Monday, May 1, 2017

Cinéma Inhabituel for May 1-15

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

We open with some sad news. Jonathan Demme, who won the Best Director Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs (1991), died on April 26 at the age of 73.

He was born Robert Jonathan Demme in Baldwin on Long Island on February 20, 1944, the son of Dorothy Louise (nee Rogers) and Robert Eugene Demme, a public relations executive. He graduated from Southwest Miami High School and the University of Florida. 

He broke into films working for Roger Corman as a writer and producer. He made the switch to director, helming three films for Corman’s New World company: the cult classic Caged Heat (1974), Crazy Mama (1975) with Cloris Leachman, and Fighting Mad (1976). 

Demme first garnered critical attention with Melvin and Howard (1980). Other noted films include Married to the Mob (1988), Philadelphia (1991), Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1998), and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004). 


On May 1, TCM salutes Danielle Darrieux on her 100th birthday with a slate of films beginning at 8 pm. We begin with The Rage of Paris from 1938. Darrieux had signed with Universal to try her chances in America. It’s a charming screwball comedy with Darrieux excellent as an unemployed model out to snare millionaire Louis Hayward. Also with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Mischa Auer.

At 9:30 Darrieux appears in Max Ophuls’ exquisite Le Ronde (1950), As adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play Reigen, a story about lovers who get together for brief encounters and afterward change partners in a chain that brings us full circle. However, unlike the play, which follows the spread of venereal disease among the participants, Ophuls instead infused the movie with his own viewpoint, which is that everybody is somebody’s fool.

It was difficult for Darrieux to return to the French silver screen due to her active collaboration with the Nazis during World War II, where she made films for Dr. Goebbels and even sang for German soldiers. But people forget with time and, as Darrieux was not prosecuted, this undoubtedly helped her in her comeback. 

At 11:15 Darrieux stars with Charles Boyer and Vittorio DeSica in The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) one of the best film to ever come out of France. (See my Best Bets in the May 1-7 TiVo Alert for more).

At 1:15 am it’s Darrieux and Kenneth More in Loss of Innocence (aka The Greengage Summer, 1961), a drama about the the transition of a teenage girl (Susannah York) into womanhood. Following at 3:15 am is Une Chambre en Ville (1982), Jacques Demy’s musical about a striking worker (Richard Berry) who falls in love with the middle-class daughter of his landlady (Darrieux). It’s a beautifully constructed film, with Demy moving the musical genre into a darker region, as he counters a tragedy with music.

Finally, at 5 am it’s  Rich, Young and Pretty (1951) from director Norman Taurog, a musical comedy starring Jane Powell, as rancher Wendell Corey’s daughter who goers to Paris, where she finds love (Vic Damone) and meets her birth mother (Darrieux). It sounds better than it is, but Darrieux is fine.


May 2: A double feature of Louis Malle begins at 2 am with the superbly dark The Fire Within (1963). Maurice Ronet stars as Alain Leroy, a recovering alcoholic who's drying out at an expensive rehab clinic in Versailles with his estranged wife footing the bill. He’d like to stay there forever, as there are no obligations and responsibilities, but as he’s cured, he must leave. He mulls over his options that night and comes to the conclusion that he’ll commit suicide the next day. The next morning he packs and heads for Paris, where he looks up the people he knew him as a sot. They remember him as a drunk and tell him that sober, he’s a lot worse-looking than he used to be. Eventually he begins drinking again, attends a dinner party that goes horribly wrong, and returns to the clinic, where the film draws to its conclusion. Jeanne Moreau stars as a woman who takes a shine to Alain, but can’t save him from himself.

Following at 4:00 am is the film that put Jeanne Moreau on the star map – Malle’s The Lovers (1958). The film brought about a round of protests when it debuted at the Venice Film Festival. Whereas previous films had discreetly faded to black before a heavy love scene, Malle instead lingered on the torrid lovemaking of the married Moreau with her younger lover Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory), who has injected new passion into her complacent bourgeois life. Moreau is simply stunning, and Alain Cuny terrific as her neglectful husband. When the movie premiered in America, the theater owner who showed it was brought up on obscenity charges. Needless to say it’s rather mild fare today, but back then the Puritans were out with a vengeance.


May 10: At 4 am Demy’s romance Model Shop (1969) is airing. It’s his first – and only – American film and concerns a 24-hour period in the life of unemployed architect George Matthews (Gary Lockwood), stuck in a dead-end relationship with an aspiring actress (Alexandra Hay). While attempting to raise enough money to save his car from the repo man, he espies a beautiful woman, dressed all in white, at a car lot. He begins following her around the city, eventually reaching her place of employment, a "model shop" where men pay to photograph women in a choice of intimate settings. He spends part of his car payment to snap photographs of her and learns that her name is Lola (Anouk Aimee), and she is a recently divorced French woman with no work permit. She’s working at the shop until she can raise enough money to purchase air fare back to Paris. Thus begins an intense night where he loves her but she cannot love him. The payoff at the end is muted, but entirely fitting.


May 14: A double feature of the Japanese director begins at 2:00 am with Odd Obsession (Kagi, 1959), a disappointing drama about a vain man (Ganjiro Nakamura) who, becoming impotent, steers his young wife (Machiko Kyo) into an affair with his daughter’s boyfriend (Tatsuya Nakadai) in an attempt to resurrect his virility, but things don’t work out as planned. Having read the book by Junichiro Tanizaki, I expected more than I got in this rather uneven soaper.

At 4 am comes a film I haven’t yet had the pleasure of viewing. Conflagration (Enjo, 1958) stars Raizô Ichikawa as aspiring Buddhist monk Goichi Mizoguchi, who becomes involved in the temple owned by his father (Jun Hamamura). Ichikawa uses a series of flashbacks, framed as a police interrogation, to reveal the story of Mizoguchi’s obsession with the temple, beginning with his childhood. It sounds good, and I’ll be recording.


