Saturday, January 28, 2012

cinema obscura: Bill Persky's "Serial" (1980)

Cyra McFadden's compulsively readable "The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1977) actually began life as a serial. Its 52 chapters appeared each week in Marin County's grand alt-weekly, the Pacific Sun (the West Coast's answer to The Village Voice and an alternative nearly as old as the Voice), and the series deliciously satirized the relentless trendiness of Marin and its denizens, circa the '70s.

The material was too good not to be filmed and it was inevitably tackled in 1980 by Bill Persky, a TV hand ("Alice," "That Girl") new to films. With its title shortened, "Serial" would be the only theatrical film directed by Persky, but it's a minor gem, extremely well-cast.

Tuesday Weld and Martin Mull (in a rare leading-man role) play the Holroyds - Kate and Harvey - a groovy couple forever trying to define the parameters of their relationship. They're into shared responsibility and seem to have it all together. But Kate's consciousness-raising group (Sally Kellerman, Pamela Bellwood, Barbara Rhodes and the priceless Nita Talbot) thinks otherwise. They convince her that she's suffering from "negative family dynamics" and that she needs her own space.

And so as Kate and Harvey experiment with an open marriage and new relationships (Kate with an Argentinian dog clipper), their daughter Joanie (Jennifer McAlister) joins the Church of Oriental Christian Harmony and their assorted friends dabble in vegetarianism, actualism, lesbianism and homoerotic cycle gangs.

Persky gives his talented, attractive cast free reign and lets everyone hang loose, successfully sustaining the funny ideas behind McFadden's observations. At a breezy 92 minutes, the film zips along and stays true to its R rating.

BTW, the movie year 1980 was a particularly good one for screen comedy. In addition to "Serial," the year gave us an eclectic array including - here goes - Sidney Lumet's "Just Tell Me What You Want," Richard Benner's "Happy Birthday, Gemini," John Landis' "The Blues Brothers," the Zucker-Abrahams' "Airplane," Michael Pressman's "Those Lips, Those Eyes," Jonathan Demme's "Melvin and Howard," Ronald Neame's "Hopscotch," Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories," Howard Zeiff's "Private Benjamin," Harold Ramis' "Caddyshack," Colin Higgins' "Nine to Five," Robert Zemeckis' "Used Cars," Buck Henry's "First Family," Jay Sandrich's "Seems Like Old Times," Anne Bancroft's "Fatso," Gilbert Cates' "The Last Married Couple in America," Ronald Maxwell's "Little Darlings," Brian DePalma's "Home Movies," Alan Rudolph's "Roadie" and Art Linson's "Where the Buffalo Roam."

As for Cyra McFadden, she went on to write a biweekly column for the San Francisco Examiner in the 1980s and produced the acclaimed memoir, "Rain or Shine: A Family Memoir" in 1986, detailing her childhood traveling with parents who worked on the rodeo circuit.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

façade: James Farentino

For some elusive reason, the recent passing of James Farentino (1938-2012) has me haunted.

I guess from where I sat, he had everything - good looks, talent, you name it - and yet throughout his bumpy career, he remained...

an almost leading man.

He was married four times - most famously to Elizabeth Ashely (before she hooked up with George Peppard) and also, for quite a while, to Michele Lee. In their own way, Farentino and Lee were the Lunt and Fontanne of the '70s, only groovier, natch. He was also one of the many actors who challenge Marlon Brando and dare to attempt "A Streetcar Named Desire" - in 1973 - for which he received a Theatre World Award.

But, movies, which should have been his prime venue, somehow evaded his appeal.

News of his death immediately brought to mind two films, both lost of course, that he made in the late 1960s when screen stardom seemed within reach - Brian G. Hutton's "The Pad - and How to Use It" (1966) and Fred Coe's "Me, Natalie" (1969). And both are quite wonderful.

Let's start with "Me, Natalie," a vehicle for Patty Duke which should have rehabilitated her professional reputation after the disaster of Mark Robson's "Valley of the Dolls" (1967) but didn't. Too bad. The film is a minor gem and Duke tears into her role of an ugly duckling with the kind of passion that wins Oscars - or used to.

But she did receive a well-deserved Golden Globe for her efforts.

Duke is Natalie Miller, a girl with what she perceives to be a nose problem. Her nose isn't big, but it has a hump - and this is the source of all her problems, her self-deprecating humor and her general discontent. When she moves out of her parents' home and into her own apartment, Natalie finally comes into her own. For one thing, she meets Farentino's handsome David, whose attention gives her the confidence she needs but whose presence creates a different set of problems.

Farentino, pictured in a scene from the movie above, is effortlessly dashing as a guy who seems too good to be true - and is.

Surrounding Duke, in addition to Farentino, is a stellar New York cast - Nancy Marchand and Phil Sterling as her doting parents; Martin Balsam as her understanding uncle; Solome Jens as Natalie's co-worker at a club questionably called the Topless Bottom Club; Elsa Lanchester as her eccentric landlady; then-newcomers Bob Balaban, Catherine Burns and Deborah Winters as assorted denizens in Natalie's universe, and most curious of all, Al Pacino in his first film role as a jerk who uses Natalie.

