Film on TV: February 22-28

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Stage Door, playing at 3:30am on Sunday, Febuary 28th (late Saturday)

As TCM’s Oscar-celebratory month winds down, they’ve still got a few new ones to throw at us – the first musical to win a Best Picture Oscar, The Broadway Melody, shows on Monday; an actual good Merchant-Ivory film in A Room With a View turns up on Thursday; and fantastic underrated film noir The Killers plays on Thursday; finally, one of my personal all-time favorite films, Stage Door, hits the screen late Saturday/early Sunday (trust me, picture quality is higher than the still above; couldn’t find a decent cap). Sundance also springs Zhang Yimou historical actioner Curse of the Golden Flower to us on Sunday. As expected, the rest of the week is filled out with great repeats on all channels – many classics, both new and old.

Monday, February 22

2:00pm – TCM – The Broadway Melody
After Warner Bros. thrust the film industry into the sound era with Jolson’s musical numbers in The Jazz Singer, it wasn’t long before other studios latched onto the musical possibilities provided by the debut of synchronized sound. MGM led the way with this backstage entry (the first of a series of unrelated “Broadway Melody” films) and earned themselves a Best Picture Academy Award. That’d never hold up today – this is extremely creaky and old-fashioned now – but hey. It has historical interest.
1929 USA. Director: Harry Beaumont. Starring: Charles King, Anita Page, Bessie Love.
Newly Featured!

6:00pm – TCM – Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder’s classic noir explores the dark side of the rich and formerly famous, as a struggling screenwriter (William Holden) gets involved with a silent screen star seeking to make a comeback in the sound era. In one of the most brilliant cast films ever, actual silent screen star Gloria Swanson returned to the movies to play the delusional Norma Desmond and actual silent star/director Erich von Stroheim (who worked with Swanson on the never-finished Queen Kelly, portions of which appear in Sunset Boulevard) plays her former director/current butler. The film is a bit on the campy side now, but that doesn’t diminish its enjoyability one bit.
1950 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Nancy Olsen, Erich Von Stroheim, Buster Keaton.
Must See

11:45pm – TCM – It Happened One Night
In 1934, It Happened One Night pulled off an Academy Award sweep that wouldn’t be repeated until 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, snagging awards for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, and Actress. Colbert is a rebellious heiress, determined to run away and marry against her father’s wishes. Along the way, she picks up Gable, a journalist who senses a juicy feature. This remains one of the most enjoyable comedies of all time, with great scenes like Colbert using her shapely legs rather than her thumb to catch a ride, Gable destroying undershirt sales by not wearing one, and a busload of people singing “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.”
1934 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert.
Must See

Tuesday, February 23

8:45am – TCM – 42nd Street
By 1933 when 42nd Street came out, the Hollywood musical had already died. So excited by the musical possibilities that sound brought in 1927, Hollywood pumped out terrible musical after terrible musical until everyone was sick of them. 42nd Street almost single-handedly turned the tide and remains one of the all-time classic backstage musicals. It may look a little creaky by later standards, but there’s a vitality and freshness to it that can’t be beat.
1932 USA. Director: Lloyd Bacon. Starring: Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, George Brent, Bebe Daniels, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel.

2:45pm – TCM – The Awful Truth
This is one of the definitive screwball comedies, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a married couple who constantly fight and decide to divorce, only to wind up meddling in each other’s lives (and screw up other relationship attempts) because they just can’t quit each other. Dunne’s impersonation of a Southern belle showgirl is a highlight.
1937 USA. Director: Leo McCarey. Starring: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy.
Must See

5:45pm – IFC – Bananas
Woody Allen in full-on zany mode in one of his earlier films, as the wonderfully named Fielding Mellish. In an attempt to impress a politically-minded girl, Mellish runs off to a Latin American country and takes it over.
1971 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalbán.

6:15pm – TCM – Topper
Cary Grant and Constance Bennett are hard-living young couple who crash their fancy car after a night of drinking and end up as ghosts. They choose to spend their afterlife haunting Grant’s uptight boss Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) and teaching him to enjoy life again. Something of a screwball comedy without the battle of the sexes part; slight but a lot of fun.
1937 USA. Director: Norman Z. McLeod. Starring: Roland Young, Cary Grant, Constance Bennett.

