A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
An actress who got her start in regional stock theater back in 1926, Constance Cummings has 58 movie and TV credits to her name, yet she is mostly forgotten today. She made her film debut as Mary Brady in Howard Hawks’ 1931 prison drama, The Criminal Code. She worked steadily during the ‘30s, appearing in such films as Attorney for the Defense, American Madness, Movie Crazy, Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932), The Mind Reader, Broadway Through a Keyhole (1933), and Remember Last Night? (1935). Her most famous role was as Ruth Condomine in David Lean’s 1945 drama, Blithe Spirit.
TCM is honoring her on August 24, showing many of the films listed above, save for the latter two. We recommend the following: Haunted Honeymoon (1940, 7:30 am), The Mind Reader (9:00 am), The Big Timer (1932, 3:30 pm), Attorney for the Defense (5:00 pm), Broadway Through a Keyhole (8:00 pm), Night After Night (1932, 9:45 pm), famous as the film that introduced Mae West, American Madness (11:15 pm), Doomed Cargo (1936, 12:45 am), Movie Crazy (2:15 am), and The Criminal Code (4:15 am). There are a few other Pre-Code films of hers playing through the day for those fans of the sub-genre.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
August 17: Director Samuel Fuller’s excellent war drama set in Korea, The Steel Helmet (1951), starts at 6 pm.
August 18: A rarely seen, but interesting, film is airing at 9:45 pm, Go Into Your Dance (1935), starring the real-life couple of Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler in their first – and last – pairing. Al is a singer trying to make a comeback who teams with dancer Keeler. Along the way, however, he gets enmeshed with gangster Barton MacLane. Solid support comes from Glenda Farrell and the irrepressible Patsy Kelly. Though the film was a solid hit, there would be no more pairings of Keeler and Jolson because of Al’s enormous ego. After seeing the comment cards from test audiences, he told his wife that "They don't want to see me anymore. They want us.” Al just couldn’t bear not being Number One.
The film is wonderful, with Al at the top of his game belting out such tunes as “Mammy, I’ll Sing to You,” “About a Quarter to Nine,” and the great “Latin From Manhattan,” which was nominated for an Oscar for Bobby Connolly's masterful dance direction. Another reason to tune in is to see the great Helen Morgan. She was the queen of the torch singers in the ‘20s, but years of alcoholism had taken its toll. She performs the ballad "The Little Things You Used To Do," while in her customary pose of being sprawled on the piano. A mere five years later she would be dead from cirrhosis of the liver.
August 23: On a day devoted to French sex kitten Brigitte Bardot, there are quite a few films to choose from, but none more important than the one airing at 6:15 pm. And God Created Woman, a 1956 production directed by her then-husband Roger Vadim. Though it’s a silly exploitation film seemingly based around Bardot’s talent of shredding her clothes, it’s importance lies in the fact that it was an “art house” hit here in America, and more than any other film, started the movement that eventually brought down the hated Production Code.
Watching it today, we quickly pick up on two points: Bardot can’t act and Vadim can’t direct. But the real point is that Bardot didn’t have to act – all she had to do was walk around half-naked and just be Bardot. No other actress so exuded pure weapon sexuality like Bardot. As for the film, somehow it became a favorite, along with its director, of the Cahiers de Cinema crowd with both Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard slobbering over its supposed virtues, calling Vadim “our only truly modern filmmaker.” He was an auteur, for God’s sake, which made him important to these two would-be (at the time) filmmakers. Watch it anyway, it’s a hoot.
Godard finally got his chance to work with Bardot, and the results can be seen in Masculin-Feminin from 1966, airing at 2:00 am and the earlier Contempt, from 1963, which airs afterward at 4:00 am.
August 29: The day belongs to Charles Boyer, and the best of his movies, The Earrings of Madame de ... (1954), airs at noon. Regular readers of this column have seen me rave about this film, directed by the great Max Ophuls, and for those who haven’t, tune in and discover a wonderful and subtle film about how a woman’s little white lies can balloon and come back to haunt her.
August 18: Four classic Ruby Keeler WB musicals are on tap, beginning the Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) at 6 pm, followed by 42nd Street (1932) at 8 pm, Dames (1934) at 11:30 pm, and Footlight Parade (1933) at 1:30 am.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
August 17: At 10 am, it’s Phil Karlson’s hard-hitting docudrama, The Phenix City Story (1955), made right after the National Guard went into the corruption riddled city to clean out the rats. It stars John McIntyre, Richard Kiley and Kathryn Grant, who later married Bing Crosby.
August 18: Star-of-the-Day Angie Dickinson stars with Rock Hudson in Roger Vadim’s must-see, Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) at 2:15 am.
August 21: Tune in at 1:45 pm for that great unintentional comedy team, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, starring in the unforgettable What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? from 1962. The film was a small at the box office and begat a trend whereby the leading ladies would chew yards of scenery in B-grade horror films.
August 22: Robert Montgomery is so good, so compelling as a serial murderer in Night Must Fall (1937) that we sometimes wonder if he wasn’t born for the role. It airs at the late hour of 3:45 am.
August 23: Even star-of-the-day Brigitte Bardot made a psychotronic film, which is on display at 12:15 pm. It’s the offbeat homage to Edgar Allan Poe, Spirits of the Dead (1968). The film was a trilogy of tales, all based on Poe stories, with each segment of the trilogy helmed by a different director: Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini. While we might well expect Bardot to be featured in Vadim’s part of the trilogy, “Metzengerstein,” she actually appears as Giuseppina in “William Wilson,” which is directed by Malle. Despite the trilogy format, the film maintains a consistent quality that rates it as one for the better horror films to come out of the ‘60s.
August 26: As the day is devoted to Boris Karloff, it’s loaded with psychotronic films. To save time we’ll just review the best of the bunch, starting at 10:15 am with The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). Karloff is in his element as the dastardly villain out to discover the secret to global power. Lewis Stone and Charles Starrett are the unwitting explorers who accidentally wander into his den, and Myrna Loy shines as Karloff’s daughter Fah So See.
For a good B movie, check out British Intelligence (1940) at 1 pm with Karloff as a German agent up against double agent Margaret Lindsay. The joy in the film is seeing Karloff in a non-horror role and he gives a stellar performance.
At 8 pm, it’s back to horror, with five notable Karloff films in a row. First up is the classic Frankenstein (1931), followed by The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), a sequel superior to the original. Both are directed by the great James Whale. At 11 pm, it’s the eerie and haunting The Mummy from 1932, the directorial debut of noted cameraman Karl Freund. At 12:30 am, it’s Edgar G. Ulmer’s offbeat The Black Cat (1934) with Bela Lugosi in the unaccustomed role of good guy battling the devil-worshipping Karloff. It’s rarely shown and is well worth the time invested. Finally, at 1:45 am, Karloff and Henry Daniell star in producer Val Lewton’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic story, The Body Snatcher (1945).
August 29: At midnight, it’s Charles Boyer as the villain in the classic Gaslight (1944) as he tries to drive wife Ingrid Bergman crazy.
August 31: Dean Martin cashes in on the James Bond craze as Matt Helm in The Silencers (1966), airing at 9:45 am. Martin brings his own brand of humor and style to what could be just another Bond ripoff and actually makes it fun to watch.