It’s a good week for silent and Pre-Code fans, as TCM shows a rare triple-feature of silents late Monday/early Tuesday (usually they only run one silent per week, on Sunday night), featuring three of silent cinema’s biggest stars – Douglas Fairbanks, Rudoph Valentino, and Joan Crawford. Then Barbara Stanwyck brings the Pre-Code goodness with Ladies They Talk About on Thursday (itself part of a series of women-in-prison films) and a quartet of films on Friday night. Meanwhile, don’t miss out on TCM’s memorial tribute to Andy Griffith on Wednesday night with two of his best films. And IFC and Sundance bring some goods as well, including a chance to catch up with Nolan’s The Prestige Monday night if you’re feeling particularly Nolan-y this week.
Monday, July 16
2:00pm – TCM – The Charge of the Light Brigade
Taking its inspiration from the Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem about a fateful battle of the Crimean War, the film functions as a slight but enjoyable vehicle for Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. The film follows the poem in ascribing a strategic importance to the battle that isn’t borne out by history, but as a piece of heroic historical fiction, it’s pretty fun.
1936 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Patric Knowles, Henry Stephenson, Nigel Bruce, Donald Crisp, David Niven.
4:00pm – TCM – Gunga Din
Three British soldiers and an Indian water bearer join forces against an Indian cult gearing up for a murderous rampage. A classic adventure story, and one I should rewatch at some point.
1939 USA. Director: George Stevens. Starring: Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Sam Jaffe.
(repeats at 10:00pm on the 19th)
8:00pm – IFC – The Prestige
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins follow-up, a wonderfully twisty and evocative period thriller about a pair of stage magicians and their potentially deadly rivalry. Some great ideas elevate this far above what you might expect, and solid performances all around carry it through nicely. Definitely deserves mention among the finest thinking-man’s films of the past decade.
2006 USA. Director: Christopher Nolan. Starring: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall.
(repeats at 2:15am on the 17th)
10:00pm – TCM – Tarzan, the Ape Man
Get your pre-code action right here, as swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller brings Tarzan to life and Maureen O’Sullivan teaches him the ways of the human world as Jane. Generally, the sequel Tarzan and His Mate is considered the best of the series, but hey. Gotta start somewhere.
1932 USA. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Starring: Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O’Sullivan.
12:00M – TCM – Captains Courageous
Spencer Tracy won an Oscar for this film, based on Rudyard Kipling’s adventure story about a spoiled rich kid who falls off a steamship and ends up having to work on a fishing vessel to get home. A young Mickey Rooney plays the ship captain’s rough-and-tumble son.
1937 USA. Director: Victor Fleming. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Freddie Bartholomew, Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Mickey Rooney.
3:45am (17th) – TCM – The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
One of Douglas Fairbanks’ most iconic and fantastical films, as a poor thief in love with the Caliph’s daughter – if he succeeds in the Caliph’s contest to bring back the rarest treasure in the land, he could win her, but he’s not the only one in the race.
1924 USA. Director: Raoul Walsh. Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards.
Tuesday, July 17
6:15am – TCM – The Sheik
Rudolph Valentino proves his magnetism as an Arabian sheik who falls in love with an English woman traveling through Arabia and kidnaps her to his camp. It’s far from politically correct, but it’s worth a watch, especially for Valentino in his prime. And to set you up for The Son of the Sheik, which is probably the better film.
1921 USA. Director: George Melford. Starring: Rudolph Valentino, Agnes Ayres, Ruth Miller.
7:45am – TCM – Our Modern Maidens
After the success of jazz-age spectacle Our Dancing Daughters, Joan Crawford and Anita Page were teamed again for this similar-titled but not directly related film. Here Crawford strings along an influential man to help get her secret fiance a job, but meanwhile, her fiance is busy getting jazzy with Page – such scandal! And believe me, this plotline would never have gotten made five years late under the Hays Code.
1929 USA. Director: Jack Conway. Starring: Joan Crawford, Rod La Rocque, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Anita Page.
