HOW TO KEEP THE JOY OF MOVIES SAFE AND SANE AND JUST A FEW FEET AWAY
Yes, you’re in a movie mood, but no, you will not put up with the stench, noise, bedbugs and pricey watered-down Coke that are the main attractions at your local cineplex. Relax! This is truly not a problem, since the best flicks are probably now playing in your very own living room. Below, a sampling of current and upcoming commercial-free fare scheduled for Turner Classic Movies. A preview of films slotted for HBO, Showtime, Encore and Starz will soon follow.
What will NOT follow on Moviecrazed are listings of films to be shown on money-grubbing, sales-pitch channels like IFC. And you’ll not read a word about those supposedly state-of- the-art presentations of cinematic gems on the Sundance Channel, the comatose brainchild of Robert Redford, that erstwhile purist filmmaker who recently dumped a tacky, commercial-crammed version of “Network” upon stupefied viewers. Sidney Lumet, the genuinely pure director of that masterpiece, would not have been pleased by this sloppy desecration.
All of the listings highlighted here are Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). And if you can’t sit back and enjoy Bogey and Baby without the help of popcorn, try popping your own.
TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES
THE SCAPEGOAT (1959) Alec Guinness, Bette Davis, Nicole Maurey, Irene Worth, Pamela Brown, Peter Bull. Directed by Robert Hamer. Screenplay by Hamer and Gore Vidal, based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel.
Alec Guinness, England’s revered one-man fountain of versatility, plays two unrelated yet physically identical Frenchmen in this over-the-top melodrama. One bloke’s a commoner who, down deep, is a model gentleman; the other’s an evil Count on-the-run who tricks the perfect but low-born gent into switching identities. The question is, will Bette Davis, Hollywood’s definitive diva--cast here as the villain’s squirrelly, drug-crazed old mum—sanction the switcheroo stitched together by her no-account Count of a son?
If you think “The Scapegoat” sounds like a winner, you may be shocked to hear that author Daphne du Maurier did not feel that director Hamer did for her what Hitchcock did for her on “Rebecca.” To be blunt about it, she thought the cinematizing of “Scapegoat” was crap, and she took great care to never again mix with the likes of Hamer, Guinness and Davis. Where was Mr. Hitchcock when this distinguished damsel in distress really needed him?
THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING (1935) Edward G. Robinson, Jean Arthur, Wallace Ford, Arthur Hohl, Donald Meek, Edward Brophy, Paul Harvey, Arthur Byron, Etienne Girardot. Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by Robert Riskin and Jo Swerling, based on W.R. Burnett’s Collier’s magazine story.
The good news here is that Edward G. Robinson undoubtedly had a more joyful time playing dead-ringers in this Depression-era crime comedy than Alec Guinness did in “The Scapegoat.” Robinson, in a partial switch from his habit of playing ruthless gangsters, played a mild-mannered clerk who is nevertheless the spitting image of a vicious, blood-thirsty public enemy. Both the clerk and his lovely, exceedingly spunky co-worker (Jean Arthur) eventually suffer a very close contact with the scandalous villain. Needless to say, they do not have a swell time. But bear in mind that this film is basically an upbeat departure for director Ford, the genius who soared with such probing downers as “The Informer,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “How Green Was My Valley” and “The Searchers.” A welcome change of pace for the typecast Robinson and a major career boost for his abundantly gifted leading lady.
Click here for Guy Flatley’s New York Times interview with Jean Arthur.
DETECTIVE STORY (1951) Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix, Lee Grant, Cathy O’Donnell, George Macready, Horace McMahon, Gladys George, Joseph Wiseman, Gerald Mohr, Frank Faylen. Directed by William Wyler. Screenplay by Philip Yordan and Robert Wyler, based on the play by Sidney Kingsley.
With scalding intensity, Kirk Douglas gnashed his teeth, jutted out his chin and spewed rage as the mercilessly driven New York City detective who goes berserk when he discovers that his solid-citizen wife has participated in an illicit lifestyle. Alas, Douglas’s soul-baring, molar-crunching pyrotechnics did not result in an Oscar nomination. Eleanor Parker, however, was nominated as Best Actress, despite New York Times critic Bosley Crowther’s belief that she came across as quite bland. As he put it, “In the role of the mate of such a tiger—and of a woman who had the troubled past that is harshly revealed in this picture—[director] Wyler might have cast a sharper dame.” Whatever her merits, Parker lost to Vivien Leigh for her breathtaking performance as Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” And Lee Grant, playing a scatterbrained shoplifter in “Detective Story,” lost the Supporting Actress Oscar to Kim Hunter for her stellar turn as Stella in “Streetcar.”
