Friday, May 13, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for May 15-22

May 15–May 22


LIBELED LADY (May 15, 8:00 am): Boasting one of the greatest casts in cinematic history, this 1936 screwball comedy is a classic. The chemistry between William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow is among the best you'll find in any movie. There are so many wonderful and genuinely funny scenes in this film with these four great comedic actors. Powell and Harlow were married at the time. Harlow tragically died a year later at the age of 26. The story has socialite Loy (who was such a beautiful woman) suing a newspaper for $500,000 for falsely reporting she broke up a marriage. Tracy is the paper's managing editor and Harlow is his fiancée who he won't marry. Tracy hires Powell, a slick newspaperman and a smooth operator, to seduce Loy and then purposely get caught in a compromising position by Harlow, who would pretend to be his wife. While the ending is predictable, how they get to the conclusion is a joy to watch.

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (May 22, 6:15 pm): This is a well-done and compelling sci-fi film. One day all the people and animals in a quaint English town become unconscious, wake up and two months later, all the women capable of having children are pregnant. In all, 12 very white-looking kids are born. The children are geniuses, are able to read minds and control others to do whatever they want, including murder and suicide. As time passes, a professor from the village (George Sanders) decides he's going to teach the mutant kids, who want to take over the world, to use their powers for good. While a noble idea, it's poorly thought out as these children are mean business when it comes to world domination. Realizing he's not going to win, the professor plants a bomb to destroy the kids, and thinks of a brick wall in order for the children to not read his mind. Films like this can easily become cliche and embarrassingly bad, but this one is special. Sanders gives his usual fantastic performance and the kids are great.


WHITE HEAT (May 15, 8:00 pm): Jimmy Cagney was never better than in this gangster saga of a psycho gang leader dominated by his mother. Edmund O’Brien is also great as the federal agent that goes undercover to help catch him. And don’t forget Margaret Wycherly in probably her best performance as Cagney’s mother. With Virginia Mayo as Cagney’s disloyal wife and Steve Cochran as gang member “Big Ed,” a man with big ideas and nothing else. It boasts one of the best endings in the history of film.

EYES WITHOUT A FACE (May 18, 6:15 pm): One of the most disquieting horror films of the 1950s and a film many consider a classic of the genre. Pierre Brasseur is a famous surgeon and researcher who kidnaps young women in an attempt to graft their faces onto that of his daughter (Edith Scob), whose face was disfigured in a car accident. Those I know who have seen it will forever remember the surgery sequence. Modern horror films may be far more grotesque and graphic, but this film will really unnerve you because of the quality with which it was made. Definitely not for the squeamish.


ED: B. This daring film from director Elia Kazan is a tragic, coming-of-age melodrama about sexual repression and neurosis, written by playwright William Inge, his first project written for the big screen. Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty are the teenage lovers, Deanie and Bud. Deanie follows her mother’s advice to resist the desire for sex with Bud, and in turn Bud reluctantly follows the advice of his father (Pat Hingle), who advises him to find a girl not so forbidding in order to sow his wild oats. Depressed over Bud’s ending off their relationship, Deanie becomes involved with another boy in an episode where she is almost raped, and in her despair, attempts suicide, requiring her institutionalization. The reason I cannot give it a higher grade is because, as we follow the fortunes of our two protagonists, the story devolves into pure melodrama. Had this film been made 10 years hence, when the censors were successfully defied, it would have been allowed to be stronger and more directly to the point. However, the real reason to watch is Natalie Wood; not only is it her best performance, but one of the best in movies. Had not Sophia Loren made Two Women the same year, Wood would have been a shoo-in for Best Actress. It’s also the film debut of Warren Beatty, another reason for cinephiles to tune into this flawed, but fascinating psychological drama. 

DAVID: C. I really want to like this film. Elia Kazan was a magnificent director and in his prime, Warren Beatty was an extraordinary actor. While I'm not a fan of Natalie Wood, she gives a strong performance here. However, the plot is cliche and lifeless, and quite frankly, the movie is boring even as it tries to shock its audience. It plays more like a soaper than a coming-of-age film, and it's very difficult to like or identify with any of the characters. Beatty shows great potential that is realized in other films, but as Bud he's a dud. As I mentioned, Wood is very good as Deanie, but this movie could be so much better. Splendor in the Grass came out in 1961, around the time when daring filmmakers were defying censors and leading the way toward ending the repressive Hays Code. I agree with Ed that if the movie was made years later that it would have been better. But Kazan had a lot of power and respect in Hollywood and could have pushed for a more daring film than the end result. Overall, it's a disappointment largely because the pieces are there for an excellent movie that never materializes.

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

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