Film on TV: August 8-12

The annual TCM Summer Under the Stars event is well under way, with each day devoted to the films of a specific actor or actress. I’m not specifically highlighting those out here (you can check out the full lineup yourself at TCM’s new SUTS microsite), but you’ll probably notice the theme on certain days anyway. Thursday is Toshiro Mifune, which basically means a whole bunch of awesome Akira Kurosawa films. And Sunday is Ginger Rogers, which is probably more exciting for me than most people; she happens to have been in many of my favorite films, and TCM is programming most of them.

Monday, August 6

12:45pm – TCM – Possessed
A pulpy noir with Joan Crawford driving herself crazy (literally) pining over a man who strings her along. He’s basically an homme fatale, which is interesting, with Crawford taking on the typically male noir role of the one pulled into ever darker despair by trampled-on love. The film tries to do too much, throwing in all sorts of other noirish plot points, but remains a really good watch for noir fans.
1947 USA. Director: Curtis Bernhardt. Starring: Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks.

8:00pm – TCM – 3:10 to Yuma
The original version of 2007’s highly successful Christian Bale-Russell Crowe western is well worth watching in its own right – a little less actiony, a little more thoughtful, though its story of a peaceful farmer shuffled into the role of law enforcement to get a criminal to the train for his trial without having him rescued by his gang remains largely identical.
1957 USA. Director: Delmer Daves. Starring: Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Felicia Farr, Leora Dana.

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Film on TV: July 23-29

The big thing to note this week is the day-long tribute TCM is airing to the recently deceased Ernest Borgnine on Thursday. I’ve picked out several of his best-known films to highlight, including a couple I haven’t featured here before (like Bad Day at Black Rock, pictured above – the film is actually in color, despite the still I used, which was the first one I found that actually has Borgnine in it), but they’re actually starting earlier in the day than that with some of his very early actioners and dramas.

Monday, July 23

2:30am (24th) – TCM – Captain Blood
This was Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s first of eight films together, and it’s one of the best. Flynn is the eponymous captain, a dentist named Blood who gets captured by pirates and ends up escaping and taking over the pirate ship himself. Full of swashbuckling and derring-do.
1935 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone, Guy Kibbee.

Tuesday, July 24

10:15am – TCM – Strangers on a Train
Guy Haines is a tennis star all set to marry into a posh, loving family, if it weren’t for that pesky and annoying wife he’s already got – a problem that fellow train-passenger Bruno has a solution for: all Guy has to do is kill Bruno’s troublesome father and Bruno will take care of Guy’s wife. This criss-cross setup begins one of Hitchcock’s best films, full of memorable shots and set-pieces, not to mention one of the most mesmerizingly psychotic performances in all of cinema in Robert Walker’s portrayal of Bruno.
1951 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Patricia Hitchcock, Leo G. Carroll, Laura Elliott.
Must See

4:30pm – TCM – D.O.A.
A man staggers into a police office to report a murder…his own. He’s been poisoned with an antidote-less poison, and he spends the rest of the film trying to convince the police what’s happened and trying to figure out who poisoned him and why. It’s not my favorite film noir, but it’s unusual premise and solid quality makes it worth watching.
1950 USA. Director: Rudolph Maté. Starring: Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler, Beverly Garland.

8:00pm – TCM – Pygmalion
A straight non-musical version of the George Bernard Shaw play that would later become My Fair Lady, with Leslie Howard as the prickly Professor Higgins who takes in street vendor Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller) to turn her into a lady. A bit more acidic than the musical version.
1938 USA. Director: Anthony Asquith, Leslie Howard. Starring: Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Wilfrid Lawson, Marie Lohr.

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Film on TV: July 16-22

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.

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Film on TV: July 9-15

Monday, July 9

2:00pm – TCM – The Count of Monte Cristo
I have yet to see a film version of The Count of Monte Cristo that stays true to the book (I’d love to – the book transcends adventure, while the movie versions tend to remain solidly stuck in it); this certainly isn’t, but if you refrain from comparing it to the book, it’s still a very solid 1930s-style adventure, and one of the few American films Robert Donat ever made.
1934 USA. Director: Rowland V. Lee. Starring: Robert Donat, Elissa Landi, Louis Calhern, Sidney Blackmer.
Newly Featured!

