Tuesday, November 5, 2013

TCM Tuesday #5

TCM Tuesday is a weekly feature wherein I look at the upcoming week's schedule on Turner Classic Movies—the best and greatest of all television channels—and pick some stuff for you to watch or save to your DVR. All times are EST, all dates based on the SCHEDULE date on TCM.com. Check your local listings.

TCM Tuesday Picks for the Week of 11/05/13–11/11/13
(Full Schedule)

Casablanca (1942), airing Sunday, 11/10 at 4:00 PM: Look, there's just no chance I would see Casablanca on the schedule and not pick it. There's also really no reason why anyone reading this should not have seen it already. But whether you've seen it or not, it's hard to imagine a more (re)watchable, enjoyable film. Casablanca is basically the apex of what the studio system could produce at the height of its powers. It has that lightning-in-a-bottle quality, in that every aspect—even the notoriously difficult writing process that dragged on through principal photography—comes together to elevate what could have been a standard studio picture into, to paraphrase the film itself, a movie like any other, only more so. Humphrey Bogart may have better performances in other pictures, but this came to be his most iconic, defining screen role. Claude Rains's louche, opportunistic Captain Renault steals the picture, a tough ask considering the incredible supporting cast and charmingly-drawn minor characters (many of whom were refugees from the Nazis, adding a certain poignancy to the film's plot). Director Michael Curtiz, an efficient studio hand with a sharp visual style, somehow balances a tone that is alternately tense, witty, romantic, patriotic, and sad, all with great effect. Casablanca is simply without peer.

View this week's other picks after the cut.

Happy 100th, Vivien Leigh! - Tuesday, 11/05
Vivien Leigh was one of the most talented, beautiful, and, ultimately, tragic stars of classic film. She would have turned 100 years old today, and TCM is airing a full slate of her films in tribute. There are quite a few interesting ones, including historical dramas like Fire Over England (1937) at 4:00 PM and That Hamilton Woman (1941) at 5:45 PM (both of which feature her famous love and eventual husband, Sir Laurence Olivier). But, of course, Leigh's best-known films—the two that won her Best Actress Oscars—are saved for prime time: At 8:00 PM it's A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), the famous Elia Kazan film of Tennessee Williams's play, pitting Leigh as pitiable fallen belle Blanche Dubois against the brutal Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando); and at 10:15 PM it's Gone With The Wind (1939), the Civil War epic about feisty, independent-minded Scarlet O'Hara (Leigh) and her life and loves in the antebellum South. Don't let its length and questionable racial and sexual politics put you off; Leigh is incredible and her chemistry with Clark Gable is smoldering, and Victor Fleming stages several jaw-dropping sequences with style.

Star of the Month: Burt Lancaster - Wednesday, 11/06
I only grew to appreciate Burt Lancaster late in my cinema education, and more's the pity. He was a big, powerful, handsome man, but one capable of great depth and subtlety in his performances. Moreover, I'm glad he's the Star of the Month because he had a pretty good film track record, and I look forward to recommending some of them. Tonight's picks are generally solid, but I'll shine a light on a couple in particular. First, Robert Siodmak's take on Hemingway's The Killers (1946) is on at 8:00 PM. In his first feature film, Lancaster has the task of playing a taciturn man trying to outrun his past in this noir mystery. Ava Gardner, in her breakout performance, and Edmond O'Brien provide able support. Then, at 10:00 PM it's Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), an adaptation of a play in which Shirley Booth (who won an Oscar for the role) plays a beleaguered, plain housewife to Lancaster's brooding drunk. It's ugly, gut-wrenching stuff, and Lancaster again shows his affinity for dark material. Finally, at 11:45 PM it's Fred Zinnemann's James Jones adaptation From Here to Eternity (1953), the iconic World War II picture set in Hawaii in the days before Pearl Harbor. Lancaster joins an ensemble cast, including Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Ernest Borgnine, and Oscar winners Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed, in depicting the soldiers' romantic and regimental entanglements.

Screwball Comedies - Friday, 11/08
Following up from last week, TCM is again airing a set of screwball films as Friday night's light entertainment. Up first is 1937's The Awful Truth, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Deftly directed by the great Leo McCarey, the film is full of fast talk and hilarious physical comedy. The rest of the night's films, aside from the fitfully amusing Alfred Hitchcock comedy Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) at 1:15 AM, are unfamiliar to me, but Love Crazy (1941), on at 11:30 PM, stars William Powell and Myrna Loy. One of the greatest screen duos, best known for the Thin Man films, almost anything with Powell and Loy is worth seeing. Then, judging by plot synopsis alone, Too Many Husbands (1940) sounds worth a shot at 3:00 AM, though really, almost all films in this genre make for enjoyable viewing.

Robert Ryan's Birthday - Monday, 11/11
Robert Ryan was an incredibly versatile star, able to play the hero or the heavy, and equally at home in noir, military, and Western pictures. In honor of his birthday, TCM is playing a good mix of Ryan films, with my personal favorite being Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), airing at 4:30 PM. The film, a Western with a hard-boiled edge, pits the uber-competent one-armed stranger played by Spencer Tracy against Ryan's local big shot and his crew of toughs (with Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Walter Brennan in supporting roles). Also worth your time is the Robert Wise boxing drama The Set-Up (1949), which airs at 10:30 AM. This time, Ryan is a down-on-his luck aging boxer who gets mixed up in match fixing in an attempt to score a big payday. Finally, at 1:15 PM, the classic Nicholas Ray noir On Dangerous Ground (1952) sees Ryan as a cop who falls for a blind Ida Lupino while on the hunt for her brother.

The Story of Film - Monday, 11/11
Of course, no week can be complete with out my regular plug for The Story of Film: An Odyssey, a new episode of which airs at 2:30 AM on Monday's schedule. This one is geared towards the sea change in commercial cinema that started in the mid-to-late 1970s. The films airing in conjunction with this episode include Jaws (1975), perhaps the first blockbuster and still maybe my favorite Spielberg film, and the Bruce Lee–starring Enter the Dragon (1973); the others I haven't seen. Last week's episode never re-aired, so I'm hoping that this one does and brings some movies I know a bit better. We'll have to see.

Miscellaneous Picks
- The mysterious coming-of-age story Walkabout (1971), which we've discussed before on the blog, is on the schedule for Sunday, 11/10 at 2:00 AM.
- Also on Sunday's schedule, catch a couple of silent Western comedies starring two of the preeminent silent comics. First up is Hal Roach's An Eastern Westerner (1920), starring Harold Lloyd, at 12:00 AM, followed at 12:30 AM with Buster Keaton's Go West (1925).
- Speaking of Westerns, there's a classic one airing on Saturday, 11/09. It's Red River (1948), Howard Hawks's tale of willful determination and foolish pride on a long cattle drive, and it airs on 2:00 PM.
- Joel McCrea and Fay Wray star in the 1932 adaptation of the The Most Dangerous Game, a story of a rich man hunting people for sport. It comes on at 11:15 AM on Wednesday.
- Finally, there's the newspaper comedy The Front Page (1931), an hilarious adaptation of the same quick-witted play that was filmed later as His Girl Friday (1940), here cast as originally written with two male leads (Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien). It's on at 6:30 AM on Friday, 11/08.

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