Film on TV: December 6-12

Intolerance, playing late Sunday night on TCM.

The next episode of TCM’s History of Hollywood series takes us into the 1950s, and they pair it with a bunch of gritty dramas on Monday (a few of which started as teleplays, as befits the 1950s preoccupation with television) and a spattering of other ’50s highlights on Wednesday. One of those is the newly featured The Defiant Ones, which also points to the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement; also note Lilies of the Field on Friday. Not too many other newly featured things: The Girl on the Train on Monday on IFC, a trio of Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney musicals on TCM on Thursday, The Bishop’s Wife getting us ready for Christmas on Sunday, and also Intolerance, which I would rank as my favorite Griffith film.

Monday, December 6

6:40pm – Sundance – The Girl on the Train
In this French film, a young girl claims to be the victim of an anti-Semite attack on a train; a media sensation follows, but is she telling the truth? I’ve been curious about this one for a while, but haven’t made time to see it. Has anyone caught it yet?
2009 France. Director: André Téchiné. Starring: Émilie Dequenne, Michel Blanc, Cahterine Deneuve.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 12:00M and 5:10am on the 7th)

7:00pm – IFC – Letters from Iwo Jima
The Japan-focused half of Clint Eastwood’s two-part exploration of World War II, which most people consider superior to the American half, Flags of Our Fathers. Of course, I goofed and only saw the American half, but I keep meaning to go back and see Letters from Iwo Jima as well, not least of all because Ken Watanabe is always worth watching.
2006 USA. Director: Clint Eastwood. Starring: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase, Hiroshi Watanabe.

8:00pm – TCM – Moguls & Movie Stars: Attack of the Small Screens
The sixth episode of TCM’s History of Hollywood series hits up the 1950s, the beginning of the end for the Hollywood studio system, as the original moguls left or were forced out of their empires, the McCarthy era and its blacklist ravaged Hollywood, and television threatened theatre-going. Yet it was also a time of great artistry, with gritty realism staking a firm claim on the cinematic landscape along with lush melodramas, socially conscious dramas, and bright musicals.

12:00M – TCM – A Face in the Crowd
A rare film role for homespun comedian Andy Griffith really shows his chops as he plays an Ozark hobo who becomes an overnight sensation on radio and TV; when the fame and power starts going to his head, the film shows the cynical dark underbelly of media sensations. One of the recently late Patricia Neal’s best roles, too, as the girl who discovers him.
1957 USA. Director: Elia Kazan. Starring: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Walter Matthau, Lee Remick.

12:00M – IFC – Pulp Fiction
Tarantino’s enormously influential and entertaining film pretty much needs no introduction from me. Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta give the performances of their careers, Tarantino’s dialogue is spot-on in its pop-culture-infused wit, and the chronology-shifting, story-hopping editing style has inspired a host of imitators, most nowhere near as good.
1994 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Tim Roth, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames.
Must See

2:15am (7th) – TCM – Sweet Smell of Success
One of the most acidically witty films of the 1950s, Sweet Smell of Success turns its gaze on Broadway gossip columnist Burt Lancaster, who connives with press agent Tony Curtis to break up his sister’s romance – a searing indictment of unscrupulous newspaper men, yes, and a bitingly funny one to boot.
1957 USA. Director: Alexander Mackendrick. Starring: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner, Sam Levene.

4:00am (7th) _ TCM – A Streetcar Named Desire
A Streetcar Named Desire won Vivien Leigh her second Oscar as fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois, and made a star out of Marlon Brando. It’s also one of the films I’m most embarrassed to say I’ve never seen. I even have it on DVD somewhere! Someday, I will get to it.
1951 USA. Director: Elia Kazan. Starring: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Stanley, Karl Malden.

Tuesday, December 7

9:30am – Sundance – Le doulos
Jean-Paul Belmondo brings his signature style to Jean-Pierre Meville’s excellent crime film as a possible police informant working with another criminal on a jewel heist. These two men are played off each other in a sort of doubling motif – it’s often even difficult to tell which is which, due to careful cinematography and lighting work by Melville.
1962 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Serge Reggiani, René Lefèvre.

