Here’s my weekly viewing guide for TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar.
Day 11. In The Heat of the Night
In The Heat of the Night is one of Sidney Poitier’s most iconic performances. Abs that’s saying a lot! His character, Det. Virgil Tibbs, starts off being arrested for the murder of a prominent businessman. Once he clears his own name, he teams up with racist police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger), to dolce the crime. Packed with great performances top to bottom and skillfully directed by Norman Jewison, In The Heat of the Night is a riveting crime drama and a powerful time capsule of the tumultuous late 60s.
Bonus insomniac theater pick: Inherit The Wind.
Day 12. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Sometimes you just need pure escapism. And boy does this movie deliver exactly that. There’s barely a dull moment in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It follows the hapless adventures of a group of motorists and their quest to find the buried loot when they happen upon the crash scene of a reckless motorist who tells them about it as he takes his last breath. The movie has one great gag after another, an all-star cast and some inspired cameos. My favorite of the bunch is Peter Falk.
Bonus insomniac theater pick: Johnny Belinda.
Day 13. Key Largo
I love film noir. And Key Largo is quintessential noir. This was the last onscreen pairing of Bogie and Bacall. And it has Bogie going toe to toe with Edward G. Robinson. It also has Claire Trevor, Lionel Barrymore and was directed by John Huston. You can’t ask for more than that!
Bonus insomniac theater pick: Kings Row.
Day 14. Leaving Las Vegas
My day 14 pick is also my insomniac theater pick. Nicholas Cage has become a punchline of late. And that’s really a shame, because he’s a very gifted actor. And this is the performance that won him an Oscar.
Cage plays a Hollywood screenwriter who loses everything because of his alcoholism. He decides to head to Las Vegas and drink himself to death. While in Vegas, he hires a high end prostitute named Sera (Elisabeth Shue). The initial encounter doesn’t turn out that great. But the two feel a connection. They form an unlikely friendship that turns into love. Both have their own demons. But they decide to live together and make the most of whatever time they have left.
Leaving Las Vegas sounds like a gut wrenching movie because it is. But it’s also a fascinating portrait of two lonely souls. The movie theaters are packed these days with movies that give us chases and explosions. And I love a good action movie. But it’s refreshing once in a while to see a movie that devotes so much time to such authentic characters.
Day 15. Little Caesar
Edward G. Robinson makes my viewing list once again! Little Caesar is an essential pre-Code movie. And it happens to be the one that made Edward G. Robinson a star. As Caesar Enrico Bandello, Robinson delivers a ferocious performance. It’s a great look at the rise and fall of a gangster during Prohibition. Every actor that played a gangster after this movie cage out owes a debt to Robinson. It’s a performance for the ages.
Bonus insomniac theater pick: Logan’s Run.
Day 16. Lover Come Back
Doris Day and Rock Hudson made a slew of great comedies together. In Lover Come Back, they work for rival advertising agencies. Day tires of Hudson’s questionable methods to get contracts (including wining and dining prospective clients). She even tries to get him kicked out of the business. It’s an endlessly inventive screwball comedy and one of their most underrated onscreen pairings.
Bonus insomniac theater pick: McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
Day 17. Mildred Pierce
Say what you want about Joan Crawford. She may have been a diva. But the woman could act. In Mildred Pierce, she plays a hardworking mother who wants her kids to have the best. She spoils her kids rotten, which is what leads to her getting divorced early in the movie. Mildred becomes an entrepreneur who eventually opens a chain of restaurants. But all that work is unappreciated but her ungrateful daughter Veda (Ann Blyth). All of this could have turned into trashy melodrama. But in the hands of its talented cast, including the wonderful Eve Arden as Mildred’s best friend, it’s an absorbing film noir.
Bonus insomniac theater pick: Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday.