TopBilled

TopBilled’s Essentials

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I want to thank those who have read and contributed this past year. This is what I have planned:

ESSENTIALS IN 2018 

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January: Elizabeth Montgomery TV movies

Dramatic roles after her classic sitcom. All are for sale at Shop TCM. Or try your local library! She's great in these, and I can't wait to discuss them.

THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN (1975)

BELLE STARR (1980)

BETWEEN THE DARKNESS AND THE DAWN (1985)

BLACK WIDOW MURDERS: THE BLANCHE TAYLOR MOORE STORY (1993)

 

February: Oscar losers that are still winners

Best picture nominees that didn’t win but maybe should have? 

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940) over REBECCA?

MADAME CURIE (1943) over CASABLANCA?

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1947) over GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT?

THE HEIRESS (1949) over ALL THE KING’S MEN? 

 

March: Sean Connery

Yes, doctor, yes…let’s do a month honoring Sean Connery.

DR. NO (1962)

THE HILL (1965)

DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959)

THE ANDERSON TAPES (1971)

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975)

 

April: Ma & Pa Kettle

Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride put their own spin on things down on the farm.

THE EGG AND I (1947)

MA AND PA KETTLE (1949)

MA AND PA KETTLE GO TO TOWN (1950)

MA AND PA KETTLE BACK ON THE FARM (1951)

 

May: Audie Murphy

Three essential Audie westerns plus his own story on Memorial Day weekend.

KANSAS RAIDERS (1950)

SIERRA (1950)

NIGHT PASSAGE (1957)

TO HELL AND BACK (1955)

 

June: LGBT classics

Selections that help celebrate pride month.

MADCHEN IN UNIFORM (1931)

VICTIM (1961)

THE BOYS IN THE BAND (1970)

VICTOR VICTORIA (1982)

MAURICE (1987)

 

July: Hal Wallis productions starring Shirley Booth

Before she was Hazel she had to get over losing Sheba.

COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA (1952)

ABOUT MRS. LESLIE (1954)

THE MATCHMAKER (1958)

HOT SPELL (1958)

 

August: Equestrian favorites

A horse is a horse, of course. 

MARYLAND (1940)

THE GREAT DAN PATCH (1949)

THE STORY OF SEA BISCUIT (1949)

THE RED PONY (1973)

 

September: Titanic stories

The ship was colossal…and so were the stories about it.

TITANIC (1943)

TITANIC (1953)

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958)

TITANIC: THE COMPLETE STORY (1994)

TITANIC (1997)

 

October: George Raft crime dramas

Who else makes trouble with the law so interesting? 

INVISIBLE STRIPES (1939)

THEY DROVE BY NIGHT (1940)

JOHNNY ANGEL (1945)

RED LIGHT (1949) 

  

November: Ladies on ice

These gals could skate, except maybe Crawford (but she had a stunt double).

ONE IN A MILLION (1936) with Sonja Henie

ICE FOLLIES OF 1939 (1939) with Joan Crawford

SILVER SKATES (1943) with Belita

LAKE PLACID SERENADE (1944) with Vera Ralston

 

December: Christmas titles

I will rerun the one I did in 2017 on the Stanwyck film, but the other ones will be new reviews.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938)

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945)

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944)

WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954)

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Since you include Ma & Pa and Audie as part of your Universal-International post-Deanna Durbin investigation, you could have inserted at least one... *wink wink*... Francis the Talking Mule among the equestrian crowd. Yet I understand that it could have been a little too-too much. Lol!

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1 hour ago, Jlewis said:

Since you include Ma & Pa and Audie as part of your Universal-International post-Deanna Durbin investigation, you could have inserted at least one... *wink wink*... Francis the Talking Mule among the equestrian crowd. Yet I understand that it could have been a little too-too much. Lol!

Yes, I felt like I needed some light-hearted comedies. Maybe I can save Francis for a month that focuses on Donald O'Connor.

