Friday, March 16, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for March 16-31

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


TCM BIG SCREEN CLASSICS is featuring the 60th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 suspense (and psychotronic) classic, Vertigo, on March 18 and 21 at selected theaters. James Stewart stars as John "Scottie" Ferguson in Hitchcock's thriller, about a detective with a crippling fear of heights who's hired to trail the mysterious Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak). Remember, no big-screen TV can match the thrill of actually seeing a classic where it was meant to be seen – in the theater. 


March 18: A double feature from Japanese director Keisuke Kinoshita begins at 2:00 am with his 1960 offbeat comedy, Spring Dreams. Owing a debt to Jean Renoir’s 1932 comedy, Boudu Saved From Drowning, it is the tale of a sweet-potato vendor  named Atsumi (Chishu Ryu) who suffers a stroke in the living room of a nouveau riche family. The family physician (Shûji Sano) insists that the stricken man not be moved for at least a week, during which time various other residents of the apartment building where he resides make an appearance in the hope of inheriting his secreted assets. The family he is forced to stay withers their share of problems. The tyrannical tyrannical patriarch, Shôbei (Eitarô Ozawa), is revealed to be quite ineffectual as the movie progresses. The plant the has inherited from his late father-in-law is beset with labor problems and strikes because of his penny pinching ways towards his workers. His mother-in-law (Chieko Higashiyama) is concerned with making good matches for her granddaughters when not pointing out her son-in-law’s ineptitude. It seems that everyone in the family is either driven by greed or self-centeredness. In this convoluted household, Atsumi comes to be looked upon as a redeemer, a role he’s not crazy about assuming. Kinoshita’s film is a deft satire of affluent Japanese now caught between the old ways and the new capitalism brought in from the West. This was also a frequent theme of his countryman Yasujiro Ozu, but where Ozu is gentle, Kinoshita uses a hammer to get his point across. It’s a film well worth watching.

Following at 4:00 am is Kinoshita’s Farewell to Spring. This 1959 drama concerns a group of five young men who return to their hometown several years after graduation. They discover that not only have their lives changed in the interim, but the friendships they forged during their youth may not be strong enough to withstand this change. The film is a perfect example of Kinoshita’s philosophy, as he specialized in films (again, much like Ozu) that dealt with the drama to be found in the lives of ordinary people, rather than in grand or heroic figures of history. Some have seen Farewell to Spring as Japan’s first “gay” film, as Kinoshita himself was admittedly gay. Aside from some homoeroticism in two of the first meetings, however, the erotic connections between the men are weak, as the adolescent homosocial bonds they formed have withered away with the passage of time and the breadth of the wider world. However, judge for yourself. Like Spring Dreams, this is a film to see.


March 25: Jean Gabin, perhaps France’s most vibrant leading man, stars in two later films, beginning at 2:00 am (When Else?) with his 1949 opus, The Walls of Malapaga. Gabin plays Pierre Arrignon, a man wanted in France for killing his wife. He flees to Genoa, where he meets 12-year old Cecchina (Vera Talchi) and  comes to alleviate the loneliness she feels from the absence of her father, who is estranged from her mother, Marta (Isa Miranda), because of his brutal treatment. With good reason, Cecchina’s hardworking mother, Marta, is estranged from her husband, who stalks and intimidates her. As time passes, Marta and Pierre become a couple. At first Cecchina is jealous, but her loyalty and love come to the fore when the police begin closing in on Pierre.

