TCM & Work Wednesday

Wooden steering wheel of a vintage Packard in Oklahoma. Copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

“Rudder Control”

Happy Wednesday! It’s time yet again for a look at some of the highlights on my favourite channel, TCM, in the coming week, while I share some of my more recently released photography with you as well. Barbara Stanwyck is the Star of the Month—again, she’s one of my favourite actresses, so I’m very much excited about that. Lots of sewing-and-embroidering-before-the-television time. To say nothing of baking, as it is that time of year. Speaking of which, I’ll highlight favourite Christmas-themed movies in red and green, in case you’re seeking classic film holiday cheer; TCM is starting to roll out the Christmasy movies now that we’re into December. The biggest hits this week, in addition to Barbara Stanwyck? They Were Expendable on Friday morning; 1940s’ swoon-inducingly charming Shop Around The Corner late Friday night; the utterly fantastic Grand Hotel Monday night; The Magnificent Seven at 8 Tuesday night; and on Wednesday, more Stanwyck, including Christmas treat Remember The Night and the almost-madcap Ball of Fire.

Thursday—it’s all Stanwyck, all day! I may have to take a day off—or perhaps just drag the sewing machine to the TV. It’s more likely, of course, that I’ll just set the DVD. Taking time off is not my thing (darn Type A personality). But trust me: this is one of the best lineups TCM has had in a while.

I’m not sure it’s necessary to even go through describing some of these! They all star Stanwyck. That’s about all we need to know, but…

  • 8:15AM The Bitter Tea of General Yen ’32    A pre-code romance that was a flop in part because of the interracial romance (funny, I thought we were all part of the human race, but what do I know…), this is supposed to be a very, very good film despite some of the stereotypes. Though I missed it last time it aired,  this time ’round, the DVD player will be set! Directed by Frank Capra; in addition to Stanwyck, it stars Swedish star Nils Asther.
  • 9:45AM Baby Face ’33    Absolutely not one for the kiddies due to the subject matter—a sweet-faced girl working in her no-good father’s steel-town speakeasy who flees after an accident, then uses her feminine wiles to improve her situation—but a good flick nonetheless. A contemporary New York Evening Post review said, “You cannot escape the belief that Lily is a vixen of the lowest order and that the men who play with her are doomed to perish in the flames”; no doubt this was a scandalous film, and some even credit it with helping push the (studio-desired, let no one fool you) Production Code. She’s not a good girl, not even close—but Stanwyck’s performance is absolutely marvellous and makes this entirely worth watching. The studio was already in trouble for producing this, so they softened the ending (the original was later found). Watch for John Wayne. George Brent also stars.
  • 11:15AM Golden Boy ’39    Don’t think I’ve seen this—which is William Holden’s debut—but here’s my chance.
  • 1PM Meet John Doe ’41   I’ve seen this Capra film a few times, and it does drag a bit despite its shining cast and good (if regularly-done) idea; even so, it’s an enjoyable movie. Stanwyck plays a newswoman who turns Gary Cooper’s former baseball pitcher turned homeless tramp (due to an injury) into a social and political movement, all to benefit  a dirty and, if I recall correctly, fascist politician—but the plan and the movement outgrow the harness put on it, as such things often do. At times the movie is too preachy even for Capra (who usually glosses it well)—but again, it’s fun to watch and the characters are solid. Also, I think the film (including its sometimes maligned conclusion) say much about the country at the time it was made. Five endings were actually filmed for this one (watch and you will see why); concerns about the first four endings’ affect resulted in the final version. Walter Brennan, Edward Arnold, Spring Boyington, James Gleason, Gene Lockhart also star. 
  • 3:15PM Executive Suite ’54    When the president of a major furniture company dies in harness, a power struggle for control of the helm ensues. Top-notch cast for the 50s: in addition to Stanwyck, we have William Holden, June Allyson, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Nina Foch, Louis Calhern, and Shelley Winters.
  • 7PM Barbara Stanwyck: Fire and Desire ’91     Documentary about Stanwyck’s life and its parallel to some of her films.
  • 8PM Casablanca ’42    One of the greatest films ever made, with a perfect ending at that.
  • 10PM The Third Man49    The superb cinematography (and cast inclusion of Joseph Cotten) got my attention first, but this is actually a gripping tale about a writer trying to get to the bottom of the death of his friend—a death he thinks is murder. It’s a thriller in every sense of the word; also, despite being set in postwar Vienna, this has a very noir feel to it. Do pay attention; there is much going on at every level. In fact, I’d bet money that film students have written dissertations on this one; if not, what a shame! Cotten plays against Orson Welles. Trevor Howard, the lovely Alida Valli also star. Very, very good movie.
  • 4AM The One That Got Away ’58   After his capture by the Allies, a Nazi pilot (Hardy Kruger) tries again and again and again to escape in order to return to duty, whether he’s in England or the United States. Might not sound like much, but this movie—based on a true story and holding fairly close to the real-life adventure—is actually pretty exciting, with a doozy of an ending, and may have you on the edge of your seat at some points (it did me the first time I watched). I think the lack of big marquee stars helps, too.

