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.
NEW BLOG SITE
An exciting new blog site devoted to film has arrived in the person of cineaste Jonathan Saia at https://servingupsaia.com
The author, like his site, is a work in progress, but if he continues to serve us reviews like the one he did on Lew Landers’ 1935 Karloff-Lugosi screamfest, The Raven, this will become a Must Read site. Other reviews include It’s A Gift with W.C. Fields, Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety, Elaine May’s Ishtar, and Quentin Tarantino’s recent The Hateful Eight, all excellently written, researched and analyzed. Give it a peek, but remember: it can become addicting.
By Ed Garea
The TCM Star of the Month for June is one of my favorites: Marie Dressler. A Broadway star who was also huge in silents, her career came to a skidding halt after the First World War, in large part due to being blacklisted for her role in the chorus girls’ strike of 1917. Unable to work in major stage productions or on screen, she was reduced to living on her savings and cleaning houses. Screenwriter Frances Marion, who remembered Marie’s kindness when she was first starting out, intervened with Irving Thalberg to give her a small part in 1927’s The Joy Girl, which was followed by a co-starring role with Polly Moran in The Callahans and the Murphys (1927). But the film was a commercial disaster, abruptly withdrawn after protests by Irish-American groups.
Again, her career stalled and the actress was reduced to near poverty, But Thalberg saw potential in her and was determined to rebuild her as a star. Dressler made a slow but steady rise in silents, but it was the coming of sound that turned her into a major star. Her turn as Marthy in Anna Christie (1930) resonated with audiences, and she won a Oscar for her starring role in Min and Bill(1930). In an era featuring Harlow, Garbo, Cagney, Shearer, and Crawford, it was homely old Marie Dressler that won the coveted exhibitor's poll as the most popular actress for three consecutive years. Had it not been for the cancer that claimed her life in 1934, who knows how may more years of super-stardom she would have had.
June 6: The night begins at 8:00 pm with Dressler in a supporting role in the early MGM talkie, Chasing Rainbows (1930). It’s followed at 9:30 with Dressler once again in a supporting role in 1929’s The Divine Lady, which stars Corinne Griffith and Victor Varconi in the story of Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton.
At 11:15, Dressler plays Marion Davies’ bossy mother in the silent comedy, The Patsy (1928). Davies gives a wonderful comic performance as the ignored youngest child in the family who transforms herself into a vivacious flapper in order to win away her sophisticated older sister’s boyfriend (Orville Caldwell). Another silent follows at 12:45 am, the classic comedy, Tillie’s Punctured Romance, from 1914. Marie is a farm girl who is fleeced by conman Charlie Chaplin in one of his rare performances outside of his Tramp character. The beautiful Mabel Normand co-stars as the girl Charlie left behind. That’s how we know it’s a comedy, for who in his right mind would ditch Mabel Normand for Marie Dressler? The film, the first full-length feature comedy, was so successful it spawned two sequels: Tillie’s Tomato Surprise and Tillie Wakes Up. At 2:15, the Dressler-a-thon closes out with Marie in 1929’s The Hollywood Revue. The film is nothing more than an all-star audition for silent stars to show the moviegoing public that they can, indeed, talk. Though Jack Benny plays the Master of Ceremonies, the top billed star is Conrad Nagel, at the time the busiest man in Hollywood due to his resonant voice.
June 13: At 8:00 pm, it’s the movie that made Dressler a star, Anna Christie (1930). Although the star is Greta Garbo (move posters for the film screamed out “Garbo Talks!”), it was Dressler as Marthy who caught the public’s attention, and fancy. A footnote: in the German version, made for MGM’s most important European market, Dressler’s part was played by Garbo’s good friend Salka Viertel.
At 9:30, Dressler provides solid support to Norma Shearer in the 1930 comedy Let Us Be Gay. Shearer is called upon by Dressler to break up an infatuation her granddaughter has for a man other then her fiancé. When Shearer agrees to help, she discovers the man is none other than her former husband (Rod La Rocque), who she divorced three years ago. One thing leads to another and Shearer and La Rocque get back together.
At 11:15, it’s The Girl Said No (1930), a comedy starring William Haines as a college sports star who surprises everyone with his money-making schemes. Dressler, in a supporting role, is a befuddled spinster who is offered bonds for sale by Haines.
It’s followed at 1:00 am by the Rudy Vallee musical, The Vagabond Lover (1929). Vallee is college student Rudy Bronson, who forms an orchestra and embarks on a search for famous impresario Ted Grant (Malcolm Waite), his mail order saxophone teacher. They arrive at his fashionable Long Island home to play for him and break down the door to get in. Grant’s neighbor, Mrs. Whitehall (Dressler), and her niece, Jean (Sally Blaine), notify Officer Tuttle (Charles Sellon), whereupon, Rudy claims to be Grant, who is away. As a result, Mrs. Whitehall engages his orchestra for an upcoming benefit for a orphanage, and Rudy falls in love with Jean. On the evening of the benefit, however, Jean discovers the impersonation and exposes Rudy, but the band is a sensation, and Grant arrives in time to prevent an arrest. Rudy is hailed as a great discovery, thus winning both success and the girl.
TCM SPECIAL THEME: BILLY WILDER
Friday evenings in June are dedicated to the works of writer/director Billy Wilder with 17 films being screened. Even though these films have all been screened repeatedly over the years, there is a special something about Wilder’s films that make them seem fresh no matter how many times we watch. Many of his films are indisputable classics, and even those that didn’t receive the classification of “classic” are still wildly entertaining. Even though I have most of his films on DVD, I’ll still be tuning in. I like being a captive audience.
June 3: Wilder’s American directorial debut, The Major and the Minor (1942) leads off at 8:00 pm. Following at 10:00 pm is Five Graves to Cairo (1943), starring Franchot Tone and a young Anne Baxter, with Erich Von Stroheim as Field Marshal Rommel. At midnight, it’s the 1944 noir classic Double Indemnity, and the evening wraps up at 2:00 am with Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend from 1945.
June 10: At 8:00 pm, it’s Wilder’s wonderfully cynical insider’s take on Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard (1950), with Gloria Swanson giving the performance of a lifetime (she should have gotten the Oscar). At 10:00 pm, its another Wilder cynical classic, this time pointed at the news media, Ace in the Hole (1951), with Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling. Following at midnight is Wilder’s adaptation of the Broadway stage hit, Stalag 17, starring William Holden, Don Taylor, and Otto Preminger. The evening closes out at 2:00 am with Wilder directing Jimmy Stewart in the story of Charles Lindbergh’s famous solo flight from New York to Paris in The Spirit of St. Louis (1957).
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
June 2: At 7:45 am, it’s Akira Kurosawa’s gritty urban drama, The Lower Depths. This interesting film, adapted from Maxim Gorky’s play At Bottom, takes place in 19th century Edo and concerns a thief named Sutekichi (Toshiro Mifune) who becomes involved in a love triangle with his landlady and her sister. Like many of Kurosawa’s dramas, a bit talky, but worth the time.
June 5: Fatty Arbuckle directs the underrated Marion Davies in The Red Mill (1925), with Marion playing a Cinderella type working as a barmaid in a tavern who falls in love with the man downstairs and helps her boss’s daughter escape from an arranged marriage. Davies had a real talent for comedy and Arbuckle takes full advantage in showing her talents for slapstick. Davies was not afraid to look plain before the cameras, relying on her natural charm and beauty to see her through. It’s a pleasant 74 minutes thanks to the combined efforts of director and star.
A double feature of director Carl Theodore Dreyer begins at 2:00 am with Ordet (1955). Cited by many critics as Dreyer’s best film, it concerns two families, one headed by a widowed farmer and the other led by a tailor, who are at odds with each other over their religious differences – the farmer is a traditional Lutheran while the tailor belongs to a strict Lutheran sect. Complications ensue when the farmer’s son and the tailor’s daughter wish to marry, forcing the families to face their children’s love for each other. An interesting subplot focuses on the boy’s brother, a theology student driven mad by reading too many of Kierkegaard’s works (!) and who now believes himself to be Jesus Christ. Critic Leonard Maltin describes the film as “truly awe-inspiring, with a never-to-be-forgotten climactic scene.” We couldn’t agree more. The film, based on a play by Kaj Munk, was previously filmed in 1943 by Gustaf Molander.
Following at 4:15 am is Dreyer’s last film, Gertrud (1964). Gertrud Kanning (Nina Pens Rode) is an opera singer unhappily married to politician Gustav Kanning (Bendt Rothe). When Gustav is appointed to a cabinet post, Gertrud leaves him on the grounds that work leaves him no time for her. She wants someone who will put love before everything. Composer Erland Jansson (Baard Owe), for whom she left her husband, also has a flaw in that he loves to carouse with friends. When she begs him to abandon his dissolute life and put love above all, he refuses. In addition, she learns from a friend who still carries a torch for her that Erland has been making the rounds boasting about her being his latest conquest. When her emotional problems begin taking a physical toll, another old friend, psychologist Axel Nygren (Axel Strobye), offers a radical solution. Beautifully photographed, it can present a challenge due to its slow pace, but it’s worth it.
June 7: At 6:30 pm is The Murderer Lives At Number 21, an engaging 1942 screwball murder mystery from writer/director Henri-Georges Clouzot. In his essay for TCM, Sean Axmaker called the film “a continental answer to MGM's The Thin Man films – it has a sophisticated detective, a spunky girlfriend who joins him on his cases, and plenty of witty banter – but there is also a wry cynicism under the cheeky humor and a decidedly French attitude to sexual mores.” Pierre Fresnay and Suzy Delair hit all the right notes as Inspector Wenceslas Wens and his girlfriend Mila Malou. To catch serial killer Monsieur Durand, whom he learns lives at 21 Avenue Junot, Wens takes a room in the building in the guise of a Protestant minister, only to be followed by Mila, who poses as his wife, but who hardly seems to act like a minister’s wife.
The evening features a unique double feature about crime in Brighton, England. Up first at 8:00 pm is Jigsaw, a 1962 mystery from director Val Guest. Inspector Fred Fellows (Jack Warner) and Det. Sergeant Jim Wilks (Ronald Lewis) are investigating the murder and mutilation of a Brighton woman. There are few clues, which is the basis for the title – the police are trying to fit together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in order to solve this crime. Set in ‘60s Brighton, the film has great atmosphere that, along with an excellent script and strong performances, keeps us glued to the tube throughout. It’s one to catch.
Following at 10:00 pm is one of the best films to come out of Britain, Brighton Rock, a 1947 gem from the team of Roy and John Boulting. Based on Graham Greene’s 1937 novel of the same name, the film follows one Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough), a sadistic teenaged gangster who uses an innocuous waitress named Rose (Carol Marsh) as an alibi for the murder of an informer. Greene wrote the screenplay, capturing a sense of realism and dread that grabs our attention and keeps it throughout the film. (This was only the second time Greene penned a screenplay for a feature film, the first being the 1940 film, 21 Days.) Attenborough brings a frightening intensity to the character of Pinkie and March projects a naive innocence as Rose. It’s Hermione Badderly, however, as Ida Arnold, who steals every scene she’s in as she puts two and two together and gets Pinkie Brown. The ending is one of the most powerful ever for a film and is marvelously cynical. In our book, this is the best British noir ever made and one well worth catching.
June 12: A double feature from Belgian director Jacques Feyder begins at midnight with his 1925 silent drama Gribiche (aka Mother of Mine). Based on a short novel by Frederic Boutet, the film is about a likable but poor 13-year old boy named Antoine Belot (Jean Forest). Nicknamed “Gribiche,” he attracts the attention of wealthy American philanthropist Edith Maranet (Franoise Rosay) when he returns her dropped purse. She takes an interest and arranges with his doting mother (Cecile Guyon) to adopt him so that he can receive the finest education and a better chance in life. However, he quickly tires of the stifling regimen and finds ways to rebel. Though the moral of the story is fairly obvious, there is not a dull moment to be had as Feyder moves everything effectively along.
Following at 2:00 am is Feyder’s best known and most popular film, Carnival in Flanders, from 1935. This is a wild farce about a Spanish invasion of a small Flemish town in the 17th century. When the town’s menfolk learn the Spanish are coming, they run away and the mayor of the town plays dead. This leaves it to the women to defend their town. The women choose to entertain the invaders and do it so effectively that the invaders not only leave the town intact, but also give them a year off without taxes. How the women accomplish this is only hinted at during the film, but they allow the men to believe their own tactics carried the day even though they ran away and one played dead. A very funny costume comedy with superb photography by Harry Stradling and some unique art direction. An interesting footnote in Feyder’s career is that he came to America in 1928 to work at MGM. He directed Garbo in The Kiss (1929), and the German version of Anna Christie (1930), and Ramon Novarro in Daybreak (1931) before his frustration with the studio structure caused him to return to France in 1932.
June 14: It’s a simple film of how a woman’s little white lies cause her trouble down the road. But in the hands of director Max Ophuls, it becomes an exquisite film about how one woman’s vanity leads to high tragedy. The Earrings of Madame de ... (1954) is an elegant tragic romance powered by a trio of great stars: Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, and Vittorio De Sica. A general’s wife sells her earrings, a wedding present from her husband, to settle her gambling debts, then tells him she had lost them. Her husband learns the truth and buys them backs as a farewell present for his mistress. When she proceeds to lose them gambling they come into the possession of an Italian baron who, falling for the general’s wife, gives them to her as a present. What happens next is inevitable and blows the lid off the entire affair. delicately plotted and realized by Ophuls the film is a psychological character study that keeps us riveted as we stop to contemplate the next move along with the characters. Don’t miss it.
Besides this month’s featured movies starring Marie Dressler, there are other Pre-Code gems to be found in the schedule.
June 7: A quartet of Pre-Codes led off by Ginger Rogers in Rafter Romance at 6:15 am. At 8:45 am, it’s Johnny Mack Brown and Sally O’Neil in the cute romantic 1929 comedy Jazz Heaven. Listen for the song “Someone” written by none other than Oscar Levant. At 10:00 am comes One Night At Susie’s (1930), starring Billie Dove, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Helen Ware. Ware owns a boarding house whose tenants are gangsters. When her foster son (Fairbanks) takes the blame for a murder committed by his fiancee (Dove), her tenants decide to try and help her out. And at 11:15 am, it’s Chic Sale in The Expert (1932) as Chic plays a spry old codger who moves in with his son and daughter-in-law. Complications ensue.
June 12: At 8:30 am George Arliss and Doris Kenyon star in Alexander Hamilton (1931). The film focuses on a particular moment in Hamilton’s life: his efforts to establish a federal banking system, which nearly come to naught through an attempt to blackmail him over an earlier extramarital affair. Naturally, liberties were taken with the historical record, with the biggest being the age discrepancy between star and subject – in his early 60s at the time of filming, Arliss was more than two decades older than Hamilton when the story takes place. But our advice is to just overlook it and go with the flow, so to speak, as Arliss’s films never fail to entertain.
June 13: Three in a row beginning at 6:00 am with The Crash, a 1932 drama starring Ruth Chatterton and George Brent in a story of a well-to-do couple where the wife is fooling around with a financier. Hubby allows it because of the financial tips she gets from her lover. But the lover catches on to her game and refuses to tell her where the market is going. Rather than admit defeat to hubby, she tells him she’s been told the market is strong. He invests everything they have and they are wiped out when the crash comes in October 1929. Chatterton and Brent were married to each other when this was filmed.
Following at 7:00 am is The Lady of Scandal (1930), starring Chatterton as Elsie, a famous English actress engaged to a member of the nobility whose family do not want him marrying a commoner. Basil Rathbone is the black sheep of the family who encourages Elsie not to accept defeat. But when Elsie’s father arrives, he agrees with the nobility and persuades Elsie to wait six months. She agrees and watches the change take place in the “noble” family as they loosen up. Meanwhile, she and Rathbone fall in love. All this in one hour and 16 minutes.
Then at 8:30 Constance Bennett and Kenneth McKenna star in Sin Takes a Holiday (1930), a romantic comedy with Bennett as Sylvia, a secretary to divorce lawyer Gaylord (McKenna). Gaylord has a very active social life and is currently involved with Grace (Rita La Roy), a woman whose third husband is suing her for divorce and naming McKenna in the lawsuit. Angered he proposes marriage to Constance under a arrangement whereby she is allowed to live where she likes. So she goes to Paris where she meets Reggie (Rathbone). He falls for her and wants to marry her, begging her to get a divorce. But Sylvia loves Gaylord and returns. Though she comes into conflict with Grace, everything works out fine. Though the story is rather ho-hum, it’s nice to see Rathbone, who usually either plays villains or detectives, as a dashing ladies man.
June 15: At 4:30 pm, it’s Jimmy Cagney is one of his best early films, Picture Snatcher (1932), as a photographer who’ll stop at nothing to get his photo. Based in part on New York Daily News photographer Tom Howard, who took the immortal photo of murderess Ruth Snyder being executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing. Cagney always brings a verve and life to his pictures that always make for enjoyable viewing.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
There is seemingly something for everyone in this month’s selection of psychotronic movies.
June 1: From Monogram, it’s Violence airing at 8:15 am. Ann Mason (Nancy Coleman) is a reporter investigating a group called The United Defenders purportedly supporting American servicemen, but is actually a front headed by Neo-Nazis. When they kill a war veteran who threatened to leave, Mason is hot on their trail. However, while on the way to deliver a roll of film to her editor, Ann’s taxi is involved in a crash arranged by the Neo-Nazis, who suspected her. The crash leads to amnesia and Ann believes one of the Neo-Nazis is her husband. It gets even crazier from there. Also in the film are Michael O’Shea, Sheldon Leonard, Emory Parnell, and John Hamilton (Perry White). As with all Monogram product, it is a Must See.
June 2: From England comes the 1958 crime drama Hell Drivers (noon), a film that has developed a solid following among British cinephiles. Stanley Baker stars as Tom Yately, an ex-con in need of a job. He signs on as a driver delivering gravel for a shady trucking company. Drivers are expected to deliver a minimum of 12 loads a day; anything less and they’re fired. It’s push the pedal to the metal and safety be damned. Tom’s nemesis is Red (Patrick McGoohan), the company's lead driver. Their mutual hatred leads to the film’s climax. Besides Baker and McGoohan, the film boasts a stellar cast that includes Sean Connery, Herbert Lom, Peggy Cummins (Gun Crazy), Wilfred Lawson, Sid James, Jill Ireland, and David McCallum. Hell Drivers was directed by Cy Endfield, who got his start in Hollywood directing shorts for MGM, and later features for Monogram. The film has that Monogram feeling about it as most of the time goes towards furthering the action. Endfield was blacklisted in 1952 for supposed Red connections and went to England to continue his career.
June 4: The 1936 serial Ace Drummond begins with Chapters One and Two, followed by The Bowery Boys in Crazy Over Horses (1951) as they get mixed up with race horses and a gambling racket.
At midnight, Roy Scheider and Helen Mirren star in 2010 (1984) the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The plot concerns a joint U.S./Soviet space mission investigating a mysterious monolith orbiting Jupiter. It’s followed at 2:15 am by The Church (1989), a giallo from Italian director Michele Soavi about a priest who fights a demon that has taken over his church. Finally, at 4 am, it’s The Devil’s Bride (1968) as Christopher Lee tries to save the soul of his friend Simon (Patrick Mower), who has fallen victim to the charming evil of devil cult leader Mocata (Charles Gray).
June 8: The classic MGM thriller Night Must Fall is airing at 11:30 am, starring Robert Montgomery as a charming psychopath/serial killer who worms his way into the household of Dame May Whitty and her niece Rosalind Russell.
June 9: At 11:45 am comes a most unusual movie from MGM and director William Wellman, The Next Voice You Hear (1950). It stars James Whitmore and Nancy Davis as an average Los Angeles couple who are startled one night to hear the voice of God broadcasting over their radio. Other people across the city are also hearing God, and God manages to straighten out Whitmore’s family. It’s the ultimate message picture from producer Dore Schary.
June 10: An afternoon of psychotronic films begins at 2:00 pm with the Willis O’Brien animated The Black Scorpion from 1957, about huge scorpions, unleashed from their underground den following a volcano eruption, that are causing havoc in Mexico. Richard Denning and Mara Corday star.
At 3:45 pm, it’s The Killer Shrews (1958) from Texas media mogul Gordon McLendon and producer Ken “Gunsmoke” Curtis. A well-meaning – but mad – scientist has produced giant shrews on his isolated island. It's filmed on Lake Dallas, Texas. Catch the MST 3000 version instead, especially when you figure out the “shrews” are really big dogs with fake fangs and fur.
It’s crooks versus a spiderlike monster in Beast From Haunted Cave (1959), airing at 5:00 pm. It’s from Roger Corman’s The Filmgroup, so no further explanation is necessary. Look for Frank Sinatra’s nephew, Richard, as one of the gang.
At 6:15, Hammer Studios takes the stage with the 1966 The Reptile, starring Jacqueline Pearce as a woman who has been turned into a horrible monster by snake worshippers in Borneo.
June 11: The morning kicks off with Roger Corman’s The Wasp Woman (1960) at 6:45 am, followed by the preposterous Queen of Outer Space (1958) at 8:00 am. At 9:00 am, it’s Chapters 3 and 4 of Ace Drummond, and at 10:30, The Bowery Boys play football for their college in Hold That Line (1952).
