Sunday, June 29, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for July 1-7

July 1–July 7


VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (July 3, 12:45 pm): An exceptionally well-done and thoughtful sci-fi film. One day all the people and animals in a quaint English town become unconscious, wake up and two months later, all the women capable of having children are pregnant. In all, 12 very white-looking kids are born. The children are geniuses, are able to read minds and control others to do whatever they want, including murder and suicide. As time passes, a professor from the village (George Sanders) decides he's going to teach the mutant kids, who want to take over the world, to use their powers for good. While a noble idea, it's also poorly thought out as these children are serious about world dominance. Realizing he's not going to win, the professor plants a bomb to destroy the kids, and thinks of a brick wall in order for the children to not read his mind. Films like this can easily become cliche and embarrassingly bad, but this one is special. Sanders is fantastic and the kids are great. It's a very entertaining horror film.

THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE (July 4, 6:30 pm): Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas co-starred in a number of excellent films, but besides Seven Days in May, this is their best together. The Devil's Disciple is a delightfully funny story of a straight-laced preacher (Lancaster) and a colonial rebel (Douglas) during the Revolutionary War. Add Sir Laurence Olivier as British General John Burgoyne and a screenplay based on the George Bernard Shaw play and you've got an outstanding film that's a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a film fan. The chance to see Lancaster, Douglas and Olivier in a film is reason enough to see this. On top of that, it's funny, lively, filled with action and incredibly entertaining.


THIS LAND IS MINE (July 2, 7:15 am): Jean Renoir’s classic about Occupied France still packs something of a punch years later because of the performance of its star, Charles Laughton. He is terrific as the mild-mannered schoolteacher living in a constant struggle between his fears and his responsibilities. Though we’re told at the beginning that the film is set “Somewhere in Occupied Europe,” we know Renoir is talking about his homeland. With an excellent supporting cast including Maureen O’Hara as his colleague and unrequited love, George Sanders as O’Hara’s turncoat betrothed, Una O’Connor, and Walter Slezak in fine form as the Nazi heel, this film succeeds in showing us that life in a occupied country is not as easy as first imagined. Also give Renoir kudos for staying out of writer Dudley Nicholas’ way, not an easy task considering the subject matter.

ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN (July 5, 12:00 pm): This is it – the quintessential drive-in movie made by three guys who made their fortune in the drive-in business, the Woolner Brothers. Made for $89,000, it grossed around $480,000 in its initial theatrical run. Yes, but isn’t this a bad movie? You bet it is, and that’s the fun of it. Leonard Maltin describes it perfectly when he calls it “Hilariously awful sci-fi with some of the funniest special effects of all time.” The purpose of a movie is to entertain, and with this one, we know just what we’re getting, unlike many of the big-budget borefests that scarred the cinema landscape of the ‘60s. Watch for the scene when the almost transparent giant alien (courtesy of lousy double exposure) lifts the sheriff’s car. When he throws it to the ground, it is clearly a different make and style. It’s just another reason why I love movies.


ED: C+. It’s amazing to me the number of people I know that absolutely hate this film as Liz and Dick tire of making glossy soap operas and go the slob actor route instead. The trouble with the film, after one gets over the shock of seeing Liz and Dick as two booze-soaked domestic fighters, is that it gets so repetitious that it becomes tiring to watch. Lines are repeated over and over again as Liz and Dick try to scandalize the young couple they invited over for drinks (and drinks and drinks and drinks) as it takes us what seems like an eternity to get to the punchline: that Liz and Dick never had a son after all. Liz’s opening line, “What a dump!” is lifted from the Bette Davis camp stinker, Beyond the Forest, and makes us wonder how much better this would be if it were Bette playing Martha. (Jack Warner, in negotiations with the play’s author, Edward Albee, told Albee that Davis and James Mason would star.) Albee’s wonderful satire of academic married life is turned into a turgid Freudian piece of slop, notable only for the fact that Liz looks slovenly and says such things as “son of a bitch,” phrases intended to shock us and pass the word of mouth around to generate interest in the film when it was originally released. The only reason I graded it as high as I did was because of the direction of Mike Nichols, who does a decent job. Yes, some cheese gets riper as it ages; other cheeses simply grow mold. This film is of the latter.

DAVID: D+. This is likely the most overrated film in cinematic history. Nominated for Oscars in all 13 categories in which it was eligible, it won five, including Elizabeth Taylor's second Best Actress award (as equally undeserving as her first win for Butterfield 8). Unlike Ed, I'm amazed at the number of people who love this film. Yes, people often fall all over themselves praising films in reviews on, but it's taken to a ridiculous level with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? An interesting twist to this film is it's the first time in the history of the "We Disagree" feature in which we both dislike the film and try to outdo each other articulating our contempt for it. It's an utter piece of garbage. Taylor fattened herself to play Martha (and never lost the weight) with Richard Burton, her real-life husband at the time of this 1966 movie, doing what he normally did at the time – drink a lot. He plays Taylor's on-screen spouse, George, a history professor at a small New England college, who aspired to be much more. The film consists of the two of them bitterly arguing about everything, which gets tiring very quickly. The two of them argue in particular about their son. As Ed wrote, it takes an eternity for them to admit they don't have a son. That seems rather ridiculous as they live in a small town, Liz is the daughter of the college's president and it would be hard to conceal such an elaborate lie. It's difficult to focus on the film, which is 132 minutes in length, as it's not compelling. It comes across as it is: a play converted into a movie without much thought about how to properly adapt it to the big screen. The two of them verbally spar in front of a young couple, played by George Segal and Sandy Dennis. Dennis won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance. Burton and Segal were nominated for Oscars, but didn't win. The young couple unsuccessfully try to leave as Dick and Liz yell at each other. The arguing and bickering is somewhat impressive as it had to be a challenge to their mouths as the two chew the scenery at an unprecedented level. Instead of just walking away from a nightmare of an evening, the young couple spends hours with Segal getting into bed with Taylor at one point. Ed believes Mike Nichols did a "decent job" directing the film. I contend he failed to keep control over Burton and Taylor, and did a poor job in his film directorial debut. Yes, the two are supposed to be verbally cruel to each other, but the film quickly gets to the point where the arguing goes over the top that it loses its effectiveness, and as Ed wrote, it just repeats itself. The film is praised for its groundbreaking profane dialogue and sexual innuendo, but the movie doesn't hold up today and comes across as more annoying than shocking.

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

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Murder of Doctor Harrigan

The B-Hive

By Ed Garea

The Murder of Doctor Harrigan (WB, 1936) – Director: Frank McDonald. Writers: Peter Milne & Sy Bartlett (s/p), Mignon G. Eberhart (novel), Charles Belden (dialogue). Cast: Ricardo Cortez, Kay Linaker, John Eldredge, Mary Astor, Joseph Crehan, Frank Reicher, Anita Kerry, Robert Strange, Phillip Reed, Mary Treen, Joan Blair, Johnny Arthur, & Don Barclay. B&W, 67 minutes.

