Tuesday, November 19, 2013

TCM Tuesday #7

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 11/19/13–11/25/13
(Full Schedule)

Breathless / À bout de souffle (1960), airing Saturday, 11/23 at 8:00 PM: Jean-Luc Godard's jittery crime romance may not have been the first film of the French nouvelle vague, but it certainly presaged the radical, anarchic style that school would come to embody. Godard famously said that you only need a girl and a gun to make a movie, and here in his debut, it's hard to be sure which one will spell doom for Jean-Paul Belmondo's antihero Michel. A low-rent criminal aping American film heroes like Bogart, Michel is on the run after killing a cop. He meets up with Patricia (the iconic Jean Seberg), his sometime-girlfriend, and the two enjoy an up-and-down relationship while moving through Paris's underworld in the hopes of finding a way out. Godard fills the film with jump-cuts, movie references, philosophical musings, and sprightly hand-held location camerawork by the New Wave's defining cinematographer Raoul Coutard. It's stylish, jazzy, and clever, and largely free from the obscurity and political agitation that would mar some of Godard's later work. But as a film that came to define the aesthetic of an era, Breathless is not to be missed.

TCM is airing Breathless as part of a night of famous directors' first films, which also features debuts from Spielberg and Scorsese. I've seen neither of those films, but you might want to stick around after Breathless ends to check them out as well.

The rest of this week's picks are after the jump.

Bonham's Auction - Tuesday, 10/19
In honor of their co-sponsored auction of movie memorabilia, TCM is airing some of the films whose iconic props, costumes, and accouterments you can acquire at the big Bonham's sale. Among those titles are John Huston's hard boiled detective noir, The Maltese Falcon (1941), which airs tonight at 8:00 PM, and Michael Curtiz's noir drama Mildred Pierce (1945) at 10:00 PM. Falcon stars Humphrey Bogart as sleuth Sam Spade, whose attempts to solve his partner's murder and cozy up to the widowed Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) embroil him in an international criminal scheme. Pierce, on the other hand, stars Joan Crawford as a tough-as-nails mother whose efforts to provide a good life for her kids are never enough to appease her narcissistic daughter (Ann Blyth), whose indolence puts Mildred in a dangerous, deadly place. Also, if you want to find out what Soylent Green (1973) is, why not watch the eponymous futuristic film at 12:00 AM?

Star of the Week: Burt Lancaster - Wednesday, 10/20
I only know a couple of this week's Lancaster films, but they're biggies. First, at 9:45 PM, it's Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), about the trial of Nazi war criminals post-WWII. Spencer Tracy stars as the American judge brought in to head the tribunal, while Lancaster is a stoic defendant, a judge who may have passed death sentences as part of the Jewish genocide. He is ably defended by the Oscar-winning Maximilian Schell, whose powerhouse performance steals the film from an incredible ensemble cast that includes Judy Garland, Richard Widmark, and a young William Shatner. Then, at 1:00 AM, catch Lancaster in an Oscar-nominated performance as The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), based on the true-life tale of Robert Stroud. Stroud murdered someone as a young man and spent most of his life in the prison system, fighting against brutality while also becoming an expert on birds. The film's accuracy is... well, debatable, but the fantastic performances by Lancaster, Thelma Ritter, and Karl Malden make the film engaging enough.

JFK's Assassination - Thursday, 10/21
In tribute to the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's death, TCM is airing a number of films and documentaries featuring and related to Kennedy. Not having seen any of them, I can't speak to their quality, but the slate of movies begins at 8:00 PM with Primary (1960), a documentary focusing on the Wisconsin primary that propelled Kennedy's campaign. Also airing are Crisis (1963), at 10:30 PM, about desegregation and the Kennedy administration's role in the process, and, at 12:00 AM, the famous Four Days in November (1964) about his assassination and its aftermath. Finally, the film version of Pt 109 (1963), Kennedy's daring naval rescue, airs at 2:15 AM.

