The Cinema Cafe

Serving Cinema's Tastiest Treasures

"Now Listen to Me..."

 

Just some thoughts on current happenings:

 

There are 15 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:

 

 

Billy Wilder's nightmarish depiction of a struggling writer drowning his acute anxiety in alcohol is an enthralling emotional showcase for actor Ray Milland as Don Birnam in The Lost Weekend.

The film's limited premise doesn't allow the central character to sufficiently develop by focusing on the act of alcohol dependency from a symptomatic approach instead of its root causes. Furthermore, the final resolution is a shade too disingenuous and optimistic considering Birnam's previous transgressions and perpetual atrophy. Nonetheless, these flaws seem less formidable when measured against this motion picture's attributes, namely the numerous scenes with Birnam, deeply sympathetic without being maudlin, fighting, or indulging in, his demonic obsession with liquor. These events are vividly intense, abetted by John F. Seitz's noir-leaning photographic artistry as the filmmakers delineate Birnam's alternately clever and naive extreme conflict of wills and ultimate calamitous descent. His inescapable addiction battles an almost equally determined desire to abstain from the controlling substance so as to utilise his most capable creative writing skills... a contest that is always masterfully presented, securing the audience's utmost attention.

 

In addition to Milland's well-earned Academy Award-winning performance, we have Charles Brackett's and Wilder's intuitive screenplay, fully loaded with the duo's rapid-fire witticisms that zeros-in, like Birnam, on what's in front of him, keeping both the character and us hypnotically entranced in each and every moment's hardened reality. If the viewer is aligned with that penetrating gaze, the results are riveting, purposeful, and immensely satisfying. There's one last contribution here that cannot be overly praised and that's Miklos Rozsa's music which I have more accolades to bestow in Part 4 of Top Ten's Motion Picture Music Treasures. The Lost Weekend can be found on TCM (updated) Wednesday, August 2 at 11pm PST.

TCM's current monthly 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.

 

 

 

 

Michael Caine

Michael Caine

Immediately following The Lost Weekend is the cinematic introduction of Harry Palmer: An almost opposite type of secret agent to writer Ian Fleming's super-spy James Bond. Palmer and his exploits were created by novelist Len Deighton and brought to the screen by some of the same creative individuals responsible for the iconic Bond franchise. The welcome result is The Ipcress File, a previous Blu-ray recommendation here, and will divulge its secrets Sunday, December 4 at 3pm PST.

 

 

 

 

 

Next on my list of recommended films to watch is King Kong, who's scheduled to make his grand entrance on Saturday, December 10 at 5pm PST. I have previously reviewed this film with a focus on its musical score here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TCM has scheduled a trio of important films, each coming from a different corner of the globe, all of which concern their principal characters' declining feelings of self-worth as they reach old age. These are films of enormous quality and distinction to be shown on Tuesday, December 13th. One of the lesser known selections is Patterns.

Ed Begley (Far left), Everett Sloane (Center), Van Heflin (Center on the right)

Ed Begley (Far left), Everett Sloane (Center), Van Heflin (Center on the right)

This is Hidden Gem #54 with Ed Begley as the displaced U.S. executive whose shameful bullying at the hands of his superior corporate officer (Everett Sloane) is slowly starting to anger Begley's younger ally and (unbeknownst to himself), replacement, played by Van Heflin. All three male leads exhibit voracious appetites for their Rod (The Twilight Zone) Serling created dynamic parts. The dramatic fireworks are set to explode Tuesday, December 13 at 3:30pm PST.

 

 

 

 

Following Patterns is Umberto D., a previous TCM recommendation here. Carlo Battisti provides a heart-wrenching portrayal of a Government pensioner in Rome as he desperately struggles to survive his impoverished circumstances. The scheduled showtime is 5pm PST (December 13).

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, there is Ikiru, cinema's most deeply contemplative statement on the meaning of life and one of the Top Ten World Cinema Treasures. This odyssey of discovery is taken by actor Takashi Shimura vividly playing a Japanese Government bureaucrat after learning he has terminal cancer. Ikiru is also to be shown on Tuesday, December 13 at 8:30pm PST.

 

 

 

 

After the dramatic seriousness of the above three TCM recommendations, it might be nice to indulge in a light-hearted and charming Christmas holiday treat: Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner.

James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan

James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan

Beneath an inventive situation comedy veneer, however, there is a serious underlying message concerning relationships and how concepts often get in the way of a more fulfilling union based on care and concern for one another. The Shop Around the Corner, previously praised here, will open Thursday, December 15 at 5pm PST and again on Saturday, December 24 at 1:15pm PST.

 

 

 

 

 

There are two exceptional but often neglected films noir with Humphrey Bogart as an accused wife-murderer. The first is Conflict which requires the attentive viewer look past the ‘perfect murder-cum-mystery’ plot mechanics to discover a more meaningful noir-like subtext: An investigative study of one man’s reoccurring disappointment, despair, and torment.

