A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
As we touched upon last issue, while we like the fact TCM is honoring Gene Hackman, who is one of our favorite actors, we are dismayed at the poor selection of his films for the month. Too many programmers for our taste, especially considering that Hackman made some of the best films of the contemporary era. Thus, as in our last isse, here is a list of the Hackman films we recommend for the fortnight.
September 16: Begin with The French Connection (1971) at 10 pm. Yes, we know it’s been run nearly to death on TCM, but it’s always worth watching again, especially for Hackman’s unforgettable performance as Jimmy Doyle. Night Moves (1975) at midnight is also a good bet. Nothing fits Hackman better than playing a private eye.
September 23: Hackman has a nice supporting role as Larry in Woody Allen’s Bergman ripoff, Another Woman (1988), which starts things off at 8 pm. At 9:30, he’s a professor who can’t escape his father’s shadow in I Never Sang for My Father (1970). Melvyn Douglas plays his father. For those who like the offbeat, there’s Zandy's Bride (1974) at 1:45. The plot about the mail-order bride has been absolutely done to death, but Hackman and co-star Liv Ullmann somehow make it work despite the script and the director.
September 30: At 1:45 am, Hackman plays Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski in Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far (1977), based on the book by Cornelius Ryan about Operation Market Garden, one of the Allies’ biggest blunders of World War 2. The idea was to invade Holland, overcome German resistance, which was thought to be light, and have a back door to Germany. Unfortunately, the operation was poorly planned and the paratroopers ran right into an elite German SS panzer unit that was refitting in the area. The ironic thing was that Ultra, the Allies’ decoding of German intelligence, warned that the SS were in the area, but the information was ignored. In addition to Hackman, the film boasts a brilliant all-star cast, including Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Wolfgang Priess, and Ryan O’Neal, among others. Attenborough keeps things moving at a brisk pace and somehow manages to put us right there with the hapless paratroopers, who end up in a trap.
September 20: Begin at 8 pm with Jacques Tati’s sublime Mon Oncle (1958), with Tati once again bringing his Mr. Hulot character to the screen. It’s a worthy sequel of sorts to Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1954), as it places Hulot in a family setting as his nephew’s favorite uncle, much to the dismay of his brother-in-law, who sees Hulot as a layabout. He tries to get Hulot a regular job to no avail and then hires him to work in his plastics plant with disastrous results. It’s a funny and beguiling film with Tati’s trademark visual gags aplenty, especially the ultra-modern house were his sister and brother-in-law reside that serves as the focus of quite a few excellent sight gags. If you never caught this gem before, now is your time.
At 1:45 am, the Three Stooges are bumbling janitors who accidentally create a new rocket fuel in Have Rocket Will Travel (1959). And at 4:45 am, it’s the Carry On gang in Carry On Teacher (1962), a worthy entry in the long-running series.
September 21: At 8 pm, it’s Stanley Kramer’s overrated It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). A long list of guest stars doesn’t make up for an essentially unfunny script as almost everyone in the cast joins the hunt for a cache of hidden loot planted under a big “W” somewhere out there. Jerry Zucker did it a lot better in 2001’s Rat Race.
At 2 am, Peter Sellers takes the stage in what was the best of his Inspector Clouseau comedies, A Shot in the Dark (1964). Unlike The Pink Panther, where Clouseau was a supporting player (who stole the film), this time he is front and center as he tries to clear a beautiful woman (Elke Sommer) accused of killing her husband. Forget the plot; it’s secondary to the great run of gags that make this on the funniest films ever made. And, of course, look for Herbert Lom as Clouseau’s tormented superior, Inspector Dreyfus. If anyone comes close to Sellers in this film, it is Lom.
September 27: The spotlight on slapstick hits a bump tonight with only a couple of films worth watching on the sked. Start at 8 pm with one of Woody Allen’s early comedies, Bananas (1971). Woody is a schmiel who, in order to impress his girlfriend (Louise Lasser), travels to a Banana Republic and becomes involved in its latest revolution. It’s a bit uneven and seems rather haphazardly written, but there are some good laughs along the way. Look for Sylvester Stallone in a bit part near the beginning as a subway mugger.
