Friday, January 5, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for January 8-14

January 8–January 14


THE LION IN WINTER (January 9, 5:30 pm): I've never shied away from expressing my dislike for Katharine Hepburn's acting. I think she had very little talent, and is the most overrated mainstream actress in the history of cinema. But I've got to give the devil her due – she is absolutely brilliant in The Lion in Winter, a 1968 film in which she stars as Eleanor of Aquitaine in the year 1183. She is imprisoned by her husband, Henry II (Peter O'Toole delivering yet another fantastic performance), as the two greatly differ over which of their sons will be next in line to the thrown of England. While not historically accurate, it's a wildly entertaining film with Hepburn and O'Toole trading biting lines with each other. One of my favorites has the two of them walking arm-in-arm smiling at their subjects while Eleanor is giving Henry grief. He says, "Give me a little peace." Without skipping a beat, Eleanor responds: "A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace? Now, that's a thought." A great story, great costumes, great directing and a great cast that also includes Anthony Hopkins in his film debut, Timothy Dalton and Nigel Terry.

GASLIGHT (January 11, 8:00 pm): As a huge fan of Joseph Cotten and Ingrid Bergman, it's great to see that when the two teamed together in this 1944 film that the result was spectacular. (Unfortunately, the chemistry between the two wasn't nearly as good when they worked together on Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn five years later.) Gaslight has fantastic pacing, starting slowly planting the seeds of Bergman's potential insanity and building to a mad frenzy with Cotten's Scotland Yard inspector saving the day and Bergman gaining revenge. While Charles Boyer has never been a favorite of mine, he is excellent in this role as Bergman's scheming husband who is slowly driving her crazy. Also deserving of praise is Angela Lansbury in her film debut as the couple's maid. Lansbury has the hots for Boyer and nothing but disdain for Bergman. A well-acted, well-directed film that is one I always enjoy viewing no matter how many times I see it.


THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (Jan. 8, 12:30 am.): An excellent low-budget film based on the true case of Ray Hernandes (Tony LoBianco) and Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler), who were dubbed by the press as “The Lonely Hearts Killers.” They would meet unsuspecting and lonely females via "lonely heart" letters. Their victims would correspond in the hope of meeting and building a romantic relationship that would hopefully result in marriage. Fernandez would "marry" these women (with Beck pretending to be Raymond's sister) and subsequently rob and often murder them. Masterfully written and directed by Leonard Kastle with excellent performances all around. As critic Michael Weldon noted in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film: “Definitely not made by the usual bozos. Required viewing.”

THE NARROW MARGIN (Jan. 13, 10:15 pm): A superb low-budget noir from RKO skillfully directed by Richard Fleischer and  starring Charles McGraw and Don Beddoe as L.A. detectives who must travel to Chicago and bring back by train the widow of mobster Frankie Neall (Marie Windsor), where she’s scheduled to testify before the L.A. Grand Jury against her former husband and further provide a "payoff" list. They are spotted by other gang members who try to kill the widow and the detective after attempts at bribery have failed. McGraw’s only advantage is that the assassins don’t know what she looks like. Clocking in at a taut 70 minutes, the film doesn’t real the tension for a second. Some think it’s the greatest noir ever made. Watch it and see if you agree.

WE AGREE ON ... THE PHENIX CITY STORY (January 8, 4:45 am)

ED: A+. Directed by Phil Karlson, based on real events, and filmed right in Phenix City itself this is a one-of-a-kind part documentary, part social justice film and part noir. Besides the location filming (on the city's notorious 14th Street, the heart of the mob’s operations) Karlson introduces the film with about 15 minutes of interviews conducted by famed newsman Clete Roberts with the town folk after the Alabama State National Guard had stepped in to clean it up. Set in 1954, drugs were sold openly, prostitutes solicited johns on the street corners, and sleazy clubs offered gambling, mainly to soldiers on leave from Fort Benning, right across the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia. Not seen by the citizens and soldiers were other even worse rackets that included a safe-cracking school and a black-market baby ring. Things were fine until the state's attorney general elect – whose campaign promise was that he would clean up the city  was murdered in 1954 did Alabama’s citizens call for action against the mob that ran the town. After the killing, the national guard was sent in and the major crime bosses fled. Karlson’s direction was nearly flawless. Though Richard Kiley (who plays John Patterson, the son of murder Attorney General-elect Albert Patterson), is top-billed, the film has no real star. Karlson used supporting actors like John McIntyre (as Albert Patterson), Edward Andrews (as syndicate leader Rhett Tanner), John Larch as the lowlife hit man Clem Wilson, and Kathryn Grant (who later married Bing Crosby) as Ellie Rhodes who gathers evidence for Albert and John Patterson. Given a limited budget by Allied Artists (the company that succeeded Monogram Pictures), Phil Karlson managed not only to make one of the most fascinating films about American crime history, but he also created a style that would be replicated in noirs to come, such as Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and The Lineup. Karlson himself went on to direct The Scarface Mob for Desilu, the pilot episode of the series The Untouchables, undeniably the grittiest and darkest series in the history of television.

DAVID: A+. Dubbed "The Wickedest City in America" and "Sin City, U.S.A." Phenix City, Alabama, lived up to its reputation. The city, just across the river from Columbus, Georgia, was a cesspool of crime, corruption, murder and mayhem for decades. That The Phenix City Story (1955) captures the essence of the city and the events that occurred just a year earlier is a testament to how extraordinary the film is. The movie begins with people who lived through the 1954 murder of state Attorney General-elect Albert Patterson, a Phenix City native who ran on a platform of cleaning up the town, and the events that followed being interviewed by Los Angeles Clete Roberts. The interviews give the film a stamp of journalistic integrity as the movie is filmed on location in semi-documentary style as told by Richard Kiley, who plays Albert Patterson's son, John. The son would later succeed him as attorney general and would go on to become governor of Alabama. Directed by Phil Karlson, who made several hard-hitting violent films throughout his career, including the original Walking Tall, there's a high level of authenticity to the film even though one of its most shocking scenes – the body of a young girl murdered by the mob thrown onto the lawn of the Patterson's house as a warning that their child could be next – didn't actually occur by accounts of those who investigated the crimes in Phenix City. Nevertheless, it's an incredible scene as is shows the sheer horror of life in this corrupt small town. Karlson shows the environment of a living hell for decent people victimized by the mob who finally rise up and fight back. One irony is the outraged citizens preach nonviolence but there is a tremendous amount of violence in the film. Actually, this is one of the most violent films of its era with people murdered in vicious ways. As film critic Martin Rubin wrote: "Many movies since have portrayed more explicit and elaborate violence, but few have conveyed violence's chaotic force with such intelligent crudeness." TCM doesn't show this film enough and putting it on at 4:45 am is a pity because people aren't going to just catch it. But it's definitely one to tape and enjoy. 

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

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