TCM TiVo ALERT
August 15–August 22
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
VIVA LAS VEGAS (August 16, 10:00 am): For the most part, if you've seen one Elvis film from the 1960s, you've seen them all. While 1964's Viva Las Vegas doesn't stray too far from the Elvis Formula – he has a rugged-type job, somehow gets into a jam, sees a pretty girl, sings some songs, gets into a fight, gets the girl and lives happily ever after – it is significantly better than most of them. That's not much of a compliment, but this is one of Presley's best films. The reason? The on-screen and off-screen chemistry between Elvis, who plays race-car driver Lucky Jackson, and Ann-Margaret, who plays Rusty Martin, his love interest in one of her sexiest roles. While not the best actress to play opposite Elvis, Ann-Margaret is the most entertaining and interacts better with him than any other. Rusty is a swimming instructor and dancer, great excuses for her to wear skimpy clothes. But it's more than a T&A film. There's some great dance numbers that are filmed nicely with the use of several different camera angles, the excellent theme song along with a few other musical numbers, an exciting car race (of course Elvis is a race-car driver, a job he had in several of his films), and Presley's charisma, rarely captured during this era. Is it a masterpiece or even Elvis' best movie? No, but it's very entertaining to watch.
GASLIGHT (August 19, 10:30 pm): As a huge fan of Joseph Cotten and Ingrid Bergman, it's great to see that when the two teamed together in this 1944 film that the result was spectacular. (Unfortunately, the chemistry between the two wasn't nearly as good when they worked together on Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn five years later.) Gaslight has fantastic pacing, starting slowly planting the seeds of Bergman's potential insanity and building to a mad frenzy with Cotten's Scotland Yard inspector saving the day and Bergman gaining revenge. While Charles Boyer has never been a favorite of mine, he is excellent in this role as Bergman's scheming husband who is slowly driving her crazy. Also deserving of praise is Angela Lansbury – I'm not a fan of her either – in her film debut as the couple's maid. Lansbury has the hots for Boyer and nothing but disdain for Bergman. A well-acted, well-directed film that is one I always enjoy viewing no matter how many times I see it.
ED’S BEST BETS:
MYSTERY STREET (August 15, 12:00 am): This is a neat little B-thriller that stands out today as one of the first procedural police dramas from Hollywood. Starring Ricardo Montalban as a Cape Cod detective and Bruce Bennett as a Harvard professor, it follows the discovery of the remains of a murdered B-girl on a Cape Cod beach straight through to the arrest of her killer. It’s an early exercise in forensic science as they trace the clues step-by-step, interview witnesses, and even overcome class prejudice to finally lead them to the murderer. It’s intelligent, well written and expertly acted. Look for Elsa Lanchester as an eccentric landlady.
WHEN LADIES MEET (August 21, 11:15 pm): A smart and sophisticated Pre-Code drama. Myrna Loy is a successful novelist enamored wth her publisher, Frank Morgan. But Morgan is married to Ann Harding. Loy’s boyfriend, Robert Montgomery, decides to break up Loy’s budding romance by introducing her to Harding without telling either lady who she’s meeting. When the cat is finally let out of the bag, the fireworks begin as Harding gives Loy some common sense advice about her husband. The fly in the ointment is Morgan, who is horribly miscast as a love interest, but Loy and Harding are so good that we forget after awhile and concentrate on the give-and-take between the ladies. Remade in 1941 with Joan Crawford, Greer Garson and Robert Taylor, but this is the version to see.
WE AGREE ON ... THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (August 19, 8:00 pm)
ED: A+. The title of this film has passed into the popular culture to indicate a brainwashed sleeper, one who has been hypnotized and instructed to act when his controllers pull his psychological trigger. But packaged as a political thriller, it may be the most sophisticated political satire ever to come out of Hollywood. Seen today, it’s lost none of its punch; the satire still has bite, and its story uncannily echoes through contemporary halls. Kudos to George Axelrod, who adapted Richard Condon’s best-selling novel, and John Frankenheimer, who guides the film with a steady hand. The performances are terrific from top to bottom, with Janet Leigh taking a wonderful turn as the mysterious Rosie. Angela Lansbury was the political mommy of all mommies – one of the great villains of the movies – and James Gregory shines as her weak-willed husband. Sinatra is Sinatra – pitch perfect, and Laurence Harvey has never been better. Legend has it that Sinatra purchased the rights and kept it out of release from 1964 until 1988, supposedly over remorse about JFK’s death. But Roger Ebert said that director Frankenheimer told him that the real reason was that Sinatra had a dispute with United Artists about the profits, and bought the rights with the intention that it would earn no money for the studio or anyone else. Forget Jonathan Demme’s 2004 remake. This is the one to see.
DAVID: A+. This is my favorite Cold War film, telling the chilling story of Staff Sgt. Raymond Shaw – played by the vastly underrated Laurence Harvey in his greatest performance – who, along with other members of his unit are captured during the Korean War and brainwashed by Chinese and Russians. But the soldiers don't know they've been brainwashed and that Shaw has been turned into a killing machine. When he's playing Shaw while under the spell of the Communists, Harvey is brilliant – detached, robotic and commands your attention. While Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh also get their names above the title, this film belongs to Harvey and Angela Lansbury. Only three years older than Harvey, Lansbury plays Shaw's wickedly evil, incestuous, opportunistic, calculating, red-baiting – though she is working with the Communists – mother. I'm not a Lansbury fan for the most part, but she is marvelous here. Sinatra is excellent, accepting his secondary role, and Leigh's small part is about as strange and intriguing as you'll find. The movie clocks in at a little over two hours, but the time just flies by and the ending is absolutely shocking the first time you see it. It's a strong, stark, powerful, terrifying film.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.