10:30pm – Sundance – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
This unflinching Romanian film remains one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in the last several years. Set in the mid-1980s, it builds a thriller-like story of a woman trying to help her friend obtain a dangerous illegal abortion – yet it’s a thriller so deliberate that its very slowness and lack of movement becomes a major source of tension. When the camera does move, it has an almost physical force. I can hardly describe how blown away I am by this film…tough to watch, but incredibly worth it.
2007 Romania. Director: Cristian Mungiu. Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean.
Must See

11:15pm – TCM – Gigi
Maurice Chevalier’s “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” might come off as more pervy now than it was originally intended, but as a whole Gigi stands as one of the most well-produced and grown-up musicals made during the studio era. Vincente Minnelli gives it a wonderful visual richness and sophistication, while music from Lerner & Loewe (usually) stresses the right combination of innocence, exuberance, and ennui for its decadent French story.
1958 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Louis Jourdan, Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold.

12:00M – IFC – The Good German
Steven Soderbergh’s attempt using 1940s equipment and filming techniques didn’t actually turn into a particularly good movie, but as a filmmaking experiment, it’s still fairly interesting. And has George Clooney and Cate Blanchett in gorgeous B&W as former lovers/current spies, if you’re into that sort of thing.
2006 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire.

1:15am (24th) – TCM – An American in Paris
Expat artist Gene Kelly in Paris, meets Leslie Caron, woos her away from rival Georges Guetarey, all set to Gershwin music and directed with panache by Vincente Minnelli. All that plus Kelly’s ground-breaking fifteen-plus-minute ballet to the title piece.
1951 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetarey.
Must See

Wednesday, February 24

10:30am – TCM – The Third Man
Novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) searches for his elusive, possibly murdered friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in post-war Vienna. A little bit of American film noir, a little bit of European ambiguity, all mixed together perfectly by screenwriter Grahame Green and director Carol Reed.
1949 UK/US. Director: Carol Reed. Starring: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles.
Must See

12:30pm – TCM – The Magnificent Ambersons
Welles followed up Citizen Kane with this film about a wealthy but decaying American family, but wasn’t given nearly as much creative freedom. But even with studio interference, it’s well worth seeing.1942 USA. Director: Orson Welles. Starring: Joseph Cotten, Tim Holt, Anne Baxter, Agnes Moorehead.

2:00pm – TCM – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
One of Humphrey Bogart’s best films casts him as greedy prospector Fred C. Dobbs, who teams up with old-timer Walter Huston and youngster Tim Holt to find a horde of gold. Along the way, they uncover instead the darker sides of human nature. One of director John Huston’s most impressive films.
1948 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, Walter Huston.
Must See

6:00pm – Sundance – Paris je t’aime
I have a huge soft spot for Paris – basically any movie set there I will like to at least some degree. So an anthology film with eighteen internationally-renowned directors giving their take on Paris with eighteen short films all mashed together? Yeah, instant love. Obviously some sections are far stronger than others – the Coens, Gus van Sant, Alexander Payne, Isabel Coixet, Tom Tykwer, and Wes Craven turn in my favorites.
2006 France. Director: various. Starring: many.
(repeats at 4:30am on the 25th)

8:00pm – Sundance – Metropolitan
If Jane Austen made a movie in 1990 and set it among entitled Manhattan socialites, this would be it. The film follows a group of such entitled teens from party to party, focusing especially on the one outsider, a boy from the blue-collar class who has to rent a tux and pretend he likes to walk to avoid letting his new friends know he has to take the bus home. Though they find out soon enough, they keep him around because his intellectual nattering amuses them. In fact, it’s quite amazing that this film is interesting at all, given the amount of pseudo-intellectual nattering that goes on, from all the characters. But from start to finish, it’s both entertaining and an incisive look at the American class structure.
1990 USA. Director: Whit Stillman. Starring: Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, Carolyn Farina, Taylor Nichols, Dylan Hundley.
(repeats at 2:55pm on the 25th)

1:15am (25th) – TCM – A Room With a View
One of Merchant-Ivory’s best films out of their many classy adaptations of period literary classics – and less, uh, stuffy than they often tend to be. For me, it vies only with Howards End (another E.M. Forster adaptation) in their repertoire. A young Helena Bonham Carter, a veteran Maggie Smith, and Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his earliest film roles, don’t hurt at all.
1985 UK. Director: James Ivory. Starring: Helen Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott, Julian Sands, Simon Callow, Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis.
Newly Featured!

Thursday, February 25

2:00pm – TCM – A Day at the Races
The Marx Brothers take over the racetrack in what is probably the last of their really great comedies. As with A Night at the Opera you do have to put up with the silly romantic subplot, but it’s not too big a strain.
1937 USA. Director: Sam Wood. Starring: The Marx Brothers, Allan Jones, Maureen O’Sullivan, Margaret Dumont.
Must See

4:00pm – TCM – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
One of Frank Capra’s most whimsical films stars Gary Cooper as an unassuming country boy who suddenly inherits a great amount of money. When he decides to give it all away to whoever comes and asks for some, he garners a media frenzy, everyone thinking he’s crazy. Idealistic, warmly funny, and, yes, Capracorny. But as corn goes, it’s among the best. Also, any chance to see Jean Arthur is worth taking.
1936 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, George Bancroft, Lionel Stander, Douglass Dumbrille.

