TCM TiVo ALERT
June 1–June 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE HARDER THEY FALL (June 2, 2:00 pm): Humphrey Bogart's last movie, released a year before his 1957 death, has him playing Eddie Willis, an unemployed newspaper sportswriter who goes to work for a crooked boxing promoter (played by Rod Steiger, who is one of acting's greatest heavies). Willis's job is to be the press agent for Toro Monero (Mike Lane), a big but untalented and slow-witted boxer. Nick Benko (Steiger) is building Toro up, having him win numerous fixed fights so he can get a shot at the title, a big pay-day for the promoter, and lose. Eddie has seen it before, but in desperate need of money, he goes along with it even though he likes Toro, who just wants to return to his home country of Argentina. The film takes a hard look at the rampant corruption in boxing. It was groundbreaking with some critics at the time contending the film wasn't realistic, when it actually was. Bogart, even though he was dying, and Steiger are excellent. The film is based on Primo Carnera, a big Italian boxer with limited skills who was owned by organized crime during the 1930s. Carnera won a version of the heavyweight title in what is believed to be a fixed fight against Jack Sharkey and later got destroyed in a legit fight against Max Baer. Baer has a small role in the film as a boxer. After retiring from boxing, Carnera became a popular wrestler, despite having virtually no wrestling talent. But at least he made a little money and was aware those matches were fixed.
THE GREAT DICTATOR (June 3, 11:15 am): TCM shows this 1940 Charlie Chaplin masterpiece on a regular basis so it often gets overlooked. Incredibly, it's never made mine or Ed's Best Bets before even though we are both huge fans of this film. 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 bouncy 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.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (June 1, 7:30 am): The late Ray Harryhausen’s great f/x epic about a dinosaur thawed out on the Arctic and now on the loose in New York City. It boasts an intelligent script, credible performances, and one helluva great monster. My only complaint is that it’s too short, but it was just what the doctor ordered for the Warner’s box office at the time. I can watch it again and again . . . wait a minute – I have.
THE MALTESE FALCON (June 7, 8:00 pm): As I mentioned before, Warner Brothers was great on remaking a script. The Maltese Falcon was done three times in the space of 10 years. While it’s generally acknowledged – and I will not argue the point – that the 1941 Bogart-Greenstreet-Lorre version is by far the best, the 1931 version is not exactly chopped liver. Made in those risqué Pre-Code days of yore, this version has a lot going for it and viewers will notice the many similarities between it and the ’41 version. While Ricardo Cortez is no Bogart as Sam Spade, he’s not bad, either. And Bebe Daniels is a definite improvement over Mary Astor, both in the look department and the acting department. Una Merkel makes for a good Effie and as Wilmer – Dwight Frye! As this is shown rarely at best, this is a film no serious film buff should miss.
WE DISAGREE ON ... PAT AND MIKE (June 1, 6:00 pm)
ED: B+. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn made nine films together. Some are classics (Woman of the Year, Adam's Rib), some are overrated (Keeper of the Flame), some are really overrated (State of the Union), some are merely bad (Without Love), some are terrible (Sea of Grass), and some are embarrassing when viewed in the light of today (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?). Pat and Mike, however, is one of their better efforts. Not exactly "A" material, but definitely worthwhile. Hepburn is a lady golfer and Tracy is the shady sports promoter who takes her under his wing. Pat and Mike is written by the team of Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, who gave us Adam's Rib, and while it's not as good as Adam's Rib, there's still plenty of room there for both to maneuver, and there's lots of good give-and-take dialog to sustain the audience. Also surprising for its time is the fact that while most films feature "a woman's place is in the home" mentality, Pat and Mike is downright feminist in tone. It first finds protagonist Hepburn railing at fiancee William Ching's chauvinist views and later chiding Tracy on the same issue, making her point most memorably later in the film when she shoves Tracy aside and beats up the two thugs threatening him. Pat and Mike is a great piece of screen candy, and to put in it terms that Tracy used in the movie, "there's not much meat, but what's there is 'cherce.'"
DAVID: C-. It should come as no surprise that I dislike this film. (Scroll down to We Disagree for our opinions of Woman of the Year.) There is little I like about Katharine Hepburn, the most overrated big-name Hollywood actress in cinematic history. Sadly, she repeatedly dragged down the extremely-talented Spencer Tracy in film after film with her overacting, scenery-chewing style that makes most of her movies awful. She wasn't funny and rarely showed dramatic skills. Her apologists may contend that I haven't seen enough of her movies, but that's incorrect. I've seen about 20 to 30 of her movies and like less than a handful. One amusing note is the only Hepburn-Tracy film I really like is Keeper of the Flame, which Ed wrote is "overrated." As for Pat and Mike, is there an actual plot to this film or just a bunch of scenes that are supposed to be funny and/or entertaining with Hep getting the better of Tracy? This movie seems like an excuse for Hepburn to show that she can play tennis and golf, and for Tracy to come across as gruff but lovable. If this movie added any more fluff, it would be the world's largest marshmallow. It's predictable, boring, slow-moving, not funny, the acting is weak (even the co-stars are subpar), the script is weaker, and there's not a single memorable scene in the entire film. Hepburn made far worse movies and thanks to teaming with her too many times, Tracy starred in some lousy films too. But I can't give film fans a single reason to waste 92 minutes of their time watching this lackluster effort.