Tag Archives: The Wizard of Oz

Two Complaints About The Wizard of Oz

Over the past several months, I’ve happened to hear a few different people talking about The Wizard of Oz, and though the general consensus on the film remains love, there have been some complaints that have surfaced repeatedly. Now, I know most of the people mentioning these things love the film, so we’re all really on the same page. I just think these two particular complains have some pretty decent defenses, at least in my head. Uh, spoilers for The Wizard of Oz, I guess.

First Complaint: Glinda is a jerk who sends Dorothy on a wild goose chase when she could go home all along

The argument here is that Dorothy has the red shoes the whole time and, as Glinda says at the end of the film, she always had the power to go home. All Glinda would’ve had to do is tell Dorothy to click her heels together and say “there’s no place like home” and BAM. No need to go see the Wizard, no need to kill the Wicked Witch, etc. In this reading, Glinda merely wants Dorothy to do her dirty work for her to get rid of her rival. I think that’s an interesting story (and Glinda as a not-so-good-witch is the thread taken up by Wicked), but really, I don’t think Dorothy could’ve gone home earlier. Glinda tells her she always had the power to go home, but she didn’t tell her before because she wouldn’t have believed it. But really, in order to go home what she has to believe isn’t that clicking some shoes together and saying a magic phrase will send her home, but that “there’s no place like home.” She had to go through the journey to Oz to really believe that, and without that belief, I don’t think any amount of heel clicking would’ve worked.

Second Complaint: The message of the film is that you should never leave home

I can definitely see this being a valid reading. Dorothy does say she’ll never leave again after she returns, but I don’t know that we need to read this at face value. It’s a pretty natural thing to say right after coming through a traumatic situation and finding yourself safe. In a broader sense, the film could be interpreted as saying that new, outside things are bad – Dorothy also says that everything she wants is right in her own backyard. But I think the message is really one of contentment. It’s fine to be ambitious and want to see new things, but if you can’t manage to find contentment where you are, chances are you won’t find it elsewhere, either. Add in the fact that all the characters in Oz actually already had the qualities they sought from the Wizard, and the journey becomes one of seeking your own inner strengths and the value of those around you, instead of believing you have to go somewhere else and be validated by someone else in order to be happy.

Top Ten: Roger Ebert’s Great Movies

Today would have been Roger Ebert’s 71st birthday had he not recently passed away. What better way to celebrate his life than to remember the films that he singled out for particular praise in his Great Movies series? Ebert did not rank these films; in fact, he added them only after he had a chance to reevaluate them and write about them, so there’s no hierarchy here at all. The ones he identified as Great Movies are likely only a fraction of what he would consider the Greatest Movies of All Time, and possibly not even the top fraction. But because the list of Great Movies is unranked by Ebert, it’s a perfect filter for Flickchart, letting us see how I personally and Flickchart users globally rank the conglomerate.

Flickchart is a movie ranking website that pits two random films against each other and asks you to choose which one is better, meanwhile building a list of your favorite films. I rank according to what I like the best, prioritizing personal preferences and emotional connections, so my Flickchart is in no way meant to be objective.

10 – The Thin Man (1934)

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many more times in the future – Nick and Nora Charles are my favorite on-screen married couple. They flirt and joke with each other, get through disagreements and have friendly competitions, are totally secure in each others’ love, and each is ready to take a bullet for the other if it becomes necessary. And oh, it does, because this is a murder mystery that crosses the Hammett-style detective story (Hammett actually wrote the novel the film is based on) with a touch of Agatha Christie, and a whole lot of ’30s-style witty comedy. The balance is perfect, and this is a film I can watch over and over and never get tired of.

9 – Vertigo (1958)

Alfred Hitchcock is my favorite director, and a whole bunch of his movies are in my Top 100, so it’s not surprising to find two on this list. First up, Vertigo, which is one of the first Hitchcock films I remember watching, when my cousin decided we should watch it when I was probably much too young for it. I liked it anyway, and I’ve only liked it better with every (frequent) rewatch. I love everything about this movie – the dark side of Jimmy Stewart, the lush and unrealistic colors, the slow burn, and perhaps especially the tragic Midge, who gave Scottie everything she had knowing he’d give her nothing in return. The fact that Midge’s story exists alongside and underneath the Scottie/Madeline/Judy story simply shows the breadth and nuance of Vertigo.

