Some of the highlights from TCM’s schedule for the week leading up to Halloween, October 25-31… In addition to all the expected chills and thrills, this week features two wonderful films from the 1950s, Roman Holiday and Black Orpheus, as well as a kind of mini-festival of the work of the choreographer and director Busby Berkeley. Read on for more on the filmic pleasures this week affords…
It’s the week leading up to Halloween and TCM is showing a whole raft of horror and monster movies in celebration. Tonight (Sun. Oct 24) has got the original of them all, pretty much: the very first Dracula movie, F. W. Murnau’s silent masterpiece Nosferatu (1922), followed a bit later by one of the vampire pictures starring Bela Lugosi as Dracula, The Return of the Vampire (1944). (If you miss Nosferatu on TCM, you can watch online at a variety of sites: Google Video, Internet Archive, or YouTube.)
Leaving the horror theme for a moment, three of my all-time favorite movies are showing this Monday (Oct 25). In the very early hours (3:30am PT) is a classic of world cinema: Black Orpheus (1959), directed by Marcel Camus. It relocates the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice—the story of the beautiful singer who descends into the underworld to rescue his love—from ancient Greece to Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. Black Orpheus won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Academy Award and Golden Globe for best foreign film.
The soundtrack introduced many people to bossa nova and Brazilian music, and is perhaps as well known as the film. I’ve known people who owned the soundtrack, but had never seen the movie. In addition to the bossa nova sounds composed Antônio Carlos Jobim, it features a song by Luiz Bonfá, “Manhã de Carnaval” (“Morning of Carnival”), that became something of a hit. The famous San Francisco coffee shop, Caffe Trieste, had this song on their jukebox for many, many years and it was a favorite of the poets and others who frequented the place. (I have to check and see if it is still on the jukebox the next time I am in there.) You can listen to it here.
Later in the day (1:15pm) is the movie that introduced Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday (1953)—also starring Gregory Peck and Eddie Albert. Hepburn plays a young princess on an official visit to Rome, who grows tired of the restrictions placed on her and breaks out of her palace to experience something of normal life. And runs into an American wire service reporter played by Peck, who recognizes her, and what a story she represents. I’m not going to say much about this movie except that it makes me more happy than just about any other movie. So happy that I have to limit my viewings, save it for when it is really needed. The last time I watched it was in Rome, during the same visit on which I watched The Red Shoes. I’m going to hang onto that for a while longer—but there’s no reason you shouldn’t watch it this week. If you have a teenage daughter who’s not hopeless lost to the mindlessness, glitz, and cynicism of contemporary pop culture, you might watch it with her.
Finally, just after midnight (at 12:15) is one of the great backstage musicals, the movie that pretty much defined the genre, 42nd Street (1933)—with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, Guy Kibbee, and Ginger Rogers, before she became a huge star partnering with Fred Astaire. The choreography is by Busby Berkeley. Beyond defining the “backstage musical,” this film really set the stage (if you’ll forgive the pun) for all the musicals of the 1930s and 1940s. Crucial viewing for anyone with an interest in the genre.
A lot of people have heard of Busby Berkeley and have an idea of what his stage numbers are like—the geometrically choreographed arrangements of ranks of chorines and all that—but have never actually seen a Busby Berkeley film. If that’s you, you can find out what you’re missing this week with five other films, three directed by Berkeley, in addition to 42nd Street: Hollywood Hotel (1937) starring Dick Powell, is showing Monday night; (10:15pm); I Live For Love (1935) featuring Dolores del Rio is on late Monday/early Tuesday (1:45am); Gold Diggers Of 1935 (1935), with Powell and Adolphe Menjou, is on at midnight Wednesday (Oct 27); and Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936)—the fourth in the “Gold Diggers” series from Warner Bros.—on Wednesday night/Thursday morning (Oct 28, 1:45am).
But the standout film, the other one to watch in addition to 42nd Street, is on Wednesday night (Oct 27, 10:15pm): the second in the “Gold Diggers” series, Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933). If you watch both it and 42nd Street, you might feel a certain deja vu—they have almost identical casts, and some strong similarities in the Busby Berkeley numbers. But they are both marvelous and must sees for anyone with an interest in musicals or movies of the 1930s.
Tuesday (Oct 26) features a whole raft of baseball pictures, presumably in honor of the World Series. I have nothing to say about any of them. I’m not sure what my favorite baseball picture is—it might be The Sandlot (1993), a kid’s picture about backlot baseball and childhood, or maybe Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949), directed by Busby Berkeley (!) and starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. But whatever it is, it’s not Field of Dreams. They may have built it, but I just don’t come… The show that comes to mind as having one of the best depictions of the love of baseball is not a movie at all, but rather an episode of the TV show, The X-Files: “The Unnatural,” from Season 6, one of the most popular episodes, in which Mulder learns about an alien who disguised himself as a black minor league ball player back in the 1940s.
Thursday morning has got a half dozen films starring Rosalind Russell—though not my favorite, His Girl Friday, which they showed a few weeks back…
Friday (Oct 29) is all horror, all day. Most of them are minor pictures, but a few are worth considering, for instance for their place in film history or the career of interesting actors and directors. Like Doctor X (1932), showing at 3am Thursday night/Friday morning, starring Fay Wray, who became a big star with another of her pictures from the same year, King Kong. Doctor X was directed by Michael Curtiz, who would go on to direct The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and, of course, Casablanca (1942).
Friday evening is the latest, and presumably the last, installment in TCM’s focus on Hammer Horror—this time featuring four of their Frankenstein pictures, all directed by Terence Fisher and starring Peter Cushing. The first is the best: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).
