Whether Ava Gardner was a great or even good actress is an issue that's still being debated among cinéphiles, but what's inarguable is that she was a genuine Movie Star. And she's Turner's Star of the Month in November with 42 - count 'em - 42 Gardner titles on tap for screenings every Thursday during the month.
I, for one, will be glued to the screen for showings of Robert Siodmak's "The Killers" (1946) and Albert Lewin's "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman" (1951), both being shown back-to-back on 4 November, starting at 8; Joseph L. Mankiewicz's "The Barefoot Contessa" (1954) at 10 p.m. on 11 November; Henry Koster's difficult-to-see "The Naked Maja" (1959), with Anthony Franciosa as the Spanish painter Goya, at 8 p.m. on 18 November, and John Huston's adaptation of Tennessee Williams' "The Night of the Iguana" (1964), screening at 8 p.m. on 25 November.
You can also catch Gardner in George Sidney's remake of the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical version of Edna Ferber's "Show Boat." Gardner plays Julie, a black chanteuse passing for white, and while Annette Warren dubbed her singing voice in the finished movie, Gardner was allowed to sing her two songs herself on the MGM soundtrack album.
Here's a quick selection of titles to pencil in on your screening calendar:
2 November: A double-bill with Burt Lancaster - Alexander Mackendrick's
"Sweet Smell of Success" (1957) and "Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962) by John Frankenheimer, starting at 1:45 p.m.
Thanks to the raw performances of Lancaster and Tony Curtis, the Mackendrick film mesmerizes despite the silly plot point of Lancaster's obsession with his screen sister. And John Sayles' baseball history, "Eight Men Out" (1988), toplined by John Cusack, airs at 11:45 p.m.
3 November: The color version of Peter Bogdanovich's flawed but well-meaning "Nickelodeon" (1976), with Burt Reynolds and Ryan and Tatum O'Neal participating as inadvertent pioneers in the early days of filmmmaking. It screens at 11:15 p.m. 4 November: The late Howard Zeiff was a maker of TV commercials who came to filmmaking belatedly and briefly. He had nine titles to his credit, starting with 1973's quirky "Slither" (a personal favorite of mine), before he died in 2009 at age 82.
Others include the phenomenally popular "Private Benjamin, "House Calls," "The Main Event" and the endearing "My Girl (which unfortunately was not allowed by the studio to retain its original title, "Born Jaundiced"). Zeiff's masterwork, however, remains the criminally underseen "Hearts of the West" (1975), about the making of low-budget Westerns in the 1930s. The evocative, atmospheric film, which airs at 2:45 a.m., has the dream cast of Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin and (pictured above) Blythe Danner and Andy Griffith.
6 November: Late-night sorcery, starting at 2 a.m., with two Liz Taylor/Joe Losey collaborations, both from 1968 - "Secret Ceremony," also featuring crazed work by Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum, and "Boom!," based on the failed Tennessee Williams' play, "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," with Taylor playing Flora Goforth opposite Richard Burton and Noel Coward. Tallulah Bankhead had the role on stage - opposite Tab Hunter.
7 November: The newly restored version of Fritz Lang's legendary "Metroplis" (1927), with 25 added minutes (but still, at 154 minutes, incomplete), debuts at 8 p.m., followed by "Metroplois Refound" a 2010 documentary on the restoration.
9 November: Bill Forsyth's endearing "Local Hero" (1983), with Burt Lancaster in a late-career role as a gruff executive at large in a picture-postcard pretty Scottish village, a la "Brigadoon" - which airs on Turner Classic Movies at 8:15 a.m. on 14 November.
"Tea for Two," David Butler's embattled 1950 film version of the Broadway musical "No, No Nanette," screens at 8 p.m. The title card that reads
"screenplay by Harry Clork" has a magenta blotch below it obscuring the words,
"suggested by the play 'No, No Nanette' by Frank Mandel." It's been 60 years and the issue - whatever it is - has yet to be resolved.
14 November: Dennis Hopper, who died May 29, had one of his first lead, carry-the-film roles in Curtis Harrington's "Night Tide" (1961), being screened at 8 p.m.
