TCM TiVo Alert Archive: March 1, 2014 to November 30, 2015

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 23–November 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (November 23, 6:00 am): This 1932 Pre-Code movie is a joy to watch for many reasons. It's an entertaining film, the acting is very good, there's some good action, and the casting couldn't be more absurd (and offensive to Asians). Boris Karloff plays the sinister Fu Manchu who is looking for the tomb of Genghis Khan to take his mask and sword and lead a rising of his fellow Asians to destroy the white race. Myrna Loy is great – and really, really hot – as his obedient and completely subservient daughter who Manchu mistreats to such extremes that it becomes funny. One of the best scenes in the film has Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) placed underneath a large ringing bell as a form of torture to get him to break down and provide Manchu with the location of Khan's tomb. Manchu also has a death ray that is used against him. It's a lot of fun and only 68 minutes in length.

BEDLAM (November 23, 1:30 pm): Another excellent film starring Karloff only this one is much darker and really showed how great of an actor he was. In this 1946 RKO picture, Karloff's character runs an insane asylum in 18th century London. He is devious and cruel, horribly mistreating the patients at the madhouse, and going to great lengths to make sure no one finds out what's actually happening there. When a young, innocent woman (played by Anna Lee) gets too nosy, she finds herself committed and subjected to all the horrors Karloff's character can come up with. While it has some of the traits of a horror film, it's more of a disturbing film as you could easily see how a place like this could exist. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

BATTLEGROUND (November 25, 12:30 pm): The first film depicting an actual World War II battle, released in 1949, when memories of the war were still fresh in the minds of the soldiers that fought in it. Employing an excellent ensemble cast, including James Whitmore, Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, John Hodiak, and George Murphy, it’s the story of the 101st Airborne Division and its brave stand at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge as told by writer Robert Pirosh and director William Wellman. Seen as somewhat dated today when compared to the awe-inspiring realism of the Band of Brothers mini-series, the film was considered as cutting edge when first released in terms of realism and faithfulness to history. It’s still well worth your time and still retains its punch after all these years.

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (November 28, 6:15 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 ... FELLINI SATYRICON (November 29, 2:00 am)

ED: B+. When I first saw this film in 1974 I thought it was a masterpiece. Today, I’m not so sure; I see it now more as a child of its time, the Woodstock Generation, the let-it-all-hang-out generation. However, having seen the more recent Caligula, Fellini’s experiment remains more ambitious and daring than Caligula or practically any other “risqué” film, for that matter. As Roger Ebert noted: “Films like this are a reminder of how machine-made and limited recent product has become.” Based on a loose interpretation of Pretronius’s classical novel of Ancient Rome, written in the time of Nero, it was filmed in Fellini’s usual episodic style, which had worked so well in films like I, VittelloniThe Nights of CabiriaLa Dolce Vita, and , and failed so miserable with Felllni’s Roma, which was nine chapters looking for a film. The question, though, is: Does It Work? Well, yes and no. Much of the problem with the film is the fragmentary nature of the source material, which was presumed lost until fragments were discovered. It would have helped if Fellini had opted to fill the holes in, but he seemed to have been obsessed with the idea of incompletion itself, which seems to go hand-in-hand with the characters we observe. It’s the problem that happens when filmmakers attempt to adapt a classic and complex work of literature. This is one reason why film is not art. While the visuals, such as the scenery and art direction, possess the usual rich Fellini texture, we find that we really can’t identify with any of the characters, which means that we end up not caring about them, as if we were mere spectators in a sideshow. And “sideshow” is the right word, for no other director since Tod Browning has been as fascinated with human grotesquery. We see a wide gallery of them: giants and dwarfs, obese fatties and human skeletons, transvestites and hermaphrodites – some painted and costumed by choice, others au natural. Showing a world of amorality, cruelty, self-loathing and passion for its own sake may be daring, but without a form of compelling context, all this excess becomes tedious and merely empty spectacle. But maybe that's the point – not a celebration of the Summer of Love, but a display of the process of its collapse.

DAVID: C-. When it comes to cinema's greatest directors, Federico Fellini belongs in the conversation. A true master of his craft, Fellini has made numerous classics. Ed mentioned four of them, and you can add AmarcordJuliet of the SpiritsFred and Ginger, and La Strada, among others. However, Fellini Satyricon doesn't deserve to be on the list. It's a well directed but unsatisfying porn film. Fellini is better than this – significantly better than this. The 1969 film is designed to shock, and at times it succeeds. But it's neither compelling or entertaining. The 138-minute film wanders aimlessly through ancient Rome, when Nero was emperor and it appears everyone's goals were to get laid and be disgusting. While I'm hardly a prude, the film does next to nothing to arouse, titillate or make the viewer think. The film goes from one fragmented scene to another, and it never seems to end because in all, there are 25 different sections with the only (very loose) connection being a young adventurer of sort Encolpio (Martin Potter). Even Encolpio is left to often wonder: what the hell is going on in this film? Fellini shows some pointless and disgusting scenes of over-the-top bloody animal sacrifices, a vulgar feast, and a whorehouse filled with obese people, There's no doubt Fellini was an extraordinarily creative director, but there's nothing creative about this film except its shock value. I'm not going to top Ed's brilliant analysis of this film. But I am left wondering: if we share the same opinions of this movie – though he is far more articulate – why our grades are so different?



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 15–November 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

IN COLD BLOOD (November 18, 10:00 pm): A groundbreaking true-crime film, In Cold Blood is a solid big-screen adaption of Truman Capote's book of the same name. Like the book, the film is largely based on the true story of two hoods who kill a family of four in Kansas for money that isn't there. Told in flashbacks and exquisitely filmed in black and white, this 1967 movie, done in documentary style, is gripping and fascinating, even though we know the outcome almost immediately. It also shows that Robert Blake, who plays one of the killers, could act when given an interesting role.


SHIP OF FOOLS (November 18, 2:45 am): Incredible acting performances highlight this compelling drama about a ship with all kinds of people heading for Nazi Germany in the early 1930s. 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (November 15, 2:00 am): 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 role as 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.

THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET (November 17, 1:15 am): One of history’s most celebrated romances was that of the poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett in 19th century England. Norma Shearer and Frederic March bring Elizabeth and Robert to light in this handsome, well-acted and most entertaining feature. Shearer, who was reluctant to take the role, brings forth the essence of the famous poet, whose illness confined her to bed and sofa for much of her young life. March is adequate as Browning, but it’s Shearer’s show and she makes the most of it. However, Charles Laughton, as her rotten father, almost steals the picture. The censors toned down the incestuous leanings of Barrett’s father, but Laughton nevertheless gets the point across and makes the role of Elizabeth’s father even more villainous. Even those who aren’t partial to poetry should enjoy this one.

WE DISAGREE ON ... McLINTOCK! (November 20, 11:30 am)

ED: A-. This Western takeoff on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is a welcome and funny departure from Wayne’s usual Westerns of the ‘60s. It also might be seen as an updating of The Quiet Man set in the West. John Wayne is cattle baron G.W. McLintock, whose wife Katherine (Maureen O’Hara) had left him a while ago with no explanation. She has returned to take their daughter, Becky (Stefanie Powers), who has just returned from school, back to the State Capitol with her. McLintock is a peaceful and respected man who has a hard enough time keeping that peace without his headstrong wife returning to irritate him. O’Hara steals the film as the headstrong Katherine. She also did her own stunts. (Yes, that’s really her sliding into the mudhole.) Look for old Wayne buddy Bruce Cabot in there somewhere, and a bit of nepotism with Wayne’s son, Patrick, in a strong supporting role. The movie never pretends to be something other than what is  a broad farce, unlike some of Wayne’s pictures, which could be described as unintentional farces. But the Ol’ Draft Dodger is in good form here, having surrounded himself with a cast of friends he’s comfortable with in a film that requires no thought whatsoever. Just watch and laugh.

DAVID: D. To be blunt, this is an awful film. I was never a fan of McLintock! and had largely forgotten it. So I watched the 1963 movie a few days ago for the first time in years on Hulu. It was worse than I recalled. It's an out-of-control ego trip for John Wayne. Batjac Productions, owned by Wayne, made the film. One of his sons, Michael, whose movie experience was limited to an associate producer credit on Batjac's The Alamo (another terrible John Wayne film) is the producer. The director is the talentless Andrew V. McLaglen, a John Ford gopher whose directing experience before McLintock! was limited to TV Westerns and two lousy Western movies made by...Batjac Productions. As Ed noted, another of Wayne's sons, Patrick, is a co-star (and surprisingly isn't terrible). The point is the Duke had no one to stop him from making such a crappy film and as you watch it that becomes obvious. He surrounded himself with inexperienced "yes people" who didn't have the nerve, experience or talent to tell Wayne that this wasn't working. It's supposed to be funny, I think, but it failed to make me laugh even once. The slapstick brawl with people falling into a mud pit was ridiculous and too staged. I'm not a fan of The Quiet Man so the reunion of Wayne and Maureen O'Hara did nothing for me. On top of that, O'Hara's character, Katherine, is unlikable. Just like in The Quiet Man, the premise that violence makes people fall in love is on full display only it's worse here. Dev Warren (Patrick Wayne) feels the need to teach Becky McLintock (Stefanie Powers) a lesson about who she should love so he goes to spank her over his knees like a five-year-old child straight out of the Duke's prehistoric thoughts of what the world was like in 1963. Before Dev can strike Becky with his hand, the Duke, who plays her dad, G.W. (short for George Washington, gag!), gives him a small metal shovel to beat her ass. It works as she falls in love with him. Dev returns the favor at the end of the movie when G.W. goes to spank Katherine. Good ol' Dev gives G.W. a metal shovel so the estranged couple can get back together properly. I'd give it an F, but the 127-minute(!) film's color is nice.



TCM TiVo ALERT

For

November 8–November 14



DAVID’S BEST BETS:



THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (November 8, 6:00 pm): An excellent JD movie with Glenn Ford as a teacher trying to put high school kids on the right track. Sidney Poitier and Ford work exceptionally well with Poitier as a defiant and intelligent student who Ford sees promise in and tries to help. Vic Morrow plays the worst of the worst kids to near perfection. The scene in which Morrow’s character cruelly destroys a teacher's most-beloved items, his record collection, in class as the teacher tries 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.” While many think of the film as the first with a rock-and-roll song in it, it is so much more than that.



LIMELIGHT (November 9, 10:30 pm): One of Charlie Chaplin's last and greatest films, Limelight is tragic, touching, beautiful, captivating and funny. This movie never fails to make me tear up with laughter or sadness. For someone who mastered silent films, and went into sound practically kicking and screaming, Chaplin's "talkies" are among his finest movies. 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 young 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:



LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (November 13, 6:00 am): The Andy Hardy series at MGM was the most profitable B-movies series ever made. They were essentially B-movies with an A-budget and style. They are also a guilty pleasure of mine. Sure, they were corny as hell and tried to evoke an America that didn’t even exist at that time. But they are a lot of fun to watch, although I think it all comes down to how one feels about Mickey Rooney. This one tends to stand out due to the supporting cast, specifically Lana Turner and Judy Garland. Turner’s a wonder to behold here, with her natural auburn hair (before it was bleached), and Garland plays the role of a young girl with a crush on Andy Hardy almost to perfection. And she gets to sing, as well. The plot, with Andy minding his friend Beezy’s girlfriend (Turner) while he’s away, and the sidebar, with Mrs. Hardy having to travel to Canada to nurse her sick mother, are nominal. It’s the Rooney-Garland relationship that comes to the center of the film. The only flaw in the pudding is that Andy’s girlfriend, Polly Benedict, is also conveniently away for the holidays, so we miss out on the gorgeous Ann Rutherford for most of the film. Also look for the young Gene Reynolds (who went on to become a prolific television director) as a young friend of Andy’s.



THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (November 13, 1:30 pm): Yet another wonderful film shown at an inconvenient hour. This one is definitely worth recording, or just taking a mental health day to watch. Jacques Demy directed this unusual musical, in which every line is sung, sort of like the latest incarnation of Les Miserables. But unlike that movie, Umbrellas isn’t nearly as annoying. The singing voices of the actors are wonderfully dubbed. It stars Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as star-crossed lovers separated when he has to go off to fight in Algeria for the French Army. As they pledged their love until their death, the circumstances make for a good test of the pledge. Demy makes what could easily become a maudlin unintentional parody of the Hollywood musical into a bittersweet, poetic slice of romantic life. Though it’s set in the French town of Cherbourg (in Normandy), it has the look of a Hollywood studio musical, thanks to the good townspeople allowing Demy to paint their houses in loud, bright colors. It’s a fragile line for Demy to traipse, but he pulls it off with panache, and stay tuned for the final, moving scene in the snow. 



WE DISAGREE ON ... TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (November 11, 11:45 pm)



ED: A+. This is one of those rare film adaptations of a classic novel that managed to please both fans of the book and its author. It is a beautiful time capsule of an era more naïve than today, when just men, whether black or white, stood up for what was right, and had to tread carefully due to the mores of society at that time. Director Robert Mulligan does a fine job of capturing the sleepy Alabama town of Maycomb, and Horton Foote’s screenplay keeps the relationships at the heart of the book intact. For although the book is set during a crisis time of race relations in the South, the film keeps its focus on the relationship between Scout, a tomboyish six-year old, her older brother, Jem, and Atticus, their attorney father. Although the front porch sociology of the film seems at bit fatuous at times – Tom Robinson, the black man railroaded for a supposed rape, is just too good to be true, and Gregory Peck (not one of my favorite actors) lays it on a bit too thick at times, almost as if he’s imagining himself as the next Lincoln or Supreme Court Chief Justice. But, aside from that, the film adaptation retains its essential viewpoint of life from a child’s point of view. We must be careful not to view the happenings in 1932 Alabama through the prism of 2015 America. As a film it is excellent; as a statement, which is film set in the past cannot hope to be, it falls far short. Roger Ebert, for instance, thought it unreal that Ewell, the man who framed Tom Robinson for rape, could, after his death walk up to the other members of Robinson’s African-American community and sneer in their faces, “call one of them ‘boy’, and not be touched." Ebert obviously doesn’t understand the hold that Jim Crow had on the South in those days. That’s part of the problem with viewing the film, through a contemporary lens. View it as a film and all will be fine.

DAVID: B-. Gregory Peck is magnificent as Atticus Finch (he won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal) and the actors who play his two children, Mary Badham as Scout and Phillip Alford as Jem, are quite good. However, this film lays the morality of the characters on far too thick and for far too long. I agree with Ed that it's not fair to view this 1962 film about life in the Deep South during the 1930s from what we know today. However, the film doesn't hold up well today. I appreciate what it's trying to say about life in a small Alabama town 80 years ago despite some of the over-the-top scenes. One in particular has Scout unknowingly break up a lynch mob prepared to storm the local jail to kill a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman by innocently shaming one of the mob's leaders. It's just too good to be true. While Peck is superb, he's able to do so while reciting some really corny lines. The film is too long at 129 minutes. It's supposed to relate the viewpoint of the children in the film, but too often they fade into the background such as during the trial of Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of rape. While there are shortcomings to the movie, overall, it's an engaging film that is worth seeing. But I wouldn't include it in any discussion about cinema's all-time classics.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 1–November 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (November 1, 8:00 pm): Peter Lorre is outstanding as Raskolnikov, an intellectual yet poor and hopelessly confused criminology student in this 1935 film loosely based on the classic Russian novel. Upset by his financial situation despite his brilliance, he convinces himself that he's a superman and therefore the laws don't apply to him. He needs money and he's going to take it. To prove to himself that he's superior to most people, Raskolnikov kills an old pawnbroker and her sister in a botched robbery. As he was a client of the pawnbroker, he is questioned by the police. Lorre is so good that even his facial expressions show his paranoia and guilt. It's a Hollywood adaption so, despite the Russian names, most of the actors are American who don't even attempt Russian accents. It's definitely a movie worth viewing largely for Lorre's performance.

DOG DAY AFTERNOON (November 5, 2:00 am): 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. I've recommended this film before because it's a must-see, and though I've seen it at least a dozen times, it always keeps my interest. It's among a handful of movies 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

JOAN OF PARIS (November 6, 9:30 pm): This is a different kind of war film, and one of the first to celebrate the Resistance in France. Joan (Michele Morgan) is a waitress who accidentally gets caught up in the pursuit of five RAF pilots, who are stranded in France, and their Free French leader, Paul Lavallier (Paul Henried) who must get them out of the country. It won’t be easy because the Gestapo, led by Herr Funk (Laird Cregar), is hot on their trail. As events build, Funk gets Joan in a compromising position: if she betrays the fliers, he’ll save Paul. But Joan betrays Funk and leads everyone to safety, all the while knowing that she will die because of her decision. It’s a film that boasts several excellent performances. Cregar is magnificent as the Gestapo chief, oozing villainy, and Morgan is wonderful as the doomed Joan. Look for Alan Ladd in a bit part as “Baby,” one of the downed pilots.

IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (October 6, midnight): Though the title seemingly gives it all away, this little independent B boasts an above average script, courtesy of Jerome Bixby, and a competent cast. Director Edward L. Cahn, not noted as one of the better directors of his time, keeps the pacing sharp and the suspense continuous. A rescue mission to Mars in 1973 (!) picks up the last survivor of the previous expedition. It’s assumed that he did in his crewmates, but the real killer is a Martian who has stowed away on the ship. To live, he needs blood and he’ll go anything to get it. Though the production values are near zero – we can easily see the zipper on the back of the Martian (Ray “Crash” Corrigan), the script and the pacing more than makes up for the deficiencies. The crew must find and kill their visitor before he kills them, which is a difficult task, as he likes to play hide and seek in the airshafts of the ship. Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon lifted the film’s premise and turned it into Alien for director Ridley Scott in 1979. Forget the production values, just ride along with the crew. A good time is guaranteed.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE CIRCUS (November 3, 3:45 am)

ED: B+. Next to The Gold Rush and City Lights, I believe this to be Chaplin’s finest film. The police are after the Little Tramp because they mistakenly believe he stole someone’s wallet. The Tramp dives under the tent and joins the circus, being funnier than any of its clowns. Although it’s not as “deep” as City LightsModern Times, or The Great Dictator, there is a fresh and innocent joy about this film that resonates with me. Also give this film props for pulling off something very difficult. Comics such as Chaplin derive their laughs from being the square peg in the round hole of society. Now here is Chaplin as a square peg in a society of square pegs, a setting that doesn’t always work for the comic or comics involved (e.g., the Marx Brothers in At the Circus). That Chaplin is able to pull this off magnificently is even more tribute to his comic genius. Of course, watch for the tightrope-walking scene, but don’t pass up the lion tamer’s bit and William Tell with a banana. The reason I gave it the grade I did was due to the poor quality of the print I saw. If Turner has restored or cleaned up the print I would give this film an easy A+ in a second.

DAVID: A+. Truth be told, we barely disagree on this film. I selected it after seeing Ed gave it a B+, and he hits many of the high points of the film in his review. Besides Modern Times, this is my favorite Charlie Chaplin silent film and nobody knew how to make silent comedies like him. Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd were fantastic, but Chaplin was the master. Chaplin made a great film under very challenging circumstances - the death of his mother, a public divorce, a fire at the studio, the IRS all over him for supposed unpaid back taxes, all which resulted in an eight-month delay. To make such a great film with all of that hanging over your head is a testament to Chaplin's talents as an actor, director, writer, producer and musician (as he did with several of his films, Chaplin wrote the score for this one). In this film, Chaplin's Tramp is funny and entertaining at the circus when he's not trying. He's awful when he tries to be good. The film is laugh-out-loud funny such as his great tightrope-walking bit, but at the same time, Chaplin, as he often did, brings humanity and sadness to the character he played so many times. In this case, he's in love with the circus' horse rider (Merna Kennedy), who is abused by her stepfather, the ringmaster. When she joins the Tramp after he leaves the circus, he brings the tightrope walker, with whom she loves, to her to get married. As the circus moves to the next town, the Tramp stays behind. It's that combination of comedy and tragedy that makes this 1928 film a timeless classic.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
October 23–October 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (October 23, 10:30 pm): 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 one of the most iconic moment in cinematic history.

JAILHOUSE ROCK (October 25, 6:00 pm): This 1957 film is easily one of Elvis' best. He’s in prison on a manslaughter conviction. His cellmate, a former country-and-western singer played by Mickey Shaughnessy, recognizes Vince Everett (Presley) has musical talent after hearing him sing, and serves as a mentor. When Everett is released after 20 months in prison, he looks for work as a singer. He becomes a success thanks to a producer and his love interest, played by Judy Tyler (she and her husband died shortly after the film wrapped up production). Presley does a solid job, showing that with the right material, he was a good actor. Unfortunately, roles like this rarely came along for Elvis. The film is critical of the music industry with Vince, tired of getting ripped off, creates his own record label with Judy. The film's highlight is the iconic “Jailhouse Rock” performance Everett does for a television special. It doesn’t get much better than this. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (October 23, 4:00 am): This was Hammer Studios’ first attempt at the reimaging of the classic Universal horror films of the ‘30s. And to an audience that was starved of good horror films, it was a box office hit. Much of the credit for the success of the film must go to Peter Cushing for his portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein. Cushing hits all the right notes, brilliantly conveying the underlying decadence beneath the aristocratic façade. Though it’s not as good as James Whale’s 1931 original, Cushing should be commended for playing Frank as a cad rather than an idealist, as Colin Clive portrayed him. Christopher Lee, as the Monster, has a thankless role, with little to do but act scary. However, he does manage to get the point across, looking murderous rather than just plain silly. The success of the film begat a series of Frankenstein films with Cushing in the center of the action. And, with the success of Frankenstein, a remake of Dracula was just around the corner.

THE GOLD RUSH (October 26, 9:45 am): A beautifully whimsical film by Chaplin that rates with his best. The Tramp decides to prospect for gold in Alaska, and Chaplin uses every stunt, every trick, to bring out the underlying comedy, with some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in any film.  Caught in a storm he heads for the only shelter he can find, a wooden cabin in the middle of nowhere. But it turns out the cabin is already inhabited by a big criminal named Black Larson, no less. The scene where Charlie and Big Jim, another miner, tell Larson they’re going to stay is one of the best in the film, as is the scene where Larson has drawn the lot to go out in the storm for food and Charlie is stuck having to eat his shoe. Later, after Charlie has struck it rich, there is a memorable scene on the boat where he tries to win over the fair Georgia. This is where he does his famous “dance of the dinner rolls.” The amazing thing about it is that it still remains fresh; one of the most stirring depictions of man’s battle against the elements and nature, and Chaplin’s genius was to milk every joke he could from every situation without taking away any of the suspense. It’s a film that may seem familiar even to those new to it because the gags have been so played up over the years, but it’s also one worth watching time and again.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE HURT LOCKER (October 29, 11:45 pm)

ED. AThe Hurt Locker goes beyond most other films in its genre by being both a serious character study and a suspenseful thriller. Director Kathryn Bigelow squeezes every drop of tension inherent in its premise as the film progresses, never letting up or giving us a rest in the process. One other point I enjoyed about the film was the fact it was apolitical, using Iraq as a backdrop for the human drama rather than as a pulpit to reach. This drama could have played out in any war. Jeremy Renner is magnificent as a bomb technician who becomes hooked on his own adrenaline stemming from his everyday duty, resulting in an arrogance that clashes with his otherwise peaceful and compassionate nature. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd uses the camera as a way of heightening the tension and keeping us on the edge of our seats. Best of all is Bigelow’s staging of the interaction between Renner and mates Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty as she throws stereotypes to the wind, substituting interactions that are instead unpredictable. This is a film whose impact will remain long after the final credits roll and one that will stick in the memory.

DAVID: B-. I saw this film for the first time a few months ago on Netflix. It's a fascinating look into what makes a bomb technician tick (pardon the pun even though it's a good one). But I expected a lot more based on the widespread critical acclaim and six Oscar wins, including Best Picture and Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow. Maybe that's unfair as I was anticipating seeing something really special and spectacular, and instead I got a pretty good movie. One aspect that works and fails is there's not a story arc as the film goes from one scene to the next. The snippets are interesting and maddening at the same time. Also, many of the scenes are repetitive though there's one with an Iraqi civilian with a bomb locked to his body that is incredible. The character study of Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) is compelling. He is an adrenaline-rush bomb technician who is very talented at what he does. But he often takes unnecessary risks that put his life and the lives of the two soldiers on his team at risk during the Iraq War. He comes across as suicidal and reckless, and as the film progresses, it's obvious he's lost touch with everyday life. Again, it's good, but the movie seems to just kind of be there with little to show for it except a nearly crazy guy doing a very crazy job that impacts him far greater than he knows.



TCM TiVo ALERT

For

October 15–October 22



DAVID’S BEST BETS:

HARLAN COUNTY U.S.A. (October 15, 9:30 pm): A powerful advocacy documentary about southeastern Kentucky mine workers who go on a lengthy strike in part because the proposed labor contract from a subsidiary of the Duke Power Co. includes a provision banning union strikes. The documentary team, led by Barbara Kopple, the director and producer, spent a couple of years filming the strikers. There are some extraordinarily intimate scenes about the struggles of the strikers and their families during the lengthy work stoppage. There is no narration to the film  but there are a few key pieces of information that is shown on the screen  with the strikers and their families telling their stories. After a while, the national union's presence is gone leaving the local workers to fight one of the nation's largest energy companies, and still one to this day, on their own. One of the film's flaws is it's told almost entirely from the side of the workers. But that was because the company had no interest in participating in the film. Even with that challenge, the film is exceptional. It won the 1977 Oscar for Best Documentary.

THE PETRIFIED FOREST (October 17, 10:00 pm): This is film noir before the term was coined. In one of his first major roles, Humphrey Bogart plays Duke Mantee, a notorious gangster on the run. Bogart 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 very few were of this quality. Duke and his gang end up in a diner near the Petrified Forest in Arizona with the police chasing them. The gang takes everyone inside hostage, including 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 as a secondary character.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THREE ON A MATCH (October 15, 7:15 am): The Pre-Code era was noted for producing some pretty strong films, and this entry was amongst the strongest. Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis are three childhood friends who have a reunion at a restaurant and vow to stay in touch. They then light their cigarettes on one match, hence the title. The famous superstition predicts bad things for those who do so, and each suffers her share of the bad life. However, the one who falls the furthest gives the movie both its twist and its reputation as among the most lurid of the Pre-code films. Humphrey Bogart is on hand as well as (what else?) a gangster. He turns in a good performance, as does Warren William, playing a good guy for once. For those new to Pre-Code films, this is one to watch.

THE PRODUCERS (October 21, 8:00 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. 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.

WE DISAGREE ON ... HEAVY METAL (October 17, 4:15 am)

ED: B+Heavy Metal is a quirky animated adaptation of the cult magazine that was originally adapted from a French adult comic book and which predated the rise of the graphic novel. Though the animation was quickly surpassed in quality by the Japanese anime of the mid-‘80s, the strength of the movie lies in its stories, most of which are quite enjoyable, with one, “B-17,” being a classic of its genre. Another strong point of the film is its soundtrack, featuring the likes of Devo, Sammy Hagar, Blue Oyster Cult, Donald Fagan, Stevie Nicks, Nazareth, Grand Funk Railroad, Journey, Cheap Trick, Black Sabbath, Don Felder, Riggs, and Trust. Besides the dated animation, another drawback of the film is its cult status, which has quickly worn off as its audience died off. Like the vast majority of films, it cannot transcend its zeitgeist and so is relegated to antiquity. Watching it can be like seeing a film from the early sound days. However, in the final analysis this only becomes another reason for seeing it, as it’s an example of a genre that has not survived into the present.

DAVID: D+. To be blunt, this movie is garbage and a huge waste of 90 minutes. The "stories" are pointless except to show tons of gratuitous sex and violence in cartoon form. Inspired by the graphic novel of the same name, the viewer goes from one ridiculous scene to the next. Some are connected, but good luck figuring out what's happening. You'd think that with the cartoon sex and violence that it would keep the attention of the viewer. You'd be wrong. It's rather dull and lifeless. The movie came out in 1981 when I was 14 years old. I was the exact target audience for this film. At that age, many guys are into sex and violence even if it's with animated characters. I wasn't impressed then and after seeing it again two years ago, I'm even less impressed. While many of the musicians whose songs are used in this movie are excellent, the ones in this film are largely throw-away. The only song most people recognize is Journey's "Open Arms." There's also an inferior remake by Devo of "Working in the Coal Mine." The only reason this film doesn't get an F grade is because some of the characters' voices are done by legendary SCTV actors, including John Candy, Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty  and I'm a huge fan of that classic TV show.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
October 8–October 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (October 12, 11:30 am): This is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films and that is saying a lot. Robert Walker as the crazed Bruno Anthony is hypnotically amazing. His character wants his father dead and believes he's struck a quid pro quo deal with tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger). Walker and Granger were solid actors, but Hitch brought out the best in them. Also, the plot of this film is unique and interesting. The two are strangers who meet on a train, talk about solving their problems, namely Walker's father and Haines' wife. Walker suggests they kill the other's problem and no one will be the wiser as they don't know each other. Haines thinks Walker is kidding until the latter kills the former's wife and wants Haines to kill Walker's father. The tension and drama are top-shelf.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (October 14, 12:00 am): My recommendation of this 1971 dystopian film comes with a caveat – only watch it once. The film is absolutely brilliant, but it's also incredibly disturbing and violent. I was blown away the first time I saw it years ago. I've had several other opportunities to watch it and simply can't make it through the first 20 minutes. It's on Netflix so I can watch it anytime I want, but again, I can't get through it. However, if you've never seen it before, watch it. It's horrifying in parts, but the story is told so well and the acting is superb. Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is the leader of the Droogs, a gang of thugs who get high on drug-laced milk and then terrorize London with "a little of the old ultraviolence," They brutally beat up, rape and/or kill arbitrary people for kicks (pun intended). The scenes are graphic, but some include a bit of entertainment. You'll never hear the song "Singin' in the Rain" the same way again. Alex is caught by the authorities and agrees to go through a process to remove his violent behavior by being repeatedly exposed to graphically violent scenes. He's then sent out into the world without the ability to defend himself, and payback is a bitch. Director Stanley Kubrick points the finger at people and government for society's violence and its failings. It's very well done, but be warned again, it's deeply disturbing. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE GENERAL (October 9, 6:00 am): Buster Keaton’s at his absolute height in this tale of a Confederate engineer whose train, “The General,” is stolen by Yankee spies. He must get it back, which leads to a riotous chase through the Southern countryside. There’s another reason he must get it back - his girl, Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), is aboard that train. She believes Johnnie (Buster) to be a coward because he’s not fighting in the war, but the authorities turned him down, believing he’ll serve the war effort better as an engineer. He grabs “The Texas” and begins chasing his beloved train. Filled with sight gags aplenty, the film never lets up for a minute. It’s a “must see” for those who haven’t yet seen it, and a “must see again” for those who have. A classic no matter how one cuts it.

X THE UNKNOWN (October 10, 11:45 am): Hammer made some really good science fiction movies in the 50s and 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.

WE DISAGREE ON ... ADAM’S RIB (October 11, 6:00 pm)

ED: B. Of all the films Tracy and Hepburn collaborated on, this is one of the better efforts, a cheeky romp written especially for them by the husband and wife team of Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. Add the smooth direction of George Cukor and some wonderful performances by the supporting cast, and this case of married lawyers battling in the courtroom and later at home becomes a harmless and enjoyable way to spend around two hours. In any film dealing with the battle of the sexes one must tread carefully to keep the comedy fresh and funny, which is why Cukor was the perfect choice to direct. He knows when to proceed and when to take the reins in. Tracy is magnificent as Adam Bonner, who sees wife Amanda as perverting the course of justice by using this case as a forum for women's rights instead of a cut-and-dried case of attempted murder. It would be easy to cross the mine and present Adam simply as a misogynist or a curmudgeonly traditionalist. The genius of Gordon and Kanin was instead to portray Adam as a lawyer who refused to see the case beyond what it essentially was: a case against vigilantism and no more. As mentioned earlier, a wonderful supporting cast helps the film, with David Wayne, Tom Ewell, Jean Hagen, and especially Judy Holliday (her performance here led to her being signed to play Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday, which won her the Oscar), providing performances that only caused the leads, in particular Hepburn, who needs someone strong to play off, to up the volume, as it were, instead of simply coasting. It also provides Tracy with one of the best lines in the history of cinema: “Licorice, mmmm. If there's anything I'm a sucker for, it's licorice." Is it a great film? Not really. But is it an enjoyable one? Yes.

DAVID: C-. Despite some amusing moments and a strong performance by Judy Holliday as the ditsy wife who is the defendant in the criminal case at the center of this film, there isn't a lot to enjoy. As I've written numerous times, Katharine Hepburn is cinema's most overrated actress. While Spencer Tracy was an extremely talented actor, he was often dragged down to his former lover's level in the films they did together. This is no exception. In this "battle of the sexes" comedy, Adam Bonner (Tracy) is a prosecuting attorney and his wife, Amanda (Hepburn), is a defense attorney. She is outraged that a woman (Holliday) was charged with attempting to murder her two-timing husband, who she shoots but doesn't kill. Amanda believes that if the roles were reversed a man would not face a similar charge. She maneuvers to defend the woman pro bono while Adam prosecutes the case. As Bosley Crowther, in a largely positive review of the film in late 1949 for The New York Times, wrote: "To be sure, the plot is a frail one and the argument is not profound. As a matter of fact, it gets quite fuzzy and vagrant as the picture goes along. And that is the one plain weakness of the whole thing: it is but a spoof, and the authors are forced to wild devices and shallow nonsense to wind it up." Crowther is too polite. I realize it's supposed to be a comedy, but Hepburn's acting goes even more over-the-top than usual. That makes for a rather implausible story and, quite frankly, a film very difficult to enjoy. The antics Amanda pulls in the courtroom makes a mockery of feminism. To call it a timeless classic – and while Ed doesn't call it one, other critics do – is ridiculous as its humor doesn't hold up well today. I wasn't around in 1949, but I'm sure I wouldn't have found it funny then either.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
October 1–October 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SCARLET STREET (October 4, 4:15 am): Director Fritz Lang does a superb 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 artist. 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.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (October 5, 1:00 am): 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) from her 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.  

ED’S BEST BETS:

A FACE IN THE CROWD (October 1, 10:00 am): 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 letter-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 superb as usual, and Griffith gave the best performance of his career, playing against type and should have gotten the Oscar. But he wasn’t even nominated, in 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.

CITIZEN KANE (October 7, 10:30 pm): 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 Cotten, 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 ... BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (October 3, 4:00 pm)

ED: B-. This was the first, and best, of the sequels to Planet of the Apes and one that Charlton Heston only agreed to do if his character was killed off early. In a sense they granted his wish by having his character disappear after the early scenes and only reappear at the end to die. They filled in the middle by casting James Franciscus as an astronaut sent to find Heston, and who also dies at the end. As with the vast majority of sequels, it’s not as good as the original; at times it seems as if the original is being played over again, this time with Franciscus. However, it has plenty to recommend it as an entertaining film. The idea of mutants surviving an earlier a-bomb blast and living in an underground civilization in the ruins of New York City has plenty to recommend it to psychotronic fans. The writing, by Paul Dehn and Mort Abrahams, is excellent, with a great downbeat ending we might not have expected. That’s all on the plus side. On the minus side is the cheapness of the sequel, which caused the ape make-up to look less effective than in the original, and the needless replay of the events of the first film, this time with Franciscus instead of Heston. Because of this, only the last 15 minutes is devoted to the search to stop the bomb the Mutants worship, when it should obviously be the focal point of the film from near the beginning. And while the quick pace of the film is a plus, there are times where some points are sacrificed to the pace, which gives it an uneven quality at times. For sci-fi fans and fans of the series, this film will meet their standards, but others may find it all a bit awkward.

DAVID: A-. First, a disclaimer: I'm a huge fan of the original Planet of the Apes five movies, particularly the first one, which is among the most enjoyable films I've ever seen and has the greatest ending I've seen. So I come with a bias. Could Beneath, the first sequel, have been better? Sure. The budget was cut in half, and per his contract, Charlton Heston's role is kept to a minimum. However, it is the story that carries this film, and makes it so enjoyable and so dark. The apes decide it's time to go into the Forbidden Zone. It's called that for a reason. The Lawgiver, who in Apes history wrote the Sacred Scrolls, warned them to stay away. There are mutant survivors of a post-apocalyptic nuclear war who live underground in what once New York City. The atomic bombs used to destroy society has scarred the mutants, but has also given them incredible psychic powers. They wear masks to look like normal people. They reveal themselves in the presence of their god, what Heston's character Taylor calls a "doomsday bomb." Kudos for whoever thought of having the bomb in St. Patrick's Cathedral. The bomb is capable of destroying the world, and as Taylor is about to die, he "pushes the button" that sets off the bomb and blows up Earth. The best part of the original Planet of the Apes franchise is the endings are extraordinary. They're dark, unique and often shocking, particularly the first time you see them. As the film ends, a deep-voiced narrator (Paul Frees, who did many voices including Boris Badenov) says, "In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star. And one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet is now dead." But don't worry, there are three more sequels. The only one that matches this one is Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which is even more dark. In Beneath, James Franciscus is fine as Brent, the astronaut who is sent to "rescue" Taylor and his now-dead crew. As he was in the original film, Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius is amazing. While his role is small, Heston is still the best.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
September 23–September 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

PICKPOCKET (September 25, 3:30 pm): A brilliant and truly original film from director Robert Bresson about Michel (Martin LaSalle in his debut role), an amateur pickpocket who learns the tricks of the trade from a group of professionals after nearly getting busted at a horse racetrack. Along the way, he is patiently pursued by a police inspector (Jean Pelegri). It's a great case study as Michel is a poor wanna-be writer who turns to a life of petty crime out of necessity and boredom. Once he's in the business, he is hooked and can't escape it. Bresson's ability to develop the characters in this 1959 film is fascinating. As he often did, Bresson cast nonactors though LaSalle went on to have a lengthy career in movies though never anything as good as Pickpocket. LaSalle is able to show the emotions of Michel through his eyes rather than his words. The movie is only 75 minutes long, which turns out to be an ideal amount of time for the film. It is well-paced, full of intrigue and tense-filled scenes.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (September 26, 10:15 pm): 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. Jack Nicholson's portrayal of "Mac" McMurphy is his greatest performance. 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. 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’S BEST BETS:

HAUSU (September 26, 3:00 am): One of the most surreal films ever to come from Japan, Hausu can best be described as a teens-meet-demon-killers-in-a-haunted-house movie filmed as a surreal fairy tale and decked out in bright candy colors. The girls, who have names such as Gorgeous, Melody, Prof, Fantasy, Kung Fu, Sweet, and Mac, go with Gorgeous to meet her benign spinster aunt. But once they arrive, they discover that nothing is as it seems and the girls disappear one by one until the horrible secret is revealed. When I first saw this I had to see it again because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. You may have the same experience. It’s part Mario Bava and part Looney Tunes. At any rate, it’s one helluva ride.

THE QUIET MAN (September 26, 1:30 pm): Director John Ford’s love letter to his native Ireland is a film for the ages. John Wayne is perfect as an American boxer who returns to his native soil, falls in love with a beautiful Irish lass (Maureen O’Hara), but is almost defeated by the local customs and the way the Irish view things. O’Hara gives a first-rate performance as Mary Kate, a woman who proves to be no shrinking violet, and Victor McLaglen is wonderful as her obstreperous brother, who bullies and bullies Wayne until the Duke has no choice but to fight. And don’t forget Barry Fitzgerald as the matchmaker. It’s wonderful slice of blarney, beautifully filmed in Technicolor by Winton C. Hoch with great music by Victor Young.

WE DISAGREE ON ... AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (September 25, 6:15 pm)

ED: A++. The literal translation is “At Random, Balthazar,” and is a perfect description of what plays out as the film progresses. What the late Roger Ebert described as director Robert Bresson’s “most heartbreaking tale” is a simple story of a donkey’s life, told with no Disney-like cutesy embellishments or false melodrama, as the donkey, named Balthazar, passes through a series of owners, some good, others cruel, but all of them, in Nietzsche’s phrase, “human, all too human.” Bresson, whose films reflect on the nature of grace and redemption, has chosen a donkey, seen as a sign of humility, as his centerpiece, and the world is seen through the sufferings of the animal, who was “baptized” by a group of young children and therefore has a soul. Especially interesting is the life of Marie, whose family is the first to adopt Balthazar. Her life plays out in eerie parallel to that of the donkey: She is unaccountably passive, unable to stand up for herself, later turning down a marriage proposal from a young man who loves her unconditionally to be with the thug Gerard, attracted by his leather jacket and moped. Gerard, for his part, resents the donkey and takes every opportunity to mistreat him. And yet Gerard is capable of redemption – witness the scene where he sings in church. This is an amazingly deep and gentle piece of work by a director whose interest in the phenomenological guides his films. In my opinion, not only is this his greatest film, it is one of the greatest films ever made.

DAVID: C+. As of late, when able, I'm revisiting films that are the subjects of our "We Disagree" segment. For the most part, I haven't seen the movies in question for at least a year, sometimes longer. For Au Hasard Balthazar, it had been about two years. So I watched it on Hulu from start to finish last week. After seeing it the first time, I remember thinking that the film had some interesting and compelling moments, but it was nothing special. To consider it a classic, which many film critics do, I thought was a ridiculous notion. After my recent viewing, my opinion hasn't changed. It's pretentious and lacks subtlety. Robert Bresson was an excellent director, and while I don't love every film he's made, I greatly respect his work. Diary of a Country PriestA Man Escaped, and Pickpocket (see above as the latter is one of my Best Bets), which are also airing on TCM on September 25, are great Bresson movies. I understand the plot of Au Hasard Balthazar and the parallel horrific lives of its two leads: Balthazar, a donkey, and Marie, a poor girl who loves him. Both are used and abused throughout their lives. I get that there's a Christ-like characteristic to the donkey. What is hard to comprehend is the poor choices Marie makes in her life. It results in her being so unsympathetic that I really didn't care what happened to her. The film gets too bogged down in its symbolism, there is no motivation for most of the characters to behave as they do, and the acting is poor. Bresson liked to use nonactors or inexperienced ones for authenticity; sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. This isn't a movie that the viewer is supposed to enjoy, but it's supposed to say something about human nature. What it says isn't good, but Bresson fails to give us even an inkling as to why.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
September 15–September 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

RUGGLES OF RED GAP (September 19, 9:45 pm): This very amusing comedy from 1935 has Charles Laughton as Marmaduke Ruggles, a proper English valet lost in a game of poker to Egbert Floud, a crude American rancher (played by Charlie Ruggles, which is something of a coincidence that he shares the last name with the film's main character). Floud takes Ruggles back to his hometown of Red Gap, Washington. The film's plot is somewhat predictable, but quite enjoyable, as Ruggles struggles to fit in with his new surroundings in the small northwestern town. Laughton, as always, is wonderful and charming. The film's most memorable scene is toward the end with Ruggles reciting the Gettysburg Address at a bar with the patrons moved by it. It's a fun 90 minutes.

A SHOT IN THE DARK (September 21, 2:00 am): This is my favorite Inspector Jacques Clouseau film and the first one in which Peter Sellers gets to flesh out the iconic character. It's also the debut of Herbert Lom as Commissioner Dreyfus and Burt Kwouk as Clouseau's housekeeper/servant/martial arts sparring partner Cato. The film revolves around Clouseau defending Elke Sommer, a lovely maid to millionaire George Sanders, accused of murder. The murders pile up with the evidence pointing to the maid in every case, but Clouseau is convinced of her innocence. Adding to the hilarity is Dreyfus' insanity and obsession with trying to kill the bumbling Clouseau.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE KILLING (September 16, 3:45 am): This is the film that made young Stanley Kubrick a director to be watched. It’s a closely filmed case study of a racetrack heist, from its beginning to its ironic ending with a colorful cast of characters filling in the blanks along the way. Sterling Hayden heads the cast, but the ones to watch are Elisha Cook, Jr. as a nebbish and hard-boiled Marie Windsor as his ruthless wife. This is the kind of film that pulls you in almost from the start and never lets go. Classic film noir from a director who went on to master almost every genre he touched.

MON ONCLE (September 20, 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 AGREE ON … THE GENERAL (September 17, 8:00 pm)

ED: A++. When I think of The General I think of the word “sublime,” for that is exactly what it is. Based on a true Civil War story of a Confederate train stolen by Union spies, Keaton decided to change the perspective to that of a Confederate soldier, reasoning that it would gain more sympathy. It isn’t the funniest movie Keaton made, but it is the richest in how the comedy is subsumed into the plot, giving us a sense of sheer wonderment and an appreciation of how Keaton put a film together. The train, named The General, is really nothing more than a giant prop Keaton uses to wring laughs from the audience. As the train’s engineer, Johnnie Gray, he loves his engine as much as his girlfriend, Annabelle Lee, played beautifully by Marion Mack. When the train is stolen, Keaton will stop at nothing to get it back. Each joke is painstakingly thought out. If you can, see it with a crowd or group. I think silent movies, more than any other sort, were meant to be seen by an audience in order to be fully appreciated.

DAVID: A++. It's not a laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy by Buster Keaton, who was one of cinema's most talented physical comedians. There are definitely some very funny moments  Keaton sitting on a coupling rod going up and down as the train moves, him knocking out a Union spy repeatedly while driving his train, an out-of-control cannon and some great pratfalls. But it's the film's fast-moving story and Keaton constantly topping himself that makes this an all-time classic. It had been about a year since I last saw this film so I watched it on consecutive nights less than a week ago, courtesy of YouTube on my Roku. The film is in the public domain since 1954 when its copyright wasn't renewed. That was largely because it wasn't well received when it came out on New Year's Eve of 1926. It has since been recognized as one of Keaton's best, and to me it's his most complete films with a layered plot. It's certainly an unusual tale – Keaton is a Southerner during the Civil War who isn't permitted to fight for the Confederacy because he is too valuable as a railroad engineer. No one tells him the reason he's rejected as a soldier which leads him to lose his girlfriend and be considered a coward. He "redeems" himself by foiling a plot by Union officials to steal his train, the General, and destroy the South's rail system in order to invade. Plots sympathetic to the South about 60 years after the Civil War typically weren't successes at the box office. Perhaps that's one reason the film wasn't initially popular. But Keaton is spectacular using his unique blend of incredible stunts and wonderful facial expressions to produce what is now seen as a classic.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
September 8–September 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BEING THERE (September 8, 3:15 pm): Peter Sellers was known for his versatility as an actor. He often played more than one character in films and was often outrageously funny. But there was also a sensitive side to Sellers. That's on display in Being There, one of his last films and his finest role. He is a simple-minded gardener who learns everything from watching TV. One circumstance leads to another and Chance (Sellers) ends up being an adviser to the president of the United States. Whatever he says is interpreted to be brilliant advice. It is clever, funny, heartwarming and beautiful. Melvyn Douglas as a wealthy businessman and adviser to the president is outstanding, and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Sellers was nominated for Best Actor, losing to Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer). During his acceptance speech, Hoffman said he couldn't believe he beat Sellers; neither can I.

GASLIGHT (September 13, 8:00 pm): As a huge fan of Joseph Cotten and Ingrid Bergman, it's great to see that when the two teamed together in this 1944 film that the result was spectacular. (Unfortunately, the chemistry between the two wasn't nearly as good when they worked together in Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn five years later.Gaslight has fantastic pacing, starting slowly planting the seeds of Bergman's potential insanity and building to a mad frenzy with Cotten's Scotland Yard inspector saving the day and Bergman gaining revenge. While Charles Boyer has never been a favorite of mine, he is excellent in this role as Bergman's scheming husband who is slowly driving her crazy. Also deserving of praise is Angela Lansbury in her film debut as the couple's maid. Lansbury has the hots for Boyer and nothing but disdain for Bergman. A well-acted, well-directed film that is one I always enjoy viewing  no matter how many times I see it.

ED’S BEST BETS:

WENT THE DAY WELL? (September 11, 2:00 am): Loosely based on a magazine story by Graham Greene called “The Lieutenant Died,” this is one of the ultimate “What if . . .?” films. Made in 1942, and told in flashback, it deals with a German invasion of a rural British community and how surprised townsfolk were to find German infiltrators suddenly in their midst. It turns out that German paratroopers have landed to prepare the way for a full invasion. What separates this from the usual run of predictable propaganda “morale” films is the sly humor with which the story is told. The townsfolk now must become as resourceful as possible, looking for ways to subvert the enemy and get word to the military authorities. Despite the sly humor, the film is frankly brutal, depicting the violence of the Germans and of the resistance of the townsfolk fighting them. It’s a wonderfully unusual film made at a time when the plot was considered a real possibility.

EYES WITHOUT A FACE (September 13, 4:15 am): One of the most disquieting horror films of the 1950s and a film many consider a classic of the genre. Pierre Brasseur is a famous surgeon and researcher who kidnaps young women in an attempt to graft their faces onto that of his daughter (Edith Scob), whose face was disfigured in a car accident. Those I know who have seen it will forever remember the surgery sequence. Modern horror films may be far more grotesque and graphic, but this film will really unnerve you because of the quality with which it was made. It’s definitely not for the squeamish.

