Friday, November 15, 2013

Cinéma Inhabituel for November 15-30

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

The second half of November picks up right where the first half left off. Here, then, are highlights to look forward to in the second half.

November 15: Friday Night Spotlight continues with this month’s roster of screwball comedies. Slated for tonight: Theodora Goes Wild at 8:00, Twentieth Century at 9:45,Easy Living (11:00), It’s a Wonderful World (1:15 am), Merrily We Live (2:45 am), and If You Could Only Cook (4:30 am). My Best Bets are Twentieth Century and Easy Living.

November 16: The noted Italian horror director, Mario Bava, checks in with his 1970 demented shocker Hatchet For A Honeymoon. Bridal design shop owner Stephen Forsyth pursues his hobby of killing various young brides-to-be. It seems that he suffered a childhood trauma, and only by killing each bride is he able to get a clue as to his past. Because the film was never picked up be a major distributor, it quickly fell into the public domain and became one of Bava’s most watched films. Back in the ‘70s I used to watch it on Channel 9 in New York, which would show it every other month or so on their Fright Night show. I haven’t seen it since then and must admit I’m looking forward to it, if only for the nostalgia.

November 17: TCM is giving cinephiles a real treat. The installment for its Silent Sunday Nights is Part I of Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive. There are some real gems to be viewed, including an old Aesop’s Fables cartoon from Paul Terry, and Upstream, a 1927 hour-long comedy-drama from John Ford, long considered lost. I think that when some of the more famous lost films, such as London After Midnight and the Marx Brothers silent Humor Risk, are found, they’ll be found in some cellar or attic Down Under.

November 20: Star-of-the-Month Burt Lancaster is represented by four films this evening beginning at 8:00. The underrated Mister 880, the ponderous Judgment at NuremburgThe Birdman of Alcatraz, and my favorite, The Train, with Lancaster as a French Resistance fighter locked in a human chess game with German Colonel Paul Schofield. Schofield wants to hijack some of France’s most valuable paintings to Germany and it is up to Lancaster and his crew to stop him. Michel Simon, as crusty engineer Papa Boule, steals the film.

November 21: On the night before the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, TCM is showing a night of documentaries capped off with the 1963 war drama PT 109, about JFK’s service in the Pacific Theater in World War II. The night begins at 8:00 with the groundbreaking documentary from Albert Maysles, Primary. It is a close-up view of the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic primary pitting young John Kennedy against Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey. Filmed in the days before residential campaigns had become a series of infomercials, the film gives us a unique look at the candidates as they tour the state, press the flesh, and give innumerable speeches. Maysles, as we know, went on to make the acclaimed Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens.

At 9:15 comes cinema verite pioneer Robert Drew’s Adventures on the New Frontier. This is a fascinating and candid documentary covering newly elected President Kennedy’s daily routine in the Oval Office. It was the first time the American public was permitted such a close look at the day-to-day schedule of the president. Crisis, another documentary by Drew, follows at 10:30. Crisis (1963) tells the story of President Kennedy’s fight to integrate the University of Alabama despite the machinations of Governor George Wallace to keep the university segregated.

Two more documentaries follow: Faces of November (1964), a 30-minute film created for ABC News by Robert Drew covering the funeral of the assassinated leader. Finally, the documentary run ends with the David L. Wolper produced Four Days in November (1964). Directed by Mel Stuart, written by Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, and narrated by Richard Basehart, it’s a fascinating and poignant look at that tragic day in Dallas and its aftermath. I saw it about 10 years ago and remember being stunned that it still packed such a wallop to my senses. I plan to see it again.

Finally, the movie that put Cliff Robertson on the star map: PT 109. Chronicling an episode from JFK’s Naval days when his PT boat was sunk by a Japanese sub, Robertson gave a bravura performance as the young Kennedy, who rises to the occasion when the boat is hit and swims through open water to attract search and rescue craft. Although there were many biopics of presidents made before PT 109, it was the first biopic made while the president was still in office. Filming began shortly after Kennedy’s inauguration and the film premiered in June 1963.