The Murder of Doctor Harrigan was the second of seven films featuring the character of Nurse Sarah Keate, a sleuth conceived by novelist Mignon G. Eberhart, a best-selling American writer who specialized in romance-mysteries in a career that lasted from 1929 to 1988. Keate was the subject of Eberhart’s first novels and The Murder of Doctor Harrigan is based on her 1931 novel, From This Dark Stairway.

Warner Brothers, like other Hollywood studios, always on the lookout for a successful B-series, took a flyer on the novels, and in 1935 released the first of the series, While the Patient Slept, starring Aline MacMahon as Keate and Guy Kibbee as her detective-boyfriend, Lance O’Leary. While the first adaptation did decent business and word-of-mouth with the public, this sequel and the subsequent films never really caught on, a rather unusual occurrence in a decade that saw several popular series featuring such female sleuths as Nancy Drew, Hildegarde Withers, and Torchy Blaine.

A large part of the problem was that Warners never kept the same actress in the role. Worse, the character of Keate herself had her name shifted from film to film. In The Murder of Doctor Harrigan, her name is “Sally Keating,” the name Marguerite Churchill starred as in Murder by an Aristocrat (1936). In 1937, the character somehow wound up at 20th Century Fox, where Jane Darwell played her as “Sarah Keats” in The Great Hospital Mystery.  Then it was back to Warners for two more films in 1938, this time with young ingénue Ann Sheridan as “Sara Keate” in The Patient in Room 18, and later that year as “Sarah Keate” in Mystery House

Also that year, Warners in England filmed a remake of The Murder of Doctor Harrigan as The Dark Stairway (a famous lost film), but the character is not named Sarah Keate or Keats, or even Keating.

For The Murder of Doctor Harrigan the studio originally cast Mary Astor as Sally Keating, but Astor refused the role. So, with its usual sensitivity, Warners signed Broadway actress Kay Linaker to make her film debut as Keating and forced Astor to take a supporting role as another nurse in the hospital. With Linaker making her debut, top billing went to Ricardo Cortez, playing a doctor with whom Nurse Sally is romantically involved.

The action in the film takes place in a hospital. Our first scene is that of an ambulance speeding through the city, seemingly on its pay to pick up a patient. But the bus stops at a tenement, where Nurse Sally disembarks and goes to the front door. A woman answers, hands Sally a locket, and Sally returns to the bus for the ride back to the hospital. Accompanying Sally on her joy ride is Dr. George Lambert (Cortez), who is in love with her and wants to marry her. But that part of the plot will unfold later. The locket belongs to one of the patients, and this is an establishing scene to give us a clue as to Sally’s character, as she’ll go out of her way to deliver that extra care to her patient.

In this case, the locket belongs to Peter Melady (Strange), founder of the hospital, and it contains something that will set the complicated plot into motion: the formula for a new anesthetic developed by Melady that can be used on people that cannot tolerate ether. But we know it’s never just as simple as that, for Melady has chosen Dr. Harrigan for his heart operation. There is bad blood aplenty between the two, as Melady has shut Harrigan out of any credit for his new wonder drug, although Harrigan worked with Melady in developing it.

As the plot develops, we’re treated to a tour of the hospital and its main characters. There is Nurse Margaret Brody (Treen), whose forte here is comic relief. Nurse Lillian Cooper (Astor) also works the floor. We learn shortly thereafter that she is embroiled in some sort of situation with Harrigan. Whatever it is, he wants her gone from the hospital the next day.

Also at the hospital is Harrigan’s wife, Ina (Blair), who is nursing a broken arm she received in a traffic accident while two-timing the doc. When the paramour, Kenneth Martin, arrives to visit, Harrigan confronts him and tells him to stay away in the future unless he wants trouble. Another patient residing there is Jackson (Barclay), a hopeless dipsomaniac. His next-door neighbor, Mr. Wentworth (Arthur), a nervous wreck staying there for a rest cure. Suffice to say, he gets no rest. And, just to make it a family affair, Melady’s daughter, Agnes (Kerry), a good friend of Sally, is also healing there from a case of sunburn.

When Melady’s regular physician, Dr. Coate (Reicher) objects to another doctor operating on his patient, Harrigan moves the operating time up from the next morning to that night, and informs Sally that she’ll be the nurse assisting. But when Sally arrives in the operating room, neither Melady nor Harrigan is there. She calls for a hospital-wide search, and Harrigan’s dead body is found in the elevator. But there is no trace of Melady anywhere to be found. The police are called, and several things throw suspicion on Sally. But George, who is in love with her, takes action to clear her name. Searching the hospital, they find the body of a black man in the basement. He had died earlier that evening and was supposed to have been taken to the morgue. Sneaking a ride to the morgue, Sally and George find the body of Melady. An autopsy reveals the cause of his death was due to fright.

Sally is arrested upon her return to the hospital, while George tells the police that he believes Agnes, afraid of what Harrigan might do to her father, dropped some of the anesthetic into Harrigan’s drinking water, which rendered him unconscious. Also, according to George, Melady died of fright when confronted by the killer, who was one of the inventors of the drug. Meanwhile, Sally has secured the formula for the drug. There is a tense scene with Coate, who is also head of hospital administration. He wants Sally to hand over the formula to him, but she refuses. The tension in the scene comes from her suspicion that Coate may be the murderer. Shortly afterward, someone attacks Sally in the stairwell, obviously after the formula.

When the attacker is caught, he turns out to be Dr. Simon, another of the interns. It turns out that Simon was another person Melady tried to screw out of any recognition for developing the drug. Simon had allowed Melady to use him as a guinea pig during the trials. He also stabbed Harrigan. When the police ask him if he wiped his prints from the knife, Nurse Cooper comes forward to confess that it was she who performed the deed. She did it because she knew Simon was the murderer. Besides she hated Harrigan with a passion. He was her former husband, and divorced her to marry his current wife, who is very wealthy, which is why her presence at the hospital upset Harrigan so much. Coate, who has fired Sally during the course of the investigation for “improper procedures,” apologizes to Sally and offers to place her back on staff. But Sally tells him she’s leaving anyway – she’s going to marry George.

For a movie this short in length to have such a complicated plot tells us that something has to be jettisoned. In this case it’s the dialogue and the logic of plotting, for things have to move quickly. Thus, most of the action is described rather than seen, and, at the end, George lays out the solution of the murder to the police rather than letting us see it unfold.

