TCM TiVo ALERT
March 8–March 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE LADY IN THE LAKE (March 10, 4:30 pm): You can't go wrong with either Philip Marlowe detective films TCM is showing on the 10th. It starts with Dick Powell in 1944's Murder, My Sweet at 6:00 am and ends with Robert Montgomery in 1947's The Lady in the Lake. Montgomery, who also directed the film, is charming as Marlowe, the hard-boiled, street-smart private detective. This movie is fascinating for its gimmick of having nearly all of it filmed as if the viewer is Marlowe. The detective film noir has several plot twists and it's definitely worth watching. Montgomery brings a sense of humor to Marlowe that isn't as developed in other films of the famed character.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION (March 14, 10:00 pm): This is the first film of the 1970s to truly capture the gritty, grimy, disgusting life of cops and crooks in New York City. While the others are great, this is the best. The French Connection (1971), based on two actual NYC cops, stars Gene Hackman as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Roy Scheider as his partner, Buddy "Cloudy" Russo. The two detectives discover that a wealthy French drug dealer (played by Fernando Rey) smuggled into New York City a large shipment of pure heroin and is looking to make a big sale. The chase scene that has Popeye in a car pursuing the French drug kingpin's hitman in an elevated train is as good as it gets.
ED’S BEST BETS:
LA POINTE COURTE (March 8, 11:00 am): Director Agnes Varda gained international renown with this study of a husband and wife trying to rescue their marriage interwoven with the life and times of a small fishing village on the Mediterranean. Known only as Him and Her, the couple comes to the village because it’s the place where He grew up and still loves, while She is from Paris and has the requisite cosmopolitan tastes. Will they be able to work things out? Meanwhile, we are drawn into the drama that plagues the town: Will the father let his daughter marry the man she loves, even if he's kind of a wimp? Will the cops arrest the guy who harvested his shellfish from an off-limits stretch of water? Will the big-city couple stay together or split up? The movie’s climax takes place at the annual water-jousting tournament (which actually takes place in the village each year), a sort of slow-motion skirmish where men knock each other off boats with medieval-style lances while onlookers cheer their favorites. This is the sort of film that will pull one in slowly and once in, it never lets up for a minute. The village life and drama is fascinating and the individual dramas compelling.
DETOUR (March 12, 10:00 am): It’s one of the most vaunted film noirs ever made; a cult classic that first gained its reputation in France and quickly spread to American film buffs. It was also one of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s favorite films, and looking at the existential irony that propels much of the film, that is no surprise. The myth that now surrounds the film is such that we are now led to believe it was shot by director Edgar G. Ulmer over three days for about $100. Of course, that’s exaggerating some, but Ulmer was known for his ability to stretch the most from the least. For instance, a simple street lamp in a fog-enshrouded studio represents New York City, and a drive-in restaurant and a used-car lot symbolize Los Angeles. The story itself is a simple one: Al Roberts, an unemployed piano player, is hitching it from New York to Los Angeles, where his girlfriend is as singer. When he hits Arizona a dissolute gambler picks him up and relates a story about a female hitchhiker he had picked up earlier. Shortly after he dies of a heart attack. Al, panicked, leaves his body by the side of the road and takes his car. He stops to pick up a female hitchhiker, and the nightmare begins, for not only is she the hitcher referred to earlier, but also she’s as venomous as a room full of scorpions. This is a film that, if you haven’t yet seen it, you should make room on your recorder. It’s highly entertaining, and the performances by Tom Neal, and especially by Ann Savage as the Hitchhiker From Hell, are classics of Noir. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth catching again, just for the hell of it and to see a master craftsman at work.
WE AGREE ON ... THE GOLD RUSH (March 14, 7:45 am)
ED: A+. A wonderful blend of slapstick and pathos, thankfully without the pretentious moralizing that we find in his later work. The Little Tramp goes to the Klondike in search of gold and love but finds only misery – and edible footwear. Besides the eating of the shoe for Thanksgiving, there are other famous sequences, such as Charlie being imagined as a chicken by his starving partner, Mack Swain; a log cabin teetering on the edge of a cliff; and the wonderful “dance” of the dinner rolls. Is it his best? Not really, though it was voted the #2 movie of all time (behind The Battleship Potemkin) in a 1958 critics poll. However, it is one of the essentials for those who want to understand Chaplin’s work.
DAVID: A+. Even nearly 100 years later, The Gold Rush stands out as a genuinely funny and ingenious film. Few actors can match Charlie Chaplin for not only physical comedy, but an incredible understanding of how to use the human body as a prop. Chaplin takes a few prat falls, but it's his mastery of using his body that makes this film such a classic. Oftentimes, things that are funny from long ago – this film was released in 1925 – just aren't that funny by today's standards. This is certainly not the case with The Gold Rush. Playing his classic Tramp character, Chaplin is the Lone Prospector during the Gold Rush who is down on his luck, naturally, and unable to find any gold. That's not the case for Big Jim (Mack Swain), who has found a huge gold deposit, but has to leave it during a horrific snowstorm. There are a number of great scenes in the film with my favorite being Chaplin's dance of the rolls. It's brilliant in its simplicity and again shows his mastery of the human body. He takes two forks and puts them into dinner rolls and mimics a person's legs and feet dancing. There's no special effects or any tricks. He's just moving the forks and rolls in a way that makes it look like a dance. Another favorite is when Big Jim and the evil Black Larsen (Tom Murray) are wrestling over a gun with the Lone Prospector stuck inside a small cabin. No matter where the gun is pointed, the Lone Prospector is directly in the line of fire. The timing of the scene is perfect with the Lone Prospector in the way at least a dozen times despite the fact he rarely stops to move. The movie is filled with one classic comedic scene after another and is certainly one of his most accomplished silent films. Chaplin often said that if he was to be remembered for one film in his career, it would be this one. I can certainly see why he felt that way.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.