At 9:30 pm, it’s Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1975), arguably his best film. It’s a near perfect spoof of the Frankenstein films with Gene Wilder seemingly channeling the neurotic spirit of Colin Clive as descendent Frederick Frankenstein, who at first while teaching in an American medical school, produces his name “Frankensteen” so as to eliminate any connection, but once he comes to claim his inheritance he can’t help but begin meddling in the family hobby. Brooks supplies an excellent supporting cast, including Teri Garr as Wilder’s lab assistant, Kenneth Mars as the suspicious chief of police, Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher, and Peter Boyle in an excellent turn as the Monster. But it’s Marty Feldman as Igor and Madeline Kahn as Frederick’s fiancee Elizabeth who walk away with the picture. I’ve seen it more times than I can remember, but I’ll be watching it again.
September 28: TCM’s tribute to slapstick ends with two brilliant comedies. At 8 pm, it’s Leslie Nielsen, George Kennedy, Priscilla Presley, and Ricardo Montalban in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988). This ultimate parody of police procedure film and TV shows comes from the prolific minds of the Zucker Brothers, Jim Abrahams, and Pat Proft. Leslie Neilsen reprises his role of the clueless Frank Drebin as he tries to thwart a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II. The gags fly fast and furious as Drebin manages to make a mess of just about everything he tries to attempt. Nancy Marchand is the harried mayor, and O.J. Simpson is the helpless Detective Nordberg. To say it’s hilarious is an understatement.
This is followed at 9:30 with another Zucker Brothers comic masterpiece, Top Secret (1984), spoof of rock ’n’ roll musicals and espionage films. Val Kilmer is rocker Nick Rivers, on tour in East Germany, when he’s pulled into a plot by the beautiful Lucy Gutteridge to help rescue her scientist father, who’s being held in prison. East Germany is a stand in for Nazi Germany, as Kilmer gets involved with the French Resistance, who have names like, Croissant, Deja Vu, Latrine, and Chocolate Mousse. Though this follow up to Airplane! wasn’t as successful at the box office, it’s still a very funny film that is definitely worth the time and effort.
September 16: Get out the TiVo, for at the forsaken hour of 3:45 am comes the film that put director Stanley Kubrick on the map: The Killing from 1956. This is a great film noir about a racetrack heist being planned by a group of conspirators. And what a group: an ex-con who wants one last score before retiring, a bartender who needs money to pay his wife’s medical expenses, a corrupt cop badly needing to pay back money he borrowed from the Mob, a mealy-mouthed cashier whose flashy, money-grubbing wife is threatening to leave him, and a hit man who always carries his lucky horseshoe with him. Needless to say, the best laid plans of mice and men all go awry, but what a ride watching it unfold. And watch for the ending.
September 18: At 2:15 am comes one of the granddaddies of modern samurai films – from 1941, Kenji Mizoguchi’s The 47 Ronin. It takes place in 1701: Lord Takuminokami Asano (Yoshizaburo Arashi) is busy feuding with Lord Kôzunosuke Kira (Kazutoyo Mimasu) when he makes the bad taste decision to try to kill Lord Kira right in the corridors of the Shogun’s palace. For this breach of etiquette, the Shogun orders Lord Asano to off himself and take the Lord’s palace and lands from his clan. Lord Kira, on the other hand, receives a “get out of jail free” card. Lord Asano’s vassals leave the land and his samurai become ronin (samurais that have no master) who want to seek revenge against the dishonor of their Lord. Their leader Kuranosuke Oishi (Chôjûrô Kawarasaki) asks the Shogun to restore the Asano clan under his brother, Daigaku Asano. A year later, the Shogun hands in his decision: no soap. Oishi and his 46 ronin decide to react to this decision by avenging their Lord. Anyone who loves samurai films must see this one, as it sets the stage for the others to follow. It was remade three times in Japan: in 1957, in 1962 as 47 Samurai, and in 1994 for Nippon TV. It was also remade in 2013 starring Keanu Reeves, of all people. Go with the original. I saw it back in my college days and can’t wait to see it again.