7:45am – Sundance – Encounters at the End of the World
Werner Herzog has made the savage beauty of nature one of his themes throughout most of his fiction films, so perhaps it’s only natural that he has moved onto explicitly non-fiction explorations of some of nature’s most remote locales, in this case, Antarctica.2007 USA. Director: Werner Herzog.
10:00pm – IFC – Evil Dead 2
The sequel/remake to Sam Raimi’s wonderfully over-the-top demon book film, set in the same creepy wood-bound cabin, with even more copious amounts of blood and a lot more intentional humor. I’m still not sure which I like best, but either one will do when you need some good schlock. (I still haven’t seen Army of Darkness, I’m shamed to admit.)
1987 USA. Director: Sam Raimi. Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks.
Wednesday, July 18
1:45pm – IFC – Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman
As an architectural photographer covering modernist architecture during the mid-twentieth century, Julius Shulman captured some of the most iconic images ever of homes and other buildings, basically creating an entire generation’s perception of Los Angeles and Palm Springs especially. This well-designed documentary is a great primer on his life and work, and through his work, on modernist ideals and architecture itself. Definitely worth a look if you’re interested in photography, architecture, modernism, or Los Angeles.
2008 USA. Director: Eric Brickner. Starring: Julius Shulman, Dustin Hoffman.
8:00pm – IFC – Fight Club
This film is so good on so many different levels, it’s difficult to even know where to start. Masculinity, consumerism, terrorism, black comedy, mindbending narrative…yeah, those are not all parallel, making it a poorly-structured list. I don’t really care, you’ve all probably seen this movie before, but here’s a chance to see it again.
1999 USA. Director: David Fincher. Starring: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham-Carter.
8:00pm – 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.
10:15pm – TCM – No Time for Sergeants
Andy Griffith in the type of role that became his quintessence – a country bumpkin, here drafted into the Air Force to the ever-loving annoyance of his commanding sergeant. Don knotts also has a part in the film, presaging the long running Griffith-Knotts collaboration on The Andy Griffith Show, which would debut two years after this film’s release.
1958 USA. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Andy Graffith, Myron McCormick, Nick Adams, Murray Hamilton, Don Knotts, Dub Taylor.
Thursday, July 19
6:00am – TCM – Ladies They Talk About
Barbara Stanwyck proves why she’s worth watching in anything, as a criminal who falls for a religious radio personality, until he takes the moral high road and turns her in when she confesses her crimes to him. Then it’s no holds barred as she goes for revenge, while also serving her time in prison. The film isn’t that good, though it has some eye-catching Pre-Code elements, but Stanwyck still makes it entertaining all the way through, even when it hits melodramatic and moralistic heights that most other actresses would drown under.
1933 USA. Director: Howard Bretherton, William Keightley. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster, Lyle Talbot, Dorothy Burgess, Lillian Roth.
11:15am – TCM – Caged
What sounds like a B-level prison exploitation film is actually a cut above, thanks to solid, if not glossy, production values and strong performances from Eleanor Parker as a naive woman hardened by her incarceration and Agnes Moorehead as the kinder-than-she-seems warden. This one surprised me with how enjoyable and nuanced it was, for little more than a B picture.
1950 USA. Director: John Cromwell. Starring: Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Ellen Corby, Hope Emerson, Jan Sterling.
8:00pm – TCM – Forbidden Planet
What’s better than Shakespeare’s The Tempest? Why, a science fiction film set on a planet run by a maverick genius, his robot, and his daughter, of course. Okay, Forbidden Planet isn’t really better than The Tempest, but it is an interesting take on the play, and an obvious influence on the original Star Trek.
1956 USA. Director: Fred M. Wilcox. Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis.
12:15am (20th) – TCM – The Adventures of Robin Hood
I will state almost categorically that this is the greatest adventure film ever made. Maybe it’s a dead heat between this one and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Errol Flynn is Robin Hood, Olivia de Havilland is Maid Marion, a whole raft of fantastic character actors fill out the rest of the cast, and it’s all done in gorgeous Technicolor (it’s one of the earliest Technicolor films).
