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.
Star of the Month: Charles Laughton.
Month after month, Turner Classics can be counted on to be an embarrassement of cinematic riches, but for me personally, November 2008 is especially outstanding. While perusing the schedule, I kept coming upon titles that are among my very favorites - films that would be on my Top 100 List, if I kept such lists.
1 November: Elia Kazan's ageless "A Face in the Crowd" (1957), a film as relevant today as when it was made - perhaps even more so. It should come as no surprise that over the past few decades, there have been several aborted attempts to remake it - with (reportedly) such diverse names as Mac Davis, Whoopi Goldberg and Ben Stiller attached to play a facsimile of writer Budd Schulberg's Lonesome Rhodes, the loudmouth baladeer who morphs into an influential populist and then a dangerous demagogue.
Of course, no one could pull off this role with the smooth precision that Andy Griffith brought to the role. Without resorting to histrionic heavy-lifting, Griffith created a portrait of a celebrity (said to be based on Arthur Godfrey) that uses a unctuous folksiness to mesmerize and then bamboozle a gullible American public.
Again, sound familiar?
2 November: Joseph L. Mankiewicz's shamelessly elitist "All About Eve" (1950) invites us to spend some late hours (beginning 1:15 a.m.) in the urbane company of Margo Channing, Eve Harrington, Addison de Witt, Bill Sampson, Karen and Lloyd Richards and flip Birdy. Who could resist such company and the Shubert Alley milieu they represent? Not me.
Also: Blake Edwards' "Victor/Victoria" (1982) in which Julie Andrews, who usually can do no wrong, is almost grotesquely miscast as a double cross-dressing chanteuse. Luckily, Robert Preston and an avid Lesley Ann Warren are on hand for distraction.
3 November: Anne Francis, Anne Jackson and Rita Moreno are "So Young, So Bad" in Bernard Vorhaus' 1950 exploitationer about reform-school girls. Paul Henried is the creepy older guy trying to reform them. Stay tuned for Delbert Mann's "Middle of the Night" (1959), Paddy Chayefsky's insightful look into the relationship between an older man (Fredric March in a particularly fine performance) and a younger woman (the enigmatic Kim Novak in another of her chameleon performances).
4 November: An eclectic Gig Young triple bill - George Seaton's "Teacher's Pet" (1958), a wonderfully acerbic, adult battle-of-the-sexes comedy with Clark Gable, Doris Day and Young; Anatole Litvak's "Five Miles to Midnight" (1963), one of those easy-to-watch "fake death" entertainments, this one with Anthony Perkins, Sophia Loren and Young, and Sam Peckinpah's delicious "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" (1974), with Warren Oateas, Ralph Meeker and ... Young.
5 November: "The Bachelor Pary" (1957) another teaming of writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann. Don Murray stars, Jack Warden does his usual obnoxious bit and Carolyn Jones steals the piece as a character called The Existentialist, who talks a blue streak.
6 November: A double bill of works by the blacklisted Abraham Polonsky - "Force of Evil" (1948), with John Garfield, and his comeback film, "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here" (1969), starring Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Susan Clark and Robert Blake.
7 November: Turner gets clever with this off-beat pairing of two gang films - Walter Hill's "The Warriors" (1979) and Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins' "West Side Story" (1961), a case where one film not only does not compliment the other but actually makes the other seem ridiculous. WSS, which will be repeated on November 26th, is one of those films that has become unwatchable to me, its outstanding music and dance notwithstanding. Everything else is pretty bad, thanks largely to Arthur Laurents' source material (way too respected by scenarist Ernest Lehman). This is a case where Oscars eagerly handed to Rita Moreno and George Chakiris were thrown away, given that their respective competition that year included Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift, both unforgettable in "Judgment at Nuremberg."
Also, Billy Wilder's scathing "Ace in a Hole" (1951), with Kirk Douglas in classic form as a blowhard, opportunistic journalist, and "The Matchmaker" (1958), Joseph Anthony's film of the non-musical version of "Hello, Dolly!," starring the two Shirleys - Booth and MacLaine.
9 November: More bittersweet Wilder - "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), with Holden and Swanson - and Preston Sturges' "The Miracle of Morgan Creek" (1944), with Hutton and Bracken.
10 November: Joseph L. Mankiewicz's huge - and hugely underrated - "Cleopatra" (1963), with Taylor, Burton and Harrison. It gets an encore showing on November 26th.
11 November: J. Lee Thompson directs Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven, an ace cast, in "The Guns of Navarone" (1961).
