zerode – a sensibility


film, music, text, city, spectacle, pleasure

On TCM Jul 25-31: A Joe E. Brown marathon and more singing cowboys

On Monday, July 25, at 7PM (PST) is The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) – a top notch Western that relies for its greatness on a superb scripting and acting rather than action and spectacle. Henry Fonda gives one of his best performances as a loner who gets caught up with a lynch mob. Directed by William Wellman. In the wee small hours, you can catch They Made Me a Fugitive (1947) – a film noir starring Trevor Howard. I haven’t seen it, but I like both noir and Howard so I am particularly interested.

When I think of TCM, I tend to think of “classic” movies – for obvious reasons. Classic film is typically defined as consisting of movies made during the period from the early 1930s and the advent of sound to the end of the traditional Hollywood studio system in the late 1960s. Many of the movies showing on Tuesday, July 26, fall outside this definition, but are worth considering anyway.

My Favorite Year (1982) stars Peter O’Toole as… well, kind of as Peter O’Toole. An alcoholic movie star who hasn’t done much lately except drink and screw up his personal life, but is still deeply loved by his fans – including the young TV producer who has to play minder to him. The Last Metro (1980) – showing at  2pm – stars Catherine Denueve and Gerard Depardieu and was directed by François Truffaut. I love Truffaut – his 400 Blows is one of my favorite movies – but even if I didn’t like his work, I’d have a soft spot for him – for his championing of auteur theory and an approach to film that saw a re-evaluation of one of my favorite Hollywood directors, Howard Hawks. (And for his role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.) In the evening Three Kings (1999) stars George Clooney as a Marine serving in Iraq during the final days of what we now think of as Gulf War I.

At dawn on Tuesday, there’s a movie that comes at the end of the classic film period, and which will never be on anyone’s “best of” list, but might make a lot of lists of “guilty favorites” or “movies I loved when I was a kid.” It’s Blake Edwards’ The Great Race (1965). It’s a funny movie and one of its many good points is that it reunites Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, who first appeared together six years earlier in Some Like It Hot (1959) – a film that will be on many people’s “best of” list, and with good reason. The Great Race isn’t as good, of course, and Natalie Wood is no Marilyn Monroe, but this is still a fun movie.

On Wednesday, July 27, is a movie about which I’ve written before – one of my guilty pleasures/childhood favorites, The Mouse That Roared (1959), starring Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, and Jean Seberg. Later, less guilty pleasure, much more gritty, is the terrific noir The Big Heat (1953), directed by Fritz Lang (Metropolis) and starring Glenn Ford and a very young Lee Marvin. It’s one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies”.

On Thursday, July 28, TCM is highlighting the work of 1930s comedian Joe E. Brown – with 10 movies in a row featuring this actor running from the pre-dawn hours until late afternoon. These days, Brown might be most recognizable for his role in Some Like It Hot (1959), as the millionaire who falls for Jack Lemmon in drag and who, when informed by Lemmon’s character that he is really a man, has the last word in the movie, “Nobody’s perfect.” Although his earlier starring work – the films TCM is showing – are not that well known today, Brown was one of the top money-making stars in Hollywood during the mid-1930s. Watch these movies and you may get a sense of why. They are more B movies than big hits, but fun and worthwhile if you want to think about Hollywood in the 1930s.

After the Brown marathon, you can catch Josephine Baker in Princess Tam Tam (1935) at 5pm. All this month, TCM has been looking at “Race in Hollywood” – specifically at the depiction of Arabs. Josephine Baker is a case study in the early treatment of African Americans in Hollywood, but her films have a lot more than just sociological interest. She’s a fascinating performer and personality.

On Friday, July 29, TCM continues its spotlight on “Singing Cowboys” with four films in the evening. Of particular interest since we’ve just been talking about “Race in Hollywood” are the latter two, Two-Gun Man From Harlem (1938) and Harlem Rides the Range (1939) – both “race movies” featuring African American leads. TCM provides little detail on these movies, and they are new to me.  I hope to do some research on them between now and Friday, and to write something about them. In the meantime, you can read about Range on and Wikipedia.

In the wee smalls on Friday, you have an opportunity to catch a rarely show and important film, Salt Of The Earth (1954). The film is about striking mine workers in New Mexico and the content is important and worth discussing, but the movie is perhaps most significant and most discussed for its production. It is often described as the only US blacklisted film – most of the key people involved in making it were blacklisted at the time, the film was produced in part by a radical trade union, and most of the people appearing in it are non-actors – union members and locals essentially playing themselves. After it was made, attempts to block its screening were largely successful. Content-wise, it shares with another mining film, John Sayles’ Matewan (1987), a politically -inspired attempt to get away from a traditional narrative featuring a central protagonist in favor of a collective agent of historical change.

The obvious standout film for Saturday, July 30, is All Quiet On The Western Front (1930). Probably don’t need to say much about that, except maybe this: we are now in the weird position of being in two wars – sort of – I tend to think of them as one war – that have gone on longer than World War II.  TCM shows quite a few WWII movies, and a lot were made during the war. These are, pretty much without exception, pro-war and patriotic. It’s only the movies made well after the war that begin to raise questions – and it’s really only after the Vietnam War (and the collapse of the Hollywood studio system) that we start to get major films that are profoundly questioning of war or our actions in particular wars.  We hear a lot about how dominated Hollywood is by a “liberal elite,” but so far filmic responses to this latest land war in Asia have been fairly limited.

The month doesn’t go out with a bang. There isn’t anything playing either on Saturday or on Sunday, July 31, that really knocks my socks off. There are two films on Sunday evening that I would like to see, mostly because I’ve never seen them before and they are by important and interesting directors: The Hurricane (1937), a Polynesian adventure film directed by John Ford – he’s so much a director of the arid West in my mind that I am curious about how he will show a Pacific Ocean hurricane; and Slightly French (1949), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Don Ameche and Dorothy Lamour.  The evening is a Lamour tribute – she’s in Hurricane and before that TCM is showing one of the better Bob Hope and Bing Crosby “Road” movies, Road to Utopia (1946), in which she also appears.

The best movie of the day on Sunday is probably Sweet Smell Of Success (1957) at 9am – with a script by Clifford Odets and a terrific performance by Burt Lancaster as a powerful and ruthless newspaper columnist.  The most interesting movie, though, might be one on earlier: Saint Joan (1957), directed by Otto Preminger, script by Graham Greene and featuring Jean Seberg in her first screen appearance.

Must Sees

Maybe I’m feeling burned out or maybe it’s the backlog of great films I know are waiting for me on the DVR, but I’m not terribly excited about anything this week. For serious film buffs and people with a strong interest in film history, the obvious “must sees” are the Brown marathon – a chance to watch a lot of minor films and think about why he was one of the top 10 money-making stars of the mid-1930s – and the two “race films” in the “Singing Cowboy” series.  If you just want to watch really good movies, The Last Metro is your best bet, I think. If you are a fan of noir, then don’t miss They Made Me a Fugitive (1947) or The Big Heat (1953).

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows


is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

tweeting my mind



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