TCM TiVo ALERT
August 1–August 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
DEAD END (August 4, 6:00 am): I hate the Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/Bowery Boys. But their first movie: a gritty, authentic look at life in the slums of New York City is a keeper. It's based on a play of the same name and the movie is filmed like a play. Humphrey Bogart as Baby Face Martin, a gangster who returns to his childhood neighborhood, shows flashes of brilliance in this film that would return in movies such as Casablanca, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon and Key Largo. As for the kids, Billy Halop (as Tommy Gordon, the leader of the gang) is one of the most annoying movie actors I've seen. This is easily his best role as it's downhill for him after this film. Also, the other kids – Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall and Billy Jordan – peak with this film. The film also sports nice performances by Joel McCrea as an unemployed architect down on his luck and Claire Trevor as the neighborhood prostitute with syphilis.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE UNKNOWN (August 3, 2:00 pm): When Lon Chaney and Tod Browning teamed up they made some of the best and most unusual fits of Chaney’s career. The Unknown may just be the weirdest of the lot. Chaney is “Alonzo the Armless Wonder,” an armless knife thrower who uses his feet to thrown the knives. In actually he’s a criminal on the run and only pretends to be armless, being strapped into a straitjacket type of restraint before each performance. The love of his life is his assistant, Nanon (Joan Crawford). They could be together if not for her abnormal fear of having a man’s arms around her. Chaney is so besotted that he has his arms amputated for real to prove to her his love. After he returns from the operation he finds her in the arms of Malabar the strongman (Norman Kerry), who has cured her of this fear. It’s right out of Grand Guignol and remains one of the creepiest movies ever made.
BORN TO KILL (August 4, 8:00 pm): A brutal noir that has become a cult classic thanks to the performance of Lawrence Tierney. Tierney’s a psychopathic murderer, given to violent rages. He’s just murdered a couple in Reno, Nevada. Claire Trevor discovers the bodies, but not wanting to get involved, she catches the first train to San Francisco. Aboard the train she meets Tierney and is bowled over by his charm. Although she tries to discourage him she discovers that she is attracted to him, even though she discovers he has married her half-sister for the money and social status. Even when she discovers he is the Reno murderer, it doesn’t cool her ardor. Tierney is perfectly cast as the amoral killer, and Trevor turns in another excellent performance displaying her dark side. Director Robert Wise is not known for his noirs, but this one is well-cast, well-written, and almost perfectly directed, with Wise building the tension scene by scene, building to a thrilling climax. It’s one to catch.
WE DISAGREE ON ... THE STORY OF G.I. JOE (August 6, 4:00 pm)
ED: A. For those who have not yet seen this film, it is one the best war movies ever made. The Story of G.I. Joe follows the exploits of Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith) as he writes of the fortunes of Company C of the 18th Infantry during their campaign in North Africa and Italy. He observes the stress combat takes on their minds – particularly during the battle of Cassino. He also befriends a few of the company, including Lieutenant Walker (Robert Mitchum), who rises to Captain; Sergeant Warnicki (Freddie Steele) who wants nothing more than to find a phonograph on which to play a record of his son’s voice sent from back home; and Private Dondaro (Wally Cassell), who fantasized constantly about women to the point of even carrying around a bottle of perfume that he can sniff occasionally. One thing Pyle notes and the film makes clear is that the men live continually with the knowledge that they might not make it home. Ironically, Pyle never made it home, cut down by a Japanese machine gun on the island of Ie Shima in 1945. William Wellman directs the film both as a tribute to Pyle, who he met during the war, and to the men Pyle writes about for the audience back home. It’s the grittiness of this story about the lives and deaths of ordinary infantrymen that sets this movie apart from others. The strongpoint is its subtlety: character we get to know suddenly disappear from the screen without so much as a whimper. Such is war. Critic James Agee noted that: "With a slight shift of time and scene, men whose faces have become familiar simply aren't around any more. The fact is not commented on or in any way pointed; their absence merely creates its gradual vacuum and realization in the pit of the stomach. Things which seem at first tiresome, then to have become too much of a running gag, like the lascivious tongue-clacking of the professional stallion among the soldiers (Cassell) or the Sergeant's continual effort to play the record of his son's voice, are allowed to run their risks without tip-off or apology. In the course of many repetitions they take on full obsessional power and do as much as anything could do to communicate the terrific weight of time, fatigue, and half-craziness which the picture is trying so successfully to make you live through." It was Dwight Eisenhower’s favorite war film, a recommendation that should go a long way.
DAVID: C+. In theory, I should love this movie. It's a based-on-a-true-story film of Ernie Pyle, a journalist covering World War II. I've been a newspaper reporter for nearly 30 years and love films about journalists. One of my favorite actors, Robert Mitchum, has a prominent role in the movie, playing Lieutenant/Captain Walker. And it's a war film about the humanity and insecurities of soldiers, among my favorite film subjects. That's nice in theory. While this film is considered by many critics to be among the best movies made about war, I don't share their opinion. There are some good moments in the movie, most involving Mitchum, but I found it plodding and somewhat cliché. An example of being cliché is the overuse of a puppy, the company’s “mascot,” who cries and whimpers during sad scenes to let the audience know this is a sad part of the film. For the most part, the casting is fine (with several legitimate soldiers playing soldiers), but the selection of Burgess Meredith as Pyle was a poor decision. He brings nothing to the film though that could be something that was done purposely as Pyle made the soldiers the center of his articles, and was a modest person. Whether that's the reason or not, it takes away from the overall film as Meredith makes Pyle seem like a boring cheerleader. Also, the editing toward the end of the film is choppy, a surprise to me as William A. Wellman, who directed the film, was one of the best and typically wouldn't let something like that get into the finished product. The movie isn't awful, but it failed to keep my attention. I found my eyes wandering away from this film a number of times.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.