Thursday, March 21, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for March 23-31

March 23–March 31

THUNDER ROAD (March 27, 1:00 am): When it comes to film actors, there are few cooler with greater screen presence than Robert Mitchum. In this 1958 film, he's a fearless Korean War vet who makes the high-speed and dangerous car deliveries for his family's moonshine business. His family and the other moonshiners with illegal distilleries in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee are feeling the heat from not only the feds, but from a big-shot, big-money gangster who wants to buy them out at a fraction of their business profits. Those who resist wind up either having their business destroyed or are murdered. Mitchum, who co-wrote the story and produced the film, is outstanding in one of his greatest roles. He's got to make a final run even though he knows he's got little chance to succeed. It's an excellent film with tons of action. End notes: Mitchum wrote his son's character for Elvis Presley, who loved the script, but his manager, the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, killed the idea by asking for a ridiculous amount of money for Elvis to take the role. This was a common with Parker, who never wanted Elvis to act in serious films. Instead the role went to James Mitchum, Robert's son. Also of note, the title of one of Bruce Springsteen's best songs, Thunder Road, (originally called Wings for Wheels) came from this movie. Springsteen hadn't seen the film before writing the song, but saw a poster for the film in a theater lobby and thought it sounded cool.

HEAD (March 29, 3:30 am): This confusing but entertaining film features manufactured pop-band The Monkees doing their best to break their "Pre-Fab" mold. The trouble is when this film was released in late 1968, the band's popularity was at a 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. 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 movie was written by the band members (who don't get writing credits) along with Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson; the latter directed the film. There are plenty of interesting cameos including Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston, Toni Basil 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). An end note: 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..."


A CANTERBURY TALE  (March 27, 10:30 am): This is director Michael Powell's wonderful celebration of the power of miracles and reminding us that they need not be enormous in order to be miracles. Three strangers: an English soldier (Dennis Price), an English "land girl" (Sheila Sim), and an American GI (nonprofessional actor Sergeant John Sweet) find themselves temporarily stranded in a small town in Kent waiting for the next train. The girl is attacked by the mysterious "glue man," a nefarious character that pours glue into the hair of women he catches with GIs. As the three begin to investigate the mystery, they explore the countryside, its history and its tales of pilgrims. As they walk the road to Canterbury Cathedral each experiences a blessing in the form of their fondest wish. This is a deeply spiritual film and one that will make its viewers rejoice in the outcome. .

THE CARABINEERS (March 29, 12:30 am): Jean-Luc Godard’s wonderful satire of war, its causes, and those that fight in it. Two bumpkins are cajoled into joining their country’s army by promises of riches. They plunder, rape, and murder for their king, only to return home to discover that a revolution has taken place and they are now branded as traitors. Told in the usual disjointed Godard style, but stay with this one: it’s well worth the investment of time.


DAVID: A. The first of the brilliant "Spaghetti Westerns" trilogy, 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, is a rip-off of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (also a great movie). What a great rip-off! Eastwood is a stranger who also happens to be an excellent gunslinger who comes to a small Mexican town that's 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 - as he does in the two other Leone's Westerns in which he stars - by "working" as a gun-for-hire for both. The 1964 film is funny, clever, action-packed and tells a great story. Eastwood's character shows his soft side, a rarity in the trilogy, when he reunites a family forced to separate by the Rojos. Every gunfight scene is outstanding, but the final shoot-out in which Eastwood taunts Ramon Rojo to aim for his heart, he's wearing a steel-plated chest-protector, is legendary. This film changed the face of Westerns, proving a blood-and-guts hard-hitting style could be great, particularly in comparison to the often-bland, often-cliched tripe John Wayne starred in for most of his career.

ED: B. I really, really like this film. It's based on Kurosawa'a samurai drama, Yojimbo (when one considers Japanese culture, one realizes that the samurai movie is analogous to our western), and is responsible for making Clint Eastwood's international reputation. But it's the first of Leone's trilogy (the others being For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and - honestly speaking - is not up to the others either in content or style. It's just a notch below, and because of that, I have to give it a "B."

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

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