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On TCM October 26-November 1: Horror and Suspense for Halloween, plus 2 each from Chaplin, Garbo, and Tod Browning


Monday, October 26

Monday morning—early, early morning—starts out with a run of silents, including two of Chaplin’s best:

3am (PST) The Kid (1921)—Charlie Chaplin, with Jackie Coogan

4am (PST) Oliver Twist (1922)—another with Jackie Coogan, and more importantly Lon Chaney. Haven’t seen this version before.

6:45am (PST) The Gold Rush (1925)—Charlie Chaplin

After the sun comes up, the run of good movies continues at 10:15am (PST) with  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)—directed by John Huston, with Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt. Holt’s not much remembered these days, but he appeared in a lot of movies in the 1930s and 1940s, principally Westerns, including some of best—like StagecoachJohn Wayne’s breakthrough film, and the magnificent My Darling Clementine (dir. John Ford). Stanley Kubrick cited Sierra Madre as his fourth favorite film. It comes at the end of the glory years of Bogart’s filmography, beginning in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon.


In the afternoon comes a great and important Western Ride the High Country (1962)—directed by Sam Peckinpah, with Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, Mariette Hartley, at 3:15pm (PST). Like Tim Holt, Randolph Scott isn’t a name that’s much remembered these days—though his face will be instantly recognizable by anyone who watches old movies. And he is certainly known by anyone with an interest in the Western, in which genre he is one of the truly great stars. Ride the High Country was his last film, and it is one of his finest, as well as being the first great Western by Peckinpah, who would go on to direct The Wild Bunch.

At 5pm (PST) I may try to catch another of David Niven films, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960), also starring Doris Day. I remember loving this movie as a little kid. And, while I know opinions on this vary, I find Doris Day a treat to watch.

At 1:30am (PST), there’s a fun and funny spoof of Agatha Christie-style mysteries written by Neil Simon, Murder By Death (1976)—with Peter Falk, Truman Capote, Alec Guinness, Elsa Lanchester, and Maggie Smith.

Tuesday, October 27

1:15pm (PST) The Third Man (1949)—directed by Carol Reed, with Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles

On Tuesday night, the “TCM Spotlight” is on “Trailblazing Women”—and it includes some real classics, and a surprise to begin with:

5pm (PST) Gigi (1948)—directed by Jacqueline Audry, with Daniele Delorme, Gaby Morlay, Philippe Noiret. The original film version of Colette’s novel is not a musical, but a droll and amusing (if talky and uncinematic) comedy of manners. Delorme, who starred in two more films based on Colette stories, is delightful as Gigi, the girl trained to be a courtesan by her aunt and grandmother in fin de siecle Paris.

6:30pm (PST) Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962)—directed by Agnès Varda

10:15pm (PST) Love and Anarchy (1973)—directed by Lina Wertmuller, with Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato. A love story between a prostitute and an anarchist.

12:15am (PST) Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)—directed by Chantal Akerman


Wednesday, October 28

6:30am (PST) Grand Hotel (1932)—with Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Berry. “I want to be alone.”

11:30am (PST) The Great Race (1965)—directed by Blake Edwards, with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk, and many more. Edward’s cartoonish tribute to slapstick silent cinema. Curtis and Lemmon are competing daredevil’s who try to win a race from New York to Paris

Wednesday evening features “Treasures from the Disney Vault.” Well, they say treasures… Still it’s a chance to see a few Disney shorts and features, such as Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), that are not frequently shown.

Tod Browning Freaks lobbycard

Thursday, October 29

In the run up to Halloween, TCM is featuring a day of horror and suspense on Thursday, including a few that are really worth seeing.

4:45am (PST) Freaks (1932)—a murder plot and love triangle set amongst a group of circus freaks, directed by Tod Browning. Browning directed a number of silents with Lon Chaney, as well as the classic 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi, but Freaks is probably the film most closely associated with his name, and with good reason. It’s highly unusual, and also deeply disturbing—so much so that it was banned in England for three decades.

