Saturday, October 6, 2012

TCM TiVo Alert for October 8-14

October 8 – October 14


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

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


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

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


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

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

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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