A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
Has anyone been catching the miniseries Feud on FX? I went into this expecting it to be really bad, but I must admit to being delightfully entertained. It’s the story of the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and the feud that followed afterwards between divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who is aided by Hedda Hopper in her fight against Bette. Susan Sarandon is a positive revelation as Bette, taking the time to nail down her Yankee accent. And though Jessica Lange didn’t remind me of Crawford first off, like Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, her abundance of talent allowed her to segue effortlessly into Crawford’s persona, so that she becomes Crawford soon into the series. Jackie Hoffman steals the series right out from under their noses as Crawford’s German-born maid, Mamacita, while Stanley Tucci makes for a most effective Jack Warner. And look for the the and only John Waters as the one and only William Castle, who directed Joan in Strait-Jacket. I recommend this to all as good trashy fun, something there is too little of lately.
Lola Albright, whose move credits include a couple of psychotronic classics, as well as the classical psychotronic TV show, Peter Gunn, died March 23 in Los Angeles at the age of 92. The cause was not disclosed.
She was born Lois Jean Albright on July 20, 1924, in Akron, Ohio. Her parents, John Paul and Marion (nee Harvey) Albright, were gospel singers, and she studied music throughout her childhood.
After graduating high school she moved to Cleveland, where she worked as a receptionist at a Cleveland radio station. She began singing on WJW in Cleveland before marrying an announcer and moving to Chicago, where she worked as a model. While modeling, a photographer, taken with her looks, suggested she give Hollywood a try.
Albright made her screen debut in 1947. Her first credited role was as Palmer in Kirk Douglas’s boxing movie, Champion. However, she couldn’t escape the Bs. Her big break came in television when she was cast as singer Edie Hart in Peter Gunn (1958-61), a noir adult drama created by director Blake Edwards and starring Craig Stevens that has since become a cult classic.
Besides Champion, Albright was noted for The Monolith Monsters (1956), a psychotronic cult classic; A Cold Wind in August (1961), playing a stripper who seduces a teenage boy; Kid Galahad (1962), giving a strong performance opposite Elvis; and The Impossible Years (1968) as the wife of child psychiatrist David Niven, who can’t control their teenage daughters. The latter was her final film appearance.
She was married three times: to Warren Dean, actor Jack Carson, and musician and restaurant owner Bill Chadney, all ending in divorce.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
April 18: With the morning and afternoon is devoted to psychotronic flicks, the picks for the day are as follows: M (1931, 6:00 am); Night of the Hunter (1955, 8:00 am); Bedlam (1946, 9:45 am); What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962, 3:30 pm); and Shock Corridor (1963, 6:00 pm).
April 19: Yet another morning and afternoon devoted to the psychotronic. Among those recommended are: The Monster (1925, 6:00 am) with the one and only Lon Chaney; The Murder of Dr. Harrigan (1936, 7:45 am - read our essay here); Indestructible Man (1956, 9:00 am); The Body Snatcher (1945, 10:30 am) with Henry Daniell, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi; The Cosmic Monster (1958, 5:00 pm - read our essay here); and Karloff in Frankenstein 1970 (1958, 6:30 am).
April 22: At 8:45 am, astronauts Kieron Moore, Lois Maxwell and Donald Wolfit are trapped in a space station with a ticking time bomb in Satellite in the Sky (1956), followed by Ann Sothern in Swing Shift Maisie (1943) at 10:30 am.
At 2:15 pm it’s a Blaxploitation double feature. It begins with Rudy Ray Moore in his most popular role as Dolemite, from 1975. Moore is Dolemite, a rhyme master and pimp set up by the police, who planted drugs and stolen goods in his trunk. Given a sentence of 20 years, when he’s released, he’s ripe and ready for revenge as he calls on the services of his old friend Queen Bee (Lady Reed) and her army of karate black belt call girls. It’s obviously low-budget, but just as obviously, it’s good fun, not to be taken seriously.
Following is the statuesque Tamara Dobson is Cleopatra Jones (1973) at 4:00 am. Cleo is a special agent who locks horns with master criminal Mommy (Shelley Winters) in her battle to clear the drug dealers out of her inner city neighborhood. Dobson is a classy heroine and Winters gives a deliciously over-the-top performance as the depraved Mommy. Read our essay on the film here.
April 29: Start off with Maisie Goes to Reno (1944) at 10:30 am. At 2:45 am it’s a double feature of Lady Snowblood (1973) and the sequel, Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (1974). Directed by Toshiya Fujita, Meiko Kaji stars as a young girl specifically raised to become an assassin and kill the criminals who destroyed her family. Based on a popular comic book series (Manga), it’s set in the Meiji era, the period of Japan’s transition from feudal nation to a modern state. An innocent woman sees her husband and son killed before her eyes and is imprisoned after killing one of the murderers. While behind bars, she gives birth to a daughter, named Yuki (Japanese for snow) who will be grow up to be the instrument of her revenge. Graphically violent, it was so popular that a sequel was made a year later. Both films were a huge influence on Quentin Tarantino and the main influence for his Kill Bill series.
April 16: Director Mike Leigh, known for his somber and incisive portraits of English working-class life such as Secrets and Lies, Career Girls, and Vera Drake, continues the trend with Meantime (1984). Airing at the godforsaken hour of 4:30 am, this is a British television movie that takes a close look at how being on the dole affects the underclass in Britain. Starring Tim Roth as Colin, a slow and possibly intellectually disabled man living with his parents and brother in a housing project. He and his sarcastic manipulative brother still act like teenagers, living with their parents and harassing each other, though they are now in their late teens or early twenties. They interact with the likes of Hayley, a young woman with a crush on Colin, and Coxy (Gary Oldman) a violent local skinhead who befriends Colin. Trouble comes when a wealthy aunt gives Colin a job, causing his brother to become jealous. Record this one, you’ll want to see it later.