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Top Ten: Judy Garland Films

When I was younger, I went through a phase of wanting to celebrate my favorite stars’ birthdays by watching their movies. The only one I managed to very successfully was Judy Garland, whose birthday on June 10th I celebrated with marathon viewings several years in a row. To this day, June 10th never comes around with me thinking of Judy, one of the greatest entertainers of all time. At this point, I’ve seen all but a handful of her films, so let’s use Flickchart to see what my favorites are.

Flickchart is a movie ranking website that pits two random films against each other and asks you to choose which one is better, meanwhile building a list of your favorite films. I rank according to what I like the best, prioritizing personal preferences and emotional connections, so my Flickchart is in no way meant to be objective.

10 – Ziegfeld Follies (1946)

In the 1940s, several of the studios had such impressive arrays of talent under contract that they liked to do films that basically just showcased them all. Musicals were great ways to do this, since they could just cram in musical numbers featuring different people. Ostensibly a recreation of the Follies of Broadway fame, and starring William Powell reprising his role as Ziegfeld from 1936’s The Great Ziegfeld in a very thin frame device, this is really just a series of sketches and musical numbers with no connecting material whatsoever. It’s a revue, pure and simple, something that never really caught on in film, despite a few attempts in the late 1920s. So calling this “a Judy Garland film” is a bit of a stretch, since she appears in one sketch and that’s it. But she’s pretty hilarious in it, and I do enjoy the movie as a whole, which is a pretty great excuse for a lot of solid singing and dancing, and some fair to middling comedy. Garland’s bit is “A Great Lady Gives an Interview,” a pastiche on an actress who thinks she’s all that (the role was apparently supposed to go to Greer Garson in a bit of self-parody, but I guess it hit a little too close to home and she refused to do it). It’s over the top, but Garland seems to be having a ball with it.

9 – Presenting Lily Mars (1943)

I have this much higher on my list than it appears on Flickchart’s global list (where it’s near the bottom of Garland’s filmography), partially because it’s not that well known and I doubt many Flickcharters have seen it, but it also seems to be relatively maligned even among classic movie fans. I remember looking it up in Leonard Maltin’s guide (I did that for almost everything I watched back then), and being severely disappointed that he gave it ** stars, or maybe even *1/2. I even remember the gist of the one-line review: “Well, there she is, and there the movie festers.” Okay, so it ain’t a masterpiece. But it’s one of Garland’s first adult roles, and she’s fresh-faced and delightful as the title character dogging Van Heflin’s producer to try to get a job on Broadway. Along the way are numbers like “Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son” showcase not only Judy’s magnificent pipes, but her burgeoning talent as a comedienne as well.

8 – The Pirate (1948)

This highly underrated movie was something of a flop when first released; you can kind of see why, as its story of a young girl infatuated with tales of the pirate Mack the Black and a circus performer who gets mistaken for said pirate is a bit all over the place, and the musical numbers fall toward the overly frenzied. This is a fever dream of a movie in a time period that was used to far less outre entertainment. Today parts of the film might fall under the classification of camp, as in Judy’s wild performance of “Mack the Black” (in the film, she’s under the power of hypnosis and revealing her innermost passions), while others are simply fantastically silly, like Gene Kelly being outdanced by the Nicholas Brothers in Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown.” Supporting turns from the always dependable Mildred Natwick and Walter Slezak don’t hurt, either.

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Film on TV: June 28-July 4

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The beginning of June marked the one year anniversary for this column, and in that time we’ve featured over 400 different films spanning years from 1903-2008 and representing more than eighteen different countries and pretty much every genre. I think that’s not bad at all. But I’m the first to admit that I haven’t seen everything, so I’m going to start including just title and basic info for films that I’ve heard positive things about but haven’t seen myself; if you have seen a film that’s listed without a blurb, please feel free to write a little blurb and either send it to me (faithx5 AT gmail DOT com) or post it in the comments, and I’ll include it for any future showings of that film, credited to you.