"Me, Natalie" was produced by Stanley Shapiro, who came up with the story (fleshed out by scenarist A. Martin Zweiback) and who also wrote a couple of Doris Day's popular '60s comedies. The director, Fred Coe, meanwhile. began life as a Broadway producer - he oversaw Anne Bancroft on stage in "The Miracle Worker" and "Two for the Seesaw" and produced the 1962 film version of the former - but was active in TV direction in the late 1940s and throughout the '50s. (He also produced the classic "Mr. Peepers" series.) Coe made an auspicious movie directing debut in 1965 with "A Thousand Clowns," followed by "Me, Natalie." He also directed the 1971 TV movie version of "All the Way Home," based on a play (by way of the James Agee novel) that he produced on Broadway.

Then there's "The Pad - and How to Use it" - and how it got to the screen.

Here goes... In 1964, two delightful one-act plays by Peter Shaffer opened on Broadway, titled "The Public Eye"/"The Private Ear."

Or perhaps, it was the other way around.

Shaffer also wrote "Equus," "Amadeus," "The Royal Hunt of the Sun" and "Five Finger Exercise," all plays eventually made into movies. Universal, which was busy in those days scouting Broadway productions, immediately snapped up the film rights to "The Public Eye"/"The Private Ear" and then didn't know what to do with two one-act comedies. Both were eventually made into very pleasing, if little-seen movies.

"The Private Ear" was produced for film by Ross Hunter in 1966 - an atypical excursion for him into small-scale moviemaking. Hutton was hired to direct and the film was eventually retitled "The Pad and How to Use it" - a title obviously inspired by Richard Lester's successful "The Knack and How to Get It."

The thin but appealing plot - about a shy man who finally has the nerve to approach a woman while at a concert, only to lose her to his more attreactive friend - provided material in which the film's young stars truly excelled: Britain's Brian Bedford as the nerd, Farentino as the hunky friend and especially Julie Sommars as the woman.

Essentially a glorified TV movie that was released, albeit briefly, to theaters, "The Pad and How to Use It" deserves to be rescued and seen.

Farentino had nothing to do with the companion piece, "The Public Eye" which was finally filmed in 1972. It had better luck than "The Pad."

Well, sort of. "The Public Eye," its title retained for the screen, was adapted for the screen by Shaffer himself and directed by the estimable Sir Carol Reed. (The film was titled "Follow Me" in all other countries.)

In it, a dull British banker named Charles (Michael Jayston) hires Julian Cristo (Topol), an odd, eccentric private detective, to follow his American wife, Belinda (Mia Farrow), whom he suspects is cheating on him. When Belinda becomes aware that she is being followed, she's flattered by the attention and starts to play games with her potential paramour.

The private eye figures everything out: The wife isn't unfaithful at all, but merely looking for something that her husband isn't providing - something that she now seems to be getting from the detective, of all people.

"The Public Eye" made it into theaters - but just barely. Universal opened in unannounced and without any advance critics' screenings. For a while, it popped up occasionally on the Sundance Film Channel.

"Me, Natalie," "The Pad" and "The Public Eye" all remain teasingly inaccessible. It took the sad news of James Farentino to restore their fleeting pleasures to my memory. And to remind me of the actor himself.

Friday, January 20, 2012

cinema obscura: James Frawley's "The Christian Licorice Store" (1971)


Beau Bridges, one of my favorite actors, mades waves as a would-be hippie in his breakthrough film, the otherwise awful "For the Love Of Ivy" (1968).

Hollywood noticed - well, at least Norman Jewison did - and responded with two lead roles in a couple of promising titles, Jewison's "Gaily, Gaily" (1969) and Hal Ashby's "The Landlord" (1970), produced by Jewison. Both are really fine, dissimilar films, but in their day, each came and went, without making much impact.

Then something happened that can be described as only bad karma. Bridges made two films that virtually no one saw - Philip Leacock's Austalian-made "Adam's Woman," a 1970 film which Warners never bothered to release, and James Frawley's ultra-trendy "The Christian Licorice Store," which played only in Boston in 1971 and then was promptly shelved by the now-defunct Cinema Center Films.

"The Christian Licorice Store," the more intriguing of the two, opened November 24th, 1971 at Boston's Paris Cinema, and the Boston Globe dismissed it as "flat."

I caught up with it in New York in 1977 when exhibitor extraordinaire, the late Ralph Donnelly, opened it for a week at his First Avenue Screening Room as part of a series of hard-luck, unreleased films (which also included Paul Bartel's "Private Parts," a guilty pleasure that's still missing). Anyway, I liked it, but frankly, much of my appreciation for "The Christian Licorice Store," written by Floyd Mutrux, had everything to do with the fact that I was rooting for Beau. And for Gilbert Roland, that incorrigible veteran actor who was making something of a comeback - or at least trying to.

In it, Bridges plays Franklin Cane, a professional tennis player whose mentor/trainer is Jonathan (Roland), who himself was once a great tennis champ and now is intent on molding Franklin into his own likeness.

Much of the film follows Franklin through the celebrity territory of non-stop parties, where he meets a celeb photographer (model Maud Adams in her film debut) and where he abandons himself to a hedonistic lifestyle, crippling his future.