5:45pm – Sundance – Ran
Akira Kurosawa’s inspired transposition of King Lear into medieval Japan, mixing Shakespeare and Japanese Noh theatre tradition like nobody’s business.
1985 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu.
Must See
(repeats at 11:20am on the 26th)

8:00pm – TCM – The Killers (1946)
Burt Lancaster made his film debut in this excellent noir, an expansion of an Ernest Hemingway short story. Lancaster is a quiet gas station attendant killed in the opening of the film by two hitmen – the events that lead up to his death (involving, among other things, a classic femme fatale played by Ava Gardner) are told in flashback throughout the rest of the film.
1946 USA. Director: Robert Siodmak. Starring: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Albert Dekker, Sam Levene.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – TCM – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Three of the greatest names in westerns – John Ford, John Wayne, and James Stewart – teamed up to make this film just as the classical western was fading out of popularity. Perhaps fittingly, then, it’s a film about western myth and the transition from outlaw gunslingers to government rule, a transition aided in one town at least by the man who shot outlaw Liberty Valance.
1962 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien.

Friday, February 26

9:30am – TCM – Mrs. Miniver
One of the more celebrated World War II home front films has Greer Garson in an Oscar-winning turn as the stalwart title character, holding her home together against the German Blitz. It’s the kind of movie that could only be made in 1942, and it won awards all over the place. It comes off a bit over-earnest today, though.
1942 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright.

5:45pm – TCM – Victor/Victoria
Making a living proves tough for singer Julie Andrews, until she decides to try cross-dressing, pretending to be a man performing as a female impersonator. This creates, um, interesting situations in her personal life, as well. Andrews’ husband Blake Edwards directs this amusing farce.
1982 USA. Director: Blake Edwards. Starring: Julia Andrews, Robert Preston, James Garner, Lesley Ann Warren.
Newly Featured!

7:45pm – IFC – Se7en
Detectives Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman pursue a serial killer who bases his murders on the seven deadly sins. One of the great serial killer thrillers, with one of the great serial killer speeches of all time.
1995 USA. Director: David Fincher. Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 3:05am on the 27th)

Saturday, February 27

6:00am – IFC – Millions
In this Danny Boyle film, a young British boy finds a bag with millions of pounds in it; the catch is that Britain is days away from switching to the euro, so the money will soon be worthless. The shifting ethical questions combined with a sometimes almost Pulp Fiction-esque style and a fascinating religious backdrop (I’m still not sure where he was going with that) at the very least means an intriguing couple of hours.
2004 UK. Director: Danny Boyle. Starring: Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan, Christopher Fulford.
(repeats at 11:35am and 5:15pm)

10:30am – TCM – The Manchurian Candidate
Former soldier Frank Sinatra starts having nightmares about his war experience, then finds that he and his unit were part of a brainwashing experiment – the result of which was to turn his colleague Laurence Harvey into a sleeper agent assassin. A classic of the Cold War era, full of well-honed suspense and paranoia.
1962 USA. Director: John Frankenheimer. Starring: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury.

12:45pm – TCM – From Here to Eternity
There’s the famous part, yes, where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr make love on the beach among the crashing waves. But there’s also a solid ensemble war tale, involving young officer Montgomery Clift and his naive wife Donna Reed, and embittered soldiers Frank Sinatra and Lee J. Cobb.
1953 USA. Director: Fred Zinnemann. Starring: Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed, Montgomery Clift, Lee J. Cobb.

8:00pm – TCM – Tom Jones
The book Tom Jones, written in the late 1700s by Henry Fielding, is usually considered one of the earliest novels, and part of its charm is the way it pastiches earlier literary forms as it tells its story of a rakish young English nobleman and his adventures with women. Though the film version can’t really claim the same place in cinematic history that the novel does in literary history, it’s still quite enjoyable, and manages to convey a similar playfulness by pastiching earlier filmmaking styles – which never fails to earn it a spot in texts on adaptation.
1963 UK. Director: Tony Richardson. Starring: Albert Finney, Susanna York, Hugh Griffiths.

10:00pm – Sundance – The Lives of Others
If any film had to beat out Pan’s Labyrinth for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, I’m glad it was one as good as The Lives of Others. A surveillance operator is assigned to eavesdrop on a famous writer who may be working against the government regime – he’s torn in both directions when he starts sympathizing with his subject. It’s really well done in tone and narrative, with a great performance by the late Ulrich Mühe.
2006 Germany. Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Theime.