Alexis Smith

Alexis Smith

Bogart capably embodies engineer Richard Mason who has built a societally approving but trap-like loveless marriage. The final burden of “one brick too many” is a demeaning remark made by wife Kathryn (Rose Hobart) during a preparation for their anniversary party. His escape hatch comes by way of his own minor accident that he sees as an opportunity to “engineer” Kathryn’s death, allowing him to pursue what he hopes are the reciprocal affections of his wife’s much-younger sister, Evelyn Turner (Alexis Smith). Everything seems to go according to plan until later evidence mysteriously accumulates suggesting Mason's spouse is miraculously still alive. This added “Hitchcockian” element of uncertainty is enveloping but might distract viewers from the more incisive analysis of Mason’s inner tumultuous feelings. These emotional responses are vividly enacted by Bogart. They subtly imply his character's repressed melancholic state which are acerbated by his sister-in law’s romantic rejection and, as the evidence mounts of Kathryn’s disappearance but still haunting presence, Mason's self-doubting sanity.     

Also on hand is a family friend, psychiatrist Dr. Mark Hamilton played with his typical distinctive flair by Sidney Greenstreet. This was the last of his five films with Bogart and their scenes together are electrifying, more so than in previous cinematic encounters. In Conflict, the stakes are higher, their interests drastically oppositional but with tragic outcomes evocatively realised by both, especially during Mason’s final denouement. Director Curtis Bernhard working from an Arthur T. Horman and Dwight Taylor screenplay of “The Pentacle” by Robert Siodmak and Alfred Neumann, have taken us on a unique and resonate journey of regret, existential angst, and doom, through their engineer Mason, and in the process created a remarkable shrine to film noir. The conflict will begin Monday, December 19 at 6:15am PST. 

 

 

 

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall

Immediately following is Bogart's portrayal of accused wife-killer Vincent Parry, similarly distressed due to his perilous circumstances but this time wrongfully convicted and on the run after escaping from San Quentin. His Dark Passage through the streets of San Francisco was previously reviewed as a Blu-ray recommendation here and will commence Monday, December 19 at 7:45am PST.

 

 

 

 

 

Randolph Scott as Gil Westrum (on the left) and Joel McCrea as Steve Judd

Randolph Scott as Gil Westrum (on the left) and Joel McCrea as Steve Judd

Those who associate the name Sam Peckinpah with a strong dose of cinematic violence might be surprised to see the elegiac Ride the High Country, one of his early and finest westerns with far less than the usual amount of physical conflict portrayed by the maverick director. This is Top Ten Western #4 and will ride into TCM territory Tuesday, December 20 at 5pm PST.

 

 

 

 

 

Reverting to one of film noir's finest there's the previously reviewed Opening Up a Treasure: Double Indemnity, a policy which can be cashed in Wednesday, December 21 at 11am PST.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray

Along with The Shop Around the Corner this month, TCM is presenting another top Christmas Holiday classic, Remember the Night, previously recommended here. The stars of this delightful cinematic charmer re-teamed for the later-made Double Indemnity. The night to be remembered is Thursday, December 22... at 6:45pm PST.

 

 

 

 

 

If you enjoyed Remember the Night, I'll bet anything you'll love Sullivan's Travels. Preston Sturges, the screenplay's author of the previous recommendation, also wrote and directed Sullivan's Travels. This was a prior Blu-ray endorsement here. The fun-filled journey will begin Sunday, December 25 at 7pm PST.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Casablanca is a film I've often recommended in the past. Sometimes, however, I catch some flack for not being as enamoured with this adored classic as the vast majority of viewers. For those who consider Casablanca to be one of the finest motion pictures ever made, just the inclusion in my series entitled Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Overrated can be objectional enough to completely ignore my critique. In my defence, "Fool's Gold" only refers to the mineral pyrite, not to those who hold the film dear, and there are many qualities attributed to the motion picture and contained in my review. In any event, please have a look at both the film and my write-up to see for yourself if my appraisal has merit. Casablanca is on TCM's itinerary for Tuesday, December 27 at 1:30pm PST.  

 

 

 

 

(From left) Harry Shannon, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorhead, Buddy Swan

(From left) Harry Shannon, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorhead, Buddy Swan

Finally, there is an American classic I have no reservations about, Citizen Kane, a previous TCM recommendation here. His campaign to win you over will begin Wednesday, December 28 at 12:15pm PST.  

 

TCM's current monthly 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.

 

 

 

 

This month's Happy Birthday shout-out goes to British-born Peggy Cummins who turns 91 December 18th.

Just a few of her delectable all-in performances can be seen in Moss Rose, Escape, Hell DriversCurse (or Night) of the Demon and perhaps her most notoriously famous role as sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr in Gun Crazy (pictured). I have included an interview with Ms. Cummins conducted by noir great Eddie Muller below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Soundtrack recommendation for the month is one of its composer's finest, For Whom the Bell Tolls, a very limited (1000 only) release by Varese Sarabande's CD Club.

As a matter of fact, this CD is presently sold-out at Varese's own site, but there are still some copies surprisingly available at Intrada Records as of this writing. Composer Victor Young under contract at the time to Paramount, worked extremely hard on this prestigious, over 3 hour film (subsequently edited to 170-minutes). His efforts have paid off handsomely with sweeping Spanish-flavoured themes of militarism, adventure, and romance, all delivered with Young's deep passion and conviction. For more information on, and to order, this landmark score, click on the image.      

 

 

 

 

The DVD recommendation this month is the above-reviewed Conflict issued by the Warner Archive Collection and can be ordered from Amazon U.S. by clicking on the image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A.G.