"The Christian Licorice Store" includes one wild sex scene (staged on a trampoline) and several notable cameos - by then-budding actor Allan Arbus and by filmmakers Jean Renoir and Monte Helman. Yes, very trendy.

I've no idea who or what owns this film now, as Cinema Center went kaput. Other titles in its library were bought up by other studios. But this one has been missing in action just about ever since it was completed.

Hopefully, someday, it will be unearthed - hopefully for Beau, who is in his prime here as a promising young actor with movie-star allure to spare.

Notes in Passing: (1)James Frawley followed "The Christian Licorice Store" with Dennis Hopper's "Kid Blue" (1973) and the Joe Bologna-Stockard Channing romp, "The Big Bus"(1976) before finally hitting it big with "The Muppet Movie" (1979). Of late, he's been directing mostly TV stuff. (2) Beau Bridges is currently on Broadway as J.B. Biggley (the Rudy Vallee role) in the current revival of the Abe Burrows-Frank Loesser musical, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." (3) Ralph Donnelly passed on September 21st, 2007, at age 75 at his home in Oldsmar, Fla. Among his many exhibition triumphs in New York was his stint as president of Cinema 5 theaters, the Gotham chain created by Donald Rugoff.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Thank you to God for making me an athiest!"

As much as I liked provocatuer extraordinaire Ricky Gervais beforehand, his infamous fadeout declaration to God on the night of the 2011 Golden Globes ceremony sealed the deal. In the two prior hours, he had the good sense (and good taste) to rib the aging ingénues of "Sex and the City 2," the insufferably self-important Robert Downey, Jr., those Scientologist actors plagued by pesky rumors and, of course, Mel Gibson. This was Gervais' second outing at the GGs and I clearly looked forward to his third.

The lesson learned: Never have high expectations.

Gervais was noticably neutured in Sunday night's shameless giveaway. He was, at best, borderline snarky. And his harshest one-liners were leveled at an easy target - Kim Kardashian. "The Golden Globes are to the Oscars what Kim Kardashian is to Kate Middleton," Gervais quipped. "A bit trashier, a bit drunker and more easily bought."

Huh? For one thing, Kim Kardashian is not known as a drunk, Ricky. For another, she has nothing to do with movies. And who's not to say that Kate Middleton isn't trashy in private or cannot be "bought"? Better to poke fun at one of Hollywood's more deserving frauds, you know the kind that the media fawns over and lionizes without completely vetting.

To her credit, Kardashian took the gratuitous insult in stride. According to Bang Showbiz, Kim found the routine "hilarious." Well, Ricky, I know of at least one person within the axis of the film industry who has, um, class.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

forever, woody

As 2011 crept away, I elected to go through my movie paraphrenalia and do a little purging. Among what I call my "celebrity letters," I found five from Woody Allen, four of them handwritten (and one on legal-size yellow paper). They all brought back memories of the Allen movies I reviewed and how wonderful it felt to be validated by the filmmaker.

Here's one which was his response to a column about how we all tend to connect - and identify - with those elusive, yet somehow familiar shadows on the screen, one of whom for me back then was ... Woody. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

vertiginous intellectuality

I came to David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" with an eager anticipation that he would somehow conjur up the juiciness of "Dead Ringers," his wicked 1988 examination of twin libidinous gynocologists (both played by Jeremy Irons!), and somehow top himself.

But, no, "A Dangerous Mind" in which the ever-adventurous Cronenberg traces the birth of psychoanalysis (and, by extension, the curious pleasures of sexual sadomasochism) isn't the playful exercise that I expected. It is a bit more literal-minded - and, surprisingly, middle-brow - dealing as it does with the protégé/mentor relationship of Carl Jung (a watchful Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (an astonishing Vigo Mortensen), before they became professinal frenemies, and the interesting case study, the hugely neurotic Sabina Spielrein (an aptly feral and theatrical Keira Knightley), who came between them.

Sabina preferred punishing sex and found a willing partner in her psychoanalyst, Jung, but their taboo sex acts (always staged fully clothed) come across as curiously discreet and a tad dainty. (Rarely has sex seemed so obligatory.) Still, it was enough for Sabina to pursue a career in psychoanalysis herself, verifying the suspicion that, egad, most shrinks themselves are possibly damanged in the head.

Christopher Hampton adapted his play, "The Talking Cure," (a title that says all, in the case of this movie), working in elements from John Kerr's book, "A Most Dangerous Method." The talk - and there's a lot of it - is both super intelligent and kinda filthy, with the tony characters managing to work the words "penis" and "vagina" into most conversations.

Reading this stuff on paper might be slightly arousing but, on screen, it all seems, well, impotent. But I've a hunch that's exactly the point the provocateur Cronenberg wanted to make. Still, I liked his film.

A lot.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

the contrarian: "match me, sidney"

Alexander Mackendrick's atmospheric
"Sweet Smell of Success" (1957) is one of those films that I like but not as much as I'm supposed to.

I mean, what's not to like? The '50s New York ambience (shot in black-&-white, natch, by James Wong Howe) is seductive, and the acting duet of Burt Lancaster as ruthless newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker and Tony Curtis as the weak, fawning publicist Sidney Falco should be enough to get me through the film.