The rather unfortunate decisions that help sink the film are the sacrifices of plot to bits of comic relief. I already mentioned that the alcoholic Jackson and the nervous Wentworth. There’s a scene early on where Jackson gets an alcohol rubdown from Nurse Brody. When she accidentally leaves the alcohol bottle in his room, Jackson proceeds to drink it down, necessitating the need to have his stomach pumped. But the nurses confuse Wentworth’s room for Jackson’s and proceed to pump the wrong man’s stomach. The time wasted in this unfunny scene would have been better served concentrating on the mystery.

The performances, for the most part, are good. Although he has a tendency to be wooden at times, Cortez is fine as Dr. George, although he’s much better at playing sleazebags than heroes. Linaker is competent in her film debut, though the screenplay gives her little to do. Whereas in the earlier film, and subsequent entries in the series, Nurse Sally is a sleuth. Here she’s strictly second banana to Cortez, who character becomes the sleuth. Astor is decent in her role, although there are times when she looks as if she’d rather be anywhere else. The rest of the cast is merely adequate, save for Joseph Crehen, who acquits himself well as Lt. Lamb, the lead detective in the case.

This was the second film for director Frank McDonald, who would go on to a lengthy career directing in the world of B-movies and television. The Murder of Doctor Harrigan is another entry in the short-lived “Clue Club” series – a promotional partnership between Warner Brothers and Black Mask magazine. Patrons were encouraged to attend Clue Club presentation by the promise of prizes that could be won by filling out special cards at the theater.

As for lead actress Linaker, movie stardom was not in the cards. She would go on to appear in 56 features – most of them on the “B” side of the marquee – before retiring in 1945. She enjoyed a second career as a writer, penning scripts for radio and television. She did write one screenplay. It was for a 1958 science-fiction film called The Blob, for which she received $150. The film went on to make millions. She tossed the writing career for one as a college professor in New England, teaching courses on acting, writing, and public speaking, retiring in 2005 at the age of 92. She passed away in 2008.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jersey Boys

Dinner and a Movie

Jersey Dines in D.C.

By Steve Herte

Visiting our nation's capital is always an adventure. No matter how many times you go, there's always something new to see.

This year I had an ambitious schedule of sights and I actually saw most of them. The lesser known Hirshhorn, Freer and Corcoran Galleries proved they had wonders to reveal that the big museums didn't. The tiny German American Heritage Museum was as charming as the crowded Holocaust Museum was horrific. The Old Stone House in Georgetown may be difficult to get to but it's worth it. It's the oldest building in Washington, D.C., and Thomas Payne and George Washington both used it at one time or another. The National Archives is worth the wait on the security line to see the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and surprisingly, a copy of the Magna Carta.

On a beautiful summer day, the United States Botanic Garden is a must. I usually wait for a cloudy day with rain threatening to go to the National Zoo because the animals are more active then. We didn't have rain until Saturday but it cooled off nicely on Friday for my trek there. And Saint Matthews Cathedral had me awestruck with its glittering mosaics and memorial to John F. Kennedy on the floor of the center aisle (his funeral was held there). I loved my hotel, the Omni Shoreham, the first time I stayed there and I loved even more this time when I found out it was haunted. However, the only thing that seemed haunted was my television. When I tried to watch a movie on it the image kept freezing, going black to "no signal," and becoming totally pixilated. I gave up on it and eventually found myself at Gallery Place where the Regal Cinemas are located and was able to see an uninterrupted movie. Enjoy!

Jersey Boys (WB, 2014) - Director: Clint Eastwood. Writers: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (s/p, musical book). Cast: Vincent Piazza, John Lloyd Young, Steve Schirripa, Christopher Walken, Katherine Narducci, Lou Volpe, Johnny Cannizzaro, Erich Bergen, & Michael Lomenda. Color, 134 minutes.

It begins back in 1951. Everyone knows Francesco Stephen Castelluccio (Young) has a great voice, even the Don, Gyp DeCarlo (cadaverously played by Walken), says it’s a “gift from God.” Tommy DeVito (Piazza) introduces the movie as the “true story” behind the formation and success of the Four Seasons. Based on the Broadway show of the same name, the film begins with the charmed teenage life of the kid who would become Frankie Valli (he’s 16) even though his buddies involve him in several criminal activities. “Charmed” is the word because he’s the only member of the original group “The Four Lovers” who manages to stay out of the New Jersey jail system (he later gets his turn in Cleveland with the group).

The story takes us through the labor pains that were necessary for the group to be born: Tommy’s controlling attitude and eventual half-million dollar debt to loan sharks, the turbulent introduction of Bob Gaudio (Bergen) to the group as songwriter, Frankie’s marriage and the family of three daughters, the need to change the group’s name (a cute little Deus Ex Machina from a diner fluorescent light sign) and the ultimate creation of the song “Sherry.” But along the remarkably rough road are the mob connections, unrest within the group, wild parties and extra-marital affairs. Even the songs sung in the early part of the movie divert the audience’s attention away from the hits they will eventually sing.

Tommy stated that this story is “the truth” (and we all know that sometimes the truth hurts) and Jersey Boys doesn’t skimp on shouting, vulgarity, and physicality. Parents, be aware of this before taking children to see it. Frankie’s marriage fails because of his time spent away, his youngest daughter dies (an overdose of pills is suggested) just after she enters the entertainment business guided by her dad, his girlfriend leaves him and the group breaks up. Tommy is exiled to Las Vegas by the mob, and Nick Massi (Lomenda) quits the group, leaving Bob and Frankie to their own future.

Not all is grim in the movie, of course. The songs and partial performances (several songs are sung as excerpts, which can be a bit disappointing) are often glorious. The intermittent but annoying recurrence of one or another of the group breaking character to talk to the audience can be unnerving when you want to hear the music. But all the characters do a wonderful performance and are believable. That is until the final scene at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction when the make-up department failed by obviously dusting their hair with chalk to gray them up a bit (cheesy).

Having been in 14 quartets (and being the top tenor in all of them) I know the joyous as well as sad moments and can identify with the characters portrayed in the film. There are indeed times when you love them more than your family and there are those other times when you wish serious harm on them. This is the tale Jersey Boys tells and Eastwood’s direction makes it real. With all due respect I can see why my Helene walked out on the Broadway show. This is not how she wanted to remember the Four Seasons because she was in a quartet with me and remembers our highs and lows. But once that moment happens (as Frankie says toward the end) “there is only the music” you cherish it forever. I didn’t think I would enjoy this movie as much as I did (in spite of the language) but good story telling, credible characters, and Eastwood’s direction made it better than expected.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Dining in D.C.

Originally I had planned to conduct my own restaurant version of a Miss America pageant as my dining article this week but the eight new restaurants I’ve had the pleasure to visit seem to be in an eight-way tie for first. They were all wonderful from first to last. What I’ll do instead is give highlights of each and the dishes that stood out in my memory as superb.

