A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
June is busting out all over, with some real gems among the usual.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
June 4: A double feature from Spain begins at 2:00 am with Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989). Antonio Banderas is Ricky, a mentally unbalanced man who takes porn star Marina (Victoria Abril) prisoner in the hope that he’ll be able to convince her to marry him. Though I usually complain about quality foreign films being buried in the Sunday Night Graveyard Shift, this is a good example of a film that should be shown at this hour. Originally rated X, the rating was changed with the introduction of NC-17. The reason for the rating was a sexually explicit scene of Marina being aroused by a toy diver in the bathtub. As TCM has a policy of not editing movies, I wonder if they’ll go through with this showing. Only one way to find out . . .
Following at 4:00 am is Barrios altos (1987), from director José Luis García Berlanga, a story of a recently divorced woman (Victoria Abril) drawn into danger when Carlos (Abel Folk), her masseuse, is murdered. He had left her a message on her answering machine with directions to pick up a package. She must find his killer before the killer finds her.
June 9: One of the most sublime comedies ever made, Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), is airing at 3:45 am. Read our essay on it here. It’s followed by Cours du sour (Evening Classes, 1967), a short with star Jacques Tati as a teacher instructing his acting class about the subtleties of certain types of people. Though his students are eager, they’re not very talented.
June 10: At 4:00 am it’s Shirley Clarke’s The Connection (1962), a unique independent effort chronicling a day in the lives of New York junkies. Eight addicts are waiting in the apartment of Leach (Warren Finnerty) for Cowboy (Carl Lee), their dealer, to deliver their heroin. Aspiring young filmmaker, Jim Dunn (William Redfield) agrees to pay for the heroin if the addicts will allow him and his cameraman, J.J. Burden (Roscoe Lee Browne) to film the connection scene. After the men get their fixes, they talk Dunn into trying heroin so that he may obtain a “first hand” understanding of the subject. He becomes ill and while sleeping, Leach takes an overdose that puts him into a coma. Dunn recovers, with the aid of Cowboy, and writes off the film as a failure, handing over the footage to J.J. It’s dated, it frequently wanders off track, but it still makes for interesting viewing.
June 11: Two compelling films from Japan that are definitely off the beaten track. First up at 2:00 am is Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun zankoku monogatari, 1960), a hard-edged portrait of two delinquents who specialize in blackmail. Makoto (Miyuki Kuwano) is a disaffected high school girl who spends her evenings hanging out in a bar, then hitching a ride home with whatever man she's met. One night the man who gives her a lift isn't content with dropping her off, but tries to force himself on her. A stranger named Kiyoshi (Yûsuke Kawazu) comes along. He not only beats the assailant up, but gets the man to pay him to keep quiet. But this is no story of a knight riding to the rescue of a lady in distress. They turn this first encounter into a regular money-making scheme, with Makoto luring middle-aged men into compromising situations so Kiyoshi can "save" her and extort their cash. Makoto also becomes pregnant with Kiyoshi's child. Makoto's older sister’s onetime boyfriend, an idealistic physician, gives Makoto an abortion at Kiyoshi's insistence. It’s not a film that ends well, as writer-director Nagisa Oshima sets out to show how a materialistic society plants seeds of amorality and angst in its younger generation. It’s sort of like Rebel Without a Cause, but with a much, much sharper edge.
Following at 4:00 am is Oshima’s 1970 opus, Boy (Shonen), a story based on a real-life case of a 10-year-old boy whose World War II veteran father and stepmother make their living by pretending to be hit by cars and extorting money from the drivers. Because of the nature of their trade, the family moves frequently from town to town, living a feast-or-famine existence. Eventually, the boy (his parents never refer to him by name, but only as "Boy") learns the ins and outs and joins the family business.
June 12: At 1:45 pm, the astonishing political film, The Battle of Algiers (1966) airs. Given all that happening today vis-a-vis international terrorism, the film remains as relevant as the day it was made and is a must see.
POWELL AND PRESSBURGER
One of the most enduring and creative partnerships in the history of the movies has been that of director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger. Their films, noted for their humanity, always managed to involve the human mind while touching the human heart, without recourse to the overly sentimental or the obvious.
June 14: A night of the famous duo’s films commences at 8:00 pm with the classic A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven, 1947). David Niven is unforgettable as an injured RAF pilot during World War II who must argue his case to go on living before a celestial court.
At 10:00 pm it’s their classic of human drama, Black Narcissus (1947), a harrowing tale of Episcopal about nuns trying to establish a mission in a remote Himalayan outpost while faced not only with formidable physical challenges, but challenges to the human spirit as well. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography won an Oscar, as did art director Alfred Junge. As with all of their films the human drama is intensified by the quality of the acting from an impressive cast that includes Deborah Kerr, Sabu, Flora Robson, and Jean Simmons.
