Oops, my bad. It's August, and that means TCM brings us "Summer Under the Stars" -- their 31 day tribute to many of the greatest movie stars in history. Every 24 hours features films from a different great actor or actress, and just as I did last year, I thought I'd highlight some of the not-to-miss films on the schedule. I'm going to try really hard to limit myself to just one film per actor, though, so be sure to check-out the TCM web site's "This Month" section yourself.
Of course, since it's already Aug. 2, that means I missed a day. I know, I'm sorry. I failed you. And it was a good one too: Lauren Bacall. They showed the classic To Have or Have Not -- her first movie with Bogey -- and also featured a new episode of "Private Screenings", TCM's periodic series of conversations with classic movie stars featuring host Robert Osborne as the interviewer. Uhm ... yeah, so that was last night. But, you know, they'll show it again. Next month. Or the one after.
As always, the schedule the rest of the month is pretty incredible. Hell, the schedule for the rest of this week is something (today is James Cagney), so get those DiVos/TiVos/Recordable DVDs/VCRs/whatever ready, and get ready to thank TCM once again for being the best channel on the cable dial.
(All times are Eastern: TCM has only one channel feed, so if it's on at 11 PM here in New York, you're watching it at 8 PM in LA! Also keep in mind that TCM schedules its days from 6 AM-6 AM, so, for example, if something is listed as Aug. 10 at 3 AM, that is the "overnight" 3 AM although the technically correct date would be Aug. 11, and I've used those same listing dates and times.)
Aug. 2 -- James Cagney: Hmmm, no The Public Enemy, but three of his other biggies are featured in prime-time tonight. Take some time out to sit and watch Raoul Walsh's classic gangster drama The Roaring Twenties at 8 PM, a wonderful transitional film in which one can see many of the qualities of film noir, although technically it really doesn't qualify as one. It's also kind of fascinating to watch a film made as World War II was just beginning, the US was still two years away from getting into it, and in fact, this country was still coming to terms with World War I and the depression. The exact same story would have been told in a much different way a decade later.
Aug. 3 -- Joel McCrea was one of the great stars of the American Western, although his name may not be as recognizable to modern audiences as, say, John Wayne. He made a lot of other great non-Western films as well, including three with the great Preston Sturges of which TCM will show two of the director's best including the absolute must-see Sullivan's Travels at 11:30 PM, one of my all-time favorite films.
Aug. 4 -- Alec Guinness: You could pick worse days to play hookey and watch movies all day. Granted, the bulk of your day would be comprised of two David Lean epics, and sitting through Doctor Zhivago (12:30 PM) and Lawrence of Arabia (4 PM) might seem like your definition of insanity, but that's probably a far more interesting seven-and-a-half hours than, say, a double-bill that might half as long but infinitely worse like maybe, oh I don't know, this and this. My pick for the night is the phenomenal Ealing comedy The Lavender Hill Mob (10 PM), in which Guiness plays a meek bank clerk who decides to stage his own heist.
Aug. 5 -- Katharine Hepburn: Seriously, how do you choose? It's hard to go wrong with any of the 11 films TCM has selected. Everyone should see The Philadelphia Story (10 PM) at least once (or five times!), but also try to make it a point to catch the TCM documentary Katharine Hepburn: All About Me (6:45 PM). This 70 minute interview shot in 1993 is probably one of the last times Hepburn ever spoke on video about her life, loves and careers.
Aug 6. -- John Wayne: TCM shoots for the eclectic with a lineup of Wayne that, although containing a few of his more famous roles, does not feature the generally expected titles such as The Searchers, Stagecoach or The Quiet Man. Whether that's because of rights issues or simply creative programming doesn't matter, and major westerns are still included. I would encourage people to check-out 3 Godfathers (12:15 AM) though. Imagine for a moment Three Men and a Baby but as a dramatic Western starring Wayne and directed by the legendary John Ford. Then forget that I actually put Three Men and a Baby anywhere in this post.
Aug. 7 -- Judy Garland: Plenty of great musicals on tap for a day with Garland, obviously, and any classic film musical lover has probably seen most of them. An often overlooked gem, though, is Vincente Minnelli's 1948 The Pirate featuring Garland, the magnificent Gene Kelly and original songs by the great Cole Porter. It's on at the unfortunate hour of 8:45 AM, so be sure to set your DiVo.
