TCM TiVo ALERT
June 23-June 30
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
TOP HAT (June 23, 1:00 pm): As a general rule, I don't like musicals, especially those with dancing. (Don't confuse that with movies with great music in which people don't suddenly break out in song. I like a lot of those.) So what's different about Top Hat? At the top of the list is Fred Astaire. As with most musicals, the plot is secondary. He's a dancer who wakes up the woman (Ginger Rogers) living in an apartment below him with his tap dancing. He falls in love, there are a few misunderstandings, and the two eventually get together. Astaire has great charisma and charm, and his dancing is so natural looking. He makes it look as easy as walking. The storyline is typical of a good screwball comedies from the 1930s (this one came out in 1935). But it's the dancing and the memorable songs, written by Irving Berlin, such as "Cheek to Cheek" and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," that make this movie a must-see and among my favorite musicals.
CAGED (June 26, 2:45 pm): Unlike nearly all the others in the unusual but often-visited women-in-prison film genre, Caged is well acted. Eleanor Parker was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar as the young innocent Marie Allen, Agnes Moorehead is great as warden Ruth Benton, and Hope Emerson was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as the deliciously evil matron Evelyn Harper. Almost anything bad you can imagine happens to Marie: her new husband is killed in a robbery, she ends up in prison because she is waiting in the getaway car, she's pregnant while serving her sentence, she's victimized by other inmates and Harper, she has to give up her baby for adoption, and finally becomes bitter and hardened from all of her bad experiences. The story is similar to other women-in-prison movies minus the T&A. We still get a shower scene (no nudity as this is during the Code era) and the stereotypical prison lesbian. But there's a huge difference between Caged and the women-in-prison films of the 1970s. It's not only the excellent acting, but the powerful dialogue and actual plot – it was nominated for a Best Writing Oscar – that makes this gritty, stark, realistic film stand out among others in the genre.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (June 27, 12:30 pm): This is the original – and the best – version of James M. Cain’s classic novel (which also inspired Albert Camus, by the way). When it comes to noir, one would think that the MGM gloss was off-putting, but I think it actually helps the film. Garfield has never been better and Turner has never been more gorgeous. Not only can we see that they’re going to hook up, we can understand why they must hook up. The performances from the supporting cast are superb, the photography by Sidney Wagner is sharp and inviting, and Tay Garnett’s direction workmanlike, as he keeps the characters and the story in constant play. Despite the complaints of the changes in Cain’s original story (for censorship purposes), the film still outdoes the 1981 Nicholson-Lange remake in terms of the heat between the stars, not to mention the fact that Turner, while hardly a serious actress, ran rings around Lange’s performance.
ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (June 28, 2:15 pm): A gruesome and unsettling adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau starring Charles Laughton at his most fiendish as the mad doctor isolated on a remote island who is conducting experiments transforming jungle animals ostensibly into human brings, but in reality coming up with half-human abominations. Moreau's theory is that evolution can be sped up through experimental skin grafting. The man-beasts who populate the island know his laboratory as “the house of pain.” When Richard Arlen, the sole survivor of a shipwreck, arrives at the island Moreau wastes no time in trying to mate him with his most successful creation, a panther woman (Kathleen Burke). But Moreau’s empire comes crashing down after the arrival of Captain Donahue (Paul Hurst) and Parker's fiancee Ruth (Leila Hyams) who have come for the missing Arlen. The finale is equally gruesome as Moreau gets a taste of his own medicine from his creations. Banned in England, many film historians credit it with helping to speed enforcement of the Code.
WE AGREE ON ... THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (June 28, 1:00 pm)
ED: A. The original, and of the 18 remakes (!), still the best version based on the classic short story by Richard Connell. Said to be the second most used plot device (boy meets girl is the first), it’s about psychopathic hunter Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who has hunted every species on earth except for one: Man. On his isolated island, surrounded by coral reefs, he hunts any luckless person who happens to crash on his shores, adding them to his trophy case. When renowned big-game hunter Robert Rainsford (Joel McCrea) is marooned there, the game takes on a new life, as McCrea finds himself turned from honored guest to hunted prey. Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong are brother and sister, previous shipwreck survivors who are kept on the estate at Zaroff’s pleasure. Director Ernest B. Schoedsack keeps the action and the suspense moving without a let up. (Irving Pichel is listed as co-director, but it was Schoedsack’s film. Pichel worked more as a dialogue director.) Banks makes an excellent Zaroff, and when photographed at certain angles by cinematographer Henry W. Gerrard, he makes for an even more disturbing presence. (Banks had been wounded in the First World War resulting in a partially paralyzed face on his right side.) McCrea is his usual excellent self and Wray adds the required sex appeal. If the sets look somewhat familiar, it should come as no surprise, for the film was shot at the same time as King Kong (which was released later due to the time needed for special effects). One reason Schoedsack was interested in making the film was to show the futility and cruelty of hunting, and what better way for him to make his point? A note to bad film fans: Bloodlust, the 1961 remake, is featured as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
DAVID: A. This is a fast-moving 63-minute movie that has famous big-game hunter and writer Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) on the other end of the hunt. He is the lone survivor of a yacht that wrecks – we later find out it's not the first and it's no accident – and blows up in a pretty good bit of special effects for a 1932 film. After everyone else on the yacht is eaten by sharks, Rainsford ends up swimming ashore to a small island owned by Russian expatriate Count Zaroff (played deliciously evil by Leslie Banks), who lives there with a few henchmen and a pack of hunting dogs. Zaroff recognizes Rainsford and introduces him to two other previously shipwrecked guests, siblings Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her very drunk and clueless brother Martin (Robert Armstrong). That Martin gets it about 25 minutes or so into the film is a good thing as Armstrong's drunk schtick is the lone annoyance of this film. It turns out Zaroff is also a big game hunter, hunting the biggest game of all – he says ominously as he rubs the scar on the top of his head – man. He wants Rainsford to join him, but Rainsford is outraged and refuses. So the would-be hunter becomes the hunted. He and Eve are sent to the jungle to see if they can survive what Zaroff calls "outdoor chess." The action during the hunting part of the movie, filmed at night on the King Kong set, is nonstop and a lot of fun to watch. As Ed wrote, the storyline has been remade countless times, including episodes of TV comedies Gilligan's Island and Get Smart.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.