June 13: Basil Rathbone stars at 4:00 pm in a film that was a staple of Chiller Theater years back, but which is rarely shown nowadays, The Black Sleep (1956). Basil is a mad doctor looking to cure his wife’s coma and has experimented on quite a few victims along the way. With Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Tor Johnson all in non-speaking roles.
By Ed Garea
The Star of the Month this May is Robert Ryan. It’s a good choice because Ryan made a lot of war films and this is the month of the Memorial Day marathon. On the other hand, Ryan made a lot of run-of-the-mill programmers, so there’s not really a lot of choice pickings.
May 6: The entire day is devoted to Ryan, with the better films being shown in the evening. During the day, Ryan films worth viewing include the anti-red hysteric, The Woman on Pier 13(1950) at 12:15, Clash By Night with Barbara Stanwyck (1952) and directed by Fritz Lang, at 1:30 pm, and Berlin Express(1948) with Merle Oberon at 4:45 pm.
The evening’s choices include Bad Day at Black Rock (1954) with Spencer Tracy at 8:00 pm, and the superb boxing noir, The Set-Up (1948) at 4:00 am.
May 13: The best of the night include Billy Budd (1962) at 8:00; the bizarre The Boy With the Green Hair (1948) at 12:15 am, followed by God’s Little Acre (1958) at 1:45.
The evenings of May 2, 3, 4 & 5 are devoted to a festival of films from expatriate actors and directors.
May 2: The evening begins at 8:00 with the superb 2009 documentary, Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood. Narrated by Sigourney Weaver, the film presents a solid overview. It’s followed at 10:15 by the ultimate expatriate film, Casablanca (1943), Three Smart Girls (1937) from director Henry Koster, Ninotchka (1939), written by expatriate Billy Wilder and directed by expatriate Ernst Lubitsch, and finally, at 4:00 am it’s Carnegie Hall, directed by expatriate Edgar G. Ulmer. One of the interesting stories about Lubitsch was that Joseph Goebbels had considered using a photo of him for a poster of what the ultimate Jew looked like to be placed in public areas and in textbooks.
May 3: The evening starts off slowly at 8:00 with Joe May’s 1934 Music in the Air from Fox starring Gloria Swanson and John Boles. At 9:45 comes Fritz Lang’s superb look at mob mentality, Fury(MGM, 1936), starring Spencer Tracy as the unfortunate victim who manages to survive and return for revenge. Then it’s an encore of Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood at 11:30, followed by Karl Freund’s wonderful slice of gothic horror, Mad Love (1935), a remake of The Hands of Orlac starring expatriate Peter Lorre as the maddest of mad doctors who grafts a murderer’s hands onto concert pianist Colin Clive, whose own hands were crushed in an accident, because he’s in love with Clive’s wife. At 3:00 am, it’s the Bogart vehicle, All Through the Night (1941). Bogart is gangster “Gloves” Donahue, whose investigation of the murder of his favorite cheesecake baker leads him to a nest of Nazi spies. With Peter Lorre, Kaaren Verne, and the movies’ naughtiest Nazi, Conrad Veidt. Veidt was a most interesting character. A renowned actor in Germany (He played Caesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, among other great move roles.), Veidt’s beloved wife, Ilona, was Jewish, and when he had to state his ethnicity on employment forms he always put down “Jude” (Jewish) even though he wasn’t. When the Nazis came to power, he and Ilona fled to England. He became a British subject in 1939. He was Carl Laemmle’s choice to play Dracula in the 1931 film originally scheduled to be directed by Paul Leni.
May 4: We begin at 8:00 with MGM’s 1944 The Seventh Cross, Austrian expatriate Fred Zinnemann’s first “A” film, starring Spencer Tracy, with German expatriate Felix Bressart in support. At 10:00 pm, it The Killers (1946) from German expatriate director Robert Siodmak, followed at midnight by director Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair with German expatriate Marlene Dietrich. At 2:00 am, it’s Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940) with expatriates Albert Bassermann and Martin Kosleck, and Comrade X (1940) starring Hedy Lamarr and Felix Bressart.
The TCM Spotlight this month shines on American International Pictures. The studio grew out of American Releasing Corporation (ARC), a company founded by former sales manager of Realist Pictures, James H. Nicholson and entertainment lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff. The duo served as executive producers while Roger Corman and Alex Gordon handled the production – and sometimes directorial – duties. Among the company’s writers were such names as Charles B. Griffith, Richard Matheson, and Charles Beaumont. The company also served as a springboard to young actors, counting Fay Spain, John Ashley, and Jack Nicholson among its roster of stars.
The company got off to a rocky start until Arkoff began quizzing film exhibitors. They told him adults were home watching television while the teenagers were the primary moviegoers. Using that information, AIP began targeting the teenage audience. They would pitch a proposed title to the exhibitors, ask them what they thought, and if the response was positive, have in-house artists such as Albert Kallis create eye-catching posters, and assign a writer to create a script.
Observing that the majors were ignoring the lucrative drive-in marker, AIP made it the focus of their early output, releasing youth oriented double features with titles like I Was A Teenage Frankenstein, High School Hellcats, Hot Rod Girl, Blood of Dracula, Teenage Caveman, and The Cool and the Crazy.
In the ‘60s, AIP contracted Corman’s Poe cycle of films and hit box office gold with 1963’s Beach Party, starring the duo of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. They also made several motorcycle gang films, including Devil’s Angels, The Born Losers (which introduced the character of Billy Jack), and Hells Angels ’69. The studio also exploited the hippie/psychedelic scene with The Trip, Riot on Sunset Strip, Maryjane, Wild in the Streets, and Psych-Out.
In addition, AIP served as the U.S. distributor for many Italian giallo, sword and sandal, and what were referred to as “macaroni combat” films, usually with a faded or young American star and an Italian or Spanish cast. Japanese and South Korean sci-fi films were also added to the roster, including many Godzilla sequels and Korean products such as Yongary, Monster of the Deep.
During its heyday, AIP was a major force is what used to be known as the “B-Movie” market, cashing in on pop culture trends and creating some of their own. Frankly, it’s about time TCM celebrated this groundbreaking studio and one can only hope that more AIP films will be added to the playlist in the future.
May 5: The is the best night for psychotronic fans with The Fast and the Furious(1954) leading off at 8:00, followed by The Beast With a Million Eyes (1955) at 9:30, A Bucket of Blood (1959) at 11:00, High School Hellcats (1958) at 12:15, The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959) at 1:45 am, Attack of the Puppet People (1958) at 3 am, and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966) at 4:30.
May 12: The scene shifts to the ‘60s, beginning with Pit and the Pendulum (1961) at 8:00, ”X” – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes(1963) at 9:30, Dementia 13 (1963) at 11:00, Black Sabbath(1964) at 12:30 am, The Comedy of Terrors (1964) at 2:30 am, and Master of the World (1961) at 4:15 am.
May 8: A double feature of Italian Director Michelangelo Antonioni begins at 2:00 am with L’Avventura (1960), with Monica Vitti, Lea Massari, and Gabriele Ferzetti, followed by Blow-Up (1966). L’Avventura, a favorite of the art house crowd, begins with Anna (Massari), who’s in a troubled love affair, on an ocean cruise with a yacht full of rich passengers. When they disembark on an island near Sicily, Anna is not among the passengers, and for much of the film, Anna’s best friend (Vitti) and her lover (Ferzetti) search for her while dealing with the emotional impact of her disappearance. Blow-Up has been shown several times. It concerns a photographer (David Hemmings) who may have inadvertently photographed a murder. Its easy my favorite film from the director with excellent performances from stars Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave.
May 13: At 6:00 am, it’s the seldom seen Shooting Straight (RKO, 1930) with Richard Dix as a compulsive gambler wanted for murder who attempts to redeem himself for the love of a minister’s daughter. Following at 7:30 is Loretta Young, Winnie Lightner and Norman Foster in Play Girl (WB, 1932), the story of a young innocent (Young) who falls hard for a compulsive gambler (Foster). It’s a good film with a good cast.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B -HIVE
Though the tribute to American International was entirely composed of psychotronic films, there are still several other good ones on the schedule.
May 9: There are few things I enjoy more than an Old Dark House thriller, and at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am, TCM is running one of the earliest, if not the earliest, made with sound. It’s The Bat Whispers, directed by Roland West and released by United Artists in 1931. Yes, it’s old; yes, it creaks; and yes, it still entertains. A sound remake of West’s classic silent, The Bat from 1926, it stars Chester Morris and Una Merkel. The search is on for the notorious thief known only as The Bat and he may be hiding out at a spooky old countryside estate populated by a wealthy dowager (Grayce Hampton), her lame-brained maid (Maude Eburne), and her fortune-hunting niece (Merkel). Morris is a detective looking for The Bat. Not until every plot possibility is overturned will we learn the identity of The Bat, which makes the film so much fun. Also, the visuals are fantastic, as is the use of miniature sets. At the end of the film, Morris comers out from behind a curtain to implore the audience not to divulge the plot’s secrets. If Old Dark House mysteries enchant you, this is a Must See. If not, see it anyway; you might be entertained.
May 14: Gerald Mohr takes over the role of Michael Lanyard from the ailing Warren William in The Lone Wolf in London(Columbia, 1947). The main problem with the film is that Lanyard is supposed to be suave and charming and Mohr is anything but. It’s followed at 10:30 by the Bowery Boys in Ghost Chasers (Monogram, 1951). The boys are after a fake medium in this appealing installment.
By Ed Garea
TCM devoted the evening of March 23 to airing selected episodes of classic serials featuring Superman, Batman, the Green Hornet, Dick Tracy, Buck Rodgers, Flash Gordon, the Phantom, and Ace Drummond. “From Comics to Film” was shown in conjunction with Warner Bros.' release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the Batman serials ran in full last year, and I’m wondering why TCM can’t do the same with other classic serials. Saturday morning is the perfect place to run them, and a pretty good line-up can be carved out of Saturday mornings: Start with a B-series such as The Lone Wolf, or Boston Blackie, follow with a classic serial, and then run something not seen on TCM for a long time: Cartoon Alley. This show ran the old cartoons from Warner Brothers’ Termite Terrace, and was engagingly hosted by Ben Mankiewicz. As morning becomes afternoon, a classic B noir, Western, or horror/sci-fi flick can be shown. We think it would take many TCM viewers back to their childhood, when this was a regular happening on Saturday mornings.
April 22: Another evening of Garland musicals, with the best being The Harvey Girls (8:00 pm), the wonderful Easter Parade (10:00 pm) with Fred Astaire, and Summer Stock (2:00 am). TCM has run Judy’s musicals so often that a “Star of the Month” celebration loses the sense of uniqueness such a special feature should have. Granted, Judy has only 38 films to her credit, but perhaps a episode or two of her television show from 1963-64 would have been nice, and given us another window to view Judy. TCM did this when they honored Danny Kaye as “Star of the Month” by running an episode of his variety show from the ‘60s.
April 29: At 11:15 pm, it’s the seldom screened A Child is Waiting (1962), with Judy as an emotionally fragile woman who takes a position teaching mentally handicapped children. Burt Lancaster co-stars. Following at 1:15 am is Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) with Judy simply stunning as Irene Hoffman, an ordinary German woman whose Jewish friend was executed by the Nazis on suspicion that he had “improper relations” with her (“defiling the race”) and executed. Judy is simply superb, standing her ground when defense lawyer Maximillian Schell challenges the veracity of her testimony. Overall this is an excellent picture, with the acting overcoming producer Stanley Kramer’s usual heavy hand.
MORE OF THE BARRYMORES
April 18: This evening is devoted to Ethel Barrymore. An actress much more at home on the stage than on the silver screen, she still managed to amass 43 credits, and although lacking the box office appeal of her brothers, she still managed to be nominated four times for an Oscar, all in the Supporting Actress category, and won for None But the Lonely Heart (1944), as the mother of ne’er-do-well Cary Grant. Those who may have missed it over the years are in luck, for it’s being shown at 8:00 pm.
At 10:00 pm, we can see Ethel’s Oscar nominated performance as the bedridden Mrs. Warren in Robert Siodmak’s drama, The Spiral Staircase (1946). It’s a wonderful Old Dark House-type thriller with a killer on the loose, and Mrs. Warren’s only company a mute servant girl (Dorothy McGuire). A marvelously constructed film that still retains its power to shock today.
At 11:30 pm, its Ethel in Elia Kazan’s well-intentioned but clumsy racial drama, Pinky (1949), with Jeanne Crain as a young biracial woman who returns to her hometown after passing for white in nursing school. At 1:30 am, Ethel stars in the remake of Kind Lady (1951) as an innocent victim held hostage in her home by a con man and his gang. At 3:00 am, Ethel is the Mother Superior of a convent in the British Zone of postwar Vienna who gives asylum to fleeing Russian ballerina Janet Leigh in the heavy-handed Cold War melodrama Red Danube (1949).
Finally, at 5:00 am, she stars as Katharine “Nana” Chandler in her last film, Johnny Trouble (1957), a remake of a 1943 drama, Someone to Remember. Ethel is a woman whose son disappeared 27 years ago after being expelled from school. Working as a sort of dorm mother, she meets Johnny (Stuart Whitman), a troubled young man she believes to be her grandson, and she attempts to steer him in the right direction.
April 24: Tonight is literally a mixed bag, as the Barrymores work together. Starting at 8:00 pm, it’s the only film in which all three Barrymores appeared, Rasputin and the Empress (1932). John is Prince Paul Chegodieff, Ethel (in her talkie debut) is Czarina Alexandra, and Lionel plays the mad monk himself. One would assume that with all three Barrymore, this must be one helluva picture. Unfortunately, though it’s entertaining, it’s far from great. In fact, the most fun to be had is in watching the trio trying to upstage one another.
At 10:15, it's the classic Grand Hotel from 1932 with John as the doomed jewel thief in love with Garbo, and Lionel as a dying industrialist. Following at 12:15 am is the underrated Night Flight (1933), starring John as the hard driving operations director of an air freight line in South America and Lionel as the company’s inspector, accused of being too chummy with the pilots. With a stellar cast that includes Robert Montgomery, Clark Gable, and Myrna Loy.
The brothers push on at 1:45 am in the classic Dinner at Eight (1933), an ensemble piece with John as a desperate fading movie star and Lionel as a businessman suffering from health problems as his business teeters on the verge of collapse. Though the Barrymores provide the big names, the real stars of the picture are Wallace Beery and Jean Harlow as a conniving self-made tycoon and his fed-up wife, and Marie Dressler as Beery’s socialite ex-lover. It’s definitely required viewing with outstanding performances from a supporting cast that includes Karen Morley, Lee Tracy, Billie Burke, Edmund Lowe, and May Robson.
Finally, at 3:45 am, it's John and Lionel in the delightful Arsene Lupin from 1932. John is the suave gentleman jewel thief Arsene Lupin, aka The Duke of Charmance, and Lionel is Guerchard, the French detective inspector who has made the arrest of Lupin number one on his list of Things To Do. It’s their first film together, and in many ways their best.
FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER
April 20: TCM continues its festival of Weimar cinema, concentrating on director Fritz Lang. The evening begins with his 1922 silent masterpiece Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, as both parts are shown.
At 12:45 am it’s Lang’s sequel, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse), from 1933. Here the similarity to Hitler was so strong that Goebbels banned the film from exhibition in Germany. Like its predecessor, the film reveals Lang’s understanding of the nature of crime and the criminal mind and the underlying social forces that allow it to thrive in the modern, industrialized state. 3:00 am brings us what many think is Lang’s masterpiece, Metropolis (1926), but at 5:45 am airs what I believe to be Lang’s masterpiece, M (1931).
April 27: Begin at 8:00 pm with G. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929), a tale of the quintessential femme fatale – Lulu – played by Louise Brooks. It’s followed at 10:30 with Pabst’s Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), also starring Brooks, and even more sordid. Brooks is raped and gives birth. When she refuses to marry the father, the baby is given to a midwife and Brooks is put in a detention home. She escapes from there, moves to a brothel, inherits money, marries, is widowed in a most unusual turn of the plot, and taken in by her late husband’s grief-stricken uncle. Later she is invited to become a member of the board of directors of the deletion home from which she escaped.
At midnight, it’s Pabst’s acclaimed war drama, Westfront 1918 (1930), a film that is every bit as strong in its antiwar views and disquieting as All Quiet on the Western Front. At 1:45 am comes Pabst’s take on Brecht and Weill’s 3 Penny Opera (1931), followed at 3:45 by Kameradschaft, a tale of international cooperation after a mine disaster, also from 1931.
Finally, for all you insomniacs out there, it’s the German version of Anna Christie, starring Greta Garbo, from 1931. MGM filmed this at the same time as the English version, intended for the vast German market, where Garbo was a huge drawing card.
April 17: Jean Gabin is one of my favorite actors and the night offers a film of his I haven’t yet managed to catch along with one I’ve seen numerous times and which is one of my favorites. First up at 2:00 am is A Pig Across Paris, from director Claude Autant-Lara, in 1957. Set in Paris during the Occupation, the film tells the story of a hapless black marketeer named Marcel Martin (Bourvil), who must transport about 220 pounds of pork distributed in four suitcases. As this is too much for one man alone, he recruits a vagabond named Grandgil (Gabin), who claims to be a painter. A Pig Across Paris is a farce wrapped as a buddy comedy, with the duo facing numerous tricky situations (one of which is bring followed by hungry dogs) and close shaves while attempting to deliver their contraband.
It’s followed at 3:30 am by Pepe LeMoko (1937), with Gabin in possibly his best role as the exiled Paris thief who has been hiding in the Casbah quarter of Algiers, a place where the police will never find him, as he is able to hide in the maze of tunnels and secret places supplied to him by the Casbah denizens, who make it a point never to cooperate with the authorities. Life is good, but when Pepe meets Gaby, a Parisienne who is the mistress of a wealthy Frenchman, their affair magnifies his loneliness and ultimately leads to his downfall. Director Julian Duvivier, an acolyte of the Poetic Realism movement, created a marvelously atmospheric film bolstered by the internal battle within Gabin’s Le Moko, as he struggles to uphold his tough image against the romantic melancholy that is coming to dominate his existence. Gabin’s performance sealed his reputation as one of France’s best actors and remains as one of the best ever committed to celluloid. The film was remade in the States by producer Walter Wanger as Algiers (1938) with Charles Boyer as Pepe Le Moko and Hedy Lamarr as Gaby. But the film tanked, for Boyer was no Gabin (Honestly, Chevalier would’ve been better.), and Lamarr, though drop-dead gorgeous, simply couldn’t act. Universal released a musical version of the film as Casbah in 1948 with Tony Martin as Pepe. The less said about that, the better.
April 24: The Japanese are the last people I would have expected to make an “art” film. Simply, they don’t need to, for directors such as Ozu, Kurosawa, and Kenji Mizoguchi made their superbly crafted films into masterpieces simply by following everyday stories or adapting classic works of literature, as Kurosawa did with Shakespeare. Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes (1964), which airs at 2:00 am, is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by author Kobo Abe. Abe’s novel, Sunna no Onna (“Sand Woman”), concerns a teacher from Tokyo, Jumpei Niki, who visits a fishing village to collect insects. After missing the last bus out, the villagers lead him to a house in the dunes that can only be reached by ladder. The next morning, he finds the villagers have removed the ladder and that he is expected to keep sand out of the house with the woman who is already living there and with whom he has children. He eventually gives up trying to escape when he concludes that returning to his old life would not result in any more freedom. After seven years, he is officially proclaimed dead.
Abe’s novel is a complex tome about the meaning of freedom in today’s society, a variation of the Myth of Sisyphus as elaborated by Camus. Like the novels of Henry James, many of which are internally, as opposed to externally, driven, it really does not translate into a movie, for movies cannot capture the necessary depth that makes the story work. Metaphors only go so far; one needs a solid storyline to move the film along, otherwise it tends to become mired in its own heaviness, which is the case with Woman in the Dunes. Yes, I know that Abe adopted the screenplay himself. His other adaptations of his works, The Face of Another and The Man Without a Map, work because they are externally based and entail movement towards a goal. Woman in the Dunes only proves that what works in a novel does not necessarily work in film, as both a separate crafts.
April 26: Beginning at 5:00 pm, TCM is running two hours of shorts starring the incomparable Edgar Kennedy, beginning with Wrong Direction (1934) and finishing with The Big Beef (1945). Made by RKO, the shorts revolved around Edgar as the put-upon husband of Florance Lake, whose sponging mother and brother have moved in and drive Edgar crazy. Utilizing Kennedy’s comedy skills, in particular the slow burn, the shorts have Edgar trying to accomplish something only to be thwarted by his buffoonish relatives. Adding to his misery is his wife’s constant defense of her mother and brother. I remember watching the shorts, which were part of a late night package with the shorts of Leon Errol and Clark and McCullough on New York’s Channel 5 called Reel Camp. TCM would be wise to make all these RKO shorts part of a regular feature.
