TCM TiVo Alert Archives: October 1, 2015 to Present

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 23–February 28

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (February 25, 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 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.

THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (February 28, 8:00 pm): More than any film made after Casablanca, this 1948 classic showed Humphrey Bogart's 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. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

STAGECOACH (February 25, 10:00 am): This John Ford movie was not only a big hit with moviegoers at the time, but also marked a change in the maturing of the Western, emphasizing character development over mere bang-bang, shoot ‘em up action and bringing the Western out of the Bs and onto the top of the marquee. Oh yeah, there’s lots of action sequences in the film, but they’re nicely balanced by character with depth and about whom we actually care. Even John Wayne does a nice job here, though it took Ford lots of work to wrangle a good performance out of him. Watch for the Indian attack and keep your eye on the peerless stunt work by second unit director Yakima Canutt. In his Westerns, Ford always provided work for neighboring Navaho tribesmen, and even made sure they received union wages. They, in turn (as per his biography) named him “Natani Nez,” which means “Tall Leader.”

THEM! (February 26, 3:45 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.

WE AGREE ON ... THE THIRD MAN (February 26, 9:45 pm)

ED: A+. The zither music by Anton Karas is the most unforgettable feature of the film and leads us to think the movie is optimistic in tone. Nothing could be further from the truth. This film is an ironical jape at postwar politics and a Europe recovering from an apocalypse. The most famous collaboration of director Carol Reed and writer Graham Greene, it has the outward structure of a suspense thriller with an inner core of postwar grotesque decadence. Holly Martens (Joseph Cotten) a simple writer of pulp Westerns, has come to Vienna to see his old friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), only to be told that Lime had died in an accident. In his attempt to learn the facts of his friend’s death, Cotten finds out so much that when he finally finds Lime alive and well, he wishes he were dead. Harry Lime is the epitome of decadence: evil with sardonic wit and somewhat inscrutable. Trevor Howard, as Major Calloway, gives the movie’s most understated performance as the person who clues Martens in to the seamier side of life while repeatedly telling him to just go home and forget it. Greene sees Martens as the typical American: wide-eyed, naive and trusting and it is up to the other characters in the film to disabuse him of these notions. This is so thorough that in the end he is even robbed of the illusion that Harry’s former lover, Anna (Alida Valli), actually cares for him, although the fact that she can never remember his name should have told him something.

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

Schedule Subject to Change (All Times Eastern)

February 23

6:45 am — SAN ANTONIO (WB, 1945): Errol Flynn, Alexis Smith. A reformed rustler tracks down a band of cattle thieves and tries to reform a crooked dance-hall girl. B+

8:45 am — SAN FRANCISCO (MGM, 1936): Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, & Jeanette McDonald. A singer and a battling priest try to reform a Barbary Coast saloonkeeper in the days right before the big earthquake. B

2:45 pm — THE SEA HAWK (WB, 1940): Errol Flynn, Flora Robson, & Brenda Marshall. Flynn protects Queen Elizabeth (Robson) and Good Old England from those pesky Spaniards. B+

5:00 pm — THE SEA WOLF (WB, 1941): Edward G. Robinson, Ida Lupino, & John Garfield. A sadistic captain rescues the survivors of a shipwreck in this adaptation of Jack London’s story. A

6:30 pm — SECOND CHORUS (Paramount, 1940): Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard. Two composers vie for the heart of their lady manager as they head for Broadway. C

8:00 pm — SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (MGM, 1954): Howard Keel, Jeff Richards. When their older brother weds, six lumberjacks decide it’s time to go courting. B

10:00 pm — THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION (Universal, 1976): Alan Arkin, Nicol Williamson, & Vanessa Redgrave. Watson tricks Holmes into seeing Dr. Sigmund Freud for his cocaine addiction. B+

12:00 am — SHAFT (MGM, 1971): Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn. A private eye is hired by an underworld big to find his kidnapped daughter. This is the film that helped kick off the Blaxploitation craze. A

2:00 am — SHALL WE DANCE? (RKO, 1937): Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers. A ballet dancer and a showgirl fake a marriage for publicity purposes and fall in love unexpectedly. A-

4:15 am — SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (RKO, 1949): John Wayne, Joanne Dru.  An aging Calvary officer tries to prevent an Indian war days before his retirement.. A

February 24

6:00 am — THE SHEEPMAN (MGM, 1958): Glenn Ford, Shirley MacLaine, & Leslie Nielsen. Ford stars in this Western as a tough sheep rancher battling cattle baron Nielsen for land and MacLaine. B

9:30 am — SHOW BOAT (MGM, 1951): Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel. Grayson and Keel lead an all-star cast in MGM’s splashy remake of the 1936 musical about life on a Mississippi showboat. B-

11:30 am — THE SILVER CHALICE (WB, 1954): Paul Newman, Virginia Mayo. A silversmith is charged to make the chalice for The Last Supper. D-

2:00 pm — SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (Columbia, 1952): Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, & Donald O’Connor. A great cast stars in this great musical satire of the early days of sound musicals. A+

3:45 pm — THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE (Universal, 1976): Gemma Craven, Richard Chamberlain. Bryan Forbes directs this version of Cinderella. B-

6:15 pm — SMALL TOWN GIRL (MGM, 1936): Janet Gaynor, Robert Taylor. After marrying a drunken playboy, his bride tries to win his heart while he’s sober. B-

8:00 pm — SOME LIKE IT HOT (UA, 1959): Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis. Billy Wilder’s comedy about two musicians on the run from gangsters who disguise themselves as women. B+

10:15 pm — SPARTACUS  (UA, 1960): Kirk Douglas, Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Peter Ustinov, & Tony Curtis. The classic screen version of one of the most famous slave revolts in history. A+

1:45 am — SPEEDY (Paramount, 1928): Harold Lloyd, Ann Christy. A young man helps his girlfriend save the family trolley business. Silent. A

3:30 am — THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS (WB, 1958): Jimmy Stewart, Murray Hamilton. Stewart has the title role in the story of Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight to Paris. A

February 25

6:00 am — SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (WB, 1961): Warren Beatty, Natalie Wood. The sexual repression of ‘20s society drives two teen lovers nuts. Directed by Elia Kazan. B-

8:15 am — STAGE DOOR (RKO, 1937): Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, & Lucille Ball. Aspiring actresses live in a boarding house while waiting for the big break. C+

10:00 am — STAGECOACH (UA, 1939): Thomas Mitchell, Claire Trevor. John Ford’s great Western with a breakout performance by John Wayne as The Ringo Kid. A+

12:00 pm — A STAR IS BORN (Selznick International, 1937): Frederic March, Janet Gaynor. A fading alcoholic leading man (March) marries the young beginner (Gaynor) he mentored to stardom. A+

2:00 pm — THE STORY OF G. I. JOE (UA, 1945): Burgess Meredith, Robert Mitchum. War correspondent Ernie Pyle travels with the troops through North Africa and Italy. B

4:00 pm — STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (WB, 1951): Robert Walker, Farley Granger. Hitchcock’s classic about a psycho socialite determined to drag a pro tennis player into his web of murder. A+

5:45 pm — A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (WB, 1951): Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh. Fading southern belle Leigh tries to build a new life when she moves in with her sister and brutish brother-in-law. A+

8:00 pm — SUMMER OF ’42 (WB, 1971): Jennifer O’Neil, Gary Grimes & Jerry Houser. A high school student falls in love, for the first time, with a World War II bride. B+

10:00 pm — THE SUNDOWNERS (WB, 1960): Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr. An Australian sheepherder and his wife clash over their nomadic existence and their son’s future. A+

12:30 am — SWING TIME (RKO, 1936): Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers. Astaire and Rogers sing and dance to the music of Jerome Kern in this nearly flawless film. A+

2:30 am — A TALE OF TWO CITIES (MGM, 1935): Ronald Colman, Elizabeth Allan. Two men are in love with the same woman during the French Revolution in this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel. A+

February 26

7:15 am — TEST PILOT (MGM, 1938): Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, & Spencer Tracy. A test pilot’s wife and best friend are trying to keep him sober and safe. C

9:30 am — THAT GIRL FROM PARIS (RKO, 1937): Lily Pons, Jack Oakie. A French opera star in hiding hooks up with a swing band. C

11:15 am — THAT HAMILTON WOMAN (UA, 1941): Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, & Alan Mowbray. Naval hero Lord Nelson (Olivier) defies convention to court a married woman of common birth. A

1:30 pm — THAT MAN FROM RIO (Lopert, 1964): Jean-Paul Belmondo, Francoise Dorleac, & Jean Servais. A pilot gets mixed up in an international search for stolen art. A

3:45 pm — THEM! (WB, 1954): James Whitmore, James Arness, & Edmund Gwenn. Take one part sci-fi, one part red scare and one part noir about ants made into giants by A-bomb testing in the New Mexico desert. A+

8:00 pm — THE THIN MAN (MGM, 1934): William Powell, Myrna Loy. Powell and Loy as filmdom’s most celebrated couple: Nick and Nora Charles. A+

9:45 pm — THE THIRD MAN (London Film Productions, 1949): Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, & Valli. A man's investigation of a friend's death uncovers corruption in post-World War II Vienna. A+

11:45 pm — THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (MGM, 1944): Spencer Tracy, Robert Walker. Tracy stars as Gen. Jimmy Doolittle in this story of his famous raid over Tokyo. B+

2:15 am — A THOUSAND CLOWNS (UA, 1965): Jason Robards, Barbara Harris. An iconoclastic comedy writer has “adopted” his sister’s illegitimate son and must fight to keep him. C-

February 27

6:45 am — THREE COMRADES (MGM, 1938): Robert Taylor, Margaret Sullavan, Robert Young & Franchot Tone. Three friends share their love for a dying woman in between-the-wars Germany. A

8:30 am — THREE LITTLE WORDS (MGM, 1950): Fred Astaire, Red Skelton, & Vera-Ellen. Fred and Red are just fine in this musical biography about songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. B+

10:15 am — THE THREE MUSKETEERS (MGM, 1948): Gene Kelly, Lana Turner. Gene Kelly’s presence insures a more athletic and choreographed version of the Dumas classic. B

12:30 pm — THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (Svensk Filmindustri, 1961): Harriet Anderson, Max Von Sydow. A recently released mental patient becomes obsessed with her younger brother. A+

4:15 pm — THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL (WB, 1946): Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson & Janis Paige. Two producers and their girls look for a backer for their big show. C+

6:15 pm — T-MEN (Eagle-Lion, 1948): Dennis O’Keefe, Mary Meade & Alfred Ryder. U.S. agents infiltrate a deadly counterfeit ring. Directed by Anthony Mann. A-

8:00 pm — TO BE OR NOT TO BE (UA, 1942): Jack Benny, Carole Lombard. Ernst Lubitsch’s classic about a troupe of Polish actors who aid the Underground in duping the Nazis. A-

10:00 pm — TO EACH HIS OWN (Paramount, 1946): Olivia de Havilland, Mary Anderson. A single mother gives up her son, then fights to remain a part of his life. A-

12:15 am — TOM JONES (UA, 1963): Albert Finney, Susannah York. Director Tony Richardson’s ribald comedy follows the adventures the adopted son of a British squire. A

2:30 am — TOM, DICK, AND HARRY (RKO, 1941): Ginger Rogers, Burgess Meredith, George Murphy, & Alan Marshall. Rogers accepts three marriage proposals and dreams of life with each man. A-

5:30 am — TOP HAT (RKO, 1935): Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers. Quintessential with a great Irving Berlin score highlighted by Fred and Ginger’s dancing to “Cheek to Cheek” It’s one for the ages. A+

February 28

7:30 am — TOPPER RETURNS (U.A., 1941): Joan Blondell, Roland Young, & Carole Landis. Beautiful ghost Blondell enlists Topper’s help to solve her murder. B

9:15 am — TORA! TORA! TORA! (Fox, 1970): Joseph Cotten, So Yamamura. A docudrama reenactment of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, before, during, and afterA

11:45 am — TORCH SONG (MGM, 1953): Joan Crawford, Michael Wilding. Tough-ass Broadway star Joan meets her match in the new pianist, a blind war veteran. C

1:30 pm — TORPEDO RUN (MGM, 1958): Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine. A submarine commander faces a dilemma when he’s forced to blow up a Japanese troop ship containing his family. C+

3:00 pm — TORTILLA FLAT (MGM, 1942): Spencer Tracy, John Garfield, & Hedy Lamarr. Inhabitants of a Southern California town strive for the simple pleasures of life. A-

5:30 pm — TRADER HORN (MGM, 1931): Harry Carey, Edwina Booth. Prehistoric but entertaining hokum about an African trader and a white jungle goddess joining forces to fight a hostile tribe. C

8:00 pm — THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (WB, 1948): Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, & Tim Holt. A classic about three ordinary men and what gold does to ordinary men. A+

10:30 pm — A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (Fox, 1945): Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell & James Dunn. A girl in the slums tries to find her way with the help of her devoted mother and alcoholic father. A

1:00 am — TRISTANA (Epoca Films, 1970): Catherine Deneuve, Fernando Rey. A young girl’s guardian falls in love with her. Directed by Luis Bunuel. B

3:00 am — TULSA (Eagle-Lion, 1949): Susan Hayward, Robert Preston. Cattle owner’s daughter Hayward risks the ranch to drill for oil. B

4:30 am — 12 ANGRY MEN (UA, 1957): Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb. A holdout juror (Fonda) tries to convince the other to vote “not guilty.” A+


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 15–February 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

MONSIEUR VERDOUX (February 17, 5:00 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.

NETWORK (February 18, 10:30 pm): 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. The film shows the mental breakdown of anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) and how it captures the attention of viewers whose voyeur tendencies only grow. 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, 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (February 16, 10:15 pm): John Ford’s nostalgic look at the Old West and the encroachments of modern civilization, epitomized in the person of Rance Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart), an idealistic young Eastern lawyer who is robbed on his way West, settles in the town of Shinbone, and while working as a dishwasher/waiter, learns about Western life. The town is terrorized by the villainous Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), and the only man in town to stand up to him is Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) – until Stoddard takes it upon himself to rid the town of the murderous Valance. After killing Valance in a showdown, Stoddard parleys it into a political career that sees him become his state’s first senator, but later learns the truth – that it was Doniphon who actually shot and killed Valance. returning to Shinbone with wife Hallie (Vera Miles) years later for the funeral of the now forgotten Doniphon, Stoddard is interviewed by a young reporter and wants to set the record clear. It’s basically John Ford doing what he does best: making Westerns. The only glitch is that Stewart’s too long in the tooth to play the young idealistic Stoddard, but other than that, this is a film that transcends the genre, a tilm even a non-Western fan will love.

THE PRIZEFIGHTER AND THE LADY (February 21, 6:00 am): This was originally a story in the mold of The Champ written by Frances Marion under orders (she thought it warmed over soup) from L.B. Mayer as a vehicle for Clark Gable. But when she finished writing it, Gable was on another assignment and, instead, Max Baer was signed for the film. The story, about a boxing champion falling for a society girl, was kept, but Marion reworked her script to accommodate Baer. W.S. Van Dyke, known for his speed in getting a film done, replaced the original director, Howard Hawks (who begged off) and Van Dyke brought in Myrna Loy to play Baer’s love interest. Loy, who the studio was brining around slowly, was happy not to have to play an Oriental villain for once and she turned in a stellar performance that boosted her stock in the studio and led to The Thin Man. It’s said that Baer walks away with the film, but watch for Loy’s beautifully timed acting style, for, without it, Baer would have hit the canvas for the 10-count. The film also features Jack Dempsey, Primo Carnera, Jess Willard, and Strangler Lewis. Fans of B-movies of the 40s should recognize Frank Moran, an ex-boxer who plays a boxer in the film, and who became a supporting staple in several Monogram horror features of the ‘40s.

WE AGREE ON … THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (February 16, 10:30 am)

ED: A+. This second feature by Boy Wonder Orson Welles has the dubious distinction of being taken away from him by his studio, RKO, and handed over to film editor Robert Wise and trimmed down from about 130 minutes to 88. In addition the studio destroyed the cut footage so there’s no possibility of a restored version. Wise was also told to reshoot the darker scenes in the movie. Yet, for all the studio’s vandalism, it’s a near masterpiece. In fact, some film historians see it as better than Citizen Kane. I’m not among those who agree, for while it has more depth in plot and characterization than Kane, it lacks the élan that made Kane such compelling viewing. The casting is brilliant. For the character of the mother obsessed George, a role Welles might have well saved for himself he instead cast  the studio’s B-Western stalwart Tim Holt, who turned out to be terrific in the role. As the mother, silent screen actress Dolores Costello was chosen. She brings a wonderful lilting and vulnerable aspect to her performance. And Agnes Moorehead gave the performance of a lifetime as the bitter, neurotic Aunt Fanny. The Magnificent Ambersons fits perfectly the definition of a flawed masterpiece in the best sense of the phrase.

DAVID: A+. This is Orson Welles' follow to Citizen Kane starring Joseph Cotten (one of cinema's most underrated actors in just his second film) as Eugene Morgan, a charming and successful automobile manufacturer around the turn of the 20th century. Twenty years after he returns to town, Eugene falls in love again – though he's been in love with her for most of his life – with Isabel Amberson Minafer (Dolores Costello), a former flame who is later widowed. But Isabel's son, George (Tim Holt), steeped in the Amberson 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. Yes, Welles lost control of the final edit of this film, which was cut by more than 40 minutes. But the finished product is, as Ed so accurately describes it, a flawed masterpiece.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 8–February 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

FURY (February 8, 4:30 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. 

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (February 11, 8:00 pm): In this 1986 Woody Allen 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:

FORBIDDEN PLANET (February 8, 4:00 pm): It’s one of the best sci-fi films ever made, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, though it seems somewhat dated today. Leslie Neilsen leads a mission to plant Altair 4 to find out the fate of an expedition that landed there 20 years ago. What they discover is that one man (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter (Anne Francis) are left of the original expedition. Pidgeon leads them on a fantastic tour of a lost civilization that populated the planet years ago. Though way ahead of Earth in technology, they were suddenly wiped out one night while on the verge of their “greatest discovery.” Then when crew members begin dying mysteriously, a search is conducted for their killer. What they ultimately discover about the monster and the planet keeps us in thrall. Don’t let the Shakespeare connection throw you off; for those sci-fi fans, it’s a must. And for those that aren’t so sure, it’s still an intelligent movie nonetheless.

THE GREAT MCGINTY (February 10, 10:30 pm): Talented screenwriter Preston Sturges made his directorial debut with this hilarious satire on the political system, following the fortunes of Brian Donlevy as he rises from Skid Row bum to being elected governor of the state. Aiding him in his quest is Akim Tamiroff as the political boss and Sturges regular William Demerest. It’s one of the funniest films about our political system ever made and has lost none of its freshness or punch over the years.

WE AGREE ON … KEY LARGO (February 13, 12:30 am)

ED: A+. John Huston took a snoozer of a play from Maxwell Anderson and with the help of Richard Brooks, updated it and made it interesting. He then studded it with a terrific cast, including Humphrey Bogart, Eddie G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez, and Marc Lawrence, added the typical Huston touches on the directorial end, and came up with not a great movie, but an amazingly entertaining one. Bogart is a recent World War II veteran who visits a hotel on Key Largo to honor the memory of his best friend, who was killed in Italy during the war. His friend’s widow (Bacall) and her wheelchair-bound father (Barrymore) receive him warmly. Their idyllic visit is suddenly interrupted by gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson) and his gang, who use the hotel to wait out an approaching hurricane before going on their way to a rendezvous to deliver a load of counterfeit money. Although Rocco is based on Al Capone, who retired to Florida, and Lucky Luciano, he is more of a metaphor for the fascists who Bogart and his late friend fought in Italy. Bogart has sworn never again to take up arms, but as Huston makes clear over the course of the movie, we may run from evil, but in the end we must confront it is it is to be defeated. And this is the lesson Bogart learns as he realizes that Rocco and his boys must be stopped. Bogart may be the star, but it’s Robinson’s movie. Though he played characters like Johnny Rocco many times in the past, his dedication to his craft prevented him from giving anything less than 100% to his performance. As Huston noted, “I think Key Largo is best remembered by most people for the introductory scene, with Eddie in the bathtub, cigar in mouth. He looked like a crustacean with its shell off.” Claire Trevor earned a Best Supporting Oscar for her portrayal of Robinson’s alcoholic moll, based by Brooks on Luciano’s real life moll, Gay Orlova. At the time Key Largo was made (1948) Huston was on an incredible creative run, having just finished The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Over the next five years he would go on to direct We Were Strangers (1949), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Red Badge of Courage (1951), The African Queen (1951), Moulin Rouge (1952), and Beat the Devil (1953). Not bad, to say the least.

DAVID: A+. This is one of the 10 greatest films, the best film noir in cinematic history, and the most incredible ensemble cast you'll find in 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. Claire Trevor is tremendous as Rocco's boozy, neglected gangster moll, a role that won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and Lauren Bacall turns in an excellent performance 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 perfect.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 1–February 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BONNIE AND CLYDE (February 3, 4:15 am): A groundbreaking film in terms of style, content and graphic violence from 1967, which I consider to be among the two or three finest year in cinematic history. The leads – Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway – are outstanding in their roles as the famed outlaw duo oozing passion, raw sexuality, violence, charisma and charm at every turn. The supporting cast – notably Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons with Gene Wilder in a small but memorable role – are equally strong. The movie's violence goes from almost comic to intensely graphic. The final scene in which the two are shot dozens of times is outstanding, particularly the quick looks of horror Beatty and Dunaway give each other when they realize they're about to die a very brutal death. It conveys more emotion and intensity than almost anything you'll seen in film.

THE DEER HUNTER (February 6, 12:30 am):  Ever since I first saw The Deer Hunter in the theater when I was 11 years old, I have been captivated by this impressive film. To this day, it remains one of my favorite movies, and is one of the three best films of the 1970s. Mike (Robert DeNiro), Steve (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) are three western Pennsylvania steelworkers who goes to fight in the Vietnam War. The movie, a shade over three hours long, takes its time showing us what life is like for the three leads, their friends and families. Their worlds are centered on working at the mills (which were closing around the time of this film's release at a staggering level, destroying the economies of towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia) and escaping reality by hunting deer. The three are gung-ho to fight in Vietnam, but quickly learn the horrors of the war. The film is shocking, hard-hitting, tragic and captivating. The actors are fantastic and the film captures the authenticity of living in a steel town and attempting to survive a war.

ED’S BEST BETS:

AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (February 2, 7:30 am): Louis Malle based this film on a boyhood incident he experienced while at a Catholic boarding school in wartime France. 12-year old Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse) is a student at an exclusive Carmelite boarding school in the Ile de France. Privileged and intellectually precocious, he keeps his classmates at a distance, until one day, three new students are admitted to the school. Julien finds a kindred spirit in one of the boys, Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto) and the two strike up a friendship. Curious about his friend’s ambiguous answers to questions about his background, Julien snoops through Jean’s belongings and discovers that all tree new students are Jewish refugees being hidden by the monks. A student, looking for revenge after getting expelled, informs to the Gestapo on the activities of the headmaster and the school is raided. Julien inadvertently gives the game away and the boys are taken. This is a powerfully moving film, with excellent performances all around and taut direction from Malle. It won the 1987 Oscar for Best Foreign Film and remains one to catch.

BLAZING SADDLES (February 3, 10:30 pm): Mel Brooks’ famous send-up of the Hollywood Western staring Cleavon Little as a Black sheriff (replete with Gucci saddle) sent to the town of Rock Ridge to restore law and order. Needless to say, the reception he gets from the townsfolk is less than enthusiastic. With Gene Wilder as the Waco Kid, a famed gunslinger who fell prey to the bottle, Harvey Korman as the evil Hedley Lamarr (whose name becomes a running gag), Madeline Kahn as Lili Von Shtupp in a hilarious parody of Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again, Slim Pickens as Lamarr’s dense henchman Taggart, Alex Karras as Mungo, and Brooks himself as Governor Lepetomane (named for a French entertainer who could fart out popular tunes). Nothing is sacred with Brooks and his writers (who included Richard Pryor, who was originally cast as the sheriff). The film is so frantic that it runs out of steam about three-quarters of the way through, but it’s still a solid laugh riot. Those who offend easily should skip this, as it’s mostly politically incorrect. But for the rest us, it’s still a solid laugh-getter.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (February 4, 10:00 pm)

ED: A++. It’s a rare occurrence when the sequel is as good as the original; rarer still when it exceeds the original. But that is exactly the case here. The Bride of Frankenstein is the best horror movie ever made and one of the best movies ever made. Director James Whale, who was very reluctant to take this project on, as he feared being typecast as a horror director, gives us a stunning mixture of horror with macabre dark comedy. He also gives us the first anti-hero in the Monster, who in this film learns to speak with the help of a lonely blind hermit. Karloff may have thought it was a mistake for the Monster to speak, but he turns in one of his finest performances. Colin Clive, who in every picture, acts as if he’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown, is back as Henry Frankenstein, with lovely Valerie Hobson as his bride. Elsa Lancaster does double duty in the prologue as Mary Shelley and later as the cobbled together female made as a companion to the Monster, giving us pause to consider exactly who is “The Bride of Frankenstein.” However, is spite of Karloff’s performance, the movie is stolen outright by the wonderfully over-the-top performance of Ernest Thesiger as the deliciously desiccated Dr. Pretorious. Whale supplies the necessary requirement of Gothic horror with a healthy helping of shots at religion, sex, and authority. Also in the cast are Una O’Connor as the hysterical maid, Minnie; E.E. Clive as the pompous burgomaster; and John Carradine as a hunter. Walter Brennan is also in there somewhere. With lots of inside jokes (check out the homunculi king), a memorable score by Franz Waxman and a great script from John L. Balderston and William Hurlbut. As films go, it doesn’t get any better than this.

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


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 23–January 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (January 27, 6:00 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 didn't do anything good to his body. While the plot isn't exceptionally strong, it's clever – spoofing Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies.

CLAIRE'S KNEE (January 29, 2:00 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 will forever change his life for the worse. It's also about a younger teenage girl, Laura, Claire's half-sister, and her maturation. And then there's 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

COMA (January 28, 4:30 am): A neat thriller that combines the best of the conspiracy theory with the hospital soaper. A large number of healthy patients after undergoing routine operations are turning up in anesthesia-induced comas. When one of the victims is the best friend of Dr. Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold), she decides to investigate and discovers a black market organ transplant operation. It’s based on the best seller by Robin Cook, adapted and directed by Michael Crichton, who has his M.D. from Harvard, but decided in favor of writing fiction over practicing medicine. Crichton plays on our natural fears of hospitals with several scenes that will stay with the viewer.. Perfect to record and watch later, preferably in the dark.

20,000 YEARS IN SING-SING (January 31, 10:00 am): The only pairing of Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis is a memorable one in a prison drama based on Warden Lewis E. Lawes’ book. It still retains its power today, with Tracy as Tommy Connors, a hardened criminal who becomes locked in a battle of wills with Warden Paul Long (Arthur Byron). When Connors’ lawyer, Joe Finn (Louis Calhern), attacks girlfriend Fay Wilson (Bette Davis), Warden Long gives Connors leave on the honor system to visit her, as she’s critically ill. When Connor discovers that Finn is responsible for her injuries he attacks him. Fay shots and kills Finn, Connors takes the rap and is sentenced to the electric chair. Tracy and Davis are marvelous, and Calhern is wonderfully sleazy. Pre-Code at its best.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (January 31, 8:00 pm)

ED: B+. An intelligently made, highly affecting and well-meaning film that earned its star, Burt Lancaster, an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. But there are a few problems with it. One is its length, as it seems to drone on and on. Another is that director John Frankenheimer and screenwriter Guy Trosper are so reverential towards their subject (who, at age 75, was still in prison when this movie was made) that they never really come to grips with how to fully dramatize the life of a convicted killer who spent more than 40 years in solitary and who rejected humans for the companionship of birds. It’s never made clear how Robert Stroud (Lancaster) become transformed as the years pass, and thus we watch at a distance, as we would with a documentary. One has to applaud Lancaster for taking on such a difficult role, although an actor with his physicality in this sort of role comes off as semi-comatose at times. Compare this with his performance in The Train.

DAVID: A+. 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 with a mother complex, but comes across overall as a decent person. While in solitary confinement in Leavenworth, Stroud adopts and trains a sickly sparrow. After a while, he ends up with an entire bird collection and inspires other inmates to get birds. When some of the animals get sick, Stroud discovers ways to cure them, and becomes an expert on bird diseases, publishing articles and eventually a book on the subject. The concept may sound boring, but the screenplay is outstanding and the acting is first-rate. Lancaster is essentially the entire film, but the supporting cast that comes in and out of the movie is excellent. That includes Telly Savalas as a fellow prisoner, Thelma Ritter in the performance of her career as Stroud's mother (even though she's in less than a half-dozen scenes), and Karl Malden as the warden at Leavenworth and later at Alcatraz. The film does an excellent job of showing isolationism, the cruelty of prison and lack of rehabilitation, but there are some heartwarming moments in which human decency is on full display. 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 inaccurate.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 15–January 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

JAILHOUSE ROCK (January 17, 8:00 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.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (January 21, 1:15 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 himself 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 of Andrews' innocence 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:

ALL ABOUT EVE (January 15, 3:30 pm): One of the great films about the theater with knockout performances from leads Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm and George Sanders. Sander won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role. Sophisticated and cynical with a brilliant script by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz based on the short story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr. Life ended up imitating art when Baxter pulled strings to be nominated for Best Actress in addition to Davis. If she had stayed in the category of Best Supporting, it is likely both she and Davis would have taken home statuettes. Its one of those films that can be watched again and again with no lessening of enjoyment.

THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (January 13, 10:00 pm): 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 AGREE ON ... LARCENY, INC. (January 19, midnight)

ED: B+. Warners is a studio not known for its great comedies, so when a funny one crops up we pay attention. And this is a film with our attention. Edward G. Robinson stars in this brisk comedy as convict J. Chalmers “Pressure” Maxwell. He’s currently in prison but is about to be released. While in stir, his fellow inmate Leo (Anthony Quinn) came up with a unique proposal to rob a bank. Pressure, however, isn’t interested. He intends to go straight, move to Florida and open a dog track. The problem is that takes money and money is the one thing Pressure doesn't have. Nor can he get it. Banks won’t make loans without collateral. Along with his boys (Broderick Crawford and Edward Brophy), he raises enough scratch to buy a failing luggage store next to the bank. His plan is to tunnel in through his basement to the banks vault and help himself. It’s the perfect set-up: customers never appear and the street outside seems to be in a permanent state of disrepair. Suddenly, though, everything begins going right for Pressure. Customers suddenly appear. The other store owners make him president of their committee. A letter he writes on their behalf to the city about the disrepair street gets action. And worst of all, once Leo gets wind of Pressure’s plan, he breaks out of jail to get his share. Robinson is the show here in another send-up of his gangster roles. Aided by Crawford and the vastly underrated Brophy, he keeps the action moving. With Jane Wyman in a good turn as his adopted daughter and Jack Carson as an eager salesman, it’s one to catch.

