is a wonderful month for B-movie lovers, especially those who like
movie series. TCM is airing various movie series during the month. a
run down of them follows:
1: 8 pm - 3 am: Blondie.
4:15 am Mexican Spitfire.
2: 6:45 am - 1:30 pm: Mexican
Spitfire. 2:45 pm - 6:30 pm: Four
Daughters and sequels. 8 pm through the
3: 6:45 am - 10:15 am: Maisie.
Noon - 6:45 pm. Fibber McGee and
8: 8 pm through the night: Tarzan.
9: 6 am - 6:30 pm Tarzan.
8 pm - 2 am: Jungle Jim.
3:30 am: Bomba.
10: 6:15am - 6:45 pm: Bomba.
15: 8 pm through the night: The
FURUKAWA - MAY 6
double feature from noted Japanese director Takumi Furukawa begins at
2 am with his 1964 opus, Cruel Gun
Story (Kenju zankoku monogatari). this is
a moody and atmospheric noir with another good
performance from famed Japanese tough guy Jo Shishido as Togawa who,
after recently getting out of jail, is hired by a mob boss to
assemble a small group of men for the biggest cash heist in Japan's
history. The job requires much planning and each man has their role
to fill but, of course, nothing seems to go right once the plan goes
into action. Betrayal, violence and revenge are the main themes and
it’s an enjoyable noir with a rather dim ending.
at 3:45 am is hisA
Colt is My Passport (Koruto wa ore no
pasupōto). this 1967 film is hard-boiled noir at
its best. it once again stars Jo Shishido as a crafty hitman, who
with his longtime sidekick (Jerry Fujido) has carried out a hit
of an opposing gang boss. though they make a quick getaway, they are
captured by the boss’ henchmen. Later, after managing a narrow
escape, the pair makes their way to a cheap hotel outside of
Yokohama. Looking to catch a boat for foreign shores, Shishido and
Fujido become locked into an explosive gun battle with the henchmen,
who are out for violent revenge.
is one of my favorite action directors. His films and their style
have influenced directors who came afterward, such as Ringo Lam and
John Woo. Anyone who like noir and action will love
DOUBLE FEATURE - MAY 11
extraordinary films from Japanese directors will be shown beginning
at 2 am The first is from director Toshio Matsumoto: his 1969
film, Funeral Parade of Roses. This
is one weird, wild – and strangely enjoyable – film. Both Eddie
(Pita) and the transvestite Leda (Osamu Ogasawara) have sexual
designs on bar manager and drug dealer Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya). Gonda
is afraid Leda will dime him out to the cops if he doesn’t give in
to his/her sexual yearnings. Leda ultimately feels he has no real
choice and commits suicide, This leaves Eddie and Gonda free to
engage in their homosexual yearnings for each other. But when Gonda
discovers he is actually Eddie's father, he kills himself with a
knife. Eddie, extremely distraught, then uses the same knife to cut
his own eyes out. Think of it as a gonzo version of Oedipus
Rex, and don’t kid yourself - the ending is really violent.
at 4 am is Crazed Fruit (Kurutta
Kajitsu, 1956). It’s probability the first JD film in Japan,
though these films are referred to there as “taiyozoku,” or “sun
tribe,” a term coined to describe the rich, bored, and
mean-spirited youth that were often the subjects of popular novelist
Shintaro Ishihara, who wrote the best-selling Seasons of the
Sun and other books along the same theme. Crazed
Fruit is a powerful drama, though not without the occasional
comic undertone. Privileged teenage brothers Natsuhisa and Haruki
Takishima (Yujiro Ishihara and Masahiko Tsugawa) take advantage of
lack of guidance from their absentee parents and are spending their
summer holiday along the Zushi coast (just outside Tokyo) pursuing
such hedonistic activities as drinking, gambling hanging out with
Natsuhisa's narcissistic and bored teen friends, led by the arrogant
rich Eurasian leader Frank (Masumi Okada). “Boredom is our credo.”
activities are interrupted by the arrival of Eri (Mie Kitahara), a
beautiful young woman. Haruki, the younger brother (and a virgin)
becomes infatuated with Eri, but his older brother is also attracted
to her, and learns she’s married to an American businessman. But
instead of this ending everything, Natsuhisa initiates a triangle by
seeking Eri’s favors as well.
first film, it signaled a shift in Japanese cinema and captured the
zeitgeist of the time – how postwar Japan was changing from its
traditional roots and how Western influences and a more comfortable
standard of living created an idle class of youth who lacked respect
their elders, questioned traditional values, and defy convention in
favor of such pursuits as gambling, lying around by the sea, and
pursuing the opposite sex. These shirkers aren't really rebelling for
change. They're complaining because they can. Though the message
of Crazed Fruit has long been forgotten, it is
essential for understanding the sea change in Japanese culture during
the ‘50s and the effect it had on Japanese society.
