TCM BIG SCREEN CLASSICS is featuring the 60th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 suspense (and psychotronic) classic, Vertigo, on March 18 and 21 at selected theaters. James Stewart stars as John "Scottie" Ferguson in Hitchcock's thriller, about a detective with a crippling fear of heights who's hired to trail the mysterious Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak). Remember, no big-screen TV can match the thrill of actually seeing a classic where it was meant to be seen – in the theater.
March 18: A double feature from Japanese director Keisuke Kinoshita begins at 2:00 am with his 1960 offbeat comedy, Spring Dreams. Owing a debt to Jean Renoir’s 1932 comedy, Boudu Saved From Drowning, it is the tale of a sweet-potato vendor named Atsumi (Chishu Ryu) who suffers a stroke in the living room of a nouveau riche family. The family physician (Shûji Sano) insists that the stricken man not be moved for at least a week, during which time various other residents of the apartment building where he resides make an appearance in the hope of inheriting his secreted assets. The family he is forced to stay withers their share of problems. The tyrannical tyrannical patriarch, Shôbei (Eitarô Ozawa), is revealed to be quite ineffectual as the movie progresses. The plant the has inherited from his late father-in-law is beset with labor problems and strikes because of his penny pinching ways towards his workers. His mother-in-law (Chieko Higashiyama) is concerned with making good matches for her granddaughters when not pointing out her son-in-law’s ineptitude. It seems that everyone in the family is either driven by greed or self-centeredness. In this convoluted household, Atsumi comes to be looked upon as a redeemer, a role he’s not crazy about assuming. Kinoshita’s film is a deft satire of affluent Japanese now caught between the old ways and the new capitalism brought in from the West. This was also a frequent theme of his countryman Yasujiro Ozu, but where Ozu is gentle, Kinoshita uses a hammer to get his point across. It’s a film well worth watching.
Following at 4:00 am is Kinoshita’s Farewell to Spring. This 1959 drama concerns a group of five young men who return to their hometown several years after graduation. They discover that not only have their lives changed in the interim, but the friendships they forged during their youth may not be strong enough to withstand this change. The film is a perfect example of Kinoshita’s philosophy, as he specialized in films (again, much like Ozu) that dealt with the drama to be found in the lives of ordinary people, rather than in grand or heroic figures of history. Some have seen Farewell to Spring as Japan’s first “gay” film, as Kinoshita himself was admittedly gay. Aside from some homoeroticism in two of the first meetings, however, the erotic connections between the men are weak, as the adolescent homosocial bonds they formed have withered away with the passage of time and the breadth of the wider world. However, judge for yourself. Like Spring Dreams, this is a film to see.
March 25: Jean Gabin, perhaps France’s most vibrant leading man, stars in two later films, beginning at 2:00 am (When Else?) with his 1949 opus, The Walls of Malapaga. Gabin plays Pierre Arrignon, a man wanted in France for killing his wife. He flees to Genoa, where he meets 12-year old Cecchina (Vera Talchi) and comes to alleviate the loneliness she feels from the absence of her father, who is estranged from her mother, Marta (Isa Miranda), because of his brutal treatment. With good reason, Cecchina’s hardworking mother, Marta, is estranged from her husband, who stalks and intimidates her. As time passes, Marta and Pierre become a couple. At first Cecchina is jealous, but her loyalty and love come to the fore when the police begin closing in on Pierre.
Following at 4:00 am is Jean Renoir’s French Cancan, his beautifully realized tale about then opening of the famous Moulin Rouge. Set in the 1890s, Jean Gabin stars as Henri Danglard, the owner of a Paris cafe featuring his mistress, Lola (Maria Felix), as a belly dancer. Trying to stop his cafe from hemorrhaging money, Henri is in Montmartre, where he discovers that the old-fashioned dance known as the cancan is still being performed there. Inspired, Henri decides to revive the dance and christens it the “French cancan.” He hopes the new appellation will make it sound vaguely “foreign” and “naughty,” and entice British and American tourists to his club. He features a new dancer, Nini (Françoise Arnoul), a laundress he met by chance. Not everything goes smoothly, however, as Henri not only has problems with his backers but also with his mistresses as he is competing for their affections with the backers. This competition culminates in a catfight between Lola and Nini that nearly sinks Henri’s plans, but eventually things work out and the French cancan is launched at the newly restored Moulin Rouge, all filmed by Renoir in sumptuous Technicolor. Francois Truffaut called the film a milestone in the history of color of cinema in his review for the May 1955 edition of Arts magazine.
March 28: Three seldom seen films from England are being aired in the morning and afternoon. First up at 10:45 is 2,000 Women. Phyllis Calvert, Flora Robson and Patricia Roc star in this 1944 production about a group of English women during World War II being held by the Germans at a former spa turned POW camp in France. When several British airmen accidentally parachute in the women are faced with the task of hiding the men from the Germans and figuring out how to smuggle them out to freedom. Directed by Frank Launder, this is one of the hidden gems of English cinema.
At 12:30 pm comes Great Day (1945), starring Eric Portman, Flora Robson, Sheila Sim and Isobel Jeans. The small English village of Denley is abuzz over a pending visit by Eleanor Roosevelt. As the village women work to get ready while bursting with the great secret, we glimpse their home lives in subplots, notably the problematic love life of young Margaret Ellis (Sim) and the travails of her proud but impoverished father (Portman). How will their problems affect the Great Day? A true curio of English village life.
Finally, at 2:00 pm comes the 1947 comedy, Holiday Camp. Directed by Ken Annakin, the film centers on the fortunes of the Huggett family (Jack Warner, Kathleen Harrison, Hazel Court and Peter Hammond) as they go to a Butlin’s holiday camp (which was a rite of passage for the average British family). There they encounter other people, such as a young, unmarried couple who are about to become parents; a sadist on the lam from Scotland Yard and seeking further sadistic activities; a husband-seeking spinster; two would-be gamblers looking just to make expenses; and a middle-aged matron on her first holiday after years of taking care of her invalid mother. It was the first film to feature the Huggett family, and resonated so well with post-war audiences that two sequels followed. Look for Diana Dors in a small role as a dancer.
March 30: Speaking of Diana Dors, TCM is devoting an evening to the British bombshell with three of her films.
Born Diana Mary Fluck on October 23, 1931, in Swindon, Wiltshire, England, she and her mother both nearly died from the traumatic birth. Because of this, her mother gave Diana anything and everything she wanted, whether clothes, toys or dance lessons. When her mother took her to the local movies theaters, Diana caught the acting bug. Physically, Diana matured early, and at age 12, looked and acted much older than she was. Much of this was attributed to her study of the actresses she saw on the silver screen; she wanted nothing more than to go to the United States and Hollywood to make her fame and fortune. At age 14 Diana enrolled at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA), the youngest in her class. Her film debut came with a small, uncredited role in Code of Scotland Yard (1947). Displaying a natural affinity with the screen, she was kept busy not merely as a minor presence in an assortment of frequently indifferent films, but as an off-screen personality, thrust into the public eye, and into the tabloid press, at every opportunity. Throughout the 1950s, she appeared in more films and became more popular in Britain, as her first husband, Dennis Hamilton (who she married after meeting him five weeks earlier), promoted her as an English version of Marilyn Monroe. Hollywood beckoned, but there she appeared only in a handful of pictures. She was more famous for her off-stage antics, which reportedly included wild parties that degenerated into sex orgies. RKO eventually fired her for violating the morals clause in her contract.
She divorced Hamilton in January 1959 and in April married comedian Richard Dawson (Hogan’s Heroes, Family Feud). Their marriage lasted until 1966, spawning two children. After Dors divorced Dawson, she worked the club circuit and appeared in B movies before marrying her last husband, Alan Lake, in 1968. After collapsing during a hotel opening in 1982, she underwent an operation, where doctors discovered ovarian cancer. The cancer finally claimed her on May 4, 1984. On October 10, 1984, Lake killed himself with a shotgun.
The great mystery about Dors centers around a large fortune she supposedly accumulated, as she claimed to have stashed more than 2 million pounds in banks all over Europe. In 1982, she gave her son Mark Dawson a sheet of paper on which, she told him, was a code that would reveal the whereabouts of the money. The key to the code was in the hands of her husband Lake, but with his suicide Dawson was left with an unsolvable puzzle. It’s been speculated that one of the reasons Lake killed himself was because he cleaned out the accounts before Diana’s death and was afraid of discovery and prosecution.
The Films: The evening begins at 8:00 pm with what is regarded not only as her best film but also her best performance. In Yield to the Night (aka Blonde Sinner, Allied Artists, 1956), Dors plays Mary Hilton, a young woman who has been abused as a child and locked into a loveless marriage with neglectful hubby Fred (Harry Locke). When she meets embittered and insecure nightclub piano player Jim Lancaster (Michael Craig), she falls in love, seeing him as the answer to her problems. Believing that Jim returns the affection she leaves Fred, but when she learns Jim is seeing socialite Lucy Carpenter (Mercia Shaw), Mary cracks and guns down Lucy as she unloads packages from her car in London. This earns Mary a ticket to Death Row. Based on a novel of the same title by Joan Henry, the character of Mary is loosely based on the real life murderess Ruth Ellis, the last female prisoner executed in England. Dors gives a strong and sensitive performance and makes the film well with the investment of time.
At 10:00 pm Dors co-stars with Victor Mature in The Long Haul (Columbia, 1957), a British noir with Mature as Harry Miller, a veteran who takes a long-haul truck driving job in Britain, where he runs afoul of an organized-crime syndicate that controls the trucking industry. Dors is Lynn, the girlfriend of big-wheel shipper/racketeer Joe Easy (Patrick Allen). When Harry’s English wife, Connie (Gene Anderson) stubbornly refuses to emigrate with him to America, Harry takes up with Lynn. Familiar, but enjoyable thanks to Dors.
Finally, at Midnight, comes the 1951 comedy from London Film, Lady Godiva Rides Again (aka Bikini Baby). Boasting a cast that includes Dennis Price, Stanley Holloway, Kay Kendall, Dora Bryan, Sidney James, Alastair Sim and Googie Withers, it features Pauline Stroud as Marjorie Clark, an innocent girl who wins an English Midland town’s provincial glamour contest and is asked to play Lady Godiva in the town’s Festival of Britain pageant. Dors has a small role as Dolores August, a fellow contestant. Look for Joan Collins in a small role – her film debut. And here’s a real bit of trivia: also in the film appearing uncredited as a contestant is Ruth Ellis (see Yield to the Night).
Recommended Pre-Code films:
March 17:Peg O’ My Heart (6:30 am). Marion Davies stars as a spunky Irish girl who is separated from her father (J. Farrell MacDonald) and brought to a lavish English estate to fulfill the terms of her inheritance. As Leonard Maltin says, “Corny but fun.”
March 23: Neil Hamilton opens a can of worms when he brings home girlfriend Joan Crawford to meet the folks in This Modern Age (6 am). Why are all the Must Sees on in the wee hours of the morning?
March 24: Jean Harlow gives one of her best performances as a stressed out film star in the hilarious comedy, Bombshell (8 am). She has to put up with her sponging family and wacky studio publicist Lee Tracy. To paraphrase Leonard Maltin, there are no holds barred in this devastating satire of Hollywood.
March 26: Lionel Barrymore is an idealistic physician who chooses ethics over money in One Man’s Journey (9 am). But his physician son, Joel Mccrea, can only see dollar signs, hence the drama in this excellent film that still holds its own today.
March 28: Elizabeth Bergner turns in a stunning performance as Catherine the Great in the aptly named The Rise of Catherine the Great (7 am). The film looks at the early life of a shy young princess forced to marry the reckless and mad Grand Duke Peter, heir to the Russian throne. When he eventually becomes Tsar Peter III, he is murdered and Catherine assumes the throne, ruling Russia for 34 years as Catherine the Great. The film brilliantly compares her personal transformation from timid to powerful with the expansion of Russia from a backwater land to a world power in this seldom seen classic.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
March 17:Tarzan and His Mate (10 am) - The wonderful follow-up to the 1932 blockbuster finds Tarzan fighting unscrupulous ivory hunters. Pre-Code cinema at its best, if you know what we mean.
March 19: Boris Karloff is a surgeon unjustly sentenced to Devil’s Island (6 am), where he is mistreated by supervisor James Stephenson.
Strange Cargo (10:45 am) - Clark Gable and his trollop girlfriend Joan Crawford are among a group of prisoners on the lam from Devil’s Island in director Frank Borzage’s strange mixture of adventure and religious allegory. With Paul Lukas, Ian Hunter as a strange Christ figure, and Peter Lorre stealing the film as M'sieu Pig.
Easy Rider (1:45 am) - The ultimate psychotronic road film with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as drug dealers on a cross-country trip.
March 22: John Barrymore is a wonderfully deranged clubfooted ballet teacher with Donald Cook as his protege and Marian Marsh as the woman who he fears will be Cook’s ruin in 1931’s The Mad Genius (10 am).
March 24: John Wayne takes on bad guys and a ghost over an abandoned gold mine in Haunted Gold (8 am). At 10 am, Jane’s greedy cousins kidnap Tarzan to get their grubby hands on her inheritance in Tarzan Escapes.
March 26: On and evening dedicated to “radioactive” films, revel in The Incredible Shrinking Man (8 pm), The underrated The Magnetic Monster (11:15 pm), The Giant Behemoth (2:15 am - read our essay on it here), and the strange and entertaining psychotronic noir from Japan, The H Men (3:45 am). When stranger films are made the Japanese will make them.
March 31: Tarzan and Jane adopt Boy (Johnny Sheffield) in Tarzan Finds a Son (10 am).
We were remiss last issue in not informing you that serials have returned to TCM on Saturdays. Red Barry, a 1938 serial from Universal, stars Buster Crabbe in the title role as an ace detective after 2 million dollars in stolen bonds. Who took them and why is at the heart of the plot as Buster gets into numerous fist fights and cliff-hanging situations. Buster recovers the bonds and loses them again during the course of this delightful 13-chapter serial that is just so much fun to watch. We hope this is only the start for TCM to bring back those wonderful serials that entertained us on television as children.
BAD MOVIE ALERT!
March 31: Hollywood’s biblical epics are pretty bad on average, but The Silver Chalice (5 am) is easily one of the worst of the lot. Paul Newman made his screen debut as Basil, the sculptor who designs the framework for the cup used at The Last Supper. The film was so bad that Newman took out a trade ad in Variety apologizing for being in this mess. And he had every reason to beg our forgiveness, for his “performance” was as stiff as the cardboard sets used in the film. (Check out there “stone” walls and you’ll see they’re cardboard.) However, Newman wasn’t the only one in the cast to deliver a lousy performance. Jack Palance as Simon, the false prophet,gives new meaning to the term “ham actor.” Virginia Mayo as his seductive assistant is anything but, while Pier Angeli as Deborah, who marries Basil and coverts him to Christianity, could cure insomnia with her acting. And for a final word on Newman, we only have to look at the memoirs of producer/director Victor Saville, who ruefully noted in his memoirs that “method acting does not go well with a toga.”
A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
Staff writer Jon Saia informs us that Glam Masters, a show he produced, is set to begin airing Wednesday, February 28, at 9 pm on the Lifetime network. The show is a weekly competition series where make-up artists go head-to-head to prove they have what it takes to be the next big name in the beauty world.
Should you miss the first show, it will be repeated on the following days and times: February 28, 10 pm; Thursday, March 1, 1:05 am; Thursday, March 1, 2:05 am; and Thursday, March 1, at 9 pm. The series looks like a lot of fun and should prove to be quite enjoyable. We hope you tune in.
ANNA MAY WONG
March 4: TCM is dedicating the evening to Anna May Wong with four of her films. She is considered to be the first Chinese-American movie star and also the first Chinese-American actress to gain international recognition. During the course of a long career she starred in silent film, sound film, stage, radio and television.
Born Wong Liu Tsong in Los Angeles to second-generation Chinese-American parents on January 3, 1905, Wong became mesmerized by the movies and began her film career at an early age, making her uncredited debut in the 1919 drama, The Red Lantern. One of the films she starred in, The Toll of the Sea (Metro, 1922), written by Frances Marion, was one of the first films made in color. In Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Bagdad (UA, 1924) she played a treacherous Mongol slave. The role not only boosted her to international stardom, but also made her something of a fashion icon, as her costumes in the film were copied for wear by women all around the globe.
As the ‘20s progressed she became frustrated by the stereotypical roles she was offered and left for Europe. She spent the first half of the 1930s shuttling between the U.S. and Europe for stage and film work. In 1935 she was considered for a role she coveted, that of the Chinese peasant O-Lan in MGM’s adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, but the role ultimately went to Austrian actress Luise Rainer. Wong spent the next year touring China where she studied Chinese culture and visited her family’s ancestral village. Returning to the U.S. she signed on with Paramount for a series of B-pictures that portrayed Asian-Americans in a positive light. She was loaned to Warner Bros. for the unusual mystery, When Were You Born? (1938) where she played astrology expert Mei Lei Ming. Suspected of murder after telling one of her fellow passengers on a ship that he will die, she uses her skills in astrology to catch the real murderer. Although it’s not showing this evening, the movie appears on TCM from time to time and we will let you know the next time it’s scheduled.
During World War II she appeared on behalf of and donated money to United China Relief, including the proceeds from a cookbook she wrote in 1942 titled New Chinese Recipes, one of the first Chinese cookbooks published. She also made the propaganda films Bombs Over Burma and Lady From Chungking in 1942 for Poverty Row studio PRC, donating her salary to United China Relief. After the war she invested heavily in real estate, owning a number of properties in Hollywood. She also starred in a television series for the DuMont Television Network titled The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, playing a Chinese art dealer whose career involves her in detective work and international intrigue. She also did several guest shots on series such as Adventures in Paradise, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.
She was scheduled to play the role of Madame Liang in the film production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, but was unable to take the role due to ill health. On February 3, 1961, she died of a heart attack as she slept at her home in Santa Monica. She was only 56 years of age. Her death occurred only two days after her final screen performance on The Barbara Stanwyck Show.
Overlooked and unjustly neglected for years, a re-examination of her life and career took shape as the centennial of her birth approached, with comprehensive retrospectives of her films being held at both the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. Two major biographies were published: Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong (1905–1961), by Anthony Chan (the first major work on the star) and Anna May Wong: From Laundryman's Daughter to Hollywood Legend by Graham Russell Hodges. Philip Leibfried and Chei Mi Lane authored an exhaustive examination of Wong's career, Anna May Wong: A Complete Guide to Her Film, Stage, Radio and Television Work. All are available at Amazon.
The evening devoted to Wong kicks off at 8:00 pm with Paramount’s 1931 crime drama, Daughter of the Dragon. Wong is a Chinese princess who gets caught between the ruthless warlord Fu Manchu (Warner Oland) and Scotland Yard detective Ah Kee (Sessue Hayakawa). After being mortally wounded in a gun battle, Fu Manchu summons his daughter, dancer Princess Ling Moy (Wong) and makes her swear to avenge him. A true Hollywood rarity, featuring two Asian-American stars, and well worth seeing.
At 9:30 pm Wong stars with Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook and Warner Oland in Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (Paramount, 1932). Set in 1931 during the Chinese Civil War, Dietrich is the notorious “Shanghai Lily,” the long-lost love of Captain Donald Harvey (Brook). Meeting on a train they rekindle their love but Harvey is appalled by Lily’s new trade while he was away. Wong is Hui Fei, like Lily, a “coaster” (a woman who, while not a professional prostitute, lives by her wits).
Piccadilly (British Int’l, 1929), following at 11:00 pm, finds Wong as Shosho, an ambitious scullery maid working in the kitchen of a London dance club. One night the club’s owner, Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas) sees her dancing on a table in the kitchen and as immediately smitten. He makes her the star of the club, replacing the team of Mabel and Vic (Gilda Gray and Cyril Ritchard) on stage and Mable in his bed. Mabel, understandably, wants revenge. Leonard Maltin calls this “Slick, oozing with atmosphere, but supremely silly, this silent film is redeemed by Wong, who is an unforgettable presence in her all-time best part.” Look for Charles Laughton in a memorable part as an irate diner and Ray Milland as one of the club’s patrons.
Finally, at 1:00 am Wong has a minor role as Loo Song in MGM’s Mr. Wu, starring Lon Chaney as both Mr. Wu and his grandfather in this 1927 drama about a Chinese patriarch who goes bonkers when his daughter, Nang Ping (Renee Adoree) falls in love with young Englishman Basil Gregory (Ralph Forbes)
March 4: In addition to the evening honoring Anna May Wong, another unjustly forgotten star, Josephine Baker, is the focus of a double feature beginning at 2:00 am. First up is The French Way from 1945, a light piece of fluff that takes place during World War II. Parisian neighbors M. Dalban (Saturnin Fabre) and Mme. Ancelot (Gabrielle Dorziat) are still feuding over his claim in his biography of Napoleon that her great-great-grandmother did not sleep with the Emperor! Their underage children Claire (Micheline Presle) and Bernard (Georges Marchal) are in love, but cannot marry due to their parents' opposition. Dalban enlists beautiful cabaret star Zazou to divert Bernard's attention. But Zazou has her own ideas about young love and takes charge. The film was made in 1939, during the “phony war,” but not released until 1945. Not having seen it I can’t really comment, but from the synopsis it looks as if the only thing the film has going for it is the fact that it is so rare. That alone is enough to make me watch, aside from my huge crush on Ms. Baker.
At 4:15 am Baker stars with Jean Gabin in Zouzou (1934). Leonard Maltin describes it as 42nd Street meets Footlight Parade French-style. Baker is a Creole laundress raised in the circus along with her foster brother, Jean (Jean Gabin). Now in Paris, he’s a music hall electrician, and she's a laundress who delivers clean underwear to the hall. Two passions drive her – a longing to star on the stage, and her love for Jean, who disappoints her when he falls for her best friend, Claire (Yvette Lebon). To help Zouzou achieve her dream, Jean schemes to get the show's star out of town and for the theater manager to see Zouzou perform. When Jean is later accused of murder, and Zouzou needs money to mount his defense, she pleads to go on stage. She becomes an overnight sensation, but is it in time to save her beloved Jean? Tune in and find out. I saw this many years ago at a Baker revival and not only was entranced by the star but also by Gabin’s performance. Zouzou was the first picture to star a Black actress in the lead role.
March 11: A double feature from director Eric Rohmer begins at 2:00 am with his 1972 drama, Love in the Afternoon. It’s followed at 3:45 am by Claire’s Knee (1970), starring Jean-Claude Brialy as a thirtyish diplomat about to be married, who takes a holiday at French resort and finds himself infatuated with two teenaged sisters, Claire and Laura, particularly the sight of Claire’s knee on a ladder. Though it sounds somewhat strange it is a delightful comedy, with outstanding performances from Brialy as Jerome and Batrice Romand as Laura.
March 8: The seldom shown silent epicTide of Empire (MGM, 1929) kicks things off at 6:00 am. Starring Renee Adoree and George Duryea (Tom Keene), it’s about about gold seekers and bandits disrupting the lives of peaceful Spanish ranchers in old California.
At 7:30 comes the musical Children of Pleasure (MGM, 1930), starring Lawrence Gray as a songwriter who overlooks the faithful attentions of his constant pal Pat (Judith Wood) in favor of a glitzy playgirl (Wynne Gibson). He wins the playgirl, only to discover the night before their wedding that she has no interest whatsoever in remaining faithful.
Beauty For Sale (MGM, 1933) follows at 8:45 am, a soaper about a high-society beautician (Madge Evans) who thinks she’s landed the man of her dreams Otto Kruger) only to discover that he has no intention of divorcing his wife. Don’t worry, it all works out in the end. Reason to watch: Una Merkel as Madge’s gold digging roommate.
Finally, there’s Laughing Boy (MGM, 1934) a tawdry tale of a young Navajo (Ramon Novarro) who defies tribal custom to marry outcast Slim Girl (Lupe Velez) to his later grief. 1934 must have been some year for the American Indian, as Warner Bros. released their socially conscious film, Massacre, starring Richard Barthelmess, earlier in the year.
March 8: Ann Harding gets a surprise when she travels to Malaysia to be with fiancee Melvyn Douglas in Prestige (RKO, 1932), at 6:45 am. Later, at 8:00 am MGM argues both sides of the Prohibition argument in The Wet Parade (1932).
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
March 7: In a salute to actress Anne Jeffreys, TCM is airing 1945’s Dick Tracy, at 8:00 pm. Anne is Tess Trueheart, who stands by her man Tracy (Morgan Conway) as he goes up against villain Splitface (Mike Mazurki). Lots of fun. Later, at 10:45, Anne stars with Lawrence Tierney in Monogram’s Dillinger, also from 1945.
March 9: At 2:00 am, three Yankee kids, accused of a murder they had nothing to do with, are hunted by a sheriff in 1953 Georgia in Macon County Line (1974), a surprise hit from producer Max Bear, Jr. (Jethro in The Beverly Hillbillies) and AIP. Following at 3:45 am is the inevitable sequel – of sorts – Return to Macon County (AIP, 1975), featuring none of the original stars, or plot. This time out, two late ‘50s Georgia guys want to take their hot rod to California for a drag race. On the way they pick up a pretty waitress who gets them into trouble. Starring Don Johnson and Nick Nolte (his film debut).
March 12: A morning of classic horror films, starting with White Zombie(1932) at 6:00 am and ending with Mad Love (1935) at 2:45 am. Best bets are The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) at 7:15 am (read our essay on it here) and Freaks (1932) at 8:30 am.
March 14: A trio of classic MGM Tarzan films begins with Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939) at 6:00 am, followed by Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941) at 7:30 am and Tarzan’s New York Adventure(1942) at 9:00 am. The latter was the last of the Tarzan films made by MGM, much to the relief of Maureen O’Sullivan, who was tired of the chimps playing Cheetah taking a bite out of her. The franchise moved over to RKO and producer Sol Lesser for cheaper – and funnier – sequels.
BAD MOVIE ALERT!
March 14: At 6:30 pm comes a film considered to be the worst of the Tarzan series until Bo Derek came along – MGM’s 1959 remake of Tarzan the Ape Man. Produced by Al Zimbalist, the man who gave us Robot Monster and Cat Women of the Moon (both in 3D, yet), this atrocity stars ex-UCLA basketball player Denny Miller in his debut as Tarzan. (He was paid $175 a week.) The film features endless footage from the original, Tarzan and His Mate, and King Solomon’s Mines. That the footage from the 1930’s Tarzans is in B&W and the rest of the film is in color didn’t faze Zimbalist at all. He just had it tinted. When we watch Tarzan fighting the crocodile we can see clearly that it’s Weissmuller (from Tarzan and His Mate). Also watch for the burning village, Tarzan fighting a stuffed animal, and the spider on top of the mountain. By the way, Jane’s dad shoots Cheetah early on, killing him, and the “pygmies” are from a L.A. high school. To quote critic Michael Weldon, “A laugh riot.”
A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
It’s midway in February and we’re scratching our heads here. There is next to nothing on the TCM sked that is either rare or unusual. We could go back to last year’s format, but that is too redundant. Instead we’ll focus on a few films that could be listed under the heading of Forgotten Classics.
February 16: From 1950, it’s Mystery Street (1:30 pm), a procedural with Ricardo Montalban as a detective and Bruce Bennett as as forensics expert. The skeletal remains of a woman are found on a Cape Cod beach. Montalban and partner Wally Maher call on the help of Bennett to identify and determine the cause of death. Working together they piece together the case and eventually track down the killer. Intelligently done with excellent direction from John Sturges. We tend to be somewhat jaded today with such shows as the CSI franchise to watch, but stay with this one and it’ll pay off. Elsa Lanchester as an eccentric and somewhat shady landlord is a treat to watch.
February 21: There’s nothing like a good Pre-Code film to make one’s day, and Min and Bill (1930), at 7:45 am, 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.
At 2:15 am comes director F.W. Murnau’s 1927 silent classic, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. It’s a simple drama about a country man (George O’Brien) locked into a red hot affair with a woman from the city (Margaret Livingston). Only known as “The Man,” he tells The Woman From the City that he is hers, body and soul. She in turn tells him to drown his wife and run away with her to the city. The man, completely hooked by the woman’s charms and beauty, convinces his wife, known as “The Wife” (Janet Gaynor) to go on an outing in the rowboat. He plans to drown her along the way and say it was an accident. However, will he go through with the scheme? This is a finely detailed and nuanced drama about three people, two of whom are besotted enough to commit murder. Forget the fact it’s a silent and go with it, but don’t expect to watch it with any younger members of your family. It’s hard enough to get them to watch a black and white film, but a silent one? Good heavens.
February 24: 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 8:15 am. Laughton gives an unforgettable performance as the colorful king whose obsession wth 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 25: One of the greatest anti-war films ever made airs at 10:30 pm. All Quiet on the Western Front, from Universal in 1930, is based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque and tells the story of the First World War from the German point of view as seen through the eyes of Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres) and three of his classmates who enlist in the German Army after being inspired by a patriotic teacher who stuffs their heads with dreams of glory. When they arrive for training, their dreams are quickly quashed, first by their former village former postmaster who is now their corporal and lets his position go completely to his head. Once on the battlefield, they discover the real horrors of war, only slightly relieved by their friendship with Katczinsky (Louis Wolheim), a protective veteran who teaches them how to scoring and survive, and a few French girls who trade a night of love for some bread and meat. After seeing most of his mates killed in battle, Baumer returns home on leave, but when he confronts his former teacher about his lies and fantasies, he finds himself quickly branded as a traitor. Disillusioned with the home front, he returns to the front to instruct his new comrades in warfare, but by this time has become a hardened and cynical man. The film, capturing the plight of men caught in a senseless battle with little help from the military leadership and no way to get supplies short of scrounging them from the dead, sets the template for similar films that followed, such as Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957), Peter Weir's Gallipoli (1981) and even Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998). Ironically, it was banned in Nazi Germany on the grounds it was anti-German while at the same time it was banned in Poland for being too pro-German. When the studio reissued the film in 1939, World War II was just commencing and Universal added voiceover narration comparing the German soldiers in the film with modern German soldiers. At the film's climax, the narration delivered a stinging attack on Nazi Germany, featuring new shots of the original novel being burned.
MOVIES ON THE BIG SCREEN
The Philadelphia Story(1940) Feb. 18 and 21.
Katharine Hepburn plays a Pennsylvania socialite embarking a remarriage — until the disruptive appearance of first husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) and a tabloid reporter (James Stewart) causes her to reexamine her plans.
AGNES VARDA: OSCAR NOMINATION NICE, BUT “NOTHING TO BE PROUD OF”
Leave it to Agnes Varda to put the pretension of the Oscars in its place. The way she looks at it, she told the Associated Press, she’s been making movies for more than 60 years without any Oscars, so why would she need one now? That was Varda’s take on comments about her nomination and award from the Academy this year. The nomination is in the Best Documentary Feature, along with daughter Rosalie Varda and street artist JR for their film Faces Places, and the other is an honorary Governors Award, which she received last autumn along with filmmaker Charles Burnett and actor Donald Sutherland.
“There is nothing to be proud of, but happy,” she says. “Happy because we make films to love."
“We make films so that you love the film,” she said. “I love my own work and I’ve done it for so many years, so I didn’t do it for honor or money. My films never made money.” What they have done is to make Varda a household word to film buffs and to win numerous awards at film festivals around the globe. We really can’t blame her for the blasé attitude, for this is the first time Varda has ever been nominated for an Oscar in her long and celebrated career. It also makes the 89-year-old filmmaker the oldest Oscar nominee in history.
When it came time for the annual nominees luncheon, Varda declined to attend, citing the fact that she was too tired to attend the luncheon. However, she was there in a sense, for Varda instead sent three life-sized cardboard cutouts – one of which shows her holding a cat – to the luncheon. This obviously satisfied those in attendance who wanted a photo with the celebrated auteur.
But Varda will be attending the Oscars ceremony on March 4, though she doesn’t expect to win for Faces Places. But then, neither does she care.
A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
As we all know, TCM is devoting the month of February, along with the first three days in March, to its annual “31 Days of Oscar” festival. Like last year, there’s little that’s new this time around, but the format has again been changed this year. This time around the format is by nominated category, such as Best Original Song Winners, Best Cinematography Winner, or Best Supporting Actor. However, no matter how it’s sliced it still comes down to the same old tried and true. The shame is that there are so many other categories that can be explored. Added to the usual mix this year is an evening of Best Documentary Winners.
And this gets us to thinking. Why can’t there be other, less heralded, Oscar winners, such an evening of Best Short Subjects or Best Animated Films or Shorts? There is a lot that can be mined here, not just the usual parade of the major categories. The point is, TCM, if you’re going to stay committed to this festival, how about opening the sluice gates a little and letting in rarities we don’t normally see?
February 5: It’s a day and night of Best Documentary nominees and winners. Of the films being shown, only two are premieres, unfortunately. Again, there’s so much to be seen, so much to show.
The day begins at 6:45 am with the acclaimed 1969 French television documentary, The Sorrow and the Pity. Marcel Ophuls' film could not be shown on French screen until 1981 and created a firestorm because it directly challenges one of the primal myths of Occupied France: that it was a country of resisters. But Ophuls doesn’t simply make a case of J’Accuse, his documentary is a complex and entertaining weave of subjects and figures in wartime France as he examines the complexities of survival, resistance, capitulation, and collaboration that defined Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War.
The four-hour-plus film, set in and around the provincial town of Clemont-Ferrand, is divided into two parts. Rather than show his cards at the beginning, Ophuls unfolds his argument slowly, making his case for how a citizenry could compromise their values not only for survival, but also for personal gain. For instance, one of the nuanced points Ophuls makes is the frequency and extent of the bourgeois’ collaboration with the Nazis for pecuniary gain or to retain their status. On the other hand he subtly points out that it was often the farmers, peasants and working class who displayed the most patriotism and self-sacrifice during the Occupation.
While Ophuls educates us, he also entertains us with exhaustive interviews not just of those who were in the direct line of fire, such as working-class members of the resistance, but also such well-know figures as Churchill's Foreign Secretary, Sir Anthony Eden; Helmut Tausend, a German soldier stationed in France during the war; an aristocratic French Nazi; a British spy in France who worked undercover as a transvestite cabaret performer; and entertainer Maurice Chevalier, defending himself against charges of collaboration with the Germans.
The Sorrow and the Pity offers us a look at how a conquered nation can metamorphose from resistance to compliance through the use, often subtle, of propaganda and intimidation. To further his point Ophuls includes such rare films as German newsreels seen only in conquered territory and the subtly anti-Semitic 1940 German film, Jew Suss (1940), both of which show that the Germans, rather than creating a climate of hatred, merely took advantage of hatreds already there, especially the undercurrent of anti-Semitism that was a part and parcel of French social life.
This was the best known film of Ophuls’ career. The only son of famed director Max Ophuls, Marcel immigrated to America in the ‘40s, where he attended Hollywood High, Occidental College and the University of California-Berkeley. The Sorrow and the Pity is his best known film, although he made another documentary with the same theme, Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988). It won an Oscar for best documentary feature.
Another fascinating documentary is Lionel Rogosin’s 1957 On the Bowery, a powerful semi-documentary about three days in the life of railroad worker Ray Salyer, who arrives in the Bowery for a drunken spree and finds himself rapidly becoming a denizen as Rogosin ponders the question of whether Salyer can return to a life of work and sobriety or be condemned to a life of homeless alcoholism on the Bowery. The film was a milestone in an era where documentaries were mainly confined to innocuous travelogues or nature studies. It gives middle America a glimpse in that other world, a world that exists beneath the sidewalk grates, a world where each day is a fight for survival. The film follows the inhabitants as they drink, argue, play dominoes, listen to a sermon at the Bowery mission and sleep in a flophouse or pitch camp for the night on the sidewalk.
Rogosin was one of the pioneers of independent film in America and went on influence many other independent filmmakers around the world. On the Bowery was ignored in America. Bosley Crowther denounced it in The New York Times as “a dismal exposition to be charging people money to see,” noting that, “Indeed, it is merely a good montage of good photographs of drunks and bums, scrutinized and listened to ad nauseam. And we mean ad nauseam!” In the end he dismisses it as “a temperance lecture on film that makes no new points.” But the film picked up steam after it received the Grand Prize for documentary at the Venice Film Festival, a British Academy Award as Best Documentary Feature and an Academy Award nomination in the same category.
The TCM essay on the film notes that in 2008 it was chosen for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."
Turning to the evening, at 8:00 pm Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth (2006) premieres. Supposedly an expose of the myths and misconceptions that surround global warming, along with suggestions to prevent it, the film plays fast and loose with the facts and the audience is left with the conclusion that the only really inconvenient thing in this documentary is the truth.
At 9:45 pm, Harvey Fierstein narrates the first-rate documentary about the career and assassination of San Francisco's first elected openly gay councilor in The Times of Harvey Milk (1984). The film deftly combines archival footage with original interviews featuring Milk's contemporaries, as filmmaker Rob Epstein captures the spirit of Milk and also the spirit of time and place: 1970’s San Francisco.
Milk relocated to San Francisco from New York like other young gay men of the era, looking for a more tolerant society. He opened a camera shop on Castro Street in the city's gay district. His interest in politics, in particular the rights of the LGBT community and small business owners, slowly grew and led him to seek office on the city's Board of Supervisors, to which he was elected in 1977. In office, he sponsored major civil rights legislation and campaigned successfully against state legislator John Briggs's ballot initiative to ban gay men, lesbians and their supporters from working in the state's public schools. However, less than a year into his term, he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by former supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978. When White was let off with a reduced sentence months later riots followed in the decision’s wake and a new term was added to the lexicon of pop culture: The Twinkie Defense.
At 11:30 pm many baby boomers get the chance to relive their youth with the airing of Woodstock: The Director’s Cut (1970). And at 3:30 am, it’s the Oscar winning anti-Vietnam War documentary, Hearts and Minds (1974), filmmaker Peter Davis’ examination of America’s involvement in Vietnam. It made its debut at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, just a year after the American withdrawal and mere months before President Richard Nixon resigned his office.
With debate over the war still ongoing, Davis’ film added fuel to the fire, with critics rightly noting that it was one-sided and anti-American. For instance, the film does not consider the atrocities inflicted upon American soldiers and Vietnamese citizens by the Viet Cong. But Davis attempted to deflect the criticism by stating that it was never his intention to show an objective history of the war. The film’s title comes from a statement President Lyndon Johnson used to justify America’s growing escalation of the war: “The ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there.”
The TCM essay on the film by Sean Axmaker notes that in 2001 Davis explained that he went into the film with three questions on his mind: “Why did we go to Vietnam, what did we do there and what did the doing in turn do to us? I didn't expect the film to answer those questions, I expected it to address those questions.”
February 2: In the category of Overlooked Classics comes John Ford’s 1940 drama of a merchant ship's crew as it tries to survive the loneliness of the sea and the coming of war, The Long Voyage Home. Nominated for six Academy Awards, the film features great writing along with deft direction and outstanding performers from its ensemble cast, including John Wayne as the idealistic and homesick young Ole Olsen. It’s beautifully photographed in black-and-white by Gregg Toland, who uses low-key lighting and deep focus photography to establish the film’s pessimistic atmosphere. Toland would later display these talents on 1941’s Citizen Kane. This is a film that is often taken for granted, overlooked when placed aside other Ford classics. But The Long Voyage Home, although it comes across at times as stagebound, stands on its own as an effective and unsentimental portrait of lonely and desperate merchant seamen. Ford cobbled the film together from four one-act plays by Eugene O’Neill (The Moon of the Caribbees, In the Zone, Bound East for Cardiff, and The Long Voyage Home). O’Neill reportedly called the resulting film his favorite work put to film.
February 8: In an evening devoted to Best Sound Winners, no film could be more apt than David Lean’s 1952 The Sound Barrier, which is airing at 4:15 am. Ralph Richardson stands out as John Ridgefield, designer of the Prometheus, a jet plane he hopes will break the sound barrier. For his test pilot he hires Tony Garthwaite (Nigel Patrick). But there’s one problem: Ridgefield's daughter, Susan (Ann Todd), is married to Garthwaite and she worries that Dad’s designs will get her husband killed. The Sound Barrier is a drama that is gripping, engrossing, and believable due to Lean’s work behind the camera. Even at this late hour it’s a Must See.
February 9: On an evening devoted to Best Costume Design, what could be more apropos than a film about an ambitious model and her climb to the top? 1965’s Darling, airing at 12:45 am, stars Julie Christie in her first starring role as Diana Scott, a gorgeous model who uses her body to get ahead in a vain search for personal happiness and fulfillment. Directed by John Schlesinger, Darling is a trite and badly dated look at the jet set culture that dominated London in the swinging sixties. The film is told in flashback as Scott, an Italian princess by marriage, is being interviewed by a reporter at her Italian villa. She details her climb as she first dazzles intellectual journalist Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde), who promptly leaves his family to live with her. He introduces her to a more wealthy and social set and she deserts the intellectual Gold to hook up with the well-connected public relations executive Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey). Growing bored with Miles she next takes up with Malcolm (Roland Curram), a gay photographer who takes her to Italy to film commercials. There she seduces and marries millionaire Italian widower, Prince Cesare (Jose-Luis deVillalonga), becoming his trophy wife. Darling is a prime example of debauchery attempting to pass for profundity and grows ever more tiresome as Diana skips from bed to bed. The dialogue is marked by such insights as Bogarde telling Christie that “Your idea of being fulfilled is having more than one man in bed at the same time.” Yawn. The only reason we recommend this is because it rarely surfaces on television and we love bad movies.
February 12: The evening is devoted to Best Director Winners, and Bob Fosse is saluted this night for his wonderful musical, Cabaret, leading off the evening at 8:00. Of all the ‘70s and beyond musicals it’s our favorite by far and is 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 perfectly captures the setting and mood of 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 and Joel Grey winning Best Supporting Actor.
February 13: A day of Foreign Language nominees and winners is highlighted by several films either making their debut or rarely screened. First up at 8:00 am is Keisuke Kinoshita’s melodrama, Immortal Love (Eien no hito, 1961), Set in 1932, Sadako (Hideko Takamine) is a tenant whose fiancee, Takashi (Kenji Sada), is off to war in China. The landowner’s son, Heibei (Tatsuya Nakadai), has returned home from the war as a semi-invalid. He tells Sadako that Takashi was probably killed in the war. As events progress, he rapes Sadako and she becomes pregnant as a result. Pressure from Heibei’s father (Kato Yoshi) on her father forces her to marry him. But she cannot love the son conceived from the rape. Takashi returns home from the war unharmed, and marries Tomako (Otawa Nabuko), with whom he has a son. Things then really get sticky as Sadako and Heibei’s son kills himself at the age of 17 after learning he was the product of a rape. Their second born son becomes a communist, and their daughter elopes with Takashi’s son, helped along by the connivance of Sadako, who knows Heibei would never give his consent. The film ends in the present day on an ambiguous note, as Sadako and Heibei are trapped in a loveless marriage.
At 10:00 comes a repeat showing of Jacques Tati’s 1958 comedy, Mon Oncle. The film follows the further adventures of Tati’s Mr. Hulot, the lovable bumble who prefers the simple life as opposed to the modernization going on about him in Paris. His life life is in sharp contrast to that of his sister and brother-in-law, the Arpels (Jean-Pierre Zola and Adrienne Servantie), who live in an ultramodern, gadget-filled home. Tati supplies the humor with a continuous flow of sight gags as Mr. Hulot tries to adapt to the environment of his sister and brother-in-law, who is always trying to find him a job. Though not as good as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, it’s still an easygoing delight, thanks for Tati and Piette Etaix’s sight gags.
At 2:15 am it’s Black Orpheus from 1959, a sumptuous re-telling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in Rio during Brazil’s carnival season to the beat of the Latin American pop music known as “bossa nova.” A largely unprofessional cast led by Breno Mello (as Orpheus) and Pittsburgh dancer Marpessa Dawn (as Eurydice) move seamlessly through the fantasy world of the Carnival. Though it can’t be strictly labeled as a musical, it is nonetheless drenched through with music and dance. Director Marcel Camus makes beautiful use of color, with the film’s energy becoming infectious, almost exhausting at times. Highly recommended, even to those who normally shy away from anything having to do with music or musicals.
A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
As we wind down the month and prepare for the annual Oscar deluge in February, we begin the column with a word from our own Jonathon Saia. He has launched an exciting new series of articles called The Auteurs. Each article will feature a film from a selected director and examine why it meets the standard of an Auteur. Jon is a superb student of film history and his series promises to both inform and entertain. We think you’ll like it as much as we do and will look forward to each new installment.
The Auteurs: A Tour Through American Cinema with Jonathon Saia
Auteur, French for “author,” is a term and later a movement coined to define a filmmaker whose work is so singular that the work is undeniably their own.
For my new column, “The Auteurs,” I will be writing about 20 filmmakers – some legends, some under-appreciated – who have laid their views, values, and personal lives bare on screen for the world. As a student of cinema history, I have specifically chosen directors whose work with whom I am mostly unfamiliar in order to further educate myself in the process.
