Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for August 1-15

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


The Big Lebowski, from the team of Joel and Ethan Coen, hailed by many as one of the best cult films ever made, is celebrating its 20th anniversary by coming to selected theaters on August 5 and 8. A noir send up revolving around around a case of mistaken identity complicated by extortion, double-crosses, deception, embezzlement, sex, pot, and gallons of White Russians, the film stars Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Ben Gazzara, David Huddleston, Tara Reid and Julienne Moore. It was named to the National Film Registry in 2014.


As it’s a month of “Summer Under the Stars,” we thought we’d alter the format a little by reviewing each star’s day and what, if anything, fits into our usual categories. 

August 2 – Myrna Loy: There are two Pre-Codes being shown beginning at the late hour of 3:30 am with 1934’s Stamboul Quest, in which Myrna is a German spy during World War 1 who falls for American medical student George Brent. Following at 5:00 am Myrna is the bad girl in The Naughty Flirt (1931). She’s a seductress whose brother, a fortune hunter, is out to seduce the heroine, rich little Alice White. While Myrna seduces Alice’s boyfriend (Paul Page), her brother (Douglas Gilmore) will move in on Alice. Myrna is the only reason to see this badly dated jazz-baby nonsense.

August 3 – Lionel Atwill: An excellent choice for a day to be honored. Atwill was one of Hollywood’s best character actors. In real life, “Pinky,” as he was known to friends and acquaintances, was said to host the best orgies in Hollywood . . . until he got caught, that is.

9:00 am – The Solitare Man (1933). Atwill is on top of his game as an inspector matching wits with jewel thief Herbert Marshall. A rather talky adaptation of the Broadway play, watch for a modest improbable airline sequence. Also watch for Mary Boland, who steals the movie as a bigmouthed nouveau riche American.

2:45 pm – The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933). Irene Dunne stars in this rather contrived but well-made tearjerker as Sally, a music-hall singer who loses her son to callous father-in-law Atwill when husband Leonard (Phillips Holmes) kills himself. 20 years later, mother and son meet by a preposterous accident in World War 1 France and become involved in a murder. Sonny Boy (Douglas Watson) is Leonard, Jr., an irresponsible, drunken cad who seduces innocent young country woman Eloise (Jean Parker). When Eloise’s father (Mitchell Lewis) confronts him, Leonard shoots and kills him, but Mommy takes the blame. It goes on from there. Melodrama, thy name is Irene Dunne. Despite its obvious turn of plot, it is fun to watch.

8:00 pm – Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933): One of two two-strip technicolor films Atwill made for Warner Bros. He’s completely in his element as a mad sculptor with his eye on eternal victim Fay Wray, who will star in his wax masterpiece. Glenda Farrell is on hand as Wray’s wisecracking reporter friend. Total fun as Farrell and Gavin Gordon race to save the day – and Wray. The film was remade in 1953 as House of Wax with Vincent Price as the mad sculptor.

9:30 pm – Secret of the Blue Room (1933): A rarity which I will be seeing for the first time, and as an Atwill compleatist, I’m looking forward to the experience. To quote Michael Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film: “Three men after the same woman are asked to spend the night in the room of a castle where a murder took place. The main stars are Lionel Atwill, Paul Lukas, Gloria Stuart, Edward Arnold, and Onslow Stevens. If it looks overly familiar, maybe you’ve seen one of the remakes: The Missing Guest (’38) or Murders in the Blue Room (’42). By the director of The Fly.” (Kurt Neumann).

11:00 pm – Doctor X (1932): The other two-strip Technicolor film Atwill made, this one’s about the search for “The Full Moon Killer,” who besides killing his victims, helps himself to a bit of their flesh as well. Atwill is the head of the medical school whose faculty heads the list of suspects. Lee Tracy is a reporter trying to get to the bottom of things and Fay Wray provides eye candy as Atwill’s daughter. With red herrings a-plenty, this is a wonderfully atmospheric thriller. Two words to remember: “synthetic flesh.”

2:00 am – The Vampire Bat (1932): Atwill is great as a mad scientist who kills in search of a blood substitute. Villagers believe simpleton Dwight Frye is the vampire they’re seeking. With Melvyn Douglas and Fay Wray. A rare gem from Poverty Row studio Majestic Studios,

3:15 am – Mark of the Vampire (1935): Disappointing sound remake of Lon Chaney’s London After Midnight. Atwill is the police inspector, Lionel Barrymore is the vampire expert, and Bela Lugosi is the “vampire.”