9:45am – TCM – From Here to Eternity
There’s the famous part, yes, where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr make love on the beach among the crashing waves. But there’s also a solid ensemble war tale, involving young officer Montgomery Clift and his naive wife Donna Reed, and embittered soldiers Frank Sinatra and Lee J. Cobb.
1953 USA. Director: Fred Zinnemann. Starring: Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed, Montgomery Clift, Lee J. Cobb.

Wednesday, December 8

8:45am – IFC – Dancer in the Dark
Bjork plays a factory worker whose increasing blindness threatens to keep her from being able to do her job, which will keep her from earning the money she needs for an operation that will prevent her son from suffering the same blindness. Add in the relationship with her not-as-happy-as-they-seem neighbors and a trenchant critique of the justice system and death penalty, not to mention several musical numbers juxtaposed throughout, and you have a film that’s unlike any other.
2000 Denmark. Director: Lars von Trier. Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare.
(repeats at 4:30pm)

10:45am – TCM – The Heiress
Olivia de Havilland won her second Oscar for her role as the title character in this adaptation of Henry James’ Washington Square, a woman forbidden from love with a young suitor because her controlling father fears the suitor is only a fortune hunter.
1949 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins.

2:30pm – TCM – West Side Story
I unabashedly love musicals, Shakespeare, and stylized choreography. Hence, I love West Side Story. I wish Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood were a little more interesting as the leads, but the supporting cast is electrifying enough that it doesn’t much matter, especially with Bernstein and Sondheim music and Jerome Robbins choreography.
1961 USA. Director: Richard Wise & Jerome Robbins. Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, Rita Moreno.
Must See

8:00pm – TCM – Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder’s classic noir explores the dark side of the rich and formerly famous, as a struggling screenwriter (William Holden) gets involved with a silent screen star seeking to make a comeback in the sound era. In one of the most brilliant cast films ever, actual silent screen star Gloria Swanson returned to the movies to play the delusional Norma Desmond and actual silent star/director Erich von Stroheim (who worked with Swanson on the never-finished Queen Kelly, portions of which appear in Sunset Boulevard) plays her former director/current butler. The film is a bit on the campy side now, but that doesn’t diminish its enjoyability one bit.
1950 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Nancy Olsen, Erich Von Stroheim, Buster Keaton.
Must See

8:15pm – TCM – Eraserhead
David Lynch’s first feature is a weird post-apocalyptic dreamscape of a film – what, you were expecting something normal? When you can have industrial decay and mutant babies?
1977 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart.

10:00pm – TCM – Little Children
Todd Field’s perfectly written (and acted) story of intersecting unhappy suburbanites reminds us why melodrama shouldn’t be a bad word – this is melodrama at its very best, and its very best is stunning. Kate Winslet turns in a should’ve-been-Oscar-winning performance as the frustrated wife and mother grasping for an emotional connection with another neighborhood dad (Patrick Wilson), while Jackie Earle Haley registered a comeback as a sex offender.
2006 USA. Director: Todd Field. Starring: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Gregg Edelman, Jackie Earle Haley.

11:15pm – TCM – Singin’ in the Rain
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly team up for what is now usually considered one of the greatest musicals of all time. Inspired by songs written by MGM producer Arthur Freed at the beginning the sound era, Singin’ in the Rain takes that seismic shift in film history for its setting, focusing on heartthrob screen couple Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (the hilarious Jean Hagen) as the transition into sound – problem being that Lamont’s voice, like many actual silent screen stars, doesn’t fit her onscreen persona. Hollywood’s often best when it turns on its own foibles, and this is no exception.
1952 USA. Directors: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly. Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen.
Must See

12:45am (9th) – IFC – The Usual Suspects
One of the earliest in the late 90s wave of “twist” films, and still one of the few that did it best. Spoiler warnings may not have been invented for The Usual Suspects, but it was certainly one of the films that popularized anti-spoiler sentiment (and the converse glee for spoiling, I suppose). Thanks to Christopher McQuarrie’s tight script and great acting turns, though, the film is about more than the twist, which is what makes it continue to be worthwhile over a decade and multiple viewings later.
1995 USA. Director: Bryan Singer. Starring: Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Bryne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollack, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite.

