TCM’s Hitchcock binge-a-thon

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN

You can spend New Years Day watching football OR you can tune into Turner Classic Movies for OVER TWENTY-FOUR HOURS OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK.  Seven out of Hitchcock’s best eight films are on tap:  Rope, Strangers on a Train, The Birds, Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window and Shadow of a Doubt.  (Only North by Northwest is missing.)

Because Hitchcock was known for the “psychological” thriller, look for John Dall playing the classic narcissist in Rope and Robert Walker playing the most creepily functional psychopath in Strangers on a Train.  If I had to pick just one Hitchcock classic to watch tomorrow, it would be Rear Window.

TCM is also mixing in some not-so-great Hitchcock for those of you who are curious (or obsessive):  Torn Curtain, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Family Plot, Marnie and The Trouble with Harry.

Happy binge-watching!

REAR WINDOW
REAR WINDOW

coming up on TV: THE CONVERSATION

John Cazale and Gene Hackman in THE CONVERSATION

Friday, September 9, Turner Classic Movies is presenting one of the greatest movies ever – The Conversation (1974).  At the height of his powers, Francis Ford Coppola directed The Conversation between The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, and The Conversation is every bit the masterwork as the others.

In a role just as iconic as in The French Connection, Gene Hackman plays an audio surveillance expert entangled in a morally troubling assignment – and then obsessed. Veteran character actor Allen Garfield is just as good and the irreplaceable John Cazale makes us cringe and ache as always. Look for a very young Harrison Ford and for a glimpse of an uncredited Robert Duvall as a corpse.

The most significant achievement in The Conversation, however, is the groundbreaking sound editing by Walter Murch. After experiencing The Conversation, you’ll never again overlook movie sound editing.

Least Convincing Movie Monsters

Killer Shrew mask

Tomorrow, June 10, Turner Classic Movies is airing two films on my list of Least Convincing Movie Monsters.   We’ll get to see The Black Scorpion and The Killer Shrews.

In The Killer Shrews, the voraciously predatory mutant shrews are played by dogs in fright masks. Yes, dogs. As you can see from the bottom photo, the filmmakers have also applied shaggy patches to the sides of the dogs and ropy rat tails to their backs. [SPOILER ALERT: When humans escape from their island, the killer shrews die of overpopulation.]

The Killer Shrews is only #3 on my list.  Visit Least Convincing Movie Monsters to see the two even sillier movie monsters.

Killer Shrews shag and tails

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK: a haunting masterpiece on TV

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK

Tomorrow night, Turner Classic Movies will air the enigmatic Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) by Australian filmmaker Peter Weir.  An Australian girls school goes on an outing to a striking geological formation – and some of the girls and a teacher disappear.  What happened to them? It’s beautiful and hypnotic and haunting.  It’s a film masterpiece, but if you can’t handle ambiguous endings – this ain’t for you.

Weir has gone on to make high quality hits (The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show, Master and Commander), but Picnic at Hanging Rock – the movie that he made at age 31 – is his most original work.  Besides playing periodically on TCM, Picnic at Hanging Rock is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus.

2015 at the movies: most fun at the movies

Deenis O'Keefe and Ann Sheridan in WOMAN ON THE RUN
Deenis O’Keefe and Ann Sheridan in WOMAN ON THE RUN

My favorite movie-going experiences in 2015:

  • San Francisco’s Noir City film fest, with the double feature Woman on the Run and Born to Be Bad.
  • Cinequest, especially seeing the raucously funny Wild Tales with The Wife and friends Cinequest at a packed California Theatre and seeing the exquisite and lyrical Georgian drama Corn Island on the recommendation of international film programmer Charlie Cockey.
  • Turner Classic Movies’ Summer of Darkness, program of film noir, which allowed me to discover two new noir favorites: 99 River Street and Witness to Murder.
  • Discovering the wretchedly bad and unintentionally hilarious An American Hippie in Israel on TCM – a new addition to my Bad Movie Festival.
  • The wonderful surprise of the very funny and family centric documentary Meet the Patels at a Camera Cinema Club, complete with a Skype interview with the Patel family itself.
  • A particularly strong program at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where I saw The End of the Tour, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Look of Silence, Listen to Me Marlon, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead and Very Semi-serious.
  • The Wife taking me to a luxurious screening of Spectre at the Los Gatos Theater with its black leather sofas and ottomans.
  • Happening to be in Spain during the first weekend of the Sevilla European Film Festival, and getting to catch Mustang with The Wife and my niece Maeve.
MEET THE PATELS
MEET THE PATELS

TCM’s “Summer of Darkness” – a treasure for fans of film noir

tcm summer darkness
Turner Classic Movies has announced a CAN’T MISS summer film noir series.  The “Summer of Darkness” will be hosted by Film Noir Foundation president Eddie Muller – the Czar of Noir. Here’s the complete schedule.

