Weekly DVD Alert Five: December 21-28, 2009

Check your local listings; also a lot of these films are shown throughout the month, so you may want to look at previous DVD alerts for December.

Monday, December 21

8PM-10:15 PM, TCM: STATE OF THE UNION, 123m.
Another Frank Capra film, this one curiously doesn't pop up much in talk about Capra's oeuvre nor Katherine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy's collaborations. I'm looking forward to finding out why that is. Spence is running for President but having trouble fighting that fight and keeping his wife Katherine happy at the same time.

Tuesday, December 22

Noon-1PM, H: CHRISTMAS TRUCE, approx. 44m.
A History Channel documentary about WWI British and German soldiers declaring an unofficial truce and celebrating Christmas in No Man's Land. One of the things I love the most about WWI is how politely insane it was. [Replays at 6pm.]


Wednesday, December 23

10AM-Noon, IFC: A SLIPPING-DOWN LIFE, 111m.
Lili Taylor & Guy Pearce vehicle that sounds like a parody of an indie romantic comedy: a loner girl who still lives with her dad and works a crappy job at an amusement park falls in love with a musician named Drumstrings Casey after hearing him on the radio. To get his attention, she carves his name on her face with broken glass; the media pick up the story and Casey actually does visit her. Really, if that's not the worst meet-cute scenario ever filmed, I'll let you fuck me with Billy Wilder's dick. Really, I just need to see how anything could be salvaged from this without it turning into something else entirely. [Replay at 4:30PM]

6PM-7:48PM, TCM: KNOCK ON ANY DOOR, 100m.
An early Nick Ray film about angst-ridden juvenile delinquents who make adults angstier trying to help them. Humphrey Bogart, John Derek and George Macready star.

7:48PM-8PM, TCM Short: "Freddie Rich And His Orchestra In MIRRORS," 11m.
A "soundie" of pre-war pop songs with guests Vera Van and the Eton Boys. You have space on your disks to burn it, so who cares?

10PM-Midnight, TCM: THE BIG SLEEP, 114m.
Bogie is back, this time as private-eye Philip Marlowe in what is truly the most successfully complex movie whodunnit ever made. "Oh yeah? Well, who killed Owen Taylor?" is my Get Out Of Conversations Free card to play whenever I'm trapped talking about just about all things screenwriting-related.

Thursday, December 24

4AM-5:40AM, FMC: MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED, 95m.
I'm a little annoyed with myself that I never saw this film sooner than a few days ago. It's almost perfectly realized for what it is; don't let the obvious window dressing [or its Bizarro-World "Memorable Quotes For" page on IMDB.com] fool you for decades too. This movie is closer to LITTLE MURDERS than THE CANNONBALL RUN .

Noon-1:30PM, IFC: VICTIM, 90m.
A remarkable achievement for 1962, this English legal drama probably did more for gay rights -- simply presenting a homosexual as more than a caricature was incredibly daring. Is the movie actually good? I don't remember, but it has a solid pedigree: Basil Dearden directs a script by Janet Green and John McCormick, and Dirk Bogarde and John McEnery star.


8PM-9:45PM, TCM: REMEMBER THE NIGHT, 94m.
The first half of a sweet little Preston Sturges double-feature begins with Sturges' last assignment as a writer-only: He was so irritated by the changes the former art director turned journeyman director Mitchell Leisen made to what he wrote that he leveraged Paramount into hiring him to write and direct his next project, THE GREAT MCGINTY and never looked back. Some people make a big deal of the fact that Paramount's records show Sturges only purchasing 16mm prints of two of his written-only projects, both Leisen-directed: This film and the Jean Arthur vehicle EASY LIVING. I don't think Sturges had a lot of feelings for Leisen one way or the other; I prefer to see it as Sturges, that great appreciator of women who was remarkably sensitive to the unique demands of writing real parts for actress, wanted to have recordings of two of the best examples. Arthur and Barbara Stanwyck were never lovelier, even if Sturges' script was hacked up a bit. There's also the symmetry of owning copies of your first and last jobs for an employer. Anyway, this movie teams Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray for the first time: he's an assistant District Attorney who takes shoplifter home for the holidays. A Preston Sturges movie ensues.

