Friday, May 01, 2009

turner this month - bravo!

Bette Davis slums - regally - in "Pocketful of Miracles," Capra's remake of his "Lady for a Day"
Great stuff on Turner Classic Movies this month, including the original French "Fanny" trilogy; tributes to people as diverse as Tyrone Power, Michael Sarrazin, Barry Levinson and star-of-the-month Sean Connery; a Latino retrospective (which, unfortunately, includes the ubiquitous "West Side Story"); Glenn Ford playing Frank Sinatra, and the recurring image of Rex Harrison and Wilfrid Hyde-White playing Barbie with Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady." That's right. But more about that later.

Star of the Month: Sean Connery
The month kicks off pleasingly with John Sturges' "Fast Company" (1953; May 1, 4:30 p.m.), a companionable film as laid-back as star Howard Keel (doing Clark Gable lite here), who teams up perfectly with Polly Bergen. Makes one wonder why they never did a musical together. Ask MGM. The follow-up film is a silly affair titled "Glory" ((1956; May 1, 6 p.m.) in which a grown Margaret O'Brien sings to a horse. Honest. Her co-stars are Walter Brennan and Charlotte Greenwood (fresh off Zimmermann's "Oklahoma!").

All times, by the way, are Eastern Standard.

The beautiful and very talented Kassie DePavia, one of my favorite soap stars ("One Life to Live"), is the female lead in Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn" (1987; May 2, 2 a.m.). This woman should have been a big-screen star a long time ago. I'd watch her in anything - even this.

Dazzling Kassie is anything but evil

Larry Peerce's most progressive “One Potato, Two Potato” (1964; May 3, 1 a.m.), about an explosive interracial relationship features top performances by Barbara Barrie as a divorced woman; Bernie Hamilton as her new black husband and Richard Mulligan as her ex, who is fighting her for custody for their daughter.

On racial grounds.

Cole Porter gets rare respectful treatment from MGM in its faithful adapatation of “Kiss Me Kate" (1953; May 3, noon), one of the better film musicals by George Sidney.

Barbie as Audrey as Eliza. Got that?
George Cukor's “My Fair Lady” (1964; May 4, 5 p.m.) is a film that I always enjoyed in an innocent way - until I caught an episode of "Will and Grace," in which Eric McCormack's Will Truman did a deft analysis of the film/play's plot: "Rex Harrison and Wilfrid Hyde-White playing dress-up with Audrey Hepburn? Oh, yes, they're gay, my good man," he opines.

Marcel Pagnol's “Fanny” trilogy gets a late-night TCM showing, starting wiht Alexander Korda's “Marius” (1931; May 4, 2 a.m.), in which the amazing Raimu introduced the achingly human character, César; “Fanny” (1932; May 10, 2 a.m.), directed by Marc Allegret and Pierre Fresnay, continues with the same cast, and the saga concludes with “César” (1936; May 18, 2 a.m.), directed by Pagnol himself.

The daisy-chain plotline, condensed into a single film (via a stage musical) by Joshua Logan in 1961, involves a young woman left pregnant by her lover and rescued by one of her father's (older) friends.

If you're interested in late-career Tyrone Power, check out John Ford's “The Long Gray Line” (1955), George Sidney's “The Eddie Duchin Story” (1956) and Richard Sale's “Abandon Ship” and Billy Wilder's “Witness for the Prosecution” (both 1957).

They're all on May 5th, starting at 11:30 a.m.

You can't go wrong with Howard Hawks' self-reverential but endlessly entertaining “Rio Bravo” (1959; May 6, 10:30 p.m.), in which John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson seem to be having a high old time. Raw sexuality is the appeal of Kurt Neumann's “Carnival Story” (1954; May 7, 11 a.m.) with Anne Baxter as a two-timing woman who regularly arouses Lyle Bettger and Steve Cochran. Meanwhile, Ralph Nelson and a fine cast (Anthony Quinn, Julie Harris, Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney) do right by Rod Serling's much-filmed "Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962; May 8, 1:15 p.m.)

