TCM TiVo Alert Archive: May 8, 2012 to January 31, 2014

TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
January 23–January 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BONNIE AND CLYDE (January 25, 6:00 pm): A groundbreaking film in terms of style, content and graphic violence from 1967, which I consider to be among the two or three finest year in cinematic history. The leads – Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway – are outstanding in their roles as the famed outlaw duo oozing passion, violence, charisma and charm at every turn. The supporting cast – notably Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons with Gene Wilder in a small but memorable role – are equally strong. The movie's violence goes from almost comic to intensely graphic. The final scene in which the two are shot dozens of times is outstanding, particularly the quick looks of horror Beatty and Dunaway give each other when they realize they're about to die a very brutal death. It conveys more emotion and intensity than almost anything you'll seen in film. A tidbit on this film, Francois Truffaut was asked to direct it, but opted instead to make Fahrenheit 451, the legendary French director's only English-speaking movie.

ALIEN (January 25, 10:15 pm): This 1979 film still scares the hell out of me. The nearly two-hour film has a slow build with little happening in the first 45 or so minutes developing the plot and the suspense that eventually leads to a lot of action. Sigourney Weaver is Lt. Ripley, a member of a space crew in a sleep state on its way back to Earth when a distress call is received from another planet. Of course it's alien life forms and one gets on the ship causing havoc, death and general mayhem. Super gory in some cases such as when the alien life form explodes out of the body of one of the ship members. But it's also a thinking-person's film as the alien and Weaver match wits and wills in a final climatic scene. It's largely based on It! The Terror From Beyond Space, a very good 1958 B movie, and spawned numerous inferior sequels. But the original is a sci-fi classic.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (January 24, 1:45 am): In this reviewer’s opinion, this is not only the best film to come from Ealing Studios, but possibly the sharpest satire ever filmed, a wonderful skewing of the monomaniac with an idea versus those all too ready to cash in on it – until they see just what the real consequences are. Alec Guinness is Sidney Stratton, a monomaniacal scientist who will take the lowliest job offered – provided it’s at a textile plant, where he can get into the laboratory. Why? So he can perfect his idea: a suit that never wears out and never needs cleaning. He actually pulls it off, initially to the excitement of everyone – until they realize this invention would end up putting them all out of business. With sterling support by the deliciously feline, beautiful Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough, and Ernest Thesiger as the “Mister Big” of the textile industry. They’ve never been made any better.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (January 28, 5:30 pm): They didn’t call it “the Lubitsch Touch” for nothing, and it’s in full regalia in this film, an extremely witty send up of Hitler and his Nazi thugs. Black comedy has never been better than here in the hands of a true master like Lubitsch. Jack Benny has a role of a lifetime as the egocentric Polish actor Joseph Tura, who in reality is one of the biggest hams ever to appear on stage. Carole Lombard, tragically in her last film, is Tura’s co-star and suffering wife. When the Germans invade Poland, Tura’s theater is closed and his troupe put out of business – until they become involved in espionage trying to save the list of the Polish underground fighters from being handed over to the Gestapo by a traitor, and they find their acting skills put to a real test. Lubitsch took quite a beating from critics over this film, and it was not a success at the box office. Many felt that treating the Nazis as comical characters was in poor taste, but Lubitsch defended his position by saying, "What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology. I have also satirized the attitude of actors who always remain actors regardless how dangerous the situation might be, which I believe is a true observation.” Today the film is viewed as a classic and the 1983 Mel Brooks remake is faithful to the original both in letter and spirit. Brooks himself echoed Lubitsch by saying that if one were to argue with a dictator, he would lose because the dictator has the fanaticism of his ideas, but if one were to take both the dictator and his ideas and make fun of them, it’s far more effective in discrediting both. Look for the great opening gag with Tom Dugan parading around as Der Fuehrer. This is a film not to be missed.

WE DISAGREE ON ... FLAMINGO ROAD (January 23, 12:15 am)

ED: B+. By the late ‘40s Joan Crawford’s career went into decline, but she could still rally and give the occasional excellent performance from time to time. As time passed these turned from occasional to rare, and finally to nonexistent, to the point where she was simply relying on her name power to bring viewers to the box office. However, in 1949, Joan still had it and it shows in this excellent film directed by Michael Curtiz, who handled her well and kept her from going off the acting rails. This came from a script that was floating around the studio for a couple of years and was thought by Jack Warner to be the perfect vehicle to get Joan to act up and give him cause to cancel her contract. (Although Mildred Pierce was a smash hit, Joan’s follow-ups, Humoresque and Possessed, though filled with good performances, failed at the box office.) But although she came through with a well-mannered performance, it was Curtiz, who chose the supporting cast and coming through with some great, moody atmosphere using lots of dark shadows, that made the film into a box office hit. Zachary Scott is excellent as Joan’s lover, a deputy sheriff in a corrupt county where thoroughly corrupt sheriff Sydney Greenstreet runs the show in arguably his best performance since The Maltese Falcon. In an era where a sort of Southern Gothic was beginning to make an influence in the movies, this film exudes a sweaty and delirious aura that makes it compelling, with Joanie firmly in the center as a stranded carnival dancer who gets – and gives – much more than she bargained for. Even those who don’t care for Crawford will find much to enjoy here.

DAVID: C-.  I'm not suggesting viewers avoid this 1949 film, but take it for what it is: an outrageously ridiculous mess. Joan Crawford, 44 years old at the time, plays a sexy carnival cooch dancer (a role that is suited for a woman in her early 20s) left behind in a small hick town. Between her and Sydney Greenstreet, the amount of scenery that is chewed – particularly, when they are together, which is often – is amazing. The two of them try to make the most of a film with a weak, predictable script, but come up short in being entertaining. Crawford's character falls for a guy but dumps him for the richest guy in town, who lives on Flamingo Road. She goes toe-to-toe with Greenstreet, who plays a corrupt Southern sheriff (is there such a thing in cinema as an honest Southern sheriff?) and political kingmaker. Joan loses it when the sheriff tries to make her original boyfriend, an alcoholic deputy sheriff, into a gubernatorial candidate. The poor sap (played by Zachary Scott) can't handle the pressure and corruption anymore, and commits suicide. Joan tries to take down Greenstreet, and during a struggle, accidentally shoots and kills him. The movie ends with Joan in the slammer and her husband promising to stand by his woman. The film is filled with cliched lines and characters. While it's certainly not Mildred Pierce, made only four years prior, it's also nowhere nearly as bad as Joan's films of the 1960s. I don't know if that's a fair comparison as few movies are as bad as her 1960s films.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
January 15–January 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ELMER GANTRY (January 21, 10:00 pm): Burt Lancaster is among a handful actors are larger than life when they are on the screen. His intensity and versatility made him a screen legend. His portrayal of Elmer Gantry in the 1960 film of the same name is his finest performance in a career of fine performances. In this film, Lancaster is a con man who realizes that he's found a place in a Christian tent revival show featuring Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons). Gantry, and those watching this movie, aren't sure how he fits in. Is he still a con man, a born-again or someone in between? Not only does Lancaster do a great job working with Simmons, he does the same with Shirley Jones, who plays his former lover who is now a prostitute, and Arthur Kennedy, who plays a skeptical newspaper reporter who garners attention because of his criticism of Gantry. The film is intense, well-acted, intelligent and has a great screenplay based on a small portion of a Sinclair Lewis book of the same name.

SCARLET STREET (January 22, 10:45 am): Director Fritz Lang does a wonderful job with this 1945 film noir that has Edward G. Robinson give a brilliant performance in a role that's different from any other he had in his career. Eddie G. is Chris Cross, a bland, boring clothing company cashier who's never done anything interesting in his life. Business picks up quickly after he saves Kitty March (Joan Bennett), a beautiful femme fatale, being accosted on the street by a guy who turns out to be Johnny (Dan Duryea), her low-life boyfriend. Completely out of character for Chris, he dispatches Johnny with his umbrella and quickly falls in love with Kitty as he's in a loveless marriage with a wife who constantly hen-pecks him. Because he talks of painting, Kitty and more importantly Johnny thinks he's a rich painter. The two work out a plan to make money from Chris' love for Kitty and his ability as a painter. The story, based on the French novel La Chienne (The Bitch), has a number of unforeseen (and excellent) plot twists as Chris' life goes from humdrum to one filled with way too much passion, deceit and tragedy. It's one of Eddie G.'s best and most unique roles.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THESE ARE THE DAMNED (January 17, 3:45 am): Runaway radioactivity gave us giant bugs and prehistoric monsters in the ‘50s. Now, in 1962, director Joseph Losey brings the chills much closer to home with this chilling piece of science fiction. The film begins with an American tourist (Macdonald Carey), disenchanted with modern life, being mugged by a group of Teddy Boys led by the young Oliver Reed. After he recovers he meets bohemian sculptor Freya (Viveca Lindfors), the mistress of Bernard (Alexander Knox), a stuffy bureaucrat in charge of a top-secret project whereby a race of radioactive children is being bred for survival in a post-nuclear world. This film seemingly has everything: juvenile delinquency and atomic angst, two of the most popular film subjects in B-dom. But this is much more than a run-of-the-mill SciFi/JD flick. It’s the reigning anarchy of youth in the streets versus the cold bureaucracy represented by the concrete and steel warrens of the secret project. Either way, we’re done for, Mate, unless we wake up. Also, check out the fantastic score by James Bernard, whose Black Leather Rock will have you singing it long after the film ends.

A FACE IN THE CROWD (January 18, 2:00 pm): Budd Schulberg wrote and Elia Kazan directed this prescient look at celebrity and media-made pundits in the story of Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a drifter discovered in jail by the hostess (Patricia Neal) of a morning radio show in Pickett, Arkansas. Through the sheer force of his “down home” personality, he eventually makes his way to New York, where he becomes not only an entertainment superstar, but a respected wielder of opinion; powerful enough to make a nondescript senator into a formidable presidential candidate. Rhodes, however, is rotten to the core, and as his fame and power increase, the monster within him begins to break out. It’s up to Neal, as a latter-day Frankenstein, to destroy the monster she created before he destroys us, and she does it in a quite unique way. Neal, of course, is her usual superb self, and Griffith gave the best performance of his career, playing against type and should have gotten the Oscar. But he wasn’t even nominated due to the less than stellar box office of the movie and the liberal backlash against director Kazan for supposedly “naming names” before Congress. (In reality he didn’t name anyone that wasn’t already named again and again.) What eventually brought critics around to giving this film another look was Francois Truffaut, who championed the film as a modern-day classic and a warning.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . LILIES OF THE FIELD (January 20, 4:15 pm)

ED: A+There are few films I have watched over the years that I would describe as flawless. Not perfect, best, nor greatest, but flawless: a movie simple and to the point. Everything comes together nicely; there is no extraneous dialogue, no lone meandering camera shots, and no plot points that suddenly disappear. Lilies of the Field is like the desert where it’s set: lean, sparse, nothing wasted. Sidney Poitier gives what in my mind his best performance as Homer, the handyman who comes looking for water for his car, lands a day’s work, and ends up building their chapel. In a film such as this it’s hard to stay on course without falling into wells of sentimentality, overly emotive preaching, or anything else that rakes us away from the plot. Director Ralph Nelson has a real feeling for the material and it shows in the performances, the tight camerawork and the almost perfect pacing. This is one of the films I recommend to anyone interested in 1) Sidney Poitier, 2) well-written dramas, 3) films with a religious theme, or 4) just films in general. It’s one that, if you haven’t yet seen it, you can’t afford to miss.

DAVID: B. For Ed to give a film such praise, it's got to be exceptional. He's been my cinema mentor for years and has excellent taste, loving so many genres of film. There is no doubt this is a good film and one I enjoy, but I don't consider it a classic much less one I would consider flawless. Of course movies are subjective and one person may love a particular film while someone else hates it. Lilies of the Field falls more into one person absolutely can find no wrong with it and the other thinks it's pretty good. What I like about it: Sidney Poitier was an exceptional actor and this is one of his many fine performances; it's 94 minutes long so it doesn't drag; and it's a nice feel-good film that shows a black man and a group of white Eastern European nuns working together with largely Hispanic townsfolk. They treat each other with respect and becoming friends during the Civil Rights era (the movie came out in 1963). So why a B? It's corny, way too sentimental and most of the other actors in the film seem to be nothing more than scenery. Without Poitier, this would likely be a C movie. The storyline isn't terribly sophisticated or compelling and is predictable. That race hardly plays a factor is both good and bad. It's nice that the film doesn't dwell on it and treats everyone essentially the same, but it's also rather unrealistic. It's a nice, uplifting movie with a happy ending you can see as soon as we learn the nuns want to build a chapel. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's also nothing extraordinary about it.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 8–January 14
  

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE (January 8, 7:45 am): An unusual but entertaining Elvis Presley film, and among his last non-concert movies. Elvis is Greg Nolan, a newspaper photographer who loses his job after being drugged and kept captive by Bernice, a quirky, sexy girl who lives at the beach. In need of employment, he finds two in the same building. He shoots photos for both a conservative firm and a girlie magazine, and tries to balance that with Bernice, who goes by different names depending on the guy. It's not a terribly deep film, but it was a step in an interesting direction for Elvis. He shows some nice range in this 1968 film. It's part of TCM's mini-Elvis film festival on January 8, his birthday. This film's best scene has Elvis singing "A Little Less Conversation," one of his best songs.

CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 (January 12, 2:00 am): This is a really good film. Cleo is a French pop singer waiting for the results of medical tests done to determine if she has cancer. As the title states, this 1962 French film starts at 5:00 pm with Cleo having to spend time until the results come back supposedly at 7:00 though the film is only 90 minutes long. During that time, she walks the streets of Paris talking with strangers and friends with the film skillfully tackling some pretty heavy subjects including mortality, inner beauty versus outer beauty, despair, maturity and acceptance - all coming from a feminine perspective. It's fascinating with beautiful cinematography and an outstanding storyline. As I mentioned these are some pretty heavy topics, but the film addresses them in a way that makes them approachable without compromise.

ED’S BEST BETS:

ANASTASIA (January 12, 8:00 pm): Ingrid Bergman stars in a film that not only won her an Oscar for Best Actress, but also ended her exile from America for her perceived moral transgressions. She has a field day as an amnesiac refugee picked by opportunistic Russian businessman Yul Brynner to impersonate the surviving daughter of Russia’s last tsar. She is so good in the role that even skeptics become convinced that she’s the real thing. Helen Hayes also sparkles as the Dowager Empress, the elderly matriarch who has lost her entire family to the Revolution. Can Bergman fool her as well? The film is an absolute tour de force for Bergman, who goes from coquettishness to bewilderment as fast as a driver can change gears in a car. The direction by Anatole Litvak is superb, and there’s honestly not a bad performance in the cast. It’s rarely shown, so it’s a Must See.

MAD LOVE (January 14, 5:00 pm): After he creeped us out so thoroughly in Fritz Lang’s M (1931), American audiences were waiting for Peter Lorre’s next big film. It took him until 1935 to reach the shores of America, and MGM had just the role for him: a reworking of the classic horror novel Les Mains d’Orlac by Maurice Renard. It had previously been filmed in 1924 with Conrad Veidt as the pianist whose hands, crushed in a train wreck were replaced by the hands of an executed murderer, with tragic results. In this version, the emphasis shifts from Orlac (Colin Clive) to the surgeon, Doctor Gogol (Lorre), who is obsessed with Orlac’s wife, Yvonne (Frances Drake). No one knows that Gogol has grafted the hands of a murderer onto Orlac; and Gogol knows that those hands will kill again, Orlac will be apprehended, and Yvonne can finally be his alone. Lorre was positively brilliant in the role, and Charles Chaplin exclaimed that Lorre was the screen’s finest actor after seeing the film. Lorre would be so identified with this role that years later he was cast in another horror film about a hand with a mind of its own: The Beast With Five Fingers

WE DISAGREE ON . . . BABY DOLL (January 13, 5:30 am)

ED: B+. When I was a teenager I remember taking out a book on movies from the library and running across a photo of Carroll Baker from this film, curled up in a crib and sucking her thumb. Reading the description of the movie described as racy, lewd, suggestive, and morally repellent by The Legion of Decency, I knew right then and there that someday I would have to find this film and watch it. Hot stuff! And directed by Elia Kazan with a screenplay by Tennessee Williams – Wow! After years of forgetting, I finally rented it in the ‘80s. I was disappointed by how tame it was, but thinking back to when it was made, I realized just why it had outraged so many. It boasts a good cast, with Karl Malden as Baker’s witless husband, who has to wait until his child reaches the age of 20 before he can deflower her. Into the mix comes swarthy Eli Wallach at his slimiest best as Malden’s business rival, and guess who he’s after? The fireworks between Malden and Wallach still retain their punch; Tennessee Williams had few peers when it came to the underbelly of Southern life.

DAVID: C-. I admit that the subject matter of Baby Doll makes me somewhat uncomfortable. But if the film was better, I'd deal with it. Carroll Baker's Baby Doll character is 19 and about to turn 20, but she acts like a little girl, sleeping in a crib sucking her thumb. She's the virgin bride of Karl Malden, an older redneck who. after two years of marriage, is about to have sex for the first time with his wife. Along comes Eli Wallach, Malden's cotton gin rival. He tries to seduce Baby Doll to have sex with her and to exact revenge against Malden, who burned down Wallach's new gin. The film is dull, poorly written (just because the screenplay is by Tennessee Williams doesn't mean it's automatically good), highly overrated and way too long at nearly two hours in length. While Baker's performance is good, the role is ridiculous. Malden is fine, but Wallach is bad. The plot was racy for its time, 1956, with a script designed to shock. Yes, it's shocking, but that seems to be the film's only goal. It's not that entertaining or interesting. I watch movies to either be entertained or interested. That's why I rate this film as only a C-.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
January 1–January 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (January 5, 2:30 pm): As an admirer of Akira Kurosawa-directed films, I would normally dismiss an American remake of his work. When you consider The Magnificent Seven (1960) is a Western based on Kurosawa's legendary Seven Samurai (1954), it's surprising I ever gave it a chance. Thankfully I did because not only is it an excellent movie, it's better than Seven Samurai, which is a classic. John Sturges does a fantastic job directing this film with an all-star cast, including Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn (my personal favorite among the seven gunslingers) with Eli Wallach, the leader of the Mexican bandits who terrorize a small rural town. It's filled with action, making the 128-minute film seem like it zipped by. While I rarely pay attention to a movie's score, this is one of the best you'll hear.

THE THIRD MAN (January 6, 9:30 pm): This is, no doubt, one of the finest films ever made. I'm a huge fan of Joseph Cotten, and while his performances in many movies – Citizen KaneGaslightThe Magnificent AmbersonsShadow of a Doubt, and Portrait of Jennie being a few examples – are great, his best is in The Third Man. The 1949 film noir has quite the pedigree. In addition to Cotten, it stars Orson Welles, Trevor Howard and Alida Valli, is directed by Carol Reed with a screenplay by Graham Greene. The acting is outstanding as is the cinematography, particularly the use of shadows, and a brilliant plot with great pacing. Cotten is Holly Martins, a pulp fiction novelist who travels to post-World War II Vienna to take a job offered by Harry Lime (Welles), a longtime friend. But before they meet, Lime dies in what appears to be a car accident as he is walking across a street – or is he? Martins asks a lot of questions and get some disturbing answers about Lime selling diluted penicillin on the black market, which has led to a number of deaths. This film has two scenes that are among cinema's best – one is on the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna's famed Ferris wheel, with Cotten and Welles, and the climax in the sewers of that city.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) (January 4, 6:30 pm): It’s the scientists (led by Robert Cornthwaite) versus the military (led by Kenneth Tobey) in this sci-fi classic about the discovery of a flying saucer and its occupant near the North Pole. The occupant is alive and represents a wealth of knowledge from an advanced society. One problem: he lives on blood and regards humans as only necessary for his subsistence. Also, he’s busy breeding more of him. Written by Charles Lederer, produced by Howard Hawks, and directed by Christian Nyby (though many film historians assert that it was Hawks who actually directed the movie and gave Nyby, his film editor by trade, a director’s credit). It combines horror and thrills with dark comedy, utilizing its setting well to give the film a claustrophobic feeling. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again. And if you haven’t – this is one film you can’t afford to miss. Also of note is composer Dimitri Tiomkin’s haunting score, achieved with a Theremin.

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (January 6, 1:00 pm): This is the original – and the best – version of James M. Cain’s classic novel (which also inspired Albert Camus, by the way). When it comes to noir, one would think that the MGM gloss was off-putting, but I think it actually helps the film. John Garfield has never been better and Lana Turner has never been more gorgeous. Not only can we see that they’re going to hook up, we can understand why they must hook up. The performances from the supporting cast are superb, the photography by Sidney Wagner is sharp and inviting, and Tay Garnett’s direction workmanlike, as he keeps the characters and the story in constant play. Despite the complaints of the changes in Cain’s original story (for censorship purposes), the film still outdoes the 1981 Jack Nicholson-Jessica Lange remake in terms of the heat between the stars, not to mention the fact that Turner, while hardly a serious actress, ran rings around Lange’s performance.

WE DISAGREE ON ... HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (January 5, 8:00 pm)

ED: B+. This cute little diversion, meant as a vehicle for the young Marilyn Monroe, but actually starring Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable, is an example of good ensemble comedy and one of the brightest and wittiest of the Fifties. The three beautiful stars, following Bacall’s plan, pool their resources to rent a posh apartment to lure eligible, wealthy bachelors. Of course, the irony is that they end up marrying for love instead of wealth. It’s skillfully written by Nunnally Johnson and directed by the underrated Jean Negulesco, a perfect director for this sort of picture. Watch for Bacall’s scenes with William Powell – they are simply superb. (In fact, I think Powell steals the film.) For us psychotronic fans, Cameron Mitchell is one of the bachelors, and it’s always interesting to watch him in stellar productions rather than the awful Grade-Z films he made later in life. Even Monroe manages not to embarrass herself; she actually had a gift for comedy. The only sour note was Grable. It wasn’t her performance, but rather her looks. Keep in mind that she was only 36 at the time (and already being shown the door at Fox in favor of the younger Monroe), but she looks about 10 years older. I can only attribute this to the fact that she was a heavy smoker, which adds years to a person’s face, and the poodle cut she was saddled with during production also added to the older look. But if you’re looking for about 90 minutes of movie enjoyment, this is for you. (Especially for couples to watch together.)


DAVID: C+. Ed is sort of correct. This film has its cute moments. But it is also filled with cliches, corny even for 1953, with a silly plot, and Betty Grable in one of Hollywood's worst casting decisions. Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall are models. That's a stretch for Grable who was 36 when the film was made, but looks like she's the age of Monroe's mother. Of greater importance, Gable's acting is atrocious. Bacall is attractive in a mature-looking way yet she was only 29, less than two years older than Monroe, when the film was released. The three are tired of their jobs – one scene of the trio modeling has them sitting for most of the time and standing up every so often to show the dresses they're wearing. It's the hard knock life for them. They work a scam to net rich husbands in order to give up their careers and I guess sit in nice homes doing next to nothing. That's about 15 steps in the wrong direction for women's lib. The efforts at jokes typically fall flat and the three characters are largely shallow. The film opens on a terrible note – an eight-minute generic-sounding music prologue before we get to the opening credits. As Ed mentions, William Powell steals the film as an older, wealthy widower in love with Bacall. As he is in every film, Powell is charming here and a delight to watch. Bacall is fine and Monroe delivers a decent performance though the ongoing joke of her banging into things by not wearing glasses because it supposedly would detract from her beauty gets tired quickly.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 23–December 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BILLY LIAR (December 26, 10:00 pm): A funny and tremendously entertaining British "Kitchen Sink/Angry Young Man" film with Tom Courtenay in the title role. He's not really angry, but he certainly is restless. His real name is Billy Fisher, but he tells such outrageous stories that his friends call him Billy Liar. The 1963 film goes in and out of Billy's real life as a bored funeral parlor worker and his imaginary world as the leader of the kingdom of Ambrosia. In his pretend life, he's a lady killer. In his real life, he's not doing too bad, but he's lost. Billy is dating two girls, including the incredibly beautiful and talented Julie Christie. It's a comedy, but there are certainly tragic portions as Billy's imaginary life is more interesting and apparently more important to him than trying to improve his reality. 

KES (December 29, 3:30 am): Another excellent British film, Kes is about Billy Casper, (David Bradley), a lonely boy who is bullied, but finds happiness in training a kestral falcon, he names Kes. The bond between the two is incredibly touching, and it helps Billy become more self-confident and less lost and unsure the more time he spends with Kes. It would be easy for this film to become a cliche as the young bird is obviously just like Billy. But it never feels that way as the film makes you cheer for both of them as they experience personal growth and freedom. It's because of that attachment that your heart breaks at the end of the movie. It's a wonderful film that stays with you long after watching it. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

TOP HAT (December 25, 8:00 pm): Not only is this film the best of the Astaire-Rogers pairings, but it’s also one of the greatest musicals – if not the greatest – ever to come from Hollywood. Everything goes off perfectly in this movie: the score by none other than Irving Berlin, the dance numbers (especially “Top Hat,” and “Cheek to Cheek”), and even Fred’s pursuit of Ginger is fresh and funny. It’s the old formula – Fred meets Ginger, Fred loses Ginger, Fred gets Ginger – but in this film it has not yet run its course. Add to this a supporting cast featuring the always-reliable Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore, plus dependable Helen Broderick and Eric Rhodes, and the result is an engaging and charming 90 minutes. Look for Lucille Ball in an unbilled role as a flower clerk.

STAGECOACH (December 27, 8:00 am): This John Ford movie was not only a big hit with moviegoers at the time, but also marked a change in the maturing of the Western, emphasizing character development over mere bang-bang, shoot ‘em up action and bringing the Western out of the Bs and onto the top of the marquee. Oh yeah, there’s lots of action sequences in the film, but they’re nicely balanced by character with depth and about whom we actually care. Even John Wayne does a nice job here, though it took Ford lots of work to wrangle a good performance out of him. Watch for the Indian attack and keep your eye on the peerless stunt work by second unit director Yakima Canutt. In his Westerns, Ford always provided work for neighboring Navaho tribesmen, and even made sure they received union wages. They, in turn (as per his biography) named him “Natani Nez,” which means “Tall Leader.”

WE DISAGREE ON ... SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (December 30, 8:00 am)

ED: A. MGM was on a roll in the early ‘50s with its Musicals Unit, cranking out classic after classic. And this film is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the few musicals that weaves the music, dancing and story together flawlessly and is totally entertaining from start to finish. If I were to expound on the virtues of Cinemascope, I would use this film as one of the prime examples, for although it was one of the earliest Cinemascope films for MGM, it’s technical virtuosity is astounding, as we have up to 14 characters (the seven brothers and seven brides) interacting on the screen at the same time in the musical numbers. For such a huge undertaking, the film works in almost every way, with outstanding performances from Jane Powell and Russ Tamblyn (whose acrobatic dancing is still a marvel to behold today), as well as a beautiful newcomer, Julie Newmeyer. She would later shorten her name to “Julie Newmar,” gaining everlasting fame as the original Catwoman on the Batman television series in 1966. For those who like musicals, this is an Essential, and for those interested in film history, this is an Essential. Heck, if you’re a film buff of any sort, this is an Essential.

DAVID: C-. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I'm not much of a musical movie fan. Ed, who is a huge fan of the genre, tends to give a pass to the plots of musicals because the singing – and in many cases, the dancing – is the main draw for these films. I disagree. Great musicals can have good plots with solid dialogue, such as Singin' in the Rain and the original Muppet Movie, that add to the film. The plot of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is among the most ridiculous and stupid in cinematic history. A woodsman comes into town looking for a wife and finds a woman who barely knows him but marries him. They return home and to her surprise, he's got six brothers who live with him. She teaches them manners and dancing – they pick up the latter a lot quicker than the former– so they can also find women to marry. They find women-folk and eventually kidnap them when things don't go well. Of course women in that situation not only fall in love with their captors, but dance with them. The acting is wooden at best, and the singing isn't memorable. I can't recall any songs from this movie and after looking up the titles, I don't remember the melody or lyrics to even one, and I saw this movie in the last year. The only reason this film doesn't get a D grade is because it is beautifully filmed, I was impressed with how they were able to get all 14 of them into single shots and the dancing is good. But even with those attributes, it's not a good movie.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 15–December 22 

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (December 18, 11:30 am): I'm not a fan of musicals so when I recommend one, watch it. Singin' in the Rain is the greatest musical ever made. It's funny, it's charming, the singing is great and the dancing is unbelievable. While Gene Kelly's numbers are spectacular, Donald O'Connor's performance of "Make 'Em Laugh" is the best in the film. O'Connor had a unique physical style of dance that included him taking a number of pratfalls and other things that didn't do anything good to his body. While the plot isn't exceptionally strong, it's clever – spoofing Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies.

DOG DAY AFTERNOON (December 20, 11:45 pm): When this film came out in 1975, you would have been hard-pressed to find a better and more versatile actor in his prime than Al Pacino. This has always been one of my favorite Pacino films. As I've mentioned at other times, this is among a handful of films from the era that perfectly captures the violent, dirty and unique atmosphere of New York City. In this case, it's Brooklyn. In a film loosely based on a real story, Pacino and two of his buddies rob a bank though one guy gets cold feet when the heist begins and runs out of there. It turns out their timing couldn't be worse – the robbery occurs after most of the cash was picked up for the day leaving them with $1,100 and a mess on their hands. The police arrive and the two robbers are trapped inside with hostages. The interplay between Pacino and Charles Durning, who plays a police sergeant serving as a hostage negotiator, is memorable and shows the range of both actors. It's an exceptional film and one you should definitely see – even if you've already seen it.

ED’S BEST BETS:

SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (December 20, 4:15 am): This film is rightly said to be writer/director Preston Sturges’s masterpiece. John L. Sullivan is a noted director of light musical fare such as Ants in Your Plants of 1939 and Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. However, he wants to make an Important Film, and he has one in mind, namely O Brother, Where Art Thou, a leaden novel concerned with the struggle between Capital and Labor. The studio execs pooh-pooh it, noting that he grew up rich and never suffered. So, Sullivan sets out to see how the other half lives, and ends up with far more than he bargained for when everybody assumes he died. It’s both hilarious and touching with many insights from Sturges into the human ego versus the human condition. It’s best to record it to be seen again later – and you will definitely want to see it again. The fact it’s being shown this late is an excellent justification for having a recorder.

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (December 22, 2:00 pm): Barbara Stanwyck was one of the very, very few that could go from playing in tear jerkers (Stella Dallas) to corporate dramas (Executive Suite) to steamy crime dramas (Double Indemnity) to Westerns (The Maverick Queen) to screwball comedies (The Lady Eve) and distinguish herself in each genre. And this gentle romantic comedy is no different. Here she plays Elizabeth Lane, a Martha Stewart type, a columnist for “Smart Housekeeping,” and a woman touted as “the greatest cook in the country,” with a perfect home in the ‘burbs, a perfect husband, and a perfect baby. She’s the role model to millions of readers. The only problem is that Elizabeth Lane is none of the above. She’s unmarried, no child, lives in the city, and the closest she’s even been to a stove is how near she sits to the restaurant’s kitchen. Trouble ensues when a war hero (Dennis Morgan), as part of a publicity stunt for her magazine, is granted a visit to her “farm.” And, to make things worse, her boss, played by Sydney Greenstreet, is coming along. How can she pull of this charade and not get fired? Stanwyck pulls it off beautifully, giving yet another top-notch performance as the harried columnist. Morgan is excellent as the visiting war hero, and it’s nice to see Greenstreet in a role other than as the bad guy. He acquits himself rather nicely here. This is the perfect film for those who want to see light holiday fare during this time, and a perfect film for those that have not yet had the pleasure of sampling Stanwyck’s work in comedies.

WE DISAGREE ON ... AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (December 22, 2:15 am)

ED: A-. I usually try to avoid films featuring animals, whether they’re Flipper or the venerable Lassie series. Prehistoric monsters, for the most part, are okay. But this film is one of the rare exceptions, along with Umberto D, to that rule. And like Umberto DAu Hasard Balthazar is indeed heartbreaking. Director Robert Bresson has presented us with a simple tale about the life of a donkey, the owners he goes through in his life (some good, others cruel) and the young girl who loves him. Bresson makes clear to us that Balthazar has been given a soul, courtesy of the children who innocently baptized him after his birth, so we are aware that the donkey can feel and comprehend. Like Bresson’s other films, this also serves as a philosophical tract on the human condition; this is not simply a film that wears its insights on its sleeves, so to speak. We see the parade of humanity through Balthazar’s eyes and discover that not all bad people are irredeemable – even the terrible Gerard, the heroine’s love object, has a moment of grace as he sings in the church’s choir. Now, as my esteemed opponent in these debates took the liberty of quoting Roger Ebert in his favor during last week's review of Funny Girl, I shall quote Ebert concerning this film: the critic calls director Robert Bresson “one of the saints of the cinema, and Au Hasard Balthazar is his most heartbreaking prayer.” Also, Jean-Luc Godard praised the film as “the world in an hour and a half.” As with all Bresson’s films, this one is more than a simple film about a donkey.

DAVID: C+. This is going to be a tough one for me to argue. First, I'm a huge fan of director Robert Bresson. I absolutely love PickpocketDiary of a Country PriestA Man Escaped, and L'argent. Second, many critics praise this film as an all-time classic and consider it Bresson's best. Bresson's films focus on spirituality and humanity, and provide insight into life, primarily the tragic and sad parts. Despite not only understanding, but appreciating Bresson's work for its brilliance, I really don't care for this movie. Yes, the donkey is supposed to have a soul and feel all the horrible and mean things he experienced. But it's still a donkey, and no matter what he's supposed to have and be, he's still just a donkey. It's not like the storyline makes the donkey a better actor. I understand the cruel and difficult lives of the donkey and Marie, the poor farm girl who loves him, are supposed to run parallel to each other. Her tragic experiences are similar to his. The symbolism is obvious. Actually, it's too obvious which weighs down the film. Also, the execution is mediocre at best. A bad Bresson film is still decent thus the C+ grade. No matter what approach I take when watching it, it doesn't impress me. It didn't bore me, but it failed to keep my interest. Perhaps my expectations are too great as its a Bresson film, but there's a world of difference in the quality between Au Hasard Balthazar and the other films of his that I mentioned above. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 8–December 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS

GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (December 8, 8:00 am): 1939 was among cinema's greatest years with the releases of Gone With the WindNinotchkaOf Mice and MenWizard of OzMr. Smith Goes to WashingtonStagecoachWuthering Heights, and Dark Victory to name a few. But among all of them, Goodbye, Mr. Chips is my favorite. It's a sweet, sentimental, touching story about a stern school master, Charles Chipping – Mr. Chips for short – and how he wins the affection of his students after falling in love and marrying Kathy Ellis (Greer Garson). The cast is wonderful, but Robert Donat in the lead, a role that won him an Academy Award, is outstanding. 

SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (December 12, 10:15 pm): Ed has recommended this film in the past and rightfully so. This comedy was made in 1941. Many things that were funny 62 years ago aren't funny anymore. But you can't say that about this film written and directed by Preston Sturges, an incredibly talented man who made some of the funniest movies you'll ever see. This one is his best. Joel McCrea is outstanding as John L. Sullivan, a famous comedic director of films such as Ants in Your Pants of 1939. He wants to make a serious film, O Brother, Where Are Thou? (the title was later lifted by the Coen brothers in their great film from 2000), but the studio wants another comedy. He is insistent and takes on the life of a hobo. No matter what he does, he always ends up back in Hollywood. Sullivan meets "The Girl" (the absolutely lovely Veronica Lake), who is strongly considering abandoning her acting dream, and the two succeed in living the homeless life. Sullivan is ready to return to Hollywood to make his serious film. That is until he takes a blow to the head and loses his memory. The ending is wonderful with a great lesson learned. The pacing is as good as it gets and the movie works on every level.

ED’S BEST BETS:

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (December 10, 8:00 pm): This classic from Ealing Studios is mostly known for the fact Alec Guinness plays eight different roles – all members of the D’Ascoyne family – in this hilarious tale of revenge. Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is an Englishman born into poverty, but who has a distant connection to royalty on his mother’s side. The problem is that eight members of the D’Ascoyne family stand between him and what he feels is his rightful inheritance. Louis solves this problem by systematically bumping off each member. Joan Greenwood adds to the fun as the greedy Sibella, and Valerie Hobson is wonderful as Edith D’Ascoyne. It’s one of the most intelligent black comedies ever made and if you haven’t yet seen it . . . well, let’s just say that if there ever such a thing as a real “Must See,” this is it.

THE PRODUCERS (December 14, 1:00 pm): Mel Brooks began his directorial career with a film reviled at the time by many critics, but now justly seen as one of the classics of cinema. Two Broadway producers (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) discover that they can make more money putting on a flop than financing a hit. All they have to do is raise more cash than they need for the play. They find a sure-fire flop, for they have pre-sold somewhere around 10,000% of the play, and if it’s a hit, they can’t pay off the backers. Their vehicle is a musical titled “Springtime for Hitler,” the love story of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun in song. They chose the worst director, the worst actor, and have signed the play’s author, a nutty Nazi living in Greenwich Village. I won’t say any more in case you’re one of the few that hasn’t yet seen this classic.

WE DISAGREE ON ... FUNNY GIRL (December 13, 8:00 pm)

ED: A. This is an amazing tour-de-force for the young Barbra Streisand, long before the days in which she reincarnated herself as a Deep Thinker and began to spout on every subject under the sun. No, in those days she was simply Streisand, a wonderful singer and song-stylist. Since she starred in the Broadway musical of the same name, it was a simple task to move her over to the film adaptation. Sure, the sets look particularly phony and to say that the script is contrived is to put it lightly, but who goes to see a musical for the sets and script? We go to see a musical for the performances, and most of all, for the music. And the film doesn’t let us down. A strong supporting cast backs Streisand, with Kay Medford, Lee Allen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Frank Faylen giving solid turns (I would have included Omar Sharif, but the longer the move goes on the more annoying he gets to me), and the great William Wyler as her director. A great score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill gave us songs (“People,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “I’m the Greatest Star”) that are standards today. Now, if you’re looking for a real biography of Fanny Brice, I suggest you buy a bio of her life. But if you’re looking for an enjoyable two and a half hours, this is the perfect ticket and a great example of the ‘60s musical.

DAVID: D+. In my never-ending quest to see all the films in The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made book (I've seen about 650 of them) I have to endure some real stinkers such as Paint Your WagonMy Fair LadyOur Town and Funny Girl. There's very little that's funny about this film. The plot is dull and lifeless  and this is after they fictionalized the life of Fanny Brice to make this more interesting. They failed. The movie is too much of a bad thing. To quote Roger Ebert's original review, the 1968 film "is perhaps the ultimate example of the roadshow musical gone overboard. It is over-produced, over-photographed and over-long." It clocks in at two-and-a-half hours, and is a chore to watch. The movie is slow paced and only gets worse as it goes on. I generally dislike musicals and this one did nothing to change my mind. While "People" is a good tune, the rest of the songbook are forgettable. William Wyler was a wonderful director, but he did an awful job with this film. Most critics have kind words for Barbra Streisand's performance in this movie, but she's just too much and Wyler fails to reign her in, and the rest of the actors are simply awful. It's far from being the worst movie or musical ever made, but it's a bad film that fails to entertain.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 1–December 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

RESERVOIR DOGS (December 2, 4:15 am): The debut of director and writer Quentin Tarantino, this outstanding film from 1992 tells the story of a jewelry heist gone bad without actually showing the crime. Tarantino borrows liberally from The Taking of Pelham of One Two ThreeKansas City ConfidentialRififi and The Killing, among others, yet he makes this film his own with an extraordinary script. The casting is excellent with Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi and the director himself. The action, the humor, great lines, raw energy, almost unwatchable violence and very colorful language come at the viewer fast and furious. A master at having music enhance his films, Tarantino uses Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You" in Reservoir Dogs' most gruesome and memorable scene. It's horrifying, compelling, shocking and incredibly effective. The film has great style with the substance to back it up.

THE PETRIFIED FOREST (December 3, 4:00 am): I recommended this film in July 2012, and for those who haven't seen it, it's one you don't want to miss. LikeReservoir Dogs, set the TiVo as it's being shown at a ridiculous time. As I wrote the first time I recommended it, this is film noir before the term was coined. In one of his first major roles, Humphrey Bogart gets to play a bad guy – Duke Mantee, a notorious gangster on the run. He was so great in this 1936 film as the heavy – bringing depth, emotion and character to the role – that Warner Brothers spent nearly five years casting Bogart in other movies as the bad guy. But only a few were of this quality. Duke and his gang end up in a diner near the Petrified Forest in Arizona to avoid the police. When that doesn't work, they take everyone inside hostage. Among those inside is Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), a once-great writer who is now an alcoholic. Not fearing death because of what life has become for him, Squier engages Duke in conversation, pushing his buttons. The interaction between the two is outstanding. The film is an adaption of the play that featured Howard and Bogart in the same roles. Also at the dinner is Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), who owns it with her father and grandfather. Davis is excellent and even subdued (gasp!) as a secondary character (gasp!).

ED’S BEST BETS:

DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST (December 1, 2:00 am): Robert Bresson’s beautifully directed adaptation of Georges Bernanos’ moving novel about a young cleric assigned to a rural parish whose self-doubts, combined with his physical ailments (stomach cancer), keep him from becoming the spiritual leader he so desires to be among his parishioners. Bresson focuses on the everyday life of the young priest (who is never named) as he visits around his parish on his bicycle. We see his interactions with unfortunate peasants, disrespectful children, a suicidal doctor, a countess constantly mourning her dead son, soliciting money from her husband for a community project, and coping with stomach pains that are growing worse. Though he seeks counsel from an older down-to-earth priest in a neighboring parish, he can’t seem to fend off suspicions that he’s nothing but a meddling outsider who will never understand the parish or its citizens. Though his belief in God is strong, his belief in his own abilities is shaky, and he comers to believe that he will never be a good priest. As his cancer grows, he mortifies his flesh by eating only bread soaked in wine, and though the cancer diagnosis helps explain his decline, his spirituality not only endures, but also grows. At the end we are informed of his death and last words, “All is grace.” Bresson’s adaptation is not only faithful to Bernandos’ novel, but also manages to capture the spirituality that moves throughout the pages of the book, a difficult task for a film. It’s a must see not only for fans of Bresson and Bernandos – it’s a must see for all those who enjoy a faithfully told story.

THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (December 6, 6:00 am): Mention the name “Fritz Lang” to any cinephile and expect to hear “Dr. Mabuse” among the answers. Mabuse is Lang’s master criminal par excellence; his Professor Moriarty. This is Lang’s follow-up to M and his last film made in Germany until his return in the ‘50s. Here we see the further adventures of arch criminal Mabuse. Mabuse has been locked away in an asylum for a decade. Strange things are happening between seemingly disconnected persons and event. Disgraced cop Hofmeister (Karl Meixner) investigates, partially to recover his tarnished reputation. But before he can divulge the facts behind the case he is driven insane. It is now up to Commissioner Lohmann (Otto Wernicke, following up on his role in M) follows the trail to the asylum where Mabuse is kept. What happens from there is compelling viewing, especially as we quickly make the connection between Mabuse and Hitler. Mabuse’s writing – his “testament” – is in reality Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Goebbels banned the film in Germany. Don’t miss it.

WE DISAGREE ON ... A RAISIN IN THE SUN (December 5, 9:45 pm)

ED: A. This is a powerful film from Columbia, based on Lorraine Hansberry’s Broadway play, and the studio was smart enough to let her write the screenplay. It is also a deep film: set in the projects of Chicago it shows the hardship and prejudice African-American families faced. But below that surface it is also a study in character, namely how the women in the movie wait for the man of the family, Walter (Sidney Poitier), to finally find himself. The premise of the film is simple: how best to use a life-insurance bequest of $10,000. Mother Lena (Claudia McNeil) wants to use it to buy a house and as tuition for her daughter’s (Diana Sands) medical school. Son Walter wants to use it to buy a liquor store and escape his job as a chauffeur for a wealthy white man. How the movie eventually plays out will leave no one that watches it unmoved. The cast is strong and their performances pitch perfect. A Raisin in the Sun is one of the best movies to date about the American Dream and how best to achieve it.

DAVID: B. There's no doubt this is a fine film, but it doesn't deserve an "A" grade. Like The Petrified ForestA Raisin in the Sun was originally a play. But the latter feels too much like a play with the small set – which isn't always a bad thing such as 12 Angry Men. But A Raisin in the Sun would have benefited from giving the performers more space and less opportunities to overact. Overacting is far too common on Broadway, and it carries over into this film. As Ed wrote, the premise is simple. The family inherits $10,000 in life insurance after the death of its patriarch and everyone is torn as to how to use the money. The actors work well together with effective performances by most, particularly Sidney Poitier (of course), Claudia McNeil as his mother, and Ruby Dee as his wife. The storyline is touching and tragic though the ending is just not believable. It's a very good film and one worth seeing. But, unlike Ed, I don't consider it one of the best movies to date about the American Dream and how best to achieve it.


TCM TiVo Alert
For
November 23-November 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:


THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN (November 28, 6:00 pm): There are few films that can touch the originality and the clever one-liners of 1979's The Muppet Movie. This third Muppet movie from 1984 doesn't, but it has some great moments and is worth seeing. The songs are not as catchy as the original Muppet film, but there are some good ones and the storyline in this 1984 movie is excellent. The gang graduates from college and are eager to take their campus variety show to Broadway. Things don't go well and the Muppets have to go their separate ways when they run out of money while Kermit, who works at a Manhattan dinner, figures out how to sell the show. (That the Muppet gang all graduated college at the same time and none can find white-collar jobs makes me wonder the true value of their education.) Kermit finally succeeds in finding a backer for his play only to miss a "Don't Walk" sign and get hit by a car causing him to lose his memory. I suppose a frog getting hit by a car could have more dire consequences. The best part of the film is Kermit, who can't remember his name after the accident, become Phil and working for a Madison Avenue advertising agency with fellow frogs, Phil, Jill and Gil. In one scene, the frogs are looking for a tagline for a soap product. Bill says, "How about this? Ocean Breeze Soap, it's just like talking an ocean cruise, only there's no boat and you don't actually go anywhere." Kermit says, "Why don't you try something like, Ocean Breeze Soap will get you clean." The others look at him confused. "You mean just say what the product does?" Jill asks. "No one's ever tried that before," says Gil. Kermit gets his memory back in time for opening night of the play, which, of course, is a huge hit. Also, Miss Piggy substitutes Gonzo with a real minister in the marriage scene at the end, tricking Kermit into marrying her. I doubt it's legal. Also, it's the first appearance of the Muppets as babies, which proved to be so popular that it resulted in a cartoon series   that aired for eight seasons.



HANG 'EM HIGH (November 29, 11:00 am): Fresh off his "Man with No Name" trilogy, Clint Eastwood stars in...a Western. This could easily have been a disaster, but Eastwood is excellent as Jed Cooper, wrongly accused by a posse of killing a man and stealing his cattle. The posse hangs Cooper, who survives it and is left with a scar on his neck. Cooper, a lawman in the past, become a federal marshal and exacts his revenge against the members of the posse, which includes Bruce Dern, Ed Begley Sr., and Alan Hale Jr. When he tries to arrest members of the posse, they realize things won't work out well for them so they try to kill Cooper. Apparently they don't realize this is Eastwood and there's no way that's going to work. An excellent action film.

ED’S BEST BETS:

RIFIFI (November 27, 7:30 am): Leave it to a master craftsman like Jules Dassin to make one of the great Heist-Gone-Wrong films. Four cronies plan the perfect crime and have everything figured out to the letter – except for each other, and this proves to be the fatal mistake. Because it was a low-budget film, Dassin couldn’t afford a star like Jean Gabin, but he does quite fine with the hand he’s dealt. In his review for the French newspaper Arts, Francois Truffaut wrote: “Jules Dassin made the best ‘noir’ film I have ever see from the worst roman noir I have ever read.” The novel’s author, Auguste LeBreton, co-wrote the screenplay and later wrote Bob The Gambler, another top-notch crime thriller, for Jean-Paul Melville. It seems LeBreton translated better into film than he did into print.

GUN CRAZY (November 27, 2:30 pm): Director Joseph H. Lewis’s ahead-of-its-time noir about two lovers (Peggy Cummins, John Dall) that go on a crime spree. Low-budget specialists Frank and Maurice King, whose only caveat to director Lewis was not to go over budget, produced it. Lewis, as I‘ve noted earlier, was a specialist at saving a penny, as his career was spent in Poverty Row. It also takes a load off when one is working from a terrific script from blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (fronted by Millard Kaufman) and MacKinlay Kantor, who wrote the original story. While it was just another low-budget film here in America, over in France it was discovered by the Cahiers crowd and lionized as one of the great films from America. Such was its power that directors Truffaut, Godard, Melville, and Chabrot all stole from it. Its always great viewing and a Must See.

WE DISAGREE ON ... FUNNY GAMES (November 25, 3:15 am)


ED: A. That we should disagree about this film is only natural, given that, ever since its release, critics on both sides of the Atlantic have been arguing vociferously over its merits. I was both repulsed and fascinated by this film when I first saw it over 10 years ago. It’s a clever psychological horror that manages to press all the emotional buttons. The danger with such a film as this is that it can easily turn into either a splatterfest or a laff riot. To its credit, the film does neither, thanks to a screenplay that emphasizes all the right notes of terror while refusing to play the note for too long. One excellent touch was having one of the terrorists, Paul, break the fourth wall to remark on the action and, in essence, join the audience. It’s almost as if director Michael Haneke saw that, unless he lightened the tension a bit, his film would become unwatchable to its audience. I also laud him for his approach by having the overtone of terror build gradually: By acting less like terrorists, pretending to act more like invited dinner guests that are doing nothing wrong (while throwing in a good dose of politeness and cordiality), the perpetrators subtly ratchet up the sense of fear in the family. Adding to our unease is the fact that this film is superbly acted, with a rather unconventional ending. I can see its influence of later films, especially Saw and Hostel. One further note: the director later helmed an English remake, almost shot for shot, in 2007.

DAVID: D-. There is little to like about this film. Actually that too polite. I hate this film. Two regular-looking younger guys impose themselves on a German family on vacation to the point of being annoying. But they're also dangerous. Their true nature emerges as they torture the parents, their young son and the family's dog. They eventually kill all of them for their enjoyment. If the goal is to make the audience uncomfortable and bored then mission accomplished. There's nothing entertaining or interesting here. Worst of all, the movie, like the killers, overstays its welcome. At nearly two hours, the torturing of the family gets dull. I kept thinking, "Kill them already and let's get this done." One gimmick is to have Paul, one of the murderers/torturers, talk to the audience, asking what do they expect to happen. At one point, the wife grabs a gun and kills Paul's partner, Peter. Paul grabs a remote control and rewinds the scene. The film ends with Paul and Peter dumping the tied-up wife into the water to drown after murdering her son and husband. The two then move on to another house to do the same thing to the family there. Like A Clockwork OrangeFunny Games is disturbing with people killing for a laugh. But unlike the former, there's nothing compelling or interesting in Funny Games.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 15-November 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE BIG HEAT (November 17, 10:15 am): When it comes to film noir about cops and gangsters, this 1953 classic is among the absolute best. Glenn Ford is a homicide detective with scruples, unlike anyone else on the police department in this movie. Masterfully directed by the legendary Fritz Lang, this film pulls no punches - literally. While investigating the death of a cop, who we learn soon enough was crooked, Ford's character, Sgt. David Bannion, is urged by those up the chain in command to call it a suicide and leave it alone. Of course he doesn't. But the consequences are dire, including the murder of his wife, who is blown up "Youngstown Tune-Up" style. But that's nothing compared to Lee Marvin's Vince Stone character throwing hot coffee in the face of his girlfriend, played by Gloria Grahame, disfiguring her in one of the most shocking scenes in cinematic history. 

