"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:
This will be a really bad day for anyone who encounters Them! (the giant mutant ants that is). The motion picture, however, is an exhilarating creature feature, previously recommended here. Them! will march on TCM Saturday, September 2 (late evening), at 1:15am PST.
By the title alone, not to mention an opening scene of Glenn Ford's frantic protagonist's dangerously out of control situation, viewers can be deadly certain that 1947's Framed will be firmly rooted in classic film noir. Then, to add further confirmation to the mix, along comes a beautiful stranger, Janis Carter, ready and willing to literally bail Ford out of a subsequently troublesome situation for no apparent reason. Is Carter up to no good? Do you really have to ask?
The above described premise may sound familiar, and probably is. Thankfully, the attention is in the details: Those fascinating intricacies of the frame itself. Enter Barry Sullivan to add a convincing resolve of his own to the planned set-up. Finally, there's the added twist of Carter's femme fatale, who delivers distinctively more on the "fatale" part than originally bargained for.
This engaging and efficient noir is made so by Ben (The Asphalt Jungle) Maddow's screenplay taken from a story by John Patrick (responsible for the indeed strange but wonderful The Strange Love of Martha Ivers' source material). The director is Richard Wallace who also made the notable noir The Fallen Sparrow with John Garfield a few years earlier. Glenn Ford is his typically reliable, fully consumed in his character self, and there's an equally persuasive and endearing part for character actor Edgar Buchanan. "All I can see is the frame" Robert Mitchum said in one of noir's best, and if you're a film noir junkie like me, you'll add Framed to your list of black films to see Sunday, August 3 at 7am PST.
Certain actors or actresses on stage were so perfectly right for a role, they practically owned the part. Sometimes, we'd see the film version of a hit stage musical cast that same award-winning individual (e.g. Barbara Streisand as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl). Once in a while, unfortunately, we would not (Zero Mostel's Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof was a casualty). Thankfully, the gap-toothed, boyishly adorable Robert Morse's Tony Award-winning role as the ever-aspiring J. Pierpont Finch made it to the film version of the immensely exuberant How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
With his titular manual in hand, Finch, an ambitious window washer, sets out to climb the corporate ladder all the way to the top! There are plenty of terrific songs along the way but the real showstopper is Morse performing his signature song, "I Believe in You" to himself in the mirror of an executive washroom. The dialogue and situations are inventive and hilarious with everything moving at a rapid pace. A lively and talented supporting cast featuring Michele Lee, Rudy Vallee, and Maureen Arthur round out this highly enjoyable romp through the corporate world with an underlying razor-sharp commentary on its humanitarian cost as an added bonus. Musical lovers can succeed Tuesday, September 5 at 12:45pm PST.
"Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape." These words come from the deteriorating and increasingly pressurised mind of a New York City insomniac in Martin Scorsese’s intoxicating Taxi Driver released in 1976. TCM will present this landmark film, previously reviewed as a Blu-ray recommendation here, Friday, September 8 at 10:30pm PST.
My next recommendations are two highly regarded romance films which will be shown "back to back" on TCM. Both were previous Top Ten: Fool's Gold selections, however having many easily discernible attributes, enough to make each of their viewing's an overall highly worthwhile experience. First is Doctor Zhivago, reviewed here, airing Thursday, September 14 at 11:45am PST. My hope is that one will see the film first before reading the review which is admittedly more analytical compared to most of my other TCM recommendations.
Immediately thereafter, TCM will present one of the most beloved films of all time, Casablanca, also approached by this reviewer in a more investigative fashion, befitting of its lofty high status. Like the previous selection, Doctor Zhivago, this earlier produced film, reviewed here, is meant for those already familiar with its many qualities. Casablanca will air Thursday, September 14 at 3:15pm PST.
Don't miss Nicholas Ray's disturbed character study In a Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart perfectly cast as Dixon Steele, whose unpredictable explosions of anger make him a prime suspect for the killing of a young ingenue. This highly probative film noir, the next in Eddie Muller's Noir Alley Series, was previously recommended here, and will be introduced by the "Czar of Noir" Sunday, September 17 at 7am PST.
