Tuesday, March 01, 2011

turner classic movies. march. 2011.

With February's "31 Days of Oscar," my least favorite Turner event, out of the way, the premiere movie channel can get back to what it does best - showing movies of all sorts without bias. I mean, Presley's "Clambake" (1967) gets the star spot - the 8 p.m. slot - on 4 March.

The star of the month is the irresistible Jean Harlow, seen here on the studio backlot with her snazzy convertible; with the magnetic James Cagney in William A. Wellman's "The Public Enemy" (1931), screening at 8 p.m. (est) on 15 January, and with the inimitable Wallace Beery in George Cukor's "Dinner at Eight" (1933) airing at 8 p.m. on 29 March: A month after my own heart, March kicks off with three favorites which I find compulsively watchable - Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" (1959), a rare film which becomes more enjoyable with each viewing (12:30 p.m., 3 March); Robert Aldrich's "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962), a camp fest noted for its unusual restraint (9:30 p.m., 7 March), and Vincente Minnelli's "Two Weeks in Another Town" (also 1962, a very good year), an obscenely watchable industry pic (5 p.m., 8 March). Michael Gordon's "Pillow Talk," released by Universal in October of 1959, is largely regarded as something of a first - "the fluff sex comedy," a modern subgenre of the time-tested battle-of-the-sexes romps. It was a huge hit, both a turning point in Doris Day's career and an on-going source of references for subsequent comedies trying to be just like it.

But predating it by a few months was Charles Walter's "Ask Any Girl," a working-girl lark released by Metro in May of that year. This difficult-to-see title airs on Turner at 8 p.m., 9 March.

Shirley MacLaine, in a role that Day would patent, plays a career woman and romantic naïf caught between two men - both her bosses, who happen also to be brothers. She's interested in nabbing dashing Gig Young, see, but leans on his older brother, stuffy David Niven, for pointers and guidance, not realizing that he's really the guy for her - or that, in fact, he's interested.

On the sidelines is Rod Taylor, delightfully on the prowl.
"Ask Any Girl," a bit of wispy fun with a distant relationship to "Pygmalion," doesn't have the legendary reputation of "Pillow Talk." It virtually has no reputation at all because it's been almost impossible to see. But it's worth searching out, if only for the ace supporting cast - Elisabeth Fraser, Dodie Heath (fresh off "The Diary of Anne Frank" that year), Jim Backus, Claire Kelly, and the sublime Carman Phillips (left).

There are a couple interesting connections here: MacLaine previously appeared with Niven in Michael Anderson's "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956) and with Phillips in Vincente Minnelli's "...Some Came Running" (1958). Niven would play opposite Day a year later in Walters' "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960), and Young, of course, was something of a Day staple, appearing with her in Gordon Douglas' "Young at Heart" (1954), George Seaton's "Teacher's Pet" and Gene Kelly's "Tunnel of Love" (both 1958) and Delbert Mann's "That Touch of Mink" (1962).

The British "kitchen sink" drama of the 1960s, an inherently dreary but not unappealing genre, hit something of a peak with Tony Richardson's superb filming of the Shelagh Delaney play, "A Taste of Honey" (1961). The singular Rita Tushingham broke through with this film as the indomitable Jo (inspired perhaps by Louisa May Alcott's Jo?), ably supported by Dora Bryan and Robert Stephens as the contemptible adults in her life), but most memorable of all is Murray Melvin, playing arguably the first unabashed gay man on screen as Jo's closest friend.

"A Taste of Honey" screens at 10:15 p.m., 10 March.

Two always reliable players, Melvyn Douglas and Joan Blondell, team in Alexander Hall's charming romance, "Good Girls Go to Paris" (1936). Don't miss it at 10:30 a.m., 11 March.

A must-see double-bill screens on 12 March, beginning at 5:30 p.m. - Howard Hawks' great "Rio Bravo" (1959), which features (among other things) incredible chemistry among John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan and Angie Dickinson (quite an atypical crew), and Rouben Mamoulian scintillating musical, "Love Me Tonight" (1932) with the divine Jeanette MacDonald, perfectly cast opposite Maurice Chevalier, with Charlie Ruggles on hand for good measure. A quartet of films about Joan of Arc dominate Turner's schedule on 13 March, kicking off at 8 p.m. with Victor Fleming's "Joan of Arc" (1948), starring Ingrid Bergman (and José Ferrer), followed by Otto Preminger's "Saint Joan" (1957); with Jean Seberg (above with Richard Widmark); Carl Theodor Dryer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928), with Renée Falconetti, and Robert Bresson's "LeProces de Jeanne D'arc" (1962), starring Florence Delay.

John Kerr, one of the more interesting young actors of the 1950s, had a relatively brief film career and one of his titles was Curtis Bernhardt's remake of "Waterloo Bridge" - "Gaby," a 1956 Leslie Caron vehicle (disliked by Caron), airing at 4:30 p.m. on 14 March. Edna Ferber's durable "So Big" was filmed three times, first in 1924 by Charles Brabin with Colleen Moore as Ferber's gutsy heroine and also in 1953 by Robert Wise, a particularly weak version starring Jane Wyman. But the second remains the best - directed by William A. Wellman in 1932 and with a remarkable performance by Barbara Stanwyck (shown in the photos with Dickie Moore, playing her son, and Mae Madison), airing at 8 a/m/, 16 March. Look for Bette Davis, excellent in a small but telling role.