GREGORY'S GIRL (November 18, 8:00 pm): This is an adorable coming-of-age movie about Gregory Underwood (John Gordon Sinclair), a Scottish high school student who plays (poorly) on his school's soccer team. He falls for the new girl, Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), who is not only hot, but an excellent soccer player. Gregory does everything he can to get her attention, often failing to the point of making a fool of himself. He asks her out, and she accepts even though she's not interested. She sends another girl in her place with Gregory getting passed from her to another girl and finally to Susan (Clare Grogan, lead singer of Altered Images, a Scottish New Wave pop band), who is interested in Gregory. The 1981 film is funny, clever and very sweet. It's a wonderful movie about first loves and crushes, and leaves viewers with big smiles on their faces.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE ELEPHANT MAN (November 18, 10:00 pm): A wonderful, heart-tugging film from David Lynch and Mel Brooks, of all people, about John Merrick (John Hurt), a man so grossly misshapen by disease that he was forced to live as a sideshow freak until rescued by renowned London doctor Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), who convinced London hospital to take Merrick in as a resident patient while Treves studied the disease and its possible causes. While Hopkins is his usual superlative self, it is John Hurt who drives this film, with his sensitive portrayal of Merrick that brings more than a touch of humanity and compassion for an ill-treated man that earned him a nomination for an Oscar. Hurt’s performance will remind viewers of Karloff’s portrayal of Frankenstein’s Monster in its depth ad subtlety. For those that cry easily, have two boxes of Kleenex on hand.

THE TRAIN (November 20, 3:45 am): Burt Lancaster and Paul Schofield are at their very best in this John Frankenheimer film about a Nazi colonel trying to ship the paintings of France to Germany and the Resistance leader determined to stop him at all costs. Also staring Michael Simon, Albert Remy, Wolfgang Preiss, Charles Millot, Jacques Marin, and Jeanne Moreau in a small but pivotal role. There is never a dull moment to catch your breath in this action classic.

WE DISAGREE ON ... LILI (November 17, 4:00 am)

ED: A. I wouldn’t exactly describe Lili as a musical; for me, it’s more on the side of a romantic adult fairy tale, with a strong emphasis on the word “adult.” Believe it not, the film was inspired by a 1950 story by Paul Gallico entitled, “The Man Who Hated People,” about an anti-social puppeteer who had his own television show.  Gallico, in turn, was inspired by the television puppet show Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Set in Postwar France, it’s the story of Lili Daurier (Leslie Caron in a beautifully spun and heart rendering performance); a 16-year old orphan who arrives at a small French village, only to discover the family friend she is looking for has died. With no friends or family, she begs a local merchant for a job. He takes her desperation as opportunity and tries to rape her. She is saved in the nick of time by Marc (Jean-Pierre Aumont) a magician in a traveling carnival. She falls in love with Marc, but he is married to his glamorous assistant (Zsa Zsa Gabor in a restrained performance). She joins the carnival, but fails in her job as a waitress in the carnival café.  Now lonely and depressed, she attempts to kill herself, but is saved once more – this time by the lame puppeteer Paul (Mel Ferrer in a brilliant performance as a disabled war veteran who had aspersions of becoming a dancer). He speaks to her through his four puppets: the kindly, helpful Carrot Top, the self-absorbed Marguerite, the wily thief Reynaldo the Fox and cowardly giant Golo, who only wants to be loved. Paul is filled with resentment about his situation, but takes pity on Lili. She, in turn, is so charmed by the puppets that she forgets his presence and comes to view the puppets as real people. The film focuses on their relationship as Lili’s interaction with the puppets brings in throngs of paying customers and makes her the star of the carnival. Through the “love” of the puppets, Lili begins to blossom from waif into a beautiful young woman, and Paul begins to realize his own love for her while she continues her infatuation with Marc. The film climaxes in a fantastic dream ballet, where Lili begins to sort out her feelings. The film was nominated for six Oscars, with a typical Hollywood turn. “Hi Lili, Hi Lo,” for which the film is best known today, was not nominated for Best Song, but composer Bronislau Kaper won for Best Score. But what really amazes me is how they got away with this thinly veiled Freudian story in ‘50s Hollywood.

DAVID: C-. Unlike Gregory's Girl, there's nothing adorable about this "coming of age" movie. It's actually rather creepy. Lili (Leslie Caron) is a 16-year-old orphan from the sticks who is rescued by a carnival magician from a rape attempt by a shopkeeper. She falls in love with "Marcus the Magician," who happens to be about twice her age, oh, and he's also married to his assistant, Rosalie (Zsa Zsa Gabor). As she considers killing herself, Lili is saved by puppets. Yes, she is saved by puppets. She talks to the puppets as if they are real which begs the question: is Lili an incredibly immature 16-year-old or is she mentally challenged? The puppets are controlled by Paul (Mel Ferrer), who used to be a great dancer but is lame after a war injury. He is now working the puppets to make a buck. Like Marcus, he's also a lot older than Lili, and in love with the underage girl, but too shy to tell her. It's either that or he's concerned about being charged with statutory. He also gives her a nice slap across the face for still loving Marc after it's revealed Rosalie is his wife. Meanwhile, the Lili-puppet "act" – I use quotation marks because the audience is let to believe Lili thinks the puppets are real – draws crowds to the carnival. After realizing that she needs to wake up from her childlike dream, she decides to leave the carnival. But Lili apparently still lives in a dream world. As she's walking away, she imagines she's dancing with Paul's puppets, only they are life-size and they all turn into their puppeteer. Lili then runs back to Paul and he passionately kisses the 16-year-old girl with the puppets applauding. When you look at it that way, it's not a charming film. It's only 81 minutes long so it's not like viewers are wasting a lot of time on the movie. But there are plenty of better things to do with your time than watch this.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 8-November 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE SLAMS (November 9, 3:45 am): TCM's Star of the Month is Burt Lancaster. If he made a bad film, I haven't seen it so watch anything with him in it that you can. As for my picks for the week, The Slams comes with my highest recommendation, particularly if you love the Blaxploitation genre. I'm a huge fan. Two years after 1971's ShaftThe Slams stars real-life bad-ass Jim Brown as a bad ass. He plays Curtis Hook, an angry black man who turns to crime because The Man has kept him down. Tired of that, Hook turns to crime, but has a moral compass. He and a couple of white guys kill drug dealers taking their money, $1.5 million, and their dope, though Hook does nearly all of the work. Hook hides the money and isn't interested in the heroin as it's bad for the brothers and sisters in the 'hood. His two partners teach him the valuable lesson not to trust Whitey. Hook ends up in prison, or the Slams as the brothers call it. That's when the fun begins. Brown needs to escape to get the money as well as watch himself as there are plenty of people who want the money and want to kill Hook. With the help of the neighborhood pimp, who helps a brother out, Cook is able to escape from the Slams in a portable toilet. While not a great actor, Brown is solid as the lead in this entertaining film. 

SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (November 12, 3:00 am): Originally a 281-minute Swedish TV mini-series aired in 1973, Ingmar Bergman condensed Scenes From a Marriage to a 169-minute film released worldwide a year later. Like nearly all Bergman movies, it's great. It's the story of divorce lawyer Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and college professor Johan (Erland Josephson), who've been married for 10 years. They seem to have a solid relationship, but appearances are deceiving. A smile isn't simply a smile. It's filled with emotions ranging from love to anger. The film explores the ups and downs of the next 20 years of their marriage, including affairs, considerations of divorce, the tension between the couple and the challenges they experience. It's Bergman so the cinematography and insightful dialogue are brilliant. Bergman and his actors, particularly Ullmann and Bibi Andersson in a secondary but important role, shed light on the evolution of marriage – sometimes in ways that make the viewer uncomfortable because seeing the truth is the last thing we want. The film is incredibly engrossing, intense, brutally honest while also beautiful and touching. There are few directors who understand life and have the ability to translate that into not only watchable movies, but ones that are enlightening and captivating. Bergman was not only among those few, but he was the best at it, and Scenes From a Marriage is a perfect example. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE MATCH KING (November 8, 8:15 am): A wonderful, if underrated, Pre-Code film starring that great, if underrated actor, Warren William, at his debonar cad best.  Based on the true story of financial swindler Ivar Kruegar, whose shenanigans brought down several banks and deepened an already bad Depression, William is Paul Kroll, a man who gets an idea of cornering the market in something that is not only necessary, but cal also be easily produced – matches. We first meet him as a street sweeper outside Wrigley Field in Chicago. His talents for deceit and easy manner eventually take him to the top of the business world, from whence he falls, and falls hard. William gives a smooth, clean performance as Kroll, with the only weak spot in the film being Lily Damita, in a thinly veiled Greta Garbo. Damita, who later married Errol Flynn and Michael Curtiz, gives a performance that calls for a strong director with experience with women. Unfortunately, the directors of this film – Howard Bretherton and William Keighley – were Warners’ assembly-line directors, more concerned with getting it out on time than with performances. However, it remains a most entertaining 79 minutes. Watch for the always-entertaining Glenda Farrell as William’s girlfriend – and first victim.

MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (November 14, 8:00 pm): Great B-noir from director Joseph H. Lewis starring Columbia starlet Nina Foch and a young innocent who answers a newspaper ad for a job and winds up as the prisoner of a crazy family. It’s a great old style Gothic thriller that, despite its low budget, never fails to amaze me, now matter how many times I’ve seen it. Lewis, who worked his way up from Poverty Row productions, knows how to save a buck without sacrificing quality, and this is his breakout film, one that would lead to bigger and better things. Foch is the perfect casting as the young innocent, with Dame May Whitty (Miss Froy in The Lady Vanishes) as her sinister employer, with George Macready (Gilda) as her demented son, Ralph. Film history buffs should look for the oddly named Ottola Nesmith as Mrs. Susan Robinson. A character actor working in film since 1913, Nesmith would later surface on television on KTLA in Hollywood hosting late night horror films.

WE DISAGREE ON ... ENTER THE DRAGON (November 11, 12:45 am)

ED: B-. Were I rating this film by the influence it has had on the martial arts genre since its release, the grade would be A+. However, I must grade it by what it actually is - a B movie. Compared to the usual production values of kung fu films coming from China at the same time, this would be an A-production. It's Bruce Lee's last film before his death, and also stars such martial arts luminaries as Jim Kelly, Angela Mao, Bolo Cheung, and Jackie Chan in a small role. John Saxon, who plays Roper, was known as a good, though not great, actor. But compared to Bruce Lee he comes off like John Gielgud. It's knot that I don't like the film. It's great entertainment, but compared to the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of the Flying Daggers, with great production values, superb direction and great acting, it comes off as a distinctly poor relation. Hence the grade.

DAVID: A+. Enter the Dragon is not only the most influential martial arts movie ever made, it is also one of the finest action films you'll see. It was groundbreaking as the first Chinese/Hong Kong martial arts film co-produced by a major American studio, Warner Brothers. Bruce Lee, who died six days before the film's release, is dripping with charisma – charisma that was already big at the box office. Had Lee lived, he likely would have been cinema's greatest and most successful action hero. Not only was his martial arts ability on another planet, but his ease, charm, intensity and sense of humor makes it impossible not to love his character. In this film, he plays Lee, a Shaolin martial artist recruited by British intelligence to infiltrate an island owned by Mr. Han, a wealthy major drug dealer and a former Shaolin student kicked out for violating the code of conduct. Han has an international martial arts tournament on his island in which only the best compete for huge prize money. Of course, Lee goes and befriends two American martial artists, Jim Kelly (with a great afro) and John Saxon, an actor who does a nice job playing a martial artist. The movie has many fantastic scenes, but three stand out to me. The first, just before the opening credits begin, has Lee give a lesson to a young student by asking him to kick him. The student repeatedly fails, with Lee smacking him in the head while giving him advice until he succeeds. Lee says, "Don't think. Feel. It's like a finger pointing at the moon." The student looks at the finger and gets smacked again. "Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory." The second has a drunk bully on a boat to Han's island beating up the help. Lee sees this and agrees to fight the guy, who asks about Lee's style. "You can call it the art of fighting without fighting," Lee responds. The guy has to see it in action and agrees to Lee's challenge to get in a dinghy to fight on a nearby island. Lee simply unties the rope holding the dinghy with the people previously bullied holding on to it, humiliating the man. The third scene (seen here) has Lee fighting O'Hara, Han's bodyguard. O'Hara also raped Lee's sister and led her to commit suicide rather than be raped again. The fight itself is less than four minutes long, but the story it tells is utterly brilliant from the tense music to O'Hara breaking a board leading Lee to calmly tell him, "Boards don't hit back," to Lee flashing back to what happened to his sister to O'Hara getting a beat-down. Some of the scene is filmed in slow motion for effect, but also shows what an excellent martial artist Lee was and the great pained expressions on his face. The scene culminates with a funny moment that has a guy checking on an obviously dead O'Hara. The guy gives the "he's dead" sign – moving his hand across his neck. There are many more excellent scenes in the movie including the massive fight between freed prisoners of Han and his many henchmen, and the final showdown between Lee and Han in a room of mirrors. I've seen this film at least 20 times, and enjoy it every time.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 1-November 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

WATERLOO BRIDGE (November 5, 9:30 am): While the 1940 version of this film is a bit overproduced – MGM, of course – it's still wonderful with outstanding performances given by the leads, Vivien Leigh (her first film after Gone With the Wind) and Robert Taylor. It's the start of World War II and Taylor is a British Army captain while Leigh is a ballerina. It's love at first sight, but things don't work out so easily with the Nazis trying to blow up England. The two are to be married, but Taylor is called to duty and it only gets worse. Leigh loses her job at the ballet and in order to survive she becomes a prostitute. All hope is lost with Leigh convinced Taylor died in the war after reading his name in the list of those killed in battle. It shows you can't believe everything you read. Some are critical of the ending, but with the Hays Code in play, there wasn't much else to be done. It's still an excellent film.

THE KILLERS (November 6, 8:00 pm): This 1946 film noir is a must-see and a vital part of cinematic history. It's Burt Lancaster's big-screen debut and he's fantastic, particularly his scenes with femme fatale Ava Gardner. It's also the first time William Conrad – yeah, the guy from TV shows Cannon, and Jake and the Fat Man, and more importantly, the narrator of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends – got his screen credit in a film. The first 20 minutes of the film is based on an Ernest Hemingway short story. The screenplay is wonderfully written by John Huston and Richard Brooks, both uncredited, with great cinematography and brilliant acting performances. Lancaster was an incredible film actor, and the great performances he gave on screen started with his role in this movie.

ED’S BEST BETS:

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (November 1, 10:00 pm): It was at least 10 years since the original Front Page, and by the Hollywood clock – time for a remake. But the genius of Howard Hawks was in the casting. Instead of going with another two males in the roles of editor Walter Burns and reporter Hildy Johnson, Hawks thought to make reporter Hildy a woman, formerly married to Burns, and about to leave the paper to remarry. It was pure inspiration, and in my opinion, made the film even funnier. Decorated with all the touches Hawks was famous for, including the overlapping dialogue, it still holds up today and is funnier than ever. Part of the brilliance in the remake was the casting of Cary Grant, a superb comic actor, as Walter Burns. But it was in the part of Hildy Johnson that Hawks struck gold. Jean Arthur, Hawks’ first choice, turned down the role, as did Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, and Irene Dunne. Columbia studio head managed to borrow Rosalind Russell. She wasn’t thrilled at being assigned to the film and Hawks wasn’t exactly thrilled about having to “settle” for her. But once they got rolling, she turned out to be Hawks’ best move, as she’s perfect in the part: gorgeous, intelligent, sassy, and one step ahead – or so she thinks – of her ex-husband, Burns. It’s not only a movie to watch, but also one for cinephiles to own.

OLD ACQUAINTANCE (November 4, 8:15 am): Imagine, Bette Davis in a ”women’s picture” wonderfully acted and intelligently written where she plays the nice woman. And more to the point – no soap of the type we find in That Certain WomanDark VictoryThe Old Maid, and Now Voyager. Yes, Bette, it can be done. This is the story of best friends. Kit Marlowe (Davis) is a single author of high literary novels. Her friend Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins), who is married, takes her advice to write and becomes even more famous and financially successful than Kit, though the secret to her success is that she writes trashy novels. Take it from there, fasten your seat belts, and go along for a joyous ride with Bette and Miriam, two women that really hated each other in real life. There is no such thing as disappointment with this movie.

WE DISAGREE ON ... PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (November 4, 10:15 pm)

ED: A-. The beauty in this groundbreaking film lies in the enigma in the center of what at first seems to be a simple plot: A group of students at an upper crust Victorian-era girls’ school take a field trip to Hanging Rock, which is miles away from civilization. During the course of the trip three of the girls and one of the teachers goes missing. What happened? We’re never told. We are told about the purported history of the site; we get the sense that something is not quite right, but we never find out just what it is. Instead, we are left with a sense of impending dread communicated to us by the students themselves. It’s well acted, beautifully written, tightly directed and immaculately filmed in rural Australia.

DAVID: C+. This is a decent film, but nothing special. The cinematography is the best part. The plot has promise, but fails to deliver. A group of school girls have a picnic at Hanging Rock; hmm, that might explain the title. A teacher and three girls mysteriously disappear in what could be a dreamlike trance from being out in the sun too long. One of the girls returns, not knowing how she went missing or what happened to the others. There's no reason given, and the plot and acting aren't strong enough to make up for the contrived mystery at the center of the film. What's odd is there are portions in which there isn't enough plot, such as any hint of an explanation for those missing, and too much plot, such as the parts featuring an orphan girl who is treated poorly throughout the film. Also, is this film about sexual repression, sexual awakening, or have anything to do with sex? It's hard to tell because it seems so lacking in direction at times. And the pacing at the end of the film is too slow.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
October 23–October 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (October 28, 1:30 am): In honor of Halloween, TCM is going all-out with a number of excellent and some really bad and/or corny horror films. For this week, I'm recommending two of my favorite films that aren't in the horror genre. The first is The Last Picture Show, a 1971 film directed by Peter Bogdanovich about life in a small Texas town from late 1951 to late 1952. The movie's primary focus is on two high school seniors, played by Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges. The film has an incredible cast of supporting actors including Cloris Leachman, Ben Johnson (both won Oscars for their roles), Ellen Burstyn, Cybill Shepherd and Randy Quaid. This is the cinematic debuts of the latter two, but Bogdanovich is able to bring out the best in not only them, but the entire cast. It's a brilliant character study on life in a small nothing-happening town, and how high school doesn't prepare you for the real world, particularly if you aren't that smart or rich. Most of the characters are just trying to survive in a community that's dying. It's a depressing film, but authentic and one that stays with you long after it's done.

THE SWIMMER (October 30, 10:00 pm): Burt Lancaster is one of my all-time favorite actors and his role as Ned Merrill, a middle-aged ad executive who decides to swim his way home in the pools of his neighbors in this 1968 film, is his most underrated. This Kafkaesque film starts off with Lancaster's character in a bathing suit suddenly emerging from a wooded area without explanation. Merrill is initially greeted with a welcome in the first backyard, but as he goes from swimming pool to swimming pool, things about his seemingly happy and successful life turn out to be not so happy or successful. The closer he gets to home, the more he (and the viewers) learn about his life. The final scenes of Merrill at a public pool and at his house are compelling and fascinating. It also shows how brilliant of an actor Lancaster was.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE DEATH KISS (October 26, 6:00 am): This is a nice little independently produced Whodunit set inside a movie studio (Tiffany Studios), where the leading actor has been murdered while filming a scene. Bela Lugosi gives a fine performance as the studio’s manager who is busy trying to keep a lid on things, and also paying a familiar role: that of the Red Herring. This role is especially intriguing here because of the presence of two of his Dracula castmates, David Manners and Edward van Sloan (as the harried director trying to finish his cursed film). Another little enjoyment afforded by the film is a glimpse of a real-life Poverty Row studio and it inner workings, something a cineaste would consider must viewing.

DIABOLIQUE (October 27, 3:00 am): Frankly, I cannot recommend this picture enough. Think of a perfect Hitchcock film without Hitchcock. That’s Diabolique, which is directed by Henri-Georges Cluzot. To no one’s surprise, he’s known as “the French Hitchcock,’ and Hitchcock himself was influenced by this film. This is a masterful psychological horror film that builds slowly to a final q5 minutes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Although the twist ending murder plot has been done many times since, it’s never been done better. Diabolique takes place at a school where Simone Signoret helps her friend Vera Clouzot (real life wife of the director) drown her ogre of a husband (Paul Meurisse), who “returns to life” in a really terrifying scene. It’s a taut, beautifully woven thriller with a climax that will truly shock you. Fans of Hitchcock will love this, as will anyone that loves a well-written thriller with the emphasis on character rather than going for the cheap thrill.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . WHITE ZOMBIE (October 26, 12:30 am)

ED: B. One of the great overlooked horror classics from the ‘30s, it was lost for years until a print was found in the ‘60s, and the film is only beginning to get the critical adulation it deserves. Yet another case of star Bela Lugosi outsmarting himself – he received only $800 for his role, while the film was a box office hit – it was the first zombie movie made. In fact several of its scenes, such as the opening burial on the road and the sight of the zombies working in Lugosi’s sugar mill, still remain in my memory. Made by the Halperin Brothers, it is another example that a low-budget film need not be God awful if written and directed with a touch of intelligence, verve and imagination, which more than make up for what the production values lack. Lugosi is superb as zombie master “Murder” Legendre, with frequent close-ups of his eyes used to convey the horror he visits on unsuspecting Madge Bellamy and John Harron. Enamored of bride-to-be Bellamy, he uses black magic to make her his bride. Harron must stop him before he succeeds, with the result being an atmospheric, eerie chiller. By the way, for you trivia buffs, this was the film that Ed Wood and Lugosi were watching on Halloween night in Ed Wood

DAVID: C. This isn't an awful film, but there isn't anything special about it. Bela Lugosi as the evil zombie master is, of course, over-the-top. But he is Olivier in comparison to the rest of the cast of misfit, has-been, never-was actors. The storyline is ridiculous: A rich guy is in love with someone else's fiance so he goes to see Lugosi's character, Murder Legendre, to turn his love into a zombie. She marries her true love, but drinks a zombie potion, dies, is buried, gets dug up, and ends up with the rich guy, who has second thoughts about being in love with an undead woman. He obviously didn't think things through. And then the rich guy becomes a zombie too. While it tries to be menacing, such as Lugosi giving the evil stare, it's more comedic than anything else. The ending is predictable so there's no need to give it away here. It's not a bad movie and there is a certain charm to it. It's only 67 minutes long so you're not wasting much time watching it.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
October 15–October 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (October 17, 8:00 pm): Directed by Fritz Lang, this underrated film features three upper-management types fighting it out over who will be executive director of a major corporation with a newspaper and radio station, inherited by Vincent Price, who's father just died. Price does his usual excellent job as an eccentric in a very entertaining and engaging way. The winner has to produce a major exclusive on The Lipstick Killer, a murderer terrorizing the city. The film is fast-paced with smart dialogue and great acting. The cast includes George Sanders, Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino and Howard Duff.

ASHES AND DIAMONDS (October 22, 6:15 am): This is the last film of Polish director Andrzej Wajda's outstanding must-see war trilogy. This 1958 film tells the story of two Poles who are assigned to kill their town's Communist leader during the day the Germans officially surrender to end World War II. Wajda brilliantly captures the emotions of those who have survived the war, but are still fighting to move on with their lives. The story is wonderful as is the acting. It's best to watch the trilogy in order, A Generation (1954) and Kanal (1956) before Ashes and Diamonds, even though there is little carryover from one to another. But if you watch this film first, you'll want to see the others.

ED’S BEST BETS:

BREATHLESS (October 15, 12:00 am): Who can dislike a film dedicated to Monogram Studios? It’s Jean-Luc Godard’s first – and some say still his best – film. Jean-Paul Belmondo shines as a petty crook who impulsively kills a motorcycle cop after stealing a car. Idolizing Bogart and acting out his life as if he were Bogart, he tries to convince his American girlfriend (Jean Seberg) to flee with him to Rome. No studio sets here, with a budget of only about $80,000, Godard used the streets hotel rooms and cafes of Paris as his studio, melding street life into a veritable symphony of chaotic sounds. Through the use of hand-held cameras and placing the cameraman in a wheelchair, Godard makes maximum use of jump shots to convey the chaotic atmosphere felt by the main characters. Also watch for the appearance of Jean-Pierre Melville as the novelist Parvulesco. An inside joke: when Belmondo’s character, Michel Poiccard, receives a check from Tomatchoff, Poiccard asks how he can cash it, to which Tomatchoff replies, “Try Bob Montagne.” Poiccard’s reply: “But he’s in jail.”

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (October 16, 9:45 pm): Who knew Tyrone Power could act? Well, he’s utterly magnificent in this film from director Edmund Golding as ambitious carny worker Stan Carlisle, who learns the tricks of the mentalist con from Zeena (Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic husband, Pete (Ian Keith). Having absorbed the act, Stan leaves for the big time and become a famous mind reader, engaging in a confidence game that ultimately leads to his downfall. This is one of the classics of film noir – and an essential.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . ANDREI RUBLEV (October 21, 2:45 am)

ED: A+. I can only say that the fact this movie not only could, but actually was made in the U.S.S.R. of the mid-60s, was in itself a miracle. It’s the story of the famous medieval Russian icongrapher and chronicles his struggle to retain his faith and artistry deriving from that faith in a world of unlimited cruelty, ignorance, and suffering. Little was actually known about Rublev, and much of the movie comes from the imagination of the director as to what might have happened behind the scenes and what was the motivation in certain instances. I mention this because while director Andrei Tarkovsky might have simply written it as a sweeping epic of its time, what the audience does get is a stunning work of the inner mind and the relationship of the ethereal to what is oft times cruel reality. And now a word of warning – this film moves at a snail’s pace and requires patience to absorb its plot and message.  The last time I saw it was over 30 years ago in New York with my friend during a triple bill of Russian movies. (He fell asleep during this, which enabled me to help myself to his big box of Milk Duds.) I don’t remember a lot of detail, but I do remember clearly the Tartar attack on the town. Also be warned that it is extremely bloody and I read that the Soviet censors wanted it excised completely from the film. Tarkovsky argued strenuously for its inclusion and won the day, but not the battle, ultimately, as the authorities banned it from being shown until 1971. I think that with today’s technology, the best thing to do is to watch it in increments, then reflect on those increments. As the film is divided into episodes, that should be easy.

DAVID: C-. Unlike Ed, I saw this film for the first and only time about six months ago, and his memory of this snoozefest (see his friend and Milk Duds above) from over 30 years ago is better than mine. I mostly remember that the movie is really long and boring. For all the talk from critics and cinefiles about the movie's moving portrayals of art, religion, passion, intensity, knowledge, suffering, beauty, symbolism, freedom, integrity, jealousy and individuality, the movie is about 3 1/2 hours and seems like it will never end. We really don't learn much about Rublev as this film is very loosely based on his life. Whatever the viewer is supposed to take from the movie is lost as it's extraordinarily confusing. I defy anyone who's seen it to truthfully say they were able to follow it. Did I mention that it's really long and slow moving? I must admit that parts of it are beautifully filmed and there are some compelling scenes, but overall I can think of much better ways to spend about 205 minutes than watching this movie. If you're into art, watching paint dry is one suggestion.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
October 8–October 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

LOVE AND DEATH (October 9, 8:00 pm): When people mention they like Woody Allen's "early, funny" films, this 1975 classic is in the top three along with Take the Money and Run, and Sleeper. Woody is Boris, a Russian pacifist, who is love with Sonja, his cousin "twice removed," and of course, played by Diane Keaton, during the Napoleonic Wars. It's incredibly funny with pseudo philosophical double speak and tributes to many of Allen's favorites including the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin and Ingmar Bergman with a perfect spoof of the latter's The Seventh Seal

THIS IS SPINAL TAP (October 9, 1:00 am): One of the funniest and most clever films ever made. It's a groundbreaking mockumentary that I watch regularly. Apparently I'm not alone as TCM airs it often - and it never grows old. If you've never seen it, watch it and pay close attention to the great lines, many of them ad-libbed, and enjoy the surprisingly excellent music. If you've seen it before, there is always a line you missed that will make you laugh. On a scale of one to 10, this one goes to 11. Click here to read a full review of the film I wrote last year. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

HORROR OF DRACULA (October 11, 8:00 pm): A sumptuous retelling of Dracula with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing at the top of their games as Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing, respectively. Filming the story in color forever changed the paradigm of horror films for better or worse, with shadows being replaced by blood. But with a great atmospheric story, a great score by James Bernard, and supporting performances that serve to enhance the work of the leads. And who can forget Valerie Gaunt as one of Drac’s vampire women?

NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (October 14, 8:00 pm): Only Fellini could get away with this story about the hooker with the proverbial heart of gold, a plot so old it has mold all over it. His take on a prostitute always dreaming of a rich, wonderful life but finding nothing but heartbreak and sorrow is so well done, so original a take on the old chestnut, that it seems entirely fresh. It helps, of course, when one has a star as waifish and as engaging as Giuletta Masina. With this film she cements her roles one of the great tragicomic mimes, playing off – and yet expanding – her previous triumph as Gelsomina in La Strada. She is so powerful that we immediately feel a connection with her, a connection that grows stronger as the film progresses, and even after her last “disappointment,” one that would crush a lesser soul, we actively rejoice in her optimism to go on. It’s a film that is often overlooked in the Fellini oeuvre, but one of his most important, nevertheless.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . SHIP OF FOOLS (October 11, 3:45 pm) 

ED: C+. The fact that I’m giving this film so much as a C-plus is for the actors, certainly not the story or the director. Stanley Kramer and Abby Mann, Masters of Social Significance as applied with a sledgehammer, gives us yet another tedious trip into the Land of Two Hours You’ll Never Get Back. While he tries to paint an important theme into this boatload of Germans sailing back to Der Vaterland from Vera Cruz (taking with them some Spanish laborers in steerage to be repatriated to Spain along the way), it comes off more like a bizarre anticipation of The Love Boat rather than world-shaking social commentary. We’ve seen these characters before in a panorama of movies from Grand Hotel to Between Two Worlds; there’s nothing new under this sun. Two things in particular, though, struck me about this mess: One, for a film set in the ‘30s, the hairstyles and some of the clothing is straight out of the ‘60s. Normally, I overlook this, but this is a film with weighty pretensions. Two, a film set entirely aboard ship must be necessity by talky, but this has some of the dullest conversations this side of an office holiday party. The love scenes between Elizabeth Ashley and George Segal are downright gruesome. Both deserved better. Speaking of actors, this was the last appearance of the great Vivien Leigh, but Simone Signoret, in only about 20 minutes of screen time, walks away with the film; her scenes with Oskar Werner was the only thing that kept my interest. Screenwriter Abby Mann accepted his Oscar (of course he would get an Oscar; Hollywood is the home of the Phony Liberal) in the name of “all intellectuals everywhere.” To quote a reviewer on IMDB: “I have a feeling that when he was writing Ship of Fools it didn't occur to him that he might himself be aboard.” How apt.

DAVID: B+. Incredible acting performances highlight this compelling drama about a ship of all kinds of people heading for Nazi Germany in the early 1930s. The movie is familiar as Ed mentions above with each character having a story to tell, mostly tragic. But the cinematography is wonderful and whoever cast this 1965 film did a brilliant job. The interaction between Oskar Werner as the ship's dying doctor and Simone Signoret as a drug-addicted Spanish countess on her way to a German prison, is touching and tragic. They were nominated for Best Lead Actor and Actress Oscars and the movie received a Best Picture nomination. It won two Oscars (including for Best Cinematography, Black and White) and was nominated for three more. Oscars certainly aren't the be-all and end-all when it comes to quality films, but the Academy got it right with this movie. In her last film, Vivien Leigh plays an aging divorced woman trying unsuccessfully to relive her youth. Also, great work by Michael Dunn for his "Greek chorus" performance as a philosophical dwarf (he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor). We know that when the ship docks in Germany that life for everyone aboard will change forever and almost certainly not for the better. The film captures that feeling of helplessness and/or ignorance that will follow the characters long after the movie fades to black. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
October 1–October 7
  
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

CARNIVAL OF SOULS (October 4, 8:00 pm): This bizarre independent B movie is one of cinema's wonderful surprises. When I started to watch it for the first time, I wasn't expecting much. It turns out it's a quirky movie about a church organist who survives a horrific car accident - or does she? It's 78 minutes long, unless you want the director's cut (yeah, a B movie with a director's cut that is 6 minutes longer than the original release). None of the actors in this 1962 film ever made it in Hollywood, but they are fine here. The movie has an eerie storyline with a few scary scenes and an excellent ending.

THRONE OF BLOOD (October 7, 12:45 am): This is Akira Kurosawa's take on Macbeth with samurais in feudal Japan. While it sounds like a stretch, this is an outstanding film. It's one of Kurosawa's best and that's quite an accomplishment. He is among my three favorite directors along with Ingmar Bergman and Francois Truffaut. Toshiro Mifune, cast by Kurosawa in 16 films, is the Macbeth character in this movie. Kurosawa perfectly blends violence, betrayal, greed, the supernatural with a fantastic story and excellent cinematography in one of his finest and compelling films. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (October 2, 6:30 am): Yet another example of a gem screened at an ungodly hour. However, for those who have not yet had the pleasure, recording this is essential. One in a series of films Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made while on a roll in the ‘40s, this otherworldly tale of a pilot who dies before his time and argues his case before a celestial court is pure magic from beginning to end. It made a star out of Kim Hunter and an even bigger star out of David Niven. Don’t miss it.

THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (October 4, 11:15 pm): Fritz Lang’s last German masterpiece; shortly after he completed it he had to beat it fast out of Germany, even though Dr. Goebbels had offered him the position as director of all German film production, even though he was a Jew. However, even at this relatively early stage, Lang knew what Nazi promises were worth, and while he told Goebbels he’d think it over, he left that night for Paris, never to return. And with this film he had good reason to worry, for it doesn’t take much to connect the dots and figure out that the mad criminal Dr. Mabuse is in reality Der Fuehrer. After Lang left, Goebbels took one look at this picture and promptly banned it; it would not be screened in Germany until the ‘50s. It’s a wonderful movie with all the sublime Langian touches and one that screams out to be seen.

WE DISAGREE ON ... BEWARE, MY LOVELY (October 3, 3:00 pm)

ED: C- It’s two old pros versus a dreadful script, and as much as we’re rooting for Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan, the script finally wears both down to a scenery-chewing contest. Ida plays a woman running a boardinghouse who takes in Ryan, a man who may be homicidal. Sounds good, if – IF – it’s in the right hands. Unfortunately, the director of this artificial melodrama is Harry Horner, a production designer directing only his second film, and whose debut film, Red Planet Mars, was totally dreadful. Adding more fuel to the fire was the director’s frequent absences to visit his wife in the hospital. Both the characters of Lupino and Ryan are badly drawn: Ryan is so screwed up and seemingly loaded with every psychosis the writers could think up that we can’t buy into a minute of it. Is he or is he not homicidal? And Lupino’s character seems to be suffering more from a case of the lack of common sense than anything else. She can’t even get out of her own home even when she temporarily escapes from Ryan. And, for a noir, there’s no real tension here. Want to see a movie with real tension? Try Sorry, Wrong Number and skip this pallid wanna-be.

DAVID: B. Does this film go over the top as far as logic? Yes and no. Yeah, Robert Ryan's character is a dangerous psychopath who has a bad habit of killing people, blacking out and forgetting the evil deeds he does. And Ida Lupino's character seems to be the last person in the world who realizes Ryan's rugged handyman has her at the top of his list of who he next wants to kill. But it also is a compelling and tense-filled drama with outstanding performances by the two leads. Both are seasoned film veterans who are able to take an average script and convince the audience that their characters are legitimate. Ryan and Lupino rarely receive the credit they rightfully deserve for their acting talents. While this 1952 thriller isn't going to take your breath away, it's a good 77-minute distraction that sucks the viewer in as we squirm in our seats hoping Lupino finds a way to get away from Ryan's character who we fear, but also pity to a certain extent because his mental illness makes it impossible for him to control what he does. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
September 23–September 30
  
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE PUBLIC ENEMY (September 23, 11:15 pm): This Pre-Code classic is one of the greatest gangster movie ever made. It tells of two friends, Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), who grow up committing petty crimes, finally making it big thanks to bootlegging during Prohibition. It's a Warner Brothers gangster film from 1931 so obviously it's gritty and real. But thanks to a brilliant performance by Cagney and an incredible directing job by William A. Wellman, this goes far beyond any other gangster film of its time and even to this day. Gangster films have become more violent and bloody, but The Public Enemy is so authentic and brutal, you can't turn away from it for a second. It includes two of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history: Tom shoving a grapefruit in the face of Mae Clarke and the end when a rival gang shoots him up, wraps his body almost like a mummy and delivers it to his family's house.

ZERO FOR CONDUCT (September 24, 8:00 pm): This 1933 French film, directed by Jean Vigo, packs a lot into 41 minutes. I wish it was longer as it is an enjoyable and spirited movie. Four French boarding school boys, repressed by a rigid education system, rebel and end up taking over the school. It's authentic as it shows how educational systems, no matter the country or the time, try to beat students into following rules, no matter their relevance. It is the strong-minded that survive the system or in this case, the students fight back. It's funny, touching, tragic and absolutely brilliant. Vigo, an anarchist who died a year after this film at the age of 29, had such promise as a director. Below, one of Ed's Best Bets is L'Atalante, Vigo's last film and a classic. An end note on Zero For Conduct: it was banned in France shortly after its release with the ban not lifted until 1946, a year after the conclusion of World War II.

ED’S BEST BETS:

TIGHT SPOT (September 24, 8:30 am): A great, underrated crime drama starring Ginger Rogers as a gangster’s moll temporarily released into the custody of U.S. Marshal Edward G. Robinson, who wants her testimony in the upcoming trial of her gangster boyfriend, Lorne Greene (?!) Brian Keith almost steals the picture as a cynical detective assigned to guard Rogers, and with whom she develops an attachment. Adapted from a play titled Dead Pigeon by Leonard Cantor, it takes place in a plush hotel suite, where Robinson works on Rogers to break down her resistance. There is a staginess about it for that reason, and in the hands of a lesser talent, it just would have lain there, daring its stars to come and make something of it. But as directed by Phil Karlson, the staginess is taken and made into a virtue – as a claustrophobic setting creating intensity that ratchets up the suspense. For all this, however, Tight Spot is a B picture. So what?

L’ATALANTE (September 24, 9:00 pm): Think about the great romances captured on film and add this one when you finish watching it. It’s a marvelous fantasy – a mixture of surrealism and naturalism about a young couple beginning married life together sailing down the Seine on a barge. The bride hasn’t known her groom long; in fact, we get the feeling she married him to escape her provincial life. Sailing to LeHavre, things unravel when they dock at Paris and Juliette, the bride, gets a taste of Paris nightlife. Michel Simon gives one of his greatest performances as the engineer. Watch for the scene where he invites Juliette into his cabin to see his collection of mementos. It’s the heart of the film and scene that can’t help but move the viewer. Vigo died at the age of 29 from tuberculosis just as the film premiered, leaving us wondering what he might have done.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE OMEGA MAN (September 27, 11:30 pm)

ED: B. I love the writings of Richard Matheson, and his works are some of the very few sci-fi writings I’ve read over the years, as I’m not exactly a big fan of sci-fi. For the very few of those out there reading this who aren’t aware, The Omega Man was the second attempt at filming Matheson’s wonderful novel, I Am Legend. Having read the novel I was never happy with any of the film adaptations, but I rate the original Italo-American production, The Last Man on Earth, with Vincent Price as the best, as it stuck mainly to Matheson’s original. This film was produced by Charlton Heston and has its strengths and failings. One of its greatest strengths was casting Rosalind Cash in the female lead role. She delivered the best performance of the film in her breakout role. I wasn’t all that keen with the writers changing matters of plot that I admired from the book and which were left unchanged in the Price original, but I could live with it given the trend of the times in sci-fi movies: that of dystopia. No, the biggest failing of the film was in Heston the producer casting Heston the actor in the leading role. Heston the actor believes that what he must bring to the film is the uncanny ability to chew scenery. Hells Bells, he could’ve hired William Shatner and gotten the same result – and Shatner’s more charismatic to boot. No, the film would have worked much better without Chuckie Baby in the lead and that’s why I didn’t give it an “A.”

DAVID: A. For the record, I'm a sucker for late 1960s-early 1970s post-apocalyptic/dystopian films. If they star Charlton Heston, such as Soylent Green or Planet of the Apes, I'm an even bigger sucker. I love the cool intensity he brings to his characters in these films. Some say he's one of cinema's biggest overactors and I've been teased about being a Heston fan by Ed and our late mutual friend, Bill Kunkel. The two are the most knowledgeable cinefiles I've known, and this film has been a topic of discussion. But despite their sentiment, I remain convinced this is a great film and Heston is outstanding in it. In The Omega Man, he is one of society's last remaining human survivors after biological warfare (between the Chinese and Russians) in 1975 wipes out most people and leaves a bunch of crazed albino mutants. A group of them are called The Family, who want to get rid of technology and science; Heston’s character, Robert Neville is a former military scientist. Because they want to eliminate technology and science, which caused the plague, Chuck is on their chopping block. I agree with Ed that Rosalind Cash (who has an amazing afro) as Lisa, the female lead, is one of the movie's greatest strengths. But the film's excellence is based largely on Heston's performance. Heston plays Neville as a brilliant yet lonely man desperate to survive and desperate for human companionship. Among the great scenes are Neville "negotiating" the sale of a car with a corpse at an auto dealership, and watching Woodstock in an empty theater reciting lines from the concert documentary. The film shows Heston's range as a comedian, a survivor and of course, an action hero. And the ending, which is both happy and sad, is memorable. It's a movie I go back to again and again.


 TCM TiVo ALERT
For
September 15–September 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SUMMER WITH MONIKA (September 15, 2:15 am): It's directed by Ingmar Bergman with Harriet Andersson in the starring role. Need I write more? Even if Bergman films aren't your thing - and if that's the case, it's time to review your cinematic priorities - this is well-worth seeing. Andersson's portrayal of the adventurous, wild and sexy Monika is unforgettable. Monika and Harry (Lars Ekborg) are working-class teenage lovers who steal Harry's father's boat and spend a memorable summer together. Monika gets pregnant, but isn't interested in the family live while Harry embraces it. The film explores topics such as lost innocence, responsibility, freedom, oppression, hopelessness and abandonment. The film was released in the United States in 1955, two years after its Swedish debut, to little fanfare. A year later, it was cut to focus on the nude scenes in an effort to market it in the United States as a sex film.

SUNRISE (September 16, 8:00 pm): This 1927 film, directed by German Expressionist F.W. Murnau, is one of my favorite silent dramas. It's the story of a farmer (played by George O'Brien) who falls in love with a city woman (Margaret Livingston) visiting his small town. She manipulates the man into killing his wife (Janet Gaynor), but he has second thoughts. The film is impressively stylized with the characters showing a wide range of emotions and wonderful cinematography, particularly in how scenes are filmed in the city and the country.

ED’S BEST BETS:

REAR WINDOW (September 15, 8:00 pm): This was the very first Hitchcock film I saw. I was about 8 and Mom was a big, big Hitchcock fan, so I have a sentimental attachment. However, if I were to recommend a Hitchcock film for a newcomer to start, this would be the one. It’s an almost perfect bend of plotting and acting. The tension can be felt throughout, especially as it builds towards the climax. Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly are wonderful as the couple and Raymond Burr is clearly in his element as the heel. (I remember asking my mother how could Raymond Burr be the bad guy because he played Perry Mason.) It’s the perfect Hitchcock for the novice – and if you have children you want to introduce to Hitchcock’s films, there is no better choice than this.

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (September 16, 2:15 am): It’s another late-into-the-night showing, so set your recorders. And, no, you won’t be disappointed, unless you have trouble watching a silent film. This is a thoroughly engrossing film about a madman’s revenge. The expressionistic sets give it a surreal, otherworldly feeling, as if one was in a nightmare. And though many critics and historians see the ending as a cop out, it still fits the film as a whole. (Really, how else could they have ended it?) When they speak of “Essentials” on TCM, this is one of those true essentials.

WE DISAGREE ON ... LA JETEE (September 20, 8:00 pm) 

ED: A. I must admit there aren’t many shorts I’m wild about, but for some reason this is an exception. Perhaps it’s the weirdness of it all. Perhaps it was the manner in which I saw it – in a classroom played along with Un Chien Andalou for a class titled “The Screenplay in Literature,” back in my undergrad days. Whatever, it interested and amused me. Its director, Chris Marker, is known for documentaries. This was one of the few works rooted in fiction that he undertook. And of the other works of his I saw, I have to admit I was not impressed. Marker is an avant-garde filmmaker, with narrative within narratives, much like Godard with films inside films. All in all I think I’ve seen about 10 of his works, and this is one of the only two (the other being Sans Soleil) that I liked.

DAVID: C+. The concept of this film, that isn't even 27 minutes in length, is quite clever. Made up entirely of still photos, except for a single brief moving picture shot, it tells the story of a post-apocalyptic society in Paris (after World War III, according to the narrator who is the only person who speaks, besides a few moments of incoherent talk). Those who "won" the war control society, which is forced underground because of the damage caused by WWIII. Through the use of simplistic-looking technology and injections, they force prisoners to dream in efforts to break through to the past and eventually the future. They want to resume life above ground, but because of war contamination, they can't. However, they can monitor people's dreams. The film focuses on one man who is haunted by the same dream about a woman on an airport platform. As the film moves on, he falls in love with the woman, eventually breaking through to the future by living in the past until we come to the end. The film is considered one of the best shorts ever made. It sounds pretty cool, right? It has potential, but alas it falls flat. Nearly every movie made could stand to trim a few minutes off its running time to make it tighter. This film is no exception despite its brevity. It drags even though it's only a bit longer than a TV sitcom. I saw it again the other day and while it promises a lot, the delivery is a near failure. Also, while I realize it's science fiction, the flaw in the conclusion ruins any semblance of logic. The still-photo concept is much more clever in concept than its implementation. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
September 8–September 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SAFETY LAST! (September 9, 4:15 am): There's a plot in this 1923 silent classic. Harold Lloyd goes to the big city to make good so he'll have enough money to return home and marry his girlfriend. But it's the sight gags that make this film a must see and a classic. The end that has Lloyd (who plays the lead character, also named Harold Lloyd; sometimes called The Boy) climbing a building and hanging on to a clock for dear life is one of cinema's most iconic scenes. When people think of silent-film comedic legends, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton immediately come to mind, and rightfully so. But Lloyd's talent and physical comedic expertise, highlighted in this film, show he belongs in the discussion about the all-time best.

WINTER LIGHT (September 11, 4:00 am): Probably the darkest and most intense film director Ingmar Bergman ever made. The second film in what is known as Bergman's Trilogy of Faith, Gunnar Bjornstrand plays a country priest who becomes disillusioned with God after his wife's death four years earlier. This film receives my highest recommendation. I could go on about this film and the others in Bergman's trilogy. Actually, I did just that earlier this year. To learn more about Winter Light and the two other films that make up the trilogy, click here to read that article.

ED’S BEST BETS:

RIFIFI (September 10, 10:00 am): Leave it to a master craftsman like Jules Dassin to make one of the great Heist-Gone-Wrong films. Four cronies plan the perfect crime and have everything figured out to the letter – except for each other, and this proves to be the fatal mistake. Because it was a low budget film, Dassin couldn’t afford a star like Jean Gabin, but he does quite fine with the hand he’s dealt. In his review for the French newspaper Arts, Francois Truffaut wrote: “Jules Dassin made the best ‘noir’ film I have ever see from the worst roman noir I have ever read.” The novel’s author, Auguste LeBreton co-wrote the screenplay and later wrote Bob The Gambler, another top-notch crime thriller, for Jean-Paul Melville. It seems LeBreton translated better into film than he did into print.

GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE (September 12, 8:45 am): It’s one of the most incredible films ever made, and it comes from MGM, yet. Produced by William Randolph Hearst, it’s practically an advertisement for fascism, as party-hearty president Walter Huston is knocked for a loop in a car accident. When he comes out of his coma, he’s a changed man and uses dictatorial powers to take over, wiping out both unemployment and crime. If you haven’t seen this one yet, and the odds are great that you haven’t as this is rarely shown, by all means record and watch it. You’ll be knocked for a loop.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MAD MAX (September 13, 2:30 am)

ED: C. When I saw The Road Warrior, I was completely blown away by its acting, plot, and most of all, intensity. I literally emerged from my local theater shaking – that’s just how intense the experience was. It also filled me with a manic desire to see the prequel, Mad Max, which blew through my local theater like a stiff wind: here one day, gone the next. I finally got my wish when my wife (who had a major league crush on Mel Gibson) and I rented the film on VHS. To put it mildly, I was disappointed. Compared to the sequel, Mad Max moved at a snail’s pace, and I could hardly understand the dialogue – which, I read later, was translated from the Australian dialect to Standard English. No matter – I couldn’t understand it at any rate. Most of the movie seems to be composed of long, boring stretches of people driving over back roads, and the “revenge” part of the plot doesn’t occur until about 20 minutes from the end. I’d say one could cut about 25 minutes from it without any problem, and probably make it into a better film. All I can say here is that you can be low budget, you can emulate a Sergio Leone Western, you can have practically no plot . . . just don’t bore me.

DAVID: A-. Like Ed, and many others, I saw The Road Warrior in the theater in 1981 and was greatly impressed by the acting, the storyline and the intensity. Not only had I not seen Mad Max, its 1979 prequel, but I didn't know the film existed at the time. There are flashbacks in The Road Warrior – scenes from Mad Max – that provide some backstory for a film I wouldn't have guessed was a sequel. Admittedly, Mad Max is not as good as The Road Warrior, which I would give an A+ (or as awful as 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, a D+ at best), but the original is an outstanding film. It was made on the cheap – only Mel Gibson's clothes are real leather while the rest of the actors are wearing pleather, for example – and that is apparent at times. But it doesn't take away from the dark and compelling dystopian story about Max as a cop whose partner, wife and young son are brutally murdered by a motorcycle gang that terrorizes a community in the future when the world's gas supply is nearly depleted. Yes, the dialogue is hard to understand like many Australian films, such as The Year of Living Dangerously and Muriel’s Wedding, but Mad Max relies on intense violence and edge-of-your-seat tension with the dialogue taking a backseat. You don't need many words when Max's partner, Goose, is killed by the gang or when they do the same to Max's wife and son. And as shown in the final scenes of the movie in which Max gains his revenge, the action in this movie speaks much louder than words. It has flaws, but Mad Max is an outstanding film.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
September 1–September 7
  
DAVID'S BEST BETS:

METROPOLIS (September 6, 8:00 pm): One of the 10 greatest films ever made, which is remarkable when you consider it came out in 1927. Directed by Fritz Lang (who co-wrote it without taking the credit), it tells the remarkable story of a futuristic dystopia in which the rich live above ground with the poor underground providing the power, through dangerous and back-breaking work, needed to keep the wealthy living in comfort. The workers rise up which leads to disaster. Finally, the two classes work together. It’s a silent film with a brilliantly-written script. My favorite line is: "There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator." Its message isn't outdated 86 years later. And what can be said of its special effects, set designs, and scenes with hundreds, if not thousands, of extras? They are jaw-dropping to this day. 

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (September 6, 12:30 am): There is so much to love about this 1981 near-future science-fiction film. The year is 1997 and the country has turned Manhattan into a maximum-security wasteland without any actual prison buildings and no guards. I'm guessing John Carpenter, who directed and co-wrote the film, probably laughs at what Manhattan actually became. The dirt, hookers, crime and grit has been replaced by tourists, tons of (gigantic) chain stores and restaurants in Time Square, and largely a safe place. Air Force One is hijacked and crashes on Manhattan and the president of the United States is held hostage. It's up to Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a former soldier and current imprisoned criminal, to rescue the president. If he can get the job done in a day, he's a free man. If not, well, the government injected an explosive into Snake that kills him. It's a fun ride with a lot of action and good performances by Russell, Ernest Borgnine as "Cabbie," Harry Dean Stanton as "Brain," and Isaac Hayes as "The Duke."  

ED'S BEST BETS:

THE BIRDS (September 1, 5:45 pm): It’s Alfred Hitchock’s classic tale of Nature-gone-wild as birds suddenly begin rearing up and attacking people. In the middle of this mess are lovers Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, along with Taylor’s mother (Jessica Tandy) and his daughter (Veronica Cartwright). This gives it the human touch it needs to keep us riveted and from becoming just another horror film. And that’s the genius of Hitchcock – taking what could be just another horror film and raising it to the level of the sublime by just adding a simple touch or two to the story, humanizing it, as it were.