April 30: A double-feature of the great Anna Magnani begins at 2:00 am with Mamma Roma (1962). Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Magnani stars as a streetwalker who tries to save her son from entering into a life of crime. Following at 4:15 am is the film that first brought her into prominence, Roberto Rossellini’s Open City (1946). The film is about the efforts of Rome’s Nazi occupiers to capture partisan leader Giorgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero), who is assisted by local priest Don Pietro Pellegrini (Aldo Fabrizi). Set against this are the ordinary, daily fight of Rome’s citizens, shown storming a bakery to obtain bread for their children, as they struggle with the uncertainties of the occupation. Magnani is Pina, an ordinary citizen engaged to Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), a friend of Manfredi. Pina, pregnant with Francesco’s child is the focus of the moral ambiguities faced during wartime by the characters as they fight a constant battle to live a decent life despite the huge temptations to do otherwise. Tragedy occurs when Manfredi's beautiful, but shallow, mistress Marina (Maria Michi) is tricked by Nazi agent Ingrid (Giovanna Galletti) into betraying Manfredi.
April 23: TCM is airing two films by noted director Rainer Werner Fassbinder beginning at 2:15 am with his 1974 film Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, the film that first won him international acclaim. Loosely based on Douglas Sirk’s 1955 All That Heaven Allows, it’s the story of a lonely aging white German cleaning lady who marries a much younger black Moroccan immigrant worker and the vicious response of both family and community to their action. Following at 4:15 am is his first feature-length film, Love is Colder Than Death (1969). A deconstruction of the American gangster films of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, Fassbinder is Franz, a small-time pimp torn between his mistress Joanna (Hanna Schygulla) and his friend Bruno (Ulli Lommel), who has been sent after Franz by a syndicate he’s refused to join. To save Franz, Joanna informs the police about a bank robbery Franz and Bruno are planning and while Bruno is killed in the subsequent shootout, Franz and Joanna escape. The film contains many of the themes that would later mark Fassbinder’s work, such as loneliness, the longing for companionship and love, and the fear and reality of betrayal.
April 21: Blonde is the order of the day with a marathon of films devoted to our favorite intrepid reporter, Torchy Blaine. Portrayed by the marvelous Glenda Farrell, Torchy was a role model to women across America as she showed that a woman doesn’t have to stay at home all day while her husband brings home the bacon. Barton MacLane, noted for playing heavies, is excellent as her put-upon policeman boyfriend, Lt. Steve McBride. The films all center around a case that Steve wishes Torchy would keep her nose out of, but it’s Torchy who often puts the clues together and brings the villain to justice. As Torchy, Farrell is smart and sassy. The only word she doesn’t understand in “no” as she uses her finely honed reporter’s instinct to get to the bottom of things.The festivities begin at 6:00 am with Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blaine in Smart Blonde (1936, read our essay on it here), followed by 1937’s Fly Away Baby at 7:15 am, as Torchy takes to the skies to track down a band of killers. At 8:30 am, Farrell walks out on her own wedding to Steve to solve the case of a murdered actor in The Adventurous Blonde, from 1937. At 9:45 am, even the threat of a jail term for contempt can't keep Torchy from finding out who murdered a department store owner in Blondes at Work (1938). At 12:15 pm Torchy cracks a counterfeiting case in Torchy Gets Her Man (1938). Torchy sets out to catch a blackmailer in 1938’s Torchy Blaine in Chinatown (1:30 pm), directed by the one and only William Beaudine. We wrap up the marathon at 2:30 pm with Torchy Runs For Mayor (1939), as our favorite reporter becomes disillusioned after digging up the dirt on the local politicians and decides to run for office herself.
There is only one Torchy Blaine feature airing without Farrell and MacLane. That’s Torchy Blaine in Panama (1939), starring Lola Lane as Torchy and Paul Kelly as Steve McBride, airing at 11:00 am. When Farrell and MacLane left Warner Bros., the studio figured it could plug anyone in as Torchy and Steve with no questions asked. But they forgot the unique chemistry between Farrell and MacLane, and their popularity with audiences. Needless to say, the film did not do well.
RICARDO CORTEZ PRE-CODE FEST
April 27: Ricardo Cortez, one of the mainstays of Pre-Code cinema, has the morning and afternoon to himself with a mini-marathon of films. It all begins at 6:00 am, with the silent Torrent (1926), famous today as the film that introduced Greta Garbo to America. Following, in order: 8:00 am - The Younger Generation (1929); 9:30 am - The Maltese Falcon (1931); 11:00 am - Transgression (1931); 12:15 pm - Flesh (1932); 2:00 pm - The House on 56th Street (1933); 3:15 pm - Midnight Mary (1933); and 4:45 pm - The Phantom of Crestwood (1933).
Of particular note are two films. First, the original version of The Maltese Falcon, from 1931. This film is shown rarely on the network and is a must see. Those who think the 1941 version is the definitive version will be surprised at how faithful the original is to the book. What it lacks is the star power of Huston’s remake, although Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly and Thelma Todd as Iva Archer are way better looking than Mary Astor and Gladys George. And check out the underrated Una Merkel as Spade’s secretary, Effie.
The other Cortez flick to catch is Flesh, airing at 12:15 pm. Those who have seen the Coen Brothers Barton Fink will remember John Turturro as a respected New York writer signed by a Hollywood studio and given the assignment of writing a Wallace Beery wrestling film. This is the film the Coen Brothers are referring to: a 1932 drama directed by no less than John Ford for MGM and starring Wallace Beery, Karen Morley and Cortez.