In choosing which film from these prolific, iconic, and varied filmmakers’ ouevres to profile, I will mainly focus on projects that the directors have also written, produced, edited and/or shot themselves to fully claim them as its author. When at all possible, they will also be the star of the film. I have focused on American films made within and around the Hollywood Studio System because it is the world I know best; therefore, can give the uniqueness and splendor of the films a better context.
I hope this inspires you to take your own journey through cinema history. I look forward to discussing these films and their makers with you throughout the year
Erich von Stroheim and Foolish Wives (1922) (Already posted. Read it here.)
John Cassavetes and Husbands (1970) (Already posted. Read it here.)
Charles Chaplin and Limelight (1952)
Maya Deren and Meshes in the Afternoon (1943)
Oscar Michaeux and The Symbol of the Unconquered: A Story of the Ku Klux Klan (1920)
Jack Smith and Flaming Creatures (1963)
Elaine May and A New Leaf (1971)
Herschel Gordon Lewis and Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
Orson Welles and The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
Melvin van Peebles and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)
Shirley Clarke and Portrait of Jason (1967)
Buster Keaton and Three Ages (1923)
Andy Warhol and Lonesome Cowboys (1968)
Doris Wishman and Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)
Jerry Lewis and The Family Jewels (1965)
Barbara Hammer and Nitrate Kisses (1992)
Spencer Williams and The Blood of Jesus (1941)
D.W. Griffith and Orphans of the Storm (1921)
Kenneth Anger and Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969)
Lois Weber and Too Wise Wives (1921)
January 31: A double feature from the noted New Wave director kicks off at 2:30 am with the justly celebrated Cleo From 5 to 7. Corinne Marchand stars as a singer who is nervously awaiting the results of a cancer test, and the movie documents a nerve-racking two hours in the singer’s life as she waits for the results and the characters she meets. And yet, at the end, we are still left with a sense that the story has not been fully resolved. It is a brilliant study of a woman’s real life dilemma with no need for artificial drama. Watch for cameos by Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina, Eddie Constantine and Sami Frey.
Following at 4:15 am, the crap really hits the fan when married young carpenter Jean-Claude Drouot proposes making his mistress a part of the family in her 1966 Le Bonheur (Happiness). Francois (Drouot) is a carpenter living in a suburban village. He is happily married to lovely Therese (Claire Drouot), and they have two well-behaved young children. When Francois meets Emilie (Marie-France Boyer) and begins an affair with her, he finds that his happiness increases. “Happiness works by addition,” he tells Emilie. Therese can’t help but notice his newly-found joyfulness, and during a family country outing one afternoon, she questions him about it. He tells her all about Emilie and their affair, assuring Therese that the relationship is no threat to their family and that he has found more than enough happiness to satisfy everyone. While Therese appears to accept the situation, things are not what they seem on the surface, and the family's seemingly perfect existence becomes increasingly threatened.
January 23: Beginning at 3:00 am comes two excellent family comedies from the celebrated director. First up is Equinox Flower (Higanbana), from 1958, a lovely film starring Shin Saburi as a businessman who excels at giving everyone else family advice, but when his own daughter (Ineko Arima) rejects his plans to arrange a marriage for her, he is totally at a loss. This forces him to examine his seemingly perfect life and he comes to see just how committed he is in his own life to traditional ways in a society that is changing. Built along one of Ozu’s favorite themes, the changing Japanese cultural landscape as the country modernizes, Ozu focuses on the effect it has on the adjustments a family must make between generations.
Compare its outlook with Ozu’s earlier film Early Summer (Bakushu), from 1951, which airs immediately afterward at 5:15 am. Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is a secretary. She’s single and livers happily with her mother and father. But she’s approaching 30, which sets off alarm bells in her family, as tradition dictates that women marry young. Her family feels that her independent spirit needs to be modulated by a husband. Noriko sees the fact that she works, has female friends with whom she is close, and has no need to rush into marriage as completely normal, but her married older brother (Chishu Ryu) sees it differently, as an impudence. When her boss suggests his 40-year old bachelor friend as a suitable husband, all the members of her family press her to accept. But Noriko is determined to follow her own course of action, without seeking their advice, and to their ultimate chagrin. As with all Ozu films, a simple scenario at first is actually way deeper than assumed and there are no easy choices in life. It’s a shame TCM is airing these classics at such a late hour, which means we’ll have to get out the recorders. These two films are far and above the other fare the stations providing that night and should rightly be viewed in prime time instead of being relegated to the late night ghetto.
January 21: Talented Italian director Ermanno Olmi, who gave us the terrific and insightful Il Posto in 1961, gives us a 1978 film that many consider his masterpiece, The Tree of Wooden Clogs (L'albero degli zoccoli). This 1978 film will be shown at 2:15 am. Originally a three-part series made for television, it’s a perfect example of Olmi’s “slice of life" filmmaking. It focuses on a year in the lives of four peasant families sharecropping in Lombardy, a rural region in northern Italy, at the end of the 19th century.
It was a subject Olmi knew well, based on stories his grandmother told him. For the director, a Catholic, a Marxist, and a peasant, the story was close to his heart and to his own history – a devastating look at a feudal system which forced peasants to beg for what should have been theirs by right. He knew the region and the people intimately, and the title itself refers to a peasant family that has a child so clever that they decide to send him to school instead of making him work the farm. This requires a great sacrifice, as the boy has to wake up very early and walk several miles to get to the school. One day his shoes break when returning home, but the family cannot afford to buy another pair. His father solves matters by chopping down a tree and fashioning a pair of clogs for his son so he can go to school. The consequences of this action will later have a heavy impact on the family. Don’t let the running time of a little over three hours deter you. With Olmi the devil in is the details and the film is a virtual immersion into the lives of those who got the short end of the stick. The film won the Palme d'Or as best film at the Cannes Film Festival, being one of the few winners to be selected unanimously by a festival jury.
JANUARY 16: At 4:45 am TCM is airing King Vidor's 1934 utopian drama,Our Daily Bread. New Yorkers Mary and John Sims (Karen Morley and Tom Keene) are hard hit by the Depression. Out of work, the couple gets some badly needed help when Mary’s Uncle Anthony (Lloyd Ingraham) gives them a tract of fallow land to farm. They hit a rut when they realize they cannot farm it alone.
When Chris Larsen (John Qualen), a dispossessed farmer from Minnesota, breaks down outside the Sims’s farm with a flat tire, John suggests to him that, in exchange for his farming expertise, he and his family live on his land and share in the farm's output. After Chris accepts, John realizes he can expand this offer to other destitute families and to his surprise he has many takers. Working together as a collective, the men till and plant the land, while the women tend to domestic chores, such as making homes out of hand-built shacks. But trouble comes when they realize that, because no mortgage payments have been made, the county sheriff is about to auction off the farm. At the auction, the group unites to intimidate any potential buyers, with the result that the sheriff is forced to sell the farm for $1.85 to a member of the collective. As the film continues other troubles arise, such as a severe drought, and nearly ruin not only the farm, but Mary and John’s marriage. Though the acting is nothing to write home about, and the reviews were mixed, the film remains as an interesting piece of Americana made outside the studio system.
January 17: Eleven Men and a Girl(1930), a college football comedy with Joe E. Brown and Joan Bennett at 3:15 pm.
January 18: Lionel Barrymore and Miriam Hopkins in the 1933 drama The Stranger’s Return (6:00 am). Paul Muni and Aline MacMahon in 1933’s The World Changes (7:45 am). Jean Muir and Donald Woods star in As the Earth Turns, from 1934 (9:30 am). Barbara Stanwyck is a mail order bride in William Wellman’s The Purchase Price (1932), with George Brent and Lyle Talbot (1:00 pm)
January 19: A Joel McCrea mini-marathon begins at 7:45 am with 1931’s Kept Husbands (w/Dorothy MacKaill). Following in order are The Sport Parade(1932, w/Marian Marsh. Read our essay on it here.) at 9:15 am; Rockabye(1932, w/Constance Bennett) at 10:30 am; Born to Love (1932, w/Constance Bennett) at 11:45 am); Bed of Roses(1933, w/Constance Bennett) at 1:15 pm; Chance at Heaven (1933, w/ Ginger Rogers) at 2:30 pm; and Gambling Lady (1934, w/Barbara Stanwyck) at 4:00 pm.
January 20: Young American Leslie Howard goes back to London in the time of the American Revolution and meets his ancestors inBerkeley Square (1933, 6:15 am).
January 22: Four films featuring prostitutes are on the bill. Dorothy MacKaill discovers that you can run but you can’t hide in William Wellman’s 1931 drama Safe in Hell(6:00 am). Helen Twelvetrees commits murder to protect her daughter’s honor in Millie (1931, 7:30 am). Garbo talks in the original Anna Christie, from 1930 with Marie Dressler (9:00 am); and Walter Huston is a missionary who tries to reform Joan Crawford in Rain (1932, 10:45 am).
January 24: Jewel thieves Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall find their relationship threatened when he turns on the charm to their newest victim, Kay Francis, in Ernst Lubitsch’s delightful 1932 comedy, Trouble in Paradise, at 11:00 pm).
At 4:15 am. Jimmy Cagney, Joan Blondell and Ruby Keeler headline Busby Berkeley’s Footlight Parade (1933).
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
As always, there’s a good selection of psychotronic films.
January 17: For those who like a little murder mystery with their baseball there’s MGM’s 1934 Death on the Diamond, which is airing at 10:15 am. Here’s the plot: “Pop” Clark (David Landau) owns and manages the St. Louis Cardinals. Things have not been going well on the playing field in recent years for the Cardinals, and if the Cards fail to win the pennant, Pop will be forced to sell the team to greedy business rival Henry Ainsley (John Hyams). His hopes rest with rookie pitcher Larry Kelly (Robert Young). Larry is befriended by wealthy Joseph Karnes (C. Henry Gordon), but he is later warned by sportswriter Jimmie Downey (Paul Kelly) to avoid Karnes, as notorious gambler. Though the Cards are given only odds of 20-1 to win the pennant, they get off to a strong start and are firmly entrenched in second place. This is not good for Karnes, who has bet $1 million against the Cardinals, and he tries to buy Larry off with a $10,000 bribe. But Larry informs Jimmie and Pop of Karnes’ dirty doings and the bribe is made public. Just as Pop thinks the team has turned the corner, someone begins murdering the players. A race is on to find the identity of the killer before he wipes out the Cardinals’ chances for the pennant. Can our hero Larry romance Pop's daughter, Frances (Madge Evans), win enough games, and still have time to stop a murderer before he strikes more than three times? Tune in and find out.
Move ahead to 4:30 am and it’s Jack Benny as an angel sent to destroy Earth with a blast from his trumpet in The Horn Blows at Midnight, from 1945. Benny is a trumpet player in a band who falls asleep and dreams that he's an archangel sent to earth to blow his horn at midnight, signaling the end of the world. Benny misses his cue, and spends the rest of the film trying to evade a pair of fallen angels who are out to stop him. Not nearly the turkey Benny made it out to be on his television show, it’s an entertaining screwball comedy with an excellent cast, good writing and top direction from Raoul Walsh.
January 19: Chester Morris and Lucille Ball are among the survivors of a jungle plane crash who realize their repaired airplane can only carry five passengers in 1939’s Five Came Back (1:00 am).
January 20: Farmer Max von Sydow finds himself framed for murder and railroaded into the nut house by his ambitious sister Liv Ullmann and her doctor husband, Per Oscarsson in Laslo Benedek's 1971 drama The Night Visitor, at 2:00 am. Immediately following at 4:00 am, watch Richard Burton embarrass himself in the execrable 1977 sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic.
January 25: Once Elvis hit it big in movies, rock stars were in demand. Roy Orbison is a Confederate spy who gives guitar lessons to the governor’s daughter and later robs a Union train before he learns the war is over in 1957’s The Fastest Guitar Alive, airing at 1:30 pm. Roy’s gimmick is a shotgun guitar that he uses to get out of scrapes.
At 6:15 pm it’s cowboys vs. dinosaurs in Ray Harryhausen’s The Valley of Gwangi (1969).
January 26: At 8:00 pm, children marooned on an island must create their own society in Lord of the Flies (1963). At 11:45 Ray Milland and his family flee the aftermath of a nuclear war in Panic in the Year Zero (1962). At 1:30 am comes the 1970 environmental holocaust film No Blade of Grass. And at 3:30 am, Jenny Agutter and Lucien John are two children lost in the Australian Outback in Walkabout (1971).
January 27: Nature strikes back, beginning at 2:30 am with a giant boar on the loose in Australia in Razorback (1984). Following at 4:15 am, John Huston and Shelley Winters are threatened by a giant octopus in the Godawful Tentacles (1977). With Henry Fonda in a mercifully brief appearance.
January 29: Warner Baxter is a master criminal who suffers amnesia as a result of a blow to the head and is reborn is as noted criminal psychologist in Columbia’s The Crime Doctor from 1943. It went on to spawn an entertaining series and can be seen at 12:30 pm.
January 30: Scheduled at 8:00 pm the one and only King Kong makes an appearance. The 1933 film has been imitated many times but never topped for adventure or realism.
January 28: Young Edna Purviance, from the French countryside is set to marry her sweetheart, Carl Miller, but a misunderstanding causes her to move to Paris, where she becomes the mistress of wealthy Adolphe Menjou in Charlie Chaplin’s A Woman of Paris, which airs at Midnight. It was Chaplin’s first attempt at a serious dramatic feature, and though the critics loved it, it didn’t click with audiences and fared miserably at the box office. Chaplin reedited it, but waited until 1977 before reissuing it with a new musical score.
TRAIN WRECK THEATER
January 16: Tune in at the early hour of 6 am to catch Ronnie Reagan in the stirring 1938 social justice piece, Girls on Probation. For those who would rather be doing anything else, you can read about it here.
A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
December 22: A Barbara Stanwyck double feature kicks off at 8 pm with the wonderful Christmas in Connecticut, followed at 10 pm by the touching Preston Sturges scripted Remember the Night (1940).
We shift gears at Midnight for Judy Garland, Mary Astor, Margaret O’Brien and Leon Ames in 1944’s heartwarming Meet Me in St. Louis.
December 24: At 8 pm comes one of the most delightful of the holiday films TCM is airing during the month. That film is The Bishop’s Wife (1947), with Cary Grant as Dudley, an angel sent to help Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) realize his project to build an elaborate new cathedral and repair his marriage to Julia (Loretta Young). It’s a combination of the heartwarming with the inspirational as Grant works his magic. Look for supporting players Monty Woolley as a history professor, Elsa Lanchester as the Brougham’s devoted housekeeper, and James Gleason in a comic relief role as a cab driver.
At 10 pm is another delightful holiday film, Leo McCarey’s The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945). A sequel of sorts to Going My Way, Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby) is assigned to a rundown parochial school on the verge of condemnation. Presided over by Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), O’Malley must find a way to work with her to save the school. Though not as good as Going My Way, there’s still a lot in it to thoroughly warm the heart.
At Midnight it’s the rarely seen The Cheaters (1945) from Republic Pictures. A wealthy self-obsessed family preparing for Christmas is in financial trouble. They learn that an extremely rich uncle has died and left his fortune to a woman he didn’t even know. The family, scheming to find Watson and keep her under wraps until the search period is over and the fortune reverts to them, hits on an idea that will help them in their scheme and at the same time enable them to stand out among their friends. They will adopt a "lost man" and bring him to their house for the holidays (sort of akin to My Man Godfrey). Finding a news story of a washed-up actor who has attempted suicide, they bring him to their home. But the actor proves far more than they bargained for and shows them some real truths about both giving and living. Eugene Palette and Billie Burke plays the heads of the wealthy family, with Joseph Schildkraut as the unemployed actor they take in. I’ve heard a lot about this film over the years, but never got the chance to see it. Now I can.
At 2 am it’s the durable 1938 MGM version of A Christmas Carol with Reginald Owen as Scrooge and Gene and Kathleen Lockhart as the Cratchits. With standout performances from Leo G. Carroll as Jacob Marley and Ann Rutherford as the Spirit of Christmas Past. And at 3:30 am, Glenn Ford and Bette Davis star in Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (1961), a pallid remake of his 1933 Lady For a Day.
December 25: At 9 am TCM is airing Hal Roach’s 1934 production of Babes in Toyland with Laurel and Hardy in fine form as two bumbling employees in this version of the Victor Herbert operetta. Following at 10:30 am, Seymour Hicks takes on the title role in 1935’s Scrooge, from Twickenham Film Distributors in England. Paramount distributed the film in the U.S.
THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK
December 21: At 8 pm Fred Astaire again romances Ginger Rogers in Swing Time (1936). The highlight of the film is the excellent score by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern, including “Waltz in Swing Time,” “A Fine Romance,” and the unforgettable “The Way You Look Tonight.” At 10 pm comes 42nd Street (1933), the classic backstage musical with Warner Baxter, Dick Powell, Bebe Daniels and Ruby Keeler as the girl from the chorus who suddenly must carry the show. Great hokum with a slew of fabulous songs from Al Dubin and Harry Warren: “Young and Healthy,” “You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and the title tune, one of the best songs ever written and one that still thrills me every time I hear it, even if it is sung by Ruby Keeler.
George M. Cohan takes center stage at 11:45 pm as Jimmy Cagney shows us why he won the Oscar for Best Actor playing Cohan in the lively biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). Add to this the great selection of Cohan tunes, including “Harrigan,” “So Long, Mary,” “Forty-five Minutes From Broadway,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Over There,” and Give My Regards to Broadway,” and it’s a film we can watch any number of times.
At 2 am it’s the offbeat 1954 Deep in My Heart, a biopic of composer Sigmund Romberg, whose mission was to bring serious music to Broadway. Despite its overlong length, the film has a lot going for it, with the lead role of Romberg being played with panache by Jose Ferrer. Merle Oberon is actress Dorothy Donnelly, who spotted Romberg early on and encouraged his talent. Walter Pidgeon is wonderful as producer J.J. Schubert, and Paul Stewart is solid as Shubert’s associate, Bert Townsend. But the real stars of the show are the guest stars MGM brings on to perform Romberg’s music. Jane Powell and Vic Damone team up for “Will You Remember (Sweetheart),” the only film pairing of brothers Gene and Fred Kelly for “I Love to Go Swimmin' with Wimmen,” Ann Miller singing and dancing to “It,” and Cyd Charisse teaming with James Mitchell on “One Alone.” Even Ferrer gets into the act, soloing on “Jazzadadadoo,” and teaming with Helen Traubel on “Leg of Mutton.” Traubel solos with “Auf Wiedersehn,” “You Will Remember Vienna,” and the unforgettable “Stouthearted Men.” Perhaps the most unusual number is Tony Martin and Joan Weldon dueting “Lover, Come Back to Me.” Weldon is best known for her role as ant expert Dr. Patricia Medford in the 1954 sci-fi classic Them!
The evening closes at 4:45 am with the 1934 MGM musical The Cat and the Fiddle, starring Ramon Novarro as a struggling composer with his eyes on Jeanette MacDonald. The music by Jerome Kern and Otto A. Harbach includes “She Didn't Say Yes,” “A New Love is Old,” and “The Night Was Made for Love.”
December 28: The spotlight class out tonight with The Dolly Sisters (1945) leading off at 8:00 pm. Betty Grable and June Haver play two sisters from Hungary who become vaudeville stars in the early 1900s. the music, from different composers, includes such well-known tunes as “Carolina in the Morning,” “I'm Always Chasing Rainbows,” “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile!,” and “The Sidewalks of New York.”
Betty Hutton is Annie Oakley, Howard Keel is Frank Butler and Louis Calhern in Buffalo Bill in 1950’s Annie Get Your Gun. The music, by Irving Berlin, includes such standards as “Doin’ What Comes Naturally,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” “Anything You Can Do,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “The Girl That I Marry,”
Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin are three sailors who meet Vera-Ellen, Ann Miller and Betty Garrett while On The Town (1949), which airs at 12:15 am. The music is supplied by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green and includes the famous “New York, New York.”
The Band Wagon (1953), starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan, airs at 2:00 am. Tunes by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz include “By Myself,” “A Shine on Your Shoes,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “I Love Louisa,” “Louisiana Hayride,” “Triplets,” and the ever popular “That’s Entertainment.”
Closing out the night is Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), starring Jack Benny. Eleanor Powell and Robert Taylor. The music, by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, includes such popular standards as “Broadway Rhythm,” “You Are My Lucky Star,” “All I Do Is Dream Of You,” and “I've Got a Feelin' You're Foolin’.”
December 29: TCM salutes some of those who passed away this year with five movies, beginning at 8:00 pm with Jules and Jim (1962), honoring Jeanne Moreau. At 10:00 pm, Bill Paxton is honored with Apollo 13(1995) is airing. Mary Tyler Moore is remembered at 12:30 am with Thoroughly Modern Millie(1967). Director George A. Romero is saluted at 3:15 am with his Night of the Living Dead, from 1968. Finally, TCM remembers Don Rickles with the 1970 production off Kelly’s Heroes.
The next morning, December 30, TCM is airing Gold of the Seven Saints from 1961, starring the late Roger Moore.
HOLIDAYS WITH HITCHCOCK
TCM offers us a very unusual Christmas present with a 24-hour marathon of Alfred Hitchcock films beginning on Christmas Day at 8 pm and ending on Boxing Day. Here’s the rundown.
December 25: 8:00 pm - Rear Window; 10:00 pm - North by Northwest; 12:30 am - Dial M for Murder; 2:30 am - The Birds; 4:45 am - Vertigo.
December 26: 7:00 am - Shadow of a Doubt; 9:00 am - Strangers on a Train; 11:00 am - The Trouble With Harry; 1:00 pm - Topaz; 3:15 pm - Marnie; 5:45 pm - The Man Who Knew Too Much (from 1956).
December 17: A beautiful double feature from Roberto Rossellini begins at 2 am with his entrancing 1950 effort, The Flowers of St. Francis. Rossellini follows the spiritual life of St. Francis of Assisi as he brings together his followers and builds the Franciscan Order, to their journey to Rome to secure the Pope’s blessing, and their return in the rain to Rivotorlo after gaining the Pope’s blessing to disperse into the world to preach on their own. Rossellini uses the film and its message of spiritual enlightenment as a counterweight to the despair and cynicism ravaging postwar Europe. The simplicity, and good will of St. Francis' message of peace to all is a call to the faithful to once again listen and heed the naïve who are sincere rather than place their faith in those who use cleverness instead of being pure hearted. Rossellini's is telling the audience that those who are pure at heart will always overcome the evil that exists in the world.
Immediately following at 3:45 am is Rossellini’s 1972 biopic, Blaise Pascal. It’s an intriguing look at the life of the French philosopher from age 17 to his death at the age of 39 in 1662. Along the way the film examines Pascal’s role in the battle between reason and faith. As Pascal, Pierre Arditi gives a performance for the ages as the philosopher faces a society that believes in witchcraft and fails to understand his discovery of the vacuum, which for Pascal asserts the existence of infinity. Pascal spent his short existence on earth trying to move French society out of the darkness and towards enlightenment. And on his deathbed (after suffering rather poor health for most of his life), Pascal affirms his belief not only in God, but also in clear thought, which he sees as not opposed to belief in God, but entirely compatible with that belief. This is a film that will delightfully enlighten you (no pun intended).
December 17: At 8 pm TCM is airing a double feature directed by and starring Albert Brooks. First up is Real Life (1979), an often hilarious mockumentary of the famous 1973 PBS documentary, An American Family. Brooks brilliantly satirizes both the family that allowed the cameras to invade their personal life, the media, who glommed onto it and began to reshape American life, and us, who cheerfully went along with the whole thing. Following at 10 pm is Modern Romance (1981), with Brooks as film editor Robert Cole, currently working on a cheesy sci-fi film, who is constantly breaking up and reconciling with his extremely patient and long-suffering girlfriend, Mary Harvard (Kathryn Harrold). Unlike the preceding film, this one totally misses the mark: it is shallow and totally unfunny. Not helping matters is the fact that there is no chemistry between Brooks and Harrold. Instead of insight we get a sappy romance that never takes off because Brooks’ character is so unlikeable. Watch at your own risk.
December 27: An evening with the great Zero Mostel begins at 8:00 pm with his famous role as Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ 1968 The Producers. At 9:45 Zero is blacklisted comedian Hecky Brown in the 1976 comedy/drama The Front. Mostel is an embittered man who needs the help of angel Harry Belafonte in The Angel Levine (1976) at 11:45 pm. A most unusual western hits the airwaves at 1:30 am as Kim Novak leads a group of outlaws posing as religious leaders of the local church to rob a fortress-like bank built by the James Brothers, the Dalton Brothers and the Younger Brothers to store their ill-gotten gold in The Great Bank Robbery from Warner Bros. in 1969. Zero is the Rev. Pious Blue. And last, at 3:30 am, Zero is the drunken Potemkin, courtier to Russian empires Catherine the Great (Jeanne Moreau) in 1968’s Great Catherine. Peter O’Toole, Jack Hawkins and Akim Tamiroff also star in this slapstick adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play.
THIN MAN MARATHON
December 31: There is no better way to spend New Year’s Eve than watching William Powell and Myrna Loy solve crimes. The Thin Man marathon kicks off at 8:00 pm with the original, The Thin Man (1934). At 9:45 pm comes After the Thin Man (1936). Another Thin Man (1939) follows at 11:45 pm. Then it’s Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) at 1:45 am. The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) airs at 3:30 am, and the last of the series, Song of the Thin Man(1947), can be seen at 5:15 am.
December 31: The only Pre-Code film this edition is One Way Passage (1932), starring William Powell and Kay Francis, at 10:00 am. Read our review of it here.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
December 16: Tune in at 2 am for a great psychotronic double feature. First up is The Twilight People, a 1972 atrocious remake of Island of Lost Souls from director Eddie Romero and co-producer and star John Ashley. The best take on the film comes from Michael Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film: “Like most Romero duds, it stars John Ashley (who co-produced). The panther woman is played by Pam Grier! This boring quasi remake includes an ape man, antelope man, flying bat man, wolf woman and a tree woman(?), a Nazi, bad makeup, and some pretty gory scenes.” If that doesn’t make you want to tune in, nothing does. It’s followed at 3:45 am by the original 1933 classic, Island of Lost Souls.
December 22: Elvis stars in the classic Jailhouse Rock at 3:30 pm, made in the days when he was actually making good movies.
December 23: Tune in at 2:15 am to see Olivia Newton-John as a goddess sent to help roller-skating Michael Beck in the unpopular 1980 misfire Xanadu. Also starring is Sandahl Bergman and Gene Kelly, of all people. Following at 4:00 am is the dull The Unholy Rollers (1972), though it features Claudia Jennings in one of her best roles as a young woman who quits her job at a cannery to try her luck on the roller derby circuit with the L.A. Avengers. Co-produced by Roger Corman and James H. Nicholson, it’s a lame attempt to cash in on the superior Kansas City Bomber, made the same year with Raquel Welch. Jennings is wonderful, but the script lets her down, featuring typical show biz corruption.
December 27: A Val Lewton double header of The Leopard Man (1943) and Cat People (1942) begins at 5:30 pm.
December 30: At 2:00 am it’s He Knows You’re Alone from 1980, a film whose only distinction being it was the first film of Tom Hanks and was directed by Armand Mastroianni, Marcello’s American cousin. Following at 4:30 am is the equally dreadful Don’t Open the Door! (aka Don’t Hang Up) from 1975 about a dutiful grand-daughter who goes home to take care of her elderly grandmother and finds herself in the same house with a homicidal maniac.
A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
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 be sure to please.
An interesting non-TCM item is the premiere of a three-hour live musical production of Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story. It’s scheduled to air on December 17 from 7:00 to 10:00 pm on Fox. From what we’ve been able to learn, the role of the narrator, the adult Ralphie Parker, will be played by Matthew Broderick. Ralphie as a child will be played by 11-year old Andy Walken. Maya Rudolph and Chris Diamantopoulos are set to play Ralphie’s parents. Ana Gasteyer will play Mrs. Schwartz, the mother of Ralphie’s friend Schwartz. Jane Krakowski will play Miss Shields. New songs have been written by Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land). And yes, the iconic lamp will be featured.
December 1: After accidentally helping rustlers steal valuable horses, five children pursue them through the outback of Australia to retrieve the animals in Bush Christmas (1947) at Midnight. Following at 1:30 am, after 8-year old Margaret O’Brien learns the truth about her Aunt Susan's (Angela Lansbury) fiancé, Steve (George Murphy), she loses all faith in her family and in God. It will take nothing short of a miracle to restore Flavia's belief in Tenth Avenue Angel.
December 8: Alistair Sim is Scrooge in the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, generally considered by critics and film historians as the best version of the classic Dickens tale, airing at 8:00 pm. Sir Seymour Hicks follows with his interpretation of Dickens’ miser in the 1935 British production, titled simply Scrooge, at 9:45 pm. It’s a faithful interpretation of the Dickens classic.
December 14:Compliments of the Season, a 1930 short from Warner Bros., airs at 1:30 pm. Eric Dressler is a recently released petty thief who saves Lenita Lane from jumping off a pier to her death on Christmas Eve. Talking to her he learns that she is destitute and forlorn because she cannot find the man she loves (Weldon Heyburn). He has moved and she is all alone. Dressler wants to buy her dinner, but he is flat broke. He decides to raise some money by robbing a passing man on the street, and in an ironic twist the man turns out to be the missing boy friend. Look for Pat O’Brien in his first role (uncredited) as the detective trailing Dressler.
December 15: Begin at 8 pm with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as feuding co-workers who are secret anonymous romantic pen pals in Ernst Lubitsch’s incomparable 1940 The Shop Around the Corner. Following at 10 pm lovely Janet Leigh is a young widow caught between boring businessman Wendell Corey and hunky ne’er-do-well Robert Mitchum inHoliday Affair(1949).
The night continues at 11:45 pm with Don DeFore, Ann Harding, Charlie Ruggles and Victor Moore in the delightful It Happened on Fifth Avenue from Monogram (1947). And closing out the evening at 2 am, Monty Woolley disrupts an Ohio family’s Christmas in Warners’ The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941). Bette Davis got top billing as Woolley’s long-suffering secretary, but it’s Woolley’s show as he plays a thinly disguised Alexander Woollcott. Billie Burke and Grant Mitchell are the poor couple whose home Woolley takes over. Reginald Gardner is a thinly disguised Noel Coward and Jimmy Durante is along as a thinly disguised Harpo Marx. Ann Sheridan is excellent as a thinly disguised Gertrude Lawrence and Mary Wickes is memorable as Woolley’s put upon nurse.
THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK
December 7: Tom Drake and Mickey Rooney are Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in the sappy 1948 biopic Words and Music at 8:00 pm. Also starring Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, June Allyson, Mel Torme, Vera-Ellen, Cyd Charisse and Perry Como. Highlights are Judy Garland singing “Johnny One-Note,” Lena Horne’s exuberant version of “The Lady Is a Tramp,” and Kelly and Vera-Ellen’s dance to “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.”
Danny Thomas is songwriter Gus Kahn in the hokey 1952 biopic I’ll See You in My Dreams at 10:15 pm. Doris Day, Frank Lovejoy and James Gleason co-star.
Gene Kelly made his big screen debut as Judy Garland’s vaudeville partner in 1942’s For Me and My Gal. Kelly and Garland sing the title tune and “When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose,” while Garland warbles an excellent version of “How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree?).”
Busby Berkeley directs Dick Powell, Rosemary and Lola Lane, Glenda Farrell and Johnnie Davis in the exuberant Hollywood Hotel at 2:15 am. The highlight of the film is the opening number, as Johnnie Davis joins Benny Goodman and his orchestra in “Hooray for Hollywood.” The film is worth watching just for that number alone and the Benny Goodman Orchestra’s vibrant version of Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
Songwriter Harry Warren performs several of his own compositions, including "I Found a Million Dollar Baby" and "Shadow Waltz” in the 1933 Warner Bros. short, Harry Warren: America’s Foremost Composer, airing at 4:15 am.
Finally, closing out the evening at 4:30 am is Joan Blondell, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler in the 1934 Busby Berkeley musical Dames. A must see for anyone who hasn’t caught it before.
December 14: At 8 pm Mickey Rooney romances Judy Garland in 1943’s Girl Crazy with a marvelous score by the Gershwins that includes “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Embraceable You” and “But Not for Me,” with the finale set to “I Got Rhythm.”
Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Ethel Merman and Jack Haley star in Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938) at 10 pm. The score by Irving Berlin includes “Blue Skies,” “Easter Parade,” “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” and the title tune.
At Midnight Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly star along with Louis Armstrong in High Society (1956), a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story. The music by Cole Porter includes “True Love,” “Did You Evah?” “You're Sensational,” plus Bing and Satchmo performing “Now You Has Jazz.”
Fred Astaire and Red Skelton star as Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby in the biopic Three Little Words (1950). The songs from the real Kalmar and Ruby include the title song, “Who's Sorry Now?” and “Thinking of You.” Debbie Reynolds plays Helen Kane, but “I Wanna Be Loved by You” is dubbed by the real Helen Kane.
And at 4:15 am Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith and Artie Shaw headline 1940’s Second Chorus. Astaire and Meredith play two trumpet players scheming to get into Artie Shaw’s band. Tunes by Shaw and Johnny Mercer include “Would You Like to Be the Love of My Life?”
December 3: Fellini’s nostalgically tinted look about growing up in a small Italian town and how it fares under Mussolini, Amarcord (1973) is set for 3:00 am.
December 4: Robert Bresson’s taut POW drama, A Man Escaped (1956), is set to air at 2:15 am. At the late hour of 1:45 am, Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou and William Holden Star in the rarely seen boxing drama, Golden Boy (1939).
December 6: The epic story of the original astronauts and their unique approach to the space program, The Right Stuff (1983), will be shown at 9:00 pm. With Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager, Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard, Ed Harris as John Glenn, Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper and Fred Ward as Gus Grissom. Following at 12:30 am is the venerable Chariots of Fire (1981).
December 10: Two films about the darker side of science are due to air beginning at 2:00 am with the Soviet Nine Days of One Year (1962). Two young nuclear physicists. Dmitry Gusev (Aleksey Batalov and Ilya Kulikov (Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy) are good friends, but rivals in love. Dmitry marries Lyolya (Tatyana Lavrova) and they have a happy marriage. While attempting to make fusion work in a reactor Dmitry becomes careless and exposes himself to large amounts of radioactivity and falls seriously ill. However, he has a strong spirit, and his will to live, combined with his deep passion for his work and his strong love for mankind makes it possible for him to recover. Directed by Mikhail Romm, the film is somewhat groundbreaking in admitting that carelessness in a nuclear laboratory, causes a radiation incident, something the Soviet Union was loath to admit: that nuclear accidents were possible in Russia. However, his strong socialist faith in his work and mankind enables him to lick the problem and the film ends on a hopeful note.
Following at 4:00 am is Roberto Rossellini’s 1954 drama, Fear. Irene Wagner (Ingrid Bergman) is the wife of prominent scientist Albert Wagner (Mathias Wieman). Irene, much younger than her husband, has an affair with playboy Erich Baumann (Kurt Kreuger). However, Erich's nasty former flame, Luisa (Renate Mannhardt), finds out about the affair and proceeds to blackmail Irene. Irene’s life now becomes an escalating nightmare, for with each payoff, the amount increases. How will she solve it and break free? The last collaboration of Bergman and Rossellini, it’s easily the weakest and is really for Bergman fans only.
December 11: In Withnail & I (12:15 am) it’s 1969 London. Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann), two unemployed – and unemployable – actors, fed up with everything, decide to leave their squalid flat for what they think will be an idyllic holiday in the countryside, courtesy of Withnail's uncle Monty’s (Richard Griffiths) country cottage. But when they get there, they find it’s far less thank they imagined: it continually rains and there is no food, a situation that is beyond their limited survival skills. To make matters worse, Uncle Monty arrives and displays a rather uncomfortable interest in Marwood. A dismal flop when it premiered in 1987, it is regarded today as one of the best British comedies ever made. Despite its largely English humor, Withnail & I is a very accessible film, and one of the best films about friendship.
December 5: The morning and afternoon is devoted to the films of the noted German emigre director with his classic M (1931) leading off at 6:00 am. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) follows at 8:00 am. Then Spencer Tracy stars in Lang’s first American film, Fury (1936) at 10:15 am. Hangmen Also Die, the 1943 drama about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, airs at Noon. Clash By Night (1952), with Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan and Paul Douglas is shown at 2:30 pm. Following at 4:30 pm is 1955’s Moonfleet, with Stewart Granger, George Sanders and Joan Greenwood, and finally, at 6:15 pm, reporters led by Dana Andrews, George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell and Ida Lupino are after a serial killer in the 1956 drama While the City Sleeps.
December 3: Beginning at 8:00 pm, TCM is running two films based on George Bizet’s famous opera, Carmen. First up is The Loves of Carmen (1948), a non-musical version starring Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth. Following at 10:00 pm is Otto Preminger’s 1954 Carmen Jones, with Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll and Dorothy Dandridge as the ultimate femme fatale, Carmen Jones. Oscar Hammerstein II adapted the film’s music from Bizet's opera, but it’s Dandridge’s exciting and earthy performance that makes this one to catch.
December 9: The original 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon, with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly, Dudley Digges as Caspar Gutman and Dwight Frye as Wilmer can be seen at 6:30 am.
December 11: Dipso director Lowell Sherman makes a star out of waitress Constance Bennett in What Price Hollywood? (1932) at 6 am.
At 2:30 am, Horse Feathers, the hilarious Marx Brothers comedy from 1932, is scheduled to air. As film buffs know, the movie has been rather badly edited over the years. It has recently been restored, and it will be interesting to see if TCM shows the restored version or just repeats the shredded version.
December 12: A morning and afternoon of Edward G. Robinson kicks off at 6:30 am with Robinson and James Cagney in Smart Money (1931). At 8 am it’s Eddie G. donning yellowface in The Hatchet Man (1932), followed at 9:30 by Silver Dollar (1932). Eddie G. is a farmer who strikes it rich with a silver mine and dumps his loyal wife Aline MacMahon for the flashy Bebe Daniels. At 11 am Eddie G. is a condemned murderer who, in the last moments of his life, relieves the events that led him to the electric chair in the 1932 drama Two Seconds. Read our review of it here. At 12:15 pm, Robinson is a bootlegger who quits the rackets and tries to break into high society with the end of Prohibition in the 1933 comedy The Little Giant. Mary Astor co-stars in this frequently funny comedy. Finally, at 1:45 pm, Robinson is a compulsive gambler who loses everything in 1934’s Dark Hazard.
December 2: TCM dishonoring the English actor with four of his films, beginning with the James Whale directed The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) at 8:00 pm. Following at 9:30 pm Clive stars with Diana Wynyard in another film directed by Whale, One More River (1934). At 11:15 pm Clive is a classical pianist who has the hands of a murderer grafted onto his wrists by mad doctor Peter Lorre in Karl Freund’s 1935 Mad Love. Finally, at 12:30 am, aviatrix Katharine Hepburn sacrifices all for Married man Clive in 1933’s Christopher Strong.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
December 7: The classic 1932 version of The Mummy, directed by Karl Freund and starring Boris Karloff with Zita Johann, will be shown at 6:30 pm. Over the years since it premiered it’s been imitated, but never duplicated, let alone topped.
December 10: Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind airs at 8:00 pm, followed at 10:30 by Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush in Jack Arnold’s 1953 sci-fi classic, It Came From Outer Space.
A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
The TCM Spotlight, “The Hollywood Blacklist,” continues with more example of films performed in, directed or written by those who suffered blacklisting. What one will immediately notice from the films is that they are totally innocuous. There is no overt “commie propaganda” to be had. The studios simply wouldn’t have allowed it. What should also be noted is that this was a battle of ignorant bullies versus gullible idiots. Although there were many innocent souls caught in the fishnets who were guilty only of being idealistic, this cannot be said of the Hollywood Ten. The opening documentary, Hollywood on Trial, would have the viewer believe these ten were heroic artists persecuted by the government. But in reality they were no more than arrogant hacks. Not one of them produced anything that could be identified as a classic of literature. They were failed novelists and playwrights, working at the pleasure of the studios. They participated the making of a few excellent movies, but a movie requires more than a screenwriter, or in Dmytryk’s case, a director. The movies to which they contributed in World War II were made at the behest of the Roosevelt Administration, which wanted to push and strengthen morale.
For instance, consider Tender Comrade. It’s no more communist than The Phantom of the Opera. If it’s dominated by anything it’s pro-Americanism, as seen by all the jingoistic speeches. The idea of the lady welders – note that they work at a defense plant – pooling their resources was an idea actively pushed by the Administration as an answer to the shortages brought about by the war effort. Petrol and food were in short supply and were rationed. The most notorious movie of the war, Mission to Moscow, which was not shown, was the direct result of the Administration as propaganda to get the public behind our “ally,” Russia.
These movies came back to haunt only some of those who made them. Studio heads such as Louis Mayer and Jack Warner were untouched. They were powerful and had lawyers to look after their interests. Those at the bottom of the food chain were considered expendable as they had no power and couldn’t afford legal help.
But the Hollywood Ten could have availed themselves of legal counsel. They were on the higher rungs of the employee ladder, earning roughly $2,000-$3,000 per week. Their downfall came from their arrogant idea to take on Congress, a blatant misreading of the temper of the times. When asked the standard question of “Are no now or have you ever been…,” Lardner replied, “I could answer the question exactly the way you want, but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning.” That worked fine in the movies he wrote, but in the real world it fell flat on its face and alienated public support, which was vital if these characters were to get off. Looking over various documentaries on the hearings, I noted the absence of any effective legal counsel. Even the Mob had the good sense to have lawyers present when appearing at hearings.
And not everyone suffered the wrath of the HUAC. For instance, Lucille Ball admitted she listed her party affiliation as Communist when she registered to vote in 1936. And, according to the records of the California Secretary of State, in 1936 she was appointed to the State Central Committee of the Communist Party of California. In 1953 she met privately with HUAC investigator William Wheeler and gave him sealed testimony stating stated that she had registered to vote as a Communist "or intended to vote the Communist Party ticket" in 1936 at the insistence of her grandfather, who was a socialist. She also added that at no time did she intend to vote as a Communist. However, she also registered to vote as a Communist in 1938 and held Communist Party meetings and classes in her home. Ball was a very popular and loved television star who had the weight of the CBS legal counsel behind her.
As for Dmytryk, he returned to the hearing in 1951, confessed all, and named 26 other party members. This ended his blacklisting and he was hired by producer Stanley Kramer to direct The Caine Mutiny.
November 20: The evening begins at 8 pm with Herbert Biberman’s 1954 indie production, Salt of the Earth. Written by Michael Wilson, directed by Biberman and produced by Paul Jarrico, it stars blacklisted actor Will Geer. The film concerns Latino mine workers who go on strike and the hardships they face as a consequence. Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas, who plays Esperanza Quintero, one of the miner’s wives, was mysteriously deported during the making of the film on a minor passport violation and her role in the film had to be completed by a double.
At 10 pm comes The Brave One (1956), a cute story of a young Mexican boy who saves his pet bull from a certain death in the bull ring by securing a pardon from the president. The screenplay was by “Robert Rich,” a pseudonym for blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.
At Midnight, Cry the Beloved Country (1952), an expose of the apartheid system of South Africa. It stars blacklisted actor Canada Lee.
Rififi, blacklisted director Jules Dassin’s 1955 film about a jewelry heist, airs at the late hour of 2 am. For those who haven’t yet seen this classic, we urge you to record it. It is the best heist film ever made and influenced many others that followed.
Closing out the evening is The Big Night (1951), a film about a teenager (John Barrymore, Jr.) who takes on the Mob after they beat up his father (Preston Foster). Directed by the blacklisted Joseph Losey (who was forced to flee to England to work), one of its stars is the blacklisted actress Dorothy Comingore,
November 21: At 8 pm it’s Friendly Persuasion (1956), a drama about a peaceful Quaker family in Indiana whose principles are tested by the Civil War. One of its writers was Michael Wilson.
At 10:30 pm, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), David Lean’s classic film based on Pierre Boulle’s novel about how the Japanese press-ganged Allied POWs to build a railroad from Bangkok, Thailand to Rangoon, Burma. Blacklisted writers Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson couldn’t take credit, so the script was credited to Boulle.
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), at 1:30 am, is a noir about three men – ex-con Robert Ryan, former cop Ed Begley and chronic gambler (Harry Belafonte) – who try to change their lot in life by teaming up to steal a payroll from a small-town bank in upstate New York. But their partnership is doomed from the start because of the racial tensions within the group. One of the film’s writers was the blacklisted Abraham Polonsky.
At 3:30 am comes The Law vs. Billy the Kid, a 1954 cheapie from producer Sam Katzman and director William Castle with a script by blacklisted Bernard Gordon. “Unmemorable” is the beast way to describe it.
November 27: At 8 pm, Exodus (1960), director Otto Preminger’s adaptation of Leon Uris’s novel about the birth of Israel. Preminger not only hired blacklisted Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay, but also gave him screen credit, which along with Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus, also written by Trumbo with screen credit, broke the back off the blacklist.
