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The Week That Was on TCM


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From the department of the over-played: I am being nice when I say that I am sick of HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE showing up as often as it does. Since it is one of the titles for the Essentials this season, we can expect more of it.

 

My uncle stopped by when NOTORIOUS was playing on March 23. He had never seen it before. I watch films differently with neophytes, even if I have seen it a hundred times before and can almost recite the dialogue by heart. I found myself pointing out the lighting and the director's use of close-ups, and explaining that Ingrid Bergman is not related to Candice Bergen, though their last names sound similar.

 

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Miss Olivia and Miss Hattie. I watched THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON. I am normally of the opinion that Olivia de Havilland did not get the chance to stretch her acting muscles much at Warners, but in this film, she does get some better opportunities. That scene when Custer (Errol Flynn) leaves her for his appointment with death, the way she crumples and falls to the floor-- it just gets me. Hattie McDoniel, her costar from GONE WITH THE WIND, is equally good and helps liven things up considerably.

 

From the department of 'It's a Fallen Classic.' I don't know what else to call it. Fortunately, Robert Osborne's intro for THE FLEET'S IN braces us for the sillier stage antics that slow this film down-- but you really must have a deep appreciation for wartime nonsense to sit through and actually like this film seventy years after it was made. Dorothy Lamour was too sassy to take in spots, William Holden too one-note and if it weren't for human firecracker Betty Hutton, I would have given up on it. This is one classic that I will admit to not caring whether or not it ever is broadcast again.

 

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I liked catching up with Ann Todd as MADELEINE. The film seems to shift tone a half hour into the proceedings (not for the better) but it still manages to hold the viewer's interest. Todd seems too full in the face and quite frankly too old to play this type of role, but the whole thing is photographed and played so well that it works in spite of the shortcomings. I love the ending, when she rides off in the carriage, not guilty and not entirely innocent. Such an excellent ambiguous un-happy ending, I wish more films left us pondering the way this one does.

 

RED HOT TIRES was the week's guiltiest pleasure for me. It was on in the background, and I caught snippets of it and thought, okay, I need to sit down and actually watch this. Thank goodness for the DVR. I backed it up to the beginning and voila, 61 minutes of fast-paced action and excitement like only those Warners B-movies from the mid-1930s can do. Mary Astor is obviously having fun here, and I gained even more appreciation for Lyle Talbot and Frankie Darro.

 

I knew the 1937 version of KING SOLOMON'S MINES would have a lousy print, and sure enough, it did. I did not watch it, but the next day, it was offered as part of TCM on Demand. I looked at it quickly, noticed the inferior print quality, hit stop immediately and went on to something else. I think these kinds of murky prints are a waste of time. Thumbs down.

 

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The movie I most enjoyed aired on March 27th. It was FLIGHT FROM GLORY, a tidy RKO programmer from the late 1930s. I figured Chester Morris would turn in an admirable performance, and he did not disappoint. I was curious about a young Van Heflin, but even at this early stage of his film career, he shows signs of greatness. Whitney Bourne is the one who really captivated me, though. She thoroughly underplays her role, and we almost should hate the character she plays-- but we can't, and that is largely due to the actress and her skill at conveying a difficult role. The film comes alive during the aerial sequences. But the action on the ground, involving our love triangle, is just as breath-taking.

 

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I've liked THE HOODLUM PRIEST for a long time, and it was like getting reacquainted with an old friend. So glad it was rebroadcast. I noticed that this film has a somewhat drawn out conclusion. There is an odd coda after the capital punishment scene, where we see some new bum jumping on a bunch of mattresses before settling in for the night. I wish they had just ended everything when Don Murray walks back after the execution in the rain. I would have preferred three minutes of walking in the rain over some lunatic doing his version of No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed!

 

SOYLENT GREEN re-aired on March 28th. My mouth waters when Edward G. Robinson recites all that dialogue about food. What a delicious way to end a long movie career.

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the film that really stood out for me was THE COMEDIANS.  Of course, I was not paying much attention to Guinness, as I was to the picture's two stars, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.  Liz has a few cringe-worthy moments, when she falls into her old school acting routines, but Burton usually is quick to bring her out of that-- and it goes without saying they have chemistry in spades.  I can see why they chose to do this story.  It is very much a reworking of CASABLANCA, except set in Haiti.  And I have to say that this film seems better to me than CASABLANCA for three reasons: first, Taylor & Burton are freer than Bergman & Bogart; second, THE COMEDIANS benefits from more naturalistic acting on the part of the supporting cast (namely Lillian Gish and Paul Ford who are superb); and third, this film does not end on the ground like CASABLANCA does, but rather in the air, with Liz looking out the window, wondering if Burton will survive the resistance movement. This is a grand and beautiful film.
 

 

 

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Before the board change the other day, I posted that I was impressed with THE DEADLY COMPANIONS.  

