TCM TiVo ALERT
October 1–October 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE PETRIFIED FOREST (October 4, 12:30 pm): In one of his first major roles, Humphrey Bogart plays Duke Mantee, a notorious gangster on the run. Bogart was so great in this 1936 film as the heavy – bringing depth, emotion and character to the role – that Warner Brothers spent nearly five years casting Bogart in other movies as the bad guy. But very few were of this quality. Duke and his gang end up in a diner near the Petrified Forest in Arizona with the police chasing them. The gang takes everyone inside hostage, including Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), a once great writer who is now an alcoholic. Not fearing death because of what life has become for him, Squier engages Duke in conversation, pushing his buttons. The interaction between the two is outstanding. Also at the diner is Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), who owns it with her father and grandfather. Davis is excellent and even subdued as a secondary character.
NOSFERATU (October 7, 12:00 am): The first – and to me, the best – version of Bram Stoker's Dracula on screen. This is a 1922 silent film directed by the legendary German Expressionist director F.W. Murnau. Star Max Schreck as Count Orlock – the movie is a Dracula adaptation to avoid a lawsuit from Stoker's estate – is absolutely terrifying without being gory or over the top. While it's close to 100 years old, it's remarkable how well it holds up. It's a landmark in horror films.
ED’S BEST BETS:
RED HEADED WOMAN (Oct. 2, 9:30 am): Watching Jean Harlow in Hell’s Angels (1930) and The Public Enemy (1932), one thing sticks out like a glass jaw: the woman can’t act. But she goes to MGM, and a year later she is completely mesmerizing in this story of a gold digger who busts up her boss’s marriage, and that’s for starters. Harlow shows a real flair for comedy and lighter roles, which is perfect for the film. She also had the perfect writer in Anita Loos, who took what was a turgid soap opera by original writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and turned in into a completely tongue-in-cheek, saucy comedy. Had Harlow played the original script, the film would have sunk like a lead balloon. Instead she readily adapted to Loos’s scenario and took it from there. Its one of my favorites from the Pre-Code era and that is entirely due to Harlow.
THE UNKNOWN (October 3, 8:00 pm): When Lon Chaney and Tod Browning teamed up they made some of the best and most unusual fits of Chaney’s career. The Unknown may just be the weirdest of the lot. Chaney is “Alonzo the Armless Wonder,” an armless knife thrower who uses his feet to thrown the knives. In actually he’s a criminal on the run and only pretends to be armless, bring strapped into a straitjacket type of restraint before each performance. The love of his life is his assistant, Nanon (Joan Crawford). They could be together if not for her abnormal fear of having a man’s arms around her. Chaney is so besotted that he has his arms amputated for real to prove to her his love. After he returns from the operation he finds her in the arms of Malabar the strongman (Norman Kerry), who has cured her of this fear. It’s right out of Grand Guignol and remains one of the creepiest movies ever made.
WE AGREE ON ... THE THIN MAN (October 2, 1:00 pm)
ED: A+. This is a truly remarkable film that only seems to get better with the passage of time. And yet, were it not for its director, Woody “One Shot” Van Dyke, it would have opened, run its course, and quickly been forgotten. Van Dyke, while directing Manhattan Melodrama, noticed the unique chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy. When handed the assignment to direct The Thin Man, he suggested Powell and Loy as its stars. The MGM brass shot it down; their reason being that Powell was too old to play Nick Charles and Loy was better suited to play the exotic or the other woman. But Van Dyke persisted, and as the film was to be quickly shot on a low budget, the brass acquiesced, thinking that if it tanked, they wouldn’t lose much money. Instead it turned out to be one of the greatest casting choices in film history and made a star out of Myrna Loy. Van Dyke told screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett to downplay the mystery and focus on the relationship between Nick and Nora Charles. He was right. Who tunes in to see how the mystery unfolds? We’re much more interested in the byplay of Nick and Nora. That’s what makes this film so enjoyable and one that can be viewed multiple times. When released it became a huge hit and led to five sequels, not bad for a low budget film that was a combination of equal parts mystery and screwball comedy.
DAVID: A+. Without a doubt, William Powell and Myrna Loy are my all-time favorite movie couple and they were never better than in this film, which is one of the most charming and enjoyable you'll ever see. Powell and Loy are so good together that people were convinced they were really married. Powell is Nick Charles, a charming (did he ever play a character who wasn't charming?) ex-private detective who knows every cop and criminal in the big city and both sides of the law love him. Loy is Nora, his new wife and a socialite, who doesn't mind that Nick is a hard-drinking ex-private eye. Actually, she rather enjoys the excitement and wants to help her husband solve a murder. Loy, who was a stunningly beautiful woman, was also an outstanding actress. The two of them are so in sync with each other and hysterically funny as they piece the clues together. The plot, which is somewhat confusing even to those of us who've seen this more than a few times, is secondary to the funny banter between the leads. One of my favorite exchanges is Nick saying "I was shot twice in The Tribune." Nora: "I read you were shot five times in the tabloids." Nick finishes it: "It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids." It’s a funny, entertaining film that really showcases these two incredible talents. This film spawned five sequels. While the first sequel, After the Thin Man, is very good, they get progressively worse. But the interaction between the two leads remains solid.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.