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.
April 1: Turner playfully celebrates April Fool's Day with a string of films with the word "fool" in their titles. Case in point: Robert Stevens' "I Thank a Fool," a Susan Hayward soap opera about a convicted killer hired as caregiver to an ill woman. Peter Finch and Diane Cilento co-star.
Alfred Hitchcock, a TCM staple gets a mini-marathon, starting with the sublime (and criminally underrated) "Marnie," featuring a revelatory performance by Tippi Hedren, and the seminal "The Birds," again with Hedren, as well as Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy. The creatively bankrupt New Hollywood has elected to remake "The Birds" with Naomi Watts in Hedren's role.
Haven't we learned anything from Gus Van Sant?
The people who undertake these remakes of classics invariably call their efforts "a tribute." I see it more as contempt for the original.
April 2: More Hitch with “Topaz” and "Torn Curtain" signing in.
April 3: Doris Day, just about all day. I'm in. Turner did a good job in coming up with four disparate titles showcasing Day's range, starting with the obvious - "Lover Come Back," Delbert Mann's fluff comedy about marketing rivals, co-starring Rock Hudson, Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter.
Next comes another by Hitchcock - his superior remake of his earlier thriller, "The Man Who Knew Too Much." This time out, savor the jaw-dropping scene in which Jimmy Setwart sedates Day before telling her that their son has been kidnapped and get emotionally involved in Day's magnificent performance in it.
Day and Clark Gable take on - and outshine - Hepburn and Tracy in George Seaton's super intelligent, sophisticated
"Teacher's Pet," another in a line of Day's exhilaratingly outspoken "liberated woman" films (see "The Pajama Game," "It Happened to Jane" and "Please Don't Eat the Daisies").
Then there's the companionable "Young at Heart," Gordon Douglas's quasi-musical remake of "Four Daughters," which teamed Day and Frank Sinatra for the only time. And, yes, two of the era's greatest pop singers get to do a duet.
April 4: It's Anthony Perkins' birthday and the day starts off with George Cukor's "The Actress," based on Ruth Gordon's memoirs and with Jean Simmons playing Gordon's on-screen alter ego. Spencer Tracy plays her father, and Perkins nimbly supports both. This is followed by the Anthony Mann Western, "The Tin Star," with Perkins teamed opposite Henry Fonda. Next up: Perkins' career-defining (and -damaging) role, "Psycho."
Following is the film that Perkins made just prior to "Psycho" - Mel Ferrer's curiosity, "Green Mansions," co-starring Ferrer's wife, Audrey Hepburn. More interesting are the three films that Perkins made immediately after "Psycho," all of them offering him good roles - Orson Welles' Euro-centric version of Kafka's "The Trial" and two by Anatol Litvak, "Five Miles to Midnight," an insurance-fraud thriller co-starring Sophia Loren and Gig Young, and "Goodbye Again," based on Francoise Sagan's "Aimez-vous Brahms?" and starring Ingrid Bergman and Yves Montand.
All that's missing from this period of Perkins' career is Jules Dassin's retelling of the Greek myth, "Phaedra," with Melina Mercouri - a film that's just about impossible to see.
April 5: Classic Castle, “The Tingler.”
April 6: Frank Capra and star Glenn Ford reportedly had a tempestuous relationship on “Pocketful of Miracles” but you'd never know it from the larky film that resulted. Pure fun, elevated by a supporting cast of ace comedic character actors. Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds, meanwhile, are two innocent souls at the mercy of big bad New York in Robert Mulligan's fine film version of the Garson Kanin play, “The Rat Race," featuring a killer supporting turn by Kay Medford. And reliable Steve McQueen goes against type in Mark Rydell's folksy version of William Faulkner’s turn-of-the-century “The Reivers.”
Speaking of Faulkner, one of his short stories was the source for the affecting Horton Foote play, "Tomorrow," which was brought to the screen intact by director Joseph Anthony and with its original stage stars, Robert Duvall and Olga Bellin, encoring. This is Duvall's best film performance. Ever. Period. And he's matched in this sad, heart-breaking love story by Bellin, who made no other films and died young.