Turner makes it impossible to leave home for the day on May 8 with a marathon of back-to-back, all-day screenings, starting at 9:30 a.m., with Anatole Litvak's “Goodbye Again” (1961), Buzz Kulik's “The Explosive Generation” (1961), Jack Garfein's “Something Wild” (1961), Roger Corman's "The Young Racers" (1963), Desmond Davis' “The Girl with Green Eyes” (1964) and James Neilson's “The First Time” (1969), a teen flick, made during the sexual revolution, starring Jacqueline Bisset. There are shades of "Double Indemnity" in Basil Dearden's lurid “Woman of Straw” (1964; May 9, 12:15 a.m.) in which hot couple Sean Connery and Gina Lollobrigida plot the murder of her old-man husband (Ralph Richardson). And stick around for Roger Corman's “The Trip” (1967; May 9, 2:15 a.m.), in which Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern and Susan Strasberg hang out and drop acid. It follows immediately.

Somehow, Glenn Ford got to play a role - the dapper, incorrigible Dave the Dude - that was made for Frank Sinatra in Frank Capra's “Pocketful of Miracles” (1961; May 10, 1 p.m.) and, along the way, Ford and Capra became mortal enemies - or so it's been reported. Bette Davis co-stars as Apple Annie the year before she made her huge comeback as Jane Hudson. For something completely different, there's Otto Preminger's first-rate “Bunny Lake Is Missing” (1965; May 10, 8 p.m.), with fine work by Carol Lynley and Noel Coward, and John Sturges' most absorbing “The Sign of the Ram” (1948; May 10, 10 p.m.) with the surefire ensemble of Phyllis Thaxter, Alexander Knox and Susan Peters.

There are some interesting theme days popping up on Turner this month. May 11th, for example, starting at 6:15 a.m. and brodcasting for about 12 hours is a collection of British films featuring such stalwarts as Margaret Rutherford, Norman Wisdom, Moira Lister, Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, a very young Petula Clark and, of course, Peter Sellers. The evening of May 12, on the other hand, seems to be devoted to titles involving labor unions, including Norman Jewison's "F.I.S.T." (1978) and Vincent Sherman's "The Garment Jungle" (1957). It kicks off at 11:45 p.m. with Robert Redford's "The Milagro Beanfield War" (1988).
Kim in "Vertigo"

Kim and Jimmy and Janice (Rule) in "Bell, Book and Candle"

Barry Levinson is feted on May 13th with the back-to-back screenings of three of his films, beginning with "The Natural" (1984) at 8 p.m.trio May 13, starting at 8, followed by "Rain Man" (1988) and "Diner" (1982). Earlier that night, at 5:45 p.m., Judy Garland gets to do her own "Gypsy" (of sorts) in Ronald Neame's "I Could Go on Singing" (1963).

Sean Connery and Dyan Cannon make an intriguing couple in the minor Sidney Lumet film, “The Anderson Tapes” (1971; May 16, 12;15 a.m.), and Garland returns, this time opposite Burt Lancaster, in John Cassavetes' “A Child Is Waiting” (1963; May 17, 1:30 P.M.).

But stick around because, later that day, Steve McQueen, Robert Preston, Ida Lupino, Ben Johnson, Joe Don Baker and Mary Murphy get to shine in Sam Peckinpah's gem, “Junior Bonner” (1972; May 17, 8 p.m.)

Another theme night is May 19th, which Turner has set aside for five '50s films about troubled teenagers, starting at 9 p.m. with Mark Robson's "The Trial" (1955), starring Glenn Ford; Paul Stanley's "Cry Tough" (1959), with John Saxon; John Frankenheimer's "The Young Savages" (1961), toplined by Burt Lancaster; Richard Brooks' seminal "Blackboard Jungle" (1955), also with Ford, and Paul Wendkos' "Because They're Young" (1960) with an appealing cast including Dick Clark, Tuesday Weld and Michael Callan.