April 26: Although she’s mostly forgotten today, back in the mid-‘50s to mid-‘60s, Tuesday Weld was a pop culture icon. She was featured on the cult television series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (CBS, 1959-63), along with such actors as Warren Beatty, with whom Dobie competed for Weld’s attention, and made quite a few teen movies. At 8:00 pm, TCM is screening her film debut, Rock, Rock, Rock (1956) from Columbia and produced by schlockmeister Milton Subotsky. Following at 9:45 is Because They’re Young (Columbia, 1960). With Dick Clark as the new “with-it” teacher at Harrison High, where Tuesday is a student. You can pass through Lord Love a Duck (1966) at 11:30 and the lame by-the-numbers Bob Hope “comedy,” I’ll Take Sweden (1965), until the magic hour of 3:15 am is reached. Then hold on to your seats (and DVRs), because one of the great bad movies is being shown, Sex Kittens Go To College (1960), starring Tuesday and the great Mamie Van Doren. Here’s the synopsis: A stripper with a genius IQ (Van Doren) gets a college teaching job in the science department after being chosen in a selection process determined by Thinko the Robot. Yes, you read right. If we now mention that the film was produced and directed by Albert Zugsmith, much would be explained. Zugsmith gave us the landmark psychotronic classic, High School Confidential (1958), as well as classics such as Invasion U.S.A. (1952), Female on the Beach with Joan Crawford (1955), Girls Town (1959), The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), Russ Meyer's Fanny Hill (1964), and Sappho Darling (1968). To be fair he also gave us The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958). Starring with Mamie and Tuesday are John Carradine, Mijanou Bardot (Brigette’s sister), Louis Nye, Mickey Shaughnessy, Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester!), Vampira, and Conway Twitty. There is no actual sex in the film; the naughtiest it gets is when the strippers get down to thong panties with pasties on their nipples. Despite this, I remember looking through the movie times section of the local newspaper and seeing this film advertised at an adult theater in Newark called The Little Theater. How desperate must a pervert be to pay his money to see this? But that was part of Zugsmith’s genius – to make the marks think they were getting a lot more than he was actually supplying.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
April 16: An evening of horror spoofs is scheduled, with Young Frankenstein (1974) leading off at 8:00 pm, followed by Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1966) at 10 pm, and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953) at midnight.
At 2:00 am, TCM Underground takes over, with Lucio Fulci’s outrageous giallo, The House by the Cemetery (1984), and the terrible Burnt Offerings (1976) following at 3:30. The latter is yet another film about a family that moves into a possessed house with the usual results. On the plus side, it has Karen Black and Bette Davis in the cast. On the minus, it’s directed by Dan Curtis. To quote critic Michael Weldon, “Dan Curtis is better off making TV films.”
April 18: A morning and afternoon of films from Val Lewton, beginning at 7:45 am with the classic Bedlam (1946), and ending at 6:15 pm with the exquisite Curse of the Cat People (1944). Lewton, no matter how many times TCM plays his films, is always worth watching for the twists and craftsmanship he brings to films that otherwise could easily be on the level of Sam Katzman’s atrocities for Monogram.
April 20: Though it’s a failed film, Leo McCarey’s The Milky Way (1936) starring Harold Lloyd as a milquetoast milkman who becomes a boxer after it appears that he knocked out the middleweight champion (William Gargan) in a brawl, it's worth your time if you haven’t yet seen it. Showtime is 3:00 pm. It’s one of many Lloyd films being screened in the morning and afternoon.
April 22: Blondes are the order of the day with morning and afternoon devoted to films about blondes or with the word “blonde” in the title. The festivities begin at 7:00 am with Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blaine in Smart Blonde (1936), followed by Farrell again as Blaine in The Adventurous Blonde from 1937. The other highlight of the day is at 4:45 pm with James Cagney and Joan Blondell in the wonderful Blonde Crazy (1931), followed at 6:15 with Jean Harlow and Lee Tracy in the raucous Bombshell (1933).
April 23: One of the strangest films ever made is on tap at 2:00 am – director Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981), starting Isabelle Adjani as a woman with strange tastes in lovers, to say the least. Tune in and watch a film that truly has to be seen to be believed.
April 30: Begin with the Lone Wolf in Passport to Suez (1943) at 9:30 am, then stick around for The Bowery Boys in Blues Busters (1950) at 10:45, The Fly (1958) at noon, Soylent Green(1973) at 2:00, Five Million Years to Earth (1968) at 4:00, and Countdown (1968) at 6:00. At 2:15 am, it’s a Larry Cohen double feature with God Told Me To (1976), and It Lives Again (1978).
By Ed Garea
T.S. Eliot said “April is the cruelest month.” And in many ways it is, but not this month and not when it comes to the movies TCM is offering. There are some real gems among the dross, and some standbys that make one glad to be a cinephile.
Judy, Judy, Judy. Garland is TCM’s Star of the Month and if musicals are your thing, there’s plenty on the menu. As every Garland fan has seen every one of her musicals at least five times, we’ll concentrate on her lesser known films.
April 1: Begin at 8:00 pm with Pigskin Parade, from Fox in 1936. Somewhere in this musical comedy about a coach (Jack Haley) brought in to change the fortunes of a college football team, you’ll find Judy as the younger sister of football hero Amos Dodd (Stuart Erwin). It’s not much of a role, but Judy does get to sing “It’s Love I’m After.” As for the film, it’s entertaining, with the great Patsy Kelly practically stealing the film as the coach’s wife who knows more about the game than he does. Look for young Betty Grable as a Betty Co-Ed type and Elisha Cook Jr. as the campus commie.
At 11:15, it’s the best in the Andy Hardy series, Love Finds Andy Hardy, from 1939. Judy is Betsy Booth, a 12-year old ingenue visiting her grandmother who develops a crush on Andy. Good thing for Andy, too, for she helps him out of a jam. Andy is “minding” his pal Beezy’s girlfriend (Lana Turner, gorgeous with her natural auburn hair) until he gets back. But Beezy goes and dumps Turner right before the big dance, leaving Andy in a fix, for he’s already promised to take his regular girl, Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford). But it’s Judy to the rescue and she straightens everything out in the end. Garland also gets to sing a couple of songs, not only displaying her range, but her incredible knack for styling a song.
April 8: Two great films are on tap, beginning at 8:00 pm with The Wizard of Oz. (Followed by an excellent documentary, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic, which goes into the behind-the-scenes stories about the classic film. It’s a Must See for Oz fans.) At 11:00, it’s the Busby Berkeley directed Strike Up the Band, with Rooney as Jimmy Connors, the leader of a high school band hoping to compete in Paul Whiteman's nationwide radio contest. Garland provides solid support as Mary Holden. She sings with the band and is in love with Jimmy, but can’t get him to notice her as anything more than a friend. She sings several memorable songs, including “Nobody,” “La Conga,” and the wonderful “Our Love Affair,” a number written especially for her and which was nominated for a Oscar.
April 15: All the films offered this evening are worth watching, but our focus is on a film being shown at a late hour. First up at 1:45 am is The Clock, from 1945. Judy and Robert Walker star in this romance about a GI en route to Europe who meets, falls in love with, and marries Judy over the course of two days while in New York. Beautifully directed by Vincente Minelli, who skillfully used rear projection and ingenious art direction to create one of the most vivid and compelling images of New York City ever captured on film.
TCM SPOTLIGHT: THE BEST OF THE BARRYMORES
Now here is a good idea – a film festival featuring all three of the Barrymores: Ethel, John, and Lionel. What could be better, or more entertaining, than to see the Barrymores at work, either separate or together?
April 4: The best of the evening is John Barrymore in State’s Attorney (1932), airing at 11:30. Barrymore is in fine form as a flamboyant and ambitious criminal attorney Tom Cardigan, who uses his ties to the underworld to further his career. After a successful defense of “good-hearted” hooker June (Helen Twelvetrees) as a favor for mob heavy Valentine “Vanny” Powers (William Boyd), Tom falls for his client, who persuades him to go straight. Powers is also trying to get Tom to go straight – straight to the D.A.’s office as an inside plant for the mob. Tom is torn between his political ambition and his loyalty to June, which is further tested when Valentine goes on trial for murder. While there’s not much new in the story department, the dialogue by Gene Fowler and Rowland Brown plus the performance of Barrymore combines to make this most pleasurable viewing.
April 11: We switch from John to Lionel for tonight’s recommendations. At 8:00 pm, Lionel stars with May Robson and Joel McCrea in One Man’s Journey (1933), a melodrama about a doctor who trades in his city practice after his wife dies in childbirth for one in his rural hometown. There, he serves his clients, often accepting potatoes and eggs as payments. His son, Jimmy (McCrea), who has followed his father into medicine, is a successful, but selfish and materialistic, surgeon. He takes his beautiful fiancee, Joan (Frances Dee), for granted until Dad helps him see the error of his ways. Robson is Lionel’s feisty and loyal housekeeper. although the film is a pure soaper, it was considered lost until rediscovered as part of the late producer Merian C. Cooper’s library. It has not been seen since a few television showings in the late 1950s.
At 11:30 is a film beloved not only by Barrymore fans but by cinephiles in general: Young Dr. Kildare (1938). Co-starring Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie alongside Lew Ayres as Dr. Kildare, it’s a role Barrymore wouldn’t even have considered a year before, but a broken hip suffered in an accident plus worsening arthritis made him amenable to playing the crusty head of diagnostics at Blair General Hospital and the mentor of Ayres’ idealistic young doctor. For more on the film, read our essay here. And for those who can’t get enough of life at Blair General, there’s The Secret of Dr. Kildare (1939) at 4:30 am.
April 3: A double feature from German director Wim Wenders begins at 2:30 am with Wings of Desire (1987), followed by Alice in the Cities (1974). Wings of Desire is a tale of two angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) who watch over life in modern Berlin. They amble through the city, finding it full of lonely, angst-ridden citizens, and offer polite and silent comfort to women in labor and those contemplating suicide. They are invisible to all except children. But Damien wants more out of his existence – he seeks a more intense involvement to the joys and pain of being human. When he meets an American actor (Peter Falk) in town to film a World War II movie, and a trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommartin), he contemplates being made mortal.
Alice in the Cities, inspired in part by the experiences of Wenders' friend Peter Handke with single fatherhood, concerns Philip Winter (Rudiger Vogler), a rootless, disillusioned photojournalist who, through an odd series of circumstances at an airport, finds himself responsible for caring for young Alice Van Damm (Yella Rottlander). Winter finds himself traveling from America to Europe with Alice in the hope of returning her to her grandmother and a home she can't really remember in a Germany he can’t really remember.
April 10: TCM delves into Spanish cinema with a double feature beginning at 2:45 am. Death of a Cyclist from director Juan Antonio Bardem (uncle of Javier) in 1955 concerns a couple having an affair. On the way back, they strike a bicyclist with their car. Afraid of offering assistance in fear of their affair being exposed, they leave the cyclist to die. From here, the movie evolves into a study of how people interact to endure their lives. The woman is a beautiful society matron, trapped in a marriage of convenience, while her lover is an academic who would see his career come to a halt if word of their affair leaks out. Bardem was a Marxist and the film a critique of the hypocrisy of the Spanish bourgeoisie.
Following at 4:15 am is Peppermint Frappe, from director Carlos Saura, in 1967. The story centers on Julian (Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez), a doctor who runs a radiology clinic from his personal residence, assisted by a shy, mild mannered nurse named Ana (Geraldine Chaplin). Invited to a reunion with old friend Pablo (Alfredo Mayo), he becomes obsessed with Pablo’s new wife, a free-spirited, beautiful woman named Elena (also played by Chaplin), the wife of an old friend, believing her to be a mysterious drummer that he once fell in love with at a Holy Week festival. He pursues her only to be rebuffed multiple times, with tragic consequences at the end. The film, a metaphor for Spain during Franco’s rule, boasts a stellar performance by Chaplin in the dual role.
FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER
April 13: TCM is running a special feature called “From Caligari to Hitler,” examining the cinema of Weimar Germany. Running on three consecutive Wednesday nights, the series is based on the book, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film, by German film critic and writer Siegfried Kracauer. The book is considered one of the first major studies of German film between the two World Wars, and puts forward the thesis that the films, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (8 pm), Nosferatu (11:30 pm), and Faust (1:15 am). with their Expressionist styling, can be seen as an allegory for German social attitudes in the period following World War I that expressed a fear of chaos and a desire for order, even at the price of authoritarian rule. However, other critics, including Thomas Elsaessar (Weimar Cinema and After: Germany's Historical Imaginary (2000)) maintain the Expressionist style is a method to differentiate German films from those made in America. Also airing this night, at 9:30 pm is From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses, a 2014 documentary from filmmaker Ruediger Suchsland. Though the scholarship behind the documentary is suspect, it’s the restored clips that provide the reason to tune in.
April 14: At 10:45 pm, it’s The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), from director Jacques Demy, who in many ways is to French cinema what Ernst Lubitsch was to American. The film takes place over the course of a weekend in the seaside town of Rochefort. Twin sisters Delphine (Catherine Deneuve), who teaches ballet classes, and Solange (Francoise Dorleac), an aspiring songwriter who earns her living giving music lessons, each long to find true love and believe they have done so when they meet two smooth-talking, but kind carnies, Etienne (George Chakiris) and Bill (Grover Dale).
Meanwhile, their mother, Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux), who owns a cafe in the center of town, pines for a fiancé she impulsively dumped about 10 years ago due to his “embarrassing” last name of Dame. In the cafe she meets a sailor, Maxence (Jacques Perrin), about to be released from naval service. He is a poet and painter searching for his true feminine ideal. But little does she know that her former fiancé, Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli) has recently opened a music store in town. He knows Yvonne had twins from a previous relationship, but he’s never met them. Simon meets Solange and promises to introduce her to his American friend Andy Miller (Gene Kelly). Solange later meets Andy accidentally while on her way to pick up her younger brother from school, but they do not stop for introductions. On the day of the fair, the paths of all the characters cross at the town square and at Yvonne’s cafe.
As with his previous The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, this is a film about missed chances, albeit a much more effervescent one. As with Lubitsch, it is a tribute to love and optimism. Plus it’s a chance to see sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac, two of the most beautiful actresses ever to grace a screen, working together. Dorleac, the elder sister, was well on her way to mega-stardom when her sports car flipped and burned on a roadway near Nice, France, on June 26, 1967.
One of the best boxing dramas ever made – if not the best – airs at 2:00 am. It’s Body and Soul (1947) from director Robert Rossen and screenwriter Abraham Polansky. John Garfield stars as Charlie Davis, a young, talented boxer from the Jewish ghetto who strings along with gangsters for the big money even if it means crossing everyone he loves. James Wong Howe’s cinematography is exquisite, taking us right into the ring alone with Garfield. Catch it and see its influence on later boxing dramas such as Champion and Raging Bull.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
April 1: Stripper Ann Corio made a handful of films for Monogram in the early ‘40s. The Sultan’s Daughter (1943), which can be seen at 2:30 pm, has Ann as Patra, the daughter of the Sultan of Armband (Charles Butterworth). She has inherited all the oil lands of the country following the death of her mother. The Sultan wants to sign the lands over to German agents Rata (Jack LaRue) and Ludwig (Gene Roth), but Patra will only sign them over to Americans. The Sultan’s right-hand man, Kuda (Fortunio Bonanova) is crazy about Patra, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Along with her friend and teacher, Irene (Irene Ryan), Patria visits the big city, where they meet Americans Jimmy (Edward Norris) and Tim (Tim Ryan). Luda hires them to convince Patra to sign over the oil leases to him. Co-written by Tim Ryan and Milton Raison and directed by Poverty Row stalwart Arthur Dreifuss, the film is a fast 64 minutes, filled with some engaging musical numbers and looking as if Monogram actually spent some money making it. At any rate, it’s Monogram, and it’s good to see Jack LaRue and Charles Butterworth.
April 2: At 9:15 am, Warren William delights in The Lone Wolf Keeps a Date from 1940, followed by The Bowery Boys in Blonde Dynamite from 1950.
At 2:00 am, it’s the Must-Be-Seen-To-Be-Believed Blaxploitation epic, Abar, the First Black Superman (read our review here), followed at 3:45 am by the watchable Shaft in Africa (1973).
April 4: For Bulldog Drummond fans, there’s Bulldog Drummond Comes Back(1937) at 2:30 am followed by Bulldog Drummond's Revenge (1937) at 3:45, and Bulldog Drummond's Peril(1938) at 4:45. All feature John Barrymore as Colonel Nielson and John Howard as Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond.
April 9: At 9:15 am, The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance (1941). At 10:30 am, it’s The Bowery Boys take a chance on the stock market in Lucky Losers (1950).
At 2:00 am, it's Mario Bava’s final feature film, Shock(1977), followed at 3:45 by all-time stinker, Exorcist II: The Heretic. The gist of the film is that Linda Blair neglects to pay her exorcist and so gets re-possessed. With Richard Burton, it is one of the great laughable performances. Don’t miss it!
April 15: At 2:00 pm, it’s the last of the Warner Bros. Dead End Kids features: Dead End Kids on Dress Parade(1939). The young delinquents are shipped off to military school, which transforms them rather unconvincingly into model citizens. Next stop: Universal serials and Sam Katzman.
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 went in like a lamb and is going out like a lion.
We continue with our look at TCM’s Star of the Month. Last issue, we noted how producer Alexander Korda discovered Oberon and basically played Svengali to her Trilby. He also became her first husband when they wed on June 3, 1939. The marriage lasted until June 4, 1945, after which Oberon would wed three more times, the last being Robert Wolders, from January 31, 1975, until her death from a massive stroke on November 23, 1979.
March 18: First Comes Courageis our pick for the evening. The 1943 film, airing at 8:00 pm, finds Merle as a Norwegian resistance fighter who seduces German Wehrmacht Major Carl Esmond in order to learn his military secrets. The most interesting thing about the film was that it was the last project of Dorothy Arzner, who chose it for its unique subject matter, which would allow her to focus on Oberon’s character. However, Arzner never had the chance to finish the film, as she contracted pneumonia and was forced to hand the directorial reins over to Charles Vidor. It was Arzner’s last hurrah in Hollywood, a sad ending for Hollywood’s only female director for too many years.
March 25: Tonight we recommend a film that’s being shown in the wee hours of the morning: 2:30 am, to be exact. It’s Berlin Express, from RKO in 1948 and directed by the talented Jacques Tourneur. Merle is Lucienne, the French secretary to German peace movement champion Dr. Bernhardt (Paul Lukas), who has been kidnapped, plucked right off the Berlin Express, by Nazi wehrvolves intent on derailing the postwar peace process. With the help of American Lieutenant Robert Ryan, Merle assembles a multi-national band (a Brit, a Russian, and a fellow Frenchman) to rescue the good doctor. It sounds like an exercise in train wreck cinema, but it all comes together nicely, written by Harold Medford from a Curt Siodmak story and deftly directed by Tourneur. The film makes use of some fascinating historical footage of Germany immediately after the war. In fact, a title card during the opening credits states that the photography in Berlin and Frankfurt is used with the cooperation of the occupying armies. It’s also a nice little thriller, as the good guys are working against the clock to rescue the doc before the Nazis kill him.
JERRY LEWIS, PART 2
March 16 is the second night of TCM’s two-day tribute to the comedian. Our recommendation for the evening is Martin Scorsese’s dark satire, The King of Comedy (1983), with Lewis as a talk show host kidnapped by sociopath stand-up comic Robert De Niro and his accomplice, Sandra Bernhard, in order that DeNiro might get a shot on Lewis’ talk show. The highlight of the film is Bernhard, who, in a supporting role, nearly walks away with the picture. Her performance in this film made her into a sort of cult figure and led to appearances on talk shows and parts in psychotronic films. She even hosted a show on USA called Reel Wild Cinema (1994), featuring scenes from various z-movies followed by jokes and commentaries from the host and her guests. Obviously inspired by Mystery Science Theater 3000, it lasted about two short seasons.
It’s surprising that in the two-day tribute, only one film is being shown from a director who we think did more for Lewis than any other, and that is Frank Tashlin, who directed Artists and Models (shown March 15). Tashlin was famous for his work at the Warner Bros. animation department. He was one of a trio of directors (along with Tex Avery and Bob Clampett) who revolutionized cartoons by introducing cinematic techniques, such as odd camera angles, fast editing and montages. Tashlin felt stifled as an animator and moonlighted writing gags for comedians such as Charley Chase and Harpo Marx. Given a chance to direct by Bob Hope (taking over for Sidney Lanfield in The Lemon Drop Kid, a film that Tashlin wrote), Tashlin was able to apply the techniques he used in directing animation to live action. And in Lewis he found his perfect subject – a live-action cartoon. Tashlin helped Lewis perfect his infantile slapstick routines in such films as The Geisha Boy, Cinderfella, and The Disorderly Orderly.
Lewis, of course, would go on to be parodied himself, most notably by Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live, and by Eugene Levy as “Bobby Bittman” on SCTV. Jean-Luc Godard once said of Lewis that “he is funny even when he’s not being funny.” Obviously, he’s easy to please.
March 20: The Bergman fest on TCM continues with Scenes From a Marriage scheduled for 2:00 am. Originally shot as six 50-minute episodes for Swedish television in 1973 and edited down into a 169-minute feature film by Bergman the following year, the film follows the changing fortunes of married couple Johan (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullmann) 10 years into their union and over the course of the next 10 years. This is one of the most truthful, honest, brutal, and heartbreaking portraits of a couple ever captured on film. Shot in documentary style, it’s like cinéma vérité and one of the most intense character studies ever committed to film.