1:15am (9th) – TCM – North by Northwest
Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) gets mistaken for George Kaplan and pulled into an elaborate web of espionage in one of Hitchcock’s most enjoyable and funniest thrillers. So many great scenes it’s impossible to list them all.
1959 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau.
Must See

3:45am (9th) – TCM – The Defiant Ones
Convicts Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier escape, but are chained together and must learn to work with each other to evade the authorities. Made in 1958, just a few years into the Civil Rights Movement, it probably falls squarely into the message picture arena, but sometimes those are needed.
1958 USA. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, Theodore Bikel.
Newly Featured!

Thursday, December 9

6:00am – IFC – Spirited Away
Often considered Hayao Miyazaki’s finest film, it’s easily among the best family-friendly animated films in existence, full of magic and wonder, gods and spirits, and shapeshifting spells.
2001 Japan. Director: Hayao Miyazaki. Starring: Rumi Hiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki.
(repeats at 2:00pm)

8:00pm – IFC – Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Easily one of the most absurd, random, hilarious, and quotable comedies of all time. A more hapless bunch of Round Table knights couldn’t be found, and Monty Python has never been better than they are here.
1975 UK. Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones. Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones.
Must See
(repeats at 3:30am on the 10th)

8:15pm – Sundance – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Luis Bu˜uel made a career out of making surrealist anti-bourgeois films, and this is one of the most surreal, most anti-bourgeois, and best films he ever made, about a dinner party that just can’t quite get started due to completely absurd interruptions.
1972 France. Director: Luis Buñuel. Starring: Fernando Rey, Paul Fankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Cassel.
(repeats at 4:15pm)

9:30pm – TCM – Babes in Arms
11:15pm – TCM – Strike Up the Band
3:45am (10th) – TCM – Babes on Broadway
Three of ten movies Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney made together, all of them (like most of their films) about a group of enthusiastic kids who decide to put on a show, usually with choreography by Busby Berkeley. These aren’t great movies, but they’re cute and innocuous. I think I enjoy Strike Up the Band the most of the three.
1939/1940/1941. Director: Busby Berkeley. Starring: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney.
Newly Featured!

11:00pm – IFC – Reservoir Dogs
Quentin Tarantino’s first directorial feature sets the tone for his career – ultraviolet, talky, self-aware, and flamboyantly confident. It’s far from my personal favorite Tarantino film, but I’m in the minority on that; most Tarantino fans rank it quite favorably against his later films.
1992 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi.

3:45am (10th) – TCM – Girl Crazy
One of the few Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney team ups that I recommend on its own, largely because the George Gershwin score sets it apart a lot, and also because they’re old enough by this point for it to be a bit more than just a teen movie. Also look for a young June Allyson near the beginning in her first film appearance.
1943 USA. Director: Norman Taurog/Busby Berkeley. Starring: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Rags Ragland.

5:30am (10th) – TCM – Words and Music
MGM liked to do largely fictionalized composer biopics in the 1940s and ’50s, mostly because it gave them an opportunity to show off their stable of singing and dancing stars. Words and Music is their retelling of the career of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and it’s pretty routine. What isn’t routine is Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen’s dazzling rendition of “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” a ten-minute dance number that is 100% worth the price of the film.
1948 USA. Director: Norman Taurog. Starring: Tom Drake, Mickey Rooney, Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh, Cyd Charisse, June Allyson, Gene Kelly, Vera-Ellen, James Mitchell, Lena Horne, Kathryn Grayson, Judy Garland.
Newly Featured!

Friday, December 10

7:45am – TCM – The Caine Mutiny
Humphrey Bogart’s Captain Queeg is a piece of work, and by that I mean some of the best work Bogart has on film. He’s neurotic, paranoid, and generally mentally unstable. Or is he? That’s the question after first officer Van Johnson relieves him of duty as being unfit to serve and faces charges of mutiny.
1954 USA. Director: Edward Dmytryk. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, Jose Ferrer.