Friday, December 7 is of course Pearl Harbor Day. TCM is marking this occasion with a bunch They are dead; but they live in each Patriot's breast, And their names are engraven on honor's bright crest. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellowof war films, but the highlight is definitely the first flick of the day.

  • 8:45AM They Were Expendable ’45    Absolutely one of the best WWII films; I saw it again for the first time in a while during an illness this summer and was moved to tears—it is very closely based on the true story of the US Navy’s PT boat squadron in the Philippines during the war. Perfectly directed by John Ford. Real-life Naval officer Robert Montgomery stars alongside John Wayne, a luminous Donna Reed, Jack Holt, Ward Bond, Cameron Mitchell, Louis Jean Heydt. Really great photography, too. Watch this. Keep the tissues near, especially if you or someone you love served or if you simply love our nation and freedom.
  • 3:15PM From Here To Eternity ’53    The war does not start ’til the very end in this film about life in the Army on Hawaii, but the attack itself is very well-done and includes actual combat footage, like Twelve O’Clock High. Even so, unlike another movie featuring the infamous Pearl Harbor attack, the story preceding that horrible event is truly absorbing and superbly written, and the performances very engrossing; the viewer comes to truly care about the characters. And what characters, portrayed by what a cast! One of Frank Sinatra’s best film performances—perhaps his best, period (he did win an Oscar for it). Donna Reed is wonderful, too (she also won an Oscar for her role in this film). Burt Lancaster, Monty Clift, Ernest Borgnine, Philip Ober, Jack Warden, George Reeves, Claude Akins also star. Just a great movie—a study of human nature, though you never feel ‘schooled’. 
  • 5:30PM Tora! Tora! Tora! ’70   Another film I’ve never seen but much wish to watch; a minute-by-minute recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, filmed on location and of necessity very heavily researched—meaning the Japanese side of the story is well-told as well. Indeed, Minoru Genda, who was in charge of planning under Admiral Churichi Nagumo, was hired by 20th Century Fox for the film, which did not go over well with survivors.
  • 8PM The Loves of Pharaoh ’22   I’ve not seen this, but am a big fan of Lubitsch’s films; in this silent, an Ethiopian king offers his daughter to Egypt’s Pharaoh in order to secure peace.
  • 10PM The Smiling Lieutenant ’31    Lubitsch directs Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins, and Charlie Ruggles in a comedic love story about a lieutenant forced to marry royalty despite being in love with another woman. No, I’ve not seen this either, but with Lubitsch and this cast, it’s hard to see us losing!
  • 12AM The Shop Around The Corner ’40    It’s difficult to imagine a more charming film, and though it has been remade a few times, none of the remakes match the delightfulness of the original. Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart are coworkers and rivals in the same small shop, constantly at odds with one another—not realizing they are also each other’s romantic, anonymous penpal. The supporting cast is perfect, too—Frank Morgan as Mr. Matuschek, the shop owner, Felix Bressart (Ninotchka), William Tracy, Sara Haden, and  Joseph Schildkraut don’t waste a scene. One of my favourite, favourite romantic comedies—perfectly enchanting. Don’t miss it—Shop Around The Corner is a favourite ’round here at Christmastime (all year, really, but there’s a whole lot of Christmas in it).