So, again, what's not to like? Well, the plot. Which, for me, is - well - kinda silly. Everything hinges on the fact that J.J. doesn't want his spoiled kid sister, Susan (played by a mink-wrapped Susan Harrison, who looks young enough to be Lancaster's daughter and yet who looks nothing like him at all), to marry a musician with the great name Steve Dallas (a character played with white-bread harmlessness by Martin Milner).

And this is what accounts for this so-called tough film's palpable angst.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

prescient grief

Stephen Daldry's “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” a shrewdly-made polemic linked to 9/11, functions largely as a road movie about an uncommonly bright boy (Thomas Horn) who goes in search of - what?

Relief?

Answers?

Or could it be simply a desperate need to understand "the impenetrable"?

In this case, "the impenetrable" is the loss of his beloved father (Tom Hanks) on that fateful day in one of the Twin Towers.

Oskar Schell (Horn) goes on a journey of grief for which, in some curious way, he was prepared by his doting dad - but which his mother (Sandra Bullock) is simply too distraught to understand. A mystery key that Oskar finds in an envelope left behind by his father, an envelope with one word scrawled rather cryptically on it, ignites his search for, again, what?

The answer - or explanation or solution or clue - is hidden somewhere in New York and among its denizens. And so, Oskar starts his journey.

Daldry, who previously helmed "Billy Elliott," "The Hour" and "The Reader," balances the destructive energy of 9/11 with the lovely redemptive poetry of Oskar's restless, utterly important search.

This delicate balance is handily achieved by the young actor Horn who is completely complicit with his director and who, almost preternaturally, resembles both Hanks and Bullock, particularly Bullock.

"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" goes beyond the trauma of 9/11 to get to the heart of palpable, achingly personal grief.

Turner This Month - Bravo!

The ageless Angela Lansbury - she of the kewpie doll face and the butterfly ability to flit from the ironic to the comic to the darkly tragic - is Turner's Star of the Month, and TCM will showcase her in 28 performances during January and surround her with its usual eclectic mix of films, old and new.

TCM twirls into the New Year, appropriately enough, with Fred and Ginger in George Stevens’ “Swing Time” (1936; airing January 1 @ 6:15 a.m., est.), following it with an irresistible menu of moviewatching - two alert Doris Day comedies that skewer the world of advertising; a lost film directed by Ossie Davis; two late '70s-early '80s titles, one featuring the much-missed Kristy McNichol; a tribute to cinematographer Jack Cardiff (highlighted by his essential work for director Michael Powell); Marilyn, the beginning, middle and end; a mini tribute to Nancy Kwan (sigh!) and, best of all, a few esoteric discoveries.

The week of January 1st

“Lover Come Back” (1961; Jan. 1 @ 8p.m.) Delbert Mann's Tashlin-like comedy about two advertizing pros going head-to-head to land an account was Doris Day and Rock Hudson's follow-up to their Michael Gordon hit, “Pillow Talk” (1959), which is arguably considered the granddaddy of the modern RomCom. The chemistry that the stars demonstrated in the first film proved to be no fluke as they indulge here in quick ping pong-style repartee and Doris refines her very fine Slow Burn. (Doris' second excursion into advertising, Norman Jewison's "The Thrill of It All," pops up on Turner on Jan. 29.) The film was a reunion not only for Doris and Rock but also for co-stars Jack Kruschen and Edie Adams, who were fresh off Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” (1960). Amusingly, Kruschen and Adams had no scenes together in the Wilder film, and neither do they in Mann’s witty take on advertising ethics. BTW, Kruschen won his role in "The Apartment" because the originally cast Lou Jacobi was too busy appearing on Broadway in "The Tenth Man."

“Lover Come Back” is followed by Richard Thorpe’s faux Hudson-Day flick, “That Funny Feeling” (1965) with Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin having fun with the same comic deceits that ensnarled Doris and Rock. "Roughly Speaking" (1945; January 2 @ 10 a.m.) Michael Curtiz’s still-largely-undiscovered little gem, based on Louise Randall Pierson's decades-spanning, best-selling autobiography, provides Rosalind Russell with one of her earliest and more nuanced feminist roles. Here, she plays a strong woman who happens to be an ordinary woman - a wife and mother devoted to her family. And to her second husband.

What's singular about "Roughly Speaking" is that it is as funny and progressive as it is affecting and heartwarming - and also that it features the inestimable Jack Carson in one of his best - and best-acted - roles of his long, varied and sadly underappreciated career. Here, he plays Russell's second husband, a dreamer who marries a divorced woman with four children. Worth checking out. Worth taping. “Niagara” (1952; January 2 @ 1 a.m.), Once she became a star, Marilyn Monroe played sympathetic roles exclusively, in a quivering manner (check out "The Misfits" on Jan. 28), but early on, she could be bad news for her leading men, as evidenced by Roy Ward Baker’s “Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952) and especially Henry Hathaway’s “Niagara,” in which she plays a particularly nasty little number ready to cash in her damanged husband (a very convincing Joseph Cotton) for someone hotter and younger, while casually intruding upon the lives of a nice married couple, disrupting their honeymoon. The inconvenience she causes is something for which marilyn Monroe would become known in real life. Anyway, MM should have played bad more often.

