31 Days of Oscar, week 3

We’re into week 3 of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar, the movie channel’s annual orgy of fine (and sometimes not so fine) films. Here are my picks for films to watch this week, based either on personal viewing or their reputation. All times Mountain.

Tuesday, Feb. 16: Humphrey Bogart as a racist? It’s hard to picture the star of Casablanca playing such an odious character, but that’s his character in the remarkable Black Legion (1937) at 6:30 a.m. In the 1930s, Warner Bros. produced a lot of ‘ripped-from-the-headlines’ movies, and at the time there really was white supremacist group called the Black Legion that committed a range of racial and ethnically-motivated crimes. In the film, Bogart joins the Black Legion when he is passed over for a promotion in favour of a Polish immigrant. Hard hitting and still relevant. At 6 pm, don’t miss one of the films TCM calls ‘Essentials’, On the Waterfront (1954). Winner of eight Oscars, the film cemented Marlon Brando’s reputation as one of the greatest actors of the 20th century. It also contributed the classic “I could have been a contender” line to our film vocabulary. It’s still great. That’s followed by two films I can’t vouch but are well regarded: Anna and the King of Siam (1946) at 8 pm, the original non-musical version of The King and I; and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) at 10:15. Both films star Rex Harrison.

Wednesday, Feb. 17: A pair of excellent Neil Simon comedies are the highlight of the viewing day. Walter Matthau and George Burns play ancient, feuding vaudevillians making a one-shot comeback in The Sunshine Boys (1975) at 4 pm. It was Burns’ first film in decades, winning him the Oscar for supporting actor and giving him, at age 80, another page in his career. That’s followed at 6 pm by The Odd Couple (1968), the hilarious Simon comedy that introduced the world to Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau, the slob) and Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon, the neat freak). Simon at this absolute best, with Matthau and Lemmon perfectly cast. It’s one of the great comedies of the 1960s.

Thursday, Feb. 18: A tough day for me to make recommendations, in that there is just one film all day that I’ve seen. There are three famous musicals for fans of the genre: On the Town (1949) at 9 am; An American in Paris (1951) at 6 pm; The Band Wagon (1953) at 8 pm. As a movie fans, I’m a little ashamed to say I’ve seen none of them. But I have seen the classic Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train (1951) at 1o pm., where two, well, strangers on a train agree to commit murders for the other. Robert Walker is great as the psychopath killer, and the final scene, set on an out-of-control merry-go-round, is a gem.

Friday, Feb. 19: It’s my birthday, and I was hoping that TCM would schedule a film from my birth year, but they dropped the ball. So, nothing from the glorious year 1956, so I will have to settle for Bogart and the Marx Brothers (not in the same film, but wouldn’t that have been weird?). The Bogart film is the classic The Maltese Falcon (1941) at 9 am , the first film directed by John Huston. Considered the essential ‘film noir’, to use the term coined by the never pretentious French, The Maltese Falcon is a classic, even if the story doesn’t make a lot of sense. Just go along for the ride. At 6 pm it’s time for A Day as the Races (1937), considered by some to be one of the Marx Brothers’ best. A follow-up, sort of, to their classic A Night at the Opera, it includes a number of great Marx set pieces. Personally, I prefer their earlier films (Duck Soup, Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, Monkey Business) to their later, more polished films that were saddled with tedious musical numbers and awful romantic subplots. Still, even lesser Marx Brothers is better than top tier Adam Sandler. After that, there’s the sophisticated sleuths Nick and Nora Charles (and frequent crossword puzzle answer, their dog Asta) make their first appearance in The Thin Man (1934) at 8 pm.

Saturday, Feb. 20: Not familiar with a lot of the films today. There are three Spencer Tracy movies on the sked: Father of the Bride (1950) at 2:15, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) at 4 pm, and Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) at 8 pm. The best film is probably Seven Days in May (1961) at 11:15 pm, about a military coup of the United States, starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.

Sunday, Feb. 21: Again, another day with movies I haven’t seen, but the highlights are the Billy Wilder alcoholism drama The Lost Weekend (1945) at 8 am, and the epic Dr. Zhivago at 12:30 pm. The best picture winner of 1963, Tom Jones at 8:30 pm was considered so racy that it was banned by the censor board here in Alberta. Why, I have no idea. I saw some of it recently, and frankly I found it a little boring and overly stylized. It hasn’t aged well, and whatever naughtiness that got it banned in Alberta and elsewhere has long been overtaken by any episode of Two and a Half Men.


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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