11:45 pm, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), the tale of a Palute Indian (Robert Blake) who kills the father of his girlfriend in a fight, directed by Polansky, who was now free of the blacklist.
1:45 am, The Cincinnati Kid (1963), the story of a brash young gambler (Steve McQueen) who challenges the undisputed king of the poker gaming tables in New Orleans (blacklisted Edward G. Robinson). Ring Lardner, Jr, one of the Hollywood Ten, worked uncredited on an early draft of the script.
3:45 am, Edge of the City (1957), a drama about an army deserter (John Cassavettes) and a Black dock worker (Sidney Poitier) who join forced to take on corrupt union racketeer Jack Warden. The blacklisted Ruby Dee plays Poitier’s wife.
November 28: The final night begins at 8 pm with The Front (1976), a comedy-drama about the blacklist, with Woody Allen as a bookie hired to act as a front for a blacklisted writer. Directed by the blacklisted Martin Ritt with Zero Mostel, also blacklisted, as one of its co-stars.
10 pm, The Landlord (1970), a drama about a spoiled rich kid (Beau Bridges) who buys a tenement building in Brooklyn and gets involved in the lives of its tenants. With the blacklisted Lee Grant as Beau’s racist, high society mother. (She received a Best Supporting Actress nomination that year for her performance.)
Midnight, David and Lisa (1962), a story about a troubled young man (Keir Dullea) who begins to deal with his problems after befriending a young schizophrenic (Janet Margolin). Blacklisted Howard Da Silva co-stars as Dr. Alan Swinford, Keir’s psychiatrist.
2 am, The Loved One (1965), based on novelist Evelyn Waugh’s wicked satire of the funeral industry in California. Blacklisted Lionel Stander is one of the supporting cast.
November 17: At 4:45 am, the great Maria Falconetti in Carl Theodore Dreyer’s 1928 silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc, about the last period in the life of the famous martyr and saint. Falconetti, a major star of the Paris stage, was put through hell by Dreyer, who wanted “an authentic performance” from his star. The shoot was so grueling that Falconetti swore off films altogether.
November 19: At 2:15 am comes the 1967 Czech avant-garde epic, Marketa Lazarova. The film, set in the Middle Ages, focuses on the relationship between two warring families. The plan clan led by Kozlk (Josef Kemr) and his son Mikolas (Frantisek Veleck) are bandit knights at war with the king and royal army, who want everyone to convert to Christianity. Their rival is the family led by bandit knight Lazar (Michal Kozuch), who are leaning toward Christianity. Lazar's daughter, Marketa Lazarova (Magda Vsryov), due to join a convent, is kidnapped by Mikolas, who makes her his mistress. The two eventually fall in love, but cannot change the film’s tragic outcome.
November 24: Director Jean Renoir’s 1937 Grand Illusion, airing at 3:30 am, a thoughtful story of French POWs and their relationship to their German captors, was the first foreign film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Starring Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Erich Von Stroheim, Dita Parlo and Marcel Dallo, it’s a complex antiwar film. Famed French critic Andre Bazin saw it as revealing the hidden meanings behind the events of World War I. For Bazin, the Grand Illusion is the illusion of hatred, “which arbitrarily divides men who are in reality not separated by anything.” He also noted the illusion of boundaries and the wars which result from them; the illusion of races, and the illusion of social classes. In the final analysis, “The war, the product of hatred and division, paradoxically reveals the falseness of all barriers of prejudice separating man from man.” This is a film everyone interested in cinema should see, a beautifully constructed story of men in crisis and their reactions to one another.
November 26: A late night treat from Italy with Marco Bellocchio’s Fist in His Pocket (1968), a tale of a deeply disturbed man, subject to seizures, who decides to wipe out his highly dysfunctional family. It’s followed at 4 am by Fellini’s early gem from 1953, I Vitelloni. Many consider 1954’s La Strada as the best of his early films, but this one has it beat. Originally released in the U.S. as The Young and the Passionate, it’s usually translated as “The Young Bulls.” However, a more idiomatic translation would be “Adolescent Slobs.” It’s about five frustrated small town boys with big plans. The five are sons of indulgent, middle-class families who live off their parents while loafing and dreaming of riches, glory and especially, women. While their ideals are lofty, their execution is often pointless. They waste their time and energies on dubious pursuits and whatever dreams or ideas they have are childish. The brilliance of the film lies in Fellini’s observation of them without any hint of disdain; while his tone is satirical, he balances it with warmth and a certain amount of nostalgia. The film influenced a host of directors both in Europe and America. We can see its influence in such films as Scorsese’s Mean Streets, Lucas’ American Graffiti, and Levinson’s Diner. The film is autobiographical, and Fellini’s character, Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi), is the only one to escape from the futility of life in the small town. The film launched the career of Alberto Sordi and was awarded The Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion (best director) in 1953.
ST. ANDREW’S DAY
November 30: TCM is celebrating St, Andrew’s Day, the national day of Scotland, with five films beginning at 8 pm with 1955’s Wee Geordie. Starring Alastair Sim and Bill Travers, it’s a delightful film about the young Travers, who is sent to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics to compete in the hammer throwing contest.
Following at 10 pm is High and Dry (aka The Maggie), a comedy about the skipper (Alex Mackenzie) of a small cargo boat (called a puffer) who cons his way into hauling a load of expensive furniture to the holiday island home of high-strung American financier Paul Douglas. When Douglas discovers his valuable cargo is being hauled on Mackenzie’s decrepit boat, he flies up from London to demand the goods be moved to a modern vessel for hauling. But Mackenzie needs the freight hauling fee to stay afloat and he is bound and determined to see it through. It’s a typical Ealing effort, with strong characters and an excellent script. I haven’t seen this since I watched it on my local PBS station as a teenager, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing it again.
At Midnight comes the Errol Flynn swashbuckler, The Master of Ballantrae, from 1953, followed by Gene Kelly and Van Johnson in the MGM musical, Brigadoon, about a town in Scotland that materializes once every century.
Finally, it’s Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert in the wonderful Local Hero (1983). Riegert is a successful oil company executive sent by Lancaster to Scotland to purchase an idyllic seaside village to be converted into a refinery. But things don’t go as planned when both succumb to the charms of the area and its inhabitants. It’s a gentle comedy with a good script and strong characters, filled with a good number of incredible moments. As it’s being shown at the ungodly hour of 3:45 am, we recommend that one should record it. You won’t be disappointed.
November 16: At 6 am Marion Davies stars as a scatterbrained young woman who throws a big party to advance her boyfriend's career. in King Vidor’s 1930 comedy, Not So Dumb. . . At 9:00 am, American heiress Constance Bennett marries into British nobility in Our Betters from 1933. . . 3:00 pm has Jimmy Durante in the 1934 comedy Hollywood Party. It’s a so-so affair with the best scene being the battle between Lupe Velez versus Laurel and Hardy at the hotel bar. . . Following at 4:15 is the classic ensemble comedy, Dinner at Eight (1933), directed by George Cukor with an all-star cast led by Marie Dressler, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery and the Barrymore brothers.
November 17: Honest working woman Irene Dunne falls for skirt-chasing playboy Lowell Sherman in the sophisticated comedy Bachelor Apartment (1931) at 6 am. . . At 8 am womanizing opera star Adolphe Menjou falls in love with his young protege Irene Dunne in The Great Lover (1931). . . Young Jewish doctor (Ricardo Cortez) who rises from the slums of New York to become a West End Avenue – and later Park Avenue – surgeon and loses touch with his roots in the 1932 melodrama Symphony of Six Million. After Cortez botches an operation on his father (Gregory Ratoff), he vows never again to touch another surgical instrument. But he must break his vow when his crippled girlfriend (Irene Dunne) decides to have an operation to fix her spinal condition. . . Embittered Eurasian Myrna Loy is out for revenge on everyone who made her life miserable in school in 1933’s Thirteen Women (read our essay on it here). And that includes Irene Dunne. . . At 12:15 Dunne stars as a social worker whose fight for reform is compromised by her love for corrupt judge Walter Huston in Ann Vickers (1933). Following at 1:45 pm, Anna and Jim Stanley (Irene Dunne and Charles Bickford discover their newly-found wealth is driving them apart in No Other Woman (1933). . . And at 3 pm, music-hall singer (Irene Dunne) loses her son (Douglas Walton) to her callous father-in-law (Lionel Atwill) after her husband (Phillips Holmes) kills himself in the well-made 1933 soaper The Secret of Madame Blanche. Later complications involving murder conspire to reunite mother and son, but you won’t believe it.
November 19: Ann Harding and William Powell star in the excellent Double Harness (1933) at 6 am. (Record it.)
November 20: A Ginger Rogers morning features Professional Sweetheart from 1933 at 7:45 am.
November 26: Rogers returns in Rafter Romance, also from 1933, at 6 am. . . At Noon, it’s William Powell, Kay Francis, Aline MacMahon and Frank McHugh run the superior romance, One Way Passage, from 1932. Read our review of it here.
November 27: Irene Dunne and Pat O’Brien headline the interesting Consolation Marriage (1931) at 12:15 pm.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
November 16: Janice Templeton (Marsha Mason) and husband Bill (John Beck) fear daughter Ivy (Susan Swift) is the reincarnation of Anthony Hopkins’ daughter, who burned to death in a terrible accident, in Audrey Rose from 1977, directed by Robert Wise.
November 18:Donovan’s Brain, from 1947, starring Lew Ayres, Gene Evans and Nancy (Reagan) Davis, airs at 3 pm. A Pam Grier double feature begins at 2 am with Black Mama, White Mama (1972), followed by Pam starring with Bernie Casey in Hit Man (1973) at 3:45 am.
November 19: A double feature featuring Robby the Robot begins at 8 pm with Forbidden Planet (1956), followed at 10 pm by The Invisible Boy from 1957.
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.
TCM SPOTLIGHT: THE HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST
Gripped in the Cold War, politicians began looking for scapegoats, convenient people to pin blame on for “communist subversion” of our country. And no place had more scapegoats than Hollywood. Better yet, the Hollywood folks were not really on the bright side and thus not able to put up a good fight. Whether directors, actors, screenwriters, or even composers, someone, somewhere must be to blame for the emergence of the U.S.S.R. as a world power. The films TCM is airing all have directors, writers or actors who were later blacklisted. Watching these films today, one wonders what all the hubbub was about? But back then, the search for Commies was relentless. Anyone would be named by witness for the slightest of reasons. For instance, actor Lionel Stander was named by one witness for whistling “the Internationale” while waiting for an elevator in a scene. He didn’t work again until 1965. For those who wanted someone out of the way, whether for personal or professional reasons, this was the perfect way to accomplish it.
Were there Reds in Hollywood? Sure, but the films really don’t reflect their influence. The wartime films were made at the behest of the U.S. government, and Russia was to be portrayed as a loyal ally. That this fit in with the agenda of the Hollywood Reds was merely convenient. Postwar films reflected more the producers’ desires for social change than a call to revolution by the screenwriters and directors. As mentioned before, the Hollywood leftists were dim bulbs and made great fodder for opportunistic politicians. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo used to host poolside parties at his mansion calling for support for the proletariat while underpaying and overworking his household staff. The watchword among Hollywood lefties was “What’s yours is mine, but what’s mine is mine and you’d better keep your hands off.”
Each film listed has its director or writer listed in parentheses. In the case of an actor, the full name is given.
November 6: Begin with the excellent documentary, Hollywood on Trial at 8 pm, then settle back for Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (Kaufman, 1945) at 10 pm, Tender Comrade (Dmytryk, 1944) at midnight, and Crossfire (Dmytryk, 1944) at 2 am, and One Man’s Journey (Ornitz, 1933) at 3:35 am.
November 7: Hollywood goes to war with Objective, Burma!(Cole, 1945) at 8 pm, The Master Race (Biberman, 1944) at 10:30 pm, Woman of the Year (Lardner, Jr., 1942) at 12:15 am, Counter-Attack(Lawson, 1945) at 2:30 am, and Pride of the Marines(Maltz, 1945) at 4:15 am.
November 13: Force of Evil (Polonsky, John Garfield, 1948) at 8 pm, The Man I Married (Pichel,1940) at 9:45 pm, The Racket (Cromwell, 1951) at 11:15 pm, Here Comes Mr. Jordan(Buchman,1941) at 1 am, and The Naked City (Dassin, 1948) at 3 am.
November 14:He Ran All the Way(John Garfield, Endore, 1951) at 8 pm, Anthony Adverse(Gale Sondergaard1936) at 9:45 pm, Scarface(Mahin, 1932) at Midnight, A Letter for Evie(Dassin, 1945) at 2 am, and A Streetcar Named Desire (Kazan, 1951) at 3:45 am.
November 9: At 3:30 in the afternoon comes the beautiful and touching 1956 Japanese antiwar film, The Burmese Harp. Directed by Kon Ichikawa and based on a popular Japanese novel by Takeyama Michio, it stars Shoji Yasui as Private Mizushima, who volunteers to persuade a group of mountain fighter to surrender at the end of World War II, but while fulfilling his mission he undergoes a religious experience and becomes obsessed with the desire to bury war casualties. It is a beautifully nuanced and affecting film. The director remade it in 1965, but the original stands superior.
November 10: Truffaut’s masterpiece, Jules and Jim, is scheduled for 3:15 pm. See the upcoming November 8-14 TiVo Alert for our take on the picture.
At 8:00 pm it’s Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. The film was shot in Tornatore's hometown of Bagheria, Sicily and was drawn from the director's own life and times. A famous director, Salvatore Divitta (Jacques Perrin) learns of the death of elderly projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret). Returning to his home town for Alfredo’s funeral, Salvatore recalls his childhood under the tutelage of the projectionist and how he learned to love movies through this tutelage. It’s a lovely coming-of-age film that tugs the heartstrings without going too far in the suds department.
November 5: Luchino Visconti’s 1961 drama, Rocco and His Brothers is scheduled for 3:45 am. Widow Rosaria Parondi (Katina Paxinou) has moved with her five sons: Rocco (Alain Delon), Simone (Renato Salvatori), Ciro (Max Cartier), Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi) and Vincenzo (Spiros Focas) from the south of Italy to Milan in the north in search of a better life, but discovers that the big city has corrupted her family in the process. Made near the end of the Neorealist era, the film was found lacking by several critics, but it is entertaining, more than I can say when Visconti later eschewed entertainment for Art in his later films. It was also his most commercially successful film. Alain Delon stars, but watch for the performance of Annie Girardot as the disillusioned prostitute Nadia.
November 12: At 2:45 am TCM is bring a Bergman double feature, beginning with the 1953 film that established the director on the international scene, Summer With Monika. Following at 4:30 am is his 1964 comedy, All These Women. Cornelius (Jarl Kulle), a pompous music critic, is out to obtain an interview with a famous cellist, but his real agenda is to get the man to perform a piece that he’s composed. Failing to get an interview, he moves instead into the cellist's summer home, where he starts interviewing the women in his subject’s life, which include his wife (Eva Dahlbeck), his official mistress (Bibi Andersson), the housemaid (Harriet Andersson) with whom the musician was involved, and various other women who have had affairs with him. Eventually, Cornelius becomes romantically involved with them and now seeks to become the subject of his proposed interview.
November 2: It’s an evening with the famed Italian beauty, starting at 8:00 pm with the delightful Marriage - Italian Style from 1964. At 10 pm it’s 1963’s Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Marcello Mastroianni. Following at 12:15 am is her Oscar-winning performance in De Sica’s Two Women (1961). At 2 am we see her interviewed in Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival: Sophia Loren (2016), after which at 3:15 am comes A Special Day.
The setting is 1938 Italy. Hitler has come to meet Mussolini and Loren’s husband leaves her behind to attend the affair. Meanwhile she strikes up friendship with mysterious neighbor Mastroianni. As day becomes night the two develop a very special relationship that will radically affect their lives. Finally, at 5:15 am, priest Marcello Mastroianni takes up with troubled parishioner Loren in the comedy The Priest’s Wife from 1970).
November 2: It’s an entire morning and afternoon of films starring the lovely and underrated Ann Rutherford. We begin at 6 am with Ann as the Spirit of Christmas Past in MGM’s 1938 production of A Christmas Carol.
Other must sees for the Rutherford fan include You’re Only Young Once (1938, 9 am), the film where she appears for the first time as Andy Hardy’s girlfriend, Polly Benedict; Four Girls in White (1939, 10:30 am), stars Ann as one of four student nurses in an ensemble drama; The Ghost Comes Home (1940, 1:30 pm), with Ann as the daughter of henpecked and browbeaten Frank Morgan, who is presumed dead by his family after he misses his boat connection to Australia and they learn the boat has sunk, which leads to complications when he returns in this light comedy; Keeping Company (1940, 3 pm), a decent B-drama from MGM with Ann as a young woman whose engagement runs into trouble when her fiancee’s old girlfriend suddenly shows up; and Whistling in Brooklyn (1943, 6:15 pm), an entry in a comedy series starring Red Skelton as radio detective Wally “the Fox” Benton. Ann plays his long-suffering girlfriend, Carol Lambert.
November 6: At 3:45 am, it’s Lionel Barrymore, May Robson, Dorothy Jordan and Joel McCrea in the 1933 drama, One Man’s Journey.
November 7: At 7:45 am, Lionel Barrymore, Miriam Hopkins and Franchot Tone star in The Stranger’s Return (1933).
November 14: Monarch George Arliss thinks he can find a much simpler life with former wife Marjorie Gateson in The King’s Vacation (1933). Of course, he’s wrong, but it’s nice to see him learn the error of his ways in this gentle comedy that also stars Arliss’ wife, Florence.
At midnight comes the original 1932 Scarface, from director Howard Hawks and starring Paul Muni, George Raft, Boris Karloff, and in her breakthrough role, Ann Dvorak.
PSYCHOTRONIC AND THE B-HIVE
November 3: At 2:00 am Genevieve Bujold is looking into the strange doings at Boston Memorial Hospital in the 1978 thriller, Coma, written and directed by Michael Crichton and based on his novel. It’s followed by Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972).
November 4: Commies blackmail shipping executive Robert Ryan into spying for them in the hilarious 1950 melodrama The Woman On Pier 13, aka I Married a Communist, at 12:30 am. Immediately following (2 am) Matthew Laborteaux and Kristy Swanson star in Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend (1986), followed at 3:45 am by another showing of Swamp Thing (1982).
November 6: The day is devoted to a marathon of Falcon films starring George Sanders and later, Tom Conway, George’s real-life brother.
November 9: At midnight it’s the original Little Shop of Horrors from director Roger Corman.
November 12: At 10 am, compulsive liar Bobby Driscoll can’t convince his parents he really saw a murder committed in RKO’s 1949 thriller, The Window. Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy play young Bobby’s parents and Ruth Roman and Paul Stewart are the neighbors who aren’t what they seem.
Abbott and Costello are magicians drawn into intrigue in the bizarre city of Port Inferno in MGM’s 1944 Lost in a Harem at 2 pm. Marilyn Maxwell is the cabaret singer who travels with them and who they must rescue when she is kidnapped.
November 15: At 10:00 am it’s Gun Crazy, director Joseph H. Lewis’ 1949 psychotronic masterpiece about a young gun-crazy couple (Peggy Cummins and John Dall) who decide to turn their obsession into a life of crime. Definitely one not to be missed.
November 5: At 12:45 am, Harold Lloyd is the weakling in a family of he-men who must prove himself by defeating a nasty villain in The Kid Brother. This 1927 film is generally regarded as one of Lloyd’s best.
November 9: John Gilbert is a young innocent who suffers the horror of World War I in director King Vidor’s The Big Parade. Both Gilbert and co-star Renee Adoree became stars as a result of the film’s popularity.
November 10: Greta Garbo is married to Lewis Stone, but falls for dashing Nils Asther while on a trip to Indonesia in MGM’s Wild Orchids (1929) at 9:30 am.
November 12: Spirited Norwegian lass Mona Martenson is torn between two suitors and two cultures in Laila (1929, airing at midnight.
By Ed Garea
In the last column I spoke about B-Westerns. TCM is showing quite a few this month, but they are from RKO. As I love B-Westerns, I have some suggestions: I remember TCM showing a few Westerns from Monogram a while ago starring the Trail Blazers (Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson). There are also loads of Westerns from PRC and Republic as well. When the Maynard-Gibson oaters were shown I got quite a few e-mails from fellow cinephiles who were delighted the station was showing them. How about a Spotlight featuring such B-Western stars as Monogram’s Range Busters series (Ray “Crash” Corrigan, John “Dusty” King, & Max “Alibi” Terhune); The Rough Riders series (Buck Jones, Tim McCoy & Ray Hatton); Columbia’sThe Durango Kid series (Charles Starrett); Republic’sThree Mesquiteers series (Bob Livingston, Crash Corrigan & Sid Saylor); PRC’sLone Rider series (George Houston, later Bob Livingston); The Texas Rangers series (Jim Newell, Dave O’Brien, Tex Ritter & Guy Owen Wilkerson); The Frontier Marshal series (William Boyd, Art Davis & Lee Powell); The Billy the Kid Series (Bob Steele, later Buster Crabbe, both backed by Al “Fuzzy” St John); Lash La Rue and Fuzzy St. John, & Eddie Dean; and – especially – Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd), perhaps the quintessential Western hero for Paramount and UA. A lot of Boomers watched these on television as kids and still remember them fondly. There’s a lot to be mined here and TCM should get in on the fun.
October 18: At 8:00 pm TCM will air a trilogy of films directed by Ernst Marischka about Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Sissi (1955) and its sequels, Sissi: The Young Empress (1956) and Sissi: Fateful Years of an Empress (1957). The films follow the life of Elisabeth of Bavaria, who became Empress of Austria when she married Emperor Franz Josef. Sissifocuses on the fateful meeting of Elisabeth and Franz Josef. When the young emperor met he he instantly fell in love and declared he would marry no one else, For her part Elisabeth was a free spirit who was reluctant to become involved with the responsibility of an empress, yet within the year they married and Sissi learns the duties and responsibilities her position entails.
Sissi: The Young Empress focuses on her life at the royal court and the heartbreak, as Franz is away for long periods and her mother-in-law has decided to take her granddaughter away from the Empress and raise her herself. This marked the beginnings of Elisabeth’s physical and mental health issues, as she becomes unable to endure life at court and starts spending more and more time away from it.
Sissi: Fateful Years of an Empress sees her deteriorate further, becoming so ill that her doctors begin to despair for her life. Help arrives when her mother, Ludovika, arrives and nurses her back to health, Now completely well, she returns to her husband’s side and resumes her duties as Empress.
I have seen only the first of the trilogy. Marischka does a wonderful job of setting the stage, with superb settings and superior camerawork. Schneider brings the empress to life and with her co-star, Karlheinz Bohm, capture the pomp, circumstance and romance of the House of Hapsburg.
October 22: At the late hour of 3:45 am, TCM is airing the superb Kwaidan. This 1964 production, directed by Masaki Kobayashi, adapts four tales of the supernatural from 19th century writer Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folk tales, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, and Shadowings. In the first, The Black Hair, a young, impoverished samurai divorces his wife to marry the daughter of a noble family. But far from finding the expected happiness he is haunted by the image of the wife he abandoned. The second tale, The Woman in the Snow, a woodcutter named Minokichi and his mentor Mosaku take refuge during a snowstorm. A female snow spirit kills Mosaku, but spares Minokichi because of his youth, warning him never to speak of what he has witnessed or she will kill him. In the third tale, Hoichi the Earless, a blind musician agrees to sing for a royal family unaware of the fact they are ghosts. Finally, In a Cup of Tea, a writer awaiting a visit from the publisher writes a story about a samurai who is disturbed by the recurring image of a strange man in a cup of tea.
October 29: Ugetsu, director Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1953 tale of the supernatural, airs at 4:15 am. This is a masterful tale of two poor villagers who seek to profit from a shortage of pottery during a civil war in 16th century Japan. Though they make a fortune, they pay later for their misdeeds as do their wives. Mizoguchi’s film is beautifully filmed and realized, merging reality with fantasy in a supernatural tapestry of the price paid for war, avarice, dishonesty and lust.
October 22: It’s a Hammer Studios Dracula double feature, with Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965) at 8:00 pm, followed by 1968’s Dracula Has Risen From the Grave. Both star Christopher Lee as the famous vampire.
October 29: The Hammer Draculas continue with another double feature: Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) at 8:00 pm, and Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) at 10:00 pm. Again, both star Lee as Dracula. Read our essay on the latter film here. One thing I’ve noticed about the Hammer Dracula sequels is that the vampire has become reduced to having mortals not only doing his dirty work, but also tending to his person.
October 17: TCM airs an evening of horror classics, Hammer Style, beginning at 8:00 pm withThe Devil’s Bride (1968), with Christopher Lee battling Satanist Charles Grey for the soul of Patrick Mower. At 9:45 pm Peter Cushing and Lee star in The Curse of Frankenstein (1956). Lee is Kharis the Mummy in The Mummy (1959) at 11:15 pm, threatening a group of archaeologists (led by Peter Cushing) who defiled his tomb. Then, at 1 am, Oliver Reed suffers from The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). Andre Morell does battle with an evil landowner (John Carson) who uses zombies to work his mines in Plague of the Zombies (1966), airing at 2:45 am. Finally, at 4:30 am, Indian snake worshippers turn explorer Noel Willman’s daughter (Jacqueline Pearce) into a monster in The Reptile (1966). Yes, they get sillier as time goes on.
October 24: More classic horror, highlighted by The Innocents (1961) at 8:00 pm, the excellent and underrated Curse of the Demon (1957) at midnight, and the thoroughly unsettling Carnival of Souls(1962) following at 2:00 am.
October 31: More classics, led by James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) at 8:00 pm, 1963’s The Haunting at 9:30, William Castle’s classic schlock House on Haunted Hill (1958) at 11:30, Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in Paramount’s remake of The Cat and the Canary (1939) at 1:15 am, and Vincent Price and Agnes Moorhead in 1959’s The Batat 4:30 am.
October 19: Wounded mobster James Fox gets more than he bargained for when he takes refuge at the mansion of reclusive rock star Mick Jagger in Performance (1970) at 4:00 am.
October 21: Bruce Davison and friends take revenge on his tormenting boss, Ernest Borgnine in Willard (1971) at 2:00 am. Problem is that his friends are all rats. Sort of like a psychotronic pied piper. The sequel, Ben (1972) follows at 3:45 am.
October 28: Catherine Deneuve goes slowly and tormentingly mad in Roman Polanski’s 1965 horror classic, Repulsion (3:45 am).
October 31: Panned when released, White Zombie (1932) is regarded as a classic. Starring the great Bela Lugosi, it can be seen at 8:30 am.
October 16: At 8:00 pm comes the chance to see a rarely shown film from none other than Cecil B. DeMille, Filmdom’s most overrated director. One might think from the title that Madam Satan is a horror picture. It isn’t, though it is a horror of another kind. This 1930 effort from DeMille is so bizarre that we guarantee you’ll never forget it, and when you do remember it, you’ll naturally cringe a bit. It stars Kay Johnson as Angela, a wife tired of husband’s (Reginald Denny) infidelity. She decides to win him back by disguising herself as an alluring masked guest at a masquerade ball. Naturally Bob goes ga-ga over her,and gets the shock of his life when she reveals her identity. This leads him to declare that “I’ve been such a fool.” Also along for the ride are Lillian Roth as Trixie, Bob’s tasty bit on the side, and Roland Young as Bob’s BFF, Jimmy.
It’s a variation on his silent sex comedies such as Old Wives for New (1918) and Don't Change Your Husband (1919), where husbands and wives flirt with infidelity before reuniting in a good old-fashioned moralistic ending. When DeMille made this film, MGM was already doing a better job with Robert Montgomery and Norma Shearer. The first half-hour moves at a pace so slow that you may be tempted to catch something else. But hang around, for the last part of the movie is pure camp, as the masquerade ball is held aboard Jimmy’s zeppelin. You read that right – zeppelin. The ball is highlighted by outlandish ballet led by The Spirit of Electricity and his ballet troupe in a scene seemingly right out of Metropolis and Dante’s Inferno, with bizarre costumes and little motor cars driven by waitresses. When a storm arises and rips the zeppelin from its moorings everyone aboard simply parachutes out to safety(!). The sheer audacity of the ending makes the slogging through the first 30-plus minutes bearable. Costing over $1 million, Madam Satan lost a ton of money at the box office. Critic Mordaunt Hall, in The New York Times, hit it on the head when he noted that “it is an inept story with touches of comedy that are more tedious than laughable.” At any rate, it’s not to be missed.
October 19: Paramount sent two of its best newsreel photographers, Willard Van der Veer and Joseph Rucker, to the South Pole to capture history in the pioneering documentary With Byrd At The South Pole (1930). It airs at 8:00 am.
October 21: Gangster Dave the Dude (Warren William) helps apple vendor May Robson impersonate a society woman to impress her visiting daughter in Frank Capra’s 1933 comedy, Lady For a Day at 6:00 am. It’s followed at 8:00 am by John Barrymore as a man who deserted his daughter long ago, but must now help her out of a jam inLong Lost Father (1934). Helen Chandler co-stars. Ironically, both Barrymore and Chandler later drank themselves to death.
October 22: Katharine Hepburn won the Oscar as a stage struck young actress determined to make in on Broadway inMorning Glory (1933) at 7:00 am.
October 26: Dashing Russian nobleman Douglas Fairbanks Jr, is forced to flee the Russian Revolution with former servant Nancy Carroll in Scarlet Dawn (1932) at Noon.
BAD MOVIE ALERT!
October 19: At 5:15 pm it’s the howlingly bad docudrama Adventure Girl (1934). Billed as the true adventures of self-styled explorer Joan Lowell, it recounts her journey to the wilds of Guatemala. The movie’s forward tells you all you need to know:
A year ago Joan Lowell returned from a trip to the vastnesses of Central America, with a tale of well-nigh incredible adventures. So lurid and exciting was the story of her exploits that she was persuaded to duplicate them – only this time with a motion picture camera. "ADVENTURE GIRL" is a re-enactment of Miss Lowell's fantastic journyings (sic) and depicts her experiences in this tropical land noted for its bewildering equatorial beauty.
Or so she’d have us believe. In search of pirate treasure in a lost city Joan sails off with crewmen Bill and Otto. A gale catches their sailboat and blows off a mast. Bill is blown overboard, and Joan dives in to save him. Meanwhile, the sailboat, caught in the gale, speeds away without them and Joan and Bill are forced to tread water in the Gulf of Mexico for two hours. However, the camera is right in there with them, recording their travails to the sound of Joan’s hysterically loud narration. Eventually our three intrepid explorers are in Guatemala, looking to steal a fabled emerald that's in the eye socket of a Mayan idol. They are captured by natives, who make plans to roast Joan at the stake. It’s a scene that must be seen to be believed, as the “natives” stare into the camera and giggle embarrassedly while chanting goona-goona curses at Joan. We can’t help but be aware of the camera and the cameraman behind it filming away while Joan is in desperate need of immediate aid. Later Joan gets into a bitch-slapping cat fight with a Guatemalan woman, Princess Maya, who looks suspiciously like a caucasian made up as a native. What makes this such a howler is that the proceedings are presented with the utmost solemnity. Yet, we can easily see it’s faked so badly that it’s laugh-out-loud. Joan’s hilarious overacting in the film is accompanied by some of the most outrageous narration this side of Criswell and Ed Wood. If you can, hold on until the climax of the film, where Joan is comically chased downriver by boats of savages. Joan and Bill dump gasoline into the water and set it on fire, but end up encircling themselves. In the end Joan confesses her greed and vows never to be tempted by material wealth again. Not to be missed. So low budget that even its distributor, RKO, had to make a profit. By the way, the screenplay is based on Joan’s autobiography, The Cradle of the Deep. It was even a Book-of-the-Month selection when published in 1929, but was later found to be a work of fiction.
By Ed Garea
October is the Psychotronic Month, but TCM isn’t showing as many of them as it did last year. There are some days of wonderful B-Westerns. In the next column we’ll tell you the Westerns the station should be showing.
This October, Dracula is TCM’s “Monster of the Month,” and TCM has a goodly supply of our favorite vampire on hand.
October 1: We begin at 8:00 pm with Bela Lugosi in the original Dracula. Directed by Tod Browning in 1931, it creaks along rather slowly, but the performances of Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye and, especially Bela Lugosi, make this always one to catch. Following at 9:30 is Dracula’s Daughter (1936) with Gloria Holden as the titular vampire, Countess Maria Zaleska, who wants to be cured of her vampiric curse and looks up psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) to see if he can pull it off. He can’t, of course, and she wants to make him a vampire to live with her for eternity. But she runs into unforeseen complications that end in her doom. An excellent film, atmospheric and blessed with strong performances from Holden, Kruger, Edward Van Sloan and Irving Pichel as her green eyed manservant.
Universal reasoned that if Dracula could have a daughter, he could certainly have a son, and so Lon Chaney, Jr. stars in Son of Dracula (1943) as Count Alucard, Dracula himself, who has come to America in search of new blood. An underrated horror picture that is definitely worth seeing. Finally comes Nosferatu (1922) at 12:30 am, director F.W. Murnau’s take on Dracula, only it isn’t because Murnau hadn’t bothered to secure the screen rights from the Stoker estate. Dracula becomes Count Orlock in this version, a creepy rodent-like member of the Undead, convincingly played by Max Schreck. When Stoker’s widow, Florence, learned of the film, she sued for copyright infringement and won an easy victory. The court ordered that all existing prints of the film be destroyed. However, one print of the film had already been distributed worldwide. The print was duplicated over the years and Nosferatu became one of the first cult films. As the prints suffered from further cuts in length due to censorship and reissue, it was decided in 1981 to attempt a complete restoration. A restoration team led by Enno Patalas (then head of the Munich Museum of Film), in conjunction with the Cineteca di Bologna, brought together prints from several different European archives. Further improvements were made in 1984 and 1987, and in 1995 Patalas made a complete overhaul of the film using a recently discovered original French print as his basis.
October 8: The Dracula fest continues with Francis Lederer in The Return of Dracula (1958) at 8:00 pm. In this low budget effort from Gramercy Pictures, released through United Artists, Dracula flees Eastern Europe for the fresh fields of California. To hide his identity he kills a Czech artist named Belak Gordal (Norbert Schiller) and assumes his identity. He then moves in with Gordal’s American cousins in the quaint town of Carleton, California. Once ensconced he begins to put the bite on everyone until he is finally tracked down by Czech vampire hunters and put out of everyone’s misery. Lederer makes for a good vampire, but the lousy script lets him down.
At 9:30 we return to Universal for 1945’s House of Dracula. John Carradine as Dracula joins Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot to visit mad scientist Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens) to get cures for their afflictions. While Talbot is sincere, Dracula is really interested in getting hold of the doc’s gorgeous nurse (Martha O’Driscoll) in order to turn her into a vampire. Dracula reverses the devampirizing process on the doc, turning him into a beast. Meanwhile, Talbot has found the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange), and what self-respecting mad scientist wouldn’t want to revive him and have little fun? In the end Talbot is cured, but not for long as he reverts to form in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948. Good performances by the cast almost compensate for a wacky, ill conceived and executed script.
The last film on tonight’s bill is also the worst. Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966) was made by Embassy Pictures as part of a double bill with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (also 1966). Both films were directed by William Beaudine in his swan song before retiring. Both films also feature lots of bad writing, over-the-top performances and unintentional humor. Sharp-eyed viewers of Billy the Kid vs. Dracula will notice that blood isn’t the only thing Drac is drinking. (Read our essay on it here.)
October 15: Tonight Dracula is down to a double bill from Hammer. Leading off at 8:00 pm is Horror of Dracula (1958) with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee in his star-making turn as Dracula. Following at 9:45 pm is The Brides of Dracula (1960). Lee and Cushing were to have reprised their roles, but a funny thing happened along the way. Lee dropped out. There are two versions of why this happened. Version 1 comes from Lee himself, saying he turned down the sequel out of fear off being typecast. Version 2 comes from Hammer insiders who claim that Lee was just not as important to the studio as Cushing and that anyone could have played the vampire. So enter David Peel as Baron Meinster, who is kept shackled by his mother in the basement and fed pretty young things for nourishment. Peel makes for as different type of vampire than Lee. He’s more feral and certainly, with his looks, much more fey, more in keeping with Lord Byron than Stoker. And more than a match for Van Helsing, though the intrepid vampire hunter comes out on top in the end. After overcoming Van Helsing, Meinster puts the bite on him, drawing out enough blood to ensure the doctor’s future as one of the Undead. But Van Helsing has a radical cure. Painting a cross over his bite marks, he takes a red hot branding iron and applies it to the wounds, later daubing the scars with Holy Water to make them disappear. When Christopher Lee returned to the role in 1966, Hammer all but forgot this version, but it has gained a steady following over the years to the point where many critics believe it to be the best of Hammer’s Dracula series. Tune in and find out for yourselves.
October 1: When it comes to French directors, Jean-Pierre Melville is right at the top of my list of favorites. There are precious few as good at the crime or heist film as he was. And one of his best was Le Cercle Rouge (1970), scheduled to air at 2:00 am. It’s a different sort of buddy movie with a plot that is pure Melville: We first meet master thief Corey (Alain Delon) has just been released from prison. The night before, a prison guard approached him with a scheme to rob a jewelry emporium. On the lam from Rico (Andre Ekyan), a criminal boss he robbed, he meets up with Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte) by blind chance. Vogel had just escaped from veteran police detective Mattei (Andre Bourvil) and hid in the trunk of Corey’s car.
With Mattei hot on their trail Corey and Vogel, needing a big score, plot the jewel heist. They recruit Jansen (Yves Montand), an ex-cop who has a serious problem with the bottle. The heist is performed with the planning and precision we have come to expect of a movie heist. In this sense it resembles Rififi, with a little of Bob le flambeur (read our essay on the film here) thrown in. But here’s where Melville parts ways with other heist films. As with Bob le flambeur, the heist itself is not the main focus of the movie, for this movie is not about their jobs, but rather about their natures. Melville sees the true test of ethics as being in how men comport themselves under pressure (he fought with the Resistance during World War II). Do they comport themselves honorably, or do they compromise to save themselves? For Melville that is the central question. Rico is seeking his revenge and Mattei, while efficient, is highly unethical and will use any means to get his result. This test of character vs. characters is what makes Le Cercle Rouge a film to catch.
October 8: Director Nobuo Nakagawa is saluted with a double-feature highlighting his unique take on horror. Leading off at 2:00 am is Jigoku (aka The Sinners of Hell), his 1960 film that has become a cult classic. The story concerns two friends, the naive Shiro (Shigeru Amachi), engaged to his theology professor’s daughter Yukiko (Utako Mitsuya), and the sinister Tamura (Yoichi Numata). One night, riding in a car with Tamura at the wheel, Shiro is involved in the hit-and-run fatality of a drunken yakuza who had staggered out onto a poorly-lit country road. Shiro is unable to convince his friend of their complicity in the accident. Racked by guilt, he persuades Yukiko to accompany him to the police station to turn himself in. But their taxi careens off the road, leaving Yukiko dead. His future now in chaos, Shiro falls precipitously into drink and despair.
A medical emergency concerning his mother brings Shiro to Tenjoen, his father’s countryside retirement facility. However, instead of being the “heavenly garden” its name promises, and a place to escape his haunted conscience, he instead finds an earthly version of hell, a place populated by drunken painters, unrepentant adulterers, criminally negligent doctors, lecherous cops, and, most painfully, an unsettling double of Yukiko. Shiro again meets up with Tamura, followed by the arrival of their victim’s mother and former girlfriend who, having learned the identity of the guilty couple, are intent on avenging his death. A night of drunken revelry follows, with a feast of tainted fish and poisoned sake, which by morning has killed the entire community, Shiro included. As Shiro is sent screaming into hell, his horrifying journey into darkness has only begun.
Nakagawa's hell is approximately based on Buddhist conceptions. Those who have sinned in life will, in death, go to hell to atone. Once there, depending on the severity of their sins, they will be assigned to one of several different kinds of hell, with punishment in each kind different and presided over by King Enma, a red-skinned, bearded giant. But Buddhist Hell is not eternal: once atonement is completed the redeemed sinner can moved on to higher states of existence. While Shiro is presented with a path of redemption, others are in for a very long and tortuous sentence, complete with esoteric and brutal forms of punishment, all of which makes Jigoku a film to catch.
Jigoku is followed at 4:00 am by Nakagawa’s 1959 opus, Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan (aka The Ghost of Yotsuya). One of the most popular and famous Japanese ghost stories, it is based on a kabuki play written in 1825 by Nanboku Tsuruya. Filmed many times over the years, Nakagawa’s version is the one favored by critics. It is a story of fate, passion, betrayal and revenge, classic themes not only of kabuki, but Greek theater and Shakespeare as well.
Iemon (Shigeru Amachi) is a ruthless wandering samurai with designs on Oiwa (Katsuko Wakasugi), who comes from the respectable Yotsuya family. When Iemon asks her father, Samon (Shinjirô Asano) for her hand in marriage, he is coldly rebuffed. Iemon reacts by murdering both Samon and his retainer. But there is a witness – Naosuke (Shuntaro Emi), a lamp carrier. He helps Iemon dispose of the bodies in exchange for a partnership that will benefit them both. In time Iemon grows bored with Oiwa. As their life together is beset by constant poverty, Iemon begins to pursue wealthy heiress Oume (Junko Ikeuchi). Soon he is plotting Oiwa’s death. He first arranges an adulterous tryst for her with Takuetsu (Jun Otomo), an admirer. He will then poison her and slay her suitor. All goes well until Iemon's wedding night. The vengeful ghosts of Oiwa and Takuetsu appear and trick Iemon into murdering his new wife and her parents.
The Ghost of Yotsuya is a stylish film, opening like a stage play and transitioning to a mixture of natural locations combined with an outlandish art direction. Nakagawa’s use of color shows the strong influence of the Hammer horrors The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958). Another clear Hammer influence can be seen in the level and intensity of violence – grisly close-ups of slashed bodies and amputated limbs. The images of Oiwa observing the horrible disfigurement of her face from the poison or seeing the spirits rise from a blood red swamp, their bodies nailed to wooden boards, will remain with the viewer for quite some time to come.
October 11: A two-day tribute to fantasy film and sci-fi producer George Pal kicks off at 8:00 with the wonderful documentary, The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal (1985). At 10 pm it’s The Puppetoon Movie (1987), a compilation of selected short films from the producer. At 11:30 Pal gives us a science-fiction film with much more science than fiction: Destination Moon (1950). If you’re looking for villains with ray guns or monsters, look elsewhere. Based on Robert Heinlein’s novel, Rocketship Galileo, and made for Eagle-Lion, this is a wonderful low-budget feature about a manned expedition to the moon. I loved it as a kid and still love it today.
Later, at 1:00 am, comes on of Pal’s best loved features: The Time Machine (1960). It’s a terrific adaptation of the H.G. Wells dystopia about the future starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux. Mimieux never achieved the stardom she was being primed for, but she is pitch perfect as Weena, a member of the Eloi, who are submissive and raised as food by the Morlocks, who live underground and are extremely sensitive to light, only coming to the surface after sundown. As The Time Machine is serious, the night’s next feature, Atlantis, The Lost Continent (1960), which airs at 3:00 am, is silly. Anthony Hall is Demetrios, a Greek fisherman who rescues Antillia (Joyce Taylor), who turns out to be a princess. He takes her back to Atlantis, which is now ruled by the evil wizard Zaren (John Dall), who turns slaves into animal-men and rulers through use of an atomic crystal. As is usual with these kind of pictures, Atlantis is wiped out by a volcanic eruption and a tidal wave. And finally, at the wee hour of 5:00 am, it’s The Power from 1968, an underrated film set at a research facility in Southern California and focusing on the members of the Human Endurance Committee, a group of scientists studying the human body’s capacity for pain in order to better prepare astronauts for space travel. She learn that someone in the group has extraordinary mental powers and is using them for evil, beginning with the murder of Dr. Hallson (Arthur O’Connell). As other members are being picked off, Inspector Corlaine (Gary Merrill) suspects the head of the project, Dr. Tanner (George Hamilton) of perpetuating the dirty deeds. For his part, Tanner begins looking for the real killer.
October 12: We begin at 8:00 pm with Pal’s excellent 1958 feature, Tom Thumb, starring Russ Tamblyn as the six-inch tall boy who is taken in by a kindly couple and has to go up against the villainous Terry-Thomas and his henchman, Peter Sellers. Following at 10:00 pm comes another excellent feature, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), an imaginative biography of the 19th-century Bavarian writers Wilhelm Grimm (Laurence Harvey) and his brother Jacob (Karl Bohm), who became world famous for their fairy tales. The story of the brothers is brilliantly intercut with three of their tales – “The Dancing Princess,” “The Cobbler and the Elves,” and “The Singing Bone” – all brought to life with the help of Pal’s famed Puppetoons.
At 12:30 am, Chinese magician Dr. Lao (Tony Randall) uses his magical powers to save a Western town in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964). Read our essay on it here. Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975), Pal’s last feature, airs at 2:30 am. Ron Ely, famous as one of the later Tarzans, stars. The director, Michael Anderson, directed Logan’s Run the next year. The evening concludes with a repeat showing of The Puppetoon Movie at 4:30 am.
