Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, playing at 12:30am on the 5th on TCM
Turner Classic Movies is apparently highlighting a different Great Director every night in June, showing some of their best movies. That means they are showing a BOATLOAD of great films. I’ve included a tiny intro to each director – note that after the director blurb, all the rest of the films that day on TCM are by that director. There may be films on other channels interspersed, because I’ve kept the times chronological.
All times are Eastern Standard.
Monday, June 1
9:30am – TCM – Love Affair (1939)
This film is not as well known as its remake, 1957’s An Affair to Remember, which has the advantage of having the more famous Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr rather than Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer – who were both huge stars at the time, but are less known now. Both films were directed by Leo McCarey, and tell of a shipboard romance and a fateful rendezvous. I actually like Love Affair a tad better, but that could be just because I like being contrarian.
2:30pm – TCM – Duck Soup
Leo McCarey directs the Marx Brothers in what many think is their best and zaniest film. This is the one with Groucho becoming the dictator of Freedonia and declaring war on nearby Sylvania. Frequent Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont is on board as the wealthy woman who causes the rivalry that leads to the war. Personally, I prefer A Night at the Opera to Duck Soup, but this may be your best bet if the idea of musical interludes from Allan Jones (of which Opera has several) turns you off. Must See
6:15pm – TCM – The Awful Truth
This is one of the definitive screwball comedies (along with Bringing Up Baby), 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. Must See
8:00pm – IFC – Clerks
Kevin Smith’s first feature, done for cheap, has become a cult classic, and though I think he’s done better films since Clerks, it’s definitely a worthwhile watch.
(repeats at 2:05am on the 2nd)
TCM – Great Director: John Ford
TCM starts off their celebration of great directors with John Ford, usually considered one of the greatest auteurs of the American studio era. He’s best known for westerns (like Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, playing tonight) and war films, but turned out plenty of quality dramas as well (like The Quiet Man). Disappointingly, TCM is not playing The Searchers, arguably his best film. Pick it up on Blu-ray, though – it’s not very expensive and it looks incredible.
10:00pm – 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. The most memorable, though, is Claire Trevor’s prostitute – a woman who does what she must to survive, and is shunned by everyone except Wayne. Her reaction to him treating her as a lady is perfect. Must See
2:00am (2nd) – TCM – The Quiet Man
John Wayne plays a retired boxer returning to his ancestral home in Ireland, where he meets spitfire Maureen O’Hara and decides to marry her. She’s game, except her somewhat boorish brother Victor McLaglen disapproves and refuses to give up her dowry, and tradition is tradition! A great supporting cast of character actors and an epic (and comic) boxing match round out The Quiet Man into one of the most entertaining and endearing films John Ford ever made. Though I will say the last time I watched it, I was a little more concerned by its gender politics than I had been in the past.
4:15am (2nd) – TCM – She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
The first of John Ford’s informal “Cavalry trilogy,” which continued with Fort Apache and Rio Grande – all three films star John Wayne, though they’re unrelated in plot and character. Technically, I guess that makes them both westerns and war films, doesn’t it? Heh.
Tuesday, June 2
12:00N – TCM – Captains Courageous
Spencer Tracy won an Oscar for this film, based on Rudyard Kipling’s adventure story about a spoiled rich kid who falls off a steamship and ends up having to work on a fishing vessel to get home. A young Mickey Rooney plays the ship captain’s rough-and-tumble son.
6:00pm – TCM – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
There have been a lot of versions of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and this one isn’t considered one of the better ones. It’s interesting to me, though, to contast it to the 1932 version, which won an Oscar for Fredric March. In March’s version, the highly effective transformation into Hyde is done with heaps of makeup that render March unrecognizable. In this 1941 version, Spencer Tracy plays the doctor and his alter-ego, expressing the transformation almost solely through his facial expressions and physical bearing – no change in makeup – and his intensity makes it work.
