TCM TiVo ALERT
February 8–February 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
ALL THE KING'S MEN (February 8, 10:00 pm): This 1949 film is one of the 10 greatest movies of all time. Broderick Crawford is breathtaking in the role of Willie Stark, a small-time Louisiana political idealist who rises to governor by compromising his principles. You would think Crawford's larger-than-life performance as the populist and corrupt Starks would overshadow the rest of the cast, but it doesn't. John Ireland as Jack Burden, a journalist who discovers Starks and eventually does his dirty work, and Raymond Greenleaf as Judge Monte Stanton, Burden's mentor, are outstanding in this noir-like film that is as relevant today as it was 100 years before the film, based on Robert Penn Warren's 1946 Pulitzer-winning novel, made it to the silver screen. It is easily the best film ever made on the subject of politics, and as I mentioned, one of the greatest movies ever made. I've seen it a dozen times and could gladly see it a dozen more.
AUTUMN SONATA (February 13, 1:30 pm): Director Ingmar Bergman and actress Ingrid Bergman (no relation) are the two greatest talents from Sweden in cinematic history. There's a valid argument to say they are two of the greatest talents in cinematic history. This brilliant Ingmar-directed film stars Ingrid in her last theatrical film as a famous, but aging, classic concert pianist who has a distant and rocky relationship with her daughter, played by Liv Ullmann, a mainstay of Ingmar-directed films. The mother visits the daughter and the tension explodes in an incredibly gripping and compelling film. It's dialogue heavy so be ready to read subtitles. However, it is well worth it as the script is intelligent and revealing, and if you miss a line or two, don't worry as the body language of Ingrid and Ullman tells a lot of the story. This 1978 film is among Bergman's finest later-year movies.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE LONG VOYAGE HOME (February, 8, 7:00 am): When we consider John Ford’s oeuvre, this film tends to fall into the underrated category. It’s a quietly moving story of merchant seamen returning to England on the tramp steamer Glencairn from the West Indies after stopping at Baltimore to pick up a supply of munitions just as World War 2 breaks out. Adapted by screenwriter Dudley Nichols from four short Eugene O’Neill plays, it boasts a stellar ensemble cast, headed by Thomas Mitchell, Ian Hunter, Barry Fitzgerald, Wilfred Lawson, Mildred Natwick, Ward Bond, and a surprisingly effective John Wayne playing a Swede, no less. John Qualen is memorable as Wayne’s fellow Swede and older protective friend. Look for Barry’s younger brother, Arthur Shields. Gregg Toland, who captures and sets the mood of the film, beautifully photographs the film. It’s par for the course today to praise Toland’s work, but I think this is one of his best efforts. It’s also one of Ford’s best efforts and definite one to catch.
THE GREAT MCGINTY (February 10, 8:00 pm): 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 Demerest. It’s one of the funniest films about our political system and way around honesty ever made.
WE DISAGREE ON ... THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR (February 10, 6:30 am)
ED: A+. Yes, Paul Muni is a ham, but give him a good script and some theatrical make-up to hide behind and he always gives an entertaining performance. This was the first of Muni’s “Let Us Portray Famous Men” phase, and it’s by far the best, probably because it was novel. Besides Muni, this film succeeds in spite of the roadblocks Warner Brothers placed before it. This was not quite the film they wanted Muni to star in; who in their right mind, they reasoned, would want to see a film about a doctor fighting disease? Where’s the entertainment value in that? They gave in, but only reluctantly. There were to be no shots of animal experimentation, lest the SPCA complain, and no shots of suffering children, lest mothers complain. They also cut the budget, meaning no new sets could be constructed. So producer Henry Blanke merely redecorated existing sets. For example, a set previously used by Busby Berkeley for The Gold Diggers of 1935 became the amphitheater for The Academy of Science. Add the gorgeous lighting photography of Tony Gaudio to cover things up even further and we have an intelligent – and entertaining film – that set the standard for other science-themed films to come.