1938 USA. Directors: William Keighley & Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale, Patric Knowles, Una O’Connor.
2:15am (20th) – TCM – Citizen Kane
Widely considered the greatest American film ever made, I’d be very surprised if anyone reading this hasn’t seen it. The quest for what makes publisher/politician Charles Foster Kane tick takes a journalist through a fractured narrative that never seems to give any definitive answers. Personally, I respect and recommend Kane for its innovations in narrative, cinematography, and cinema language, but I find it a difficult film to love (yet even that is fitting, as the difficulty of loving or being loved by Kane himself is a central theme).
1941 USA. Director: Orson Welles. Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead.
4:30am (20th) – TCM – The Magnificent Ambersons
Welles followed up Citizen Kane with this film about a wealthy but decaying American family, but wasn’t given nearly as much creative freedom. But even with studio interference, it’s well worth seeing.
1942 USA. Director: Orson Welles. Starring: Joseph Cotten, Tim Holt, Anne Baxter, Agnes Moorehead.
Friday, July 20
6:00am – IFC – Dear Frankie
Emily Mortimer is a young mother who writes responses to her son’s letters to his father; when her elaborate ruse to convince him his father is just away at sea starts to fall apart, she hires a handsome stranger to pretend to be his father. A charming and unassuming tale, and the Glaswegian accents don’t hurt either, at least for me.
2004 UK. Director: Shona Auerbach. Starring: Emily Mortimer, Gerard Butler, Jack McElhone.
(repeats at 2:30pm)
7:45am – TCM – The Searchers
Deservedly considered one of the greatest westerns ever made, a high point in the careers of both John Wayne and John Ford. Wayne is the almost anti-heroic main character Ethan Edwards, driven by anger and revenge to find the group of Indians who killed his nearly estranged family and kidnapped his young niece. Along with the contemporary films of Anthony Mann, The Searchers marks a point in the Western genre where we can no longer necessarily accept the motives of the good guys to be pure, and in fact, are forced to question if the good guys are actually good – perhaps the beginning of the revisionist western. Ford’s command of cinematic space and the language of the frame here is unparalleled, and the performances and everything else in the film match it.
1956 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Natalie Wood.
10:00am – Sundance – Lost in La Mancha
Terry Gilliam’s attempts to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote have become the stuff of legend – he’s never had a particularly easy time getting his cinematic visions made, but this one is the epitome, a film he’s been trying to make for decades. This documentary (filmed in 2000) charts the multitudinous problems with the production, which Gilliam has still never managed to complete – though even now rumors still once in a while arise that he’s going to try it again.
2002 USA. Directors: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe. Starring: Terry Gilliam, Jeff Bridges, Johnny Depp.
3:15pm – TCM – Gypsy
One of the best shows ever written about stage mothers turns into a pretty decent film – it purports to be the story of vaudeville/burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, but ends up being much more about her mother Mama Rose. It’s a good showcase for any actress, and Rosalind Russell, though not quite the singer that the role pulls on Broadway, does a fine job. Plus, it’s chock-full of showstopping tunes.
1962 USA. Director: Meryvn LeRoy. Starring: Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden.
8:00pm – TCM – Barbara Stanwyck Pre-Codes
Okay, it’s stuff like this that make me regret cutting cable (yes, that’s right, I continue to do these columns even though I can’t watch any of them – it’s exquisite masochism) – four Barbara Stanwyck Pre-Codes, none of which I’ve seen. Stanwyck is one of my all-time favorite actresses, and when she’s allowed to really go all-out, as she could before the Production Code cracked down, she’s absolutely mesmerizing no matter how banal the material might be. I don’t really know much about these movies. But I don’t need to in order to be extremely jealous of people who have the ability to watch this set of films this week.
includes Shopworn, Ten Cents a Dance, Illicit, Forbidden
3:45am (21st) – TCM – The Fearless Vampire Killers
Just after Cul-de-Sac and just before Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski took on campy vampires. It seems an odd film to squeeze in there, but I guess you’ve got to do something to make the transition between British psycho-thrillers and American demon horror films. I haven’t seen this one yet myself, but I’ve got to admit to a great deal of curiosity about it.
