TCM TiVo ALERT
November 1–November 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
BADLANDS (November 5, 10:15 pm): Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek show their incredible talents in this 1973 film, loosely based on a serial killer and his girlfriend on a 1958 cross-country killing spree. The two become more detached to reality and violent as the film progresses. The film focuses on the alienation and hopelessness felt by the two doomed young criminals. Despite their horrific actions, you feel somewhat sorry for them. An excellent script, a remarkable job by Terrence Malick in his directorial debut, and outstanding acting from Sheen and Spacek, who would go on to be major film stars. It's an exceptional film that shouldn't be missed.
ADVISE AND CONSENT (November 7, 5:30 pm): This 1962 film about the confirmation process of a secretary of state nominee (Henry Fonda) was ahead of its time. The story rings true with politics of later years that saw and still see political nominees have their entire lives scrutinized just for the sake of partisanship and not for the betterment of the country. It's dialogue heavy, but the dialogue is so good that it elevates the quality of the film. Add the excellent cast – Fonda, Lew Ayres, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, and Burgess Meredith (in a small but memorable role) – and great directing by Otto Preminger and you get a film that's interesting, intelligent and compelling.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE DARK HORSE (November 3, 11;30 pm): Warren William was at his best as a political fixer brought in by the Progressive Party to guide the gubernatorial campaign of dimwitted Guy Kibbee (whose character is appropriately named “Hicks”), a man who William says is “so dumb that every time he opens his mouth he subtracts from the sum total of human knowledge.” Aiding him in this seemingly impossible task is Bette Davis as his girlfriend, one of nine films she made for Warner Bros. in 1932. Co-written by the brilliant Wilson Minzer, it’s typical of the unadulterated sass the studio was famous for in the Pre-Code days. At 73 minutes, it’s perfect to get across it’s sardonic points without overstaying its visit. Although William and Kibbee are top billed, it’s the young Davis who steals the film. Although William is the leader of the duo, he proves as naive as Kibbee in his own way, and it’s Davis who time and time again figures out the right moves. Her acting here is nothing short of brilliant, for instead of being blustery and impulsive, she sits by taking events in and evaluating them before coming to judgment. It’s totally enjoyable to see her character at work, exposing the foibles not only of Kibbee, but also of William. Watching Davis and William package and sell Kibbee to an unsuspecting public only reminds us that things haven’t changed since then.
GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE (November 7, 10:00 am): This is one of the most incredible films ever made, and it comes from MGM, yet. Produced by William Randolph Hearst, it’s practically an advertisement for fascism, as party-hearty president Walter Huston is knocked for a loop in a car accident. When he comes out of his coma, he’s a changed man and uses dictatorial powers to take over, wiping out both unemployment and crime and bringing about world peace. If you haven’t seen this one yet (and the odds are great that you haven’t as this is rarely shown), by all means record and watch it. You’ll be knocked for a loop.
WE AGREE ON ... YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (November 4, 6:00 am)
ED: A+. Jimmy Cagney in the role of a lifetime, the role he was known best for, and the one that brought him his only Oscar. He often said in interviews that this was his favorite film, and he is the show here, infusing his interpretation of George M. Cohan with a verve and a bounce we seldom saw in his other roles, as if this was the role he had been waiting for his entire life. Perhaps. Cagney’s roots were as a hoofer on the Broadway stage and here he was at Warner Brothers, where the gritty urban drama was the specialty. His enthusiasm is such that we in the audience are easily infected and share along in the joy of his every step. The surrounding cast, made up of the Warner’s Stock Company, is excellent. Walter Huston and Rosemary DeCamp hit all the right notes as Cohan’s parents, and Joan Leslie is appealing as always. Made in 1942, at the height of the Second World War, it’s the perfect morale film; the life of one of America’s most patriotic composers and a showcase for his foot-tapping tunes. Michael Curtiz directs in his usual professional style, letting the actor tell the story instead of the other way around. My only disappointment with the movie is its format. This is a film that screams out to be made in Technicolor and cheapskate Jack Warner opts for black and white. Normally I love black and white; I even prefer it most of the time. But there are occasions when the full pallet of Technicolor is called for, and this is one of those times. There is a colorized version, but after having seen it I can only count it as an act of vandalism. If you should only see one musical in your lifetime, this is the one to see.
DAVID: A+. I'm not a fan of musicals nor am I a fan of sentimental films that play with your emotions, particularly a largely fictitious biopic. Yet I'm a huge fan of Yankee Doodle Dandy, which obviously falls into all of the above categories. The sheer joy that James Cagney brings to the role of George M. Cohan is infectious. Cagney started his career as a dancer, and if you examine his performance in this film, it's obvious why he made his money as an actor playing gangsters and cops, and not as a song-and-dance man. Cagney was a competent dancer, but his style is built on confidence and deception. He was such a wonderful actor that he convinces the audience that he is Cohan. His dancing technique is to exaggerate everything from his walking and strutting – sort of like a sedated Mick Jagger, who also isn't much of a dancer, but comes across as valedictorian of the James Cagney School of Dance – to simple movements of his arms, elbows and knees. And it works to near perfection. Even the story told in flashbacks – always dangerous for films such as this – to President Franklin D. Roosevelt is enjoyable. The lines are largely quips and they are pretty funny. My favorite is when he's telling FDR he was, like the nonsensical song tells us, born on the Fourth of July. "I was six before I realized they weren't celebrating my birthday." It's completely Cagney's movie. The other actors are fine, and this is coming from a huge Walter Huston fan. From start to finish, this is Cagney's baby. He is so spectacular, so engaging, so damn entertaining, that I find myself humming along to some of the corniest songs ever written and watching with a big smile on my face.
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.