7:45am (PST) House on Haunted Hill (1958)—directed by William Castle, with Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long. The original haunted house movie. Millionaire Price offers group of people $10,000 each if they’ll spend a night in spooky old mansion with murder-laden history; he even provides loaded guns as party favors. Campy fun; probably the Castle film which holds up best on TV. Originally presented theatrically with flying skeleton gimmick “Emergo.”

10:45am (PST) Suspicion (1941)—directed by Alfred Hitchcock, with Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Sir Cedric Hardwicke.


Friday, October 30

“The Count is back, with an eye for London’s hotpants…”

It’s all horror, all day on Friday. None of the real classics or greats, but still some good stuff. It starts with a run of 7 Hammer films, beginning with two of their best and ending with one that’s a fun romp.

5:15am (PST) The Mummy (1959, directed by Terence Fisher, with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux.

6:45am (PST) Dracula – Prince of Darkness (1966)—directed by Terence Fisher, with Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir.

3:15pm (PST) Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)—also known as Dracula Chelsea ’72, with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Swinging London—with vampires!

After the Hammer films, there are a couple of other films of particular interest.

5pm (PST), the  Cat People (1942)—directed by Jacques Tourneur, with Simone Simon, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph.

11:45pm (PST) The Body Snatcher (1945)—with Boris Karloff AND Bela Lugosi.

Saturday, October 31

On Halloween, another full day of horror, including a few “Creature Features” type fun but somewhat schlocky films, and one under-appreciated classic.

8:15am (PST) The Fearless Vampire Killers; or, Pardon Me but Your Teeth Are in My Neck, 1967, directed by Roman Polanski. A bumbling professor tracks vampires in the wilds of Eastern Europe. Polanski himself plays the professor’s assistant, and Sharon Tate appears as the innkeeper’s daughter. Actually, a very good film, that is of course overshadowed by the whole Manson thing.

12:00pm (PST) The Tingler (1959)—directed by William Castle, with Vincent Price. Preposterous but original shocker: coroner Price discovers that fear causes a creepy-crawly creature to materialize on people’s spines; it can be subdued only by screaming. This is the infamous picture that got moviegoers into the spirit with vibrating gizmos under selected theater seats!–a gimmick director/producer Castle billed as “Percepto.” Also noteworthy as likely the earliest film depicting an LSD trip. One critical sequence is in color.

1:30pm (PST) House of Wax (1953)—directed by Andre DeToth, with Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk.

Curse of the Demon lobby card

7pm (PST) Curse of the Demon (1957)—directed by Jacques Tourneur, with Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis. An anthropologist investigates a devil worshipper who commands a deadly demon.

The best for last. At 10:30pm (PST), TCM is showing the strangely under-appreciated Mark of the Vampire (1935)—director Tod Browning’s remake of his silent, London After Midnight. Vampires terrorize a European village in this beautiful, striking film. Lionel Barrymore plays the Van Helsing role as Inspector Atwill, vampire expert.

Sunday, November 1

So… With Halloween out of the way, how long until the Christmas movies start? Of course, the next big holiday is Thanksgiving, but there just aren’t that many Thanksgiving films. There are a few, like Home for the Holidays, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. And… Pocahontas? But there are no holiday films of any kind showing today.

3am (PST) Camille (1937)—directed by George Cukor, with Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore.

5am (PST) Tortilla Flat (1942) directed by Victor Fleming, with Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, John Garfield. Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, John Garfield, Frank Morgan, Akim Tamiroff, Sheldon Leonard, Donald Meek, John Qualen, Allen Jenkins. Steinbeck’s salty novel of California fishing community vividly portrayed by three top stars, stolen by Morgan as devoted dog lover.

3pm (PST) Time After Time (1979)—directed by Nicholas Meyer, with Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, Mary Steenburgen. When Jack the Ripper steals his time machine, author H.G. Wells travels to modern-day San Francisco to track him down.