6:00pm – TCM – Scaramouche
Stewart Granger was sort of a poor man’s Errol Flynn in his 1950s swashbucklers – never quite had Flynn’s panache, but hey, he tried. Scaramouche (from the novel by Rafael Sabatini, who also wrote Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk, which became Flynn vehicles) is one of his better films, and does boast the longest sword fight in cinema history. So there’s that.
1952 USA. Director: George Sidney. Starring: Stewart Granger, Janet Leigh, Eleanor Parker, Mel Ferrer.

8:00pm – 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.
Must See

8:25pm – Sundance – Thank You For Smoking
Jason Reitman’s breakout film was also one of my favorites of 2005 – sure, it’s a bit slight and isn’t perfect, but its story of a hotshot PR guy working for cigarette companies struck just the right note of cynical and absurd humor. The really high-quality cast doesn’t hurt either, with everybody, no matter how small their role, making a memorable impression.
2005 USA. Director: Jason Reitman. Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Katie Holmes, Rob Lowe, Maria Bello, David Koechner, J.K. Simmons, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott.
(repeats at 3:00am on the 10th)

10:00pm – TCM – The Three Musketeers
This is not the best version of The Three Musketeers, maybe not even in the top three best versions. But where else are you going to see Gene Kelly in a non-musical role as a swashbuckling hero? Nowhere. That’s where.
1948 USA. Director: George Sidney. Starring: Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, June Allyson, Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury.

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Film on TV: July 2-8

Monday, July 2

7:45pm – 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 3:00am on the 3rd)

8:00pm – TCM – Mogambo
A remake of 1932’s Red Dust, also starring Gable, this suffers a bit in comparison by not being pre-Code, but with John Ford at the helm and Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly taking the Mary Astor/Jean Harlow roles, it can’t be all bad, and it isn’t. It’s still a solid little love triangle/adventure film.
1953 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly.

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Film on TV: June 18-24

Monday, June 18

8:30am – IFC – The Protector
Whatever you do, don’t mess with Tony Jaa’s elephants. Consider yourself warned. Here Jaa takes on a city full of gangsters intent on stealing his elephant (and the mystical power they possess); the story here isn’t anything special, but Jaa’s fighting ability and choreography certainly is.
1995 Thailand. Director: Prachya Pinkaew. Starring: Tony Jaa, Nathan Jones, Petchtel Wongkamlao.
(repeats at 3:00pm)

9:30am – Sundance – 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.
(repeats at 4:30pm)

8:00pm – TCM – Fat City
Lauded as a return to form for John Huston as a director, a character-driven boxing story with a grit and realism that calls back to his triumphs of the 1940s. The rare film to be considered a fringe New Hollywood entry while being directed by a member of the studio era establishment, thanks to its embracing of a hard-hitting and bleak 1970s attitude.
1972 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrrell, Candy Clark.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – TCM – Nights of Cabiria
Nights of Cabiria, one of the films Federico Fellini made during his sorta-neo-realist phase, casts Masina as a woman of the night, following her around almost non-committally, yet with a lot of care and heart. And Masina is simply amazing in everything she does – not classically beautiful, but somehow incredibly engaging for every second she’s onscreen.
1957 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Franca Marzi.
Must See

11:00pm – IFC – Night of the Living Dead
Zombie movies can be conveniently subcategorized into pre-Romero and post-Romero, so influential has this film been. Eschewing voodoo and zombie masters, Romero posited a zombie created by our own nuclear follies and motivated by nothing more than insatiable hunger. More than that, the layer of social commentary makes Night of the Living Dead far more than the B-movie schlocker it seems like on the surface. It changed zombie films, and probably horror films in general to an extent, forever.
1968 USA. Director: George A. Romero. Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman.
Must See

12:15am (19th) – TCM – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis both won acting awards for their parts in Mike Nichols’ version of Edward Albee’s dysfunctional dinner party play. In a film part black comedy and part deeply angsty relationship drama, Taylor and Burton play for keeps, in performances by turns histrionic, interior, bombastic, and heartbreaking. Sometimes frustrating to watch, but ultimately well worth it.
1966 USA. Director: Mike Nichols. Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis, George Segal.

