31 Days of Oscar, week 2: The picks of the crop

Welcome to week two of Turner Classic Movies 31 Days of Oscar. The station, beloved by classic movie lovers, pulls out all the stops in February, airing a month of films that all have an Oscar connection. Here again is my entirely arbitrary list of films to watch or record this week. They are all either films that I have seen, or are regarded as classics. All times Mountain.

Monday, Feb. 8: This evening’s selection is pretty powerful; George C. Scott’s ulta-macho performance as U.S. WWII Gen. George S. Patton (1970) at 8 p.m. Paul Newman is a would-be pool hustler taking on Jackie Gleason in The Hustler (1961) at 11 pm. (Historical sidenote: Gleason’s character is named Minnesota Fats. A pool player later adopted the name, and became famous as Minnesota Fats. Life imitating art, indeed.) Then there’s Dustin Hoffman’s break-out role in the era defining comedy-drama The Graduate (1967), featuring one of the great lines in 1960s film: “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me … aren’t you?” Oh, she was.

Tuesday, Feb. 9: I’m not a big fan of westerns, but The Hanging Tree (1959) at 9:15 am is well worth watching, if for nothing else than the great theme song. It was Gary Cooper’s last western. I’ve never seen it, but Cabaret (1972) at 6 pm won eight Oscars (including best actress Liza Minelli and supporting actor Joel Grey), but not best picture. (The Godfather was the winner.) Another landmark film, Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 classic A Clockwork Orange at 11:30 pm, features no end of scenes parodied in The Simpsons. It’s hugely violent and still very disturbing. If you’ve ever wondered why Laurence Olivier is considered one of the greatest actors of all time, check out The Entertainer (1960) at 2 am. Olivier plays a seedy, egotistical song-and-dance man in rundown English resorts. The film is depressing as hell, but Olivier is great.

Wednesday, Feb. 10:  Settle in for hours of Steve McQueen, beginning with the rousing war drama The Great Escape (1963) at 6 pm. All around dandy entertainment, with one of the great film scores. That’s followed by McQueen again as a taciturn detective who really knows how to drive a Mustang in Bullitt (1968) at 9 pm. The film is best known for a 10-minute car chase sequence through the hilly streets of San Francisco, one of the all-time best chase sequences, along with The French Connection, The Road Warrior and Ronin. McQueen apparently did the driving himself, and it shows. If you haven’t had enough McQueen by now, there’s still Papillon (1973) at 11 pm, another McQueen escape movie, this time from the French penal colony Devil’s Island. Based on a true story.

Thursday, Feb. 11: We’re turning the way back machine way, waaay back today. The two highlights are both from 1933 — 83 years ago. The first, at 4:45 pm, is She Done Him Wrong, the legendary Mae West at the peak of her bawdy fame. This is the film where she said, to a young and unknown Cary Grant, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” (most often misquoted as “Come up and see me sometime.”). This was about as racy as movies got back then. The other gem, at 8 pm, is Gold Diggers of 1933  the film that introduced the movie cliche of “let’s make a Broadway show” plot. The film features famous Busby Berkley dance numbers that have to be seen to be believed. Hilarious in its own way, and a must see if you’re a fan of old movies. Finally (I haven’t seen it, so I can’t recommend it), there’s the 1935 musical Top Hat at 9:45 pm, a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film, regarded as one of the best musicals of the time. Best known song is “Cheek to Cheek”.

Friday, Feb. 12: Still stuck in the 1930s, the day begins with the 1932 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring Fredric March in the Oscar winning role. This was the third time the story had been filmed (the first was in 1908); the most recent is showing on CBC TV right now. The first transformation scene, still pretty cool MV5BMTc1MjE3NTMxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTQ0NzkxMjE@._V1_UY268_CR13,0,182,268_AL_today, was accomplished by using different coloured filters on the camera lens, giving it a surprisingly natural look. By now, you’re probably sick of the 1930s, so let’s jump ahead to the 1982 Dustin Hoffman comedy Tootise at 6 pm (overrated, in my view), then more Hoffman (with Meryl Streep) in the intense, groundbreaking divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) at 8 pm. Winner of five Oscars, including picture and actor, this drama was, amazingly, the top film of the year at the box office. And if that’s not enough intensity for you, gird yourself for the emotional Vietnam was drama The Deer Hunter (1979) at 10 pm., starring a young Robert DeNiro in the days when he really tried to act.

Saturday, Feb. 13: Not the best day for TCM, at least by their standards. The action-packed, Mexico-set Western The Magnificent Seven (1960), with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, kicks off the day at 7:30 am. I just saw this a couple of weeks ago, and it still holds up pretty well. Musical score by Elmer Bernstein is one of the most memorable in movie history. Listen to it hereOddly enough, Burt Reynolds makes two appearances today. In Best Friends (1982) at 2 pm, Reynolds is at the peak of his fame in a romantic comedy starring Goldie Hawn. That’s followed by a more typical Reynolds offering, a male-centric action comedy Hooper (1978) at 4 pm. The best film of the day, however, is Being There (1979) at 8:15 pm. One of the great satires about politics ever put on film, the brilliant Peter Sellers plays Chance, the Gardener, a simple-minded man who stumbles his way into the upper echelons of American politics. I loved this movie when I first saw in in 1979, and loved it when I watched it again just recently. Sellers was Oscar nominated, but lost to Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer. Sadly, he only made one more movie, some forgettable piece of crap, before dying too young at 54.

Sunday, Feb. 14: It’s Valentine’s Day, so TCM offers up a whole package of sharp, romantic comedies of the old school in the AM. At 8:15 am, it’s Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a divorced couple trying to ruin each other’s lives in The Awful Truth (1937). At 10 am, it’s The Philadelphia Story (1940) starring Grant again, this time with Katharine Hepburn. Wildly acclaimed, I’m not  big fan; it’s awfully talky and not really that funny. After that, it’s more Hepburn, this time with frequent on-and-off screen co-star Spencer Tracy in Adam’s Rib (1949) at noon. At 6 pm, the inevitable — and always welcome — showing of Casablanca (1942), with the gruffly heroic Humphrey Bogart and the luminous Ingrid Bergman in one of the greatest films of all time. If you’ve never seen this, first, shame on you, and second, don’t miss the chance to see it. Or see it again. And remember, nothing in the movie is a cliche — all of the famous lines in this movie were spoken here for the first time. This was one of my dad’s all-time favourite movies. After that, back to back Bette Davis classics, Now, Voyager (1942) at 8 pm and Jezebel (1938) at 10:15 pm. And finally, one I’ve never seen, the highly regarded first filming of Wuthering Heights (1939), with the beautiful Merle Oberon and equally beautiful Laurence Olivier, at 12:15 a.m.

Monday, Feb. 15: The first, and still best, version of Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) kicks off the day at 6:15 am. Oscar winner for best picture, with a sterling performance by Charles Laughton. The rest of the day is made up of films I haven’t seen (George Washington Slept Here?), and some I’m aware of (Yankee Doodle Dandy) that I don’t really care to see. But there’s one gem that I have seen, and recently — The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), the John Huston-directed classic about greed and gold, featuring Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston (John’s dad) in an Oscar winning performance. The crazy prospector dance Huston performed has been parodied in The Simpsons many times, a tribute to the film’s enduring popularity.


By Maurice Tougas

Maurice Tougas is a lifelong Albertan, award-winning writer and reporter, and a former MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark.

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