October 10: The evening is devoted to RKO B-producer Val Lewton, who with minuscule budgets created some of the most fascinating and enduring horror classics of all time. Here’s the schedule – 8 pm, Cat People (1942); 9:30 pm, The Body Snatcher (1945); 11:00 pm, Martin Scorsese Presents, Val Lewton: The Man In The Shadows (2007); 12:30 am, I Walked With a Zombie (1943); 2 am, The Seventh Victim (1943); 3:30 am, Bedlam (1946); 5 am, The Leopard Man (1943).
October 11: The action spills over to the next morning with Richard Dix in The Ghost Ship (1943) at 6:15 and Karloff in Isle of the Dead (1945) at 7:30.
October 3: A night of classic horror features Frankenstein (1931) at 8 pm, The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) at 9:30, The Mummy (1932) at 11:00, and The Wolf Man (1941) at 12:30 am.
Other classics on tap this night includes Island of Lost Souls (1933) at 2 am, The Black Cat (1934) at 3:30 am, and The Invisible Man (1933) at 4:45 am.
October 8: The 1920 silent classic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari airs at 12:15 am.
October 13: A morning and afternoon of horror. Highlights include the premiere of The Snake Woman (1961) at 8 am. Set in 1890s England, a doctor injects his wife with snake venom to cure her “sick mind.” She gives birth to a baby the villagers dub “The Devil’s Baby.” Years later a Scotland Yard detective is sent to the village to investigate a rash of deaths that are caused by snakebite.
Other notable films – The Nanny (1965) at 11 am; Margaret Lockwood and James Mason in a study of a young girl’s possession, A Place of One’s Own (1945) at 2:45 pm; and Val Lewton’s sensitive study of a child’s loneliness, The Curse of the Cat People (1944) at 6:45 pm.
October 14: Beginning at 2 am it’s Blacula (1972), Starring William Marshall as the titular vampire followed by Scream, Blacula Scream (1973) with Pam Grier at 4 am.
October 15: In addition to the aforementioned Dracula films, the evening also includes The Phantom Carriage (1921) at midnight, Diabolique (1955) at 2 am, and the 1944 version of Gaslight at 4 am.
October 4: A morning and afternoon of Buster Keaton movies, beginning at 6 am with the 1917 Coney Island. Other highlights include The Passionate Plumber (1932) at 6:30; Sidewalks of New York (1931) at 9 am; Spite Marriage (1929) at 10:30; Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931) at noon; Doughboys (1930) at 1:45 pm; The Cameraman (1928) at 3:15; the documentary Buster Keaton: So Funny It Hurt! (2004) at 4:30; Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) at 5:15; and The General (1926) at 6:30.
October 2: James Cagney became a star as Tom Powers in the brutal and brilliant The Public Enemy (1931) at 5:45 pm. At 5 am socialite Kay Johnson, in order to secure her trust fund fortune, marries condemned miner Charles Bickford, but at the last minute he’s freed when the real criminal is found, in Dynamite. Now Cynthia is stuck with someone she doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know, but to fulfill the terms of her financial agreement, she must live with him as husband and wife. This 1929 drama was Cecil DeMille’s first talkie.
October 8: Frank Buck traps anything that moves on his Malaysian expedition in the 1932 Bring ‘Em Back Alive at 6 am. Following at 7:15 Robert Armstrong is an American who stumbles into a morass of international intrigue in Blind Aventure (1933). Assisting him are the beautiful Helen Mack and Roland Young.
October 12: Grand Hotel, the 1932 all-star extravaganza with Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, and Joan Crawford, airs at 6 pm.
October 15: Gold-digging chorus girl Jean Harlow tries to keep her virtue while searching for a rich husband in the wonderful The Girl From Missouri (1934) at 6 am. Lionel Barrymore, Franchot Tone, Lewis Stone and Patsy Kelly co-star.
By Ed Garea
September 17: At 2 am it’s Roberto Rossellini’s excellent historical dramaSocrates. The 1971 film focuses on the last days of the famous philosopher: his trial, imprisonment and death. Featuring a French and Spanish cast and shot in Spain due to the source of his financing, Rossellini, as with his other historically based films, stays close to the facts, only straying occasionally for dramatic effect. In this case Rossellini went straight to the source: the Dialogues of Plato. When I first saw the film on TCM I noticed Rossellini made parallels between Socrates and Jesus, almost interpreting the philosopher from a Roman Catholic viewpoint. His students, who are referred to as “disciples” in the film, call their teacher “the good shepherd” and even share a cup with their teacher that reminded me of the chalice Jesus shared with his disciples. What amazed me about the film was the close to the vest view it gives us of Socrates and his activity in Athens, conversing with nearly anyone and more privately with his disciples. Even more astounding was the screenwriters inserting arguments summarized from several of Plato’s dialogues. Those looking for an accurate portrait of the philosopher couldn’t do better than that. Though the film won a special award at the Venice Film Festival, it didn’t do well with either audiences or critics. In recent years, though, critics and film historians are taking a fresh look at this film and the rest of Rossellini’s later work.
September 21: During a morning and afternoon devoted to films about India, Jean Renoir’s exquisite drama, The River, is being shown at 4:30 pm. It’s a gentle, touchingly moving adaptation of Rumer Godden’s novel about English children growing up in Bengal, along the Ganges River. 12-year old Harriet (Patricia Walters) is the oldest of five daughters and a son of a British owner of a jute factory (Esmond Knight) and his wife (Nora Swinburne), while the nanny, Nan (Suprova Mukerjee) looks after the children. Renoir provides us with a thoughtful meditation on life as seen through Harriet’s experience with first love that occurs when the family's neighbor invites his cousin, Captain John (Thomas E. Breen), to live with him on his plantation. When John arrives, the girls discover he has lost one leg in the war. Despite his handicap, his abundance of charm and a sophistication that surrounds him has all the daughters smitten. They issue a formal invitation in writing to a Hindu celebration, hand-delivered by Harriet. Harriet, totally taken with Captain John, even shares her diary with him in an attempt to bring them closer. His reaction is more kind and fatherly than what she might be expecting from a suitor. It is when she sees Captain John locked in a passionate embrace with her best friend Valerie (Adrienne Corri) that Harriet is crushed. Her reaction goes to the extreme, but she is saved in the nick of time. It is an awe-inspiring look at the clash of cultures and a child’s-eye view of it, aided by sumptuous photography and Harriet’s narration.
September 24: Director Kenji Mizoguchi made many a fine film in his career, but none better, or sadder than his 1952 masterpiece, The Life of Oharu, which airs at 2:00 am. Roger Ebert called this “the saddest film I have ever seen about the life of a woman.” I have to agree. It’s a simple story: a 50-year old prostitute named Oharu (Kinuyo Tanaka) looks back on her sad life in flashbacks. We learn that she was born into a respectable family in Edo-period Japan and was a lady in waiting at the court when she and a young page named Katsunosuke (Toshiro Mifune) fell in love. This was forbidden. Katsunosuke was sentenced to death and Oharu and her family were exiled. Her father never forgives her for what happened, especially now as, because of the scandal, she is considered unworthy to wed in respectable circles. Her father sells her as a concubine to the household of Lord Harutaka Matsudaira (Toshiaki Konoe). Her duty is to bear him an heir. Once she does, she is sent back to her family. Her father tries selling her as a courtesan, but when she refuses, sells her into service as a maid. She loses the job because one of her employer’s customers recognizes her from her time working in the red-light district. From here on it gets no better, as Oharu suffers one insult after another, and we arrive back to her current life as an over-the-hill, poor prostitute.
Although this sounds extremely lurid, Mizoguchi avoids taking advantage of these sensational episodes in her life. No one but Oharu knows what her life has been; society judges her as an immoral and detestable woman, and we come to realize this is the role society has assigned her to play. But though this is the case, Mizoguchi assigns no villain, not even the father. Rather, he shows that the men are simply acting within the boundaries of their assigned roles and traditions in Japanese society.
Mizoguchi made prostitutes a frequent subject, as in his 1956 Street of Shame (1956). He was a frequent visitor at brothels, not merely to purchase sex, but to fraternize with their workers and learn from their points-of-view. He also had a personal stake in the drama in an episode that had a great impact on him: his sister, Suzo, who raised him, was sold by their father as a geisha.
September 25: At 11:30 am, The Great Train Robbery, from director Edwin S. Porter in 1903, will be shown. It’s a simple, one-reel story of a gang of outlaws who rob a train and are hunted down by a posse, but it’s one of the milestones in cinema history. It was the first film to tell a story, and contained many roughly defined characters, used several settings, and, most radical of all, used editing to move the narrative along from one scene to another in rapid succession. What we take for granted today was not the case when the film was made. Those who took an introductory class in film have seen the film, as it is a staple. But for those who never got around to taking such a class, sit back and prepare to be amazed.
September 30: As long as we’re on the subject of Japan, I’d like to note that one of the greatly overlooked war movies in playing at 5:15 pm. That movie is Tora! Tora! Tora!, a docudrama from 1970. It is an excellent factual account of the events that led up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and brought America into World War II. It is an exquisitely balanced film, looking at both sides. It was mostly panned by critics on release as dull and uninspired, lacking the “action” a blockbuster should possess, with too many scenes staged in war rooms and among military planners from both sides. Yes, there is not a lot of action until the final act, but what doesn’t work in theaters works superbly well on television, where we can sit back and reflect on the drama portrayed on the screen. Those interested in history will find the film quite edifying. Care was taken by the studio, Fox, to insure accuracy. Richard Fleischer directed the American sequences while Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masada handled the Japanese sequences. Akira Kurosawa was originally hired to direct the Japanese sequences, but after he tried to copy Erich Von Stroheim, the studio let him go. Among Kurosawa’s Von Stroheim-esqe antics included painting a Shinto shrine aboard a battleship numerous times because he wasn’t satisfied with the shade of white, and replacing the books in a library with those from the period even though they were barely visible. As for the critics who panned the movie upon its theatrical release I can only say to be careful what you wish for, as the 2001 release of Pearl Harbor can attest.
September 18: A morning and afternoon of Garbo films that should satisfy her fans. Included are such silents as The Temptress (1926, 6 am) and The Mysterious Lady (1928, 10 am); Pre-Code faves such as Grand Hotel (8 am) and Queen Christina (4:15 pm); and the rarely shown dramas Romance (1930, 11:45 am) andThe Painted Veil (1934, 1:15 pm), in addition to Billy Wilder’s wonderful Ninotchkaclosing out the day at 6 pm. But perhaps the most unusual film of the day is the German language version of Anna Christie from 1930, which airs at 2:45 pm. Germany was one of Hollywood’s largest foreign markets, and in the early days of sound, the norm was to take “important” films (films the studios saw as appealing to foreign audiences) and remake them in foreign language versions. The films were usually made after hours on the same soundstage with a different cast, but because of Garbo’s impact in Germany, it was decided to make the German language film directly after filming wrapped on the English version on the same sets, but with a different supporting cast. Later, when the technology improved, subtitles and dubbing came into being, and the days of the separate language version came to an end.
September 16: At 12:45 am Joan Crawford and Clark Gable star in MGM’s 1933 Dancing Lady. Look for Fred Astaire and the Three Stooges.
September 21:Son Of India, a 1931 film from MGM starring Ramon Novarro as a rajah’s son who falls for an American woman (Marjorie Rambeau) touring India, airs at 7:00 am.
September 25:Murder in the Private Car (MGM, 1934), starring Charles Ruggles, Una Merkel and Mary Carlisle airs at 7:15 am. At 1:15 pm comes Danger Lights (RKO, 1931) with Louis Wolheim, Robert Armstrong and Jean Arthur. If you’re a train buff you don’t want to miss this one.
September 28:Ladies of the Jury (RKO, 1932) starring Edna May Oliver and Jill Esmond is scheduled for 6:00 am. At 9:00 D.A. Walter Huston must protect a family that witnessed a gangland killing in Star Witness (WB, 1931).
September 29: In an evening that features all three versions of A Star is Born, stick around until 3:45 am (or better yet, record it) and watch the film that helped inspire them all, What Price Hollywood? (RKO, 1932), starring Constance Bennett, Lowell Sherman and Neil Hamilton.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
September 16: Boston Blackie becomes the prime suspect when a pearl necklace he’s been hired to guard is stolen in Trapped by Boston Blackie (1948) at 10:30 am.
Archeologist Charlton Heston discovers his daughter is possessed by the malevolent spirit of an Egyptian queen in 1980’s The Awakening at 2:30 am. Following at 4:30 am, Hammer gives us practically the same plot nine years earlier in Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971). Given the choice of the two, I’d go with the Hammer version.
September 21: TCM’s Special Theme for September is “Counter Culture Classics,” and it begins at 8 pm with the concert film Monterey Pop from 1969. At 9:30 pm comes Don’t Look Back (1967), a record of Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England. At 11:45 it’s the Maysles Brothers’ classic 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter. Woodstock: The Director’s Cut follows at 1:30 am, and the night closes out with the documentary Jimi Hendrix (1973) at 5:30 am.
September 23: Bumbling press agents Brown and Carney run into Bela Lugosi in 1945’s Zombies on Broadway at 6 am. The Boston Blackie films come to an end with Boston Blackie’s Chinese Venture (1948) at 10:30 am.
Nature strikes back beginning at 2:00 am with Of Unknown Origin (1983), followed by Rattlers(1976) at 3:45 am.
September 25: Herbert Lom is the crazed composer in Hammer’s version of Phantom of the Opera (1962) at 9:45 pm.
September 26: An entire morning and afternoon of psychotronic films is on tap, with the best bets being the underrated World Without End(1955) at 8:30 am and the wonderfully ridiculous Queen of Outer Space (1958), starring the one and only Zsa Zsa Gabor, at 4:30 pm.
September 28: The TCM Special Theme on “Counter Culture Classics” continues, with The Love-Ins (1967) at 8 pm, starring Richard Todd as a former college professor who becomes a messiah for a cult and avails himself of the women there. At 10 pm comes Sam Katzman’s 1967 Riot on Sunset Strip. Laff Riot is more like it, as LA detective Aldo Ray’s juvenile delinquent daughter Mimsy Farmer falls in with a gang looking for “kicks.”
At midnight Al Pacino has his first starring role as a small time crook who introduces his girlfriend to heroin in Panic in Needle Park (1971). His performance helped convince Francis Ford Coppola to cast him in The Godfather. The film was considered strong stuff when originally released and packs a powerful, if forgotten, performance from leading lady Kitty Winn.
At 2 am it’s another viewing of The Big Cube (1969), followed by Barbet Schroeder’s tragic look at a young couple (Mimsy Farmer and Klaus Grunberg) who fall into the drug culture underbelly of the hippie movement in Europe in More (1969). It was Schroeder’s first film.
September 30: Glenda Farrell, Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill star in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) at 10:30 am. Made in two-strip Technicolor, it still holds up well today, with Farrell giving a great performance as the intrepid reporter.
At 2:00 am comes David Lynch’s weirdly compelling Eraserhead, his 1977 feature directorial debut. A filmed nightmare, the plot of which defies any semblance of description, revolves around Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) who exists in a totally bleak urban environment of industrial surroundings. One night he’s invited to meet the parents of his fiancee, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart). After repeated interrogation by Mary's mother (Jeanne Bates) and dining on a dinner of miniature chickens that squirt some form of black goop, he's told that Mary has given premature birth. He must immediately marry her and bring her to live with him in his apartment. The marriage lasts only a few days, as the mutant child’s non-stop crying frays everyone’s nerves, Mary leaves Henry and leaves their child in his care. This leads to a series of even stranger events – one with the hooker across the hall (Judith Roberts) and a bizarre woman who lives in Henry’s radiator (Laurel Near). The child itself reminds one of Prince Randian, the human torso in Tod Browning’s 1932 Freaks. As nothing that happens in the movie is explained, we are left to draw our own conclusions. To quote Michael Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (p. 219), some “will identify with the completely alienated, sexually retarded characters. Many viewers (usually female) walk out of the theater in disgust. Many others watch it faithfully every week at midnight showings. You probably wouldn’t feel comfortable alone in a room with one of the frequent viewers.” It took Lynch, who described the movie as “a dream of dark and troubling things,” five years to finish it with partial financing from the American Film Institute. It made a splash on the Midnight Movie circuit, hailed by critics such as J. Hoberman, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Danny Peary. David Bartholomew in Cinefantastique described it as “a true rarity, an original work that seemingly has no antecedent in the horror genre. It is not abstract, but it defines a coherent plot description, in fact it defies description of any kind.” The only advice I can give is to watch it and decide for yourself, but keep in mind that it’s the movie that propelled Lynch to bigger and better things, such as The Elephant Man, Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet.
By Ed Garea
September 3: Marcel Pagnol's delightful film Cesar is being shown at 2 am. In addition to being the final film in his Marseille trilogy concerning the lives of Fanny (Orane Demazis) and Marius (Pierre Fresnay), it’s only one of the three he directed himself. The first, Marius (1931), was written by Pagnol (based on his play), and directed by Alexander Korda. Fanny is the daughter of a fishmonger on the Marseille waterfront. She’s in love with Marius, the son of Cesar (Raimu), who runs a waterfront bar. Marius is torn between his love for Fanny and his longing to go to sea. In the end, he goes to sea, leaving Fanny behind and pregnant. In Fanny (1932), also from a Pagnol play and directed by Marc Allegret, Fanny marries the much older Panisse (Fernand Charpin) to give her child a father.
Cesar takes place 20 years later with Marius and Fanny's son, Cesariot (Andre Fouche), all grown up. But he doesn’t know that Marius is his real father. When Panisse dies, Fanny tells her son the truth and with Cesar's help, Cesariot sets out to find Marius.
This is a remarkable film, and it’s a shame the first two weren’t shown before it. But the plot is such that it can stand alone and is aided by the fact that Raimu, who plays Cesar, is now in the forefront. He dotes upon Cesarian as a godfather, not a grandfather due to the family situation. It’s a story of family and how it faces up to its transitions, the revelation of unpleasant truths and simmering resentments. Over the course of the film the family moves toward forgiveness and rebirth. Definitely worth seeing, even without the other two in the series. Raimu is an actor of powerful presence.
September 3: The original silent version of Camille from 1921 with Nazimova as the notorious Parisian courtesan who falls passionately for young and unsophisticated law student Rudolph Valentino will air at 12:15. It is basically the plot we see in the 1937 remake with Garbo and Robert Taylor, but this version is way more frank, having been made lone before the Code was so ruthlessly employed.
September 4: TCM is devoting the evening to the films of the late Jerry Lewis. The schedule is as follows: 8:00 pm - The Nutty Professor (1963); 10:00 pm - The King of Comedy (1983); 12:00 am - The Stooge (1952; 2:00 am - The Bellboy (1960); 3:30 am - The Disorderly Orderly (1964).
September 5: Humorist Robert Benchley has a morning dedicated to the wonderful shorts he made at MGM from 1935 to 1945. The fun starts at 6 am with How to Behave from 1936 and is followed by How to Train a Dog (6:15), How to Read (6:30), How to Raise a Baby (6:45), How to Watch Football(7:00) and How to Eat (7:15). Benchley’s wry sense of humor, combined with his befuddled screen presence make these ones to catch.
CELEBRATING WOMEN DIRECTORS
September 8: Seven films from directors Mabel Normand, Lois Weber and Alice Guy-Blanche are scheduled to air from 10:30 am to 4:45 pm. It starts at 10:30 with Mabel Normand directing Fatty Arbuckle, Edgar Kennedy and Mabel Normand in the 1915 short, Wished on Mabel, for Keystone Films.
Lois Weber takes over at 11:00 with the amazing 1916 message film, Where Are My Children? Lois scripted and directed with husband Phillips Smalley. The film brings attention to the feminist issues of abortion and bringing unloved children into the world. Banned in many states when released, it was nevertheless hailed by Universal, the studio that made it. Studio head Carl Laemmle saw it as a landmark film made by one of the studio’s premiere directors. At that time Lois Weber was seen by the moviegoing public as the equal of Griffith and DeMille. Her salary was $5,000 a week, unheard of for a woman in Hollywood who didn’t work in front of the camera. Over the years, as Hollywood become more and more a male preserve, her work was forgotten and many of her films, including this one, were presumed lost. Where Are My Children? was located and restored by the Library of Congress.
Set in an anonymous big city, District Attorney Richard Walton (Tyrone Power, Sr.) is trying the case of Dr. Homer (C. Norman Hammond), a proponent of birth control, who from his experience of working in the slums, feels that only those children who are wanted should be born. He is found guilty of malpractice by the all-male jury.
But Walton gets the shock of his life when, in the course of trying abortionist Dr. Malfit, (Juan de la Cruz), it comes out that his dear wife (Helen Riaume, who performed as Mrs. Tyrone Power) had two abortions. As a result of these abortions Mrs. Walton is unable to have children and the film ends as we see the couple growing older and further apart in their huge mansion. Further melodramatics are added as pictures of the babies Dr. Malfit (a revealing name) aborted are shown on screen as Mr. and Mrs. Walton sit silently.
The power and controversy of this film can be seen by the fact that abortion became a distinct no-no on the screen, even in the supposed freewheeling Pre-Code days. The Pre-Code film Men in White danced around this issue when a young nurse, impregnated by Clark Gable’s character, dies in an operation to save her life. (See our review of the film here.) The extreme melodramatics ultimately do the film in, but as a product of its time, it’s fascinating to see.
Weber is also represented by Too Wise Wives (12:15) and The Blot (1:45), both made in 1921, before the reins are turned over to French director Alice Guy-Blache for three shorts made in 1912 beginning at 3:30 - Algie, The Miner, Falling Leaves and Canned Harmony. Guy-Blache was a true pioneer, one of the first to make a narrative fiction film. By 1907 she had made over 1,000 films and later ran her own studio, Solax, in New Jersey, where she experimented with sound syncing, color tinting, interracial casting and special effects long before the other giants of early cinema had caught on. World War I slowed her momentum and after divorcing her husband, Herbert Blaché, she moved back to France with their children and faded into obscurity. She returned with daughter Simone to Mahwah, New Jersey, in 1965, where she died in a nursing home on March 24, 1968. Guy-Blache is notable in the history of film because she worked in the days before the studio system set in and producers and directors basically made it all up on the fly, crafting stories and experimenting with the new technology. In doing so, Guy-Blache created the concepts off which today’s directors work.
September 7: The evening is dedicated to the German director Werner Herzog with five of his films being shown: Fitzcarraldo (1982, 8:00 pm), Stroszek (1977, 10:45 pm), Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972, 1:00 am), Cobra Verde (1988, 2:45 am), his 1982 documentary on the making of Fitzcarraldo, Burden of Dreams (1982, 4:45 am), and the bizarre documentary Walter Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980) at 6:30 the next morning. Herzog, who historian David Thomson describes as “profuse, undisciplined and unpredictable,” was responsible, along with Rainer Warner Fassbinder, Jean-Marie Straub and Wim Wenders, for establishing West Germany as a major hub of filmmaking in the ‘60s. Francois Truffaut called him “the most important film director alive,” and critic Roger Ebert, in his tribute to the director, Herzog by Ebert, said that he “has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons, or uninteresting. Even his failures are spectacular.” On this night, his most “spectacular failure” is probably Stroszek, a tale of an alcoholic ex-con (Bruno Stroszek) in Berlin who joins up with an elderly friend and a prostitute determined to leave Germany to seek a better life in Wisconsin. Herzog is definitely offbeat, but never dull, possessed of as quick mind that expresses itself in quirky and fascinating camera movements, eccentrically drawn characters and plots that go where we least expect.
September 10: Indian director Satyajit Ray its featured with two films running back-to-back beginning at 2:30 am. First up is Charulata (aka The Lonely Wife, 1964), a tale of Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee), a housewife in 18th century Calcutta who leads a very lonely life. Husband Bhupati (Shailen Mukherjee), who spends more time at his newspaper than at home, sees she is lonely and asks his brother-in-law Umapada (Shyamal Ghoshal) to keep her company. At the same time Bhupati's brother, Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee), a would-be writer comes home finishing his college education. He and Charu bond immediately over a shared love of literature, but soon their relationship goes beyond friendship.
The Coward (aka Kapurush, 1964) follows at 4:45 am. Amitabha Roy (Soumitra Chatterjee) is a scriptwriter who has a breakdown near a tea-estate. Estate manager Bimal Gupta (Haradhan Banerjee) offers him a place to stay at his bungalow. Amitabha later discovers that the manager is married to his ex-girlfriend, Karuna (Madhabi Mukherjee) and that Bimal invited him to mitigate his own boredom. Bimetal also fails to notice the obvious uneasiness between Karuna and Amitabha. The movie takes place over a period of approximately one day when they have dinner, breakfast and go for a picnic. Small gestures rekindle Amitabha's memories, and via a series of flashbacks, he remembers their first meeting, courtship and separation (which was due to his lack of courage to make a commitment). Amitabha, combining the fact that he is now affluent with his suspicion of that Karuna is unhappy, decides to propose to her once again. However, Karuna is inclined to believe that the time for courage is long gone.
September 15: Carole Lombard is honored with an evening of her films beginning with Hands Across the Table(1935) at 8 pm, and finishing with the screwball classic Nothing Sacred (1937) at 4:45 am. In between we will get to see Love Before Breakfast(1936, 9:30), The Princess Comes Across (1936, 11:00), Now and Forever (1934, 12:30) with Gary Cooper and Shirley Temple, The Gay Bride(1934, 2:00), and Brief Moment (1933, 3:30 am). As these, with the exception of Nothing Sacred, are rarely shown, they should be on major interest to the film buffs. Fans of Carole Lombard (Who isn’t?) should also be interested.
September 1: Tough by-the-book submarine commander Walter Huston and Robert Montgomery clash in Hell Below (1933) at 8:00 am. Read our essay on the film here.
September 3: The original The Front Page from 1931 is shown in all its Pre-Code glory, starring Pat O’Brien as Hildy Johnson and Adolphe Menjou as his scheming editor Walter Burns at Noon.
September 8: James Cagney and Loretta Young star in the excellent Taxi! (1932) at 8:00 pm.
September 11: It’s a morning of Jimmy Durante Pre-Codes with Jimmy and Buster Keaton in Speak Easily (1932) at 6:45 am, followed by Meet the Baron (1933) at 8:30, Jimmy and Buster again in What! No Beer? (1933) at 10:00 am, and Jimmy and Lupe Velez in Strictly Dynamite (1934) at 11:30 am.
September 12: Pre-Codes today include Son of the Gods (1930) with Richard Barthelmess at 6:00 am, Winnie Lightner and Charles Butterworth in Manhattan Parade (1931) at 7:45 am, Three Who Loved (1931) with Betty Compson, at 9:15 am., James Cagney in Winner Take All (1932) at 10:30 am (read our essay on it here), Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young in A Man’s Castle (1933) at 11:45 am, This Side of Heaven(1934) with Lionel Barrymore, Fay Bainter and Mae Clarke at 1:00 pm, and Warren William, Mary Astor and Ginger Rogers in Upper World (1934) at 2:30 pm.
September 13: Two on tap today. First, George Brent and Eugene Palette pioneer the use of scientific methods to solve to acquit accused murderess Margaret Lindsay on From Headquarters(1933) 11:15 am. Then, at 6:30 pm Walter Huston is an honest police captain taking on mobster Jean Hersholt in Beast of the City (1932). Jean Harlow and Wallace Ford co-star in this Dirty Harry-esqe tale with a distinctly downbeat finish in a hail of bullets, a la Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
September 1: An evening of surf films begins with the classic Frankie-Annette pairing, Beach Party (1963) at 8:00 (read our essay on it here), followed by its sequel, Muscle Beach Party(1964). At Midnight Bobby Vinton and Jackie DeShannon star in Surf Party (1964). James Darren, Pamela Tiffin and Bob Denver take over at 2:00 am in For Those Who Think Young (1964). Nancy Sinatra also stars, but it’s comic Woody Woodbury who steals the film. Finally, Fabian, Tab Hunter, Shelley Fabares and Barbara Eden Ride the Wild Surf (1964) at 4:00 am.
September 2: Boston Blackie battles a phony spiritualist who dabbles in blackmail on the side in The Phantom Thief (1946) at 10:30 am.
The evening is dedicated to computers that have gone rogue, beginning with the classic tale 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) at 8:00 pm. Next, the robotic Yul Brenner blows a fuse in the entertaining Westworld(1973) at 10:45. The ridiculous Demon Seed(1977) airs at Midnight, followed by Scanners (1981) at 2:15 am.
September 8: A psychotronic double feature begins at 11:30 pm with the hilarious Carry On Cabby (1963), followed by Martin Scorsese’s 1976 milestone, Taxi Driver (1976), with Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster.
September 9: Boston Blackie brings a magic show to a women’s prison and gets involved in an escape for which he is accused of being an accomplice in Boston Blackie and the Law (1946) at 10:30 am.
An animated double feature begins at 2:00 am as a woman sells her soul to the devil to lead a rebellion against a corrupt baron in Belladonna of Sadness (1973), an allegorical feature from Japanese director Eiichi Yamamoto. Producer Osamu Tezuka had previously overseen two animated series that became wildly popular in U.S. syndication: Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. Following at 3:30 am is 1973’s Fantastic Planetfrom French director Rene Laloux, who expands the nouvelle vague to the world of animation in this tale about a race of highly advanced giants called “Draags" that bring humans to their home planet and turn them into household pets, known as “Oms.” But when the pets are left in the wild, like any formerly domesticated animals, they turn savage and become a subject for extermination. Tiwa, a highly intelligent Om, has mastered the Draaga language, and plants the idea of a widespread rebellion against their keepers.
September 14: In an evening devoted to Counter Culture films of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, four fit the category of psychotronic, beginning with the execrable Alice’s Restaurant (1969) at 11:30 pm. It’s followed by Michelangelo Antonioni’s megabomb, Zabriskie Point (1970), at 1:30 am. The film’s star, Mark Frechette, later went to jail for a bank robbery he claimed was carried out for “political reasons.” He later died in a prison accident while lifting weights in 1975. At 3:45 am, Bruce Davison is a college student who becomes radicalized by the presence on campus of Kim Darby and the National Guard in The Strawberry Statement (1970). Finally, it’s the loony and wildly entertaining Wild in the Streets (1968) from AIP with Christopher Jones and Shelley Winters at 5:45 am.
By Ed Garea
We are dedicating this column to two extraordinary actors who will each have a day dedicated to them: Ann Harding (August 21) and Simone Signoret (August 25).
Both tend to be overlooked today, one because the vast majority of her work was in the Pre-Code era and was unavailable on television for decades, and the other because she didn’t work for long in Hollywood.
ANN HARDING was born Dorothy Walton Gatley on August 7, 1902, at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, the daughter of a career army officer. She grew up in East Orange, N.J., and graduated from East Orange High School and Bryn Mawr College.
She began her acting career on the stage and made her Broadway debut in 1921. While appearing in Pittsburgh with the Nixon Players she married fellow actor Harry Bannister in 1926. They had one child, a daughter named Jane, before divorcing in 1932.
Harding made her movie debut in Paris Bound for Pathe (1929), co-starring Frederic March. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Linda Seton in the 1930 version of Holiday (Her performance completely blows away that of Katharine Hepburn). After Pathe was absorbed by RKO, Harding was promoted as the studio’s answer to MGM’s Norma Shearer., starring in the studio’s prestige productions.
Her second film, Her Private Affair (1929), portraying a wife of questionable morality, was a huge success, both critically and commercially. During this period, she was regarded as one of cinema's most beautiful women, noted for her waist-length blonde hair. She was also considered as one of the major stars in the Hollywood firmament.
Tired of being typecast by the studio as the innocent, self-sacrificing young woman, and with her films diminishing in both box office and quality (a loan-out to MGM didn’t help), she retired from the screen after marrying conductor Werner Janssen in 1937 (divorced 1962). She returned in 1942 for MGM’s Eyes in the Night with Edward Arnold, and went on to work until 1956, with her last film being Strange Intruder for Allied Artists, with Edmund Purdom and Ida Lupino. She then segued to television, appearing as a guest star in various productions until 1965.
Harding died on September 1, 1981, at the age of 79 in Sherman Oaks, California. Her ashes are interned at Forest Lawn.
Films in bold blue are especially recommended.
6:00 am - Her Private Affair(1929). 7:30 am - Condemned (UA/Goldwyn) 9:00 am - The Conquerers (RKO, 1932). 10:30 am -The Life of Vergie Winters (RKO, 1932). Noon -The Lady Consents (RKO, 1936). 1:30 pm -The Witness Chair (RKO, 1936). 2:45 pm - Janie (WB, 1944).4:30 pm -Eyes in the Night (MGM, 1942). 6:00 pm - It Happened on 5th Avenue (Monogram, 1947). 8:00 pm -Biography of a Bachelor Girl(MGM, 1935). 9:30 pm - The Animal Kingdom (RKO, 1932, read our essay here). 11:15 pm -When Ladies Meet (MGM, 1933). 1:00 am -The Flame Within (MGM,1935). 2:30 am -Double Harness (RKO, 1933). 4:00 am -The Magnificent Yankee (MGM, 1950).
SIMOME SIGNORET was born Simone Henriette Charlotte Kaminker on March 25, 1921, in Wiesbaden, Germany, the eldest of three children (two brothers). Her father, Andre, was a French-born army officer from a Polish Jewish family. He was one of the first interpreters for the League of Nations. Her mother, Georgette, was a French Catholic. When she was young her father moved the family to Neuilly-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris, where Simone grew up.
During the German Occupation of France, Simone turned to acting in films to support her mother and two brothers, as her father fled to London to join General De Gaulle. She took her mother’s maiden name to hide her Jewish identity from the Nazis. Her sensual and earthy looks led her to be often cast in roles as a prostitute. It was in this role, as Leocadie, that she first gained fame in Marcel Ophuls’ Le Ronde, in 1950.
The British Film Institute awarded her a BAFTA as Best Foreign Actress for her role as the prostitute Marie in Jacques Becker’s Casque d’or (Golden Helmet, 1951). Other notable films during this period include Therese Raquin (1953), Les Diaboliques (Diabolique, or The Devils, 1954) for Henri-Georges Clouzot, and Les Sorcières de Salem (The Crucible, 1956), based on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
In 1958 her performance as Alice Aisgill in the British film Room at the Top won her the Best Actress Award at Cannes, the Best Actress BAFTA and the Best Actress Oscar, becoming the first French actor to win those awards in the same year and the only French actress to receive an Oscar until Juliette Binoche (Supporting Actress) in 1997 and Marion Cotillard (Best Actress) in 2008. She worked in Hollywood from 1965 to 1969 (earning a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Ship of Fools, in 1965) before returning to France for the remainder of her career.
Signoret was married twice, first to filmmaker Yves Allegret (1944-49, with whom she had a daughter, actress Catherine Allegret), and the Italian-born French actor Yves Montand (1953 until her death). Signoret died on September 30, 1985, at age 64 from pancreatic cancer. She was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Husband Yves Montand was later buried next to her.
Films in bold blue are especially recommended.
6:00 am - La Ronde (Commercial Pictures, 1954). 8:00 am -Casque d’or (Paris Film, 1952). 10:00 am - Against the Wind (Ealing, 1948). Noon -Gunman in the Streets (UA, 1950). 1:30 pm -The Deadly Affair (Columbia, 1967). 3:30 pm -Ship of Fools (Columbia, 1965). 6:00 pm -Term of Trial (Romulus/WB, 1962). 8:00 pm -Room at the Top (Romulus/Continental Dist., 1959). 10:00 pm -Diabolique (Filmsonor/Cenedis, 1955). 12:30 am -The Confession (Valoria Films, 1970). 3:15 am -Police Python .357 (Les Films de la Boetie, 1976).
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
August 17: Check out Rosalind Russell in the original Craig’s Wife (Columbia, 1936), later remade with Joan Crawford as Harriet Craig in 1950.
August 27: It’s Leslie Caron, Gene Kelly and Oscar Levant in the arty but delightful, An American in Paris (1951, 1:30 pm).
August 26: James Cagney’s day is celebrated with Blonde Crazy (1931, 6:00 am), The Crowd Roars (1932, 7:30 am), Jimmy the Gent (1934, 8:45 am), and The Mayor of Hell (1933, 4:30 am).
August 29: A good Pre-Code haul can be had on a day dedicated to Marion Davies. Civil War drama Operator 13 (1934) with Gary Cooper airs at 7:30 am. At 1:30 pm its Five and Ten (1931) with Leslie Howard, followed by Peg O’ My Heart (1933, 3:15 pm) The Floradora Girl (1930, 5:00 pm), Marianne (1929, Midnight), and Blondie of the Follies (1932, 2:00 am), with Robert Montgomery.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
August 16: The day is dedicated to Elvis Presley, who died on this date in 1977. Of the films shown the best is 1957’s Jailhouse Rock at 6:00 pm.
August 17: Rosalind Russell and Clark Gable are competing jewel thieves in 1941’s They Met in Bombay (1:30 pm).
August 18: Rod Taylor fights Morlocks in The Time Machine (1960, Noon) and our feathered friends in The Birds (1962, 8:00 pm)
August 19: Angela Lansbury appears with Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate (1962, 8:00 pm), followed by Gaslight (1944, 10:00 pm) with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Berman, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982, 2:30 am)
August 23: Slim Pickens is celebrated with Blazing Saddles (1974, 10:00 pm).
August 31: George Sanders stars in five psychotronic classics, beginning with Village of the Damned (1961) at 10:00 am. Then The Saint Strikes Back (1939) at 11:30 am, The Gay Falcon (1942) at 12:45 pm, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) at 2:00 pm, and finally, Lured (1947), with Lucille Ball at 2:00 am.
By Ed Garea
SUMMER UNDER THE STARS
It’s August, which means a month of “Summer Under the Stars,” in which each day is devoted to the films of a particular actor or actress. In the past, TCM has made this somewhat interesting by including people we don’t normally see, i.e., those not from Hollywood, the international stars. But this year the only international star we get is Simone Signoret, and if we really want to stretch it, Vanessa Redgrave (and that’s really stretching it, as she has made quite a few films in America).
Instead, we get yet another day of stars whose films have been nearly run to death. Given the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, TCM once again sticks to the tried and true, and in the end, lets its fans down. As I said in this column last year, I would like to see a day devoted to the films of the following: Marcello Mastroianni, Alec Guinness, Setsuko Hara, Monica Vitti. Paul Wegener, George Arliss, Michel Charles Hawtrey, Anouk Aimee, Ugo Tognazzi, Emil Jannings, Richard Attenborough, Vittorio Gassman, Googie Withers, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Alberto Sordi, Diana Dors, Jean-Claude Brialy, Gerard Depardieu, Giulietta Masina, Isabelle Huppert, Jean Marais, Anna Magnani, and Albert Remy. And that’s just off the top of my head.
This column is ostensibly dedicated to the rare and unusual, but there’s not much that’s rare this month and even less that’s unusual, so please excuse the brevity.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
August 1: On a day devoted to Marilyn Monroe, try Ladies of the Chorus (Columbia, 1949) at 6:00 am. Adele Jergens and Marilyn are mother/daughter burlesque chorus girls. Adele sees Marilyn going down the same rocky romantic road she did when she was young and tries to prevent it. It’s Marilyn’s first substantial role and the only movie she made for Columbia, which dropped her contract shortly after this film was released. Directed by old pro Phil Karlson, it’s definitely worth a look. Eddie Garr, who plays burlesque clown Billy Mackay, is the father of Teri, which should give film buffs even more reason to tune in.
August 8: Franchot Tone stars with Ann Sothern in the breezy and entertaining Fast and Furious, the last in the Joel and Garda Sloane mystery series, airing at 10:45 am.
August 8: Franchot Tone makes his second film appearance in Howard Hawks’ disappointing drama, Today We Live (6:00 am). This 1933 effort from MGM stars Gary Cooper and Robert Young as two officers (one a pilot and one in the Navy) competing for the love of English aristocrat Joan Crawford during World War I. Despite a script co-written by Willian Faulkner (from his story “Turn About”), the film is pretty heavy slogging with one of the corniest endings in the history of movies. Tone plays Crawford’s brother.
At 2:45 am, Tone is a playboy trying to break down showgirl Jean Harlow’s resolve in the delightful The Girl From Missouri (1934), with Harlow determined to preserve her “virtue” before marriage. With Lionel Barrymore as Tone’s millionaire father and Lewis Stone as a prospective husband whose suicide leads to trouble for Harlow.
August 11: A day dedicated to Ginger Rogers begins with four Pre-Code movies. First up at 6:00 am is The Tenderfoot (1932), a Joe E. Brown comedy that sees him as a naive cowboy with a roll of cash who wants to back a Broadway show in the worst way.
At 7:30 am, Ginger and Fred Astaire end up stealing Flying Down To Rio (1933) from erstwhile stars Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond. Their number, “the Carioca,” carried them from supporting roles to stars of the show.
Ginger loses honest, hardworking fiancee Joel McCrea to spoiled heiress Marian Nixon in the dull Chance at Heaven (1933) at 9:15 am, a move he lives to regret. Didn’t they just show this a couple of weeks ago?
Finally, at 10:45 am, Ginger joins with Pat O’Brien and Dick Powell in the musical Twenty Million Sweethearts (1934). Otherwise humdrum, it’s worth seeing for the appearance of the Mills Brothers.
August 13: Three excellent Pre-codes starring Barbara Stanwyck begin at 6:00 am with So Big! (1932). Based on the Edna Ferber novel, Stanwyck is a farmer’s widow who not only must take on the land after her husband dies, but must also deal with his difficult son in whom she has invested the family hopes. Look for Bette Davis in an early role.
At 7:30 am Stanwyck is a nightclub singer on the lam who hides out by becoming a mail order bride for struggling farmer George Brent in the wild melodrama The Purchase Price (1932). Directed by William Wellman, it’s bizarre, but moves along so fast we don’t have time to reflect on just how bizarre it is while we relish the racy dialogue along the way. Look for the scene where another of the mail order brides says, “You know what they say about men with bushy eyebrows and a long nose!” as she holds up a banana.
At 9:00 am Stanwyck stars in the Grandmother of Women’s Prison films: Ladies They Talk About (1933). Stanwyck made quite a few bizarre movies during her Pre-Code days, but this one is a doozy, with Babs as a moll arrested for her part in robbing a bank, betrayed by preacher Preston Foster, and sent to the Big House, where she interacts with as strange a cast of characters as you’ve ever seen. Look for there scene where Lillian Roth croons “If I Could Be With You” to a photo of Joe E. Brown. Obviously, she’s been cooped up too long. Also look for the quick scene where Lillian introduces Babs to some of the inmates. They pass by a well-built mannish woman smoking a cigar. “Watch out for her,” says Lillian. “She likes to wrestle!”
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
August 2: Two from Star of the Day Ray Milland. First up at 7:15 am is Bulldog Drummond Escapes (Paramount, 1937), a reimaging of the classic Ronald Colman film. Milland is excellent in the role and the film is an enjoyable B-programmer. At noon, Milland faces the aftermath of nuclear war in AIP’s Panic in the Year Zero (1962). Jean Hagen plays Ray’s wife and Frankie Avalon plays his son. Milland did double duty, as he also directed the film.
August 4: Dick Powell does an amazing job bringing detective Philip Marlowe to life in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet, at 10:00 pm. Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki, and Mile Mander co-star.
August 6: An early film with Robert Mitchum airs at 7:30 am. In When Strangers Marry, Mitchum has his first co-starring role as Fred Graham, former beau of Millie Baxter (Kim Hunter), who has just married traveling salesman Paul Baxter (Dean Jagger). As the film unfolds Millie comes to wonder if her new husband isn’t the killer the police are looking for after a drunk was murdered in his hotel room and relieved of the $10,000 bank roll he was carrying. This 1944 production from Monogram is crisply directed by William Castle and provides a good showcase for Mitchum. Even though it was made before he became a star, it was already his 22nd film credit, including six Hopalong Cassidy oaters. Those would have been interesting for TCM to run on this day.
August 9: Sandra Dee is an innocent college student lured away and drugged by crazed Dean Stockwell, who has stolen the Necronomicon from the school library and plans to sacrifice her in The Dunwich Horror (1970), at 4:00 am. It’s a lot duller than this synopsis sounds, as warlock Ed Begley, Sr. plans to stop Stockwell with the proper curse. Roger Corman served as executive producer, which should serve to explain things.
LON CHANEY – AUGUST 3
Lon Chaney is one of the greatest actors ever to appear before a camera. Who knows what he might have accomplished if his career was not cut short by lung cancer at the age of 47 in 1930. He had recently scored a success in his first – and only – talkie, a remake of his 1925 classic The Unholy Three (airing at 4:45 pm). The sound remake is airing at the late hour of 4:15 am.
Chaney was justifiably renowned for his ability to not only lose himself in his character, but to bend his body into almost impossible poses to play such characters. Watching him effortlessly cavort around the set as the legless criminal mastermind Blizzard in 1920’s The Penalty (6:00 am), one would almost be led to think he was born without legs. But he underwent a most painful binding of his lower legs behind him to create the effect.
