Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cinéma Inhabituel for June 16-30

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal by Terry Teachout focuses on TCM’s venture with the folks at Fathom Events in bringing classic films to big screen in multiplexes across the country. This is especially important in that many revival houses are dying out. Yes, big-screen TVs make it easier to watch letterboxed films (watching such a film on a 19-inch TV is like looking through the wrong end of telescope), but take it from one who’s been – there is nothing like watching a classic film on a big screen with an audience. Since my college days I’ve spent more time than I care to remember watching classic films in revival houses in New Jersey and New York City. In grad school my friend, Jean-Paul Garrieux and I spent many an hour glued to the screen at whatever revival house was playing what we were looking for. From Ivan the Terrible, Part 2 to Jules and Jim to Horse Feathers to Detour, we saw as many as time permitted. 

One of my happiest times was when I took my late wife to Radio City Music Hall to see a special showing of Casablanca, her favorite film, for her birthday. (It was actually playing a week before. She was blown away by seeing it for the first time on the big screen in a theater packed to the brim, 6,000 capacity). Preceding the film was a new (at the time) cartoon from Warner’s called Carrotblanca, a send up of the movie with Bugs, Daffy, Tweety, Sylvester and the gang. The audience ate it up. When the film came on, all was quiet except for the reaction to one scene when Major Strasser asks Rick if he can see the Germans marching into his beloved New York City. When Rick answered by advising Strasser that there were some parts of New York it wasn’t safe to invade, the house exploded in laughter. Everyone there knew the line was coming. That’s what made it so special. As I said, my wife absolutely loved it on the big screen, and later, at the restaurant, we found ourselves seated next to another couple that had seen it. We ended up putting our tables together and discussing the movie over dinner. Such is the big screen experience.    

Here’s Teachout describing his experience: 

For me, though, it was even more instructive to watch North by Northwest in the company of a theater full of other people, many of whom were clearly seeing the film for the first time. When you’re watching it by yourself, it’s easy to forget that North by Northwest is less a cloak-and-dagger adventure story than a high romantic comedy with a light glaze of thriller sauce. Why is this the case? Because most of us tend not to laugh out loud when we’re alone. Not so the audience with whom I saw it last week. Instead of sitting somberly like a bunch of grim-faced graduate students, we all hooted at Ernest Lehman’s fizzy, flawlessly timed one- and two-liners (“I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me”). We even clapped at the end! That’s what the Big Screen Classics series is all about: It’s a priceless reminder of what we miss by watching classic films at home instead of on a big screen in the company of a happy audience.”

David also has taken advantage of TCM’s program and saw one of his favorites, Planet of the Apes, at a multiplex. He explains his experience: Planet of the Apes is one of my all-time favorite films, one I've seen about 50 times. I own the original Planet five-movie series on DVD. Yet watching it so many times on TV is nothing in comparison to seeing it on the big screen. The film comes alive and it's a completely different experience – and in a lot of ways a completely different movie – than the one I've watched over the past several decades. You can take in the entire film and enjoy it in the way it was meant to be shown in a theater. When I went, there were barely a dozen people in the theater, but I was fortunate to go with a fellow Ape movie lover. The two of us recited several of the lines – it was such an empty theater that no one was nearby – and even gasped at the end of the film even though we knew exactly what was coming. I would highly recommend watching a classic film in a theater setting, particularly if it's one you love. (Read our essay on the film here.)

Other films from TCM and Fathom Events this year are as follows:

  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Sunday, July 30 & Wednesday, August 2)
  • Bonnie And Clyde (Sunday, August 13 & Wednesday, August 16)
  • E.T. (Sunday, September 17 & Wednesday, September 20)
  • The Princess Bride (Sunday, October 15 & Wednesday, October 18)
  • Casablanca (Sunday, November 12 & Wednesday, November 15)
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Sunday, December 10 & Wednesday, December 13)

There’s something for everybody here. So take a date, your wife, or your family. It really is an experience of a lifetime.


June 18: As usual, the best movies of the day begin at 2:00 am. And at that hour we begin with Wong Kar Wei’s Chungking Express (1994), a beguiling mixture of comedy, romance and drama. It can be best described as a “slice of life” film. In separate episodes, two rather melancholy policemen happen to fall in love. In the first story, which highlights the sadder side of love, Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who has just broken up with his girlfriend of five years, falls for a mysterious underworld figure (Brigitte Lin). In the second part, Cop 663 (Tony Leung) has also suffered a breakup and forms a relationship with a beautiful woman (Faye Wong) who works at the counter of a late-night restaurant he frequents. The setting of the film draws us in. Chungking is presented as a multicultural place and we hear dialogue in Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and Indian throughout the film. Both the acting and script are first rate, with the romance being applied in the right places instead of being allowed to dominate and pull the film down. Those who haven’t seen it will find it a nice surprise and quite compelling.