TCM – Great Director: Frank Capra
Frank Capra is sometimes derided these days for what is seen as over-sentimentalism, dubbed “Capra-corn” in his honor. I think that’s mostly a mistake – his most well-known film It’s a Wonderful Life is extremely dark, and his idealistic heroes and sometimes overly hopeful endings are usually balanced by a cynical character or two that can’t quite be shaken as easily as it seems, or at least a tacit knowledge that the victories won aren’t necessarily for keeps. And for every Capra-corn Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, there’s a zany screwball comedy that reminds us that Capra was an excellent comedic director, whether you buy his idealistic side or not.
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 (Capra), Screenplay (Robert Riskin), Actor (Clark Gable), and Actress (Claudette Colbert). 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.” Must See
10:00pm – TCM – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Capra puts on his idealist hat to tell the story of Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), an inexperienced young man appointed as a junior senator because the corrupt senior senator thinks he’ll be easy to control. But Smith doesn’t toe the party line, instead launching a filibuster for what he believes in. Extremely underrated comedienne Jean Arthur is the journalist who initially encourages Smith so she can get a great story from his seemingly inevitable downfall, but soon joins his cause.
11:00pm – Sundance – The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Tommy Lee Jones takes up the directorial reins for the first time with this revisionist western about a rancher whose Mexican right-hand-man dies, his last request being that his body be returned across the border to his family. Thus begins an odyssey that’s more about mood and character than anything else. It’s not wholly even, but Jones has an excellent eye, and this was one of the more surprisingly good films of its year.
12:15am (3rd) – 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, see above, 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.
2:30am (3rd) – TCM – Arsenic and Old Lace
In what is probably 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.
Wednesday, June 3
8:10am – IFC – Three Times
Hsiao-hsien Hou directs this tripartite film – three stories set in three different time periods (1911, 1966, and 2005), each with the same actors, and each depicting a relationship that’s both very specific and individual and also sheds light on the mores of its respective time period. I liked the 1966 story the best, but they were all intriguing, and the contrast between them even more so.
TCM – Great Director: King Vidor
I’ve got to admit I don’t know very much about King Vidor, other than he directed some stuff. Maybe I should watch the documentary about him at 8:00pm, before I move on to his films?
9:00pm – TCM – The Crowd
This silent film has been on my to-watch list for a LONG time, so I’m glad TCM is giving me the opportunity to cross it off. It’s about a young couple moving to the big city, and their struggles against the impersonal, all-consuming nature of the city and the husband’s cog-in-the-wheel job.
10:45pm – TCM – The Champ
Wallace Beery earned an Oscar for his role as a has-been prizefighter, living hand to mouth with his adoring son. But then the boy has a chance to go live with his mother, long-divorced from Beery and now married to a well-to-do man. This is a great example of a high-end Warner Bros. programmer from the early 1930s – it’s very lean, nothing extra in it, but it’s got a heart that I didn’t expect.
Thursday, June 4
6:00pm – TCM – A Day at the Races
The Marx Brothers take over the racetrack in what is probably the last of their really great comedies. You do have to put up with the silly romantic subplot, but it’s not too big a strain.
TCM – Great Director: Ingmar Bergman
When Ingmar Bergman died a couple of years ago, floods of blog posts and articles came out, some valorizing his work and mentioning the profound effect his films had on the authors, others positing that he’s overrated and only wanna-be elitists claim to enjoy his films. But whether you love him or hate him, you can’t get around the staying power that images from The Seventh Seal, Persona and others have had. He’s sometimes a difficult director, but I believe the rewards are there.
9:00pm – TCM – The Seventh Seal
A medieval knight has a chess match with Death for the fate of his soul in one of Bergman’s best-known films. It’s not one of my favorites, although I’m probably due for a rewatch. It ought to be seen, but I don’t think it should be the only Bergman people see, nor the first.
10:45pm – TCM – Wild Strawberries
I’m looking forward to catching Wild Strawberries for the first time this week; I’ve got no excuse for not having watched it, other than the plot descriptions I’ve read (from IMDb: “After living a life marked by coldness, an aging professor is forced to confront the emptiness of his existence.”) don’t sound that interesting. But Bergman’s strength is in mood, so I’m giving that plot the benefit of the doubt.