Michael Sarrazin, a charming, lanky actor from the '70s who has seemingly disappeared, receives a rare place in the spotlight on May 20, starting at 8 p.m., with screenings of Peter Yates' "For Pete's Sake" (1974), Bruce Geller's "Harry in Your Pocket" (1973), Sydney Pollack's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (1969) and a very special showing of Robert Mulligan's difficult-to-see “The Pursuit of Happiness” (1971), co-starring Barbara Hershey. All that's missing from this line-up are Irvin Kershner's "The Flim-Flam Man" (1967) and J. Lee Thompson's "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud" (1975). You know, actually, Sarrazin has a lot of interesting titles in his filmography.

Just before the Sarrazin marathon, Turner will pair - for the first time by my reckoning - the two films that Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak made in 1958, starting at 4 p.m. with Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," followed by Richard Quine's "Bell, Book and Candle." Prior to them, there will be a 2 p.m. screening of Hitch's "Rear Window."

Turner's on-going Latino celebration kicks into high gear on May 21st with a 9:30 p.m. showing of the Robert Wise-Jerome Robbins' 1961 classic/Oscar-winner, "West Side Story," followed by Louis Valdez's "La Bamba” (1987) and Arne Glimcher's “The Mambo Kings” (1992), starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas.

But back to "West Side Story," a film that I find just about unwatchable these days... Yes, the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim music is exquisite and Robbins' dance numbers are electric.

But everything in-between!

Critic Sam Adams put it best in his critique of WSS (in one of its DVD incarnations) for Philadelphia's City Paper: "The new disc includes a booklet featuring Ernest Lehman's script in its entirety, though it's a mixed blessing at best since the cornball book (by Arthur Laurents) of the original stage musical has always been West Side's Achilles heel. Being stuck with Laurents' dialogue probably cost Lehman the screenplay Oscar, the only one for which West Side was nominated and didn't win." Amen.

I agree also with Sam's assessment of the unfair lambasting of the film's two romantic leads, particularly Richard Beymer as Tony. As concocted by Laurents, Tony is a patently unplayable character. None of the actors I've seen in the role has been very credible. Tony simply makes no sense - a supposed gang member who behaves like an alter boy.

It also doesn't help that both Beymer and Natalie Wood are saddled with Laurents' worst dialogue (which Lehman inexplicably preserved).

There have also been decades of complaints about the fact that the singing voices of both Wood and Beymer were dubbed. True. But wait! Everyone's singing voice in the film is dubbed, thanks to Saul Chaplin's weird hang-up about perfect voices only in musicals.

Wood and Russ Tamblyn are the only two convincing performers in the film. (How Rita Moreno and George Chakiris won Oscars, beating out Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift in "Judgment at Nuremberg," is beyond me.) And, of course, Boris Leven's production design is a masterwork.

Connery, who is all over Turner this month in his Bond films, plays a slightly shady romantic hero into tough love in Alfred Hitchcock's brilliant "Marnie," which, of course, includes a major performance by Tippi Hedren in the title role. It airs May 22nd at 8 p.m.

On May 26th, Latino night continues with Ramon Menendez' "Stand and Deliver" (1988) in an 8 p.m. slot, followed by Robert E. Collins' "Walk Proud" (1979) and, a must-see, Michael Pressman's “Boulevard Nights" (1979), showing at midnight. Stay tuned afterwards for a 2 a.m. screening of the gritty Robert Duvall film, "Badge 373" (1973), directed by Howard W. Koch and co-starring the always fine Verna Bloom.

Arthur Hiller's delightful “Popi” (1969), starring Alan Arkin and Rita Moreno, introduces Turner's final Latino night on May 28th, followed by Gregory Nava's "My Family"/"Mi Familia" (1995), "The Ballad of Gregorio Coprtez" (1983) and John Sayles' terrific "Lone Star" (1996).

