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More Star Specials on TCM – Grand Illusion, Red River, Cary Grant… and Dobie Gillis

After today’s Bogart marathon—all day today, 13 films and 1 documentary—TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” with Jean Gabin on Thursday, Debbie Reynolds on Friday, Montgomery Clift on Saturday and then Cary Grant on Sunday. The program then continues for the remainder of the month (full schedule here).

With stars like that, and more than a dozen of their films each day, there’s no shortage of highlights. Here, though, are some of the highlights of the highlights:

Grand Illusion (1937) – directed by Jean Renoir, with Jean Gabin as a French prisoner in a WWI German camp, commanded by Erich von Stroheim – showing Thursday, Aug 18 at 7pm. One of the great classics of world cinema, Roger Ebert called it “a meditation on the collapse of the old order of European civilization.” It’s followed by another film by Jean Renoir and starring Jean Gabim, La Bete Humaine (1938), based on the novel by Emile Zola.

Singin’ In The Rain (1952) – directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, and starring Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds – showing Friday, Aug 19 at 11:15pm.  Kelly and O’Connor play a couple of song and dance men who are trying to make the transition from silent movies to sound. Reynolds is a club dancer and movie fan. A sparkling script by Betty Comdon and Adolph Green. Roger Ebert says Singin’ “is a transcendent experience, and no one who loves movies can afford to miss it.” Leonard Maltin called it “the greatest movie musical of all time.” Selected as one of top ten films of all times in the Sight & Sound critics’ poll.

And yet… And yet… You’ve probably already seen it, so maybe you should check out The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953) with Debbie Reynolds and Bobby Van, Hans Conreid (The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T) and Bob Fosse – showing first in the Debbie Reynolds marathon, at 3am. The film on which the TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, featuring pop culture’s first beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs, was based.

Red River (1948) – directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in one of the greatest Westerns of all time – showing Saturday, Aug 20 at 10am.

Saturday, August 21, features 13 movies starring the incomparable Cary Grant, including many of his greatest. The top picks:

4:30am: I’m No Angel (1933) – with Mae West

6 am: My Favorite Wife (1940) – with Irene Dunne

12:30pm: The Philadelphia Story (1940) – directed by George Cukor, with Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart

2:30pm: North By Northwest (1959) – Alfred Hitchcock once said that Cary Grant was the only actor he ever loved. The two made four films together, and this is the last.  It might also be the least. It’s spectacular, with some amazing cinematography—including the wonderful shots at UN Plaza and the scene with the crop duster. But it also has Hitchcock’s weakest blonde, Eva Marie Saint—though perhaps she only seems weak in comparison to Grace Kelly, who’d been in Grant and Hitchcock’s previous outing together, the sparkling To Catch a Thief. Still, immensely satisfying.

7:15pm: Only Angels Have Wings (1939) – another one directed by Howard Hawks, and a personal favorite of mine – with Jean Arthur.

1:15am: Bringing Up Baby (1938) – an another by Howard Hawks, probably a personal favorite of just about everyone. The classic screwball comedy starring Grant as a mousy professor and Katharine Hepburn as a scatterbrain heiress. Clearly TCM wanted to finish their day of Cary Grant on a very high note.

For more…

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Life in the Dark: Frank Capra’s “You Can’t Take It with You”

You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
Directed by Frank Capra
Screenplay by Robert Riskin; adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Cast includes James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore and Edward Arnold

I thought I knew You Can’t Take It With You. After all, I’ve seen it at least a half dozen times, possibly as many as a dozen or more. Tony Kirby (Jimmy Stewart) is a young executive, the boss’ son, who falls in love with his secretary, Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur). She comes from a screwball family of irrepressible eccentrics. Like so many romantic comedies, the film follows the basic Shakespeare comedy schema: boy and girl are in love, but their relationship is blocked by the forces of social order, so they flee to a forest, a space apart, where they can be together – in this case, the forest being the ramshackle house of Alice’s family, where most of the movie takes place (an obvious marker of its origins as a stage play).

