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The Heat is On TCM on March 13th


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Next Saturday, March 13th, TCM's primetime theme is "The Heat is On" - crime and gangster movies that happen to have "heat" in the title.

 

Of these, I've seen all except Heat Lightning, which I'm very much looking forward to.

 

White Heat and The Big Heat are classic noirs; Dead Heat is a cool 60s-style caper with some neat surprises (and a bit part by Harrison Ford).

 

*White Heat* (1949) 8pm ET

A government agent infiltrates a gang run by a mother-fixated psychotic.

Cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Margaret Wycherly Dir: Raoul Walsh BW-114 mins, TV-PG

 

*Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round* (1966) 10pm ET

A sophisticated crook mounts an intricate plan to rob an airport bank.

Cast: James Coburn, Camilla Sparv, Aldo Ray, Nina Wayne Dir: Bernard Girard C-107 mins, TV-PG

 

*The Big Heat* (1953) 12am ET

A police detective whose wife was killed by the mob teams with a scarred gangster's moll to bring down a powerful gangster.

Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Alexander Scourby Dir: Fritz Lang BW-90 mins, TV-14

 

*Heat Lightning* (1934) 1:45am ET

A lady gas station attendant gets mixed up with escaped murderers.

Cast: Aline MacMahon, Ann Dvorak, Preston Foster, Lyle Talbot Dir: Mervyn LeRoy BW-64 mins, TV-G

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You're gonna love HEAT LIGHTNING. It somewhat serves as a precursor to THE PETRIFIED FOREST, except with Aline MacMahon running the place and Preston Foster as the gangster - and some pre-code hanky-panky. Very similar setting and definitely one for keeping.

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I started watching it last night, but fell asleep, since it was on so late. I am about to go finish it now. It does seem to resemble PETRIFIED FOREST...good comparison! I like how Aline (one of the most naturalistic actresses of her generation) plays it a bit more masculine. The contrast between her and Ann Dvorak is fun to watch...I'll be back later to post again on the thread after I have finished viewing it and can process it adequately. :)

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Okay...I just finished watching HEAT LIGHTNING. These were my (random) thoughts about it:

 

*We see a transformation with Aline's character, through attitude and wardrobe.

*The Dvorak character's storyline is not really wrapped up. (Dvorak resembles Joan Crawford.)

*Mervyn LeRoy does a great job opening up the stage play (better than the more claustrophobic PETRIFIED FOREST). Large sections of the narrative take place outdoors and in various sets.

*LeRoy also creates a wonderful sense of atmosphere...so great when the Mexican family is playing the music and we see the characters lounging around with the lightning in the background sky.

*The chauffeur character is certainly the most hen-pecked of the bunch.

*Jane Darwell only appears in the first 8 minutes of the picture (I was hoping for more).

*Aline is great during the shooting scene and its aftermath. Her facial expressions are so perfect.

*I liked the chemistry between Preston Foster and Lyle Talbot...it was convincing.

*Glenda Farrell...little scene stealer.

*The pre-code hanky panky was tame by today's standards (hard to believe the Catholic Legion of Decency objected so vehemently...there were more salacious stories being turned into Hollywood films).

*Overall, I'd give it a 9 on a scale of 1-10. I enjoyed it very much.

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>>I started watching it last night, but fell asleep, since it was on so late. I am about to go finish it now. It does seem to resemble PETRIFIED FOREST...good comparison!

 

Thank you. I almost fell off the couch when Robert Osborne mentioned something similar at the end of the airing.

 

You're right about its stage origins being opened up. Later with films like THE BAD SEED and GYPSY, Leroy was less creative that way. Not that they are bad films, just heavily stage bound. It's amazing how easily he fit into the Warner house style (actually helping to create it with LITTLE CAESAR), and then at MGM quickly converted to that studio's approach.

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I didn't watch the end till this morning and then caught Osborne's comments. I thought maybe you had borrowed from him. LOL I guess your instincts were right on the money.

 

It tells me that Robert Sherwood, the playwright of PETRIFIED, borrowed from the play and film of HEAT LIGHTNING. He just eliminated one of the sisters and made the gangster more ruthless.

 

I am definitely a fan of LeRoy. This film was great, such economy of dialogue and action...told in a 64 minute time frame, which was customary for films like these...clocking in between an hour and 75 minutes usually. I do wonder if they cut anything because of Will Hays' interference. It may've been a bit tawdrier. It's just great the way it is...everyone does a superb job. The atmosphere is the best part about it and how all the storylines play simultaenously and yet converge.

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I had only seen the film once before in the daytime as part of a George Abbott tribute. It was about a year ago but as an Aline MacMahon completist I just had to check it out.

 

I've got about 500 books on film and I can't say that I've ever seen it referenced or at least analyzed in any detail. LeRoy isn't even given much press, the auteurists dismiss him because they can't peg him into a hole. But they do the same with Wellman and Curtiz also, so LeRoy is in good company.

 

I love the "zip" of Warner films of that period, not a frame is wasted and they knew how to push buttons in terms of sexual or exploitable content but still manage to maintain dignity. As a kid growing up in NYC, I found it easier to relate to WB films more than any other studio.

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I like the last paragraph you wrote in your previous reply:

 

"I love the "zip" of Warner films of that period, not a frame is wasted and they knew how to push buttons in terms of sexual or exploitable content but still manage to maintain dignity. As a kid growing up in NYC, I found it easier to relate to WB films more than any other studio."

 

You're right...they do not waste a frame of film. Some directors could really take a lesson in this regard. I think when the film's story is more compact like that, it makes you as the viewer really pay attention. You don't want to miss anything.

 

On the issue of exploitable content, I have been giving that some thought today. I bet Will Hays and the Catholic bishops felt powerless in the beginning. When they began to mobilize with the women's groups and put pressure on the theatre owners not to show certain picture that were objectionable, then Hollywood started to fight back...they pushed certain content to test the censors (a practice that would go on for decades). It was a matter of seeing which side had more power, and about how much protection would be given to artists. A film like HEAT LIGHTNING comes along in the middle of that struggle.

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