"Blondie of the Follies"
(1932; January 3 @ 12:15 p.m.) I've a soft spot for Marion Davies whose reputation was gratuitously tarnished and sadly diminished in "Citizen Kane," by a spiteful, self-important Orson Welles, but in reality, she was a first-rate actress and a beguiling screen presence. Case in point: Edmund Goulding's fabulous "Blondie of the Follies." Her affection for her character here is central to Davies' fully-realized performance and she shares some memorable scenes with Robert Montgomery, James Gleason, Zasu Pitts and, in one marvelous sequence, Jimmy Durante.

"The Red Danube” (1949; January 5 @ 9 a.m.) This was the first of five films that Janet Leigh made for director George Sidney; her last was the awful "Bye Bye Birdie," in which Sidney was so enamored of twitchy ingénue Ann-Margret that he blew up her supporting role, ruining surefire material and throwing Leigh under the bus along the way. But in "Danube," Leigh was the ingénue, convincingly playing a young Russian ballerina who, in 1945 Vienna, is beset by KGB agents and people she may not be able to trust. Sidney took care of his young star by surrounding her with Walter Pidgeon, Ethel Barrymore, Peter Lawford and ...

Angela Lansbury!

The Jack Cardiff tribute kicks off with the documentary "Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff" (Jan 5 @ 8 p.m.), followed by screenings of his earliest work.

"Little Darlings"

(1980; Jan. 7 @ 2 p.m.) Director Ron Maxwell elicited two terrific performances from the preternaturally gifted Kristy McNichol - one in "Little Darlings" and a year later in "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" (1981), in which McNichol and Dennis Quaid are well-matched as sister and brother.

In its time, "Little Darlings" seemed like a minor film featuring a major performance. But time has been good to this film. What seemed prurient in 1980 now seems brave and edgy. The material, set in a summer camp for girls, revolves around two - McNichol and Tatum O'Neal - who engage in a competition to see who can lose her virginity first.

Adding to the shock value is the fact that O'Neal is particularly interested in losing it to Armand Assante. This film could never be made today. Never. Look for a preteen Cynthia Nixon as one of the girls cheering on the battling duo (she plays a flower child named Sunshine), but pay more attention to McNichol. The sequence in which she discusses what "the first time" feels like, confessed to the kid who helped her out (an equally young Matt Dillon), is revelatory because of McNichol's acting. (Oddly enough, this scene was always deleted by network television.) Hard to believe, but McNichol will be 50 in September.

The week of January 8th

"Deep in My Heart" (1954, Jan. 8 @ 5:45 p.m.) This is a true curiosity - one of MGM's most ambitious and yet least-known musicals from the 1950s. Directed by Stanley Donen and starring José Ferrer, it tells the story of composer Sigmund Romberg, the operetta king, and does so in a sprawling, leisurely way, running a whopping 132 minutes.

Like "Little Darlings," this is another film that would never get made today - but for clearly different reasons. It is being shown as part of a mini-José Ferrer retrospect, preceded by "I Accuse" (1958), directed the the star, and followed by his Oscar-winning turn in Michael Gordon's "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1950).

"80,000 Suspects" (1963, Jan. 10 @ 3:30 a.m.) Claire Bloom and Bruce Lewis star in this unknown entity about a smallpox epidemic and a disintegrating marriage that plagues one doctor. Val Guest directed it. Ever hear of it? I haven't. It's part of an evening devoted to titles about contagions, including John Struges' "The Satan Bug" (1965, @ midnight), which features a cast of terrific "almost stars" - George Maharis, the divine Anne Francis and Richard Basehart.

"Just You and Me, Kid" (1979, Jan. 10 @ 12:45 p.m.). A delirious example of stunt casting, this Leonard Stern flick went the "Odd Couple" route by pairing George Burns (as an old entertainer, natch) and Brooke Shields (as a runaway). It's negligible. I can barely remember it, except that I interviewed Burns prior to the film's release and he gave me one of his cigars as a souvenir. I still have the cigar. This time in film history was noteworthy for the prevalence of talented young actresses - Shields, the aforementioned McNichol and O'Neal, and Jodie Foster, all of whom had the kind of varied starring-role careers about which older actresses could only fantasize. Shields was particularly effective in Peter Fonda's lost gem, "Wanda Nevada" co-starring Fonda. Nancy Kwan! - A Trilogy (Jan. 11 @ 7 a.m.) The playful Asian actress who broke through in Richard Quine's "The World of Suzie Wong" (1960) and became a genuine Movie Star in Henry Koster's "Flower Drum Song" (1961) is highlighted in three films just as, for some bizarre reason, her career started to recede - Daniel Petrie's "The Main Attraction" (1962), in which co-star Pat Boone finally goes sexy; Philip Leacock's "Tamahine" (1964), a novel play on the "Tammy" films, and Henry Levin's "Honeymoon Hotel" (1964), with The Two Roberts - Goulet and Morse - doing the Hope-Crosby bit.

