A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
STAR OF THE MONTH
Now that August is ending, we’re back to having a Star of the Month. And in September the star is Susan Hayward, a solid actor whose steady presence has brightened up many a film. Beginning in the late ‘30s, she remained a durable star until the ‘70s, appearing in everything from drama to costume drama to comedy and even to epics. Two of her films are considered among the worst ever made, and come in the second half of the month as the emphasis is on the early part.
September 3: Two excellent films are on tap. Start with Beau Geste (Paramount, 1939), a scene-by-scene remake of the 1926 silent with Ronald Colman. Gary Cooper stars as one of three brothers (Ray Milland and Robert Preston are the others) who join the French Foreign Legion. Brian Donlevy as their sadistic commander Markov and J. Carroll Naish as his toady Rasinoff threaten to steal the film, but Cooper has presence. Hayward has a small role but makes the most of it.
Then tune in at 3:30 am (or record it) for Tulsa (Eagle-Lion, 1949) with Hayward as a rancher’s daughter out for revenge over his killing. She strikes it rich in the Oklahoma oil boom. Her obsession over money and power alienated her from her closest friends, an oil expert (Robert Preston) and a childhood friend (Pedro Armendariz). Hayward is wonderful in her role, but keep your eye on Armendariz, who turns in a stellar performance.
September 10: The best pick of the night is at 8:00 pm, with Hayward turning in a nifty performance in a tale of a model turned dress-designer, I Can Get It For You Wholesale (Fox, 1951). It’s competently directed with a great script from Abraham Polonsky. I love a well-written film, and Polonsky does a great job in adapting Jerome Weidman’s novel.
Following at 9:45 is a real yawner, as Hayward and Gregory Peck star in the biblical epic David and Bathsheba (Fox, 1951). As with most films in the genre, a combination of the restrictive production code, combined with the studio’s caution in offending anyone, leads to a leaden film highlighted by the uninspired performance of its leads. Both Hayward and Peck give us the impression that they’d rather be anywhere else. Bad, but not bad enough to be a “must see.”
Finally, at the wee hour of 4:00 am comes an excellent film from Nicholas Ray, The Lusty Men (RKO, 1952). Robert Mitchum is great as a faded rodeo star who mentors an up-and-coming Arthur Kennedy, but messes things up by falling for Kennedy’s no-nonsense wife, Hayward. It’s one to catch, or record.
FRIDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT: FIVE CAME BACK
This month’s TCM spotlight focuses on the war years, as in World War II. Using Mark Harris’s wonderful book, Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War as a guide and front, the network is showing a treasure trove of government shorts and documentaries, plus pertinent films made during the war years. Harris’s book is a cultural history of how the war changed Hollywood and how Hollywood changed the war as seen through the viewpoint of five directors: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens.
September 1: We begin at 8:00 pm with a screening of Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (Columbia, 1941), the story of how a reporter (Barbara Stanwyck) turns a tramp (Gary Cooper) into a national hero and a pawn of big businessman Edward Arnold. How this has to do with the war is beyond me, but it’s always worth a look.
Documentaries worth tuning in for include Capra’s Prelude to War (10:15 pm), Anatole Litvak’s The Battle of Russia (11:15 pm), Stuart Heisler’s The Negro Soldier (12:45 am), the Richard Brooks directed short, With the Marines at Tarawa (1:45 am), followed by Capra with Tunisian Victory, the stirring Battle of Britain (3:30 am), the Capra supervised short, Know Your Ally: Britain (4:30 am), and Capra’s War Comes to America, from 1945 (5:15 am).
September 8: The night is devoted to John Huston and begins with Bogart and Astor in Across the Pacific (WB, 1942) at 8:00 pm. At 9:45, it’s Huston’s short about the Aleutians, Report From the Aleutians, and at 10:45 pm, it’s Huston’s documentary on the invasion of Italy, San Pietro. At 11:30, his documentary about solders receiving medical treatment and psychotherapy, Let There Be Light (1946), will air. Huston's – and the government’s – message in the documentary is that employers should not hold a soldier’s psychotherapy against him when applying for a job. And then night ends with Huston’s Civil War classic The Red Badge of Courage (MGM, 1951).
