"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
There are 5 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month. Most of these are previous recommendations, the reviews for which will be linked.
My first recommended feature is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, a romantic fantasy/drama that provides viewers with an incredibly moving emotional experience. It has been previously reviewed here. This timeless romance begins on Thursday, December 10 at 3pm PST.
My next recommended viewing is Otto Preminger's intense courtroom drama, 1959's Anatomy of a Murder: One of the most accurate and realistic depictions (albeit fictional) of the U.S. criminal justice system ever filmed.
Part of this motion picture's authenticity stems from its sourced novel written by John D. Voelker (moonlighting under the pen name of Robert Traver), a sitting Michigan State Supreme Court Judge. In addition, the fictional judge in this film is portrayed by none other than Joseph N. Welch, the real life lawyer who represented the U.S. Army in the televised Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. In fact I have heard from several different sources that Anatomy of a Murder is shown and studied in various law-school classes around the country.
When a military man avenges an assault on his beautiful wife, his defense on murder charges falls into the hands of a "low rent" small-town lawyer. This film contains one of the best displays of ensemble acting from a divinely chosen cast. James Stewart gives his utmost, fully committed performance as defense lawyer Paul Biegler who strategises a brilliant, although difficult to substantiate, "irresistible impulse" form of temporary insanity defense for Lt. Frederick Manion (a "pressure-cooker" performance from Ben Gazzara: See End Credits) over the killing of his wife's attacker. Mrs. Laura Manion is played by the gorgeous Lee Remick as naturally flirtatious, even after both shocking incidents (her rape and victimiser's death) have occurred and therefore needs to be coached considerably by Biegler before appearing in court and testifying. As a matter of fact, Biegler will need to work extraordinarily hard and smart to gain his client's acquittal not only because his charge indisputably took another man's life, but due to the attorney's cunningly adept and experienced big city adversary: Renowned prosecutor Claude Dancer, portrayed with relish to the charismatic hilt by George C. Scott.
The multi-faceted characters and intricacies of the trial are explored with detailed precision courtesy of adapting screenwriter Wendell Mayes and Preminger's commanding direction. Even more shocking than the ground-breaking use of what were thought to be the Production Code's forbidden words, is the total absence of moralizing, even though one person has been raped and another killed. This lack of pontification over right and wrong does not, however, preclude any shortage of suspenseful dramatic fireworks, as this film will demonstrate. The setting's realistic atmosphere is further enhanced by Biegler's ethically questionable rule bending, needed to win the jury over, and therefore his formidable case. Despite witnessing the clever arguments presented from both sides of guilt and innocence, not to mention gaining insights into how the system works, the film's surprising final moments make us question if "justice" was really served, providing much fascinating food for thought. The 'trial' is set for Wednesday, December 16 at 2pm PST.
Another movie trial is set to take place on TCM however this time the crime is relatively incidental to the romantic development taking place in the charmingly sentimental Remember the Night.
This initial pre-Double Indemnity pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray stars the former as a twice-convicted shoplifter accused of a similar third offense. MacMurray plays the prosecutor who knows that a conviction over the Christmas Holidays is an unlikely prospect. Postponing the trial, he puts up her bail and takes her to his mother's home for the holidays. Sympathy and endearment for the enchanting Stanwyck steadily increases as she flourishes in this warm and loving environment unlike that of her own upbringing. Her heartfelt appreciation for the generous kindness shown makes for a most cherished cinematic story full of humor, festive spirit, and emotional sincerity. The reason for the narrative's quality, including some inventive character building madcap situations, is primarily due to its script by the noted, soon to be director Preston Sturges. Mitchell Leisen directed with style and is especially deft at smoothly blending the comedic elements with the cold reality of an impending trial. The bittersweet resolution still leaves us confident that love will triumph over adversity. Remember the Night is well worth remembering for what Christmas is really about: Charity and kindness... and for those in the U.S. who can partake, being on TCM (updated) Thursday, December 22 at 6:45pm PST.
My next TCM showing to see is another Holiday treat The Shop Around the Corner previously recommended and reviewed last Christmas season here. It will "open" Saturday, December 19 at 5pm PST and again Thursday, December 24 at 11:45pm PST.