Sunday evening is a Dostoevsky double bill, starting with Crime and Punishment (1935) at 5pm—a Hollywood version of the Russian novel, directed by Josef von Sternberg, with Peter Lorre as Raskolnikov and Edward Arnold as Inspector Porfiry. Lorre seems plausible as the tormented killer, but much as I love Arnold, and consider him to be one of the great character actors of American cinema, he doesn’t seem a plausible choice for the inspector. I had no idea this film existed. Comments I’ve seen don’t lead me to expect much, but it could be interesting.

11pm (PST) I Vitelloni (1953)—directed by Federico Fellini, with Alberto Sordi, Franco Interlenghi, Franco Fabrizi.

Lina Wertmuller - Love and Anarchy

Pick of the Week

The chance to see that run of Hammer films is really welcome, and I’m particularly looking forward to Dracula Chelsea ’72. But a week that includes The Kid, The Third Man, Love & Anarchy, Ride the High Country and Grand Hotel presents an impossible dilemma when it comes to picking just one film as the highlight of the week. That said, I think it has to be Love & Anarchy, which is shown much less frequently than the others and is also less likely to be available on DVD at your local library or video store.

For more…

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On TCM October 19-25: a mixed bag with Dietrich, Scotland, Robin Hood, and Horror


“She runs the West’s strangest hideout… a ranch where a guest can hide his crime… quench his thirst… betray a woman… and knife a man in the back… for a price!”

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On TCM Oct 12-18: David Niven, Powell & Pressburger, Droogs, Punks, and Silents

TCM continues its look at the Star of the Month: David Niven with a couple of my very favorite movies.

A_Matter_of_Life_and_Death_Cinema_PosterOn Monday at 5pm (PT), they’re showing one of the greatest films to be made by the British film-making team of Powell and Pressburger, A Matter of Life and Death (1946; released in the USA under the unfortunate title, Stairway to Heaven).

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SF Films: Freebie and the Bean (1974)


Viewing Notes

An early buddy cop movie. And very explicitly so, as the poster makes clear: “above all, it’s a love story” between the two feuding, fighting partners. I’m not sure the whole buddy cop dynamic has ever be spelled out as explicitly and up front.

All the elements are here—the feuding, the style and ethnic/racial differences, the insecurities addressed in their dynamic, the tender final moment… and if you want to talk about a sexual or homoerotic component, you don’t have far to look. The pair spend a lot of times in toilets; there’s a scene with a young gay guy taking a bath; concerns about Bean’s wife having an affair form a major subplot; and so on.

Given how strongly all the key elements of the buddy cop film are present, and its year of release, a case could be made for Freebie and the Bean as the very first in the genre. In an interview in Spectacular Optical, Richard Rush, who directed and developed the original treatment, certainly makes this claim and I think it’s spot on:

a movie  that dealt with two cops, one moral and one not, who rode around together in a police car and quarreled with each other like an old married couple. It was a good idea. It was a new one, never done before, regardless of how many times you have seen it since, through the franchises it has spawned. It started the genre of ‘The Buddy Cop Picture’.

Source: CUNNING STUNTS: A Q&A with Richard Rush « Spectacular Optical

It’s weird watching old cop movies like this: the casual brutality against a nobody crook is striking enough, but using the threat of sexual assault to get someone to squeal is really shocking. Things like this still happen in movies, but they need much more context and justification—here, it’s basically just part of the schtick, the style and wacky interplay of Freebie and the Bean. Likewise, Freebie’s persistent racially-themed needling of Bean (Alan Arkin) who’s Mexican-American (though not particularly believably).

One of the treats—for me, anyway—of watching older movies set in San Francisco is simply the street scenes. Seeing old joints like Omar Khayyam’s, the Sutter Cinema (an ‘adult’ theatre near Union Square) or even the demolished bits of the Central Freeway and Embarcadero Freeway… though for some reason a surprising amount of it seems to have been shot in and around the Transamerica Pyramid—including the final crash, even though it is supposed to be an ambulance driving to a hospital from the ‘Stick.