Journeying to a completely different cinematic landscape there's Preston Sturges' masterpiece Sullivan's Travels, a previous Blu-ray recommendation here. His comedic albeit enlightening adventures will begin Monday, September 18 at 11:45pm PST.
Director Michael Curtiz, after having completed a string of big hits for Warner Bros. (i.e. The Sea Hawk, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, et al) seems to have been given carte blanche by the aforementioned studio in bringing so inspirationally to life the unsuspectedly stylish film noir The Unsuspected.
The Unsuspected (1947) bears a strong resemblance to 1944’s Laura: Both films’ male antagonists host popular radio shows that will ingeniously factor into each picture’s deadly subject matter, especially during their bleak but revelatory conclusions. Furthermore, the two motion pictures share large portraits of beautiful women thought to be deceased, paintings which are expressly desired by certain male admirers. Laura, however, is a whodunit that keeps one guessing as to the murderer’s identity until the end, whereas The Unsuspected is more of a ‘how and why’ puzzle, revealing the killer’s identity right from the start. Instead, the filmmakers here use an opening succession of expressionistic imagery and innovative multilevel storytelling to secure one’s undivided attention. There’s also The Unsuspected’s engaging complexity to keep us alert, mostly concerning its characters’ formal identities versus who they really are and might want to become, not to mention whom they’d rather be with, and without.
Presiding over this most dysfunctional of familial estates is Claude Rains’ appropriately named Victor Grandison, whose pronounced socialite appearance of intellect, impeccable manners and contentment mask an insatiable desire for scheming murderous intent fuelled by unmitigated avarice. As expected, Rains’ skilful performance successfully conveys Victor’s aristocratic airs and grand mastery over his subjects, and as he treats them like sacrificial chess pieces, more tellingly alludes to his hidden roots of dominant depravity. Adding to the film’s noir appeal is Victor’s bellicose gold-digging niece, Audrey Totter’s Althea Keane, a character whose need for greed will become hazardously overt, and her husband Oliver, an also ideally cast Hurd Hatfield, matching his spouse in mutual contempt, pining away with alcohol over a former lost love. Speaking of Hatfield, there’s a precious movie in-joke where he compares his desired lover to her portrait by stating that she hasn’t changed but that her portrait has, clearly referencing his starring role’s most formidable characteristic in 1945’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Actually, The Unsuspected could have used more of Hatfield’s character who acts as the story's emotionally sympathetic anchor. Additional liabilities include our main couple’s (played by Joan Caulfield and Michael North) far too quickly discovered romantic feelings for one another (made even more unconvincing by each actor's one-note performance) and a literally rushed chase finale.
Counterbalancing these weaknesses are this noir banquet’s many delicacies, for instance actor Jack Lambert’s familiar menacing presence, Franz Waxman’s deliciously emotive score and Woody Bredell’s imaginative cinematography. Last but not least, the feast includes numerous tasty morsels of dialogue, (care of Bess Meredyth and Ranald MacDougall’s adapted screenplay of Charlotte Armstrong’s novel) laced with noir acidity and best served cold. Viewers can confirm The Unsuspected, Saturday, September 23 at 5:30am PST.
John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is indeed an unforgettable American treasure and a prior TCM recommendation here. Its cinematic storytelling riches can be uncovered on TCM Saturday, September 23 at 5pm PST.
Then we hit the pavement in 1952's Scandal Sheet. Hidden Gem #65 contains all the explosive ingredients of a dozen sticks of dynamite due to its special combination of film noir firepower: Director Phil Karlson, novelist Sam Fuller, star Broderick Crawford, and cinematographer Burnett Guffey. The TNT will go off on TCM Sunday, September 24 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.
TCM will then show two more terrific film noirs back to back, both that take place on a moving train. First is Anthony Mann's 1951 period noir The Tall Target, a briefly recommended prior showing here. The conspiratorial plot will thicken Monday, September 25 at 5:30am PST.
Stay onboard for The Narrow Margin also highly recommended and previously reviewed here.
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.