WE DISAGREE ON ... TOM THUMB (September 8, 10:00 am)

ED: A. This is a charming film for children, starring Russ Tamblyn as the diminutive title character who is taken in by a kindly couple (Bernard Miles and Jessie Matthews), but later exploited by the villainous Terry-Thomas and his henchman, played by Peter Sellers. Of course, as this is a fairy tale, all ends well in the end. It’s a example of George Pal at his best, with dazzling special effects for the time, an amazing and acrobatic performance by Tamblyn and songs by Sonny Burke and the great Peggy Lee. Thomas and Sellers are as menacing as they are funny, and Alan Young makes for a most unusual but effective romantic lead. This is a wonderful family movie, perfect for kids as it’s in color and has lots of special effects. But even adults who have not seen this before should enjoy as it harkens back to a time where movies of this kind did not have to have a cynical undercurrent or think the subject matter to death, thereby killing the fantasy.

DAVID: C+. This is a cute movie, but one that very much shows its age. Some, including Ed, call it a "wonderful family movie." I can guarantee that if I took my daughters – who are now 21 and 18 (the oldest loves movies, the younger one too but not as much) – to see this in the theaters or if we watched it on TV even when they were little, they wouldn't last 15 minutes. Perhaps it was fun for the whole family when it came out in 1958, but that was 57 years ago. We think that what we enjoyed as children is what our kids enjoy, but more often than not it isn't reality. Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers are amusing villains as both were incredibly talented and funny, and Russ Tamblyn has a certain charm in the title role. The special effects are pretty good for what they're supposed to be. But the songs aren't memorable or good, the movie doesn't move at a good pace, and, of course, the plot couldn't be more predictable.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
September 1–September 7

DAVID'S BEST BETS:

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER (September 5, 8:15 am): I'm a huge fan of the British kitchen sink/angry young man film genre, and there are very, very few finer than this one. Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay in his brilliant film debut) is a rebellious teenager in post-World War II England who ends up in a juvenile delinquent institution. While there, he discovers he has a talent for long-distance running. He's able to avoid the hard labor the other boys must endure because of his abilities. But the anger and resentment against a system that chews kids like him up and spits them out when they are no longer of any use is always in the back of his mind. The day of the big race against the nearby public school is an opportunity to shine leave Colin conflicted. In the end, he does what he believes to be the right thing to maintain his integrity and independence despite the consequences.

THE LION IN WINTER (September 7, 6:00 am): I've never shied away from expressing my intense dislike for Katharine Hepburn's acting. I think she had very little talent, and is the most overrated mainstream actress in the history of cinema. But I've got to give the devil her due - she is absolutely brilliant in The Lion in Winter, a 1968 film in which she stars as Eleanor of Aquitaine in the year 1183. She is imprisoned by her husband, Henry II (Peter O'Toole delivering yet another fantastic performance), as the two greatly differ over which of their sons will be next in line to the thrown of England. While not historically accurate, it's a wildly entertaining film with Hepburn and O'Toole trading biting lines with each other. One of my favorites has the two of them walking arm-in-arm smiling at their subjects while Eleanor is giving Henry grief. He says, "Give me a little peace." Without skipping a beat, Eleanor responds: "A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace? Now, that's a thought." A great story, great costumes, great directing and a great cast that also includes Anthony Hopkins in his film debut, Timothy Dalton and Nigel Terry.

ED'S BEST BETS:

THE BANK DICK (September 4, 8:00 pm): W.C. Fields was never funnier than in this film about a no-account who is given a job as a bank guard after he unwittingly foils a robbery. His daughter’s nitwit fiancé works there and Fields soon gets him involved in using the bank’s money to finance a stock scheme that looks as if it will go bust, so they must distract the bank examiner (a wonderfully fussy Franklin Pangborn) until the money can be returned. It all results is a crazy and hilarious car chase when the bank is robbed again.

IT’S A GIFT (September 4, 9:30 pm): This 1934 Paramount production was probably W.C. Fields’ funniest film. He plays a downtrodden, henpecked grocer living in Camden, N.J., who wants desperately to own an orange grove in California, so he buys one sight unseen and moves his family out to California. It’s a beautiful melding of comedy routines and plot, with Charles Sellon as a blind grocery customer and T. Roy Barnes as a salesman who interrupts Fields’ sleep looking for Carl LaFong. It’s Fields at his delightfully cynical best.

WE DISAGREE ON ... IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR (Sept. 6, 4:00 pm)

ED: C. Elvis films are exercises in mediocrity, mainly because his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, never allowed his client to step outside what was thought to be a winning formula. As a result we never got to see Elvis in anything that wasn’t predictable and heavily telegraphed. But some are more excruciating than others. This film is a case in point. It starts out well with Elvis and Gary Lockwood as bush pilots who lose their plane because of Lockwood’s gambling debts. Trying to earn money to retrieve it they hitch it to Seattle, where the World’s Fair just happens to be. Once there, Danny tries to earn money in a poker game (Hasn’t he ever heard of Las Vegas?) while Elvis takes care of a small girl named Sue Lin (Vicky Tiu) who became separated from her Uncle Walter (Kam Tong). When cute little Sue gets sick from pigging out on junk food, Elvis takes her to the clinic, where he meets attractive nurse Diane Warren (Joan O’Brien) and, of course, is smitten. And if you can’t guess what’s going to happen next, you’ve never seen an Elvis picture. The only interesting things about this cardboard comedy is seeing Kurt Russell as a kid Elvis pays to kick him in the shins to attract the nurse’s attention, and the late, gorgeous, scorching supernova (to quote IMdB reviewer pooch-8) Yvonne Craig. Russell would later go on to play The King himself in the 1979 TV movie Elvis.

DAVID: D+. I'm a huge fan of Elvis Presley films, even many of the bad ones. Elvis had a ton of potential, but opted during a long stretch of time to stick to the "Formula," in which he played the same type of character with a minimal plot, and an over-reliance on his charisma and a pretty co-star. Some of them are absolutely charming like ClambakeSpinout and Kid Galahad. Some of them are horribly stupid with no redeeming qualities such as Harum ScarumThe Trouble With Girls, and this movie. It Happened at the World's Fair (1962) is painfully boring and way too long at 105 minutes with the World's Fair in Seattle theoretically used in an effort to entertain the audience. It fails to do that. You can tell Elvis wishes he was anywhere else but in this film. It's hard to blame him. The effort at creating a plot is embarrassingly bad. For someone like me who loves Elvis and watched this entire movie as I'm a Presley completist, there is nothing to enjoy. You'd think there would be a good song as Elvis sings 10 of them in this movie. But unfortunately there isn't a single catchy one to be found.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
August 23–August 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BADLANDS (Aug. 24, 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, a remarkable job by Terrence Malick in his directorial debut, and outstanding acting from Sheen and Spacek, who would go on to be major film stars. It's an exceptional film that shouldn't be missed.

GRAND HOTEL (August 26, 11:45 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

KONGO (August 25, 6:30 pm): There’s always a danger in remaking a film, especially if it starred someone on the level of Lon Chaney, but MGM managed to fit Walter Huston right in and never missed a beat. Granted, West of Zanzibar was a silent and one can do much more with sound, but still, this is Chaney we’re talking about, and his performance still holds up well today. Kongo tends to be overlooked by a lot of film fans, and this is understandable as Warner Brothers almost had a stranglehold on lurid Pre-Code films, MGM was known for gloss, and the film’s director, William Cowen, is not exactly a household name when it comes to directors. But give this one a chance. Huston hits every right note as Flint, a paralyzed, deranged megalomaniac out for revenge against his wife’s lover, who he blames for paralyzing him. There’s no stopping his rule by degradation: he has turned the new village doctor (Conrad Nagel) into a drug addict, and he inflicts constant humiliations upon the woman who loves him (Lupe Velez in a fine performance). When a woman named Ann (Virginia Bruce), whom he believes to be the daughter of his enemy, pays a visit, he pulls out all the stops. This is an extremely grubby film, featuring almost every element the Hays Code would ban only a few years later: rape, drug addiction, sado-masochism, and lots of alcoholism. Cowan directs in the same overheated style as the silent original, and it’s a toss-up as to which is the most depraved.

CASABLANCA (August 28, 8:00 pm): When recommending movies I usually look for the interesting, but not so well known. Not in this case - this is a no-brainer if ever one existed. It’s one of the greatest romances ever made and turned Humphrey Bogart into a most unlikely romantic hero. It’s easy, however, to be romantic when Ingrid Bergman is the object of one’s affections. I don’t think Bergman has looked any more beautiful than in this film, and the way she was photographed only added to her beauty. We all know the story and the fact it’s a metaphor for America becoming involved in the war. But what has always amazed me is the number of lines from the movie that have found their way into pop culture, like “Round up the usual suspects,” “I’m shocked . . . shocked to discover gambling is going on here,” and “I’m just a poor corrupt official.” Behind Bogart and Bergman is one of the greatest supporting casts ever assembled, with several European refugees, such as Marcel Dalio, in the mix. I watch this just about every time it airs. I’m hooked.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE HUSTLER (August 29, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+.  This is one of the few lionized classics of the medium that actually lives up to its billing. It’s a sharply made take on the American Dream and the pursuit of such. Bert (George C. Scott) believes there is nothing more important than worldly success. That is the American Dream. Sarah (Piper Laurie), on the other hand, believes the American Dream consists of other things than mere success. Both characters are fighting for the soul of young Eddie Felson (Paul Newman). Bert is winning, until the end, when Eddie comes to realize the price for that success is more than the success is worth. Unfortunately, by the time he realizes this, it’s too late, and therein lays the tragedy. This film became so much of the popular culture that people actually believe it was based on real characters. It wasn’t – it was entirely fictional. The fact that famous pool player Minnesota Fats picked up his nickname from the film’s character only helped solidify that fact. The performances are all first-rate, especially Jackie Gleason, yet another case of the so-called “amateur” beating the Method Guys at their own game. And Robert Rossen’s direction s almost perfect, a case where a good director only makes a good film even better.


DAVID: B-. I saw this again on Netflix a few days ago as it had been a couple of years since I last viewed it. It's the story of Eddie Felson (Paul Newman), a hot-headed but excellent pool player and how he wants to prove he's the best. To do so, he feels he must defeat the best: Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). My gut reaction when rating this film was to give it a B-. After watching it again, I saw no reason to change it. It's a good movie, but not even close to being a classic. First, the bright spots. George C. Scott as Bert Gordon, a sleazy gambler who wields a lot of influence and power, delivers an incredible performance. I've never been a Gleason fan, but his portrayal of Fats, a fictional pool champ (and later adopted as the name of a real legendary pool player) is amazing. He's in only two scenes, but he owns both of them while speaking very little dialogue. The cinematography is top-notch making viewers feel as though they're inside a pool hall. It's filmed so well that you think you can smell the cigarette smoke and the bottom of your shoes are sticky from stepping on floors covered in spilled beer. However, the bad is really bad. At the top of that list is Newman. He's a lousy a Method actor, almost as bad as James Dean. During this era of his career – starring in films such as Cat on a Hot Tin RoofHudCool Hand Luke, and The Long, Hot Summer – Newman played the same character with a bit of a different backstory. He's typically a tormented, confused, hard-drinker who is troubled (sometimes for no explainable reason), in a bad relationship and unable to gain control of his life. In this film, he falls in love with a lonely, slutty alcoholic (Piper Laurie, who can't stop overacting here too). He meets her after losing nearly all his money in a lengthy pool match-up with Fats. The first scene with Fats is extraordinary and while long, it's worth watching. However, the second scene with Fats that concludes the movie is short and rushed. It builds up to that climax and we get the payoff, but I felt cheated. The film is also way too long at 134 minutes. They could have cut some of the poorly-acted drinking scenes with Newman and Laurie, and focused more on the rematch between Eddie and Fats. Despite its glaring problems and length, it's a good film for the reasons mentioned above. But its poor use of time, given how long it is, and Newman's acting keeps it from being a classic.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
August 15–August 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ON THE WATERFRONT (August 17, 11:30 pm): There is so much to enjoy and admire about this 1954 film. The story is complex yet simple – the struggle facing Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) 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 Brando at his best and fantastic performances by the supporting cast, in particular, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. Steiger plays Charley, Terry's older brother, and Cobb is Johnny Friendly, a ruthless union boss who runs the docks and the longshoremen. Charley, who is Friendly's right-hand man, begs Terry not to testify against Friendly. Terry was  a promising boxer years earlier who threw a fight at the request of Charley because Friendly bet against him. He's a shell of himself now – 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 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.

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (August 22, 4:45 pm): A large 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 a must-see riveting drama. 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 piles of dead bodies found by American soldiers at the end of the war. Sometimes it's not an easy film to watch, but it's a very important one.

ED’S BEST BETS:

A FACE IN THE CROWD (August 16, 12:00 am): 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, and who, through the sheer force of his “down home” personality 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 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, 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 who 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.

ST. MARTIN’S LANE (August 18, 12:00 pm): Any time we can watch Charles Laughton, Vivien Leigh, and Rex Harrison all in the same film is a good time indeed. And all three shine in this film about the world of buskers, or street entertainers that inhabit the lowest rung of London’s entertainment ladder for a few pence, mingling with the high society types who attend the theater and dine at the fancy restaurants and who look down on the buskers as little more than beggars. It’s the same with the police, who roust the buskers at every turn, but still they persevere. Leigh plays Liberty, a young pickpocket whom Laughton befriends. Taken with her beauty and ability to dance, he transforms her into a street artist. But Liberty has bigger goals. She wants to make it over the invisible line and become a legitimate performer. Harrison is a songwriter for the legitimate stage with whom Libby falls in love. The film plays out beautifully, avoiding the easy route of melodrama for something more substantial. It was also Leigh’s final film before Gone With The Wind, and provides us with a good look at her extraordinary beauty and range of talent. Laughton, of course, is Laughton, and he doesn’t let the viewer down for one second, while Harrison, in the early part of his career, shows us the promise that later allowed him to bloom in a smaller role. Anyone who has seen buskers at street corners or on subway platforms will find this film fascinating.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MANPOWER (August 22, 2:00 am)

ED: B-. For what it is, Manpower is a decent programmer, although with that star power, it should be much, much more. It’s yet another example of Warner Brothers' unique talent for recycling plots. Believe it or not, this film began life in 1932 as Tiger Shark, directed by Howard Hawks and starring Edward G. Robinson. It shifted locales in 1937, becoming Slim, a film about telephone linemen starring Pat O’Brien and Henry Fonda. Shake again a few years later and it’s now King of the Lumberjacks in 1940 with John Payne and Stanley Fields. And now, in 1941, we have Manpower. We’re back to the lineman gimmick and it’s Eddie G. Robinson and George Raft fighting for the favors of Marlene Dietrich. Though it’s a decent film, expertly directed by the great Raoul Walsh, the film does commit one cardinal sin: it makes Dietrich almost superfluous as she becomes lost in the bromance between Robinson and Raft’s characters. (In reality they hated each other offscreen.) If one approaches it for what it is, a mere programmer and late night fodder, then it’s worth watching. I will say that it’s certainly the sort of picture I’d see if I were up late.

DAVID: C-. There are very few actors in the history of cinema who are in the same class when it comes to talent, screen presence and charisma as Edward G. Robinson. That's what makes Manpower so disappointing. I've seen Eddie G. in some lousy films – A Bullet for JoeyDark HazardI Loved a Woman to name a few – and yet I enjoyed his performances. I can't say the same for Manpower. It's dull and lifeless – and as Ed points out, had been done several times before – and Robinson adds nothing to the film. The cast alone should make it good as it includes some very talented actors such as Alan Hale (Skipper's dad), Frank McHugh, Eve Arden and Ward Bond, and the combination of Eddie G. and Marlene Dietrich sounds promising. Also, Robinson and George Raft played well off each other in plenty of other movies despite their personal dislike for each other. In this film, Robinson is the foreman of a crew constructing power lines. He used to be a lineman (for the county?), but moved into management after a near-death accident that left him injured and gave him the politically-incorrect nickname Gimpy. Raft is a buddy who works the line. The two fall for Dietrich and a silly love triangle ensues. The storyline is lifeless and at 104 minutes, it's too long. Despite the attempts at action, it's a boring movie.

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
August 8–August 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THUNDER ROAD (August 12, 10:45 pm): There are few actors 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 finest roles. He's got to make his last 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. 

VIVA LAS VEGAS (August 13, 8:30 am): 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’S BEST BETS:

SAHARA (August 11, 12:00 am): In 1943, Humphrey Bogart was loaned out to Columbia to star in this war picture about a British-American tank crew stranded in North Africa just ahead of a horde of German soldiers. Bogart is accompanied by his surviving crewmen (Bruce Bennett and Dan Duryea), a Sudanese soldier (Rex Ingram), his Italian prisoner (J. Carroll Naish), and a downed German pilot (Kurt Krueger) as they search for water in the desert. This little multi-cultural cast makes for some fine drama as they must find and defend their source of water before the Germans arrive. Based on a Soviet film Trinadtstat (1937), the screenplay was penned by Communist Party stalwart John Howard Lawson, along with the director, Zoltan Korda. Thanks to Korda, much of the propaganda was toned down in favor of the grim tension that makes this film one worth catching. It was shot in Brawley, California, in the Borego Desert just north of Mexico. There’s little actual fighting in the film. Bogart and wife Mayo Methot provided most of the fighting during the off-hours in the aptly named Brawley. The battling couple staged their own version of World War II almost every night after getting liquored up. This is a film that will please both fans of war films and fans of Bogart alike.

HORSE FEATHERS (August 14, 9:30 pm): It doesn’t get much better, or funnier than this, unless one counts Duck Soup. The only thing in the film funnier than Chico and Harpo passing themselves off as football players is Groucho as the president of the university. Add the drop-dead gorgeous Thelma Todd as the “college widow,” and we have a near perfect comedy. There are many great scenes in the picture: Groucho’s installment as college president, The Marxes in the speakeasy, where Groucho mistakenly recruits Chico and Harpo as “student-athletes,” the classroom scene, Groucho and Todd in the boat on the lake, and, of course, the football game. The only glitch in the film is that Zeppo has practically nothing to do but show up to remind us that there are four Marx Brothers. Just tune in and be prepared to laugh.

WE DISAGREE ON ... TOMMY (August 13, midnight)

ED: B-. This is a case of averaging out three different parts of a film to come up with a grade. The music in the film is A+, based as it is on The Who’s groundbreaking rock opera. The performances, led by Ann-Margaret (who is great in the role of Tommy’s mother), Tina Turner, and Robert Powell, rates a B. But the story rightfully deserves an F, and Ken Russell’s direction is an F-minus.  Russell makes the movies his own: a self-indulgent mess, taking the dark subtlety of the album and shaping it into what is a truly incomprehensible piece of garbage. We get to see Oliver Reed (Was he sober for one minute in this film?) sing – badly. We get to see Jack Nicholson sing – badly. This is truly a cringe-worthy movie, but if you must see it, see it for Ann-Margaret, Elton John and that wonderful music, which somehow manages to survive even this.

DAVID: D+. Giving this "film" a D+ is generous. I'm a huge fan of the Who and Tommy is one of their best albums. But whoever decided to let Ken Russell direct this 1975 film and adapt the screenplay from the album is a moron. Russell turned the groundbreaking rock opera into something beyond a bad acid trip with one ridiculously awful scene after another. The casting is also terrible Ann-Margaret and Oliver Reed in the lead roles, and bit and wasted parts for Jack Nicholson, Eric Clapton and Tina Turner. None of them, even those who sing for a living, are any good in this film. The movie version largely ruins the songs from the 1969 album that made the Who into one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Roger Daltrey, the band's lead singer, in the title role is one of the few bright spots when he's singing. When he's acting – this was his first acting job and got better in later roles – he's laughably silly playing the "deaf, dumb and blind kid" with a glazed-over look on his face. He's better after Tommy becomes a religious cult leader as a result of being a pinball champion. Elton John is entertaining in his cameo as the reigning pinball king and Who drummer Keith Moon is strangely amusing as Tommy's child-molesting Uncle Ernie. Pete Townshend, who came up with the concept, wrote all but one of the album's songs and was the driving force behind the Who, should have put the brakes on Russell's "vision." Compare this to Quadrophenia, the Who's greatest album. The 1979 film based on the 1973 rock-opera album about Jimmy, a young Mod who finds himself a social outcast, not only does the record justice, but is an outstanding movie. The same can't be said of Tommy. The album's concept is certainly unusual, but Russell takes it much further resulting in a terrible film. What's amazing is he would go on to make even worse movies.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
August 1–August 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

TOP HAT (August 5, 11:00 am): 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 with his 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," that make this movie a must-see and among my favorite musicals.

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (August 6, 8:00 pm): Like me, Woody Allen loves Ingmar Bergman films. Unlike me, he gets to make films that steal, um, borrow from Bergman. You have to give Allen credit, he does great adaptations. For example, this film is very similar in structure to Bergman's excellent  Fanny and Alexander . In this 1986 film, Mia Farrow is Hannah, whose husband (played by Michael Caine), falls in love with one of her sisters, a free-spirit (Barbara Hershey). Woody, as Hannah's ex-husband, steals every scene as a hypochondriac convinced he's going to die. He ends up with Hannah's other sister (Dianne Wiest). The acting is spectacular, with Caine winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Wiest for Best Supporting Actress, and an all-star cast. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (August 2, 8:00 pm): When one looks up the term “action picture,” a still from this film should be under the definition. Quite simply, this is the role Errol Flynn was born to play, and he’s quite good in it. Give him such villains to play against as Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone, and this film just can’t be beaten. Olivia de Havilland shines as Maid Marian, with Una O’Connor and Herbert Mundin in fine form as the comic relief. The best thing about the film is its refusal to take itself seriously, which amps up our enjoyment even more. Michael Curtiz directed with a nearly flawless style. It’s simply one of those rare films I can watch over and over without growing bored.

THE BAND WAGON (August 5, 12:00 am): 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 ... THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (August 4, 12:15 am)

ED: AThis film has the distinction of being the first mythic sports film ever made. If anyone was made for mythologizing, it was Lou Gehrig, who slid ever so comfortably into a role established in Greek myths. Gary Cooper was pitch perfect to play Gehrig, as both were of the strong, silent type. Watching it today, it’s hard to imagine anyone except Cooper in the role. Granted, there are some pictures he was never cut out to do, but this is the perfect role, as it plays to his strengths as an actor, especially in the last scene where the hero, to god-man, is forced to accept his mortality. The real prize in the film, though, is Teresa Wright, who practically steals the show as Gehrig’s devoted wife Eleanor. Another who deserves credit is cinematographer Rudolph Mate, who made the 41-year old Cooper look good enough to play the young Gehrig simply through the use of lighting and camera angle. This is one of the greatest sports movies ever made, and some critics today still count it the best ever made.

DAVID: B-. A good, but certainly not great, film that is more fantasy than reality. Gary Cooper does a decent job playing baseball legend Lou Gehrig, but despite what Ed wrote, he looks like an old man playing the younger Gehrig in college (?!) and during his early years in the major leagues. Adding Yankees, such as Babe Ruth, who played with Gehrig decades earlier, in cameo roles doesn't help matters as they also look too old. In this movie, Cooper reminds me of Robert Redford playing a ball player who is supposed to be much younger than he actually was in The Natural. For some reason, Hollywood has done an overall poor job making baseball films with the original Bad News Bears being its best effort and that film is certainly not a classic. However, this is an effective tear-jerker and the chemistry between Coop and Teresa Wright, as Gehrig's wife, is solid. Cooper makes Gehrig's "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth" speech, with the echo from Yankee Stadium, an iconic movie moment. Again, it's a good movie. It just has some dull spots and flawed moments.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 23–July 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BEWARE, MY LOVELY (July 24, 9:30 am): Robert Ryan's character is a dangerous psychopath who has a bad habit – he kills people, blacking out and forgetting the evil deeds he's done. And Ida Lupino's character, who becomes his love interest, seems to be the last person in the world who realizes Ryan's rugged handyman has her at the top of the list of who he next wants to kill. It's 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. This 1952 thriller isn't going to take your breath away, but it's a good 77-minute distraction. It 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 we also pity him to a certain extent because his mental illness makes it impossible for him to control his actions.

12 ANGRY MEN (July 26, 6:15 pm): This is a movie that really stays with you for its quality, intensity and the 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:

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (July 24, 3:30 am): Director Louis Malle made many a fine film, but none better than this 1958 effort about a woman and her ex-paratrooper lover who plot to kill her husband in the “perfect crime.” It’s a dark, stylish noir thriller that owes much to the influence of Hitchcock and Melville. (In fact, Hitchcock himself greatly admired the film.) Of course, things do go wrong, but they go so deliciously wrong as to keep us totally enthralled. What really makes the film is the strong, sensuous performance of star Jeanne Moreau. Malle later claimed to have discovered her, but Moreau was already a star of the stage and a veteran of B-movies before she met Malle. But this was the film that made Moreau a star. Photographed by none other than Henri Decae, it contains some breathtaking shots of Moreau and Paris at night. For those who haven’t yet seen it, it’s a definite “Must See.” And for those who have seen it, it still rates a revisit.

SVENGALI (July 27, 7:15 am): John Barrymore was in his prime when he played the title character, a demented maestro whose telepathic hypnotic powers transform beautiful model Trilby O’Farrell (Marian Marsh) into a great singer. Marsh is totally captivating, but this is Barrymore’s film and he doesn’t let us forget that for one minute, giving a powerful, yet restrained performance. Amazingly, this performance may have been due to an illness Barrymore suffered before filming. According to biographer Margot Peters (The House of Barrymore), he was suffering from an ulcer that caused severe gastric hemorrhaging. Because of that he was reduced to a diet of bland food and total abstinence from alcohol. The film was also helped by the bizarre sets from art director Anton Grot and the crisp black-and-white cinematography of Barney McGill. While both were nominated for Academy Awards, surprisingly, Barrymore was not, probably because most Academy members consider it to be just a horror picture, and they usually were overlooked when it came to nominations. By all means, see it, as it is a rewarding experience.

WE DISAGREE ON ... JEWEL ROBBERY (July 29, 6:00 am)

ED: B. Jewel Robbery is a very slight but amusing film highlighted by a great adult storyline and the use of reefers by jewel thief Powell to make his victims docile and cooperative. Powell is in fine form as the thief and Kay Francis is the bored rich Viennese woman who becomes enchanted by Powell. Made in the same basic style as Trouble in Paradise and One Way Passage, it pales in comparison precisely because it isn’t as lively as the other two. If you watch this and have not yet seen the other two films, it comes across as an “A.” But once you’ve seen the other two, the film quickly drops to a “B” in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine and intriguing film, but it just isn’t up to the others.

DAVID: A. I didn't realize we were going to end up debating three films from 1932. But Ed mentioned Jewel Robbery – which stars William Powell as a debonair jewel thief and Kay Francis as a bored baroness who falls for him – as being inferior to Trouble in Paradise and One Way Passage. A few words about the latter two: Trouble in Paradise (featuring Francis) is an excellent film, and on par with Jewel Robbery. I can't say the same for One Way Passage (which stars Powell and Francis) as I find it to be decent, but nothing memorable. Jewel Robbery is a sexy, erotic Pre-Code film with Powell essentially charming the pants off of Francis. Powell's character has his victims smoke joints to sedate them. He is sophisticated, suave and clever. In other words, he's William Powell. The Baroness is one of his victims, but she is turned on by it. The married baroness is looking for adventure and an adventurous man rather than her dull, wealthy husband. The dialogue is funny, filled with double entendres, and the two leads work very well together. Among my favorite exchanges is a quick one with the Baroness saying, "Show me your jewels." Powell: "Of course." The film moves at a fast pace, and is a great way to spend 68 minutes.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 15–July 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (July 15, 12:30 am): Robert Mitchum is at his terrifying best in this 1955 film, the only movie Charles Laughton directed. Mitchum is Rev. Harry Powell, a psychopath who kills women and steals their money, believing he's doing God's work. He is completely convincing as not only a cold-blooded murderer, but also a preacher who quotes Scripture with ease to make his point. He has love tattooed on the knuckles of his right hand and hate on the knuckles of his left hand. When he gives the explanation for the tattoos it sends chills down my spine every time. Most of the film has Powell pitted against a young boy, who doesn't trust him, and with good reason. Powell is after money stolen and hidden by the boy's father, who was executed for killing two people in a robbery. Powell seduces and marries the boy's mother and later kills her as he searches for the cash. The film was a failure when it was released, which resulted in Laughton never directing again. But over the years, it has come to be appreciated for what it is: a brilliant, menacing, dark film noir.

KEEPER OF THE FLAME (July 22, 6:00 pm): Regular readers know how much I dislike Katharine Hepburn's acting, particularly when she drags the great Spencer Tracy down in every film the two made together. That is, except one. Keeper of the Flame has Tracy as a journalist assigned to write a story about Hepburn's husband, a beloved national patriot who just died. It turns out the husband wasn't what he seemed and Hepburn tries to protect his secret. Tracy suspects Hepburn killed her husband, which isn't entirely the case. Besides the interesting plot twists, I also enjoy the interaction between Tracy and Hepburn as it doesn't fall into their familiar trap of a battle between the sexes. There's an attraction between the two, but it's secondary to the storyline.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X (July 16, 3:30 pm): Humphrey Bogart in a vampire picture? As a vampire, yet? Yes, it’s true and it has to be seen to be believed. At the time, Bogart was a contract player with a big mouth about the quality of his recent films and wasn’t afraid to let Jack Warner himself know. So, to teach him a lesson that as bad as it seems, it can get worse, Warner had him cast in this ridiculous film about an executed killer brought back to life by a mad scientist and who now needs frequent transfusions of fresh blood to live. Bogart was actually not the first choice for the role. It was first offered to Bela Lugosi and even he had the good sense to turn it down. Bogart, however, being under contract, couldn’t, so he had to make the best of it. So he puts on pasty-faced white makeup and runs a white streak through his hair, giving him a bizarre appearance, indeed. He is also shown in many scenes stroking a pet rabbit (also white). The film stinks, but Bogie’s actually pretty good and got to be the star of a box office hit, as the curiosity factor and word-of-mouth alone brought in viewers who wanted to see what it was all about.

PEEPING TOM (July 23, 2:30 am): Michael Powell almost lost his career in the uproar that followed the release of this controversial film about a serial photographer who captures his victims with his camera at their moment of death. He also documents the police investigation that follows each killing, and finally, his own suicide. We later learn that the killer’s father (played by Powell) was a psychologist who used his own son as a guinea pig in experiments exploring the nature of fear. The original print was heavily edited upon its 1960 release, but later restored by none other than Martin Scorsese. Don’t miss it.

WE DISAGREE ON ... CAPTAIN BLOOD (July 18, 6:00 am)

ED. B. Captain Blood is a solid adventure with great performances from its cast, including Errol Flynn in his first swashbuckler, Olivia de Havilland as his leading lady, Lionel Atwill and Basil Rathbone as the heels, and that wonderful Warner’s stock company in support. The only fault, and that which prevents a higher grade, is the rather primitive way it’s presented. The use of title cards makes it almost seem as if it were made in the silent era or as an early talkie. This is 1935, and sound recording had been mastered. Perhaps the reason was due to it being a low-budget production; Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland were unknowns at this time. Note the difference in production values between this film and later Flynn adventures. Otherwise, it’s a great way to spend one’s time.

DAVID: A. The movie that launched the career of Errol Flynn as a swashbuckling icon is not only historically important, but is an excellent film. The cast is top-notch with Oliva de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Guy Kibbee and Lionel Atwill. Flynn is Dr. Peter Blood, condemned to a Jamaican plantation to serve out a sentence for treating an English rebel. When the Spanish invade Jamaica, the fun and the action begins. Blood leads a prison rebellion with the men stealing a Spanish ship – the Spaniards are busy looting the town – and later the French on his way to becoming a hero when England is overthrown by William of Orange. Flynn is as dashing as you'll see him on screen showing great charisma during the fight scenes, though he needed work at times with dialogue. There's no arguing that it's a low-budget film. It was so low budget that stock footage from silent films were used. However, I strongly disagree with Ed that it diminishes from the impact of the movie. The action sequences are top-notch. Flynn and de Havilland are perfect together without being over-the-top in the romance department, and of course, Rathbone is outstanding.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 8–July 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BALL OF FIRE (July 12, 4:00 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.

PLANET OF THE APES (July 14, 9:15 am): Along with 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968's original Planet of the Apes is the greatest science-fiction film I've ever seen. Whenever it airs, I stop everything and watch it even though I've seen it at least 50 times and I own the entire DVD collection of the original five Apes films. Charlton Heston is among a group of astronauts who land on a strange planet and come across  a group of mute and simple-minded humans. They think they're going to run the place in a few weeks. It turns out the planet is actually controlled by talking apes. The interaction between Taylor (Heston) and three key apes – Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter) and particularly Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) – are the keys to this movie. The ending is among the best you'll ever see. It turns out Taylor time traveled and landed on a post-apocalyptic Earth. So many of the lines are iconic, the makeup and costumes are incredible and years ahead of its time, and the cinematography is amazing. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (July 9, 11:00 pm): The 1951 original, of course, which is one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made and a courageous retort to the hysteria of the day. Michael Rennie is pitch perfect as Klaatu, an alien who comes here on a good will mission and is shot for his troubles. He wants to convene a confab of scientists and world leaders. The government, on the other hand, want to keep him prisoner in order to pump information from him. There are two things they hadn’t considered, however. One is that he is a vastly superior being, able to see through our heavy-handed trickery, and his robot, Gort, capable of burning the planet to a cinder. Klaatu easily escapes the government’s attempts at imprisonment, and grabbing a briefcase with the initials “J.C.” (How’s that for symbolism?), ventures out into the world to contact the people he needs to see by himself. It’s when he stops at a rooming house run by Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee!) that he meets young war widow Patricia Neal and her son, Billy Gray. They provide the humanity and drama as the government launches a manhunt for Klaatu. Director Robert Wise captures the hysteria of the times perfectly, and the film is the first to feature a rational being from outer space who is not out to kill or enslave us, though he does give the nations of Earth a stern warning at the end. If you haven’t seen this one, catch it by all means - and ignore the lame 2008 remake.

KING KONG (July 14, 1:00 pm): Is there anyone out there who hasn’t seen this film? Along with The Lost World, it’s the granddaddy of the “monster-on-the-loose,” films and still holds its grip on us to this day. The search for and capture of a gigantic ape on a previously unknown island is stuff of our childhoods and I know of few people who aren’t in love with this adventure. Animator Willis O’Brien created one of the classic creatures of filmdom which, combined with an intelligent script, continues to dazzle with each viewing. The addition of Fay Wray only ratchets up the mythic heat with a modern take on Beauty and the Beast: She and co-stars Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot do an admirable job of acting, but it’s Kong we’ve come to see. And when he finally dies in a hail of bullets atop the Empire State Building, there’s not a dry eye left in the house, for he proves to have more humanity than his captors.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (July 12, 2:00 pm)

ED: AThis is a lovely fantasy directed by the great Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and with and Mankiewicz film, there’s more than meets the eye. On the surface, it’s about a young, feisty widow, Lucy Muir, who, along with her young daughter and maid, moves into a broken-down cottage in a costal village. She soon learns that she’s not alone in her new home – a raffish, grouchy ghost Daniel Gregg, of a former sea captain also lives there, and he’s not happy about having to share his digs. At first he makes his presence known to scare her off, and when that doesn’t work, merely to aggravate her. Before long, however, they begin fighting, flirting, and eventually falling in love, even though such a relationship is doomed from the start. When Lucy’s source of income dries up, Gregg suggests she ghostwrite (no pun intended) his racy memoirs of the life of the sea, so that she can have a new source of badly needed income. Those who are looking for realism would be advised to look elsewhere. This is a romantic fantasy, after all, a story about a woman falling in love with a man who might well be just a figment of her imagination. And that points to the deeper level of the film – a story of a woman wishing to escape from the controlling climate of her family in London coming to begin a new life who finds Captain Gregg a reassuring presence, a strong able man who won’t die like her husband. He represents Lucy’s desire for independence, urging her to value herself, according to film historian Jeanine Basinger in her excellent study, A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Woman, 1930-1960. As Lucy, Gene Tierney is ravishingly beautiful and has excellent chemistry with Rex Harrison, who plays Captain Gregg. This was back in the days when Harrison was a first-rate talent, before he began merely playing himself in the ‘60s. He is vibrant, strong, and elegant, the scenes where he and Lucy are writing the book are touching and appealing. George Sanders is also aboard playing his specialty, a scoundrel. He’s a married rogue who almost marries Lucy until, almost by accident, she discovers that he’s married. Natalie Wood, in only her third film, plays Lucy’s young daughter. Watching Wood in this film it’s hard to believe she wasn’t more of a seasoned actress. It’s a beautifully made film and serves as a harbinger for Mankiewicz’s later classics, such as A Letter to Three Wives, No Way Out, All About Eve, Five Fingers, and The Barefoot Contessa. Charles Lang’s cinematography was nominated for an Oscar, and Bernard Herrmann is among his best scores.

DAVID: C+. This is a cute movie, but nothing special. It's an odd love story between the widowed Lucy Muir (played by the beautiful Gene Tierney) and a gruff and grumpy sea captain, Daniel Gregg (played by the often-annoying Rex Harrison) in the early 1900s. The oddity of this 1947 film is Gregg is dead and is supposedly haunting his old house as a ghost. The film starts off as a comedy of sorts with Gregg pulling silly tricks to scare away Muir, turns combative, becomes strange as they fall in love, back to drama and ending more focused as a romantic fantasy film. It's as if director Joseph L. Mankiewicz didn't know what to do so he threw out a bunch of stuff and hoped style wins out over substance. After all, what kind of relationship can you have with a ghost? The other possibility is Gregg is a figment of Muir's imagination. In a book about this film, written by critic Frieda Grafe, Mankiewicz described it as "hack work." I think the director is a little hard on himself, but even he acknowledged that this movie is not a classic. Tierney is fine, though hardly spectacular, and Harrison is well, Harrison. Ed mentions above that this film was "back in the days when Harrison was a first-rate talent." To me, no such time existed. He never impressed me as an actor and while his performance here isn't as terrible as My Fair Lady or Doctor Doolittle, it's yet another example of Harrison overacting to the point of hurting the film. His limited range of emotions are anger, impatience and love. George Sanders is enjoyable, as usual, playing his role as a heel.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 1–July 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE (July 4, 1:30 pm): Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas co-starred in a number of excellent films, but besides Seven Days in May, this is their best. The Devil's Disciple is a delightfully funny and fun story of a straight-laced preacher (Lancaster) and a colonial rebel (Douglas) during the Revolutionary War. Add Sir Laurence Olivier as British General John Burgoyne and a screenplay based on the George Bernard Shaw play and you've got an outstanding film that's a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a film fan. The chance to see Lancaster, Douglas and Olivier together is reason enough to see this. On top of that, it's lively, filled with action and incredibly entertaining.

THE GREAT DICTATOR (July 5, 9:30 pm): TCM shows this 1940 Charlie Chaplin masterpiece on a regular basis so it often gets overlooked. 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 bouncing 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:

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.

DUCK SOUP (July 5, 8:00 pm): There are very few comedic masterpieces in film history. This is one of the best and probably the best antiwar movie ever made. Imagine - Groucho becomes dictator of Fredonia at the whim of Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), to whom the government owes large sums of money. Chico and Harpo work as spies for Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of neighboring Sylvania, which has its eyes on Fredonia. Trentino hopes to marry Mrs. Teasdale and take over Fredonia, but Groucho stands in his way. Eventually their rivalry leads to war. And what a war! Every vestige of nationalism is lampooned, from Paul Revere’s ride to the draft. It has great dialogue and sight gags galore, each managing to top the previous one. It’s incredible to believe, but this film bombed at the box office so badly that Paramount cancelled the Marx Brothers’ contract. Today it’s a classic of the genre. With the gorgeous Raquel Torres and the hysterical Edgar Kennedy, whose encounters with Chico and Harpo are truly side-splitting.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (July 7, 9:30 pm)

ED: AThis is a remarkable fantasy film, all the more so in that it was made in the days before CGI, using incredible Technicolor photography by Georges Perinal and Osmond Borradaile. (Oscar winning, by the way.) The production design by Vincent Korda is just as impressive. This is not a remake of the Douglas Fairbanks silent, but introduces a totally new story, also drawing from the Thousand-and-One-Nights tales. And the story chosen is both remarkable and enthralling, starring producer Alexander Korda’s discovery, Indian actor Sabu, who plays Abu, a thief amongst the many merchants that make up the marketplace of Bagdad. He and Prince Ahmad (John Justin), the rightful ruler of Bagdad who was overthrown by his evil Grand Vizier, Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) fight to vanquish Jaffar, who also has designs on the Prince’s love, the sultan’s daughter (June Duprez). Along the way we are treated to such visual delights as a flying carpet, a deadly six-armed dervish, a full-size mechanical horse, a stolen all-seeing ruby eye, and the Genie of the Lamp, played by the great Rex Ingram, who walks away with the picture despite the best efforts of Veidt. It’s one of the few pre-1960 films parents can show their children, as it’s made in Technicolor and is one helluva an adventure. And the score by Miklos Rozsa fits the film perfectly and enhances our viewing pleasure.

DAVID: B-. This is one of those films that should be great fun with colorful characters and costumes in an exotic location with a story filled with action and adventure. Don't get me wrong, it came close, but fell short of my expectations. Conrad Veidt as the evil Jaffar is wonderful as is Rex Ingram as the genie. Sabu is also quite charming as Abu, the boy thief. The biggest problem with this film is the love story between Ahmad the Prince (John Justin) and the Princess (June Duprez). Movies like this have the cliche love story between the naive, beautiful princess and the handsome prince who's been wronged as a central focus. The film is supposed to be exciting, but it sacrifices some action for romantic scenes – the kind that make kids say, "Eww, that's gross," and make adults wonder "What is this silly love story doing in a film for kids?" So it loses points because of that. However, there are plenty of great moments as Ed mentioned. The flying carpet is cool as is the ruby eye and the genie. Lose the love story focus, edit it down another 15 minutes and you'd have a real winner of a movie.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
June 23-June 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ENTER THE DRAGON (June 25, 12:00 am): 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 movie'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. The movie has many fantastic action scenes including the final showdown between Lee and Han in a room of mirrors. I've seen this film at least 20 times, and love it every time.

JULES AND JIM (June 28, 3:45 am): I don't have a favorite film, but this one is easily a top 5. Directed by the brilliant Francois Truffaut, this 1962 film takes place over a period of about 25 years before, during and after World War I. It's about an intense friendship between two men – Jules (Oskar Werner), an Austrian, and Jim (Henri Serre), a Frenchman – that is stronger than many marriages, and how it evolves because of the presence of Catherine (Jeanne Moreau, one of cinema's all-time best actresses), an impulsive, captivating and enchanting woman. Catherine loves both men, marrying Jules before the war – he and Jim are fighting for opposing countries and fearful they'll meet in combat. After the war, Jim visits Jules and Catherine, who have a daughter. But things aren't good between the couple and Catherine, who's had several affairs, falls for Jim. Jules' love for her is so great that he agrees to divorce Catherine so she can marry Jim with all three of them, and the child, living together. But that marriage also has its problems. The acting is extraordinary and the voice-over narration by Michel Subor greatly enhances the storyline. Everything works to perfection from the beautiful cinematography that uses photos, freeze-frame, archived footage and tracking shots to Georges Delerue’s soundtrack to the incredible ending. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (June 26, 6:00 am): 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 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.

BAND OF OUTSIDERS (June 28, 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.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (June 28, 12:00 am)

ED: A++. This is one of the seminal films in the history of the cinema, having influenced many other directors, such as Ozu, Bresson (whose The Trial of Joan of Arc runs a good second in my estimation), and Godard (who used it in his Vivre sa Vie), among others. It has also been praised by critics from Pauline Kael to Roger Ebert as one of the masterpieces of film. It was voted as number 9 on a list of the 50 greatest films of all time in a 2012 poll of 846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors for Sight & Sound. Part of the reason for its extraordinary influence is that film does not contain one establishing shot, instead relying on a series of close-ups and medium shots as director Carl Theodor Dreyer (who tossed out the screenplay in favor of the actual transcripts of the trial) tries to get to the essence of Joan of Arc, who she was and her suffering during the trial. And he does this brilliantly, creating an atmosphere of threatening intimacy, in which the suffering of Joan at the hands of her tormentors will leave no viewer unmoved. Dreyer also makes extraordinary use of editing techniques, breaking down the film into a series of images, allowing him to avoid the tranquility one can usually find in a historical drama. He wants us to concentrate on the trial, not the scenery, costumes, or any other distraction. Seem in a theater, as I first saw it, the result is startling and almost mind bending, as there is nothing else to distract us. As for the acting, the performance of Renee Maria Falconetti, a famous actress of the French stage, is nearly flawless, thanks in large part to Dreyer filming the same scenes over and over again until he found the right nuance in her facial expression, one in which the emotion had been drained, leaving only the suffering. Falconetti wore no make-up, though Dreyer did shoot her in softer grays to distinguish her from her tormentors. Hers became a performance for the ages, though she never performed in another film again. In my mind, any grade for this film lower than as “A” is an act of sheer vandalism and a sign the critic hasn’t really understood the film. (Well, it doesn’t have an car crashes).

DAVID: C. It's probably – definitely, according to Ed – sacrilegious for a film lover to not think highly of The Passion of Joan of Arc. Because I respect Ed so much, I stayed up late Thursday to watch it again. It worked to a certain extent. Based on my recollection of seeing the film in the past year, I was going to give it a C-. Instead, I'm giving it a C. There's too much "talking" for a silent film. As a print writer, my goal is to show and not tell. It isn't always possible. Carl Theodor Dreyer is doing the opposite in a visual medium with this movie. Lips are moving at the speed of light at times and Dreyer provides plenty of dialogue cards yet not a whole lot is happening – and what we see isn't terribly compelling and, at times, repetitive. Dreyer was an excellent director, made a number of classics and inspired others, but he missed the mark here. It's not awful. The cinematography is impressive at times, particularly the way the camera frames Renee Maria Falconetti, who plays Joan. But, overall, the film is slow moving, which is particularly distressing as it's only 82 minutes in length. A minor point on the use of the actual trial transcript: I question the accuracy of the document. There weren't tape recorders or even pens and pencils at the time of the trial. The transcript came from notaries who were at the trial and took daily notes using quill pens. As for Ed's criticism that those who don't love this film don't understand it, he's just trying to bait me. He loves this film. He's also well aware that I am a fan of Ozu, Bresson and of Godard's earlier works (before he made films that few understand), and that I love cinema that is open to interpretation such as the works of Ingmar Bergman. And, like Ed, I enjoy a good car crash on the big screen, but it's definitely not a requirement needed for a quality movie. I know I go against the grain with my opinions of this film. It's not the first time I disagree with cinema experts and certainly won't be the last.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
June 15–June 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (June 20, 8:00 pm): A very funny and clever 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 equally 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.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (June 21, 8:00 pm): Buster Keaton's last independent silent film – and one of the last silent films he ever made – is the legendary actor at his best. The stunts are stunning, including one of the most memorable in cinematic history. The facade of a house falls forward with Keaton, who is in front of it, saved by perfectly hitting his mark standing where the empty third-story window lands. It is an insane stunt that could have easily killed Keaton. Don't try this at home, kids. It's a perfect example of Keaton's physical comedic style. Keaton is basically the entire movie as the plot is paper-thin. Keaton is the small college-graduate son of a riverboat captain, who's about to lose his broken-down paddle steamer and livelihood to a wealthy rival. Keaton's character is in love with the daughter of his father's rival. Besides the physical comedy, there's some other exceptionally funny moments in the film such as Keaton attempting to get his father out of jail by giving him a loaf of bread with tools obviously inside. It's a silent film classic.

ED’S BEST BETS:

MYSTERY STREET (June 19, 9:45 pm): This is a neat little B-thriller that stands out today as one of the first procedural police dramas from Hollywood. Starring Ricardo Montalban as a Cape Cod detective and Bruce Bennett as a Harvard professor, it follows the discovery of the remains of a murdered B-girl on a Cape Cod beach straight through to the arrest of her killer. It’s an early exercise in forensic science as they trace the clues step-by-step, interview witnesses, and even overcome class prejudice to finally lead them to the murderer. It’s intelligent, well written and expertly acted. Look for Elsa Lanchester as an eccentric landlady.

RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (June 20, 6:00 pm): Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and director Sam Peckinpah make for a winning combination in this Western about two ex-lawmen who have fallen on hard times and agree to accompany a gold shipment from a mine to the town below. The temptation to steal the hoard gets the better of one and leads to a deadly rift between the two former close friends. And if that weren’t enough, the situation is further complicated by the presence of a young woman named Elsa (Mariette Hartley), who married one of the miners but changed her mind and fled, joining up with Scott and McCrea. This enrages the miner she wed, and he and his brother head out to get her back, leading to a violent conclusion. Containing great dialogue, tense situations and a director who never lets up, this is one to see.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MEAN STREETS (June 20, 3:45 am)

ED: A-. This is the film that made critics sit up and take notice of young Martin Scorsese. It has all the hallmarks of a Scorsese film: expressionistic lighting, fluid camerawork, sudden outbursts of violence, and that wonderful eclectic soundtrack. Scorsese would refine these techniques over time, but Mean Streets contains that raw, passionate energy of youth. It’s also a claustrophobic film, set in the confined world of Little Italy, with its main character, Charlie (a superb performance by Harvey Keitel), a lower rank Mafioso who inhabits a dark world of pool halls, cinemas, and bars. We first see him coming out of confession, rather unhappy with his penance. But as we follow him into the bar, symbolically lit in red, and see his chaotic, violent friend, Johnny Boy (another winning performance from Robert DeNiro) stroll in with “Jumping Jack Flash” in the background, we immediately realize that Johnny Boy is the personification of Charlie’s penance. “You send me this, Lord,” Charlie says. Stay tuned for the argument between the two over Johnny Boy’s debts in the back room. Though more than a bit raw, it shows the Scorsese yet to come. Mean Streets is a wonderful character study of a man trapped in his environment with no way out, torn between the entreaties of his girlfriend to leave the life behind and move away with her, and his loyalty to his uncle. One also gets a distinct whiff of the personal in the film, which only adds to its charm. It’s a brilliant film, and though flawed, it’s still better than most directors in their prime.

DAVID: B-. My biggest issue with Mean Streets is I saw it for the first time about six months ago. Having heard glowing praise – it's on several lists of the greatest films of all-time – I expected to be blown away by this movie. It's good, even very good, but I can't consider it great. I'm sure it was ahead of its time when it was released in 1973, and the talents of director Martin Scorsese and actors Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel are obvious. But having seen so many other Scorsese-DeNiro films, this one just doesn't measure up to Taxi DriverRaging BullThe King of Comedy and Goodfellas, for examples. I'm not going to bother to mention other films directed by Scorsese and/or starring DeNiro and Keitel that are better than Mean Streets as I think you get my point. Ed's description of this film as "more than a bit raw" and "flawed" are accurate. It has moments of brilliance quickly followed by scenes that drag and seem pointless. It's unpolished, which isn't a bad thing, but it comes across at times as lacking focus. While the soundtrack is excellent, there's far too much music in the movie to the point of distraction. Overall, the film is compelling and interesting, the lead actors are fantastic and Scorsese does an admirable job directing just his third film. But, simply put, it could have been better.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
June 8–June 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

GOING IN STYLE (June 9, 8:00 pm): For a movie about a bank heist, this is sweet and sentimental working largely because of the acting and chemistry of the three leads: George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. I first saw this 1979 movie on a flight from New York City to Fort Lauderdale, and while it's been a few years, I've seen it a number of times. The three are senior citizens living a very boring existence together in a Brooklyn apartment. One day, Burns suggests the three rob a bank, which breathes life into the trio. Wearing novelty glasses and large plastic noses, the three pull off the robbery though Strasberg's character dies later that day from the excitement. There are some fantastic scenes in the film, including Burns and Carney as unlikely high rollers in Las Vegas. It could easily crash and burn, but fortunately it's a fun film with some great lines and excellent acting.

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (June 14, 6:30 pm): A very well-done and thoughtful sci-fi film. One day all the people and animals in a quaint English town become unconscious, wake up and two months later, all the women capable of having children are pregnant. In all, 12 very white-looking kids are born. 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 (George Sanders) decides he's going to teach the mutant kids, who want to take over the world, to use their powers for good. While a nice idea, it's also poorly thought out as these children are serious about world dominance. Realizing he's not going to win, 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 cliche, ridiculous and bad, but this one is special. Sanders is fantastic as usual  and the kids are great. It's a very entertaining horror film.

ED’S BEST BETS:

GUN CRAZY (June 12, 9:45 pm): Director Joseph H. Lewis’s ahead-of-its-time noir about two lovers (Peggy Cummins and John Dall) who 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.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (May 12, 1:15 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. Some critics have called it the best B-movie ever made. It is also one of the classics of film noir – and an essential.

WE DISAGREE ON ... WHITE CARGO (June 10, 5:15 am)

ED: B-. This is a hoot of a movie. Watch Hedy. Watch Hedy try to act. Try not to laugh yourself silly while watching Hedy try to act. Hey, she’s great to look at, but when she openers her mouth the mystery disappears. With her cocoa butter makeup and Pidgin English Hedy comes off like a parody of the oversexed exotic temptress in this overcooked piece of dated over-the-top misogyny. But, sad to say, she’s playing this on the level, and it was not a performance that would help establish her as a serious actress. Let’s face facts: if Monogram, Republic or PRC put this out, I’d have given it an “F.” It’s the sort of crap they would put out. But when MGM does it, it makes to a classic of Trainwreck Cinema and hence the enhanced grade. It’s always fun to watch big stars like Lamarr and Walter Pidgeon embarrass themselves in crap like this. Just watch, relax, and enjoy. It’s awful - and marvelously so at that.

DAVID: D+. I largely agree with Ed on the many shortcomings of this film, primarily the ridiculous plot and the terrible acting of Hedy Lamarr. Where we differ is he is far more forgiving of how bad this film is, giving it a B- compared to my more realistic D+. MGM tried to pass Lamarr off as Tondelayo, a half-breed African sexpot who seduces and then discards various English men who work at a rubber plantation in Africa during World War II. The acting is awful, even Walter Pidgeon, who is typically very good; the storyline is absurd; and besides Lamarr's body, there is nothing worth seeing here. This film does nothing to convince anyone that Lamarr had any talent, and she would establish that inability to act in other movies though this may be her worst role. It could have been played for laughs because believe me there is plenty to laugh at. Instead of being a satire on white men getting jungle fever, it's simply a terrible film.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
June 1–June 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

KEY LARGO (June 2, 4:00 pm): This is, hands down, one of the 10 greatest films, the best film noir in cinematic history, and the most incredible ensemble cast you'll find a movie. It stars three of my favorite actors: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Lionel Barrymore. Bogart is a former military man who checks into the Hotel Largo in Key Largo, Florida, in the middle of hurricane season. The real storm hits when we see gangster Johnny Rocco (Eddie G) walk down the hotel steps. Bogart had top billing, but it's Robinson who you can't stop watching. The action in this film is intense, and the acting is incredibly strong (also including Claire Trevor as Rocco's neglected gangster moll, a role that won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and Lauren Bacall as Barrymore's daughter and, of course, Bogart's love interest). Legendary director John Huston could not have done a better job, and the use of the storm to parallel what's happening to the film's characters is ideal. Needless to say, this is one of those films you can watch over and over again, and enjoy it more with each viewing.

GILDA (June 3, 9:30 pm): 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

A FACE IN THE CROWD (June 4, 7:15 am): 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, and who, through the sheer force of his “down home” personality 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 letter-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 superb, and Griffith gave the best performance of his career, playing against type. He should have gotten the Oscar, but wasn’t even nominated, in 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.

LA BETE HUMAINE (June 5, 8:00 am): Jean Renoir wrote and directed this masterful adaptation of Zola’s novel of the same name, setting it in modern times. The focus of the film is train engineer Lantier (Jean Gabin), who, while waiting for his train to be repaired at the Le Havre station, witnesses a murder committed by the station master, Roubard (Fernand Ledoux). Roubard, realizing Lantier saw everything, encourages his wife, Severine (Simone Simon) to become Lantier’s lover in order to buy his silence. Needless to say, this results in tragedy. Gabin is mesmerizing in the role of Lantier, who turns violent whenever he has an epileptic attack. And it’s good to see Simone Simon, who most American film fans know as the doomed Irina from RKO and producer Val Lewton’s Cat People. This film is a must for those who would like to see the earlier Simon and for anyone who loves the films of Renoir, as I do.

WE DISAGREE ON ... CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (June 7, 8:00 pm)

ED: A. Steven Spielberg was taking a chance by making an “A” budget science fiction film back in the mid-70s. The last “A” budget sci-fi film that did real business was Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey back in 1968. But George Lucas released Star Wars earlier in the year and proved that science fiction films can be successful once again. But Columbia was a bit anxious about Spielberg’s film, as it wasn’t on the cartoony level of Star Wars. They need not have worried, as Spielberg’s film appealed to a broader spectrum of the adult film going audience. This is an extremely well made film about what happens when ordinary people encounter something totally extraordinary. In this respect it harkens back to the days of It Came From Outer Space in 1953 in that it’s a film made with intelligence. Spielberg hits all the right notes in this film, crafting a film whose human storyline strikes at our emotions and makes it compelling viewing. Also the pre-CGI special effects not only enhance, but also contribute to the movie’s atmosphere of sheer wonderment. And the wonderment is what we take away from this film, a pleasant memory that never fades as the years go on.

DAVID: B. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a very good film, but I reserve A grades for excellent ones. In terms of Steven Spielberg's directing career, this was his next film after Jaws. In comparison, Close Encounters falls short. While significantly better than his next film, 1941Close Encounters also doesn't measure up to the next two: Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Perhaps it's not fair to judge Close Encounters to the other films Spielberg made around the same time, but not everything is fair. I agree with Ed that this movie's special effects enhance the movie and I'll add that they are spectacular for 1977. The issues I have with this film are it's too long, clocking in at 2 hours and 17 minutes and it drags, the storyline is sometimes difficult to follow, and the editing of the movie could have been better (the latter is a criticism Spielberg has acknowledged). However, overall, the film is enjoyable, touching and for perhaps the first time a big-budget science fiction film portrayed aliens as friendly. Of course, Spielberg would take the friendly-alien concept much further in E.T. For the most part, the acting is exceptional, particularly Richard Dreyfuss, an electrical lineman who becomes obsessed with aliens after seeing a UFO. And any film with legendary French director Francois Truffaut in an acting role has to be good.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 23–May 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (May 23, 5:30 pm): Gregory Peck shows great versatility in this film as a merciless brigadier general demanding Air Force bombers continue more dangerous missions to hit German targets during World War II. Peck pushes them beyond their limits and shows no mercy, removing the unit's commanding officer when he speaks up for his men. Peck's character evolves as the unit suffers heavy casualties, but never becomes warm and fuzzy. The film is one of the finest examples of the psychological impact of war, particularly on those in leadership positions, with Peck giving a standout and memorable performance.

TO SIR, WITH LOVE (May 27, 3:15 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:

GRAND ILLUSION (May 24, 3:00 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.

PATTON (May 25, 10:15 pm): George C. Scott was never better in this biopic of World War II’s most iconic general, and the Academy knew it as well, awarding him the Best Actor Oscar for his efforts (which he refused). It’s a good, old-fashioned epic. We knew who the Good Guys were and who the Bad Guys were, and never the twain did meet. There are historical inaccuracies galore, but this is Hollywood. If it’s a case of legend versus fact, print the legend. Karl Malden is excellent as General Omar Bradley, and Michael Bates makes for a feisty Montgomery, with whom Patton was always in competition. Does it tell us much about the inner Patton? Not really, but just go along for the ride. You won’t be disappointed.

WE DISAGREE ON ... FURY (May 30, 10:30 pm)

ED: B. This film, Fritz Lang’s first in America, is an excellent drama of lynch mob and mob rule in a small American town, with Spencer Tracy as their innocent victim. I love Lang’s cynicism, especially the scenes of women gossiping, and then a quick cut to chickens clucking in a barnyard, or close-up of people joyfully holding their babies up for a better view of Tracy as the courthouse burns out of control. But this is a film that would have served us better if it were made in the Pre-Code era, and at an MGM where Irving Thalberg was in control. In the final scenes, where Tracy somehow comes to his senses, admits to conspiring for the deaths of his torturers, and the reconciliation between Tracy and Sylvia Sidney, with Tracy embracing the American Dream, not only went against the grain of the picture, but were said to have been forced on the film by MGM and Louis Mayer, who hated the idea of the film and Lang as well. Also cut were scenes of African-Americans listening to a radio speech by the movie’s district attorney condemning lynching, and another where an African-American laundress is singing a song of freedom while hanging out the wash. The interference by MGM is what lowers the grade for me as it compromises the integrity of the film and Lang’s vision, for Lang had the unusual ability to understand and display the darker parts of the human spirit.

DAVID: A.
 Fritz Lang's first American film after leaving Nazi Germany is one of his finest. Fury is a gritty, cynical film about mob-rule mentality. It looks like it's from Warner Brothers, but it's an MGM production. It was made in 1936, but remains fresh nearly 80 years later. It's Spencer Tracy's first great role, and among four films in 1936 in which he starred. RiffraffSan Francisco and Libeled Lady were the other three. For many actors, that would be an excellent cinematic career. For Tracy, it was a single year. In Fury, Tracy is a "Typical Joe" – he's even named Joe Wilson – who's operating a gas station and saving money so he can be reunited with his fiancée, Katherine Grant (Sylvia Sidney), and be married. On his way to see her, Joe is stopped in a small town and through circumstantial evidence is arrested for kidnapping a young girl. Lang does a perfect job of showing step by step the way gossip escalates into an angry, violent mob. The visuals are outstanding. Tracy, who is innocent, is taken to the local jail. The tension outside among the town's residents mounts to the point that a mob overwhelms local law enforcement, burns the building down and presumably kills Joe. We find out later that Joe miraculously escaped and isn't dead. With the help of his brothers, he is making those who tried to kill him pay for his "murder." The range shown by Tracy – going from a happy-go-lucky guy to a dark, angry, bitter man seeking revenge – is outstanding, and one of his finest performances. As for the scripted ending, I'm fine with it though I will concede it gets a little preachy. After an impassioned plea from Katherine, Joe realizes he's wrong and goes to the courthouse to stop the convictions of the 22 people charged with his murder. In his speech, Joe said he used to be proud of his country, but his ideals died in that fire. As Ed mentioned, there is some disappointment that a few of the scenes Lang filmed didn't make it into the finished product. But what we have is an exciting and insightful film that does a splendid job of showing the dark side of humanity – first with the mob and then with Joe. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 15–May 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (May 16, 6:00 am): What's better than Edward G. Robinson hunting Nazis? Not much. This 1939 movie from Warner Brothers was the first anti-Nazi film made by a major Hollywood studio. It came out a few months before the start of World War II and it would be more than 2 1/2 years after this film premiered that the United States would go to war with Germany. In this film, Eddie G. plays an FBI agent trying to break up a ring of German-Americans who are loyal to the Nazis and are spying here out of loyalty to their country of origin. It's based on a series of articles written by a former G-Man who investigated Nazi spies before the start of World War II. I wish Eddie G. was in the film more, but the supporting cast of Nazis, led by George Sanders, Francis Lederer and Paul Lucas, do a fine job until he arrives.

THE STRANGER (May 22, 8:00 pm): To repeat: What's better than Edward G. Robinson hunting Nazis? How about this 1946 film directed by Orson Welles, who co-stars with Eddie G.? In this movie, the war is over, but there are escaped Nazis in the United States. One of them is Welles, a former high-ranking Nazi who has changed his identity. The war criminal is now a New England prep school teacher married to Loretta Young, the daughter of a United States Supreme Court justice. When another German comes to visit, Welles calmly takes him to the woods and kills him so that his identity remains a secret. Welles is fantastic as the ruthless war criminal who'll do anything to protect his identity and his life. Eddie G. does a masterful job as a Nazi hunter on Welles' trail. Welles wanted to cast Agnes Moorehead in Eddie G.'s role. I'm glad that didn't work out. While not as adventurous as some of the other films Welles directed, it's an excellent movie with great action, suspense and drama. It's also the first Hollywood film to show footage of the victims of Nazi concentration camps - an incredibly powerful image that stays with the viewer.

ED’S BEST BETS:

MACBETH (May 15, 12:00 am): In the late ‘40s, burning with desire to make a film of Macbeth, Orson Welles turned to a most unlikely choice: Republic Studios. About the best thing one could say of Republic was that it was the Cadillac of Poverty Row studios, which wasn’t saying much. But when one is desperate, any port in the storm will do. And Republic, known for its Gene Autry and Roy Rogers Westerns, was as anxious to have Welles come aboard. Herbert Yates, Republic’s owner, had long wanted to move into the world of “prestige films” and leave his B-movie legacy behind. Welles would be just the man to kick things off in that direction. At first, everything went swimmingly: Welles brought the picture in well under budget, probably because he failed to lure any big names for the film. No star wanted to take his or her chances working for the eccentric director - especially at a place like Republic. (For instance, Welles wanted Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth, but husband Laurence Olivier quickly squashed that notion.) Yates even held his temper when Welles took his usual good time in editing the film. The prestige the film would bring the studio would justify any delays. However, when the film was previewed in Salt Lake City, Denver, and San Francisco, it was totally savaged by critics who claimed the director’s use of heavy, authentic, Scotch accents made the film incomprehensible to American audiences. Yates recalled the prints and had associate producer Richard Wilson do a repair job. Wilson redubbed about 65% of the film and cut about 20 minutes, leaving the film with a running time of 88 minutes. But word of mouth killed any chance it had in America and England. It did quite well, though, in non-English speaking countries, especially France and Germany. Archivists at UCLA put the original film back together in 1980. Because the film is quite watchable and because it’s rarely shown on television (the last time I saw it was on PBS about 25 years ago, I’d say), it’s a must for the cinephile. It’s a real Essential.

THRONE OF BLOOD (May 15, 2:00 am): The only thing better than watching Orson Welles’s Macbeth is to watch Akira Kurosawa’s MacbethThrone of Blood. Kurosawa is a better director than Welles, and he had a better cast, led by the great Toshiro Mifune, for this adaptation set in feudal Japan. Despite the usual trepidations of those concerned over a Shakespeare play translated for the Japanese audience, we can tell them to relax. The film is a masterpiece - Kurosawa is one of the great stylists and the film is a masterful blend of Noh drama, Shakespeare, and the American Western. For those who love Shakespeare, tune in and delight in Kurosawa’s adaptation. For those that have never seen a Japanese film in its original form, start with this one - it’s impossible to go wrong. And for those who always wanted to watch it, but were hesitant to tune in, now’s your chance. Personally, the film is one of my top favorites. I have it on DVD and watch it every time it airs on TCM. I have also exposed friends and loved ones to it as well. It’s just too good to pass by.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (May 18, 11:45 am)

ED: A. This film, considered one of the classics of American cinema, is one I’m conflicted over. The story, about a young idealist named to the Senate after his state’s junior senator dies, and who finds nothing but corruption in the Senate, is a good idea that, for my taste, was not hashed out fully. The character of Jefferson Smith is just too “Gee Whiz” at the beginning to be taken seriously, and his fight against the Senate over his bill a little too much, especially the ending, where Claude Rains suddenly grows a conscience and confesses all. But the reason I give it the grade I do is because of the performances, especially those of Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Harry Carey (as the vice-president), Edward Arnold, and Thomas Mitchell. How Arthur missed out on an Oscar nomination beats me. Capra does a wonderful job directing the actors, discouraging any scenery chewing (especially on the part of Rains) and using cuts to emphasize the full effect of the picture. Except for that last scene with Rains, he really had it down. As I said, the performances and the direction were first-rate, if not exactly the plot.

DAVID: B-. This is a classic film. But if you look at it objectively it's the cliched formula Frank Capra used a few too many times. It's ridiculously corny, preachy, sentimental with an ending you know is going to happen as soon as Mr. (Jefferson) Smith, played by James Stewart, goes to Washington. After a senator from an unnamed Western state dies, the state's political power-brokers look for a replacement. They eventually decide on Smith believing him to be a sap they can easily control. He's the incredibly naive and idealistic head of the state's Boy Rangers who doesn't realize he's supposed to be a puppet of the political machine. Of course, he's way out of his element in the Senate, but eventually wises up thanks to his sassy secretary (Jean Arthur). Stewart's filibuster scene toward the end of the film followed by Sen. Joe Paine's (Claude Rains) attempt to commit suicide out of guilt and his subsequent admission that he was part of the conspiracy to discredit Smith are almost unbearable to watch. However, I agree with Ed that the acting is exceptional. I've never seen a film with Stewart or Arthur that a viewer could criticize either for their performances, and they've both very good here despite the lines they're reading and how over-the-top preachy the film is. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 8–May 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (May 12, 8:00 pm): More than any Humphrey Bogart made after Casablanca, this 1948 classic 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 (Walter Huston in one of his finest roles) and the three decide to search for gold. Huston's son, John, wrote and directed this movie. Things go well, but Bogart's character becomes consumed with paranoia and convinced the others are trying to cheat him. While Holt holds his own, this is Bogart and Walter Huston's film. It's an excellent morality tale with an ironic ending. 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."

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (May 12, 12:15 am): An authentic film that pulls no punches about three soldiers returning home from World War II attempting to adjust to civilian 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, only a year after the war ended. It's very touching, beautiful and so real. It’s nearly impossible to not be emotionally moved while watching this extraordinary film.

ED’S BEST BETS:

TOUCH OF EVIL (May 8, 8:00 pm): A brilliant noir from Orson Welles about international narcotics officer Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) who becomes entangled in a web of corruption when he investigates a sleazy border town’s crooked sheriff (Welles). Heston’s bride, Susan (Janet Leigh), becomes the innocent pawn in their struggle. With spectacular performances from Marlene Dietrich as the town’s madam, Dennis Weaver as a quirky motel night manager, and Akim Tamairoff as a sleazy small-time crime boss. Also look for Joseph Cotton as a police surgeon, and best of all, Mercedes McCambridge in drag as a male Mexican gang leader. With fabulous photography by Russell Metty and a superb Latin rock score by Henry Mancini. The film never disappoints for one minute. I hope TCM is showing the restored version rather than the version put out by Universal after they took the film away from Welles and butchered it.

THESE ARE THE DAMNED (May 14, 3:15 pm): 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 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.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE BORN LOSERS (May 11, 8:00 pm)

ED: B-. This film, which marks the first appearance of Billy Jack, is the best of the four films starring Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack, and that isn’t saying much. Born Losers is a simple, straightforward, biker exploitation film, made before he began to take himself ultra-seriously. Here he takes on a gang of local outlaw bikers almost single-handed. Guess who wins? You gotta love the bikers, with names like “Child,” “Speechless,” and “Gangrene.” Elizabeth James, who wrote the film under the nom de plume of E. James Lloyd (Gee, I wonder why?), the female about whom all the fuss is over, looks as if she’s just stepped off the stage of Shindig. She can’t act, either, which adds to the fun. But then she’s co-starring with Laughlin, whose idea of acting is to stand still and imitate Charles Bronson in the expression department. Watch for Jane Russell, obviously in need of money, who’s along for the ride in a great over-the-top performance as an angry parent of one of the vics. Made in the days before the Code imploded and graphic violence became the norm, it has a quaintness about it that makes it seem as though it came straight out of Biker Flicks 101. One critic called it “a crass, simple-minded and dumb film.” Yes, it’s all that and less. Why else would we watch it? For fans of bad movies, and especially bad biker films, this is a must.

DAVID: A-. With the exception of Easy Rider, this is my favorite biker movie. The genre isn't the most sophisticated, but for pure enjoyment, it's hard to top it. Tom Laughlin debuted his iconic Billy Jack character in this 1967 film. It's truly an independent film, one that Laughlin originally funded and finished with an influx of money from American International Pictures. Billy Jack is a half-breed Indian and Vietnam veteran who is the only person in his quaint California town to stand up to a tough biker gang, called the Born Losers Motorcycle Club. The Losers are terrorizing the town, beating up a guy in a car for bumping into one of their motorcycles and mouthing off. He sort of has it coming, but Billy stops it. Billy ends up getting arrested for using a rifle. It only gets worse in the town. The Losers rape a series of young women and intimidate them and witnesses to shut up so none of them can be convicted of their crimes. But Billy doesn't take crap from anybody. When Ed mentioned the bikers' names, he forgot "Cueball" and "Crabs." Elizabeth James, who wrote the script, is Vicky, a bikini-clad local who is abducted and raped by the gang members with Billy knocked silly trying to protect her. Vicky agrees to be the gang's sex toy if they leave Billy alone. But, c'mon, we're talking about Billy Jack. He goes right into the gangs' lair, bloodied and injured, with a shotgun intent on getting Vicky out of there. The gangs' leader, Daniel (I guess being around guys named Cueball, Gangrene and Speechless, a person with an actual first name is a novelty), dares Billy to shoot him right between the eyes. Bam, that's exactly what he gets. The town's cops are of no help, giving Billy an anti-hero persona. When the cops get involved, they only screw things up such as shooting Billy at the end of the film, thinking he's one of the gang members trying to escape. The actors who play the bikers are pretty good. Jeremy Slate's Daniel has a wild persona wearing a pair of giant white sunglasses with a maniacal laugh. Was Laughlin a brilliant actor? Hell, no, but he knew his audience. He's cool, understated and kicks serious ass. It's not the most sophisticated film, but it's one with excellent action, a ton of violence with Billy as a one-man wrecking crew. His second film, Billy Jack, plays more on the character being an outcast for being a half-Indian, but it's also a lot of fun to watch. The later Billy Jack films, including Billy Jack Goes to Washington (read my Train Wreck Cinema article here), are ridiculous. But Laughlin was able to make The Born Losers and Billy Jack into cult classics.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 1–May 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (May 1, 10:15 pm): This is Orson Welles' amazing follow to Citizen Kane starring Joseph Cotten (one of film's greatest actors in only his second film) 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 (Dolores Costello), a former flame who is widowed. But Isabel's son, George (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 unbelievable lengths to keep their pride at the expense of their own personal happiness and of their families. Were it not for Citizen Kane, this would have been Welles' masterpiece. It also showed his versatility as a director as the two films are about completely different topics.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (May 4, 12:15 am): The last American film directed by Fritz Lang is an excellent one with Dana Andrews convinced by his newspaper publisher father-in-law to plant clues implicating him in the murder of a woman. The plan is to prove the weakness of circumstantial evidence and make a fool out of the local district attorney. The problem is the plan works and Andrews' father-in-law is killed in a car crash with the evidence that he didn't do it burned to a crisp. This leaves Andrews on death row and heading for the chair. The concept and subsequent plot twists are fascinating and riveting, and the film's conclusion is outstanding and brilliantly executed (pun intended).

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE OFFICE WIFE (May 1, 6:45 am): This is a good, solid, Pre-Code soaper featuring two of the most beautiful women of their era: Dorothy MacKaill and Joan Blondell. The plot is already worn by this time - a secretary (MacKaill) in love with her boss (Lewis Stone), but who can’t fool around until she learns his marriage has hit the rocks, and it’s full steam ahead. Actually MacKaill is the replacement for the boss’s original secretary, who also was in love with him and quit when she learned he was getting married. (I don’t know about you, but I’m rather confused as to how Lewis Stone can be such a stud muffin.) MacKaill is fine in her role, but it’s Blondell, who steals the film playing the younger wisecracking sister. We first see her in the bathtub, and later pulling underwear on and off. Well, it is Pre-Code. Also look in the opening scenes for Blanche Friderci as a cigar-smoking, mannishly dressed lesbian getting a writing assignment from boss Stone. Made in 1930, it has the usual hindrances for an early talkie, such as stilted dialogue and obvious blocking, but it does entertain and entertain well.

QUEEN CHRISTINA (May 2, 10:00 pm): When History meets Hollywood, Hollywood always comes out the victor, and this film is a testament to how convincingly Hollywood could revise the past, especially in terms of glamour. And in these terms, Garbo comes out as a clear victor. This is one of her most popular films, both with critics and the public, and unlike some of her others, it has withstood the test of time quite well. Garbo makes for a most glam Christina, who in real life was rather plain, and with the help of co-stars John Gilbert, Ian Keith and Lewis Stone, gives us an excellent portrait of one of history’s most unique characters. The direction by Rueben Mamoulian is excellent, keeping the motion picture moving, which could be quite a challenge in Garbo’s other films. Gilbert, whose reputation was by this time in tatters, acquits himself nicely as the Queen’s lover, Don Antonio de la Prada, and Stone makes for an effective Chancellor Oxenstierna, who was the Queen’s adviser. The real reason this film continues to stir up interest is because of the Swedish Garbo, now known to be bisexual, playing a Swedish queen who was also known to be bisexual. For those with a prurient interest this film will not disappoint, given the strictures of its time, but beyond this it is a solid, entertaining film. Even those who are not exactly fans of Garbo will have no trouble liking this one.

WE DISAGREE ON ... I WANT TO LIVE! (May 4, 8:00 pm)

ED: BI Want to Live! is a good film with a good, but over the top performance from its lead, Susan Hayward, a prostitute-crook who - according to the picture - is framed for murder and condemned to the gas chamber. Robert Wise, the director, stand backs and lets Hayward rip. It’s a typical Hayward performance, not all that removed from her previous turn as Lillian Roth in I’ll Cry Tomorrow, for she was at her best playing troubled characters, where she could fully emote. Wise also spent some hours prepping by going to San Quentin and watching actual executions to give the film a truthful ring, as he knew the execution scene would be the pivotal scene in the film. All well and good, but the film comes across more as a propaganda piece for the abolition of capital punishment than as a human drama. Sure, Hayward may portray Graham with more than a few character flaws, but the impression we’re supposed to take away is the Graham is really just a party girl who was framed by two skels out for revenge. Again, it’s one of Hayward’s patented two hankie performances, playing to the viewer’s sympathy by pulling out all the stops, such as parading around Graham’s infant child as a symbol of the righteousness of her innocence. Yes, it is a good film and ably directed, but its flaws prevent it from being graded higher.

DAVID: A. Let's not quibble about the factual accuracy of this film. It's one perspective of the life and death of Barbara Graham, a career criminal who insists she was framed for murder. We also shouldn't quibble about what Susan Hayward does with this role. She is brilliant and memorable playing Graham. I strongly disagree with Ed that this is a typical Hayward performance. Yes, she played other girls-in-trouble before, but never with the emotional intensity and shattering tragedy in her flawless portrayal of Graham in this film. While there are many film fans who don't know her or only recognize the name, Hayward was one of the finest actresses of her era. She earned a remarkable five Best Actress Oscar nominations between 1947 and 1958, winning in the latter year for her performance in I Want to Live! Hayward's ability to show the many sides of Graham in this film – from prostitute/career criminal to convicted murderer who is about to be executed – is something that stays with the viewer long after the movie ends. Hayward is at her best waiting for the reprieve she never receives while those around her prepare the gas chamber for her death. Her performance is devastating and heartbreaking. Whether Graham was guilty or not – and this film wants to convince you she was innocent – I Want to Live! shows the unpleasant realities of capital punishment in a way never before presented. It is a groundbreaking piece of cinema that gives the viewer pause. Director Robert Wise does some great work here with interesting framing, jump cuts and overhead shots. I agree with Ed that Wise lets Hayward do her thing without interference. But why shouldn't he? Hayward gives a haunting and captivating performance. Adding to the quality of the film is a great moody jazz score.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
April 23–April 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE APARTMENT (April 24, 3:15 pm): Director Billy Wilder's follow-up to the 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 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, 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 likes a lot, but doesn't say anything to her. 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 four of those. Incredibly, MacMurray wasn't even nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (April 26, 10:00 pm): 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 later took a toll on his body. The plot isn't exceptionally strong, but it's quite clever – spoofing Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies.

ED’S BEST BETS:

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (April 23, 2:00 pm): A great vintage Pre-Code horror film from Warner Brothers in two-strip Technicolor process with Glenda Farrell as a reporter investigating the sudden disappearance of young women. Could it have something to do with wax sculptor Lionel Atwill? He has his eyes of Glenda’s friend, Fay Wray. 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. It has that ‘30s sass, especially from Farrell in the lead that the later version completely lacks.

THE BIG HOUSE (April 25, 10:45 pm): Technically, it wasn’t the first prison drama to come from Hollywood, but it was the first one that talked, and it was certainly one of the most powerful, setting the template for years to come. They’re all here, the prison characters that have become cliché over the years: the innocent (Robert Montgomery), jailed for vehicular manslaughter and thrown into a cell with two of the hardest convicts ever to break a rock: forger and thief Chester Morris, and the totally uncouth and murderous Wallace Beery, aptly nicknamed “Machine Gun” for his antics outside the walls. Lewis Stone is the warden, trying hard to keep a lid on this simmering pot that could explode at any minute. Directed with innovation by George William Hill and written by his wife, Frances Marion, who toured San Quentin with notebook in hand to record observations of prison life and conversations with convicts and officials alike. The best thing about this film is, except for an unnecessary romantic subplot, it still packs quite a punch when seen today, which is quite a compliment.

WE DISAGREE ON ... HOW THE WEST WAS WON (April 24, 4:30 am)

ED: AThis epic Western, boasting four directors and an all-star cast, follows four generations of one family, told in five segments beginning in 1839 as they travel through the Erie Canal on their way West. Other segments chronicle their experience in homesteading, surviving the Civil War, witnessing the expansion of the railroad, and facing notorious outlaws. It all spells E-p-i-c, and even more foreboding is that it was made especially for Cinerama. It’s also 165 minutes in length. So the recipe for disaster is in place: four directors, all-star cast, Cinerama process, and a lengthy running time. However, for all that baggage, the film acquits itself nicely. The directors happen to be John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, and Richard Thorpe, who directed the connecting segments - directors experienced not only with action movies, but also some damn good Westerns. Despite its length, the film never fails to keep our attention, the atmosphere is grand, the photography downright awesome, the characters clearly defined, and the picture never lets up with the action. One factor that definitely worked in its favor was in splitting the film into segments and using a different director for each segment, as directing a film this long can become a Herculean task that can wear down the best director. The film also touches all the bases: runaway wagon trains, daunting river rapids, buffalo stampedes, The Rockies and Monument Valley, the coming of the telegraph and the Pony Express, Indian attacks, railroad barons, and dangerous outlaws. Ford’s direction of the Civil War episode was John Ford at his best. The audience is always taking a chance when watching an epic; many of them turn out to be long, tedious affairs. But How The West Was Won could also be subtitled “How To Make an Epic.” And that’s why it’s a favorite of mine.

DAVID: B-. This film comes with an impressive pedigree. It's a Western with John Ford as one of its directors and an all-star cast including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. The movie poster touted "24 Great Stars in the Mightiest Adventure Ever Filmed!" Spencer Tracy provides the narration, and it's beautifully filmed in Cinerama, a very advanced, very expensive process for 1963, when it was released. It's a good film, thus my grade of B-, so I'm not going to trash it for argument's sake. However, for nearly every step forward, it take a step back. While the cast is great, we don't get to spend much time with them. It seemed like the movie was trying to fit in as many film legends as possible just to say they're in it. There's little to no character development and most of the actors either have cameos or small roles. Because of that, the viewer can't get attached to the characters as they leave the screen almost as fast as they entered a few minutes prior. There's some nice work such as Ford's Civil War segment, which, surprisingly, lasts about 15 minutes in a film that is ridiculously long – almost three hours. The overall length would be fine if portions of it weren't also boring and pointless. Epics tell the story of a character or two or three, and allow the audience to see the development of that person or people. That doesn't happen here as it's a story of four generations of one family. That wouldn't be an issue if there was a solid storyline. There's a lot of potential in this movie, and some of it is realized. Of all the great actors in the film, a decent amount is dedicated to a character played by George Peppard, who is quite good. The movie has great scenery and a beautiful look, but it should have been tighter (shorter!) with more focus.


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

EXECUTIVE SUITE (April 17, 1:15 pm): 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 the boardroom, which normally detracts from a film. But this is quite the engaging movie. The film's strength is its all-star cast – William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Frederic March and Walter Pidgeon are at the top of the bill.

KNIFE IN THE WATER (April 20, 1:45 am): Roman Polanski's directorial debut from 1962 is filled with suspense and drama and remains one of his finest films. It's a psychological thriller about an arrogant rich man and his bored wife who invite a young hitchhiker for a ride on their boat. The wealthy husband's primary goals on the trip are to show off all his possessions, including his younger trophy wife, and brag of his accomplishments. The man and the hitchhiker get into a heated argument, after much tension, with the man knocking the other off the boat, and fearing his committed murder. That's not the case, and what ensues shows that even on his first film, Polanski had an incredible talent to tell a compelling story. The Polish government quickly banned the film and Polanski left for Paris. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS (April 15, 6:30 am): A wonderful film from MGM about the court of Nicholas II of Russia and the evil monk Rasputin, who came to have such a influence. As Leonard Maltin notes, a good film that should have been great, an opinion with which I concur. The production was troubled, the script by Charles MacArthur was never really on point, and the direction by Charles Brabin and his successor, Richard Boleslavsky was weak. What the set needed was a driving director, not two who couldn’t establish their authority. But this was the first – and only – time all three Barrymores – Lionel, John, and Ethel – acted together in a picture, and that makes it worth catching. Lionel, by the way, has the meatiest role as Rasputin, and he makes the most of it. It’s also the film debut of Diana Wynyard.

KISS ME DEADLY (April 20, 8:00 pm): This is one of director Robert Aldrich’s best films, a moody and violent film that seemingly moves at the speed of sound. Ralph Meeker makes for a fine Mike Hammer in the lead, playing what my just be the most unsympathetic and violent private eye in the history of film. From the time Hammer pulls over to pick up distraught hitchhiker (Cloris Leachman) who has just escaped from a mental institution, the film never lets up for one minute as Meeker growls, punches, and kicks his way from one encounter to the next, using the same nefarious tactics as his criminal foes and serving as an unwitting accomplice in the search for the mysterious box that contains “the great whatzit.” This is a film truly ahead of its time and was a huge influence on the French New Wave, who even went ga-ga over the way the opening credits come up on the windshield of Hammer’s sports car. Its influence can also be seen in such later American films as Repo Man and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I would list Kiss Me Deadly as one of my Essentials.

WE DISAGREE ON ... INTOLERANCE (April 19, 12:00 am)

ED: A. When we sit down and think about it, Intolerance is one of the wildest films ever made. This is director D.W. Griffith’s follow up to The Birth of a Nation, one of the most intolerant films ever made. And the critics called him on it. So what does D.W. do? He makes Intolerance, in which he castigates his critics for their intolerance of his racist views by showing intolerance through four distinct ages: ancient Babylon, Calvary, 16th century France, and modern-day America, with each story depicting a disaster resulting from with a government edict or a puritanical group that imposes their mistaken beliefs upon others. He’ll show us. Just for the sheer chutzpah alone, this film gets an “A.” D.W. is obviously the type of guy who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan. So, taken from this point alone, Intolerance is worth the time. But there’s more to it other than the overly melodramatic story. This is what critics mean when they use the word “epic.” Just take a look at the sets for the Babylonian sequence. They positively towered over the streets of Hollywood, looking as if an ancient city had suddenly sprouted up right in the midst of Los Angeles. The credit – or blame – for this magnificent piece of true Americana slob art goes to Frank “Huck” Wortman, who served as Griffith’s chief set builder, carpenter, and all-around “go to” guy. He saved Griffith money by taking thin wood and covering it over with plaster to make it look imposing. And it worked - the sets are stupendous. The real value of the film lies in its interest to students of film history, and that is why I give it the grade I do.

DAVID: C-. The sheer arrogance and self-importance of D.W. Griffith is on full display in this 1916 film that drags on for almost 3 1/2 hours. Ed is dead-on when he wrote Griffith made Intolerance as a response to critical outrage over his intolerant and offensive The Birth of a Nation a year prior. In Birth, which is about 10 minutes shorter in length than Intolerance, Griffith makes heroes out of the Ku Klux Klan. Offended that people were angry about his racist epic, Griffith made Intolerance a year later to show his critics that they were wrong about him. He goes so over the top that Intolerance is one of those films you have to force yourself to finish, usually not in a single sitting, just to say you've seen it. It's incredibly long, boring and often confusing. I don't doubt that Griffith purposely did that as rather than using a gentle touch, he preferred to smash the audience in the face with a metal shovel to prove what he "genius" he believed himself to be. The film started as the current-day American love story and grew and grew and grew. None of the four stories are compelling and all are extraordinary heavy handed. For a silent film, there is way too much "dialogue" in the form of title cards. However, what saves this from the trash heap is some of the sets – particularly in the Babylon story – are visually impressive, and Griffith uses some innovative, though often frantic, camera angles. If you are a cinephile and haven't seen this, watch it just to check it off your list. If you're a casual film fan or someone who watches movies to be entertained, stay far away from Intolerance. I saw it once and never plan to view it again. I'm not a bad person and don't deserve to be punished.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
April 8–April 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (April 11, 2:15 pm): If you consider all of the films starring music bands put together quickly to capitalize on their popularity, you'd be hard-pressed to find more than a handful that are even mediocre. This one starring the Beatles is the best of the bunch – by a lot. The film is a look at a couple of days in the lives of the Fab Four at the height of Beatlemania as they run from screaming fans and prepare for a TV show in which they'll perform. While I'm a huge Beatles fan, I much prefer their music from 1965 to 1969. However, the songs in this 1964 film are among the best of the early Beatles' music, including the title track, "Can't Buy Me Love," and "I Should Have Known Better." The script is clever and the four come across as charming and witty, at ease with funny one-liners and amusing sight gags. They'd try to repeat the magic a year later with "Help!" The soundtrack is better, but the film is a silly throwaway piece of fluff more in tune with this genre.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (April 14, 9:00 pm): This is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films. It features of his main go-to storylines about a case of mistaken identity involving international espionage. Hitchcock always got the most out of Cary Grant, and this is certainly a perfect example. James Mason as the deliciously evil Phillip Vandamm steals every scene he is in. But that doesn't mean Grant and Eva Marie Saint are window-dressing. The movie features two of Hitchcock's most iconic scenes – Grant attacked by a crop-duster airplane and Grant and Saint climbing down Mount Rushmore to escape from baddie Martin Landau. This is one of Hitchcock's finest efforts, which is saying a lot as the master director's career was filled with the best cinema has to offer.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE KNACK . . . AND HOW TO GET IT (April 8, 10:30 am): Director Richard Lester scored a big hit with A Hard Day’s Night in 1964 and everyone wondered how he would follow it. This was the follow up movie, and it is just as delightful. For anyone wondering about exactly what “the knack” is, it’s the “art” of scoring with women. Colin (Michael Crawford) is tired of having missed out on the sexual revolution, so he enlists his good friend, skirt-chasing Tolen (Ray Brooks) to teach him the ropes. Both meet their match, however, in Nancy (Rita Tushingham), a girl just arrived on the London train, and who, with bags in hand, is looking for the local YWCA. Tushingham is a marvel in this film – the perfect representation of an English “bird” from the mid-‘60s, and she gives the boys much more than they bargained for when they sized her up. Lester’s direction – the frequent cutting and fast-paced editing – brought more than a touch of the French New Wave to the film. It’s almost as if Jean-Luc Godard had a sense of humor. Lester also employed an innovative use of the camera while filming outdoor scenes, capturing the unrehearsed and candid reactions of onlookers and overdubbing their scenes with a running dialogue, in itself a neat trick that adds to our appreciation. However, for all Lester’s pyrotechnics, the real star of the movie behind the scenes is screenwriter Charles Wood. Lester may have given us pretty postcards of London, but it’s Wood, who adapted the original successful Off-Broadway play by Anne Jellico, who captures the essence of “Swingin’ London” and makes the film a “must see.”

FOOTLIGHT PARADE (April 11, 12:15 pm): More of the same from Warner's, 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 ... THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (April 12, 10:00 am)

ED: A++. To say this film stands as a unique event in the history of film – and musicals – is putting it mildly. It is a grand experiment in which all the words are sung. The score, written by Michel Legrande, includes not only the famous main theme and other songs, but also the bridging dialogue between songs in the style of the lines used in opera to link passages. As with any experiment, director Jacques Demy was taking a chance: this would either work or it would fail. When we think about it, the film could easily sink as a lightweight romantic musical. But it doesn’t. As time passes the film continues to stand out as a poignant, very bittersweet look at how true love sometimes doesn’t have a happy ending. The other remarkable thing about the film is the pastel colors. Demy used the bright, vibrant colors in an attempt to mimic the studio-bound artificiality and style of the classic Hollywood musicals. I must admit when I first saw this film in the ‘80s, I wasn’t that impressed because time had faded the colors. But Demy had acquired the rights to his film a few years before his death in 1990. After his death, Agnes Varda, Demy’s widow, restored the film to its original bright colors, and the difference is remarkable. I must also confess that the film took me a while to fully appreciate. I have now seen it at least five times and with each viewing my appreciation for its style, acting, and direction increases. Of course, it helps that Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo are probably the most beautiful couple ever in a musical. (Danielle Licari dubbed Catherine and Nino was dubbed by Jose Bartel.) After taking voluminous notes during my last screening and analyzing those notes, I am now convinced that not only is this film a masterpiece, but also one of the milestones in the history of film – and anyone who knows me also knows I do not make such judgments without a lot of thought in the process. My revised grade reflects this thought. I also bump up the grade in anticipation of my partner degrading the film, as he hates the vast majority of musicals, which in this case is somewhat surprising as it is a French film and he usually goes bananas over any film from France. To me, any degrading of this film is tantamount to throwing paint on a Picasso.

DAVID: C. Please pass the paint because like a Picasso painting, this film is far from perfect. Actually, it's mediocre at best. Ed is correct about a few things though he overstates my disdain of musicals. I don't like a vast majority of them. There are only some I truly hate – My Fair Lady and Camelot immediately come to mind. He is also correct that I have a lot of affection for good French films. I really wanted to like this movie, but I can't. It's just not good. Ed found it very bittersweet – and if we're only discussing the ending I agree. However, overall, the film comes across as too sentimental and overly cute. In the past few months, I've watched three films directed by Jacques Demy. The first was The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), which like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) stars Catherine Deneuve, has beautiful cinematography, fantastic color and way too much singing; though unlike Umbrellas the dialogue is spoken and not sung. I didn't like it. Next was this film followed by 1972's The Pied Piper with Donovan in the lead role. I wasn't expecting anything from The Pied Piper (I only watched it because I'm a huge Donovan fan), but it's an absolutely brilliant, very dark tale that involves anti-Semitism, death, a damning indictment of religion with incest and classism thrown in as well. Hopefully this shows that I gave Demy a few chances. But The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has too many flaws for me to give it a grade higher than a C. It's one of the most predictable films I've seen in a while. Guy Foucher (Nino Castelnuovo), a 20-year-old mechanic in love with Geneviève Emery (Deneuve), fears he's going to get drafted into the French military and be shipped off to Algeria. A few minutes later, he gets a letter saying he's been drafted and going to fight in the colonial war in Algeria. The two are heartbroken and have sex for the first time – she's 17 and helps her mother who runs an umbrella store. I was guessing she was going to get pregnant, and what do you know, she gets pregnant. The film becomes bogged down at this point because the plot is ignored in favor of the endless singing and the look of the movie. While at war, Guy isn't writing enough letters to Geneviève and then it looks like she's the one who is distant. Whatever happens, she ends up marrying a rich guy her mother approves of and while not happy, she accepts her new life with the wealthy man. The two raise the child as if he's the father. Guy returns from the war, with an obligatory limp, to find out the umbrella store and Geneviève are gone. He ends up marrying a woman who took care of his ailing aunt shortly after the elderly woman dies. The saving grace of this film is the coda that occurs six years later. Guy is still married, has a son and a gas station. Geneviève and the daughter Guy never met are back in Cherbourg – she's still married but her husband is not traveling with them – and they just happen to stop at his gas station. It's her first time back in the city in years. They recognize each other, talk and she asks Guy if he wants to meet his daughter. He declines and the two share a tender and sad moment before she drives away. The film ends with Guy kissing his wife and playing with his son in the snow. The ending is well done. If only the rest of the film had that emotion and clarity, it would have been significantly better. Also, Remy relies a lot on bright colors yet we barely see the sharp yellows, blues and reds of the umbrellas sold at the store. Singing every line comes across as a gimmick and after a while, an annoyance, particularly during the more mundane conversations.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
April 1–April 7

DAVID'S BEST BETS:

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (April 4, 8:00 pm): 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 that's heightened by the closing credits asking moviegoers to not reveal the ending to anyone who hasn't seen it.  

BEN-HUR (April 5, 1:30 pm): It's nearly four hours long, but it's one of cinema's most spectacular epics. Charlton Heston has his critics, but I can't think of any other actor who could have played the lead character in this film any better. Heston is Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince who ends up getting in a lot of trouble when reunited with an old friend, who happens to be a Roman tribune with a real mean streak. The incredible chariot race is reason enough to watch Ben-Hur. It's one of the most spectacular scenes you'll ever seen in film. Add to that Ben-Hur's time as a galley slave on a Roman boat and the preparation he does to exact revenge and you have an epic film in every way possible. My lone disappointment is the miracle at the end of the film as it comes across as forced. But it doesn't detract from the overall excellence of the movie.