1974 Freebie and The Bean Alan Arkin James Caan Chuck Bail

The chases—car, motorcycle, and foot—and attendant crashes are worthy of The Blues Brothers—with the one where their car ends up in a 3rd floor apartment being particular memorable. I was surprised to see a car crash that looks to have been actually staged in the Broadway Tunnel. There’s a crash involving a truckload of live chickens. The easy excuse for all the crashes is that Freebie (James Caan) is both a reckless and bad driver. The chase in and around the Gateway Plaza / Embarcadero Center area is a whopper, ending with a fight in a kitchen that covers Bean and the bad guy in a huge pot of marinara sauce.

The screenplay is by Robert Kaufman—not a name to conjure with, and his later credits include The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington, but he started out as a writer on The Bob Newhart Show and his comedic and dialogue skills are in fine form in Freebie.

Loretta Swit, who played Hot Lips on TV’s M*A*S*H, and Valerie Harper, best know as Rhoda from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, have minor roles.

“I gotta have a taco.”

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The Unbreakable Furiosa – YouTube

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Christmas Movies and TV on Amazon

Christmas can be pretty overwhelming. On, it can be a real hassle sorting out the wheat from the chaff when it comes to decent holiday movies and TV specials, and picking between the many different versions available for some of the titles.

Below, for your convenience, are links to what I think are among the best of all the Christmas movies and TV specials available—and to what I think are likely to be the best and most appropriate of the various versions and editions. I have also created an Amazon store containing most of the same entries.

Holiday Movies on DVD from Amazon:

Classics / More Traditional

White Christmas, with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye

White Christmas (Anniversary Edition) — the classic. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are buddies serving together in the army. After WWII ends, they go into show business together, and are a big hit. Too big. Danny Kaye wants to set Bing up with a woman so he can have a rest. And then they meet two singers, sisters of an old Army buddy, played by Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney…

Holiday Inn (3 Disc Collector’s Set) — Bing Crosby starts an inn that only opens on holidays, each time with a special, thematic floor show. Fred Astaire is his best friend. And they’re both in love with the same girl. The film is notable for featuring the first screen performance of the song “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby—which would go on to be the biggest selling single of all time.

Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife

The Bishop’s Wife — with Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. Hard to go wrong with a cast like this. Cary Grant is maybe typecast—as an angel—but he brings restraint as well as charm, and a level of mystery and seriousness to his performance. One of my favorite Christmas movies. Not at all a religious film, despite the title, which was felt to hurt it at the box office because of confusion on this score. Elsa Lanchester appears in a supporting role.

Miracle on 34th Street (Special Edition) — Santa Claus goes on trial. A bit over-rated—the slightest of the old Christmas classics—a bit too sappy, but Edmund Gwenn is charming.

It’s a Wonderful Life (60th Anniversary Edition) / It’s a Wonderful Life [Blu-ray] — Zuzu’s petals! It’s Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Frank Capra. One of the mega-classics of the season. It can get old after too many viewings, but give it a few years… The sequence with the school dance is still a knock-out.

TCM Holiday Collection: Christmas in Connecticut 1945 / A Christmas Carol 1938 / The Shop Around the Corner / It Happened on 5th Avenue — Shop Around the Corner is the film on which You’ve Got Mail was based, but the original, directed by the great romantic comedy director Ernst Lubitsch and starring a very young James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, is infinitely superior.

Meet Me In St. Louis (Two-Disc Special Edition) — Vincente Minnelli directs Judy Garland in this integrated music, one of the finest, about the World’s Fair coming to St. Louis. The Christmas scene is a real tear-jerker and has long justified its inclusion in the canon of Christmas movies.