Aug. 8 -- Shelley Winters: Who knew choosing just one film to highlight featuring Winters would be this hard, but looking at the lineup brings into focus what a great resume she has. Charles Laughton's brilliant The Night of the Hunter (12 AM), Stanley Kubrick's often unfairly criticized Lolita (1:45 AM) and and the original Alfie (8 PM). If you can only watch one though, take a peek at John Frankenheimer's 1961 drama The Young Savages (2:45 PM), which also features the first of five times Frankenheimer worked with star Burt Lancaster.
Aug. 9 -- Ray Milland: There are so many great Milland performances and movies, but none better than the one that brought him his Oscar, the role of Don Birman in The Lost Weekend (11:30 PM). Billy Wilder's harrowing 1945 drama of a man's descent into alcoholism during a four day binge remains one of the most amazing portraits of addiction ever committed to the big screen.
Aug. 10 -- Lena Horne was the first black performer to sign a long-term studio contract and for that reason alone is one of the most important figures in the history of Hollywood. As big a star as she was, the tenor of the times did not necessarily allow her to always have starring roles. One, however, was in the 1943 Vincente Minnelli musical Cabin in the Sky (8 PM). It's a notable film for many reasons: it was Minnelli's first feature as director; it was an "all-black" cast at a time when that meant anything but guaranteed box office success; it was only the fourth all-black studio film since the beginning of the sound era; and it was one of Horne's few actual acting roles on film, as opposed to either portraying herself or simply appearing in a short musical number. Check it out.
Aug. 11 -- Kirk Douglas: This wouldn't be my blog if I didn't mention one of the top-three films noir of all time, Out of the Past (4 PM), but since I'll do that any time I see the film scheduled, my "official" highlight for Douglas-day this year will be Lust for Life (8:15 AM). No, I'm not suddenly trying to draw more attention to the work of Vincente Minnelli, but the filmmaker's biography of artist Vincent Van Gough is quite interesting, and Douglas's Oscar-nominated performance is spectacular.
Aug. 12 -- Jane Wyman: Now probably more remembered for being the first Mrs. Ronald Reagan, Wyman was a great star in the 1940s and '50s, and one of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood able to handle musical comedy and stark melodrama with equal aplomb. An absolute must-see on the TCM line-up is All That Heaven Allows (10 PM), the 1955 technicolor melodrama from the king of such films, Douglas Sirk. All That Heaven Allows received a bit of press three years ago as it was the inspiration for Todd Haynes's fantastic Far From Heaven.
Aug. 13 -- Cary Grant: Geez, they make this hard. At least they do Grant on a Saturday. OK, last year, I highlighted North by Northwest (3:30 PM), which deserves mention any time it's on TV. But then again, so does the great, quick-talking Howard Hawks comedy His Girl Friday (8 PM). Grant going head-to-head with Rosalind Russell's Hildy Johnson is one of the most entertaining couplings in cinema. But then again, you really should check-out a 28 year old Grant in one of his earliest performances opposite Mae West in the fascinating 1933 pre-code comedy She Done Him Wrong (6:30 AM). I say "fascinating" because after seeing the film for the first time recently at Film Forum I didn't enjoy it as pure comedy as much as sociological and historical document.
Aug. 14 -- Glenn Ford: What's great about TCM's "Summer Under the Stars" is the ability to not just feature the exact same stars every year. Sure, we're always going to get Hepburn, Wayne, Douglas and Grant (as we should), but they'll also eventually get around to Milland, Wyman and the likes of Glenn Ford, another often overlooked big-time star of westerns and noir through the '40s, '50s and '60s. There's no Gilda or The Big Heat on the docket, which is too bad, but there are some other interesting programs. One curiosity you may want to check-out is Ransom! (4 AM), a 1956 drama that was remade nearly 10 years ago by Ron Howard and Mel Gibson. Who knew, right? Check-out a 30 year old Leslie Nielsen (years before he became known solely for his slapstick antics) playing a newspaper reporter who helps Ford's David Stannard decide not to succumb to kidnappers' ransom demands.
Aug. 15 -- Fred Astaire: You really can't go wrong with anything TCM has programmed for Astaire. Virtually all of the phenomenal pairings with Ginger Rogers are included in the day, and they're all worth watching and marveling at Astaire's effortless graceful dancing that has rarely if ever been matched on film. But to once again continue the unintentional Vincente Minnelli theme, I'm going to tell you to check out the 1945 musical Yolanda and the Thief (4 AM). This film was an enormous flop when it was released during an era where an MGM musical was almost always a guaranteed success. It's not an amazing movie, but in many ways Minnelli's film was ahead of its time as it experimented with new techniques and looks, taking full advantage of technicolor and a more surrealistic style than audiences were used to or, possibly, even ready for. While a definite example of style over substance, it's still worth watching, and it certainly isn't as bad as its notable box office failure makes it out to be.
