September 17: At 2 am it’s Roberto Rossellini’s excellent historical dramaSocrates. The 1971 film focuses on the last days of the famous philosopher: his trial, imprisonment and death. Featuring a French and Spanish cast and shot in Spain due to the source of his financing, Rossellini, as with his other historically based films, stays close to the facts, only straying occasionally for dramatic effect. In this case Rossellini went straight to the source: the Dialogues of Plato. When I first saw the film on TCM I noticed Rossellini made parallels between Socrates and Jesus, almost interpreting the philosopher from a Roman Catholic viewpoint. His students, who are referred to as “disciples” in the film, call their teacher “the good shepherd” and even share a cup with their teacher that reminded me of the chalice Jesus shared with his disciples. What amazed me about the film was the close to the vest view it gives us of Socrates and his activity in Athens, conversing with nearly anyone and more privately with his disciples. Even more astounding was the screenwriters inserting arguments summarized from several of Plato’s dialogues. Those looking for an accurate portrait of the philosopher couldn’t do better than that. Though the film won a special award at the Venice Film Festival, it didn’t do well with either audiences or critics. In recent years, though, critics and film historians are taking a fresh look at this film and the rest of Rossellini’s later work.
September 21: During a morning and afternoon devoted to films about India, Jean Renoir’s exquisite drama, The River, is being shown at 4:30 pm. It’s a gentle, touchingly moving adaptation of Rumer Godden’s novel about English children growing up in Bengal, along the Ganges River. 12-year old Harriet (Patricia Walters) is the oldest of five daughters and a son of a British owner of a jute factory (Esmond Knight) and his wife (Nora Swinburne), while the nanny, Nan (Suprova Mukerjee) looks after the children. Renoir provides us with a thoughtful meditation on life as seen through Harriet’s experience with first love that occurs when the family's neighbor invites his cousin, Captain John (Thomas E. Breen), to live with him on his plantation. When John arrives, the girls discover he has lost one leg in the war. Despite his handicap, his abundance of charm and a sophistication that surrounds him has all the daughters smitten. They issue a formal invitation in writing to a Hindu celebration, hand-delivered by Harriet. Harriet, totally taken with Captain John, even shares her diary with him in an attempt to bring them closer. His reaction is more kind and fatherly than what she might be expecting from a suitor. It is when she sees Captain John locked in a passionate embrace with her best friend Valerie (Adrienne Corri) that Harriet is crushed. Her reaction goes to the extreme, but she is saved in the nick of time. It is an awe-inspiring look at the clash of cultures and a child’s-eye view of it, aided by sumptuous photography and Harriet’s narration.
September 24: Director Kenji Mizoguchi made many a fine film in his career, but none better, or sadder than his 1952 masterpiece, The Life of Oharu, which airs at 2:00 am. Roger Ebert called this “the saddest film I have ever seen about the life of a woman.” I have to agree. It’s a simple story: a 50-year old prostitute named Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka) looks back on her sad life in flashbacks. We learn that she was born into a respectable family in Edo-period Japan and was a lady in waiting at the court when she and a young page named Katsunosuke (Toshiro Mifune) fell in love. This was forbidden. Katsunosuke was sentenced to death and Oharu and her family were exiled. Her father never forgives her for what happened, especially now as, because of the scandal, she is considered unworthy to wed in respectable circles. Her father sells her as a concubine to the household of Lord Harutaka Matsudaira (Toshiaki Konoe). Her duty is to bear him an heir. Once she does, she is sent back to her family. Her father tries selling her as a courtesan, but when she refuses, sells her into service as a maid. She loses the job because one of her employer’s customers recognizes her from her time working in the red-light district. From here on it gets no better, as Oharu suffers one insult after another, and we arrive back to her current life as an over-the-hill, poor prostitute.
Although this sounds extremely lurid, Mizoguchi avoids taking advantage of these sensational episodes in her life. No one but Oharu knows what her life has been; society judges her as an immoral and detestable woman, and we come to realize this is the role society has assigned her to play. But though this is the case, Mizoguchi assigns no villain, not even the father. Rather, he shows that the men are simply acting within the boundaries of their assigned roles and traditions in Japanese society.
Mizoguchi made prostitutes a frequent subject, as in his 1956 Street of Shame (1956). He was a frequent visitor at brothels, not merely to purchase sex, but to fraternize with their workers and learn from their points-of-view. He also had a personal stake in the drama in an episode that had a great impact on him: his sister, Suzo, who raised him, was sold by their father as a geisha.
September 25: At 11:30 am, The Great Train Robbery, from director Edwin S. Porter in 1903, will be shown. It’s a simple, one-reel story of a gang of outlaws who rob a train and are hunted down by a posse, but it’s one of the milestones in cinema history. It was the first film to tell a story, and contained many roughly defined characters, used several settings, and, most radical of all, used editing to move the narrative along from one scene to another in rapid succession. What we take for granted today was not the case when the film was made. Those who took an introductory class in film have seen the film, as it is a staple. But for those who never got around to taking such a class, sit back and prepare to be amazed.
September 30: As long as we’re on the subject of Japan, I’d like to note that one of the greatly overlooked war movies in playing at 5:15 pm. That movie is Tora! Tora! Tora!, a docudrama from 1970. It is an excellent factual account of the events that led up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and brought America into World War II. It is an exquisitely balanced film, looking at both sides. It was mostly panned by critics on release as dull and uninspired, lacking the “action” a blockbuster should possess, with too many scenes staged in war rooms and among military planners from both sides. Yes, there is not a lot of action until the final act, but what doesn’t work in theaters works superbly well on television, where we can sit back and reflect on the drama portrayed on the screen. Those interested in history will find the film quite edifying. Care was taken by the studio, Fox, to insure accuracy. Richard Fleischer directed the American sequences while Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masada handled the Japanese sequences. Akira Kurosawa was originally hired to direct the Japanese sequences, but after he tried to copy Erich Von Stroheim, the studio let him go. Among Kurosawa’s Von Stroheim-esqe antics included painting a Shinto shrine aboard a battleship numerous times because he wasn’t satisfied with the shade of white, and replacing the books in a library with those from the period even though they were barely visible. As for the critics who panned the movie upon its theatrical release I can only say to be careful what you wish for, as the 2001 release of Pearl Harbor can attest.
September 18: A morning and afternoon of Garbo films that should satisfy her fans. Included are such silents as The Temptress (1926, 6 am) and The Mysterious Lady (1928, 10 am); Pre-Code faves such as Grand Hotel (8 am) and Queen Christina (4:15 pm); and the rarely shown dramas Romance (1930, 11:45 am) andThe Painted Veil (1934, 1:15 pm), in addition to Billy Wilder’s wonderful Ninotchkaclosing out the day at 6 pm. But perhaps the most unusual film of the day is the German language version of Anna Christie from 1930, which airs at 2:45 pm. Germany was one of Hollywood’s largest foreign markets, and in the early days of sound, the norm was to take “important” films (films the studios saw as appealing to foreign audiences) and remake them in foreign language versions. The films were usually made after hours on the same soundstage with a different cast, but because of Garbo’s impact in Germany, it was decided to make the German language film directly after filming wrapped on the English version on the same sets, but with a different supporting cast. Later, when the technology improved, subtitles and dubbing came into being, and the days of the separate language version came to an end.
September 16: At 12:45 am Joan Crawford and Clark Gable star in MGM’s 1933 Dancing Lady. Look for Fred Astaire and the Three Stooges.
September 21:Son Of India, a 1931 film from MGM starring Ramon Novarro as a rajah’s son who falls for an American woman (Marjorie Rambeau) touring India, airs at 7:00 am.
September 25:Murder in the Private Car (MGM, 1934), starring Charles Ruggles, Una Merkel and Mary Carlisle airs at 7:15 am. At 1:15 pm comes Danger Lights (RKO, 1931) with Louis Wolheim, Robert Armstrong and Jean Arthur. If you’re a train buff you don’t want to miss this one.
September 28:Ladies of the Jury (RKO, 1932) starring Edna May Oliver and Jill Esmond is scheduled for 6:00 am. At 9:00 D.A. Walter Huston must protect a family that witnessed a gangland killing in Star Witness (WB, 1931).
September 29: In an evening that features all three versions of A Star is Born, stick around until 3:45 am (or better yet, record it) and watch the film that helped inspire them all, What Price Hollywood? (RKO, 1932), starring Constance Bennett, Lowell Sherman and Neil Hamilton.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
September 16: Boston Blackie becomes the prime suspect when a pearl necklace he’s been hired to guard is stolen in Trapped by Boston Blackie (1948) at 10:30 am.
Archeologist Charlton Heston discovers his daughter is possessed by the malevolent spirit of an Egyptian queen in 1980’s The Awakening at 2:30 am. Following at 4:30 am, Hammer gives us practically the same plot nine years earlier in Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971). Given the choice of the two, I’d go with the Hammer version.
September 21: TCM’s Special Theme for September is “Counter Culture Classics,” and it begins at 8 pm with the concert film Monterey Pop from 1969. At 9:30 pm comes Don’t Look Back (1967), a record of Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England. At 11:45 it’s the Maysles Brothers’ classic 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter. Woodstock: The Director’s Cut follows at 1:30 am, and the night closes out with the documentary Jimi Hendrix (1973) at 5:30 am.
September 23: Bumbling press agents Brown and Carney run into Bela Lugosi in 1945’s Zombies on Broadway at 6 am. The Boston Blackie films come to an end with Boston Blackie’s Chinese Venture (1948) at 10:30 am.
Nature strikes back beginning at 2:00 am with Of Unknown Origin (1983), followed by Rattlers(1976) at 3:45 am.
September 25: Herbert Lom is the crazed composer in Hammer’s version of Phantom of the Opera (1962) at 9:45 pm.
September 26: An entire morning and afternoon of psychotronic films is on tap, with the best bets being the underrated World Without End(1955) at 8:30 am and the wonderfully ridiculous Queen of Outer Space (1958), starring the one and only Zsa Zsa Gabor, at 4:30 pm.
September 28: The TCM Special Theme on “Counter Culture Classics” continues, with The Love-Ins (1967) at 8 pm, starring Richard Todd as a former college professor who becomes a messiah for a cult and avails himself of the women there. At 10 pm comes Sam Katzman’s 1967 Riot on Sunset Strip. Laff Riot is more like it, as LA detective Aldo Ray’s juvenile delinquent daughter Mimsy Farmer falls in with a gang looking for “kicks.”
At midnight Al Pacino has his first starring role as a small time crook who introduces his girlfriend to heroin in Panic in Needle Park (1971). His performance helped convince Francis Ford Coppola to cast him in The Godfather. The film was considered strong stuff when originally released and packs a powerful, if forgotten, performance from leading lady Kitty Winn.
At 2 am it’s another viewing of The Big Cube (1969), followed by Barbet Schroeder’s tragic look at a young couple (Mimsy Farmer and Klaus Grunberg) who fall into the drug culture underbelly of the hippie movement in Europe in More (1969). It was Schroeder’s first film.
September 30: Glenda Farrell, Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill star in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) at 10:30 am. Made in two-strip Technicolor, it still holds up well today, with Farrell giving a great performance as the intrepid reporter.
At 2:00 am comes David Lynch’s weirdly compelling Eraserhead, his 1977 feature directorial debut. A filmed nightmare, the plot of which defies any semblance of description, revolves around Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) who exists in a totally bleak urban environment of industrial surroundings. One night he’s invited to meet the parents of his fiancee, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart). After repeated interrogation by Mary's mother (Jeanne Bates) and dining on a dinner of miniature chickens that squirt some form of black goop, he's told that Mary has given premature birth. He must immediately marry her and bring her to live with him in his apartment. The marriage lasts only a few days, as the mutant child’s non-stop crying frays everyone’s nerves, Mary leaves Henry and leaves their child in his care. This leads to a series of even stranger events – one with the hooker across the hall (Judith Roberts) and a bizarre woman who lives in Henry’s radiator (Laurel Near). The child itself reminds one of Prince Randian, the human torso in Tod Browning’s 1932 Freaks. As nothing that happens in the movie is explained, we are left to draw our own conclusions. To quote Michael Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (p. 219), some “will identify with the completely alienated, sexually retarded characters. Many viewers (usually female) walk out of the theater in disgust. Many others watch it faithfully every week at midnight showings. You probably wouldn’t feel comfortable alone in a room with one of the frequent viewers.” It took Lynch, who described the movie as “a dream of dark and troubling things,” five years to finish it with partial financing from the American Film Institute. It made a splash on the Midnight Movie circuit, hailed by critics such as J. Hoberman, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Danny Peary. David Bartholomew in Cinefantastique described it as “a true rarity, an original work that seemingly has no antecedent in the horror genre. It is not abstract, but it defines a coherent plot description, in fact it defies description of any kind.” The only advice I can give is to watch it and decide for yourself, but keep in mind that it’s the movie that propelled Lynch to bigger and better things, such as The Elephant Man, Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet.
By Ed Garea
September 3: Marcel Pagnol's delightful film Cesar is being shown at 2 am. In addition to being the final film in his Marseille trilogy concerning the lives of Fanny (Orane Demazis) and Marius (Pierre Fresnay), it’s only one of the three he directed himself. The first, Marius (1931), was written by Pagnol (based on his play), and directed by Alexander Korda. Fanny is the daughter of a fishmonger on the Marseille waterfront. She’s in love with Marius, the son of Cesar (Raimu), who runs a waterfront bar. Marius is torn between his love for Fanny and his longing to go to sea. In the end, he goes to sea, leaving Fanny behind and pregnant. In Fanny (1932), also from a Pagnol play and directed by Marc Allegret, Fanny marries the much older Panisse (Fernand Charpin) to give her child a father.
Cesar takes place 20 years later with Marius and Fanny's son, Cesariot (Andre Fouche), all grown up. But he doesn’t know that Marius is his real father. When Panisse dies, Fanny tells her son the truth and with Cesar's help, Cesariot sets out to find Marius.
This is a remarkable film, and it’s a shame the first two weren’t shown before it. But the plot is such that it can stand alone and is aided by the fact that Raimu, who plays Cesar, is now in the forefront. He dotes upon Cesarian as a godfather, not a grandfather due to the family situation. It’s a story of family and how it faces up to its transitions, the revelation of unpleasant truths and simmering resentments. Over the course of the film the family moves toward forgiveness and rebirth. Definitely worth seeing, even without the other two in the series. Raimu is an actor of powerful presence.
September 3: The original silent version of Camille from 1921 with Nazimova as the notorious Parisian courtesan who falls passionately for young and unsophisticated law student Rudolph Valentino will air at 12:15. It is basically the plot we see in the 1937 remake with Garbo and Robert Taylor, but this version is way more frank, having been made lone before the Code was so ruthlessly employed.
September 4: TCM is devoting the evening to the films of the late Jerry Lewis. The schedule is as follows: 8:00 pm - The Nutty Professor (1963); 10:00 pm - The King of Comedy (1983); 12:00 am - The Stooge (1952; 2:00 am - The Bellboy (1960); 3:30 am - The Disorderly Orderly (1964).
September 5: Humorist Robert Benchley has a morning dedicated to the wonderful shorts he made at MGM from 1935 to 1945. The fun starts at 6 am with How to Behave from 1936 and is followed by How to Train a Dog (6:15), How to Read (6:30), How to Raise a Baby (6:45), How to Watch Football(7:00) and How to Eat (7:15). Benchley’s wry sense of humor, combined with his befuddled screen presence make these ones to catch.
CELEBRATING WOMEN DIRECTORS
September 8: Seven films from directors Mabel Normand, Lois Weber and Alice Guy-Blanche are scheduled to air from 10:30 am to 4:45 pm. It starts at 10:30 with Mabel Normand directing Fatty Arbuckle, Edgar Kennedy and Mabel Normand in the 1915 short, Wished on Mabel, for Keystone Films.
Lois Weber takes over at 11:00 with the amazing 1916 message film, Where Are My Children? Lois scripted and directed with husband Phillips Smalley. The film brings attention to the feminist issues of abortion and bringing unloved children into the world. Banned in many states when released, it was nevertheless hailed by Universal, the studio that made it. Studio head Carl Laemmle saw it as a landmark film made by one of the studio’s premiere directors. At that time Lois Weber was seen by the moviegoing public as the equal of Griffith and DeMille. Her salary was $5,000 a week, unheard of for a woman in Hollywood who didn’t work in front of the camera. Over the years, as Hollywood become more and more a male preserve, her work was forgotten and many of her films, including this one, were presumed lost. Where Are My Children? was located and restored by the Library of Congress.
Set in an anonymous big city, District Attorney Richard Walton (Tyrone Power, Sr.) is trying the case of Dr. Homer (C. Norman Hammond), a proponent of birth control, who from his experience of working in the slums, feels that only those children who are wanted should be born. He is found guilty of malpractice by the all-male jury.
But Walton gets the shock of his life when, in the course of trying abortionist Dr. Malfit, (Juan de la Cruz), it comes out that his dear wife (Helen Riaume, who performed as Mrs. Tyrone Power) had two abortions. As a result of these abortions Mrs. Walton is unable to have children and the film ends as we see the couple growing older and further apart in their huge mansion. Further melodramatics are added as pictures of the babies Dr. Malfit (a revealing name) aborted are shown on screen as Mr. and Mrs. Walton sit silently.
The power and controversy of this film can be seen by the fact that abortion became a distinct no-no on the screen, even in the supposed freewheeling Pre-Code days. The Pre-Code film Men in White danced around this issue when a young nurse, impregnated by Clark Gable’s character, dies in an operation to save her life. (See our review of the film here.) The extreme melodramatics ultimately do the film in, but as a product of its time, it’s fascinating to see.
Weber is also represented by Too Wise Wives (12:15) and The Blot (1:45), both made in 1921, before the reins are turned over to French director Alice Guy-Blache for three shorts made in 1912 beginning at 3:30 - Algie, The Miner, Falling Leaves and Canned Harmony. Guy-Blache was a true pioneer, one of the first to make a narrative fiction film. By 1907 she had made over 1,000 films and later ran her own studio, Solax, in New Jersey, where she experimented with sound syncing, color tinting, interracial casting and special effects long before the other giants of early cinema had caught on. World War I slowed her momentum and after divorcing her husband, Herbert Blaché, she moved back to France with their children and faded into obscurity. She returned with daughter Simone to Mahwah, New Jersey, in 1965, where she died in a nursing home on March 24, 1968. Guy-Blache is notable in the history of film because she worked in the days before the studio system set in and producers and directors basically made it all up on the fly, crafting stories and experimenting with the new technology. In doing so, Guy-Blache created the concepts off which today’s directors work.
September 7: The evening is dedicated to the German director Werner Herzog with five of his films being shown: Fitzcarraldo (1982, 8:00 pm), Stroszek (1977, 10:45 pm), Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972, 1:00 am), Cobra Verde (1988, 2:45 am), his 1982 documentary on the making of Fitzcarraldo, Burden of Dreams (1982, 4:45 am), and the bizarre documentary Walter Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980) at 6:30 the next morning. Herzog, who historian David Thomson describes as “profuse, undisciplined and unpredictable,” was responsible, along with Rainer Warner Fassbinder, Jean-Marie Straub and Wim Wenders, for establishing West Germany as a major hub of filmmaking in the ‘60s. Francois Truffaut called him “the most important film director alive,” and critic Roger Ebert, in his tribute to the director, Herzog by Ebert, said that he “has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons, or uninteresting. Even his failures are spectacular.” On this night, his most “spectacular failure” is probably Stroszek, a tale of an alcoholic ex-con (Bruno Stroszek) in Berlin who joins up with an elderly friend and a prostitute determined to leave Germany to seek a better life in Wisconsin. Herzog is definitely offbeat, but never dull, possessed of as quick mind that expresses itself in quirky and fascinating camera movements, eccentrically drawn characters and plots that go where we least expect.
September 10: Indian director Satyajit Ray its featured with two films running back-to-back beginning at 2:30 am. First up is Charulata (aka The Lonely Wife, 1964), a tale of Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee), a housewife in 18th century Calcutta who leads a very lonely life. Husband Bhupati (Shailen Mukherjee), who spends more time at his newspaper than at home, sees she is lonely and asks his brother-in-law Umapada (Shyamal Ghoshal) to keep her company. At the same time Bhupati's brother, Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee), a would-be writer comes home finishing his college education. He and Charu bond immediately over a shared love of literature, but soon their relationship goes beyond friendship.
The Coward (aka Kapurush, 1964) follows at 4:45 am. Amitabha Roy (Soumitra Chatterjee) is a scriptwriter who has a breakdown near a tea-estate. Estate manager Bimal Gupta (Haradhan Banerjee) offers him a place to stay at his bungalow. Amitabha later discovers that the manager is married to his ex-girlfriend, Karuna (Madhabi Mukherjee) and that Bimal invited him to mitigate his own boredom. Bimetal also fails to notice the obvious uneasiness between Karuna and Amitabha. The movie takes place over a period of approximately one day when they have dinner, breakfast and go for a picnic. Small gestures rekindle Amitabha's memories, and via a series of flashbacks, he remembers their first meeting, courtship and separation (which was due to his lack of courage to make a commitment). Amitabha, combining the fact that he is now affluent with his suspicion of that Karuna is unhappy, decides to propose to her once again. However, Karuna is inclined to believe that the time for courage is long gone.
September 15: Carole Lombard is honored with an evening of her films beginning with Hands Across the Table(1935) at 8 pm, and finishing with the screwball classic Nothing Sacred (1937) at 4:45 am. In between we will get to see Love Before Breakfast(1936, 9:30), The Princess Comes Across (1936, 11:00), Now and Forever (1934, 12:30) with Gary Cooper and Shirley Temple, The Gay Bride(1934, 2:00), and Brief Moment (1933, 3:30 am). As these, with the exception of Nothing Sacred, are rarely shown, they should be on major interest to the film buffs. Fans of Carole Lombard (Who isn’t?) should also be interested.
September 1: Tough by-the-book submarine commander Walter Huston and Robert Montgomery clash in Hell Below (1933) at 8:00 am. Read our essay on the film here.
September 3: The original The Front Page from 1931 is shown in all its Pre-Code glory, starring Pat O’Brien as Hildy Johnson and Adolphe Menjou as his scheming editor Walter Burns at Noon.
September 8: James Cagney and Loretta Young star in the excellent Taxi! (1932) at 8:00 pm.
September 11: It’s a morning of Jimmy Durante Pre-Codes with Jimmy and Buster Keaton in Speak Easily (1932) at 6:45 am, followed by Meet the Baron (1933) at 8:30, Jimmy and Buster again in What! No Beer? (1933) at 10:00 am, and Jimmy and Lupe Velez in Strictly Dynamite (1934) at 11:30 am.
September 12: Pre-Codes today include Son of the Gods (1930) with Richard Barthelmess at 6:00 am, Winnie Lightner and Charles Butterworth in Manhattan Parade (1931) at 7:45 am, Three Who Loved (1931) with Betty Compson, at 9:15 am., James Cagney in Winner Take All (1932) at 10:30 am (read our essay on it here), Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young in A Man’s Castle (1933) at 11:45 am, This Side of Heaven(1934) with Lionel Barrymore, Fay Bainter and Mae Clarke at 1:00 pm, and Warren William, Mary Astor and Ginger Rogers in Upper World (1934) at 2:30 pm.
September 13: Two on tap today. First, George Brent and Eugene Palette pioneer the use of scientific methods to solve to acquit accused murderess Margaret Lindsay on From Headquarters(1933) 11:15 am. Then, at 6:30 pm Walter Huston is an honest police captain taking on mobster Jean Hersholt in Beast of the City (1932). Jean Harlow and Wallace Ford co-star in this Dirty Harry-esqe tale with a distinctly downbeat finish in a hail of bullets, a la Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
September 1: An evening of surf films begins with the classic Frankie-Annette pairing, Beach Party (1963) at 8:00 (read our essay on it here), followed by its sequel, Muscle Beach Party(1964). At Midnight Bobby Vinton and Jackie DeShannon star in Surf Party (1964). James Darren, Pamela Tiffin and Bob Denver take over at 2:00 am in For Those Who Think Young (1964). Nancy Sinatra also stars, but it’s comic Woody Woodbury who steals the film. Finally, Fabian, Tab Hunter, Shelley Fabares and Barbara Eden Ride the Wild Surf (1964) at 4:00 am.
September 2: Boston Blackie battles a phony spiritualist who dabbles in blackmail on the side in The Phantom Thief (1946) at 10:30 am.
The evening is dedicated to computers that have gone rogue, beginning with the classic tale 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) at 8:00 pm. Next, the robotic Yul Brenner blows a fuse in the entertaining Westworld(1973) at 10:45. The ridiculous Demon Seed(1977) airs at Midnight, followed by Scanners (1981) at 2:15 am.
September 8: A psychotronic double feature begins at 11:30 pm with the hilarious Carry On Cabby (1963), followed by Martin Scorsese’s 1976 milestone, Taxi Driver (1976), with Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster.
September 9: Boston Blackie brings a magic show to a women’s prison and gets involved in an escape for which he is accused of being an accomplice in Boston Blackie and the Law (1946) at 10:30 am.
An animated double feature begins at 2:00 am as a woman sells her soul to the devil to lead a rebellion against a corrupt baron in Belladonna of Sadness (1973), an allegorical feature from Japanese director Eiichi Yamamoto. Producer Osamu Tezuka had previously overseen two animated series that became wildly popular in U.S. syndication: Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. Following at 3:30 am is 1973’s Fantastic Planetfrom French director Rene Laloux, who expands the nouvelle vague to the world of animation in this tale about a race of highly advanced giants called “Draags" that bring humans to their home planet and turn them into household pets, known as “Oms.” But when the pets are left in the wild, like any formerly domesticated animals, they turn savage and become a subject for extermination. Tiwa, a highly intelligent Om, has mastered the Draaga language, and plants the idea of a widespread rebellion against their keepers.
September 14: In an evening devoted to Counter Culture films of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, four fit the category of psychotronic, beginning with the execrable Alice’s Restaurant (1969) at 11:30 pm. It’s followed by Michelangelo Antonioni’s megabomb, Zabriskie Point (1970), at 1:30 am. The film’s star, Mark Frechette, later went to jail for a bank robbery he claimed was carried out for “political reasons.” He later died in a prison accident while lifting weights in 1975. At 3:45 am, Bruce Davison is a college student who becomes radicalized by the presence on campus of Kim Darby and the National Guard in The Strawberry Statement (1970). Finally, it’s the loony and wildly entertaining Wild in the Streets (1968) from AIP with Christopher Jones and Shelley Winters at 5:45 am.
By Ed Garea
We are dedicating this column to two extraordinary actors who will each have a day dedicated to them: Ann Harding (August 21) and Simone Signoret (August 25).
Both tend to be overlooked today, one because the vast majority of her work was in the Pre-Code era and was unavailable on television for decades, and the other because she didn’t work for long in Hollywood.
ANN HARDING was born Dorothy Walton Gatley on August 7, 1902, at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, the daughter of a career army officer. She grew up in East Orange, N.J., and graduated from East Orange High School and Bryn Mawr College.
She began her acting career on the stage and made her Broadway debut in 1921. While appearing in Pittsburgh with the Nixon Players she married fellow actor Harry Bannister in 1926. They had one child, a daughter named Jane, before divorcing in 1932.
Harding made her movie debut in Paris Bound for Pathe (1929), co-starring Frederic March. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Linda Seton in the 1930 version of Holiday (Her performance completely blows away that of Katharine Hepburn). After Pathe was absorbed by RKO, Harding was promoted as the studio’s answer to MGM’s Norma Shearer., starring in the studio’s prestige productions.
Her second film, Her Private Affair (1929), portraying a wife of questionable morality, was a huge success, both critically and commercially. During this period, she was regarded as one of cinema's most beautiful women, noted for her waist-length blonde hair. She was also considered as one of the major stars in the Hollywood firmament.
Tired of being typecast by the studio as the innocent, self-sacrificing young woman, and with her films diminishing in both box office and quality (a loan-out to MGM didn’t help), she retired from the screen after marrying conductor Werner Janssen in 1937 (divorced 1962). She returned in 1942 for MGM’s Eyes in the Night with Edward Arnold, and went on to work until 1956, with her last film being Strange Intruder for Allied Artists, with Edmund Purdom and Ida Lupino. She then segued to television, appearing as a guest star in various productions until 1965.
Harding died on September 1, 1981, at the age of 79 in Sherman Oaks, California. Her ashes are interned at Forest Lawn.
Films in bold blue are especially recommended.
6:00 am - Her Private Affair(1929). 7:30 am - Condemned (UA/Goldwyn) 9:00 am - The Conquerers (RKO, 1932). 10:30 am -The Life of Vergie Winters (RKO, 1932). Noon -The Lady Consents (RKO, 1936). 1:30 pm -The Witness Chair (RKO, 1936). 2:45 pm - Janie (WB, 1944).4:30 pm -Eyes in the Night (MGM, 1942). 6:00 pm - It Happened on 5th Avenue (Monogram, 1947). 8:00 pm -Biography of a Bachelor Girl(MGM, 1935). 9:30 pm - The Animal Kingdom (RKO, 1932, read our essay here). 11:15 pm -When Ladies Meet (MGM, 1933). 1:00 am -The Flame Within (MGM,1935). 2:30 am -Double Harness (RKO, 1933). 4:00 am -The Magnificent Yankee (MGM, 1950).
SIMOME SIGNORET was born Simone Henriette Charlotte Kaminker on March 25, 1921, in Wiesbaden, Germany, the eldest of three children (two brothers). Her father, Andre, was a French-born army officer from a Polish Jewish family. He was one of the first interpreters for the League of Nations. Her mother, Georgette, was a French Catholic. When she was young her father moved the family to Neuilly-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris, where Simone grew up.
During the German Occupation of France, Simone turned to acting in films to support her mother and two brothers, as her father fled to London to join General De Gaulle. She took her mother’s maiden name to hide her Jewish identity from the Nazis. Her sensual and earthy looks led her to be often cast in roles as a prostitute. It was in this role, as Leocadie, that she first gained fame in Marcel Ophuls’ Le Ronde, in 1950.
The British Film Institute awarded her a BAFTA as Best Foreign Actress for her role as the prostitute Marie in Jacques Becker’s Casque d’or (Golden Helmet, 1951). Other notable films during this period include Therese Raquin (1953), Les Diaboliques (Diabolique, or The Devils, 1954) for Henri-Georges Clouzot, and Les Sorcières de Salem (The Crucible, 1956), based on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
In 1958 her performance as Alice Aisgill in the British film Room at the Top won her the Best Actress Award at Cannes, the Best Actress BAFTA and the Best Actress Oscar, becoming the first French actor to win those awards in the same year and the only French actress to receive an Oscar until Juliette Binoche (Supporting Actress) in 1997 and Marion Cotillard (Best Actress) in 2008. She worked in Hollywood from 1965 to 1969 (earning a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Ship of Fools, in 1965) before returning to France for the remainder of her career.
Signoret was married twice, first to filmmaker Yves Allegret (1944-49, with whom she had a daughter, actress Catherine Allegret), and the Italian-born French actor Yves Montand (1953 until her death). Signoret died on September 30, 1985, at age 64 from pancreatic cancer. She was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Husband Yves Montand was later buried next to her.
Films in bold blue are especially recommended.
6:00 am - La Ronde (Commercial Pictures, 1954). 8:00 am -Casque d’or (Paris Film, 1952). 10:00 am - Against the Wind (Ealing, 1948). Noon -Gunman in the Streets (UA, 1950). 1:30 pm -The Deadly Affair (Columbia, 1967). 3:30 pm -Ship of Fools (Columbia, 1965). 6:00 pm -Term of Trial (Romulus/WB, 1962). 8:00 pm -Room at the Top (Romulus/Continental Dist., 1959). 10:00 pm -Diabolique (Filmsonor/Cenedis, 1955). 12:30 am -The Confession (Valoria Films, 1970). 3:15 am -Police Python .357 (Les Films de la Boetie, 1976).
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
August 17: Check out Rosalind Russell in the original Craig’s Wife (Columbia, 1936), later remade with Joan Crawford as Harriet Craig in 1950.
August 27: It’s Leslie Caron, Gene Kelly and Oscar Levant in the arty but delightful, An American in Paris (1951, 1:30 pm).
August 26: James Cagney’s day is celebrated with Blonde Crazy (1931, 6:00 am), The Crowd Roars (1932, 7:30 am), Jimmy the Gent (1934, 8:45 am), and The Mayor of Hell (1933, 4:30 am).
August 29: A good Pre-Code haul can be had on a day dedicated to Marion Davies. Civil War drama Operator 13 (1934) with Gary Cooper airs at 7:30 am. At 1:30 pm its Five and Ten (1931) with Leslie Howard, followed by Peg O’ My Heart (1933, 3:15 pm) The Floradora Girl (1930, 5:00 pm), Marianne (1929, Midnight), and Blondie of the Follies (1932, 2:00 am), with Robert Montgomery.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
August 16: The day is dedicated to Elvis Presley, who died on this date in 1977. Of the films shown the best is 1957’s Jailhouse Rock at 6:00 pm.
August 17: Rosalind Russell and Clark Gable are competing jewel thieves in 1941’s They Met in Bombay (1:30 pm).
August 18: Rod Taylor fights Morlocks in The Time Machine (1960, Noon) and our feathered friends in The Birds (1962, 8:00 pm)
August 19: Angela Lansbury appears with Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate (1962, 8:00 pm), followed by Gaslight (1944, 10:00 pm) with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Berman, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982, 2:30 am)
August 23: Slim Pickens is celebrated with Blazing Saddles (1974, 10:00 pm).
August 31: George Sanders stars in five psychotronic classics, beginning with Village of the Damned (1961) at 10:00 am. Then The Saint Strikes Back (1939) at 11:30 am, The Gay Falcon (1942) at 12:45 pm, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) at 2:00 pm, and finally, Lured (1947), with Lucille Ball at 2:00 am.
By Ed Garea
SUMMER UNDER THE STARS
It’s August, which means a month of “Summer Under the Stars,” in which each day is devoted to the films of a particular actor or actress. In the past, TCM has made this somewhat interesting by including people we don’t normally see, i.e., those not from Hollywood, the international stars. But this year the only international star we get is Simone Signoret, and if we really want to stretch it, Vanessa Redgrave (and that’s really stretching it, as she has made quite a few films in America).
Instead, we get yet another day of stars whose films have been nearly run to death. Given the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, TCM once again sticks to the tried and true, and in the end, lets its fans down. As I said in this column last year, I would like to see a day devoted to the films of the following: Marcello Mastroianni, Alec Guinness, Setsuko Hara, Monica Vitti. Paul Wegener, George Arliss, Michel Charles Hawtrey, Anouk Aimee, Ugo Tognazzi, Emil Jannings, Richard Attenborough, Vittorio Gassman, Googie Withers, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Alberto Sordi, Diana Dors, Jean-Claude Brialy, Gerard Depardieu, Giulietta Masina, Isabelle Huppert, Jean Marais, Anna Magnani, and Albert Remy. And that’s just off the top of my head.
This column is ostensibly dedicated to the rare and unusual, but there’s not much that’s rare this month and even less that’s unusual, so please excuse the brevity.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
August 1: On a day devoted to Marilyn Monroe, try Ladies of the Chorus (Columbia, 1949) at 6:00 am. Adele Jergens and Marilyn are mother/daughter burlesque chorus girls. Adele sees Marilyn going down the same rocky romantic road she did when she was young and tries to prevent it. It’s Marilyn’s first substantial role and the only movie she made for Columbia, which dropped her contract shortly after this film was released. Directed by old pro Phil Karlson, it’s definitely worth a look. Eddie Garr, who plays burlesque clown Billy Mackay, is the father of Teri, which should give film buffs even more reason to tune in.
August 8: Franchot Tone stars with Ann Sothern in the breezy and entertaining Fast and Furious, the last in the Joel and Garda Sloane mystery series, airing at 10:45 am.
August 8: Franchot Tone makes his second film appearance in Howard Hawks’ disappointing drama, Today We Live (6:00 am). This 1933 effort from MGM stars Gary Cooper and Robert Young as two officers (one a pilot and one in the Navy) competing for the love of English aristocrat Joan Crawford during World War I. Despite a script co-written by Willian Faulkner (from his story “Turn About”), the film is pretty heavy slogging with one of the corniest endings in the history of movies. Tone plays Crawford’s brother.
At 2:45 am, Tone is a playboy trying to break down showgirl Jean Harlow’s resolve in the delightful The Girl From Missouri (1934), with Harlow determined to preserve her “virtue” before marriage. With Lionel Barrymore as Tone’s millionaire father and Lewis Stone as a prospective husband whose suicide leads to trouble for Harlow.
August 11: A day dedicated to Ginger Rogers begins with four Pre-Code movies. First up at 6:00 am is The Tenderfoot (1932), a Joe E. Brown comedy that sees him as a naive cowboy with a roll of cash who wants to back a Broadway show in the worst way.
At 7:30 am, Ginger and Fred Astaire end up stealing Flying Down To Rio (1933) from erstwhile stars Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond. Their number, “the Carioca,” carried them from supporting roles to stars of the show.
Ginger loses honest, hardworking fiancee Joel McCrea to spoiled heiress Marian Nixon in the dull Chance at Heaven (1933) at 9:15 am, a move he lives to regret. Didn’t they just show this a couple of weeks ago?
Finally, at 10:45 am, Ginger joins with Pat O’Brien and Dick Powell in the musical Twenty Million Sweethearts (1934). Otherwise humdrum, it’s worth seeing for the appearance of the Mills Brothers.
August 13: Three excellent Pre-codes starring Barbara Stanwyck begin at 6:00 am with So Big! (1932). Based on the Edna Ferber novel, Stanwyck is a farmer’s widow who not only must take on the land after her husband dies, but must also deal with his difficult son in whom she has invested the family hopes. Look for Bette Davis in an early role.
At 7:30 am Stanwyck is a nightclub singer on the lam who hides out by becoming a mail order bride for struggling farmer George Brent in the wild melodrama The Purchase Price (1932). Directed by William Wellman, it’s bizarre, but moves along so fast we don’t have time to reflect on just how bizarre it is while we relish the racy dialogue along the way. Look for the scene where another of the mail order brides says, “You know what they say about men with bushy eyebrows and a long nose!” as she holds up a banana.
At 9:00 am Stanwyck stars in the Grandmother of Women’s Prison films: Ladies They Talk About (1933). Stanwyck made quite a few bizarre movies during her Pre-Code days, but this one is a doozy, with Babs as a moll arrested for her part in robbing a bank, betrayed by preacher Preston Foster, and sent to the Big House, where she interacts with as strange a cast of characters as you’ve ever seen. Look for there scene where Lillian Roth croons “If I Could Be With You” to a photo of Joe E. Brown. Obviously, she’s been cooped up too long. Also look for the quick scene where Lillian introduces Babs to some of the inmates. They pass by a well-built mannish woman smoking a cigar. “Watch out for her,” says Lillian. “She likes to wrestle!”
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
August 2: Two from Star of the Day Ray Milland. First up at 7:15 am is Bulldog Drummond Escapes (Paramount, 1937), a reimaging of the classic Ronald Colman film. Milland is excellent in the role and the film is an enjoyable B-programmer. At noon, Milland faces the aftermath of nuclear war in AIP’s Panic in the Year Zero (1962). Jean Hagen plays Ray’s wife and Frankie Avalon plays his son. Milland did double duty, as he also directed the film.
August 4: Dick Powell does an amazing job bringing detective Philip Marlowe to life in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet, at 10:00 pm. Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki, and Mile Mander co-star.
August 6: An early film with Robert Mitchum airs at 7:30 am. In When Strangers Marry, Mitchum has his first co-starring role as Fred Graham, former beau of Millie Baxter (Kim Hunter), who has just married traveling salesman Paul Baxter (Dean Jagger). As the film unfolds Millie comes to wonder if her new husband isn’t the killer the police are looking for after a drunk was murdered in his hotel room and relieved of the $10,000 bank roll he was carrying. This 1944 production from Monogram is crisply directed by William Castle and provides a good showcase for Mitchum. Even though it was made before he became a star, it was already his 22nd film credit, including six Hopalong Cassidy oaters. Those would have been interesting for TCM to run on this day.
August 9: Sandra Dee is an innocent college student lured away and drugged by crazed Dean Stockwell, who has stolen the Necronomicon from the school library and plans to sacrifice her in The Dunwich Horror (1970), at 4:00 am. It’s a lot duller than this synopsis sounds, as warlock Ed Begley, Sr. plans to stop Stockwell with the proper curse. Roger Corman served as executive producer, which should serve to explain things.
LON CHANEY – AUGUST 3
Lon Chaney is one of the greatest actors ever to appear before a camera. Who knows what he might have accomplished if his career was not cut short by lung cancer at the age of 47 in 1930. He had recently scored a success in his first – and only – talkie, a remake of his 1925 classic The Unholy Three (airing at 4:45 pm). The sound remake is airing at the late hour of 4:15 am.
Chaney was justifiably renowned for his ability to not only lose himself in his character, but to bend his body into almost impossible poses to play such characters. Watching him effortlessly cavort around the set as the legless criminal mastermind Blizzard in 1920’s The Penalty (6:00 am), one would almost be led to think he was born without legs. But he underwent a most painful binding of his lower legs behind him to create the effect.
In The Unknown, from 1927 (2:00 pm), he plays Alonzo the Armless Wonder. With his arms bound at his side, he learned to throw knives with his feet. In reality he is hiding from the police, and the reason he pretends to be armless is to hide his undeniable identifying mark: the fact he has two thumbs on one hand. Deeply in love with his lovely assistant Nanon, who cannot bear the feel of a man’s arms around her, he decides to make the ultimate sacrifice. As this is a Chaney film, we have an inkling how it turns out.
At 8 pm comes his most famous role: Erik the Phantom, the vengeful composer from The Phantom of the Opera (1925). If you haven’t yet seen this one, I urge you to watch it. It’s been remade several times, and even became a Broadway musical, but none of the remakes can touch the original.
Actually, all the Chaney films should be seen, but as most of us can’t really spare the time, in addition to those titles listed above, here are the best of the day:
9:15 am –Oliver Twist. Chaney makes for an unforgettable Fagin in this 1922 production with Jackie Coogan in the title role.
6:30 pm –He Who Gets Slapped (1924). Chaney is brilliant scientist Paul Beaumont. On the eve of a great success, loses both his wife (Ruth Hall) and invention to Baron Regnard (Marc McDermott). Heartbroken, he decides to become a clown in the circus, where he falls in love with beautiful bareback rider Consuelo (Norma Shearer). Unfortunately for Chaney, she is in love with her handsome partner Bezano (John Gilbert). This marks one of Chaney’s greatest performances and is definitely one to see.
9:45 pm – Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928). Again Chaney is a circus clown. He adopts an orphan who grows up to be Loretta Young (in her first substantial role). When she discovers he is in love with her, she realizes she must choose between her devotion to him and wealthy nobleman Luigi (Nils Asther), who has asked her to marry him. The film is a perfect example of Chaney's unmatched talent for turning what could merely be an unabashed tearjerking melodrama into a heartbreaking tragedy without resorting to chewing tons of scenery.
11:15 pm – Tell It to the Marines (1926). A departure of sorts for Chaney as he plays a tough drill sergeant who becomes a rival of spoiled recruit William Haines for the love of Eleanor Boardman. Recommended because it marks one of the rare times Chaney performed sans some sort of grotesque makeup.
1:15 am – West Of Zanzibar (1928). Chaney stars as Flint in this adaptation of the Broadway hit Kongo. A magician known as Phroso, he’s an amiable music-hall entertainer known for his act with wife Anna (Jacqueline Gadsden). But when Anna runs away with wealthy ivory trader Crane (Lionel Barrymore), Phroso tumbles from a balcony during a fight with Crane, injuring his spine and rendering him unable to walk. Mrs. Flint passes away several months later, leaving behind a daughter names Maizie. Flint, believing Maizie is the love child of Anna and Crane, takes the child and runs off to East Africa. He has Maizie raised in a brothel, and sets up his own kingdom in the jungle, deceiving the locals with his magic tricks. Now known as “Dead-Legs,” he sends for Maizie (Mary Nolan) after she turns 18, telling her that she will finally meet her father. He treats her with open hatred, in the process turning her into an alcoholic. When he finally has his showdown scene with Crane, Flint learns that what he thought was so all these years really isn’t. This builds up to a major surprise for Flint in his relationship with Maizie. MGM remade the film in 1932 as Kongo, starring Walter Huston, who originated the part on Broadway. Those who think West of Zanzibar is extreme after seeing it should get a load of the remake. It actually goes beyond the silent version in depravity.
During his all-too-short career, Chaney was one of the most popular movie stars of his day. A popular joke of the era was was “Don't step on it; it might be Lon Chaney!” For many years, the cause of the cancer was thought to have been a piece of artificial snow, made out of crushed gypsum, that lodged in his throat during the filming of Thunder(1929), his last silent film. However, Chaney was a heavy smoker, whose habit was said to have reached four packs a day.
Chaney was one of those rare talents who could give life to a character without overdoing it. Again, we can only imagine what it might have been like had Chaney lived.