The Sound of Music (45th Anniversary Edition) (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) — I’m not entirely sure how this became a “Christmas classic,” but it did, and while it has its weaknesses, it is charming, and of course Julie Andrews is radiant and almost always worth watching and listening to. In one of my households, the tradition was to watch this while wrapping presents and drinking heavily.

TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: American Musicals (The Band Wagon / Meet Me in St. Louis / Singin’ in the Rain / Easter Parade) — These are all very good musicals —Singin’ in the Rain, obviously the greatest… and Easter Parade perhaps the weakest, in part I think because Fred Astaire is playing a role better suited to, and originally meant for, Gene Kelly. All fine and must see viewing for anyone interested in the musical.  Musicals in general seem particularly festive, particularly suited to the holiday season, and the inclusion of a “Christmas classic” in Meet Me in St. Louis gives some additional justification for including this here.

Modern Classics/Favorites

Bill Murray in Scrooged

Scrooged — Bill Murray is a TV exec who schedules a live musical version of “A Christmas Carol” for Christmas Eve, has his secretary send his brother a present, and fires a guy. Then this ghost shows up. Bill Murray is… Bill Murray, and the movie is surprisingly charming in parts, even touching. I actually never get tired of this movie.

The Polar Express (Widescreen Edition) — Tom Hanks gives an interesting performance, and it is technically quite impressive. It’s not without its touching moments, but overall it feels a bit cold to me, I think largely because of the animation style. Still, for many people a very good Christmas movie.

Love Actually (DVD) — and, you know, actually I do love this movie—just a little, but still. The cast is truly stellar: Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Hugh Grant… and of course Bilbo Baggins, porn stand-in.

A Christmas Story — I avoided this for years because of the picture of the kid on the cover/poster and the description, which made it sound a bit like a cheesy, low-budget Hallmark special. I was stupid, boneheaded, wrong. It’s great, and has a very Christmasy feel without being overly treacly and twee. The best, really, of all the more modern movies that have been designated as Christmas favorites.


Bad Santa — Has to be seen. Billy Bob Thornton plays a conman who takes a job as a mall Santa to rob the place with the help of an elf. But they run into a troubled kid and… Kind of genuinely heartwarming in the end.

Die Hard — Weirdly, for many people, this has become a sort of Christmas classic… It’s set during Christmas time, and has a happy ending and all that. And I think lots of us appreciate the change of pace that automatic gunfire provides…

Gremlins — Like Die Hard, a movie set during Christmas that has become a quirky alternative classic.

Holiday TV Specials on DVD from Amazon:

How the Grinch Stole Christmas — The original, one and only. Directed by the great Chuck Jones, narrated by Boris Karloff (aka The Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster—in one of the most inspired and deeply weird bit of casting of all time) and a theme song sung by Tony the Tiger (no kidding—actually the voice of Thurl Ravenscroft, who did the original Tony in the TV ads).

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Remastered Deluxe Edition) — You might get tired of Charlie Brown’s tired tree, but it’s impossible to ever grow tired of the dance sequence. And of course the music is terrific. And the way the adult voices are handled is smart, funny, and apt.


Olive the Other Reindeer — The “Christmas classic” is a tough market to break into, but for me at least, Olive the Other Reindeer jumped straight into the category. I can’t wait to share it with people who haven’t seen it yet.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964 Rankin/Bass version on DVD) — Is this a classic? I’m not sure. But for people who saw it as kids, it might seem like it from pure nostalgia. Try watching it with your kids and see if it still can cut it after Shaun the SheepToy Story and Polar Express, etc. Maybe the animation is too dated. And of course the story was always suspect, being a made-up marketing ploy.

Santa Claus Is Comin to Town — A 1970 claymation TV special that tells the story of Santa’s origins. Like Rudolph, it’s possible that its charms are primarily those of nostalgia and it won’t do as well with the sophisticated tastes of today’s 8 year old. But it is narrated by Fred Astaire and features the voices by Mickey Rooney and Keenan Wynn, and at times reflects the “hip” values and imagery of the late 60s/early 70s. I might have to watch this again.

