Regrettable Viewing Experiences? I’ve Had a Few!

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I follow a lot of people on Twitter and one of the most active and notable is Will McKinley who runs the excellent Cinematically Insane blog. Will has been a guest on TCM as well as TCM’s Official Podcast and he often shares interesting links on Twitter. This week Will led me to The Hitless Wonder Blog run by Dan Day who asked his readers a somewhat loaded question: “What are the worst films you have seen in a theater?” I rarely waste time talking about films I dislike but occasionally it’s fun to blow off some steam so I decided to answer Dan’s question at the Movie Morlocks today. What follows is a list of some of my worst movie viewing experiences. But beware! My post is bound to offend a few readers.

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They Wore It Well: Actors & Mustaches

mustache1James D. Barnes in THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903)

Throughout the month of June you’re going to be seeing a lot of mustaches on TCM. Every Friday night you can tune in and enjoy some carefully coiffed facial hair in a series of Pirate Pictures hosted by funny man Greg Proops. And on June 9th mustache lovers won’t want to miss Mustache Monday. This special one day event will feature a series of films with famously mustachioed actors including Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Groucho Marx, William Powell, Peter Sellers and Sean Connery, which segues into a tribute to British born actor Richard Harris who often sported a mustache as well as a full beard.

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Vincent Price Takes Center Stage

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This month marks the 20th anniversary of the death of one of my favorite actors; the remarkable Vincent Price. Vincent Price also happens to be TCM’s Star of the Month and every Thursday throughout October viewers can tune in to see him in a wide-variety of films that showcase his exceptional talents. I can’t think of many other actors I’d like to spend the hallowed month of October with so I’m going to devote the next four weeks to the “Crown Prince of Horror.” To kick start my informal tribute to Vincent Price I thought I’d take a look back at his early stage career in New York working with Orson Welles and the legendary Mercury Theatre.

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Francois Truffaut – Friend, Teacher & Film Critic

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Throughout the month of July TCM is spotlighting the films of François Truffaut. Every Friday night viewers can tune in at 5PM PST or 8PM EST and expect to see a well-rounded selection of the French director’s films hosted by film critic David Edelstein.

I never met François Truffaut but I’ve long felt a sort of kinship with the man and his movies. 25 years ago I wept through my first screening of THE 400 BLOWS (aka Les quatre cents coups) and a few years later I was introduced to Truffaut’s film criticism when I stumbled across a beat-up & battered copy of The Films in My Life at a used bookshop. I eventually learned more about the director who helped usher in a New Wave of French cinema and today Truffaut and his films feel like old familiar friends that I’ve grown-up with and appreciate more with each passing year. But writing about them can be difficult because many of Truffaut’s films are tied to difficult and often painful experiences in my own life.

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Tracing My Irish Roots Through the Movies

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John Wayne & Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man (1942)

When I was a child my family regularly celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th. My parents and grandparents encouraged me to wear green and my mother would often make my brother and I a meal that consisted of corned beef and cabbage or my personal favorite, Irish stew with dumplings. But whenever I’d ask family members about our Irish ancestors I was usually ignored or met with a wry smile and a joke about our criminal connections. The truth is that most of my Irish ancestors were apparently kicked out of the British Isles in the early 1800s and ended up in Australia, which was a penal colony at the time. As a youngster I didn’t exactly understand what it meant to the larger world to be related to convicts but I was made to feel somewhat embarrassed and ashamed due to my family’s reluctance to discuss our personal history. Now that most of my immediate family has passed on I’ve taken it upon myself to delve into our past and uncover our Irish roots. It’s been an incredibly rewarding and eye-opening experience but I’ve had to rely on my own powers of investigation along with lots of paper documents and books to give me a better understanding of who I am and how I got here. I’ve also turned to one of my favorite obsessions for insight, the wonderful world of movies.

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Spy Games – International espionage in… Nashville?!