Aug. 16 -- Donna Reed: Best known for her role as the best mother in the history of the world on the pre-Vietnam era classic TV series The Donna Reed Show, Reed had a wonderful career in the movies throughout the '40s and '50s, probably best known by the modern general public as Mary Bailey in the classic It's a Wonderful Life. She also won an a Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in From Here to Eternity, but neither of those films screen on Reed-day. (You can however see her as Glenn Ford's wife in Ransom! mentioned above on Aug. 14.) Still, the lineup is interesting and includes her first two films made when she was just 20 years old. The pick-of-the-day, though, must be the 1945 adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (12 PM).
Aug. 17 -- James Garner: Like Reed, Garner is probably best known these days for his seven years as Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files, and chances are if you're under 30, you possibly don't even know him from that. Maybe, because of the 1994 film adaptation with Mel Gibson, Garner and Jodie Foster, he's still thought of as Bret Maverick in the '50s western TV series Maverick. There are many worthy titles on TCM's schedule, and I'm sure I'd be criticized to death if I didn't at least mention The Great Escape (5 PM), but I'm going to suggest another film which, if you watch it while it's actually on, would provide you a fantastically depressing start to your day, and isn't that what we're all looking for most of the time. Wake-up at 6 AM with The Children's Hour, William Wyler's wonderful adaptation of the Lillian Hellman play. (She adapted the script herself.) Since there is shockingly no Audrey Hepburn day this year, here's a chance for you to see her, along with Shirley MacLaine and Garner.
Aug. 18 -- Irene Dunne: Five-time Oscar bridesmaid, but never an Oscar bride. While her best known performance and role is probably in the 1948 family drama I Remember Mama (2:30 AM), her second nomination came for the 1936 screwball comedy Theodora Goes Wild (8 PM), a somewhat dated but still very funny romantic comedy that helped set the standard for much of the genre -- for better or worse.
Aug. 19 -- Marlon Brando: A Streetcar Named Desire (4:15 PM) and On the Waterfront (8 PM) are the obvious choices, but you've already seen them. (Right? Because if you haven't, for shame!!) Certainly not the best of Brando's films but one of the strangest is The Teahouse of August Moon (8:30 AM), a flat-out comedy that placed Brando even more against-type than his role Guys and Dolls (11 AM). Together, the films were an attempt to show a different side of Brando's talent. With August Moon especially, the brooding tough guy gives way to a comedian. Granted, Brando's portrayal of a post-War Japanese interpreter might not be the most culturally sensitive casting, but for the time, and per his own method acting sensibilities, Brando wanted to make it as authentic as possible, short of him being actually, well, you know ... Japanese. It's a curious oddity among the Brando canon, and its showing is a perfect example of why TCM's breadth of programming is the best on television.
Aug. 20 -- James Stewart: Known by James in all the credits, but loved as Jimmy to all his fans, Stewart perfected the American "every man" even more than Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck or Henry Fonda thanks to a warmth and humanity that, as great as they all were, nobody else could never quite match. His most famous performances (justifiably) primarily come from his earlier three collaborations with Frank Capra or his later four with Alfred Hitchcock. TCM will show five of those as part of Stewart-day. However, the filmmaker with whom Stewart worked the most was neither Capra nor Hitchcock (nor John Ford who directed him four times), but rather Anthony Mann with whom he made eight films including the 1955 Western classic The Man From Laramie (2:15 PM). But really, you actually can't go wrong with anything TCM shows for Stewart-day, so feel free to throw the blindfolded dart at the schedule, sit back, and enjoy watching Stewart at work.
Aug. 21 -- Maureen O'Hara: I haven't actually seen much starring O'Hara, so I'll definitely be catching a few of these myself, including what's probably her second most famous film (after Miracle on 34th Street), the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (10 PM). I can suggest catching This Land Is Mine (2 AM), however -- a 1943 World War II drama I caught some time ago on TCM. The film stars O'Hara's Hunchback co-star Charles Laughton and was made by French master Jean Renoir. It focuses on a European (read: French) schoolteacher played by Laughton (O'Hara is another teacher and his perpetual crush) who struggles to overcome his fears and find his courage in his German-occupied town. The film is very preachy as Renoir was specifically trying to get his point across to Americans -- that France's occupation was neither a joy for the French citizenry nor something that they underwent by choice because it was the easy way out.
