Friday, December 15, 2017

Cinéma Inhabituel for December 16-31

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


December 22: A Barbara Stanwyck double feature kicks off at 8 pm with the wonderful Christmas in Connecticut, followed at 10 pm by the touching Preston Sturges scripted Remember the Night (1940).

We shift gears at Midnight for Judy Garland, Mary Astor, Margaret O’Brien and Leon Ames in 1944’s heartwarming Meet Me in St. Louis.

December 24: At 8 pm comes one of the most delightful of the holiday films TCM is airing during the month. That film is The Bishop’s Wife (1947), with Cary Grant as Dudley, an angel sent to help Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) realize his project to build an elaborate new cathedral and repair his marriage to Julia (Loretta Young). It’s a combination of the heartwarming with the inspirational as Grant works his magic. Look for supporting players Monty Woolley as a history professor, Elsa Lanchester as the Brougham’s devoted housekeeper, and James Gleason in a comic relief role as a cab driver.

At 10 pm is another delightful holiday film, Leo McCarey’s The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945). A sequel of sorts to Going My Way, Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby) is assigned to a rundown parochial school on the verge of condemnation. Presided over by Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), O’Malley must find a way to work with her to save the school. Though not as good as Going My Way, there’s still a lot in it to thoroughly warm the heart. 

At Midnight it’s the rarely seen The Cheaters (1945) from Republic Pictures. A wealthy self-obsessed family preparing for Christmas is in financial trouble. They learn that an extremely rich uncle has died and left his fortune to a woman he didn’t even know. The family, scheming to find Watson and keep her under wraps until the search period is over and the fortune reverts to them, hits on an idea that will help them in their scheme and at the same time enable them to stand out among their friends. They will adopt a "lost man" and bring him to their house for the holidays (sort of akin to My Man Godfrey). Finding a news story of a washed-up actor who has attempted suicide, they bring him to their home. But the actor proves far more than they bargained for and shows them some real truths about both giving and living. Eugene Palette and Billie Burke plays the heads of the wealthy family, with Joseph Schildkraut as the unemployed actor they take in. I’ve heard a lot about this film over the years, but never got the chance to see it. Now I can.

At 2 am it’s the durable 1938 MGM version of A Christmas Carol with Reginald Owen as Scrooge and Gene and Kathleen Lockhart as the Cratchits. With standout performances from Leo G. Carroll as Jacob Marley and Ann Rutherford as the Spirit of Christmas Past. And at 3:30 am, Glenn Ford and Bette Davis star in Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (1961), a pallid remake of his 1933 Lady For a Day.

December 25: At 9 am TCM is airing Hal Roach’s 1934 production of Babes in Toyland with Laurel and Hardy in fine form as two bumbling employees in this version of the Victor Herbert operetta. Following at 10:30 am, Seymour Hicks takes on the title role in 1935’s Scrooge, from Twickenham Film Distributors in England. Paramount distributed the film in the U.S.


December 21: At 8 pm Fred Astaire again romances Ginger Rogers in Swing Time (1936). The highlight of the film is the excellent score by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern, including “Waltz in Swing Time,” “A Fine Romance,” and the unforgettable “The Way You Look Tonight.” At 10 pm comes 42nd Street (1933), the classic backstage musical with Warner Baxter, Dick Powell, Bebe Daniels and Ruby Keeler as the girl from the chorus who suddenly must carry the show. Great hokum with a slew of fabulous songs from Al Dubin and Harry Warren: “Young and Healthy,” “You’re Getting to be a Habit With Me,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and the title tune, one of the best songs ever written and one that still thrills me every time I hear it, even if it is sung by Ruby Keeler. 

George M. Cohan takes center stage at 11:45 pm as Jimmy Cagney shows us why he won the Oscar for Best Actor playing Cohan in the lively biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). Add to this the great selection of Cohan tunes, including “Harrigan,” “So Long, Mary,” “Forty-five Minutes From Broadway,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Over There,” and Give My Regards to Broadway,” and it’s a film we can watch any number of times. 

At 2 am it’s the offbeat 1954 Deep in My Heart, a biopic of composer Sigmund Romberg, whose mission was to bring serious music to Broadway. Despite its overlong length, the film has a lot going for it, with the lead role of Romberg being played with panache by Jose Ferrer. Merle Oberon is actress Dorothy Donnelly, who spotted Romberg early on and encouraged his talent. Walter Pidgeon is wonderful as producer J.J. Schubert, and Paul Stewart is solid as Shubert’s associate, Bert Townsend. But the real stars of the show are the guest stars MGM brings on to perform Romberg’s music. Jane Powell and Vic Damone team up for “Will You Remember (Sweetheart),” the only film pairing of brothers Gene and Fred Kelly for “I Love to Go Swimmin' with Wimmen,” Ann Miller singing and dancing to “It,” and Cyd Charisse teaming with James Mitchell on “One Alone.” Even Ferrer gets into the act, soloing on “Jazzadadadoo,” and teaming with Helen Traubel on “Leg of Mutton.” Traubel solos with “Auf Wiedersehn,” “You Will Remember Vienna,” and the unforgettable “Stouthearted Men.” Perhaps the most unusual number is Tony Martin and Joan Weldon dueting “Lover, Come Back to Me.” Weldon is best known for her role as ant expert Dr. Patricia Medford in the 1954 sci-fi classic Them!