2:45am (19th) – TCM – The Last Picture Show
In my opinion one of the best films to come out of New Hollywood; interestingly it’s a period piece, one that both honors and rejects that which went before in a way that strikingly codifies New Hollywood itself, while also being a great story of coming of age in 1950s Texas. Note Oscar winning supporting turns by both Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson (both older characters in this story of youth), plus a very young Jeff Bridges.
1971 USA. Director: Peter Bogdanovich. Starring: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan.
Must See

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Film on TV: June 11-17

Tuesday, June 12

1:30pm – TCM – Four Daughters
Four Daughters tells the fairly routine story of four sisters and their love interests; there’s more to it than meets the eye, though, and starlet Priscilla Lane (notably of Arsenic and Old Lace) carries it well with her two sisters Lola and Rosemary. It’s interesting to contrast with its 1954 musical remake Young at Heart, which boasts the greater star power of Doris Day and Frank Sinatra. They’re virtually identical in script, but this one strikes a more sincere note.
1938 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Priscilla Lane, Claude Rains, John Garfield.

8:00pm – TCM – Possessed
A pulpy noir with Joan Crawford driving herself crazy (literally) pining over a man who strings her along. He’s basically an homme fatale, which is interesting, with Crawford taking on the typically male noir role of the one pulled into ever darker despair by trampled-on love. The film tries to do too much, throwing in all sorts of other noirish plot points, but remains a really good watch for noir fans.
1947 USA. Director: Curtis Bernhardt. Starring: Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks.
Newly Featured!

11:30pm – TCM – Dead Reckoning
Humphrey Bogart was a noir-making machine in the late 1940s, and though at first you kind of wish this one marked a fifth co-starring turn with Lauren Bacall (like his other 1947 film Dark Passage), you quickly grow to appreciate the Veronica Lake-esque charms of Lizabeth Scott in the film fatale role. Full of murder and gangsters, definitely a film noir fans will want to add to their lists.
1947 USA. Director: John Cromwell. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lizabeth Scott, Morris Carnovsky.
Newly Featured!

5:00am (13th) – TCM – Killer’s Kiss
One of Stanley Kubrick’s very first films, even earlier than his outstanding noir The Killing, this one was produced independently, a very unusual circumstance in the mid-1950s, and functions as a decidedly B-level crime noir. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet myself, but I’m definitely intrigued.
1955 USA. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Starring: Frank Silvera, Irene Kane, Jamie Smith.
Newly Featured!

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Film on TV: June 4-10

A few new ones this week and some very good repeats. Most of all, I’d like to point out that next Sunday, June 10th, would be Judy Garland’s 90th birthday, and TCM is fittingly playing her movies all day. Now, I freely admit to being a Garland fanatic (I staged my own Garland birthday marathon when I was about fourteen or fifteen), but she really was an incredible talent, and that shone through even when her personal life was at its absolute depths. TCM is going from her earliest films with Mickey Rooney up through her very final film on Sunday, showing the highlights of her career all the way through. Plus they’re randomly showing The Harvey Girls and The Clock earlier in the week, so check those out as well. Especially The Clock, which I think is highly underrated.

Monday, June 4

8:00am – TCM – The Women
Only the cattiest, most man-less film ever made. Several of Hollywood’s greatest female stars, from established divas like Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford to up-and-comers like Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine to character actresses like Mary Boland and Marjorie Main (and even non-actresses like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper), give their all to one of the wittiest scripts ever written.
1939 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Virginia Weidler, Mary Boland, Marjorie Main, Hedda Hopper.

8:20pm – Sundance – Little Miss Sunshine
One of the most successful indie-circuit-to-mainstream films in recent years, this crowd-pleasing favorite has just enough quirk to set apart its story of an unhappy family tied together by the beauty pageant aspirations of the young daughter and just enough of a dark edge to keep it from becoming too treacly. The solid cast doesn’t hurt either.
2006 USA. Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris. Starring: Toni Colette, Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano.
(repeats at 11:00pm)

12:00M – TCM – The Sting
A couple of conmen team up to pull an elaborate con on criminal kingpin who killed one of their partners. A great 1920s setting and the solid chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford make their follow-up to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid a highly enjoyable romp, if not quite the quintessential classic that film is.
1973 USA. Director: George Roy Hill. Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Eileen Brennan.

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Film on TV: May 29 – June 3

Tuesday, May 29

12:45am (30th) – 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.

Wednesday, May 30

8:00pm – TCM – Ride the High Country
In the 1960s, Sam Peckinpah contributed to the beginnings of the revisionist western, taking complicated heroes and violence to new levels – in Ride the High Country, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott (who had both starred in many westerns throughout the 1930s and 1940s) play jaded cowboys hired to transport gold who get caught up in a family feud that forces them to confront their own differences and troubled pasts. It’s a fairly simple plot on the surface, but goes much deeper than you’d expect.
1962 USA. Director: Sam Peckinpah. Starring: Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Mariette Hartley, Ron Starr.

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