Finally on the last day of the month TCM will once again show my favourite Marx Brothers movie Monkey Business previously reviewed here. I cannot think of a better year-end send off than this zany comedy classic. See them send-up everything and everyone in sight Thursday, December 31 at 1pm PST.
TCM's current schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above images. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right hand corner of TCM's programme.
December's Soundtrack recommendation is an easy one: Double Indemnity: Film Noir at Paramount, a compilation of original film scores from Paramount which is more than any fan could have hoped for.
It is a recently issued 2CD set from Intrada containing not only Miklos Rozsa's landmark music to the titular masterpiece, but also Hugo Friedhofer's monumental soundtrack to the equally powerful Ace in the Hole. As if that wasn't enough of a surprise to film music lovers, this amazing set boasts Franz Waxman's virtuoso score to Sorry, Wrong Number (including one track by Nathan Van Cleave), Victor Young's all important dramatic contribution to I Walk Alone, and the rhythmically exciting score (in stereo no less) to The Desperate Hours courtesy of composer Gail Kubik (with one additional track by Daniele Amfitheatrof). But wait, there's more! Leith Stevens is represented for musically darkening The Scarlet Hour and three amazing cues by Heinz Roemheld from Union Station are included as well. More on this soundtrack gift of a lifetime, plus ordering information from Intrada Records can be obtained by clicking on the image.
This month's Happy Birthday shout-out goes to that motion picture icon Kirk Douglas who on this day (December 9th) turns 99. This incredible actor is one of our very few surviving treasures from film's Golden Age. Here's hoping he has many more fabulous birthdays to come.
My Blu-ray recommendation this month is a rarely chosen contemporary film which has justifiably received numerous accolades, Mad Max: Fury Road.
It’s been 30 years since Australian director George Miller gave us part 3 in a trilogy of 'Mad Max' films. Since then, what have we had in the way of inspirational action blockbusters? A few ‘Bourne’ and ‘X Men’ films come to mind, amid a deluge of dross: Comic strip, plainly dumbed-down good vs. evil, CGI-laden yawn-fest's which rather than providing some engagingly creative characters and story line wind up administering the perfect cure for insomnia.
After our fearless leader’s long hiatus from the action genre, dabbling in cute and cuddly pigs (Babe) and penguins (Happy Feet), Miller now 70, comes roaring back to action like a Mad Max character himself, all pumped with gonzo energy, commandeering one of those crazy super-charged rigs headed straight at us. He’s hauling his trademark Mad Max arsenal of outrageously flamboyant, awe-inspiring set pieces and stunts involving a host of bizarre looking, post-Armageddon beastly characters, mixing brutality with beauty, Aussie horror with Aussie humour, pitting fierce, single-minded determinists against one another amidst unimaginable displays of chaotic destruction. There’s Miller’s familiar but unique plot device: An army of crazed warriors in a thunderous and deadly vehicular pursuit across an apocalyptic wasteland. This time, however, (as if to make up for time) the stakes are viscerally higher, the dynamism comes at us like multiple rockets from launchers that just keep firing.
If Miller has a weakness, (most evident in the last Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome) it’s in portraying the kinder, more compassionate side of his characters, but he wisely wastes no time with that here. The director has pared everything down to the marrow: There’s just enough establishing narrative to give his unique, multidimensional characters their clear, pronounced motives and gradually revealing personalities. Then it’s on with the showdown. When just a hint of sentimentality appears, Miller wisely moves on to another dynamic, e.g. resentment, despair, or sacrifice. This Mad Max installment may lack the profundity and mythical overview of his visionary masterpiece The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2). Nevertheless, it’s a tsunami of driving energy and technical bravado providing one astonishing scene after another. We’re like the water-starved masses portrayed here, only instead it’s a little imagination in the action genre we thirst for and George Miller has generously "turned it on” full bore. He’s returned to kick ass and we're fortunate to have had him do it. The U.S. Blu-ray is from Warner Home Video. More information from Amazon including ordering is available by clicking on its image below.