15 November: Otto Preminger's "The Moon Is Blue" (1953), airing at 7:30 a.m., is noted mostly as an envelope-pushing, production code-defying comedy largely because its repeated use of the phrase "professional virgin" among its dialogue. But, for me, it stands out as the only film to fully exploit the charm of its female lead, Maggie McNamara - as said "professional virgin." It's a role that McNamara plays as if she were the thinking man's Debbie Reynolds. (One could eaasly see Deb in the role.) David Niven (above with Maggie) and William Holden co-starred.
McNamara, sadly, had a brief career. A year after "The Moon Is Blue," she made Jean Negulesco's wildly popular "Three Coins in the Fountain" and then Philip Dunne's "Prince of Players" (1955), in which she played Edwin Booth's wife opposite Richard Burton. ("Players" pops up regularly on the Fox Movie Channel.) Her next, fourth and last film role would come ten years later with a bit part in Preminger's "The Cardinal" (1963).
And that was it.
She would die 15 years later, working as a typist. I've no idea what happened. It's never been documented. But she deserved better.
20 November: Sir Carol Reed fetishizes not only the body of delectable Gina Lollobrigida in his sensational "Trapeze" (1956) but also the muscled bods of his two male stars, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, both of whom wear skin-tight, leaving-little-to-the-imagination leotards as trapeze artists touring Europe. It's difficult to imagine any modern male star taking such risks. Remember, for "300," Gerard Butler and company had to have their torsos computer-enhanced.
21 November: A good day for moviewatching... Mervyn LeRoy directs Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra in "The Devil at Four O'Clock" (1961), airing at 3:30 a.m.; Ronald Reagan tries out a musical with Virginia Mayo in Buce Humberstone's "She's Working Her Way Through College" (1952), at noon; Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue play parent-bullied lovers in Delmer Daves' iconic "A Summer Place" (1959) at 2 p.m. and, topping the day, Cary Grant and Betsy Drake charm in two titles - Norman Taurog's recently unearthed "Room for One More" (1952) and Don Hartman's "Every Girl Should Get Married" (1949), shown back-to-back starting at 8. (That's Cary above on the set of "Room for One More.")
22 November: Two fluff comedies air starting at 3 p.m. - Delbert Mann's "That Touch of Mink" (1962), the film that started the unwelcomed "Doris Day is a virgin" joke (no thanks to Oscar Lavant), and Curtis Bernhardt's "Kisses for My President" (1964), with Polly Bergen as the Commander in Chief and Fred MacMurray as the First Man.
26 November: Two late Ava Garden titles, starting at midnight. - Terence Young's historical drama "Mayerling" (1968), starring Catherine Deneuve and Omar Sharif, and John Huston's "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" (1972), with Paul Newman. La Gardner plays Lily Langtree here.
Much, much later in the day - and into the wee hours of 27 November - there are back-to-back screenings of Gillo Pontecorvo's "Burn!" (1969), with Marlon Brando; Terence Malick's "Days of Heaven" (1978), with Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard; Miachael Laughlin's "Strange Behavior" (1981) with Michael Murphy, Louise Fletcher and Dan Shor, and Alan Rudolph's sublime, shot-in-Memphis "Remember My Name" (1978), with Geraldine Chaplin cast as a tough, edgy, very quirky woman (newly out of jail), Tony Perkins (cast here with his wife Berry Berenson) as the man she stalks, and the songs of Alberta Hunter. Don't miss it. It all starts at 10:45 p.m.
27 November: Sit down in front of your at 8 p.m. and prepare to sit there through 7 a.m. the next morning. Turner has planned an all-night party, featuring a bunch of singing mamas - George Cukor's "A Star Is Born" (1954), with Judy; William Wyler's "Funny Girl" (1968), with Barbra; Mervyn LeRoy's "Gypsy" (1962) with Roz (above in "Rose's Turn"), and Charles Vidor's "Love Me Or Leave Me" (1955), with Doris.
28 November: St. John Legh Clowes' terrific "No Orchids for Miss Blandish" (1948), a white-knuckle kidnap drama about a snatched heiress that was remade by Robert Aldrich in 1971 as "The Grissom Gang."
29 November: Vintage Mitchum! Peter Yates' "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," a melancholy policier in which Mitchum not only excels as an aging thug turned police informer but also generously shares the screen with a very good Peter Boyle and Richard Jordan. Next up: December!