Movies in April puts the spotlight on Ray Milland, its star of the month, screening 30 films that spanned a 22-year career, including his Oscar-winning role in Billy Wilder's "The Lost Weekend (1945), pictured here and airing at 8 p.m. (est) on 26 April.
The month kicks off with a mini-tribute to Jane Powell, one of MGM's more endearing musical-comedy talents who, from where I sit, was never fully appreciated by Metro. (Those deadly "That's Entertainment!" films kept pushing Judy, Fred and Gene, while ignoring such essentials Powell, Howard Keel and The Champions.) Worth checking out, Powell-wise, are Leslie Kardos' "Small Town Girl" (1953), airing on 1 April at 6 a.m.; definitely Roy Rowland's "Hit the Deck" (1955) at 4 p.m. and Roy Del Ruth's "Three Sailors and a Girl" (1953), with the indispensible Gene Nelson, at 6 p.m.
In his Friday, October 25, 1963 review, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote:
"Obviously, Mervyn LeRoy did a little bit more than merely place his camera in the Helen Hayes Theater and shoot a straight running photograph of a performance of 'Mary, Mary' to get a film of the Jean Kerr comedy. But you would hardly be able to tell it from the rigidly setbound quality of his film version of the long-run stage play, which came to the (Radio City) Music Hall yesterday."
That just about says it all. Rarely has a film of a play been as faithful as LeRoy's film version of Kerr's urbane comedy, which was the most celebrated stage farce of its time. Turner airs it at 10 p.m., 1 April. As Crowther indicated, the work of LeRoy's art director John Beckman and set decorator Ralph S. Hurst borrows heavily from the play's famed designer, Oliver Smith. Debbie Reynolds took over Barbara Bel Geddes's stage role, but the play's leading men, Barry Nelson and Michael Rennie, were back on that familiar set.
Yes, the film - about a divorced couple brought together for income tax purposes - is stagebound, but that's not necessarily bad. I like the idea of being transported back to the Helen Hayes Theater in 1960. The film perfectly approximates the joy of attending a matinee performance of a stylish, sophisticated comedy.
Jean Kerr, who wrote "Mary, Mary," was of course the wife of the Times' great theater critic, Walter Kerr, and her adventures as the wife of a critic has been the subject of two other films - Charles Walters' bubbly "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960), with Doris Day and David Niven as Jean's and Walter's on-screen surrogages, and Don Weis' "Critic's Choice," the film version of the 1960 Ira Levin stage comedy with Bob Hope as a theater critic whose wife, played by Lucille Ball, writes her own play.
"Secret Ceremony" (1968), a helping of fabulous trash directed by Joseph Losey and starring Elizabeth Taylor and Mia Farrow as a faux mother-daughter team and Robert Mitchum, airs at 2 a.m. on 2 April. I suggest you either stay up late or tape it.
Joshua Logan is not exactly beloved by cinéphiles but I like his filmography and his movie version of "Tall Story" (1960), the play by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse which he directed on Broadway, remains a hugely watchable collegiate delight. Jane Fonda, in her film debut, plays a girl who goes to college largely to snare a tall man. Anthony Perkins, in the role created on Broadway by Hans Conreid, is the basketball star she hopes to ensnare. There's top support here by Ray Walston, Anne Jackson, Murray Hamilton, the playwright Marc Connelly,Joe E. Ross and, in a small bit, Tom Laughlin and, an even smaller role, Robert Redford.
Perkins made "Tall Story" the same year that Hitchcock's "Psycho" was released. The two roles could not be more dissimilar and we all know which one took. Immediately following "Tall Story" are two more Perkins titles, both directed by Anatole Litvak - "Goodbye Again" (1961) and "Five Miles to Midnight" (1963), both in glorious black-and-white and pretty glorious in themselves.
You can't go wrong with Billy Wilder's "The Major and the Minor" (1942), starring what is probably my favorite actress, Ginger Rogers, in a comic tour-de-force. It airs at 8 p.m. on 5 April. A few days later, on 7 April, James Garner commands the spotlight on Turner with a day of screenings that culminates with a 6:15 p.m. screening of Delbert Mann's intriguing "Mister Buddwing" (1966) perhaps Garner's artiest film - an Evan Hunter story which pairs the actor with Jean Simmons, Katherine Ross, Susanne Pleshette and Angela Lansbury.
Elia Kazan honoros his heritage with the stirring personal epic (all 168 minutes of it), "America, America" (1963) at 12:20 a.m. on 10 April.
As for the rest of the day, Turner Classic Movies will preempt its scheduled programming for a memorial tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, screening the following titles (all times Eastern) through 11 April:
6 a.m. – Lassie Come Home (1943)
7:30 a.m. – National Velvet (1944)
10 a.m. – Conspirator (1952)
11:30 a.m. – Father of the Bride (1950)
1:15 a.m. – Father’s Little Dividend (1951)
2:45 p.m. – Raintree County (1957)
6 p.m. – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
8 p.m. – BUtterfield 8 (1960)
10 p.m. – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
12:30 a.m. – Giant (1956)
4 a.m. – Ivanhoe (1952)
A shameless, obscenely entertaining guilty pleasure, "Home Before Dark" is a tangy, campy soap opera in which director Mervyn LeRoy out-Sirks Douglas Sirk.
