The 400 Blows, playing Thursday, June 18th, at 10pm on TCM
This week TCM pays tribute to Elia Kazan, Orson Welles, William A. Wellman, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, Mervyn LeRoy, and Vincente Minnelli, as well as throwing in some shorter director marathons for Tony Richardson (on Wednesday) and Blake Edwards (on Friday). I only highlighted a couple from those last two, but if you like them, check out the full morning schedule on TCM for those days.
Monday, June 15
3:30pm – TCM – National Velvet
One of my favorite movies growing up, probably not least of all because I was mad about anything to do with horses. Even so, National Velvet stands pretty tall among family friendly films, with a young Elizabeth Taylor fighting to run her beloved horse in England’s most prestigious steeplechase with the help of world-weary youth Mickey Rooney.
Great Directors on TCM: Elia Kazan
I gotta say I don’t really count Elia Kazan among my favorite directors – he tends to be a little message-y for me. Still, he got some great performances out of some great actors, and the Academy Awards loved him – although I’m not entirely sure that’s a positive.
9:30pm – TCM – On the Waterfront
Marlon Brando’s performance as a former boxer pulled into a labor dispute among dock workers goes down as one of the greatest in cinematic history. I’m not even a huge fan of Brando, but this film wins me over. Must See
12:00M – Sundance – Sex and Lucia
This isn’t a favorite of mine, but a lot of people around Row Three like it a lot, so I’ll let them defend it in the comments if they so choose. :)
Tuesday, June 16
8:30am – Sundance – A Woman Under the Influence
Gena Rowlands gives a tour-de-force performance as Mabel, a woman whose teetering madness threatens her marriage to Nick (Peter Falk). Their relationship edges back and forth between love, frustration, and anger with amazing quickness, yet it’s not clear whether Mabel’s instability is causing the problems, or the other way around. John Cassavetes directs with an unwavering camera, refusing to look away.
(repeats 5:30pm on the 21st)
6:00pm – TCM – The Haunting
No worries, this is the good, 1963 version of The Haunting, not the overblown 1999 remake. The story’s the same, but Robert Wise’s original is creepy, disturbing, and, like, good.
7:55pm – 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.
Great Directors on TCM: Orson Welles
Hollywood’s wunderkind director/writer/actor/producer always seemed to run afoul of studio interference, but he still managed to make many of the best things ever put on film.
8:00pm – TCM – Citizen Kane
Widely considered the greatest American film ever made, I’d be very surprised if anyone reading this hasn’t seen it. The quest for what makes publisher/politician Charles Foster Kane tick takes a journalist through a fractured narrative that never seems to give any definitive answers. Personally, I respect and recommend Kane for its innovations in narrative, cinematography, and cinema language, but I find it a difficult film to love (yet even that is fitting, as the difficulty of loving or being loved by Kane himself is a central theme). Must See
10:15pm – TCM – The Lady from Shanghai
Most of Welles’ films, no matter the genre, feel a little noirish in mood, but The Lady from Shanghai is the real thing, complete with fatalistic hero who gets dragged into a murder plot by a femme fatale (Rita Hayworth).
12:00M – 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.
12:00M – 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.
Wednesday, June 17
3:45pm – 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.
Great Directors on TCM: William A. Wellman
William Wellman was a workhorse director in the 1930s, directing mostly gangster films and dramas – I’m not familiar enough with him to write very competently about him, though.
9:00pm – TCM – The Public Enemy
Famous for the scene where James Cagney smashes a grapefruit into Mae Marsh’s face, it’s one of the gold standards of early gangster films, along with Little Caesar and Howard Hawks’s Scarface.
9:35pm – IFC – Raising Arizona
This relatively early Coen Brothers comedy has Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter as a childless ex-con couple who decide to rectify that situation by stealing one of a set of quintuplets. They’ll never miss him, right? Wrong. Zany complications ensue.
(repeats at 3:30am on the 18th)
2:45am (18th) – TCM – A Star is Born (1937)
This is not the better-known Judy Garland version, but the non-musical version featuring Janet Gaynor in one of her last roles. Gaynor’s not well remembered now, but she won the very first Academy Award for Best Actress back in 1928, and she holds this story of a hopeful ingenue married to a has-been actor together. I still love Judy’s version better (because I can’t get enough of her singing “The Man That Got Away”), but this one is well worth watching as well.