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (September 7, 3:30 am): In my opinion this is the greatest horror film ever made, though the way James Whale directs it, it could also be seen as a black comedy. One of the decisions he made – to have the monster speak – was derided at the time and for a while later, but now is rightly regarded as a brilliant move on Whale’s part. It gives the monster a touch of humanity and frees him, for a time at least, from merely becoming the automaton he was to become in later films.

WE DISAGREE ON . . .  ROPE (September 1, 12:00 pm)

ED: A-. Even I would say that Rope is not Hitchcock’s best. It’s been written that he was glad when it didn’t get much play later on television. So, then, why did I give it the grade I did? I gave the grade for effort – an “A” for effort. Rope may not be hugely entertaining, but it was the realization of a notion Hitchcock had played with for years: creating a film in one uninterrupted take. Financial reasons also came into play, for Hitchcock thought that if he were to shoot the full length of the 10 minutes of film contained in a Technicolor camera in one burst, he could speed through shooting in record time and save on the budget. He would then create the illusion of a continuous take by changing reels web the camera’s vision was obscured by an actor’s back or other anything else. But what the director hadn’t counted on was the inevitable flubs that occur when filming a scene – any small detail that went wrong, such as a flubbed line of dialogue, ruined the full 10 minutes of shooting. Even star Jimmy Stewart, normally one of the easiest-going actors on a set, lost his patience with Hitchcock’s method and told the director so. That he would even attempt such a radical style marks the film down as a historical oddity of sorts, and thus an essential film for serious film fans. And that is why I gave it an A-minus.

DAVID: B. That I don't consider Rope to be among the 10 best films directed by Alfred Hitchcock and still give it a B is a testament to his talent and compelling performances from James Stewart and Farley Granger. But the plot isn't particularly strong and the supporting actors aren't anything special. While lesser directors could score points for effort for innovation and creative filmmaking, Hitchcock was such a cinematic master that he doesn't deserve that courtesy. While Hitch tries to "create the illusion of a continuous take," as Ed mentions above, it really doesn't matter whether it's achieved or not. It's entertaining, but nothing special. It's a movie that depends a lot on dialogue, and while it's fine, it's not exceptional. Also, it's one of the director's least suspenseful suspense films. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
August 23–August 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (August 25, 3:30 pm): This is, by far, the best version of this classic tale to hit the big screen. With outstanding performances from Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh and Clark Gable as Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, it tells a story, though not a historically accurate one, of, well, uh, a mutiny on the HMS Bounty caused by the sadistic actions of Bligh toward the crew. This 1935 film is well-acted (incredibly, the normally overconfident Laughton felt self-conscious about his looks in comparison to Gable) with wonderful scenery and cinematography, and an excellent storyline.

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (August 27, 6:00 pm): In a three-year span, director John Frankenheimer was on an incredible role: The Birdman of AlcatrazThe Manchurian Candidate both in 1962, Seven Days in May in 1964, and The Train in 1965. Burt Lancaster stars in all except The Manchurian Candidate, and is great in the three films. In Seven Days in May, he teams up with Kirk Douglas (the two co-starred in seven movies during their cinematic careers) to make a memorable and outstanding film. Lancaster is the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and is leading several of its members in a conspiracy to remove the president (played by Fredric March) from office because he signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. Douglas is a Marine Corps colonel and military adviser who finds out about the proposed military coup and tells the president. It's among the best political thrillers ever made. An interesting end note: the shots taken outside the White House were done with the permission of President John F. Kennedy (those scenes were done in 1963 before the president's assassination on Nov. 22 of that year), but Pentagon officials weren't cooperative, refusing to permit Douglas to be filmed walking into that building. The movie was first aired in Washington, D.C., on February 12, 1964, less than three months after JFK's murder.

ED’S BEST BETS:

TOO HOT TO HANDLE (August 25, 10:00 pm): An overlooked and hilarious comedy with Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon as competing newsreel photographers and Myrna Loy as an aviatrix looking for her lost brother in the Amazon jungle. Of course, soon Gable and Pidgeon are also competing for Loy’s charms, but who can blame them? The scene near the beginning with Gable staging a war scene in China is one of the funniest ever on film.

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (August 29, 9:15 pm): A great vintage horror film from Warner Brothers in two-strip Technicolor with Glenda Farrell as a reporter investigating the sudden disappearance of young women. Could it have something to do with wax sculptor Lionel Atwill? Tune in and find out. This film was later remade in 3-D as House of Wax, starring Vincent Price, but I much prefer the original.

WE DISAGREE ON ...  MY FAIR LADY (August 31, 5:00 pm)

ED: A+. Before I go on, let me acknowledge certain weakness with this film. Yes, it is basically third-rate Victor Herbert combined with a warmed-over George Bernard Shaw. And with any long movie, the squirm factor is always lurking nearby. However, the thing to keep in mind with any film is whether or not one finds it entertaining, for it is by the entertainment factor that a film is judged. If it’s not entertaining, why bother to see it, unless you’re some sort of pretentious-to-the-max arty-farty. And My Fair Lady is certainly entertaining, for it boasts the one thing a film needs: a good cast at their best. This movie certainly has that in spades, with Audrey Hepburn – at the height of her star power – in the lead role and ably assisted by Rex Harrison (who actually was more of a rapper than a singer), Wilfrid Hyde-White, Stanley Holloway, Gladys Cooper, Mona Washbourne, and even Theodore Bikel, who can be quite the load at tines, but in this film is consistently excellent. Due to its origins on the stage, a little of that staginess carriers over, but the set design helps alleviate some of that with a realistic setting. The book and music by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe are incomparable, proving that if one is to take a classic play and build on it, it’s best to take the best Shaw had to offer, and the best that would translate into a musical. As musicals go, it doesn’t get any better than this.

DAVID: D+. As a rule of thumb, I don't like musicals though I love music in films. People suddenly breaking out in song seems ridiculous to me. (I'm not counting films about bands or singers performing in movies like A Hard Day's NightThis is Spinal Tap or Pitch Perfect.) There are some excellent musicals: Top HatSingin' in the Rain, and The Muppet Movie (in the latter film, it's a fake frog, bear, pig, dog and other animals that suddenly break out in song). But not only is My Fair Lady bad, it's painfully bad and it goes on and on for nearly three hours. I love the storyline, and Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw play on which it is based, was expertly adapted to the big screen in the 1938 version starring Leslie Howard (who also co-directed it) and Wendy Hiller. Even with an entertaining story, there is nothing to like about the 1964 movie musical My Fair Lady (it too was a play first). The acting is awful, particularly Rex Harrison, who made a career out of starring in dreadful movies including Doctor DoolittleThe Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Cleopatra. At least My Fair Lady is only 170 minutes of awful cinema compared to the 248-minute nightmare of Cleopatra. Why they let Harrison sing – or rapping as Ed accurately describes it – is beyond logic. At least they dubbed Audrey Hepburn's singing voice. Apparently those making this film heard Hepburn sing (rather poorly) in 1957's Funny Face and realized her voice hadn't improve enough seven years later. No matter as the songs are mostly mediocre to awful. Yes, My Fair Lady won eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Harrison for Best Actor. But consider for a moment how out of touch the Academy and this film are. In 1964, there was My Fair Lady as well as the British Invasion. The pop charts were filled with all those great Beatles songs (and the band's excellent A Hard Day's Night movie was released that year) as well as harder-edged singles as the Animals' "The House of the Rising Sun," the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," the Zombies' "She's Not There," Them's "Gloria." Also, American music was changing, including Bob Dylan ("The Times They Are A-Changin'" album), the evolving Beach Boys with "Don't Worry Baby" and "When I Grow Up to Be a Man," the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," and rich soulful songs from Sam Cooke, Solomon Burke, and numerous Motown bands. Now compare them to "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
August 15–August 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

GRAND HOTEL (August 17, 8:00 pm): This 1932 film, with one of cinema's greatest casts, seamlessly weaves multiple stories about those staying at the Grand Hotel in Berlin. Not only are the actors outstanding, but the casting is brilliant with each playing a role that seems written specifically for him/her. The leads are Greta Garbo as an aging Russian ballerina - this is the film in which she famously says, "I want to be alone" - and John Barrymore as a charming yet poor baron who lives off his name, playing cards and as a jewel thief. How strong is this cast? Lionel Barrymore gets only fifth billing in a fantastic role as a dying man living out his final days in luxury at the magnificent hotel. Also of note are Wallace Beery as a successful industrialist with a mean streak and Joan Crawford as his secretary.

EXECUTIVE SUITE (August 21, 11:15 am): A fascinating look inside the cutthroat world of the business boardroom as allegiances are formed through a variety of ways, including blackmail and seduction, as top executives at a major furniture company fight it out to see who will run the company after the president drops dead on the sidewalk. The dialogue is riveting and the storyline is compelling. A large part of the film takes place inside an office, particularly a boardroom, which normally detract from a film. But it's quite the engaging movie. Like Grand Hotel, this film's strength is its cast - William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Frederic March and Walter Pidgeon are at the top of the bill.

ED’S BEST BETS:

RIDE LONESOME (August 19, 5:00 pm): This was director Budd Boetticher’s sixth film with star Randolph Scott, and it was probably the finest in the history of their collaboration. Scott is a bounty hunter training two nefarious villains (James Best and Lee Van Cleef). The latter killed Scott’s wife a while ago, so his mission is also fueled by revenge. In his quest he runs across baddies Pernell Roberts and James Coburn (in his film debut), and must deal with them also. What begins as another Western soon becomes a wonderful character study as all five interact in an attempt to outwit, connive, and bargain with the others. Well written, well directed and well acted, this is the sort of Western that will appeal even to non-fans of the genre.

THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (August 22, 9:45 pm): This is the film that – quite justly – propelled Maggie Smith from fine supporting actress to Stardom as she portrays a headstrong and charismatic teacher at an Edinburgh, Scotland girls’ school during the ‘30s. Both the material and Miss Smith’s characterization were very much unlike the portrayals and the material in previous “school” pictures. A great supporting cast backs Smith, and her scenes with Celia Johnson and Pamela Franklin are astounding. (Why Franklin did not receive a Supporting Actress nomination is beyond me.) This isn’t your usual school/teacher film and Miss Jean Brodie is unlike any teacher you’ve seen before on the screen.
  
WE DISAGREE ON ... BRUTE FORCE (August 16, 3:00 pm)

ED: B. Brute Force is one of my favorite movies, directed by one of my favorite directors, Jules Dassin. It is a great study of prison life centering on a sadistic captain of the guards (Hume Cronyn in a performance for the ages) versus the inmate who can’t be broken (Burt Lancaster). Add to this the grimness of life on the inside, where death and disfigurement lurk around every corner, and the yearning of each inmate to be free once more, and we have one hell of a film. One thing about Brute Force that many overlook or take for granted is the brilliant black and white cinematography by William Daniels, which intensifies our viewing experience. Added to this is the extraordinary score by Miklos Rozsa – a score that hammers home the despair and hopelessness felt by each inmate. So why did I grade it as a “B”? Two reasons: One, the moral we get at the end from Dr. Walters (Art Smith) about how nobody can escape from a penitentiary. It is not only totally unnecessary, given all we’ve seen, but drags on too long for my taste and drags down what should be a great ending. The other misgiving is the needlessly lengthy flashbacks depicting the women in the life of the inmates. It comes across to me as obvious padding and could use a good trimming. Otherwise, this is an “A” movie.

DAVID: A. To start, it's hard to argue with the first two-thirds of Ed's review. After all, he calls it "one of my favorite movies, directed by one of my favorite directors," and "it is a great study of prison life." Ed's also eloquently writes about the central focus between Hume Cronyn, the prison's chief of security in his greatest cinematic performance, and Burt Lancaster as Joe Collins, the tough inmate who cannot be broken. Lancaster, as usual, is brilliant, compelling and authentic in Brute Force, only his second film. The ending is filled with action and great dialogue. There's little to add to Ed's excellent review except to correct his "reasons" for giving the film a B. First, the moral from Dr. Walters (Art Smith) about nobody being able to escape from prison is important to the film. Prisoners who eventually get released still carry the scars of their time being incarcerated. Even Walters, the alcoholic doctor, can't escape because of what working there has done to him and his emotional instability. As for the flashbacks of the women in the lives of four of the inmates, I'm perplexed by Ed writing they are "lengthy" because they are only about three or four minutes each. They are very important to the movie, giving viewers great insight into how the inmates ended up in prison. Finally, the movie is only 98 minutes long yet Ed writes there's "obvious padding and could use a good trimming." Would he prefer a film that's 80 minutes in length? I can assure him and our readers that cutting this film would hurt its overall powerful impact.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
August 8–August 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL 
(August 10, 8:00 pm): This is about as great as it gets when it comes to films. The acting is superb from Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas as the leads to the supporting cast of Walter Pidgeon, Barry Sullivan, Dick Powell and Gloria Grahame. The writing is sharp, the directing by Vincente Minnelli is outstanding and the movie is incredibly entertaining. The movie is a flashback showing interactions film producer Jonathan Shields (Douglas) had with a screenwriter (Powell), a movie star (Turner) and a director (Sullivan). None of them ended good because Shields betrays all of them. He wants to work with all of them to make a big comeback. It's a great movie showing the backstabbing that is done in the motion-picture industry, expertly drawing parallels to the betrayals we've all experienced in our own lives.

ADVISE AND CONSENT 
(August 11, 5:15 pm): This 1962 film about the confirmation process of a secretary of state nominee (Henry Fonda) was ahead of its time. Having the president (Franchot Tone) dying while the proceedings are occurring is overdramatic, but the storyline rings true with politics of later years that saw and still see numerous presidential nominees have their entire lives scrutinized just for the sake of partisanship and not for the betterment of the country. It's dialogue heavy, but the dialogue is so good that it elevates the quality of the film. Add the excellent cast - Fonda, Lew Ayres, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon (I'm recommending two films with him in it this week), and Burgess Meredith (in a small but memorable role) - and great directing by Otto Preminger and you get a film that's interesting, intelligent and compelling. Look for Betty White as a senator from Kansas in her film debut. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (August 10, 1:00 pm): This is the original – and the best – version of James M. Cain’s classic novel (which also inspired Albert Camus, by the way). When it comes to noir, one would think that the MGM gloss was off-putting, but I think it actually helps the film. Garfield has never been better and Turner has never been more gorgeous. Not only can we see that they’re going to hook up, we can understand why they must hook up. The performances from the supporting cast are superb, the photography by Sidney Wagner is sharp and inviting, and Tay Garnett’s direction workmanlike, as he keeps the characters and the story in constant play. Despite the complaints of the changes in Cain’s original story (for censorship purposes), the film still outdoes the 1981 Nicholson-Lange remake in terms of the heat between the stars, not to mention the fact that Turner, while hardly a serious actress, ran rings around Lange’s performance.

BELLE DE JOUR (August 12, 2: 15 am): Catherine Deneuve is outstanding as a self-loathing housewife who turns tricks to fill the emptiness in her life and live out her sexual fantasies. As for the film itself, it’s yet another exercise by Bunuel in surrealism and it hasn’t aged well over the years. It can best be seen as a historic exercise, much like Birth of a Nation, rather than as a groundbreaking film. Watch it for Deneuve and how she projects sexiness on screen in a manner much beyond what most other screen beauties can reach. Also watch it for Bunuel’s use of color – for his first color film, he uses the shades like a master.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (August 14, 11:15 pm)

ED: B-. The Man Who Came to Dinner is a good film; of that there is no doubt. However, it’s not worthy of an “A” rating. Warner Brothers was never noted for their comedies back then, and this film is a perfect example. For one thing, like most George Kaufman/Moss Hart plays, it has not aged well and much of its madcap antics look stagy and forced. Like her studio, Bette Davis was never noted for comedy, and she adds little, if anything, to the film in her role as Monty Woolley’s secretary. Woolley, a very under-appreciated actor, is wonderful as the acerbic critic, Sheridan Whiteside, based on critic and friend of the authors, Alexander Woollcott. Back when the film was released, Woollcott was a familiar face – and voice, based on his long running radio appearances. (Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker, in Laura, is also based on Woollcott. Today, unfortunately, he’s largely forgotten.) And how many viewers know that Jimmy Durante’s “Banjo” character was supposed to be Harpo Marx? If we know that, his antics have resonance, but without that knowledge, the character merely comes across as annoying. Yes, by all means, watch this movie if you haven’t seen it before. Watch it for the wonderful performances by Woolley, Billie Burke, Mary Wickes (like Woolley, she reprised her role from the Broadway original), and especially for a wonderful performance by Ann Sheridan, who, unlike Davis, was at home doing comedy, even Warner Brothers comedy. As Lorraine Sheldon, she delivers a wonderful performance as the beautifully selfish and self-absorbed man-eating theater star, based, I believe, on Tallulah Bankhead. Watch it for the cast. 

DAVID: A. Ed is correct that Warner Brothers wasn't known for making excellent comedies in the 1930s and 40s, and Bette Davis didn't become famous for her comedic skills. However, this 1942 screwball comedy is the exception to the rule. Davis is delightful and funny as Maggie Cutler, secretary to Monty Woolley's character. Woolley's Sheridan Whiteside is an arrogant, acerbic lecturer and critic who slips on the front steps of the house of an Ohio family, injuring himself in the process. Since he's going to be laid up for a while, Whiteside thinks nothing of completely takes over the house, leading to some funny and madcap moments. Woolley, who reprises the role he first made famous on Broadway, is outstanding. Among my favorite one-liners from his character are: "Will you all now leave quietly or must I ask Miss Cutler to pass among you with a baseball bat?" and "I simply will not sit down to dinner with Midwestern barbarians. I think too highly of my digestive system." Woolley is the best part of the movie being charming and obnoxious at the same time. It is his film and because of the character and the great lines, it would be easy for Woolley to smother the others. Instead, he expertly plays off the other actors. Among those giving excellent performances are Jimmy Durante as Banjo (even though he isn't in much of the film) and Ann Sheridan as actress Lorraine Sheldon, who will do anything for a lead role and ends up in a coffin-like box heading for Nova Scotia as the movie ends. And while Davis didn't become famous for being a comedian, she is great here and showed legitimate promise as a comedic actress.  



TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
August 1–August 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (August 1, 12:20 pm): This 1948 film, more than any Humphrey Bogart made after Casablanca, showed his versatility at a time when he could have played the tough guy with a heart of gold for the rest of his career. In this film, he is down on his luck and desperate enough to do anything. He meets another guy (Tim Holt) in a similar situation. They meet an old kooky prospector (played wonderfully by Walter Hutson) and the three decide to search for gold. Things go well, but Bogart's character becomes consumed with paranoia convinced the others are trying to cheat him. It's an excellent morality film with an ironic ending. Oh, and it's got that iconic though often misquoted line: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges."

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (August 7, 10:00 pm): I have to admit that the first time I saw this film, I thought there's no way the smokin' hot Barbara Stanwyck character is doing anything more than using Fred MacMurray's insurance salesman character for her own purposes. But she's actually into the dad from My Three Sons. Once I was able to suspend my disbelief of that, there are only positive things to say about this classic 1944 film noir. The acting is excellent, particularly Stanwyck, and as he often did when given secondary roles, Edward G. Robinson steals every scene he's in playing the skeptical claims adjuster who investigates the legitimacy of the claim with a double indemnity clause. It's one of Billy Wilder's best and that's quite the compliment considering how many outstanding movies he directed.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE BIG SLEEP (August 1, 8:00 pm): Howard Hawks and Humphrey Bogart made for a great partnership. Add Lauren Bacall to the mix and it only gets better. Made from Raymond Chandler’s first novel, the plot is so convoluted that even Chandler didn’t know who committed one murder. But this film is so entertaining that we don’t care – we just go along for the ride. And what a ride, with sterling performances by Martha Vickers as Bacall’s wild little sister, John Ridgely as the sinister Eddie Mars, and Elisha Cook, Jr. as – what else – the fall guy. Many actors have played Philip Marlowe, but none as well as Bogart.

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (August 3, 12:00 am): This classic from Ealing Studios is mostly known for the fact Alec Guiness plays eight different roles – all members of the D’Ascoyne family – in this hilarious tale of revenge. Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is an Englishman born into poverty, but who has a distant connection to royalty on his mother’s side. The problem is that eight members of the D’Ascoyne family stand between him and what he feels is his rightful inheritance. Louis solves this problem by systematically bumping off each member. Joan Greenwood adds to the fun as the greedy Sibella, and Valerie Hobson is wonderful as Edith D’Ascoyne. It’s one of the most intelligent black comedies ever made and if you haven’t yet seen it . . . well, let’s just say that if there ever such a thing as a real “Must See,” this is it.

WE DISAGREE ON ... SOYLENT GREEN (August 5, 3:00 pm)

ED: B. I like science fiction movies in general, and while I liked Soylent Green, I can’t go higher than a B. The pluses are a solid story and an unforgettable performance by Edward G. Robinson in his last film. On the other hand, there are the minuses. First and foremost is Charlton Heston. If Soylent Green were made from wood, Chuck would have gone under 10 minutes into the movie. Bricks show more emotion. Not that Chuck gets much support. Chuck Connors makes Heston look like De Niro and Leigh Taylor-Young has mastered the craft of Not Acting. Also, the direction is lacking. Richard Fleischer would never be my choice to direct such a film. He’s more comfortable with the likes of MandingoAmityville 3-D, and Red Sonja. And yet another reason for my grade is that the screenplay is on the verge of ridiculous. I agree – most sci-fi scripts are ridiculous: gigantic ants, monsters from the sea, etc., but it’s the logic contained within the script that makes it passable. Soylent Green has a great idea for a plot – it doesn’t get any better than an overpopulated Earth in the future with a food shortage – but the screenplay fails to follow through. Point of basic logic: if the world was that bad in the future, would we see that kind of boom in the population? And this is New York; shouldn’t there be more Asians and Hispanics in the mix. Check out Blade Runner by comparison. One last point: If, at the end, we’re going to raise people for food, what are we going to feed them? It’s an entertaining movie with a terrific performance by Eddie G., but it’s not the stuff of greatness.

DAVID: A+. I'm not going to debate the talents of Charlton Heston. He's certainly wooden in a number of pictures, but he was the master of the epic – Ben-HurEl Cid and The Ten Commandments – and even better in what I call his "Post-Apocalyptic Trilogy" – Planet of the ApesThe Omega Man, and Soylent Green. In the latter film, Heston plays tough New York City Police Detective Robert Thorn in the year 2022. Something awful has happened that has resulted in almost no fresh food or water (only the very wealthy and/or politically-connected are able to obtain some). There are serious problems with the death of most animals and plant-life, overpopulation, poverty, pollution and people surviving on wafers provided by the Soylent Corp., which comes out with a new "high-energy plankton" called Soylent Green. It's supposed to be better than Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow, though they all look like plastic.(Regarding Ed's questions about overpopulation, one explanation is with everyone poor, out of work and nothing to do, there is one thing you can do for free to pass the time: unprotected sex. And since we don't know what happened to cause famine, it could have been particularly fatal to certain races.) As a cop, Thorn has some perks, primarily a tiny apartment that he shares with Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson), an elderly scholar who remembers what life was like before the environmental disasters (likely caused by mankind). Thorn is investigating the murder of a high-level Soylent executive (Joseph Cotten in a far too small role). Thorn immediately suspects a conspiracy is the cause of the murder. While at the murder scene, an expensive apartment complex, Heston lifts fresh food, including a small steak and some fruit. One of the most joyous moments in the film has Thorn and Roth eating the food with the latter talking about the old days. Eddie G.'s performance, sadly his last, is one of his finest. It's beautifully tragic, and even though I've seen the film a dozen times, the scene in which Eddie G. goes to a place called "Home," a government-assisted suicide facility that looks like Madison Square Garden, always brings tears to my eyes. Heston is outstanding as the tough cop who defies orders from his superiors and fends off attempts to kill him by Soylent assassins in his pursuit of solving the murder. Most of the last 30 minutes of the film contains no dialogue. It goes from Eddie G.'s suicide scene (Heston says he knew his co-star was dying in real life and the reactions he has to the death were also real) to Thorn following Roth's body and others onto a truck heading to a Soylent factory, where the detective finds out how Green is made, to the chase scene that ends up in a church/homeless shelter where an injured and possibly dying Thorn screams, "Soylent Green is people! We gotta stop them somehow!" It's a magnificent film that you can watch over and over again without it losing any of its impact.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 23–July 31

DAVID'S BEST BETS

MONSIEUR VERDOUX (July 27, 8:30 am): While I'm a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin's silent films, his best movies - The Great DictatorLimelightA King in New York and this film - are among my favorites. This is a very dark comedy about Henri Verdoux (Chaplin), who marries and then kills rich widows to support his crippled wife and young son. Chaplin is so charming that you find yourself sympathizing with Verdoux even though he's killing innocent rich old ladies. While Chaplin is excellent, Martha Raye - yeah, that Martha Raye - is fantastic as one of Verdoux's intended victims who manages to avoid several attempts on her life. The exceptionally funny scenes with Chaplin and Raye alone are worth making a point to watch this film.

PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (July 28, 3:45 am): Everything works in this magnificent film about a struggling artist (played Joseph Cotten, probably cinema's most under-appreciated actors) who meets Jennie, a young girl (Jennifer Jones) who inspires him to paint while mysteriously aging at a rapid rate. This is a wonderful combination of fantasy, romance and the unexplained. Not only are the two leads at the top of their game, but the haunting storyline is beautiful and mesmerizing with beautiful cinematography. I can point to a dozen films to prove my point about Cotten's greatness as an actor, and this 1948 classic is toward the very top of that list. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE PRODUCERS (July 24, 2:00 am): Mel Brooks began his directorial career with a film reviled at the time by many critics, but now justly seen as one of the classics of cinema. Two Broadway producers (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) discover that they can make more money putting on a flop than financing a hit. All they have to do is raise more cash than they need for the play. But they just find a sure-fire flop, for they have pre-sold somewhere around 10,000% of the play, and if it’s a hit, they can’t pay off the backers. Their vehicle is a musical titled “Springtime for Hitler,” the love story of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun in song. They chose the worst director, the worst actor, and have signed the play’s author, a nutty Nazi living in Greenwich Village. I won’t say any more in case you’re one of the few that hasn’t yet seen this classic.

DAY FOR NIGHT (July 26, 8:00 pm): This is one of Truffaut’s wittiest and most subtle films – a film about the making of a film. While on the set of Je vous presente Pamela (Introducing Pamela), the story of an English wife running off with her French father-in-law, we also get to know the cast and crew shooting the film, each with his or her own set of problems. Hence the title: a technical cinematographic term for simulating a night scene while shooting during the day. Special filters and optical processors are employed to create the illusion. While Nathalie Baye and Jean-Pierre Leaud are wonderful in their roles, Valentia Cortese steals the picture as the fading actress Severine. It’s a great Truffaut film in a month of great Truffaut films being shown on TCM and one not to miss.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . DINER (July 27, 12:00 am)

ED: C. Diner is not a bad movie; in fact, it’s a good time-waster featuring a great cast. But having said that, and having seen it again recently at the behest of my nephew, I still find there’s no “Wow!” factor there, no compelling reason for me to keep watching. It’s a decent coming-of-age ensemble film about some 20-ish young people that hang around in this diner circa 1959 and spout lines having to do with moving on and leaving their childhoods behind. Of course, the diner is the symbol of their soon-to-lost-youthfulness, as the year, 1959, is also a symbol of the coming loss of innocence. But it falls into the same trap as other ordinary ensemble films of this sort: there is nothing profound either said or done, just a group of guys getting together discussing guy stuff and trying to out-macho each other. Billy Joel was more profound about the same loss of innocence in his song “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.” For those that haven’t yet seen it, put it this way: if you loved Friends, you’ll like Diner.

DAVID B+. There's an intense closeness among friends in high school. There's really nothing to stand in its way. For many of us, we're not working full time or married or have families. You have plenty of time for your friends. As you grow older, close friendships still remain important but work and/or family usually comes first. You can't hang out at a diner all night because of life's responsibilities. And that realization is key as to why Diner is an excellent movie. In the film, a group of high school friends are now in their early 20s, and most of their lives have changed, and thus the relationships and closeness they once shared have also changed. Barry Levinson, in his directorial debut, does a magnificent job of capturing that moment in time. The dialogue isn't brilliant, but it doesn't have to be. The story and the characters are as real as you can get. While a number of actors in this film are far from being favorites of mine, most notably Steve Guttenberg (curse you, Stonecutters!), Paul Reiser and Tim Daly, each gives a wonderful performance; probably the best of their careers. There aren't too many scenes funnier yet somewhat sad than the one in which Eddie (Guttenberg) subjects his future wife to an incredibly difficult test of Baltimore Colts trivia because he's scared of getting married.


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July 15–July 22 

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

LARCENY INC. (July 18, 10:30 am): There is no one who played Edward G. Robinson's typical mobster character for laughs any better than Edward G. Robinson. In this 1942 film, Eddie G.'s character, J. Chalmers "Pressure" Maxwell gets out of prison after serving his time with plans to go straight. His dream of opening a dog racing track in Florida is thwarted as he's unable to get the financing because of his gangster background. But Pressure has enough money to buy a failing luggage store next to the bank that rejected his loan request. With the help of a couple of dim-witted buddies, Jug Martin (Broderick Crawford) and Weepy Davis (Edward Brophy) – what great criminal flunky names! – they start digging underground to get to the bank's safe. One of the best scenes is when they hit a utility line and oil comes pouring out of the hole with Jug and Weepy, covered in the stuff, thinking they struck oil. While the luggage store is just a cover for their criminal plans, it becomes a very successful business. There's a secondary plot involving Pressure's adopted daughter (played by Jane Wyman) and an inept luggage salesman (played by Jack Carson) that is amusing, but takes a back seat to Eddie G.'s charisma and comedic skills.

A NOUS LA LIBERTE (July 21, 2:00 am): This 1931 classic, written and directed by Rene Clair, is one of the most enjoyable and delightful films ever made. You can't help but smile while watching. It's the story of two French prisoners and very close friends, Louis (Raymond Cordy) and Emile (Henri Marchand), who attempt to escape. Louis escapes, but Emile doesn't. While out, Louis goes to work at an assembly-line factory and eventually moves up the ranks to owning the business. Years pass and Emile gets out of prison looking for work. He ends up at Louis's factory, the two are reunited by chance and remember each other. Louis, who had lost his enjoyment of life in pursuit of making himself a serious businessman, returns to his happy-go-lucky self with Emile by his side. The two have a lot of fun together until another ex-con figures out that Louis is an escaped prisoner, and the duo's plan to get away with a lot of money goes wrong. No longer rich and successful, Louis feels sorry for himself. But Emile gives him a kick in the pants and the poor but happy duo head down the road singing and looking for a new adventure. The storyline and "choreography" of the prisoners marching and workers on the assembly line – they look the same, which is the message of this sometimes heavy-handed anti-capitalist movie – are memorable and exceptionally well done. This film is an absolute delight even with the political message.

ED’S BEST BETS:

SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (July 18, 2:45 am): This film is rightly said to be writer/director Preston Sturges’s masterpiece. John L. Sullivan is a noted director of light musical fare such as Ants in Your Plants of 1939 and Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. However, he wants to make an "Important Film," and he has one in mind, namely O Brother, Where Art Thou, a leaden novel concerned with the struggle between Capital and Labor. The studio execs pooh-pooh it, noting that he grew up rich and never suffered. So, Sullivan sets out to see how the other half lives, and ends up with far more than he bargained for when everybody assumes he died. It’s both hilarious and touching with many insights from Sturges into the human ego versus the human condition. It’s best to record it to be seen again later – and you will definitely want to see it again.

MON ONCLE (July 21, 8:00 pm): Star/Director Jacques Tati’s follow-up to the wonderful Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, it comes close to capturing the magic of that film. Here we see Mr. Hulot in his natural environment – a Paris that is slowly disappearing; swallowed up by the emerging Modern Paris. Emblematic of the New Modern Paris is Hulot’s sister (Adrienne Servantie) and brother-in-law (Jean-Pierre Zola), the Arpels. Brother-in-law Charles Arpel owns a plastic factory, which is totally fitting considering the context of the movie. Hulot is Arpel’s “problem” in that he not only does nothing for a living, but is also a bad influence on his nephew, Gerard (Alain Becourt), whom Charles wants to take more of a serious view of life. Hulot lives in the older section of Paris, with a vibrant neighborhood, though getting to his apartment is analogous to mountain climbing. The Arpels, by contrast, live in a state-of-the-art modern house in a renovated section of Paris, which seems to be miles away from the old Paris. Their yard has no grass, just concrete walks and gravel. In the middle is a pond with a huge statue of a fish. A running gag in the movie is that the fish spouts water when a switch inside the house is thrown, and Madame Arpel only activates the fish when she wants to impress a visitor. As with Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, the film is shot almost entirely in medium frame and the gags come fast and furious. It’s a worthy sequel, and those who enjoyed the first Hulot film will love this one.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE L-SHAPED ROOM (July 15, 3:00 am)

ED: B-. The reason I gave this film the grade I did was because I wasn’t crazy about the “direction” of Bryan Forbes. Okay, Leslie Caron is a pregnant single French woman holed up in a Notting Hill dump. And, wouldn’t you know it, the house is filled with the stock characters we’ve come to expect: the distasteful landlady, the seedy doctor, the elderly lesbian actress with a cat, a couple of chatty tarts, the Black musician, and a failed writer who falls for Caron and draws inspiration from their story. Besides this, the film could stand a good trimming of about 15 minutes or so. It’s also episodic, which wouldn’t be that bad if it weren’t also so predictable. But then that is a hallmark of Forbes – trouble sustaining the narrative. In the end, it’s an example of the actress almost overcoming the hurdles placed in her way. But there are too many hurdles and not enough Caron. All things told, however, she should have at least shared the 1963 Oscar with Patricia Neal (Hud). Neal had an easier time, having a slam-bang director like Martin Ritt. Caron, on the other hand, had Bryan Forbes. 

DAVID: A. First, I must respectfully disagree with Ed about the directing abilities of Bryan Forbes. The best way for readers to decide for themselves would be to watch TCM on July 15 starting at 9:00 pm. You'll see four splendid Forbes-directed films, starting with the hilariously-funny The Wrong Box; followed by Seance on a Wet Afternoon, an excellent psychological thriller; The Whisperers, a film that perfectly captures the tragic circumstances of the lead actress, and finishing up with 1963's The L-Shaped Room, with Leslie Caron giving her finest non-dancing performance in a movie. While the characters may be cliche on paper, they are anything but that in the film. The people at the London boarding house are real and authentic. Jane (Caron) starts to fall for Toby (Tom Bell), a struggling writer who becomes romantically involved with her until realizing she's pregnant. The two become friends and her story becomes the inspiration for Toby's successful novel, titled The L-Shaped Room. The two never get together with Jane returning to France and her family after having her baby. This "British kitchen sink" film is emotional, tender, tragic, and worthy of viewing.


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July 8–July 14

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MISSISSIPPI MERMAID (July 12, 12:00 am): This just missed cracking my Top 5 favorite Francois Truffaut films so I must comment here. It's a captivating film noir about the rich owner of a tobacco plantation (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo) who finds a bride through the classified section of a French newspaper. The bride that gets off the ship doesn't match the picture she sent, but it's Catherine Deneuve, looking slutty gorgeous, so he doesn't complain. Things are not as they seem with Truffaut doing an excellent job directing a film that is similar to classic Alfred Hitchcock, one of his cinematic heroes. The movie has several outstanding plot twists and gives the viewer an interesting perspective on love without question or doubt.

SIDEWALKS OF LONDON (July 13, 6:00 am): Charles Laughton and Vivien Leigh as co-stars - yeah, this 1938 film is outstanding. Leigh is a beautiful young pickpocket and a great dancer. Laughton is a street performer (called a busker) who has some talent, reciting dramatic monologues outside London's West End theater district for pocket change, but is street smart and has an eye for talent. He adds Leigh to his show and things take off. She is truly talented and goes on to great fame while Laughton's character gets a shot and doesn't make it. But Laughton is so versatile in this role coming across as both charming and tragic.  

ED’S BEST BETS:

X THE UNKNOWN (July 10, 4:15 am) – What a rotten hour for such a good movie. Hammer made some really good science fiction movies in the 50s and early 60s. This one moves from an absurd premise – intelligent mud from deep in the Earth is looking for energy to feed on, and sucks us completely in with an intelligent script from Jimmy Sangster, intelligent acting from star Dean Jagger and (especially) Leo McKern, and decent, considering the budget, special effects. It’s the first of the “blob” movies. Watch for Anthony Newley and Ian McNaughton as a pair of comic relief soldiers that later fall victim to the blob. McNaughton went to on produce Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

THE BRIDE WORE BLACK (July 12, 8:00 pm) – It’s Truffaut’s tribute to Alfred Hitchcock and it’s a worthy tribute indeed, even to the point of being based on a Cornell Woolrich novel and a score written by Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann. Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau in an unforgettable performance) is to be married. Thugs whack her fiancée on the steps of the church. So . . . they want to play rough, do they? Well, she can play even rougher, and does, dispatching the killers with verve, if not glee. It all makes for great viewing. Quentin Tarantino used it as the basis for his Kill Bill.

WE DISAGREE ON ... SOME LIKE IT HOT (July 8, 9:00 pm)

ED: A. This movie has the double distinction of being one the best comedies ever made and one of director Billy Wilder’s best comedies. Everything works in this film about two musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) who witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and try to shake their pursuers by joining an all-girl band headed to Miami. Lemmon, always in fine form, was made for this film; and Curtis was also fun to watch, proving once again that when teamed with a better actor to lead, he’s capable of a fine performance. Monroe, as Sugar Kane, gives an unforgettable performance; she was a fine comedic actress whose talents were sadly misused in many of her other films. And the casting of old-time comedian Joe E. Brown was truly an inspired move on Wilder’s part. To quote TCM’s critic Rob Nixon: “. . . Wilder mixed black comedy, nostalgia for the silent era, over-the-top physical humor, and a fine sense of period detail to turn what might have been a smutty one-joke chase movie into a classic of the American screen.” I couldn’t have said it any better.

DAVID: B. This is a good film, but far from being one of the funniest ever made. (The American Film Institute ranked it as the funniest U.S. movie of all time in 2000.) It's not even director Billy Wilder's best film. Honestly, it doesn't crack my Top 10 among Wilder-directed movies, which shows how incredibly talented he was as not only a director but as a writer. Some Like It Hot has some funny moments, and Jack Lemmon is wonderful as are some of the movie's secondary actors, particularly Joe E. Brown and George Raft. It's not Marilyn Monroe's finest moment and Tony Curtis was, well, Tony Curtis. Again, it's good, but I don't understand at all why it's considered such a classic. There's nothing special about the plot, and having two guys dress in drag is a joke that can only go so far before it gets tired. It also wasn't anything new as Milton Berle dressed as a woman on his TV show years earlier. It wasn't that funny when Berle did it and only a bit more entertaining with Curtis and Lemmon. 



TCM TiVo ALERT
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July 1–July 7

DAVID'S BEST BETS:

THE GOODBYE GIRL (July 1, 11:00 pm): Before Richard Dreyfuss thought he was a brilliant actor, he was a brilliant actor. This 1977 film, in which he won an Oscar for Best Actor (becoming, at the time, the youngest to win the award), is a perfect example of that. The screenplay, written by Neil Simon, is good, but the acting and interaction between Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason and Quinn Cummings (the latter two were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively) are outstanding. Cummings, who was 10 when the film was released, is marvelous as Mason's precocious daughter. It's a very charming and entertaining romantic comedy.

THE DEVIL DOLL (July 7, 9:30 pm): Because Lionel Barrymore was so wonderful and likable in nearly every role he played, it's somewhat difficult to imagine him playing a vengeful criminal (wrongfully convicted, of course). His character escapes Devil's Island and plots his revenge against those who framed him in this 1936 film directed by Tod Browning, who co-wrote it. Oh, and he dresses like an old woman at times. But Barrymore was such a pro that he handles himself exceptionally well in this science fiction classic in which he shrinks people to one-sixth their size. Maureen O'Sullivan is good as his daughter and Rafaela Ottiano is amazing as his partner in crime who takes evil to a new level.

ED’S BEST BETS:

1776 (July 4, 1:30 am): A musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence? You’re kidding, right? No, we’re not kidding, and furthermore, it’s quite good. Based on the play, it retains many of those originally performed it. William Daniels is splendid as John Adams, Ken Howard makes for a most effective Thomas Jefferson, and Howard DaSilva is the spitting image of Ben Franklin. Throw in Virgina Vestoff as Abigail Adams and Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson, and the film really rocks. Watch out, however, for John Cullum as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. He brings down the house with “Molasses to Rum to Slaves.” Other numbers to look for include “But Mr. Adams,” “Cool Cool, Considerate Men” (My favorite), and the heart tugging “Mama Look Sharp.” American history was never this much fun.

STOLEN KISSES (July 5, 10:30 pm): In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful films Truffaut made, and more than a step forward from his Nouvelle Vague days. It follows the continuing adventures of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud), whom Truffaut introduced to the world in The 400 Blows. Doinel has just been dishonorably discharged from the army for questionable character. He takes on a series of odd jobs while trying to find his niche in life. And, of course, there’s the love of his young life – Christine Darbon (played with a combination of gentleness and verve by Claude Jade). His only problem in regards to Christine is they can’t manage to find themselves on the same page, and this is the basis for much of the film’s humor. Watch for the scene where Antoine proposes. The camerawork is excellent and the score enhances the action on the screen. It’s just a wonderful film to sit back and watch.

WE DISAGREE ON ... ANCHORS AWEIGH (July 4, 3:00 pm)

ED: A-. One of best musicals from a studio renowned for its musicals, MGM, Anchors Aweigh features seamless performances from stars Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson. Kelly and Sinatra were so good together that the studio later starred them in two other musicals, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and On the Town. The film is also noted for Kelly's dance with Jerry the mouse, a breakthrough in combining live action with animation (though Warner Bros. did it first in 1940 with You Ought to Be in Pictures). Kelly does what he does best, dancing; Sinatra does what he does best, singing. The score by Kahn and Styne is superb and Jose Iturbi impresses on the piano. (Only at MGM could Iturbi be turned into a star.) Do we fans of musicals need any more than that? I don't think so. 

DAVID: C+. As a rule of thumb, I dislike musicals. And dance musicals? They're typically even worse. This isn't a bad dance musical, but there's nothing extraordinary about it to make it stand out among the dozens and dozens of dance musicals from what was the golden age of the genre. If you confuse this 1945 film that pairs Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as sailors on leave in Los Angeles with On the Town, a 1949 film that pairs the two as sailors on leave in New York City, you are forgiven. The plots are similar and there is nothing special about either. Sinatra's better movies - SuddenlyThe Man with the Golden Arm, and The Manchurian Candidate - were dramas and not musicals. It's obvious Kelly worked hard in his films and was a special talent, but even he and Sinatra couldn't do anything to turn this weak film into anything more than a mediocre movie. Kelly dances with Jerry Mouse. It's a cute camera trick, but nothing more than that. Besides, I'm a Tom Cat fan.


TCM TiVo ALERT
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June 23-June 30
  
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUM (June 23, 2:00 am): This is a early film (1939) of director Kenji Mizoguchi, best known for two classics, Ugestu in 1953 and Sansho the Bailiff a year later. This film tells the story of Otoku, a common woman, who falls in love with Kikunosuke, the adoptive son of a legendary Kabuki actor during the late 19th century. Kikunosuke, played by Shotaro Hanayagi in his film debut, isn't a good Kabuki actor and doesn't work hard at his craft, but gets major parts because of his adoptive father. Otoku, a wet nurse for the family (played wonderfully by Kakuko Mori), believes the actor has great potential, but won't realize it until he works hard to do so. The two fall in love, which is a big no-no and is forbidden by Kikunosuke's adoptive father. The story is compelling and fascinating, and the acting is magnificent. The only flaw in the film is there are two lengthy Kabuki scenes that slow it down. The scenes are unnecessary and eat up about 20 or so minutes in an otherwise fine 142-minute film. Those scenes aren't necessary because the story and actors do such an excellent job convincing us that Kikunosuke wasn't good and becomes great without us needing to see him perform.

THE LADY IN THE LAKE (June 28, 3:00 am): You can't go wrong with any of the Philip Marlowe detective films TCM is showing on the 28th. It starts with Dick Powell in 1944's Murder, My Sweet at 11:00 pm, followed by Humphrey Bogart in 1946's The Big Sleep at 1:00 am, and ends with Robert Montgomery in 1947's The Lady in the Lake. Montgomery, who also directed the film, is charming as Marlowe, the hard-boiled, street-smart private detective. This movie is fascinating for its gimmick of having nearly all of it filmed as if the viewer is Marlowe. The story is sometimes hard to follow, like many detective film noirs of the time with several plot twists, but it's definitely worth watching and Montgomery brings a sense of humor to the Marlowe character that isn't as developed in the other two films.

ED’S BEST BETS:

DETECTIVE STORY (June 24, 8:00 pm): The problem with “topical” films is that they lose their punch with the passage of time, and this film is no different. It’s based on Sidney Kingsley’s play about life at a NYPD precinct house and reflects what was important during that time. Still, I recommend this highly for two main reasons: (1) although the film is dated by time, the power of Kirk Douglas’s performance remains fresh and powerful. Released in October 1951, and coming off Douglas’s performance in Ace in the Hole (released in June 1951), we can safely surmise that Douglas had one hell of a year in 1951. (2) Having a good director at the helm can help a film overcome the ravages of time and Detective Story has such a director in William Wyler. His handling of his actors and the mise en scene he creates lifts this up from merely a filmed play to a superb piece of moving cinema. Douglas is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast, particularly Eleanor Parker as his neglected but devoted wife, William Bendix as a sympathetic colleague, and Lee Grant (her first – and almost last – film thanks to the Blacklist) reprising her stage role of a shoplifter and turning a small part into a Supporting Actress nomination.

ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT (June 26, 5:00 am): Humphrey Bogart had many good qualities as an actor, but the ability to take a bad film and elevate it with his performance was not one of them. However, give him a good film and he often elevated it with the quality of his performance. This is a perfect case in point – a film with a lead that, in the wrong hands, could potentially sink it. Bogart, however, takes to it like a fish to water and comes off totally believable as a gangster who finds himself up against Nazi saboteurs led by Naughty Nazi Conrad Veidt. The performances supplied by such as Judith Anderson as Veidt’s assistant, Peter Lorre (in a wonderful turn as a sadistic henchman), William Demerest as Bogie’s sidekick, Jane Darwell as Bogie’s mom, and Kaaren Verne as a singer in peril give the film a luster that raises it above others released that year. The fact that this was made as Bogie began to catch fire with movie-going public as an actor to watch certainly helped, but we must also give kudos to director Vincent Sherman (his first film) and producer Hal Wallis, who kept a close watch on the movie as it was shot. It’s a film that works on every level.

WE DISAGREE ON ... LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (June 25, 11:45 am) 

ED: A. This is Billy Wilder’s tribute to Ernst Lubitsch, and a better tribute there isn’t. Forget the fact that Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn make for a most unlikely couple and just concentrate on the doings in this wonderful romantic comedy. Maurice Chevalier shines as Audrey’s private-eye father. Also watch John McGiver in a great turn as Monsieur X. And remember above all that this is a romantic comedy, so check your sense of reality at the door and just surrender yourself to the art of Billy Wilder.

DAVID: C-. While Billy Wilder's filmography is among the most impressive in the history of cinema, Love in the Afternoon is among his worst. The casting of Gary Cooper is curious at best and awful at worst. A longtime running joke between Ed and I is Cooper acts as well as a block of wood in some of films, mostly during his final years in Hollywood, earning the nickname Gary Cooperwood. Ed asks us to forget the fact that Cooper and Audrey Hepburn make for a most unlikely couple. But with Cooper as the star of this film and only a handful of supporting cast members, that's an impossible request to honor. There is zero chemistry between the two leads primarily because of Cooper. Not only is his acting bad, but he looks like he's preparing for the early-bird special more than convincing viewers he is a rich jet-setting playboy. Part of that is Cooper's health was declining while making this 1957 movie. He died three years later. So can this film be saved by a great plot and the legendary Wilder's directing ability? Nope. The story is flat, dull, lifeless and drags on until its predictable end. This is one of those films I repeatedly checked to see how much was left until it was over. It's 130 minutes in length yet it seems to be considerably longer.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
June 15–June 22
  
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ALL THE KING'S MEN (June 16, 2:00 pm): I've recommended this 1949 film once before - and it's in regular rotation on TCM - but I can't stress how outstanding it is and how those who've never seen it, must do so. It's one of the 10 greatest films ever made. Broderick Crawford is brilliant as Willie Stark, a do-gooder who fails as a politician until he works the system, gets dirt on friends and foes, and becomes a beloved populist governor. There are other incredible performances, particularly John Ireland as Jack Burden, a journalist who "discovers" Stark and helps him climb the political ladder, stepping over anyone in the way; and Raymond Greenleaf as Judge Monte Stanton, Burden's mentor and role model. As I had previously written, if you love politics, this is the best movie on the subject ever made. If you hate politics, you'll love this film as it gives you plenty of reasons to confirm your belief on the subject.

12 ANGRY MEN (June 16, 4:00 am): This is another quality film that I've recommended one other time. It's a movie that really stays with you for its quality, intensity and outstanding performances by an all-star cast that includes Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, E.G. Marshall and Jack Klugman. The film takes place almost entirely inside a hot jury room that gets even hotter as the debate over the guilt or innocence of the man on trial escalates. Director Sidney Lumet and the cast make the viewer feel like he/she is a voyeur sitting in the room with the jurors. It's one of the greatest courtroom dramas made, quite a feat for a movie that skips over the case and gets right to the jury deliberations. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

PICTURE SNATCHER (June 17, 9:45 am): Jimmy Cagney is at his best as an ex-con who finds a new line of work as a reporter/photographer for a struggling tabloid. Bringing his somewhat unethical ways to the job, he nails prize photo after photo until his questionable ethics cost the father of his girlfriend his job. Can Cagney make everything right again? Do we have to ask?

THE SEARCHERS (June 22, 8:00 pm): It’s an old axiom among serious film buffs that John Wayne was a most limited actor. While that’s true, just give him a good script and a director like John Ford or Howard Hawks to keep him in line and milk a good performance out of him and he’s not only good – he’s compelling to watch. Wayne is a Civil War veteran obsessed with tracking down the Comanches that killed his family and slaughtered his niece. He also hates Indians with a passion, and Ford paints an interesting character study as Wayne pursues the kidnappers. Not to be missed, even for those that aren’t exactly crazy about Westerns. 

WE DISAGREE ON ... FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (June 22, 6:15 pm)

ED: D. I’m a big fan of both Joseph Cotten and George Sanders. The film also boasts a good supporting cast, including Debra Paget, Patric Knowles, Henry Daniell, Ludwig Stossel, and that Grand Old Man of Sci-fi, Morris Ankrum. So why don’t I like this movie? Simple – it’s mind-numbingly dull, plodding along for what seems like hours with only minimal cuts to action. It’s nothing but talk, talk, and more talk, and the talk is dull at that. And check out the cheesy special effects: we can clearly see the bar holding up the model spaceship. It’s almost worthy of Ed Wood, Jr. And while Cotten and Sanders star in this clunker, it’s obvious to see they just doing this for the paycheck. They look and act bored, especially Sanders. This is something that belongs not on TCM, but on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

DAVID: C+. Is this a sci-fi classic? Certainly not. Are the special effects not so special? Yes. But any movie starring Joseph Cotten and George Sanders starts with a grade of C just for the casting. The storyline, based on a Jules Verne book of the same title, has its moments. The bitter rivalry between greedy munitions maker Victor Barbicane (Cotten) and holier-than-thou metallurgist Stuyvesant Nicholl (Sanders) provides a nice give-and-take for the two screen legends. Barbicane's latest explosive, the ominous-sounding Power X, is met with skepticism from Nicholl, who bets it can't destroy his invention, the world's hardest metal. The metal gets blown up, but it's also converted into a super-strong and super-lightweight ceramic. So what's next? A trip to the moon, of course, with the spaceship made of the ceramic. It has some silly scenes and lacks consistently strong dialogue, but Cotten and Sanders worked well together and turned a weak script with bad special effects into a decent film.


