A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
Now that August is over, we’re back to having a Star of the Month. And this month the star is Gene Hackman, which presents a problem. Hackman is a great actor whose steady presence has brightened up many a film. I’m a big fan of his. But TCM isn’t showing his best. Most of the films they are running are either supporting roles, sub-par productions, or films that have already been run to death on the channel. It’s going to be a short list this month.
September 2 - Bonnie and Clyde (8 pm).
September 9: The Conversation (8 pm).
TCM SPOTLIGHT: SLAPSTICK
This month’s TCM spotlight focuses on a welcome subject (for me at any rate): slapstick comedies.
September 6: The evening is devoted to silents and we begin at 8:00 pm with a wonderful documentary that also serves as a nice introduction: The Golden Age of Comedy (DCA, 1958). It’s a delightful complication of clips from the silent era, featuring Laurel and Hardy, Carole Lombard, Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, Ben Turpin, and Edgar Kennedy, among others. No Chaplin (aside from Tillie’s Punctured Romance, airing at 9:30) or Lloyd. This is DCA, a shoestring distribution company that is most famous for releasing Ed Wood’s magnum opus, Plan 9 From Outer Space. Every film shown this night is worth the time and effort. Silent slapstick was one of the great genres of the silent era, and not only carried over to the sound era, but also to the world of animation.
A short worth the time is Our Gang (at 4:15 am – TiVo time). This was the first of innumerable follow-ups from Hal Roach; a franchise that kept him in the chips, along with its doppelgänger, The Little Rascals.
September 7: More silent slapstick, highlighted by The Birth of the Tramp (8 pm), an excellent documentary exposing the genesis of one of the most iconic figures in the movies. It’s followed by more Chaplin: A Dog’s Life, from 1918 (9:15) and The Circus, a masterpiece of comedy from 1928 (10:00).
TCM switches gears to bring us two Buster Keaton classics: One Week from 1920 (11:30 pm) and the classic Steamboat Bill Jr. from 1928 (midnight). Then it’s on to a watchable documentary on Harold Lloyd, Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy (1:15 am), followed by two prime examples of Lloyd at his best: Number, Please? (3:00 am), and Speedy (3:30).
September 13: We enter the Sound Era with a mixed bag. At 9:00 pm is the classic Laurel and Hardy Sons of the Desert from 1933, a film whose title is the name of the Laurel and Hardy fan club. It’s followed at 10:15 by the excellent, but seldom seen The Music Box, from 1935.
At 11 pm, it’s the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera (1935), followed by a lesser Wheeler and Woolsey effort, Hips Hips, Hooray (1934) at 12:45.
September 14: A full menu starts withe the best at 8 pm – W.C. Fields in the impeccable The Bank Dick, from 1940. It’s followed at 9:30 by the film that revived Abbott and Costello’s flagging career: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). At 11 pm, it’s Red Skelton’s uneven A Southern Yankee (1948), and at 12:45 Danny Kaye in The Inspector General (1949). The night closes with the rotten Milton Berle vehicle Always Leave them Laughing (1949) and the subtly hilarious The Palm Beach Story (1942) from the one and only Preston Sturges.
September 8: At 8 pm, it’s Tugboat Mickey (1940) with Donald Duck and Goofy, followed by Boat Builders (1938), with Mickey, Donald and Goofy discovering that building a boat is much harder than it looks.
September 1: Spend an evening with the sublime Preston Sturges as six of his films are being aired beginning with The Lady Eve (1941) at 8 pm. At the horrendous hour of 3:15 am comes one of his funniest and most underrated comedies The Great McGinty (1940), required viewing this election season.
September 5: At 8 pm, it’s D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic, Intolerance, a favorite of my good friend Karen Belcher.
