By Ed Garea
TCM BIG SCREEN CLASSICS is featuring the 40th anniversary of 1978’s Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. It will be screened at selected theaters on April 8 and 11. And as we always says say: remember, no big-screen TV can match the thrill of actually seeing a classic where it was meant to be seen – in the theater. It’s a perfect way to relive seeing it on its initial run or a chance to see it on the big screen after years of watching it on the small screen.
Staff member and valued friend Jonathon Saia has launched his very own web site at www.jonathonsaia.com and it’s a keeper. Don’t worry, he’s not leaving us. On the site is a wonderful and entertaining series of short articles called “Females of Film,” which covers everyone from Lois Weber to Frances Marion to Dorothy Arzner to Ida Lupino. He also provides information on his film projects. “The mission of my work is to explore the strange and the unknown; the hated and the taboo; and to color outside the lines with the brightest of crayons.” So take a peek. You know his work from our site and his new site only continues the project and the passion he has for film, it’s history, boundaries and immense imaginative potential.
The TCM Spotlight for April features the films of director Michael Curtiz. Born in Budapest on December 24, 1886, he began acting in films in 1912. Shortly after, he began his directorial career. Moving to the U.S. in 1926 he began directing for Warner Bros., remaining with the studio until the early ‘50s. After leaving Warner’s he freelanced, and his last film was the 1961 Western The Comamcheros. He returned to the director’s chair in 1967, helming an episode of MGM’s family TV series Off to See the Wizard on ABC. While at Warner Bros, he directed such classics as Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Casablanca, Mildred Pierce and Flamingo Road. Curtiz’s true value was realized in the early ‘30s, when his films saved the studio from bankruptcy.
April 4: Enjoy an entire day of Curtiz films with the morning and afternoon devoted to such Pre-Code classics as The Cabin in the Cotton (7:30 am), The Keyhole (10:15 am), Private Detective 62 (11:30 am), The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (12:45 pm), Doctor X (2:15 pm; read our essay on it here), The Mystery of the Wax Museum (5:00 pm), and The Kennel Murder Case (6:30 pm; read our essay on it here). The evening features such Pre-Code fare as 20,000 Years in Sing-Sing (10 pm), Jimmy the Gent (3 am), Mandalay (4:15 am), and Female (5:30 am).
April 11: More from Curtiz, including The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) at 8 pm, Captain Blood (1935) at 10 pm, and Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) at 2:15 am. All the films this night star the studio’s action star, Errol Flynn.
April 1: TCM is airing a repeat showing of Ingmar Bergman’s superb family drama Fanny and Alexander at the usual time of 2 am. Oskar and Emilie Ekdahl, along within their two children Fanny and Alexander, comprise a happy theatrical family in Uppsala at the turn of the 20th century. During the Christmas season Oskar falls ill and passes away, leaving Emilie devastated. Shortly afterwards she marries Edvard Vergerus, a rigid and demanding bishop. Their once happy home is now cold and cheerless and the two children are miserable – especially Alexander. Extremely imaginative, but also very stubborn, he frequently butts heads with his unyielding stepfather. Isak, a Jewish antique shop owner and longtime friend of the Ekdahl family, agrees to help rescue the children and return them to the warmth and happiness of the Ekdahl family residence. Fanny and Alexander premiered in theaters in 1982 during the Christmas season as a 3-hour release. The following year it was broadcast as a 5-hour miniseries on Swedish television. Many film buffs and critics regard it as Bergman’s best.
April 6: A sparkling green-eyed blonde who was one of the leading ladies of Pre-Code cinema Leila Hyams was an excellent and versatile performer, able to take on any role. TCM runs four of her best-known movies, beginning at 8 pm with Freaks (1932). Following at 9:15 pm is the classic comedy, Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), starring Charles Laughton as an English valet won in a poker game by rancher Charlie Ruggles. At 11 pm, when carnival barker William Haines is caught conning the local cowboys, he's forced to work off his sentence on the open range in Way Out West (1930). Hyams is Molly, the owner of the ranch. And finally at 12:30 am, Hyams is an admirer of magician John Gilbert, who is accused of murdering her father in The Phantom of Paris (1931).
April 5: At 4 pm Davis is a flighty heiress who gets into a marriage of convenience with reporter George Brent in the rarely seen The Golden Arrow (1936). A lame knockoff of It Happened One Night, it’s known among film buffs as The Straw That Broke Davis’ Back (or Warner Bros. contract). After she finished retakes on the film she immediately fled to England and tried rot get out of her contract with Warner’s. As she told an interviewer in England, “I knew that, if I continued to appear in any more mediocre pictures, I would have no career left worth fighting for.” She ultimately lost and had to return to the studio, but in 1943, Olivia de Havilland brought a similar case to court and won. Studio contracts were limited to seven years, period. No more could the studios add the time for a which a performer had been suspended to the end of the contract.
