"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
There are 16 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
Umberto D. is 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. Director Vittorio De Sica's humanity will shine on Umberto and his endearing friends Wednesday, March 1 at 3:15pm PST.
Occasionally, there is debate among aficionados as to whether or not Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo deserves to be in the film noir lexicon.
There is a substantial criminal element, the film was released during noir's classic time period (1958), and an acute observation of the central character's psychology remains the filmmakers' focus, an individual we witness becoming increasingly unstable and out of his depth as his investigation continues. All of these factors point to this film's inclusion. The criminal element is, however, not revealed until the end of the story, the main character's thoughts and behaviour and the mystery surrounding his person of interest are both exclusively tied to a romantic obsession throughout, even at this motion picture's spellbinding conclusion, which for myself, rules it out as film noir. Either way, Vertigo is one hell of a ride, loaded with multi-faceted insights and hidden ruminations on human relationships, providing viewers with much to ponder long after this immersive tale ends. Previously written about at length in Opening Up a Treasure: Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock's most profound and hypnotic work will be revealed also on Wednesday, March 1 at 7pm PST.
A criminal's mother-fixated pathology and the undercover cop trying to catch him are the topics of an undisputed film noir, White Heat, a previous recommendation here. TCM's screen will heat up Thursday, March 2 (technically Friday morning) at 2:45 am PST and again Tuesday, March 21 (late evening) at 12:30am PST.
My next TCM recommendation is 1955's modern-day take on the American Western, Bad Day at Black Rock.
Andre Previn’s aggressive fanfare accompanies a train thundering through the desert. For the first time in 4 years it stops at the small town of Black Rock. A one-armed WWII veteran, John J. Macreedy (played with a persistent, quiet intractability by Spencer Tracy) is its sole departing passenger dressed in the town’s titular colour, appropriate for the “bad day” his visit there will bring about. Fear, hostility and the reminder of a dark and deadly secret will be the order of this fateful day.
Macreedy’s presence alone is enough to send the townsfolk into a panic, particularly their leader, Reno Smith (a seething, practically blood spitting Robert Ryan) who stands to lose the most if Macreedy discovers what really happened to the Japanese-American farmer Komoko he’s there to visit. The actions Reno and his henchmen (a distinctively nasty duo played by Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine) will take to quell Macreedy's investigation and later end his life altogether, provide the basis for this tightly constructed, enormously suspenseful film filled with unique, detailed, and absorbing characters and situations, choice dialogue and purposeful use of the Cinemascope canvas.
Looking deeper, one can find a unification of time, place, and action each of which opposes one man, who will single-handedly (quite literally here) try to put asunder. Bad Day at Black Rock provides an insightful morality lesson on complacency (most clearly represented by veteran actors Walter Brennan as Doc Velie with his conflicted conscious and Dean Jagger as the town’s Sheriff who’s drowning his guilt in alcohol), capable of enveloping those who otherwise wouldn’t have a bar of the extremely hateful actions their fellow residents have committed. There’s also a reminder as to just how much bigotry can account for man’s most heinous crimes and spread like a virus infecting everyone in its path. The passing of time and the chief instigator’s power and influence over others who might have stood up for what is right, are exacerbating factors explored here as well.
The more than capable direction of John Sturges secures stellar performances from his entire cast including the one female part given a set of lively, yet unpredictable characteristics by Anne Francis.
This tense as a coiled rattlesnake and explosively proficient as a Molotov cocktail film has the added proverbial bonus of providing a banquet of “food for thought”. The streamliner will stop at the TCM station Friday, March 10 at 10:15am PST.
Next is Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country. The famous director's love for his characters and the Western frontier they inhabit greatly enriches this compelling tale (metaphorically suggested by the film's title) of moral redemption. The casting is inspired, not only of the actors but the technical crew as well. This is Top Ten Western #4, previously reviewed here and will ride into TCM Saturday, March 11 at 3pm PST.
Before 2 detectives wound up with a bunch of stolen money in Private Hell 36, or Flashpoint’s 2 Border guards found even more loot in a buried jeep, and a couple of brothers stumbled across millions in A Simple Plan’s crashed plane, not to mention the married hunter who discovered a ton of cash from a drug deal gone wrong in No Country for Old Men, there was 1949’s tale of a typical middle-class couple who while driving one fateful evening on a rather unpopulated L.A. road, had a bag full of blackmail money mistakenly thrown into their convertible in one of film’s noirest of noir’s, Too Late for Tears.
This alluring premise ups the engagement ante, immediately increasing character identification by asking “what would you do” if you found yourself in their shoes. This, and the reassurance of knowing that whatever crime resulted in one’s sudden financial gains had nothing to do with us… (so far that is), makes it kind of hard not to root for our recipient’s success at keeping the swag. Well, in Too Late for Tears it’s never too late for greed to subsume Lizabeth Scott’s Jane Palmer as we look on astonished to witness her transgress from a seemingly content American housewife to a treacherous, money obsessed femme-fatale. Scott, the reigning queen of noir was a terrific reactionary actress: The more filmmakers’ dramatically embellished her situations the more they suited Scott’s classically assertive approach to characterisation. Here, the template couldn’t be better, allowing her to bask in glorious obstinacy. Her feisty aggressiveness enraptures the viewer as she convincingly dominates one male adversary after another, while managing to barb her way out of noir’s hairiest predicaments, quite a feat when one of her foremost opponents, the dough’s intended beneficiary, is noir’s devious and slimiest of slime buckets indubitably played by Dan Duryea.
