Ultragrrrl keeps stating that hers is not a fansite for The Killers, and as a regular reader, I know that it isn't. But she sure as hell mentions them a lot. Similarly, I am not on the TCM payroll, nor do I sit around and watch TCM all day, every day. In fact, I probably only watch a couple things a week, if that, sometimes recording something for later viewing, but there obviously just isn't time in the day to catch everything this brilliant channel programs.
Still, I consider it my sacred obligation to spread the word of TCM and to encourage all you film lovers who simply forget the channel exists or, heaven forbid, those of you without cable (shudder, you know who you are), that TCM alone is worth paying for television, especially since it usually isn't even a premium channel. For the month of August, TCM is changing its schedule a bit. Instead of simply having one star of the month, a theme of a month, and then their regular weekly noir, western and "import" selections, August is all about movie stars. Every day for 24 hours (from 6 AM-6 AM Eastern daily), TCM will feature a different star. For you John Wayne lovers … oops! His day was yesterday, and I just didn't get around to this post in advance. But there's still plenty of time to catch the great Barbara Stanwyck (tonight) and 29 other actors and actresses, many of whom put many of today's movie stars to shame.
The full schedule is on TCM's web site. But I've highlighted films that should not be missed, if you have the chance … so get those DiVos/TiVos/Recordable DVDs/VCRs rolling. (Note, all times are Eastern; TCM has one feed, so adjust start time for your own time zone. Also, this is the whole month, but I'll try to repost the appropriate sections on a weekly basis because this puppy is looooong.):
- Aug. 2 -- Barbara Stanwyck: I always have to remind myself that TCM does not own the rights to every single film in the cinematic firmament. I assume that's the reason why they're not showing Double Indemnity, one of the definitive noirs with Stanwyck basically providing a lesson in the portrayal of a femme fatale. Still, if you've never seen a Preston Sturges film, you can watch one of his funniest – The Lady Eve – featuring the magnificent Stanwyck tonight at 10 PM. It's followed by one of her best-known movies at midnight, Stella Dallas
- Aug. 3 -- Bob Hope: Basically TCM is giving everyone an opportunity to relive all the Hope & Crosby "Road" pictures from the 40s and beyond, all pleasant little comedies that were among the most popular movies of their heyday.
- Aug. 4 -- Debbie Reynolds: Hands down, if you've actually never seen Singin' in the Rain, here's your chance at midnight. Easily (to my mind) the best movie musical ever made, I never tire of watching it. It also happens to contain a nice little lesson in the history of Hollywood, particularly the transition from silents to talkies. It's always fun, and in answer to the cinetrix's question from last week, I'm all about Donald O'Connor's slapstick, hysterical, athletic and dynamic "Make 'Em Laugh" number. And Gene Kelly ain't no slouch either.
- Aug. 5 -- Sidney Poitier: There's a great lineup of Poitier films even though his historic Oscar winning performance in Lillies of the Field isn't among them. I guess that's just a testament to the great work Poitier has given us over the years. Watching TCM from 2-10 PM will give you a pretty fascinating look at the development of race relations as well as the barriers Poitier helped demolished during this country's civil rights era. How does one choose among Blackboard Jungle, The Defiant Ones, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night. Maybe by calling in for a sick day?
- Aug. 6 -- Lucille Ball: I will admit to being no great expert on many things, and one of those is the movie career of Ball. However, before I Love Lucy premiered in 1951, she appeared (at least according to IMDb in about 80 films. I've seen some of them – like Stage Door, not included in TCM's schedule – and it's fascinating to see Ball a) much younger and b) in a role other than the one she's so famous for. One Ball picture TCM will show is Yours, Mine and Ours, a nice little family comedy about a widower (Henry Fonda) and a widow who get married. The catch? He has 10 kids, she has 8. And then she gets pregnant! In case you're wondering, the answer is yes. This film was the inspiration for the sitcom that I know way too much about: The Brady Bunch.
- Aug. 7 -- Katharine Hepburn: I would suggest you watch everything. The day includes several of her classic parings with Spencer Tracy, including the film that started it all, Woman of the Year at 10:30 AM. But the definite "don't miss" entry in the program is the all-time classic The Philadelphia Story at 6 PM. It is both one of the greatest and possibly most influential romantic comedies of all time.