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June 8–June 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

TWO WOMEN (June 8, 12:00 am): This is Sophia Loren's best film and put her on the map as far as being an outstanding actress and not just an incredibly beautiful woman. She plays Cesira, a Roman woman who has to flee her hometown with her 13-year-old daughter Rosetta (Eleonora Brown) during World War II with the Allies bombing the city. She goes to incredible lengths to protect her child only for the two to be raped in an abandoned church by Moroccan Allied soldiers. It's a hard-hitting film with a powerful message and brilliant acting - Loren won the Oscar for Best Actress, the first to earn that honor in a non-English speaking role.

SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (June 14, 1:15 am): Director Francois Truffaut's second film, Shoot the Piano Player, is often overlooked by cinephiles as it's sandwiched between two of his greatest: The 400 Blows (his directorial debut) and Jules and Jim. While it's not as great as those classics, there are few films that are in the same class as that pair. But this 1960 movie is Truffaut's most underrated as it wonderfully blends satire, drama, tragedy, comedy, and a tribute to American gangster films, particularly those made by Warner Brothers, while also reminding me of early Alfred Hitchcock. The cinematography is outstanding, the storyline is filled with twists and the acting is wonderful.

ED’S BEST BETS:

BREATHLESS (June 8, 8:00 pm): There an old saw about a director never being able to top his first movie. In the case of Godard, this may well be true. Breathless has a feel, a movement, and an enthusiasm not seen again his films. Belmondo is enchanting as the impulsive thief and Jean Seberg is marvelous as his American girlfriend. This is definitely one to catch. Watch for the scene with Belmondo and the Bogart movie poster. It sums up his character neatly.

THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (June 9, 8:00 pm): Granted, there’s no such thing as the perfect film, but this one comes darned close. Alec Guinness is near perfect in his role as the fussbudget bank clerk who, along with newly acquired friend Stanley Holloway, robs the bank of a million pounds in gold bullion. And almost gets away with it, to boot. How they slip up is a thing of beauty to watch, as is the chase near the end. This is a keeper for the ages and even those who are “hard” on comedy will smile at this one.

WE DISAGREE ON ... CAGED (June 10, 8:00 pm)

ED: C-.  It's not that I don’t like Caged; in fact, it’s great trashy viewing. But it’s certainly no masterpiece. It’s simply an exploitation film made during the iron rule of censorship, so there was little the producers could get away with in regard to its contents. It’s your standard Women-in-Prison movie, as young innocent Eleanor Parker goes to the slammer (she didn’t know her husband was robbing the gas station while she waited in the car) and emerges as a hardened criminal despite the efforts of Good-Gal Warden Agnes Moorehead who’s fighting both politicians and her own brutal matrons. So what else is new? There’s the usual stock cast of characters: the old timer, the wizened inmate looking forward to release, the toadies, the snitch. But the two performances to watch are those of Hope Emerson, the evil matron, and Lee Patrick, the vice queen and practicing lesbian, who describes Parker as “a cute trick.”  It’s a fun flick to watch – lots of action, depravity, and most of all, scenery chewing. The 6’2” Emerson is wonder to behold, as her evil seemingly knows no bounds. Hint: dead kitten. Quite frankly, it was pretty gritty for the time, but the women’s prison really didn’t come of psychotronic age until the 70s, when it became an excuse for a good helping of T&A. Best line: Warden Moorehead telling her aide to keep Parker’s file active as she watches her walk out of prison – “She’ll be back.”

DAVID: B+. This is the mother of all women-in-prison films. Unlike nearly all the others in this unusual but often-visited film genre, Caged is well acted. Eleanor Parker was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar as the young innocent Marie Allen, Agnes Moorehead is great as warden Ruth Benton, and Hope Emerson was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as the deliciously evil matron Evelyn Harper. Almost anything bad you can imagine happens to Marie - her new husband is killed in a robbery, she ends up in prison because she is waiting in the getaway car, she's pregnant while serving her sentence, she's victimized by other inmates and Harper, she has to give up her baby for adoption, and finally becomes bitter and hardened from all of her bad experiences. The story is similar to other women-in-prison movies minus the T&A. We still get a shower scene (no nudity as this is during the Code era) and the stereotypical prison lesbian! But there's a huge difference between Caged and the women-in-prison films of the 1970s. It's not only the excellent acting, but the powerful dialogue and actual plot - it was nominated for a Best Writing Oscar - that makes this gritty, stark, realistic film stand out among others in the genre. The viewer is given reasons as to how and why the innocent Marie turns into a hardened criminal from the brutal scene in which her head is shaved to having her baby taken from her to the hopelessness of one inmate driven to suicide to the murder of Harper by one of Marie's friends who uses a fork to do the job. It's also a damning indictment of a penal system that doesn't try to rehabilitate the inmates, but largely treat them like caged animals. It can be somewhat cliché at times, but it's definitely in a class by itself.



TCM TiVo ALERT 
For
June 1–June 7 

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE HARDER THEY FALL (June 2, 2:00 pm): Humphrey Bogart's last movie, released a year before his 1957 death, has him playing Eddie Willis, an unemployed newspaper sportswriter who goes to work for a crooked boxing promoter (played by Rod Steiger, who is one of acting's greatest heavies). Willis's job is to be the press agent for Toro Monero (Mike Lane), a big but untalented and slow-witted boxer. Nick Benko (Steiger) is building Toro up, having him win numerous fixed fights so he can get a shot at the title, a big pay-day for the promoter, and lose. Eddie has seen it before, but in desperate need of money, he goes along with it even though he likes Toro, who just wants to return to his home country of Argentina. The film takes a hard look at the rampant corruption in boxing. It was groundbreaking with some critics at the time contending the film wasn't realistic, when it actually was. Bogart, even though he was dying, and Steiger are excellent. The film is based on Primo Carnera, a big Italian boxer with limited skills who was owned by organized crime during the 1930s. Carnera won a version of the heavyweight title in what is believed to be a fixed fight against Jack Sharkey and later got destroyed in a legit fight against Max Baer. Baer has a small role in the film as a boxer. After retiring from boxing, Carnera became a popular wrestler, despite having virtually no wrestling talent. But at least he made a little money and was aware those matches were fixed.

THE GREAT DICTATOR (June 3, 11:15 am): TCM shows this 1940 Charlie Chaplin masterpiece on a regular basis so it often gets overlooked. Incredibly, it's never made mine or Ed's Best Bets before even though we are both huge fans of this film. As he did in so many of his roles, Chaplin brilliantly portrays the film's protagonist, known as "a Jewish barber," with great empathy and humility while still being funny. And when you mention funny, his impersonation of Adolf Hitler - the character in the film is named Adenoid Hynkel - is spot-on and highly entertaining. The film, made before the United States was at war with Nazi Germany, has several iconic scenes, including Hynkel playing with a bouncy globe, and a chase scene between the barber and storm troopers. Chaplin's brilliance lied in his ability to make people think about the world while making them laugh. There is no finer example of that than The Great Dictator. The ending is beautiful. It's too bad life rarely turns out to have a happy Hollywood ending, but that doesn't diminish from the entertainment and importance of this landmark film. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (June 1, 7:30 am): The late Ray Harryhausen’s great f/x epic about a dinosaur thawed out on the Arctic and now on the loose in New York City. It boasts an intelligent script, credible performances, and one helluva great monster. My only complaint is that it’s too short, but it was just what the doctor ordered for the Warner’s box office at the time. I can watch it again and again . . . wait a minute – I have.

THE MALTESE FALCON (June 7, 8:00 pm): As I mentioned before, Warner Brothers was great on remaking a script. The Maltese Falcon was done three times in the space of 10 years. While it’s generally acknowledged – and I will not argue the point – that the 1941 Bogart-Greenstreet-Lorre version is by far the best, the 1931 version is not exactly chopped liver. Made in those risqué Pre-Code days of yore, this version has a lot going for it and viewers will notice the many similarities between it and the ’41 version. While Ricardo Cortez is no Bogart as Sam Spade, he’s not bad, either. And Bebe Daniels is a definite improvement over Mary Astor, both in the look department and the acting department. Una Merkel makes for a good Effie and as Wilmer – Dwight Frye! As this is shown rarely at best, this is a film no serious film buff should miss.

WE DISAGREE ON ... PAT AND MIKE (June 1, 6:00 pm)

ED: B+. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn made nine films together. Some are classics (Woman of the Year, Adam's Rib), some are overrated (Keeper of the Flame), some are really overrated (State of the Union), some are merely bad (Without Love), some are terrible (Sea of Grass), and some are embarrassing when viewed in the light of today (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?). Pat and Mike, however, is one of their better efforts. Not exactly "A" material, but definitely worthwhile. Hepburn is a lady golfer and Tracy is the shady sports promoter who takes her under his wing. Pat and Mike is written by the team of Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, who gave us Adam's Rib, and while it's not as good as Adam's Rib, there's still plenty of room there for both to maneuver, and there's lots of good give-and-take dialog to sustain the audience. Also surprising for its time is the fact that while most films feature "a woman's place is in the home" mentality, Pat and Mike is downright feminist in tone. It first finds protagonist Hepburn railing at fiancee William Ching's chauvinist views and later chiding Tracy on the same issue, making her point most memorably later in the film when she shoves Tracy aside and beats up the two thugs threatening him. Pat and Mike is a great piece of screen candy, and to put in it terms that Tracy used in the movie, "there's not much meat, but what's there is 'cherce.'"

DAVID: C-. It should come as no surprise that I dislike this film. (Scroll down to We Disagree for our opinions of Woman of the Year.) There is little I like about Katharine Hepburn, the most overrated big-name Hollywood actress in cinematic history. Sadly, she repeatedly dragged down the extremely-talented Spencer Tracy in film after film with her overacting, scenery-chewing style that makes most of her movies awful. She wasn't funny and rarely showed dramatic skills. Her apologists may contend that I haven't seen enough of her movies, but that's incorrect. I've seen about 20 to 30 of her movies and like less than a handful. One amusing note is the only Hepburn-Tracy film I really like is Keeper of the Flame, which Ed wrote is "overrated." As for Pat and Mike, is there an actual plot to this film or just a bunch of scenes that are supposed to be funny and/or entertaining with Hep getting the better of Tracy? This movie seems like an excuse for Hepburn to show that she can play tennis and golf, and for Tracy to come across as gruff but lovable. If this movie added any more fluff, it would be the world's largest marshmallow. It's predictable, boring, slow-moving, not funny, the acting is weak (even the co-stars are subpar), the script is weaker, and there's not a single memorable scene in the entire film. Hepburn made far worse movies and thanks to teaming with her too many times, Tracy starred in some lousy films too. But I can't give film fans a single reason to waste 92 minutes of their time watching this lackluster effort.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 23–May 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE CRANES ARE FLYING (May 26, 4:30 am): This 1957 Russian film is considered the best of the post-Stalin-era as it brilliantly blends the horrors of war, World War II here, in battle scenes with the terrifying lives of those on the homefront who must survive the Nazi invasion. On the surface, it's a love story between a soldier, Boris (Aleksei Batalov), and Veronika (Tatiana Samoilova). But the two are together on screen only briefly before Boris joins the Red Army. Boris is killed relatively early in the film, but is only considered missing, with his family and Veronika hoping he survived the war. The Communists were still very much in power when this film was released, but thank Nikita Khrushchev for letting this film be distributed worldwide as part of the country's de-Stalinization program. It's an anti-war film - with the final scene being a returning soldier calling for peace - but it’s not anti-soldier. Its ability to show the ramifications and fallout of such a horrific and violent war while never degrading those who chose to fight and die for the survival of their country, as well as how one of the main characters avoids joining the military, is breathtaking. Also, the cinematography, particularly the war scenes, in this groundbreaking piece of cinema is stunning.

LIBELED LADY (May 30, 12:30 pm): First, a few words about the cast. You can't possibly make a bad movie with William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow (the latter had top billing). Well, I suppose you can, but it would be extremely difficult. The chemistry between all four in this 1936 screwball comedy is among the best you'll find in any movie. While Walter Connolly is fine as Loy's father, the legendary Lionel Barrymore was originally cast in the role. If that had come to pass, this would rival Key Largo as the greatest ensemble-cast film ever made. There are so many wonderful and genuinely funny scenes in this film with these four great comedic actors. Powell and Harlow were married at the time, but it was decided that Powell and Loy, one of cinema's greatest on-screen couples, would fall in love though Harlow got to do a wedding scene with Powell. Harlow died of renal failure the year after this film was released. She was only 26. The plot is wonderful with socialite Loy (who was such a beautiful woman) suing a newspaper for $500,000 for falsely reporting she broke up a marriage. Tracy is the paper's managing editor and Harlow is his fiancée who he won't marry. Tracy hires Powell, a slick newspaperman who is a smooth operator when it comes to women, to seduce Loy and then purposely get caught in a compromising position by Harlow, who would pretend to be his wife. Things don't turn out as planned with Loy and Powell falling in love. It's a great movie with a fantastic cast and a joy to watch.

ED’S BEST BETS: 

THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY (May 23, 8:30 am): The great Norma Shearer is at her glamorous best as a chic jewel thief out to take a rich family for all they’ve got, especially a pearl necklace valued at 20,000 pounds. But her plan goes awry along the way as she falls for one of her marks. Shearer is the one to watch in this early talkie. Her charisma, elegance and charm are firmly on display and her acting ability is such that we have no trouble believing that she is who she appears to be. Basil Rathbone provides fine support as a member of the family about to be taken, with his charisma and charm providing a perfect match for Norma. As this is an early talkie, and the bugs of the new technology have not yet been worked out, watch for actors talking into plants and into the floral arrangement on Norma’s shoulder. However, the movie is so good that you’ll soon forget these foibles.

BIRD (May 30, 12:30 am): Clint Eastwood proved that he could direct more than mere action films with this dark biopic about the life and death of jazz great Charlie Parker. And he has the perfect star in Forest Whitaker to realize Parker on the screen. This was Whitaker’s breakout role, as he parlayed his portrayal of the heroin-soaked Parker into a best actor award at Cannes. Also look for Michael Zelinker playing trumpeter Red Rodney. Zelinker’s transformation of the character from a shy, fresh-faced wannabe admirer of Parker to a drug-flushed veteran jazzman is awe inspiring to watch. There were no great up and no great downs in the life of Charlie Parker, who died at the age of 34 from an overdose. That Eastwood managed to make this into compelling drama is a testament to his directorial talent.

WE DISAGREE ON ... BATTLEGROUND (May 26, 8:00 pm)

ED: A. In considering the merits of a film, especially a classic film done in another era, we must take not only its immediacy, but also its historical impact into that consideration. And in that respect Battleground is one of the finest war films made by Hollywood, produced by Dore Schary and directed by the venerable William Wellman. At this point in history, audiences had to be asking themselves whether yet another movie about the war was worth the effort to attend. But this is a different movie from those that preceded it. What makes it stand out from those that preceded it is this: instead of focusing on the action and the morale boosting rah-rah, Battleground places its focus on the human condition. It’s a character study rather than a plain action film. Set in Bastogne during The Battle of the Bulge, it emphasizes the frustration, the loneliness and the battle to survive against the elements and of being encircled by the enemy without the hope of an immediate rescue because of the weather conditions. Screenwriter Robert Pirosh wanted to make a film about his wartime experiences in many actual events, such as the Mexican G.I. (Ricardo Montalban) from Los Angeles who had never seen snow until he hit Europe, and the soldier constantly losing his false teeth. These things really happened and were wonderfully captured in a superior script. The film is also important historically as it’s the first to deviate from the constant action to questioning why those actions were necessary. The performances are first-rate, with Van Johnson, James Whitmore, Montalban, and John Hodiak leading the way. Funny – although it was filmed completely in the studio, its sense of realism concerning the battle is second only to the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. For a film released in 1949, that says an awful lot.

DAVID: B-. Don't get me wrong, this is a good war film and very authentic. But I don't consider it a classic. It's better than 1945's The Story of G.I. Joe, directed by William A. Wellman, who has the same job in Battleground, released in 1949. Both are World War II films that focus on the insecurities, fear and vulnerability of soldiers rather than the glory of battle. Both films concentrate on humanizing soldiers who are fighting not only the enemy and for their survival, but their internal fear and self-doubt. I should love both as the genre has always fascinated me. Battleground connects with me much more than The Story of G.I. Joe but not enough to give it a grade higher than a B-. Wellman's vision for the film is to show the soldiers as regular guys in anything but a regular environment. At times, it comes across as too much of a tribute to those who fought in World War II. A problem is there are far too many characters in the film. Army companies have a lot of soldiers, but this movie wants to introduce us to nearly every one of them. After a while, it's difficult to keep track of who is who, which detracts from the film. Also, the dialogue isn't strong and the ending is too corny. There is a lot to like about the movie from the strong cast - particularly, Van Johnson and James Whitmore - to the great job of showing tension and fear of the soldiers to the excellent cinematography. Again, it’s a good war film, but not among the very best.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 15–May 22
  
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SPELLBOUND (May 15, 10:00 pm): Alfred Hitchcock has directed, and Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck have starred in better films. But even "very good" Hitch, Bergman and Peck movies are light years better than most other films. In Spellbound (1945), Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Peck) is the new head of a mental hospital in Vermont, but psychoanalyst Dr. Constance Petersen (Bergman) quickly figures out that Dr. Edwardes is not really Dr. Edwardes. The character admits that Petersen is correct and believes he killed the real Dr. Edwardes, but because of amnesia, he's not sure. The two quickly fall in love - who could resist Bergman or for that matter Peck - and while trying to find out what happens, the cops figure out that the real Dr. Edwardes is initially missing and then a murder victim. One of the highlights is a dream the fake doctor has that they try to analyze. The dream sequence is brilliantly designed by Salvador Dali. Hitchcock was the master of getting a murder-mystery film from its starting point to a logical conclusion while taking the viewer on an incredible journey filled with twists you never see coming.

ACE IN THE HOLE (May 17, 8:00 pm): The best journalism movie ever made with Kirk Douglas as Chuck Tatum, a hard-hitting, hard-boiled, cynical reporter fired from 11 newspapers for a variety of reasons, none of them good. Tatum's car breaks down in Albuquerque, which as anyone who's watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon knows is a place where people and rabbits often take wrong turns. Tatum's quick talking and nose for news gets him a job at the local newspaper. Things are quiet for a year until he learns that a guy is trapped in a collapsed cave. Being the sharp reporter, Tatum realizes he can turn this into a huge story and return to the national spotlight if he can properly exploit it and convince the locals that he should have the exclusive. That's exactly what happens as the cave collapse evolves into an actual carnival with rides and games. Tatum finally realizes what he's doing is horribly wrong, but it's too late by that time. Ace in the Hole (also known as The Big Carnival) is an excellent, though exaggerated, example of how the media can sometimes exploit a story without realizing the consequences. A big tip of the hat to Billy Wilder, who produced, directed and co-wrote this excellent 1951 film.

ED’S BEST BETS:

NIGHT MUST FALL (May 21, 3:00 pm):  Watching Robert Montgomery as a charming cockney psycho killer in this film makes it seem as if he was to the manner born. Carrying his latest victim’s head in a hatbox everywhere with him, he has no trouble worming his way into the 72-year old Dame May Whitty’s household, convincing her that he’s the son she never had. Her niece, played by Rosalind Russell, isn’t so easily convinced. It all adds up to a wonderfully tense thriller, with Russell and Montgomery playing mental poker with Whitty as the pot. Although it’s Montgomery’s film, Russell almost steals it from under him with a magnificently understated performance as Whitty’s put upon niece, who must nevertheless watch out for her aunt as she can see Montgomery getting dangerously close. Watch especially for the kitchen scene between Montgomery and Russell, brimming over with sexual tension, yet not so much as a peck on the cheek transpires. Don’t miss it for the performances – all three leads are wonderful, and Montgomery surprises by playing so effectively against type. He even secured an Oscar nomination from it.

LE JOUR SE LEVE – Day to Book (May 21, 11:00 pm): Jean Gabin is the star of this very thoughtful film from Marcel Carne. He plays Francois, a man who has just shot another man named Valentin (Jules Berry) in a jealous dispute over a woman. He is no holed up in his apartment, under siege by the police. Carne’s film uses the course of that night for Francois to reflect as to how he got in this mess to begin with and how he came to murder another. Carne smartly uses dissolves as the events that led Francois to his fate are recollected (one of the first films to employ this technique). With Arletty in a wonderful role as Clara, Valentin’s assistant, who tips Francois off as to what her boss is up to. With the hubbub over new wave directors like Truffaut and Godard, artists such as Carne tend to fade into the darkness. But take a flyer on this one and you’ll be amply rewarded.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (May 18, 8:00 pm)

ED: A++. If TCM had a category called "The Essential Essentials," I would place this film on it. It is not only the best horror film ever made, but it is also one of the greatest films ever made. In every James Whale horror film, the "monster" is the Outsider, the person that does not fit into society. And Frankenstein's monster was for Whale the Ultimate Outsider. By giving him human faculties such as the power of speech Whale elevates him from the role of murderous automaton to that of a being that can think, feel, and want, and instead of a mere sequel, we get a totally original film, one that highlights the development of a character rather than developments of a plot. In fact, it could rightly be argued that The Bride is not a horror film, but a very stylish black comedy of manners. The film is also a subtle satire on religion. Note the scene where the villagers first capture the monster. It's Whale's parody of the crucifixion. And when he befriends the blind hermit (so beautifully parodied in Young Frankenstein), the hermit thanks God for sending him a friend. Also, when the hermit breaks down and cries right after, the Monster also sheds a tear, emphasizing his humanity. While being Karloff's greatest performance (it's not easy to give a nuanced performance when weighed down by all that makeup), the film is essentially stolen by Ernest Thesiger as the maddest of all mad scientists, Dr. Pretorius. It could also be argued that this was the last of the truly stylish horror films, as the genre went into a decline and when it re-emerged with Son of Frankenstein, it followed a traditional pattern of Monster-as-villain. But this film, however, is one for the ages.

DAVID: B. This is a very good film, better than the 1931 original. It's very original and clever to have Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), the author of Frankenstein, explain that the original ending in which the Monster is killed was not how she wanted the book (and the movie by extension) to conclude and then go on to tell how he survives rather than die. Boris Karloff, who played the Monster in the original as violent and destructive, is excellent in this 1935 sequel as a creature with human emotions. But over-the-top and borderline ridiculous performances by Colin Clive as Dr. Henry Frankenstein (who is also lousy in the original) and Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius, along with the way Pretorius forces Frankenstein to work with him to create a woman for the Monster really requires the audience to suspend belief. Yes, the entire concept of making a monster out of an artificial brain and various human body parts - as well as creating miniature people and creatures - requires the audience to suspend belief. But this film takes that concept well beyond any definition of reason and doesn't stop even after it hits absurd and campy. Also, the "Bride" is in the film for about 10 minutes, played by Lanchester with the iconic shock-looked hair featuring white streaks. Giving the Monster human emotions and the ability to speak, unlike in Frankenstein, left me unsettled. Even Karloff objected to having the Monster speak calling the decision "stupid." As I mentioned at the start, this is a very good film. The hermit scene is wonderful. I'd recommend seeing it when it's on TCM, setting the TiVo to record or if you have Netflix, watch it any time you want. The latter is how I saw it a few months ago. Very good, but I don't consider the movie to be an all-time great. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 8–May 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE INFORMER (May 10, 6:00 am): This 1935 film, directed by John Ford, is about as good as it gets when it comes to a hard-hitting drama with an intelligent plot about a simple man. Victor McLaglen is Gypo Nolan, the simple man in question, who is kicked out of the Irish Republican Army during its 1922 War of Independence for not killing an English Black-and-Tan as retribution for that man's murder of an IRA member. Desperate for money, he sells out a friend (played by Wallace Ford), who is wanted as a fugitive, for 20 pounds. Gypo proceeds to spend nearly all of the money buying liquor and food and showing off. After passing the blame for the incident, that leads to the death of Ford's character, onto someone else, Gypo finally admits what he did and realizes how wrong he was to do it. The film - with Oscar wins for McLaglen and John Ford - is a fascinating morality story that is dark, tragic and raw. 

DOG DAY AFTERNOON (May 13, 12:30 am): There are certain 1970s crime-dramas that really capture the gritty, almost completely disgusting, lives of cops, pimps, two-bit hoods and drug dealers in New York City during that decade. They include SerpicoThe French Connection, The Taking of Pelham 123The Seven-Ups and Dog Day Afternoon. Based on a botched 1972 robbery at a Brooklyn Bank, Dog Day Afternoon (1975) is about two would-be robbers (brilliantly played by Al Pacino and John Cazale) who are far from professionals. The entire robbery is botched seconds after it starts when a third guy gets cold feet and runs out of the bank. Also, the heist is after the bank's daily monetary pickup so there's only a little more than $1,000. The interplay between Sonny (Pacino) and the police detective sergeant (seasoned pro Charles Durning), who is the hostage negotiator, is memorable. The scene where Sonny screams "Attica! Attica!" is so good that it's worth watching the movie just for that. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

SERGEANT YORK (May 10, 5:30 pm): Howard Hawks directs Gary Cooper to the Oscar in the ultimate morale film based on the true story of the World War 1 hero. In fact, in order to sign over the rights for the film to Warners, York stipulated that only Gary Cooper could play him. Cooper captures the struggles of York perfectly and is backed by a marvelous cast, including Walter Brennan (who almost walks away with the picture), Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Margaret Wycherly, and Stanley Ridges. That film still resounds with audiences today is a testament to the director, cast, and writers, one of whom was John Huston.

THE 400 BLOWS (May 13, 2:45 am): Francois Truffaut’s autobiographical film about a young man (Jean-Pierre Leaud), left entirely to his own devices at home by his neglectful parents, who turns to a life of petty crime. The film becomes a tribute to the resilience and spirit of the young man is spite of his clueless parents and equally clueless teachers, all of who are too eager to absolve themselves of him rather than deal with his problems. Much as been said and written about this remarkable film, which was Truffaut’s directorial debut. Don’t let its art house reputation deter you from this most interesting film.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T (May 11, 3:35 am)

ED: A+. This is one of the great fantasy films made before the Total Age of CGI, it had to be powered by imagination alone. Fortunately, it was written by one of the greats in the realm of children's books: Dr. Seuss. The film is the ultimate nightmare for every kid that's had to take piano lessons. It's superbly filmed and the performance of Hans Conried as Dr. Terwilliker, the crazed and wonderfully mean-spirited piano teacher, is classic. I recommend this for every parent, everyone who has a child taking music lessons, and, in fact, anyone that missed seeing the film as a child. It is a film that both children and their parents can enjoy. Pass the popcorn.

DAVID: C. I like the unusual and off-beat, but this strange film failed to entertain me. Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig) is a boy who hates playing the piano and even more so, hates his dictatorial piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried), the Dr. T in the movie's title. Most of the film is Bart's nightmare-dream in which the piano instructor is an actual dictator who is forcing 500 boys to play the piano at the same time, thus the 5,000 fingers in the title. There's plenty of songs, not one of them memorable, in this 1953 film. While the bizarre story has a certain charm, it's not enough to make this an enjoyable movie. It's only 92 minutes long, but I found myself losing interest before one-third of it had played and it never got to the point where my interest returned. Conried does a nice job, and certainly chews a lot of scenery, but Rettig is not good.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 1–May 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE CAINE MUTINY (May 4, 4:15 pm): Humphrey Bogart in his last great role, Lieutenant Commander Philip Frances Queeg, the head of the USS Caine, a Navy destroyer minesweeper. Queeg is losing his wits and desperately trying to have a final glorious moment as a commander, which puts his crew at risk. The final straw is his refusal to avoid a typhoon and then freeze when told of the danger facing the ship. That leads to a peaceful mutiny - thus the clever title - and a court martial. The supporting cast - Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray (the latter in particular) - is excellent. 

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (May 7, 8:00 pm): Besides Rififi, this 1950 movie is the greatest caper film noirs in cinematic history, and is among the finest film noirs ever made. The performances of the jewel-heist gang are memorable: Sam Jaffe as the mastermind, James Whitmore as the getaway driver, Anthony Caruso as the safecracker, and Sterling Hayden as the muscle. The classic 11-minute heist scene is filled with intensity and drama. The perfect crime isn't so perfect and with each passing scene things go wrong. It comes with my highest recommendation.

ED’S BEST BETS:

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (May 4, 8:00 pm): A wonderful Warners Depression musical about three chorus girls who not only have to find a way to keep their show going, but who also have to land rich husbands. Mervyn LeRoy directed the backstage antics, but Busby Berkeley directed the wonderful show stopping numbers, including “We’re in the Money,” (with Ginger Rogers singing in English and pig-Latin), “Shadow Waltz,” “Petting in the Park,” and “Remember My Forgotten Man,” (Joan Blondell voiced over by Mirian Anderson).

FOOTLIGHT PARADE (May 4, 10:00 pm): More of the same from Warners, only this time it's Jimmy Cagney as a producer of short musical prologues for movies fighting time and a rival company’s spies in order to get his product ready. Joan Blondell steals the movie as Cagney’s lovesick secretary. With Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler as the eternal juveniles. Cagney wows us in the finale with Ruby Keeler in the “Shanghai Lil” number. And is that really John Garfield in a cameo at the beginning of the number? Meanwhile, try to spot Dorothy Lamour as an uncredited chorus girl. This was her screen debut.

WE DISAGREE ON ... ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (May 1, 2:30 am)

ED: A. It’s the movie Frank Capra made to tide his family over while he served in the Army – and it’s a great comedy. Cary Grant is his usual wonderful (though he later hated his performance as too over the top), Peter Lorre is a revelation, and Priscilla Lane’s performance is yet another reminder of how Warners misused her during her tenure there. (Lane is sort of the ‘40s version of Joan Blondell, a gifted comedienne to everybody but Jack Warner.) The only discordant note is the substitution of Raymond Massey as Jonathan Brewster for Boris Karloff, who originated the role on Broadway. Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, and John Alexander all reprised their Broadway roles and were given the time off to do so, but the play’s producers felt that loaning Karloff would seriously injure the box office, so permission was denied. (Couldn’t Capra have cast Bela Lugosi instead and just changed the Jack Carson’s line to “Look at that puss. He looks like Bela Lugosi!”) At any rate, it’s one of the few Warners’ comedies of the time that was actually funny.

DAVID: D. I wish this film was good. Unfortunately, it's barely passable. Cary Grant was an outstanding dramatic actor. But his comedic talent was a lot more miss (Bringing Up BabyGunga Din and this film) than hit (His Girl Friday and The Philadelphia Story). This movie is also out of director Frank Capra's comfort zone as dark comedies were not his area of expertise. In their defense, even if both were at the top of their games, this film was going to be a disaster. It's not funny or entertaining and the script is terrible. When my oldest daughter was in a high school production of this a few years ago, it was bad, but not that much worse than this film. That tells me that no matter the talent level from high school kids to screen legends, this never works. Grant once called it his worst movie. It's bad, but Bringing Up Baby is his worst film.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
April 23–April 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE ENTERTAINER (April 24, 8:00 pm): A powerful film starring Laurence Olivier as a has-been music-hall entertainer who desperately tries to return to the limelight no matter the cost. There are no redeeming qualities about Olivier's character, Archie Rice, yet the legendary actor's performance is so strong that you can't help but feel sorry for his pathetic existence. Rice successfully alienates or destroys the lives of his family as he lies, cheats, seduces and connives his way onto the stage for a big comeback. The price he pays is steep. The supporting cast, particularly Alan Bates and Albert Finney, is outstanding and the vastly underrated Tony Richardson directs.

THE SEVENTH SEAL (April 28, 2:15 am): Ingmar Bergman directed better films - of note is Wild Strawberries, released 10 months after The Seventh Seal in 1957 - but none is more iconic than this movie about Antonius Block, a medieval knight (Max von Sydow). Block returns from fighting in the Crusades to Sweden, which is going through the Black Plague. As if things couldn't get any worse, he meets Death or the personification of Death on a beach and is told it's his time to go. He convinces Death to play a game of chess for his life and then accidentally gives away his strategy. On the surface, it sounds ridiculous, but this is about as close as a film can get to a work of art. It is beautiful, poignant, tragic and uplifting - sometimes in the same scene. It's very abstract, but what do you expect when you can play a game of chess with Death to save your life? More filmmakers should not worry about spelling everything out for their audiences and leave things open to interpretation. That's what makes Bergman one of the greatest cinematic directors. Love and Death, Woody Allen's clever 1975 comedy - which draws inspiration from this film, unlike some of his others that just steal from Bergman - follows The Seventh Seal on TCM.

ED’S BEST BETS:

TARANTULA (April 27, 1:45 pm): William Alland produced and Jack Arnold directed this way-better-than-average story about a humongous spider on the loose in the Arizona desert. Seems mad scientist Leo G. Carroll’s experimental growth formula works a little too well and with the wrong subjects. It’s one of the best giant-insect-on-the-loose films and boasts fast pacing, wonderful special effects, and a rare good performance by John Agar as a country doctor. Mara Corday supplies the required eye candy and damsel in distress as Carroll’s grad assistant. Also look for a brief glimpse of Clint Eastwood as the jet squadron leader.

RIO BRAVO (April 27, 11:45 pm): Howard Hawks produced and directed this wonderful western with John Wayne as a sheriff who must prevent a killer with wealthy family connection from escaping his jail. Wayne can only enlist a drunken Dean Martin, gimpy Walter Brennan and tenderfoot Ricky Nelson to help him. Oh yeah, he also has the beautiful Angie Dickinson on his side. Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman wrote the script. The French critics fell over themselves praising this when it came out, but never mind, it’s a classic anyway.

WE DISAGREE ON ... GILDA (April 30, 4:15 am)  

ED: B+. I think that right about now I’m going to get myself in a whole lot of trouble with my estimation of this film. Yeah, yeah, it’s a classic, but I never was that crazy about it. No doubt about it, Hayworth is sexy and the “Put the Blame on Mame” number is one of the best in the history of Hollywood. But for me, the problem is with the leading man: Glenn Ford is simply not my idea of someone Hayworth would chase after. Cary Grant, yes; Humphrey Bogart, yes; not Glenn Ford. He radiates about as much sex appeal in this film as a herring; their relationship is incomprehensible, due to the fact there is little chemistry between he and Hayworth; odd for two people that are supposed to be so involved. Also – so little plot for a noir. For me, it’s a film on the cusp. Give it a little more in the way of a plot and a more believable leading man, and it’s worth an A. If you’re looking for a film made the same year with a much better star chemistry and plot, try Notorious.

DAVID: A+. Rita Hayworth is cinema's greatest femme fatale in the title role of this 1946 film noir classic. She incredibly gorgeous, and her form-fitting dresses and how she is filmed only adds to her sex appeal. Glenn Ford had a number of memorable roles in his career, but his portrayal of Johnny Farrell, a down-on-his-luck hustler in this film, is among his best. George Macready is strong as Ballin Mundson, a casino owner who also happens to be working with the Nazis. Little does anyone know that Gilda, married to Mundson, had a torrid affair with Farrell years earlier, and the two haven't resolved their feelings. In this role, Hayworth could have chemistry with a rock. Fortunately, Ford has considerably more talent than said rock and the two sizzle on the screen. The cinematography, Hayworth's performance and the dynamics between the three main characters makes this a classic even though the plot could use some assistance.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
April 15–April 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

MODERN TIMES (April 16, 10:30 am): You can't go wrong with most of the Charlie Chaplin films TCM is showing on April 16, and this is one of his best movies. It is also the last time Chaplin plays his iconic Little Tramp character and his last silent movie though the 1936 film includes sound effects. On the surface, it's a clever, brilliantly choreographed film about struggling to keep up with the changing technological times and the desperate lengths people went to in order to work during the Great Depression. Chaplin is a factory worker on an assembly line who is in way over his head. His giant gear machine scene is one of the greatest physical comedy bits in cinematic history. If you did deeper, the comedy is a sharp criticism of technology and how close-minded people treat those who are different, mistaking them for something they're not. Dig even deeper, and it's Chaplin's damning indictment of the "talkies," which were already the norm in Hollywood. Chaplin wasn't a fan, and realizing this was his last silent film - though we hear his voice in a movie for the first time singing The Nonsense Song - he wanted his audience to realize what they'd be missing with the change in cinema. While I love many of Chaplin's silent movies, I think most of his best work were sound films.

WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (April 22, 3:00 am): Another brilliant movie about life during the Great Depression. The film, directed by William Wellman, punches you in the mouth - hard. The story told in this 1933 film's mere 67 minutes in length is stronger than any lengthy documentary about the despair and problems facing kids growing up, sadly in too much of a hurry, during that era. The kids become hobos, riding trains while looking for work and a home, neither which ever seem to be there. When something good happens, a tragedy is right around the next corner. Wellman's direction of the relatively unknown leads is incredible with the film painting a picture of adversity that is too difficult to overcome. While the film ends on a positive note, it certainly isn't an uplifting conclusion as we know these kids will struggle the rest of their lives, and have already grown up way too fast.

ED’S BEST BETS:

LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (April 15, 6:00 am): What an ungodly hour for such a great movie. No one was better in the Pre-Code era than Barbara Stanwyck, and this is one of her best. She’s a bank robber sent to prison, where she encounters all the later standard prison clichés: the large, burly matron, scheming jealous rival inmates, the hard line warden, and the older lifers, led by Aunt Maggie (the excellent supporting actress Maude Eburne) who mentors Babs and shows her the ropes. There’s also a brief glimpse into a muscular cigar-smoking inmate. Maggie warns Babs about her: “She likes to wrestle.” And we all know what that means. Though the film cops out at the end as Babs gets involved – and reformed by – a radio evangelist (Preston Foster), it’s still the template for later women-in-prison movies. As such, it’s a psychotronic classic.

WINCHESTER ’73 (April 15, 8:00 pm): Looking for a great Western? Then look no further, for this is one the best you’ll ever see. It’s a tale of a stolen prize rifle, an attempted framing, and great brotherly hate. Jimmy Stewart is absolutely superb as Lin McAdam, who’s feuding with brother “Dutch” Henry Brown (Stephen McNally). Seems Dutch killed their father. Meeting up in Dodge City, they almost shoot it out, but Wyatt Earp (Will Geer) breaks up the standoff. Later Earp officiates at a shooting contest, with the prize being a rare Winchester ’73. (We have a title!) Stewart wins but brother steals the gun and Jimmy wants it back. This could just be another routine, cliché-filled oater if not for the fact that Anthony Mann was in the director’s chair. Mann brings a touch of the noir to the film while focusing on the characters. Critic Jeanine Basinger calls Winchester ’73 “the beginning of the modern Western.” Watch it and see why.


WE DISAGREE ON ... TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE (April 16, 6:00 am) 


ED: A+. This is one of the great milestones of film history, as it was the first feature-length comedy and established Marie Dressler as a star and added to the growing reputation of Charlie Chaplin. It also cemented the reputation of Mack Sennett as a comedic genius and featured the gorgeous, albeit tragic, Mabel Normand. Yes, it's uneven, and even incoherent, at times, but the funny moments far outshine the others. It's a film noted for both its historical importance and also its many moments of pure mirth. 

DAVID: D+. Just because something is first doesn't mean it is good. While I'm a great admirer of Charlie Chaplin and enjoy Marie Dressler, this 1914 film, cinema's first feature-length silent comedy, is terrible. I'd refer to it as uneven, but that would give the movie credit for being good at times. Even the review on TCM's website isn't kind to the film stating it "has not aged gracefully, in cinematic terms." It also mentions "its crude staging and the actors' shameless mugging." It simply doesn't work as a feature-length film and fails to showcase the talents of Chaplin (who, incredibly, made 36 films, mostly shorts in 1914). It relies too much on slapstick - with an emphasis on slap as some of the actors spend a lot of time getting punched and kicked - with a predictable and boring plot. It's a historically-important film, but it's also a bad one. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
April 8–April 14 

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

CROSSFIRE (April 10, 7:15 am): TCM is honoring Robert Ryan on April 10, showing some of his finest films. Crossfire may be the best of them all. This 1947 film noir that deals with anti-Semitism is considered the first B movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The film stars the great Robert Mitchum with Robert Young outstanding as a police detective. But it is Ryan's powerful portrayal of a white supremacist/anti-Semite GI who kills a Jewish guy he and his buddies meet at a bar who steals the movie. 

THE SET-UP (April 10, 2:45 pm): Two years after Crossfire, Robert Ryan is Stoker Thompson, a 35-year-old washed-up boxer who is pitted against a young, promising prizefighter in what's supposed to be a set-up. Just a couple of problems: One, Stoker's manager Tiny (George Tobias) doesn't tell him it's a fix until the last round because he doesn't think his charge has a prayer. Second, when Stoker is told to take a dive, he refuses despite learning that Little Boy, a mobster, is going to lose a lot of money if he doesn't throw the bout. The film perfectly captures a blood-thirsty crowd loving the violence and brutality of the fight. While the filming of the bout is excellent, the post-fight in which Stocker has to face Little Boy's goons is even better.

ED’S BEST BETS:

LAWYER MAN (April 8, 6:00 am): A wonderful Pre-code film with William Powell as a smooth-talking lawyer corrupted by his success. Joan Blondell matches Powell scene for scene as his loyal and lovesick secretary. Must viewing for fans of Pre-Code films.

THREE STRANGERS (April 9, 2:20 am): Another one to record, but, again, it’s well worth it. Any film with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre is worth seeing. This one is much more so because of the addition of Geraldine Fitzgerald, and the plot: three strangers team up to purchase a sweepstakes ticket. Although it is the winning ticket, good fortune is not to be had; rather, they are undone by greed, paranoia, and plain bad luck. The weird screenplay by John Huston and Howard Koch guarantees fascinating viewing.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH (April 12, 4:30 pm)

ED: A. This is a wonderful animated film based on the best-selling and much loved book by Norman Juster, and brought to life by Chuck Jones and Abe Levitow. Milo (voiced by Butch Patrick from The Munsters) is a bored young man. One day he revives a large gift-wrapped box. A “phantom tollbooth” springs from the box, and as Milo enters it, he becomes an animated cartoon. Inside this animated world Milo finds a dog named Tock and is helped by the Whether Man and his sister, the Which. He comes to two kingdoms: Dictionopolis, ruled by King Azaz, where words are valued over all else; and Digitopolis, ruled by the Mathemagician, where numbers are more valuable than words. In order to unite these two kingdoms, Milo must go through the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the Princesses Rhyme and Reason. It’s told with the verve and imagination we have come to expect from Chuck Jones, and he never let’s us down. Not only is this a wonderful movie for children, it also appeals to the child in all of us. 

DAVID: C-. The appeal of this film is completely lost on me. I understand the nostalgia for Looney Tunes cartoons with Chuck Jones directing and Mel Blanc doing some of the voices. The movie bored me several times to the point I stopped paying attention, hoping Bugs Bunny would show up. There isn't anything fun in this film. The special effects on the non-animated parts are atrocious. Like the book, the movie has some clever names, but it's not enough to save it from being dumped on my bad movie scrapheap. The moralizing is as heavy as a wheelbarrow full of bricks and not at all subtle (a pencil firing the word "truth" to defeat villains, for example), the music is forgettable, and Butch Patrick is awful and terribly miscast. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
April 1–April 7

DAVID'S BEST BETS:

BORN TO KILL (April 2, 2:30 pm): A gritty, dark, violent film noir that smacks you in the face a few times. Lawrence Tierney, a legit tough guy who excelled in playing those characters, is in top form as Sam Wilde, a psychopath who comes across as charming one minute and an out-of-control killer at even a perceived slight in this 1947 film from RKO. Claire Trevor is great as a heartless, conniving gold-digger, who gives Tierney a run for his money. Veteran character actress Esther Howard is a scene-stealer as the owner of the boarding house in which Trevor's character lives while getting a quickie divorce in Reno. 

MILDRED PIERCE (April 5, 8:00 pm): Joan Crawford is at her finest in this 1945 noir-soaper. She plays the title character whose goal in life is to spoil her oldest daughter (Ann Blyth, who is magnificent in this role) no matter the sacrifice. And what does Mildred get in return? A self-absorbed, selfish snob of a daughter who looks down at her mother and what she had to do in order to give her everything she desires. The film is told in flashbacks and the ending is fantastic.

ED'S BEST BETS:

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (April 2, 8:00 pm): Alfred Hitchcock’s classic about an unwilling partnership between tennis pro Farley Granger and psychopath Robert Walker who meet accidentally on a train. Granger learns to his dismay that psychopaths do not joke, as his joking remark in not only taken seriously by Walker, but is used to seal a murder pact. If you haven’t seen this before, it’s a great thriller. If you have seen it, you’ll probably want to see it again.

RICHARD III (April 3, 1:15 am): This is probably the best of Olivier’s Shakespeare adaptations, though it’s not shown as often as Henry V and Hamlet. Olivier is in perfect form as the hunchbacked Richard, who murders his way to the throne, only to be defeated by Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth Field. He receives sterling support from Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, and Claire Bloom, among others. As with all of Olivier’s Shakespeare adaptations, it’s a must see.

WE STRONGLY AGREE ON ... ON THE WATERFRONT (April 3, 3:30 pm)

ED: If Elia Kazan did not make A Face in the Crowd, I would point to this film as his masterpiece. It is certainly his most personal film, aside from America, America, in that he is Terry Malloy and this is a thinly veiled defense of his naming names at the HUAC hearings. It's actually an answer to Kazan's former friend Arthur Miller, who split with Kazan over the testimony and based part of his play about those times, The Crucible, on Kazan. Miller was also supposed to write the screenplay. Everyone in the film is wonderful; even those in small supporting roles give the film a most realistic feel. To me the film has the feeling of a docudrama, it's so realistic. Screenwriter Budd Schulberg based his script on a series of articles written by Malcolm Johnson in 1948 for the New York Sun detailing the crime and corruption on the New York docks. This film is so good I actually liked Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy. (I'm not a Brando fan.) This film is a must for anyone that calls him or herself a film fanatic. In fact one can't use the term if he or she never viewed this film.

DAVID: There is so much to enjoy and admire about this 1954 film. The story is complex yet simple - the struggle facing Terry Malloy as to whether he should do the right thing or the smart thing, and the repercussions that decision has on him, his brother, other longshoremen and those living near the dock. The acting is brilliant with Marlon Brando at his best and incredible performances by the supporting cast, in particular, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. A Face in the Crowd is a groundbreaking film, but On the Waterfront is my favorite movie directed by Elia Kazan. The movie features two of cinema's greatest scenes; both toward the end. The first has a desperate Charley (Steiger) begging his brother Terry (Brando) to not testify against union boss Johnny Friendly (Cobb). Terry, a promising boxer years ago who threw a fight at the request of Charley because Friendly bet against him, is confused and disillusioned by always listening to his brother. This gives us the iconic quote, "I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am." The other is Terry, beaten and bloodied by Friendly's goons for testifying against the union boss, still standing with the other longshoreman, who finally side with Terry thus breaking the stranglehold Friendly has over them. The film takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions - anger, joy, hostility, frustration, sympathy, sadness and happiness. It's rare for a movie to not only do that, but do it exceptionally well.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
March 23–March 31
  
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THUNDER ROAD (March 27, 1:00 am): When it comes to film actors, there are few cooler with greater screen presence than Robert Mitchum. In this 1958 film, he's a fearless Korean War vet who makes the high-speed and dangerous car deliveries for his family's moonshine business. His family and the other moonshiners with illegal distilleries in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee are feeling the heat from not only the feds, but from a big-shot, big-money gangster who wants to buy them out at a fraction of their business profits. Those who resist wind up either having their business destroyed or are murdered. Mitchum, who co-wrote the story and produced the film, is outstanding in one of his greatest roles. He's got to make a final run even though he knows he's got little chance to succeed. It's an excellent film with tons of action. End notes: Mitchum wrote his son's character for Elvis Presley, who loved the script, but his manager, the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, killed the idea by asking for a ridiculous amount of money for Elvis to take the role. This was a common with Parker, who never wanted Elvis to act in serious films. Instead the role went to James Mitchum, Robert's son. Also of note, the title of one of Bruce Springsteen's best songs, Thunder Road, (originally called Wings for Wheels) came from this movie. Springsteen hadn't seen the film before writing the song, but saw a poster for the film in a theater lobby and thought it sounded cool.

HEAD (March 29, 3:30 am): This confusing but entertaining film features manufactured pop-band The Monkees doing their best to break their "Pre-Fab" mold. The trouble is when this film was released in late 1968, the band's popularity was at a low. The group desperately wanted to leave behind their teen-pop image and appeal to a cooler hippie audience. The problem is the band's core audience is dismissed and ridiculed in the film, and because The Monkees were squares with the in-crowd (despite some excellent songs), no one went to see this movie. And that's a shame. While the plot is simple enough, how it is handled is rather sophisticated even though the viewer has no idea at times what's happening - something that was intentionally done. The movie was written by the band members (who don't get writing credits) along with Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson; the latter directed the film. There are plenty of interesting cameos including Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston, Toni Basil and Ray Nitschke. The song's title track, The Porpoise (Theme from Head), is quite good. The band didn't last long after this film, and didn't get another song into the Top 20 until 1986 when the band reunited (sans Mike Nesmith). An end note: the band, Nicholson and Rafelson were confident the movie would be a hit and already had a marketing promo for the sequel. "From the people who gave you Head..."

ED’S BEST BETS:

A CANTERBURY TALE  (March 27, 10:30 am): This is director Michael Powell's wonderful celebration of the power of miracles and reminding us that they need not be enormous in order to be miracles. Three strangers: an English soldier (Dennis Price), an English "land girl" (Sheila Sim), and an American GI (nonprofessional actor Sergeant John Sweet) find themselves temporarily stranded in a small town in Kent waiting for the next train. The girl is attacked by the mysterious "glue man," a nefarious character that pours glue into the hair of women he catches with GIs. As the three begin to investigate the mystery, they explore the countryside, its history and its tales of pilgrims. As they walk the road to Canterbury Cathedral each experiences a blessing in the form of their fondest wish. This is a deeply spiritual film and one that will make its viewers rejoice in the outcome. .

THE CARABINEERS (March 29, 12:30 am): Jean-Luc Godard’s wonderful satire of war, its causes, and those that fight in it. Two bumpkins are cajoled into joining their country’s army by promises of riches. They plunder, rape, and murder for their king, only to return home to discover that a revolution has taken place and they are now branded as traitors. Told in the usual disjointed Godard style, but stay with this one: it’s well worth the investment of time.

WE DISAGREE ON ... A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (March 23, 1:15 pm)

DAVID: A. The first of the brilliant "Spaghetti Westerns" trilogy, starring Clint Eastwood as "The Man With No Name" (an undertaker calls him Joe, but his real name is never revealed) and directed by Sergio Leone, is a rip-off of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (also a great movie). What a great rip-off! Eastwood is a stranger who also happens to be an excellent gunslinger who comes to a small Mexican town that's in the middle of a long and bloody feud between the Rojo brothers and the Baxter family. Eastwood's character sees an opportunity for money - as he does in the two other Leone's Westerns in which he stars - by "working" as a gun-for-hire for both. The 1964 film is funny, clever, action-packed and tells a great story. Eastwood's character shows his soft side, a rarity in the trilogy, when he reunites a family forced to separate by the Rojos. Every gunfight scene is outstanding, but the final shoot-out in which Eastwood taunts Ramon Rojo to aim for his heart, he's wearing a steel-plated chest-protector, is legendary. This film changed the face of Westerns, proving a blood-and-guts hard-hitting style could be great, particularly in comparison to the often-bland, often-cliched tripe John Wayne starred in for most of his career.

ED: B. I really, really like this film. It's based on Kurosawa'a samurai drama, Yojimbo (when one considers Japanese culture, one realizes that the samurai movie is analogous to our western), and is responsible for making Clint Eastwood's international reputation. But it's the first of Leone's trilogy (the others being For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and - honestly speaking - is not up to the others either in content or style. It's just a notch below, and because of that, I have to give it a "B."