Hour of Glory (1949) follows at midnight., a seldom seen, but harrowing tale of an embittered bomb disposal officer in World War II London who must fight the demons that come with alcohol. Jack Hawkins, David Farrar and Kathleen Byron star. This film truly fits the definition of Forgotten Gem.
At 2:00 am is scheduled one of the duo’s most subtle excursions into the residency of the human spirit, I Know Where I’m Going (1945), a story about a headstrong young woman (Wendy Hiller) whose plan in life is to marry for money. Stranded in a Scottish seacoast town, her plans are interrupted when she meets naval officer Roger Livesay. There’s very little plot to speak of, but it’s the abundance of charm and wit that draws us into this beautifully scripted character study.
Finally, at 3:45 am, comes on of their most overlooked and underrated gems, A Canterbury Tale (1944), a wonderful examination of the nature of miracles set along the road made so famous by Chaucer. A visiting Tommy (Dennis Price) teams with an American sergeant (John Sweet) and a farm girl (Sheila Sim) to solve the mystery of the “Glueman,” a mysterious figure who pours glue into women’s hair. They are aided by the local magistrate (Eric Portman) as their search takes them to Canterbury, where their miracles are granted. This is an extraordinary film, moving in its subtlety and one that should best be recorded, due to its late hour.
June 1: A morning of four Pre-Code films featuring Frank Morgan begins at 6:00 am with the rarely shown Secrets of the French Police (1932), a mystery about crimes committed why hypnotized women that unfortunately becomes entangled in its own plot. Gwili Andre, Gregory Ratoff and Murray Kinnell star along with Morgan. At 7:15 am it’s the tepid musical Broadway to Hollywood (1933) with Morgan as a vaudevillian played at different times in his life by Jackie Cooper and the young Mickey Rooney. It’s followed at 8:45 by the gem of the bunch, The Half-Naked Truth (1933) with the irrepressible Lee Tracy as a carnival pitchman who turns sideshow dancer Lupe Velez into an overnight sensation. Morgan turns in a wonderful performance as a nervous Ziegfeld type and the always excellent Eugene Palette is escape artist Achilles. The morning wraps up at 10:15 with The Cat and the Fiddle (1934), a musical gem based on a Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein operetta about a struggling composer (Ramon Novarro) in love with a singer (Jeanette MacDonald). Frank Morgan throws monkey wrenches into Novarro’s careful constructed plans.
June 3: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is a down on his luck con artist who finds a suitcase full of money in Union Station (1932), airing at 1:00 am. Joan Blondell is excellent as a stranded chorus girl Fairbanks ultimately helps. A nice little fast-paced gem of a movie.
June 5: Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper star in the best adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s World War I drama, A Farewell to Arms (1932), airing at 2:15 pm. But as our David Skolnick points out in his synopsis, it’s Adolphe Menjou who steals the movie right out from under them.
June 6: Loretta Young stars in Midnight Mary (1933), William Wellman’s drama of an abused orphan who enters a life of crime, at 12:30 pm. Ricardo Cortez and Franchot Tone co-star.
June 9: William Powell is Philo Vance in the excellent The Kennel Murder Case (1933), solving what looks like a suicide. Mary Astor and the reliable Eugene Pallette provide sterling support. Michael Curtiz directs. (Read our essay on it here.) The film is showing at noon.
At 1:30 pm Bette Davis is a party hardy who gets involved in a stolen securities scheme and meets an ignoble end in Fog Over Frisco (1934). Margaret Lindsay is her sober stepsister. Donald Woods also stars.
Ending the trio is not only one of the best Pre-Code films ever made, but one of the best films, period. It’s none other William Powell and Myrna Loy in the mystery, The Thin Man (1934). Forget about the plot. Who cares about the plot? We’re here to see Powell and Loy in action. ‘Nuff said.
June 12: At 8:15 am it’s the movie that destroyed Lee Tracy’s career as a headliner: Viva Villa (1934). This tale about Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa (Wallace Beery) is more notable what what happened offscreen than for what took place on it. Tracy, who had a long standing problem with alcohol, stood stark naked on a Mexico City hotel balcony and urinated on some Mexican cadets standing below, creating an international incident and necessitating his replacement by Stuart Erwin.
June 14: Joel McCrea falls for soon-to-be sacrificial pawn Dolores Del Rio in Bird of Paradise (1932) at 7:15 am. (It’s repeated on July 19 at 7:45 am.) Following at 8:45 am is the creaky Girl of the Port (1930). Set in Fiji, stranded showgirl Josie (Sally O’Neil) meets shellshocked veteran Jim (Reginald Sharland) and brings him back to health.
June 15: A trio of Pre-Code films begins at 7:30 am with William Powell in the rarely shown Private Detective 62 (1933). He’s a private eye in Paris who falls hard for the woman (Margaret Lindsay) he’s investigating. At 8:45 am the one and only Greta Garbo stars as the one and only spy Mata Hari (1932). And at noon, Marion Davies and Gary Cooper star in the Civil Way spy drama Operator 13 (1934).