District Kitchen
2606 Connecticut Avenue NW

This cozy and friendly place a block away from my hotel welcomed me to D.C. and set the high level of gustatory enjoyment. Their chef’s innovative recipes from the chilled corn soup with English peas, to the Octopus Ceviche and the homemade Cavatelli with asparagus and peas were all delightful. But when I had the goat cheese cake on a graham cracker crust overlaid with dried cherries in a sweet cherry sauce I was totally blown away.

Taberna del Alabardero
1776 I Street NW

Celebrating 25 years as a restaurant in D.C., this traditionally decorated Spanish restaurant has good reason to wave their flag. I would challenge anyone to finish every dish on their “tasting menu” because you choose the dishes, not them. And if one of those dishes is the Crispy Sweetbreads followed by Arroz Negro (rice blackened with squid ink) Paella with squid and baby octopus (yes, I had octopus two nights in a row) it will be a challenge indeed. 

Le Mirch
1736 Connecticut Avenue NW

I always include an Indian restaurant in my itinerary as it is my favorite cuisine, and although this one has a French-sounding name, make no doubt about it, it’s Indian. However, they also have innovative dishes such as the Aubergine Tower appetizer, a remarkable construction using eggplant, mild spices chickpeas and crackers. Though difficult to eat without destroying it, I loved it.

Plume at The Jefferson Hotel
1200 16th Street NW

Jackets are preferred on gentlemen dining in this sumptuous formal restaurant where the waiters do not ask if you will have a cocktail to start with, they ask you if you wish for some Champagne. Yet they never get snooty and will gladly answer any questions. Here I would find it difficult to choose whether I enjoyed the Blue Crab Risotto more or the local rabbit tasting with its “box” made of potato and filled with asparagus, string beans and carrots, like an edible crate.

601 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (Entrance is actually on Indiana Avenue)

The décor of this Italian restaurant is quite striking, between swags seemingly made of alabaster from Majorca suspended by ropes in hangman’s knots to the highly polished wood tabletops. The bewitching taste of their homemade papardelle with veal ragout topped with a scroll of prosciutto vies successfully with the Spanish Branzino graced with paddlefish caviar and topped with a “sail” of crisped skin from the fish (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it).

2275 L Street NW

Another very friendly place was this cream-colored and dark wood accented window on a D.C. street. They serve a cocktail called “Mystique” mixing Plymouth gin, Skinos Masthiha Liqueur and dry vermouth that only needed a blue tint to remind me of the character from X-Men. Likewise, their Basque Cheese Agnolotti with orange flavor and green olives, chorizo and garlic was fabulous. And don’t get me started on their rack of lamb with its comical tree of rosemary!

Le Diplomat
1601 14th Street NW

Surprise, surprise! None other than Stephen Starr, the pride of Philadelphia (think Morimoto and El Vez), owns this delightful French bistro. I loved the mixture of French and English on their menu. For instance, they present Moules Frites (fried mussels) but next to it on the menu is “Beef” Bourguignon. Their Escargots in the traditional crock topped with little puff pastry hats were excellent, as was the Endive and Roquefort Salad featuring spiced poached pears. Friday’s special was Bouillabaisse and was it ever special!

Occidental Grill and Seafood
1475 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

I chose this restaurant as a seafood place but it became so much more. Again I was treated to honest, friendly service. The walls here are covered with framed photos of famous people who have dined at Occidental (most of whom I’ve never heard of). But the southern-style cooking is fantastic! There is no breadbasket; you get your own hot corn bread in an iron skillet. The Porcelet Pork Chop and Belly on a bed of braised red Russian kale in a puree of sweet white corn, with pickled white peach slices, crispy grit cakes and morel mushrooms was so sinfully delicious it would have made Jack Spratt commit suicide.

You may be wondering why all of these restaurants addresses end in “NW” for Northwest? Washington D.C. is organized around the Capitol Building and all streets and avenues radiating from it are divided accordingly into northeast, southeast, northwest and southwest. Since I never needed to journey east or south of that particular building, that’s the reason.

Now I hope you can see why I couldn’t choose one over the others when all of them had vertiginous standards of care and excellent food. If you don’t believe me, try them yourself next time you’re in D.C.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Monday, June 23, 2014


Mel’s Cine-Files

By Melissa Agar

Chef (Open Road Films, 2014) - Director: Jon Favreau. Writer: Jon Favreau. Cast: Jon Favreau, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, Bobby Cannavale, Emjay Anthony, & Gloria Sandoval. Color, 115 minutes.

Is it just me, or does it seem like our culture is becoming increasingly obsessed with food, specifically the preparation of food? There are whole channels devoted to watching people cook. Even network television is populated with chefs scrambling to put a gourmet spin on meatloaf while an accented expert screams profanities at them. Film is no different. The past several years have introduced several films featuring beautiful shots of incredible looking food prepared by highly attractive people … or a Parisian rat. And now, with Favreau’s delightful Chef, we can add another chapter to the growing book of cinematic food porn that populates our cultural landscape.

Written and directed by Favreau, Chef tells the story of high-profile chef Carl Casper. Once a golden boy of the Miami restaurant scene, Casper has spent the past several years in LA running the kitchen of an upscale restaurant owned by Riva (Hoffman). While Carl yearns to shake things up and try new dishes, Riva encourages his chef to stick with the cuisine that has people booking reservations. When Ramsey Michel (Platt), a critic who once championed Carl, writes a review accusing Carl of being complacent and dull, Carl responds with a challenge that ultimately leads to a very public (and much-tweeted) confrontation of the critic and his removal from the restaurant’s kitchen. With his career seemingly in ruins, Carl accepts an invitation from his ex-wife Inez (Vergara) to accompany her on a trip to Miami along with their 10-year-old son Percy (Anthony). All of this is revealed to be a two-part ploy – to encourage Carl to return to cooking via a food truck and to help revive his struggling relationship with his son. Soon, Carl and Percy are refurbishing a food truck along with line cook Martin (Leguizamo) and serving up Cuban sandwiches to the denizens of South Beach. The trio hit the road to return to LA, stopping along the way in New Orleans and Austin and incorporating the local cuisine into their truck. 

While on its surface, the film seems to be about cooking (and there are some glorious shots of incredible looking food that left me salivating), there is more to it. As Carl moves away from the glamour of LA haute cuisine, he rediscovers what it was about cooking that initially drew him to the field. He sees cooking as an art, his passion, and by getting in touch with basic, simple American cuisine – like Texas barbecue and poor boys – he’s able to reignite that passion. He’s no longer stuck behind glass, completely removed from the people for whom he’s cooking. He’s now face to face with them, serving them directly. The lessons we can take from Chef extend beyond how to tell when your grill is hot enough, and deal more with reigniting our own passions. We need to remember why we do the things we do and what we love about the things we do. By getting back to basics, Carl finds that love and rejuvenates his career and his life. He is able to share that passion with his son, building a relationship beyond his visitation day trips to the movies. Father and son are talking, learning about each other, teaching one another, and building the real relationship that Percy craves. 

