Tuesday, November 12, 2013

TCM Tuesday #6

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, or look on the new WatchTCM app to live stream or watch on demand.

TCM Tuesday Picks for the Week of 11/12/13–11/18/13
(Full Schedule)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), airing Friday 11/15 at 8:45 AM: This noir delight, directed by Lewis Milestone, features good performances by Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, and Lizabeth Scott, as well as the screen debut of Kirk Douglas. Like so many noir movies, this one involves a tragic event in the past and the psychic/interpersonal scars it leaves on those involved. Here, Martha Ivers (Stanwyck) was involved in an incident as a youth, and only Walter O'Neil (Douglas) knows the truth. He uses his knowledge to marry, blackmail, and control Martha into adulthood, until her former love Sam Masterson (Heflin), who was there on the night of the incident, returns years later, scaring Walter with the things he may or may not know. Walter, now the DA, then uses Toni Marachek (Scott), an ex-con who runs the boarding house where Sam is staying, to get at Sam and head off the potential threat to his power. The whole thing is deliciously pulpy and grim, full of great character moments and all of the world-weary melodrama found in the best noirs. It's no game-changer for the noir genre, nor even one of its greatest or best-known examples, but it's a well-made, darkly satisfying picture all the same. Once you've seen the film, you can thank Jen Myers for recommending this one to me years ago.

Runner Up
The Women (1939, airing Sunday, 11/17 at 8:00 PM: George Cukor's adaptation of Clare Boothe Luce's scabrously funny play keeps with the original's all-female conceit; from its cast (headlined by Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Joan Fontaine, among many others) to the animals and decor, not a single male is represented on screen. The film is a dark, biting satire about the social and class pressures facing a group of Manhattan socialites and their relationships, and how gossip and peer pressure between the women stuck in that messed-up system wrecks marriages and destroys lives. The film's catty elements and eye for fashion eventually turned it into a camp favorite, but Cukor's breezy direction and the strong cast make this the rare camp classic that's also a mainstream touchstone. As good as this version is, it's better yet if you pretend the unfortunate 2008 remake never happened.

Other picks for the week below the cut

Star of the Month: Burt Lancaster - Wednesday, 11/13
Basically, leave your DVR running, because tonight's Burt Lancaster movies are all wonderful. If you only have time for one, make it The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) at 10:15 PM. Alexander Mackendrick directs Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets's darker-than-dark story of a slimy press agent (Tony Curtis) kissing up to (and doing dirty work for) the most feared gossip columnist in the country (Lancaster). It's a brilliant, horrifying look at how easily people with any kind of power can play with and ruin the lives of others. After that, catch Lancaster's Oscar-winning portrayal of the title character in Elmer Gantry (1960) at 12:00 AM. Gantry is a hard-living salesman/con artist who "finds religion" at a puritanical tent revival just so he can get close to its fetching leader (Jean Simmons). Or if Westerns are more your speed, catch Lancaster as Wyatt Earp alongside Kirk Douglas's Doc Holliday in the not-historically-accurate but still enjoyable Gunfight at the O. K. Corral (1957) at 8:00 PM. Finally, round out your night with some political intrigue in 1964's military coup drama Seven Days in May, again starring Lancaster and Douglas, which airs at 2:30 AM. If you want to take a flyer on another Lancaster picture, ones I'm less familiar with continue airing overnight until 8:00 AM the next day.

Guest Programmer: Simon Helberg - Tuesday. 11/12
You may know him as Howard from The Big Bang Theory, but in my mind, Simon Helberg will always be the damp sidekick Moist from Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Helberg stops by to talk with TCM's Robert Osborne about some of his favorite classic film picks. The best of his choices is Stanley Kubrick's jet-black Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964), which airs at 9:45 PM. If you've never seen it, you really should, for both its humor and the remarkable performances by Peter Sellers (in three roles!) and George C. Scott. At 11:30 PM, Helberg picks David Lean's romantic, weepy film Brief Encounter (1945), where Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard's already-married strangers meet, fall in love, and contemplate having an affair. Its very-British restraint is sometimes criticized by cynics, but the film uses it to examine how societal pressures can squeeze individuals, and it's painful and wonderful as a result. Helberg's other choices are less familiar to me, but go ahead and tune in at 8:00 PM to see his introduction and decide for yourself about those.