TCM will be presenting 24 hours of film noir on each Friday in June and July.  Every week, Eddie Muller himself will present four movies in prime time in TCM’s “Friday Night Spotlight.” Muller has penned this introductory article.

The Film Noir Foundation performs an invaluable mission:  preserving and restoring classic film noir that would otherwise be lost to us and to posterity.  And Muller and the Foundation host one of my absolute film festivals every winter in San Francisco – Noir City.  Noir City has been expanding into other cities.  Muller is a respected film historian, and his DVD commentaries are excellent.  Here’s your chance to experience the Czar of Noir on television.

I’ll be calling out specific recommendations from the Summertime of Darkness in my regular Movies to See Right Now posts on Fridays, as well as writing some special posts on my favorite Overlooked Noir, including Woman on the Run and Elevator to the Gallows.  Stay tuned.

WOMAN ON THE RUN – a sassy gal in 1950 San Francisco

Deenis O'Keefe and Ann Sheridan in WOMAN ON THE RUN
Deenis O’Keefe and Ann Sheridan in WOMAN ON THE RUN

On Friday night, June 5, Turner Classic Movies is presenting one of my Overlooked Noir, in its wonderful film noir series Summer of Darkness.   The character-driven thriller Woman on the Run (1950)  is notable for its San Francisco locations, making it a veritable time capsule of the post-war City By The Bay.

The movie opens with a murder, and the one terrified witness goes underground.  When the police coming looking for him, they are surprised to find his wife (Ann Sheridan) both ignorant of his whereabouts and unconcerned.  While still living in the same apartment, the couple is estranged.  And the wife has a Mouth On Her, much to the dismay of the detective (Robert Keith), who keeps walking into a torrent of sass.

But soon the wife starts hunting hubbie, along with the cops, a reporter (Dennis O’Keefe) and the killer.  It’s a race to see who can find him first.  One character is revealed to be more dangerous than was apparent, and the audience learns this before our heroine does.

One quirky nugget – when she visits his workplace, we learn that his job is making mannikins in the basement of a large department store.

Sheridan is great in this uncharacteristically insolent role.  So are O’Keefe and Keith.  But the real star of Woman on the Run is San Francisco itself, from the hilly neighborhoods to the bustling streets to the dank and foreboding waterfront.  Oddly, the finale is at an amusement park which seems to be Playland At the Beach (but was actually filmed at the Santa Monica Pier).  (Further trivia – that Laffing Sal is the one at Santa Monica, not the one at Playland which now resides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.)  The only movie that rivals Woman on Run for its depiction of San Francisco in the 1950s is The Lineup.

The story is a taut 77 minutes of mouthy Ann Sheridan, the life-or-death manhunt and stellar period San Francisco.  Woman on the Run is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video (free with Amazon Prime).

Ann Sheridan (far left) sasses Robert Keith (far right) in WOMAN ON THE RUN
Ann Sheridan (far left) sasses Robert Keith (far right) in WOMAN ON THE RUN

Movies to See Right Now

Eller Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater in BOYHOOD
Eller Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater in BOYHOOD

It’s time for the Oscars, so you really should watch the year’s best film (and Oscar favorite) Boyhood if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Video. Otherwise:

  • Clint Eastwood’s thoughtful and compelling American Sniper, with harrowing action and a career-best performance from Bradley Cooper.
  • The inspiring Selma, well-crafted and gripping throughout (but with an unfortunate historical depiction of LBJ).
  • The Belgian drama Two Days, One Night with Marion Cotillard, which explores the limits of emotional endurance.
  • The cinematically important and very funny Birdman. You can still find Birdman, but you may have to look around a bit. It has justifiably garnered several Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture.
  • Reese Witherspoon is superb in the Fight Your Demons drama Wild, and Laura Dern may be even better.
  • The Theory of Everything is a successful, audience-friendly biopic of both Mr. AND Mrs. Genius.
  • Julianne Moore’s superb performance is the only reason to see Still Alice;
  • The Imitation Game – the riveting true story about the guy who invented the computer and defeated the Nazis and was then hounded for his homosexuality.
  • I was underwhelmed by the brooding drama A Most Violent Year – well-acted and a superb sense of time and place (NYC in 1981) but not gripping enough to thrill.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is the droll Swedish dramedy Force Majeure, Sweden’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. It is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and Xbox Video.

It’s time for Turner Classic Movies’ annual 31 Days of Oscar – a glorious month of Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning films on TCM. This week, I am highlighting:

The Producers (February 21): This zany 1967 Mel Brooks madcap classic is probably my nominee for Funniest Movie of All Time. (Much better than the 2005 remake.) Deliverance (February 21): Our of my all-time favorites – still gripping today – with a famous scene that still shocks. Jon Voigt, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox form an impressive ensemble cast.
Seven Days in May (February 26): A GREAT political thriller
The Emigrants (February 27): This Swedish film remains the best depiction of pioneer settlers in the American West.