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Essential: THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN (1975)

This month I've chosen to highlight Elizabeth Montgomery. Though she made feature films, Liz enjoyed far greater success on television. Of course, she is most remembered for playing Samantha Stephens on the long-running sitcom Bewitched. And when the program ended, she decided the best way to deal with typecasting was to take an axe to it.

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In the mid-1970s Liz left comedy behind, determined to reinvent herself in more serious dramatic roles. Though she didn't know it back then, genealogical studies later proved she was related to Lizzie Borden. One guesses she wanted to play Lizzie for a less personal reason-- because the part would be shocking and something her fans (and critics) would not expect. Rendering a masterful performance from start to finish, it is impressive the way she captures the spirit of the real Lizzie Borden.

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Lizzie was a troubled woman. She was exonerated by a Massachusetts court in 1893, nearly a year after the gruesome double murders of her father Andrew and stepmother Abby Borden. William Bast's script uses information from the actual case, though some dramatic license is taken. The telefilm is divided into several segments-- presenting the discovery of the bodies; followed by the investigation, inquest, trial and subsequent acquittal.

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We first glimpse Lizzie the day the killings take place, when she is disoriented. The film's direction and cinematography keep us disoriented as viewers; where we are confused like Lizzie and involved in her coverup. It's a great way to start the story, and as the investigation into the deaths of her father and stepmother are launched, she seems to emerge quickly as the main suspect, but the police gather mostly circumstantial evidence. The washed handle of the murder weapon, plus a burned dress that couldn't have had any blood stains on it complicates matters. Much eyewitness testimony is contradictory, including comments from a dimwitted Irish maid (Fionnula Flanagan).

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Lizzie's sister (Katherine Helmond) returns from a trip, and she believes in Lizzie's innocence. One thing I especially like about the film, besides its gradual build to the courtroom scenes, is how the deaths affect people who know Lizzie as well as others in the community who don't know her at all. This includes two lawyers that will argue the case (Don Porter and Ed Flanders). In some ways, the main character is made to sit back and watch them all debate her guilt, before the trial even begins.

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Of course once the trial gets underway, she is never called to the stand. So she must remain seated and look on as testimony is given for her and against her. There are lengthy scenes where the others have considerably more dialogue, and all we get from Lizzie are cryptic looks and a countenance shielding the horrible truth of what she's done. Liz Montgomery does so much with her facial expressions in these scenes, it's remarkable.

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The flashback scene of how the killings took place is saved till the end, when they all reassemble in court after a verdict has been reached. We learn exactly how she did it, including how she didn't get blood on her dress. The death scenes are harrowing to watch and suggest a lot of violence. As the foreman reads the jury's decision, it is learned the jury has found Lizzie NOT GUILTY. Although we know the history of the case today, the not guilty verdict is still powerful. It should be said this story is not about a woman getting away with anything (she was forced to move). Instead, it is about a woman that people still felt sympathetic towards, despite the likelihood she was a cold-blooded killer.

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It is to the actress' credit how much we feel sorry for the main character, instead of feeling sorry for her victims. The film doesn't seem as if it's been written to manipulate us that way. But Liz Montgomery's performance is imbued with a strange tenderness and the idea that Lizzie must've been victimized at the hands of those she killed in retaliation. I've never watched something where a killer was so obviously guilty, but yet it somehow seemed fair she was acquitted. I wanted her to go off and be in peace. Perhaps because there was a different type of justice involved. Or maybe because Liz Montgomery had cast a spell on me.

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THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN is directed by Paul Wendkos and can be found on DVD.

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Another interesting take on the story, broadcast on Suspense October 4, 1955. Instead of ABC TV, this is CBS radio.

 

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Working on my review for BELLE STARR (1980).

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I will post it on Saturday, so please check back.