One of the strangest spy spoofs to emerge from the sixties has got to be HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. This oddball musical comedy arrived in drive-ins in 1967 accompanied by the tagline, “If you’re a chicken come with plenty of feathers and a 0-0-0h-7 get-away car!” HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE is part espionage farce, part sitcom style comedy and a full-blown musical featuring performances from the movie’s three stars (Joi Lansing, Ferlin Husky and Don Bowman) along with appearances by popular country & western performers such as Merle Haggard, Molly Bee and Sonny James.

Today it might be hard for modern audiences to understand how a movie like this ever got made but in James Bond’s heyday country & western music was gaining a growing audience thanks to increased radio play and popular programs like THE PORTER WAGONER SHOW. At the same time rural television comedies including THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, PETTICOAT JUNCTION and GOMER PYLE competed with spy themed shows such as I SPY, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, THE PRISONER, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and GET SMART for ratings. B-movie producing brothers Bernard, Larry and David Woolner were eager to cash-in on this strange hodgepodge of pop culture trends and they must have thought they had a surefire moneymaker on their hands with HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. To seal the deal they gave their movie some extra drive-in appeal by setting the story in a haunted mansion and hiring three horror film legends (John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr. and Basil Rathbone) to co-star.

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Spy Games: Stanley Donen’s ARABESQUE (1966)

Today is Sophia Loren’s 77th birthday and I decided to celebrate by focusing this month’s installment of Spy Games on one my favorite Loren films, Stanley Donen’s ARABESQUE. But before you start reading you might want to take a moment to turn on TCM because they’re airing a batch of great Sophia Loren films today in honor of the event.

* Warning: Spoilers on the road ahead! *

In the ‘60s Stanley Donen explored the fascinating world of international espionage with two entertaining films, CHARADE (1963) and ARABESQUE (1966). Both films were box office hits but CHARADE was also adored by critics and over the years it’s been widely recognized as one of Donen’s best films. And CHARADE is a great movie. It’s a slick and darkly funny Hitchcockian thriller with a tight script and a terrific cast that includes Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy. But for my money ARABESQUE is the better film.

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And You Thought Donald Pleasence Was Creepy

Angela Pleasence, like her father, has a face made for the cinema though not in the realm of conventional leading ladies. Even as a young actress appearing in bit parts in movies like Here We Go Around the Mulberry Bush (1968) and The Love Ban (1973), she was never a winsome ingénue or the lovable girl next store. But her uniquely peculiar beauty – especially those hungry eyes that bore holes right through you – must have somehow hindered her movie career because her film roles have been few and far between. She is mostly remembered for her television work, particularly her role as Catherine Howard in the 1970 TV mini-series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, but she should have had the film career her father had on the basis of SYMPTOMS alone.     [...MORE]

The Floodgates Open: Telluride FF 2012

Tis the season for major film festivals and Telluride often trumps those that follow – Toronto, New York, Chicago – by presenting the North American premieres of major works, a mixture of Cannes award winners receiving their American debut, lesser known discoveries and surprises (some without distributors yet) and wonderful retrospectives (from silent films with live music accompaniment to overlooked treasures like Agnes Varda’s La Pointe Courte (1956), Ermanno Olmi’s Il Posto (1961) and Paul Fejos’ Lonesome, 1928).   [...MORE]

Kay Francis to the Max

Tuesday, August 21st marks Kay Francis day on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars and the lineup of films should not only please her avid fans but also introduce newbies to this elegant underrated actress of the early sound era who is not that well known today. While there are plenty of high points to recommend here from the giddy sophisticated comedy-romance Jewel Robbery (1932), a Pre-Code Ernst Lubitsch wannabe, to the eclectic political espionage thriller British Agent (1934) to the exotic and risque melodrama Mandalay (1934), I cast my vote for THE HOUSE ON 56TH STREET (1933) as the quintessential Kay Francis vehicle and an excellent introduction to the actress.        [...MORE]

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