Perhaps this same lesson applies to Favreau himself. After launching his career with charming independent films like Swingers, Favreau has spent the past decade or so directing Hollywood blockbusters with varying degrees of success. While he brought an intelligence and wit to the Iron Man films (he directed the first two), he’s also responsible for the pretty abysmal Cowboys and Aliens: a film that, like Carl’s restaurant offerings, seemed eager to please but ultimately left audiences underwhelmed. There is a lightness to Favreau’s writing, directing, and acting here that hasn’t been visible in years, and the result is a film much like Carl’s Cubans – crispy, zesty, and absolutely delicious.

There is also a reminder here of all that has made Favreau such a likable screen presence for the past 20 or so years. Chief among that is his crackling chemistry with just about anyone with whom he shares the screen. The heart of the film lies in the relationship between Carl and Percy, and Favreau allows that relationship to grow slowly. There is awkwardness in Carl and Percy’s early scenes – Carl is clearly a dad who doesn’t quite know how to relate to his child without the filter of his marriage. As the duo work to launch the food truck, the bond grows and the audience’s investment lies largely in the tender and funny way Favreau and young Anthony work together. It seems organic and real with Anthony never resorting to the sort of cloying mugging so many child actors are encouraged perform onscreen. He’s a terrific young talent.

In a packed blockbuster landscape, Chef is a small film that deserves some attention. There are no explosions or special effects (though Favreau does his own impressive knife work). It is the perfect summer counterprogramming for adults – smart, funny, and ultimately tremendously entertaining. Just make sure you eat before the movie or else your stomach will go crazy at the sight of all the amazing food being prepared onscreen.  (I seriously found myself swooning over a close up of the most incredibly looking grilled cheese I have ever seen!) 

Grade: A

Saturday, June 21, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for June 23-30

June 23-June 30


BORN TO KILL (June 25, 11:00 pm): A gritty, dark, violent film noir that smacks you in the face much harder that other movies in this genre. Lawrence Tierney is in top form as Sam Wilde, a psychopath who comes across as charming one minute and an out-of-control killer at even a perceived slight in this 1947 film from RKO. Claire Trevor is great as a heartless, conniving gold-digger, who gives Tierney a run for his money. Veteran character actress Esther Howard is a scene-stealer as the owner of the boarding house in which Trevor's character lives while getting a quickie divorce in Reno. 

JULIUS CAESAR (June 27, 2:15 pm): This 1953 film may be the best cinematic adaption of a William Shakespeare play that I've ever seen. Only Laurence Olivier's Hamlet can compare. What makes it remarkable is how good Marlon Brando, who was at his method acting mumbling peak, is brilliant as Mark Antony. Brando more than holds his own in a film that features an outstanding all-star cast of Shakespearean veterans such as James Mason, John Gielgud and John Hoyt as well as extraordinarily talented actors including Louis Calhern (as Caesar), Edmond O'Brien, George Macready, Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr. That it came from MGM, known for its slick production values, and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who made fine films, but nothing even remotely close to Shakespeare, are surprises. But how well this movie works makes those very pleasant surprises and showed the versatility of Brando and Mankiewicz, and that MGM could make films such as this and make them well.


THE SEVENTH VICTIM (June 23, 10:45 am): A superb film from the team of producer Val Lewton and director Mark Robson. A girl’s search for her missing sister leads her to discover that the sister was mixed up with a satanic cult in Greenwich Village called the Palladists. She turns for help in the search from her sister’s husband and a mysterious psychiatrist, which in hindsight, may not have been the best course to take. Lewton and Robson give us a wonderful mise en scene, as the backlot is converted into a replica of the West Village, with its cobblestone streets, imposing brownstones, and cozy restaurants. In the capable hands of cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca it becomes something akin to Edward Hopper Meets Alfred Hitchcock and adds to the tension. As usual, Lewton had a budget somewhere in the low figures to perform his magic, and also as usual, he managed to overcome this limitation and give us a good horror film.

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (June 28, 4:15 pm): While their Gothic horrors could oft times be hit-or-miss affairs, Hammer Studios always managed to hit a home run with their science-fiction films. And it’s no different here: Hammer took a BBC serial from the ‘50s called Quartermass and the Pit, added a little, subtracted a little, but on the whole remaining faithful to the original story. Hammer and director Roy Ward Baker capture the intelligence and the mystery of the original not by throwing special effects at the viewer, but in telling the story through the characters. What begins as the discovery of a Nazi bomb in an Underground tunnel being dug up for repairs, soon leads to the finding of ape-like skulls surrounding it, which leads to the realization that this is a not a Nazi weapon, but a spacecraft not of this Earth, but from Mars, complete with arthropod corpses stored inside. In the end we are wrestling with the philosophical issues of history and evolution before reaching a climax by recalling the Collective Unconscious and, especially, its archetype of the Devil. And despite all these weighty subjects, the film is an excellent piece of suspense and terror, supplying some pretty good jolts along the way.

WE DISAGREE ON ... HAXAN (June 23, 7:15 am)

ED: A-. This seven-part historical view of witchcraft from Denmark ranks of one of the best horror films ever made. The movie is loaded with great imagery, with the acting several levels above what is usually offered in films of its time. The costumes, lighting, sets, and effects are all superb leading to the end where director/star Benjamin Christensen tries to make a correlation between the actions and mannerisms of witches as attributed by observers in their time to the modern symptoms and affects (1922) of hysteria. I don’t know if I’m buying into it, but he does raise an interesting point. Above all, watch this not only for itself, but also with respect to its influence on such subsequent films as Ulmer’s The Black Cat, Tourneur’s Night of the Demon, Bava’s Black Sunday, Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and Hardy’s The Wicker Man, among others. This is a film that demands to be seen.

DAVID: C+. While ambitious for its time, and I'm not losing sight that it's 92 years old, it's a film that doesn't know what it want to be. Sometimes it's a documentary, including the exceptionally boring beginning in which we are shown photographs from books as if we are trapped in a bad high school class on the supernatural with one of those classroom pointers. Sometimes it's a theatrical production with over-the-top acting of witch-trial reenactments and dreams about demons, making it laughable at certain points. Then it becomes a mockumentary as we are schooled on evil in some silly skits. Perhaps the worst is the supposed initiation of witches who kiss the devil on his behind. At times, it's a combination of all three so you don't know what's going on. Benjamin Christensen, who directed and was one of its main actors, wanted to show and tell so much and shove all sorts of theories and stories that he damaged the end product. I agree with portions of what Ed wrote about the costumes, lighting, sets and effects being ahead of its time, but the storyline is lacking.

