31 Days of Oscar, week 4

TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar comes to an end this week, so here, for the last time, are my choices for stuff to watch this week, most of which I’ve seen, some of which is stuff I know by reputation. All times Mountain.

Tuesday, Feb. 23: The Caine Mutiny (1954) at 6 pm is the undisputed highlight of the day. Concerning the mutiny on a battered old destroyer called the Caine, it stars Humphrey Bogart in one of his best roles, as the clearly disturbed Capt. Queeg. Led by Van Johnson with an assist by Fred McMurray, there is, as you might have surmised, a mutiny, and a trial. And it’s great, followed by another equally tremendous scene. It’s the must-see movie of the week. That’s followed by Marty (1955) at 8:15 am, a soft melodrama about a lonely guy (Ernest Borgnine) that won the future McHale’s Navy star an Oscar. It’s only OK, in my view.

Wednesday, Feb. 24: A powerhouse day on TCM begins at 12:30 pm with Mighty Joe Young (1949). Not a great, or even very good, movie, I can’t pass up the opportunity to watch the handiwork of stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien (King Kong) and the future giant of the art form, Ray Harryhausen. At 4 pm, All the King’s Men (1949), features another surprise Oscar winning performance by Broderick Crawford as a Willie Stark, a backwoods politician who rises to power, only to become corrupted. Mercedes McCambridge also won a supporting actress Oscar, and the film won best picture. M*A*S*H (1973) at 8 pm is one of the groundbreaking films of the 1970s, and if you only know it from the long-running, preachy comedy, you should check out this very black comedy. That’s followed by prescient Network (1976) 10:15 pm, a profoundly cynical satire of TV news and politics that popularized the expression, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” I was blown away by this film when I saw it back in 1976, and it’s still great — maybe even greater — today. And finally, there’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) at 12:30 am, another powerfully influential, groundbreaking classic.

Thursday, Feb. 25: The delightful My Favorite Year (1982) at 11 am is a sweet natured comedy about a fading swashbuckling movie star (Peter O’Toole, in one of his EIGHT Oscar nominated, non-winning performances) making a chaotic appearance on a 1950s live TV comedy. It’s great fun. After that, a couple of famous films I haven’t seen: Giant (1956) at 2:30 pm is the Texas oil epic starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and the last performance by James Dean, and Red River (1948) at 9:15 pm, a Howard Hawks-directed western classic starring John Wayne and, in his movie debut, Montgomery Clift.

Friday, Feb. 26: The absence of Stephen  Spielberg films is rectified with his sci-fi classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) at 3:30 pm. At 6 pm, director/writer/actor/genius Mel Brooks is on full display in the hilarious and loving homage to old horror movies with Young Frankenstein (1974). The scene where Dr. ‘Fronkensteen’ (Gene Wilder) bring his monster (Peter Boyle) to life uses some of the same pseudo-scientific equipment used in the 1931 Frankenstein. The all-star comedy cast includes Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman and Cloris Leachman. A comedy must0see. After that, Robert Redford is an idealistic candidate who loses his idealism (don’t they all?), in The Candidate (1972) at 8 pm, a film very much of its time.

Saturday, Feb. 27: Earlier in this 31 Days of Oscar we saw Frederick March’s Oscar-winning version of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde . This version, from 1941 at 4 am, has Spencer Tracy in the title role. Later, there’s the slow-moving but worthwhile Best Picture winner Chariots of Fire (1981) 3:45 pm, featuring one of the more famous soundtracks in movie history, by Vangelis. Breaking Away (1979) 6 pm is not especially well-known, but it’s well worth seeing, a funny slice of American life film about a teen who develops a passion for bicycle racing. An Oscar winner for best screenplay. At 8 pm, there’s the classic coming-of-age film Diner (1982), followed by the thrilling Ron Howard/Tom Hanks collaboration, Apollo 13 (1995) 10 pm.

Sunday, Feb. 28: It’s Oscar night, but before you indulge, enjoy Double Indemnity (1944) at 1:45 pm, the noirest film noir of them all, with Fred McMurray and Barbara Stanwyck as an illicit couple plotting a murder for insurance money. A great Billy Wilder film, and a must see. After the Oscars (if they end on time) check out the gangster classic  The Public Enemy (1931) 12 am. Corny at times (of course … it’s 85 years old!), it made a star of James Cagney. It features the famous scene where he smashes a grapefruit in the face of Mae Clark.

Monday, Feb. 29: OK, one more day. I recommend The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) at 10 pm, with a great performance by Charles Laughton as the hunchback. Somewhere in the crowd scenes was my dad, who picked up money as an extra in the movies while attending USC. Other films in the Richard Tougas oeuvre: Sun  Valley Serenade, The Duke of West Point (a terrible film, but I think he is briefly visible in a hockey sequence) and possibly Gone with the Wind. I say possibly, because dad may have been playing poker somewhere when he should have been a corpse.

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.

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.