WAJDA - MAY 13
double feature from Polish director Andrzej Wajda begins at 2 am with
his 1982 feature, Danton,
with Gerard Depardieu starring as the French Revolutionary. The film
is set in November 1793. Danton is returning to Paris from voluntary
exile at his country retreat after learning that the Committee for
Public Safety, under the incitement of his fellow revolutionary and
rival, Maximillian Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak) has begun a series
of massive executions, known as The Terror. Confident in the peoples'
support, Danton clashes with his former ally, but the clever and
calculating Robespierre rounds up Danton and his followers for trial
before a revolutionary tribunal. As expected, they are found guilty
and dispatched to the guillotine. Wajda made the film as an
allegorical commentary upon the then current events in Poland that
pitted Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement against the puppet Soviet
Communist regime of the Polish government headed by General
Jaruzelski. For Wajda, Danton represents the muddled Western world
while Robespierre represents the Stalinist totalitarianism in the
East. This is a Wajda film I haven’t yet seen and I heard it’s
far more talky than action filled, but from everything I heard and
read, Depardieu makes for a great Danton, and Wajda is an excellent
at 4:30 am is his 1955 film, A
Generation (Pokolenie). A Generation
is the first of Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda's "underground
trilogy" and also Wajda's first-ever feature film. Originally
titled Pokolenie, the film dissects the impact that World War II had
on the youth of Poland. Stacy (Tadevsz Lomnicki) is an impressionable
young Warsaw resident who falls in love with resistance leader
Dorotea (Ursula Modrzinska). Wanja shows how the passion they feel
towards their cause is entwined with their passion towards one
another. There are several moments where the director contradicts the
“official” version of events in the Polish Uprising to show the
actual facts, many of which were experienced by Wajda himself. Done
partly as a way of showing the disillusionment so many young Poles
went through after the war, the film and director found themselves
subject to close scrutiny and an abundance of government interference
when it was first released. Sharp-eyed viewers will be able to spot a
young Roman Polanski in the underground scenes.
7: At 8 pm Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton and Sir Cedric
Hardwicke star in The Winslow
Boy (1948). A film adaptation of Terence
Rattigan's play, it concerns a young boy, Ronnie Winslow (Neil
North), who is accused of a petty theft and expelled from naval
school. Convinced of his innocence, the boy's father (Cedric
Hardwicke) and sister (Margaret Leighton) want to see justice done,
and, along with lawyer, Sir Robert Morton (Robert Donat), they
initiate a series of courtroom battles to clear Ronnie's name
creating a political fire storm along the way. It’s a brilliantly
acted film, with crisp direction from Anthony Asquith. If it sounds
like a David Mamet play, be advised that Mamet write the
screenplay for the excellent 1999 remake, starring Rebecca Pidgeon,
Jeremy Northam and Nigel Hawthorne.
13: Barbara Stanwyck turns on the suds machine full blast in
the classic 1937 soaper, Stella
Dallas, at 10 pm.
6: The MGM all-star extravaganza, Grand
Hotel, airs at 6 am, followed by Clark Gable and
Claudette Colbert in Frank Capra’s classic, It
Happened One Night.
13: Stanwyck is an orphaned girl who becomes a schoolteacher
in the midst of a farming community and raises her son (Dickie
Moore/Hardie Albright) to aspire to big things in the 1932 original
version of So Big.
Bette Davis also appears in the film. It would be remade in 1953 with
Jane Wyman in the lead.
1: Steve Reeves is the Son of Spartacus, the only man who
can put an end to the tyranny of Caesar Grassus (Claudio Gora) in the
1963 sword and sandal epic The
Slave, airing at 6:15 pm.
4: At 2:15 am, it’s Anatomy
of a Psycho. The unstable young brother of a criminal
sentenced to the gas chamber has made a list of the people who sent
him there and prepares to exact his revenge. Watch for Ronnie Burns,
son of George and Gracie, as the boyfriend of the protagonist’s
sister. Following at 3:45 am is William Castle’s tale of greed and
and the Amazons,
from 1945, airs at 10 am.
morning and afternoon of director Tod Browning’s films begins at
6:30 am with the 1925 silent The
Unholy Three and
ends at 6:45 pm with the underrated drama Miracles
for Sale from
6: Clara Bow shot to stadium as a spunky shop girl who has
designs on the handsome playboy owner of her department store in It,
airing at 12:15 am. Look for an unbilled Gary Cooper.
8: Robert Flaherty examiners the harsh life of an Eskimo
family in the groundbreaking documentary, Nanook
of the North (1922), showing at 8:30 am.
15: Even though it’s being shown at the early hour of 6
am, White Comanche (1968)
is a must. William Shatner plays twin Indians: Notah Moon, a
peyote-addicted, bare-chested bad ass half-breed in war paint who
kills white men and rapes their women, and his innocent brother,
Johnny Moon, who is always being mistaken for his brother and almost
lynched. Shatner can’t even handle one role, let alone two.
