"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
Classic film screenings from around the world this month include:
In theatres across the U.S., TCM and Fathom Events are presenting White Christmas on December 9 and 12. Click on the above image for more information.
In theatres across the U.S., Flashback Cinema is presenting Miracle on 34th Street on December 2 and 5, Elf December 9 and 12, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation December 16 and 19, It’s a Wonderful Life December 23 and 24, and Die Hard December 30 and January 2. Click on the respective image for more information.
In Lucerne, Switzerland The City Light Symphony Orchestra will present The Age of Innocence with live musical accompaniment featuring Elmer Bernstein’s sublime score on December 8. Click on the image for more information.
In Melbourne, Australia The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra will present Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with live musical accompaniment featuring John Williams’ thrilling score on December 14, 15 and 16. Click on the image for more information.
In Madrid, Spain The Orquestra Simfònica Camera Musicae will present Vertigo with live musical accompaniment featuring Bernard Herrmann’s exceptional score on December 14, 15 and 16. Click on the image for more information.
In Walnut Creek, California The Diablo Symphony Orchestra will present The Snowman with live musical accompaniment featuring Howard Blake’s memorable score on December 15 and 16. Click on the image for more information.
Noir City Xmas will take place in San Francisco, California on December 19. This year’s feature will be The Night of the Hunter. For more information including ticket ordering, click on the above image.
There are 26 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
Director John (The Magnificent Seven) Sturges helmed a few nifty entries in the film noir genre, including 1950's Mystery Street previously reviewed here. This CSI noir with a Hitchcockian twist can be checked out Wednesday, December 5 at 7:15am PST.
Contributing to the torrential force of film noir is Crime Wave previously reviewed here. This is one wave you'll want to catch Wednesday, December 5 at 9am PST.
TCM is presenting two of Busby Berkeley's most lavish musicals this month. First is Footlight Parade a previous TCM recommendation here. The show will go on Thursday, December 6 at 8:15pm PST.
Following Footlight Parade is Gold Diggers of 1933, a brilliant extravaganza of romance, comedy, catchy tunes and outrageous pre-code show numbers especially 'Pettin' in the Park' with its saucy sexual undertones that even Freud would have struggled to explain. This is another previous recommendation here. The fun will begin Thursday, December 6 at 10:15pm PST.
My next recommended film on TCM is jam-packed with noir goodness, Too Late for Tears, previously reviewed here. It's never too late to indulge in actress Lizabeth Scott's classic femme fatale portrayal appearing in Eddie Muller’s Noir Alley Saturday, December 8 at 9pm PST and again on Sunday, December 9 at 7am PST.
Following Too Late for Tears is Out of the Past, one of film noir's finest and most highly recommended here. She will arrive Sunday, December 9 at 9am PST.
Although my next selection was released in 1934, every single one of its scenes is hilarious and relatable to today’s domestic life. W.C. Fields’ most perfect comedy, It’s a Gift, previously reviewed here, will arrive Monday, December 10 at 9pm PST.
MGM's 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain was not adapted from a theatrical 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 (updated) Tuesday, December 11 at 3pm PST.
TCM has scheduled a rather obscure film well worth seeing. It's Hidden Gem #54 Patterns with dynamite performances from an exceptional cast, especially the three male leads: Van Heflin, Ed Begley and Everett Sloane, who all exhibit voracious appetites for their dynamic Rod (The Twilight Zone) Serling created parts. The dramatic fireworks are set to go off Thursday, December 13 at (early morning) 3:30am PST.
Immediately following Patterns, is another emotionally expressive film starring Van Heflin, The Prowler, previously reviewed here. Be on TCM’s watch Thursday, December 13 at 5am 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 Friday, December 14 at 8am PST.
If TCM subscribers are looking for a light-hearted and charming Christmas holiday treat, they’ll certainly find one in Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner.
Beneath an inventive situation comedy veneer, however, there is a serious underlying message concerning relationships and how concepts often get in the way of a more fulfilling union based on care and concern for one another. The Shop Around the Corner, previously praised here, will open Sunday, December 16 (early morning) at 3am PST and again on Monday, December 24 at 9:30am PST.
