TCM TiVo ALERT
August 8–August 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
STAGECOACH (August 12, 12:15 pm) As you'll read below in our We Disagree, I'm not a fan of all John Wayne films. However, this is one of the best Westerns ever made. This 1939 film, directed by John Ford, is about a group of people – including a prostitute, an alcoholic doctor, a pregnant woman, a gambler, and a bank embezzler – traveling by stagecoach in 1880 through hostile Apache territory in the Southwest. Along the way, they pick up the notorious Ringo Kid (Wayne), who helps fend off the Indians. The cast that also features Claire Trevor, John Carradine and Donald Meek is the strong-point of this film with each actor getting enough screen time to let viewers be interested in every character. Wayne is perfectly cast as the young gun who's wrongfully accused, but fast with a six-shooter and charming despite being rough around the edges. This was Ford's first talkie Western and one of his best. As with nearly all of Ford's films, the scenery in Stagecoach is breathtaking.
BALL OF FIRE (August 13, 2:00 pm): Barbara Stanwyck is a hot nightclub performer hiding from the police and her mob boyfriend in a house with brilliant, eccentric professors writing an encyclopedia. Director Howard Hawks – with the assistance of Billy Wilder, who co-wrote the screenplay from one of his short stories – does a great job blending the two worlds together to make an outstanding romantic comedy. The main professor, Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper), is focusing his work on American slang. The slang of 1941 is dated, but the scenes that have Potts learning the words of the day from Stanwyck's character, Sugarpuss, are hysterical with Cooper doing an excellent job as the straight man. Also of note are the wonderful acting performances of the other professors, all who are considerably older than Potts. It's a funny, entertaining film that leaves the viewer with a smile on his/her face for most of the movie.
ED’S BEST BETS:
FAST AND FURIOUS (August 8, 10:45 am): The Thin Man movies were popular must sees with moviegoers. Unfortunately, MGM couldn’t grind them out as fast as fans would have liked. To fill in the gap, MGM and other studios filled the screen with other husband and wife duos, hoping to strike another mother lode. This series centered around married rare booksellers Joel and Garda Sloane lasted for three films, and was generally entertaining. Unfortunately, MGM didn’t know what it wanted to do with the series and in each film we saw a different couple as Joel and Garda. This was the last film in the series and starred Franchot Tone as Joel and Ann Sothern as Garda. It was also Tone’s last film under his MGM contract, as he left for the stage. This time the Sloanes become involved with a murder at a seaside beauty pageant. The film is fast-moving, well-plotted, and entertaining, leading viewers to wonder how well the series could really have done if the studio wasn’t always changing the leads. MGM quickly lost interest in the Sloanes when William Powell and Myrna Loy agreed to return in Another Thin Man. MGM didn’t make mistakes often, but here they had the chance to create a good B-series to stand in between Powell and Loy outings. Watch and see if you agree.
LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (August 13, 9:00 am) No one was better in the Pre-Code era than Barbara Stanwyck, and is at her best in this, the grandmother of women-behind-bars flicks. She’s a bank robber sent to prison, where she encounters all the later standard prison clichés: the large, burly matron, scheming jealous rival inmates, the hard-line warden, and the older lifers, led by Aunt Maggie (the excellent supporting actress Maude Eburne) who mentors Babs and shows her the ropes. There’s also a brief glimpse into a muscular cigar-smoking inmate. Maggie warns Babs about her: “She likes to wrestle.” And we all know what that means. Though the film cops out at the end as Babs gets involved – and reformed by – a radio evangelist (Preston Foster), it’s still the template for later women-in-prison movies, none of which have ever topped it. A psychotronic classic.
WE DISAGREE ON ... THE QUIET MAN (August 12, 8:00 pm)
ED: A+. If ever a film could be said to be a paean poem, it is The Quiet Man, for it is John Ford’s loving tribute to Ireland, the home of his parents. (He was born in Maine.) John Wayne is somehow just right for the role of Sean Thornton, a boxer who comes to the village where he was born in Ireland to find peace, claim his homestead, and find a wife. He’s haunted by the past, having quit the ring after accidentally killing his last opponent. He catches the eye of Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), but her brother, Squire “Red” Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), the richest farmer in the area, has it in for Thornton. Sean’s homestead separates Danaher’s spread from that of the Widow Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick) and Danaher had his eye on it before Sean’s arrival. Now Danaher contrives to keep Sean and Mary Kate separate, and when they do marry, he does everything in his power to demean Thornton. He’s clearly scrapping for a fight, but Sean won’t fight because of the bad memories. But he must fight if he is to look manly in the eyes of his wife, and the village. It is Thornton’s dilemma that drives the film, and when he finally confronts his bullying brother-in-law, it’s a scene for the ages. O’Hara is clearly the star of the film. Her Mary Kate easily outshines both Wayne and McLaglen, no easy task since the film revolves around the enmity between them. Barry Fitzgerald also shines as Michaleen Flynn, the local matchmaker and cart driver who can’t seem to tell anyone a thing without getting a mug of stout from them first. It’s a wonderful film with the longest fight scene in history. This is what is meant by the term “film classic.”
DAVID: C. The Quiet Man is one of the most overrated films in cinematic history. John Wayne plays Sean Thornton, an Irish boxer who killed a man – surprisingly not with his overacting – with his fists in the ring. He's back in Ireland to forget about his past and live on his family's farm. While he's at it, he grabs a woman to be his wife. The lucky lady is Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara). She's fiery, but Wayne can tame her – or can he? Danaher's jackass of a brother (Victor McLaglen), who is a major property owner in town, tries to get in his way. Director John Ford attempts to inject humor into this film as the town conspires to make sure Thornton claims Danaher as his property against the will of her brother. One charming scene has Thornton dragging Danaher across a field full of animal dung. This was Ford's tribute to his native country. Apparently he's not a big fan of Ireland. The main storyline is Thornton doesn't want to fight because he killed a man, Danaher's brother is itching for a scrape with him and the townsfolk want to see violence. Thornton won't fight so everyone considers him the coward of the county (with apologies to Kenny Rogers). His wife won't, um, be intimate with him until he gets a dowry from her brother. She apparently believes she is property with a certain financial value. Score one for women's lib! Fighting seems to be the only way people in this film solve their differences. To make it more ridiculous, the two start to like each other as they exchange exaggerated punches. Mary Kate feels closer to her husband and her brother as the fight goes on and on and on. If I'm looking for a long entertaining fight scene I'll watch They Live. Much is made about The Quiet Man's romantic storyline. Love equally violence in this film. The scenery is beautiful, but the same can be said of a National Geographic documentary of the Irish countryside. And it's not like this is a quick watch. The film drags on for two hours and nine minutes.
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