"Honeymoon Hotel" is followed by the Jack Cardiff-directed Rod Taylor vehicle "The Liquidator" (1966, Jan 11 @ 11:45 a.m.), which is always fun and which actually gets two showings this month (also on Jan. 26). And if you hang around you can get to see two atypical Peter O'Toole films, John Guillermin's "The Day They Robed the Bank of England" (1960, Jan. 11 @ 4:45 p.m.), also starring Aldo Ray, and Gordon Flemyng's "Great Catherine" (1968, Jan. 11@ 6:15 p.m., whose cast of strange bedfellows includes Zero Mostel and Jeanne Moreau. Moving on, it's always nice to encounter Robert Webber in a film and in Freddie Francis' "Hysteria" (1965, Jan 12 @ 8:45 a.m.) he shares the screen with "The Outer Limits'" Anthony Newlands. A quartet of young blondes receive back-to-back showcasing in Alex Segal's "Joy in the Morning" (Yvette Mimieux), Otto Preminger's "Bunny Lake Is Missing" (Carol Lynley), Ralph Nelson's "Once a Thief" (Ann-Margret) and Norman Jewison's "The Cincinnati Kid" (Tuesday Weld and A-M), all from 1965 and all showing on Jan. 12, starting at 12:30 p.m.

Through Cardiff's Eyes. Must-see viewing here. Two films photographed by Jack Cardiff for director Michael Powell - "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" (1942, Jan. 12 @ 8 p.m.) and "A Matter of Life and Death" (1947). And hanky-panky in New York-set apartments seems to be the theme on Jan. 13, kicking off at 7 a.m., with, aptly enough, Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" (1960) followed by Robert Ellis Miller's "Any Wednesday" (1966), Peter Tewksbury's "Sunday in New York," Michael Gordon's "Boys' Night Out" (1962) and Charles Walter's "The Tender Trap" (1955). The combined cast here includes Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Kim Novak, James Garner, Jane Fonda (twice!), Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, Rod Taylor and Jason Robards Jr.

The Week of January 15th

Harry Belafonte was a sometime actor in the 1950s, but he was involved in some intruging projects, such as the two that Turner will air on Jan. 16 - Ranald MacDougall's "The World, the Flesh and the Devil" (airing at 6 a.m.), in which only Inger Stevens, Rod Steiger and Harry are left alive following a nuclear disaster, and Robert Wise's "Odds Against Tomorrow" (@ 11a.m.), a gritty robbery caper also starring Robert Ryan and Shelley Winters. Both were made in 1959. Positioned in-between is one by Belafonte's colleague, Sidney Poiter - Hubert Cornfield's "Pressure Point" (1962, @ 9:30 a.m.), with a very good Bobby Darin as a racist thug pitted against Poitier's tough-love shrink.

"Black Girl" (1972, Jan. 16 @ 11:30 p.m.) In 1966, the great Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene made his first feature-length film, "La Noire de..." - better known in America as "Black Girl" - a powerful social drama about a young African girl demoralized and driven to thoughts of suicide when her job as a maid for a French family relegates her to slave status.

You can't say enough about this film. It's become more precious since Sembene died in June of 2009.

But there was another "Black Girl," one almost as good. Based on the searing play by J.E. Franklin and directed by actor Ossie Davis (his third), this "Black Girl" is a terrificly acted family drama achored by the bravura turns of the wonderful Louise Stubbs, the legendary Claudia MacNeil and Ruby Dee, and the always-underrated Leslie Uggams.

The virutally all-female cast gets a potent shot of testosterone in the form of the imposing, towering Brock Peters.

Franklin's material is touchy stuff, dealing with a racial self-hatred that materializes during the ugly tug-of-war over a young woman's affections and her future. The debuting Peggy Pettit, plays Billie Jean, a teenager whose desire to be a dancer are misunderstood and unappreciated by her family - a clueless mother (Stubbs) and two angry older sisters (Gloria Edwards and Loretta Green, both excellent).

There's a fourth sister, Netta (Uggams), who is adopted, light-skinned and educated - three qualities that make her a pariah and an outsider in this family. Netta's encouragement of Billie Jean's ambitions strips everyone naked as the major characters claw into each other and generally numb Billie Jean. McNeil plays the family matriach, the grandmother; Dee is Uggams' mother, and Peters plays the father of Billie Jean and her two spiteful sisters.

Considering its cast of major African-American players, it's a mystery that "Black Girl" has been lost for more than 30 years now. It has never been telecast - until now! - and it certainly isn't available on home entertainment and never has been.

Thank you, TCM. BTW, "Black Girl" is one of several African-American themed films being screened by Turner on the 16th, in honor of Martin Luther King: Davis' film will be preceded by photographer Gordon Parks' lovely autobiographical film "The Learning Tree" (1969, Jan 16 @ 9:30 p.m.) and following it later in the night is Melvin Van Peebles' very clever "Watermelon Man" (1970, Jan. 17 @ 3;30 a.m.) starring Godfrey Cambridge as a white man who turns black over night and Estelle Parsons as his understandably confused wife.

"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1960, Jan. 17 @ 4:15 p.m.). Michael Curtiz's rather painterly take on the familiar saga stars Eddie Hodges (who had just come off playing Winthrop Paroo on Broadway in Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" and opposite Frank Sinatra in Frank Capra's "A Hole in the Head") in the title role and Tony Randall as the so-called King of France.

"Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice?" (1969, Jan. 17 @ 8p.m.) One of host Robert Osborne's picks - and a good one. Ruth Gordon plays her usual quirky self as she tries to invesigate what happened to a friend who died while working for Geraldine Page. La Gordon poses as another willing employee to the entitled La Page. Director Lee H. Katzin, who makes good use of co-star Rosemary Forsythe as the only sane person in the film, takes his cue from Robert Aldrich - "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962) and "Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1964). Coming later would be Curtis Harrington's "What's the Matter with Helen?" (1971).

For the Love of Betsy
(Jan. 18 @ 3:15 p.m.) Betsy Drake never had much of a film career, but the two films that she made with then-husband Cary Grant are more than enough for me. Catch Don Hartman's "Every Girl Should Be Married" (1949) back-to-back with Norman Taurog's charming "Room for One More" (1952) and you'll see how Drake's singular British/boyish style was appropriated by Julie Andrews and, in another, later era, by Emma Thompson. In fact, Andrews isn't so much playing Marie Von Trapp in Robert Wise's "The Sound of Music" (1965) as she's aping Betsy Drake.

Lansbury Night
(Jan. 18, starting at 8 p.m.) If you have only one night to spend watching Angela Lansbury movies, this is the one. It kicks off with George Roy Hill's "The World of Henry Orient" (1964), followed by John Frankenheimer's "The Manchurian Candidate" and "All Fall Down" (both 1962), Norman Panama's "The Court Jester" (1956) Leslie Norman's "Season of Passion" (1959), an oddity also starring Anne Baxter, John Mills and Ernest Borgnine, and Vincente Minnelli's "The Reluctant Debutante" (1958). Noteworthy: MM undermines and walks off with Laurence Olivier's "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957, Jan. 19 @ midnight), the basis for the current so-so "My Week with Marilyn"; David Butler directs Jack Carson as himself in "It's a Great Feeling" (1949, Jan. 20 @ 6 a.m.), also starring Doris Day and Dennis Morgan; Andy Griffith inadvertently comments on - and nails - the current GOP race in Elia Kazan's brilliant "A Face in the Crowd" (1957, Jan. 20 @ 3 p.m.); Rod Steiger plays "Al Capone" in Richard Wilson's biopic (1959, Jan. 20 @ 8 p.m.; Sidney Lumet directs Sean Connery in "The Anderson Tapes" (1971, Jan. 20 @ 10 p.m.); Joseph Sargent's one and only original "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (1977; Jan. 20 @ midnight) airs, not to be confused with Tony Scott's "The Taking of Pelham 123" (read in the film by Denzel Washington as "One-Twenty-Three"), and Blake Edwards makes my beloved San Francisco downright spooky in "Experiment in Terror" (1962, Jan 21 @ 3:45 a.m.)

The Week of January 22nd

"Island of Lost Souls" (1933, Jan. 22 @10;30 p.m.) Erle C. Kenton helmed this powerful and prescient horror film that painstakingly (and rather gleefully) degrades the human body - and the idea of being human. Charles Laughton, at his creepiest, stars as H.G. Welles' mad Dr. Moreau. Welles' material has been filmed several times, always with great difficulty because of the provocative subject matter. For example: The 1977 Burt Lancaster version, directed by Don Taylor, was heavily censored and cut before its release. Kenton got it right; we'll never know about the Lancaster film, which is ripe for a restoration but is apparently lost. So was this one - until Criterion rescued it and restored it. That's the version that Turner will be airing.

"Caught" (1949; Jan. 23 @ 9:30 p.m.) Max Ophuls' compelling drama with Barbara Bel Geddes as a woman who discovers that her millionaire husband, played by Robert Ryan, is insane. James Mason Ryan co-stars; written by Arthur Laurents. The film is part of an Ophuls night that also includes "The Reckless Moment" (1949), also with Mason; "The Exile" (1947); "Letter form an Unknown Woman" (1948), "La ronde" (1950) and "The Earrings of Madame De..." (1954).

"A Catered Affair" (1956; Jan. 24 @ 11;30 a.m.) Richard Brooks and writers Paddy Chayefsky and Gore Vidal collaborated on the best (read: most bearable) of the wedding-film genre. Good cast: Debbie Reynolds and Rod Taylor as the young couple; Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine as her parents. Unlike the others, this one has grit and spit. "Sing Out, Louise!" January 25th. Mark it down. The afternoon of that day is something of a wet dream for musical fans. Interconnected here are composer Jule Styne, Ethel Merman and ... Angela Lansbury. The day kicks off with a film that, frankly, I could live without - William Wyler's leaden "Funny Girl" (1968; @ 12:30 p.m.), starring a highly resistible Barbra Streisand. This show was Styne's attempt to recreate the magic of "Gypsy," something impossible. As unimpressive as it was on stage, "Funny Girl" is even more blah on screen, despite all the money and vulgarity in which Columbia drenched the production. Much better is the film that follows it - the one and only Mervyn LeRoy's "Gypsy" (@ 3:15 p.m.), a film that is superior to any of its stage incarnations (and I've seen them all) and in which Rosalind Russell's line-readings are impeccable. Her timing, particularly her comic timing, is peerless. Ethel Merman, the star of the original, and the stars of the assorted revivals - Patti Lupone, Berenadette Peters, Tyne Daley and ... Angela Lansbury - all pale in comparison to this world-class actress in the role.