DAVID: B+. 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 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 very successful. Eddie G.'s charisma and comedic skills shine in this funny and endearing movie.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 8–January 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ANNIE HALL (January 8, 8:00 pm): The movie that changed it all for Woody Allen, its lead actor, director, and co-writer – and his fans. While Allen's previous films weren't conventional comedies, the main focus was on being funny; and so many of them were. There are still great comedic scenes in Annie Hall, but this 1977 film is far more serious than anything Allen ever made to that point. 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.”

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (January 14, 8:00 pm): 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

FEMALE (January 9, 8:00 pm): Ruth Chatterton is the head of a major automobile manufacturer. She runs the company with an iron hand, and expects the same of her love life, until she runs into the headstrong and hunky George Brent. The two were married in real life. This s a nice role-reversal story – stories like this with a strong female lead character wouldn’t be seen again until Sex and the City. A Pre-Code must see.

THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) (January 11, 10:00 am): 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 ... ROLLERBALL (January 8, 5:45 pm)

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

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


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 1–January 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (January 2, 2:15 am): Only a year after John Steinbeck's 1939 classic story of the Joad family, Okies who travel to California after the Dust Bowl wipes out their farm, life doesn't get much better for the family on their drive and even worse once they get to the state. The book is a classic, but the film is even better. The film and book are certainly left-wing, pro-labor union and pro-Communist. As Roger Ebert has written, it's odd that Director John Ford and Executive Producer Darryl F. Zanuck, both conservatives, made this film. Despite the tragic story, the movie is beautiful and very moving. You'd be hard-pressed to find better acting than the performances here by Henry Fonda (Tom Joad), John Carradine (Jim Casy, a former pastor turned union organizer) and Jane Darwell (Ma Joad). Tom's goodbye speech to his mother can move you to tears: "I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there, too." Ma says: "I don't understand it, Tom." He replies: "Me, neither, Ma, but just somethin' I been thinkin' about."

HEAVEN CAN WAIT (January 4, 8:00 pm): This 1978 remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan is better than the original, and the original is a great film. Warren Beatty is Joe Pendleton, a quirky backup quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams who's about to get the starting job. He is killed in a tunnel when his bicycle collides with a truck. The problem is he's not supposed to die, but an overanxious "escort" (played by Buck Henry, who co-directed the film with Beatty) takes him early to Heaven. Pendleton's body is cremated before the problem is resolved so a new body is needed. He ends up as Leo Farnsworth, a ruthless businessman killed by his cheating wife (Diane Cannon) and his personal secretary (Charles Grodin) as the two are having an affair. It's funny, it's sweet, it's charming and the acting is extraordinary. In addition to the actors above, excellent performances are given by an all-star cast that includes Jack Warden, Julie Christie, Vincent Gardenia and James Mason as Mr. Jordan. It was nominated for nine Oscars, winning just one.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE WOMAN IN GREEN (January 2, 6:15 am): When a series of murders takes place in London with the victims all missing their right forefingers, it sounds like a case for Sherlock Holmes. And that’s exactly what it is, as Homes and Watson delve into the shadowy worlds of hypnotism and blackmail. This “B” from Universal doesn’t slow down for a minute as Holmes, impeccably played by Basil Rathbone, takes on his greatest adversary in the person off the great Henry Daniell. An enjoyably time for the viewer.

TAXI (January 6, 6:45 pm): Cagney is great as a hotheaded hack fighting a syndicate that seeks to control independent taxi owners. Loretta Young co-stars as his girlfriend (and eventual wife), whose father, Guy Kibbee, owns the company Cagney hacks for. Check out the scene where Cagney and Young enter a dance contest won by George Raft, who gets punched out of Cagney for his troubles. Yeah, it’s hokey, but it’s also riveting to watch. And watch for Cagney speaking Yiddish in the opening scenes.

WE DISAGREE ON ... SAN QUENTIN (January 4, 6:30 am)

ED: CSan Quentin is an entertaining programmer with strong performances by Bogie, Ann Sheridan, Pat O’Brien, and especially Barton MacLane. However, it is a programmer, churned out quickly and totally formula. Bogie is the hot-headed, rebellious convict whose older sister, Sheridan, is dating the captain of the guards, O’Brien. MacLane is the evil guard who manipulates Bogie into escaping. Directed by studio hack Lloyd Bacon, who turned them out fast and no-frills, this is one of two prison drama releases from Warners that year, both with Sheridan. Entertaining, yes, Memorable, no. In later interviews, even Bogie had trouble remembering he was in it.

DAVID: B. Released in 1937, during Humphrey Bogart's time at Warner Brothers when the studio had little idea what to do with him, San Quentin is an enjoyable 70-minute crime drama that has Bogie as an inmate at San Quentin trying to go straight. While Pat O'Brien and Ann Sheridan get top billing, it's Bogart as Sheridan's kid brother who shines the brightest. He's also in the most scenes. O'Brien is the new captain of the guards who falls for Sheridan, a nightclub singer. Because of her brother's experiences with law enforcement, Sheridan isn't a fan of prison guards so O'Brien keeps that a secret from her until she find out, leading to a falling out between the two. Meanwhile, O'Brien is giving special treatment to Bogart, primarily because he sees some good in him and believes he can be rehabilitated. But the other inmates, particularly those who have been in San Quentin for a lot longer, say it's because O'Brien is dating Bogart's sister. The film moves along at a brisk pace, well directed by Lloyd Bacon – Ed has mentioned Bacon numerous times over the years, but I believe this is the first time he refers to him as a "studio hack." Ed even pays tribute to Bacon in this article. The best scene is at the end after Bogie escapes, but makes it back to San Quentin – the film was shot on location at the prison – to show O'Brien that he was truly rehabilitated.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 23–December 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

I LOVE YOU AGAIN (December 23, 4:00 pm): Cinema's greatest couple, William Powell and Myrna Loy, are reunited in this 1940 film with W.S. Van Dyke, who directed them in the 1934 classic, The Thin Man. When you have Powell and Loy working together, the chemistry is magic. It's a fun film to watch with Powell showing great range, playing the same character two completely different ways. Before a head injury that reverts Powell's character back to his old self as a conman, he promised to take a group of Boy Rangers on trip into the woods to learn about deer-tracking techniques. He has no idea what to do so he makes stuff up. He ends up falling into holes, getting caught in traps and is completely lost. It's Powell's best physical-comedy role that I've seen. And Myrna, what can you possibly write to capture her beauty and talent? Well, you could write a book. But I'll leave it as she is wonderful and delightful in this movie with her character evolving with the changes in Powell's character.

BEN-HUR (December 25, 1:00 pm): It's nearly four hours long, but it's one of cinema's most spectacular epics. Charlton Heston is masterful as 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. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (December 24, 8:00 pm): Barbara Stanwyck was one of the very, very few that could go from playing in tear jerkers (Stella Dallas) to corporate dramas (Executive Suite) to steamy crime dramas (Double Indemnity) to Westerns (The Maverick Queen) to screwball comedies (The Lady Eve) and distinguish herself in each genre. And this gentle romantic comedy is no different. Here she plays Elizabeth Lane, a Martha Stewart type, a columnist for “Smart Housekeeping,” and a woman touted as “the greatest cook in the country,” with a perfect home in the ‘burbs, a perfect husband, and a perfect baby. She’s the role model to millions of readers. The only problem is that Elizabeth Lane is none of the above. She’s unmarried, no child, lives in the city, and the closest she’s even been to a stove is how near she sits to the restaurant’s kitchen. Trouble ensues when a war hero (Dennis Morgan), as part of a publicity stunt for her magazine, is granted a visit to her “farm.” And, to make things worse, her boss, played by Sydney Greenstreet, is coming along. How can she pull of this charade and not get fired? Stanwyck pulls it off beautifully, giving yet another top-notch performance as the harried columnist. Morgan is excellent as the visiting war hero, and it’s nice to see Sydney Greenstreet in a role other than as the bad guy. He acquits himself rather nicely here. This is the perfect film for those who want to see light holiday fare during this time, and a perfect film for those that have not yet had the pleasure of sampling Stanwyck’s work in comedies.

SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (December 25, 10:00 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 ... THE OMEGA MAN (December 26, 8:00 pm)

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

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


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 15–December 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BEWARE, MY LOVELY (December 19, 7:45 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.

MILDRED PIERCE (December 21, 6:00 pm): Joan Crawford is at her finest in this 1945 noir-soaper. She plays the title character whose goal in life is to spoil her oldest daughter (Ann Blyth, who is magnificent in this role) no matter the sacrifice. And what does Mildred get in return? A self-absorbed, selfish snob of a daughter who looks down at her mother and what she has done in order to give her everything she desires. The film is told in flashbacks and the ending is fantastic.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (December 15, 8:00 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 Sullavan, 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 such as hit that it was later remade as a Judy Garland musical, In the Good Old Summertime (1949), a Broadway musical, She Loves Me (1963, revived this year), 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.

REMEMBER THE NIGHT (December 22, 9:45 pm): This being the Christmas season, TCM rolls out the Christmas-themed movies. And this little item, written by Preston Sturges, is one of the best. Fred MacMurray is an assistant prosecutor in court against shoplifter Barbara Stanwyck and her lawyer. Knowing his chance for a conviction are slim and none, given the fact its the holiday season and Stanwyck’s lawyer is pulling out all the stops in presenting his client as a downtrodden poor woman, McMurray successfully has the trial postponed until after the holidays. Suddenly his conscience begins to bother him at the though of leaving Stanwyck in the clink over the holidays and he bails her out. She is poor and has nowhere to go. He learns that her mother has a farm in Indiana and as he is going to visit his mother and family in that state he arranges to drop her at her mother’s farm. However, her mother turns her back on her daughter. Stressed, MacMurray brings her to his family’s home, where she’s greeted almost as one of the family. Over the day that follow they fall in love, which leads to a bittersweet ending when he returns her to court after the holidays. Sturges’ script is intelligent, witty and incisive. Sturges described the movies as one that "had quite a lot of schmaltz, a good dose of schmerz and just enough schmutz to make it box office.” That’s putting it mildly, although having such actors as Stanwyck and MacMurray, supported by Beulah Bondi and Willard Robertson, made things a whole lot easier. It’s not a movie many think of when considering holiday fare, but it’s one of the best nevertheless.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THIRD FINGER, LEFT HAND (December 16, 10:00 am)

ED: C. There is a presumption with this column that a grade of anything less than a “B” means the film stinks. This is not true. Third Finger, Left Hand is an enjoyable, highly watchable picture with two good performances from its leads. But compared to other films that Loy made during this period, her most fecund with MGM, it lags behind in quality, for in reality, entertaining though it is, it is no more than a programmer, made to fill the demand for Myrna Loy films. What also does the film in to an extent is the plot. It’s an excellent, somewhat sophisticated story, but due to the stricture of the Code, it can only go so far. In reality this is a picture that would have played much better in the pre-Code era, where there was more room to manuever. Otherwise it’s a good way to spend 90 minutes or so.

DAVID: B. This is a vastly underrated, almost forgotten, screwball comedy starring Myrna Loy as Margot Merrick, a magazine editor who pretends she is married in order to stop the advances of her lecherous boss, who's hit on the last two editors causing his wife to fire them. Merrick creates an elaborate story about marrying a man she met one night in South America and hasn't seen since. Her story keeps changing, but few seem to notice, including the other men she comes across who want to date her. By chance, she meets artist Jeff Thompson (played by the marvelous Melvyn Douglas), and while there's initially some anger on his part because a mistake she made costs him a huge deal, she smooth talks her way with an art dealer (played by old hand Donald Meek) and all is forgiven. Jeff and Margot become attracted to each other and then he finds out about the "husband." He also quickly figures out the husband isn't real and to gain some revenge, he shows up at her family home claiming to be her spouse. Hilarity ensues as the two get married to legitimize a quickly divorce. But it's a rom-com so you can figure out the ending. But along the way, there are numerous amusing situations the two find themselves in, and Myrna doing a trampy Brooklyn accent at Niagara Falls is among the funniest scenes I've ever seen her do. It's very charming, moves at a great pace and the acting is outstanding. It's almost forgotten because Loy and Douglas made so many memorable films that it hasn't received the credit it so richly deserves.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 8–December 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ON BORROWED TIME (December 10, 6:30 pm): Like he did in numerous movies, Lionel Barrymore plays a grumpy old wheelchair-bound man (Gramps). He's raising his grandson, Pud (played by Bobs Watson; yeah Bobs as in more than one Bob), in this one. Pud's mother and father die in a car accident before the film starts, and his aunt wants to raise him, primarily to get her hands on the money left to the boy by his parents. But Pud and Gramps can't stand her, see right through her, and share an exceptionally close bond. Gramps has an apple tree and the fruit is constantly being stolen so he makes a wish that anybody climbing 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. On Borrowed Time has a wonderful storyline, with many funny scenes, as well as a loving and touching message. Also, the acting is outstanding. Barrymore proved yet again that he never gave a bad performance.

3:10 TO YUMA (December 13, 11:30 am): One of the best Westerns I've seen, 3:10 to Yuma stars Van Heflin as down-on-his-luck farmer Dan Evans in desperate need of money to dig a well. He accepts an assignment to secretly transport notorious gang leader Ben Wade (Glenn Ford, who was made for Westerns), to a nearby town where Wade will be placed aboard a train that will take him to Yuma. This is a tense, psychological drama directed by Delmar Daves that concentrates on the relationship between captor and prisoner. The story departs from most other Westerns of the time in that much of it takes place not in the great wide open, but in a single room where the characters battle it out as Wade stalls for time so his gang can come to his rescue.

ED’S BEST BETS:

EMMA (December 9, 12:30 pm): Marie Dressler was never better than is this story of a housekeeper for would-be investor Frederick Smith (Jean Hersholt), who must suddenly become the caregiver for three children and a new infant after their mother dies in childbirth. She does a spectacular job of raising the children, and 20 years later, when Smith’s inventions have made the family wealthy, she marries her employer – to the disapproval of the children, who, except for the youngest, Ronnie (Richard Cromwell), are a spoiled and ungrateful lot. When Smith dies and leaves everything to Emma, the children, except for the loyal Ronnie, sue in court to invalidate the will. This is a wonderful soaper with Dressler’s down-to-earth housekeeper one of the best remembered characters in film. Leonard Praskins and Zelda Sears penned the screenplay based a story by Frances Marion, who knew what would sell for her friend Dressler and what wouldn’t. In the hands of a less talented actress, Emma would be a crashing bore, but Dressler pulls it off with just the right amount of restraint and panache.

KING KONG (December 10, 8:00 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 AGREE ON ... IKIRU (December 13, 11:30 pm)

ED: A+. Although Akira Kurosawa tends to be best remembered for his forceful and excellent samurai films, his best film may well be this thoughtful, moving and intensely affecting account of an ordinary man’s struggle to find meaning in his life during the days he has left after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Takashi Shimura stars as Kanji Watanabe, a longtime minor bureaucrat in Tokyo’s postwar government who, along with his co-workers, has spent his entire working life without accomplishing anything of importance. Once he learns that his time is limited, he begins to realize that he has gone through his life without any meaningful relationships with family, friends, or even strangers. As he continues to examine his life, he is led to the belief that perhaps he can make a difference by arranging for the construction of a playground in a poorer section of the city. Central to the success of the film is the compelling performance by Shimura as the dying bureaucrat. Shimura injects the character of Watanabe with just the right amount of existential angst to keep Watanabe firmly planted in reality instead of simply going overboard and milking it for every last tear from the audience. Watanabe comes to embrace the hope that by giving something back he can begin to atone for his miserable, wasted existence. Ikiru is best viewed through recording and viewing at an earlier time, for I guarantee that for those who do watch at this late an hour will get little sleep while pondering what they have seen over the course of the last two hours.

DAVID: A+. Ikiru is a masterpiece of cinema – beautiful, poetic, tragic, moving and transforming. At the same time, it's also a damning indictment of government, particularly its bureaucracy and politics, as well as doctors and most importantly, the time we all waste in life wasting time. Sure, we all have jobs to do – and often times, we're not doing anything terribly important but cashing a paycheck and marking time – but Akira Kurosawa's 1952 film shows we can sometimes do something that makes an impact in someone's life, even if it's small. Kurosawa was a legendary director who made numerous classic films, but none are finer or have more of an impact on the viewer than Ikiru, translated from Japanese to mean: to live. Takashi Shimura, a regular Kurosawa player, stars as Kanji Watanabe, a mid-level bureaucrat who focuses his entire life on stamping approval seals on paperwork day in and day out, not missing a single day of work for nearly 30 years. He's not feeling well as the film opens and despite a doctor telling him he has a minor ulcer, Watanabe knows better thanks to a man in the waiting room who informs him he has stomach cancer and that doctors will tell him it's nothing – which is exactly what happens. (The film begins with a narrator telling us Watanabe has stomach cancer.) From there, Watanabe goes from one minor adventure to another, trying to pack a lifetime of emptiness into the short time he has left to live. Shimura is able to perfectly capture the haunting look of impending death with his facial expressions. While Watanabe stops going to work regularly, he is able to make an impact on the lives of those in an impoverished neighborhood with a diseased swamp. At the request of the women in that community, who get the bureaucratic runaround, he is able to turn the swamp into a playground. While those in government are resistant to give him any credit for the playground after his death – which comes with about an hour left in the film – some finally realize that one man can indeed make a difference. In flashbacks at his funeral, we see the lengths Watanabe went to for complete strangers. And that is the beautifully tragic lesson Kurosawa teaches us in Ikriu, a film that stays with the viewer long after it ends.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 1–December 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

MEET JOHN DOE (December 1, 2:15 am): This is a wonderful film and I've never seen Gary Cooper more relaxed in a role than of the fictitious John Doe, the every-man who is created by fired newspaper columnist Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck writes a column with a letter from "John Doe," who is tired of the corrupt system that has left him jobless and bitter, and plans to jump off the roof of city hall on Christmas Eve. The story takes on a life of its own so she convinces the paper's bosses to find a John Doe and write articles about his life, thus creating a national movement. The movie is a comedy with an important message about how society ignores the regular guy. Frank Capra's films are often too sentimental for my tastes, but he hits the right notes with this movie. The supporting cast is solid, particularly Walter Brennan as Cooper's tramp buddy, known as the Colonel, and James Gleason as the headline-hungry managing editor. The film is in the public domain so you can watch it online.

CAPE FEAR (December 4, 2:15 pm): The 1991 remake is very good, but I prefer the 1962 original with Robert Mitchum as the terrifying Max Cady who stalks Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) as well as his wife (Polly Bergen in an excellent performance) and teenage daughter (Lori Martin). The interaction between Mitchum and Peck makes this a must-see. No one can touch Mitchum when it comes to playing pure evil and he shines in this film. Cady is a criminal who spent eight years in prison for rape after Bowden, an attorney, stops him in the act and testifies against him. Cady is out and forget about rehabilitation. Cady is focused on one thing: seeking revenge in the worst possible ways by not only going after Bowden, but his wife and daughter. It is full of suspense with exceptional performances. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

HITLER’S MADMAN (December 3, 8:00 pm): This was German refugee Douglas Sirk’s first film in America, a concise and action packed story of the brutal reign of Nazi governor Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, his assassination by Czech resistance fighters, and the brutal revenge of Hitler upon that captive nation. Based on actual events, John Carradine makes for an effective Heydrich and he is supported by an outstanding cast, including Patricia Morison, Ralph Morgan and Elizabeth Russell. Look for Ava Gardner in a small, uncredited role as Franciska Pritric. Sirk provides a sterling example that a low budget does not necessarily make for a bad film. Made for Poverty Row studio PRC, Louis Mayer screened the finished product and was so taken that he purchased it from PRC. To give the film a little extra polish he had Sirk reshoot some of the material before release. The film holds up well today and shows how imagination and honest effort can defeat the lack of budget money.

TOKYO STORY (December 6, 1:30 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 ... LUST FOR LIFE (December 3, 3:45 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 overrated.


TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 23–November 30

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (November 24, 12:00 pm): Warner Brothers wasn't known for making excellent comedies in the 1930s and 40s, and Bette Davis didn't become famous for her comedic skills. However, this 1942 screwball comedy is the exception to the rule. Davis is delightful and funny as Maggie Cutler, secretary to Monty Woolley's character. Woolley's Sheridan Whiteside is an arrogant, acerbic lecturer and critic who slips on the front steps of the house of an Ohio family, injuring himself in the process. Since he's going to be laid up for a while, Whiteside thinks nothing of completely takes over the house, leading to some funny and madcap moments. Woolley, who reprised the role he first made famous on Broadway, is the best part of the movie. Davis is great and showed legitimate promise as a comedic actress. 

CROSSFIRE (November 28, 4:30 pm): Robert Ryan was a tremendous actor and this is my favorite film to feature him. This 1947 film noir that deals with anti-Semitism is considered the first B movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The film stars the great Robert Mitchum with Robert Young outstanding as a police detective. But it is Ryan's powerful portrayal of a white supremacist/anti-Semite GI who kills a Jewish guy he and his buddies meet at a bar who steals the movie. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

TOP HAT (November 25, 6:00 pm): Not only is this film the best of the Astaire-Rogers pairings, but it’s also one of the greatest musicals – if not the greatest – ever to come from Hollywood. Everything goes off perfectly in this movie: the score by none other than Irving Berlin, the dance numbers (especially “Top Hat,” and “Cheek to Cheek”), and even Fred’s pursuit of Ginger is fresh and funny. It’s the old formula – Fred meets Ginger, Fred loses Ginger, Fred gets Ginger – but in this film it has not yet run its course. Add to this a supporting cast featuring the always-reliable Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore, plus dependable Helen Broderick and Eric Rhodes, and the result is an engaging and charming 90 minutes. Look for Lucille Ball in an unbilled role as a flower clerk.

UMBERTO D (November 26, 2:00 am): Director Vittorio DeSica was known for his realistic portrayals of life in Postwar Italy. Next to The Bicycle Thieves, this is his most important  and best  film from that time. It takes a long, hard look at the problems of the unwanted elderly, the protagonist being a retired professor of linguistics at Bologna who can no longer survive on his meager pension. Thrown out of his apartment for back rent, he wanders the streets with his faithful terrier, Flike, Be warned, this is the saddest owner and pet drama since Old Yeller, and I'm not kidding when I 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.

WE DISAGREE ON ... SANS SOLEIL (November 30, 2:30 am):

ED: B+Sans Soleil is an interesting film. It’s full of documentary images, yet it really can’t be called a documentary in the strict sense of the word. It’s more of a personal meditation on the nature of human memory: the inability to recall context and nuances, and how the resulting perception of personal and global histories is affected. Director Chris Marker films most of it in Japan and Guinea-Bissau, two countries with wildly divergent cultures. The scenes in Japan are compelling, especially the temple devoted to cats, and it’s a sort of travelogue through the memory. The best way to enjoy it is surrender to it from the beginning. Instead of stopping to analyze what is being seen, as we usually do with a film, we should let it soak in, and at the end review our impressions. Not everyone is going to like this, as it does come off a bit pretentious at times. But it is a whole lot better than sitting through the dull monotony of an Antonioni, Pasolini, or the later Godard. But see it at least once. You’ll find yourself running the images through your mind of days.

DAVID: C. Honestly, I don't know what's going on in this film. It's not compelling or even well made, and comes across as a random, mixed-up collection of film clips with no direction. Most importantly, it is neither interesting nor fascinating. Like Ed, I found it somewhat pretentious, but not over the top. 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 I've seen a lot worse.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 15–November 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

WOODSTOCK (November 16, 12:45 am): The only problem with this documentary of the three-day-plus concert that attracted more than 500,000 to a small Upstate New York farm is at 184 minutes, it's too short. Iconic performances from Joe Cocker, Jimi Hendrix, the Who and countless others are captured on this Academy-Award-winning documentary. But other musicians, including The Band, Paul Butterfield and Blood, Sweat & Tears, don't make the cut. And even those who are in the film are there for only a song or two. Obviously, it's impossible to get everything that happened at the concert, but the film does an excellent job of not only showcasing the music, but others who were there. The stage announcements from Chip Monck warning people about the "brown acid" to Wavy Gravy being overwhelmed by the crowd and exclaiming, "We must be in heaven, man!" are priceless, as are the interviews with the hippies, townies, cops and my personal favorite with the portable toilet cleaning man. 

HARLAN COUNTY U.S.A. (November 21, 8:00 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 are shown on the screen – with the strikers and their families telling their stories. After a while, the national union representatives depart 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. Even with that, the movie is exceptional. It won the 1977 Oscar for Best Documentary.

ED’S BEST BETS:

TROUBLE IN PARADISE (November 17, 12:45 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.

JAWS (November 19, 3:30 pm): Anyone who has seen this amazing movie remembers it always, not only for the plenitude of good shocks along the way, but for the acting, writing and direction, all of which were top notch. Author Peter Benchley partially based his novel on the 1916 shark attacks along the Jersey Shore and the 1964 exploits of a shark hunter. Director Spielberg captures perfectly the spirit and character of the novel using the outstanding performances of its ensemble cast of actors to create a story that stays with us to this day. Even the shark attack score by John Williams has become part of our lives. Who among us has not heard someone humming it or hummed it themselves? Though it spawned three weak sequels and a host of lame imitations, the original has passed from being a mere film into part and parcel of American pop culture.

WE AGREE ON ... HEAD (November 19, 4:00 am)

ED: B+. Though I was never a fan of the Monkees, I am a fan of this offbeat piece of psychotronica. It’s a surreal collection of vignettes displaying what the group could never attempt on television and pretty much ended that phase of their lives. Written by director Bob Rafelson (who directed their TV show) and Jack Nicholson, it’s a non-stop ramble through the maze of pop culture nonsense that is as riveting as it is funny. Never stopping to collect its breath, it begins with the group’s public admission of their own manufactured image and – literally – runs with the football, creating a stream-of-consciousness motif in which we don’t know what is intended or unintended.  My favorite scenes were those with “Big Victor,” a 50-foot Victor Mature. Talk about horrifying. There was enough ham there to feed the country of Lichtenstein for an entire year. In its own way it anticipates the later absurd stylings of Terry Gilliam. And that it flopped when first shown is a given, but this little film has turned out to be a masterpiece of sorts.

DAVID: A-. This confusing but entertaining film features manufactured pop band The Monkees doing their best to break their "Pre-Fab" mold. The four jump off a bridge symbolically killing themselves, but they learn even that does nothing to change their image. The trouble for the group is when this film was released in late 1968, The Monkees' popularity was low. The group desperately wanted to leave behind their teen-pop image and appeal to a cooler hippie audience. The problem is the band's core audience is dismissed and ridiculed in the film, and because The Monkees were squares with the in-crowd (despite some excellent songs), no one went to see this movie. It made an astonishing $16,111 at the box office on a $750,000 expense. And that's a shame. While the plot is simple enough, how it is handled is rather sophisticated even though the viewer has no idea at times what's happening – something that was intentionally done. The band members helped Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, the latter directed the film, write the film though they don't get any formal credit. That led to a one-day walkout strike by three of the four band members which strained their relationship with Rafelson. There are plenty of interesting cameos including Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston, Toni Basil, Dennis Hopper, Victor Mature and Ray Nitschke. The song's title track, The Porpoise (Theme from Head), is quite good. The band didn't last long after this film, and didn't get another song into the Top 20 until 1986 when the band reunited (sans Mike Nesmith). The band, Nicholson and Rafelson were confident the movie would be a hit and already had a marketing promo for the sequel. "From the people who gave you Head..."


TCM TiVo ALERT

For

November 8–November 14



DAVID’S BEST BETS:


LIMELIGHT (November 8, 12:30 am): One of Charlie Chaplin's last and best 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 attempting a comeback.


THE MORTAL STORM (November 12, 4:15 pm): It's 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 movie 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 still holds up well.



ED’S BEST BETS:



THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (November 13, 6:00 am): 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. 



THE SORROW AND THE PITY (November 14, 8:00 pm): Marcel Ophuls spent more than two years compiling 50 hours of footage and editing it down into a four-and-a-half-hour documentary that destroyed one the enduring myths of France: that the nation was opposed to the German Occupation. Director Ophuls makes the point that France was the only nation that collaborated with the Nazis during the war and that de Gaulle’s Free French was in the position of not being a government-in-exile, as were the Polish, the Dutch and the Belgians, because the French government under Marshal Petain and Pierre Laval ruled the south of the country out of Vichy. Telling his story from the point-of-view of the ordinary person, he makes it crystal clear that the majority of French citizens nether supported the Germans or the Resistance, instead going along quietly with the wartime Vichy government. The brilliance of the film lies it its avoidance of abstract academic and historical theories in favor of the testimony of those who, caught between two opposing poles, merely tried to survive as best they could during a period of oppression and privation. I agree totally with the late Roger Ebert, who in his review, said of the film, “In its complexity, its humanity, its refusal to find easy solutions, this is one of the greatest documentaries ever made.”



WE DISAGREE ON ... NANOOK OF THE NORTH (November 14, 1:15 am):



ED: A+. This is a groundbreaking film, one of the world's first examples of a cinema verite/aesthetic expressionism documentary. Robert Flaherty documents a year in the lives of an Inuit and his family living in the Arctic Circle, Describing the trading, hunting, fishing and migrations of a group barely touched by industrial technology. At times resembling a home movie, Flaherty focuses on the personalities of Nanook and his family rather than simply show the events they take part in, using close-ups and filming their private moments. His presentation of the seal hunt is as riveting a piece of moviemaking as one is bound to find. Although seen as somewhat primitive today, the cinematography still holds up well, though the title cards tend to be a bit much. Nanook of the North was widely shown and praised as the first full-length, anthropological documentary in cinematographic history. Recommended for all film buffs, especially those with a strong interest in documentaries.