By Ed Garea
July’s TCM Spotlight for July is 50 Years of Hitchcock, and they’re showing just about every film the director made over the course of his career. Which films do we recommend? Why, all of them, of course. This is not to say that Hitchcock ever made a bad film. He did. Plenty of them. But a director’s bad films can be just as interesting, and can sometimes provide more insight into his inner workings. There are some of his silent works scheduled, especially for this fortnight, and we know that for some, silent films are anathema. Frankly, I have never understood it. There are also those at the opposite end on the pole who insist that not only are silent films superior, there has never been a bad one made. This argument, like the one some Pre-Code film fans give for their favorite, is pure fantasy. There are good and bad films in all genres, all styles of filmmaking. To deny this is to deny the power of film itself.
However, there are two shorts Hitchcock made in 1944 for England’s Ministry of Information. The first is Aventure malgache (Madagascan Adventure), airing at 4:30 am July 7. While preparing backstage, one of The Moliere players tells a castmate that his face reminds him of an opportunist turncoat he knew when he was in the Resistance. He then relates the adventure that he had in the Resistance, running an illegal radio station and dodging the Nazis in the Axis-controlled French colony of Madagascar.
The second short, Bon Voyage, immediately follows at 5:15 am. A young Scottish RAF gunner has made it back to England and is debriefed by French officials about his escape from occupied territory. In particular the officials are interested in one person who may or may not have been a German agent. Both shorts are directed in the immaculate Hitchcock style and are captivating to watch. Our advice is to record them for later.
As for Hitch, the schedule for this edition is July 5, 7, 12 and 14, all beginning at 8 pm.
July 2: At 2:30 am comes I Knew Her Well (1965), a story about a naive country girl (Stefania Sandrelli) who comes to Rome hoping to become a movie star and instead finds herself ignored, used and made fun of as those she meets hoping to get ahead only see her as an exploitable body. Sandrelli is amazing, injecting the part with passion and a knowledge beyond her years (she was 18 when she made the film). Think of La Dolce Vita without the Dolce. While she tries her best to socialize and befriend people, the results are disappointing and frustrating, as people ignore her, use her and make fun of her while exploiting her body and her good intentions. No one even grants her the small favor of taking her seriously. This could just come off as another girl comes to the big city and gets abused flick, but director Antonio Pietrangeli shoots the film in such a style that we fell as if we’re right there alongside Sandrelli. Mario Adorf and the versatile Jean-Claude Brialy co-star, but Sandrelli’s the show.
Speaking of Jean-Claude Brialy, Le Beau Serge (1958), the directorial debut of Claude Chabrol, follows at 4:45 am, a hell of a time to watch this engrossing drama. Record it, you won’t be sorry. Brialy is Francois, a sickly theology student who returns to his hometown for a recuperative rest only to find his best friend from youth, Serge (Gerard Blain), has become a drunkard trapped in a bad marriage. To make matters worse, Francois learns that his son was born a mongoloid, living just a short time, and his wife is pregnant again. The film is generally considered the first official film of the French New Wave, a point that is hotly debated, but the most important thing is that it is a riveting drama about a man who finds he cannot go home again. Shades of Thomas Wolfe.
July 9: A double feature from Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki features two of his wry comedies: Shadows in Paradise (1986), at 2:00 am, followed by Ariel (1989) at 3:30. The first concerns Nikander, a garbage man (Matti Pellonpaa) who falls head over heels for Ilona, a grocery store cashier (Kati Outinen). Their first date is a crashing bore for both, but when Ilona is fired and steals the company cash box, the only person she can think of for refuge is Nikander, and so she moves in with him, starting things off as a romance of convenience. But as time passes, feelings deepen into a love that transforms them both.
Ariel is the story of Taisto Kasurinen (Turo Pajala), a northern Finnish coal miner whose depressed friend gives him his old Cadillac just before going into the toilet and blowing his brains out. Taisto drives down to southern Finland, where muggers quickly relieve him of his life savings. He gets a job as a laborer, procures a bed in a Skid Row mission, and later strikes up an instant romance with a metermaid, who decides to toss away her parking tickets and go for a ride with him in the Cadillac. While meeting the metermaid may be seen as a stroke of luck for Taisto, life has other ideas, and film sees him suffering one misfortune after another. Think of a Finnish version of Detour, only not as optimistic.
July 8: The evening is devoted to one of my favorite directors, the brilliant James Whale, with four of his features. We begin with The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)at 8 pm, which is being shown on The Essentials. This should give fans a chance to decide on what the bigger horror is: Karloff and Lanchester or Essentials hosts Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey. We recommend using your fast-forward button to cut through the useless blather and get to the film, which is seen by many critics and historians alike as the greatest horror film ever made. And the irony is that it’s really a black comedy, with Whale taking jabs at religion, science and society in general. It was a film he wasn’t all that keen on making, fearing that he was being typecast as a horror director. But horror was where he shined, another irony. Watch for the amazing performance of Ernest Thesiger, who walks away with the film. And also look for a marvelous inside joke when Dr. Pretorious shows Henry Frankenstein his creations.
At 9:45 airs a film Whale was keen to make: The Man in the Iron Mask (1939). Based on the last of the D’Artagnan–Three Musketeers books by Alexandre Dumas, this story of a despotic king, his wronged identical twin brother, and the four heroes who devise a plan to free him from prison and place him on the throne has been filmed multiple times over the years, but Whale’s version may well be the best one. Louis Hayward does double duty as Louis XIV and his twin brother, Phillipe, while Joan Bennett plays Maria Theresa. Warren William is excellent as D’Artagnan, with Alan Hale as Porthos. In the hands of the stylish Whale, the film shines with vivid period detail, not to mention the many exciting moments.
At midnight it’s a film many would never associate with Whale: Show Boat (1936). But this is a film that benefited from the meticulous attention to detail and style that was a Whale hallmark. Irene Dunne and Allan Jones star, but the real star – and soul – of the movie is Paul Robeson, especially his stirring rendition of “Old Man River.”
The evening closes out at 2:15 am with Whale’s sardonic version of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man (1933). In a typical Whale irony, it marked the first starring role for Claude Rains, who wasn’t seen until the last few seconds of the film, being invisible up till then. Despite this, Rains was brilliant, expressing himself solely through the use of his voice. It’s one of my favorite films and one I can watch again and again.
On July 10, the day is devoted to John Gilbert. The morning begins at 6 am with Gilbert and Renee Adoree in La Boheme (1926). Adoree is a seamstress in love with would-be playwright Gilbert among the downtrodden in 1830s Paris. At 8 am, A Woman of Affairs (1928), with co-star Greta Garbo. At 10:45 am it’s the film that made Gilbert a star: King Vidor’s World War I drama, The Big Parade (1925). One of the best films ever made about “The War to End All Wars,” Gilbert is an innocent enlistee who learns about the horrors of war firsthand. Adoree is the French farm girl who loves him. Forget about it being a silent. Tune in for some of the most realistic battle scenes ever filmed.
At 1:30 pm comes the first of two talkies on the bill. Way For a Sailor (1930), sees Gilbert as a dedicated sailor torn between his love of the sea and his love for Joan (Leila Hyams). As Leonard Maltin says in his review, it’s mainly for fans of early talkies.
Ah, but following right after, at 3:00 pm comes my favorite Gilbert film and the one I think is his best. In Downstairs (1932) he’s a heel chauffeur who sleeps and schemes his way from one wealthy household to another. His performance should put the lie to the oft repeated accusation that Gilbert wasn’t made for the talkies. It was studio politics that did Gilbert in, not the tenor of his voice.
Closing out the day at 6 pm is Gilbert’s first pairing with Garbo, Flesh and the Devil (1926). Reputedly, the scene at the train station was the first time Gilbert had ever laid eyes on his co-star and it was love – hot passionate love – for both at first sight. That day he decided to leave his wife. And if you want to see chemistry, take a gander at this film. They weren’t faking it.
July 12: For those enamored with Pre-Code movies, who think nothing was as honest or daring, I invite you to take a look at Way Back Home (1931), airing at 10:30 am. Starring Phillips Lord as Seth Parker and based on his cracker barrel drama radio show A Prairie Home Companion, it is insufferably dull, filled with homespun honor that wasn’t funny back then. Look for Bette Davis (her fourth film) in a minor role as Seth’s neighbor. I expect the Pre-Code junkies to write in and defend this as great cinematic art.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
As always, there’s a good selection of psychotronic films.
July 1: A morning double-feature of The Mummy (1932) with the one and only Karloff at 6:30 am, followed by Charles Laughton in 1933’s Island of Lost Souls at 7:45 am. Following at 10:30 am is Chester Morris as Boston Blackie in The Chance of a Lifetime (1943), Blackie helps ex-cons adjust to life as defense workers. But always something goes wrong...
July 8: Boston Blackie helps the police recover a stolen Egyptian diamond in One Mysterious Night (1944). For those having trouble sleeping we have just the remedy: Gymkata (1985), starring the unforgettable Kurt Thomas, will be showing at 3:45 am.
July 13: An entire day of psychotronic films begins at 6 am with Peter Lorre in Mad Love (1935). Following at 7:30 am is The Hidden Hand (1942), a send-up of old dark house mysteries concerning a group of greedy heirs called to the mansion for the reading of the will. At 8:45 am comes Bela Lugosi’s only color film, Scared to Death (1947). Bored to Death would be more like it. It’s as lifeless as the corpse around which the plot revolves. At 10 am come one of Val Lewton’s best: The Seventh Victim (1943), centered around a Satanic cult in Greenwich Village and a young woman’s search for her missing sister. At 11:15 Boris Karloff and wife Catherine Lacey live vicariously through decadent playboy Ian Ogilvy in The Sorcerers (1967). Worth a watch.
The afternoon kicks off with one of the strangest films ever made: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962). Filmed in 1959 but not released (or escaped) until 1962, this is a genuine laff riot. Demented doc Jason (Herb) Evers, racing to his mountain hideaway with fiancee Virginia Leith, ends up in a car crash that decapitates his fiancee. Clutching her head in his jacket he makes like O.J. Simpson for the house, where he puts her head in a roasting pan supported by wires and tubes while he goes out looking for a suitable body. Meanwhile his monster – kept in a closet – is getting antsy. The best version is the MST 3000 version, but for those who like their crap straight, this will do fine.
At 2:15 comes Christopher Lee and Betta St. John in Horror Hotel (1960), followed by another Lewton production, The Leopard Man(1943) at 3:45 pm. Closing out the day is the Australian horror, The Plumber (1979) at 5:00 pm, followed by Karloff and Jack Nicholson in Roger Corman’s lethargic The Terror (1963) at 6:30 pm.
July 15:Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945) airs at 10:30 am, while Hammer’s excellent Five Million Years to Earth (1968) is scheduled for 6 pm.
At 2:30 am Stacy Keach and Jason Miller star in The Ninth Configuration (1980), followed by Peter Breck as a reporter who feigns insanity to solve a murder committed in an asylum in Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963).
By Ed Garea
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal by Terry Teachout focuses on TCM’s venture with the folks at Fathom Events in bringing classic films to big screen in multiplexes across the country. This is especially important in that many revival houses are dying out. Yes, big-screen TVs make it easier to watch letterboxed films (watching such a film on a 19-inch TV is like looking through the wrong end of telescope), but take it from one who’s been – there is nothing like watching a classic film on a big screen with an audience. Since my college days I’ve spent more time than I care to remember watching classic films in revival houses in New Jersey and New York City. In grad school my friend, Jean-Paul Garrieux and I spent many an hour glued to the screen at whatever revival house was playing what we were looking for. From Ivan the Terrible, Part 2 to Jules and Jim to Horse Feathers to Detour, we saw as many as time permitted. One of my happiest times was when I took my late wife to Radio City Music Hall to see a special showing of Casablanca, her favorite film, for her birthday. (It was actually playing a week before. She was blown away by seeing it for the first time on the big screen in a theater packed to the brim, 6,000 capacity). Preceding the film was a new (at the time) cartoon from Warner’s called Carrotblanca, a send up of the movie with Bugs, Daffy, Tweety, Sylvester and the gang. The audience ate it up. When the film came on, all was quiet except for the reaction to one scene when Major Strasser asks Rick if he can see the Germans marching into his beloved New York City. When Rick answered by advising Strasser that there were some parts of New York it wasn’t safe to invade, the house exploded in laughter. Everyone there knew the line was coming. That’s what made it so special. As I said, my wife absolutely loved it on the big screen, and later, at the restaurant, we found ourselves seated next to another couple that had seen it. We ended up putting our tables together and discussing the movie over dinner. Such is the big screen experience.
Here’s Teachout describing his experience:
“For me, though, it was even more instructive to watch North by Northwest in the company of a theater full of other people, many of whom were clearly seeing the film for the first time. When you’re watching it by yourself, it’s easy to forget that North by Northwest is less a cloak-and-dagger adventure story than a high romantic comedy with a light glaze of thriller sauce. Why is this the case? Because most of us tend not to laugh out loud when we’re alone. Not so the audience with whom I saw it last week. Instead of sitting somberly like a bunch of grim-faced graduate students, we all hooted at Ernest Lehman’s fizzy, flawlessly timed one- and two-liners (“I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me”). We even clapped at the end! That’s what the Big Screen Classics series is all about: It’s a priceless reminder of what we miss by watching classic films at home instead of on a big screen in the company of a happy audience.”
David also has taken advantage of TCM’s program and saw one of his favorites, Planet of the Apes, at a multiplex. He explains his experience: Planet of the Apes is one of my all-time favorite films, one I've seen about 50 times. I own the original Planet five-movie series on DVD. Yet watching it so many times on TV is nothing in comparison to seeing it on the big screen. The film comes alive and it's a completely different experience – and in a lot of ways a completely different movie – than the one I've watched over the past several decades. You can take in the entire film and enjoy it in the way it was meant to be shown in a theater. When I went, there were barely a dozen people in the theater, but I was fortunate to go with a fellow Ape movie lover. The two of us recited several of the lines – it was such an empty theater that no one was nearby – and even gasped at the end of the film even though we knew exactly what was coming. I would highly recommend watching a classic film in a theater setting, particularly if it's one you love. (Read our essay on the film here.)
Other films from TCM and Fathom Events this year are as follows:
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Sunday, July 30 & Wednesday, August 2)
Bonnie And Clyde (Sunday, August 13 & Wednesday, August 16)
E.T. (Sunday, September 17 & Wednesday, September 20)
The Princess Bride (Sunday, October 15 & Wednesday, October 18)
Casablanca (Sunday, November 12 & Wednesday, November 15)
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Sunday, December 10 & Wednesday, December 13)
There’s something for everybody here. So take a date, your wife, or your family. It really is an experience of a lifetime.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
June 18: As usual, the best movies of the day begin at 2:00 am. And at that hour we begin with Wong Kar Wei’s Chungking Express (1994), a beguiling mixture of comedy, romance and drama. It can be best described as a “slice of life” film. In separate episodes, two rather melancholy policemen happen to fall in love. In the first story, which highlights the sadder side of love, Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who has just broken up with his girlfriend of five years, falls for a mysterious underworld figure (Brigitte Lin). In the second part, Cop 663 (Tony Leung) has also suffered a breakup and forms a relationship with a beautiful woman (Faye Wong) who works at the counter of a late-night restaurant he frequents. The setting of the film draws us in. Chungking is presented as a multicultural place and we hear dialogue in Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and Indian throughout the film. Both the acting and script are first rate, with the romance being applied in the right places instead of being allowed to dominate and pull the film down. Those who haven’t seen it will find it a nice surprise and quite compelling.
Following at 4:00 am is director Luchino Visconti’s Le Notti Bianche (White Nights, 1961). Based on “White Nights,” an early story written in 1848 by Dostoevsky, it revolves around two main characters, Natalia (Maria Schell) and Mario (Marcello Mastroianni), who live in the Italian city of Livorno, located on the Tuscan coast. Mario is a lonely, soulful man, happiest when simply wandering through the streets each evening. Natalia also is lonely: besides being shy she lives with her blind grandmother, who is so protective that she pins their skirts together. Thus Natalia can't so go anywhere at all without alerting the old lady. They meet when he hears a woman crying in the street and walks over so see what is going on. It’s Natalia, who quickly warms to him after he scares off a bothersome man and comforts her by admitting how timid he is around strangers. They decide to meet at the same spot the next evening, where they learn more about each other.
Natalia’s life is changed, and she begins a relationship with new boarder (Jean Marais) who has rented a room in her grandmother's house. She falls passionately in love with him, but he’s leaving for Moscow, where he hopes to improve his lot in life. He promises to come back in exactly a year and marry her if she's willing. Now the year is up and Natalia hasn't heard a word from him since he left. She fears she has lost him forever and opens up about this to Mario, who realizes that he loves her deeply, but uses this love to betray her by destroying a letter he has promised to deliver to her lover imploring him to return. Unaware of his actions, Natalia starts returning Mario’s affection, lending hope to his fondest dreams. However, her missing lover suddenly turns up. Though he’s three days late, he’s still head over heels about Maria. The story ends as it began, with Mario walking alone with only his thoughts on the darkening street.
June 24: Jean-Luc Godard takes us into the world of the absurd in Weekend (1968), itself airing at the absurd hour of 4:15 am. A husband and wife (Jean Yanne and Mireille Darc) are plotting the murder of her parents so they can get their hands on the inheritance money. That weekend they must travel to the parents’ home to pull of the murder. But along the route they watch a pair of drivers attack each other in the street, not realizing that soon they will be descending into a certain kind of hell as Godard weaves an absurdist nightmare. This was made as he began to deviate from the standard plot to delve into the pure absurd. Most of the movie is incomprehensible to a casual viewer and you will find yourself having to pay attention. Is it worth it? That is a question only the viewer can answer. Consider yourself warned.
June 25: Pierre Etaix co-wrote, directed, and stars in Yo Yo (1965), a gentle and very funny comedy about the son of a ruined (in the 1929 crash) millionaire and his love, a horse rider in the circus. Their son, Yo Yo, dreams of restoring his father’s castle to the splendor he remembers from childhood. After World War II, Yo Yo resumes his career, becoming an international star of music halls, the cinema, and television. After spending a fortune realizing his dream, he gives a huge party to welcome his father and mother back to the castle, but thing do not go as he planned. Etaix was a disciple of Jacques Tati and worked as a writer on Mon Oncle (1958). The film reflects the influence on Etaix of Chaplin, Lloyd, and Laurel and Hardy. I think it’s safe to say that Etaix is not like those who came before him and he is just as funny without becoming maudlin in the process. Give it a view.
June 20: Louis Wolheim, he of the battered nose and bulldog look, is having an evening dedicated to his films. At 8:00 pm it’s Gentleman’s Fate (1931). Louis is a gangster whose sheltered brother, John Gilbert, is left half of his father’s bootlegging business when their father contracts a fatal dose of lead poisoning. At 9:45 pm Wolheim is bootleg king Nick Scarsi in the silent classic, The Racket (1928), directed by Lewis Milestone. At 11:30 pm Wolheim is a railroad boss who gives a job to a drifter and regrets it when the drifter begins moving in on his girl, Jean Arthur in Danger Lights (1930), a film for railroad buffs. At 1:00 am Wolheim’s a lusty ship captain put in his place by passenger Mary Astor in The Sin Ship (1931). Louis and William Boyd fight to escape the Germans while fighting over Mary Astor in the silent Two Arabian Knights (1927). Finally, at 4:15 am, Wolheim looks on as Joel McCrea is trapped between shady lady Evelyn Brent and good girl Jean Arthur in The Silver Horde (1930).
June 23: Catch Fred and Ginger in the film that made them Fred and Ginger, Flying Down to Rio (1933), at 11:30 am. Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond were the stars, but all eyes were on Fred and Ginger and the amazing chemistry they generated.
June 24: At the early hour of seven in the morning It’s Robert Flaherty’s amazing documentary, Man of Aran, from 1934. Flaherty examines the lives of the native of the barren Aran Islands, located in Galway Bay, north of Ireland, and the daily struggle for existence they face battling the sea from which they get their sustenance. Some of the scenes at sea are truly breathtaking.
June 27: At 8:00 am it’s the excellent drama, What Price Hollywood? from 1932. Lowell Sherman is a drunken director who helps waitress Constance Bennet gain a foothold the business. She rises to become a star while he sinks ever deeper into an alcoholic morass. Leonard Maltin says it’s a sharp-eyed look at behind-the-scenes Hollywood and helped to inspire the 1937 A Star is Born.
June 29: A bloc of Pre-Codes begins at 8:30 am with the Joan Blondell-Stuart Erwin comedy, Make Me a Star (1932). Erwin is a grocery clerk who, after taking a mail-order acting course, decides to go out to Hollywood and try his luck. Blondell is a sympathetic actress who gets him a job in a Western parody. The only problem is that no one bothers to tell the poor guy that he’s the comic relief.
Following at 10:15 am is Man Hunt (1933), a run-of-the-mill programmer about a teen detective (Junior Durkin) who helps the daughter (Charlotte Henry) of a jewel thief.
At 11:30 am it’s Richard Dix and Elizabeth Allen in No Marriage Ties, from RKO in 1933. Dix is a sports reporter who gets drunk in a speakeasy and forgets his assignment, for which he is fired. For solace he returns to the speakeasy, where he overhears two men discussing a toothpaste ad campaign. He saunters over and rattles off a number of clever slogans and so impresses them that he is hired as a copywriter. Soon he rises to partner, which is the beginning of his downfall. It’s not much of a picture, but Dix, as always, gives an excellent performance.
And rounding things out at 1:00 pm, it’s Ginger Rogers in Rafter Romance (1933), a comedy about a sales clerk (Rogers) who falls for a night shift worker (Foster) with our realizing they share the same apartment. The film was thought to be “lost,” but it was rediscovered and restored by TCM. Turns out it was one of six RKO film that were removed from the studio’s library when they were sold to former studio executive Merian C. Cooper in 1946.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
June 17: When he’s framed for robbery, Chester Morris sets out to find the real thief in Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942), at 10:30 am.
At 2:00 am TCM once again runs the awful double feature of Punk Vacation (1990), followed by Killer Party (1986) at 3:35 am. C'mon, TCM, these flicks have been repeated enough over the year. Give it a rest. I love psychotronic films, but enough is enough.
June 21: Dementia 13 (1963), an early effort from Francis Ford Coppola for Roger Corman, airs at 4:45 pm.
June 23:Ride the Wild Surf (1964), starring Fabian and Shelley Fabares, will be shown at 9:30 am. At 5:00 am those interested can catch Gidget Goes to Rome (1963), with Cindy Carol as the title character and James Darren returning as Moondoggie. It was the last appearance for Gidget in the movies. Next stop, a television series in 1965.
June 27: A James Caan double feature begins at 8:00 pm with the dystopian Rollerball (1975), followed immediately by his turn as a stranded astronaut in Robert Altman’s Countdown (1968).
June 28: A bloc of psychotronic classics begins at 11:45 am with Bela Lugosi in White Zombie(1932). At 1:00 pm it’s Joel McCrea and Leslie Banks in the wonderful The Most Dangerous Game (1932). Charles Laughton is magnificent in Island of Lost Souls (1933) at 2:15 pm. Following at 3:30, Eric Porter and Hildegard Knef lead a crew of stranded sailors on Hammer’s The Lost Continent (1968), where they battle man-eating seaweed, giant crabs, and Spanish conquistadors who still think the Inquisition is on. Finally, Boris Karloff stars in Val Lewton’s grim tale of the plague during the Balkan Wars, Isle of the Dead (1945), at 5:00 pm.
BAD MOVIE ALERT!
June 16: At 7:45 am comes one of the great stinkers of the screen, a movie that’s a perfect combination of unintended humor mixed with the right amount of camp. It’s none other than Liberace himself in Sincerely Yours (WB, 1955). In this wild remake of the 1932 drama, The Man Who Played God, starring George Arliss. Liberace stars as a concert pianist (What else?) who loses his hearing. Like Arliss in the original, Lib sits in the balcony of his apartment with a pair of binoculars watching the people in the park across the street. Learning lip reading, he learns of their problems and being the great guy he is, helps them all out – even his secretary, who has fallen for another man. It’s a campy schmaltzfest, and the hospital scene near the end when Lib has his operation and the doctor is testing to see if his hearing has returned, is an absolute hoot, as is the ending with Lib tap dancing for all his wonderful fans. Warner’s originally had Liberace signed to multi-picture deal, but after the returns on this turkey, they decided to forget about it. David and I recommend you record this for later viewing, as it’s best viewed by a group along with plenty of popcorn and drinks. Smart remarks back to the screen are always welcome. How this ever missed out being on Mystery Science Theater is beyond us.
By Ed Garea
June is busting out all over, with some real gems among the usual.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
June 4: A double feature from Spain begins at 2:00 am with Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989). Antonio Banderas is Ricky, a mentally unbalanced man who takes porn star Marina (Victoria Abril) prisoner in the hope that he’ll be able to convince her to marry him. Though I usually complain about quality foreign films being buried in the Sunday Night Graveyard Shift, this is a good example of a film that should be shown at this hour. Originally rated X, the rating was changed with the introduction of NC-17. The reason for the rating was a sexually explicit scene of Marina being aroused by a toy diver in the bathtub. As TCM has a policy of not editing movies, I wonder if they’ll go through with this showing. Only one way to find out . . .
Following at 4:00 am is Barrios altos (1987), from director José Luis García Berlanga, a story of a recently divorced woman (Victoria Abril) drawn into danger when Carlos (Abel Folk), her masseuse, is murdered. He had left her a message on her answering machine with directions to pick up a package. She must find his killer before the killer finds her.
June 9: One of the most sublime comedies ever made, Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), is airing at 3:45 am. Read our essay on it here. It’s followed by Cours du sour (Evening Classes, 1967), a short with star Jacques Tati as a teacher instructing his acting class about the subtleties of certain types of people. Though his students are eager, they’re not very talented.
June 10: At 4:00 am it’s Shirley Clarke’s The Connection (1962), a unique independent effort chronicling a day in the lives of New York junkies. Eight addicts are waiting in the apartment of Leach (Warren Finnerty) for Cowboy (Carl Lee), their dealer, to deliver their heroin. Aspiring young filmmaker, Jim Dunn (William Redfield) agrees to pay for the heroin if the addicts will allow him and his cameraman, J.J. Burden (Roscoe Lee Browne) to film the connection scene. After the men get their fixes, they talk Dunn into trying heroin so that he may obtain a “first hand” understanding of the subject. He becomes ill and while sleeping, Leach takes an overdose that puts him into a coma. Dunn recovers, with the aid of Cowboy, and writes off the film as a failure, handing over the footage to J.J. It’s dated, it frequently wanders off track, but it still makes for interesting viewing.
June 11: Two compelling films from Japan that are definitely off the beaten track. First up at 2:00 am is Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun zankoku monogatari, 1960), a hard-edged portrait of two delinquents who specialize in blackmail. Makoto (Miyuki Kuwano) is a disaffected high school girl who spends her evenings hanging out in a bar, then hitching a ride home with whatever man she's met. One night the man who gives her a lift isn't content with dropping her off, but tries to force himself on her. A stranger named Kiyoshi (Yûsuke Kawazu) comes along. He not only beats the assailant up, but gets the man to pay him to keep quiet. But this is no story of a knight riding to the rescue of a lady in distress. They turn this first encounter into a regular money-making scheme, with Makoto luring middle-aged men into compromising situations so Kiyoshi can "save" her and extort their cash. Makoto also becomes pregnant with Kiyoshi's child. Makoto's older sister’s onetime boyfriend, an idealistic physician, gives Makoto an abortion at Kiyoshi's insistence. It’s not a film that ends well, as writer-director Nagisa Oshima sets out to show how a materialistic society plants seeds of amorality and angst in its younger generation. It’s sort of like Rebel Without a Cause, but with a much, much sharper edge.
Following at 4:00 am is Oshima’s 1970 opus, Boy (Shonen), a story based on a real-life case of a 10-year-old boy whose World War II veteran father and stepmother make their living by pretending to be hit by cars and extorting money from the drivers. Because of the nature of their trade, the family moves frequently from town to town, living a feast-or-famine existence. Eventually, the boy (his parents never refer to him by name, but only as "Boy") learns the ins and outs and joins the family business.
June 12: At 1:45 pm, the astonishing political film, The Battle of Algiers (1966) airs. Given all that happening today vis-a-vis international terrorism, the film remains as relevant as the day it was made and is a must see.
POWELL AND PRESSBURGER
One of the most enduring and creative partnerships in the history of the movies has been that of director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger. Their films, noted for their humanity, always managed to involve the human mind while touching the human heart, without recourse to the overly sentimental or the obvious.
June 14: A night of the famous duo’s films commences at 8:00 pm with the classic A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven, 1947). David Niven is unforgettable as an injured RAF pilot during World War II who must argue his case to go on living before a celestial court.
At 10:00 pm it’s their classic of human drama, Black Narcissus (1947), a harrowing tale of Episcopal about nuns trying to establish a mission in a remote Himalayan outpost while faced not only with formidable physical challenges, but challenges to the human spirit as well. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography won an Oscar, as did art director Alfred Junge. As with all of their films the human drama is intensified by the quality of the acting from an impressive cast that includes Deborah Kerr, Sabu, Flora Robson, and Jean Simmons.
Hour of Glory (1949) follows at midnight., a seldom seen, but harrowing tale of an embittered bomb disposal officer in World War II London who must fight the demons that come with alcohol. Jack Hawkins, David Farrar and Kathleen Byron star. This film truly fits the definition of Forgotten Gem.
At 2:00 am is scheduled one of the duo’s most subtle excursions into the residency of the human spirit, I Know Where I’m Going (1945), a story about a headstrong young woman (Wendy Hiller) whose plan in life is to marry for money. Stranded in a Scottish seacoast town, her plans are interrupted when she meets naval officer Roger Livesay. There’s very little plot to speak of, but it’s the abundance of charm and wit that draws us into this beautifully scripted character study.
Finally, at 3:45 am, comes on of their most overlooked and underrated gems, A Canterbury Tale (1944), a wonderful examination of the nature of miracles set along the road made so famous by Chaucer. A visiting Tommy (Dennis Price) teams with an American sergeant (John Sweet) and a farm girl (Sheila Sim) to solve the mystery of the “Glueman,” a mysterious figure who pours glue into women’s hair. They are aided by the local magistrate (Eric Portman) as their search takes them to Canterbury, where their miracles are granted. This is an extraordinary film, moving in its subtlety and one that should best be recorded, due to its late hour.
June 1: A morning of four Pre-Code films featuring Frank Morgan begins at 6:00 am with the rarely shown Secrets of the French Police (1932), a mystery about crimes committed why hypnotized women that unfortunately becomes entangled in its own plot. Gwili Andre, Gregory Ratoff and Murray Kinnell star along with Morgan. At 7:15 am it’s the tepid musical Broadway to Hollywood (1933) with Morgan as a vaudevillian played at different times in his life by Jackie Cooper and the young Mickey Rooney. It’s followed at 8:45 by the gem of the bunch, The Half-Naked Truth (1933) with the irrepressible Lee Tracy as a carnival pitchman who turns sideshow dancer Lupe Velez into an overnight sensation. Morgan turns in a wonderful performance as a nervous Ziegfeld type and the always excellent Eugene Palette is escape artist Achilles. The morning wraps up at 10:15 with The Cat and the Fiddle (1934), a musical gem based on a Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein operetta about a struggling composer (Ramon Novarro) in love with a singer (Jeanette MacDonald). Frank Morgan throws monkey wrenches into Novarro’s careful constructed plans.
June 3: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is a down on his luck con artist who finds a suitcase full of money in Union Station (1932), airing at 1:00 am. Joan Blondell is excellent as a stranded chorus girl Fairbanks ultimately helps. A nice little fast-paced gem of a movie.
June 5: Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper star in the best adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s World War I drama, A Farewell to Arms (1932), airing at 2:15 pm. But as our David Skolnick points out in his synopsis, it’s Adolphe Menjou who steals the movie right out from under them.
June 6: Loretta Young stars in Midnight Mary (1933), William Wellman’s drama of an abused orphan who enters a life of crime, at 12:30 pm. Ricardo Cortez and Franchot Tone co-star.
June 9: William Powell is Philo Vance in the excellent The Kennel Murder Case (1933), solving what looks like a suicide. Mary Astor and the reliable Eugene Pallette provide sterling support. Michael Curtiz directs. (Read our essay on it here.) The film is showing at noon.
At 1:30 pm Bette Davis is a party hardy who gets involved in a stolen securities scheme and meets an ignoble end in Fog Over Frisco (1934). Margaret Lindsay is her sober stepsister. Donald Woods also stars.
Ending the trio is not only one of the best Pre-Code films ever made, but one of the best films, period. It’s none other William Powell and Myrna Loy in the mystery, The Thin Man (1934). Forget about the plot. Who cares about the plot? We’re here to see Powell and Loy in action. ‘Nuff said.
June 12: At 8:15 am it’s the movie that destroyed Lee Tracy’s career as a headliner: Viva Villa (1934). This tale about Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa (Wallace Beery) is more notable what what happened offscreen than for what took place on it. Tracy, who had a long standing problem with alcohol, stood stark naked on a Mexico City hotel balcony and urinated on some Mexican cadets standing below, creating an international incident and necessitating his replacement by Stuart Erwin.
June 14: Joel McCrea falls for soon-to-be sacrificial pawn Dolores Del Rio in Bird of Paradise (1932) at 7:15 am. (It’s repeated on July 19 at 7:45 am.) Following at 8:45 am is the creaky Girl of the Port (1930). Set in Fiji, stranded showgirl Josie (Sally O’Neil) meets shellshocked veteran Jim (Reginald Sharland) and brings him back to health.
June 15: A trio of Pre-Code films begins at 7:30 am with William Powell in the rarely shown Private Detective 62 (1933). He’s a private eye in Paris who falls hard for the woman (Margaret Lindsay) he’s investigating. At 8:45 am the one and only Greta Garbo stars as the one and only spy Mata Hari(1932). And at noon, Marion Davies and Gary Cooper star in the Civil Way spy drama Operator 13 (1934).
EDGAR G. ULMER
TCM devotes an entire evening to the films of noted psychotronic director Edgar G. Ulmer, a man who frequently had to make $10,000 look like $1,000,000.
June 6: We begin at 8:00 pm with Ulmer’s classic expressionistic horror story, The Black Cat (1934), marking the first teaming of Lugosi and Karloff. Next is The Cavern (1965, 9:15 pm), a war drama about soldiers and civilians trapped in a cave full of supplies in Italy. John Saxon, Rosanna Schiaffino and Larry Hagman star.
The evening moves on with The Naked Dawn (1955) at 11:00 pm. It’s a modern Western starring Eugene Iglesias and Betta St. John as a Mexican couple whose life is upended by the appearance of charming bandit Santiago (Arthur Kennedy) who has eyes for the missus. This is a film beloved by Ulmer fans and is definitely worth a peek.
At 12:45 am comes Ulmer’s sci-fi classic The Man From Planet X (1951), about an alien whose initial intent is friendly, but who turns deadly when scientist Dr. Mears (William Schallert) takes him prisoner with intent to exploit him. It takes a close look to see just how cheap this production is. Ulmer does a fantastic job of hiding much of the cheapness through the use of a fog machine to approximate the Scottish moors. It’s also a treat to see Schallert as the bad guy and with more than a couple of lines to recite.
TCM airs Detour (1945) following at 2:15 am. A study of fate, it stars Tom Neal and Ann Savage, who gives one of the most unforgettable performances in the history of movies. Critics have hailed it as the greatest B-movie ever made, and I have to agree. Following right after at 3:45 am is Her Sister’s Secret (1946), competent weepie with Margaret Lindsay as a woman who adopts her sister’s illegitimate child, only to see the GI father show up intent on starting a family.
The evening closes with one of Ulmer’s ultra-cheapies, The Amazing Transparent Man (1960). Megalomaniac ex-Army major Paul Krenner (James Griffith) forces scientist Dr. Peter Ulof (Ivan Triesault) to develop a radiation-based technique to turn men invisible, a technique he plans to sell to the highest bidder. In need of more radium for the treatment Krenner breaks safecracker Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy) out of prison and subjects him to the invisibility treatment to make it impossible to catch him. But the treatment has a side effect no one counted on.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
There is seemingly something for everyone in this month’s selection of psychotronic movies.
June 2: John Carradine stars as Reinhard Heydrich in Douglas Sirk’s excellent Hitler’s Madman(1943) at 10:30 am, about the assassination of the Nazi leader in Prague by Czech resistance agents. Following at noon, Christopher Lee is Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966).
June 3: At 4:15 pm TCM is screening James Whale’s Classic, Frankenstein (1931). Later, beginning at 2:00 am, it’s Jeanne Bell and Rosanne Katon lead a band of female pirates who go undercover at a prison camp on a coffee plantation to rescue their leader's sister in The Muthers (1976). Jayne Kennedy is also in the cast. It’s followed at 4:15 am by the beautiful Tamara Dobson who takes on the scene-chewing Shelley Winters in the Blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones (1973).
June 5: Vincent Price headlines the William Castle shocker House on Haunted Hill (1958) at 10:45 am, followed by Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu in The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) at 12:15 pm.
June 8: Escaped convicts hold hostages in a ghost town that's the target of a nuclear bomb test in Split Second (1953) from RKO at 8:45 am. At 4:45 pm Wayne Morris, Brenda Marshall and Alexis Smith headline The Smiling Ghost (1941), followed by Eleanor Parker and Sydney Greenstreet in the eerie The Woman in White (1948),
June 10: Reporter Lee Tracy investigates “the full moon murders” in Doctor X (1932) at 6:00 am. (Read our essay on it here.) Then it’s John Carradine, John Agar and Jean Byron in Invisible Invaders (1959). At 10:30 am Chester Morris sets out to prove the innocence of escaped convict Larry Parks in Alias Boston Blackie (1942).
June 11: Framed murder suspect Alan Curtis need the help of a mystery woman to prove his innocence in the excellent Phantom Lady (1944) at 10:00 am. Franchot Tone and Ella Raines co-star.
June 13: Marlene Dietrich and Arthur Kennedy star in Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious (1952) at 4:15 am.
June 14: TCM devotes an afternoon to the Psychotronic beginning at 1:00 pm with Roger Corman’s Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961). Following in order are Tod Browning’s The Devil-Doll(1936); the absurd tale of a killer tree in From Hell It Came(1957); and Val Lewton’s lyrical I Walked With a Zombie (1943). Finally, at 6:15 pm the Dave Clark Five star in John Boorman’s Having a Wild Weekend (1965), a different kind of pop idols movie as the band play disaffected stuntmen. Recommended.
June 2: Mickey Mouse and friends battle Hollywood stars in a polo match in Mickey’s Polo Team (1936) at 12:30 am.
By Ed Garea
TCM SPOTLIGHT: CREATURE FEATURES
As readers are no doubt aware, Dennis Miller has been hosting this month’s Spotlight. I like Dennis Miller, but not as a horror/sci-fi host. It’s sad watching him read the idiot cards and pretend to be something of an expert. Here’s an idea, TCM. Why not get a real expert instead of merely plugging another celebrity in as a host? One of the directions TCM has taken that annoys me no end is the use of celebrities as hosts. They know nothing, except how to pose. TCM needs a regular host for its Underground and special horror/sci-fi showings. Hey TCM, it’s not as if there’s no one out there. How about Michael H. Price, Gary Don Rhodes, Michael Weldon, Gary Svehla, Tom Weaver, John McCarty, Bill Warren, Danny Peary, Philip J. Riley and Gregory William Mank, for starters? Hell, why not spend the money you delegated for Miller and hire Stephen King? Remember him? I’m tired of the station dumbing us down. It’s supposed to be a channel that promotes movies. Such promotion includes knowledge, and celebrities are, for the most part, hired for their faces.
If TCM had been pursuing its current policy when it began we might never have had the wonderful Robert Osborne. Nor, probably, would we have the delightful Ben Mankiewicz. Think about it. Also remember that the best season of The Essentials was the first, when Bob had the informative Molly Haskell as co-host.
May 18: Start the evening at 8 pm with the excellent sci-fi classic and Red scare film, Them! (1954). Then follow it at 9:45 with the Americanized version of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), a sanitized version of the 1954 Gojira with Raymond Burr talking to the backs of actor’s heads. At 11:30 pm it’s the classic It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), starring Kenneth Tobey, Donald Curtis, and the drop dead gorgeous Faith Domergue, who probably connived a lot of us young males that watched it to take an interest in science. Apart from Faith, the highlight of the film was the giant octopus, created by master animator Ray Harryhausen. As the executive producer was “Jungle” Sam Katzman, one of the side joys of the flick is to count the number of legs on the octopus. Experts disagree as to whether there were five or six legs on the beast. Sam certainly wasn’t going to pay for eight.
At 1 am comes the intelligently done, though budget challenged, The Giant Behemoth (1959), director Eugene Lourie’s remake of his The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Gene Evans and Andre Morrell (World’s Luckiest Man: he was married to the delectable Joan Greenwood) are on the track of a giant dinosaur who has somehow become radioactive. The animation is by the heralded Willis O’Brien (King Kong) who, at this point in his career was dogged by limited budgets for his wonderfully constructed stop-motion creations.
At 2:30 am we go straight to the ridiculous. The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues (1955). A mad scientist has a pet monster that lurks in the shallows attacking unwary scuba divers and fishermen who get too close to his lair. The monster soon takes a back seat to a script filled with secret experiments, kinky characters, espionage, threats and paranoia that are all linked to a mysterious beam of radioactive light emanating from the ocean floor. To quote critic Michael Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film: “Spies, an underwater death ray, and a laughable puppet monster are dispersed by hero Kent Taylor. It was co-billed with Corman’s The Day the World Ended, making that movie look great by comparison.” If that doesn’t make you want to watch, nothing does.
Finally, at 4 am, it’s a different sort of monster from producer Ivan Tors. The Magnetic Monster (1953) stars Richard Carlson and King Donovan as investigators from the government’s Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI). They are on the track of a radioactive element that could destroy the world, the creation of scientist Leonard Mudie in his atomic laboratory located above a hardware store(!). Dangerously unstable, it must be “fed” larger and larges quantities of electric energy to remain stable. Otherwise – Boom! The massive top secret subterranean “deltatron” used to try to stop the monster is lifted from the 1934 German production of Gold from UFA. Despite the budget shortcuts it remains one of the most intelligent of the ‘50s sci-fi flicks. Director Herbert L. Strock, who is uncredited, took over from original director Curt Siodmak after Tors fired him.
May 25: The Spotlight closes out, beginning at 8 pm with the superb and underrated Tarantula (1955). It’s notable for being one of John Agar’s best performances. Mara Corday and Leo G. Carroll co-star. At 9:30 it’s the subpar Return of the Fly (1959), with Vincent Price, followed by The Cosmic Monster (1958) at 11:15 pm. (Read our essay on it here.)
At 12:45 am it’s Roger Corman’s ridiculously entertaining The Wasp Woman (1960), starring the unjustly forgotten Susan Cabot. At 2:00 am it’s the overrated Swamp Thing (1982). And to close out the festival, it’s Texas radio mogul Gordon McClendon’s dismal attempt at making product for his drive-in theaters chain, The Killer Shrews (1959). We recommend the MST 3000 version of the film instead. It’s way more interesting.
May 21: At 2:00 am comes A Brighter Summer Day (1991) from the Shanghai-born director (born Te-Chang Yang), a JD class inspired by a real-life 1961 incident in which a 14-year-old Taiwanese boy murdered his girlfriend in a public park. In addition to a multitude of actors – there are over 100 speaking parts – the film is rife with pop culture references from both East and West including nods to Citizen Kane, Rebel without a Cause, and Rio Lobo. It’s quite lengthy – 3 hours and 57 minutes – but it’s one of those films that grab the viewer and never let go. I saw it on the large screen and the minutes just seemed to fly by. Yang is a master at portraying Taiwan’s underworld and this film is testament to that mastery.
May 17: Myrna Loy is a lusty gypsy who breaks up a family in The Squall (1929) at 1:30 pm. Following at 3:15 Wheeler and Woosley are tramps turned fortune tellers in The Cuckoos (1930). Also starring W&W regular Dorothy Lee.
At 9:30 pm, it’s Phillips Holmes, Sylvia Sidney and Frances Dee in Josef Von Sternberg’s An American Tragedy, a rarely seen Paramount Pre-Code production.
At 2:45 am it’s the superb Of Human Bondage (1934) starring Leslie Howard with Bette Davis in the role that brought her stardom. Following at 4:15 am, Frances Dee returns, along with Billie Burke and Ginger Rogers, in Finishing School (1934).
Finally, at the late hour of 5:45 am comes a real Pre-Code treat: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Ann Dvorak and Lee Tracy in William Wellman’s Love is a Racket (1932) from Warner Bros. Fairbanks plays a rather callous Broadway columnist romancing Frances Dee while racing around the city looking for fodder for his gossip column. Things take a nasty turn when gangster Lyle Talbot buys up Dee’s shopping debts with an eye to making her his mistress. It’s up to Doug to prevent this from reaching the tabloids while he figures a way out of Mary’s fix. Lee Tracy is Doug’s co-worker, and Ann Dvorak is a young actress Doug promotes in his columns.
May 22: Ann Harding marries poor writer Laurence Olivier and lives to regret it in Westward Passage, a 1932 drama from RKO. Check out the mustache on Olivier. It makes him look like poor man’s Ronald Colman. Though the film’s not very good (it lost $250,000 for RKO, a huge sum in the Depression) it is rarely screened.