March 27: Two disturbing films by Bergman are featured tonight, 1967’s Persona (3:00 am) and The Virgin Spring (1960), at 4:30 am. Persona stars Liv Ullman (in her Bergman debut) as Elisabet, an actress who has stopped speaking in the middle of a performance. Her doctor sends her to a rather remote seaside cottage, where she's cared for by a young nurse, named Alma (Bibi Andersson). Alma speaks constantly to break the silence. At first, she speaks about the books she’s read and trivial matters, but as their relationship deepens Alma begins to speak about her own anxieties and her relationship with her fiancé, who scolds her for lacking ambition. Gradually the women, who bear a strong physical resemblance to each other, begin to assume each other's identities.
The Virgin Spring is about a devoutly Christian knight and his family whose virginal daughter is raped and killed by a trio of vagrants while on her way to church. The criminals make their way to the family’s farm, where they are offered accommodations. It is when one tries to sell the daughter’s undergarments to the mother that they are found out, and the knight takes an extremely brutal revenge upon the trio. Leonard Maltin points out that Wes Craven’s 1972 horror film, The Last House on the Left, is a remake of The Virgin Spring.
March 23: It’s an entire morning and afternoon of Kurosawa beginning at 6:00 am with No Regrets For Our Youth from 1946. Setsuko Hara, in a breakout performance, is Yukie, the privileged and frivolous daughter of a university professor. Her world begins to come apart when he is fired and arrested as a political criminal. Then, when her fiancé, Noge, is executed as a spy, Yukie decides it is her duty to move to the country home of Noge’s parents, where she works the fields with Noge’s mother, remaining in the village after the war has ended and her father is reinstated at the university. This was Kurosawa’s fifth film and the only one to feature a woman in the main role.
Also on the slate this morning is Stray Dog (details in next week's TiVo Alert), immediately following at 8:00 am; Seven Samurai at 10:30; The Bad Sleep Well (next week's featured “We Agree” film in the TiVo Alert) at 2:15; and High and Low at 5:15.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
March 17: As part of a TCM Spotlight on movies condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency (talk about a stretch), Luis Bunuel’s 1962 drama, Viridiana, is airing at 8:00 pm. Sylvia Pinal is a young nun who has inherited a fortune and decides to distribute it among the poor, finding that the poor aren’t as noble and virtuous as she had previously believed. Highly controversial in its time, the film was banned in Spain and Italy.
March 19: Following the wonderful The Great Escape (8:00), it’s Robert Bresson’s intelligently made take on the subject, A Man Escaped, from 1956, at 11:00 pm.
March 30: One of the best films of recent times, The Artist, is airing at 8:00 pm. Written and directed by French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, it’s the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a major star at Kinograph Studios. At the red-carpet premiere of his latest film he meets Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who he helps get a leg up at the studio. However, the coming of sound sinks his career while making her into a major star. It’s a wonderful homage to the silent era and its techniques, and the plot has a slight echo of A Star is Born. Both leads are excellent, but Bejo stands out as an actress to watch. Look for the scene were she scours the streets of Hollywood looking for her wayward husband. We can hear the strains of the soundtrack to Vertigo. Hazanavicius has presented us with a totally enchanting film from beginning to end; a true love letter to Hollywood.
March 31: At the ungodly hour of 3:45 comes one of the best caper movies ever made – Jules Dassin’s Rififi, from 1954. A quartet of jewel thieves come together to pull off a heist of the Paris equivalent of Tiffany’s, but in the end find each other to be more dangerous than the police. The heist itself takes up nearly half an hour and is conducted in complete silence. This is the sort of film that pulls us in to its world of criminals, schemes and double-crosses. It starts slowly, but once it gets going, we don’t want to look away. The script is based on Auguste Le Breton’s 1953 novel Du Rififi chez les hommes. Dassin and Ren Wheeler helped Le Breton adapt it for the screen. Le Breton also wrote the screenplay for Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1956 crime masterpiece, Bob le flambeur.
March 18: At 12:45 pm, it’s William and Joan Blondell in a delightful Pre-Code “battle of the sexes,” Smarty (1934). Blondell’s constant teasing of husband William finally has him to the point where he hauls off and socks her, prompting a divorce. But she finds that when she marries her divorce lawyer, Edward Everett Horton, on the rebound, she has just entered into a new fresh hell. Things eventually work out, but not without some real bumps in the road.
March 19: William returns as Michael Lanyard in one of our favorite series – The Lone Wolf, one of the better gentleman-detective franchises, and a character he would go on to play in eight more films. We begin at 9:15 am with the first, and probably the best, in the series, The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939). Spies in Washington D.C. kidnap Lanyard in an attempt to force him to crack a safe containing precious military secrets. Looks for Rita Hayworth in an early role as a femme fatale.
March 26: One again at 9:15 William returns as Michael Lanyard, this time in 1940’s The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady. This time he must come to the aid of a socialite (Jean Muir) whose $100,000 necklace has been lifted on the eve of her wedding. Eric Blore joins William as Jamison, butler and Man Friday.
March 20: Beginning at midnight and running until 2:00 am is a compilation of shorts by Fatty Arbuckle. With the exception of the first, That Little Band of Gold (1915), in which he starred with Mabel Normand, the others are merely directed by him. After his series of trials for the death of starlet Virginia Rappe, in which he was ultimately found not guilty, Fatty was persona non grata with the studios and public alike. He caught on with small studio Educational Films and directed under the alias of Will B. Goodrich. Besides That Little Band of Gold, shorts to look for include Curses!, starring his nephew Al “Fuzzy” St. John, and Fool’s Luck.
March 18: A mini-marathon of Pre-Code films takes place from 6:00 am to 2:00 pm. None really stand out, aside from Smarty (mentioned earlier), but it’s always good for the Pre-Code completists to add a few notches to the reel.
March 21: Being shown are a run of films by B-director Nick Grinde: The Bishop Murder Case (1930), with Basil Rathbone as Philo Vance; Remote Control (1930), with William Haines; and Shopworn (1932), with Stanwyck and Regis Toomey. The fun begins at 6:00 am.
March 29: At 9:15 am. it’s Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy in Woody Van Dyke’s comedy-drama, Penthouse (1933). Baxter is a lawyer framed by the mob who must rely on the help of call girl Loy to clear himself. With Mae Clarke and Nat Pendleton. Loy is totally enchanting.
March 31: It’s Bette Davis and Margaret Lindsay as sisters in the rarely shown Fog Over Frisco (1934), airing at 6:30 am. Bette is the bad sister, consorting with gangsters and other low lifes in a stolen securities scheme. Lindsay is the good sister, who tries to help her sister out of the mess. Lyle Talbot, Robert Barrat, and William Demarest co-star.
BAD MOVIE ALERT
March 21: Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck stink up the screen in The Two Mrs. Carrolls, airing at 8:00 pm. Made in 1945 but not released until 1947, Bogart is a nutzoid artist who paints his wives as Angels of Death and then kills them. Guess who his new wife is? In the climatic chase scene, Bogie and Babs make more faces than Bugs Bunny after seeing the orange monster in Hair-Raising Hare. With Alexis Smith, who Bogie is penciling in as Babs’s replacement.
March 27: It’s Easter, and what would Easter be without the all-time stinker The Silver Chalice (1954). Starring the young Paul Newman as Basil the silversmith who is charged with engraving the Holy Grail. Co-starring Virginia Mayo, who does what she does best in these types of movies – vamp, and Jack Palance, who leaves no piece of scenery unchewed.
March 31: Robert Taylor displays his limited range in 1944’s Song Over Russia (11:30 am) as an American symphonic conductor enamored with Tchaikovsky on tour in Russia. Naturally he falls in love with, and marries, a Russian peasant woman (Susan Peters) who shares his fondness, but then those nasty old Nazis invade the Motherland, John, who wants to beat it back to New York, stays and fights alongside his bride.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
March 19: It’s a monstrous douane-feature from director Eugene Lourie, beginning at 6:15 am with The Giant Behemoth (1959) and followed at 7:45 by The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953).
10:30 am sees The Bowery Boys go undercover to expose a gang in Angels in Disguise (1949).
March 23: The evening is devoted to selected episodes from classic serials of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Among those featured are Batman (1943), Batman and Robin (1949), Superman (1948), Atom Man vs. Superman (1950), The Green Hornet (1940), Buck Rogers(1939), Flash Gordon (1940), The Phantom (1943), Ace Drummond(1936), and Dick Tracy (1937). Several of these have run on Saturday mornings, and it would be nice to see the others featured as well.
March 24: At 2:15 am, it’s a different kind of vampire picture, Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973). Set in 1920s Georgia, a female vampire (Leslie Gilb) tricks a 13-year old choirgirl who came back to her hometown to see her dying father (Cheryl Smith) into visiting her home in the woods. The strong sexual overtones and the corruption of innocence earned the film a condemnation from the Catholic Church, but the film relies on atmosphere and performances rather than nudity as it does an excellent job showing a child’s fears. Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith went on to appear in Jonathan Demme’s Caged Heat, among other psychotronic films.
March 30: At 11:15 pm, Arthur Franz stars as the serial killer compelled to shoot women in producer Stanley Kramer’s The Sniper (1952). Directed by Edward Dmytryk, the film differs from the usual manhunt by delving into the psychological reasons as well as raising questions about treating the mentally ill and how to identify and cure the most extreme cases. This is Stanley Kramer, after all.
By Ed Garea
CONTINUING FROM LAST MONTH . . .
Last month we got through 29 of the “31 Days of Oscar,” picking an Oscar winning or nominated film for each day of the month. (Last year, it was “32 Days of Oscar,” so it’s improving.) But the theme still has two days to go in March, so we shall begin this month with the continuation of February’s format.
March 1: Mystery Street, from 1950, is a nice, little procedural film, as pathologists use forensics to solve what looks like a perfect crime. Ricardo Montalban and Bruce Bennett make a good team as the crimefighters, and Elsa Lanchester has a nice turn as a ditsy landlady. This superior B-movie airs at noon.
March 2: Speaking of noon, another recommended film is also airing at that time: Vivacious Lady (1938), with Jimmy Stewart as a straight-laced botany professor who falls in love with, and marries, nightclub performer Ginger Rogers. Marrying her was the easy part. Now he has to take her home to meet his folks, whose picture can be found into dictionary under “Conservative Parents,” and the fiancee (Frances Mercer) he left behind. Both Rogers and Stewart are at their best in director George Stevens’ raucous comedy.
Merle Oberon is March’s “Star of the Month.” Born in India, she left for London at age 17, beginning her career in forgettable supporting parts in equally forgettable English films. She made an impression as Ysobel d'Aunay in Men of Tomorrow (1932), catching the eye of producer Alexander Korda, who spotted her in the tea line at the studio commissary. He changed her name from Estelle Thompson to Merle Oberon and cast her as Anne Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII(1933), the first British picture to be nominated for an Academy Award. After her success in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), Korda took her to Hollywood, where she blossomed, becoming a star in both England and the United States.
March 4: Our interest in Oberon is with her lesser-known films, and filling the bill perfectly is Folies Bergere de Paris (1935, 11:30 pm). Oberon is the Baroness Cassini, wife of Maurice Chevalier, who has a dual role as both the Baron and a look-alike entertainer, who impersonates the Baron in this musical comedy. It’s not a great film, but has its moments. We couldn’t end the night without a mention of the film that established her as a star, The Private Life of Henry VIII, which airs at 4:30 in the morning. To say the film is essential viewing is an understatement.
March 11: Two films have our attention. First up at 8:00 pm is 1944’s The Lodger, a wonderfully atmospheric chiller about the lodgers at a London boardinghouse who suspect their new tenant may be Jack the Ripper.
At 3:00 am is The Lion Has Wings, a morale film from 1940 about the resistance to the Blitz. Filmed in a unique for its time docudrama style, it features a top-notch cast that includes Oberon, Ralph Richardson, and Flora Robson.
March 3: An entire morning and afternoon is dedicated to the star and is showcases her development from a wooden, stagy actress to the free-wheeling comic actress we think of today. Of the films being shown, our “Must See” is 1932’s Red-Headed Woman from MGM (1:00 pm), with Harlow changing her look from the trademarked Platinum Blonde to the titular red. Redheads were seen in the public mythology as sexually charged femme fatales with loose morals. Scripted by Anita Loos, the film is a prototype of the “slobs vs. snobs” comedy with Harlow as Lil Andrews, a stenographer out to bag her quarry in the form of her boss, Bill Legendre (Chester Morris). He is so taken with her that he divorces his wife and marries Lil. But things don’t work out as Lil planned, as Bill’s high society friends look down on her, preferring the company of his ex-wife, who lives right across the street. Bored, Lil conducts a couple of affairs, one with her French chauffeur. When Bill goes back to his ex, a confrontation breaks out in which Lil tries to kill her husband. He refuses to prosecute, and just when we think we’ve seen the last of Lil, she pops up two years later in Paris, the kept mistress of a Paris millionaire who is having an affair with her chauffeur (the same as in America) on the side. Watch that driver carefully – he’s none other than Charles Boyer, then a young actor on a six-month option to the studio.
Also check out Hold Your Man (1933), airing at 3:45, starring Clark Gable as a con man and Harlow as the hard-boiled babe who falls for, and eventually takes the rap for him. Next to Red Dust, it’s their best pairing.
Sundays in March feature late-night Bergman double-features, with Cries and Whispers (1973) and A Lesson in Love (1954) leading, beginning at 2:00 am on March 5. Of the two, the more interesting is the latter. It hasn’t been run to death like Cries and Whispers, and its story of a doctor and his wife (Gunnar Björnstrand and Eva Dalhbeck), happily married for 15 years until the doctor has an affair with one of his patients, is one that Bergman returned to and developed in later films.
On March 13, both Bergman films are well worth viewing. The first, Sawdust and Tinsel (1953, 3:00 am) is a well done allegorical film centered on a circus owner (Ake Gronberg) and his oversexed mistress (Harriet Andersson). Like Fellini, Bergman often staged his films in the world of performers, using the allegory to drive home his point about human nature and the futility trapped within. Following at 3:45 am is The Devil’s Eye (1961). Don Juan (Jarl Kulie) makes a wager with Satan (Stig Jarrel) that he can seduce a minister’s wife (Bibi Andersson) whose chastity is giving Satan fits. How she reacts to Don Juan’s attempted seduction is the crux of the film.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
March 7: Jose Ferrer gives a masterful performance as Toulouse-Lautrec in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge (1953), airing at 10:30 pm. Huston brilliantly captures the atmosphere of Paris’s Montmartre, its denizens, and Lautrec’s view of life. The highlight for us is Zsa Zsa Gabor as singer Jane Avril, one of Lautrec’s subjects. Her acting, or lack thereof, almost brings the film down with her. Huston wanted to replace her, but the producers wouldn’t allow it. (Wonder why?)
March 7: At 12:30 am, TCM is airing Jean Cocteau’s compelling film, Orpheus (1950), starring Jean Marias, Edouard Dermit, and Marie Dea as Eurydice in Cocteau’s take on the classic Greek fable. Maria Casares is fascinating as the Princess of Death, with whom the poet Orphee becomes obsessed in this modernized updating. Also take note of the superb score by Georges Auric. Even though it comes across a little heavy-handed at times, Cocteau still pulls of a hypnotic visual treat that we simply cannot imagine being made today. If ever a film deserved the title of Masterpiece, it is this one.
TCM is slowly beginning to show films from Universal Studios, and on March 8 at midnight the station is airing one of Abbott and Costello’s better films, Who Done It? from 1942. The boys are soda jerks who dream of writing radio mysteries. They pitch their latest idea right in the middle of a real murder, when the station owner is killed during a broadcast. The boys get a brainstorm, figuring that if they can solve the murder, the station will hire them as writers. They pretend to be policemen, a ruse everyone is buying, including the killer. Well plotted, with a few good bits by the boys. Watch for Mary Wickes as a wise-cracking secretary in the mold of Joan Davis, and William Bendix as a cop who challenges Lou in the lack-of-brains department.
JERRY LEWIS, PART 1
On March 15 TCM honors Jerry Lewis with a two-day celebration of his 90th birthday. At 8:00 pm, it’s The Stooge (1952), followed by The Caddy (1953), Artists and Models (1955), You’re Never Too Young (1955), and At War With the Army (1950), airing at 4:00 am.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
March 7: Three buddies travel to Hawaii in search of the perfect wave in Columbia’s Ride the Wild Surf (1964), starring Fabian, Shelley Fabares, and Tab Hunter. TCM’s article on the film has it as a cut above the rest. Unfortunately, we’ve seen it and can’t agree, though we do like Jan and Dean’s theme song. Anyway, it’s on at 6:00 pm for those interested.
March 10: At 1:30 am, it’s the one and only Mamie Van Doren in the 1957 Warner film Untamed Youth. When she and sister Lori Nelson are picked up on charges of vagrancy, crooked judge Lurlene Tuttle has them shipped off to boyfriend John Russell’s work camp, picking cotton by day and ripping it up dancing at night. It’s a four-star camp classic, co-starring Eddie Cochran as “Bong.” To quote Leonard Maltin: “You know something's wrong when Mamie sings four songs and Cochran only one.” As with all Van Doren’s cinematic exploits, it’s required viewing.
March 13: At noon comes a superior ghost story, The Uninvited (1944). Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey are a brother and sister who purchase a spooky old place on the Cornish coast of England. Gail Russell is the previous owner’s granddaughter, a medium who tries to exorcise the ghost that haunting the place, which turns out to be the spirit of her dead mother. It’s a rarity for the time: a serious ghost story and well worth the time.
March 14: It’s a Bomba mini-marathon, with three of the Jungle Lord’s films being shown, beginning with the first in the series, Bomba the Jungle Boy, at 7:15 am. Preceding them is the 1954 Bowery Boys entry, Jungle Gents, in which the gang traveled to Africa to search for diamonds after discovering that Sach (Huntz Hall) can smell them.
By Ed Garea
At this point, we’re 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 on our special format for this festival, so we’ll continue with what obviously works.
But before we go any further, let us remind readers that the Academy Awards will be telecast February 28.
February 16: Our choice for the day is Black Legion, which will be seen at 8:30 am. This is a great B-movie, modeled on the Warner’s motto of “being ripped from the headlines.” The Black Legion, a Ku Klux Klan splinter group, actually did exist and was at its height in the mid-‘30s in the upper Midwest, particularly Michigan and Ohio. Humphrey Bogart plays a disgruntled factory worker who joins the group after he loses a promotion to a “foreigner.” After his involvement in the man’s kidnapping and murder, both Bogart and the group begin to unravel. It’s a fast-paced drama with a strong performance from Bogart. Screenwriter Robert Lord was nominated for Best Writing, Original Story.
February 17: Even though we’ve seen it at least a gazillion times, our choice is I Married a Witch (12:30 pm), director Rene Clair’s marvelous 1942 fantasy. Veronica Lake is Jennifer, a woman condemned as a witch with her father (Cecil Kellaway) and burned at the stake by Jonathan Wooley. When lightning hits the oak tree under which their ashes are buried, the spirits of both daughter and father are released and eventually gain corporeal bodies. Her target is the descendent of Jonathan Wooley, gubernatorial candidate Wallace Wooley (Frederic March), an exact likeness of Jonathan. But instead of taking revenge, she falls in love with him and they marry. She revels to him that she is a witch, something Wallace refuses to believe until she begins using witchcraft to further his campaign. You’d never guess from the chemistry that Lake and March have that they absolutely loathed each other off screen. Beautifully directed by Clair with some neat twists and turns of the plot, this is one to catch. The film garnered only one nomination for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Roy Webb).
February 18: Among film buffs there is an argument over which was the better MGM musical: Singin’ in the Rain or The Band Wagon. We choose the latter. The Band Wagon, which airs at 10:00 pm, is a near perfect mix of acting, songs, and plot. Fred Astaire is completely charming as Tony Hunter, a Hollywood song and dance man whose days as a big star are over and who tries to re-establish himself on Broadway. His songwriting friends, Lily and Lester Marton (Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant), steer him to Theater Genius Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan). Cordova’s idea is to make a musical out of Faust, and to make his production even artier, he enlists the services of ballet diva Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse). Needless to say, the company is on course for a disaster, and after a disastrous preview in New Haven (cleverly represented by showing an egg after the show begins), the backers steal away. Tony, however, thinks the musical can be salvaged if they keep the music and throw away the art, and in the process wins over the beautiful Gabrielle, who began their relationship by loathing his sort of dancing. Astaire is his usual bouncy self, and Fabray and Levant are great playing the musical team of Comden and Green. But it’s Buchanan who steals the movie with his Jeffrey Cordova, who is a parody of Orson Welles. Charisse is a very sexy presence, especially in the “Girl Hunt” number, a spoof on the sex and violence of Mickey Spillane mysteries. In fact, she’s sexy enough for us to overlook her flat reading of her lines. But we didn’t come to see her act, we came to see her dance, which she does very nicely. The real Betty Comden and Adolph Green were nominated for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay; Mary Ann Nyberg for Best Costume Design, Color; and Adolph Deutsch for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.
February 19: Can there be any other choice this day than The Thin Man (10:00 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. If not, they should’ve been. 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 (Powell), Best Director (W.S. Van Dyke), and Best Writing, Adaptation (Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett).