Following at 4:00 am is Jean Renoir’s French Cancan, his beautifully realized tale about then opening of the famous Moulin Rouge. Set in the 1890s, Jean Gabin stars as Henri Danglard, the owner of a Paris cafe featuring his mistress, Lola (Maria Felix), as a belly dancer. Trying to stop his cafe from hemorrhaging money, Henri is in Montmartre, where he discovers that the old-fashioned dance known as the cancan is still being performed there. Inspired,  Henri decides to revive the dance and christens it the “French cancan.” He hopes the new appellation will make it sound vaguely “foreign” and “naughty,” and entice British and American tourists to his club. He features a new dancer, Nini (Françoise Arnoul), a laundress he met by chance. Not everything goes smoothly, however, as Henri not only has problems with his backers but also with his mistresses as he is competing for their affections with the backers. This competition culminates in a catfight between Lola and Nini that nearly sinks Henri’s plans, but eventually things work out and the French cancan is launched at the newly restored Moulin Rouge, all filmed by Renoir in sumptuous Technicolor. Francois Truffaut called the film a milestone in the history of color of cinema in his review for the May 1955 edition of Arts magazine.


March 28: Three seldom seen films from England are being aired in the morning and afternoon. First up at 10:45 is 2,000 Women. Phyllis Calvert, Flora Robson and Patricia Roc star in this 1944 production about a group of English women during World War II being held by the Germans at a former spa turned POW camp in France. When several British airmen accidentally parachute in the women are faced with the task of hiding the men from the Germans and figuring out how to smuggle them out to freedom. Directed by Frank Launder, this is one of the hidden gems of English cinema.

At 12:30 pm comes Great Day (1945), starring Eric Portman, Flora Robson, Sheila Sim and Isobel Jeans. The small English village of Denley is abuzz over a pending visit by Eleanor Roosevelt. As the village women work to get ready while bursting with the great secret, we glimpse their home lives in subplots, notably the problematic love life of young Margaret Ellis (Sim) and the travails of her proud but impoverished father (Portman). How will their problems affect the Great Day? A true curio of English village life.

Finally, at 2:00 pm comes the 1947 comedy, Holiday Camp. Directed by Ken Annakin, the film centers on the fortunes of the Huggett family (Jack Warner, Kathleen Harrison, Hazel Court and Peter Hammond) as they go to a Butlin’s holiday camp (which was a rite of passage for the average British family). There they  encounter other people, such as a young, unmarried couple who are about to become parents; a sadist on the lam from Scotland Yard and seeking further sadistic activities; a husband-seeking spinster; two would-be gamblers looking just to make expenses; and a middle-aged matron on her first holiday after years of taking care of her invalid mother. It was the first film to feature the Huggett family, and resonated so well with post-war audiences that two sequels followed. Look for Diana Dors in a small role as a dancer.


March 30: Speaking of Diana Dors, TCM is devoting an evening to the British bombshell with three of her films. 

Born Diana Mary Fluck on October 23, 1931, in Swindon, Wiltshire, England, she and her mother both nearly died from the traumatic birth. Because of this, her mother gave Diana anything and everything she wanted, whether clothes, toys or dance lessons. When her mother took her to the local movies theaters, Diana caught the acting bug. Physically, Diana matured early, and at age 12, looked and acted much older than she was. Much of this was attributed to her study of the actresses she saw on the silver screen; she wanted nothing more than to go to the United States and Hollywood to make her fame and fortune. At age 14 Diana enrolled at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA), the youngest in her class. Her film debut came with a small, uncredited role in Code of Scotland Yard (1947). Displaying a natural affinity with the screen, she was kept busy not merely as a minor presence in an assortment of frequently indifferent films, but as an off-screen personality, thrust into the public eye, and into the tabloid press, at every opportunity. Throughout the 1950s, she appeared in more films and became more popular in Britain, as her first husband, Dennis Hamilton (who she married after meeting him five weeks earlier), promoted her as an English version of Marilyn Monroe. Hollywood beckoned, but there she appeared only in a handful of pictures. She was more famous for her off-stage antics, which reportedly included wild parties that degenerated into sex orgies. RKO eventually fired her for violating the morals clause in her contract.

