Thursday, December 6, 2012

TCM TiVo Alert for December 8-14

December 8 – December 14

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (December 10, 1:15 pm): 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 family farm, Life doesn't get much better for the family on their drive to California and even worse once they get to the state. The book is good, but the film is excellent. 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 in this movie by Henry Fonda (Tom Joad), John Carradine (Jim Casy, a former pastor turned union organizer) and Jane Darwell (Ma Joad). I was nearly moved to tears during Tom's goodbye speech to his mother: "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."

LES MISERABLES (December 13, 12:00 am): First, here's the backstory to my experience with this 1934 French version of Victor Hugo's classic book. I don't like long films and this version is nearly five hours in length. But my mother and stepfather were visiting me in June for my oldest daugther's high-school graduation party. They both love movies and are big fans of Les Miserables, having seen the Broadway play and a few of the film versions of the book. While looking for something to watch on Hulu Plus during their visit, we came across this. I was pleasantly surprised at how open they were to watch an old French film. Hulu Plus and others have this movie split into three parts of about 1 hour and 40 minutes each. But nothing on Hulu Plus informed us it was in three parts. We started watching and my mother and stepfather quickly realized this film didn't start at the beginning. (This was my first exposure to Les Miserables so I didn't know.) They caught me up on what was going on. We were watching Part 2 although none of us realized it at the time. Even so, it was extraordinary. It was only after the conclusion of the second part that we realized it was the middle of a three-part version. We chose to watch Part 3 even though it was getting very late. The next morning we saw Part 1. So even though I saw this film out of sequence, I can assure you it is an outstanding, well-acted film. Harry Baur as Jean Valjean is incredible. TCM is showing the movie starting at midnight (Eastern Standard Time). No one is going to be awake enough to watch this in one sitting. I strongly recommend taping it and watching as much as you can, take a break or a nap, and come back to it. It I was not familiar with the storyline before this excellent film, but it's easy to understand - particularly if you watch it from the beginning!


A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (December 8, 3:45 am): This is why they invented the TiVo – so viewers can see quality films TCM is burying at ungodly hours. Paul Schofield is St. Thomas More, Robert Shaw is Henry VIII, and Leo McKern is Thomas Cromwell in this visually stunning, excellently acted and written film about the martyrdom of Thomas More, who went from being one of the king’s favorites to the main event at the execution block for opposing Henry’s plans to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. The Catholic Church conferred sainthood upon him for his sacrifice. Directed by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon) with script by Robert Bolt.

THE CROWD (December 9, 12:00 am): This silent film starring the previously unknown James Murray is possibly director King Vidor’s masterpiece. It’s a stark, realistic portrayal of one man’s travails in trying to make a decent life for himself and his family in the hustle and bustle of New York. Watch for the scene where the camera pans up the building (Vidor shot this at the Equitable Life Building in New York) and dissolves seamlessly into a miniature set and then to an interior set showing rows and rows of desks, conveying the perception of a faceless man in a faceless crowd. Tragically, James Murray, who was transformed overnight into a star, was doomed by chronic alcoholism and wound up on skid row only a few years later. If there’s one film that can be said to be essential, this is it.

WE DISAGREE ON ... COOL HAND LUKE (December 8, 3:15 pm)

Ed: A+. The ‘60s was the time of the anti-hero, of rebellion, and no one more personified that on film than Paul Newman. Of all his roles, Lucas Jackson was the height of that type of character. Cool Hand Luke is actually based on the 1965 novel of the same name by Donn Pierce, and Newman does justice to the lead character. We don’t know why Luke is rebelling, or when things are going his way, he suddenly reverts to an anti-authority stand. Perhaps it had to do with the death of his mother (Jo Van Fleet), but Luke was acting up just before that crucial scene where he was informed of his mother’s death. Perhaps it is because Luke is a non-conformist who refuses to fit into a society he wants no part of. Anyway, the film is well-written and directed; populated with outstanding performances and memorable scenes, songs, and lines, such as “What we got here is failure to communicate,” “He’s a natural born world shaker,” and, of course, “Yeah, well sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.” And who can forget the music? I know people who cannot be described as film fanatics, but can quote the lines and clearly remember scenes from the movie.Cool Hand Luke is one of those rare period pieces and one of the few films from the ‘60s that holds up well today.  

DAVID: B. I like this movie, but it gets far more praise than it deserves. Paul Newman gives a strong performance as Lucas Jackson, a decorated Korean War veteran who seems to have trouble respecting authority. Also, George Kennedy is solid as Dragline, a fellow inmate, and Strother Martin as Captain - "What we got here is failure to communicate" - is excellent. The problem with the film is we're never given a reason as to why "Cool Hand Luke" is such a screw-up. There's no motivation for his actions. He is sentenced to hard labor at a prison camp for cutting the tops of a town's parking meters with no reason for why he did it. When the Captain brings up Luke's Korean War record, he doesn't give an explanation for why he was demoted from a sergeant to a private. He wins a big poker hand with a bluff, decides he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs as a challenge, and constantly gets in trouble resulting in time in the "box." Why? Even when his original sentence is coming to an end, he tries to escape, which adds more time. When I watch the movie, I wonder if Luke is a complete idiot. His defiant actions and spirit bring him respect from the other inmates and the guards, known as "bosses," and Captain also admire him. But based on his character, Luke could care less about that respect. In one scene, he gets mad at the other inmates for admiring him. There's something in him that makes him restless and a rebel, but we never learn what it is. Towards the conclusion, Luke is in a church talking to God and is confused as me as to why he acts this way. It's a good movie, with a fantastic ending. Like life, not all films need to be wrapped up with a pretty bow and logic. But Cool Hand Luke leaves me with more questions than answers, and less than satisfied.

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

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