TCM TiVo ALERT
April 23–April 30
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
BRUTE FORCE (April 23, 10:00 am): This is one of the best films about life in prison. The central focus is the tense-filled relationship between Hume Cronyn, the prison's chief of security, and Burt Lancaster as Joe Collins, the tough inmate who cannot be broken. Lancaster, as usual, is brilliant, compelling and authentic in Brute Force, only his second film. This is easily Cronyn's best performance. The lessons of the film are important, particularly that nobody can truly escape prison even upon release as the scars stay with ex-cons forever. It's brutal and realistic and well worth seeing.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (April 26, 1:45 am): Among the classic films released in 1967 were The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Point Blank and the best of the bunch, In the Heat of the Night. The latter pairs one of cinema's most under-appreciated actors, Rod Steiger, with one of film's most respected (and rightfully so) actors, Sidney Poitier. In the Heat of the Night gives the viewers an authentic view of racism in the South during the era of the Civil Rights movement. Steiger is the sheriff of a racist town working with Poitier, a police detective from Philadelphia, to solve a murder while overcoming significant challenges. The film won five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for Steiger.
ED’S BEST BETS:
FLESH (April 27, 12:15 pm): An odd little number directed by John Ford, about Polakai (Wallace Beery), a simple, good-hearted wrestler in Weimar Germany who falls for recently sprung, hardboiled moll Laura Nash (Karen Morely). She plays the good-natured slob like a fine-tuned fiddle, getting him to spring her criminal boyfriend Nicky (Ricardo Cortez) by telling him that he’s her brother. Pregnant by Nicky, she talks Polakai into marrying her, convincing him into believing the baby is his own. They move to America, where Polakai wrestles professionally and pursues the world’s championship. But with Nicky as his manager, Polakai is receiving advice to throw bouts instead of actually trying to win legitimately. In the end, Polakai gets wise, a discovery that – in spite of his gullible good nature – he has a will of his own, a discovery that has fatal consequences for Nicky. The film was the basis for the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink, about an esteemed writer convinced to come to circa 1941 Hollywood, only to find he’s been assigned to write a Wallace Beery wrestling picture.
HE WALKED BY NIGHT (April 30, 10:00 am): An amazing noir based on the true story of Erwin Walker, a World War II vet who turned to crime and terrorized Los Angeles in 1946. Told in semi-documentary style, the film follows the career of Davis Morgan (Richard Basehart) a man with a taste for electronic equipment who, caught in the act, kills a policeman and becomes a wanted killer. The film focuses on his pursuers and the methods they use to track him down, highlighted by great writing and meticulous camerawork, especially in the final scenes when Morgan is hunted down in the drainage systems of L.A. Jack Webb, who had a minor part in the film, later built his radio and television hit, Dragnet, around it.
WE DISAGREE ON ... FUNNY GIRL (April 24, 8:00 pm)
ED: A. This is an amazing tour-de-force for the young Barbra Streisand, long before the days in which she reincarnated herself as a Deep Thinker and began to spout on every subject under the sun. No, in those days she was simply Streisand, a wonderful singer and song-stylist. Since she starred in the Broadway musical of the same name, it was a simple task to move her over to the film adaptation. Sure, the sets look particularly phony and to say that the script is contrived is to put it lightly, but who goes to see a musical for the sets and script? We go to see a musical for the performances, and most of all, for the music. And the film doesn’t let us down. A strong supporting cast backs Streisand, with Kay Medford, Lee Allen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Frank Faylen giving solid turns (I would have included Omar Sharif, but the longer the movie goes on the more annoying he gets to me), and the great William Wyler as her director. A great score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill gave us songs (“People,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “I’m the Greatest Star”) that are standards today. Now, if you’re looking for a real biography of Fanny Brice, I suggest you buy a bio of her life. But if you’re looking for an enjoyable two and a half hours, this is the perfect ticket and a great example of the ‘60s musical.
DAVID: C-. In my never-ending quest to see all the films in The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made book (I've seen about 750 of them) I have to endure some real stinkers such as Funny Girl. There's very little that's funny about this film. The plot is dull and lifeless – and this is after they fictionalized the life of Fanny Brice to make this more interesting. They failed. The movie is too much of a bad thing. To quote Roger Ebert's original review, the 1968 film "is perhaps the ultimate example of the roadshow musical gone overboard. It is over-produced, over-photographed and over-long." It clocks in at two-and-a-half hours, and is a chore to watch. The movie is slow paced and only gets worse as it goes on. I generally dislike musicals and this one did nothing to change my mind. While "People" is a good tune, the rest of the songbook is forgettable. William Wyler was a wonderful director, but he did an awful job with this film. Most critics have kind words for Barbra Streisand's performance in this movie, but she's just too much and Wyler fails to reign her in, and the rest of the actors are simply awful. It's far from being the worst movie or musical ever made, but it's a bad film that fails to entertain.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.