February 20:Spencer Tracy was never more endearing than as Stanley Banks, who reluctantly gives daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) away in Father of the Bride (4:15 pm). Under the deft hand of director Vincente Minnelli, the film proves that marriage is far from a simple affair. When we watch Tracy in the role of the doting father, we feel that no one else could play it. However, Tracy almost didn’t play the role. Jack Benny told studio head Dore Schary that he would like to play the role and Schary foolishly agreed to give him a test. When he wasn’t deemed right for the part, Minnelli and Schary turned to Tracy, but Tracy’s nose was out of joint after he learned he was the second choice for a part it was assumed he was a natural to play, and he turned the role down flat. Schary arranged for Katharine Hepburn to throw a dinner party, and it was there that Schary took Tracy aside and convinced him to take the part. 17-year old Elizabeth Taylor was the only choice for Tracy’s daughter, and to ramp up the publicity even more, on the day when the studio announced her casting, she announced her engagement to Conrad Hilton, Jr., telling the press that the thought of planning her own wedding and playing a bride at the same time was “positively drooly.” The film was also a triumph for Coca-Cola, who benefited from the product placement in the film, where Tracy offers guests a Coke at the engagement party. Tracy received a nomination for Best Actor, the film for Best Picture, and Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett were nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay.
February 21:What a lousy time to show such a great movie, airing The Adventures of Robin Hood at 6:00 am. It’s one of the greatest action movies in film history, with 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 other 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. Nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, it won three: Best Art Direction (Carl Jules Weyl), Best Film Editing (Ralph Dawson), and Best Music, Original Score (Erich Wolfgang Korngold).
February 22:Billy Wilder is a particular favorite of ours over at The Celluloid Club, and his 1948 comedy, A Foreign Affair, is perfect for this day. Set in Postwar Berlin, it’s a satirical contrast between the values of the American Heartland with the cynicism and poverty of a devastated Berlin. Jean Arthur is an upright – and uptight – Congresswoman from Iowa who comes to Berlin to look into reports of wholesale corruption and “moral malaria” infesting the occupying American forces. Even her name, Phoebe Frost,” is a tip-off to the sort of person she is. As her guide, she enlists Army Captain John Pringle (John Lund) and finds herself falling in love with him, unaware that he is romantically involved with German cabaret singer Erika von Schluetow (Marlene Dietrich) who, it later transpires, can lead them to a Nazi bigwig who was once her lover. The film opened to decidedly mixed reviews and a wholesale condemnation from Congress, who did not find it funny to be satirized. The Army banned its being shown in Germany, especially to the troops, who were engaged in the same sort of blatant fraternization and black-marketeering depicted in the film. Even co-writer Charles Brackett had trouble with setting the film in a destroyed city, but Wilder saw the comic possibilities in a clash of paternalistic American values with those of a ravaged city where the citizenry will do anything to survive, nicely packaged in a love triangle between victor and defeated. The film won two Oscar nominations: Best Writing, Screenplay (Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Richard L. Breen), and Best Cinematography, Black and White (Charles Lang).
February 23:It’s another horrible time for a wonderful movie. Bette Davis and Claude Rains are marvelous in the heart-tugging Mr. Skeffington (5:45 am), with Bette as the gold-digging Fanny Trellis Skeffington changing over the years from headstrong young beauty to aged, withered crone, marrying the rich Job Skeffington (Rains) for his money along the way. To capture the verve of the young Fanny, Davis raised her voice an octave higher than usual, and for the scenes where she loses her youthful looks after surviving diphtheria, she spent hours in the makeup chair with Perc Westmore creating an uncanny portrait of what she would look like in real life in her later years when Spy magazine, in their “Separated at Birth” feature, compared the aged Davis to the apple tree from The Wizard of Oz. Rains, who as we well know will try to steal any picture he’s in, walks away with this one at the end. Years after their estrangement, Job was in Europe and was thrown by the Nazis into a concentration camp. Now broken and blind, the withered Job still sees Fanny as the beauty she once was, and she, knowing this, welcomes him back home. Rains pulls out all the stops as Job and makes himself, and not Davis, the focus of the ending. It’s a great four-hanky picture that saw Davis and Rains nominated for Best Actress and Best Actor respectively.
February 24: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 1:00 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, an FBI agent, is shot dead by other of gangdom’s finest, 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 the main heel and acquits himself nicely. 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. The film airs at 12:30 pm. It was nominated for Best Writing, Original Story (Darryl F. Zanuck) in 1936.
February 25:How about one of the greatest Westerns ever made? Howard Hawks and Red River, airing at 11:15 pm, is our choice. It’s sort of a remake of Mutiny on the Bounty set during a cattle drive, with John Wayne’s Thomas Dunston in the Captain Bligh role. Opposing him in the Fletcher Christian role is Montgomery Clift as Dunston’s adopted son, Matthew Garth. Dunston’s tyrannical ways during the drive put the men at severe risk and drives them to the breaking point. In order to get the drive through to Abeliene, Garth is forced to take over. Dunston’s not taking this lying down and promises revenge. By keeping the revolt in the family the film takes on a theme from classical tragedy – the need for the son to challenge and surpass the father if things are to move forward. The film is perfectly cast and Wayne delivers an outstanding performance. He should have been nominated for Best Actor, and Hawks for Best Director, but all the film could garner in the way of nominations was Best Writing, Motion Picture Story (Borden Chase), and Best Film Editing (Christian Nyby). We should also credit cinematographer Russell Harlan for his breathtaking photography. Harlan had cut his teeth as photographer for the Hopalong Cassidy series.
February 26:At 8:00 pm, it’s the greatest horror spoof ever made, Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein. Even non-horror fans will love this tribute to the great Universal horrors of the ‘30s with Gene Wilder as the descendant of Victor Frankenstein. Marty Feldman steals the show as Frankenstein’s Man Friday, Igor, a hunchback whose hump mysteriously moves from one side of his back to the other. As the Monster, Peter Boyle plays it just right and Madeline Kahn is wonderful as Frankenstein tetchy fiancée. Look for the scene where the Monster stops at the house of the blind hermit, played by Gene Hackman. Brooks was so dedicated to getting everything right that be brought in Kenneth Strickland to recreate the great electrical effects he made for the originals. It was nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted From Other Material (Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder), and Best Sound (Richard Portman and Gene S. Cantamessa).
February 27:Our pick this day airs at 8:00 am, but it’s worth it: Gaslight, from MGM in 1944, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. Based on the hit London stage play, it was filmed before, in 1939, with Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard in the leads. But MGM added gloss, bigger stars, and superb direction from George Cukor, who wrung an Oscar-winning performance out of Bergman. Nominated for seven awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury), it won for Best Actress and Best Art Direction - Interior Decoration, Black and White (Cedric Gibbons, William Ferrari, Edwin B. Willis, and Paul Huldschinsky).
February 28:As long as we recommended Goodfellasin our last column, we should recommend the film that influenced its director, Martin Scorsese: The Public Enemy, which comes on at the wee hour of 2:00 am. It’s one of the hardest-hitting – and best – gangster films ever made, with Jimmy Cagney in the performance that made him a star. Director William Wellman pulls no punches, showing us the less glamorous side of gangsterdom. The film also contains some superb supporting performances from Leslie Fenton, Donald Cook, Murray Kinnell, and especially Robert Emmet O’Connor. And let’s not forget the wonderful Mae Clarke, who takes a grapefruit right in the kisser from Cagney for her troubles. Incredibly, it was nominated for only one Oscar, that for Best Writing, Original Story (John Bright and Kubec Glasmon).
February 29:We close out the month with a film from Howard Hawks that Dave and I consider one of our favorites Only Angels Have Wings, which is showing at the civilized hour of 8:00 pm. The plot centers on a favorite theme of Hawks – a group of pilots facing death every day as they risk their lives flying for an airfreight company in South America that schedules regular flights over the Andes. The fragile peace among the pilots is put to the test when cabaret singer Jean Arthur comes into their world, and the peace is further endangered when new flyer Bat McPherson (Richard Barthelmess) arrives with his wife Judy (Rita Hayworth) in tow. McPherson has a bad reputation among the other flyers because he turned yellow and left Thomas Mitchell’s brother to die. Cary Grant, as the head of the company, is magnificent playing against his suave image. As Geoff Carter, he’s rude and obnoxious almost to the point of total unlikability. His relationship with Arthur provides much of the sub-plot drama, while the film also gives Hayworth a star showcase. We regard this as a Must See. It was nominated for Best Cinematography, Black and White (Joseph Walker), and Best Effects, Special Effects (Roy Davidson - photogenic, and Edwin C. Hahn - sound).
By Ed Garea
STAR OF THE MONTH
As we know, TCM is devoting the month of February, along with the first two days in March, to its annual “31 Days of Oscar” festival. Unlike last year, there’s little that’s new this time around. It’s mostly the same old films. Because of this, we are changing our format for the month. We will feature a different film each day; a film that we feel is usually not discussed and sometimes overlooked.
February 1: Our choice for the day is the Broadway Melody of 1936 from MGM, airing at 10:00 am. Jack Benny plays a Walter Winchell-esque Broadway columnist who is locked in a feud with producer Robert Taylor. The real reason to watch is the marvelous performance by Eleanor Powell in her first major role in a big-budget film. She plays Taylor’s childhood sweetheart who gets into his show by masquerading as Mlle. Arlette, a famous French stage star. The film also boasts a strong supporting cast led by Una Merkel, Buddy and Vilma Ebsen, and Frances Langford. But it’s Powell who is the showstopper. Three of the songs: “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Fooling,” “Broadway Rhythm,” and “You Are My Lucky Star” would later be recycled in the 1951 classic, Singin’ in the Rain. Nominated for three Oscars, it won for Best Dance Direction (Dave Gould).
February 2: Our pick here is Forbidden Planet (MGM, 1956) at 1:45 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 planet 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. It won the Oscar for Best Effects, Special Effects (A. Arnold Gillespie, Irving G. Riles, and Wesley C. Miller).
February 3: At 11:15 am it’s Edward G. Robinson in the hard-hitting Five Star Final (WB, 1931). Eddie G. is the editor of the New York Gazette, a tabloid scandal sheet. Ordered by the paper’s owner (Oscar Apfel) to re-examine a sensational murder case of the recent past, Eddie’s digging results in heartache and death, forcing him to review his role in muck slinging. Aline MacMahon is excellent as his lovestruck, loyal secretary, and Boris Karloff comes close to stealing the film with his performance as a sleazebag reporter. It garnered only one nomination for a Oscar – in the category of Best Picture.
February 4: Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand, especially when Cool Hand Luke(WB, 1967) is 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. Newman was nominated for Best Actor, but fell short, while Kennedy won for Best Supporting Actor (the film received four nominations, including Best Actor for Paul Newman). 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 5: It’s time for a bit of the “Lubitsch touch,” and so we recommend The Smiling Lieutenant(Paramount, 1931). Based on the popular 1907 operetta, A Waltz Dream, by Leopold Jacobson, Felix Doermann, and Oscar Straus, Maurice Chevelier is Nikolaus “Niki” von Preyn, a lieutenant in the Austrian Royal Guard who smiles and winks at his girlfriend, Franzi (Colbert), across the street. Unfortunately, the King of Flausenthurm and his sheltered daughter, Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins), are passing by at that very moment, and Anna thinks Niki was winking and smiling at her and making fun of her. One misunderstanding leads to another, as Niki has to think his way out of this mess. Simply put, it’s a delightful movie, with all three stars giving terrific performances. It was nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture.
February 6: At 12:30 am it’s the film that changed Hollywood: Easy Rider(Columbia, 1969). Made for $555,000, it ended up grossing over $60 million. But more importantly, it changed the reigning paradigm in Hollywood and ushered in a youth movement that changed the industry. It was a road film on acid and a lot of pot, and also revitalized the career of Jack Nicholson, who was about to leave an unsuccessful acting career for one as a producer. Nicholson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and the trio of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Material Not Previously Published or Produced.
February 7: For those looking for a nice change of pace, we suggest Key Largo (WB, 1948). Even though it airs at the hour of 2:15 am, it’s still worth a viewing. 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 8: At 10:00 pm comesPatton (20th Century Fox, 1970), one of the best war films ever made, with George C. Scott literally becoming the embodiment of General George S. Patton. Though it purports to be a documentary of the general’s life, it is a highly mythologized version of Patton we see on the screen. His arrogance and egotism, which almost got him removed from the theater of war, are seen here as virtues. Even his slapping of a shell-shocked soldier (Tim Considine) is seen as just another day with George. The film won a bushel of awards, including Best Director (Franklin J. Schaffner), Best Adapted Screenplay (Francis Ford Coppola), Best Picture, and Best Actor, which was refused by Scott.
February 9: Of all the ‘70s and beyond musicals, our favorite by far is Cabaret, which will be shown at 8:00 pm. 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 Sally Bowles was played by Dame Judi Dench. Cabaret was nominated for 10 Oscars, with Minnelli winning Best Actress, Grey winning Best Supporting Actor, and Fosse walking away with Best Director.
February 10: War pictures can be hit or miss, but one film that always hits the mark is The Great Escape (8:00 pm). Based on the true story of the mass escape from the supposedly escape-proof Luftstalag 3 in Silesia, Germany, it boasts an impressive ensemble cast headed by Sir Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Donald, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, and Donald Pleasence. Because most of the POWs who escaped were British, McQueen, Garner and Bronson were added for American audiences. The movie is based on a novel by Paul Brickhill, a former prisoner at the Luftstalag, with the screenplay written by James Clavell and W.R. Burnett. Brickhill took part in the preparations for escape, but was not among the 250 men chosen by lot. Of the 250 that escaped, 50 (including leader Roger Bushnell) were captured and executed by the Gestapo. The rest, except for three that escaped to England, were recaptured and returned to prison. When it came to the Academy Award, the film garnered only one nomination, that for Best Film Editing (Ferris Webster).
February 11: We would be forever remiss if we didn’t recommend The Life of Emile Zola (8:30 am). It’s a sincere, if mostly fictional, account of the famous novelist’s life, with particular focus on his campaign to free Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was framed for espionage and sent to Devil’s Island. Muni, whose idea of acting was over-emoting from behind lots of make-up, stars as Zola, with Joseph Schildkraut in the pivotal role of Captain Dreyfus. Schildkraut won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and the film won for Best Picture. The trio of Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg and Norman Reilly Raine also won for Best Writing, Screenplay. Gale Sondergaard plays Lucie Dreyfus, and Gloria Holden, who two years earlier won fame as the title character in Dracula’s Daughter, plays Zola’s wife, Alexandrine. Muni can be a bit difficult to take at times as he putters around, but the picture is engrossing from start to finish under the firm hand of director William Dieterle.
February 12: One of the few premieres during this year's Oscar-fest has to be aired at the ungodly hour of 3:15 am. But once we tell you it’s Goodfellas, you’ll know the reason why and why it’s worth it to be shown at such as late hour if viewers want to see it uncut. It may have set a record for the use of the F-word (about 300 times) in a film. However, without the profanity, the movie loses much of its impact, for the language helps convey the violent world in which the film’s characters lived and died. Although it’s been rated in various polls as the second greatest gangster film ever made, behind The Godfather, our opinion is that it outranks its Mob predecessor. While The Godfather romanticized its mobsters and saw Don Corleone as essentially a man of honor, Goodfellas portrays its mobsters for what they truly are: dishonorable lowlifes who cheat and betray each other without a second thought. We are also of the opinion that it is director Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece; an almost flawless piece of cinema. Boasting a cast headed by Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, and Lorraine Bracco, it also featured several recognizable actors in supporting roles, including Michael Imperioli and Tony Sirico, who went on to star in HBO’s successful Mob drama, The Sopranos. It was nominated for six Oscars, only winning in the Best Supporting Actor category (Pesci). Four interesting bits of trivia: First, the character played by Robert De Niro was Jimmy Burke, who masterminded the famous 1978 Lufthansa heist. The character was renamed “Jimmy Conway” in the film for legal reasons, but in real life, “Burke” was Jimmy adopted name. He was born to a woman named “Conway.” Second, Julie Garfield, John Garfield’s daughter, played Jimmy Conway’s wife, Mickey. Third, a sequel of sorts to Goodfellas was My Blue Heaven, which is really about the later life of Henry Hill after he entered the Witness Protection Program. Nora Ephron, whose husband, Nicholas Pileggi, wrote Wiseguy, the book upon which Goodfellas was based, wrote the film. (Pileggi also co-authored the script to Goodfellas with Scorsese.) Fourth, in the film, Hill is relocated to Youngstown, Ohio, which in reality was a Mob haven, and the newspaper he gets at the end of the movie is The Vindicator, the daily newspaper of that city. The longtime politics writer and city hall reporter for that newspaper is our own David Skolnick.
February 13: 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 will 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.
February 14: To recommend any film other than Casablanca (8:00 pm) this night would be sheer blasphemy. There has been much written about this beloved film, and we think most film buffs are 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 before cooler heads prevailed. At any rate there is no doubt about the hold it has 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.” Even 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 15: James Cagney began his career in show business as a dancer on the stage, yet only five of his 69 films allowed him a role that called for singing and dancing. Yet it was one of those, 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy (10:00 pm), where he won his only Oscar. Ostensibly the story of Irish-Åmerican singer-dancer-playwright-composer George M. Cohan, it contains little in the way of facts, but much in the way of blarney – and music. Cagney gives a mesmerizing performance as Cohan, even going to the trouble of copying Cohan’s dancing style, which he used to great effect. Walter Huston, Rosemary DeCamp, Joan Leslie, and sister Jeanne Cagney provide solid support. In fact, the film was a family affair: in addition to Cagney’s sister, Jeanne, as Cohan’s sister, Josie, brother William Cagney served as associate producer. With its many flag-waving musical moments, it was the perfect choice for World War II audiences, and became not only the top grossing film of the year, but also the top grossing film in Warner Bros. history to that point. Cagney was eager to play Cohan, for in addition to the singing and dancing, the flag-waving in the film would quiet persistent accusation that he was a communist sympathizer because of his union activity (president of SAG) and his enthusiastic support for FDR’s New Deal. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning three for Best Actor (Cagney), Best Sound, Recording (Nathan Levinson), and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld). It was also nominated for Best Picture, and Walter Huston, who played Cohan’s father, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. The only stain on the film, for me, is a minor one: given the subject matter, it cried out for Technicolor. Filming it in black and white was a disappointment.
By Ed Garea
STAR OF THE MONTH
As January winds down on TCM’s Star of the Month, Fred MacMurray, we’d like to share a Facebook post we received from one of our most loyal readers, Mary Lewis. She disagreed with our estimation of MacMurray as one of the most underrated actors of his generation. Says Mary: “I disagree with you about Fred MacMurray. In my opinion, he played the same person in every movie he made.”
We’re not about to disagree that he played the same person in every film. Let’s quote Allen Swan (Peter O’Toole) from one of our favorite pictures, My Favorite Year: “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!” That’s what being a movie star was all about. Clark Gable played the same person in all his films, as did James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and practically every star in the studio system. It’s what being a movie star was all about. The studio wanted it that way; once an actor became popular they did not want him or her deviating from what brought in the money. The public also wanted it that way, as they didn’t like seeing their favorite stars in something not palatable. When Gable starred in Parnell in 1937, the critical and public reaction was so negative that in the future Gable stuck to playing Gable. We would also agree with you that MacMurray was not a great actor. But he was a good actor and proved it in many a movie. Talking to people after seeing Double Indemnity, I often asked what struck them the most. The answer, 9 times out of 10, was Fred MacMurray’s performance. They knew him only from television and didn’t think he had it in him.
January 20: A good night to watch MacMurray, as two of his best films are on tap beginning at 8:00. First, it’s his bravura performance in 1954’s The Caine Mutiny. He’s genially evil as Lt. Thomas Keefer, the Iago of the Caine who instigates what will turn into a full-blown mutiny, and when later called to testify at the trial of the mutineers, denies everything. I once saw this at a revival house and when Jose Ferrer threw his drink in MacMurray’s face near the end of the film, the entire theater erupted in cheers. This is a film I can watch time and time again just for the performances.
Following at 10:15 is another MacMurray triumph of genial immorality – Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, from 1960. He plays J.D. Sheldrake, the boss of ambitious young clerk C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon). He uses Baxter’s apartment for his extramarital trysts with elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). MacMaurray, a last-minute replacement for Paul Douglas, who died shortly before filming began, was so good at being so despicable in the role that he received an avalanche of hate mail from female moviegoers who were disappointed in his choice of roles and begged him to play more sympathetic roles in the future. And he did just that, signing on as the amiable Steve Douglas in My Three Sons (1960-72) and playing leads in such Walt Disney fare as The Absent-Minded Professor (1961).
January 27: It’s a Disney double feature for Fred at 8:00 with the excellent The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), and the not so excellent The Shaggy Dog (1959). In the first, MacMurray is Ned Brainard, a science teacher at Medfield College and in his spare time a devoted experimenter whose experiments usually end with explosions. After one such explosion, he finds he’s left with a gooey substance that defies gravity that he calls “flubber.” When greedy tycoon Alonzo Hawk (Keenan Wynn) threatens to close Medfield down, the professor begins to use flubber to save the school, at one point finding that a little on the bottoms of the soles of the basketball team’s shoes gives them a great edge over opponents. Eventually the professor uses flubber on his Model T to travel to the White House to meet the president, completely upsetting the Pentagon’s defense system and becoming a national hero. It’s a fun picture, punctuated by MacMurray’s performance as the befuddled professor, and one that children should like, even though it’s not in color.