ED'S BEST BETS:

LAURA (April 4, 10:15 pm): One of the great noirs – a film that works on every level, keeping us enthralled with each slight twist of the plot. It also boasts a great cast, including Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Gene Tierney, Dame Judith Anderson, and Vincent Price. How can one not love a film that opens with “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died,” spoken off screen by Webb? We focus on Dana Andrews as the detective investigating her murder – and who falls in love with her. But it’s Clifton Webb, as the acerbic critic Waldo Lydecker, a snob par excellence who seems just as captivated as Andrews with Laura, who walks away with the film. And as Laura, Gene Tierney is simply wonderful; her beauty answering any questions we might have as to her allure. It’s a film I can watch multiple times without ever becoming bored.

GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE (April 6, 3:30 pm): 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 ... GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (April 6, 8:00 pm)

ED: B+. This is a slick, highly entertaining piece of fluff from director Howard Hawks with standout performances from Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell as two singers that turn the heads of various men in two continents. Monroe was never better than in this film as the seductive Lorilei Lee. Russell gives a tremendous and sly comic performance as Monroe’s buddy, and the chemistry between the two is what moves the movie. The stars keep their characters likable while turning the men into mere foils for their constant battle-of-the-sexes wisecracks. Based on the venerable play from Anita Loos with script from Charles Lederer, Hawks’s movie version features the show stopping number, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” from Marilyn Monroe. Madonna may have managed to imitate Monroe’s in her “Material Girl” video, but Monroe shows why she can never be duplicated. Look for Jane’s standout routine as well, a number titled “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love,” a great number she sings and dances with a group of shipboard Olympic athletes dressed in gold lame bathing trunks. The number has become an enduring camp classic over the years. Thanks to Hawks, under the surface lies a feminist subtext that raises the film above that of a mere gold digger celebratory fest. Monroe may be singing about diamonds being a girl’s best friend, but what she’s really aiming at is financial independence.

DAVID: C-. I honestly wonder what Howard Hawks was thinking when he directed this film. If it was just for the money, I can accept that. If he thought he was directing something worthwhile, he was kidding himself. This 1953 musical about a pair of gold-digging showgirls (Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell) looking to marry rich guys is a one-trick pony – and the trick is tired and overdone. While only five years older than Monroe, Russell looks to be at least a decade older and has very little sex appeal here. Since her character is supposed to be sexy, though not as much as Monroe, there's a basic problem with casting Russell. As for Monroe, her ditsy blonde act, which we've seen in so many films, is too over-the-top here. How convenient that Monroe's boyfriend is very wealthy. Even so, it doesn't stop her from leading on an older, married man (Charles Coburn) because he's got even more money. I still can't figure out if she's supposed to be using him to get his wife's diamond tiara or is just overly friendly. Monroe can't sing or dance yet her character sings and dances. Her performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is famous more for how she looks than how she performs it. The plot, if you can call it that, is plodding and predictable: Russell falls for the private detective hired by the father of Monroe's boyfriend, who's concerned she's marrying the naive guy for his money. The music and dancing is forgettable and poorly performed. As Ed mentioned, the film is fluff and campy, but it's not that entertaining.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
March 23–March 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (March 23, 12:00 am): There are few actors who had the presence of Burt Lancaster  that voice, the athletic build and his ability to become one with the characters 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 served some time at Alcatraz, where he wasn't permitted to have birds making the title catchy but inaccurate.

AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (March 31, 10:00 pm): What a fantastic 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE PENALTY (March 29, 12:00 am): Lon Chaney is always fascinating to watch and his performance in this film ranks with his best. He plays Blizzard, an embittered, cunning and sadistic gangland boss. His embitterment reaches back to when a negligent surgeon amputated his legs after an accident suffered in childhood. Ethel Grey Terry is a government agent whose task in to infiltrate Chaney’s gang. The film becomes a bit melodramatic at times, but Chaney is always worth the time, especially watching him performing stunts without the use of his legs. If anyone ever perfected the art of acting in the silents, it was Chaney.

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (March 31, 4:30 am): Director Louis Malle made many a fine film, but none better than this 1958 effort about a woman and her ex-paratrooper lover who plot to kill her husband in the “perfect crime.” It’s a dark, stylish noir thriller that owes much to the influence of Hitchcock and Melville. (In fact, Hitchcock himself greatly admired the film.) Of course, things do go wrong, but they go so deliciously wrong as to keep us totally enthralled. What really makes the film is the strong, sensuous performance of star Jeanne Moreau. Malle later claimed to have discovered her, but Moreau was already a star of the stage and a veteran of B-movies before she met Malle. But this was the film that made Moreau a star. Photographed by none other than Henri Decae, it contains some breathtaking shots of Moreau and Paris at night. For those who haven’t yet seen it, it’s a definite “Must See.” And for those who have seen it, it still rates a revisit.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . CAMELOT (March 27, 10:30 pm)

ED: C. Camelot is perhaps the most overrated musical ever made. The originals 1960 Broadway hit by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe was a cultural milestone of sorts, to be associated forever with the youthful Kennedy Administration. Unfortunately, the film version was made in 1967, when the aura created by the Kennedy had given way to counter-cultural rebelliousness. The move tries to walk a thin line between an old-fashioned Hollywood musical and the themes of the ‘60s culture. What we get is a big, lumbering, almost three-hour borefest. Richard Harris as King Arthur and Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere are excellent, but Franco Nero as Lancelot is awful as a romantic lead and a disaster as a singer. It also could have used a better director than Joshua Logan, who seems to miss the finer points of what he was trying to show us under all the costuming and lavish sets. At times it descends into something worthy of Monty Python. It’s only for Harris and Redgrave that I am giving it a “C.” They make the film bearable.

DAVID: D-. This is less a disagreement about Camelot and more about who has a greater hatred of this piece of garbage movie. As someone who typically doesn't like musicals, you better wow me to have a shot at getting my approval. Camelot certainly wowed me. But it was "Wow, this movie really sucks," "Wow, when will this boring film end? What? It's three hours, wow," and "Wow, I can't believe this film was released in 1967. That's the same year that groundbreaking classic films such as The GraduateIn Heat of the Night, and Bonnie and Clyde came out." In typical Hollywood style, it was also the same year that saw the release of Doctor Doolittle, another classically bad movie. What makes Camelot so awful? So as not to waste our readers' time, I'll be as brief as possible. The movie is too long; it's very dull and we're talking about King Arthur and sword fighting and things that are supposed to provide action; the music was dated in 1967 so imagine it today; everyone overacts; and most of the actors can't sing. If I want to hear Richard Harris sing badly, I can torture myself with "MacArthur Park." Like the cake in that horrible song, someone left Camelot out in the rain as the end product is all wet. I rarely recommend people avoid a film as nearly all have something worthy to see. Camelot falls into that tiny minority of movies with no redeeming value. It's a dreadful film.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
March 15–March 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

FURY (March 16, 10:00 am): This is director Fritz Lang's first American film, and it's one filled with suspense, revenge, mob rule, hostility, intolerance and action. Spencer Tracy established himself 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. 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. Interestingly, it was released by MGM, best known at the time for its big-budget musicals.

THE CITADEL (March 18, 2:00 pm): Robert Donat (a greatly under-appreciated actor) stars in this 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

WAGES OF FEAR (March 16, 1:45 pm): A gripping and gritty drama about four down and out men who are hired by an American oil company in South America. Their task is to drive trucks of nitroglycerin over rugged and treacherous terrain to be used for blowing out oil fires in wells. If they complete the trip, they will be paid $2,000 each. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot does a wonderful job chronicling the lives and relationship of the four men (Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, and Peter Van Eyck) while keeping the suspense on full. Clouzot never lets us relax for a minute as the men fight the terrain, their fears, and ultimately, each other. It’s light years away from what Hollywood was providing at the time, which makes viewing it even more essential for the film buff.

ST. MARTIN’S LANE (March 20, 6:00 pm): Any time we can watch Charles Laughton, Vivien Leigh, and Rex Harrison all in the same film is a good time indeed. And all three shine in this film about the world of buskers, or street entertainers that inhabit the lowest rung of London’s entertainment ladder for a few pence, mingling with the high society types who attend the theater and dine at the fancy restaurants and who look down on the buskers as little more than beggars. It’s the same with the police, who roust the buskers at every turn, but still they persevere. Leigh plays Liberty, a young pickpocket whom Laughton befriends. Taken with her beauty and ability to dance, he transforms her into a street artist. But Liberty has bigger goals. She wants to make it over the invisible line and become a legitimate performer. Harrison is a songwriter for the legitimate stage with whom Libby falls in love. The film plays out beautifully, avoiding the easy route of melodrama for something more substantial. It was also Leigh’s final film before Gone With The Wind, and provides us with a good look at her extraordinary beauty and range of talent. Laughton, of course, is Laughton, and he doesn’t let the viewer down for one second, while Harrison, in the early part of his career, shows us the promise that later allowed him to bloom in a smaller role. Anyone who has seen buskers at street corners or on subway platforms will find this film fascinating.  

WE DISAGREE ON ... VICTOR VICTORIA (March 20, 4:15 am)

ED: A. I consider this as the last great movie Blake Edwards directed. I think he knew it also, because he later directed a TV-movie based on the Broadway production, also starring wife Julie Andrews. And Edwards takes the art of female impersonation to its ultimate height: Julie Andrews is a woman playing a man playing a woman. When she comes on stage as Victoria she must be slightly imperfect because she’s known off-stage as Victor. Where she’s successful in this is the source of much of the comedy in the film, which as Roger Ebert said, “is a lighthearted meditation on how ridiculous we can sometimes become when we take sex too seriously.” Andrews is a starving signer who befriends Toddy, marvelously played by Robert Preston, who comes up with an idea: Since there are no jobs for female singers, but plenty for female impersonators, why shouldn’t Andrews assume a false identity and pretend to be a drag queen? It’s a deliciously screwy idea, and one we can only find in a sex farce. When James Garner enters the scene, falls in love with her and refuses to believe she’s not a woman, the fun starts. Add Lesley Ann Warren as Julie’s jealous friend, and Alex Karras as Garner’s bodyguard, and it gets even better. All the gags depend on split-second timing and people being in the wrong place at the right time. That Edwards pulls it off is further testament to his directorial prowess at the time. This is a hilarious film precisely because the characters seem to be people first and genders second, which makes them even more likable. And they must be likable for the film to work, which it does and does well.

DAVID: B-. Except for a couple of Pink Panther films with Peter Sellers, I can't think of any other movies directed by Blake Edwards that come close to great. He made a number of good films, including Victor Victoria, during his career. However, we are not here to debate the directing skills of Edwards. We are writing about this particular film. Victor Victoria is a good movie, just not as good as Ed describes. A remake of a 1933 German film, the movie is about Victoria (Julie Andrews, who was Edwards' wife) is a talent singer unable to find work in pre-World War II Paris. With the help of Toddy (Robert Preston), she becomes a sensation as a great female impersonator with the twist being, of course, that she's a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. An American night club owner/mobster (James Garner) sees the act and ends up falling in love with Victoria (who now goes by the stage name of Victor), convinced the singer is a woman. Andrews is a delight and Lesley Ann Warren as Garner's girlfriend and Alex Karras as Garner's bodyguard are good. Preston is over-the-top in his portrayal of Toddy, becoming a gay cliché. Garner is competent, yet uninspiring in his role. He is supposed to play it straight (no pun intended), but Garner really doesn't bring anything special to the character.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
March 8–March 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

LITTLE BIG MAN (March 12, 5:30 pm): This is a history of the many legends of the Wild West as told by Jack Crabb, a 121-year-old man who supposedly lived through them. Dustin Hoffman is positively brilliant in the lead role, showing amazing versatility playing the character in a variety of scenarios and at different ages. The makeup is fantastic, and while Hoffman is the star of this 1970 film, he has a solid supporting cast including Martin Balsam as a snake oil salesman and Chief Dan George, who plays his Indian "father." It's a great combination of comedy and drama told through a very liberal telling of historical events. 

IN COLD BLOOD (March 14, 3:30 am): A groundbreaking true-crime film, In Cold Blood is a solid big-screen adaption of Truman Capote's book of the same name . Like the book, the film  is largely based on the true story of two hoods who kill a family of four in Kansas for money, that isn't there. Told in flashbacks and exquisitely  filmed in black and white, this 1967 movie, done in documentary style, is gripping and fascinating, even though we know the outcome almost immediately. It conveys the coldness that some people have toward others in society. It's also shows that Robert Blake, who plays one of the killers, could act when given an interesting role.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (March 8, 4:30 pm): Burt Lancaster is at the top of his form as Winchell-esque columnist J.J. Hunsecker, a man that can make or break someone with a flourish of his pen. Tony Curtis is Sidney Falco, a botton-feeding press agent who will do anything to get his client’s names in Hunsecker’s columns. Besides the lead performances (and Curtis is a revelation as Falco), there’s Elmer Bernstein’s great jazz score and some wonderful camera work by James Wong Howe that seems to capture the essence of New York City nightlife in the late ‘50s. A classic no matter how one slices it.

DEAD END (March 14, 12:00 am): I first saw this film as a teenager on The Late, Late Show and never forgot it. It’s a pretty intense look at the gap between the rich and the poor in New York City, even though it‘s romanticized through the Hollywood filter. Two things about the movie stand out. The first is Humphrey Bogart as Baby Face Martin, a wanted gangster who comes back to visit his old neighborhood. At this point in his career, Bogie’s still playing hoodlums, but at least this time he gets to play one with more than one dimension, and he clearly makes the most of it. Check out the scene where he meets the old love of his life Francie (Claire Trevor) and watch his face go from hopefulness to sheer revulsion when she tells him what she’s been doing for a living while he was away. The second thing about the film that stands out is the performance of the Dead End Kids. In prior films concerning juvenile delinquents, such as The Mayor of Hell and Wild Boys of the Road, there was always the underlying hope that these poor kids could be redeemed by the system. What makes this film so refreshing is that these kids are totally unredeemable; the system is there to crush them, not rehabilitate them. Joel McCrea is the ostensible star of the film, a boyhood chum of Martin who has grown up to be an unemployed architect. He’s torn between Dreena (Sylvia Sidney) his boyhood sweetheart, and the alluring Kay (Wendy Barrie), a rich woman who wants him to give this all up to come away with her. It’s a film that still moves the viewer today and one to catch.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . KID GALAHAD (March 10, 6:15 pm)

ED: C+. Elvis as a boxer! What will they think of next? But imagine an Elvis film where Ol’ Liver Lips isn’t even the main focus. Elvis is Walter Gulick, a sweet guy who has just finished his time in the army and has returned to his hometown with hopes of becoming an auto mechanic. Instead he becomes a sparring partner, and later a boxer with a series of big fights. The problem with the film is that Gig Young is the main focus. He’s Willy Grogan, a sleazy fight promoter who exploits his fighters, has a gambling addiction, and is rotten to girlfriend Lola Albright. It’s almost impossible to root for a guy like this. The film is watchable, thanks to the efforts of its director, B-movie maestro Phil Karlson, who brings a lot of energy to the fight scenes. Also adding to our enjoyment is the performance of Charles Bronson as a curmudgeonly trainer, sort of on the same level with Burgess Meredith in the Rocky films. Oh yeah . . . Elvis sings, of course. For the Elvis fan it’s happy, happy, joy, joy. For the non-Elvis fan it can be tough slogging, as the film has no crossover appeal.

DAVID: B+. This 1962 film is certainly not a classic, but it's a fine romantic comedy that is amusing and comes across as a spoof of a genre in which a guy from nowhere makes it big when he gets a lucky break. It's actually as good as the 1937 version of the film and that's impressive as the original starred Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Wayne Morris, the latter in the role Elvis played 25 years later. Ed is correct that Presley fans, particularly those like myself, who enjoy his films – even the bad ones though not the really, really bad ones – probably like this more than non-Elvis fans. However, Presley does a fine job in the title role. It's actually one of his best performances. Yes, the bar was set low when you consider some of the garbage Elvis was in, but he's very good in this. I disagree with Ed about Gig Young as the low-life fight promoter. There's a certain attraction to his character who has very few redeeming values, but still captures the audience's attention with a fine performance. Charles Bronson is very good as Elvis' trainer. There aren't any memorable songs, but the soundtrack is pleasant. If you understand you're watching Elvis and not Olivier, you'll enjoy it. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
March 1–March 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (March 1, 12:30 am): While I'm a classic film fan, my Best Bets this week are newer movies. This 1998 film, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, is based on a great premise. William Shakespeare has writer's block as he works on Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter, and becomes inspired by a talented actor (Gwyneth Paltrow disguised as a boy). After discovering her real identity, the two fall in love and he's inspired to write Romeo and Juliet. There's some wonderful acting (I'm not a fan of Paltrow, but there's no denying she is great in this role), and a fantastic story with a witty and clever plot. A winner of seven Oscars, it's a superb romantic-comedy that will be fresh for decades to come.

THE KING'S SPEECH (March 3, 10:00 pm): When it comes to newer films, at least I have good taste. The King's Speech was nominated for 12 Oscars, winning four including for Best Picture. It's well-deserved. The plot is unique and one that you wouldn't think would work – King George VI (Colin Firth delivers an amazing performance) has a stammer and goes to see a quirky speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush also giving a fabulous performance) to solve the problem. The two develop a friendship that is the primary focus of the film. The acting is out of this world with performances that come across as so authentic with beautiful cinematography. It's deeply moving and a must see.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE ARTIST (March 3, 8:00 pm): A silent film made in 2011? Are you kidding me? No, I’m not, and this is a great film to catch, even considering it’s hook of being a modern silent film. Borrowing its storyline somewhat from A Star is Born, it concerns one George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a superstar of the silent screen. But sound is coming, and George is not only unimpressed, but refuses to do any “talkies.” One night in 1927, at the premiere of his latest hit, George bumps into Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) while exiting the theater. They seem to bond instantly, and the next day, Variety runs her photo on the front page as the “mystery girl” in George’s life. She begins her own movie career, first as an extra, but as time goes on, her star rises fast, and as George refuses the talkies, Peppy not only acquiesces, but goes on to become the crossover star that was predicted for Clara Bow. While George falls, Peppy rises. It’s a simple story, and, of course, there’s more to it, but the thing to do is to forget our prejudices and go with the film’s flow. That’s what I did when I first saw it, and soon, I forgot I was watching a silent film. The Artist is a totally enchanting movie.

THE QUEEN (March 3, 2:45 am): The death of Princess Diana was one of those momentous events where we can remember where we were when we heard the news, especially for those in England. It was a time of a schism between the English public, who were bereaved over Diana’s death, and the Monarchy, who were at a loss as how to proceed in the face of mounting public and political pressure to do something -- anything -- to express publicly their grief over her loss. For a moment, it almost looked as if the Monarchy could topple. Director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan have combined to make a sublime comedy of manners showcasing the Royal Family’s plight in those times. But the biggest coup was the casting of Dame Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II. It is the combination of director, writer and star that brings what could very well be an empty sentimental melodrama and makes it into a cheeky look at both the Royals and Prime Minister Tony Blair and his irrepressible wife, Cherri, who views the Royal Family as a bunch of “freeloading, emotionally retarded nutters.” The strength of the movie is its refusal to take sides, instead combing the facts with the suppositions into an excellent kind of docudrama, all riding on the talent of Mirren’s performance as the Queen. Michael Sheen is wonderful as Blair, and James Cromwell a sheer delight as the disdainful Prince Philip. For those who haven’t yet seen this masterpiece, I recommend recording it due to the ungodly hour at which it is being aired.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . A BUCKET OF BLOOD (March 4, 6:00 am)

ED: C. A Bucket of Blood is a watchable, enjoyable little B-horror flick. It’s the typical Roger Corman formula for his horror-comedies: Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), a dorky character, works as a busboy at a beatnik café. He envies the more talented customers, such as the poets and artists, but he just doesn’t fit in with the cool scene. Trying to impress the café’s hostess, Carla (Barboura Morris), with whom he’s in love, he decides to create a sculpture, but his clumsiness results in the death of the landlady’s cat. Seeking to hide the evidence, he covers the dead cat in clay. The next day he shows her the sculpture. It’s a hit and patrons demand more of the same, so Walter has to keep upping the ante. But despite a great performance from Dick Miller, the film never rises above the usual level of Corman’s quickies (filmed in five days at a cost of $50,000). The humor is obvious, and the tongue-in-cheek attitude ultimately brings the film down. There’s something to be said for playing a bad film seriously. Like I said, it is watchable and enjoyable, but nothing worth going out of you way about.

DAVID: B+. I've put myself in an awkward position – defending Roger Corman. I was outraged when he was given an honorary Oscar in 2010 alongside Lauren Bacall. The "King of the Bs" made a career by being a lazy filmmaker who let others do most of the work. In the process, he helped launch the behind-the-camera careers of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron, among others. However, I must admit A Bucket of Blood – the name is another one of Corman's gimmicks; give a film an outrageous name to bring in the audience – is among his two best movies along with Little Shop of Horrors (hmm, another outrageous name). In "The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film," Michael Weldon calls A Bucket of Blood "an all-time classic," as well as "a wonderful beatnik horror comedy shot in five days." I suppose there aren't many other movies in the quickly-made beatnik horror comedy genre, but this is enjoyable and charming even for those not looking for films in that category. Dick Miller, who went on to appear in many of Corman's films, plays Walter Paisley, a coffeehouse busboy loser who dreams of being in with the in-crowd. In a ridiculously-quirky twist, Paisley accidentally kills his landlady's cat and covers it in clay making what the beatniks consider to be an amazing piece of art. He ups the ante when he kills people, first by accident and then intentionally. The story is funny and the beatnik "Daddy-O" dialogue is equally amusing. It's funny and suspenseful, and is nicely paced, wrapping everything up in 66 minutes.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 23–February 28

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (February 26, 9:00 am): 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 (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 his 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 premiered  in Washington, D.C., on February 12, 1964, less than three months after JFK's murder.

THE FISHER KING (February 28, 4:00 am): This is an excellent film that masterfully blends comedy and tragedy thanks to superb acting from Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams, a creative screenplay by Richard LaGravenese, and Terry Gillam, who doesn't get the praise he deserves for his talents, as its director. Bridges is a former shock jock whose on-air comments leads a listener to commit a mass murder at a restaurant. Unable to get over the tragedy, he attempts suicide only to be mistaken for a homeless guy by a group of thugs who assault him. He's saved by Robin Williams, who is homeless and apparently deranged. Bridges finds out that Williams' condition was caused by the death of his wife at the hands of the guy who opened fire at the restaurant years earlier. Williams is so lost and shaken by his wife's death that his life's mission find the Holy Grail and in his mind he is tormented by a red knight trying to stop his quest. It's a beautiful film with a great ending.

ED’S BEST BETS:

BEING THERE (February 24, 10:00 pm): It’s one of the great political satires with Peter Sellers as Chance, an illiterate gardener who knows nothing except what he sees on television. Dispossessed when the master of the house dies he wanders the streets until picked up by Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), who is the wife of influential industrialist Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas). Ben Rand and his circle take Chance’s simple utterances as profound wisdom, and he rises to become an influential pundit in Washington. Sellers is brilliant as Chance and it is sort of refreshing to see him assay only one role at a time. But the real bravura performance comes from MacLaine, who plays the sex-starved wife. She excels in several difficult scenes that, if not handled right, would bring the film down. That she wasn’t nominated for an Academy is surprising, and yet expected.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (February 25, 2:00 pm): An excellent black comedy from writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Arthur Hiller starring James Garner as Charlie Madison, a WWII “dog robber,” one who procures various goodies for his superiors in the Navy. Part personal assistant and part black marketeer, he procures whatever scatterbrained Admiral William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) desires, from restocks of his liquor cabinet to personal massages. When he runs into prim and proper war widow Emily Barham (Julie Andrews), his life changes - and hers as well. She is totally entranced by Charlie, whose proclamation of cowardice appeals to a woman who lost a husband, father, and brother in the war. Just when things couldn’t be better, Charlie and “love ‘em and leave ‘em” roommate “Bus” Cummings (James Coburn) are assigned to land at Omaha Beach on D-Day to film the landing for public relations purposes. A great plot and a great cast makes this film one to catch.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE ENGLISH PATIENT (February 28, 1:00 am)

ED: C. The English Patient is a long (though it seems even longer), intensely involving, but rather emotionally shallow movie. It is the perfect example of what happens when filmmakers attempt to adapt an extremely dense and layered novel: they can only capture the superficial, intellectual aspects of the plot while the inner life of the book remains beyond their reach. I’ve read the novel by Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel. It is a wonderful story about how the pressures of war shake up conventional notions of personal betrayal, loyalty, integrity, and even identity, none of which is adequately captured in the film to the depth required in the novel. Instead, we get a fairly conventional romantic melodrama spiced up with adultery that was filmed amidst the sumptuous backgrounds of pre-war North Africa and the end of the war in Italy. Ralph Finnes is the title character, the survivor of a fiery plane crash, who is being attended to by nurse Juliette Binoche, who lost her closest friends in the war and is concentrating on Fiennes, possibly as a way to some sort of solace. It later turns out that “the English patient” is really a Hungarian count and mapmaker who fell in love with a married woman. There sub-plots concerning Willem Dafoe, a wounded Canadian who may have been sold out to the Nazis by Finnes, and two British bomb-disposal experts, one of whom has a fling with Binoche. Even at 162 minutes, there’s not enough time to fully elaborate the plot and the film seems rushed as a result, and some of the secondary characters do not get the attention they need to get the movie over. This, combined with the fact that much of the novel takes place within the characters allows for only a superficial reading. This is the sort of novel that demands the multi-part mini-series approach Masterpiece Theater is famous for bringing forth. As for the movie, sit back and enjoy the scenery.

DAVID: A-. For years I avoided seeing this 1996 film. While it won nine Oscars, including Best Picture, I was apprehensive to watch as it's 162 minutes long and people I know who saw it, not just limited to Ed, didn't think that highly of the movie. But I had a free month of Amazon Prime in December and noticed it was available at no cost so I took the plunge. Yes, it's really long – like many epic movies – so I saw it over two viewings. Unlike Ed, I've never read the book so I don't know what I missed. You have to pay close attention to the film or you could get confused at times. But overall, I found The English Patient to be an exceptional film for the storyline, the acting and the amazing cinematography. It's told in a series of flashbacks that are flawlessly linked together. I can't stress how exceptional the actors are in this film. Ralph Finnes as the title character, who's actually a Hungarian count, is great and is able to tell a lot just by the expression on his face; a face that is scarred from burns he suffered in a plane crash. Juliette Binoche as his loyal nurse, who latches onto the dying patient, is fantastic as is Kristin Scott Thomas as the married woman who falls in love with Finnes' character. Perhaps the best performance comes from Naveen Andrews, who plays a Sikh who is a bomb diffusing expert and Binoche's love interest. The desperate attempt by Finnes to get back to the dying Thomas is absolutely heartbreaking and extraordinary moving. The length of the film kept me from watching it for 18 years, but I was very pleased that I gave it a chance as it's a memorable movie.


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

CAGED (February 20, 1:30 pm): Unlike nearly all the others in the unusual but often-visited women-in-prison 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.

DOG DAY AFTERNOON (February 22, 1:00 am): There are certain 1970s crime-dramas that 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 ConnectionThe 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 (expertly 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 to rob. The interplay between Sonny (Pacino) and the police detective sergeant (veteran character actor 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:

PSYCHO (February 17, 12:00 am): One of Hitchcock’s greatest films, it can be truly said to be his last great movie. Who else would kill off his leading lady before the picture was not even halfway through? It's based on the novel by Robert Bloch, who was influenced by the Ed Gein case in Wisconsin, but Hitchcock takes it to an entire new level, aided by wonderful performances by Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, and Martin Balsam. The film still holds its shock value today, including the famous shower scene where the violence was not explicit, but left to the imagination to fill in the blanks. I remember my cousin, who saw this in the theater, swearing to me that he saw Janet Leigh stabbed in the chest. Such is the power of suggestion and Hitchcock was a master at it.

THE PRODUCERS (February 21, 6:15 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. But they just to 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 . . . GIANT (February 16, 1:00 pm)

ED. B-. Giant is one of the greatest overrated films of all time. Give people a wide, lush screen populated by plenty of beautiful people and an overwrought, rambling soapy plot, so thick the bubbles rise, and audiences think it’s profoundly wonderful. No, it’s simply Camp in its highest form. It’s the granddaddy of such soapy tripe as DallasDynastyFalcon Crest, and others. Note that the actors are not so much acting as they are posing; the film is almost a series of iconic stills. Based on another self-important novel by Edna Ferber and directed by George Stevens, it’s a picture postcard with a message. And that message, in case you don’t get it, or turned it off, is that racism and sexism are bad. Very bad. Rock Hudson spends a scene driving that point home by whomping on James Dean. So, given all this, why do I give Giant the grade I do? Because it is an example of High Camp, that’s why. Besides, the picture is pretty to look at (remember that Stevens was a top cinematographer before turning full-time to directing), and the performances overall are not bad, at least during those times when they’re allowed to act. Taylor is excellent, given the scope of her part, and Hudson is finally being seen today not merely as a pretty mannequin, but as someone capable of delivering a decent performance. Dean, for his part, is not as bad as some say, but not as good as others attest. One can see that he still had a way to go before he could master his craft, and the fact that he was killed after making only three pictures leaves us wondering what he could have accomplished if he had lived. At any rate, Giant is a film one cannot take seriously in any form. It is best viewed in a small gathering with friends like Crow T. Robot or Tom Servo. I'm sure David, my partner, will trash this film, and he’s right to do so. But he misses the irony of the whole experience. For me, this is a film that any serious film buff should see at least once. More than that should be taken at your own risk. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the movie is that Liz Taylor gives birth to Dennis Hopper. Think about it.

DAVID: D+. I certainly can't argue with Ed's assessment that Giant is one of the most overrated films of all time. It's that and so much more – or more accurately, so much less. I can think of dozens of better ways to spend nearly three and a half hours including various types of torture though sitting through this film should also be considered a kind of torture. It's hard to describe how bad this film is. For such a long movie, it doesn't tell much of a story, and what we get on the screen is incredibly dull, self-important, overwrought and a rambling mess. How James Dean became a legendary actor after over-dramatic performances in three fair to poor movies is something I'll never understand. Giant is the worst of the films – and the worst of his performances. Elizabeth Taylor, who I barely find tolerable as an actress, is passable in this movie and Rock Hudson shows he's as mediocre in "serious" films as he was in those romantic comedies. The story moves at a snail's pace and isn't good to begin with. The makeup used to show the three of them aging is laughably bad, particularly for a supposed epic. It's bloated, way too long and even its attempts to deliver messages against racism and sexism fall flat.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 8–February 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ALL THE KING'S MEN (February 11, 8:00 pm): I recommend this film once a year simply because it is one of the 10 greatest films ever made. It's in regular rotation on TCM, which is a great thing because this 1949 film is to be viewed and enjoyed again and again. I can't stress how outstanding it is and how those who've never seen it, must do so. 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.

LIBELED LADY (February 14, 8:15 am): 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. It's a wonderful movie for Valentine's Day.

ED’S BEST BETS:

BATTLEGROUND (February 9, 3:00 pm): The first film depicting an actual World War II battle, released in 1949, when memories of the war were still fresh in the minds of the soldiers that fought in it. Employing an excellent ensemble cast, including James Whitmore, Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, John Hodiak, and George Murphy, it’s the story of the 101st Airborne Division and its brave stand at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge as told by writer Robert Pirosh and director William Wellman. Seen as somewhat dated today when compared to the awe-inspiring realism of the Band of Brothers mini-series, the film was considered as cutting edge when first released in terms of realism and faithfulness to history. It’s still well worth your time and still retains its punch after all these years.

THE THIRD MAN (February 12, 9:30 pm): For the 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.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (February 11, 4:15 am)

ED: B-. Mighty Joe Young is no classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it is quite watchable. My partner absolutely hates it, probably the result from some trauma suffered in childhood where his parents broke his crayons to make sure that he watched the movie. We should see the film for what it is - the entertaining, friendlier version of King Kong that Son of Kong tried, but failed, to be for the studio. This time around, however, the film has a much more pronounced subliminal message than did either two Kong films. Willis O’Brien was an early version of today’s animal activist, he believed that animals should be left alone, and further, be free to be left alone. Joe Young was happy living in the wilds of Africa until Robert Armstrong and his pals showed up to take both Joe and his companion, Jill (Terry Moore), back to “civilization” as part of a nightclub act. The poor ape is abused by drunken audiences and placed in a cage between performances. Anyone who sees the scene of Jill visiting Joe in his prison can’t help but be moved by Joe’s plight. When Joe has a natural; reaction one night to his audience abusers, he (no pun intended) goes ape and is ordered to be shot by a judge. But Joe escapes, and to show what a good guy he really is, rescues about a dozen orphans from a burning building. The judge relents and Joe and Jill return to Africa to live happily ever after. Unlike the earlier Kong movies, this film is quite obviously aimed at the kiddies. Most of the budget went for O’Brien’s special effects, and Armstrong was brought in to remind audiences of King Kong. (In fact, this film often played on a double, or triple, bill in some cities to cash in on its predecessors.) As such, important things such as plot, direction, and star power went by the wayside, which hurts the film. Disney remade Mighty Joe Young in 1998, but steer well clear of that one, as one would of all King Kong reboots.

DAVID: D+. I'm not a fan of King Kong so you can imagine how much I dislike this pathetic Kong rip-off. Ed is partially correct about this film and trauma I suffered in childhood, but it has nothing to do with crayons or at least I don't think it does. My father was a huge Kong fan and he loved this film so I've seen it about a dozen times. I freely admit I haven't seen this film in about 30 years, but when you've seen it as often as I did and loathe it, the memory of this train-wreck of a movie stays with you for a very, very long time. The plot reminds me of "Curious George" meets Santa in the courtroom scene of Miracle on 34th Street. There is barely a plot. There's a pathetic attempt to be some sort of message movie though I don't understand what the film's message is. Ed wrote the film has a more pronounced subliminal message that the first two Kong films. The message must be extraordinary subliminal because I don't get it at all, or maybe I do and it hasn't reached my consciousness yet despite seeing it so many torturous times. The acting is atrocious. The special effects are a mixed bag, but not awful. However, Joe's changing height is laughably bad. He's sometimes the height or a person and then he's much taller in other scenes. At least the movie doesn't take itself seriously, or it shouldn't take itself seriously as it comes across as a cheap-looking attempt at slapstick comedy. That's not saying much, but the all-too-few bright spots save the movie from getting an F. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 1–February 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (February 1, 12:45 am): TCM shows this film regularly and we are very lucky that it does. This is the greatest anti-war war movie ever made, and that includes Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator, which is a brilliant piece of cinema. The message of All Quiet on the Western Front is as strong today as it was when it was released in 1930. Beautifully filmed and flawlessly directed by Lewis Milestone, it's about a group of German youths who sign up to fight in World War I after being whipped into a frenzy by a teacher. The boys learn firsthand the horrors of war. What's amazing about this film is it's about Germans fighting and killing Allied soldiers and we have sympathy for every one of them. And it pulls no punches showing the senseless deaths of young men in battle. The final scene is one of the most tragically beautiful you'll ever see in cinema. This timeless and important film comes with my highest recommendation.

CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (February 6, 6:00 am): This 1937 film had the potential to be a complete disaster. Spencer Tracy, with a Portuguese accent, saves Freddie Bartholomew, a spoiled rich boy who, after being rescued, is stuck on a fishing schooner. The potential obstacles are buying Tracy's accent and hoping Bartholomew gives the performance of his life. Amazingly, both occur in this fantastic film. Tracy won the Oscar for Best Actor, and would win it again the following year for Boys TownCaptains Courageous also features the always-excellent Lionel Barrymore as the ship's captain and solid performances from a cast that includes John Carradine, Melvyn Douglas and a young Mickey Rooney. It's a great coming-of-age film, adapted from English novelist Rudyard Kipling's 1897 book of the same name. The sappy ending doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE PUBLIC ENEMY (February 2, 11:45 pm): It’s the picture that catapulted Jimmy Cagney to stardom, a no holds barred look at the life of a criminal from youth to his premature demise, directed in a stark manner by William A. Wellman, King of the Pre-Code directors. Although Warner Bros., the studio that made the film, tries to coat it with a veneer of “social injustice and economic conditions” leading to crime, the picture is violent from start to finish. And it’s such gorgeous violence at that. Cagney is a virtual dervish of bad intentions, knocking off anyone in his way, and even ending a relationship by smacking his dame in the face with a grapefruit. The film was a huge influence on Martin Scorsese when he made Goodfellas, and we can see why, as it’s the first gangster film to use popular music in its soundtrack. This rave is not directed at cinephiles, who have all seen this one, but at those for whom the movie experience is relatively new. Watch it, you’ll love it.

THE 400 BLOWS (February 6, 12:00 pm): Again this is a rave directed at those for whom serious move viewing is a somewhat new experience. 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 in 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 . . . WINGS (February 1, 10:00 pm)

ED: A. Many cinephiles hate this movie, not so much because it won Best Picture, but for what film didn’t win: Sunrise. Yes, the Academy chose Wings as Best Picture over Sunrise, a film now seen as one the all-time classics of the cinema. But let’s take the historical content out of it and praise it for what it was.Wings is a great example of the blockbuster epic, with special effects that were unmatched in its day. It’s the ultimate Buddy War Film, with Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen as Our Heroes, rivals who bond in training and war, proceeding to sail through the skies of Europe without letting such things like plot get in the way – a fact we really don’t notice until we think it over well after the film ends. Clara Bow, who came on like a house afire thanks to It, is the love object of Rogers, and she’s not bad in this. Gary Cooper also shines, as the sardonic young cadet who comes on the scene and just as quickly disappears in an air battle. The real credit for this film, though, has to go to the director, William A. Wellman. Not only are the airborne fight sequences top notch – and which will still blow viewers away even in these CGI infested times – but he also brings a verve to the quieter scenes, such as the establishing shot of lovers Jack and Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston), who are introduced on a swing in a garden with the camera perched on the swing between them, giving the illusion of the world flying around them. Wellman displays his knack for craftsmanship throughout the film, knowing how to use the camera to capture a person’s face and body and tell us what he or she is thinking or feeling. Any director could simply film a dogfight, but Wellman does with cameras placed in such a way as to capture the human drama that takes place inside the formidable machines of war. That’s way I grade this film as high as I do. It’s not so much the story as it is in how it’s told.

DAVID: B-. I wholeheartedly agree with Ed's assessment of the aerial sequences, particularly the dogfights, of Wings. To this day, they are impressive, exciting and can leave a viewer on the edge of his/her seat. The problem with this film is nearly everything shot on the ground. That part of the film is largely directionless with a minimal plot. To be perfectly honest, the ground scenes are really boring. To make matters worse, the version shown is 144 minutes long so viewers are watching a lot of dull acting with a very dull storyline. The notable exception is the powerful trench cave-in scene that shows hundreds of dead soldiers. There is no doubt this 1927 epic is groundbreaking and the aerial scenes are breathtaking at times. I recommend anyone who hasn't seen the film to view it. But you also have to realize you're going to get some bad with the good. The main characters, played by Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen, spend far too much time vying for the affection of Jobyna Ralston, who loves Arlen. Clara Bow, "The It Girl," is somewhat wasted in this film as literally the girl next door to Rogers. Kudos to director William A. Wellman for working in a gratuitous scene of a scantily-clad Bow. I would rate this film higher if attention was paid to developing a compelling story, it was 30 minutes shorter and the awful attempts at comic relief from El Brendel were left on the cutting-room floor.


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

INHERIT THE WIND (January 25, 4:00 pm): An all-star cast – featuring Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly, Claude Akins, and Harry Morgan – do a splendid job in this well-written film adaption of this fictionalized version of the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in which a teacher in the South is brought up on criminal charges for teaching the theory of evolution to his high school class. Most of the film takes place in a courtroom. The film, expertly directed by Stanley Kramer, gives viewers the feeling of being in that hot, packed courtroom with hostility in the air. While the storyline is an attack on Creationism, the actual target of this 1960 film is McCarthyism. 

THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (January 26, 10:00 pm): Expertly directed by the great Luis Bunuel, this 1972 surrealist movie, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, mixes reality with dreams as a group of six bourgeoisie friends repeatedly try to have dinner together only to have it fail every time. The first effort is a scheduling mistake, but with each passing attempt, the excuses become more and more bizarre from going to an empty restaurant with lousy service and loud crying as the owner died a few hours prior and the staff is crying over his dead body to the interruption of French soldiers to learning they don't really exist and are part of a stage play. The movie has everything from exceptionally funny scenes to biting satire with a strong, and very strange, storyline and solid performances by the actors. It's a scathing indictment of the shallowness of the ruling class yet it also portrays them in a sympathetic light. It's a difficult balancing act but this film manages to pull it off in an approachable and entertaining way.

ED’S BEST BETS:

CARRY ON CABBY (January 24, 10:30 am): The Carry On films have always held a special place in my heart. When I was in the 8th grade, they were shown at 1:00 on Monday mornings by Channel 4 in New York, and I used to stay up to catch them, which made for some sleepy Mondays in school. But I loved them; their lowbrow humor never failed to make me laugh, and I count this one as my personal favorite. The great Sidney James is the owner of a successful taxicab company who is so involved in his business that he forgets his wedding anniversary. To get revenge, his wife, played by the hilarious Hattie Jacques, starts her own cab company, called “Glamcabs” and staffed by female drivers. Soon she’s dominating the business and poor Sid can’t figure out why his competition is always one step ahead of him. Also starring series regulars Kenneth Connor and Charles Hawtrey.

TOKYO STORY (January 25, 3:00 am): One of the true and enduring classics of the cinema. Director Yazujiro Ozu’s portrait of the elderly in a rapidly changing Postwar Japan is both touching and poignant. An elderly couple (Chishu Ryu and Chiyeko Higashiyama) travel to the city to visit their children, who have no time for them and treat them rather tactlessly. It is a powerful look at the problems of the elderly, the disappointments parents face with their children, the children’s fear of growing older, and how the traditional values as pertains to families are disappearing as Japan becomes more and more modernized. To put it succinctly, it’s a masterpiece that should not be missed.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE CANDIDATE (January 27, 8:00 pm)

ED: B. The Candidate is a slickly produced, well-acted film that, unfortunately, comes up short on substance. The film expects us to believe that a politician running for the Senate can be a hardcore idealist, and, further, would be more concerned about having the campaign be based on "truth and values" rather than opinion polls and winning. Of course, our candidate has to be a Democrat, because the Republicans – as we know – are just evil and must be destroyed. But being as this is Hollywood and Redford, what can we expect? In the end, rather than being a study of the American electoral process, it's a motion picture advertisement for the Democratic Party. That is the only insight one will walk away with after this movie is over. 

DAVID: A. This film is among the finest political satires I've ever seen, and its message of having to sell your soul and give up your integrity to get elected is more relevant today than it was when The Candidate came out in 1972. Robert Redford is Bill McKay, a liberal attorney and son of a former California governor (played by the great Melvyn Douglas), recruited by Democratic political operative Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) for a longshot challenge to popular Republican Senator Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter). No known Democrat will challenge Jarmon so the party is just looking for anyone to get into the race. Lucas tells McKay he can say whatever he wants on the campaign trail if he runs. McKay agrees, but the plan isn't working. McKay appeals to other liberals, but he isn't making much headway with anyone else. The Democrats expect McKay to lose, but polls show he'll get destroyed, and that's not acceptable. At Lucas' recommendation, McKay softens his message a little bit, compromising his principles – and it works. So McKay continues further down the road, talking in platitudes while gaining popularity. I don't understand why Ed believes this film is a "motion picture advertisement for the Democratic Party" as they are the ones who come across as insincere and willing to do anything to get elected. Jarmon stays true to his good-old-boy Republican character. McKay and Jarmon essentially become one as both say the same thing, but the difference is McKay is young and good-looking, and Jarmon is older and doesn't look like Robert Redford. During a debate between the candidates, McKay stays true to what Lucas tells him to say and then says the debate is a farce as real issues aren't being addressed. He's about to get a wave of negative publicity. But the press is distracted by the appearance of McKay's father after the debate and his support of his son that the debate outburst is quickly forgotten. McKay wins, but loses his identity and integrity, leading to two memorable lines. The first is from McKay's father said sarcastically to his son, "You're a politician." The other is a panic-stricken McKay grabbing Lucas, bringing him into a room and asking, "What do we do now?" as the movie ends. The storyline is intelligent and compelling, giving viewers a fascinating inside look at the political process in a documentary-style of filming. The acting is top-notch, particularly Boyle and Redford, with Douglas memorable in his secondary role. Interestingly, this could be a biography of California Gov. Jerry Brown.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 15–January 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE GOODBYE GIRL (January 16, 8:00 pm): Before Richard Dreyfuss thought he was God's gift to acting, he was an excellent 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 (and flaming out as an actress a couple of years later), is marvelous as Mason's precocious daughter. It's a very charming and entertaining romantic comedy.

EDGE OF THE CITY (January 19, 4:15 am): An impressive film starring John Cassavetes as a drifter, later revealed to be an Army deserter, who befriends Sidney Poitier when he gets a job as a longshoreman. The interaction between the two is excellent, but Jack Warden as Malik, a vicious racist who hates blacks and is blackmailing Cassavetes, is the best part of this 1957 film. The two fight scenes he has, first with Poitier and then with Cassavetes are powerful. The racial themes of the film, including having Cassavetes' character having a relationship with a black woman, were groundbreaking for its time.

ED’S BEST BETS:

SAHARA (January 17, 2:15 pm): In 1943, Humphrey Bogart was loaned out to Columbia to star in this war picture about a British-American tank crew stranded in North Africa just ahead of a horde of German soldiers. Bogart is accompanied by his surviving crewmen (Bruce Bennett and Dan Duryea), a Sudanese soldier (Rex Ingram), his Italian prisoner (J. Carroll Naish), and a downed German pilot (Kurt Krueger) as they search for water in the desert. This little multi-cultural cast makes for some fine drama as they must find and defend their source of water before the Germans arrive. Based on a Soviet film Trinadtstat (1937), the screenplay was penned by Communist Party stalwart John Howard Lawson, along with the director, Zoltan Korda. Thanks to Korda, much of the propaganda was toned down in favor of the grim tension that makes this film one worth catching. It was shot in Brawley, California, in the Borego Desert just north of Mexico. There’s little actual fighting in the film. Bogart and wife Mayo Methot provided most of the fighting during the off-hours in the aptly named Brawley. The battling couple went at it almost every night after getting liquored up. This s a film that will please both fans of war films and fans of Bogart alike.

A FACE IN THE CROWD (January 20, 3:00 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, and who, through the sheer force of his “down home” personality 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, and Griffith gave the best performance of his career, playing against type and should have gotten the Oscar. But he wasn’t even nominated, in 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 . . . LOGAN'S RUN (January 17, 4:00 am)

ED: C. As with most movies set in the future, Logan’s Run is a child of its times. Made in 1976, we see that the year 2274 pretty much resembles 1976, except everyone lives in a shopping mall and dresses as if going to the disco. Survivors of some sort of holocaust live in a domed city. To control the population the computers that run the city have mandated that anyone over 30 is to be liquidated. The policy is enforced by policemen called “Sandmen.” Of course, Michael York, one of the “Sandmen,” begins to question the policy and becomes a rebel himself. Please, this is a hackneyed plot to begin with, and the “special affects” do nothing to enhance the goings-on. For one, the domed city looks as if it were made for a bad Japanese monster movie - note the miniatures. On the other hand, the cheesy fire-guns used by the sandmen look like something out of a bad Italian sci-fi movie. Speaking of, the special effects in this film are, to put it mildly, atrocious. You can see the strings, for God’s sake. And check out Box the robot. Does it get any worse - or sillier? Truly cringe inducing. As for the acting, Michael York, normally a good actor, is difficult to differentiate from the tress he walks among. Jenny Agutter looks great in those short-short negligees, but she seems to be reading her lines from cue cards. Peter Ustinov has nothing better to do than ham it up and mumble his way through. And Farrah Fawcett-Majors? Well, the less said the better. The duel to the death between York and fellow Sandman Richard Jordan only serves to remind Darth and Obi-Wan that they had nothing to worry about as per competition. And speaking of, can you believe that Star Wars was only a year away? It seems as if it were light years away. I think that in giving this mess a “C” I was being far too generous.

