War, War, War: TCM Memorial Weekend Marathon

As we head into Memorial Day, TCM airs some of the greatest war movies ever made, one after another, for the whole weekend.  That means today will have plenty of great ones on hand, many of them my all time favorites.  There have been plenty of war movies I’ve loved while never really considering it as a genre I care much about.  There are as many reasons for that as there are movies about war.

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May 23, 2015
David Kalat
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Lana Turner, the Careless Cinderella

“One of the dullest towns in America is the dreary community of Hotchkiss Falls in the mid-Hudson Valley. The odds are 1000 to 1 against our finding anyone there with an interesting story. However that’s where we are, so let’s take a look around.”

Screwball comedies generally came in one of two flavors. The Heiress On the Run, as the name implies, presented rich girls fleeing their lives of privilege to take up with working-class men (see It Happened One Night, Next Time I Marry, Lady in a Jam, My Man Godfrey, Holiday). The Cinderella Story is also self-descriptive: a destitute and desperate girl is mistaken for a rich debutante, pampered by an older Sugar Daddy, and ultimately takes her place among the social set (see Easy Living, Midnight, and Fifth Avenue Girl, and Ruggles of Red Gap is a gender-reversed variant).

But once, the world of screwball combined these two flavors: Slightly Dangerous is both an Heiress on the Run film and a Cinderella Story, and it gives us a chance to dig into what made these two screwball subgenres work.

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KEYWORDS: Lana Turner, Robert Young, Screwball Comedy, Slightly Dangerous
COMMENTS: 6
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Playing to the Rafters: Celebrating Olivier, Welles, and Laughton

Today on TCM, three of the all-time great hams grace your tv screen all day.  There’s Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, and Charles Laughton, three actors who would have been comfortable walking around with slices of pineapple on their backs and a cherry glaze on their head because they seriously knew how go for broke when “go for a few pennies” was all that was required.   Their most famous and revered performances are, notably, their most restrained (we’re speaking relatively here) but my favorites have nothing to do with restraint and everything to do with blowing it all wide open.  Since these three dominate the day, and pretty much dominated every movie they ever appeared in, here are my favorite performances by all three.

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Two on the Run: DEADLY STRANGERS (1975)

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In case you haven’t noticed, Sterling Hayden is TCM’s Star of the Month and I’ve enjoyed catching up with the tall, blond and brawny actor’s filmography on Wednesday nights. Today Hayden is best remembered by film lovers for his memorable roles in a number of classic noirs and westerns that air on TCM regularly as well as subsequent standout parts in Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964), Coppola’s THE GODFATHER (1972) and Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE (1973).

Late in life, Hayden also made a brief but notable appearance in an unusual thriller called DEADLY STRANGERS (1975), which I was compelled to revisit again over the weekend. Directed by the talented Sidney Hayers (CIRCUS OF HORRORS; 1960, BURN WITCH BURN; 1962, THE TRAP; 1966, REVENGE; 1971, A BRIDGE TOO FAR; 1977, Etc.) and starring Hayley Mills along with Simon Ward, this low-budget British horror effort may not rate as one of Hayden’s finest hours among his devoted fans but I think the film is worthy of reconsideration due to its smart direction and probable influence on beloved horror classics including John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN (1978).

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“Get your shovels!” Bataan (1943) revisited.

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TCM Underground is suspended this week to make way for Memorial Day programming. Included in the lineup of movies about men at war is Tay Garnett’s BATAAN (1943), one of my favorites. Some time ago I wrote the movie up with an angle on how combat movies effectively paved the way for the body count-style horror movies popular from the 1970s on and I offer that essay again today for your consideration. I hope you catch BATAAN on Sunday May 24th at 11:00 am PST/2:00 pm EST.  