DAVID: B-. I would have given it a lower grade, but the film is nearly 95 years old and to judge it against documentaries that followed wouldn't be fair. It hasn't held up well, but it was among the first and the subject matter is certainly unique. While important in cinematic history, Nanook of the North is greatly flawed. First, it's largely dull even though it's only 79 minutes long, and there are plenty of attempts to incorporate "action" sequences. Second, numerous scenes are recreations of Nanook's daily life and others are things the Eskimo didn't do such as use a harpoon to hunt walrus. He actually used guns. The recreations and works of fiction were supposedly done for the sake of entertainment. Nanook's wives in the film are not really his wives. Oh, and his real name isn't Nanook. But the documentary does give viewers a good depiction of how rough life was in the Canadian Artic. Director/producer/writer/cinematographer Robert J. Flaherty claimed Nanook died of starvation two years after the film was made. Nanook died, but it was likely of tuberculosis. It loses points for a lack of authenticity and a lot of dead spots. It's similar to those National Geographic documentaries you were forced to watch in grade school only to make it more boring, there's no sound. While it may seem that learning about obscure cultures are interesting, this film shows that's not always the case.




TCM TiVo ALERT
For

November 1–November 7



DAVID’S BEST BETS:



BADLANDS (November 5, 10:15 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 1958 cross-country killing spree. The two become more detached to reality and violent as the film progresses. The film focuses on the alienation and hopelessness felt by the two doomed young criminals. Despite their horrific actions, you 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.



ADVISE AND CONSENT (November 7, 5:30 pm): This 1962 film about the confirmation process of a secretary of state nominee (Henry Fonda) was ahead of its time. The story rings true with politics of later years that saw and still see political nominees have their entire lives scrutinized just for the sake of partisanship and not for the betterment of the country. It's dialogue heavy, but the dialogue is so good that it elevates the quality of the film. Add the excellent cast – Fonda, Lew Ayres, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, and Burgess Meredith (in a small but memorable role) – and great directing by Otto Preminger and you get a film that's interesting, intelligent and compelling. 



ED’S BEST BETS:



THE DARK HORSE (November 3, 11;30 pm): Warren William was at his best as a political fixer brought in by the Progressive Party to guide the gubernatorial campaign of dimwitted Guy Kibbee (whose character is appropriately named “Hicks”), a man who William says is “so dumb that every time he opens his mouth he subtracts from the sum total of human knowledge.” Aiding him in this seemingly impossible task is Bette Davis as his girlfriend, one of nine films she made for Warner Bros. in 1932. Co-written by the brilliant Wilson Minzer, it’s typical of the unadulterated sass the studio was famous for in the Pre-Code days. At 73 minutes, it’s perfect to get across it’s sardonic points without overstaying its visit. Although William and Kibbee are top billed, it’s the young Davis who steals the film. Although William is the leader of the duo, he proves as naive as Kibbee in his own way, and it’s Davis who time and time again figures out the right moves. Her acting here is nothing short of brilliant, for instead of being blustery and impulsive, she sits by taking events in and evaluating them before coming to judgment. It’s totally enjoyable to see her character at work, exposing the foibles not only of Kibbee, but also of William. Watching Davis and William package and sell Kibbee to an unsuspecting public only reminds us that things haven’t changed since then.



GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE (November 7, 10:00 am): This is 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 and bringing about world peace. 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 AGREE ON ... YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (November 4, 6:00 am)



ED: A+. Jimmy Cagney in the role of a lifetime, the role he was known best for, and the one that brought him his only Oscar. He often said in interviews that this was his favorite film, and he is the show here, infusing his interpretation of George M. Cohan with a verve and a bounce we seldom saw in his other roles, as if this was the role he had been waiting for his entire life. Perhaps. Cagney’s roots were as a hoofer on the Broadway stage and here he was at Warner Brothers, where the gritty urban drama was the specialty. His enthusiasm is such that we in the audience are easily infected and share along in the joy of his every step. The surrounding cast, made up of the Warner’s Stock Company, is excellent. Walter Huston and Rosemary DeCamp hit all the right notes as Cohan’s parents, and Joan Leslie is appealing as always. Made in 1942, at the height of the Second World War, it’s the perfect morale film; the life of one of America’s most patriotic composers and a showcase for his foot-tapping tunes. Michael Curtiz directs in his usual professional style, letting the actor tell the story instead of the other way around. My only disappointment with the movie is its format. This is a film that screams out to be made in Technicolor and cheapskate Jack Warner opts for black and white. Normally I love black and white; I even prefer it most of the time. But there are occasions when the full pallet of Technicolor is called for, and this is one of those times. There is a colorized version, but after having seen it I can only count it as an act of vandalism. If you should only see one musical in your lifetime, this is the one to see.


DAVID: A+. I'm not a fan of musicals nor am I a fan of sentimental films that play with your emotions, particularly a largely fictitious biopic. Yet I'm a huge fan of Yankee Doodle Dandy, which obviously falls into all of the above categories. The sheer joy that James Cagney brings to the role of George M. Cohan is infectious. Cagney started his career as a dancer, and if you examine his performance in this film, it's obvious why he made his money as an actor playing gangsters and cops, and not as a song-and-dance man. Cagney was a competent dancer, but his style is built on confidence and deception. He was such a wonderful actor that he convinces the audience that he is Cohan. His dancing technique is to exaggerate everything from his walking and strutting – sort of like a sedated Mick Jagger, who also isn't much of a dancer, but comes across as valedictorian of the James Cagney School of Dance – to simple movements of his arms, elbows and knees. And it works to near perfection. Even the story told in flashbacks – always dangerous for films such as this – to President Franklin D. Roosevelt is enjoyable. The lines are largely quips and they are pretty funny. My favorite is when he's telling FDR he was, like the nonsensical song tells us, born on the Fourth of July. "I was six before I realized they weren't celebrating my birthday." It's completely Cagney's movie. The other actors are fine, and this is coming from a huge Walter Huston fan. From start to finish, this is Cagney's baby. He is so spectacular, so engaging, so damn entertaining, that I find myself humming along to some of the corniest songs ever written and watching with a big smile on my face.



TCM TiVo ALERT

For

October 23–October 31



DAVID’S BEST BETS:



LOGAN'S RUN (October 26, 4:15 pm): I'm a huge fan of early and mid-1970s futuristic dystopian films such as this, Soylent GreenOmega Man and Rollerball. 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 is 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. There is one catch to this society: once you get to be 30, you go through a ritualistic death in a place called "Carousel." The plot is compelling, and while some of the special effects look straight out of 1976, they're effective and enjoyable. The acting is solid with Peter Ustinov exceptional as an old man living outside the dome. It's a fun science-fiction film with a lot of action and women in very mini miniskirts. 



THE BEST MAN (October 26, 12:45 am): While dated primarily because political party national conventions are no longer where presidential nominees are selected despite what the “Never Trump” movement attempted, 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 opponents' 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 screenplay from Gore Vidal, who also wrote the play of which the film is based.



ED’S BEST BETS:



THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (October 24, 4:45 pm): 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 for 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 Frankenstein 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 as the center of attention, a sort of “Adventures of Frankenstein.” And, with the success of Frankenstein, a remake of Dracula was just around the corner.



THREE ON A MATCH (October 27, 9:45 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 ... THE TINGLER (October 30, noon)



ED: A-. From schlockmeister William Castle comes what may truly be his masterpiece. Vincent Price stars as Dr. Warren Chapin, who has been studying the effects of fear upon the human body. Performing an autopsy on a man who died in the electric chair he discovers that the man’s spine was crushed by an unseen force. Eventually, he discovers that the tingle one feels up the spine when frightened is an actual creature that comes into being during such moments. It dissipates when the victim screams, so what the Doc needs is someone who can’t scream. Long story short, he finds such a victim, he captures the “tingler” and puts it in a case, where it will be used for all sorts of antics. Eventually it gets loose in a crowded theater and Price, capping one of his wonderfully campy performances, tells the audience – and us out there in the dark as well – to scream and scream long and loud. In order to give those in the theater their money’s worth, Castle wired some of the seats with joy buzzers that give off a mild electric shock. He called this gizmo “Percepto,” and the audiences ate it up. The Tingler is a wonderful film that shows what can happen when one applies a little imagination. It’s certainly different from the run-of-the-mill horror of the time, and Castle always tried to outdo himself with each new film. Not all of them worked as well as this one, which is the reason for my grade. An “A-” for effort and imagination, which films of the late ‘50s to mid ’60s were in woefully short supply.



DAVID. C-. It had been a few years since I've seen this William Castle film so I watched it again a few days ago online on Daily Motion. Honestly, it was a lot worse than I remembered. The story has no consistency, the acting is absolutely atrocious and "The Tingler" creature makes even the most B of movie monsters look great in comparison. The film is only 82 minutes in length yet the action doesn't get going until about 50 minutes in, and the special effects are straight out of a bad Scooby-Doo cartoon except for red blood coming out of the sink of a black-and-white movie. At one time, Vincent Price was a good actor. This wasn't that time. However, he is clearly the best of the bunch, which should tell you all you need to know about this film. The worst is easily Philip Coolidge, who plays meek silent-movie-theater owner Oliver Higgins, who is more interested in getting a beer and avoiding his deaf and mute wife than anything else. Even when Dr. Warren Chapin (Price), a pathologist studying what happens to a person just before he dies, learns that "Ollie" is a killer, Higgins follows every order the doctor gives him rather than knock him out and run away. Also, the silent-movie theater business is portrayed as a daily grind without much profit, but Ollie's wife puts huge stacks of cash inside a safe in their living room that Ollie "steals" even though he shares it with his spouse. As for The Tingler creature, it probably cost about $5 to make and another 25 cents for the string to make it move. Looking a lot like a giant slug, but less scary, it stays still and sort of crawls around during the last 30 minutes of the film. The film gets cheesier as it goes on with horrible voice overdubs by Price telling those watching a silent film in Coolidge's dark theater to stay quiet – exactly the opposite of how to fight The Tingler – and then later to scream. As Ed wrote, Castle loved gimmicks. He had some seats in some major theaters in some larger cities wired so there would be a small electric jolt to some patrons at the right time to get them to scream. Without that, there's no reason to scream about anything in this film except if you paid to see it. And what of drive-ins and the smaller markets? They got nothing. And without the in-theater gimmick, those people as well as those watching it on television are left with a film that has a disjointed storyline that stops making sense with about a half-hour to go. So why a C- rather than a lower grade? The idea, though not the implementation, is pretty clever, it can be unintentionally funny at times and at least it's not very long.



TCM TiVo ALERT

For

October 15–October 22



DAVID’S BEST BETS:



THE GREAT DICTATOR (October 16, 6:00 am): TCM shows this 1940 Charlie Chaplin masterpiece on a regular basis, but it should never be 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. 



BORN TO KILL (October 19, 5:45 pm): A gritty, dark, violent film noir that smacks you in the face much harder that other movies of the 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. 



ED’S BEST BETS:



DETOUR (October 19, 3:15 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 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 a 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 for 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.



THE DEVIL BAT (October 22, 8:00 am): Bela Lugosi is the whole show in this wonderfully ridiculous thriller as an embittered scientist who entices his victims to sample a new cologne he’s developed  one that will attract a giant bat he keeps in the attic. It’s all about his revenge on two families he felt cheated him out of a partnership. With Dave O’Brien and Suzanne Kaaren. It’s hilarious watching Bela telling his victims to “rub some on the tender part of your neck” and then bids them cheery good-byes before sending them to their doom. A lot of fun if you simply take it for what it is. 



WE DISAGREE ON ... SUPER FLY (October 15, 3:30 am)



ED: C+. There are a lot of things to like about this film. It looks authentic with its view of Harlem, warts and all, proving a rather bleak vision of the urban decay infecting America’s big cities. Harlem serves as a war zone with corrupt drug kingpins and their vassal pushers on one side and the corrupt white police force and judges on the other, enforcing a law that is prevented and corrupt itself. Standing between the two factions is Priest (Ron O’Neal), a cocaine pusher who wants to leave the trade while he’s still alive to enjoy the money he has made. The film ends with Priest vanquishing his white opponents (including the drug kingpin) and leaving the business with a nice, fat bankroll. The film, under the guiding hand of director Gordon Parks Jr., is technically well done with a great performance from O’Neal and a memorable soundtrack from Curtis Mayfield. Now for the other side of the coin, and hence my grade. During a time when the African-American community was besieged by drugs, crime and corruption, the glorification of a drug dealer as the hero was not the way to go. Unlike Parks’ father's groundbreaking film Shaft, in which the hero was a private eye who fought corruption and lived by his own terms, in Super Fly, drug dealing is presented as a vocation to be pursued. Priest, in his long, sweeping coats and wide-brimmed hats, driving around in a tricked-out car, is a romanticized version of the urban pimp. Also, whereas previous films stereotyped the African-American man as a groveling, asexual wimpy character, Super Fly trades one end on the stereotype spectrum for the other, making its hero into a sexually potent super stud who wears out the women. The women in the film are presented one-dimensional, just there for the taking. When we look behind the scenes, we can’t help but notice that though Parks is the director, and the producer, and therefore the money, is Sig Shore, a white man. And in Hollywood, money rules. In short, this is just too finely made a movie to simply pan, but not one to admire. Hollywood was capable of better, as in Nothing But a Man (1964). Even those who made Blaxploitation movies got the message, as with films like Coffy and Cleopatra Jones, films with strong, morally upright African-American women as stars. When Spike Lee came along he presented a refreshing alternative to the jaded view of African Americans presented in Super Fly, though he never quite lived up to the promise. At least he tried.



DAVID: A-. With the exception of ShaftSuper Fly (yes, it's two words) is the greatest Blaxploitation film ever made, and there is a lot of competition. The influence it had in the genre cannot be overstated from the outrageous clothes to the hair styles to the customized car to the lifestyle of Priest (Ron O'Neal), the drug dealer who wants a final score to get out of the business while fighting "The Man," portrayed as being more corrupt than any of the criminals in the film. As the title song by the legendary Curtis Mayfield tells us, Priest is "tryin' ta get over" meaning he wants to beat the system anyway he can in order to live his life the way he wants. And Priest isn't just fly, he's super fly. He wears the finest clothes and looks incredible with the huge sideburns and the great-looking chemically-processed flat hair. The film was made on the cheap, but the production values are impressive, and Gordon Parks Jr. should be commended for an excellent debut film. He would make only three more films with his next one, Three the Hard Way, also a Blaxploitation classic. Some accuse Super Fly of glorifying the drug culture and what it did to the black community, and while I don't completely agree with that, I'm not going to argue the point. I will point to Mayfield's lyrics in the title song as a counterpoint: "Hard to understand what a hell of a man, this cat of the slum had a mind, wasn't dumb. But a weakness was shown 'cause his hustle was wrong." To dismiss it or diminish it because of its message is misguided to me. It's a film with an authenticity that was sorely lacking in films of that age. Yes, Priest likely wouldn't have walked away from corrupt cops without a serious problem, but that's not at all unusual in Blaxploitation films  or many other films not in that category. Priest is beating the system that has kept blacks down the only way he knows how  that final big drug deal that will set him up for life. It may not be pretty, but life often isn't. A few words about the Mayfield soundtrack: it is one of the best for any film in cinematic history and is vital as the lyrics tell the story of the key characters. If you've never seen Super Fly, I strongly urge you to watch it. Even if you laugh at the clothes and some of the stereotypes, it's still a hard-hitting and wildly entertaining movie.



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October 8-October 14



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PATHS OF GLORY (October 8, 2:30 pm): This is a splendid film on the insanity of military protocol that can occur during a war. In this case, it's a suicide mission during World War I that becomes a disaster. Finally, the French soldiers involved in the fight to take a well-defended German position refuse to continue after heavy casualties and no success. But rather than blame those making the ill-fated decision, it falls on three soldiers arbitrarily picked to be court-martialed on charges of cowardice. The original plan was to court-martial 100 men. Kirk Douglas is, as always, incredible playing Colonel Dax, the regiment's commander who acts as the military lawyer for the three who never have a chance. And it's another fine directorial effort by the legendary Stanley Kubrick. The scene in the trenches that has General Mireau (George Macready in a memorable performance) getting the soldiers ready for the attack by asking them, "Ready to kill more Germans?" leaves the viewer as shell-shocked as the men.



WUTHERING HEIGHTS (October 9, 10:00 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) in the book. But it's still a stunning film directed by one of the true masters, William Wyler. Laurence Olivier gives an unforgettable performance as Heathcliff, showing a wide range of emotions in a complicated role. Heathcliff is bitter, vengeful, conflicted and passionately in love. I doubt anyone else could do justice to the role. Merle Oberon as Cathy is also wonderful as are many members of the cast including David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Hugh Williams.



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THE UNKNOWN (October 8, 6:30 am): When Lon Chaney and Tod Browning teamed up they made some of the best and most unusual films of Chaney’s career. The Unknown may just be the weirdest of the lot. Chaney is “Alonzo the Armless Wonder,” an armless knife thrower who uses his feet to throw the knives. In actually, he’s a criminal on the run and only pretends to be armless, being strapped into a straitjacket type of restraint before each performance. The love of his life is his assistant, Nanon (Joan Crawford). They could be together if not for her abnormal fear of having a man’s arms around her. Chaney is so besotted that he has his arms amputated for real to prove his love to her. But after he returns from the operation he finds her in the arms of Malabar the strongman (Norman Kerry), who has cured her of this fear. It’s right out of Grand Guignol and remains one of the creepiest movies ever made.



HAUSU (October 9, 2:00 am): One of the most unusual 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.



WE DISAGREE ON ... SHAMPOO (October 13, 10:00 pm)



ED: B. Shampoo is a clever and funny satire about a hairdresser, played by Warren Beatty, who can’t keep it in his pants and uses his paramours to advance his goal of owning his own parlor. But although I like it well enough, it just doesn’t quite work. It’s rather ambitious goal is not backed by the timing of it message and it’s not a funny as it should have been in its funny places, such as when Lester (Jack Warden), who should know better – Beatty’s George is having sex with both his wife (Lee Grant) and daughter (Carrie Fisher) on the not too hidden side – speculates that George is gay. The satire is not as sharp as it should be, especially when comparing the nation’s woes to George’s in Beverly Hills, and I often had the feeling that the movie is simply providing the audience with a slew of obligatory scenes rather than trying to give us discoveries about the film’s characters, as a true satire should do. It’s amusing, it’s funny in spots and it’s a good time waster, but there’s nothing ground breaking or poignant about it. Thus my grade.



DAVID: A. Besides The Parallax View, this is my favorite Warren Beatty film – and he made a lot of excellent films. 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.





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October 1-October 7



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HANG 'EM HIGH (October 1, 6:00 pm): When it comes to great cutting-edge Westerns, Clint Eastwood has made more than anyone. Many of them have received the praise they deserve including The "Man with No Name" trilogy of A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as well as High Plains DrifterThe Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven. To me, 1968's Hang 'Em High belongs in the same class as those. Eastwood is Jed Cooper, who is wrongly accused by a posse (including Bruce Dern, Ed Begley Sr. and Alan Hale Jr., the Skipper on Gilligan's Island) of killing a man and stealing his cattle. The posse hang Cooper, but that doesn't kill him – even though it leaves him with a nasty scar around his neck. As Eastwood characters are prone to do, Cooper wants revenge. But this one has a twist. Cooper, who was previously a lawman, becomes a federal marshal. He comes across a member of the posse and tries to arrest him, but ends up having to shoot (and of course, kill) him when he reaches for his gun. Slowly, he comes across everyone in the posse. Cooper wants to see all of them brought to justice, but because that would lead to being hanged, none of them are terribly interested in the proposition. There are plenty of shootouts and great action scenes, but the best part of the film is Cooper's struggle to uphold the law while resisting his strong urge to seek revenge.



JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (October 2, 2:15 a.m.): Legendary Italian director Federico 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 makes it a classic. 



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THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (October 2, 9:30 pm): In my opinion, this is the greatest horror film ever made, though the way James Whale directs it, it could also be seen as a black comedy. One of the decisions he made – to have the monster speak – was derided at the time and for a while later, but now is rightly regarded as a brilliant move on Whale’s part. It gives the monster a touch of humanity and frees him, for a time at least, from merely becoming the automaton he was to become in later films.



NOSFERATU (October 7, 8:00 pm): F.W. Murnau’s unauthorized filming of the classic Bram Stoker novel was almost lost after a judge ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed after Stoker’s estate sued for copyright infringement and won. But a few copies survived and were edited without Murnau’s knowledge to further obfuscate its origins from Stoker’s novel, setting off a hunt for a close to pristine copy as possible for restoration. This film is a classic of the horror genre, giving the audience many truly creepy moments. The film generally follows the plot of Dracula, only its protagonist is Count Orlok (Max Schreck). Unlike Lugosi, who would make the vampire into somewhat of a sex symbol, Schreck’s vampire is truly rodentlike. There’s nothing at all appealing about him. Because of the controversy surrounding it, Nosferatu became one the first cult films and was itself subjected to much myth making about its origins and its actors. For more on this, see the 2000 dark comedy Shadow of the Vampire, a look at the making of Nosferatu. It is a film that must be seen, even if one is not a fan of horror.



WE DISAGREE ON ... HAXAN (October 7, 2:45 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 94 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 lesson on the supernatural with an actual 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 together 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.





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September 23–September 30



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CAGED (September 24, 6:30 am): 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.



THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER (September 25, 2:45 am): I'm a huge fan of the British kitchen sink/angry young man film genre, and there are 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 big race against the nearby public school is an opportunity to for Colin, but leaves him conflicted. In the end, he does what he believes to be the right thing to maintain his integrity and independence despite the consequences. It's a lousy time to air a great movie.



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THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (September 24, 8:30 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. Garfield has never been better and Turner has never been more gorgeous. Not only can we see that they’re going to hook up, we can understand why they must hook up. The performances from the supporting cast are superb, the photography by Sidney Wagner is sharp and inviting, and Tay Garnett’s direction workmanlike, as he keeps the characters and the story in constant play. Despite the complaints of the changes in Cain’s original story (for censorship purposes), the film still outdoes the 1981 Nicholson-Lange remake in terms of the heat between the stars, not to mention the fact that Turner, while hardly a serious actress, ran rings around Lange’s performance.



TOP SECRET (September 28, 9:45 pm): This follow-up to the wildly popular Airplane wasn’t as well received at the box office, but it is still hysterically funny, with gaga flying everywhere. This spoof of rock ’n’ roll musicals and espionage pictures stars Val Kilmer as an Elvis-type rocker touring East Germany who gets mixed up with a woman whose father is being held in prison and who herself works for the Resistance. The Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams leave no stone unturned in search of a gag. Some gags are painfully obvious while others are subtle, taking us by surprise. Kilmer turns in an excellent performance as signer Nick Rivers and is ably assisted by a slew of famous actors in cameo roles. It may not quite be Airplane, but it’s still hilarious in its own right.



WE DISAGREE ON ... ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (September 28, 11:30 pm)



ED: D. I have never found Will Farrell to be funny. Given a stronger plot, as in Elf or Old School, he can be tolerable – barely. But here, with a plot that is paper thin at best and a lousy script, Farrell is exposed for the boor he really is. It begins with as bang, but quickly fizzles as the plot gives way and we discover that Farrell is incapable of carrying what’s left. What’s left is the usual collection of potty jokes and situations that only go to show how dumbed down comedies and our expectations of them have become over the years. Both Christina Applegate and Fred Willard, two talented comic actors, are totally wasted playing second bananas to a piece of rotted fruit. Those tuning in expecting to see a parody in the manner of Ted Baxter at WJM will be very disappointed by this witless comedy. Shame on you, TCM, for wasting valuable resources on this turkey.



DAVID: C-. I don't dislike this film as much as Ed. While it has some funny moments and lines that spoof the 1970s, it's inconsistent and largely forgettable. More so than the movie, that it's being shown is what disturbs me. TCM is a network that shows classic films and not-so-classic films from decades ago. If TCM is going to show movies from the early 2000s, they better be of excellent quality. Anchorman is most definitely not. If I want to watch mediocre films from a decade ago, I have a dozen stations from which to choose. Among several TCM viewers, there have been growing concerns and complaints about the network showing films from the 1990s and 2000s as the "C" in "TCM" stands for "classic." Again, not everything shown on TCM is a classic, but if the decision has been made to show movies like this rather than films from long ago, it's a disturbing trend. One movie is not going to ruin TCM. However, if this isn't an isolated incident, I'm concerned about the future of TCM. Let's hope this is simply an anomaly. 


TCM TiVo ALERT

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September 15–September 22



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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.



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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.




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September 8–September 14



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THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (September 10, 10:00 pm): This is one of my favorite films. Kirk Douglas is a movie mogul who needs the help of former friends, he betrayed all of them, 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  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.



THE DIRTY DOZEN (September 11, 10:00 pm): If you're looking for a movie that includes misfits blowing up stuff and people –particularly Nazis – and filled with action, The Dirty Dozen delivers. 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. He takes about two-and-a-half hours to do so, but it's worth it. This 1967 film greatly influenced other directors and other studios – this was a huge box-office success – to do movies with a similar violent genre. But nothing surpasses the original.



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THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (September 10, 2:45 pm): Granted, there’s no such thing as the perfect film, but this one comes darned close. Alec Guinness is near perfect in his role as the fussbudget bank clerk who, along with newly acquired friend Stanley Holloway, robs the bank of a million pounds in gold bullion. And almost gets away with it, to boot. How they slip up is a thing of beauty to watch, as is the chase near the end. This is a keeper for the ages and even those who are “hard” on comedy will smile at this one.



THE BANK DICK (Sept. 14, 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.



WE AGREE ON … YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (September 9, midnight)



ED: A+. Of the films Mel Brooks made during a highly productive period from 1974 to 1983, this might just be the best of the lot. It is a hilarious, dead-on parody of the Universal Frankenstein series of the ‘30s. Gene Wilder is perfect as the neurotic Dr. Frederick  Frankenstein, trying to live down the legacy of his father and grandfather. And Wilder might have totally dominated the film if it were not for the presence of the brilliant Marty Feldman as Frankenstein’s inherited assistant, Igor, and the equally brilliant Madeline Kahn as his uptight fiancee, Elizabeth. They are aided by the solid support of Peter Boyle as The Creature, Teri Garr as Dr. Frankenstein’s lab assistant, and Cloris Leachman as the mysterious Frau Brucker, the mention of whose name causes the horses to whinny. Unlike his shotgun approach to gags in Blazing Saddles (1974): fire away and see where the jokes land, Young Frankenstein differs by its meticulous planning and execution. Wilder had more influence in this one and he prevented Brooks from going over the top several times, preferring to stick with the original plan of spoofing scenes audiences were familiar with in the original films (except for the howlingly funny short shoe bit to “Puttin' on the Ritz” with Frankenstein and The Creature). The castle and the props and lab equipment were the same as in the original Frankenstein from 1931. The crisp cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld adds to the atmosphere, making us feel as if we were watching a ‘30s Universal film. We should also applaud Kenneth Mars for his incredible imitation of Lionel Atwill’s one-armed police inspector from Son of Frankenstein and Gene Hackman, who, in a parody of the blind hermit meeting the monster from a scene from Bride of Frankenstein, pulls out the stops to add slapstick to the original ironic humor from director James Whale.



DAVID: A+. Well before Gene Wilder's passing, we decided this classic would be our "We Agree" film of the week. Sadly, it now can be viewed as a tribute to Wilder and his comedic genius. In careers that included numerous iconic films, Young Frankenstein is both my favorite Wilder film and my favorite Mel Brooks movie. The Producers is a close second. Brooks' spoof/parody films were hit – Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, in particular – or miss – such as Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. To me, this one, co-written with Wilder, who came up with the idea, is brilliant. It so perfectly pays tribute to the 1930s Universal Frankenstein movies, especially the original, but it does it with a fantastic comedy touch. And adding to its authenticity, it's in black and white. Of the many great bits in the movie is the memorable scene with Wilder as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein debuting The Creature (Peter Boyle) perform "Puttin' on the Ritz." (See it here.) The song was Wilder's idea with Brooks convinced it would flop. The supporting cast is wonderful and features Teri Garr, Marty Feldman (in his best role), Madeline Kahn and Gene Hackman. Mentioning Feldman without the "abnormal brain" scene would be a major slight. But rather than explain it, see it for yourself here. Despite playing off of films from the 1930s and released in 1974, it has aged remarkably well and remains fresh, funny and clever today.




TCM TiVo ALERT

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September 1–September 7



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BALL OF FIRE (September 4, 6:00 pm): Barbara Stanwyck is a hot nightclub performer hiding from the police and her mob boyfriend in a house with brilliant, eccentric professors writing an encyclopedia. Director Howard Hawks – with the assistance of Billy Wilder, who co-wrote the screenplay from one of his short stories – 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.



GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (September 6, 6:30 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. 


ED'S BEST BETS:



SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (September 1, 9:45 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.



CABARET (September 3, 8:00 pm): Bob Fosse directed this musical adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, in particular his short story “Sally Bowles,” about the lives of three people in early ‘30s decadent Berlin before the even more decadent Nazis came to power. Although the film fails to completely capture the magic of the stories, it does weave a magic of its own, especially with its tour of Berlin nightlife. Liza Minnelli has never been better than as Sally Bowles, an amoral singer of some talent who leads a completely disorganized life. Correction, Minnelli has never been as good as she was as Sally Bowles. But it’s Joel Grey as the enigmatic emcee who steals the movie as the film cuts to his sketches frequently. One of the highlights of the tilm is the young storm trooper leading a gathering in a rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” a song supposed by many to be a genuine Nazi anthem, but in actuality written for the stage musical. It’s too good to be a Nazi anthem. Listen to the Nazi anthems of the time and you’ll quickly agree, as they’re a collection of bad tunes and nonsensical, violent words. The film won eight Oscars.



WE DISAGREE ON ... GREY GARDENS (September 4, 10:30 am)



ED: A+. This is the film that brought the Maysles Brothers to the attention of the American filmgoing public, and ranks as one of my favorite films. Although many believe the film was inspired by the famous New York Magazine portrait of the Beales and Grey Gardens by Gail Sheehy, the truth is that the Maysles brothers met the Beales after being hired by Lee Radziwill to make a film about her childhood in East Hampton, N.Y. She brought them to Grey Gardens, where they met the Beales. When they suggested to Radziwill that the focus of the film should be the Beales, she withdrew their funding and confiscated the film they had shot. Grey Gardens is an amazing film, thanks to the Beales, a mother and daughter who put the “eccentric” in eccentricity. The Maysles use their “direct cinema” system to show us the Beales in all their glory and squalor, though they take the direct cinema method one step further by interacting with their hosts, accepting drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The film is also unusual in that it’s not really interested in how the Beales came to live in such squalor, despite their background and social connections. The film is more interested in bringing us deeper and deeper into the Beales’ world. One critic noted quite perceptibly that the mansion is like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining in that it has an almost supernatural hold over its inhabitants and prohibits them from leaving. In an ironic way, the Beales are not only confined to their home, but are confined by their home. In the end we are left with more questions than answers. Why did the Beales, a pair of shut-ins, allow the camera to display their madness, their loneliness and a desperate co-dependent relationship? Why do they constantly talk of propriety, the way things should and must be done, and yet allow themselves to be seen in a state of squalor? Does it have something to do with exhibitionism, with a past where they were the centers of attention by adoring men? Again these questions are never answered, but we don’t mind in the least, for once we walk past the front door and into the mansion, we become besotted with the Beales and their world. We are both repulsed and hopelessly drawn in, anxiously awaiting the next argument between the two in a series that almost seems rehearsed, as if they’re performing for the camera. This is an amazing and addictive documentary about a time long ago and post to history. In its bizarreness, it’s almost akin to an explorer discovering a lost tribe shut off from the rest of the world and living in a world of its own. That’s what makes this so attractive. In a 2014 poll of the best documentaries ever made by Sight and Sound, film critics voted this in a tie for ninth on the list. Considering the other films on the list, that’s quite an honor.



