Thursday, December 21, 2017

TCM TiVo Alert for December 23-31

December 23–December 31


THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (December 24, 8:00 am): Warner Brothers wasn't known for making excellent comedies in the 1930s and 40s, and Bette Davis didn't become famous for her comedic skills. However, this 1942 screwball comedy is the exception to the rule. Davis is delightful and funny as Maggie Cutler, secretary to Monty Woolley's character. Woolley's Sheridan Whiteside is an arrogant, acerbic lecturer and critic who slips on the front steps of the house of an Ohio family, injuring himself in the process. Since he's going to be laid up for a while, Whiteside thinks nothing of completely takes over the house, leading to some funny and madcap moments. Woolley, who reprised the role he first made famous on Broadway, is the best part of the movie. Davis is great here and showed legitimate promise as a comedic actress.  

ADVISE AND CONSENT (December 28, 6:00 am): This 1962 film about the confirmation process of a secretary of state nominee (Henry Fonda) was ahead of its time. Having the president (Franchot Tone) dying while the proceedings occur is somewhat overdramatic, but the storyline rings true with politics of later years that saw and still see numerous presidential nominees have their entire lives scrutinized just for the sake of partisanship and not for the betterment of the country. It's dialogue heavy, but the dialogue is so good that it elevates the quality of the film. Add the excellent cast – Fonda, Lew Ayres, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, and Burgess Meredith (in a small but memorable role) – and great directing by Otto Preminger and you get a film that's interesting, intelligent and compelling.


CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (December 24, 4:00 pm): Barbara Stanwyck was one of the very, very few that could go from playing in tear jerkers (Stella Dallas) to corporate dramas (Executive Suite) to steamy crime dramas (Double Indemnity) to Westerns (The Maverick Queen) to screwball comedies (The Lady Eve) and distinguish herself in each genre. And this gentle romantic comedy is no different. Here she plays Elizabeth Lane, a Martha Stewart type, a columnist for “Smart Housekeeping,” and a woman touted as “the greatest cook in the country,” with a perfect home in the ‘burbs, a perfect husband, and a perfect baby. She’s the role model to millions of readers. The only problem is that Elizabeth Lane is none of the above. She’s unmarried, no child, lives in the city, and the closest she’s even been to a stove is how near she sits to the restaurant’s kitchen. Trouble ensues when a war hero (Dennis Morgan), as part of a publicity stunt for her magazine, is granted a visit to her “farm.” And, to make things worse her boss, played by Sydney Greenstreet, is coming along. How can she pull of this charade and not get fired? Stanwyck pulls it off beautifully, giving yet another top-notch performance as the harried columnist. Morgan is excellent as the visiting war hero, and it’s nice to see Sydney Greenstreet in a role other than as the bad guy. He acquits himself rather nicely here. This is the perfect film for those who want to see light holiday fare during this time, and a perfect film for those that have not yet had the pleasure of sampling Stanwyck’s work in comedies.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (December 29, 3:15 am): Here it is, the game-changer for horror films, the original flesh-eating zombie film. Horror films afterward were never the same. Those who came to the theater expecting cheesy type effects found in low-budget films were in for the shock of their lives, Made in Pittsburgh for peanuts, it was expertly directed by George A. Romero and still has the power to stick today. It’s one of my favorite psychotronic films and is definitely worth the time to watch.

WE AGREE ON ... CAT PEOPLE (December 27, 6:45 pm)

ED: A. Val Lewton made his name as a producer with this ironic horror film, produced for RKO on a minuscule budget. While other B horror producers were using men in gorilla suits, haunted mansions and other terrible special effects, Lewton (who was only given a title to start with) and his director Jacques Tourneur employed suggestion, eerie lighting, extraordinary camera angles and sound effects to allow the audience to use their own unique special effect: their imaginations. DeWitt Boden’s screenplay uses a large dollop of Freud in its story of Irene Dubrovna (Simone Simon), who fears that an ancient curse on her Serbian village has the power to turn her into a big cat if she becomes sexually aroused or threatened. In spite of her fear she falls in love with and marries Oliver Reed (Kent Smith), but their union goes unconsummated because of those fears. When she thinks Oliver’s co-worker, Alice (Jane Randolph) is making moves on him, her feline jealousy causes her to assume a cat form, though we only see shadows and hear growls. The scene where she stalks Alice in an indoor swimming pool is one of the most terrifying in movie history. Likewise the scene where she visits a smarmy psychoanalyst (Tom Conway) for help with her condition. When he tries to put the moves on her it’s the last thing he ever does. Made for only $135,000, it grossed $4 million, making it RKO’s biggest hit for 1942. It also spawned a series of films from Lewton using the same techniques and achieving the same results. It remains a marvelous example of imaginative filmmaking.

DAVID: A. If you're going to make a successful B-movie on the cheap – 1942's Cat People reportedly had a budget of less than $150,000 – you better be sure to be imaginative. And that's exactly what this film is. It's the story of Irena (Simone Simon), a Serbian fashion designer who is convinced she is the victim of a curse that will change her into a killer panther if she is sexually aroused. She is obsessed with a black panther at the Central Park Zoo, often sketching and visiting the creature in its cage. Irena falls in love and marries Oliver Reed (Kent Smith and not to be confused with the actor Oliver Reed), an engineer, who she is never intimate with fearing a transformation. What it lacks in special effects – which are virtually nonexistent – it more than makes up in atmosphere and exceptionally good use of cinematography, especially shadows and black-and-white framing. Producer Val Lewton, who made this film for RKO, is credited with creating two staples of the horror genre. The first is "the walk" in which Alice (Jane Randolph), Oliver's coworker who falls in love with him, walks down a dark street with something possibly following her in the shadows though we really don't see it creating great tension. The second is "the bus," sometimes called the "Lewton Bus" because of this movie. In this case, Alice again is possibly being pursued by Irena as a panther, and at the perfect moment the audience – as well as her – gets a false scare from the loud hissing noise that comes from a bus' air brakes. While only 73 minutes in length, Cat People packs a lot into a relatively brief period of time. 

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

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