DAVID: B+. After reading Ed's review of Logan's Run, I was stunned by how much he dislikes it. Did we watch the same movie? I'm a huge fan of early and mid-1970s futuristic dystopian films such as this, Soylent GreenOmega Man and Rollerball. As an aside, the three films I named were subjects of previous We Disagrees with me liking them and Ed not being much of a fan of any. In Logan's Run, it's the year 2274 and some sort of apocalypse has occurred leaving people to live in a domed society with everything they do handled by a super-computer. That leaves them a lot of time for wine, women (or men, though futuristic sex is a little strange) and song. Most everyone is very happy leading a hedonistic life. Among those not thrilled are people approaching and then reaching the age of 30. That's because there's one catch to this society: once you get to be 30, you go through a ritualistic death in a place called "Carousel." It is there where the birthday boys and girls are incinerated and supposedly renewed elsewhere while spectators cheer with each death. Logan 5 (Michael York) is a "Sandman," a cop who hunts down "Runners," those who want to live past 30 and attempt to run for their lives. After killing a Runner, Logan discovers a curious-looking pendant worn by him. Logan takes it to society's computer, which tells him what it is and that he must find a supposed "Sanctuary," where the successful Runners are and destroy it. To make sure Logan does what he's told, the computer adds four years to his life, thus making him 30 and someone with a vested interest in keeping society in order because he's now a Runner. Unlike Ed, I find the plot compelling, and while some of the special effects look straight out of 1976, they were good enough to receive a "Special Achievement" Academy Award for visual effects. It was also nominated for two Oscars – Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, and six Saturn Awards (given by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror films – you know, people who love sci-fi), including one for Best Science Fiction Film. The prior winner was Rollerball and the year after Logan's RunStar Wars received that honor. Gravity won last year. The acting is fine though far from great. However, Peter Ustinov is exceptional as an old man living outside the dome. He is the first person anyone from inside the dome sees who is old. The scene in which the dome is destroyed by the computer, after it essentially self-destructs, and those who escape that society see, touch and marvel at Ustinov's character as he is old with wrinkles has a beauty to it. There's a morality tale in this film, but I'm not going to argue it's a classic or even a highly-sophisticated film. What is it? It's an enjoyable and fun science-fiction film with a lot of action and women in very mini miniskirts.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 8–January 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

METROPOLIS (January 10, 8:00 pm): Not only is this 1926 masterpiece, directed by Fritz Lang, the greatest silent film ever made, it's one of the 10 greatest films of any kind in cinematic history. The special effects are at least 40 years ahead of time, the set designs are stunning, and the scenes with thousands of extras moving as one entity are incredible. The compelling storyline is of a futuristic society in which the rich live above ground while the workers live and work below ground providing energy for the upper-class. The son of a rich industrialist falls in love with a woman who wants to lead the workers in a peaceful uprising for equality. A mad scientist at the behest of the rich industrialist makes a robotic clone of the woman to lead the workers astray. Lost scenes have been found and added numerous times over the years. TCM is showing the restored 149-minute version of the film, which includes some still photos and extra footage found in 2010 in Argentina. It's regularly on TCM. If you haven't seen it in a while, definitely watch. If you have never seen it, you must.

ANNIE HALL (January 11, 4:00 pm): The movie that changed the cinematic career 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. Allen plays Alvy Singer, a  neurotic intellectual comedian who falls in love with the movie's title character (Diane Keaton). Hall is fun-loving, carefree and a bit naive. 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.”

ED’S BEST BETS:

MINISTRY OF FEAR (January 10, 10:45 pm): Fritz Lang, along with Alfred Hitchcock, was a master of the espionage thriller. And this film is a prime example of what Lang could do when given the right source material (Graham Greene’s novel of the same name), the right screenplay (by Seton I. Miller), and the right cast, led by a superb Ray Milland. And yet, Lang thought the film was not up to par; he didn’t like the finished product. Well, Herr Lang, I did - I loved it. Milland is superb as a recently released mental patient, sent there after being wrongly convicted of killing his wife. He gets caught up in a web of espionage, and we begin to wonder if the mad house is the asylum or what passes for the real world outside the asylum’s walls. It’s a film that pulls us in, whether we want to enter or not, and one which builds to a great finish, Lang style. Lang rarely lets me down.

THE MALTESE FALCON (January 11, noon): Yeah, I know, this is a no-brainer. But, believe it or not, there are some out there who have never laid eyes on this masterpiece. And it’s time they should. Humphrey Bogart was born to play Sam Spade, and he’s aided and abetted by a stellar supporting cast, including Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Mary Astor, and Lee Patrick. It’s hard to believe that this was John Huston’s directorial debut; it's handled with the polish of a 30-year veteran. Huston also wrote the screenplay, being judicious to stick as closely to the Dashiell Hammett’s novel as was possible. It all makes for one of the most unforgettable - and best - movies ever to come out of Hollywood. This Best Bet commentary is aimed at those who have not yet seen this wonderful noir, and an invitation to you to tune in. You’ll love it.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . CALIFORNIA SUITE (January 9, 1:30 am)

ED: A-. For me, this is what I would describe as a “desert movie,” an enjoyable piece of fluff whose main purpose is to entertain. And that it does, a wonderful quartet of stories whose only connection is the venue - the Beverly Hills Hotel - where each vignette takes place. It boasts a terrific cast, with such players as Maggie Smith (who won the Oscar for her performance), Michael Caine, Walter Matthau, Elaine May, Jane Fonda, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and Alan Alda. Director Herbert Ross does a great job intercutting between the vignettes, unlike the Broadway production, which featured each story in its entirety. And if I were to choose one special reason for viewers to watch, it would be the segment with Maggie Smith and Michael Caine. Smith is absolutely brilliant as a distinguished British stage actress who “slummed,” playing a supporting role in a film. To her surprise, she’s nominated for an Oscar. The segment revolves around her pre-ceremony anxiety, and after she loses, her drunken despair. The writing here is possibly Neil Simon’s best, with Smith and Caine, playing her homosexual husband, exchanging cutting one-liners while coming to face the hard truths in their relationship. As noted by author Roger Fristoe in TCM’s article on the movie, Maggie Smith became the only person to win an Academy Award for playing a person who loses an Academy Award. Although I‘m not the biggest Simon fan, I find some of his works minor masterpieces of comedy. This is one of them. 

DAVID: C-. The terrific cast – including Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Bill Cosby, Walter Matthau, Richard Pryor and Jane Fonda – is the sole reason this film gets a passing grade. The 1978 film adaption of this tired Neil Simon play doesn't have anything else going for it. By this time, Simon had run out of creativity and ideas. This is a recycled version of Plaza Suite, a good 1971 film and a play before that, which is also about people at a luxury hotel and the misadventures they have there. Simon had a very good 10-year run of writing movies, mostly from his plays, such as The Odd CouplePlaza SuiteThe Heartbreak KidMurder by Death and The Goodbye Girl. The last one on that list would be his final excellent movie. Instead of quality, moviegoers got garbage such as Seems Like Old TimesI Ought to Be in PicturesMax Dugan Returns and a lot of sappy Simon semi-biographical films. As for California Suite, it tells four separate stories of people staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel and the problems they experience. The movie is badly edited going from slapstick comedy to really depressing scenes. The film is stale with one-dimension characters and poor directing. While Pryor and Cosby were in more than their share of film flops, you can't deny they are two of the funniest comedians of their time. So what is done with their story of two competitive doctors who end up waging war during an intense mixed-doubles tennis game with their wives? It's an after-thought, sliced and diced into small sections throughout the movie. Yes, the story of Smith as the older actress and Caine as her gay husband in a marriage of convenience is the best of the four. Despite some strong acting, the film's plot and storylines are weak. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 1–January 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE ODD COUPLE (January 2, 8:00 pm): This is an excellent film though not as great as the television series primarily because the show is one of the five greatest TV programs of all time. The film, released in 1968, about two years before the TV show, follows the familiar storyline of divorced sportswriter Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) allowing longtime friend, Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon), a photographer recently separated from his wife, to move in with him. Oscar is a slob and Felix is a neurotic neat-freak. The interaction between Matthau and Lemmon, which is so good in so many films, is outstanding here, second to only to 1966's The Fortune Cookie, the first movie in which they're paired together. Lemmon's opening scene in which he repeatedly fails to kill himself is hysterically funny. No matter how many times I watch it, I can't stop laughing when Felix calls Oscar at Shea Stadium, where the latter is covering a New York Mets game, about not eating hot dogs at the ballpark because he's making franks and beans for dinner that night. The calls distracts and angers Oscar to the point he turns away from game and misses a triple-play. The comedic timing between Matthau and Lemmon is excellent. The first season of the TV show is largely taken from the film, including a number of failed attempts by Oscar to have a good time with the Pigeon Sisters because of Felix's longing for his wife.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (January 3, 3:00 am): The special effects in this 1981 science-fiction movie set in 1997 were cheap-looking when it was released. So what draws in the viewer? A great storyline with a solid, reliable group of actors - Donald Pleasence, Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton and Ernest Borgnine - in supporting roles. Also, Kurt Russell, the movie's star, along with Adrienne Barbeau and Isaac Hayes, who have key parts, give the performances of their cinematic careers. Manhattan is abandoned by the general population and turned into a no-rules maximum-security prison with one caveat - it's not really maximum security as there is no security at all. If you end up there, you're on your own. After terrorists hijack Air Force One, the president (Pleasence) crash lands his escape pod on Manhattan. The government determines the only way to retrieve him is to send in Snake Plissken (Russell), a former soldier turned outlaw, to the island to retrieve the president. He's got 24 hours to succeed and be a free man. If he fails, an explosive injected into his body will kill him. The film is fast, engaging and filled with action. It's certainly not a cinematic masterpiece, but it's a hell of a fun ride and a cult classic.

ED’S BEST BETS:

HORSE FEATHERS (January 1, 8:00 pm): It doesn’t get much better, or funnier than this, unless one counts Duck Soup. The only thing in the film funnier than Chico and Harpo passing themselves off as football players is Groucho as the president of the university. Add the drop-dead gorgeous Thelma Todd as the “college widow,” and we have a near perfect comedy. There are many great scenes in the picture: Groucho’s installment as college president, The Marxes in the speakeasy, where Groucho mistakenly recruits Chico and Harpo as “student-athletes,” the classroom scene, Groucho and Todd in the boat on the lake, and, of course, the football game. The only glitch in the film is that Zeppo has practically nothing to do but show up to remind us that there are four Marx Brothers. Just tune in and be prepared to laugh.

CHILDREN OF PARADISE (January 4, 2:30 am): Marcel Carne’s masterpiece about acting and the theater comes to television, and I couldn’t be happier. Filmed under rather daunting conditions in Occupied France in 1943-44, Carne didn’t release it until 1945, in part because of the scandal involving his star, Arletty, who was under house arrest due to her lengthy affair as Luftwaffe Colonel Hans Soehring’s kept woman; he thought that, if given enough time, it would blow over. It didn’t and he finally released the film in March 1945. Though the story is set in 1827 Paris and is about three men who vie for the affections of the beautiful artiste Garance (Arletty), there are coded politics contained within. One had to be exceptionally clever - and close-mouthed - to get it past the Nazis. And yes, it is a definite “must see.”

WE DISAGREE ON ... ON THE TOWN (January 7, 2:15 pm)

ED: A-. Produced in the Golden Age of MGM musicals, On the Town is a delight for the eyes and the ears. This musical about three sailors in New York City on 24-hours shore leave, marks an important departure in the history of the movie musical. Prior musicals were studio bound, never leaving the soundstage. Director Gene Kelly, who earlier managed to shoot a Brooklyn Bridge sequence in 1947’s It Happened in Brooklyn, wanted to shoot this film on location. However, the studio allowed him only a week of shooting, hence the breakneck pace of the movie, which often used hidden cameras for the crowd scenes. The other innovation Kelly made was to emphasize dancing over the singing. Hitherto, musicals were dominated by song, but On the Town is noted for its dancing, including the use of dance to advance the plot. From this point forward, dance became the driving factor in MGM musicals. Not that music was forgone entirely: though the songs “New York, New York” and “Come Up to My Place” were the only songs kept from Leonard Bernstein’s original score for the Broadway musical, MGM employed Betty Comden and Adolph Green to write new lyrics for some of the original songs, and Roger Edens wrote six new songs for the movie. All of this innovation and styling would have been for naught if the movie turned out to be a dud. Not to worry - On the Town is one of the best musicals in the history of Hollywood. The dance numbers meld perfectly into the plot and enhance the musical numbers. Having Frank Sinatra to warble five of the songs didn’t hurt, either. Were I to teach a course on the history of the Hollywood musical, this film would not only be featured on the syllabus, but would be lionized for the breakthrough film it was.

DAVID: C. As you can read from Ed's review, many cinephiles, particularly fans of song-and-dance films, love On the Town. It has a certain charm to it, but is vastly overrated and too over-the-top for me to consider it a classic. I consider it nothing more than an average movie with a few good moments. There's too much of an "aww, shucks, golly, gee whiz" feel to the film that it become a corny, very dated musical with dancing thrown in for good measure like Oklahoma! and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. There's a couple of problems with the song-and-dance focus - Gene Kelly wasn't much of a singer as he was more of a melodic talker, and Frank Sinatra was certainly no dancer. The plot is so predictable that the viewer knows right away that when the three sailors meet the three women with whom they fall in love that each is a fait accompli. The songs aren't good or memorable. The dancing by Kelly, Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller can be entertaining, but it's not enough to make me want to watch the movie again. The sailors are on 24-hour leave and looking for love. You would think that would make the film fast paced, and it is at times, and yet there are decent portions of it that drag like an anchor is tied to the movie.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 23–December 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (December 28, 7:45 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 (one of cinema's most underrated actors) in the lead, a role that won him an Academy Award, is outstanding. 

ELVIS ON TOUR (December 31, 8:00 pm): TCM ends the year with films filled with music such as the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter, and the Who's (awful) Tommy. The first and third are feature films featuring music performances with Gimme Shelter is a documentary that focuses on the end of the Stones' 1969 U.S. tour finishing with the infamous Altamont Free Concert. Among everything being shown, my favorite is Elvis on Tour, a fabulous documentary of "The King's" 1972 tour of 15 U.S. cities. It combines an insightful interview with Elvis, behind-the-scenes footage and performances from one of his greatest tours. Elvis sings some of his classics along with his interpretations of popular songs of that era, including Bridge Over Troubled Water and Never Been to Spain. The highlight for me is him singing Burning Love, my favorite Presley song, for likely the first time in front of an audience. He needs the sheet music to sing the correct lyrics. While Presley has said he didn't care for the song, his performance of it in this film, even though he's reading the lyrics while singing them, is absolutely amazing. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (December 24, 4:00 pm): Ernest Lubitsch was at his absolute best when he directed this wonderful gem about two feuding co-workers at a Budapest notions store who do not realize that they are secret romantic pen pals. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan, as the employees, bring the concept of charm to its ideal. They are aided and abetted by a sterling cast, including Frank Morgan (in one of the best performances), Joseph Schildkraut, Sara Haden, Felix Bressart, William Tracy, and Inez Courtney. It boasts a superb script by Samson Raphaelson, who adapted it from Nikolaus Laszlo’s play, Parfumerie. In fact, the film was so compelling that it was later remade as a Judy Garland musical, In the Good Old Summertime (1949), a Broadway musical, She Loves Me (1963, revived in 1994), and the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan vehicle, You’ve Got Mail (1998), where the lovers correspond via e-mail. However, the original still stands head and shoulders above the remakes and is an essential.

BRIGHTON ROCK (December 31, 10:45 am): 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 teenage 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.

WE DISAGREE ON ... NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART (December 30, 12:15 am)

ED: C+. Cary Grant is one of my favorite actors. But not every film of his is “A” material. This film is a case in point. Grant is Ernie Mott, a free-spirited drifter who visits his ailing mother (Ethel Barrymore) in his old East End neighborhood in London. He is torn between his desire to care for her and his desire to escape all responsibilities when he falls for a gangster’s girlfriend (June Dupree). For Grant, this role was a stretch, a chance to do a serious role instead of the lighthearted roles that made him famous. And he was great in the role, as was Barrymore (she got a Oscar for it). But it’s the heavy-handed direction by Clifford Odets and the pretentious dialogue in a weak screenplay (also by Odets) that does the film in and brings it down. Watching Grant at work, however, is always fun, and in this film I got the impression that we were seeing the real man: not the suave, debonair Cary Grant, but the scruffy, street-wise Archie Leach. Watch it for Grant and Barrymore.

DAVID: B+. Unlike Ed, I'm not a huge Cary Grant fan. Some of his comedies, notably Bringing Up BabyArsenic and Old Lace, and Gunga Din, are overrated and of poor quality. However, I'm tremendously impressed with his dramatic performance in None But the Lonely Heart. He's so good as a Cockney drifter in this 1944 film that I'm convinced it's the precursor to the classic British "kitchen-sink" films. Those movies from the late 1950s and early 1960s focus on angry young men living directionless lives in post-World War II England. This film takes place in post-World War I England. Equally excellent is the legendary Ethel Barrymore as his dying mother. In addition to the amazing performances from Grant and Barrymore, the storyline is compelling, well-paced and really depressing. The movie lost money for RKO, which unfortunately meant Grant would never take on a similar role as the one in this film again despite his groundbreaking performance. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 15–December 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

FANNY AND ALEXANDER (December 18, 3:45 am): This 1982 film was intended to be Ingmar Bergman's last – it wasn't – and was first made as a five-plus-hour miniseries for Swedish television. The three-plus-hour film, which is shown on TCM, was actually released before the longer miniseries. It's a touching tale about two children, Fanny and Alexander, and how their joyful life is turned upside down when their father suddenly dies and their mother marries the local bishop shortly after the turn of the 20th Century. It's classic Bergman meaning it's excellent, comes highly recommended, and is brilliantly insightful into life and humanity. Yeah, it's long, but not as long as the miniseries, and the quality of the story, dialogue, scenery and costumes, the cinematography and Bergman's amazing touch makes this a worthwhile film to see.

THE MORTAL STORM (December 20, 12:15 pm): It's quite surprising that 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. It's 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 outstanding, 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 relevant today as it was in 1940.

ED’S BEST BETS:

UMBERTO D (December 15, 7:30 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 say 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 it's protagonist.

SIDE STREET (December 17, 4:15 pm): Anthony Mann directed this rather novel noir about Joe Norson (Farley Granger), a postal worker with money worries who impulsively steals $30,000 from a shady lawyer (Edmon Ryan). But, unfortunately for him, though he though he got away with it, he’s in for much more than he bargained, as the money was blackmail from an innocent man framed in a sex scandal and whom the lawyer later murdered. Soon Norson finds himself caught in a web of deceit and murder, which will include his own if he doesn’t act and act fast.  Mann takes us through a labyrinth of cross and double-cross, leading to one of the great chase endings. He uses a great supporting cast, including Cathy O’Donnell, Paul Kelly, James Craig, Paul Harvey, Charles McGraw, Whit Bissell, and Jean Hagen (in an unforgettable performance) to bring the story to life. With the aid of superb cinematography of Joseph Ruttenberg, Mann has created one of the greatest noirs, and certainly one to catch.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . PARIS, TEXAS (December 17, 10:45 pm)

ED: C-.. When David and I do this part of the Alert, he’ll send me a film to disagree about. For this week he sent our subject. But in his e-mail announcing his choice of film, he says, “Man, you don’t like Wim Wenders, do you?” Well, David, you’re wrong in your assumption. It’s not that I dislike Wim Wenders. I don’t. It’s just that I don’t think he’s all that and a bag of chips. There are some Wenders films I really like, such as HammettKings of the Road, and The End of Violence, to name a few. And if I didn’t like Paris, Texas, I would have given it a “D” or an “F” as a grade. My take on this film is that it boasts a solid cast, great cinematography, but the direction is bland, a triumph of style over substance, as the rather thin, unrealistic plot isn’t nearly enough to support the move on its own, and Wenders does a piss-poor job of fleshing out the characters and their situations. It could have used a good paring down as it’s too long and waiting for anything to happen can be quite excruciating. It’s not a bad film – just one I can watch and could care less about.

DAVID: B+. A few weeks ago, Ed and I disagreed on Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire (1987). This week, it's Wenders' haunting and fascinating 1984 movie, Paris, Texas, starring Harry Dean Stanton as Travis, who mysteriously emerges from a Texas desert after being missing for years. The viewer is immediately drawn to the stranger, who doesn't want to stop walking, and is unable to communicate well or remember much about himself. It turns out Travis' family life fell apart making him incapable of functioning. He is reunited with his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), who, with his wife, has raised Travis' son, Hunter (Hunter Carson). Travis and Hunter hit the road looking for Travis' ex and Hunter's mother, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), who also disappeared years ago. Travis finds her at a peepshow in which she talks about sex and anything else with strangers who can see her, but she cannot see them. The two take turns delivering fascinating and insightful monologues. The film is unique, original and somewhat bizarre, but always interesting. Wenders does a fantastic job of storytelling with this film, which isn't easy as the story he is telling is complex yet compelling. While certainly different, Wenders and his acting cast are able to make the characters seem so real, exposing the viewers to their frailties, perspectives and personalities. It is both beautiful and tragic. While I haven't seen many of Wenders' films, the ones I've seen leaves me with the strong impression that he is all that and a bag of chips.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 8–December 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE FOUNTAINHEAD (December 8, 4:30 pm): That this movie was ever made is a surprise, particularly by a big studio  Warner Brothers  starring Gary Cooper and directed by King Vidor. That Ayn Rand, the author of the book of the same name, wrote the screenplay is a complete shock. For those not familiar with Rand, she was a novelist who wrote about "Objectivism," a political philosophy of individualism, rational self-interest, not contributing to society for the greater good, and to this day is the darling of Neo-Cons and Libertarians. This 1949 film is based on her 1943 book, "The Fountainhead," and is about Howard Roark (Cooper), a brilliant architect who works in a quarry as a laborer rather than practice his craft because he wouldn't have complete control over the buildings he wants to design. Interestingly, Rand agreed to write the film's screenplay only if she had complete control over it. (She did have to change a couple of things because of the Hays Code such making a rape scene into one of submissive passion, and having a character commit suicide rather than divorce as the latter was a no-no under the Code.) A fellow architect, with inferior ability, asks Roark to design a building. Roark agrees to even give the guy all the credit as long as the structure is built to his exact design. However, the firm that owns the building changes it so Roark purposely blows up the structure. He is arrested, goes on trial and defends himself by delivering a speech about his right to do what he wants with his building. Yeah, the story sounds ridiculous. But it's a fascinating film that looks into the passion and conviction of a principled man in a world with far too few principles. Cooper and Patricia Neal, who's character becomes his lover (and the two had a legitimate affair during the filming of this movie), are excellent. Vidor does a great job making the film believable enough to inform and entertain.

LARCENY INC. (December 9, 10:45 am): No one played Edward G. Robinson's mobster character for laughs better than Eddie G. himself. In this 1942 film, his 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 when 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) – great criminal flunky names! – they start digging underground to get to the bank's safe. One of the funniest scenes has them breaking a utility line and oil comes pouring out of the hole with Jug and Weepy, covered in the stuff, thinking they struck a gusher . 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE TALK OF THE TOWN (December 8, 1:45 am): A splendid, intelligent comedy written by Irwin Shaw and Sidney Buchman, directed by George Stevens, and brought to vivid life by Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Ronald Colman. Grant is Leopold Dilg, an anarchist who was framed and sent to prison. He’s escaped and hiding in the home of childhood friend Nora Shelley (Arthur). She has rented the house for the summer (and acts as cook-housekeeper) to renowned Harvard law professor Michael Lightcap (Colman). It’s a battle of wits and philosophy between the radical humanist Dilg and the conservative book-bound Colman, and not a word of dialogue is wasted. Arthur acts as mediator, showing Colman’s character that there is more to the law than is contained in the books, as Colman comes to the realization that 100 years of precedents is not the be-all and end-all of justice. Look for Glenda Farrell in a wonderful performance as the local beautician who has important information about Dilg’s case and from whom Colman must get that information (in a wonderfully comic scene), and Edgar Buchanan as Dilg’s lawyer.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (December 9, 10:30 pm): When one looks up the term “action picture,” a still from this film should be under the definition. Quite simply, this is the role Errol Flynn was born to play, and he’s quite good in it. Give him such villains to play against as Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone, and this film just can’t be beaten. Olivia de Havilland shines as Maid Marian, with Una O’Connor and Herbert Mundin in fine form as the comic relief. The best thing about the film is its refusal to take itself seriously, which amps up our enjoyment even more. Michael Curtiz directed with a nearly flawless style. It’s simply one of those rare films I can watch over and over without growing bored.

WE DISAGREE ON ... BULLETS OR BALLOTS (December 12, 2:45 pm)

ED: B-. Bullets or Ballots is a pretty good movie. Any film starring Eddie G. and Joan Blondell has to be good. But it’s not that good. Yeah, the vastly underrated Barton MacLane shines as the main heel, but there’s Humphrey Bogart, again being wasted as MacLane’s toadie as yet another one-note supporting character. And this film came right after his breakout performance in The Petrified Forest. It would mark the beginning of a few years stretch in which Bogart essentially played the same criminal character. Nor was it one of Eddie G.’s favorite flicks. He noted in an interview long ago that fans assumed that he rose in the morning, got dressed, ate breakfast, and then shot Humphrey Bogart before going to work. No, this is a film where the cast is good, the script relentlessly ordinary, and the direction lacking.

DAVID: A-. This is a classic gritty Warner Brothers gangster film with all of the right elements. Bullets or Ballots (1936) is the first of five films to team Edward G. Robinson with Humphrey Bogart. Eddie G. is great as a police detective who goes undercover to infiltrate a gang that includes Bogie, who is suspicious of the supposed ex-cop. Bogart shines as the calculating bad-guy character he perfected before becoming the anti-hero a few years later. Joan Blondell is her typical excellent self, and Barton MacLane gives one of his best performances. The ending, in which both of them get it to comply with the Hays Code, is somewhat of a let-down. But the film packs a lot of action and snappy dialogue into 82 minutes, and is such a joy to watch. Based on the true story of a New York City cop, it's an underrated and lesser-known film. But it is must-see viewing for fans of the Warners gangster film genre and lovers of classic movies for the first-time pairing of Robinson and Bogart. Myah!


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 1–December 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

TRILOGY OF FAITH (December 3, 1:30 am): To me, there is no greater or more important film director than Ingmar Bergman. TCM is showing six of his films on December 3, starting with Smiles of a Summer Night at 8:00 pm, a very funny film from someone whose body of work featured few comedies. After that are Bergman's two best-known pieces, Wild Strawberries at 10:00 pm and The Seventh Seal at 11:45 pm. For those who have never seen a Bergman film, these are his most approachable and among his finest, and I would highly recommend watching them. For those who have seen those and other Bergman movies, and are looking for more, the three films that follow The Seventh Seal, know collectively as the "Trilogy of Faith," are essential viewing. It starts with Through a Glass Darkly at 1:30 am, followed by Winter Light at 3:15 am and The Silence at 4:45 am. Rather than give you a short synopsis on each of the films, I urge you to click here and read my analysis and thoughts on the three.

ROLLER BOOGIE (December 6, 2:00 am): Yeah, this 1979 film is awful, and one that's I've wanted to write a Train Wreck Cinema article about for a long time. The plot is unbelievably terrible, including the male lead wanting to be an Olympic roller skater. High-society girl Linda Blair resists at first, but eventually falls in love with him while he gives her skating lessons. Along the way, they foil a plan from mobsters who wants to buy their favorite roller-skating rink. It's laughably awful, but a film that I can never not watch when it's on. Easily the best scene is toward the beginning with the rink filled with dancers getting down to Earth, Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland."

ED’S BEST BETS:

SHE DONE HIM WRONG (December 1, 9:30 pm): Mae West at her absolute peak as she adapted her Broadway hit, “Diamond Lil” into a film. Mae is Lady Lou, a saloon singer and nightclub owner in the gay ‘90s who has more men friends than she can count. Unfortunately, one of them is a jealous criminal who has escaped and is looking for his lady, not knowing she hasn’t exactly been faithful in his absence. For her part, though, Mae is more interested in seducing young Captain Cummings (Cary Grant), a local temperance league preacher. It’s filled with hilarious double entendres and ribald situations, including the song, “I Wonder Where My Easy Rider’s Gone?” This film not only rescued Paramount Studios from bankruptcy, but also spurred the formation of the Legion of Decency. Not a bad day’s work.

I’M NO ANGEL (December 1, 10:45 pm): Mae West again, and why not? This is another gem. Mae is Tira, a circus sideshow entertainer whose real talent is luring men backstage after the show and swindling them out of money and jewelry. Cary Grant is Jack Clayton, a millionaire victim of Tira’s who is the only man to win her heart. The plot makes little sense, but go with it; after all, we’re not tuning in to see an intricate plot, but to see the great Mae West in action before the bluenoses shut her down. And there’s much to see with Mae’s one-liners flying around, lines such as “It’s not the men in your life, it’s the life in your men,” and “When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.” That’s the Mae West we want to see.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . ADVISE AND CONSENT (December 5, 8:15 am):

ED: B-. The early ‘60s saw a slew of political intrigue and conspiracy movies: The Manchurian CandidateSeven Days in May, Gore Vidal’s The Best ManFail-Safe, and Dr. Strangelove. Compared with these heavyweights, this is one of the weaker movies of the bunch. Now I’m not saying this is a bad movie; it’s not. It boasts an excellent cast and a good script. However, the one failing is the direction by Otto Preminger, which tends to be stilted at times. Also, in comparison to The Best Man, which covers much of the same territory, it pales in comparison. Hence the grade.

DAVID: A-. 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. The cut-throat style of politics shown in this film is about as authentic as it gets. It relies a lot on dialogue, but the script is so good that it elevates the quality of the film. Add the excellent all-star cast  Fonda, Lew Ayres, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford and Burgess Meredith (in a small but memorable role)  and great directing by Otto Preminger, who makes the viewer feel like a Washington insider, and you get a film that's interesting, intelligent and compelling.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 23–November 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE FRESHMAN (November 24, 11:45 pm): It's a shame that Harold Lloyd is either largely forgotten or most film fans never heard of him because he was a brilliant comedian during cinema's silent days. (Of course his peak was about 90 years ago so it's understandable, but disappointing nonetheless.) In this 1925 film, Lloyd plays Harold Lamb, a naive guy who goes to college thinking life on campus is like it is in the movies. He learns out the hard way that the two are not the same and comes across to his classmates as a fool. He tries out for the football team and goes from being the water boy to playing the key role in the big game with hilarious results. Lloyd was the master of the sight gag, typically better at it than Buster Keaton and that's saying a lot, and there are plenty of them in this film. The plot is predictable, but Lloyd makes this a fun and funny film to watch and enjoy.

TOM THUMB (November 26, 9:15 am): A delightful 1958 film based on the classic fairy tale with Russ Tamblyn bringing great energy and an outstanding ability to entertain in the title role. The best part of this film, with a mostly British cast, is the performances of Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers as two criminals who try to exploit Tom by tricking him to be a part of their various swindles. It's geared toward a younger audience though there is plenty of humor, particularly from the two bumbling, very funny bad guys, to keep the interest of adults. The handful of songs are entertaining. While the special effects are dated, they are charming as well as impressive for its day.

ED’S BEST BETS:

LA POINTE COURTE (November 23, 4:00 am): Director Agnes Varda gained international renown with this study of a husband and wife trying to rescue their marriage interwoven with the life and times of Ste, a fishing village on the Mediterranean. Known only as Him and Her, the couple comes to the village because it’s the place where He grew up and still loves, while She is from Paris and has the requisite cosmopolitan tastes. Will they be able to work things out? Meanwhile, we are drawn into the drama that plagues the town: Will the father let his daughter marry the man she loves, even if he's kind of a wimp? Will the cops arrest the guy who harvested his shellfish from an off-limits stretch of water? Will the big-city couple stay together or split up? The movie’s climax takes place at the annual water-jousting tournament (which actually takes place in Ste each year), a sort of slow-motion skirmish where men knock each other off boats with medieval-style lances while onlookers cheer their favorites. This is the sort of film that will pull one in slowly and once in, it never lets up for a minute. The village life and drama is fascinating and the individual dramas compelling.

IL SORPASSO (November 28, 1:30 am): Road pictures are always fun to watch, and this is among the best. One Sunday morning, blowhard Vittorio Gassman demands to use the phone of shy law student Jean-Louis Trintignant’s phone. From this innocuous beginning, the two get acquainted, which leads to a invitation from Gassman for Trintignant to accept a ride that turns out to be a multi-day journey up the Tyrrhenian coast. During their voyage, the contrasting natures of the blustery, hot dogging, middle-aged Gassman and the quiet, conservative, scholarly young Trintignant clash and eventually rub off on one another as they both discover their perceived family lives aren’t what they supposed them to be, and which can only end tragically. Both Gassman and Trintignant are superb, and, along with director Dino Risi’s eye for analogy, make this a film to be caught and savored.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . WINGS OF DESIRE (November 25, 5:00 am):

ED: B-. Wings of Desire, a film about two angels Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), who amble through Berlin offering solace to those in pain, even though they are invisible. Things go wrong when Damiel is inspired to seek mortality after watching an American actor (Peter Falk) shooting a movie, and a beautiful trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin) at a circus. This is a two-hour movie that only seems like five hours. If you want to see this, by all means record it, even of you’re staying up to sit through it. You will fall asleep. Wim Wenders is notorious for his arty-farty films, and this is no different. The idea of two angels wandering the streets of Berlin listening to people’s thoughts is amusing for about 10 minutes max, but Wenders stretches it out for about 90 minutes. The kicker is that none of the thoughts our angels are listening to has any sort of point whatsoever. I’m sure a lot of pseudo-intellectuals will wring their hands over this, looking for Deep Meaning, but take it from me, this is nothing more than pretentious hogwash. Oh well, the cinematography is excellent and it does boast a good performance from Bruno Ganz. For those who can’t quite place Ganz, he probably better known for being a phenomenon on You Tube for his portrayal of Hitler in Downfall, which many clever people have taken and made into parodies of Old Screwball by titling them “Hitler Discovers Hostess Is No Longer Making Twinkies,” or “Hitler Meets the Tralololo Man.” Stick with those - they’re far more entertaining than Wings of Desire.

DAVID: A. If you love film, you will love Wings of Desire, an ingenious and moving picture from 1987. The visually-stunning film focuses on Damiel (Bruno Ganz), an angel in Berlin around the end of the Cold War. He stands on top of tall buildings, in a crowd or nearly anywhere, watching people and listening to their thoughts, many of them quite depressing. Damiel and Cassiel (Otto Sander), an another angel featured in the film, can't really do anything to directly comfort people except touch someone's shoulder to give a little hope to those with troubled existences. It's beauty is in its subtlety. The acting is brilliant, particularly Ganz and of all people, Peter Falk, who plays himself. Falk is in Berlin to film a movie, and it turns out, he was angel who chose to give up his immortality to become a person. Falk's ability to play himself with an unexpected twist is one of the most compelling aspects of this most compelling film. Damiel is growing tired of being an angel and yearns to be a human. He tells Cassiel: "It would be rather nice, coming home after a long day to feed the cat, like Philip Marlowe; to have a fever, and blackened fingers from the newspaper; at last to guess, instead of always knowing.” Damiel falls in love with Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a beautiful trapeze artist who fears she will fall. For Damiel, it's love at first sight. He longs for the simple things humans experience, but often don't notice, such as touching someone or having a conversation. Damiel risks his immortality to have an opportunity at love. Is the film's tempo slow? Perhaps, but that allows the viewer to better understand Damiel's existence as an angel and the quandary he faces in choosing mortality and love. I agree with Ed about the excellent cinematography. It was done by Henri Alekan, who also had the same job in the 1946 French version of Beauty and the Beast, another magnificent film. Rather than a Deep Meaning, the film provides a simple lesson: It is the small things in life that make it worth living.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 15–November 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SOYLENT GREEN (November 15, 6:00 pm): This is one of my "go-to" movies. I can watch it dozens of times (and have) and never grow tired of it. Charlton 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. 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 with the scene in which Eddie G. goes to a place called "Home," a government-assisted suicide facility that looks like Madison Square Garden, is one of the most touching I've seen. And the ending is one of cinema's most memorable with an injured and possibly dying Thorn screaming, "Soylent Green is people! We gotta stop them somehow!"

SUNRISE (November 17, 10:00 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 temptress from the city (Margaret Livingston) visiting his small town. She manipulates the man into killing his wife (Janet Gaynor), but he has second thoughts. The scene on the boat with O'Brien and Gaynor runs the gamut from suspense to terror to tragedy. 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. Also of note is the use of multiple exposures. Ahead of its time, it's one of the first silent films to use sound effects, paving the way for talkies.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THEM! (November 22, 4:00 pm): 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.

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (November 22, 6:00 pm): While their Gothic horrors could oft times be hit-or-miss affairs, Hammer Studios always managed to hit a home run with their science-fiction films. And it’s no different here: Hammer took a BBC serial from the ‘50s called Quartermass and the Pit, added a little, subtracted a little, but on the whole remaining faithful to the original story. Hammer and director Roy Ward Baker capture the intelligence and the mystery of the original not by throwing special effects at the viewer, but in telling the story through the characters. What begins as the discovery of a Nazi bomb in an Underground tunnel being dug up for repairs, soon leads to the finding of ape-like skulls surrounding it, which leads to the realization that this is a not a Nazi weapon, but a spacecraft not of this Earth, but from Mars, complete with arthropod corpses stored inside. In the end we are wrestling with the philosophical issues of history and evolution before reaching a climax by recalling the Collective Unconscious and, especially, its archetype of the Devil. And despite all these weighty subjects, the film is an excellent piece of suspense and terror, supplying some pretty good jolts along the way.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . MAFIOSO (November 16, 4:00 am)

ED: C. This is a film that, for me, started out wonderfully as a social satire, then drifted into the world of Could Cuckoo Land. Alberto Sordi, one of my favorite actors, is a man from Sicily who has migrated north to Milan and now has a fine position as an efficiency expert with Fiat Motors. He’s given a package to deliver to the Don in Sicily by his boss at Fiat and, along with his family, visits his old village. But is this a satire of the North/South cultural divide in Italian society, a buffoonish comedy of manners, or what? The Don asks him to deliver a letter to New York, and so Sordi is placed in a crate and shipped to New York, where he’s told he has to whack someone for the Don, which he does, knowing that his family may themselves be whacked if he doesn’t do what he’s told. The latter part of the film loses me completely and reminds me of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, a mob “comedy” that wasn’t funny, either. If director Alberto Lattuada had simply stuck to the North/South cultural divide, he would have had a satire for the ages. But as it is, Mafioso fails to impress.

DAVID: A-. Alberto Sordi is incredibly funny in this Mafia spoof as Antonio, a straight-laced Fiat car factory manager who takes his wife and kids to where he was born and raised – a small mobbed-up Sicilian village, in this 1962 Italian dark comedy. The opening scene inside the factory is essentially a tribute to Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times with very humorous bits about assembly lines and the silliness of structured work. Antonio, called Nino, has made it big in Northern Italy, the part of the country that is much more sophisticated and advanced than the South, where he grew up. Heading back to his birthplace with his sophisticated Northern wife and their kids is hysterical as his family is horribly out of place. One of the funniest scenes has his wife Marta (Norma Bengell) begging off eating after the food keeps coming. It turns out the massive amount of food is just the appetizer. The contrast shown between the two cultures is highly amusing and done with great satire. Nino's sister has a unibrow and a mustache with Marta finally getting in good with the family when she waxes the mustache and the middle of the unibrow to make two eyebrows. "You better get married before they grow back again," Nino's father says when seeing his daughter's new look. Mafioso takes an unexpected twist going from a satirical comedy to a dark movie with Nino, a crack shot, asked to perform a hit for the local Mafia boss, who he's known his entire life. Using a hunting trip as a cover, he comes in a crate to New York City to kill an old mobster in Trenton, New Jersey. After the hit, he is brought back to Italy. Yes, the hit isn't nearly as funny as the scenes in Sicily. Actually it's quite disturbing, but very compelling. When he returns, Nino isn't as nostalgic for his hometown and acts like nothing happened though his personality has certainly changed. Sordi definitely carries the film though the strange characters he reunites with in the Sicilian village are highly entertaining. It's a quirky film, and one of the first that deals bluntly about the Mob. It's fascinating throughout.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 8–November 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

LIMELIGHT (November 8, 3:00 pm): One of Charlie Chaplin's last and greatest films, Limelight is tragic, touching, beautiful, captivating and funny. This movie never fails to make me tear up with laughter or sadness. For someone who mastered silent films, and went into sound practically kicking and screaming, Chaplin's "talkies" are among his finest movies. 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.

LOST IN AMERICA (November 14, 12:00 am): Albert Brooks is one of cinema's most underappreciated actors/directors/writers of the last 30 years; so much so that he's made far too few films in which he's able to show off all three of those talents. This 1985 film is his best. It's a movie with dry humor that sometimes has you laughing, but often has you thinking, "This film is very funny, very clever and all too real." Brooks is a yuppie, back when they truly existed, who misses out on a promotion and becomes disenchanted with his life. He and his wife (Julie Hagerty) leave Los Angeles and everything and everyone behind, buy a mobile home and hit the road. Very quickly things go bad for them as his wife loses all their money in a gambling casino. The scene in which Brooks tries to convince the casino owner (brilliantly played by Garry Marshall) is hysterical. The couple work dead-end jobs until realizing their new life sucks in comparison to the old, and try to go back to the way things were. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE BIG KNIFE (November 8, 10:45 pm): A wonderful look at Hollywood courtesy of playwright Clifford Odets and director Robert Aldrich. Based on Odets’s 1949 Broadway play, it’s a look over two days in the career of one Charlie Castle (Jack Palance) as he agonizes over his career. Although he is a success, his career is built on a solid foundation of deceit, artistic compromises, and plain unethical practices - a career masterminded by studio boss Rod Steiger and his yes men. Will he sign a new seven-year contract? That is his overriding question. Solid performances by the cast and sharp direction make this not only a film to see, but also one to enjoy.

WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (November 14, 1:45 am): From director William Wellman, it’s one of the best, and most unusual “social conscience” films to come from Warner Brothers during the Depression. Imagine groups of teenagers riding the rails and looking for work, having left home because they didn’t want to be a burden to their families during the hard times. It still retains its shock value, although some of it seems dated, and the ending is pure saccharine optimism. It’s a film that cries to be seen.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE DIRTY DOZEN (November 8, 8:00 pm)

ED. B. This is a great over-the-top war movie with the requisite over-the-top performances from its cast, but for me it just goes too far in throwing out plot logic in favor of derring-do. For instance, in the scene where the ex-convicts raid the big party the Germans are throwing with their playladies, The boys have the Krauts party trapped in the bomb shelter, and screw off the tops of the air shafts so they can drop unexploded grenades down below. But the Germans intercept these grenades, with great scenes of everyone in the shelter going berserk trying to get the bombs away from the shaft. But, logic dictates, wouldn’t it be better to pull the pin on one grenade and drop it? The explosion would drive people away, thus enabling the troops to drop even more grenades. But no - way too easy. What they do instead is pour gallons of gasoline down the shaft and then drop the grenade. It’s scenes such as this, and some of the hammy performances of the cast, that lead me give it the grade I did. It’s just too much, which is why it has influenced many other films since, from The Devil’s Brigade (1968), with William Holden and Vince Edwards, to Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastereds (2009). To repeat, it’s a great war movie, it’s just not an Essential.

DAVID: A. Simply put - this movie kicks ass. In this particular case, I'm not looking for a movie with a deep meaning or one that teaches me something about myself or humanity. I'm looking for a movie that includes misfits blowing up stuff and people, particularly Nazis, while not only entertaining me, but keeping me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. There are few movies like The Dirty Dozen that are able to deliver all of that. The cast is excellent, led by Lee Marvin (who's always great in these types of war films), Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas and John Cassavetes. Yes, there's a dozen guys on this mission and yet director Robert Aldrich is able to show the personalities of each of them. He takes about two-and-a-half hours to do so, but it's worth it. This 1967 film, as Ed wrote above, greatly influenced other directors and other studios - this was a huge box-office success - to do movies of the similar violent genre. But nothing has been able to surpass the original. While violent for its time, it's also very funny and a lot of fun to watch.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
November 1–November 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

DODSWORTH (November 6, 2:15 am): This 1936 film is one of the greatest film you haven't seen. Actually, that was the introduction of Dodsworth from Robert Osborne on TCM the first time I saw it a few years ago. He is absolutely correct. This is a wonderful film. 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. A very adult film, which is surprising as the Hays Code that restricted such themes went into effect two years before Dodsworth was released. 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 paced perfectly.

BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (November 7, 6:00 am): An excellent JD movie with Glenn Ford as the teacher trying to put 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.” While most people think of the film as the first with a rock-and-roll song in it, it is so much more than that and a must-see.

ED’S BEST BETS:

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (November 1, 8:00 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 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 Lutisch defended his position by saying that "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.

THE SILENCE OF THE SEA (November 2, 2:00 am): Jean-Pierre Melville chose Jean Brullers’ novel of the same name to make his directing debut. It’s an intimate look at France during the Occupation. A patrician German general is billeted with a provincial French family who is unwilling even to speak to him. Nevertheless, each evening he reminisces about life and war in the face of their stubborn silence. He is firm in his belief that the family and France will one day see the true nature of him and Germany. It is only later that the naive general visits Paris and finally sees the brutality of the occupation, as well as learning of the death camp in Treblinka. Melville provides glimpses of what he would later accomplish in such films as Bob le flambeur (1956), and L' Arme des ombres (1969). And it’s always interesting to see a director’s first feature.

WE DISAGREE ON ... WAIT UNTIL DARK (November 1, 4:00 am)

ED: A-. I’m not an Audrey Hepburn fan by any stretch of the imagination, although I am fond of several pictures she stars in, such as The Nun’s StoryTwo for the RoadThe Children’s HourLove in the Afternoon, and Sabrina. If the film is interesting, then I’m in, but not for Hepburn. Wait Until Dark is another on my list. It’s not so much Hepburn, but the story and cast around her that makes this film such a delectable thriller. The film began life as a 1966 Broadway play by Frederick Knott that starred Lee Remick. The basic plot itself was a rehash of a 1958 film titled The Lineup, with psycho gangster Eli Wallach after a heroin-filled doll accidentally brought back from a trip abroad. The key change, a nice little twist, was to make the heroine a recently blinded woman, which added even more thrills to the plot. Hepburn, I must admit, was brilliant in the role. She and director Terrence Young studied for the role at The Lighthouse for the Blind in New York, where Hepburn learned how to use a cane, how to do her hair and make-up with her eyes shut, and even donned special contact lenses to make the transformation complete. Her main competition in the movie is Alan Arkin, who gives one hell of a performance as Roat, who is simply Wallach’s character, Dancer. Some say Arkin steals the movie, but Hepburn gives it everything she can without going overboard and overemoting. The rest of the cast is excellent, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston in particular. The ending, where Hepburn levels the playing field with Roat, is the highlight of the film. Author Stephen King, in his non-fiction work, Danse Macabre, declared Wait Until Dark to be the scariest movie of all time. And he should know. By the way, a little piece of ironic trivia: Hepburn served as a nurse in World War II Holland, and one of the patients she treated was young British paratrooper Terrence Young, the film’s director.

DAVID: C-. In comparison to me, Ed is a huge fan of Audrey Hepburn. Outside of Sabrina and The Children's Hour, I'm at a loss to name another film she's in that I enjoy. What do I think of Love in the Afternoon? Read this We Disagree. How about My Fair Lady? Read this We Disagree.  That we've never done a We Disagree on Breakfast at Tiffany's is because neither one of us is a fan. She's not as bad as Katharine Hepburn, but that's primarily because Audrey didn't make as many films. So what is it about Wait Until Dark that I don't like? It's quicker to write what I like or rather who I like. Alan Arkin and Richard Crenna are quite good and save the film from getting a D rating from me even though both over-exaggerate their roles. The movie came out in 1967, considered a landmark year in cinema. This movie wasn't one of the reasons for that year in film to be celebrated. Hepburn is horribly miscast as the film's heroine, a blind woman being pursued by bad guys over heroin sewn into a doll. She's not even slightly convincing as a woman who's recently lost her sight. The plot is completely ridiculous, almost nonexistent at times and seems to be just there to pass the time. It gets out of hand fast with the silliness escalating to the film's supposed tense showdown with the blind Hepburn breaks all the lights in her apartment to even the odds by putting the criminals in the dark with her. Of course, she misses one light. The attempts to build tension come across as contrived and forced. There's no need to give away the ending. Even if you've never seen it, you know how it ends. That predictability is typical of this movie's many flaws. But if you're looking for good news, it also signals the end of the film.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
October 23–October 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ON BORROWED TIME (October 27, 8:00 pm): I'm recommending two films this week starring one of my favorite actors: Lionel Barrymore. On Borrowed Time is one of the most emotional and touching films I've ever seen. It's also one of the most unique films I've ever seen. Like he did in numerous movies, Barrymore plays a grumpy old wheelchair-bound man (Gramps) 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. But unlike most movies in which Barrymore is the grumpy old guy, the plot twist in 1939's On Borrowed Time is one for the ages. 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. Barrymore proves yet again that he never gave a bad performance in a film.

THE DEVIL DOLL (October 31, 8:15 am): Because Lionel Barrymore's characters are so 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 new heights.

