TCM Top 5 & New Work Wednesday

Vintage Studebaker plane hood ornament. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

“Flight”

 I’ve only seen two of the movies from this week’s top five—the rest all interest me. Indeed, I almost made this a list entirely of “never-seens”, but thought I at least owed you a couple of sure things (though the #5 pick is iffy, because it’s so sudsy at times your eyes will burn). TCM always has gems up its sleeve, of course, and every year I’m discovering classic films I’ve never seen before that I come to really love. Perhaps this week we’ll have another new winner!

Our first bookend is a comedy and mystery classic, set in the middle of a Friday evening full of really terrific film noir (speaking of, check out the latest New Yorker magazine cover).

After The Thin Man ’36
11PM Friday, June 7

Everyone’s favourite married sleuthing team is back in the sequel to the original, here trying to clear Nora’s cousin of murder after returning home to San Francisco. As always, this is a fun entry into the life of the Charleses, with a truly surprising conclusion to the murder case itself—I was very surprised, my first viewing, when the killer was revealed!

Also worth watching Friday: Outward Bound ’30, 6:45AM; Stranger on the Third Floor ’40, 11:15AM; Tom, Dick, And Harry ’41, 12:30PM; The Maltese Falcon ’31, 8PM; City Streets ’31, 9:30PM; The Glass Key ’42, 1AM; The Maltese Falcon ’41, 2:30AM

A Slight Case Of Murder ’38
9:30PM Sunday, June 9

Frisch's Mainliner by Day. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights resrved.

Here you are—the Mainliner sign by day!

There are several comedic Edward G. Robinson gangster films (Brother Orchid and Larceny Inc. come immediately to mind), and he must have enjoyed these far more than the straight gangster roles he played so well—Robinson was famously a nice fella and nothing like Little Caesar.

A Slight Case Of Murder, the first of three films on our list which I’ve never seen before, is adapted from a Damon Runyon play about a bootlegger who goes straight and sells beer legally at the end of Prohibition. Unfortunately, not only does his new career get off to a rocky start, his daughter wants to marry a police officer, and a vacation hits a nasty patch when he and his wife discover dead robbers in their rental.  If you ask me, the combination of Eddie G., gangster comedy, and Damon Runyon—the man who wrote so many brilliantly sparkling characters—is a recipe for delightful entertainment! There’s a very good supporting cast, too: Jane Bryan, Ruth Donnelly, Allen Jenkins, John Litel, Willard Parker, and Edward Brophy.

Also worth watching Sunday: Gaslight ’44, 12PM; Talk Of The Town ’42, 2PM; The Seven Year Itch ’55, 4:15PM; Viva Las

Frisch's Mainliner, Cinci. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

This is an old one, and I had very little experience shooting neon at night at this point, but in keeping with the plane theme…

Vegas ’64, 6:15PM; The Lavender Hill Mob ’51, 8PM; It ’27, 12:30AM

Caged ’50
8PM Monday, June 10

Eleanor Parker is Star Of The Month now that we’re in June, and prime time Mondays are dedicated to her films. This one, also known as Locked In, gets solid reviews, for the performances and the photography—though I doubt this is one for the kiddos due to the subject matter.

Some consider this, the story of women in prison, Parker’s best performance; Hope Emerson (who, from the previews I’ve seen, must have inspired Heath Ledger’s Joker) is apparently heart-stoppingly terrifying as the sadistic prison matron, and Agnes Moorehead stars as the kindly warden (I do like her work so much). Parker is a true innocent, sent to the prison as an accessory to the murder of her own husband during a filling station robbery. The terrible conditions of the prison of course begin to harden and change Parker’s character, Marie, who we learn is pregnant and will give birth in prison.

While many films in this genre are silly and campy, and many do indeed stick this into the “camp” category, based on what I’ve read about the film, they’ve done so not having seen it themselves. Indeed, it sounds as if Caged is a very blunt look at prison conditions of the time and why they failed to really ever reform anyone, even as the audience yearns for the cruel matron to get what’s coming to her. At any rate, it sounds interesting. Betty Garde, Jan Sterling, Joan Miller, and Gertrude Michael also star in what sounds like the best of all women in prison films.

Also worth watching Monday: Of Human Bondage ’46, 11:30PM

Female ’33
9:30PM Tuesday, June 11

The final of the films I’ve not seen, we have here a pre-Code romance about a woman successfully running a car company who tries to handle love and romance in the same efficient, businesslike fashion—and this would be a boring movie unless she found herself falling for a fellow who wants no part of that sort of ‘romance’. The cast—particularly its leads, husband and wife team George Brent and Ruth Chatterton—sounds good, plus it was directed by Michael Curtiz. And the sets are said to be sumptuous as well.

Many are surprised that films like this—with strong female leads—from this era even exist, but they are really much more common than some folks would have you think; indeed, more than one film historian has pointed out that female protagonists of the 30s and 40s had more power and came from more of a position of strength than Atomic classic car hood ornament. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.today’s female characters, and in many cases I agree.

Also worth watching Tuesday: They Drive By Night ’40, 1PM; Baby Face ’33, 8PM (such a good movie); His Girl Friday ’40, 10:45PM

Imitation Of Life ’59

8PM Wednesday, June 12

This is pretty much an essential film, dear reader, one about motherhood and skin colour. It’s hyper-melodramatic—lurid, even—and water-retainingly bloated with some bald overacting (from Turner especially), but quite a few “essential films” are laughable as well as watchable, having become cultural touchpoints despite their failings. Lana Turner is a glamourous beauty intent on becoming a highly successful actress; she meets Juanita Moore at the beach when the women’s girls begin playing together. They become partners after a fashion through the years, and both dealing with very rebellious daughters.

Though Turner is purportedly the star of the film—this after her daughter stabbed her lover to death (ah, Hollywood)—I think it is Juanita Moore’s character who is really its anchor and star. Turner’s character is driven indeed, to the point of coldness; her daughter is really nothing more than an accessory or a bother, and soon enough, competition. You can imagine how a child picks up on this from her mother and responds in kind.

On the other hand, Moore is kind and good-hearted, which makes the pain she suffers because of her light-skinned daughter sting both her character and the viewer even more. Her daughter Sarah Jane was, thanks to the culture of the time, left feeling ashamed of her heritage, and due to her light skin, she even tries to pass for white, rejecting her mother until the end. Thus it is the scenes with Moore that touch us (frankly, I couldn’t help but find Turner’s character more than a bit repulsive). Above It All

Fair warning, this is a tear-jerker for all of its turgidity, borderline campiness, and rose-scented bubbles (maybe that’s part of it); it may be one of the final big “women’s pictures”, though it’s hardly in the same league as films like, oh, Since You Went Away. In fact, when it was in theatres, some owners had staff stand at the doors with boxes of tissues for weeping patrons! And if this is your first viewing of the film, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll at least get choked up. Also, at the time, this was thought of as a groundbreaking, brave film for dealing with the issues of race as it did. Even so, Moore, with “officially” the second-largest role in the movie and to my mind the better and best role, was billed seventh, behind actors with much smaller roles. Bizarre. But happily, her character and her performance will be the one you remember most and most fondly.

Also worth watching Wednesday: Bedtime Story ’42, 10:30 AM; City For Conquest ’40, 4:15PM

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