Combined with a bad script and almost nonexistent direction, it makes
for total entertainment. Joseph Cotten was slumming in this as the
sheriff. Watch for the knife fight between Notah’s squaw, White
Fawn (Perla Cristal) and a Comanche warrior, plus the showdown where
the twin Shatners face off. Not to be missed.
3, 9:30 pm): Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is a rich automobile
manufacturer who loves his job, but is convinced to retire early by
his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), a vain woman who is fearful of
growing old. She wants to see the world, particularly Europe, lead an
exciting life. Sam is a regular guy who wants to please his wife.
Fran quickly grows bored of Sam and spends most of her time with
other men. She eventually dumps him for a European noble, leaving Sam
to mope around Italy, where he sees a divorcee (Mary Astor), who he
first met while traveling on the Queen Mary to Europe. The two fall
in love, but Fran wants to reconcile. I won't ruin the ending.
Everything works exceptionally well in this film. The acting is
top-notch (besides the three leads, David Niven is great in a smaller
role in one of his earliest films, and Maria Ouspenskaya as a
baroness is a scene-stealer), the story is first-rate, and with
William Wyler as the director, the movie is filmed and paced
HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (May
6, 8:00 am): An absolute classic, directed by Frank Capra, about a
runaway snobby socialite (Claudette Colbert) and a reporter
(Clark Gable). This movie really put the two actors on
the movie map even though they both already had about 20 credits to
their names. It's a wonderful screwball romantic comedy with great
chemistry between the pair. The story takes place over more than
one night despite the title. It's a wonderful film with two of
cinema's most famous scenes. The first has Colbert successfully
hitching a ride, after Gable fails, by lifting up her skirt and
showing her leg. The other has the two of them sharing a room
and Gable putting up a blanket to separate them, calling it "the
walls of Jericho," which ties in nicely at the end of the film.
Released in 1934, it has aged well.
4, 3:45 am): Another great hokey B horror film from William Castle
centered around a murderous scheme to collect a rich inheritance.
Miriam Webster (Patricia Breslin), the object of the murder, is to
share in the inheritance with her half-brother Warren, who lives with
his childhood guardian Helga (Eugenie Leontovich) in the mansion
where Warren and Mariam grew up. Confined to a wheelchair after
recently suffering a stroke, Helga is cared for by her nurse Emily
(Joan Marshall), a strange young woman who has formed a close bond
with Warren. Just when we think we have everything figured out, the
film blindsides us with a surprising conclusion. A nice little gem of
a movie, it’s not as gimmicky and tongue-in-cheek as Castle's usual
fare and comes across as one of his most interesting and effective
shockers. As with all Castle’s films, it’s a hell of a lot of fun
HOTEL (May 6, 6:00 am): Hollywood’s first all-star
film, it was a risk that turned into a huge hit for MGM. Five
different characters are staying at the luxury hotel over the course
of two night, linked together by varying forms of desperation. There
is Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo), a fading suicidal ballerina; Baron Von
Gaigern (John Barrymore), a charming and destitute hotel thief
who plans to rob Grusinskaya of her valuable pearls; Mr. Preysing
(Wallace Beery), a ruthless industrialist who is gambling his entire
future on a business merger that may not go through; Kringelein
(Lionel Barrymore), a meek, terminally ill accountant who intends to
go through his life savings living his last days in style; and
Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford), an ambitious stenographer willing to do
more than just take dictation to get ahead. It’s the interaction
between the characters that makes the film the deserved classic it is
today. Lewis Stone plays Otternschlag, the alcoholic house doctor
whose caustic observations set the film in motion. of the scene. In
the opening scene he sets the tone of the film when he remarks,
"People come, people go, and nothing ever happens.” The
performances by Garbo, Beery, and the Barrymores are what we expect,
but it’s Crawford’s stenographer who steals the show. Her
Flaemmchen is a beautifully balanced portrait of ambition driven by
desperation. Grand Hotel won the Oscar for Best Picture and has been
remade many times over the years (Hotel Berlin, Weekend
at the Waldorf, to name a few), and has even surfaced as a
Broadway musical. A film always worth the time to watch.
AGREE ON ... HANG ‘EM HIGH (May 5, 8:00 pm):
A-. Though it may look like another of Clint’s
Spaghetti Westerns, this one was actually produced in the U.S. by
Clint’s own company, Malposo. Clint is a rancher mistaken by Ed
Begley and his vigilantes for a rustler and hanged from a tree. Only
they botched the job and a passing marshal (Ben Johnson) cuts him
down. He is later cleared of any wrongdoing and released by Judge
Fenton (Pat Hingle), just in time to witness the hanging of the man
who really murdered the owner of the cattle. In need of money he
accepts the job of deputy and is assigned to arrest the men who tried
to hang him. It goes on from there as Clint enforces the law while
clashing with Fenton over the placation of justice. With Inger
Stevens as a shopkeeper haunted by her own ghosts and noir icon
Charles McGraw as a sheriff. The final confrontation between Clint
and Begley matches his earlier efforts for Sergio Leone in ironic
violence. All in all, a satisfying dark Western.
