Bright Lights Film Journal

Rarities, Ho! TCM Recommendations for May 17-31

Every true film lover needs Turner Classic Movies because there’s stuff on there available almost nowhere else –films so weird and forgotten you’ll sometimes find them only at 3-9 AM, hiding in the wings until all the prettier pictures to go to bed. If you have a DV-R to go with it, then you know what to do. Set that sucker to these obscurities on the TCM’s schedule. Then let me know what you think via responses to this post…. if you want… I’ll be seeing them.

Friday, May 17

Late AM B-movies that time forgot triple feature:

6 AM – The Thrill Hunter (1933)
7:15AM – Mad Holiday (1936)
9 AM – The Thirteenth Chair (1937)

I’ve never seen a Buck Jones film and I wouldn’t bother you with The Thrill Hunter if it was just some kiddie western, but here Buck is a compulsive liar who bluffs his way into a Hollywood stuntman job, is laughed off the set when he doesn’t know how to fly. If it sucks, just delete. Mad Holiday: The quintessentially pencil-mustached Edmund Lowe (the B-movie William Powell) plays a touchy matinee idol on fogbound cruise ship mixed up in murder and diamond snatching. Elissa Landi (Nora’s hot mess sister in After the Thin Man) provides romance; Zazu Pitts raises a handkerchief aloft and says “Oh, dearrr” as the comic relief; a Chinese opera house hosts the exciting chase climax. Did Welles see this before making Lady from Shanghai? You tell me! The Thirteenth Chair: This is one of those old dark house mysteries, one of a vast chain of remakes stretching back to the silents, that starts with a seance and people get murdered in the dark. Who was closest to the light switch? The titular chair is where she died! I’m giving this one a recommendation sight unseen. I got addicted to the old dark house genre as a kid when they were on UHF at all hours, so I’m excited for this, but if you’re not a fan of mysteries, sheet metal thunder, secret panels, wills read at midnight, family crypts, gorilla suits, crooked mediums, and sinister butlers, well, then, maybe there’s something wrong with the whole damned crazy, greedy lot of us!

Weds, May 22

4:15 AM – The Rain People (1969)

It’s not, alas, about precipitation-based aliens, but it is an early Coppola ‘road’ drama about the American dream of making a European art film. Shirley Knight is the unhappily pregnant housewife who leaves home on an Easy Rider Doesn’t Live Here Anymore-esque road trip, only to wind up a George to some brain-damaged-from-too-many-tackles ex-jock Lenny (James Caan) instead of finding the romantic affair and lack of responsibility she craves. Robert Duvall might be able to help, as a highway cop whose presence may lead to some late inning nudity and hopefully some of his brilliant rage-and-lust-filled acting. In its rare screenings film students have been known to alternately scribble notes in admiration and to wince with douche chills.

 Tues 21 (Weds. 22)

4:30 AM – The Big House (1930)

Chester Morris is a tough convict dealing with a riot and a prison break in this early-ass MGM prison film, written by a woman! (Frances Marion). She won an Oscar, and you can’t beat the cast, specifically Wallace Beery as Machine Gun Butch Schmidt,  Mythical Monkey notes that “The Big House is quite subversive, I think, as a study of the society that created such a prison system. The prison warden (Lewis Stone) is passive and ineffectual, rich kid Marlowe turns out to be a cowardly weasel, while two hardened criminals are strong, likeable and sympathetic.”

 Thurs. May 23

Pre-Code Day: (from 6 AM on through)

1:15 PM – Life of the Party (1930)

7 PM – Complicated Women (2003) – Documentary on Women in Pre-code Films

Thursday is pre-code day on TCM but be warned, pre-code doesn’t always mean good. There’s some pretty static, covertly preachy MGM stuff on the docket, like The Divorcee (1930). But this early pre-code comedy Life of the Party looks interesting. A New York Times reviewer at the time called it “Fun in sound and color.” And I’ll guarantee it’s at least two of three.

The documentary at 7 is a must for anyone who either loves or hasn’t heard of pre-code, or who loves it, and/or loves strong women.

Friday – May 24th
ILLEANA DOUGLAS PRESENTS

10:15 – The Loved One (1965)
12:30 AM – Mickey One (1965)
2:15 AM – The Arrangement (1969)
4:30 AM – The Fortune (1975)

Hollywood insider Illeana Douglas guest hosts Friday nights all this month, picking a lot of weird, underseen stuff from the late 60s-70s for the cinephile crowd, which is really awesome because most of the time guest programmers pick Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy over and over, indicating they’ve never really seen TCM or would be long sick of both. No stranger to the archives, Douglas goes for the obscure stuff only the devoted weird film lover will love, the brilliant misfires that were ahead of their time and are now waiting to be rediscovered. First up: Tony Richardson’s The Loved One – a beloved cult item about Hollywood’s eccentric British character actor enclave and its relation to a pond-jumpy funeral director (written by Terry Southern); Mickey One is a fractured but engaging post-noir from Arthur Penn starring Warren Beatty and featuring a great jazz score by Stan Getz; The Arrangement, Elia Kazan’s memoir-esque soaper is a relic from the days when movies that dealt with divorce, mistresses, addiction, nymphomania, bitterness and signifiers of wealth were considered ‘adult,’ the kinds of films parents got babysitters for, and saw mainly so they could seem worldly and talk about it over bridge. Kirk Douglas stars as Kazan’s stand-in and Faye Dunaway / Deborah Kerr as his madonna/whore complex.

The Fortune may be a mess but what a cast! It’s got 30s period decor (perido pieces set in the 30s were HUGE in the 70s, check here (The Period Piece Period), Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty romancing / swindling a rich socialite played by Stockard Channing. There’s a lot of bumbling and stumbling and mimicking perhaps a little bit of Truffaut.  The Times’ Caryn James provides some backhanded praise, declaring that it’s “everything a typical Mike Nichols work is not: a farce filled with messy grace notes; a frantic, physical comedy; a commercial failure.” (2/25/90)   “Easy Riders Raging Bulls”-era devotees, i.e. fans of The Graduate, Shampoo, Chinatown, King of Marvin Gardens, Carnal Knowledge, and/or Five Easy Pieces should definitely make a grab at it its slutty little lapels. 

Saturday 25

1 AM – Men Must Fight (1933)

They sure must. And this amazing film, a kind of American Federal Theater sci fi tract, accurately predicts the Second World War, television, Skype, the blowing up of the Empire State building (bombed by marauding zeppelins), and that the class system will never die. If you live in New York City, you can only imagine the mixed feelings seeing half the Upper East Side destroyed by the Eurasian zeppelins. That said, you have to wait through some speeches about honor vs. pacifism to get there, and I mean a lot of speeches. Still, what a time capsule! It would make a great double bill with Idiot’s Delight (1939).

Friday 31

5 PM – Any Wednesday (1966)

It’s the perfect film for coming home to after a hard day at the office, pouring oneself a martini, putting one’s tired feet up, taking off one’s pumps and stockings, loosening one’s tie, and digging the widescreen 60s sets and the unequaled gorgeousness of Jane Fonda while you call around and make swinging plans for later with your posse of hussy bitches. Fonda plays company man Jason Robard’s once-a-week mistress and they make such a good team they were paired in subsequent films. Viddy clips of Any Wednesday here.