At 10:00 pm, it Disney’s The Shaggy Dog, with Fred as the father of teenager Wilby Daniels (Tommy Kirk), who is turned into a “Bratislavian Sheepdog” though a mysterious ring he accidentally takes home with him from the local museum. To make a bad situation worse, father Fred is highly allergic to dogs and plans to shoot the next one that he sees in his house.
At 3:15 am comes an interesting comedy from MGM, Callaway Went Thataway (1951), a gentle proof of television’s “Hopalong Cassidy” craze. Long-forgotten cowboy actor “Smoky” Callaway's career gets a shot in the arm when his old films begin playing on television and he builds a fan following among youngsters. Unfortunately, Callaway has been missing from the public for years. Desperate, the network assigns promoters Mike Frye (MacMurray) and Deborah Patterson (Dorothy McGuire) to find the cowboy star. They're unsuccessful in their search for the reclusive actor. But while at a Colorado ranch, they're introduced to “Stretch” Barnes (Howard Keel), a virtual double for Callaway. After a little haggling, they sign Barnes and pass him off as Callaway. Unfortunately, it all goes to Barnes’s head and there’s another monster to deal with. And if things couldn’t get worse, the real Callaway (also Keel) has resurfaced from his hideway in Mexico and it not pleased to find a double in his stead.
Look for Clark Gable, Esther Williams, and Elizabeth Taylor playing themselves. Sharp eyes will spot Acquanetta, John Banner (Hogan’s Heroes), Mae Clarke, Hugh Beaumont (Leave It to Beaver), and Natalie Schafer (Gilligan’s Island) in small roles.
TCM continues with its tribute to William Cameron Menzies, hosted by Robert Osborne and Menzies biographer (and film historian extraordinaire) James Curtis. We found it most disappointing that this spotlight on the talented Menzies does not include his 1953 low-budget masterpiece, Invaders From Mars. The film was notable because it looked at an invasion from outer space through the eyes of a young boy, played by Jimmy Hunt. Although today, we tend to dismiss its failings, in our youth this film scared the living bejeezus out of us, and still retains an impact today. The idea of Martians kidnapping our parents and turning them into complaint zombies is unsettling, and Menzies uses several tricks to emphasize the terror. We’re surprised the network’s not showing it because they’ve shown it a couple of times before.
January 21: Recommended tonight are Foreign Correspondent (1940) at 8:00, Pride of the Yankees (1942) at 10:15, and the underrated Address Unknown (1944), with a great performance from star Paul Lukas, at 3:15 am.
January 28: Tonight’s a late night at 11:30 pm with the Menzies-directed astounding anti-commie shock feature, The Whip Hand (1951). The film was originally about Hitler escaping to America, where he plans to wipe out the U.S. with germ warfare. However, RKO studio head Howard Hughes believed the film was not commercial enough, so he ordered reshoots to change the enemy from Nazis to commies, making the film even more of an exercise in camp.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY
January 18: Martin Luther King Jr. Day always means a schedule of films by African-Americans or African-American themed. This year is no different, but the real treat is in the morning and early afternoon when a slate of “race films” is scheduled. “Race film” is a term for films produced for black audiences and featuring all-black casts. It’s estimated that about 500 or so of these films were produced, and of these, only fewer than 100 still remain. In the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, films were segregated and very few made by Hollywood studios were aimed at an African-American audience. Because race films were made outside the Hollywood system, they have tended to be ignored by mainstream film historians, but in their day they were very popular with their target audiences.
In the South, they were shown at “all-colored” theaters to comply with segregation. In the North, which was not segregated, they were usually shown at theaters in African-American neighborhoods. Some large Northern white theaters in major cities often reserved special time slots for black audiences, and the films were usually shown at matinees or midnight shows. African-American stars who usually played maids or comic relief roles in Hollywood pictures often starred in these vehicles, which steered clear of stereotyping. Often made on a shoestring, the studios that made these films made Poverty Row studios like Monogram and PRC seem like MGM and Paramount in comparison. But these films are important, as they provide us with a look into a side of America that was sadly ignored. Ignore the production values and concentrate on the historical significance these films bring.
The mini-marathon begins at 6:00 am with Broken Strings (1940), a drama about an injured violinist (Clarence Muse) who pushes his son (William Washington) into a classical music career, even though the young man prefers swing. At 7:00 am is the mystery Miracle in Harlem (1948), with Sheila Guyse as a young woman suspected of killing the grifter who swindled her. Midnight Shadow (1939) airs next at 8:15 am, as Margaret Wilson (Frances Redd) must figure out which of her suitors killed her father, aided in her quest by bumbling would-be detective Junior Lingley (Richard Bates).
Lena Horne stars in the 1938 musical The Duke is Tops at 9:15 am. She plays singer Ethel Andrews, whose burgeoning career affects her relationship with Duke Davis, her good-hearted boyfriend/manager (Ralph Cooper). Be warned: the production values in this film are near zero, but Horne’s winning performance gives us a glimpse into her immense talent.
At 10:30 am comes Herb Jeffries, “The Bronze Buckaroo,” starring in Harlem Rides the Range (1939). the first singing black cowboy film, I first saw this in 1980 at the Beacon Theater in New York as part of the Medved Brothers “Worst Film Festival.” Believe me, the film is not as bad as all that; no better or worse than the Westerns being churned out by Monogram and PRC. Let’s just say the Medveds have a talent for exaggeration. It’s a fun film, just watch for yourselves. The plot has Our Hero Herb, along with his trusty steed, Stardust, protecting the beautiful heir (Artie Young) to a radium mine.
Spirit of Youth (1938) is up next at 11:30 am. Made for major studio wannabe Grand National Films. It stars Joe Louis (yes, the Joe Louis) as promising boxer Joe Thomas. It parallels many events in Louis’s life and boasts an all-star supporting cast that includes Clarence Muse, Edna Mae Harris, Mae Turner, and Mantan Moreland.
The musical drama Swing! (1938), from director Oscar Micheaux, closes out the festival at 12:45 pm. Ted Gregory (Carman Newsome) is trying to be the first black producer to mount a show on Broadway. As if that wasn’t hard enough, he’s also having major trouble with his star singer, Eloise Jackson (Hazel Diaz). His secretary, Lena Powell (Dorothy Van Engle), suggests hiring her old friend Amanda Jenkins (Cora Green) as the wardrobe mistress. When Eloise falls down drunk and breaks her leg, Gregory replaces her with Amanda, who saves the show.
We’ve been getting requests to include Pre-Code films in this column, so, as befits our aim, we will focus on the rarely shown Pre-Codes.
January 21: Two interesting films from Warner Brothers, beginning at 11:15 am with Lloyd Bacon’s 1932 comedy, Crooner. Ted Taylor (David Manners) is a struggling young saxophone player with a passable voice. When his audience complains that they can’t hear him, a patron hands him a megaphone. By singing through the megaphone (a la Rudy Vallee), Ted now becomes a big star, with a swelled head to match. Ann Dvorak plays his long-suffering love interest. As with anything directed by Lloyd Bacon, Crooner is predictable, but fun nevertheless.
Following at 12:30 pm is another Bacon entry, the rarely seen The Famous Ferguson Case (1932), starring the one and only Joan Blondell as one of a flock of New York City reporters that descend upon the small upstate town of Cornwall after its leading citizen, financier George Ferguson is killed. While the New York reporters, save for Blondell, are looking for sensational “news,” local reporter Bruce Foster (Tom Brown), who runs the Cornwall Courier, teaches the city slickers a thing or two on how to dig for real news instead of spinning the story to meet their own needs. Blondell is a New York reporter who gets fed up with the modus operandi of her co-workers. It has a good cast that acquits themselves nicely, but Bacon bungles the story, and the writing by Harvey Thew and Granville Moore doesn’t help matters, either. But it’s always good to watch Blondell in action, even if she is wasted, as she is here.
January 29: At 10:45 am, it’s Warren William in one of his great sleazebag portrayals in Bedside (1932). William is an expelled medical student who buys a medical degree from a junkie doctor and cons his way into a lucrative career as a quack for high-society hypochondriacs. It’s far-fetched, sure, but William is always fun to watch.
Kay Francis dons the stethoscope at 12:15 pm in Doctor Monica (1934). She is a successful obstetrician who can’t conceive a child of her own. Unbeknownst to her, well-known author husband John (Warren William) knocks up one of her acquaintances, Mary Hathaway (Jean Muir), and then hightails it to Europe for an extended trip. He is unaware of the pregnancy, as his wife is unaware of her husband’s paternity. When Monica learns of Mary’s situation, she helps with prenatal care and plans to deliver the baby. Then, overhearing a phone call from Mary to John, she learns the truth. She delivers the baby, then tells hubby she wants a divorce. Meanwhile, Mary does the self-sacrificing thing by going up in her plane and committing suicide, leaving the baby in the possession of Monica and John. It seems silly and campy today, but the film’s frank treatment of adult subjects such as adultery and illegitimacy led censors to cut a large part of it before it hit the screen.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
January 17: A night of films featuring “threesomes” begins at 8:00 pm with Ernst Lubitsch’s witty and urbane Design for Living (1932) with Miriam Hopkins as an independent woman who can’t choose between suitors Frederic March and Gary Cooper. The evening continues at 9:45 with Jeanne Moreau balancing Oskar Werner and Henri Serre in Truffaut’s 1962 classic, Jules and Jim. Cut to 2:00 am and it’s the wild and wacky Czech New Wave feature, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders from 1970. Finally, at 3:30 am, Fellini takes the helm with his 1965 comedy/drama/fantasy Juliet of the Spirits featuring an outstanding performance by Giuletta Masina as a woman whose world comes crashing down when she learns of her husband’s infidelity.
January 21: At 3:15 pm, it's the rarely seen Special Agent from Warner Brothers in 1936 with George Brent as an IRS agent who poses as a news reporter to get the goods on mobster Ricardo Cortez, and Bette Davis in another of her forgettable roles of the time as Cortez’s bookkeeper
January 29: At 10:15 pm, it’s the TCM premiere of the Oscar-winning Vietnam War documentary Hearts and Minds (1975). The title comes from a phrase by President Lyndon Johnson to justify our increasing involvement in Vietnam: “The ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there.” The documentary seeks to address three questions: (1) Why did we get involved in Vietnam; (2) what did we do there; and (3) and how did our involvement affect us at home? The film raises more questions than it answers, but it looks at a particularly painful chapter in American history with even-handedness and intelligence.
January 31: Beginning at 2:00 am, it’s a double feature starting with the superb 1960 Korean horror/drama The Housemaid about an unstable and unbalanced maid who destroys her employer’s family. It’s followed at 4:00 am by Director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s unforgettable 1955 drama, Diabolique. Clouzot manages to out-Hitchcock Alfred Hitchcock in this tale of a cruel headmaster (Paul Meurisse) who is murdered by his long-suffering wife (Vera Clouzot) and his mistress (Simone Signoret). Clouzot’s masterpiece influenced both Hitchcock (in making Psycho) and Stanley Kubrick (in making The Shining). This is a film not to be missed.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
January 16: We begin with the Bowery Boys in Jinx Money (1948) at 10:30 am, followed by the Ursula Andress adventure She (1965) at noon, and wait until 2:00 am for the 1976 independent production of Alice, Sweet Alice. After a young girl is brutally murdered during her first communion, her weird older sister becomes the main suspect. Look for Brooke Shields as the victim, Lillian Roth as a therapist, and Antonino “Argentina” Rocca as a pallbearer. Shot on location in Paterson, N.J.
January 23: The Gothic horror film, The Church (1989) from Italian director Michele Soavi airs at 2:00 am, followed by Hammer Studio’s and director Terence Fisher’s underrated Gothic contribution, The Devil’s Bride (1968), starring Christopher Lee and Charles Gray (Rocky Horror Picture Show).
January 25: TCM devotes the entire morning and afternoon to the works of macabre master Tod Browning. Among the Browning classics shown are The Unholy Three (1925) at 6:15 am; the eerie The Show (1927) at 9:15am; West of Zanzibar (1928) at 10:15; the rarely shown 1929 early talkie The Thirteenth Chair, with Bela Lugosi in a pre-Dracula role at noon; Freaks (1932) at 2:45 pm; and the nearly forgotten Miracles for Sale (1939) at 6:30 pm.
January 30: At 10:45 am, it’s the Bowery Boys in Trouble Makers (1948).
January 31: At midnight, it’s the great psychotronic silent, The Magician (1926) starring Paul Wegener as a bizarre doctor/hypnotist/scientist/alchemist enamored with sculptress Alice Terry, who is injured when one of her sculptures falls on her. Rarely shown, it’s definitely one to record and watch.
By Ed Garea
STAR OF THE MONTH
January’s Star of the Month is an actor who epitomizes the very definition of “genial”: Fred MacMurray. He’s probably the most underrated actor of his generation, probably because so many of his early efforts were mediocre at best. And he might have been doomed to spend his life in one mediocrity after another were it not for a flash of casting genius from director Billy Wilder.
It was Wilder who wanted him for his upcoming movie, Double Indemnity (1944), for the role of Walter Neff. An ordinary insurance salesman, Neff's yen for great sex and an easy payday led to his getting involved with femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck in knocking off her husband for his insurance money. He is caught by his boss, played by Edward G. Robinson. MacMurray originally demurred when Wilder proposed it; he said he was a trombone player who made easy-going films with Carole Lombard. Wilder eventually wore him down by essentially telling him he wouldn't cast him if he wasn’t sure MacMurray could pull it off. He further told the actor to “take a chance for once in your life.” Wilder also had trouble convincing Stanwyck and Robinson. When Stanwyck told him she wasn’t comfortable playing a cold-blooded killer, Wilder simply looked at her and asked, “Are you a mouse or an actress?” Robinson signed on after some soul searching in which he realized his leading man days were over, the part was a fantastic one, and he’s be getting the same amount of money as the stars for less work.
After the film clicked with both critics and the public, MacMurray thereafter had no reluctance to playing the heel. In fact, it could be said that his best work was in films were he played the heels, such as The Caine Mutiny (1954), where he played the instigator all too eager to pin the results on shipmate Van Johnson; The Pushover (1954), where he played a crooked cop; and The Apartment (1961), playing a two-timing exec who uses underling Jack Lemmon’s apartment for his trysts with Shirley MacLaine.
But when Fred played the genial guy, there was no one better, as witness his turns in The Egg and I (1947) with Claudette Colbert, and his two Disney Films, The Shaggy Dog (1959) and The Absent-Minded Professor (1961). He also starred for 12 seasons as the genial Steve Douglas in the hit sitcom, My Three Sons. If it seemed that his character was never around much in the series, there was a very good reason. MacMurray played hardball in the contract negotiations with the producers and secured an agreement that stated he was only required to work 65 days per season. That’s why Bub (William Frawley) and Uncle Charlie (William Demarest) were frequently left to mind the kids.
Off-screen he was just as genial as he was on screen. He was married twice, first to Lillian Lamont, which lasted from 1936 to her death in 1953. He then married actress June Haver later that year, and the marriage lasted until his death from leukemia and pneumonia in 1991.
January 6: There are three recommended films in tonight’s line-up. First, at 9:30 pm, it's Murder, He Says (Paramount, 1945), a funny slapstick comedy starring Fred as a pollster who stumbles onto a batch of murderous hillbillies led by Marjorie Main. At 1:00 am, it’s the marvelous Alice Adams (RKO, 1935) starring Katharine Hepburn as a small-town social climber finally finding love in the person of unpretentious and rich Fred MacMurray. Finally, at 5:45 am, it’s Fred as a test pilot who helps Dr. Errol Flynn in his experiments to prevent pilots from blacking out during dive-bombing runs in Dive Bomber (WB, 1941). It’s strictly formula, but fun nonetheless.
January 13: Start the night at 8:00 pm with the incredible Double Indemnity (Paramount, 1945), a film it took nine years to make due to the Code. Screenwriters Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler (Charles Brackett, Wilder’s usual writing partner, bowed out of this one because he felt the material was too uncomfortable) were paid the ultimate compliment by the book’s author, James M. Cain. Cain said if he had come up with some of the solutions to the plot that Wilder and Chandler did, he would have employed them in his original novel.
At 11:45 pm, comes Remember the Night (Paramount, 1940) starring Barbara Stanwyck as a shoplifter prosecuted by assistant D.A. Fred MacMurray. Rather than see her sit in jail over the Christmas holiday, he gets permission from the court to release her in his custody. At first, he drives her to her mother’s home. But after the cold greeting she gets, he decides instead to take her to his family’s farm, where the atmosphere is much warmer, and, of course, they fall in love. It’s a heartwarming story from writer Preston Sturges and director Mitchell Leisen. In fact, it was Leisen’s trimming of Sturges’s script that convinced the writer to become a director. That way, no director could trim his work as he pleased.
And at the wee hour of 3:00 am comes Above Suspicion (MGM, 1943), starring Joan Crawford and MacMurray as secret agents for British Intelligence who are asked to gain some important information about a super weapon being developed by the Nazis in prewar Germany. Bail Rathbone is the villainous Nazi aristocrat who imprisons and tortures Crawford while Conrad Veidt goes against type as an Austrian resistance fighter. This was to be Veidt’s last role as he died of a massive heart attack shortly afterward while playing golf. Though critics panned the film when it was originally released (even Crawford referred to it as “tripe”), despite all its goofiness, it holds up well today as an example of pure escapism and is worth at least a look.
January’s TCM Spotlight is dedicated to the career of talented jack-of-all-trades William Cameron Menzies. A graduate of Yale University, the University of Edinburgh and the Art Students League in New York, Menzies entered the film business in 1919 as a set and special effects designer. His work was so good that after only three years he was promoted to full-fledged art director. At United Artists (1923-30, 1935-40) and Fox (1931-33) he worked with stars such as Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks. He also had the distinction of winning the first-ever Oscar for art direction (The Dove, 1927).
From the beginning of the sound era, Menzies also became involved in directing and producing, but his real worth was an art director, where he acquired a reputation for his larger-than-life visual flair and love of adventure and fantasy. He also came to define the role of the art director as having the overall control over the look of the finished picture. He was hailed for his work on Gone With the Wind, where he actually directed the famous burning of Atlanta and the hospital sequences, including the famous long crane shot of the dead and wounded.
As a director, though, he was less effective, as he didn’t have the necessary ability to draw strong performances from his cast. As a result, he frequently has to share credit with a co-director brought in to finish the film. He also helmed several low-budget efforts that still stand out today as marvels of visualization, such as Invaders From Mars (1953) and The Maze (1953).
January 7: This is the better of the two nights featured in this edition, beginning at 8:00 pm with the suave Ronald Colman in the suave version of the adventure of that suave man of action, Bulldog Drummond (UA, 1929). Colman is fun to watch as he helps obligatory blonde bombshell Joan Bennett rescue her uncle from the clutches of sadistic shrink Lawrence Grant. Claude Allister is along for the ride as Drummond’s BFF, Algy.
Following at 9:45 is Edmund Lowe and Bela Lugosi in Chandu the Magician from Fox in 1932. Frank Chandler (Lowe) has spent three years studying the occult arts and hypnotism under the tutelage of the yogis. He is now sent out into the world to battle the forces of evil under his new moniker of Chandau. He finds himself up against the evil madman Roxor (Lugosi), who is intent on conquering the world now that he’s gotten his hands on a death ray conveniently invented by Chandau’s brother-in-law, Robert Regent (Henry B. Walthall). When Regent refuses to tell Roxor how to get the machine started, Roxor kidnaps Regent’s wife, daughter, and son, threatening them with death unless Regent hands over the keys to the car. Guess who comes to the rescue? The film was based on a popular radio serial that ran from 1932 to 1936. It was revived in 1948 with a new cast and ran until 1950. Although the movie tends to be more than a bit clunky at times, Lowe is excellent as Chandau and Lugosi makes for an effective, hammy villain. It’s worth tuning in, especially for those who haven’t seen it before, and those who are Lugosi fans, as this one is shown every once in a blue moon.
At 11:00 pm, it’s Paramount’s 1933 Alice in Wonderland. Directed by Norman Z. McLeod, it’s an example of unusual casting, with W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty, Richard Arlen as the Cheshire Cat, Louise Fazenda as The White Queen, Sterling Holloway as The Frog, Richard “Skeets” Gallagher as The White Rabbit, Edward Everett Horton as The Mad Hatter, Cary Grant as The Mock Turtle, and Gary Cooper, of all people, as The White Knight. The role of Alice was originally slated for young Ida Lupino, but the studio wound up casting Charlotte Henry. It sounds really interesting, given the cast, but the film turns out to be a dull, plodding affair thanks to McLeod’s uninspired direction. Tune in anyway, because this is another one that airs every once in a blue moon.
January 14: It’s yet another excuse to air Gone With the Wind (8:00 pm), but following at 12:00 am is the one to catch: the imaginative Things to Come (London Film/UA, 1936). Boasting a marvelous cast that includes Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Ann Todd, George Sanders, Terry-Thomas, and the unforgettable Pickles Livingston, Things to Come is a sort of “history of the future,” so to speak. As the film begins, we learn that the Second World War has broken out in 1940 (Amazingly, the producers were only a year off!) and has continued until 1966, by which time the social order has been completely destroyed and a plague called “the wandering sickness” has decimated the world’s population. A warlord known as “The Boss” (Richardson) now rules the ruins of Everytown. Former resident John Cabal (Massey) has returned to overthrow The Boss. He reveals the founding of a new World State in Basra, which is run by a cabal of scientists and philosophers who use superior air power to maintain order so that by 2036 Everytown has been transformed into a technologically advanced and tightly ordered society. Cabal’s grandson, Oswald (also Massey), plans to send the first humans to the moon using a “space gun.” But he is opposed by the dissident artist Theotocopulous (Hardwicke), who rejects the idea of human progress and is attempting to form a mass revolt against the moon mission. Seen today, it’s amusingly old-fashioned, but the visual design is striking and compelling. At any rate, it’s a lot of fun.