12:00N – TCM – Operation Petticoat
Tony Curtis did a fantastic and hilarious job imitating Cary Grant for part of his role in Some Like It Hot, and here you can see the two actually working together in this Navy-set comedy (released the same year!). It’s a pretty slight film, but it’s still enjoyable.
1959 USA. Director: Blake Edwards. Starring: Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Joan O’Brien, Dina Merrill.

6:15pm – TCM – Lilies of the Field
Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor with this film in 1963, which follows a construction worker and his encounter with a group of Eastern European nuns who help him when his car breaks down.
1963 USA. Director: Ralph Nelson. Stars: Sidney Poitier, Lilia Skala, Lisa Mann.
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7:45pm – IFC – Layer Cake
Sounds like an unusual title for a crime film, but it’s also an unusually solid crime film, with Daniel Craig in one of his breakthrough roles as a drug dealer given a couple of tough jobs just before planning to retire. Last jobs never go well, so you can kind of predict all won’t go as planned.
2004 UK. Director: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: Daniel Craig, Tom Hardy, Sally Hawkins, Burn Gorman.
(repeats at 2:15am on the 11th)

10:30pm – TCM – The Man Who Came To Dinner
A rare comedic film for Bette Davis, though the film mainly focuses on Monty Woolley as an acerbic newspaper critic forced to take up residence with a midwestern family when he breaks his hip outside their house. Woolley was a great character actor here given the spotlight, and he takes it and runs with it. A great script by Julius and Philip Epstein (of Casablanca) doesn’t hurt, either.
1942 USA. Director: William Keighley. Starring: Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Monty Woolley, Jimmy Durante, Billie Burke.

3:45am (11th) – TCM – The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
One of the more bizarre kids movies you’ll ever see, and the only one written directly for the screen by Dr. Seuss. Bart hates his piano lessons with Dr. Terwilliker, and when he falls asleep one day, dreams a surrealistic world where Dr. T enslaves hundreds of boys to play a giant piano.
1953 USA. Director: Roy Rowland. Starring: Tommy Rettig, Hans Conried, Mary Healy.
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Saturday, December 11

8:15am – Sundance – Ran
Akira Kurosawa’s inspired transposition of King Lear into medieval Japan, mixing Shakespeare and Japanese Noh theatre tradition like nobody’s business.
1985 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu.
Must See

2:45pm – TCM – The Thing From Another World
An team of scientists in the arctic discover an ice-bound spacecraft, but when they bring the dead pilot back to their station, they discover he’s carrying a bloodthirsty alien parasite. Through credited to Christian Nyby, the film is at least partially directed by Howard Hawks (who produced). Also, this is one of the very few situations where I think the remake (John Carpenter’s The Thing) is actually better than the original. But this one is still worth watching, especially if you’re into 1950s sci-fi/horror.
1951 USA. Director: Christian Nyby. Starring: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, James Arness.

8:00pm – TCM – Meet Me in St. Louis
The ultimate nostalgia film, harking back to the turn of the century and the year leading up to the 1903 St. Louis World’s Fair. Judy Garland holds the film and the family in it together as the girl who only wants to love the boy next door, but it’s Margaret O’Brien as the little willful sister who adds the extra bit of oomph, especially in the manic Halloween scene and the violent Christmas scene that carries the film from an exercise in sentimentality into a deeper territory of loss and distress.
1944 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Judy Garland, Tom Drake, Lucille Bremer, Margaret O’Brien, Leon Ames, Mary Astor.
Must See

8:00pm – IFC – The Crying Game
British soldier Forest Whitaker is captured by an IRA cell, and one of the IRA members (Stephen Rea), against his better judgement, befriends him. Later, Rea leaves the cell and makes his way to London to find Whitaker’s lover and ends up getting involved with her under an assumed identity. There’s an additional twist that you likely know if you play any film trivia at all, but the rest of the film is a solid exploration of terrorist guilt with director Neil Jordan’s characteristic angst.
1992 UK. Director: Neil Jordan. Starring: Stephen Rea, Forest Whitaker, Miranda Richardson, Jaye Davidson.
(repeats at 2:45am on the 12th)

10:30pm – IFC – From Dusk Till Dawn
An early collaboration between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez (Rodriguez directing, Tarantino writing and acting) mixes crime action with vampire horror.
1996 USA. Director: Robert Rodriguez. Starring: Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis.