9:45PM-11PM, TCM: CHRISTMAS IN JULY, 67m.
One of Sturges' least-seen films as a writer-director, this very short adaptation of one of his unproduced plays had the misfortune of being released between his breakthrough in MCGINTY and his bigger smash THE LADY EVE, but it's still a very fast, pretty funny chunk of Sturges. The movie that gave us the phrase "Who do you think you are, Hitler?" should not be so easily eclipsed. Dick Powell and Ellen Drew star.

10PM-11:45PM, Sun: THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, 101m.
I think I like my Luis Buñuel either much younger and silent, or middle-aged and able to cast a lot of gorgeous, slyly funny actresses in his movie. '70s Buñuel, not so much -- but I can see how great this film is. We should all be so able to call bullshit on our friends, family and ourselves. Happy Holidays, by the way.

Friday, December 25

It's interesting to compare the approaches these channels take for Xmas Day: History is showing a marathon of UFO FILES [I assume one of the episodes explains how the Three Wise Men followed one to the manger], Turner Classic Movies has a nice mix of Christmasy movies and short films [it's essentially the greatest hits of this month's DVD Alerts] until a Sherlock Holmes marathon starts at 8PM, Fox Movie Channel is airing HOME ALONE for 24 hours [really, DIE HARD is a far better 20th Century Fox Christmas movie] and the Godless hippie liberals at IFC and Sundance are programming like it's any other day. For Boxing Day, ESPN Classic will be showing less boxing than it usually does on Saturdays.

I'd also like to take a moment and commend TCM for showing a bazillion Frank Capra films in December … but not IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. That takes balls, or a budget too small to outbid the bigger networks for the rights.

12:38AM-1AM, TCM: Short Film: "Star In The Night," 22m.
Don Siegel's first film as a director is a remarkable hash of the Nativity Story and modern times. It's worth seeing at least once, assuming your asshole didn't pucker completely shut at the thought of the DIRTY HARRY guy making a Christmas film.

1AM-3AM, TCM: MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, 113m.
Yeah yeah yeah, it's a great musical and a remarkably honest family movie -- especially with the jagged edges and unanswered questions about Margaret O'Brien's character and story arc -- but what really gets me with this movie is how lovingly Vincente Minnelli filmed his then-girlfriend Judy Garland. I've always found it strange that so many filmmakers want to make a "women's picture" but don't like women very much, and it shows.

3AM-4:44AM, TCM: IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME, 103m.
This musical remake of THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER is better than the phrase "musical remake" rightly implies to moviegoers these days. It's educational to compare how Judy Garland is filmed in this movie to the previous film, made just five years earlier; Robert Z. Leonard and his D.P. could have had all the soft-focus lenses, gauze and Vaseline in the world and they still couldn't have filmed the women as well as Minnelli and George Folsey did.

4:05AM-5:30AM, Sun: THE DEAD GIRL, 85m.
This sounds dangerously close to CRASH [not Cronenberg]; an ensemble movie about murder and human isolation … but this one's for the ladies: Toni Collette, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Steenburgen, Mary Beth Hurt, Rose Byrne, Brittany Murphy, Josh Brolin and Piper Laurie star in the five related short stories that comprise the movie. I swear I am not throwing this one on the schedule just to make a SPOILER joke that Murphy is the title character. I'm way too classy for that. END SPOILER. I apparently am in a chick-flick mood this week.

4:44AM-4:46AM, TCM Short: "Silent Night by Judy Garland," 2m.
I'm not sure what this one could possibly be about.

4:51AM-5AM, TCM Short: TRAVELTALK "Beautiful Budapest," 9m.
James A. Fitzpatrick takes us on a fine little tour of the capital of Hungary.