Saturday, December 8:

  • 5:30PM Rio Bravo ’59    Needing to arrest (and keep locked up) a murdering cattle baron with powerful friends, sheriff John Wayne signs on the help of an alcoholic Dean Martin (no, his character is an alcoholic—no lawsuits, please), dance-hall beauty Angie Dickinson, and just plain young Ricky Nelson. Howard Hawks-directed Western is fun to watch and enjoyable for cozying-up time—it’s a great Western, one of the best of the 50s. Interestingly, this was Hawks’ answer to High Noon and 3:10 To Yuma, neither of which impressed Hawks due to either wishy-washy leads (Noon) or psychological “nonsense” (Yuma, though I consider the original far superior to the postmodern remake starring Russell Crowe).

    Abandoned, crumbled building on Old Route 66 in New Mexico. Copyright Liberty Images/Jen Baker; all rights reserved.

    “Overthrown”
    The remains of an abandoned something in Bard, NM, along Old Route 66.

  • 8PM Summertime ’55    As an extremely old-fashioned girl, I can’t say I endorse all of  leading lady Katharine Hepburn’s moves in this film, but…well, there is something very engrossing about this movie. It is well-written, plus—hello, it was filmed on location. Who among us has not dreamed of a solitary vacation in Venice, in a gorgeous hotel, with gorgeous weather? Moreover, this is one of Hepburn’s best performances, one of her very best from a long, storied career. She’s winsome and sweet, and you almost long to protect and comfort her as she falls in love with Venetian native Rossano Brazzi—who she learns late is a married man.

Sunday, December 9

  • 10AM Susan Slept Here ’54    Silly treat of a tale about an Oscar-winning screenwriter who finds himself falling for a feisty juvenile delinquent, much to the irritation of his beautiful fiancee. Starring Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds (who gets to wear a few very pretty dresses), Anne Francis, Glenda Farrell, and Alvy Moore. It can be goofy from time to time, but cute overall.
  • 5:15PM Anatomy Of A Murder ’59   Excellent courtroom drama that was risque when it was released; a fun-loving girl’s jealous husband is accused of murdering a man who may or may not have violently assaulted his wife. Jimmy Stewart is terrific as the attorney representing the husband, and he does his best to get to the bottom of things before the case reaches trial. Co-stars Eve Arden, George C. Scott, and Arthur O’Connell are wonderful as well; the score is composed by Duke Ellington. Was filmed on location in my home state of Michigan, where the story takes place.
  • 8PM We’re No Angels ’55    Three Devil’s Island escapees hook up and help a married pair of  French shopkeepers they’d intended to rob and kill. Cute comedy with a marvellous cast—Bogey, Peter Ustinov, Joan Bennett, Basil Rathbone, Aldo Ray star.

Monday, December 10‘s best offerings are after prime-time—but the 8PM movie is one of the best you will ever see.

  • 8PM Grand Hotel ’32    Another of my very favourite films—and a truly great one at that, thanks in large part to the incredible cast: Greta Garbo. John and Lionel Barrymore. Joan Crawford. Wallace Beery. Jean Hersholt. Lewis Stone. And, of course, the Grand Hotel (of Berlin, here) itself, where “nothing ever happens”. But happen things do. A must-see; without it, it’s hard to consider film at all. Seamless, perfect, untoppable—really, this is one of those films all others ought to be judged by. And not many of them measure up to this standard.
  • 1:15AM The Grapes Of Wrath ’40    John Ford masterfully directed the film version of Steinbeck’s famed Depression novel, in which a family of Oklahomans heads west (on Route 66—christened “the Mother Road” by Steinbeck in the novel) to hoped-for opportunity. Henry Fonda is very, very good; also agree with TCM’s note that Jane Darwell is excellent as Ma Joad.

Tuesday, December 11 features a primetime stocked up with good Westerns—not something I’ll ever complain about!