May 26: A triple-feature, beginning at 6 am with Bessie Love and Raymond Hackett in the 1929 MGM show biz comedy-drama, The Girl in the Show. At 8:30 am, Anita Page and June Walker are dedicated nurses serving in World War I in MGM’s gritty, excellent War Nurse, from 1930. As it’s an excellent film that rarely gets shown, we recommend you record it for later pleasurable viewing. You won’t be disappointed. Finally, at 10 am, Diana Wynyard, Lewis Stone and Phillips Holmes star in the thoughtful Men Must Fight (MGM, 1933), a prophetic tale of a mother trying to keep her son out of war in 1940(!). Sounds like the story of Neville Chamberlain. The film also predicts the mainstream popularity of television. By all means, catch this one!
May 30: Tuna fisherman Edward G. Robinson marries wayward Zita Johann only to see her fall for his best friend Richard Arlen in Tiger Shark, from director Howard Hawks and Warner Bros. in 1932. Worth catching for Robinson’s awesome performance.
May 31: Poor orphan girl Jean Parker and reform school runaway Tom Brown are mistreated by farmer Arthur Byron in 1934’s Two Alone from RKO.
MEMORIAL DAY MARATHON
May on TCM means the annual Memorial Day Marathon, saluting movies about war and our reaction to war. Though once again nothing new is added to this year’s schedule, there are still several favorites being run for our enjoyment.
May 26: Begin at 8 pm with John Wayne playing pioneer aviator Frank “Spig” Wead in John Ford’s The Wings of Eagles(MGM, 1957). What’s a Memorial Day Marathon without the Duke and Ford? Then, at 10 pm, we get to see what World War I hero Alvin York would have been like if he was Gary Cooper in Sergeant York (WB, 1941).
May 27: Samuel Fuller’s Korean War masterpiece, The Steel Helmet, airs at 4:30 pm. At 8 pm, it’s Andy Griffith, Nick Adams and Don Knotts in the classic service comedy No Time for Sergeants (WB, 1958), followed by Henry Fonda, Jimmy Cagney and Jack Lemmon in Mister Roberts (WB, 1955) at 10:30.
May 28: Begin the day with Conrad Veidt in a dual role in Nazi Agent (MGM, 1942). Then stay tuned for Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine and Raymond Massey in Hotel Berlin (1945), Warner Bros.’ answer to MGM’s Grand Hotel. At 4:15 Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane star in Hitchcock’s Saboteur (Universal, 1942). At 6:15 Humphrey Bogart closes out the afternoon, along with Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet in John Huston’s Across the Pacific (WB, 1942).
The evening is highlighted by two superb films. First up at 8 pm is Twelve O’Clock High (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1948), a psychological drama about the pressure of bomber combat missions over Europe starring Gregory Peck, Gary Merrill, Dean Jagger, and Hugh Marlowe. It’s followed at 10:30 pm by the sublime and engaging docudrama Tora, Tora, Tora (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1970) as the story of the Pearl Harbor attack is told from both American and Japanese sides. With an all-star cast including Martin Balsam, So Yamamura, Jason Robards, Joseph Cotten, Tatsuya Mihashi, E. G. Marshall, Takahiro Tamura, and James Whitmore.
An entertaining triple-feature begins at 12:00 pm with Clint Eastwood starring in Kelly’s Heroes (MGM, 1970), based on the true story of a group of GIs out to rob a bank in occupied France containing 14,000 bars of gold. Originally a subtle anti-war film, Eastwood and director Brian G. Hutton were forced to make cuts by their studio, MGM, that resulted in a different film from the one they originally made. It wasn’t until 1999 that the same plot of soldiers taking leave of a war to find hidden gold was employed for the movie Three Kings, which was not cut by the studio.
At 2:30 pm follows an adaptation of Alistair McLean’s, Where Eagles Dare (MGM, 1968), starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood as part of a team of commandos parachuted into the Bavarian Alps to rescue an Allied officer held prisoner at a castle-fortress known as the “Castle of the Eagle.”
Finally, at 5:15 pm comes Robert Aldrich’s tale of convicts turned commandos: The Dirty Dozen (MGM, 1967), starring Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson and a host of other slob actors.
At 8 pm the emphasis shifts to submarine warfare beginning with Cary Grant and John Garfield in Destination Tokyo (WB, 1943). At 12:30 am U.S. destroyer commander Robert Mitchum and U-Boat Commander Curd Jurgens engage in a deadly game of chess in The Enemy Below (20th Century Fox, 1957). The film was remade in a 1966 episode of the classic Star Trek, where Kirk battles it out with a cloaked Romulan warship. It was our first look at the Romulans and their resemblance to Vulcans.
PSYCHOTRONIA AND THE B-HIVE
May 17: Frances Dee stars run producer Val Lewton’s psychotronic adaptation of Jane Eyre, I Walked With a Zombie (RKO, 1943), at 11:30 pm. She is a nurse in the Caribbean who resorts to voodoo to cure her patient, even though she is head over heels for the woman’s husband. With the always entertaining Sir Lancelot.
May 18: With water being a precious commodity, Robert Urich heads a band of intergalactic buccaneers after giant ice cubes in Ice Pirates (MGM, 1984) at 10:30 am. Also starring Mary Crosby, Anjelica Huston, the venerable John Carradine, and Ron Perlman.
May 19: A mini-marathon of films about The Whistler begins at 6 am with, appropriately enough, The Whistler (1944). One of 8 B-movies made by Columbia and based on a popular radio series, the thread linking the plots of the series is an unseen narrator who introduces the stories, just as he did on the radio show. In this film, Richard Dix is Earl Conrad, a man who believes his wife has died in an accident and is badly depressed as a result. He chooses to end it all by hiring hit man J. Carrol Naish to kill him. But the plot thickens when the wife turns out to be alive (she was being held by the Japanese on a Pacific island, of all things). Dix, however, can't find the hit man to call off his own murder. Besides the narrator, Dix was the only star who appeared in all of the films except the last, alternating between playing victims and villains.
At 7:30 am comes The Power of The Whistler (1945). Once again, Richard Dix stars as an amnesiac who is helped by kindly Janis Carter as he tries to regain his memory. With her help he finally does regain it – and it turns out that he is actually a homicidal maniac! A great entry in the series.
At 9 am it’s Voice of the Whistler (1945), with Richard Dix as a wealthy industrialist who, on doctor's orders to take a long rest, assumes a different identity and goes to live in a remote seaside spot in Maine with his nurse in tow. Revealing his true identity to her, he offers to leave her everything in his will if she will marry him and stay with him for what he believes are the final months of his life. But complications arise when Dix falls for the nurse and returns to health. Now he comes up with a plan to murder her intern boyfriend, who expects to marry her after the rich man's death. Directed by William Castle.
Following at 10:30 comes another Castle-directed entry, The Mysterious Intruder (1945). Elderly music shop owner Edward Stillwell (Paul Burns) shows up at the office of detective Don Gale (Richard Dix) to inform him he's seeking Elora Lund (Pamela Blake). Not only has she been missing for seven years, ever since her mother died when Elora was only 14 years old, but Elora is now rich, though she doesn't know it. Stillwell, for his part, won't tell Gale how he knows it. To find out just how Elora came by her wealth, Gale hires actress named Freda Hanson (Helen Mowery) to pose as Elora, figuring that Stillwell won't be able to tell the difference between Eloras. He's right, but unfortunately, before Stillwell can tell Elora about her newfound wealth, he's murdered and Gale has now become a suspect.
At noon Dix is an insane artist in The Secret of The Whistler (1946). His wealthy wife, Edith, catches him in an affair with Kay Morrell, one of his models. After Edith asks for a divorce he poisons her and shortly after marries Kay. Kay, suspecting he killed his first wife, discovers Edith’s diary and learns the truth. Stick around for the great twist ending.
At 1:30 pm comes the final entry in the series, The Return of The Whistler (1948). Based on a story by Cornell Woolrich, young civil engineer Ted Nichols (Michael Duane) is engaged to widow Alice Dupres Barkeley (Lenore Aubert), when she suddenly disappears. The detective he hires (Richard Lane) to find her is actually working for the husband’s family. They have abducted her and are scheming to obtain the fortune she stands to inherit. Dix is not in this one and it’s just as well, as this is the weakest of the series. Not a good way to go out.
At 3 pm we now switch to another B-series made by Columbia and based on a radio show, namely, I Love a Mystery. In the 1945 debut film by that name, detectives Jack Packard (Jim Bannon) and Doc Long (Barton Yarborough) at the A-1 Detective Agency are hired by socialite Jefferson Monk (George Macready), who is receiving strange messages threatening his life from an Asian secret society. He comes to believe that he will be decapitated in three days and Packard and Long must think fast to prevent his death.
At 4:30 it’s The Devil’s Mask (1946). After a shrunken head is discovered in the wreckage of a downed plane Jack and Doc are drawn into the mystery of a missing museum curator and his psychologically damaged daughter (Anita Louise), whose undiagnosed Electra Complex may have driven her to murder. This is an intriguing film with great cinematography by Henry Freulich, who has an eye for bottomless shadows. Though the film promised great things to come for Columbia, the studio abruptly pulled the plug after only one more entry in the series.
And that entry is The Unknown (1946), which is airing at 6 pm. This old dark house whodunit takes place over a span of years with happening before Jack and Doc show up. Rachel Martin (Karen Morley) is engaged to James Wetherford (Robert Kellard); the engagement arranged by her mother, Phoebe (Helen Freeman). At the party Rachel is discovered in the study with Richard Arnold (Robert Wilcox). She reveals that they have been secretly married for several months. When her father pulls a gun and orders Richard to leave, he and Richard struggle for the gun and the father is accidentally killed. To avoid scandal, Phoebe has her sons and Rachel help her entomb Martin's body in the fireplace and forbids them ever to mention the occurrence. As time passes Rachel becomes mentally unbalanced and gives birth to a baby girl, whom Phoebe immediately has sent away. Years later, the child, now a grown woman named Nina (Jeff Donnell), returns to the home where she was born for the reading of Phoebe's will. Nina has never met any of her relatives, was reared by a succession of teachers paid for by a mysterious benefactor. Accompanied by private detectives Jack Packard and Doc Long, who have been hired by her benefactor, Nina finds the family has several closets containing skeletons, including a surprise appearance by the deceased before they track down a killer.
May 20: Casino blackjack dealer Gary Lockwood plans to knock over an armored car with his gang in They Came to Rob Las Vegas (WB, 1969) at 8:15 am. Elke Sommer and Jack Palance co-star.
At 10:30 reformed thief Boston Blackie (Chester Morris) uncovers a Nazi spy ring in Meet Boston Blackie (Columbia, 1941).
At noon Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson) gets caught up in a murder while seeking help from Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) in the highly entertaining The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Universal, 1976).
A crashed spaceship contains a quickly growing monster from Venus in 20 Million Miles to Earth (Columbia, 1957). William Hopper and Joan Taylor star. The creature came from the imagination of master animator Ray Bradbury. Race car driver Elvis tries to outrun the beautiful tax auditor (Nancy Sinatra) out to settle his account in Speedway (MGM, 1968).
May 22: It’s a night of hagspoiltation, beginning at 8 pm with the classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (WB, 1962), with Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, followed by Tallulah Bankhead tormenting Stefanie Powers in Die! Die! My Darling (Columbia/Hammer, 1965) at 10:30 pm. At 12:30 am it’s Joan again, reaching new lows in William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964). Then, at 2:15 am, Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters sell themselves for a paycheck in What’s the Matter With Helen? (UA, 1971). Finally, Bette Davis is a psycho child caregiver in The Nanny (Twentieth Century Fox/Hammer, 1965) at 4:15 am.
May 30: One of the films being shown in a day-long tribute to director Howard Hawks is the classic The Thing From Another World (RKO, 1951). But Hawks did not direct it, he produced it. The directorial credit went to his film editor, Christian Nyby. Although some say Hawks actually directed it, they would be wrong.
By Ed Garea
We open with some sad news. Jonathan Demme, who won the Best Director Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs (1991), died on April 26 at the age of 73.
He was born Robert Jonathan Demme in Baldwin on Long Island on February 20, 1944, the son of Dorothy Louise (nee Rogers) and Robert Eugene Demme, a public relations executive. He graduated from Southwest Miami High School and the University of Florida.
He broke into films working for Roger Corman as a writer and producer. He made the switch to director, helming three films for Corman’s New World company: the cult classic Caged Heat (1974), Crazy Mama (1975) with Cloris Leachman, and Fighting Mad (1976).
Demme first garnered critical attention with Melvin and Howard (1980). Other noted films include Married to the Mob (1988), Philadelphia (1991), Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1998), and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004).
On May 1, TCM salutes Danielle Darrieux on her 100th birthday with a slate of films beginning at 8 pm. We begin with The Rage of Paris from 1938. Darrieux had signed with Universal to try her chances in America. It’s a charming screwball comedy with Darrieux excellent as an unemployed model out to snare millionaire Louis Hayward. Also with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Mischa Auer.
At 9:30 Darrieux appears in Max Ophuls’ exquisite Le Ronde (1950), As adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play Reigen, a story about lovers who get together for brief encounters and afterward change partners in a chain that brings us full circle. However, unlike the play, which follows the spread of venereal disease among the participants, Ophuls instead infused the movie with his own viewpoint, which is that everybody is somebody’s fool.
It was difficult for Darrieux to return to the French silver screen due to her active collaboration with the Nazis during World War II, where she made films for Dr. Goebbels and even sang for German soldiers. But people forget with time and, as Darrieux was not prosecuted, this undoubtedly helped her in her comeback.
At 11:15 Darrieux stars with Charles Boyer and Vittorio DeSica in The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) one of the best film to ever come out of France. (See my Best Bets in the May 1-7 TiVo Alert for more).
At 1:15 am it’s Darrieux and Kenneth More in Loss of Innocence (aka The Greengage Summer, 1961), a drama about the the transition of a teenage girl (Susannah York) into womanhood. Following at 3:15 am is Une Chambre en Ville (1982), Jacques Demy’s musical about a striking worker (Richard Berry) who falls in love with the middle-class daughter of his landlady (Darrieux). It’s a beautifully constructed film, with Demy moving the musical genre into a darker region, as he counters a tragedy with music.
Finally, at 5 am it’s Rich, Young and Pretty(1951) from director Norman Taurog, a musical comedy starring Jane Powell, as rancher Wendell Corey’s daughter who goers to Paris, where she finds love (Vic Damone) and meets her birth mother (Darrieux). It sounds better than it is, but Darrieux is fine.
May 2: A double feature of Louis Malle begins at 2 am with the superbly dark The Fire Within (1963). Maurice Ronet stars as Alain Leroy, a recovering alcoholic who's drying out at an expensive rehab clinic in Versailles with his estranged wife footing the bill. He’d like to stay there forever, as there are no obligations and responsibilities, but as he’s cured, he must leave. He mulls over his options that night and comes to the conclusion that he’ll commit suicide the next day. The next morning he packs and heads for Paris, where he looks up the people he knew him as a sot. They remember him as a drunk and tell him that sober, he’s a lot worse-looking than he used to be. Eventually he begins drinking again, attends a dinner party that goes horribly wrong, and returns to the clinic, where the film draws to its conclusion. Jeanne Moreau stars as a woman who takes a shine to Alain, but can’t save him from himself.
Following at 4:00 am is the film that put Jeanne Moreau on the star map – Malle’s The Lovers (1958). The film brought about a round of protests when it debuted at the Venice Film Festival. Whereas previous films had discreetly faded to black before a heavy love scene, Malle instead lingered on the torrid lovemaking of the married Moreau with her younger lover Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory), who has injected new passion into her complacent bourgeois life. Moreau is simply stunning, and Alain Cuny terrific as her neglectful husband. When the movie premiered in America, the theater owner who showed it was brought up on obscenity charges. Needless to say it’s rather mild fare today, but back then the Puritans were out with a vengeance.
May 10: At 4 am Demy’s romance Model Shop (1969) is airing. It’s his first – and only – American film and concerns a 24-hour period in the life of unemployed architect George Matthews (Gary Lockwood), stuck in a dead-end relationship with an aspiring actress (Alexandra Hay). While attempting to raise enough money to save his car from the repo man, he espies a beautiful woman, dressed all in white, at a car lot. He begins following her around the city, eventually reaching her place of employment, a "model shop" where men pay to photograph women in a choice of intimate settings. He spends part of his car payment to snap photographs of her and learns that her name is Lola (Anouk Aimee), and she is a recently divorced French woman with no work permit. She’s working at the shop until she can raise enough money to purchase air fare back to Paris. Thus begins an intense night where he loves her but she cannot love him. The payoff at the end is muted, but entirely fitting.
May 14: A double feature of the Japanese director begins at 2:00 am with Odd Obsession (Kagi, 1959), a disappointing drama about a vain man (Ganjiro Nakamura) who, becoming impotent, steers his young wife (Machiko Kyo) into an affair with his daughter’s boyfriend (Tatsuya Nakadai) in an attempt to resurrect his virility, but things don’t work out as planned. Having read the book by Junichiro Tanizaki, I expected more than I got in this rather uneven soaper.
At 4 am comes a film I haven’t yet had the pleasure of viewing. Conflagration (Enjo, 1958) stars Raizô Ichikawa as aspiring Buddhist monk Goichi Mizoguchi, who becomes involved in the temple owned by his father (Jun Hamamura). Ichikawa uses a series of flashbacks, framed as a police interrogation, to reveal the story of Mizoguchi’s obsession with the temple, beginning with his childhood. It sounds good, and I’ll be recording.
May 2: Louis Wolheim is a ship’s captain taken in by bank robbers Mary Astor and husband Ian Keith in 1931’s The Sin Ship (9:30 am). Directed by Wolheim, it’s definitely worth seeing.
May 4: A packet of four Warner Pre-Code musicals, beginning at 12:45 pm with Gold Diggers of 1933 and continuing through Dames(1934) and Footlight Parade (1933), before ending with 42nd Street (1932) at 6:15 pm.
May 5: Wallace Beery is Pancho Villa in 1934’s Viva Villa at 6:00 pm.
May 15: An Alfred E. Green fest begins at 7:00 am. George Arliss is simply dazzling in the prehistoric Disraeli (1929). At 8:45 Doris Kenyon’s life spirals downward when hubby Louis Calhern catches her with William Powell in The Road to Singapore(1931), Powell’s first film for Warner Brothers.
At 10 am naval hero Douglas Fairbanks Jr. becomes a media celebrity against his wishes in It’s Tough to be Famous (1932), a film that still resonates today. At 11:30 am, Joan Blondell encounters down-on-his-luck con artist Douglas Fairbanks Jr, who has discovered a suitcase full of money at Union Depot(1932). Finally, at 12:45 pm, murderer-on-the-lam Fairbanks tries to lay low in the Pacific islands in 1933’s The Narrow Corner. The film was later remade as Isle of Fury with Humphrey Bogart and Margaret Lindsay in 1936.
Though it’s not Pre-Code, we recommend The Golden Arrow (1936) with Bette Davis and George Brent at 3:15 pm. It’s the picture that broke the back of Davis and caused her to flee to England to try and get out of her Warner Bros. contract.
PSYCHOTRONICA – CREATURE FEATURES
We love May and June because that’s the time TCM usually drags out the sci-fi flicks for a night or two or even three of enjoyment. And this year is no different, with some of our faves being shown
May 4: We begin ay 8 pm with The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954). Think of it and its sequel Revenge of the Creature (following at 9:30) as King Kong in miniature, with the creature entranced by Julia Adams while scientists Richard Carlson, Richard Denning and Antonio Moreno try to study it. The film was inspired by a Mexican folk tale that tells of a creature who comes from the jungle once a year to secure a young maiden, after which the village can breathe easy for another year. The film was a box office bonanza for Universal and was followed by two sequels before running its course.
Speaking of King Kong, the big ape makes another appearance at 11 pm.
At 1:15 am Toho Studios chines in with Mothra (1964) featuring the adorable Ito Twins (Emi and Yumi – a real-life singing duo known as The Peanuts), whose abduction from their home island of Baru triggers Mothra to go looking for them.
The one that started it all, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) airs at 3 am. With special effects by Ray Harryhausen, it’s one of the most beloved prehistoric beast-on-the-loose films.
And at 5 am its the ridiculous Reptilicus (1961), about a prehistoric monster on the loose in Copenhagen, of all places. Beginning life as a strictly Danish monster film, directed by Poul Bang, it was picked up and remade in an all-English version by producer-director Sid Pink and released through AIP. Deemed unwatchable upon reviews, the studio had it extensively re-worked by its Danish-American screenwriter, Ib Melchior, before finally being released in America in 1962. This led to a lawsuit by Pink over the changes, but the suit was dropped. When we see the movie we can’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about. The monster looks like something carried in a Chinese New Year’s parade, and seen in HD we can easily spot the wires holding it up. Because of this we enthusiastically recommend it as a bad move not to be missed.
May 11: We begin at 8:00 with the classic Rodan (1957), followed at 9:30 by Willis O’Brien’s The Black Scorpion (1957). At 11:15 pm The Deadly Mantis (1957) premiers. Though it has its moments, it doesn’t have enough of them. Check out the MST 3000 version.
Beginning at 2:45 am, it’s two of the silliest sci-fi monster films ever made. We lead off with Bert I. Gordon’s Empire of the Ants, where a toxic spill causes our six-legged friends to grow to enormous size and imprison crooked realtor Joan Collins and her boat of suckers. Following at 4:30 am is The Giant Claw (1957), a film that starts off well, but hits bottom right after the monster is introduced. Co-stars Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday, who give believable performances, were under the assumption that Ray Harryhausen would be handling the special effects. But that hadn’t reckoned on producer Sam Katzman. Always looking for the cheapest way out, Jungle Sam went to a cheap studio in Mexico for his f/x. Result? The funniest looking buzzard seen in the movies. Both Morrow and Corday didn’t know about the switch until the movie premiered. The crowd was engulfed in the movie – until the buzzard appeared. The laughter was uproarious and both Morrow and Corday slunk down in their seats and snuck out of the theater, hoping not to be recognized.
May 6: It’s Of Unknown Origin (1983) at 2:30 am, followed by the awful star-studded The Swarm (1978) at 4:00 am.
May 12: It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932) at 10:15 am and Humphrey Bogart in The Return of Doctor X (1939) at 6:45 pm. (See our review here.)
May 13: Begin with The World’s Greatest Sinner (1965) at 2:30 am (music by Frank Zappa), followed at 4 am by Peter Graves in Bayou(aka Poor White Trash, 1957).
By Ed Garea
Has anyone been catching the miniseries Feud on FX? I went into this expecting it to be really bad, but I must admit to being delightfully entertained. It’s the story of the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and the feud that followed afterwards between divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who is aided by Hedda Hopper in her fight against Bette. Susan Sarandon is a positive revelation as Bette, taking the time to nail down her Yankee accent. And though Jessica Lange didn’t remind me of Crawford first off, like Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, her abundance of talent allowed her to segue effortlessly into Crawford’s persona, so that she becomes Crawford soon into the series. Jackie Hoffman steals the series right out from under their noses as Crawford’s German-born maid, Mamacita, while Stanley Tucci makes for a most effective Jack Warner. And look for the the and only John Waters as the one and only William Castle, who directed Joan in Strait-Jacket. I recommend this to all as good trashy fun, something there is too little of lately.
Lola Albright, whose move credits include a couple of psychotronic classics, as well as the classical psychotronic TV show, Peter Gunn, died March 23 in Los Angeles at the age of 92. The cause was not disclosed.
She was born Lois Jean Albright on July 20, 1924, in Akron, Ohio. Her parents, John Paul and Marion (nee Harvey) Albright, were gospel singers, and she studied music throughout her childhood.
After graduating high school she moved to Cleveland, where she worked as a receptionist at a Cleveland radio station. She began singing on WJW in Cleveland before marrying an announcer and moving to Chicago, where she worked as a model. While modeling, a photographer, taken with her looks, suggested she give Hollywood a try.
Albright made her screen debut in 1947. Her first credited role was as Palmer in Kirk Douglas’s boxing movie, Champion. However, she couldn’t escape the Bs. Her big break came in television when she was cast as singer Edie Hart in Peter Gunn (1958-61), a noir adult drama created by director Blake Edwards and starring Craig Stevens that has since become a cult classic.
Besides Champion, Albright was noted for The Monolith Monsters (1956), a psychotronic cult classic; A Cold Wind in August (1961), playing a stripper who seduces a teenage boy; Kid Galahad (1962), giving a strong performance opposite Elvis; and The Impossible Years (1968) as the wife of child psychiatrist David Niven, who can’t control their teenage daughters. The latter was her final film appearance.
She was married three times: to Warren Dean, actor Jack Carson, and musician and restaurant owner Bill Chadney, all ending in divorce.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
April 18: With the morning and afternoon is devoted to psychotronic flicks, the picks for the day are as follows: M (1931, 6:00 am); Night of the Hunter (1955, 8:00 am); Bedlam (1946, 9:45 am); What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962, 3:30 pm); and Shock Corridor (1963, 6:00 pm).
April 19: Yet another morning and afternoon devoted to the psychotronic. Among those recommended are: The Monster (1925, 6:00 am) with the one and only Lon Chaney; The Murder of Dr. Harrigan (1936, 7:45 am - read our essay here); Indestructible Man (1956, 9:00 am); The Body Snatcher(1945, 10:30 am) with Henry Daniell, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi; The Cosmic Monster(1958, 5:00 pm - read our essay here); and Karloff in Frankenstein 1970 (1958, 6:30 am).
April 22: At 8:45 am, astronauts Kieron Moore, Lois Maxwell and Donald Wolfit are trapped in a space station with a ticking time bomb in Satellite in the Sky(1956), followed by Ann Sothern in Swing Shift Maisie (1943) at 10:30 am.
At 2:15 pm it’s a Blaxploitation double feature. It begins with Rudy Ray Moore in his most popular role asDolemite, from 1975. Moore is Dolemite, a rhyme master and pimp set up by the police, who planted drugs and stolen goods in his trunk. Given a sentence of 20 years, when he’s released, he’s ripe and ready for revenge as he calls on the services of his old friend Queen Bee (Lady Reed) and her army of karate black belt call girls. It’s obviously low-budget, but just as obviously, it’s good fun, not to be taken seriously.
Following is the statuesque Tamara Dobson is Cleopatra Jones (1973) at 4:00 am. Cleo is a special agent who locks horns with master criminal Mommy (Shelley Winters) in her battle to clear the drug dealers out of her inner city neighborhood. Dobson is a classy heroine and Winters gives a deliciously over-the-top performance as the depraved Mommy. Read our essay on the film here.
April 29: Start off with Maisie Goes to Reno (1944) at 10:30 am. At 2:45 am it’s a double feature of Lady Snowblood(1973) and the sequel, Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (1974). Directed by Toshiya Fujita, Meiko Kaji stars as a young girl specifically raised to become an assassin and kill the criminals who destroyed her family. Based on a popular comic book series (Manga), it’s set in the Meiji era, the period of Japan’s transition from feudal nation to a modern state. An innocent woman sees her husband and son killed before her eyes and is imprisoned after killing one of the murderers. While behind bars, she gives birth to a daughter, named Yuki (Japanese for snow) who will be grow up to be the instrument of her revenge. Graphically violent, it was so popular that a sequel was made a year later. Both films were a huge influence on Quentin Tarantino and the main influence for his Kill Bill series.
April 16: Director Mike Leigh, known for his somber and incisive portraits of English working-class life such as Secrets and Lies, Career Girls, and Vera Drake, continues the trend with Meantime (1984). Airing at the godforsaken hour of 4:30 am, this is a British television movie that takes a close look at how being on the dole affects the underclass in Britain. Starring Tim Roth as Colin, a slow and possibly intellectually disabled man living with his parents and brother in a housing project. He and his sarcastic manipulative brother still act like teenagers, living with their parents and harassing each other, though they are now in their late teens or early twenties. They interact with the likes of Hayley, a young woman with a crush on Colin, and Coxy (Gary Oldman) a violent local skinhead who befriends Colin. Trouble comes when a wealthy aunt gives Colin a job, causing his brother to become jealous. Record this one, you’ll want to see it later.
April 30: A double-feature of the great Anna Magnani begins at 2:00 am with Mamma Roma (1962). Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Magnani stars as a streetwalker who tries to save her son from entering into a life of crime. Following at 4:15 am is the film that first brought her into prominence, Roberto Rossellini’s Open City (1946). The film is about the efforts of Rome’s Nazi occupiers to capture partisan leader Giorgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero), who is assisted by local priest Don Pietro Pellegrini (Aldo Fabrizi). Set against this are the ordinary, daily fight of Rome’s citizens, shown storming a bakery to obtain bread for their children, as they struggle with the uncertainties of the occupation. Magnani is Pina, an ordinary citizen engaged to Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), a friend of Manfredi. Pina, pregnant with Francesco’s child is the focus of the moral ambiguities faced during wartime by the characters as they fight a constant battle to live a decent life despite the huge temptations to do otherwise. Tragedy occurs when Manfredi's beautiful, but shallow, mistress Marina (Maria Michi) is tricked by Nazi agent Ingrid (Giovanna Galletti) into betraying Manfredi.
April 23: TCM is airing two films by noted director Rainer Werner Fassbinder beginning at 2:15 am with his 1974 film Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, the film that first won him international acclaim. Loosely based on Douglas Sirk’s 1955 All That Heaven Allows, it’s the story of a lonely aging white German cleaning lady who marries a much younger black Moroccan immigrant worker and the vicious response of both family and community to their action. Following at 4:15 am is his first feature-length film, Love is Colder Than Death (1969). A deconstruction of the American gangster films of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, Fassbinder is Franz, a small-time pimp torn between his mistress Joanna (Hanna Schygulla) and his friend Bruno (Ulli Lommel), who has been sent after Franz by a syndicate he’s refused to join. To save Franz, Joanna informs the police about a bank robbery Franz and Bruno are planning and while Bruno is killed in the subsequent shootout, Franz and Joanna escape. The film contains many of the themes that would later mark Fassbinder’s work, such as loneliness, the longing for companionship and love, and the fear and reality of betrayal.
April 21: Blonde is the order of the day with a marathon of films devoted to our favorite intrepid reporter, Torchy Blaine. Portrayed by the marvelous Glenda Farrell, Torchy was a role model to women across America as she showed that a woman doesn’t have to stay at home all day while her husband brings home the bacon. Barton MacLane, noted for playing heavies, is excellent as her put-upon policeman boyfriend, Lt. Steve McBride. The films all center around a case that Steve wishes Torchy would keep her nose out of, but it’s Torchy who often puts the clues together and brings the villain to justice. As Torchy, Farrell is smart and sassy. The only word she doesn’t understand in “no” as she uses her finely honed reporter’s instinct to get to the bottom of things.The festivities begin at 6:00 am with Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blaine in Smart Blonde (1936, read our essay on it here), followed by 1937’s Fly Away Baby at 7:15 am, as Torchy takes to the skies to track down a band of killers. At 8:30 am, Farrell walks out on her own wedding to Steve to solve the case of a murdered actor in The Adventurous Blonde, from 1937. At 9:45 am, even the threat of a jail term for contempt can't keep Torchy from finding out who murdered a department store owner in Blondes at Work (1938). At 12:15 pm Torchy cracks a counterfeiting case in Torchy Gets Her Man (1938). Torchy sets out to catch a blackmailer in 1938’s Torchy Blaine in Chinatown (1:30 pm), directed by the one and only William Beaudine. We wrap up the marathon at 2:30 pm with Torchy Runs For Mayor (1939), as our favorite reporter becomes disillusioned after digging up the dirt on the local politicians and decides to run for office herself.
There is only one Torchy Blaine feature airing without Farrell and MacLane. That’s Torchy Blaine in Panama (1939), starring Lola Lane as Torchy and Paul Kelly as Steve McBride, airing at 11:00 am. When Farrell and MacLane left Warner Bros., the studio figured it could plug anyone in as Torchy and Steve with no questions asked. But they forgot the unique chemistry between Farrell and MacLane, and their popularity with audiences. Needless to say, the film did not do well.
RICARDO CORTEZ PRE-CODE FEST
April 27: Ricardo Cortez, one of the mainstays of Pre-Code cinema, has the morning and afternoon to himself with a mini-marathon of films. It all begins at 6:00 am, with the silent Torrent (1926), famous today as the film that introduced Greta Garbo to America. Following, in order: 8:00 am - The Younger Generation (1929); 9:30 am - The Maltese Falcon (1931); 11:00 am - Transgression (1931); 12:15 pm - Flesh(1932); 2:00 pm - The House on 56th Street(1933); 3:15 pm - Midnight Mary (1933); and 4:45 pm - The Phantom of Crestwood (1933).
Of particular note are two films. First, the original version of The Maltese Falcon, from 1931. This film is shown rarely on the network and is a must see. Those who think the 1941 version is the definitive version will be surprised at how faithful the original is to the book. What it lacks is the star power of Huston’s remake, although Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly and Thelma Todd as Iva Archer are way better looking than Mary Astor and Gladys George. And check out the underrated Una Merkel as Spade’s secretary, Effie.
The other Cortez flick to catch is Flesh, airing at 12:15 pm. Those who have seen the Coen Brothers Barton Fink will remember John Turturro as a respected New York writer signed by a Hollywood studio and given the assignment of writing a Wallace Beery wrestling film. This is the film the Coen Brothers are referring to: a 1932 drama directed by no less than John Ford for MGM and starring Wallace Beery, Karen Morley and Cortez.
By Ed Garea
We begin with some sad news. Colin Dexter, the author who created Inspector Morse, the irascible, poetry-loving detective who listened to Wagner while pursuing clues and fine ale through a series of 13 novels and a critically-praised TV show, died March 21 at his home in Oxford, England. He was 86.
Dexter, a former classics teacher, was suffering through a rainy family vacation in North Wales in the early ‘70s when he decided to kill some time by reading a detective novel left in the hotel. After he was finished, he decided he could do better and began sketching out an outline of a mystery about a young woman murdered while hitchhiking. The novel, Last Bus to Woodstock, was published in 1975, introducing readers to a new detective team of Inspector Morse and his good-natured, long-suffering detective sergeant, Robbie Lewis.
ITV brought the books to television in the series Inspector Morse, which ran from 1987 to 2000, and was seen here on PBS. John Thaw played Morse while Kevin Whatley was cast as Lewis. After the series ran its course, a sequel followed, Lewis, with Whatley’s character now promoted to Inspector. A prequel, Endeavor, also appeared, with Shaun Evans portraying Morse at the beginning of his career.
The series achieved a popularity beyond Dexter’s wildest dreams, with Thaw’s brilliant interpretation of the gruff inspector bringing hordes of tourists to Oxford, where the series was set. The local tourist board seized the opportunity and created a series of Morse walks to meet the demand.
Dexter tore a page from Hitchcock’s book and appeared in cameos in various episodes of the series as a tourist, bum, doctor, prisoner, bishop, and professor, among others.
Who would’ve thought that one of the most celebrated detectives in literary history came about because of a lousy vacation? They say necessity is the mother of invention, but sometimes boredom can also play a huge role.
April 2: A double helping of Francois Truffaut begins at 2:00 am with The 400 Blows (1959). A brilliant examination of a troubled adolescent, it was the first effort at filmmaking for the former critic for Cahiers du Cinema (Notebooks on Cinema). It’s followed at 4:00 am by what may have been his best effort, Day For Night (1973), a lively, light-hearted look at the everyday perils of filmmaking, when everything seems to go wrong and a director can only shake his head and trudge on. The title comes from the practice of shooting a night scene during the day using a special lens filter. For those interested in Truffaut, David, Christine and I listed our favorite films from the director. You can find it here.
April 9: Beginning at 8:00 pm it’s a night of rare animation, featuring independently made cartoons from Canada. Not only for fans of animation, but for anyone interested in the rare and different. In other words, the readers of this column.
April 12: OMG! It’s an entire evening devoted to films starring the one and only Frankie Avalon. Lest one assume the evening will be filled with “Beach Party” movies, it actually begins at 8:00 pm with 1962’s Panic in the Year Zero. Directed by and starring Ray Milland, this AIP production is about a vacationing family leaving Los Angeles for a camping trip just as a nuclear bomb wipes out the city. Ray and his family (Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon, and Mary Mitchel) must suddenly fight to stay alive. Those new to it will find it watchable and interesting. To quote critic Michael Weldon: “All this would be very depressing except for the raucous music by Les Baxter and the bad acting by Frankie. Listen to the kids have friendly arguments about whether the canned food is radioactive or not.” On a side note, the film inspired the Steely Dan song “King of the World” on their second album “Countdown to Ecstasy.”
At 10:00 pm comes the original Beach Party from 1963. A huge success when released it began a short-lived trend of follow-ups, none as bouncy or as totally enjoyable. Co-starring Annette Funicello, who popularized the bikini in America with this movie, as Frankie’s girl, Dolores. It also co-stars Bob Cummings (who walks away with the picture), Dorothy Malone, Morey Amsterdam, and Harvey Lembeck as the most inept biker that ever lived: Eric Von Zipper. Watch it, if not for the antics of Frankie and Annette, then for the wonderful music of surf guitar legend Dick Dale.
At midnight comes Frankie’s first real film, Guns of the Timberland (1960). He had earlier appeared as himself in the teen musical Jamboree! (1957). In this tepid Western, Alan Ladd and Gilbert Roland are partners in a timber concern who have a contract to cut logs in a territory abutting Jeanne Crain's ranch. Jeanne and the rest of the valley are opposed to the loggers for fear that it will leave no watershed for flooding, resulting in an ecological disaster. Frankie and Alan Ladd’s daughter Alana play a pair of young lovers. Frankie also gets to warble a couple of songs by Jerry Livingston and Mack David including “The Faithful Kind,” and one called "Gee Whizz Whilikens Golly Gee."
2:00 am finds Frankie teamed with Dwayne Hickman as a pair of secret agents hot on the trail of the nefarious Vincent Price in AIP’s Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine(1965). It seems that Dr. Goldfoot has created an army of bikini-clad robots programmed to seek out wealthy men and charm them into signing over their assets to the doctor. It’s up to Frankie and Dwayne to stop him.
And finally, for those still awake after all this, it’s Drums of Africa (1963) at 4:00 am. There’s a good reason for showing this mess from MGM at this late hour. It stinks. Lloyd Bochner is an engineer traveling to East Africa with Frankie, the owner’s nephew, to his employer’s railway construction site. Mariette Hartley provides the eye candy as a mission worker who, along with guide Torin Thatcher, warn the duo not to proceed until the Arab slavers have left the area. Do they listen? Not on your life, and are soon lost in the wilderness until rescued by Hartley and Thatcher. When Hartley is kidnapped by said slave traders, the three men team up to rescue her. This synopsis actually sounds better than the movie. Besides Frankie singing a song, the highlight comes when, about almost 70 minutes into the movie, a group of white men in blackface appear as “Masai warriors” in caveman outfits. Produced by the duo of Philip N. Krasne and Alfred Zimbalist and loaded with footage from King Solomon’s Mines, this epic was shot in the dark wilds of Bronson Canyon.
IT’S ZSA ZSA, DAHLINK
April 5: As if an entire evening devoted to Frankie Avalon wasn’t enough, TCM goes one further with an evening devoted to Zsa Zsa Gabor, a failed actress more noted for being Zsa Zsa than anything else. We begin at 8:00 as Zsa Zsa stars with ex-husband George Sanders in Death of a Scoundrel (1956), a rather entertaining B-movie from RKO that was one of the last to come from the dying studio. Sanders stars as the rich Clementi Suborin. When he’s found dead in his New York apartment, his secretary (Yvonne DeCarlo) recounts his story to the police about his rise from Czech refugee to rich New Yorker and the trail of betrayal, womanizing and fraud along the way that confirms the fact that almost everyone who knew him wanted him dead. Sanders is at his best as the scheming Suborin with Zsa Zsa as one of his victims. To make it a family affair, Sanders’ brother, Tom Conway, co-stars as the brother Suborin double-crosses back in Czechoslovakia.
At 10:15 pm Zsa Zsa stars along with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in 3 Ring Circus (1954). Martin and Lewis are a pair of veterans who join the circus and predictably wreak havoc throughout the picture. Jerry wants to be a clown. Zsa Zsa is an egotistical trapeze artist.
The highlight of the evening takes place at 12:15 am with the screening of 1958’s Queen of Outer Space. Zsa Zsa is one of a population of women inhabiting Venus whose man-hating queen (Laurie Mitchell) has plans to disintegrate the Earth. The queen hates men because her face, hidden behind a mask, was scarred in a war with the planet’s men. The queen wants to kill a group of male astronauts who have landed there, but Zsa Zsa leads a rebellion to save them. Fans will quickly recognize the space suits left over from Forbidden Planet and the sets and giant spider from World Without End. Directed by Edward Bernds, who formerly directed the Bowery Boys and the Three Stooges.
At 2:00 am Zsa Zsa may be seen in a decent, if uneven, film from director John Huston: 1952’s Moulin Rouge. It’s the story of painter Toulouse-Lautrec, as interpreted by Jose Ferrer. The sets and the musical numbers are wonderful, as is Huston’s use of Technicolor, but Ferrer’s performance leaves something to be desired.
And finally, at 4:15 pm, comes Lili (1953) starring Leslie Caron as an orphan in France who gets a job with a carnival puppet show and forms a relationship with a crippled and embittered puppeteer, played superbly by Mel Welles. Zsa Zsa is the assistant to womanizing magician Jean-Pierre Aumont. It is a delightful film, highlighted by Caron’s singing of “Hi Lili, Hi Lo.” Due to the late hour, it should be recorded and saved for later.
April 4: An interesting Ruth Chatterton film makes its appearance at 3:30 am, Journal of a Crime (1934). When Chatterton discovers that playwright husband Adolphe Menjou is in love with his mistress, Claire Dodd, and wants a divorce, Ruth takes matters into her own hands and shoots Dodd. Although hubby knows who did it, he decides to remain silent, waiting for his wife to crack under the guilt. But when a man named Costello (Noel Madison) is arrested for the murder, she visits him in prison and confesses. But he gallantly decides that as he’s responsible for another murder he might as well remain silent and face death. But the guilt overtakes Ruth and she decides to confess, but on the way to the prosecutor’s office she is hit by a car and develops amnesia. Her loss of memory leads to unseen consequences for the couple. It’s a pretty silly Pre-Code feature notable only for the superb performance of Chatterton, who plays it straight instead of simply hamming it up and chewing scenery. This was her last picture for Warner Bros. Declining box office and her outspoken attitude over the studio’s attempt to cut salaries at the height of the Depression led the studio to declare her as excess baggage. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss Melvyn Douglas as an actor in Menjou’s stage play.
April 5: At 6:00 am Ann Harding travels to French Indochina to be with fiancee Melvyn Douglas, commandant of a prison camp, only to find he’s now an alcoholic, in Prestige, a hackneyed melodrama from 1932. With Adolphe Menjou and Clarance Muse.
April 6: Slimy and corrupt night court judge Walter Huston will stop at nothing to avoid the clutches of watchdog Lewis Stone – and that includes framing innocent couple Phillips Holmes and Anita Page in the entertaining, though minor effort, Night Court (1932), airing at 11:15 am. Huston and Stone are worth the time expended.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
April 1: The Maisie series continues with 1941’s Maisie Was a Lady at 10:30 am, followed by Lon Chaney, Jr. and Claude Rains in The Wolf Man (1941) at noon. Fashion models are the focus of late night, with a deranged murderer running amok in Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace at 2:45 am, followed by Peter Cushing as a doctor looking for suitable replacements for his wife’s (Sue Lloyd) scarred face in Corruption (1967) at 4:30 am.
April 6: Walter Huston gives one of the great despicable performances in 1932’s Kongo, a remake of 1927’s West of Zanzibar, with the one-and-only Lon Chaney in the role. One might think it difficult to follow in Chaney’s footsteps, but Huston does it brilliantly as the crippled madman who seeks revenge on the daughter of the man who took his wife away, with unseen and tragic results following. It was strong stuff when released and has lost none of its punch over the years, thinks to Huston’s performance.
April 8: At 7:30 am it’s Bela Lugosi vs. Boris Karloff in Edgar G. Ulmer’s underrated expressionistic horror, The Black Cat (1934).
Ann Sothern again takes center stage in Ringside Maisie(1941) at 10:30 am.
Late night begins at 2:30 am with The Zodiac Killer, a 1971 low-budget exploitation film about the serial killer who was never caught. Despite some terrible acting and writing, it deserves a look, but keep in mind that it is disturbing, with lots of hateful anti-female dialogue. The narrator warns us that “Somebody sitting next to you or behind you had killed!” Consider yourself warned. Seeking of woman killers, following at 4:15 am is Hitchcock’s 1960 macabre masterpiece, Psycho.
April 15: Hammer Studios’ version of One Million B.C. (1966), a remake of Hal Roach’s One Million B.C. (1940), airs at 8:30 am. Featuring stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen and Raquel Welch as the world’s sexiest cavewoman traipsing about in a fur bikini, it’s also notable for the appearance of cult actress Martine Beswick as Raquel’s rival. The poster featuring Welch in her fur bikini was a best seller and helped the actress establish herself as an instant sex-symbol.
Maisie Gets Her Man from 1942, airs at 10:30 am, with the irrepressible Brooklyn showgirl launching a star act with Red Skelton. Look for Leo Gorcey as Cecil.
Late night features the laff riot, Night of the Lepus (1972) at 11:30 pm. (Read our essay on it here.) It’s followed by two MGM cartoons, The Hound and the Rabbit (1937) and The Hungry Wolf (1942) from director Hugh Harman.