- Aug. 8 -- Clint Eastwood: This is why TCM is so fucking brilliant – their programming. If you watch the movies at 8 PM and 10 PM, you can see exactly why Eastwood is such an icon, especially of the more modern western. (You also may indirectly catch a glimpse of why I'm dying to see Kevin Costner in a western directed by Eastwood and not himself. If only Open Range … sigh ….) At 8 PM is A Fistful of Dollars, the first of Sergio Leone's "Man With No Name" trilogy which also includes most famously The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It also was the film the popularized the "Spaghetti Western" and really made Eastwood into a Western hero. He had appeared in the TV series Rawhide, but before Leone's trilogy, he couldn't get starring film work. At 10 PM, TCM follows with Eastwood's Oscar-winning Unforgiven, the last great Western to hit movie screens. In Dollars you see the tough, unafraid, menacing Western loner of Eastwood in his youth; in Unforgiven you see the nearly broken and depressing future of a similar man, almost a film noir hero in the guise of a Western cowboy. It's awesome moviemaking, and a fabulous contrast.
- Aug. 9 -- Ava Gardner: If you know Gardner best because of her one year stint in the mid-80s on primetime soap Knots Landing, for shame. If you recognize her name because of her long-standing relationship with Frank Sinatra, well … less shame. But even so, you should get to know Gardner, one of the sexiest women to ever grace the silver screen, even if she wasn't always the most talented. You could have some mid-50s costume-drama fun at 10 PM with her turn as Quinevere in Knights of the Round Table, but if you want to see a great (yet often unrecognized) film and probably one of her best performances, stay up late (2 AM) and watch her in John Huston's film of Tennessee Williams' extraordinary play, The Night of the Iguana.
- Aug. 10 -- Henry Fonda: Fonda, like Jimmy Stewart, was one of film's great American "everymen." What's really noticeable to me are the films they're not showing, some of which – like 12 Angry Men -- I could have sworn I've seen on TCM before. No The Grapes of Wrath. No My Darling Clementine. No Mister Roberts. I suppose they show these films more often than some of the ones they have included, and Fonda permeates other stars days. He's Barbara Stanwyck's co-star in The Lady Eve and he faces off against Bette Davis later in the month in Jezebel, to name two instances. There are plenty of great movies on Fonda's day, but I'm going to highlight The Best Man at 3 PM. The film was based on Gore Vidal's play of the same name, and is a look into the "dirty side" of presidential politics from way back in 1964. It's obviously quite relevant today, but sadly enough, much of it seems quaint by comparison to what we've experienced in the past 10-15 years.
- Aug. 11 -- Jean Harlow: She died young at just 26 years of age, but Harlow appeared in over 40 films during her short career and was the original platinum blonde starlet. Arguably, she was also the ideal platinum blonde, even after death, at least until Marilyn Monroe showed up. The film Bombshell gave her (and future blondes) the nickname "blonde bombshell," and you can see why at 6:15 PM. At 8 PM, though, is the film that made her a star: (a href="http://imdb.com/title/tt0020960/">Hell's Angels from 1930, one of only two films actually directed by Howard Hughes. It's no coincidence that Hughes' only other time in the director's chair was to introduce another beauty to the cinematic firmament – the stunning Jane Russell in the not-so-stunning The Outlaw.
- Aug. 12 -- Laurence Olivier: How does one pick a performance to watch from one of the greatest classically-trained actors who ever lived. I suppose it makes it easier to not be able to include Marathon Man, The Entertainer, Hamlet (his only actual Oscar win), Othello or Richard III. Not that showing A Bridge Too Far or Wuthering Heights (11 PM) is too shabby. If you're going to pick just one, though, stay up and at 1 AM watch a younger Olivier in Rebecca, one of Alfred Hitchcock's absolute best movie, even if it is not quite as famous to the masses.
