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).