Singin’ in the Rain, playing Tuesday, June 9th at 12:30am on TCM
This week, TCM continues their celebration of great directors with Stanley Donen, Fred Zinnemann, Preston Sturges, Akira Kurosawa, Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, and Howard Hawks. They also seem to be doing director mini-marathons for John Huston, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, and Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur, though they aren’t officially in the Great Director series. Whether they should be or not is definitely arguable. And IFC and Sundance have a few gems to throw in, as well.
Monday, June 8
12:45pm – IFC – Howl’s Moving Castle
Hayao Miyazaki has been a leader in the world of kid-friendly anime films for several years now, and while many would point to Spirited Away as his best film, I actually enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle the most of all his films. Japanese animation takes some getting used to, but Miyazaki’s films are well worth it, and serve as a wonderful antidote to the current stagnation going on in American animation (always excepting Pixar).
6:15pm – 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.
Great Directors on TCM: Stanley Donen
Stanley Donen shone at directing flashy musicals and mod comedies throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The films he co-directed with Gene Kelly (On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain, see below) stand among the best musicals ever made, and his later films like Charade and Arabesque merged Hitchcockian thrills with 1960s comic panache in a way that no-one else really matched.
9:00pm – 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. Must See
9:45pm – 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 at 3:30am)
10:45pm – TCM – Royal Wedding
This isn’t one of the all-time great Fred Astaire musicals, but it’s quite charming in its small way, and has the distinction of including the Fred’s “dancing on the ceiling” extravaganza, as well as a few surprisingly competent dance numbers from Fred and not-dancer Jane Powell. Oh, and Fred’s love interest is Sarah Churchill, Winston Churchill’s daughter, which is interesting (Powell plays his sister).
12:30am (9th) – TCM – Singin’ in the Rain
After On the Town, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly teamed up for what is now usually considered one of the greatest musicals of all time. Inspired by songs written by MGM producer Arthur Freed at the beginning the sound era, Singin’ in the Rain takes that seismic shift in film history for its setting, focusing on heartthrob screen couple Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (the hilarious Jean Hagen) as the transition into sound – problem being that Lamont’s voice, like many actual silent screen stars, doesn’t fit her onscreen persona. Hollywood’s often best when it turns on its own foibles, and this is no exception. Must See
2:30am (9th) – TCM – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
What do you do when you’re seven brothers in the backwoods and need wives? Why, go kidnap them of course! Patriarchal values aside, Seven Brides is one of the most entertaining movie musicals ever made, and I defy anyone to outdo the barn dance/raising scene.
Tuesday, June 9
6:00am – TCM – I Know Where I’m Going!
This is one of those little films that doesn’t get much press and is very quiet and unassuming, but once you watch it you won’t easily forget it. Wendy Hiller is a confident young woman who knows exactly what she wants and where she’s going – that is, to meet her wealthy fiance and marry him on one of the Scottish Hebrides. But when a storm strands her on the way, she finds herself thrown off-course in more ways than one. There’s nothing wasted here, and I Know Where I’m Going! stands as one of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s crowning achievements, even if it’s not as well-known as Black Narcissus or The Red Shoes.
1:00pm – TCM – A Matter of Life and Death
An RAP pilot bails out of his crashing plane and survives, even though he was meant to die, due to a mix-up in heaven. He’s granted the chance to plead his case for life in a heavenly trial in Powell & Pressburger’s fantasy drama. I haven’t seen this one, but I have friends who place it among their all-time favorites, so I’m looking forward to it.
5:15pm – TCM – The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Another Powell & Pressburger film I haven’t seen, this one follows an idealistic army colonel from the Boer War through WWII, focusing on his romantic pursuits as well as the changes in military strategy and notions of honor. I find WWI films interesting for the juxtaposition of modern warfare with 19th century nobility, and looks like this will draw on that. Plus, really young Deborah Kerr.
6:05pm – IFC – Stage Beauty
Sometime around Shakespeare’s time, theatrical convention changed from having all female parts played by males on stage to allowing women to perform female roles themselves. Caught in this shift were the effeminate men who had made their careers and indeed, their identities, out of playing women. Stage Beauty is about one such man and his crisis of self when he no longer had a professional or personal identity. It’s a fascinating film in many ways.
Great Directors on TCM: Fred Zinnemann
I don’t tend to think of Fred Zinnemann when I think of great directors, and I’m sure that’s influenced by my auteurist outlook. Yet I do quite like several of the films he’s directed, such as the ones below.
8:00pm – TCM – High Noon
An Oscar-winning performance by Gary Cooper and an early role for Grace Kelly in Fred Zinnemann’s classic cowboy showdown drama. Follow it up with Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, something of a response to High Noon, which Hawks disliked.