A-. When it comes
to great cutting-edge Westerns, Clint Eastwood has made more than
anyone. Many of them have received the praise they deserve including
The "Man with No Name" trilogy of A
Fistful of Dollars, For
a Few Dollars More,
and The Good, the
Bad and the Ugly as
well as High Plains
Outlaw Josey Wales,
To me, 1968's Hang 'Em
High belongs in the
same class as those. Eastwood is Jed Cooper, who is wrongly accused
by a posse (including Bruce Dern, Ed Begley Sr. and Alan Hale Jr.,
the Skipper on Gilligan's
Island) of killing a man
and stealing his cattle. The posse hangs Cooper, but that doesn't
kill him – even though it leaves him with a nasty scar around his
neck. As Eastwood characters are prone to do, Cooper wants revenge.
But this one has a twist. Cooper, who was previously a lawman,
becomes a federal marshal. He comes across a member of the posse and
tries to arrest him, but ends up having to shoot (and of course,
kill) him when he reaches for his gun. Slowly, he comes across
everyone in the posse. Cooper wants to see all of them brought to
justice, but because that would lead to being hanged, none of them
are terribly interested in the proposition. There are plenty of
shootouts and great action scenes, but the best part of the film is
Cooper's struggle to uphold the law while resisting his strong urge
to seek revenge. This was Eastwood's first film after the "Man
with No Name" trilogy. Yeah, he immediately did another Western,
but the character of Cooper is far more complex than his roles in the
trilogy. For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.
Day (RKO, 1945) – Director: Lance Comfort.
Writers: John Davenport, Lesley Storm & Wolfgang Wilhelm
(s/p). Lesley Storm (play). Stars: Eric Portman, Flora Robson,
Sheila Sim, Isobel Jeans, Walter Fitzgerald, Philip Friend,
Marjorie Rhodes, Maire O’Neill, John Laurie, Kathleen Harrison,
Leslie Dwyer, Margaret Withers, Beatrice Varley, Irene Handl &
Patricia Hayes. B&W, 62 minutes.
is a curious little slice-of-life movie that lacks the necessary
drama but is redeemed at the end by the extraordinary performances of
Flora Robson and Eric Portman as a married couple on the verge of
ostensible plot centers around the Women’s Institute, a
community-based organization for women originally founded to
revitalize rural communities and to encourage women to become more
involved in producing food during the First World War. Its aims and
activities centered around providing women with educational
opportunities and the chance to build new skills. This in turn, it
was hoped, would enable them to take part in a wide variety of
activities, taking on issues that mattered to them and their
communities. During the Second World War their contribution was
limited to such activities as looking after evacuees, and running the
government-sponsored Preservation Centers where volunteers canned or
made jam of excess produce, with the produce being sent to depots to
be added to the rations. After the war, the organization returned to
its original mission. It’s still alive and well today, with over
250,000 members in Britain.
film begins at the height of World War II, as the Women's Institute
club of Denley, England, learns that American First Lady Eleanor
Roosevelt will be visiting their village the next day to inspect its
various homefront activities. The women are thrilled to have been
selected to represent England and it is agreed that the news of Mrs.
Roosevelt's visit be kept secret as a security precaution.
the work at the hall is Mrs. Liz Ellis (Robson), who is not without a
few personal issues of her own, as her husband Capt. John (Portman)
drinks too much, spending money they don’t have on whiskey and
living on his past in World War I.
the women are preparing the village hall for their visitor, Margaret
Ellis (Sim), Liz’s daughter, is finishing a long day of
wartime farm work. She has been helping Bob Tyndale (Fitzgerald) on
his farm, Marsh Manor. Despite a twenty-five year gap in their ages,
Meg has agreed to marry him. However, she has not publicly announced
her engagement as she fears the reaction of Bob's sister Jane
(Withers), an embittered spinster who resents Meg's presence at the
manor. Another issue for Meg is that her former boyfriend Geoffrey
Winthrop (Friend) is still in love with her.
Meg confides in her mother, Liz’s advice is to follow her heart,
though she endorses Bob as good husband material. Although Liz loves
her husband, she is anxious for her daughter to obtain the financial
and emotional security Liz lacks. John for his part, yearns to be
free from responsibility; he is shamed by the fact that Meg and Liz
work hard without complaint.
add to Meg’s quandary, Geoffrey, an officer in the British army,
arrives in town on a three-day pass, though Liz is of the feeling
that Geoffrey is too "wild" for Meg. Geoffrey is unaware of
Meg's relationship with Bob and, having been stood up by her the
night before, demands an explanation.
refuses to reveal the truth about her and Bob, but later, Nora
Mumford, the local pub owner, tells Jane about the engagement during
an argument and Geoffrey, after receiving notice to report for
immediate duty, overhears the news. Jane, resentful of Meg, also
hears tune news of the engagement and accuses Meg of being a gold
the women are seeing to the last-minute details at the hall, John is
at Nora's pub, The Swan, drinking and regaling a group of American
and Scottish officers with stories of the last war. Later, a drunken
John tries to steal money from a woman's purse after he is refused
credit by barmaid Bridget Walsh (O’Neill), acting on the orders of
owner Nora Mumford (Rhodes). He’s caught in the act by another
customer and arrested.
