Nanook of the North, playing on TCM on Thursday.
I apologize for the lateness of this post this week; life happened and I got behind on stuff. I thought it was still worth posting late, though, to point out TCM’s war film marathon over Memorial Day Weekend, running straight through Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I’ve highlighted a few here, many of them repeats for this column, but a couple of newly featured ones like Mister Roberts on Sunday and the Abbott-Costello slapstick Buck Privates on Saturday. If you like WWII films, though, just tune it to TCM this weekend and be done with it. They’ve also got a couple of really good ones tonight (From Here to Eternity and They Were Expendable) which they’re counting as part of their Donna Reed series, but would fit just as easily in a Memorial Day series. Also look out for the granddaddy of documentaries, Nanook of the North, on Thursday.
Wednesday, May 26
6:00pm – TCM – Stagecoach
Major breakthrough for John Wayne, here playing outlaw Cisco Kid – he and the various other people on a stagecoach form a cross-section of old West society that has to learn to get on together to make it to the end of the ride alive. Excellent performances and stunt-filled action sequences make this one of the best westerns ever made.
1939 USA. Director: John Wayne. Starring: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, John Carradine, Andy Devine, Thomas Mitchell.
8:00pm – 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.
10:15pm – TCM – They Were Expendable
There are films that don’t seem to be all that while you’re watching them – no particularly powerful scenes, not a particularly moving plot, characters that are developed but don’t jump out at you – and yet by the time you reach the end, you’re somehow struck with what a great movie you’ve seen. This film was like that for me – it’s mostly a lot of vignettes from a U-boat squadron led by John Wayne, the only one who thought the U-boat could be useful in combat. But it all adds up to something much more.
1945 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: John Wayne, Robert Montgomery, Donna Reed, Jack Holt, Ward Bond.
Thursday, May 27
10:05am – IFC – Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Lawrence Sterne’s 1769 proto-postmodern novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy has long been considered unfilmable. So what does director Michael Winterbottom do? He makes a film about the difficulty of filming Tristram Shandy. Winterbottom’s film is something of an experiment, but it’s a delightful one, showing the behind-the-scenes antics of production as well as highlighting the circularity and self-defeating narrative of Sterne’s novel in the film-within-the-film.
2005 UK. Director: Michael Winterbottom. Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Keeley Hawes, Shirley Henderson, Jeremy Northam.
(repeats at 4:50pm)
6:25pm – IFC – Annie Hall
Often considered Woody Allen’s transition film from “funny Woody” to “serious Woody,” Annie Hall is both funny, thoughtful, and fantastic. One of the best scripts ever written, a lot of warmth as well as paranoid cynicism, and a career-making role for Diane Keaton (not to mention fashion-making).
1977 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane.
(repeats at 5:35am on the 28th)
8:00pm – TCM – Nanook of the North
Widely considered the grandfather of the narrative documentary film, Robert Flaherty spent a year shooting footage among the Inuits in Canada, following Nanook in his daily life. This is one I’ve yet to catch up with myself, but I’m anxious to do so.
1922 USA. Director: Robert Flaherty.
Friday, May 28
12:00M – IFC – Maria Full of Grace
Once in a while a film comes out of nowhere and floors me – this quiet little film about a group of South American women who agree to smuggle drugs into the United States by swallowing packets of cocaine did just that. Everything in the film is perfectly balanced, no element overwhelms anything else, and it all comes together with great empathy, but without sentimentality.
2004 USA. Director: Joshua Marston. Starring: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Virginia Ariza, Yenny Paola Vega.
5:30pm – TCM – Sergeant York
Gary Cooper won his first Oscar for his portrayal of WWI hero Sgt. Alvin York, a pacifist who somehow decided that the fastest way to stop the killing was to join up and kill as many Germans as he could to end the war.
1941 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Margaret Wycherly, Ward Bond.
8:00pm – TCM – Stalag 17
William Holden won an Academy Award as a POW in this Billy Wilder film. Wilder had a knack for making top-of-the-line films in just about every genre, so even though I haven’t gotten around to seeing this one myself yet, I’m willing to give it a shot just based on Wilder’s involvement.
1953 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Peter Graves.
10:15pm – TCM – The Great Escape
I expected to mildly enjoy or at least get through this POW escape film. What happened was I was completely enthralled with every second of it, from failed escape attempts to planning the ultimate escape to the dangers of carrying it out. It’s like a heist film in reverse, and extremely enjoyable in pretty much every way.
1963 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, James Donald.
1:15pm (29th) – TCM – The Bridge on the River Kwai
British prisoners of war are commanded to build a bridge over the River Kwai for their Japanese captors – a task which becomes a source of pride for old-school British commander Alec Guinness. But American William Holden is having none of that and makes it his mission to blow the bridge up. One of the great war films.
1957 USA/UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: Alec Guinness, William Holden, Sessue Hayakawa.
Saturday, May 29
8:00am – TCM – Buck Privates
Abbott and Costello take on WWII with one of their better films, as a pair of street vendors who accidentally enlist in the army. There’s also a romantic subplot with a couple of other soldiers, and frequent musical interludes from The Andrews Sisters to keep things lively. Interestingly, the film was released in January of 1941 – several months before the US entered WWII (see also the Bob Hope comedy Caught in the Draft, released around the same time).
1941 USA. Director: Arthur Lubin. Starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, The Andrews Sisters.
1:35pm – IFC – Manhattan
In one of Woody Allen’s best films, he’s a neurotic intellectual New Yorker (surprise!) caught between his ex-wife Meryl Streep, his teenage mistress Mariel Hemingway, and Diane Keaton, who just might be his match. Black and white cinematography, a great script, and a Gershwin soundtrack combine to create near perfection.
1979 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway, Alan Alda.
(repeats at 4:55am on the 30th)
8:00pm – TCM – The Best Years of Our Lives
One of the first films to deal with the aftermath of WWII, as servicemen return home to find both themselves and their homes changed by the long years of war. Director William Wyler and a solid ensemble cast do a great job of balancing drama and realism without delving too much into sentimentality.
1946 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Herbert Russell, Cathy O’Donnell.
9:45pm – IFC – Secretary
Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader – making sado-masochism fun since 2002! But seriously, this was Maggie’s breakout role, and it’s still probably her best, as a damaged young woman whose only outlet is pain. And despite the subject, Secretary is somehow one of the sweetest and most tender romances of recent years.
2002 USA. Director: Steven Shainberg. Starring:James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Sunday, May 30
10:00am – 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.
(repeats at 4:15am on the 31st)
8:00pm – TCM – Mister Roberts
Henry Fonda is the title character, an XO on a cargo ship who often butts heads with the captain (James Cagney), who runs the ship with an iron fist. The tone is a satisfying combination of comedy and drama, and with a cast that also includes William Powell in his last role and Jack Lemmon in one of his first, you can hardly go wrong. Though John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy share credit for the film, it’s mostly Ford – LeRoy was brought in to finish it when Ford had to undergo emergency surgery, but he tried to emulate Ford’s style as much as possible.
1955 USA. Director: John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, Jack Lemmon, Betsy Palmer, Ward Bond.
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.
(repeats at 4:20am on the 31st)