The evening closes at 4:45 am with the 1934 MGM musical The Cat and the Fiddle, starring Ramon Novarro as a struggling composer with his eyes on Jeanette MacDonald. The music by Jerome Kern and Otto A. Harbach includes “She Didn't Say Yes,” “A New Love is Old,” and “The Night Was Made for Love.”

December 28: The spotlight class out tonight with The Dolly Sisters (1945) leading off at 8:00 pm. Betty Grable and June Haver play two sisters from Hungary who become vaudeville stars in the early 1900s. the music, from different composers, includes such well-known tunes as “Carolina in the Morning,” “I'm Always Chasing Rainbows,” “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile!,” and “The Sidewalks of New York.” 

Betty Hutton is Annie Oakley, Howard Keel is Frank Butler and Louis Calhern in Buffalo Bill in 1950’s Annie Get Your Gun. The music, by Irving Berlin, includes such standards as “Doin’ What Comes Naturally,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” “Anything You Can Do,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “The Girl That I Marry,” 

Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin are three sailors who meet Vera-Ellen, Ann Miller and Betty Garrett while On The Town (1949), which airs at 12:15 am. The music is supplied by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green and includes the famous “New York, New York.”

The Band Wagon (1953), starring  Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan, airs at 2:00 am. Tunes by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz include “By Myself,” “A Shine on Your Shoes,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “I Love Louisa,” “Louisiana Hayride,” “Triplets,” and the ever popular “That’s Entertainment.”

Closing out the night is Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), starring Jack Benny. Eleanor Powell and Robert Taylor. The music, by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, includes such popular standards as “Broadway Rhythm,” “You Are My Lucky Star,” “All I Do Is Dream Of You,” and “I've Got a Feelin' You're Foolin’.” 


December 29: TCM salutes some of those who passed away this year with five movies, beginning at 8:00 pm with Jules and Jim (1962), honoring Jeanne Moreau. At 10:00 pm, Bill Paxton is honored with Apollo 13 (1995) is airing. Mary Tyler Moore is remembered at 12:30 am with Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). Director George A. Romero is saluted at 3:15 am with his Night of the Living Dead, from 1968. Finally, TCM remembers Don Rickles with the 1970 production off Kelly’s Heroes.

The next morning, December 30, TCM is airing Gold of the Seven Saints from 1961, starring the late Roger Moore.


TCM offers us a very unusual Christmas present with a 24-hour marathon of Alfred Hitchcock films beginning on Christmas Day at 8 pm and ending on Boxing Day. Here’s the rundown.

December 25: 8:00 pm - Rear Window; 10:00 pm - North by Northwest; 12:30 am - Dial M for Murder; 2:30 am - The Birds; 4:45 am - Vertigo.

December 26: 7:00 am - Shadow of a Doubt; 9:00 am - Strangers on a Train; 11:00 am - The Trouble With Harry; 1:00 pm - Topaz; 3:15 pm - Marnie; 5:45 pm - The Man Who Knew Too Much (from 1956).


December 17: A beautiful double feature from Roberto Rossellini begins at 2 am with his entrancing 1950 effort, The Flowers of St. Francis. Rossellini follows the spiritual life of St. Francis of Assisi as he brings together his followers and builds the Franciscan Order, to their journey to Rome to secure the Pope’s blessing, and their return in the rain to Rivotorlo after gaining the Pope’s blessing to disperse into the world to preach on their own. Rossellini uses the film and its message of spiritual enlightenment as a counterweight to the despair and cynicism ravaging postwar Europe. The simplicity, and good will of St. Francis' message of peace to all is a call to the faithful to once again listen and heed the naïve who are sincere rather than place their faith in those who use cleverness instead of being pure hearted. Rossellini's is telling the audience that those who are pure at heart will always overcome the evil that exists in the world. 

Immediately following at 3:45 am is Rossellini’s 1972 biopic, Blaise Pascal. It’s an intriguing look at the life of the French philosopher from age 17 to his death at the age of 39 in 1662. Along the way the film examines Pascal’s role in the battle between reason and faith. As Pascal, Pierre Arditi gives a performance for the ages as the philosopher faces a society that believes in witchcraft and fails to understand his discovery of the vacuum, which for Pascal asserts the existence of infinity. Pascal spent his short existence on earth trying to move French society out of the darkness and towards enlightenment. And on his deathbed (after suffering rather poor health for most of his life), Pascal affirms his belief not only in God, but also in clear thought, which he sees as not opposed to belief in God, but entirely compatible with that belief. This is a film that will delightfully enlighten you (no pun intended).