- Aug. 13 -- Doris Day: What better way to counteract the unluckiest day on the calendar than by watching a bunch of Doris Day fluff, and I don't say that pejoratively. The hits of the Day canon are here, with the obvious "don't miss" being Pillow Talk at 10 PM. And just to change things up and see that she could do more than the fluff, stick around at midnight to see Day opposite Jimmy Stewart in the Hitchcock thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much.
- Aug. 14 -- Humphrey Bogart: When you get to an icon like Bogart, you really should just stay home and watch the whole damn day. Dead End (6 AM), The Treasure of Sierra Madre (9:15 AM), The Maltese Falcon (2:30 PM), They Drive By Night (4:15 PM), High Sierra (6 PM), Casablanca (8 PM): these are all essentials to any true cinema lover. And missing, shockingly enough, is every paring of Bogie-and-Bacall. No To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep or Key Largo. But whatever. I'd like to encourage everyone to watch the 1:30 AM entry though: In a Lonely Place. This is a fascinating noir from director Nicholas Ray with Bogie as an obsessive alcoholic screenwriter who falls for his neighbor Gloria Grahame after she helps him when he's suspected of murdering a young ingénue. It's got some classic lines that you can't imagine being said by anyone except Bogart, like, "It was his story against mine, but of course, I told my story better." And, "I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me." And my absolute favorite of them all, Bogie says while being questioned by the police, "I didn't say I was a gentleman. I said I was tired." Priceless.
- Aug. 15 -- Burt Lancaster: I don't want to turn this into "look at what TCM isn't showing, and I'm guessing they absolutely must not have the rights to this, but … a day of Lancaster with no The Killers, which not only introduced the young actor to the world but remains one of his best roles and one of the top entries in the film noir canon? Never mind. There's plenty of great stuff on the schedule. If you're having trouble choosing, at midnight is his Oscar winning performance in the titular role of Elmer Gantry
- Aug. 16 -- Elvis Presley: See, TCM isn't all that pretentious. Here's a day for you Elvis lovers out there. I'll admit; I'm no Elvis fanatic. But Jailhouse Rock (8 PM) and Viva Las Vegas (10 PM) are fun enough and feature some great early Presley Rock N Roll.
- Aug. 17 -- Elizabeth Taylor: Whenever I see a young Taylor, I'm always struck by how utterly gorgeous she was. Even teenagers somehow looked older in the 50s, but when La Liz starred in the original Father of the Bride (11:15 AM), she was just 18 and she was as HOTT as Lohan or Bynes or Duff could ever hope to be. That became far more noticeable in color films that brought out her stunning eyes. She was also a talented actress, and while her deserved Oscar-win for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is not on the schedule (and neither is her previous debatable win for BUtterfield 8), her classic turn as "Maggie the Cat" opposite Paul Newman in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof is a definite "don't miss" at midnight.
- Aug. 18 -- Edward G. Robinson: Robinson is always identified with his role in one of the two early iconic gangster films, Little Caesar (6:30 PM), as well he should be. His performance as "Rico" helped define the gangster in movies maybe all the way up until The Godfather. But in over 90 films spanning over 40 years, he actually was a remarkably versatile actor who could do more than chomp on a cigar and act tough. His performances in The Sea Wolf (1:30 PM) and The Cincinnati Kid (11:15 PM) are great examples of this diversity.
- Aug. 19 -- Bette Davis: Like so many other people in this schedule, many of Davis' most well-known films are missing. No All About Eve, Dark Victory or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. The earliest of her films shown is also the one for which she received her second (and final) Oscar win: the fantastic Jezebel at 8 PM. Make it a double-feature and catch Now, Voyager immediately afterwards at 10 PM.
- Aug. 20 -- Peter Sellers: Whether or not this day includes the best movies possible, it certainly is comprised of some of the most entertaining. While there is (sadly) no Lolita or Being There, primetime is a series of comic classics starting with mystery spoof Murder By Death at 8 PM, and then three of the classic "Inspector Clouseau" movies: The Pink Panther (10 PM), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (Midnight) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (2 AM). They're also showing the if-you've-never-seen-it-you-better-watch Dr. Strangelove. And, if you want to see what all the Bond hubbub was about regarding Casino Royale, you can check it out at 11:30 AM.