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Essential: BELLE STARR (1980)

Some films don't make much of an impression. Watch them and they spend a few days in your short-term memory but are soon forgotten. The 1980 production of BELLE STARR is not that kind of film. It stays in your long-term memory, because of Elizabeth Montgomery's fantastic performance.

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Previously Fox made a feature in 1941 with Gene Tierney playing the famed outlaw. Jane Russell also took a turn in RKO's MONTANA BELLE. But Liz Montgomery's interpretation is much grittier; and it is clearly a continuation of the roles she took to distance herself from the Samantha Stephens image of Bewitched. As Belle she's a woman who likes danger. She rides with Cole Younger, the James Brothers and other gunmen. And when she aims her rifle she means it.

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Interestingly this version was produced by Hanna-Barbera, a company known for animation projects. There's extensive outdoor filming, and the attention to period detail is outstanding. Cliff Potts, who costarred in an earlier film with Liz, is cast as Cole; and it is revealed that he is the father of Belle's youngest child, which historians would probably dispute. In fact there are several liberties taken with actual details of the main characters' lives, but I think the general sense these were kindred spirits who marauded and reveled together is fairly accurate.

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There's a feminist angle to this story I enjoyed very much. The Belle in this picture sees the prim and proper townswomen for the hypocrites they are. Ironically, she is forced to entrust the care of her daughter to one of the stuck-up women who intends to turn the girl against her. Belle's motives are always pure with her daughter. And she's more of a woman than those snobs will ever be.

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Belle's relationship with an older son is depicted in a more incestuous way. Again, not sure if historians would agree with some of the liberties taken...but it gives Liz plenty of juicy material to play. There are two particularly effective scenes. One is when locals burn Belle's farm to the ground in an attempt to drive her from their community. She carefully surveys the damage and knows what must be done.

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Then there's the final scene where Belle's dramatic death is depicted. After encountering trouble on a robbery, she returns to the farm to find her son. As she dismounts, ties her horse and goes inside the house, she is unable to find him. She is still looking for the boy moments later when an unknown assailant is heard approaching off-camera, shoots and kills Belle. It is left ambiguous who her murderer might be. Did her son shoot her?  It's a powerful ending for a woman whose life of crime comes to a sudden end.

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BELLE STARR is directed by John Alonzo and can be found on DVD.

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Watching Liz this week on Password Plus.   Sorry to say that she isn't good at this.  In fact based on my viewing she is the worst celebrity player I have seen.    Often gets 'buzzed' because she can't even think of a clue word,  or just repeats a clue word that was said before.     But she is charming and it is still nice to see her in this type of show.

The best celebrity player is Nipsey Russell.    This guy just amazes me time and time again.    

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14 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

Watching Liz this week on Password Plus.   Sorry to say that she isn't good at this.  In fact based on my viewing she is the worst celebrity player I have seen.    Often gets 'buzzed' because she can't even think of a clue word,  or just repeats a clue word that was said before.     But she is charming and it is still nice to see her in this type of show.

The best celebrity player is Nipsey Russell.    This guy just amazes me time and time again.    

Interesting comment, because Alan Ludden once called Liz the Queen of Password. Maybe she was having an "off day" in those episodes. Or maybe he called her the queen of the game show, because of her charms?

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30 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Interesting comment, because Alan Ludden once called Liz the Queen of Password. Maybe she was having an "off day" in those episodes. Or maybe he called her the queen of the game show, because of her charms?

Yea, that is interesting since Alan was the host.  The episodes I saw were all from the same week so, yea, maybe she was just having an off week and she was on the show other times and did a lot better.   

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Just now, jamesjazzguitar said:

Yea, that is interesting since Alan was the host.  The episodes I saw were all from the same week so, yea, maybe she was just having an off week and she was on the show other times and did a lot better.   

Probably the info is on the IMDb, but I think she appeared on Password quite often.

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I watched this film yesterday and hadn't seen it since it was first broadcast on TV in December 1985. It was every bit as good as I remembered. I'll post my review on Saturday:

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