TCM TiVo ALERT
July 1–July 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
ON THE WATERFRONT (July 3, 10:00 pm): There is so much to enjoy and admire about this 1954 film. The story is complex yet simple – the struggle facing Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) as to whether he should do the right thing or the smart thing, and the repercussions that decision has on him, his brother, other longshoremen and those living near the dock. The acting is brilliant with Brando at his best and incredible performances by the supporting cast, in particular, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. The film takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions – anger, joy, hostility, frustration, sympathy, sadness and happiness. It's rare for a movie to not only do that, but do it exceptionally well.
THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE (July 4, 6:30 pm): Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas co-starred in a number of excellent films, but besides Seven Days in May, this is their best. The Devil's Disciple is a delightfully funny and fun story of a straight-laced preacher (Lancaster) and a colonial rebel (Douglas) during the Revolutionary War. Add Sir Laurence Olivier as British General John Burgoyne and a screenplay based on the George Bernard Shaw play and you've got an outstanding film that's a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a film fan. The chance to see Lancaster, Douglas and Olivier together is reason enough to see this. On top of that, it's lively, filled with action and incredibly entertaining.
ED’S BEST BETS:
1776 (July 4, 10:45 pm): A musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence? You’re kidding, right? No, we’re not kidding, and furthermore, it’s quite good. Based on the play, it retains many of those originally performed it. William Daniels is splendid as John Adams, Ken Howard makes for a most effective Thomas Jefferson, and Howard DaSilva is the spitting image of Ben Franklin. Throw in Virginia Vestoff as Abigail Adams and Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson, and the film really rocks. Watch out, however, for John Cullum as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. He brings down the house with “Molasses to Rum to Slaves.” Other numbers to look for include “But Mr. Adams,” “Cool Cool, Considerate Men” (My favorite), and the heart tugging “Mama Look Sharp.” American history was never this much fun.
THE BLOB (July 5, 8:00 pm): Take some silicone, gradually add red food coloring, throw in a bunch of teenagers led by Steve McQueen, budget it for around $170,000, and – voila! – a box office hit that grossed $4,000,000. But beyond that, it’s a pretty good film. A meteor lands in a remote wooded area. An old man (Olin Howard in his last film) investigates, and the thing that popped out of the meteor attaches itself to his arm. McQueen and girlfriend Aneta Corseaut (later famous as Helen Crump on the Andy Griffith Show) take him to the doctor. When Steve checks later the blob has eaten the old man, the doctor and his nurse. Steve goes to the cops, but they find nothing and decide it’s a prank. Meanwhile the monster is on the loose in town, helping itself to unsuspecting victims. Steve rounds up his high school buddies to spread the word, but everyone is deaf. Until the climax, that is. One critic said it was a metaphor for the Cold War, but that’s pure baloney. Just sit back and enjoy one of the best B-horror movies ever made.
WE DISAGREE ON ... EAST OF EDEN (July 1, 10:00 pm)
ED: A. Made in 1954, released in 1955, when Elia Kazan was at the height of his creative powers, East of Eden is a finely nuanced film, a rough retelling, as it were, of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, embodied in the Trask brothers. Aron (Richard Davalos) is Abel, the good son, favored by his father, while Cal (James Dean) represents Cain, uncomfortable in his own skin and constantly fidgeting. The family patriarch, Adam (in a brilliant performance by Raymond Massey) is a stern, humorless taskmaster. Kazan captures the family dynamic perfectly, highlighting the contrast between the sons and Cal and his father. Nothing escapes Kazan’s eye, as notice the cinematography, with its dreamy shots of the surrounding countryside, and even a romantic shot of a freight train. This is the American Eden circa 1917, but Dean’s performance makes it feel much later. His heartbreaking rendition of Cal, consumed by jealousy, is probably the best performance of his short career. Richard Davalos, perfect as the innocent Aron; Jo Van Fleet’s wonderful portrayal of their mother. It all blends together under Kazan’s skilled guidance into a masterpiece of cinematic drama. Francois Truffaut praised the film and Dean in particular in Cahiers du Cinema, by noting “East of Eden is the first film to give us a Baudelairean hero, fascinated by vice and honor, who can embody both love and hate at the same time.” That Kazan can take the last third of Steinbeck’s novel and transform it into a gripping family drama only gives further testament to his peculiar genius.
DAVID: C. I've never understood the appeal of James Dean during his short cinematic career. His characters are all the same – mad at the world for some flimsy reason, or no reason at all. Dean broods and his characters often have trouble functioning because of their internal turmoil angst. Most critics love his performances in the three credited films he did: this 1955 film debut, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. Dean always went over the top to the point I had no idea why his characters acted the way they did. Rebel is the perfect example of that. Maybe Dean would have grown as an actor if he hadn't died so young. But I can only judge him based on what he did during his brief film career. In East of Eden, there is some indication as to why Dean's character, Cal, is troubled. His father Adam isn't an affectionate man and he clearly favors Aron, Cal's brother, in an obvious set-up of the Cain and Abel Biblical tale. The name of their mother, who Adam tells his sons is dead, is Kate, the only one without a name connected to the Old Testament story. She isn't dead. She runs a whorehouse in town. Unlike the Bible story, Cal doesn't kill his brother. He is troubled, but a nice guy who is misunderstood. (Aren't we all?) Dad is a vegetable farmer who loses everything when his plans for a long-hauling veggie business goes bust. Cal gets into the bean business and is a huge success because of World War II profits. He wants to give the money to Pops in an attempt to buy his love. But Adam isn't interested because the money came as a result of the war. Cal broods, brings Aron to see the mother he was told was dead, Aron broods, enlists in the military and Adam suffers a heart attack – or a broken heart. I'm a fan of many Elia Kazan films (just look at On the Waterfront as one of my Best Bets), but he really misses the mark with this one. The pacing is painfully slow and dull. The cinematography is nice, but doesn't save this movie from being a snoozer. As Bosley Crowther, The New York Times' main film critic of the era, wrote in his review, "The director gets more into this picture with the scenery than with the characters. For the stubborn fact is that the people who move about in this film are not sufficiently well established to give point to the anguish through which they go, and the demonstrations of their torment are perceptibly stylized and grotesque." He also calls Dean's performance "a mass of histrionic gingerbread." That last one is a little harsh – to gingerbread.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.