  • 8PM The Magnificent Seven ’60   Famously based on The Seven Samurai, it’s hard to believe now that the stars of Magnificent Seven—Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Horst Bucholz, and Brad Dexter—weren’t really stars yet! It’s a classic, time-proven tale of hired men going up against bad guys harassing innocent townspeople, and one of the best versions of that you’ll find—to say nothing of the primo score and famous theme, courtesy Elmer Bernstein!

    Abandoned restaurant on Route 66 in New Mexico. Copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

    Untitled photo of an abandoned restaurant in New Mexico.

  • 10:15PM The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly ’66  Speaking of famed themes, Ennio Morricone probably topped Bernstein with the instantly recognizable, pop-culture standard theme for this Clint Eastwood flick.  The story is about three men hunting down dough while the War Between The States rages, but as usual, it’s more than that—it’s a look at human nature…which is just what the title tells us. We’re not always pretty creatures (rarely, I daresay). Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef star with Eastwood.
  • 1:30AM The Searchers ’56    This was on last week, but here it is again if you missed it.
  • 3:45AM How The West Was Won ’62    A true epic film, chock-full of stars, that follows three generations during the first throes of the settling of the American West. Taking a year to shoot—and $15 million of MGM’s money—it’s a pretty impressive movie, even shown on your TV instead of its intended enormous Cinerama screen. Starring Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, John Wayne (as General Sherman), Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, George Peppard, Karl Malden, Lee Cobb, and others, it’s hard not to like the story and performances. Also, for what it is worth, one of the Indian actors actually took part in the real Battle of the Little Big Horn. Cinerama or not, I think MGM got good bang for their buck.

Wednesday, December 12 brings us back to the lovely and talented Barbara Stanwyck.

    • 9:45PM Remember the Night ’40    It’s Christmas Eve, and assistant DA Fred MacMurray hates to think about shoplifter Barbara Stanwyck spending Christmas and New Year’s in jail, but after posting her bail for her (remember, this is the 40s, when chivalry still existed) and learning she’s nowhere to spend the holiday, he offers to drop her off at her family’s home, which is on the way to his own. A confrontation with her horrible, loveless childhood, though, results in the DA taking the shoplifter to his own family Christmas—and however improbably true love and affection spring up between Stanwyck and MacMurray’s warm, loving family. But Stanwyck finds herself in a tough spot, having come to love the DA and realizing what a romance with a criminal would do to his career—and unbeknownst to the man she loves, has to choose between romance and honour. Great, great, great movie. Another of the sort they couldn’t possibly make these days, with some truly congenial moments; the acting is so good and genuine all around that it’s very believable. Beulah Bondi is a  dream as MacMurray’s mom (she was everybody’s mom!). Please do yourself a favour and watch this movie. 
    • 11:30PM The Lady Eve ’41    Stanwyck and her father, played by the always-delightful Charles Coburn, are professional card sharks making the rounds on cruise ships. But when she falls for Henry Fonda’s mildly goofy (and wealthy) scientist while trying to con him out of his dough, more than a few kinks are thrown into their plans; the silliness just keeps piling up. A very funny movie, but in my mind, it still pales a bit in comparison to…
    • 1:15 Ball Of Fire ’41    Another one not to miss—I’m rather disappointed TCM isn’t screening this earlier in the evening! Gangster’s moll and nightclub singer Stanwyck finds herself shuffled into a home full of eccentric bachelor professors—each one an absolute charmer and all elderly but one: linguist Gary Cooper, who is actually adorable in this movie. I only say that because “adorable” and “Gary Cooper” don’t really go together, but in Ball of Fire, do they ever! You can probably imagine what begins to happen, but that hardly makes it less of a riot to watch. From gangsters to pre-boxing match book studying to spinsters hanging off trucks as they race over the border to Canada, this just about has everything except a pet tiger. Dana Andrews is Stanwyck’s gangster fella; the fellow professors are made up of some of the best character actors in Hollywood. A scream.
  • 5AM Lady Of Burlesque ’43    Someone is killing burlesque dancers, and star hoofer Stanwyck (understandably) wants to figure out who it is. Suspense, but with a bit of levity thrown in for good measure—well, it is a movie about someone knocking off feather dancers! Michael O’Shea is her costar.

That’s it for the coming week!

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