First, a disclaimer. I don’t mean to diminish the sacrifices of the American armed forces and their Philippine compatriots by likening BATAAN (1943), MGM’s chronicle of the 1941-42 Japanese invasion of the Philippine islands during World War II and the crushing Allied defeat that followed, to a horror movie. As fervid as my imagination might be, I cannot even begin to fathom what went on back then, in the first hours, days, weeks, and months following the Japanese bombing of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, leading up to the fall of the Bataan Peninsula in April 1942 and the subsequent “Bataan Death March,” during which 60,000-80,000 Allied troops were walked at gunpoint across the peninsula. Of the soldiers who survived the failed defense of the islands, tens of thousands perished through mistreatment and malnourishment while interned at Japanese prison camps. Bataan represents a tragic chapter in our nation’s history… and yet it has not retained the stature of other historic battles, such as Bunker Hill or Gettysburg. With the end of World War II growing close to being 70 years in our past, young adults now have no firm connection to those world-changing events. I’m not trying to rectify that problem today but rather to look again at this early WWII film (like the battle itself, largely forgotten) through the prism of my favorite movie genre to see what comes out the other side. [...MORE]

A Man and a Maid: Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

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In 1936 Leo McCarey drank some expired milk. It was part of an ill-advised publicity stunt that had the crew of the Harold Lloyd comedy The Milky Way (1936) imbibe daily amounts of dairy. One of those fateful sips incapacitated McCarey with undulant fever, after which he went to Palm Springs to get healthy. As part of his unique recovery process he visited a casino, which is where he met playwright Viña Delmar, who would go on to write the screenplays for both Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) and The Awful Truth (1937). So we have food poisoning to thank for two of McCarey’s, and thus Hollywood’s, greatest films. They are both acutely observed movies about marriage that deal with the sacrifices required to maintain that union, with Make Way taking a tragic viewpoint from that of old age, and Awful Truth a comic one from youth. It was the latter, of course, with its joyous happy ending, that won the Oscar and the accolades, while the devastating Make Way was also a critical favorite but a popular failure. But when a film is released on the Criterion Collection, it can no longer be called under-appreciated. Make Way For Tomorrow was released earlier this month on Blu-ray from Criterion, in a crisp transfer that faithfully renders the thick grain of William C. Mellor’s naturalistic photography.

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Fine Artist / Con Artist

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TCM airs one of Orson Welles most challenging films, F for Fake, this Friday, May 22, at 1:30am. The film is so unique that it is difficult to determine its mode or genre, or even to summarize what it is about. When Welles was editing the film in Paris, critic and scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum asked him if it was a documentary, and the great director responded, “No, not a documentary—a new kind of film.” That is probably the most accurate description of F for Fake.

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SFF Post Mortem

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In my last post I interviewed Stuart Gordon. I also interviewed some other folks while up in Estes Park attending the third annual Stanley Film Festival and, in the interest of making it relevant to TCM readers, I led by asking everyone what some of the older films might be that influenced their careers. People that I talked to included actor/producer Elijah Wood, actor/writer/producer Leigh Whannel, actress Alison Pill, actor/producer/director Larry Fessenden, director Glenn McQuaid, writer April Snellings, producer/director/writer Jen Wexler, actor/writer Graham Reznick, and director/actor Merritt Crocker. Themes that popped up included movies with evil children, classic ghost stories, Freddie Francis, and more. [...MORE]

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May 16, 2015
David Kalat
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Ginger Rogers: Sad Sacks of Fifth Avenue

Gregory La Cava’s 1939 comedy Fifth Avenue Girl is an excellent example of the 1930s style of romantic comedies, and possibly my favorite Ginger Rogers film of all. It is also a decidedly deviant 1930s romantic comedy that breaks more rules than it follows, and uses Ginger Roger’s natural downtrodden deadpan persona to tamp down the usual screwball shenanigans in favor of something altogether more quiet, and bitter. And if that doesn’t quite sound like comedy to you, then read on…

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KEYWORDS: Fifth Avenue Girl, Ginger Rogers, Gregory La Cava, Screwball Comedy
COMMENTS: 5
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When Going to the Movies was More Important Than the Movie

Today on TCM, there’s a short movie running between the other movies and it’s about the making of Westworld, the 1973 sci-fi mediocrity about androids that go berserk and start killing the guests of the futuristic resort they occupy.  It’s a great idea, poorly executed.  Michael Crichton wasn’t much of a director but he did come up with some really great science fiction ideas and stories that worked better if someone like Robert Wise or Steven Spielberg were behind the camera.  Westworld does have a few things going for it besides the basic idea, though.  One, it has a great villain in Yul Brynner’s mad cowboy android.  Two, the pursuit by said cowboy of hapless Richard Benjamin during the climax is surprisingly well done by the usually leaden Crichton, and three, it was made in the seventies.  I’ll pretty much forgive any movie made in my youth of anything.

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