Summer Under the Stars Guide: 8/27-8/31

Well, here we are. It’s the last week of Summer Under the Stars. August is flying by. Here are my picks for the last few days,

Day 27-Leslie Caron

I could have picked any of the musicals from Caron’s filmography. But my pick is actually one that will be a first time viewing for me: Father Goose. The film co-stars Cary Grant, as a beachcomber in the South Sea who is persuaded to spy on planes passing over his island. But things get complicated when a schoolteacher (Caron) arrives on the island fleeing the Japanese. Grant ends up being responsible for the teacher and her pupils who are on the run with her. Sounds like some action-packed comedic fun to me.

Day 28-Slim Pickens

Slim Pickens is probably best remembered for his performance in Stanley Kubrick’s dark comedic masterpiece Dr. Strangelove. While that was inexplicably left off the TCM programming that day, his other scene-stealing performance was not. And that’s my pick for day 28: Blazing Saddles. Mel Brook’s irreverent send up of westerns is simply one of the most hysterical comedies ever to be filmed. Here’s a quick breakdown of the plot.

A town where everyone seems to be named Johnson is in the way of the railroad. In order to grab their land, Hedley Lemar (Harvey Korman), a politically connected nasty person, sends in his henchmen to make the town unlivable. After the sheriff is killed, the town demands a new sheriff from the Governor (Mel Brooks). Hedley convinces him to send the town the first Black sheriff (Cleavon Little) in the west. Bart is a sophisticated urbanite who will have some difficulty winning over the townspeople.–IMDB

Pickens is brilliant as one of Korman’s henchmen. And the film also features a great performance by the late Gene Wilder. The film is an equal opportunity offender. And that’s part of why I love it.

Day 29-Marion Davies

My pick for Marion Davies’ day is Show People. It’s a great satire on show business and a fun romantic comedy.

Colonel Pepper (Dell Henderson) brings his daughter, Peggy (Marion Davies), to Hollywood from Georgia to be an actress. There she meets Billy (William Haines) who gets her work at Comet Studio doing comedies with him. But Peggy is discovered by High Art Studio and she leaves Billy and Comet to work there. For her new image, she is now Patricia Pepoire and ignores Billy when he sees her on location. When she is not longer wanted by the little people who do not understand “ART”, she plans to marry Andre (Paul Ralli) to get a fake title. Billy will not let her go without a fight.–IMDB

Show People is a great silent comedy directed brilliantly by King Vidor.

Day 30-George Sanders

I must admit that I did a happy dance when I saw George Sanders’ day on the schedule. He’s not only a brilliant actor, but he has one of the most gorgeous voices in film history. He normally plays cads, but my choice is actually a film where he plays a good guy. It’s Hitchock’s brilliant thriller Foreign Correspondent. In the film, Sanders teams up with a reporter played by Joel McCrea to expose enemy spies in London on the eve of World War II. In addition to Sanders and McCrea, the film features a brilliant supporting cast that includes Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, Robert Benchley, and Edmund Gwenn. It’s a taut thriller that is one of Hitchcock’s best. And that is saying something.

Day 31-Elizabeth Taylor

The last day is devoted to Elizabeth Taylor. And while she is largely remembered from her roles as an adult, especially Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Giant, my choice is actually one of her earliest film roles. It’s National Velvet from 1944. In the film, Taylor plays Velvet Brown, a young girl who dreams of riding her horse in the Grand National steeple chase. This film has a special place in my heart, because Velvet was a teen who was more interested in riding horses than chasing boys, a girl after my own heart. It’s an inspiring film that’s great for all ages. And Anne Revere is brilliant as Velvet’s mother. You’ll see why she won an Oscar. Also look for character actor Donald Crisp as Velvet’s stern but caring father and Mickey Rooney as a drifter who helps Velvet train her horse and live her dream.

That’s it for my Summer Under the Stars picks. Enjoy the last week of the festival!

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Summer Under the Stars Guide: 8/20-8/26

It’s that time of the week again. Here is my viewing guide for this week’s Summer Under The Stars programming on TCM.