Screwball Comedies - Friday, 10/22
Tonight's movies are so great, I very nearly made the entire night my Pick of the Week. Things kick off at 8:00 PM with My Man Godfrey (1936), Gregory La Cava's great farce starring William Powell and Carole Lombard. Powell is Godfrey, a "forgotten man" living as a tramp who Lombard's flibbertigibbet socialite finds as part of a scavenger hunt. Soon, her family employs Godfrey as their new butler, little knowing that he himself comes from money, and he becomes the object of Lombard's romantic interest and her sister's (Gail Patrick) unending envy. Next, at 10:00 PM, it's Bringing Up Baby (1938), with Cary Grant as a bookish paleontologist and Katherine Hepburn as the heiress-cum-agent-of-chaos who upends his staid, serious life. Directed by the great Howard Hawks, the film is one of the high-water marks of the entire screwball genre, and its lightning wit and hilarious physical humor provide a bristling, kinetic energy. Then, at 12:00 AM, it's Ball of Fire (1942), another fun Hawks comedy starring Gary Cooper as the leader of a collective of academics who employ streetwise nightclub performer Barbara Stanwyck—hiding out from the law at the request of her gangster boyfriend (Dana Andrews)—to teach them modern slang for their encyclopedia. A great ensemble cast (including Henry Travers, Dan Duryea, and SZ Sakall) provide able support in this quick moving, saucy treat. I haven't seen tonight's other selections, but Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You (1938), starring Jean Arthur and Jimmy Stewart, also has a great reputation. Really, you can't go wrong when it comes to screwball comedies.

The Story of Film - Monday, 10/25
The antepenultimate chapter of Mark Cousins's comprehensive history The Story of Film: An Odyssey airs on tonight's schedule at 2:00 AM. This chapter is set in the 1990s, and deals with a peak in the quality of world cinema during the end of film's reign and the beginning of digital domination. The movies airing in conjunction with tonight's episode are, as usual, quite good. First, at 8:00 PM, catch kinetic Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild (1991), focusing on the romantic misadventures of a ladies' man (Leslie Cheung) in 1960's Hong Kong. It's emotional complexity, rhythmic editing and Christopher Doyle's stylized cinematography became hallmarks of Wong's style, showcased later in In The Mood For Love and 2046 (this film's loose sequels). Then, at 12:00 AM, watch Beau Travail (1999), Claire Denis's hypnotic tale of post-colonialism and repression in the French Foreign Legion. A loose remake of Billy Budd, the film spotlights the enigmatic, beautiful Gilles (Grégoire Colin) and the disruptive impact his grace and skill have on Master Sgt. Galoup (the great Denis Lavant). A strange, slow-moving film, Beau Travail will not be for everyone, but if it works for you, its haunting images will linger in your mind. Finally, at 3:15 AM, it's Austrian master director Michael Haneke's original version of Funny Games (1997), a chilling castigation of audience blood lust that I can only really recommend to you if you like being simultaneously terrorized and lectured.

Miscellaneous Picks
- On Thursday, 11/21 at 5:00 PM, catch The Dirty Dozen (1964), one of several '60s war epics with huge ensemble casts. Here, misfits and criminals (including John Cassavetes and Charles Bronson) team up under the command of Lee Marvin to win pardons by completing a high-stakes secret mission.
- Then, if you haven't had enough Lee Marvin, watch Point Blank (1967), John Boorman's impressionistic revenge thriller which we've discussed here before. It airs on Saturday, 11/23 at 4:00 PM.
- Sunday, 11/24 features some fun adventure flicks, if that's your sort of thing. From The Four Feathers (1939) at 10:00 AM to The Thief of Bagdad (1940) at 2:00 PM, to some Errol Flynn swashbuckling in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) at 6:00 PM, TCM has all the war, swordplay, and excitement to fulfill your needs.
- Also on Sunday, 11/24, catch some late-night cool from Claude Chabrol, with a double feature of 1959's Les Cousins and Le Beau Serge, starting at 2:30 AM and 4:30 AM respectively. Two of the French New Wave's earliest texts, the films both star Gérard Blain and Jean-Paul Brialy. Chabrol's icy, Hitchcockian vibe was not yet fully established, so these are among the most outwardly emotional movies he would make, with Serge showing the New Wave's neorealist influences and Cousins beginning Chabrol's obsession with infidelity and jealousy.

That's everything I'm going to cover this week. As always, be sure to peruse the schedule at your leisure and see if anything else strikes your fancy... I'm sure there are plenty of great movies airing that I just don't know. And please don't forget about WatchTCM, the app/website that lets you livestream the East AND West Coast TCM feeds and offers a number of the week's titles on demand. It's fantastic.

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