Well, all of that is true as far as it goes. But watching it the other night, I realized I had it all wrong really. You Can’t Take It With You is not so much the story of the son and his relationship, but rather that of the father, Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold) and his crisis of character. He’s the protagonist, the one whose character has an arc, undergoes a conflict and a transformation. The son just breezes along.  Stewart and Arthur are both so wonderful that it misleads you – though this isn’t their best work, nor even their best work together for Frank Capra, which is in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (in which Arnold also appears). No, it’s Edward Arnold’s Anthony P. Kirby that is the real hero here, as should have been obvious from the title – he’s the most likely person to whom “you can’t take it with you” might be addressed. Seen this way, the movie is the story of his realization that his life as a successful man of high finance has led him away from what is really important, and threatens to not only destroy his relationship with his son – and his son’s happiness – but also threatens his life.

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A reason to look forward to Valentine’s Day: a new Simon Pegg movie

Well, it isn’t a new season of “Spaced” – that ship has sailed, can’t go home again, yada yada yada – but any new Simon Pegg joint is more than welcome – and here he’s reunited with Nick Frost, his memorable sidekick in Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead.

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Seth Rogen in “Paul”: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) reunite for the comedy adventure Paul as two sci-fi geeks whose pilgrimage takes them to America’s UFO heartland. While there, they accidentally meet an alien who brings them on an insane road trip that alters their universe forever.

For the past 60 years, an alien named Paul has been hanging out at a top-secret military base. For reasons unknown, the space-traveling smart ass decides to escape the compound and hop on the first vehicle out of town—a rented RV containing Earthlings Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Collings (Frost).

Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And as two nerds struggle to help, one little green man might just take his fellow outcasts from misfits to intergalactic heroes. (via Spotlightreport “Best entertainment Web in oz”.)

More info available on Paul (2011)

Simon Pegg – another one of my guilty pleasures.

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More Movie Magic: Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd on TCM Tomorrow

Starting at 5pm PT tomorrow, Wednesday, Nov. 17, TCM is featuring a masterclass in silent comedy, with films from the three geniuses of the form, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, including the films that represent perhaps the purest examples of the work of each.

First up is The Kid (1921), one of Chaplin’s masterpieces. In The Kid, Chaplin is a tramp who raises The Kid (Jackie Coogan) as his own, and then fights to keep him. This is followed at 6pm by The Pilgrim (1923). These two are the last films Chaplin made for First National, before moving to the studio he co-founded, United Artists.

The Chaplin films are followed by a pair of Buster Keaton films – One Week (1920) at 8:15pm and then at 8:45pm another masterpiece, Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928). Keaton is the weedy son of a tough steamboat captain, who falls in love with the daughter of his father’s rival. In the end, of course, Keaton saves his dad’s boat and the day – and wins the girl.

This exceptional night of films from one of the key moments in the history of cinema finishes with a movie by the least known of these comic geniuses, Harold Lloyd – probably his greatest, Safety Last! (1923). Lloyd plays a young man from a small town who goes to the big city and works to earn the money to marry his sweetheart, and endures a series of comic misadventures with his job at a department store.

I know you can get these movies on video or from NetFlix (and you can probably watch them on the interweb) – or even TiVo them to watch whenever, but it still seems so special to me to be able to watch The Kid, Steamboat Bill Jr. and Safety Last! – three of the greatest comedy films of all time – all in one evening. A moment.

Footnote: Lloyd’s work was a major influence on one of the greatest physical comedians of recent years, Jackie Chan, and Chan has paid homage to Lloyd in a number of his films and in particular to Safety Last in one of his best films, Project A.

For more…

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This Week on TCM – Tati, Ealing Studios, White Heat and more (Sep 6-11)

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

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) – directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda – a key movie in the Cahiers du Cinéma discussion of Ford’s auteur qualities – Saturday 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.

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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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