12:20am (28th) – Sundance – Oldboy
Ultra-violent revenge films don’t get much better than this. A man is inexplicably locked up in a room for several years then just as inexplicably released, at which point he seeks revenge. A bloody and at times disturbing film, but with an underlying thoughtfulness that sets it apart.
2003 Korea. Director: Park Chan-Wook. Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang.

3:30am (28th) – TCM – Stage Door
I cannot describe to you how much I love this film. I’m not sure it’s wholly rational. Katharine Hepburn plays an heiress who wants to make it on her own as an actress, so she moves (incognito) into a New York boarding house for aspiring actresses. Her roommate ends up being Ginger Rogers (who’s never been better or more acerbic), and the boarding house is rounded out with a young Lucille Ball, a young Eve Arden, a very young Ann Miller, and various others. The dialogue is crisp and everyone’s delivery matter-of-fact and perfectly timed, and the way the girls use humor to mask desperation makes most every moment simultaneously funny and tragic – so that when it does turn tragic, it doesn’t feel like a shift in mood, but a culmination of the inevitable.
1937 USA. Director: Gregory La Cava. Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Andrea Leeds, Gail Patrick, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Constance Collier.
Must See
Newly Featured!

Sunday, February 28

6:05am – IFC – Primer
Welcome to sci-fi at its most cerebral. You know how most science-dependent films include a non-science-type character so there’s an excuse to explain all the science to audience? Yeah, this film doesn’t have that character, so no one ever explains quite how the time travel device at the center of the film works. Or even that it is, actually, a time-travel device. This is the sci-fi version of getting thrown into the deep end when you can’t swim. Without floaties.
2004 USA. Director: Shane Carruth. Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Carrie Crawford.
(repeats at 2:05pm)

8:15am – TCM – The Philadelphia Story
Katharine Hepburn is Tracy Lord, a spoiled socialite about to marry Ralph Bellamy when ex-husband Cary Grant turns up. Throw in newspaper columnist James Stewart and his photographer Ruth Hussey, along with a bunch of great character actors filling out the cast, and you have both rollicking wedding preparations and one of the best films ever made.
1940 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Katharaine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, Ralph Bellamy, Virginia Weidler.
Must See

10:15am – TCM – You Can’t Take it With You
Capra won his third directing Oscar for this film (the others were for It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), but to me it’s not one of his more interesting pieces. Young couple James Stewart and Jean Arthur invite chaos when his staid, wealthy family meets her wacky, irreverent one.
1938 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Spring Byington.

5:15pm – TCM – The Greatest Show on Earth
Widely considered one of the least deserving films ever to win the Best Picture Academy Award, Cecil B. DeMille’s circus picture is big, loud, and gaudy – and okay, kinda fun. No, it didn’t deserve an Oscar that year, but in terms of spectacle, you get death-defying trapeze acts, clowns with shady pasts, and one of the most incredible train crashes ever on film.
1952 USA. Director: Cecil B. DeMille. Starring: Betty Hutton, Charlton Heston, Cornel Wilde, James Stewart, Gloria Grahame, Dorothy Lamour.

8:00pm – TCM – Ben-Hur
Charlton Heston is the titular character, going through pretty much everything a Jew in the first century could expect – mistreatment from the Romans, being sold as a galley slave as punishment for a minor offense, fighting for his life as an arena chariot racer, and becoming convinced by Jesus of Nazareth’s promises of hope and a better kingdom to come. Ben-Hur practically defines the word “epic,” and remains one of the best of the sword-and-sandal films so popular in the ’50s and ’60s.
1959 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith, Cathy O’Donnell, Martha Scott.
Must See

10:00pm – Sundance – Curse of the Golden Flower
One of the weaker entries in Zhang Yimou’s series of historical martial-arts-on-wires films, but it still has its moments – and the production design, as usual, is flawlessly beautiful. Definitely worth a watch if you’re a fan of the style.
2006 China. Director: Zhang Yimou. Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, Ye Liu.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 4:15am on the 29th)

12:00M – Sundance – The Squid and the Whale
Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are married writers/academics who finally drive each other too crazy to keep living together, bringing their two adolescent sons into their turmoil when they separate. Everything about the film works together to create one of the best films of the past few years. Writer/director Noah Baumbach has crafted a highly intelligent script which is achingly witty and bitterly funny; the acting is superb all around; the music fits beautifully, and even the setting (1980s Brooklyn) is something of a character.
2005 USA. Director: Noah Baumbach. Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline.
Must See