DAVID: B. I have to admit to being somewhat intimidated by Ed's review of this film. Besides having great respect for Ed, he did an excellent job of passionately articulating his arguments for why this is one of his favorite films. I'm a fan of this documentary, as noted by the solid B grade I gave it, and also believe the Maysles were excellent filmmakers. I prefer two of the Maysles brothers' earlier films, Gimme Shelter and Salesman, to Grey Gardens. But I was still concerned about my grade after reading Ed's glowing praise of the film. So what did I do? I watched it again – closely – a few days ago. There is no doubt it's a good film, and the Maysles brothers had a fascinating style of shooting documentaries, but there are flaws that made me comfortable with my B grade. First, the film doesn't properly inform you about "Big Edie" and her daughter, "Little Edie" Beale so it's difficult at times to understand what's going on. In a brief scene, there are a handful of newspaper clippings about the mother and daughter. The articles let viewers know that they are the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, they used to be rich and own Grey Gardens – a rundown mansion in wealthy East Hampton, N.Y. – that Onassis and her sister, Lee Radziwill, agreed to restore the structure after its poor condition attracted the media's attention, and that the Maysles are doing a documentary on the pair. Despite the work done at the expense of Onassis and Radziwill, the house is in terrible disrepair again and the two Beales are suffering from mental ailments. Big Edie is elderly (80 when the film came out and dead two years later) and likely senile while Little Edie, a former socialite and model, is only about 58 years old, but seems much older and is living in the past having lost touch with reality. She is vain even though her looks are gone, and is prone to fits of anger. The two of them talk over each other as the Maysles prompt them to discuss their lives. They are willing to do so, but it just brings on pain and a lot of random singing of old songs. The film sometimes is exploitative as the Maysles know there's several things wrong with the Beales, but they keep shooting. Little Edie whispers bizarre conspiracy theories, is resentful of her mother, does a dance with an American flag, and parades around in skimpy outfits even though she seems disgusted with her looks, particularly when she steps on a scale and uses binoculars to see she's 145 pounds. Also, the brothers just allow the Beales to keep talking even though a lot of what they say makes no sense. If the idea was to capture two former rich people living lives of delusion then the goal was achieved. But if the goal was to keep the viewer engaged and interested, it's a mixed bag.



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August 23–August 31



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THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (August 26, 10:15 am): This 1932 Pre-Code movie is a joy to watch for many reasons. It's an entertaining film, the acting is very good, and the casting couldn't be more absurd. 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.



GASLIGHT (August 29, 12:00 am): 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 on 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 – I'm not a fan of her either – 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:



THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (August 26, 9:30 pm): In my opinion, this is the greatest horror film ever made, though the way James Whale directs it, it could also be seen as a black comedy. One of the decisions he made – to have the monster speak – was derided at the time and for a while later, but now is rightly regarded as a brilliant move on Whale’s part. It gives the monster a touch of humanity and frees him, for a time at least, from merely becoming the automaton he was to become in later films.



THE GREAT ESCAPE (August 27, 8:00 pm): Based on one of the biggest mass escapes from a POW camp in World War II, it boasts an all-star cast that includes James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, James Donald, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson. The plot is relatively simple: The Nazis have built an escape-proof camp to which every escape artist is being sent to stop them from even thinking about another attempt. But the duty of every prisoner is to escape, and this lot is up to the task. It’s a great film that never stops moving with a plot that adds new obstacles and challenges to the prisoners’ dilemma. Attenborough is “The Big X,” a veteran escape artist whose arrival sets the plot in motion. The film also solidified the image of Steve McQueen as the King of Cool through his portrayal of the individualistic prisoner Hilts, as witnessed by the scene near the end when he attempts to jump a border fence with a stolen motorcycle. This is also a film that one can watch numerous times without getting bored. Watch for the scene where the Germans catch Attenborough and Gordon Jackson. It’s one of the best ironic scenes in the history of the movies. Also keep an eye on James Garner and Donald Pleasance and the chemistry between them. The Great Escape is one of those rare movies that comes along every once in a while where the audience is entertained through the use of intelligent plotting and restrained performances. That’s the main reason I have watched it numerous times, even though I’m not exactly a Steve McQueen fan.



WE DISAGREE ON … MASCULIN FEMININ (August 23, 2:00 am)



ED: B-. Once upon a time there was a director named Jean-Luc Godard. At first, he made some unusual and interesting films, their popularity resting in their novelty. But soon, like other young upper middle-class people of Europe in the ‘60s he became entranced by left-wing politics and it came to infect his films in the worst way, eventually dominating them, subjugating the story to ideology. This is one of the first films along his road to the political and suffers because of it. On the surface, it’s a love story about a disillusioned young man (Jean-Pierre Leaud) just released from national service. As his girlfriend (Chantel Goya) doggedly pursues her dream of becoming a pop singer, he becomes isolated from his friends and peers and becomes ever increasingly radicalized. The interaction between Leaud and Goya is sweet, and if it weren’t for the politics, this could easily pass for a Truffaut film. But Godard wants to subvert and politicize us, which accounts for long boring stretches in the film as Leaud acts out. Ingmar Bergman was no fan of Godard, and his opinion of the film is as follows: “I’ve never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual, and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a f***ing bore. He’s made his films for the critics. One of the movies, Masculin, Féminin, was shot here in Sweden. It was mind-numbingly boring.” I don’t feel as harshly toward Godard as Bergman did, but this film represents his descent from making offbeat, novel films into long, boring monographs for the critics.



DAVID: A-. Ed is largely correct in his assessment of director Jean-Luc Godard's career. His early films – particularly his debut BreathlessMy Life to Live, Contempt and Band of Outsiders – are among the most interesting movies made in the early 1960s. While Francois Truffaut is the best and most consistent director of the French New Wave, Godard was the most daring. That meant as he moved into the mid-1960s and for about a decade, his films ranged from excellent to terrible with several of them, as Ed points out, too focused on left-wing politics. Godard sacrificed quality for a disjointed message. Godard hasn't made many movies in the past 30 years, and those he's done are film collages that I simply don't understand. They are painful to watch so I typically turn them off after about 30 or 40 minutes – and I rarely stop watching any film, much less works done by directors as good as Godard. As for those films he directed between 1965 and 1975, Godard made some great ones. That leads me to Masculin Feminin. While there are some flaws, this film along with Made in U.S.A. (both from 1966), are as good as anything Godard directed. Jean-Pierre Leaud, who was such an incredible talent, is spectacular as Paul, an idealist looking for a job while dating Madeleline (Chantel Goya), a budding pop singer, who doesn't share Paul's passion. It's free-flowing with dialogue that jumps from one topic to another as Godard's quick cuts do the same. The acting is spectacular, hiding that the film's plot is almost nonexistent. Actually, the story is secondary to the film's words, which blend dark humor with pop-culture references and politics (though it is kept significantly more in check here than in Godard's other films of this era) and a guy just looking to get laid by a pretty girl. It's a sexy, compelling avant-garde film that Godard should have made more of during the past 50 years.



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August 15–August 22



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THE SET-UP (August 17, 9:45 pm): The vastly underrated Robert Ryan plays Stoker Thompson, a 35-year-old washed-up boxer who is pitted against a young, promising prizefighter in what's supposed to be a set-up. Just a couple of problems: One, Stoker's manager Tiny (George Tobias) doesn't tell him it's a fix until the last round because he doesn't think his charge has a prayer. Second, when Stoker is told to take a dive, he refuses despite learning that Little Boy, a mobster, is going to lose a lot of money if he doesn't throw the bout. The film perfectly captures a blood-thirsty crowd loving the violence and brutality of the fight. While the filming of the bout is excellent, the post-fight in which Stocker has to face Little Boy's goons is even better.



THE LADY IN THE LAKE (August 22, 8:00 pm): Robert Montgomery is charming as legendary detective Philip Marlowe in this 1947 film. Montgomery, who also directed the film, is charming as Marlowe, the hard-boiled, street-smart private eye. This movie is fascinating for its gimmick of having nearly all of it filmed as if the viewer is Marlowe. The story is sometimes hard to follow, like many detective film noirs of the time, with several plot twists, but it's definitely worth watching. Montgomery brings a sense of humor to the Marlowe character that isn't as developed in other films featuring the character.



ED’S BEST BETS:



THE PHENIX CITY STORY (August 17, 10:00 am): A wonderful docudrama about “the wickedest city in America” and how it came to be cleaned up. TCM shows the full version, which includes a prologue with noted correspondent Clete Roberts interviewing citizens of Phenix City after the National Guard stepped in to restore order. If crime movies are your thing, this is one to see. And if crime movies aren’t exactly your thing, this well-made and well-acted movie is still worth your time.



CASABLANCA (August 20, 2:00 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’s 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 ... CRIME SCHOOL (August 20, 6:00 am)

ED: C+. When Warner Bros. signed the Dead End Kids after their auspicious debut in Dead End, they had no idea about how to use them. Warner’s also had the same problem with Humphrey Bogart, an excellent actor consistently misused since his breakthrough in The Petrified Forest. Their solution was to team them together in this B-programmer. It was a combination of The Mayor of Hell and the first half of The Doorway to Hell with some elements from San Quentin, and Dead End thrown in for good measure. A true Mulligan’s stew. Bogart, for once, was allowed to play the hero, and turned in a fine performance. Cy Kendall played the heavy (figuratively and literally), and later went on to play an array of heels in B movies. Gail Page was the tootsie, as the sister of Billy Halop. She turned out to be the weak link of the picture, as B productions were often used to test young actresses to see who could succeed and who would fail. The film served as the blueprint for the rest of the Dead End Kids pictures: Halop was the bright kid and always had a sister; Leo Gorcey was the bad kid, Huntz Hall was the dumb kid, Bobby Jordan and Gabe Dell the wise guys, and Bernard Punsly sat around and did nothing. The studio liked the results so much they released it as an A picture and it proved to be a hit. But even though it’s entertaining to watch, due to the antics of the Dead End Kids, it’s nothing special and is still what it started out to be – a B programmer.


DAVID: B+. While I'm not a Dead End Kids fan – and completely loathe them as the Bowery Boys – the groups first few films for Warner Bros. were entertaining tales of inner-city poverty and crime. As with many Warners films, this one lays it on a bit thick. But the boys do a decent job of acting – though they were natural-born troublemakers so it probably wasn't much of a stretch – and Humphrey Bogart is magnificent as Mark Braden, a crusading state prison official. Braden ends up running the prison reform school the boys are sent to after a near-fatal accident of a local fence. Braden is outraged at the way the boys are being treated and the level of corruption he discovers. But Braden doesn't know the half of it as the fired warden and a guard he retains were stealing from the food budget. Cy Kendall as the brutal warden is very good, and I though Gail Page was fine as Billy Halop's sister who ends up as Bogart's gal. The boys and Bogart first teamed up in Dead End in which Bogie plays a hood. He plays a good guy for a change in this film. The movie, which was a box-office success, flies by at 86 minutes, which was a bit long for films such as this. But it's a fun ride that shows the tragic results of a stupid mistake.





TCM TiVo ALERT

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August 8–August 14



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THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (August 9, 10:15 pm): This is Orson Welles' 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 subjects.



CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (August 11, 9:30 am): This 1937 film had the potential to be a 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 ending is somewhat sappy, but it doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment of the movie.



ED’S BEST BETS:



THE FALLEN IDOL (August 13, 10:15 pm): Ralph Richardson heads a superb cast in this tale about a young boy who idolizes a household servant. The relationship is a bit rocky after the servant is accused of murder, and the boy, believing that the servant is guilty, begins a series of lies to cover for his friend, a series that almost puts him in jail. The film is based on Graham Greene’s story, “The Basement Room,” and is expertly realized by screenwriters Greene, Lesley Storm, and William Templeton, and sharply directed by Carol Reed. Movies don’t get any better than this.



THE BAND WAGON (August 14, 8:00 pm): In my estimation, this is the greatest musical ever to come out of Hollywood. Fred Astaire has never been better than he is here playing a faded Hollywood musical star lured out of retirement to star in a stage musical based on Faust, of all things. He has tremendous support from the lovely Cyd Charisse, Nanette Fabray, English song-and-dance man Jack Buchanan, and Oscar Levant, who, although playing Oscar Levant as in every other film, has never done it better than this. There are lots of great numbers topped off by Astaire and Charisse in “Girl Hunt,” a mystery set in swingtime. Fabulous. It really doesn’t get any better than this.


WE AGREE ON ... THE WRONG BOX (August 13, 6:00 pm)


ED: A. This dark farce revolves around two brothers, Masterman (John Mills) and Joseph (Ralph Richardson) Finsbury, who are the last survivors of a unique insurance wager called a tontine. As the sole survivor will be the one to inherit the vast fortune, it is inevitable that they would try to kill one another. What follows is a hilariously concocted tale of premeditated murder, accidental death, police dragnets and a wonderful subplot involving the notorious Bournemouth Strangler. As Masterman’s health begins to decline, he decides to kill his brother so he may give the fortune to his grandson (Michael Caine), a rather unpromising medical student. Joseph, on the other hand, is being watch closely by his greedy nephews (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore), who are also plotting to gain the inheritance. Thus the stage is set for one of the funniest and most intelligent comedies ever made. To say they don’t make them like this anymore is an understatement; the spirits of Mack Sennett and Charlie Chaplin rebounds through the film. With such distinguished supporting performers as Cicely Courtneidge, Willard Lawson (wonderful as Peacock the Butler), and Peter Sellers, who, in a small role as Dr. Pratt, nearly walks off with the picture.

DAVID: A. Ed perfectly describes the plot so there's no need for me to restate it. It's an exceptionally funny dark comedy featuring some of the best British comedians of the era – notably Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, who were a legendary team, and the always brilliant Peter Sellers – along with excellent "serious" actors – in particular Ralph Richardson, Michael Caine and John Mills – who show their comedic talent. The 1966 film is an adaption of an 1889 book. While the film has a detailed absurd plot, it is the quips and sight gags that make me laugh out loud every few minutes. Because the plot is so outrageous, it's a testament to the actors that they're able to show some restraint as to not let the film's story spiral out of control. If you haven't seen it or it's been a few years since your last viewing, you owe it to yourself to watch it. If you've seen this film a few times, well, I don't need to convince you to watch it again.




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August 1–August 7



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LITTLE CAESAR (August 1, 7:30 pm): You can't go wrong with any of the Edward G. Robinson films being aired on August 1 to honor the legendary actor. I selected this one because it's the one 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 classics. Robinson and Cagney set the bar very high for cinematic gangsters in the two 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 so authentic. 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?" It is, but hardly the end of Robinson's career as a Hollywood gangster. Myah!



THE SEARCH (August 6, 4:00 pm): A touching film about a young boy in post-World War 2 searching for his mother after the two were separated while held in a concentration camp. Montgomery Clift is an Army engineer in Germany after the Nazis are defeated who finds the boy and takes care of him. Clift rarely gave a bad performance, but this is one of his most special ones. The 1948 movie was primarily filmed in post-war Germany, showing the ruins of what was left of several cities.



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DOCTOR X (August 4, 10:15 am): Art Deco meets German Expressionism in this early exercise in horror from Warner Brothers and director Michael Curtiz. It’s 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.



KING KONG (August 4, 10:00 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 ... GOING MY WAY (August 3, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+. Leo McCarey was one of the greatest directors in Hollywood history. He was noted for his comedies, such as Duck SoupThe Awful Truth, and Good Sam. He was also the director who first paired the classic duo of Laurel and Hardy back in the late ‘20s. But besides comedy, McCarey also loved one other thing: schmaltz – and plenty of it. This film is a prime example of it, with Bing Crosby as the youthful priest who comes to the failing St. Dominic’s and not only saves the church, but wins over the crusty old pastor, Father Fitzgibbon, played by Barry Fitzgerald, in the process. It won Oscars for Crosby (Best Actor), Fitzgerald (Best Supporting Actor), Best Original Story, Best Screenplay, Best Song (“Swinging on a Star”), and Best Director. In a rare occurrence, Fitzgerald was nominated both in the categories of Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. It’s a beautifully constructed film and is perhaps McCarey’s optimistic ‘40s answer to his 1937 story of unwanted senior citizens, Make Way for Tomorrow. In this film the older pastor is not shunted aside but made into a vibrant force renewing the failing church. The best moment of the film comes when Bing and opera star Rise Steven sing the wonderful “Ave Maria,” one the most moving songs ever written. It’s one of the best moments in the history of film. It’s one of my favorites and I’m relatively immune to schmaltz, but when it’s done right, as in this case, it’s worth watching.


DAVID: C+. This isn't a musical though Bing Crosby sings a bit too much in it. The film is an overly sentimental story about Father Chuck O'Malley (Crosby), a young priest, sent to New York City to take over St. Dominic's Church from the grumpy old pastor, Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald). I don't hate the film – I gave it a C+ – but there's no way it deserved to win seven Oscars including for Best Picture. Among its competitors were the vastly superior Gaslight and Double Indemnity. There are plenty of cliches in Going My Way in which the old and supposed new ways of the two priests clash. Fitzgibbon is convinced the youth in the inner-city neighborhood to be beyond saving while O'Malley believes the boys to be good because at least they come to church. O'Malley convinces the boys to join the church choir. We get the well-worn story of the church in financial woes and the only way to save it is for the gang to get together and put on a play. Oh, wait a minute, this has Crosby in it so the plan is to get the kids together and perform a song, "Going My Way," at the Met. The song will be a big hit and sold to a record company with the profits going to pay the church's mortgage. However, the music executive (William Frawley – Fred Mertz from I Love Lucy) doesn't think it will sell. So the boys sing "Swing on a Star," which he loves and buys. The church is saved! I bet no one saw that coming. It's got a few cute moments, but it's pretty hokey and runs too long at 126 minutes.



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July 23–July 31



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THE GOODBYE GIRL (July 24, 6:00 pm): This film came during the peak of Richard Dreyfuss' acting career and is one of his best performances. He won an Oscar for Best Actor (becoming, at the time, the youngest to win the award) for this 1977 film. 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 flamed 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.



THE CAINE MUTINY (July 25, 12:00 am): Humphrey Bogart in his last great role as Lieutenant Commander Philip Frances Queeg, the head of the USS Caine, a Navy destroyer minesweeper. Queeg is losing his wits and desperately trying to have a final moment of glory as a commander, which puts his crew at risk. The final straw is his refusal to avoid a typhoon and then freezes when told of the danger facing the ship. That leads to a peaceful mutiny – thus the clever title – and a court martial. The supporting cast – Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray (the latter in particular) – is excellent. 



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HOBSON’S CHOICE (July 23, 8:00 pm): David Lean directed this wonderfully droll comedy with Charles Laughton in one of his best and most unforgettable performances. He’s a widower with three daughters to marry off, but things don’t quite turn out like he expected. See this once and you’ll want to see it again ... and again. Gentle comedies such as this aren’t made anymore; mores the pity. Look for Prunella Scales – later best known as Sybil Fawlty – as one of Laughton’s daughters. If you haven’t seen this before, you’re in for a real treat. And if you have seen it before, I don’t need to tell you to watch it again; you’ll be doing that anyway.



THE ENTERTAINER (July 23, 10:00 pm): Laurence Olivier gives an unforgettable performance as has-been song-and-dance man Archie Rice, who will stop at nothing to hit the big time once more, even if it means ruining the lives of those around him. Brenda DeBanzie gives a terrific performance as his alcoholic wife, Phoebe, and Roger Livesey is wonderful as his father Billy, a retired music hall performer. Director Tony Richardson does a superb job of capturing the flavor and atmosphere of the cheesy seaside resorts that Archie is reduced to playing, which compliments perfectly Olivier’s brilliant touches as the egotistical Archie Rice. Olivier had perfected the role on stage in John Osborne's play and hits every discordant note on his way down. A true essential.

WE DISAGREE ON … LITTLE BIG MAN (July 27, 9:30 pm)

ED: B. Little Big Man is an interesting movie, as it’s concerned with a specific period of American history. Unfortunately, whenever Hollywood meets history, truth is the thing sacrificed. There are several glaring inaccuracies in the film concerning matters of historical fact, mainly the depiction of Custer as a bigoted loony murderer. That’s as far from the truth as the depiction of him as a gallant martyr in They Died With Their Boots On. Keep in mind that the film was made in 1970, when it was chic to be anti-establishment. I have never seen any reason to bend historical fact to fit an ideology. History is interesting enough without hiding or distorting the facts to make a “better” story. As a film it is first-rate, but it’s historical inaccuracy is enough to make me drop it a grade.


DAVID: A+. There is no doubt that, as Ed wrote, this isn't an accurate telling of historical events. However, simply dismissing this satirical film for that reason is short-sighted. It's a fascinating story 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 what is definitely a very liberal, but extremely entertaining, telling of historical events. 



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July 15–July 22



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A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (July 19, 8:00 pm): The first of the fantastic "Spaghetti Westerns" trilogy films starring Clint Eastwood as "The Man With No Name" (an undertaker calls him Joe, but his real name is never revealed) and directed by Sergio Leone. It's a rip-off of Akiro Kurosawa's Yojimbo, but what a great rip-off! Eastwood is a stranger and an excellent gunslinger who comes to a small Mexican town in the middle of a long and bloody feud between the Rojo brothers and the Baxter family. Eastwood's character sees an opportunity for money by "working" as a gun-for-hire for both. The 1964 film is funny, clever, and action-packed. TCM is showing all three films in the trilogy in a row, starting with this one. 



RED RIVER (July 20, 8:00 pm): I'm not a John Wayne fan, but this film – with Montgomery Clift in a brilliant turn as his adopted son – is outstanding. Wayne is excellent as a "bad guy" whose tyrannical ways cause a mutiny among those working for him on the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail. Director Howard Hawks brings out the best in Wayne, who should get credit for not only agreeing to take on the role of the "heavy," but for doing it so well. Clift was one of Hollywood's brightest stars and was already an elite actor in this, only his second movie.



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THE SNAKE PIT (July 15, 8:00 pm): One of the first films to intelligently look at the problem of mental illness. It's a harrowing look at mental breakdowns and the resulting slow recovery process. Olivia de Havilland is magnificent in this film about one woman’s fight to regain her mental balance.



AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (July 21, 7:15 am): 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 over the years. This is the best.

WE DISAGREE ON ... HARUM SCARUM (July 15, 12:00 pm):

ED: C-. Elvis comes close to rock bottom in this lifeless comedy. He’s an American singer-film star invited to a desert kingdom of Babelstan where he’s kidnapped by assassins out to get the king. He escapes and foils the plot while falling in love with the king’s daughter. With films such as this, is it any wonder that Frankie and Annette dominated the teen market?


DAVID: D-. This is a disagreement about how bad this film is because we both agree it's horrible. I love Elvis films for the most part, even ones that most sane people think are awful. But even I have to draw the line somewhere and that line is Stay Away, Joe and Harum Scarum. Actually, both are miles past that line. Presley plays an action-film star kidnapped by Middle Eastern assassins who want him to kill an Arabian king. Who better to kill a king than The King? Mary Ann Mobley plays a slave girl who is actually an Arabian princess in an absolutely unconvincing role. You can actually see defeat on Elvis’ face during this movie. He looks like he knows the film is awful and he’s embarrassed to be in it – and he should. It’s a comedy, but there’s absolutely nothing funny about this film. The reasons it escapes an F are there's a lot of women in skimpy outfits and it's the only time I've seen Elvis wearing green genie/M.C. Hammer pants.





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July 8-July 14



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MODERN TIMES (June 8, 12:00 pm): This is the film in which Charlie Chaplin plays his iconic Little Tramp character and his last silent movie though this 1936 classic includes sound effects. On the surface, it's a clever, brilliantly choreographed film about struggling to keep up with the changing technological times and the desperate lengths people went to in order to work during the Great Depression. Chaplin is a factory worker on an assembly line who is in way over his head. His giant gear machine scene is one of the greatest physical comedy bits in cinematic history. If you did deeper, the comedy is a sharp criticism of technology and how close-minded people treat those who are different, mistaking them for something they're not. Dig even deeper, and it's Chaplin's damning indictment of the "talkies," which were already the norm in Hollywood. Chaplin wasn't a fan, and realizing this was his last silent film – though we hear his voice in a movie for the first time singing The Nonsense Song – he wanted his audience to realize what they'd be missing with the change in cinema.



THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (July 13, 10:00 pm): As an admirer of Akira Kurosawa-directed films, I would normally dismiss an American remake of his work. When you consider The Magnificent Seven (1960) is a Western based on Kurosawa's legendary Seven Samurai (1954), it's surprising I ever gave it a chance. Thankfully I did because not only is it an excellent movie, it's better than Seven Samurai, which is a classic. John Sturges does a splendid job directing this film with an all-star cast, including Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn (my personal favorite among the seven gunslingers) with Eli Wallach, the leader of the Mexican bandits who terrorize a small rural town. It's filled with action, making the 128-minute film seem like it zipped by.



ED’S BEST BETS:


SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (January 11, 2:45 am): This film is rightly said to be writer/director Preston Sturges’s masterpiece. John L. Sullivan is a noted director of light musical fare such as Ants in Your Plants of 1939 and Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. However, he wants to make an Important Film, and he has one in mind, namely O Brother, Where Art Thou, a leaden novel concerned with the struggle between Capital and Labor. The studio execs pooh-pooh it, noting that he grew up rich and never suffered. So, Sullivan sets out to see how the other half lives, and ends up with far more than he bargained for when everybody assumes he died. It’s both hilarious and touching with many insights from Sturges into the human ego versus the human condition. It’s best to record it to be seen again later – and you will definitely want to see it again.

DOWNSTAIRS (July 9, 10:00 pm): John Gilbert, maligned as a lost “talkie” actor, completely redeems his reputation – and then some – in this crackling drama about Karl, a heel chauffeur who cajoles, sleeps, and blackmails his way through a wealthy household. Karl doesn’t miss a trick, even seducing the cook to get his hands on her life savings. Gilbert gives us pause to wonder just how far he would have gone if not for the factors that brought him down, factors that seem more in line with office politics than the real tone of his voice.

WE DISAGREE ON ... ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (July 14, 8:00 pm)

ED. A. Martin Scorsese tries his hand at the “Women’s film” and scores with it, mainly due to a great script by Robert Getchell and bravura performances by Ellen Burstyn and Diane Ladd. Burstyn was never better than she was here, and Ladd almost steals the picture as Flo the waitress. Scorsese has given us a human drama instead of pulling out the ideological stops and presenting a shrill feminist tract. It’s the human element that makes this one worth catching, even though it went on to spawn an atrocious TV sitcom.


DAVID: C. This film is out of Martin Scorsese's comfort zone – and unfortunately, it shows. Sensitive films are not his forte, and thankfully over the years, he has stayed away from them. This often-unfocused, repetitive movie just sits there typically doing nothing. It's not interesting or compelling, and the nearly two-hour running time seems twice as long. Ellen Burstyn, as Alice is very good, and without that Oscar-winning performance, my grade for this film would have been a D+. Diane Ladd as Flo and Vic Tayback as Mel, a role he'd play on the long-running mediocre TV sitcom, are fine. However, the story is paper-thin and to be frank, quite dull. Variety's review of this 1974 film sums up my feelings: "Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore takes a group of well-cast film players and largely wastes them on a smaller-than-life film – one of those ‘little people’ dramas that make one despise little people."



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July 1–July 7



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2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (July 3, 11:15 pm): It's one of the most visually-stunning and fascinating films every made. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the story of man from pre-evolution to a trip to Jupiter, and how superior beings on that mysterious planet made it all possible. The storyline is fascinating and the ending is very much open to interpretation, which makes the film even more compelling. The interaction between astronaut David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and the HAL 9000 computer that controls the spaceship and has a mind of its own reflects how mankind has experienced gains and losses through the use of advanced technology. The cinematography, special effects and music take this film to a special level. 



THE CANDIDATE (July 7, 2:45 am): This is an excellent political satire, and its message of having to sell your soul and give up your integrity to get elected is timeless. 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 long-shot challenge to popular Republican Senator Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter). At Lucas' recommendation, McKay softens his message a little bit, compromising his principles – and it works. 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. The storyline is intelligent and compelling, giving viewers a fascinating inside look at the political process in a documentary-style of filming.



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 Virginia Vestoff as Abigail Adams and Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson, and the film really rocks. Watch out, however, for John Cullum as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. He brings down the house with “Molasses to Rum to Slaves.” Other numbers to 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.



ANNIE OAKLEY (July 5, 2:15 pm): Barbara Stanwyck is a marvelous actress. Even in bad movies she still manages to shine. Put her in a film worthy of her talents and there’s no ceiling. This is such a film – a wonderful, lively biography of one of the legends of the West. It’s Stanwyck’s picture and she dominates as the woman popularly known as “Little Miss Sure Shot.” Preston Foster provides solid support as Toby Walker, at first Annie Oakley’s rival at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and later the love of her life. George Stevens’s direction is nearly flawless as he keeps a tight rein on the picture, which in turn amps up the realism and believability. The result is a movie that’s fun to watch and can be seen numerous times without tiring out the viewer.

WE DISAGREE ON ... CAPTAIN BLOOD (July 1, 5:15 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 Olivia 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. 





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June 23-June 30


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EXECUTIVE SUITE (June 24, 12:30 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. Top executives at a major furniture company are fighting 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 greatest strength is its all-star cast – William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Frederic March and Walter Pidgeon at the top of the bill.


JULIUS CAESAR (June 25, 4:00 pm): This 1953 film is among my two favorite cinematic adaptions of William Shakespeare along with Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (which is on June 29 at 10:00 pm). Marlon Brando at his method acting mumbling peak is brilliant as Mark Antony. Brando more than holds his own in a film that features an all-star cast of Shakespearean veterans such as James Mason, John Gielgud and John Hoyt as well as other 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 was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who made numerous fine films but nothing even remotely close to Shakespeare, are pleasant surprises.