Movies to See Right Now

David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. (center back) in SELMA
David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. (center back) in SELMA

The best films in theaters right now are no secret – most are Oscar-nominated:

  • Clint Eastwood’s thoughtful and compelling American Sniper, with harrowing action and a career-best performance from Bradley Cooper.
  • The inspiring Selma, well-crafted and gripping throughout (but with an unfortunate historical depiction of LBJ).
  • The Belgian drama Two Days, One Night with Marion Cotillard, which explores the limits of emotional endurance.
  • The cinematically important and very funny Birdman. You can still find Birdman, but you may have to look around a bit. It has justifiably garnered several Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture.
  • Reese Witherspoon is superb in the Fight Your Demons drama Wild, and Laura Dern may be even better.
  • The Theory of Everything is a successful, audience-friendly biopic of both Mr. AND Mrs. Genius.
  • The Imitation Game – the riveting true story about the guy who invented the computer and defeated the Nazis and was then hounded for his homosexuality.
  • I was underwhelmed by the brooding drama A Most Violent Year – well-acted and a superb sense of time and place (NYC in 1981) but not gripping enough to thrill.

My DVD/Stream of the week is last year’s best Hollywood movie, the psychological thriller Gone Girl, with a star-making performance by Rosamund Pike. It’s now available on DVD from Netflix and streaming on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and Flixster.

It’s time for Turner Classic Movies’ annual 31 Days of Oscar – a glorious month of Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning films on TCM. This week, I am highlighting:

  • The Great Dictator (February 7): Charlie Chaplin’s hilarious and devastating takedown of a thinly disguised Adolph Hitler – almost two years before the US entered WW II.
  • Laura (February 9): perhaps my favorite thriller from the noir era, with an unforgettable performance by Clifton Webb as a megalomaniac with one vulnerability – the dazzling beauty of Gene Tierney. The musical theme is unforgettable, too.
  • All the King’s Men (February 11): one of the best political movies of all time, from the novel based on the saga of Huey Long . Watch for the brilliant, Oscar-winning supporting performance by Mercedes McCambridge.
  • The Bad Seed (February 13): very bad things are happening – the chill comes from the revelation that the murderous fiend is a child with blonde pigtails.

CAGED: Eleanor Parker and Hope Emerson in the prototype for Orange is the New Black

31-days-2015-blogathonThis article is written for the annual blogathon in celebration of Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscars.  The blogathon is hosted by classic movie bloggers Outspoken and Freckled, Paula’s Cinema Club and Once Upon a Screen.

Hope Emerson and Eleanor Parker in CAGED
Hope Emerson and Eleanor Parker in CAGED

Want to see the prototype for Orange Is the New Black?  In the 1950 Caged, Eleanor Parker (who died last year) played the naive young woman plunged into a harsh women’s prison filled with hard-bitten fellow prisoners and compassion-free guards. Parker was nominated for an acting Oscar, but her performance pales next to that of Hope Emerson, whose electric portrayal of a hulking guard also got an Oscar nod.

Caged is a Message Picture, editorializing that the prison experience unnecessarily molds inmates into criminals.  Although its trailer (available on IMDb), with its breathlessly sensationalistic narration, makes the film appear overwrought, Caged is edgy enough to have currency with modern sensibilities.  Parker’s newbie  is NOT innocent and wrongly convicted –  as the movie opens, she’s one of the crew in a bank heist.  She experiences hellish brutalization behind bars.  There’s also behind-the-bars pregnancy, inmate suicide and implied lesbianism.  The ending, when the protagonist is finally released and can choose between going straight or going bad, is filled with the cynicism and despair of film noir.

Eleanor Parker hit every note on her character’s slide from the Good Kid who made a dumb mistake all the way down to a Hard Case seasoned with hopelessness.  (In a stunningly competitive year, she lost the Oscar to Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday, along with Gloria Swanson for Sunset Boulevard, and both Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for All About Eve.)

But this is Hope Emerson’s movie.  Emerson draws the audience’s attention every moment that she’s on-screen.  Her prison matron is not just harsh but sadistic.  Emerson was able to radiate meanness with every glance, and took full advantage of her dominating physicality. It’s a performance that still works today.

This was the apex of Emerson’s career.  She stood a big-boned 6″2″, and then as now, Hollywood didn’t have many parts for an actress with her appearance.   She started on Broadway in her early 30s (as an Amazon in Lysistrata), was successful in radio voice-over work and managed 43 screen credits.  She was 53 years old when she made Caged.

Caged also features the fine character actresses Agnes Moorehead, Jane Darwell (Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath) and Ellen Corby (Grandma Walton here as a young woman).

Sixty-five years later, Caged might still be the best women’s prison movie ever.  TCM is featuring Caged on February 20 during its 31 Days of Oscar.  It’s also available on DVD from Netflix and streaming on  iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Xbox Video and Flixster.