"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
There are 13 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
My first May selection is part of a Busby Berkeley musical series. Please have a read here and see why Gold Diggers of 1933 is as enjoyable and pertinent as the shows these spirited characters struggle to produce. The show must go on Thursday, May 4 at 9:45am PST.
One should try and stick around for the wild and funny Jimmy Cagney starrer Footlight Parade if only to witness the three musical numbers that are shown later in succession that the creative choreographic genius Busby Berkeley designed, especially the second jaw-dropping fantasy 'By a Waterfall'.
This segment was our first Capturing a Golden Moment and is as lavish and mind-boggling a musical production as one is ever likely to see.
Cagney plays Chester Kent, the energetic producer of theatrical prologues to the movies (that once, long ago, played in large cinemas). As in most of the Gold Diggers' films there are obstacles to overcome in putting on these shows. Here, Kent must deal with a rival who's stealing his ideas, cheating business partners, an adulterous lover, and amateur talent. Cagney's riveting magnetism is infectious. He grabs the viewer's attention, never lets go and is perfectly matched by the spirited Joan Blondell as his cheeky but stalwart secretary.
Dick Powell & Ruby Keeler are also on hand, playing lovers as they did in Gold Diggers of 1933. Footlight Parade also enjoys a Busby Berkeley number like Gold Diggers' 'Pettin' in the Park' entitled 'Honeymoon Hotel' that is similarly cast with the unpredictable pre-code antics of a young Billy Barty.
The final musical number in the trio of those lastly portrayed (preceded by 'Honeymoon Hotel' and 'By a Waterfall') is 'Shanghai Lil'' a real showcase for Cagney's limitless performing talents. The ultimate gag with these Busby Berkeley numbers, is that although they are produced in their respective films for the stage, they were hardly devised as such. As presented, these purely cinematic marvels could only be the product of Busby Berkeley's boundless imagination that bursts through any such confines, a joke we are most willing to play along with. The footlight parade starts Thursday, May 4 at 1:15pm PST.
Also on Thursday's TCM lineup is 1933's King Kong, released the same year as both of the previous recommendations. I previously championed this film with a focus on its innovative musical score here. Kong will make his grand entrance, Thursday, May 4 at 8:15pm PST.
This hypnotic but terrifying entrancement is a highly expressionistic Grimm-like fable, that appears as if conveyed from a child's point of view. "Fairytale noir" is what Film Noir expert Eddie Muller calls it, previously reviewed in Opening Up a Treasure: The Night of the Hunter and will be told Sunday, May 7 at 11am PST.
Later in the evening, is a somewhat rare foreign film showing of Louis Malle's penetrating study of a recovering alcoholic's severe depression, The Fire Within a.k.a. Le Fue Follet.
This is Hidden Gem #33 and contains a deeply moving performance by Maurice Ronet, as Malle's tortured soul (who also starred in the French master's Elevator to the Gallows). TCM has scheduled this important film to air on Sunday, May 7 at 11pm PST.
Next is Strange Cargo which I previously listed as one of my TOP TEN Guilty Treasures. "Strange" is the word for this uneasy but fascinating blend of religious parable, hardened convicts, a test of survival, and wisecracking romance. Strange Cargo will dock at TCM Tuesday, May 9 at 6:30pm PST.
One of noir’s more fascinatingly introspective films is director Joseph Losey’s The Prowler: A modestly ambitious tale about a beat cop, Webb Garwood (played with sly and seedy finesse by Van Heflin). Unlike the filmmakers here, this law enforcement officer aims high when contemplating a future with attractive housewife Susan Gilvray (a rational but emotionally conflicted portrayal courtesy of Evelyn Keyes).
Susan, customarily alone as her husband broadcasts his nightly radio programme, has called upon the community’s finest to investigate her momentarily seen prowler, and gets the city’s worst in the form of Webb, whose almost instant attraction to Susan soon takes on diabolical proportions. As we observe Webb’s multi-motivated infatuation, along with his developing murderous plans, it becomes increasingly apparent that he is in fact the real “prowler” of the story and probably more of a threat to society's well-being than anyone he'd be called on to investigate. Furthermore, there’s a growing ironic awareness that Webb’s behavioural abuse of power is diametrically opposed to his profession’s purpose: To protect and serve.
The sinuous plot includes a gloomy and stingingly sarcastic commentary on the American Dream, failed aspirations, and a symbolically 'noirish' existential finale, but it’s the filmmakers' penetrating gaze on the self-consumed ‘homme fatale’ Webb Garwood (corrupt but self-aware, desperate but charismatic, morally compromised but emotionally charged) that pulls us in and secures our devout attention throughout this anxiety riddled, suspenseful and gripping film-viewing experience. The prowler will stalk his prey Sunday, May 14 at 7am PST.
TCM has been featuring quite a few creature features this month. 1954's Them! is one of the best.