9:30pm – 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 nothing story, about minor conflicts between farmers and cowboys, a couple of young lovers, and the obsessive farmhand who wants the girl for himself. It’s the way the music and dancing is integrated that’s wonderful (and groundbreaking in the 1943 play the film is based on). It’s worthwhile just for the surreal dream ballet in the middle.
12:00M – 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.
Wednesday, June 10
6:00am – TCM – Kiss Me Kate
It’s hard to improve Shakespeare, but it usually works best to place his stories and words in a new context. Kiss Me Kate does just that by coupling a musical version of Taming of the Shrew with a backstage story that mirrors Shrew‘s fighting protagonists. Great supporting work from Ann Miller, James Whitmore, Keenan Wynn, etc. helps out leads Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson considerably, as do Cole Porter’s songs.
7:00am – 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
(repeats at 6:00pm, and 1:00pm on the 13th, and 5:00am on the 14th)
Great Directors on TCM: Preston Sturges
Preston Sturges is responsible, as writer and director, for many of the most insane, provocative, and lasting comedies of the early 1940s. He consistently pushed envelopes, and while some of his films may come across a little shrill today, I still love them to pieces.
8:00pm – TCM – The Lady Eve
Barbara Stanwyck and her father Charles Coburn are cardplayers, cheating cruise ship denizens of their wealth. Millionaire (and snake afficianado) Henry Fonda is a good mark, especially since he’s a bit dense and spacey. Stanwyck’s plot is hugely elaborate, only a little muddled by her falling in love with Fonda as well, and she’s a delight from start to finish. As she usually is. Must See
10:00pm – TCM – Sullivan’s Travels
Sullivan’s Travels is a slightly more serious turn for Preston Sturges, but ultimately upholds his comedic tendencies. Joel McCrea is a filmmaker known for his comedies who decides he wants to make a serious film about the depression; but as a successful Hollywood director, he doesn’t know anything about poverty and the working class, so he embarks on an odyssey to learn about them, picking up waifish Veronica Lake as a traveling companion. Must See
12:00M – TCM – The Palm Beach Story
Similar in tone but less consistent than The Lady Eve, this film follows bickering couple Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert as she leaves him to gold dig for a richer man. He follows her, pretending to be her brother, and they get all entangled with a wealthy brother and sister. The ending is a weak bit of trickery, but there are enough moments of hilarity to make it worth watching.
2:00am (11th) – The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Preston Sturges’ zaniest and most irreverent comedy gives Betty Hutton her best role as Trudy Kockenlocker, who goes out for a night on the town with a group of soldiers about to ship out. A few months later, she finds out she’s pregnant and can only vaguely remember an impromptu wedding ceremony with a soldier who may or may not be named Ratskiwatski. I’m always impressed that Sturges got away with as much as he did in this film in 1944.
Thursday, June 11
7:45am – 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 – The Maltese Falcon
Humphrey Bogart inhabits the role of Dashiell Hammett’s private eye Sam Spade, creating one of the definitive on-screen hard-boiled detective (vying only with Bogart’s Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, really). Not mention setting the early benchmark for noir films. Must See
3:45pm – TCM – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
One of Bogart’s best films casts him as greedy prospector Fred C. Dobbs, who teams up with old-timer Walter Huston and youngster Tim Holt to find a horde of gold. Along the way, they uncover instead the darker sides of human nature. One of director John Huston’s most impressive films.
6:00pm – TCM – The African Queen
Yet another team up of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart pits Bogart against the Amazon river – and straight-laced missionary Katharine Hepburn, who is forced to travel with him to escape Germany enemies. Well, boats are small, and one things leads to another, you know.
Great Directors on TCM : Akira Kurosawa
Between his flawless translations of American genre films (especially crime films and westerns) to Japanese settings both contemporary and medieval, his groundbreaking experiments with cinematic point of view and narrative reliability, and his brilliant juxtapositions of Shakespeare with Japanese tradition, Akira Kurosawa can easily claim to be one of the greatest and most influential directors of all time.
8:00pm – TCM – The Seven Samurai
Probably Kurosawa’s best-known film, The Seven Samurai is an eastern version of a Western, with down-on-their-luck samurai (led by Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune) working together to help a ravaged village hold off bandit invaders. Completing the cycle of cinematic borrowing, the film was remade in the US as The Magnificent Seven. Must See
10:00pm – Sundance – Talk to Her
Talk to Her is one of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s finest and most moving works, drawing heavily on the passion of bullfighting and dancing. Marco and Benigno develop a friendship as they care two women in comas – Marco’s girlfriend Lydia, a bullfighter gored in the ring, and nurse Benigno’s patient Alicia, whom he has fallen in love with. There’s a touch of the bizarre, as there always is in Almodóvar, but the film is richly rewarding in mood and vision.