ED’S BEST BETS:

ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT (October 23, 9:00 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 Demarest 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 in 1941. 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.

DIABOLIQUE (October 26, 2:15 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 15 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 . . . CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (October 27, 6:00 pm)

ED. A-. The censors watered down Tennessee Wiliiams’s classic Pultizer Prize winning play about greed and mendacity in the South, but it still packs one hell of a punch, thanks to a great cast, especially Elizabeth Taylor, who gives one of her best performances and steams up the screen in doing so. Jack Carson scores in one of his last roles as Paul Newman’s brother (and Burl Ives’ son). Newman himself isn’t as dominant in this as he usually is in other films, but still manages to give a powerful performance nevertheless. However, considering the censorship, this is a film that should have been made during the ‘80s, when such topics could be honestly addressed, as Williams did in his play. It’s the excellent cast that puts this film over the hump for the audience, and it’s a wonderful film to see just for the performances.

DAVID: C+. This isn't a bad film, but there are a number of reasons I don't think it's anything special. First the good: Burl Ives is fantastic as Big Daddy, the patriarch of the dysfunctional family featured in the movie. He plays his role to near perfection. To begin the not-so-good list, the screenplay of this Tennessee Williams' play is too melodramatic. As I've mentioned before, I'm not much of a fan of Paul Newman or Elizabeth Taylor. This 1958 film is an example of why. The pair lack chemistry together, and, yes, I know the idea is the two have marital issues. But that doesn't mean Newman and Taylor can't work together to make a good film. Taylor's character goes from understanding to psychotic in the snap of a finger, and she fails to convey any authenticity, which comes as no surprise to me. As for Newman, he overuses "method" acting in this film as he was prone to do when playing angst-ridden characters. His character broods and then lashes out during the entire film for no logical reason. The Hays Code wouldn't permit the heavily suggested homosexual aspects of Newman's character that are in the play to be included in the film so viewers are left to wonder: why is any of this occurring? To make matters worse, the characters and the film are pretentious.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
October 15–October 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

I CONFESS (October 17, 10:00 am): How great was Alfred Hitchcock at directing? This 1953 film is excellent and it barely makes it into his 10 best movies. Montgomery Clift, an under-appreciated but outstanding actor, plays a priest who can't say anything about a murder because the killer told him about it during confession. To top it off, Clift's character becomes the main suspect in the crime. Hitchcock had issues with Clift while making the film because he wasn't comfortable working with method actors - even Clift who was easily the best from that concept of acting. However, you would never know it as the film is well paced with extraordinary acting and the master directing it.

THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (October 19, 4:30 am): A wonderful Spanish film, released in 1973, about two very young girls living in the time shortly after that nation's civil war when the army of Gen. Francisco Franco defeated Republican forces. The movie was made toward the end of Franco's reign and some have called it a commentary on Franco's time ruling Spain. Maybe, but it's much more than that. The two girls are greatly affected after watching 1931's Frankenstein and their imaginations run wild with one believing an escaped Republican soldier she discovers is the film's Monster. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote this movie "is at once lucid and enigmatic, poised between adult longing and childlike eagerness, sorrowful knowledge and startled innocence." That's a somewhat heavy concept, but having seen the film, it's a pretty accurate description.
  
ED’S BEST BETS:

THE GHOST BREAKERS (October 16, 8:00 am): Place Bob Hope as a cowardly guy on the run from the Mob alongside lovely Paulette Goddard, give them a spooky place to investigate, along with plenty of suspicious characters and unexplained events along the way, and we have a funny and entertaining film. The year before this film was made, 1939, Hope and Goddard starred in a remake of The Cat and the Canary. The film was an unexpected hit, and both patrons and exhibitors alike called for Paramount to reteam the duo in another one just like the first. So the studio found another old script that had been filmed a few times, updated it, and turned it into The Ghost Breakers. Hope is a radio columnist who has to leave town to escape the wrath of the Mob. He hides in the hotel room of heiress Goddard, using her trunk to leave the hotel. She’s bound for Cuba to claim her inheritance of a haunted castle, and Hope is now along for the ride. With him is his valet, played by the inimitable Willie Best, and together with Goddard unravel the mystery surrounding the castle. The sets are sumptuous, especially the castle, and the photography by Charles Lang is superb. The film made even more money than its predecessor and started a trend in Hollywood to make more Old Dark House comedy/mysteries. Even those who don’t especially care for Bob Hope may end up liking this one.

DETOUR (October 21, 2:45 am): It’s one of the most vaunted film noirs ever made; a cult classic that first gained its reputation in France and quickly spread to American film buffs. It was also one of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s favorite films, and looking at the existential irony that propels much of the film, that is no surprise. The myth that now surrounds the film is such that we are now led to believe it was shot by director Edgar G. Ulmer over three days for about $100. Of course, that’s exaggerating some, but Ulmer was known for his ability to stretch the most from the least. For instance, a simple street lamp in a fog-enshrouded studio represents New York City, and a drive-in restaurant and a used-car lot symbolize Los Angeles. The story itself is a simple one: Al Roberts, an unemployed piano player, is hitching it from New York to Los Angeles, where his girlfriend is as singer. When he hits Arizona, a dissolute gambler picks him up and relates a story about a female hitchhiker he had picked up earlier. Shortly after he dies of a heart attack. Al, panicked, leaves his body by the side of the road and takes his car. He stops to pick up a female hitchhiker, and the nightmare begins, for not only is she the hitcher referred to earlier, but also she’s as venomous as a room full of scorpions. This is a film that, if you haven’t yet seen it, you should make room on your recorder. It’s highly entertaining, and the performances by Tom Neal, and especially by Ann Savage as the Hitchhiker From Hell, are classics of Noir. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth catching again, just for the hell of it and to see a master craftsman at work.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . HIGH ANXIETY (October 19, 4:00 pm):

ED: A. There was a period from 1974, with Blazing Saddles, to 1983, with To Be Or Not To Be, when everything Mel Brooks touched turned to gold. High Anxiety, made in 1977, is another of Brooks’s spoofs of genre films. He had already made Blazing Saddles, a spoof of Westerns, Young Frankenstein, a spoof of horror films, and Silent Movie, spoofing the days of the silents. High Anxiety is a very clever spoof of Alfred Hitchcock. Brooks takes familiar Hitchcock plots and adds his very special kind of low humor. For Hitchcock fans, the delight of the film is to see which of the Old Master’s films is being spoofed at that moment. The setting for the film is straight out of Spellbound, where, instead of “Green Manor,” the mental hospital is named “The Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous.” Brooks’s character, Dr. Richard Thorndyke, suffers from vertigo, which he calls "High Anxiety,” hence the title. And the hospital is one where we can’t tell who is loonier, the doctors or the patients. It’s a wonderful, funny poke at the plot devices and conventions of Hitchcock done in a most reverential and loving way. Brooks is aided and abetted in the film by his usual cast of zanies: Harvey Kormann, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, Howard Morris, Charlie Callas, and the superbly talented Madeline Kahn, who almost steals the picture. It’s one of my favorite Mel Brooks films, and a lot more entertaining than the recent spate of films about Hitchcock that made their way to the screen in 2012.

DAVID: C. This film is neither entertaining nor clever. High Anxiety had a few amusing moments, but overall it wasn't a funny movie in 1977 and is even less funny today. The spoofs of Alfred Hitchcock films are mostly juvenile, such as pigeons pooping on Mel Brooks' character rather than attacking in an attempted parody of The Birds. It's campy, corny, uneven and I can't help but groan at times at the simplicity of most of the spoofs. The film had potential, but failed to live up to it largely because of the weak plot. One of the bright spots is a funny set-up of the shower scene in Psycho. Also, some of the performances, such as Madeline Kahn and Cloris Leachman, save this film from being a total disaster. But High Anxiety isn't up to the quality of two of Brooks' other parodies, Young Frankenstein and Silent Movie though it's not as awful as Spaceballs, which doesn't say much.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
October 8–October 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (October 12, 3:30 a.m.): I'm recommending a double shot of legendary Italian director Federico Fellini as my Best Bets for the week. Fellini was blessed to have the incredibly talented Giulietta Masina as his leading lady in several of his films, including this 1965 gem. It was easy for Fellini to cast her as she was his wife. In this film, Masina plays Juliet, a housewife who spends her time daydreaming while her husband cheats on her. It just so happens that her neighbor, Suzy (Sandra Milo) is so sexually liberated that she has male sex partners roaming her home. The transformation of Juliet as she becomes more self-aware and leaves her husband along with Masina's convincing performance takes a film that could fall flat on its face and make it a classic. 

LA STRADA (October 13, 4:15 a.m.): This is one of Fellini's best, and along with 8 1/2, probably his best known film. La Strada is about a strongman (Anthony Quinn) who purchases a young woman (Giulietta Masina) 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 as he wants moviegoers to think about what they see and experience, and perhaps help them understand their own lives a bit better.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE GHOST OF YOTSUYA (October 9, 4:15 am): This is one of the great ghost stories on film. In fact, the story goers back to a kabuki play from 1825. Though it’s been filmed many times over the years, this may be the best version. The reason I say “may” is simply because I haven’t seen many of the other versions. But take it from me when I say that this version is terrific. The film follows the evil doings of a wandering samurai named Iemon. He schemes and murders to marry his wife, and when he tires of her, he arranges for a suitor to visit. Finding them together, he kills them both and is free to remarry a wealthy heiress. Everything is fine until Iemon’s wedding night, when the vengeful ghosts of the wife and suitor appear and trick him into killing his new wife and her parents. And that’s just the beginning in a film noted for its stylized use of violence and color in emphasizing that violence. The film’s director, Nobuo Nakagawa, was known for being a master of the supernatural, and those who like this offering should look forward to his more disturbing Jigoku (1960, aka The Sinners of Hell), which has already been aired by TCM and should repeat in the future.

SHADOW OF A DOUBT (October 12, 8:00 pm): One of the things that made Alfred Hitchcock the master of suspense was his attention to the finer points of human nature. And this movie is an insightful essay on what happens when evil comes to a place where no one would expect it; when it is right there sitting next to you at the dinner table. Teresa Wright is Charlie, an extremely happy young girl in the happy and charming town of Santa Rosa, California, a picture-postcard kind of place. She is elated when her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) comes to pay a visit, for she is especially devoted to him, with the two sharing almost a sort of telepathic relationship. But what she doesn’t know is that her beloved Uncle Charlie is on the lam, being suspected by the police as the “Merry Widow Murderer,” responsible for bumping off a number of rich widows back east. The fun in the film is her gradual realization that not all is well with Uncle Charlie and her growing suspicion that he’s not what he appears to be. Hitchcock is at his best in exploring their relationship as it develops and starts to change. But what really makes the film so effective is Hitchcock’s emphasis on what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.” To look at Uncle Charlie or talk with him, one wouldn’t notice anything especially unusual. He is nondescript in almost every way, his only talent being in his ability to poison so many women. That a child completely undoes him only adds another dimension of irony to the picture. It was one of Hitchcock’s favorites and it is a film that I don’t believe gets the credit it should when compared to his thrillers of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
  
WE DISAGREE ON . . . BYE BYE BIRDIE (October 8, 10:00 pm)

ED: B. Bye Bye Birdie is a strange movie for me. It began as a Broadway musical satirizing the rock and roll business, with the main character being based on Elvis Presley. However, by the time it’s made into a movie, the satirical fangs are removed in favor of a sitcom type of approach, which almost kills the film. But the original writing is strong enough to survive the redecoration, and the film retains many of its slings and arrows. Add in the strong performances from the original Broadway cast and the strength of newcomer Ann-Margret, and this turns into quite a pleasant way to pass the time while indulging in a nostalgia for a craze that, back then, I didn’t fully understand. It wasn’t until a year later (and the Beatles) that I began to appreciate rock and roll. Bye Bye Birdie was also treated cruelly by the fates, as it was released four months before the Kennedy assassination, which shifted the mood of the country from one of hopeful optimism to a cynical pessimism that made films such as this obsolete, and replaced years later by such false pieces of nostalgia as Grease and its ilk.

DAVID: C. This film isn't awful, but it's corny and silly. I wasn't around but I'm fairly certain it was considered corny and silly when it came out in 1963. Conrad Birdie, an obvious Elvis knock-off, is drafted into the Army. As a gimmick, before reporting for duty, Birdie is to kiss a female fan goodbye. We're suppose to buy that a 22-year-old smoking-hot Ann-Margret is an innocent Midwest 16-year-old Birdie fan. At least she was old enough you don't feel really creepy about enjoying the view. Paul Lynde as Ann-Margret's father is a bright spot as the same over-the-top yet strangely amusing character he played in numerous films from the era. Dick Van Dyke as a research chemist/frustrated songwriter who tries to get Birdie to sing his song on The Ed Sullivan Show is awful. Even if he was great, the character is so one-dimensional that it doesn't matter. I just put more effort into explaining the plot than the movie's screenwriters put into developing the script. It's like watching a very dated sitcom with a forgettable soundtrack. Actually the most popular songs in a supposed rock-and-roll film are the show-tune-y "Put on a Happy Face" and the attempted-comedic "Kids." It's a harmless film, but not really worth anyone's time to watch.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
October 1–October 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE CIRCUS (October 3, 6:00 am): Along with The Gold Rush, this is my favorite Charlie Chaplin film in which he portrays his signature "Tramp" character. This 1928 silent movie is funny, sweet, entertaining, and did I mention funny? The Tramp stumbles into a circus and greatly entertains the crowd with his unintentionally amusing antics. He has a formal tryout for the circus and bombs because he's trying to be funny. But when the circus' set-up crew quits when they're not paid, the Tramp is hired to take their place. Through a series of mishaps, he becomes the star of the circus. There's a beautiful girl with whom the Tramp falls in love. She, of course, is in love with someone else. One of the best parts of the film has the Tramp on the high-wire. The movie is a lot of fun and Chaplin's ability to entertain an audience without uttering a word is on full display here. There was a lot of drama going on behind the scenes of this film, including a studio fire, an IRS investigation into Chaplin and his divorce, but you'd never know it.

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (October 7, 4:45 pm): I'm a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock and this 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. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

PEEPING TOM (October 4, 3:00 pm): Michael Powell almost lost his career in the uproar that followed the release of this controversial film about a serial photographer who captures his victims with his camera at their moment of death. He also documents the police investigation that follows each killing, and finally, his own suicide. We later learn that the killer’s father (played by Powell) was a psychologist who used his own son as a guinea pig in experiments exploring the nature of fear. The original print was heavily edited upon its 1960 release, but later restored by none other than Martin Scorsese. Don’t miss it.

A CANTERBURY TALE (October 5, 6:00 am): A most unusual and totally charming film about an English Tommy, a Land Girl, and an American soldier who find themselves in a small Kent town on the road to Canterbury when the Land Girl becomes the latest victim of the “Glue Man,” a mysterious stranger who pours glue in the hair of women he catches in the company of GIs. The three stay to investigate the mystery, and in the process explore the local countryside, especially its history and tales of pilgrims. The path eventually leads to Canterbury Cathedral, where each receives an unexpected “blessing:” the granting of their most fervent wish. It’s a deeply beautiful film that teaches its main characters not to lose faith or hope while it also celebrates English country life and traditions. Written and directed by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the film has only the most casual relationship to the famous Chaucer work, yet, there is a strong mystical quality to this movie that transcends the Christian and English pagan settings and traditions. It is a tale of humans brought together by a shared faith, love and optimism that everything will come out all right if we only give it a chance to work. This is a film one can see time and again and still remains fresh.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE AFRICAN QUEEN (October 3, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+. The African Queen is one of the true classics of Hollywood, and in the manner of true classics, it was a film that almost wasn’t made. The property had passed through two studios (RKO and Warner Bros.), each of which eventually decided against filming it. John Huston and Sam Spiegel bought it from Warner’s for $50,000 and managed to cast the leads perfectly in the persons of Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Hepburn was especially perfect, as all she was really required to do in the film was to play herself, which she did magnificently. As for Bogart, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, which is probably the main reason a big-budget remake has never been attempted. It is what I would describe as a “personal epic,” an epic on a small scale. There is no need for a large cast of extras or elaborate special effects, as the story itself is so personal. Also, with a script such as Huston had to work with on the film, there was no need for anything extra, as the script described and fleshed out every scene perfectly. Join all this with the excellent color photography by cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and the result is a film that can truly be counted as among “The Essentials.” But don’t take my word for it. Critics from Roger Ebert to Pauline Kael to Georges Sadoul have been lavish in their praise for the film. Ditto for such filmmakers as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, and Francois Truffaut. In 1994, it was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry. And the American Film Institute placed it at No. 17 on its “100 Greatest Movies” list, No. 14 on it's “100 Greatest Love Stories” list, and No. 48 on it’s “Most Inspiring Movies” list.

DAVID: C-. This 1951 movie is an overrated piece of garbage starring film's most overrated actress, Katharine Hepburn. If there ever was an actress who could suck the life out of a film, it was Hepburn. Look at her body of work, particularly the largely awful series of movies she did with Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant. In The African Queen she drags down Humphrey Bogart, another all-time great actor. I really want to like this film. Bogie is one of my favorites and John Huston was a great director. The plot is interesting enough: a prim English missionary (Hep) and a gruff, cynical Canadian junk-boat captain (Bogie) work together to blow up Germans (who else?) at the start of World War I and fall in love. But there are a number of problems with the film with Hepburn at the root of most of them. First, as Ed mentioned above, Hepburn plays herself. Hep made a career out of over-the-top, scenery-chewing acting. Find me a single film in which she doesn't overact. If such a movie exists it would only be because she had a forceful director telling her to stop or be fired. Yes, she was in some fine films, but the reason they were good had little to do with her. Back to my point about the need for a forceful director - it's hard to believe John Huston let her take control of his film. That's on him and not her. As for Bogart, he too largely takes a back seat to Hepburn. His character is cliche and if you can't tell where the plot is heading 20 minutes into the film, you're not paying attention (though, honestly, it's such a dull film that I wouldn't blame anyone for not paying attention). Bogart won his lone Oscar for this film in yet another example of the Academy giving an actor an Oscar for a lesser role when it failed to honor that person for some of the great performances he or she delivered in previous years. The attempts at comedy are awkward. The attempts at romance are embarrassing. I'm going to try to get into Ed's head a moment about all the name-dropping in his review of some of my favorite film legends, particularly Francois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock and Roger Ebert. Just because they liked this movie and it stars Bogart and is directed by Huston doesn't make The African Queen a great or even a good movie. The praise only shows that no one is perfect. Also, Ed isn't a Hepburn fan though he doesn't loathe her as much as I do. The American Film Institute ranking mean nothing, particularly when it lists Hepburn as the No. 1 female "American screen legend." It's the same organization that has James Dean as the No. 18 male American screen legend when he made a grand total of three mediocre films in his career.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
September 23–September 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

CLAIRE'S KNEE (September 28, 2:30 am): This 1970 French film, directed by Eric Rohmer, is an excellent erotic comedy about a diplomat in his 30s who becomes obsessed with a teenage girl. Well, not really her - he's in love with the thought of touching the young girl's knee as a sort of sexual conquest. However, the film is so much more than that. It's about a man trying to recapture his youth before getting married with the implication that marriage means his life will forever change and not for the better. It's about a younger teenage girl, Laura, Claire's half-sister, and her maturation. It's about Claire, who appears to be care-free and not very bright, but someone who is also insecure and vulnerable. Its story is brilliant and incredibly emotional. The legendary Roger Ebert described it as "a movie for people who still read good novels, care about good films, and think occasionally." That sums it up quite nicely.

THE INFORMER (September 29, 2:00 am): This 1935 film, directed by John Ford, is a fascinating and intelligent drama about a simple man in desperate need of money and even more so in desperate need of attention. Victor McLaglen is captivating as Gypo Nolan, the simple man in question. He 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. Now even more desperate and an outcast in his hometon, Gypo sells out a friend wanted as a fugitive, for 20 pounds. Gypo proceeds to spend nearly all of the money on liquor, 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. The film - with Oscar wins for McLaglen and John Ford - is a morality story that is dark, tragic and raw.  

ED’S BEST BETS:

PATTON (September 25, 8:00 pm): George C. Scott was never better in this biopic of World War II’s most iconic general, and the Academy knew it as well, awarding him the Best Actor Oscar for his efforts (which he refused). It’s a good, old-fashioned epic. We knew who the Good Guys were and who the Bad Guys were, and never the twain did meet. There are historical inaccuracies galore, but this is Hollywood. If it’s a case of legend versus fact, print the legend. Karl Malden is excellent as General Omar Bradley, and Michael Bates makes for a feisty Montgomery, with whom Patton was always in competition. Does it tell us much about the inner Patton? Not really, but just go along for the ride. You won’t be disappointed.

THREE ON A MATCH (September 26, 1:00 am): The Pre-Code era was noted for producing some pretty strong films, and this entry was among the strongest. Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis are three childhood friends who have a reunion at a restaurant and vow to stay in touch. They then light their cigarettes on one match, hence the title. The famous superstition predicts bad things for those who do so, and each suffers her share of the bad life. However, the one who falls the furthest gives the movie both its twist and its reputation as among the most lurid of the Pre-Code films. Humphrey Bogart is on hand as well as (what else?) a gangster. He turns in a good performance, as does Warren William, playing a good guy for once. For those new to Pre-Code films, this is one to watch.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . HUD (September 24, 9:45 pm)

ED: AHud is one great movie, boasting a good story, a great script, excellent acting from its leads, wonderful photography from the great James Wong Howe, and taut direction from Martin Ritt. Based on Larry McMurtry’s novel, Horseman, Pass By, it’s a uncompromising look at the gulf between the values of the Old West, personified by Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas) and the New West, more ruthless, less traditional, personified by Paul Newman. Newman gave one of his greatest performances as the amoral Hud Bannon, whose philosophy of life was that he interpreted the law in a lenient manner: “Sometimes I lean to one side and sometimes I lean to the other.” Hud is one of the great heels of film, and Newman's usual scenery chewing actually helps, rather than hinders, the progression of the plot. When his father discovers his herd has contracted hoof and mouth disease, Hud’s solution is to sell them off before anyone finds out. Hud also wants to lease out the ranch for oil exploration, which Homer is dead set against. In between the two are Hud’s nephew, Lonnie (Brandon DeWilde) and housekeeper Alma Brown (Patricia Neal), who Hud is forever trying to seduce. Hud is also a wonderful character study. As we get to know the Bannons, we gradually discover why they are what they are, especially Hud. And near the end, with Homer’s death, there is no soapy deathbed scene, where Hud sees the error of his way and promises to reform, Alma returns (after Hud has driven her away), and Hud and nephew Lonnie work the ranch together while Hud learns the value of good, hard work. Academy awards went to Douglas, Neal, and cinematographer Howe. Shooting the film in black and white was a terrific idea, for it emphasizes the rift between father and son and keeps the film somber. If ever a film deserved to a labeled “Essential,” it is Hud.

DAVID: C+. First, a declaimer: I'm not a big Paul Newman fan and really don't understand why people consider him a great actor. I can't stand Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and can only tolerate Cool Hand LukeThe Hustler and Nobody's Fool. I don't dismiss him as he's made some excellent pictures; just not enough of them to earn his status as a Hollywood legend. Hud definitely falls into the "can only tolerate" category. Newman was often given the anti-hero role, and this film is yet another though numerous reviews of the 1963 film state the viewing audience saw his character as the hero, unable to tell the difference. To summarize, Hud (Newman in the title role) is an arrogant, self-centered, hard-living son of Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas, who is splendid in this film), a successful and honorable rancher. The two clash with a full-scale blow-up when their cattle get hoof and mouth disease. Hud wants to sell the cattle without disclosing the disease while Homer is dead-set against it. The film fails to provide insight into the troubled father-son relationship except to show their personality differences. Also, Patricia Neal is very good as a middle-aged housekeeper abused by Hud, and Brandon DeWilde is fine as Lonnie, Hud's nephew who idolizes his uncle to the point of being blind to his many faults until the end. But the storyline is weak and lacks originality. Some have called it a Western ripoff of 1955's Rebel Without a Cause, another highly-overrated. I can somewhat see it except Hud is a stronger character than James Dean's brooding Jim Stark. Despite some good performances, Hud is a dull and shallow movie. Among the memorable lines in this flat film are: "It don't take long to kill things, not like it takes to grow," from Homer, and "Nobody gets out of life alive," from Hud. Words to live, or die, by.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
September 15–September 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SUDDENLY (September 17, 1:00 pm): Besides The Manchurian Candidate, this 1954 gritty film noir about a group of assassins who take over a house on a hill in Suddenly, California, to kill the president is my favorite Frank Sinatra film. And it's probably his finest performance. Rather than playing the nice guy, Sinatra is fantastic as a crazed psychopath who will stop at nothing to kill the president just because he wants to. There are plenty of fine performances in this film, particularly Sterling Hayden as the sheriff and James Gleason as the patriarch of the family who lives in the house. The action is fast-paced with some nice twists and a great ending - all wrapped nicely into a 75-minute bow.

SHAFT (September 18, 12:00 am): "Who's the cat who won't cop out when there's danger all about? Shaft. Right on." It's not just the great theme song and a super funky soundtrack, this is the absolute best blaxploitation film ever made. It was so popular that it's considered the film that saved the then-struggling MGM studio from going out of business in 1971. Richard Roundtree is Shaft, John Shaft, a private dick who is asked by the Mafia to rescue the daughter of the crime boss. Shaft is as cool as they come, bedding a number of women, mostly white, and always a step or two ahead of the police, the mob and the gang that kidnapped the girl. It's an incredibly enjoyable movie, filled with action and humor. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (September 15, 9:00 pm): Who knew when this production was filmed back in 1944 that it would grow into one of the most iconic cult classics, not only in Hollywood history, but also in the history of pop culture? GE has a slogan, “better living through chemistry,” and the motto for this film might well be “better viewing through chemistry.” No one had the chemistry that Bogart and Bacall had in this film. It was clear to see they were falling in love as the picture progressed. And it wasn’t only on celluloid, but also in real life as well, as they married shortly afterwards. Without that chemistry, To Have and Have Not is just another ordinary film, with Bogart repeating his role as The Guy Who Doesn’t Want To Get Involved, getting involved with the Resistance to fight the forces of Tyranny. Bacall is absolutely marvelous in her film debut, even though she could hardly act a lick back then. But with the help of mentors Bogart and director Howard Hawks she pulls off a credible performance and establishes herself as an actress to watch. For anyone interested in the Bogart-Bacall marriage and the myth that came to surround it, this movie is a must.

THE LITTLE GIANT (September 19, 1:00 pm): Eddie G. Robinson in a comedy? Yes, and he pulls it off magnificently. He’s totally in his element as a gangster who’s trying to crack the social register after the repeal of Prohibition put him out of business. Unfortunately, he’s under the delusion that social standing breeds class, and it’s hilarious when he discovers this isn’t the case. That’s when the fun really begins. Though Robinson may be the star, he’s provided with solid assistance from Mary Astor, Helen Vinson, and Russell Hopton. It’s a funny picture and Robinson would actually play the same type of character five years later in A Slight Case of Murder, which also repeats the laughs.

WE DISAGREE ON ... NETWORK (September 20, 9:45 pm)

ED: CI realize I’m swimming against the tide here, but the only thing I ask of the reader is for him or her is to take the blinders off and look at this film objectively. Network is supposed to be a satire of the television industry. All well and good. Unfortunately, the film’s author is Paddy Chayefsky, who believes in satire with a sledgehammer. There is nothing subtle about this film; for satire to truly be effective, it must be subtle. Network is completely over the top. Everyone seems to shout his or her lines, and the characterization is dull and shallow; shocking has taken the place of clever, and the movie is just as manipulative as those it seeks to “expose.” Also, for satire to be truly effective, it must be rooted in the reality of its time. There is nothing real about Network. Howard Beale would’ve either been taken off the air long before he got started, or a congressional inquiry would have forced the network to do just that. And what real television network would give air time to the Communist Party and the Ecumenical Liberation Army (does that one sound like the invention of some smartass writer trying to be funny) in the first place? It’s like a college sophomore’s idea of humor. The characters are poorly drawn and one-dimensional. William Holden just walks out of a successful marriage to be with a woman (Faye Dunaway) who he knows is going to screw him over? Sorry, that just doesn’t play in the real world. What the film does have a lot of is cynicism. Howard Beale (Peter Finch in a completely over-the-top performance) tells his audience that all they know they have learned from television, as only 3% of the population reads books and only 15% reads newspapers. Network’s real target is the audience watching it, for it seems the producers assume their audience is also brain dead and needs to be spoon-fed its satire. Former Eagle Don Henley, in his song “Dirty Laundry” said more in three-and-a-half minutes than Network says in two hours. And he’s a lot funnier and on target because he aims at the real, not the fictional. Want to see a good satire of television? Watch Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (made in 1956 and still on target today) or reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. At least they’re rooted in reality.

DAVID: A+. This brilliant film is not only the best satire of television ever made, but it is about two decades ahead of its time showing how reality TV could and did capture the attention of the viewing audience. As the years pass, this 1976 film becomes more relevant as society's interest in the obsession of pseudo celebrities and our insatiable appetite for around-the-clock garbage news increase. At times, you can see yourself in the film watching some of the crap that litters the airwaves today. You know it's awful and/or outrageous, but you can't help but watch. Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay is exceptional and it's the best film directed by the incredibly talented Sidney Lumet. The film shows us the mental breakdown of anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) and how it captures the attention of viewers whose voyeur tendencies only grow. Chayefsky won an Oscar for the screenplay. The script is so exceptional that it provides many of the film's actors moments to shine. Finch, Faye Dunaway (as an overly ambitious and sexy network executive), and Beatrice Straight (in a bit but important role as the wife of a TV executive played by William Holden) won Oscars in three of the four acting categories. Like Finch, Holden was nominated for Best Actor (two lead male actors?), but obviously didn't win. Finch's "Mad as Hell" speech is one of cinema's finest and one of its top five most iconic moments. It's drop-dead serious while also being outrageously funny. How much do I love this film? I can't count the number of times I've seen it. My favorite example is when my wife went into labor in 1997 with our second child. I borrowed a VHS copy of the movie from the library and we got through about one-third of it when it was obviously time to get her to the hospital. After the delivery and several hours of bonding between us and our daughter, it was time for me to leave the hospital, get some much-needed sleep and come back in the morning to bring them home. What did I do before going to sleep? Yeah, I watched the rest of Network. I don't regret a second of that decision. That's how great this film is so Ed, you're not just swimming against the tide here. You're swimming against a tidal wave.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
September 8–September 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE STRANGER (September 9, 8:00 pm): This film shows why Orson Welles was one of the most important and influential actors and directors of the 1940s. This 1946 film noir has one of the finest pairings in cinema history: Welles and Edward G. Robinson, though Welles didn't cast the actors and wanted Agnes Moorehead to play Eddie G's role. Welles is a Nazi who has effectively erased his past and is living comfortably as a small-town private-school teacher, married to Loretta Young. As a Nazi hunter, Eddie G. figures out Welles' past, but has no actual evidence. He must convince Young of her husband's past, which isn't easy. It's a hard-hitting film with great suspense and incredible performances from the actors. Only five years after Citizen Kane, Welles was already considered a huge headache to Hollywood. But to his credit, Welles is exceptionally focused on not only his on-screen work, but what he does behind the camera in this film.

JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (September 9, 2:00 am): A large 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 piles 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:

RED HEADED WOMAN (September 12, 6:30 pm): Watching Jean Harlow in Hell’s Angels (1930) and The Public Enemy (1932), one thing sticks out like a glass jaw: the woman can’t act. But she goes to MGM, and a year later she is completely mesmerizing in this story of a gold digger who busts up her boss’s marriage, and that’s for starters. Harlow shows a real flair for comedy and lighter roles, which is perfect for the film. She also had the perfect writer in Anita Loos, who took what was a turgid soap opera by original writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and turned in into a completely tongue-in-cheek, saucy comedy. Had Harlow played the original script, the film would have sunk like a lead balloon. Instead she readily adapted to Loos’ scenario and took it from there. Its one of my favorites from the Pre-Code era and that is entirely due to Harlow. The care taken to develop Harlow is why MGM stood out from the other studios.

THE OLD MAID (September 14, 8:00 pm): Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins are at it again in this lush and glossy soap opera from Warner Brothers. Bette and Miriam are cousins Charlotte and Delia during the Civil War, and both are head over heels for Clem (George Brent). But it’s Bette whom Clem gets preggers. He enlists in the Union Army and is conveniently killed on the battlefield. Years later, Bette is running a home of war orphans, including her love child by Clem, who she keeps secret until she plans to marry Joe Ralston (Jerome Cowan), and confesses all to Delia, who married Joe’s brother, Jim (James Stephenson) on the rebound. Bad move. We’ll stop here, but suffice to say the suds really begin to flow as the movie progresses. Directed by Edmund Goulding, who had a flair for this type of film, The Old Maid is Grade-A entertainment, thanks to the efforts of Davis and Hopkins, who absolutely loathed each other in real life. 

WE DISAGREE ON ... DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (September 12, 12:45 am)

ED: A. Of all the versions made of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic over the years, this is my favorite. This is the film that established Frederic March as a serious actor and he is superb in it, as is Miriam Hopkins as Ivy. Director Rouben Mamoulian teamed with cinematographer Karl Struss to make full use of the camera not just as a recorder, which had been the case with sound films of the era, but also as an active participant in the framing and movement of the film. Note the use of wipes and fades to move from scene to scene and first-person perspective to heighten our viewing experience. Even transitional shots and effects are used to intensify our attention. The lengthy dissolves linger beautifully into superimposed imagery, for example, the image of Ivy’s legs superimposed over the scene of Jekyll and Dr. Lanyon’s conversation. Mamoulian makes full use of camera positioning for some extraordinary shots. Watch also for the scene where Hyde appears to be breaking the fourth wall – looking through the camera and into the next room. Returning to the performances let me note that March won the Best Actor Oscar (which he shared with Wallace Beery for The Champ). This would be the only acting award granted for a horror film until Anthony Hopkins won for The Silence of the Lambs. March gives a nuanced performance, carefully straddling the line between the repressed Jekyll and the libidinous Hyde without going overboard into the ecstasies of overacting. Hopkins dazzles as Ivy: after Jekyll drives off a man who tried to attack her and takes her back to her flat, her attempt at seducing Jekyll is exquisitely done, and tragic, as Jekyll resists, but Hyde, the beast within Jekyll, remembers. Although I also love MGM’s 1941 remake with Spencer Tracy as Jekyll/Hyde and Ingrid Bergman as Ivy, it’s the 1931 version that triumphs due to Mamoulian.

DAVID: B-. This is a good film with solid performances by Frederic March in the title role and Miriam Hopkins as Ivy, a sexy and sexual bar singer who catches the eye of Dr. Jekyll. Also, the camera work and makeup that shows Jekyll's transformation to Mr. Hyde is impressive for a 1931 film. The main issue I have with the film is I'm just not a fan of the story. That makes enjoying a movie version of the film – and there have been a lot of them – challenging. This film isn't as true to the Robert Louis Stevenson book as other versions though it is among the better ones. Interestingly enough, I prefer the 1941 movie, which stars Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman (who is absolutely delicious in the "bad-girl" role). That version is almost a scene-by-scene remake of the 1931 film, minus some of the Pre-Code sexual innuendo. The differences are the 1941 film stars actors I consider stronger than March and Hopkins, and better special effects because of the advancement of the technology over those 10 years. I wouldn't discourage anyone from watching the 1931 version, and recommend it to those who are fans of the genre. However, Ed's enjoyment of this version of the film is significantly greater than mine.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
September 1–September 7

DAVID'S BEST BETS:

BEING THERE (September 3, 8:00 pm): Peter Sellers was known for his versatility as an actor. He often played more than one character in films and could easily go from maniacal to subdued while always being interesting. Being There is one of Sellers' last films and his finest role. He is a simple-minded gardener in this 1979 film who learns everything from watching TV. One circumstance leads to another and Chance (Sellers) ends up being an adviser to the president of the United States with what he says interpreted to be brilliant advice. It is a clever, funny, heartwarming and beautiful. Melvyn Douglas as a wealthy businessman and adviser to the president is outstanding, and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Sellers was nominated for Best Actor, losing to Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer). During his acceptance speech, Hoffman said he couldn't believe he beat Sellers; neither can I.

PLANET OF THE APES (September 7, 8:00 pm): Along with 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968's original Planet of the Apes is the greatest science-fiction film I've ever seen. Whenever it airs, I stop everything and watch it even though I've seen it at least 50 times and I own the entire DVD collection of the original five Apes films. Charlton Heston is among a group of astronauts who land on a strange planet and come across mute and not intelligent humans. They think they're going to run the place in a few weeks. It turns out the planet is actually controlled by talking apes. The interaction between Taylor (Heston) and three key apes - Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter) and particularly Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) - are the keys to this movie. The ending is among the best you'll ever find. It turns out Taylor time traveled and landed on a post-apocalyptic Earth. So many of the lines are iconic, the makeup and costumes are incredible for its time (years ahead of its time), and the cinematography is amazing

ED'S BEST BETS:

HITLER’S CHILDREN (September 4, 1:00 pm): There’s junk, and there’s junk, but this one is great junk. Bonita Granville is Anna, a German girl born in America. Tim Holt is Karl. He’s in love with Anna, but he’s also in the Hitler Youth. Guess what comes first? Anna, for her part, just doesn’t get the whole Nazi thing. Given a chance to be a good little Nazi and study at the University of Berlin, Anna denounces the system and the Fuehrer instead. It’s one thing to denounce the system, but the Fuehrer? You can guess what happens to Anna from here, but I will tell you there’s a great scene where she’s publicly flogged at a concentration camp. No surprise here, but this film was RKO’s biggest moneymaker for 1943.

SAFE IN HELL (September 5, 12:15 pm): This is one of the most adult of the Pre-Code films, and brutally frank to boot. Dorothy Mackaill is a whore in New Orleans who believes she’s killed one of her johns. So she hotfoots it to the island of Tortuga, where she can’t be extradited. Unfortunately, she’s stepped from the frying pan right into the fire, as Tortuga is a sanctuary for every kind of pervert imaginable. To say this is one of the seamiest movies ever made is a definite understatement. Leonard Maltin says it’s more astonishing than entertaining, but I disagree. This is great low-class fun, and Mackaill fits the part perfectly.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . OUR TOWN (September 2, 6:30 am)

ED: A. Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about life in the fictional New Hampshire town of Grover's Corners in the years 1900 through 1913 is one of the theater's best-loved examples of Americana. Producer Sol Lesser and director Sam Wood have turned it into a film, and a pretty good one at that. You see, it all depends on how you look at it. One thing is for sure - it can’t be taken at face value because it depicts an America that most likely never existed. In that respect it’s like the Hardy Family series. So we look at other aspects, such as the performances, the mise-en-scene, the art direction, the scoring, sound, and photography. The performances are superb, led by a young William Holden and Martha Scott, who came over from the Broadway production. The film also has a treasure-trove of excellent supporting actors, led by Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, Fay Bainter, and Stuart Erwin. It was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Scott). The score, by Aaron Copland, is memorable, and was also nominated, as was William Cameron Menzies for Art Direction. Wood is a competent, if unspectacular, director, whose job was to implement producer Lesser’s plan. A large part of that plan involves changing the end from tragic to happy. It’s 1940, and we’re pretty sure that World War II is only a matter of months away, so who needs a downer? Take it for what it is, enjoy the performances and revel in Holden, so young and full of life.

DAVID: D+. If corny, sappy, dated films about life in a small town that's about as authentic as a $3 bill is your thing, then Our Town is your movie. Only William Holden's performance and a nice musical score saves this film from being a complete bomb. But I'm not watching a movie for the musical score or to see a single actor do a good job. The play has probably been done by thousands of high schools nationwide during the past 75 years and I'm sure several of them are as "good" as this 1940 film. Among the most annoying aspects of this movie is Frank Craven, the narrator who tells us more than anyone could ever want to know about the good people of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, during the early years of the 20th century. There's nothing interesting about the film and the characters. It's as if the film's plot is intended to be boring, and the folksy message beats the viewer over the head repeatedly to the point you give up hope of being entertained. In the play, Martha Scott's character, Holden's wife, dies during childbirth. In this film, she starts to drift into death, sees her deceased loved ones, remembers some of her memories and recovers to deliver the baby. Simply put: it's a bad movie.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
August 23–August 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE ROARING TWENTIES (August 24, 6:00 pm): This 1939 film features my favorite pairing of Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney. Yeah, they only did three films together (and this is the last one), but it's a classic gangster movie from Warner Brothers, the studio that perfected the genre. Bogie and Cagney are two buddies during World War I, who, along with Jeffrey Lynn, become fast friends in a foxhole during the waning days of the war. The film follows them from those last days of the war to the final days of Prohibition. Lynn's secondary (and that's being kind) character becomes a lawyer while Bogart becomes a bootlegger and lets Cagney in on the action. While Bogart was never a big fan of his earlier films in which he plays the stereotypical conniving gangster, he is outstanding in this film as is Cagney. It's a lot of fun with shootouts, double crosses, dramatic deaths and everything I (and others) love about these gritty Warners films.

TWO WOMEN (August 26, 8:00 pm): 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. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE THIRD MAN (August 29, 12:15 am): 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.

THIS GUN FOR HIRE (August 31, 10:15 pm): Every star has that moment when he or she broke through the barrier from supporting player to lead actor. For Alan Ladd, this was the film that established him as a force to be reckoned with in the movies. Directed by Frank Tuttle, it was adapted by W.R. Burnett and Albert Maltz from Graham Greene’s novel, A Gun For Sale. The screenwriters took the liberty of shifting the action from England to America and gave the film a political slant (it was made in 1942 at the height of World War II). Ladd is brilliantly menacing as Raven, a hired gun out for revenge on his treacherous employer. Co-star Veronica Lake also registers an impressive performance, as does Laird Cregar, at his villainous best as Raven’s double-crossing employer. Interestingly, Greene’s sequel to this book was also turned into one of the classics of film, by the Boulting Brothers, and their film made a star out of its lead, Richard Attenborough. The film? Brighton Rock.

WE DISAGREE ON ... YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW (August 26, 2:00 am)

ED: B-. If you enjoy Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, or more to the point, enjoy looking at Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, this is your cup of tea. For me, as a fan of director Vittorio De Sica, this is somewhat of a misfire. They star in three vignettes, the first of which, about a woman who keeps getting pregnant to avoid prison for petty theft is long and excruciating. The second, about a spoiled selfish woman, is shorter, but has no punch line, as it were. (This is a comedy, after all.) The third is the most interesting, with Sophia as a high-class prostitute who befriends a young man studying for the priesthood, saves me from giving the film an even lower grade. Marcello is a steady customer with something more on his mind, but he can’t get to first base. Sophia does her now renowned strip tease for Marcello in this vignette, an act she would repeat in 1994’s Pret a Porter (another disappointing film). The biggest crime the film commits is in having two of the most beautiful people in film history and no sparks between them. Zero chemistry. That’s what ultimately does the film in, although with the grade I’ve given it, I still recommend it strongly.

DAVID: A. Legendary Italian Neorealist Director Vittorio De Sica built his well-deserved reputation on films such as The Bicycle ThiefUmberto D., and Two Women. That's what makes Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow even more impressive as De Sica does a superb job with a completely different film genre: a sex comedy. And this is a very funny sex comedy. If you're going to make a sex comedy in 1963, you couldn't do any better than to cast Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. But De Sica doesn't forget his roots and what made him a great director. Each of the three vignettes in the film focuses on social classes and the struggles of those in those groups to survive. For example, each of Loren's characters use sex in different ways to exist. Above, Ed describes the basics of the three segments. Of course, we differ on the quality though we agree that the final one with Loren as a prostitute and Mastroianni as a regular customer is the best. The chemistry between the two actors and the ability of the director to capture and showcase that chemistry in a way that is fun and entertaining to watch is a testament to the talents and skills of the trio. The first and third segments could have been made into quality full-length motion pictures. Instead, we are treated to three shorter films, which are all excellent and very sexy, particularly the final one with Loren's iconic strip tease.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
August 15–August 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (August 15, 10:00 pm): One of the better government conspiracy/cover-up films that were extremely popular and usually quite good during the mid-1970s. This 1975 movie is about a CIA researcher (Robert Redford) who reads books, newspapers and magazines looking for anything out of the ordinary that could be a coded plot against the government. He works in what appears to be a small office in New York City, but it is actually a CIA operation. Redford's character, whose code name is Condor, returns from lunch one day to find all of his co-workers assassinated. The suspense picks up quickly as Condor learns to elude those trying to kill him and that he can't trust anyone, including fellow CIA agents. Condor abducts Faye Dunaway (he could have done a hell of lot worse), uses her apartment as a hideout, and of course, she comes around to believing his story. The acting is strong, the storyline is intriguing and the ending is outstanding. These films typically leave viewers skeptical, wondering if something like this could happen. I'm up in the air about it myself, but it doesn't detract from this very interesting and compelling movie.

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (August 20, 10:00 pm): An excellent spy film noir, this 1953 movie stars Richard Widmark as Skip McCoy, a New York City pickpocket, who lifts a wallet from Candy (Jean Peters) on the subway. It turns out the wallet, which belongs to her ex-boyfriend - and unbeknownst to McCoy and Candy contains stolen top-secret government information. Candy's ex turns out to be a Communist spy. McCoy is more interested in making a big score than turning the top-secret information over to the government. Widmark is great as a pickpocket who always seems to be at least one step ahead of those who will kill for the information he has hidden. It's a solid Cold War noir with lots of suspense, action and excellent dialogue. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

TROUBLE IN PARADISE (August 16, 11:30 am): Ernst Lubitsch was best known for what was called “the Lubitsch touch,” a style of sophisticated comedy unmatched by anyone else. And this film represents Lubitsch at his best. Jewel thieves Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins fall in love in one of the most riotous scenes of one-upmanship in the movies, but now find their newly minted relationship threatened when Herbert turns on the charm to their newest victim, rich Paris widow Kay Francis. Their mastery of their characters is helped along with a witty script full of sparkling dialogue, clever plotting, great sexual gamesmanship, and brilliant visuals. Critic Dwight MacDonald described the film “as close to perfection as anything I have ever seen in the movies.” All I can say is to watch for yourselves.

DOCTOR X (August 21, 1:30 am): This early exercise in horror from Warner Brothers and director Michael Curtiz is worth watching for more than its curiosity value as a film made in the early two-strip Technicolor process. It’s an interesting exercise in Grand Guginol - and where else would Warner Brothers stage a horror film but right in the city. Lee Tracy is a wise-cracking reporter hot on the trail of the “half-moon murders.” The trail leads him to the mysterious Doctor Xavier (Lionel Atwill), the head of a medical academy located on Manhattan’s lower East Side. When Atwill moves his staff to his Long Island country estate for an elaborate reenactment of the murder, Tracy suddenly shifts from mere observer to actor when the killer threatens Atwill’s lovely daughter, Joanne (Fay Wray), with whom Tracy has fallen in love. I have often thought the comic element was introduced to keep the critics at bay, for this film has something for everyone: cannibalism, rape, dismemberment, and even necrophilia. The two-strip Technicolor process, added to the sets by Anton Groh and the makeup from Max Factor, heightens the eeriness already present, and once we hear the words “synthetic flesh,” they’ll remain with us always.

WE DISAGREE ON ... BONNIE AND CLYDE (August 15, 3:30 pm)

ED: B-..When I first saw this film back when it was released in 1967 (truth be told, we snuck into the theater to see it), I was astounded. But over the years as I became steeped in both film history and theory and also history in general, my esteem for this film has diminished. The only connection this film has to real events was that - yes, there were two people named Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, and they were outlaws. However, they looked nothing like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. To describe them as homely is generous. The real Bonnie and Clyde were also far more interesting than the duo portraying them on the screen. Let’s fact it, the film was heavily influenced by both the French New Wave and Madison Avenue and remains today as a triumph of style over substance.

DAVID: A+. 1967 was a landmark year in entertainment. Music dramatically changed with the rise of psychedelic rock albums such as The Beatles' landmark record Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as well as the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold as Love; The Doors' self-titled debut album and Strange Days; Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow; Love's Forever Changes; Cream's Disraeli Gears, to name a few. The experimentation and groundbreaking work that came out that year was certainly not limited to music. Movie-goers noticed changes in cinema with bolder, more daring films released that year including The GraduateIn the Heat of the NightThe Born LosersIn Cold BloodBelle de JourBlowupClosely Watched Trains (the last two came out in very late 1966), and Bonnie and Clyde. Is Bonnie and Clyde heavily stylized, influenced by the French New Wave and guilty of showing a story that is lacking in facts? Definitely. But that does nothing to diminish its importance in cinema or not make it among the two or three most important films to emerge from that magical year. Warren Beatty (Clyde) and Faye Dunaway (Bonnie) anchor a very strong cast. Along with director Arthur Penn (who finally agreed to do the film after turning it down a number of times), the actors push the envelope when it comes to blending sex and violence into the storyline with incredible cinematography from Burnett Guffey (who won an Oscar for his work on the movie). The ability of all involved to move from comedy to violence with what looks like great ease is something rarely seen in film. The final iconic scene when Bonnie and Clyde know they've been ambushed and are doomed with Beatty and Dunaway staring at each other just before they are shot hundreds of times stays with the viewer long after the movie ends.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
August 8–August 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE TRIAL (August 8, 8:00 pm): This is a most unusual but fascinating film. Orson Welles directed it, wrote the screenplay (based on the Franz Kafka book of the same name) and has a key role in the film. On the surface, it's about Josef K. (Anthony Perkins), a government bureaucrat charged with a crime that's never mentioned - even though he asks about it several times - and is sentenced to death. Dig deeper and you can see other things such as hopelessness, persecution, failure and the frailty of life. The themes of the film are very abstract with Welles making great use of camera angles and amazing set designs. 