At 2:00 am comes a most unusual film from director Bertrand Tavernier. Death Watch (La mort en direct, 1980). Taking place in the future, when medical advances have made premature death a rarity, the reality show Death Watch, a voyeuristic look at how people cope with the end of life, is a ratings hit. In the search for more and more events to televise, a reporter, Roddy (Harvey Keitel), has a camera implanted in his head that broadcasts everything he sees to a television station in Glasgow. His assignment is to show the audience the journey of Katherine (Romy Schneider), who's been recently informed that she's terminally ill, as she prepares for her last days. Complications ensue from the fact that Katherine has no idea she's being filmed. She previously rejected an offer from the show's producer (Harry Dean Stanton) to appear on it. This places Roddy in an uncomfortable position as he becomes close to his subject. This sad – and long – film was shot around Glasgow (in English) and was based on a novel by David Guy Compton. Ironically, two years after its release, Romy Schneider died at the age of 43 from cardiac arrest due to a weakened heart caused by a kidney operation she had months before.
By Ed Garea
March is renowned in the popular imagination for “coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb.” Regarding TCM, March came in like a lamb and is going out like a lion.
Of course, the big news is the passing of Robert Osborne, TCM’s on-air host from its inception in 1994. I remember when TCM was launched. My cable company at the time, Comcast, did not carry the station until several years later. With Comcast, not carrying a new station upon its inception was par for the course. When the company announced that TCM would be appearing I was beside myself with joy. My wife and I watched the first night and saw Robert Osborne introduce the movie. “Great,” my wife said. “Another know-nothing host like Bob Dorian.” Dorian was at the time host of AMC, which was TCM’s rival for a couple of years until the company that owned it, Cablevision, wrecked the channel.
“No, no,” I replied. “Robert Osborne’s the real thing.” I dug out my worn copy of his book, Academy Awards Illustrated (with a forward by Bette Davis) and showed it to her. She was blown away by the wealth of information. “Yeah,” I said. “He’s a columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. A real film historian, not a paid spokesman.” I think what moved my wife was Osborne’s enthusiasm and love of movies, which came through loud and clear with every introduction. TCM easily became my favorite channel and remains so today. It is the ultimate essential.
Osborne was born on May 3, 1932, in Colfax, Washington. His father was a high school principal and coach, and his mother a homemaker. Osborne said his love of Hollywood began when in 1941, when his mother brought him a copy of Modern Screen magazine with Lana Turner on the cover. He became so engrossed that eventually he took a notebook and write down details about every first-run movie he could find. That interest never left him.
He gradated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism. After graduation he began a career as a actor, working for 20th Century Fox and Desilu Studios. His first part in 1954 was an uncredited one as a stage driver in Death Valley Days. Most of his 11 movie and television roles were uncredited, including an appearance in Hitchcock’s Psycho.
It is reported that Lucille Ball took a shine to him and gave him some useful career advice: give up trying to get into movies and write about them instead. In 1965 he wrote his book, Academy Awards Illustrated, which led to The Hollywood Reporter hiring him as a columnist and critic. In 1978 he published 50 Golden Years of Oscar, which won the 1979 National Book Award. He was elected president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association in 1981 and served a two-year term. In 1984 he began as the on-air host for The Movie Channel. When Ted Turner created Turner Movie Classics in 1994, it was a natural for Osborne to become the station’s on-air host. He remained so, hosting primetime movies in addition to hosting occasional specials, Private Screenings, where he interviewed actors and directors. He also established a weekly program in 2006 called The Essentials, featuring a movie that Osborne and his co-host considered essential for film buffs.
In early 2016, suffering from illness, Osborne stepped away from his duties as host. Osborne died at his Manhattan home on March 6, 2017. He was 84.
He’ll be greatly missed. His combination of film knowledge, plus his boundless enthusiasm, made him the perfect ambassador for classic films. Although TCM is currently in good hands with Ben Mankiewicz succeeding Osborne as host, we can only hope the station will carry on the work Robert Osborne began. The network will pay tribute to Osborne on March 18 and 19.
March 23: At 8 pm, TCM is screening the original Godzilla (Gojira) from 1954. This is not your father’s Godzilla; in fact, Raymond Burr is nowhere to be seen. No, this is the original, which outside of a few weeks after its release in 1954, wasn’t seen widely in this country until 2004. Joseph E. Levine, who acquired the movie for U.S. distribution, lopped 40 minutes off it and replaced it with new footage featuring Burr as an American reporter who chases the Godzilla story to Japan and goes around talking to the backs of actors’ heads. This edited version was released in 1956 as Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and is the version we are familiar with today. It was seen by critics as nothing more than another campy sci-fi flick featuring a man in a monster suit who goes around stomping on miniature cities.
When the original gained widespread distribution in America through a DVD version, critics noticed that it was almost a completely different film from the one they were used to. It was much, much more than a movie about a giant lizard that runs amok in Tokyo. It is an allegory about the A-bomb and those that delivered it unto Japan. In other words, Godzilla R Us. When Levine acquired the movie he revoked all references to the bomb, Nagasaki, the fire bombing of Tokyo, and the emphasis on radiation poisoning. What was left was a film about a monster on the loose, much in the style of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, which, coincidentally, was the movie that inspired it, along with the Daigo Fukuryo Maru (“Lucky Dragon #5,” an ironic name as it turns out), a tuna fishing ship that strayed into a forbidden zone imposed around the Marshall Islands when we tested the first H-Bomb. The crew came down with radiation sickness and many died horribly. It became a point of contention between the Japanese and the Americans, and Gojira reflects that contention.
One scene that was lopped took place in the home of scientist Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura, who many film buffs will recognize as the star of Kurosawa’s Ikiru). As Yamane sits there with his daughter Emiko (Momoko Kochi) and her admirer Ogata (Akira Takarada), he laments the fact that Godzilla, the last of his species, has to be destroyed instead of studied. Ogata answers that, “Isn’t Godzilla a product of the atomic bomb that still haunts many of us Japanese?” There was no way Levine was going to let that one pass, nor the last line, where Yamane notes that, “If we keep conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.” In removing the offending footage, Levine took out anything that might have made the film uncomfortable for American audiences. Terry O. Morse, who made his reputation mainly as a film editor, was hired as director to blend the new footage with the old as seamlessly as possible. Inshiro Honda directed the original for Toho Studios, with Akira Kurosawa as an uncredited executive producer. Kurosawa had also made his own anti-nuclear film that same year, titled I Live in Fear. It bombed at the box office, while Gojira was a hit.
Over the year Toho followed up its hit with sequels of diminishing quality. Eventually Godzilla would morph from being a force of destruction to being a good guy, a hero of children, much like competitor Daiei Studios did with its monster-in-a-suit, Gamera. In other words, Toho did to Godzilla what Hollywood would do to Elvis: they cut his balls off. There were attempts to restore the lizard to his former status, but they failed. Godzilla became a victim of typecasting.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
March 29: It’s a night of movies based on the writings of Guy De Maupassant. Beginning at 8 pm, Vincent Price stars in Diary of a Madman (1963). At 10 pm it’s Le Plasir (1952), an episodic film based on three stories explore that explores what happens when pleasure, purity and sex meet up with each other. Directed by the great Max Ophuls, it stars Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux, Jean Servais, and Daniel Gelin, among others. As with any Ophuls film, it is a cinematic delight. At midnight it’s Mademoiselle Fifi, a 1944 film from RKO and producer Val Lewton. Told to make an anti-German morale flick, Lewton shapes it around the Franco-Russian War as a German officer (Kurt Krueger) tries to force a simple French laundress (Simone Simon) to be his mistress. Adapted from two De Maupassant stories: "Boule de Suif" (which also inspired John Ford’s Stagecoach, believe it or not) and "Mademoiselle Fifi.” It’s something of a curiosity piece today, and somewhat uneven in tone and execution, but is realized as only Val Lewton can.
Believe it or not, even Jean-Luc Godard used De Maupassant as a source for a movie. The result, Masculin Feminin, can be seen at 2 am. Made when Godard made coherent films, it’s the story of an aspiring writer (Jean-Pierre Leaud) and his involvement with a rising pop star (Chantal Goya) and her two roommates. David likes it a lot more than I do, though I will admit it has its moment, only not enough of them. The movie was shot in Sweden. Ingmar Bergman, not exactly a fan of Godard, went to go and see it. His verdict? “A classic case of Godard: mind-numbingly boring.”
March 26: At 3:30 am Renoir’s 1936 short, A Day in the Country is being shown as part of the De Maupassant theme. The family of a Parisian shop-owner spends a day in the country. At a picnic along the river, a bourgeois mother and daughter find romance while the men are busy fishing. The daughter falls in love with a man at the inn, where they spend the day. With Sylvia Bataille, Georges D'Arnoux (as Georges Saint-Saens), Jeanne Marken, André Gabriello, future director Jacques Becker, and Renoir himself as Poulain the Innkeeper. Becker and Luchino Visconti worked as Renoir's assistant directors. Look for the boy fishing from the bridge in the beginning of the film. It’s Jean Renoir's son, Alain.
Following at 4:30 am is one of Renoir’s early masterpieces, Boudu Saved From Drowning. Boudu (the wonderful Michel Simon) is saved from drowning in the Seine river by bookseller Edouard Lestingois (Charles Granval), who takes him in to his home until he recovers. Mrs. Lestingois (Marcelle Hainia) and the maid, Anne-Marie (Sévérine Lerczinska), who is also Lestingois' mistress, are far from delighted, for Boudu is lazy, dirty and salacious. And worse, Boudu becomes The Thing That Won’t Leave, maintaining that his savior is now responsible for his well-being. All attempts to adjust him to a middle-class, normal way of life fail. His antics include carelessly defacing priceless first edition books, flooding the kitchen, and other outrageous disturbances. In addition, he seduces Madame Lestingois and interrupts Mr. Lestingois' nightly visits to Anne-Marie, by insisting upon sleeping in the hall between their rooms. He later wins a lottery with a ticket given to him by Monsieur Lestingois, and decides to marry Anne-Marie. As they are drifting down the Seine in a river punt following their wedding, Boudu begins to yearn for the freedom he “lost.” The boat is somehow "accidentally" tipped over and Boudu disappears. While the others mourn his death, he swims ashore, changes clothes with a scarecrow, and sets out on the road again, a free man. Based a play by Rene Fauchois, it was remade in 1986 as Down and Out in Beverly Hills. But the 1932 version outshines any attempt at a remake. It is a comic masterpiece.
March 26: At 2 am it’s Torment, a 1944 film from director Alf Sjoberg, for which Bergman wrote the screenplay. This is a story of an idealistic high school student (Alf Kjellin), who saves a shop girl (Mai Zetterling) from harassment at the hands of his hated Latin teacher (Stig Järrel), who the students have named Caligula. At 4 am comes Hour of the Wolf (1968), a drama written and directed by Bergman about an artist (Max Von Sydow) in an emotional crisis punctuated by nightmares from the past while staying on windy and isolated island with his younger, pregnant wife (Liv Ullmann). During "the hour of the wolf" – between midnight and dawn – he tells his wife about his most painful memories. It’s Ingmar Bergman's only horror film, and reminds me of a parody that took place on the old comedy show, SCTV. On an episode of “Monster Chiller Horror Theater,” Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty) is showing this film for the kiddies out there. What follows is a brilliant and hysterical parody of the movie, called “Whispers of the Wolf,” and which elicits a reaction from the dumbfounded Count, who notes that “Hey, this isn’t a scary film at all! Who is responsible for this?”
March 25: At the dreadful hour of 4 am comes one of the most beautiful films to come from Japan, A Story From Chikamatsu, aka The Crucified Lovers (Chikamatsu Monogatari). It concerns Ishun (Eitarô Shindô), a wealthy scroll-maker in 17th century Japan who is married to Osan (Kyôko Kagawa). When he falsely accuses her of having an affair with his best worker, Mohei (Kazuo Hasegawa), the pair is forced to flee the city and declare their love for one another. Ishun orders his men to find them and separate them in order to avoid public humiliation. Based on a play by classic Japanese author Monzaemon Chikamatsu (1653-1725), the Japanese title "Chikamatsu Monogatari" means "A Tale From Chikamatsu.” Director Kenji Mizoguchi realizes it beautifully, with an undercurrent of emotional power beneath the narrative’s surface that will resonate with the viewer long after the film ends. We would recommend recording it for later viewing.
March 30: A mini-marathon begins at 6 am and ends at 2:30 pm. Of the films bring shown we recommend Under Eighteen, with Marian Marsh and Warren William (10 am). A good film, it inexplicably bombed at the box office, despite the push from the studio. Read our essay on it here. Ever In My Heart (11:30 am), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Otto Kruger, explores the anti-German prejudice doing World War I and has a decent melodramatic ending. And finally, at 12:45 pm, James Cagney is a racketeer who tries to improve conditions at a boy’s reformatory in the lively Mayor of Hell from 1933. The string linking all the films is that they were directed by Archie Mayo, an unimaginative studio hack (so much for auteur theory), which explains why even the best of them we mentioned are uneven.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
March 20: The theme is “March Malice,” and the film the night is Michael Powell's shocking Peeping Tom (1960), airing at 10 pm. A cinematographer, raised by a sadist, photographs his female victims as he kills them. It is a deeply disturbing film and almost destroyed Powell’s career. Ignored for years, its reputation as a first-rate psychological thriller was restored due to filmakers such as Martin Scorsese, who championed it as a classic of the genre. I remember seeing it as a teenager late one Saturday night on New York’s Channel 9, and I have never forgotten it. I recommend it highly.
March 22: At 4:15 am The Honeymoon Killers is being shown. Starring Tony LoBianco and Shirley Stoler, its based on the true story of Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck, who met through lonely-hearts correspondence and were executed in 1951 for the murders of Myrtle Young, Janet Fay, Delphine Downing and her 2-year old daughter Rainelle. To quote Michael Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film: “Definitely not made by the usual bozos. Required viewing.”
March 23: Besides Gojira, viewers can see his future antagonist, King Kong in the 1933 original, at 10 pm. The two would later meet in one of the great dreadful encounters that would become so common to Japanese sci-fi. Also of interest is the 1957 Ray Harryhausen epic, 20 Million Miles to Earth, which airs at the late hour of 5 am.
March 25: At 10:15 pm comes the Barrymore brothers in the uneven, but fascinating Arsene Lupin, from MGM in 1932. John is the gentleman their of the title who is relentlessly pursued by the great detective Guerchard (Lionel). It’s all around Paris that Lupin plans to steal the Mona Lisa, but the police, led by Guerchard, believe they know Lupin’s identity and have a secret weapon to catch him. With Karen Morely. It was the first pairing of the brothers and is highly entertaining.
The evening would not be complete if we didn’t recommend the wild and wacky House (Hausu), airing at 2 am. Threatened by the presence of her new stepmother, spoiled schoolgirl Oshare, aka “Gorgeous” (Kimiko Ikegami), takes six of her friends to visit her aunt in the countryside for the weekend. Thus begins a roller coaster of a movie, in bright pastels and a cartoonish flair, with outrageous things happening to each of the girls. It’s a movie that has to be seen to be believed and it’s popularity saved Toho Studios from bankruptcy. Be warned, it’s pretty graphic, although more on the level of a Road Runner cartoon in its outrageousness.
March 28: The one and only Hugo Haas lends his dubious directing tales to Lizzie (1957), airing at 12:30 am. Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Bird’s Nest, it’s a story of a Los Angeles psychiatrist (Richard Boone) who uses hypnosis to get to the bottom of a mousy woman’s (Eleanor Parker) multiple personality disorder. As Beth, she’s a happy, well-adjusted woman. But as Lizzie, she’s a wild party hardy who writes threatening letters. With Joan Blondell and the director in a role as a kindly neighbor. Realized as only Hugo Haas can, it was the only one of his moves to receive serious notice.
By Ed Garea
CONTINUING WHERE WE LEFT OFF LAST MONTH...
Last month we made it through 28 of the “31 Days of Oscar,” picking an Oscar winning or nominated film for each day of the month. As there are three days to go in March, we shall begin this month with the continuation of last month’s format.
March 1: Today is packed full of excellent movies. There are four from which to choose: Two Women (2:30 pm), Ugetsu (4:30 pm), Umberto D (6:15 pm), and Vertigo (10:00 pm). You really can’t go wrong with any of them, but if I had to choose only one, I think I would go with Two Women. Though as a film it’s the weakest of the four, it benefits from having Sophia Loren’s best performance on film, and for that reason alone I recommend it.
March 2: My choice this day is the often overlooked, but brilliant What Price Hollywood? (1:30 am) Expertly directed by George Cukor, this is the story of a waitress (Constance Bennett) and the drunken director (Lowell Sherman) who mentors her and turns her into a star. Said to have been based by writer Adela Rogers St. John on the marriage of silent screen star Colleen Moore and alcoholic producer John McCormick, it went on to inspire the much better known A Star is Born (said to have been based on the marriage of Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay) in 1937. Produced by David O. Selznick, it was the first “inside Hollywood” film to treat its subject reverentially, and doesn’t hit one false note along the way.
March 3: Out of all the day’s offerings, my choice in Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort from 1967, which airs at midnight. The director’s homage to the grand MGM musicals of the late ‘40s and ‘50s, it employed the same splashy colors as did The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), but this time the storyline is much lighter, the songs peppier and more traditionally interspersed with the dialogue. It stars Gene Kelly, Danielle Darrieux and George Chakras, but there real reason to see it is for the Dorleac sisters, Francoise and Catherine (Deneuve). A more beautiful and enchanting pair of sisters never existed (No, not even Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine) and watching them work their charm makes us only realize the loss we suffered when Franchise Dorleac met her death in an auto accident at the age of 25.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
March 5: A wonderful Danish double-feature begins at 3 am with Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast (1987). Based on the novel by Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), who is perhaps best known in this country for Out of Africa, it’s the story of two sisters in a remote 19th century Danish village who lead a very rigidly structured life that is centered around their father, the local minister and the church. Although both have had opportunities to leave the village (one by marrying a young army officer and the other by marrying a French opera singer), in both cases their father stepped in to quash their plans, with the result that they spent their lives caring for him. Now that he is deceased the sisters hire a French servant, Babette Hersant, to cook and look after the house. When Babette suddenly comes into good fortune, she wants to repay the sisters for their kindness by cooking a French meal for them and their friends on the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth. That’s all I’ll give away. Tune in and you won’t be disappointed.
Following at 5 am is Carl Dreyer’s classic, Gertrud, from 1964. Rather controversial in its day, it concerns a woman who places her notion of ideal love above everything else – and suffers immense disappointment because of her choices. Gertrud, a former singer, is married to politician Gustav Kanning, who, she claims, puts his work before everything else – in particular, her. She wants a man who will put love before everything else. Her motto in life is “Amor omnia,” love is all. She leaves her husband for composer Erland Jansson, and at first, everything is fine until she discovers that he only became involved with her to boost his own stock. She leaves him and journeys to Paris with an old friend to devote herself to study. She had confided to him that she had the misfortune only to love men who were incapable of understanding her or unwilling to give themselves completely to her. Thirty years later, Axel, the friend, visits her in her hometown and gives her a copy of his new book. But what seems to be a happy ending is shattered when she intuits that he wants his old letters back. She hands them over and he throws them into the fire in front of her before taking his leave. But before he asks through the door she reads to him a poem about love, written when she was just 16. Her uncompromising position on love may be a reflection of Dreyer’s own position on his films. At any rate, the film is typical Dreyer: lengthy, with some shots running to 10 minutes, superbly acted, and paced like a snail running for its life. Though panned at first by most critics, it has gained in stature over the years and now is seen as one of the director’s finest efforts. It was also his last film.
March 8: We now go from last to first in a sense, as director Agnes Varda’s first effort, La Pointe Courte, is airing at 11 am. A director’s first film is not so much a statement as a promise of things to come, and with Varda, it’s a large promise indeed that was magnificently fulfilled over the course of her career. Named after the district in France where it takes place, the film interweaves two stories that are connected only by where they take place, a small fishing community in Sete, a Mediterranean city, located in the southeast of France. One story concerns the experiences of local citizens as they go about their jobs, dealing with the petty bureaucrats and their rules that only make staying in business harder to do. The other story is about a young Parisian couple, known as Him and Her, as they cope with a growing marital crisis. He grew up in La Pointe Courte and loves its sights and sounds, while she was raised in Paris, with her tastes reflecting those of her cosmopolitan environment. To try to set things right, they visit the husband’s old neighborhood, talking their way through their differences.
Varda centers the movie’s drama in a series of small, but vitally important questions, such as, with regard to the first story thread, of whether the man will allow his daughter to marry the man she loves, a man the father regards as a milquetoast. Will the police crack down on the fisherman who secured his shellfish from an off-limits stretch of water? And finally, will our big city couple reconcile their differences or split up? The answers to these questions are set against the backdrop of a water-jousting tournament that actually takes place in Sete each year. Varda is at her best when underlining the differences between the natives and the visitors, stopping the city folks short of making the locals seem like ignorant yokels; instead subtly emphasizing the commonality of both lifestyles. It’s a film that once seen, tends to stay with the viewer like a good hearty meal and its influence can be seen in her later works, as it represented a world-view she never disowned.
March 15: At 3:30 am TCM is showing Rene Clements’s thought provoking Les Maudits (The Damned). The 1947 films set during the last days of the Third Reich, as a group of high-ranking Nazis and French collaborators board a U-boat in Oslo heading for South America. The film’s narrator (Henri Vidal) is a doctor who has been kidnapped to tend to the ill Hilde Garosi (Florence Marly), the wife of one of the passengers and the lover of another. Realizing that once the woman recovers his life is forfeit, the doctor tries various ruses to stay live, all to no avail. We discover that the passengers are on a mission to continue the war in South America, but as the voyage goes on the mission begins to deteriorate once they learn that Berlin has fallen and that a message has gone out for all U-boats to return to port. The film is firmly in the tradition of claustrophobic dramas such as Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, with the audience guessing who and who does not make it to the destination. It is a gripping film, notable for its depiction of a World War II U-boat and its tracking shots through the boat. Fans of war films should take this one in.
March 10: The seldom shown Bureau of Missing Persons (1933) airs at 7:45 am. Pat O’Brien stars in this comedy-drama as Butch Saunders, a hard-working detective in the robbery division transferred because of his brutal tactics. Lewis Stone is his captain. Bette Davis is Norma Roberts, who reports her husband missing, and Butch takes the case, falling for Norma along the way, despite some glitches in her background. Realizing that she’s playing him, Butch sets a trap to catch her. Look for Glenda Farrell, who steals the movie as Butch’s estranged wife.
March 13: Katharine Hepburn plays a strong-willed and independent aviatrix who falls in love with middle-aged nobleman and politician Colin Clive in Dorothy Arzner’s Christopher Strong (1933), which will be shown at 6:15 am. It’s not Arzner’s best, though a lot of the problems have to do with casting the stodgy Clive as a man of passion and the fact that Hepburn had the audacity to tell Arzner how to direct her picture. There is zero chemistry between the two stars, as Hepburn’s Lady Cynthia Darrington chooses to end her life by crashing her plane rather than bring disrepute to her lover. Look for Margaret Lindsay in an unbilled role.
March 14: Joel McCrea is a hardworking fisherman who has to take on the villainous Gavin Gordon for control of a fishery and the hand of beautiful society woman Jean Arthur in The Silver Horde (1930), airing at 9:15 am. Evelyn Brent is excellent as dance hall gal Cherry Malotte, who proves to be McCrea’s true love.
A real gem is being shown at 1:30 pm: The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933), from Mack Sennett and starring W.C. Fields as Yukon prospector Mr. Snavely, who lost his only son, Chester (George Chandler) to the temptations of the big city. Now, years later, Chester, released from prison, has come home to Ma and Pa in this parody of the melodramas that were the rage of low-budget movies. Definitely worth a glance, especially for Fields and his now famous line, “It Ain't a Fit Night Out for Man or Beast.”
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
March 4: At 10:30 am TCM begins showing us another long-running B-series with Maisie (1939), starring Ann Sothern as a Brooklyn showgirl with a heart “of spun sugar” that gets herself into various adventures around the world. Created by MGM producer J. Walter Ruben and originally intended for the late Jean Harlow, Ruben found his star in the sassy and intelligent Sothern, who had recently joined the studio after a stay at RKO, where she was going nowhere fast, stuck as a supporting character in B-pictures. Ironically, the film was a hit and typecast Sothern in yet another B-series, albeit a more lavishly produced one. The Maisie series became so popular that letters to the star, simply addressed to “Maisie, U.S.A.” found their way to the MGM studio. In the opener, Maisie Ravier, stranded and broke, lands in a small Wyoming town where she meets "Slim" Martin (Robert Young), the foreman on a Clifford Ames’s (Ian Hunter) ranch. Slim doesn’t trust women, being as one once did him some serious hurt, and orders her out of town. But Ames, who is trying to patch up his marriage to Sybil (Ruth Hussey), hires Maisie as Sybil’s maid. Of course Maisie and Slim fall in love and Sybil tries to disrupt things, and Maisie leaves in anger after quarreling with Slim. Ames discovers that Sybil is cheating on him and kills himself, for which Slim is blamed and placed on trial. Maisie comes rushing to his defense and all ends well as Maisie and Slim plan to marry and live on the ranch, which Ames had willed to Maisie in his suicide note.
March 11: More adventures of Maisie as she is stranded in the jungle with a romantic doctor (John Carroll) in Congo Maisie (1940), airing at 10:30 am.
March 12: At 10:00 am it’s that psychotronic classic, Edgar Ulmer’s Detour (1945), starring Tom Neal is the ill-fated musician and Ann Savage as the hitchhiker from hell.
March 14: It’s a classic psychotronic doubleheader beginning at 2:00 am with Richard Roundtree in Shaft (1971), the film that began the Blaxploitation genre. Immediately following at 4:00 am is Shaft’s Big Score (1972), in which Our Hero is back to find who murdered his old friend Cal Asby (Robert Kya-Hill), a funeral director and beloved businessman who secretly ran the numbers racket in Harlem. Along for the ride is Moses Gunn, reprising his role as gangster Bumpy Jonas (loosely based on real life Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson, an ally of Lucky Luciano). As with most sequels, it’s not up to the original, but still manages to be quite and entertaining ride nonetheless.
BAD MOVIE ALERT
March 9: In our upcoming look at Richard Burton and his movies, we mention he had done quite a few howlers. At 12:45 am comes one of them, The Sandpiper (1965) in which he is ably abetted in this exercise in bad moviemaking by then wife Elizabeth Taylor. Dick is a straight-laced married Episcopal minister who has those laces undone by Liz as a single mom beatnik artist in this silly update of Somerset Maugham’s Miss Thompson. With Charles Bronson playing a sculptor, of all things. It's directed by Vincente Minnelli after William Wyler had the good sense to turn it down and scripted by the overrated Dalton Trumbo. Watch it for its utter pretentiousness; lines dripping with meaning accompanied by the requisite mugging. It just sits there like a decaying corpse as its two stars blather on about God-knows-what, which makes it required viewing.
March 20: Can you see Katharine Hepburn as an Ozarks Hillbilly? Neither can we, which is why Spitfire, from 1934, is a must. It airs at 9:45 am and you can read our essay on it here.
By Ed Garea
At this point, we’re about midway through TCM’s annual salute to the Oscars, to which the month of February is devoted, along with the first three days in March. We received some good feedback to our special format for this festival, so we’ll continue with what obviously works.
This year TCM is doing sort of “A Look at the Oscars From A to Z.” But face it: how many times can one repackage the same old films year after year? Definitely, more foreign films need to be added, and perhaps some animation as well. Something to think about, anyway.
February 16: Our pick today is The Maltese Falcon from 1941, which airs at 6:15. It marks John Huston’s directorial debut, and a director couldn’t ask for a better opening. Humphrey Bogart was at the top of his form as Sam Spade and was given a run for his money by a strong supporting cast, which included Elisha Cook, Jr., Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and the formidable Sydney Greenstreet, also making his film debut after a career on stage, most recently with the company of Lunt and Fontaine. We’ve all seen it multiple times, but so what? We can always watch it again – it’s just that good.
February 17: There’s nothing like a good Pre-Code film to make one’s day, and Min and Bill (1930), at 5:00 pm, starring the combination of Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery, is the ticket. It was the first time these two teamed, and the way they came off it seemed like they had been working together for years. Dressler is a cantankerous old buzzard who runs a waterfront hotel and Beery is an equally cantankerous old sailor who’s her best friend. Together they’re a pair of lovable underdogs. The plot revolves around Min’s efforts to get her adopted daughter Nancy (Dorothy Jordan) out of these crummy environs and out to a better life. In order to accomplish this she resorts to some radical tactics, such as pretending not to care about her charge as she sends her away to a more respectable home. Along the way she faces opposition from Nancy’s real mother, Bella (Marjorie Rambeau), a grasping floozie whose antics towards reclaiming her daughter (Hint: money is involved.) puts Min to the ultimate test of parental love. Adapted by Frances Marion from Lorna Moon’s novel, the parts were perfect for Dressler and Beery. Marion was quite good at this sort of thing, having also written the screenplay for one of the all-time tearjerkers, Stella Dallas, back in 1925. However, it’s the chemistry between Dressler and Beery that makes the film such a joy to watch. They are the ultimate slob actors.
February 18: There is nothing like a good comedy, especially on a winter’s day, to warm the heart. And TCM is dishing up a good one at 4:30 pm with one of Laurel and Hardy’s best shorts, The Music Box, from 1932. The boys play movers whose task is to haul a heavy player piano up a huge flight of stairs from the street to a house sitting high above; a feat that makes it seem more like climbing a mountainside. A bareboned plot such as this would test the mettle of any comedian, but for Laurel and Hardy it’s child’s play. They keep us glued to the screen with a variety of sight gags and a continuing flow of characters in and out of the story. The short, which was the first film to win an Oscar in the Best Comedy Short Subject category, is actually a remake of their classic 1927 silent short Hats Off, which found the boys lugging a washing machine up and down the same flight of stairs. It is thought that The Three Stooges used the same staircase in their 1941 short,An Ache in Every Stake, but that's not so. They used a similar staircase in the same neighborhood of the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles.
February 19: Films about religious life don’t get any better than this one from director Fred Zinnemann and star Audrey Hepburn. The Nun’s Story (11:00 am) is that rare bird in Hollywood: a religious film that eschews the usual Hollywood treatment of the feel-good happy ending in favor of a thoughtful story of a devout young woman, Gabrielle Van Der Mal (Hepburn), whose dream is to serve in the Belgian Congo as a nurse and who later finds fulfillment of sorts as missionary nun. But her inner-life is a struggle, revolving around her growing doubts about having the humility necessary to serve God. Eventually, her doubts make it difficult for her to succeed in her vocation. It’s not a perfect film, being too long in length with its drama mostly unrealized cinematically. However, it presents more of a realistic view of the Church, warts and all, and Hepburn gives perhaps the best performance of her life and was nominated for an Oscar for her trouble. Though the movie marks something of a breakthrough in presenting the religious life, Hollywood was soon back to happy, singing nuns.
February 20: Peter Sellers created a wonderfully hilarious character in Inspector Clousseau and becomes the focus of this otherwise bland comedy of jewel thieves among the beautiful people of Europe at a fashionable resort in the Italian Alps. The Pink Panther (4:00 pm) is a tour de force by Sellers and the picture slows to a crawl whenever he’s not on. David Niven, Robert Wagner, Capucine and Claudia Cardinale proved steady support, but Sellers is the show. His Clousseau character was put to better use in the sequel, A Shot in the Dark, where he was the star instead of being reduced almost to a supporting player.
February 21: Charles Laughton is always worth catching on the screen, and one of his best roles was as English monarch Henry VIII in Alexander Korda’s superb 1933 drama The Private Life of Henry VIII, which airs at 2:15 pm. Laughton gives an unforgettable performance as the colorful king whose obsession with producing a male heir took him through six wives. It begins just before the execution of second wife Anne Boleyn and Korda provides a sterling supporting cast as the wives: Merle Oberon as Anne Boleyn, Wendy Barrie as Jane Seymour, Elsa Lanchester as Anne of Cleves, Binnie Barnes as Katherine Howard, and Everley Gregg as his final wife, Katherine Paar. Robert Donat, Miles Mander and John Loder are also on hand, but it’s Laughton’s show all the way, and he doesn’t disappoint. The Academy also thought so, for they awarded him the Best Actor Oscar.
February 22: On a day without much to speak of in the way of movies, Peter Medak’s 1972 adaptation of Peter Barnes’ satirical stage play, The Ruling Class (12:15 am), offers a gem of a performance from Peter O’Toole as deranged 14th Earl of Gurney, who believes he’s the second coming of Christ. He suspends himself from a custom-made crucifix that he uses to get his beauty rest. The film itself is wildly uneven, with the Earl’s uncle (William Mervyn) marrying him to the uncle’s own mistress (Carolyn Seymour) with the intention of producing a male heir, after which the Duke can be sent to the funny farm with the family gaining a ruling member who is sane. The plot goes south when the newlyweds actually fall in love. At the same time, the Earl is becoming convinced that he is actually Jack the Ripper. It goes on from there to the accompaniment of songs and dances from the leading characters. Originally released in a shorter version in 1972, the movie gained a cult status that resulted in the cut footage being restored, bringing the film to 154 minutes. The restored footage only succeeds in slowing the movie down, but O’Toole is so mesmerizing we can’t help but stay tuned in.
February 23: At midnight comes one of the great B movies: Shaft. Richard Roundtree plays private eye John Shaft, who is hired by Harlem underworld boss Moses Gunn to retrieve his kidnaped daughter (Sherry Brewer). It’s not much different from a story with a white detective, but the character of John Shaft is so vividly played by Roundtree that he takes the film to another level entirely. Shaft rubs out the baddies and romances the ladies while strutting around in a leather coat to the throbbing rhythm of Isaac Hayes’ dynamic score. Never before had African-American audiences seen a character quite like him and they loved what they saw. The box office success of the 1971 movie helped jump start the genre known as blaxploitation, but films like this and performances like Roundtree’s would become the glaring exception.
February 24: The day features such gems as Singin’ in the Rain (2:00 pm), Some Like It Hot (8:00 pm), and Spartacus (10:15 pm), but our recommendation is one of the worst films ever made, The Silver Chalice (1954), which airs at 11:30 am. Released during a time when Biblical epics were considered money in the bank, it’s based on Thomas B. Costain’s best-seller about a Greek artisan named Basil (Paul Newman) sold into slavery and later commissioned by Christian leaders to make a chalice for the cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper. Audiences must have sat wondering if they could believe what they were seeing, as they were looking at obviously cardboard stone walls with wildly over-the-top performances by Jack Palance, a court magician who believes he’s the messiah; his assistant Helena (Virginia Mayo) whose main enjoyment in life is attending pagan orgies while chewing her share of the scenery; Pier Angeli as the unbelievably good Christian granddaughter of Joseph of Arimathea who marries Basil and converts him to Christianity, and Jacques Aubuchon as possibly the worst Nero ever to appear on the screen. Lorne Greene also gives a strange slant to his portrayal of St. Peter, making us wonder if he had watched James Dean too many times. The film is wretchedly written by the aptly named Lesser Samuels and cluelessly directed by Victor Saville, who acquired the rights to the novel right after it was published. Somehow he talked Warner Bros. into letting him produce this turkey. Newman’s debut was more on the lines of notorious than notable, giving a performance that lacked any sort of panache. Newman later got a little revenge when the move played on L.A.’s version of Million Dollar Movie in the 1960s. He placed ads in the trade papers that read, "Paul Newman apologizes every night this week-Channel 9." The film eventually became a camp classic and is a favorite of bad film fanatics.
February 25: A lot of good movies are being shown today but for our part we’re going with Gregory LaCava’s ensemble comedy-drama, Stage Door, airing at 8:15 am. This adaptation (by Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller) of the hit play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman about a young girl, Terry Randall (Katharine Hepburn), who aspires to become an actress and lodges in a boarding house filled with other acting hopefuls. Co-starring with Ginger Rogers, who was looking to escape from being typecast as Fred Astaire’s dancing partner, Hepburn and Rogers deftly use their off-screen antagonism to inform their on-screen antagonism, combining sharp comic timing with some serious dramatic acting, especially on the part of Rogers, who wowed the critics with her performance. They’re helped by terrific supporting performances from Lucille Ball, Gail Patrick, Constance Collier and Andrea Leeds, who provide the human background against which Hepburn and Rogers play. Adolphe Menjou, Samuel S. Hinds and Franklin Pangborn also provide solid support.
February 26: Can there be any other choice this day than The Thin Man (8:00 pm)? William Powell and Myrna Loy were the perfect match as Nick and Nora Charles, so much so that people actually thought they were married in real life. The mystery plays a decided second fiddle to the antics of Nick and Nora, who have a knack for making alcoholism seem most appealing, though the producers try to make up for it by having Nick assemble all the suspects in a room before naming the guilty party, a tactic that proved so popular with audiences it was repeated in every Thin Man sequel from then onward. But this is the first, and by far the best of the series, and it received four Oscar nominations. Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Writing, Adaptation.
February 27: At 8:00 pm comes a film that was not that well received at the time, but which has gone on to become one of the classics of the silver screen. We’re talking about Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not To Be (1942). The idea of a comedy set in Nazi-occupied Poland may have rankled some who saw it as blasphemous, but newer generations have embraced the movie for the dark comedy it is. As the hammy Joseph Tura, Jack Benny is pitch perfect, hitting all the right notes. He’s matched line for line by Carole Lombard as his wife Maria in a performance many regard as her best. Lombard was a consummate performer, the best comedic actress of her time. Sadly this was to be her last performance. In a hurry to get home to husband Clark Gable after her War Bond tour wrapped, Lombardi’s plane crashed into a peak of Potosi Mountain near Las Vegas, killing all aboard. The tragic circumstances of her death resulted in a rewriting of her line “What can happen in a plane?” Mel Brooks remade the film in 1983 as a starring vehicle for both him and wife Anne Bancroft. As good as Bancroft was in the movie, though, she still couldn’t approach the dynamic of Lombard’s performance.
February 28: As the month closes, our pick for the evening is Luis Bunuel’s absorbing 1970 drama of revenge, Tristana (1:00 am), featuring Catherine Deneuve in a delicately nuanced performance as a young girl whose duplicitous guardian, Don Lope (Fernando Rey), seduces her and makes her his mistress. Although he tells Tristana that she is free, she knows the truth and feels increasingly trapped by his possessiveness. When she falls in love with young artist Horatio (Franco Nero), she runs away with him to Madrid to get away from Don Lope. However, a couple of years later she develops a large tumor in her leg and begs Horatio to bring her back to Don Lope, who has inherited a fortune. Her leg ends up being amputated, and with the help of Don Lope she slowly recovers from the surgery. Don Lope, who has aged considerably, has softened over the years and takes over the role of Tristana’s father. He encourages Horatio to court her, but Tristana, who is considered deformed, has let her deformity enter into her inner being. She coldly rejects Horatio's proposal of marriage. Eventually, at the urging of a local priest, Don Lope marries her. Over time their roles have completely reversed and the cold Tristana has become the caregiver for Don Lope, who has become senile and has turned to religion for consolation. One night he suffers a heart attack. He implores Tristana to call a doctor. She pretends to phone from the next room, but in actuality is opening a window to let the winter wind enter the dying man’s room. Her revenge is complete.
By Ed Garea
As we know, TCM is devoting the month of February, along with the first three days in March, to its annual “31 Days of Oscar” festival. Unlike last year, there’s little that’s new this time around. They have changed the format this year, showing the movies in alphabetical order, but once again, it’s mostly the same old films. Because of this, we here at Cinema Inhabituel are changing our format for the month. We will feature a different film each day and try to find those we feel are usually not discussed and sometimes overlooked. Barring that we’ll do what we can.
February 1: Let’s begin with one of the greatest action films ever made: The Adventures of Robin Hood (12:15 am). Robin Hood was a role Errol Flynn was born to play. In fact it’s perfectly cast all around, with Claude Rains as the devious King John, Basil Rathbone at his villainous best as Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and Olivia De Havilland impossibly beautiful as Maid Marian. One of the delights of the film is its inability to take itself seriously, as the cast seems to be performing their roles with a wink and a nod. The casting genius even extends to the minor roles: Can anyone else than Alan Hale play Little John? And no one but Eugene Palette can play Friar Tuck with such confidence. Warner Brothers had three strokes of genius in making the film: First, they replaced the staid William Keighley during filming with Michael Curtiz, who knew how to get the action into an action film. Second, they cast Errol Flynn as Robin. Believe it or not, James Cagney was the first choice for the role. Cagney’s good, but this is out of his league. We could no more see him as Robin Hood as we could see Flynn playing Rocky Sullivan in Angels With Dirty Faces. And thirdly, they shot the film in Technicolor, which made it even more mesmerizing and appealing. We’ve seen this movie more times than we can count, but we’re always willing to see it again.
February 2: Though it’s being aired at the late hour of 3:30 am, The Battle of Algiers is definitely one worth catching. Directed by Gilleo Pontecorvo, it’s a reconstruction of the events of 1954 to 1957 in the struggle of the guerrillas in the National Liberation Front against the French authorities. As portrayed by Jean Martin, Col. Mathieu isn’t so much a character as a representation of the repressive power of the regime against the feral heat generated by the inhabitants as they fight tooth and nail against their oppressors. What the French accomplish in the end is to win the battle against terrorism while losing the concurrent battle of ideas. It’s a lesson of history that has been repeated since then from Vietnam to Iraq. The device of Col. Mathieu is a clever stroke from the director and co-writer Franco Solinas in that the revolutionaries do not need to spout revolutionary consciousness since the Colonel is given such a counter-revolutionary consciousness that he says it for them. He is a fatalist, knowing that history has always been on the side of the oppressed, but at the same time realizing that he is a part of an imperialistic holding pattern ultimately doomed to failure. The movie never comes right out and espouses these feelings; rather it takes us along in the revolutionary fervor we see on the screen, with events happening so quickly that we don’t have time to pause and think. some may even accept the N.L.F.’s philosophy that violence s there only path to liberation. The French government complained that the film’s politics were anything but “fair and balanced.” They were right – it's a paean to revolution, which while documenting violent extremes on the part of the N.L.F., never retreats from its position that the Algerian side is right. The ethical questions raised by the film are still with us today and are the best reason why this is required viewing.
February 3: Here’s a strange choice. In a night of better known (and better) pictures, our recommendation is the seldom seen Blues in the Night. This overheated, fermented mix of jazz and melodrama from 1941 stars Richard Whorf as a pianist in a jazz band that includes Jack Carson (the band’s leader) on trumpet, Priscilla Lane on vocals, Elia Kazan on clarinet, Peter Whitney on bass, and Billy Halop on the drums. Along the way they run into escaped convict Lloyd Nolan, which leads to big trouble down the road when former girlfriend Betty Field succeeds in making Lloyd jealous. Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer composed the score, which includes the Oscar nominated “Blues in the Night.” Some may not recognize it from the title, but it begins with “My momma done told me, when I was in knee pants, My momma done told me, son...” I can still remember Daffy Dick and Porky Pig singing it in My Favorite Duck from 1942. This was Elia Kazan’s last acting role before he turned to directing, and as for Billy Halop, next stop was Poverty Row after starring in a couple of Universal serials.
February 4: Of all the ‘70s and beyond musicals our favorite by far is Cabaret, which will be shown tonight at 1:30 am. It’s easily Liza Minnelli’s best performance and most likely her most memorable one. Based on “Sally Bowles,” a short story by Christopher Isherwood (from his collection Berlin Stories), the movie captures perfectly the setting and mood of early ‘30s Berlin, just before Hitler became chancellor in 1933. Minnelli is Sally Bowles, a bohemian young dancer who performs at the Kit Kat Club. Joel Grey, who steals the film, is the emcee at the club. Michael York plays Brian Roberts, a bisexual writer (based on Isherwood), who shares his bed with Sally and Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem). Director Bob Fosse took the Broadway musical on which the film is based and increased the focus of the film on the Kit Kat Club, cutting all but one of the musical numbers that took place outside the club. The number he kept in was the harrowing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” a folk song spontaneously sung by young Nazis at an outdoor café. I have seen this film numerous times and the scene still sends a chill down my spine. A point of trivia that’s worth mentioning is that when the musical opened in London’s West End in 1966, the role of Bowles was played by Dame Judi Dench. Cabaret was nominated for 10 Oscars, with Minnelli winning Best Actress, Joel Grey winning Best Supporting Actor, and Bob Fosse walking away with Best Director.
February 5: To recommend any film other than Casablanca (8:00 pm) this night would be sheer blasphemy. Ingrid Bergman was never more popular or beloved than when the world’s most famous saloonkeeper was treating her like a whore. There has been much written about this beloved film, and we think every film buff is familiar with the backstory: how it was improvised from day to day (Ingrid Bergman reportedly didn’t even know until the last minute whether her character would be going away with Humphrey Bogart or Paul Henried), and the famous story of how it was to originally star George Raft, Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan (which was just a story) before cooler heads prevailed. At any rate, there is no doubt about the hold it as had not only on film fans but also the American public at large since the early ‘60s, when a small theater in Massachusetts began showing it for three weeks every year to bigger and bigger crowds. Since then, Casablanca has rightfully earned a place as a staple of American pop culture. Even those who haven’t seen it can quote lines of dialogue, such as “Here’s looking to you, kid,” and “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Captain Renault’s line, “Major Strasser has been shot ... Round up the usual suspects,” was turned into a hit movie by Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning three for Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz), and Best Writing, Screenplay (Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch). Another famous story told about the film concerned its director, the Hungarian-born Michael Curtiz, who was famous for mangling the English language. One day he supposedly wanted to see how Ingrid Bergman’s character, Ilsa Lund, would look with a pet dog. He decided on a French poodle and sent a young stagehand to scour the studio for one. The young man returned over an hour later with a different breed of dog, telling an annoyed Curtiz that he couldn’t find a French poodle. “Never mind,” Curtiz supposedly shot back. “The next time I send an idiot out for something, I go myself.”