Monday, June 28

6:05am – 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 12:05pm and 5:30pm)

10:15am – IFC – I Heart Huckabees
Not too many films take philosophy as their base, but this one basically does, following a man (Jason Schwartzman) plagued by coincidence who hires a couple of existentialists to figure out what’s going on.
2004 USA. Director: David O. Russell. Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Isabelle Huppert, Dustin Hoffman, Naomi Watts, Mark Wahlberg, Lily Tomlin, Jude Law.
(repeats at 3:35pm, and 4:45am on the 29th)

Tuesday, June 29

10:00am – TCM – Theodora Goes Wild
Irene Dunne got a few chances to test her screwball comedy skills, and while I don’t think Theodora Goes Wild is as solid as The Awful Truth on any level, it’s still a fun showcase for Dunne’s comedic talents.
1936 USA. Director: Richard Boleslawski. Starring: Irene Dunne, Melvyn Douglas, Thomas Mitchell, Thurston Hall.
Newly Featured!

12:00N – TCM – Too Many Husbands
This is not that good a movie, but it makes an interesting comparison with another 1940 film, My Favorite Wife. That film stars Irene Dunne, and this one stars Jean Arthur, two of the better comediennes of the 1930s, but both have essentially the same story, only gender-flopped – here Arthur’s husband is believed dead so several years later she remarries, only to have her husband turn back up. This is a weaker film overall than its role-switched doppelganger, but I’d argue that Arthur still manages to prove herself a stronger comedienne than Dunne.
1940 USA. Director: Wesley Ruggles. Starring: Jean Arthur, Fred MacMurray, Melvyn Douglas, Harry Davenport.
Newly Featured!

12:00N – 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.
1962 France. Director: Chris Marker. Starring: Jean Négroni, Hélène Chatelain, Davos Hanich.

3:15am (30th) – TCM – Thank Your Lucky Stars
Notable solely because it’s one of a handful of films made during WWII with, like, every star a studio could possibly muster in cameos or musical numbers. In this case, the studio is Warner Bros, so they could muster a lot. And where else are you going to be able to see Bette Davis do a musical number? For reals.
1943 USA. Director: David Butler. Starring: Joan Leslie, Eddie Cantor, Dennis Morgan, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Olivia de Havilland, Errol Flynn, John Garfield, Ida Lupino, Ann Sheridan, Dinah Shore, Alexis Smith, Jack Carson, Alan Hale, ETC.
Newly Featured!

5:55pm – IFC – Days of Glory
One I haven’t seen, but it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars that year. And apparently has Mélanie Laurent pre-Inglourious Basterds, so I might have to check it out now.
2006 France/Algeria. Director: Rachid Bouchareb. Starring: Mathieu Simonet, Assaad Bouab, Mélanie Laurent.
Newly Featured!

Wednesday, June 30

8:00pm – IFC – Heathers
I’ve actually had this on my DVR for like three months now, and still haven’t gotten around to it. One of these days…
1988 USA. Director: Michael Lehrmann. Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 3:00am on the 1st)

11:30pm – IFC – Antichrist
Lars von Trier’s latest film isn’t exactly what I’d call fun to watch, but it definitely has its compelling moments in its story of a couple grieving over the death of their son and the lengths the husband will go to in order to help his wife recover her sanity – and the lengths to which her sanity is gone. Extremely strong performances from the two principals and von Trier’s way of mixing arthouse mood with extremely disturbing content make Antichrist hard to forget.
2009 Denmark. Director: Lars von Trier. Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Thursday, July 1

10:30am – TCM – Lili
Slight but charming tale of an orphan girl “adopted” by a circus troupe. I enjoyed this as a kid, and strangely enough, I can still sing the entire theme song to it. Even though I knew, even then, that Leslie Caron had to be way too old to play this part.
1953 USA. Director: Charles Walters. Starring: Leslie Caron, Mel Ferrer, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Newly Featured!

