Friday, June 15, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for June 16-30

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


TCM and Fathom Events announced that West Side Story will come to theaters on June 24 and June 27. This musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, set in the slums of 1950’s New York City, boasts music from Leonard Bernstein and lyrics from Stephen Sondheim. Visit the TCM website for more information and tickets.


June 16: In The Pitfall Dick Powell is an insurance investigator who enjoys a comfortable, suburban home life in post World War II, Los Angeles with his wife Sue (Jane Wyatt) and son Tommy (Jimmy Hunt). But though he seemingly has it made, he feels dissatisfied with his work and social routine, feeling personally stifled and that they should have accomplished more. And in the world of noir, nothing sets up a character for a fall than feelings of dissatisfaction. Working on an embezzlement case places him in close contact with the embezzler’s girlfriend, blonde bombshell Lizabeth Scott and it goes downhill from there. A forgotten classic from director Andre De Toth examining the dark side of the American Dream and certainly worth a view. It airs at 12:15 am and repeats the next morning at 10 am.

June 23: At Midnight, Lee J. Cobb is Ed Cullen, a San Francisco police lieutenant who is secretly romancing married socialite Lois Frazer (Jane Wyatt) in director Felix E. Feist’s 1951 noirThe Man Who Cheated Himself. Lois is embroiled in divorce proceedings with second husband Howard (Harlan Warde). Things get out of hand, and when she puts two bullets in Howard, Cullen lends a hand to cover up the murder by dumping Howard's body in the airport's parking lot. But being as this is a noir, nothing goes as planned. Cullen’s car is noticed by a couple who come forth as witnesses, though they provide a vague description of him and his car. When Cullen tosses the murder weapon off a toll bridge, he is spotted by Officer Blair (Bud Wolfe), who engages him in a casual conversation that will later be used against him. And if that wasn’t enough, Cullen is assisted in his investigation by his eager beaver brother, Andy (John Dall), who’s on his first case. It’s Andy who puts two and two together and gets his brother Ed. All told, an entertaining film with a nice twist at the end.

June 30: Determined cop Charles McGraw is hot on the trail of  heist mastermind William Talman in the smartly paced Armored Car Robbery (1950) at Midnight.


June 17: During the ‘60s, the crime film enjoyed a run of popularity in Japan, and one of the best came in 1966 from maverick director Seijun Suzuki, Tokyo Drifter (2:30 am). The plot follows Tetsuya “Phoenix Tetsu” Hondo (Tetsuya Watari), a recently paroled ex-con who wants to go straight after his Yakuza boss Kurata (Ryuji Kita) dissolves his own criminal empire. Rival gang boss Otsuka (Hideaki Esumi) offers him a position with his family, but is turned down. No one refuses an offer from a Yakuza boss and Tetsu now finds himself as a threat. Hounded by gangsters, business associates and police, his former boss advises him to leave town and assume the life of a drifter, to go under the radar. What he doesn’t know is that he has also become a threat to Kurata, who joins forces with Otsuka to send a hit man to silence their former ally. Tetsu returns to Tokyo to confront his former boss and things catch fire from there. Suzuki’s outrevisual style dominates the film, full of twists and turns, moving from the neon nightlife of Tokyo to snow-covered country vistas, and requires the viewer to pay close attention, lest the film seem rather incomprehensible (In fact, I recommend a send viewing to take it all in). Look for the climatic showdown in the nightclub, Club Aries, with its severe black and white color scheme. Jeff Stafford, in his essay on the film for TCM, compares it to “the ultra stylized look of such MGM films from the fifties as Nicholas Ray's Party Girl (1958) or the Mickey Spillane musical homage in Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon (1953).” The visual styling will last with the viewer long after the film has ended, and for those Tarantino fans out there, Tokyo Drifter was a direct influence on his Kill Bill films. I’ve seen this film quite a few times and always find something new on each viewing.

Following Tokyo Drifter at 4:00 am is a film I haven’t seen, but have long wanted to see: Fighting Elegy, also from 1966. Set in 1935, it concerns a Catholic teenager named Kiroku Nanbu (Hideki Takahashi) who is attending a military school in Bizen, Okayama. He boards with a Catholic family and becomes seriously infatuated with their daughter, Michiko (Junko Asano). Her only interest is in reforming his “sinful tendencies,” and his unsatisfied lust  is soon channeled into the only outlet available to him: savage violence. He learns to fight and joins a school gang called the OSMS. Later, when he learns that Michiko has been gang raped by soldiers, his distress leads him to join the movement of radical right-wing political activist Ikki Kita (Hiroshi Midorigawa) and take part in the events of Ni-niroku Jiken, an attempt to overthrow the Imperial Japanese government organized by a group of young disaffected Imperial Japanese Army officers. Fighting Elegy gives viewers unfamiliar with Japanese history a chance to see the country during this period of “government by assassination.” (Ikki Kita and the coup d’etat really did exist.) And in a country where one might assume the only religions were Shintoism and Buddhism, it offers a rare insight into the Catholic population and their outlook. 