Following at 4:00 am is director Luchino Visconti’s Le Notti Bianche (White Nights, 1961). Based on “White Nights,” an early story written in 1848 by Dostoevsky, it revolves around two main characters, Natalia (Maria Schell) and Mario (Marcello Mastroianni), who live in the Italian city of Livorno, located on the Tuscan coast. Mario is a lonely, soulful man, happiest when simply wandering through the streets each evening. Natalia also is lonely: besides being shy she lives with her blind grandmother,  who is so protective that she pins their skirts together. Thus Natalia can't so go anywhere at all without alerting the old lady. They meet when he hears a woman crying in the street and walks over so see what is going on. It’s Natalia, who quickly warms to him after he scares off a bothersome man and comforts her by admitting how timid he is around strangers. They decide to meet at the same spot the next evening, where they learn more about each other.    

Natalia’s life is changed, and she begins a relationship with new boarder (Jean Marais) who has rented a room in her grandmother's house. She falls passionately in love with him, but he’s leaving for Moscow, where he hopes to improve his lot in life. He promises to come back in exactly a year and marry her if she's willing. Now the year is up and Natalia hasn't heard a word from him since he left. She fears she has lost him forever and opens up about this to Mario, who realizes that he loves her deeply, but uses this love to betray her by destroying a letter he has promised to deliver to her lover imploring him to return. Unaware of his actions, Natalia starts returning Mario’s affection, lending hope to his fondest dreams. However, her missing lover suddenly turns up. Though he’s three days late, he’s still head over heels about Maria. The story ends as it began, with Mario walking alone with only his thoughts on the darkening street.

June 24: Jean-Luc Godard takes us into the world of the absurd in Weekend (1968), itself airing at the absurd hour of 4:15 am. A husband and wife (Jean Yanne and Mireille Darc) are plotting the murder of her parents so they can get their hands on the inheritance money. That weekend they must travel to the parents’ home to pull of the murder. But along the route they watch a pair of drivers attack each other in the street, not realizing that soon they will be descending into a certain kind of hell as Godard weaves an absurdist nightmare. This was made as he began to deviate from the standard plot to delve into the pure absurd. Most of the movie is incomprehensible to a casual viewer and you will find yourself having to pay attention. Is it worth it? That is a question only the viewer can answer. Consider yourself warned.

June 25:  Pierre Etaix co-wrote, directed, and stars in Yo Yo (1965), a gentle and very funny comedy about the son of a ruined (in the 1929 crash) millionaire and his love, a horse rider in the circus. Their son, Yo Yo, dreams of restoring his father’s castle to the splendor he remembers from childhood. After World War II, Yo Yo resumes his career, becoming an international star of music halls, the cinema, and television. After spending a fortune realizing his dream, he gives a huge party to welcome his father and mother back to the castle, but thing do not go as he planned. Etaix was a disciple of Jacques Tati and worked as a writer on Mon Oncle (1958). The film reflects the influence on Etaix of Chaplin, Lloyd, and Laurel and Hardy. I think it’s safe to say that Etaix is not like those who came before him and he is just as funny without becoming maudlin in the process. Give it a view.


June 20: Louis Wolheim, he of the battered nose and bulldog look, is having an evening dedicated to his films. At 8:00 pm it’s Gentleman’s Fate (1931). Louis is a gangster whose sheltered brother, John Gilbert, is left half of his father’s bootlegging business when their father contracts a fatal dose of lead poisoning. At 9:45 pm Wolheim is bootleg king Nick Scarsi in the silent classic, The Racket (1928), directed by Lewis Milestone. At 11:30 pm Wolheim is a railroad boss who gives a job to a drifter and regrets it when the drifter begins moving in on his girl, Jean Arthur in Danger Lights (1930), a film for railroad buffs. At 1:00 am Wolheim’s a lusty ship captain put in his place by passenger Mary Astor in The Sin Ship (1931). Louis and William Boyd fight to escape the Germans while fighting over Mary Astor in the silent Two Arabian Knights (1927). Finally, at 4:15 am, Wolheim looks on as Joel McCrea is trapped between shady lady Evelyn Brent and good girl Jean Arthur in The Silver Horde (1930).


June 23: Catch Fred and Ginger in the film that made them Fred and Ginger, Flying Down to Rio (1933), at 11:30 am. Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond were the stars, but all eyes were on Fred and Ginger and the amazing chemistry they generated.

June 24: At the early hour of seven in the morning It’s Robert Flaherty’s amazing documentary, Man of Aran, from 1934. Flaherty examines the lives of the native of the barren Aran Islands, located in Galway Bay, north of Ireland, and the daily struggle for existence they face battling the sea from which they get their sustenance. Some of the scenes at sea are truly breathtaking.