This "nuclear monster" sub-breed of both the science fiction and horror genres works a treat on many levels. It was one of the first films to confront society's great fear of the atomic age and what the continued testing of this relatively new and almighty God-like discovery might entail. Them! inspired many films of the same type that came afterward including Japan's Rodan, Mothra, and the U.K./U.S. co-production of The Giant Behemoth to name but a few. Starting off as an ominous murder mystery with a young girl survivor (shades of Aliens) was a wise choice. This allows the suspense to build to appropriately atomic proportions as the filmmakers hold back on revealing the enormity of its deadly cause, furthering the 'shock and awe' factor when they do. Isolated settings of the creatures' destructive aftermath are eerily effective and prophetic of many films and TV series to come, as are its climactic sequences. Even for the '50s, the special effects (sans CGI of course) are truly accomplished and convincing. Ditto for the intelligent script and performances from a second-string but first-rate cast including James Whitmore, Edmund Gwynne, Joan Weldon, and James Arness all at the behest of Gordon Douglas' assured direction. Look away for a few minutes and you might miss Leonard Nimoy (as an Army Sergeant), William Schallert (as an ambulance attendant), or Dub Taylor (as a railroad watchman). There are substantial contributions from Bronislau Kaper's perfectly ambient score and Sidney Hickox's vivid cinematography. Them! is terrifying and deeply engaging from beginning to end. By positing the idea that such a demonic other-worldly type threat could be made by mankind's insatiable desire for power and devastation right here at home, especially at a time when nuclear paranoia was at its zenith, was a laudable and bold concept worthy of a first-class, deadly serious, no-frills treatment. And on all counts, Them! delivers! See for yourself when them inhabits TCM Thursday, May 18 at 5pm PST.
My next TCM recommendation has been previously reviewed here and is the story of Bonnie and Clyde only re-imagined as the mythical romantic exploits of an impossibly gorgeous, but infamous couple in crime. The Barrow Gang will strike on TCM Friday, May 19 at 7:15pm PST.
Immediately following Bonnie and Clyde, TCM is presenting another violently confrontational film from the same year (1967). 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 Friday, May 19 at 9:15pm PST.
Then there's John Ford's enigmatic masterpiece The Searchers, previously reviewed here. It 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 search will begin Tuesday, May 23 at 11am PST.
Anthony Mann’s low-budget, up close and personal foray into the war genre resulted in one of the category’s most accomplished but under-valued films, 1957’s Men in War.
This stark, gritty and uncompromising film concerns a small group of soldiers, caught behind enemy lines, during the initial assault of the North Korean Army into South Korea. After being forced to make a disorganised retreat, separated from their battalion with an unworkable radio, they try and make their way to safety, a trek that will become more dangerous, desperate and deadly as these battle-fatigued men fight, not for any kind of victory or glory, but to simply stay alive.
Mann, directing from a screenplay by Philip Yordan and Ben Maddow, gets to the heart of these soldiers, each identified in great psychological detail, however commonly bonded by the brutal strain incurred from fighting a losing battle against a mostly unseen enemy. Men of War’s dramatic conflict is heightened not only by the tactically unfamiliar theatre of guerrilla warfare, (a scenario eerily foreboding of Vietnam, the drama foreshadowing Platoon and The Thin Red Line), but between the battle weary, traumatised soldiers themselves. The film’s most evident internal discord is portrayed between the platoon’s leader Lt. Benson and an insolent, but savvy Sgt. Montana. Benson is perfectly enacted with all-out ferocity by an all-in looking Robert Ryan. Aldo Ray matches Ryan’s intensive resolve as a head-butting underling whose steadfast, sacrificial devotion to a shell-shocked Colonel, (a silent but emotionally expressive performance by Robert Keith) is the source for much of their divisiveness, a quarrel both will have to overcome in order to fulfil their mission with even the slightest modicum of success.
The remaining cast members including Phillip Pine, Nehemiah Persoff, Vic Morrow, James Edwards, and L.Q. Jones all deliver perfectly tempered performances for their fully-rounded parts. These sophisticated filmmakers have creatively planted and authentically brought to life each soldier’s unique response to an increasingly hellish and perilous set of circumstances, delivering one helluva fiery, compelling and ultimately heroic must-see motion picture. The fight for survival will occur Saturday, May 27 at 11:30am PST.
What better way to end the month than with the uproarious and thoroughly engaging Bringing Up Baby, previously recommended here. The antics will begin on TCM Tuesday, May 30 at (early morning) 4:45am 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 one of the most acclaimed stage and screen actors who's ever lived, Ian McKellen, who turns 78 on May 25th.
I had the distinct honour of chatting with this vibrant and witty gentleman many years ago after seeing his electrifying performance on stage in Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. Motion picture goers will instantly recognise him from his distinctive portrayals in such films as Richard III, Gods and Monsters, Apt Pupil, X-Men, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Hobbit, (not to mention the many sequels to the last 3 films mentioned).
May's Soundtrack recommendation is to The Sons of Katie Elder composed by Elmer Bernstein.
This lively and thematic score perfectly matches the on screen chemistry of its title characters in rousing, adventuresome spirit. Care of La-La Land Records and Paramount Pictures, the score can finally be heard for the first time as it was in the film. A very limited release (only 1500 made) on the La La Land Label, the CD is currently available through Screen Archives Entertainment. More information, including international ordering is available by clicking on the accompanying image.
This month's Blu-ray selection is to the previously recommended Men in War, available from Olive Films (North America Region A locked) and can be ordered through Amazon.com by clicking on the image.