Friday, June 21, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for June 23-30

June 23-June 30

THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUM (June 23, 2:00 am): This is a early film (1939) of director Kenji Mizoguchi, best known for two classics, Ugestu in 1953 and Sansho the Bailiff a year later. This film tells the story of Otoku, a common woman, who falls in love with Kikunosuke, the adoptive son of a legendary Kabuki actor during the late 19th century. Kikunosuke, played by Shotaro Hanayagi in his film debut, isn't a good Kabuki actor and doesn't work hard at his craft, but gets major parts because of his adoptive father. Otoku, a wet nurse for the family (played wonderfully by Kakuko Mori), believes the actor has great potential, but won't realize it until he works hard to do so. The two fall in love, which is a big no-no and is forbidden by Kikunosuke's adoptive father. The story is compelling and fascinating, and the acting is magnificent. The only flaw in the film is there are two lengthy Kabuki scenes that slow it down. The scenes are unnecessary and eat up about 20 or so minutes in an otherwise fine 142-minute film. Those scenes aren't necessary because the story and actors do such an excellent job convincing us that Kikunosuke wasn't good and becomes great without us needing to see him perform.

THE LADY IN THE LAKE (June 28, 3:00 am): You can't go wrong with any of the Philip Marlowe detective films TCM is showing on the 28th. It starts with Dick Powell in 1944's Murder, My Sweet at 11:00 pm, followed by Humphrey Bogart in 1946's The Big Sleep at 1:00 am, and ends with Robert Montgomery in 1947's The Lady in the Lake. Montgomery, who also directed the film, is charming as Marlowe, the hard-boiled, street-smart private detective. This movie is fascinating for its gimmick of having nearly all of it filmed as if the viewer is Marlowe. The story is sometimes hard to follow, like many detective film noirs of the time with several plot twists, but it's definitely worth watching and Montgomery brings a sense of humor to the Marlowe character that isn't as developed in the other two films.


DETECTIVE STORY (June 24, 8:00 pm): The problem with “topical” films is that they lose their punch with the passage of time, and this film is no different. It’s based on Sidney Kingsley’s play about life at a NYPD precinct house and reflects what was important during that time. Still, I recommend this highly for two main reasons: (1) although the film is dated by time, the power of Kirk Douglas’s performance remains fresh and powerful. Released in October 1951, and coming off Douglas’s performance in Ace in the Hole (released in June 1951), we can safely surmise that Douglas had one hell of a year in 1951. (2) Having a good director at the helm can help a film overcome the ravages of time and Detective Story has such a director in William Wyler. His handling of his actors and the mise en scene he creates lifts this up from merely a filmed play to a superb piece of moving cinema. Douglas is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast, particularly Eleanor Parker as his neglected but devoted wife, William Bendix as a sympathetic colleague, and Lee Grant (her first – and almost last – film thanks to the Blacklist) reprising her stage role of a shoplifter and turning a small part into a Supporting Actress nomination.

ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT (June 26, 5:00 am): Humphrey Bogart had many good qualities as an actor, but the ability to take a bad film and elevate it with his performance was not one of them. However, give him a good film and he often elevated it with the quality of his performance. This is a perfect case in point – a film with a lead that, in the wrong hands, could potentially sink it. Bogart, however, takes to it like a fish to water and comes off totally believable as a gangster who finds himself up against Nazi saboteurs led by Naughty Nazi Conrad Veidt. The performances supplied by such as Judith Anderson as Veidt’s assistant, Peter Lorre (in a wonderful turn as a sadistic henchman), William Demerest as Bogie’s sidekick, Jane Darwell as Bogie’s mom, and Kaaren Verne as a singer in peril give the film a luster that raises it above others released that year. The fact that this was made as Bogie began to catch fire with movie-going public as an actor to watch certainly helped, but we must also give kudos to director Vincent Sherman (his first film) and producer Hal Wallis, who kept a close watch on the movie as it was shot. It’s a film that works on every level.


ED: A. This is Billy Wilder’s tribute to Ernst Lubitsch, and a better tribute there isn’t. Forget the fact that Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn make for a most unlikely couple and just concentrate on the doings in this wonderful romantic comedy. Maurice Chevalier shines as Audrey’s private-eye father. Also watch John McGiver in a great turn as Monsieur X. And remember above all that this is a romantic comedy, so check your sense of reality at the door and just surrender yourself to the art of Billy Wilder.

DAVID: C-. While Billy Wilder's filmography is among the most impressive in the history of cinema, Love in the Afternoon is among his worst. The casting of Gary Cooper is curious at best and awful at worst. A longtime running joke between Ed and I is Cooper acts as well as a block of wood in some of films, mostly during his final years in Hollywood, earning the nickname Gary Cooperwood. Ed asks us to forget the fact that Cooper and Audrey Hepburn make for a most unlikely couple. But with Cooper as the star of this film and only a handful of supporting cast members, that's an impossible request to honor. There is zero chemistry between the two leads primarily because of Cooper. Not only is his acting bad, but he looks like he's preparing for the early-bird special more than convincing viewers he is a rich jet-setting playboy. Part of that is Cooper's health was declining while making this 1957 movie. He died three years later. So can this film be saved by a great plot and the legendary Wilder's directing ability? Nope. The story is flat, dull, lifeless and drags on until its predictable end. This is one of those films I repeatedly checked to see how much was left until it was over. It's 130 minutes in length yet it seems to be considerably longer.

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

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