It’s another busy week coming up on TCM, with lots of wonderful films, though perhaps nothing that quite measures up to some of the treasures of last week – particularly Playtime, A Matter of Life and Death and Touch of Evil. Still, lots of pleasure…
On Tuesday, Sept 14, TCM is showing a series of five Westerns with Tim Holt, starting with The Law West of Tombstone (1938) at 3am PT – a Western comedy also starring the great Harry Carey. Holt’s not really an actor that is much remembered, but he appeared in a lot of movies in the 1930s and 1940s, most of them Westerns, and some of them very good – the best being Stagecoach – John Wayne’s breakthrough film – and the magnificent My Darling Clementine (dir. John Ford). He has secondary parts in these films, but the ones showing on TCM feature Holt in bigger roles. The Law West of Tombstone was really his first leading role, and the following year Holt was in 5 movies. He was a busy guy. He’s brilliant in My Darling Clementine, but probably his best performance is as Bob Curtin to Humphrey Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948):
Wednesday morning (Sept 15) it’s Jackie Cooper‘s turn for the omnibus treatment, with a massive eight films, again starting at 3am PT. Also again, the first is the one not to miss: The Champ (1931), starring Wallace Beery.
One of the more unlikely highlights of the week is on Thursday (at 12:30pm): Summertime (1955), starring Katherine Hepburn and directed by David Lean. What’s odd about it is that it’s not the frequently seen or much discussed – a sort of forgotten entry in the filmographies of both Hepburn and Lean.
Thursday also features one of the genuine highlights of the week: Laurence Olivier in Hamlet (1948) at 6:45pm PT. It’s followed by Ingmar Bergman’s Virgin Spring (1960). These two stand out from the majority of the fare on TCM and the other highlighted films of these week – as “classics of world cinema,” arty and sophisticated, rather than humble genre pics.
John Wayne and Howard Hawks loved making movies together. Or perhaps it might be better to say they loved making one particular movie. They did four movies together in a decade – and three of them are loose versions of the same story. The first was the best: Rio Bravo (1959) – a weird and wonderful movie, ostensibly a Western but more importantly an archetypal “Hawksian” film. In addition to Wayne, it stars Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson, who sing a duet – with some help from the wonderful Walter Brennan. Wow! This week’s is the last – and least – of the three, and sadly the last film Hawks made: Rio Lobo (1970), showing at 9am PT, Saturday, Sept 18 – immediately after the Bowery Boys in Crazy Over Horses (1951).
(The fourth film Hawks and Wayne made together in that decade, Hatari!, is barely a movie at all – more of an excuse for those quintessential men’s men to hang out in Africa together, to go on safari with a gang of right pals, with a couple of sexy women along for the ride. I’m deeply fond of it, of course – not a guilty pleasure but one that is hard to explain, and will always be inexplicable to people who aren’t into Wayne or Hawks.)
Saturday on TCM is a bit strange. At 3am they’re showing The Journey (1959), starring Yul Brynner as a Communist officer (coincidentally, Brynner was born in the Soviet Union) who falls in love with a married woman (Deborah Kerr) trying to escape from Hungary. That’s followed by The Big Clock (1948) at 5:30am – a crime thriller based on the novel of the same name by Kenneth Fearing, founding editor of the Partisan Review, a writer with pronounced communist sympathies. And then, at 11am, there’s Blood Alley (1955) – with that notorious anti-Communist John Wayne as an American sailor who breaks out of a Chinese jail and dodges Communist agents on the road to Hong Kong. It’s like another one of TCM’s “essentials” or features – only with Communists as the undeclared focus.
They do declare their Saturday night focus on Maurice Chevalier. The first of the five Chevalier films is the musical Gigi (1958), at 5pm PT, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan and Hermione Gingold. It’s weird and somewhat creepy – with Chevalier and Gingold practically pimping a very young Leslie Caron to the older, wealthy aristocrat played by Louis Jourdan. The most remembered song from the musical is both fun and creepy: Chevalier singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” My favorite song from this movie, though, is the charming duet with Chevalier and Hermione Gingold, “I Remember It Well.”
The standout film of TCM’s “Essentials: Maurice Chevalier,” though – and my pick for the “must see” movie of the week – is The Merry Widow (1934), showing at 11:15pm, directed by the brilliant Ernst Lubitsch and starring Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Edward Everett Horton and Una Merkel. The Merry Widow started life as an operetta by the Austro–Hungarian composer Franz Lehár, and it has been filmed a number of times – but never better than this. Likewise, Jeanette MacDonald appeared in a number of “operetta” films in the 1930s, including one that I have a personal fondness for, San Francisco (1936), with Clark Cable, but she was never more wonderful than here.
As a side note, TCM seems to have the occasional problem with their film classifications – particularly when it comes to films that are comedies based within the context of some other genre. Last week the famous Ealing Studio comedy starring Alec Guinness, The Ladykillers (1955), was misclassified as “Crime.” This week a goofy comedy/family movie starring Bill Bixby (of TV’s “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”), The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), is misclassified as a “Western”; sure, it takes place in the “Wild West,” but anyone expecting an actual Western would be in for a real surprise.
Two other highlights of the week:
It Happened One Night (1934) – one of the great screwball comedies, with Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert – 3:15am PT, Monday, 13 Sept
In Harm’s Way (1965) – weirdly compelling WWII movie about the War in the Pacific, with John Wayne, directed by Otto Preminger – 12 midnight PT, Monday, 13 Sept (or Tuesday – who knows with midnight?)