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
March 15–March 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

STROMBOLI (March 15, 8:00 pm): Robert Rossellini directed, produced and co-wrote this excellent 1950 film about a Lithuanian woman (the great Ingrid Bergman) who marries an Italian fisherman/prisoner of war to start a new life on his home island of Stromboli. The people of this middle-of-nowhere island don't take kindly to strangers. Bergman is outstanding in this Neorealism classic - most of the others in the movie are regular people who live on the island. There isn't a lot of dialogue yet Bergman and the natives accurately reflect a life of isolation, boredom, desperation and determination. As an aside, an affair between Rossellini and Bergman (both married to someone else at the time) during the making of this film led to a child out of wedlock. They would eventually marry, but the scandal resulted in the actress essentially blacklisted from Hollywood for about five years. 

THE GRADUATE (March 16, 2:15 am): 1967 is a landmark year in cinema. Films that year were more daring and adventurous such as Bonnie and ClydeIn the Heat of the NightPoint BlankBelle de JourClosely Watched Trains and The Graduate. The latter features Dustin Hoffman in his breakout role as Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate trying to figure out what to do with his life. One of his parents' friends, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), a bored and sexy suburban housewife, has something in mind for Benjamin. She carries on an affair that pushes the envelope of sexuality that was rarely seen before in an American film. It's funny, it's dramatic, it's got a great soundtrack from Simon and Garfunkel (even though it's three songs sung differently), and it challenges the conventional Hollywood movie fan. "Plastics."

ED’S BEST BETS:

STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (March 19, 8:45 am): This is a terrific and fast moving noir about a rising reporter Mike Ward (John McGuire) whose testimony at the trial of a cab driver (Elisha Cook, Jr.) accused of killing a café owner results in his conviction and death sentence. He argues with his noisy neighbor, which results in a surreal dream that he has murdered the neighbor. When he awakes, he finds that the neighbor is dead; killed in the same manner as the café owner, and now Mike is arrested as the prime suspect. He tells his fiancée Jane (Margaret Tallichet) that he remembers seeing a man who ran from him on the night he argued with the neighbor, and now Jane searches for that man in order to clear Mike. Will she find him? Is it Peter Lorre? There’s only one way to find out: tune in.

FORBIDDEN PLANET (March 20, 11:30 pm): It’s one of the best sci-fi films ever made, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, though it seems somewhat dated today. Leslie Nielsen leads a mission to planet Altair 4 to find out the fate of an expedition that landed there 20 years ago. What they discover is that one man (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter (Anne Francis) are left of the original expedition. Pidgeon leads them on a fantastic tour of a lost civilization that populated the planet years ago. Though way ahead of Earth in technology, they were suddenly wiped out one night while on the verge of their “greatest discovery.” Then when crewmembers begin dying mysteriously, a search is conducted for their killer. What they ultimately discover about a monster and the planet keeps us in thrall. Don’t let the Shakespeare connection throw you off; for those sci-fi fans, it’s a must. And for those that aren’t so sure, it’s still an intelligent movie nonetheless.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE QUIET MAN (March 17, 9:30 pm)

ED: A+. If ever a film could be said to be a paean poem, it is The Quiet Man, for it is John Ford’s loving tribute to Ireland, the home of his parents. (He was born in Maine.) John Wayne is somehow just right for the role of Sean Thornton, a boxer who comes to the village where he was born in Ireland to find peace, claim his homestead, and find a wife. He’s haunted by the past, having quit the ring after accidentally killing his last opponent. He catches the eye of Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), but her brother, Squire “Red” Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), the richest farmer in the area, has it in for Thornton. Sean’s homestead separates Danaher’s spread from that of the Widow Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick) and Danaher had his eye on it before Sean’s arrival. Now Danaher contrives to keep Sean and Mary Kate separate, and when they do marry, he does everything in his power to demean Thornton. He’s clearly scrapping for a fight, but Sean won’t fight because of the bad memories. But he must fight if he is to look manly in the eyes of his wife, and the village. It is Thornton’s dilemma that drives the film, and when he finally confronts his bullying brother-in-law, it’s a scene for the ages. O’Hara is clearly the star of the film. Her Mary Kate easily outshines both Wayne and McLaglen, no easy task since the film revolves around the enmity between them. Barry Fitzgerald also shines as Michaleen Flynn, the local matchmaker and cart driver who can’t seem to tell anyone a thing without getting a mug of stout from them first. It’s a wonderful film with the longest fight scene in history. This is what is meant by the term “film classic.”

DAVID: C-. During the past few weeks, I've recommended two John Wayne films - Red River and Stagecoach - with the caveat that I'm not a fan of the actor. Well, here's the payoff. The Quiet Man is one of the most overrated films in cinematic history. I'd add that it's Wayne's worst roles, but that wouldn't be correct. Wayne is far worse as Rooster Cogburn in the self-titled film and True Grit, and though I haven't seen it, his portrayal of Genghis Khan in The Conqueror is legendary among bad-film buffs. But back to The Quiet Man. In this film, Wayne plays Sean Thornton, an Irish boxer who killed a man - surprisingly not with his overacting - with his fists in the ring. He's back in Ireland to forget about his past and live on his family's farm. While he's at it, he grabs a woman to be his wife. The lucky lady is Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara). She's fiery, but Wayne can tame her or can he? Danaher's jackass of a brother (Victor McLaglen), who is a major property owner in town, tries to get in his way. Director John Ford attempts to inject humor into this film as the town conspires to make sure Thornton claims Danaher as his property against the will of her brother. One charming scene has Thornton dragging Danaher across a field full of animal dung. This was Ford's tribute to his native country. Apparently he's not a big fan of Ireland. The main storyline is Thornton doesn't want to fight because he killed a man, Danaher's brother is itching for a scrape with him and the townsfolk want to see violence. Thornton won't fight so everyone considers him the coward of the county (with apologies to Kenny Rogers). His wife won't, um, be intimate with him until he gets a dowry from her brother. She apparently believes she is property with a certain financial value. Score one for women's lib! Fighting seems to be the only way people in this film solve their differences. To make it more ridiculous, the two start to like each other as they exchange exaggerated punches. Mary Kate feels closer to her husband and her brother as the fight goes on and on and on. If I'm looking for a long entertaining fight scene I'll watch They Live. Much is made about The Quiet Man's romantic storyline. Love equally violence in this film. The scenery is beautiful, but the same can be said of a National Geographic documentary of the Irish countryside. And it's not like this is a quick watch. The film drags on for two hours and nine minutes.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
March 8–March 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ROME, OPEN CITY (March 8, 8:00 pm): The first, and best, of Roberto Rossellini's Neorealist Trilogy. The other two, Paisan and Germany Year Zero, air after it on TCM. Rome, Open City is about a small group of Italian resisters in the city under Nazi occupation in World War II. The 1945 film, made shortly after Italy was liberated by the Allies, shows the horror and devastation to the country with the Nazis in control and with the assistance of some Italians. This impressive film, which uses many nonprofessional actors (thus the neorealism), tells a gripping story of love, honor, betrayal, integrity and valor. The film’s ending is tragic and touching.

THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (March 14, 9:45 pm): This is another excellent film from 1945 about a Nazi occupation. But this movie, based on a true story, has the Nazis occupying a house in Manhattan in 1939 in which a spy ring is located. The movie, done with the cooperation of the FBI, is filmed in semi-documentary style and is quite interesting. Nazi recruiters ask a college student with a German heritage to be part of the spy ring. He goes to the FBI, who ask him to do it and report what is happening. The film is filled with suspense and drama with a plot twist you don't see coming. It has a few over-the-top moments in terms of praising the FBI, but it's definitely worth your time (it's only 88 minutes long) to watch it.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE RULES OF THE GAME (March 9, 3:30 am): Director Jean Renoir’s satiric farce of the manners of the French is a classic and one of the best films ever made. A group of wealthy aristocrats assemble for a weekend hunting party at a country chateau on the eve of World War II. Before long, however, the façade breaks down with the guests, hosts and servants involved in rather complex romantic problems. Renoir’s point is that beneath the polite and civilized façade lies a world of casual cruelty and betrayal, for we are all playing by the rules of society (“the rules of the game”), and those that don’t suffer the consequences. The film itself is beautifully made with every shot and frame composed with care and an eye to the overall story. Anyone interested in the history of cinema or just looking for a good movie should take this one in. You won’t be disappointed.

MADE IN THE U.S.A. (March 10, 3:00 am): I can sure pick ‘em, can’t I? Here’s another one you’ll need the DVR to record. This is a witty and wry sort of political noir essentially about people that behave as if they’re living in a movie. Self-appointed private eye (Anna Karina) is investigating the death of her former lover. As she progresses the bodies begin to pile up, awash in stage blood. In addition, Godard uses backdrops colored in vivid primary colors of blue, red and yellow that reaches out and grabs our attention. Neon signs and electronic news ribbons dominate their scenes. When Karina removes her trench coat she’s garbed in some kind of clingy dress in loud pop art colors, further hypnotizing the viewer. Notice the police chasing her: Godard, who loves cultural references (Where do you think Tarantino stole it from?), names his cops Paul Widmark, (director) Donald Siegel (Karina is named Paula Nelson, a reference to Siegel’s Baby Face Nelson starring Mickey Rooney), Robert McNamara, and Richard Nixon. (Also look for allusions to characters in American movies.) Watch Karina break down the fourth wall with comments such as, “You can fool the audience, but not me.” Ignore Godard’s pretentious Marxist rantings – and yes, the film does get lost in itself – but just sit back and concentrate on Karina. She combines a sexual intellectualism with a playful flirtiness that left me in complete awe, and totally in love. Don’t miss this one.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE CANTERVILLE GHOST (March 11, 9:15 am)

ED: A-. The Canterville Ghost is very loose adaptation of the Oscar Wilde story, updated to meet wartime audiences. Charles Laughton is his usual excellent self as the ghost condemned until the arrival of a distant descendant to his castle (Robert Young) gives him hope that he may be redeemed. Though the story is ever so slight – as if they bowdlerized Wilde – the sterling cast makes it an enjoyable outing. Margaret O’Brien turns in another strong performance as the castle’s less-than-thrilled heiress, and there is good chemistry between Laughton and Young. As I said, the film’s strongest point is the performance of Laughton who keeps the film centered on comedy rather than ghostly thrills. Jules Dassin, in one of his early directorial assignments, keeps the film moving along at a tight, steady pace, holding a firm rein on the actors to keep the film from meandering, and displaying some of the techniques he’ll put to good use in later films. Hey, it’s not one of the great cinematic masterpieces, BUT it is a film that both parents and their children can enjoy and one that will make them laugh. 

DAVID: C+. The premise of this 1944 movie is ridiculous. Charles Laughton plays a cowardly ghost who befriends a little girl and a relative (Margaret O'Brien). He is rescued from his doomed afterlife of attempting to haunt his family's castle by an American soldier (Robert Young), who is also a distant relative, during World War II. How do we know they're all related? They all have the same distinctive birthmark. Sounds like the plot of a bad episode of The Patty Duke Show. The casting saves this film from being a total bomb, but even that can't help this movie from rising above the very generous C+ I give it. Laughton hams it up even more than usual to save this film. But there are times when he goes over the top. Yeah, I know, Laughton over the top? O'Brien is cute and Young is charming. However, the plot is silly, and the attempts at being sentimental come across as forced. Also, the special effects look outdated even for the time.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
March 1–March 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

RED RIVER (March 1, 10:15 pm): As I previously mentioned, I'm not a John Wayne fan, but this film - with Montgomery Clift in a brilliant turn as his adopted son - is outstanding. Wayne is great as a "bad guy" whose tyrannical ways cause a mutiny among those working for him on the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail. Director Howard Hawks brings out the best in Wayne, who should get credit for not only agreeing to take on the role of the "heavy," but for doing it so well. Clift was one of Hollywood's brightest stars and was already an elite actor in this film, only his second movie.

LIMELIGHT (March 5, 12:00 am): One of Charlie Chaplin's last and greatest films, Limelight is tragic, touching, beautiful, captivating and funny. While Chaplin was the king of silent films, his "talkies" are my favorites. This 1952 film, Chaplin's final one made in the United States, has him playing Calvero, a washed-up clown looking to make a comeback. He meets Terry (Claire Bloom), a suicidal younger ballet dancer, and takes care of her while helping to revitalize her career. The two are wonderful together. The final scene is one for the ages with Calvero reuniting with his old partner (played by Buster Keaton) on stage making a comeback that runs the gambit of emotions. It's the only film to include Chaplin and Keaton, and one to not miss.

ED’S BEST BETS:

MONSIEUR VERDOUX (March 1, 8:00 pm): Charlie Chaplin undergoes a brilliant change of pace in this black comedy about a Parisian Bluebeard who marries and murders his wives for their money to support his family. When he’s caught and tried, he denounces a hypocritical society that see mass killing in a world war as acceptable, but punishes him for only killing a few people. The film is years ahead of its time and filled with wry humor. Watch for the scene between Chaplin and Martha Raye.

THE TRAIN (March 2, 2:00 am): Burt Lancaster and Paul Schofield are at their very best in this John Frankenheimer film about a Nazi colonel trying to ship the paintings of France to Germany and the Resistance leader determined to stop him at all costs. Also staring Michael Simon, Albert Remy, Wolfgang Preiss, Charles Millot, Jacques Marin, and Jeanne Moreau in a small but pivotal role. There is never a dull moment to catch your breath in this action classic.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE STORY OF G.I. JOE (March 1, 6:00 pm)

ED: A. For those who have not yet seen this film, it is one the best war movies ever made. The Story of G.I. Joe follows the exploits of Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith) as he writes of the fortunes of Company C of the 18th Infantry during their campaign in North Africa and Italy. He observes the stress combat takes on their minds – particularly during the battle of Cassino. He also befriends a few of the company, including Lieutenant Walker (Robert Mitchum), who rises to Captain; Sergeant Warnicki (Freddie Steele) who wants nothing more than to find a phonograph on which to play a record of his son’s voice sent from back home; and Private Dondaro (Wally Cassell), who fantasized constantly about women to the point of even carrying around a bottle of perfume that he can sniff occasionally. One thing Pyle notes and the film makes clear is that the men live continually with the knowledge that they might not make it home. Ironically, Pyle never made it home, cut down by a Japanese machine gun on the island of Ie Shima in 1945. William Wellman directs the film both as a tribute to Pyle, who he met during the war, and to the men Pyle writes about for the audience back home. It’s the grittiness of this story about the lives and deaths of ordinary infantrymen that sets this movie apart from others. The strongpoint is its subtlety: character we get to know suddenly disappear from the screen without so much as a whimper. Such is war. Critic James Agee noted that: "With a slight shift of time and scene, men whose faces have become familiar simply aren't around any more. The fact is not commented on or in any way pointed; their absence merely creates its gradual vacuum and realization in the pit of the stomach. Things which seem at first tiresome, then to have become too much of a running gag, like the lascivious tongue-clacking of the professional stallion among the soldiers (Cassell) or the Sergeant's continual effort to play the record of his son's voice, are allowed to run their risks without tip-off or apology. In the course of many repetitions they take on full obsessional power and do as much as anything could do to communicate the terrific weight of time, fatigue, and half-craziness which the picture is trying so successfully to make you live through." It was Dwight Eisenhower’s favorite war film, a recommendation that should go a long way. 

DAVID: C+. In theory, I should love this movie. It's a based-on-a-true-story film of Ernie Pyle, a journalist covering World War II. I've been a newspaper reporter for nearly 25 years and love films about journalists. One of my favorite actors, Robert Mitchum, has a prominent role in the movie, playing Lieutenant/Captain Walker. And it's a war film about the humanity and insecurities of soldiers, among my favorite film subjects. That's nice in theory. While this film is considered by many critics to be among the best movies made about war, I don't share their opinion. There are some good moments in the movie, most involving Mitchum, but I found it plodding and somewhat cliché. An example of being cliché is the overuse of a puppy, the company’s “mascot,” who cries and whimpers during sad scenes to let the audience know this is a sad part of the film. For the most part, the casting is fine (with several legitimate soldiers playing soldiers), but the selection of Burgess Meredith as Pyle was a poor decision. He brings nothing to the film though that could be something that was done purposely as Pyle made the soldiers the center of his articles, and was a modest person. Whether that's the reason or not, it takes away from the overall film as Meredith makes Pyle seem like a boring cheerleader. Also, the editing toward the end of the film is choppy, a surprise to me as William A. Wellman, who directed the film, was one of the best and typically wouldn't let something like that get into the finished product. The movie isn't awful, but it failed to keep my attention, which is difficult because when I'm watching a film by myself I am completely focused on it. I found my eyes wandering away from this film a number of times.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 23–February 28

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (February 24, 2:30 am): Largely fictional (after all, Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay) but compelling account of an American (played by Brad Davis, who died seven years after the release of this 1978 film) caught attempting to smuggle hashish out of Turkey. He ends up in a Turkish prison in which the inmates suffer through a horrific existence. It's brutal, it's violent, it's exciting, filled with action and tension, and an excellent story of how prisoners relate to each other. If you're looking for historical accuracy, you're not going to find it here. But if you're interested in an excellent film that is based on a true story, this is one you shouldn't miss. Also, the soundtrack, particularly the movie's theme, by disco-synthesizer writer/producer Giorgio Moroder is catchy.

DODSWORTH (February 26, 8:00 pm): This 1936 film is one of the greatest film you haven't seen. If you have seen it, you know what I mean. Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is a rich automobile manufacturer who loves his job, but is convinced to retire early by his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), a vain woman who is fearful of growing old. She wants to see the world, particularly Europe, lead an exciting life. Sam is a regular guy who wants to please his wife. Fran quickly grows bored of Sam and spends most of her time with other men. She eventually dumps him for a European noble, leaving Sam to mope around Italy, where he sees a divorcee (Mary Astor), who he first met while traveling on the Queen Mary to Europe. The two fall in love, but Fran wants to reconcile. I won't ruin the ending. Everything works exceptionally well in this film. The acting is top-notch (besides the three leads, David Niven is great in a smaller role in one of his earliest films, and Maria Ouspenskaya as a baroness is a scene-stealer), the story is first-rate, and with William Wyler as the director, the movie is filmed and paced perfectly.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T (February 23, 8:00 am): A great evocation of a child’s nightmare, written by the great Dr. Seuss himself. Tommy Rettig (who later went on to star in TV’s Lassie) dreams he is sent to a music school run by the mad Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conreid), whose dream is to have 500 pupils play with 5,000 fingers on the world’s largest piano, which happens to be his. Tommy aided by Peter Lynd Hayes, fights two men connected by their beards and builds a bomb that absorbs sounds right out of the air. If you remember this classic as a child, you’ll want to see it again. If you haven’t yet seen this, then it’s must viewing.

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (February 28, 9:15 am): In this reviewer’s opinion, this s not only the best film to come from Ealing Studios, but possibly the sharpest satire ever filmed. Alec Guinness is Sidney Stratton, a monomaniacal scientist who will take the lowliest job offered – provided it’s at a textile plant, where he can get into the laboratory. Why? So he can perfect his idea: a suit that never wears out ad never needs cleaning. He actually pulls it off, initially to the excitement of everyone – until they realize this invention would end up putting them all out of business. With sterling support by the deliciously feline, beautiful Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough, and Ernest Thesiger as the “Mister Big” of the textile industry. They’ve never been made any better.

WE DISAGREE ON ... WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (February 25, 8:00 pm)

ED: A++. There are few post-1985 American films I would consider essential. This is one of them. It’s a wild joyride through a world where seemingly nothing makes sense unless we adjust ourselves to its world. Bob Hoskins is Eddie Valiant, a Standard Issue, dyed-in-the-wool Film Noir detective. He doesn’t like toons, but he likes money more, so he’s hired by studio chief Marvin Acme to look into allegations that studio star Roger Rabbit’s wife Jessica is playing pattycake with someone else. But when Acme is murdered, Roger is framed and Hoskins has a new client. Go from there into the wildest scenario since Porky in Wackyland, as Hoskins meets a virtual Who’s Who of cartoon characters as he works to prove Roger’s innocence. The melding of animation with live action is seamless, and after a while we begin to believe along with Eddie Valiant that the toons are real. It’s Hoskins who makes the movie so enjoyable, as he seems to be having the time of his life in Toontown. Another highlight is Kathleen Turner as the voice of Jessica Rabbit, who tells Valiant, “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.” It helps, of course, if you like animation to start, but if you haven’t yet seen this masterpiece, by all means tune in and discover the time when cartoon were made for adults instead of children. 

DAVID: C+. I love cartoons, particularly Warner Brothers classics with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Sylvester. When Who Framed Roger Rabbit hit the theaters in 1988, I was genuinely excited to see the film. This was likely to be the first and last time anyone would see Bugs and Mickey Mouse in a scene together, Daffy and Donald Duck interacting as well as dozens of other legendary cartoon characters from various cartoon studios together in one movie. While technology today makes interactions between people and cartoon characters look legitimate, it wasn't easy back in 1988. Yeah, Gene Kelly danced with Jerry Mouse in 1945's Anchors Aweigh and there were other movies with somewhat similar scenes, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit made it look authentic and effortless that you believed the interactions between the people and 'toons are real. Also, Bob Hoskins was an excellent "post-film-noir" actor (he announced his retirement last year because he has Parkinson's disease) though I greatly prefer his performance in Mona Lisa made two years prior to this film. Hoskins is solid in Roger Rabbit as Eddie Valiant and seeing the characters from the different studios together is cool. But, unfortunately, that's all that is good about this film. The plot is supposed to be outrageous and funny. I found it forced and contrived. It relies too greatly on the 'toon cameos and the ability to have them interact with people. The plot has some interesting twists, but in an effort to be clever, it comes across as ridiculous at times. The entertainment value of the film is severely damaged by its over-reliability on the old cartoon characters and lack of focus. The plot is predictable. There's a deadline to find the will of the murdered owner of Toontown or else an evil character (played by Christopher Lloyd) will take over the town and turn it into a money-making roadway. What do you think happens? The technology used to make the film is excellent. Unfortunately, the quality and plot of the movie doesn't come close to matching the exceptional technology.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 15–February 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BLOW-UP (February 17,1:30 am): A sexy, sophisticated film about a "Swinging London" photographer (David Hemmings), who believes he took pictures of a murder. But did he? Michelangelo Antonioni does a magnificent job directing his first English-language film, filled with great suspense and a fascinating plot. The 1966 film is a visual delight, perfectly capturing the time and location while not compromising the quality of the story. On top of that, we get a memorable cameo by the Yardbirds (the Jeff Beck/Jimmy Page version) at a club with Beck doing his best Pete Townshend impersonation smashing a guitar on stage.

STAGECOACH (February 21, 1:45 pm): I'm not a fan of John Wayne, but he made some great films. Except for The Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceStagecoach is Wayne's finest movie. This 1939 Western, directed by the legendary John Ford, is about a group of people - including a prostitute, an alcoholic doctor, a pregnant woman, a gambler, and a bank embezzler  - traveling by stagecoach in 1880 through the southwest through hostile Apache territory. Along the way, they pick up the notorious Ringo Kid (Wayne), who helps fend off the Indians. The ensemble cast that also features Claire Trevor, John Carradine and legendary character actor Donald Meek is the strong-point of this film with each actor getting enough screen time so viewers can understand and appreciate them. Wayne is perfectly cast as the young gun who's wrongfully accused, but fast with a gun and charming despite being rough around the edges. This was Ford's first talkie Western and one of his best. As with nearly all of Ford's films, the scenery in Stagecoach is breathtaking at times. It's one of the best Westerns ever made.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (February 17, 12:15 pm): A wonderful look at the life of an unscrupulous producer, played by Kirk Douglas, and the people he’s taken advantage of over the years as he’s built his empire. He’s now at a crisis and needs the very people he has used and abused in the past. A great cast provides sterling support to Douglas, including Gloria Grahame, Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon, and Barry Sullivan. But it’s Lana Turner as an actress Douglas uses and discards, and Gilbert Roland as a washed up actor/Romeo who truly stand out among the rest. It’s entertaining and compelling.

THE GREAT MCGINTY (February 20, 4:15 am): As I’ve said before, TCM’s time slots for great movies such as this are why TiVos are so popular. Talented writer Preston Sturges made his directorial debut with this hilarious satire on the political system, following the fortunes of Brian Donlevy as he rises from Skid Row bum to being elected governor of the state. Aiding him in his quest is Akim Tamiroff as the political boss and Sturges regular William Demarest. It’s one of the funniest films about our political system and way around honesty ever made.

WE DISAGREE ON ... FATHER OF THE BRIDE (February 17, 2:15 pm)

ED: A. Father of the Bride is a lovely, heart-warming comedy directed by Vincente Minnelli, who excelled at this type of warm family comedy. Give him a good cast and he'll take it from there. It tells the story of how the serene Banks household, led by patriarch Stanley (Spencer Tracy at his most genial is perfect) and matriarch Ellie (Joan Bennett also in a perfect performance), is turned upside down when daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) announces at the dinner table that she's getting married to her suitor, Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor). The movie now centers on Tracy and the trials and tribulations he must go through in order to pull this off. He's hoping for a small, intimate wedding, but is floored that Ellie, Kay, Bradley, and his parents have decided on a lavish - and expensive - bash. At first he's inclined to veto the decision, but then Ellie tells him that, as they never has a church wedding, she wants this very thing for Kay. Stanley relents and soon is overwhelmed by the planning and expense. Tracy is perfect as the confused, flummoxed father who receives a new surprise that adds to his gray hair at every turn. Tracy's acting genius is, that instead of dominating the film, he allows all the actions to swirl around him while he tries to figure everything out. He makes us believe both in him and that he will eventually figure everything out and the wedding will go off without a hitch. Without this, the film fails. Of course, a hitch occurs (it has to in a comedy such as this), but Tracy rallies everyone together to give his daughter the best day of her life. Two scenes to watch for: Tracy's meeting with his daughter's fiancée, when he realizes that Kay will be provided for in the marriage; and the chaos in the Banks household as final preparations are made. Get the popcorn, sit down, and watch one of the funniest and most heartwarming films of any age.

DAVID: B-. As you can tell by my grade, I don't dislike this film. But there's nothing special about it. It's a lighthearted comedy - and a bit too sentimental - filled with clichés about daddy's little girl growing up and getting ready for marriage. While he was an extraordinary dramatic actor, Spencer Tracy rarely impressed me in comedies. At least Katharine Hepburn doesn't play his wife in this film. The storyline is predictable and unimaginative. The movie is horribly dated. Tracy spends most of the movie flummoxed and impatient as the father who has to foot the bill for the expensive wedding of his daughter. Tracy wants his daughter to be a tomboy and not grow up. The daughter is Elizabeth Taylor in 1950. The 18-year-old Liz is about as far removed from being a tomboy as possible. It's a cute movie, perhaps too cute as it often comes across as sentimental. But you could certainly spend 92 minutes of your time watching something a lot less entertaining than this movie.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
February 8–February 14 
  
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SUNRISE (February 8, 6 am): A visually impressive silent film, masterfully directed by F.W. Murnau, about a married man (George O'Brien) from the country who falls hard for a female seductress from the city (Margaret Livingston). He's convinced he must go with the woman and leave - and kill - his adoring wife (Janet Gaynor). The cinematography was ahead of time as its mobile in an era  when cameras didn't move much and heavily influenced filmmakers who followed. The plot isn't terribly complex, but the movie is compelling and one of the most interesting silent films made.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (February 12, 6:15 am): Of the numerous Hunchback films, including two animated versions, this is clearly the best. Charles Laughton is brilliant as Quasimodo, the hunchback bell-ringer at the Notre Dame cathedral, in this 1939 adaption of the classic book. The story is familiar yet Laughton is so exceptional that despite knowing what's going to happen, you can't help but enjoy a master at his craft. Laughton gave cinephiles many wonderful performances and this role ranks among his finest. Also of note is Maureen O'Hara's Esmeralda, the free-spirited gypsy who is loved by Quasimondo, and Cedric Hardwicke as the deliciously-evil Frollo. Quasimondo's rescue of Esmeralda from the gallows and screaming "sanctuary" as he protects her in the church is an iconic moment in cinematic history.

ED’S BEST BETS:

ZORBA THE GREEK (February 10, 10:45 pm): Anthony Quinn has a field day as a lusty Greek peasant who teaches British student Alan Bates all about life. The beautiful Irene Papas co-stars in a stunning performance as a widow who is seduced by Bates. Quinn was one of the great slob actors. Tune this in and see why.

CITIZEN KANE (February 12, 8:00 pm): Yeah, yeah, I know. You’ve all seen this before, so why make note of it? Well, there are some out there reading this who have not seen it and it's to them I aim this message. This is one of the greatest films ever made, do doubt about it. And it deserves to be seen at least once. Just forget the hype and analysis and watch it for its great story alone. Then read the analysis.

WE DISAGREE ON ... VIVA ZAPATA! (February 9, 8:00 pm)

ED: A. I freely admit that I’m a mark for an Elia Kazan film; and why not? His films are head and shoulders above other directors of the period. Viva Zapata! is no different. That he should even undertake this project about a Mexican revolutionary during the height of the anti-Communist hysteria that shrouded the country was in itself almost a heroic achievement. Kazan obtained the services of none other than John Steinbeck to write the screenplay, basing it on his book about Zapata. Shot on location in Texas, the film features wonderful cinematography, an excellent script, and strong performance all around. Like him or not, Brando’s performance as Zapata earned him an Oscar nomination (he lost to Gary Cooper for High Noon), and Anthony Quinn won a Best Supporting Oscar for his role as Zapata’s brother, Eufemio. Seen today in the politically correct times we may wince at the sight of Brando playing a Mexican, but he is marvelous in the role. The only Mexican actor would could take on the role at the time was Pedro Armendariz, and realistically, he had nowhere near the box office clout that Brando enjoyed, especially coming off his performance in Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire. So just sit back and enjoy, for there is plenty there to enjoy. Kazan has the rare ability of combining intelligent screenplays with temperamental actors to get the right harmony of style. Kazan paints a most convincing portrait of a revolutionary who has achieved mythical status by simply working on the basic emotions of aggression, anger, fear, ignorance, and wisdom, which gives the film a passion that thoroughly entrances its audience. It’s a classic for the ages. 

DAVID: C+. With my disagreement two weeks in a row on a film directed by Elia Kazan - East of Eden last week - readers could logically believe I'm not a fan of his work. But that's not true. On the Waterfront and A Face in a Crowd are two of the finest movies ever made. And even though I am lukewarm to Viva Zapata! I admire the ambitious effort put forth to make this film. Kazan as the director, a screenplay by John Steinbeck, and Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn as the lead actors give this film an instant pedigree. The real disappointment is the final product falls far short of that pedigree. The dialogue relies too much on psychological mumbo-jumbo - "a strong people is the only way to freedom" and "cut off the head of the snake and the body will die" - and many scenes are dull. This attempt to "Hollywood" a based-on-a-true story of Mexican revolutionaries doesn't work. Brando is all right even though he OD's a bit on "method acting" with Zapata brooding as if he's a Mexican Stanley Kowalski. Quinn, who is Mexican, is solid, but there's not a lot of good material in the film. The movie tries to cram the history of Zapata and the Mexican revolution into a film that's under two hours. It glosses over or skips important parts of his life and wastes time with issues that aren’t interesting.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 1–February 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

LITTLE CAESAR (February 1, 9:00 am): This 1931 Pre-code gem from Warners made a major movie star out of Edward G. Robinson. As Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello, a small-time hood who ruthlessly becomes a mob boss in Chicago, Robinson makes the character one of cinema's greatest anti-hero. Eddie G. plays Rico, also known as Little Caesar, with incredible conviction and passion. Only James Cagney in Public Enemy portrays a Prohibition gangster on par with Robinson in Little Caesar. Rico is cold-blooded, single-minded and determined to take control of the Chicago rackets, not caring who or what gets in his way. The final scene in the gutter after Rico is gunned down and says, "Mother of Mercy! Is this the end of Rico?" is a classic.

THE DEER HUNTER (February 7, 1:00 am): Ever since I first saw The Deer Hunter in the theater in 1978 at the age of 11, I have been captivated by this brilliant film. To this day, it remains one of my favorite movies. Mike (Robert DeNiro), Steve (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) are three western Pennsylvania steelworkers who goes to fight in Vietnam during the war. The movie, a shade over three hours long, takes its time showing us what life is like for the three leads, their friends and families. Their lives are centered on working at the mills (which were closing around the time of this film's release at a staggering level, destroying the economies of towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia) and escaping reality by hunting deer. The three are gung-ho to fight in Vietnam, but quickly learn the horrors of the war. The film is shocking, hard-hitting, tragic and captivating. The actors are fantastic and the film is impressive in how it captures the authenticity of living in a steel town and attempting to survive during the Vietnam War. It's a film you must see and one that is so good that you'll want to watch it again and again.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (February 6, 12:30 am): In my opinion this is the greatest horror film ever made, though the way James Whale directs it, it could also be seen as a black comedy. One of the decisions he made – to have the monster speak – was derided at the time and for a while later, but now is rightly regarded as a brilliant move on Whale’s part. It gives the monster a touch of humanity and frees him, for a time at least, from merely becoming the automaton he was to become in later films. It's also one of the rare times where the sequel surpasses the original.

I COMPAGNI – THE ORGANIZER (February 7, 5:30 pm.): A great film concerning the plight of exploited textile workers in Turin, Italy at the turn of the century and their fight for better working conditions. Far from depressing, it is a film with heart and humor with a great performance by Marcello Mastroianni. As it’s rarely shown in this country, tune it in.

WE DISAGREE ON ... EAST OF EDEN (February 4, 6:30 am)

ED: A. Made in 1954, released in 1955, when Elia Kazan was at the height of his creative powers, East of Eden is a finely nuanced film, a rough retelling, as it were, of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, embodied in the Trask brothers. Aron (Richard Davalos) is Abel, the good son, favored by his father, while Cal (James Dean) represents Cain, uncomfortable in his own skin and constantly fidgeting. The family patriarch, Adam (in a brilliant performance by Raymond Massey) is a stern, humorless taskmaster. Kazan captures the family dynamic perfectly, highlighting the contrast between the sons and Cal and his father. Nothing escapes Kazan’s eye, as notice the cinematography, with its dreamy shots of the surrounding countryside, and even a romantic shot of a freight train. This is the American Eden circa 1917, but Dean’s performance makes it feel much later. His heartbreaking rendition of Cal, consumed by jealousy, is probably the best performance of his short career. Richard Davalos, perfect as the innocent Aron; Jo Van Fleet’s wonderful portrayal of their mother. It all blends together under Kazan’s skilled guidance into a masterpiece of cinematic drama. Francois Truffaut praised the film and Dean in particular in Cahiers du Cinema, by noting “East of Eden is the first film to give us a Baudelairean hero, fascinated by vice and honor, who can embody both love and hate at the same time.” That Kazan can take the last third of Steinbeck’s novel and transform it into a gripping family drama only gives further testament to his peculiar genius.

DAVID: C. I've never understood the appeal of James Dean during his short cinematic career. His characters are all the same - mad at the world for some flimsy reason, or no reason at all. Dean broods and his characters often have trouble functioning because of their internal turmoil angst. Most critics love his performances in the three credited films he did: this 1955 film debut, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. But to me, Dean is a poor man's Montgomery Clift. Both are "method" actors, but Clift knew how to get the most out of nearly all his roles. Dean always went over the top to the point I had no idea why his characters acted the way they did. Rebel is the perfect example of that. Maybe Dean would have grown as an actor if he hadn't died so young. But I can only judge him based on what he did during his brief film career. East of Eden is his best performance, and I don't think much of it. Imagine my opinion of Giant - and if Ed gives it an excellent grade the next time it airs on TCM, you won't have to imagine. There is some indication as to why Dean's character, Cal, is troubled in East of Eden. His father Adam isn't an affectionate man and he clearly favors Aron, Cal's brother, in an obvious set-up of the Cain and Abel Biblical tale. If you can't figure it out by the name of the film, the names of the characters Cal (Cain) and Aron (Abel) provide assistance. If you still don't get it, their father's name is Adam. The name of their mother, who Adam tells his son is dead, is Kate, the only one without a name connected to the Old Testament story. She isn't dead. She runs a whorehouse in town. I guess the snake got to Kate. Unlike the Bible story, Cal doesn't kill his brother. He is troubled, but a nice guy who is misunderstood. (Aren't we all?) Dad is a vegetable farmer who loses everything when his plans for a long-hauling veggie business goes bust. Cal gets into the bean business and is a huge success because of World War II profits. He wants to give the money to Pops in an attempt to buy his love. But Adam isn't interested because the money came as a result of the war. Cal broods, brings Aron to see the mother he was told was dead, Aron broods, enlists in the military and Adam suffers a heart attack - or a broken heart. I'm a fan of many Elia Kazan films, but he really misses the mark with this one. The pacing is painfully slow and dull. The cinematography is nice, but doesn't save this movie from being a snoozer. As Bosley Crowther, The New York Times' main film critic of the era, wrote in his review, "The director gets more into this picture with the scenery than with the characters. For the stubborn fact is that the people who move about in this film are not sufficiently well established to give point to the anguish through which they go, and the demonstrations of their torment are perceptibly stylized and grotesque." He also calls Dean's performance "a mass of histrionic gingerbread." That last one is a little harsh - to gingerbread.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 23–January 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (January 29, 7:45 am): When he wanted, Frank Sinatra was an excellent actor. My favorite Sinatra films are The Manchurian CandidateSuddenly and this 1955 film. In The Man With the Golden Arm, directed by Otto Preminger, Sinatra's character, Frankie Machine, is a hardcore heroin addict who just got out of jail. Through circumstances all too familiar to addicts, he gets hooked again, largely thanks to a drug dealer who wants Frankie to return to his profession as an expert card in high-stakes illegal games. The movie is dark, authentic and gripping. This one pulls no punches leading it to not get a rating from the Motion Picture Association of America because it violates the Hays Code. For a film that is 58 years old, it holds up remarkably well.

THE SEVEN-YEAR ITCH (January 29, 9:45 am): I don't find Marilyn Monroe to be sexy and have never understood her appeal. That is with one notable exception - this 1955 film in which Monroe is the ultimate sex kitten in her most entertaining performance. It's funny, charming and entertaining. Monroe, who's character is never named, plays an actress living in a New York City apartment in the sweltering heat. Her neighbor, played by Tommy Ewell (in easily his most famous role), is a book editor who spends a lot of time imagining things. He's proofing a book about how husbands get the urge to cheat seven years into their marriage, thus the title of the movie. He happens to be married seven years and his wife and son are summering in Maine to get away from the city heat. The interaction between Monroe and Ewell is excellent and definitely worth watching.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE LADY VANISHES (January 27, 9:30 pm): It’s Hitchcock’s last triumph in England before he left for America. And it is quite a triumph at that. An elderly lady disappears while on train ride. Young Margaret Lockwood is determined to find her. It never lets up for one minute while keeping us on the edge of our seats. Look for Paul Lukas in a great performance as the villain.

THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (January 29, 10:00 pm): No one made wittier and intelligent comedies better than Ealing Studios. This may be their best. Alec Guinness is a timid bank clerk. For the last twenty years he has accompanied shipment of gold bullion. He has a scheme to commit the perfect robbery ad enlists newfound friend Stanley Holloway to help him pull it off.  And they almost get away with it in this wonderful comedy. Look for Audrey Hepburn in a minor role at the beginning.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE NANNY (January 23, 12:00 pm)

ED: B-. Following the success of Baby Jane, Bette Davis’s career was rejuvenated as a sort of “Queen of the Horror Genre.” But she was not the original choice for the movie. No, believe it or not, Greer Garson was the one originally approached by producers to take the part, but she declined, saying it wouldn’t be good for her career. So the producers turned to Bette, who was known to accept almost any part. And The Nanny is right in keeping with that career path. When we sit down to watch a movie, our first priority is to be entertained, and this film is certainly that. Produced by the folks at Hammer with a script by vaunted horror/sci-fi/thriller screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, The Nanny is a story of a 10-year old boy (William Dix) fresh out of a home for disturbed children. He was sent there for ostensibly drowning his little sister. Shortly after arriving he’s back under the microscope as his mother (Wendy Craig) suffers food poisoning and is sent to the hospital. Everyone suspects little Joey, given his track record. Only Joey says he’s not the culprit. In fact, according to him, he didn’t drown little sister. No, it’s his nanny who’s the real killer. And guess who plays the nanny? Why, Bette, of course. Joey’s Aunt Pen (Jill Bennett) arrives to take care of him and discovers the grisly truth. Is The Nanny important? No. But is it fun? . . .

DAVID: D+. To answer Ed's last question, no, this film is not fun. It's easy to dismiss The Nanny as yet another awful psycho-biddy film starring a fading Bette Davis doing all she can to somehow stay in the limelight and make a few bucks. But this film is so much worse than that. I have to laugh when I read reviews that refer to this movie as complex psychological horror analyzing it as if it was some sort of classic. What film were they watching? There is absolutely nothing entertaining or redeeming about this film. As I wrote in my critique of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? I like B-movies. Plenty of them are enjoyable in their unique way. However, like Baby Jane, this one is terrible, predictable, the dialogue is one dimensional, and William Dix, who plays Joey, a 10-year-old boy, is a better actor than Davis. Of course, Nanny is a psychopathic killer, but among the characters in the film, only Joey and his aunt are able to figure out the obvious. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 15–January 22
   
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

NOTORIOUS (January 18, 4:00 pm): The film has everything needed to be a classic. Great director (Alfred Hitchcock) - check. Incredibly talented lead actors (Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains) - check. Excellent, detailed plot full of suspense - check. One of Hitchcock's best with Grant as a U.S. agent who recruits Bergman, the daughter of a Nazi spy, to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring in Brazil, headed by Rains, a friend of her father. The problem is Grant and Bergman fall in love. Can't blame either of them. It's Hitch so it's filled with great twists and turns, lots of suspense and worth seeing over and over again.

TO SIR, WITH LOVE (January 21, 5:30 pm): A 1967 JD film with Sidney Poitier teaching at a poor predominantly white high school on the East End of London to make ends meet. Poitier has to deal with racism as well as try to reach kids who are doomed to lives of poverty, violence and misery. It's a bit unrealistic with Poitier impacting the lives of nearly every kid, teaching them about respect, and being honorable. But Poitier is wonderful and many of the kids, who are virtual unknowns, put in solid performances. The title song is a classic, sung by Lulu, who plays one of the students.

ED’S BEST BETS:

A MAN’S CASTLE (January 16, 8:00 pm): A great Pre-code romance of sorts with Spencer Tracy as an unemployed Hoovertown shanty tough guy and Loretta Young as a penniless showgirl who moves in with Tracy, becomes pregnant by Tracy, and sticks it out even when Tracy turns to crime. We know it’s Pre-code because they never marry. It’s strong stuff and worth your time.

THE PHANTOM OF CRESTWOOD (January 19, 7:30 am): I love Old Dark House mysteries and this is one of the best. Blackmailer Karen Morely invites some previous victims to a party in order to extort even more money. But things go wrong when one of them murders her. So who done it? Gangster Ricardo Cortez turns detective in order to prove to the cops that it wasn’t him.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MOBY DICK (January 19, 3:00 pm)

ED: A+. One of the most difficult things for a screenwriter, producer, and director is to take a classic novel more concerned with thought and the inner life of its characters than the action and properly translate it for the screen. Luckily, screenwriter John Huston (who also directed) had Ray Bradbury for a partner. Between the two of them, they got it right, balancing the action of the novel with the mood displayed by its leading characters. Gregory Peck, an actor I’m normally not fond of, is superb as Captain Ahab, embodying the character as well as adding a touch of dignity to his derangement. Also note Huston’s casting of the other parts, carefully capturing the spirit of the novel with men that actually look as if they‘ve been to sea. As for the important second-unit, it was in the capable hands of Freddie Francis, one of the best at this line of work. Richard Basehart is wonderful as Ishmael, and Leo Genn most effective in his scenes as Starbuck. This is a film I can see numerable times and still want to see again.

DAVID: C+Ed is correct that turning a great novel, particularly when the two main characters struggle with internal conflicts (and one of them happens to be a whale), into a great movie is a huge challenge. It can be done, and if anyone is going to succeed I'd take my chances with John Huston as the director and Gregory Peck as the lead actor. The effort is there, but making this classic book into a classic film falls considerably short of their lofty goal. The dialogue is too stilted and wooden (no pun intended); the "whale" sometimes looks legitimate and at other times looks like Land Shark from Saturday Night Live; and while filmed in Technicolor, the color of the movie isn't sharp. It's certainly not an awful movie though it is overwrought at times. I've seen it once, not that long ago, and that was plenty for me.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
January 8–January 14 

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (January 11, 10:45 am): A classic gritty Warner Brothers film about two wildcat truck-driving brothers, George Raft (Joe, the lead) and Humphrey Bogart as his younger brother, Paul, who loses his right arm after falling asleep at the wheel and crashing. Bogart provides strong support in the smaller role, but the stars of this 1940 film are Raft and Ida Lupino, who plays the conniving wife of a trucking executive (Alan Hale Sr., the Skipper's dad, in one of his best performances). Lupino kills her husband, takes over his business and bring in Raft as her partner while trying to seduce him. She tries to pin the murder on Raft, but I'm not giving anything away by writing it doesn't work when all is said and done. There's not a lot of action scenes for a film about a couple of truck drivers, but the storyline is solid, the dialogue is authentic and the acting is excellent.  

BULLITT (January 13, 6:00 pm): I'm not a huge Steve McQueen fan, but this is not only his finest performance, but an excellent film. Initially, the plot is a bit confusing, but comes into focus after about 20 minutes - sort of like nearly every James Bond film ever made. McQueen is Frank Bullitt, a no-nonsense San Francisco police lieutenant who is in charge of protecting a key witness who is to testify against a mobster. Things go bad - or do they? There are a number of plot twists and Bullitt features one of, if not the best, car chase in cinematic history. It was made in 1968 and watching it today, the nearly 10-minute chase is still fresh and exciting. The movie also features strong performances by Jacqueline Bisset as Bullitt's girlfriend, and Robert Vaughn as an opportunist politician. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

BOB LE FLAMBEUR (BOB THE GAMBLER) (January 8, 12:15 am): In the pantheon of my favorite directors, Jean-Pierre Melville ranks right near the top. And this film is a major reason why. Bob (Roger Duchesne) is an old gambler nearly broke due to being on one hell of a bad streak. To recoup his losses he plans to rob a casino. Unfortunately, things don’t quite work out, which is to be expected in a film noir, but you will not believe how things do not work out. It’s a fantastic ending to a wonderful film. Needless to say, this is a “must see.”

THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (January 12, 5:30 pm): Is there any cinephile out there that hasn’t seen this classic? And for those that haven’t yet seen it, this is your chance. It’s a wonderful adaptation of the B. Traven novel about two down-on-their-luck Americans who turn a winning lottery ticket into a bigger dream for gold and recruit crusty, wise Walter Huston along the way. Each of the stars – Huston, Bogart, and Tim Holt – gives performances to remember. Bogart is especially memorable as a sour man whose natural distrust becomes paranoia after they strike a rich gold vein. Worth watching again even if you’ve seen it 100 times.

WE DISAGREE ON ... VIVA LAS VEGAS (January 8, 1:15 pm)

DAVID: B+. For the most part, if you've seen one Elvis film from the 1960s, you've seen them all. While 1964's Viva Las Vegas doesn't stray too far from the Elvis Formula - he has a rugged-type job, somehow gets into a jam, sees a pretty girl, sings some songs, gets into a fight, gets the girl and lives happily ever after - it is significantly better than most of them. That's not much of a compliment, but this is one of Presley's best films. The reason? The on-screen and off-screen chemistry between Elvis, who plays race-car driver Lucky Jackson, and Ann-Margaret, who plays Rusty Martin, his love interest in one of her sexiest roles. While not the best actress to play opposite Elvis, Ann-Margaret is the most entertaining and interacts better with him than any other. Rusty is a swimming instructor and dancer, great excuses for her to wear skimpy clothes. But it's more than a T&A film. There's some great dance numbers that are filmed nicely with the use of several different camera angles, the excellent theme song along with a few other musical numbers, an exciting car race (of course Elvis is a race-car driver, a job he had in several of his films), and Presley's charisma, rarely captured during this era. Is it a masterpiece or even Elvis' best movie? No, but it's very entertaining to watch.

ED: C+. Elvis’s films from the ‘60s tend to blend into one for me. They are bland musicals with nary a memorable song, and Elvis is usually cast as a racing car driver, a rodeo star, a doctor, or some role where he will come into contact with lots of young, nubile women. And this entry is really no different. The reason I gave it the grade I did was due to the presence of Ann-Margaret, who makes the film quite watchable, and the fact that the title song is actually catchy. Cesare Danova is also on hand as Elvis’s rival and adds to the fun.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 1–January 7

 DAVID’S BEST BETS:

HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (January 2, 5:30 pm): A very funny film about a boxer/amateur pilot Joe Pendleton (played by the charming Robert Montgomery) who crashes his plane and is mistakenly taken to heaven by angel. He survives, but the angel doesn't want him to suffer. A check by the angel's boss, Mr. Jordan (played by the charming Claude Rains) show Pendleton is correct. But by the time they go to put him back in his body, it's too late. The body has been cremated. The angels have to find Pendleton another body - one that can be a champion boxer. They find a rich guy who is killed by his wife and his personal assistant who are lovers. This 1941 movie is a joy to watch. Warren Beatty uses the exact same story (except he's a quarterback for the then-Los Angeles Rams) with many of the same character names in the excellent Heaven Can Wait in 1978. I haven't seen the 2001 remake, Down to Earth, with Chris Rock. But based on the reviews of that film, I'm probably lucky.

GASLIGHT (January 7, 9:30 am): Those who pay attention know I'm a huge fan of Joseph Cotten. The same can be said for Ingrid Bergman. So when you get the two of them together - both in their acting primes - in this 1944 thriller with an outstanding plot, the end result is a classic. I'm not much of a Charles Boyer fan, but he is deliciously evil and conniving in his role as Bergman's husband who is slowly and successfully driving her crazy. Cotten is a Scotland Yard inspector who gets third billing, but steals many scenes. This is also Angela Lansbury's film debut. She was 18 years old at the time and plays a maid who's looking for the opportunity to get with Boyer and shows no sympathy toward Bergman. To me, it's her best film role, and a rare one in that she actually looks young. Seventeen years later, at the age of 35, she'd play Elvis Presley's mother in Blue Hawaii. Elvis was 26 at the time. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

RIFIFI (January 1, 8:00 pm): It’s the greatest caper movie ever made: So good, in fact, that its director, Jules Dassin, managed to remake it into a smart, sophisticated comedy named Topkapi in 1964. However, Rififi is not a comedy. Besides being the best caper movie it’s also the best French noir. The plot in a nutshell is that four men plan the perfect crime, but being human, that which can go wrong will go wrong, which happens in the aftermath of the crime, when the gang should be happily splitting the loot. Look for director Dassin in the role of the womanizing Cesar (under the name “Perlo Vita”). It’s a Must See and is definitely a film to be viewed multiple times.

JACK ARNOLD NIGHT (January 4, 8:00 pm): Universal made some of the best B-budget sci-fi in the 50s and Jack Arnold was the man responsible for these wonderful films. The night begins with the classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Then comes the underrated Tarantula, followed by The Incredible Shrinking Man, boasting a script by Richard Matheson based on his novel. And last comes the piece de resistanceIt Came From Outer Space, one of the most intelligent sci-fi films ever made. A feast for the sci-fi fan, these films are good enough to entertain even the non sci-fi fans among us.

WE DISAGREE ON ... SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (January 6, 6:00 pm)

ED: A. John Ford directed so many great Westerns that one is at a loss to pick just one as his or her favorite. And I’m not about to break stride, but this is one hell of a Western – one helluva film. John Wayne is in fine form as a Calvary officer facing an Indian uprising on the eve of his retirement. In a stretch for him, he plays a man much older than his charges with a softer side to his character. (Watch for the scene where he fumbles for his bifocals to read the inscription after accepting a watch as his retirement gift.) And he’s actually good - well, as good as he’s ever going to get, at any rate. And as long as John Agar is in the cast, Wayne cannot be the worst actor. Look for familiar faces Victor McLaglen and Harry Carey Jr. (who just passed away) providing support, as well as the great Western star, George O’Brien, as Wayne’s commander. And if you look hard, that’s Fred Graham as Sergeant Hench. Graham is well known to psychotronic movie fans for his role as the sheriff in The Giant Gila Monster. At any rate this is a great Western and it’s interesting to see Wayne try to break type. 