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

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Dinner and a Movie

Dragons Hitched to a Trading Post

By Steve Herte

The wonderful part of writing my reviews from our nation's capital (yes, I'm in Washington, D.C.) is that my Clear Hotspot is working lightning fast. It still takes time to write them because my brain is a little bit slower. But never mind that.

The trip down was uneventful, just as I like it, but I didn't get to meet any interesting people on the way. Good thing I had my Kindle Fire to entertain me. The Omni Shoreham Hotel is just as genteel and gracious as the last time I stayed there only this time my room is in the West Promenade. Last time it was the East, overlooking the garden and pool. Prior to leaving I scheduled and reserved all my dinners and the first one was a big, wonderful surprise.

The District Kitchen is a quaint little place with an outdoor café on Connecticut Avenue, a block away from my hotel. One would never suspect that an innovative, amazing chef creates wonders there. The chilled corn soup with chorizo and English peas was a delight, as was the octopus ceviche with sliced avocado and taco chips. Then the homemade Cavatelli with asparagus and peas in a Spanish paprika sauce was divine. I hope this isn't making you too hungry. I'll let you go with goat cheese cake on a graham cracker crust, dried cherries and sliced almonds in a sinful cherry sauce. OK, I'll stop. No wait! I have to tell you about the lemon-flavored grappa! Wow! The level for dinners has been set high, I'll admit, but why not. Likewise I had a high level of anticipation for my movie Friday night and it sailed right over it easily. Not so the restaurant, but you'll see that. Enjoy!

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (20th Century Fox/Dreamworks, 2014) Director: Dean DeBlois. Writers: Dean DeBlois (s/p), Cressida Cowell (book). Voices: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Kit Harrington, Djimon Housou, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Chrstopher Mintz-Plasse, & T.J. Miller. Color and 3D, 102 minutes.

The exception proves the rule, right? The rule is that sequels rarely are as good as the original movie. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is every bit as amazing and joyous as the first installment. It even weaves in a bit of ecology (if fantastic creatures count as a part of the ecosystem).

Once again we are taken to the rocky land called Berk where Vikings ride dragons and the two species live in harmony with each other. Stoick the Viking Chief (Butler) is preparing for the day that his son Hiccup (Baruchel) takes over the business (they’re dragon-saddlers) and become Chief of the Vikings. Hiccup has other plans. He wants to go flying on Toothless, his Night Fury and discover and map new lands.

One day he and his friends stumble across the lair of a band of dragon-hunters led by Eret (Harrington) and almost have their dragons given over to the infamous Drago (Housou) who is determined to control all dragons and rule the world (sound familiar anyone?)

On another of his flights he finds a spikey land of ice and while exploring is attacked by a mysterious figure riding a four-winged dragon. The struggle is unnecessary because when the mask is removed, the figure is none other than his own mother, Valka (Blanchett) who left him as a child, located an “Alpha” Dragon (If you think dragons are fantastic creatures, wait ‘til you see this one! I would bet on the Alpha in a battle against Godzilla.), and with its help (It breathes ice rather than fire) created a haven for hundreds of dragons. She had no idea that the Vikings of Berk would ever get along with dragons, much less ride them. When Stoick arrives to “rescue” his son he and Valka renew their love and she agrees to come home.

Bad plan. Drago has amassed an army and a fleet of ships to take over the ice land and the battle begins. That is until he reveals his secret weapon, a second Alpha which battles and kills the first one. Alphas have the power to “will” all other dragons to do their bidding and, one by one the familiar dragons’ pupils turn from ovals to slits and they follow the Alpha, even Toothless. In the fray we lose Stoick and go through a Viking funeral.

In their short time together prior to the battle Valka teaches Hiccup many things she has learned about dragons in their time apart and he teaches her as well. “Every dragon has a secret” she says, as she presses a scale on the back of Toothless’ neck and a double row of ridge plates pops up on his back (much to his surprise), “now he’ll be able to make those sharp turns.” We also learn why his name is “toothless” – he has retractable teeth.

It all looks hopeless until Hiccup uses his special bond with Toothless to “will” him back. At which point the Alpha buries both of them in solid ice. Valka is horrified. But if you’ve ever heard the phrase “never make a dragon angry” you’ll understand the transformation that comes over Toothless.

The two films are based on Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon book series, and I’m seriously considering looking those books up. If they’re half as entertaining as these films I will enjoy them as much as I did Anne McCaffery’s Dragon-Riders of Pern series. The animation is smooth and credible, in particular the eyes and facial expressions. It’s not as digitally detailed as Monsters Inc. but it still caught me up in the story. The musical soundtrack is almost classical in the choral works set against heroic orchestration. If your children have wild imaginations, this movie is for them. If they have no imaginations, it may give them one. I laughed, I shed a tear and I enjoyed the entire hour and 42 minutes.

And, since I bought my ticket online, I received a bonus from iTunes – three additional short features downloaded to my computer: The Gift of the Night Fury (a kind of Christmas story on Berk); The Book of Dragons which tells the tale of Bork, the Highly Misfortunate and how he became Bork the Bold; and The Legend of the Bone Napper, a dragon even considered a myth by the Vikings. Together they made a delightful source of background for the two feature films.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Martini glasses

The Trading Post
170 John Street (South Street)New York

Until two and a half years ago, this piece of prime real estate in Manhattan - a block away from South Street Seaport - was the Yankee Clipper, an excellent seafood and steakhouse. It’s different now.

The first thing one notices about the Trading Post is the weathered look of the wooden sign bearing its name, the black wrought-iron handrails on the stairs and the shiny lacquered doors and windows. Inside, you’re transported to a seaport inn with simple wooden tables (though polished) and leather cushioned chairs, dim single swag lights with simple tin-parasol shades and blood-red walls decked with period art-works and subjected to a black-tin ceiling. The young lady at the Captain’s Station asked if I had a preference for seating and I told her I preferred a table to sitting at the bar (especially not during World Cup; all the crazies were at the bar). She found me a moderately quiet table in the back after I turned down one with high stools adjacent to an internal window facing the bar. I say moderately quiet because I still could hear the noise of the bar fans, but they didn’t bother me. I could still make out my favorite tunes on the Musak, and the two delightfully spoiled little girls at the next table were the only disturbance. (Mommy looked harried indeed as she sipped her wine.)