June 24: Two films from Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, seen by many critics and fellow filmmakers (including Ingmar Bergman) as the greatest director in the history of film, are on tap beginning at 2:15 am with his 1979 allegorical tale, Stalker. The film concerns an expedition led by a figure (Aleksandr Kajdanovsky) known as the "Stalker." He leads two clients – a melancholic writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) seeking inspiration, and a professor (Nikolai Grinko) seeking scientific discovery – to a mysterious restricted site known simply as the “Zone,” a fiercely protected post-apocalyptic wasteland that contains a mythical place known only as The Room, which supposedly has the ability to fulfill a person's innermost desires. In the Zone, nothing is what it seems. Objects change places, and the landscape constantly rearranges itself. It seems as if an unknown intelligence is actively thwarting any attempt to penetrate its borders. As the trio travel farther and farther into the Zone, they realize they need more than more than just determination to succeed. It may actually take faith on their part. The further they travel the more unsure they become of their deepest desires, In the end they enter the room wondering if they can handle the responsibility that would come with the granting of their own wishes. As with other works by the director, it is slow-moving and talky, not for those who are looking for action. But for those who see science-fiction as a reflective form Stalker is highly rewarding. I must admit that it took me a while to adjust,  but once I did I found it one of the most enjoyable and rewarding films I had seen in quite a while and fully deserving of the praise.

At the late hour of 5:15 am comes Tarkovsky’s 1961 featurette, The Steamroller and the Violin. Sasha (Igor Fomchenko) is a 7-year old boy who lives with his mother (Marina Adzhubei) and his sister in an old house in Moscow. He is learning the violin and to get to his lessons he has to walk past a group of boys who harass him. One day as he is being harassed, Sergey (Vladimir Zamansky), a steamroller operator, intervenes on his behalf. This leads to an unlikely friendship between the two. Sergey tells stories about the war, and Sasha plays the violin for his new friend. However, two obstacles come in the way of their friendship: Sasha's mother, who disapproves of the friendship, and a pretty female coworker who is interested in Sergei. The Steamroller and the Violin is a sweet and moving film about an unlikely friendship.


June 16: At 8 am Tom Keene seeks vengeance on those who killed his father in the 1931 Western, Freighters of Destiny. Tailspin Tommy begins his 12-episode adventure at 9:30 am. At 10 am, when a tribe of lion worshippers kidnaps Jane and alluring half-breed Lola, it's Tarzan, Cheetah, and the gang to the rescue in Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950). At 11:30 am it’s Ted Healy and the Three Stooges in the rarely seen short, Nertsery Rhymes, from MGM in 1933.

June 18: A mixed bag of rock musicals and sci-fi, highlighted by Rock, Rock, Rock (6 am), Muscle Beach Party (9:15 am), Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (11 am; read our essay on it here), The Wasp Woman (12:15 pm), From Hell It Came (3:15 pm) and Untamed Youth (5 pm).

June 21: Consigned to the late night ghetto are Elvis in Jailhouse Rock (3:15 am) and Bill Haley and the Comets in Rock Around the Clock (5 am). 

June 22: Steve Reeves leashes people against the British army of Queen Victoria in the execrable Sandokan the Great, a 1963 Italian production airing at 2:15 pm.

At 2:30 am we once again get to see Tom Hanks’ debut film, He Knows You’re Alone (1980), followed by yet another showing of Alice, Sweet Alice (1977) at 4:15 am. Time to retire these, guys.

June 23: At 8 am Texas Ranger Tom Keene must reluctantly pursue framed rancher Julie Haydon in RKO’s Come On Danger! (1932). After another episode of Tailspin Tommy at 9:30 am, Tarzan is hot in pursuit of gunrunners in Tarzan’s Peril (1951) at 10 pm.

June 26: Three rock musicals in succession beginning with Don’t Knock the Twist (1962) at 6 am, followed by Beach Party (1963, read our essay here) at 7:30 am, and Elvis and Ann-Margaret in Viva Las Vegas (1964) at 9:15 am.

June 29: In a day dedicated to Peter Lorre, watch for M (1931) at 9 am; The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) at 11 am; Mad Love (1935) at 12:30 pm, Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) at 1:45 pm; and The Beast With Five Fingers (1946) at 6:30 pm.

The evening’s psychotronic festivities are kicked off  at 8 pm by Hammer’s 1965 remake of She (Where is the 1935 original?), followed in order by Prehistoric Women (1967) at 10 pm, Tarzan and The Amazons (1945) at 11:45 pm, and Zsa Zsa Gabor run the laff riot, Queen of Outer Space (1958) at 1:15 am.

Capping off the evening are two blaxploitation classics:  Max Julien in The Mack (1973) at 2:45 am and Tamara Dobson in Cleopatra Jones (1973) at 4:45 am.

June 30: At 8 am, outlaw leader Tom Keene helps embattled rancher Rochelle Hudson fight cattle rustlers in Beyond the Rockies (1932). The adventures of Tailspin Tommy continue at 9:30, and at 10 am, the jungle king’s cousin (Patric Knowles) tries to get him to help find a diamond treasure in 1952’s Tarzan’s Savage Fury.

At 8 pm, meek, bow-tie wearing mystery writer Peter Lorre is in Istanbul trying to reconstruct the life of recently murdered notorious crime figure Zachary Scott in The Mask of Dimitrios (1944). Sydney Greenstreet lends a hand.

At 1:30 am, Brad Davis is arrested for stupidly trying to smuggle drugs out of Istanbul Airport and thrown into the hell of the Turkish prison system in Midnight Express (1978). It’s hard to feel any sympathy for someone this arrogant and stupid. John Hurt gives an excellent performance as a fellow inmate.

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