Wednesday, July 5, 2017

TCM TiVo Alert for July 8-14

July 8-14


A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (July 8, 8:30 am): David Niven is a World War II English Air Force pilot who falls in love with Kim Hunter and dies before his time. He asks the "Other World" for an appeal to his mistaken death sentence. The film's plot is a tried-and-true formula that's been used numerous other times. But this is the best of the bunch. When released in the United States, it was titled Stairway to Heaven because of the escalator connecting Earth and Heaven (though Heaven is never mentioned as always referred to as the "Other World.") It's a special film that is brilliantly acted and directed.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (July 8, 12:00 pm): Only a year after John Steinbeck's 1939 classic story of the Joad family, Okies who travel to California after the Dust Bowl wipes out their family farm, Life doesn't get much better for the family on their drive to California and even worse once they get to the state. The book is good, but the film is excellent. The film and book are certainly left-wing, pro-labor union and pro-Communist. As Roger Ebert has written, it's odd that director John Ford and executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck, both conservatives, made this film. Despite the tragic story, the movie is beautiful and very moving. You'd be hard-pressed to find better acting than the performances in this movie by Henry Fonda (Tom Joad), John Carradine (Jim Casy, a former pastor turned union organizer) and Jane Darwell (Ma Joad). 


THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (July 8, 8:00 pm): In my opinion this is the greatest horror film ever made, though the way James Whale directs it, it could also be seen as a black comedy. One of the decisions he made – to have the monster speak – was derided at the time and for a while later, but now is rightly regarded as a brilliant move on Whale’s part. It gives the monster a touch of humanity and frees him, for a time at least, from merely becoming the automaton he was to become in later films.

THRONE OF BLOOD (July 11, 1:00 am): The only thing better than watching Orson Welles’s Macbeth is to watch Akira Kurosawa’s MacbethThrone of Blood. Kurosawa is a better director than Welles, and he had a better cast, led by the great Toshiro Mifune, for this adaptation set in feudal Japan. Despite the usual trepidations of those concerned over a Shakespeare play translated for the Japanese audience, we can tell them to relax. The film is a masterpiece – Kurosawa is one of the great stylists and the film is a masterful blend of Noh drama, Shakespeare, and the American Western. For those who love Shakespeare, tune in and delight in Kurosawa’s adaptation. For those that have never seen a Japanese film in its original form, start with this one – it’s impossible to go wrong. And for those who always wanted to watch it, but were hesitant to tune in, now’s your chance. Personally, the film is one of my top favorites. I have it on DVD and watch it every time it airs on TCM. I have also exposed friends and loved ones to it as well. It’s just too good to pass by.

WE DISAGREE ON ... A STAR IS BORN (July 10, 12:15 am)

ED: A+. Most of the time, remakes of good movies are not so hot. They rarely achieve anything near the life and pulse of the original. But Judy Garland’s third husband, Sid Luft, was convinced that the story would play just as well as a musical and would make an excellent comeback project for Judy. On both counts he was right. Luft also guaranteed the success of the film by handing the directorial reins over to George Cukor, who had directed the original story in 1932 as What Price, Hollywood? Also on hand was Moss Hart to fashion the screenplay, which he did magnificently by drawing on his knowledge of Garland and her career. With the able support of James Mason as the doomed Norman Maine, Garland shines as Esther Blodgett, transformed by Hollywood into the glamorous Vicki Lester. Add a few well-staged songs and the sharp cinematography of Sam Leavitt, and A Star is Born is a remake that equals the original. 

DAVID: C+. There's nothing horribly wrong with this 1954 movie, much like What Price Hollywood?, a 1932 film that is quite similar to it, or the first A Star is Born from 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. (Don't get me started on the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.) But there's really nothing special about this film. I've never been a fan of Judy Garland and she does nothing to change my assessment of her with this movie. Garland was 32 years old at the time of the film's release. That's a little old for this particular role, and you add her addiction problems and other medical issues, and Garland looks considerably older. I also don't care much for musicals. While this is not a pure musical, there's plenty of songs in it, and doesn't do anything to change my assessment of the genre. James Mason as Norman Maine, a former matinee idol who's drunken outbursts are no longer tolerated by his studio and the public with his career in full nosedive, is solid. But it's not enough to make this movie anything more than a couple of steps above mediocre. Also, the film is way too long at three hours with plenty of scenes, including the insufferable and overdramatic "Born in a Trunk" sequence, that should have been on the cutting-room floor. 

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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