5AM-6:40AM, TCM: THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, 99m.
The original. I'm not a fan of late-model Lubitsches, but it airing directly after the Garland remake makes for a great DVD-R double-feature. Margaret Sullavan, Jimmy Stewart and Frank Morgan star.

6:40AM-6:49AM, TCM Short: "The Christmas Party," 9m.
Little Jackie Cooper wants to throw a party for the holidays and invites his pals Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Marion Davies, Reginald Denny, Clark Gable, Ramon Novarro, Anita Page and Norma Shearer, et al. Jimmy Durante shows up as Santa Claus. It's that kind of promotioentertainmental movie, but with much less starpower than THE STOLEN JOOLS and less wit than that short where Jackie races Groucho and Harpo in soapbox racers.

10:15AM-12:09PM, TCM: THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, 113m.
My favorite Xmas movie of the last few years, largely for Monty Woolley's scenery gorging. Unlike a lot of Christmas films, this one actually feels like the holidays -- particularly that irritating, unresolvable sense of being put-upon by non-strangers in your home. Julius and Phillip Epstein adapted Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman's play, William Keighley directed and Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan and Jimmy Durante co-starred.

12:09PM-12:11PM, TCM: Short: "Present With A Future: Bette Davis Christmas War Bonds Trailer," 2m.
Don' be a punk; buy some god-damned bonds inna lobby after yer done watchin' dis pitcher.

4:30PM-6PM, TCM: HOLIDAY AFFAIR, 87m.
Robert Mitchum! Christmas! Janet Leigh! Department stores! Wendell Corey! Cuckolding!

5:30PM-7:15PM, IFC: BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS, 105m.
Writer/actor/first-time director Stephen Fry adapts Evelyn Waugh's novel VILE BODIES into a fine, witty ensemble period-piece. Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, Peter O'Toole star, Dan Aykroyd, Simon Callow and Stockard Channing cameo.

6PM-7:40PM, TCM, SUSAN SLEPT HERE, 98m.
Frank Tashlin! Dick Powell! Debbie Reynolds! Debbie Reynolds?

7:42PM-7:57PM, TCM Short: DOGVILLE: "Trader Hound," 15m.
Give your visiting loved ones of this charming little movie, guaranteed to damage the psyches and widen the mental horizons of at least the more dim-witted of the lot.

From here, the TCM Sherlock Holmes marathon begins.
I have a simple, no-brain hierarchy for Sherlock Holmes movies:
1. Basil Rathbone's later Holmes vs. Nazis movies
2. Basil Rathbone's early Holmes vs. Nazis movies
3. Holmes in lurid Hammer Technicolor [one movie, I don't care]
4. Basil Rathbone's Holmes in a Victorian setting
5. Everyone else, unless the silent John Barrymore Holmes is better than I expect
Even the Rathbone programmers are less-than-satisfying; he's a great Holmes, but the series was damaged by filmmakers' decision to make Dr. Watson such a bumbling idiot that only consistent reason for him to be there at all is to be a conduit for Holmes to periodically spew exposition to the audience to make sure everyone's following the plot so far.

8PM-9:30PM, TCM: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, 80m.
Made for Twentieth Century Fox, the first Rathbone Holmes is a more or less straight adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's story.

9:30PM-11PM, TCM: THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, 82m.
The second and last of the Fox-made Holmes, also the last of the Victorian-set Rathbones. This one is a bit of a mishmash of several Holmes stories rather than an adaptation. Ida Lupino co-stars.


Saturday, December 26

2:45AM-4:15AM, TCM: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, 87m.
It's a shame that Hammer Films' attempt to launch a Holmes film series failed after only one movie. Peter Cushing was a fine, tightly wound Holmes [at some points, it would make perfect sense for him to have a big coke rock hanging out of a nostril, Neil Young in THE LAST WALTZ-style] and the movie's Technicolor overload is wonderfully over the top. Christopher Lee and Andre Morell costarred.