4:30 am – The Gorilla (1939): Country gentleman and insurance broker Atwill is receiving death threats from  a crazed murderer called “The Gorilla.” So what does he do? Why, hire the Ritz Brothers to protect him, that’s what. With Bela Lugosi wasted in another red herring role as the sinister butler in this disappointing comedy.

August 5 – Katharine Hepburn: two Pre-Codes are airing in the morning. At 6:00 am, Hepburn stars as a young actress looking for stardom in 1933’s Morning Glory. (Read our review here.) And at 9:45 am Hepburn is Jo March in the 1933 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, Little Women. For fans of bad movies, there’s Hepburn in Mary Of Scotland (1936), a mega bomb directed by none other than John Ford.

August 6 – Audrey Totter: The always wonderful but underrated Audrey Totter is featured through the day. The one to catch is The Beginning or the End (1947) at 11:30 am, based on the true story of the Manhattan Project. Too bad they’re not running my personal Audrey Totter favorite: F.B.I. Girl, a 1952 thriller from Lippert with Audrey as an F.B.I. clerk who goes undercover to trap a ring of criminals. Maybe someday.

August 7 – Harold Lloyd: Catch the Pre-Code comedy Movie Crazy (1932) at 2:15 am. Better yet, record it and then read our review here.

August 10 – Dorothy Malone: John Ireland, wrongly convicted but innocent, escapes and kidnaps Dorothy and her Jaguar, then blends into a cross-country road race to make it to Mexico before the cops catch up in The Fast and the Furious, the first feature from AIP, produced and written by Roger Corman, airing at 1:00 pm. For bad movie buffs, Malone co-stars with Liberace in the so-bad-it’s good  remake of George Arliss’s 1932 The Man Who Played GodSincerely Yours (1955). It’s impossible to watch this and keep a straight face.

August 13 – George Brent: Three Pre-Codes are on tap today, not nearly enough. Leading off at 6:00 am, wealthy Ruth Chatterton cannot get ex-hubby John Miljan out of her mind, even after she starts romancing George Brent, in The Rich Are Always With Us, from 1932. At 7:30 am, innocent, but restless, small-town girl Loretta Young is wooed by traveling salesman David Manners and follows him to the big city, where she discovers he's engaged to another woman. But our Traveling Salesman becomes jealous when Loretta begins dating doctor George Brent in They Call It Sin (1932). Finally, at 9:00 am, Brent co-stars with Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face (1933), a film that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “upward mobility.”

August 14 – Lupe Velez: Lots to see today, starting st 9:15 am with Lupe and Walter Huston in the deprived Kongo (1932), a remake of Lon Chaney’s West of Zanzibar, itself based on the Broadway play that starred none other than Huston.

10:45 am – Mexican Spitfire (1940), the second in the popular B series starring Velez as Carmelita Lindsay. It’s followed at Noon by Mexican Spitfire Out West (1940) and at 1:30 pm by Mexican Spitfire at Sea (1942).

2:45 pm – Ramon Novarro is a young Navajo who defies tribal taboos to marry outcast Lupe Velez in the 1934 Laughing Boy.

4:15 pm – John Barrymore’s final film is one of the great train wrecks, Playmates (1941), with Kay Kiser and his band and Velez as a female bull fighter. Sad to see Barrymore come to this.

6:30 pm – In another weak comedy, Jimmy Durante and Lupe Velez are a pair of radio comics who tire of the same old gags and are looking for new material in Strictly Dynamite (1934).

8:00 pm – It’s the film that began the Mexican Spitfire series, The Girl From Mexico.

9:30 pm – Lupe Velez is the prize fought over by the now civilian, but still feuding Quirt (Edmund Lowe) and Flagg (Victor McLaglen) in Hot Pepper, yet another sequel to the silent hit What Price Glory? The jokes are getting long in the tooth but Velez is worth the price of admission.

12:30 am – Lupe Velez is a sideshow hoochee-koochee dancer who is turned by carnival barker Lee Tracy into an instant sensation in the thoroughly delightful The Half-Naked Truth (1932). Frank Morgan gives a wonderful performance as a neurotic fusspot Broadway producer and Eugene Pallette is in fine form as dopey escape artist Hercules.

4:30 am – Marine Lawrence Tibbett and hot-tempered Havana peanut vendor Lupe Velez make for an unusual couple in the 1931 musical romance The Cuban Love Song. Though at times it moves at a snail’s pace, the leads give enough of themselves to make it worth your while. Ernest Torrence and Jimmy Durante co-star as Tibbett’s rowdy buddies.

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