TCM TiVo ALERT
December 8–December 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
ON BORROWED TIME (December 10, 6:30 pm): Like he did in numerous movies, Lionel Barrymore plays a grumpy old wheelchair-bound man (Gramps). He's raising his grandson, Pud (played by Bobs Watson; yeah Bobs as in more than one Bob), in this one. Pud's mother and father die in a car accident before the film starts, and his aunt wants to raise him, primarily to get her hands on the money left to the boy by his parents. But Pud and Gramps can't stand her, see right through her, and share an exceptionally close bond. Gramps has an apple tree and the fruit is constantly being stolen so he makes a wish that anybody climbing the tree gets stuck up there until he permits them to come down. Well, Death (masterfully played by Cedric Hardwicke) comes calling for Gramps and is tricked into climbing up the tree. Not only can't he take Gramps, but he can't take anyone else. The aunt thinks Gramps is crazy and sees this as an opportunity to get him committed and have Pud – and his money – for herself. As the movie progresses, Death tricks Pud into climbing the tree with disastrous results. Just thinking about the film's conclusion gives me chills. On Borrowed Time has a wonderful storyline, with many funny scenes, as well as a loving and touching message. Also, the acting is outstanding. Barrymore proved yet again that he never gave a bad performance.
3:10 TO YUMA (December 13, 11:30 am): One of the best Westerns I've seen, 3:10 to Yuma stars Van Heflin as down-on-his-luck farmer Dan Evans in desperate need of money to dig a well. He accepts an assignment to secretly transport notorious gang leader Ben Wade (Glenn Ford, who was made for Westerns), to a nearby town where Wade will be placed aboard a train that will take him to Yuma. This is a tense, psychological drama directed by Delmar Daves that concentrates on the relationship between captor and prisoner. The story departs from most other Westerns of the time in that much of it takes place not in the great wide open, but in a single room where the characters battle it out as Wade stalls for time so his gang can come to his rescue.
ED’S BEST BETS:
EMMA (December 9, 12:30 pm): Marie Dressler was never better than is this story of a housekeeper for would-be investor Frederick Smith (Jean Hersholt), who must suddenly become the caregiver for three children and a new infant after their mother dies in childbirth. She does a spectacular job of raising the children, and 20 years later, when Smith’s inventions have made the family wealthy, she marries her employer – to the disapproval of the children, who, except for the youngest, Ronnie (Richard Cromwell), are a spoiled and ungrateful lot. When Smith dies and leaves everything to Emma, the children, except for the loyal Ronnie, sue in court to invalidate the will. This is a wonderful soaper with Dressler’s down-to-earth housekeeper one of the best remembered characters in film. Leonard Praskins and Zelda Sears penned the screenplay based a story by Frances Marion, who knew what would sell for her friend Dressler and what wouldn’t. In the hands of a less talented actress, Emma would be a crashing bore, but Dressler pulls it off with just the right amount of restraint and panache.
KING KONG (December 10, 8:00 pm): Is there anyone out there who hasn’t seen this film? Along with The Lost World, it’s the granddaddy of the “monster-on-the-loose” films and still holds its grip on us to this day. The search for and capture of a gigantic ape on a previously unknown island is stuff of our childhoods and I know of few people who aren’t in love with this adventure. Animator Willis O’Brien created one of the classic creatures of filmdom which, combined with an intelligent script, continues to dazzle with each viewing. The addition of Fay Wray only ratchets up the mythic heat with a modern take on Beauty and the Beast: She and co-stars Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot do an admirable job of acting, but it’s Kong we’ve come to see. And when he finally dies in a hail of bullets atop the Empire State Building, there’s not a dry eye left in the house, for he proves to have more humanity than his captors.
WE AGREE ON ... IKIRU (December 13, 11:30 pm)
ED: A+. Although Akira Kurosawa tends to be best remembered for his forceful and excellent samurai films, his best film may well be this thoughtful, moving and intensely affecting account of an ordinary man’s struggle to find meaning in his life during the days he has left after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Takashi Shimura stars as Kanji Watanabe, a longtime minor bureaucrat in Tokyo’s postwar government who, along with his co-workers, has spent his entire working life without accomplishing anything of importance. Once he learns that his time is limited, he begins to realize that he has gone through his life without any meaningful relationships with family, friends, or even strangers. As he continues to examine his life, he is led to the belief that perhaps he can make a difference by arranging for the construction of a playground in a poorer section of the city. Central to the success of the film is the compelling performance by Shimura as the dying bureaucrat. Shimura injects the character of Watanabe with just the right amount of existential angst to keep Watanabe firmly planted in reality instead of simply going overboard and milking it for every last tear from the audience. Watanabe comes to embrace the hope that by giving something back he can begin to atone for his miserable, wasted existence. Ikiru is best viewed through recording and viewing at an earlier time, for I guarantee that for those who do watch at this late an hour will get little sleep while pondering what they have seen over the course of the last two hours.
DAVID: A+. Ikiru is a masterpiece of cinema – beautiful, poetic, tragic, moving and transforming. At the same time, it's also a damning indictment of government, particularly its bureaucracy and politics, as well as doctors and most importantly, the time we all waste in life wasting time. Sure, we all have jobs to do – and often times, we're not doing anything terribly important but cashing a paycheck and marking time – but Akira Kurosawa's 1952 film shows we can sometimes do something that makes an impact in someone's life, even if it's small. Kurosawa was a legendary director who made numerous classic films, but none are finer or have more of an impact on the viewer than Ikiru, translated from Japanese to mean: to live. Takashi Shimura, a regular Kurosawa player, stars as Kanji Watanabe, a mid-level bureaucrat who focuses his entire life on stamping approval seals on paperwork day in and day out, not missing a single day of work for nearly 30 years. He's not feeling well as the film opens and despite a doctor telling him he has a minor ulcer, Watanabe knows better thanks to a man in the waiting room who informs him he has stomach cancer and that doctors will tell him it's nothing – which is exactly what happens. (The film begins with a narrator telling us Watanabe has stomach cancer.) From there, Watanabe goes from one minor adventure to another, trying to pack a lifetime of emptiness into the short time he has left to live. Shimura is able to perfectly capture the haunting look of impending death with his facial expressions. While Watanabe stops going to work regularly, he is able to make an impact on the lives of those in an impoverished neighborhood with a diseased swamp. At the request of the women in that community, who get the bureaucratic runaround, he is able to turn the swamp into a playground. While those in government are resistant to give him any credit for the playground after his death – which comes with about an hour left in the film – some finally realize that one man can indeed make a difference. In flashbacks at his funeral, we see the lengths Watanabe went to for complete strangers. And that is the beautifully tragic lesson Kurosawa teaches us in Ikriu, a film that stays with the viewer long after it ends.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.