Aug. 22 -- Joan Crawford: She doesn't scream "No wire hangers" in any of her films, but over a nearly 1/2-century long career as one of the biggest Hollywood names of them all, she played every type of character imaginable. She was one of the few in Hollywood who was a major star of the silent era and then went on to even greater success after the arrival of talkies. And you can learn all about it during TCM's original documentary Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star (6:30 PM). Greta Garbo may have been one of the few stars of the era who could match Crawford: see them both in the same place in 1932 Best Picture winner Grand Hotel (2 AM).
Aug. 23 -- Basil Rathbone: Before he became forever known (typecast, even) as the quintessential Sherlock Holmes, playing the world's greatest detective no less than 14 times in under seven years (TCM will show four of the films), Rathbone was known primarily as one of cinema's greatest villains, especially thanks to his portrayal of Sir Guy of Grisborne opposite Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (6:15 PM). But another film in which Rathbone's villain faces off against Flynn's hero is at least as fun as Robin Hood, and that's the 1935 swashbuckler Captain Blood, and thrilling action film from director Michael Curtiz (who also did Robin Hood) that was one of the most expensive films of its day. I actually saw this film for the first time in a Cinema Studies class at NYU years ago, introduced by Richard Dreyfuss who for some reason was the guest lecturer that day. Dreyfuss talked about how he looks at movies first and foremost for pure entertainment. He said Captain Blood was one of his all-time favorite movies simply because it's just so damn fun. I'd have to agree.
Aug. 24 -- Sophia Loren: Chances are most people have heard of Loren and know of her reputation as a major Italian sex symbol, but she's not always thought of as the talented actress she really is, regardless of the honorary Oscar bestowed upon her nearly 15 years ago. The highlight on TCM's schedule is undoubtedly Two Women (2:15 AM) from Italian neorealist master Vittorio De Sica. Loren plays a mother who flees and then returns to 1943 war-torn and constantly bombed Rome with her 13 year old daughter, simply looking for the best place for them to survive. As with all De Sica films, this one gets in touch with the triumph of the human spirit in a way few other filmmakers have ever managed to do. Loren actually took home the Best Actress Oscar for this performance as well, beating out the likes of Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany's), Piper Laurie (The Hustler), Natalie Wood (Splendor in the Grass) and Geraldine Page (Summer and Smoke).
Aug. 25 -- Norma Shearer: At the 1930 Oscars, there were seven Best Actress nominations. Of those, Greta Garbo had two (for Anna Christie and RomanceThe Divorcee (10:30 PM) -- the other nomination was for Their Own Desire (4:45 AM). The Divorcee is interesting for its historical context -- a woman choosing divorce in 1930 America? -- but it's also a bit dated, to say the least. You might want to check-out Shearer's portrayal of French queen Marie Antoinette in the lavish 1938 costume drama of the same name. At the very least, it should prove an interesting contrast to next year's Marie-Antoinette from Sophia Coppola with Kirsten Dunst in the title role and Jason Schwartzman playing Louis XVI.
Aug. 26 -- Randolph Scott is another actor who would be almost completely forgotten today by anyone not a huge fan of the Hollywood western if it wasn't for TCM. Scott was one of Hollywood's biggest stars from the '30s through the '50s, but when westerns started going out of style, so did Scott. (Although he certainly didn't act only in westerns, even appearing in some musical comedies, including Follow the Fleet (8 AM) with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) His last performance was a fitting conclusion as he starred opposite Joel McCrea in Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (which is showing on Aug. 3 as part of McCrea's day at 8 PM). But the most fascinating curiosity on the TCM schedule has got to be Western Union, an oater directed by German expressionist and film noir master Fritz Lang. I'm pretty it's one of only three westerns the prolific Lang made in over 40 years of filmmaking.