February 6: Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand, especially when 1967’s Cool Hand Lukeis scheduled to play (8:00 pm). Paul Newman was never better than as Lucas Jackson, a man who just doesn’t fit in, no matter where he is, and this time he’s in jail for sawing the heads of parking meters while drunk. His natural inclination to stand up for his principles makes him a hero of sorts on the road gang, especially after he’s befriended by convict leader Dragline (George Kennedy). He gets along fine at first with the powers-that-be until they break his honor code by punishing him for something he hasn’t done. Then it’s war, even though he knows he will lose in the end. Part of the fun of the film is watching for familiar actors in supporting parts, such as Wayne Rogers, J.D. Cannon, Strother Martin, Lou Antonio, Jo Van Fleet, Richard Davalos, Harry Dean Stanton, Joe Don Baker, James Gammon, Ralph Waite, Anthony Zerbe, and, of course, Dennis Hopper.
February 7: How about a TCM premiere tonight, namely Dreamgirls, from 2006. Loosely based on the story of the Supremes, it stars Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Hudson, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Knowles, Hudson and Anika Noni Rose are members of an all girl R&B group called the Dreamettes. Foxx is the man who discovers them and finagles them a job as backup singers for charismatic R&B superstar James “Thunder” Early (Murphy). The film follows the girls’ rise to the top and all the shenanigans that accompany it, such as payola along with the inevitable break-up that occurs after success has been achieved. The performances are all top notch, especially Hudson, who deserved her Oscar, and Murphy, who was nominated and should have won, but didn’t. It’s a movie well worth the time with great tunes and a riveting storyline.
February 8: Our pick this day, from 1956, is Forbidden Planet at 4:00 pm. One of the classics of science-fiction cinema, it boasts excellent special effects and an intelligent story. A group of space troops, led by Leslie Nielsen, has come to the planter Altira-4 to relieve the members of the Bellerophon mission 20 years earlier. But upon landing, they learn that the only survivors are Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis), along with Robby the Robot, which Morbius had pieced together years ago. Nielsen must phone home for further instructions as how to handle this new situation, while Morbius wants him and his crew gone as soon as possible. Nielsen, however, is suspicious. Something’s not passing the smell test, and when several of his crew meet their deaths, things heat up fast. Those new to this classic will love it while us old hands can certainly watch it once more.
February 9: We’re in a bit of a quandary today, with so many wonderful films on the slate. But our recommendation is ‘G’ Men with Jimmy Cagney from Warner Bros. at 6:15 pm. Cagney is in top form as “Brock” Davis, a lawyer put through law school by powerful gangster “Mac” McKay (William Harrigan). When Davis’ friend, FBI agent Eddie Buchanan (Regis Toomey), is gunned down by gangsters, Davis joins the FBI. After receiving his training, he travels to New York City and tells the mobsters, including McKay, that he will return to get each and every one of them. And get them he does, putting his knowledge of the gangland to good use with both guns blazing. Margaret Lindsay and the underrated Ann Dvorak are on hand to supply the eye candy, and Robert Armstrong and Lloyd Nolan (in his film debut) are part of the good guys at the Bureau. Barton MacLane is main heel Brad Collins and plays the role only as Barton MacLane can. By the way, note the absence of submachine guns. The newly enforced Production Code outlawed the use of the weapon as it was thought it would corrupt the youth of America.
February 10: The best choice for today is Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty, from 1940. Brian Donlevy is in top form as a bum who is given a ticket to vote in a crooked election. As each ticket is worth two dollars, he votes in as many wards possible, delivering almost a bucketful to the political boss. The boss is not impressed, but asks if he wants a job. Donlevy wants to know what he’s supposed to do and he’s told to collect from those behind in their graft payments. From here, he’s made an alderman, and when the mayor is found wanting in the polls, the Boss, nicely played by Akim Tamiroff, asks him if he want to be the Reform Party’s candidate for mayor. “Since when do you have anything to do with the Reform Party?” he asks. “I am the Reform Party,” the Boss replies. “Since when?” “Since always. What, I should starve just because the city changes administrations?” Donlevy’s even given a family, in the form of Muriel Angelus and her children. After awhile they fall in love and marry, which proves to be his downfall, because she reforms him. This is a finely tuned satire of politics which is just as fresh now as it was in 1940. It airs at 10:30 pm.
February 11: How about another musical to liven thing up a little? Our pick for today is A Hard Day’s Night, from 1964, starring the Beatles. When the group hit it big in 1963, it was only a matter of time before they would do a movie to appeal to their legion of fans. Put together quickly, in fear that the group might just be a passing fad, directorial chores were given to Richard Lester. Before tackling this project, Lester had worked mainly in commercials and television, with only two movies to his credit: It’s Trad, Dad! (a 1962 film about jazz youth) and Mouse on the Moon (1963). Quickly realizing that neither film could serve as a model, he instead drew from his work in commercials, with its quick cutting and energetic pacing. Writer Alun Owen followed the boys around, careful to adapt his screenplay to words and phrases the Beatles actually spoke. (It was said the John Lennon ad-libbed many of his lines while the others stuck to the script.) What Lester ended up with was a semidocumentary about a day in the life of the Beatles, the main plot being that they had to make a television show set for later in the evening and, of course, almost don’t make it. A subplot was added for Paul in the form of his grandfather, nicely played by television and music hall star Wilford Brambell. Throughout the film everyone remarks on what a clean old man he is, a reference to his hit television series Steptoe and Son (the basis for the later American sitcom Sanford and Son), in which a popularly repeated line is that he’s “a dirty old man.” Lester’s quick cutting style and pacing liken the film to the style of the French New Wave. And it still holds up well. Tune it in at 10 pm if you don’t believe us.
February 12: Today’s choice is a wonderful film airing at the despicable hour of 3:45 am, I Vitelloni. Directed by Fellini in 1953, and released in America under the title The Young and the Passionate, it’s the story of five young friends and their struggle to escape from the boredom of their small town in Italy. According to the TCM essay, the film’s title translates to “five big slabs of veal.” Actually, a literal translation is “The Bulls,” but checking with our resident European, Christine (who is fluent in Italian), a more fitting idiomatic rendering would be “Young Slobs,” an apt description of the protagonists: five very immature sons of indulgent, middle-class families, living off their parents and wasting their lives away on the Atlantic seashore town of Rimini, waiting for the world to come to them, rather than vice versa. The summer tourist season has just ended, which means all there is to do for Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste), Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini), Alberto (Alberto Sordi), and Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi) to do is hang out on the town streets, play pool, and await the coming of Carnival, all the while telling each other what they tend to do in life – a series of childish pipe dreams. As with many of his films, I Vitelloni is autobiographical. He observes the human farce without being condescending. Although the tone of the film is satirical, at the same time a genuine warmth emanates, making the humor richer. Of the five, Moraldo (the stand-in for Fellini himself) is the only one with courage enough to escape this farcical existence. The others will succumb to the pressures of provincial life. Fellini grew up in the town of Rimini and Riccardo is played by his brother, who the director cast because he felt that Riccardo would best understand the sensibilities of living in the small town. Think of American Graffiti or Diner, only much, much better.
February 13: For those looking for a nice change of pace, we suggest 1948’s Key Largo. Airing at 12:30 am, it’s always worth seeing. Or simply record it for later. Eddie G. Robinson is mesmerizing as deported crime boss Johnny Rocco, who is up from Cuba to deliver some counterfeit money. But an approaching storm has delayed his contacts. His stopover at James Temple’s (Lionel Barrymore) hotel on Key Largo proves to be fateful, as returning veteran Humphrey Bogart has come to pay his respects to Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall), the widow of an army buddy killed in Italy. The drama just keeps building from there, with the hurricane ratcheting things to the boiling point. Claire Trevor won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Gaye Dawn, Rocco’s alcoholic former mistress.
February 14: None other than Francois Truffaut was once quote as saying the French New Wave might never have come into being if not for “the young American Morris Engel, who showed us the way to independent production with his fine movie, The Little Fugitive.” The Little Fugitive, which airs at 1:15 am, was the first effort of director Morris Engel and his collaborator – and later wife – Ruth Orkin. Made in 1953 and shot on a tiny budget with non-actors on location (mainly Coney Island), it’s a delightful tale about the adventures of seven-year old Joey (Richie Andrusco), whose brother Lennie (Richard Brewster) has him believing that he shot him to death. Joey runs away to Coney Island, where he mingles with the crowd and later hides under the boardwalk. Eventually a carnival employee obtains Joey’s name and address and calls his home, reaching brother Lennie, who comes to bring him home right before Mom arrives and real trouble breaks out. The Little Fugitive was obviously filmed in a more innocent era, when a kid could walk around safely, and the carnival employees who takes an interest in him is genuinely concerned about a lost little boy. Engel shot the film on a shoulder-mounted 35 mm camera as he follows Joey around the amusement park. He also shot the film without sound, dubbing in the dialogue later in the studio. The background sound was all done by professional sound editors, who create a very lively soundscape for the film. Eddy Manson composed and played the score on harmonica. Although the film did scant business in the States, it won a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. We can almost guarantee that viewers who come to this quaint picture for the first time will be charmed out of their socks, especially those old enough to remember the Coney Island of their childhood.
February 15: Director Stanley Kubrick and novelist Vladimir Nabokov did the near impossible when they wrote the screenplay for Nabokov’s novel about pedophilia, Lolita, which airs at 12:30 am. James Mason gives an excellent, nuanced performance as Nabokov’s tortured protagonist, Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged academic so obsessed with sexually precocious nymphet Lolita Haze that he marries her overbearing mother, Charlotte, just to be with her. When Charlotte is killed after being hit by a car, Humbert takes charge of Lolita, figuring he has finally realized his dream. However, he loses his dream girl to equally amoral television playwright Clare Quilty, who has wooed her away from Humbert. This leads to a tragic chain of events that end with Quilty’s death and Humbert in prison. Mason’s supporting cast is excellent: Shelley Winters as Charlotte, Peter Sellers as the devious Quilty, and Sue Lyon, who turned 13 during filming, became a major star overnight. Kubrick shot the film in England to avoid meddling from both the studio and groups such as the Legion of Decency, even though they earlier approved the script. Errol Flynn proposed both himself and his teenage love, Beverly Aadland, for the lead roles, but Kubrick declined the offer as he already had trouble enough. The film did not fare well with the Academy; its only nomination was for Best Adapted Screenplay.
By Ed Garea
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
January 19: My first choice tonight is to rectify a mistake I made when I put the Jane Wyman article together. Unfortunately, even though it was in my notes for the column, I omitted one of my favorite Wyman films – Magic Town (1947), which airs at 10:00 pm. Fortunately, our readers would never let such a slip go unrecognized. Phyl commented: “You left out Magic Town (1947)!! It's a delightful film written by Robert Riskin who wrote several films for Frank Capra. It's like a Capra film that Capra didn't direct!”
She is absolutely right. The reason it’s like a Capra film that Capra didn’t direct was because it was written by frequent Capra collaborator, Robert Riskin. After the financial flop of It’s a Wonderful Life, Capra decided to steer away from his “Capra-corn” formula in favor of more “relevant” films. His next film was State of the Union (1948), with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in a political/domestic drama, but when the film didn’t exactly shake the box office, Capra returned to what his fans liked best.
Riskin wrote both the screenplay and the original story. He was intrigued with the new “science” of polling, supposedly a foolproof method to gauge public opinion. Jimmy Stewart is a pollster who believes he has found the perfect demographic in a small town and travels there with his co-workers to conduct a poll. There, he meets Mary Peterman (Wyman), who wants the town to grow. Stewart believes this would destroy his perfect demographic and goes on a campaign to keep the town just as it is, which put him up against Mary, to whom he has become attracted.
Expertly directed by William A. Wellman, Magic Town is a beautifully constructed satire that, while it doesn’t always hit the mark, comes across with the warmth we would expect from a Riskin comedy. Unfortunately, the moviegoing public wasn’t as interested. The film lost around $350,000 and Bank of America, which financed the film, foreclosed on it and sued Robert Riskin Productions for the balance.
Over the years, though, the film caught on with audiences, who saw it as the genial comedy it was, much in the spirit of Frank Capra. Besides Stewart and Wyman, the film is populated by such wonderful actors as Kent Smith, Ned Sparks, Wallace Ford, Regis Toomey, Ann Doran and Donald Meek, who passed away in the middle of production on November 18, 1946. Famed newscaster Gabriel Heatter appears in a cameo as himself, which he would later repeat in other films, such as The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). For those who haven’t yet seen it, take Phyl’s advice and tune in. You won’t be disappointed.
January 22: At 2:00 am, TCM is airing Kurosawa’s 1965 medical drama, Red Beard. The story, set in the 19th century, concerns a young physician, Dr. Noboru Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) who becomes upset when he is assigned to a clinic in Edo for the impoverished run by Dr. Nilde (Toshiro Mifune), a dedicated physical known to his patients as Red Beard. Slowly the younger physician learns lessons in medicine, compassion and humanity from his older colleague. Checking in at a hefty 181 minutes, the film was a big hit in Japan and marked the last collaboration of Kurosawa and Mifune. However, the American public and critics weren’t as dazzled and it took a couple of decades for the film to be recognized as a classic in America. A large part of the reason is the the film, unlike many other Kurosawa efforts, doesn’t translate well. It’s slow-moving and talky, finding its drama in a clash of philosophies rather than action. It’s a good film, but requires patience to watch, which its why we recommend recording it.
January 29: An Eric Rohmer double-feature is on tap tonight, beginning at 2:00 am with Claire’s Knee (1970), followed at 4:00 am by his 1969 effort, My Night at Maud’s. In Claire’s Knee, Jean-Claude Brialy stars as Jerome, a 30-ish diplomat engaged to a fellow diplomat’s daughter. Her decides to spend a summer before his marriage at the resort of Lake Annecy with his novelist friend Aurora (real life novelist Aurora Cornu). For her part, Aurora is seeking to draw inspiration by observing Jerome's encounters with two teenage sisters, Claire (Laurence de Monaghan) and Laura (Batrice Romand), who he meets at the resort. The film’s title comes from the disruption of Jerome’s life after spotting Claire’s knee on a ladder. As Jerome is having second and third thoughts about marriage, the sight of her knee is enough to disrupt his world. The performances are excellent, with Brialy leading the way, though Romand comes close to stealing the film right from under his nose with a totally engaging performance. Rohmer’s films can take a while to engage one, but stick with it, for the rewards are subtle and captivating.
My Night At Maud’s stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as a shy, Catholic engineer who regularly sees a student, Francoise (Marie-Christine Barrault) at mass, but is too intimidated to approach her. One night, Jean-Louis runs into Vidal (Antoine Vitez), an old school friend who has become a Marxist and philosophy professor. After enjoying a Christmas drink together, Vidal invites Jean-Louis to join him for dinner at the apartment of his intellectual friend Maud, a recent divorcée with whom he has been having a rather discouraging affair. The dinner is a success. Afterward, Vidal excuses himself and suggests that Jean-Louis avoid the inclement weather by staying in Maud's spare room. Jean-Louis, woozy from the effects of too much wine, gives in Vidal and Maud’s coaxing. Maud later tells Jean-Louis she has no spare room and attempts to seduce him, telling him that her marriage broke up because her husband had an affair with a student. Jean-Louis refuses her entreaties and the two part friends the next morning. Over time, Jean-Louis marries Francoise and five years later meet Maud and her husband at a party, where Jean-Louis learns the name of the student. Guess who?
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY
January 16: Martin Luther King Jr. Day always means a schedule of films by African-Americans or African-American themed. This year is highlighted by several excellent documentaries about the struggle for civil rights, beginning at 8 pm with You Got to Move - Stories of Change in the South (1985), an engaging film from directors Lucy Massie Phenix and Veronica Selver featuring graduates of the Highlander Folk School, a free, integrated school founded in 1932 by Myles Horton with a mission of education and social action that included teaching literacy to black citizens and how to overturn Jim Crow voting requirements along with providing the necessary tools for community activism. During the course of the film, graduates tell their stories of activism for social justice and give us a glimpse into a world not many of us readily think about.
At 10 pm comes Freedom on My Mind, a documentary directed by Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford using interviews and archival footage to tell the story of the drive to register African-American voters in 1960s Mississippi.
And at midnight is director Robert Drew’s 1963 Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment, about theKennedy Administration’s attempt to integrate the University of Alabama despite the opposition of Alabama governor George Wallace.
Following the documentaries at 1:15 am is a unique double-feature examining the then taboo subject of interracial marriage. First up is director Larry Peerce’s One Potato, Two Potato (1964), a low-budget film about a couple who decide to marry and the aftereffects from that decision. Julie Cullen (Barbara Barrie) and Frank Richards (Bernie Hamilton), two coworkers in a small northeastern Ohio town, fall in love love and decide to marry despite the objections of Frank's parents and the prejudices of Julie's friends. Julie and Ellen Mary (Marti Mericka), her daughter from a previous marriage, move to the Richards homestead, where Frank's parents farm the land. After Julie and Frank have a child of their own, his parents warm up to their new extended family. Trouble comes when Julie’s ex-husband, Joe Cullen (Richard Mulligan), who deserted the family to pursue an exciting career opportunity in South America, returns and discovers his ex-wife has married a “Negro,” and sues for custody of Ellen Mary. As I’ve said before, “Low budget” does hot always mean “low class.” This is a wonderful and moving film about the problem of race back in the mid-1960s, a problem we still haven’t conquered. Barrie won an award at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival for her performance. Watching it you’ll still find it packs a powerful punch.
Contrast it with the film following at 3:00 am, Stanley Kramer’s slick 1967 Hollywood product, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? It’s the difference between an earnest little low-budget film and a big-budget slickly made Hollywood production. Kramer, who made a reputation with his “socially conscious” dramas, stars Sidney Poitier with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Katherine Houghton in a film that never once ventures into uncomfortable territory; its characters, scenes and dialogue all pointing to a happy, optimistic Hollywood ending. There’s too much preaching and not enough screen time given to the romance, which is why the film appears terribly dated today, like many of Kramer’s other kitschy social dramas.
January 17: TCM’s spotlight on prison films continues tonight with Elvis in Jailhouse Rock (1957) at 8:00 pm; Richard Barthelmess in the Pre-Code Weary River (1929) at 9:45; The Bowery Boys in Jail Busters (1955) at 2:45 am, and Laurel and Hardy wrapping things up with Pardon Us(1931) at 4:00 am. The plot of Pardon Us, with Stan and Ollie being convicted of illegally making homemade beer, was copied by the Three Stooges in their 1946 short, Beer Barrel Polecats.
January 24: It’s Ladies’ Night with the evening given over to films about women in prison. The best bet for the evening is Ladies They Talk About at 11:30 pm, a tough-as-nails Pre-Code prison drama starring Barbara Stanwyck and Lillian Roth. Stanwyck is her usual outstanding self and Roth turns in a surprisingly good performance as the inmate who shows Babs the ropes. Also is Caged (1950), an over-the-top remake of sorts starring Eleanor Parker as the vulnerable innocent, Lee Patrick as a knowing lesbian, and Agnes Moorehead in the stock role of the understanding warden. But the movie is completely stolen by Hope Emerson as brutal matron Evelyn Harper, who isn’t happy unless her charges are unhappy. The film is a riot to watch, with so much scenery chewing that I swear several of the actors had teeth marks on their persons. Actually, I’m surprised the ladies didn’t just chew their way through the bars to escape. The evening comes to a disappointing end, however, at 4:00 am with the incredibly lame Riot in Juvenile Prison (1959).
January 31: Every film this night is worth catching, beginning with Burt Lancaster in his best known role as The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) at 8:00 pm. Following is John Ford’s excellent The Prisoner of Shark Island(1936) starring Warner Baxter as Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd, the conspirator who set the leg of assassin John Wilkes Booth. Also with Gloria Stuart and John Carradine. At 12:30 am Spencer Tracy takes the rap for girlfriend Bette Davis in the 1932 Pre-Code drama 20,000 Years in Sing-Sing. Robert Redford is a new prison warden who takes on corruption in Brubaker (1982) at 2:00 am. And finally, at 4:15 am, it’s the solid B-actioner, Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, from Warner Bros. in 1951, starring Steve Cochran, Ted de Corsia, David Brian, and Philip Carey.
January 29: The durable and always watchable Gold Diggers of 1933 airs at 6:30 am. And at 12:30 am it’s Lewis Milestone’s silent crime classic, The Racket (1928), starring Thomas Meighan as a renegade police captain who will stop at nothing to catch bootlegging king Louis Wolheim.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
January 20: A marathon starring the Saint kicks off at 8:00 pm with Louis Hayward portraying the reformed thief in The Saint in New York (1938). When I was younger I remember film buffs arguing over who was the better Simon Templar, George Sanders or Roger Moore? For me the best Simon Templar was Louis Hayward, who brought the right mix of derring-do and sardonic humor to the part. Read our essay on the film here.
The evening also features all the George Sanders' Saint entries and wraps up at 2:45 am with a double-feature starring Hugh Sinclair: The Saint’s Vacation(1941), and The Saint Meets The Tiger (1943), which was made for Republic after RKO dropped the series in favor of the more economical Falcon series that starred Sanders and later, his real-life brother, Tom Conway.
January 21: At 2:45 am it’s The Hidden (1987), starring Michael Nouri and Kyle Maclachan in a tale of an alien parasite that drives its hosts to commit violent crimes. Following at 4:30 am is 1974’s The Terminal Man, a sci-fi entry starring George Segal as a computer genius who has a microcomputer implanted in his brain to stop his violent seizures.
January 28: At 6:00 am it’s the underrated time-travel dystopian film World Without End (1955) with Hugh Marlowe and Rod Taylor among a group of astronauts to accidentally go through the time barrier to a postnuclear nightmare world inhabited by mutated savages with the normal survivors living in protected caves. There’s also the requisite puppeteer spider, but don’t let that deter you. This is a good film.
At 9:30 am begins a Bowery Boys double feature of Up in Smoke (1957), followed by the last in a series that once seemed as if it would never end, In the Money (1958). The post Leo Gorcey films are painful to watch with Huntz Hall in the lead and Stanley Clements filling in for the missing Slip Mahoney. There is no chemistry between Clements and Hall, and the series worked much better with Hall as Gorcey’s subservient friend.
At 2:00 pm it’s Rodan (1957), from Toho Studios, the first Japanese monster movie made in color, which was a mistake because the lighting required for color only revealed how phony the men-in-a-suit monsters were. It does have its good moments though, especially the scene in the mine when the police are looking for missing miners.
Closing out the day at 2:45 am is David Cronenberg’s 1981 Scanners, about a scientist with explosive psychic powers. A surprise hit in its day it fostered a few sequels and was parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s followed by Coma (1978), a nice little thriller directed by Michael Crichton about a doctor (Genevieve Bujold) who investigates a series of strange deaths and disappearing bodies at the hospital where she works. Also starring Michael Douglas and Elizabeth Ashley.
January 30: At 11:45 pm Elvis and Ann-Margaret take center stage in Viva Las Vegas (1964), followed at 3:30 am by The Bowery Boys in Crashing Las Vegas (1956), Leo Gorcey’s last turn with the group.
By Ed Garea
January 2: At 1:30 pm, it’s Svengali (1931), with John Barrymore as the maestro who uses his telepathic powers to transform the doll-faced Marian Marsh from a beautiful model into a great singer. Based on the George du Maurier novel Trilby, it made “Svengali,” as meaning one who attempts another, usually with selfish or evil intentions, into a household word. Marsh is captivating and Barrymore is his usual self, though this was filmed as years of alcohol began to take their toll.
January 6: Two good entries, beginning at 5:15 pm with 1933’s The Life of Jimmy Dolan. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. stars as a boxer hyped as squeaky clean, a youth loyal to his mother. At a party after he wins the championship, Dolan is living it up with booze and broads. A reporter is discovered among the revelers and he intends to blow the whistle. Jimmy hits him in an attempt to stop him and ends up killing the reporter. His manager and girl friend take it on the lam, leaving Jimmy to face the charges. While speeding away their car crashes, burning their bodies beyond recognition. Because the manager was wearing Jimmy’s watch at the time, the police think it’s Jimmy and close the case. But a disrupted detective named Phlaxer (Guy Kibbee) isn’t buying it and thinks Dolan is still alive. Meanwhile, Dolan ends up broke and dirty at a farm run by Peggy (Loretta Young) and her aunt, Mrs. Moore (Aline MacMahon), as a home for crippled children. They nurse him back to health and he works off his debt to them on the farm, until Phloxes tracks him down. If this seems somehow familiar, you’re probably thinking of the remake, They Made Me a Criminal (1939), with John Garfield as the boxer and Claude Rains as the detective. Amazingly, the remake even kept the original Pre-Code ending. As the original is not shown that often we strongly recommend it. Look for John Wayne as a boxer and Mickey Rooney as a kid named “Freckles.”
Following at 6:45 pm, Jimmy Cagney takes on the syndicate in Taxi! (1932). Cagney is a hack driver working for small-time operator Guy Kibbee and in love with his daughter, Loretta Young. It’s Cagney in his feisty Tom Powers persona, but this time working on the side of right against the big company trying to drive independent cabbies out of business. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and we get to hear Cagney speaking Yiddish, which he learned growing up in his New York neighborhood.
January 9: Speaking of big business, at 8:00 pm it’s Ruth Chatterton and George Brent in Female (1933), one of the quintessential Pre-Code films. Chatterton is Alison Drake, the CEO of a large automobile firm who, when she wants company, calls on a boy toy. They confirm her belief that men, like women, can be bought with money and power. She meets her match in engineer George Brent, with whom she falls in love and who teaches her the proper place for a woman. Like most films of the era in which a woman wields power, it takes a strong man to put her back in her place. Chatterton and Brent were married at the time of filming.
January 12: Ugly ducking Norma Shearer becomes a swan to the surprise of her philandering husband in Let Us Be Gay (1930), airing at 9:30 am. Check out the pre-glam Shearer in the beginning. And you can our review of it here.
January 15: Lionel Barrymore won an Oscar for his portrayal of a brilliant, but hopelessly alcoholic, criminal lawyer in A Free Soul (1931), airing at noon. He gets gangster Clark Gable off the hook with a stunt that anticipates the O.J. Simpson trial. Once free, Gable moves on to Barrymore’s daughter Norma Shearer. Read our review of it here.
January 4: At 1:45 pm, it’s the time RKO tried to force Katharine Hepburn into, which resulted in her being released from her contract, Mother Carey’s Chickens (1938), about a widow with four children who fights to save her home. Ruby Keeler plays Kitty Carey, the role RKO wanted Hepburn to take. It’s a stinker, but interesting to watch, as one can try to see Hepburn in the role.
Victor McLaglen is a foreman in a munitions plant who must protect absent-minded scientist Edmond O’Brien from enemy agents as he creates a new explosive in 1942’s Powder Town, at 5:00 pm.
January 9: John Wayne stars with Sheila Terry and a pre-Gabby George Hayes in 1934’s The Lawless Frontier at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am. As with all Wayne’s early Poverty Row productions, it’s a must.
January 1: Ring in the new year with a day of Hitchcock films.
January 2: At 4:30 pm, it’s one of the most unsettling films made during that time, The Hypnotic Eye (1960). Hypnotist Jacques Bergerac plants post-hypnotic suggestions that compel beautiful women to later mutilate themselves. Co-starring the beautiful Allison Hayes as Bergerac’s assistant, Justine. We recommend this one highly.
January 3: The TCM Spotlight this month is on prison films. Nothing new, though tonight we do recommend Brute Force (1947, 10:15 pm) and the Pre-Code classic, The Big House (1930, 1:30 am).
January 7: For sheer ineptness of plot, direction and acting, tune into Gymkata (1985) at 2:00 am with Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas as a martial artists expert who uses gymnastics to subdue the bad guys. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.
January 10: Prison films worth watching tonight include Papillion (1973, 8:00 pm), Escape From Alcatraz(1979, 10:45 pm), and the Pre-Code I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932, 3:00 am).
January 11: At 10:00 am, it’s the venerable The Thing From Another World (1951), a film I could watch on a endless loop. I had such a crush on Margaret Sheridan as a kid.
January 13: The rarely seen The Thirteenth Chair (1937), with Lewis Stone, Dame May Whitty and Madge Evans shows today at 4:30 pm. A phony psychic, played by Whitty, tries to solve a murder that took place during her seance.
January 14: A double-feature of sorts, with Phyliss Davis starring as an inmate in a women’s prison on an isolated island in Terminal Island (1973), leads off at 2:00 am, followed by director Jamaa Fanaka’s brutal and engrossing Penitentiary (1980) at 3:30 am. Leon Kennedy is a regular guy framed and sent to a maximum security penitentiary where the inmate have names like “Seldom Seen,” and “Half-Dead.” To survive, “Too Sweet,” as he’s now called, must take part in the prison boxing tournament, which he learns all too late is rigged.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
January 8: At 2:00 am look for In The Mood For Love (2000), Wong Kar-Wai’s master stroke of a beautifully layered view of a relationship that develops when a man and woman discover their spouses are cheating with each other. It’s 1962 Hong Kong. Cow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) are neighbors in an apartment building. He is a journalist who publishes martial arts novels and she is a secretary for a shipping company. He sees from the beginning that they will get together, but the beauty of this is the way in which it is done. As their spouses are often away, Chow and Li-Zhen spend a lot of the together as friends, having in common such things as noodle shops to martial arts. When they discover their spouses are having an affair, they take comfort in their growing friendship even as they vow not to follow in the footsteps of their spouses. And therein lies the beauty of this film. We expect them to get physical, but Wong is too skilled to take the easy way out. As the film progresses we find ourselves in awe of Wong’s ability to take such a simple story and make it so moving and compelling. For those who love romances, this film fits the bill perfectly.
January 15: A film from Federico Fellini is always welcome, even if it is such a late entry as his 1984 opus And The Ship Sails On, which airs at 2:00 am. It boasts a simple plot: the year is 1914, and a luxury liner leaves Italy, occupied by various statesmen, aristocrats and members of the opera world is on its way to a remote island, where the ashes of the world’s greatest soprano are to be scattered. The voyage is chronicled by a journalist, who meets the singer's many eccentric friends and admirers. Everything is fine for the first few days, but on the third day the captain has to save a large number of Serbian refugees from the sea. World War I has been declared. Like many a Fellini film the characters are broadly drawn, with unique physical features and behavior dominating. In other words, they are caricatures drawn stereotypically, for this is a gentle satire of the pre-World War I aristocracy. The film blossoms as the passengers at first view the refugees with disdain. Slowly worlds of the rich and poor come together. Look for the scene where the aristocrats try to trace the roots of the Serbian dances and eventually go down on deck to dance with the Serbians, all done to a beautiful musical score. Also worth noting are the scenes of the wine glass concert and the scene in the boiler room where great opera singers compete to impress the sailors below. It’s a typical Fellini mix of light-heartedness and tragedy. The film bombed at the box office when it was released, but is seen as a gem today.
By Ed Garea
MORE ON MYRNA
December 16: Tonight’s recommendation starts at 8 pm: Broadway Bill, a Columbia film from 1934 directed by Frank Capra. Warner Baxter is the son-in-law of business tycoon J.L. Higgins (Walter Connolly). He hates running Higgins’ paper box factory. He’d rather be out running his horse, named Broadway Bill, for his first love is horse racing. Everyone in the family thinks he’s a screwball except for sister-in-law Myrna Loy, who marches to her own drummer. It’s a lovely little Capra comedy with matchless performances from almost everyone in the cast. As it’s not shown that often, it’s a film Myrna’s fans should not miss.
December 23: Beginning at 8 pm, the entire Thin Man oeuvre is being shown. It goes against our rule of emphasizing only the lesser seen and more unusual pictures, but we are talking about one of the classics of the screen and the five excellent (well, three anyway) sequels. For those who have yet to see any of the films in this series, this night’s your chance.
December 30: Two interesting films tonight: Myrna produces excellent support for star Doris Day in Midnight Lace (1960) at 8 pm. Doris plays a woman who can’t get anyone to believe she’s being stalked. It has a plot that’s on the other side of preposterous and Day gives us hysterical histrionics throughout. But as a Hitchcock imitation it’s fun to watch and Loy acquits herself nicely. The other film to check out is Lonelyhearts (1958), which airs at midnight. Based on Nathanial West’s novella, Miss Lonelyhearts, Montgomery Clift stars as a would-be reporter who is assigned by his publisher Robert Ryan to write an advice-to-the-lovelorn column, and becomes so involved with the suffering of those who write to him that it nearly destroys him. One of the women he becomes entangles with is an actress making her screen debut – Maureen Stapleton, Edith Bunker herself. Myrna gives her usual excellent perforate as Ryan’s alcoholic wife.
TCM SPOTLIGHT: THE GOLDEN YEARS
December 20: At 8 pm it’s Sam Peckinpah’s wonderful Western, Ride the High Country (1962) starring Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea as two long-in-the-tooth ex-lawmen who have fallen on hard times and sign up to escort a shipment of gold from a mining camp up in the Sierras to the town below. The urge to steal the gold is becoming too much for Scott, which leads to a rift with ex-friend McCrea. Along to complicate things even further is the presence of Mariette Hartley as a young woman running away from her overly stern fundamentalist father. When her wedding to one of the miners goes south at a drunken celebration she runs away with Scott and McCrea, earning the wrath of the other miners. It’s a stylized take on a familiar Peckinpah theme – the decline of the American West, focused on the plight of his protagonists, two men who have survived the chaos of their times but cling steadfastly to their ethics, each one being an example to the other of what he might have been given different circumstances. It’s Peckinpah at his best and a film that should entertain even to those who aren’t crazy about the Western genre.
December 27: For a change of pace try The Whales of August (1987, midnight), a gentle drama of two elderly sisters who have endured an uneasy co-existence over the years. When it’s revealed that the sisters are played by Lillian Gish and Bette Davis, the film becomes even more enticing. The ladies are spending the summer together in a home owned by Gish but sustained by the wealthier Davis, who is blind and become embittered over the years. The drama takes place over the course of one day near the end of the summer season, revolving around an almost insignificant point: Gish wants to install a picture window to look out on the sea, but Davis vetoes it, claiming they’re too old at this point to be considering new things. Gish and Davis are simply enchanting and they are supported by first-class performances from Vincent Price, Ann Sothern and Harry Carey, Jr. It was Gish’s last performance and she went out in style.
REGINALD OWEN OR ALASTAIR SIM?
This year TCM is airing both classic film versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Fans over the years have always split over which was the better version, the 1938 MGM version starring Reginald Owen as Scrooge, which will be shown on December 18 at 9 am, or the 1951 English version, from Renown Film Productions and United Artists, which will be shown on December 22 at midnight with Alastair Sim as Scrooge? Don’t look to me on this one. I love and recommend them both. There are slight differences in both versions and each is gifted with wonderful performances. In the 1938 version, Gene and Kathleen Lockhart play the Crotchets with Ann Rutherford shining as the Spirit of Christmas Past. The 1951 version has Sim as an even meaner Scrooge with Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddeley as the Crotchets. A suggestion: Next year TCM should run both versions back to back with the delightful Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol following. We haven’t seen that one in a dog’s age. It’s always fun to watch Sim in action. His performance as the sarcastic Inspector Cockrill in the sublime mystery Green for Danger (1947) set the stage for the later Inspector Morse character, played by the incomparable John Thaw.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
December 18: Roberto Rossellini captures the essence and spirit of the Allied occupation of postwar Italy in his superb 1946 episodic drama Paisa (aka Paisan). Six vignettes depict the heartbreak and hope that was postwar Italy. As with Open City, Rossellini used a mostly nonprofessional cast, along with documentary footage and a script that was often improved on the spot, written by the director and his friend Federico Fellini. Ironically, it did not do well at the box office in Italy. The Italians were already tired of war stories. But the French loved it and it did well in the United States. See for yourself and marvel.
December 19: Federico Fellini made many great films during the ‘60s. None were better than 8 1/2 in 1963. Marcello Mastroianni excels as Guido Anselmi, a famous film director buoyed by the success of his recent film who suddenly finds himself at a loss for new ideas. Hounded and nagged by everyone from his wife to his mistress to the press and even his fans, he retreats into a mix of memories of childhood and those of all the women he has loved and lost. It’s autobiographical and is acknowledged to be Fellini’s masterpiece by many and has many of his trademark features, such as aerial shots, vertical zooms, lots of jump cuts, and the Fellini fascination with the unusual, grotesque, bizarre, and exotic which marks many of his films from La Strada to Satyricon. The meaning of the title comes from the fact that Fellini had made six features and three shorts, which add up to 7 1/2. Hence 8 1/2. The film has something of a reputation of being hard to understand. Nonsense. Viewers can quickly grasp its theme and plot.
December 18: Two great Pre-Codes from our Star of the Month, Myrna Loy. At 5:00 pm, Myrna is a German spy working for Lionel Atwill who falls for American medical student George Brent in Stamboul Quest (1934). Following at 6:30, Clark Gable is a young doctor who must choose between his studies and his marriage to alluring society girl Myrna Loy in Men in White(1934). The film proved so popular that the Three Stooges parodied it in their 1934 Columbia short Men In Black.
December 19: Jimmy Cagney and Ruby Keeler hoof it up while Joan Blondell cleans house in Busby Berkeley’s delightful Footlight Parade (1933), airing at 10 pm.
December 20: Irene Dunne and Richard Dix fight to survive in the early days of the Oklahoma Territory in Wesley Ruggles’ Cimarron (1931).
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
December 17: The Stanley Clements era with the Bowery Boys commences at 10:30 am with Fighting Trouble (1956). Stanley, playing Stanislaus “Duke” Covelske, tries to earn a living with Sach (Huntz Hall) as news photographers.
At 2:45 am, troubled teenager Suzanne Ling sics her horde of pet tarantulas on her enemies in the cheapie Kiss of the Tarantula (1976). Best scene: A couple making out in a car not noticing the eight-legged wonders crawling on them. Following at 4:15 am is Alice, Sweet Alice (1977). When people in an Italian-American neighborhood are killed, suspicion falls on lonely 12-year old Paula Sheppard. A good shocker filmed in Paterson, N.J. Young Brooke Shields is the first killed.
December 22: At 1:15 am, it’s Laurel and Hardy in the children’s classic Babes in Toyland (1934). Stan and Ollie are inept toy makers whose latest blunder saves the day when the evil Barnaby (Henry Brandon) unleashes the bogeymen to destroy Toyland.
December 26: An evening of apocalyptic films begins at 8 pm with Charlton Heston fighting mutant vampires created after a biological war in The Omega Man (1971). At 10 pm, Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens and Mel Ferrer are the only survivors of a nuclear war in The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959). Dial ahead to midnight and it’s Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins who are among the survivors of an atomic war in On the Beach (1959). At 2:30 am comes Five (1951) from Arch Oboler, about the survivors of yet another nuclear war. And, finally, at 4:15 am, Nigel Davenport, Jean Wallace and Lynne Frederick are among the few to survive an environmental holocaust in No Blade of Grass (1970).
December 27: Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine make for a unusual pair of bank robbers in AIP’s Bunny O’Hare (1971) at 4:15 am. Davis was so unhappy with the finished product that she filed suit for damages. Though she dropped the suit, the damage was done.
December 31: The Bowery Boys are hired on as babysitters for a temperamental child star in Hot Shots (1956) at 10:45 am. And at 6:15 pm, it’s a repeat showing of one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
By Ed Garea
It’s the Holiday Season and TCM will treat us to a mixture of beloved old holiday favorites and some others that will sure to please.
The Star of the Month is Myrna Loy. There couldn’t be a better choice. Loy was one of the most talented and beautiful actresses ever to grace the silver screen. She began just as the Silent Era was ending and it took her a while to get established as talkies came in, even though her voice tested just fine. In fact, it wasn’t until 1934 and her starring role as Nora Charles in The Thin Man that her studio, MGM, realized they had another star in their stable. Because she made so many movies and most are familiar to our readers, we will concentrate on her early work and the lesser-known films in her catalog.
December 2: Today’s Myrna-thon begins at 11:15 am with the 1929 Warner’s musical The Desert Song. John Boles stars as Pierre Birbeau, the seemingly weak and scatterbrained son of the French commandant of an outpost in the Moroccan desert. But our Pierre moonlights as The Red Shadow, the swashbuckling leader of a troop of Riffs horsemen. Myrna has a small role as an exotic. It’s followed at 1:30 pm by The Great Divide, a nonstarter of a Western from 1929 starring Ian Keith as a businessman who disguises himself as a bandit to kidnap flapper Dorothy Mackaill and put an end to her wild and wooly days. Besides Mackaill, the only reason to watch is the performance of third-billed Myrna as the hot-blooded Mexican vixen Manuella.
At 4:45 pm it’s Show of Shows (1929), a series of musical and dramatic vignettes designed for the express purpose of showing the audience that Warner Bros. stars can actually speak. Myrna is a Floradora girl in a sketch near the beginning. Look closely.
And following at 5:00 is Myrna Loy: So Nice To Come Home To, a 1991 retrospective of her life and films hosted and narrated by Kathleen Turner.
The evening is loaded with Myrna’s films from 1929 to 1931. Begin with The Devil To Pay (8 pm), a witty comedy from 1930 starring Ronald Colman as Willie Hale, the devil-may-care son of Lord Leland (Frederick Kerr) who returns home after his gambling debts forced him to sell his property in Kenya. Though his father threatens to throw him out of the family home, Willie still manages to get up to his old tricks. Though he is in the midst of a affair with actress Mary Cradle (Loy), he falls in love with the free-spirited Dorothy Hope (Loretta Young). One problem: Dorothy is engaged to a Russian count. The film has solid performances from Colman, Kerr, Loy and Young, and despite its staginess, it is one to catch.
At 2:15 am, it’s Loy and Young once again in The Squall, a interesting drama from Warner Bros./First National. Loy stars as Nubi, a Gypsy beauty who finds sanctuary with farmer Josef Lajos (Richard Tucker) and his family after running away from her camp. Once installed within the household, she proceeds to tear the family apart, with the men fighting over her favors. She is the squall of the title. It’s interesting to watch Loy playing an exotic and her acting is wonderful as she seduces the men and plays them off against each other.
December 9: We are treated to a day and night of Myrna, beginning at 10 am with The Naughty Flirt (1930). The film stars Alice White as a flighty heiress with Myrna as a seductress who tries to take Alice’s boyfriend away. It’s not much of a movie save for Myrna, who acts rings around the lightweight White.
At 12:30 pm, Loy plays one of the children raised by housekeeper Marie Dressler in the superior soaper Emma (1932). Following at 2:00 pm, Loy is Fah Lo See, the daughter of the evil Fu Manchu in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). Boris Karloff is in fine form as the Chinese warlord who wishes to conquer the world and Loy doesn’t miss a beat as his helpful daughter. Fu needs the sword and mask of Genghis Khan, which have supernatural powers, to complete his task. Standing in his way is British agent Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) and British Museum official Sir Charles Barton (Lawrence Grant). Karen Morley plays Barton’s damsel-in-distress daughter, and Terrence Granville is along as her fiancé, Charles Starrett, whom Fah Lo See has her eyes on as well.
The evening offers Loy’s work from 1932 to 1933. Most notable is The Prizefighter and the Lady, a 1933 comedy with Loy as a gangster’s girlfriend who succumbs to the charms of heavyweight boxing contender Max Bear and marries him, only to have him take her for granted. Though everything comes out right in the end, the way there is fraught with bumps. Directed by Woody Van Dyke, this was a breakout film for Loy, showing what she could do if given the chance as leading lady in an MGM picture.
At 12:30 am, Loy is the villain in the delightfully psychotronic Thirteen Women, from RKO in 1932, with an excellent ensemble cast, headed by Irene Dunne and Ricardo Cortez. Loy is fun to watch as Ursula Georgi, a Japanese-Indian half-caste who is seeking revenge against the sorority sisters who ostracized her in school. This would be Loy’s last role as an exotic. Look for Peg Entwistle in the role of Hazel Clay Cousins. This was the would-be star’s only film and she committed suicide shortly after the film opened by climbing a ladder up the HOLLYWOODLAND sign and jumping to her death. She was only 24.
At 2:45 am, Loy shines in MGM’s 1933 Penthouse. Warner Baxter stars as lawyer Jackson Durant. Framed for the murder of his fiancee (Mae Clarke), he searches for the guilty party with the help of call girl Gertie Waxted (Loy). Baxter may be the star, but Loy walks away with the movie.
The TCM Spotlight for December is “The Golden Years,” highlighting films focusing on the elderly.
December 6: At 8:00 is one of the saddest and most heart-wrenching films ever made, Leo McCarey’sMake Way for Tomorrow (1937). Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi play an elderly couple who have just lost their home in a foreclosure and have to be taken in by their grown children. But no one child has enough room for them both, with the solution being that two of their five children, who live 300 miles apart, each take one parent. Though the split is looked upon at first as only temporary, the children's own lives and families combine with their selfish attitudes to transform the presence of their parents into a burden, and eventually there is talk of placing them in an old-age home. McCarey doesn’t let up and there is no happy ending, which makes the film even more poignant.