DAVID: C+. When it comes to subject matter, it doesn't get more bizarre than a film about French scientist Louis Pasteur and his campaign to get doctors to wash their hands and sterilize their medical instruments before operating. Well, yeah, it gets a little more bizarre when doctors dismiss these precautionary measures and you have Paul Muni star as Pasteur, who is also trying to find cures for anthrax in livestock and rabies. It's not an awful film, but it's based-on-a-true-story feel and that Pasteur is the subject of the movie leaves me scratching my head. Muni's reputation for overacting, particularly in his "historical" films, is somewhat deserving, but I give him credit for bringing passion to those roles. Even taking that into consideration, I found this movie to be boring as it drags when focused on scientific research and testing, even though it's only 87 minutes long.
TCM TiVo ALERT
February 1–February 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
WUTHERING HEIGHTS (February 1, 12:00 pm): TCM is showing some of the finest films on February 1 from one of cinema's greatest years, 1939. You can't go wrong with any of the films airing that day. One of my favorites from not only that year, but of all-time, Wuthering Heights, is on at noon. Based on the classic Emily Bronte book, the movie version uses less than half of the 34 chapters and doesn't include the second generation. Despite that, it's a brilliant film with Laurence Olivier delivering one of his greatest performances (which says a lot) as Heathcliff. The rest of the cast is outstanding, particularly Merle Oberon, David Niven and Geraldine Fitzgerald.
BABETTE'S FEAST (February 4, 6:00 pm): This 1987 Danish movie (and the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film) is one you shouldn't miss. It's a special film about loyalty, passion, faith, sacrifice and love. The title character moves to a small village and lives there for 14 years as the cook of two elderly sisters who had found true love decades earlier, but didn't marry because their father, the leader of a religious sect, didn't approve. The sisters and the rest of the village become very fond of Babette, and she feels the same. She wins 10,000 francs in a French lottery. Rather than take the money and return home, she spends it on an extravagant feast for the sisters, their lost loves and others in the village. The story is beautiful, the acting is exceptionally strong, and the message is powerful.
ED’S BEST BETS:
GEORGY GIRL (February 6, 10:30 pm): It’s the picture that made Lynn Redgrave into a star, and few others than Redgrave would even attempt this sort of role – playing a homely young lady from whom millionaire James Mason has a strange attraction. Redgrave is wonderful in the role, and it’s one of the last of the “Swinging London” genre of the mid-60s. Charlotte Rampling and Alan Bates also shine as Redgrave’s icy, self-absorbed roommate and her boyfriend. In fact, Rampling almost steals the movie right out from under Redgrave, and their scenes together have good chemistry. Those that have seen it will probably want to see it again, while those that have never seen this wonderfully quirky film are strongly advised to do so.
THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (February 7, 4:15 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 a 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 ... A STAR IS BORN (February 3, 8:00 pm)
ED: A+. Most of the time, remakes of good movies are not so hot. They rarely achieve anything near the life and pulse of the original. But Judy Garland’s third husband, Sid Luft, was convinced that the story would play just as well as a musical and would make an excellent comeback project for Judy. On both counts he was right. Luft also guaranteed the success of the film by handing the directorial reins over to George Cukor, who had directed the original story in 1932 as What Price, Hollywood? Also on hand was Moss Hart to fashion the screenplay, which he did magnificently by drawing on his knowledge of Garland and her career. With the able support of James Mason as the doomed Norman Maine, Garland shines as Esther Blodgett, transformed by Hollywood into the glamorous Vicki Lester. Add a few well-staged songs and the sharp cinematography of Sam Leavitt, and A Star is Born is a remake that equals the original.
DAVID: C+. There's nothing horribly wrong with this 1954 movie, much like What Price Hollywood?, a 1932 film that is quite similar to it, or the first A Star is Born from 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. (Don't get me started on the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.) But there's really nothing special about this film. I've never been a fan of Judy Garland and she does nothing to change my assessment of her with this movie. Garland was 32 years old at the time of the film's release. That's a little old for this particular role, and you add her addiction problems and other medical issues, and Garland looks considerably older. I also don't care much for musicals. While this is not a pure musical, there's plenty of songs in it, and does nothing to change my assessment of the genre. James Mason as Norman Maine, a former matinee idol who's drunken outbursts are no longer tolerated by his studio and the public with his career in full nosedive, is solid. But it's not enough to make this movie anything more than a couple of steps above mediocre. Also, the film is way too long at three hours with plenty of scenes, including the insufferable and overdramatic "Born in a Trunk" sequence, that should have been on the cutting-room floor.