MONSIEUR VERDOUX (August 14, 2:00 am): While I'm a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin's silent films, his "talkies" are his best movies - The Great DictatorLimelightA King in New York and Monsieur Verdoux. The latter is the darkest of comedies. Henri Verdoux (Chaplin) 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 murdering innocent rich old ladies. While Chaplin is excellent, 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 watching.

ED’S BEST BETS:

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (August 8, 10:15 pm): Director Louis Malle made many a fine film, but none better than this 1958 effort about a woman and her ex-paratrooper lover who plot to kill her husband in the “perfect crime.” It’s a dark, stylish noir thriller that owes much to the influence of Hitchcock and Melville. (In fact, Hitchcock himself greatly admired the film.) Of course, things do go wrong, but they go so deliciously wrong as to keep us totally enthralled. What really makes the film is the strong, sensuous performance of star Jeanne Moreau. Malle later claimed to have discovered her, but Moreau was already a star of the stage and a veteran of B-movies before she met Malle. But this was the film that made Moreau a star. Photographed by none other than Henri Decae, it contains some breathtaking shots of Moreau and Paris at night. For those who haven’t yet seen it, it’s a definite “Must See.” And for those who have seen it, it still rates a revisit.

LAWYER MAN (August 9, 8:45 am): William Powell’s early films are his most interesting, and this one is no exception. Powell is Tony, a smooth-talking lawyer who defeats a political boss in court and later gets involved with a showgirl (Claire Dodd), who, in cahoots with the politician, frames Tony for a crime he didn’t commit. Thereafter, unable to find legitimate work, Tony becomes the rich, successful shyster everyone assumes him to be. What brings him down to earth - and honesty - is the love of his loyal secretary, Olga, played by Joan Blondell. The debonair Powell and the earthy Blondell seem mismatched, but make for a good team, and it’s a shame this was their only pairing. Powell shows strong indications of the megastar he was about to become when MGM got their hands on him and gave him strong vehicles that took more than 10 days to film.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (August 13, 2:45 pm)

ED: B. Rare is the comedy that does not tarnish with age. Most are a product of their times and are thus trapped in that matrix. This film is indeed that rare comedy - as funny now as it was back then, thanks to an excellent script, great performances led by the one and only Cary Grant and Peter Lorre (who had a definite talent for comedy), and the direction of Frank Capra, who filmed this right before he reported to duty making propaganda films for the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Shot in 1941, it wasn’t released until 1944 due to an agreement with the show’s producers not to release the film while the play was on Broadway. If you want to see Cary Grant at his comedic best, this film is an essential.

DAVID: C-. Cary Grant's comedies are a mixed bag. He's wonderful in His Girl FridayThe Awful Truth and The Philadelphia Story. While he's not terrible in Bringing Up BabyGunga Din (which is a buddy-film comedy/drama) and Arsenic and Old Lace, the movies are pretty bad. (All of these films are being shown on August 13.) Arsenic and Old Lace the movie is basically Arsenic and Old Lace the play. The running jokes aren't funny, the story is too staged, and the performances and characters are greatly exaggerated just as you would see in a play. It's too theatrical, which grows old very fast. As the movie progresses, the characters become too animated giving me the feeling that the actors are trying to out-ham each other. It turns the movie into a sloppy mess with director Frank Capra failing to reign in any of the actors. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
August 1–August 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

CHINA SYNDROME (August 1, 5:45 pm): This 1979 anti-nuclear film is anchored by excellent writing and a cast of terrific actors, most notably Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas, who also produced it. A television news crew goes into a nuclear power plant by chance during an emergency shutdown. We later find out that the plant is about to go into meltdown mode. We get corporate greed, government corruption and how the demand for energy results in people compromising their integrity. By coincidence, the film was released 12 days before the infamous Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown, giving credence to the message of the China Syndrome during the height of the "no-nukes" period. 

ADVISE AND CONSENT (August 3, 2:15 am): 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. The cast is excellent with Fonda, Lew Ayres, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, and Burgess Meredith (in a small but memorable role) - and outstanding directing by Otto Preminger. The film is interesting, intelligent and compelling.  

ED’S BEST BETS:

LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (August 4, 6:00 am): The Andy Hardy series at MGM was the most profitable B-movies series ever made. They were essentially B-movies with an A-budget and style. Sure, they were corny as hell and tried to evoke an America that didn’t even exist at that time, but they are a lot of fun to watch, although I think it all comes down to how one feels about Mickey Rooney. This one tends to stand out due to the supporting cast, specifically Lana Turner and Judy Garland. Turner’s a wonder to behold here, with her natural auburn hair (before it was bleached), and Garland plays the role of a young girl with a crush on Andy Hardy almost to perfection. And she gets to sing, as well. The plot, with Andy minding his friend Beezy’s girlfriend (Turner) while he’s away, and the sidebar, with Mrs. Hardy having to travel to Canada to nurse her sick mother, are nominal. It’s the Rooney-Garland relationship that comes to the center of the film. The only flaw in the pudding is that Andy’s girlfriend, Polly Benedict, is also conveniently away for the holidays, so we miss out on the gorgeous Ann Rutherford for most of the film. Also look for the young Gene Reynolds (who went on to become a prolific television director) as a young friend of Andy’s.

I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (August 6, 8:00 pm): Warner Brothers used to boast that they ripped the stories of their films “right out of the headlines,” and in this case it was true. This film, easily the best Mervyn Leroy ever directed, was based on the famous case of Robert Eliot Burns, who was a true victim of circumstance, landing on the infamous Georgia chain gang for a crime he didn’t commit. He escaped, twice, and led a life on the run, exposing the truth of his story and the brutality of the Georgia chain gang system in a best-selling book. This film brilliantly displays the brutal conditions, allowing no subplots and keeping the action focused on its subject. Easily the best of Warner Brothers’ Pre-code films, it still retains a strong punch today.

WE DISAGREE ON ... CAT BALLOU (August 1, 9:15 pm)

ED: B+. This comic Western about a prim and proper lady (Jane Fonda) who forms a gang of outlaws after her father is murdered by a land-grabbing corporation would normally only be worthy of a “C” if it weren’t for the fact the Lee Marvin, in a dual role, no less, as opposing gunslingers, walks away with the film. Marvin is a wonder to behold, especially for those of us who had never seen him play comedy before. (There’s a good reason for that - this was his first attempt at comedy. Until then, he had been a heavy, a tough noir hero, or a bystander in supporting parts.) When we take into consideration that the film was originally projected to be a B-movie (as Western comedies weren’t exactly in fashion), our astonishment at Marvin’s performance grows greater. It was word of mouth about his performance that enticed people into the theater and made this modest little comedy a hit. It also earned Marvin a long overdue Academy Award. 

DAVID: C-. There are so many missteps in this film that it's difficult to know where to begin. I'll start with the lead actress, Jane Fonda. While she's great to look at, she isn't believable in the slightest bit as the prim aspiring school teacher or as the kick-ass outlaw. Lee Marvin is good, and the only reason I don't give this film a D grade. However, he's not good enough to save this poor Western spoof from being a poor Western spoof. And who thought Nat King Cole, who was dying of lung cancer from years of smoking of all things, and Stubby Kaye as a Greek chorus was a good idea? They're annoying and only add to the overall mess of a movie. The plot is that of a basic Western, but its attempts at humor miss by a country mile. It's similar to the film's only funny scene when Kid Shelleen (Marvin's drunken gunslinger character who shouldn't be confused with Marvin's other character, Tim Strawn, his evil brother who is a mostly sober gunslinger) tries to shoot the side of a barn and misses. As someone who likes Westerns and comedies, I'm disappointed that this film doesn't rise to a mediocre level.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 23–July 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BELLE DE JOUR (July 23, 12:30 am): Catherine Deneuve as a prostitute already sounds like it's going to be a good film even if the script is mediocre. It turns out the storyline of this 1967 film is excellent, the acting is fantastic and it's all expertly directed by the great Luis Bunuel. Deneuve is a bored and prim French housewife, with a very kinky side even though she's a prude when it comes to her husband. She ends up making some of those fantasies come true when she becomes an afternoon hooker at a brothel. The film blends reality and fantasy leaving the viewer wondering what is real and what isn't. While this can be frustrating in other movies, it somehow enhances this film. It's one of Deneuve's finest performances and is a landmark in mainstream erotic films even though it never shows any explicit sex scenes.

WILD STRAWBERRIES (July 28, 10:00 pm): You can't go wrong with any of the six Ingmar Bergman films TCM is airing on July 28, starting at 8:00 pm. They all come with my highest recommendation. However, if you have to choose one – and really, is there any reason to watch only one? – go with 1957's Wild Strawberries. Bergman isn't light viewing, but the insight into humanity his films provide are worth it. This film is about a 78-year-old professor (Victor Sjostrom) who is traveling across Sweden to receive an honor from the university of which he earned his doctorate. Accompanied by his daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin), he picks up young hitchhikers and through nightmares, flashbacks and reflections as well as observing his fellow travelers, he learns about his life. It's so brilliant and moving that the viewer also learns about himself/herself if that person allows it. It's easily one of the 10 greatest films ever made.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE MUMMY (July 26, 12:15 am): Boris Karloff gives one of his strongest and best-remembered performances as Imhotep, an Egyptian mummy revived after thousands of years. Zita Johann co-stars as his reincarnated love. Billed as “Karloff the Uncanny” in publicity for this film, Boris lives up to the moniker – and then some. Watch for the great scene when archaeologist Bramwell Fletcher reads the magic scroll that brings Karloff back to life and laughs himself insane when Karloff revives and walks away with the scroll. The makeup was years ahead of its time, adding to the eerie atmosphere. It’s one Karloff performance not to be missed.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (July 31, 2:15 am): No, it’s not the 1942 Ernst Lubitsch original, but the 1983 Mel Brooks remake. And it almost equals the original. Brooks merges the separate roles of Joseph Tura (played by Jack Benny in the original) and bit part player and Hitler imitator Bronski (Tom Dugan) into one Frederic Bronski, but is very careful not to go too far astray, and the changes he does make are excellent. But the real gem in this production is Mel’s wife, Anne Bancroft. As Anna Bronski, she brings to the role the love for her husband and the frustration with his antics. Brooks, like Lubitsch before him, has an excellent supporting cast and makes good use of each. Jose Ferrer makes for a wonderful traitorous Professor Siletski, and Charles Durning almost walks away with the picture as the hilariously inept Gestapo Colonel Erhardt. Usually I wince whenever a remake is mentioned, but this one is funny and well-paced. By the way, look for the tribute to Jack Benny.

WE DISAGREE ON ... LUST FOR LIFE (July 24, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+. When considering a biopic about a person as passionate as Van Gogh, one needs an actor who can be passionate without chewing up the available scenery. And in Kirk Douglas we have that perfect actor. He brilliantly conveys the emotional state of Van Gogh without resorting to stage theatrics or trying to outshine his co-stars. In fact, there are times throughout the film when Anthony Quinn, who won a well-deserved Oscar as Paul Gauguin, outshines Douglas in their scenes together. (More kudos to Douglas for placing the importance of his subject before his ego.) As with any quality production, it is absolutely essential to have a good director and an excellent supporting cast. And Lust for Life has both. Vincente Minnelli has the good sense to stand back and let the story unfold while getting superb performances from a stellar supporting cast, including the underrated James Donald, Henry Daniell, Lionel Jeffries, Niall McGinnis, Laurence Naismith, and the always-dependable Everett Sloane. But in the end it’s up to the star to carry the project, and Douglas does just that with a textured performance for the ages. This is a film I can watch time and time again without feeling bored.

DAVID: C-. You won't get an argument from me that Kirk Douglas is one of cinema's all-time greatest actors and that over the years, Anthony Quinn showed himself to be a fantastic talent who delivered great performances in the right circumstances. While Quinn won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his eight-minute performance in this 122-minute film and Douglas was his excellent self, this movie about Vincent Van Gogh, an interesting and intense figure in the history of art, does very little for me. I don't enjoy the story, how it's told, the pacing of the film or most anything else even though I recognize the strength of the acting. It's that strength in this overly melodramatic film that saves it from me giving it a grade lower than a C-. Not that it has much to do with this film, but while Van Gogh's life was fascinating, his art is highly overrated.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 15–July 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (July 18, 8:00 pm): Unfortunately, the small screen doesn't do justice to this 1962 epic, but it's still breathtaking to watch. While meant for large movie screens, I'd still love it if I only got to see it on a 13-inch, black-and-white Philco television set. Peter O'Toole was a master at his craft, and this film captures him at his best. David Lean, known for directing larger-than-life films with all-star casts, is also at the top of his game here. It's a dramatic story told over a period of close to four hours. So get comfortable, pay attention and the reward of watching this movie about T.E. Lawrence, a British Army officer during his time in Arabia during World War I, will be great.

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (July 19, 4:15 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 a bar fight. He only hits Trimble about five times and the fight lasts for about two minutes, but it's incredibly effective. See for yourself. A smart story with excellent action and great acting.

ED’S BEST BETS:

SCARFACE, SHAME OF A NATION (July 17, 12 midnight): Director Howard Hawks and screenwriter Ben Hecht’s tour de force about the rise and fall of a violent gangster (based on al Capone) took over a year to get past the censors but it was well worth the trouble. Muni is predictably hammy, but mesmerizing, as Tony Camonte, a small time hood who rises to the top of the heap. Ann Dvorak and Karen Morley also shine as Tony’s sister and main squeeze, respectively. And who can forget George Raft, flipping that nickel, as Camonte’s loyal gunsel. It’s way better than Brian DePalma’s ultra-violent 1983 remake. The only fun of watching both back to back is to see who chews the most scenery, Paul Muni or Al Pacino.
  
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (July 21, 8:00 pm): Rene Clair directs this great adaptation of the Agatha Christie story about 10 people invited to a lonely island where they’re murdered one by one. Dudley Nichols’ wonderful script goes perfectly with director Clair’s visual deftness; together they bring the novel to a vibrant life. There have been seven adaptation of this yearn over the years. This is the best.

WE DISAGREE ON ... A FAREWELL TO ARMS (July 18, 11:00 am)

ED: A+. This is a case where I value style over substance. Director Frank Borzage has taken a bowdlerized version of Hemingway’s classic and somehow made it not only entertaining but also almost mesmerizing. Though I missed Hemingway’s vivid descriptions and candid dialogue between Gary Cooper’s character, Lt. Henry, and the Italian officers (MGM didn’t want to offend the Italian market), I loved what Borzage did with the film. Of particular note is the scene where the wounded Cooper is carried on a stretcher to an ambulance and then from the ambulance into the hospital. Rather than following Cooper, the director shows the action from the viewpoint of the wounded man, and we see what he sees, the faces, the soothing words, the temporary ceilings, etc. This is also a film to watch for the performances, and there a plenty of excellent ones, beginning with Helen Hayes’s nurse, Catherine Barkeley. She quietly dominates the scenes she appears in; we naturally want to focus on her character, and she makes a good counterpoint for Cooper’s laconic Lt. Hayes. Adolphe Menjou almost walks away with the picture as the surgeon, Major Rinaldi, and Blanche Friderici shines as the head nurse. It’s somewhat dated, as all early ‘30s films are, caught in that abyss between silent films and the perfection of sound, but certainly worth the time, especially if you haven’t seen it before. It also outshines the remakes by a country mile. 

DAVID: B-. This melodramatic film, very loosely based on the Ernest Hemingway book, isn't bad. There are portions that are quite good and Adolphe Menjou is outstanding. I agree with Ed that it's somewhat dated though it's difficult to criticize it for that reason because it was released 82 years ago. One problem is the movie seems to drag on for a very long time yet it's only 85 minutes in length. The story is a bit much with Lt. Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper) traveling all over Europe during World War I to find the nurse (Helen Hayes) he loves just in time for her to die in his arms as Armistice is declared. I won't get into the drama related to her pregnancy, but it's the stuff of soap operas. The film is far too sentimental for my taste though it's Pre-Code so the sexual relationship between the two is more open than what you'd find in movies made a few years later. Hayes is fine. Cooper is Cooper. He comes across as stiff as most of his characters during his long yet curious film career. How did a guy who largely acts like a block of wood with little personality get to be the lead in so many major motion pictures?


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
July 8–July 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

LITTLE CAESAR (July 8, 6:15 am): The movie that made Edward G. Robinson a legitimate movie star. Warners set the standard for its gritty, engaging, violent, tense-filled gangster films in 1931 with the release of Little Caesar on January 9 and Public Enemy with James Cagney on April 23. Both are among my favorite films. In Little Caesar, Eddie G. plays Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello, a small-time hood who does everything possible to become a mob boss in Chicago. Robinson's portrayal of Rico, also called Little Caesar, is among the most authentic in cinematic history. His ability to get into character, playing someone that cold-blooded, ruthless and single-minded without a concern about anything or anyone else is impressive. The ending is a classic with Rico gunned down in the gutter saying with surprise, "Mother of mercy! Is this the end of Rico?"

HARLAN COUNTY, U.S.A. (July 10, 11:30 pm): This is an interesting 1976 documentary about a lengthy strike that started in June 1972 by coal miners in Harlan County, Kentucky, against a subsidiary of Duke Energy, which, today, is the nation's largest electric power company. The film is completely one-sided in favor of the striking workers, who gave complete access to Barbara Kopple, the director. The company and the hired strike-breakers were interested in far more important things, such as keeping the mine open and making a lot of money, than giving their side to "balance" this film. What the film shows is the struggles, difficulties and violence of a lengthy strike in a rural, poor community whose citizens depend almost entirely on its coal mining. There is no narration in the film with the strikers, their families and their supporters telling what's happening and the challenges of being on strike. The company and those they hired mean business with a number of scenes showing violent confrontations and evolving from hiding a handgun to those on both sides not concerned about showing off their hardware as the strike continues. The people interviewed provide compelling and fascinating perspectives, and the impact the mine and the strike have on their lives. The movie is also a precursor to the diminished power unions would experience in the coming years, and how they tried to change with the time by attempting to be more "corporate" and "professional," and forgetting why they were so important in the lives of its members.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE SPY IN BLACK (July 11, 8:15 am): Director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger teamed for the first time in this fine espionage drama set in World War I about a German spy (Conrad Veidt) assigned to gather intelligence about the British fleet stationed in Scapa Flow. A female agent (Valerie Hobson), posing as the town’s schoolmistress, and a disaffected British naval officer (Sebastian Shaw), are sent to provide assistance. Veidt is charmingly sinister and becomes involved in a bittersweet romance with Hobson. There are several nice little surprise twists as the story progresses, and the ending is not quite what we expect, which makes it all for the better. Powell and Pressburger are one of my favorite screen teams and this movie is an excellent example of their work.

WESTFRONT 1918 (July 11, 3:00 am): Americans weren’t the only ones making films with strong antiwar messages such as All Quiet on the Western Front. Director G.W. Pabst was doing the same thing in Germany, in the same year as the American production. It’s his first sound film, and it packs one hell of a punch. While every bit as unremitting and bleak as All Quiet, it’s even more pessimistic in tone than the American production, painting the German homefront as a bitter, corrupt society on the verge of an economic breakdown. Is it any wonder this movie as among the first to be banned by the Nazis when they came into power in 1933?

WE DISAGREE ON ... SANS SOLEIL (July 10, 3:30 am)

ED: B. This is a documentary, and at the same time it’s not a documentary. Rather, it’s a first-person viewing of the state of civilization in the late 20th century. The main focus is in two impoverished African nations, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Islands, with side trips to a rarely seen side of Tokyo, Iceland, and San Francisco, where the filmmaker follows the footsteps of James Stewart’s character in Vertigo. As the influence of Cocteau and Bunuel can be seen throughout, this is a film that should be seen when there is time. Some see it as pretentious claptrap, others as art. I see it as an interesting first-person narrative that challenges our perspectives and takes us to places we might not ordinarily wish to go. I would have graded it higher but for the fact that at times the director’s sense of artiness conflicts with the story he’s trying to tell. However, that doesn’t take away from the sense that this is an interesting film to watch, if only for its flaws.

DAVID: C. I saw this film about four or so months ago on HuluPlus, and it left no impression on me. It's not compelling or even well made, and comes across as a random, mixed-up collection of film clips with no direction. Worst of all, it is neither interesting nor fascinating. Ed mentions that some see the film as pretentious claptrap while others view it as art. I found it somewhat pretentious, but not over the top. As for art, all cinema is art, but some of it is good, some of it is bad and most of it is somewhere between the two. For example, I'm not a fan of Jackson Pollock's abstract impressionist paintings, but I recognize it as art. Sans Soleil is a confusing collage of images at various locations throughout the world. If there was something that legitimately tied it all together, it could have worked. Just because there's a narrator talking about a supposed world traveler and discussing his adventures doesn't mean it's a cohesive story. It most definitely isn't. But, hey, I've seen a lot worse.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
July 1–July 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (July 3, 12:45 pm): An exceptionally well-done and thoughtful sci-fi film. One day all the people and animals in a quaint English town become unconscious, wake up and two months later, all the women capable of having children are pregnant. In all, 12 very white-looking kids are born. 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 (George Sanders) decides he's going to teach the mutant kids, who want to take over the world, to use their powers for good. While a noble idea, it's also poorly thought out as these children are serious about world dominance. Realizing he's not going to win, 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 cliche and embarrassingly bad, but this one is special. Sanders is fantastic and the kids are great. It's a very entertaining horror film.

THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE (July 4, 6:30 pm): Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas co-starred in a number of excellent films, but besides Seven Days in May, this is their best together. The Devil's Disciple is a delightfully funny story of a straight-laced preacher (Lancaster) and a colonial rebel (Douglas) during the Revolutionary War. Add Sir Laurence Olivier as British General John Burgoyne and a screenplay based on the George Bernard Shaw play and you've got an outstanding film that's a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a film fan. The chance to see Lancaster, Douglas and Olivier in a film is reason enough to see this. On top of that, it's funny, lively, filled with action and incredibly entertaining.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THIS LAND IS MINE (July 2, 7:15 am): Jean Renoir’s classic about Occupied France still packs something of a punch years later because of the performance of its star, Charles Laughton. He is terrific as the mild-mannered schoolteacher living in a constant struggle between his fears and his responsibilities. Though we’re told at the beginning that the film is set “Somewhere in Occupied Europe,” we know Renoir is talking about his homeland. With an excellent supporting cast including Maureen O’Hara as his colleague and unrequited love, George Sanders as O’Hara’s turncoat betrothed, Una O’Connor, and Walter Slezak in fine form as the Nazi heel, this film succeeds in showing us that life in a occupied country is not as easy as first imagined. Also give Renoir kudos for staying out of writer Dudley Nicholas’ way, not an easy task considering the subject matter.

ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN (July 5, 12:00 pm): This is it – the quintessential drive-in movie made by three guys who made their fortune in the drive-in business, the Woolner Brothers. Made for $89,000, it grossed around $480,000 in its initial theatrical run. Yes, but isn’t this a bad movie? You bet it is, and that’s the fun of it. Leonard Maltin describes it perfectly when he calls it “Hilariously awful sci-fi with some of the funniest special effects of all time.” The purpose of a movie is to entertain, and with this one, we know just what we’re getting, unlike many of the big-budget borefests that scarred the cinema landscape of the ‘60s. Watch for the scene when the almost transparent giant alien (courtesy of lousy double exposure) lifts the sheriff’s car. When he throws it to the ground, it is clearly a different make and style. It’s just another reason why I love movies.

WE DISAGREE ON ... WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (July 5, 8:00 pm)

ED: C+. It’s amazing to me the number of people I know that absolutely hate this film as Liz and Dick tire of making glossy soap operas and go the slob actor route instead. The trouble with the film, after one gets over the shock of seeing Liz and Dick as two booze-soaked domestic fighters, is that it gets so repetitious that it becomes tiring to watch. Lines are repeated over and over again as Liz and Dick try to scandalize the young couple they invited over for drinks (and drinks and drinks and drinks) as it takes us what seems like an eternity to get to the punchline: that Liz and Dick never had a son after all. Liz’s opening line, “What a dump!” is lifted from the Bette Davis camp stinker, Beyond the Forest, and makes us wonder how much better this would be if it were Bette playing Martha. (Jack Warner, in negotiations with the play’s author, Edward Albee, told Albee that Davis and James Mason would star.) Albee’s wonderful satire of academic married life is turned into a turgid Freudian piece of slop, notable only for the fact that Liz looks slovenly and says such things as “son of a bitch,” phrases intended to shock us and pass the word of mouth around to generate interest in the film when it was originally released. The only reason I graded it as high as I did was because of the direction of Mike Nichols, who does a decent job. Yes, some cheese gets riper as it ages; other cheeses simply grow mold. This film is of the latter.

DAVID: D+. This is likely the most overrated film in cinematic history. Nominated for Oscars in all 13 categories in which it was eligible, it won five, including Elizabeth Taylor's second Best Actress award (as equally undeserving as her first win for Butterfield 8). Unlike Ed, I'm amazed at the number of people who love this film. Yes, people often fall all over themselves praising films in reviews on IMDB.com, but it's taken to a ridiculous level with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? An interesting twist to this film is it's the first time in the history of the "We Disagree" feature in which we both dislike the film and try to outdo each other articulating our contempt for it. It's an utter piece of garbage. Taylor fattened herself to play Martha (and never lost the weight) with Richard Burton, her real-life husband at the time of this 1966 movie, doing what he normally did at the time – drink a lot. He plays Taylor's on-screen spouse, George, a history professor at a small New England college, who aspired to be much more. The film consists of the two of them bitterly arguing about everything, which gets tiring very quickly. The two of them argue in particular about their son. As Ed wrote, it takes an eternity for them to admit they don't have a son. That seems rather ridiculous as they live in a small town, Liz is the daughter of the college's president and it would be hard to conceal such an elaborate lie. It's difficult to focus on the film, which is 132 minutes in length, as it's not compelling. It comes across as it is: a play converted into a movie without much thought about how to properly adapt it to the big screen. The two of them verbally spar in front of a young couple, played by George Segal and Sandy Dennis. Dennis won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance. Burton and Segal were nominated for Oscars, but didn't win. The young couple unsuccessfully try to leave as Dick and Liz yell at each other. The arguing and bickering is somewhat impressive as it had to be a challenge to their mouths as the two chew the scenery at an unprecedented level. Instead of just walking away from a nightmare of an evening, the young couple spends hours with Segal getting into bed with Taylor at one point. Ed believes Mike Nichols did a "decent job" directing the film. I contend he failed to keep control over Burton and Taylor, and did a poor job in his film directorial debut. Yes, the two are supposed to be verbally cruel to each other, but the film quickly gets to the point where the arguing goes over the top that it loses its effectiveness, and as Ed wrote, it just repeats itself. The film is praised for its groundbreaking profane dialogue and sexual innuendo, but the movie doesn't hold up today and comes across as more annoying than shocking.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
June 23-June 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BORN TO KILL (June 25, 11:00 pm): A gritty, dark, violent film noir that smacks you in the face much harder that other movies in this genre. Lawrence Tierney 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. 

JULIUS CAESAR (June 27, 2:15 pm): This 1953 film may be the best cinematic adaption of a William Shakespeare play that I've ever seen. Only Laurence Olivier's Hamlet can compare. What makes it remarkable is how good Marlon Brando, who was at his method acting mumbling peak, is brilliant as Mark Antony. Brando more than holds his own in a film that features an outstanding all-star cast of Shakespearean veterans such as James Mason, John Gielgud and John Hoyt as well as extraordinarily talented actors including Louis Calhern (as Caesar), Edmond O'Brien, George Macready, Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr. That it came from MGM, known for its slick production values, and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who made fine films, but nothing even remotely close to Shakespeare, are surprises. But how well this movie works makes those very pleasant surprises and showed the versatility of Brando and Mankiewicz, and that MGM could make films such as this and make them well.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE SEVENTH VICTIM (June 23, 10:45 am): A superb film from the team of producer Val Lewton and director Mark Robson. A girl’s search for her missing sister leads her to discover that the sister was mixed up with a satanic cult in Greenwich Village called the Palladists. She turns for help in the search from her sister’s husband and a mysterious psychiatrist, which in hindsight, may not have been the best course to take. Lewton and Robson give us a wonderful mise en scene, as the backlot is converted into a replica of the West Village, with its cobblestone streets, imposing brownstones, and cozy restaurants. In the capable hands of cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca it becomes something akin to Edward Hopper Meets Alfred Hitchcock and adds to the tension. As usual, Lewton had a budget somewhere in the low figures to perform his magic, and also as usual, he managed to overcome this limitation and give us a good horror film.

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (June 28, 4:15 pm): While their Gothic horrors could oft times be hit-or-miss affairs, Hammer Studios always managed to hit a home run with their science-fiction films. And it’s no different here: Hammer took a BBC serial from the ‘50s called Quartermass and the Pit, added a little, subtracted a little, but on the whole remaining faithful to the original story. Hammer and director Roy Ward Baker capture the intelligence and the mystery of the original not by throwing special effects at the viewer, but in telling the story through the characters. What begins as the discovery of a Nazi bomb in an Underground tunnel being dug up for repairs, soon leads to the finding of ape-like skulls surrounding it, which leads to the realization that this is a not a Nazi weapon, but a spacecraft not of this Earth, but from Mars, complete with arthropod corpses stored inside. In the end we are wrestling with the philosophical issues of history and evolution before reaching a climax by recalling the Collective Unconscious and, especially, its archetype of the Devil. And despite all these weighty subjects, the film is an excellent piece of suspense and terror, supplying some pretty good jolts along the way.

WE DISAGREE ON ... HAXAN (June 23, 7:15 am)

ED: A-. This seven-part historical view of witchcraft from Denmark ranks of one of the best horror films ever made. The movie is loaded with great imagery, with the acting several levels above what is usually offered in films of its time. The costumes, lighting, sets, and effects are all superb leading to the end where director/star Benjamin Christensen tries to make a correlation between the actions and mannerisms of witches as attributed by observers in their time to the modern symptoms and affects (1922) of hysteria. I don’t know if I’m buying into it, but he does raise an interesting point. Above all, watch this not only for itself, but also with respect to its influence on such subsequent films as Ulmer’s The Black Cat, Tourneur’s Night of the Demon, Bava’s Black Sunday, Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and Hardy’s The Wicker Man, among others. This is a film that demands to be seen.

DAVID: C+. While ambitious for its time, and I'm not losing sight that it's 92 years old, it's a film that doesn't know what it want to be. Sometimes it's a documentary, including the exceptionally boring beginning in which we are shown photographs from books as if we are trapped in a bad high school class on the supernatural with one of those classroom pointers. Sometimes it's a theatrical production with over-the-top acting of witch-trial reenactments and dreams about demons, making it laughable at certain points. Then it becomes a mockumentary as we are schooled on evil in some silly skits. Perhaps the worst is the supposed initiation of witches who kiss the devil on his behind. At times, it's a combination of all three so you don't know what's going on. Benjamin Christensen, who directed and was one of its main actors, wanted to show and tell so much and shove all sorts of theories and stories that he damaged the end product. I agree with portions of what Ed wrote about the costumes, lighting, sets and effects being ahead of its time, but the storyline is lacking.


 TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
June 15–June 22 

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

KEY LARGO (June 21, 6:00 pm): This is, hands down, one of the 10 greatest films, and the best film noir in cinematic history. It stars three of my favorite actors: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Lionel Barrymore. Bogart is a former military man who checks into the Hotel Largo in Key Largo, Florida, in the middle of hurricane season. The real storm hits when we see gangster Johnny Rocco (Eddie G.) walk down the hotel steps. Bogart had top billing, but it's Robinson who you can't stop watching. The action in this film is intense, the acting is incredibly strong (with Claire Trevor winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as Rocco's neglected gangster moll), legendary director John Huston could not have done a better job, and the use of the storm to parallel what's happening to the film's characters is ideal. Needless to say, this is one of those films you can watch over and over again and enjoy it more with each viewing.

BLOW-UP (June 21, 12:00 am): A sophisticated movie about a "Swinging London" photographer (David Hemmings), who believes he took pictures of a murder. The plot of this 1966 film is intriguing, fascinating and original. It was very popular in the United States as a counter-culture film, and probably because there's plenty of nudity and drug use. It's a visually stunning film with great suspense that leaves us unsure of what did he actually see. The film also includes a memorable cameo by the Yardbirds (with Jeff Beck on guitar and Jimmy Page on bass) at a club visited by the photographer. Some say the success of this movie led to the end of Hollywood's Hays Code. I don't know about that as the Code was on its way out. But Blow-Up certainly pushes conventional boundaries in a smart and sexy way.

ED’S BEST BETS:

NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER (June 16, 2:15 am): This was a truly ahead-of-its time film that, because of its taboo subject matter was mostly shunned upon its original release. This is a thought-provoking film whose subject is handled intelligently and sensitively by Hammer, the studio that gave us Gothic horrors. The theme of the film is pedophilia, which was not only a taboo subject back then, but also an unknown one to many. Because pedophilia is more often heard about and discussed today, the film isn’t quite as frightening as it was back in 1960, but still we must applaud Hammer for taking on the subject. It’s also a lesson in sexual politics due to the fact that the victims were working class and the perpetrator a member of the town’s most powerful family. I’ve seen this on videocassette long ago, but this is the first time I have ever seen it on television, so kudos to TCM also for showing this neglected film.

A NOUS LA LIBERTE (June 18, 9:45 pm): Director Rene Clair was noted for his razor-sharp satirical observations of life. And this is one of his best: Two prisoners, Emile and Louis, attempt a prison break. Louis makes it, while Emile doesn’t. In no time Louis has fashioned himself into a rich industrialist. The secret to his success is that he runs his business along the same principles as the prison from which he escaped. His workers are regimented; uniformed with numbers on their backs, they robotically work the same sort of assembly line Louis did in prison, watched over by guards. When Emile is finally released, he s steered into a low-level job at Louis’ plant. He and Louis come face to face, and meeting and reminiscing with Emile makes Louis realize that he has merely exchanged one prison for another, though at much better money. This is Clair’s masterpiece. The Cahiers crowd attacked him for being “artifice-bound and not serious enough.” We have only to compare Clair’s work to such as Godard to see who the real artist is.

WE DISAGREE ON ... LIFE WITH FATHER (June 15, 1:30 pm)

ED: A+. I always love watching William Powell at work, and nowhere is he better than playing the befuddled had of the household in this gentle, wonderful comedy. Powell labors through the film under a misapprehension: that he is in control of his household. He isn’t; it’s actually his beloved wife, Vinnie (Irene Dunne in a great performance), who is actually running things, but smart enough to let him think that he’s in charge. Powell and Dunne match up perfectly in this charming comedy about life in turn-of-the-century New York City and the sort of film we no longer make, though we are certainly not richer of it. 

DAVID: C+. I absolutely adore William Powell. No matter the role, he was charming, witty and entertaining. That's why I'm so disappointed with Life With Father. While Powell gave his typical wonderful performance, there's nothing he or the talented Irene Dunne can do to breathe life into this film. Their performances are fine, but the plot, based on the actual life of a stockbroker, is a real snoozer. The main storyline is finding a way to get Powell's character, Clarence Day Sr., baptized. Among the subplots is Day believes he controls his house when he doesn't, and the wooing of a teenage Elizabeth Taylor by Day's oldest son. It's a comedy with few laughs. It's too sweet and sentimental for me.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
June 8–June 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

OUT OF THE FOG (June 12, 10:45 am): This 1941 movie shows how great John Garfield was as an actor. He plays Harold Goff, a sadistic low-level mobster/thug, with such conviction. There is zero to like about the character. He's ruthless, incredibly cruel and preys on old fisherman for protection money when the only thing from which they need protection is Goff. To top it off, he falls for the daughter (Ida Lupino) of one of the fishermen he is terrorizing, and uses information he learns from her to do more evil. Despite all that, you can't stop watching Garfield play this character. It's not only one of his finest performances, but it's one of film's best. Warner Brothers made their money on gritty film noirs. This is among the best with a great ending.

THIRTEEN WOMEN (June 13, 11:15 am): On loan to RKO from MGM, Myrna Loy shines as a spiteful Eurasian who exacts revenge on her former schoolmates, who ignored her in college because of her mixed race. For being snubbed, she has the women kill themselves or each other. Imagine if they did worse things. It's poorly edited with some characters cut so Myrna only seeks revenge on 11 women, but she is so hot on the screen, they could have called it 113 Women and few would have counted. Despite some flaws, it's an entertaining and quality picture, produced by David O. Selznick, and Myrna shows a lot of promise as an actress. It's a sign of things to come in future movies with better scripts and bigger budgets for this incredibly talented and beautiful actress. In 1933, only a year after Thirteen Women, she would shine in The Prize Fighter and the Lady, and never look back. One note about Thirteen Women, one of them was played by Peg Entwistle, who jumped to her death, shortly before this film's release, from the H on the iconic Hollywoodland sign (it's since dropped the "land" part). It was a huge tabloid story at the time, and this film is her only credited role.

ED’S BEST BETS:

BLACK ORPHEUS  (June 8, 2:00 am): a beautifully lyrical updating of the Orpheus and Eurydice legend set during Brazil’s carnival as streetcar conductor Orfeo (Bruno Mello) meets, loses, finds, and finally loses his Eurydice, country girl Mira (Marpessa Dawn). Wonderfully acted, directed and scored, this is the ultimate eye candy, with vivid images of Carnival drawing us in to the proceedings, a testament to the power of film to entrance and entertain. The soundtrack, with is mixture of samba and bossa nova, was a bestselling album and it’s easy to understand why. This is a film that cries out to be seen. It’s one of my Essentials.

NIGHT NURSE (June 11, 6:00 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 ... PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (June 11, 2:30 am)

ED: B. Few directors made better Westerns than Sam Peckinpah. And he deserved far better than what MGM did to him by taking a pair of scissors to the film and ruining it. Sam has since been vindicated with the release of the director’s cut on video, but I don’t think TCM is running this version. Nevertheless, we can still see the themes that Peckinpah was emphasizing, such as the loss of innocence, the coming of corruption, which seems to have caught everyone in its sticky fibers, and what becomes of myth once the truth has set in. I’m not expecting the director’s cut, but I do so hope this version has the magnificent scene in which Slim Pickens, mortally wounded, stumbles to a riverside so that he can die peacefully. This is not only one of the most beautiful scenes in a Western, but in film, period. James Coburn gives one of his best performances as Pat Garrett and Kris Kristofferson is not bad as the Kid. Add a decent score by Bob Dylan, and the film, while no masterpiece, is certainly worth an evening on the couch.

DAVID: D+. Based on Ed's argument, we must have watched different films with the same title and the same actors in the same roles. He sees deep thoughtful themes, one of cinema's most beautiful scenes and James Coburn giving one of his best performances. I see a dull, lifeless, predictable film with poor acting (particularly from Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan) and a mediocre performance from Coburn, of whom I'm a huge fan. And besides "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," the soundtrack is painfully bad, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan than me of Dylan's music. I'm at a loss as to how you can take a Western directed by Sam Peckinpah, starring Coburn with a storyline about Pat Garrett as a lawman out to kill his former friend, Billy the Kid, and make such a lousy, boring film. You would think it's impossible, but this 1973 movie is proof it can be done. It's supposed to be tragic and nostalgic – there are constant references to the main characters being outlaws and the last of a dying breed. Instead, we get an annoying film that had me talking to it urging Garrett to please kill Billy so it would finally end. The version TCM shows isn't the director's cut or the theatrical release; It is a "special edition" of the film that is nine minutes longer than the theatrical release and seven minutes shorter than Peckinpah's cut. No matter how it's cut, it's an awful movie.


TCM TiVo Alert 
For
June 1–June 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (June 2, 8:00 pm): If you consider all of the films starring music bands put together quickly to capitalize on their popularity, you'd be hard-pressed to find more than a handful that are even mediocre. This one starring the Beatles is the best of the bunch – by a lot. The premise of the film is basic: it's a look at a couple of days in the incredible lives of the Fab Four at the height of Beatlemania as they run from screaming fans and prepare for a TV show in which they'll perform. While I'm a huge Beatles fan, I much prefer their music from 1965 to 1969. However, the songs in this 1964 film are among the best of the early Beatles' music, including the title track, "Can't Buy Me Love," and "I Should Have Known Better." The biggest surprises are the script is clever and the four come across as charming and witty, at ease with funny one-liners and amusing sight gags. They'd try to repeat the magic a year later with "Help!" The soundtrack is better, but the film is a silly throwaway piece of fluff more in tune with this genre.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (June 3, 8:00 pm): Besides This Is Spinal Tap, I have seen this film more than any other, and that's well over 50 times. Each time I watch it I am more impressed by how visually beautiful and stunning it is, and how sophisticated the special effects are, particularly when you consider the film was released in 1968. The storyline can be extraordinarily challenging to understand even to those who've seen it more than 50 times. This is not a movie to see once, and it's almost a crime to watch this groundbreaking film on a small screen. It's an important piece of cinema with so many moments of brilliance and amazement. There are few films I enjoy watching more than 2001 as it's the story of mankind, a higher power, artificial intelligence and what happens when they come together through advances in technology. Watching it is an incredible experience no matter how many times you see it.

ED’S BEST BETS:

GO GO MANIA (June 2, 9:45 pm): While this film is no more than a compilation of British rock ‘n’ roll acts, it’s still a wonderful trip down Memory Lane for those of us who came of age in the ‘60s. The Beatles, The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Peter and Gordon, all the icons of the British Invasion, plus some that never lasted, such as Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Sounds Incorporated, and the Spencer Davis Group. Also look for Matt Munro singing the theme song for the 1963 bond movie From Russia With Love. Now that’s nostalgia.

NIGHT AND FOG (June 3, 6:45 am): A disturbing and heartbreaking documentary featuring the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz and Majdanek while describing the lives of those imprisoned there. It alternates between the past and present (1955) while using both black and white and color footage. These are disturbing images, as director Alan Resnais makes a powerful and eloquent statement about man’s inhumanity to his fellow man by showing the contrast between the lives of the SS guards and the prisoners, the horrific medical experiments, and cremation of the bodies. This film has been used as a teaching tool in French schools since 1961. It still holds its power today.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MON ONCLE D'AMERIQUE (June 3, 7:15 am)

ED: C. This dissection of middle-class life, told in three stories, has its ups and downs, but not enough ups as far as I‘m concerned. Of the three stories, the one with Gerard Depardieu as a middle manager in a textile firm is by far the most interesting, and the segment about the actress (Nicole Garcia) the least interesting. We’ve seen her story endless times already. Biologist Henri Laborit’s commentaries make for a good counterpoint to the action, but only for so long; after a while they become stale, and I wonder if Alain Resnais could have dispensed with it altogether and come up with a better movie. It’s interesting (anything is more interesting than his Last Year at Marienbad) but not interesting enough. 

DAVID: A-. This 1980 French film takes the theories of Henri Laborit, a scientist, writer and philosopher, who comments throughout, about human behavior and turns them into a satire. It creates a fascinating contrast. Among the best moments is we're shown interactions among people which are cross-cut to Laborit dryly discussing and showing how lab rats react to stressful situations. It's a clever-funny film even though there are many dramatic aspects. Gerard Depardieu is outstanding as a naive farm boy who comes to the big city to be a textile executive only to lose it after 20 years on the job. The other stories revolve around an ambitious and self-absorbed politician and his mistress, an actress who sacrifices her personal happiness while falling for a lie. The showdown between the latter two at the end of the film is quite powerful. As a bonus, we see clips of various French actors, including the legendary Jean Gabin, who represent the film's three main characters.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 23–May 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE DIRTY DOZEN (May 24, 8:00 pm): This 1967 war film is maligned by cinematic elitists who criticize it for its premise of a band of misfits put together to kill Nazi military leaders just before D-Day and its cast, lead by Lee Marvin and including Charles Bronson, Jim Brown and Telly Savalas. I'm not going to defend the acting prowess of most of those in The Dirty Dozen, but Marvin is one of film's most underrated actors. And it's not like this is Shakespeare. This is a pure action film and it delivers more than nearly every action film ever made. Lots of stuff gets blown up, including a few of the dozen, and is a lot of fun to watch.

METROPOLIS (May 30, 6:00 am): This 1926 silent film, directed by Fritz Lang, is one of the most important and best ever made. The storyline is as current today as it was 88 years ago, perhaps even more relevant now. This is the restored 2010 version which includes still photos and additional live film that was discovered in a museum in Argentina. Set in a dystopian society in the future, the rich live in high-rises that reach into the heavens and the workers, who supply the power through grueling physical labor, are literally underground. The repressed workers stage an uprising in scenes that feature thousands of extras. That Lang is able to capture it on film is a testament to his brilliance as a director. The film also features special effects that are as good or better than any seen until about the mid-1970s. Others have made remakes or films inspired by Metropolis, but even with the advancements in technology, including something as basic as sound so you can hear actors speak, none can touch the original. If you've never seen it or have viewed earlier versions without the restoration, I urge you to make sure you seen this film. It is a cinematic masterpiece.

ED’S BEST BETS:

DODSWORTH (May 23, 6:00 am): Walter Huston, recreating his Broadway role, shines in this adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s novel about an industrialist who retires, travels to Europe, and discovers that he and his wife are rapidly growing apart in what should be their golden years together. Beautifully adapted by Sidney Howard and wonderfully photographed by Rudolph Mate, it’s unusual for its time in the mature treatment of its subject. William Wyler’s direction moves everything along with no dead spots, and he is backed by strong performances all around. Mary Astor, as the woman Huston discovers in Europe, is enchanting in her role, but unfortunately was sandbagged by her ex-husband during their divorce trial when he unearthed her diary detailing her affair with George S. Kaufman, probably killing her chances for any sort of awards. Unlike many other films with the same subject matter, this one holds up well today.

CARNIVAL IN FLANDERS (May 25, 2:00 am): This is director Jacques Feyder’s wonderfully staged farce about a Spanish invasion of a small Flemish town in the 17th century. While the men all find excuses to leave town, the women remain behind and conquer the invaders with a combination of romance and revelry, so that instead of razing the town, the Spanish invaders leave it standing and give it a year off from paying taxes. It is a razor sharp satire of war and heroism and was quite popular on the “art house” revival circuit. It’s also one not to miss.

WE DISAGREE ON ... A GUY NAMED JOE (May 30, 9:15 am)

ED: B. This is an entertaining romantic fantasy set in World War II with a great performance by Spencer Tracy playing the two types of characters he was known for: the cynical tough guy and, later on, the fatherly figure. Also worth applauding is the chemistry he cooks up with Irene Dunne, who plays his ladylove in the flick. The film begins with Tracy as a hotshot pilot fighting in Europe. His constant risk-taking worries girlfriend Dunne, herself a pilot, and her worst fear is realized when he is killed in action. Spence goes to heaven, but he’s not ready to exchange his worldly body for a harp just yet, so he becomes a guardian angel to a young pilot, played by Van Johnson. It’s when Van meets Irene, still carrying the torch for Spence, and begins to woo her that Tracy’s mettle is tested. And this is where Tracy grows into the fatherly figure he would become in his Postwar films. Though this may seem a rather simplistic film, note that Spielberg remade it in 1989 as Always, which came off as maudlin rather than romantic. I myself am not a big fan of romantic fantasies, but this is the exception to the rule. A well-made and plotted film can play anywhere.

