Set your DVRs, friends, because every movie pick save one this week is daytime, not prime time (though our solitary prime-time pick for the coming week is a very good one)!
3:30PM Thursday June 20
This is one I’ve not seen, but star Dick Powell is a fella whose work I always seem to enjoy, particularly in suspense films, plus the plot is interesting—after Nazis kill his French wife during World War II, a former flyer for the Canadian Air Force seeks the murderers out in Buenos Aires. Yes, just the kind of story I like. Powell’s performance is said to be superb here.
Born Yesterday 1950
8:15AM Friday, June 21
Yes, on the same day TCM is screening Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Bells Are Ringing, and They Won’t Believe Me, I pick Born Yesterday—but with good reason, including the one where I say, “TCM just doesn’t show ‘X’ often enough!” This is probably my favourite Judy Holliday film; her fine comedic timing is perfectly on display—all of her tremendous talent is easily seen here, as if she were born to play the role of gangster’s girl Billie Dawn. The script is flawless, the stars’ performances the same; throw in the neatly presented hunks of truth offered by this screwball comedy, and you have a real winner. Which it is. It’s some of the best character development you’ll see in a movie—but Billie never loses the essence of who she is, for which everyone is grateful despite some rough edges nothing is likely to soften (after viewing, compare Billie to Sandy in Grease, a film I’ve looked askance at for a while now despite the great cars, duds, and fun music). I daresay this is one of the better depictions of a woman in a movie, the good and the bad.
Though this is Judy’s film, plain and simple, her primary costars—Broderick Crawford as her controlling bully (but I repeat myself) of a boyfriend and William Holden as the reporter hired to educate her in the face of the best Washington DC has to offer (then, as now, ‘the best’ are the dregs of the earth)—turn in good performances too, polar opposites in just about everything but their desire to succeed at their own game…and, ultimately, to keep Billie Dawn around. The supporting cast is perfect, too; I don’t think there are any weak points in this film at all save the fact that Holliday is so darned good, her liveliness and brilliance outshine everyone and everything else. The script is utterly perfect, snappy and speedy; George Cukor’s direction is perfect, the actor’s performances are perfect, the photography is a dream (gotcha).
Born Yesterday is, to my mind, an essential film; it’s a screwball comedy with depth, and again—Judy Holliday’s performance. Wow. Cukor is legendary for his abilities as a “woman’s director”, and this film is yet another example of his skill in drawing the best from his actresses.
Also worth watching Friday: Adam’s Rib 1949, 6:30AM; Bells Are Ringing 1960, 10AM; They Won’t Believe Me 1947, 9:45PM; Double Indemnity 1944, 11:15PM, The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946, 1:15AM
My Favorite Wife 1940
12PM Sunday, June 23
Irene Dunne & Cary Grant were so good together in romantic comedies of this nature, it’s a bit of a shame there aren’t more of them. In this cutie, Dunne returns seven years after having been thought lost in a shipwreck—returns just as her husband (Grant) marries another woman. It’s screwiness just about from the start, as Grant sees his supposedly dead wife in a hotel lobby just as he and his new bride step into the elevator that’s heading up to their honeymoon suite, and things only escalate (as only Grant and Dunne can pull it off) when it is learned she spent those lost years on an island with hunky swimmer Randolph Scott. You can imagine the unintentionally two-timing husband’s response to that! This is a treat of a romantic comedy as only 1930s Hollywood could do them—oh, and don’t miss out on some of the costumes. The likes of many of those will never be seen again, either!
Also worth watching Sunday: Calamity Jane 1953, 6AM; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 1960, 8AM; Carousel 1956, 1:45PM; The Pirate 1948, 8PM; To Be or Not to Be 1942, 5:15AM
The Whole Town’s Talking 1935
6PM Monday, June 24
You know I’m a big fan of Edward G. Robinson, or “Eddie G.” as he is respectfully but affectionately called around here. As I am fond of noting, Eddie G.’s kindness and general good nature were well-known, making his chilling portrayals of seriously bad guys all the more impressive. In The Whole Town’s Talking, we get to see both sides of Eddie—the heartless, pragmatic gangster “Killer” Mannion and the meek-mannered but likable American everyman, Arthur Ferguson Jones, who is simply working hard with a few dreams he holds dear: one of them is his secret crush on a co-worker (played by the always-adorable Jean Arthur), and the other is taking a trip to Shanghai someday.