At 1:30 am it’s Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953). Considered by critics as one of the best films ever made, it’s the story of an elderly couple (Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama) who travel to Tokyo to visit their children. But the children have no time for them. The daughter (Haruko Sugimura) is a beautician who owns her own busy parlor, and their son (So Yamamura) is a pediatrician with a thriving practice. The only one who has time for them is their widowed daughter-in-law (Setsuko Hara). Slowly the parents realize they have become a burden for their children. The ending is very poignant as the elderly wife passes away after the couple return home and their Tokyo children are only interested in taking their possessions. The film was Ozu’s statement on the increasing Westernization of Japan after the war and its effect on the Japanese family and culture. It is a beautifully made, finely-layered film, and despite the subject matter it does not sink to the level of a soap opera. Ozu does not point fingers at either the parents or the children; instead it is a finely textured thoughtful meditation on the changing values of life in modern Japan.
December 13: Three all-time classics are on tonight’s bill. Leading off at 8 pm is director Vittorio deSica’s Umberto D (1952), the tale of a pensioner whose meager retirement check is not enough to keep him from being evicted from his apartment with his beloved little terrier. DeSica considered it his best film and it did spark a debate over retirees’ pensions that led to reforms. At 9:45 pm comes Ingmar Bergman’s brilliant and moving Wild Strawberries (1957). Victor Seastrom stars as Isak Borg, an elderly professor who, in the course of travel to his alma mater to receive a prestigious award, recalls the people, places and memories over the course of his life, which leads him to re-examine his life. He comes to realize how his choices and career led to a growing isolation from other people and how it kept him from taking advantage of the many opportunities offered him in his youth.
Finally, at 11:30 pm it’s Kurosawa’s thoughtful Ikiru, from 1954. Takashi Shimura stars as Kanji Watanabe, a longtime minor bureaucrat in Tokyo’s postwar government who, along with his co-workers, has spent his entire working life without accomplishing anything of importance. Now diagnosed with terminal cancer, he examines his life and comes up empty. To atone for his lack of engagement with others he decides to fund the building of a playground in a destitute section of the city. Kurosawa avoids easy answers in favor of a situation where the more difficult road must be traveled in order to make amends and inject meaning into a lifetime remarkably absent of any such emotions.
December 13: It’s a rare treat with a double feature from acclaimed director Keisuke Kinoshita beginning at 2:00 am with his 1958 drama of death and culture, The Ballad of Narayama, and followed at 4:00 am by his 1944 early drama, Army. The first, which I must confess I haven’t yet seen, is a story about a poor village whose people have to be carried to a nearby mountain to die once they get old. Instead of simply telling you to watch a movie I haven’t seen, I am including part of a review by Francois Truffaut, included in his book, The Films in My Life:
When the old people of a certain village where a bowl of rice feeds a man for several months reach seventy, they are left on the summit of Narayama mountain so they will no longer burden their families. When the moment comes, and she asks, the dutiful son must carry his aging mother there on his back. The hero of this film must carry his father, too, on his back like a mountaineer’s knapsack. He puts the old man down in a crevice in the rocks and descends to the village, lighter in his body, if heavier in his heart. Vultures begin to fly around the summit. When it begins to snow, the hero, filled with remorse, turns and goes back to find his father dead, turned into a statue. It is a sight we don’t see every day.
The astonishing thing is that this cruel and inhuman legend is treated only in its most human aspect. There are evasions, exceptions, procrastinations. The old man doesn’t want to go to the mountain and so and so again he delays his departure. The old woman wants to go, but before she does so she breaks her teeth on a stone so that she will no longer be able to eat solid food. . . My God, what a beautiful film.
Army I’ve seen. It’s a beautifully moving film about one family and their military legacy. Their son is about to be shipped off into battle and the film shows their desire over the possibility of the son being killed. Look for the scene near the end where the mother (Kinuyo Tanaka) trying to find her son among those marching. It is very emotional and ends with her close-up. Although ostensibly a propaganda film (the money to film came from the Japanese Army), the film cheesed off the military to the point where they would not allow Kinoshita to direct another film. He had to do that after the war, when he could freely express himself. It is a film definitely worth watching for its subtle unwinding.
WHO WATCHES SHORT SHORTS? WE WATCH SHORT SHORTS
December 5: The entire day is devoted to Vitaphone shorts as TCM celebrates the 90th anniversary of Vitaphone. There are around 37 shorts in all, plus The Jazz Singer (6 pm), which marked the beginning of talking pictures. So if shorts are your thing, this is a feast. Be aware, however, that these are only the shorts made by Warner Bros.
December 4: Akira Kurosawa shines a light on Tokyo slim dwellers in Dodes’Ka-Den (1971), at 3:30 am. The title comes from the sound a trolley makes going down the tracks, and is chanted again and again at the film’s opening by Roku-chan (Yoshitaka Zushi), a mentally handicapped slum dweller who spends his days conducting an imaginary trolley. His is only one story in this tar papered part of the city, as each dweller spends the day finding ways to cope with the crushing poverty.
December 11: A double feature of sorts begins at 2 am with director Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba (1965), a tale of a mother and her nubile young daughter in 14th century Japan who survive during a civil war by selling the weapons and armor removed from bodies of exhausted samurai and soldiers they have ambushed and murdered. The woman comes to distrust her daughter after she takes up with a deserter. Attempting to break up the couple she uses a facial mask taken from a slain samurai and appears to her daughter, who takes her for a demon. Simply put, this is an intensely atmospheric, erotic, sensual, savage and creepy a horror film as one is going to find. Superbly directed and proving that the worst horrors are the horrors of the mind.
Following at 4:15 am is Kenji Mizoguchi’s classic, Ugetsu (1953). The tale concerns two peasants who try leave their wives behind to make their fortune during a civil war in 16th century Japan. One, Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), is a potter who hopes to make money selling his creations, while the other, Tobei (Sakae Ozawa), hopes to become a samurai. Genjuro is diverted from his road by a mysterious noblewoman who is not what she seems. Tobei archives his dream, but only through deceit. It will be their wives who pay for their trespasses. This is a beautifully written and directed tale of war, greed, and sexual desire, with the realms of fantasy and realism blended so seamlessly they appear to be one and the same. Record and watch at your leisure.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
December 3: The Bowery Boys fight crooks for control of a uranium mine in Dig That Uranium! (1956) at 10:30 am. This was the last film for Bernard Gorcey, who played Louie Dumbrowski. Shortly after filming wrapped he was killed in an auto accident. Look closely for Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer.
At 8 pm is Douglas Sirk’s first American movie, Hitler’s Madman (1943), based on the story of Czech resistance fighters and their assassination of Nazi overlord Reinhard Heydrich, the man responsible for planning the Final Solution. Literally ripped from the headlines (Heydrich was assassinated in 1942; the film came out in 1943), the film remains true to the facts for the most part. John Carradine makes for a very effective Heydrich and Patricia Morison is excellent as Jarmilla Hanka, the sweetheart of assassin Karel Vavra (Alan Curtis). Solid support from Ralph Morgan, Edgar Kennedy and Elizabeth Russell make us forget this is a low budget film from Poverty Row studio PRC. In fact, the execs at PRC realized themselves that the film was too good for them and sold it to MGM for distribution.
December 8: John Barrymore is a deranged ballet teacher and Marian Marsh his protege in The Mad Genius (1931), a follow up to their previous hit Svengali. And it’s almost as good. Look for Boris Karloff as Frankie Darro’s sadistic father. The film airs at 6:45 am.
December 10: An entire evening of psychotronica, beginning at 8 pm with pioneering animator Willis O’Brien still dazzling us today with his creations in the 1933 classic King Kong. At 10 pm it’s Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion classic Clash of the Titans (1981), and Harryhausen returns to create more stop motion creatures designed to terrify prehistoric babe Raquel Welch in Hammer’s One Million Years B.C. (1966).
Late night finds Bertrand Tavernier’s look at the dark side of reality TV in Death Watch (1980), airing at 2 am. Roddy (Harvey Keitel) has been hired to film a documentary about terminally ill Katherine Mortenhoe (Romy Schneider), but without her knowledge. He has a camera specially impacted into his brain for the project. The results will be shown on the popular TV series “Death Watch.” It’s a highly original, eerie and beautifully photographed film that foresees the age of reality TV and is one to catch.
Following at 4:15 is a film much in the same vein, The Sorcerers (1967). Boris Karloff and Catherine Lacey star as as elderly couple who develop a technique that allows them to control the minds and feel the emotions of their subjects. They use it on bored, swinging Londoner Ian Ogilvy, experiencing everything he does. It’s a surprisingly effective piece of entertainment, with Karloff and Lacey in fine form as the practitioners who become hooked on another person’s life. Lacey becomes so hooked with each thrill that she takes it to the next step, willing him to steal and murder. With Susan George.
December 2: Get your Warren William fix early (6:15 am) as he plays Perry Mason in The Case of the Howling Dog (1934). Great cinema, it’s not, but it’s a great time-waster as Mason becomes caught between two feuding neighbors who claim to be married to the same woman.
Then sit back and hold on to your hats, for at 7:45 am, it’s one of the great Pre-Code envelope pushers, Massacre (1934). Richard Barthelmess is Joe Thunder Horse, a college-educated Sioux, a Wild West trick shooter in denial of his Sioux roots whose eyes are opened when he returns to the reservation to visit his dying father and sees the corruption perpetuated upon the poor residents by unscrupulous businessmen from outside the reservation. He becomes a champion for Indian rights, and after his sister is raped by one of the guilty parties Joe hunts him down and kills him. Eventually he escapes custody to take his case all the way to Washington, D.C. This is a stark and brutal film with a great performances from Barthelmess and Ann Dvorak as Lydia, a college-educated Sioux nurse and Joe’s sweetheart. When we think about the Pre-Code era, we may think about Norma Shearer, Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Blondell as the Queens, but as for the king, the choice is clear: it’s Barthelmess by the proverbial mile. Mostly known for his work in silents, Barthelmess hardly looks like a screen idol – stoop-shouldered and a little overweight, but his choice of films was second to none during the era: The Dawn Patrol (1930), The Finger Points (1931), Alias the Doctor (1932), The Cabin in the Cotton (1932), Heroes for Sale (1933), and Massacre (1934). Quite a resume.
December 15: It’s a poor hour for such a great movie, but at 6 am it’s Warren William giving one of his best performances in The Match King (1932). Based on the life of Ivar Kreugar, the real life Swedish match king whose creative financing and swindling deals helped deepen an already rough Depression. As Paul Kroll, William is delighting in one of the roles for which he was famous, playing the suave villain whose unscrupulousness will stop at nothing – even murder – and railroading an innocent inventor who comes up with an inextinguishable match into the asylum while breaking hearts along the way until he overreaches and his business fails. But it’s a helluva ride until then. With solid support from Lili Damita, Glenda Farrell, Juliette Compton, Claire Dodd, and the underrated Murray Kinnell.
By Ed Garea
We continue with our look at Natalie Wood as Star of the Month. As we get into the 60s and beyond, the films of Wood vary wildly in quality.
November 18: Looking over the night’s offerings, we recommend Splendor in the Grass (1961), directed by Elia Kazan, which airs at 8:00 pm, and that old standby, Gypsy (1963), which is showing at 3:00 am. Splendor in the Grass is a poignant, coming-of-age story set in Kansas during the Roaring ‘20s. Kazan deals sensitively with the issue of sexual repression as seen in the young lovers Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. Warren is from money, Natalie from the other side of the tracks and that also plays into their love affair as meddling parents are all too eager to run the kids’ lives for them. It’s Warren Beatty’s feature film debut and he comes off quite well, but it’s Wood who dominates. The film came at a crucial crossroads in her career and answered the question of whether she could pull off an adult role. Her performance sealed her status as one of Hollywood’s up-and-coming stars. As for Gypsy, it’s more of Rosalind Russell’s film, playing Wood’s mother, but Natalie acquits herself nicely and makes us believe she is Gypsy Rose Lee.
November 25: Two interesting films are running back to back. First at 10:15 pm is Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Made in 1969 at the height of ‘60s madness, it’s described by its director, Paul Mazursky, as a satire on the sexual revolution. Today it seems hopelessly dated, but does offer insight in a time capsule way into the silliness of the era when we were all to get in touch with ourselves and our feelings.
Brainstorm, which follows immediately after at 12:15 am, is a sci-fi story about two scientists (Christopher Walken and Louise Fletcher) who have come up with a machine to record and vicariously experience other people's feelings and perceptions. It sounds better than it plays out, but for Natalie Wood fans it’s notable as being her last film.
The TCM Spotlight, “To Tell the Truth,” continues with some hard-hitting and fascinating documentaries.
However, as we made clear last issue, documentaries do not so much tell the truth as they present the point-of-view of the filmmaker. If we were to take the pronouncement at face value, that documentaries tell the truth, then we would have to accept that the infamous Nazi documentary, The Eternal Jew, was telling the truth about Jews, which, of course, it wasn’t. It was simply made in support of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic philosophy; a documentary so hateful, so disgusting, that audiences were revolted, with many leaving the theater long before it ended. The Nazis used it instead as an indoctrination film for new SS recruits.
November 16: There something here tonight for everyone. For those who love surfing, there’s The Endless Summer (1966) at 8:00 pm. For those who love basketball there’s Hoop Dreams (1994) at 9:45 pm. If nostalgia and ‘60s music is your thing, you might want to check out Woodstock (1970) at 12:45 am. And if you’re an Elvis fan, there’s Elvis: That’s The Way It Is (1970). All are excellent and worth the time.
November 21: Best Bets for the night are Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976), airing at 8:00 pm, about the plight of Kentucky coal miners, and Louis Malle’s documentary about the plight of Minnesota farmers, God’s Country (1986), at 10:00 pm.
November 23: So much to see tonight, so much to choose from on the schedule. An excellent documentary on the Apollo missions, For All Mankind (1989) starts off the evening at 8:00 pm. Following at 9:30 is one of the first of the environmental documentaries, The Sea Around Us from Irwin Allen in 1952, based on Rachel Carson’s best-selling book of the same name. At 10:45 comes the brilliant Salesman (1969) from the Maysles Brothers. The film follows four salesmen for the Mid-American Bible company, mainly focusing on one: Paul Brennan, aka The Badger. As the TCM essay on the film states, we’ve seen his like before in such literature as Death of a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross. But here is the real thing in the flesh; a salesman whose sales and spirits are down and who is viewed by the other three as something of a jinx. It’s a fascinating look at a job few would want – selling items to lower middle class customers for whom such a purchase is a luxury.
At 2:00 am it’s the fascinating Chronicle of a Summer (1961). It begins with a market researcher, Marceline, on the street stopping passersby and asking a simple question, “Are you happy?” She receives answers to this and a whole lot more as the simple question grows into a host of related issues. At the end, the filmmakers screen it for those involved. Directors Edgar Morin, a sociologist, and Jean Rouch, an ethnographer, conclude that they have failed in their aim to offer a slice of life because the very act of filming something even off the cuff ends up transforming it. Morin coined the term “Cinema Verite” in one of his texts shortly before the film was produced.
At 3:45 am Louis Malle returns with his engaging Place de la Republique (1974). Filmed in Paris, Malle questions passerby about their lives, their feelings, and their interests. The answers are amazing, with some of those interviewed jumping in to become interviewers themselves.
November 28: Recommendations for this evening begin with the venerable Grey Gardens (1976) from the Maysles Brothers at 11:00 pm, followed by Crumb (1994), a portrait of the pioneering underground comics artist, at 1:00 am.
November 30: Tonight’s picks are Sherman’s March (1986), about the efforts of filmmaker Ross Mcelwee to study the effects of General Sherman’s famous march through the South during the Civil War, at 10:00 pm, and Antonio Gaudi (1984), director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s exploration of the works of the famous architect in Barcelona and Catalonia, Spain.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
November 20: Two more films from the former Soviet Union and director Larisa Shepitko are featured tonight beginning at 2:00 am with the incisive and finely layered Krylya (Wings). The 1966 production is centered around Nadezhda Petrovna (Mayya Bulgakova), a once famous fighter pilot and loyal Stalinist who now works as a school director in a provincial district who is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with her life. Does she miss the adulation and regimentation of military life? Is it the fact that her daughter has married an older man of whom she does not approve? How about the women she’s met who are quite content with their lives? Is this the life she really wanted? The beauty of this film is that her contemplations take place without words. We see her at her job, taking on the task of administration, conversing with people who recognize her, dealing with a young student who looks up to her, taking the place of a student who refuses to perform a musical number by putting on the girl’s costume so the others can still go on, and chewing the fat with a cafe waitress with whom she later waltzes. Krylya is a film that will stay with you long after it’s over.
Following at 3:30 am is one of the best films of the ‘70s, The Ascent (1977). Shepitko’s last film before her career ended abruptly in a tragic auto accident. It’s a jarring, brutal, relentless tale of war. Set in 1942 in Nazi-occupied Belarus, it concerns a group of refugees led by two soldiers. After a brief firefight with a German patrol, the refugees head off into the woods. The soldiers strike out, looking for food to sustain the rest. They finally find a cabin where inside is a Russian farmer openly working with the Nazis. They think him a coward but move on. They are later captured and taken to a Nazi camp in a nearby town for interrogation. What happens there is shown by the director with sublime delicacy, as the soldiers are kept in a cell with three others awaiting execution. This is a relentlessly powerful film that examines the motivations and thoughts of its protagonists without being obvious. It is a true Must See.
November 27: At 2:00 am it’s Vittorio DeSica’s sublime and moving Umberto D. from 1952. For more on this wonderful film see the “Best Bets” section of the November 23 - 30 TiVo Alert.
November 17: In a night dedicated to female con artists there are two excellent Pre-Codes. First up at 9:45 pm is Blonde Crazy, from Warner Bros. in 1931. James Cagney stars as a crooked bellhop who recruits newly-hired chambermaid Joan Blondell into his schemes to fleece hotel guests. Cagney, of course, is Cagney, but it’s Blondell’s film and she makes the most of her role as Anne Roberts, the reluctant partner of bellhop Bert Harris (Cagney). Blondell and Cagney play off each other beautifully throughout the film and she proves to be more than a match for his con games. One of the little tragedies in Hollywood was the misuse of Blondell by the studio. Warner Bros. was a male-driven studio and there was little room for female stars. Their biggest female star, and the only one they pushed for a time, was Barbara Stanwyck. But Stanwyck had already proved her mettle at other studios, particularly Columbia, and she wasn’t tied to the exclusive contract that players like Blondell, Bette Davis, and Ann Dvorak were. Warner’s treatment of women made Loretta Young take her talents to Fox to get her much needed push and ruined the budding career of Marian Marsh, who the studio practically worked to the point of breakdown in such trifles as Under 18, Alias the Doctor, and The Road to Singapore. Had Blondell worked for Paramount or Columbia instead of Warner Bros., she would have been a much bigger star instead of one always seen in support of the leading man.
Immediately following at 11:15 pm is one of director Ernst Lubitsch’s best – Trouble in Paradise, from 1932. Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall star as a couple of grifters who initially target each other and end up as lovers. Fleeing Venice, where Marshall has just taken a rich Frenchman to the cleaners by pretending to be a doctor called in to examine his tonsils, they wind up in Paris and set their sights on rich widow Madame Colet (Kay Francis). They’re soon in her employ, but as they’re getting ready for the kill, Marshall finds himself falling in love with his intended victim. Will he go straight and remain with Francis or return to Hopkins and his casual life of crime? No one could pose that dilemma quite like Lubitsch. Trouble in Paradise is typical of the sophisticated comedies he made for Paramount in the early ‘30s. Critics called it “the Lubitsch touch,” which was a name for his distinctive style, one that, in the case of comedy and farces, treated even the most scandalous manners and behavior in a breezy, humorous style; his pushing and redefining the boundaries for what was seen as sexually risqué; conversations that one does not need to hear in order to understand what is going on; and a sparkling, sometimes cynical, wit that came through screenplays of cleverly plotted situations and sexual gamesmanship, always accompanied by witty, lively dialogue. Lubitsch’s cinematic fluency was also on display in the film. An entire scene of seduction/resistance/suspicion/betrayal/conquest is carried out using nothing more on the screen than a series of clocks. Sex is never obvious, but implied by shadows cast onto a bed and the opening and closing of doors, with the accompanying mystery of who is entering and who is leaving. Even the scene of theft between Hopkins and Marshall in the beginning of the movie is done in such as way as to denote foreplay, and is played out once more near the end of the movie, frequently leaving us not only enchanted, but in awe of the director’s power to entertain on an adult, sophisticated level. That’s the real secret of the Lubitsch touch.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
November 19: It’s an entire evening of Harry Palmer as played by Michael Caine beginning at 8:00 pm with The Ipcress File (1965), followed at 10:00 pm by Funeral in Berlin(1966), and Billion Dollar Brain (1967) at midnight. While the first two are entertaining, the third almost lapses into parody and signaled the end of the series.
At 2:00 am, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni tries to crash the counterculture scene, and misses, with Zabriskie Point (1970). Star Mark Frechette is a college radical on the run from the police. He steals an airplane and flies to the desert with secretary Daria Halprin. They end up at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley where they, along with lots of imagined people, make love in the dunes. Mark and Daria’s consciousnesses are expanded and Daria experiences a climatic vision of American commercialism being blown to bits, all in slow motion to Pink Floyd’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene.” Antonioni commissioned Pink Floyd to score the entire feature, but in the end decided to use only three tracks. It was filmed during the director’s conversion to radical leftism, and like most Antonioni films, it makes little sense. The movie also made little cents at the box office and proved a big setback to the director’s career. The young, non-actor stars lived together briefly in the experimental Fort Hill Community, a Boston commune run by Mel Lyman (that was later determined to be a cult) before splitting up. Halprin later was briefly married to Dennis Hopper. Frechette went to jail for robbing a bank in 1973 – for political reasons he claimed – and died in prison in 1975 in a supposed weightlifting accident.
At the wee hour of 4:00 am comes the Monkees in Head (1968). Released several months after their slickly packaged Help-inspired TV show was axed by NBC, the film does a 180-degree turnabout from their prior image with its plotless, anti-establishment, drug-influenced musical-comedy segments featuring the foursome in their search for the meaning of life while singing about how phony the Monkees concept is.(!) While it must have confused the holy hell out of their young fans, today it stands as a fascinating period piece from the ‘60s full of Hollywood in-jokes, fringe celebrities, old movie clips and footage from the Vietnam War. Along the way the band is seen as dandruff in the hair of a 50-foot Victor Mature (“Big Victor”), their music is criticized by Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston knocks out Dave Jones, they meet topless dancer Carol Doda, Annette Funicello and Teri Garr. Look for co-writers Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, along with Dennis Hopper. The music is some of the group’s best and can be heard on Rhino’s re-released soundtrack album.
November 24: A real rarity is on tap tonight as TCM airs The Life of Riley (1949) at 8:00 pm. An adaptation of the popular radio series, William Bendix stars as the hard-luck working stiff Chester A. Riley with Rosemary DeCamp playing his wife Peg. Jackie Gleason is on hand as neighbor-buddy Gillis. Oddly enough, Gleason stared as Riley when the show debuted on TV in 1949. William Bendix was supposed to reprise his role from the radio show but declined. The television show lasted for only 26 episodes before the sponsor, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, pulled the plug to devote more money to its boxing show. Supposedly, before Gleason took the role, a pilot was made with Lon Chaney Jr. playing Riley. (What fun that must have been.) Bendix finally appeared on the small screen as Riley in a revived version which began in 1953 and ran until 1958.
November 26: When Bowery Boy Chuck Anderson (David Gorcey) is beaten up during an undercover reporting assignment in the state prison, Slip, Sach and his other Bowery buddies rush to his aid in Jail Busters (1955), airing at 10:30 am. The film bucks the Boys’ trend of farcical slapstick programmers and returns to the comedy-drama format of the late ‘40s. With Barton MacLane and Lyle Talbot.
At 2:45 am, it’s Punk Vacation (1990), a budget-challenged effort about a gang of punk rockers who terrorize a small town. It’s followed at 4:15 am by Killer Party (1986). A sorority is holding a traditional April Fools' party for a fraternity in an abandoned frat house where a young man named Allan was killed 22 years prior. His spirit still haunts the house and takes over one of the sorority sisters, who begins killing off the others one by one.
By Ed Garea
November is somewhat of a unique month on TCM, as it’s a month that segues from a free-basing schedule into the Holiday classics that carry over into December.
Natalie Wood is the TCM Star of the Month for November. A gorgeous and talented actress, she was one of the few to make the transition from child star to adult star. Part of the reason for her success was that, unlike other child stars, she was continually working, so audiences saw her grow up on the screen. Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko in San Francisco on July 20, 1938, she made her film debut at the age of five in Irving Pichel’s The Happy Land (Fox, 1943), as a toddler who dropped her ice cream cone. Her best-known childhood role was that of Susan Walker, Maureen O’Hara’s skeptical daughter, in the 1948 film Miracle on 34th Street, which is not part of the Natalie Wood retrospective this month.
Her problem was that she came of age at a time when the quality of Hollywood’s product was beginning its decline, and her resume reflects that fact. It seemed as if the studios were more interested in her box office appeal rather than the quality of the films in which she was starring. Thus, for every Love With the Proper Stranger, there was an Inside Daisy Clover. Wood also did a lot of television, much of which was better than her movies.
In the late 70s, she seemed to lose interest in movies, appearing as Karen Holmes (the Deborah Kerr role) in a TV miniseries adaptation of From Here To Eternity (1979). Her movies from that period: Meteor (1979), The Last Married Couple in America (1980), and Willie & Phil (1980) were artistic and financial duds. Shortly after wrapping production on her last movie, Brainstorm(1983), Wood was tragically killed while sailing aboard the family yacht with husband Robert Wagner, family friend Christopher Walken, and boat’s captain Dennis Davern, when she fell trying to board a rubber dinghy tied alongside and drowned.
Her death stirred the interest of conspiracy theorists. It was well-known that Wood, having survived a near-drowning during the filming of The Green Promise (1949), was deathly afraid of water. During the filming of Splendor in the Grass (1961), director Elia Kazan stated that Wood balked at doing the scenes at the water reservoir and the only way he got her to comply was by promising a double – a promise on which he reneged. Though her death was ruled accidental by Los Angeles Coroner Thomas T. Noguchi, rumors still persist as to another cause.
November 4: One of Wood’s early films that doesn’t get much airplay is Chicken Every Sunday (10 pm) from director George Seaton and 20th Century Fox. It’s a nice little slice of turn-of-the-century Americana with Celeste Holm as an understanding wife who takes in boarders to support husband Dan Dailey’s harebrained financial schemes. Wood plays daughter Ruth Hefferen.
November 11: The focus tonight is on Wood’s teenage and early adult roles. Since practically everyone has seen Rebel Without a Cause and The Searchers almost to death, our pick for the night is Kings Go Forth (2:15 am), a World War II drama from United Artists and director Delmar Daves with Wood as a French beauty whose charms are sought by GI’s Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis. The kicker is that neither Sinatra nor Curtis realize that Wood’s character is half-African. Ah, a little miscegenation in the plot pot. Despite the soapiness, it’s well-made and the performances are excellent, with Wood outacting both male leads.
The TCM SPOTLIGHT this month is called “To Tell The Truth,” and it is a compilation of documentaries from the earlier years of film until today.
The title of “To Tell the Truth” is somewhat of a misnomer, based on a belief that documentaries tell the truth. Actually, they do not. What they do is give the point-of-view of the filmmaker. If the truth happens to coincide with his P.O.V., so much the better. In the social and political world, truth is quite often the synthesis of conflicting viewpoints, and often a documentary can change the ruling paradigm, as we shall see later this month.
November 2: Amid a night of Depression-era government documentaries is an excellent feature airing at 8:00 pm called To Tell the Truth: Working for Change (Episode 1). It’s a compilation of film clips from 1929 to 1941 outlining the development of the social documentary.
November 7: Politically themed documentaries are on tap tonight, beginning at 8:00 pm with Robert Drew’s excellent Primary from 1960. It focuses on the 1960 Wisconsin primary, where young and charismatic Sen. John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts went up against the established favorite, Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey from Minnesota. Primary provides us with a compelling look inside the political workings at a time when handshakes, grassroots networking, and good old-fashioned legwork were the order of the day, as opposed to today’s world of sound bytes and media images.
Following are three excellent looks at American politics and business: The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), about the career and assassination of San Francisco’s first elected openly gay city supervisor; Roger & Me (1989), the first documentary from Flint, Michigan, native Roger Moore. Moore is trying to get a meeting with General Motors President Roger Smith in order to find out why GM left the city and eliminated 30,000 jobs in the process, dooming the city to poverty. It’s riveting viewing, and followed by the Academy Award-winning documentary Hearts and Minds (1974), chronicling this country’s involvement in the country of Vietnam. Critics called it one-sided and anti-American, as it never stopped to investigate the atrocities committed by the Viet Cong, but director Peter Davis, a respected documentary director and producer with CBS news, was not interested in an objective film; he was simply interested in addressing the reasons we went to Vietnam, what we did there, and how the experience affected this country. Therein lies its value to the audience.
November 9: The night is devoted to documentaries from World War II and the best way to start is with To Tell the Truth: Working for Change (Episode 2) at 8:00 pm, a compilation of clips exploring the use of the documentary in World War II. It’s followed by a slew of World War II documentaries, all of which have been screened before numerous times. However, the most interesting of the bunch is December 7th (11:30 pm), co-directed by John Ford and Gregg Toland. It features a debate between Uncle Sam (Walter Huston) and Mr. C (Harry Davenport) over Uncle Sam’s over the torn allegiances of Japanese-Americans and included scenes of an American soldier, a casualty of the attack played by Dana Andrews, looking down from heaven. Due to the controversy it stirred up among the military brass, the project was shelved until 1943, when Ford and his editor, Robert Parrish, cut it down to a more acceptable version, jettisoning the debate over loyalties and the deceased soldier. Ford concentrated on the battle itself, and the recovery afterwards, mourning the soldiers who were lost. The film then shifts its concentration on the rebuilding effort, shortening the film from 83 minutes to just over half an hour. With both versions of the documentary now available, the film makes for a most interesting contrast of attitudes.
November 14: The night leads off at 8 pm with one of the best and most powerful documentaries ever made: The Sorrow and the Pity, Marcel Ophuls’ examination of the years 1940 to 1944, when France was occupied by Nazi Germany. Originally intended to be shown on French television, broadcasters refused to air it because of its assertion that, contrary to the myth perpetuated by the Gaullists after the war, the Occupation was far from one of active resistance by the French. (It wasn’t shown until 1981.) The unoccupied zone that was known as Vichy France was an active collaborator with the Nazis and in the Occupied Zone, which consisted of the north and coastal areas, collaboration was more or less passive in nature. The film is a look into the nature and the reasons for collaboration, which include anti-Semitism, anglophobia, fear of Communism with a possible Soviet invasion, and the simple desires for power with a great deal of caution. Weighing in a 251 minutes, the film is split into two parts: “The Collapse,” which features an extensive interview with former Prime Minister Pierre Mendes-France, a Jew who joined The Resistance, and “The Choice,” which features an interview with Christian de la Meziere, who as a youth embraced fascism and fought for the Nazis on the Eastern Front. There is no unified P.O.V. in the film; it shows the response of the people to occupation as heroic, pitiable, and pathetically monstrous, sometimes all at once. The most heart-wrenching part of the film is the treatment accorded to those women who served or were married to Vichy men and German soldiers. I think most viewers will be surprised by the amount of humor in the film. Without that humor, the film would be virtually unwatchable. For instance, one truly laugh-out-loud moment occurs in an interview with a Resistance leader where he says his reason for fighting the Germans was because they monopolized the best meat. This is a film that must be seen, not only for its overall quality, but for its effect on the country where it is set.
Following at 12:30 am is another groundbreaking documentary on the Nazis, this time from director Alain Resnais. Night and Fog (1956) is only 32 minutes long, but a lot is packed into those 32 minutes. It is one of the most vivid and unsparing looks at the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, combining new color film with black and white footage from newsreels and footage shot by the Allies to tell the story not only of the camps but to also show the horror of the brutal inhumanity at the core. The title comes from Himmler’s phrase that anyone caught resisting the Nazis would be arrested and immediately whisked off to the camps in such a way that it could be said they vanished without a trace into the “night and fog.” Required viewing for French schoolchildren, Francois Truffaut calls it the greatest film ever made.
When we search for those films considered Out of the Ordinary, rest assured that TCM is not neglecting us this month.
November 13: Three excellent films – two from the Soviet Union and one from Czechoslovakia – highlight the evening’s fare beginning at 12:15 am with the classic from Sergei Eisenstein, The Battleship Potemkin (1925). It’s followed at 1:30 am by a film made during a period in Russian history known as “The Thaw,” which occurred when Khrushchev came to power. The Cranes Are Flying (1957) is a moving and touching film from director Mikhail Kalatozov set during World War II. The main character is a young woman, Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova), whose boyfriend, Boris (Aleksey Batalov), joins the army. After her family is decimated by German bombing, she moves in with Boris’ family, where his cousin Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin) falls in love with her. She marries him out of guilt over having been seduced and the fact that Boris has officially been reported as missing in action. The marriage quickly goes sour, and Boris’ family comes to realize that the immoral Mark is to blame and Veronika didn't betray Boris of her own choice. In the end, Veronika finally comes to terms with Boris’ death and that his memory and devotion still lives on.
At 3:15 am comes one of the best films from the Czech New Wave, a film that has been unjustly neglected over the years. Courage for Every Day (1964), the feature debut from director Evald Schorm, is the story of Jarda Lukas (Jan Kacer), a worker from a big machine-tool plant who had a rather meteoric career after the Communist putsch of February 1948. As one of the pioneers of the youth-movement of Stakhanovites, he skillfully engaged himself in the political work with young people, and thus quickly climbed up the political ladder. However, when Stalin's cult of personality crumbled in the mid-50s many things changed and Jarda finds himself in something of an existential crisis, unable to cope with those changes. He keeps trudging along under the old directives and is at a loss to understand why the political work for which he used to be praised has become just a reason for mockery as his life takes a dangerous downward spiral.
After the glut of psychotronic films last month, TCM can be excused if the pickings this time around are rather slim.
November 3: At 2:45 pm airs one of Hitchcock’s best early films, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). It employs one of the director’s favorite themes: what happened when evil comes to an unsuspecting innocent. Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edna Best) are enjoying a quiet vacation in Switzerland. When their friend, Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay), is shot while dancing with Jill, he tells Bob about an assassination plot about to take place in London. Fearing the Lawrences will reveal the plot, the assassins, led by the charming Abbott (Peter Lorre) kidnaps their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam) to ensure their silence in the matter. Unable to secure police assistance, the Lawrences return to London to take on the assassins themselves. In typical Hitchcock fashion, the kidnapping is the film’s MacGuffin; there to set in motion the dynamic between Bob and Jill, who are portrayed here as the less-than-ideal couple. It’s Lorre, however, who steals the movie as Abbott. Having fled Germany after Hitler came to power, Lorre caught the eye of Hitchcock’s associate producer Ivor Montagu, who reminded his boss of Lorre’s role in M. From that point on there was never any question of anyone else taking the part. Hitchcock remade the film in 1956 with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day. Though fans are split over which version is better, I prefer the 1934 film for its dry humor and sheer grittiness.
November 6: The Bowery Boys move up in the world after Sach (Huntz Hall) is mistaken for a society heir in High Society (1955). It’s not to be confused with the Frank Sinatra-Bing Crosby musical of the same year, but I prefer The Bowery Boys in all their squalor to the stylings of Frank and Bing.
At 2:00 am comes a psychotronic psychopathic double-feature. First up is Alone in the Dark (1982). Set in New Jersey, four murderous psychopaths, led by Martin Landau and Jack Palance, walk out of the Haven maximum security mental institute during a power blackout. Their targets are psychiatrist Donald Pleasance and his assistant Dwight Schultz. Critic Michael Weldon describes it as “a classic horror move with humor, a punk sensibility and a great overacting cast.” See it and judge for yourselves.
At 3:35 am is He Knows You’re Alone, from 1980. Set on Staten Island, a serial killer (Tom Rolfing) is stalking brides-to-be, but ultimately meets his match in feisty bride-to-be Amy Jensen (Caitlin O’Heaney). It’s the usual slasher-on-the loose film, with its only distinguishing feature is that it marks the debut of Tom Hanks as Elliot.
November 8: In an evening dedicated to Norman Lloyd, TCM is airing Hitchcock's Saboteur, with Bob Cummings, Priscilla Lane, and Norman Lloyd at 9:15 pm.
November 12: After The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) at 9:15 am, it’s The Bowery Boys in Spy Chasers (1955) at 10:30 am as they get involved with an exiled king (Sig Ruman) and a band of murderous spies. Look for Leon Askin (Hogan’s Heroes) as one of the spies.
Blaxploitation returns at 2:00 am with The Muthers (1976), with Janine Bell and Rosanne Katon as modern day pirates who must rescue Jeanne’s sister from the insidious clutches of coffee plantation owner Tony Carreon. Sportscaster-turned-actress Jayne Kennedy is on hand as Carreon’s mistress.
It’s immediately followed at 3:30 am by Melinda (1972), starring Calvin Lockhart as a DJ out to avenge the murder of his girlfriend (Vonetta McGee). Rosalind Cash is on hand to add spice to the mix.
November 13: A double shot of Popeye cartoons enliven the evening beginning at 8 pm. First up is Popeye The Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor (1936) followed by Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves (1937). Both are in color and representative of the fine work Max and Dave Fleischer have done over the years.
At 9:00 pm, hardboiled detective Charles McGraw must protect star witness and gangster’s widow Marie Windsor on a train to Los Angeles in Narrow Margin (1952). One of the best noirs made it fell into the land of forgotten films and only now is being revived for the classic of the genre it is.
And for those who find the selection of psychotronic films rather slim, the Pre-Code fare is better.
On November 3, Warren William and Bette Davis try to accomplish the impossible and get dumb hick Guy Kibbee elected governor in the witty The Dark Horse (1932) at 11:30 pm.
On November 6, Greta Garbo forsakes husband Armand Kaliz and lover Marc McDermott for the charms of young engineer Antonio Moreno in The Temptress (1926) at midnight.
It’s Garbo again on November 9 in A Woman of Affairs (1928) with John Gilbert and Lewis Stone at 10:30 am.
On November 11, Joel McCrea is head over heels about Dolores Del Rio in 1932’s Bird of Paradise.
Those looking for The Lubitsch Touch can find it on November 12 in 1933’s Design for Living, with Miriam Hopkins as an independent woman who can’t choose between playwright Frederic March or artist Gary Cooper. It airs at 11:45 pm.
On November 14, Robert Montgomery is a cad in Sins of the Children (1930) at 3:00 pm, and Clark Gable is a Salvation Army preacher who saves troubled Joan Crawford from suicide in Laughing Sinners (1931) at 4:30 pm.
On November 15, Howard Hawks' directs race car driving brother Jimmy Cagney and Eric Linden in The Crowd Roars (1932) at 6:45 pm.
By Ed Garea
October 17: The Christopher Lee festival for the day actually begins at 1:00 pm with The Pirates of Blood River (1962). At 2:45 pm comes The Devil-Ship Pirates(1963). At 4:30 pm The Terror of the Tongs(1961), and at 6:00 pm Hammer’s remake of She (1965) starring Ursula Andress as She Who Must By Obeyed.
In the evening we begin with Horror Hotel (1960) at 8:00, followed by Horror Express(1972, 9:30), The House That Dripped Blood (1970, 11:15 pm), The Creeping Flesh (1972, 1:15 am), and The Oblong Box(1969, 3:00 am).
October 24: We begin at 3:15 in the afternoon with Lee fighting old friend Peter Cushing as he looks into reports of The Gorgon (1965). At 4:45 it’s yet another showing of The Curse of Frankenstein (1956), followed by Lee’s turn as Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966) at 6:15 pm.
Christopher Lee was probably most famous for his portrayals of Count Dracula, and so the evening is devoted to the films Lee made as Count Dracula for Hammer. At 8:00 it’s the superb Horror of Dracula (1958). Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1965, 9:30 pm), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968, 11:15 pm), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970, 1:00 am), The Scars Of Dracula (1970, 2:45 am), and Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972, 4:30 am. Check our essay on it here.)
October 31: Halloween night begins at 8:00 pm with Lee starring in The Devil’s Bride (1968), for once playing the good guy trying to thwart a couple of small town Satanists from luring an innocent brother and sister into their coven. The bad guy in this flick is Charles Gray, best known for his turn in the cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
At 9:30 Lee is Kharis the Mummy in the aptly named The Mummy, from Hammer in 1959. At 11:30 he plays Henry Baskerville to Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes in Hammer’s 1959 remake of The Hound of the Baskervilles. At 1:15 am Lee has a small role as the red herring in Hammer and Columbia’s remake of the classic Diabolique – Scream of Fear(1961). The fun continues at 2:45 am with Lee in a supporting role in Hammer’s 1961 production of The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. Paul Massie stars as Dr. Jekyll. Finally, at 4:30 am Lee is back to being the bad guy in Richard Widmark’s only foray into horror: To the Devil, a Daughter, from Hammer in 1976.
It’s now Hammer time for Frankenstein and his Monster, as Hammer studios takes full advantage of color to create some interesting takes on the Frankenstein saga. Peter Cushing plays the mad doctor in all four films screened. The final night dedicates itself to a couple of excellent comedies concerning Frankenstein and his creation.
October 16: Hammer studios takes over with The Curse of Frankenstein (1956) leading off at 8:00 pm with The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) immediately following at 9:45 pm.
October 23: The Hammer fest continues with Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) at 8:00 pm, and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! (1970) at 10:00 pm.
October 30: The monster turns to comedy beginning at 8:00 pm with Young Frankenstein (1974), followed at 10:00 pm by Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
EVIL SCIENTISTS AND DOCTORS
October 21: The focus is on mad scientists, beginning at 8 pm with Spencer Tracy in MGM’s 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Following at 10 pm is the incredible and shocking Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage, 1960) as mad doctor Pierre Brasseur kidnaps young women, hoping to transplant their face onto the face of daughter Edith Scob, who was disfigured in an auto accident with Daddy behind the wheel. Don’t miss this one.
At 11:45 pm doctor Henry Daniell needs bodies for his medical experiments and finds he must deal with wholesaler Boris Karloff in Val Lewton’s classic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s take on the famous Burke and Hare incident in Edinburgh from 1927, The Body Snatcher (1945). When RKO signed Karloff and assigned him to Lewton’s unit, the producer was piqued to say the least, figuring he was stuck with a lemon. But Karloff was so wonderful in Lewton’s films that the producer changed his mind completely about the actor, becoming one of the Karloff’s most ardent admirers.
At 1:15 am Karl Malden is up to no good with his pet gorilla in The Phantom of the Rue Morgue from 1954. Look for the young Merv Griffin as Georges Brevert. At 2:45 it’s William Castle’s hit shocker, Macabre (1958).
Finally we recommend two films for their sheer awfulness. First up at 4:00 am is Bela Lugosi in producer Sam Katzman’s The Corpse Vanishes (1942) for Monogram. Bela uses poisoned orchids given to brides at the altar in order that he extract their vital fluid to keep his wife (Elizabeth Russell) looking young. And if you think that one’s bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet, for following at 5:15 am is the crap classic The Brain That Wouldn't Die. Made in 1959 as The Head That Wouldn’t Die, it didn’t see the projector’s light until 1962 when it was released for the drive-in crowd. Jason (later Herb) Evers plays a brilliant surgeon whose hobby is putting together people from scattered parts, most of which he unethically amputates while operating at his hospital. Taking fiancee Virginia Leith to his mountain hideaway (he was called there by assistant Leslie Daniels who told him to hurry, for the thing in the closet is getting worse), he drives rather recklessly, with the result being an accident that seriously injures Virginia. Cutting off her head, he runs to his hideaway and in the basement lab places her head in a roasting pan using fluid to keep her alive while he looks around for another body. Both films are the kind that must be seen to be truly appreciated and are available in MST 3000 form. We recommend both highly.
October 28: Universal Studios gave us the classic horror films that scared our parents or grandparents in the theaters and us on television. TCM honors them with a five-movie mini-marathon beginning at 8:00 pm with Bela Lugosi in the unforgettable Dracula from 1931. At 9:30 Boris Karloff comes back from eternity looking for the reincarnation of his lost love in 1932’s The Mummy, directed by Karl Freund. Director James Whale takes the stage at 11 pm with Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (1933), while Lon Chaney, Jr. is bitten by fellow werewolf in 1941’s The Wolf Man at 12:15 am. Finally, Karloff and Lugosi battle it out in director Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934).
October 16: A pair of Japanese horror films begins at 2:00 am with Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968), immediately followed at 3:30 am by The X From Outer Space (1967).
October 18: At 6:15 it’s the best of the versions of Stevenson’s tale of Dr. Jekyll as Frederic March and Miriam Hopkins star in director Rouben Mamoulian’s distinctly Freudian version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1932. March was awarded the Oscar that year, sharing it with Wallace Beery (The Champ). It was the first time an actor had won Best Actor for a horror role and would not be repeated again until Anthony Hopkins took home the statue for The Silence of the Lambs.