Screwball Comedies - Friday, 11/15
I must, shamefully, admit that I don't know a single one of this week's Friday night screwball offerings. All of the films sound interesting, and their stars (Irene Dunne, Carole Lombard, Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert) are basically the top tier of screwball heroines, but I guess this set just slipped by me. If I were choosing for myself, I'd start with Twentieth Century (1934) at 9:45 PM. Directed by the great Howard Hawks, the film features John Barrymore as a Broadway producer pursuing Lombard as the star he made and pushed away with his controlling ways. Next, at 11:30 PM, there's Easy Living (1937), with Ray Milland starring opposite Arthur. It features a script by Preston Sturges, one of my favorite writers (and, later, writer-directors), and many of his key "stock company" of actors appear in small roles. Those two would be my first choices, though I'm sure all of the others are worth seeing. TCM is also airing one great screwball-esque comedy outside of Friday's dedicated block. Woman of the Year (1942) was the first film pairing of famous couple Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The film also shows how certain aspects of the screwball ethos began evolving towards the romantic comedy tropes we still see today, so definitely give it a shot on Wednesday, 11/13 at 8:00 AM.

The Story of Film - Monday, 11/17
We're nearing the end of Mark Cousins's wide-ranging series. Tonight's episode of The Story of Film: An Odyssey airs at 2:15 AM and concerns independent and class-conscious films of the Reagan/Thatcher '80s. Airing before the episode, catch Bill Forsythe's charming Scottish coming-of-age tale Gregory's Girl (1981) at 8:00 PM. Forsythe is a master at creating a realistic, observational tone that somehow borders on twee and "aw shucks" without ever crossing the line, bringing in enough darkness and attention to class issues to skirt around it. Then, David Lynch's biopic The Elephant Man (1980) airs after that at 10:00 PM. It's about as straightforward a film as Lynch has made, apart from The Straight Story, but it's no less bizarre and compelling for it, given the strange circumstances of poor Mr. Merrick's life. I don't know the other films airing tonight, but Malian director Souleymane Cisse's Yeelen (1987), on at 12:15 AM, sounds fascinating.

Random Noir
There are a few interesting noir pictures airing throughout the week, so I thought I would spotlight them here rather than tossing them all in under the miscellaneous bullet points. A few good ones are concentrated on Saturday, 11/16. First, at 10:15 AM, it's Fritz Lang's brilliant noir The Big Heat (1953). Glenn Ford plays a hard-headed cop whose crusade against a crime boss (Alexander Scourby) and his top thug (a brutal Lee Marvin) turns from professional to personal after a tragedy. Then, later on Saturday, 11/16, catch Robert Taylor and an Oscar-winning Van Heflin in Johnny Eager (1941). Taylor plays Johnny, a ruthless gang leader whose well-constructed double life of lies and con tricks begins to fall around his feet. Also this week, Orson Welles's often-overlooked noir The Lady from Shanghai (1948) airs Thursday, 11/14 at 11:15 PM. It's not one of my favorites, and Welles's Irish accent is... regrettable... but the film itself is stylish, gloomy, and features Rita Hayworth, so it's at least worth a look. Finally, I haven't seen the Bogart-starring noir Dead Reckoning (1947), so I don't know what to expect from it, but it's been in my Netflix queue for ages, so it's something you might consider watching on Friday, 11/15 at 10:45 AM.

Miscellaneous Picks
- Previously discussed (and panned) on the blog, Irving Rapper's Deception (1946) airs on Saturday, 11/16 at 8:15 AM, though his far better romantic melodrama Now, Voyager (1942)—featuring the same core cast of Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains—airs on Wednesday, 11/13 at 12:00 PM.
- Previously discussed (and cheered!) on the blog, Alfred E. Greene's pre-code drama Baby Face (1933) airs on Monday, 11/18 at 7:30 AM. If you've forgotten or don't feel like clicking through, Barbara Stanwyck plays a young woman who uses sex to climb the corporate ladder, and the film's relative frankness about sexuality makes it novel even among its racy pre-code contemporaries.
- What's a week without Alfred Hitchcock? Hitch's spy thriller Notorious (1946), with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains, airs Wednesday, 11/13 at 10:00 AM.
- Federico Fellini's neo-realist masterpiece, the gutwrenching La Strada (1954), might well be the maestro's darkest film. Anthony Quinn stars as the abusive street-performing strong man Zampanò, who purchases a naive young woman (Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife) from her poor mother and brings her out on the road as part of his act. Her simple, light nature contrasts with Zampanò's cruelty, and their bond is tested by an acrobat (Richard Basehart) whose circus the duo eventually joins. It airs on Sunday, 11/16 at 2:00 AM
- Let's close out the week on a lighter note. Catch the brilliantly funny To Be or Not to Be (1942), Ernst Lubitsch's theatrical comedy set in Nazi-occupied Poland. Theater stars Joseph Tura (Jack Benny) and his wife Maria (Carole Lombard, in a film released posthumously) get embroiled in the resistance and have to rely on their acting skills to escape the occupation with their lives. Controversial in its day for its timely satire, the film is nonetheless as quick-witted, fun, and sexually complex as any Lubitsch work. Plus, it features a young Robert Stack, so what's not to like about that?

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