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? It has one of the best barroom brawls ever put on film.
1939 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Alan Hale.

3:45pm – TCM – To Each His Own
Olivia de Havilland’s first Academy Award was for this film about a woman forced to give up her illegitimate child during WWII, yet continuing to love and sacrifice for him from afar. I have not seen it.
1946 USA. Director: Mitchell Leisen. Starring: Olivia de Havilland,Mary Anderson, Roland Culver, Phillip Terry.
Newly Featured!

6:00pm – TCM – The Heiress
Olivia de Havilland’s second Academy Award was for this film, based on Henry James’ novel Washington Square, about an aging woman (in those days, aging meant like “older than 25”) forbidden by her father from loving an earnest but non-socially-equal young man.
1949 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins.
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – TCM – Rebel Without a Cause
Nicholas Ray’s best-known movie (though not, I’d argue, his best), likely because it’s one of James Dean’s three films. Dean is a rebellious teen, hanging out with the wrong crowd, whose parents don’t understand him. It all seems a little overwrought these days, but there’s an intensity to Dean and the film that manages to make it still relatable.
1955 USA. Director: Nicholas Ray. Starring: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo.

10:00pm – TCM – Blackboard Jungle
Glenn Ford is the teacher who takes on rowdy inner-city kids in one of the earlier “heroic teacher” films. A young Sidney Poitier is one of the students, and a scene in which a record of “Rock Around the Clock” is played is reputed to be the first time rock n’ roll appeared in a film.
1955 USA. Director: Richard Brooks. Starring: Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Louis Calhern, Sidney Poitier.

Friday, July 2

5:00am – TCM – The Wild One
1953 USA. Director: Laslo Benedek. Starring: Marlon Brando, Mary Murphy, Robert Keith, Lee Marvin.
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – TCM – The Wizard of Oz
Breakout role for Judy Garland, one of the earlier Technicolor films (and one of the first to mix black and white with Technicolor to dramatic effect), and one of the few adaptations where the film is better than the book. Oh, right, it’s also one of the most magical, beautiful, and wonderful films ever made.
1939 USA. Director: Victor Fleming. Starring: Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Margaret Hamilton.
Must See
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 6:00pm on the 3rd)

10:30pm – TCM – Fury
I haven’t seen this one, but it’s Fritz Lang directing a young Spencer Tracy in one of his breakout films as a victim of a lynch mob attack. Definitely one I ought to have seen by now.
1936 USA. Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sylvia Sidney, Walter Abel, Bruce Cabot, Walter Brennan.
Newly Featured!

2:00am (3rd) – TCM – Blue Velvet
I’ll be honest, this is not one of my favorite David Lynch films. There are a lot of things I like about it. The unsettling take on suburbia, the gorgeously disturbing photography, the kids playing detective, the severed ear, you know, the normal Lynch stuff. But then it just gets to be too cruel for me. Still, it’s a Lynch classic, and you oughta see it. And I oughta see it again, see if my opinion has changed.
1986 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Kyle McLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper.

4:15am (3rd) – TCM – Persona
Of all the Ingmar Bergman films I’ve seen, 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.
Must See

Saturday, July 3

2:00pm – TCM – On the Town
Sailors on leave Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin hit New York City, spending the day sightseeing and searching for Kelly’s dream girl Vera-Ellen, meanwhile picking up Betty Garrett and Ann Miller for the other boys. Not much plot here, but enough to precipitate some of the best song and dance numbers on film. Also one of the first musicals shot on location.
1949 USA. Directors: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly. Starring: Gene Kelly, Vera-Ellen, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, Jules Munshin, Alice Pearce.
Must See

4:00pm – 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.
1951 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetarey.
Must See

6:00pm – Sundance – Paris, je t’aime
I have a huge soft spot for Paris – basically any movie set there I will like to at least some degree. So an anthology film with eighteen internationally-renowned directors giving their take on Paris with eighteen short films all mashed together? Yeah, instant love. Obviously some sections are far stronger than others – the Coens, Gus van Sant, Alexander Payne, Isabel Coixet, Tom Tykwer, and Wes Craven turn in my favorites.
2006 France. Director: various. Starring: many.
(repeats at 11:50pm)