Meg has called to the road to serve tea to Geoffrey's departing
regiment. There she finally tells Geoffrey of her fears about
repeating her mother's marital mistake. He advises her not to base
her future on her parents' past and presses her to admit her love.
Int doesn’t take long for Meg to recommit herself to Geoffrey.
returns home to find an exhausted Elizabeth sewing a new dress for
Joan Riley, the little girl who has been chosen to welcome Mrs.
Roosevelt. At first John denies his guilt in the theft, but his shame
over the matter forces hm to leave the house.
Meg returns home a distraught Liz tells her that she is worried about
John's state of mind. Meg rushes to find her father in the
surrounding woods and finds him about to jump into a pond. Her
arrival surprises him and, pledging that she and Elizabeth will stand
by him, she convinces him to face his shame.
next day, while the village descends on the hall to greet Mrs.
Roosevelt, Elizabeth persuades John to accompany her to the ceremony.
With her husband and daughter by her side, Elizabeth beams with teary
pride as Joan welcomes Mrs. Roosevelt on behalf of the women of
stated before, this is a a strangely curious movie. The ostensible
plot about Mrs. Roosevelt’s visit is pushed to the back in favor of
the Ellis family drama. However, the lack of a strong narrative style
combined with the meandering pace until the Ellis family comes from
and center makes Great Day more of a slice-of-life
film, something that would have been perfect as a two-hour television
movie on the BBC or ITV.
prevents the film from backsliding completely into mediocrity is the
strength of direction from Lance Comfort, who allows the scenes to
move along seamlessly by allowing the actors to carry the film with
uniformly good performances, especially those of leads Robson and
Portman. Robson is amazing as Liz, as she calmly keeps things
smoothly running at the center and within the family despite the
chaos going on about her. Her underplaying of Elizabeth Ellis adds
weight to the film and boosts the performances of both Portman as her
wayward husband and Sim as her concerned daughter. Every performance
in the film, from those of Patricia Hayes and Isobel Jeans to Walter
Fitzgerald and Margaret Withers. The movie is also helped by its
relatively short running time, which keeps it from becoming too
bogged down in one storyline as opposed to the others,
the final analysis, Great Day entertains despite its
lack of a strong central storyline and providers us with a glimpse
into English village life during World War II.
Tracy(RKO, 1945) – Director: William Berke.
Writers: Eric Taylor (s/p), Chester Gould (comic strip). Stars:
Morgan Conway, Anne Jeffreys, Mike Mazurki, Jane Greer, Lyle Latell,
Joseph Crehan, Mickey Kuhn, Trevor Bardette. Morgan Wallace, Milton
Parsons & William Halligan. B&W, 61 minutes.
1931 Chester Gould’s unique comic strip, Dick Tracy,
first appeared in the pages of the Detroit Mirror. A few
years and many newspapers later, it became a pop culture phenomenon,
with handsome heroes fighting grotesque villains. Names such as
Pruneface Boche, Flattop Jones, B.B. Eyes, Lips Manlis and Itchy
Oliver became familiar in almost every household. At its height, the
strip was carried in more than 800 newspapers with an estimated
readership of 100 million.
it wasn’t long before Hollywood got in on the act. Republic
Pictures was the first with its 1937 multi-chapter serial Dick
Tracy. It proved so successful that the studio followed it up the
next year with Dick Tracy Returns. Then followed Dick
Tracy's G-Men in 1939 and Dick Tracy vs. Crime,
Inc. in 1941. All of the serials starred Ralph Byrd as
1945 RKO decided to do its own take on the detective. The studio paid
Gould $10,000 for the rights to make the film and brought in
character actor Morgan Conway from Broadway to play Tracy. The choice
of Conway was somewhat ironic as his fame in Hollywood came from
film opens with schoolteacher Dorothy Stafford alighting from a bus
near her home. As she walks to her home in the seeming tea of night
she suspects that she is being followed. She is, by a hulking man in
the shadows whom we quickly recognize as Mike Mazurki. Needless to
say, she never makes it home, her body found on the street by a
Tracy and his right-hand man, Pat Patton (Latell), are assigned to
the case. In Stafford’s purse Dick finds a note demanding that
Dorothy deposit $500 in a trash can located at a street corner near
the murder scene. The note is simply signed “Splitface.”