4:15AM-6AM, TCM: A STUDY IN TERROR, 95m.
Never seen this mid-60s movie, which casts John Neville as the sleuth, but I'll watch any Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper movie once.

6AM-7:15AM, TCM: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR, 66m.
The sequential airing of the WWII propaganda-ish Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce series resumes: In this one, Holmes faces off against a dramatised version of Lord Haw-Haw, the Tokyo Rose of the European Theatre of Operations in WWII.

7:15AM-8:30AM, TCM: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON, 68m.
Another Rathbone WII programmer -- Holmes and his archenemy Professor Moriarty tangle over designs for what essentially was the then-cutting edge Norden Bombsight. [In real life, the plans for the sight were stolen by a German spy four years before this film was made.] This is the most Holmesy of the WWII movies.

8AM-10:15AM, IFC: SANSHO THE BAILIFF, 132m.
Speaking of women's directors, this week's Samurai Saturday comes from Kenji Mizoguchi -- at first glimpse, it's an odd movie to have been made by the auteur behind THE LIFE OF OHARU and THE VICTORY OF WOMEN, but it's still thrilling to see a very Kurosawa plot unfold into a Mizoguchi classic.

8:30AM-9:45AM, TCM: SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON, 72m.
I've not seen this one, so I don't know if Holmes & Watson meet Mr. Smith while they're visiting D.C.

9:45AM-11AM, TCM: SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH, 68m.
Another programmer movie that's more Holmesy than World War Twoy; Who's killing shell-shock patients at a V.A. rest home?

11AM-12:15PM TCM: THE SPIDER WOMAN, 62m.
Another amalgam of elements from several Doyle stories, this movie could be the first back-door pilot: Gale Sondergaard's Spider Woman returned to have a solo flop titled THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK later the same year.

12:15PM-1:30PM, TCM: THE SCARLET CLAW, 74m.
Holmes & Watson visit Canada to investigate a ghost who's undermining the war effort. Widely considered the best of the Rathbone films.

1:30PM-2:45PM, TCM: THE PEARL OF DEATH, 69m.
A stolen pearl, a series of macabre murders and Rondo Hatton [the ugly son of a bitch who shows up so often in Drew Friedman's early work and every scrap of paper ever to have the word "acromegaly" written on it] -- I wish this one was better than that combination promises, but maybe it's just that any of these Holmes movies would look not so great after CLAW. Hatton's "Creeper" character had a more successful run than the Spider Woman's, by the way. A shame they never teamed up for a MY DINNER WITH ANDRE discussion film about their careers and problems coming to grips with being beaten by the greatest detective ever.

2:45PM-4PM, TCM: SHERLOCK HOLMES IN THE HOUSE OF FEAR, 69m.
A straight-forward adaptation of the "Five Orange Pips" story. The budget constraints for these films is probably never more obvious than for this one.

4PM-5:15PM, TCM: PURSUIT TO ALGIERS, 65m.
Strangely enough, the final WWII-era Holmes and my favorite [I think], THE WOMAN IN GREEN, is not part of this marathon. Anyway, PURSUIT is a good programmer, something of a locked-door mystery set on an ocean liner -- an idea I imagine the producers kicked themselves for not cooking up sooner.

5:15PM-6:30PM, TCM: SHERLOCK HOLMES IN TERROR BY NIGHT, 63m.
Rathbone's Holmes + a priceless diamond + jewel thieves - any patriotic speeches designed to bolster morale, which was a staple of the series up until now = another agreeable 63 minutes of your life spent.

6:30PM-7:51PM, TCM: SHERLOCK HOLMES IN DRESSED TO KILL, 71m.
Basil Rathbone's final film performance as the super-detective.

7:51PM-8PM, TCM Short: "White Peril," 8m.
It's not quite as sexy as the title sounds; this is a short film about Washington state's Cascade-mountain snow patrol, and all the fascinating snowfall and river-current measuring they do for the U.S. Geological Survey every year. Snow!