Jordan, my waiter, appeared (he looked big enough to take on the bouncer who let me in the front door) and took my water preference as he handed me the menu and wine list. One of the signature cocktails on the reverse side of the wine list mentioned Beefeaters gin and I knew what I wanted. Jordan was either a meticulous server who wanted to make sure he got an order correctly or he was partially deaf. I had to raise my voice to describe my martini preference and he repeated it (missing one ingredient). I don’t like shouting and I was not surprised that my martini had olives instead of a lemon twist, but it was well made – not great, but well made. I asked Jordan how people normally ordered dinner (especially with a good appetite). The menu had classifications of Bites, Bowls and Boards (Appetizers, Soups and Cheeses), Raw Bar, Salads, Flatbreads (a new fad, like a fluffy pizza), Large Plates and Sides. He explained that the lobster mac and-cheese is a filling dish to start with and did not recommend it as a part of a three-courser. That set me thinking. It was the only interesting appetizer. But I did choose.

When I suggested the classic onion soup as a starter and the salt-roasted beets with baby arugula and aged goat cheese as a salad, he suggested that they come out together. I saw no problem there but I warned him that I’m a slow eater and the main course should be held off until I’m ready. He agreed.

The soup was indeed a surprise. It was the recipe I’ve loved in the past topped with melted Gruyere cheese (I didn’t even have to taste it – I could tell by the aroma.) Dark bread was used for the crouton inside and it was chock full of onions in a flavorful broth. The beets were tasty and almost as sweet as Harvard beets but with a slightly salty flavor and buried under a mound of baby arugula – all this topped with two teaspoons of impressively gamey goat cheese. Jordan had warned me that there would be cashews in the salad and I had told him not to worry. I have no food allergies and I love cashews! They were walnuts. Disappointing, but still good.

I wasn’t even halfway through the soup and hadn’t even touched the salad when the main course arrived. Making my astonishment known loud enough for Jordan to hear (I had already ruled out the meticulous-server notion and added a different option) I sent it back. Jordan apologized and implied someone didn’t listen to his instructions. Hmmm.

As soon as he noticed that I was almost finished with the beets, Jordan asked if he could “put in” my main course order and I told him yes, of course. The New York Sirloin was a nice thickness but it was the smallest cut I’ve ever seen. I was tasty and done almost to my specifications but it had a sinew that diminished the enjoyment – it ran the length of the piece of meat. I was glad the peppercorn sauce was served on the side. I tasted it with morsels of steak a few times and decided not to pour it over the meat. It was spicy enough to burn a fakir’s beard off. The steakhouse fries were served in a paper cone stuffed into a ceramic cup and were crisp enough and better when dipped into the ramekin of catsup that accompanied them. A glass of 2010 Numanthia Tempranillo from Spain added a touch of class to the meal.

By this time the two squealing darlings at the next table had their daddy join them and were now orbiting their table and crawling all over him. But soon they all left and I noticed the soccer fans had gone as well. It was time for dessert. Jordan recommended the Blue Marble trio of sorbets over the apple-rhubarb cobbler and he was right (Yay!). The black raspberry, lemon, and blood orange sorbets were as intensely flavored as their names (and their bright colors) implied. That was one highlight. The double espresso was uninspired but the 30-year-old tawny port made up for its shortcomings.

Unfortunately, the Trading Post has replaced a very good restaurant with a very charming bar in a rustic, historic location. I shall miss the Yankee Clipper.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for June 16-30

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


We continue the month with Rock Hudson, but there’s not much meat left on this bone, only a lot of fat and fluff.

June 19: Forget it. Beginning at 8:00 pm, it’s a mini-marathon of his fluffiest ‘60s flicks: Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers, Come September, and Man’s Favorite Sport? If I had to choose one to watch, I’d be stuck. The one that looks good from the outside is Man’s Favorite Sport? It has the distinction of being directed by Howard Hawks, who made some of the best screwball comedies. But this one’s more leaden than a boxful of sinkers, showing that Hawks had lost his comedic touch. It begins with an annoying gag over a parking spot and never really regains its balance. Oh well, at least Paula Prentiss is great to look at; too bad her part is so lame. Watch all of the above and you’ll realize why movies were practically dead during the early ‘60s.

June 26: Once Hudson shed his partnership-of-sorts with Doris Day, the quality of his films appreciates as he branched out from lame romantic comedies. Starting at 9:45 pm, there is a fine triple-bill of Hudson, starting with 1968’s Ice Station Zebra, a cold war thriller about a race to recover information from a Russian spy satellite at the North Pole. Though it opened to dreadful reviews and sparse box office, its reputation has grown over the years. And it has a good supporting cast in the persons of Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Patrick McGoohan, and Tony Bill.

Following at 12:30 am is the dark comedy, Pretty Maids All in a Row from 1971. Rock plays a high school football coach with an eye for the student body. When the affair gets too hot and sticky, Rock dispatches the offender. Angie Dickinson offers mature eye candy as a teacher, and Telly Savalas (along with partner James Doohan) is the investigating detective. Yes, Hudson in a psychotronic movie.

Finally, at 2:15 am is Hudson’s underrated sci-fi feature, Seconds (1966). Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is a bored middle-aged banker from Scarsdale who travels to Will Geer’s experimental corporate plastic-surgery clinic and emerges as Tony Wilson, a painter who lives in Malibu (now played by Hudson). What a makeover. But it’s no good; he just as trapped in his new life as he was in his old life. And then there’s the Faustian bargain to pay. It's directed by John Frankenheimer, who gives us an intensely bleak mise-en-scene.


June 20: It’s four in a row, beginning at 8:00 pm, by that Pirate Master, Errol Flynn. Against All Flags (1952), Captain Blood (1935), The Sea Hawk (1940), and The Master of Ballantrae (1953). Finally, at 3:35 am, it’s a tepid remake of Captain Blood from Columbia, Fortunes of Captain Blood (1950), with Louis Hayward as the doctor-turned-pirate. Hayward deserved better.

June 27: We begin at 8:00 with the finest, Treasure Island (1934), basting a wonderful performance by Wallace Beery as Long Jon Silver, aided and abetted by actors such as Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, Otto Kruger, Nigel Bruce, and Jackie Cooper. It’s downhill from here: The Boy and the Pirates (1960, from Bert I. Gordon; Captain Kidd (1945) with Charles Laughton, Randolph Scott, Barbara Britton, John Carradine, Gilbert Roland, and John Qualen. With Laughton and that fine cast around him, it should be better. Alas, it isn’t; in fact, Laughton was better working with Abbott and Costello. Blackbeard the Pirate (1952) with Robert Newton and Linda Darnell also disappoints, as does Raiders of the Seven Seas (1953) with John Payne and Donna Reed. Last - and certainly least - is Paul Henried’s flabby Last of the Buccaneers, from 1950.