September 15: It’s John Ford night, beginning at 8 pm with his 1940 effort for United Artists, The Long Voyage Home, starring John Wayne and Thomas Mitchell. At 10:00 pm, it’s his stirring short, The Battle of Midway, followed at 10:30 by How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines. At 11:45 December 7th, 1945 airs, a disturbing look at the attack on Pearl Harbor. Finally at 1:15 am comes two of his Hollywood efforts: They Were Expendable (MGM, 1945), with John Wayne and Robert Montgomery, followed by Henry Fonda and James Cagney in Mister Roberts (WB, 1955)
A welcome highlight of this month’s Friday Night Spotlight is the inclusion of the Private Snafu cartoons made by Warner Brothers. I remember my father and uncle reminiscing about them, and how funny they were and how the servicemen laughed raucously throughout at the antics of Snafu as he got himself into trouble time and time again. Look for our upcoming article on this unique soldier later this month. For now, we’ll provide the times and titles of the various cartoons.
September 1: 10:10 pm – Coming! Snafu (the cartoon that introduced him to the servicemen); 11:10 pm – Booby Traps; 1:40 am – Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike; 4:25 am – Snafuperman.
September 8: Beginning at 10:40 pm – In the Aleutians; 11:25 pm – The Infantry Blues; and at 12:40 am, The Goldbrick.
September 15: The menu for tonight – Gripes (9:55 pm), A Lecture on Camouflage (10:25 pm), Spies (11:40 pm), and Private Snafu Meets Seaman Tarfu in the Navy(1946).
September 2: At 1:00 pm, it’s one of Joan Crawford’s best films, A Woman’s Face, from MGM in 1941. Directed by George Cukor, it’s a remake of a 1938 Swedish film En Kvinnas Ansikte, starring Ingrid Bergman. Crawford is a facially scarred woman whose life dramatically changes when she goes under the knife of plastic surgeon Melvyn Douglas and regains her beauty. Conrad Veidt is also on hand to provide some of his exquisite villainy. It’s a film to watch, especially for those who haven’t yet seen it.
September 4: Make a note to tune in or record at 4:45 pm for one of the truly great underrated films about Hollywood. From RKO and George Cukor in 1932 it’s What Price Hollywood? Lowell Sherman is right on point as a dipso director who helps waitress Constance Bennett fulfill her ambition to become a star as he falls further and further into the abyss of alcoholism. Under Cukor’s direction, it’s a deft mix of comedy and drama and served as an inspiration for the later A Star is Born.
September 6: An interesting double feature of Japanese films begins at 1:30 am with the 1926 production of Kurutta Ippeiji. Surviving films from Japan’s silent era are rare indeed. It concerns a former sailor who has driven his wife into a mental asylum. Conscience stricken he takes a job as a custodian in the very facility where his wife is being treated. It’s a rare look at the problem of metal illness in Japan.
Following immediately thereafter at 2:45 am is Kurosawa’s 1951 Hakuchi. It, too, concerns mental illness and is the director’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, and is one of Kurosawa’s most neglected works.
September 11: Looking for a change of pace? Then tune in at 2:00 am for the brilliant and unsettling Went The Day Well? from Ealing in 1942. A British village welcomes a platoon of troops who will be billeted with them. To their horror they discover the troops are actually German paratroopers sent to prepare the way for an invasion. How they deal with the invaders is what makes this film one of a kind, being released when the threat of a Nazi invasion was still a real possibility.
September 4: TCM is running four films starring the great misanthrope beginning at 8:00 pm with his 1940 masterpiece, The Bank Dick. At 9:30 it’s his magnum opus, It’s a Gift, from 1934. No one played the harried husband better than Fields. At 11:00, it’s his underrated classic from 1938, You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man, with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. And finally, there’s his distinguished performance as Mr. Micawber in MGM’s 1935 David Copperfield. What a night.
Westerns long regarded as the redheaded stepchild of Hollywood, emerged from the jungle of B-dom thanks to a postwar popularity fueled in part by their immense popularity in the new medium of television. This led to Westerns that were more than just mere shoot-‘em-ups adhering to the simple plot of good versus evil. Now they became more complex, more structured, and with bigger stars in the leads. The ‘50s could be said to have been the Golden Age of Hollywood Westerns.