- Aug. 21 -- James Stewart: Here's another day that you might as well watch from 6-6. Stewart was one of Hollywood's all-time great actors, and I'm not even going to bother with omissions from the schedule because there would always be so many. His day is actually programmed in a wonderful manner to showcase the variety of films and roles, while also highlighting some of his most famous. You've got Rope (12:45 PM), Vertigo (2:15 PM) and Rear Window (8PM) to fulfill the Hitchcock fix. While I might have picked The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (especially since they didn't use it on John Wayne day), The Naked Spur (4:30 PM) – one of his great collaborations with Anthony Mann – and others are fair representatives of his role as a Western hero. A wonderful Ernst Lubitsch romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner -- a film much better than the modern one it inspired -- You've Got Mail). And for you Donnie Darko fanatics out there (kinda sorta, but not really), at 2:15 AM, tune in to see cinema's original six-foot tall imaginary rabbit in Harvey.
- Aug. 22 -- Olivia de Havilland: This day is almost also dedicated to Errol Flynn since the two starred opposite each other in so many films. The Adventures of Robin Hood(8 PM) is probably their most famous, and I actually just happened to catch the General Custer "biopic" (they had a different idea of such a film in the 40s) They Died With Their Boots On (1:30 PM) recently myself. But if you want a really fun Flynn-de Havilland paring (their first one, I believe, featuring an 18 year old de Havilland), check out the 1935 swashbuckler Captain Blood (7:30 AM). True story: I first saw this film in a cinema studies class at NYU when for some reason Richard Dreyfuss was brought in as a guest-lecturer. Captain Blood is apparently one of his favorite films, so he chose to show it to us. TCM will also show Gone With the Wind at 4 PM.
- Aug. 23 -- Ginger Rogers: Obviously you've got plenty of Fred Astaire musicals included, and they're all worth seeing. Top Hat (11 AM) has always been a particular favorite of mine. But Rogers was also quite a talented actress in her own right. At 8 PM, check-out her Oscar winning role as the title character in Kitty Foyle. And then at 10 PM, see her star in The Major and the Minor, a film in which the 30-year-old Rogers is funny if not entirely convincing to anyone but the characters in the film as a 13 year old. Most notably, The Major and the Minor was only the second film directed by the great Billy Wilder. It's an interesting look at his directing style before it was perfected.
- Aug. 24 -- Charlie Chaplin: TCM has bundled the majority of Chaplin's classic "Little Tramp" silents into a period spanning from 8 PM to 2:30 AM. You could do worse than watch for the whole night starting at 8 PM with The Kid and continuing with The Gold Rush (9 PM), The Circus (10:15 PM), City Lights (11:30 PM) and Modern Times (1 AM). "The Little Tramp" famously made his final film appearance in Chaplin's 1940 Nazi Germany satire The Great Dictator (2:30 AM), a remarkable film from a historical perspective if you consider that by 1940 the US had yet to enter WWII and the true horror of Hitler's plans for the Jews was still years from being exposed to the world. One last highlight was also one of Chaplin's last films: Limelight (1:30 PM) not only tells the story of the decline of a famous comedian (paralleling Chaplin's own dwindling career) but it is also the sole moment in film history that Chaplin and his main silent-film rival Buster Keaton shared the screen.
- Aug. 25 -- Shirley Maclaine: Forget all the weird stuff that has come out of her mouth over the years, Maclaine has an outstanding filmography. She received her first of eventually six Oscar nominations in 1959 for Some Came Running (8 AM), but she never won until 1983's Terms of Endearment (1 AM). Still, the definite "don't miss" for her will always be Billy Wilder's The Apartment (3 PM), in her also Oscar-nominated role opposite the great Jack Lemmon, who shockingly is not represented this month.
- Aug. 26 -- Claudette Colbert: For some stupid reason, I always used to get Colbert mixed up with de Havilland. I've managed to stop doing that in more recent years, thankfully. I actually haven't seen most of the films on TCM's schedule for this day, but an obvious one for those of you who haven't seen any is Frank Capra's It Happened One Night in which Colbert's runaway heiress fights against Clark Gable's newspaperman, before they obviously fall in love. It Happened One Night was actually mentioned repeatedly at the Oscars in 1992 because until The Silence of the Lambs came along, it was the only film in history to sweep the Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay awards.
