Elsewhere: TCM in September

I’ve started doing a guide to TCM’s upcoming programming over at the Flickchart blog. Classics tend to be underseen by the Flickchart crowd, so a lot of the ones highlighted may be too mainstream for the people who read this blog, but I like to think it’s still a helpful overview, especially of the Spotlight programming focused on Mark Harris’s Five Came Home book about five directors who made war films during WWII. Check it out if you’re not already too inundated with TCM programming posts. :)

I also recently put together a post on Flickchart’s Top Ten Films of 1935 as part of an ongoing series of decade anniversaries – I wrote about half of this one, with other contributors filling in the rest.

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Let’s Break Down TCM’s #LetsMovie Campaign

This morning Turner Classic Movies (aka the only real reason to have a cable subscription) announced a new branding initiative and slogan/hashtag to go along with it: #LetsMovie. It’s a pretty corny hashtag, but it is fairly memorable and I don’t really want to talk about that.

What I want to talk about this statement in the press release from Jennifer Dorian, general manager of TCM.

We’re on a mission to share and celebrate the entire spectrum of film history with an engaged and growing community, and the goal of this campaign is to attract an even broader audience of movie fans to the network than ever before.

As you might expect, Classic Film Twitter is worried. Classic Film Twitter is worried anytime TCM plays post-1970 films. Last February’s 30 Days of Oscar marathon was worrying – they showed Shakespeare in Love (1998), Life is Beautiful (1997), Chicago (2002), Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), and more post-1990 films. Here’s Lou Loumenick discussing that programming, with quotes from Senior VP of Programming Charlie Tabesh. Some of the selections at this year’s TCM Film Festival were worrying, particularly a much-publicized screening of Apollo 13 (1995). These are far afield from the studio era (1920-1960) films that we associate with TCM.

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Investigating Film Noir: Where Danger Lives (1950)

Now that the TCM/Ball State University Investigating Film Noir course is over (even if my DVR is still full!), I figured it was time to start going through the great noirs I’ve discovered thanks to TCM’s Summer of Darkness programming. I’ve always been a big fan of noir, so I’d seen a good many of the more famous ones before, but I’ve already checked off fifteen more in the past couple of months, and my DVR tells me I have another thirty or so to go. Since noirs are generally crime thrillers to one degree or another, it’s difficult to discuss them in detail without spoilers, but I also recognize that many of the films I’ve been watching are relatively obscure outside of noir aficionados. My compromise: The first section will be relatively spoiler-free, with just enough plot outline to establish the premise. Then there will be a spoiler section after the jump where anything goes.

A hallmark of noir is men being led astray by a femme fatale, and Where Danger Lives has become one of my new go-to examples of that trope. Dr. Jeff Cameron (Robert Mitchum) is a gentle and good-hearted doctor who we first meet telling a story to a little girl in the hospital, and then staying late to treat an attempted suicide. He even breaks a date with his nurse girlfriend (Maureen O’Sullivan) to stay with the suicidal Margo (Faith Domergue) and make sure she doesn’t try again. That turns out to be a mistake…soon he and Margo are having an affair, despite her belief that her well-to-do father Frederick Lannington (Claude Rains) wouldn’t approve. Next comes a not-quite-Chinatown-level twist that sets Margo and Jeff on the run – but Jeff doesn’t know what he’s in for.

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It’s a twisted version of the “lovers on the run” trope that’s also pretty common in noir (They Live by Night, etc.), but Jeff suffers a concussion and can’t go to sleep, which only serves to make the rest of their journey more surreal – especially a detour through a small town that refuses to let them leave because it’s “Wild West Whiskers Week” and Jeff doesn’t have a beard. Yeah, I know. There are a lot of “wait, what now?” moments in Where Danger Lives, and that’s all part of the fun. Mitchum is such a watchable actor, and he goes through all the plot complications with his usual half-bemused, half-bored, half-paranoid laconic style, which just makes it all the more alternately tense and humorous.