12 November: The masterful Alfred Hitchcock conjurs up some provocative homoerotic tension between Robert Walker and Farley Granger in the hugely watchable "Strangers on a Train" (1951), a tidy thriller driven by the compelling idea of crisscross murders.
13 November: Have a pajama party with the late-night/early-morning showings of Ida Lupino's "Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951); Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow Up" (1966) with Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings, and the omnibus British film, "Quartet" (1948), based on stories by W. Somerset Maugham (who introduces each tale) and directed by ken Annakin, Arthur Crabtree, Harold French and Ralph Stuart.
Also: Vincente Minnelli's moody "outsider" drama, "Some Came Running..." (1958) which features fabulous ensemble performances by Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Carmen Phillips, Arthur Kennedy Leora Dana, Connie Gilchrist, Nancy Gates, Larry Gates (no relation), Martha Hyer, Betty Lou Keim, Steve Peck, John Brennan and particularly ... a fabulous Frank Sinatra.
14 November: More Hitchcock - "Rear Window" (1954), starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey, Raymond Burr and Joseph MacMillan Johnson and Hal Pereira's production design - and Sidney Lumet's version of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night" (1961), filmed with much fidelity and with a cast headed by Katharine Hepburn, in a career-capping role as addict Mary Tyrone.
15 November: Thrill impressario Dario Argento directs Jessica Harper in the inspired chiller "Suspiria" (1977) and Robert Aldrich guides a first-rate cast - Ida Lupino, Jack Palance and Rod Steiger - through Clifford Odets' provocative "The Big Knife" (1955).
16 November: Douglas Sirk's "Imitation of Life" (1959). Say no more.
17 November: Hitchcock invites to the leisurely hamlet of Bodega Bay, California where there's little to do but contemplate "The Birds" (1963). Also, Richard Brooks' "Something of Value" (1957), a sort of precursor to "The Defiant Ones," starring Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier as childhood friends separated by racism in Africa.
18 November: More Paddy Chayefsky - the talky "The Hospital" (1971), directed by Arthur Hiller and starring George C. Scott. A big hit in its day, it is now largely forgotten.
19 November: Lindsay Anderson directs Richard Harris in a career-defining performance in "This Sporting Life" (1963), and two by Anthony Mann - "The Fall of the Roman Empire" (1964), with Stephen Boyd, Sophia Loren and James Mason, and "The Tin Star" (1957), with Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins.
20 November: Sir Carol Reed's "Trapeze" (1956), an edgy circus drama with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis as an ace trapeze team whose act is interrupted by Gina Lollobrigida.
22 November: Hichcock's masterwork, "Vertigo" (1958), is about falling - specifically the perils of falling in love - as Jimmy Stewart is sucked in by Kim Novak not once, but twice. Immediately followed by Joshua Logan's atmospheric but songless version of Harold Rome's belovede Broadway musical, "Fanny" (1961), starring Leslie Caron, Horst Buchholz, Charles Boyer and Maurice Chevalier. Rome's score is used as background music.
23 November: Robert DeNiro gives an affecting performance in John D. Hancock's "Bang The Drum Slowly" (1973), which also starred Michael Moriarty, hailed at the time as the next matinee idol.
Also, "The Nutty Professor" (1963), arguably Jerry Lewis's best film, a wicked decontruction of Dean Martin's public persona.
27 November: "Three for the Show" (1955) a sprightly musical about accidental bigamy by H.C. Potter starring Betty Grable, Jack Lemmon and Marge and Gower Champion. In its day, it was initially condemned by the Catholic Church's Legion of Decency, until cuts were made. Also, Doris Day in Howard Morris' "With Six You Get Eggrolls" (1968) and Charles Walters' "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960), a bright comedy based on the lives of theater critic Walter Kerr and his wife Jean.
28 November: Ranald MacDougall's "Queen Bee" (1955), a turgid story about a manipulative woman starring - who else? - Joan Crawford. Also, John Huston's "The Misfits" (1961) in which Marilyn Monroe's psychic pain is piercingly palpable.
Artwork: Andy Griffith in "A Face in the Crowd"; star of the month Charles Laughton; poster art for "All About Eve"; Kim Novak and Fredric March in "Middle of the Night': Doris Day, Gig Young and Clark Gable in "Teacher's Pet"; assorted scenes from "West Side Story"; Dean Martin in "Some Came Running..."; Jimmy Stewart and Hitch doing his cameo in "Rear Window"; the schoolyard attack in "The Birds"; Saul Bass's classic interpretation of Stewart in "Vertigo," and Thelma Ritter, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in "The Misfits")