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955) Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin, Robert Strauss, George E. Stone, Leonid Kinskey, Emile Meyer. Directed by Otto Preminger. Screenplay by Walter Newman, Lewis Meltzer and Ben Hecht, based on the novel by Nelson Algren.
Frank Sinatra, a peerless crooner turned phenomenal actor, rarely, if ever, pontificated about his thespic theories and accomplishments. Nor was he known to tolerate verbose interference from pompous, self-enamored directors. Yet Otto Preminger, a taskmaster equally celebrated for doing it his way, surely deserves a sliver of credit for helping Sinatra give the most riveting, poignant performance of his entire career in this harrowing account of a bad-luck poker dealer’s struggle with drug addiction. Critic Pauline Kael, never a pushover, stopped short of issuing Preminger a failing grade for his contribution to “The Man With the Golden Arm,” but when it came to the film’s star, she nearly turned into a cream puff, calling his performance “true gold.” She went on to say, “Sinatra’s performance is rhythmic, tense, and instinctive, yet beautifully controlled, and of course, he has a performer’s presence. Eleanor Parker’s Zosh is somehow out of context, but in its own terms it has some appeal. The young Kim Novak’s Molly has a dumb, suffering beauty that’s very touching.”
Sinatra, who had already won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1953’s “From Here to Eternity,” was nominated as Best Actor of 1955 for “The Man With the Golden Arm.” Among his rivals: James Gagney for “Love Me or Leave Me,” James Dean for “East of Eden” and Spencer Tracy for “Bad Day at Black Rock.” And the winner was...Ernest Borgnine for “Marty”!
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Tom Drake, Marjorie Main, Harry Davenport, Joan Carroll, Henry H. Daniels Jr., June Lockhart, Chill Wills, Hugh Marlowe, Robert Sully, Darryl Hickman. Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Screenplay by Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoffe, based on the book by Sally Benson.
I grew up in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. But, early on, my parents, June and Bernard, allowed, even encouraged, me and my older brother Bernie to board the City Limits streetcar at the Ferguson loop and travel “downtown” to Grand Avenue and beyond, where we would get blissfully lost in the shifting winds of Hollywood escapism at the comfortably ornate Loew’s State, Loew’s Orpheum, Ambassador, St. Louis, Fox, Missouri, and Shubert Theaters.
But, oddly enough (perhaps because of a family crisis, of which there were many), we didn’t catch “Meet Me in St. Louis” until it landed at Ferguson’s Savoy Theater. (Although I've heard that it’s a bowling alley or something even drearier today, I still think of The Savoy as MY MOVIE THEATER--maybe because it was the only such thing in town. Even now, when I put my brain and other body parts to work, I can hear and smell the soothing pop-pop-popping of corn by the grandmother of a boy my age, a lucky lad sometimes encountered in the Savoy lobby, waiting, I suspect, to see a free movie. So who needed TV, especially since it was not yet invented?)
But getting back to Vincente Minnelli’s lyrical hooray for St. Louis: Home town or not, if I’d been exposed to all that sublime grace, zest, tenderness and generosity, wouldn’t I have noticed? And how about those rows of story-book homes, lush lawns and just plain (yet beautiful) folks who routinely burst into songs and dances you simply couldn’t help but applaud?
On the other hand, why quibble? When a musical is crafted as lovingly as “Meet Me in St Louis,” with a fragile but emotionally involving story about a family whose members credibly exhibit tenderness for one another (and, yes, persuade Dad to turn down a lucrative job offer in New York so they can all live happily ever after in you-know-where), why not just rejoice? Especially when the movie boasts a super score topped by a young and radiant Judy Garland singing “The Boy Next Store” and “The Trolley Song,” as well as the astonishing little Margaret O’Brien knocking “Drunk Last Night” out of (The Kensington Avenue) park.
James Agee, the widely feared film critic of The Nation magazine, fell madly in awe of “the incredibly vivid and eloquent Margaret O’Brien; many of her possibilities and glints of her achievement hypnotize me as thoroughly as anything since Garbo...the scene in which she is lugged in with her lip cut, screaming half-lies and gibberish, is about the most impressive and complex job of crying I have ever seen put on.”
It’s no wonder that under-aged scene-stealer O’Brien won a special Oscar statuette for being the outstanding child actress of 1944. But it’s at least a small wonder that this enormously popular movie picked up no major Oscars. The film was not even in the running for Best Picture, nor was Judy Garland nominated for Best Actress. In the Best Song category “The Trolley Song” was beat out by “Swinging on a Star,” from “Going My Way,” and The Best Scoring of a Musical Oscar was swiped by “Cover Girl.”
THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT (1964) Peter Sellers, Tippy Walker, Paula Prentiss, Angela Lansbury, Merrie Spaeth, Tom Bosley, Phyllis Thaxter, Bibi Osterwald, John Fiedler, Peter Duchin. Directed by George Roy Hill. Screenplay by Nora Johnson and Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel by Nora Johnson.
The late Peter Sellers, a crazed, wickedly talented and conspicuously irreplaceable Limey cut-up, probably had a hoot seeing just how far he could stretch the limits of plausibility and good taste in George Roy Hill’s rapid-paced, tumbling comedy about a popular concert pianist whose Number One priority is the frequent care and feeding of his impudent libido. He’s succeeding crazily, if not admirably, during his stint in Manhattan up to—but not including—the stretch of time fanatically invaded by a pair of feverish “teenyboppers” who are determined to initiate an in-depth relationship with him, thereby guaranteeing him automatic jailbait status.
The girls dedicated to standing by their key-tinkling man were played by 1964 newcomers Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth, and Paula Prentiss played a suitably aged object of Sellers’ horny affection. Best of all, Angela Lansbury stole scenes as Tippy’s on-the-prowl mom.
THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950) Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, Marilyn Monroe, John McIntire, Marc Lawrence, Barry Kelley, Anthony Caruso, Teresa Celli, Dorothy Tree, Brad Dexter, John Maxwell. Directed by John Huston. Screenplay by Ben Maddow and John Huston, based on a novel by W. R. Burnett.
Thieves fall in, fall out, and then fall down in this dark, swiftly paced, sometimes sizzling and sometimes achingly sad account of a big, big heist that is clearly doomed before it ever gets started. You won’t find the wisecracking, deliciously sinister humor of director Huston’s “Maltese Falcon” or “Beat the Devil” here, but you will be rewarded with a group portrait of losers for whom you feel compelled to root, even though you know better.
Chief among those who dare, against all odds, dare to think crooked are Sam Jaffe as an ex-con who brilliantly masterminds a major robbery but makes a fatal, flirtatious mistake at a crucial moment, and Louis Calhern as a lawbreaking lawyer who shrewdly juggles clients’ accounts, cheats on his needy invalid wife, and makes an ill-advised move on his not-so-innocent faux niece (enticing starlet Marilyn Monroe), and James Whitmore as the handicapped proprietor of a seedy café who signs on as a getaway driver.
But the couple you may root hardest for are Sterling Hayden and Jean Hagen as the weary hood who hopes to make this jewel robbery his very last job and the bad-luck lady who daydreams of settling with him on a horse form. Their poignant final scene is unforgettable.
REBECCA (1940) Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Gladys Cooper, Florence Bates, Melville Cooper, Leo G. Carroll. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier.
This is one of four Hitchcock films to be featured on TCM before the end of this month, and it is his first to win a Best Picture Oscar. It's beyond absurd that this master filmmaker never won a Best Director Oscar. In any event, his “Rebecca” is an impeccable, streamlined transfer of the popular novel to the screen, and it holds up extremely well.
For one thing, the cast is perfect. Even though Laurence Olivier was miffed when nobody agreed that his lady love, Vivien Leigh, should play Mrs. de Winter to his Maxim de Winter, he must have been at least a little pleased when Fontaine was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the woman whose husband can’t seem to forget his former wife. Her nomination seemed an appropriate match for his own nomination. (Neither carried home an Oscar that year. She lost to Ginger Rogers for “Kitty Foyle”; he lost to James Stewart for “The Philadelphia Story.”) Fontaine did win the following year, however, for Hitchcock’s “Suspicion,” a fact that drove her sister, Olivia de Havilland, who was nominated for “Hold Back the Dawn,” clear over the top. Nor do the siblings seem to have burried the hatchet. Hitchcock, of course, could have salvaged the situation by casting Joan’s sister in a juicy role. But maybe Olivia didn’t want to be a blonde.
Click here for Guy Flatley’s New York Times interview with Alfred Hitchcock.
NOTORIOUS (1946) Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Louis Calhern, Leopoldine Constantin, Reinhold Schunzel, Moroni Olsen, Ivan Triesault, Alexis Minotis. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by Ben Hecht.
She’s a gorgeous, heavy-drinking single lady who’s experienced more than a few fuzzy memories of sexual encounters with virtual strangers. He’s a smooth, handsome espionage agent who persuades her to spy on Nazi friends of her father, a convicted American traitor. The loose woman is Ingrid Bergman and the suave agent is Cary Grant. And you know how the story ends. But that shouldn’t stop you from seeing “Notorious” again and again. The magnetic stars are superb, as is Claude Rains as the weak but villainous mamma’s middle-aged boy Ingrid agrees to marry at the request of Uncle Sam's underlings. And Hitchcock’s direction has never been smoother, scarier or more sophisticated, which is saying a mouthful.