8:00pm – 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.
1944 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Judy Garland, Tom Drake, Lucille Bremer, Margaret O’Brien, Leon Ames, Mary Astor.
Must See

8:00pm – IFC – The Usual Suspects
One of the earliest in the late 90s wave of “twist” films, and still one of the few that did it best. Spoiler warnings may not have been invented for The Usual Suspects, but it was certainly one of the films that popularized anti-spoiler sentiment (and the converse glee for spoiling, I suppose). Thanks to Christopher McQuarrie’s tight script and great acting turns, though, the film is about more than the twist, which is what makes it continue to be worthwhile over a decade and multiple viewings later.
1995 USA. Director: Bryan Singer. Starring: Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Bryne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollack, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 1:30am on the 4th)

10:00pm – Sundance – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Luis Bu˜uel made a career out of making surrealist anti-bourgeois films, and this is one of the most surreal, most anti-bourgeois, and best films he ever made, about a dinner party that just can’t quite get started due to completely absurd interruptions.
1972 France. Director: Luis Buñuel. Starring: Fernando Rey, Paul Fankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Cassel.
(repeats at 4:00am on the 4th)

1:30am (4th) – TCM – The Women
Only the cattiest, most man-less film ever made. Several of Hollywood’s greatest female stars, from established divas like Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford to up-and-comers like Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine to character actresses like Mary Boland and Marjorie Main (and even non-actresses like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper), give their all to one of the wittiest scripts ever written.
1939 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Virginia Weidler, Mary Boland, Marjorie Main, Hedda Hopper.

Sunday, July 4

7:15am – IFC – Solaris
2002 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone.

8:30am – TCM – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Frank 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. Wonderful 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.
1939 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Eugene Pallette, Thomas Mitchell.
Must See

5:30pm – 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.
1942 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: James Cagney, Joan Leslie.

8:00pm – Sundance – A Prairie Home Companion
2006 USA. Director: Robert Altman. Starring: Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin.
(repeats at 5:10am on the 5th)

10:00pm – TCM – Oklahoma!
I can’t begin to guess how many times I watched Oklahoma! growing up, but it’s well into double-digits. It’s a routine but darker-than-usual story for a musical, about minor conflicts between farmers and cowboys, a couple of young lovers, and the obsessive farmhand who wants the girl for himself. But the way the music and dancing is integrated is wonderful (and groundbreaking in the 1943 play the film is based on).
1955 USA. Director: Fred Zinnemann. Starring: Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Rod Steiger, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, Eddie Albert, Charlotte Greenwood, James Whitmore.

11:30pm – Sundance – Eraserhead
David Lynch’s first feature is a weird post-apocalyptic dreamscape of a film – what, you were expecting something normal? When you can have industrial decay and mutant babies?
1977 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart.

12:30am (5th) – TCM – The General
One of the greatest silent comedies of all time; no, scratch that, one of the greatest any kind of comedies of all time. Buster Keaton is at the top of his game as a Civil War era engineer whose train (with his girl on it) gets captured by the Union army, and he’s got to get them both back, with many an amazing stunt along the way. No one did stunt-based comedy better than Keaton, and he’s never been better than this.
1926 USA. Director: Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman. Starring: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack.
Must See
Newly Featured!

2:00am (5th) – TCM – Gigi (1949)
I don’t actually know much about this French non-musical version of the Gigi story, but I saw TCM had it on in tandem with better-known American version, and thought, hey, that could be interesting.
1949 France. Director: Jacqueline Audry. Starring: Gaby Morlay, Jean Tissier, Yvonne de Bray, Franck Villard.
Newly Featured!

3:30am (5th) – TCM – Gigi (1958)
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.
1958 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Louis Jourdan, Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold.

