"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
There are 12 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
June's first selection is Anthony Mann's 1951 period noir The Tall Target, a briefly recommended prior showing here. The conspiratorial plot will thicken Friday, June 2 at 3:30pm PST.
A true romance film and of the highest artistic calibre has been reviewed in Opening Up a Treasure: Brief Encounter. Director David Lean's brief but passionate encounter will begin on Saturday, June 3 at 5pm PST.
No film, especially in the noir canon, is more aptly named than Out of the Past, one of the genre's most exemplary entries.
For one thing, the film is permeated with a fatalistic "come what may" mood. The three primary characters, each in their own way, exhibit time and again an awareness that their actions no matter how determined, will have little bearing on the more enduring results. It's as if they instinctively know that despite their concerted effort, chance alone will make the final, and somehow inevitable decision. This is especially true of our main character, Jeff Bailey, played by the iconically laconic Robert Mitchum, perfectly cast. Jeff has reinvented himself, or is trying to, as a small-time gas station owner, hiding in the quaint California town of Bridgeport. Jeff Bailey was a private detective, formerly known as Jeff Markham, who once became romantically involved with a client's girl on the run: Together they engaged in the most serious foul play imaginable. Sure enough, out of the past comes the client's underling and to the concerned but resigned Bailey, almost as if expected.
Mitchum's performance is so nonchalant, apathy oozing out of every pore, his famous line "Baby, I don't care", uttered here to the femme fatale he was hired to find, might as well be his character's moniker throughout the entire story. It's a performance so naturally relaxed and indifferent, he effortlessly improvised his "smoking" response to Kirk Douglas' offer of a cigarette, as Mitchum had entered the scene without realising he had one in hand. Douglas as the criminally self-employed Whit Sterling, provides a perfect counterpoint to Mitchum as his under-the-surface scheming, acerbic boss. There's also the smooth, confident, and "boy does she know it" gorgeous Jane Greer as Whit's unpredictably dangerous mistress Kathie Moffat whom Jeff was hired to find and return to him, even though she tried to kill Whit and is suspected of stealing $40,000 of the gangster's dough.
A persistently heightened sense of mystery, tension, shock and complexity for both the people portrayed and their situations enrich Out of the Past. The film also possesses a dream-like quality: As diverse as the atmospheres are, they appear to be serendipitously transitioning albeit ever so seamlessly, from one inexorable type of circumstance and setting to another. The mystical past keeps intermingling with the present throughout this spellbinding story not only for our central three individuals, but for many of the supporting players as well, and in typical noir fashion with most of its hard lessons hardly ever learned.
The dialogues are choice A1 too, completely in tune with the often despairing noir-like events that transpire and the pessimism-infused characters who deliver them. Most symbolic of the film's downbeat philosophical theme is when Kathie, while casino gambling, asks Jeff "Is there a way to win?" to which he replies "There's a way to lose more slowly." After Jeff has fallen for the dreamy looking, not to mention dreamily inspiring Kathie, she states that she's sorry Whit didn't die to which Jeff optimistically retorts "Give him time." After realising just how low her depravity can sink, however, Jeff says to Kathie about her deadly impulsiveness, "You can never help anything, can you? You're like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another." And later when his new honest and wholesome Bridgeport girlfriend Ann (upon hearing Jeff's recounting of his prior sordid affair), says about Kathie, "She can't be all bad. No one is," Jeff's quick and dismissive "She comes closest" sums her up beautifully. This is but a sampling of the film's smart but poetic phraseology that stimulates the noir senses, spoken by the supporting, and even the most incidental (though rich and memorable), participants, apart from the primary Jeff, Whit, and Kathie. In addition, this trio's consistent untrustworthy words will require each to determine what's really going on to try and stay one step ahead of the other, even while all remain dogged by uncertainty, failure, and disillusionment.
Keep an eye out for the ever darkening wardrobe worn by Jane Greer's Kathie in keeping with her character's growingly wicked acts of self-preservation and how noir genius Nicolas Musuraca's photographic depictions of the Bridgeport countryside's scenic tranquility so sizeably contrast with his practically jet-black displays of San Francisco's sordid underworld. All of these aforementioned elements: Writing (a bravura screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring under the pseudonym Geoffrey Holmes taken from his novel), performances, cinematography, are, including Roy Webb's appropriately nostalgic, melancholy-tinged score, harmoniously moulded together with prominence by master stylist Jacques Tourneur directing for RKO after Warner Bros. turned down the project.
A last but important reminder that the list of untrustworthy characters here courageously includes our hero Jeff Bailey who almost right from his story's beginning, betrays both his client and investigative partner for a mirage of unattainable beauty and unsustainable romance. Jeff's personality flaw of self-deception, however, adds genuineness, sincerity, and most important of all, empathy when later he attempts to atone for his wrongful ways. At the same time, he shares an undeniable recognition with us, that one's trying to leave a troubled past behind, especially as we've seen before in this kind of intensive noir universe, is a pipe dream of extreme futility. The past will arrive on TCM Sunday, June 4 at 7am PST.
Although it aired just last month, TCM (perhaps by popular demand), is bringing back Bringing Up Baby previously recommended here. "Baby" will be brought back and up on TCM Friday, June 9 at 1:45pm PST.
Another of my past TCM recommendations, previously reviewed here, is The Lost Weekend. Billy Wilder's portrayal of a struggling alcoholic contains a powerhouse performance by Ray Milland. The bottle can be found on TCM Saturday, June 10 at 5pm PST.