In The Unknown, from 1927 (2:00 pm), he plays Alonzo the Armless Wonder. With his arms bound at his side, he learned to throw knives with his feet. In reality he is hiding from the police, and the reason he pretends to be armless is to hide his undeniable identifying mark: the fact he has two thumbs on one hand. Deeply in love with his lovely assistant Nanon, who cannot bear the feel of a man’s arms around her, he decides to make the ultimate sacrifice. As this is a Chaney film, we have an inkling how it turns out.
At 8 pm comes his most famous role: Erik the Phantom, the vengeful composer from The Phantom of the Opera (1925). If you haven’t yet seen this one, I urge you to watch it. It’s been remade several times, and even became a Broadway musical, but none of the remakes can touch the original.
Actually, all the Chaney films should be seen, but as most of us can’t really spare the time, in addition to those titles listed above, here are the best of the day:
9:15 am –Oliver Twist. Chaney makes for an unforgettable Fagin in this 1922 production with Jackie Coogan in the title role.
6:30 pm –He Who Gets Slapped (1924). Chaney is brilliant scientist Paul Beaumont. On the eve of a great success, loses both his wife (Ruth Hall) and invention to Baron Regnard (Marc McDermott). Heartbroken, he decides to become a clown in the circus, where he falls in love with beautiful bareback rider Consuelo (Norma Shearer). Unfortunately for Chaney, she is in love with her handsome partner Bezano (John Gilbert). This marks one of Chaney’s greatest performances and is definitely one to see.
9:45 pm – Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928). Again Chaney is a circus clown. He adopts an orphan who grows up to be Loretta Young (in her first substantial role). When she discovers he is in love with her, she realizes she must choose between her devotion to him and wealthy nobleman Luigi (Nils Asther), who has asked her to marry him. The film is a perfect example of Chaney's unmatched talent for turning what could merely be an unabashed tearjerking melodrama into a heartbreaking tragedy without resorting to chewing tons of scenery.
11:15 pm – Tell It to the Marines (1926). A departure of sorts for Chaney as he plays a tough drill sergeant who becomes a rival of spoiled recruit William Haines for the love of Eleanor Boardman. Recommended because it marks one of the rare times Chaney performed sans some sort of grotesque makeup.
1:15 am – West Of Zanzibar (1928). Chaney stars as Flint in this adaptation of the Broadway hit Kongo. A magician known as Phroso, he’s an amiable music-hall entertainer known for his act with wife Anna (Jacqueline Gadsden). But when Anna runs away with wealthy ivory trader Crane (Lionel Barrymore), Phroso tumbles from a balcony during a fight with Crane, injuring his spine and rendering him unable to walk. Mrs. Flint passes away several months later, leaving behind a daughter names Maizie. Flint, believing Maizie is the love child of Anna and Crane, takes the child and runs off to East Africa. He has Maizie raised in a brothel, and sets up his own kingdom in the jungle, deceiving the locals with his magic tricks. Now known as “Dead-Legs,” he sends for Maizie (Mary Nolan) after she turns 18, telling her that she will finally meet her father. He treats her with open hatred, in the process turning her into an alcoholic. When he finally has his showdown scene with Crane, Flint learns that what he thought was so all these years really isn’t. This builds up to a major surprise for Flint in his relationship with Maizie. MGM remade the film in 1932 as Kongo, starring Walter Huston, who originated the part on Broadway. Those who think West of Zanzibar is extreme after seeing it should get a load of the remake. It actually goes beyond the silent version in depravity.
During his all-too-short career, Chaney was one of the most popular movie stars of his day. A popular joke of the era was was “Don't step on it; it might be Lon Chaney!” For many years, the cause of the cancer was thought to have been a piece of artificial snow, made out of crushed gypsum, that lodged in his throat during the filming of Thunder(1929), his last silent film. However, Chaney was a heavy smoker, whose habit was said to have reached four packs a day.
Chaney was one of those rare talents who could give life to a character without overdoing it. Again, we can only imagine what it might have been like had Chaney lived.
By Ed Garea
July’s TCM Spotlight for July is 50 Years of Hitchcock, and they’re showing just about every film the director made over the course of his career. Which films do we recommend? Why, all of them, of course. This is not to say that Hitchcock ever made a bad film. He did. Plenty of them. But a director’s bad films can be just as interesting, and can sometimes provide more insight into his inner workings. There are some of his silent works scheduled, especially for this fortnight, and we know that for some, silent films are anathema. Frankly, I have never understood it. There are also those at the opposite end on the pole who insist that not only are silent films superior, there has never been a bad one made. This argument, like the one some Pre-Code film fans give for their favorite, is pure fantasy. There are good and bad films in all genres, all styles of filmmaking. To deny this is to deny the power of film itself.
However, there are two shorts Hitchcock made in 1944 for England’s Ministry of Information. The first is Aventure malgache (Madagascan Adventure), airing at 4:30 am July 7. While preparing backstage, one of The Moliere players tells a castmate that his face reminds him of an opportunist turncoat he knew when he was in the Resistance. He then relates the adventure that he had in the Resistance, running an illegal radio station and dodging the Nazis in the Axis-controlled French colony of Madagascar.
The second short, Bon Voyage, immediately follows at 5:15 am. A young Scottish RAF gunner has made it back to England and is debriefed by French officials about his escape from occupied territory. In particular the officials are interested in one person who may or may not have been a German agent. Both shorts are directed in the immaculate Hitchcock style and are captivating to watch. Our advice is to record them for later.
As for Hitch, the schedule for this edition is July 5, 7, 12 and 14, all beginning at 8 pm.
July 2: At 2:30 am comes I Knew Her Well (1965), a story about a naive country girl (Stefania Sandrelli) who comes to Rome hoping to become a movie star and instead finds herself ignored, used and made fun of as those she meets hoping to get ahead only see her as an exploitable body. Sandrelli is amazing, injecting the part with passion and a knowledge beyond her years (she was 18 when she made the film). Think of La Dolce Vita without the Dolce. While she tries her best to socialize and befriend people, the results are disappointing and frustrating, as people ignore her, use her and make fun of her while exploiting her body and her good intentions. No one even grants her the small favor of taking her seriously. This could just come off as another girl comes to the big city and gets abused flick, but director Antonio Pietrangeli shoots the film in such a style that we fell as if we’re right there alongside Sandrelli. Mario Adorf and the versatile Jean-Claude Brialy co-star, but Sandrelli’s the show.
Speaking of Jean-Claude Brialy, Le Beau Serge (1958), the directorial debut of Claude Chabrol, follows at 4:45 am, a hell of a time to watch this engrossing drama. Record it, you won’t be sorry. Brialy is Francois, a sickly theology student who returns to his hometown for a recuperative rest only to find his best friend from youth, Serge (Gerard Blain), has become a drunkard trapped in a bad marriage. To make matters worse, Francois learns that his son was born a mongoloid, living just a short time, and his wife is pregnant again. The film is generally considered the first official film of the French New Wave, a point that is hotly debated, but the most important thing is that it is a riveting drama about a man who finds he cannot go home again. Shades of Thomas Wolfe.
July 9: A double feature from Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki features two of his wry comedies: Shadows in Paradise (1986), at 2:00 am, followed by Ariel (1989) at 3:30. The first concerns Nikander, a garbage man (Matti Pellonpaa) who falls head over heels for Ilona, a grocery store cashier (Kati Outinen). Their first date is a crashing bore for both, but when Ilona is fired and steals the company cash box, the only person she can think of for refuge is Nikander, and so she moves in with him, starting things off as a romance of convenience. But as time passes, feelings deepen into a love that transforms them both.
Ariel is the story of Taisto Kasurinen (Turo Pajala), a northern Finnish coal miner whose depressed friend gives him his old Cadillac just before going into the toilet and blowing his brains out. Taisto drives down to southern Finland, where muggers quickly relieve him of his life savings. He gets a job as a laborer, procures a bed in a Skid Row mission, and later strikes up an instant romance with a metermaid, who decides to toss away her parking tickets and go for a ride with him in the Cadillac. While meeting the metermaid may be seen as a stroke of luck for Taisto, life has other ideas, and film sees him suffering one misfortune after another. Think of a Finnish version of Detour, only not as optimistic.
July 8: The evening is devoted to one of my favorite directors, the brilliant James Whale, with four of his features. We begin with The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)at 8 pm, which is being shown on The Essentials. This should give fans a chance to decide on what the bigger horror is: Karloff and Lanchester or Essentials hosts Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey. We recommend using your fast-forward button to cut through the useless blather and get to the film, which is seen by many critics and historians alike as the greatest horror film ever made. And the irony is that it’s really a black comedy, with Whale taking jabs at religion, science and society in general. It was a film he wasn’t all that keen on making, fearing that he was being typecast as a horror director. But horror was where he shined, another irony. Watch for the amazing performance of Ernest Thesiger, who walks away with the film. And also look for a marvelous inside joke when Dr. Pretorious shows Henry Frankenstein his creations.
At 9:45 airs a film Whale was keen to make: The Man in the Iron Mask (1939). Based on the last of the D’Artagnan–Three Musketeers books by Alexandre Dumas, this story of a despotic king, his wronged identical twin brother, and the four heroes who devise a plan to free him from prison and place him on the throne has been filmed multiple times over the years, but Whale’s version may well be the best one. Louis Hayward does double duty as Louis XIV and his twin brother, Phillipe, while Joan Bennett plays Maria Theresa. Warren William is excellent as D’Artagnan, with Alan Hale as Porthos. In the hands of the stylish Whale, the film shines with vivid period detail, not to mention the many exciting moments.
At midnight it’s a film many would never associate with Whale: Show Boat (1936). But this is a film that benefited from the meticulous attention to detail and style that was a Whale hallmark. Irene Dunne and Allan Jones star, but the real star – and soul – of the movie is Paul Robeson, especially his stirring rendition of “Old Man River.”
The evening closes out at 2:15 am with Whale’s sardonic version of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man (1933). In a typical Whale irony, it marked the first starring role for Claude Rains, who wasn’t seen until the last few seconds of the film, being invisible up till then. Despite this, Rains was brilliant, expressing himself solely through the use of his voice. It’s one of my favorite films and one I can watch again and again.
On July 10, the day is devoted to John Gilbert. The morning begins at 6 am with Gilbert and Renee Adoree in La Boheme (1926). Adoree is a seamstress in love with would-be playwright Gilbert among the downtrodden in 1830s Paris. At 8 am, A Woman of Affairs (1928), with co-star Greta Garbo. At 10:45 am it’s the film that made Gilbert a star: King Vidor’s World War I drama, The Big Parade (1925). One of the best films ever made about “The War to End All Wars,” Gilbert is an innocent enlistee who learns about the horrors of war firsthand. Adoree is the French farm girl who loves him. Forget about it being a silent. Tune in for some of the most realistic battle scenes ever filmed.
At 1:30 pm comes the first of two talkies on the bill. Way For a Sailor (1930), sees Gilbert as a dedicated sailor torn between his love of the sea and his love for Joan (Leila Hyams). As Leonard Maltin says in his review, it’s mainly for fans of early talkies.
Ah, but following right after, at 3:00 pm comes my favorite Gilbert film and the one I think is his best. In Downstairs (1932) he’s a heel chauffeur who sleeps and schemes his way from one wealthy household to another. His performance should put the lie to the oft repeated accusation that Gilbert wasn’t made for the talkies. It was studio politics that did Gilbert in, not the tenor of his voice.
Closing out the day at 6 pm is Gilbert’s first pairing with Garbo, Flesh and the Devil (1926). Reputedly, the scene at the train station was the first time Gilbert had ever laid eyes on his co-star and it was love – hot passionate love – for both at first sight. That day he decided to leave his wife. And if you want to see chemistry, take a gander at this film. They weren’t faking it.
July 12: For those enamored with Pre-Code movies, who think nothing was as honest or daring, I invite you to take a look at Way Back Home (1931), airing at 10:30 am. Starring Phillips Lord as Seth Parker and based on his cracker barrel drama radio show A Prairie Home Companion, it is insufferably dull, filled with homespun honor that wasn’t funny back then. Look for Bette Davis (her fourth film) in a minor role as Seth’s neighbor. I expect the Pre-Code junkies to write in and defend this as great cinematic art.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
As always, there’s a good selection of psychotronic films.
July 1: A morning double-feature of The Mummy (1932) with the one and only Karloff at 6:30 am, followed by Charles Laughton in 1933’s Island of Lost Souls at 7:45 am. Following at 10:30 am is Chester Morris as Boston Blackie in The Chance of a Lifetime (1943), Blackie helps ex-cons adjust to life as defense workers. But always something goes wrong...
July 8: Boston Blackie helps the police recover a stolen Egyptian diamond in One Mysterious Night (1944). For those having trouble sleeping we have just the remedy: Gymkata (1985), starring the unforgettable Kurt Thomas, will be showing at 3:45 am.
July 13: An entire day of psychotronic films begins at 6 am with Peter Lorre in Mad Love (1935). Following at 7:30 am is The Hidden Hand (1942), a send-up of old dark house mysteries concerning a group of greedy heirs called to the mansion for the reading of the will. At 8:45 am comes Bela Lugosi’s only color film, Scared to Death (1947). Bored to Death would be more like it. It’s as lifeless as the corpse around which the plot revolves. At 10 am come one of Val Lewton’s best: The Seventh Victim (1943), centered around a Satanic cult in Greenwich Village and a young woman’s search for her missing sister. At 11:15 Boris Karloff and wife Catherine Lacey live vicariously through decadent playboy Ian Ogilvy in The Sorcerers (1967). Worth a watch.
The afternoon kicks off with one of the strangest films ever made: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962). Filmed in 1959 but not released (or escaped) until 1962, this is a genuine laff riot. Demented doc Jason (Herb) Evers, racing to his mountain hideaway with fiancee Virginia Leith, ends up in a car crash that decapitates his fiancee. Clutching her head in his jacket he makes like O.J. Simpson for the house, where he puts her head in a roasting pan supported by wires and tubes while he goes out looking for a suitable body. Meanwhile his monster – kept in a closet – is getting antsy. The best version is the MST 3000 version, but for those who like their crap straight, this will do fine.
At 2:15 comes Christopher Lee and Betta St. John in Horror Hotel (1960), followed by another Lewton production, The Leopard Man(1943) at 3:45 pm. Closing out the day is the Australian horror, The Plumber (1979) at 5:00 pm, followed by Karloff and Jack Nicholson in Roger Corman’s lethargic The Terror (1963) at 6:30 pm.
July 15:Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945) airs at 10:30 am, while Hammer’s excellent Five Million Years to Earth (1968) is scheduled for 6 pm.
At 2:30 am Stacy Keach and Jason Miller star in The Ninth Configuration (1980), followed by Peter Breck as a reporter who feigns insanity to solve a murder committed in an asylum in Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963).
By Ed Garea
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal by Terry Teachout focuses on TCM’s venture with the folks at Fathom Events in bringing classic films to big screen in multiplexes across the country. This is especially important in that many revival houses are dying out. Yes, big-screen TVs make it easier to watch letterboxed films (watching such a film on a 19-inch TV is like looking through the wrong end of telescope), but take it from one who’s been – there is nothing like watching a classic film on a big screen with an audience. Since my college days I’ve spent more time than I care to remember watching classic films in revival houses in New Jersey and New York City. In grad school my friend, Jean-Paul Garrieux and I spent many an hour glued to the screen at whatever revival house was playing what we were looking for. From Ivan the Terrible, Part 2 to Jules and Jim to Horse Feathers to Detour, we saw as many as time permitted. One of my happiest times was when I took my late wife to Radio City Music Hall to see a special showing of Casablanca, her favorite film, for her birthday. (It was actually playing a week before. She was blown away by seeing it for the first time on the big screen in a theater packed to the brim, 6,000 capacity). Preceding the film was a new (at the time) cartoon from Warner’s called Carrotblanca, a send up of the movie with Bugs, Daffy, Tweety, Sylvester and the gang. The audience ate it up. When the film came on, all was quiet except for the reaction to one scene when Major Strasser asks Rick if he can see the Germans marching into his beloved New York City. When Rick answered by advising Strasser that there were some parts of New York it wasn’t safe to invade, the house exploded in laughter. Everyone there knew the line was coming. That’s what made it so special. As I said, my wife absolutely loved it on the big screen, and later, at the restaurant, we found ourselves seated next to another couple that had seen it. We ended up putting our tables together and discussing the movie over dinner. Such is the big screen experience.
Here’s Teachout describing his experience:
“For me, though, it was even more instructive to watch North by Northwest in the company of a theater full of other people, many of whom were clearly seeing the film for the first time. When you’re watching it by yourself, it’s easy to forget that North by Northwest is less a cloak-and-dagger adventure story than a high romantic comedy with a light glaze of thriller sauce. Why is this the case? Because most of us tend not to laugh out loud when we’re alone. Not so the audience with whom I saw it last week. Instead of sitting somberly like a bunch of grim-faced graduate students, we all hooted at Ernest Lehman’s fizzy, flawlessly timed one- and two-liners (“I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me”). We even clapped at the end! That’s what the Big Screen Classics series is all about: It’s a priceless reminder of what we miss by watching classic films at home instead of on a big screen in the company of a happy audience.”
David also has taken advantage of TCM’s program and saw one of his favorites, Planet of the Apes, at a multiplex. He explains his experience: Planet of the Apes is one of my all-time favorite films, one I've seen about 50 times. I own the original Planet five-movie series on DVD. Yet watching it so many times on TV is nothing in comparison to seeing it on the big screen. The film comes alive and it's a completely different experience – and in a lot of ways a completely different movie – than the one I've watched over the past several decades. You can take in the entire film and enjoy it in the way it was meant to be shown in a theater. When I went, there were barely a dozen people in the theater, but I was fortunate to go with a fellow Ape movie lover. The two of us recited several of the lines – it was such an empty theater that no one was nearby – and even gasped at the end of the film even though we knew exactly what was coming. I would highly recommend watching a classic film in a theater setting, particularly if it's one you love. (Read our essay on the film here.)
Other films from TCM and Fathom Events this year are as follows:
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Sunday, July 30 & Wednesday, August 2)
Bonnie And Clyde (Sunday, August 13 & Wednesday, August 16)
E.T. (Sunday, September 17 & Wednesday, September 20)
The Princess Bride (Sunday, October 15 & Wednesday, October 18)
Casablanca (Sunday, November 12 & Wednesday, November 15)
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Sunday, December 10 & Wednesday, December 13)
There’s something for everybody here. So take a date, your wife, or your family. It really is an experience of a lifetime.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
June 18: As usual, the best movies of the day begin at 2:00 am. And at that hour we begin with Wong Kar Wei’s Chungking Express (1994), a beguiling mixture of comedy, romance and drama. It can be best described as a “slice of life” film. In separate episodes, two rather melancholy policemen happen to fall in love. In the first story, which highlights the sadder side of love, Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who has just broken up with his girlfriend of five years, falls for a mysterious underworld figure (Brigitte Lin). In the second part, Cop 663 (Tony Leung) has also suffered a breakup and forms a relationship with a beautiful woman (Faye Wong) who works at the counter of a late-night restaurant he frequents. The setting of the film draws us in. Chungking is presented as a multicultural place and we hear dialogue in Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and Indian throughout the film. Both the acting and script are first rate, with the romance being applied in the right places instead of being allowed to dominate and pull the film down. Those who haven’t seen it will find it a nice surprise and quite compelling.
Following at 4:00 am is director Luchino Visconti’s Le Notti Bianche (White Nights, 1961). Based on “White Nights,” an early story written in 1848 by Dostoevsky, it revolves around two main characters, Natalia (Maria Schell) and Mario (Marcello Mastroianni), who live in the Italian city of Livorno, located on the Tuscan coast. Mario is a lonely, soulful man, happiest when simply wandering through the streets each evening. Natalia also is lonely: besides being shy she lives with her blind grandmother, who is so protective that she pins their skirts together. Thus Natalia can't so go anywhere at all without alerting the old lady. They meet when he hears a woman crying in the street and walks over so see what is going on. It’s Natalia, who quickly warms to him after he scares off a bothersome man and comforts her by admitting how timid he is around strangers. They decide to meet at the same spot the next evening, where they learn more about each other.
Natalia’s life is changed, and she begins a relationship with new boarder (Jean Marais) who has rented a room in her grandmother's house. She falls passionately in love with him, but he’s leaving for Moscow, where he hopes to improve his lot in life. He promises to come back in exactly a year and marry her if she's willing. Now the year is up and Natalia hasn't heard a word from him since he left. She fears she has lost him forever and opens up about this to Mario, who realizes that he loves her deeply, but uses this love to betray her by destroying a letter he has promised to deliver to her lover imploring him to return. Unaware of his actions, Natalia starts returning Mario’s affection, lending hope to his fondest dreams. However, her missing lover suddenly turns up. Though he’s three days late, he’s still head over heels about Maria. The story ends as it began, with Mario walking alone with only his thoughts on the darkening street.
June 24: Jean-Luc Godard takes us into the world of the absurd in Weekend (1968), itself airing at the absurd hour of 4:15 am. A husband and wife (Jean Yanne and Mireille Darc) are plotting the murder of her parents so they can get their hands on the inheritance money. That weekend they must travel to the parents’ home to pull of the murder. But along the route they watch a pair of drivers attack each other in the street, not realizing that soon they will be descending into a certain kind of hell as Godard weaves an absurdist nightmare. This was made as he began to deviate from the standard plot to delve into the pure absurd. Most of the movie is incomprehensible to a casual viewer and you will find yourself having to pay attention. Is it worth it? That is a question only the viewer can answer. Consider yourself warned.
June 25: Pierre Etaix co-wrote, directed, and stars in Yo Yo (1965), a gentle and very funny comedy about the son of a ruined (in the 1929 crash) millionaire and his love, a horse rider in the circus. Their son, Yo Yo, dreams of restoring his father’s castle to the splendor he remembers from childhood. After World War II, Yo Yo resumes his career, becoming an international star of music halls, the cinema, and television. After spending a fortune realizing his dream, he gives a huge party to welcome his father and mother back to the castle, but thing do not go as he planned. Etaix was a disciple of Jacques Tati and worked as a writer on Mon Oncle (1958). The film reflects the influence on Etaix of Chaplin, Lloyd, and Laurel and Hardy. I think it’s safe to say that Etaix is not like those who came before him and he is just as funny without becoming maudlin in the process. Give it a view.
June 20: Louis Wolheim, he of the battered nose and bulldog look, is having an evening dedicated to his films. At 8:00 pm it’s Gentleman’s Fate (1931). Louis is a gangster whose sheltered brother, John Gilbert, is left half of his father’s bootlegging business when their father contracts a fatal dose of lead poisoning. At 9:45 pm Wolheim is bootleg king Nick Scarsi in the silent classic, The Racket (1928), directed by Lewis Milestone. At 11:30 pm Wolheim is a railroad boss who gives a job to a drifter and regrets it when the drifter begins moving in on his girl, Jean Arthur in Danger Lights (1930), a film for railroad buffs. At 1:00 am Wolheim’s a lusty ship captain put in his place by passenger Mary Astor in The Sin Ship (1931). Louis and William Boyd fight to escape the Germans while fighting over Mary Astor in the silent Two Arabian Knights (1927). Finally, at 4:15 am, Wolheim looks on as Joel McCrea is trapped between shady lady Evelyn Brent and good girl Jean Arthur in The Silver Horde (1930).
June 23: Catch Fred and Ginger in the film that made them Fred and Ginger, Flying Down to Rio (1933), at 11:30 am. Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond were the stars, but all eyes were on Fred and Ginger and the amazing chemistry they generated.
June 24: At the early hour of seven in the morning It’s Robert Flaherty’s amazing documentary, Man of Aran, from 1934. Flaherty examines the lives of the native of the barren Aran Islands, located in Galway Bay, north of Ireland, and the daily struggle for existence they face battling the sea from which they get their sustenance. Some of the scenes at sea are truly breathtaking.
June 27: At 8:00 am it’s the excellent drama, What Price Hollywood? from 1932. Lowell Sherman is a drunken director who helps waitress Constance Bennet gain a foothold the business. She rises to become a star while he sinks ever deeper into an alcoholic morass. Leonard Maltin says it’s a sharp-eyed look at behind-the-scenes Hollywood and helped to inspire the 1937 A Star is Born.
June 29: A bloc of Pre-Codes begins at 8:30 am with the Joan Blondell-Stuart Erwin comedy, Make Me a Star (1932). Erwin is a grocery clerk who, after taking a mail-order acting course, decides to go out to Hollywood and try his luck. Blondell is a sympathetic actress who gets him a job in a Western parody. The only problem is that no one bothers to tell the poor guy that he’s the comic relief.
Following at 10:15 am is Man Hunt (1933), a run-of-the-mill programmer about a teen detective (Junior Durkin) who helps the daughter (Charlotte Henry) of a jewel thief.
At 11:30 am it’s Richard Dix and Elizabeth Allen in No Marriage Ties, from RKO in 1933. Dix is a sports reporter who gets drunk in a speakeasy and forgets his assignment, for which he is fired. For solace he returns to the speakeasy, where he overhears two men discussing a toothpaste ad campaign. He saunters over and rattles off a number of clever slogans and so impresses them that he is hired as a copywriter. Soon he rises to partner, which is the beginning of his downfall. It’s not much of a picture, but Dix, as always, gives an excellent performance.
And rounding things out at 1:00 pm, it’s Ginger Rogers in Rafter Romance (1933), a comedy about a sales clerk (Rogers) who falls for a night shift worker (Foster) with our realizing they share the same apartment. The film was thought to be “lost,” but it was rediscovered and restored by TCM. Turns out it was one of six RKO film that were removed from the studio’s library when they were sold to former studio executive Merian C. Cooper in 1946.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
June 17: When he’s framed for robbery, Chester Morris sets out to find the real thief in Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942), at 10:30 am.
At 2:00 am TCM once again runs the awful double feature of Punk Vacation (1990), followed by Killer Party (1986) at 3:35 am. C'mon, TCM, these flicks have been repeated enough over the year. Give it a rest. I love psychotronic films, but enough is enough.
June 21: Dementia 13 (1963), an early effort from Francis Ford Coppola for Roger Corman, airs at 4:45 pm.
June 23:Ride the Wild Surf (1964), starring Fabian and Shelley Fabares, will be shown at 9:30 am. At 5:00 am those interested can catch Gidget Goes to Rome (1963), with Cindy Carol as the title character and James Darren returning as Moondoggie. It was the last appearance for Gidget in the movies. Next stop, a television series in 1965.
June 27: A James Caan double feature begins at 8:00 pm with the dystopian Rollerball (1975), followed immediately by his turn as a stranded astronaut in Robert Altman’s Countdown (1968).
June 28: A bloc of psychotronic classics begins at 11:45 am with Bela Lugosi in White Zombie(1932). At 1:00 pm it’s Joel McCrea and Leslie Banks in the wonderful The Most Dangerous Game (1932). Charles Laughton is magnificent in Island of Lost Souls (1933) at 2:15 pm. Following at 3:30, Eric Porter and Hildegard Knef lead a crew of stranded sailors on Hammer’s The Lost Continent (1968), where they battle man-eating seaweed, giant crabs, and Spanish conquistadors who still think the Inquisition is on. Finally, Boris Karloff stars in Val Lewton’s grim tale of the plague during the Balkan Wars, Isle of the Dead (1945), at 5:00 pm.
BAD MOVIE ALERT!
June 16: At 7:45 am comes one of the great stinkers of the screen, a movie that’s a perfect combination of unintended humor mixed with the right amount of camp. It’s none other than Liberace himself in Sincerely Yours (WB, 1955). In this wild remake of the 1932 drama, The Man Who Played God, starring George Arliss. Liberace stars as a concert pianist (What else?) who loses his hearing. Like Arliss in the original, Lib sits in the balcony of his apartment with a pair of binoculars watching the people in the park across the street. Learning lip reading, he learns of their problems and being the great guy he is, helps them all out – even his secretary, who has fallen for another man. It’s a campy schmaltzfest, and the hospital scene near the end when Lib has his operation and the doctor is testing to see if his hearing has returned, is an absolute hoot, as is the ending with Lib tap dancing for all his wonderful fans. Warner’s originally had Liberace signed to multi-picture deal, but after the returns on this turkey, they decided to forget about it. David and I recommend you record this for later viewing, as it’s best viewed by a group along with plenty of popcorn and drinks. Smart remarks back to the screen are always welcome. How this ever missed out being on Mystery Science Theater is beyond us.
By Ed Garea
June is busting out all over, with some real gems among the usual.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
June 4: A double feature from Spain begins at 2:00 am with Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989). Antonio Banderas is Ricky, a mentally unbalanced man who takes porn star Marina (Victoria Abril) prisoner in the hope that he’ll be able to convince her to marry him. Though I usually complain about quality foreign films being buried in the Sunday Night Graveyard Shift, this is a good example of a film that should be shown at this hour. Originally rated X, the rating was changed with the introduction of NC-17. The reason for the rating was a sexually explicit scene of Marina being aroused by a toy diver in the bathtub. As TCM has a policy of not editing movies, I wonder if they’ll go through with this showing. Only one way to find out . . .
Following at 4:00 am is Barrios altos (1987), from director José Luis García Berlanga, a story of a recently divorced woman (Victoria Abril) drawn into danger when Carlos (Abel Folk), her masseuse, is murdered. He had left her a message on her answering machine with directions to pick up a package. She must find his killer before the killer finds her.
June 9: One of the most sublime comedies ever made, Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), is airing at 3:45 am. Read our essay on it here. It’s followed by Cours du sour (Evening Classes, 1967), a short with star Jacques Tati as a teacher instructing his acting class about the subtleties of certain types of people. Though his students are eager, they’re not very talented.
June 10: At 4:00 am it’s Shirley Clarke’s The Connection (1962), a unique independent effort chronicling a day in the lives of New York junkies. Eight addicts are waiting in the apartment of Leach (Warren Finnerty) for Cowboy (Carl Lee), their dealer, to deliver their heroin. Aspiring young filmmaker, Jim Dunn (William Redfield) agrees to pay for the heroin if the addicts will allow him and his cameraman, J.J. Burden (Roscoe Lee Browne) to film the connection scene. After the men get their fixes, they talk Dunn into trying heroin so that he may obtain a “first hand” understanding of the subject. He becomes ill and while sleeping, Leach takes an overdose that puts him into a coma. Dunn recovers, with the aid of Cowboy, and writes off the film as a failure, handing over the footage to J.J. It’s dated, it frequently wanders off track, but it still makes for interesting viewing.
June 11: Two compelling films from Japan that are definitely off the beaten track. First up at 2:00 am is Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun zankoku monogatari, 1960), a hard-edged portrait of two delinquents who specialize in blackmail. Makoto (Miyuki Kuwano) is a disaffected high school girl who spends her evenings hanging out in a bar, then hitching a ride home with whatever man she's met. One night the man who gives her a lift isn't content with dropping her off, but tries to force himself on her. A stranger named Kiyoshi (Yûsuke Kawazu) comes along. He not only beats the assailant up, but gets the man to pay him to keep quiet. But this is no story of a knight riding to the rescue of a lady in distress. They turn this first encounter into a regular money-making scheme, with Makoto luring middle-aged men into compromising situations so Kiyoshi can "save" her and extort their cash. Makoto also becomes pregnant with Kiyoshi's child. Makoto's older sister’s onetime boyfriend, an idealistic physician, gives Makoto an abortion at Kiyoshi's insistence. It’s not a film that ends well, as writer-director Nagisa Oshima sets out to show how a materialistic society plants seeds of amorality and angst in its younger generation. It’s sort of like Rebel Without a Cause, but with a much, much sharper edge.
Following at 4:00 am is Oshima’s 1970 opus, Boy (Shonen), a story based on a real-life case of a 10-year-old boy whose World War II veteran father and stepmother make their living by pretending to be hit by cars and extorting money from the drivers. Because of the nature of their trade, the family moves frequently from town to town, living a feast-or-famine existence. Eventually, the boy (his parents never refer to him by name, but only as "Boy") learns the ins and outs and joins the family business.
June 12: At 1:45 pm, the astonishing political film, The Battle of Algiers (1966) airs. Given all that happening today vis-a-vis international terrorism, the film remains as relevant as the day it was made and is a must see.
POWELL AND PRESSBURGER
One of the most enduring and creative partnerships in the history of the movies has been that of director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger. Their films, noted for their humanity, always managed to involve the human mind while touching the human heart, without recourse to the overly sentimental or the obvious.
June 14: A night of the famous duo’s films commences at 8:00 pm with the classic A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven, 1947). David Niven is unforgettable as an injured RAF pilot during World War II who must argue his case to go on living before a celestial court.
At 10:00 pm it’s their classic of human drama, Black Narcissus (1947), a harrowing tale of Episcopal about nuns trying to establish a mission in a remote Himalayan outpost while faced not only with formidable physical challenges, but challenges to the human spirit as well. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography won an Oscar, as did art director Alfred Junge. As with all of their films the human drama is intensified by the quality of the acting from an impressive cast that includes Deborah Kerr, Sabu, Flora Robson, and Jean Simmons.
Hour of Glory (1949) follows at midnight., a seldom seen, but harrowing tale of an embittered bomb disposal officer in World War II London who must fight the demons that come with alcohol. Jack Hawkins, David Farrar and Kathleen Byron star. This film truly fits the definition of Forgotten Gem.
At 2:00 am is scheduled one of the duo’s most subtle excursions into the residency of the human spirit, I Know Where I’m Going (1945), a story about a headstrong young woman (Wendy Hiller) whose plan in life is to marry for money. Stranded in a Scottish seacoast town, her plans are interrupted when she meets naval officer Roger Livesay. There’s very little plot to speak of, but it’s the abundance of charm and wit that draws us into this beautifully scripted character study.
Finally, at 3:45 am, comes on of their most overlooked and underrated gems, A Canterbury Tale (1944), a wonderful examination of the nature of miracles set along the road made so famous by Chaucer. A visiting Tommy (Dennis Price) teams with an American sergeant (John Sweet) and a farm girl (Sheila Sim) to solve the mystery of the “Glueman,” a mysterious figure who pours glue into women’s hair. They are aided by the local magistrate (Eric Portman) as their search takes them to Canterbury, where their miracles are granted. This is an extraordinary film, moving in its subtlety and one that should best be recorded, due to its late hour.
June 1: A morning of four Pre-Code films featuring Frank Morgan begins at 6:00 am with the rarely shown Secrets of the French Police (1932), a mystery about crimes committed why hypnotized women that unfortunately becomes entangled in its own plot. Gwili Andre, Gregory Ratoff and Murray Kinnell star along with Morgan. At 7:15 am it’s the tepid musical Broadway to Hollywood (1933) with Morgan as a vaudevillian played at different times in his life by Jackie Cooper and the young Mickey Rooney. It’s followed at 8:45 by the gem of the bunch, The Half-Naked Truth (1933) with the irrepressible Lee Tracy as a carnival pitchman who turns sideshow dancer Lupe Velez into an overnight sensation. Morgan turns in a wonderful performance as a nervous Ziegfeld type and the always excellent Eugene Palette is escape artist Achilles. The morning wraps up at 10:15 with The Cat and the Fiddle (1934), a musical gem based on a Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein operetta about a struggling composer (Ramon Novarro) in love with a singer (Jeanette MacDonald). Frank Morgan throws monkey wrenches into Novarro’s careful constructed plans.
June 3: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is a down on his luck con artist who finds a suitcase full of money in Union Station (1932), airing at 1:00 am. Joan Blondell is excellent as a stranded chorus girl Fairbanks ultimately helps. A nice little fast-paced gem of a movie.
June 5: Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper star in the best adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s World War I drama, A Farewell to Arms (1932), airing at 2:15 pm. But as our David Skolnick points out in his synopsis, it’s Adolphe Menjou who steals the movie right out from under them.
June 6: Loretta Young stars in Midnight Mary (1933), William Wellman’s drama of an abused orphan who enters a life of crime, at 12:30 pm. Ricardo Cortez and Franchot Tone co-star.
June 9: William Powell is Philo Vance in the excellent The Kennel Murder Case (1933), solving what looks like a suicide. Mary Astor and the reliable Eugene Pallette provide sterling support. Michael Curtiz directs. (Read our essay on it here.) The film is showing at noon.
At 1:30 pm Bette Davis is a party hardy who gets involved in a stolen securities scheme and meets an ignoble end in Fog Over Frisco (1934). Margaret Lindsay is her sober stepsister. Donald Woods also stars.
Ending the trio is not only one of the best Pre-Code films ever made, but one of the best films, period. It’s none other William Powell and Myrna Loy in the mystery, The Thin Man (1934). Forget about the plot. Who cares about the plot? We’re here to see Powell and Loy in action. ‘Nuff said.
June 12: At 8:15 am it’s the movie that destroyed Lee Tracy’s career as a headliner: Viva Villa (1934). This tale about Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa (Wallace Beery) is more notable what what happened offscreen than for what took place on it. Tracy, who had a long standing problem with alcohol, stood stark naked on a Mexico City hotel balcony and urinated on some Mexican cadets standing below, creating an international incident and necessitating his replacement by Stuart Erwin.
June 14: Joel McCrea falls for soon-to-be sacrificial pawn Dolores Del Rio in Bird of Paradise (1932) at 7:15 am. (It’s repeated on July 19 at 7:45 am.) Following at 8:45 am is the creaky Girl of the Port (1930). Set in Fiji, stranded showgirl Josie (Sally O’Neil) meets shellshocked veteran Jim (Reginald Sharland) and brings him back to health.
June 15: A trio of Pre-Code films begins at 7:30 am with William Powell in the rarely shown Private Detective 62 (1933). He’s a private eye in Paris who falls hard for the woman (Margaret Lindsay) he’s investigating. At 8:45 am the one and only Greta Garbo stars as the one and only spy Mata Hari(1932). And at noon, Marion Davies and Gary Cooper star in the Civil Way spy drama Operator 13 (1934).
EDGAR G. ULMER
TCM devotes an entire evening to the films of noted psychotronic director Edgar G. Ulmer, a man who frequently had to make $10,000 look like $1,000,000.
June 6: We begin at 8:00 pm with Ulmer’s classic expressionistic horror story, The Black Cat (1934), marking the first teaming of Lugosi and Karloff. Next is The Cavern (1965, 9:15 pm), a war drama about soldiers and civilians trapped in a cave full of supplies in Italy. John Saxon, Rosanna Schiaffino and Larry Hagman star.
The evening moves on with The Naked Dawn (1955) at 11:00 pm. It’s a modern Western starring Eugene Iglesias and Betta St. John as a Mexican couple whose life is upended by the appearance of charming bandit Santiago (Arthur Kennedy) who has eyes for the missus. This is a film beloved by Ulmer fans and is definitely worth a peek.
At 12:45 am comes Ulmer’s sci-fi classic The Man From Planet X (1951), about an alien whose initial intent is friendly, but who turns deadly when scientist Dr. Mears (William Schallert) takes him prisoner with intent to exploit him. It takes a close look to see just how cheap this production is. Ulmer does a fantastic job of hiding much of the cheapness through the use of a fog machine to approximate the Scottish moors. It’s also a treat to see Schallert as the bad guy and with more than a couple of lines to recite.
TCM airs Detour (1945) following at 2:15 am. A study of fate, it stars Tom Neal and Ann Savage, who gives one of the most unforgettable performances in the history of movies. Critics have hailed it as the greatest B-movie ever made, and I have to agree. Following right after at 3:45 am is Her Sister’s Secret (1946), competent weepie with Margaret Lindsay as a woman who adopts her sister’s illegitimate child, only to see the GI father show up intent on starting a family.
The evening closes with one of Ulmer’s ultra-cheapies, The Amazing Transparent Man (1960). Megalomaniac ex-Army major Paul Krenner (James Griffith) forces scientist Dr. Peter Ulof (Ivan Triesault) to develop a radiation-based technique to turn men invisible, a technique he plans to sell to the highest bidder. In need of more radium for the treatment Krenner breaks safecracker Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy) out of prison and subjects him to the invisibility treatment to make it impossible to catch him. But the treatment has a side effect no one counted on.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
There is seemingly something for everyone in this month’s selection of psychotronic movies.
June 2: John Carradine stars as Reinhard Heydrich in Douglas Sirk’s excellent Hitler’s Madman(1943) at 10:30 am, about the assassination of the Nazi leader in Prague by Czech resistance agents. Following at noon, Christopher Lee is Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966).
June 3: At 4:15 pm TCM is screening James Whale’s Classic, Frankenstein (1931). Later, beginning at 2:00 am, it’s Jeanne Bell and Rosanne Katon lead a band of female pirates who go undercover at a prison camp on a coffee plantation to rescue their leader's sister in The Muthers (1976). Jayne Kennedy is also in the cast. It’s followed at 4:15 am by the beautiful Tamara Dobson who takes on the scene-chewing Shelley Winters in the Blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones (1973).
June 5: Vincent Price headlines the William Castle shocker House on Haunted Hill (1958) at 10:45 am, followed by Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu in The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) at 12:15 pm.
June 8: Escaped convicts hold hostages in a ghost town that's the target of a nuclear bomb test in Split Second (1953) from RKO at 8:45 am. At 4:45 pm Wayne Morris, Brenda Marshall and Alexis Smith headline The Smiling Ghost (1941), followed by Eleanor Parker and Sydney Greenstreet in the eerie The Woman in White (1948),
June 10: Reporter Lee Tracy investigates “the full moon murders” in Doctor X (1932) at 6:00 am. (Read our essay on it here.) Then it’s John Carradine, John Agar and Jean Byron in Invisible Invaders (1959). At 10:30 am Chester Morris sets out to prove the innocence of escaped convict Larry Parks in Alias Boston Blackie (1942).
June 11: Framed murder suspect Alan Curtis need the help of a mystery woman to prove his innocence in the excellent Phantom Lady (1944) at 10:00 am. Franchot Tone and Ella Raines co-star.
June 13: Marlene Dietrich and Arthur Kennedy star in Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious (1952) at 4:15 am.
June 14: TCM devotes an afternoon to the Psychotronic beginning at 1:00 pm with Roger Corman’s Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961). Following in order are Tod Browning’s The Devil-Doll(1936); the absurd tale of a killer tree in From Hell It Came(1957); and Val Lewton’s lyrical I Walked With a Zombie (1943). Finally, at 6:15 pm the Dave Clark Five star in John Boorman’s Having a Wild Weekend (1965), a different kind of pop idols movie as the band play disaffected stuntmen. Recommended.
June 2: Mickey Mouse and friends battle Hollywood stars in a polo match in Mickey’s Polo Team (1936) at 12:30 am.
By Ed Garea
TCM SPOTLIGHT: CREATURE FEATURES
As readers are no doubt aware, Dennis Miller has been hosting this month’s Spotlight. I like Dennis Miller, but not as a horror/sci-fi host. It’s sad watching him read the idiot cards and pretend to be something of an expert. Here’s an idea, TCM. Why not get a real expert instead of merely plugging another celebrity in as a host? One of the directions TCM has taken that annoys me no end is the use of celebrities as hosts. They know nothing, except how to pose. TCM needs a regular host for its Underground and special horror/sci-fi showings. Hey TCM, it’s not as if there’s no one out there. How about Michael H. Price, Gary Don Rhodes, Michael Weldon, Gary Svehla, Tom Weaver, John McCarty, Bill Warren, Danny Peary, Philip J. Riley and Gregory William Mank, for starters? Hell, why not spend the money you delegated for Miller and hire Stephen King? Remember him? I’m tired of the station dumbing us down. It’s supposed to be a channel that promotes movies. Such promotion includes knowledge, and celebrities are, for the most part, hired for their faces.
If TCM had been pursuing its current policy when it began we might never have had the wonderful Robert Osborne. Nor, probably, would we have the delightful Ben Mankiewicz. Think about it. Also remember that the best season of The Essentials was the first, when Bob had the informative Molly Haskell as co-host.
May 18: Start the evening at 8 pm with the excellent sci-fi classic and Red scare film, Them! (1954). Then follow it at 9:45 with the Americanized version of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), a sanitized version of the 1954 Gojira with Raymond Burr talking to the backs of actor’s heads. At 11:30 pm it’s the classic It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), starring Kenneth Tobey, Donald Curtis, and the drop dead gorgeous Faith Domergue, who probably connived a lot of us young males that watched it to take an interest in science. Apart from Faith, the highlight of the film was the giant octopus, created by master animator Ray Harryhausen. As the executive producer was “Jungle” Sam Katzman, one of the side joys of the flick is to count the number of legs on the octopus. Experts disagree as to whether there were five or six legs on the beast. Sam certainly wasn’t going to pay for eight.
At 1 am comes the intelligently done, though budget challenged, The Giant Behemoth (1959), director Eugene Lourie’s remake of his The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Gene Evans and Andre Morrell (World’s Luckiest Man: he was married to the delectable Joan Greenwood) are on the track of a giant dinosaur who has somehow become radioactive. The animation is by the heralded Willis O’Brien (King Kong) who, at this point in his career was dogged by limited budgets for his wonderfully constructed stop-motion creations.