Film on TV: June 29-July 5

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Cléo from 5 to 7, playing on IFC at 6:45am on July 4th

Well, TCM’s showcase of great directors is winding down this week, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of great cinema playing. On Thursday, TCM is running a bit of a tribute to 1939, widely considered one of the best years in filmmaking history, at least in terms of the sheer quantity of great films released that year. Also, IFC really picked up the ball this week, and are showing a bunch of really great films.

Monday, June 29

8:00pm – 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 2:30am on the 30th)

9:45pm – 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 4:05am on the 30th)

Tuesday, June 30

Great Directors on TCM: Anthony Mann
Though Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah and later Clint Eastwood often get well-deserved credit for developing the revisionist western, some of it should also probably go to Anthony Mann. Along with frequent star James Stewart, Mann tapped into a darker side of the quintessential American cowboy hero, showing him as a little more morally compromised, a little more expedient, and a little more personally haunted than most classic westerns.

8:00pm – TCM – The Man from Laramie
Of course TCM is playing the one Mann-Stewart western I HAVEN’T seen. But given the high quality of their other films together, I set my DVR for it immediately.

Wednesday, July 1

7:45am – IFC – Miller’s Crossing
The Coen brothers take on 1930s gangland with this film, and do so admirably well. As they do most things. I have to admit I wasn’t quite as enamored of it as I usually am of Coen films, but it definitely has its moments and I think a rewatch would jump it up in my estimation greatly.
(repeats 2:15pm)

9:45pm – IFC – Mad Max
The first entry in the post-apocalyptic punk-action series that made Mel Gibson a star.
(repeats at 3:45am on the 2nd)

12:00M – IFC – Platoon
Director Oliver Stone won an Oscar for this Vietnam film (as did the film itself). I haven’t seen it, but I’m gonna DVR it and see if I get around to it.

12:30am (2nd) – TCM – The Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film
Warner Bros. basically created the gangster film in the 1930s with a series of great, gritty and hard-hitting (for the time) crime films. This documentary looks to be a nice introduction to the genre.

2:30am (2nd) – TCM – The Petrified Forest
Bette Davis and Leslie Howard are top billed in this 1936 crime drama, but the thing you’ll remember is Humphrey Bogart in his first major film role as criminal-on-the-run Duke Mantee. They’re all holed up in a remote gas station while Mantee figures out his scheme to escape the manhunt for him. He fairly sizzles on screen.

4:00am (2nd) – 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.

Thursday, July 2

11:15am – 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.
(repeats at 4:30pm)

5:30pm – TCM – Rope
Hitchcock is well-known for his formal experimentation. In Rope, he shoots everything from a single camera position – on top of the chest containing the body of the boy that John Dall and Farley Granger killed before inviting several people over for a party. It’s also meant to appear as one take, though the ten-minute max reel length of the time forced him to fudge a bit on that. The story is based on the real-life Leopold-Loeb murder case, where two young men killed an acquaintance just to see if they could pull it off.

8:00pm – TCM – The Wizard of Oz
I’ve simply got nothing bad to say about The Wizard of Oz. It’s been one of my favorite movies for years, and I doubt that’ll change any time soon – one of the great classics of imagination, wonder, and self-fulfillment. Must See
(repeats 6:00pm on the 3rd)

11:15pm – TCM – The Women
Only the cattiest, most man-less film every made (there are no men at all, so of course George Cukor directed it, right?). Several of Hollywood’s greatest female stars, from established divas like Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford to up-and-comers like Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine to character actresses like Mary Boland and Marjorie Main (and even non-actresses like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper), give their all to one of the wittiest scripts ever written. Must See

1:30am (3rd) – TCM – Ninotchka
“Garbo Laughs!” proclaimed the advertisements, playing up the comedic factor of the usually implacable Greta Garbo’s 1939 film. True enough, though it takes a while for the charms of Paris and Melvyn Douglas to warm the Communist Ninotchka to the point of laughter. Pairing up director Ernst Lubitsch and writers Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (who had yet to become a director himself) turns out to be a brilliant move, as Ninotchka has just the right combination of wit and sophistication.