September 21: At 6:15 am, it’s Girl Missing, from Warner Bros. in 1933 starring Glenda Farrell, Ben Lyon, and Mary Brian in a tale of two sassy gold-digging chorines stuck in Palm Beach who become involved in the case of a fellow chorine who goes missing on her wedding night.
It’s immediately followed at 7:30 am by Hi, Nellie!, a 1934 Warner Bros. production starring Paul Muni and Glenda Farrell. Muni is a managing editor of a newspaper who gets into very hot water with his boss and finds himself demoted to writing the “Nellie Nelson” advice-to-the-lovelorn column., But he ultimately redeems himself as he gets solid information that justifies the mistake that got him demoted. It’s a lot of fun and Muni is wonderful in the role.
September 30: A good early-morning triple header. At 7:30, it’s the comedy Double Harness (RKO, 1933) with Ann Harding as a woman who tricks her playboy boyfriend (William Powell) into marriage. After an attack of conscience makes her spill the beans, she tries to win his love honestly. At 8:15, it’s Irene Dunne in Ann Vickers (RKO, 1933) as a dedicated social worker (Are there any other kinds?) whose fight for reform is sidetracked by her love for corrupt judge Walter Huston.
And finally, at 9:45 am comes the film that showed Warner Bros. that Bette Davis was a force to be reckoned with: Of Human Bondage (RKO, 1934). When Bette read the script, she wanted to play the part of the sluttish Mildred. The only problem was that Jack Warner hated loaning out any of his stars. He told her no; that the part was too unglamorous and would ruin the career he was trying to build (Katharine Hepburn, Irene Dunne, and Ann Harding had all turned down the part for that very reason). But Bette was persistent and Warner let her go if only to get her out of his hair. The film made her a star overnight, complete with Oscar nomination, and more headaches for Jack Warner. If you haven’t seen this before, see it now.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
September 17: At 10:30 am, The Bowery Boys are Loose in London (Monogram, 1953), as Sach is under the mistaken belief that he’s inherited a title. Later, at 2 am, TCM goes to the dogs – first with Dracula’s Dog (1978), as Dracula’s servant and faithful dog go to Southern California (Where else?) to find the Count’s last descendant. At 3:30 am, it’s The Pack (1977) about a group of abandoned dogs that band together to take on human enemies – like the producers of this film.
September 19: Ronald Reagan, Stanley Fields and Margaret Lindsay fight evil reform school warden Grant Mitchell in Hell’s Kitchen (WB, 1939), a remake of 1933’s The Mayor of Hell. At 1 am, TCM is running a repeat showing of Hitler’s Children (RKO, 1943).
September 20: It’s Conrad Veidt against Conrad Veidt in MGM’s Nazi Agent (1942), airing at 11 am. Veidt plays twins. One is a good guy who lives in America, where he owns a rare book store. His twin in an evil Nazi spy. Good Conrad kills Bad Conrad in a fight and assumes his identity to return to Germany and foil the Nazi’s evil plans.
September 22: At 3:15 pm, Tim Holt and his buddies must foil a baddie who killed Tim’s marshal brother and has taken his identity in Six-Gun Gold (RKO, 1943)
September 24: Begin your day at 6:30 am with Caged (WB, 1953), one of the ultimate babes-behind-bars flicks. Watch the ladies chew every last bit of scenery to shreds in the very loose remake of 1933’s Ladies They Talk About.
Later at 2 am, it’s the ludicrous Night Train to Terror (1985) followed by Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Telly Savalas sharing their train ride with the Missing Link in Horror Express (1972).
September 25: At 4:30 pm, Frankie and Annette take on a group of pushy bodybuilders led by Don Rickles in Muscle Beach Party (AIP, 1963), while at 6:15 pm Elvis sings his way out of prison and into fame and fortune in Jailhouse Rock (MGM, 1957).
September 29: The evening is devoted to the one and only Frankie Avalon. Among the recorded films this evening is Panic in the Year Zero (AIP, 1962) at 8 pm; Beach Party (1963), the one that started the series, at 9:45 pm; and Dr. Goldfoot and The Bikini Machine (AIP, 1965) with Vincent Price at 1:15 am.