October 19: Jean Gillie saves gangster boyfriend from the gas chamber in order to get her hands on his hidden loot in Monogram’s Decoy (1946) at 10 am. At 3:15 fate catches up with Tom Neal in Edgar G. Ulmer’s classic Detour from PRC in 1945. And Laurence Tierney is the man you love to hate in Born to Kill (1947) at 5:45 pm.
October 22: Sach’s ability to literally smell diamonds brings The Bowery Boys to Africa in Jungle Gents from 1954 at 10:30 am.
Beginning at 8:00 it’s the first three films in the Jaws series: Jaws (1975), Jaws 2 (1978), and Jaws 3 (otherwise known as Jaws 3D).
At 2:00 am director Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood (Shurayukihime) from 1973 has its premiere. It’s the story of a young girl, Yuki (Meiko Kaji), whose family is nearly wiped out by criminals. The criminals have also kidnapped and brutalized her mother, but left her alive. Mom later winds up in prison; the only thing that keeps her going is the thought of revenge. To that end she purposefully gets pregnant, but dies in childbirth. However, before giving birth she has made sure that her child will be raised by an assassin to kill the criminals who destroyed her family. The result of all this is that while other youngsters know the love of a family, young Yuki only knows killing and revenge. The company that made this film, Toho Studios, was going through a rough financial stretch. In an attempt to right the ship, the studio began looking around for new blood and new ideas. One of its executives noticed that women’s wrestling, which was aimed at teenage Japanese girls, was drawing big numbers, and it was decided to try to aim for that audience. It wasn’t until the release of House in 1977 that Toho began to come financially solvent once more. Lady Snowblood, however, scored well with its target audience, being enough of a success to spawn a sequel in 1974, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance, which airs right after the original at 3:45 am. In the sequel, Yuki (Kaji) is caught by the police and sentenced to the gallows for her crimes. But she is rescued at the last minute by the secret police, who want her services in assassinating some revolutionaries. Both films were a huge influence on Quentin Tarantino is making Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2.
October 23: At midnight comes the silent classic from Swedish director Victor Seastrom, The Phantom Carriage (1922). Seastrom would later gain fame as Dr. Isak Borg in director Ingmar Bergman’s classic Wild Strawberries (1957). At 2:00 am it’s director Lars Von Trier’s Epidemic from 1987, followed at 4:00 am by The Satan Bug from 1965.
October 26: The morning starts off at 6:00 with the unbelievable Mexican production The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy (1959). It’s followed at 7:15 by George Pal’s classic, The Time Machine from 1960 and H.G. Wells using his time machine to pursue Jack the Ripper in Time After Time (1979) at 9:00 am.
In the afternoon Robert Ulrich is a space pirate searching for a lost planet whose vast reserves of potable water could refresh a dry cosmos in The Ice Pirates (1984) at 1 pm. Kieron Moore is among those trapped in a space station with a ticking time bomb in Satellite in the Sky (1956) at 2:45 pm. Following are two sci-fi flicks from the ‘70s: Logan’s Run (1975) at 4:15 pm, and Soylent Green (1973) at 6:15.
October 28: Ruth Hussey and Ray Milland confront ghosts at a seaside English house in 1944’s truly creepy The Uninvited (1944), while Charles Laughton may just be the maddest scientist of them all in the unsettling Pre-Code Island of Lost Souls, from 1933. Look for an unrecognizable Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law.
October 29: A full slate for the day and evening begins with Lionel Barrymore in Tod Browning’s The Devil-Doll (1936) at 6:00 am. Val Lewton and RKO follow at 7:30 with The Leopard Man from 1943. Lewton strikes again at 9:00 with Karloff in Bedlam (1946), a macabre tale set in the notorious 18th century London mental asylum. The Bowery Boys accidentally uncork genie Eric Blore in Bowery to Baghdad (1955) at 10:30 while at noon Richard Denning tries not to get stung in The Black Scorpion(1957). Steve McQueen warns the town about The Blob(1958) at 1:45 pm. George Sanders and Barbara Shelley try to defeat otherworldly children in 1961’s Village of the Damned at 3:15. At 4:45 it’s one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, producer Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World (1951), followed by Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) at 6:30 pm, with the flying saucers created by special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen.
The evening’s festivities begin at 8:00 pm with Mario Bava’s giallo, Blood and Black Lace, from 1964. At 9:30 comes one of the greatest horror films, Carnival of Souls, from 1962, proving that low budget does not necessarily have to mean terrible. A horrible infant double-feature unspools at 11:00 pm beginning with Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive from 1974, followed by Anjanette Comer and Ruth Roman in The Baby, from 1973. Timothy Carey supplies the weirdness and Frank Zappa the music in The World’s Greatest Sinner(1962) at 2:30 am, and Shelley Winters and Christopher Jones close out the day in Wild in the Streets (1968) at 4:00 am.
October 30: A pleasantly horrific Sunday is on tap beginning at 6 am with Roland Young visited, or haunted, by old friends Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in 1937’s Topper. At 8 am Sydney Greenstreet is up to no good in The Woman in White from 1948. Vincent Price is looking for the cause of fear in William Castle’s The Tingler at noon, while at 1:30 pm Charles Laughton is The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Bette Davis is twin sisters in Dead Ringer (1964) at 3:45 pm, and Vincent Price stars in the wonderfully eccentric The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) at 6:00 pm.
At midnight, it’s Lon Chaney as a mad scientist in Roland West’s The Monster (1925). Following at 2:00 am is one of the finest thrillers ever made, director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955). Michel Delasalle (Paul Meurisse) is the headmaster of an exclusive boarding school owned by his wife Christina (Vera Clouzot, the director’s wife). Michel is the type who, if you look up the term “son-of-a-bitch” in the dictionary, you’ll find his picture under the word. Christina’s quite tired of his abuse and joins with Michel’s lover, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret), a teacher at the school, to dispose of him. There were other thrillers in theaters at the time, notably those made by Hitchcock, but none has the twist ending of Diabolique. The twist ending was so shocking that the closing credits included an a plea that read, "Don't be devils! Don't ruin the interest your friends could take in this film. Don't tell them what you saw. Thank you, for them.” Hitchcock was so impressed with this film that he based his film Vertigo on D'entre les morts (Among the Dead, originally published in English as The Living and the Dead), another novel from writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who wrote the novel Celle qui n'était plus (She Who Was Not, published in English as The Woman Who Was No More), on which Diabolique was based.
October 31: Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire (1935) with Bela Lugosi and Lionel Barrymore, leads off the day at 6:00 am, followed by a Val Lewton double feature: Cat People (1942) at 7:15 and the great I Walked With a Zombie (1943) at 8:30. Roger Corman takes over at 9:45 with Vincent Price starring in Corman’s revamping of Poe’sThe Pit and the Pendulum from 1961. Price returns at 11:15 with his starring role in Warner’s remake of 1932’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, House of Wax, originally made in 3D in 1953. At 12:45 pm Boris Karloff takes over in the wonderful episodic Black Sabbath from 1964, followed at 2:30 pm by Ealing’s classic episodic foray into horror, Dead of Night from 1945. At 4:30 Price returns to scare the bejeezus out of us in William Castle’s classic shocker The House on Haunted Hill (1958), and the day wraps with Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn in director Robert Wise’s frightening excursion into horror, The Haunting (1963).
October 16: The vast majority of silents from Japan are lost, but fortunately, one that survived is director Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Kurutta Ippeiji (A Page of Madness) from 1926, a remarkable look at the phenomenon of mental illness. The plot concerns a former sailor whose mistreatment of his wife has caused her to have a mental breakdown. Completely conscience-stricken by his actions, the sailor takes a job as a janitor at the mental hospital where his wife is being treated. Things take an unexpected turn when their daughter visits the hospital to announce she is getting married, raising the question of inherited mental illness. Despite this, things work out for the daughter at the end. To say this film is intense is putting it mildly. I’ve seen it twice and am still astonished by it. Kinugasa uses superimpositions combined with a shifting visual and fantasy sequences to build the intensity. The director also uses the opposition of objective and subjective reality to further ramp up the proceedings. Film scholar Aaron Gerow has written a book on the film dissecting it both on the outside and inside, with some fascinating information on the making of the film itself. It is a film that is still resonates among cinephiles today and one well worth taking the time to view.
October 19: Walter Huston is president Judson C. Hammond in director Gregory LaCava’s incredibleGabriel Over the White House from MGM in 1933. At first President Hammond is a man interested in little else than having a good time while the country flounders. Then he is involved in an auto accident. While recovering he is visited by the angel Gabriel, who forces him to own up to the mess he made. Once out of the hospital he fires his corrupt cabinet and transforms himself into an all-powerful czar who restores order by eliminating the mob, smashing through red tape, gunning down criminals without recourse to trial and ending unemployment. He then turns his attention to the rest of the world and with a little arm twisting, compels the other nations to sign on to his disarmament pact. His work done, he dies, suggesting that he should have died in the hospital from his injuries if not for Gabriel’s intercession. To call this a unique film is an understatement. It’s almost an advertisement for fascism, and indeed, Joseph Goebbels approved the film for release in Germany, telling the German public that President Hammond’s deeds were inspired by Der Fuehrer. It’s on rather late – at 2:45 am – so we recommend you record it, for you’ll want to watch this one closely. Then you’ll shake your head wondering how it was ever made in the first place.
October 18: Divorcee Miriam Hopkins visits Grandfather Lionel Barrymore’s farm to take a breather and discovers a whole other world in King Vidor’s The Stranger’s Return (1933) at 6:30 am.
October 20: Paul Muni takes on a corrupt prison system inI Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) at 6:15 am, and plays a farmer who suddenly makes a fortune in business only to find it changes him for the worse in The World Changes (1933) at 8:00 am. Aline McMahon is excellent as his loyal and suffering wife.
October 21: Buster Keaton is a plumber hired to make Irene Purcell’s lover, Gilbert Roland, jealous in MGM’s 1932 The Passionate Plumber, along with Jimmy Durante and Polly Moran. It airs at 6:45 am.
October 27: At 9:45 am Joan Blondell, Bette Davis and Ann Dvorak are childhood pals whose lives play out quite unexpectedly in the notorious Three on a Match from Warner Bros. in 1933. Warren William plays Dvorak’s adoring husband and Humphrey Bogart is one of the gangsters who kidnaps her and her son for ransom. This was one of the roughest of the Pre-Codes and definitely one to catch.
October 28: At 7:00 am Wynne Gibson is Aggie Appleby: Maker of Men (1933), a socialite who can’t choose between the tough guy she’s turned into a gentleman (William Gargan) and the gentleman she’s turned into a tough guy (Charles Farrell). Wynne returns at 8:30 along with Bill Boyd in Emergency Call (1933). Boyd is a surgeon who discovers his hospital is run by gangsters.
Jimmy Cagney had a solid hit with 1932’s Picture Snatcher for Warner Bros., so RKO tried to cash in by starring William Gargan in the similarly themed Headline Shooter (1933). Stick with Cagney.
October 24: Though scarcely known today, Helen Twelvetrees was, for a couple of brief shining moments, one of the biggest names in Hollywood. TCM is airing five of her Pre-Code films beginning with Is My Face Red? from 1932 at 6:00 am. Ricardo Cortez is a gossip columnist who witnesses a gangland murder. Helen plays his girlfriend.
At 7:15 Helen is Panama Flo (1932), a nightclub entertainer who is caught fleecing oil prospector Charles Bickford. He threatens to throw her in jail, but they come to an agreement whereby she can work off the debt as his housekeeper in South America.
At 8:30 Helen is Unashamed. This 1932 production for MGM stars her as Joan Ogden, an unmarried woman whose lover, not of her social station, attempts to blackmail her family in exchange for safeguarding her sexual history. When her brother Dick (Robert Young) kills the rogue, he is arrested and Joan must decide whether to defend the only man she ever loved or the brother who committed murder to protect her honor.
At 10 am Helen is A Woman of Experience in this 1932 film from RKO that finds her as a con artist who see her skills to foil some German spies. Finally, at 11:30 am Helen stars in My Woman(1932) about a loyal wife whose hard work propels her unambitious hoofer husband (Wallace Ford) into the big time. His idea of paying her back is to run around with other women behind her back and divorce her for another woman.
October 21: Torchy Blaine takes center stage as five of her films are being shown beginning with Torchy Runs for Mayor(1939) at 12:30 pm and ending with the excellent Fly Away Baby (1937) at 5:15 pm.
October 25: Three episodes of the 1952 television series Gangbusters were put together, re-edited, and released to theaters in 1957 as a feature film titled Guns Don’t Argue, which can be seen at 3:30 pm. It features all the most wanted criminals of the ‘30s, such as Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Homer Van Meter, and the Barker clan. I remember watching it on television as a kid, but little else, so I’ll be interested in seeing it again.
By Ed Garea
October is the Psychotronic Month, due to all the horror films being shown. Also to honor October we are placing the Psychotronic category at the head of the column this month.
There can be few other choices for Star of the Month as apt as Christopher Lee, and TCM has a representative selection of his films. To be honest, Lee was somewhat wooden, but this was more than compensated for by his incredible screen presence. No one else outside of Bela Lugosi could have played Dracula with as much menace or eroticism. In films where he had a lot of dialogue to handle, his wooden delivery could be a problem, but as he reached worldwide stardom, this flaw was overlooked in favor of his charisma.
October 3: TCM leads off at 8 pm with a most unusual film for Lee, Jinnah, from 1998. Lee plays Mohammed Ali Jinnah, an Indian Muslim who fought for a Pakistan separate from India. It’s most interesting, as we’ve had films about Gandhi and the founding of modern India, but Pakistan has received scant attention. Jinnah takes us behind the scenes and gives us a glimpse into the machinations of Jinnah, Gandhi, Nehru and Lord Mountbatten in separating Pakistan from India proper and establishing it as a separate nation in its own right. James Fox makes for a fine Mountbatten, and Robert Ashby impresses as Nehru, who was opposed to the idea of a separate Pakistan. Highly recommended.
The rest of the slate is composed of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), the first of the trilogy, at 10 pm, immediately followed at 1:15 am by Richard Lester’s remake of The Three Musketeers (1973) and its sequel, The Four Musketeers (1975), at 3:15 am. Lee plays Rochefort in both films.
October 10: Three of the five films starring Lee as Chinese supervillain Fu Manchu are on tap, beginning at 8 pm with The Face of Fu Manchu from 1965. Made by West German company, Constantin Productions, the films are all centered around some fiendish plot Fu Manchu has to conquer the world. Though not technically low budget affairs, they suffer from vague and badly written plots, too many extraneous characters, and ambiguous endings, where we are led to believe that Fu Manchu has been dispatched only to find he’s coming back.
Following at 10 pm is The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), where Fu has kidnaps 12 beautiful women, each the daughter of an international political figure. The ladies appear in topless fight scenes, which are cut from American prints. At 11:45 pm comes The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1968). Fu kidnaps a famous surgeon and his daughter, forcing the doctor to transform a prisoner into an exact double of Fu’s mortal enemy, Scotland Yard Inspector Sir Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer). Fu also joins with the Mafia to form a super crime syndicate. As usual, when the good guys think they’ve seen the last of him, he shouts, “The world will hear from me again.” The beautiful Tsai Chin plays Fu’s daughter, Lin Tang, in each of the films in there series. In her memoir, Chin denounced the films for their stereotyping of Chinese, especially their use of “Yellowface” in having Caucasian actors play Asians. While I agree with her – these sort of films, like those employing Blackface – make me particularly uncomfortable, I find it rather odd that she waited so long to denounce them from the safety of elapsed time. She was a successful star in England when she made these “classics” and could have easily said something at the time. I check it up to a trait the late Truman Capote said actors possessed in abundance: stupidity. He was right, they weren’t exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer. At least Myrna Loy denounced playing in Blackface in the 1927 crap classic, Ham and Eggs at the Front, a short while later. Interestingly, however, she never regretted appearing in Yellowface, a further symptom of Capote Syndrome.
TCM finishes out the evening with two Lee horror/mystery programmers, Nothing But the Night (1972), with Peter Cushing and Diana Dors, at 1:30 am, and Scream and Scream Again, with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, (1970) at 3:15 am. Both are fun time wasters. A point of trivia: Nothing But the Night was never released in America.
In a commendable flash of inspiration, TCM has anointed Frankenstein as “Monster of the Month.” God knows they have enough Frankenstein films in their library and this is a novel way to present them.
October 2: It’s a triple-header of classic Universal Frankenstein films, beginning at 8 pm with James Whale’s Frankenstein from 1931, continuing at 9:30 pm with Whale’s 1935 superior sequel,The Bride of Frankenstein, and follows up at 11 pm with Rowland Lee’s expressionistic Son of Frankenstein (1939).
October 9: TCM continues with the Universal films, leading off with The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) at 8 pm, 1943’s epic battle of the monsters, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, at 9:15 pm, and Karloff, not as the Monster but a mad scientist, in 1944’s House of Frankenstein, at 10:45 pm. The latter is a sort of monsterpalooza with Dracula (John Carradine), the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr), The Monster (Glenn Strange), and a hunchback (J. Carroll Naish) thrown in for good measure. Also with the gorgeous Anne Gwynne, George Zucco, and the young Elena Verdugo (who later achieved fame in Marcus Welby, M.D., with Robert Young.)
October 7: TCM is really on a roll this month, as they dedicate an evening to horror films from the 1920’s. Yeah, we’ve seen them all before; there’s nothing new, but for us horror devotees, it’s always good to see them again. Here’s the lineup: 8:00 – Nosferatu (1922), 9:45 – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), 11:15 – The Unholy Three (1925), 1:00 am – The Phantom of the Opera (1925), 2:45 am – Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), and 4:45 am – The Penalty (1920).
October 14: TCM continues the theme by airing an evening of horror comedies. Again nothing new, but fun to catch again: 8:00 pm – The Cat and the Canary (1939), 9:30 pm – The Fearless Vampire Killers (1966), 11:30 pm – The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), 1:00 am – Young Frankenstein (1974), 3:00 am – Hillbillys in a Haunted House(1967), 4:30 pm – Spooks Run Wild (1941), and 5:45 am – Ghosts on the Loose (1943).
October 15: Monogram’s comedy team, The Bowery Boys, cross the horror divide in four films aired this morning, beginning with Master Minds (1949, 7:00 am), Spook Busters (1946, 8:15 am), Spook Chasers (1957, 9:30 am), and the aptly titled The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1954, at 10:45 am).
October 1: When Sach suddenly develops the ability to read minds, The Bowery Boys become investigators in Private Eyes (Monogram, 1953).
October 2: At 1 am, it’s the 1925 silent version of The Wizard of Oz, with Dorothy Dwan as Dorothy, Larry Semon as The Scarecrow, Oliver Hardy as The Tin Woodsman, and Spencer Bell as The Cowardly Lion. Semon who also directed, gives us a new version with Semon as a toymaker who reads the book to his granddaughter. He then alternates with scenes of Dorothy in Kansas and Oz, where the citizens are demanding the return of their queen, overthrown along with the beloved Prince Kind (Bryant Washburn) by the evil Prime Minister Keuel (Josef Swickard). The rest somewhat follows the book, as Dorothy is caught up in a twister and delivered to Oz. But in the end she becomes the new queen. The film was a flop with audiences and critics alike, who derided it as having a “custard pie atmosphere.”
At 4:45 am comes producer Val Lewton’s marvelous take on the loneliness of childhood, The Curse of the Cat People (RKO, 1944).
October 8: At 6:30 am, Lon Chaney lets Joan Crawford slip through his arms in Tod Browning’s macabre masterpiece The Unknown (MGM, 1927). At 7:30 am, deranged lovesick surgeon Peter Lorre grafts a murderer’s hands onto the wrists of concert pianist Colin Clive in MGM’s Mad Love (1935). At 9 am, Boris Karloff is trapped on a quarantined Greek island with a group of people, one of whom may be a vampire, in Val Lewton’s slow moving Isle of the Dead (RKO, 1945). At 10:30 am, The Bowery Boys battle spies in Paris Playboys (Allied Artists, 1954).
At 2 am, San Francisco is terrorized by The Zodiac Killer (1971), while at 3:30 am we have the underrated The Town That Dreaded Sundown from AIP in 1977. It's based on the unsolved 1946 killings by a hooded serial killer in Texarkana, Arkansas.
October 9: At 12:15, it’s the silent version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the great John Barrymore in the title role. Following at 2:00 am comes the offbeat (to say the least) haunted house story, House, from 1977, the film that revived the fortunes of its studio, Toho. Immediately following at 3:30 is director Robert Wise’s masterful The Haunting (MGM, 1963).
October 14: Race car driver Elvis tears up the track in Speedway (1968) while trying to outrun beautiful tax auditor Nancy Sinatra. The fun begins at 6:15 pm.
October 15: David Niven deserts wife Deborah Kerr because of some old family secret in Eye of the Devil (1967) at midnight. At 2:00 am, it’s a Blaxploitation doubleheader, beginning with the inimitable Rudy Ray Moore starring in Dolemite (1975) as a pimp who’s framed by the police for drug dealing. After he gets out of jail he enlists the help of old friends Queen Bee and her black belt karate ‘hos to help him exact revenge. Tune this one in – it’s even stranger than I described. Following at 3:30 am is one of the classics of the genre, as Ron O’Neal stars in Superfly, from 1972.
October 10: Begin the morning at 6:00 am with Gus Williams in Captain Sindbad from 1963. At 7:30 am, it's Atlantis, The Lost Continent (1961) from director George Pal. The Greek army sets out to destroy the Colossus of Rhodes in the aptly named The Colossus of Rhodes (1961) at 9:15 am. Finally, at 11:30 am, the marooned Ulysses and Hercules say hello to Biblical strongman Samson in Hercules, Samson & Ulysses (1965).
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
October 5: At the incredible hour of 5:15 am comes a film I’ve read much about, but have never seen. Nor have the vast majority of us. It’s The Last Mile, a realization of the hit Broadway play, with Howard Phillips, Preston Foster, George E. Stone, and Paul Fix. Foster plays the iconic role of “Killer” John Mears, which won fame for both Spencer Tracy (on Broadway, bringing him to the attention of Hollywood) and Clark Gable, who played the role on the L.A. stage. One would think that the film rights to such a Broadway hit would be fought for by the major studios, but the film was directed by Sam Bischoff (with a screenplay by Seton I. Miller) and released by Poverty Row studio World Wide Pictures in 1932. A 1959 remake starred Mickey Rooney, but this original version lapsed into the public domain and has been rarely shown in the years since. It was one of the first movies shown on television in 1946.
October 11: At 11:30 am, it’s director Roberto Rossellini’s beautiful and moving story of the life of St. Francis, The Flowers of St. Francis (1950). Composed of short vignettes, it was written by Rossellini, Fellini, and two Italian priests. Except for famed Italian comic actor Aldo Fabrizi, the rest of the cast is comprised of non-actors. As St. Francis, Rossellini cast a real-life Franciscan monk, Brother Nazario Gerardi.
October 13: From director Costa-Gavras and star Yves Montand comes the political double feature of Z (1969), based on the 1963 assassination of Grigoris Lambrakis, an antiwar activist and liberal member of the Greek legislature, at 3:15 pm, and The Confession (1970) an extremely harrowing story based on an autobiographical book by the married Artur and Lise London, who were targets in the SlánskýTrial of 1952 in Czechoslovakia. Fourteen notable Communists, most of them Jewish, were accused of espionage for Western nations and after the show trial, 11 of then were executed, with three sentenced to life. Their sentences were commuted when Alexander Dubcek came to power.
LIONS AND LIONS AND LIONS, OH MY!
October 1: At 2:00 am, TCM throws us to the lions beginning with Roar (1981), starring the mother-daughter team of Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith about an environmentalist’s estranged family visiting his home in Africa only to find it overrun with wild animals. At 3:45, it’s the animal classic Born Free (1965), the hit tearjerker about Elsa the lioness, with the husband and wife team of Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, no strangers to animal-themed movies.
October 3: Three in a row beginning at 6:00 am with John Gilbert and Renee Adoree in Redemption (1930); the Woody Van Dyke directed The Cuban Love Song (1931) at 7:15 with Lawrence Tibbett and Lupe Velez in a story of an ex-marine returning to Cuba to find the child he fathered; and at 8:45 the comedy, The Prodigal (1931) with Tibbett and Esther Ralston about a wealthy Southern boy who decides to take to the road as a hobo.
October 4: Four Buster Keaton movies, beginning at 7:30 am with the classic The Cameraman from 1928. Following is Spite Marriage (1929) at 9:00, Free and Easy (1930) at 10:30, and Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931) at 12:15 pm. It’s interesting to watch them in a row and witness MGM sucking the creative life out of one of the most brilliant comedians in the history of the movies.
October 14: Cheeky young race car driver William Haines zooms not into the winner’s circle in Speedway (1929) at 6:00 am while co-star Anita Page looks on adoringly.
October 7: Spend the entire morning and afternoon with Dr. Kildare as TCM runs all the classic MGM films about there good doctor beginning with Young Dr. Kildare (1938) at 6:00 am. Read our essay about it here.
October 12: Philo Vance (Edmund Lowe) suspects there’s more than meets the eye when he investigates a mysterious series of suicides in 1936’s The Garden Murder Case from MGM. Virginia Bruce is along for the ride.
By Ed Garea
As we touched upon last issue, while we like the fact TCM is honoring Gene Hackman, who is one of our favorite actors, we are dismayed at the poor selection of his films for the month. Too many programmers for our taste, especially considering that Hackman made some of the best films of the contemporary era. Thus, as in our last isse, here is a list of the Hackman films we recommend for the fortnight.
September 16: Begin with The French Connection (1971) at 10 pm. Yes, we know it’s been run nearly to death on TCM, but it’s always worth watching again, especially for Hackman’s unforgettable performance as Jimmy Doyle. Night Moves (1975) at midnight is also a good bet. Nothing fits Hackman better than playing a private eye.
September 23: Hackman has a nice supporting role as Larry in Woody Allen’s Bergman ripoff, Another Woman (1988), which starts things off at 8 pm. At 9:30, he’s a professor who can’t escape his father’s shadow in I Never Sang for My Father (1970). Melvyn Douglas plays his father. For those who like the offbeat, there’s Zandy's Bride (1974) at 1:45. The plot about the mail-order bride has been absolutely done to death, but Hackman and co-star Liv Ullmann somehow make it work despite the script and the director.
September 30: At 1:45 am, Hackman plays Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski in Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far (1977), based on the book by Cornelius Ryan about Operation Market Garden, one of the Allies’ biggest blunders of World War 2. The idea was to invade Holland, overcome German resistance, which was thought to be light, and have a back door to Germany. Unfortunately, the operation was poorly planned and the paratroopers ran right into an elite German SS panzer unit that was refitting in the area. The ironic thing was that Ultra, the Allies’ decoding of German intelligence, warned that the SS were in the area, but the information was ignored. In addition to Hackman, the film boasts a brilliant all-star cast, including Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Wolfgang Priess, and Ryan O’Neal, among others. Attenborough keeps things moving at a brisk pace and somehow manages to put us right there with the hapless paratroopers, who end up in a trap.
September 20: Begin at 8 pm with Jacques Tati’s sublime Mon Oncle (1958), with Tati once again bringing his Mr. Hulot character to the screen. It’s a worthy sequel of sorts to Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1954), as it places Hulot in a family setting as his nephew’s favorite uncle, much to the dismay of his brother-in-law, who sees Hulot as a layabout. He tries to get Hulot a regular job to no avail and then hires him to work in his plastics plant with disastrous results. It’s a funny and beguiling film with Tati’s trademark visual gags aplenty, especially the ultra-modern house were his sister and brother-in-law reside that serves as the focus of quite a few excellent sight gags. If you never caught this gem before, now is your time.
At 1:45 am, the Three Stooges are bumbling janitors who accidentally create a new rocket fuel in Have Rocket Will Travel (1959). And at 4:45 am, it’s the Carry On gang in Carry On Teacher (1962), a worthy entry in the long-running series.
September 21: At 8 pm, it’s Stanley Kramer’s overrated It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). A long list of guest stars doesn’t make up for an essentially unfunny script as almost everyone in the cast joins the hunt for a cache of hidden loot planted under a big “W” somewhere out there. Jerry Zucker did it a lot better in 2001’s Rat Race.
At 2 am, Peter Sellers takes the stage in what was the best of his Inspector Clouseau comedies, A Shot in the Dark (1964). Unlike The Pink Panther, where Clouseau was a supporting player (who stole the film), this time he is front and center as he tries to clear a beautiful woman (Elke Sommer) accused of killing her husband. Forget the plot; it’s secondary to the great run of gags that make this on the funniest films ever made. And, of course, look for Herbert Lom as Clouseau’s tormented superior, Inspector Dreyfus. If anyone comes close to Sellers in this film, it is Lom.
September 27: The spotlight on slapstick hits a bump tonight with only a couple of films worth watching on the sked. Start at 8 pm with one of Woody Allen’s early comedies, Bananas (1971). Woody is a schmiel who, in order to impress his girlfriend (Louise Lasser), travels to a Banana Republic and becomes involved in its latest revolution. It’s a bit uneven and seems rather haphazardly written, but there are some good laughs along the way. Look for Sylvester Stallone in a bit part near the beginning as a subway mugger.
At 9:30 pm, it’s Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1975), arguably his best film. It’s a near perfect spoof of the Frankenstein films with Gene Wilder seemingly channeling the neurotic spirit of Colin Clive as descendent Frederick Frankenstein, who at first while teaching in an American medical school, produces his name “Frankensteen” so as to eliminate any connection, but once he comes to claim his inheritance he can’t help but begin meddling in the family hobby. Brooks supplies an excellent supporting cast, including Teri Garr as Wilder’s lab assistant, Kenneth Mars as the suspicious chief of police, Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher, and Peter Boyle in an excellent turn as the Monster. But it’s Marty Feldman as Igor and Madeline Kahn as Frederick’s fiancee Elizabeth who walk away with the picture. I’ve seen it more times than I can remember, but I’ll be watching it again.
September 28: TCM’s tribute to slapstick ends with two brilliant comedies. At 8 pm, it’s Leslie Nielsen, George Kennedy, Priscilla Presley, and Ricardo Montalban in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988). This ultimate parody of police procedure film and TV shows comes from the prolific minds of the Zucker Brothers, Jim Abrahams, and Pat Proft. Leslie Neilsen reprises his role of the clueless Frank Drebin as he tries to thwart a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II. The gags fly fast and furious as Drebin manages to make a mess of just about everything he tries to attempt. Nancy Marchand is the harried mayor, and O.J. Simpson is the helpless Detective Nordberg. To say it’s hilarious is an understatement.
This is followed at 9:30 with another Zucker Brothers comic masterpiece, Top Secret (1984), spoof of rock ’n’ roll musicals and espionage films. Val Kilmer is rocker Nick Rivers, on tour in East Germany, when he’s pulled into a plot by the beautiful Lucy Gutteridge to help rescue her scientist father, who’s being held in prison. East Germany is a stand in for Nazi Germany, as Kilmer gets involved with the French Resistance, who have names like, Croissant, Deja Vu, Latrine, and Chocolate Mousse. Though this follow up to Airplane! wasn’t as successful at the box office, it’s still a very funny film that is definitely worth the time and effort.
September 16: Get out the TiVo, for at the forsaken hour of 3:45 am comes the film that put director Stanley Kubrick on the map: The Killing from 1956. This is a great film noir about a racetrack heist being planned by a group of conspirators. And what a group: an ex-con who wants one last score before retiring, a bartender who needs money to pay his wife’s medical expenses, a corrupt cop badly needing to pay back money he borrowed from the Mob, a mealy-mouthed cashier whose flashy, money-grubbing wife is threatening to leave him, and a hit man who always carries his lucky horseshoe with him. Needless to say, the best laid plans of mice and men all go awry, but what a ride watching it unfold. And watch for the ending.
September 18: At 2:15 am comes one of the granddaddies of modern samurai films – from 1941, Kenji Mizoguchi’s The 47 Ronin. It takes place in 1701: Lord Takuminokami Asano (Yoshizaburo Arashi) is busy feuding with Lord Kôzunosuke Kira (Kazutoyo Mimasu) when he makes the bad taste decision to try to kill Lord Kira right in the corridors of the Shogun’s palace. For this breach of etiquette, the Shogun orders Lord Asano to off himself and take the Lord’s palace and lands from his clan. Lord Kira, on the other hand, receives a “get out of jail free” card. Lord Asano’s vassals leave the land and his samurai become ronin (samurais that have no master) who want to seek revenge against the dishonor of their Lord. Their leader Kuranosuke Oishi (Chôjûrô Kawarasaki) asks the Shogun to restore the Asano clan under his brother, Daigaku Asano. A year later, the Shogun hands in his decision: no soap. Oishi and his 46 ronin decide to react to this decision by avenging their Lord. Anyone who loves samurai films must see this one, as it sets the stage for the others to follow. It was remade three times in Japan: in 1957, in 1962 as 47 Samurai, and in 1994 for Nippon TV. It was also remade in 2013 starring Keanu Reeves, of all people. Go with the original. I saw it back in my college days and can’t wait to see it again.
September 21: At 6:15 am, it’s Girl Missing, from Warner Bros. in 1933 starring Glenda Farrell, Ben Lyon, and Mary Brian in a tale of two sassy gold-digging chorines stuck in Palm Beach who become involved in the case of a fellow chorine who goes missing on her wedding night.
It’s immediately followed at 7:30 am by Hi, Nellie!, a 1934 Warner Bros. production starring Paul Muni and Glenda Farrell. Muni is a managing editor of a newspaper who gets into very hot water with his boss and finds himself demoted to writing the “Nellie Nelson” advice-to-the-lovelorn column., But he ultimately redeems himself as he gets solid information that justifies the mistake that got him demoted. It’s a lot of fun and Muni is wonderful in the role.
September 30: A good early-morning triple header. At 7:30, it’s the comedy Double Harness (RKO, 1933) with Ann Harding as a woman who tricks her playboy boyfriend (William Powell) into marriage. After an attack of conscience makes her spill the beans, she tries to win his love honestly. At 8:15, it’s Irene Dunne in Ann Vickers (RKO, 1933) as a dedicated social worker (Are there any other kinds?) whose fight for reform is sidetracked by her love for corrupt judge Walter Huston.
And finally, at 9:45 am comes the film that showed Warner Bros. that Bette Davis was a force to be reckoned with: Of Human Bondage (RKO, 1934). When Bette read the script, she wanted to play the part of the sluttish Mildred. The only problem was that Jack Warner hated loaning out any of his stars. He told her no; that the part was too unglamorous and would ruin the career he was trying to build (Katharine Hepburn, Irene Dunne, and Ann Harding had all turned down the part for that very reason). But Bette was persistent and Warner let her go if only to get her out of his hair. The film made her a star overnight, complete with Oscar nomination, and more headaches for Jack Warner. If you haven’t seen this before, see it now.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
September 17: At 10:30 am, The Bowery Boys are Loose in London (Monogram, 1953), as Sach is under the mistaken belief that he’s inherited a title. Later, at 2 am, TCM goes to the dogs – first with Dracula’s Dog (1978), as Dracula’s servant and faithful dog go to Southern California (Where else?) to find the Count’s last descendant. At 3:30 am, it’s The Pack (1977) about a group of abandoned dogs that band together to take on human enemies – like the producers of this film.
September 19: Ronald Reagan, Stanley Fields and Margaret Lindsay fight evil reform school warden Grant Mitchell in Hell’s Kitchen (WB, 1939), a remake of 1933’s The Mayor of Hell. At 1 am, TCM is running a repeat showing of Hitler’s Children (RKO, 1943).
September 20: It’s Conrad Veidt against Conrad Veidt in MGM’s Nazi Agent (1942), airing at 11 am. Veidt plays twins. One is a good guy who lives in America, where he owns a rare book store. His twin in an evil Nazi spy. Good Conrad kills Bad Conrad in a fight and assumes his identity to return to Germany and foil the Nazi’s evil plans.
September 22: At 3:15 pm, Tim Holt and his buddies must foil a baddie who killed Tim’s marshal brother and has taken his identity in Six-Gun Gold (RKO, 1943)
September 24: Begin your day at 6:30 am with Caged (WB, 1953), one of the ultimate babes-behind-bars flicks. Watch the ladies chew every last bit of scenery to shreds in the very loose remake of 1933’s Ladies They Talk About.
Later at 2 am, it’s the ludicrous Night Train to Terror (1985) followed by Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Telly Savalas sharing their train ride with the Missing Link in Horror Express(1972).
September 25: At 4:30 pm, Frankie and Annette take on a group of pushy bodybuilders led by Don Rickles in Muscle Beach Party (AIP, 1963), while at 6:15 pm Elvis sings his way out of prison and into fame and fortune in Jailhouse Rock (MGM, 1957).
September 29: The evening is devoted to the one and only Frankie Avalon. Among the recorded films this evening is Panic in the Year Zero (AIP, 1962) at 8 pm; Beach Party(1963), the one that started the series, at 9:45 pm; and Dr. Goldfoot and The Bikini Machine (AIP, 1965) with Vincent Price at 1:15 am.
By Ed Garea
Now that August is over, we’re back to having a Star of the Month. And this month the star is Gene Hackman, which presents a problem. Hackman is a great actor whose steady presence has brightened up many a film. I’m a big fan of his. But TCM isn’t showing his best. Most of the films they are running are either supporting roles, sub-par productions, or films that have already been run to death on the channel. It’s going to be a short list this month.
September 2 - Bonnie and Clyde (8 pm).
September 9: The Conversation (8 pm).
TCM SPOTLIGHT: SLAPSTICK
This month’s TCM spotlight focuses on a welcome subject (for me at any rate): slapstick comedies.
September 6: The evening is devoted to silents and we begin at 8:00 pm with a wonderful documentary that also serves as a nice introduction: The Golden Age of Comedy (DCA, 1958). It’s a delightful complication of clips from the silent era, featuring Laurel and Hardy, Carole Lombard, Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, Ben Turpin, and Edgar Kennedy, among others. No Chaplin (aside from Tillie’s Punctured Romance, airing at 9:30) or Lloyd. This is DCA, a shoestring distribution company that is most famous for releasing Ed Wood’s magnum opus, Plan 9 From Outer Space. Every film shown this night is worth the time and effort. Silent slapstick was one of the great genres of the silent era, and not only carried over to the sound era, but also to the world of animation.
A short worth the time is Our Gang (at 4:15 am – TiVo time). This was the first of innumerable follow-ups from Hal Roach; a franchise that kept him in the chips, along with its doppelgänger, The Little Rascals.
September 7: More silent slapstick, highlighted by The Birth of the Tramp (8 pm), an excellent documentary exposing the genesis of one of the most iconic figures in the movies. It’s followed by more Chaplin: A Dog’s Life, from 1918 (9:15) and The Circus, a masterpiece of comedy from 1928 (10:00).
TCM switches gears to bring us two Buster Keaton classics: One Week from 1920 (11:30 pm) and the classic Steamboat Bill Jr. from 1928 (midnight). Then it’s on to a watchable documentary on Harold Lloyd, Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy (1:15 am), followed by two prime examples of Lloyd at his best: Number, Please? (3:00 am), and Speedy (3:30).
September 13: We enter the Sound Era with a mixed bag. At 9:00 pm is the classic Laurel and Hardy Sons of the Desert from 1933, a film whose title is the name of the Laurel and Hardy fan club. It’s followed at 10:15 by the excellent, but seldom seen The Music Box, from 1935.
At 11 pm, it’s the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera (1935), followed by a lesser Wheeler and Woolsey effort, Hips Hips, Hooray (1934) at 12:45.
September 14: A full menu starts withe the best at 8 pm – W.C. Fields in the impeccable The Bank Dick, from 1940. It’s followed at 9:30 by the film that revived Abbott and Costello’s flagging career: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein(1948). At 11 pm, it’s Red Skelton’s uneven A Southern Yankee (1948), and at 12:45 Danny Kaye in The Inspector General (1949). The night closes with the rotten Milton Berle vehicle Always Leave them Laughing (1949) and the subtly hilarious The Palm Beach Story (1942) from the one and only Preston Sturges.
September 8: At 8 pm, it’s Tugboat Mickey (1940) with Donald Duck and Goofy, followed by Boat Builders (1938), with Mickey, Donald and Goofy discovering that building a boat is much harder than it looks.
September 1: Spend an evening with the sublime Preston Sturges as six of his films are being aired beginning with The Lady Eve (1941) at 8 pm. At the horrendous hour of 3:15 am comes one of his funniest and most underrated comedies The Great McGinty (1940), required viewing this election season.
September 5: At 8 pm, it’s D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic, Intolerance, a favorite of my good friend Karen Belcher.
September 11: Director Masaki Kobayashi is honored with a double-feature beginning at 2:00 am. First up is Harakiri (1963), an excellent samurai film about an aging samurai out for revenge on those who drove his son-in-law to suicide. At 4:15, it’s followed by Samurai Rebellion(1967). Set in 18th century Japan, it opens with the banishment from court of Ichi (Yoko Tsukasa), mistress to Lord Matsudaira (Tatsuo Matsumura) who made the unforgivable mistake of slapping her master for taking on another mistress. To complicate matters, court official and master swordsman Isaburo Sasahara (Toshiro Mifune) is ordered to arrange the marriage of his son Yogoro (Takeshi Kato) to Ichi. His fears prove unfounded as she proves to be a perfect wife and daughter-in-law, blessing him with a granddaughter that he looks upon as his own child. A couple of years later, however, Matsudaira recalls Ichi to court as his eldest son has died, and as she is the mother of the Lord’s heir, it would not be fitting for her to remain married to a mere vassal. I won’t reveal any more, but suffice it to stay that the worst thing one can do in a samurai film is to make Mifune mad. It’s a wonderful and engrossing film, providing a solid window into the culture of 18th century Japan.
September 8: Wheeler and Woolsey play two tramps turned fortune tellers who try to solve a kidnapping in 1930’s The Cuckoos (7:30 am). At 2:30 pm, we recommend the comedy, I Like Your Nerve, from Warner’s in 1931, with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Loretta Young.
September 9: At 6:15 am, Lord Byron of Broadway (1930), with Cliff Edwards followed by Those Three French Girls (1930), again with Cliff Edwards. Neither film is worth getting excited about, but they are and worth seeing for that reason.
September 14: Bill Boyd stars in the World War 1 drama Beyond Victory (1931) at 8:45 am.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
September 2: Spend a delightful day with The Falcon as 11 films are aired, beginning at 6:15 am with the first in the series, 1941’s The Gay Falcon. The genesis of the series lay in the fact that Leslie Charteris withdrew RKO’s rights to The Saint, claiming quite correctly that the films were of diminishing quality. Not to be outdone, the studio simply bought the rights to Michael Arlen’s short story, Gay Falcon. Though that was the character’s full name, RKO decided to change it to Gay Laurence, while keeping “The Falcon” as his crime-solving moniker, though its origin is never explained. The plots of the Falcon series were indistinguishable from those of The Saint – only the names have changed. Sanders stick around for the first four movies before giving way to his brother, Tom Conway, who helmed the series until its demise in 1946. All in all, RKO made a total of 14 Falcon adventures. In 1948, Poverty Row producer Philip N. Krasne attempted to revive the series through his Falcon Pictures Corporation. The films were released by Film Classics. The character’s name was changed to Michael Watling and he was played by John Calvert. Three films were made and released that year: Devil’s Cargo, Appointment With Murder, and Search For Danger, all to the sound of crickets in the theater. The Falcon later made it to television in 1954, where he was played by Charles McGraw.
September 3: At 10:30 am, the Bowery Boys enter the world of wrestling in No Holds Barred (1952). Beginning at 2 am. it’s a double-feature of Zardoz(1974) followed by Logan’s Run (1975) at 4 am.
September 4: At 12:30 pm, it’s the one and only Dracula, with Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye in brilliant performances that typecast the two of them for the rest of their careers. At 2 am, it’s double feature of European road films, beginning at 2 am with the wonderful Il Sorpasso (1961) and continuing with critic’s darling Jim Jarmusch and his Stranger Than Paradise(1984). For those who must choose between the two, opt for the former.
September 6:Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever at 8:30 am. He really needs Dad to talk him out of this one, as he falls hard for his drama teacher.
September 10: At 8:15 am, Allison Hayes terrorizes a small California town in the 1958 psychotronic classic Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. (Read our review here.)
Blaxploitation lives! At 2:00 am, Fred Williamson tames a town in the Old West in Boss from 1975. Right after at 4:00 am, Fred returns as a private eye in Black Eye from 1974.
September 12: A tribute to composer John Williams includes a showing of Jaws at 8 pm.
By Ed Garea
An actress who got her start in regional stock theater back in 1926, Constance Cummings has 58 movie and TV credits to her name, yet she is mostly forgotten today. She made her film debut as Mary Brady in Howard Hawks’ 1931 prison drama, The Criminal Code. She worked steadily during the ‘30s, appearing in such films as Attorney for the Defense, American Madness, Movie Crazy, Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932), The Mind Reader, Broadway Through a Keyhole (1933), and Remember Last Night? (1935). Her most famous role was as Ruth Condomine in David Lean’s 1945 drama, Blithe Spirit.
TCM is honoring her on August 24, showing many of the films listed above, save for the latter two. We recommend the following: Haunted Honeymoon (1940, 7:30 am), The Mind Reader (9:00 am), The Big Timer (1932, 3:30 pm), Attorney for the Defense (5:00 pm), Broadway Through a Keyhole (8:00 pm), Night After Night (1932, 9:45 pm), famous as the film that introduced Mae West, American Madness(11:15 pm), Doomed Cargo (1936, 12:45 am), Movie Crazy (2:15 am), and The Criminal Code (4:15 am). There are a few other Pre-Code films of hers playing through the day for those fans of the sub-genre.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
August 17: Director Samuel Fuller’s excellent war drama set in Korea, The Steel Helmet (1951), starts at 6 pm.