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BLACK ORPHEUS (June 23, 4:00 pm): 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.


SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (June 26, 8:15 am): During the late ‘50s and into the ‘60s, Britain made a series of what became to be known as “Angry Young Man” films. This is one of the best. It’s centered on Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney), a Nottingham factory worker who combines a hatred of authority with his anger at his co-workers’ acceptance of it. The anger constantly eats at him, even during off work hours making pub tours with his mates. But though he is a rebel with a cause, he has no plan of how to escape the oppressive conformity that’s crushing his soul. To assuage himself, he adopts the motto of “What I want is a good time. The remainder is all propaganda.” In other words, live for the moment and see what tomorrow may bring and deal with it then. He channels his anger into drinking bouts and an affair with his best friend’s wife, Brenda (Rachel Rebuts), whom he ends up impregnating. At the same time, he’s head over heels for Doreen (Shirley Anne Field), a young woman whose extraordinary beauty masks her shallowness and desire for conformist respectability. Directed by Karel Reisz from a script from Alan Sillitoe.

WE DISAGREE ON ... JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (June 30, 12:30 am)

ED: D+. Hollywood has always had a tenuous relationship with religion, with the question being how to make the most money with the least criticism. And for the most part, the depictions of Christ in the movies followed the cultural and political mores of the time. And this film is no different. Based on the musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Kings of Kitsch, it gives us a distinctly ‘70s approach to its subject, making him out as some type of hippie up against the Establishment. Aside from the music, it fails as a film: poorly directed and badly acted, especially by its lead, Ted Neely, whose voice wasn’t up to the task. (In fact, the vocals are all dubbed, with really poor sync, plus the film suffers from some serious continuity errors with the chorus dubs.) The anachronistic prop and costume choices were inconsistent, to say the least: sometimes they were period, sometimes they were modern, and sometimes in-between. The movie is supposed to be as look at Christ through the eyes of Judas, the film’s anti-hero. Unfortunately, Judas seems to be shrieking his songs like a mad dog. Josh Mostel’s Herod comes off as a camp figure and his scenes with Neely were pathetic. This was the first film that gave us Jesus as James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause – he’s so confused. In fact, the Jesus in this atrocity is so wimpy it’s hard to imagine anyone following him around the corner, much less to Jerusalem. Neely won a Golden Turkey from the Medved Brothers for his performance. For those who want to see a good feature on the life of Christ, try Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings with Jeffrey Hunter from 1961 or Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth.


DAVID: C. First, I'm not a fan of this film as you can tell by my grade. But I felt that Ed's D+ was too harsh as the movie has a few redeeming qualities. Carl Anderson is very good as Judas, Josh Mostel as an over-the-top Herod is campy fun, and Yvonne Elliman (who plays Mary Magdalene) is an excellent singer, but a terrible actress. The location shots are beautiful, some of the songs are good, and Jesus as the leader of a group of "Jesus Freak Hippies" is an interesting twist as is having Judas be a sympathetic character who thinks he's doing the right thing. I like how the film reflects its time during the early 1970s though Ed is correct that it's unclear whether it wants to be in biblical times or what was modern times in 1973. The “Superstar” musical number toward the end of the film is completely outrageous and enjoyable. Now for the bad – and there's a lot of it so I won't write everything. The biggest problem is casting Ted Neely as Jesus. He's awful. He can't sing, he can't act, and has no personality or charisma. If that was really Jesus, the Christian religion would not exist. Ian Gillan, Deep Purple's lead singer, sang Jesus' parts on the original 1970 rock opera album, and would have been a major improvement over Neely in terms of his vocals and presence. Gillan turned down the offer to play the title role in the film to focus on his work with the classic heavy-metal rock band. Everyone knows that nothing good comes from a singing dialogue and this film is Exhibit A on the subject. The movie is also about as anti-Semitic as it gets with the Jewish religious leaders plotting to have Jesus killed and the crowd of Jews portrayed as a blood-thirsty mob. I saw this film when it was in the theaters in 1973. I was six years old and my father didn't really understand parental responsibility. To say I was freaked out after seeing it would be an understatement. To this day even seeing clips unnerves me. As I've explained, the film isn't terrible, but its multiple flaws greatly exceed its good points.



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June 15–June 22



DAVID’S BEST BETS:



LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE (June 15, 11:45 am): An unusual but entertaining Elvis Presley film, and among his last non-concert movies. Elvis is Greg Nolan, a newspaper photographer who loses his job after being drugged and kept captive by Bernice, a quirky, sexy girl who lives at the beach. In need of employment, he finds two in the same building. He shoots photos for both a conservative firm and a girlie magazine, and tries to balance that with Bernice, who goes by different names depending on the guy. It's not a terribly deep film, but it was an interesting change of pace for Elvis at the tail end of his career as a movie star. The best scene has Elvis singing "A Little Less Conversation," one of my personal favorites.



THE ODD COUPLE (June 15, 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 best 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 many films, is outstanding here, second to only to 1966's The Fortune Cookie. 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.



ED’S BEST BETS:



PICTURE SNATCHER (June 15, 4:30 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.


SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (June 21, 5:00 am): In only his second feature, Francois Truffaut hits another home run with this story of a former concert pianist (Charles Aznavour) whose fame is past and now plays in a rundown cafe. His girlfriend, Lena (Marie Dubois) wants him to get back to his former career, but instead Aznavour becomes mixed up with gangsters, which ultimately leads to murder. Jean-Luc Godard may have dedicated Breathless to Monogram Studios, but it was Truffaut, with this film, who made the picture in true Monogram style.

WE DISAGREE ON ... FIVE EASY PIECES (June 21, 3:15 am):

ED: B. It’s been hailed as the ultimate counter-culture picture. But at essence it’s a portrait of a man who refuses to take responsibility for his life; who thinks that by constantly running away he can ditch all his problems. What he will never realize – at least from what we see in the ending – is that the problem is him. The film would have us blame it all on his dysfunctional family, headed by an inscrutable tyrant who, we get the feeling, pushed his children into being musicians. More dollar book Freud. My only surprise is that Nicholson’s character didn’t have a Rosebud sled. Again, it’s the performances that make this film watchable, especially Karen Black as Nicholson’s girlfriend Rayette. However, like The Last Detail, the film hasn’t aged well, wearing its early ‘70s heritage on its sleeve.


DAVID: C. The coincidence that we disagree on two Jack Nicholson film two weeks in a row isn't lost on me. I like The Last Detail significantly more than Ed. Ed gives this film a higher grade than I do, and his insights are pretty accurate. I find Five Easy Pieces to be somewhat dull with the iconic restaurant scene the only memorable part of the movie. As I mentioned last week, this 1970 film was released when Nicholson was among the three best actors in the film industry. There's no doubt that in his first starring role, Nicholson is excellent, but the plot is a classic case of cinematic pop psychology without any real depth to the characters. Fed up with his controlling father, Nicholson's character has abandoned his wealthy family to be a working-class Joe who cheats on his waitress girlfriend. The two worlds collide when he visits his family because his father is dying. Without Nicholson, the film would likely rate a D.





TCM TiVo ALERT

For
June 8–June 14



DAVID’S BEST BETS:


ACE IN THE HOLE (June 10, 10:00 pm): The best journalism movie ever made with Kirk Douglas as Chuck Tatum, a hard-hitting, hard-boiled, cynical reporter fired from 11 newspapers for a variety of reasons, none of them good. Tatum's car breaks down in Albuquerque, and his quick talking and nose for news get him a job at the local newspaper. Things are quiet for a year until he learns that a guy is trapped in a collapsed cave. Being the sharp reporter, Tatum realizes he can turn this into a huge story and return to the national spotlight if he can properly exploit it and convince the locals that he should have the exclusive. That's exactly what happens as the cave collapse evolves into an actual carnival with rides and games. Tatum finally realizes what he's doing is horribly wrong, but it's too late by that time. Ace in the Hole (also known as The Big Carnival) is an excellent, though exaggerated, example of how the media can sometimes exploit a story without realizing the consequences. This is my favorite Billy Wilder film. He produced, directed and co-wrote the film.


THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (June 14, 8:00 pm): This is Humphrey Bogart's finest performance in a career of outstanding performances. This 1948 classic showed Bogart's 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 in dire straits 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 best 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. 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."


ED'S BEST BETS
:


SUNSET BOULEVARD (June 10, 8:00 pm): Billy Wilder has made many excellent films over the years, but this may just be his masterpiece. Joe Gillis (William Holden), a down-on-his-luck screenwriter escaping from the repo men, has the dubious fortune of parking his car at the estate of faded silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Norma is lost in the dreams and memories of her former glory as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Though at first hostile, Norma warms to Gillis when she discovers he’s a screenwriter and wants him to work on the script for her comeback film. Desperate for money, Gillis agrees, and soon becomes a kept man, discovering that Norma is so possessive that it becomes impossible for him. Erich Von Stroheim is Norma’s butler, and former director and husband. When Norma discovers Joe has fallen in love with fellow screenwriter Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), Joe in turn discovers that hell hath no fury like a former Hollywood goddess scorned. The film has been hailed by critics as the definitive insider portrait of Hollywood, sort of a Hollywood Babylon in just under two hours. In one word, it is sublime. Gloria Swanson gives the performance of a lifetime, and  today is remembered among film buffs not for her many silent triumphs, but for her performance in this film.


THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE (June 14, 12:15 am): The films of Max Ophuls are noted for their subtlety, and this film is a prime example. Taking a simple premiss, that of a French woman whose series of white lies does her in, Ophuls raises it to the level of high tragedy. although it opened in the U.S. to mild praise, the film is viewed today as one of the greatest gems of movie history, and perhaps the acme of Ophuls’ career. Of course, a good cast helps, and Ophuls has a terrific one with Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux and Vittorio De Sica as his leads. Ophuls is in his element here, painstakingly designing mies-en-scenes that frame and define his characters, and combining that with close-ups that allow us some psychological insight into the characters. The plot is beautifully staged, opening and closing on the consideration of the eponymous piece of jewelry that passes from owner to owner until returning to Darrieux. This is a film of charm and beauty with a marvelous subtext of the pain that goes hand in hand with vanity and which no amount of lies can cover or explain.


WE DISAGREE ON ... THE LAST DETAIL (June 14, 4:15 am)


ED: C. The Last Detail is a film that boasts a terrific performance by Jack Nicholson, and good supporting performance from Randy Quaid and Otis Young. This film couldn’t have been more tailored to its star if it was followed directly from a blueprint. However, the premise of the film was already passé by 1973 when it was made. One doesn’t have to be Roger Ebert to see where this is going  that Nicholson and Young will gradually empathize with their prisoner (Quaid) and alter their plan. Watching this film I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between it and two previous Nicholson films: Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. Like The Last Detail they are classic road movies that follow Nicholson’s characters as they gradually shed their layers of disinterest until they learn – always too late – that indifference only helps corrupt government, with its Byzantine rules, operate with smoother efficiency. Another thing all three films have in common is that none of them have aged well. Looking at The Last Detail, I see early ‘70s mentality written all over it. The fact it can’t transcend that mentality, despite those three great performances, keeps it firmly in the realm of the ordinary.


DAVID: B+. This 1973 film is one of Jack Nicholson's finest performances in a period when he was among cinema's top three actors. He and Otis Young play Billy Buddusky and Richard Mulhall, respectively, who are career Navy sailors required to take Larry Meadows, a naive kleptomaniac (Randy Quaid), to a naval prison to serve an eight-year sentence for attempted robbery. He stole $40 in polio contributions. The punishment doesn't fit the crime so the two officers try to show Meadows a good time before delivering him to brig. Quaid is outstanding and Young, who never did anything else of note, is quite good. It's a buddy/road film with a focus more on the characters than the plot. It's cynical, engrossing, tough and between the three actors, a great script by Robert Towne and Hal Ashby's directing, the viewer becomes captivated by the characters and their circumstances. They travel to Washington, New York City, and Boston, among other places, exposing Meadows to new experiences including getting drunk for the first time, a Nichiren Shoshu prayer meeting, and to a whorehouse for his first sexual encounter. Is it predictable as Ed contends? Sometimes, and it loses some points for that. But the changes in the three characters from their time together stays with the viewer. Ed also mentioned you don't have to be Roger Ebert to see where the film is going. So what did Ebert think of this film? He listed it in 1974 as the fifth best film he saw ahead of classic movies such as Day for NightMean Streets and The Conversation.



 TCM TiVo ALERT 

For

June 1–June 7



DAVID’S BEST BETS:



THE SEVEN UPS (June 4, 10:00 pm): This 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. It's certainly not the most sophisticated movie ever made, but it's among the most entertaining.



ON THE WATERFRONT (June 6, 7:15 am): 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 incredible performances by the supporting cast, in particular, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. 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. 



ED’S BEST BETS:



THE LOWER DEPTHS (June 2, 7:45 am): An interesting, though talky, drama from Akira Kurosawa about poverty in the “lower depths” of society. It’s based on Maxim Gorky’s play, At Bottom. Kurosawa changed the setting from Imperial Russia to Edo (as Tokyo used to be known) in the mid-19th century. Toshiro Mifune, the leading man in many of Kurosawa’s films, is the thief Sutekichi. He lives in a small hostel where the landlady Osugi (Isuzu Yamada) treats all for tenants badly; even a newly arrived priest. Though she is married, she is crazy about Sutekichi. Sutekichi, however, is in love with Okayo (Kyoko Kagawa), Osugi’s sister. When Osugi discovers the truth she goes into a jealous rage and incites Sutekichi to kill her husband. The consequences are dire, and neither Sutekichi nor Osugi have a happy ending. The film illustrates one of Kurosawa’s strength’s  the ability to adapt material from other sources and give it a spin all his own. A definite Must See.


BRIGHTON ROCK (June 7, 10:00 pm): From the Boulting Brothers comes this excellent adaptation (by Terence Rattigan) of Graham Greene’s novel about a gang of lowlife hoods in Brighton, England, and their 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 AGREE ON ... MY FAVORITE YEAR (June 5, 6:00 pm)

ED: A+. Richard Benjamin’s first outing as a director is a resounding success thanks to a great screenplay and outstanding performances from practically the entire cast. It’s based on a real life incident where Mel Brooks, then a junior writer on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, had to mind that week’s guest star, Errol Flynn, who was notorious for his love of the bottle and and diversion that came his way. It’s also the story of how Brooks met Anne Bancroft, who at the time worked for the station. Peter O’Toole, as Allen Swann, based on Flynn, is hilarious, as is Joseph Bologna laying a thinly veiled Sid Caesar. Anne DiSalvo is Selma Diamond and Basil Hoffman is Neil Simon. Finally, Mark Linn-Baker, as junior writer Benjy Stone, makes for a fine Mel Brooks. This film gently harkens back to a time when television was in its infancy and live and neatly captures the spirit of the era. Also, it has one of the best endings of any comedy I’ve seen. 


DAVID: A+. This film really has no business being as excellent as it is. Richard Benjamin was a fine actor, but an awful director  and this was his first film as a director. Mark Linn-Baker (best known as Cousin Larry on the TV show Perfect Strangers) was a mediocre actor, and he is given the supporting actor lead here. Jessica Harper, the most prominent female actress in this movie, also wasn't much of a talent. They all greatly exceed their abilities in this 1982 movie. But what makes My Favorite Year a great film is the wonderfully charming screenplay written by Dennis Palumbo, and Peter O'Toole as Allen Swann, based on Errol Flynn. O'Toole gives one of the funniest and entertaining over-the-top performances I've ever seen. The lines are great: "I'm not an actor. I'm a movie star!" "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." and "My good man, what I choose to do with my schlong is my business," to name a few. But it's O'Toole's delivery that make them memorable. He was nominated for a Best Leading Actor Oscar for this film, his seventh nomination and seventh loss. He would later be nominated and lose a record eight times. As Ed mentions, the film is based on real people who worked on Your Show of Shows, and is funny and sweet without overdoing it – which can certainly be a challenge.



TCM TiVo ALERT

For

May 23–May 31



DAVID’S BEST BETS:



BLACULA (May 26, 3:45 am): Only American International Pictures could successfully make a Blaxploitation horror film, and the small studio did it twice - the original from 1972 and the sequel Scream Blacula Scream a year later. William Marshall is an African prince Mamuwalde in the year 1780 visiting Count Dracula to convince him to help stop the slave trade. Instead, Dracula laughs at him and bites him on the neck turning him into a vampire. Mamuwalde is given the clever name "Blacula" by the Count, sealed in a coffin and locked in a room with his wife, who subsequently dies, for all eternity. That is until a couple of interior decorators buy everything at Count Dracula's castle, including Blacula's coffin, and brings all of it to then-modern-day Los Angeles. Blacula is released from his coffin, and roams the streets of L.A. at night, terrorizing some and falling in love with a woman who looks just like his wife – primarily because the same actress plays both roles. It's a lot of fun with very little blood. 



BREAKING AWAY (May 31, 9:30 pm): This is an excellent coming-of-age film about a group of four directionless high school graduates from working-class families in Bloomington, Indiana, the home of Indiana University. The college kids look down on the townies, who they call "cutters" because their fathers and/or grandfathers used to work as stonecutters in a quarry. Of the four, the lead is Dave (Dennis Christopher), a talented cyclist enamored with Italian races to the point he speaks with an Italian accent. He falls in love with a female college student using the accent and claims to attend the university. His life falls apart when a professional Italian cycling team comes to Bloomington to participate in a race. He tries to bond with them, but when they see how good he is, they treat him poorly and one puts a tire pump in his bicycle wheel causing him to crash. He then tells the girl (Robyn Douglass) the truth and she slaps him. The film's climax is The Little 500, an annual four-man bicycle race with the boys believing Dave can ride the entire race and win. He nearly does it, but gets hurt with the other three each have to get on the bike. The film is spectacular and the ending will have you cheering. The supporting cast is solid with great performances from Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley as Dave's three friends, and Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley as Dave's parents. 



ED’S BEST BETS:



THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (May 26, 8:00 pm): A totally enjoyable romp with Vincent Price as Dr. Anton Phibes, a madman who is hunting down and killing a team of doctors he believes killed his beloved wife. Phibes disposes of his victims in a spectacular variety of gruesome ways, all of which are based on the 10 biblical curses inflicted on the Egyptians in Exodus. Virginia North is excellent as Phibes’ assistant, Vulnavia,and Joseph Cotten is the Dr. Vesalius, the chief surgeon of the mishandled operation. Directed with campy style by Robert Fuest, a former art director, the movie is a hoot from beginning to end as Price never lets up.


THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (May 27, 8:30 am): A most vivid telling of Richard Conner’s classic story about a megalomanic big-game hunter named Count Zaroff who hunts people on his remote island. As Zaroff Leslie Banks gives a great over-the-top creepy, almost campy, performance. Joel McCrea and Fay Wray are selected to be his latest prey, but what Zaroff doesn’t take into account is that McCrea’s characters is a big-game hunter himself. With Robert Armstrong in an effective performance as Wray’s weak, alcoholic brother. A must for those who haven’t yet seen it, it’s one of the classics of the horror genre. Remade several times without success.

WE AGREE ON ... THE 400 BLOWS (May 31, 11:30 pm)

ED: A+. Francois Truffaut’s landmark film is one of the most intense and moving movies ever made about the life of a young adolescent and how he drifts into delinquency. Truffaut reaches back into his own childhood and, through the character of Antoine Doinel, brings the viewer into his private world: a resourceful boy typecast by adults as a troublemaker and a victim of a self-absorbed mother and stepfather who take no interest in him or his world, ministering only to their particular needs of the moment. When he is arrested for petty theft (the starkest scene in the movie is the image of the young Doinel in the paddy wagon, riding through the streets of Paris at night and looking out through the bars), his parents discuss him as a lost cause with the police and leave him to the mercy of the social services, which place him in a reform school/youth camp, from which he runs away at the end. Watch for Jeanne Moreau in a cameo as a woman walking her dog on a Paris street. 


DAVID: A+. Francois Truffaut's first feature length film from 1959 is a masterpiece. I enjoy it so much that I watched it again earlier this week, and it's as fresh as the first time I saw it. As Ed wrote, it's an intense look at Antoine Doinel (expertly played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, who would portray the same character in three more feature-length films and a short), a mischievous and clever 12-year-old Parisian. He isn't a bad kid. But his defiance of authority and lack of supervision by his mother – who attempts to manipulate him when the boy sees her kissing another man – and stepfather gets him labeled a delinquent. That leads to him cutting school, running away and eventually stealing a typewriter from his father's office resulting in his arrest when he returns it after failing to sell it. That is the turning point in the film with his stepfather – we don't find out he's not Antoine's biological father until then – allowing his stepson to be prosecuted by the police and eventually sent to a camp for juvenile delinquents. It is there that we experience the true horror of an intelligent boy who made mistakes paying a very serious penalty. Most of the key players in the film are children, which can be very risky as they have limited or no acting experience. But Truffaut was already a brilliant director – on his way to being the greatest in the history of cinema – and he is able to get fantastic performances from the boys. Also, the cinematography is stunning with the gritty streets of Paris being Antoine's main supporting actor. The final scene is liberating and beautiful with Antoine successfully escaping from the camp and making it to the ocean, which he had dreamed of visiting. Don't be fooled by the title. It's a literal translation of a term the French use which means to raise hell.



TCM TiVo ALERT

For

May 15–May 22



DAVID’S BEST BETS:



LIBELED LADY (May 15, 8:00 am): Boasting one of the greatest casts in cinematic history, this 1936 screwball comedy is a classic. The chemistry between William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow is among the best you'll find in any movie. 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. Harlow tragically died a year later at the age of 26. The story has 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 and a smooth operator, to seduce Loy and then purposely get caught in a compromising position by Harlow, who would pretend to be his wife. While the ending is predictable, how they get to the conclusion is a joy to watch.



VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (May 22, 6:15 pm): This is a well-done and compelling 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 poorly thought out as these children are mean business when it comes to world domination. 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 gives his usual fantastic performance and the kids are great.



ED’S BEST BETS:



WHITE HEAT (May 15, 8:00 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.


EYES WITHOUT A FACE (May 18, 6:15 pm): 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. Definitely not for the squeamish.

WE DISAGREE ON ... SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (May 20, 8:45 am)

ED: B. This daring film from director Elia Kazan is a tragic, coming-of-age melodrama about sexual repression and neurosis, written by playwright William Inge, his first project written for the big screen. Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty are the teenage lovers, Deanie and Bud. Deanie follows her mother’s advice to resist the desire for sex with Bud, and in turn Bud reluctantly follows the advice of his father (Pat Hingle), who advises him to find a girl not so forbidding in order to sow his wild oats. Depressed over Bud’s ending off their relationship, Deanie becomes involved with another boy in an episode where she is almost raped, and in her despair, attempts suicide, requiring her institutionalization. The reason I cannot give it a higher grade is because, as we follow the fortunes of our two protagonists, the story devolves into pure melodrama. Had this film been made 10 years hence, when the censors were successfully defied, it would have been allowed to be stronger and more directly to the point. However, the real reason to watch is Natalie Wood; not only is it her best performance, but one of the best in movies. Had not Sophia Loren made Two Women the same year, Wood would have been a shoo-in for Best Actress. It’s also the film debut of Warren Beatty, another reason for cinephiles to tune into this flawed, but fascinating psychological drama. 


DAVID: C. I really want to like this film. Elia Kazan was a magnificent director and in his prime, Warren Beatty was an extraordinary actor. While I'm not a fan of Natalie Wood, she gives a strong performance here. However, the plot is cliche and lifeless, and quite frankly, the movie is boring even as it tries to shock its audience. It plays more like a soaper than a coming-of-age film, and it's very difficult to like or identify with any of the characters. Beatty shows great potential that is realized in other films, but as Bud he's a dud. As I mentioned, Wood is very good as Deanie, but this movie could be so much better. Splendor in the Grass came out in 1961, around the time when daring filmmakers were defying censors and leading the way toward ending the repressive Hays Code. I agree with Ed that if the movie was made years later that it would have been better. But Kazan had a lot of power and respect in Hollywood and could have pushed for a more daring film than the end result. Overall, it's a disappointment largely because the pieces are there for an excellent movie that never materializes.



TCM TiVo ALERT

For

May 8–May 14



DAVID’S BEST BETS:



THE MALTESE FALCON (May 10, 10:15 pm): This is arguably the best film noir ever made. It's John Houston's directorial debut and what a splendid job he did. Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade is cooler than any character played by James Dean or Steve McQueen or, well, anybody. With a stellar supporting cast, it's filled with suspense and action. There's a time or two you may find yourself wondering what is going on, but all the pieces perfectly fall into place at the end. 



THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (May 12, 12:00 pm): Readers know I'm not a Katharine Hepburn fan and I don't think very much of most of Cary Grant's comedies. However, The Philadelphia Story is an exception to both. Hepburn and Grant give wonderful performances, as does the legendary James Stewart, in an excellent screwball comedy. The year 1940 had Grant playing Rosalind Russell's ex-husband and winning her back in His Girl Friday as well as Hep's ex in this film with the same outcome. It's fast-moving, funny and well-acted. Hepburn had a lot riding on the success of this film and if it failed, her movie career was likely over. She made this movie shortly after she had been labeled "box office poison" by the Independent Theatre Owners of America because of a string of flops. She did more than redeem herself in this film though it's the only comedy she ever made that I like.



ED’S BEST BETS:



THE BAT WHISPERS (May 9, 6:30 am): A wonderful archaic “old dark house” mystery about the search for a mysterious killed known as The Bat. Of note for its amazing visuals, especially its use of miniature sets. Director Roland West’s sound remake of his silent classic, The Bat (1926). Starring Chester Morris and the delightful Una Merkel.


FLYING DOWN TO RIO (May 10, 8:00 am): Show this to someone who hasn’t seen it and see if they believe that the stars are anyone else than Fred or Ginger. Actually the stars are Gene Raymond and Dolores Del Rio, but who cares about them? Although Fred and Ginger are only supporting players, once they come on the screen they dominate it, especially when they get together to do “The Carioca.” It was their first pairing and established them as RKO’s future musical superstars. Note the scene of the biplanes in some of the numbers. RKO is still experiencing King Kong hangover. Watch this not only for the dancing, but the amazing chemistry between Fred and Ginger. 

WE AGREE ON ... THE FRENCH CONNECTION (May 11, 12:00 am)

ED: A+. Based on a true story, this urban action film came to define those that came after it by means of its direction, script and, especially, editing. Gene Hackman is “Popeye” Doyle, a maverick NYPD detective investigating the attempted smuggling of heroin into New York City. Director William Friedkin does a superb job of placing us in the middle of the lighted and menace of the rundown, wintry city, with a tense raid on a Brooklyn bar and lots of shots of elevated trains, wet streets and looming tenements, giving us a masterpiece of documentary-style filming. But the high point of the film is the incredible car chase, where Popeye commandeers a passenger car to chase a suspect fleeing on a elevated train. Editor Gerald Greenberg received the Oscar for his work in putting the chase together. Hackman, who won the Best Actor Oscar, will forever be associated with this, his most famous role. 


DAVID: A+. This is the first film of the 1970s to truly capture the gritty, grimy, disgusting life of cops and crooks in New York City. Other excellent films would follow such as Serpico and The Seven-Ups (both in 1973), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Taxi Driver (1976). While the others are great, this is the best. The French Connection (1971), based on two actual NYC cops, stars Gene Hackman as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Roy Scheider as his partner, Buddy "Cloudy" Russo. The two detectives discover that a wealthy French drug dealer (played by Fernando Rey) smuggled into New York City a large shipment of pure heroin and is looking to make a big sale. The cat-and-mouse game between the two sides on the streets of New York City, primarily Brooklyn. is captivating. While some of it seems implausible, it looks so authentic. The chase scene that has Popeye in a car pursuing the French drug kingpin's hitman in an elevated train is as good as it gets, and gets your heart racing. An incredible film, The French Connection was the first R-rated movie to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture. It picked up four others including Best Actor for Hackman.



TCM TiVo ALERT

For

May 1–May 7



DAVID’S BEST BETS:



FURY (May 3, 9:45 pm): Director Fritz Lang's first American film, this is filled with suspense, revenge, mob rule, hostility, intolerance and action. Spencer Tracy plays Joe Wilson, 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 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 obsessed with anger and vengeance. The film moves from a love story to suspense to a courtroom drama.



SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (May 6, 6:30 am): In Seven Days in May, Burt Lancaster 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 coup and tells the president. It's among the best political thrillers ever made. An interesting tidbit: 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 that year), but Pentagon officials weren't cooperative, refusing to permit Douglas to be filmed walking into that building. 



ED’S BEST BETS:



THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (May 7, 6:15 pm): The 1951 original, of course, 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.


ALL ABOUT EVE (May 7, 8:00 pm): One of the great films about the theater with knockout performances from leads Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm and George Sanders. Sanders won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role. Sophisticated and cynical with a brilliant script by director Joseph Mankiewicz based on the short story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr. Life ended up imitating art when Baxter pulled strings to be nominated for Best Actress in addition to Davis. If she had stayed in the category of Best Supporting, it is likely both she and Davis would have taken home statuettes. It's one of those films that can be watched again and again with no lessening of enjoyment.

WE DISAGREE ON ... TASTE OF CHERRY (May 1, 2:15 am)

ED: A. This is a most unusual film, to say the least. A meditation on suicide in an Islamic country where, by Islamic law, suicide is verboten. A brooding man rides on the outskirts of Tehran in his Range Rover looking for someone who will accept a large fee to bury him after he commits suicide. His encounters with several candidates comprise the story of the film, for the film is a meditation on death. The protagonist, faced with his countrymen’s rejection of his proposals, offers a gamut of rationalized arguments and enticements, from philosophical to pathetically humorous. Slowly the film turns into a celebration of life and all the heartaches and irrupting errands it entails, such as death. The ending is left intentionally ambiguous – was the director inviting us to muse on the characters in the film and their arguments, or was the director leaving it unfinished to escape the inevitable consequences to which the film was leading, and by this ambiguity, escape the wrath of the Iranian authorities? It’s left to the viewer to come to terms in this most interesting introspective film.

DAVID: C. This is a film I really want to like as it appears on many lists and in several books as being a classic though it's less than 20 years old. It won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, and the subject matter – a guy trying to find someone to toss dirt on his body after he commits suicide and instead meets people who want to save him – is fascinating in concept. However, the execution falls short, leaving me uninspired and disappointed with the end result. It could be so much better. I don't hate it as passionately as Roger Ebert did when he described it as "excruciatingly boring" and a "lifeless drone." The reason is I'm not interested in the characters in the film, including the man trying to find someone to cover him up after he commits suicide. I honestly don't care if he lives or dies. I just want the film to either be better or be over. Some of the dialogue – done in Persian – is interesting, but there really isn't much of a quality film to watch. The story evolves at a snail's pace and by the time we get to the finale, I'm left feeling nothing. If that's the film's goal then mission accomplished. But I can't imagine that was the intention.






