TCM TiVo ALERT
October 1-October 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
HANG 'EM HIGH (October 1, 6:00 pm): When it comes to great cutting-edge Westerns, Clint Eastwood has made more than anyone. Many of them have received the praise they deserve including The "Man with No Name" trilogy of A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as well as High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven. To me, 1968's Hang 'Em High belongs in the same class as those. Eastwood is Jed Cooper, who is wrongly accused by a posse (including Bruce Dern, Ed Begley Sr. and Alan Hale Jr., the Skipper on Gilligan's Island) of killing a man and stealing his cattle. The posse hang Cooper, but that doesn't kill him – even though it leaves him with a nasty scar around his neck. As Eastwood characters are prone to do, Cooper wants revenge. But this one has a twist. Cooper, who was previously a lawman, becomes a federal marshal. He comes across a member of the posse and tries to arrest him, but ends up having to shoot (and of course, kill) him when he reaches for his gun. Slowly, he comes across everyone in the posse. Cooper wants to see all of them brought to justice, but because that would lead to being hanged, none of them are terribly interested in the proposition. There are plenty of shootouts and great action scenes, but the best part of the film is Cooper's struggle to uphold the law while resisting his strong urge to seek revenge.
JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (October 2, 2:15 a.m.): Legendary Italian director Federico Fellini was blessed to have the incredibly talented Giulietta Masina as his leading lady in several of his films, including this 1965 gem. It was easy for Fellini to cast her as she was his wife. In this film, Masina plays Juliet, a housewife who spends her time daydreaming while her husband cheats on her. It just so happens that her neighbor, Suzy (Sandra Milo), is so sexually liberated that she has male sex partners roaming her home. The transformation of Juliet as she becomes more self-aware and leaves her husband along with Masina's convincing performance takes a film that could fall flat on its face and makes it a classic.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (October 2, 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.
NOSFERATU (October 7, 8:00 pm): F.W. Murnau’s unauthorized filming of the classic Bram Stoker novel was almost lost after a judge ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed after Stoker’s estate sued for copyright infringement and won. But a few copies survived and were edited without Murnau’s knowledge to further obfuscate its origins from Stoker’s novel, setting off a hunt for a close to pristine copy as possible for restoration. This film is a classic of the horror genre, giving the audience many truly creepy moments. The film generally follows the plot of Dracula, only its protagonist is Count Orlok (Max Schreck). Unlike Lugosi, who would make the vampire into somewhat of a sex symbol, Schreck’s vampire is truly rodentlike. There’s nothing at all appealing about him. Because of the controversy surrounding it, Nosferatu became one the first cult films and was itself subjected to much myth making about its origins and its actors. For more on this, see the 2000 dark comedy Shadow of the Vampire, a look at the making of Nosferatu. It is a film that must be seen, even if one is not a fan of horror.
WE DISAGREE ON ... HAXAN (October 7, 2:45 am)
ED: A-. This seven-part historical view of witchcraft from Denmark ranks of one of the best horror films ever made. The movie is loaded with great imagery, with the acting several levels above what is usually offered in films of its time. The costumes, lighting, sets, and effects are all superb leading to the end where director/star Benjamin Christensen tries to make a correlation between the actions and mannerisms of witches as attributed by observers in their time to the modern symptoms and affects (1922) of hysteria. I don’t know if I’m buying into it, but he does raise an interesting point. Above all, watch this not only for itself, but also with respect to its influence on such subsequent films as Ulmer’s The Black Cat, Tourneur’s Night of the Demon, Bava’s Black Sunday, Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and Hardy’s The Wicker Man, among others. This is a film that demands to be seen.
DAVID: C+. While ambitious for its time, and I'm not losing sight that it's 94 years old, it's a film that doesn't know what it want to be. Sometimes it's a documentary, including the exceptionally boring beginning in which we are shown photographs from books as if we are trapped in a bad high school lesson on the supernatural with an actual classroom pointers. Sometimes it's a theatrical production with over-the-top acting of witch-trial reenactments and dreams about demons, making it laughable at certain points. Then it becomes a mockumentary as we are schooled on evil in some silly skits. Perhaps the worst is the supposed initiation of witches who kiss the devil on his behind. At times, it's a combination of all three so you don't know what's going on. Benjamin Christensen, who directed and was one of its main actors, wanted to show and tell so much and shove all sorts of theories and stories together that he damaged the end product. I agree with portions of what Ed wrote about the costumes, lighting, sets and effects being ahead of its time, but the storyline is lacking.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.