Wrapping up the month, I'll be tuned in for Delmer Daves' "Hollywood Canteen" (1944; May 26, 8 a.m.); Robert Z. Leonard's "Dancing Lady" (1933, May 28, noon), with an adorable Joan Crawford (yes!) and Clark Gable; Richard Lester's "Robin and Marian” (1976; May 29, 12:15 p.m.), with Connery and Hepburn, both letter-perfect, and Lawrence Kasdan's satisfying, all-star “Silverado” (1985; May 30, 2:30 p.m.)


Daryl Chin said...

Thanks for the reminders about notable films showing on TCM in May, but wanted to alert people to some other rarities on TCM this month.

Monday, May 4 at 11:15PM there was a very rare screening of von Sternberg's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (1935) with incredible lighting by Lucien Ballard and a great performance by Peter Lorre.

Friday, May 15, the afternoon is devoted to movies featuring James Mason, including THUNDER ROCK (12:30 PM), HOTEL RESERVE (2:30 PM), THE STORY OF THREE LOVES (4:00 PM) and GEORGY GIRL (6:15 PM).

Monday, May 18 the morning and afternoon are devoted to rare Frank Capra movies, which show his talent before Capracorn sprouted. The films are: FLIGHT (6:30 AM), LADIES OF LEISURE (8:30 AM and especially recommended; if i'm not mistaken, this is a very rare screening, it hasn't been shown in previous periods devoted to either Capra or his star, Barbara Stanwyck, it was their first movie together and it's one of their best), RAIN OR SHINE (10:15 AM), DIRIGIBLE (11:45 AM), PLATINUM BLONDE (1:30 PM), THE MIRACLE WOMAN (3:00 PM and possibly the best movie Capra made with Stanwyck), and the incredibly prescient AMERICAN AMDNESS (4:45 PM).

And on Tuesday, May 19, a real rarity: Joseph Losey's THE LAWLESS, starring MacDonald Carey and Gail Russell. As far as i know (and this information is from the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which had a Joseph Losey retrospective not so long ago), there is no complete print of THE LAWLESS anyway (they had to borrow a print from the BFI). So i'm anxious to see what TCM has been able to dig up!

jbryant said...

God, yes, don't miss those Capras! I haven't seen "Rain or Shine," but all the rest are very good to great.

Joe: How cool to see Kassie DePavia get a shout-out here! Though I don't watch soaps, I've long rooted for her because she was born and raised near my Kentucky hometown. I actually saw her perform in a Lions Club Talent Show when she was -- what? -- maybe 12? She was a fantastic singer even then, and I filed the name (Kassie Wesley at that time) in my brain as "someone to watch."

Though I liked Clift in "Nuremberg," the actor who got robbed by Chakiris was George C. Scott in "The Hustler," possibly my favorite supporting performance in any movie.

joe baltake said...

To be frnak, Daryl and Jay, just about every month I realize that I overlooked some gem - obscure or otherwise - from my round-up. Yes, I should have mentioned the Capras and, yes, Losey's "The Lawless" is definitely one to watch.

My problem - I think - is that Turner continually impresses and overwhelms me. Too many films (good films), too little time.

Maybe I should rethink my coverage of Turner and instead of doing one long piece, an admitted bear, I should do periodic short takes throughout the month, a la Lou Lemenick

jkaiser said...

Already set the DVR for "Bunny Lake is Missing". Great movie.

Daryl Chin said...

THE LAWLESS turned up in a pristine print, complete with Paramount logo (original release) and in better shape than the BFI print that the Film Society of Lincoln Center had to show. Wonder where this has been hiding. (Now if only someone could dig up Losey's THE BIG NIGHT, which i haven't seen in decades.)

The Capras were also in excellent shape: Sony should think about another Capra boxset.

joe baltake said...


I also tuned in to catch "The Lawless," natch, and I was really impressed. Now I wish I had taped it. And, yes, "The Big Night" should be resurrected. In fact, I wish Turner would do a Losey retropsective. Fascinating filmography there.

jbryant said...

Crap, I missed The Lawless. My DVR is full to bursting. I was barely able to fit Capra's Rain or Shine on there (the only one of that bunch I hadn't seen).