Later on Sunday, TCM will show The Best Years of Our Lives, an incisive look into how each of three returning servicemen adapt to civilian life at home, after World War II. Previously, I highly praised The Best Years of Our Lives for its exceptional musical score composed by Hugo Friedhofer in the first part of a series entitled Top Ten: Motion Picture Music Treasures. This emotionally powerful tour de force will commence on TCM Sunday, December 16 at 10am PST.
Still on Sunday, late in the evening, TCM will present an unequivocal masterpiece and one of Cinema's greatest artistic achievements: Marcel Carne's Children of Paradise (Les enfants du paradis). This was a previous TCM recommendation here, and can be acclaimed Sunday, December 16 at 11pm PST.
One of America’s finest motion pictures is The Asphalt Jungle, airing Monday, December 17 at 7am PST. Director John Huston made many fine films throughout his career but this is arguably his most accomplished and perfectly realised work. It was previously reviewed here.
1972's The Getaway is not nearly as meaningful or resonant as the above recommended heist film but as a genre piece, it punches solidly above its pay grade. The Getaway recommended here, will ensue Monday, December 17 at 11am 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 Monday, December 17 at 3pm PST.
Along with The Shop Around the Corner this month, TCM is presenting another top Christmas Holiday classic, Remember the Night, previously recommended here. The stars of this delightful cinematic charmer re-teamed for the later-made Double Indemnity. The night to be remembered is Saturday, December 22... at 5pm PST.
What better way to relieve Holiday stress than with the uproarious and thoroughly engaging Bringing Up Baby previously recommended here. The antics will begin on TCM Wednesday, December 26 at 9am PST.
Sometime during the middle ’70s, my father, a practicing family attorney at the time, guested on his friend’s Los Angeles talk radio show. I’ll never forget his one word answer to the host’s first question: “Why is the country's divorce rate so high?” “Boredom” was my Dad’s plain, unexpected but thought-provoking reply. Could this ordinary human feeling alone truly account for such an impactful, life altering and potentially devastating decision, one that would most likely result in a person’s abandonment of heart and home? The unflinching opening premise of director Andre De Toth’s Pitfall (1948) explores this type of issue by presenting us with family man John Forbes (played with mild-mannered confidence by Dick Powell) who is noticeably fed up with his domestic life’s dull routine.
Forbes’ indifference has additionally spread to his work as an insurance adjuster. His professional drudgery livens up when he investigates fresh-faced Mona Stevens (a part perfectly suited for noir queen Lizabeth Scott). Mona is the attractive recipient of gifts from her boyfriend’s embezzlement, with Forbes primed to not only take those same gifts away from her on his company’s behalf, but to receive Mona’s personal charms as well. It’s tough for the familiar to compete with the new… (Forbes’ reserved wife played by Jane Wyatt is also perfectly cast). Mona’s honest but precarious involvement in Forbes’ area of expertise, offering further allurement by soliciting his sympathetic support, represents the ideal cocktail to relieve this insurance investigator’s advanced tedium. Forbes’ exciting new relationship might be enough for him to climb out of his self-made pitfall at home, but is hardly sufficient for a certifiable film noir, its title therefore alluding to a much deeper hole to escape from: one that’s full of desperation, danger and death. The noir barometer bursts by way of Raymond Burr’s deviant private detective J.B. MacDonald who first introduces Forbes to Mona and whose obsession to posses the fiery beauty conjures up no scheme too diabolical in achieving that end.
Noir enthusiasts occasionally complain about melodramatic situations arising in film noir particularly, it seems, if these heightened displays of concern transpire at their conclusions. Fans apparently feel they are antithetical, intrusive, even detrimental to noir’s cold and bleak milieu. Actually, this ingredient can be quite complementary to noir’s recipe as long as they are creatively and judiciously employed, evidenced by films such as Desert Fury (1947), No Man of Her Own (1950) and Tomorrow is Another Day (1952). Melodrama can further personalise and counterbalance a film noir’s otherwise unrelenting despair, elevate the emotional consequences of its criminally based conflicts, which in turn intensifies the viewer’s investiture in the results and add to the narrative’s resonance. Pitfall offers further proof of this claim especially if one is tuned in to the unorthodox responses provided by the women implicated in Forbes’ mid-life crises. Pitfall can be delved into (updated) Sunday, June 23 at 11pm PST.
