Wednesday, January 22, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for January 23-31

January 23–January 31


BONNIE AND CLYDE (January 25, 6:00 pm): A groundbreaking film in terms of style, content and graphic violence from 1967, which I consider to be among the two or three finest year in cinematic history. The leads – Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway – are outstanding in their roles as the famed outlaw duo oozing passion, violence, charisma and charm at every turn. The supporting cast – notably Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons with Gene Wilder in a small but memorable role – are equally strong. The movie's violence goes from almost comic to intensely graphic. The final scene in which the two are shot dozens of times is outstanding, particularly the quick looks of horror Beatty and Dunaway give each other when they realize they're about to die a very brutal death. It conveys more emotion and intensity than almost anything you'll seen in film. A tidbit on this film, Francois Truffaut was asked to direct it, but opted instead to make Fahrenheit 451, the legendary French director's only English-speaking movie.

ALIEN (January 25, 10:15 pm): This 1979 film still scares the hell out of me. The nearly two-hour film has a slow build with little happening in the first 45 or so minutes developing the plot and the suspense that eventually leads to a lot of action. Sigourney Weaver is Lt. Ripley, a member of a space crew in a sleep state on its way back to Earth when a distress call is received from another planet. Of course it's alien life forms and one gets on the ship causing havoc, death and general mayhem. Super gory in some cases such as when the alien life form explodes out of the body of one of the ship members. But it's also a thinking-person's film as the alien and Weaver match wits and wills in a final climatic scene. It's largely based on It! The Terror From Beyond Space, a very good 1958 B movie, and spawned numerous inferior sequels. But the original is a sci-fi classic.


THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (January 24, 1:45 am): In this reviewer’s opinion, this is not only the best film to come from Ealing Studios, but possibly the sharpest satire ever filmed, a wonderful skewing of the monomaniac with an idea versus those all too ready to cash in on it – until they see just what the real consequences are. Alec Guinness is Sidney Stratton, a monomaniacal scientist who will take the lowliest job offered – provided it’s at a textile plant, where he can get into the laboratory. Why? So he can perfect his idea: a suit that never wears out and never needs cleaning. He actually pulls it off, initially to the excitement of everyone – until they realize this invention would end up putting them all out of business. With sterling support by the deliciously feline, beautiful Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough, and Ernest Thesiger as the “Mister Big” of the textile industry. They’ve never been made any better.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (January 28, 5:30 pm): They didn’t call it “the Lubitsch Touch” for nothing, and it’s in full regalia in this film, an extremely witty send up of Hitler and his Nazi thugs. Black comedy has never been better than here in the hands of a true master like Lubitsch. Jack Benny has a role of a lifetime as the egocentric Polish actor Joseph Tura, who in reality is one of the biggest hams ever to appear on stage. Carole Lombard, tragically in her last film, is Tura’s co-star and suffering wife. When the Germans invade Poland, Tura’s theater is closed and his troupe put out of business – until they become involved in espionage trying to save the list of the Polish underground fighters from being handed over to the Gestapo by a traitor, and they find their acting skills put to a real test. Lubitsch took quite a beating from critics over this film, and it was not a success at the box office. Many felt that treating the Nazis as comical characters was in poor taste, but Lubitsch defended his position by saying, "What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology. I have also satirized the attitude of actors who always remain actors regardless how dangerous the situation might be, which I believe is a true observation.” Today the film is viewed as a classic and the 1983 Mel Brooks remake is faithful to the original both in letter and spirit. Brooks himself echoed Lubitsch by saying that if one were to argue with a dictator, he would lose because the dictator has the fanaticism of his ideas, but if one were to take both the dictator and his ideas and make fun of them, it’s far more effective in discrediting both. Look for the great opening gag with Tom Dugan parading around as Der Fuehrer. This is a film not to be missed.

WE DISAGREE ON ... FLAMINGO ROAD (January 23, 12:15 am)

ED: B+. By the late ‘40s Joan Crawford’s career went into decline, but she could still rally and give the occasional excellent performance from time to time. As time passed these turned from occasional to rare, and finally to nonexistent, to the point where she was simply relying on her name power to bring viewers to the box office. However, in 1949, Joan still had it and it shows in this excellent film directed by Michael Curtiz, who handled her well and kept her from going off the acting rails. This came from a script that was floating around the studio for a couple of years and was thought by Jack Warner to be the perfect vehicle to get Joan to act up and give him cause to cancel her contract. (Although Mildred Pierce was a smash hit, Joan’s followups, Humoresque and Possessed, though filled with good performances, failed at the box office.) But although she came through with a well-mannered performance, it was Curtiz, who chose the supporting cast and coming through with some great, moody atmosphere using lots of dark shadows, that made the film into a box office hit. Zachary Scott is excellent as Joan’s lover, a deputy sheriff in a corrupt county where thoroughly corrupt sheriff Sydney Greenstreet runs the show in arguably his best performance since The Maltese Falcon. In an era where a sort of Southern Gothic was beginning to make an influence in the movies, this film exudes a sweaty and delirious aura that makes it compelling, with Joanie firmly in the center as a stranded carnival dancer who gets – and gives – much more than she bargained for. Even those who don’t care for Crawford will find much to enjoy here.

DAVID: C-.  I'm not suggesting viewers avoid this 1949 film, but take it for what it is: an outrageously ridiculous mess. Joan Crawford, 44 years old at the time, plays a sexy carnival cooch dancer (a role that is suited for a woman in her early 20s) left behind in a small hick town. Between her and Sydney Greenstreet, the amount of scenery that is chewed – particularly, when they are together, which is often – is amazing. The two of them try to make the most of a film with a weak, predictable script, but come up short in being entertaining. Crawford's character falls for a guy but dumps him for the richest guy in town, who lives on Flamingo Road. She goes toe-to-toe with Greenstreet, who plays a corrupt Southern sheriff (is there such a thing in cinema as an honest Southern sheriff?) and political kingmaker. Joan loses it when the sheriff tries to make her original boyfriend, an alcoholic deputy sheriff, into a gubernatorial candidate. The poor sap (played by Zachary Scott) can't handle the pressure and corruption anymore, and commits suicide. Joan tries to take down Greenstreet, and during a struggle, accidentally shoots and kills him. The movie ends with Joan in the slammer and her husband promising to stand by his woman. The film is filled with cliched lines and characters. While it's certainly not Mildred Pierce, made only four years prior, it's also nowhere nearly as bad as Joan's films of the 1960s. I don't know if that's a fair comparison as few movies are as bad as her 1960s films.

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

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