"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
There are 21 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
Few actresses were as capable of conveying their character's inner emotional turbulence as Joan Crawford and in 1947's Possessed, the consummate performer delivers the hurricane Katrina of almighty tempestuous thunderstorms.
When we first see Crawford's severely distressed Louise Howell, she's wandering the streets of Los Angeles, practically catatonic except for her delusional cries of "David" when approaching some male strangers. After being taken by ambulance to a hospital, medicated and placed under psychiatric evaluation (ah, the good old days), Louise is able to approximate a story of past circumstances, including an obsessional dependency on another, that contributed to her present mentally disturbed state.
Being a film noir we will, naturally, see these events in flashback form. Watching Louise becoming increasingly consumed and tormented by her amorous feelings toward an unresponsive David Sutton (a typical soul-searching performance by Van Heflin), makes for a deeply captivating experience. This is due to the subtle complexities of character and situation seamlessly interspersed throughout the narrative by writers Silvia Richards and Ranald MacDougall, from a story by Rita Weiman. There's also the film's clever integration of noir elements as Crawford's Louise strongly considers murdering David as a means of relieving her unrequited love's psychological suffering while simultaneously keeping him from being with anyone else, the latter which will become a very real threat. Additionally enhancing this noir recipe are Franz Waxman's melodramatic infused score and Joseph A. Valentine's moody cinematography. Marshalling this incredible array of talent is director Curtis Bernhartd, no stranger to exceptional film noir or even his main characters' obsessional desires as he showed in Conflict (1945), and would demonstrate again in High Wall (1947) amongst others.
Horror fans will, of course, recognise the pronounced subject matter of fixated longing for someone else (one who cannot reciprocate those feelings), sensationalised in films such as Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969), Play Misty for Me (1971), and Fatal Attraction (1987). The results in films of this type may be more physically confrontational, immediate and therefore suspenseful, but are less engaging and thought provoking than the far earlier produced Possessed. Even at her most schizophrenic heights, our heroine's sympathetic qualities shine through, enhanced by the film's underlying sense of invested compassion. The intricately developed and considered responses by Louise's surrounding characters increase the authenticity of Possessed without sacrificing the film's devotion to noir's exhilarating trademark of fatalism. Attentive viewers will be possessed Sunday, October 1 at 7am PST. As an added bonus it will be introduced by the "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller as part of his ongoing series 'Noir Alley'. For more information on 'Noir Alley' click here.
No less enveloping and released the same year as Possessed, is 1947's The Unsuspected, last month's TCM recommendation here, and will unexpectedly air again Monday, October 2 at 1pm PST.
Concluding TCM's 1947 film noir triumvirate this week is perhaps the classification's finest, Out of the Past, previously praised here and arriving again on Thursday, October 5 at 3pm PST.
In the mid-60s, independent filmmaker Monte Hellman directed a couple of extremely low-budget but highly distinctive westerns made back to back, The Shooting and my next TCM recommendation Ride in the Whirlwind.
The latter is best described as an existential, almost anti-western. The setting is non-traditionally stark but familiar. The events, however, are portrayed with little concern for rhyme or reason in a brutal and despairing manner. Although Ride in the Whirlwind has a more discernible plot and is not as abstract in nature compared to The Shooting, there is no "law and order” coming to the rescue here, nor, for that matter does any representation of moral righteousness or justice exist. The "why" of things are made insignificant by way of the film's central three characters, cowhands who find themselves mistaken by a posse of death-dealing vigilantes for belonging to a greater gang of outlaws. There’s no time or place for heroic thoughts or deeds in these desperate circumstances, only how to best survive them. Virtue is only peripherally discussed amongst our trio of cowboys, and not as a means in itself of achieving a more rewarding life. Their moral choices seem guided only by what's suited to each individual's personality when they first unwittingly meet up with the stage robbing bandits. The three then decide to go on their way, ironic when they are misidentified as belonging to the gang anyway and doggedly pursued throughout the rest of the story. Later, when two of our three cattlemen hide out at a family’s homestead, their values become further challenged due to the harm they will inflict on others. Still, they are decisions which are accepted as "out of their hands" just as the unforeseen and dire circumstances they have found themselves in. One thing all of the characters have in common: No matter what happens, and even more so, what decisions they make, the results will be bleak, punishing and hard. Life itself is the “whirlwind" one must ride out all the way to the end. It’s a gale force that metaphorically clears out all of the western genre’s remnants of romance and glory as it endlessly carries its survivors to their untenable destinies.
In keeping with the modest budget and theme, dramatic contrivances are boldly absent in the brilliant original screenplay penned by the film’s star Jack Nicholson. This is a strikingly intelligent economical work, one that communicates a deep emotional empathy without condescending to its audience. Performances as secured by Hellman’s directorial prowess remain authentic throughout their characters’ trials and tribulations. Adding to the film's integrity is the recently departed actor Harry Dean Stanton, making a most welcome appearance. The overall exposition is made further harmonious by Robert Drasnin’s foreboding score and Gregory Sandor’s unobtrusive cinematography. Viewers will have that rare opportunity to ride this unusual and haunting western’s whirlwind Saturday, October 7 at 12:45pm PST.