June 27: At 8:00 am it’s the excellent drama, What Price Hollywood? from 1932. Lowell Sherman is a drunken director who helps waitress Constance Bennet gain a foothold the business. She rises to become a star while he sinks ever deeper into an alcoholic morass. Leonard Maltin says it’s a sharp-eyed look at behind-the-scenes Hollywood and helped to inspire the 1937 A Star is Born.  

June 29: A bloc of Pre-Codes begins at 8:30 am with the Joan Blondell-Stuart Erwin comedy, Make Me a Star (1932). Erwin is a grocery clerk who, after taking a mail-order acting course, decides to go out to Hollywood and try his luck. Blondell is a sympathetic actress who gets him a job in a Western parody. The only problem is that no one bothers to tell the poor guy that he’s the comic relief. 

Following at 10:15 am is Man Hunt (1933), a  run-of-the-mill programmer about a teen detective (Junior Durkin) who helps the daughter (Charlotte Henry) of a jewel thief. 

At 11:30 am it’s Richard Dix and Elizabeth Allen in No Marriage Ties, from RKO in 1933. Dix is a sports reporter who gets drunk in a speakeasy and forgets his assignment, for which he is fired. For solace he returns to the speakeasy, where he overhears two men discussing a toothpaste ad campaign. He saunters over and rattles off a number of clever slogans and so impresses them that he is hired as a copywriter. Soon he rises to partner, which is the beginning of his downfall. It’s not much of a picture, but Dix, as always, gives an excellent performance.

And rounding things out at 1:00 pm, it’s Ginger Rogers in Rafter Romance (1933), a comedy about a sales clerk (Rogers) who falls for a night shift worker (Foster) with our realizing they share the same apartment. The film was thought to be “lost,” but it was rediscovered and restored by TCM. Turns out it was one of six RKO film that were removed from the studio’s library when they were sold to former studio executive Merian C. Cooper in 1946. 


June 17: When he’s framed for robbery, Chester Morris sets out to find the real thief in Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942), at 10:30 am.

At 2:00 am TCM once again runs the awful double feature of Punk Vacation (1990), followed by Killer Party (1986) at 3:35 am. C'mon, TCM, these flicks have been repeated enough over the year. Give it a rest. I love psychotronic films, but enough is enough.

June 21: Dementia 13 (1963), an early effort from Francis Ford Coppola for Roger Corman, airs at 4:45 pm.

June 23: Ride the Wild Surf (1964), starring Fabian and Shelley Fabares, will be shown at 9:30 am. At 5:00 am those interested can catch Gidget Goes to Rome (1963), with Cindy Carol as the title character and James Darren returning as Moondoggie. It was the last appearance for Gidget in the movies. Next stop, a television series in 1965.

June 27: A James Caan double feature begins at 8:00 pm with the dystopian Rollerball (1975), followed immediately by his turn as a stranded astronaut in Robert Altman’s Countdown (1968).

June 28: A bloc of psychotronic classics begins at 11:45 am with Bela Lugosi in White Zombie (1932). At 1:00 pm it’s Joel McCrea and Leslie Banks in the wonderful The Most Dangerous Game (1932). Charles Laughton is magnificent in Island of Lost Souls (1933) at 2:15 pm. Following at 3:30, Eric Porter and Hildegard Knef lead a crew of stranded sailors on Hammer’s The Lost Continent (1968), where they battle man-eating seaweed, giant crabs, and Spanish conquistadors who still think the Inquisition is on. Finally, Boris Karloff stars in Val Lewton’s grim tale of the plague during the Balkan Wars, Isle of the Dead (1945), at 5:00 pm.


June 16: At 7:45 am comes one of the great stinkers of the screen, a movie that’s a perfect combination of unintended humor mixed with the right amount of camp. It’s none other than Liberace himself in Sincerely Yours (WB, 1955). In this wild remake of  the 1932 drama, The Man Who Played God, starring George Arliss. Liberace stars as a concert pianist (What else?) who loses his hearing. Like Arliss in the original, Lib sits in the balcony of his apartment with a pair of binoculars watching the people in the park across the street. Learning lip reading, he learns of their problems and being the great guy he is, helps them all out – even his secretary, who has fallen for another man. It’s a campy schmaltzfest, and the hospital scene near the end when Lib has his operation and the doctor is testing to see if his hearing has returned, is an absolute hoot, as is the ending with Lib tap dancing for all his wonderful fans. Warner’s originally had Liberace signed to multi-picture deal, but after the returns on this turkey, they decided to forget about it. David and I recommend you record this for later viewing, as it’s best viewed by a group along with plenty of popcorn and drinks. Smart remarks back to the screen are always welcome. How this ever missed out being on Mystery Science Theater is beyond us.


  1. Great post. I invite you to add it to this week's The Classic Movie Marathon Link Party.

  2. Watching Sincerely Yours now. You are correct, it is a stinker.