She divorced Hamilton in January 1959 and in April married comedian Richard Dawson (Hogan’s HeroesFamily Feud).  Their marriage lasted until 1966, spawning two children. After Dors divorced Dawson, she worked the club circuit and appeared in B movies before marrying her last husband, Alan Lake, in 1968. After collapsing during a hotel opening in 1982, she underwent an operation, where doctors discovered ovarian cancer. The cancer finally claimed her on May 4, 1984. On October 10, 1984, Lake killed himself with a shotgun.

The great mystery about Dors centers around a large fortune she supposedly accumulated, as she claimed to have stashed more than 2 million pounds in banks all over Europe. In 1982, she gave her son Mark Dawson a sheet of paper on which, she told him, was a code that would reveal the whereabouts of the money. The key to the code was in the hands of her husband Lake, but with his suicide Dawson was left with an unsolvable puzzle. It’s been speculated that one of the reasons Lake killed himself was because he cleaned out the accounts before Diana’s death and was afraid of discovery and prosecution.

The Films: The evening begins at 8:00 pm with what is regarded not only as her best film but also her best performance. In Yield to the Night (aka Blonde Sinner, Allied Artists, 1956), Dors plays Mary Hilton, a young woman who has been abused as a child and  locked into a loveless marriage with neglectful hubby Fred (Harry Locke). When she meets embittered and insecure nightclub piano player Jim Lancaster (Michael Craig), she falls in love, seeing him as the answer to her problems. Believing that Jim returns the affection she leaves Fred, but when she learns Jim is seeing socialite Lucy Carpenter (Mercia Shaw), Mary cracks and guns down Lucy as she unloads packages from her car in London. This earns Mary a ticket to Death Row. Based on a novel of the same title by Joan Henry, the character of Mary is loosely based on the real life murderess Ruth Ellis, the last female prisoner executed in England. Dors gives a strong and sensitive performance and makes the film well with the investment of time.

At 10:00 pm Dors co-stars with Victor Mature in The Long Haul (Columbia, 1957), a British noir with Mature as Harry Miller, a veteran who takes a long-haul truck driving job in Britain, where he runs afoul of an organized-crime syndicate that controls the trucking industry. Dors is Lynn, the girlfriend of big-wheel shipper/racketeer Joe Easy (Patrick Allen). When Harry’s English wife, Connie (Gene Anderson) stubbornly refuses to emigrate with him to America, Harry takes up with Lynn. Familiar, but enjoyable thanks to Dors.

Finally, at Midnight, comes the 1951 comedy from London Film, Lady Godiva Rides Again (aka Bikini Baby). Boasting a cast that includes Dennis Price, Stanley Holloway, Kay Kendall, Dora Bryan, Sidney James, Alastair Sim and Googie Withers, it features Pauline Stroud as Marjorie Clark, an innocent girl who wins an English Midland town’s provincial glamour contest and is asked to play Lady Godiva in the town’s Festival of Britain pageant. Dors has a small role as Dolores August, a fellow contestant. Look for Joan Collins in a small role – her film debut. And here’s a real bit of trivia: also in the film appearing uncredited as a contestant is Ruth Ellis (see Yield to the Night).


Recommended Pre-Code films:

March 17: Peg O’ My Heart (6:30 am). Marion Davies stars as a spunky Irish girl who is separated from her father (J. Farrell MacDonald) and brought to a lavish English estate to fulfill the terms of her inheritance. As Leonard Maltin says, “Corny but fun.”

March 23: Neil Hamilton opens a can of worms when he brings home girlfriend Joan Crawford to meet the folks in This Modern Age (6 am). Why are all the Must Sees on in the wee hours of the morning?

March 24: Jean Harlow gives one of her best performances as a stressed out film star in the hilarious comedy, Bombshell (8 am). She has to put up with her sponging family and wacky studio publicist Lee Tracy. To paraphrase Leonard Maltin, there are no holds barred in this devastating satire of Hollywood.

March 26: Lionel Barrymore is an idealistic physician who chooses ethics over money in One Man’s Journey (9 am). But his physician son, Joel Mccrea, can only see dollar signs, hence the drama in this excellent film that still holds its own today.