8PM-10PM TCM: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, 112m.
The first movie I dig out whenever I have one of my periodic John Huston hatefests. Richard Fleischer could have told this story in half the time, Abraham Polonsky could have told it with twice the style and Robert Aldrich could have wrung twice as much character dynamic out of the performances, but only Huston could make a heist movie breathe [or wheeze]. If not for a few Warner Bros.-esque crutches, this movie is inexplicably evergreen.

8PM-9:30PM, IFC: TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET, 90m.
Much like yesterday's DOGVILLE short, this collection of Chapters 1-12 of R&B singer/piss-enthusiast R. Kelly's adventures in being trapped in a closet will probably damage the weaker psyches out there. This is one movie where you really need to get the DVD if you can handle sitting through all 90 minutes of the movie; in a musical made of non-stop narration, the DVD's commentary track is Kelly's non-stop narration of the non-stop musical narration of the movie. Somewhere, there's an ever-widening black hole torn in the meta-space continuum and eventually this entire universe will be sucked into it, one viewing of this movie's DVD at a time. [Replays that night at 12:45AM]

9:30PM-11:15PM, IFC: THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION!, 103m.
Peter Weller is New Wave Doc Savage! John Lithgow spilling his acting all over the place! Inexplicable watermelons! Jeff Goldblum, dressed as a cowboy! [Replays that night at 2:15AM]

10PM-Midnight, TCM: ADAM'S RIB, 101m.
Does everyone go through the same evolution with Katharine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy movies?
Stage One: "What's the big deal?"
Stage Two: "Wow, these are awesome!"
Stage Three: "Jeezus, why doesn't he just fucking leave? You don't have to take that shit, Spence!"
Stage Four: "You know, a lot of these movies suck, but the good ones are great."
It's been a long time since I saw it, but I'm reasonably sure this is a great one. I've always found it interesting that, unlike some longtime screen couples, Hepburn & Tracy were almost always cast as antagonists. Groucho insulted Margaret Dumont's matron constantly, but it was rare that either character actively worked against the other. Bogie's and Bacall's characters sometimes double-crossed each other but that was business, not personal. But even in movies where they meet-cute, Hepburn & Tracy often have the dynamic of an old, unhappy-so-long-they-don't-know-they're-unhappy married couple. The formula a number of their movies take is as dissatisfying as it is offensive: Katherine plays the Harlem Globetrotters to Spencer's Washington Generals and outthinks and outdoes him for the entire movie, generally being a total asshole about it to boot, until the last reel when her long-dead natural womanly instincts finally kick on and she throws it all away to be with her man often it a set-piece that totally doesn't look like the studio insisted on it being tacked onto the end and shot months after the rest of the movie. Anyway, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell and Jean Hagen costarred, married couple Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin wrote and George Cukor directed RIB.


Sunday, December 27

[History's listings on Yahoo have gone generic as of today; if I remember, I'll check it again in a few days. Or not.]

Midnight-1:35AM, TCM: PANIC IN YEAR ZERO, 92m.
Is today/yesterday Jean Hagen's birthday, or it just a coincidence that they're showing so many of her films? Ray Milland and Frankie Avalon co-star in one of Milland's few films as an actor/director. Considering it's an early '60s drive-in movie featuring Annette's sweetheart [I guess Bobby Darin was considered too old for the part], this drama about a family that survives a nuclear attack on Los Angeles is much more thoughtful, and perhaps honest, than it has any right to be.

2AM-3:45AM, TCM: SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, 103m.
You don't really need to be told why this movie's great, right?

10:30AM-1PM, FMC: HOW TO STEAL A MILLION, 123m.
William Wyler! Audrey Hepburn! Hugh Griffith! Peter O'Toole! Charles Boyer! Eli Wallach!

1PM-3PM, FMC: TWO FOR THE ROAD, 111m.
This is another no-brainer Great movie, even if you still don't grasp how awesome Eleanor Bron was.

