Sunday, July 1, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for July 1-15

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


TCM’s Big Screen Classic for July is Penny Marshall’s classic 1988 comedy, Big. Starring Tom Hanks, it’s the story of a kid who gets his wish to be bigger and becomes transformed into a 30-year old man, but with the mind and personality of that 12-year old boy. It will be showing at selected theaters on July 15 and July 18, so check your local listings.


July 6: Beginning at 8 pm TCM devotes an entire evening to the crown jewel of Poverty Row, Republic Pictures, with four features: That Brennan Girl (1946), The Inside Story (1948), City That Never Sleeps (1953) and Roy Rogers in Trigger, Jr. (1950) rounding it out at 1:15 am. Best known for its Westerns, B-movies and serials and developing such stars as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and John Wayne the studio was founded in 1935 by Herbert J. Yates and lasted until its demise in 1958.

Yates owned Consolidated Film Industries, which made a fortune developing film stock for Hollywood studios. However, by the mid-30s the major studios had built their own in-house laboratories for purposes of both economy and control. This left the Poverty Row independents as Yates’ customers, and in the depths of the Depression they owed him a small fortune. Yates prevailed upon these companies (Monogram, Liberty, Chesterfield, Majestic, Mascot, and Invincible) to merge under his umbrella or face foreclosure on their outstanding lab bills. Thus, Republic Pictures was born. Yates proved to be a petty tyrant and soon dissension was born within the ranks. The first to defect was Larry Darmour (Majestic), who joined Columbia as an independent producer. In 1937, Trem Carr and W. Ray Johnston revived Monogram.

Though the studio did well with is line of Westerns, serials and B-movies, Yates saw himself as a mover and shaker and wanted more. He would branch out into more expensive features as Sands of Iwo JimaThe Quiet ManJohnny Guitar and The Maverick Queen. He also pushed his wife, skater Vera Aruba Ralston as a major movie star. She was originally featured in musicals as the studio’s Republic's answer to the popular Sonja Henie at Fox, but Yates tried to build her up as a dramatic star and would cast her in leading roles opposite his important male stars, billing her as “the most beautiful woman in films.” But, truth be told, Ralston was a cardboard performer with the charisma of a gnat. The public stayed away and exhibitors complained that Republic was making too many Ralston pictures. (Years later, John Wayne admitted in an interview that the reason he left Republic in 1952 was the dread of having to make another picture with Miss Ralston.) Despite this incursion into A productions, the studio’s bread and butter remained its B output. A major earner for the studio was its films aimed at rural audiences featuring Bob Burns, The Weaver Brothers and the popular Judy Canova.

However, in the mid-‘50s the advancing popularity of television decimated the B-movie market. Republic was the first studio to jump into TV production, using stock footage from its movies in some of the shows, but the studio couldn’t afford to make films on bigger budgets. Their last gasp was an attempt at widescreen technology, called Naturama, for their Barbara Stanwyck-Barry Sullivan Western, The Maverick Queen, in 1956. In 1958 Yates tearfully there in the town and sold off or leased out the company’s studio and outdoor locations to independent producers.

Frankly, it’s about time TCM began to devote time to this little survivor of the Hollywood power game in the ‘30s and ‘40s. I remember Bob Osbourne hosting an evening of Judy Canova films, which I loved as a kid, plunked down in front of the boob tube when they ran on New York’s Channel 5 on Saturday afternoons. The real dirty secret of Hollywood was that its survival during the midst of the Depression was due to the success of the B-movie, and no one made them better than Republic. TCM would be well served to include them in its rotation, especially the serials, which were far better than the Universal product the station is currently showing on Saturday morning.


July 1: Few made better crime thrillers than French director Jean-Pierre Melville, and at 2:30 am TCM is airing his 1966 classic, Le Deuxieme Souffle (The Second Wind), an engrossing film about a dangerous gangster, Gustave “Gu” Minda (Lino Ventura), who escapes from prison and heads for a reunion with devoted sister Manouche (Christine Fabrega) and his friend (and Manouche's bodyguard) Alban (Michel Constantin). He guns down a couple of thugs trying to shake her down. The police, led by the relentless Inspector Bloc (Paul Meurisse), are now hot on his trail. Gu wants to escape to Italy, but lacks funds. His friend Orloff (Pierre Zimmer) invites him to participate in the heist of an armored truck loaded with platinum bars, with his friend Paul Ricci (Raymond Pellegrin). Nothing really goes as planned and Gu still faces the specter of Blot closing in on him. A slow-moving, but gripping yarn influenced by the film noirs of the ‘40s and ‘50s, it contrasts the code of the police with that of the gangster, Gu: “A man is given but one right at birth: to choose his own death. But if he chooses because he’s weary of his own life, then his entire existence has been without meaning.” 