Thursday, June 18
7:00am – IFC – La Jetee
Very few short films become classics (outside of silent films and arguably Looney Tunes), but Chris Marker’s La Jetee, told entirely in sequences of still photographs, is one of them. In a postapocalyptic future, a man is sent back in time to try and stop WWIII from happening. But he both falls in love and is haunted by a childhood memory – two things that are fatefully interconnected. It’s the basis for the film Twelve Monkeys, which I’ve tried to watch but haven’t ever made it through – partially, I think, because La Jetee is so hauntingly beautiful and I haven’t found that beauty in Twelve Monkeys.
7:35am – 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.
(repeats at 1:45pm)
4:00pm – TCM – Topkapi
One of the classic heist capers, with a group of ragtag criminals (led by Melina Mercouri and including comic relief Peter Ustinov) planning to steal a jewel-encrusted dagger from the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. Suspenseful and funny, with great scenery.
Great Directors on TCM: François Truffaut
Oh, Truffaut, Truffaut. I can credit Truffaut with a huge amount of my cinephiliac tendencies – he was one of the first directors that got me truly interested in foreign film and the New Wave, and I can pretty much say without question that my life wouldn’t be the same now if I hadn’t ever seen The 400 Blows. His criticism as a writer for the Cahiers du cinema is just as important as his filmmaking, too – he’s the one who first started the idea behind the auteur theory, though many others have modified it far from his original intent
8:00pm – TCM – Jules and Jim
Jules and Jim are best friends. Then Catherine falls into their lives like a hurricane – she’s almost a force of chaotic primal nature. She marries Jules, but when Jim reconnects with the couple after WWII (in which the two friends fought on opposite sides), their relationship gets…um…complicated. This is one of the classics of the New Wave, and exemplifies the movement’s realistic style, dispassionate camera and narration, and intellectual pursuits.
10:00pm – TCM – The 400 Blows
Francois Truffaut’s first feature, a semi-autobiographical look at a boy’s childhood in Paris, dealing with strict teachers, fighting parents, etc. This film along with Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless usually mark the beginning of the New Wave. Truffaut’s sentimental tendencies come out already, as well as his incredible ability to direct children to great performances. Jean-Pierre Leaud would go on to star in many more Truffaut films, but for me, his adult roles never match this one. Must See
12:00M – TCM – The Bride Wore Black
Truffaut was an especial fan of Alfred Hitchcock (even devoted an entire book to a series of interviews with him), and that comes out in this revenge thriller. That I haven’t seen. Yet. But it’s Truffaut imitating Hitchcock with Jeanne Moreau onscreen – that combination can’t hardly help but be good, right?
Friday, June 19
6:00am – 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 12:00N)
4:00pm – TCM – A Shot in the Dark
Here’s your counter example for the “sequels are never as good as the original” argument. This second film in the Pink Panther series is easily the best, and stands as ones of the zaniest 1960s comedies ever.
6:00pm – TCM – The Pink Panther
Why TCM decided to show A Shot in the Dark before The Pink Panther is anybody’s guess. Most people would agree that A Shot in the Dark is the best of the series, but the first entry is still well worth watching. Peter Sellers is perfect as bumbling detective Jacques Clouseau, trying to recover a stolen diamond for David Niven.
7:15pm – IFC – Far From Heaven
Director Todd Haynes homages 1950s melodrama king Douglas Sirk with this film, loosely based on Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows. I don’t think he succeeded as well as he might’ve (Sirk’s sort of in a class by himself), but he and lead Julianne Moore make a darn good attempt. Moore plays a 1950s housewife, trapped in her marriage to a man struggling with his own sexual identity (Dennis Quaid), and slowly falling into an affair with her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert).