March 28: Elizabeth Bergner turns in a stunning performance as Catherine the Great in the aptly named The Rise of Catherine the Great (7 am). The film looks at the early life of a shy young princess forced to marry the reckless and mad Grand Duke Peter, heir to the Russian throne. When he eventually becomes Tsar Peter III, he is murdered and Catherine assumes the throne, ruling Russia for 34 years as Catherine the Great. The film brilliantly compares her personal transformation from timid to powerful with the expansion of Russia from a backwater land to a world power in this seldom seen classic.


March 17: Tarzan and His Mate (10 am) - The wonderful follow-up to the 1932 blockbuster finds Tarzan fighting unscrupulous ivory hunters. Pre-Code cinema at its best, if you know what we mean.

March 19: Boris Karloff is a surgeon unjustly sentenced to Devil’s Island (6 am), where he is mistreated by supervisor James Stephenson.

Strange Cargo (10:45 am) - Clark Gable and his trollop girlfriend Joan Crawford are among a group of prisoners on the lam from Devil’s Island in director Frank Borzage’s strange mixture of adventure and religious allegory. With Paul Lukas, Ian Hunter as a strange Christ figure, and Peter Lorre stealing the film as M'sieu Pig.

Easy Rider (1:45 am) - The ultimate psychotronic road film with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as drug dealers on a cross-country trip.

March 22: John Barrymore is a wonderfully deranged clubfooted ballet teacher with Donald Cook as his protege and Marian Marsh as the woman who he fears will be Cook’s ruin in 1931’s The Mad Genius (10 am).

March 24: John Wayne takes on bad guys and a ghost over an abandoned gold mine in Haunted Gold (8 am). At 10 am, Jane’s greedy cousins kidnap Tarzan to get their grubby hands on her inheritance in Tarzan Escapes.

March 26: On and evening dedicated to “radioactive” films, revel in The Incredible Shrinking Man (8 pm), The underrated The Magnetic Monster (11:15 pm), The Giant Behemoth (2:15 am - read our essay on it here), and the strange and entertaining psychotronic noir from Japan, The H Men (3:45 am). When stranger films are made the Japanese will make them.

March 31: Tarzan and Jane adopt Boy (Johnny Sheffield) in Tarzan Finds a Son (10 am).


We were remiss last issue in not informing you that serials have returned to TCM on Saturdays. Red Barry, a 1938 serial from Universal, stars Buster Crabbe in the title role as an ace detective after 2 million dollars in stolen bonds. Who took them and why is at the heart of the plot as Buster gets into numerous fist fights and cliff-hanging situations. Buster recovers the bonds and loses them again during the course of this delightful 13-chapter serial that is  just so much fun to watch. We hope this is only the start for TCM to bring back those wonderful serials that entertained us on television as children.


March 31: Hollywood’s biblical epics are pretty bad on average, but The Silver Chalice (5 am) is easily one of the worst of the lot. Paul Newman made his screen debut as Basil, the sculptor who designs  the framework for the cup used at The Last Supper. The film was so bad that Newman took out a trade ad in Variety apologizing for being in this mess. And he had every reason to beg our forgiveness, for his “performance” was as stiff as the cardboard sets used in the film. (Check out there “stone” walls and you’ll see they’re cardboard.) However, Newman wasn’t the only one in the cast to deliver a lousy performance. Jack Palance as Simon, the false prophet,gives new meaning to the term “ham actor.” Virginia Mayo as his seductive assistant is anything but, while Pier Angeli as Deborah, who marries Basil and coverts him to Christianity, could cure insomnia with her acting. And for a final word on Newman, we only have to look at the memoirs of producer/director Victor Saville, who ruefully noted in his memoirs that “method acting does not go well with a toga.” 


  1. As always... Great Stuff Guys! Thanks for the "Heads Up" !!!

  2. Thank you. Your comments are greatly appreciated.