Pitfall is also December’s Blu-ray pick of the month. See the last entry in this column for more details.
Dick Powell stars in another film later this evening. Instead of melodrama being infused into noir’s dark criminal surroundings as in the previous selection, The Tall Target has an even more contentious ingredient: this film’s story takes place during an earlier time period. Some (unlike myself), might say that alone would disqualify The Tall Target from being in the noir category. In any event, Anthony Mann's 1951 “period noir”, a prior recommendation here, is well worth checking out. Viewers should set their sights on The Tall Target Thursday, December 27 at 10:30pm PST.
Another classic John Huston directed motion picture, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, is indeed an unforgettable cinematic treasure and a prior TCM recommendation here. Its storytelling riches can be uncovered on TCM Saturday, December 29 at 1pm PST.
Following John Huston’s American film treasure, director Sam Peckinpah’s rewarding western Ride the High Country, also explores just how far his story’s characters will go to “strike it rich.” This is Top Ten Western #4, reviewed here. Lucky viewers can strike cinematic gold Saturday, December 29 at 3:15pm PST.
Many cinephiles may be unaware that stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray made three other films together besides Double Indemnity (my next TCM recommendation reviewed here), namely: Remember the Night (a previous pick of the month above), The Moonlighter (Roy Rowland's serviceable but undistinguished western) and There's Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk's moving melodrama).
The duo’s on screen relationships brought to mind something Fred MacMurray said about working with his famous co-star: “I was lucky enough to make four pictures with Barbara. In the first I turned her in, in the second I killed her, in the third I left her for another woman and in the fourth I pushed her over a waterfall. The one thing all these pictures had in common was that I fell in love with Barbara Stanwyck… and I did, too.”
By far their most famous union was in Double Indemnity, the next film to be doubly featured in Eddie Muller’s Noir Alley Saturday, December 29 at 9pm PST and again on Sunday, December 30 at 7am PST.
It seems every time I link my review to one of the following two recommendations, I get hammered pretty good by many of each film’s admirers… (that is, mainly in the various film related Facebook chat rooms where I share them). So I better run and hide since TCM is showing, and I’m about to share critical notices of, both Doctor Zhivago and Casablanca this Sunday.
Doctor Zhivago, reviewed here, airs Sunday, December 30 at 1:30pm PST. My hope is that one will see the film first before reading my review, admittedly more analytical compared to most of my other TCM recommendations.
Later on, 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, this earlier produced film reviewed here, is meant for those already familiar with its many qualities. Casablanca will air Sunday, December 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 versatile Russ Tamblyn, a talent for the ages, who turns 84 on December 30th.
He played a young Bart Tare in Gun Crazy (1950), Tommy Banks in Father of the Bride (1950) and the same part in its sequel Father’s Little Dividend (1951), Gideon in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), Jimmy O’Brien in The Last Hunt (1956), Eric Doolittle in The Fastest Gun Alive (1956, See: Capturing a Golden Moment #4 for his spectacular dance routine), Norman Page in Peyton Place (1957), Tom Thumb in Tom Thumb (1958), Riff in West Side Story (1961, pictured, probably his most recognised film role), Luke Sanderson in The Haunting (1963), Johnny Ketchum in Son of a Gunfighter (1965), and Son of a Gunfighter in Django Unchained (2012), among others. Whew! Television viewers may know him for his portrayal of Dr. Lawrence Jacoby in the Twin Peaks series, both (1989-1991) and (2017).
December's Soundtrack recommendation is the newly released, remastered and expanded score to The Big Country composed by Jerome Moross.
Few motion pictures contain such an exhilarating and thematically generous score to perfectly accompany the visuals as this one. Moross’ music is noticeably breathtaking but never by subtracting from the narrative. He’s definitely an artist who instinctively knew when to “dial down” (the long shot scene of Peck and Heston’s fist fight) or “play up” (the opening credits or ride through Blanco Canyon) the all important underscore to such a “big” picture. This limited release from Quartet Records and MGM has more information and can be ordered from Screen Archives Entertainment by clicking on the image.
This month’s recommended Blu-ray is to the above reviewed Pitfall (North America Region A) from Kino Lorber which can be ordered from Amazon.com in the U.S. by clicking on the image.