- Aug. 27 -- Cary Grant: The people behind De-Lovely like to make the point that their film is a true representation of songwriter Cole Porter's life because it doesn't shy away from his homosexuality. They say that specifically because of Night and Day (11:30 AM) in which Grant takes his own stab at portraying Porter, albeit in a highly fictionalized, and cleaned-up, version of his life. The two highlights (albeit somewhat obvious ones) of the day for me would have to be North By Northwest (2 PM) and Arsenic and Old Lace (6 PM).
- Aug. 28 -- Gary Cooper: I actually often find Cooper a little bland, but in his best roles, he used that dry, sometimes monotonous delivery to the benefit of the overall film. And looking at the full schedule for Gary Cooper day, it's hard to refute the impact he and his films had on Hollywood. There are three "don't miss" movies being shown by TCM, the most important of them being High Noon at 8 PM. Easily one of the best Westerns of all time, it was also a highly political polemic against McCarthyism and all forms of "witch-hunt" mob mentality. In a society where honest disagreement actually leads some people to call others unpatriotic, High Noon is as relevant today as it always was. I would also encourage you to catch his moving portrayal of Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees (even those Red Sox fans out there) at 11:15 PM. And you Adam Sandler fans who thought Mr. Deeds was so funny, take a look at the original Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1:30 AM). It may be simpler and not as whacky, and it's definitely a bit quaint and dated, but it's also from the mid-30s and quite simply, it's just a better movie.
- Aug. 29 -- Gregory Peck: Peck was well-known for playing the noble hero, the defender of the defenseless, the champion to the underserved. In Gentleman's Agreement (not on the TCM schedule), he played a journalist who goes undercover as a Jew to blow open rampant anti-Semitism. The whole concept seems funny now, but it was that kind of role that Peck made the hallmark of his career. The most notable example, of course, being his Oscar-winning portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird which airs at 10 PM. But this evening presents a great double-bill as well if you start at 8 PM with the original Cape Fear in which Peck played the lawyer whose family is terrorized by an absolutely riveting Robert Mitchum.
- Aug. 30 -- Esther Williams: Of all 31 stars on this schedule, Williams is the one with whom I'm least familiar. She was the queen of the swimming/bathing beauty movie musicals, and plenty of them are on hand on this day. In fact, I think I've only seen one of the movies on the schedule, and I don't know that Williams even puts on a bathing suit. Take Me Out to the Ballgame (3:!5 PM) is a fun little musical comedy romp also starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Betty Garrett and directed by the legendary Busby Berkeley, although it was at the end of his career. If you want to check-out Williams, start there. If you want to see one of her swimming flicks, give Million Dollar Mermaid a try. It's directed by Mervyn LeRoy, but Berkeley apparently helped choreograph the swimming numbers.
- Aug. 31 -- Kirk Douglas: Is it the end of the month already? My how time flies. With Douglas, TCM definitely saved one of the best for last, giving us a great lineup. My personal "don't mss" will be The Bad and the Beautiful (2 PM) because I've wanted to see it for a long time and never have. I have a thing for movies about the movies and Hollywood (hence my worshipping of Sunset Blvd.), and Vincente Minnelli's film is often considered one of the best. But wait, there's more. See Minnelli direct Douglas again a the actor brings the life of Vincent van Gogh to the screen in Lust For Life (11:30 AM). And at 6:30 PM is Stanley Kubrick's masterful early war film Paths of Glory (6:30 PM). But the noir-addict in me can't help but demand that you watch Out of the Past at 12:15 AM. This film was just released on DVD, and I wrote a bit about it recently. It's one of the two or three most important (and best) films of the noir grouping (I hesitate to call noir a specific genre because it can span so many), and Douglas is simply remarkable in it.
Well that's it for the month, and I'm obviously crazy for having done this. But check out some of these films, and you'll start to appreciate TCM just like I do.