The Original Christmas Classics (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer / Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town / Frosty the Snowman / Frosty Returns) [Blu-ray] — a grab bag including some of the best of the old TV specials—Rudolph, Santa Claus. With Frosty Returns thrown in, I suppose out of some need for completeness or a round number; despite the voice of Jimmy Durante, skippable.

The Original Christmas Classics (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town/Frosty the Snowman/Frosty Returns/Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol/Little Drummer Boy/Cricket on the Hearth) — a non-Blu-ray grab bag with the same good ones, and Mr. Magoo. I was never a fan of that guy.

Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker – San Francisco Ballet (DVD) — not exactly a TV special, but a great performance of a traditional “perennial holiday tradition” that I think most people have never actually seen, and which these days, in the live version, is beyond most people’s budget.

Filed under: Movies, TV,

Roger Ebert, Film Critic, Dies


Roger Ebert, Film Critic, Dies

Roger Ebert, the popular film critic and television co-host who along with his fellow reviewer and sometime sparring partner Gene Siskel could lift or sink the fortunes of a movie with their trademark thumbs up or thumbs down, died on Thursday. He was 70.


There are other film critics, and new ones come along all the time.  But it is hard to imagine another film critic achieving the stature of Roger Ebert.

Pauline Kael is very popular and influential, but outside the circle of film buffs doesn’t have the sort of impact and recognition that Ebert has and I hope will continue to have, through his books and online access to his reviews and other writing.

And while the interwebs have opened up new spaces for film reviews and criticism, and allowed new voices to be heard, they have also made it hard for any one voice to build the kind of audience that Ebert had for so many years.

Some people, while mourning the loss of such a generally decent guy, may feel that his passing will open up more space for those other voices, many of whom disagree, directly or indirectly, with Ebert. I don’t think so. In recent years, Ebert has probably done more to bring attention to other, lesser known film reviewers than any other force in the public sphere, and has always been unfailingly gracious to respectful dissenting views.

I disagreed with many of his reviews. Perversely, I sometimes thought him both too accepting of mainstream fare and too willing to overlook the difficulties, flaws, and obscurantism of independent and avant-garde fare. But I knew he was smarter than me, and knew more about film than I ever would, and that he would be the first person to agree that issues of taste were always open.  He was very good, though, at making the case for his point of view, and distinguishing between personal preferences and some sort of shared cultural space in which films could be evaluated and criticized.

His show with Gene Siskel, “Sneak Previews,” will be – probably forever – the model for film reviewing on television, and we’re lucky to have had such a model. And with any luck, Ebert’s writing will continue to serve as model for intelligent film reviewing aimed at a general audience.  If we’re even luckier, Ebert’s internet presence will also be a influence on discourse in the still new, and still pretty raw and vicious, public sphere of the interwebs.  He was a smart, sensitive, honest public voice, and he will be missed.

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Entertainment Weekly celebrating 50 Years of Doctor Who


‘Doctor Who’: This Week’s Cover | PopWatch |

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Wes Anderson’s Worlds by Michael Chabon

One of the most interesting and exciting contemporary American novelists on one of the most interesting and exciting American filmmakers:

Wes Anderson’s Worlds by Michael Chabon

The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”

read the rest on NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

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Scenes of the Season: It’s a Wonderful Life


Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, has become one of the most watched films of the holiday season.  I can remember years when it seemed like it was showing on a loop—at least if you had cable.  This year, astonishingly, it doesn’t seem to be showing anywhere.  I know that can’t be right. Can it?

It hardly seems necessary to say anything about it—like Casablanca it’s one of those movies that even if you’ve never seen it, you probably still know the gist of it.

