The More the Merrier, playing on TCM on Thursday, December 10th, at 6pm
After last week’s sparse pair of newly featured films, we’ve got a few more to highlight this week. Jean Arthur costars in a Capra classic in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town on Monday, then moves on to the war-time romance The More the Merrier on Thursday. Quintessential film noir D.O.A. stumbles in on Friday, and of my favorites of this decade, Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 hits the Friday midnight slot. On Saturday, TCM has a pair of 1960s greats, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Lion in Winter, then check out the 1925 version of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ on Silent Sunday Nights. Plenty of great stuff we haven’t seen for a while, too, like The Big Heat and The Third Man on Tuesday, and Bergman’s Persona late Friday/early Saturday.
Monday, December 7
6:50am – IFC – Love’s Labour’s Lost
Kenneth Branagh has taken on a lot of Shakespeare plays and usually does them with incredible fidelity (like his uncut, four-plus hour-long Hamlet). This time around, he takes a lesser-known comedy and adds music by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern to turn it into a 1930s style musical. It doesn’t work all the time, but for fans of Shakespeare and old musicals (like me), it’s still a fun watch.
2000 USA. Director: Kenneth Branagh. Starring: Alessandro Nivolo, Alicia Silverstone, Natascha McElhone, Kenneth Branagh, Matthew Lillard.
(repeats at 12:45pm)
8:30am – 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.
8:30am – IFC – Bride & Prejudice
Laugh at me if you must for recommending Chadha’s Bollywood-infused version of Pride and Prejudice, but I love it. It’s silly, it’s beautiful, it’s a fun exercise in adaptation of literary classics, and it’s only slightly weighed down by Martin Henderson’s woodenness.
2005 UK. Director: Gurinder Chadha. Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Naveen Andrews, Alexis Bledel.
(repeats at 2:30pm)
8:00pm – 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.
9:35pm – TCM – 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.
(repeats at 4:05am on the 8th)
10:00pm – 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.
12:00M – 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.
2:15am (8th) – TCM – Arsenic and Old Lace
In what is probably Frank Capra’s zaniest, least Capra-corn-esque film, Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster – a perfectly normal man until he discovers that his sweet old maid aunts have accumulated several dead bodies in the basement due to poisoning lonely old men. Add in another nephew who is a serial killer, a quack plastic surgeon, and an uncle who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, and Mortimer’s got his hands full trying to keep his family secrets away from the girl he loves. It’s over-the-top, sure, but you gotta love the crazy.
1944 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre.
Tuesday, December 8
7:30am – TCM – The Big Heat
Director Fritz Lang came out of the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s, so it’s not surprising that he ended up making some of the better noir films, given film noir’s borrowing of Expressionist style. Glenn Ford is a cop working against his corrupt department, but the parts you’ll remember from the film all belong to Gloria Grahame in a supporting role as a beaten-up gangster’s moll. Her performance and Lang’s attention to detail raise the otherwise average story to a new level.
1953 USA. Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame.
1:00pm – TCM – North by Northwest
Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) gets mistaken for George Kaplan and pulled into an elaborate web of espionage in one of Hitchcock’s most enjoyable and funniest thrillers. So many great scenes it’s impossible to list them all.
1959 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau.
8:00pm – TCM – Radio Days
This essentially plotless Woody Allen film consists of a series of nostalgic vignettes about a 1940s working class New York family. The title comes from their love for the radio, the center of pop culture at the time; the radio also provides the subplot following Mia Farrow as a wanna-be radio singer who gets mixed up with gangsters. It’s not particularly deep, but it’s also pretty enjoyable.
1987 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Julie Kavner, Mia Farrow, Seth Green, Dianne Wiest.
1:00am (9th) – 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.
Wednesday, December 9
11:00pm – 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 4:15am on the 10th)
11:30pm – TCM – They Drive By Night
Humphrey Bogart and George Raft play truck driver brothers, trying to get ahead before they get killed (who knew truck driving was so dangerous?), or, you know, framed into murder plots by Ida Lupino – their boss’s wife who has amorous designs on Raft, despite his much healthier relationship with a young Ann Sheridan. Not a great movie, but a solid example of Warner’s pre-noirish studio style.
1940 USA. Director: Raoul Walsh. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Ida Lupino, Ann Sheridan.
1:30am (10th) – TCM – High Sierra
Bogart’s breakout role as an on-the-run con man who gets involved with the lame Joan Leslie. (No, I mean actually crippled.) He’d been bumming around for a few years as a Warner second lead or villain, but with 1941’s double punch of High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, he unequivocally arrived.
1941 USA. Director: Raoul Walsh. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Joan Leslie, Ida Lupino.
Thursday, December 10
6:45am – IFC – Picnic at Hanging Rock
I have a love-hate relationship with Aussie director Peter Weir. His films are almost always slow and methodical, which works for me sometimes and not others. It works in Picnic at Hanging Rock, one of his earlier films, in which a group of schoolgirls goes into the wilderness for a picnic and mysteriously disappear.
1975 Australia. Director: Peter Weir. Starring: Anne-Louise Lambert, Rachel Roberts, Vivean Gray, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Karen Robson.
(repeats at 2:30pm)
9:00am – TCM – Brief Encounter
In this quiet little doomed romance, a married woman bored with her dull husband meets a man on a train – and continues to meet him every week, indulging herself in the way he makes her feel, even though she knows it can’t really be. David Lean brings a lushness and depth to this deceptively simple story (by Noel Coward), making into one of the most memorable romances of the 1940s.
