Tuesday, March 6, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for March 8-14

March 8–March 14


JAILHOUSE ROCK (March 11, 6:00 pm): This 1957 film is easily one of Elvis' best. He’s in prison on a manslaughter conviction. His cellmate, a former country-and-western singer played by Mickey Shaughnessy, recognizes Vince Everett (Presley) has musical talent after hearing him sing, and serves as a mentor. When Everett is released after 20 months in prison, he looks for work as a singer. He becomes a success thanks to a producer and his love interest, played by Judy Tyler (she and her husband died shortly after the film wrapped up production). Presley does a solid job, showing that with the right material, he was a good actor. Unfortunately, roles like this rarely came along for Elvis. The film is critical of the music industry with Vince, tired of getting ripped off, creates his own record label with Judy. The film's highlight is the iconic “Jailhouse Rock” performance Everett does for a television special.

CLAIRE'S KNEE (March 11, 3:45 am): This 1970 French film, directed by Eric Rohmer, is an excellent erotic comedy about a diplomat in his 30s who becomes obsessed with a teenage girl. Well, not really her – he's in love with the thought of touching the young girl's knee as a sort of sexual conquest. However, the film is so much more than that. It's about a man trying to recapture his youth before getting married with the implication that marriage will forever change his life for the worse. It's also about a younger teenage girl, Laura, Claire's half-sister, and her maturation. And then there's Claire, who appears to be care-free and not very bright, but someone who is also insecure and vulnerable. Its story is brilliant and incredibly emotional. The legendary Roger Ebert described it as "a movie for people who still read good novels, care about good films, and think occasionally." That sums it up quite nicely.


STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (March 10, 12:00 am): This is a terrific and fast moving noir about a rising reporter Mike Ward (John McGuire) whose testimony at the trial of a cab driver (Elisha Cook, Jr.) accused of killing a café owner results in his conviction and death sentence. He argues with his noisy neighbor, which results in a surreal dream that he has murdered the neighbor. When he awakes, he finds that the neighbor is dead; killed in the same manner as the café owner, and now Mike is arrested as the prime suspect. He tells his fiancée Jane (Margaret Tallichet) that he remembers seeing a man who ran from him on the night he argued with the neighbor, and now Jane searches for that man in order to clear Mike. Will she find him? Is it Peter Lorre? There’s only one way to find out: tune in.

FREAKS (March 12, 8:30 am): A love story of a different kind ... a very different kind. Director Tod Browning draws on his background in the carnival to bring forth a story of the camaraderie of its unusual performers. Spurned and mocked by the show’s cruel trapeze artist, Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), they keep to their own company. However, when Cleopatra discovers that midget performer and sideshow leader Hans (Harry Earles) is coming into a fortune, she changes gears and secures him into marriage, all the while carrying on behind his back with strongman Hercules (Henry Victor). Things go along quite well until the wedding, then a drunken Cleopatra tells her new “friends” just what she thinks of them while inadvertently letting the cat out of the proverbial bag. Later that night the freaks band together to make her truly one of their own. Banned shortly after its release, it became a cult film when screened at midnight shows in the ‘60s. It still has the power to shock today.

WE DISAGREE ON ... VIVA ZAPATA! (March 10, 2:00 pm)

ED: A. The Mexican Revolution, as imagined by Hollywood. As history, it’s a joke, because this is clearly a fictionalized portrait of Zapata. The screenplay, by no less than John Steinbeck, is a disappointment. “Land and Liberty,” the simple slogans of the Revolution, are transformed into liberal cliches in an attempt to discredit Stalinism and distance it from “real” communism, as if any of that has anything to do with the Mexican Civil War. But this is a spectacle, and as film is visual, we must look at it from that point rather than trying to view it as an intellectual tract. And as a spectacle, it is magnificent. The strengths of the film lie in Elia Kazan’s direction, which brings a lot of the scenes to life (even the phony folklore holds one's interest), and the battle scenes are first rate. The film’s other strength is the acting. Brando was at the height of his youthful powers here, and Anthony Quinn was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Jean Peters, as Josefa, the love of Zapata’s life, gives a tremendous performance, as does Joseph Wiseman as the Judas-like Fernando. Also in the cast are such stellar names as Margo, Harold Gordon, Lou Gilbert, Mildred Dunnock,  and Frank Silvera. It’s always a hoot to watch Alan Reed, later the voice of Fred Flintstone, as Pancho Villa.

DAVID: C+. While I'm a big fan of director Elia Kazan  On the Waterfront and A Face in a Crowd are two of the finest movies ever made I am lukewarm to Viva Zapata! I admire the ambitious effort put forth to make this film. Kazan as the director, a screenplay by John Steinbeck, and Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn as the lead actors give this film an instant pedigree. The real disappointment is the final product falls far short of that pedigree. The dialogue relies too much on psychological mumbo-jumbo "a strong people is the only way to freedom" and "cut off the head of the snake and the body will die" and many scenes are dull. This attempt to "Hollywood" a based-on-a-true story of Mexican revolutionaries doesn't work. Brando is all right even though he overdoes method acting turning Zapata into a brooding Mexican Stanley Kowalski. Quinn is solid, but there's not a lot of good material in the film. The movie tries to cram the history of Zapata and the Mexican revolution into a film that's under two hours. It glosses over or skips important parts of his life and wastes time with issues that aren’t interesting.

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

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