Friday, June 12
12:30pm – TCM – Out of the Past
Out of the Past comes up in most conversations about film noir. It’s got all the elements: low-key lighting (due in this case to budgetary concerns), an existential anti-hero (Robert Mitchum), a femme fatale (Jane Greer), etc. It’s honestly not my favorite noir, but it’s a good one to see once.
2:00pm – 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.
5:15pm – TCM – I Walked With a Zombie
Or, Jane Eyre in the West Indies. In Val Lewton’s moody little fantastic horror flick, mousy nurse Betsy goes to the Caribbean to care for afflicted Jessica, the wife of an important plantation owner. Turns out her affliction is due to zombification, a curse of the voodoo-practicing natives. Certainly the acting and script are nothing special here, but the noirish cinematography and direction by Jacques Tourneur as well as producer Lewton’s peculiarly literary sensibility certainly are.
6:30pm – TCM – Cat People
Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur team up for this suggestive horror film, tapping into Eastern European legends of women who turn into cats to protect themselves against oppressive male attention. Highly creepy while showing almost nothing – and I happen to quite like that in a film.
Great Directors on TCM: Woody Allen
Woody Allen is one of the most prolific writer/directors currently working, having turned out a new film nearly every year since the early 1970s. He’s gone through several creative phases, gained and lost popularity, been in and out of the tabloids, etc etc ad nauseum. But when he’s on, he manages to create films that are by turn watchably philosophical, absurdly hilarious, movingly emotional, cinematically and personally nostalgic, and caustically witty. TCM’s hitting almost every base with the films they’ve chosen – throw in Crimes and Misdemeanors and it’d be perfect.
9:45pm – TCM – Broadway Danny Rose
In this lesser Woody Allen film, 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 only does Danny worry about the tenor’s wife, he also gets himself in trouble with the woman’s family.
11:15pm – TCM – Hannah and Her Sisters
Say what you want about Annie Hall and even Manhattan, both of which I love, I throw my vote for best Woody Allen movie ever to Hannah and Her Sisters. It has all the elements Allen is known for – neurotic characters, infidelity, a tendency to philosophize randomly, New York City, dysfunctional family dynamics, acerbic wit – and blends them together much more cogently and evenly than most of his films do. Must See
1:15am (13th) – TCM – The Purple Rose of Cairo
A love letter to cinema, The Purple Rose of Cairo has Woody Allen at his most romantic. Unhappy housewife Cecilia (Mia Farrow) escapes to the cinema to see The Purple Rose of Cairo again and again, where she fantasizes over hunky character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels). Much to her surprise (and the other characters’ consternation), Baxter steps off the screen to join her. It makes it even more complicated when Gil, the actor who played Baxter, turns up as well.
2:45am (13th) – TCM – Interiors
In case anyone doubted Woody Allen’s admiration for Ingmar Bergman, he made this film to prove it. Interiors is about the best imitation of a Bergman chamber drama you could ask for, down to the spare set design, strained family relations, and a climax involving an angry sea. Still, it is also very much Allen’s film – his first straight drama – focusing on deeply neurotic, introspective characters unable to get outside their own heads for long enough to form really true relationships.
4:30am (13th) – TCM – Take the Money and Run
An early Woody Allen movie, when he was mostly focused on being funny and absurd, and this film about a set of totally inept bank robbers is both. It’s actually my favorite of the pre-Annie Hall Allen films.
Saturday, June 13
Great Directors on TCM: Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder had an incredible ability to make definitive films in most genres – screwball comedy, film noir, socially conscious drama, bittersweet comedy-drama. Rarely are his films bad; most of the time they’re brilliant.
