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Guest Programmers and their Films

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Guest Programmer: Frank Langella

The Oscar-nominated star of Frost/Nixon (2008), who recently won a Screen Actors Guild Award as part of the ensemble cast of The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), takes over as TCM programmer Thursday, May 27, to present three of his all-time favorite films. In a career spanning almost 60 years, Langella has played everything from Dracula (on Broadway and in the 1979 film version) to King Lear (at the UK’s Chichester Festival Theatre and the Brooklyn Academy of Music). He made his Broadway debut in Yerma at Lincoln Center, starring Gloria Foster, and he went on to win four Tony Awards. He made his film debut in 1970’s Diary of a Mad Housewife and has appeared in such notable features as The Twelve Chairs (1970), Those Lips, Those Eyes (1980), Masters of the Universe (1987), Eddie (1996) and Good Night and Good Luck (2005). His released his memoir, Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them, in 2012.

Langella’s three programming picks, released during his formative years in New Jersey, are:

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945) — This adaptation of George Victor Martin’s novel stars Edward G. Robinson as a Norwegian-born farmer raising daughter Margaret O’Brien on a Wisconsin farm during World War II. The film is fondly remembered by fans of both stars and notable for its sensitive screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, penned a few years before he was blacklisted.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) — Joseph Kesselring’s uproarious stage farce focuses on two sweet old ladies given to poisoning lonely old men to end their suffering. Josephine Hull and Jean Adair reprised their performances as the murderous maidens from the original Broadway production, though the show’s producers would not release Boris Karloff to film his most famous stage role. Raymond Massey took his place in a film also starring Cary Grant and Peter Lorre.

The Stranger (1946) — Orson Welles had a rare box-office success directing and starring as an escaped Nazi war criminal living under an assumed name in a small Connecticut town. Loretta Young co-stars as his unsuspecting fiancée, with Edward G. Robinson (in a role originally planned for Agnes Moorehead) as the Nazi hunter on his trail. Langella met Young twice and wrote of her in his memoirs, “Miss Young wore [her beauty] like a halo: radiant and definitive….”

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Guest Programmer: Andrew McCarthy

Actor, writer and director Andrew McCarthy joins host Dave Karger for a special night as a guest programmer where McCarthy will discuss some of his favorite movies. Best known for the so-called Brat Pack movies of the 1980s, McCarthy has since forged a successful career behind the camera on such shows as Orange Is the New Black and as an award-winning travel writer while continuing to appear in film and television roles.

The evening starts with the film Charles Chaplin called “the greatest movie ever made about America.” Based on Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel “An American Tragedy,” itself inspired by a notorious 1906 murder and trial, A Place in the Sun (1951) stars two of the period’s most glamorous and sought-after young stars. Montgomery Clift plays a poor young man desperate to move out of his humble beginnings and live a privileged high life. His determination is fueled by his mounting desire and love for a beautiful young debutante, played by Elizabeth Taylor (and in 1951, society women didn’t come much more beautiful and desirable). His climb up the corporate and social ladder, however, is complicated by his own moral confusion, not least over an affair with a dowdy factory worker (Shelley Winters, abandoning her early bombshell appeal to whine and snivel her way to her first Academy Award nomination).

Troubled, wayward youth is also the focus of McCarthy’s second pick, East of Eden (1955), featuring a typically intense performance from James Dean, establishing himself quickly as a star and acting force in his first major feature. Money also plays a major role in this plot, as Dean seeks to win his stern father’s approval by capitalizing on the U.S. entry into World War I with a scheme to make a fortune growing beans on their failing farm. 

The story is based loosely on the fourth and final part of John Steinbeck’s sprawling 1952 best seller. Elia Kazan, fresh off his success with On the Waterfront (1954), directs a sterling cast that also includes Raymond Massey, Julie Harris, Richard Davalos and Jo Van Fleet, who won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role as Dean’s “scarlet woman” mother.

Returning to high society glamour for the final screening of the night, McCarthy picks The Philadelphia Story (1940), George Cukor’s adaptation of Philip Barry’s long-running Broadway sensation. That was the play Katharine Hepburn went East to star in after she was declared “box office poison” and left her RKO contract. When MGM sought the screen rights, the studio found Hepburn owned them and, although reluctant to cast her, they couldn’t make it without her. To hedge their bets, they cast two of the biggest male stars of the time to support her: Cary Grant and James Stewart. Hepburn reportedly wanted Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, who were otherwise committed. In any case, her co-stars were no slouches; Stewart won an Oscar for his performance. Her first teaming with Tracy would have to wait until her next picture, Woman of the Year (1942).

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3 hours ago, Hibi said:

All shown to death on TCM.......

I was thinking the same thing.  I like all three movies but prefer when guest programmers chose movies that aren't in heavy rotation at TCM.

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