TCM TiVo ALERT
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
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.