September 11: Director Masaki Kobayashi is honored with a double-feature beginning at 2:00 am. First up is Harakiri (1963), an excellent samurai film about an aging samurai out for revenge on those who drove his son-in-law to suicide. At 4:15, it’s followed by Samurai Rebellion (1967). Set in 18th century Japan, it opens with the banishment from court of Ichi (Yoko Tsukasa), mistress to Lord Matsudaira (Tatsuo Matsumura) who made the unforgivable mistake of slapping her master for taking on another mistress. To complicate matters, court official and master swordsman Isaburo Sasahara (Toshiro Mifune) is ordered to arrange the marriage of his son Yogoro (Takeshi Kato) to Ichi. His fears prove unfounded as she proves to be a perfect wife and daughter-in-law, blessing him with a granddaughter that he looks upon as his own child. A couple of years later, however, Matsudaira recalls Ichi to court as his eldest son has died, and as she is the mother of the Lord’s heir, it would not be fitting for her to remain married to a mere vassal. I won’t reveal any more, but suffice it to stay that the worst thing one can do in a samurai film is to make Mifune mad. It’s a wonderful and engrossing film, providing a solid window into the culture of 18th century Japan.
September 8: Wheeler and Woolsey play two tramps turned fortune tellers who try to solve a kidnapping in 1930’s The Cuckoos (7:30 am). At 2:30 pm, we recommend the comedy, I Like Your Nerve, from Warner’s in 1931, with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Loretta Young.
September 9: At 6:15 am, Lord Byron of Broadway (1930), with Cliff Edwards followed by Those Three French Girls (1930), again with Cliff Edwards. Neither film is worth getting excited about, but they are and worth seeing for that reason.
September 14: Bill Boyd stars in the World War 1 drama Beyond Victory (1931) at 8:45 am.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
September 2: Spend a delightful day with The Falcon as 11 films are aired, beginning at 6:15 am with the first in the series, 1941’s The Gay Falcon. The genesis of the series lay in the fact that Leslie Charteris withdrew RKO’s rights to The Saint, claiming quite correctly that the films were of diminishing quality. Not to be outdone, the studio simply bought the rights to Michael Arlen’s short story, Gay Falcon. Though that was the character’s full name, RKO decided to change it to Gay Laurence, while keeping “The Falcon” as his crime-solving moniker, though its origin is never explained. The plots of the Falcon series were indistinguishable from those of The Saint – only the names have changed. Sanders stick around for the first four movies before giving way to his brother, Tom Conway, who helmed the series until its demise in 1946. All in all, RKO made a total of 14 Falcon adventures. In 1948, Poverty Row producer Philip N. Krasne attempted to revive the series through his Falcon Pictures Corporation. The films were released by Film Classics. The character’s name was changed to Michael Watling and he was played by John Calvert. Three films were made and released that year: Devil’s Cargo, Appointment With Murder, and Search For Danger, all to the sound of crickets in the theater. The Falcon later made it to television in 1954, where he was played by Charles McGraw.
September 3: At 10:30 am, the Bowery Boys enter the world of wrestling in No Holds Barred (1952). Beginning at 2 am. it’s a double-feature of Zardoz (1974) followed by Logan’s Run (1975) at 4 am.
September 4: At 12:30 pm, it’s the one and only Dracula, with Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye in brilliant performances that typecast the two of them for the rest of their careers. At 2 am, it’s double feature of European road films, beginning at 2 am with the wonderful Il Sorpasso (1961) and continuing with critic’s darling Jim Jarmusch and his Stranger Than Paradise (1984). For those who must choose between the two, opt for the former.
September 6: Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever at 8:30 am. He really needs Dad to talk him out of this one, as he falls hard for his drama teacher.
September 10: At 8:15 am, Allison Hayes terrorizes a small California town in the 1958 psychotronic classic Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. (Read our review here.)
Blaxploitation lives! At 2:00 am, Fred Williamson tames a town in the Old West in Boss from 1975. Right after at 4:00 am, Fred returns as a private eye in Black Eye from 1974.
September 12: A tribute to composer John Williams includes a showing of Jaws at 8 pm.