning the planet to a cinder. Klaatu easily escapes the government’s attempts at imprisonment, and grabbing a briefcase with the initials “J.C.” (How’s that for symbolism?), ventures out into the world to contact the people he needs to see by himself. It’s when he stops at a rooming house run by Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee!) that he meets young war widow Patricia Neal and her son, Billy Gray. They provide the humanity and drama as the government launches a manhunt for Klaatu. Director Robert Wise captures the hysteria of the times perfectly, and the film is the first to feature a rational being from outer space who is not out to kill or enslave us, though he does give the nations of Earth a stern warning at the end. If you haven’t seen this one, catch it by all means – and ignore the lame 2008 remake.

ALL ABOUT EVE (May 7, 8:00 pm): One of the great films about the theater with knockout performances from leads Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm and George Sanders. Sanders won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role. Sophisticated and cynical with a brilliant script by director Joseph Mankiewicz based on the short story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr. Life ended up imitating art when Baxter pulled strings to be nominated for Best Actress in addition to Davis. If she had stayed in the category of Best Supporting, it is likely both she and Davis would have taken home statuettes. It's one of those films that can be watched again and again with no lessening of enjoyment.


ED: A. This is a most unusual film, to say the least. A meditation on suicide in an Islamic country where, by Islamic law, suicide is verboten. A brooding man rides on the outskirts of Tehran in his Range Rover looking for someone who will accept a large fee to bury him after he commits suicide. His encounters with several candidates comprise the story of the film, for the film is a meditation on death. The protagonist, faced with his countrymen’s rejection of his proposals, offers a gamut of rationalized arguments and enticements, from philosophical to pathetically humorous. Slowly the film turns into a celebration of life and all the heartaches and irrupting errands it entails, such as death. The ending is left intentionally ambiguous – was the director inviting us to muse on the characters in the film and their arguments, or was the director leaving it unfinished to escape the inevitable consequences to which the film was leading, and by this ambiguity, escape the wrath of the Iranian authorities? It’s left to the viewer to come to terms in this most interesting introspective film.

DAVID: C. This is a film I really want to like as it appears on many lists and in several books as being a classic though it's less than 20 years old. It won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, and the subject matter – a guy trying to find someone to toss dirt on his body after he commits suicide and instead meets people who want to save him – is fascinating in concept. However, the execution falls short, leaving me uninspired and disappointed with the end result. It could be so much better. I don't hate it as passionately as Roger Ebert did when he described it as "excruciatingly boring" and a "lifeless drone." The reason is I'm not interested in the characters in the film, including the man trying to find someone to cover him up after he commits suicide. I honestly don't care if he lives or dies. I just want the film to either be better or be over. Some of the dialogue – done in Persian – is interesting, but there really isn't much of a quality film to watch. The story evolves at a snail's pace and by the time we get to the finale, I'm left feeling nothing. If that's the film's goal then mission accomplished. But I can't imagine that was the intention.

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

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