December 17: At 8 pm TCM is airing a double feature directed by and starring Albert Brooks. First up is Real Life (1979), an often hilarious mockumentary of the famous 1973 PBS documentary, An American Family. Brooks brilliantly satirizes both the family that allowed the cameras to invade their personal life, the media, who glommed onto it and began to reshape American life, and us, who cheerfully went along with the whole thing. Following at 10 pm is Modern Romance (1981), with Brooks as film editor Robert Cole, currently working on a cheesy sci-fi film, who is constantly breaking up and reconciling with his extremely patient and long-suffering girlfriend, Mary Harvard (Kathryn Harrold). Unlike the preceding film, this one totally misses the mark: it is shallow and totally unfunny. Not helping matters is the fact that there is no chemistry between Brooks and Harrold. Instead of insight we get a sappy romance that never takes off because Brooks’ character is so unlikeable. Watch at your own risk.


December 27: An evening with the great Zero Mostel begins at 8:00 pm with his famous role as Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ 1968 The Producers. At 9:45 Zero is blacklisted comedian Hecky Brown in the 1976 comedy/drama The Front. Mostel is an embittered man who needs the help of angel Harry Belafonte in The Angel Levine (1976) at 11:45 pm. A most unusual western hits the airwaves at 1:30 am as Kim Novak leads a group of outlaws posing as religious leaders of the local church to rob a fortress-like bank built by the James Brothers, the Dalton Brothers and the Younger Brothers to store their ill-gotten gold in The Great Bank Robbery from Warner Bros. in 1969. Zero is the Rev. Pious Blue. And last, at 3:30 am, Zero is the drunken Potemkin, courtier to Russian empires Catherine the Great (Jeanne Moreau) in 1968’s Great Catherine. Peter O’Toole, Jack Hawkins and Akim Tamiroff also star in this slapstick adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play.


December 31: There is no better way to spend New Year’s Eve than watching William Powell and Myrna Loy solve crimes. The Thin Man marathon kicks off at 8:00 pm with the original, The Thin Man (1934). At 9:45 pm comes After the Thin Man (1936). Another Thin Man (1939) follows at 11:45 pm. Then it’s Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) at 1:45 am. The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) airs at 3:30 am, and the last of the series, Song of the Thin Man (1947), can be seen at 5:15 am.


December 31: The only Pre-Code film this edition is One Way Passage (1932), starring William Powell and Kay Francis, at 10:00 am. Read our review of it here


December 16: Tune in at 2 am for a great psychotronic double feature. First up is The Twilight People, a 1972 atrocious remake of Island of Lost Souls from director Eddie Romero and co-producer and star John Ashley. The best take on the film comes from Michael Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film: “Like most Romero duds, it stars John Ashley (who co-produced). The panther woman is played by Pam Grier! This boring quasi remake includes an ape man, antelope man, flying bat man, wolf woman and a tree woman(?), a Nazi, bad makeup, and some pretty gory scenes.” If that doesn’t make you want to tune in, nothing does. It’s followed at 3:45 am by the original 1933 classic, Island of Lost Souls.

December 22: Elvis stars in the classic Jailhouse Rock at 3:30 pm, made in the days when he was actually making good movies. 

December 23: Tune in at 2:15 am to see Olivia Newton-John as a goddess sent to help roller-skating Michael Beck in the unpopular 1980 misfire Xanadu. Also starring is Sandahl Bergman and Gene Kelly, of all people. Following at 4:00 am is the dull The Unholy Rollers (1972), though it features Claudia Jennings in one of her best roles as a young woman who quits her job at a cannery to try her luck on the roller derby circuit with the L.A. Avengers. Co-produced by Roger Corman and James H. Nicholson, it’s a lame attempt to cash in on the superior Kansas City Bomber, made the same year with Raquel Welch. Jennings is wonderful, but the script lets her down, featuring typical show biz corruption.

December 27: A Val Lewton double header of The Leopard Man (1943) and Cat People (1942) begins at 5:30 pm.

December 30: At 2:00 am it’s He Knows You’re Alone from 1980, a film whose only distinction being it was the first film of Tom Hanks and was directed by Armand Mastroianni, Marcello’s American cousin. Following at 4:30 am is the equally dreadful Don’t Open the Door! (aka Don’t Hang Up) from 1975 about a dutiful grand-daughter who goes home to take care of her elderly grandmother and finds herself in the same house with a homicidal maniac.

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