DAVID: B-. This movie, a Western directed by the legendary John Ford, is beautifully filmed in Technicolor with spectacular scenery. But the plot is flimsy at best and the acting at times borders on the ridiculous. Regular readers know I consider Katharine Hepburn to be the most overrated actress in the history of film. My feelings about John Wayne as cinema's most overrated actor are about the same. It's interesting that this is the first Wayne film to receive our "We Disagree" treatment. While Ed enjoys a lot more Wayne films than I, he recognizes his limitations. Ed's not going to give Wayne's True Grit an A++. When Wayne is bad, he's awful. Wayne has moments -StagecoachThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Red River, come to mind - as a solid actor in great movies. I digress to give you some context for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. As I previously wrote, the scenery is incredible, which counts for a lot because as far as Westerns go, this one is nearly devoid of action. Ford could be a stickler for historic accuracy, but what is shown in this film is largely a work of fiction. That's fine, but Wayne unconvincingly playing a man much older than he, and the silly love story falls miserably short in a movie with some of the most incredible cinematography you'll see. It's pretty to see, but ugly to hear.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
December 23–December 31  

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

12 ANGRY MEN (December 30, 10:15 am): Take a great story, have Sidney Lumet as the director, and add a brilliant cast including Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden and Jack Klugman, and you end up with an outstanding film. Even for those of us familiar with the plot, this is an engrossing movie. And except for a few moments, the entire movie takes place inside a jury room with the 12, none identified by name, deliberating a case. Lumet's direction makes the viewer feel as if they're sitting with the 12 of them. While it can be a little overdramatic at times - probably because it's based on a Studio One teleplay - it is an excellent film.

THE APARTMENT (December 31, 10:00 pm): Director Billy Wilder's follow-up to the incredibly overrated Some Like It Hot, this wonderful comedy-drama stars Jack Lemmon as an opportunistic office worker who sort of sleeps his way to the top. Well, he lets four of his office managers use his apartment as a place to have sex with their various mistresses. Because of that, he gets promoted to the personnel department, where his supervisor, Fred MacMurray, always excellent at playing sleazy characters, convinces his new assistant to let him have the apartment on an exclusive basis. MacMurray's latest mistress is the company's elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine), who Lemmon's got the hots for. A fabulous cast with one of Hollywood's best directors and an intelligent, funny script, and you have 1960's Oscar winner for Best Picture. It was nominated for nine others, winning an additional four. Of course, the Academy often makes mistakes. In this case, MacMurray wasn't even nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

ED’S BEST BETS:

GRAND ILLUSION (December 23, 2:00 am): This is a “Must See” in every sense of the word. Jean Renoir directed this classic about three French prisoners in a German POW camp and their relationship with the Commandant. Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, and Marcel Dalio (Remember him as the croupier in Casablanca?) are the prisoners and Erich Von Stroheim is the Commandant. It was the first foreign film to be nominated for an Oscar, but more importantly, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels banned any showings during World War II. That alone should ensure it immortal status.

NIGHT NURSE (December 26, 5:45 am): What is it about Barbara Stanwyck Pre-Codies that so intrigues me? She’s great as a nurse who discovers that an alcoholic mother and her chauffeur lover are starving her two children to death by for the inheritance. This is a sordid, well-paced story directed by studio regular William Wellman full of double entendre remarks and plenty of shots of Stanwyck and co-star Joan Blondell running around in their underwear. Clark Gable makes an impression as the evil chauffeur and his scenes with Stanwyck retain their ability to shock even today.

WE DISAGREE ON ... LITTLE WOMEN (December 23, 8:00 am) 

ED: B+. Let me begin by saying that I’m no fan of the early Katharine Hepburn. As one of the leading stars of RKO, her lackluster performances in many questionable films fully set the stage for her being named “Box Office Poison” in a poll of theater exhibitors. And it was a judgment she truly earned. She took dull subject matter like A Woman Rebels and Quality Street and made it not only duller, but also painful to watch. However, put in an ensemble as in Stage Door and this film, she not only did better, she actually added to the film itself. And with Little Women she had an excellent supporting cast as well as a friendly director in George Cukor, who always seemed to get the best out of her. This was a major production by RKO, which couldn’t afford to make many mistakes, and the care they took with the casting and production values is impressive. This was the third filming of Louisa May Alcott’s novel and the first sound version. There were two later sound remakes, and though I feel the 1994 version was the best, many film fans will vouch for this one. And they might well be right, for one of my major reason for preferring the ’94 version is that Hepburn’s not in that one. My point is this: that even if you don’t like Katharine Hepburn – and I know there are a lot of them who haven’t seen this movie because of that – there is much in this film to overcome her deficits. So sit back, relax, and be entertained by a film that has much to recommend in it.

DAVID: C-. Since starting this website, Ed selects all of the films for the week, gives a synopsis and letter grade for each. I don't know how he does it. What I do know is I and our readers are incredibly lucky to have such a brilliant and articulate film lover do this week after week. Because he gives the letter grades, I read the reviews and pick out one or two that I recommend for the We Disagree feature. Ed's knows me well. When I suggested Little Women this week, he knew exactly why. Then he tries to take the wind out of my sails by correctly anticipating what I hate about the 1933 film and uses it to sell readers on the movie. I dislike nearly every film Katharine Hepburn ever made so I couldn't resist selecting this movie. As usual, Hep overacts as Jo, the tomboy among the four March sisters in the first talkie version of the Louisa May Alcott book. Hepburn isn't the only problem with this film. Don't get me wrong, she drags this movie down as only Hepburn can. The storyline of the Civil War family is a bit too basic, dull and old-fashioned for my tastes. It's essentially a "chick flick" with a lot of courting, the melodramatic and drawn-out death of one of the sisters, and the cliche happy ending. It's hokey, too sentimental and simple. The movie came out one year before the Motion Picture Association of America began enforcing the Hays Code. But there's nothing in this film that would draw any attention from Hollywood censors, assuming they were able to pay attention to this snoozer.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
December 15–December 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

MY FAVORITE YEAR (December 15, 2:00 am): While this delightful 1982 comedy is largely fictional, the characters are based on some very famous real people. It's about a young comedy writer, Benjy Stone (played by Mark Linn-Baker, yup, Cousin Larry from Perfect Strangers), remembering his time on a 1950 comedy-variety TV show inspired by Your Show of Shows. Stone is a cross between Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, the latter was executive producer of this film. He babysits Alan Swann, a famous ex-swashbuckling movie actor who's now a drunk, and is appearing on the TV show. Peter O'Toole is fantastic playing Swann (inspired by Errol Flynn). Brooks has said the storyline is just that, a story. The film, however, is much more than that. It is funny, touching and charming.

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (December 22, 6:00 pm): An enjoyable screwball comedy about an arrogant and obnoxious radio personality (played by Monty Woolley) who hurts himself at the home of a wealthy Ohio family and is stuck there around Christmas time. He soon takes over the entire house with his personal assistant (Bette Davis) falling in love with a local newspaper reporter. Outrageously funny at times, it’s an enjoyable film with great acting. Like My Favorite Year, the main characters in this film are also loosely based on real people. Among the best is Jimmy Durante as Banjo, a Harpo Marx character. The film has the appearance of being a Broadway play on the "big screen" largely because that's exactly what it is.

ED’S BEST BETS:

IL POSTO (December 16, 2:00 am): A clever and perceptive satire about how the white-collar world crushes the hopes and ambitions of those that work for it. As the director, Ermanno Olmi, wrote in 1964, “ . . . everything – epic adventure, humor, and a feeling – is contained in the normal human condition.” Indicative of the new wave of Post-Realist Italian directors, the film stars Sandro Panseri, a non-professional actor. The female lead is another non-professional, Loredana Detto, who later became Signora Olmi. (Way to go, Ermanno!) It’s funny, touching and compelling. Watch for the end scene when a worker dies and his desk is up for grabs. Real? I’ve seen it. It’s all too real.

LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (December 20, 2:15 pm):  Barbara Stanwyck goes to prison in this Pre-Code gem – the genesis of the Women’s Prison Picture. And it showcases al the stereotypes of the genre, stereotypes that would be enlarged and improved upon in later genre films. Babs is a hoot in this riot of a picture. Catch it; you’ll be kicking yourself if you miss it.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE NUN'S STORY (December 17, 7:15 am)

ED: A+. This is an exquisite film searching the depths of the human psyche and the internal conflict within one woman to honor her vows on one hand and her natural inclinations towards rebellion. Audrey Hepburn gives a beautiful performance as Gabrielle Van der Mal, a headstrong young woman who wants with all her heart to be obedient to the order she joins. She is absolutely wonderful in a role that calls for the exact opposite of the society women she plated over the years. The first part of the film focuses on her transition to a Catholic nun, named Sister Luke, while the second sees her already firm in her vocation and dispatched to the Congo as a nurse, where she assists Dr. Fortunati, described in the movie as “a genius, a devil, and a non-believer.” Fortunati (in a brilliant turn by Peter Finch) challenges her faith and tempts her every step of the way. A lesser film would have them involved in a full-clinch romance, but Zinnemann is far too subtle to engage in such obvious shortcuts. Instead he balances Sister Luke’s struggles with scenes awe striking in their utter simplicity; scenes that drive home the points of the film far better than dialogue alone. Also, pay close attention to the superb score by Franz Waxman, a score that highlights each section of the movie without overpowering it. Hepburn stands out in a cast filled with great performances, and she proves her mettle as a serious actress. It’s lengthy and somewhat slow-paced, but stick with it. Before the first half hour had gone by, you’ll be deeply absorbed in the story. Suffice it to say that a film this spiritual and this deep cannot be made today; more’s the pity.

DAVID: C-. I wish I would see this film the same way Ed does. His review makes The Nun's Story sound compelling and beautiful. What I took away from the movie was "that's about two-and-a-half hours I'll never get back" and "it was only two-and-a-half hours? It seemed like four hours." The movie goes into painstaking detail about how Sister Luke and others become nuns. Some of the leaders of the Catholic Church, particularly the top nuns, come across as being unnecessarily harsh, spending most of their time drilling submission and conformity into the potential nuns. Hell, I'd quit if I was trying to do something to help humanity and was treated that way. Sister Luke wants to be a nurse in the Congo, not exactly an ideal place to be. To teach her humility, she is initially denied that opportunity by a Reverend Mother. When she finally gets to the Congo, she is placed in a hospital that treats white people and not the underprivileged blacks in desperate need of medical care. The storyline made it impossible for me to have empathy for any of the characters. Worse, the plot develops at an incredibly slow pace that I struggled to pay attention. Audrey Hepburn's acting is fine, but the script doesn't permit her to do much. The brightest spot is Peter Fitch as Dr. Fortunati, a brilliant but hard-living surgeon who challenges the sister and makes her a better nurse. There is some subtle sexual tension between the two, but they don’t act on those impulses. In the end, Belgium is occupied by the Nazis, Hepburn kicks the habit as she can't stay neutral in the war - something the church insists - and goes home to, I guess, help her homeland in some capacity.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
December 8–December 14
  
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (December 10, 1:15 pm): Only a year after John Steinbeck's 1939 classic story of the Joad family, Okies who travel to California after the Dust Bowl wipes out their family farm, Life doesn't get much better for the family on their drive to California and even worse once they get to the state. The book is good, but the film is excellent. The film and book are certainly left-wing, pro-labor union and pro-Communist. As Roger Ebert has written, it's odd that Director John Ford and Executive Producer Darryl F. Zanuck, both conservatives, made this film. Despite the tragic story, the movie is beautiful and very moving. You'd be hard-pressed to find better acting than the performances in this movie by Henry Fonda (Tom Joad), John Carradine (Jim Casy, a former pastor turned union organizer) and Jane Darwell (Ma Joad). I was nearly moved to tears during Tom's goodbye speech to his mother: "I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there, too." Ma says: "I don't understand it, Tom." He replies: "Me, neither, Ma, but just somethin' I been thinkin' about."

LES MISERABLES (December 13, 12:00 am): First, here's the backstory to my experience with this 1934 French version of Victor Hugo's classic book. I don't like long films and this version is nearly five hours in length. But my mother and stepfather were visiting me in June for my oldest daugther's high-school graduation party. They both love movies and are big fans of Les Miserables, having seen the Broadway play and a few of the film versions of the book. While looking for something to watch on Hulu Plus during their visit, we came across this. I was pleasantly surprised at how open they were to watch an old French film. Hulu Plus and others have this movie split into three parts of about 1 hour and 40 minutes each. But nothing on Hulu Plus informed us it was in three parts. We started watching and my mother and stepfather quickly realized this film didn't start at the beginning. (This was my first exposure to Les Miserables so I didn't know.) They caught me up on what was going on. We were watching Part 2 although none of us realized it at the time. Even so, it was extraordinary. It was only after the conclusion of the second part that we realized it was the middle of a three-part version. We chose to watch Part 3 even though it was getting very late. The next morning we saw Part 1. So even though I saw this film out of sequence, I can assure you it is an outstanding, well-acted film. Harry Baur as Jean Valjean is incredible. TCM is showing the movie starting at midnight (Eastern Standard Time). No one is going to be awake enough to watch this in one sitting. I strongly recommend taping it and watching as much as you can, take a break or a nap, and come back to it. It I was not familiar with the storyline before this excellent film, but it's easy to understand - particularly if you watch it from the beginning!

ED’S BEST BETS:

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (December 8, 3:45 am): This is why they invented the TiVo – so viewers can see quality films TCM is burying at ungodly hours. Paul Schofield is St. Thomas More, Robert Shaw is Henry VIII, and Leo McKern is Thomas Cromwell in this visually stunning, excellently acted and written film about the martyrdom of Thomas More, who went from being one of the king’s favorites to the main event at the execution block for opposing Henry’s plans to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. The Catholic Church conferred sainthood upon him for his sacrifice. Directed by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon) with script by Robert Bolt.

THE CROWD (December 9, 12:00 am): This silent film starring the previously unknown James Murray is possibly director King Vidor’s masterpiece. It’s a stark, realistic portrayal of one man’s travails in trying to make a decent life for himself and his family in the hustle and bustle of New York. Watch for the scene where the camera pans up the building (Vidor shot this at the Equitable Life Building in New York) and dissolves seamlessly into a miniature set and then to an interior set showing rows and rows of desks, conveying the perception of a faceless man in a faceless crowd. Tragically, James Murray, who was transformed overnight into a star, was doomed by chronic alcoholism and wound up on skid row only a few years later. If there’s one film that can be said to be essential, this is it.

WE DISAGREE ON ... COOL HAND LUKE (December 8, 3:15 pm)

Ed: A+. The ‘60s was the time of the anti-hero, of rebellion, and no one more personified that on film than Paul Newman. Of all his roles, Lucas Jackson was the height of that type of character. Cool Hand Luke is actually based on the 1965 novel of the same name by Donn Pierce, and Newman does justice to the lead character. We don’t know why Luke is rebelling, or when things are going his way, he suddenly reverts to an anti-authority stand. Perhaps it had to do with the death of his mother (Jo Van Fleet), but Luke was acting up just before that crucial scene where he was informed of his mother’s death. Perhaps it is because Luke is a non-conformist who refuses to fit into a society he wants no part of. Anyway, the film is well-written and directed; populated with outstanding performances and memorable scenes, songs, and lines, such as “What we got here is failure to communicate,” “He’s a natural born world shaker,” and, of course, “Yeah, well sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.” And who can forget the music? I know people who cannot be described as film fanatics, but can quote the lines and clearly remember scenes from the movie.Cool Hand Luke is one of those rare period pieces and one of the few films from the ‘60s that holds up well today.  

DAVID: B. I like this movie, but it gets far more praise than it deserves. Paul Newman gives a strong performance as Lucas Jackson, a decorated Korean War veteran who seems to have trouble respecting authority. Also, George Kennedy is solid as Dragline, a fellow inmate, and Strother Martin as Captain - "What we got here is failure to communicate" - is excellent. The problem with the film is we're never given a reason as to why "Cool Hand Luke" is such a screw-up. There's no motivation for his actions. He is sentenced to hard labor at a prison camp for cutting the tops of a town's parking meters with no reason for why he did it. When the Captain brings up Luke's Korean War record, he doesn't give an explanation for why he was demoted from a sergeant to a private. He wins a big poker hand with a bluff, decides he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs as a challenge, and constantly gets in trouble resulting in time in the "box." Why? Even when his original sentence is coming to an end, he tries to escape, which adds more time. When I watch the movie, I wonder if Luke is a complete idiot. His defiant actions and spirit bring him respect from the other inmates and the guards, known as "bosses," and Captain also admire him. But based on his character, Luke could care less about that respect. In one scene, he gets mad at the other inmates for admiring him. There's something in him that makes him restless and a rebel, but we never learn what it is. Towards the conclusion, Luke is in a church talking to God and is confused as me as to why he acts this way. It's a good movie, with a fantastic ending. Like life, not all films need to be wrapped up with a pretty bow and logic. But Cool Hand Luke leaves me with more questions than answers, and less than satisfied.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 1–December 7
  
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ANNIE HALL (December 1, 6:15 pm): The movie that changed it all for Woody Allen, its lead actor, director, and co-writer - and his fans. While Allen's previous films weren't conventional comedies, the main focus was on being funny; and so many of them were. There are still great comedic scenes in Annie Hall, but this 1977 film is far more serious than anything Allen ever made to that point. Stardust Memories (1980) brilliantly spoofs this with Allen, playing filmmaker Sandy Bates (a character similar to him), being told by fans that they prefer his "earlier, funnier movies." In Annie Hall, Allen plays Alvy Singer, a comedian who falls in love with the movie's title character (Diane Keaton). Hall is fun-loving, carefree and a bit naive. Singer is a neurotic intellectual (yeah, nearly all of Allen's characters are neurotic intellectuals), and the two fall in love. But Singer wants to change Hall - including buying her books about death - and make her smarter. The love affair falls apart, but the film delivers some great laughs and an insightful analysis of relationships. The characters break the "fourth wall" to deliver some of the movie's best lines, including the opening with Singer saying, “There’s an old joke. Two elderly women are at a Catskill Mountain resort, and one of them says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know, and such small portions.’ Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.”

HANG 'EM HIGH (December 2, 6:00 pm): When it comes to great cutting-edge Westerns, Clint Eastwood has made more than anyone. Many of them have received the praise they deserve including The "Man with No Name" trilogy of A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as well as High Plains DrifterThe Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven. To me, 1968's Hang 'Em High belongs in the same class as those. Eastwood is Jed Cooper, who is wrongly accused by a posse (including Bruce Dern, Ed Begley Sr. and Alan Hale Jr., the Skipper on Gilligan's Island) of killing a man and stealing his cattle. The posse hangs Cooper, but that doesn't kill him - even though it leaves him with a nasty scar around his neck. As Eastwood characters are prone to do, Cooper wants revenge. But this one has a twist. Cooper, who was previously a lawman, becomes a federal marshal. He comes across a member of the posse and tries to arrest him, but ends up having to shoot (and of course, kill) him when he reaches for his gun. Slowly, he comes across everyone in the posse. Cooper wants to see all of them brought to justice, but because that would lead to being hanged, none of them are terribly interested in the proposition. There are plenty of shootouts and great action scenes, but the best part of the film is Cooper's struggle to uphold the law while resisting his strong urge to seek revenge. This was Eastwood's first film after the "Man with No Name" trilogy. Yeah, he immediately did another Western, but the character of Cooper is far more complex than his roles in the trilogy.

ED’S BEST BETS:
  
NIGHT AND THE CITY (December 4, 4:00 am): The ungodly hour makes this one that should be recorded. And it will be worth the effort, for this is a brilliant noir by director Jules Dassin concerning the travails of a low-life hustler (Richard Widmark) who tries breaking in to the pro wrestling business. Brilliant performances abound in this dark look at the underbelly of London life and Widmark is served well be a great supporting cast, including Gene Tierney, Herbert Lom and Mike Mazurki. It was remade as a boxing noir of sorts with Robert DeNiro and Jessica Lange in 1992, but ignore that – this is the one to see.

BABY FACE (December 6, 9:45 am): Here it is, the most notorious Pre-code film of ‘em all. See Barbara Stanwyck! See Barbara get pimped out by her own father! See Barbara get felt up on screen! See Barbara hit the bricks to New York and sleep her way to the top with no bones being made about it! And it was made not in 1993, but 1933!! Not only does that make it all the more amazing, but also a film not to be missed!

WE DISAGREE ON . . . ALL THE MARBLES (December 7, 3:45 am)

ED: B-. Let’s begin the conversation by stating that this is far from the best sports movies ever made. In other words, Hoosiers it’s not. As a comedy, it can’t compare to Major League. But – it does have a certain charm of its own, and for what it is it’s quite watchable, especially if one likes to look at pretty girls, which are in abundance here, and not just the leads Laurene Landon and Vicki Frederick. Peter Falk is the girls’ shady manager and acquits himself well. This is the last film directed by the great Robert Aldrich and he financed it himself as an independent production. Also of note is that the late, great Mildred Burke trained Frederick and Landon for their roles, and that the Geishas, the Japanese team, are not The Jumping Bomb Angels, as has been erroneously reported by the IMDB database. They are Ayumi (Jumbo) Hori and Taemi (Mimi) Hagiwara, both major stars in Japanese women’s wrestling. It's enjoyable, but take it for what it is.

DAVID: D+. A more appropriate letter grade for this film is a combo: T&A. You'll see plenty of both. This 1981 movie treats wrestling as if it's real, and not a "work," a term used in the business to politely say that it's staged. The women's tag-team, known as the California Dolls, wrestle at crappy shows in crappy towns on their way to headlining a televised women's tag-team match in Las Vegas. I guess they're climbing some sort of ladder of contenders. But professional wrestling doesn't work that way. The premise of the movie is flimsy at best, and Peter Falk, the team's manager, as the love interest of one of the Dolls is quite a stretch. Some of the wrestling sequences are decent, but unrealistic. Falk tells the ladies to practice sunset flips, which is how they win the match in Vegas (as if you couldn't see that ending coming 20 minutes into the movie). For those not familiar with wrestling, a sunset flip is when a wrestler jumps over another prone wrestler bent over at the waist, dropping that person flat on the mat with the first wrestler's legs holding down the shoulders for the three count. A disclaimer: I was co-editor and co-publisher of Wrestling Perspective, a wrestling trade publication that existed from 1990 to 2007, and Ed was its senior writer and a brilliant wrestling historian. By 1981, the sunset flip was fading into the sunset as a finisher. It hasn't been used in wrestling that often during the past 30 years. Also, to get the audience to support his team, Falk gets the crowd to sing, "Oh, You Beautiful Doll," a 1911 ragtime song that hardly anyone in 1981 would recognize. And if they did, they wouldn't know more than the first two lines. Yet the entire crowd at the big Vegas match knows and sings all the lyrics. There aren't many quality wrestling films - there's The Wrestler (2008) and some incredible documentaries - so it shouldn't come as a shock that ...All the Marbles is a really bad movie.

TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
November 23–November 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (November 23, 10:00 am): Honestly, you can't go wrong with any of the Alfred Hitchcock-directed films being shown on November 23, but this is among my favorites. The premise is simple, but the plot, acting and directing of the movie makes it a classic. Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) wants his father dead. While on a train, he meets a stranger - tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) with a similar dilemma. Haines wants to get rid of his wife so he can marry another woman. Anthony comes up with the idea that these two "strangers on a train" will do each other's dirty work and no one will suspect them. Haines brushes it aside, but when the psychotic Anthony kills Haines' wife, he expects his "co-conspirator" to respond in (not so) kind. The interaction between Walker and Granger, two highly underrated actors, in this film is outstanding. Hitch did a fantastic job - which he so often did - building tension and drama, and making a hell of a good movie. 

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (November 26, 12:00 am): How do you take a 400-page classic book and turn it into a great film? I don't know, but I imagine those working on the 1946 film adaption of Great Expectations, led by the skilled direction of David Lean, who co-wrote the screenplay, worked very hard to accomplish that goal. And what's more incredible is Lean - known for lengthy but excellent movies like Lawrence of ArabiaDoctor Zhivago and The Bridge on the River Kwai - did it in under two hours. The film is blessed with an outstanding cast, including John Mills, Alec Guinness, Martita Hunt, Jean Simmons and Valerie Hobson, and the screenplay is an excellent adaption of Charles Dickens' wonderful book. It's a delightful, entertaining film about a young orphan, Pip, who is taken to London at the expense of a mysterious benefactor who believes him to be a man with "great expectations." It's one of those movies that you enjoy watching from the beginning and leaves you with a smile of enjoyment and satisfaction when it's over. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

BRIGHTON ROCK (November 27, 6:00 pm): From the Boulting Brothers comes this excellent adaptation (by Terence Rattigan) of Graham Greene’s novel about a gang of lowlife hoods in Brighton, England and their teenaged leader, Pinkie Brown. It’s a sequel of sorts to Greene’s novel, This Gun for Sale (published in the U.S as This Gun for Hire and made into a film in 1941 starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake). It’s also the breakthrough role for young Richard Attenborough as Pinkie. It was the most popular film in England when released in 1947, but didn’t do that much business here under the title Young Scarface. It also scored an incredible 100% on the Rotten Tomatoes website, if you’re looking for any further reason to watch. Oh, by the way, it has one of the best – and most cynical – endings of any film.

TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (November 30, 11:15 pm): Translated as Do Not Touch the Loot, this is a wonderful film by Jacques Becker starring the great Jean Gabin (Max) and Rene Dary (Riton) as two old gangsters that have squirreled away 50-million francs in gold bars, enough to support them in retirement. Unfortunately, Riton’s girl friend has not only grown tired of him, she now has a new squeeze, the boss of a rival gang, to whom she spills the beans. The gang kidnaps Riton and Max learns that in order to get him back, he’s going to have to part with the gold bars. It’s a film that never lets up once it gets going, and takes the audience along for a wonderful ride through the prism of Max’s point of view, as he is bound by loyalty to save his partner. Worth seeing again and again.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . LORD OF THE FLIES (November 27, 8:00 am):

ED: A+. One of the hardest things for a filmmaker is to translate a classic novel to the screen. There are those who say it can’t be done, and perhaps in a sense they are right, for the imagination of the reader has already run the film, assembled the cast and designed themise en scene. Then there is the problem of the author. With some it’s difficult enough, but others, such as Henry James, concentrate so much on the inner life of their characters that a filmic representation is all but impossible. The only things that can be given are the bare bones of the story with the rest to be hopefully filled in by a screenwriter. Sometimes, as with The Heiress, it gets by. But with The Bostonians, it becomes a borefest. William Golding is also another tough nut to crack because his narrative is too well woven and laid out for a director to attempt an interpretation. But Peter Brooks does a nice job of capturing the essence of Golding’s novel by casting non-professional actors as the children marooned on the island. This, plus the use of grainy, black and white film, gives the film a Godard-like type of feeling, for instead of attempting an interpretation of the material, Brooks let’s the children themselves interpret the material simply by acting out their dilemma on the island. Reading the novel, it’s almost as if Golding had a movie version in mind while writing. Brooks is astute enough to realize that and let the children interpret it themselves, giving it both a sense of reality and surrealism, especially during the scenes where the two factions meet. Could he have done better with a solid script and professional actors? Watch the 1990 color version and you’ll get the answer: He couldn’t.

DAVID: C+. As I mentioned with Great Expectations, adapting a classic book to the silver screen isn’t easy. How many times have you read a book, loved it and then gone to see how it was mangled as a film? This 1963 film of William Golding's book about English school kids on a deserted island and its reflection on the dark side of humanity is fine, but certainly not outstanding. There are many scenes that just end as if someone editing the film decided to take scissors to the film. There's a risk in using amateur actors, particularly children, in movies. The leads are pretty good, but the supporting cast is terrible. They don't seem to know the few lines they have, and their delivery is awful. Also, problems with the sound on the movie locations forced the voices to be dubbed thus making portions of the film's audio out of sync with the video. The film is only 92 minutes long yet there are some scenes that come across as simply wasting time. While it's too late to change it, this is a movie that really should have been in color and not black-and-white. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
November 15–November 22
  
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (November 18, 6:00 pm): An absolute classic, directed by Frank Capra, about a runaway snobby socialite (Claudette Colbert) and a reporter (Clark Gable) in the film that put the two on the movie map even though they both already had about 20 credits to their names. It's a wonderful screwball romantic comedy with great chemistry between the two. The story takes place over more than one night despite the title. It's a wonderful film with two of cinema's most famous scenes. The first has Colbert successfully hitching a ride for the two, after Gable fails, by lifting up her skirt and showing her leg. See it hereThe other has the two of them sharing a room and Gable putting up a blanket to separate them, calling it "the walls of Jericho," which ties in nicely at the end of the film. Released in 1934, it has aged well.

JULES AND JIM (November 20, 6:00 pm): I'm going to cheat a little as I recommended this two months ago, but this is one of the greatest films ever made. If you don't like foreign films and reading subtitles, give this one a chance. It's well worth it. It's a masterpiece by Francois Truffaut, the best of the French New Wave directors. The story takes place over a period of about 25 years before, during and after World War I. The film is about the close and complex relationship between Jules (played by Oskar Werner), Jim (played by Henri Serre) and Catherine (played by the legendary Jeanne Moreau). A compelling storyline with unforgettable acting and cinematography. The plot is detailed, but it is easy to follow when watching the movie. No review can properly describe this great film. It's like reading a beautiful poem and understanding everything the writer meant to convey. I remember being completely awestruck watching this movie for the first time. It's one I go back to from time to time and it never leaves me disappointed.

ED’S BEST BETS:

GREEN FOR DANGER (November 15, 12:00 pm): If you like mysteries, this is one of the really great ones. It’s the last years of World War II and the Nazis are peppering London with their V-1 “buzz bombs.” A postman is wounded, but not badly, and taken to a rural hospital, where dies while under anesthesia. How could that possibly happen? A Scotland Yard detective (the great Alaistair Sim) is sent to investigate and he narrows the list of suspects to six, including the anesthesiologist (Trevor Howard). The tension of the situation is nicely balanced by Sim’s droll wit and method of investigation, which is driving everyone crazy.  As I have said before, even if mysteries are not your cup of tea, tune this one in for its intelligence and wonderful acting.

BEDAZZLED (November 17, 10:pm): The Devil, in the form of Peter Cook, meets Dudley Moore in this hilarious takeoff on Faust set in the swinging London of 1967. Moore is a short order cook who yearns for the waitress (Eleanor Bron) at his hamburger café. Enter the Devil, who offers seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Moore signs and life is never the same. It’s not a question of whether the Devil will screw poor Dudley out of his desire in each wish, but rather a question of how he will do it. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, intelligently written and actually quietly religious. Those who have seen it know what I mean. For those who haven’t: you’re in for a great surprise.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . I LOVE YOU AGAIN (November 18, 10:00 am):

ED: B. I will be the first to admit that the duo of Myrna Loy and William Powell is one of the best and most enjoyable in the history of film. The combination of Loy and Powell directed by Woody Van Dyke is formidable indeed. Add a supporting actor to the mix like Frank McHugh and the film sounds eve more like a winner, if possible. So why do I give it only a “B?" Simply because all that talent cannot make up for a dopey plot: Powell is a conman who recovers from a nine-year spell of amnesia to discover that not only has he has become a shrewd businessman and pillar of the community, but that he’s married to Myrna Loy. The kicker to all this is that Loy is about to divorce him on the grounds of boredom. The premise sounds great, but the execution exposes and ruins and promise the premise had. There’s a bit later in the film where Powell, as his real conman self, leads a pack of Boy Rangers into the woods on a wild goose chase for oil. The scene is so drawn out and slowly paced that it not only causes the film to lose the momentum it was building towards its climax, but threatens to sink it right there and then. Some screwball comedies are too screwy for their own good. For those that want to see a top notch Loy-Powell screwball comedy, try Love Affair.

DAVID: A. Cinema's greatest couple, William Powell and Myrna Loy, are reunited with W.S. Van Dyke, who directed them in the 1934 classic, The Thin Man. Is this 1940 film as good? No, but few movies are. When you have Powell and Loy working together, the chemistry is magic. It's a fun film to watch with Powell showing great range, playing the same character two completely different ways. Unlike Ed, I think the Boy Rangers' scene is hysterical. Before the head injury that reverts his character back to his old self as a conman, he promised to take the Boy Rangers on trip into the woods to learn about deer-tracking techniques. He has no idea what to do so he makes stuff up. He ends up falling into holes, getting caught in traps and is completely lost. It's probably Powell's best physical-comedy role. And Myrna, what can you possibly write to capture her beauty and talent? Well, you could write a book. But I'll leave it as she is wonderful and delightful in this movie with her character evolving with the changes in Powell's character. A funny and entertaining film. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
November 8–November 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

TOP HAT (November 8, 9:45 pm): As a general rule, I don't like musicals, especially those with dancing. (Don't confuse that with movies with great music in which people don't suddenly break out in song. I like a lot of those.) So what's different about Top Hat? At the top of the list is Fred Astaire. As with most musicals, the plot is secondary. He's a dancer who wakes up the woman (Ginger Rogers) living in an apartment below him while he's tap dancing. He falls in love, there are a few misunderstandings, and the two eventually get together. Astaire has great charisma and charm, and his dancing is so natural looking. He makes it look as easy as walking. The storyline is typical of a good screwball comedies from the 1930s (this one came out in 1935). But it's the dancing and the memorable songs, written by Irving Berlin, such as "Cheek to Cheek" and "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," which can be seen herethat make this movie a must-see and among my favorite musicals.

THE THIN MAN (November 10, 10:00 pm): When it comes to cinema's greatest couple, no one can touch William Powell and Myrna Loy, and this is their best film together. Add W.S. Van Dyke as the director and you have a classic. Powell is Nick Charles, a charming (did he ever play a character who wasn't charming?) ex-private detective who knows every cop and criminal in the big city and both sides of the law love him. Loy is Nora, his new wife and a socialite, who doesn't mind that Nick is a hard-drinking ex-private eye. Actually, she rather enjoys the excitement and wants to help her husband solve a murder. Loy, who was a stunningly beautiful woman, was also an outstanding actress. The two of them are so in sync with each other and hysterically funny as they piece the clues together. It’s a funny, entertaining film that really showcases these two incredible talents. This film spawned five sequels. While the first sequel, After the Thin Man, is very good, they get progressively worse. But the interaction between the two leads remains solid.
  
ED’S BEST BETS:

BREATHLESS (November 8, 8:00 pm): It’s Jean-Luc Godard’s first – and some say still his best – film. Jean-Paul Belmondo shines as a petty crook who impulsively kills a motorcycle cop after stealing a car. Idolizing Bogart and acting out his life as if he were Bogart, he tries to convince his American girlfriend (Jean Seberg) to flee with him to Rome. No studio sets here, with a budget of only about $80,000, Godard used the streets, hotel rooms and cafes of Paris as his studio, melding street life into a veritable symphony of chaotic sounds. Through the use of hand-held cameras and placing the cameraman in a wheelchair, Godard makes maximum use of jump shots to convey the chaotic atmosphere felt by the main characters. Besides, who can dislike a film dedicated to Monogram Studios?

THE MALTESE FALCON (November 10, 7:30 am): This is not the 1941 classic that we all know, but rather it’s 1931 Pre-Code antecedent. Ricardo Cortez plays Sam Spade as much more of a ladies’ man and low-life than in the 1941 version. Also, the homosexual relationship between Joel Cairo (Otto Matieson), Kasper Gutman (Dudley Digges) and Wilmer Cook (Dwight Frye) is more heavily implied than in the ’41 version. While Digges is not nearly as good in the role as Sydney Greenstreet was, Bebe Daniels as Brigid is far better than Mary Astor in the ’41 version – and better looking at that. Also, look for beautiful Thelma Todd as Iva Archer. It’s a rarity, even on TCM, and should be seen by every cinema buff.
  
WE DISAGREE ON . . . KING KONG (November 10, 1:15 pm)

ED: A++.  This is one of the greatest horror/fantasy films ever made, period. From the minute Carl Denham and his crew alight in the jungle looking to shoot footage of a giant ape, we’re on the edge of our seats. And the movie never disappoints, never lets up. The fact that the special effects are just as impressive today as they were when the movie was first screened is a testament to the art of Willis O’Brien, who created Kong and his dinosaur adversaries. There were no big-name actors cast – in fact, Fay Wray may have been the best known – but the picture didn’t really need them, for who could compare to Kong? It’s one of America’s best-loved movies and remains embedded in our collective cultural consciousness to this day. Two remakes were even attempted, neither of which even came close to the original.

DAVID: C+. I'm likely in the minority, but I've never understood the appeal of this film. Anyone watching the film for the first time, even those who saw it when it was released in 1933, has to see every plot turn coming minutes before they occur. Kong is captured, Kong is put on display, Kong escapes, Kong makes a mess of Manhattan, Kong grabs Fay Wray (who, he understandably has the hots for throughout the film) and heads for the tallest building, Kong gets shot at by planes, Kong put a screaming Wray down, Kong falls off the building, Kong dies, movie ends. The special effects are mixed. The fights between Kong and the other creatures on the island are kind of cool. But I'm not impressed with the stop-motion movement of Kong. It reminds me of the Bumble (which is probably no accident) in 1964's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special. The film's storyline is simple and the acting is generally pretty bad, but Kong is the entire movie with everything else taking a backseat. The problem is after 20 minutes, the novelty of Kong wears off.




TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
November 1 – November 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (November 3, 8:00 pm): It's always challenging to adapt a classic book into a movie, and this 1939 film uses less than half of Emily Bronte's 34 chapters (eliminating the second generation of characters) in the book. But it's still a stunning film directed by one of the true masters, William Wyler. Laurence Olivier gives an unforgettable performance as Heathcliff, showing a wide range of emotions in a complicated role. Heathcliff is bitter, vengeful, conflicted and passionately in love. I doubt anyone else could do justice to the role. Merle Oberon as Cathy is also wonderful as are many members of the cast including David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Hugh Williams. 

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (November 3, 3:00 pm): Sit down and get comfortable before watching this three-hour film. A huge ensemble cast of brilliant actors - Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Richard Widmark and Maximilian Schell - and memorable small roles played by Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich make this drama one of the most riveting films made. It also makes you question the responsibility of people who commit atrocities or do nothing to stop them. The movie is a post-World War II military tribunal in which three American judges (Tracy as the chief judge in an extraordinary role) are hearing the cases of four former German judges (Lancaster is the main ex-jurist) accused of committing war atrocities for passing death sentences on people during the Nazi regime. The film is horrifying, hard-hitting, and pulls no punches, including showing real footage of hundreds of dead bodies found by American soldiers at the end of the war. You have to decide for yourself if being German during the regime of Adolf Hitler is a war crime. 
  
ED’S BEST BETS:

INTERNAL AFFAIRS (November 1, 1:30 am): Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An undercover cop (Tony Leung) has infiltrated a criminal gang. Meanwhile the gang has placed a mole (Andy Lau) in the ranks of the police force. As both bosses become aware of a spy in their midst, it becomes a race against time to discover who is what before the other side is able. Yes, it’s the plot for Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Well, this is the film he lifted it from for his Oscar-winning tale. I’ve seen both and this is far and away the better version: No Jack Nicholson hamming up the screen for one thing. And if you’re expecting the usual non-stop action film, prepare for a change, for character is emphasized over action. In fact, The Departed is a very faithful adaptation. Watching both it seems that only the locale has changed. This is the sort of film that will resonate with you long after you’ve seen it.

THE SAINT IN NEW YORK (November 3, 12:00 pm): The Saint, a sort of mysterious Robin Hood created by famed mystery writer Leslie Charteris, has been translated into all three major mediums: film, radio, and television. This is the first of the Saint movies, and in my opinion, the best. It’s also the least known, due to the fact it’s almost never shown on television. In this outing, Louis Heyward plays Simon Templar and never since has Templar been played with such smooth rakishness as that with which Heyward plays him. It’s just plain, good, old-fashioned fun as Templar makes baboons of the bad guys and earns the love of the boss’s moll. Try it and see if you don’t agree about Heyward as Templar.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (November 2, 11:45 am)

ED: B. Yeah, yeah, I know. I agree that the film hasn’t exactly aged well, but it’s still entertaining and the performances still solid. We can see the Lancaster-Kerr romance coming a mile away but that doesn’t deter our enjoyment. Pressure from the Army dictated a change for the worse in two important plot points: for one, the Borgnine-Sinatra fracas is now shown to be the result of Borgnine’s sadistic streak and not coming from Army policy, as Jones indicates in his novel. Secondly, in the novel, the cowardly Captain Holmes is promoted to major while in the film he’s given a choice of resignation or court-martial. Director Fred Zinneman could live with the first, noting that it actually helped Sinatra’s character better to die in the arms of his buddy Montgomery Clift, but the second change Zimmerman saw as reducing the film to the level of a recruiting poster. No matter, for it’s a great combination of character and action, with some soap added for extra enjoyment. And it’s always good to see Lancaster in action.

DAVID: C-. The cast is loaded with talented actors - including two of my favorites, Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift - and the plot seems like a can't-miss about Army soldiers in Hawaii in the weeks leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The biggest problem with the film is it's just too much. There are too many storylines, there are too many subplots, and there are too many characters. There are films with large ensemble casts of big stars (such as Best Bet Judgment at Nuremberg) that work. The ones that work are better focused films. This one simply doesn't work. After a while, you cut your losses and pay attention to a few of the characters and storylines. While Lancaster was a great actor, and is solid in this film, the love affair with Deborah Kerr is dull. I was extremely disappointed the first time I saw the iconic romance scene on the beach with the waves rushing over them as they kiss in the sand. My immediate thought was, "That's it?" Turns it, yeah, that's it. As Ed mentioned, it hasn't aged well at all. It's predictable, even if you don't including the Pearl Harbor attack. Also, the characters are largely stereotypes of guys you'd expect in the Army: the strong silent type (Lancaster), the cruel officer (Philip Ober), the slob bully (Ernest Borgnine), the sensitive guy with demons in his past (Clift), etc.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
October 23–October 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ALL THE KING'S MEN (October 25, 8:00 pm): The phrase "all-time favorite" is as overused as the word "genius." But, without a doubt, this 1949 film with Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark (based on Louisiana Gov. Huey Long) is one of my top 10 all-time favorite movies. This is, by far, Crawford's greatest performance as Stark, a political nobody who compromises his principles in order to gain political power and eventually become a well-loved populist and corrupt governor. Crawford's ability to play Stark as a larger-than-life character is captivating. There are other excellent performances from John Ireland as Jack Burden, a journalist who "discovers" Stark and helps him climb the political ladder, stepping over anyone in the way; and Raymond Greenleaf as Judge Monte Stanton, Burden's mentor and role model. If you love politics, this is the best movie on the subject ever made. If you hate politics, you'll love this film as it gives you plenty of reasons to confirm your belief on the subject.

REPULSION (October 31, 11:00 am): This is director Roman Polanski's first English film, and it is as strange and complex as him. Catherine Deneuve is a beautiful and mentally-unstable manicurist who bites her nails and is unable to have a normal relationship with a man. Polanski brings out the best in Deneuve as her character slowly progresses into madness. She starts dating a man (played by John Fraser), but left alone while her sister and her sister's boyfriend, who is married, are on vacation, she hallucinates and loses touch with reality. She kills her boyfriend, followed by her creepy landlord. The ending is one of the finest you'll find in a psychological thriller, the genre of film in which Polanski excelled.  
  
ED’S BEST BETS:

DIABOLIQUE (October 27, 3:00 pm): I’ve recommended this before as a Best Bet and I’m going to do so again. Frankly, I cannot recommend this picture enough. Think of a perfect Hitchcock film without Hitchcock. That’s Diabolique. It’s a taut, beautifully woven thriller with a climax that will truly shock you. Fans of Hitchcock will love this, as will anyone that loves a well-written thriller with the emphasis on character rather than going for the cheap thrill.

HOBSON’S CHOICE (October 28, 10:00 am): David Lean directed this wonderfully droll comedy with Charles Laughton in one of his best and most unforgettable performances. He’s a widower with three daughters to marry off, but things don’t quite turn out like he expected. See this once and you’ll want to see it again . . . and again. Gentle comedies such as this aren’t made anymore; mores the pity. Look for Prunella Scales – later best known as Sybil Fawlty – as one of Laughton’s daughters. If you haven’t seen this before, you’re in for a real treat. And if you have seen it before, I don’t need to tell you to watch it again; you’ll be doing that anyway.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (October 30, 12:00 am)

DAVID: A+. One of the most beautiful and touching films I've ever seen. Yeah, it's about a criminal who ends up in a mental institution to avoid hard labor, and how he impacts the tragic and sad lives of the mentally-unstable people in the psych ward. I'm not much of a Jack Nicholson fan. He essentially plays every role the same way, much like Gary Cooper. But Nicholson's same character works perfectly in his portrayal of "Mac" McMurphy. Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched is so memorable as his foil that even though the film was released in 1975, you can call someone Nurse Ratched today and people - even those who've never seen this movie - know what you're talking about. She gives the performance of her life playing the cold and calculating nurse. There are few films that make the viewer hate a fictitious character. This is definitely one of those few. The subtle and not-so-subtle battle of wills between McMurphy and Ratched are the highlights of the film. McMurphy has a plan to escape and would succeed except he wants to treat the friends he made in the ward to a memorable night. The ending is tragic yet inspirational and has me in tears every time I see it. The supporting cast is solid, particularly Brad Dourif (who later was the voice of Chucky, the killer doll in all those horrible films) as Billy, and Will Sampson as the Chief.
  
ED: B-.  Having first read the book, I can only say that this is a movie that really disappointed me. It was a first-rate production, directed by Milos Forman, and with a name cast. But I found the script plodding, the direction inconsistent, and the acting just passable. I still can’t understand how Louise Fletcher rated an Oscar, but considering the history of the Academy Awards, that’s just another mark on the chalkboard. Jack Nicholson didn’t impress me. He played McMurphy not as Jack Nicholson playing McMurphy, but as Jack Nicholson playing Jack Nicholson playing McMurphy. He portrays the crazy in McMurphy quite well, but leaves the character devoid of the humanity that made me so love McMurphy in the book. Also, the character of the Chief is virtually skipped over, taking away his contribution to the group. I was able to connect with the characters in the book, but as concerns the movie, that’s another story.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
October 15–October 22 

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ELMER GANTRY (October 19, 2:45 pm): Burt Lancaster is among perhaps three or four actors who demand your attention when they are on the screen. His intensity and versatility made him a screen legend. His portrayal of Elmer Gantry in the 1960 film of the same name is his finest performance. In the film, Lancaster is a con man who realizes that he's found a place in a Christian tent revival show featuring Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons). Gantry, and those watching this movie, aren't sure what kind of place he's found. Is he still a con man, a born-again or someone in between? Not only does Lancaster do a great job interacting with Simmons, he does it with Shirley Jones, who plays his former lover who is now a prostitute, and with Arthur Kennedy, who plays a skeptical newspaper reporter who garners attention because of his criticism of Gantry. The film is riveting, intelligent and has a great plot - it is based on a small portion of a Sinclair Lewis book of the same name.

FLAMINGO ROAD (October 19, 11:45 pm): Joan Crawford plays a carnival dancer (who is supposed to likely be about half her real age) who stays in a small town when the show moves on. She quickly becomes the object of attraction of a number of the men, and chooses a businessman with a drinking problem (played by David Brian) to marry. They move to Flamingo Road, the richest section of the town. While Crawford is solid and her name is above the title, it is clear that Syndey Greenstreet, who plays Sheriff Titus Semple (the corrupt local political boss), is the best part of the movie. Greenstreet, who was ill when making this film and comes across as a guy who is dying, is listed not only below Crawford, but Zachary Scott, who plays a sheriff's deputy. Greenstreet is perfect as the sleazy political boss who creates and ruins careers and lives. The confrontational scenes with Crawford and Greenstreet are outstanding. It is quite the actor who can make a viewer forget this film is a Crawford vehicle. This was the second to last film for Greenstreet, who died less than five years after this 1949 movie was released.

ED’S BEST BETS:

OLD ACQUAINTANCE (October 18, 2:30 pm): Imagine, Bette Davis in a ”women’s picture” wonderfully acted and intelligently written where she plays the nice woman. And more to the point – no soap of the type we find in That Certain WomanDark VictoryThe Old Maid, and Now Voyager. Yes, Bette, it can be done. This is the story of best friends. Kit Marlowe (Davis) is a single author of high literary novels. Her friend Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins), who is married, takes her advice to write and becomes even more famous and financially successful than Kit, though the secret to her success is that she writes trashy novels. Take it from there, fasten your seat belts, and go along for a joyous ride with Bette and Miriam, two women that really hated each other in real life. There is no such thing as disappointment with this movie.

LOLA MONTES (October 20, 3:45 am): Director Max Orphuls’s last film, it tells the story of the title character, creating a fictionalized drama showing the end days of the famed 19th century courtesan. She is the feature attraction at a circus run by a P.T. Barnum-esque Peter Ustinov (in a great performance). The story of her life is told in flashbacks: how her mother sold her into marriage to a man she did not love and how she left him to become a courtesan, mistress to such as Franz Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria. It’s beautifully written and shot, giving us a peephole into her life while keeping us lavishly entertained at the same time. It’s a film one can’t miss.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . WOMAN OF THE YEAR (October 22, 8:00 pm)

EDADave will tell you how annoying Katharine Hepburn is, and, frankly, I agree with his opinion. Look at her films from the '30s for RKO and you'll see why theater exhibitors labeled her a "Box Office Poison." Granted, she was in some mighty stinkers back then, but at the same time, she did nothing to redeem herself, to separate herself from the material. So for me to give this film such a high grade will cause some readers to scratch their heads and ask what's going on. First, the Hepburn that worked for MGM is far different than the one who toiled for RKO. MGM lightened her by putting her in quality films and not really allowing her to choose her material in the early days of her contract. They also gave her quality directors such as Cukor and George Stevens, who helmed this picture, and, more importantly, quality writing. And whoever thought of teaming her with Tracy should have received a lifetime Oscar. Tracy, who in my opinion was the best actor in Hollywood, was the perfect foil for Hepburn, even better than Cary Grant (if that's possible). Where she was flighty, he was laconic, the acting yin to her yang. And no picture shows off this working dichotomy better than Woman of the Year. It's the perfect clash of snob vs. slob: Hepburn is a respected political columnist and Tracy helms the bottom of the intellectual barrel as a sports reporter. In a way it prefigures The Odd Couple. Watch this movie and it will become clear that this is Tracy's movie. His is the dominant character, everything revolves around him; we see the movie through his eyes and Hepburn is really no more than a supporting player. That's not only why it works, but works so well. In fact, it set the pattern for their later movies, all of which basically followed the template. Yes, Hepburn is not exactly my cup of tea, nor will she ever be. But that does not mean that she's not capable of making a good movie.

