Sunday, February 12, 2017

TCM TiVo Alert for February 15-22

February 15–February 22


MONSIEUR VERDOUX (February 17, 5:00 am): While I'm a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin's silent films, his "talkies" are his best movies – The Great DictatorLimelightA King in New York and Monsieur Verdoux. The latter is the darkest of comedies. Henri Verdoux (Chaplin) marries and then kills rich widows to support his crippled wife and young son. Chaplin is so charming that you find yourself sympathizing with Verdoux even though he's murdering innocent rich old ladies. While Chaplin is excellent, Martha Raye is fantastic as one of Verdoux's intended victims who manages to avoid several attempts on her life. The exceptionally funny scenes with Chaplin and Raye alone are worth watching.

NETWORK (February 18, 10:30 pm): This brilliant film is not only the best satire of television ever made, but it is about two decades ahead of its time showing how reality TV could and did capture the attention of the viewing audience. As the years pass, this 1976 film becomes more relevant as society's interest in the obsession of pseudo celebrities and our insatiable appetite for around-the-clock garbage news increase. At times, you can see yourself in the film watching some of the crap that litters the airwaves today. You know it's awful and/or outrageous, but you can't help but watch. The film shows the mental breakdown of anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) and how it captures the attention of viewers whose voyeur tendencies only grow. Finch, Faye Dunaway (as an overly ambitious and sexy network executive), and Beatrice Straight (in a bit but important role as the wife of a TV executive played by William Holden) won Oscars in three of the four acting categories. Like Finch, Holden was nominated for Best Actor, but obviously didn't win. Finch's "Mad as Hell" speech is one of cinema's finest and one of its top five most iconic moments. It's drop-dead serious while also being outrageously funny.


THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (February 16, 10:15 pm): John Ford’s nostalgic look at the Old West and the encroachments of modern civilization, epitomized in the person of Rance Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart), an idealistic young Eastern lawyer who is robbed on his way West, settles in the town of Shinbone, and while working as a dishwasher/waiter, learns about Western life. The town is terrorized by the villainous Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), and the only man in town to stand up to him is Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) – until Stoddard takes it upon himself to rid the town of the murderous Valance. After killing Valance in a showdown, Stoddard parleys it into a political career that sees him become his state’s first senator, but later learns the truth – that it was Doniphon who actually shot and killed Valance. returning to Shinbone with wife Hallie (Vera Miles) years later for the funeral of the now forgotten Doniphon, Stoddard is interviewed by a young reporter and wants to set the record clear. It’s basically John Ford doing what he does best: making Westerns. The only glitch is that Stewart’s too long in the tooth to play the young idealistic Stoddard, but other than that, this is a film that transcends the genre, a tilm even a non-Western fan will love.

THE PRIZEFIGHTER AND THE LADY (February 21, 6:00 am): This was originally a story in the mold of The Champ written by Frances Marion under orders (she thought it warmed over soup) from L.B. Mayer as a vehicle for Clark Gable. But when she finished writing it, Gable was on another assignment and, instead, Max Baer was signed for the film. The story, about a boxing champion falling for a society girl, was kept, but Marion reworked her script to accommodate Baer. W.S. Van Dyke, known for his speed in getting a film done, replaced the original director, Howard Hawks (who begged off) and Van Dyke brought in Myrna Loy to play Baer’s love interest. Loy, who the studio was brining around slowly, was happy not to have to play an Oriental villain for once and she turned in a stellar performance that boosted her stock in the studio and led to The Thin Man. It’s said that Baer walks away with the film, but watch for Loy’s beautifully timed acting style, for, without it, Baer would have hit the canvas for the 10-count. The film also features Jack Dempsey, Primo Carnera, Jess Willard, and Strangler Lewis. Fans of B-movies of the 40s should recognize Frank Moran, an ex-boxer who plays a boxer in the film, and who became a supporting staple in several Monogram horror features of the ‘40s.


ED: A+. This second feature by Boy Wonder Orson Welles has the dubious distinction of being taken away from him by his studio, RKO, and handed over to film editor Robert Wise and trimmed down from about 130 minutes to 88. In addition the studio destroyed the cut footage so there’s no possibility of a restored version. Wise was also told to reshoot the darker scenes in the movie. Yet, for all the studio’s vandalism, it’s a near masterpiece. In fact, some film historians see it as better than Citizen Kane. I’m not among those who agree, for while it has more depth in plot and characterization than Kane, it lacks the élan that made Kane such compelling viewing. The casting is brilliant. For the character of the mother obsessed George, a role Welles might have well saved for himself he instead cast  the studio’s B-Western stalwart Tim Holt, who turned out to be terrific in the role. As the mother, silent screen actress Dolores Costello was chosen. She brings a wonderful lilting and vulnerable aspect to her performance. And Agnes Moorehead gave the performance of a lifetime as the bitter, neurotic Aunt Fanny. The Magnificent Ambersons fits perfectly the definition of a flawed masterpiece in the best sense of the phrase.

DAVID: A+. This is Orson Welles' follow to Citizen Kane starring Joseph Cotten (one of cinema's most underrated actors in just his second film) as Eugene Morgan, a charming and successful automobile manufacturer around the turn of the 20th century. Twenty years after he returns to town, Eugene falls in love again – though he's been in love with her for most of his life – with Isabel Amberson Minafer (Dolores Costello), a former flame who is later widowed. But Isabel's son, George (Tim Holt), steeped in the Amberson tradition and name, interferes in the love affair between his mother and Eugene, who want to marry. The film is beautifully shot with incredible acting and a compelling storyline about those who go to unbelievable lengths to keep their pride at the expense of their own personal happiness and of their families. Yes, Welles lost control of the final edit of this film, which was cut by more than 40 minutes. But the finished product is, as Ed so accurately describes it, a flawed masterpiece.

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

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