Now here’s a feast for the movie lover. TCM is running five films from the master French director Rene Clair, beginning at 8:00 with Sous les toits de Paris (Under the Roofs of Paris, 1930). Clair wrote and directed this romance of a street entertainer (Albert Prejean) who falls head over heels for a gypsy beauty (Pola Illry), only to later discover that she has other suitors, including a criminal (Gaston Modot) and even his own best friend, Lewis (Edmond T. Greville). As he was a little skittish about the coming of sound, the film is told mainly in mime, using Victrola music and background sounds to liven the noiseless world.

At 9:45, it’s Clair’s satirical masterpiece, A nous la liberte (We at Liberty, 1931), the story of two ex-convicts, Louis (Raymond Cordy) who escapes and found a successful manufacturing firm, and Emile (Henri Marchand), who is left behind, and upon the completion of his sentence, joins Louis at his business. The irony is that Louis, who hated the regimentation of the prison, found a successful business built upon regimentation. His workers toil at an assembly line, wear numbers, and are watched by foremen. There’s no way the dreamy Emile can fit in with this style of life, which causes Louis to reassess his life. The result is both delightful and thought provoking.

At 11:15, it’s Le million (1931), the story of a lost lottery ticket and the mad race to recover it. Following at 12:45 am is 1955’s The Grand Maneuver, Clair’s first color film. Womanizing Lt. Armand de la Verne (Gerard Philipe) is confident of his woman-catching skills. So confident, in fact, that he wagers he can win the heart of Marie-Louise Rivire (Michele Morgan). But what he didn’t count on was the fact that he would fall in love with her. The sub-plot contains an amusing love story between Armand’s friend Felix (Yves Robert) and Lucie (Brigitte Bardot). The next year, Bardot would star in Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman, which shot her to international superstardom.

Finally, at 2:45 am, it’s a film from 1944, It Happened Tomorrow, starring Dick Powell as a reporter stuck in the obits department. He complains to his co-workers and wishes he could see into the future, so he could use this talent to become the paper’s top reporter. A guardian angel grants him the wish, which, as usual, results in unforeseen complications. This is material that, if handled well, leads to wonderful twists and turns, and, if handled in a clumsy manner, leads to 90 minutes or so of sheer boredom. Fortunately it’s written by Clair and Dudley Nichols and deftly directed by Clair. The ending has a great payoff, and if you haven’t yet seen this one, by all means record it.

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors Trilogy - June 22

Beginning at the ungodly hour of 2:00 am, TCM is running Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy. Much as been written about the trilogy, not the least of which was the titles of each film, based on the red, white and blue of the French flag, representing the founding principles of the French nation: liberty, equality, fraternity. But each film is based, rather loosely, on one of the principles.

2:00 am -- Blue (1993): This is the story of Julie (Juliette Binoche), a young woman who loses her husband, an esteemed composer, and young daughter in a car accident. The film’s theme is Liberte, which is shown in Julie’s attempt to begin her life anew, free from commitment, belongings or love. To accomplish this she intends to withdraw from the world and live independently and anonymously in the Parisian metropolis. But this attempt is constantly interrupted by intrusions from people in her former and present life, each with his or her own needs. They both heal Julie and bring her back in the land of everyday living.

3:45 am -- White (1994): Kieslowski now shifts from tragedy to comedy in this tale of a hapless Polish immigrant, Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), whose wife, Dominique (Julie Delpy), is divorcing him because he cannot perform sexually. Reduced to playing a comb kazoo in the Paris Metro for coins, he meets a fellow Pole who agrees to smuggle him back into Poland. Alas, all does not go as planned and Karol winds up bloody and beaten in a Polish field. But once in Poland, which is converting from communism to capitalism, the formerly hapless Karol has transformed from sad sack to rich and savvy businessman. But he still yearns for Dominique, and now that he has achieved Egalite, he wants to win her back, and more importantly, exact revenge.

5:30 am -- Red (1994): The final film in the trilogy. Kieslowski retired after making this and died two years later at the age of 56. And the theme of this film is Fraternite. Valentine (Irene Jacob) is a young model living in Geneva. One night she runs over a dog. She takes it to the vet who treats it. She returns it to its owner, a retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant), at his villa. But she is surprised when the judge is ambivalent about the dog, telling her to keep it. She’s further shocked when she discovers the judge’s hobby: electronically eavesdropping on his neighbors, not for money or kicks, but to satisfy his cynical view of humanity. Angered to the point of wanting to turn him in, Valentine’s compassion comes to the fore, enabling her to see the greater plight of the judge, a man leading a fruitless, lovelorn life, and they form a touching friendship. Gradually we learn the story of the judge and his lost love, which strangely parallels that of Valentine, who communicates with her absent lover, in England, by telephone. The distance places a strain on their relationship. At the same time there is a young man about to become a judge. He lives across the street from Valentine and also has a strained relationship with his girlfriend, who sells weather forecasts. Will they meet? Though they live near each other, they manage to pass each other by almost every day.

Although each story in the trilogy is different, the theme is that of people and their choices - how they made them and the close connection each choice engenders and how it was made or missed. Ideally, all three films, given the late hour of their showing, should be recorded and viewed at one’s pleasure, when the time and setting is just right.


June 21: A double bill of Blaxploitation. First up at 2:00 am is The Slams, a 1973 production from MGM starring Jim Brown as a convict who must escape before the places where he hid his stolen loot are demolished. Of course, he’s not the only one interested in his largesse. Following at 3:45 am is Hell Up in Harlem, Larry Cohen’s 1973 sequel to his Black Caesar. Fred Williamson stars.

June 25: Three wild films to record, beginning at 9:45 am with The Devil With Hitler, a 1942 production from Hal Roach. It seems that the Devil (Alan Mowbury) is in danger of losing his job, and the only way he can keep it is to get Hitler to perform a good deed. Bobby Watson (who made a short career for himself playing the dictator) is Hitler, while Joe Devlin is Mussolini and George E. Stone is Suki Yaki. The humor is broad and the film is only 44 minutes long. Most surprisingly, it actually spawned a sequel: Nazty Nuisance.

Following at 10:45 am is Val Lewton’s atmospheric chiller, The Seventh Victim (1943), a tale about a Satanic cult in Greenwich Village. And at 5:15 pm it’s The Devil’s Bride (1968), with Christopher Lee versus Satanic cult leader Charles Gray.

Starring Lawrence Tierney - June 25

June 25 also gives us a night of psychotronic star Lawrence Tierney, beginning at 8 pm with his breakout role in Dillinger (1945), followed by Badman’s Territory (1946) at 9:15; Born to Kill (1947) at 11:00 pm, The Hoodlum (1951) at 12:45 am, Step By Step (1946) at 2:00 am, Back To Bataan (1945) at 3:15 am, and San Quentin (1946) at 5:00 am. Tierney was a favorite actor of Quentin Tarantino, who featured him in Reservoir Dogs. He even played the father of Elaine Benes on an episode of Seinfeld.