May 2: Louis Wolheim is a ship’s captain taken in by bank robbers Mary Astor and husband Ian Keith in 1931’s The Sin Ship (9:30 am). Directed by Wolheim, it’s definitely worth seeing.

May 4: A packet of four Warner Pre-Code musicals, beginning at 12:45 pm with Gold Diggers of 1933 and continuing through Dames (1934) and Footlight Parade (1933), before ending with 42nd Street (1932) at 6:15 pm.

May 5: Wallace Beery is Pancho Villa in 1934’s Viva Villa at 6:00 pm.

May 15: An Alfred E. Green fest begins at 7:00 am. George Arliss is simply dazzling in the prehistoric Disraeli (1929). At 8:45 Doris Kenyon’s life spirals downward when hubby Louis Calhern catches her with William Powell in The Road to Singapore (1931), Powell’s first film for Warner Brothers.

At 10 am naval hero Douglas Fairbanks Jr. becomes a media celebrity against his wishes in It’s Tough to be Famous (1932), a film that still resonates today. At 11:30 am, Joan Blondell encounters down-on-his-luck con artist Douglas Fairbanks Jr, who has discovered a suitcase full of money at Union Depot (1932). Finally, at 12:45 pm, murderer-on-the-lam Fairbanks tries to lay low in the Pacific islands in 1933’s The Narrow Corner. The film was later remade as Isle of Fury with Humphrey Bogart and Margaret Lindsay in 1936.

Though it’s not Pre-Code, we recommend The Golden Arrow (1936) with Bette Davis and George Brent at 3:15 pm. It’s the picture that broke the back of Davis and caused her to flee to England to try and get out of her Warner Bros. contract.


We love May and June because that’s the time TCM usually drags out the sci-fi flicks for a night or two or even three of enjoyment. And this year is no different, with some of our faves being shown

May 4: We begin ay 8 pm with The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954). Think of it and its sequel Revenge of the Creature (following at 9:30) as King Kong in miniature, with the creature entranced by Julia Adams while scientists Richard Carlson, Richard Denning and Antonio Moreno try to study it. The film was inspired by a Mexican folk tale that tells of a creature who comes from the jungle once a year to secure a young maiden, after which the village can breathe easy for another year. The film was a box office bonanza for Universal and was followed by two sequels before running its course.

Speaking of King Kong, the big ape makes another appearance at 11 pm. 

At 1:15 am Toho Studios chines in with Mothra (1964) featuring the adorable Ito Twins (Emi and Yumi – a real-life singing duo known as The Peanuts), whose abduction from their home island of Baru triggers Mothra to go looking for them.

The one that started it all, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) airs at 3 am. With special effects by Ray Harryhausen, it’s one of the most beloved prehistoric beast-on-the-loose films. 

And at 5 am its the ridiculous Reptilicus (1961), about a prehistoric monster on the loose in Copenhagen, of all places. Beginning life as a strictly Danish monster film, directed by Poul Bang, it was picked up and remade in an all-English version by producer-director Sid Pink and released through AIP. Deemed unwatchable upon reviews, the studio had it extensively re-worked by its Danish-American screenwriter, Ib Melchior, before finally being released in America in 1962. This led to a lawsuit by Pink over the changes, but the suit was dropped. When we see the movie we can’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about. The monster looks like something carried in a Chinese New Year’s parade, and seen in HD we can easily spot the wires holding it up. Because of this we enthusiastically recommend it as a bad move not to be missed.

May 11: We begin at 8:00 with the classic Rodan (1957), followed at 9:30 by Willis O’Brien’s The Black Scorpion (1957). At 11:15 pm The Deadly Mantis (1957) premiers. Though it has its moments, it doesn’t have enough of them. Check out the MST 3000 version.

Beginning at 2:45 am, it’s two of the silliest sci-fi monster films ever made. We lead off with Bert I. Gordon’s Empire of the Ants, where a toxic spill causes our six-legged friends to grow to enormous size and imprison crooked realtor Joan Collins and her boat of suckers. Following at 4:30 am is The Giant Claw (1957), a film that starts off well, but hits bottom right after the monster is introduced. Co-stars Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday, who give believable performances, were under the assumption that Ray Harryhausen would be handling the special effects. But that hadn’t reckoned on producer Sam Katzman. Always looking for the cheapest way out, Jungle Sam went to a cheap studio in Mexico for his f/x. Result? The funniest looking buzzard seen in the movies. Both Morrow and Corday didn’t know about the switch until the movie premiered. The crowd was engulfed in the movie – until the buzzard appeared. The laughter was uproarious and both Morrow and Corday slunk down in their seats and snuck out of the theater, hoping not to be recognized. 


May 6: It’s Of Unknown Origin (1983) at 2:30 am, followed by the awful star-studded The Swarm (1978) at 4:00 am.

May 12: It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932) at 10:15 am  and Humphrey Bogart in The Return of Doctor X (1939) at 6:45 pm. (See our review here.)

May 13: Begin with The World’s Greatest Sinner (1965) at 2:30 am (music by Frank Zappa), followed at 4 am by Peter Graves in Bayou (aka Poor White Trash, 1957).


  1. Last summer, I watched a screening of EMPIRE OF THE ANTS with star Jacqueline Scott. She told some great stories about the making of it in Florida--a miserable affair for the cast.

    1. Oh, how I would love to hear those stories. I often wondered what went through Joan Collins' mind when she accepted the starring role. If ever you want to write an article about the film and MS. Scott, we would be honored to run it.