The screams continue Saturday, beginning with three relatively minor Boris Karloff pics in the predawn hours. These are followed at 7:30am by The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters (1954). I haven’t seen this, but I pretty much always enjoy the Bowery Boys and I want to push them on you as another aspect of the now past, traditional culture of American movies—the classic Hollywood of the studio system and the movie-going that went with it. Luxurious movie palaces and b-movies, double features, shorts and news reels, everyone going to the movies, often more than once a week. It’s a lost world, for all sorts of reasons, and I miss it—even though it was lost before I was born. Watching these old movies, these not famous features, short films and b-movies, gives us just a hint of what that moment and experience might have been like.
The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters is a sort of “team up” movie, of which their are a number around this time, in which a couple of studio properties are combined in one picture, generally a quickie designed to make some money and fill up the schedule. Another famous comedy film team, Abbott and Costello, did a bunch of these, the first of which is probably the model for the Bowery Boys film: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), in which the duo encounter not only the titular monster, but Dracula and the Wolf-man as well. Predictably, horrible hijinks ensue.
I somehow saw this movie when I was around five or six and had nightmares for years that were based on an extended sequence—played for laughs in the movie, obviously—in which the monsters chase Abbott and Costello around the castle. Something to keep in mind during this week of horror movies if you have children. Even the jokey ones can scare very young and impressionable children.
The Bowery Boys are followed by five films directed by the cult director of b-movie horror, William Castle, including one of his most well-known, Mr. Sardonicus (1961). Castle is probably best remembered these days for a film showing on TCM the following day, The Tingler (1959)—but not for the movie itself so much as one of his characteristic gimmicks which he used to promote it: seats were reportedly wired to provide a shock at certain key moments. (Actually, the seats were simply equipped with giant versions of joy buzzers, rather than being actually wired.)
5pm on Saturday is a classic, one of the best of all the “horror” movies showing this week, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) with Charles Laughton. There have been a number of versions of Victor Hugo’s “Hunchback” over the years: this one, the earlier silent version with Lon Chaney Sr, the later Disney animated retelling, a surprising number of other movie versions, a musical, even a couple of TV series. The silent version is considered by many to be a masterpiece, rightly so, but I think this movie is the standard, the one most people think of, visualize, when hearing the name. Well, older people. I suppose it’s been supplanted by the Disney version for younger crowds.
Finally at 11pm on Saturday, TCM is showing Cat People (1942) again, the quirky Jacques Tourneur psychological horror film. Tourneur’s follow-up, The Leopard Man (1943), is showing a bit later at 2am.
Halloween—Sunday, Oct 31—is, of course, given over to horror movies, mostly lesser known and somewhat cheesy ones, but with some real gems. There’s a few by Tod Browing, William Castle’s The Tingler, a few by that other famous b-movie maker, Roger Corman, and five in a row starring Vincent Price. The standouts are:
- Freaks (1932) – 3:15am – the cult classic directed by Tod Browning
- The Tingler (1959) – 12 noon – starring Vincent Price and directed by William Castle; don’t wire your seats – that’s dangerous – but you could lick a nine volt battery at strategic moments; not a great movie, or even a great b-movie, in my estimation – watch for film buff points
- House Of Wax (1953) – 3:15pm – “A scarred sculptor re-populates his ravaged wax museum with human corpses” – Vincent Price in perhaps the most famous horror picture he made during this period; a “must see” if you have any interest in this sort of thing – but definitely too scary for anyone under the age of around 13
The evening’s focus is on haunted houses and it has two of the classics of the genre: House On Haunted Hill (1959), another one directed by William Castle and starring Vincent Price, at 5pm; and The Haunting (1963), a terrific movie directed by Robert Wise, about a team of psychic investigators who go to investigate a haunted house, which then destroys them.
These are followed by a more modern version of the haunted house story, a suburban nightmare: Poltergeist (1982), starring Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams, and directed by Tobe Hooper (best known for the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre—ick). Poltergeist is often thought of as a Steven Spielberg film—understandable since he wrote the story and screenplay, and produced, but more than that, the movie powerfully reflects his characteristic interests and shows a lot of his directorial style; there’s actually a bit of controversy over just how big a role Spielberg had in the directing, but you can judge for yourself if you watch. Does it seem more like ET or Texas Chainsaw?
There are other great movies showing this week, of course—like Mildred Peirce on Wednesday evening and Rebecca (1940), starring Laurence Oliver, on Thursday. But you’ve probably seen them already or at least heard of them—I feel like it’s more important to draw your attention to Black Orpheus, Busby Berkeley and the Bowery Boys.
The obvious “must see”—must see again and again, really—is Black Orpheus.
Limiting it to the horror films, the “must sees” are, I think, Nosferatu, House Of Wax, The Haunting, and The Curse of Frankenstein. You have to watch at least one movie with one of the classic monsters—Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf-man—to honor the holiday. I’m not including The Hunchback of Notre Dame because it feels only marginally like a horror movie, and doesn’t really have that Halloween quality.
- Nosferatu :: rogerebert.com :: Great Movies
- Black Orpheus – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Black Orpheus (The Criterion Collection)
- Black Orpheus (soundtrack) – Amazon.com
- Manhã de Carnaval – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- 42nd Street (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Gold Diggers of 1933 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Rosalind Russell – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo – Powells.com
- Frankenstein (Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection) – Amazon.com
- Creature Features: The Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Movie Guide – Powells.com