Friday, January 20, 2017

TCM TiVo Alert for January 23-31

January 23–January 31


SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (January 27, 6:00 pm): I'm not a fan of musicals so when I recommend one, watch it. Singin' in the Rain is the greatest musical ever made. It's funny, it's charming, the singing is great and the dancing is unbelievable. While Gene Kelly's numbers are spectacular, Donald O'Connor's performance of "Make 'Em Laugh" is the best in the film. O'Connor had a unique physical style of dance that included him taking a number of pratfalls and other things that didn't do anything good to his body. While the plot isn't exceptionally strong, it's clever – spoofing Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies.

CLAIRE'S KNEE (January 29, 2:00 am): This 1970 French film, directed by Eric Rohmer, is an excellent erotic comedy about a diplomat in his 30s who becomes obsessed with a teenage girl. Well, not really her - he's in love with the thought of touching the young girl's knee as a sort of sexual conquest. However, the film is so much more than that. It's about a man trying to recapture his youth before getting married with the implication that marriage will forever change his life for the worse. It's also about a younger teenage girl, Laura, Claire's half-sister, and her maturation. And then there's Claire, who appears to be care-free and not very bright, but someone who is also insecure and vulnerable. Its story is brilliant and incredibly emotional. The legendary Roger Ebert described it as "a movie for people who still read good novels, care about good films, and think occasionally." That sums it up quite nicely.


COMA (January 28, 4:30 am): A neat thriller that combines the best of the conspiracy theory with the hospital soaper. A large number of healthy patients after undergoing routine operations are turning up in anesthesia-induced comas. When one of the victims is the best friend of Dr. Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold), she decides to investigate and discovers a black market organ transplant operation. It’s based on the best seller by Robin Cook, adapted and directed by Michael Crichton, who has his M.D. from Harvard, but decided in favor of writing fiction over practicing medicine. Crichton plays on our natural fears of hospitals with several scenes that will stay with the viewer.. Perfect to record and watch later, preferably in the dark.

20,000 YEARS IN SING-SING (January 31, 10:00 am): The only pairing of Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis is a memorable one in a prison drama based on Warden Lewis E. Lawes’ book. It still retains its power today, with Tracy as Tommy Connors, a hardened criminal who becomes locked in a battle of wills with Warden Paul Long (Arthur Byron). When Connors’ lawyer, Joe Finn (Louis Calhern), attacks girlfriend Fay Wilson (Bette Davis), Warden Long gives Connors leave on the honor system to visit her, as she’s critically ill. When Connor discovers that Finn is responsible for her injuries he attacks him. Fay shots and kills Finn, Connors takes the rap and is sentenced to the electric chair. Tracy and Davis are marvelous, and Calhern is wonderfully sleazy. Pre-Code at its best.


ED: B+. An intelligently made, highly affecting and well-meaning film that earned its star, Burt Lancaster, an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. But there are a few problems with it. One is its length, as it seems to drone on and on. Another is that director John Frankenheimer and screenwriter Guy Trosper are so reverential towards their subject (who, at age 75, was still in prison when this movie was made) that they never really come to grips with how to fully dramatize the life of a convicted killer who spent more than 40 years in solitary and who rejected humans for the companionship of birds. It’s never made clear how Robert Stroud (Lancaster) become transformed as the years pass, and thus we watch at a distance, as we would with a documentary. One has to applaud Lancaster for taking on such a difficult role, although an actor with his physicality in this sort of role comes off as semi-comatose at times. Compare this with his performance in The Train.

DAVID: A+. There are few actors who had the presence of Burt Lancaster  that voice, the athletic build and his ability to become one with the characters he portrayed. In this 1962 film, he plays Robert Stroud, a murderer, who from all accounts was not a nice guy. In the film, Stroud has a dark side with a mother complex, but comes across overall as a decent person. While in solitary confinement in Leavenworth, Stroud adopts and trains a sickly sparrow. After a while, he ends up with an entire bird collection and inspires other inmates to get birds. When some of the animals get sick, Stroud discovers ways to cure them, and becomes an expert on bird diseases, publishing articles and eventually a book on the subject. The concept may sound boring, but the screenplay is outstanding and the acting is first-rate. Lancaster is essentially the entire film, but the supporting cast that comes in and out of the movie is excellent. That includes Telly Savalas as a fellow prisoner, Thelma Ritter in the performance of her career as Stroud's mother (even though she's in less than a half-dozen scenes), and Karl Malden as the warden at Leavenworth and later at Alcatraz. The film does an excellent job of showing isolationism, the cruelty of prison and lack of rehabilitation, but there are some heartwarming moments in which human decency is on full display. Most of the film – and the book of which it is based  takes place at Leavenworth. Stroud served some time at Alcatraz, where he wasn't permitted to have birds making the title inaccurate.

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

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