Bright Lights Film Journal

TCM Must-tapes this week 11/28 – 12/4: MARY (2005), William Powell, and a day of Warren William!

I nearly lost my marbles when I saw that MARY (2005) the Abel Ferrara-directed film about a crazy film within a film about Jesus and Mary and shit, which when directed by Ferrara and starring Juliette Binoche and Heather Graham you know is going to be fucked up and mind-blowing, even if it is as bad as DANGEROUS GAME… on TCM this Thursday. At any rate, it hasn’t been seen in forever due to whatever chickenshit reason, and here it is listed in the TCM cable guide, at least onscreen via Time Warner, (it’s not, however, listed on TCM’s website). A mistake? Or a last minute festival-style treat?

Either way, it pays to have cable this week, as some gold is coming down the chute:

Tuesday, 11/29 – 6AM
This movie’s a bit painful as passive aggressive misogynist Lyle Talbot at an advertising agency decides why should they hire girls to take out their clients (ala Mad Men) when they can just force their secretaries to do it for free? There’s no harm in a free meal and some drinks, this lout reasons, yet refuses to allow his own fiancee (Loretta Young) from they typing pool to participate because he doesn’t want her being pawed. Great logic – the other girls can do it because it’s all innocent, but his girl can’t because he doesn’t want her to be pawed and possibly raped. Yikes! Watch this no-holds barred pre-code (directed by Busby Berkeley!) and come out of it glad for PC sexual discrimination laws and their great strides in this country.

Thursday 12/1 – 8 PM:
Directed by William Dieterle with maximum class and reefer humor, JEWEL ROBBERY (1932) is a gem about a dashing jewel thief who catches the eye of bored thrill-seeking diplomat’s wife (Kay Francis) in scenic pre-Nazi Vienna. It’s the sort of high class rich people doing naughty things sort of European froth that Hitler’s war machine would soon blow off the surface of the earth, but here it still sparkles and bubbles and everyone is high, literally, since Powell passes out joints to his robbery victims. You’ll think you’re high too when you see longtime sourpuss character actor Clarence Wilson smoke one of these thinking it’s an ordinary cigarette, and the hilarity that follows when he starts acting like Napolean… it’s PINEAPPLE-style EXPRESSionistic!

And Francis will blow your mind with her weird V-shaped smile and eyes that glaze over with the thought of being kidnapped by the dashing Powell. Their chemistry is so electrically charged you feel like they’re almost kissing each other even when they’re on opposite ends of the room.

Thurs/Fri: 4 AM
Dapper William Powell starts out a compassionate local lawyer who helps-a the poor-a people-a, in his LES ‘hood, but then rises to the top and arouses the disapproval of his local girl secretary who secretly loves him, but since she’s Joan Blondell, hell, it’s awesome. Not great, but punchy and tough and snappy in that early Warner’s way.

Friday 12/2: 11:30 AM – 7:30 PM:
Beginning at 11:30 AM on Friday, a whole slew of seldom seen Warren William films, unavailable (to my knowledge) on DVD, come rolling through the TCM gate, so if you have a timer, set it for the whole stretch between 11:30 AM ‘s EXPENSIVE WOMEN (1930) through to SKYSCRAPER SOULS (1932) at 6 PM. Then brake sharply as the code kicks in at 7:30. Listen to all the titles in between – BEAUTY AND THE BOSS, THE DARK HORSE, UNDER EIGHTEEN, and THE WOMAN FROM MONTE CARLO, all 1932!

I’ve only seen SOULS, and didn’t really like it thanks to an unbearable, smirky performance by Norman Foster, who relentlessly paws and stalks Maureen O’Sullivan, the young assistant to Veree Teasdale, in the 100-story office building, over which towers industrialist Warren William, who develops eyes for Maureen himself and who wouldn’t? Was any girl hotter than Maureen in her prime? If you say yes, you never saw TARZAN AND HIS MATE at an impressionable age. At any rate, douche bags like Foster’s character here are, like SHE HAD TO SAY YES, examples of why sexual harassment laws are so awesome. Don’t even get me started about all the idiots I’ve reported to campus security for their stalking of my sweet young assistants!

William is one of the great re-discovered icons of the pre-code era, exhumed by TCM like a King Tut of badass Satanic bravado and good humor, a cross between the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, Basil Rathbone, and an express train. Don’t fail to Tivo!