August 18: A rarely seen, but interesting, film is airing at 9:45 pm, Go Into Your Dance (1935), starring the real-life couple of Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler in their first – and last – pairing. Al is a singer trying to make a comeback who teams with dancer Keeler. Along the way, however, he gets enmeshed with gangster Barton MacLane. Solid support comes from Glenda Farrell and the irrepressible Patsy Kelly. Though the film was a solid hit, there would be no more pairings of Keeler and Jolson because of Al’s enormous ego. After seeing the comment cards from test audiences, he told his wife that "They don't want to see me anymore. They want us.” Al just couldn’t bear not being Number One.
The film is wonderful, with Al at the top of his game belting out such tunes as “Mammy, I’ll Sing to You,” “About a Quarter to Nine,” and the great “Latin From Manhattan,” which was nominated for an Oscar for Bobby Connolly's masterful dance direction. Another reason to tune in is to see the great Helen Morgan. She was the queen of the torch singers in the ‘20s, but years of alcoholism had taken its toll. She performs the ballad "The Little Things You Used To Do," while in her customary pose of being sprawled on the piano. A mere five years later she would be dead from cirrhosis of the liver.
August 23: On a day devoted to French sex kitten Brigitte Bardot, there are quite a few films to choose from, but none more important than the one airing at 6:15 pm. And God Created Woman, a 1956 production directed by her then-husband Roger Vadim. Though it’s a silly exploitation film seemingly based around Bardot’s talent of shredding her clothes, it’s importance lies in the fact that it was an “art house” hit here in America, and more than any other film, started the movement that eventually brought down the hated Production Code.
Watching it today, we quickly pick up on two points: Bardot can’t act and Vadim can’t direct. But the real point is that Bardot didn’t have to act – all she had to do was walk around half-naked and just be Bardot. No other actress so exuded pure weapon sexuality like Bardot. As for the film, somehow it became a favorite, along with its director, of the Cahiers de Cinema crowd with both Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard slobbering over its supposed virtues, calling Vadim “our only truly modern filmmaker.” He was an auteur, for God’s sake, which made him important to these two would-be (at the time) filmmakers. Watch it anyway, it’s a hoot.
Godard finally got his chance to work with Bardot, and the results can be seen in Masculin-Feminin from 1966, airing at 2:00 am and the earlier Contempt, from 1963, which airs afterward at 4:00 am. August 29: The day belongs to Charles Boyer, and the best of his movies, The Earrings of Madame de ... (1954), airs at noon. Regular readers of this column have seen me rave about this film, directed by the great Max Ophuls, and for those who haven’t, tune in and discover a wonderful and subtle film about how a woman’s little white lies can balloon and come back to haunt her.
August 18: Four classic Ruby Keeler WB musicals are on tap, beginning the Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) at 6 pm, followed by 42nd Street (1932) at 8 pm, Dames (1934) at 11:30 pm, and Footlight Parade (1933) at 1:30 am.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
August 17: At 10 am, it’s Phil Karlson’s hard-hitting docudrama, The Phenix City Story (1955), made right after the National Guard went into the corruption riddled city to clean out the rats. It stars John McIntyre, Richard Kiley and Kathryn Grant, who later married Bing Crosby.
August 18: Star-of-the-Day Angie Dickinson stars with Rock Hudson in Roger Vadim’s must-see, Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) at 2:15 am.
August 21: Tune in at 1:45 pm for that great unintentional comedy team, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, starring in the unforgettable What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? from 1962. The film was a small at the box office and begat a trend whereby the leading ladies would chew yards of scenery in B-grade horror films.
August 22: Robert Montgomery is so good, so compelling as a serial murderer in Night Must Fall (1937) that we sometimes wonder if he wasn’t born for the role. It airs at the late hour of 3:45 am.
August 23: Even star-of-the-day Brigitte Bardot made a psychotronic film, which is on display at 12:15 pm. It’s the offbeat homage to Edgar Allan Poe, Spirits of the Dead (1968). The film was a trilogy of tales, all based on Poe stories, with each segment of the trilogy helmed by a different director: Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini. While we might well expect Bardot to be featured in Vadim’s part of the trilogy, “Metzengerstein,” she actually appears as Giuseppina in “William Wilson,” which is directed by Malle. Despite the trilogy format, the film maintains a consistent quality that rates it as one for the better horror films to come out of the ‘60s.
August 26: As the day is devoted to Boris Karloff, it’s loaded with psychotronic films. To save time we’ll just review the best of the bunch, starting at 10:15 am with The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). Karloff is in his element as the dastardly villain out to discover the secret to global power. Lewis Stone and Charles Starrett are the unwitting explorers who accidentally wander into his den, and Myrna Loy shines as Karloff’s daughter Fah So See.
For a good B movie, check outBritish Intelligence (1940) at 1 pm with Karloff as a German agent up against double agent Margaret Lindsay. The joy in the film is seeing Karloff in a non-horror role and he gives a stellar performance.
At 8 pm, it’s back to horror, with five notable Karloff films in a row. First up is the classic Frankenstein (1931), followed by The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), a sequel superior to the original. Both are directed by the great James Whale. At 11 pm, it’s the eerie and haunting The Mummy from 1932, the directorial debut of noted cameraman Karl Freund. At 12:30 am, it’s Edgar G. Ulmer’s offbeat The Black Cat (1934) with Bela Lugosi in the unaccustomed role of good guy battling the devil-worshipping Karloff. It’s rarely shown and is well worth the time invested. Finally, at 1:45 am, Karloff and Henry Daniell star in producer Val Lewton’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic story, The Body Snatcher (1945).
August 29: At midnight, it’s Charles Boyer as the villain in the classic Gaslight (1944) as he tries to drive wife Ingrid Bergman crazy.
August 31: Dean Martin cashes in on the James Bond craze as Matt Helm in The Silencers (1966), airing at 9:45 am. Martin brings his own brand of humor and style to what could be just another Bond ripoff and actually makes it fun to watch.
By Ed Garea
SUMMER UNDER THE STARS
It’s August, which means a month of “Summer Under the Stars,” in which each day is devoted to the films of a particular actor or actress. In the past, TCM has made this somewhat interesting by including people we don’t normally see, i.e., those not from Hollywood, the international stars. But this year the only international star we get is Brigitte Bardot, and if want to stretch it, Ralph Richardson and Charles Boyer (and that’s really stretching it, as both made quite a few films in America).
Instead, we get yet another day of Fred Astaire, Katharine Hepburn and Gary Cooper, and the films being shown are those we’ve already seen a hundred times. Once again, given the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, TCM instead sticks to the tried and true, and in the end, lets its fans down. As I said in this column last year, I would like to see a day devoted to the films of the following: Marcello Mastroianni, Alec Guinness, Setsuko Hara, Monica Vitti. Paul Wegener, George Arliss, Michel Simon, Chishu Ryu, Peter Lorre, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Simone Signoret, Charles Hawtrey, Anouk Aimee, Ugo Tognazzi, Emil Jannings, Richard Attenborough, Vittorio Gassman, Googie Withers, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Alberto Sordi, Diana Dors, Jean-Claude Brialy, Gerard Depardieu, Giulietta Masina, Isabelle Huppert, Jean Marais, Anna Magnani, and Albert Remy. And that’s just off the top of my head.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
August 1: On a day devoted to Edward G. Robinson, try The Red House (10:00 pm), an above-average melodrama from 1947 crime drama boasting an excellent cast.
August 2: One of the best, if not the best, films Lucille Ball made is The Big Street(RKO, 1942) with Lucile as a selfish showgirl with whom waiter Henry Fonda is head-over-heels in love. It airs at 1:00 pm. Look for Barton MacLane and the always excellent Eugene Pallette is supporting roles.
August 6: It’s Montgomery Clift’s day, and the pick of the day is Gore Vidal’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play, Suddenly, Last Summer (Columbia, 1959), with Elizabeth Taylor at the height of her beauty as a most unusual damsel-in-distress, and Katharine Hepburn as her tormentor who wants to keep her silent about a family secret.
August 7: Check out Jean Harlow’s last film Saratoga (MGM, 1937) at 8 am and the wonderful Libeled Lady (MGM, 1936) at 6 pm.
August 12: Janet Gaynor has the stage and the film to see is the originalA Star is Born (UA, 1937) with Frederic March and Adolphe Menjou, exquisitely directed by William A. Wellman, at 2 pm.
August 13: At 6 pm, Ralph Richardson stars with John Mills and Michael Caine in the hilarious The Wrong Box (Columbia, 1966). It also features Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Peter Sellers, who steals the film.
August 15: We would be truly remiss if we didn’t recommend How Green Was My Valley (20th Century Fox, 1941), John Ford’s classic story of life in a Welsh coal mining family, starring Walter Pigeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, and the day’s honoree, Roddy McDowell.
August 1: Three good Pre-Code films lead off the day’s tribute to Edward G. Robinson, beginning at 6 am with Tiger Shark from 1932. It’s followed at 7:30 by the venerable Little Caesar (1930), and at 9:00 am by the compelling Five Star Final (1931).
August 3: In a day devoted to Bing Crosby, check out Der Bingle in Going Hollywood with star Marion Davies (MGM, 1933), airing at 6 am.
August 4: A gold mine of Pre-Code favorites in a day dedicated to Fay Wray. Most are in the Psychotronica section, but highly recommended are Ann Carver’s Profession (Columbia, 1933, which can be seen at 7:30 am, The Wedding March (Paramount, 1928), directed by Erich von Stroheim at 8 pm, the crime drama Thunderbolt (Paramount, 1929), directed by Joseph von Sternberg in his better days, at midnight, and One Sunday Afternoon (Paramount, 1933), with Gary Cooper and Neil Hamilton, at the late hour of 4:30 am. Record it – it’s worth it.
August 7: With Jean Harlow as the day’s honoree, there’s plenty to check out, beginning with The Beast of the City (MGM, 1932), also starring Walter Huston and Wallace Ford, at 10 am. At 4 pm, it’s the classic ensemble film, Dinner at Eight (MGM, 1933). Red Dust (MGM, 1932), with Harlow, Gable and Mary Astor, airs at 8 pm, followed by Harlow and Lee Tracy in the hilarious Bombshell (MGM, 1933) at 9:30. Finally, at 2:45 am comes the film that established Harlow as a star, Red-Headed Woman (MGM, 1931), also starring Chester Morris and Una Merkel.
August 11: Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis shine in the prison drama 20,000 Years in Sing-Sing (WB, 1933).
August 12: Check out Janet Gaynor in State Fair (Fox, 1933) with Will Rogers at 4:15 pm and the silent Street Angel (Fox, 1928) with Charles Farrell at 10 pm.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
August 4: The Queen of Scream, Fay Wray, can be seen in Doctor X (WB, 1932) with Lee Tracy and Lionel Atwill, at 10:15 am. At 1 pm, Fay stars in the moody and eerie Black Moon (Columbia, 1934). Fay stars with Claude Rains in the excellent The Clairvoyant (Gaumont-British Picture Corp.) at 3:45 pm, followed by Fay as a damsel-in-distress with the vivacious Glenda Farrell in Mystery of the Wax Museum (WB, 1933) at 5:15. Lionel Atwill supplies the chills as the villain. Finally at 10 pm, Fay hits the Big Apple along with her hirsute boyfriend in King Kong(RKO, 1933).
August 5: Karl Malden is up to monkey business in the flaccid Phantom of the Rue Morgue (WB, 1954). Look for talk show host and game show creative genius Merv Griffin in a supporting role.
August 9: It’s a entire morning and afternoon of Tim Holt Westerns. Our favorites are Six-Gun Gold (RKO, 1941) at 7:15 am, Sagebrush Law (RKO, 1943) at 10:15 am, and Masked Raiders (RKO, 1949) at 1:45 pm.
At 1:30 am, it’s the psychotronic classic, Hitler’s Children (RKO, 1943), with Bonita Granville on the receiving end of Nazi punishment.
August 10: “I am Tondelayo,” says Hedy Lamarr in White Cargo (MGM, 1942) , and we believe her, though this film has to be seen to be believed. It’s another one of Hedy’s great non-carting performances set in the steamy jungle.
August 11: Spencer Tracy proves he can beat bad guys Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin with one arm missing in Bad Day at Black Rock (MGM, 1955).
August 13: Ralph Richardson stars with Raymond Massey, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Edward Chapman in the classic Things to Come (UA, 1936), directed by William Cameron Menzies at 8 am. Later, at 4 pm, we can see him in director Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (Handmade Films/Embassy, 1981).
August 14: It’s Cyd Charisse and Robert Taylor trying to break free from the Chicago mob in Nicholas Ray’s underrated gangster epic, Party Girl (MGM, 1958).
August 15: Roddy McDowell tries his hand as producer-star in Monogram’s Killer Shark (1950) and comes a cropper. He’s backed by a good psychotronic supporting cast in Roland Winters, Nacho Galindo, and the scrumptious Laurette Luez, who, frankly, outacts the star. It’s directed by Oscar “Budd” Boetticher – one he probably left off his resume.
BILL CARDILLE - R.I.P.
The world of psychotronic pop culture lost one of its icons when Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille passed away at at home on July 12 from complications arising from a long bout with cancer. He was 87.
Cardille, a native of the Pittsburgh area, was famous as the voice of television station WIIC (now WPXI). His was the voice that signed the station onto the air when it started on September 1, 1957.
He was a jack-of-all trades at the studio, doing voiceovers, hosting game shows and kiddie shows. In 1960, he took over as the voice of Studio Wrestling (pro wrestling is the psychotronic sport). His sardonic style helped make it one of the station’s highest rated shows. But it was in 1964 that he gained a niche in psychotronic history when he conceived and starred as the host of Chiller Theater.
Chiller Theater was a late Saturday night staple, showing a double feature beginning at 11:30 pm interspersed with hi-jinx from its host. He would perform his duties as the weatherman for the station’s local newscast at 11 pm, then rush and change into his costume as Chilly Billy for the 11:30 opening of the horror show.
This later became the inspiration for one of the legendary characters from the comedy show SCTV. Joe Flaherty, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area watching Bill Cardille, modeled his character, Floyd Robertson, a newscaster at the small TV studio, after Cardille. In addition to his newscasting duties, Robertson would dress up in a vampire costume and become “Count Floyd” on the station’s Monster Chiller Horror Theater, promising the kiddies out there “some scary movies.” One of the funniest bits the show did was when they performed an Ingmar Bergman parody called “Moon of the Wolf,” which the station mistakenly plugged into Count Floyd’s show, thinking it was a horror picture. As the film goes on, Floyd interrupts to say that “this isn’t scary at all!” He has no idea why this film is being shown and is clearly irritated that it’s not as advertised. Those interested in the sketch can find it on You Tube.
Cardille also gained a measure of everlasting fame when he had a minor role as a field reporter in George A. Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead, the film that kicked off the zombie craze that continues to this day. His actress daughter, Lori Cardille, would later star in Romero’s 1985 sequel, Day of the Dead.
Fare thee well, Bill, you will be missed.
By Ed Garea
OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND
We can’t fully discuss de Havilland without discussing her late sister, Joan Fontaine. It was no secret that the sisters were somewhat estranged throughout most of their lives, but the popular story, taken from Fontaine’s autobiography stated that, when Fontaine won the Oscar for Suspicion, beating out her sister, who was nominated for Hold Back the Dawn, she deliberately avoided walking past her sister’s table on her way to the stage for fear of being tripped. But there are photos of that Oscar night showing Olivia happily congratulating her younger sister. However, when Olivia won in 1947 for To Each His Own, Fontaine came over to congratulate her and was rebuffed. Asked to explain the snub, de Havilland’s publicist at the time said: “This goes back for years and years, ever since they were children.”
De Havilland was also responsible for a landmark legal ruling affecting those bound by contracts. After she fulfilled her contract with Warner Bros. In 1943, she was informed that six months had been added to the contract for the times she had been on suspension. The law at the time allowed studios to tack on extra time to an actor’s contract to cover the time the actor was under suspension. De Havilland, on the advice of her lawyer, Martin Gang, took the studio to court, citing an existing California labor law that forbade an employer from enforcing a contract against an employee for longer than seven years. In November 1943, the California Superior Court found in de Havilland’s favor. The studio immediately appealed, but on December 8, 1944, the California Court of Appeals for the Second District also found in de Havilland’s favor. California's resulting "seven-year rule," also known as Labor Code Section 2855, is still known today as the “De Havilland Law.” However, the studio gained a modicum of revenge by circulating a letter to other studios that had the effect of a "virtual blacklisting.” As a result, de Havilland did not work at a film studio for nearly two years.
As to her personal life, while she and Errol Flynn never has a romantic relationship off-screen, de Havilland did engage in romantic relationships with Howard Hughes, James Stewart, and John Huston. On August 26, 1946, she married Navy veteran, journalist, and author of the 1941 novel Delilah, Marcus Goodrich. They has one child, Benjamin Goodrich, born on December 1, 1949. Her marriage to Goodrich was a stormy one and ended in divorce in August 1953.
On April 2, 1955, she married Pierre Galante, author and executive editor of Paris Match. They had met at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953, and after her marriage, de Havilland moved to Paris, where she continues to live today. They had one child, Gisèle Galante, born on July 18, 1956. Although the couple separated in 1962, they continued to live in the same house for six years in order to raise the children. Afterward, Galante moved across the street and the two remained close, even after their divorce became final in 1979. After he was diagnosed with lung cancer, she looked after him until his death in 1998.
Son Benjamin worked as a statistical analyst for Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, California, and as an international banking representative for the Texas Commerce Bank in Houston. He died on October 1, 1991, in Paris at the age of 41 of heart disease brought on by treatments for Hodgkin's disease, three weeks before the death of his father.
Daughter Gisele, after studying law at the Université de Droit de Nanterre School of Law, worked as a journalist in France and the United States.
July 22: It’s Olivia in the ‘50s beginning at 8:00 pm with the excellent My Cousin Rachel (1952), followed by The Proud Rebel (1958) at 9:45, and the uneven comedy, The Ambassador's Daughter, with Adolphe Menjou and Myrna Loy, at 11:45.
We then return to the ‘40s at 1:45 am with the first-rate soaper, Hold Back the Dawn (1941) with the script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Olivia is a shy, spinsterish schoolteacher targeted by gigolo Charles Boyer, who is fleeing the Nazis and sees her as his ticket into the U.S. Following at 4:00 is Olivia in one of her best roles in The Strawberry Blonde (1941) with James Cagney and Rita Hayworth, director Raoul Walsh’s delightful remake of 1933s One Sunday Afternoon, starring Gary Cooper and Fay Wray.
July 27: It’s Olivia in the morning beginning at 6:00 am with the entertaining drama My Love Came Back (1940). Following is the all-star revue Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) with a rare number featuring Hattie McDaniel and Willie Best in non-stereotyped roles(!). Capping off the morning at 9:45 is the comedy Four’s a Crowd (1938), also with Errol Flynn, Rosalind Russell, and Patric Knowles.
July 29: A program of de Havilland films mainly from the 50’s, 60s and 70s, though the best film of the evening is The Male Animal, with Henry Fonda from 1942, which is airing at 4:00 am. The excellent Libel (1959) with Dirk Bogarde, precedes it at 2:15 am. Also of note this evening is Light in the Piazza from 1962 with Rossano Brazzi and Yvette Mimieux, which is showing at 12:15 am.
July 30: Two minor de Havilland efforts air this morning, with Government Girl (1943) at 6:00 am, followed by Princess O’Rourke (1943) at 7:45 am.
The TCM Spotlight for July, TCM Presents Shane (Plus a Hundred More Great Westerns), continues each Tuesday.
July 19: It’s a morning filled with spaghetti Westerns, including Hate For Hate (1967, 6:15 am), The Stranger Returns (1968, 10:00 am), and The Silent Stranger(1968, noon).
The evening features Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti Westerns for Sergio Leone: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and the classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1968). The fun starts at 8:00 pm. Following at 2:00 am is the first Western Clint made in Hollywood, Hang ‘Em High, from 1968.
July 24: At 2:00 am, it’s Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambetty's first feature, and many say his masterpiece, Touki Bouki (1973). In the film, Mory (Magaye Niang) and his student girlfriend Anta (Mareme Niang) long to escape from Dakar for a better life in France. They hatch various schemes to get the money for a ship to Europe, but in the end only one of them is able to make the trip.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
July 17: At 12:15 am, it’s the original tale of an ordinary girl’s rise to stardom in Hollywood,Souls For Sale, from 1923, starring Eleanor Boardman, Mae Busch, Barbara LaMarr, and Richard Dix. Written and directed by Rupert Hughes for Goldwyn Films.
At 2:00 am comes an up close and personal film from Macedonia about the war which resulted after Yugoslavia broke up into separate countries, Before the Rain (1994). It was the first film from the newly-formed nation to be nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar. The anthology drama shifts between London and the Macedonian countryside; the main thread concerns a war photographer (Rade Serbedzija) who returns home after Yugoslavia has split to find that his homeland has been decimated by war.
July 21: Great Garbo looks appropriately regal and dominates the screen as only Garbo can in Queen Christina (1933), airing at 5:15 pm.
July 22:A morning and afternoon of Pre-Codes, beginning at 9:00 am with Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery in Untamed (1929). It’s followed at 10:30 by They Learned About Women(1930). At 12:15 comes the sound remake of The Unholy Three from 1930 starring the great Lon Chaney. A British lord pretends to be a gigolo to escape gold diggers in Just a Gigolo (1931), with William Haines and Irene Purcell at 1:30. Robert Montgomery and Walter Huston prove war is hell, especially in a World War I submarine, in Hell Below (1933), at 2:45. Finally, at 4:30 it’s the brilliant Lee Tracy as an ambulance chasing lawyer in The Nuisance(1933).
July 25: At 11 am, chorus girl Marion Davies gets bad advice from her co-workers in The Floradora Girl (1930). At 2 pm, Leslie Howard is appointed guardian of South Seas beauty Conchita Montenegro in Never the Twain Shall Meet (1931). Following at 3:30 pm is Marion Davies in Peg O’ My Heart (1933). At 5:00, it’s Robert Montgomery and Dorothy Jordan in Love in the Rough(1930), followed at 6:30 by Lady With a Past (1932), starring Constance Bennett and Ben Lyon.
July 28: A morning of Pre-Code Joe E. Brown films opens at 6:30 am with Eleven Men and a Girl (1930) and ends at 5:00 with You Said a Mouthful (1932)
PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA
TCM is devoting the evenings of July 24 and July 31 to films made by African-Americans from 1915 through the ‘40s, when movies made by African-Americans were independent affairs and released to segregated theaters. That these films were made was remarkable; that they survived to this day is miraculous.
July 24: The evening begins at 8:00 pm with Oscar Micheaux’s Birthright(1938) following the travails of a Harvard-educated man who attempts to found a school for African-Americans down South. At 9:30, it’s the silent Ten Nights in a Barroom from 1926, followed at 10:45 by a compilation of home movies by the Rev. S.S. Jones documenting life in Oklahoma from 1924-26. At 11:10, it’s the documentary short We Work Again made by the WPA in 1937 showing their efforts to find jobs for African-Americans during the Great Depression. At 11:30, it’s Micheaux again, with Veiled Aristocrats (1932), about a light-skinned lawyer who forces his sister to pass for white. And Micheaux closes out the evening at 12:30 am with his silent classic Within Our Gates from 1920.
July 31: At 8 pm comes a double feature from director Spencer Williams, starting with Blood of Jesus(1941), followed by Dirty Gertie From Harlem U.S.A. (1946). At 10:30 it’s a couple of shorts: Heaven-bound Traveler (1932) and Verdict Not Guilty (1933). At 11:00 comes a short directed by one of the giants of American Literature: Zora Neale Hurston. It’s titled Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort, South Carolina, May 1940and is a recording of religious services in a South Carolina Gullah community. At 11:30 a couple of pre-1920 shorts: Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled (1918) and Two Knights of Vaudeville (1915). At midnight, a composer marries an abused girl to protect her but can't face his family's prejudices in 1927’s The Silent Scar from director Frank Perugini. Rounding out the evening is the South Seas adventure Regeneration (1923).
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
As always, there’s a good selection in both the psychotronic and the B-category.
July 16: Rod Taylor takes on the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, at 4:00 pm.
A triple feature, beginning at 2:00 am of three great zero-budget exploitation classics: Reefer Madness (1936), the legendary Dwain Esper’s Marihuana (1936), and The Cocaine Fiends (1935).
July 21: At 8:00 pm it’s the original The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1974) with Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw and Martin Balsam heading a great cast. At 2:30 it’s Richard Roundtree in the classic Shaft (1971).
July 23: The heavy-handed cautionary tale about nuclear war, The World, The Flesh, and The Devil(1959) airs at noon, followed by the Stanley Kubrick’s classic Dr. Strangelove (1964), with a virtuoso performance by Peter Sellers in three roles, at 1:45.
The late evening presents a double feature of The Street Fighter (1974) at 2:15 am followed by Return of the Street Fighter at 4:00.
July 26: Laurel and Hardy open things up at 7:15 am with the classic Way Out West (1937), followed by The Bowery Boys at 8:30 in Bowery Buckeroos.
July 29: A Nancy Reagan double-header begins at 3:30 pm with the excellent Donovan’s Brain (1953), also starring Lew Ayres and Gene Evans, followed by Nancy starring with husband Ronnie in 1957’s Hellcats of the Navy. Michael Weldon describes the love scenes between Nancy and Ronnie as “chilling.”
July 30: The final five episodes of the Ace Drummond serial air beginning at 9:30 am. You know what that means – no one’s watching.
Later in the afternoon at 5:45 it’s the sci-fi classic Logan’s Run (1975).
July 31: It’s Patti McCormack as The Bad Seed (1956) at 10 am, and the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night (1964) at 6:15.
By Ed Garea
Olivia de Havilland
The Star of the Month for July is a most deserving one: Olivia de Havilland, who turns 100 years of age on July 1. Born in Tokyo to English parents, her parents divorced when she was just three years old. She moved with her mother and sister, Joan, to Saratoga, California. Bitten by the acting bug while in high school, she starred in the school’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Famed theater producer Max Reinhardt saw her in the play and was so impressed he signed her for his stage version and later used her in the film version for Warner Brothers. The studio was also impressed and signed her to a contract and her first film under that contract was Alibi Ike (1935) with Joe E. Brown. Later that year she impressed in Captain Blood with Errol Flynn and a star was born. Her resume is impeccable; her versatility was such that she was equally adept at comedy, drama and romance. Nominated five times for an Oscar, she won twice for Best Actress in To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). More on de Havilland in our next installment.
July 1: We begin a nice little run beginning at 9:15 with her Oscar-nominated turn as Melanie Wilkes in Gone With The Wind. Following in order are The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), and her star-making role in 1935’s Captain Blood.
July 2: Begin at 7:30 as Olivia stars with Frederic March in the great Anthony Adverse (1936) and continue with The Irish In Us (1935) with James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, and Alibi Ike (1935) with Joe E. Brown.
July 8: Begin with John Huston’s delightfully weird Southern drama In This Our Life (1942) at 8 pm and stick around for the Westerns, They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Santa Fe Trail (1940) and Dodge City (1939), all with co-star Errol Flynn. Finally, she and Flynn turn back the clock to star in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), at 4:15 am.
July 9: Three delightful de Havilland comedies begin our morning at 6:15 am. First up is It’s Love I’m After (1937), with Bette Davis and Leslie Howard. At 8 pm, it’s The Great Garrick (1937) with Brian Aherne, who later married Olivia’s sister Joan Fontaine. Finally, there’s the minor and seldom seen comedy Call It a Day (1937).
July 15: Four great de Havilland films and one programmer make up tonight’s schedule. Beginning at 8 pm, it’s the riveting psychotronic classic The Snake Pit (1948), followed by The Heiress (1949), To Each His Own(1946), and 1946’s Devotion with Olivia and Ida Lupino as the Bronte sisters. Finally, Olivia is caught between pilot brothers George Brent and John Payne in 1939’s Wings of the Navy at 4:30 am.
The TCM Spotlight for July is called TCM Presents Shane (Plus a Hundred More Great Westerns).Each Tuesday is totally devoted to Westerns, with the bigger and better known being shown in the evening hours. Since these are not exactly out of the usual, we’ll limit our coverage to the B-variety, which will be shown in the mornings and afternoons.
July 8: It’s a marathon of Randolph Scott Westerns beginning at 6:15 am with Virginia City (1940), co-starring Errol Flynn, Miriam Hopkins and Humphrey Bogart as a Mexican bandit, if you can believe it. Other notable Scott oaters this day include Return of the Badmen (1948) at 10:30 am, The Cariboo Trail (1950) at 3:30 pm, and Budd Boettischer’s classic Ride Lonesome (1959) at 6:30. At 8 pm, it’s Sam Peckinpah’s wonderful Ride the High Country from 1962.
July 10: The brilliant English actress is featured in three films, beginning with the TCM premiere of It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) at 8 pm. From Ealing Studios, it’s an intriguing crime drama set in London’s East End and starring Withers as a harried housewife who is astonished when she discovers her ex-finance (John McCallum), fresh from a prison breakout from Dartmoor, hiding in the shed in her backyard. It’s directed by Robert Hamer, who gave us the wonderful cynical comedy, Kind Hearts and Coronets. I saw this on public television years ago and was captivated. I strongly recommend it.
At 9:45, Withers appears in the great episodic psychotronic classic, Dead of Night, from 1945. And rounding out the evening at 11:15 pm is On Approval (1944) with Bea Lillie and Withers as two widows courted by two impoverished British aristocrats (Clive Brook and Ronald Culver). It’s mannered, malicious, and totally hilarious, with the leads playing off each other beautifully.
July 5: An excellent morning beginning with The Great Train Robbery from 1903 at 6:15 am. Following, in order, is Cecil DeMille’s silent classic, The Squaw Man(1914), and The Vanishing American from 1925 (8 am).
At 10 am, it’s Richard Dix and Irene Dunne in the original Cimarron (1930), followed by DeMille’s 1931 sound remake of The Squaw Man with Warner Baxter and Lupe Velez.
July 13: Joan Crawford and Johnny Mack Brown star in Montana Moon (1930) at 6:00 am.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
As always, there’s a good selection of psychotronic films.
July 3: At 2 pm, it’s Elvis in a dual role in Kissin’ Cousins (1964). The evening brings a Stanley Kubrick psychotronic double-feature, beginning at 11:15 pm with 2001: A Space Odyssey, followed at 2:00 am by Malcolm McDowell in 1971’s A Clockwork Orange.
July 9: At 2:15 am, stuntman Robert Forster tries to solve the murder of his brother in Stunts (1977). It’s followed at 3:45 am by Linda Blair in the ridiculous Roller Boogie (1979). She falls in love with a guy whose dream is to make rollerskating an Olympic sport and for him to win a gold medal.
July 13: Singing cowboys are the theme of the day, with Tex Ritter making his debut as a singing cowboy in Song of the Gringo (1936) at 7:45 am. He’s followed at 9 am by Warners’ singing cowboy, Dick Foran, in Song of the Saddle (1936), and at 10 am by Herbert Jeffrey in The Bronze Buckeroo, from 1939. At 11 am, it’s Monogram’s answer to Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, Jimmy Wakely, in Cowboy Cavalier (1948), with Cannonball Taylor. Penny Singleton teams with Ann Miller, Glenn Ford, and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in Columbia’s Go West, Young Lady (1941) at 12:15 pm.
Gene Autry sings while Ken Maynard and his trusty horse, Tarzan, provide the action in the 1934 oater In Old Santa Fe(1:30 pm). At 2:45 pm, Autry returns with sidekick Smiley Burnette in Boots and Saddles (1937). When Autry left Republic in a salary dispute (he later returned) the studio plugged in Roy Rogers and his trusty steed, Trigger, to fill the gap. They can be seen in two vehicles, beginning with Home in Oklahoma (1946) at 4 pm, and Springtime in the Sierras (1947) at 5:15 pm. Finally, Columbia’s Charles Start stars at 6:45 pm in Cowboy Canteen, from 1944.
July 14: It’s a morning and afternoon of beach films, beginning with a lame comedy, The Catalina Caper (1967) at 7:00 am. Try the MST 3000 version instead, at least Crow, Joel and Tom Servo are funny, even if the film isn’t.
At 8:30, Deborah Walley and Tommy Kirk star in It’s a Bikini World. Co-written and directed by Roger Corman protege Stephanie Rothman, it was filmed in 1965, but not released until 1967 by Transamerica Films as The Girl in Daddy’s Bikini. American-International picked it up and released it under it’s current title.
At 10:15, college coeds Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux, Paula Prentiss, and Connie Francis go looking for love during spring break in Fort Lauderdale in the 1960 hit, Where The Boys Are. It’s followed at noon by Sandra Dee and Dames Darren in the original beach blast, Gidget (1959).
The rest of the afternoon is devoted to that first couple of beach movies, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. At 2 pm comes Muscle Beach Party (1963), followed at 4 pm by Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) at 6 pm.
By Ed Garea
We continue with our look at the films of Marie Dressler, an actress as adept at drama as she was at comedy.
June 20: The evening begins at 8:00 pm with Marie and Wallace Beery in Min and Bill (1930). Min and her boyfriend Bill (Dressler and Beery) are two waterfront characters that brought up Nancy, a young girl abandoned by her mother while in infancy. Sacrificing so that Nancy could gain advantages in life, their plans are nearly thwarted when Nancy’s real mother shows up and threatens to blow the whistle. This forces Min to take drastic action in this four-hankie drama written by Frances Marion. Dressler received the Oscar for her performance.
Next up is Reducing (1931) a comedy with Polly Moran as Madame Pauline "Polly" Rochay, the proprietor of an upscale beauty parlor that specializes in weight reduction. When she learns that her sister Marie Truffle (Dressler) is destitute in South Bend, Indiana, she welcomes Marie, her husband Elmer (Lucien Littlefield), and their three children into her home with disastrous results.
At 10:45 pm, it’s Politics (1931), a drama starring Marie and Polly Moran as two women outraged by the racketeers running their town. When a friend of Marie’s daughter Myrtle (Karen Morley) is killed after being caught in a crossfire, Marie decides to run for mayor with Polly as her campaign manager.
Dressler’s night ends with the 12:15 am showing of One Romantic Night (1930). Marie is in a supporting role as Princess Beatrice, whose daughter Alexandra (Lillian Gish) is being courted by Prince Albert (Rod La Rocque) at his father’s insistence. Albert falls in love with Alexandra and they must overcome various obstacles to marry.
June 27: We begin with one of Dressler’s best known films – the wonderful ensemble piece, Dinner at Eight (1933). As one of an all-star cast that includes John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe, Billie Burke, Jean Hersholt, and Karen Morley, Marie is former stage star Carlotta Vance, invited to a posh dinner gathering by Millicent and Oliver Jordan (Burke and Lionel Barrymore). A number of sub-plots are in play, with the most interesting being that of crooked mining magnate Dan Packard (Beery) and his brassy, gold-digging wife (Harlow). Also watch for John Barrymore as washed-up silent star Larry Renault and Lee Tracy as his agent Max Kane. Tracy is nothing short of amazing.
Next up at 10:00 pm is Dressler and Beery in Tugboat Annie (1933), a heart-tugging comedy with Marie as a tugboat captain and Wally as her ne’er-do-well husband. It’s a rather rambling film with the point being that Marie and Wally are trying to bring together their son Alec (Robert Young) with Pat Severn (Maureen O’Sullivan), daughter of her rival, Red Severn (Willard Robertson). Dressler and Beery outshine their material and make the film worth watching.
At 11:45 pm, it’s Marie in Emma (1932) as a housekeeper/nanny who marries her widowed employer (Jean Hersholt) and faces the snobbery of the community and the wrath of her employer’s spoiled children. It has all the elements for an overly schmaltzy drama, but Dressler refuses to let the film slide down to that level.
Closing out the night is a funny comedy from 1932, Prosperity, starring Marie and Polly Moran as longtime friends who become feuding fools when their children (Norman Foster and Anita Page) marry. When Marie’s bank begins to teeter on the edge of failure, she devises a unique method of saving it.
TCM SPECIAL THEME: BILLY WILDER
June 17: A good night for Wilder fans beginning at 8 pm with Sabrina (1954), followed by Love in the Afternoon (1957), A Foreign Affair (1948), and ending with Ball of Fire (1942).
June 24: An evening of later Wilder films begins at 8 pm with the exquisite Witness for the Prosecution (1957), followed by the comedy Some Like It Hot (1959), The Fortune Cookie (1966), the wry The Apartment (1961), and at 5 am, a film Wilder didn’t direct (that was Ernst Lubitsch), but one he wrote with partner Charles Brackett (and some help from Walter Reisch), the unforgettable Ninotchka (1939)
June 17: A good afternoon of Pre-Code features starts at 2:45 pm with Bill Boyd, James Gleason, and Warner Oland in the comedy The Big Gamble (1932). It’s followed by Helen Hayes, Ramon Novarro and Lewis Stone impersonating Asians in the dreadful Son-Daughter (1932). Then detectives seek to solve the murders in a mysterious mansion in RKO’s Before Dawn (1933), starring Stuart Erwin, Dorothy Jordan, and Warner Oland. The afternoon closes at 6:45 with the fascinating Mandalay (1934), with Kay Francis as Tanya, a woman with a past whose boyfriend, Nick (Ricardo Cortez), dumps her at Warner Oland’s Rangoon nightclub, Jardin d’Orient. She soon rises to fame and fortune as “White Spot,” the star attraction at the club. But she’s not in a staying mood and beats it on a ferry boat to Mandalay. While sailing, she manages a romance with Lyle Talbot when the ferry makes a stopover to take on new passengers. And who should board but Nick, anxious to win her back and install her as there star attraction of his new nightclub. Highly recommended, as Francis is superb.
June 22: It’s a morning and afternoon featuring the one and only James Cagney. Begin at 7 am with his first Hollywood feature Sinner’s Holiday (1930), then, in order it’s The Millionaire (1931), The Crowd Roars (1932), Hard to Handle (1933), He Was Her Man (1934), Jimmy the Gent (1934), The St. Louis Kid (1934), and Devil Dogs of the Air(1935). Closing out the fest at 6 pm is 1948’s The Time of Your Life.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
June 21: At the ungodly hour of 5:00 am, Francois Truffaut’s second feature Shoot the Piano Player (1960) is being shown. Though the film flopped at the box office, it’s a great B-noir inspired look as a concert pianist (Charles Aznavour) on the run who becomes mixed up with gangsters. Seen today by critics as one of the key films of the French New Age, Truffaut took the B-gangster movies of the late 40s and 50s as his inspiration. But instead of producing an imitation, he decided to place his own stamp on it, much as his idol Nicholas Ray did with his 1954 Western Johnny Guitar. He adapted David Goodis’ crime novel Down There, which was published in France as Shoot the Piano Player. Truffaut loved Goodis’ mix of fantasy and tragedy, and gangsters who talked about love, the opposite sex and the banalities of everyday life. With co-writer Marcel Moussy, Truffaut moved the locale from Philadelphia to Paris, but kept the story of a has-been concert pianist reduced to playing in dive bars. This film is a definite Must See. Jean-Luc Godard may have dedicated his film to Monogram Studios, but Truffaut made the ultimate Monogram feature.
June 23: At 4 pm, it’s Marcel Camus’ unique take on the myth of Orpheus, Black Orpheus (1960). Set in Rio during Carnival, streetcar conductor Orfeo (Breno Mello) is engaged to the fiery Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira). But when he meets the country girl Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn), he falls head over heels. Before they can be together, he must deal with his fiancé's vengeful jealousy as Eurydice is also trying to escape from a mysterious man dressed as "Death" who wants to kill her. Things ultimately take a tragic turn, which necessitates that Orfeo must embark on a mystical journey to the underworld. Winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Black Orpheus is awash in vibrant colors reflecting the passion of Rio’s Carnival and the emotions of the principals. Though I have it on DVD, I watch it each time TCM shows it. It is an addicting film.
June 26: At 2 am, it’s the Italian drama Dillinger is Dead from 1969, written and directed by Marco Ferreri. Industrial designer Glauco (Michel Piccoli) comes home from his job testing gas masks and finds his wife (Anita Pallenberg) sick in bed. She’s made dinner, but it’s cold. So Glauco decides to cook himself a gourmet meal. While looking for utensils, he finds a revolver wrapped in a newspaper dating from 1934 announcing the death of famed mobster, and we take it from there. Many viewers may find it confusing, but it is in the style of an experimental film and deals with alienation in the face of modernity. Those who stick with it may find it quite rewarding. The cinematography by Mario Vulpiani is quite engaging, and keep in mind that it’s a satire.
June 27: At 6 am it’s director Robert Bresson’s early masterpiece, Diary of a County Priest (1950), from the novel by Georges Bernanos about a young priest who takes over a parish and has to fight the suspicions of being a meddling outsider by the parishioners plus a mysterious stomach ailment that is slowly robbing him of life and which is diagnosed as cancer. Though his physical strength slowly ebbs away, his spirituality remains firms. The final scene inform us of his death and his final words: “All is grace.” Though he used professionals in his early films, beginning with this he switched to nonprofessionals, explaining that professionals are trained to be good at pretending and seeming while the nonprofessional is good at simply “being” in authentic ways. Combined with Bresson’s austerity of use, discarding that which is not vitally essential to the story and what he wants to show, it makes for most interesting viewing.
June 19: A Yasujiro Ozu double-feature begins at midnight with his 1932 silent Umarete Wa Mita Keredo (I Was Born, But ...), about two boys whose reaction to their father’s toadying to his boss is to go on a hunger strike, followed by his 1959 color remake, Good Morning. The remake shows how times in Japan have changed, for now the boys vow to stop speaking until their parents relent and buy a new TV.
June 26: A Buster Keaton double-feature begins at midnight with Go West(1925) with Keaton as a small-town boy who goes in search of a new life as a cowboy out West. It’s followed at 1:15 am by Coney Island (1917), with Fatty Arbuckle (who also directed) and Al “Fuzzy” St. John. Keaton is taking his girl (Alice Mann) to Coney Island, but when he can’t afford the price of admission, Alice is immediately swept up by St. John. Meanwhile, Arbuckle escapes from his wife by burying himself in sand on the beach. He charms the girl away from St. John, and the competition becomes more and more comically violent and outrageous. When Fatty and the girl go for a swim, there are no bathing suits large enough to fit him, so he swipes a woman’s swimsuit and spends most of the film's remainder in drag, later using his female charms (and sausage-curl wig) to seduce St. John. Fatty and St. John eventually wind up in jail, where they begin sparring in their cell, literally tearing the bars from the walls.
June 28: Some lovely old Disney cartoons are being offered tonight, beginning at 10:15 pm with Mickey, Donald and Goofy in Clock Cleaners from 1936. Mickey dreams himself into the world of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass in Thru the Mirror (1936). Then Mickey tries to lead a performance of the “William Tell Overture” despite interference from Donald Duck in The Band Concert (1935).
At 12:45 am the cartoons return with Old King Cole (1933), followed by the classic Flowers and Trees (1932) and ending with The Pied Piper (1933).
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
June 16: It’s a morning and afternoon of one of our favorite B-series: Mexican Spitfire, with Lupe Velez. All eight films in the series, from The Girl From Mexicoin 1939 to Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Eventin 1943, are scheduled beginning at 9:45 am. The series came along at the right time for Velez, whose career was in the dumpster. The Girl From Mexico was originally conceived as a one only film, with Velez playing a singer in Mexico who is spirited away to New York by ad-man Donald Woods and not only becomes a star on radio, but marries her ad-man. The unexpected public reaction to the movie convinced RKO to commission a sequel, Mexican Spitfire, in 1940. Woods would later be replaced in the series by Charles “Buddy” Rogers as Dennis Lindsay, but the important cast member was Leon Errol, who played Dennis’ uncle Matt. He and Velez had a unique chemistry throughout the series as he helped get her into and out of trouble in each film. When the series had run its course in 1943, it was the end of the line for Velez. She received the best reviews of her life for her role in the Mexican version of Emile Zola’s Nana (1944), and six months later committed suicide over a combination of a failed romance and a failure to find work.
June 18: Beginning at 9:30 am, it’s two more episodes of Ace Drummond (1936) followed by The Bowery Boys in Here Come the Marines (1952). Late night brings us a David Bowie double-feature: The tragic vampire tale, The Hunger(1983), with Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve, followed by the rock musical Absolute Beginners (1986).
June 25: More adventures of Ace Drummond at 9:30 followed at 10:30 by The Bowery Boys in Feuding Fools from 1952. Late night begins the the oft-aired gorefest Alice, Sweet Alice (1977), with Brooke Shields, at 2:15 pm, followed by the oft-aired gorefest Bloody Birthday from 1980.
June 28: It’s the end of the world as we know it in The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959), as nuclear war leaves only three people: Inger Stevens, Harry Belafonte, and Mel Ferrer. Of course, there are more problems than good will in this melodrama as racism and sexual competition drive Harry and Mel into a showdown over Inger but eventually everyone decides to live in harmony. According to critic Michael Weldon, Roger Corman’s Last Woman on Earth had a more likely conclusion. Weldon also notes that the movie premiered in Cleveland.