TCM TiVo ALERT
August 23–August 31
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (August 26, 2:00 pm): I'm not a fan of musicals nor am I a fan of sentimental films that play with your emotions, particularly a largely fictitious biopic. Yet I'm a huge fan of Yankee Doodle Dandy, which obviously falls into all of the above categories. The sheer joy that James Cagney brings to the role of George M. Cohan is infectious. It's completely Cagney's movie. He is so spectacular, so engaging, so entertaining, that I find myself humming along to some of the corniest songs ever written and watching with a big smile on my face.
VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (August 30, 10:00 am): This is a well-done and compelling sci-fi film. One day all the people and animals in a quaint English town become unconscious, wake up and two months later, all the women capable of having children are pregnant. In all, 12 very white-looking kids are born. The children are geniuses, are able to read minds and control others to do whatever they want, including murder and suicide. As time passes, a professor from the village (George Sanders) decides he's going to teach the mutant kids, who want to take over the world, to use their powers for good. While a noble idea, it's poorly thought out as these children mean business when it comes to world domination. Films like this can easily become cliche and embarrassingly bad, but this one is special. Sanders gives his usual fantastic performance and the kids are great.
ED’S BEST BETS:
DIABOLIQUE (August 25, 10:15 pm): Frankly, I cannot recommend this picture enough. Think of a perfect Hitchcock film without Hitchcock. That’s Diabolique, which is directed by Henri-Georges Cluzot. To no one’s surprise, he’s known as “the French Hitchcock,’ and Hitchcock himself was influenced by this film. This is a masterful psychological horror film that builds slowly to a final 15 minutes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Although the twist ending murder plot has been done many times since, it’s never been done better. Diabolique takes place at a school where Simone Signoret helps her friend Vera Clouzot (real life wife of the director) drown her ogre of a husband (Paul Meurisse), who “returns to life” in a really terrifying scene. It’s a taut, beautifully woven thriller with a climax that will truly shock you. Fans of Hitchcock will love this, as will anyone that loves a well-written thriller with the emphasis on character rather than going for the cheap thrill.
THE GAY FALCON (August 30, 12:45 pm): There is nothing like the joy of a well-acted B-movie. When Leslie Charteris, creator ofThe Saint, pulled back his rights from RKO, it left the studio without a viable B-series. Not for long, however, for RKO reached out and bought the rights to Michael Arlen’s short story, “The Gay Falcon,” published in 1940. Although Arlen’s sleuth was named Gay Falcon, the studio rechristened him “Gay Laurence,” although they kept “the Falcon” as his crime-solving name. This gave them a catchy name to match that of the Saint. This is the first of the series, as the Falcon is trying to leave his crime-solving days behind, taking a job as a stockbroker. But this doesn’t last long, as he ends up chasing jewel thieves. It’s a short and entertaining movie. With Allen Jenkins as Laurence’s sidekick, “Goldie Locke,” who steals every scene he’s in.
WE DISAGREE ON ... SHIP OF FOOLS (August 25, 3:30 pm)
ED: F. For the most part, whenever I watch a Stanley Kramer picture, I feel I’m not being entertained so much as lectured to, as if I were an elementary school student. This film is one of his most egregious examples of the lecturing variety; an annoying Grand Hotel set at sea. Kramer and his smarmy screenwriter, Abby Mann, take Katherine Anne Porter’s delightful novel, set in 1931 in the pre-Nazi world, and move the scene ahead to 1933. Porter explained the title as a reference to the “simple almost universal image of the ship in world on the voyage to eternity.” She adds that she is a passenger on that ship. Critic Pauline Kael notes that Kramer and Mann have turned the novel into “a pompous cartoon.” I couldn’t agree more. Now the fools are those who don’t see what’s coming. I find it ludicrous that dinner party snubs are somehow harbingers of the Holocaust. In the novel, the central relationship is that of Jenny, who wants to be free, and David, who tries to own her. In the movie David (George Segal) is a proletarian artist of great talent and promise and Jenny (Elizabeth Ashley) has degenerated into in a neurotic rich bitch who keeps him and at the same time is jealous of his talent. Mann’s idea of dialogue is to have David tell her that she’s full of competition. “You’re so full of God knows what kind of sickness.” If you think that’s giggle inducing, it’s nothing compared to the relationship between the ship’s doctor (Oskar Werner) and Le Condesa (Simone Signoret), who – alas – has met him too late. (A sad waste of these two great talents). They’re given some of the worst dialogue in the movie. “You’re so strange – sometimes you’re so bitter,” the Doctor says, “then you’re like a child, soft and warm.” “I’m just a woman,” replies La Condesa. Oh brother. It’s also Vivien Leigh’s last film, and she couldn’t have chosen a worse way to end her career, with what may be her worst performance. (Katharine Hepburn was offered the role before Leigh, but had the good sense to turn it down.) It was released to great critical fanfare but has not worn well over the years.
DAVID: B+. Incredible acting performances highlight this compelling drama about a ship of all kinds of people heading for Nazi Germany in the early 1930s. The cinematography is wonderful and whoever cast this 1965 film did a brilliant job. The interaction between Oskar Werner as the ship's dying doctor and Simone Signoret as a drug-addicted Spanish countess on her way to a German prison, is touching and tragic. They were nominated for Best Lead Actor and Actress Oscars and the movie received a Best Picture nomination. It won two Oscars (including for Best Cinematography, Black and White) and was nominated for three more. Oscars certainly aren't the be-all and end-all when it comes to quality films, but the Academy got it right with this movie. In her last film, Vivien Leigh plays an aging divorced woman trying unsuccessfully to relive her youth. Also, great work by Michael Dunn for his "Greek chorus" performance as a philosophical dwarf (he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor). We know that when the ship docks in Germany that life for everyone aboard will change forever and almost certainly not for the better. The film captures that feeling of helplessness and/or ignorance that will follow the characters long after the movie fades to black. As for Ed's grade of F, it's obviously far too harsh. It's got an 81 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Bosley Crowther, the legendary film critic for The New York Times in his original review, wrote: "It is a perpetually engrossing and thought-provoking film that [director Stanley Kramer] has aptly put down at this moment, and it eminently deserves to be seen." While Ed does an excellent job dressing down the film, F grades should be reserved for those so terrible that even Mystery Science Theater 3000 wouldn't touch them - or later Bowery Boys films or the worst of director Ed Wood.
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.