"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
There are 11 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
The first is my favourite film (not the "best" so to speak but the one that means the most to me personally), 1968's The Swimmer. This very special motion picture celebrates its 50th Anniversary this month and is part of a worthy tribute to Burt Lancaster on TCM Friday, May 4th.
After her breakthrough role in Joseph von Sternberg's The Blue Angel made in Germany, Marlene Dietrich made six more films with the autocratic director in the U.S. One of those later films is ostensibly about the rise of Russia's Catherine the Great. Just don't expect anything resembling authentic historical reenactment. Here, it's only a backdrop, and one that is completely upstaged at that. What you'll discover instead is a bizarre sensory feast of eroticism, lust, power and depravity in the ribald, perverse and magnificent pre-code wonder The Scarlet Empress.
As a matter of fact, von Sternberg delights in sharing his impertinence with dull historical facts. His priority lies in photographically ravishing Dietrich, adorning her with various sultry accoutrements and making her character's sexual siren his narrative's eye of the storm. Marlene returns the favour by providing an unassuming depth to her innocent but "fast-learning" characterisation, perhaps her most heartfelt performance on film. Dietrich plays little princess Sofia Frederica, retrieved by the strikingly handsome Count Alexi (John Lodge) to be the bride of the Grand Duke Peter, portrayed by Sam Jaffe as an imbecilic despot, a child-like mad-hatter whose confounded expressions look like a cross between Harpo Marx and Hannibal Lecter.
Adding even more eccentricity to this already odd mix is the Grand Duke's domineering mother, the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna whose main concern is to have a male heir to the throne produced by Sofia (Elizabeth has now renamed Catherine) and her degenerate son. Elizabeth is played by Louise Dresser with a Midwestern accent and salt-of-the-earth personality about as Russian as an Iowan picnic. The narrative developments both comedic and dramatic hit the viewer like a whirlwind: startling, chaotic, and impossible to pin down. What one will remember and most vividly is the sexually charged repartee between this odd assortment of characters played out in a kind of demented drawing-room style. Last but not least there are this film's scenic wonders: a display of resplendent set designs and grotesquery (credit Peter Ballbusch's incredible gargoyles) unparalleled in cinema history. The Scarlet Empress rules Thursday, May 10 at 7pm PST.
Next is Todd Browning's shockingly bold and terrifying 1932 film, Freaks, previously reviewed here. They will appear on TCM Friday, May 11 at 10:30am PST.
Next up is a single-handed caper film containing a vault's worth of suspense, thrills, twists and turns (a few of the gobsmacking 180 degree variety), all of which are encased in a maelstrom of emotion: 1952's The Steel Trap.
This is Hidden Gem #60 and although superbly crafted, seems to have eluded many noir enthusiasts. Writer and director Andrew L. Stone is deserving of far more acclaim than he's previously received for delineating such a thoughtful and detailed heist, and especially for bestowing those same qualities on his central character, assistant bank manager Joe Osborne. Joseph Cotten plays Osborne with his usual integrity and as a bonus is perfectly paired with Teresa Wright (as they were almost 10 years earlier in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt) who also conveys a deep sincerity as Osborne's wife Laurie. The one trap viewers won't mind being caught up in will be sprung Tuesday, May 15 at 6:15am PST.
Also contributing to the torrential force of film noir is Crime Wave previously reviewed here. This is one wave you'll want to catch as it passes through Eddie Muller's Noir Alley Saturday, May 19 at 9pm PST and again Sunday, May 20 at 7am PST.
My next recommendation is a film a few of you may have heard about: 1944's Academy Award Best Picture Winner Casablanca: a choice that may come as a surprise to readers more familiar with my past articles since it is included on a list of overrated films and reviewed here. There is no denying the fact that this motion picture casts a magical spell and is certainly capable of sweeping one up in its appealing blend of romance, sacrifice and political intrigue. Besides, for those who haven't seen it or seen it enough, how are they to know if my criticisms are sound? This 1942 classic, one of Hollywood's proudest, airs Monday, May 21 at 7:30pm 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.