Tuesday, September 13, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for September 15-22

September 15–September 22


RUGGLES OF RED GAP (September 19, 9:45 pm): This very amusing comedy from 1935 has Charles Laughton as Marmaduke Ruggles, a proper English valet lost in a game of poker to Egbert Floud, a crude American rancher (played by Charlie Ruggles, which is something of a coincidence that he shares the last name with the film's main character). Floud takes Ruggles back to his hometown of Red Gap, Washington. The film's plot is somewhat predictable, but quite enjoyable, as Ruggles struggles to fit in with his new surroundings in the small northwestern town. Laughton, as always, is wonderful and charming. The film's most memorable scene is toward the end with Ruggles reciting the Gettysburg Address at a bar with the patrons moved by it. It's a fun 90 minutes.

A SHOT IN THE DARK (September 21, 2:00 am): This is my favorite Inspector Jacques Clouseau film and the first one in which Peter Sellers gets to flesh out the iconic character. It's also the debut of Herbert Lom as Commissioner Dreyfus and Burt Kwouk as Clouseau's housekeeper/servant/martial arts sparring partner Cato. The film revolves around Clouseau defending Elke Sommer, a lovely maid to millionaire George Sanders, accused of murder. The murders pile up with the evidence pointing to the maid in every case, but Clouseau is convinced of her innocence. Adding to the hilarity is Dreyfus' insanity and obsession with trying to kill the bumbling Clouseau.


THE KILLING (September 16, 3:45 am): This is the film that made young Stanley Kubrick a director to be watched. It’s a closely filmed case study of a racetrack heist, from its beginning to its ironic ending with a colorful cast of characters filling in the blanks along the way. Sterling Hayden heads the cast, but the ones to watch are Elisha Cook, Jr. as a nebbish and hard-boiled Marie Windsor as his ruthless wife. This is the kind of film that pulls you in almost from the start and never lets go. Classic film noir from a director who went on to master almost every genre he touched.

MON ONCLE (September 20, 8:00 pm): Star/Director Jacques Tati’s follow-up to the wonderful Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, it comes close to capturing the magic of that film. Here we see Mr. Hulot in his natural environment – a Paris that is slowly disappearing; swallowed up by the emerging Modern Paris. Emblematic of the New Modern Paris is Hulot’s sister (Adrienne Servantie) and brother-in-law (Jean-Pierre Zola), the Arpels. Brother-in-law Charles Arpel owns a plastic factory, which is totally fitting considering the context of the movie. Hulot is Arpel’s “problem” in that he not only does nothing for a living, but is also a bad influence on his nephew, Gerard (Alain Becourt), whom Charles wants to take more of a serious view of life. Hulot lives in the older section of Paris, with a vibrant neighborhood, though getting to his apartment is analogous to mountain climbing. The Arpels, by contrast, live in a state-of-the-art modern house in a renovated section of Paris, which seems to be miles away from the old Paris. Their yard has no grass, just concrete walks and gravel. In the middle is a pond with a huge statue of a fish. A running gag in the movie is that the fish spouts water when a switch inside the house is thrown, and Madame Arpel only activates the fish when she wants to impress a visitor. As with Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, the film is shot almost entirely in medium frame and the gags come fast and furious. It’s a worthy sequel, and those who enjoyed the first Hulot film will love this one.

WE AGREE ON … THE GENERAL (September 17, 8:00 pm)

ED: A++. When I think of The General I think of the word “sublime,” for that is exactly what it is. Based on a true Civil War story of a Confederate train stolen by Union spies, Keaton decided to change the perspective to that of a Confederate soldier, reasoning that it would gain more sympathy. It isn’t the funniest movie Keaton made, but it is the richest in how the comedy is subsumed into the plot, giving us a sense of sheer wonderment and an appreciation of how Keaton put a film together. The train, named The General, is really nothing more than a giant prop Keaton uses to wring laughs from the audience. As the train’s engineer, Johnnie Gray, he loves his engine as much as his girlfriend, Annabelle Lee, played beautifully by Marion Mack. When the train is stolen, Keaton will stop at nothing to get it back. Each joke is painstakingly thought out. If you can, see it with a crowd or group. I think silent movies, more than any other sort, were meant to be seen by an audience in order to be fully appreciated.

DAVID: A++. It's not a laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy by Buster Keaton, who was one of cinema's most talented physical comedians. There are definitely some very funny moments  Keaton sitting on a coupling rod going up and down as the train moves, him knocking out a Union spy repeatedly while driving his train, an out-of-control cannon and some great pratfalls. But it's the film's fast-moving story and Keaton constantly topping himself that makes this an all-time classic. It had been about a year since I last saw this film so I watched it on consecutive nights less than a week ago, courtesy of YouTube on my Roku. The film is in the public domain since 1954 when its copyright wasn't renewed. That was largely because it wasn't well received when it came out on New Year's Eve of 1926. It has since been recognized as one of Keaton's best, and to me it's his most complete films with a layered plot. It's certainly an unusual tale – Keaton is a Southerner during the Civil War who isn't permitted to fight for the Confederacy because he is too valuable as a railroad engineer. No one tells him the reason he's rejected as a soldier which leads him to lose his girlfriend and be considered a coward. He "redeems" himself by foiling a plot by Union officials to steal his train, the General, and destroy the South's rail system in order to invade. Plots sympathetic to the South about 60 years after the Civil War typically weren't successes at the box office. Perhaps that's one reason the film wasn't initially popular. But Keaton is spectacular using his unique blend of incredible stunts and wonderful facial expressions to produce what is now seen as a classic.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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