Merman created the role of Madam Rose (she is never referred to as Mama Rose in the show) and she played essentially the same part in Walter Lang's delirous and deliriously campy "There's No Business Like Show Business," which immediately follows "Gypsy" (@ 6 p.m.).

Lansbury got to create her own great powerhouse musical character - the very sick Mrs. Lovett in the Harold Prince production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (1982; @ 9 p.m.), directed for video by Terry Hughes.

Alas, Lansbury's original co-star, the towering Len Cariou, was no longer in the show when it was filmed; but George Hearn (pictured here with Lansbury), his replacement, is wonderful nevertheless. Best of all, unlike the Tim Burton film with Johnny Depp, the Sondheim score is intact. Thank heaven that Hughes preserved the original. BTW, both Cariou and Hearn appeared in Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" (2006).

There's more Lansbury on the 25th - John Guillermin's "Death on the Nile" (1978), the best of the Hercule Poirot/Paramount films; Delbert Mann's "Mister Buddwing" (1966)and "Dear Heart" (1964) and Robert Stevens' "In the Cool of the Day" (1963).

Paul Newman Double-Bill. On Jan. 26, starting at 4 p.m., Turner airs two with Newman - Martin Ritt's "The Outrage" (1964), an American remake of the Kurosawa film, "Rashomon," and Jack Smight's "Harper" (1966), with a collection of sublime actresses - Janet Leigh, Lauren Bacall, Pamela Tiffin, Shelley Winters and Julie Harris. More Cardiff. The films directed by cinematographer Jack Cardiff continues on Jan. 26 with five films, starting at 8 p.m. with "Intent to Kill" (1958) starring Richard Todd and - ah! - Betsy Drake, "The Lion" (1962), with William Holden and Capucine, and three with Rod Taylor, "Young Cassidy" (1965), a biopic of Sean O'Casey in which Cardiff took over for an ailing John Ford, "The Liquidator" again and "Dark of the Sun" (1968). Cardiff must have liked Taylor.

Creepy Art. Stay up late (or get up early) on Jan. 28 and experience the raw and brutal force of Andrzej Zulawski's "Possession" (1981) with Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill, followed by Roman Polanski's classic "Repulsion" (1965) with Catherine Deneuve. This late-night festive of the unsettling kicks off at 2 a.m. "The Misfits" (Jan. 28 @ 8 p.m.) Arthur Miller's heartfelt tribute to his then-wife Marilyn Monroe, directed by John Huston, now reads like a death knell. Her attempt to save innocent wild mustangs from being trapped by moneygrubbers vividly captures what she experienced while trapped inside the ruthless movie industry. The innocent rarely prevail.

They die.

"Soylent Green" (1973; Jan. 28 @ midnight) Richard Fleischer's delightfully drole take on cannibalism, underlined when star Charlton Heston intones the now-classic line, "Soylent Green is people!"

The Week of January 29th

"The Thrill of It All" (1963; Jan. 29 @ 2 p.m.) Doris Day's crowning achievement came in this alert Norman Jewison-Carl Reiner farce in which Doris plays Beverly Boyer, an average housewife (married to a doctor, natch) who is called upon to hawk Happy Soap in a series of misleading TV commericials. Rock may have pushed the envelope with the fictitious product VIP in the aforementioned "Lover Come Back" but Doris makes the disreputable advertising madhouse surrounding Happy Soap downright therapeutic as only she could.

"Man's Favorite Sport?" (1964; Jan. 29 @ 4 p.m.) Immediately following is Howard Hawks' pop-culture take on a sportsman who knows nothing about any kind of physical activity but is finessed into entering a fishing contest. Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss star. Hawks understood, as few other filmmakers have, how men lie to themselves so often that they actually come to believe in their fantasies.

Jack Webb, early auteur. The macho mastermind behind "Dragnet" directs and stars in films about two intimidating creatures - the drill Marine sergeant ("The D.I.," 1957; Jan. 29 @ 8 p.m.) and the bigtime newspaper editor ("-30-," 1959; Jan. 29 @ 10 p.m.).

"The Vanishing" (1988; Jan. 30 @ 2 a.m.) George Sluzier's original Dutch version of the unnerving story of a woman who disappears at a rest stop during a car trip. Totally creepy.

"The Las Vegas Story" (1952; Jan. 30 @ 6 a.m.) What's not to like? Jane Russell, Victor Mature and Vegas. An immediate guilty pleasure. Directed by Robert Stevenson.

"The Rain People" (1969, Feb. 1 @ 4 a.m.)This one was way ahead of its time in '69 - the story of a runaway housewife, motivated more by her neuroses than by anything resembling real problems. It's a strong feminist saga directed by a man - Francis Ford Coppola, who employs expressive flourishes to imply what torments his heroine, played by Shirley Knight (in a role originally written for Elizabeth Hartman). Knight feuls her performance with palpable passion; she's excellent. And James Caan, as the hunky hitchhiker she picks up, plays his role with a sardonic wink. With Robert Duvall as a scary, sexily intimidating cop.