Friday, March 7, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for March 8-14

March 8–March 14


STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (March 10, 4:00 pm): This is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films and that is saying a lot. Robert Walker as the crazed Bruno Anthony, who wants his father dead and believes he's struck a quid pro quo deal with tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger), is hypnotically amazing. Walker and Granger are solid actors, but Hitch brings out the best in them. Also, the plot of this film is so unique and interesting. The two are strangers who meet on a train, talk about their problems – Walker's father and Haines' wife. Both want their "problems" solved so Walker suggests they kill the other's problem and no one will be the wiser as they don't know each other. Haines thinks Walker is kidding until the latter kills the former's wife and wants Haines to kill Walker's father. The tension and drama are top-shelf, and this is one film you don't want to miss.

MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (March 14, 12:00 am): This film is as good as people who've seen it say it is; probably even better than that. It's heavy on dialogue with Andre Gregory and the great Wallace Shawn (this is the film where he first says "inconceivable"), who wrote the script, have a witty, fascinating and insightful conversation while eating dinner at a Manhattan restaurant. Directed by Louis Malle, the film is brilliant, which is quite the accomplishment for a movie with essentially no plot. There's absolutely nothing bad to say about this 1981 film.  


THE LONE RANGER (March 11, 6:30 am): Who’s up for a little light-hearted nostalgia about those days gone by? If you are, then this is the movie to watch. This effort, based on the long-running radio and television series, from Warner Brothers, remains true to its form. Look, it’s not StagecoachRed River, or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but it never pretended to be. And therein lies its beauty; it never descends into the realm of camp, either intentionally or unintentionally. The plot is simple: evil rancher seeks to mine silver in a mountain sacred to the Native People of the area, so he tries to incite a war with them. Divide and conquer. It’s up to The Lone Ranger and Tonto to ride to the rescue and stop things before they get out of hand. As for the men playing The Ranger and Tonto, it’s hard to imagine anyone else stepping into their shoes. Granted, Clayton Moore was as wooden as they come, but he never came off as anything but sincere. Jay Silverheels was given some of the most ridiculous dialogue this side of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan, but he always pulled it off magnificently, no mean feat considering the material he was given to work with in the movie. It would have been all too easy for both to overplay it and camp it up, but to their credit, they never did. Also notice the respect with which the Indians were treated. Trouble always came from the Whites. Look for Michael Ansara as Angry Horse (he lives up to the name), and Frank DeKova as Red Hawk. DeKova later went on to play Chief Wild Eagle in television’s F Troop. Looking back at DeKova’s career, he played fake Indians almost as much as Chief Jay Strongbow. Anyway, this is no film “masterpiece,” but it is 86 minutes worth of great entertainment, especially for those who saw the television series.

A CHRISTMAS STORY (March 14, 10:00 pm): Yeah, Yeah, I know. It’s not Christmas and this movie gets run to death every Christmas anyway on TBS. So what’s the big deal? Simply this: It’s a great movie from one of America’s best – and most underappreciated – humorists, Jean Shepherd. When this film originally hit the theaters, it bombed, despite good reviews. It was only when it came out on video that it found an audience. It’s a distillation of collected stories Shep published in Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, and In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. For years Shepherd had been spinning these calmly outrageous tales of Ralph Parker, his friends and his family on WOR-AM out of New York. But despite this, and a large cult following, Shep never received his due from the nabobs who compiled humor anthologies. For them, anyone that didn’t appear in The New Yorker was not funny. So when this film debuted, Shep was pretty much an unknown quantity, especially for those who never caught any of his teleplays on PBS (The Phantom of the Open Hearth), which captured the true humor of the proletariat, and the fact that working people are as often involved in funny situations as are those who reside on Park Avenue.  For me, this is a film worth watching any time, not just during the holidays, for the message is universal.


ED: A. I will admit I’m not the biggest fan of Neil Simon, but there are certain works of his that I adore, and this is one of them. Based on the vaudeville team of Smith and Dale, the classic comedy team of Lewis and Clark is being reunited for a TV special. But there’s a fly in the ointment: they can’t stand one another. Simon’s knowledge of the history of Smith and Dale comes into good stead here, making this film not only funny, but also providing us with a glimpse of the real duo and what they went through. Given two pros such as Walter Matthau and George Burns (standing in for the fatally ill Jack Benny) it is a sheer joy to watch as they go through their paces. Matthau is at the top of his game as the antisocial Willy Clark with Burns giving a brilliantly funny performance as Al Lewis. Richard Benjamin provides solid support as Matthau’s nephew and the one who suggested they reunite for the television special. The only problem with the film is the indulgent direction of Herbert Ross, a noted hack. But just forget him and sit back and watch Matthau and Burns at work.

DAVID: C+. Like Ed, I'm not a big fan of Neil Simon though I adore The Odd Couple and The Goodbye Girl. As for The Sunshine Boys, I'm lukewarm to this one-joke film. I've never liked George Burns. I don't think he was funny, charming, a good actor or an entertaining comedian, but he's OK in this film. However, I wonder if those who awarded him with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor saw the same film I did. Walter Matthau, who was a splendid comedian with impeccable timing, gives a solid performance in this 1975 film, but even he can't save it from mediocrity. The characters are largely annoying, Herbert Ross' directing is awful, and the plot is cliche and rambling with Burns and Matthau taking cranky old men to heights seldom seen.

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

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