12:30am (5th) – TCM – Persona
Of all 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. Must See
1:30am (5th) – Sundance – Nights of Cabiria
Nights of Cabiria and La Strada, two films that Federico Fellini made during his sorta-neo-realist phase in the mid-1950s with Giulietta Masina, always stand out to me almost even more than his more famous, more flamboyant 1960s films like 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita. Nights of Cabiria 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. Must See
2:00am (5th) – TCM – Hour of the Wolf
Another Bergman I haven’t seen yet, but am really excited about. From IMDb: “An artist in crisis is haunted by nightmares from the past in Ingmar Bergman’s only horror film, which takes place on a windy island. During ‘the hour of the wolf’ – between midnight and dawn – he tells his wife about his most painful memories.” Everything I have heard about it suggests it’s nice and surreal, and probably an influence on David Lynch. I AM THERE.
Friday, June 5
5:15pm – IFC – Before Sunrise
Though some people think Richard Linklater’s 2004 follow-up Before Sunset is better than this 1995 original, I’m going to disagree, at least until I get the chance to see both together again. Before Sunrise may be little more than an extended conversation between two people (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train in Europe and decide to spend all night talking and walking the streets of Vienna, I fell in love with it at first sight. Linklater has a way of making movies where nothing happens seem vibrant and fascinating, and call me a romantic if you wish, but this is my favorite of everything he’s done. Must See
(repeats at 3:45pm on the 6th)
6:00pm – 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. Must See
TCM – Great Director: Steven Spielberg
Spielberg needs no introduction. Interestingly, TCM is only playing one really good Spielberg film – the other ones are, like, 1941. Not sure what’s up with that, unless they had trouble getting rights clearances or maybe just wanted to do some lesser known entries in his catalog.
9:30pm – TCM – Saving Private Ryan
I’m sure most everyone reading this has seen Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg’s take on D-Day and a post-D-Day rescue mission, so I’ll save my breath on it, and just point out when it’s on in case someone wants a rewatch.
3:35am (6th) – Sundance – Wristcutters: A Love Story
Patrick Fujit (Almost Famous) slits his wrists and finds himself in a strange, limbo-like place where all the suicides get stuck after they die. But then he meets Shannyn Sossamon, who claims she’s there by mistake, and embarks on an odyssey to get her out of limbo. It’s a bit of a strange film, but it’s also very sweet and Sundancey, if you like that sort of thing. And I do.
Saturday, June 6
6:15am – IFC – Waking Life
Richard Linklater’s first foray into overlaid animation is a philosophical dreamscape that’ll either leave you cold or inhabit your thoughts for weeks. It’s the latter for me. Like most of Linklater’s films, it’s largely made up of people talking, but with the added interest of the unique ever-shifting, never-solid animation style (which he’d reuse with a slightly more standard sci-fi story in A Scanner Darkly).
(repeats at 2pm)
TCM – Great Director – William Wyler
William Wyler was one of the most consistently reliable directors in the Hollywood studio system, helming many of the most prestigious studio pictures of the time and guiding Bette Davis, Greer Garson, Fredric March, Olivia de Havilland, and Audrey Hepburn to Oscars (and winning three of his own in the meantime).
9:30am – TCM – The Little Foxes
Bette Davis is at her most vicious here, as the conniving matriarch who uses her daughter to play upon her estranged husband’s weaknesses in order to carry off a money-making scheme.
11:30am – 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.
2:00pm – TCM – Ben-Hur (1959)
The epic of epics. Chariot race and all. Except I’m not really that huge a fan. But it’s epic!
6:00pm – TCM – Jezebel
Bette Davis got one of her Oscars for this film, playing a suspiciously Scarlett O’Hara-like Southern belle the year before Gone With the Wind made it onto the screen.
8:00pm – TCM – The Letter
In this cut-above-average melodrama, Bette Davis shoots a man in self-defense. Or was it self-defense?