Returning to films noir and specifically 1947 (the same year of release for the three previous noirs recommended above) we have Hidden Gem #10, They Won't Believe Me, with its fascinating, twisty plot and antithetically noir central character. This was my very first entry, (linked here), for the Cinema Cafe Site with some kind words from the "Czar of Noir" himself, Eddie Muller, in the comments section below the review. If you're a TCM noir fan and haven't seen this unusual motion picture, please believe me, you don't want to miss this golden opportunity. The next film to emerge from the shadows in Eddie's Noir Alley can be seen Sunday, October 8 at 7am PST and will repeat Saturday, October 30 (late evening), at 1:45am PST.
MGM's 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain was not adapted from a stage production, though the film was later turned into one, being first presented on stage in 1983. Its abundant creativity, innovation, and driving energy place this film at the top of all cinematic musicals ever produced. Singin' in the Rain has been reviewed as a past Blu-ray selection here, and will joyously dance its way onto TCM Monday, October 9 at 9:15 pm PST.
Rarely does an atmosphere of such overpowering dread subsume a cinematic story so completely as it does in 1943's The Seventh Victim.
A young woman (portrayed as a fetching innocent by Kim Hunter) goes searching for her missing sister (enigmatically played by Jean Brooks) in New York City's Greenwich Village and stumbles upon a satanic cult of devil worshipers putting both of their lives at risk. Mark Robson, who directed a number of these Val Lewton produced gems is himself at the peak of his considerable creative powers. This devilishly striking combination of horror and film noir was a previous TCM recommendation and reviewed here. The fate of both sisters will be determined Tuesday, October 10 at 11pm PST.
Here's a short clip: Eerily foreshadowing the shower scene from Hitchcock's Psycho.
Several months after a black-out, where all of a village's inhabitants simultaneously lay unconscious for several hours, those women capable of bearing children all become pregnant. Five months later, they give birth to ten-pound babies with blond hair, abnormally large heads, glowing eyes, and extreme intelligence. There is no definitive answer as to exactly how these peculiar children in this English town of Midwich are born, either in John Wyndham's 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos, or the hair-raising film it is based on, 1960's Village of the Damned.
There is a clue, however, in the title of science fiction writer Wyndham's book: Cuckoos typically place their eggs in other nests for the surrogate parents to raise. In addition, the cuckoo chicks will often kill their "brethren" to acquire more food and parental attention. This suggests that these soon to become dangerously destructive children are in fact alien beings from another planet, although as previously stated their exact origin, not to mention their exact purpose, is cleverly left open to our imagination. By adding these mystifying qualities, the filmmakers (director Wolf Rilla expertly directing from an adapted screenplay by Rilla, Stirling Silliphant, and George Barclay) deepen our thought processes regarding, for instance, their narrative's boldly insidious sexual implications. The horror is increased as well as we watch the children, emotionless and of a mind as one, develop, test and employ their other-worldly super-powers against their human hosts and contemplate just how far will they go. As the adults of the town become more and more desperate to curb their children's devastating behaviour, Village of the Damned proposes a microcosm whereby not only are the village's young ones condemned to hell, by responding so aggressively we are as well. This is a low-budget "B" production to be sure, with minimally used and rather unimpressive special effects. The only recognisable name actor in sight is George Sanders (albeit the best choice for conveying a sophisticated, reasoned intelligence to combat the mentally superior kids), but don't let any of that deter you from being chilled to the marrow by this totally captivating film watching experience. “The Midwich Cuckoos” will hatch most tellingly on Friday, the 13th of October at 6:30am PST and will be re-born again Saturday, October 28 at 10am PST.
Later that same Friday morning is another cinematic tale of demonic possession, but is it really the children this time, or their consumed Governess who are haunted by evil spirits? In 1961's The Innocents, as in Friday's above selection, it is a question wisely left for the viewer to decide. This is a prior TCM recommendation here and will manifest Friday, October 13 at 10am PST and again on Tuesday, October 24 at 5pm PST.
Director John Boorman has delivered with the precision of his film's title, Point Blank, a neo-noir masterpiece fortified with style and driven by purpose.
Lee Marvin's 'cold as a frozen corpse' Walker, is a machine-like man on a mission, appearing unstoppable as he struts through LAX possessed with unbridled vengeance. It's also quite ironic that despite Walker's hardened resolve, the considerable threat he poses, generous amount of punishment he dishes out, and the high body count he seems responsible for, doesn't directly kill anyone in the entire picture. "Was it a dream?" You be the judge when Point Blank (first acclaimed here) hits Saturday, October 14 at 9am PST.
From the same year as Point Blank, comes another violent assault on its audience previously reviewed here and is the story of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), only re-imagined as the mythical romantic exploits of an impossibly gorgeous but infamous couple in crime. The Barrow Gang will strike on TCM Monday, October 16 at 7:15pm PST.
An actor use to playing gangsters, James Cagney, takes over noir territory in the appropriately titled White Heat, lauded here. The screen will heat up Wednesday, October 18 at 6:45am PST.
The next TCM recommendation has been reviewed in Opening Up a Treasure: The Night of the Hunter. This highly expressionistic Grimm-like fable appears as if conveyed from a child's point of view. The "hunter" will appear Thursday, October 19 at 9pm PST.
A true romance film of the highest artistic calibre has been reviewed in Opening Up a Treasure: Brief Encounter. Director David Lean's emotionally stirring "encounter" will begin on Saturday, October 21 at 5pm 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.
(To be continued) A.G.