Duvall plays the monosyllabic, illiterate dirt farmer Jackson Fentry who befriends the pregnant, homeless Bellin and ends up raising her son.
If you ever wondered where Billy Bob Thornton got his idea for "Sling Blade's" Karl Childers, look no further. He was obviously inspired by Jackson Fentry. Curiously, Duvall did a cameo in Thornton's film as Childer's father.
You could also say that Foote himself appropriated a good portion of "Tomorrow" for his orginal screenplay for "Tender Mercies," which also starred Duvall.
April 7: Pencil in “Trapeze,” Sir Carol Reed's deliciously sordid (and erotic) circus drama with Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida; Jean-Luc Godard's "Contempt" ("Les Mépris"), with Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli and "The Bigamist" in which Ida Lupino directs Edmund O'Brien, Joan Fonatine and herself.
April 8: “Two Girls and a Sailor.” The girls are June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven. Cute and Cuter. Say no more.
Richard Harris gets his own day, with the newly-restored, extended 136-version of "Sam Peckinpah's "Major Dundee" being the standout. This is an almost-complete version of Peckinpah's legendary Western. His original cut ran 152 minutes.
April 9 Now this is really curious. Turner has scheduled a series of film dealing with rape - Ida Lupino's "Outrage," starring Mala Powers; Lewis Gilbert's "Loss of Innocence," with Susannah York; Jack Garfein's especially fine "Something Wild," starring Carroll Baker and Ralph Meeker, and Otto Preminger's "Anatomy of a Murder," with Lee Remick as the alleged victim.
In the case of "Loss of Innocence" (the American title for the British film "The Greengage Summer"), it's more a matter of attempted rape. The assailant here is the estimable Kenneth Moore, and his "almost" victim is Susannah York in one of her first films, playing a teenager. And look for a very young Jane Asher as one of her younger sisters.
By then, you'll be ready for some trashy fun, so try Lana Turner's “By Love Possessed,” directed by John Sturges, of all people.
April 10: “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,” the Powell-Pressburger masterwork with Deborah Kerr and Rober Livesay.
April 11: Time out for two with Jose Ferrer - Michael Gordon's "Cyrano de Bergerac" (Ferrer's Oscar-winner) and John Huston's garish "Moulin Rouge."
April 12: Ferrer is a hoot as a derelict theater director (with Elaine May as his daughter, no less) in Carl Reiner's wonderful, autobiographical “Enter Laughing.” Laughton and Agee collaborate, magnificently, on the creepy “The Night of the Hunter," featuring the definitive Robert Mitchum performance. And John Garfield and Shelley Winters team effectively in blacklister John Berry's gem-like “He Ran All the Way Home.”
April 14: Try to watch the charming “Gregory’s Girl,” directed by Bill Forsythe. (Remember him?) Also, a good selection of titles - Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” Hitchcock’s suave favorite, “North by Northwest” and David Miller’s “Lonely Are the Brave” with a very good Kirk Douglas.
April 15: Richard Lester’s “It’s Trad, Dad!” and Mel Brooks’ grotesquely funny Western,
“Blazing Saddles,” starring his muse, Gene Wilder.
April 16: More with Wilder - “Start the Revolution Without Me,” co-starring Donald Sutherland.
April 17: Call in sick. Eight – count ‘em – eight Bill Holden flicks air today.
April 18 Mervyn LeRoy’s madcap “Three Men on a Horse,” starring Sam Levene who would repeat his role in a ‘60s stage-musical re-do of the material called “Let It Ride!” On stage, George Gobel and Barbara Nichols had the roles played in the film by Frank McHugh and Joan Blondell.
“Strangers When We Meet” is Richard Quine’s astute take on adultery, with Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak as neighbors cheating on their spouses. Novak makes her unfulfilled character’s need for sex downright palpable. Ernie Kovacs, in a supporting role, gets a good double-entendre when he refers to his girlfriend, played by Nancy Kovacs, and her healthy appetite – “She’s very oral.”