OUT OF THE ORDINARY
April 14: At 9:30 pm it’s derring-do in the air during World War 1 in Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels (1930). Starring Ben Lyon and James Hall as daredevil pilots and best friends and Jean Harlow perfectly awful as Helen. Looking at her performance, it’s hard top believe that only two short years later she would become the hottest thing in Hollywood and a terrific actress.
At 3:45 am a common friend's sudden death brings three men (Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk and John Cassavetes), married with children, to reconsider their lives and ultimately leave together. But their regained freedom will be short-lived in Cassavetes’ Husbands (1970). Read our essay on it here.
April 15: Rita Tushingham gives a sensitive performance as a teenager impregnated by a sailor in the Kitchen Sink drama, A Taste of Honey, Unable to rely on her alcoholic mother (a marvelous performance from Dora Bryan), she turns to a gay would-be textile designer, played by Murray Melvin. It’s a Must See for those who haven’t had the pleasure.
At 8 pm Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers are a young couple who inherit a debt-ridden old movie theater, appropriately nicknamed "The Flea Pit," and the three eccentric senior citizens (Margaret Rutherford, Peter Sellers and Bernard Miles) who work there in the 1957 comedy The Smallest Show on Earth (aka Big Time Operators).
April 15: Barbara Stanwyck is a nurse who uncovers a scheme to starve two children to death for their trust fund in William A. Wellman’s 1931 Night Nurse at 6 am.
PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B HIVE
April 5: Is the new roomer at the boarding house none other than Jack the Ripper? That’s the question poses in The Lodger, a 1944 mystery from 20th Century Fox and director John Brahm. Merle Oberon, George Sanders and Laird Crager star.
April 6: Stranglers dominate the early morning fare with Night of the Strangler (1975), starring Mickey Dolenz (!?) at 2 am, and Victor Buono as a lab technician terrorizing freeman nurses in The Strangler (1964) at 3:45 am.
April 7: At 8 am B.O. Skunk tries desperately to win the love of a girl, any girl, even going to such lengths as imitating Frank Sinatra in Tex Avery’s Little ‘Tinker (1948)
Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan return as the jungle’s favorite couple in Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941) at 10 am, preceded by a 1933 B&W Popeye cartoon, Seasin’s Greetink’s.
April 8: A night of Gidget starts at 8 pm with Sandra Dee as the precocious teenager in 1959’s Gidget, followed by Deborah Walley taking over the role in Gidget Goes Hawaiian, from 1961.
April 10: Amnesiac Robert Webber stumbles right into a murder plot in Hysteria (1965), directed by Freddie Francis.
April 12: Robert Montgomery is so convincing as a psychopathic murderer in Night Must Fall (1937) that it sometimes seems as if he’s not acting. Rosalind Russell and Dame May Whitty co-star. The fun begins at 6 pm.
April 13: Oliver Reed is a mad psychotherapist whose technique of Psychoplasmics, a treatment that encourages patients to give form to their inner conflicts and anger, has unexpected results in patient Samantha Eggar in David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) at 2 am. Following at 3:45 am, Catherine Deneuve is a Belgian manicurist repelled by sex who slowly goes mad when her sister goes on vacation with her married boyfriend and leaves her alone in the apartment in Roman Polanski’s 1965 psychotronic masterpiece, Repulsion.
April 14: Tex Avery’s 1954 cartoon, Drag-a-Long Droopy, airs at 8 am.
At 10 am it’s the last in MGM’s Tarzan series, Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942). The King of the Apes would move over to RKO for a series of increasingly funny B-features, but without O’Sullivan, who was glad to shed her sexy frock. Preceding it is another B&W Popeye cartoon, Wild Elephinks (1933).
April 8: Norma Shearer shines in a dual role as Molly, a woman of the streets and Florence, the pampered daughter of an affluent judge in Lady of the Night (1924). As fate (and a shamelessly sentimental script, TCM’s Bret Wood notes in his essay) would have it, both fall in love with the same man: David (Malcolm McGregor), an ambitious young inventor. The film sealed Shearer’s status as a leading lady at the recently formed MGM and won the notice of Irving Thalberg, who Shearer would marry a few years down the road.