Film on TV: March 19-25

I picked out a bunch of classics to pull over from this week’s Film on TV post over at Row Three. Some film noir, some Depression-era musicals, some 1950s creature features, and some Czech New Wave classics. Okay, just one of each of those things. But these are all solid films with some variety, and there’s definitely a lot more to choose from if you click over and see the whole post.

Gold Diggers of 1933

Tuesday, March 20 at 8:00pm on TCM
The story’s nothing to get excited about (and in fact, the subplot that takes over the main plot wears out its welcome fairly quickly), but the strong Depression-era songs, kaleidoscopic choreography from Busby Berkeley, and spunky supporting work from Ginger Rogers pretty much make up for it.
1933 USA. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Joan Blondell, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Aline MacMahon, Ginger Rogers, Guy Kibbee.

This Gun for Hire

Wednesday, March 21 at 1:30am on TCM (that’s late Tuesday night)
This early noir depicts a hitman (Alan Ladd in his first big role) trying to revenge himself on a former-employer-turned-police-informant, while evading the police (led by Robert Preston), with the help of the policeman’s girlfriend (Veronica Lake), who also happens to be a spy trying to ferret out information on the informant, who is smuggling bomb plans out of the country. Confused yet? It’s intricately-plotted, but most of it makes sense, and the shifting alliances make for engaging viewing. Throw in a sultry magic act for Lake posing as a showgirl, and This Gun for Hire is a more than solid example of a 1940s B-level crime film.
1942 USA. Director: Frank Tuttle. Starring: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar.


Thursday, March 22 at 6:15pm on TCM
I love a good classic sci-fi film and this one hits all the high points. Radioactive material? Check. Mutant insects? Check. Scientists? Check. Nuclear paranoia? Check. Giant mutant ants (created by radioactivity left by atomic bomb tests in Arizona) start attacking people, first in Arizona, then to Texas and Mexico, and finally in the middle of Los Angeles. A team of scientists works with the police to take the monsters down. One of the better examples of the “atomic mutant” sci-fi films, of which there were many; it builds intensity perfectly (in fact, it’s at least half an hour in before you come close to finding out what’s happening, adding in a very welcome mystery element) and doesn’t spend to long on its obligatory romantic subplot.
1954 USA. Director: Gordon Douglas. Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness.

Bunny Lake is Missing

Friday, March 24 at 5:45pm on TCM
As the title suggests, this is a missing person mystery, but with a twist. When four-year-old Bunny Lake goes missing, her mother frantically tries to track her down, but no one else, including her nursery school teachers, will acknowledge the child ever existed. Is this a vast conspiracy, or a woman gone mad? Otto Preminger keeps the tension tight in this foray into British cinema, and I’ll set this credit sequence against anything else Saul Bass has ever done.
1965 UK. Director: Otto Preminger. Starring: Carol Lynley, Laurence Olivier, Keir Dullea, Martita Hunt, Anna Massey.

Closely Watched Trains

Monday, March 26 at 4:30am on TCM (that’s late Sunday night)
One of the most highly regarded films of the Czech New Wave is, typically, about a seemingly mundane subject – a young man who takes a job as a conductor at his tiny town’s train station and seeks to come of age sexually. The basic story has been told many, many times, but the undertones of the Czech resistance to Nazi occupation along with the surprisingly sweet treatment of Milos’ personal quest make this engaging and memorable. Also, you’ll never look at stamp pads quite the same way again.
1966 Czechoslovakia. Director: Jirí Menzel. Starring: Václav Neckár, Josef Somr and Vlastimil Brodský.