September 9: An evening of six quality Westerns begins at 8:00 with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin in 3:10 to Yuma (Columbia, 1957). At 10:00 pm, it’s Jimmy Stewart and Arthur Kennedy in The Man From Laramie (Columbia, 1955). Following at midnight is an all-time Western, The Gunfighter (Fox, 1950), starring Gregory Peck as “the fastest gun in the West” and thus as one with a price on his head from wanna-bes. At 1:30 am, it’s Budd Boetticher’s Ride Lonesome (Columbia, 1958) starring Randolph Scott as a bounty hunter who must bring in his quarry through distinctly unfriendly territory. Jimmy Stewart, Janet Leigh, and Robert Ryan then take over in The Naked Spur (MGM, 19563), with Stewart trying to capture shifty outlaw Ryan. Lastly, at 4:45 am, Burt Lancaster and Robert Walker star in Vengence Valley (MGM, 1951). All are worth the time invested.
September 2: At 3:15 am, it’s the animated version of The Lord of the Rings from 1978, featuring the voices of Christopher Guard, John Hurt, and Norman Bird among others. Directed by Ralph Bakshi, it covers 1½ books of the trilogy. It’s no great shakes, but is recommended for film buffs as well as Tolkien buffs.
September 5: Following another chapter in the continuing sage of Batman and Robin at 10:00 am, TCM begins a weekly showing of Bulldog Drummond films, beginning at 10:30 with Bulldog Drummond Escapes (Paramount, 1937). Ray Milland stars as Drummond in his only stab at the role, with cutie Heather Angel as his girlfriend Phylis Clavering. Following Milland’s debut as the Captain, Paramount plugged John Howard in as Drummond while it moved Milland to bigger and better things. The Drummond series proved a solid B-series for the studio, though it only lasted until 1939. In the late ‘40s, Columbia revived the series.
At 1:45 pm, it’s producer Val Lewton’s unique take on Jane Eyre – I Walked With a Zombie from RKO in 1943, a definite “must see.”
Beginning at 2:00 am, it’s a motorcycle-powered doubleheader from AIP with Tom Laughlin’s The Born Losers, followed by Dennis Hopper and Jody McCrea in The Glory Stompers, both from 1967.
September 6: Tune in at midnight for one of the granddaddies of all films psychotronic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, from 1919.
September 7: Fans of both science fiction and George Lucas should be interested in the director’s big screen adaptation of his USC student film, THX 1138, which airs at midnight. It takes place in the 25th century, where a totalitarian government has imposed a strict and bland rule. Dress is plain, heads are shaved, and everyone is on a regimen of sedatives. Those who don’t use them are prosecuted for “drug evasion.” THX1138 (Robert Duvall) is a worker who helps assemble the policing robots. He slowly becomes aware of his situation because his female roommate (Maggie McOmie) has been diluting his dosage. He discovers love – and sex, which has been outlawed and replaced with artificial insemination. When the couple is found out, THX is sent to a white void. There he meets fellow prisoner SEN (Donald Pleasance). Together with a hologram (Don Pedro Colley) they begin planning an escape.
September 12: It’s Bulldog Drummond at Bay at 10:30 am. Later, at 2:45 am, it’s Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive (WB, 1974) about a killer infant on the rampage, followed by Jack Hill’s camp classic, Spider Baby, at 4:30 am.
September 13: An encore performance of the sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still airs at 6:15 pm. Later at 10:00 pm, it’s Bette Davis and Olivia De Havilland in the gothic horror Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. At 2:00 am, it’s the premiere of director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another (Toho, 1967). Tatsuya Nakadai is a wealthy chemist whose face was horribly scarred in an explosion. Until his doctor (Mikjiro Hira) can successfully complete the prosthetic mask that will become his new face, Nakadai lives with his head swathed in bandages with visible openings only for his eyes, nose and mouth. When he gets his new face, the results are not what everyone assumes. Following immediately after (4:15 am) is a repeat performance of the unsettling 1959 shocker Eyes Without a Face (1959). See it once and you’ll remember it forever.
September 15: At the early hour of 7:30 am is a showing of director Rene Clair’s adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie novel Ten Little Indians, And Then There Were None (Fox, 1945). Ten guests are invited to a lonely island only to find themselves bring knocked off one by one. Dudley Nichols’s brilliant script is combined with some superb visuals from Clair to create one of the all-time great mysteries. It’s rarely shown, so catch it while you can.