8:30am – TCM – The Apartment
Wilder had a knack for combining comedy and drama into bittersweet goodness, and that’s exactly what he does here, garnering Oscars for Picture, Director, and Screenplay in the process. Jack Lemmon lends his apartment to his boss Fred MacMurray for romantic trysts – a situation that gets even more complicated when MacMurray trysts with Shirley MacLaine, who Lemmon happens to love from afar. Everything comes together perfectly in this film, one of Wilder’s best. MUST SEE
3:30pm – TCM – Some Like It Hot
After musicians Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon unwittingly witness the St. Valentines Day Massacre, they have to escape the mob by impersonating women and joining an all-girls band. The fact that Marilyn Monroe is the band’s lead singer doesn’t help them stay undercover. Easily one of the greatest comedies ever put on film. Must See
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 at 1:00am on the 14th)
10:15pm – TCM – Double Indemnity
Quite probably the most definitive film noir film in existence (vying only with The Big Sleep in my head, anyway) has insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) being seduced by bored housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) and convinced by her to help murder her husband for the insurance money. Wilder’s crackling dialogue and Stanwyck’s perfectly tuned mixture of calculation and innocence can hardly be beat. Must See
12:15am (14th) – TCM – Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder’s classic noir explores the dark side of the rich and formerly famous, as a struggling screenwriter (William Holden) gets involved with a silent screen star seeking to make a comeback in the sound era. In one of the most brilliant cast films ever, actual silent screen star Gloria Swanson returned to the movies to play the delusional Norma Desmond and actual silent star/director Erich von Stroheim (who worked with Swanson on the never-finished Queen Kelly, portions of which appear in Sunset Boulevard) plays her former director/current butler. The film is a bit on the campy side now, but that doesn’t diminish its enjoyability one bit. Must See
Sunday, June 14
Great Directors on TCM: Howard Hawks
Even more so than Wilder, Howard Hawks genre-shifted with ease, including westerns and musicals along with comedies, action films, noir and drama. Yet they all somehow bore his stamp, making him one of the first directors given auteur status by the French film critics who coined the term. (I tend to have more difficulty finding his stamp than I do with, say, Hitchcock – someday I’m going to a specifically auterist study of Hawks so I can write about him more knowledgably. For now I only know that I usually like most everything he did.)
9:30am – TCM – Sergeant York
Gary Cooper won his first Oscar for this film, portraying pacifist-turned-WWI hero Alvin C. York. Unfortunately, I’ve never actually seen it all the way through, so I don’t have much more to offer about it.
12:00N – TCM – Bringing Up Baby
Poor Cary Grant just can’t get away from delightfully ditzy Katharine Hepburn, especially after her dog steals his museum’s priceless dinosaur bone. Oh, and after her pet leopard escapes (and a dangerous zoo leopard escapes at the same time). Incredible situation follows incredible situation in this screwiest of all screwball comedies. Must See
2:00pm – TCM – Twentieth Century
In one of the films that defines “screwball comedy” (along with The Awful Truth and Bringing Up Baby), John Barrymore plays a histrionic theatre producer trying to convince his star Carole Lombard to come back to him – both professionally and personally. Lombard is luminous as usual, and Barrymore can chew scenery with the best of them, which is precisely what his role calls for.
4:00pm – TCM – His Girl Friday
This is a remake of a 1931 film called The Front Page about newspaper buddies who go after a major story – Hawks took it to a whole new level by turning one of the men into a woman, and setting reporters Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant as a former couple, now divorced who can’t seem to stay apart, either personally or professionally. The dialogue is a stroke of genius, as well, overlapping in a maelstrom of words that’s overwhelming and delightful all at the same time. I call this one of the greatest American films ever made. Must See
6:00pm – TCM – Ball of Fire
Hawks tries to recapture a little bit of Bringing Up Baby in this tale of a showgirl (Barbara Stanwyck, who’s trying to recapture a bit of The Lady Eve) who ends up among a bunch of stuffy professors, including Gary Cooper. Ball of Fire isn’t as memorable as either of those other films, but it has its own charm, and it’s certainly worth a watch.
8:00pm – TCM – To Have and Have Not
It’s said that this film came about because Howard Hawks bet Earnest Hemingway that he (Hawks) could make a good film out of Hemingway’s worst book. Of course, to do that, Hawks ended up basically changing the story entirely, but hey. It’s the thought that counts. It’s honestly mostly notable for being Lauren Bacall’s first film, the one where she met Humphrey Bogart, and the one that spawned the immortal “you know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve” bit of dialogue. That one scene? Worth the whole film.
10:00pm – TCM – The Big Sleep
Only one of the greatest detective/mysteries/films noir ever made. Humphrey Bogart is the definite hard-boiled detective, Lauren Bacall is the potential love interest/femme fatale. Don’t try to follow the story; whodunit is far less important than crackling dialogue and dry humor. Watch out for future Oscar-winner Dorothy Malone (Written on the Wind) in the small but extremely memorable part of the bookshop girl. Must See
12:00M – TCM – Only Angels Have Wings
I’ve never gotten into Only Angels Have Wings as much as I have into other Hawks’ films – why I don’t know. It has elements I like – Cary Grant as a daring pilot making dangerous cargo runs in exotic locales, Jean Arthur in an uncharacteristically dramatic turn, and a sighting of a young Rita Hayworth. Just doesn’t seem to come together in a memorable whole for me.