Thursday, April 13, 2017

TCM TiVo Alert for April 15-22

April 15–April 22


DODSWORTH (April 17, 1:15 am): This 1936 film is one of the best film you likely haven't seen. If you have seen it, you know what I mean. Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is a rich automobile manufacturer who loves his job, but is convinced to retire early by his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), a vain woman who is fearful of growing old. She wants to see the world, particularly Europe, lead an exciting life. Sam is a regular guy who wants to please his wife. Fran quickly grows bored of Sam and spends most of her time with other men. She eventually dumps him for a European noble, leaving Sam to mope around Italy, where he sees a divorcee (Mary Astor), who he first met while traveling on the Queen Mary to Europe. The two fall in love, but Fran wants to reconcile. I won't ruin the ending. Everything works exceptionally well in this film. The acting is top-notch (besides the three leads, David Niven is great in a smaller role in one of his earliest films, and Maria Ouspenskaya as a baroness is a scene-stealer), the story is first-rate, and with William Wyler as the director, the movie is filmed and paced perfectly.

BEDLAM (April 18, 9:45 am): A dark film that shows how great of an actor Boris Karloff was. In this 1946 RKO picture, Karloff's character runs an insane asylum in 18th century London. He is devious and cruel, horribly mistreating the patients at the madhouse, and going to great lengths to make sure no one finds out what's actually happening there. When a young, innocent woman (played by Anna Lee) gets too nosy, she finds herself committed and subjected to all the horrors Karloff's character can come up with. While it has some of the traits of a horror film, it's more of a disturbing film as you could easily see how a place like this could exist. 


M (April 18, 6:00 am): Peter Lorre become an international star in director Fritz Lang’s masterpiece about a psychotic child murderer at large in Weimar Berlin. Along the way, we get a tour of the Berlin underworld at its seediest, populated with prostitutes, haggard mothers, unemployed fathers and street criminals. The film was scripted by Lang and his then-wife, Thea Von Harbor. Their aim was to make a film about the most reprehensible type of criminal on the streets. They hit the bulls-eye. It’s impossible to watch this film without becoming emotionally involved and rooting for the criminals of Berlin to track him down, capture him and place him on trial, for the child murderer is the lowest of the low. Lorre gives a mesmerizing performance as Hans Beckert, the murderer, portraying Beckert as a quiet, retiring type whose facade of gentle manner and appearance hide the demons lurking beneath. Unfortunately for Lorre, the role led to a lifetime of casting as villains, even in Warner Bros. cartoons. A Must See.

THE BIG HOUSE (April 20, 4:00 pm): Technically, it wasn’t the first prison drama to come from Hollywood, but it was the first one that talked, and it was certainly one of the most powerful, setting the template for years to come. They’re all here, the prison characters that have become clichéd over the years: the innocent (Robert Montgomery), jailed for vehicular manslaughter and thrown into a cell with two of the hardest convicts ever to break a rock: forger and thief Chester Morris, and the totally uncouth and murderous Wallace Beery, aptly nicknamed “Machine Gun” for his antics outside the walls. Lewis Stone is the warden, trying hard to keep a lid on this simmering pot that could explode at any minute. Directed with innovation by George William Hill and written by his wife, Frances Marion, who toured San Quentin with notebook in hand to record observations of prison life and conversations with convicts and officials alike. The best thing about this film is, except for an unnecessary romantic subplot, it still packs quite a punch when seen today, which is quite a compliment.


ED: C. Warner Bros. had a unique talent for remaking their movies, and, although many film fans don’t know it (because it’s rarely screened), this film is actually a remake of The Life of Jimmy Dolan from 1933 with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Loretta Young, and Aline MacMahon with Garfield stepping to the Fairbanks role as a prizefighter on the lam whose cynicism fades under the spell of a good woman. The film is Garfield’s – he’s a distinct improvement on Fairbanks Jr. in the role. But, as astounding as it seems to us today, Garfield wasn’t the film’s main attraction. That would have been the Dead End Kids, whom Warners’ was pushing. Now, without them, the film would have been no great shakes, for although Garfield is superb in an early role, co-star Claude Rains is sleepwalking through the proceedings, and the ham antics of the Dead End Kids (who, with the exception of Huntz Hall, use the same names they did in Dead End) only serve to pull the film down. Gloria Dickson also gives good reasons why she never made it past the B’s. She’s definitely lackluster. The only reason I even give this film a “C” is because of Garfield alone, but even he can’t rescue this from being a mess.

DAVID: B+. There are few "actors" I loathe as much as the Dead End Kids, later to become the even more annoying Bowery Boys (as well as the East Side Kids and the Little Tough Guys). And Billy Halop may be the worst on-screen personality I've ever seen. However, they are excellent in 1937's Dead End, the movie version of the play in which they starred. They're not bad in They Made Me a Criminal, released two years later. What's so impressive about this film is, as Ed wrote, John Garfield. He has star written all over him, and he more than lives up to that. It was made for the Dead End Kids, but Garfield carries the film with skillful acting and great charisma. He's a boxer on the lam, wrongly accused of a murder committed by his manager, but pinned on him. It can be somewhat cliche, but not predictable. Garfield's performance is so magnificent you don't pay attention to anything else but him. Busby Berkeley, the famous musical director and one of Ed's all-time favorites, does a fine directing job in this non-dance film though you can see some of his legendary choreography in the fight scenes.

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

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