after, the mayor (Halligan) receives a note from Splitface. This time
the demand is that $10,000 be deposited in a trash can the next
evening. Dick, puzzled by the disparity in the amount of the
extortion demands, examines Dorothy's records and finds the name
Wilbur Thomas. Dick and Pat drive to the Thomas home, only to
discover Thomas' body in the driveway, his throat slit in the same
manner as Dorothy's.
the murderer's footprints, Dick sees a man enter the backyard of
Thomas' neighbor, Steven Owens (Wallace). As Dick questions Owens,
Pat slips into the house through a rear window, later telling Dick
that he found bloodstains on the carpet. Now suspicious of Owens,
Dick learns that he is the owner of the Paradise Club. After
finishing at Owens' house, Dick and Pat return to inspect Thomas'
body. They find a business card from the Paradise Club lying next to
following evening, a trap is set with the extortion money, but no one
shows to claim it. Dick begins to suspect that the victims were
targeted by a killer and must share some common thread. Following the
obvious lead, Dick invites his sweetheart Tess Trueheart (Jeffreys)
to accompany him while he checks out the Paradise Club. There, Dick
is greeted by Owens' daughter Judith (Greer). She tells him that she
saw a strange man in the garden and gives Dick a key to the house. At
the house, Dick and Tess discover that the electricity has been
turned off, and while Dick goes to look for the fuse box, Tess sees a
man with a hideous scar across his face run out of a closet and speed
away in his car.
jumps into his car and trails the man to a brownstone. Dick climbs to
the roof, where he finds Professor Linwood J. Starling (Bardette)
looking at the stars through a telescope. When questioned, Starling
denies seeing Splitface and Dick insists on searching his room.
Finding a knife under Starling's mattress, Dick questions the
professor about the weapon. Starling just gazes into his crystal
ball, then goes into a trance and tells Tracy that 14 will die and
there are 12 more to go. Just then, the police break down the door to
the professor's room, awakening him from the trance and hauling him
to headquarters for further questioning. This is all watched from the
roof by Splitface.
that the scar may be a mere disguise, Dick takes Tess back to the
Paradise Club to see if she can identify Owens as Splitface. Judith
informs them that her father has disappeared, hinting the reason has
something to do with him owing large gambling debts. Dick becomes
suspicious of Judith's jittery behavior and takes her into protective
custody. Meanwhile, Pat has traced the knife found in Starling's room
to a surgical supply store, where he learns that an undertaker named
Deathridge (Parsons) purchased three of the knives. Dick goes to
question Deathridge, who claims that the knives have simply
disappeared. But when he asks about Starling, Dick’s suspicions are
aroused and he believes there is a connection between the undertaker
and the professor.
headquarters, Dick tricks Starling into revealing what he knows about
Deathridge. Dick's plan is to bring Starling and Deathridge face to
face. But he is thwarted when Deathridge is found murdered, his
throat slit like the others. When he returns to headquarters from
investigating the undertaker's murder, Dick learns that Starling has
been released on bail. Starling hurries home and begins packing his
suitcase when he hears a rapping on the window. It’s Splitface, who
calls the professor up to the roof, where he accuses Starling of
drawing police attention by sending extortion demands to Splitface's
victims. Starling tries to explain his actions, but Splitface
slits the professor's throat. When Dick arrives at Starling's
apartment, he finds the extortion money on the professor's body and
realizes that Starling has been extorting money from Splitface's
intended victims and that Deathridge was killed because he knew
over Starling's prediction about 14 victims, Dick concludes that 14
is the number of people that serve on a jury. Dick questions the
mayor about any jury experience he might have had, and the mayor
remembers being a juror at the trial of Alexis Banning. After being
convicted of murdering his wife, Banning swore revenge on the jury. A
check of the records reveals that Banning is at large. Learning that
Banning was scarred across the face in prison, Tracy identifies him
as Splitface. With the murderer identified, Judith decides to leave
the Tracy house, even though her father is still missing. When Tess
calls Dick to inform him of Judith's departure, Splitface breaks into
the house and takes Tess hostage, grabbing the phone to warn Dick to
call off the police.
Splitface speeds away in his car with Tess, Tracy Jr., Dick's adopted
son (Kuhn), jumps onto the back of the car, throwing off pieces of
his clothing along the way to create a trail. Dick follows Junior’s
trail to the docks and an abandoned riverboat where Splitface is
holding Tess and Junior. After subduing Splitface, Dick promises to
take Tess to dinner, but is called away to solve another crime.
Tracy makes for an excellent debut film in a series that
eventually reached four films before the studio pulled the plug.
Conway reprised his role as Tracy in the sequel, Dick Tracy
vs. Cueball (1946), but though his Tracy was praised by
critics and Gould himself as the closest to the original concept,
exhibitors complained. To them, Byrd was Dick Tracy, and only Byrd
would do. RKO acquiesced and hired him to finish the series: Dick
Tracy’s Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets
Gruesome (both 1947). Unfortunately for Byrd, because of
this he spent the rest of his career typecast as Dick Tracy.