1967 USA/UK. Director: Roman Polanski. Starring: Jack MacGowran, Roman Polanski, Alfie Bass, Jessie Robins, Sharon Tate, Ferdy Mayne.
Saturday, July 21
5:45pm – TCM – The Magnificent Seven
Homage comes full circle as American John Sturges remakes Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai as a western – Kurosawa’s film itself was a western transposed into a Japanese setting. Sturges ain’t no Kurosawa, but the story of a group of outcast cowboys banding together to protect an oppressed village is still a good one, plus there’s a young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the cast.
1960 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson.
8:00pm – TCM – To Have and Have Not
It’s said that this film came about because Howard Hawks bet Ernest Hemingway that he (Hawks) could make a good film out of Hemingway’s worst book. Of course, to do that, Hawks ended up basically changing the story entirely, but hey. It’s the thought that counts. Mostly notable for being Lauren Bacall’s first film, the one where she met Humphrey Bogart, and the one that spawned the immortal “you know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve” bit of dialogue. That one scene? Worth the whole film.
1944 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan.
1:50am (22nd) – Sundance – The Housemaid
A remake of a classic Korean film, famous in 1960 for pushing the content envelope, and quite a good film on its own (I admit to not having seen the original). A young girl becomes the housemaid to a rich man and his very pregnant wife, and becomes embroiled in a domestic and sexual powerplay between them. It’s melodramatic in a good way, and includes the patented Korean third-act WTFery. So what more could you want?
2010 South Korea. Director: Sang-soo Im. Starring: Do-yeon Jeon, Jung-Jae Lee, Yeo-Jong Yun.
Sunday, July 22
10:30am – TCM – Christmas in July
A bit of a lesser Preston Sturges film to my mind, but it has its vociferous defenders. A lowly office clerk dreams of winning a contest that would make his fortune and allow him to marry the girl he loves; as a joke, his friends fake a telegram telling him he’s won one, but things get out of hand quickly. It’s pretty slight, but has a lot of charm.
1940 USA. Director: Preston Sturges. Starring: Dick Powell, Ellen Drew, Raymond Walburn, Alexander Carr, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn.
2:00pm – TCM – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
A solidly entertaining and slyly witty film, quite worthy of being one of Howard Hawks’ few ventures into the musical genre. Marilyn Monroe gets probably her best role here – yes, better than Some Like It Hot for my money – and her wide-eyed dumb blonde show (which is exactly what it is, a show) is perfectly complemented by Jane Russell’s cynical but playful wit. Add in iconic moments like “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and you have a film that I refuse to call a guilty pleasure. It’s simply wonderful.
1954 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Tommy Noonan, Charles Coburn, Elliott Reid.
6:00pm – TCM – Wuthering Heights
William Wyler’s moody 1939 version of Emily Bronte’s moody gothic novel, with Laurence Olivier as the moody Heathcliff. Probably the best film version of the story up till now.
1939 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, Geraldine Fitzgerald, David Niven, Flora Robson.
8:00pm – TCM – The Great Escape
I expected to mildly enjoy or at least get through this POW escape film. What happened was I was completely enthralled with every second of it, from failed escape attempts to planning the ultimate escape to the dangers of carrying it out. It’s like a heist film in reverse, and extremely enjoyable in pretty much every way.
1963 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, James Donald.
8:10pm – Sundance – Y tu mamá también
Though he’d done some films previously, this one really brought Alfonso Cuarón (as well as its two young stars) to international attention with its envelope-pushing story of two Mexican teens on a road trip and the older Spanish woman that tags along with them, creating three-way sexual tension. The film is frank yet often profound in its depiction of both sexuality and friendship.
2001 Mexico. Director: Alfonso Cuarón. Starring: Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Maribel Verdú.
10:00pm – Sundance – 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.
(repeats at 2:00am on the 23rd)