1945 UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Cyril Raymond.
6:00pm – TCM – The More the Merrier
A World War II housing shortage has Charles Coburn, Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur sharing an apartment; soon Coburn is matchmaking for McCrea and Arthur, and we get a wonderful, adorable romance out of it.
1943 USA. Director: George Stevens. Starring: Jane Arthur, Joel McCrea, Charles Coburn.
4:00am (11th) – TCM – Little Women (1933)
This first sound version of Little Women has a young Katharine Hepburn in the lead, along with a roll-call of great 1930s starlets and character actors. It’s a bit wooden compared to the 1994 version, but it’s got a lot of charm nonetheless.
1933 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas, Edna May Oliver, Jean Parker, Frances Dee.
Friday, December 11
9:00am – Sundance – Nights of Cabiria
Nights of Cabiria, one of the films Federico Fellini made during his sorta-neo-realist phase, casts Masina as a woman of the night, following her around almost non-committally, yet with a lot of care and heart. And Masina is simply amazing in everything she does – not classically beautiful, but somehow incredibly engaging for every second she’s onscreen.
1957 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Franca Marzi.
(repeats at 2:30pm)
5:15pm – TCM – D.O.A.
A man staggers into a police office to report a murder…his own. He’s been poisoned with an antidote-less poison, and he spends the rest of the film trying to convince the police what’s happened and trying to figure out who poisoned him and why. It’s not my favorite film noir, but it’s unusual premise and solid quality makes it worth watching.
1950 USA. Director: Rudolph Maté. Starring: Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler, Beverly Garland.
12:00M – IFC – Kill Bill Vol. 1
A lot of people would point to Pulp Fiction as Tarantino’s best film, and I think Inglourious Basterds is right up there, too, but I vote Kill Bill Vol. 1 for sheer amount of fun. He homages spaghetti westerns, Hong Kong fighting flicks, and revenge-sploitation, and ties it all together with incredible style.
2003 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine.
3:45am (12th) – TCM – Persona
Of all of Ingmar Bergman’s films, Persona is the one I always come back to. A nurse takes her patient, a former actress who one day simply refused to talk any more, to a lonely island to try to help her recover. They soon engage in a battle of the wills, and their identities start merging. Meanwhile, Bergman interrogates not only the concept of identity within the film, but the apparatus of film itself and its capacity for understanding and communication. There’s more to it every time I watch it.
1966 Sweden. Director: Ingmar Bergman. Starring: Bib Andersson, Liv Ullmann.
Saturday, December 12
10:00am – IFC – Broadway Danny Rose
It’s lesser Woody Allen, but it’s still Woody Allen. Danny Rose (Woody) is a theatrical agent whose clients always leave him when they start becoming successful. His current client, a has-been tenor trying to make a comeback, gives him further grief by having an affair with a young woman (Mia Farrow) with gangster connections. Not very substantial, but enjoyable.
1984 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Nick Apollo Forte.
(repeats at 3:30pm)
3:15pm – 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.
5:30pm – TCM – The Lion in Winter
Katharine Hepburn won her third (of four) Oscars for her role in this film as Plantagenet matriarch Eleanor of Aquitaine, a woman who probably had more to do with the course of British and European history than most men. The film concerns her, her husband King Henry II of England, and their quarrelsome sons Richard and John (who’d make their fair share of history as King Richard Coeur de Leone and King John, of the Magna Carta) during a particularly tense Christmas reunion. It can be difficult to make medieval-set films seem immediate, but this one does.
1968 UK. Director: Anthony Harvey. Starring: Peter O’Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton, Jane Merrow.
11:00pm – TCM – Father of the Bride
Long before Steve Martin kicked of his nearly twenty-year run of remaking classic comedies with his version of this film, Spencer Tracy was the Father of the Bride, dealing with the difficulty of letting his only daughter, Elizabeth Taylor, go to some other man. I don’t hate the Martin version, but this one is better. The family’s son is played by a young Russ Tamblyn (of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and West Side Story).
1950 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett, Russ Tamblyn.
11:00pm – TCM – The New World
Terrence Malick may not make many films, but the ones he does make, wow. Superficially the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, The New World is really something that transcends mere narrative – this is poetry on film. Every scene, every shot has a rhythm and an ethereal that belies the familiarity of the story we know. I expected to dislike this film when I saw it, quite honestly. It ended up moving me in ways I didn’t know cinema could.
2005 USA. Director: Terrence Malick. Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer.
Sunday, December 13
4:00pm – 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.
12:00M – TCM – Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Everyone knows about Charlton Heston’s Ben-Hur. You know, the one that won eleven Oscars, a record which stood for, like, fifty years? This isn’t that one. This is the 1925 silent version of the same story, with pre-talkie hearththrob Ramon Novarro as Ben-Hur, and an equally impressive (for its time) chariot race sequence. In some ways, I actually prefer this version to the bombastic 1959 version, and it’s definitely worth a watch.
1925 USA. Director: Fred Niblo. Starring: Ramon Novarro, Francis X. Bushman, May McAvoy, Betty Bronson, Kathleen Key.
2:30am (14th) – TCM – Ordet
This one I haven’t seen, but it’s on my list as I work my way toward watching more Carl Theodor Dreyer films. I have to admit that it is work for me; I watched Day of Wrath a couple of years ago and found it rather tedious (I appreciate it more in retrospect). I’m going to tape Ordet and see what happens, but I think I’m more likely to find my Dreyer “aha” moment with Vampyr or The Passion of Joan of Arc. Thoughts, any Dreyer fans?
1955 Denmark. Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer. Starring: Emil Haas Christiansen, Birgitte Federspiel, Sylvia Eckhausen, Ejner Federspiel.