Sunday, November 6, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for November 8-14

November 8–November 14


LIMELIGHT (November 8, 12:30 am): One of Charlie Chaplin's last and best films, Limelight is tragic, touching, beautiful, captivating and funny. This movie never fails to make me tear up with laughter or sadness. For someone who mastered silent films, and went into sound practically kicking and screaming, Chaplin's "talkies" are among his finest movies. This 1952 film, Chaplin's final one made in the United States, has him playing Calvero, a washed-up clown looking to make a comeback. He meets Terry (Claire Bloom), a suicidal young ballet dancer, and takes care of her while helping to revitalize her career. The two are wonderful together. The final scene is one for the ages with Calvero reuniting with his old partner (played by Buster Keaton) on stage attempting a comeback.

THE MORTAL STORM (November 12, 4:15 pm): It's surprising that this hard-hitting anti-Nazi film was made in 1940 and released about 18 months before the United States got involved in World War II. It's an extraordinarily powerful movie about what happens to a group of friends in a small Bavarian town when the Nazis take over Germany and attempt to conquer Europe. Not only is the acting outstanding, particularly Jimmy Stewart as an anti-Nazi, and Robert Young, who become a Nazi zealot, but the story is uncompromising and tragic. It's one of Stewart's finest roles. It still holds up well.


THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (November 13, 6:00 am): Yet another wonderful film shown at an inconvenient hour. This one is definitely worth recording, or just taking a mental health day to watch. Jacques Demy directed this unusual musical, in which every line is sung, sort of like the latest incarnation of Les Miserables. But unlike that movie, Umbrellas isn’t nearly as annoying. The singing voices of the actors are wonderfully dubbed. It stars Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as star-crossed lovers separated when he has to go off to fight in Algeria for the French Army. As they pledged their love until their death, the circumstances make for a good test of the pledge. Demy makes what could easily become a maudlin unintentional parody of the Hollywood musical into a bittersweet, poetic slice of romantic life. Though it’s set in the French town of Cherbourg (in Normandy), it has the look of a Hollywood studio musical, thanks to the good townspeople allowing Demy to paint their houses in loud, bright colors. It’s a fragile line for Demy to traipse, but he pulls it off with panache, and stay tuned for the final, moving scene in the snow. 

THE SORROW AND THE PITY (November 14, 8:00 pm): Marcel Ophuls spent more than two years compiling 50 hours of footage and editing it down into a four-and-a-half-hour documentary that destroyed one the enduring myths of France: that the nation was opposed to the German Occupation. Director Ophuls makes the point that France was the only nation that collaborated with the Nazis during the war and that de Gaulle’s Free French was in the position of not being a government-in-exile, as were the Polish, the Dutch and the Belgians, because the French government under Marshal Petain and Pierre Laval ruled the south of the country out of Vichy. Telling his story from the point-of-view of the ordinary person, he makes it crystal clear that the majority of French citizens nether supported the Germans or the Resistance, instead going along quietly with the wartime Vichy government. The brilliance of the film lies it its avoidance of abstract academic and historical theories in favor of the testimony of those who, caught between two opposing poles, merely tried to survive as best they could during a period of oppression and privation. I agree totally with the late Roger Ebert, who in his review, said of the film, “In its complexity, its humanity, its refusal to find easy solutions, this is one of the greatest documentaries ever made.”

WE DISAGREE ON ... NANOOK OF THE NORTH (November 14, 1:15 am):

ED: A+. This is a groundbreaking film, one of the world's first examples of a cinema verite/aesthetic expressionism documentary. Robert Flaherty documents a year in the lives of an Inuit and his family living in the Arctic Circle, Describing the trading, hunting, fishing and migrations of a group barely touched by industrial technology. At times resembling a home movie, Flaherty focuses on the personalities of Nanook and his family rather than simply show the events they take part in, using close-ups and filming their private moments. His presentation of the seal hunt is as riveting a piece of moviemaking as one is bound to find. Although seen as somewhat primitive today, the cinematography still holds up well, though the title cards tend to be a bit much. Nanook of the North was widely shown and praised as the first full-length, anthropological documentary in cinematographic history. Recommended for all film buffs, especially those with a strong interest in documentaries.

DAVID: B-. I would have given it a lower grade, but the film is nearly 95 years old and to judge it against documentaries that followed wouldn't be fair. It hasn't held up well, but it was among the first and the subject matter is certainly unique. While important in cinematic history, Nanook of the North is greatly flawed. First, it's largely dull even though it's only 79 minutes long, and there are plenty of attempts to incorporate "action" sequences. Second, numerous scenes are recreations of Nanook's daily life and others are things the Eskimo didn't do such as use a harpoon to hunt walrus. He actually used guns. The recreations and works of fiction were supposedly done for the sake of entertainment. Nanook's wives in the film are not really his wives. Oh, and his real name isn't Nanook. But the documentary does give viewers a good depiction of how rough life was in the Canadian Artic. Director/producer/writer/cinematographer Robert J. Flaherty claimed Nanook died of starvation two years after the film was made. Nanook died, but it was likely of tuberculosis. It loses points for a lack of authenticity and a lot of dead spots. It's similar to those National Geographic documentaries you were forced to watch in grade school only to make it more boring, there's no sound. While it may seem that learning about obscure cultures are interesting, this film shows that's not always the case.

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


  1. I don't think it is surprising that "The Mortal Storm" was made in 1940. The years from 1939 to 1941 had many other movies that pushed the idea that we should be involved in the war that was already happening. British films like "The Sea Hawk" and "Pimpernel Smith" were often selling the idea (sometimes under the guise of historical drama) of the war as necessary.

    As for "Nanook" I would recommend including Edward Curtis' "In The Land Of the Headhunters". It is more surrealistic but has stunning imagery.

    1. The Mortal Storm is an American production that shows the cruelty and inhumanity of the Nazis like no other American film of its time.