TCM TiVo ALERT
For
April 23–April 30


DAVID’S BEST BETS:


FROM THE LIFE OF THE MARIONETTES (April 23, 4:15 am): This is one of Ingmar Bergman's darker films, which is saying something because he made a lot of dark films. It's also one of his more fascinating movies and largely goes under the radar. This was originally made for German television in 1980 with two characters seen briefly in his 1973 film Scenes From a Marriage, which was a Swedish TV miniseries later cut when released in theaters. It's a complex film with Bergman taking a deep dive into the themes of many of his works – love, sex, marriage, death, regret and tragedy. The marriage of Katarina and Peter Egermann is in shambles with the couple arguing and the wife having other lovers. Peter sees a prostitute who has the misfortune of having Katarina as her first name. In a fit of rage, Peter kills her. The film questions what drove Peter, a respectable businessman, to commit murder. As he did in several other films, Bergman gives his viewers a lot to ponder and leaves it to them to determine what they are viewing.



JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (April 29, 1:15 am): I've recommended this film a few times over the year, and with good reason: it's a must-see. A large ensemble cast of legendary actors – Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Richard Widmark and Maximilian Schell – and memorable smaller 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. It's about 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:



THE SEARCHERS (April 25, 1:00 pm): It’s an old axiom among serious film buffs that John Wayne was a limited actor. While that’s true to a certain extent, just give him a good script and a director like John Ford or Howard Hawks to keep him in line and milk a good performance out of him and he’s not only good – he’s compelling to watch. Wayne is a Civil War veteran obsessed with tracking down the Comanches that killed his family and slaughtered his niece. He also hates Indians with a passion, and Ford paints an interesting character study as Wayne pursues the kidnappers. Not to be missed, even for those that aren’t exactly crazy about Westerns.

DUCK SOUP (April 26, 9:15 am): 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 ... WOMAN IN THE DUNES (April 24, 2:00 am)

ED: C. The Japanese are the last people I would have expected to make an “art” film. Simply, they don’t need to, for directors such as Ozu, Kurosawa, and Kenji Mizoguchi made their superbly crafted films into masterpieces simply by following everyday stories or adapting classic works of literature, as Kurosawa did with Shakespeare. Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes (1964) is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by author Kobo Abe. Abe’s novel is a complex tome about the meaning of freedom in today’s society, a variation of the Myth of Sisyphus as elaborated by Camus. Like the novels of Henry James, many of which are internally, as opposed to externally, driven, it really does not translate into a movie, for movies cannot capture the necessary depth that makes the story work. Metaphors only go so far; one needs a solid storyline to move the film along, otherwise it tends to become mired in its own heaviness, which is the case with Woman in the Dunes. Yes, I know that Abe adopted the screenplay himself. His other adaptations of his works, The Face of Another and The Man Without a Map, work because they are externally based and entail movement towards a goal. Woman in the Dunes only proves that what works in a novel does not necessarily work in film, as both a separate crafts.

DAVID: A. I first saw this film a couple of years ago and was very impressed. That Ed thinks it's worthy of only a C gave me pause. Was my memory of Woman in the Dunes faulty? So I watched it on Hulu the other day. It's absolutely brilliant. The story is a parable about an entomology teacher out in the sandy dunes of a small rural village in Japan collecting beetles. He oversleeps and is stuck there for the night. The villagers invite him to stay in a deep sandpit with a woman who lives there. It turns out to be a trap, and no matter what he does, he cannot escape – kind of like a sandy Hotel California. On top of that, the sand on the pit's walls fall making life in the house at the bottom very dangerous. He manages to escape once, only to be caught because he does not know how to leave the village to get help. He decides to take on various tasks to pass the time, and after seven years in the pit, the man has the chance to legitimately escape. But he's found his purpose, and after all that time, the life he had in Tokyo is long gone. Why do some of the people in the village live in sandpits and others don't? Damn if I know. However, watching the film, it is something I never question. That's what makes it work. It takes an impossibly unlikely scenario and makes you believe it is actually happening. As Roger Ebert wrote in his glowing review of this 1964 film: "There is never a moment when the film doesn't look absolutely realistic, and it isn't about sand anyway, but about life." A few other items about the film: the music score heightens and sometimes mocks the tension, it's surprisingly erotic and the visuals of the sand are extraordinary.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
April 15–April 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (April 17, 8:00 pm): This is, by far, the best version of this classic tale to hit the big screen. With outstanding performances from Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh and Clark Gable as Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, it tells a story, though not a historically accurate one, of, well, uh, a mutiny on the HMS Bounty caused by the sadistic actions of Bligh toward the crew. This 1935 film is well-acted with wonderful scenery and cinematography, and an excellent story.

NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART (April 18, 8:00 pm) While I'm not a big fan of Cary Grant's comedies, I'm greatly impressed with his dramatic roles. He's so good as a Cockney drifter in None But the Lonely Heart that I look at this 1944 film as the precursor to the classic British "kitchen-sink" films of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Those films focused 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 despite his groundbreaking performance.

ED’S BEST BETS:

MINISTRY OF FEAR (April 17, 10:15 am): 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.

PEPE LE MOKO (April 17, 3:30 am): Jean Gabin is absolutely captivating as a gangster who eludes capture in the Casbah section of Algiers until his love for a beautiful woman lures him out to his capture. The role of LeMoko brought Gabin into international prominence. Beautifully photographed and exquisitely directed by Julien Duvivier. Not released until 1941 in America due to the fact that Walter Wanger remade it as Algiers. Only after its run was the original allowed to be screened in the States. Given the choice between the original and the remake, opt for the original. It’s a far better film.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (April 17, 3:15 pm)

ED: BThe Year of Living Dangerously amazingly manages to recreate the Indonesia of the mid-1960s, a time when the Sukarno regime was toppling and the war in Vietnam was just getting hot. It revolves around the life of a foreign correspondent, played by Mel Gibson, who has just arrived in Jakarta and who thrives in dangerous locales. In mood it strikes a similar tone to Grahame Greene’s The Quiet American, but the direction and one special performance set it apart. The direction by Peter Weir is phenomenal, immersing us immediately in the action a we get to know the main players in the drama. The standout performance was by Linda Hunt, playing a Eurasian man named Billy Kwan. Billy haunts the peripheries of polite society and functions as a photographer who becomes invaluable to Gibson’s character by knowing Who’s Who and what plays well in the media. He and Gibson’s character, Guy Hamilton, become friends and Billy introduces Guy to the third player in the triangle, British attache Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver), with whom Hamilton becomes romantically involved, to the detriment of Billy, who increasingly feels pushed aside. The film is worth catching for the performance of Hunt as Kwan, a performance for which she justly earned an Oscar. It is one of the most remarkable performances in film history and makes the film a Must See for cinephiles.

DAVID: C-. It took me three tries before I could get through this film. My struggle, in part, is that this film is nearly two hours, and it failed to keep my interest for that length of time. My biggest problem is the sound mixing is about the worst I've experienced for a mainstream movie. The accents of many of the charters are far too thick for me to understand, and it's not exactly like the storyline of the 1965 overthrow of President Sukamo in Indochina – with the war in Vietnam as a backdrop – is easy to follow. I found it nearly impossible to keep track of who was who, which is a big problem trying to follow a complex story. What made it almost maddening for me is this followed two breakout performances by Mel Gibson, who plays a new foreign correspondent from Australia here, in Gallipoli (directed by Peter Weir who also directed Living Dangerously) and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. His character in this film is not as interesting as his previous roles. Gibson was capable of a much stronger performance and Weir, who's made some excellent films, also could have done significantly better. I can't disagree with Ed's assessment of Linda Hunt's performance though I had a difficult time understanding her as well. Sigourney Weaver's talents are largely wasted in this movie as she is definitely the third lead.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
April 8–April 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BRUTE FORCE (April 8, 11:30 am): This is one of the best films about life in prison. The central focus is the tense-filled relationship between Hume Cronyn, the prison's chief of security, and Burt Lancaster as Joe Collins, the tough inmate who cannot be broken. Lancaster, as usual, is brilliant, compelling and authentic in Brute Force, only his second film. This is easily Cronyn's best performance. The lessons of the film are important, particularly that nobody can truly escape prison even upon release as the scars stay with ex-cons forever. It's brutal and realistic and well worth seeing.

KEY LARGO (April 11, 1:00 am): This is one of the 10 greatest films, the best film noir in cinematic history, and the most incredible ensemble cast you'll find in 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 perfect.

ED’S BEST BETS:

ANIMAL CRACKERS (April 10, 10:00 am); The Marx Brothers’ second film and a laugh riot from beginning to end. Grouch is Captain Spauldng, the famous explorer. He’s been invited to the house of Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) for the weekend. Also spending the weekend is Roscoe Chandler, who will unveil a classic painting. Somehow, Chico and Harpo are invited and the fun begins. Plenty of classic routines, like the bridge game, Groucho’s speech on exploring Africa, the dictated letter by Groucho to Zeppo, and Harpo hiding seemingly mountains of silverware up his sleeve. It’s a filming of the Broadway play, so it’s a bit static, but that shouldn’t deter your fun. A Must See if ever there was one.

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (April 13, 8:00 pm): The film that revolutionized filmmaking. A thoroughly engrossing film about a madman’s revenge. The expressionistic sets give it a surreal, otherworldly feeling, as if one was in a nightmare. And though many critics and historians see the ending as a cop out, it still fits the film as a whole. (Really, how else could they have ended it?) When they speak of “Essentials” on TCM, this is one of those true essentials.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (April 14, 10:45 pm)

ED: A. Jacques Demy follows up The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with another musical about missed opportunities and second chances, but this one is a more animated and buoyant, though every bit as confectionery. Twins Delphine and Solange (played by real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorleac) yearn for big-city life. One day, a fair comes to their quiet port town, bringing with it the possibility of escape. With a great jazz score from Michel Legrand, dazzling sherbet pastel colors throughout, a great supporting cast, including Gene Kelly, and the chance to see sisters Deneuve and Dorleac together,, this is a film that would have done Ernst Lubitsch proud. It is a delightful film.

DAVID: C. Jacques Demy made beautiful-looking movies. They were filled with beautiful colors and beautiful actors – most notably Catherine Deneuve. My biggest issue with most of Demy's films, including The Young Girls of Rochefort, is he chose style over substance. He could have had both, but often neglected the storylines and focused on the cinematography, the fantasy aspect of his movies and the music. That's fine if you're looking for a light, whimsical, simplistic, almost fluffy film. There's no harm in making movies like that, but if you go down that road, please entertain me. This 1967 film failed to do that. And I know Demy could do better as he did with The Pied Piper in 1972 though that film, based on the classic fairy tale, is dark. I found myself disappointed watching The Young Girls of Rochefort with my mind wandering elsewhere during Demy's most famous film. The potential is there for an excellent movie, but it never reaches that potential. The characters don't evolve, and you can figure out the plot in the first 15 minutes of a movie that goes on for two hours. There's a focus on the singing and dancing – and there is way too much of both that's mediocre. The songs become repetitive and despite having Gene Kelly, the dancing isn't that good. As I mentioned, it's a pretty film, but that only rises to a grade of C. It's a perfect example of the old saying that beauty is only skin deep.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
April 1–April 7

DAVID'S BEST BETS:

WINGS OF DESIRE (April 3, 2:30 am): 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, 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. The film provides a simple, but important, lesson: It is the small things in life that make it worth living.

KEEPER OF THE FLAME (April 6, 6:15 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 GUNS OF NAVARONE (April 5, 2:00 am): Like action and plenty of it? Then look no further than this movie. It has action coming out of the spool. Here’s the gist: a team of Allied saboteurs is assigned get behind enemy lines and destroy a pair of big Nazi guns playing havoc with British attempts to rescue a small force in the Aegean Sea. A group of six, led by Gregory Peck as Capt. Mallory, takes on the task. There are the inevitable differences between the lot and two women resistance fighters join the group, one of whom is a traitor. So just sit back, turn the brain off for a couple of hours, and enjoy the doings of Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Qualye (who actually trained resistance fighters in World War II Albania), and for your eyes only, the beautiful Irene Papas.

A FAREWELL TO ARMS (April 7, 4:30 am): The first, and best, adaptation of Hemingway’s World War I drama about an ill-fated romance between an American soldier (Gary Cooper) and a British nurse (Helen Hayes). Even though it’s a bowdlerized version of the novel (and Hemingway hated it for that), Cooper and Hayes give marvelous performances. Also of note is Adolphe Menjou, whose jealousy keeps the lovers apart, but not for long. Sharp direction by Frank Borage with wonderful cinematography by Charles Lang. (It earned him an Oscar.)

WE AGREE ON ... SHANE (April 2, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+. It’s Jean Arthur’s final film and she goes out with a bang as beleaguered homesteader Marion Starrett, who, along with husband Joe (Van Heflin) and son Joey (Brandon DeWilde), are threatened by cattle baron Ryker (Emile Meyer). To the rescue comes the mysterious stranger, Shane (Alan Ladd), a man with a secret. It’s Ladd’s film, and he dominates it as the reclusive Shane, whose quiet presence speaks volumes, scaring off Meyer’s hired gunsels, forcing the baron to bring in notorious hired gun Jack Wilson (Jack Palance). The scenes with Ladd and Palance are wonderfully terrifying, as we know the two will have a showdown sooner or later. And when it does come, we are not disappointed in the least, but tingling with excitement. Palance is terrific as Wilson, matching Ladd line for line. But director George Stevens, ever the professional, is careful not to let Palance overshadow Ladd. This is also the sort of film we bought a color set to see back when they were still somewhat of a luxury. The locations and cinematography by Loyal Griggs are breathtaking; the very sort of film made for Cinemascope, even though Griggs was more than taken aback when the studio bumped up the negative to Cinemascope proportion. Simply put, this is a masterpiece of filmmaking.

DAVID: A+. Easily one of the greatest Westerns ever made, Shane blends a solid tense-filled storyline of homesteaders threatened by Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), a ruthless cattle king, with action-packed gunfights. The viewer is immediately drawn to Alan Ladd in the title role, a man with a secret past and a quick draw. He doesn't say a lot, but oozes cool and the viewer can't help but take notice of him. Ladd's portrayal of Shane elevates the film to its deserved status as a classic film. Perhaps my favorite scene is early – one of Ryker's men throws a shot of whiskey on Shane's shirt, taunting him to "smell like a man." Shane doesn't do anything until he sees the guy again at the bar. Shane orders two shots, pouring one on the guy's shirt and tossing the other in his face. That results in a brawl with Shane getting the better end of the fight. Director George Stevens does a brilliant job pacing this film as we eagerly wait for the final showdown between Shane and Ryker's hired gunman, Jack Wilson, played so extraordinarily well by Jack Palance. When it finally happens, it's definitely worth the wait. There's a lesson to be learned from the movie about the changing life in the New West, but we're not hit over the head with it. The 1953 film has a beautiful look making Wyoming seem like paradise – it won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, Color. The ending is iconic with our wounded hero riding off into the sunset with the young boy who idolizes him yelling, "Shane! Come back!"



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
March 23-March 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE GENERAL (March 26, 8:00 pm): There has never been a more physical actor in the history of cinema than Buster Keaton. If you consider his slender build and the dangerous life-threatening stunts he did for the sake of his craft, it's amazing he wasn't killed making a movie. There were some close calls, and he lived with a lot of pain. He was more than a glorified stuntman. Keaton was also incredibly funny with a talent for knowing how to entertain the movie-going public. While The General wasn't a hit when it was released in 1926, it's now considered one of the best silent films ever made. Keaton is a railroad engineer who wants to fight for the Confederacy, but his skills are considered too valuable to the cause for him to be a soldier. The story moves along fast and there are some amazing sight gags such as Keaton doing a perfect imitation of a railroad wheel and a stunt that has him sit on a coupling rod of a moving train. We get a lot of action and a love story wrapped up nicely in about 75 minutes. For those who aren't silent film fans, this is an excellent place to start.

WILD STRAWBERRIES (March 30, 10:30 am): How wonderful of TCM to air a number of Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa films this week. They're two of the finest directors in the history of cinema. Among the selections is Bergman's Wild Strawberries, one of my all-time favorite films. Bergman isn't for the casual watcher. His films demand your undivided attention and it's well worth the effort. Bergman's insights into humanity can be breathtaking. 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. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

STRAY DOG (March 23, 8:00 am): Excellent early work from Akira Kurosawa about a rookie homicide detective who has his gun lifted by a pickpocket on a bus. He embarks on an quest to retrieve the stolen weapon, especially as evidence is gathered of it being used in other crimes. Although the story is too thin to sustain the film’s running time, it is nonetheless an excellent look at Japanese culture. Whereas the loss of a gun might be regarded as bad luck in the West, in Japan it is a matter of shame and dishonor, compounded by the fact that the detective is a rookie. Kurosawa makes great use of the weather – it is hot throughout the film with occasional tropical downpours, and we see the effect on the characters, who are also racing against the clock before the weapon is used for another crime. Toshiro Mifune as the rookie homicide detective, and Takashi Shimura as the older, experienced detective who takes the rookie under his wing make a wonderful team.

WATERSHIP DOWN (March 25, 6:00 pm): A first rate animated adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel about a colony of rabbits that must find a new home after their existing one is destroyed by human developers and the problems they encounter along the way. This is no mere Disney version with cute, fluffy bunnies, but a thoughtful and spiritual rumination on the meaning of life, and the avoidance and acceptance of death. The way in which the film tackles these issues makes it stand apart as one of the best animated films ever made.

WE AGREE ON ... THE BAD SLEEP WELL (March 23, 2:15 pm)

ED: A+. Director Akira Kurosawa’s take of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in contemporary corporate Japan. Many fans praise Kurosawa’s epics, but I find his urban dramas even more interesting, especially in this instance as he takes on the problem of deep-rooted corruption in Japanese business culture in which lower level people feel obligated literally to die rather than allow their superiors' activities to be discovered. Toshiro Mifune once again gives us a excellent performance as the Hamlet character, Nishi, who marries into the household of the company’s vice president – who is responsible for the death of Nishi’s father. Watching this film, we can clearly how deep Kurosawa’s appreciation was for Shakespeare, especially his knack of linking the private and the political, relating a story of corruption and revenge through the lens of blood ties. Those expecting a direct remake of Hamlet will be disappointed, as Kurosawa’s genius is to tell the stories through the filter of Japanese culture. But rest assured, this is not only one of Kurosawa’s best films, but one of the best films to come from Japan, period.

DAVID: A+. Besides Ikiru, this is my favorite Akria Kurosawa film  and that's saying a lot because he has at least eight films in my top 100. Well, that is if I created a top 100 list. I'm with Ed on finding his urban dramas – such as IkiruStray DogHigh and LowDrunken Angel and this film  more compelling than his epics. Don't get me wrong. Films like Kagemusha and Ran are brilliant and tells fantastic stories. Overall, I prefer Kurosawa's films on life in the big city. One of the best parts of The Bad Sleep Well is how the pack of reporters act like a Greek chorus filling in the viewers on the players, the backstory, the hierarchy of the corrupt company Toshiro Mifune's character is trying to destroy, and commenting on not only stuff we don't see, but explaining what we see. As Ed mentions, it's Kurosawa's then-modern-day take on Hamlet, but that's really only a small element of this film from 1960. It's an insightful look at the culture of Japanese business with Masayuki Mori absolutely spectacular as the villain. And the name of the company in question – the Unexploited Land Development Corporation – is deliciously evil. I can't stress enough how good this film is. The ending is startling the first time you see it. It loses very little of its punch upon multiple viewings.




TCM TiVo ALERT
For
March 15–March 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BLOW-UP (March 17, 12:00 am): A sexy, sophisticated film about a "Swinging London" photographer (David Hemmings), who believes he took pictures of a murder. But did he? Michelangelo Antonioni does a magnificent job directing his first English-language film, filled with great suspense and a fascinating plot. The 1966 film is a visual delight, perfectly capturing the time and location while not compromising the quality of the story. On top of that, we get a memorable cameo by the Yardbirds (the Jeff Beck/Jimmy Page version) at a club with Beck doing his best Pete Townshend impersonation smashing a guitar on stage.

THE APARTMENT (March 22, 8:00 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, so deliciously sleazy in this role, 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (March 19, 7:45 am): An intelligently done piece of sci-fi, with amazing animation from Ray Harryhausen and solid acting from Paul Christian, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, and Donald Woods. It’s the first of the monster-on-the-loose spectacles and the best. It was also Harryhausen’s first solo assignment and he clearly made the most of it, making the monster seem real. Director Eugene Lourie went on to make The Giant Behemoth (airing right before this at 6:15 am) and Gorgo, which featured a man-in-the-monster-suit.

THE LONE WOLF SPY HUNT (March 19, 9:15 am): There are few things more pleasurable to watch than a well-executed B-movie. Starring Warren William as former thief turned gentleman detective Michael Lanyard, Columbia’s “Lone Wolf” series enjoyed quite a run as Lanyard, starring in nine films. Eric Blore would join the cast in the next film, The Lone Wolf Strikes, as Lanyard’s butler and Man Friday, Jamison. (After all, what’s a gentleman detective without a good sidekick?) The film is a deft mixture of screwball comedy and thrills as Lanyard battles an old enemy who is trying to frame him for the theft of plans for a secret weapon. With Ida Lupino in fine form as Lanyard’s neglected girlfriend and Rita Hayworth as a femme fatale trying to seduce the Lone Wolf into cracking the safe where the plans are stored. William is always a pleasure to watch on screen and he’s perfect as Lanyard. 

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE KING OF COMEDY (March 16, 9:30 pm)

ED: B. A very dark satire from director Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro giving one of his patented sociopathic performances. Jerry Lewis turns in a credible performance and not once does he chase after Sandra Bernhard saying “Oooo-ooo, Lady!” Johnny Carson was originally approached for the role of the TV talk show host kidnapped by De Niro, but turned it down for fear of a real-life copycat. Outside of Fassbinder, Scorsese is the most humorless of modern directors, unless one counts schadenfreude as humor.

DAVID: A. I dislike Jerry Lewis, but he is outstanding in this dark comedy. Somehow director Martin Scorsese is able to get Lewis to deliver his best performance on screen as Jerry Langford, a popular late-night talk-show host akin to Johnny Carson. The 1983 film was years ahead of its time resulting in mixed reviews upon its release. It stars Robert De Niro, Scorsese's go-to actor at the time, as Rupert Pupkin, a psychotic untalented comedian obsessed with getting on Langford's popular show, believing it would be his big break and lead to stardom. When that doesn't work, Pupkin with Masha (Sandra Bernhard in her greatest role), a Langford stalker, kidnap the host. The ransom is Pupkin gets to be the opening act on Langford's show. He does exceptionally well and closes with one of my favorite movie lines: "Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime." The ending is open to interpretation. Did Pupkin make it big or is it all in his head? It's an excellent film that captures society's obsession with celebrity. It can be uncomfortable to watch, but definitely worth seeing.




TCM TiVo ALERT
For
March 8–March 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (March 11, 4:30 am): Leslie Howard is perfectly cast as the title character in this film about 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 movie a fun one to watch.

SAWDUST AND TINSEL (March 13, 2:00 am): This is one of Ingmar Bergman's best early films. Sawdust and Tinsel tells an insightful story about life's regrets using those in a traveling circus at the turn of the 20th century as the subjects. It's a high-quality Bergman films so you get brilliant dialogue, excellent acting, breathtaking cinematography and an experience that stays with you. It's exceptional, but because Bergman would go on to make a number of iconic films, Sawdust and Tinsel is a largely forgotten part of the director's filmography. That's a testament as to his greatness. Airing it at 2 am isn't going to put a deserved spotlight on it. I would strongly recommend recording it. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (March 12, 5:15 pm); A gripping action picture about a British-led attempt to silence a pair of big German guns threatening British navel operations on the Aegean Sea. A group of six specialists, led by Gregory Peck must overcome personal differences, harsh weather and a traitor in their midst to take out the guns and make the Aegean safe for British shipping. With great performances not only from Peck, but also David Niven, Anthony Quayle, Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, and Stanley Baker. 

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (March 14, 6:00 pm): Take a W.R. Burnett novel, put it in the hands of John Huston, add a great cast led by Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, and Sam Jaffe, and the result is magic: a taut, compelling thriller that, once it grips you, never lets you go. A realistic film full of great characterizations (especially Jaffe) about a plot for a elaborate jewel heist, hatched up by corrupt lawyer Calhern and executed by a band of career criminals led by Hayden. We know that eventually things will unravel, as they must, but it’s in how it’s done that has us in thrall. Look for an excellent performance from Marilyn Monroe as Calhern’s mistress.

WE DISAGREE ON ... 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (March 9, 8:30 pm)

ED: B+. It’s the film that almost put Disney 20,000 leagues under the sea financially, due to its costs at a time when Disney was already stretched to the limit with building the theme park, Disneyland, and coming off two expensive animated films. I remember seeing this on television sometime in the ‘60s, during a period when we were all submarine happy. (There was a popular sci-fi show, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, from Irwin Allen that we all tuned into each week.) 20,000 Leagues is not bad of its kind, boasting stellar acting from James Mason as Captain Nemo, Paul Lukas as Professor Arronax, Peter Lorre as the professor’s assistant, Conseil, and Kirk Douglas as harpooner Ned Land. Mason, coming off several notable performances, cut quite a figure as Nemo and Douglas was his usual intense self. The special effects were not bad for the time; the submarine glowed a cool green at night, and the battle with the giant squid was the talk of our recess periods at school for weeks. The team of director Richard Fleischer (son of animator Max Fleischer) and writer Earl Felton did an excellent job of adapting the book, retaining three of the four major episodes people remember. I confess that I’ll be seeing it for the first time since the ‘60s and wonder if it will still retain the original magic. But then that’s what cinephilia is all about.

DAVID: C. This is a film I truly wish I could love. The cast includes three of my favorite actors – Kirk Douglas, James Mason and Peter Lorre. But only Mason delivers as Captain Nemo. Douglas is downright annoying as a harpooner trying to figure out why a bunch of whaling ships are mysteriously disappearing. Captain Nemo's submarine and the giant squid are pretty cool, particularly for 1954, when the movie was released. But it's way too long at 127 minutes. The action scenes have a lot of action, but the rest of the film is dull. Also, despite being a dark film, it's still "Disney-fied," meaning a nice look, but the dialogue and attempted comedic efforts aren't impressive. It's a film for kids of that era, despite the content. Perhaps I'm a bit too critical of the finished product as it's not meant for a guy in his late 40s. But I love classic films and the leads so it should appeal to me.




TCM TiVo ALERT
For
March 1–March 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

CAGED (March 2, 7:00 am): The mother of all women-in-prison films, but this one is unique to the genre as it features excellent acting. 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. It also features powerful dialogue and an actual plot, it was nominated for a Best Writing Oscar, making this stark, realistic film stand out among others in the genre.

THE PUBLIC ENEMY (May 3, 8:30 am): This Pre-Code classic is one of the greatest gangster movie ever made. Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) grow up committing petty crimes before finally making it big thanks to bootlegging during Prohibition. It's a Warner Brothers gangster film from 1931 so obviously it's gritty. Thanks to a brilliant performance by Cagney and an incredible directing job by William A. Wellman, this goes far beyond any other gangster film of its time and even to this day. Gangster films have become more violent and bloody, but The Public Enemy is so authentic and brutal, you can't turn away from it, It includes two of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history: Tom shoving a grapefruit in the face of Mae Clarke and the end when a rival gang shoots him up, wraps his body almost like a mummy and delivers it to his family's house.

ED’S BEST BETS:

SPARTACUS (March 2, 8:00 pm): As much a film of ideas as of action, directed with style by Stanley Kubrick and boasting great performances from a cast including Kirk Douglas, Peter Ustinov, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Woody Strode and Tony Curtis. Adapted by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo from Howard Fast’s best-seller, it covers the traditional ground of Roman-era epics while breaking with established censorship in showing a greater scope of Roman decadence, especially in matters of sex. Its greatest strength, perhaps, is in closing without the obligatory happy ending, which keeps it true to its intentions, and makes it essential viewing.

RED-HEADED WOMAN (March 3, 1:00 pm): Jean Harlow’s breakthrough role and one of the best and most provocative films to come from the Pre-Code era. Written by Anita Loos, it’s a perverse comedy of manners with Harlow as Lil, a woman who’ll stop at nothing to win boss Chester Morris, even if it means breaking up his marriage. However, she finds that having is not nearly as good as wanting, especially when the crowd he socializes with wants nothing to do with her. Look for Charles Boyer in the small role as Lil’s chauffeur.

WE DISAGREE ON ... WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (March 3, 5:00 am)

ED: B. No studio pushed the envelope harder during the Depression than Warner Bros. And no director at the studio pushed the envelope harder than William A. “Wild Bill” Wellman. Wild Boys of the Road is typical of his oeuvre during this time, based on the headlines of the time and substituting shock for style. The story of two boys who feel useless at home as their families can’t find work, they decide to hit the road in search of a better life. Along the way they meet others, both youths and those who would prey on youths, along with hostile populaces in the cities and towns along the way who tell them they cannot support their own citizenry, let alone a seeming army of jobless kids. Anyone who thought riding the rails was a romantic experience will get the shock of their lives after seeing this. Wellman makes it clear there is no romance on the rails, only hunger and terror. However, after building a rather radical and pessimistic picture, Wellman cops out with a happy ending straight out of Andy Hardy (said to be tacked on at the insistence of the studio). It essentially takes the sting out of what we’d just been watching, For those who would like their Wellman undiluted, try Heroes for Sale.

DAVID: A. This is the best Depression-era film of the Depression era. Wild Boys of the Road paints a stark, dark and tragic picture of two boys – Tommy (Edwin Phillips) and Eddie (Frankie Darro) – who lead normal lives until the Depression destroys their families. The two decide to run away from home to take the burden of supporting them off of their parents and to hopefully make something of themselves. Nothing goes right for the two. As they ride the rails with other young hobos, things get progressively hopeless. Among the other kids they meet is Sally (Dorothy Coonan, who would later marry William Wellman, the film's director). She is going to Chicago to stay with her aunt. The police meet the train and send the most of the kids to a detention center. But Tommy and Eddie luck out by going with Sally to her aunt, but their luck runs out a few minutes later as the place is raided and they're on their own again. Everywhere they go, they encounter problems with the worst of it being Tommy getting knocked unconscious and ending up on a rail line with a train approaching. He tries to get out of the way, but loses his leg. Eddie steals a prosthetic leg, which only causes more problems for the lost kids living in a teenage shantytown. Unlike Ed, I like the ending. The kids finally get a break from the system that has caused them so much pain, but it's not the first time someone in authority felt sympathy for them. Also, the trio will never lead normal lives so there's only a hint of happiness at the film's conclusion. Wellman does a masterful job directing this 1933 film that takes viewers and slaps them in the face, pointing out the injustice facing these lost boys and girls. Kudos to the children actors who put in amazing performances.




TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 23–February 29

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ALL THE KING'S MEN (February 24, 6:00 pm): This is the best political film ever made and one of the 10 greatest movies of all-time. I could watch this 1949 classic over and over again – and have. Broderick Crawford is brilliant as Willie Stark, a do-gooder who fails as a politician until he learns to work 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. 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.

NETWORK (February 24, 12:15 am): 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. The film shows the mental breakdown of anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) and how it captures the attention of viewers whose voyeur tendencies only grow. 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.

ED’S BEST BETS:

DAY FOR NIGHT (February 26, 3:30 pm): This is one of Francois Truffaut’s wittiest and most subtle films – a film about the making of a film. While on the set of Je vous presente Pamela (Introducing Pamela), the story of an English wife running off with her French father-in-law, we also get to know the cast and crew shooting the film, each with his or her own set of problems. Hence the title: a technical cinematographic term for simulating a night scene while shooting during the day. Special filters and optical processors are employed to create the illusion. While Nathalie Baye and Jean-Pierre Leaud are wonderful in their roles, Valentia Cortese steals the picture as the fading actress Severine. For those new to Truffaut, this is the perfect introduction and one not to miss.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (February 26, 8:00 pm): After Blazing Saddles became a big hit, people wondered how Mel Brooks could top himself. And then came Young Frankenstein, and that question was answered. This is a wonderfully hilarious spoof of the old Universal horror films, concentrating on Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939). Written by Brooks and Gene Wilder (who also stars as the descendent of Frankenstein), the film combines the zaniness of Brooks with the more restrained satire of Wilder. Peter Boyle is marvelous as The Monster, complete with a zipper in his neck, and Madeline Kahn hits all the right notes as Frankenstein’s prudish fiancée. With Cloris Leachman as Frau Brucker, Terri Garr as Inga, Frankenstein’s lab assistant, and Marty Feldman in a brilliant turn as Frankenstein’s gofer Igor. Watch for Gene Hackman spoofing the blind hermit from Bride of Frankenstein. He comes close to walking away with the film. They don’t make ‘em any better – or funnier – than this.

WE DISAGREE ON ... M*A*S*H (February 24, 10:00 pm):

ED: C+. Virtually everyone knows the story by now, thanks to the hugely popular television show. But not everyone knows it began as a series of comic novels by Richard Hooker and was made into a film directed by Robert Altman. The success of the film with both critics and audiences made the reputation of Altman. I went to this movie when it opened, looking forward to a good, cutting-edge comedy. However, what I got was a plot that careens back and forth and a disjointed script. It seems more like a series of episodes, and for an anti-war film, I never got the sense of the futility of war at all. Instead what I got was a bunch of characters who seemed to be having the time of their lives. The football game that takes up most of the second half seems to come from out of nowhere, and I had trouble with the change in the character of “Hotlips,” since there was no justification provided for her metamorphosis from by-the-book nurse to a wild and carefree woman. Also not in the film’s favor is a soundtrack where the overlapping dialogue blots out the plot points. The acting is an example of superb ensemble acting, and added to the occasional chuckle, is the reason I gave it the grade I did. But the film pales in comparison to the mediocre 1953 Battle Circus, with Humphrey Bogart as a MASH surgeon and June Allyson as the nurse in love with him. That film has actually aged better than this one.

DAVID: A-. This 1970 movie does an excellent job of combining the dark side of war – the gory "meatball" surgery conducted by doctors close to the front line during the Korean War on soldiers who either die, get sent home because of the severity of their wounds or are patched up to go back to the fighting to possibly get shot again or killed – with a comedic side. The doctors and nurses work long, brutal shifts that take their toll. To keep the violence from consuming them, they try to forget their situation by having fun. They pull pranks, have sex, drink a lot, play football and make jokes while operating on seriously wounded soldiers. One of the best quips comes from Trapper in response to Hot Lips pointing out that a Korean is "a prisoner of war." Trapper says, "So are you, sweetheart, but you don't know it." Ed is correct that the script is disjointed, but director Robert Altman makes it work. It significantly helps that the film boasts a cast of excellent actors including Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye, Elliott Gould as Trapper John, Robert Duvall as Frank Burns, and Sally Kellerman as Hot Lips. The first few seasons of the TV show, before Alan Alda gained way too much control and turned episode after episode into preachy sermons, are very similar to the movie. A final note: for Ed, whose opinion I greatly respect, to contend 1953's Battle Circus has aged better than M*A*S*H and the latter pales in comparison is wrong. Battle Circus is an unwatchable, boring film that even Humphrey Bogart couldn't save.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 15–February 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ON THE WATERFRONT (February 16, 8:00 pm): There is so much to enjoy and admire about this 1954 film. The story is complex yet simple – the struggle facing Terry Malloy as to whether he should do the right thing or the smart thing, and the repercussions that decision has on him, his brother, other longshoremen and those living near the dock. The acting is brilliant with Marlon Brando at his best and incredible performances by the supporting cast, in particular, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. It's the best film Elia Kazan directed and he directed some of cinema's finest. The movie features two of cinema's greatest scenes; both toward the end. The first has a desperate Charley (Steiger) begging his brother Terry (Brando) to not testify against union boss Johnny Friendly (Cobb). Terry was a promising boxer who threw a fight at the request of Charley because Friendly bet against him. He's confused and disillusioned by always listening to his older brother. This gives us the iconic quote, "I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am." The other is Terry, beaten and bloodied by Friendly's goons for testifying against the union boss, still standing with the other longshoreman, who finally side with him breaking the stranglehold Friendly has over them. The film takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions – anger, joy, hostility, frustration, sympathy, sadness and happiness. It's rare for a movie to not only do that, but do it exceptionally well.

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (February 19, 11:45 pm): An authentic film that pulls no punches about three soldiers returning home from World War II attempting to adjust to life. The film features incredible performances by the legendary and lovely Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Fredric March and Harold Russell (an actual WWII vet who lost both his hands in the war). The film won seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Unlike some multi-Oscar films, this one is truly a classic that remains as real and as powerful as it must have been to movie-goers when it was released in 1946. It's very touching and beautiful. It’s nearly impossible to not be moved while watching this film.

ED’S BEST BETS:

BLACK LEGION (February 16, 8:30 am): Warner Bros. was studio famous for their “ripped from today’s headlines” approach, and the subject of this film was no different. The Black Legion was a real organization, a splinter group of the Klan that existed primarily in Michigan and Ohio during the ‘30s with an especially sordid resume – everything from kidnapping and extortion to lynching and murder. They dominated headlines in 1936 as 12 of their members were prosecuted in the kidnapping and murder of WPA organizer Charles Poole. The film’s star, Humphrey Bogart, made his living for Warner Brothers in the ‘30s by playing bad guys, but nothing will prepare you for the depths he sinks to in this dark drama about a white supremacist organization much like the Ku Klux Klan. Bogart is Frank Taylor, a machinist and family man who is enraged when he’s passed over for promotion at his company. Worse, the man who got the promotion is a hard-working Polish immigrant named Dombrowski (Henry Brandon). Embittered, and thus vulnerable, Taylor is recruited by the Black Legion, who promise him revenge. To see Taylor’s transformation from loving family man and all-around good guy into a vicious racist still carries quite a punch today, due to Bogart’s riveting portrayal. Taylor’s downfall is not an individual one, and Warner Bros, to their credit, did not tack on a happy ending, which, given what we saw in the movie, would have been totally unconvincing.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (February 21, 6:00 am): Ever watch a film that just makes you feel better after it’s over? That’s exactly the case with this movie. 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 AGREE ON ... STAGECOACH (February 15, 2:30 am):

ED: A+. John Wayne rode a long, hard road in the ‘30s. Cast as the lead, along with Marguerite Churchill, in the Fox production of The Big Trail, Wayne bore the blame when the film tanked at the box office, even though it wasn’t his fault. In order to get work, Wayne was forced to start at the bottom, appearing in a slew of B-Westerns for Columbia, Warners, Mascot, and Monogram. He even worked as a singing cowboy named “Singing Sandy Saunders” in Riders of Destiny (1933) for producer Paul Malvern and director Robert N. Bradbury at Monogram. But Wayne learned his trade well and moved up to Republic in the mid-30s, a better grade of B-Western. John Ford, who had recommended Wayne to Raoul Walsh for The Big Trail, now figured the big guy was ready, and after convincing producer Walter Wanger and protracted negotiations with Republic, Ford got his man and cast him as The Ringo Kid. And Wayne doesn’t let him down; in fact the role made Wayne a star, one of many in this marvelous ensemble piece that grossed nearly a million dollars after it was released in 1939, making Wanger a handsome profit. It also changed Hollywood’s thinking about Westerns and opened the door for the return of the A-Western, a genre that’s been with us ever since. Its one of those films I find something new to think about every time I see it.

DAVID: A+. No one should ever confuse me for a John Wayne fan. His films have been the subject of numerous disagreements between Ed and myself. There's McLintock!The Quiet ManShe Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and They Were Expendable. He's made numerous other films I can't stand including True GritRooster CogburnThe Fighting Seabees. I think I've made my point. I'm not a fan, but Wayne has been in a number of excellent films, primarily with strong ensemble casts, such as The Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceRed River, and StagecoachThis 1939 Western, directed by the legendary John Ford, is about a group of people – including a prostitute, an alcoholic doctor, a pregnant woman, a gambler, and a bank embezzler  – traveling by stagecoach in 1880 through hostile Apache territory in the Southwest. Along the way, they pick up the notorious Ringo Kid (Wayne), who helps fend off the Indians. The cast that also features Claire Trevor, John Carradine and Donald Meek is the strong-point of this film with each actor getting enough screen time to let viewers be interested in every character. Wayne is perfectly cast as the young gun who's wrongfully accused, but fast with a six-shooter and charming despite being rough around the edges. This was Ford's first talkie Western and one of his best. As with nearly all of Ford's films, the scenery in Stagecoach is breathtaking. It's one of the best Westerns ever made.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 8–February 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE GRADUATE (February 8, 3:30 am): 1967 is a landmark year in cinema. Films were more daring and adventurous such as Bonnie and ClydeIn the Heat of the NightPoint BlankBelle de JourClosely Watched Trains and The Graduate. The latter features Dustin Hoffman in his breakout role as Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate trying to figure out what to do with his life. One of his parents' friends, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), a bored and sexy suburban housewife, has something in mind for Benjamin. She carries on an affair that pushes the envelope of sexuality that was rarely seen before in an American film. It's funny, it's dramatic, it's got a great soundtrack from Simon and Garfunkel (even though it's three songs sung differently), and it challenges the conventional Hollywood movie fan. "Plastics."

TOOTSIE (February 12, 8:00 pm): This is a movie that has disaster written all over it. How many times can Hollywood make a movie about a man dressed as a woman? And why in the world would anyone cast Dustin Hoffman for that role? However, this is an outstanding and genuinely funny film largely for Hoffman's performance. (Yes, I'm recommending two Hoffman films this week. He's that good.) My praise of Hoffman isn't meant to dismiss the rest of the cast, which is terrific. Bill Murray has a small part and steals every scene he's in. Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning and director Syndey Pollack (his first, but definitely not his last acting role in years) are exceptional. And the scene in which Hoffman's character reveals his true identity is outrageous and makes me laugh every time I see it.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE GREAT ESCAPE (February 10, 8:00 pm): Based on one of the biggest mass escapes from a POW camp in World War II, it boasts an all-star cast that includes James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, James Donald, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson. The plot is relatively simple: The Nazis have built an escape-proof camp to which every escape artist is being sent to stop them from even thinking about another attempt. But the duty of every prisoner is to escape, and this lot is up to the task. It’s a great film that never stops moving with a plot that adds new obstacles and challenges to the prisoners’ dilemma. Attenborough is “The Big X,” a veteran escape artist whose arrival sets the plot in motion. The film also solidified the image of Steve McQueen as the King of Cool through his portrayal of the individualistic prisoner Hilts, as witnessed by the scene near the end when he attempts to jump a border fence with a stolen motorcycle. This is also a film that one can watch numerous times without getting bored. Watch for the scene where the Germans catch Attenborough and Gordon Jackson. It’s one of the best ironic scenes in the history of the movies. Also keep an eye of James Garner and Donald Pleasance and the chemistry between them. The Great Escape is one of those rare movies that comes along every once in a while where the audience is entertained through the use of intelligent plotting and restrained performances. That’s the main reason I have watched it numerous times, even though I’m not exactly a Steve McQueen fan.

CASABLANCA (February 14, 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’s 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 ... STEEL MAGNOLIAS (February 13, 8:00 pm)

ED: A-. There are few things done better than a good “women’s” film, and this excellent comedy-drama-romance of a close knit group of six Southern women of varying ages in a small Louisiana town fits the bill perfectly. We view the ongoing relationship between the six women who frequent the same beauty parlor as the film alternates between humorous, everyday happenings that bring out good-natured quips and the seriousness and heartache that accompany life's unexpected tragedies. The casting is superb and the film a peerless example of ensemble acting, with Sally Field (M'Lynn), a mother still worried over her very grown up daughter; Julia Roberts (Shelby), a young woman who feels that having a baby is worth risking everything; Dolly Parton (Truvy), the married but lonely beautician who lights up when her shop is full of customers; Olympia Dukakis (Clairee), the gossipy widow and town bigwig; Daryl Hannah (Annelle), a young woman with a mysterious past who gets a job at the parlor working for Truvy; and Shirley MacLaine (Ouiser), a cantankerous older spinster who carries her dog around and exchanges barbs with M’Lynn’s husband, Drum (Tom Skerrit). Although the plot is extremely manipulative and somewhat predictable, the impeccable writing sees everything through to a satisfying conclusion. And pay close attention for the score of Georges Delerue, which gets the viewer through some of the slower spots.

DAVID: C-. I guess it's nice to see Ed's feminine side. But that's probably the best part of this overacted, overscripted faux sensitive movie that seems to never end. Its goal is to make you laugh and then to make you cry – and it doesn't care how manufactured it has to get to make viewers feel those emotions. Steel Magnolias boasts an impressive ensemble cast, but the script is so contrived that it leaves the actresses playing stereotypes rather than real people. The film is about a half-dozen women in the South who spend their days at a hair salon owned by the kindly Truvy (Dolly Parton), who's in a loveless marriage. Clairee (Olympia Dukakis) is the town gossip – though they all love gossip – while Annelle (Daryl Hannah) is the new girl at the salon trying to start over, Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine) is the town's rich bitch, M'Lynn (Sally Field) is the protective mother to Shelby (Julia Roberts), the martyred pretty young thing who dies a tragic and prolonged death. Field gets her monologue yelling at God at Shelby's gravesite. I don't care about any of the characters and except for the dying Shelby, there's little in the way of a story. Among the Hollywood heavyweights, country singer Parton easily gives the best performance. And what's with all the strange first names?



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
February 1–February 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (February 2, 3:30 pm): This 1955 film combines 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. 

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (February 5, 11:45 pm): An absolute classic, directed by Frank Capra, about a runaway snobby socialite (Claudette Colbert) and a reporter (Clark Gable). This movie really put the two actors on the movie map even though they both already had about 20 credits to their names. It's a wonderful screwball romantic comedy with great chemistry between the pair. The story takes place over more than one night despite the title. It's a wonderful film with two of cinema's most famous scenes. The first has Colbert successfully hitching a ride, after Gable fails, by lifting up her skirt and showing her leg. The other has the two of them sharing a room and Gable putting up a blanket to separate them, calling it "the walls of Jericho," which ties in nicely at the end of the film. Released in 1934, it has aged well.

ED’S BEST BETS:

FORBIDDEN PLANET (February 2, 1:45 pm): It’s one of the best sci-fi films ever made, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, though it seems somewhat dated today. Leslie Nielsen leads a mission to plant Altair 4 to find out the fate of an expedition that landed there 20 years ago. What they discover is that one man (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter (Anne Francis) are left of the original expedition. Pidgeon leads them on a fantastic tour of a lost civilization that populated the planet years ago. Though way ahead of Earth in technology, they were suddenly wiped out one night while on the verge of their “greatest discovery.” Then when crewmembers begin dying mysteriously, a search is conducted for their killer. What they ultimately discover about the monster and the planet keeps us in thrall. Don’t let the Shakespeare connection throw you off; for sci-fi fans, it’s a must. And for those that aren’t so sure, it’s still an intelligent movie nonetheless.

JOAN OF PARIS (February 3, 1:45 am): 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.
  
WE DISAGREE ON ... THE FORTUNE COOKIE (February 7, 12:15 pm)

ED: B+. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond have joined forces once again to produce another comedy masterpiece. Walter Matthau is right on target as an ambulance-chasing shyster who convinces his cameraman brother-in-law Jack Lemmon to sue for damages after a football player crashes into him and sends the unfortunate Lemmon to the hospital. Lemmon is fine after his near-tragedy, but Matthau convinces him to fake various injuries so he can sue everyone concerned for negligence. Lemmon is not so sure about the plan, but after he sees that this could lead him to get back with his ex-wife, he goes whole hog for the scheme. However, what Lemmon did not anticipate is that the Cleveland Brown (Ron Rich) who ran into him feels absolutely lousy about what happened and is beginning to find solace in the bottle. This, in turn, magnifies Lemmon’s guilt. This was the first pairing of Matthau and Lemmon and the chemistry between the two is fantastic. This was also Matthau’s breakout role as a comic actor and won him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I’ve often wondered – has Billy Wilder ever made a bad movie?

DAVID: A+. This is one of those films in which the only disagreement between the two of us is the level to which we love this movie. In Ed's case, The Fortune Cookie is a B+ movie. A very good grade, but it's an A+ to me. It's the first time Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon team up and it's their best. It's also Billy Wilder's finest and most clever comedy. It's cynical, somewhat dark while also hysterically funny. The plot is simple enough: Lemmon is Harry Hinkle, a rather pathetic TV cameraman, who gets knocked silly by a Cleveland Browns player during a game on the sidelines. His brother-in-law is an unscrupulous attorney "Whiplash" Willie Gingrich (Matthau) who convinces Harry to fake more serious injuries to get a fat fraudulent settlement from an insurance company. (Wilder apparently had a thing for insurance company fraud as a plot.) Matthau steals the film as he takes the insurance scheme further and further until poor naive Harry finally stands up for himself. There are excellent performances by Ron Rich as Boom Boom Jackson, the Browns player who accidentally runs into Harry, Judi West as Harry's conniving ex-wife Sandy, and Cliff Osmond as the insurance investigator who questions the severity of the injury. And to answer Ed's question about a bad Billy Wilder film, you have to go to his last one – the lifeless Buddy Buddy from 1981 that also stars Lemmon and Wilder. Most either didn't see it or forget it, which is a good thing as it was one of the very few misses in Wilder's career.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 23–January 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE DEER HUNTER (January 29, 2:45 am):  Ever since I first saw The Deer Hunter in the theater when I was 11 years old, I have been captivated by this impressive film. To this day, it remains one of my favorite movies, and is one of the top three best films of the 1970s. Mike (Robert DeNiro), Steve (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) are three western Pennsylvania steelworkers who goes to fight in the Vietnam War. The movie, a shade over three hours long, takes its time showing us what life is like for the three leads, their friends and families. Their worlds are centered on working at the mills (which were closing around the time of this film's release at a staggering level, destroying the economies of towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia) and escaping reality by hunting deer. The three are gung-ho to fight in Vietnam, but quickly learn the horrors of the war. The film is shocking, hard-hitting, tragic and captivating. The actors are fantastic and the film captures the authenticity of living in a steel town and attempting to survive a war. It's a film you must see – as it's airing at 2:45 am, you should probably tape it – and one that is so good that you'll want to watch it again and again.

RED RIVER (January 30, 2:30 pm): I'm not a John Wayne fan, but this film – with Montgomery Clift in a brilliant turn as his adopted son – is outstanding. Wayne is great as a "bad guy" whose tyrannical ways cause a mutiny among those working for him on the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail. Director Howard Hawks brings out the best in Wayne, who should get credit for not only agreeing to take on the role of the "heavy," but for doing it so well. Clift was one of Hollywood's brightest stars and was already an elite actor in this - only his second film.

ED’S BEST BETS:

WEST OF ZANZIBAR (January 25, 10:45 am): Lon Chaney was never better or more terrifying than in this film for Tod Browning. Chaney is Dead-Legs Flint, a revenge-filled human monster of unspeakable cruelty. Before he was a wheelchair-bound monster he was the friendly Phroso, a music-hall magician who performs his act with wife Anna (Jacqueline Gadsen). But when Anna runs away with wealthy ivory trader Crane (Lionel Barrymore), Phroso falls from a balcony and injures his spine, leaving him unable to walk and incapable of any thought that does not contain unspeakable cruelty. He takes Anna and Crane’s love child, Maizie (Mary Nolan), and has her raised in the lowest brothel in Zanzibar while setting up his own kingdom in the jungle where he uses his magic tricks to deceive the natives. When Maizie turns 18, he has a real surprise cooked up for her, but the joke is on him as he later discovers to his horror. The film was remade in 1932 as Kongo, with Walter Huston in the role, and it is no less frightening.

DIABOLIQUE (January 31, 4:00 am): Frankly, I cannot recommend this picture enough. Think of a perfect Hitchcock film without Hitchcock. That’s Diabolique, which is directed by Henri-Georges Cluzot. To no one’s surprise, he’s known as “the French Hitchcock,” and Hitchcock himself was influenced by this film. This is a masterful psychological horror film that builds slowly to a final 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 ... SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (January 26, 1:00 am)

ED: B. It’s always interesting to see a director’s first film, and this effort from Spike Lee is quite good. Using his friends from NYU Film School, he wrote and directed a marvelous look at promiscuity from a female point of view. Instead of being the villain of the piece, star Tracy Camilla Johns, is the heroine, as she juggles her lovers while refusing to make a commitment to any one of them, as they all appear to be somehow incomplete. Although somewhat derivative of Woody Allen, it’s a heady mix of amateur and professionalism that we come to expect from a first effort of a good director. By the way, look for S. Epatha Merkerson in as small role as a doctor.

DAVID: C-. This is definitely one of Spike Lee's best films. As you can probably figure out from my grade, I don't think much of his skills as a writer or director, and he's an awful actor. Yes, I've seen about a half dozen of his films, and I was born in Brooklyn! While Lee is heavily inspired by Woody Allen, as Ed observes, the difference is Allen understands film-making while Lee kept trying to get to that level, failed and ended up directing and writing some truly awful movies. The concept is a nice twist with Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) have sexual relationships with three men who all want her for their own, and she's celebrated for being a strong woman. However, there's a reason Johns' acting career never took off: she's bad. The film's biggest problem is she's probably the strongest actor in the cast. There's minimal character development, and Lee's directing and writing are at an amateur-plus level – though to be fair, that's what he was at the time. What's his excuse today?



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 15–January 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

DEAD END (January 15, 3:15 am): I hate the Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/Bowery Boys. But their first movie: a gritty, authentic look at life in the slums of New York City is a keeper. It's based on a play of the same name and the movie is filmed like a play. Humphrey Bogart as Baby Face Martin, a gangster who returns to his childhood neighborhood, shows flashes of brilliance in this 1937 film that would return in movies such as CasablancaThe Big SleepThe Maltese Falcon and Key Largo. As for the Kids, Billy Halop (as Tommy Gordon, the leader of the gang) is one of the most annoying movie actors I've seen. This is easily his best role as it's downhill for him after this film. Also, the other kids – Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall and Billy Jordan – peak with this film. The film also sports nice performances by Joel McCrea as an unemployed architect down on his luck and Claire Trevor as the neighborhood prostitute with syphilis.

SLEEPER (January 16, 4:00 pm): 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, is frozen in 1973 when a routine gall bladder operation goes bad. He's defrosted 200 years later by doctors who are members of a resistance group living 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 talent – think Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton – shines best in this role.

ED’S BEST BETS:

STAGECOACH (January 15, 8:00 pm): This John Ford movie was not only a big hit with moviegoers at the time, but also marked a change in the maturing of the Western, emphasizing character development over mere bang-bang, shoot ‘em up action and bringing the Western out of the Bs and onto the top of the marquee. Oh yeah, there’s lots of action sequences in the film, but they’re nicely balanced by characters with depth and about whom we actually care. Even John Wayne does a nice job here, though it took Ford lots of work to wrangle a good performance out of him. Watch for the Indian attack and keep your eye on the peerless stunt work by second unit director Yakima Canutt. In his Westerns, Ford always provided work for neighboring Navaho tribesmen, and even made sure they received union wages. They, in turn (as per his biography) named him “Natani Nez,” which means “Tall Leader.”

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (January 22, 10:00 pm): Emma Thompson’s delightful adaptation of Jane Austen’s oft-forgotten first novel won her the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It also landed on many critics’ ten-best lists and helped propel Kate Winslet to stardom. But more than that, this is simply a delightful film, produced by Lindsay Doran and directed by Ang Lee. When the film was first announced, it may have seemed that Lee was a strange choice, but anyone who saw his films The Wedding Banquet (1993), and Eat Drink Man Woman (1995) knew he would make this film one worth watching. Besides Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, and Thompson herself combine for one of the best ensemble performances of the ‘90s, guided by Lee’s firm hand, with the chemistry between Thompson and Winslet absolutely enthralling. Leave it to Emma Thompson to resurrect the intelligent romantic comedy.

WE DISAGREE ON ... COOLEY HIGH (January 18, 12:00 am)

ED: BCooley High has often been referred to, unfairly, as the “black American Graffiti.” It’s better than American Graffiti and represents a huge step forward in African-American cinema as it puts an end to the “Blaxploitation” era by showing that young African-Americans can indeed live normal lives and get up to the hijinx their white counterparts have been doing for decades. Both the cast, with standout performances from leads Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, and the direction by Michael Schultz are superb. Writer Eric Monte (who conceived The Jeffersons, and brought about Good Times with Michael Evans) has written a warm, funny tale of young kids enjoying life to its fullest until two of the group get mixed up with a pair of career criminals and are falsely arrested for stealing a Cadillac. It’s a bittersweet journey through the maze known as high school, and the cast pulled it off admirably.

DAVID: A. What I love and admire about Cooley High is its honesty in telling a funny, tragic and poignant story about two close friends – Preach (Glynn Turman) and Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) – enjoying life as seniors at Edwin G. Cooley Vocational High School in Chicago in the mid-1960s. The two have big dreams though they are always looking for a good time with women, drinking, getting high and shooting dice. While they are barely in class during the movie, the two have big dreams. Preach hopes to become a writer while Cochise's ticket gets punched for a college scholarship as he's one of the best basketball players in the city. The funniest scene in this 1975 film has the two of them on a joy ride with two older guys from the neighborhood who steal a car. Preach, who often makes up elaborate stories, convinces everyone he's an excellent driver. He's behind the wheel when the vehicle pulls up next to a police car, and he panics. They end up on a high-speed chase, finally eluding the cops in a warehouse only to have Preach crash the car into another vehicle. Everything is OK until the two are pulled out of class accused of grand theft auto. The two guys who stole the car are busted and while out on bail, they look for Preach and Cochise mistakenly thinking the boys squealed on them to the police. The little adventure results in a tragic ending. This all occurs with an amazing soundtrack largely consisting of Motown songs. When the film ends with the Four Tops' "(Reach Out) I'll Be There," I admit to tearing up even though I've seen the movie at least a dozen times. Based on this film, Hilton-Jacobs was almost immediately cast as Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington on the Welcome Back, Kotter TV show. Already a blaxploitation veteran, that is where Turman primarily remained until the genre died out. He showed up more than a decade later on the awful A Different World TV show, spending five seasons as a college math teacher/retired Army colonel. The first time I saw the words "Cooley High" was during the closing credits of the TV show What's Happening!! (yes, it has two exclamation points). The credits said the show was based on Cooley High even though the only similarities were Preach and Raj, the show's lead character, both wore black plastic-frame glasses and the casts were primarily black.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 8–January 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ELVIS: THAT'S THE WAY IT IS (January 8, 4:15 pm): This is an excellent documentary/concert chronically Elvis Presley's four-day stint at the International Hotel in Las Vegas from August 10 to 13, 1970, and the rehearsals leading up to the shows. The rehearsals as well as the behind-the-scenes clips are outstanding and add so much to the concert footage. The quality of the film is remarkable, especially when you consider it was released only three months after the concerts. Among the highlights are rehearsals and then performances of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me." The film captures Elvis during the middle of his "comeback" period from 1968 to 1972, which was the King at his finest and most creative.

BONNIE AND CLYDE (January 11, 10:30 pm): A groundbreaking film in terms of style, content and graphic violence from 1967, which I consider to be among the two or three finest year in cinematic history. The leads – Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway – are outstanding in their roles as the famed outlaw duo oozing passion, raw sexuality, violence, charisma and charm at every turn. The supporting cast – notably Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons with Gene Wilder in a small but memorable role – are equally strong. The movie's violence goes from almost comic to intensely graphic. The final scene in which the two are shot dozens of times is outstanding, particularly the quick looks of horror Beatty and Dunaway give each other when they realize they're about to die a very brutal death. It conveys more emotion and intensity than almost anything you'll seen in film.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE PHENIX CITY STORY (January 9, 6:15 pm): A wonderful docudrama about “the wickedest city in America” and how it came to be cleaned up. TCM shows the full version, which includes a prologue with noted correspondent Clete Roberts interviewing citizens of Phenix City after the National Guard stepped in to restore order. If crime movies are your thing, this is one to see. And if crime movies aren’t exactly your thing, this well-made and well-acted movie is still worth your time.
  
SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (January 11, 2:45 am): This film is rightly said to be writer/director Preston Sturges’s masterpiece. John L. Sullivan is a noted director of light musical fare such as Ants in Your Plants of 1939 and Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. However, he wants to make an Important Film, and he has one in mind, namely O Brother, Where Art Thou, a leaden novel concerned with the struggle between Capital and Labor. The studio execs pooh-pooh it, noting that he grew up rich and never suffered. So, Sullivan sets out to see how the other half lives, and ends up with far more than he bargained for when everybody assumes he died. It’s both hilarious and touching with many insights from Sturges into the human ego versus the human condition. It’s best to record it to be seen again later – and you will definitely want to see it again.