Occasionally, TCM offers up a rare opportunity for viewers to bask in an emotionally consuming film, hardly ever shown, under-appreciated and so far unavailable on any type of home video format. Nagisa Oshima's 1969 feature Boy a.k.a. Shonen, is a masterful amalgamation of the director's later career subject of rebel outcasts photographed in a cinema-verite style, with the artist's earliest more straight-forward neo-realistic approach, especially as it concerns his title character.
Our deepest sympathy extends to this 10-year old mainly because Oshima doesn't noticeably solicit any. There's an inspired performance from real-life orphan Tetsuo Abe in the title role, who conveys a natural resiliency while subtly suggesting his character's emotional vulnerability, that provides an additional most accomplished dramatic contribution. The story is based on a real-life case, whereby a family's sole income is derived from extorting money from drivers they have faked injuries from. They stay on the move, plotting new towns to ply their trade and eventually involve the boy in this most diabolical of schemes. The young one's only respite from this cruel exploitative world beyond his understanding is an imaginary alternate reality which he matter-of-factly conveys to his baby brother. As the authorities get wind of his parents' scam, the tension mounts as the boy's father and step-mother increasingly bicker over his dad's refusal to work, a dangerous criminal dependency, not to mention the enormously stressful "hand to mouth" existence "on the run"... one that seemingly has no end. Our tragic 10-year old's life and especially his heart-breaking retreat to a make-believe world where space aliens actually care for one another, offers an emotionally devastating cinematic experience not to be missed. This is Hidden Gem #30 and will appear on TCM Sunday, June 11 (late evening) at 1am PST.
One of the Top Ten World Cinema Treasures is The Battle of Algiers a.k.a. La battaglia di Algeri. The intensity of resolve and emotional dedication is so resolute on both sides of the conflict portrayed, it'll take a miracle for the invested viewer to fully recover after witnessing this stunning cinematic spectacle. The battle will commence Monday, June 12 at 10:45am PST.
Next is Todd Browning's shockingly bold and terrifying 1932 film, Freaks, previously reviewed here. They will appear on TCM Wednesday, June 21 at 8:45pm PST.
John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye is a film I have mixed feelings about. The rather strange inhabitants of these southern-Gothically tinged surroundings may remain underdeveloped but the performances from its superbly chosen cast compensate by genuinely conveying their characters' frustrations and desires making this an engrossing film-watching experience. It is a previous TCM recommendation here, and is worth eyeing Thursday, June 22 at 11:30am PST.
1960’s Psycho was at the time (including throughout its primary creator’s career), the most audacious cinematic assault ever perpetrated on the movie going public.
Alfred Hitchcock acutely focuses on office worker Marion Crane’s sole decision to commit an opportunistic bold and daring theft of $40,000 and ensuing getaway, all the while analysing her thought processes down to every minute detail. She checks into a motel during a heavy downpour. After having a chat with the manager, Marion returns to her room, decides to give back the money, and symbolically takes a shower to “come clean” and wash away her sinful past deeds. What happens next is the stuff of legend, not just for the stylistically overt, technically spectacular way the following incident is portrayed but for the drastic narrative upheaval it represents. As much as the director in many of his films and during interviews, liked to downplay the seriousness of the violence he presented, this intense scene of vicious disruption, cannot in any way be taken lightly. Afterward, the point of view shifts to a new and highly disturbed character, the previously incidental motel proprietor Norman Bates: A gangly and nervous fellow with a deep and influential mother fixation. As we witness Bates’ attempts to curb a subsequent investigation, the opening crime which so consumed the female protagonist will become a mere afterthought as the unrelated horrific events witnessed continue to overtake, and become absorbed into, our consciousness: Scenes that are guaranteed to linger there, by a seriously intentional master cinematic storyteller, for a long time to come. Destinies will be decided Thursday, June 22 (late evening) at 12am PST.
What better way for true film lovers to celebrate cinema's vast diversity, after watching the preceding selection, than to indulge in the light-hearted, almost make-believe world of a Princess' Roman Holiday?
This charming, comedy-romance has Audrey Hepburn as the bored, cooped-up young royal escaping her guardians for an anonymous, free-spirited day's adventure in Rome. Gregory Peck is a reporter who stumbles on to her scheme but without letting on as to her true identity. Their joyful escapades together benefit from the on location filming, and have a naturally spontaneous feel due to the actors' impassioned heartfelt performances, including Eddie Albert's as Peck's photographer friend. William Wyler's assured direction provides the perfect balance of fantasy and realism, emotional sincerity with subtle restraint and is based on an intelligent but creatively inspired script by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. This dreamy little fairytale is the perfect holiday to enjoy without leaving home. The affair begins Friday, June 23 at 11:45pm PST.
My last TCM pick is 1974's Freebie and the Bean.
Like Reflections in a Golden Eye, this is a highly cautious recommendation since it too is one of my personal Top Ten Guilty Treasures. Whatever these 2 San Francisco cops, irreverently played by James Caan and Alan Arkin, are up to is irrelevant compared to the havoc they wreak on everyone around them including one another. This totally ridiculous, anti-politically correct "buddy" picture is wild, messy, and pretty damn funny if you ask me. If you enjoy this film half as much as I do just thinking about it, you'll have a blast. These two clowns will join forces Tuesday, June 27 (late evening) at 1am 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.