At 2:30 am we go straight to the ridiculous. The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues (1955). A mad scientist has a pet monster that lurks in the shallows attacking unwary scuba divers and fishermen who get too close to his lair. The monster soon takes a back seat to a script filled with secret experiments, kinky characters, espionage, threats and paranoia that are all linked to a mysterious beam of radioactive light emanating from the ocean floor. To quote critic Michael Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film: “Spies, an underwater death ray, and a laughable puppet monster are dispersed by hero Kent Taylor. It was co-billed with Corman’s The Day the World Ended, making that movie look great by comparison.” If that doesn’t make you want to watch, nothing does.
Finally, at 4 am, it’s a different sort of monster from producer Ivan Tors. The Magnetic Monster (1953) stars Richard Carlson and King Donovan as investigators from the government’s Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI). They are on the track of a radioactive element that could destroy the world, the creation of scientist Leonard Mudie in his atomic laboratory located above a hardware store(!). Dangerously unstable, it must be “fed” larger and larges quantities of electric energy to remain stable. Otherwise – Boom! The massive top secret subterranean “deltatron” used to try to stop the monster is lifted from the 1934 German production of Gold from UFA. Despite the budget shortcuts it remains one of the most intelligent of the ‘50s sci-fi flicks. Director Herbert L. Strock, who is uncredited, took over from original director Curt Siodmak after Tors fired him.
May 25: The Spotlight closes out, beginning at 8 pm with the superb and underrated Tarantula (1955). It’s notable for being one of John Agar’s best performances. Mara Corday and Leo G. Carroll co-star. At 9:30 it’s the subpar Return of the Fly (1959), with Vincent Price, followed by The Cosmic Monster (1958) at 11:15 pm. (Read our essay on it here.)
At 12:45 am it’s Roger Corman’s ridiculously entertaining The Wasp Woman (1960), starring the unjustly forgotten Susan Cabot. At 2:00 am it’s the overrated Swamp Thing (1982). And to close out the festival, it’s Texas radio mogul Gordon McClendon’s dismal attempt at making product for his drive-in theaters chain, The Killer Shrews (1959). We recommend the MST 3000 version of the film instead. It’s way more interesting.
May 21: At 2:00 am comes A Brighter Summer Day (1991) from the Shanghai-born director (born Te-Chang Yang), a JD class inspired by a real-life 1961 incident in which a 14-year-old Taiwanese boy murdered his girlfriend in a public park. In addition to a multitude of actors – there are over 100 speaking parts – the film is rife with pop culture references from both East and West including nods to Citizen Kane, Rebel without a Cause, and Rio Lobo. It’s quite lengthy – 3 hours and 57 minutes – but it’s one of those films that grab the viewer and never let go. I saw it on the large screen and the minutes just seemed to fly by. Yang is a master at portraying Taiwan’s underworld and this film is testament to that mastery.
May 17: Myrna Loy is a lusty gypsy who breaks up a family in The Squall (1929) at 1:30 pm. Following at 3:15 Wheeler and Woosley are tramps turned fortune tellers in The Cuckoos (1930). Also starring W&W regular Dorothy Lee.
At 9:30 pm, it’s Phillips Holmes, Sylvia Sidney and Frances Dee in Josef Von Sternberg’s An American Tragedy, a rarely seen Paramount Pre-Code production.
At 2:45 am it’s the superb Of Human Bondage (1934) starring Leslie Howard with Bette Davis in the role that brought her stardom. Following at 4:15 am, Frances Dee returns, along with Billie Burke and Ginger Rogers, in Finishing School (1934).
Finally, at the late hour of 5:45 am comes a real Pre-Code treat: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Ann Dvorak and Lee Tracy in William Wellman’s Love is a Racket (1932) from Warner Bros. Fairbanks plays a rather callous Broadway columnist romancing Frances Dee while racing around the city looking for fodder for his gossip column. Things take a nasty turn when gangster Lyle Talbot buys up Dee’s shopping debts with an eye to making her his mistress. It’s up to Doug to prevent this from reaching the tabloids while he figures a way out of Mary’s fix. Lee Tracy is Doug’s co-worker, and Ann Dvorak is a young actress Doug promotes in his columns.
May 22: Ann Harding marries poor writer Laurence Olivier and lives to regret it in Westward Passage, a 1932 drama from RKO. Check out the mustache on Olivier. It makes him look like poor man’s Ronald Colman. Though the film’s not very good (it lost $250,000 for RKO, a huge sum in the Depression) it is rarely screened.
May 26: A triple-feature, beginning at 6 am with Bessie Love and Raymond Hackett in the 1929 MGM show biz comedy-drama, The Girl in the Show. At 8:30 am, Anita Page and June Walker are dedicated nurses serving in World War I in MGM’s gritty, excellent War Nurse, from 1930. As it’s an excellent film that rarely gets shown, we recommend you record it for later pleasurable viewing. You won’t be disappointed. Finally, at 10 am, Diana Wynyard, Lewis Stone and Phillips Holmes star in the thoughtful Men Must Fight (MGM, 1933), a prophetic tale of a mother trying to keep her son out of war in 1940(!). Sounds like the story of Neville Chamberlain. The film also predicts the mainstream popularity of television. By all means, catch this one!
May 30: Tuna fisherman Edward G. Robinson marries wayward Zita Johann only to see her fall for his best friend Richard Arlen in Tiger Shark, from director Howard Hawks and Warner Bros. in 1932. Worth catching for Robinson’s awesome performance.
May 31: Poor orphan girl Jean Parker and reform school runaway Tom Brown are mistreated by farmer Arthur Byron in 1934’s Two Alone from RKO.
MEMORIAL DAY MARATHON
May on TCM means the annual Memorial Day Marathon, saluting movies about war and our reaction to war. Though once again nothing new is added to this year’s schedule, there are still several favorites being run for our enjoyment.
May 26: Begin at 8 pm with John Wayne playing pioneer aviator Frank “Spig” Wead in John Ford’s The Wings of Eagles(MGM, 1957). What’s a Memorial Day Marathon without the Duke and Ford? Then, at 10 pm, we get to see what World War I hero Alvin York would have been like if he was Gary Cooper in Sergeant York (WB, 1941).
May 27: Samuel Fuller’s Korean War masterpiece, The Steel Helmet, airs at 4:30 pm. At 8 pm, it’s Andy Griffith, Nick Adams and Don Knotts in the classic service comedy No Time for Sergeants (WB, 1958), followed by Henry Fonda, Jimmy Cagney and Jack Lemmon in Mister Roberts (WB, 1955) at 10:30.
May 28: Begin the day with Conrad Veidt in a dual role in Nazi Agent (MGM, 1942). Then stay tuned for Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine and Raymond Massey in Hotel Berlin (1945), Warner Bros.’ answer to MGM’s Grand Hotel. At 4:15 Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane star in Hitchcock’s Saboteur (Universal, 1942). At 6:15 Humphrey Bogart closes out the afternoon, along with Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet in John Huston’s Across the Pacific (WB, 1942).
The evening is highlighted by two superb films. First up at 8 pm is Twelve O’Clock High (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1948), a psychological drama about the pressure of bomber combat missions over Europe starring Gregory Peck, Gary Merrill, Dean Jagger, and Hugh Marlowe. It’s followed at 10:30 pm by the sublime and engaging docudrama Tora, Tora, Tora (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1970) as the story of the Pearl Harbor attack is told from both American and Japanese sides. With an all-star cast including Martin Balsam, So Yamamura, Jason Robards, Joseph Cotten, Tatsuya Mihashi, E. G. Marshall, Takahiro Tamura, and James Whitmore.
An entertaining triple-feature begins at 12:00 pm with Clint Eastwood starring in Kelly’s Heroes (MGM, 1970), based on the true story of a group of GIs out to rob a bank in occupied France containing 14,000 bars of gold. Originally a subtle anti-war film, Eastwood and director Brian G. Hutton were forced to make cuts by their studio, MGM, that resulted in a different film from the one they originally made. It wasn’t until 1999 that the same plot of soldiers taking leave of a war to find hidden gold was employed for the movie Three Kings, which was not cut by the studio.
At 2:30 pm follows an adaptation of Alistair McLean’s, Where Eagles Dare (MGM, 1968), starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood as part of a team of commandos parachuted into the Bavarian Alps to rescue an Allied officer held prisoner at a castle-fortress known as the “Castle of the Eagle.”
Finally, at 5:15 pm comes Robert Aldrich’s tale of convicts turned commandos: The Dirty Dozen (MGM, 1967), starring Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson and a host of other slob actors.
At 8 pm the emphasis shifts to submarine warfare beginning with Cary Grant and John Garfield in Destination Tokyo (WB, 1943). At 12:30 am U.S. destroyer commander Robert Mitchum and U-Boat Commander Curd Jurgens engage in a deadly game of chess in The Enemy Below (20th Century Fox, 1957). The film was remade in a 1966 episode of the classic Star Trek, where Kirk battles it out with a cloaked Romulan warship. It was our first look at the Romulans and their resemblance to Vulcans.
PSYCHOTRONIA AND THE B-HIVE
May 17: Frances Dee stars run producer Val Lewton’s psychotronic adaptation of Jane Eyre, I Walked With a Zombie (RKO, 1943), at 11:30 pm. She is a nurse in the Caribbean who resorts to voodoo to cure her patient, even though she is head over heels for the woman’s husband. With the always entertaining Sir Lancelot.
May 18: With water being a precious commodity, Robert Urich heads a band of intergalactic buccaneers after giant ice cubes in Ice Pirates (MGM, 1984) at 10:30 am. Also starring Mary Crosby, Anjelica Huston, the venerable John Carradine, and Ron Perlman.
May 19: A mini-marathon of films about The Whistler begins at 6 am with, appropriately enough, The Whistler (1944). One of 8 B-movies made by Columbia and based on a popular radio series, the thread linking the plots of the series is an unseen narrator who introduces the stories, just as he did on the radio show. In this film, Richard Dix is Earl Conrad, a man who believes his wife has died in an accident and is badly depressed as a result. He chooses to end it all by hiring hit man J. Carrol Naish to kill him. But the plot thickens when the wife turns out to be alive (she was being held by the Japanese on a Pacific island, of all things). Dix, however, can't find the hit man to call off his own murder. Besides the narrator, Dix was the only star who appeared in all of the films except the last, alternating between playing victims and villains.
At 7:30 am comes The Power of The Whistler (1945). Once again, Richard Dix stars as an amnesiac who is helped by kindly Janis Carter as he tries to regain his memory. With her help he finally does regain it – and it turns out that he is actually a homicidal maniac! A great entry in the series.
At 9 am it’s Voice of the Whistler (1945), with Richard Dix as a wealthy industrialist who, on doctor's orders to take a long rest, assumes a different identity and goes to live in a remote seaside spot in Maine with his nurse in tow. Revealing his true identity to her, he offers to leave her everything in his will if she will marry him and stay with him for what he believes are the final months of his life. But complications arise when Dix falls for the nurse and returns to health. Now he comes up with a plan to murder her intern boyfriend, who expects to marry her after the rich man's death. Directed by William Castle.
Following at 10:30 comes another Castle-directed entry, The Mysterious Intruder (1945). Elderly music shop owner Edward Stillwell (Paul Burns) shows up at the office of detective Don Gale (Richard Dix) to inform him he's seeking Elora Lund (Pamela Blake). Not only has she been missing for seven years, ever since her mother died when Elora was only 14 years old, but Elora is now rich, though she doesn't know it. Stillwell, for his part, won't tell Gale how he knows it. To find out just how Elora came by her wealth, Gale hires actress named Freda Hanson (Helen Mowery) to pose as Elora, figuring that Stillwell won't be able to tell the difference between Eloras. He's right, but unfortunately, before Stillwell can tell Elora about her newfound wealth, he's murdered and Gale has now become a suspect.
At noon Dix is an insane artist in The Secret of The Whistler (1946). His wealthy wife, Edith, catches him in an affair with Kay Morrell, one of his models. After Edith asks for a divorce he poisons her and shortly after marries Kay. Kay, suspecting he killed his first wife, discovers Edith’s diary and learns the truth. Stick around for the great twist ending.
At 1:30 pm comes the final entry in the series, The Return of The Whistler (1948). Based on a story by Cornell Woolrich, young civil engineer Ted Nichols (Michael Duane) is engaged to widow Alice Dupres Barkeley (Lenore Aubert), when she suddenly disappears. The detective he hires (Richard Lane) to find her is actually working for the husband’s family. They have abducted her and are scheming to obtain the fortune she stands to inherit. Dix is not in this one and it’s just as well, as this is the weakest of the series. Not a good way to go out.
At 3 pm we now switch to another B-series made by Columbia and based on a radio show, namely, I Love a Mystery. In the 1945 debut film by that name, detectives Jack Packard (Jim Bannon) and Doc Long (Barton Yarborough) at the A-1 Detective Agency are hired by socialite Jefferson Monk (George Macready), who is receiving strange messages threatening his life from an Asian secret society. He comes to believe that he will be decapitated in three days and Packard and Long must think fast to prevent his death.
At 4:30 it’s The Devil’s Mask (1946). After a shrunken head is discovered in the wreckage of a downed plane Jack and Doc are drawn into the mystery of a missing museum curator and his psychologically damaged daughter (Anita Louise), whose undiagnosed Electra Complex may have driven her to murder. This is an intriguing film with great cinematography by Henry Freulich, who has an eye for bottomless shadows. Though the film promised great things to come for Columbia, the studio abruptly pulled the plug after only one more entry in the series.
And that entry is The Unknown (1946), which is airing at 6 pm. This old dark house whodunit takes place over a span of years with happening before Jack and Doc show up. Rachel Martin (Karen Morley) is engaged to James Wetherford (Robert Kellard); the engagement arranged by her mother, Phoebe (Helen Freeman). At the party Rachel is discovered in the study with Richard Arnold (Robert Wilcox). She reveals that they have been secretly married for several months. When her father pulls a gun and orders Richard to leave, he and Richard struggle for the gun and the father is accidentally killed. To avoid scandal, Phoebe has her sons and Rachel help her entomb Martin's body in the fireplace and forbids them ever to mention the occurrence. As time passes Rachel becomes mentally unbalanced and gives birth to a baby girl, whom Phoebe immediately has sent away. Years later, the child, now a grown woman named Nina (Jeff Donnell), returns to the home where she was born for the reading of Phoebe's will. Nina has never met any of her relatives, was reared by a succession of teachers paid for by a mysterious benefactor. Accompanied by private detectives Jack Packard and Doc Long, who have been hired by her benefactor, Nina finds the family has several closets containing skeletons, including a surprise appearance by the deceased before they track down a killer.
May 20: Casino blackjack dealer Gary Lockwood plans to knock over an armored car with his gang in They Came to Rob Las Vegas (WB, 1969) at 8:15 am. Elke Sommer and Jack Palance co-star.
At 10:30 reformed thief Boston Blackie (Chester Morris) uncovers a Nazi spy ring in Meet Boston Blackie (Columbia, 1941).
At noon Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson) gets caught up in a murder while seeking help from Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) in the highly entertaining The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Universal, 1976).
A crashed spaceship contains a quickly growing monster from Venus in 20 Million Miles to Earth (Columbia, 1957). William Hopper and Joan Taylor star. The creature came from the imagination of master animator Ray Bradbury. Race car driver Elvis tries to outrun the beautiful tax auditor (Nancy Sinatra) out to settle his account in Speedway (MGM, 1968).
May 22: It’s a night of hagspoiltation, beginning at 8 pm with the classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (WB, 1962), with Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, followed by Tallulah Bankhead tormenting Stefanie Powers in Die! Die! My Darling (Columbia/Hammer, 1965) at 10:30 pm. At 12:30 am it’s Joan again, reaching new lows in William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964). Then, at 2:15 am, Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters sell themselves for a paycheck in What’s the Matter With Helen? (UA, 1971). Finally, Bette Davis is a psycho child caregiver in The Nanny (Twentieth Century Fox/Hammer, 1965) at 4:15 am.
May 30: One of the films being shown in a day-long tribute to director Howard Hawks is the classic The Thing From Another World (RKO, 1951). But Hawks did not direct it, he produced it. The directorial credit went to his film editor, Christian Nyby. Although some say Hawks actually directed it, they would be wrong.
By Ed Garea
We open with some sad news. Jonathan Demme, who won the Best Director Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs (1991), died on April 26 at the age of 73.
He was born Robert Jonathan Demme in Baldwin on Long Island on February 20, 1944, the son of Dorothy Louise (nee Rogers) and Robert Eugene Demme, a public relations executive. He graduated from Southwest Miami High School and the University of Florida.
He broke into films working for Roger Corman as a writer and producer. He made the switch to director, helming three films for Corman’s New World company: the cult classic Caged Heat (1974), Crazy Mama (1975) with Cloris Leachman, and Fighting Mad (1976).
Demme first garnered critical attention with Melvin and Howard (1980). Other noted films include Married to the Mob (1988), Philadelphia (1991), Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1998), and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004).
On May 1, TCM salutes Danielle Darrieux on her 100th birthday with a slate of films beginning at 8 pm. We begin with The Rage of Paris from 1938. Darrieux had signed with Universal to try her chances in America. It’s a charming screwball comedy with Darrieux excellent as an unemployed model out to snare millionaire Louis Hayward. Also with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Mischa Auer.
At 9:30 Darrieux appears in Max Ophuls’ exquisite Le Ronde (1950), As adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play Reigen, a story about lovers who get together for brief encounters and afterward change partners in a chain that brings us full circle. However, unlike the play, which follows the spread of venereal disease among the participants, Ophuls instead infused the movie with his own viewpoint, which is that everybody is somebody’s fool.
It was difficult for Darrieux to return to the French silver screen due to her active collaboration with the Nazis during World War II, where she made films for Dr. Goebbels and even sang for German soldiers. But people forget with time and, as Darrieux was not prosecuted, this undoubtedly helped her in her comeback.
At 11:15 Darrieux stars with Charles Boyer and Vittorio DeSica in The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) one of the best film to ever come out of France. (See my Best Bets in the May 1-7 TiVo Alert for more).
At 1:15 am it’s Darrieux and Kenneth More in Loss of Innocence (aka The Greengage Summer, 1961), a drama about the the transition of a teenage girl (Susannah York) into womanhood. Following at 3:15 am is Une Chambre en Ville (1982), Jacques Demy’s musical about a striking worker (Richard Berry) who falls in love with the middle-class daughter of his landlady (Darrieux). It’s a beautifully constructed film, with Demy moving the musical genre into a darker region, as he counters a tragedy with music.
Finally, at 5 am it’s Rich, Young and Pretty(1951) from director Norman Taurog, a musical comedy starring Jane Powell, as rancher Wendell Corey’s daughter who goers to Paris, where she finds love (Vic Damone) and meets her birth mother (Darrieux). It sounds better than it is, but Darrieux is fine.
May 2: A double feature of Louis Malle begins at 2 am with the superbly dark The Fire Within (1963). Maurice Ronet stars as Alain Leroy, a recovering alcoholic who's drying out at an expensive rehab clinic in Versailles with his estranged wife footing the bill. He’d like to stay there forever, as there are no obligations and responsibilities, but as he’s cured, he must leave. He mulls over his options that night and comes to the conclusion that he’ll commit suicide the next day. The next morning he packs and heads for Paris, where he looks up the people he knew him as a sot. They remember him as a drunk and tell him that sober, he’s a lot worse-looking than he used to be. Eventually he begins drinking again, attends a dinner party that goes horribly wrong, and returns to the clinic, where the film draws to its conclusion. Jeanne Moreau stars as a woman who takes a shine to Alain, but can’t save him from himself.
Following at 4:00 am is the film that put Jeanne Moreau on the star map – Malle’s The Lovers (1958). The film brought about a round of protests when it debuted at the Venice Film Festival. Whereas previous films had discreetly faded to black before a heavy love scene, Malle instead lingered on the torrid lovemaking of the married Moreau with her younger lover Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory), who has injected new passion into her complacent bourgeois life. Moreau is simply stunning, and Alain Cuny terrific as her neglectful husband. When the movie premiered in America, the theater owner who showed it was brought up on obscenity charges. Needless to say it’s rather mild fare today, but back then the Puritans were out with a vengeance.
May 10: At 4 am Demy’s romance Model Shop (1969) is airing. It’s his first – and only – American film and concerns a 24-hour period in the life of unemployed architect George Matthews (Gary Lockwood), stuck in a dead-end relationship with an aspiring actress (Alexandra Hay). While attempting to raise enough money to save his car from the repo man, he espies a beautiful woman, dressed all in white, at a car lot. He begins following her around the city, eventually reaching her place of employment, a "model shop" where men pay to photograph women in a choice of intimate settings. He spends part of his car payment to snap photographs of her and learns that her name is Lola (Anouk Aimee), and she is a recently divorced French woman with no work permit. She’s working at the shop until she can raise enough money to purchase air fare back to Paris. Thus begins an intense night where he loves her but she cannot love him. The payoff at the end is muted, but entirely fitting.
May 14: A double feature of the Japanese director begins at 2:00 am with Odd Obsession (Kagi, 1959), a disappointing drama about a vain man (Ganjiro Nakamura) who, becoming impotent, steers his young wife (Machiko Kyo) into an affair with his daughter’s boyfriend (Tatsuya Nakadai) in an attempt to resurrect his virility, but things don’t work out as planned. Having read the book by Junichiro Tanizaki, I expected more than I got in this rather uneven soaper.
At 4 am comes a film I haven’t yet had the pleasure of viewing. Conflagration (Enjo, 1958) stars Raizô Ichikawa as aspiring Buddhist monk Goichi Mizoguchi, who becomes involved in the temple owned by his father (Jun Hamamura). Ichikawa uses a series of flashbacks, framed as a police interrogation, to reveal the story of Mizoguchi’s obsession with the temple, beginning with his childhood. It sounds good, and I’ll be recording.
May 2: Louis Wolheim is a ship’s captain taken in by bank robbers Mary Astor and husband Ian Keith in 1931’s The Sin Ship (9:30 am). Directed by Wolheim, it’s definitely worth seeing.
May 4: A packet of four Warner Pre-Code musicals, beginning at 12:45 pm with Gold Diggers of 1933 and continuing through Dames(1934) and Footlight Parade (1933), before ending with 42nd Street (1932) at 6:15 pm.
May 5: Wallace Beery is Pancho Villa in 1934’s Viva Villa at 6:00 pm.
May 15: An Alfred E. Green fest begins at 7:00 am. George Arliss is simply dazzling in the prehistoric Disraeli (1929). At 8:45 Doris Kenyon’s life spirals downward when hubby Louis Calhern catches her with William Powell in The Road to Singapore(1931), Powell’s first film for Warner Brothers.
At 10 am naval hero Douglas Fairbanks Jr. becomes a media celebrity against his wishes in It’s Tough to be Famous (1932), a film that still resonates today. At 11:30 am, Joan Blondell encounters down-on-his-luck con artist Douglas Fairbanks Jr, who has discovered a suitcase full of money at Union Depot(1932). Finally, at 12:45 pm, murderer-on-the-lam Fairbanks tries to lay low in the Pacific islands in 1933’s The Narrow Corner. The film was later remade as Isle of Fury with Humphrey Bogart and Margaret Lindsay in 1936.
Though it’s not Pre-Code, we recommend The Golden Arrow (1936) with Bette Davis and George Brent at 3:15 pm. It’s the picture that broke the back of Davis and caused her to flee to England to try and get out of her Warner Bros. contract.
PSYCHOTRONICA – CREATURE FEATURES
We love May and June because that’s the time TCM usually drags out the sci-fi flicks for a night or two or even three of enjoyment. And this year is no different, with some of our faves being shown
May 4: We begin ay 8 pm with The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954). Think of it and its sequel Revenge of the Creature (following at 9:30) as King Kong in miniature, with the creature entranced by Julia Adams while scientists Richard Carlson, Richard Denning and Antonio Moreno try to study it. The film was inspired by a Mexican folk tale that tells of a creature who comes from the jungle once a year to secure a young maiden, after which the village can breathe easy for another year. The film was a box office bonanza for Universal and was followed by two sequels before running its course.
Speaking of King Kong, the big ape makes another appearance at 11 pm.
At 1:15 am Toho Studios chines in with Mothra (1964) featuring the adorable Ito Twins (Emi and Yumi – a real-life singing duo known as The Peanuts), whose abduction from their home island of Baru triggers Mothra to go looking for them.
The one that started it all, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) airs at 3 am. With special effects by Ray Harryhausen, it’s one of the most beloved prehistoric beast-on-the-loose films.
And at 5 am its the ridiculous Reptilicus (1961), about a prehistoric monster on the loose in Copenhagen, of all places. Beginning life as a strictly Danish monster film, directed by Poul Bang, it was picked up and remade in an all-English version by producer-director Sid Pink and released through AIP. Deemed unwatchable upon reviews, the studio had it extensively re-worked by its Danish-American screenwriter, Ib Melchior, before finally being released in America in 1962. This led to a lawsuit by Pink over the changes, but the suit was dropped. When we see the movie we can’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about. The monster looks like something carried in a Chinese New Year’s parade, and seen in HD we can easily spot the wires holding it up. Because of this we enthusiastically recommend it as a bad move not to be missed.
May 11: We begin at 8:00 with the classic Rodan (1957), followed at 9:30 by Willis O’Brien’s The Black Scorpion (1957). At 11:15 pm The Deadly Mantis (1957) premiers. Though it has its moments, it doesn’t have enough of them. Check out the MST 3000 version.
Beginning at 2:45 am, it’s two of the silliest sci-fi monster films ever made. We lead off with Bert I. Gordon’s Empire of the Ants, where a toxic spill causes our six-legged friends to grow to enormous size and imprison crooked realtor Joan Collins and her boat of suckers. Following at 4:30 am is The Giant Claw (1957), a film that starts off well, but hits bottom right after the monster is introduced. Co-stars Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday, who give believable performances, were under the assumption that Ray Harryhausen would be handling the special effects. But that hadn’t reckoned on producer Sam Katzman. Always looking for the cheapest way out, Jungle Sam went to a cheap studio in Mexico for his f/x. Result? The funniest looking buzzard seen in the movies. Both Morrow and Corday didn’t know about the switch until the movie premiered. The crowd was engulfed in the movie – until the buzzard appeared. The laughter was uproarious and both Morrow and Corday slunk down in their seats and snuck out of the theater, hoping not to be recognized.
May 6: It’s Of Unknown Origin (1983) at 2:30 am, followed by the awful star-studded The Swarm (1978) at 4:00 am.
May 12: It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932) at 10:15 am and Humphrey Bogart in The Return of Doctor X (1939) at 6:45 pm. (See our review here.)
May 13: Begin with The World’s Greatest Sinner (1965) at 2:30 am (music by Frank Zappa), followed at 4 am by Peter Graves in Bayou(aka Poor White Trash, 1957).
By Ed Garea
Has anyone been catching the miniseries Feud on FX? I went into this expecting it to be really bad, but I must admit to being delightfully entertained. It’s the story of the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and the feud that followed afterwards between divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who is aided by Hedda Hopper in her fight against Bette. Susan Sarandon is a positive revelation as Bette, taking the time to nail down her Yankee accent. And though Jessica Lange didn’t remind me of Crawford first off, like Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, her abundance of talent allowed her to segue effortlessly into Crawford’s persona, so that she becomes Crawford soon into the series. Jackie Hoffman steals the series right out from under their noses as Crawford’s German-born maid, Mamacita, while Stanley Tucci makes for a most effective Jack Warner. And look for the the and only John Waters as the one and only William Castle, who directed Joan in Strait-Jacket. I recommend this to all as good trashy fun, something there is too little of lately.
Lola Albright, whose move credits include a couple of psychotronic classics, as well as the classical psychotronic TV show, Peter Gunn, died March 23 in Los Angeles at the age of 92. The cause was not disclosed.
She was born Lois Jean Albright on July 20, 1924, in Akron, Ohio. Her parents, John Paul and Marion (nee Harvey) Albright, were gospel singers, and she studied music throughout her childhood.
After graduating high school she moved to Cleveland, where she worked as a receptionist at a Cleveland radio station. She began singing on WJW in Cleveland before marrying an announcer and moving to Chicago, where she worked as a model. While modeling, a photographer, taken with her looks, suggested she give Hollywood a try.
Albright made her screen debut in 1947. Her first credited role was as Palmer in Kirk Douglas’s boxing movie, Champion. However, she couldn’t escape the Bs. Her big break came in television when she was cast as singer Edie Hart in Peter Gunn (1958-61), a noir adult drama created by director Blake Edwards and starring Craig Stevens that has since become a cult classic.
Besides Champion, Albright was noted for The Monolith Monsters (1956), a psychotronic cult classic; A Cold Wind in August (1961), playing a stripper who seduces a teenage boy; Kid Galahad (1962), giving a strong performance opposite Elvis; and The Impossible Years (1968) as the wife of child psychiatrist David Niven, who can’t control their teenage daughters. The latter was her final film appearance.
She was married three times: to Warren Dean, actor Jack Carson, and musician and restaurant owner Bill Chadney, all ending in divorce.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
April 18: With the morning and afternoon is devoted to psychotronic flicks, the picks for the day are as follows: M (1931, 6:00 am); Night of the Hunter (1955, 8:00 am); Bedlam (1946, 9:45 am); What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962, 3:30 pm); and Shock Corridor (1963, 6:00 pm).
April 19: Yet another morning and afternoon devoted to the psychotronic. Among those recommended are: The Monster (1925, 6:00 am) with the one and only Lon Chaney; The Murder of Dr. Harrigan (1936, 7:45 am - read our essay here); Indestructible Man (1956, 9:00 am); The Body Snatcher(1945, 10:30 am) with Henry Daniell, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi; The Cosmic Monster(1958, 5:00 pm - read our essay here); and Karloff in Frankenstein 1970 (1958, 6:30 am).
April 22: At 8:45 am, astronauts Kieron Moore, Lois Maxwell and Donald Wolfit are trapped in a space station with a ticking time bomb in Satellite in the Sky(1956), followed by Ann Sothern in Swing Shift Maisie (1943) at 10:30 am.
At 2:15 pm it’s a Blaxploitation double feature. It begins with Rudy Ray Moore in his most popular role asDolemite, from 1975. Moore is Dolemite, a rhyme master and pimp set up by the police, who planted drugs and stolen goods in his trunk. Given a sentence of 20 years, when he’s released, he’s ripe and ready for revenge as he calls on the services of his old friend Queen Bee (Lady Reed) and her army of karate black belt call girls. It’s obviously low-budget, but just as obviously, it’s good fun, not to be taken seriously.
Following is the statuesque Tamara Dobson is Cleopatra Jones (1973) at 4:00 am. Cleo is a special agent who locks horns with master criminal Mommy (Shelley Winters) in her battle to clear the drug dealers out of her inner city neighborhood. Dobson is a classy heroine and Winters gives a deliciously over-the-top performance as the depraved Mommy. Read our essay on the film here.
April 29: Start off with Maisie Goes to Reno (1944) at 10:30 am. At 2:45 am it’s a double feature of Lady Snowblood(1973) and the sequel, Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance (1974). Directed by Toshiya Fujita, Meiko Kaji stars as a young girl specifically raised to become an assassin and kill the criminals who destroyed her family. Based on a popular comic book series (Manga), it’s set in the Meiji era, the period of Japan’s transition from feudal nation to a modern state. An innocent woman sees her husband and son killed before her eyes and is imprisoned after killing one of the murderers. While behind bars, she gives birth to a daughter, named Yuki (Japanese for snow) who will be grow up to be the instrument of her revenge. Graphically violent, it was so popular that a sequel was made a year later. Both films were a huge influence on Quentin Tarantino and the main influence for his Kill Bill series.
April 16: Director Mike Leigh, known for his somber and incisive portraits of English working-class life such as Secrets and Lies, Career Girls, and Vera Drake, continues the trend with Meantime (1984). Airing at the godforsaken hour of 4:30 am, this is a British television movie that takes a close look at how being on the dole affects the underclass in Britain. Starring Tim Roth as Colin, a slow and possibly intellectually disabled man living with his parents and brother in a housing project. He and his sarcastic manipulative brother still act like teenagers, living with their parents and harassing each other, though they are now in their late teens or early twenties. They interact with the likes of Hayley, a young woman with a crush on Colin, and Coxy (Gary Oldman) a violent local skinhead who befriends Colin. Trouble comes when a wealthy aunt gives Colin a job, causing his brother to become jealous. Record this one, you’ll want to see it later.
April 30: A double-feature of the great Anna Magnani begins at 2:00 am with Mamma Roma (1962). Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Magnani stars as a streetwalker who tries to save her son from entering into a life of crime. Following at 4:15 am is the film that first brought her into prominence, Roberto Rossellini’s Open City (1946). The film is about the efforts of Rome’s Nazi occupiers to capture partisan leader Giorgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero), who is assisted by local priest Don Pietro Pellegrini (Aldo Fabrizi). Set against this are the ordinary, daily fight of Rome’s citizens, shown storming a bakery to obtain bread for their children, as they struggle with the uncertainties of the occupation. Magnani is Pina, an ordinary citizen engaged to Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet), a friend of Manfredi. Pina, pregnant with Francesco’s child is the focus of the moral ambiguities faced during wartime by the characters as they fight a constant battle to live a decent life despite the huge temptations to do otherwise. Tragedy occurs when Manfredi's beautiful, but shallow, mistress Marina (Maria Michi) is tricked by Nazi agent Ingrid (Giovanna Galletti) into betraying Manfredi.
April 23: TCM is airing two films by noted director Rainer Werner Fassbinder beginning at 2:15 am with his 1974 film Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, the film that first won him international acclaim. Loosely based on Douglas Sirk’s 1955 All That Heaven Allows, it’s the story of a lonely aging white German cleaning lady who marries a much younger black Moroccan immigrant worker and the vicious response of both family and community to their action. Following at 4:15 am is his first feature-length film, Love is Colder Than Death (1969). A deconstruction of the American gangster films of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, Fassbinder is Franz, a small-time pimp torn between his mistress Joanna (Hanna Schygulla) and his friend Bruno (Ulli Lommel), who has been sent after Franz by a syndicate he’s refused to join. To save Franz, Joanna informs the police about a bank robbery Franz and Bruno are planning and while Bruno is killed in the subsequent shootout, Franz and Joanna escape. The film contains many of the themes that would later mark Fassbinder’s work, such as loneliness, the longing for companionship and love, and the fear and reality of betrayal.
April 21: Blonde is the order of the day with a marathon of films devoted to our favorite intrepid reporter, Torchy Blaine. Portrayed by the marvelous Glenda Farrell, Torchy was a role model to women across America as she showed that a woman doesn’t have to stay at home all day while her husband brings home the bacon. Barton MacLane, noted for playing heavies, is excellent as her put-upon policeman boyfriend, Lt. Steve McBride. The films all center around a case that Steve wishes Torchy would keep her nose out of, but it’s Torchy who often puts the clues together and brings the villain to justice. As Torchy, Farrell is smart and sassy. The only word she doesn’t understand in “no” as she uses her finely honed reporter’s instinct to get to the bottom of things.The festivities begin at 6:00 am with Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blaine in Smart Blonde (1936, read our essay on it here), followed by 1937’s Fly Away Baby at 7:15 am, as Torchy takes to the skies to track down a band of killers. At 8:30 am, Farrell walks out on her own wedding to Steve to solve the case of a murdered actor in The Adventurous Blonde, from 1937. At 9:45 am, even the threat of a jail term for contempt can't keep Torchy from finding out who murdered a department store owner in Blondes at Work (1938). At 12:15 pm Torchy cracks a counterfeiting case in Torchy Gets Her Man (1938). Torchy sets out to catch a blackmailer in 1938’s Torchy Blaine in Chinatown (1:30 pm), directed by the one and only William Beaudine. We wrap up the marathon at 2:30 pm with Torchy Runs For Mayor (1939), as our favorite reporter becomes disillusioned after digging up the dirt on the local politicians and decides to run for office herself.
There is only one Torchy Blaine feature airing without Farrell and MacLane. That’s Torchy Blaine in Panama (1939), starring Lola Lane as Torchy and Paul Kelly as Steve McBride, airing at 11:00 am. When Farrell and MacLane left Warner Bros., the studio figured it could plug anyone in as Torchy and Steve with no questions asked. But they forgot the unique chemistry between Farrell and MacLane, and their popularity with audiences. Needless to say, the film did not do well.
RICARDO CORTEZ PRE-CODE FEST
April 27: Ricardo Cortez, one of the mainstays of Pre-Code cinema, has the morning and afternoon to himself with a mini-marathon of films. It all begins at 6:00 am, with the silent Torrent (1926), famous today as the film that introduced Greta Garbo to America. Following, in order: 8:00 am - The Younger Generation (1929); 9:30 am - The Maltese Falcon (1931); 11:00 am - Transgression (1931); 12:15 pm - Flesh(1932); 2:00 pm - The House on 56th Street(1933); 3:15 pm - Midnight Mary (1933); and 4:45 pm - The Phantom of Crestwood (1933).
Of particular note are two films. First, the original version of The Maltese Falcon, from 1931. This film is shown rarely on the network and is a must see. Those who think the 1941 version is the definitive version will be surprised at how faithful the original is to the book. What it lacks is the star power of Huston’s remake, although Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly and Thelma Todd as Iva Archer are way better looking than Mary Astor and Gladys George. And check out the underrated Una Merkel as Spade’s secretary, Effie.
The other Cortez flick to catch is Flesh, airing at 12:15 pm. Those who have seen the Coen Brothers Barton Fink will remember John Turturro as a respected New York writer signed by a Hollywood studio and given the assignment of writing a Wallace Beery wrestling film. This is the film the Coen Brothers are referring to: a 1932 drama directed by no less than John Ford for MGM and starring Wallace Beery, Karen Morley and Cortez.
By Ed Garea
We begin with some sad news. Colin Dexter, the author who created Inspector Morse, the irascible, poetry-loving detective who listened to Wagner while pursuing clues and fine ale through a series of 13 novels and a critically-praised TV show, died March 21 at his home in Oxford, England. He was 86.
Dexter, a former classics teacher, was suffering through a rainy family vacation in North Wales in the early ‘70s when he decided to kill some time by reading a detective novel left in the hotel. After he was finished, he decided he could do better and began sketching out an outline of a mystery about a young woman murdered while hitchhiking. The novel, Last Bus to Woodstock, was published in 1975, introducing readers to a new detective team of Inspector Morse and his good-natured, long-suffering detective sergeant, Robbie Lewis.
ITV brought the books to television in the series Inspector Morse, which ran from 1987 to 2000, and was seen here on PBS. John Thaw played Morse while Kevin Whatley was cast as Lewis. After the series ran its course, a sequel followed, Lewis, with Whatley’s character now promoted to Inspector. A prequel, Endeavor, also appeared, with Shaun Evans portraying Morse at the beginning of his career.
The series achieved a popularity beyond Dexter’s wildest dreams, with Thaw’s brilliant interpretation of the gruff inspector bringing hordes of tourists to Oxford, where the series was set. The local tourist board seized the opportunity and created a series of Morse walks to meet the demand.
Dexter tore a page from Hitchcock’s book and appeared in cameos in various episodes of the series as a tourist, bum, doctor, prisoner, bishop, and professor, among others.
Who would’ve thought that one of the most celebrated detectives in literary history came about because of a lousy vacation? They say necessity is the mother of invention, but sometimes boredom can also play a huge role.
April 2: A double helping of Francois Truffaut begins at 2:00 am with The 400 Blows (1959). A brilliant examination of a troubled adolescent, it was the first effort at filmmaking for the former critic for Cahiers du Cinema (Notebooks on Cinema). It’s followed at 4:00 am by what may have been his best effort, Day For Night (1973), a lively, light-hearted look at the everyday perils of filmmaking, when everything seems to go wrong and a director can only shake his head and trudge on. The title comes from the practice of shooting a night scene during the day using a special lens filter. For those interested in Truffaut, David, Christine and I listed our favorite films from the director. You can find it here.
April 9: Beginning at 8:00 pm it’s a night of rare animation, featuring independently made cartoons from Canada. Not only for fans of animation, but for anyone interested in the rare and different. In other words, the readers of this column.
April 12: OMG! It’s an entire evening devoted to films starring the one and only Frankie Avalon. Lest one assume the evening will be filled with “Beach Party” movies, it actually begins at 8:00 pm with 1962’s Panic in the Year Zero. Directed by and starring Ray Milland, this AIP production is about a vacationing family leaving Los Angeles for a camping trip just as a nuclear bomb wipes out the city. Ray and his family (Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon, and Mary Mitchel) must suddenly fight to stay alive. Those new to it will find it watchable and interesting. To quote critic Michael Weldon: “All this would be very depressing except for the raucous music by Les Baxter and the bad acting by Frankie. Listen to the kids have friendly arguments about whether the canned food is radioactive or not.” On a side note, the film inspired the Steely Dan song “King of the World” on their second album “Countdown to Ecstasy.”
At 10:00 pm comes the original Beach Party from 1963. A huge success when released it began a short-lived trend of follow-ups, none as bouncy or as totally enjoyable. Co-starring Annette Funicello, who popularized the bikini in America with this movie, as Frankie’s girl, Dolores. It also co-stars Bob Cummings (who walks away with the picture), Dorothy Malone, Morey Amsterdam, and Harvey Lembeck as the most inept biker that ever lived: Eric Von Zipper. Watch it, if not for the antics of Frankie and Annette, then for the wonderful music of surf guitar legend Dick Dale.
At midnight comes Frankie’s first real film, Guns of the Timberland (1960). He had earlier appeared as himself in the teen musical Jamboree! (1957). In this tepid Western, Alan Ladd and Gilbert Roland are partners in a timber concern who have a contract to cut logs in a territory abutting Jeanne Crain's ranch. Jeanne and the rest of the valley are opposed to the loggers for fear that it will leave no watershed for flooding, resulting in an ecological disaster. Frankie and Alan Ladd’s daughter Alana play a pair of young lovers. Frankie also gets to warble a couple of songs by Jerry Livingston and Mack David including “The Faithful Kind,” and one called "Gee Whizz Whilikens Golly Gee."
2:00 am finds Frankie teamed with Dwayne Hickman as a pair of secret agents hot on the trail of the nefarious Vincent Price in AIP’s Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine(1965). It seems that Dr. Goldfoot has created an army of bikini-clad robots programmed to seek out wealthy men and charm them into signing over their assets to the doctor. It’s up to Frankie and Dwayne to stop him.
And finally, for those still awake after all this, it’s Drums of Africa (1963) at 4:00 am. There’s a good reason for showing this mess from MGM at this late hour. It stinks. Lloyd Bochner is an engineer traveling to East Africa with Frankie, the owner’s nephew, to his employer’s railway construction site. Mariette Hartley provides the eye candy as a mission worker who, along with guide Torin Thatcher, warn the duo not to proceed until the Arab slavers have left the area. Do they listen? Not on your life, and are soon lost in the wilderness until rescued by Hartley and Thatcher. When Hartley is kidnapped by said slave traders, the three men team up to rescue her. This synopsis actually sounds better than the movie. Besides Frankie singing a song, the highlight comes when, about almost 70 minutes into the movie, a group of white men in blackface appear as “Masai warriors” in caveman outfits. Produced by the duo of Philip N. Krasne and Alfred Zimbalist and loaded with footage from King Solomon’s Mines, this epic was shot in the dark wilds of Bronson Canyon.
IT’S ZSA ZSA, DAHLINK
April 5: As if an entire evening devoted to Frankie Avalon wasn’t enough, TCM goes one further with an evening devoted to Zsa Zsa Gabor, a failed actress more noted for being Zsa Zsa than anything else. We begin at 8:00 as Zsa Zsa stars with ex-husband George Sanders in Death of a Scoundrel (1956), a rather entertaining B-movie from RKO that was one of the last to come from the dying studio. Sanders stars as the rich Clementi Suborin. When he’s found dead in his New York apartment, his secretary (Yvonne DeCarlo) recounts his story to the police about his rise from Czech refugee to rich New Yorker and the trail of betrayal, womanizing and fraud along the way that confirms the fact that almost everyone who knew him wanted him dead. Sanders is at his best as the scheming Suborin with Zsa Zsa as one of his victims. To make it a family affair, Sanders’ brother, Tom Conway, co-stars as the brother Suborin double-crosses back in Czechoslovakia.
At 10:15 pm Zsa Zsa stars along with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in 3 Ring Circus (1954). Martin and Lewis are a pair of veterans who join the circus and predictably wreak havoc throughout the picture. Jerry wants to be a clown. Zsa Zsa is an egotistical trapeze artist.
The highlight of the evening takes place at 12:15 am with the screening of 1958’s Queen of Outer Space. Zsa Zsa is one of a population of women inhabiting Venus whose man-hating queen (Laurie Mitchell) has plans to disintegrate the Earth. The queen hates men because her face, hidden behind a mask, was scarred in a war with the planet’s men. The queen wants to kill a group of male astronauts who have landed there, but Zsa Zsa leads a rebellion to save them. Fans will quickly recognize the space suits left over from Forbidden Planet and the sets and giant spider from World Without End. Directed by Edward Bernds, who formerly directed the Bowery Boys and the Three Stooges.