November 22: Another Friday and more screwball comedies. The best of the bunch leads off the night – My Man Godfrey, a truly wonderful comedy starring Carole Lombard as dizzy heiress Irene Bullock, who runs into William Powell and, believing him to be a tramp, hires him as the new family butler. As Powell tries to teach the family that money isn’t everything, he finds almost everyone in the household is a sandwich short of a picnic. Mischa Auer is wonderful as a talentless and starving artist, sheltered by Irene’s mother Angelica (Alice Brady). Eugene Palette almost walks away with the film as the family patriarch, who is permanently befuddled by all that goes on about him.

Running a close second are two funny films from Howard Hawks: Ball of Fire (1941), with the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck as a stripper on the run from the police who hides out at a house populated by a group of dotty professors led by Gary Cooper. The professors are working on an encyclopedia and Cooper is writing the section on slang, for which Stanwyck proves a gold mine of research. The second, Bringing Up Baby, stars Cary Grant as a paleontologist and Katharine Hepburn as a wacky socialite who makes a mess of Grant’s life. Both are highly recommended and extremely funny, having lost none of their comic punch over the years.

November 24: The highlights are Part 2 of Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive. Among the gems are early newsreels and a film from 1924 titled The White Shadow. Although directorial credit is given to Graham Cutts, a newcomer named Alfred Hitchcock served as screenwriter and assistant director, art director, and editor. Only three reels of the film survive, but they provide us with a rare glimpse into the early Hitchcock.

Following are two early 1959 films from noted New Wave director Claude Chabrol: Les Cousins, a drama about youthful disillusion, with a city boy and his rural cousin competing for the affections of a young beauty; and Le Beau Serge, about an ailing city man who discovers a visit to his hometown in the country has a therapeutic effect on him. I confess that I’ve seen neither, so my recorder will definitely be set that night.

November 26: TCM premieres A Night at the Movies: Cops & Robbers and Crime Writers, a documentary about how crime movies have inspired some of the leading writers of crime fiction. TCM’s documentaries are always enjoyable, and this one promises to be no different. It’s followed by three of my favorite crime movies: Naked City (1948),White Heat (1949), and the original The Taking of Pelham One, Two Three (1974). As they are being shown during the Vampire Shift, it’s best to record them for later viewing. (Unless, of course, you’re a vampire. But make sure you’ve eaten first.)

November 27: The morning and afternoon is devoted to a mini-marathon of great crime movies, highlighted by the wonderful Rififi, the underrated Side Street, and the rarely shown Stakeout on Dope Street. Also on display in Gun Crazy and the film it influenced, Bonnie and Clyde. All in all, it’s a great day to skip work.

TCM’s tribute to Star-of-the-Month Burt Lancaster ends with Field of Dreams (1989), The Leopard (1963), The Professionals (1966), The Crimson Pirate (1952), and Brute Force (1947). While anything with Lancaster is worth the time, The Leopard and Brute Force are my picks, with the underrated The Crimson Pirate closely behind them.

November 29: The last Friday Night Spotlight devoted to screwball comedies, highlighted by three from the gifted Preston Sturges: The Lady Eve (1941), Christmas in July (1940), and The Palm Beach Story (1942).

November 30: The best is saved for last this day as TCM Underground gives us a double feature from demented psychotronic auteur Ted V. Mikels. The Doll Squad (1973), shown at 2:15 am, is about a squad of gorgeous government agents whose role is to catch saboteurs. Among the squad members are Francine York and cult figure Tura Satana. Mikels claimed it was the inspiration for the TV series Charlie’s Angels (Aaron Spelling was invited to the premiere) and Quentin Tarantino credited the film as the inspiration for the deadly Viper Assassination Squad in his 2003 flick, Kill Bill.

At 4:15 am is Mikels’ incredible Ten Violent Women (1982). Mikels took a women-in-prison script and bookended it with a jewelry heist and a prison escape. Mikels made the film for $145,000 and it looks as if he spent every penny on the production. Mikels even stars as Leo the Fence, dispatched by the women with a high heel shoe through his heart. If psychotronic movies are your thing, this is a must see.

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