Monday, February 27, 2017

TCM TiVo Alert for March 1-7

March 1–March 7


TWO WOMEN (March 1, 2:30 pm): This is Sophia Loren's best film and put her on the map as far as being an outstanding actress and not just an incredibly beautiful woman. She plays Cesira, a Roman woman who has to flee her hometown with her 13-year-old daughter Rosetta (Eleonora Brown) during World War II with the Allies bombing the city. She goes to incredible lengths to protect her child only for the two to be raped in an abandoned church by Moroccan Allied soldiers. It's a hard-hitting film with a powerful message and brilliant acting – Loren won the Oscar for Best Actress, the first to earn that honor in a non-English speaking role.

WOMAN IN THE DUNES (March 3, 3:45 pm): The story is a parable about an entomology teacher out in the sandy dunes of a small rural village in Japan collecting beetles. He oversleeps and is stuck there for the night. The villagers invite him to stay in a deep sandpit with a woman who lives there. It turns out to be a trap, and no matter what he does, he cannot escape – kind of like a sandy Hotel California. On top of that, the sand on the pit's walls fall making life in the house at the bottom very dangerous. He decides to take on various tasks to pass the time, and after seven years in the pit, the man has the chance to legitimately escape. But he's found his purpose, and after all that time, the life he had in Tokyo is long gone. It takes an impossibly unlikely scenario and makes you believe it is actually happening.


UMBERTO D (March 1, 6:15 pm): Director Vittorio DeSica was known for his realistic portrayals of life in Postwar Italy. Next to The Bicycle Thieves, this is his most important – and best – film from that time. It takes a long, hard look at the problems of the unwanted elderly, the protagonist being a retired professor of linguistics at bologna who can no longer survive on his meager pension. Thrown out of his apartment for back rent, he wanders the streets with his faithful terrier, Flike, Be warned, this is the saddest owner and pet drama since Old Yeller, and I'm not kidding when I say that this is a five-hankie picture. The film was instrumental in helping to reform the Italian pension system into something more humane. Critically lauded in the '50s, it's almost forgotten today, much like it's protagonist.

WHITE HEAT (March 2, 5:45 am): Jimmy Cagney was never better or more frightening than in this gangster saga of a psycho gang leader dominated by his mother. Edmund O’Brien is terrific as the federal agent that goes undercover to help catch him. And don’t forget Margaret Wycherly in probably her best performance as Cagney’s mother. With Virginia Mayo as Cagney’s disloyal wife and Steve Cochran as gang member “Big Ed,” a man with big ideas and nothing else. It boasts one of the best endings in the history of film, but watch for the prison scene when Cagney gets some bad news. It’s one of the best pieces of acting I’ve ever seen.


ED: A. This is a wonderfully old-fashioned Gothic horror set in then contemporary Los Angeles. It's sort of a combination between PsychoSunset Boulevard and theater of the absurd. It comes across to us today as part macabre gothic horror, part dark comedy and a good part camp, due to the histrionics of leading ladies Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I'm surprised that there was anything left of the old house where they resided after all their scenery chewing. But it works and works well, thanks to the talent and work ethic of both actresses. Knowing the sub-text of the heated rivalry and mutual hatred between Davis and Crawford makes for even better viewing. You'll delight in watching them trying to top each other with some sort of trick or mugging before the camera. But with all that aside, it's a good story and well directed by Robert Aldrich. As Jane (Davis) begins to descend into madness, this is where the camp stops and the real horror begins. It makes for compelling viewing and Victor Buono adds nicely to the horror as a mama's boy on the make whom Jane takes a liking to, thinking that he's in love with her, and enlists him as the piano player for her "comeback" act. As mentioned before, Aldrich does a wonderful job of directing, keeping a deliberate pace that serves to intensify the horror and allows us to identify with Blanche's predicament. Do not reveal the ending and be sure to duck if Jane ever offers to cook you "din din."

DAVID: D+. I dislike this film for a variety of reasons. To see two formerly great actresses, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, reduced to doing a film this outrageously bad and over-the-top is depressing. To make matters worse, it spawned a new genre, known as psycho-biddy films. They were low-budget (at least in appearance) movies starring older actresses playing emotionally-disturbed women. Because of the box-office success of this film, Davis and Crawford became the queens of this genre. They followed this up with Strait-JacketHush... Hush, Sweet CharlotteThe Nanny, and Beserk! I like B-movies, but this one is uncomfortable to watch because you see what had become of these two screen legends. Hollywood no longer wanted them, and they were such divas that they opted to make this horrible horror/suspense film for reduced salaries in exchange for a percentage of the film's profits. This film is little more than Jane (Davis) reliving her glory days as a child performer with reality long forgotten in her mind, and doing whatever she can to make the life of her sister, Blanche (Crawford), a living hell. That wouldn't be so bad except the stunts she pulls are juvenile and ridiculous. Blanche loves her parakeet so Jane kills it and serves it to her sister for a meal. Staying with the dead-animal-for-a-meal theme, Jane also serves Blanche a dead rat. Yum! She also has no qualms about physically beating up Blanche. The only saving grace of this film is the ending, and it's quite the surprise. Unfortunately, you've got to watch about two hours to get to the interesting last 15 minutes. 

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

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