At 2:00 am Zsa Zsa may be seen in a decent, if uneven, film from director John Huston: 1952’s Moulin Rouge. It’s the story of painter Toulouse-Lautrec, as interpreted by Jose Ferrer. The sets and the musical numbers are wonderful, as is Huston’s use of Technicolor, but Ferrer’s performance leaves something to be desired.
And finally, at 4:15 pm, comes Lili (1953) starring Leslie Caron as an orphan in France who gets a job with a carnival puppet show and forms a relationship with a crippled and embittered puppeteer, played superbly by Mel Welles. Zsa Zsa is the assistant to womanizing magician Jean-Pierre Aumont. It is a delightful film, highlighted by Caron’s singing of “Hi Lili, Hi Lo.” Due to the late hour, it should be recorded and saved for later.
April 4: An interesting Ruth Chatterton film makes its appearance at 3:30 am, Journal of a Crime (1934). When Chatterton discovers that playwright husband Adolphe Menjou is in love with his mistress, Claire Dodd, and wants a divorce, Ruth takes matters into her own hands and shoots Dodd. Although hubby knows who did it, he decides to remain silent, waiting for his wife to crack under the guilt. But when a man named Costello (Noel Madison) is arrested for the murder, she visits him in prison and confesses. But he gallantly decides that as he’s responsible for another murder he might as well remain silent and face death. But the guilt overtakes Ruth and she decides to confess, but on the way to the prosecutor’s office she is hit by a car and develops amnesia. Her loss of memory leads to unseen consequences for the couple. It’s a pretty silly Pre-Code feature notable only for the superb performance of Chatterton, who plays it straight instead of simply hamming it up and chewing scenery. This was her last picture for Warner Bros. Declining box office and her outspoken attitude over the studio’s attempt to cut salaries at the height of the Depression led the studio to declare her as excess baggage. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss Melvyn Douglas as an actor in Menjou’s stage play.
April 5: At 6:00 am Ann Harding travels to French Indochina to be with fiancee Melvyn Douglas, commandant of a prison camp, only to find he’s now an alcoholic, in Prestige, a hackneyed melodrama from 1932. With Adolphe Menjou and Clarance Muse.
April 6: Slimy and corrupt night court judge Walter Huston will stop at nothing to avoid the clutches of watchdog Lewis Stone – and that includes framing innocent couple Phillips Holmes and Anita Page in the entertaining, though minor effort, Night Court (1932), airing at 11:15 am. Huston and Stone are worth the time expended.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
April 1: The Maisie series continues with 1941’s Maisie Was a Lady at 10:30 am, followed by Lon Chaney, Jr. and Claude Rains in The Wolf Man (1941) at noon. Fashion models are the focus of late night, with a deranged murderer running amok in Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace at 2:45 am, followed by Peter Cushing as a doctor looking for suitable replacements for his wife’s (Sue Lloyd) scarred face in Corruption (1967) at 4:30 am.
April 6: Walter Huston gives one of the great despicable performances in 1932’s Kongo, a remake of 1927’s West of Zanzibar, with the one-and-only Lon Chaney in the role. One might think it difficult to follow in Chaney’s footsteps, but Huston does it brilliantly as the crippled madman who seeks revenge on the daughter of the man who took his wife away, with unseen and tragic results following. It was strong stuff when released and has lost none of its punch over the years, thinks to Huston’s performance.
April 8: At 7:30 am it’s Bela Lugosi vs. Boris Karloff in Edgar G. Ulmer’s underrated expressionistic horror, The Black Cat (1934).
Ann Sothern again takes center stage in Ringside Maisie(1941) at 10:30 am.
Late night begins at 2:30 am with The Zodiac Killer, a 1971 low-budget exploitation film about the serial killer who was never caught. Despite some terrible acting and writing, it deserves a look, but keep in mind that it is disturbing, with lots of hateful anti-female dialogue. The narrator warns us that “Somebody sitting next to you or behind you had killed!” Consider yourself warned. Seeking of woman killers, following at 4:15 am is Hitchcock’s 1960 macabre masterpiece, Psycho.
April 15: Hammer Studios’ version of One Million B.C. (1966), a remake of Hal Roach’s One Million B.C. (1940), airs at 8:30 am. Featuring stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen and Raquel Welch as the world’s sexiest cavewoman traipsing about in a fur bikini, it’s also notable for the appearance of cult actress Martine Beswick as Raquel’s rival. The poster featuring Welch in her fur bikini was a best seller and helped the actress establish herself as an instant sex-symbol.
Maisie Gets Her Man from 1942, airs at 10:30 am, with the irrepressible Brooklyn showgirl launching a star act with Red Skelton. Look for Leo Gorcey as Cecil.
Late night features the laff riot, Night of the Lepus (1972) at 11:30 pm. (Read our essay on it here.) It’s followed by two MGM cartoons, The Hound and the Rabbit (1937) and The Hungry Wolf (1942) from director Hugh Harman.
At 2:00 am comes a most unusual film from director Bertrand Tavernier. Death Watch (La mort en direct, 1980). Taking place in the future, when medical advances have made premature death a rarity, the reality show Death Watch, a voyeuristic look at how people cope with the end of life, is a ratings hit. In the search for more and more events to televise, a reporter, Roddy (Harvey Keitel), has a camera implanted in his head that broadcasts everything he sees to a television station in Glasgow. His assignment is to show the audience the journey of Katherine (Romy Schneider), who's been recently informed that she's terminally ill, as she prepares for her last days. Complications ensue from the fact that Katherine has no idea she's being filmed. She previously rejected an offer from the show's producer (Harry Dean Stanton) to appear on it. This places Roddy in an uncomfortable position as he becomes close to his subject. This sad – and long – film was shot around Glasgow (in English) and was based on a novel by David Guy Compton. Ironically, two years after its release, Romy Schneider died at the age of 43 from cardiac arrest due to a weakened heart caused by a kidney operation she had months before.
By Ed Garea
March is renowned in the popular imagination for “coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb.” Regarding TCM, March came in like a lamb and is going out like a lion.
Of course, the big news is the passing of Robert Osborne, TCM’s on-air host from its inception in 1994. I remember when TCM was launched. My cable company at the time, Comcast, did not carry the station until several years later. With Comcast, not carrying a new station upon its inception was par for the course. When the company announced that TCM would be appearing I was beside myself with joy. My wife and I watched the first night and saw Robert Osborne introduce the movie. “Great,” my wife said. “Another know-nothing host like Bob Dorian.” Dorian was at the time host of AMC, which was TCM’s rival for a couple of years until the company that owned it, Cablevision, wrecked the channel.
“No, no,” I replied. “Robert Osborne’s the real thing.” I dug out my worn copy of his book, Academy Awards Illustrated (with a forward by Bette Davis) and showed it to her. She was blown away by the wealth of information. “Yeah,” I said. “He’s a columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. A real film historian, not a paid spokesman.” I think what moved my wife was Osborne’s enthusiasm and love of movies, which came through loud and clear with every introduction. TCM easily became my favorite channel and remains so today. It is the ultimate essential.
Osborne was born on May 3, 1932, in Colfax, Washington. His father was a high school principal and coach, and his mother a homemaker. Osborne said his love of Hollywood began when in 1941, when his mother brought him a copy of Modern Screen magazine with Lana Turner on the cover. He became so engrossed that eventually he took a notebook and write down details about every first-run movie he could find. That interest never left him.
He gradated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism. After graduation he began a career as a actor, working for 20th Century Fox and Desilu Studios. His first part in 1954 was an uncredited one as a stage driver in Death Valley Days. Most of his 11 movie and television roles were uncredited, including an appearance in Hitchcock’s Psycho.
It is reported that Lucille Ball took a shine to him and gave him some useful career advice: give up trying to get into movies and write about them instead. In 1965 he wrote his book, Academy Awards Illustrated, which led to The Hollywood Reporter hiring him as a columnist and critic. In 1978 he published 50 Golden Years of Oscar, which won the 1979 National Book Award. He was elected president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association in 1981 and served a two-year term. In 1984 he began as the on-air host for The Movie Channel. When Ted Turner created Turner Movie Classics in 1994, it was a natural for Osborne to become the station’s on-air host. He remained so, hosting primetime movies in addition to hosting occasional specials, Private Screenings, where he interviewed actors and directors. He also established a weekly program in 2006 called The Essentials, featuring a movie that Osborne and his co-host considered essential for film buffs.
In early 2016, suffering from illness, Osborne stepped away from his duties as host. Osborne died at his Manhattan home on March 6, 2017. He was 84.
He’ll be greatly missed. His combination of film knowledge, plus his boundless enthusiasm, made him the perfect ambassador for classic films. Although TCM is currently in good hands with Ben Mankiewicz succeeding Osborne as host, we can only hope the station will carry on the work Robert Osborne began. The network will pay tribute to Osborne on March 18 and 19.
March 23: At 8 pm, TCM is screening the original Godzilla (Gojira) from 1954. This is not your father’s Godzilla; in fact, Raymond Burr is nowhere to be seen. No, this is the original, which outside of a few weeks after its release in 1954, wasn’t seen widely in this country until 2004. Joseph E. Levine, who acquired the movie for U.S. distribution, lopped 40 minutes off it and replaced it with new footage featuring Burr as an American reporter who chases the Godzilla story to Japan and goes around talking to the backs of actors’ heads. This edited version was released in 1956 as Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and is the version we are familiar with today. It was seen by critics as nothing more than another campy sci-fi flick featuring a man in a monster suit who goes around stomping on miniature cities.
When the original gained widespread distribution in America through a DVD version, critics noticed that it was almost a completely different film from the one they were used to. It was much, much more than a movie about a giant lizard that runs amok in Tokyo. It is an allegory about the A-bomb and those that delivered it unto Japan. In other words, Godzilla R Us. When Levine acquired the movie he revoked all references to the bomb, Nagasaki, the fire bombing of Tokyo, and the emphasis on radiation poisoning. What was left was a film about a monster on the loose, much in the style of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, which, coincidentally, was the movie that inspired it, along with the Daigo Fukuryo Maru (“Lucky Dragon #5,” an ironic name as it turns out), a tuna fishing ship that strayed into a forbidden zone imposed around the Marshall Islands when we tested the first H-Bomb. The crew came down with radiation sickness and many died horribly. It became a point of contention between the Japanese and the Americans, and Gojira reflects that contention.
One scene that was lopped took place in the home of scientist Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura, who many film buffs will recognize as the star of Kurosawa’s Ikiru). As Yamane sits there with his daughter Emiko (Momoko Kochi) and her admirer Ogata (Akira Takarada), he laments the fact that Godzilla, the last of his species, has to be destroyed instead of studied. Ogata answers that, “Isn’t Godzilla a product of the atomic bomb that still haunts many of us Japanese?” There was no way Levine was going to let that one pass, nor the last line, where Yamane notes that, “If we keep conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.” In removing the offending footage, Levine took out anything that might have made the film uncomfortable for American audiences. Terry O. Morse, who made his reputation mainly as a film editor, was hired as director to blend the new footage with the old as seamlessly as possible. Inshiro Honda directed the original for Toho Studios, with Akira Kurosawa as an uncredited executive producer. Kurosawa had also made his own anti-nuclear film that same year, titled I Live in Fear. It bombed at the box office, while Gojira was a hit.
Over the year Toho followed up its hit with sequels of diminishing quality. Eventually Godzilla would morph from being a force of destruction to being a good guy, a hero of children, much like competitor Daiei Studios did with its monster-in-a-suit, Gamera. In other words, Toho did to Godzilla what Hollywood would do to Elvis: they cut his balls off. There were attempts to restore the lizard to his former status, but they failed. Godzilla became a victim of typecasting.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
March 29: It’s a night of movies based on the writings of Guy De Maupassant. Beginning at 8 pm, Vincent Price stars in Diary of a Madman (1963). At 10 pm it’s Le Plasir (1952), an episodic film based on three stories explore that explores what happens when pleasure, purity and sex meet up with each other. Directed by the great Max Ophuls, it stars Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux, Jean Servais, and Daniel Gelin, among others. As with any Ophuls film, it is a cinematic delight. At midnight it’s Mademoiselle Fifi, a 1944 film from RKO and producer Val Lewton. Told to make an anti-German morale flick, Lewton shapes it around the Franco-Russian War as a German officer (Kurt Krueger) tries to force a simple French laundress (Simone Simon) to be his mistress. Adapted from two De Maupassant stories: "Boule de Suif" (which also inspired John Ford’s Stagecoach, believe it or not) and "Mademoiselle Fifi.” It’s something of a curiosity piece today, and somewhat uneven in tone and execution, but is realized as only Val Lewton can.
Believe it or not, even Jean-Luc Godard used De Maupassant as a source for a movie. The result, Masculin Feminin, can be seen at 2 am. Made when Godard made coherent films, it’s the story of an aspiring writer (Jean-Pierre Leaud) and his involvement with a rising pop star (Chantal Goya) and her two roommates. David likes it a lot more than I do, though I will admit it has its moment, only not enough of them. The movie was shot in Sweden. Ingmar Bergman, not exactly a fan of Godard, went to go and see it. His verdict? “A classic case of Godard: mind-numbingly boring.”
March 26: At 3:30 am Renoir’s 1936 short, A Day in the Country is being shown as part of the De Maupassant theme. The family of a Parisian shop-owner spends a day in the country. At a picnic along the river, a bourgeois mother and daughter find romance while the men are busy fishing. The daughter falls in love with a man at the inn, where they spend the day. With Sylvia Bataille, Georges D'Arnoux (as Georges Saint-Saens), Jeanne Marken, André Gabriello, future director Jacques Becker, and Renoir himself as Poulain the Innkeeper. Becker and Luchino Visconti worked as Renoir's assistant directors. Look for the boy fishing from the bridge in the beginning of the film. It’s Jean Renoir's son, Alain.
Following at 4:30 am is one of Renoir’s early masterpieces, Boudu Saved From Drowning. Boudu (the wonderful Michel Simon) is saved from drowning in the Seine river by bookseller Edouard Lestingois (Charles Granval), who takes him in to his home until he recovers. Mrs. Lestingois (Marcelle Hainia) and the maid, Anne-Marie (Sévérine Lerczinska), who is also Lestingois' mistress, are far from delighted, for Boudu is lazy, dirty and salacious. And worse, Boudu becomes The Thing That Won’t Leave, maintaining that his savior is now responsible for his well-being. All attempts to adjust him to a middle-class, normal way of life fail. His antics include carelessly defacing priceless first edition books, flooding the kitchen, and other outrageous disturbances. In addition, he seduces Madame Lestingois and interrupts Mr. Lestingois' nightly visits to Anne-Marie, by insisting upon sleeping in the hall between their rooms. He later wins a lottery with a ticket given to him by Monsieur Lestingois, and decides to marry Anne-Marie. As they are drifting down the Seine in a river punt following their wedding, Boudu begins to yearn for the freedom he “lost.” The boat is somehow "accidentally" tipped over and Boudu disappears. While the others mourn his death, he swims ashore, changes clothes with a scarecrow, and sets out on the road again, a free man. Based a play by Rene Fauchois, it was remade in 1986 as Down and Out in Beverly Hills. But the 1932 version outshines any attempt at a remake. It is a comic masterpiece.
March 26: At 2 am it’s Torment, a 1944 film from director Alf Sjoberg, for which Bergman wrote the screenplay. This is a story of an idealistic high school student (Alf Kjellin), who saves a shop girl (Mai Zetterling) from harassment at the hands of his hated Latin teacher (Stig Järrel), who the students have named Caligula. At 4 am comes Hour of the Wolf (1968), a drama written and directed by Bergman about an artist (Max Von Sydow) in an emotional crisis punctuated by nightmares from the past while staying on windy and isolated island with his younger, pregnant wife (Liv Ullmann). During "the hour of the wolf" – between midnight and dawn – he tells his wife about his most painful memories. It’s Ingmar Bergman's only horror film, and reminds me of a parody that took place on the old comedy show, SCTV. On an episode of “Monster Chiller Horror Theater,” Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty) is showing this film for the kiddies out there. What follows is a brilliant and hysterical parody of the movie, called “Whispers of the Wolf,” and which elicits a reaction from the dumbfounded Count, who notes that “Hey, this isn’t a scary film at all! Who is responsible for this?”
March 25: At the dreadful hour of 4 am comes one of the most beautiful films to come from Japan, A Story From Chikamatsu, aka The Crucified Lovers (Chikamatsu Monogatari). It concerns Ishun (Eitarô Shindô), a wealthy scroll-maker in 17th century Japan who is married to Osan (Kyôko Kagawa). When he falsely accuses her of having an affair with his best worker, Mohei (Kazuo Hasegawa), the pair is forced to flee the city and declare their love for one another. Ishun orders his men to find them and separate them in order to avoid public humiliation. Based on a play by classic Japanese author Monzaemon Chikamatsu (1653-1725), the Japanese title "Chikamatsu Monogatari" means "A Tale From Chikamatsu.” Director Kenji Mizoguchi realizes it beautifully, with an undercurrent of emotional power beneath the narrative’s surface that will resonate with the viewer long after the film ends. We would recommend recording it for later viewing.
March 30: A mini-marathon begins at 6 am and ends at 2:30 pm. Of the films bring shown we recommend Under Eighteen, with Marian Marsh and Warren William (10 am). A good film, it inexplicably bombed at the box office, despite the push from the studio. Read our essay on it here. Ever In My Heart (11:30 am), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Otto Kruger, explores the anti-German prejudice doing World War I and has a decent melodramatic ending. And finally, at 12:45 pm, James Cagney is a racketeer who tries to improve conditions at a boy’s reformatory in the lively Mayor of Hell from 1933. The string linking all the films is that they were directed by Archie Mayo, an unimaginative studio hack (so much for auteur theory), which explains why even the best of them we mentioned are uneven.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
March 20: The theme is “March Malice,” and the film the night is Michael Powell's shocking Peeping Tom (1960), airing at 10 pm. A cinematographer, raised by a sadist, photographs his female victims as he kills them. It is a deeply disturbing film and almost destroyed Powell’s career. Ignored for years, its reputation as a first-rate psychological thriller was restored due to filmakers such as Martin Scorsese, who championed it as a classic of the genre. I remember seeing it as a teenager late one Saturday night on New York’s Channel 9, and I have never forgotten it. I recommend it highly.
March 22: At 4:15 am The Honeymoon Killers is being shown. Starring Tony LoBianco and Shirley Stoler, its based on the true story of Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck, who met through lonely-hearts correspondence and were executed in 1951 for the murders of Myrtle Young, Janet Fay, Delphine Downing and her 2-year old daughter Rainelle. To quote Michael Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film: “Definitely not made by the usual bozos. Required viewing.”
March 23: Besides Gojira, viewers can see his future antagonist, King Kong in the 1933 original, at 10 pm. The two would later meet in one of the great dreadful encounters that would become so common to Japanese sci-fi. Also of interest is the 1957 Ray Harryhausen epic, 20 Million Miles to Earth, which airs at the late hour of 5 am.
March 25: At 10:15 pm comes the Barrymore brothers in the uneven, but fascinating Arsene Lupin, from MGM in 1932. John is the gentleman their of the title who is relentlessly pursued by the great detective Guerchard (Lionel). It’s all around Paris that Lupin plans to steal the Mona Lisa, but the police, led by Guerchard, believe they know Lupin’s identity and have a secret weapon to catch him. With Karen Morely. It was the first pairing of the brothers and is highly entertaining.
The evening would not be complete if we didn’t recommend the wild and wacky House (Hausu), airing at 2 am. Threatened by the presence of her new stepmother, spoiled schoolgirl Oshare, aka “Gorgeous” (Kimiko Ikegami), takes six of her friends to visit her aunt in the countryside for the weekend. Thus begins a roller coaster of a movie, in bright pastels and a cartoonish flair, with outrageous things happening to each of the girls. It’s a movie that has to be seen to be believed and it’s popularity saved Toho Studios from bankruptcy. Be warned, it’s pretty graphic, although more on the level of a Road Runner cartoon in its outrageousness.
March 28: The one and only Hugo Haas lends his dubious directing tales to Lizzie (1957), airing at 12:30 am. Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Bird’s Nest, it’s a story of a Los Angeles psychiatrist (Richard Boone) who uses hypnosis to get to the bottom of a mousy woman’s (Eleanor Parker) multiple personality disorder. As Beth, she’s a happy, well-adjusted woman. But as Lizzie, she’s a wild party hardy who writes threatening letters. With Joan Blondell and the director in a role as a kindly neighbor. Realized as only Hugo Haas can, it was the only one of his moves to receive serious notice.
By Ed Garea
CONTINUING WHERE WE LEFT OFF LAST MONTH...
Last month we made it through 28 of the “31 Days of Oscar,” picking an Oscar winning or nominated film for each day of the month. As there are three days to go in March, we shall begin this month with the continuation of last month’s format.
March 1: Today is packed full of excellent movies. There are four from which to choose: Two Women (2:30 pm), Ugetsu (4:30 pm), Umberto D (6:15 pm), and Vertigo (10:00 pm). You really can’t go wrong with any of them, but if I had to choose only one, I think I would go with Two Women. Though as a film it’s the weakest of the four, it benefits from having Sophia Loren’s best performance on film, and for that reason alone I recommend it.
March 2: My choice this day is the often overlooked, but brilliant What Price Hollywood? (1:30 am) Expertly directed by George Cukor, this is the story of a waitress (Constance Bennett) and the drunken director (Lowell Sherman) who mentors her and turns her into a star. Said to have been based by writer Adela Rogers St. John on the marriage of silent screen star Colleen Moore and alcoholic producer John McCormick, it went on to inspire the much better known A Star is Born (said to have been based on the marriage of Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay) in 1937. Produced by David O. Selznick, it was the first “inside Hollywood” film to treat its subject reverentially, and doesn’t hit one false note along the way.
March 3: Out of all the day’s offerings, my choice in Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort from 1967, which airs at midnight. The director’s homage to the grand MGM musicals of the late ‘40s and ‘50s, it employed the same splashy colors as did The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), but this time the storyline is much lighter, the songs peppier and more traditionally interspersed with the dialogue. It stars Gene Kelly, Danielle Darrieux and George Chakras, but there real reason to see it is for the Dorleac sisters, Francoise and Catherine (Deneuve). A more beautiful and enchanting pair of sisters never existed (No, not even Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine) and watching them work their charm makes us only realize the loss we suffered when Franchise Dorleac met her death in an auto accident at the age of 25.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
March 5: A wonderful Danish double-feature begins at 3 am with Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast (1987). Based on the novel by Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), who is perhaps best known in this country for Out of Africa, it’s the story of two sisters in a remote 19th century Danish village who lead a very rigidly structured life that is centered around their father, the local minister and the church. Although both have had opportunities to leave the village (one by marrying a young army officer and the other by marrying a French opera singer), in both cases their father stepped in to quash their plans, with the result that they spent their lives caring for him. Now that he is deceased the sisters hire a French servant, Babette Hersant, to cook and look after the house. When Babette suddenly comes into good fortune, she wants to repay the sisters for their kindness by cooking a French meal for them and their friends on the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth. That’s all I’ll give away. Tune in and you won’t be disappointed.
Following at 5 am is Carl Dreyer’s classic, Gertrud, from 1964. Rather controversial in its day, it concerns a woman who places her notion of ideal love above everything else – and suffers immense disappointment because of her choices. Gertrud, a former singer, is married to politician Gustav Kanning, who, she claims, puts his work before everything else – in particular, her. She wants a man who will put love before everything else. Her motto in life is “Amor omnia,” love is all. She leaves her husband for composer Erland Jansson, and at first, everything is fine until she discovers that he only became involved with her to boost his own stock. She leaves him and journeys to Paris with an old friend to devote herself to study. She had confided to him that she had the misfortune only to love men who were incapable of understanding her or unwilling to give themselves completely to her. Thirty years later, Axel, the friend, visits her in her hometown and gives her a copy of his new book. But what seems to be a happy ending is shattered when she intuits that he wants his old letters back. She hands them over and he throws them into the fire in front of her before taking his leave. But before he asks through the door she reads to him a poem about love, written when she was just 16. Her uncompromising position on love may be a reflection of Dreyer’s own position on his films. At any rate, the film is typical Dreyer: lengthy, with some shots running to 10 minutes, superbly acted, and paced like a snail running for its life. Though panned at first by most critics, it has gained in stature over the years and now is seen as one of the director’s finest efforts. It was also his last film.
March 8: We now go from last to first in a sense, as director Agnes Varda’s first effort, La Pointe Courte, is airing at 11 am. A director’s first film is not so much a statement as a promise of things to come, and with Varda, it’s a large promise indeed that was magnificently fulfilled over the course of her career. Named after the district in France where it takes place, the film interweaves two stories that are connected only by where they take place, a small fishing community in Sete, a Mediterranean city, located in the southeast of France. One story concerns the experiences of local citizens as they go about their jobs, dealing with the petty bureaucrats and their rules that only make staying in business harder to do. The other story is about a young Parisian couple, known as Him and Her, as they cope with a growing marital crisis. He grew up in La Pointe Courte and loves its sights and sounds, while she was raised in Paris, with her tastes reflecting those of her cosmopolitan environment. To try to set things right, they visit the husband’s old neighborhood, talking their way through their differences.
Varda centers the movie’s drama in a series of small, but vitally important questions, such as, with regard to the first story thread, of whether the man will allow his daughter to marry the man she loves, a man the father regards as a milquetoast. Will the police crack down on the fisherman who secured his shellfish from an off-limits stretch of water? And finally, will our big city couple reconcile their differences or split up? The answers to these questions are set against the backdrop of a water-jousting tournament that actually takes place in Sete each year. Varda is at her best when underlining the differences between the natives and the visitors, stopping the city folks short of making the locals seem like ignorant yokels; instead subtly emphasizing the commonality of both lifestyles. It’s a film that once seen, tends to stay with the viewer like a good hearty meal and its influence can be seen in her later works, as it represented a world-view she never disowned.
March 15: At 3:30 am TCM is showing Rene Clements’s thought provoking Les Maudits (The Damned). The 1947 films set during the last days of the Third Reich, as a group of high-ranking Nazis and French collaborators board a U-boat in Oslo heading for South America. The film’s narrator (Henri Vidal) is a doctor who has been kidnapped to tend to the ill Hilde Garosi (Florence Marly), the wife of one of the passengers and the lover of another. Realizing that once the woman recovers his life is forfeit, the doctor tries various ruses to stay live, all to no avail. We discover that the passengers are on a mission to continue the war in South America, but as the voyage goes on the mission begins to deteriorate once they learn that Berlin has fallen and that a message has gone out for all U-boats to return to port. The film is firmly in the tradition of claustrophobic dramas such as Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, with the audience guessing who and who does not make it to the destination. It is a gripping film, notable for its depiction of a World War II U-boat and its tracking shots through the boat. Fans of war films should take this one in.
March 10: The seldom shown Bureau of Missing Persons (1933) airs at 7:45 am. Pat O’Brien stars in this comedy-drama as Butch Saunders, a hard-working detective in the robbery division transferred because of his brutal tactics. Lewis Stone is his captain. Bette Davis is Norma Roberts, who reports her husband missing, and Butch takes the case, falling for Norma along the way, despite some glitches in her background. Realizing that she’s playing him, Butch sets a trap to catch her. Look for Glenda Farrell, who steals the movie as Butch’s estranged wife.
March 13: Katharine Hepburn plays a strong-willed and independent aviatrix who falls in love with middle-aged nobleman and politician Colin Clive in Dorothy Arzner’s Christopher Strong (1933), which will be shown at 6:15 am. It’s not Arzner’s best, though a lot of the problems have to do with casting the stodgy Clive as a man of passion and the fact that Hepburn had the audacity to tell Arzner how to direct her picture. There is zero chemistry between the two stars, as Hepburn’s Lady Cynthia Darrington chooses to end her life by crashing her plane rather than bring disrepute to her lover. Look for Margaret Lindsay in an unbilled role.
March 14: Joel McCrea is a hardworking fisherman who has to take on the villainous Gavin Gordon for control of a fishery and the hand of beautiful society woman Jean Arthur in The Silver Horde (1930), airing at 9:15 am. Evelyn Brent is excellent as dance hall gal Cherry Malotte, who proves to be McCrea’s true love.
A real gem is being shown at 1:30 pm: The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933), from Mack Sennett and starring W.C. Fields as Yukon prospector Mr. Snavely, who lost his only son, Chester (George Chandler) to the temptations of the big city. Now, years later, Chester, released from prison, has come home to Ma and Pa in this parody of the melodramas that were the rage of low-budget movies. Definitely worth a glance, especially for Fields and his now famous line, “It Ain't a Fit Night Out for Man or Beast.”
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
March 4: At 10:30 am TCM begins showing us another long-running B-series with Maisie (1939), starring Ann Sothern as a Brooklyn showgirl with a heart “of spun sugar” that gets herself into various adventures around the world. Created by MGM producer J. Walter Ruben and originally intended for the late Jean Harlow, Ruben found his star in the sassy and intelligent Sothern, who had recently joined the studio after a stay at RKO, where she was going nowhere fast, stuck as a supporting character in B-pictures. Ironically, the film was a hit and typecast Sothern in yet another B-series, albeit a more lavishly produced one. The Maisie series became so popular that letters to the star, simply addressed to “Maisie, U.S.A.” found their way to the MGM studio. In the opener, Maisie Ravier, stranded and broke, lands in a small Wyoming town where she meets "Slim" Martin (Robert Young), the foreman on a Clifford Ames’s (Ian Hunter) ranch. Slim doesn’t trust women, being as one once did him some serious hurt, and orders her out of town. But Ames, who is trying to patch up his marriage to Sybil (Ruth Hussey), hires Maisie as Sybil’s maid. Of course Maisie and Slim fall in love and Sybil tries to disrupt things, and Maisie leaves in anger after quarreling with Slim. Ames discovers that Sybil is cheating on him and kills himself, for which Slim is blamed and placed on trial. Maisie comes rushing to his defense and all ends well as Maisie and Slim plan to marry and live on the ranch, which Ames had willed to Maisie in his suicide note.
March 11: More adventures of Maisie as she is stranded in the jungle with a romantic doctor (John Carroll) in Congo Maisie (1940), airing at 10:30 am.
March 12: At 10:00 am it’s that psychotronic classic, Edgar Ulmer’s Detour (1945), starring Tom Neal is the ill-fated musician and Ann Savage as the hitchhiker from hell.
March 14: It’s a classic psychotronic doubleheader beginning at 2:00 am with Richard Roundtree in Shaft (1971), the film that began the Blaxploitation genre. Immediately following at 4:00 am is Shaft’s Big Score (1972), in which Our Hero is back to find who murdered his old friend Cal Asby (Robert Kya-Hill), a funeral director and beloved businessman who secretly ran the numbers racket in Harlem. Along for the ride is Moses Gunn, reprising his role as gangster Bumpy Jonas (loosely based on real life Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson, an ally of Lucky Luciano). As with most sequels, it’s not up to the original, but still manages to be quite and entertaining ride nonetheless.
BAD MOVIE ALERT
March 9: In our upcoming look at Richard Burton and his movies, we mention he had done quite a few howlers. At 12:45 am comes one of them, The Sandpiper (1965) in which he is ably abetted in this exercise in bad moviemaking by then wife Elizabeth Taylor. Dick is a straight-laced married Episcopal minister who has those laces undone by Liz as a single mom beatnik artist in this silly update of Somerset Maugham’s Miss Thompson. With Charles Bronson playing a sculptor, of all things. It's directed by Vincente Minnelli after William Wyler had the good sense to turn it down and scripted by the overrated Dalton Trumbo. Watch it for its utter pretentiousness; lines dripping with meaning accompanied by the requisite mugging. It just sits there like a decaying corpse as its two stars blather on about God-knows-what, which makes it required viewing.
March 20: Can you see Katharine Hepburn as an Ozarks Hillbilly? Neither can we, which is why Spitfire, from 1934, is a must. It airs at 9:45 am and you can read our essay on it here.
By Ed Garea
At this point, we’re about midway through TCM’s annual salute to the Oscars, to which the month of February is devoted, along with the first three days in March. We received some good feedback to our special format for this festival, so we’ll continue with what obviously works.
This year TCM is doing sort of “A Look at the Oscars From A to Z.” But face it: how many times can one repackage the same old films year after year? Definitely, more foreign films need to be added, and perhaps some animation as well. Something to think about, anyway.
February 16: Our pick today is The Maltese Falcon from 1941, which airs at 6:15. It marks John Huston’s directorial debut, and a director couldn’t ask for a better opening. Humphrey Bogart was at the top of his form as Sam Spade and was given a run for his money by a strong supporting cast, which included Elisha Cook, Jr., Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and the formidable Sydney Greenstreet, also making his film debut after a career on stage, most recently with the company of Lunt and Fontaine. We’ve all seen it multiple times, but so what? We can always watch it again – it’s just that good.
February 17: There’s nothing like a good Pre-Code film to make one’s day, and Min and Bill (1930), at 5:00 pm, starring the combination of Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery, is the ticket. It was the first time these two teamed, and the way they came off it seemed like they had been working together for years. Dressler is a cantankerous old buzzard who runs a waterfront hotel and Beery is an equally cantankerous old sailor who’s her best friend. Together they’re a pair of lovable underdogs. The plot revolves around Min’s efforts to get her adopted daughter Nancy (Dorothy Jordan) out of these crummy environs and out to a better life. In order to accomplish this she resorts to some radical tactics, such as pretending not to care about her charge as she sends her away to a more respectable home. Along the way she faces opposition from Nancy’s real mother, Bella (Marjorie Rambeau), a grasping floozie whose antics towards reclaiming her daughter (Hint: money is involved.) puts Min to the ultimate test of parental love. Adapted by Frances Marion from Lorna Moon’s novel, the parts were perfect for Dressler and Beery. Marion was quite good at this sort of thing, having also written the screenplay for one of the all-time tearjerkers, Stella Dallas, back in 1925. However, it’s the chemistry between Dressler and Beery that makes the film such a joy to watch. They are the ultimate slob actors.
February 18: There is nothing like a good comedy, especially on a winter’s day, to warm the heart. And TCM is dishing up a good one at 4:30 pm with one of Laurel and Hardy’s best shorts, The Music Box, from 1932. The boys play movers whose task is to haul a heavy player piano up a huge flight of stairs from the street to a house sitting high above; a feat that makes it seem more like climbing a mountainside. A bareboned plot such as this would test the mettle of any comedian, but for Laurel and Hardy it’s child’s play. They keep us glued to the screen with a variety of sight gags and a continuing flow of characters in and out of the story. The short, which was the first film to win an Oscar in the Best Comedy Short Subject category, is actually a remake of their classic 1927 silent short Hats Off, which found the boys lugging a washing machine up and down the same flight of stairs. It is thought that The Three Stooges used the same staircase in their 1941 short,An Ache in Every Stake, but that's not so. They used a similar staircase in the same neighborhood of the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles.
February 19: Films about religious life don’t get any better than this one from director Fred Zinnemann and star Audrey Hepburn. The Nun’s Story (11:00 am) is that rare bird in Hollywood: a religious film that eschews the usual Hollywood treatment of the feel-good happy ending in favor of a thoughtful story of a devout young woman, Gabrielle Van Der Mal (Hepburn), whose dream is to serve in the Belgian Congo as a nurse and who later finds fulfillment of sorts as missionary nun. But her inner-life is a struggle, revolving around her growing doubts about having the humility necessary to serve God. Eventually, her doubts make it difficult for her to succeed in her vocation. It’s not a perfect film, being too long in length with its drama mostly unrealized cinematically. However, it presents more of a realistic view of the Church, warts and all, and Hepburn gives perhaps the best performance of her life and was nominated for an Oscar for her trouble. Though the movie marks something of a breakthrough in presenting the religious life, Hollywood was soon back to happy, singing nuns.
February 20: Peter Sellers created a wonderfully hilarious character in Inspector Clousseau and becomes the focus of this otherwise bland comedy of jewel thieves among the beautiful people of Europe at a fashionable resort in the Italian Alps. The Pink Panther (4:00 pm) is a tour de force by Sellers and the picture slows to a crawl whenever he’s not on. David Niven, Robert Wagner, Capucine and Claudia Cardinale proved steady support, but Sellers is the show. His Clousseau character was put to better use in the sequel, A Shot in the Dark, where he was the star instead of being reduced almost to a supporting player.
February 21: Charles Laughton is always worth catching on the screen, and one of his best roles was as English monarch Henry VIII in Alexander Korda’s superb 1933 drama The Private Life of Henry VIII, which airs at 2:15 pm. Laughton gives an unforgettable performance as the colorful king whose obsession with producing a male heir took him through six wives. It begins just before the execution of second wife Anne Boleyn and Korda provides a sterling supporting cast as the wives: Merle Oberon as Anne Boleyn, Wendy Barrie as Jane Seymour, Elsa Lanchester as Anne of Cleves, Binnie Barnes as Katherine Howard, and Everley Gregg as his final wife, Katherine Paar. Robert Donat, Miles Mander and John Loder are also on hand, but it’s Laughton’s show all the way, and he doesn’t disappoint. The Academy also thought so, for they awarded him the Best Actor Oscar.
February 22: On a day without much to speak of in the way of movies, Peter Medak’s 1972 adaptation of Peter Barnes’ satirical stage play, The Ruling Class (12:15 am), offers a gem of a performance from Peter O’Toole as deranged 14th Earl of Gurney, who believes he’s the second coming of Christ. He suspends himself from a custom-made crucifix that he uses to get his beauty rest. The film itself is wildly uneven, with the Earl’s uncle (William Mervyn) marrying him to the uncle’s own mistress (Carolyn Seymour) with the intention of producing a male heir, after which the Duke can be sent to the funny farm with the family gaining a ruling member who is sane. The plot goes south when the newlyweds actually fall in love. At the same time, the Earl is becoming convinced that he is actually Jack the Ripper. It goes on from there to the accompaniment of songs and dances from the leading characters. Originally released in a shorter version in 1972, the movie gained a cult status that resulted in the cut footage being restored, bringing the film to 154 minutes. The restored footage only succeeds in slowing the movie down, but O’Toole is so mesmerizing we can’t help but stay tuned in.
February 23: At midnight comes one of the great B movies: Shaft. Richard Roundtree plays private eye John Shaft, who is hired by Harlem underworld boss Moses Gunn to retrieve his kidnaped daughter (Sherry Brewer). It’s not much different from a story with a white detective, but the character of John Shaft is so vividly played by Roundtree that he takes the film to another level entirely. Shaft rubs out the baddies and romances the ladies while strutting around in a leather coat to the throbbing rhythm of Isaac Hayes’ dynamic score. Never before had African-American audiences seen a character quite like him and they loved what they saw. The box office success of the 1971 movie helped jump start the genre known as blaxploitation, but films like this and performances like Roundtree’s would become the glaring exception.
February 24: The day features such gems as Singin’ in the Rain (2:00 pm), Some Like It Hot (8:00 pm), and Spartacus (10:15 pm), but our recommendation is one of the worst films ever made, The Silver Chalice (1954), which airs at 11:30 am. Released during a time when Biblical epics were considered money in the bank, it’s based on Thomas B. Costain’s best-seller about a Greek artisan named Basil (Paul Newman) sold into slavery and later commissioned by Christian leaders to make a chalice for the cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper. Audiences must have sat wondering if they could believe what they were seeing, as they were looking at obviously cardboard stone walls with wildly over-the-top performances by Jack Palance, a court magician who believes he’s the messiah; his assistant Helena (Virginia Mayo) whose main enjoyment in life is attending pagan orgies while chewing her share of the scenery; Pier Angeli as the unbelievably good Christian granddaughter of Joseph of Arimathea who marries Basil and converts him to Christianity, and Jacques Aubuchon as possibly the worst Nero ever to appear on the screen. Lorne Greene also gives a strange slant to his portrayal of St. Peter, making us wonder if he had watched James Dean too many times. The film is wretchedly written by the aptly named Lesser Samuels and cluelessly directed by Victor Saville, who acquired the rights to the novel right after it was published. Somehow he talked Warner Bros. into letting him produce this turkey. Newman’s debut was more on the lines of notorious than notable, giving a performance that lacked any sort of panache. Newman later got a little revenge when the move played on L.A.’s version of Million Dollar Movie in the 1960s. He placed ads in the trade papers that read, "Paul Newman apologizes every night this week-Channel 9." The film eventually became a camp classic and is a favorite of bad film fanatics.
February 25: A lot of good movies are being shown today but for our part we’re going with Gregory LaCava’s ensemble comedy-drama, Stage Door, airing at 8:15 am. This adaptation (by Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller) of the hit play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman about a young girl, Terry Randall (Katharine Hepburn), who aspires to become an actress and lodges in a boarding house filled with other acting hopefuls. Co-starring with Ginger Rogers, who was looking to escape from being typecast as Fred Astaire’s dancing partner, Hepburn and Rogers deftly use their off-screen antagonism to inform their on-screen antagonism, combining sharp comic timing with some serious dramatic acting, especially on the part of Rogers, who wowed the critics with her performance. They’re helped by terrific supporting performances from Lucille Ball, Gail Patrick, Constance Collier and Andrea Leeds, who provide the human background against which Hepburn and Rogers play. Adolphe Menjou, Samuel S. Hinds and Franklin Pangborn also provide solid support.
February 26: Can there be any other choice this day than The Thin Man (8:00 pm)? William Powell and Myrna Loy were the perfect match as Nick and Nora Charles, so much so that people actually thought they were married in real life. The mystery plays a decided second fiddle to the antics of Nick and Nora, who have a knack for making alcoholism seem most appealing, though the producers try to make up for it by having Nick assemble all the suspects in a room before naming the guilty party, a tactic that proved so popular with audiences it was repeated in every Thin Man sequel from then onward. But this is the first, and by far the best of the series, and it received four Oscar nominations. Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Writing, Adaptation.
February 27: At 8:00 pm comes a film that was not that well received at the time, but which has gone on to become one of the classics of the silver screen. We’re talking about Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not To Be (1942). The idea of a comedy set in Nazi-occupied Poland may have rankled some who saw it as blasphemous, but newer generations have embraced the movie for the dark comedy it is. As the hammy Joseph Tura, Jack Benny is pitch perfect, hitting all the right notes. He’s matched line for line by Carole Lombard as his wife Maria in a performance many regard as her best. Lombard was a consummate performer, the best comedic actress of her time. Sadly this was to be her last performance. In a hurry to get home to husband Clark Gable after her War Bond tour wrapped, Lombardi’s plane crashed into a peak of Potosi Mountain near Las Vegas, killing all aboard. The tragic circumstances of her death resulted in a rewriting of her line “What can happen in a plane?” Mel Brooks remade the film in 1983 as a starring vehicle for both him and wife Anne Bancroft. As good as Bancroft was in the movie, though, she still couldn’t approach the dynamic of Lombard’s performance.
February 28: As the month closes, our pick for the evening is Luis Bunuel’s absorbing 1970 drama of revenge, Tristana (1:00 am), featuring Catherine Deneuve in a delicately nuanced performance as a young girl whose duplicitous guardian, Don Lope (Fernando Rey), seduces her and makes her his mistress. Although he tells Tristana that she is free, she knows the truth and feels increasingly trapped by his possessiveness. When she falls in love with young artist Horatio (Franco Nero), she runs away with him to Madrid to get away from Don Lope. However, a couple of years later she develops a large tumor in her leg and begs Horatio to bring her back to Don Lope, who has inherited a fortune. Her leg ends up being amputated, and with the help of Don Lope she slowly recovers from the surgery. Don Lope, who has aged considerably, has softened over the years and takes over the role of Tristana’s father. He encourages Horatio to court her, but Tristana, who is considered deformed, has let her deformity enter into her inner being. She coldly rejects Horatio's proposal of marriage. Eventually, at the urging of a local priest, Don Lope marries her. Over time their roles have completely reversed and the cold Tristana has become the caregiver for Don Lope, who has become senile and has turned to religion for consolation. One night he suffers a heart attack. He implores Tristana to call a doctor. She pretends to phone from the next room, but in actuality is opening a window to let the winter wind enter the dying man’s room. Her revenge is complete.
By Ed Garea
As we know, TCM is devoting the month of February, along with the first three days in March, to its annual “31 Days of Oscar” festival. Unlike last year, there’s little that’s new this time around. They have changed the format this year, showing the movies in alphabetical order, but once again, it’s mostly the same old films. Because of this, we here at Cinema Inhabituel are changing our format for the month. We will feature a different film each day and try to find those we feel are usually not discussed and sometimes overlooked. Barring that we’ll do what we can.