Tracy is a fast-moving film, even given its running time of
only 61 minutes, barely giving the audience a chance to rest.
Director William Berke and cameraman Frank Redman make good use of
the sets, giving the film a noir flavor, especially
evident in the neighborhood (RKO’s back lot in Encino) scenes at
the beginning of the film. These lend the picture an eerie sort
of noir atmosphere. Other sets used include the riverboat
from Man Alive (1945) and the brownstone from The
Magnificent Ambersons and Cat People (both
film is also faithful to the source material. Though the villain,
Splitface, was created by screenwriter Eric Taylor, it fits the
classic mold of Gould's villains, often named for their physical
attributes or deformities, and is even seen by some bloggers as an
actual villain from the comic strip.
performances are uniformly good. Conway makes for an excellent Tracy,
though Jeffreys has little to do in her role as Tracy’s
long-suffering sweetheart. Her only highlight is when she crosses
swords with Jane Greer’s Judith Owens. Speaking of Greer, this was
her film debut. She followed the usual path of young actors who were
first tried out in B’s to see if the public liked them before being
pushed into A-films. Likewise, Kuhn, whose career highlight until
then was as Beau Wilkes in GWTW, has little to do as
Junior, aside from fingerprinting Dick to see if he had raided the
fridge the night before and following Splitface to his hiding place.
Lyle Latell does a fine job in the comic relief role of Pat Patton
and Joseph Crehan provides solid support as Chief Brandon, who always
has Tracy’s back.
all the movies in the series, it’s the villains who move it along,
and Mike Mazurki is excellent as Splitface. An actor who
originally moonlighted in Hollywood from his regular job as
professional wrestler “Iron” Mike Mazurki, he made enough of an
impact in Tinseltown to be employed for over 50 years, usually in
character roles as dimwitted muscle, which belied the fact that he
graduated with honors from Manhattan College in New York with a B.A.,
where he also starred on the wrestling team, and earned a law degree
from Fordham. However, wrestling paid more than being a lawyer and
Mazurki opted for the mat. He broke into movies in 1934 with help
from Mae West, and his best known role was as Moose Malloy in the
1944 classic Murder, My Sweet. Offstage, he founded The
Cauliflower Alley Club in the mid-60s, a fraternal non-profit
organization for retired wrestlers, boxers, actors and stuntmen.
Mazurki passed away in 1990. His daughter, Michelle Mazurki, carries
on the thespian tradition.
is aided in his villainy by the underrated Trevor Bardette, who had
been playing heels since the silent days, and Milton Parsons, who
somehow made everyone he played a bit creepy.
We Know It’s Low-Budget, Department: When
Tracy arrives at the Professor’s place and finds his body, he goes
through the pockets and removes the $1,000 that the Professor had
extorted from Thomas. Upon closer inspection, it seems to be money
from the game of Monopoly.
the RKO series ended, Gould and the Famous Artists Syndicate were
interested in resuming the series in 1948 with the specification that
Conway be restored to the title role, but the series was not revived.
According to the TCM
essay on the film by Roger Fristoe, Gould himself was asked to review
the film for the Chicago Tribune. "The gentleman
with whom I had shared sweat, blood and tears for almost 15 years –
Dick Tracy in the flesh – Morgan Conway's flesh, to be exact –
[is] right on the screen at the Palace," he wrote. "And for
once he did the talking and I listened. I felt pretty helpless, too,
because I couldn't use a piece of art gum to change his face or hat,
and what he said came from a script and not from a stubby old lead
pencil held by yours truly."
The movies were not
the only Tracy vehicle outside the comics. There was a radio show,
which ran from 1934 to 1948; a 30-minute television show, Dick
Tracy, which starred Ralph Byrd and ran on ABC from 1950 until
the star’s untimely death from a heart attack in 1952; a dreadful
cartoon show, The Dick Tracy Show, produced by UPA from
1961-62 with Everett Sloane (Citizen Kane, The Lady
From Shanghai) wasted as the voice of Tracy; and the famous 1990
Touchstone film with Warren Beatty as the detective. Filmed in loud
primary colors to emulate the feeling of the comic strip, Beatty, who
was reluctant to take on the role, but acquiesced when shown the
money, insured there would be no sequels, no matter how popular the
movie proved to be, by wiping out all the villains.
1961 the Chants had a hit on Verve with the doowop/R&B “Dick
OF THE FOG (April 23, 6:30
pm): They Made Me a
Criminal (1939) brought the
great John Garfield to the attention of movie fans. Two years
later, Out of the Fog proved
that with the proper script, Garfield was among the elite actors of
his era - an era that included Humphrey Bogart, Joseph Cotten, Cary
Grant, James Stewart and Orson Welles. In this film, Garfield plays
Harold Goff, a sadistic gangster who demands protection money from
fishermen at a Brooklyn pier. He is incredibly cruel yet also
charming as he falls for the daughter, played by Ida Lupino, of one
of the fishermen he is terrorizing. It's one of Warner Brothers' best
gritty film noirs. There is nothing likable about Goff, but you won't
be able to stop watching until you see how he gets it in the end.