By the way, Richard Beymer, who played the older version of the son in the Wyman version, would be cast by Wise again nearly a decade later as the hero in his 1961 Academy Award-winner, "West Side Story."

Gene Nelson (left), for my money the best male dancer on screen ever (apologies to Fred and the other Gene), had a modest career as a film director and Turner airs what may well be his best effort - "Your Cheatin' Heart" (1964), the Hank Williams biopic starring George Hamilton - at 8:30 a.m., 19 March.

At 4:15 a.m. on 20 March, Turner airs Bud Yorkins' film of "Never Too Late," the stage comedy with the inimitable Paul Ford and Maureen O'Sullivan recreating their Broadway roles as a late middle-aged couple dealing with the wife's unexpected pregnancy. It provided a rare (the only?) leading role for Ford. Jim Hutton and Connie Stevens co-star as the younger second generation dealing with ... pregnancy problems. Good fun.

I'm a sucker for anything with Roz Russell and, this month, Turner airs W.S. Van Dyke II's aptly titled "The Feminine Touch" (1941) at 1:45 p.m, 21 March. And, finally, the month winds down, just as it started - with a handful of titles that will have me committed to my Sony Bravia. And they are... Samuel Fuller's crack-up masterwork, "Shock Corridor" (1963), starring Constance Towers and Peter Breck; Vincent Sherman's enchanting homefront comedy (1:30 p.m., 23 March); "Pillow to Post" (1945), starring an equally enchanting Ida Lupino and the Fonda-like William Prince (at 11:45 p.m., 25 March); Delbert Mann's "Dear Heart" (1964), an intelligent soaper well-cast with Glenn Ford and Geraldine Page (below), plus Angela Lansbury and Barbara Nichols (4 p.m., 27 March), and Herbert Ross' intoxicating "The Last Of Sheila" (1973), an all-star "fluff thriller" penned by no less than Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim (10:30 p.m., 31 March).


jbryant said...

Yeah, I'm always glad when the Oscar month is over, too, although at least this time I finally recorded Taurog's SKIPPY, which I've never seen.

I'd like to note March 10, about half of which is given over to films by Gregory La Cava, mostly the less celebrated of his 30s titles. But there's some goodies in there: Mary Astor in the pleasant light comedy/drama SMART WOMAN; the racy BED OF ROSES, with Constance Bennett and Pert Kelton; the completely awesome THE HALF-NAKED TRUTH (one of my favorite titles ever) with Lee Tracy, Lupe Velez, Eugene Pallette and Frank Morgan; Helen Hayes in James M. Barrie's WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS; and the one post-30s effort on the schedule, La Cava's last film, 1947's LIVING IN A BIG WAY, which I think is criminally underrated. I don't know if anyone agrees with me, because I've never come across anyone else who's seen it. It's a mish-mash of shifting tones, but it feels idiosyncratic and personal. La Cava's sensibilities remind me of McCarey, which is high praise in my book.

Also worth mentioning: the TCM premiere of Ophul's CAUGHT on 3/21.

wwolfe said...

Wow - jbryant may be my undiscovered twin. I, too, love Gregor LaCava, think "The Half-Naked Truth" is a classic title (and terrific movie), and agree that he is reminiscent of McCarey. Plus, I just set a reminder notice at TCM for "Caught," which I saw 30-some years ago at the beloved Theater 80 in Manhattan and have wanted to see again ever since. I'd also mention the several pre-Code "racy" Loretta Young titles. Pre-Code Loretta is just about always the best of her work.

jbryant said...

Pre-Code Loretta is pretty easy on the eyes, too. :) I really like her in MIDNIGHT MARY in particular.

Always nice to find a fellow LaCava/McCarey fan. A few years ago at LACMA, I got to see a double feature of BED OF ROSES and AFFAIRS OF CELLINI, the latter introduced by Fay Wray, 90-something but still sharp as a tack. A great evening.

ameyer13 said...

Hollywood past and present is entrancing in every way that is humanly possible. Black in white elegance with perfect little pouts and glistening eyes tells the a story of where we've come. Today movies are a bit more graphical and special effects turn us away from the story line from time to time. There is no real way to associate the films of old to modern day drama. There was a sophistication in the entertainers and the films they poured their hearts into. Turner Classic Movies is such a wonderful place to spend an evening. It's like taking a step back through time and living in the eyes of someone else if the imagination is broad enough. I've recently upgraded to HD and have Dish due to the ability to receive this channel and so many others in HD which is,let me tell you magnificent if you have not seen it yet. I learned about the element of modern technology such as high definition from work through Dish Network and was somewhat surprised as to how much I was in awe my the clarity of the pictures of old. I've been especially enjoying TCM with this fascinating enhancement.