TCM TiVo ALERT
July 15–July 22
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
I LOVE YOU AGAIN (July 16, 8:15 am): Cinema's greatest couple, William Powell and Myrna Loy, are reunited in this 1940 film with W.S. Van Dyke, who directed them in the 1934 classic, The Thin Man. When you have Powell and Loy working together, the chemistry is magic. It's a fun film to watch with Powell showing great range, playing the same character two completely different ways. Before a head injury that reverts Powell's character back to his old self as a conman, he promised to take a group of Boy Rangers on trip into the woods to learn about deer-tracking techniques. He has no idea what to do so he makes stuff up. He ends up falling into holes, getting caught in traps and is completely lost. It's Powell's best physical-comedy role that I've seen. And Myrna, what can you possibly write to capture her beauty and talent? Well, you could write a lot. But I'll leave it as she is wonderful and delightful in this movie with her character evolving with the changes in Powell's character.
CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (July 21, 5:45 pm): This 1937 film had the potential to be a disaster. Spencer Tracy, with a Portuguese accent, saves Freddie Bartholomew, a spoiled rich boy, who, after being rescued, is stuck on a fishing schooner. The potential obstacles are buying Tracy's accent and hoping Bartholomew gives the performance of his life. Amazingly, both occur in this fantastic film. Tracy won the Oscar for Best Actor, and would win it again the following year for Boys Town. Captains Courageous also features the always-excellent Lionel Barrymore as the ship's captain and solid performances from a cast that includes John Carradine, Melvyn Douglas and a young Mickey Rooney. It's a great coming-of-age film, adapted from English novelist Rudyard Kipling's 1897 book of the same name.
ED’S BEST BETS:
FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (July 15, 6:00 pm): While their Gothic horrors could oft times be hit-or-miss affairs, Hammer Studios always managed to hit a home run with their science-fiction films. And it’s no different here: Hammer took a BBC serial from the ‘50s called Quartermass and the Pit, added a little, subtracted a little, but on the whole remaining faithful to the original story. Hammer and director Roy Ward Baker capture the intelligence and the mystery of the original not by throwing special effects at the viewer, but in telling the story through the characters. What begins as the discovery of a Nazi bomb in an underground tunnel being dug up for repairs, soon leads to the finding of ape-like skulls surrounding it, which leads to the realization that this is not a Nazi weapon, but a spacecraft not of this Earth, but from Mars, complete with arthropod corpses stored inside. In the end we are wrestling with the philosophical issues of history and evolution before reaching a climax by recalling the Collective Unconscious and, especially, its archetype of the Devil. And despite all these weighty subjects, the film is an excellent piece of suspense and terror, supplying some pretty good jolts along the way.
GUN CRAZY (July 16, 10:00 pm): Director Joseph H. Lewis’s ahead-of-its-time noir about two lovers (Peggy Cummins, John Dall) that go on a crime spree. Low-budget specialists Frank and Maurice King, whose only caveat to director Lewis was not to go over budget, produced it. Lewis, as I‘ve noted earlier, was a specialist at saving a penny, as his career was spent in Poverty Row. It also takes a load off when one is working from a terrific script from blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (fronted by Millard Kaufman) and MacKinlay Kantor, who wrote the original story. While it was just another low-budget film here in America, over in France it was discovered by the Cahiers crowd and lionized as one of the great films from America. Such was its power that directors Truffaut, Godard, Melville, and Chabrol all stole from it. It's always great viewing and a Must See.
WE DISAGREE ON ... WOMAN OF THE YEAR (July 15, 8:00 pm)
ED: A. Dave will tell you how annoying Katharine Hepburn is, and, frankly, I agree with his opinion. Look at her films from the '30s for RKO and you'll see why theater exhibitors labeled her a "Box Office Poison." Granted, she was in some mighty stinkers back then, but at the same time, she did nothing to redeem herself, to separate herself from the material. So for me to give this film such a high grade will cause some readers to scratch their heads and ask what's going on. First, the Hepburn that worked for MGM is far different than the one who toiled for RKO. MGM lightened her by putting her in quality films and not really allowing her to choose her material in the early days of her contract. They also gave her quality directors such as Cukor and George Stevens, who helmed this picture, and, more importantly, quality writing. And whoever thought of teaming her with Tracy should have received a lifetime Oscar. Tracy, who in my opinion was the best actor in Hollywood, was the perfect foil for Hepburn, even better than Cary Grant (if that's possible). Where she was flighty, he was laconic, the acting yin to her yang. And no picture shows off this working dichotomy better than Woman of the Year. It's the perfect clash of snob vs. slob: Hepburn is a respected political columnist and Tracy helms the bottom of the intellectual barrel as a sports reporter. In a way it prefigures The Odd Couple. Watch this movie and it will become clear that this is Tracy's movie. His is the dominant character, everything revolves around him; we see the movie through his eyes and Hepburn is really no more than a supporting player. That's not only why it works, but works so well. In fact, it set the pattern for their later movies, all of which basically followed the template. Yes, Hepburn is not exactly my cup of tea, nor will she ever be. But that does not mean that she's not capable of making a good movie.
DAVID: C+. Yes, it's true. I consider Katharine Hepburn to be the most overrated actress in the history of cinema. Why? She usually plays the same character regardless of the film, and that character is an annoying self-centered know-it-all. Just because I dislike Hepburn doesn't mean she's completely worthless. She is great in Keeper of the Flame with Spencer Tracy, and blows me away in The Lion in Winter (which happens to be on TCM at noon July 22). But that's not the Kate we see in this film. Her character is the same one we've seen her play numerous times. She's a newspaper political columnist who knows incredible people who have incredible parties talking about their incredible lives and their incredible experiences in incredible places. Tracy plays a rough-around-the-edges sportswriter. Of course they fall in love and marry, but neither fits in with the other's friends and lifestyle. After a while, you wonder: why are they together? Tracy's character realizes it too and leaves her. You can figure out the reconciliation before they even break up. There's nothing in this film that isn't predictable. Is it terrible? No. But Tracy wasted his tremendous acting talent having to carry Hepburn, who delivers an uninspiring performance. It's the first of nine films the two would do together. As I mentioned, Keeper of the Flame is the only one worth seeing.
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