Friday, July 3

9:00am – TCM – Bachelor Mother
Slight Ginger Rogers vehicle, but one I always enjoy – she picks up a baby left on the steps of an orphanage just in time for everyone to think it’s hers, including her boss (David Niven) at the department store where she works. So she has to keep it.

9:15pm – IFC – My Life as a Dog
Lasse Hallstrom gives us this simple but effective coming-of-age story, focusing on the every day life of a young boy as he’s sent to live in a provincial village after acting out at home (his behavior is both caused by and threatens his mother’s poor health).
(repeats at 2:00pm)

Saturday, July 4

6:45am – IFC – Cléo from 5 to 7
Almost all New Wave films were directed by men, and there’s a definite undercurrent of misogyny in most of them – or at least a clear lack of understanding of women. Enter Agnes Varda, who took New Wave sensibilities, added in her own painterly touches, and a strong feminine perspective – and you get incredible films like this one, a spare story of a woman who discovers she has cancer. The mix of New Wave detachment and the evocation of the woman’s flittering emotions just under the surface combine perfectly to skyrocket the film onto my all-time favorites list. Must See
(repeats at 1:30pm)

3:30pm – 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. Wonderful 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.

5:45pm – 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.

9:45pm – IFC – Fargo
Still one of the Coen Brothers’ best films, despite over a decade of mostly good films in the intervening years. Dark comedy is not an easy genre, and Fargo is the gold standard, blending shocking violence and a noir-ish crime story with comical inept criminals and a perfectly rendered performance from Frances McDormand. Must See
(repeats at 3:30am on the 5th)

1:15am (5th) – 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. Must See

Sunday, July 5

12:00N – TCM – The Asphalt Jungle
The Asphalt Jungle was really MGM’s first foray into noirish crime films. Being MGM, it’s more polished and, to me, less interesting than the crime dramas that Warner Bros. and the smaller studios were putting out, but hey. It’s still pretty good. And has a really young Marilyn Monroe.

2:00pm – TCM – War of the Worlds
The 1953 version of H.G. Wells’ classic Martian attack story – the alien ships land mysteriously, then start randomly attacking without warning. The mix of realistic March-of-Time style narration, incorporation of actual war/newsreel footage within the film, and fairly decent special effects for the time make it one of the more interesting of 1950s sci-fi efforts. The ending is a little deus ex machina, but up until that, very enjoyable.

7:15pm – IFC – Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Baz Lurhmann admittedly has a love-it-or-hate-it flamboyantly trippy aesthetic, especially in the informal Red Curtain trilogy which Moulin Rogue! closes. And sure, it’s over the top; sure, the story is fairly routine; sure, the acting is so-so. I love it to pieces anyway.
(repeats 4:30am on the 6th)

8:00pm – TCM – Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
French writer/actor/director Jacques Tati specialized in nearly-silent physical comedy that reminds one at times of Chaplin or Keaton, but with a slightly more ironic French flair about it. In Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, a trip to the seashore turns out to be anything but relaxing.

9:30pm – IFC – Office Space
Anyone who’s ever worked in an office will identify with Office Space immediately – with the paper-jamming printers, the piles of beaurocratic paperwork, and the difficulty of keeping up with staplers if not the plot to make off with boatloads of money due to an accounting loophole. In fact, if you do or have worked an office job, I’m gonna call this required viewing.
(repeats 3:00am on the 6th)

10:00pm – TCM – To Catch a Thief
Not one of my personal favorite Hitchcock films, but certainly one of his classiest, most sophisticated entries. Cary Grant is a notorious cat burglar, Grace Kelly the Monte Carlo socialite he woos. It’s one of Kelly’s last films, and she’s already looking like the princess she was about to become.

12:00M – IFC – Trainspotting
Days in the lives of Scottish heroin addicts. Sounds like a downer, and I won’t say it’s not, but it’s also brilliant and searing. Danny Boyle seems to always be able to take stories that could be routine and make them into something special. (Though I won’t deny he often loses control of his endings – the rest of the film is usually worth it, though.)