DAVID: C+. Yes, it's true. I consider Katharine Hepburn to be the most overrated actress in the history of cinema. Why? She usually plays the same character regardless of the film, and that character is an annoying self-centered know-it-all. Just because I dislike Hepburn doesn't mean she's completely worthless. She is great in Keeper of the Flame with Spencer Tracy, and blows me away in The Lion in the Winter. But that's not the Kate we see in this film. Her character is the same old character we've seen her play numerous times. She's a newspaper political columnist who knows incredible people who have incredible parties talking about their incredible lives and their incredible experiences in incredible places. Tracy plays a rough-around-the-edges sportswriter. Of course they fall in love and marry, but neither fits in with the other's friends and lifestyle. After a while, you wonder: why are they together? Tracy's character realizes it too and leaves her. You can figure out the reconciliation before they even break up. There's nothing in this film that isn't predictable. Is it terrible? No. But Tracy wasted his tremendous acting talent having to carry Hepburn, who delivers an uninspiring performance. It's the first of nine films the two would do together. As I mentioned, Keeper of the Flame is the only one worth seeing.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
October 8–October 14
  
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

FURY (October 8, 8:00 pm): TCM is honoring the legendary Spencer Tracy this month, and this film is not to be missed. It is director Fritz Lang's first American film, and it's one filled with suspense, revenge, mob rule, hostility, intolerance and action. After serving a short apprenticeship at Fox, Tracy was established as one of Hollywood's best actors when Fury was released in 1936. Tracy was busy that year with a secondary but important role in San Francisco and he co-starred in Libeled Lady. All three are excellent. In Fury, Tracy plays Joe Wilson, who is accused of a crime he didn't commit. While he sits in jail, waiting for the police investigation into the crime, the local townspeople get worked up and go to lynch him. Unable to get inside, they torched the jail with Wilson killed in the fire - or so it seems. The great plot-twist is that Joe escapes, but is presumed dead, with the people responsible for the incident facing murder charges. With the help of his brothers, Joe seeks revenge against his would-be killers. Tracy does a great job going from a hardworking, mild-mannered guy into one controlled by anger and vengeance. The film moves from a love story to suspense to a courtroom drama. There are minor flaws in the film, such as the ending being a bit too over-dramatic, but it's a great movie. Surprisingly, it was released by MGM, best known at the time for its big-budget musicals.

ON BORROWED TIME (October 12, 12:00 pm): One of the most emotional and touching films I've ever seen. I rarely tear-up from a movie, but I couldn't help myself with this 1939 film. It's also one of the most unique films I've ever seen. Lionel Barrymore plays Gramps, an grumpy old wheelchair-bound man who is raising his grandson, Pud (played by Bobs Watson; yeah Bobs as in more than one Bob). Pud's mother and father are killed in a car accident before the film starts, and his aunt wants to raise him, primarily to get her hands on the money left to the boy by his parents. But Pud and Gramps can't stand her, see right through her, and share an exceptionally close bond. Gramps has an apple tree and the fruit is constantly being stolen so he makes a wish that anyone who climbs the tree gets stuck up there until he permits them to come down. Well, Death (masterfully played by Cedric Hardwicke) comes calling for Gramps and is tricked into climbing up the tree. Not only can't he take Gramps, but he can't take anyone else. The aunt thinks Gramps is crazy and sees this as an opportunity to get him committed and have Pud - and his money - for herself. As the movie progresses, Death tricks Pud into climbing the tree with disastrous results. Just thinking about the film's conclusion gives me chills. Not only does the film have a wonderful storyline, with many funny scenes, but a loving and touching message. Also, the acting is outstanding. Did Lionel Barrymore ever give a bad performance in a movie?

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE THIRD MAN (October 13, 8:00 pm): For a cinephile this is a no-brainer if there ever was one. Screenplay by Graham Greene; direction by Carol Reed; and starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten in perhaps their greatest teaming (yes, even better than Citizen Kane). This has been cited as the greatest British films of all time and it’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to argue with that assessment. Greene and Reed – along with the wonderful work of cinematographer Robert Krasker – capture perfectly the decay of postwar Vienna, once the jewel of European capitals. Cotten, as the nominal hero, is ineffective almost to the point where we in the audience become cynical and begin rooting for Harry Lime (Welles playing a great, complex villain) to get away with his crimes. Those familiar with the fiction of Graham Greene know that the dividing line between good and evil is always thin and blurred. The Third Man is a prime example of that philosophy.

THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (October 14, 2:30 am): Mention the name “Fritz Lang” to any cinephile and expect to hear “Dr. Mabuse” among the answers. Mabuse is Lang’s master criminal par excellence; his Professor Moriarty. This is Lang’s follow-up to M and his last film made in Germany until his return in the ‘50s. Here we see the further adventures of arch criminal Mabuse. Mabuse has been locked away in an asylum for a decade. Strange things are happening between seemingly disconnected persons and event. Disgraced cop Hofmeister (Karl Meixner) investigates, partially to recover his tarnished reputation. But before he can divulge the facts behind the case he is driven insane. It is now up to Commissioner Lohmann (Otto Wernicke, following up on his role in M) follows the trail to the asylum where Mabuse is kept. What happens from there is compelling viewing, especially as we quickly make the connection between Mabuse and Hitler. Mabuse’s writing – his “testament” – is in reality Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Goebbels banned the film in Germany. Don’t miss it.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (October 11, 10:30 pm) 

ED: A. This is a wonderfully old-fashioned Gothic horror set in then contemporary Los Angeles. It comes across as a sort of combination between PsychoSunset Boulevard and theater of the absurd. It comes across to us today as part macabre gothic horror, part dark comedy and a good part camp, due to the histrionics of leading ladies Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Viewing it a few months ago I was surprised that there was anything left of the old house where they resided after all their scenery chewing. But it works and works well, thanks to the talent and work ethic of both actresses. Knowing the sub-text of the heated rivalry and mutual hatred between Davis and Crawford makes for even better viewing. You'll delight in watching them trying to top each other with some sort of trick or mugging before the camera. But with all that aside, it's a good story and well directed by Robert Aldrich. As Jane (Davis) begins to descend into madness, this is where the camp stops and the real horror begins. It makes for compelling viewing and Victor Buono adds nicely to the horror as a mama's boy on the make whom Jane takes a liking to, thinking that he's in love with her, and enlists him as the piano player for her "comeback" act. As mentioned before, Aldrich does a wonderful job of directing, keeping a deliberate pace that serves to intensify the horror and allows us to identify with Blanche's predicament. Do not reveal the ending and be sure to duck if Jane ever offers to cook you "din din."

DAVID: D+. I dislike this film for a variety of reasons. To see two formerly great actresses, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, reduced to doing a film this outrageously bad and over-the-top is depressing. To make matters worse, it spawned a new genre, known as psycho-biddy films. They were low-budget (at least in appearance) movies starring older actresses playing emotionally-disturbed women. Because of the box-office success of this film, Davis and Crawford became the queens of this genre. They followed this up with Strait-JacketHush... Hush, Sweet CharlotteThe Nanny, and Beserk! I like B-movies, but this one is uncomfortable to watch because you see what had become of these two screen legends. Hollywood no longer wanted them, and they were such divas that they opted to make this horrible horror/suspense film for reduced salaries in exchange for a percentage of the film's profits. This film is little more than Jane (Davis) reliving her glory days as a child performer with reality long forgotten in her mind, and doing whatever she can to make the life of her sister, Blanche (Crawford), a living hell. That wouldn't be so bad except the stunts she pulls are juvenile and ridiculous. Blanche loves her parakeet so Jane kills it and serves it to her sister for a meal. Staying with the dead-animal-for-a-meal theme, Jane also serves Blanche a dead rat. Yum! She also has no qualms about physically beating up Blanche. The only saving grace of this film is the ending, and it's quite the surprise. Unfortunately, you've got to watch about two hours to get to the interesting last 15 minutes. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
October 1–October 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

20,000 YEARS IN SING-SING (Oct. 1, 2:00 am): This 1932 film is movie history as it's the only time Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis star together in a picture. While it's not a classic, it's a good film - and only 78 minutes long. Tracy plays Tommy Connors, an over-confident criminal sentenced to a stint of five to 30 years in Sing-Sing. Davis is his loyal, but naive girlfriend, Fay Wilson. With Tommy on the inside, his partner-in-crime on the outside, Joe Finn (great acting job by Louis Calhern), promises he's doing all he can with his connections to get his pal out of jail. But he's actually doing nothing to help Tommy and spending his time trying to get with Fay. She ends up seriously injured, and a trusting warden gives Tommy a 24-hour pass to see her. Tommy find out Finn is responsible for Fay's injuries. Nothing good happens to Finn, which means nothing good happens to Tommy. But he does return to Sing-Sing as promised, just in time to be sent to death row. Great interaction between Tracy and Davis, and Calhern is solid in his role as the conniving heel. While Tracy and Davis wanted to do more films with each other, this was it. Of course, it's a Warner Brothers film as no other studio mastered the gritty crime-action genre of the era like that studio. 

THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (October 3, 2:45 am): Director George Romero made this cult classic on the cheap, about $114,000, and it looks it. But this 1968 zombie film is excellent. Seven people are trapped inside a western Pennsylvania farmhouse with zombies outside wanting to eat them. Most of the actors weren't professionals, but how professional do you have to be to walk like a zombie and pretend you're eating human body parts? The storyline is surprisingly sophisticated for a cheap zombie film with the main character being a young black man, who obviously is not only the leader of those in the house (an older white guy challenges him resulting in horrible consequences), but he is the most intelligent, level-headed and resourceful. Critics have also contended the film is anti-Vietnam war and takes on Cold-War politics. Whatever. It's a groundbreaking horror film that is gory - though some of it looks so fake that you can't take it seriously, and being filmed in black and white softens the blood and guts - and fascinating to see. Don't expect a happy ending. As an end note, having lived in the Youngstown, Ohio, area since 1995, I get a kick out of seeing the fictitious community centers and hospitals in this area (the film is supposed to take place a short distance away in western Pennsylvania) on the TV screen as safe havens to get away from the zombies. I'm not a big fan of horror movies, but this one is outstanding.

ED’S BEST BETS:

CURSE OF THE DEMON (October 5, 2:45 pm): A wonderful old-fashioned horror thriller concerning anthropologist Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) who made his reputation debunking the occult. He is about to meet his match in the persona of one Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), a practitioner of the black arts much in the style of Alistair Crowley. Those who he perceives as a threat are slipped a small parchment and are later visited by one of the scariest and best monsters in the history of film. But this is more than a mere horror film. It’s a wonderful give and take between the skeptical Holden and the sinister Karswell. The audience is sucked right into the film from the beginning when a colleague of Holden’s, Dr. Harrington (Maurice Denham) gets his when the monster drops in on him. And remember, “It’s in the trees! It’s coming!” (Which Kate Bush sampled for her song “The Hounds of Love.” Don’t miss this one – it’s a genuine classic of the genre.

VAMPYR (October 7, 2:30 am): Because of its time slot, you’ll probably have to record this, but it’s definitely worth the effort. This is Carl Dreyer’s classic take on the vampire story, based on the novella, Carmilla, by Sheridan Le Fanu. A traveler, Allan Gray, is drawn into a battle between the village and the aged vampire, Marguerite Chopin, who, aided by a sinister doctor, controls the forces of the night. Dreyer’s highly stylized use of lighting, shadows, and camera angles adds to the eerie atmosphere and the chills. Disparaged by critics upon its release, it’s been embraced by later critics and is now considered one of the most artistically structured horror films ever made.

WE DISAGREE ON ... DOCTOR X (October 3, 9:30 pm)

ED: B+. At a time when the studios were glomming on to the highly profitable concept of the horror film, Warners joined the fray with one of their own. However, instead of being set in some unnamed European country, Warners Americanized the genre and set it in urban surroundings (New York City). Using talent such as Lee Tracy, Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill to star, the studio also assigned director Michael Curtiz to direct. Curtiz, in turn, brought his experience working in German horror films for UFA with him in creating this wonderful example of home-grown horror. Filmed in a two-strip Technicolor format (which emphasizes various tones of green and orange) that heightens the eerie mood, Doctor X never misses a chance to give its audience a chill. And it's precisely because of its horror elements that a need for comic relief was necessary. (To quote Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon II, "There is something for everyone in this picture: cannibalism, dismemberment, rape, and necrophilia - and a piquant kinky bonus when Atwill displays erotic arousal at the sight of Preston Foster unscrewing his artificial arm.") And Tracy provides the comic relief in such a way that we're rooting for him to vanquish the murderer rather than to be annoyed with Tracy himself. It's a great example of the horror genre and Curtiz's borrowings from German Expressionism further heightens our sense of unease with the surroundings. Max Factor did the make-up and anyone that hears the distinctive words, "Synthetic flesh," as spoken by the murderer near the end will be sure to always keep it in the corner of his or her mind, especially in a dark surrounding.

DAVID: C. Visually, the color in this two-strip Technicolor film from 1932 is impressive. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the movie. Lee Tracy plays a newspaper reporter trying to find out who's behind the "Moon Killer Murders." Tracy's comedic attempts come across as forced and out of place in this film. The film tries at times to be funny, but it's a horror movie about a serial cannibalistic killer so the storyline doesn't lend itself to many jokes. There are lulls in the film and it can be challenging to keep the characters straight as well as follow the plot, which includes many holes. It's not an awful movie. Lionel Atwill (Doctor Xavier or Doctor X if we go by the movie title) is good, and while she screams too much, Fay Wray as Doctor X's daughter gives a capable performance. Overall, there are too many silly scenes though the color and make-up by Max Factor are visually appealing.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
September 23–September 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

LORDS OF FLATBUSH (September 25, 12:15 am): This 1974 film about four members of the Lords street gang in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn growing up in 1958 is certainly no masterpiece. Like many other low-budget movies, it has its faults. But it also has a certain charm that gives me a nostalgic feeling every time I watch it or see a clip from the film. The four guys (two are played by Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler just before their iconic Rocky and Fonzie characters) are leaving high school and moving on with their lives. There are some very funny scenes of the group stealing a car and a personal favorite with Stallone, who plays Stanley, the toughest guy in the gang, buying an engagement ring for his girlfriend. After a jeweler shows Stanley and his girlfriend, Frannie, an expensive ring, Stallone's character says, with his girlfriend not in earshot, "If you ever show my girl a ring like that again, you know what's gonna be written on your tombstone? 'I was dumb enough to show Frannie Malincanico a $1,600 ring.' Ya got that?" The acting is solid with Stallone quite good. Winkler's role is small in comparison. You can see it's made on the cheap, but that's part of its appeal. The characters come across as authentic. They love the importance being in the Lords, but understand that it's coming to an end. Stanley gets married, and Chico (Perry King) gets to date the prettiest girl in school only to get dumped for being too possessive and immature. The storyline is secondary to the atmosphere of the picture, which does a wonderful job of capturing a time and place. A little trivia on this film: It was to be Richard Gere's movie debut, but he got into a fist fight with Stallone (the film's star and one of its co-writers) and was fired.

THE WRONG BOX (September 29, 2:00 am): This is an exceptionally funny film with an all-star cast featuring Michael Caine, John Mills, Ralph Richardson, Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, and Peter Sellers (the latter in a small but memorable role as an absent-minded docor). Mills and Richardson play elderly brothers, Masterman and Joseph Finsbury, respectively, who happen to hate each other. They are the remaining two members of a group of 12 with the last survivor receiving a very large sum of money. It's filled with great performances. Cook and Moore (England's top comedy team at the time) are outstanding as Joseph's nephews, particularly Cook. It takes a few minutes to figure out what's going on, but the storyline and dry wit are well worth spending that brief period of time understanding the characters and their motivations.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (Sept. 27, 5:45 pm): A color remake of 1938’s 20th Century Fox classic production with Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. The original novella by Arthur Conan Doyle is rightfully viewed as one the classics of literature as well as an essential of detective fiction. Could Hammer improve on the Rathbone-Bruce original? Well, no – but they do come close – very close. Being as this was 1959, Hammer had the freedom to emphasize the decadence of the Baskerville clan in the beginning, which brings the supposed curse on the family. Peter Cushing makes for an excellent Holmes, second only to Rathbone. But unlike Rathbone, Cushing’s Holmes is much more obsessed and shows the ravages of his drug addiction more clearly. Morrell’s Watson is the usual Morell acting job: excellent, and gives the character more of a role than nearly being the comic sidekick, as Bruce played him. Even Christopher Lee, noted in his early days for his wooden performances, conveys an effective Henry Baskerville: honest, innocent, and despising of his ancestors. By all rights it should have been a hit. It did well in England, but here in the States, it was packaged as a horror film and double billed with other horror fare. But by all means, watch it. If not for the story, then for Cushing’s fine interpretation of Holmes as an individual tortured by not only his personal demons, but by his own logical method.

TITANIC (Sept. 30, 2:15 am): There have been many versions of the Titanic story, a topic that naturally lends itself to a filmic interpretation. But, for cinephiles, this is the best version. Not because of its virtues or flaws, but because this was made in 1941 by the Nazis! Yes, this is an example of the Third Reich, and in particular, Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda. This version tells the basic facts of the story, but interprets them in its own weird fashion. The British are seen as greedy capitalistic pigs (the reason they wanted the boat to sail quickly was to establish a new speed record and drive up the value of their stocks), lacking even the most basic of human kindnesses. And the only hero in the movie is the lone German crewman! Leave it to the Nazis to twist basic facts into new heights of absurdity for the sake of agitprop. The production was a troubled one: the original director, Herbert Selpin, happened to make some critical remarks about the German navy to his crew. Someone on his loyal crew dropped a dime to the Gestapo, and exit Selpin, to be replaced by Werner Klinger. The film was deemed too squeamish to be shown to already German audiences, suffering the effects of continuous air raids, and so the premiere was pushed back to 1943 and only in Occupied Paris. The film really didn’t reach a wide German audience until 1949. An ironic note: British producers incorporated the rescue scenes into their version of the Titanic disaster, A Night to Remember (1958). All in all, this is one not to miss.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (September 23, 12 pm)

ED: A-. This unusual, sensual, offbeat, almost surreal film is light years away from the style and content we came to expect from the later Capra. At its heart, it's a film about a Chinese warlord's infatuation with an American missionary, played so close to the vest by Barbara Stanwyck, in one of her best - and most underrated - performances. Yes, the warlord is actually Swedish-born actor Nils Asther in makeup, but if Capra had insisted on an authentic Asian actor, such as Sessue Hayakawa, do we even think this film would have seen the light of day, given the racial mores of America at the time? Let's be real. As it is, this film is an excellent, piercing look at cross-culture encounters. The scenery and cinematography by Joseph Walker are first rate, as is the script. Except for the usual overt instances of cruelty, so common a misconception about Asian culture at the time, the film contains a marvelous three-dimensional performance by Asther, who plays his character as a man rather than as a mere stereotype. The beautiful Toshira Mori, as Mao Lin, General Yen's concubine, also gives us a moving performance. It's a shame she didn't move on to much better things, but in the '30s and '40s she was an Asian in a Caucasian town. The subtext of passion lurks uneasily beneath the surface of the film, embodied in the person of Stanwyck's missionary, whose yearning for the General is neatly subconsciously repressed in her every movement and action. It's a movie that film buffs will not want to miss, and if you've never seen this, place it on your "Must See" list at once.

DAVID: C. This Pre-Code film is one of the first, perhaps the first, to deal with interracial sexual tension even though General Yen is played by Nils Asther, who is white, and the two leads don't even kiss. The plot is implausible while trying to be realistic. More than once, I said, "C'mon. You're kidding me." Barbara Stanwyck plays Megan Davis, who comes to China during its civil war to marry a missionary and rescue orphans. Talk about bad timing. She gets kidnapped by General Yen, a warlord who doesn't have a heart of gold. Davis is presumed dead allowing Yen to keep the attractive white woman with the sassy mouth in his palace as long as he likes. Despite the horrible circumstances that lead to Davis being help against her will, she becomes attracted to Yen. She is horrified - and strangely, turned on - after a mass execution ordered by Yen. Nothing says love like a bunch of people getting murdered. Even though it's Pre-Code, there apparently were some limits. We don't see the two doing anything sexual except a Davis dream that has Yen start to rape her and then become tender. This 1933 film seems to lose its direction. It ends with Yen, doomed to defeat, drinking poisoned tea with Davis willingly by his side rather than high-tailing it out of there after the general's army abandons him. But I have to give director Frank Capra and Columbia Pictures credit for the film's beautiful cinematography. It's too bad the rest of the movie doesn't equal the cinematography.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
September 15–September 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

OUT OF THE FOG (September 19, 1:45 pm): They Made Me a Criminal (1939) brought the great John Garfield to the attention of movie fans. Two years later, Out of the Fog proved that with the proper script, Garfield was among the elite actors of his era - an era that included Humphrey Bogart, Joseph Cotten, Cary Grant, James Stewart and Orson Welles. In this film, Garfield plays Harold Goff, a sadistic gangster who demands protection money from fishermen at a Brooklyn pier. He is incredibly cruel yet also charming as he falls for the daughter, played by Ida Lupino, of one of the fishermen he is terrorizing. It's one of Warner Brothers' best gritty film noirs. There is nothing likable about Goff, but you won't be able to stop watching until you see how he gets it in the end. 

JULES AND JIM (September 21, 3:15 pm): This is an absolute masterpiece by Francois Truffaut, the best of the French New Wave directors. The story takes place over a period of about 25 years before, during and after World War I. The film is about the close and complex relationship between Jules (played by Oskar Werner), Jim (played by Henri Serre) and Catherine (played by the legendary Jeanne Moreau). A great storyline with unforgettable acting and cinematography. The storyline is detailed so it's difficult to explain it here, but it is easy to follow when watching the movie. No review can properly describe this great film. It's like reading a beautiful poem and understanding everything the writer meant to convey. I remember being completely awestruck watching this movie for the first time. It's one I go back to from time to time and it never leaves me disappointed. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

PATHS OF GLORY (September 21, 9:15 pm): If any film can be truly said to be essential, this is one of them. It’s an unwavering look at the absurdity of war and the chain of command after the failure of a suicidal charge against an inconsequential position during World War I. Those responsible for the attack deny responsibility and instead choose three men at random to be court-martialed for cowardice. They are defended by their regiment’s commander, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), himself a trained lawyer, who has come to believe in the utter absurdity of the war. No matter how many times one sees it or how long between screening, it still packs quite a punch and Doulgas’s performance remains just as fresh today as it did at the time of filming.

THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) (September 22, 4:30 pm): It’s the scientists (led by Robert Cornthwaite) versus the military (led by Kenneth Tobey) in this sci-fi classic about the discovery of a flying saucer and its occupant near the North Pole. The occupant is alive and represents a wealth of knowledge from an advanced society. One problem: he lives on blood and regards humans as only necessary for his subsistence. Also, he’s busy breeding more of him. Written by Charles Lederer, produced by Howard Hawks, and directed by Christian Nyby (though many film historians assert that it was Hawks who actually directed the movie and giving Nyby, his film editor by trade, a director’s credit), it combines horror and thrills with dark comedy, utilizing its setting well to give the film a claustrophobic feeling. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again. And if you haven’t – this is one film you can’t afford to miss. Also of note is composer Dimitri Tiomkin’s haunting score, achieved with a Theremin.

WE DISAGREE ON ... WRITTEN ON THE WIND (September 19, 2:00 am)

ED: A-. On the surface, this film seems like another glossy soaper, but we have to look behind the facade. The director is none other than Douglas Sirk, here at the height of his creative powers. The film is excessive in every way: lush, over-the-top, garish lighting and scenery, and a soundtrack that tends to be too loud and intrusive. However, consider what lurks beneath the surface of this film. Written on the Wind is told in flashback and we see Robert Stack meeting a very violent death near the beginning. This method raises it from ordinary soap opera into something different. By showing Stack killed in such a way, we realize that whatever happiness Stack's character finds is both temporary and illusionary. Look for the use of deep focus throughout the film; when working with colors, it can be used to emphasize certain features. In this case Sirk used it to enhance the harshness of the settings, conveying to the audience that despite the lush trappings, all is not well when one peeks behind the curtain. The performances are outstanding. Sirk, working with Rock Hudson on eight pictures total, took him from a good-looking poster boy and made him into something of an actor. And Hudson got it, for he accepted what is clearly the minor part to Stack. Lauren Bacall was one of Hollywood's busiest and hottest actresses at the time, though she cut back on her schedule to care for ailing husband Humphrey Bogart, whose cancer was terminal. We'd never know just how sick Bogart was when we watch Bacall deliver a performance for the ages in this film (and later in the next year's Designing Woman). Dorothy Malone, however, almost steals the flick as Stack's hot-blooded sister. Look for the sequence where Sirk intercuts her highly-sexualized dance with her father's fatal tumble down the stairs. Fans of Sirk know that sexual satisfaction plays a big role in the undercurrent of his movies, and his reliance on dime-book Freud sometimes becomes a bit silly, as in the scene where Stack's doctor (Edward Platt) tells him her may be sterile (in a drugstore luncheonette, no less), and we see Stack on the way home passing by the phallic-symbol oil wells, all pouring out their treasure. It all adds up to an entertaining time for the audience and is a solid representation of the director that influenced such as Truffaut. (Watch Jules and Jim) Highly recommended, even if soaps are not your cup of tea.

DAVID: C-. This is an over-the-top, borderline silly soap-opera film about a brother and sister (played by Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone), who are heirs to a successful Texas oil company. Both are hard drinkers who jump from bed to bed, somehow unhappy that they are attractive, rich and have easy lives. I am a huge fan of Lauren Bacall. She wasn't getting too many offers for movies when Written on the Wind was made in 1956, which explains why she's in it. She plays a secretary who for some unknown reason ends up marrying Kyle Hadley (Stack). She comes across bored in this movie. Her character, Lucy Moore Hadley, is attracted to Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), a talented geologist and Kyle's best friend. Mitch is interested in Lucy when he's not too busy dragging a constantly-drunk Kyle out of the local bar or repeatedly rejecting the advances of Marylee Hadley (Malone). Some scenes are ridiculous, such as Kyle going into a rage when Lucy tells him she's pregnant. Kyle has a low sperm count and incorrectly believes Mitch is the father. You can't make this stuff up. This film is predictable, repetitive and not that interesting. Also, there's no reason to care about any of the main characters, who seem to have it all, but are miserable. Who can possibly relate to any of them?


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
September 8–September 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (September 9, 10 am): As a journalist, I love movies that make reporters look like superheroes. This 1948 film, done in documentary style and based on a true story, stars screen-legend James Stewart as Chicago Times newspaper reporter P.J. McNeal. After his editor, played by the underrated Lee J. Cobb, sees an ad in the newspaper placed by a woman who believes her son was falsely convicted 11 years earlier of killing a police officer, he sends a skeptical McNeal to talk to her for an article. Over time, McNeal believes the son, Frank Wiecek, played by Richard Conte, is innocent. Despite roadblocks put in his way by state officials who don't want to be embarrassed by a potentially mistaken prosecution and conviction of a cop-killer, McNeal fights on. Do I really need to tell you how it ends? The movie is at its best when Stewart's questioning and tenacity are front and center. He always gave strong performances in his films. This is one of Stewart's finest and least known.

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (September 9, 6:30 pm): This 1955 film is a combination of the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller with the action of a great martial-arts movie done in a Western style. The cast is filled with all-stars, led by Spencer Tracy playing a mysterious stranger with the use of only one arm. Robert Ryan is the main bad guy, aided by Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine, along with Dean Jagger as the town's alcoholic sheriff and Walter Brennan as its undertaker. It's obvious from the moment the stranger, John J. Macreedy (Tracy), gets off the train in Black Rock that, well, it's going to be a bad day there. Macreedy has a reason to be in town. That reason and his presence in Black Rock results in a lot of havoc for the townsfolk. The best scene is when Macreedy, using martial arts and only one hand, beats up Coley Trimble (played by Borgnine in my favorite role of his in cinema) in an excellent bar fight. Borgnine sells Tracy's moves like he's "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig in his wrestling prime. A smart story with excellent action and great acting.

ED’S BEST BETS:

ZORBA THE GREEK (September 8, 3:30 pm): It’s Anthony Quinn, the ultimate slob actor in what may be the ultimate slob role: Zorba – perhaps the part Quinn was born to play. The story is rather simple: Alan Bates plays an English writer named Basil, whose writer’s block has spread to almost every other facet of his life. Arriving in Crete to check a lignite mine he has inherited, he is befriended by Alexis Zorba, a worker who persuades Basil to hire him to work the mine. To say Zorba is exuberant is putting it mildly: he throws himself with gusto into everything he does and his joie de vivre gradually rubs off on the repressed Basil as Basil comes to the realization that while he cannot control all that happens, he can learn to enjoy the good that does come his way. It is a marvelous tribute to the human spirit and is a must see not only for Anthony Quinn fans, but filmgoers of all ages. (Well, almost all. I first saw this when I was 10 with my parents, and though I liked it, I really didn’t get it. But when I saw it again on television at the age of 15, I realized why I could never get the movie out of my head.)

MONKEY BUSINESS (September 11, 8:00 pm): Two of my favorite comedies have the same title. The first, from 1931, stars the incomparable Marx Brothers. And this one stars the incomparable Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, two actors who slid from drama to comedy and back again as effortlessly as Kristi Yamaguchi dancing across the ice. This is a hilarious screwball comedy from director Howard Hawks about a scientist, Barnaby Fulton (Grant), who discovers a “youth serum,” and the effects of said serum on all who partake of it, including not only scientist Grant, but also his wife Rogers and his boss (Charles Coburn). Smartly written by Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, and I.A.L. Diamond, Hawks keeps the action fast and loose, not letting the audience rest for a minute. Marilyn Monroe turns in a solid performance as Coburn’s secretary, and Hugh Marlowe shines as the Fultons’ lawyer. Look for Hawks regulars Robert Cornthwaite and Douglas Spencer as Grant’s assistants. Finally, listen closely to the voice-over during the opening credits: it’s none other than director Hawks.

WE DISAGREE ON ... TO BE OR NOT TO BE (September 8, 1:30 pm)

ED: A+. One often hears the phrase “the Lubitsch touch,” which can best be described as “sophisticated and earthy, elegant and ribald, and frivolous yet profound.” Here is an excellent opportunity to see it in action in this hilarious anti-Nazi comedy. Only Ernst Lubitsch could see the humor to be wrung out of an invasion of another country, because, being a German that had to flee his native country to escape the wrath of the Nazis, he recognized them for the profound fools they were. But more than that, it’s a parable of how those who see themselves as above and untouched by the fray become drawn into it when it hits home. Jack Benny was never better than as the egotistical ham Joseph Tura and Carole Lombard plays her role as his suffering wife to perfection, stealing the movie right from under Benny’s nose. And Tom Dugan as the undervalued Bronsky is a sheer delight who saves the day for the troupe. This film was a critical disaster when released due to this treatment of the subject matter, but over the years has come to be regarded not only as Lubitsch’s best comedy, but also as one of the best comedies ever made. Credit must also be given to Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft for their respectful remake; one the few times a remake comes close to the spirit of the original.

DAVID: C+. To Be or Not to Be isn't an awful film. It's storyline is rather bold: a comedy about Nazis while World War II was ongoing, released in 1942. It's nowhere near the quality of Charlie Chaplin's 1940 masterpiece, The Great Dictator, which is also a satirical film about Nazis during wartime. It's not fair to compare the two - even though I sort of just did. My problems with To Be or Not to Be are I don't find it to be funny, entertaining or clever. I'm not a Jack Benny fan and the film was written with him in mind and plays off of his comedic persona. It's a style that becomes more annoying the longer I watch the film. Also, I have trouble keeping track of who is who as Benny and others use many disguises. After a while, I'm wondering who I'm watching and what are they doing? And because of that confusion, I lose interest in the movie. There are a few funny moments, including one in which an actor in Benny's troupe, dressed as Adolf Hitler, orders Nazis to jump out of an airplane without parachutes. Carole Lombard was a wonderful comedic actress, who tragically died in a plane crash shortly after this film wrapped. She provides a few sparks of entertainment, but not enough to make this film enjoyable.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
September 1–September 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

KEY LARGO (September 5, 2:00 am): This is easily one of my all-time Top 10 films starring three of my favorites: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Lionel Barrymore. It's the best performances by each of these screen legends as well as Lauren Bacall and Claire Trevor. It’s a classic film noir – arguably the best film noir ever – with Bogart playing ex-Major Frank McCloud, who checks into the Hotel Largo in Key Largo, Florida. This occurs during hurricane season, but the real storm hits when gangster Johnny Rocco (played brilliantly by Eddie G., who was Hollywood's greatest gangster actor) comes down the hotel's stairs. The action is intense, the acting is incredibly strong, and the use of the storm to parallel what's happening to the film’s characters is perfect.

THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ 
(September 7, 8:00 pm): There are few actors who had the presence of Burt Lancaster - that voice, the athletic build and his ability to become one with the character he portrayed. In this 1962 film, he plays Robert Stroud, a murderer, who from all accounts was not a nice guy. In the film, Stroud has a dark side, but comes across overall as a decent person. While in solitary confinement, Stroud adopts and trains a sparrow. After a while, he's got an entire bird collection and inspires other inmates to get birds. When some of the birds get sick, Stroud discovers ways to cure them, and becomes an expert on bird diseases. The concept may sound boring, but the screenplay is outstanding and the acting is first-rate. Besides Lancaster, the cast includes Telly Savalas as a fellow prisoner, Thelma Ritter in the performance of her career as Stroud's mother, and Karl Malden as the warden at Leavenworth. Most of the film - and the book of which it is based - takes place at Leavenworth. Stroud does serve some time at Alcatraz, where he isn't permitted to have birds making the title. As an aside, this was the first of four consecutive great films directed by John Frankenheimer. Later in 1962, he directed The Manchurian Candidate, and two in 1964: Seven Days in May and The Train. Lancaster also starred in the two 1964 films.


BONUS: MY LIFE TO LIVE (September 3, 2:15 pm): Read my review of My Life To Live here as part of "Three from Godard." 

ED'S BEST BETS:

NIGHT MUST FALL (September 2, 6:00 am): A really creepy motion picture, thanks in large part to the performance of Robert Montgomery, whose performance of a fellow more than a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic makes one think he’s to the manner born. Montgomery plays a deceptively charming psychopath taken in by Dame May Whitty and whose easy-going manner fools everyone except Rosalind Russell (who shines in an early performance). And what’s in that hatbox he carries? It’s shown at an ungodly hour, but – after all – that’s what recorders are for, and you’ll be glad you recorded this one.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (September 7, 4:00 am): This William Castle opus has long been one of my favorites. I first saw it with my cousin at about the age of 10, when it was playing with To Russia With Love. The film had everything a kid like me (who had practically a lifetime subscription to Famous Monsters of Filmland) could love: skeletons, old hags on roller skates, hanging corpses, blood dripping from the ceiling, a dark, foreboding cellar, and, of course, Vincent Price as our host, as it were. Price is an eccentric millionaire who offers some desperate folks $10,000 each to spend the night with him and comely wife Carol Ohmart in a house that has known mass murder and then some. It has all the touches William Castle is known for and is a real hoot to watch, especially if you have kids. For those who remember it from their childhoods, it’s a Must-See-Again.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (September 5, 2:00 pm)

ED: A+. This is a groundbreaking film in the fight against censorship. Gore Vidal took a one-act play by Tennessee Williams and enlarged it into a full-length picture without bowdlerizing it in the least. All the themes are carefully preserved: homosexuality, incest, lobotomy, and even cannibalism. Katherine Hepburn is Violet Vennable, a woman with a lot to hide concerning her late son Sebastian, and is more than willing to use her wealth and influence to silence the only witness to Sebastian's death – her neice Catherine (Elizabeth Taylor). Montgomery Clift, in real life nearly in a catatonic state from drug and alcohol abuse, gives a bravura performance as the director of the sanitarium to which Violet has banished Catherine for purposes of a lobotomy that would impair her memory forever. And the off-scene dramatics were nearly as powerful as those on-screen. Hepburn was severely annoyed with being away from an extremely ill Spencer Tracy and was further annoyed with what she saw as director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's favoritism toward Taylor. And both Taylor and Hepburn were outraged at what they saw as the director's ambivalent attitude towards an obviously seriously ill Clift. Add to this cauldron Tennessee Williams, who turned the play over to Vidal with a laugh; he hated the play and thought Vidal's efforts would amount to nothing. When Williams got a look at the magic Vidal was creating through the addition of character-defining monologues and such, he pitched a serious bitch not only to be given credit for the story, but also co-credit on the screenplay. When future generations look back on this film they will recognize it for what it truly is – a groundbreaking epic in the war for cinema freedom and an example of how to do so intelligently.


DAVID: C-. This film deals with very interesting subjects – a homosexual brutally murdered while looking to pick up young men for sex during a European vacation, an effort to give a woman who witnessed the attack a lobotomy, and a likely incestuous relationship. But the film itself is a colossal failure. It's Over-Acting 101 with Katherine Hepburn as the mother of the dead character Sebastian, and Elizabeth Taylor as Holly, Sebastian's cousin, who witnesses the murder, but initially can't remember the details. The final scene is so over-the-top and ridiculous with the two spending what seems like an eternity mugging for the camera. Hep gets the advantage by a bit delivering absurd lines when her character falls apart as the truth comes out. The change in her character is silly and not at all convincing. But Hepburn is the most overrated actress in the history of film so it came as no surprise to me. As I mentioned, it's close. Liz's performance as she recalls her time with Sebastian on the European vacation, told in flashback after she is given "truth serum," is also laughable. Montgomery Clift, who was a splendid actor (think James Dean only with a lot of talent), plays a surgeon who is asked to perform a lobotomy on Liz. He's so-so at best in this film. If someone had performed a lobotomy on this film, we all would be better off. In the years after this 1959 film was released, several of the key people involved in it were critical. That includes Tennessee Williams, who wrote the play on which the film is based; Gore Vidal, who wrote the movie's screenplay; and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who directed it.

TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
August 23–August 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (August 25, 2:30 am): This 1957 film, directed by Billy Wilder, is one of the absolute best suspense movies you'll ever see. The story takes many interesting twists and the acting is outstanding, particularly Charles Laughton as an ill, but still brilliant, barrister who takes the case of a man, played by Tyrone Power in his last role, charged with murder. All of the evidence points to Power's character, Leonard Vole, as the killer, but Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) can't resist defending him. Things take a turn for the worse - or maybe it doesn't - when Vole's wife, played by Marlene Dietrich, is called as a witness for the prosecution. The ending is so unexpected and executed exceptionally well by all parties involved in the film. It is a shock - heightened by the closing credits asking moviegoers to not reveal the ending to anyone who hasn't seen it.

BALL OF FIRE (August 26, 8:00 pm): Think of this film as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs if Snow White was a hot nightclub performer, played by Barbara Stanwyck, hiding from the police and her mob boyfriend, and the dwarfs were brilliant but eccentric professors putting together an encyclopedia about everything. Director Howard Hawks - with the assistance of Billy Wilder, who co-wrote the screenplay from a short story he wrote - does a great job blending the two worlds together to make an outstanding romantic comedy. The main professor, Bertram Potts (played by Gary Cooper), is focusing his work on American slang. The slang of 1941 is dated, but the scenes that have Potts learning the slang words of the day from Stanwyck's character, Sugarpuss, are hysterical with Cooper doing an excellent job as the straight man. Also of note are the wonderful acting performances of the other professors, all who are considerably older than Potts. It's a funny, entertaining film that leaves the viewer with a smile on his/her face for most of the movie. After the first time I saw it, I thought to myself, "That was great." It still is.

ED’S BEST BETS:

HITLER’S MADMAN (August 28, 6:00 am): This is being shown on the day devoted to the films of Ava Gardner, and looking at the time it’s airing, one can safely say that it’s not one of Gardner’s more sterling outings. Actually, it was made during her early days in Hollywood when MGM loaned her out to get experience. She made this film for Poverty Row studio PRC, which, except for Sam Katzman’s Banner Pictures, was the bottom of the Hollywood barrel. This is the story of the assassination of Nazi Chief Reinhard Heydrich by Czech freedom fighters, but a number of things raise it from the usual level of PRC product. One is that it was the first directorial effort by German expatriate Douglas Sirk, who imbues it with a polish not seen in PRC films. Two, it contains an outstanding performance by John Carradine as Heydrich. And finally, the film is not only enjoyably watchable as such, but it’s actually good. So good, in fact, that PRC sold it to MGM for distribution. I recommend this not only on its virtues, but also as an example that Poverty Row surroundings do not necessarily have to result in a Poverty Row product. Sure, it looks cheap, but watch it and feel yourself become entranced by the production.

THREE ON A MATCH (August 30, 1:00 p.m.): It’s Warren William Day on TMC and there is no film he made during the ‘30s that’s more powerful or shocking than this Pre-Code effort. It’s the story of three childhood friends (Joan Blondell, Bette Davis, and Ann Dvorak) and the progress of their lives. Dvorak’s character turns out the best financially, but then her luck suddenly turns and she sinks into a live of debauchery, drink and drugs. The movie is startlingly frank and Dvorak wakes up too late to save herself but sacrifices herself for her child in a most dramatic way. Look for Humphrey Bogart in a small role as a thug.

WE DISAGREE ON ...  ROLLERBALL (August 31, 8:00 pm)

DAVID: B+. I admit it - I'm a sucker for early to mid-1970s futuristic dystopian films such as The Omega ManLogan's Run and Rollerball. The latter, from 1975, is about the not-to-distant future of 2018 in which corporations control the world. They certainly got that one correct. In 2018, Rollerball, a version of roller derby with considerably more violence, is the king of sports. It's also society's replacement for war - a nice gesture. The biggest problem is it's also replaced individualism. And that's the problem facing Jonathan E (played by James Caan). He is the greatest Rollerball player of all-time with fans chanting his name. To corporate executives (the key executive is magnificently played by John Houseman), this is a huge problem as the game is designed to stifle individualism (do I sound like Ayn Rand?), and Jonathan is making that difficult. Jonathan won't retire so the corporations make the game more violent, including having the title game be a battle to the death. The action in the film is top-notch, particularly the championship match. Rollerball is much more than a futuristic action film. It's a movie that captures the challenges of being your own person in a structured world that frowns on standing out, especially if it upsets or disturbs society and its norms.

ED: CI remember seeing this in the theater, being sucked in by the terrific commercials. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered this "action" film actually moved at a snail's pace with its sub-plot of corporate totalitarianism. What it really needed to be was just a simple film about how one man rebels against the corporate status quo. What we get instead is a ponderous, pretentious attempt at a "thinking man's film" without much thinking going into it, the rest being covered with heavy-handed symbolism. James Caan delivers "impassioned" lines as if he was hit over the head with a mallet, and Maud Adams sounds if she studied at the school of cardboard acting. The movie needs an impassioned hero, someone like Mel Gibson or Al Pacino. What it gets is an actor who is best suited to a supporting role and needs to be killed off halfway through the picture. John Houseman is . . .well, John Houseman, and he is the only good things about the film besides the game of Rollerball itself, which is a great concept, but poorly executed. And that is precisely the problem with this film: it's one thing to let your audience figure out the plot from clues and actions, but quite another to present a half-baked story that in the end really doesn't make any sense. Finally, the movie doesn't age well. We're supposed to think it's 2018, but everything in the film screams 1975. Along with Logan's Run, it's the worst of the 70's sci-fi movies.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
August 15–August 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

JEWEL ROBBERY (August 21, 8:15 am): When it comes to being smooth and charming, William Powell is in a class by himself. In this 1932 Pre-Code film, Powell plays the leader of a gang of jewelry thieves. Kay Francis plays a rich baroness who regularly cheats on her dull husband. She, her husband and her latest lover are at a jewelry shop when Powell and his gang show up to rob the place. She finds him interesting and attractive, and the feeling is mutual. There's a great subtle use of marijuana at the end of the robbery with Powell forcing the store owner to smoke a "special cigarette" to forget about the incident. The robber and the baroness have other encounters and fall in love. As this is a Pre-Code film, the robber doesn't pay for his crime and gets the girl. The storyline is good, but the chemistry between the two leads is exceptional. Not to diminish Francis's acting ability, but Powell could have great chemistry with a broom. The movie is more of a comedy than a drama and at only 70 minutes in length, it's a delight that allows you to escape reality for a little while.

THE FORTUNE COOKIE (August 22, 8:00 pm): While they weren't a comedic team, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau made several excellent movies together, including The Odd CoupleThe Front Page and Grumpy Old MenThe Fortune Cookie was their first film together and is the best and funniest. Lemmon plays Harry Hinkle, a TV cameraman who gets hurt filming a football game when he is run over by a player. The injuries are minor, but Hinkle's brother-in-law, Whiplash Willie Gingrich (played by Matthau), is an ambulance-chasing lawyer who convinces him to fake a more serious injury to make money from the insurance company. Billy Wilder directs this film and he is among a handful of the best comedic directors in movie history. The plot is nothing new, but the work done by Wilder, Lemmon and Matthau elevate this film to the level of a classic. It's a very entertaining, funny movie that probably best highlights the special chemistry these two extraordinary actors had.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (August 20, 2:15 pm): Like action and plenty of it? Then look no further than this movie. It has action coming out of the spool. Here’s the gist: a team of Allied saboteurs is assigned get behind enemy lines and destroy a pair of big Nazi guns playing havoc with British attempts to rescue a small force in the Aegean Sea. A group of six, led by Gregory Peck as Capt. Mallory, take on the task. There are the inevitable differences between the lot and two women resistance fighters join the group, one of whom is a traitor. So just sit back, turn the brain off for a couple of hours, and enjoy the doings of Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Qualye (who actually trained resistance fighters in World War II Albania), and for your eyes only, the beautiful Irene Papas.

MARY STEVENS, M.D. (August 21, 7:00 am): Kay Francis was the undisputed Queen of The Weepies in the early ‘30s, but this Pre-Coder is strong stuff even for the time. Here she is a pediatrician fighting the usual prejudices of the time. In the first scene she rescues a choking boy by removing one of her hairpins, sticking it down the boy’s throat, and removing the offending object. She’s something else, our Mary. Later, however, she runs into old flame Don (Lyle Talbot) and they begin fooling around after hours with the inevitable result. Don offers to divorce wife Thelma Todd and marry Mary (Thelma Todd for Kay Francis??!!), but Mary will hear nothing of it. She goes abroad and has her baby. Later, coming back she attends to sick babies in steerage and – wouldn’t you know it? – her own baby catches the illness. This movie was so powerful that when Warners presented it to the censorship office for reissue, Joseph Breen denied it a certificate. By the way, Kay Francis was the highest paid actress at her studio in 1934. Mitigating Factor: The Studio was Warner Brothers.

WE DISAGREE ON ... INTOLERANCE: LOVE’S STRUGGLE THROUGHOUT THE AGES (August 15, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+Intolerance marks the birth of the huge Hollywood epic. The sets, camerawork, and editing are superb and set the standard for films to come. If anything, Griffith overreached himself on the story, attempting to trace intolerance through the ages while tying it to a contemporary story. If anyone can be said to be the hero of the film, it is the set designers and builders. They constructed a monumental city of Babylon using little more than thin boards covered in plaster. The story was that whenever L.A. experienced a windstorm, the crew raced down to the set to man the mooring cables and prevent Babylon from tumbling down. I'm not recommending Intolerance for its story, which is rather insipid, but for the awe-inpsiring sets and the deft camerawork. Put simply - if you want a story in a Griffith film, watch Broken Blossoms or The Birth of a Nation. But if spectacle is your thing, or if you're a budding film historian or just plain fanatic, watch Intolerance.

DAVID: B-Intolerance is a historically-important film with groundbreaking film techniques. But let's be honest. It's too long, about 3 1/2 hours in length, and at times, it is incredibly dull. The movie features four parallel stories throughout history, from 539 B.C. (the fall of Babylon with impressive shots featuring about 3,000 extras) to the modern time of the film's release in 1916. The stories are told at the same time cutting from one to another, getting faster and faster to the point of being frantic and confusing. The stories have a similar theme - intolerance by society that leads to horrible consequences. Director D.W. Griffith comes across as self-righteous as the film is largely a response to his offensive film from a year earlier, The Birth of a Nation. If you haven't seen that three-plus-hour film, the premise of its second half is blacks are evil as they conspire with abolitionists to control and humiliate white Southerners after the Civil War. Thankfully, the Ku Klux Klan is around as its members wrest power from blacks and put them in their place. Griffith was surprised by the backlash The Birth of a Nation received (maybe he couldn't sit through the entire film). While the follow-up is better, it's still far from a compelling movie. It is over-produced and heavy-handed as if Griffith is telling his audience, "See, I'm not a racist." There is little to enjoy, but as I mentioned at the start, it's historically important. But it's not a movie you can watch over and over again. Once is more than enough.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
August 8–August 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THRONE OF BLOOD (August 9, 12:45 pm): Never before have I recommended two movies from the same actor (Toshiro Mifune) with the same director (Akira Kurosawa), but there isn't a better actor/director team in cinema history. Honestly, you can't go wrong with any of the Mifune/Kurosawa films airing on TCM on August 9. Throne of Blood is a brilliant adaption of Macbeth done with samurais. Mifune is Washizu (the Macbeth equivalent), a samurai general easily manipulated by his conniving and ambitious wife, Asaji (played exceptionally well by Isuzu Yamada), into murdering the castle's lord and becoming lord himself. Mifune is captivating as he slowly loses his mind because of the guilt he feels about what he's done. Yamada is also outstanding in the Lady Macbeth character. The scenery - particularly the castle and the forest, where nearly all of the film takes place - is stunning. And the ending is so good that when I watch it I often wear out the rewind button. Not only don't I want to miss a second of it, but I want to see it over and over again.

YOJIMBO (August 9, 2:45 pm): If you think A Fistful of Dollars, the spaghetti Western starring Clint Eastwood, is a great movie, not only are you correct, but that 1964 classic is essentially a remake of this 1961 film. Also, it's obvious director Akira Kurosawa was strongly influenced and inspired by John Ford's Westerns when making this film. In Yojimbo, Toshiro Mifune is a Japanese warrior-for-hire. He's "The Man with No Name," even though he gives a phony name. After arriving in a village and in the middle of a war between two rival gangs, he convinces both crime lords to hire him as protection as he is easily the best warrior around. Like A Fistful of DollarsYojimbo has some very funny moments and a ton of action. It's beautifully filmed and highly entertaining.

ED’S BEST BETS:

RASHOMON (August 9, 7:45 am): Is TCM out of their minds, putting this beautiful film on at such an ungodly hour? This is one of the greatest films ever made, in my opinion, and one of star Toshiro Mifune’s best performances. The setting: 17th century Japan. A priest is relating his account of a trial for a brutal rape-murder to two men. It seems that a samurai named Takehiro (Masiyuki Mori) was found stabbed to death after his wife, Masako (Machiko Kyo), is raped by a lecherous bandit (Mifune). We see flashbacks from the trial, during which we see the accounts of the wife, the bandit, and even the dead samurai, who is speaking through a medium. What really happened? That’s up for us to see. Again, forget the fact it’s subtitled. Just start watching and let yourself go. You’ll be glad you did with this one.

LADY KILLER (August 14, 9:00 am): Jimmy Cagney poured out a lot of films during his early days at Warners. This is one of his best. Cagney is right in form as a gangster on the lam who hides out in Hollywood and inexplicably becomes a movie star. But just as he’s getting comfortable and pursuing both his dream to be a Hollywood star and a hot romance with leading lady Lois Underwood (Margaret Lindsay), his old gang reappears and tries to blackmail into going back to his old profession. This is a broad comedy with sharp satirical jabs both at Hollywood life and the Horatio Alger myth. Douglas Dumbrille, Leslie Fenton, and Russell Hopton are along for the ride, along with Mae Clarke as the gang’s moll. The last time she got together with Cagney, he shoved a grapefruit in her face. This time he drags her by the hair and boots her out a door. Clarke should have held out for combat pay.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE FIGHTING 69th (August 14, 1:45 pm):

ED: B+. A great morale film (How did they know a year before?) starring that duo of James Cagney as the Bad Boy and Pat O'Brien as the Good Guy. Cagney is his regular form when teamed with O'Brien - he's a selfish braggart who won't conform to discipline and whose actions lead to the death of others on the battlefield. O'Brien is the unit's chaplin (a real stretch, that) who treats Cagney with a kindler, gentler approach and has faith that he will come around. And he does, you know. (Surprise, surprise.) The Warners' stock company provides great support - look for Jeffrey Lynn as poet Joyce Kilmer. But it's the performance of Cagney that lifts this from the garbage pile into one of the best war films Hollywood has made. His turn from bragging coward into heroic sacrifice should have at least earned him an Oscar nomination. If war films are your meat and potatoes, don't miss this one. 

DAVID: C-. First, whatever issues I have with The Fighting 69th, I think James Cagney is good in his role. Why shouldn't he be? He's played a similar role in several other films. This 1940 film is about an Irish-American military unit during World War I that actually existed. What's peculiar is many of the characters were real people, while Cagney's Jerry Plunkett is fictitious. The film is a 90-minute cliche with Cagney as the egotistical hot-shot who is also a coward. He finally learns humility and sacrifice, and a short time later he dives on a live grenade blowing himself to bits to save his fellow soldiers. Pat O'Brien plays (what else?) a priest who tries to make Plunkett see the error of his ways. Every character is a stereotype from the gruff but lovable sergeant (played by Alan Hale, the Skipper's dad) to Jeffrey Lynn as the sensitive poet. There's no new ground broken here. Actually it's a bit annoying that you know exactly where this film is heading at all times.

TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
August 1–August 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

CLASH BY NIGHT (August 4, 8:00 am): Well-acted and well-directed (Fritz Lang) with Barbara Stanwyck as a woman returning home to Monterey, California, to start a new life after an affair with a married politician. She dates a humdrum fisherman (played by Paul Douglas), but has the hots for Douglas's bitter and hostile best friend (played by Robert Ryan). Babs marries Douglas for stability but can't get Ryan off her mind, even after having a baby (a bit of a stretch as the characters aren't spring chickens; Stanwyck was 45 years old when the film was made). The two have an affair, but all's well that ends well. Though the plot has been played out many times, there's a certain freshness to this story - and a wonderful job capturing the loneliness of people and what they'll do to avoid it. It's the first movie with Marilyn Monroe's name above the title, but she's not much more than a bit-player in this film.

EDGE OF THE CITY (August 7, 12:15 am): John Cassavetes was taking acting roles at the time in order to afford his budding (though inconsistent) career as a director. (His directing debut would come two years later with Shadows, a critically-acclaimed though incredibly overrated improvisation film.) This is one of his finest acting performances. He plays a drifter who finds work as a longshoreman. Sidney Poitier is great as a longshoreman supervisor and the two interact wonderfully in roles that are somewhat groundbreaking with a white man and a black man becoming close friends. The two are excellent, but the film's most compelling character is Jack Warden's bigoted longshoreman supervisor who provokes both Cassavetes's and Poitier's characters. Great tension throughout the movie that comes to an incredible conclusion. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (August 4, 4:15 pm); A wonderful adaptation by screenwriter Charles Lederer and director Howard Hawks of the 1925 Anita Loos novel of the same name. Two gold diggers, played by Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, travel to Paris, get involved with a range of men from rich to poor, straighten out the tangles they created along the way, and live happily ever after. It contains some great songs and dance numbers, and a wonderful performance by Russell, who steals the movie. Monroe, however, manages to shine as Lorelei Lee and is fantastic in the number, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” The chemistry between the leads couldn’t be any better, which adds to the fun. Look for the mishap in the Russell number with the bodybuilders where she accidentally gets knocked into the pool. Trouper that she was, Russell finished the number, saw the rushes and convinced Hawks to keep it in the film. If you love musicals – and even if you don’t – you can’t go wrong with this movie.

THE PRIZEFIGHTER AND THE LADY (August 2, 11:45 am): This was originally a story in the mold of The Champ written by Frances Marion under orders (she thought it warmed over soup) from L.B. Mayer as a vehicle for Clark Gable. But when she finished the article, Gable was on another assignment and, instead, Max Baer was signed for the film. The story, about a boxing champion falling for a society girl, was kept, but Marion reworked her script to accommodate Baer. W.S. Van Dyke, known for his speed in getting a film done, replaced the original director, Howard Hawks (who begged off) and Van Dyke brought in Myrna Loy to play Baer’s love interest. Loy, who the studio was brining around slowly, was happy not to have to play an Oriental villain for once and she turned in a stellar performance that boosted he stock in the studio and led to The Thin Man. It’s said that Baer walks away with the film, but watch for Loy’s beautifully-timed acting style, for, without it, Baer would have hit the canvas for the 10-count. The film also features Jack Dempsey, Primo Carnera, Jess Willard, and Strangler Lewis. Fans of B-movies of the 40s should recognize Frank Moran, an ex-boxer who plays a boxer in the film, and who became a supporting staple in several Monogram horror features of the ‘40s.

WE AGREE ON ... 3:10 TO YUMA (August 6, 8:00 pm)

When one of the best Westerns ever made comes on the screen, attention must be paid. And this is one of the very best, from a story by Elmore Leonard, with Van Heflin as down-on-his-luck farmer Dan Evans. Needing money desperately to dig a well he accepts an assignment to secretly transport notorious gang leader Ben Wade (Glenn Ford, who was made for Westerns), to a nearby town where Wade will placed aboard a train that will take him to Yuma. This is a tense, psychological drama directed by Delmar Daves that concentrates on the relationship between captor and prisoner. The story departs from most other Westerns of the time in that much of it takes place not in the great, open, expanses of the West, but in a single room where the characters battle it out as Wade stalls for time so the rest of his gang can come to his rescue. The film was needlessly remade in 2007 with Russell Crowe in the Ford role and Christian Bale as the farmer. Stick with this one – it’s heads and tails better.
ngs of Davis and Rains. A


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 23–July 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

D.O.A. (July 24, 4:30 pm): This 1950 film noir has one of the best openings in movie history. Frank Bigelow (played by Edmond O'Brien) goes to a police station to report he's been murdered. Told in flashbacks, we learn someone slipped Bigelow a slow-acting poison, with no antidote. He then tells the story of how he's attempting to figure out who killed him and why. Excellent tension throughout the film even though you know Bigelow is doomed. Made by Cardinal Pictures (did the studio make any other films?) and released through United Artists, the copyright wasn't renewed in 1977. Lucky for us because you can watch it by clicking here. It's been remade a couple of times, but nothing touches the original.

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (July 28, 5:00 pm): An authentic film that pulls no punches about three soldiers returning home from World War II attempting to adjust to life. The film features incredible performances by the legendary and lovely Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Fredric March and Harold Russell (an actual WWII vet who lost both his hands in the war). The film won seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Unlike some multi-Oscar films, this one is truly a classic that remains as real and as powerful as it must have been to movie-goers when it was released in 1946. It's very touching and beautiful. It’s nearly impossible to not be emotionally moved while watching this film. One quick note: when Andrews is telling the two others that he can't wait to get back to his beautiful wife, I thought he was talking about Loy. Imagine my surprise when it's March who is married to Loy (they play the older couple), and Andrews' wife is played by Virginia Mayo.

ED’S BEST BETS:

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (July 24, 10:15 am): Hitchcock is at his noir best in this gripping tale of a tennis pro (Farley Granger) that inadvertently becomes embroiled in a murder plot with a psychotic socialite (Robert Walker). The premise for the plot is simple: they agree to kill someone the other wants disposed. Although Granger rightly balks at this notion, Walker blackmails him by threatening to pin the murder on him. How Granger deals with all this is what keeps us riveted to our seats and is why Hitchcock was the unparalleled master of this sort of film.

THE BAND WAGON (July 29, 8:00 pm): In my estimation, this is the greatest musical ever to come out of Hollywood. Fred Astaire has never been better than he is here playing a faded Hollywood musical star lured out of retirement to star in a stage musical based on Faust, of all things. He has tremendous support from the lovely Cyd Charisse, Nanette Fabray, English song-and-dance man Jack Buchanan, and Oscar Levant, who, although playing Oscar Levant as in every other film, has never done it better than this. There are lots of great numbers topped off by Astaire and Charisse in “Girl Hunt,” a mystery set in swingtime. Fabulous. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

WE DISAGREE ON ... WEST SIDE STORY (July 29, 5:15 pm)

DAVID: C-. Remember my comment in The Best Years of Our Lives recommendation about not all multi-Oscar-winning films being classics? Here's a perfect example. This mess of a film won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, in 1961. The dialogue is outdated, Daddy-o, and the plot is a ridiculous attempt at doing a then-modern-day Romeo and Juliet set in New York City with rival gangs of whites and Puerto Ricans - and as a musical. The Sharks and the Jets look like they would get beat up by the "gangs" who danced in Michael Jackson's "Beat It" music video. There are some catchy songs, particularly "America," but there's only a few entertaining minutes in this 152-minute movie. The attempt at a heavy-handed ending is laughably bad. The only reason to see this - if you haven't already subjected yourself to watching it already - is if you're trying to complete a list, such as seeing all the Oscar-winning Best Picture films. "Womb to tomb!" "Birth to Earth!"

ED: A+. This is easily the best musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and one of the best takes on Shakespeare’s tragic romance. This time the setting is New York City’s West Side and it’s the Caucasian Jets (Montagues) versus the Puerto Rican Sharks (Capulets). But don’t watch it for the story – watch it for the wonderful music by Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sonderheim and the awe-inspiring choreography by Jerome Robbins, who also co-directed with Robert Wise. Viewers will be able to see Robbins’s influence in the many music videos of the 1980s. As for the tunes, well, you’ll be humming them long after the movie s over. Forget the 50s anachronisms like “daddy-o,” and the fact that it should have been Rita Moreno instead of Natalie Wood in the role of Maria. (Wood was big box office at the time, but an actress of limited range and not made for musicals. Besides, she looks as Hispanic as Winston Churchill.) Sit back and enjoy.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 15–July 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (July 17, 4:30 am): A well-acted horror film from 1946 with the legendary Peter Lorre at his psychotic (and psychotronic) best. He's a musicologist who lives with a once-great pianist, who can no longer use the right side of his body after a stroke. His piano-playing days are over, and after a few scenes in the film, his breathing days are also over. Someone breaks into his mausoleum and cuts off his left hand. Lorre's interaction with the hand is brilliant and the special effects of the hand playing the piano and strangling Lorre are outstanding - even to this day. Great suspense and a fun horror film. It's also Lorre's last movie for Warner Brothers.

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (July 19, 4:40 am): Orson Welles' brilliant follow to Citizen Kane stars Joseph Cotten (one of film's greatest actors in only his second movie) as Eugene Morgan, a charming and successful automobile manufacturer in the early 1900s. Twenty years after he returns to town, Eugene falls in love with Isabel Amberson (played by Dolores Costello), a former flame who is widowed. But Isabel's son, George (played by Tim Holt), steeped in his family's tradition and name, interferes in the love affair between his mother and Eugene, who want to marry. The film is beautifully shot with incredible acting and a compelling storyline about those who go to ridiculous lengths to keep their pride at the expense of their own personal happiness and of their families. Welles lost control of the film's final cut and didn't approve of what was done to the film, even though he agreed it needed to be shortened.

ED’S BEST BETS:

NIGHT AND THE CITY (July 15, 8:30 am): A great noir directed by the great Jules Dassin and starring Richard Widmark as a low-life hustler trying to break into the “All-In” wrestling racket in the netherworld of London. Gene Tierney is memorable as Widmark’s tortured girlfriend. However, it’s Francis L. Sullivan and Googie Withers as oily nightclub owner Phil Nosseross and his equally shady wife, Helen, who steal the show. Look for the climatic wrestling match between Mike Mazurki and the legendary Stanislaus Zbyszko at the film’s climax. Not to be missed for anyone who loves noir with a little pro wrestling (the noir sport) thrown in.

CITIZEN KANE (July 19, 2:15 am): Disappointed that I recommended this? Seen it before? I truly hope so. Well, it’s always worth watching again (and again, for that matter). It’s been written about and praised into the ground, but still retains its magic. It’s the story of modern America through the eyes of a truly flawed man; a man responsible for shaping public opinion through his media empire who found everything but love. This is the feature film debut of such great actors as Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane, Ruth Warrick, and the renowned Joseph Cotton, as well as the starring and directing debut of Orson Welles. It was both an artistic triumph and a curse to Welles. If you haven’t seen it, now’s the time to check it out.

WE DISAGREE ON ... GUNGA DIN (July 16, 4:00 pm)

DAVID: C. This is one of my father's favorite films. I have never understood the appeal of this attempt at being a screwball comedic action-adventure. It tries to be all of those and never clicks on any level. The film stars Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Victor McLaglen as British Army sergeants in India with Sam Jaffe as the title character, an Indian water boy. While Grant made great comedies, he also starred in some stinkers including Arsenic and Old Lace, and Bringing Up Baby. This film also falls far short of being funny and the fight scenes come across as somewhat ridiculous. It appears as though the film's plot (and there isn't much to it) is secondary to having Grant, Fairbanks and McLaglen mug for the camera trying to get by on their charisma more than anything else. In the end, it doesn't entertain me and fails to keep my interest.

ED: A-. Who'd have ever thought that a movie about naked British imperialism would be so enjoyable? (Oh well, even Marx and Engels thought the English colonization of India was a good thing.) The picture revolves totally around the chemistry of its stars: Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Victor McLaglen. And what chemistry! The trio completely pulls the audience in from the first reel and never lets up until the words “The End” emerge on the screen. Sam Jaffe plays against later type as the waterbearer who wants to be a soldier and Eduardo Ciannelli is wonderfully evil as the Thugee guru. Joan Fontaine is around to remind us that, despite their closeness, the boys are red-blooded. This is not so much of an adventure film as a nifty piece of pro-British propaganda preparing us for the inevitable War against the Japanese (represented as the Thugees). Is it any surprise that this movie was one of the most popular in the Pacific Theater during World War 2. And seen even years later today, it remains a testament to the incredible star power of Cary Grant, who could make filling prescriptions seem exciting. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 8–July 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE PETRIFIED FOREST (July 10, 8:00 pm):  A well-acted 1936 Warner Brothers movie that is a film noir, a few years before the term was coined. In his first major film success, Humphrey Bogart is outstanding as Duke Mantee, a well-known gangster running from the police who ends up in a diner, taking all of the patrons - including Alan Squier (played by Leslie Howard), a drunk who was once a writer, and Gabrielle Maple (played by Bette Davis), who's father owns the place - hostage. Because Squier is indifferent to death, he engages Duke in conversations. There is great give-and-take between Bogart and Howard throughout the movie, which seems very much like a play, primarily because it was with the two male leads reprising their stage roles for the big screen. Bogart was so good that he ended up playing gangster after gangster for the next five years. 

SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON (July 13, 6:00 am): An unusual, but very interesting British film from 1964 with Kim Stanley as a mentally unstable medium who convinces her weak-willed, hen-pecked husband (played by Richard Attenborough) to kidnap the young daughter of a rich man. She wants to help the police solve the kidnapping so she can become famous. Nothing goes right as Stanley's character gets more and more crazy, and has her husband kill the girl. Stanley and Attenborough are splendid in their roles in this outstanding psychological thriller.

ED’S BEST BETS:

BAND OF OUTSIDERS (July 8, 2:00 am): This film represents director Jean-Luc Godard at his best, exploring the petty crime scene and his fascination with pop-culture. Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) are two lowlifes that like to quote and re-enact B-movies. They meet Odile (Anna Karina) at an English class and a plot soon becomes hatched to steal the money that Odile’s father has embezzled from the government and hidden inside their house. But as with anything else by Godard, it is not so much the destination as the journey that is interesting. The interaction between the characters as they run about, dance, read newspaper stories to each other and pretend to have shoot-outs is augmented by Godard’s voice-over narration and his habit of letting the characters talk to the camera. Look for the “Madison dance” sequence where the three dance in a cafeteria. It was a definite influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

THEM! (July 11, 10:00 am): Not only is this the best of the “big bug” films that came out in the 1950’s, but it also has elements of a noir mystery. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s also one of the best “Red Scare” films of the period. The cast is terrific: James Whitmore, pre-Gunsmoke James Arness, veteran supporting actor Onslow Stevens, promising actress Joan Weldon, a young Fess Parker, and the great Edmund Gwenn. And look sharp for a very young Leonard Nimoy in a small role. It’s proof that when a sci-fi film is made intelligently, it’s a legitimate classic.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE NATURAL (July 11, 10:15 pm)

DAVID: C. For the most part, Hollywood has done a terrible job with baseball movies. Of the dozen or so I've seen, my two favorites are Eight Men Out (1988) and The Bad News Bears (1976). The Natural is filled with cliches and corny scenes that if I watch it by myself, I'm embarrassed if anyone comes into the room and sees what's on. The acting is OK, but the plot is absurd, implausible and ridiculous at times. Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs, a "natural" baseball player whose career ends before it gets started after he is shot by a woman, who kills up-and-coming athletes. Sixteen years later, Hobbs attempts a comeback, but because of his age, he struggles to get a contract. He signs on with the New York Knights, an awful team, and first rides the bench before he gets to play. Of course, with Hobbs in the starting lineup, the team becomes a winner - like when Kelly Leak joins the Bears Little League team. The ending that has Hobbs hitting a pennant-winning home run into the stadium lights, which are broken causing sparks to fall on to the field, is as corny as it gets. 

ED: A-. If this were simply a film about a baseball player named Roy Hobbs and his comeback in a game he loved so much, then I would certainly rate it lower, especially as it does not follow Bernard Malamud's excellent novel. But it's not. Rather, it is a metaphor for the American Dream, the victory of the underdog, and a tale related to King Arthur and The Odyssey. Roy Hobbs was a player that had it all. Today we would describe him as "a five tool player." But just as he was on the precipice of greatness, he is shot by a crazed female fan dressed all in black. Years later he shows up on the roster of the New York Knights, a decrepit baseball club on the verge of being sold by manager/owner "Pop" Fisher to the evil Judge, who is in cahoots with Rothstein-esque gambler Gus Sands (the unfilled Darren McGavin). Fisher has a niece, Memo, who is also in with Gus and the Judge, and, also dressed in black, tries to keep Hobbs from leading the Knights to the pennant. If one watches it from the viewpoint of King Arthur and Homer, it all makes sense in a completely different and wonderful way, mixing the myths and legends of the past with America's most mythic pastime - baseball.

TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
July 1–July 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ACE IN THE HOLE (July 5, 8:00 pm): As a journalist for the past 24 years, I usually love how reporters are portrayed in films, particularly those in the 1930s and 40s. Reporters were superheroes. Not only were they able to always be where the story was, but miraculously, they also able to write really long stories so fast that it was in the next edition - even if that next edition was on the street in 20 minutes. Ace in the Hole is unlike those movies, and is my favorite newspaper film. Kirk Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, a cynical reporter (aren't we all?) who once was a big-city journalist, but was fired from several newspapers for a variety of reasons. He's in a small town in New Mexico when he stumbles across a huge story: a guy is trapped inside a cave when it collapses. The poor guy can be saved, but Tatum and a sheriff, also without scruples, decide to delay the rescue and milk the story into a national media event with Tatum as the lead reporter. A great film on what could happen when people get caught up in celebrity.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (July 6, 3:45 pm): What a fantastic film! I can't stand Angela Lansbury as an actress, but she is incredible in this 1962 Cold War/Communist conspiracy/spy thriller movie with Laurence Harvey (an under-appreciated actor) as Lansbury's son, who is brainwashed to be an assassin. While Lansbury steals the movie, Frank Sinatra is also excellent. A great plot, outstanding pacing and tense-filled. An absolute must-see.

ED’S BEST BETS:

UMBERTO D (July 1, 2:00 am): Director Vittorio DeSica was known for his realistic portrayals of life in Postwar Italy. Next to The Bicycle Thieves, this is his most important - and best - film from that time. It takes a long, hard look at the problems of the unwanted elderly, the protagonist being a retired professor of linguistics at Bologna who can no longer survive on his meager pension. Thrown out of his apartment for back rent, he wanders the streets with his faithful terrier, Flike. Be warned, this is the saddest owner and pet drama since Old Yeller, and I'm not kidding when I day that this is a five-hankie picture. The film was instrumental in helping to reform the Italian pension system into something more humane. Critically lauded in the '50s, it's almost forgotten today, much like its protagonist.

1776 (July 4, 5:00 pm): A musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence? You’re kidding, right? No, we’re not kidding, and furthermore, it’s quite good. Based on the play, it retains many of those originally performed it. William Daniels is splendid as John Adams, Ken Howard makes for a most effective Thomas Jefferson, and Howard DaSilva is the spitting image of Ben Franklin. Throw in Virginia Vestoff as Abigail Adams and Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson, and the film really rocks. Watch out, however, for John Cullum as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. He brings down the house with “Molasses to Rum to Slaves.” Other numbers to watch for include “But Mr. Adams,” “Cool Cool, Considerate Men” (my favorite), and the heart tugging “Mama Look Sharp.” American history was never this much fun.

WE DISAGREE ON ... 42nd STREET (July 1, 6:00 am)

DAVID: C-. When I saw the play on Broadway in 1982 (two years after it opened), I thought it was fun, primarily because of the great choreography. The plot is simplistic and there's a handful of good songs. When I saw the 1933 movie, of which the play is based, a few years ago, I wondered why anyone would take a mediocre at best film and make it a play. (Of course, the play was an unbelievable success and the film was well-received.) The movie is filled with cliche lines about putting on a Broadway musical including the unknown chorus girl becoming the star. The only missing piece is Mickey Rooney. Like its play adaption, the movie's plot is virtually nonexistent. The movie is a shade under 90 minutes and about 20 minutes of it is three song-and-dance numbers from the fictitious play being put on in the film. The Busby Berkeley dance numbers have entertaining moments and the cinematography of them is good, but not nearly enough to keep my interest. If, like me, you're not a musical fan, there's no reason to watch this movie.

EDA++. This is the mother of all Pre-Code musicals, and the prototype for all future musicals. The story is simple – Sugar Daddy Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee) is backing a new Broadway show titled “Pretty Lady,” which will star his squeeze Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels). The trouble is that while Brock is Dillon’s Main Squeeze, she doesn’t want to be squoze by him. She’d rather be in the arms of old boyfriend George Brent, with whom she’s still in love. Things come to a boil, with the result that Bebe breaks her ankle and can’t go on. Just as it looks like there’s going to be a dark theater, young Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) is plucked from the chorus line by director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) and given the chance to be the star. You know the rest. Once Busby Berkeley takes over staging the dance numbers, it’ll never be quite the same again, both for the musicals and for Berkeley. Not only does the film contain unforgettable numbers such as “Young and Healthy,” Shuffling Off to Buffalo,” and the title song, but listen in and catch some of the most risque lines and scenarios ever to populate a musical. Ginger Rogers, in an early role, plays a character named Anytime Annie. “She only said ‘No’ once, and that was when she didn’t hear the question,” says backstage manager Andy Lee (George E. Stone). Also watch for the homosexual innuendo between Julian Marsh and Andy Lee. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this film over the years, but each time I sit down to watch, it comes across still as fresh as the first time I saw it.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
June 23–June 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

LA STRADA (June 24, 2:15 a.m.): One of legendary director Federico Fellini's finest films, and probably his best known. La Strada is about a strongman (played by Anthony Quinn) who purchases a young woman (the incredibly-talented Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife) from her mother after the the woman's sister, who was the strongman's assistant, dies. The movie tells of their life together with Quinn's character, Zampano, prone to anger and Masin's character, Gelsomina, naive but plucky and hopeful (similar to the role she played in Nights of Cabiria three years later). During their journey, they meet Il Matto (a wonderful performance by Richard Basehart), a clown. The three join a traveling circus, and things take a turn for the worse. While the story is compelling, it's secondary to the performances and the film's underlying theme of the fragile human psyche and ego of simple people who on the surface seem to live simple lives. As with many Fellini films, much is open to interpretation - we don't even know what year the movie is supposed to take place - as he wants moviegoers to think about what they see and experience, and perhaps help them understand their own lives a bit better.

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (June 28, 8 a.m.): An excellent sci-fi film in which one day all the people and animals in an English town become unconscious, wake up and two months later, all the female adults - and girls old enough to bare children - are pregnant. They all give birth on the same day to some serious white-looking kids. The children are geniuses, are able to read minds and control others to do whatever they want, including murder and suicide. As time passes, a professor from the village (played by George Sanders, one of my favorite actors) decides he's going to teach the mutant kids, who want to take over the world, to use their powers for good. Of course, that doesn't work out. So the professor plants a bomb to destroy the kids, and thinks of a brick wall in order for the children to not read his mind. Films like this can easily become stupid and cliche, but this one is special. Sanders is fantastic and the kids are great. The special effects aren't that special, but are extremely effective. It's a very entertaining horror film.

ED’S BEST BETS:

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (June 28, 4 p.m.): Every once in a while a science fiction film comes along that doesn’t insult your intelligence, but rather gives the audience something to ponder. This is one of those films. Produced by Hammer Studios, it tells the story of a projectile being found at an Underground station in London undergoing renovation. Small ape-like skeletons are found next to the projectile, which brings in scientists, among them Professor Quartermass, who previously starred in two earlier (and excellent) Hammer sci-fi films. As the projectile is discovered to be a spaceship, questions now arise of how it got there and for what purpose. Written by Nigel Kneale, who authored the two previous Quartermass films, it keeps us both entertained and on the edge of our seat, as Neale plumbs the depths of human psychology and our historical unconscious to unravel the mystery. The cast is rather unknown to Americans: Andrew Keir is Professor Quartermass, James Donald (The Great Escape) is Professor Roney, and the lovely Barbara Shelley is Roney’s assistant who plays an important role in the unraveling of the mystery. Add it all together and this is a film that no film buff can afford to miss.

SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (June 30, 8:00 p.m.): This film is rightly said to be writer/director Preston Sturges’s masterpiece. John L. Sullivan is a noted director of light musical fare such as Ants in Your Plants of 1939 and Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. However, he wants to make an Important Film, and he has one in mind, namely O Brother, Where Art Thou, a leaden novel concerned with the struggle between Capital and Labor. The studio execs pooh-pooh it, noting that he grew up rich and never suffered. So, Sullivan sets out to see how the other half lives, and ends up with far more than he bargained for when everybody assumes he died. It’s both hilarious and touching with many insights from Sturges into the human ego versus the human condition. It’s best to record it to be seen again later – and you will definitely want to see it again.

BAD MOVIES WE LOVE … THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS (June 29, 12:00 a.m.)

Look up the word “overwrought” in the dictionary and you will see a still from this picture.  At first sight, one would think that a film starring Bogart, Stanwyck and Alexis Smith would be tremendous. Well, it’s not. Though filmed in 1945, it took Warners two years to release it to an unsuspecting public. Bogart stars as a nutso artist who meets and falls in love with Stanwyck. One problem – he’s married. So he paints his wife as the angel of death (subtle, huh?) and then poisons her. Shortly afterward Babs is the new Mrs. Carroll. Things are fine at first, but then Bogie meets Alexis Smith. He then begins painting Stanwyck. Uh, oh. The laughs really come when Babs realizes what’s going on and confronts Bogie. The result is an all-out mugging-for-the camera fest as she discovers he’s a pistachio and must fight for her life. Ham never came any better. If it seems stagy it’s because it was based on a 1944 play and the director wasn’t clever enough to make it look like more of a movie than play. Nevertheless, it’s always interesting when three screen idols make fools of themselves and it’s a Must See in our book. By the way, look for a director cameo as a racetrack tout and Bogart’s takeoff on his Casablanca line, “I have a feeling this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful hatred.”


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
June 15-June 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE FRONT (June 19, 5:15 a.m.): I'm a huge Woody Allen fan, but it's a mixed bag when he's only acting, and not directing and/or writing a film. Watch Scenes from a Mall - if you dare - for evidence that acting-only films can be disasters for Allen. Thankfully, The Front is the opposite. This delightful comedy, with a healthy dose of anti-McCarthyism, has Allen as Howard Prince, a restaurant cashier/third-rate bookie in the 1950s who serves as a "front" for an old friend who is blacklisted from Hollywood. His friend writes scripts for a TV show, Prince puts his name on them and they split the money. Everyone's happy, right? Well, not exactly. Prince's friend knows other writers who want to get in on the action. Soon, Prince's name is on many scripts and his ego is running wild. Allen is flawless in the role as a lovable loser who has to convince people that he's actually brilliant. He is surrounded by an excellent cast. Of note is Zero Mostel, who was blacklisted in real life. He plays Hecky Brown - not to be confused with Shecky Greene - who is a beloved character on a TV show in which Prince is a "writer." Brown was sort of a Communist years ago because he was attracted to a woman who was a party member. After being blacklisted, Brown becomes desperate, humiliated and eventually kills himself. Prince is asked to testify before a House on Un-American Activities Committee subcommittee. The ending is priceless. The movie pays tribute to those who were blacklisted, but focuses more on comedy allowing the message to be delivered in a soft, but effective, way.

WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (June 21, 6:15 p.m.): As a journalist, I've always loved how Hollywood portrays newspaper reporters. They were superheroes doing things physically impossible such as writing a story and having the newspaper on the street within minutes of hot news. Directed by the legendary Fritz Lang, While the City Sleeps has three upper-management types fighting it out over who will be executive director of a major corporation with a newspaper and radio station, inherited by a character played by Vincent Price, who's father has died. Price always does a great job playing eccentrics in a very entertaining and engaging way. The winner has to produce a major exclusive on The Lipstick Killer, a murderer terrorizing the city. The film is fast-paced with smart dialogue and great acting. The cast includes George Sanders, Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino and Howard Duff. It's one of Lang's most under-appreciated films.

ED’S BEST BETS:

GOJIRA (June 15, 8:00 pm): We came to know it here as Godzilla, King of the Monsters with Raymond Burr as the intrepid reporter. But this is the original Japanese version before it was edited and Raymond Burr inserted for American audiences. Whereas the Godzilla we have come to know over the years seems like just another monster-on-the-loose picture with numerous plot holes, the original turns out to be a well crafted, tightly plotted film. Here we see that Godzilla is not one’s mere monster, but actually a metaphor for the A-Bomb, which in turn leads us to realize that we (America) are Godzilla. The scene after the destruction of Tokyo with the victims lying in the hospital and the background music sung by young women will really remind the viewer of Hiroshima. For many of our readers, it will be the first time they have seen the original and to each and every one of you, I say: Do Not Miss This Film!

NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (June 18, 10:00 pm): Only Fellini could give us a story about a prostitute with a heart of gold and extremely bad taste in men and make it not only interesting, but have us rooting for her as well. That’s because his wife, Giulietta Masina, one of the finest actresses to ever appear on the Silver Screen, is playing the title role of Cabiria the Prostitute.  She makes us believe that she is the character she portrays and uses subtle facial movements to convey the emotion Cabiria feels in each scene without resorting to mugging for the camera; a rare ability indeed. Fellini raises it from the story of a mere prostitute to one about the resiliency of the Human Condition. The sequence of Cabiria’s experiences – at first sight seemingly random and insignificant, add up as she bounces back from each setback with a stolid determination to go on, whatever the future brings. It’s definitely a Must See and one TCM rarely shows, so catch it.

WE DISAGREE ON ... HAUSU (June 15, 2:30 a.m.)

DAVID: D+. I'm amazed this fourth-rate, predictable Japanese horror film from 1977 gets aired on a semi-regular basis on TCM. There's nothing unique or interesting about this film. It's so bad that no director wanted to  handle it for two years. Finally, Nobuhiko Obayashi agreed to direct and produce the film. He should have left bad enough alone. He's contended the horrible special effects were done that way purposely. The special effects are so over the top and ridiculous that I hope it was intentional. Nearly all of the actresses had limited experience, and that too is obvious. The characters' names are silly. Prof (short for professor) is the smart one, Kung Fu knows martial arts, Mac (as in Big Mac) likes to eat, and Melody is the one with musical talent (and we're subjected to a painfully bad scene in which she loses her fingers while playing a piano that eats her). Throw in some gratuitous nudity, some bloody death scenes, awful acting and a paper-thin plot and the end result is an exceptionally bad film. Thankfully, it's only 88 minutes long.

ED: A-.  Hausu (House) is the definitely one of the weirdest films ever made, a gonzo take on the Haunted House genre. It’s populated with characters out of a shoujo drama with names like Gorgeous, Fantasy, Mac, Prof., Sweet, Melody, and Kung Fu who travel to sepend what they think is a quiet summer vacation at the house of Gorgeous’s aunt, who she hasn’t seen in years. Once they arrive it’s a non-stop romp through the surreal, as if Tim Burton decided to make Willy Wonka while on acid. This film may be about a haunted house, but it is the film itself that is possessed.  It features a white cat, whose eyes beam out green sparks; a carnivorous piano that eats Melody when she starts tickling its keys, her disembodied fingers still playing afterward, a floating head biting one of the girls on the buttocks; mattresses and futons on the attack; giant lips trying to swallow the surviving girls, and Gorgeous having her face shatter like glass and her body becoming a human inferno. All of this done with effects that will not frighten or repulse you, but make you scratch your head and laugh out loud at the sheer outrageousness of it all. This was Nobuhiko Obayashi’s directorial film debut. Previously he cut his teeth filming commercials with Kirk Douglas and Charles Bronson. (Wouldn't it be great to see the piano eat Bronson?) He brings all the tricks he developed in these commercials to full bear in a film so surreal it has to be seen to be believed. You will either love it or hate it but you won’t be able to stop watching it. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
June 8–June 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (June 11, 5 a.m.): To be nostalgic for a moment, this movie was often on Channel 5 (WNYW) in New York City when I was growing up. My father (who is such a movie fan) and I would often watch this excellent film together when it aired. It's a smart thriller about four men who hijack a NYC subway car for ransom money. Walter Matthau was a wonderful actor, and this is among his best as a cynical transit authority police lieutenant who deals directly with the criminals. While it's a great drama, there are a lot of comedic moments and the final scene is one of the most memorable in movie history. This film came out in 1974, and is right up there with the excellent NYC-based gritty crime dramas of the era, including The French Connection (1971), Serpico (1973) and The Seven-Ups (1973).

THE KILLER IS LOOSE (June 9, 9:15 a.m.): This 1956 film noir has Joseph Cotten (one of my favorite actors) as a police lieutenant who is the target of an escaped convict (played by Wendell Corey). Three years before his escape, Leon "Foggy" Poole, Corey's character, a bank teller, botches an inside-job robbery. His wife is killed when police figure out the crime and raid his house. Foggy plots revenge against Cotten, who led the raid. The movie is only 73 minutes in length, and is very fast-paced with a lot of tension as Foggy's revenge is to kill Cotten's wife - a typical mid-1950s housewife. Sort of like an eye for an eye except with spouses. While Cotten is outstanding, it's Corey who steals the movie as a guy who's been meek and ridiculed his entire life. He is a model prisoner, but all the while, he's been thinking about avenging his wife's death. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE TRAIN (June 9, 5:30 pm): The plot is simple – a German colonel has stolen the art masterpieces of France and is shipping them to Nazi Germany. It is up to the French Resistance to stop him. What follows is a masterpiece of war cinema. Burt Lancaster heads the Resistance cell whose mission it is to stop the train. Burt is skeptical at first, wondering if it’s worth the cost in human life to stop a trainload of mere paintings. But as the film progresses, stopping that train becomes an obsession, especially as he finds himself in a human game of chess, pitted against the German colonel in the person of Paul Schofield. Lancaster ‘s obsession to stop the train is equaled by that of Schofield, who will try to get the train through to Germany come Hell or high water.  The supporting cast is wonderful, containing many regulars from French cinema as Michael Simon as train engineer Papa Boule (who nearly steals the film), Albert Remy (The 400 Blows) as Lancaster’s right-hand man, Wolfgang Preiss (who reminds me of a German Lloyd Nolan), and the great Jeanne Moreau, who has a small, but important, part as an innkeeper who saves Lancaster from arrest and later gives him shelter. It’s a picture you won’t soon forget, with many memorable scenes and lines.

FINGERS AT THE WINDOW (June 13, 6:30 pm): Lew Ayres and Laraine Day took a break from the Dr. Kildare series to star in this enjoyable comedy/thriller. An axe murderer is stalking the streets of Chicago and the police don’t have any leads. Ayres is an out of work actor who happens to see Day running from a man carrying an axe. He saves her and captures the would-be killer, but realizes there will be further attempts on her life. He tries to figure out why she’s been targeted, but she hasn’t a clue, either. Turns out that Basil Rathbone is the villain behind it all, and that’s all I’m going to say. Charles Lederer directed the film, and his light touch adds a little relief to the suspense and allows the audience to breathe. If  you love suspenseful crime thrillers, you can’t miss with this one.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (June 11, 10:30 a.m.)

DAVID: B+. I've watched this film based on Ed's past recommendations. Ed is a lover of bad movies and calls this one a "laff riot." Starring Victor Mature, who both Ed and I agree was an awful actor, and an outrageous plot about a casino with Gene Tierney (who was also "actor challenged") as the young innocent looking for a good time, I figured this would be awful. I was pleasantly surprised that the movie is quite good, and not so bad, it's good. Sure, there are some ridiculous moments and this isn't Casablanca, but Mature and Tierney are good and Ona Munson is absolutely delicious as the scheming Mother Gin Sling, who runs the casino. Director Josef von Sternberg does a great job of framing the actors, particularly capturing Tierney's beauty, in a film that oozes sex.

ED: D. Von Sternberg always had a penchant for the overblown, and if the Shanghai Gesture means giving the middle finger to the audience, then this film is right on target. Poppy (Gene Tierney) is out for a night's fun in Shanghai when she stumbles into the Art Deco emporium of Mother Gin Sling (originally “Mother Godamm” in the play). Mother, played so over the top by Ona Munson (yet another Chinese with blue eyes) is in a role Anna May Wong would have done in the ‘30s (and a whole lot better at that). The highlight (?) is when Mother makes her entrance. Von Sternberg clearly wants it to be show stopping, but it’s more reminiscent of when the curtain went up on King Kong in New York. Mother sports a dress that looks as if Bob Mackie made it on a three-day drunk, a hairdo that would make Cher jealous, and hats that look like something out of a broken-down carnival. Poppy, meanwhile, has fallen under the spell of one Doctor Omar (Victor Mature). If you want a real belly laugh, check out Mature in this role as he leads Poppy into an ever-spiraling addiction to gambling and drugs. Mature tries to look devious and smarmy in the role, but all he does is give the impression that he's constipated. When Sir Guy (Walter Huston) makes his appearance and the crap hits the Fan-Tan, it's precious for all bad movie fans, especially when his relationship to Mother and that of Mother to Poppy is revealed. Not to give anything away, but let’s just say Mother's not the mothering type, if you know what I mean. Don’t miss it.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
June 1–June 7 

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE CITADEL (June 4, 6 a.m.) - Robert Donat (an under-appreciated actor) stars in a moving film about an idealistic doctor who begins his medical career treating Welsh miners with tuberculosis. He becomes disenchanted and moves to London with his wife, played by the wonderful Rosalind Russell, to be a doctor to the rich. The film is a damning indictment on physicians who get into medicine for the money. Most of the doctors who treat the wealthy are portrayed as social climbers and largely incompetent. It can be a bit cliched at times, but the acting is solid and the story is touching.

THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (June 6, 11:45 a.m.) - This Pre-Code film features Boris Karloff as the evil Fu Manchu with the ultra-hot and exotic-looking Myrna Loy as his daughter, who is constantly degraded by her father. Once you can get past the negative portrayals of Chinese people (plenty who are played by whites), you're treated to what is the best of the many Fu Manchu movies. The acting is strong, the plot is fun and funny at times. I think it's purposely played for laughs during most of those moments, but I'm not certain. There's so many entertaining parts including the "torture of the bell" and an electric death ray as Fu Manchu tries to get Genghis Khan's sword and mask so he can eliminate the white race - and it's all packed into 68 minutes of entertainment.

ED’S BEST BETS:

A FACE IN THE CROWD (June 1, 11:45 am) – It was TCM that rescued this classic from the underserved obscurity to which it fell during the 70s and 80s. It was the film debut of a country comedian named Andy Griffith, whose stage persona (and later television persona) was that of a good-natured country boy. In this film, however, his character is a 180-degree turn from that persona. Here he is a megalomaniac, ruthless character who becomes an overnight star due to his accidental discovery in a Pickett, Arkansas, jail. The more popular he becomes the more his rottenness comes to the surface. He’s a master at using people, then later discarding them when it’s convenient. But this film is more than the mere rise and fall of a heel. It is a testament to the unbridled power television can create, as Griffith’s character, “Lonesome” Rhodes, comes within a hair of being named to a Cabinet post. It is an abject lesson for media-crazed America and is still fresh today. By the way, besides co-star Patricia Neal, look for Walter Matthau, Tony Franciosa, and Lee Remick, all making their film debuts.

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (June 6, 2:15 pm) – It wasn’t only Pre-code dramas and comedies that were racy; the horror film was also taken to new heights (or lows, depending on your viewpoint) during this period. This film is the classic example. It was the first film version – and the best – of H.G. Wells’s novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Moreau is operating to transform animals into humanoids and the shipwrecked Richard Arlen gives him the idea to mate Arlen with his panther woman and take the evolutionary process a step further. In those days, horror films didn’t require reels and reels of gory make-up and computer-generated special effects. They got their chills by using a few well-placed lines of dialogue and suggestive scenes to fire the imagination of the audience. The film was so effective in doing so that people left the theater in a daze according to one newspaper account. England also banned the movie until 1958. Such is the power of suggestion.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE THREE FACES OF EVE (June 3, 2:15 pm)

ED: A.  This film is a Must of all lovers of classic movies. It contains the greatest performance by an actress I consider to be the best America ever produced – Joanne Woodward. She plays a woman suffering from three different personalities, and does so in such an effortless style that the viewer may begin to forget that it’s only a movie and to think Joanne may actually suffer from this in real life. In addition there is enough psycho mumbo-jumbo (especially in the scene where Eve’s shrink, Lee J. Cobb is a bravura performance, explains Eve’s condition to perplexed hubby David Wayne) to keep the viewer’s attention when Joanne is off the screen. Look for later TV stalwarts Vince Edwards and Nancy Kulp in small parts.

DAVID: C+. The film is only 91 minutes, but it seems a lot longer. The story is slow to develop and when it does, it simply doesn't interest me. Joanne Woodward is good and won the Best Actress Oscar (against very weak opposition) for playing Eve, a quiet woman who has headaches and then develops a second personality. A third personality comes out later. There's a few plot twists, but not enough to keep the viewer's attention. It comes across as being somewhat contrived and is dull. The movie pales in comparison to Shock Corridor and The Snake Pit.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 23–May 31


DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE MORTAL STORM (May 25, 10:00 pm) – I'm amazed this hard-hitting anti-Nazi film was made in 1940 and released about 18 months before the United States got involved in World War II. An extraordinarily powerful film about what happens to a group of friends in a small Bavarian town when the Nazis take over Germany and attempt to conquer Europe. Not only is the acting great, particularly Jimmy Stewart as an anti-Nazi, and Robert Young, who become a Nazi zealot, but the story is uncompromising and tragic. It's one of Stewart's finest roles. It's still as important today as it was in 1940.

BADLANDS (May 31, 8:00 pm) – Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek show their incredible talents in this 1973 film, loosely based on a serial killer and his girlfriend on a cross-country killing spree during 1958. The two become more detached to reality as the film progresses. The film focuses on the alienation and hopelessness felt by the two doomed young criminals. Despite their horrific actions, you can't help feel somewhat sorry for them. An excellent script and outstanding acting.

ED’S BEST BETS:

BABY FACE (May 29, 7:30 am) – Pre-Code films carry with them a certain notorious cache, but this is the apex of the mountain. Stanwyck is at her absolute best as a slum girl in Erie, Pa. whose father runs a speakeasy and features her as “entertainment” for the customers. When he dies in a still explosion, she takes the advice of a kindly old bookseller who has been instructing her in the philosophy of Nietzsche and decides to be the one this time that will exploit others. Landing in New York with her friend Chico (Theresa Harris), she literally sleeps her way to the top, ruining several lives in the process. Though it ultimately cops out in the end, there’s still enough there to make your jaw drop. Hey, they just didn’t make films like that back then . . . or did they?

CRIME DOCTOR MARATHON (May 31, beginning at 6 am) – Do you like a good mystery? Hey, who doesn’t? This marathon of seven films features the exploits of Warner Baxter as Dr. Robert Ordway, a former criminal gang leader who loses his memory in an accident while fleeing the police and reinvents himself as a criminal psychologist with the help of kindly shrink Ray Collins. There are seven movies in the marathon, all of them entertaining, in which the Crime Doctor solves case after case without so much as the company of a sidekick. In the hands of a master technician like Baxter, the series never loses its edge and always remains fresh, even after repeated viewings.

WE DISAGREE ON . . .  SERGEANT YORK (May 27, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+. Along with the later Air Force (also directed by Howard Hawks), this is the best of the morale pictures. Gary Cooper delivers a powerful performance as Alvin York, a man bedeviled by alcohol who gets his soul back one rainy night, only to be caught up in the conflagration known as World War I. Can he . . . Should he . . . abandon his newly found pacifist principles and fight? That’s the crux of the movie and Hawks delicately maneuvers it around to the dilemma America was facing in 1941 before Pearl Harbor decided the question for us. As with any Warners picture, the supporting cast is also compelling: Margaret Wycherly as York’s long-suffering mother; Walter Brennan as the pastor who becomes York’s moral compass; Joan Leslie as Alvin’s devoted sweetheart; Stanley Ridges as York’s commanding officer, who uses tact to convince York to stay in the Army; and, finally, George Tobias as York’s war-time buddy and who has one of the corniest death scenes in movie history. Also be on the lookout for such stalwarts as Howard DaSilva, June Lockhart, Tully Marshall, and Ward Bond, among others. It’s a definite “Must See.”

DAVID: C+. Over the years, Club members have joked about Gary Cooper's range as an actor. While I love his performances in a number of films (High NoonMeet John Doe and Ball of Fire, to name a few), he usually acts like a block of wood thus the clever nickname of Gary Cooperwood. Cooper won the Oscar for Best Actor for Sergeant York. The title character, Alvin York, was the most decorated American soldier during World War I. To me, the film is dull and at 134 minutes, it drags. It's a war film so you'd expect a lot of action. There is some, but not nearly enough. There are so many dead spots as we are painstakingly given way too much information on York. It never keeps my interest for more than a few minutes at a time. While considered a classic, I could never recommend someone investing the time to watch this film.


TCM TiVo ALERT

For

May 15–May 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS

DEAD END - The sound you just heard was a pin drop. I hate the Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/Bowery Boys. But their first movie: a gritty, authentic look at life in the slums of New York City is a keeper. It's based on a play of the same name and the movie is filmed like a play. Humphrey Bogart as Baby Face Martin, a gangster who returns to his childhood neighborhood, shows flashes of brilliance in this film that would return in movies such as CasablancaThe Big SleepThe Maltese Falcon and Key Largo. As for the kids, Billy Halop (as Tommy Gordon, the leader of the gang) is one of the most annoying movie actors I've seen. This is easily his best role as it's downhill for him after this film. Also, the other kids - Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall and Billy Jordan - peak with this film. The film also sports nice performances by Joel McCrea as an unemployed architect down on his luck and Claire Trevor as the neighborhood prostitute with syphilis.

BLACKBOARD JUNGLE - An excellent JD movie with Glenn Ford as the teacher trying to put the high school kids on the right track. Sidney Poitier and Ford work exceptionally well with Poitier as the defiant student and Ford seeing promise in him and trying to bring it out into the open. Vic Morrow plays the worst of the worst kids to near perfection. The scene in which Morrow’s character destroys a teacher's most-beloved items, his record collection, in class as the teacher is trying to reach the kids, is an incredibly haunting piece of cinema. And the soundtrack is great, particularly the opening credits with “Rock Around the Clock.”

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE RULES OF THE GAME – This is Jean Renoir’s biting satire of the French middle class, their foibles, rituals, and most of all, their class distinctions. A heavy hand at the helm could have sunk this movie before it gets going, but Renoir keeps a light and skillful touch at all times. His fluid camerawork and adept staging still keeps this film fresh after all these years. We in America didn’t catch on to this sort of comedy until the arrival of Upstairs, Downstairs on Masterpiece Theatre.

RIFIFI – Leave it to a master craftsman like Jules Dassin to make one of the great Heist-Gone-Wrong films. Four cronies plan the perfect crime and have everything figured out to the letter – except for each other, and this proves to be the fatal mistake. Because it was a low budget film, Dassin couldn’t afford a star like Jean Gabin, but he does quite fine with the hand he’s dealt. In his review for the French newspaper Arts, Francois Truffaut wrote: “Jules Dassin made the best ‘noir’ film I have ever see from the worst roman noir I have ever read.” The novel’s author, Auguste LeBreton co-wrote the screenplay and later wrote Bob The Gambler, another top-notch crime thriller, for Jean-Paul Melville. It seems LeBreton translated better into film than he did into print.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . LOLITA 

ED: A+. Stanley Kubrick took Vladimir Nabokov’s tale of youth, obsession and sex and, to get around the censors, turned it into a dark comedy for the ages. James Mason is brilliant as a man trapped by the inner demons trying to break through the refined, intellectual shell. And Sue Lyons hits all the right notes as the object of Mason’s desire. In fact, this was to be the high point of her career. Never again would she even come close to the praise she received for her role as Lolita. Mason and Lyon aside, however, it is Peter Sellers and Shelley Winters, the supporting actors, that walk away with the film. Sellers is his usual brilliant self, playing three characters, with his Mr. Quilty clearly the best of the lot, a real scene stealer. Winters gives what I think is the finest performance of her career as the lonely, sex-staved shrill of a housewife who knows men are attracted to her only for her daughter. Adrian Lyne’s remake is closer to the novel, and Jeremy Irons is excellent in the Mason role. But Melanie Griffith only goes to show just how good Shelley Winters was in the role. Watch the remake by all means, but this is the best version by far.

DAVID: C+. When I first saw this film I was disappointed more than anything else. I'm a fan of James Mason, Peter Sellers and Stanley Kubrick. It's not a bad movie, but I expect so much more from that three. Actually, the best performance comes from Shelley Winters. The movie is far too long; more than 2 1/2 hours with no purpose for some scenes, particularly the ones with Lolita and Humbert Humbert (Mason) "on the run." It just kept going on and on, boring me at times. To me, there is no more damning indictment of a movie than making me bored. It's worse than being confusing or ridiculous. It has its funny moments, but not nearly enough to merit the length of the film.




TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 8–May 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS: I love this film. It's directed by Louis Malle and is largely autobiographical about his life at a Catholic boarding school in occupied France in 1944 during World War II. Malle's character becomes friends with another boy at the school, who is actually Jewish and being hidden from the Nazis by the school's headmaster, a priest. It's a very moving coming-of-age film that stays with the viewer long after it ends.

AUTUMN SONATA: It's the only film (Ingmar) Bergman directed that starred (Ingrid) Bergman. It also stars the great Liv Ullmann, who is in many Ingmar Bergman films. Ingrid, in her last theatrical film, (she starred as Golda Meir in the TV film, A Woman Called Golda, four years later) is a famous (and now older) classical concert pianist who has a poor relationship with her children, including a daughter, played by Ullmann. Ingrid comes for a visit and things don't go well. It culminates with Ullmann's character telling her mother about how her upbringing has affected her life. Ingrid also has a lot to say. The dialogue is heavy and deep. It is an Ingmar Bergman-directed film after all. The acting is incredible. It's only 99 minutes long - and well worth seeing.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE PHENIX CITY STORY – A wonderful docudrama about “the wickedest city in America” and how it came to be cleaned up. TCM shows the full version, which includes a prologue with noted correspondent Clete Roberts interviewing citizens of Phenix City after the National guard stepped in to restore order. If crime movies are your thing, this is one to see. And if crime movies aren’t exactly your thing, this well-made and well-acted movie is still worth your time.

DIABOLIQUE – This masterful psychological horror film will keep you on the edge of your seat. The twist ending murder plot has been done many times, but never better than in this film. It takes place at a school where Simone Signoret helps her friend Vera Clouzot (real life wife of the director) drown her ogre of a husband (Paul Meurisse), who “returns to life” in a really terrifying scene.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . BRINGING UP BABY

ED: A. Bringing Up Baby is a raucously funny screwball comedy featuring the many comedic talents of Cary Grant. Hepburn, in a role better suited for Carole Lombard, nevertheless acquits herself nicely as the scatterbrained heroine. With such great supporting actors as Fritz Feld, May Robson, Barry Fitzgerald, and Charlie Ruggles, it keeps its head of steam from opening reel to the end credits.

DAVID: D+. I dislike this film and consider it one of the most overrated of all time. I'm not a Katherine Hepburn fan. I've seen about 15 of her films and like two of them. While not as unbearable as The African Queen, this one is painful to watch. The gags fall flat, the storyline is predictable and simply not funny. There is zero chemistry between Hepburn and Cary Grant. Grant's career is better for that. Look what Hepburn did to Spencer Tracy's career because they supposedly had chemistry. It is rare for me to find any of the Hepburn-Tracy comedies enjoyable.

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