Day 20-Cary Grant

You can’t go wrong with any Cary Grant movie. The man was talented in addition to being devilishly handsome. But if I had to pick one film from his day, it would have to be The Philadelphia Story. In addition to Cary Grant, the cast also includes Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, was directed by George Cukor, and features some of the best screwball comedy writing in the history of cinema. The plot, about a rich woman (Hepburn) about to remarry and having it sabotaged by her ex (Grant) and a tabloid reporter (Stewart) is a comic gold mine. This is one of the best ensemble comedies ever filmed.

Day 21-Ann Harding

For the day dedicated to Ann Harding, I’ve chosen It Happened on Fifth Avenue. I don’t normally watch Christmas films until after Thanksgiving. But here (and for one other pick this week), I’m breaking that rule. Christmas in this film is the backdrop for zany antics involving how a random group of people end up living in a mansion.

A homeless New Yorker moves into a mansion and along the way he gathers friends to live in the house with him. Before he knows it, he is living with the actual home owners.–IMDB

It’s a breezy comedy that earned an Oscar nomination for its screenplay. Just sit back and enjoy the lunacy and the heartwarming message underneath it all.

Day 22-Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford’s day features some great films, especially Blackboard Jungle and the noir classic Gilda. But my choice is the underrated Experiment in Terror. It’s a convoluted but fascinating thriller involving a woman being forced to pull off a bank heist.

Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick) is terrorized by a man with an asthmatic voice (Ross Martin) who plans to use her to steal $100,000 from the bank where she works. He threatens to kill her teenage sister Toby (Stefanie Powers), if she tells the police. However she manages to contact F.B.I. agent Ripley (Glenn Ford).–IMDB

This film is suspenseful and beautifully acted. It also features a score by the wonderful Henry Mancini.

 

Day 23-Greer Garson

Greer Garson is quickly becoming a favorite of mine thanks to many of her films being shown on TCM. For Garson’s day, my choice is Madame Curie. It’s part biopic and part romance. In the film, physicist Pierre Curie (Walter Pidgeon) falls for student Marie (Garson), and the two embark on a quest to discover uranium. This isn’t just a soap opera romance. It gives equally time to the scientific aspects and gives Marie Curie, a trailblazing female scientist, her due. The chemistry between Garson and Pidgeon makes the film a must-see,

Day 24-Dennis Morgan

And here is the other day I break my no Christmas movies until after Thanksgiving rule. For the day of programming dedicated to Dennis Morgan, my pick is Christmas In Connecticut. It doesn’t get as much attention as Christmas classics like It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. But it deserves to. The film features Barbara Stanwyck as a writer who is a Martha Stewart-type in her magazine columns, but is far from it in real life.

Journalist Elizabeth Lane (Stanwyck) is one of the country’s most famous food writers. In her columns, she describes herself as a hard-working farm woman, taking care of her children and being an excellent cook. But these are all lies. In reality she is an unmarried New Yorker who can’t even boil an egg. The recipes come from her good friend Felix (S.Z. Sakall). The owner of the magazine she works for (Sydney Greenstreet) has decided that a heroic sailor (Morgan) will spend his Christmas on *her* farm. Miss Lane knows that her career is over if the truth comes out, but what can she do?

This is another great ensemble comedy. In addition to Stanwyck and Morgan, there’s a great supporting cast. S.Z. Sakall and Sydney Greenstreet are priceless in this gem of a film.

Day 25-Simone Signoret

Simone Signoret is an actress I’m not all that familiar with. But the one film of hers I saw is one I have never forgotten, and it’s my pick for day 25: Diabolique. To cut to the chase, this is a thriller that is up there with the best of Alfred Hitchcock.

In a French provincial town, Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse), a sadistic headmaster of a school belonging to his wife Christina (Vera Clouzot), a fragile young woman with a weak heart, carries on an affair with Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret), a strong, forceful teacher who has been his mistress from the day she arrived. He has, however, treated her as badly as his wife, and the two women have been driven into an alliance against him. Together they work out an elaborate plan to rid themselves of their common tormentor. Luring him away from the school to Nocole’s cheap lodging house, they induce him to drink some doctored whiskey – and drown him in a bath. The body is later wrapped in a nylon tablecloth, packed into a laundry basket, taken back to the school, and at dark tipped into the grimy water of the school swimming pool. When, shortly after, the pool is drained, watched in anguished expectation from a window by the women, no corpse is there. Soon other mysterious events begin to occur..–IMDB

If Psycho made you afraid of showers, Diabolique will make you afraid of baths.