This handsome 1958 Warner Bros. film, which Turner airs at 2:30 p.m. on 11 April, deserves the success - and the following - that Sirk's "Imitation of Life" enjoyed a year later. Instead, it has fallen into oblivion. Who knows what happened? Perhaps, at 136 minutes, the film was a tad too long to be fully companionable for audiences. Too long? Personally, I wouldn't sacrifice a minute.
Or perhaps Joseph F. Biroc's handsome black-and-white cinematography put off people who were expecting Technicolored glamour. Or maybe, Jean Simmons, its leading lady, was more of an actress than a Star, unlike "Imitation of Life's" Lana Turner who clearly relished the high-camp theatricality of Sirk's piece.
The skeletal plot, written by Eileen and Robert Bassing (based on a novel by Eileen), is also something of a heartbreaker, with Simmons cast as Charlotte, a woman unwanted by her pretentious husband Arnold (Dan O'Herlihy), who conspires with her stepmother Inez (Mabel Albertson) and stepsister Joan (Rhonda Fleming) to steal Charlotte's inheritance from her father. Charlotte is especially fragile, having just been released from a state mental facility in Massachusetts - and it becomes clear what drove her there. Exacerbating matters, her husband is having an affair with the stepsister.
LeRoy masterfully exploits the juiciness of his material, taking it into camp when necessary, such as the delicious sequence in which, Charlotte, more unstable than usual, has her hair done up like Joan's platinum 'do, buys a dress that Joan would wear and generally makes a fool of herself at a dinner party - all to impress Arnold and win his love.
Simmons, who gives a quiet, relatively simple performance considering the material, won the New York Film Critics award for this top-notch, seriously neglected film.
"Home Before Dark" will be sandwiched by Paul Henried's juicy Bette Davis vehicle,"Dead Ringer" (1964) and Vincent Sherman's Paul Newman-starrer, "The Young Philadelphians" (1959).
RKO raided MGM for its casting of James V. Kerns sprightly film musical, "Two Tickets to Broadway" (1951), with a nifty score by Sammy Cahn (who came up with the story for the film) and Jule Styne. Janet Leigh, Tony Martin, Eddie Bracken, Gloria DeHaven and Ann Miller head the cast of this unsung charmer, with the inimitable Barbara Lawrence (a Fox contract player) on hand for good measure.
"Hostile Witness," airing at 3:30 a.m. on 13 April, is a play that star-of-the-month Ray Milland first appeared on London's West End in 1966 and, later than year, moved to Broadway's Music Box Theater. It played on Broadway for 156 performances, after which Milland toured the U.S. with a road production and then made it into a film, directing it himself. Milland plays an attorney with a knack for successfully defending guilty criminals. In his New York Times review on 18 February, 1966, Stanley Kaufmann called Jack Roffey's play "sturdy and servicable" - an example of "that hardy perennial, the courtroom melodrama."
For something lighter, there's George Marshall's comic Civil War novelty, "Adance to the Rear" (1964) with the appealing cast of Glenn Ford, Stella Stevens and Melvyn Douglas, at 11:30 p.m. on 13 April, followed immediately by the early Mitzi Gaynor vehicle, "Golden Girl" (1951), directed by Lloyd Bacon. Jack Lemmon has one of his more curious film roles in Robert Parrish's "Fire Down Below" (1957) in which he and Robert Mitchum are the unlikely owners of a tramp steamer with a single passanger - a very shady Rita Hayworth. Well, at least it has a catchy title song. Catch it at 11:30 p.m. on 16 April.
Delmer Daves wore many hats as a filmmaker, which made it impossible to pidgeon-hole him. He often moonlighted as the Douglas Sirk of the teen melodrama and, "Parrish" (1961) is something of his masterwork in this singular genre, what with Troy Donohue in the title role, Claudette Colbert as his mother and Karl Malden, scaring the bejesus out him as his wicked stepfather. Compulsively watchable, "Parrish" airs at 4 p.m. on 17 April.
Speaking of singulr, Chantal Ackerman is highlighted with two works early on 18 April - her towering "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" (1975), with the sublime Dlphine Seyrig as a most unlikely prostitute, and the documentary "Hotel Monterey" (1972), about the residents of that hotel. This invaluable double-bill kicks off at 2 a.m.
Turner, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War this month with 34 titles, offers one of the lesser known at 5 a.m. on 19 April - Phil Karlson's "A Time for Killing" (1967), starring Glenn Ford and Inger Stevens.
Doris Day earns a seven-film tribute on 22 April, with Hy Averback's difficult-to-see "Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?," one of Day's final films, airing at 4:30 p.m. It's all about the infamous New York blackout, during which she somehow got pregnant. Terry-Thomas and Robert Morse co-star.
The month winds down with Henry Koster's "The Inspector General" (1949) with a very good Danny Kaye at 9:30 a.m. on 27 April; Phil Karlson's "The Phenix City Story" (1955) at 10 a.m. on 29 April and another Glenn Ford title, Delbert Mann's "Dear Heart" (1964) at 4 p.m. on the same day.
Moving into May, you don't want to miss the irristable Stanely Donen film musical, "Give a Girl a Break" (1953) at 4:30 a.m. on 1 May. It stars Debbie Reynolds, Bob Fosse and The Champions - Marge and Gower.