WE AGREE ON ... DOUBLE INDEMNITY (January 13, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+Film noir is one of my favorite movie genres, and in the realm of noir, there is no better example than this film. Adapted from the noir pulp novel by James M. Cain about an ordinary guy caught in a web of corruption and murder looking for great sex and easy money. Superbly adapted by director Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, it boasts three memorable performances from leads Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, and Fred MacMurray. Fred MacMurray? The genial guy who starred on My Three Sons? Yeah, and it’s that very geniality that makes him so right for the role of an ordinary Joe taken in by a sultry blonde (in yet another role George Raft turned down). Stanwyck is . . . well, Stanwyck in another pristine performance. Wilder brought out an amazing side of Stanwyck as a femme fatale. But it’s Eddie G. who steals the film as Barton Keyes, MacMurray’s boss at the insurance firm; a man who has an uncanny sense when it comes to insurance fraud. His scenes with MacMurray are pure gold, MacMurray laboring under the knowledge that, sooner or later, Keyes will catch on to him. Cain’s novels are dominated by the role of fate, but lest we snicker thinking that he’s just a pulp novelist, consider that he was a huge influence on French novelist and Nobel Prize winner, Albert Camus, who transposed the fatalism into an existential motif. Camus, in turn, influenced Claude Chabrol. For those new to noir, this is the perfect film for an introduction.

DAVID: A+. When I first saw this film, which was years after watching Fred MacMurray on the My Three Sons television show, I waited for Barbara Stanwyck to admit she was just using MacMurray to help kill her husband, collect the insurance and then dump him. That doesn't happen until nearly the end of the movie, and at that point, she is really hot for MacMurray's character, Walter Neff. Before seeing this, I knew MacMurray only as mild-mannered Steven Douglas from the TV show, and not the cold-blooded bastard he plays in films such as Double Indemnity and The Apartment. Once I got past that, I came to recognize Double Indemnity as one of the finest film noirs ever made. MacMurray is perfect here and Stanwyck is a deliciously evil manipulative femme fatale. It's arguably her best role ever, and there's no argument that it's MacMurray's best. As Ed points out, it is the legendary Edward G. Robinson who steals the film as Barton Keyes, a claims adjuster and ace insurance company investigator. All three of the main actors in this 1944 film were reluctant to play the parts. For Eddie G., he knew his days as the leading man were coming to a close so he wanted to be careful about what supporting roles he'd accept. That his character plays the hero and that he'd draw the same salary as MacMurray and Stanwyck for less work were keys to him taking the part. And Eddie G. delivers a brilliant performance. Billy Wilder does an extraordinary job directing this dark film as well as co-writing the screenplay with Raymond Chandler. The viewer knows the film isn't going to end well because it's told in a flashback with Neff dictating his confession to Keyes. There's also the pesky Hays Code that wouldn't let the couple get away with murder. However, that doesn't detract from the tension and suspense of the film. It's an exceptional movie that I've seen several times and never tire of it.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
January 1–January 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SOYLENT GREEN (January 1, 8:30 am): This is one of my "go-to" movies. I've watched it dozens of times and still love it. Charlton Heston plays tough New York City Police Detective Robert Thorn in the year 2022. Something awful, almost certainly man-made, 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 has just come out with a new "high-energy plankton" called Soylent Green. 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 disaster. 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. Eddie G.'s performance, sadly his last, is one of his finest. It's beautifully tragic. The scene with 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!"

THE CANDIDATE (January 2, 8:00 pm): This is a great political satire, 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 long-shot challenge to popular Republican Senator Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter). At Lucas' recommendation, McKay softens his message, which isn't resonating with voters, and compromises his principles. It works. McKay and Jarmon essentially become one as both say the same thing. The difference is McKay is young and good-looking, and Jarmon is older and doesn't look like Robert Redford. After McKay wins, the panic-stricken senator-elect brings Lucas into a room and asks, "What do we do now?" as the film ends. The storyline is intelligent and compelling, giving viewers a fascinating inside look at the political process. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THEM! (January 1, 12:00 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.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (January 3, 8:00 pm): It was at least 10 years since the original Front Page, and by the Hollywood clock – time for a remake. But the genius of Howard Hawks was in the casting. Instead of going with another two males in the roles of editor Walter Burns and reporter Hildy Johnson, Hawks thought to make reporter Hildy a woman, formerly married to Burns, and about to leave the paper to remarry. It was pure inspiration, and in my opinion, made the film even funnier. Decorated with all the touches Hawks was famous for, including the overlapping dialogue, it still holds up today and is funnier than ever. Part of the brilliance in the remake was the casting of Cary Grant, a superb comic actor, as Walter Burns. But it is in the part of Hildy Johnson that Hawks struck gold. Jean Arthur, Hawks’ first choice, turned down the role, as did Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, and Irene Dunne. Columbia's studio head managed to borrow Rosalind Russell. She wasn’t thrilled at being assigned to the film and Hawks wasn’t exactly thrilled about having to “settle” for her. But once they got rolling, she turned out to be Hawks’ best move, as she’s perfect in the part: gorgeous, intelligent, sassy, and one step ahead – or so she thinks – of her ex-husband, Burns. It’s not only a movie to watch, but also one for cinephiles to own.

WE DISAGREE ON ... BROADCAST NEWS (January 3, 9:45 pm)

ED: B. This Network wannabe written and directed by James L. Brooks, is actually much better than Network, boasting excellent performances from leads Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks. However, there is a good reason I gave it only a “B.” James L. Brooks is also famous as the creator and writer of both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spinoff, Lou Grant, both of which were concerned with journalism. In the case of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it was television journalism. And when we get right down to it, Broadcast News is nothing but a freer adaptation of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but without the censorship from CBS. Holly Hunter is nothing more than Mary Richards with a better sex life and William Hurt is a more articulate Ted Baxter. A certain anchorman for New York's Channel 4 was later said to have been the basis for Hurt’s character. And whenever I see a Brooks performance, I know I’m in for a boatload of frustrated pathos. If I’m given the choice between Holly Hunter as Mary Richards and Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards, give me the original every time.

DAVID: A. James L. Brooks wrote, directed and produced Broadcast News, one of the funniest and most clever satires on journalism. And the casting is perfect. William Hurt plays Tom Grunick, a good-looking, smooth-talking TV network anchor who is able to fake sincerity about news he not only doesn't care about, but largely doesn't understand. He represents the move toward news as entertainment that's been prevalent for the past few decades, Albert Brooks is Aaron Altman, a reporter who likes his news hard and serious. He is essentially Brooks portraying the same intelligent over-thinker he's played wonderfully in many movies. You love him and yet you laugh as he sweats so much blowing his big chance to anchor because he's unable to overcome his self-doubt and insecurity. Holly Hunter is magnificent as TV producer Jane Craig, neurotic to the point she cries at her desk every morning and can't help herself when Tom becomes interested in her. To Aaron and Jane, work is everything, and it's just about everything to Tom only without the stress. It's easier for Aaron and Jane to bury themselves in their work, which they love, than to focus on their dysfunctional private lives. The 1987 film could have easily become depressing. Brooks gives us a taste of that depression, but keeps it light enough through satire and some brilliant and funny lines. Describing to Jane what the devil would be, Aaron says, "He will be attractive. He'll be nice and helpful. He'll get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation. He'll never do an evil thing. He'll never deliberately hurt a living thing. He will just bit by little bit lower our standards where they are important; just a tiny little bit. Just coax along flash over substance; just a tiny little bit. And he'll talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he'll get all the great women." As for Ed's contention that this film is "nothing but a freer adaption of The Mary Tyler Moore Show," I disagree though his "better sex life" and "more articulate Ted Baxter" lines are very funny. While much of the legendary TV show takes place at the WJM station, the show is more about a woman working in a mid-management position in a traditionally-male business. The show would essentially be the same if Mary worked as a junior partner in a law firm or as an executive for a Wall Street investment house. Television news is essential to the plot of Broadcast News. Without it, Broadcast News a completely different film in need of a different name.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 23–December 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (December 26, 2:15 pm): It's one of the most visually-stunning and fascinating films every made. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the story of man from pre-evolution to a trip to Jupiter, and how superior beings on that mysterious planet made it all possible. It's unfortunate that this spectacular 1968 film, brilliantly directed by Stanley Kubrick, can't be seen on the largest screen imaginable because watching it on your television – or even worse, on your phone – doesn't do it justice. I've seen the movie at least 50 times, including once in a theater when it was re-released. The storyline is fascinating and the ending is very much open to interpretation, which makes the film even more compelling. The interaction between astronaut David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and the HAL 9000 computer that controls the spaceship and has a mind of its own reflects how mankind has experienced gains and losses through the use of advanced technology. The cinematography, special effects and music take this film to a special level. It is a masterpiece of cinema.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (December 30, 9:15 am): When he wanted, Frank Sinatra was an excellent actor. My favorite Sinatra films are The Manchurian CandidateSuddenly (one of my Best Bets from earlier this month) and this 1955 film. In The Man With the Golden Arm, directed by Otto Preminger, Sinatra's character, Frankie Machine, is a hardcore heroin (the drug is heavily implied, but never spoken) addict who just got out of jail. Through circumstances all too familiar to addicts, he gets hooked again, largely thanks to a drug dealer who wants Frankie to return to his profession as an expert card dealer in high-stakes illegal games. The movie is dark, authentic and gripping. This one pulls no punches leading it to not get a rating from the Motion Picture Association of America because it violates the Hays Code. For a film that is 60 years old, it holds up remarkably well.

ED’S BEST BETS:

HORSE FEATHERS (December 31, 5:30 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 Marxs 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.

DUCK SOUP (December 31, 6:45 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. 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 ... ANNIE (December 25, 8:00 pm)

ED: B. A pillar of American popular culture since its introduction as a comic strip drawn by Harold Gray in 1924, Little Orphan Annie had died down in the American pantheon until 1977, when it took the country by storm following its incarnation as a Broadway musical. Hollywood, desperate for anything that would seem profitable, adapted the play for the screen, with Albert Finney and Carol Burnett as the leads. (It could have been a lot worse, as Jack Nicholson and Bette Midler were originally offered the parts.) But then Ray Stark decided in his wisdom to offer the role of director to septuagenarian John Huston, hardly an obvious choice for a musical. Besides Aileen Quinn as Annie, the film has a marvelous supporting cast, including Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, Geoffrey Holder, and Ann Reinking. In general, Annie is enjoyable, with lots of movement and lots of color, with the dancing and the music going well together. On the other side is Huston’s leaden direction (for which he received a well-deserved Golden Raspberry) and a formula script that seems churned out on an assembly line. However, there are two main factors for my grade: Finney and Burnett, who are sensational. Burnett, who is good in just about anything she does, brings life to the villain role of orphanage director Miss Hannigan. And Finney has the most thankless role in the film, that of portraying Daddy Warbucks as a self-centered wealthy man who has everything except love, and who learns to love through the example of young Annie. As Roger Ebert said: “This is the role actors kill over – to avoid playing.” As Annie, Aileen Quinn is satisfactory, she can dance and sing well enough, but must deal with the fact that the musical has been shamefully overexposed to the point of parody. Without the power of Finney and Burnett, though, Annie has about as much chance of entertaining than Leo Gorcey had of playing Hamlet at the Royal Shakespearian Company, especially with Huston holding the directorial reins.

DAVID: D. If you're looking for an example of Hollywood gone wrong, here you go. Annie really, really sucks. I can't decide what I hate more: the overacting, the overproduction, the silly plot or the annoying songs. The movie is a horrible time for the whole family. It's sickeningly sweet to the point of complete annoyance – and it's more than two hours long. It deserves an F, but I'm a softy for "It's the Hard Knock Life." There is nothing else positive to say about this lifeless 1982 movie. I strongly disagree with Ed on the casting. Carol Burnett, who I think is passable to terrible in everything she ever did, is a cartoon character here as the evil Miss Hannigan. She runs an orphanage with the girls used as slave labor. Aileen Quinn is the spunky Annie, and as Lou Grant told Mary Richards, "I hate spunk!" I can't tell if she was a lousy actress or the part was terrible. Oh, let's give (dis)credit for both. While it received critical acclaim on Broadway, Annie's thin plot and terrible songs are exposed on the big screen. It's impossible not to laugh at the ridiculous scenario that has Annie, Daddy Warbucks and the "mysterious" Punjab flying to the White House to hear President Franklin Delano Roosevelt explain his welfare program (it takes place in 1933) and ask Annie to help him. She "rewards" the president by singing "Tomorrow." I'm a huge fan of John Huston, but this was a tremendous misfire on his part. I'm thankful this wasn't his last film as it would have been awful for him to go out like this. 



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 15–December 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE DIRTY DOZEN (December 19, 5:15 pm): If you're looking for a movie that includes misfits blowing up stuff and people – while also being entertaining and filled with action, The Dirty Dozen delivers on all fronts. 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 greatly influenced other directors and other studios – this was a huge box-office success – to do movies with a similar violent genre. But nothing has been able to surpass the original.

THE MORTAL STORM (December 19, 10:00 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 movie 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 still holds up well.

ED’S BEST BETS:

ALICE ADAMS (December 18, 9:00 am): This little underrated gem from RKO stars Katharine Hepburn as a pretty small-town girl from a lower class family whose aspiration is to be accepted by the upper crust. While her family struggles just to get by Alice puts on airs, going to great length to project herself as born of social status and wealth. Unfortunately for her, nothing is working, as the people whose acceptance she craves ignore her. But she finally finds love in the person of unpretentious Fred MacMurray, but the moment of truth arrives when she has to introduce him to her parents. The family dinner-table scene is a classic.

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (December 18, 9:30 pm): Barbara Stanwyck was one of the very, very few that could go from playing in tear jerkers (Stella Dallas) to corporate dramas (Executive Suite) to steamy crime dramas (Double Indemnity) to Westerns (The Maverick Queen) to screwball comedies (The Lady Eve) and distinguish herself in each genre. And this gentle romantic comedy is no different. Here she plays Elizabeth Lane, a Martha Stewart type, a columnist for “Smart Housekeeping,” and a woman touted as “the greatest cook in the country,” with a perfect home in the ‘burbs, a perfect husband, and a perfect baby. She’s the role model to millions of readers. The only problem is that Elizabeth Lane is none of the above. She’s unmarried, no child, lives in the city, and the closest she’s even been to a stove is how near she sits to the restaurant’s kitchen. Trouble ensues when a war hero (Dennis Morgan), as part of a publicity stunt for her magazine, is granted a visit to her “farm.” And, to make things worse her boss, played by Sydney Greenstreet, is coming along. How can she pull of this charade and not get fired? Stanwyck pulls it off beautifully, giving yet another top-notch performance as the harried columnist. Morgan is excellent as the visiting war hero, and it’s nice to see Sydney Greenstreet in a role other than as the bad guy. He acquits himself rather nicely here. This is the perfect film for those who want to see light holiday fare during this time, and a perfect film for those that have not yet had the pleasure of sampling Stanwyck’s work in comedies.

WE AGREE ON ... 12 ANGRY MEN (December 16, 10:30 am)

ED: A+. I love ensemble pieces, especially when they’re as well acted as this one. Produced by its star, Henry Fonda, who, along with Reginald Rose, who write the teleplay in 1954, raised the $350,000 necessary for filming. Fonda also chose the director, a young television veteran named Sidney Lumet, who would be making his feature film debut. Fonda and Lumet then turned to Broadway to assemble a wonderful supporting cast that served to drive the movie as well. Begin watching it and one is quickly caught up in the plot of a ghetto teenager on trial for his life, accused of the murder of his father. Lesser films would get bogged down in the give-and-take dialogue that fuels the film, especially as the jury retires to a cramped, hot, and muggy room to deliberate. All but one are ready to vote “guilty.” The one holdout, Fonda, is not so much convinced that the boy is innocent, but that the prosecution has failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As Fonda begins to make his case, we can easily see that a lesser director and actors would take this and make it into a borefest, but here Lumet concentrates on the jurors and the reasons behind their stances. Although Lee J. Cobb and Ed Begley threaten to steal the show, pay attention to Jack Warden, who is motivated more by the fact he has tickets to that night’s Yankee game than the defendant’s innocence, and Martin Balsam as the jury foreman more interested in being liked than serving justice. One on the main strengths of the movie is that we get to see the inner lives of each man as he wrestles with Fonda’s arguments. It makes for compelling viewing and a film that will stay with its viewer long after it has ended. It only serves as further proof that a film need not be a big production or loaded with superstar actors in order to become a classic.

DAVID: A+. Like Ed, I love quality ensemble pieces, and there are few films that can match 12 Angry Men in terms of quality acting and brilliant directing. Director Sidney Lumet is able to make viewers feel like they're sitting in a hot room where the jurors discuss and argue not only the evidence against the case, but how their own experiences and prejudices impact their decisions. The sweat beading on the foreheads of the jurors and soaking through their shirts on what is the hottest day of the year as the film progresses are excellent touches. Except for a few minutes at the beginning and end, and a couple of short scenes in an attached bathroom, the entire film occurs in that jury room. While the plot is somewhat predictable – perhaps that's merely my opinion as I've seen it a half-dozen times – the acting is amazing. Henry Fonda as Juror 8, an architect and the only one to initially vote not guilty, is, well, Henry Fonda. Good luck finding more than perhaps a handful of films in which he's in and doesn't excel. Lee J. Cobb, Juror 3 and the final holdout, was always outstanding in the role of the short-tempered, angry, intimidating hot-head, and he's flawless here. Ed Begley is also excellent as Juror 10, a bigot who believes "those people" living in slums, such as the murder suspect, are less human than him. As Ed mentioned, Jack Warden and Martin Balsam are two to watch. Fans of Jack Klugman will get a kick out of the film as he plays a smaller but important role as a man who grew up in the slums. But my favorite cast member is Joseph Sweeney as the elderly, observant Juror 9, who is the first to side with Fonda's character and change his vote to not guilty. The character's role is vital to the movie, and Sweeney's portrayal of the warm, gentle man whose final observation discredits the lone "eyewitness" to the murder is exceptional. The film is about intolerance, and jumping to conclusions based on a person's ethnicity and (lack of) social standing without bothering to learn all the facts. It was released in 1957 and, unfortunately, remains relevant today.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 8–December 14

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

SUDDENLY (December 10, 6:00 am): This excellent 1954 film noir is when Frank Sinatra became a legitimate actor. Before this, he did some weak musicals and the highly overrated From Here to Eternity. In Suddenly, Ol' Blue Eyes is an assassin preparing to kill the president, who is making a stop in the quaint California town of Suddenly. Sinatra is an excellent bad guy, completely believable as a ruthless killer. There's a great supporting cast including Sterling Hayden, James Gleason and Nancy Gates. The film is in the public domain so if you don't have TCM there are several other ways to see it. The next film Sinatra made was The Man with the Golden Arm, probably his greatest role. But without expanding his acting range in Suddenly, it's doubtful Sinatra would have been so memorable in Golden Arm.

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (December 11, 8:00 pm): Warner Brothers wasn't known for making excellent comedies in the 1930s and 40s, and Bette Davis didn't become famous for her comedic skills. However, this 1942 screwball comedy is the exception to the rule. Davis is delightful and funny as Maggie Cutler, secretary to Monty Woolley's character. Woolley's Sheridan Whiteside is an arrogant, acerbic lecturer and critic who slips on the front steps of the house of an Ohio family, injuring himself in the process. Since he's going to be laid up for a while, Whiteside thinks nothing of completely takes over the house, leading to some funny and madcap moments. Woolley, who reprised the role he first made famous on Broadway, is the best part of the movie. While Davis didn't become famous for being a comedian, she is great here and showed legitimate promise as a comedic actress.  

ED’S BEST BETS:

LE BEAU SERGE (December 10, 10:00 pm): Director Claude Chabrol’s debut film is as masterpiece based on the theme that “you can’t go home again.” Scholar Francois Bayon (Jean-Claude Brialy) returns to his home village to recuperate and finds that his old school chum, Serge, who once held such promise, has become a hopeless drunk stuck in bad marriage. The beauty of the film is that while most directors would either concentrate on either the relationship or a sociological study of the village, Chabrol doers both, giving us a perceptive examination of the trials of life in a poor agricultural community and the ethical questions of how one tries to help an old friend. With solid support from Michele Meritz, Edmond Beauchamp and the young Bernadette Lafont, who comes oh-so-close to stealing the picture with a nuanced performance far beyond her young years. Look for Chabrol in a minor role as Truffe.

STORY OF WOMEN (December 10, midnight): Get out your recorders for this, but know that it is absolutely worth your trouble. This is a Claude Chabrol masterpiece about the story of Marie Latour, the last woman to be guillotined in France. Isabelle Huppert gives a magnificent, tightly nuanced, and extremely magnetic performance as Latour, whose crime is providing abortions. This is a film that should be shown in prime time, not during the graveyard shift.

WE AGREE ON . . . SUMMER WITH MONIKA (December 14, 8:00 am)

ED: A+. Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 film had quite a rocky introduction to this country, running into heavy flak from the censors, who objected as much to the ideas contained in the script as to the brief nudity. Even Films in Review called it “a clumsily, carelessly directed sexploiter about a stupid teenager.” Today it’s seen as a classic, and justly so – a fascinating story of Monika, a young, “liberated” working-class woman in Stockholm who falls in love with Harry, a naïve lower middle-class slacker. Their love affair consists mainly of Monika verbalizing to Harry her impatience with her life and her deep resentment of people she imagines have everything they could want. Harry steals his father’s boat to sail to a sparsely inhabited island, where they can indulge themselves to their heart’s content, but as the summer wears on, the love affair begins to peter out. Monika is still desperately unhappy, and now pregnant. They return to the city and try to stick it out as a family, but Monika, restless and irresponsible, unfulfilled in her need for entertainment and diversion, abandons Harry and their daughter. What the critics failed to discern is that the film is really a critical look at both the perils of young love and the all too harsh consequences arising from irresponsible romance. Because Bergman doesn’t obviously spell this out, the critics thought he was supporting their hedonism. Americans are not big on subtlety; they like to have everything spelled out for them. Summer With Monika is a brilliant film, shot practically on a shoestring, and with two standout performances by Harriet Anderson, who became a European superstar from this, and Lars Ekborg, who plays the lovestruck Harry. It’s seems somewhat quaint today, but then the real power of the film lay not in the brief nudity, but in the underlying idea of what happens when the irresponsible need for pleasure overwhelms everything else in life.

DAVID: A+. Even though we agree this 1953 Ingmar Bergman film is a classic, there is one point in which Ed and I don't agree. I look at Harry, Monika's love interest, as coming from some money and is more middle class or even upper middle-class than lower middle-class. His father's tastefully-furnished house – Harry lives there – is significantly larger than Monika's, less crowded and is in a much better neighborhood. Also, Harry's dad, who becomes ill early on, owns a boat. The class level might seem like a minor point to some, but it's significant as it impacts how the two characters react in situations. Like Monika, Harry works at a dead-end job and is a bad employee, but he has money to attend college and does later on. We completely agree that this is a brilliant film with great performances by the two leads: Harriet Anderson (Monika), who would go on to be an actor of major importance and Bergman's lover for a while, and Lars Ekborg (Harry). It's unclear in the opening scene if the two already knew each other or if Monika picks him up at a restaurant, but the love affair quickly turns very intense. Monika is a free spirit seeking a comfortable but exciting life and any excuse to get out of her parents' home which includes her much younger – and very loud – siblings. Her passion and great body easily convince Harry to quit his job, steal his father's boat while his dad is dying in a hospital, and escape for the summer. The brief nudity and talk of having sex – Monika gets pregnant – were controversial for 1953. But audiences only 15 years later thought nothing of it after movies became more liberal in showing naked bodies. Despite the freedom and lack of responsibilities, things aren't perfect as they run out of money and food. At one point, they have to fend off an impoverished guy who tries to steal from the boat only to get angry that there's nothing there and sets fire to Monika's belongings. Even then, it's obvious that Harry just doesn't have what Monika wants. Harry tries to fight the man, who beats him up until Monika smacks him in the head with a pot. Shortly thereafter, Monika, pregnant and hungry, goes to steal potatoes and apples they saw on the shore. Harry can't bring himself to do it though it's unlikely there would be a problem. Well, there is a problem when the landowners catch Monika and call the police. She escapes with a roast in her hands. With the weather changing and their situation only getting worse, they return to Stockholm, their hometown, to get married, Monika to give birth and the two to raise their daughter. But Monika is restless, bored, not interested in being a mother and doesn't like being poor. She is resentful while Harry goes to school so he can get a good job to provide for his family. She eventually abandons them in what we expect will be another failed attempt by Monika to find happiness. It's a powerful film about how some adapt to life and others refuse to do so. The cinematography is striking. Bergman makes Stockholm seem so congested at first, and then conveys a sense of never-ending space when the leads are on the cramped boat on the water. The closeups of Anderson are breathtaking, particularly one toward the end that shows such a coldness. She doesn't say a thing and the scene is no more than 30 seconds in length, but her glare of anger, disgust and unhappiness sent a chill down my spine when I rewatched it last week on Hulu. It's an impressive movie, but that's to be expected when watching a piece of art made by Bergman, the master of cinema.



TCM TiVo ALERT
For
December 1–December 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (December 2, 11:30 am): How do you take a 400-page classic book and turn it into a great film? I don't know, but I imagine those working on the 1946 film adaption of Great Expectations, led by the skilled direction of David Lean, who co-wrote the screenplay, worked very hard to accomplish that goal. And what's more incredible is Lean – known for lengthy but excellent movies like Lawrence of ArabiaDoctor Zhivago and The Bridge on the River Kwai – did it in under two hours. The film is blessed with an outstanding cast, including John Mills, Alec Guinness, Martita Hunt, Jean Simmons and Valerie Hobson, and the screenplay is an excellent adaption of Charles Dickens' wonderful book. It's a delightful, entertaining film about a young orphan, Pip, who is taken to London at the expense of a mysterious benefactor who believes him to be a man with "great expectations."

MAN HUNT (December 3, 3:00 am): Expertly directed by Fritz Lang, this is a 1941 film – that takes place in 1939 – about a famous big-game hunter, played by Walter Pidgeon, who comes across Hitler's residence in 1939 and has the Führer in his sights. The gun is empty. He then decides that it's probably a good idea to kill Hitler, but he's caught as he takes another shot. What follows is, as the movie title states, a man hunt in which Pidgeon dodges in and out of danger chased by George Sanders, playing the naughty Nazi role he perfected over the years. Well-acted, well-directed and well-paced, Man Hunt is an outstanding film.

ED’S BEST BETS:

IN WHICH WE SERVE (December 2, 3:30 pm): Written, codirected and scored by costar Noel Coward, this is the magnificent story about the crew on a British fighting ship told via flashback. Unlike many films about World War Two, this one remains fresh and marks the film debuts of Richard Attenborough, Daniel Massey, and the infant Juliet Mills. Codirector David Lean’s first directing credit. The film was so thoroughly effective that the Nazis placed Noel Coward on a special hit list.

HAXAN (December 5, 5:45 am): An amazing, unconventional semi-documentary from Sweden in 1922 about the history of witchcraft based on actual incidents from the records of witch trials, torture during the Inquisition, and demonic possession. Look for writer-director Benjamin Christensen playing none other than Satan. Visually stunning, with genuine scares aplenty.

WE DISAGREE ON ... AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (December 6, 3:30 pm)

ED: A+. During the early ‘50s the Freed Unit at MGM made three classic musicals: Singin’ in the RainThe Band Wagon, and this one. Made when star Gene Kelly was at the top of his creative powers with the studio, it was flawlessly acted by its cast, and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Kelly is Jerry Mulligan, an ex-GI and struggling American artist who stayed in Paris after the war ended. He is “discovered” by a socially connected heiress (Nina Foch) with an interest in more than Jerry’s art. In turn Jerry falls for Lise (Leslie Caron), a young girl already engaged to a cabaret singer. In addition to the two women, Jerry is entertained by Adam Cook (Oscar Levant), a would-be concert pianist. Fans of the musical form know that plot is the last thing they need worry about. It’s the music and the dancing. Both are well represented here, with the Gershwins supplying the music, and Kelly and Caron the dancing. The film is built around a simple idea: Kelly wanted to make a film with a lengthy ballet scene based on Gershwin’s tone poem. Freed and Minnelli took the idea and ran with it, adding plot complications plus some stunning backgrounds that bring to mind the works of the French impressionists. This is definitely a move for the eyes as well as the ear. Levant adds a safety valve of acerbic wit whenever the romantic complications threaten to become leaden. He does this simply by playing Oscar Levant, which he does in every film he’s in. However, his performance here tops all the others. Nina Foch provides a solid support, proving she’s come a long way since her B-ingénue days at Fox, and Leslie Caron, a discovery of Kelly’s, provides the eye candy as well as an underdog to root for along with Kelly. Those who have seen it know what I’m talking about, while to those that haven’t, I recommend this as a definite Must See.

DAVID: B-. Gene Kelly is among the two best dancers in the history of cinema with Fred Astaire, of course, being the other. Kelly was more physical and muscular than what most people think of dancers. He was quite charming and how can anyone hate that wonderful smile? During his career in Hollywood, Kelly fancied himself a visionary. An American in Paris is a perfect example. Kelly wanted a lengthy ballet-heavy dance performance that showcased Paris through the works of French impressionist paintings so that's what he did in the final number leading to the conclusion of this film. The concept is admirable, but the implementation is quite frankly boring  and it goes on for 16 minutes. I'm not a fan of musicals though there are some I greatly enjoy including Singin' in the Rain with Kelly (which also at one point spends more than 20 minutes on a daydream/dance that has little to do with that movie's plot). An American in Paris is a good film. Why else would I give it a B-? But it's certainly not a classic. Also, unfortunately it was a leader in Hollywood's move away from film noir toward lighter movies in the 1950s. The plot is basic as are the characters in the movie. Kelly wants to be a great painter, but is offended when a rich socialite takes an artistic and sexual interest in him. Kelly has two buddies: one wants to be a concert pianist and the other a cabaret singer. There's a simplistic love triangle with a happy ending. Leslie Caron, the female lead and the girl Kelly wants, could dance, but was a lousy actress. I've never understood her appeal as she always seemed way too young for her love interests. Her characters never have any depth, which is probably why she was in this film. I don't buy for a second the contention that a musical doesn't need to have a plot, and that we should primarily concern ourselves with the singing and dancing. When the music stops, why should our enjoyment or interest stop with it? The songs are good, the dancing – except the final one – is also entertaining, the scenery is magnificent and, as usual, MGM spared no expense when it came to the color of its big-time productions. It's good, but it's not a movie I'd ever seek out to watch.



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.

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