EDGAR G. ULMER
TCM devotes an entire evening to the films of noted psychotronic director Edgar G. Ulmer, a man who frequently had to make $10,000 look like $1,000,000.
June 6: We begin at 8:00 pm with Ulmer’s classic expressionistic horror story, The Black Cat (1934), marking the first teaming of Lugosi and Karloff. Next is The Cavern (1965, 9:15 pm), a war drama about soldiers and civilians trapped in a cave full of supplies in Italy. John Saxon, Rosanna Schiaffino and Larry Hagman star.
The evening moves on with The Naked Dawn (1955) at 11:00 pm. It’s a modern Western starring Eugene Iglesias and Betta St. John as a Mexican couple whose life is upended by the appearance of charming bandit Santiago (Arthur Kennedy) who has eyes for the missus. This is a film beloved by Ulmer fans and is definitely worth a peek.
At 12:45 am comes Ulmer’s sci-fi classic The Man From Planet X (1951), about an alien whose initial intent is friendly, but who turns deadly when scientist Dr. Mears (William Schallert) takes him prisoner with intent to exploit him. It takes a close look to see just how cheap this production is. Ulmer does a fantastic job of hiding much of the cheapness through the use of a fog machine to approximate the Scottish moors. It’s also a treat to see Schallert as the bad guy and with more than a couple of lines to recite.
TCM airs Detour (1945) following at 2:15 am. A study of fate, it stars Tom Neal and Ann Savage, who gives one of the most unforgettable performances in the history of movies. Critics have hailed it as the greatest B-movie ever made, and I have to agree. Following right after at 3:45 am is Her Sister’s Secret (1946), competent weepie with Margaret Lindsay as a woman who adopts her sister’s illegitimate child, only to see the GI father show up intent on starting a family.
The evening closes with one of Ulmer’s ultra-cheapies, The Amazing Transparent Man (1960). Megalomaniac ex-Army major Paul Krenner (James Griffith) forces scientist Dr. Peter Ulof (Ivan Triesault) to develop a radiation-based technique to turn men invisible, a technique he plans to sell to the highest bidder. In need of more radium for the treatment Krenner breaks safecracker Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy) out of prison and subjects him to the invisibility treatment to make it impossible to catch him. But the treatment has a side effect no one counted on.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
There is seemingly something for everyone in this month’s selection of psychotronic movies.
June 2: John Carradine stars as Reinhard Heydrich in Douglas Sirk’s excellent Hitler’s Madman (1943) at 10:30 am, about the assassination of the Nazi leader in Prague by Czech resistance agents. Following at noon, Christopher Lee is Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966).
June 3: At 4:15 pm TCM is screening James Whale’s Classic, Frankenstein (1931). Later, beginning at 2:00 am, it’s Jeanne Bell and Rosanne Katon lead a band of female pirates who go undercover at a prison camp on a coffee plantation to rescue their leader's sister in The Muthers (1976). Jayne Kennedy is also in the cast. It’s followed at 4:15 am by the beautiful Tamara Dobson who takes on the scene-chewing Shelley Winters in the Blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones (1973).
June 5: Vincent Price headlines the William Castle shocker House on Haunted Hill (1958) at 10:45 am, followed by Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu in The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) at 12:15 pm.
June 8: Escaped convicts hold hostages in a ghost town that's the target of a nuclear bomb test in Split Second (1953) from RKO at 8:45 am. At 4:45 pm Wayne Morris, Brenda Marshall and Alexis Smith headline The Smiling Ghost (1941), followed by Eleanor Parker and Sydney Greenstreet in the eerie The Woman in White (1948),
June 10: Reporter Lee Tracy investigates “the full moon murders” in Doctor X (1932) at 6:00 am. (Read our essay on it here.) Then it’s John Carradine, John Agar and Jean Byron in Invisible Invaders (1959). At 10:30 am Chester Morris sets out to prove the innocence of escaped convict Larry Parks in Alias Boston Blackie (1942).
June 11: Framed murder suspect Alan Curtis need the help of a mystery woman to prove his innocence in the excellent Phantom Lady (1944) at 10:00 am. Franchot Tone and Ella Raines co-star.
June 13: Marlene Dietrich and Arthur Kennedy star in Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious (1952) at 4:15 am.
June 14: TCM devotes an afternoon to the Psychotronic beginning at 1:00 pm with Roger Corman’s Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961). Following in order are Tod Browning’s The Devil-Doll (1936); the absurd tale of a killer tree in From Hell It Came (1957); and Val Lewton’s lyrical I Walked With a Zombie (1943). Finally, at 6:15 pm the Dave Clark Five star in John Boorman’s Having a Wild Weekend (1965), a different kind of pop idols movie as the band play disaffected stuntmen. Recommended.
June 2: Mickey Mouse and friends battle Hollywood stars in a polo match in Mickey’s Polo Team (1936) at 12:30 am.