Aug. 27 -- Spencer Tracy: I was surprised to look back at last year's "Summer Under the Stars" and see that there was no Tracy-day. Tracy was a consummate actor, and one of the best to ever appear on the Silver Screen. TCM spends this day really showing the range of Tracy's career starting with a few of his first films from the early '30s and going all the way through his last performance in the great Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (12 AM). Tracy was ill throughout shooting, and in fact he died before the film was released in December of 1967. Can you imagine the recent trifle of a remake Guess Who being considered an important film? I'm sorry but first of all, Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher are no Tracy and Poitier. Second, while Guess Who's Coming to Dinner can be very funny, it also was a very important film at the time being the first one to deal with an interracial marriage in America that doesn't lead to tragedy simply because of the couple's skin colors. It also dealt honestly with the issues of family acceptance and prejudice by people who would not think themselves otherwise prejudiced. Many of the issues are certainly still relevant today, and while the 1967 sensibility might seem a bit clean-cut to a 2005 audience, it still plays better than the unfortunate attempt in Guess Who. That's actually too bad, because an honest, more straightforward, less stereotypical and cliche approach to a 2005 version of this story, even one that still switched places to have the daughter's family be black, could have been interesting. Watch the original, and revel in Tracy's talent and mastery of characterization, even as he was literally dying.
Aug. 28 -- William Holden: This is conceivably the best day of the entire month, and I say that only because TCM has programmed two of my all-time top five movies which both happen to star Holden even as they're from very different points in his career. I've mentioned both films on this site repeatedly: Sunset Blvd. (10 PM) and Network (2:30 AM). They are always worth watching, no matter how many times they've been seen, and I keep discovering too many people who have seen neither, particularly the latter which somehow presents a commentary on major media that gets more relevant every day even as we find ourselves nearly 30 years removed from when it was made. There's a wonderful selection of films throughout Holden-day, but aside from the previously-mentioned givens, you might want to check-out Picnic, Joshua Logan's adaptation of the classic William Inge Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Inge was a master of representing small-town middle America, and Logan (who also won a Tony for directing the stage version) expertly translates Inge's story of a drifter's arrival in a small Kansas town, and how he shakes something up. The '50s was a time, thanks to the politics of the era and the Communist witch-hunts, when stories of someone different encroaching on secluded puritan America were all the rage, and Picnic was one of the best.
Aug. 29 -- Constance Bennett: I'm probably less familiar with Bennett than I am with Maureen O'Hara. In fact, I'm not sure that I've seen her in anything other than Topper (8 PM), so I can't really make any other "suggestions. (Although Topper is certainly worth watching.) However, I'm very curious to see What Price Hollywood? (12:45 PM), the 1932 George Cukor-directed price-of-fame tale that was the inspiration for every A Star Is Born film which has followed.
Aug. 30 -- Deborah Kerr was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar six times without ever winning, most famously for From Here to Eternity and The King and I (neither being shown by TCM). Her final nomination was for The Sundowners (10:15 PM), but my pick for this day is a movie that didn't earn her any major awards kudos, the 1964 John Huston film The Night of the Iguana (2:15 PM), a fantastic directed adaptation of the great Tennessee Williams play also starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner.I haven't seen it in quite a long time, but I remember its grittiness and sensuality ... and sweatiness. You certainly get a feel for the humid Mexican locale even though you're separated from it by your TV screen.
Aug. 31 -- Humphrey Bogart: Well now this only makes sense. You start with Bacall (at least TCM did; I missed her) and you finish with Bogart. For some reason, TCM decided to program Bogart: The Untold Story, a 1996 documentary made by the actor's son Stephen, at 6 AM. That's OK -- let the performances tell you all you need to know (or just set your DiVo). The rest of the day contains a selection of some of Bogey's best, including many of those you might expect. Bogart wasn't always a troubled good-guy. In a large number of his earlier roles, he played merciless gangsters. His first major screen role was in The Petrified Forest (11 AM) as gangster Duke Mantee, a character he reportedly based on former Public Enemy John Dillinger. In fact, the studios loved his performance as the sociopath Mantee so much that he basically became typecast as this type of gangster for much of the next five years until he really broke-out in The Maltese Falcon (10:15 PM) and Casablanca (12 AM). Another film TCM is showing which I simply must make note of is Nicholas Ray's brilliant noir, In a Lonely Place in which Bogart plays an obsessive screenwriter who falls for his neighbor, a beautiful actress played by Gloria Grahame. I only saw this film for the first time about a year ago, and it absolutely blew me away. For one thing, the movie has some great lines (thanks to screenwriters Edmund Noth and Andrew Solt), delivered as only Bogart could. My favorite? Not sure, but probably this one: "It was his story against mine, but of course, I told my story better."