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This film has many elements I like-- it's a poetic-feeling western (showing that Maureen O'Hara has been influenced by John Ford) mixed with beautiful on-location filming in Arizona (where I have resided since 2004), and it shows what can be accomplished story-wise with a modest budget. In fact, only a few times does the film seem betrayed by its lack of financing, where if they had more money, a slightly more spectacular climax could have been filmed.  Otherwise, almost all the sequences hold up well.  But what impresses me most is that O'Hara is taking risks-- playing a woman of ill-repute that we eventually have sympathy for when her son is shot-- so much so we are willing to go on an emotional journey with her, and with Brian Keith, playing a man with a hideous physical scar who guides her through Apache country. Ultimately, it becomes an unlikely love story, and Sam Peckinpah's direction adds to it.

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HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER aired later the same day that THE DEADLY COMPANIONS played.  I had not seen this film since 1995, when I had to write a paper on it in film school.  I kept thinking of my old professor as I watched it.  It's interesting how a period of nineteen years changes one's perspective.  I had remembered the r-ape scene at the beginning, and the way the town had been painted red, and I remembered the ending, but there were all these other details in between I had forgotten.  The comic relief with the short mayor is good, and the haunting flashbacks hold our attention-- at first.  In fact, I feel as if this film starts out well but then after the first half-hour, we are in limbo until the spectacular showdown at the end-- maybe that is the intention, to make us think that justice is slow in coming...?  I can't help but wonder if there really isn't enough story to stretch this film out for the length it is given.  But what I do like is how Eastwood is not afraid to play an unsympathetic 'hero' and how we are not really sure if he's a ghost or a relative avenging what happened to the slain lawman.  So there are several ways to look at what plays out on screen.

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On April 1st, there was a batch of comedy films.  One grabbed my attention, and it was BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO IN HOLLYWOOD.  Like HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, it starts out well, and we quickly get drawn into the goings-on that occur as the boys work at a movie studio barber shop.  But then, the film's story falls apart.  Trouble happens when they run from a security guard and end up on a set, involved with all sorts of stunts and assorted pratfalls.  I don't think I have seen a film that started out with such promise degenerate so rapidly.  The film's saving grace is its inclusion of cameos-- Lucille Ball and Preston Foster on the set of a movie they are supposedly making (no such film exists); Butch Jenkins in between scenes, studying with other children inside the studio's makeshift classroom; etc.  I suppose if you really like Abbott & Costello, you will take them any way you can get them.

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Wednesday April 2nd would have been the 100th birthday of Alec Guinness.  TCM devoted 24 hours of air time to this.  It was nice to see TO PARIS WITH LOVE.  But the film that really stood out for me was THE COMEDIANS.  Of course, I was not paying much attention to Guinness, as I was to the picture's two stars, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.  Liz has a few cringe-worthy moments, when she falls into her old school acting routines, but Burton usually is quick to bring her out of that-- and it goes without saying they have chemistry in spades.  I can see why they chose to do this story.  It is very much a reworking of CASABLANCA, except set in Haiti.  And I have to say that this film seems better to me than CASABLANCA for three reasons: first, Taylor & Burton are freer than Bergman & Bogart; second, THE COMEDIANS benefits from more naturalistic acting on the part of the supporting cast (namely Lillian Gish and Paul Ford who are superb); and third, this film does not end on the ground like CASABLANCA does, but rather in the air, with Liz looking out the window, wondering if Burton will survive the resistance movement. This is a grand and beautiful film.

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On Thursday, there was another 24 hour tribute-- this time in honor of Doris Day who turned 90 this past week.  A day of Doris movies is like a day of comfort cinema.  I was glad that both of her films with James Garner aired, because I think he is her best screen partner.  TCM can't overplay THE THRILL OF IT ALL, as far as I'm concerned.  

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Friday the 4th had several films that were noteworthy.  I really enjoyed the Warners crime drama HE WAS HER MAN.  About fifteen minutes into it, the ending is pretty easy to figure out-- but what makes it work is the way Cagney and Blondell play off each other.  And I absolutely loved Victor Jory in a good guy role for a change.  The other films from this day worth mentioning: THE TREASURE OF PANCHO VILLA and TENNESSEE CHAMP, both featuring Shelley Winters from the mid fifties.  I think Shelley Winters should be showcased as a Star of the Month on TCM, and these two films could easily be included.  

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Today we had HONOLULU, which because of its blackface scene, inspired me to create a separate thread about that topic.  I think HONOLULU is worth watching, because Eleanor Powell does show off some great dance steps in the picture; because Robert Young has fun with a dual role; and because Grace Allen is truly at the top of her game with all those witty remarks she makes.  Her ability to be a sidekick not only to George Burns, but to Eleanor Powell as well, is a special thing to watch.

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Another film I watched today was MARRIED BACHELOR, starring Robert Young and Ruth Hussey.  In the same way Gracie had those scene-stealing moments in HONOLULU, Felix Bressart takes this picture and runs with it. Plus, Sheldon Leonard injects his usual humor in a typical gangster role, which adds to the film's enjoyment.  And I really liked Lee Bowman in this film.  He was just so subdued, and he seemed the perfect friend and rival for Young's character.  The script had some clever dialogue, and the comic situations, while far-fetched, are presented somewhat plausibly.  This film should be better known.  It's a programmer that really goes the distance.

 

And that's the week that was on TCM...

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