3:45PM-5:20PM, Sun: OFFSIDE, 93m.
Iranian comedy about those dang women and their foolish, ungodly desire to watch a World Cup playoff soccer game, where they may actually see EXPOSED MALE LEGS. Hard to believe this movie was suppressed in Iran. From some descriptions, I hope that there's a scene with the arrested women and the cops that steals shamelessly from the stateroom scene in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, but in Persian.

5:20PM-5:37PM, Sun: CONTE DE QUARTIER, 16m.
I'm a sucker for mixed-media animated shorts, especially ones with sand and paintings on glass. Florence Miailhe draws a portrait of a Paris neighborhood, linking the disconnected lives together with the somewhat hacky device of a small doll who gets randomly passed from Parisian to Parisian. The TV Rating listing promises us "Brief Nudity, Mild Violence." Ooo la la.


Monday, December 28

Midnight-1:32AM, TCM: SHERLOCK HOLMES, 86m.
TCM's Silent Sunday movie this week is the 1922 feature starring John Barrymore as Holmes, Roland Young as Dr. Watson and Gustav von Seyffertitz as Moriarty. Was this film fully restored? I always heard that this movie is missing its entire last reel. Well, I guess we'll find out.

2AM-3:45AM, TCM: THE BICYCLE THIEF, 89m.
Vittorio De Sica's classic; I thought we had all agreed to call it the more accurate THE BICYCLE THIEVES?

3:45AM-5:30AM, TCM: THE LAST DETAIL, 104m.
Hal Ashby's rambling shaggy dog of a gritty Navy MP story. Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, Randy Quaid star.

11:45AM-1:15PM, Sun: ALICE NEEL, 83m.
Andrew Neel assembled a fascinating, appropriately frustrating portrait of his grandmother, the late great portrait painter Alice Neel. [Replays at 5:05PM.]

2PM-4PM, TCM: ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON, 115m.
I loathe Ginger Rogers, that red-baiting overrated meathead, but the combination of Cary Grant, Walter Slezak, the still-unsung director Leo McCarey and the sublimely goofy plot [A radio correspondent tries to rescue a burlesque queen from her marriage to a Nazi official] is enough for me to pretend that Rogers is someone else and enjoy the movie.

9PM-10:20PM, Sun: BROKEN NOSES, 78m.
One of photographer Bruce Weber's lesser-known documentaries/portraits, this one trails former Golden Gloves champion Andy Minsker as he mentors Portland, OR teens at a boxing club. Weber photographs Minsker's face with almost as much love as Minnelli filmed Garland.

And there's another week.

1 comment:

MitchellD said...

Dammit! I'm packing to go to Denver tomorrow for Christmas (if the overcautious Southwest functionaries will stop cancelling flights at Midway just because of a little snow and ice. Milquetoasts!), but your list has dragged me back to the computer.

Honestly, I'd forgotten that Sturges wrote REMEMBER THE NIGHT, so perhaps I've always given Mitchell Leisen too much credit, but it's a damn charming movie. Captain Marvel's prototype was good at playing both light comedy and smart, virtuous solid-citizen types (before his line readings began getting goofy in the 50s). And Stanwyck? Really what can you say? From pre-Code melodramas like NIGHT NURSE and the early talkies with Frank Capra to THE LADY EVE to the noirs of the 40s, one of America's best, and least affected, actresses. Never beautiful, always fascinating.

Late Lubitsch? I recently watched THAT LADY IN ERMINE on FMC. I love Lubitsch, but ERMINE is just bizarre, and more twee than charming. Ernst is saddled with Betty Grable as the female lead, but considering that he also produced, hmmmm.

Hey, perhaps-too-late DVD alert for you! Early tomorrow morning Movieplex/Encore (if you get it) is airing VON RICHTOVEN AND BROWN, Roger Corman's WWI flick. Perhaps a counterbalance to THE BLUE MAX in gravitas? I'll have to wait until January to find out.