July 15: Remember when Jean-Luc Godard used to make films that were watchable? At 2:30 am, we get to see two of those films. First up is Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live), starring Godard’s then-wife, Anna Karina, in a strong performance as Nana, a woman who escaped a crumbling marriage and is trying her luck in Paris hoping to break into show business. Failing that she works as a clerk in a record store to make ends meet, but the job doesn’t pay enough and she turns to prostitution, working for a pimp named Raoul (Saddy Rebbot). When she meets a man (Peter Kassovitz) who truly cares for her, Nana's hope returns, but Raoul has the final and tragic last word. Shot in stark black and white and comprising 12 chapters, this isn’t Godard’s best film, but the scintillating performance of Karina makes it one to see.

Following at 4:00 am is Le Petit Soldat (The Little Soldier), from 1963. Filmed in 1960, but not released until 1963 because of its torture scenes and political theme, it is Godard’s second film, and is a tale of the Algerian rebellion. Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor) lives in Geneva to escape enlistment in France. There he gets involved with both Arab and French revolutionary groups, is caught in the middle, and tries to commit murder to avoid being sent back to France. He also falls in love with Veronica Dreyer (Anna Karina), who works for the Algerian revolutionaries. He plans to run away with her to Brazil, but is captured and tortured by Algerian revolutionaries. He manages to escape and makes a deal with French Intelligence to kill an Algerian operative in return for passage to Brazil, but the French learn about Veronica’s ties. Much more somber than the exuberant Breathless, the heaviness of the subject matter combined with the director’s chaotic style leaves us in the audience confused at times, but Godard’s message – that the opposing factions are only two sides of the same coin – comes through loud and clear.


July 7: Crooked lawyer Robert Taylor and showgirl Cyd Charisse try to break free from the grip of Chicago Mob boss Lee. J. Cobb in Nicholas Ray’s Party Girl (1958) at Midnight.

July 14: At Midnight, insurance agent Charles McGraw is led astray by his his greedy femme fatale wife, Joan Dixon, in the interesting Roadblock (1951).


July 2: A morning and afternoon devoted to Joan Blondell features three pre-Code films. First up is God’s Gift to Women (1931) at 6 am, Starring Frank Fay is an unusual Don Juan. At 9 am, Blondell and Warren William star in the  comedy Smarty (1934) as a squabbling couple who can’t quite seem to make it to divorce court. And at 4:45 pm, Joan provides support to protagonist Barbara Stanwyck in Illicit (1931), a rather boring drama about a couple “living in sin” for whom everything goes awry when they marry. 

At 2:30 am, the delightful Little Women (1933), with Katharine Hepburn in a sparkling performance as Jo Marsh.

July 5: Two Joe E. Brown comedies beginning at 7:30 man with Going Wild (1931), followed at 8:45 am by You Said a Mouthful (1932). William Haines is the inventor of a high-speed boat engine in the breezy farce, Fast Life, from 1932.

July 7: The amazing Gabriel Over the White House (1933) airs at Noon.

July 12: George Arliss stars as the famous French philosopher in Voltaire (1933) at 4:45 pm.

July 13: Doctor Kay Francis learns husband Warren William loves another woman in Doctor Monica (1934) at 1:30 am.


As always, there’s a good selection of psychotronic films. 

July 3: How To Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) a Frankie and Annette feature where Frankie and Annette never get together, airs at 2 pm, followed at 4 pm by Elvis as twins in Kissin’ Cousins (1964). At 8 pm, it’s another showing of the venerable King Kong, from 1933.

July 6: A morning and afternoon of the psychotronic, highlighted by the ridiculous must-see The Green Slime (1969) at 6 am, followed by the British outer space thriller Satellite in the Sky(1956).

At 2:30 am a Blaxploitation double feature, leading off with The Keenan Ivory Wayans send up of the genre, I’m Going to Get You Sucka (1988), followed at 4:15 am by Brothers, a 1977 take on the relationship between Angela Davis and George Jackson.

July 7: Tim Holt leads off in RKO’s Dude Cowboy (1941) at 8 am, followed by a Tailspin Tommy episode at 9:30 am and Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953) at 10 am.

July 8: Late night viewing begins with Funny Games (1997) at 2:30 am, followed at 4:30 am by the surprisingly good Japanese JD flick, The Warped Ones (1960), aka The Weird Lovemakersand Season of Heat.

July 11: Ted Healy and The Stooges headline the 1933 short, Beer and Pretzels, at 2:00 am.

July 13: Five entertaining psychotronic features are led off at 6 am by George Zucco in Dead Men Walk (1943). At 8:30 am, beautiful Allison Hayes dances up a storm in The Disembodied (catch our essay on it here). Andre Morell stars in The Plague of the Zombies (1966), from Hammer Studios, at 9:45 am. At 1:15 pm comes producer Val Lewton’s eerie take on Jane Eyre in the Caribbean, 1943’s I Walked With a Zombie. And at 4:30 pm Jacques Bergerac and Allison Hayes star in the disturbing The Hypnotic Eye (1960).

July 15: Two 1967 music documentaries are on the bill beginning at 2 am with Bob Dylan’s tour of England in Don’t Look Back. At 4 am the Newport Folk Festival is featured in Festival.


July 7: For sheer inanity, catch Al Pacino and Natasja Kinski in the 1985 stinker, Revolution

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