Note: This is a regular monthly feature, highlighting, well, the highlights on Turner Classics' schedule. Why? Simple. Because Turner Classics remains a veritible college education in film. Say no more.
So many movies, so little time. That's the Turner Classics schedule which includes, in any given month, approximately 360 films, domestic and foreign-language, from every decade. It's addictive. In April, for example, you can get front-row seats for "His Girl Friday," "The Nutty Professor," "Sunset Blvd.," "Anatomy of a Murder," "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer," "Chilly Scenes of Winter," "On Moonlight Bay," "A Raisin in the Sun," "36 Hours," "A Face in the Crowd," "Day of the Dolphin" and "That Touch of Mink." You can't see films like this anymore in theaters, so you might as well stay home.
As a bonus, Turner will be honoring Rita Hayworth all month, by way of such titles as Charles Vidor's iconic "Gilda" with Glenn Ford and George Sidney's "Pal Joey," with Sinatra, plus a rare screening of Robert Parrish's exotic trash, "Fire Down Below," co-starring Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon.
Whether intended or not, Turner Classics books films that have fascinating connections and that will be my focus today. Have a pencil handy? OK, mark down these T.C. showings as "Must Sees" in April:
George Marshall + Debbie Reynolds (+ Glenn Ford)
Although Turner’s program guide doesn’t mention it, Debbie Reynolds made three – count ‘em – three affable comedies with director George Marshall in 1959, two of which co-starred Glenn Ford. That has to be some kind of a record. Anyway, Turner will broadcast all three in April. Reynolds and Ford were dating when they made the back-to-back Marshall-directed comedies, “The Gazebo” and “It Started with a Kiss.” The films are being screened on Turner, also back-to-back, on April 3, starting at 2 a.m. (11 p.m. pst). The third Reynolds-Marshall film – “The Mating Game,” co-starring Tony Randall – airs on April 20 at 10:15 a.m. (7 p.m. pst).
All three are fun, but “The Mating Game” is particularly companionable and “The Gazebo,” based on the Alec Coppel stage comedy, works as an inventive parody of Hitchcock and features Ford in a bravura comedy performance as a man who has to get rid of a dead body and, in one scene, actually calls Hitchcock for advice. Watch it.
Karl Malden as Mama Rose
Astute movie buffs know that Karl Malden played Herbie to Roz Russell’s Rose in Mervyn LeRoy’s sublime film version of the Styne-Sondheim musical, “Gypsy” (1961) which, of course, is about a horrible stage mother who brutalizes her daughters while ushering them to potential stardom. What some fans may not have picked up on is that Malden did a male variation on the material in Robert Mulligan’s “Fear Strikes Out” (1957), playing the toxic “stage father” of ballplayer Jimmy Piersall (essayed by Anthony Perkins in a stunning performance). Papa Piersall bullied his gifted, athletic son into a nervous breakdown, all so that the son could achieve Pop’s dreams. Just like Mama Rose. “Fear Strikes Out” airs on April 4 at 11 a.m. (8 a.m. pst).
Vincente Minnelli’s “Some Came Running” (1958), airing April 24 at 4:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m., pst). If I was a clerk at Blockbuster, this would be my pick of the week – for every week, ad infinitum. It’s perfect, based on the James Jones novel (by way of John Patrick’s screenplay) and elevated by Elmer Bernstein’s seminal score and just-right casting. Frank Sinatra is at his very best (topped perhaps only by his performance in “The Manchurian Candidate”) as an unwanted war vet returning to his despised home town; Shirley MacLaine chews all the scenery as the poignant/funny tramp who latches on to him; Dean Martin settles into his role as a professional gambler as if it were his favorite bathrobe, and Arthur Kennedy and Leora Dana, as Sinatra’s creep brother and sister-in-law, are as untrustworthy as only Arthur Kennedy and Leora Dana could be. I could watch this at least one time a day – every day.
If that’s your desire, check out Sir Carol Reed’s take on Graham Green, “Our Man in Havana,” with the eclectic cast of Alec Guinness, Maureen O’Hara, Noel Coward and Ernie Kovacs, at 12 noon (9 a.m. pst) on April 2, or Orson Welles’ adventurous version of Kafka’s “The Trial,” starring Anthony Perkins (again), the dual rapture of Jeanne Moreau and Romy Schneider, and Welles himself, airing at 5:15 p.m. (2:15 p.m.pst) on April 4.
Rodgers and Hammerstein Go Modern
Look, I liked Rodgers and Hammerstein. Who doesn’t? But let’s face it, their most legendary shows are rigidly formulaic and self-consciously pertinent. That’s why I prefer their neglected, jazzy “Flower Drum Song,” directed in 1961 by Henry Koster. It is light and modern and, for once, R-&-H don’t club us over the head with their usual socially-conscious message. Great score, great choreography (by Hermes Pan) and perfectly cast – with Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta and Miyoshi Umeki. Turner will show it at 3:45 a.m. (12:45 am pst) on April 8. As Stephen Gong wrote in the program notes for The 25th San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival (which ran March 15-25, 2007, at the Castro Theater) where "Flower Drum Song" was a centerpiece attraction, the 45-year-old movie "has grown steadily in stature with each year."
From the Vaults of Columbia
Richard Quine’s comically subversive “Bell, Book & Candle” (1958), showing on April 17 at 12:30 a.m. (9;30 p.m., pst), with Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon and Elsa Lanchester as a family of witches who are “outted,” so to speak, by James Stewart and Ernie Kovacs. It comes replete with playwright John Van Druten's shrewd gay subtext that must have seemed truly invisible when the film was first released;
Richard Fleischer’s “Barabbas” (1962), showing on April 8 at 10 p.m. (7p.m., pst), an unusually intelligent and radical roadshow film dedicated to one of the top villains of all time, offering Anthony Quinn in another effective, showy acting turn;
David Swift’s phenomenally popular “The Interns” (1961), showing on April 24 at 8:45 a.m. (5:45 a.m., pst), followed by John Rich’s tepid sequel “The New Interns” (1964)at 11 a.m. (8 a.m., pst), both starring Michael Callen, fresh off his Broadway role as Riff in “West Side Story,” where he was billed as Mickey Calin.
And saving the best for last…
RKO Lost and Found
Ready for a treat and a little revelation? On April 4 and 11, Turner will showcase six RKO titles, three on each day (each shown twice), that seemed to be lost forever because of tangled copyright issues but that were rescued by senior program manager Dennis Millay. Each title is a find:
William Seiter “Rafter Romance” (1933) and its remake, Lew Landers’ “Living on Love” (1937), both a romantic comedy about a man and a woman unknowingly sharing the same apartment. Ginger Rogers and Norman Foster star in the Seiter original; and Whitney Bourne and James Dunn in the Landers version;
John Robertson’s “One Man’s Journey” (1933) and its remake Garson Kanin’s “A Man to Remember” (1938), about idealistic doctors taking a stand;
And John Cromwell’s “Double Harness” (1933), with William Powell as a playboy, and William Wellman’s “Stingaree” (1934), with Irene Dunne as a singer whose career is financed by a hood.
Old films all, but totally fresh discoveries.
(Artwork: top: Poster art for MGM's "Some Came Running"; middle: Nancy Kawn singing Rodgers and Hammerstein's "I Enjoy Being a Girl" in Universal's "Flower Drum Song")
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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com