Day 26-James Cagney

James Cagney was one of the most versatile actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He was equally convincing as both a gangster (The Public Enemy) as he was a song and dance man (Yankee Doodle Dandy). My pick is from his gangster films. It’s White Heat. You probably know it from the iconic line, “made it, Ma! Top of the world!” But this film is more than just that one exhilarating moment. It’s a tour de force performance by Cagney as the ruthless gang leader that makes it a classic. Here’s the plot to get you up to speed.

Cody Jarrett (Cagney) is the sadistic leader of a ruthless gang of thieves. Afflicted by terrible headaches and fiercely devoted to his ‘Ma,’ (Margaret Wycherly)  Cody is a volatile, violent, and eccentric leader. Cody’s top henchman wants to lead the gang and attempts to have an ‘accident’ happen to Cody, while he is running the gang from in jail. But Cody is saved by an undercover cop, who thereby befriends him and infiltrates the gang. Finally, the stage is set for Cody’s ultimate betrayal and downfall, during a big heist at a chemical plant.–IMDB

Cagney commanded the screen like few others. This film is one great example of that.

Those are my picks for the week. Enjoy the movies!

 

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Summer Under the Stars Guide: 8/13-8/19

Greetings, readers! I hope if you get TCM you’re enjoying the Summer Under the Stars Festival as much as I am. Just like last week, I have picks for the days of each featured star. Here are my must-see movies for this week.

Day 13-Barbara Stanwyck

This was one of the hardest to pick just one. I’m a huge fan of Stanwyck’s and you honestly can’t go wrong with anything she’s in. Having said that, if you watch one film on her day, make it Baby Face. It’s the grande dame of pre-code movies. It was racy in 1933 and it’s racy today. Stanwyck is brilliant in the story of a woman literally sleeping her way to the top. Don’t miss it!

Day 14-Vanessa Redgrave

My pick for Redgrave’s day is Blow-Up. Michelangelo Antonioni’s mystery movie about a London photographer who thinks he may have photographed a murder, is one heck of a trip. It’s very 60s with its costumes and music. But it’s a great thriller to be sure. It’s psychedelic as well as mesmerizing.

Day 15-Ricardo Montalban

My favorite film of Montalban’s is actually Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. While that one isn’t being shown, there are plenty of other good ones. My pick for his day is Mystery Street. On the surface it’s a simple film noir in the format of a police procedural about the investigation of the death of a prostitute. But the way it’s constructed brilliantly builds tension. The film was groundbreaking for the first real presentation of forensic evidence in a movie and it was a breakthrough role for Montalban. Up until that time he had mostly been cast as a Latin lover.

Day 16-Elvis Presley

I have to confess I’m not the world’s biggest Elvis fan. But I did enjoy one movie of his, and it’s my pick of the day: Jailhouse Rock. A film about a talented singer/songwriter who becomes a teen idol after serving time for manslaughter, Jailhouse Rock shows us that Elvis Presley had potential to really grow as an actor. Sadly he never quite got the right material. It’s worth seeing for the iconic title song and it’s groundbreaking choreography.

Day 17-Rosalind Russell

Like Stanwyck’s day, Rosalind Russell’s day made it hard to pick just one. But I have to choose my favorite film comedy: His Girl Friday. The chemistry between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, the rapid-fire dialogue, and all the physical screwball comedy, make this film a pure delight. The plot, adapted from the play The Front Page, follows a newspaper editor (Grant) as he employs one trick after another to keep his top reporter and ex-wife from re-marrying. You can’t help but fall in love with this comedic masterpiece.

Day 18-Rod Taylor

I’m a lover of science fiction. So my pick for Rod Taylor’s day will hardly come as a surprise. It’s The Time Machine. Based on H.G. Wells’ classic novel of the same name, it follows a man who travels forward in time in a time machine, hoping to see the future as more utopian. Sadly the future isn’t quite that bright. The film, wonderfully directed by George Pal, manages to capture the intellectual spirit of the novel and also dazzle with groundbreaking special effects.