Click here for Guy Flatley’s New York Times interview with Alfred Hitchcock, and click here for Guy's Times interview with Cary Grant.
CASABLANCA (1942) Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson, S. Z. Sakall, Madeleine Lebeau, Joy Page, John Qualen, Leonid Kinskey, Curt Bois, Marcel Dalio, Helmut Dantine, Gregory Gaye, Dan Seymour, Norma Varden. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Screenplay by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch; Based on a play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.
Rick and Ilsa (also known as Bogart and Bergman) will always have Paris. And they deserve it! So long as we still have them in “Casablanca,” on TCM or at Film Forum or a screen in some city where they still treasure movies that truly make a difference. Tune in and try just watching the first 10 minutes, and I guarantee you’ll still be watching as Rick and Louis walk off arm-and-arm into a better world (even if it's only on a backlot in Hollywood).
THE ANDERSON TAPES (1971) Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Ralph Meeker, Alan King, Christopher Walken, Val Avery, Dick Anthony Williams, Garrett Morris, Paul Benjamin, Richard B. Shull, Conrad Bain, Margaret Hamilton. Directed by Sidney Lumet. Sreenplay by Frank R. Pieson, based on the novel by Lawrence Sanders.
Originally released 42 years ago, this caper directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Sean Connery should come across today as quite dated, right? Perhaps it will, but if you take a look, you may be quite surprised. Connery plays an ex convict who’s getting high on the thrill of a torrid affair with a “swinger” who’s been set up by her filthy-rich boyfriend in regal style in an upper Fifth Avenue mansion that has been meticulously made over into luxury apartments protected by an enormously sophisticated television security system. In other words, nobody could possibly pull off a heist here.
On the other hand, ex-con Sean, with the help of top-secret tapes, sees delicious possibilities for profit in the building's complicated electronic set-up. But exactly where does that leave Dyan Cannon, his red hot and greedy lover? See this before-its-time thriller and find out. Bear in mind that in 1971 Americans did not have to worry about heavy-breathing phone messages being recorded and stored in a gigantic security surveillance warehouse, a not-so-safe place from which sizzling chatter could some day come screaming back to haunt a careless cheater. Of course, that was then and this is now.
Click here for Guy Flatley’s interview with Sidney Lumet, and click here for Guy’s interview with Sean Connery.
LOVE AFFAIR (1939) Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer, Maria Ouspenskaya, Lee Bowman, Astrid Allwyn, Maurice Moscovitch, Scotty Beckett, Tom Dugan, Bess Flowers. Directed by Leo McCarey. Screenplay by Delmer Daves and Donald Ogden Stewart.
As he demonstrated in “The Awful Truth,” “Ruggles of Red Gap,” “Going My Way” and even “Make Way for Tomorrow,” a disturbing 1937 study of what it’s like to be old and impoverished in America, director Leo McCarey had a special knack for juggling the sad and the funny (sometimes hilarious) elements in his films. This nifty skill is strikingly apparent in 1939’s “Love Affair,” the tale of a conspicuously handsome man and a ravishing woman (played by Chales Boyer and Irene Dunne) who revel in an impulsive shipboard fling but decide to snuff out the romantic flame for fear that it could spoil their plans to marry entirely different people for money upon their return to New York.
Still, just to make sure they’ve made the sensible decision, they arrange to have a final, secret rendezvous in Manhattan six months later. If you’ve seen “Love Affair” or “An Affair to Remember,” McCarey’s 1957 remake of it starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, you know that the cleansed wannabe wife has a crippling accident on her way to meet her transformed wannabe husband. But if you think that’s how this sad/funny love affair ends, you’re crazy!
Here’s the question of the day: Do you think Jen and Jus should drop whatever it is they're doing at this moment and quickly nail down the rights to the next “Love Affair” remake?
LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957) Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier, John McGiver, Van Doude, Lise Bourdin, Olga Valery. Directed by Billy Wilder.
In real life, she was 29, and he was 57. But Audrey Hepburn could easily have passed for a teenager, while Gary Cooper might well have been taken for her father, a chalky-skinned senior citizen best photographed in shadow. Yet movie audiences attending Billy Wilder’s sexually naughty, Ernst Lubitsch-inspired comedy, were expected to embrace it as a charming, sophisticated lark.
I was far from being a member of that charmed circle. But then I was barely old enough to vote in a national election, nor was I being chased by young St. Louis women hot to have their way with me. Perhaps when I revisit this relic about a fragile Parisienne paging through the confidential files of her private-detective father in search of searing love, I will have loosened up enough to sit back with my perfect wife Diane in our Manhattan pad overlooking the Hudson and enjoy the show on TCM.
Click here for Guy Flatley's interview with Billy Wilder.