9:35pm – IFC – The Player
Robert Altman takes on Hollywood in this story of a script screener (Tim Robbins) who gets drawn further and further into a web of blackmail and double-crosses when he’s threatened by a screenwriter whose script he rejected. You gotta love it for the virtuosic opening pan at the very least; the rest of the Hollywood insider references are just gravy.
(repeats 3:45am on the 7th)
9:45pm – TCM – Roman Holiday
Not Audrey Hepburn’s first film, as is often thought, but her first lead role, and the one that immediately catapulted her into stardom. She’s a princess who runs away to try out being normal, and spends an adventurous day exploring Rome with incognito journalist Gregory Peck. Pretty much delightful right the way through.
Sunday, June 7
8:00am – IFC – Les Diaboliques
In Henri-Georges Clouzot’s thriller, a man’s wife and mistress plot together to murder him (gee, I wonder why?), but find it more difficult than they expected to get rid of him for good.
TCM – Great Director: Michael Curtiz
Michael Curtiz was a solid workhorse director for Warner Bros. throughout the 1930s and 1940s. However, he tended more toward adventure and genre pictures and thus didn’t get the prestige pictures that, say, William Wyler was known for. That said, I find a lot more enjoyment in most Curtiz pictures than in most Wyler pictures.
8:15am – TCM – Angels With Dirty Faces
One of the classic gangster pictures has James Cagney as a criminal idolized by the youth of Hell’s Kitchen and Pat O’Brien as Cagney’s boyhood buddy who grew up to be a priest. Though the two remain friends, they wind up understandably at odds with each other when O’Brien starts working to clean up the neighborhood.
10:00am – IFC – The Wages of Fear
Many people think The Wages of Fear is Henri-Georges Clouzot’s finest film. It’s certainly intense, as a group of drifters in South America hoping to earn some money to get home take on the dangerous job of transporting truckloads of nitroglycerin to a burning oil drilling site. Every bump or snag in the road turns deadly – and there are a lot of bumps and snags.
2:00pm – TCM – Dodge City
Dodge City, not a particularly great movie. It’s a fun entry in the group of Errol Flynn-Olivia de Havilland matchups, as Flynn deals with the outlaw element in the western frontier town of Dodge. The real reason I like it? Fantastic barroom brawl at one point.
4:00pm – TCM – Captain Blood
This was Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s first of eight films together, and it’s one of the best. Flynn is the eponymous captain, a dentist named Blood who gets captured by pirates and ends up escaping and taking over the pirate ship himself. Full of swashbuckling and derring-do.
6:15pm – TCM – The Adventures of Robin Hood
I will state almost categorically that this is the greatest adventure film ever made. Maybe it’s a dead heat between this one and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Errol Flynn is Robin Hood, Olivia de Havilland is Maid Marion, a whole raft of fantastic character actors fill out the rest of the cast, and it’s all done in gorgeous Technicolor (it’s one of the earliest Technicolor films). I recently splurged on the Blu-ray, and at $13 from Amazon, it’s a total steal. Must See
8:00pm – TCM – Yankee Doodle Dandy
James Cagney won an Oscar putting on his dancing shoes to play song-and-dance man and Broadway composer George M. Cohan in this biopic. Though it seems strange to think of gangster picture regular Cagney in a musical, he actually got his start in show business as a hoofer, and returned to musicals many times throughout his career, though this remains the most notable example.
12:30am (8th) – TCM – Mildred Pierce
In quite probably Joan Crawford’s best role (only perhaps excepting her catty “other woman” in The Women), she plays a woman trying to work her way up in the world from lowly waitress to entrepreneur, all the while dealing with her shrew of a daughter. Melodrama isn’t a particularly prized genre these days, but films like Mildred Pierce show how good melodramas can be with the right confluence of studio style, director, and star.
2:30am (8th) – TCM – Casablanca
Curtiz’s crowing achievement also happens to be one of the best films Hollywood ever turned out. I won’t bother telling you about it, though – I’m sure you’ve all seen it. Must See