February 1: Let’s begin with one of the greatest action films ever made: The Adventures of Robin Hood (12:15 am). Robin Hood was a role Errol Flynn was born to play. In fact it’s perfectly cast all around, with Claude Rains as the devious King John, Basil Rathbone at his villainous best as Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and Olivia De Havilland impossibly beautiful as Maid Marian. One of the delights of the film is its inability to take itself seriously, as the cast seems to be performing their roles with a wink and a nod. The casting genius even extends to the minor roles: Can anyone else than Alan Hale play Little John? And no one but Eugene Palette can play Friar Tuck with such confidence. Warner Brothers had three strokes of genius in making the film: First, they replaced the staid William Keighley during filming with Michael Curtiz, who knew how to get the action into an action film. Second, they cast Errol Flynn as Robin. Believe it or not, James Cagney was the first choice for the role. Cagney’s good, but this is out of his league. We could no more see him as Robin Hood as we could see Flynn playing Rocky Sullivan in Angels With Dirty Faces. And thirdly, they shot the film in Technicolor, which made it even more mesmerizing and appealing. We’ve seen this movie more times than we can count, but we’re always willing to see it again.
February 2: Though it’s being aired at the late hour of 3:30 am, The Battle of Algiers is definitely one worth catching. Directed by Gilleo Pontecorvo, it’s a reconstruction of the events of 1954 to 1957 in the struggle of the guerrillas in the National Liberation Front against the French authorities. As portrayed by Jean Martin, Col. Mathieu isn’t so much a character as a representation of the repressive power of the regime against the feral heat generated by the inhabitants as they fight tooth and nail against their oppressors. What the French accomplish in the end is to win the battle against terrorism while losing the concurrent battle of ideas. It’s a lesson of history that has been repeated since then from Vietnam to Iraq. The device of Col. Mathieu is a clever stroke from the director and co-writer Franco Solinas in that the revolutionaries do not need to spout revolutionary consciousness since the Colonel is given such a counter-revolutionary consciousness that he says it for them. He is a fatalist, knowing that history has always been on the side of the oppressed, but at the same time realizing that he is a part of an imperialistic holding pattern ultimately doomed to failure. The movie never comes right out and espouses these feelings; rather it takes us along in the revolutionary fervor we see on the screen, with events happening so quickly that we don’t have time to pause and think. some may even accept the N.L.F.’s philosophy that violence s there only path to liberation. The French government complained that the film’s politics were anything but “fair and balanced.” They were right – it's a paean to revolution, which while documenting violent extremes on the part of the N.L.F., never retreats from its position that the Algerian side is right. The ethical questions raised by the film are still with us today and are the best reason why this is required viewing.
February 3: Here’s a strange choice. In a night of better known (and better) pictures, our recommendation is the seldom seen Blues in the Night. This overheated, fermented mix of jazz and melodrama from 1941 stars Richard Whorf as a pianist in a jazz band that includes Jack Carson (the band’s leader) on trumpet, Priscilla Lane on vocals, Elia Kazan on clarinet, Peter Whitney on bass, and Billy Halop on the drums. Along the way they run into escaped convict Lloyd Nolan, which leads to big trouble down the road when former girlfriend Betty Field succeeds in making Lloyd jealous. Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer composed the score, which includes the Oscar nominated “Blues in the Night.” Some may not recognize it from the title, but it begins with “My momma done told me, when I was in knee pants, My momma done told me, son...” I can still remember Daffy Dick and Porky Pig singing it in My Favorite Duck from 1942. This was Elia Kazan’s last acting role before he turned to directing, and as for Billy Halop, next stop was Poverty Row after starring in a couple of Universal serials.
February 4: Of all the ‘70s and beyond musicals our favorite by far is Cabaret, which will be shown tonight at 1:30 am. It’s easily Liza Minnelli’s best performance and most likely her most memorable one. Based on “Sally Bowles,” a short story by Christopher Isherwood (from his collection Berlin Stories), the movie captures perfectly the setting and mood of early ‘30s Berlin, just before Hitler became chancellor in 1933. Minnelli is Sally Bowles, a bohemian young dancer who performs at the Kit Kat Club. Joel Grey, who steals the film, is the emcee at the club. Michael York plays Brian Roberts, a bisexual writer (based on Isherwood), who shares his bed with Sally and Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem). Director Bob Fosse took the Broadway musical on which the film is based and increased the focus of the film on the Kit Kat Club, cutting all but one of the musical numbers that took place outside the club. The number he kept in was the harrowing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” a folk song spontaneously sung by young Nazis at an outdoor café. I have seen this film numerous times and the scene still sends a chill down my spine. A point of trivia that’s worth mentioning is that when the musical opened in London’s West End in 1966, the role of Bowles was played by Dame Judi Dench. Cabaret was nominated for 10 Oscars, with Minnelli winning Best Actress, Joel Grey winning Best Supporting Actor, and Bob Fosse walking away with Best Director.
February 5: To recommend any film other than Casablanca (8:00 pm) this night would be sheer blasphemy. Ingrid Bergman was never more popular or beloved than when the world’s most famous saloonkeeper was treating her like a whore. There has been much written about this beloved film, and we think every film buff is familiar with the backstory: how it was improvised from day to day (Ingrid Bergman reportedly didn’t even know until the last minute whether her character would be going away with Humphrey Bogart or Paul Henried), and the famous story of how it was to originally star George Raft, Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan (which was just a story) before cooler heads prevailed. At any rate, there is no doubt about the hold it as had not only on film fans but also the American public at large since the early ‘60s, when a small theater in Massachusetts began showing it for three weeks every year to bigger and bigger crowds. Since then, Casablanca has rightfully earned a place as a staple of American pop culture. Even those who haven’t seen it can quote lines of dialogue, such as “Here’s looking to you, kid,” and “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Captain Renault’s line, “Major Strasser has been shot ... Round up the usual suspects,” was turned into a hit movie by Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning three for Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz), and Best Writing, Screenplay (Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch). Another famous story told about the film concerned its director, the Hungarian-born Michael Curtiz, who was famous for mangling the English language. One day he supposedly wanted to see how Ingrid Bergman’s character, Ilsa Lund, would look with a pet dog. He decided on a French poodle and sent a young stagehand to scour the studio for one. The young man returned over an hour later with a different breed of dog, telling an annoyed Curtiz that he couldn’t find a French poodle. “Never mind,” Curtiz supposedly shot back. “The next time I send an idiot out for something, I go myself.”
February 6: Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand, especially when 1967’s Cool Hand Lukeis scheduled to play (8:00 pm). Paul Newman was never better than as Lucas Jackson, a man who just doesn’t fit in, no matter where he is, and this time he’s in jail for sawing the heads of parking meters while drunk. His natural inclination to stand up for his principles makes him a hero of sorts on the road gang, especially after he’s befriended by convict leader Dragline (George Kennedy). He gets along fine at first with the powers-that-be until they break his honor code by punishing him for something he hasn’t done. Then it’s war, even though he knows he will lose in the end. Part of the fun of the film is watching for familiar actors in supporting parts, such as Wayne Rogers, J.D. Cannon, Strother Martin, Lou Antonio, Jo Van Fleet, Richard Davalos, Harry Dean Stanton, Joe Don Baker, James Gammon, Ralph Waite, Anthony Zerbe, and, of course, Dennis Hopper.
February 7: How about a TCM premiere tonight, namely Dreamgirls, from 2006. Loosely based on the story of the Supremes, it stars Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Hudson, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Knowles, Hudson and Anika Noni Rose are members of an all girl R&B group called the Dreamettes. Foxx is the man who discovers them and finagles them a job as backup singers for charismatic R&B superstar James “Thunder” Early (Murphy). The film follows the girls’ rise to the top and all the shenanigans that accompany it, such as payola along with the inevitable break-up that occurs after success has been achieved. The performances are all top notch, especially Hudson, who deserved her Oscar, and Murphy, who was nominated and should have won, but didn’t. It’s a movie well worth the time with great tunes and a riveting storyline.
February 8: Our pick this day, from 1956, is Forbidden Planet at 4:00 pm. One of the classics of science-fiction cinema, it boasts excellent special effects and an intelligent story. A group of space troops, led by Leslie Nielsen, has come to the planter Altira-4 to relieve the members of the Bellerophon mission 20 years earlier. But upon landing, they learn that the only survivors are Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis), along with Robby the Robot, which Morbius had pieced together years ago. Nielsen must phone home for further instructions as how to handle this new situation, while Morbius wants him and his crew gone as soon as possible. Nielsen, however, is suspicious. Something’s not passing the smell test, and when several of his crew meet their deaths, things heat up fast. Those new to this classic will love it while us old hands can certainly watch it once more.
February 9: We’re in a bit of a quandary today, with so many wonderful films on the slate. But our recommendation is ‘G’ Men with Jimmy Cagney from Warner Bros. at 6:15 pm. Cagney is in top form as “Brock” Davis, a lawyer put through law school by powerful gangster “Mac” McKay (William Harrigan). When Davis’ friend, FBI agent Eddie Buchanan (Regis Toomey), is gunned down by gangsters, Davis joins the FBI. After receiving his training, he travels to New York City and tells the mobsters, including McKay, that he will return to get each and every one of them. And get them he does, putting his knowledge of the gangland to good use with both guns blazing. Margaret Lindsay and the underrated Ann Dvorak are on hand to supply the eye candy, and Robert Armstrong and Lloyd Nolan (in his film debut) are part of the good guys at the Bureau. Barton MacLane is main heel Brad Collins and plays the role only as Barton MacLane can. By the way, note the absence of submachine guns. The newly enforced Production Code outlawed the use of the weapon as it was thought it would corrupt the youth of America.
February 10: The best choice for today is Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty, from 1940. Brian Donlevy is in top form as a bum who is given a ticket to vote in a crooked election. As each ticket is worth two dollars, he votes in as many wards possible, delivering almost a bucketful to the political boss. The boss is not impressed, but asks if he wants a job. Donlevy wants to know what he’s supposed to do and he’s told to collect from those behind in their graft payments. From here, he’s made an alderman, and when the mayor is found wanting in the polls, the Boss, nicely played by Akim Tamiroff, asks him if he want to be the Reform Party’s candidate for mayor. “Since when do you have anything to do with the Reform Party?” he asks. “I am the Reform Party,” the Boss replies. “Since when?” “Since always. What, I should starve just because the city changes administrations?” Donlevy’s even given a family, in the form of Muriel Angelus and her children. After awhile they fall in love and marry, which proves to be his downfall, because she reforms him. This is a finely tuned satire of politics which is just as fresh now as it was in 1940. It airs at 10:30 pm.
February 11: How about another musical to liven thing up a little? Our pick for today is A Hard Day’s Night, from 1964, starring the Beatles. When the group hit it big in 1963, it was only a matter of time before they would do a movie to appeal to their legion of fans. Put together quickly, in fear that the group might just be a passing fad, directorial chores were given to Richard Lester. Before tackling this project, Lester had worked mainly in commercials and television, with only two movies to his credit: It’s Trad, Dad! (a 1962 film about jazz youth) and Mouse on the Moon (1963). Quickly realizing that neither film could serve as a model, he instead drew from his work in commercials, with its quick cutting and energetic pacing. Writer Alun Owen followed the boys around, careful to adapt his screenplay to words and phrases the Beatles actually spoke. (It was said the John Lennon ad-libbed many of his lines while the others stuck to the script.) What Lester ended up with was a semidocumentary about a day in the life of the Beatles, the main plot being that they had to make a television show set for later in the evening and, of course, almost don’t make it. A subplot was added for Paul in the form of his grandfather, nicely played by television and music hall star Wilford Brambell. Throughout the film everyone remarks on what a clean old man he is, a reference to his hit television series Steptoe and Son (the basis for the later American sitcom Sanford and Son), in which a popularly repeated line is that he’s “a dirty old man.” Lester’s quick cutting style and pacing liken the film to the style of the French New Wave. And it still holds up well. Tune it in at 10 pm if you don’t believe us.
February 12: Today’s choice is a wonderful film airing at the despicable hour of 3:45 am, I Vitelloni. Directed by Fellini in 1953, and released in America under the title The Young and the Passionate, it’s the story of five young friends and their struggle to escape from the boredom of their small town in Italy. According to the TCM essay, the film’s title translates to “five big slabs of veal.” Actually, a literal translation is “The Bulls,” but checking with our resident European, Christine (who is fluent in Italian), a more fitting idiomatic rendering would be “Young Slobs,” an apt description of the protagonists: five very immature sons of indulgent, middle-class families, living off their parents and wasting their lives away on the Atlantic seashore town of Rimini, waiting for the world to come to them, rather than vice versa. The summer tourist season has just ended, which means all there is to do for Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste), Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini), Alberto (Alberto Sordi), and Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi) to do is hang out on the town streets, play pool, and await the coming of Carnival, all the while telling each other what they tend to do in life – a series of childish pipe dreams. As with many of his films, I Vitelloni is autobiographical. He observes the human farce without being condescending. Although the tone of the film is satirical, at the same time a genuine warmth emanates, making the humor richer. Of the five, Moraldo (the stand-in for Fellini himself) is the only one with courage enough to escape this farcical existence. The others will succumb to the pressures of provincial life. Fellini grew up in the town of Rimini and Riccardo is played by his brother, who the director cast because he felt that Riccardo would best understand the sensibilities of living in the small town. Think of American Graffiti or Diner, only much, much better.
February 13: For those looking for a nice change of pace, we suggest 1948’s Key Largo. Airing at 12:30 am, it’s always worth seeing. Or simply record it for later. Eddie G. Robinson is mesmerizing as deported crime boss Johnny Rocco, who is up from Cuba to deliver some counterfeit money. But an approaching storm has delayed his contacts. His stopover at James Temple’s (Lionel Barrymore) hotel on Key Largo proves to be fateful, as returning veteran Humphrey Bogart has come to pay his respects to Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall), the widow of an army buddy killed in Italy. The drama just keeps building from there, with the hurricane ratcheting things to the boiling point. Claire Trevor won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Gaye Dawn, Rocco’s alcoholic former mistress.
February 14: None other than Francois Truffaut was once quote as saying the French New Wave might never have come into being if not for “the young American Morris Engel, who showed us the way to independent production with his fine movie, The Little Fugitive.” The Little Fugitive, which airs at 1:15 am, was the first effort of director Morris Engel and his collaborator – and later wife – Ruth Orkin. Made in 1953 and shot on a tiny budget with non-actors on location (mainly Coney Island), it’s a delightful tale about the adventures of seven-year old Joey (Richie Andrusco), whose brother Lennie (Richard Brewster) has him believing that he shot him to death. Joey runs away to Coney Island, where he mingles with the crowd and later hides under the boardwalk. Eventually a carnival employee obtains Joey’s name and address and calls his home, reaching brother Lennie, who comes to bring him home right before Mom arrives and real trouble breaks out. The Little Fugitive was obviously filmed in a more innocent era, when a kid could walk around safely, and the carnival employees who takes an interest in him is genuinely concerned about a lost little boy. Engel shot the film on a shoulder-mounted 35 mm camera as he follows Joey around the amusement park. He also shot the film without sound, dubbing in the dialogue later in the studio. The background sound was all done by professional sound editors, who create a very lively soundscape for the film. Eddy Manson composed and played the score on harmonica. Although the film did scant business in the States, it won a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. We can almost guarantee that viewers who come to this quaint picture for the first time will be charmed out of their socks, especially those old enough to remember the Coney Island of their childhood.
February 15: Director Stanley Kubrick and novelist Vladimir Nabokov did the near impossible when they wrote the screenplay for Nabokov’s novel about pedophilia, Lolita, which airs at 12:30 am. James Mason gives an excellent, nuanced performance as Nabokov’s tortured protagonist, Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged academic so obsessed with sexually precocious nymphet Lolita Haze that he marries her overbearing mother, Charlotte, just to be with her. When Charlotte is killed after being hit by a car, Humbert takes charge of Lolita, figuring he has finally realized his dream. However, he loses his dream girl to equally amoral television playwright Clare Quilty, who has wooed her away from Humbert. This leads to a tragic chain of events that end with Quilty’s death and Humbert in prison. Mason’s supporting cast is excellent: Shelley Winters as Charlotte, Peter Sellers as the devious Quilty, and Sue Lyon, who turned 13 during filming, became a major star overnight. Kubrick shot the film in England to avoid meddling from both the studio and groups such as the Legion of Decency, even though they earlier approved the script. Errol Flynn proposed both himself and his teenage love, Beverly Aadland, for the lead roles, but Kubrick declined the offer as he already had trouble enough. The film did not fare well with the Academy; its only nomination was for Best Adapted Screenplay.
By Ed Garea
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
January 19: My first choice tonight is to rectify a mistake I made when I put the Jane Wyman article together. Unfortunately, even though it was in my notes for the column, I omitted one of my favorite Wyman films – Magic Town (1947), which airs at 10:00 pm. Fortunately, our readers would never let such a slip go unrecognized. Phyl commented: “You left out Magic Town (1947)!! It's a delightful film written by Robert Riskin who wrote several films for Frank Capra. It's like a Capra film that Capra didn't direct!”
She is absolutely right. The reason it’s like a Capra film that Capra didn’t direct was because it was written by frequent Capra collaborator, Robert Riskin. After the financial flop of It’s a Wonderful Life, Capra decided to steer away from his “Capra-corn” formula in favor of more “relevant” films. His next film was State of the Union (1948), with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in a political/domestic drama, but when the film didn’t exactly shake the box office, Capra returned to what his fans liked best.
Riskin wrote both the screenplay and the original story. He was intrigued with the new “science” of polling, supposedly a foolproof method to gauge public opinion. Jimmy Stewart is a pollster who believes he has found the perfect demographic in a small town and travels there with his co-workers to conduct a poll. There, he meets Mary Peterman (Wyman), who wants the town to grow. Stewart believes this would destroy his perfect demographic and goes on a campaign to keep the town just as it is, which put him up against Mary, to whom he has become attracted.
Expertly directed by William A. Wellman, Magic Town is a beautifully constructed satire that, while it doesn’t always hit the mark, comes across with the warmth we would expect from a Riskin comedy. Unfortunately, the moviegoing public wasn’t as interested. The film lost around $350,000 and Bank of America, which financed the film, foreclosed on it and sued Robert Riskin Productions for the balance.
Over the years, though, the film caught on with audiences, who saw it as the genial comedy it was, much in the spirit of Frank Capra. Besides Stewart and Wyman, the film is populated by such wonderful actors as Kent Smith, Ned Sparks, Wallace Ford, Regis Toomey, Ann Doran and Donald Meek, who passed away in the middle of production on November 18, 1946. Famed newscaster Gabriel Heatter appears in a cameo as himself, which he would later repeat in other films, such as The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). For those who haven’t yet seen it, take Phyl’s advice and tune in. You won’t be disappointed.
January 22: At 2:00 am, TCM is airing Kurosawa’s 1965 medical drama, Red Beard. The story, set in the 19th century, concerns a young physician, Dr. Noboru Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama) who becomes upset when he is assigned to a clinic in Edo for the impoverished run by Dr. Nilde (Toshiro Mifune), a dedicated physical known to his patients as Red Beard. Slowly the younger physician learns lessons in medicine, compassion and humanity from his older colleague. Checking in at a hefty 181 minutes, the film was a big hit in Japan and marked the last collaboration of Kurosawa and Mifune. However, the American public and critics weren’t as dazzled and it took a couple of decades for the film to be recognized as a classic in America. A large part of the reason is the the film, unlike many other Kurosawa efforts, doesn’t translate well. It’s slow-moving and talky, finding its drama in a clash of philosophies rather than action. It’s a good film, but requires patience to watch, which its why we recommend recording it.
January 29: An Eric Rohmer double-feature is on tap tonight, beginning at 2:00 am with Claire’s Knee (1970), followed at 4:00 am by his 1969 effort, My Night at Maud’s. In Claire’s Knee, Jean-Claude Brialy stars as Jerome, a 30-ish diplomat engaged to a fellow diplomat’s daughter. Her decides to spend a summer before his marriage at the resort of Lake Annecy with his novelist friend Aurora (real life novelist Aurora Cornu). For her part, Aurora is seeking to draw inspiration by observing Jerome's encounters with two teenage sisters, Claire (Laurence de Monaghan) and Laura (Batrice Romand), who he meets at the resort. The film’s title comes from the disruption of Jerome’s life after spotting Claire’s knee on a ladder. As Jerome is having second and third thoughts about marriage, the sight of her knee is enough to disrupt his world. The performances are excellent, with Brialy leading the way, though Romand comes close to stealing the film right from under his nose with a totally engaging performance. Rohmer’s films can take a while to engage one, but stick with it, for the rewards are subtle and captivating.
My Night At Maud’s stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as a shy, Catholic engineer who regularly sees a student, Francoise (Marie-Christine Barrault) at mass, but is too intimidated to approach her. One night, Jean-Louis runs into Vidal (Antoine Vitez), an old school friend who has become a Marxist and philosophy professor. After enjoying a Christmas drink together, Vidal invites Jean-Louis to join him for dinner at the apartment of his intellectual friend Maud, a recent divorcée with whom he has been having a rather discouraging affair. The dinner is a success. Afterward, Vidal excuses himself and suggests that Jean-Louis avoid the inclement weather by staying in Maud's spare room. Jean-Louis, woozy from the effects of too much wine, gives in Vidal and Maud’s coaxing. Maud later tells Jean-Louis she has no spare room and attempts to seduce him, telling him that her marriage broke up because her husband had an affair with a student. Jean-Louis refuses her entreaties and the two part friends the next morning. Over time, Jean-Louis marries Francoise and five years later meet Maud and her husband at a party, where Jean-Louis learns the name of the student. Guess who?
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DAY
January 16: Martin Luther King Jr. Day always means a schedule of films by African-Americans or African-American themed. This year is highlighted by several excellent documentaries about the struggle for civil rights, beginning at 8 pm with You Got to Move - Stories of Change in the South (1985), an engaging film from directors Lucy Massie Phenix and Veronica Selver featuring graduates of the Highlander Folk School, a free, integrated school founded in 1932 by Myles Horton with a mission of education and social action that included teaching literacy to black citizens and how to overturn Jim Crow voting requirements along with providing the necessary tools for community activism. During the course of the film, graduates tell their stories of activism for social justice and give us a glimpse into a world not many of us readily think about.
At 10 pm comes Freedom on My Mind, a documentary directed by Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford using interviews and archival footage to tell the story of the drive to register African-American voters in 1960s Mississippi.
And at midnight is director Robert Drew’s 1963 Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment, about theKennedy Administration’s attempt to integrate the University of Alabama despite the opposition of Alabama governor George Wallace.
Following the documentaries at 1:15 am is a unique double-feature examining the then taboo subject of interracial marriage. First up is director Larry Peerce’s One Potato, Two Potato (1964), a low-budget film about a couple who decide to marry and the aftereffects from that decision. Julie Cullen (Barbara Barrie) and Frank Richards (Bernie Hamilton), two coworkers in a small northeastern Ohio town, fall in love love and decide to marry despite the objections of Frank's parents and the prejudices of Julie's friends. Julie and Ellen Mary (Marti Mericka), her daughter from a previous marriage, move to the Richards homestead, where Frank's parents farm the land. After Julie and Frank have a child of their own, his parents warm up to their new extended family. Trouble comes when Julie’s ex-husband, Joe Cullen (Richard Mulligan), who deserted the family to pursue an exciting career opportunity in South America, returns and discovers his ex-wife has married a “Negro,” and sues for custody of Ellen Mary. As I’ve said before, “Low budget” does hot always mean “low class.” This is a wonderful and moving film about the problem of race back in the mid-1960s, a problem we still haven’t conquered. Barrie won an award at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival for her performance. Watching it you’ll still find it packs a powerful punch.
Contrast it with the film following at 3:00 am, Stanley Kramer’s slick 1967 Hollywood product, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? It’s the difference between an earnest little low-budget film and a big-budget slickly made Hollywood production. Kramer, who made a reputation with his “socially conscious” dramas, stars Sidney Poitier with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Katherine Houghton in a film that never once ventures into uncomfortable territory; its characters, scenes and dialogue all pointing to a happy, optimistic Hollywood ending. There’s too much preaching and not enough screen time given to the romance, which is why the film appears terribly dated today, like many of Kramer’s other kitschy social dramas.
January 17: TCM’s spotlight on prison films continues tonight with Elvis in Jailhouse Rock (1957) at 8:00 pm; Richard Barthelmess in the Pre-Code Weary River (1929) at 9:45; The Bowery Boys in Jail Busters (1955) at 2:45 am, and Laurel and Hardy wrapping things up with Pardon Us(1931) at 4:00 am. The plot of Pardon Us, with Stan and Ollie being convicted of illegally making homemade beer, was copied by the Three Stooges in their 1946 short, Beer Barrel Polecats.
January 24: It’s Ladies’ Night with the evening given over to films about women in prison. The best bet for the evening is Ladies They Talk About at 11:30 pm, a tough-as-nails Pre-Code prison drama starring Barbara Stanwyck and Lillian Roth. Stanwyck is her usual outstanding self and Roth turns in a surprisingly good performance as the inmate who shows Babs the ropes. Also is Caged (1950), an over-the-top remake of sorts starring Eleanor Parker as the vulnerable innocent, Lee Patrick as a knowing lesbian, and Agnes Moorehead in the stock role of the understanding warden. But the movie is completely stolen by Hope Emerson as brutal matron Evelyn Harper, who isn’t happy unless her charges are unhappy. The film is a riot to watch, with so much scenery chewing that I swear several of the actors had teeth marks on their persons. Actually, I’m surprised the ladies didn’t just chew their way through the bars to escape. The evening comes to a disappointing end, however, at 4:00 am with the incredibly lame Riot in Juvenile Prison (1959).
January 31: Every film this night is worth catching, beginning with Burt Lancaster in his best known role as The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) at 8:00 pm. Following is John Ford’s excellent The Prisoner of Shark Island(1936) starring Warner Baxter as Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd, the conspirator who set the leg of assassin John Wilkes Booth. Also with Gloria Stuart and John Carradine. At 12:30 am Spencer Tracy takes the rap for girlfriend Bette Davis in the 1932 Pre-Code drama 20,000 Years in Sing-Sing. Robert Redford is a new prison warden who takes on corruption in Brubaker (1982) at 2:00 am. And finally, at 4:15 am, it’s the solid B-actioner, Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, from Warner Bros. in 1951, starring Steve Cochran, Ted de Corsia, David Brian, and Philip Carey.
January 29: The durable and always watchable Gold Diggers of 1933 airs at 6:30 am. And at 12:30 am it’s Lewis Milestone’s silent crime classic, The Racket (1928), starring Thomas Meighan as a renegade police captain who will stop at nothing to catch bootlegging king Louis Wolheim.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
January 20: A marathon starring the Saint kicks off at 8:00 pm with Louis Hayward portraying the reformed thief in The Saint in New York (1938). When I was younger I remember film buffs arguing over who was the better Simon Templar, George Sanders or Roger Moore? For me the best Simon Templar was Louis Hayward, who brought the right mix of derring-do and sardonic humor to the part. Read our essay on the film here.
The evening also features all the George Sanders' Saint entries and wraps up at 2:45 am with a double-feature starring Hugh Sinclair: The Saint’s Vacation(1941), and The Saint Meets The Tiger (1943), which was made for Republic after RKO dropped the series in favor of the more economical Falcon series that starred Sanders and later, his real-life brother, Tom Conway.
January 21: At 2:45 am it’s The Hidden (1987), starring Michael Nouri and Kyle Maclachan in a tale of an alien parasite that drives its hosts to commit violent crimes. Following at 4:30 am is 1974’s The Terminal Man, a sci-fi entry starring George Segal as a computer genius who has a microcomputer implanted in his brain to stop his violent seizures.
January 28: At 6:00 am it’s the underrated time-travel dystopian film World Without End (1955) with Hugh Marlowe and Rod Taylor among a group of astronauts to accidentally go through the time barrier to a postnuclear nightmare world inhabited by mutated savages with the normal survivors living in protected caves. There’s also the requisite puppeteer spider, but don’t let that deter you. This is a good film.
At 9:30 am begins a Bowery Boys double feature of Up in Smoke (1957), followed by the last in a series that once seemed as if it would never end, In the Money (1958). The post Leo Gorcey films are painful to watch with Huntz Hall in the lead and Stanley Clements filling in for the missing Slip Mahoney. There is no chemistry between Clements and Hall, and the series worked much better with Hall as Gorcey’s subservient friend.
At 2:00 pm it’s Rodan (1957), from Toho Studios, the first Japanese monster movie made in color, which was a mistake because the lighting required for color only revealed how phony the men-in-a-suit monsters were. It does have its good moments though, especially the scene in the mine when the police are looking for missing miners.
Closing out the day at 2:45 am is David Cronenberg’s 1981 Scanners, about a scientist with explosive psychic powers. A surprise hit in its day it fostered a few sequels and was parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s followed by Coma (1978), a nice little thriller directed by Michael Crichton about a doctor (Genevieve Bujold) who investigates a series of strange deaths and disappearing bodies at the hospital where she works. Also starring Michael Douglas and Elizabeth Ashley.
January 30: At 11:45 pm Elvis and Ann-Margaret take center stage in Viva Las Vegas (1964), followed at 3:30 am by The Bowery Boys in Crashing Las Vegas (1956), Leo Gorcey’s last turn with the group.
By Ed Garea
January 2: At 1:30 pm, it’s Svengali (1931), with John Barrymore as the maestro who uses his telepathic powers to transform the doll-faced Marian Marsh from a beautiful model into a great singer. Based on the George du Maurier novel Trilby, it made “Svengali,” as meaning one who attempts another, usually with selfish or evil intentions, into a household word. Marsh is captivating and Barrymore is his usual self, though this was filmed as years of alcohol began to take their toll.
January 6: Two good entries, beginning at 5:15 pm with 1933’s The Life of Jimmy Dolan. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. stars as a boxer hyped as squeaky clean, a youth loyal to his mother. At a party after he wins the championship, Dolan is living it up with booze and broads. A reporter is discovered among the revelers and he intends to blow the whistle. Jimmy hits him in an attempt to stop him and ends up killing the reporter. His manager and girl friend take it on the lam, leaving Jimmy to face the charges. While speeding away their car crashes, burning their bodies beyond recognition. Because the manager was wearing Jimmy’s watch at the time, the police think it’s Jimmy and close the case. But a disrupted detective named Phlaxer (Guy Kibbee) isn’t buying it and thinks Dolan is still alive. Meanwhile, Dolan ends up broke and dirty at a farm run by Peggy (Loretta Young) and her aunt, Mrs. Moore (Aline MacMahon), as a home for crippled children. They nurse him back to health and he works off his debt to them on the farm, until Phloxes tracks him down. If this seems somehow familiar, you’re probably thinking of the remake, They Made Me a Criminal (1939), with John Garfield as the boxer and Claude Rains as the detective. Amazingly, the remake even kept the original Pre-Code ending. As the original is not shown that often we strongly recommend it. Look for John Wayne as a boxer and Mickey Rooney as a kid named “Freckles.”
Following at 6:45 pm, Jimmy Cagney takes on the syndicate in Taxi! (1932). Cagney is a hack driver working for small-time operator Guy Kibbee and in love with his daughter, Loretta Young. It’s Cagney in his feisty Tom Powers persona, but this time working on the side of right against the big company trying to drive independent cabbies out of business. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and we get to hear Cagney speaking Yiddish, which he learned growing up in his New York neighborhood.
January 9: Speaking of big business, at 8:00 pm it’s Ruth Chatterton and George Brent in Female (1933), one of the quintessential Pre-Code films. Chatterton is Alison Drake, the CEO of a large automobile firm who, when she wants company, calls on a boy toy. They confirm her belief that men, like women, can be bought with money and power. She meets her match in engineer George Brent, with whom she falls in love and who teaches her the proper place for a woman. Like most films of the era in which a woman wields power, it takes a strong man to put her back in her place. Chatterton and Brent were married at the time of filming.
January 12: Ugly ducking Norma Shearer becomes a swan to the surprise of her philandering husband in Let Us Be Gay (1930), airing at 9:30 am. Check out the pre-glam Shearer in the beginning. And you can our review of it here.
January 15: Lionel Barrymore won an Oscar for his portrayal of a brilliant, but hopelessly alcoholic, criminal lawyer in A Free Soul (1931), airing at noon. He gets gangster Clark Gable off the hook with a stunt that anticipates the O.J. Simpson trial. Once free, Gable moves on to Barrymore’s daughter Norma Shearer. Read our review of it here.
January 4: At 1:45 pm, it’s the time RKO tried to force Katharine Hepburn into, which resulted in her being released from her contract, Mother Carey’s Chickens (1938), about a widow with four children who fights to save her home. Ruby Keeler plays Kitty Carey, the role RKO wanted Hepburn to take. It’s a stinker, but interesting to watch, as one can try to see Hepburn in the role.
Victor McLaglen is a foreman in a munitions plant who must protect absent-minded scientist Edmond O’Brien from enemy agents as he creates a new explosive in 1942’s Powder Town, at 5:00 pm.
January 9: John Wayne stars with Sheila Terry and a pre-Gabby George Hayes in 1934’s The Lawless Frontier at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am. As with all Wayne’s early Poverty Row productions, it’s a must.
January 1: Ring in the new year with a day of Hitchcock films.
January 2: At 4:30 pm, it’s one of the most unsettling films made during that time, The Hypnotic Eye (1960). Hypnotist Jacques Bergerac plants post-hypnotic suggestions that compel beautiful women to later mutilate themselves. Co-starring the beautiful Allison Hayes as Bergerac’s assistant, Justine. We recommend this one highly.
January 3: The TCM Spotlight this month is on prison films. Nothing new, though tonight we do recommend Brute Force (1947, 10:15 pm) and the Pre-Code classic, The Big House (1930, 1:30 am).
January 7: For sheer ineptness of plot, direction and acting, tune into Gymkata (1985) at 2:00 am with Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas as a martial artists expert who uses gymnastics to subdue the bad guys. Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.
January 10: Prison films worth watching tonight include Papillion (1973, 8:00 pm), Escape From Alcatraz(1979, 10:45 pm), and the Pre-Code I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932, 3:00 am).
January 11: At 10:00 am, it’s the venerable The Thing From Another World (1951), a film I could watch on a endless loop. I had such a crush on Margaret Sheridan as a kid.
January 13: The rarely seen The Thirteenth Chair (1937), with Lewis Stone, Dame May Whitty and Madge Evans shows today at 4:30 pm. A phony psychic, played by Whitty, tries to solve a murder that took place during her seance.
January 14: A double-feature of sorts, with Phyliss Davis starring as an inmate in a women’s prison on an isolated island in Terminal Island (1973), leads off at 2:00 am, followed by director Jamaa Fanaka’s brutal and engrossing Penitentiary (1980) at 3:30 am. Leon Kennedy is a regular guy framed and sent to a maximum security penitentiary where the inmate have names like “Seldom Seen,” and “Half-Dead.” To survive, “Too Sweet,” as he’s now called, must take part in the prison boxing tournament, which he learns all too late is rigged.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
January 8: At 2:00 am look for In The Mood For Love (2000), Wong Kar-Wai’s master stroke of a beautifully layered view of a relationship that develops when a man and woman discover their spouses are cheating with each other. It’s 1962 Hong Kong. Cow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) are neighbors in an apartment building. He is a journalist who publishes martial arts novels and she is a secretary for a shipping company. He sees from the beginning that they will get together, but the beauty of this is the way in which it is done. As their spouses are often away, Chow and Li-Zhen spend a lot of the together as friends, having in common such things as noodle shops to martial arts. When they discover their spouses are having an affair, they take comfort in their growing friendship even as they vow not to follow in the footsteps of their spouses. And therein lies the beauty of this film. We expect them to get physical, but Wong is too skilled to take the easy way out. As the film progresses we find ourselves in awe of Wong’s ability to take such a simple story and make it so moving and compelling. For those who love romances, this film fits the bill perfectly.
January 15: A film from Federico Fellini is always welcome, even if it is such a late entry as his 1984 opus And The Ship Sails On, which airs at 2:00 am. It boasts a simple plot: the year is 1914, and a luxury liner leaves Italy, occupied by various statesmen, aristocrats and members of the opera world is on its way to a remote island, where the ashes of the world’s greatest soprano are to be scattered. The voyage is chronicled by a journalist, who meets the singer's many eccentric friends and admirers. Everything is fine for the first few days, but on the third day the captain has to save a large number of Serbian refugees from the sea. World War I has been declared. Like many a Fellini film the characters are broadly drawn, with unique physical features and behavior dominating. In other words, they are caricatures drawn stereotypically, for this is a gentle satire of the pre-World War I aristocracy. The film blossoms as the passengers at first view the refugees with disdain. Slowly worlds of the rich and poor come together. Look for the scene where the aristocrats try to trace the roots of the Serbian dances and eventually go down on deck to dance with the Serbians, all done to a beautiful musical score. Also worth noting are the scenes of the wine glass concert and the scene in the boiler room where great opera singers compete to impress the sailors below. It’s a typical Fellini mix of light-heartedness and tragedy. The film bombed at the box office when it was released, but is seen as a gem today.
By Ed Garea
MORE ON MYRNA
December 16: Tonight’s recommendation starts at 8 pm: Broadway Bill, a Columbia film from 1934 directed by Frank Capra. Warner Baxter is the son-in-law of business tycoon J.L. Higgins (Walter Connolly). He hates running Higgins’ paper box factory. He’d rather be out running his horse, named Broadway Bill, for his first love is horse racing. Everyone in the family thinks he’s a screwball except for sister-in-law Myrna Loy, who marches to her own drummer. It’s a lovely little Capra comedy with matchless performances from almost everyone in the cast. As it’s not shown that often, it’s a film Myrna’s fans should not miss.
December 23: Beginning at 8 pm, the entire Thin Man oeuvre is being shown. It goes against our rule of emphasizing only the lesser seen and more unusual pictures, but we are talking about one of the classics of the screen and the five excellent (well, three anyway) sequels. For those who have yet to see any of the films in this series, this night’s your chance.
December 30: Two interesting films tonight: Myrna produces excellent support for star Doris Day in Midnight Lace (1960) at 8 pm. Doris plays a woman who can’t get anyone to believe she’s being stalked. It has a plot that’s on the other side of preposterous and Day gives us hysterical histrionics throughout. But as a Hitchcock imitation it’s fun to watch and Loy acquits herself nicely. The other film to check out is Lonelyhearts (1958), which airs at midnight. Based on Nathanial West’s novella, Miss Lonelyhearts, Montgomery Clift stars as a would-be reporter who is assigned by his publisher Robert Ryan to write an advice-to-the-lovelorn column, and becomes so involved with the suffering of those who write to him that it nearly destroys him. One of the women he becomes entangles with is an actress making her screen debut – Maureen Stapleton, Edith Bunker herself. Myrna gives her usual excellent perforate as Ryan’s alcoholic wife.
TCM SPOTLIGHT: THE GOLDEN YEARS
December 20: At 8 pm it’s Sam Peckinpah’s wonderful Western, Ride the High Country (1962) starring Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea as two long-in-the-tooth ex-lawmen who have fallen on hard times and sign up to escort a shipment of gold from a mining camp up in the Sierras to the town below. The urge to steal the gold is becoming too much for Scott, which leads to a rift with ex-friend McCrea. Along to complicate things even further is the presence of Mariette Hartley as a young woman running away from her overly stern fundamentalist father. When her wedding to one of the miners goes south at a drunken celebration she runs away with Scott and McCrea, earning the wrath of the other miners. It’s a stylized take on a familiar Peckinpah theme – the decline of the American West, focused on the plight of his protagonists, two men who have survived the chaos of their times but cling steadfastly to their ethics, each one being an example to the other of what he might have been given different circumstances. It’s Peckinpah at his best and a film that should entertain even to those who aren’t crazy about the Western genre.
December 27: For a change of pace try The Whales of August (1987, midnight), a gentle drama of two elderly sisters who have endured an uneasy co-existence over the years. When it’s revealed that the sisters are played by Lillian Gish and Bette Davis, the film becomes even more enticing. The ladies are spending the summer together in a home owned by Gish but sustained by the wealthier Davis, who is blind and become embittered over the years. The drama takes place over the course of one day near the end of the summer season, revolving around an almost insignificant point: Gish wants to install a picture window to look out on the sea, but Davis vetoes it, claiming they’re too old at this point to be considering new things. Gish and Davis are simply enchanting and they are supported by first-class performances from Vincent Price, Ann Sothern and Harry Carey, Jr. It was Gish’s last performance and she went out in style.
REGINALD OWEN OR ALASTAIR SIM?
This year TCM is airing both classic film versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Fans over the years have always split over which was the better version, the 1938 MGM version starring Reginald Owen as Scrooge, which will be shown on December 18 at 9 am, or the 1951 English version, from Renown Film Productions and United Artists, which will be shown on December 22 at midnight with Alastair Sim as Scrooge? Don’t look to me on this one. I love and recommend them both. There are slight differences in both versions and each is gifted with wonderful performances. In the 1938 version, Gene and Kathleen Lockhart play the Crotchets with Ann Rutherford shining as the Spirit of Christmas Past. The 1951 version has Sim as an even meaner Scrooge with Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddeley as the Crotchets. A suggestion: Next year TCM should run both versions back to back with the delightful Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol following. We haven’t seen that one in a dog’s age. It’s always fun to watch Sim in action. His performance as the sarcastic Inspector Cockrill in the sublime mystery Green for Danger (1947) set the stage for the later Inspector Morse character, played by the incomparable John Thaw.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
December 18: Roberto Rossellini captures the essence and spirit of the Allied occupation of postwar Italy in his superb 1946 episodic drama Paisa (aka Paisan). Six vignettes depict the heartbreak and hope that was postwar Italy. As with Open City, Rossellini used a mostly nonprofessional cast, along with documentary footage and a script that was often improved on the spot, written by the director and his friend Federico Fellini. Ironically, it did not do well at the box office in Italy. The Italians were already tired of war stories. But the French loved it and it did well in the United States. See for yourself and marvel.
December 19: Federico Fellini made many great films during the ‘60s. None were better than 8 1/2 in 1963. Marcello Mastroianni excels as Guido Anselmi, a famous film director buoyed by the success of his recent film who suddenly finds himself at a loss for new ideas. Hounded and nagged by everyone from his wife to his mistress to the press and even his fans, he retreats into a mix of memories of childhood and those of all the women he has loved and lost. It’s autobiographical and is acknowledged to be Fellini’s masterpiece by many and has many of his trademark features, such as aerial shots, vertical zooms, lots of jump cuts, and the Fellini fascination with the unusual, grotesque, bizarre, and exotic which marks many of his films from La Strada to Satyricon. The meaning of the title comes from the fact that Fellini had made six features and three shorts, which add up to 7 1/2. Hence 8 1/2. The film has something of a reputation of being hard to understand. Nonsense. Viewers can quickly grasp its theme and plot.
December 18: Two great Pre-Codes from our Star of the Month, Myrna Loy. At 5:00 pm, Myrna is a German spy working for Lionel Atwill who falls for American medical student George Brent in Stamboul Quest (1934). Following at 6:30, Clark Gable is a young doctor who must choose between his studies and his marriage to alluring society girl Myrna Loy in Men in White(1934). The film proved so popular that the Three Stooges parodied it in their 1934 Columbia short Men In Black.
December 19: Jimmy Cagney and Ruby Keeler hoof it up while Joan Blondell cleans house in Busby Berkeley’s delightful Footlight Parade (1933), airing at 10 pm.
December 20: Irene Dunne and Richard Dix fight to survive in the early days of the Oklahoma Territory in Wesley Ruggles’ Cimarron (1931).
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE
December 17: The Stanley Clements era with the Bowery Boys commences at 10:30 am with Fighting Trouble (1956). Stanley, playing Stanislaus “Duke” Covelske, tries to earn a living with Sach (Huntz Hall) as news photographers.
At 2:45 am, troubled teenager Suzanne Ling sics her horde of pet tarantulas on her enemies in the cheapie Kiss of the Tarantula (1976). Best scene: A couple making out in a car not noticing the eight-legged wonders crawling on them. Following at 4:15 am is Alice, Sweet Alice (1977). When people in an Italian-American neighborhood are killed, suspicion falls on lonely 12-year old Paula Sheppard. A good shocker filmed in Paterson, N.J. Young Brooke Shields is the first killed.
December 22: At 1:15 am, it’s Laurel and Hardy in the children’s classic Babes in Toyland (1934). Stan and Ollie are inept toy makers whose latest blunder saves the day when the evil Barnaby (Henry Brandon) unleashes the bogeymen to destroy Toyland.
December 26: An evening of apocalyptic films begins at 8 pm with Charlton Heston fighting mutant vampires created after a biological war in The Omega Man (1971). At 10 pm, Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens and Mel Ferrer are the only survivors of a nuclear war in The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959). Dial ahead to midnight and it’s Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins who are among the survivors of an atomic war in On the Beach (1959). At 2:30 am comes Five (1951) from Arch Oboler, about the survivors of yet another nuclear war. And, finally, at 4:15 am, Nigel Davenport, Jean Wallace and Lynne Frederick are among the few to survive an environmental holocaust in No Blade of Grass (1970).
December 27: Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine make for a unusual pair of bank robbers in AIP’s Bunny O’Hare (1971) at 4:15 am. Davis was so unhappy with the finished product that she filed suit for damages. Though she dropped the suit, the damage was done.
December 31: The Bowery Boys are hired on as babysitters for a temperamental child star in Hot Shots (1956) at 10:45 am. And at 6:15 pm, it’s a repeat showing of one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).