(repeats 12:45pm on the 20th)
Great Directors on TCM: Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese has been a leading American director since the 1970s, when he burst on the New Hollywood scene with gritty urban dramas like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver – and he’s stayed on top pretty much ever since, and shows no signs of slowing down. I have to admit to being woefully behind on my Scorsese watching, so I’m going to link to a Row Three post – Dave’s Scorsese marathon from March, in which he talks both about Scorsese as a director and every one of his films. For here, I’m just going to list the films TCM is playing. The only one I’ve seen is GoodFellas, which ranks among my favorite gangster films of all time.
8:00pm – TCM – Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
11:30pm – TCM – The King of Comedy
1:30am (20th) – TCM – GoodFellas
4:00am (20th) – TCM – Mean Streets
Saturday, June 20
Great Directors on TCM: Mervyn LeRoy
One of Warner Bros. and later MGM’s most reliable contract directors, most everything LeRoy put his hands on turned out to be a little better than the average programmer. Unfortunately, I’d say very few of them turn out be bona-fide classics, but maybe that’s just me. His films are enjoyable enough, but that’s about it.
7:15am – TCM – I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
Paul Muni plays an initially optimistic and energetic young man who struggles to find a job during the Depression. Eventually he ends up unwillingly involved in a robbery and sentenced to the chain gang. One of Warner Bros’ best “ripped from the headlines” socially conscious films – they did a lot of them in the 1930s.
9:00am – TCM – Little Caesar
One of the classic early 1930s gangster films, the one that essentially typecast Edward G. Robinson in the role of the cigar-chewing tough guy.
9:45pm – IFC – The Cooler
In this under-the-radar film, William H. Macy plays a loser whose bad luck gets him a job as a “cooler” at a casino – his luck spreads and cools off any hot winning streaks that might be going on. But when he starts a relationship with Maria Bello, his new-found love and acceptance turns his luck. This film reinforced my knowledge of Bill Macy’s talent, made me take notice of Maria Bello, and gave Alec Baldwin pretty his best role until 30 Rock.
(repeats at 3:00am on the 21st)
Sunday, June 21
Great Directors on TCM: Vincente Minnelli
Vincente Minnelli pretty much exemplifies the MGM studio style of the 1940s and 1950s – lush and colorful with A-list actors. Yet there’s something more about Minnelli; other MGM directors of the time had similar things to work with, but despite how gorgeous his films are on the surface, there’s nothing purely superficial about them. There’s a depth to a Minnelli film, both in story and use of cinematic space, that most studio directors never achieved.
8:00am – TCM – Meet Me in St. Louis
The ultimate nostalgia film, harking back to the turn of the century and the year leading up to the 1903 St. Louis World’s Fair. Judy Garland holds the film and the family in it together as the girl who only wants to love the boy next door, but it’s Margaret O’Brien as the little willful sister who adds the extra bit of oomph, especially in the manic Halloween scene and the violent Christmas scene that carries the film from an exercise in sentimentality into a deeper territory of loss and distress. Must See
10:00am – TCM – The Band Wagon
There are many reasons to consider The Band Wagon among the best movie musicals ever made. The satirical plot involving a Shakespearean director who tries to turn a lighthearted musical into a doom-and-gloom version of Faust, the bright yet sardonic script and score by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (who basically appear in the film as the characters played by Nanette Fabrey and Oscar Levant), the last really great role for Fred Astaire (maybe Funny Face is a contender, but barely), and of course, the never-surpassed beauty of dance numbers like “Dancing in the Dark” with Fred and Cyd Charisse. But even if it didn’t have all that, I’d still rank it among my favorites for the epic “Girl Hunt Ballet” number spoofing hard-boiled detective fiction. Must See
12:00N – 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. Must See
2:00pm – 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.
8:00pm – 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).
11:15pm – TCM – The Bad and the Beautiful
Vincente Minnelli directs Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, and Gloria Grahame in one of the best dark-side-of-Hollywood noirish films this side of Sunset Boulevard.
3:30am (22nd) – TCM – Some Came Running
Frank Sinatra gets to prove his acting chops again as a cynical soldier returning to his small-town home. Shirley MacLaine is a revelation, and Dean Martin gets probably his best role, as well. Meanders a bit in the middle, but ends up staying more memorable than you might expect.