April 19 Bob Hope is up to his neck in women (including Lana Turner) in the suburban comedy, “Bachelor in Paradise.” And the unrelated Slaters, Helen and Christian, star in Matthew Robins’ “The Legend of Billie Jean.” It’s fun.
In another class altogether is John Huston’s vivid “The Misfits,” with a script by Arthur Miller. And there’s an encore performance of “Teacher’s Pet.”
April 21: Don Taylor’s musical version of “Tom Sawyer” with the child Jodie Foster as Becky Thatcher.
April 22: A young Helen Mirren stars with James Mason in Michael Powell’s “Age of Consent,” while Ginger Rogers plays young in Billy Wilder’s “The Major and the Minor.” Also James Garner and Joan Hackett in Burt Kennedy’s “Support Your Local Sheriff.”
April 23: Two with Kim Novak – Richard Quine’s “Pushover,” costarring Fred MacMuarry and Phil Carey, and Delbert Mann’s hard-to-see "Middle of the Night," based on a Paddy Chayefsky script (from his play), in which Novak plays a young woman having an affair with an elderly man, played by Fredric March.
April 24: Now, it’s Shirley MacLaine’s turn. Watch her in Hitchcock’s “The Trouble with Harry,” George Marshall’s “The Sheepman,” Joseph Anthony’s "The Matchmaker,” Charles Walters’ “The Yellow Rolls-Royce,” Billy Wilder’s “Irma La Douce,” Walters’ “Two Loves” and Vincente Minnelli’s sublime “Some Came Running.”
April 25: Charles Walters again – directing Joan Crawford in full force in “Torch Song.” Plus Blake Edwards’ antic “The Party” and Delbert Mann’s “The Bachelor Party,” which is a little more somber, to put it mildly. Don Murray stars in this excellent film version of the Paddy Chayefsky play about five office buddies out on the town for a friend’s bachelor party. There’s fine support from Larry Blyden and Jack Warden – and from Carolyn Jones billed in a memorable bit as The Existentialist.
April 26: Martin Ritt’s homey horse drama, “Casey’s Shadow,” starring Walter Matthau and Alexis Smith. And you can’t go wrong with Peter Bogdanovich’s “Paper Moon.”
April 27: Minnelli and DeNiro in “New York, New York,” Grant and Loren in “Houseboat” and Stewart and Allyson in “The Glenn Miller Story.”
April 28: Stanley Baker, Anne Heywood and David McCallum in Basil Dearden’s British crime meller, “Violent Playground,” and Bernard Vorhaus's very campy/tacky "So YOung, So Bad" from 1950 with Anne Francis, Rita Moreno and Anne Jacksom as JDs and Paul Henried as the psychotherapist trying to reform them.
April 29: Alain Cavalier directs Alain Delon and Lea Massari in the 1964 French import, “Have I the Right to Kill” ("L'Insoumis").
April 30: Andy Griffith soars magnificently in Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg’s still-pertinent “A Face in the Crowd.”
(Artwork: Suzanne Pleshette and Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock's "The Birds" and Hedren attacked by the film's title characters; a day for Day on TCM; Frank Sinatra and Doris Day featured in the display ad for Gordon Douglas's "Young at Heart"; the singular Tony Perkins; display ads for the New York engagement of Joseph Anthony's "Tomorrow," authored by Foote and Faulkner, and Robert Duvall and Johnny Mack in a scene from the film; Charlton Heston and Sam Peckinpah on the set of Peckinpah's "Major Dundee"; Poster art for "The Greengage Summer," the original British title of "Lose of Innocence"; Saul Bass's title design for Hitchcock's "North By Northwest"; William Holden, the original McDreamy; Kim Novak and Kirk Douglas in Richard Quine's "Strangers When We Meet"; Thelma Ritter, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in John Huston's "The Misfits"; Fredric March and Novak in Delbert Mann's difficult to see "Middle of the Night," and poster art for Vincente Minnelli's "Some Came Running")
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