Day 19-Angela Lansbury

I grew up knowing Angela Lansbury from her TV series Murder, She Wrote and as the voice of Mrs. Potts in Beauty & the Beast. None of that prepared me for her chilling performance in John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate. As the mother of a Korean War hero and Medal of honor winner, Lansbury is spellbinding as the hero’s domineering mother who is part of a communist conspiracy plot that involves brainwashing and an assassination. Mrs. Iselin belongs on any respectable list of great movie villains.

Those are my picks for this week. Enjoy the movies!

 

 

 

Summer Under the Stars Guide: 8/6-8/12

Greetings, readers! I’m taking a break from my traditional blog entries this month to give you my picks for Summer Under the Stars. The annual tradition on Turner Classic Movies showcases the work of one star for 24 hours each day in August. Each week I’ll bring you my can’t miss movie selection’s for each respective star’s days. Without further adieu. here are my picks for August 6th-August 12th.

August 6th-Robert Mitchum

This year Robert Mitchum is getting his own day on what would have been his 100th birthday. If you’re a Mitchum fan, and especially if you’re a film noir fan, there are tons of great films to pick from. While you can’t go wrong with classics like The Night of the Hunter and Out of the Past, my pick is a noir film that has flown under the radar: His Kind of Woman. It not only features Mitchum and Jane Russell, but an absolutely scene-stealing performance by Vincent Price. Don’t miss it!

August 7th-Eleanor Parker

Eleanor Parker is making her Summer Under the Stars debut this year. If you watch one film of hers (and I hope you see more than that, because she’s so talented but tends to get overlooked), make it Caged. It’s a women in prison film. But don’t go in thinking it’s a camp fest a la Caged Heat. This is a gritty prison noir drama that is one heck of an emotional roller coaster. It makes arguments for prison reform that are still relevant today.

August 8th-Franchot Tone

On Franchot Tone’s day in the spotlight, don’t miss the underrated Billy Wilder film Five Graves to Cairo. It’s part globe-trotting adventure and part World War II espionage intrigue. The plot involves an undercover British soldier who tries to alert the Allies that the Germans supplies buried in five excavation sites across Egypt. So there are some Hitchcock and Indiana Jones vibes in this one too. A fun watch.

August 9th-Sandra Dee

My pick for Sandra Dee’s day is A Summer Place. It’s not only seasonally appropriate, but Dee’s best performance IMHO. Here’s a little synopsis from Internet Movie Database:

A self-made businessman rekindles a romance with a former flame while their two teenage children begin a romance of their own with drastic consequences for both couples.–IMDB

On the surface it sounds like an after school special or a soap opera. But it’s so much more than that. The supporting cast features the always wonderful Beulah Bondi.

August 10th-Sidney Poitier

This is another day where it’s hard to pick just one film. There’s In the Heat of the Night, To Sir With Love, etc. But out of all of them my pick is A Patch of Blue. It’s an unflinching look at racism and abuse. In the film, Poitier befriends a blind white girl (Elizabeth Hartman) and becomes her mentor/friend. He offers her a sanctuary from her abusive home life, especially her mother Rose-Ann (Shelley Winters, in an Oscar-winning performance). Be warned: this is a brutal film to watch because of the subject matter. But all the performances are top-notch.

August 11th-Ginger Rogers

While most people think of Ginger Rogers as Fred Astaire’s dance partner (something she was brilliant at btw), far too few people give her proper respect as a dramatic actress. While I was tempted to pick Top Hat, my favorite Astaire/Rogers film. in the end I chose Kitty Foyle. The film won Rogers an Oscar for best actress. In it, she plays a white-collar middle-class girl who falls for a socialite. Trouble ensues when she clashes with his family. This film could have been predictable melodrama, but the cast elevates the material. Look for Dennis Morgan, who has his own day coming up later in the month.

August 12th-John Wayne

How does one pick just one film from the Duke? The lineup is packed with must-see viewing: Stage Coach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Quiet Man (I mean who can pass up the Duke and Maureen O’ Hara?). But my pick is The Searchers. It’s John Wayne’s most raw and real performance. In it, Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a Civil War veteran who sets out to rescue his daughter from the Comanches. Wayne’s character is cruel and openly racist. It was not an easy part to play. And it was one of many great film collaborations between Wayne and director John Ford. The supporting cast features a young Natalie Wood, Jeffrey Hunter, and the ubiquitous character actor Ward Bond. This is not an easy western to watch. But you’ll be glad you did.