Complicating Ferguson’s ability to attain either dream, as you can probably guess, is the fact that he’s a dead ringer for notorious heavy “Killer” Mannion, who has recently escaped from the state prison, and as a result has his picture plastered all over the papers. In addition to the run-ins with the law you might expect, Mannion himself discovers his doppelganger and uses Jones’ existence to his advantage. A newspaper takes advantage, too, deciding to hire Jones—after a night of drinking—to write Mannion’s story. And of course Jean Arthur finds herself mixed up in all of this, and the ending is so terrific and so funny I refuse to give it away lest I spoil the fun for any of you. Mistaken identity, misunderstandings, and plain old flubs and crazy hijinks fit in with other snappy and witty 1930s screwball comedies, only with the “I’m twin to a gangster!” twist.
Earlier I mentioned getting to see two sides of Robinson in this film, and want to note one scene, in which Robinson as the gangster, Mannion, gets into a car and must pretend to be the clerk, Jones. It’s a fun piece of work to see. I also really enjoy Eddie G. in the few comedies he made; he was quite good in them, and it is a shame he didn’t do more. He’s wonderful in this comedy, as is Jean Arthur.
Of note: If you are a special-effects junkie, for ’35, the split-screen special effect is just about flawless.
They Died With Their Boots On 1941
8PM Wednesday, June 26
Errol Flynn plays famously courageous and brilliant George Armstrong Custer in this pseudo-biography that follows him from his cadet days at West Point to the final days of his life as he approaches his last and self-sacrificing fight at Little Big Horn. Yes, brilliant—during the War Between The States he proved to be an excellent officer, even stopping a Confederate advance on Washington. None other than Sheridan himself said no man had done more for the Union Army than Custer; unfortunately, it is for his charge into certain death Custer is remembered best today, and movies have a tendency to portray him as an accidental general and incompetent madman, a drunkard (not true) and as having been kicked out of the military (also not true). This was definitely not the case, so keep that in mind while watching this film—it’s sweeping, it’s romantic, it’s exciting, but it doesn’t exactly tell you the truth about my fellow Michigander (though born in Ohio, Custer was raised mostly in Michigan).
Of course, we don’t expect truth or facts from Hollywood, do we? We shouldn’t, anyhow!
Disclaimer aside, They Died With Their Boots On is one of those movies Hollywood did best—adventure, drama, true romance, grave peril, and the sort of fierce-bordering-upon-madness brand of bravery that Americans seem to excel at. It’s not entirely accurate, but it’s a darned good movie with all one could ask for from an entertainment, and I love seeing it every time.
For the sentimental among us, this is the last screen pairing of Errol Flynn with his perpetual screen love, Olivia de Havilland, who plays Custer’s wife, Libbie—they were so very good together, weren’t they? That fact alone makes Custer’s farewell to his bride before the battle doubly poignant. The pair never had a real romance offscreen, but it seems de Havilland and Flynn genuinely connected with each other, and I suspect they were good friends; this shines through in every one of their films and makes them a joy to see because of the personal warmth so evident between them. Some consider this their best onscreen pairing since The Adventures of Robin Hood, and that’s saying something.
As you can surmise, much is covered in 140 minutes, from Custer’s West Point days to the Civil War years and his courtship of Libbie to his command of the Seventh U.S. Cavalry in the Black Hills. But it’s done well, and we are able, through the vignettes offered by They Died With Their Boots On, to learn about the men of his command, men who died in America’s uniform on Little Big Horn. Following the life of Custer, there is laughter, sorrow, and courage ’til the last. This is, again, one of those films Hollywood was so superb at creating during its golden age; it will draw you in and hold you until the very last frame—and for the next couple of hours.
The battle scenes are very well done; the scenery gorgeous; the acting quite fine (none other than the notoriously brutal Jack Warner said this was one of Flynn’s very best performances, and I agree); the cast incredible (in addition to the two stars, we have Arthur Kennedy, Charley Grapewin, Gene Lockhart, Sydney Greenstreet, Hattie McDaniel, Anthony Quinn, John Litel, and Stanley Ridges). Too many see both Westerns and war films as throwaway or silly propagandic fare, but in reality that’s not often the case, and They Died With Their Boots On is an obvious exception.
For all of its inaccuracies, if you can only watch one of the TCM Top 5 this week, I suggest this film, despite my affection for a couple of the others. Talk about a movie TCM does not screen often enough!