January 15: TCM devotes an entire night to this talented and often unsung actress with six of her films. Leading off at 8:00 pm is John Ford’s 1939 Stagecoach, which marked the transition of the Western from a strictly B product to A-level material. Although Trevor was top-billed in the film, fans tend to remember the film for John Wayne’s breakout role or Thomas Mitchell’s Oscar-winning turn as the drunken doctor. However, it’s Trevor’s saloon girl, Dallas, who holds the picture together, and one for which she should have earned an Oscar nomination. In later interviews, Trevor recalled how Ford liked to bully the cast members. Most, she recalled, kept quiet and took it, but Thomas Mitchell, upon receiving a profanity-laden blast from Ford, simply replied, “Just remember, I saw Mary of Scotland.” For once, the director was quiet.
Murder, My Sweet (RKO, 1944), with Trevor in a wonderful performance as the treacherous Velma, follows at 10:00 pm. Anthony Mann’s underrated noir, Raw Deal (Eagle-Lion, 1948), starring Dennis O’Keefe as a convict who broke out of jail to track down his enemy, the slimy Raymond Burr, airs at midnight. Trevor is Pat Cameron, a moll who’s head-over-heels about O’Keefe and wants to settle down with him. For those who thought Lee Marvin hit the heights of villainy in The Big Heat when he threw a pot of boiling coffee into mistress Gloria Grahame’s face, Burr goes him one better five years prior by throwing a glass of flaming brandy in the face of his mistress after she accidentally spills a drink on him.
At 1:30 am, it’s The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (WB, 1938), starring Eddie G. as a successful Park Avenue doctor who decides the best way to study the criminal mind is to become one himself. (No, I’m not making this up.) To do this, he joins a gang of thieves led by fence Keller (Trevor) and “Rocks” Valentine (Humphrey Bogart). It’s silly, unbelievable, but thanks to Eddie G. and Trevor, it is a lot of fun to watch. Bogart gives his usual one-note performance as Valentine, notable only for his death scene. (It’s been said that, “no one dies like Bogart.”) Bogie, who hated being typecast as the one-note thug in these films, openly derided it to anyone that asked, calling it “The Amazing Dr. Clitoris.”
Trevor dazzles in a small, but pivotal, role as Francie, the old girlfriend of doomed visiting gangster Baby Face Martin in Dead End (Goldwyn, 1937). Her performance is so powerful as to almost steal the picture. My partner, David Skolnick, however, hails the film because it’s the debut of his favorite actor, Leo Gorcey.
Finally, at 5:00 am, it’s Trevor, along with William Holden and Glenn Ford, in the above-average oater, Texas (Columbia, 1941). She plays the love interest of bad guy Holden and good guy Ford.
January 3: Beginning at 2:00 am, it’s a double feature of French director Alain Resnais, beginning with the supremely arty-fartsy romantic drama, Hiroshima, Mon Amour (New Yorker Films, 1959). The plot consists of a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) in Hiroshima to make an antiwar film about the impact of the atomic bomb on the city. There she meets a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) who lost his family in the bombing. Naturally they decide to have an affair, spending our precious time locked in a “let’s have one more night” vs. “let’s never see one another again” argument over what seems like their tenth drink. A lot of people fall all over themselves describing the beauties and charm of the film, but I’ll cut right to the chase: there is none. The characters are cut out of cardboard, merely two-dimensional, of whom we get no sense of as people; they have no depth. She’s an actor, he’s an architect, but we never learn anything more than that. As bad and as tortuous as this is, Resnais managed to top himself two years later with his Last Year at Marienbad.
And yet, at 3:30 am, what follows is one of the best documentaries ever made. Night and Fog (Argos Films, 1955) holds the distinction of being one of the first documentaries to deal with the Holocaust. It’s only 33 minutes in length, but so much is said in those 33 minutes. It’s compellingly photographed, and displays the real power of the moving image to convey a subject. In fact, Francois Truffaut considered it to be the greatest film ever made. It was supposed to be shown at Cannes, but the German government at the time (1955) successfully lobbied to have it barred on the grounds that the festival’s regulations prevented any film that would offend any participating nation from being shown. The title comes from a remark from Heinrich Himmler that anyone who opposed the Nazis would be whisked off to the camps in such a way that they would vanish without a trace “into the night and fog.”
January 10: It’s a night of director Yasuhiro Ozu beginning at midnight with his silent classic, A Story of Floating Weeds (Shochiku, 1934). At 2:00 am, it’s Ozu’s first color film, Equinox Flower (Shochiku, 1958), the story of a businessman (Shin Saburi) who is often asked by friends for advice and help regarding marriages, as well as family and romantic relationships. However, when it comes to his own family, his daughter has her own notions of what path a marriage should take. As usual, it features Ozu’s take on the quickly changing cultural scene in postwar Japan told with grace and much quiet humor. And, as with practically all of Ozu’s films, the viewer will experience what I like to call “scene nostalgia,” ruminating over some of his or her favorite scenes from the movie, of which I have plenty myself.
Wrapping up the night is his 1961 masterpiece from Toho Studios, The End of Summer (aka Early Autumn). A superb blend of comedy and tragedy, it concerns the fortunes of the Kohayagawa family. They run a small sake brewery on postwar Japan that is falling upon hard times, with the family thinking about whether to merge their business with a larger company. As the film opens, we quickly get a notion of what’s in store as a flashing neon sign in the Osaka skyline that proclaims the “New Japan.” Family patriarch Manbei (Hisaya Morishige) is in a bar fixing up a businessman with his widowed niece Akiko (Setsuko Hara) without her knowledge. She’s a clerk in an art gallery whose professor husband passed on six years ago, leaving her with a son on whom she dotes.
Manbei’s delicate condition, combined with the recent erratic behavior, is worrisome to his three daughters. He has developed a habit of suddenly leaving the office in the afternoons without letting anyone know his whereabouts. Hisao (Keiju Kobayashi), the husband of middle daughter Fumiko (Michiyo Aratama) and who is now in charge of running the business, has Manbei followed one day and it’s discovered that he’s been visiting his former mistress, Sasaki (Chieko Naniwa). Fumiko is concerned because her father is ignoring pressing family and business matters, including finding a wealthy husband for youngest daughter Noriko (Yoko Tsukasa) that can give the family business a much needed cash infusion.
Manbei suffers a heart attack, but recovers quickly and is up to his old tricks when he suddenly dies in the apartment of his mistress. It is now up to the younger generation to take over the job Manbei has watched over. Ozu handles everything with his customary finesse, and the performances by the cast are excellent. Hara, in her last film for Ozu, is simply wonderful as the niece with a mind of her own.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
January 4: It’s a night of films devoted to the subject of the Spanish Civil War, beginning with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (Paramount, 1943) at 8:00 pm.
Other films of interest this night include the 1937 documentary, Spanish Earth at 3:00 am, and the whiny Walter Wanger produced Blockade (UA, 1938), the only film made about the Spanish Civil War not to mention who was fighting in the conflict. Henry Fonda’s final appeal to the audience is one of the whiniest moments in film, attempting to make us in the audience in cahoots with the Falange. Wanger was your typical gutless liberal, bold enough to stand up to the Catholic Church, which didn’t have any fangs, but who backed down before the Production board, which did. Wanger was also a hypocrite who chose his fights carefully. When he remade the French film Pepe Le Moko (1937) as Algiers (1938), with Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr, he tried to buy all the prints of Pepe Le Moko in order to burn them. Thankfully, he didn’t succeed. The film not only survives, but also makes its remake seem small next to it.
January 11: A lovely double feature of Preston Sturges commences at 2:45 am with his masterpiece (and one of the best films ever made), Sullivan’s Travels (Paramount, 1942). Following right after at 4:30 am is his 1947 effort for UA, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, aka Mad Wednesday.
January 12: TCM celebrates the 80th anniversary of MOMA’s film archive with a slate of rarely seen films, beginning at 8:00 pm with Morris Engel’s wonderful 1953 comedy-drama, The Little Fugitive. At 9:30, it’s the Ida Lupino directed Never Fear (Eagle-Lion, 1949), a drama about a dancer on the verge of her big break, only to discover she has contracted polio. And at 11:00 comes the 1931 romantic comedy, Don’t Bet on Women, from Fox. Star Edmund Lowe is a woman hater, thanks to a failed marriage and several disastrous romances. Friend Roland Young bets Lowe that the next woman who walks into the room, no matter who she is, won’t let Lowe kiss her for 48 hours. Right after Lowe makes the bet, into the room walks Young’s wife, Jeanette MacDonald.
January 9: A pair of B-Westerns airs beginning at 6:45 am with In Old Santa Fe, a 1934 oater from Mascot Pictures starring Ken Maynard. Maynard, he of the huge white hat, has just lost his prized horse, “Tarzan,” in a crooked race and now finds himself framed for murder. George (later “Gabby”) Hayes is on hand as Ken’s sidekick, Cactus. It’s also the film debuts of Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette, who would go on to form quite a pair themselves over at Republic Studios in a score of singing Westerns.
At 8:00 am comes Song of the Gringo from Grand National in 1936 and starring Tex Ritter and Fuzzy Knight, with Tex as a lawman who goes undercover as an outlaw to find his missing father.
January 1: It’s an entire morning and afternoon of psychotronic films. Nothing new, but we recommend The Fly (10:15 am), Them! (noon), and The Day the Earth Stood Still (3:45 pm).
January 2: A really terrible – and therefore a Must See – piece of cheese, Night Train to Terror (Visto Int’l, 1985), can be seen at 2:00 am. It seems someone took three horror films and whittled them down to into episodes for this astounding trilogy. It opens with “Mister Satan” (Tony Giorgio) and God (Ferdy Mayne) debate the fates of three people while riding the “Devil’s cannonball” train. A new wave Menudo-type band plays horrible music in the background with lyrics such as “Everybody’s got something to do, everybody but you,” sort of a mean message to those of us watching this thing. We then begin the segments: (1) John Phillip Law is an inmate in evil sanatorium where body parts are harvested. Richard Moll distinguishes himself by playing an employee who menaces and gropes young actresses in various states of undress before dismembering them. (2) A middle aged man becomes obsessed with a porn star and becomes seriously miffed when she falls for a guy who saw her in one of her movies when he stopped by a frat house for a beer. (The guy has to be at least 40 years old.) The middle-aged guy then enrolls them in a “Death Club,” which consists of desk-chairs like ones you would find in a classroom. The final meeting of the Club has the four surviving members bound in sleeping bags over which a demolition ball hangs. (3) A surgeon named Claire Hanson somehow becomes involved with Nazis and Satan when she autopsies a body of an old man who believed that a young man is the same Nazi who killed his family back in 1944. Since the police don’t believe his story, the old man goes after the young man himself and is killed by a fanged demon who blows a hole in his chest. After the autopsy, Claire begins having nightmares and seeing demons. It’s revealed that the young man is Satan, who has remained eternally young and killed people for centuries on end. Lots of bad claymation monsters in this one. Believe it or not, character actor Marc Lawrence plays the old man. He must’ve really needed the money. In the end, the model train crashes, but God decides to save everybody. Don’t miss it.
In what will surely seem like a come down, TCM follows this classic at 3:35 am with Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (MGM, 1985), a trio of three horror stories as seen through the eyes of a stray cat. It boasts a good cast, including Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Robert Hays, Candy Clark, and James Naughton.
January 9: An interesting, but disappointing and puzzling science-fiction film comes our way at 2:15 am. Phase IV (Paramount, 1974), described by Jeff Stafford in his essay for TCM, likens it more to Last Year at Marienbad than to Them! Apparently, a disturbance in deep space is having its effects on Earth. British biologist Dr. Hobbs (Nigel Davenport) has noticed strange doings in the ant world, most strikingly in the way they attack each other. Apparently they are joining forces to attack other species. Hobbs sets up shop on a desolate area to study the critters, but after awhile, it becomes apparent that he is the experiment and they the experimenters, as they have become superior in intellect to the humans.
Following at 4:00 am is a repeat showing of Them! As long as we’re on the subject of ants ...
By Ed Garea
STAR OF THE MONTH: FRANK SINATRA
December 16: Three good musicals from MGM: On The Town (1949) at 9:00 pm, Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), following at 11:00, and 1945’s Anchors Aweigh at 12:45 am.
December 23: It’s the ludicrous The Miracle of the Bells (1948) at 8:45 pm (Bad Movie Alert), followed by High Society (1956) at 11:00 pm. Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Louie Armstrong co-star in this remake of The Philadelphia Story.
December 30: Two solid films tonight: The marvelous, and still powerful, The Man With the Golden Arm (1956) at 9:15 pm, followed by Frank as comedian Joe E. Lewis in The Joker is Wild (1957) at 11:30 pm.
TCM SPOTLIGHT: GIRLFRIENDS
December 28: A good double feature worth catching: The Children’s Hour (1961) at 8:00 pm, with the original These Three (1936) immediately following at 10:00. I’m always partial to the original, but both versions are excellent adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play, The Children’s Hour, about how scandalous gossip ruins the lives of two schoolteachers. Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon co-star with Joel McCrea in the original, while Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn star with James Garner in the remake.
December 18: An excellent double feature of Barbara Stanwyck Christmas movies begins at 9:30 with the classic comedy Christmas in Connecticut (1945), with Stanwyck as a homemaking columnist who can’t cook a lick being called upon to entertain a war hero and her publisher for the holidays. Remember the Night (1940), a bittersweet comedy written by Preston Sturges, follows at 11:30. Prosecutor Fred MacMurray takes pity on shoplifter Stanwyck, and instead of letting her stay in jail over the Christmas holidays, takes her home to his family for the holidays with the predictable results.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
December 20: Director Eric Rohmer is highlighted in a late night double feature beginning at 2:30 am with his 1969 film, My Night at Maud’s. Jean-Louis Trintignant is a devout Catholic who moves to a provincial town and vows to marry Francoise (Marie-Christine Barrault, a ravishing blonde he notices at mass. Vidal (Antoine Vitez), an old school friend, invites him to date the recently divorced Maud (Francoise Fabian) and Jean-Louis ends up staying the night, engaged in a philosophical discussion with Maud in her bedroom. But he’s determined to win Francoise over, and although he and Maud have terrific chemistry, his stubbornness gets in the way. It’s a delightful, though somewhat dense, film that demands the viewer’s attention.
Following at the ungodly hour of 4:40 am is La Collectionneuse (The Collector Girl), a comedy from 1967. It’s a wonderful psychological comedy, exploring Rohmer’s favorite theme of rationalization versus eroticism. Adrien (Patrick Bauchau), an art collector, and Daniel (Daniel Pommereulle), a painter, are staying at a friend’s house in St. Tropez. Also staying there is Haydee (Haydee Politoff), a carefree spirit who beds a different man each night. At first, Adrien is repulsed by her behavior, calling her “a collector of men.” But as time passes, he becomes more and more intrigued and attracted to her. His tension between adhering to his moral principles or casting them aside and sleeping with Haydee comprises the core of the film. It’s Rohmer’s first color feature and is beautifully photographed, with excellent performances from all concerned.
December 27: At 2:45 am is Ingmar Bergman’s 1982 masterpiece, Fanny And Alexandria. Fanny and Alexander are the children of Emilie and Oskar Ekdahl, a prosperous theatrical family in Uppsala at the beginning of the 20th century. When Oskar falls ill during Christmas season and passes away, their mother Emilie is devastated. Shortly afterwards, she marries Edvard Vergerus, a rigid, demanding bishop. The household changes from a footloose and happy one into a cheerless, unhappy one. This affects the children deeply, especially Alexander, an imaginative boy, whose stubbornness in the face of his new situation causes him to constantly butt heads with the icy Edvard. Isak, their grandmother’s longtime friend, manages to kidnap the children and shelters them in his house, which is filled with puppets and mysterious objects. Reality and fantasy become blurred from here onward, but, in the end, the cruel bishop meets his fate and Emilie finally makes it back to the family home. Definitely recommended.
THE MARX BROTHERS AND THE THIN MAN
December 31: In the morning and afternoon it’s a Marx Brothers marathon. All five of their Paramount films will air along with A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. In the evening, it’s the complete Thin Man series with William Powell and Myrna Loy. What a way to see in the New Year!
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
December 19: Leading off at 2:00 am is director Andrzej Zulawski’s graphically weird Possession. Isabella Adjani and Sam Neill are a couple who see their marriage come crashing down around them after Adjani takes a lover. Neill has a nervous breakdown, but stays with Adjani literally ‘till death does them part. They live in an apartment next to the Berlin Wall and slash themselves with electric knives. She has a very messy miscarriage in a subway station and later gives birth to a tentacled monster that later becomes her lover. Think of a combination of The Exorcist and Repulsion on acid.
At 4:00 am, it’s Louis Malle’s Black Moon from 1975, a bizarre, dark and surreal film that opens with a war around the world between men and women. To escape the war, a young girl flees to a fantasy world with talking animals and unicorns, plus one really strange family. This film is so weird I can’t even describe it adequately. The best thing is to see it for yourself. By the way, intended as an allegory on the modern world, it flopped miserably at the box office.
December 26: A Larry Cohen double feature begins at 2:00 am with his 1976 murder mystery, God Told Me To. Tony Lo Bianco is an NYPD detective investigating a series of homicides whose perpetrators all claim to have been acting at the behest of the Almighty. “God” turns out to be an extraterrestrial beget by a nonconsensual union of alien and human. Look for Andy Kaufman as a cop who goes berserk in a parade.
Following at 3:30 am is It’s Alive (1974), Cohen’s story of a demonic killer baby on a rampage. Shocking when first released, it seems almost tame today due to the relative lack of gore.
December 29: A morning and afternoon of sci-fi and fantasy movies. Nothing new, but highlights include It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) at 6:30 am, The Valley of Gwangi (1969) at 9:45 am, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) at 3:00 pm, and Jason and the Argonauts (1963) at 6:15 pm.
Two great B-noirs are being shown in the evening. First up at 10:15 pm is the great Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears (1949). Liz is a housewife who, through a fluke set of circumstances, comes into a briefcase filled with $60,000. And she’ll do anything to hang on to it, even if it includes murder. At 2:00 am, it’s John Payne in Phil Karlson’s 1952 noir, Kansas City Confidential. Payne is a down-on-his-luck ex-con who finds himself framed for a million dollar armored car heist. He’s determined to catch the culprits and clear his name even if it means going to Mexico. Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs shows the influence of this film.
By Ed Garea
STAR OF THE MONTH
This month’s star is none other than Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Besides being known as the singer of his generation, Sinatra has also surprised many as an exceptional actor, possessing a natural gift for the craft. Like many with the same gift, he distrusted and disliked the method actors; witness his on-the-set feud with Marlon Brando when the two were performing in Guys and Dolls. Though a good part of the feud is rooted in Sinatra’s jealousy that Brando, a non-singer, secured the romantic lead, Sinatra was also greatly annoyed by Brando’s insistence on multiple takes to “get it just right.” For Sinatra, a natural study, one take was often enough, and the thought of going over the same material ad infinitum drove him up the proverbial wall.
Each night devoted to Sinatra begins at 8:00 pm with one of his televised music specials from the ‘50s and ‘60s. These are rare treats, as we see an artist at the height of his power. As for the movies … well, that’s more of a scattershot matter, as Frank’s hits this month are balanced with as many duds.
December 2: The aforementioned Guys and Dolls is being shown at 9:00 pm, followed by the pick of the night: Pal Joey. For those Sinatra fans interested in his personification as the ultimate singer, the “ring-a-ding-ding” guy, this film is where it all started. Frank plays a nightclub crooner who chases every skirt that crosses his path, until ex-stripper Rita Hayworth makes him an offer he can’t refuse – his own club, but with some heavy strings attached. When he falls for Kim Novak, will he be strong enough to cut the ties that bind? The Rodgers and Hart score includes a couple of songs that have forever been associated with Sinatra: “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” and “The Lady is a Tramp.”
December 9: The best flick of the night – easily – is From Here to Eternity (1953) at 9:15 pm. I should qualify that statement: it’s a great movie for Sinatra fans; for most others, it’s a run-of-the-mill soaper set at Pearl Harbor right before the Japanese attacked. It has all the stock characters: the Whore with a Heart of Gold (Donna Reed), the Rebellious Sergeant (Burt Lancaster), who fiddles around with his Commander’s Unfulfilled Wife (Deborah Kerr), the Pathetic Outsider (Montgomery Clift), the Power Mad Bully (Ernest Borgnine), and Sinatra in an excellent performance as the Destined Loser. Sinatra’s performance as Maggio won him the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. Of course, the story of how he got the role has become one of Hollywood’s great myths – that the Mob threatened Harry Cohn, heads of Columbia Studios, to give Frank the role. And that scene was so well realized in The Godfather when the studio head goes to bed only to find his favorite horse’s head in there with him. It’s the stuff legends are made of, but not necessarily facts.