[mild spoiler alert] James Stewart is George Bailey, a small town guy with big dreams. He wants to shake that small town dust off his feet and see the world. And build things. Then he meets Mary (Donna Reed). Life seems pretty good, despite the fact that he never does get out of that small town. He runs the Savings & Loan that his father started and is the most popular guy in town. It’s Christmas Eve, and his brother  is returning for the holidays after being given the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism during the war. But then things go terribly wrong over the course of Christmas Eve, and he ends up wishing he’d never been born. And an angel grants his wish.

The scenes where George meets Mary and where they decide to marry are alone worth the price of admission. And if you’ve wondered who Donna Reed was and why she had her own TV show, you’ll find out.

The film was a bit of a box office dud when it came out. It’s not as tight as other Capra movies; at 125 minutes it feels a bit long, and could have used some editing. And Capra’s corn-fed populism seemed to have run its course, as the strong turn towards noir in the post-war years might suggest. In fact, Capra never really made another major film, certainly none that are remembered or watched today. His heyday was the 1930s, when he had a string of hits that are still popular: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take it With You (1938)—a personal favorite—and whatis his most critically acclaimed film, and after Wonderful Life the one most frequently watched today, It Happened One Night (1934), with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.

Directors working with the same actors on a number of films were fairly common in the heyday of Hollywood, but Capra’s working relationship with his staple actors was particularly rewarding. Lionel Barrymore in You Can’t Take it With You and Wonderful Life—a bit curmudgeon-y in both, but charming in the former and cruel in the latter.  Jean Arthur—astonishingly charming, “the quintessential comedic leading lady”—in You Can’t Take it With You and Mr. Deeds.  And James Stewart. James Stewart in two of his most remembered performances, in Mr. Smith and Wonderful Life, as well as in You Can’t Take it With You, in which he’s great.  Stewart has been better, and been in much better movies—including another holiday movie, The Shop Around the Corner (1940), directed by Ernst Lubitsch.  But Stewart’s roles and performances in the Capra movies tend to really stay with people.

As I said, I haven’t been able to find when and where It’s a Wonderful Life is showing on TV this season, but you can watch the whole movie online on YouTube:

For more…

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Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat

Chritstmas Tree

I’m dreaming of a media Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the music glows
and the  TV shows
holiday classics all day long…

And to help you find music and movies for the holidays, I’ve knocked together a few quick guides (which are listed to the right as well):

Christmas Shows and Movies on TV—When to Watch

Christmas Movies and TV on Amazon

Christmas Music on Amazon

(The two “Amazon” lists use affiliate links; any money generated will be donated to the less fortunate.)

I know I’ve left out some of your favorites.  Let me know in comments and I will add them as I am able.

Also, keep an eye out for two more lists: one on holiday reading; and A Pirate Christmas—with links to (ahem) alternative sources for many of the titles I feature in the other lists.

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A new Christmas tune, from CeeLo Green and the Muppets

Generally, I’m very much a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas tunes: carols and Nat King Cole, that sort of thing.

But this hits my sweet spot.  What it has is sincerity.  CeeLo is not snarky.  He digs the Muppets, and he’s singing from the heart.  It may be somewhat slight musically, but it comes from the heart.

As they say, it’s the thought that counts. Mostly we don’t really “buy'” that—because we want someone to buy us that particular something tasty. But CeeLo and the Muppets remind us that all we need is love… Christmas can get pretty clichéd, but what sets the same old tunes, stories and so on apart is sincerity, heart.  And CeeLo’s got a big heart.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  If we put our thoughts and our heart into it.

(Jeez—am I sappy or what.)

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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.

Upcoming Bay Area Films of Interest

  • Castro: Sing-a-long Sound of Music November 27, 2015 – November 29, 2015 The Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114, United States
  • Roman Holiday - Fathom Event November 29, 2015
  • Roman Holiday - Fathom Event December 1, 2015
  • Rebar: Kaleidoscape closes December 20, 2015 BAM/PFA Galleries
  • Miracle on 34th St. - Fathom Event December 20, 2015
  • Miracle on 34th St. - Fathom Event December 23, 2015
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.



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