24, 8:00 pm): Director Billy Wilder's follow-up to the overrated Some
Like It Hot, this
wonderful comedy-drama stars Jack Lemmon as an opportunistic office
worker who sort of sleeps his way to the top. Well, he lets his
office managers use his apartment as a place to have sex with their
various mistresses. Because of that, he gets promoted to the
personnel department, where his supervisor, Fred MacMurray, so
deliciously sleazy in this role, convinces his new assistant to let
him have the apartment on an exclusive basis. MacMurray's latest
mistress is the company's elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine), who
Lemmon likes a lot, but doesn't say anything to her. A fabulous
cast with one of Hollywood's best directors and an intelligent, funny
script, and you have 1960's Oscar winner for Best Picture. It was
nominated for nine others, winning four of
those. Incredibly, MacMurray wasn't even nominated for Best
CREEPING UNKNOWN (April 28, 8:00 pm): The first in
Hammer’s Quartermass Trilogy, starring Brian Donlevy as Professor
Quartermass. He has just shot a manned rocket into space, but when it
crashes upon return, one of the astronauts is missing and the other
is in bad shape. The surviving astronaut, played well by Richard
Wordsworth, has been infected by an alien fungus that is slowly
changing him into a version of itself. A wonderfully creepy, tense,
well-written and well-acted film based on the hit BBC miniseries by
Nigel Kneale. Look for Jane Asher as a young girl Wordsworth
encounters while on the run from the hospital.
EARRINGS OF MADAME DE (April 29, 2:00 am): The films
of Max Ophuls are noted for their subtlety, and this film is a prime
example. Taking a simple premiss, that of a French woman whose series
of white lies does her in, Ophuls raises it to the level of high
tragedy. although it opened in the U.S. to mild praise, the film is
viewed today as one of the greatest gems of movie history, and
perhaps the acme of Ophuls’ career. Of course, a good cast helps,
and Ophuls has a terrific one with Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux
and Vittorio De Sica as his leads. Ophuls is in his element here,
painstakingly designing mies-en-scenes that frame and define his
characters, and combining that with close-ups that allow us some
psychological insight into the characters. The plot is beautifully
staged, opening and closing on the consideration of the eponymous
piece of jewelry that passes from owner to owner until returning to
Darrieux. This is a film of charm and beauty with a marvelous subtext
of the pain that goes hand in hand with vanity and which no amount of
lies can cover or explain.
AGREE ON ... THE WRONG BOX (April 26, 1:30 am)
A.The Wrong Box is
a beautifully constructed dark comedy centered around two brothers,
Masterman Finsbury (John Mills) and Joseph Finsbury (Ralph
Richardson), who are the last survivors of a tontine investment
scheme. Whoever outlives the other will inherit the entire fortune. A
tontine usually doesn’t work like this. Usually, each member gets a
regular annuity payment which increases over time as investment
members die. But then it wouldn’t be funny; having the last
survivor get it all leads to all sorts of comic shenanigans. The
brothers haven’t spoken for 40 years, despite living next to each
other. When Masterman, who is desperately poor, learns he and his
brother are the last two survivors, he plans to kill him and claim
the money. Also complicating matters is Michael Caine as Michael,
Masterman’s grandson, who falls in love with Joseph’s
granddaughter, played by Nanette Newman. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
are also aboard as Michael’s greedy cousins who are also after the
fortune. However, it’s Peter Sellers, in a minor role as befuddled
and bumbling Doctor Pratt. Although he has only two scenes, he nearly
walks away with the picture, turning a couple of routine criminal
encounters in his office, which is loaded with cats, into a full
blown comedy of errors. At its heart, The Wrong Box is
a delightful farce, backed by a superior script and loaded with
outstanding performances, especially from Mills and Richardson. It
also has what most farces lack: restraint, subtlety and a sly
perfectly describes the plot so there's no need for me to restate it.
It's an exceptionally funny dark comedy featuring some of the best
British comedians of the era – notably Dudley Moore and Peter Cook,
who were a legendary team, and the always brilliant Peter Sellers –
along with excellent "serious" actors – in particular
Ralph Richardson, Michael Caine and John Mills – who show their
comedic talent. The 1966 film is an adaption of an 1889 book. While
the film has a detailed absurd plot, it is the quips and sight gags
that make me laugh out loud every few minutes. Because the plot is so
outrageous, it's a testament to the actors that they're able to show
some restraint as to not let the film's story spiral out of control.
If you haven't seen it or it's been a few years since your last
viewing, you owe it to yourself to watch it. If you've seen this film
a few times, well, I don't need to convince you to watch it again.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.