December 7: This month’s theme is “Girlfriends,” and frankly, it’s simply more of the same old, same old, except for tonight at 11:45 pm when Peter Jackson’s 1994 minor masterpiece, Heavenly Creatures, will air. The film is based on a real-life incident that took place in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1954. BFF’s Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet), are so close, it’s downright creepy. Both girls live in a fantasy world that to them is as real as the everyday world they inhabit. When the adults threaten that world, the girls see Pauline’s mother as their primary obstacle and murder her. This is a film as fascinating as it is disturbing, as director Jackson takes us into the forbidden fantasy world of the young women, imbuing the film with a surrealistic quality as peaceful fantasy turns to brute force. Winslet is stunning as Juliet in her film debut, aided and abetted by Lynskey’s equally forceful performance. For those who haven’t yet caught it, it's a Must.
December 6: It’s a rare treat with a double feature from acclaimed director Keisuke Kinoshita beginning at 2:00 am with his 1946 drama, Morning for the Osone Family, and followed at 3:30 am by his masterly Twenty-Four Eyes, from 1954. The first, which I confess I haven’t yet seen, is a story about a liberal-minded Japanese family torn apart by the war and its imperialist politics. Made after the Japanese surrender, the film gives voice to many suppressed ideas, such as the suffering of individual families during this period, and I’m looking forward to see how a director as talented as Kinshita deals with them.
Twenty-Four Eyes I have seen, and it’s one of my favorite movies. Hisako Oishi is a young teacher assigned to an elementary school on the Inland Sea island of Shodoshima, a farming community. When she arrives riding a bicycle instead of walking and wearing a dress rather than a kimono, the locals are suspicious. But her pupils love her, and after the locals figure out that she rides a bicycle because she lives too far away and wears a dress because it’s easier to ride a bike that way, they realize she’s no threat. She looks after and nurtures her pupils, but with the coming of war and the cheerleading that goes with it, Hisako is appalled at the thought of so many young lives wasted on the battlefields, and decides to quit teaching rather than witness her pupils returning in ashen boxes. She comes back only after the war has ended and she knows she is needed. The film focuses almost entirely on the relationships Hisako has with her pupils and we see little of her family life outside the school. Kinoshita’s reluctance in showing more of Hisako’s home life is exactly what keeps this film from sinking into the depths of maudlin sentimentality. Credit also must to go Hideko Takamine who gives a commanding performance of Hisako as she matures through the years. Look for the great Chishu Ryu as a teacher who attempts to fill in for Hisako, but with far less successful results.
December 10: It’s a night of one of my favorite directors, Claude Chabrol, with five of his films. Begin at 8:00 pm with Les Cousins (1959), a complex character study filled with dark humor about Charles (Gerard Blain), a naïve young man from the country coming to Paris to study law. He shares a flat with his cousin Paul (Jean-Claude Brialy), a decadent, disillusioned hedonist. The two are like night and day. Charles is introspective, naïve, and lacking confidence with women. Paul, on the other hand, was raised in the city, and has all the women he could handle. While Charles is serious about school, Paul could care less about his studies, as they seem to interfere with his good times. However, things between the two come to a head when Charles falls for Florence (Juliette Mayniel), one of Paul’s acquaintances, and things go downhill from there, leading to one of the strangest – and strongest – endings I’ve ever seen in a film. This was Chabrol’s second film, but his first hit.
Following at 10:00 pm is Chabrol’s first film, Le Beau Serge (1959), a brilliant realization of Thomas Wolfe’s theme that “you can’t go home again,” combined with a deflating of the romantic notion life in the country. Jean-Claude Brialy is Francois, a theology student in Paris stricken with tuberculosis who travels to his hometown in the provinces to recover. He finds that things were not what they were when he left; that his best friend, Serge (Gerard Blain), who showed such promise as an architecture student, is now a hopeless drunk stuck in a bad marriage. Hoping to help his friend reclaim his promise, Francois only succeeds in making things worse.
At midnight, it’s Story of Women (1988), a dark drama set in Vichy France and based on the true story of Marie-Louise Giraud, arrested for performing back-alley abortions and the last woman to be guillotined in France. Read more about in our essay here. Isabelle Huppert is brilliant as Giraud.
La Ceremonie (1995) follows at 2:00 am, a sly, beautifully layered example of Chabrol’s Marxism in the story of a small-town postmistress (Isabelle Huppert) who befriends and encourages an illiterate maid (Sandrine Bonnaire) to rebel against her employers. Once again, Chabrol provides us with an ending we are not expecting while unleashing on-target shots against many middle-class mores.
Finally, at 4:00 am, comes Masques (1987), a well-intended misfire about an author who wants to write a book about a popular TV game show host. What begins as a simple interview turns into a complex cat-and-mouse game as each antagonist learns the secrets of the other until our author discovers a murderous plot. Although it’s done with the usual Chabrot panache, it comes up short as the script cannot keep up with the momentum of the plot.
December 5: Tune in at 2:00 am for Italian director Mario Bava’s last feature, Shock (1979), a Exoricist copy recut and released in America as Beyond the Door 2.
December 12: Continuing the emphasis on Italian horror directors, it’s the turn of goremaster Lucio Fulci and his 1984 opus, The House by the Cemetery. A couple moves into a house near Boston. Dr. Freudstein, an ancient cannibal, maintains a lab in the basement, of which the couple is unaware, though the ghost of a little girl tries to warn them. Think of The Shining all ramped up out of any sense of proportion. According to Michael Weldon, the unrated movie has gore, blood, decapitations, a giant bat, and maggots. Looks as if we have much to look forward to here.
By Ed Garea
STAR OF THE MONTH
We continue with Norma Shearer, TCM’s Star of the Month for November. We are now firmly in the age of talkies. When talking pictures were taking the country by storm, the studio heads were shaking in their boots as to which of their stars could make the transition and which would have to be left by the roadside.
They needn’t have worried about Shearer. Her voice came through loud and clear, even on the primitive equipment of the day. In fact, many on the MGM roster studied her speech to pick up a thing or two on how to speak. Being married to Head of Production Irving Thalberg certainly had its perks, as Norma was cast in many an “important picture.” But Shearer was popular n her own even without Irving’s help. The public, especially the female portion, adored her as the essence of the modern liberated woman. Behind the scenes, Norma was a woman who certainly had it all: a career, a loving husband, and two adorable children. But lest anyone think her marriage to Thalberg was simply a career move, a close look at her life while married reveals that her husband came before everything else. She turned down several career-boosting films to care for her fragile husband, and when he died, it was as if her world simply fell apart. The joy of moviemaking was gone. The quality of her films went down as the late ‘30s became the early ‘40s, and at the end she wasn’t interested in signing on for more films.
November 17: It’s a mixed bag tonight, concentrating on drama. The best bets are the sprightly romance, Smilin’ Through (1932) with Frederic March and Leslie Howard, at 9:30 pm, and the beautifully written and acted biopic, The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), at 1:15 am. In between, at 11:15, is one of the strangest films in MGM’s history – Strange Interlude (1932), with Clark Gable. Based on Eugene O’Neill’s stage hit of the same name, it’s the story of neurotic Nina Leeds, whose first love is killed in World War I. She tries to assuage her grief by marrying, but the marriage is a mistake when she discovers during the honeymoon that insanity runs through her husband’s family and thus she cannot have a child with him. So she drifts into an affair with a doctor (Gable) that results in an illegitimate child, and we go on from there as the play winds down into pure melodrama. This was a film that could only be made as a talkie, for one of the devices O’Neill used was to have the characters express their inner thoughts during the play. On stage, the character simply stopped and spoke directly to the audience. On film, voiceovers were used. While the film is decidedly talky, it features one of Shearer’s best performances. She captures the essence of Nina Leeds perfectly – each and every nuance of her character’s inner emotions. But the real surprise of the film is the performance of Gable. On most days, Gable could never be mistaken for an actor, but in Strange Interlude he gives a surprisingly effective performance as Dr. Ned Darrell. It’s also the first film in which he sports his now trademark mustache.
The rest of the night finds the so-so drama,Riptide (1934) airing at 3:15 am, followed by Shearer and Leslie Howard in Romeo and Juliet (1936) at 5:00 am. Though Shearer and Howard are marvelous as the two doomed lovers, the film suffers from a fatal flaw in that the leads are way too old to play the couple, who are supposed to be teenagers.
November 24: The final cycle of Shearer films begins at 8:00 pm with the uneven Marie Antoinette (1938). It’s an opulent production, to say the least, with Shearer simply magnificent as the queen, and Robert Morley stealing the film as Louis XVI. However, the pacing is all out of proportion with Woody Van Dyke directing. George Cukor would have been a much better choice given the material. Tyrone Power as Count Axel de Fersen, and John Barrymore as Louis XV add strength to an already solid cast. Perhaps the loudest kudos should be given to art director Cedric Gibbon, who painstakingly tries to recreate the lavish Versailles palace, and does a good job of it. Despite any misgivings, it’s still light years ahead of the dopey 2006 remake.
Following at 10:45 is the gem of the night: 1939’s The Women, the film adaptation of Claire Boothe Luce’s bitchfest. This time the studio got the directing chores right, assigning Cukor to the film. And he doesn’t disappoint, capturing the play’s essence as a nasty ensemble piece. Shearer may be the star as the virtuous Mary, but it’s Joan Crawford who nearly walks away with the film as the trashy Crystal, with whom Shearer’s husband is having an affair. I said, “nearly walks away” because, if it weren’t for Rosalind Russell, the movie would have been Crawford’s. Russell has a field day as the acerbic Sylvia Fowler (the Luce character), and the fact that she could act rings around Crawford, who saw only Shearer as her competition, enables us the remember her performance over that of Joan. One of the great myths is that women are the gentler sex, but anyone who wishes to deflate that misbegotten notion need only point to the behind-the-scenes shenanigans on the set of the film. For one thing, Crawford was intensely jealous of Shearer, who she saw as getting the best parts only because she was married to Thalberg. “How can I compete with Norma when she sleeps with the boss?” she said. When she had to sit off-camera and feed her lines to Shearer during Norma’s close ups, she sat and knitted furiously (and noisily), never once making eye contact with her co-star. Shearer was so rattled she asked Cukor to send Joan home, which he did. He later insisted Joan apologize, which she did most half-heartedly. Though Shearer was slated to be the star, Joan fought for, and won, equal billing. And when Russell, was informed about the magnitude of her performance, she also demanded equal billing, calling in sick until she got it. The Women is a film that hasn’t lost its power to astonish and entertain, being just as biting today as it was in 1939. It was remade twice, in 1956 as The Opposite Sex with the sexless and annoying June Allyson in the Shearer role and the juicy Joan Collins in the Crawford role, and in 2008 with the vapid Meg Ryan and the great Annette Bening.
At 1:00 am, it’s the misfire that is Idiot’s Delight (1939), a badly dated version of Robert E. Sherwood’s play about a group of disparate characters – including a tacky vaudevillian (Gable) and his former flame (Shearer), who has come up in the world – as they share company in a hotel near the Italian border just as World War II is about to break out. The only interesting scene in the entire mess was seeing Gable dancing and singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
Shearer rebounds at 3:00 am with the underrated Escape (1940). Shearer is a countess and mistress to Nazi General Conrad Veidt who helps American Robert Taylor get his mother Alla Nazimova out of a German concentration camp shortly before World War II begins. It’s an engrossing film with Shearer giving one of her patented excellent performances and carrying the flat Taylor to a decent performance. But the real fun is watching Nazimova in a rare talkie, and the great Conrad Veidt, Hollywood’s favorite Naughty Nazi. Don’t miss it.
If Shearer thought that, with Escape, the quality of her films would improve as her contract wound down, she couldn’t have been more mistaken. At 4:45 am comes a film that surely must have made her cringe in later years: Her Cardboard Lover (1942). It was Shearer’s last film and they couldn’t even let her go out on a high note. Instead the studio gave her warmed over crap. The film began life on Broadway in the ‘20s and was purchased by MGM in 1928 as a silent vehicle for Marion Davies. It’s a farcical comedy about a woman who hires a man to pose as her lover in order to dissuade a persistent ex-fiancé from his ideas of reconciliation. Given the plot, we can also see that the time to film it had passed with the coming of the enforcement of the Code; thus, the timing needed to pull of the comedy was already censored before the cast stepped before the cameras. Another problem was the casting of Taylor, who is flatter-than-last-night’s-beer, as the hired lover. He’s about as subtle in the role as Marjorie Main would have been playing Peter Pan. Not even the presence of Cukor behind the camera can salvage this mess.
November 25: A spillover from the previous night is the airing of We Were Dancing (1942) at 6:30 am, the next-to-last film Shearer made. Though not as bad as Her Cardboard Lover, it’s still pretty dreadful in its own right. Based on two short comedies by Noel Coward, Shearer and co-star Melvyn Douglas are two impoverished Europeans looking for rich Americans to marry who inexplicably run off with each other and elope. Coming to the conclusion that they can’t live on love alone, they decide to divorce and look for rich mates, but their relationship keeps getting in the way. Both Shearer and Douglas are wasted in this fiasco.
The theme of “Southern writers” continues. A tired category with the same films, save one or two. The less said the better.
November 18: In Cold Blood (1967) at 10:00 pm and A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) following at 12:30 are the only items of interest this night. All the rest is filler.
November 25: At least it gets better this night, with the superb No Country For Old Men, from the Coen Brothers, at 1:00 am, followed by Sam Peckinpah’s wonderful psychotronic Western, Ride the High Country (1962) at 3:15 am.
MAUREEN O’HARA TRIBUTE
November 20: TCM devotes the entire day to the late star with 12 of her films. Daytime: 6:00 am, Jamaica Inn (1939); 7:45 am, The Deadly Companions (1961); 9:30 am, Spencer’s Mountain (1963); 11:30 am, McLintock! (1963); 1:45 pm, The Battle of The Villa Fiorita (1965); 3:45 pm, Big Jake (1971); 5:45 pm, The Wings of Eagles (1957).
Evening:The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) at 8:00. The Quiet Man (1952) at 10:00 pm, At Sword’s Point (1951) at 12:30 am, Sinbad the Sailor (1947) at 2:00 am, and The Spanish Main (1945) at 4:00 am.
November 22: Tonight’s offering at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am is Federico Fellini’s acclaimed Juliet of the Spirits, starring his wife, Giuletta Masina, in a performance for the ages as an Italian housewife who suspects he husband is tomcatting around but is too afraid to face up to the truth. She lives in a world of daydreams, totally fascinated with séances and spiritualism, and finally begins to open up to the possibilities of life when she meets Suzy (Sandra Milo), her sexually liberated neighbor who begins to slowly draw her out of her mundane fantasy life into something more life enhancing. It’s Fellini’s first color film and is, indeed, a feast for the eyes, as Fellini tries to capture Juliet’s inner life.
November 29: Two films on tap beginning at 2:00 am. First is Fellini’s mixed bag, Fellini’s Satyricon (1970), and afterward (4:15 am), The White Sheik, a 1952 comedy about newlyweds driven apart by the wife’s infatuation with a comic strip hero. It’s his first solo effort and deals with what would become a familiar theme of his future films: the clash of reality versus illusion. The wife is totally infatuated with a comic strip character called the White Sheik. The husband’s flaw is being overly concerned with social respectability. Does love conquer all? Yes and no; tune in and see for yourself.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
November 16: A rarity is scheduled for today. At 9:30 am, The Painted Desert from RKO/Pathe is scheduled to air. Although it’s a somewhat less than stirring early talkie Western starring the formidable Bill “Hopalong Cassady” Boyd and the less than overwhelming Helen Twelvetrees, the real reason for film buffs to tune in is because it’s Gable’s first talkie. Many critics have erroneously thought it was Gable’s first movie, but the truth is that he worked as an extra from 1924 to 1926, with films such as What Price Glory and The Merry Widow in his c.v. Here he plays a dastardly type who eventually gets his from hero Bill Boyd. It’s prehistoric and moves at a snail’s pace, but it’s worth seeing for Gable and Boyd.
November 30: Tune in at 8:00 pm for director Satyajit Ray’s “Apu Trilogy.” The evening begins with a nice documentary on the restoration of the films, followed by the first in the trilogy, Pather Panchali (1956). It's followed by Aparajito from 1957 (10:30 pm), and Apur Sansar, made in 1959, at 12:30 am. The films depict the coming of age of a young Bengali named Apurba Kumer Roy, or simply “Apu” in the early part of the 20th century. The films are renowned for their depiction of the degrading poverty that the characters endure and Apu’s struggle for liberation from this economic tyranny. Afterward is an excellent documentary on the director, followed at the wee hour of 5:00 am with one of the best efforts, The Music Room (1958), a fascinating look at an aristocrat who is too proud to curb his extravagant lifestyle even though it’s ruining him financially. Each and every film tonight is a definite “Must See.”
“HOW DID HE DO SUCH FANTASTIC STUNTS WITH SUCH LITTLE FEET?”
November 19: It’s an evening of the films of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., the original man of Derring-Do. Although two of the films, The Mark of Zorro (10 pm) and The Thief of Bagdad (12:00 am) are being screened, three rarities are also being shown. At 8:00 pm, it’s The Good Bad Man from 1916 with Doug as a Wild West Robin Hood bent on vengeance on the man who killed his mother and abducted his girl. Following at 9:00 pm is another film from 1916, The Half-Breed. Adapted by Anita Loos from Bret Harte’s novella In the Carquinez Woods, Doug plays Lo Dorman, half-breed ostracized from white society and living with his adopted Indian grandfather outside of town. He meets Teresa, another outcast. She’s on the lam after stabbing her unfaithful lover. Sheriff Dunn, the local lawman mistakes Theresa for Nellie, his sweetheart. Believing she’s mixed up romantically with Lo, the Sheriff is out to kill him. But Theresa, who has gone through Lo’s belongings, discovers the Sheriff is in actuality Lo’s father. She tries to tell this to Dunn, to no avail. For the ending, watch the film. It’s quite good.
Closing out the night at 2:45 am is The Black Pirate (1926) with Doug as a nobleman who vows to avenge the death of his father at the hands of pirates by joining them. Filmed in the early Technicolor process it features Doug at his swashbuckling best.
November 23: An entire morning and afternoon of Boris Karloff, one of the greatest unheralded actors in film history. Because he made a lot of low-budget horror films, some might dismiss him as just another bad actor. Au contraire – Karloff was an excellent actor who had to take almost every film and stage offer that came his way due to the consequences of his being a serial monogamist. Alimony costs money and Karloff was married five times. The picks of the day are as follows: 6 am – The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932); 7:15 am – The Walking Dead (1936); 10:45 am – Devil’s Island (1940); noon – The Body Snatcher (1945); 1:30 am – Bedlam (1946); 4:45 pm – Frankenstein 1970 (1958). An example of some the lack of respect Karloff garnered came with his death when the New York Times ran his obit. With his obit the paper ran a picture of him as the Frankenstein Monster. Unfortunately, the photo was of Glenn Strange, who played the Monster in the ‘40s.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
November 21: At 10:00 am – Bowery Bombshell (1946). The Boys hunt for the bank robbers who may have been caught in a photo taken by a friend of theirs (Teala Loring). Sheldon Leonard, as the leader of the gangsters, steals the film.
At 2:15, it’s Class of 1984 (1982), a run-of-the-mill film about a new high school teacher (Perry King) who finds his school is run by a gang led by Timothy Van Patten (!?).
November 27: At 8:00 pm, it’s an evening of fantasy films with Jason and the Argonauts (1963) leading off, and Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon airing at 11:45 pm.
November 28: At 9:00 am, it’s Dick Tracy (1945), as Tracy (Morgan Conway) squares off against Splitface (Mike Mazurki). Following at 10:30 am, it’s the Bowery Boys in Spook Busters (1946). The Boys are exterminators who tangle with a mad scientist (Douglas Drumbrille) at an old country house. At 6:15 pm, it’s the redoubtable The Thing From Another World (1951).
Dial ahead to late night and we find John Waters’s Polyester (1982) with the one and only Divine airing at 2:30 am. Following at 4:00, it’s the lame girl wrestling flick All The Marbles (1981) starring Peter Falk, who practically sleepwalks through the thing.
BAD FILM ALERT
November 30: At 5:30 pm comes one of the worst movie debuts for a young actor in history. The actor is Paul Newman and the film is The Silver Chalice, an atrocious bomb from Warner Bros. in 1954. Newman is a young Greek silversmith, sold into slavery, then chosen by a group of Christians to design a chalice for the Holy Cup Jesus used at the Last Supper 20 years ago. Along the way he has to decide between the pagan world as exemplified by courtesan Virginia Mayo and the Christian life as exemplified by his young wife, Pier Angeli. While all this is happening, mad pagan magician Jack Palance is running around proclaiming himself the Messiah and performing cheesy magic tricks, and who wants to destroy the Holy Grail and replace Christianity with his own religion based on black magic. If your idea of a good movie is atrocious acting (especially Palance), obviously cardboard “stone” walls, and horrible special effects, look no further – this is the movie for you. It was so bad that even Newman himself took out ads in Variety decrying the movie’s cheesiness and warning people against seeing it. This was more of a career move than an honest summary, for Newman knew with a bomb such as this as his debut, it was a short road to films like The Killer Shrews, Beginning of the End, and anything by Roger Corman. It was Newman’s savviest career move.