11:00pm – TCM – The Clock
This was Judy Garland’s first real purely dramatic role, directed by her then-husband Vincente Minnelli in 1945. It’s a wartime story of a soldier on leave (Robert Walker) who meets a girl (Garland) and their attempts to get married before he has to return to his unit. It’s a sweet, unassuming little film that showcases Garland’s charm quite well, and has a nice supporting role for comedian Keenan Wynn.
1945 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Judy Garland, Robert Walker, Keenan Wynn.

12:45am (12th) – TCM – The Pirate
A flop when first released, The Pirate looks more and more like a potential cult classic all the time. Gene Kelly is an entertainer who impersonates the dread pirate Mack the Black Mococo to get close to Spanish heiress Judy Garland in a period Caribbean seaport. It’s over-the-top, has some of Cole Porter’s most outlandish songs, and is somehow immensely, compulsively watchable.
1948 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Walter Slezak, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Owen, the Nicholas Brothers.

12:45am (12th) – IFC – The Wicker Man
The original version of this moody horror film, as policeman Edward Woodward tries to find a girl missing from an isolated island village – except the locals claim she doesn’t even exist. Weird rites and rituals await him as he delves further into the mystery.
1973 UK. Director: Robin Hardy. Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt.

3:30am (12th) – TCM – An American in Paris
Expat artist Gene Kelly in Paris, meets Leslie Caron, woos her away from rival Georges Guetarey, all set to Gershwin music and directed with panache by Vincente Minnelli. All that plus Kelly’s ground-breaking fifteen-plus-minute ballet to the title piece.
1951 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetarey.
Must See

5:30am (12th) – TCM – Gigi
Maurice Chevalier’s “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” might come off as more pervy now than it was originally intended, but as a whole Gigi stands as one of the most well-produced and grown-up musicals made during the studio era. Vincente Minnelli gives it a wonderful visual richness and sophistication, while music from Lerner & Loewe (usually) stresses the right combination of innocence, exuberance, and ennui for its decadent French story.
1958 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Louis Jourdan, Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold.

Sunday, December 12

10:15am – TCM – The Shop Around the Corner
The original version of You’ve Got Mail has James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as feuding employees of a shop who are unknowingly exchanging romantic letters. Ernst Lubitsch directs, bringing his warm European wit to bear.
1940 USA. Director: Ernst Lubitsch. Starring: James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan.

12:00N – TCM – The Bishop’s Wife
Looks like we’re getting close to Christmas season again, and TCM fires the first holiday movie shot with this story of angel Cary Grant coming down to aid a bishop (David Niven) with his parish and family life. It’s not one of my favorite Christmas films, but it does get perennial play.
1947 USA. Director: Henry Koster. Starring: Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young.
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4:00pm – TCM – Roman Holiday
Audrey Hepburn’s first lead role, and the one that immediately catapulted her into stardom. She’s a princess who runs away to try out being normal, and spends an adventurous day exploring Rome with incognito journalist Gregory Peck. Pretty much delightful right the way through.
1953 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert.

6:15pm – TCM – Annie Hall
Often considered Woody Allen’s transition film from “funny Woody” to “serious Woody,” Annie Hall is both funny, thoughtful, and fantastic. One of the best scripts ever written, a lot of warmth as well as paranoid cynicism, and a career-making role for Diane Keaton (not to mention fashion-making).
1977 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane.
Must See

12:45am (13th) – TCM – Intolerance
D.W. Griffith followed up his epic, controversial masterpiece Birth of a Nation with this even more epic film spanning multiple stories and centuries, telling thematically interlaced tales of intolerance both ancient and contemporary. In many ways, I think this is the stronger of the two films.
1916 USA. Director: D.W. Griffith. Starring: Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Robert Herron.
Must See
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I love that EPIC set in Intolerance. Cast of 1000s indeed!


The Defiant Ones is my choice for this week.