Well, I missed one of my guilty pleasures, on this morning: Bye Bye Birdie (1963), directed by George Sidney and starring Ann-Margaret, Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh. This is a fun musical spoof of… well, of Elvis Presley fandom and of his joining the Army—with some elements of a “beach blanket” movie thrown in. Here’s Ann-Margaret singing the title tune. You can read more about it on Wikipedia. Ann-Margaret has never been more fun.
But there are some terrific films still coming up this week. Tomorrow night (Monday, 6 September) they are having a “Prime Time Tribute to Telluride” and will be showing, among other things, the great Jacques Tati film Playtime (1967) and Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (1975). Both of these are classics of world cinema and if you have never seen a Jacques Tati film… well, you’re really in for a treat. He’s essentially a silent movie comedian, like Keaton or Chaplin—the films have very little dialogue, and because the visual dimension is so important, they are best seen at a proper movie theater. But how many chances do we get for that these days?
On Tuesday morning, there are two more classics, films that regularly make it on “best” lists: The Ladykillers (1955)—the original with Alec Guinness, Herbert Low and Peter Sellers, not the deeply misguided remake with Tom Hanks; and A Matter of Life and Death (1947) starring David Niven as an aviator who must argue in heaven for his life.
Both of these films are exemplars of a group of films: The Ladykillers of the great Ealing Studios comedies, and A Matter of Life and Death of “Powell & Pressburger,” the filmmakers Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger who created a series of absolutely wonderful films in the 1940s. Again, as with Playtime and Jacques Tati, if you aren’t already familiar with these groups of films, you are really in for a treat. Perversely, TCM lists The Ladykillers as “Crime” rather than “Comedy”—don’t be fooled. Very, very funny.
Later in the week:
Touch Of Evil (1958) – Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Marlene Dietrich – absolutely not to be missed – Wednesday evening
Babes in Arms (1939) – a great Busby Berkeley musical with Andy Rooney and Judy Garland – late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning
Get Carter (1971) – the original with Michael Caine – another chance to see the original of a botched and unnecessary remake – Thursday night
The Curse of the Cat People (1944) – classic B horror film, which I haven’t seen since I was a kid and watched it on “Creature Features”- late Thursday night/early Friday morning
Saturday night (11 September) is devoted to the films of Raoul Walsh—a director much loved by film scholars, with a kind of auteur status, but who has never really received general recognition as an important filmmaker. TCM will be showing what is perhaps the best-known of his films, High Sierra (1941), starring of course Humphrey Bogart, but the one not to miss is showing just before that, at 5pm PST: White Heat (1949) with James Cagney.
White Heat is important both as a terrific example of film noir—coming right when that genre was getting firmly established—and also as a very late instance, really the last, of the gangster movies that had been so popular in the 1930s, a cycle of films which Cagney more or less established with The Public Enemy (1931). White Heat is also the film in which Cagney utters the oft quoted line, “Top o’ the world, Ma” – just before he gets blown sky high.