This was Faith Domergue’s first major role, and she femme fatales with the best of them. She’d go on to make mostly B westerns and sci-fi, including 1955′s This Island Earth. Meanwhile, it was funny seeing Maureen O’Sullivan, known for the role of Jane in the 1930s Tarzan series, in such a very small supporting role. The film was directed by her husband John Farrow, so maybe that explains it.

Where Danger Lives has double-crossing dames, red herrings, paranoia, murder, and a few bizarre plot points – I can’t ask for much more than that in a noir.

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[SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT]

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Mom and the Movies

I’ve said many times that my love of classic film can be traced directly back to my mom, who raised me on MGM musicals, classic dog-and-pony films, and dramas that I’m sure I didn’t get until I was much older, but somehow liked anyway. Mom passed away a couple of months ago, after ten years of suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Many people have offered their sympathy and I think you for that, but as anyone who has a loved one with Alzheimer’s will know, it feels in many ways like we lost her ten years ago. In addition, a loved one’s death, especially one who had been fighting disease and age, is in many ways joyful for Christians – she fought the good fight and she’s gone on to her heavenly reward, and while I grieve that my daughter will never know her grandma the way I knew her (until they meet in heaven, of course!), I’m glad my mom is free from the pain and mental loss she experienced here.

Enough of all that. I’d rather talk about the things she loved.

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Mom was born in 1936, in East Brewton, Alabama. That’s a small town about an hour north of Pensacola, Florida. Many of her fondest memories as a child were of going every week with her best friend to the movies. There was only one theatre in town, of course, with one screen, so they saw whatever was playing that week, along with the requisite shorts and newsreels. Going to the movies cost 35 cents, and that’s if you bought a popcorn and a soda to go along with it. There was a balcony, and from her stories, half the fun was tossing popcorn down on people’s heads below them. Remember, folks, there was no golden era of movie audiences!

She must’ve seen all kinds of things, but musicals held a special place in her heart. That’s what she introduced me to first as a kid, and she didn’t have a lot of care whether they were good or not. She enjoyed them all, and so did I. That said, she definitely had more of an affinity for the Technicolor extravaganzas of the 1940s and 1950s over the B&W musicals of the 1930s. I got into Fred Astaire on my own; she associated him with ballroom dancing (rather than tap) and she thought that was boring. I like to think I convinced her otherwise!

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American Movie Critics: Andre Sennwald

[Ryan McNeil of The Matinee and I are reading through the American Movie Critics anthology and discussing each chapter as we go, crossposting on each of our blogs.]

After a few months’ hiatus while we did…other stuff…we’re back and chomping the bit to talk about Andre Sennwald, a daily reviewer at the New York Times from 1934 to 1936, when he was killed in a gas explosion at his apartment at the age of 28. A shame, since the two pieces we have from him are youthful and brash but insightful, and it would’ve been fascinating to see how he matured as a writer and critic.

We didn’t have a lot to say about his first piece, a defense of Josef von Sternberg’s The Devil is a Woman, but his second piece is a rumination on the place of Technicolor following its feature debut in Becky Sharp. As in our earlier discussion on Alexander Bakshy’s take on the sound revolution, we find plenty of fodder to jump into thoughts on 3D, technology, and whether cinema should aim for “realism” or not.

RYAN McNEIL
While there’s a point or two in Andre Sennwald’s piece on The Devil is a Woman that caught my attention, it primarily reads as the sort of “Why You’re Wrong About…” piece of contrarianism that dots the current landscape of film writing.

JANDY HARDESTY
At least Sennwald’s contrarianism on The Devil is a Woman is a defense of the film, which I greatly prefer to contrarian takedowns! That said, I also have little patience with the “you just didn’t get it” method of defense that he employs at least once or twice in the piece. On a single viewing of that film, I must admit that I fell into the “you just didn’t get it camp,” though I’m more than willing to return to it with more von Sternberg under my belt.

Marlene Dietrich mocks the patriarchy in Josef von Sternberg's The Devil is a Woman

Marlene Dietrich mocks the patriarchy in Josef von Sternberg’s The Devil is a Woman

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