TCM TiVo ALERT
August 23–August 31
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (August 26, 10:15 am): This 1932 Pre-Code movie is a joy to watch for many reasons. It's an entertaining film, the acting is very good, and the casting couldn't be more absurd. Boris Karloff plays the sinister Fu Manchu who is looking for the tomb of Genghis Khan to take his mask and sword and lead a rising of his fellow Asians to destroy the white race. Myrna Loy is great – and really, really hot – as his obedient and completely subservient daughter who Manchu mistreats to such extremes that it becomes funny. One of the best scenes in the film has Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) placed underneath a large ringing bell as a form of torture to get him to break down and provide Manchu with the location of Khan's tomb. Manchu also has a death ray that is used against him. It's a lot of fun and only 68 minutes in length.
GASLIGHT (August 29, 12:00 am): As a huge fan of Joseph Cotten and Ingrid Bergman, it's great to see that when the two teamed together in this 1944 film that the result was spectacular. (Unfortunately, the chemistry between the two wasn't nearly as good when they worked together on Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn five years later.) Gaslight has fantastic pacing, starting slowly planting the seeds of Bergman's potential insanity and building to a mad frenzy with Cotten's Scotland Yard inspector saving the day and Bergman gaining revenge. While Charles Boyer has never been a favorite of mine, he is excellent in this role as Bergman's scheming husband who is slowly driving her crazy. Also deserving of praise is Angela Lansbury – I'm not a fan of her either – in her film debut as the couple's maid. Lansbury has the hots for Boyer and nothing but disdain for Bergman. A well-acted, well-directed film that is one I always enjoy viewing no matter how many times I see it.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (August 26, 9:30 pm): In my opinion, this is the greatest horror film ever made, though the way James Whale directs it, it could also be seen as a black comedy. One of the decisions he made – to have the monster speak – was derided at the time and for a while later, but now is rightly regarded as a brilliant move on Whale’s part. It gives the monster a touch of humanity and frees him, for a time at least, from merely becoming the automaton he was to become in later films.
THE GREAT ESCAPE (August 27, 8:00 pm): Based on one of the biggest mass escapes from a POW camp in World War II, it boasts an all-star cast that includes James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, James Donald, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson. The plot is relatively simple: The Nazis have built an escape-proof camp to which every escape artist is being sent to stop them from even thinking about another attempt. But the duty of every prisoner is to escape, and this lot is up to the task. It’s a great film that never stops moving with a plot that adds new obstacles and challenges to the prisoners’ dilemma. Attenborough is “The Big X,” a veteran escape artist whose arrival sets the plot in motion. The film also solidified the image of Steve McQueen as the King of Cool through his portrayal of the individualistic prisoner Hilts, as witnessed by the scene near the end when he attempts to jump a border fence with a stolen motorcycle. This is also a film that one can watch numerous times without getting bored. Watch for the scene where the Germans catch Attenborough and Gordon Jackson. It’s one of the best ironic scenes in the history of the movies. Also keep an eye on James Garner and Donald Pleasance and the chemistry between them. The Great Escape is one of those rare movies that comes along every once in a while where the audience is entertained through the use of intelligent plotting and restrained performances. That’s the main reason I have watched it numerous times, even though I’m not exactly a Steve McQueen fan.
WE DISAGREE ON … MASCULIN FEMININ (August 23, 2:00 am)
ED: B-. Once upon a time there was a director named Jean-Luc Godard. At first, he made some unusual and interesting films, their popularity resting in their novelty. But soon, like other young upper middle-class people of Europe in the ‘60s he became entranced by left-wing politics and it came to infect his films in the worst way, eventually dominating them, subjugating the story to ideology. This is one of the first films along his road to the political and suffers because of it. On the surface, it’s a love story about a disillusioned young man (Jean-Pierre Leaud) just released from national service. As his girlfriend (Chantel Goya) doggedly pursues her dream of becoming a pop singer, he becomes isolated from his friends and peers and becomes ever increasingly radicalized. The interaction between Leaud and Goya is sweet, and if it weren’t for the politics, this could easily pass for a Truffaut film. But Godard wants to subvert and politicize us, which accounts for long boring stretches in the film as Leaud acts out. Ingmar Bergman was no fan of Godard, and his opinion of the film is as follows: “I’ve never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual, and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a f***ing bore. He’s made his films for the critics. One of the movies, Masculin, Féminin, was shot here in Sweden. It was mind-numbingly boring.” I don’t feel as harshly toward Godard as Bergman did, but this film represents his descent from making offbeat, novel films into long, boring monographs for the critics.
DAVID: A-. Ed is largely correct in his assessment of director Jean-Luc Godard's career. His early films – particularly his debut Breathless, My Life to Live, Contempt and Band of Outsiders – are among the most interesting movies made in the early 1960s. While Francois Truffaut is the best and most consistent director of the French New Wave, Godard was the most daring. That meant as he moved into the mid-1960s and for about a decade, his films ranged from excellent to terrible with several of them, as Ed points out, too focused on left-wing politics. Godard sacrificed quality for a disjointed message. Godard hasn't made many movies in the past 30 years, and those he's done are film collages that I simply don't understand. They are painful to watch so I typically turn them off after about 30 or 40 minutes – and I rarely stop watching any film, much less works done by directors as good as Godard. As for those films he directed between 1965 and 1975, Godard made some great ones. That leads me to Masculin Feminin. While there are some flaws, this film along with Made in U.S.A. (both from 1966), are as good as anything Godard directed. Jean-Pierre Leaud, who was such an incredible talent, is spectacular as Paul, an idealist looking for a job while dating Madeleline (Chantel Goya), a budding pop singer, who doesn't share Paul's passion. It's free-flowing with dialogue that jumps from one topic to another as Godard's quick cuts do the same. The acting is spectacular, hiding that the film's plot is almost nonexistent. Actually, the story is secondary to the film's words, which blend dark humor with pop-culture references and politics (though it is kept significantly more in check here than in Godard's other films of this era) and a guy just looking to get laid by a pretty girl. It's a sexy, compelling avant-garde film that Godard should have made more of during the past 50 years.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.