DAVID: D. How do I put this nicely? This is a pretty bad movie. Spencer Tracy was a wonderful actor and made many excellent and important films. This is not one of them. I'm surprised Katharine Hepburn isn't in this movie as nearly all of the lousy ones he made over an incredible career co-starred her. If you're looking for a good Tracy film this week, I strongly recommend Fury at 9:15 am May 30. But A Guy Named Joe is corny sentimental garbage. The love stories are contrived and the acting is strained to put it politely. After crashing his plane, Tracy is a ghost that no one but the audience can see or hear. The concept of this film gets out of hand quickly and the dialogue comes across as fake and insincere. To top it off, it's a film about pilots in World War II and the flying scenes were staged on an MGM lot, something that is almost immediately obvious. If the fake flying scenes were this movie's only problem, I could look passed it. But add on a bad script, some pretty bad acting and a ridiculous plot, and you have a movie that is painful to watch. There's nothing redeeming, interesting or entertaining here. Stay away, Joe – and everyone else.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 15–May 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (May 15, 6:00 pm): Robert Mitchum is at his terrifying best in this 1955 film, the only movie Charles Laughton directed. Mitchum is Rev. Harry Powell, a psychopath who kills women and steals their money, believing he's doing God's work. He is completely convincing as not only a cold-blooded murderer, but also a preacher who quotes Scripture with ease to make his point. He has love tattooed on the knuckles of his right hand and hate on the knuckles of his left hand. When he gives the explanation for the tattoos it sends chills down my spine every time. Most of the film has Powell pitted against a young boy, who doesn't trust him, and with good reason. Powell is after money stolen and hidden by the boy's father, who was executed for killing two people in the robbery. Powell seduces and marries the boy's mother and later kills her as he searches for the cash. The film was a failure when it was released, which resulted in Laughton never directing again. But over the years, it has come to be appreciated for what it is: a brilliant, menacing, dark film noir.

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (May 15, 9:15 pm): Like me, Woody Allen loves Ingmar Bergman films. Unlike me, he gets to make films that steal, um, borrow from Bergman. You have to give Allen credit, he does great adaptations. For example, this film is very similar in structure to Bergman's excellent Fanny and Alexander. In this 1986 film, Mia Farrow is Hannah, whose husband (played by Michael Caine), falls in love with one of her sisters, a free-spirit (Barbara Hershey). Woody, as Hannah's ex-husband, steals every scene as a hypochondriac convinced he's going to die. He ends up with Hannah's other sister (Dianne Wiest). The acting is spectacular, with Caine winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Wiest for Best Supporting Actress, and an all-star cast. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

84 CHARING CROSS ROAD (May 19, 10:00 pm): A lovely, little movie from Brooksfilms about the friendship of writer Helene Hanff and the owner of a used book shop in London and how it unfolded over the years. Anne Bancroft is superb as Hanff and Anthony Hopkins likewise as Frank Dole, the owner of the bookshop. The story is based on Hanff’s 1970 autobiographical book of the same name and brings to life the 20-year correspondence between Hanff and Dole. As the film unfolds we see their relation grow from one of strict formality into a warm friendship, which makes the ending a very touching one. This is the sort of film that is not usually made these days. There are no murders, car crashes, aliens, cool special effects, or sex scenes: Just plain good dialogue and acting. Also look for Judi Dench in a lovely turn as Hopkins’ wife.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (May 19, 1:45 am): This was Hammer studios’ first attempt at the reimaging of the classic Universal horror films of the ‘30s. And to an audience that was starved of good horror films, it was a box office hit. Much of the credit for the success of the film must go to Peter Cushing for his portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein. Cushing hits all the right notes, brilliantly conveying the underlying decadence beneath the aristocratic façade. Christopher Lee, as the Monster, has a thankless role, with little to do but act scary. However, he does manage to get the point across, looking murderous rather than just plain silly. The success of the film begat a series of Frankenstein films with Cushing in the center of the action. And, with the success of Frankenstein, a remake of Dracula was just around the corner.

WE DISAGREE ON ... FATSO (May 19, 8:00 pm)

ED: A-. The late Anne Bancroft directed this funny tale about a large man (Dom DeLuise) and his struggle to lose weight. We’re lucky she helmed this film and not her husband, Mel Brooks. Otherwise, we might be treated to Blazing Fatso. Bancroft also co-stars as DeLuise’s shrewish sister who is always nagging him about his weight, and who blows a gasket whenever she catches him going off his diet. Ron Carey is great as his younger brother, who is only too eager to help his sister control their brother’s eating. DeLuise, for his part, gives a memorable portrayal of a man struggling with problems of weight, self-esteem, and shyness is courting a young woman (Candice Azzara) who opens an antique shop in his neighborhood. Also of note is the scene with the support group DeLuise joins, the Chubby Checkers. Bancroft has managed to combine a comedy about America’s obsession with food with a heartwarming story of growing up Italian-American in the Bronx and giving us the moral that we should learn to accept ourselves as we are. It’s a beautiful motion picture.

DAVID: C-. I saw this movie in the theater in 1980, and didn't care for it. I was 13 at the time so I saw it again a few years ago to give it a second chance. I should have trusted my first instincts. It wasn't any better the second time. There's a reason Dom DeLuise was always in supporting roles in films. As a second banana, he had the ability to deliver a few funny lines in a limited capacity. As the center of the film, he didn't have the talent to keep an audience interested in his character. If it wasn't for Mel Brooks, husband of Anne Bancroft, who directed and wrote this film, and Burt Reynolds, DeLuise's cinematic career would have been minimal. This film is supposed to be a comedy, but it's rather depressing and not in a way that makes the viewer say, "Oh, it was worth it." In between all the self-loathing and depression is a lesson about accepting yourself for who you are and what you look like. I just wish the point was made with a better script, a better director and definitely a better cast. Think of it as the poor man's Marty, and I'm not much of a fan of that movie.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 8–May 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE BEST MAN (May 8, 8:00 pm): While dated primarily because political party national conventions are no longer where presidential nominees are selected, this 1964 film is among the finest ever made about politics. Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson play the two leading presidential nominees of a political party (while never specified, it's likely the Democrats as Fonda's character is very similar to Adlai Stevenson and you can see Bobby Kennedy, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson in others). The backroom deals, exploiting the opponent's weaknesses and not-so-hidden secrets, and political trading are expertly portrayed by a fine cast – with Lee Tracy as the Truman-like former president stealing nearly every scene he's in – along with an excellent script from Gore Vidal, who wrote the play of which the film is based.

WALKABOUT (May 9, 1:45 am): A marvelous 1971 Australian film about a teenage girl and her younger brother who become stranded in the outback after their father goes crazy, tries to shoot them and then kills himself. The two are hopelessly out of their element and are as good as dead when a young Aborigine boy, who is on a right-of-passage quest, helps them survive. Even though they don't speak the same language, the Aborigine and white siblings learn to communicate and become close friends. The images and the powerful connection between the three are incredible to experience. It's a beautiful, emotional film and an important one in cinematic history.

ED’S BEST BETS:

STELLA DALLAS (May 10, 8:00 pm): It’s Barbara Stanwyck giving one of her finest performances in what is really the definitive soap opera. Stanwyck is Stella Dallas, a woman who had it all when she married rich, socially prominent mill owner Stephen Dallas (John Boles), but her refusal to control her wild ways led to divorce. Now Stella must sacrifice by stepping out of her daughter Laurel‘s life so Laurel (Anne Shirley) can marry and achieve a place in society. Also look for Alan Hale in his best performance as Stella’s trashy boyfriend. But in the end, the reason to watch is Stanwyck, who gives a five-hankie performance in a film that catapulted her to superstardom.

HAUSU (May 10, 3:45 am): One of the most surreal films ever to come from Japan, Hausu can best be described as a teens-meet-demon-killers-in-a-haunted-house movie filmed as a surreal fairy tale and decked out in bright candy colors. The girls, who have names such as Gorgeous, Melody, Prof, Fantasy, Kung Fu, Sweet, and Mac, go with Gorgeous to meet her benign spinster aunt. But once they arrive they discover that nothing is as it seems and the girls disappear one by one until the horrible secret is revealed. When I first saw this I had to see it twice because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. You may have the same experience. At any rate, it’s one helluva ride.

WE DISAGREE ON ... BOOM TOWN (May 9, 1:30 pm)

ED: A-. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy made for one the best buddy combos in movies. Basically, they’re playing the same characters they did in San Francisco: Gable is a colorful, rough-hewn Texas version of Rhett Butler. He lives and romances large. Tracy is the solid, down-to-earth partner who performs as Gable’s conscience, as he did in San Francisco. Their friendship and their fortunes survive several ups and downs over the years, and they mesh well together, with Tracy underplaying his role to the larger-than-life Gable. The reason I didn’t grade this higher was because I felt the female leads could have been better cast. Colbert is good, but someone in the mold of Jean Arthur would have been better. As for Hedy Lamarr, well, at this point in her career she couldn’t act to save her life; anyone would have been an improvement. However, we’re not tuning in to this movie to see Colbert and Lamarr. We’re watching for Gable and Tracy, and they do not let us down. Boom Town is solid entertainment.

DAVID: B-. With a casting boasting Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, Frank Morgan and Hedy Lamarr, I expected significantly more than what I got from Boom Town, a 1940 release from MGM. Gable and Tracy are oil wildcatters who go from one rig to another, all the while trying to strike it rich. Overall, the acting isn't that strong, which is very disappointing. The slapstick is too much at times, and the film is sometimes boring as the love-story angle hurts the movie as we get more of that than action. The film isn't awful, but fails to deliver as I was expecting excellent and got above average. It's too predictable for me to give it a grade higher than a B- and even then the grade is more for the film's potential and casting than its actual execution.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 1–May 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (May 1, 3:45 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 (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 unbelievable lengths to keep their pride at the expense of their own personal happiness and of their families.

THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (May 6, 12:30 pm): Leslie Howard is perfectly cast as the title character in this film about the Scarlet Pimpernel, a mysterious hero who saves the lives of French nobles during the height of that country's revolution. Howard is an effete English nobleman who is so meek that even his wife doesn't suspect he is the heroic Scarlet Pimpernel. The storyline is entertaining and smart with a wry sense of humor, the film is fast paced and the acting is excellent. Howard's ability to go from the weak English aristocrat to the heroic Pimpernel is remarkable and makes this film a fun one to watch.

ED’S BEST BETS:

WHITE HEAT (May 1, 10:15 pm): Jimmy Cagney was never better than in this gangster saga of a psycho gang leader dominated by his mother. Edmund O’Brien is also great as the federal agent that goes undercover to help catch him. And don’t forget Margaret Wycherly in probably her best performance as Cagney’s mother. With Virginia Mayo as Cagney’s disloyal wife and Steve Cochran as gang member “Big Ed,” a man with big ideas and nothing else. It boasts one of the best endings in the history of film.

GALLIPOLI (May 2, 10:00 pm): Peter Weir’s masterpiece about the failed invasion of Turkey in World War I, recreates not only stirring battle scenes, but also the culture of patriotism and mythology that led a volunteer army of Australians and New Zealanders to fight in a European war that meant little or for both nations. Mark Lee and Mel Gibson are exceptional as the two Australian buddies who enlist, one out of patriotic fervor, and the other out of comradeship and a chance at glory and promotion. The Battle of Gallipoli is still remembered and commemorated today in Australia and New Zealand as “Anzac Day.”

WE DISAGREE ON ... IMITATION OF LIFE (May 1, 8:00 pm)

ED: C+. The professional wrestler known as The Rock used to have a slogan, “Know your damn role.” The slogan fits this remake of the 1934 original perfectly. This film is a lot slicker and boasts better production values than the original, but in the end it’s a maudlin, preachy, lifeless, and rather shameless piece of celluloid notable only for the performances of a talented cast. In this version, Lana Turner as a movie star replaces the hard-driving executive Claudette Colbert played. Lana is bad because she devotes so much time to her career that she neglects daughter Sandra Dee, who winds up playing patty cake with Lana’s boyfriend, John Gavin. Turner’s maid, Juanita Moore, is subservient, which is good (she knows her damn role) and has a daughter who can pass for white, as in the original. But the kid is ambitious and doesn’t want Mommy around to inform people that she is black (bad - she doesn’t know her damn role). The kid thus becomes the villain of the piece; she degrades her mother at every turn and ends up worrying Mother to death. Only then is the kid truly sorry, realizing she didn’t know her damn role. The film fits the classic definition of “contrived,” for I can’t buy into one second of this suds-filled melodrama. The original’s also no favorite of mine, but I can let it pass because of the time it was made. Back then it’s theme almost seemed liberating, as it pushed the African-American characters to the forefront with little or almost none of the usual stereotyping to common to films of that era. But this is the late ‘50s. We should be beyond that point in dealing with race relations, and the fact that Hollywood still doesn’t get it at this late point is yet another indictment against an industry that should have us looking forward rather than backward.

DAVID: B+. Ed makes a persuasive argument and I agree with some of his points. The film's cast is talented, actually very talented. As for the production values, they are exceptional, and the storyline holds a lot of promise. Based on those attributes, this movie should rate an A+. But for some of the reasons Ed articulated – I personally felt frustrated watching the supposedly enlightened Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) employing only "House Negroes" after making it big and never really treating her maid/best friend Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore), who is black, as her equal – I dropped it a full letter grade to B+. But make no mistake about it, this is a fine film with many levels of a sophisticated story shown in very subtle ways that the viewer may not pick up on them watching it one time. The most significant examples occur when Johnson is dying. In one case, Meredith is hugging Johnson as she dies and the camera shows for just a few seconds a photo behind them of the dead woman's smiling daughter, the same girl who rejected her mother's love because of her color. The daughter, Sarah Jane, is so light-skinned that she passes for white and enjoys the benefits of not being black except when people see her mother and reject the daughter. The other is while Sarah Jane is devastated by the passing of the mother – who died of a broken heart because of her daughter's rejection – she is also almost relieved, hoping that will change her life, which has already spiraled out of control. The movie's strength isn't in its attempts to show racial tension, but in its presentation of the breakdown of family bonds. Turner is the star and gets top billing. However the best performances come from Moore and Susan Kohner, who plays Sarah Jane when she's older.


TCM TiVo Alert
For
April 23-30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON (April 26, 3:45 am): An unusual and very compelling 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.

THUNDER ROAD (April 28, 10:30 pm): There are few actors 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 finest  roles. He's got to make his last 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. He's right. Imagine if he saw the movie. He probably would have also changed the name of the album from Born to Run.

ED’S BEST BETS:

RIO BRAVO (April 25, 5:15 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.

MAN HUNT (April 30, 10:00 pm): A great thriller from director Fritz Lang has Walter Pidgeon as a big-game hunter who infiltrates Hitler’s Berghof in Berchtesgaden, has Der Fuehrer in his sights, but is interrupted and arrested by the Gestapo. They don’t buy his explanation that he wasn’t preparing to shoot Hitler, but offer him freedom if he signs a confession saying the British government put him up to it. When he refuses they torture him and shove him over a cliff to make his death appear “accidental.” He survives and makes it to England, but soon finds German spies are hot on his trail. Thus the hunter becomes the hunted. Besides Pidgeon and George Sanders as the Gestapo official, the film also boasts a breakthrough performance by Joan Bennett as a prostitute who becomes Pidgeon’s ally in his fight against Sanders and the Nazis. Don’t think through the logic of the plot; just go along for the ride. You won’t be disappointed.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (April 23, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+. This film was planned in 1942 as a morale booster and a plug for the PT Boat, but by the time he got around to shooting it in 1945, John Ford had experienced the war first-hand, which greatly affected his point-of-view. This was one of a group of war films made in 1945 that reflected the real war instead of the glory-winning heroics featured in earlier morale films. In addition, many of the men in the cast had also experienced the war first-hand, which lends an air of authenticity to the film. The star, Robert Montgomery, actually commanded a PT Boat during the war. (During filming, when Ford fell from a scaffold and broke his leg, Montgomery took over the directorial duties.) The film has the usual stirring action scenes, but it differs from earlier war film in its attitude. There are none of the usual patriotic speeches about fighting for God and Country, no maudlin references to the home front and those praying for the safe return of their loved ones, none of the usual monkeyshines between the boys, and most surprisingly, no depictions of the Japanese as robotic and sub-human. The best war films pull no punches. They do not wallow in jingoism; there is no over-the-top heroism designed to manipulate the audience into action. The dialogue is subdued. As the title suggests, this is a sober film about those left behind in the Philippines to fight the Japanese after MacArthur was evacuated to the safety of Australia. This film is so good that it manages to wring a decent performance out of John Wayne, the super patriot who served not a minute in the real war. As such, I regard it as one if the finest war films ever made.

DAVID: B-. This film is interesting and authentic, but it's not very entertaining. The movie tells the story of PT Boats and their usefulness during World War II. The film is fine and Robert Montgomery is very good, as usual. There are long drawn-out scenes that honestly bores me. That doesn't bode well for a movie that runs for two hours and 15 minutes. While I've grown to appreciate some of John Wayne's performances over the years, after unfairly dismissing his entire cinematic career, this is not one of his finest moments. He's not terrible, but Wayne is far from good in this particular movie. His acting is largely stiff and the lines he is given do not help. For example, he's in hospital for an infection in his arm and a nurse, trying to calm him down, suggests they'll eventually dance together. Wayne's response: "Listen, sister, I don't dance and I can't take the time out now to learn. All I want is to get out of here." It's one of the corny lines he delivers throughout the film. Don't get me started on his embarrassing effort to recite poetry in honor of a fallen soldier. Despite that, I admire director John Ford's effort to make an authentic film about World War II shortly after it ended. The film is good, but far from great.


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

JAILHOUSE ROCK (April 15, 10:00 pm): This 1957 film is easily one of Elvis' best. He’s in prison on a manslaughter conviction. His cellmate, a former country-and-western singer played by Mickey Shaughnessy, recognizes Vince Everett (Presley) has musical talent after hearing him sing, and serves as a mentor. When Everett is released after 20 months in prison, he looks for work as a singer. He becomes a success thanks to a producer and his love interest, played by Judy Tyler (she and her husband died shortly after the film wrapped up production). Presley does a solid job, showing that if he had the right material, he was a good actor. The film is critical of the music industry with Vince, tired of getting ripped off, creates his own record label with Judy. The film's highlight is the iconic “Jailhouse Rock” performance Everett does for a television special. It doesn’t get much better than this. 

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (April 22, 10:00 p.m.): I'm not a John Wayne fan, but I certainly recognize when he gives an excellent performance. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is his finest film. It doesn't hurt that he gets to play off the legendary James Stewart and Lee Marvin, one of cinema's most underrated actors who is at ease playing the hero or the villain; he's great as the latter in this movie. Told in a flashback, this film, directed by John Ford, is extraordinary and one of the finest Westerns you'll ever see. It also features one of film's most iconic lines, told to Stewart's character, a U.S. senator, by a newspaperman: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Don't miss this one if you haven't seen it.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (April 16, 8:00 pm): Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson follow up their acclaimed performances in Howard’s End with this classic character study about a butler who sacrifices personal happiness for his duties. Emma Thompson is simply wonderful as the one he loves and loses; the housekeeper who nearly penetrates his Stoic armor. It’s the director-producer team of Ivory and Merchant at their finest. Scriptwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala does a marvelous job in adapting the Booker Prize winning novel by Japanese-born Englishman Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a thoughtful, intelligent, quietly intense movie that stands out in an era where the mindless, CGI action picture was beginning to establish box office dominance. I always thought it a shame that Hopkins and Thompson never teamed for another film, especially with Ivory and Merchant.

MY MAN GODFREY (April 16, 12:00 am): William Powell was an actor who improved any film in which he appeared. So imagine what he could do when given a first-rate film with first-rate co-stars, first-rate script, and a first-rate director. Thus we have My Man Godfrey, a film that artfully combines screwball comedy with social commentary without becoming annoying in the process. Powell plays a bum, a “forgotten man” who becomes the butler for a very rich – and very zany and self-absorbed – household, managing to serve their needs while teaching them about caring for their fellow men. Carole Lombard was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as the dizzy heiress who discovers Powell in the city dump while on a “scavenger hunt” for a charity event. Lombard decides the best thing to do would be to hire him as the family butler, which sets everything in motion. The chemistry is so strong between Powell and Lombard that one wonder why they ever divorced a couple of years earlier. Gail Patrick is great as Lombard’s scheming sister, Alice Brady as the girl’s scatterbrained mother, and always memorable Eugene Pallette as the family’s exasperated father. Mischa Auer also gives a wonderful performance as the “mascot” of the household. (Watch for his imitation of a gorilla.) In short, this is film in which everything adds up to a masterpiece of the genre, and one that can stand up to repeated viewings.

WE DISAGREE ON ... A KING IN NEW YORK (April 19, 6:00 am)

ED: B-. There comes a time when an artist reaches the end of the road. This film is a perfect example, a mixture of excellent social commentary and self-indulgent sermonizing about the McCarthy era. Most of the second half of the film is devoted to this tedious and pompous dialogue. The fact that Chaplin uses his own 10-year old son – playing a schoolboy whose parents are damaged by the anti-communist purges – to utter the dialogue, is testament to the futility that creeps in when the humor leaves. The young man’s lines don’t come across so much as normal conversation as they do as political pronouncements delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. They manage to undo the first half of the film, which was riding along quite nicely. Charlie would have been better served if he would have just gotten over it. Thus the grade.

DAVID: A-. In his last starring role, Charlie Chaplin goes out with a bang. This satirical look at America's Red-baiting in the early 1950s is both biting, dead-on and quite funny. Chaplin's personal liberal leaning landed him in hot water with the U.S. House on Un-American Activities Committee, and he takes great joy in exposing its members and supporters as he did with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in The Great Dictator, though that film is better than A King in New York. This film is ahead of its time as it shows America's obsessions with television and advertising that still resonate today. Chaplin is the deposed king of a fictional European country who escapes to New York to live in a luxury hotel. That is until his prime minister steals the royal treasury leaving Chaplin's character with no other choice than to be a TV pitchman and media celebrity to pay the bills. It's not an all-time classic, but it's an entertaining and interesting film made all the more important as it's Chaplin's final movie.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
April 8–April 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (April 10, 12:15 am): This is easily one of the finest all-around films – acting, directing, screenplay and costumes – ever made. Kirk Douglas is a movie mogul who needs the help of former friends, who were betrayed by him in one way or another, for his comeback film. While waiting for his call, the three former friends – an actress (Lana Turner), a screenwriter (Dick Powell) and a director (Barry Sullivan) – share their stories of getting burned by Douglas in the office of a producer (Walter Pidgeon). The 1952 film is based on actual Hollywood figures or at least composites of them. It's an incredibly enjoyable film to watch as it's smart, wickedly funny and entertaining with a wonderful cast, Gloria Grahame has a small but memorable role (that earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) in addition to the fine job by the actors previously mentioned. Vincente Minnelli's directing brings out the best in each of the performers with a great screenplay from Charles Schnee. A bit of trivia: the five Oscars won by The Bad and the Beautiful is the most by any movie not nominated for Best Picture. The mystery is how did this film not even get nominated, particularly with the Best Picture award that year going to the overrated and overproduced The Greatest Show on Earth.

GASLIGHT (April 14, 11:00 am): As a huge fan of Joseph Cotten and Ingrid Bergman, it's gratifying to see that when the two teamed together in this 1944 film, the result is spectacular. It has fantastic pacing, starting slowly planting the seeds of Bergman's potential insanity and building to a mad frenzy with Cotten's Scotland Yard inspector saving the day and Bergman gaining a certain level of revenge. While Charles Boyer has never been a favorite of mine, he is excellent in this role as Bergman's scheming husband who is slowly driving her crazy. Also deserving of praise is Angela Lansbury in her film debut as the couple's maid. It's Lansbury's best role on the big screen; she's got the hots for Boyer and nothing but disdain for Bergman. A well-acted, well-directed film that is one I always enjoy no matter how many times I see it.

ED’S BEST BETS:

DRESSED TO KILL (April 8, 7:45 am): No, it’s not the highly overrated 1980 Brian DePalma film, but rather the last of the Sherlock Holmes series from Universal in 1946. Holmes and Watson (Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce) are racing to recover stolen five-pound bank note plates from associates of the jailed thief that stole them. The key to the location of the plates is hidden inside the coded tunes of three music boxes made by the thief in Dartmoor Prison. Opposing Holmes are the thief’s associates, led by the beautiful Patricia Morison. It takes all of Holmes’ powers of deduction, but he’s stumped until an inadvertent remark by Watson gives him the answer. Most movie series end on a flat note, but Dressed to Kill only makes us wish the duo of Rathbone and Bruce had not gone on to make other entries in the series.

SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (April 13, 6:15 pm): 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.

WE DISAGREE ON ... GIRL HAPPY (April 13, 12:00 pm)

ED: C. The best thing one can say about an Elvis film from the ‘60s is that it’s not annoying or stupid. The amazing thing about Elvis movies is that they followed trends of the time rather than becoming trailblazers. In this case, it’s the influence of the “Swinging London” films of the mid-‘60s. In their seemingly never ending quest to find a character for Elvis, Colonel Tom and the producers moved him around during the decade from country boy to army guy to swinging bachelor. In this film, he’s the swinging bachelor, hired by a gangster to keep an eye on his wayward daughter. Although the film starts off well – with a great title track – it bogs down as Elvis gets deeper and deeper into his mission. Like every other comedy of its type, we can quickly see just where the plot is going and where it will end. For his part, Elvis is in his usual good form. It would also have helped if he had been given a vibrant leading lady instead of the rather bland Shelley Fabares, but I always got the feeling that the producers figured the presence of Elvis alone is enough to get the movie over. The real shame is that he was never given a script of real quality. By the way, the film also features the song, “Do the Clam,” written by none other than Dolores Fuller, Ed Wood’ ex-girlfriend.

DAVID: B. Of all the "Elvis Formula" films Presley made, Girl Happy is my second favorite, behind Clambake (1967). There's nothing unpredictable about Girl Happy, but it's a fun and enjoyable movie. It's a late 1950s beach film released in 1965. Elvis' character, Rusty Wells (his characters typically had cool names) is the leader of a four-man band working in a Chicago nightclub for Big Frank, a guy who's obviously a gangster. The boys are on their way to Fort Lauderdale for spring break, but Frank tells them they've been booked for an extended stay. Trying to work any angle to get down for their annual "fun in the sun," Rusty finds out Frank's innocent daughter Valerie (Shelley Fabares) is heading to Lauderdale and tells him he and the band will go to keep an eye on her. Who would be dumb enough to trust Elvis to protect his hot daughter? Don't say, "Only in the movies," because that's what Priscilla (Wagner) Presley's father did. Of course in Girl Happy, Rusty falls for her, but she's the boss' daughter and the boss. Meanwhile, he's got a good-time party girl (Mary Ann Mobley) ready to go. Oh, the problems Elvis' characters had having to pick between two great-looking girls. As Ed mentioned, the script isn't strong, but Elvis and the rest of the cast are solid. Of greater importance in an Elvis film, the songs are very good and there are a lot of them. I absolutely love "Do the Clam" (and the dance is hysterical), "Puppet on a String," the amusing "Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce," and "Meanest Girl in Town" with Fabares doing a funky dance on the last one. I disagree with Ed on Fabares. She always had great chemistry with Elvis, so much so that she was in more of his films – this, Spinout a year later and Clambake the next year – than any other actress.

TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
April 1–April 7

DAVID'S BEST BETS:

SAFETY LAST (April 1, 6:00 am): The funniest and most original silent film comedies not starring Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Harold Lloyd is a joy to watch in this 1923 movie that features great sight gags – including the opening scene in which his mother and girlfriend appear to be saying goodbye to him as he heads to the gallows but are actually at a train station. Another great one is Lloyd and his friend hiding from the landlady in their own trenchcoats hanging on wall hooks. It's worth watching the film for the iconic scene in which Lloyd's character climbs the side of a building and hangs from the hands of a clock. Sometimes it's better to show than tell so here's a portion of that scene.

STEAMBOAT BILL JR. (April 1, 12:30 am): Speaking of Buster Keaton, this 1928 film is among his best. He's the son of a guy who owns a dilapidated paddle steamer who hopes his long-lost boy, who's now in college, can help him best his rival, a wealthy businessman. Instead he gets Keaton, who also happens to be in love with the daughter of his father's rival. While Lloyd's climb up the building looks dangerous, it really wasn't. The same cannot be said of Keaton's most incredible cinematic stunt, which is in this film. A cyclone hits, blowing Keaton sideways and destroying an entire town. Keaton is standing when the two-ton facade of a building falls in his direction. As the front of the structure falls, Keaton stands in perfect position for the open attic window space to land leaving him without a mark. If he was standing just a little off, he would have been crushed. Again, I get the benefit of being able to show it here. While Keaton's physical comedy is at its apex in this movie, there are plenty of other funny moments. One scene has Keaton trying on a number of hats, and when he puts on his trademark porkpie hat, he quickly rejects it. Even better is when Keaton puts tools inside a loaf of bread to help his father bust out of jail. The sheriff finds the tools and a dialogue cards reads: "That must have happened when the dough fell in the tool box."

ED’S BEST BETS:

MON ONCLE (April 1, 4:30 am): 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.

A FACE IN THE CROWD (April 7, 9:45 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). He's a drifter discovered in jail by the hostess (Patricia Neal) of a morning radio show in Pickett, Arkansas, and who, through the sheer force of his “down home” personality 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 letter-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 ususal superb, and Griffith gave the best performance of his career, playing against type and should have gotten the Oscar. But he wasn’t even nominated, in 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 ... SLEEPER (April 1, 9:45 pm)

ED: B+. Don’t get me wrong; Sleeper is a very funny film, made at a time when Woody Allen was more concerned with making us laugh rather than trying to be a revival of the French New Wave. But the problem with Sleeper is that it relies too heavily on slapstick – Woody walking around in a daze or falling over a la Chaplin – when some good verbal humor would do nicely. When a film is as dependent on visual gags as Sleeper, we reach a situation where, for every joke that is spot on, there are at least three that misfire. And, after awhile, the barrage of visual jokes begins to wear. This problem is somewhat balanced by the wonderful theme and the overall satire on politics. But the spate of visual gags that do not work in the film prevents me from giving it an A.

DAVID: A+. Besides Take the Money and RunSleeper is the best, most clever and entertaining of Woody Allen's "earlier, funnier movies." Allen's character, Miles Monroe (in honor of Earl Monroe, an all-time great player on Woody's beloved New York Knicks), is frozen in 1973 when a routine gall bladder operation goes bad. He's defrosted 200 years later by doctors who are in a resistance group in a police state. The gags are fast and funny. One of my favorites is when the scientists ask Miles about life 200 years earlier, including this gem. Allen's interaction with Diane Keaton (Luna, a self-centered socialite) is pure magic, particularly when she helps Miles relive a scene from his younger days and when the two are disguised as surgeons stealing the government leader's nose, all that's left of him after a rebel bomb blows up the rest of him. While the dialogue is smart and funny, Allen also proves himself to be an incredibly talented physical actor. Allen's slapstick comedic ability – think Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton – shines best in this role.


TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
March 23–March 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (March 25, 10:15 am): Charles Dickens' books have translated into excellent films over the years, but none greater than this 1946 movie. The cast is outstanding, led by John Mills, Alec Guinness, Martita Hunt and Jean Simmons. The film is about Pip, an orphan who is taken to London at the expense of a mysterious benefactor. The benefactor believes Pip is a man with "great expectations." It's a charming film that leaves you with a good feeling inside because it's such an outstanding movie. David Lean co-wrote the screenplay and directs with spectacular cinematography. Lean would go on to direct epics such as The Bridge on the River KwaiLawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. All are great movies and really, really, really long. Incredibly, Great Expectations isn't even two hours in length despite being based on a 544-page novel. 

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (March 28, 1:45 am): Made for about $100,000, and it sure looks cheap, this 1968 film is the granddaddy of all zombie films. The main characters give a good performance, which is impressive considering there's only one or two professional actors in the entire film. Those playing the zombies are locals who do a great job of scaring the hell out of moviegoers. The film's plot is basic on the surface: seven people are trapped inside a western Pennsylvania farmhouse with zombies interested in turning them into late-night snacks. But the underlying themes of racism and stereotypes is surprisingly sophisticated. The main character is a smart, young black man who has to constantly prove himself to an older white guy who thinks he knows it all. It turns out he knows little and becomes a zombie appetizer. It's an interesting film with director George Romero doing an admirable job of making an important piece of cinema with little resources. Compare it to some of the multi-million-dollar zombie films today and it holds up extraordinarily well.

ED’S BEST BETS:

IL POSTO (March 23, 4:00 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.

BIG NIGHT (March 28, 8:00 pm): A totally wonderful offbeat independent film about two immigrant brothers from Italy, Primo (Tony Shaloub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) who start a Italian restaurant on the Jersey Shore. Primo is a brilliant chef with a total diva mentality: he won’t make the routine dishes that customers expect. The result is that there are no customers and the restaurant is failing. The owner of a nearby restaurant, enormously successful despite its mediocre fare, offers a solution - he will call his friend, a big-time jazz musician, to play a special benefit at their restaurant. And so Primo begins to prepare his masterpiece, a feast of a lifetime, for this big night. Shaloub and Tucci are brilliant and well supported by the likes Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini, Liev Schreiber, Ian Holm, and Alison Janney. This is no routine dish.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MARTY (March 23, 1:30 pm)

ED: A. Ernest Borgnine (who won the Oscar for this) and Betsy Blair are wonderful in this honest, simple, bittersweet story from Paddy Chayefsky about a lonely butcher and a teacher who have given up on the idea of love and meet one night at a social. In the ‘50s, movie studios finally began to pay attention to the lives of ordinary working folks as the basis for films, realizing that not everyone is glamorous. And Chayefsky was one of the best at portraying the hopes, trials and disappointments of the common man. This movie is so touching, so well made, that it’s difficult not to relate to the main characters on some level or other. I can only give this film my highest recommendation as a story.

DAVID: B-. I don't have negative things to say about this film. Ernest Borgnine steps out of his typical tough-guy character and does a good job playing Marty, a lonely butcher who doesn't ever think he'll ever get married. He meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a plain-looking teacher and they fall in love despite Marty's friends and mother telling him he can do better. It's sweet, but cliched and feels too much like a play, primarily because it's largely based on one. My biggest complaint is not a lot happens and what happens is largely the same thing: Marty and his friends can't decide what to do at night, and typically end up doing nothing. While authentic in showing everyday life, everyday life can be kind of boring so you can struggle at times to stay interested in the film. Also, Borgnine's supporting cast, except for Esther Minciotti who plays his mother, is just OK. But that's fine as Marty is clearly the film's main character and Borgnine is up to the task. Interestingly, his Oscar-winning performance didn't lead to him playing this type of character again. It won the 1955 Academy Award for Best Picture in a fairly weak year for film though it beat Mister Roberts, a vastly superior movie.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
March 15–March 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SHAMPOO (March 15, 12:00 am): Warren Beatty is one of my favorite actors and while this 1975 sex comedy is not the most compelling film he ever made, he's outstanding in it. Beatty is a Beverly Hills hairdresser who cuts the hair, and has sex with, a laundry list of beautiful women. His dream is to open his own hair salon, but his libido gets in the way. For the longest time, the film is very funny. But the ending is almost Ingmar Bergman sad with Beatty's character, George, losing everything including his dream because of his lack of discipline and business sense while still having to go on living a life that seemed so perfect earlier in the day. (The film takes place in one day.) You'd be hard-pressed to find a better supporting cast. Lee Grant (who won an Oscar for her performance) and Jack Warden (nominated for one) work exceptionally well together as a married couple with Beatty bedding Grant, and anything else that moves (including Julie Christie and Goldie Hawn), while trying to get Warden's character to provide the money for his elusive hair salon.

JESSE JAMES (March 17, 10:00 pm): Probably one of the most historically inaccurate films ever made about Jesse (Tyrone Power) and Frank (Henry Fonda) James, but a damn good Western. It's probably Powers' finest performance and Fonda is Fonda. The James boys become outlaws as they fight and exact revenge on railroad barons who have taken control of their home and others in this 1939 movie. Only Hollywood can turn Jesse and Frank James into heroes. Try to forget about that and enjoy a beautifully filmed movie that's highly entertaining with a lot of action.

ED’S BEST BETS:

HELL’S ANGELS (March 20, 2:00 am): This film is a real wonder and one to watch. Made by Howard Hughes and released in 1930, it’s the story of two fliers (Ben Lyon and James Hall) who fight over a voluptuous blonde. But what a blonde – it’s none other than Jean Harlow in her first substantial role in a film. When she asks Lyon if he would be shocked if she were to “slip into something more comfortable,” she utters one of the most famous lines in the history of movies. Unfortunately we also have to see her act, and her acting is a true train wreck. Not even with James Whale at the helm directing the dramatic scenes does she give anything that even resembles a performance. That, plus the fact that the flying sequences are still great to watch, are my main reasons for recommending this film. It’s not shown all that often; in fact, this is the first time I can remember it being shown in years, and in the late night slot at that. This film is truly deserving of an earlier showing with lots of commentary.

THE MOUSE THAT ROARED (March 22, 9:30 pm): This is a wonderful satire on both foreign policy and war. The tiny Duchy of Grand Fenwick is broke. The Duchy’s only export is its wine, and with a California winery named “Enwick” marketing a cheaper version of the wine, drastic measures must be taken. The Duchy will declare war on America, predictably lose, and reap millions in foreign aid. Unfortunately, they win the war and capture the ultimate weapon, the Q-bomb, so lethal that it could annihilate all life on Earth. I won’t spill all the details of the plot, safe to say that it sports a stellar cast, with Peter Sellers playing three roles and backed by the fine support of Jean Seberg, Leo McKern, and David Kossoff. It’s great fun just to see Sellers juggle all three roles.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE SEVEN-UPS (March 17, 10:00 pm)

ED: C+. I like good action films and I like Roy Scheider, so why am I do down on this? Simple: it’s not a good action picture. The plot is simple: a team of four NYPD cops are tasked to trap hoods whose misdeed are punishable with prison terms of 7 years or more. And they display the usual behavior one expects in this sort of film, beating up suspects, breaking in without warrants, torturing dying gangsters and shooting first while asking questions later. And yes, they have the usual good reason to do so, for it seems that one of the cops, played by Scheider, has his secret list of Mob loan sharks snatched by one of his top informants who uses it to kidnap the crooks and hold them for ransom. When this results in the death of one of the cops, all bets are off. Sound familiar? This is nothing more than a gruesome, mechanical thriller in the mold of The French Connection, but lacking that film’s superb script and characterization.

DAVID: A. The Seven-Ups is just a hair below SerpicoThe French ConnectionDog Day AfternoonTaxi Driver, and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three when it comes to great early to mid-1970s films that capture the grit, grime, danger, disgust, excitement and anything-goes attitude of New York City in that era. Roy Scheider is great as the head of a renegade group of cops who'll stop at nothing, particularly after one of their own is killed, and go beyond the law to catch the bad guys. There isn't much in the way of dialogue with facial expressions and body language telling most of the story. The pacing of the movie is incredible as after the first 30 minutes in which the basis of the storyline is established, the action never stops. To top it off, my all-time favorite car chase is in this film. It's certainly not the most sophisticated movie ever made, but it's among the most entertaining. Also, it takes me back to my childhood watching this and several of the other films mentioned above on Channel 5 in New York City.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
March 8–March 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (March 10, 4:00 pm): This is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films and that is saying a lot. Robert Walker as the crazed Bruno Anthony, who wants his father dead and believes he's struck a quid pro quo deal with tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger), is hypnotically amazing. Walker and Granger are solid actors, but Hitch brings out the best in them. Also, the plot of this film is so unique and interesting. The two are strangers who meet on a train, talk about their problems – Walker's father and Haines' wife. Both want their "problems" solved so Walker suggests they kill the other's problem and no one will be the wiser as they don't know each other. Haines thinks Walker is kidding until the latter kills the former's wife and wants Haines to kill Walker's father. The tension and drama are top-shelf, and this is one film you don't want to miss.

MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (March 14, 12:00 am): This film is as good as people who've seen it say it is; probably even better than that. It's heavy on dialogue with Andre Gregory and the great Wallace Shawn (this is the film where he first says "inconceivable"), who wrote the script, have a witty, fascinating and insightful conversation while eating dinner at a Manhattan restaurant. Directed by Louis Malle, the film is brilliant, which is quite the accomplishment for a movie with essentially no plot. There's absolutely nothing bad to say about this 1981 film.  

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE LONE RANGER (March 11, 6:30 am): Who’s up for a little light-hearted nostalgia about those days gone by? If you are, then this is the movie to watch. This effort, based on the long-running radio and television series, from Warner Brothers, remains true to its form. Look, it’s not StagecoachRed River, or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but it never pretended to be. And therein lies its beauty; it never descends into the realm of camp, either intentionally or unintentionally. The plot is simple: evil rancher seeks to mine silver in a mountain sacred to the Native People of the area, so he tries to incite a war with them. Divide and conquer. It’s up to The Lone Ranger and Tonto to ride to the rescue and stop things before they get out of hand. As for the men playing The Ranger and Tonto, it’s hard to imagine anyone else stepping into their shoes. Granted, Clayton Moore was as wooden as they come, but he never came off as anything but sincere. Jay Silverheels was given some of the most ridiculous dialogue this side of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan, but he always pulled it off magnificently, no mean feat considering the material he was given to work with in the movie. It would have been all too easy for both to overplay it and camp it up, but to their credit, they never did. Also notice the respect with which the Indians were treated. Trouble always came from the Whites. Look for Michael Ansara as Angry Horse (he lives up to the name), and Frank DeKova as Red Hawk. DeKova later went on to play Chief Wild Eagle in television’s F Troop. Looking back at DeKova’s career, he played fake Indians almost as much as Chief Jay Strongbow. Anyway, this is no film “masterpiece,” but it is 86 minutes worth of great entertainment, especially for those who saw the television series.

A CHRISTMAS STORY (March 14, 10:00 pm): Yeah, Yeah, I know. It’s not Christmas and this movie gets run to death every Christmas anyway on TBS. So what’s the big deal? Simply this: It’s a great movie from one of America’s best – and most underappreciated – humorists, Jean Shepherd. When this film originally hit the theaters, it bombed, despite good reviews. It was only when it came out on video that it found an audience. It’s a distillation of collected stories Shep published in Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, and In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. For years Shepherd had been spinning these calmly outrageous tales of Ralph Parker, his friends and his family on WOR-AM out of New York. But despite this, and a large cult following, Shep never received his due from the nabobs who compiled humor anthologies. For them, anyone that didn’t appear in The New Yorker was not funny. So when this film debuted, Shep was pretty much an unknown quantity, especially for those who never caught any of his teleplays on PBS (The Phantom of the Open Hearth), which captured the true humor of the proletariat, and the fact that working people are as often involved in funny situations as are those who reside on Park Avenue.  For me, this is a film worth watching any time, not just during the holidays, for the message is universal.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE SUNSHINE BOYS (March 8, 8:15 am)

ED: A. I will admit I’m not the biggest fan of Neil Simon, but there are certain works of his that I adore, and this is one of them. Based on the vaudeville team of Smith and Dale, the classic comedy team of Lewis and Clark is being reunited for a TV special. But there’s a fly in the ointment: they can’t stand one another. Simon’s knowledge of the history of Smith and Dale comes into good stead here, making this film not only funny, but also providing us with a glimpse of the real duo and what they went through. Given two pros such as Walter Matthau and George Burns (standing in for the fatally ill Jack Benny) it is a sheer joy to watch as they go through their paces. Matthau is at the top of his game as the antisocial Willy Clark with Burns giving a brilliantly funny performance as Al Lewis. Richard Benjamin provides solid support as Matthau’s nephew and the one who suggested they reunite for the television special. The only problem with the film is the indulgent direction of Herbert Ross, a noted hack. But just forget him and sit back and watch Matthau and Burns at work.

DAVID: C+. Like Ed, I'm not a big fan of Neil Simon though I adore The Odd Couple and The Goodbye Girl. As for The Sunshine Boys, I'm lukewarm to this one-joke film. I've never liked George Burns. I don't think he was funny, charming, a good actor or an entertaining comedian, but he's OK in this film. However, I wonder if those who awarded him with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor saw the same film I did. Walter Matthau, who was a splendid comedian with impeccable timing, gives a solid performance in this 1975 film, but even he can't save it from mediocrity. The characters are largely annoying, Herbert Ross' directing is awful, and the plot is cliche and rambling with Burns and Matthau taking cranky old men to heights seldom seen. 


TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
March 1–March 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (March 1, 8:00 pm): I've mentioned before that 1967 is a landmark year in cinema. While the Hays Code was lifted before that year, it took a while for Hollywood to push the envelope, be more daring and take on serious subject matter without soft-selling it. Among the films released in 1967 were The GraduateBonnie and ClydePoint Blank and the best of the bunch, In the Heat of the Night. The latter pairs one of cinema's most under-appreciated actors, Rod Steiger, with one of film's most respected (and rightfully so) actors, Sidney Poitier. (Poitier also starred in 1967 in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a film I don't hold in high regard as it fails to match the intensity of the films I mentioned above.) In the Heat of the Night gives the viewers an authentic view of racism in the South during the era of the Civil Rights movement. Steiger is the sheriff of a racist town working with Poitier, a police detective from Philadelphia, to solve a murder while overcoming significant challenges. The film won five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for Steiger. It's one you must see if you haven't already.

OUT OF THE FOG (March 4, 1:45 pm): I'm an unapologetic fan of John Garfield. During Hollywood's golden era of the late 1930s to the late 1940s, he was as good an actor as anyone, and that's saying a lot. In this 1941 film, Garfield is a sadistic gangster with no redeeming qualities. He's a hood who shakes down old fisherman at a Brooklyn pier. Garfield is captivating as the cruel criminal in one of Warner Brothers' grittiest film noirs. His character falls for Ida Lupino (can't blame him), the daughter of one of the fishermen he is terrorizing. He even uses that to his advantage. Two of the main fisherman he is shaking down come up with a plan to kill him, but can't follow through. However, the way Garfield gets offed is one for the ages. A truly great film that showcases Garfield's talents.

ED’S BEST BETS:

BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936 (March 3, 8:30 am): Eleanor Powell’s first starring role, and a portent of great things to come from her. The plot, predictably, is paper-thin. Jack Benny is a Broadway columnist whose copy is in great need of punching up. So he has to go about digging up dirt. He picks on producer Bob Gordon (Robert Taylor), whose new show “Broadway Rhythm,” is being backed by heiress Lillian Brent (June Knight) who also wants to star. Enter Irene Foster, (Powell), Bob’s childhood sweetheart, who wants to audition. Yes, it’s a mess, but who watches a musical for its plot? We want to see Powell hoofing, and boy is she good. Her routine with Buddy and Vilma Ebsen (his sister and her only film appearance) in “Sing Before Breakfast” is light and enchanting. As for Powell’s solo dance numbers at the end, watch for “You Are My Lucky Star,” “Broadway Rhythm,” and “I’ve Got a Feeling You’re Foolin’,” which earned Dave Gould an Oscar for Dance Direction.

EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (March 7, 8:00 pm): Director Ang Lee’s story of the family tension between a master chef and his three grown daughters at their weekly ritual Sunday dinners is a pure delight. Mr. Chu (Shihung Lung) and his three grown daughters, who live with him, have simply lost their ability to relate to one another. This makes their Sunday dinner, the one point where they all get together during the week, such an ordeal that the participants can hardly eat. Mr. Chu has lost his joie de vivre. His culinary art no longer receives the respect it used to enjoy in Taiwan. His fear is that traditional recipes are being mixed up into one, banal flavor. He’s literally losing his taste for the food he creates. The daughters are also slaves to their routines, it seems that they, too, have lost their joie de vivre. “Can this family be saved?” we ask. Lee’s answer is a simple, yet most refreshing one. Those looking for a course in Eastern wisdom will be left disappointed, but Lee’s solution is no more different in a Taiwanese household than it would be in an English, Kenyan, or Peruvian one. Lee shows us that the basic human condition is universal and easily crosses cultures. And stick around for the moment that gets Mr. Chu back on the right track. It’s beautifully written and staged by Lee.

WE DISAGREE ON ...  THEY MADE ME A CRIMINAL (March 4, 9:15 am)

ED: C. Warner Bros. had a unique talent for remaking their movies, and, although many film fans don’t know it (because it’s rarely screened), this film is actually a remake of The Life of Jimmy Dolan from 1933 with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Loretta Young, and Aline MacMahon with Garfield stepping to the Fairbanks role as a prizefighter on the lam whose cynicism fades under the spell of a good woman. The film is Garfield’s – he’s a distinct improvement on Fairbanks Jr. in the role. But, as astounding as it seems to us today, Garfield wasn’t the film’s main attraction. That would have been the Dead End Kids, whom Warners’ was pushing. Now, without them, the film would have been no great shakes, for although Garfield is superb in an early role, co-star Claude Rains is sleepwalking through the proceedings, and the ham antics of the Dead End Kids (who, with the exception of Huntz Hall, use the same names they did in Dead End) only serve to pull the film down. Gloria Dickson also gives good reasons why she never made it past the B’s. She’s definitely lackluster. The only reason I even give this film a “C” s because of Garfield alone, but even he can’t rescue this from being a mess.

DAVID: B+. Each week Ed gives me the honor of selecting the film for our "We Disagree" feature. He got a good laugh when I chose They Made Me a Criminal. Why? Well, it's simple. There are few "actors" I loathe as much as the Dead End Kids, later to become the even more annoying Bowery Boys (as well as the East Side Kids and the Little Tough Guys). And Billy Halop may be the worst on-screen personality I've ever seen. However, they are excellent in 1937's Dead End, the movie version of the play in which they starred. They're not b