The great Arthur Kennedy portrays her husband Alan Palmer, another victim of Scott’s ruthlessness. Kennedy is an actor who always excels at conveying earnest outrage emanating from the most emphatic of anxious worriers. There’s also Kristine Miller as Alan’s sister, an actress equally adept at communicating her ever growing suspicions over her sister-in-law’s truthfulness and Don DeFore’s persuasive inquisitor who’s not above some grand deceptions of his own in getting to the truth behind Alan’s sudden disappearance.
Byron Haskin (Scott’s previous director from noir’s I Walk Alone) assuredly helmed Roy Huggins’ wildly engaging screenplay based on his Saturday Evening Post serial. This madly character-driven vehicle will careen down a curvy road and crash-land in noir’s archetypally bleak but delectably satisfying fashion on TCM Wednesday, March 15 (early morning) at 4:30am PST.
Later that same Wednesday afternoon Barbara Stanwyck stars as Lizabeth Scott's opposite kind of wife, devoted to saving her husband played by Barry Sullivan, but equally determined to match wits against killer Ralph Meeker in order to do so, in the previously recommended (here) noir, 1953's Jeopardy. This life or death struggle will commence Wednesday, March 15 at 2pm PST.
Rarely does an atmosphere of such overpowering dread subsume a cinematic story so completely as it does 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 (updated) Monday, March 20 (early morning) at 4:15am PST.
John Ford's most expressively emotional western, The Searchers, previously reviewed here is Top Ten Western #2 and is as likely as any film to provide one with a truly unforgettable, rich and rewarding movie watching experience. The journey will begin Monday, March 20 at 11am PST.
Also playing Monday, March 20th is a highly expressionistic Grimm-like fable, that appears as if conveyed from a child's point of view. This "fairytale noir" as Film Noir expert Eddie Muller calls it, was reviewed in Opening Up a Treasure: The Night of the Hunter and will be told Monday, March 20 at 9pm PST.
Another American cinematic treasure, Double Indemnity stands at the top of noir's hierarchy. Like the preceding TCM recommendation, it has been described as such in Opening Up a Treasure: Double Indemnity. One can cash in their policy Tuesday, March 21 at 5pm PST.
How a Brit managed to so precisely execute such an authentic and impactful film arising from a distinctly American crime milieu, is practically incomprehensible. Director John Boorman has, however, delivered with the precision of his film's title that and more in 1967's Point Blank, a neo-noir masterpiece fortified with style and driven by purpose.
The later made Terminator films have nothing on Lee Marvin's 'cold as a frozen corpse' Walker, a machine-like man on a mission, 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, Walker doesn't directly kill anyone in the entire picture. "Was it a dream?" You be the judge when Point Blank (first acclaimed here) hits (updated) Friday, May 19 at 9:15pm PST.
Another of film noir's most satisfying sensations is provided by Tension, a prior TCM recommendation here and can be felt Sunday, March 26 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.
Later that same Sunday is Preston Sturges' comedy classic Sullivan's Travels, this time a previous Blu-ray selection here. The journey will begin Sunday, March 26 at 11:15am PST.
The multi-talented Gordon Parks made his directorial debut at age 57 with 1969's The Learning Tree based on his semi-autobiographical novel of the same name.
This touching coming of age story was previously lauded, along with its creator Parks, in an article entitled: Exploring the Artifacts #5: The Alchemist. Included are some clips of Parks' music compositions for The Learning Tree and Shaft's Big Score. The Learning Tree can be studied Thursday, March 30 at 7pm 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 the lovely and talented Swedish actress May Britt who turns 83 on March 22nd.
She was discovered by producer Carlo Ponti and director Mario Soldati. After acting in some rather undistinguished Italian films, May was signed by 20th Century Fox and came to Hollywood. There, she appeared in King Vidor's War and Peace, Edward Dmytryk's The Young Lions (probably her best known role effectively holding her own with Marlon Brando), Dick Powell's The Hunters, Dmytryk's remake of The Blue Angel (1959), Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg's Murder, Inc., and her final motion picture role in 1977, Herb Freed's Haunts, these last three films for which she played the leading female part. May was also known for her marriage to Sammy Davis Jr. from 1960 - 1968.
March's Soundtrack recommendation is to The Lighthorsemen composed by one of Australia's finest composers, Mario Millo.
Millo's thunderously thematic large-scale orchestral film score is widely considered to be one of his country's greatest. This soundtrack was previously released on compact disc by 1M1 Records in 1991 but is long out-of-print. Dragon’s Domain Records has brought this amazing score back in a newly remastered but extremely limited fashion (only 1000 units). It is currently available from Intrada Records. For more information including international ordering, simply click on the image.
This month's Blu-ray recommendation is to the above reviewed Bad Day at Black Rock, recently made available on a region-free disc from Warner Archive and can be ordered from Amazon U.S. by clicking on the image.