This week on TCM Underground: TWICE UPON A TIME (1983)

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In the mythical city of Din, two garbagemen try to stop an evil despot from plaguing the citizenry with eternal nightmares. 

Cast: Lorenzo Music (Ralph, the All Purpose Animal), Marshall Effron (Synonamess Botch), James Cranna (Rod Rescueman/Scuzzbopper/Frivoli Foreman/Street Preacher), Julie Payne (Flora Fauna), Hamilton Camp (Greensleeves), Paul Frees (Narrator/Chief of State/Judges/Bailiff), Judith Kahan (The Fairygodmother), J. E. Freeman (Pool Player), Nancy Fish (Woman Under Dryer). Directors: John Korty, Charles Swenson. Screenplay: John Korty, Charles Swenson, Suella Kennedy, Bill Couturie. Executive producer: George Lucas.

BW/Color – 75 min.

Showtime: Saturday, January 31 11:15pm PST/2:15am EST  [...MORE]

Cowgirl Diplomacy: Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)

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Woman They Almost Lynched  is a funhouse Western, exaggerating and undermining the genre’s familiar tropes. Its Civil War border town is named Border City, with the line between North and South cut down the middle of the town bar. Every male character is an outsized historical personage (Jesse James, Paul Quantrill and Cole Younger all make appearances), but the plot shunts them aside to focus on the women – who shoot straighter and punch stiffer than their male counterparts. Even the iron-fisted mayor is a woman.  The film inhabits its inverted world so convincingly that by the end it seems normal, almost sincere, and its broad, swaggering characters gain some measure of pathos. It is the only Hollywood film I can think of that builds a sympathetic portrait of a matriarchal society (at least until John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars). Only Allan Dwan could have made it. A prolific worker since the silent era, Dwan had fun where he could, and playfully subverted all manner of genres. He had already taken the Western down a peg in in his 1916 parody Manhattan Madness , made with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Woman They Almost Lynched further displays his natural inclination towards play, and it is now available on Blu-ray from Olive Films, so future generations can now puzzle over its beautiful excesses for decades to come.

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A Forgotten Film to Remember: Eyes in the Night

eyesopenerTomorrow, January 27, TCM will celebrate Donna Reed’s 94th birthday by showing a selection of nine early films, including her first feature The Get-Away. My favorite film on the list is the crime thriller Eyes in the Night, which I have singled out as a Forgotten Film to Remember.

MGM signed Donna Belle Mullenger to a contract in 1941, just after she graduated from Los Angeles City College with a secretarial degree. During the production of The Get-Away, the studio fumbled around for a more marquee-friendly name. Donna Adams was trotted out for size until it was discovered that another actress was using the same name; someone suggested Donna Drake, but that was too close to big-band singer/actress Dona Drake. Even Donna Denison was considered, because the actress hailed from Denison, Iowa. Finally, MGM casting director Billy Grady came up with Donna Reed, a name the actress never really liked. When Eyes in the Night was released in October 1942, it was Reed’s eighth film appearance, more or less. (Two of her roles were uncredited and don’t always show up in filmographies.)

In many ways, Eyes in the Night is a typical b-movie from the Golden Age. Though b-movies are low budget and small scale, they tend to make good use of the skills and talents of the cast and crew, raising the level of the material. This stylish crime thriller is tautly directed by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon; From Here to Eternity; Julia) and benefits from a solid cast of rising stars (Reed), returning stars (Ann Harding), established character actors (Edward Arnold, Allen Jenkins, Reginald Denny), and a scene-stealing canine named Friday the Seeing Eye Dog.

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January 24, 2015
David Kalat
Posted by:

The wrong week to quit sniffing glue

When you talk about “classic cinema” you talk about motion pictures that influenced the culture. Films that inspired other films, established careers, wormed their way into the memories of audiences, endured in our cultural heritage in some way…

Well, by that definition, you could argue Airplane! is of greater cultural significance than Citizen Kane.

It’s sure a lot funnier.

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KEYWORDS: airplane disaster films, Airplane!, Parody
COMMENTS: 5
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Acting Well Beyond Your Age

Tonight on TCM, Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys airs, a comedy about two old Vaudeville performers getting back together for a televised benefit.  One of those performers is played by George Burns who, it turns out, was the right age for the part.  For his performance, he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, becoming the oldest winner in the category at the time, and as of this post, still.  The other performer is played by Walter Matthau who wasn’t even close to the right age.  Hell, he wasn’t even out of his fifties yet but he was playing a character well into his seventies, perhaps even eighties.  Matthau had played older before (in Jack Lemmon’s Kotch) but this time he was playing directly up against someone who was the actual age he was only pretending to be.  Did he succeed?  Yes, I’d say so but it’s such a broad comedic performance, it doesn’t require a nuanced portrayal of old age as much as a stereotypical, grouchy portrayal, something Matthau would actually play in his actual old age.  When actors play older than they are, much older, it can go either way but sometimes, they do such a good job you’d swear they fast-forwarded to their old age for the performance.  Here are my top three “acting older than their age” performances.

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Robert Redford & Sydney Pollack: A Creative Partnership

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“In a way, he was like the country he lived in. Everything came too easily to him, but at least he knew it.” – from THE WAY WE WERE, scripted by Arthur Laurents

It’s easy to assume that this memorable line I borrowed from THE WAY WE WERE (1973) summarizes Robert Redford’s own life and career. After all, Redford was blessed with all-American good looks and is an incredibly likable performer with limitless charisma. But in truth, Redford’s early years were complicated and he spent more than a decade working in television and film before his iconic role in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) made him a bona fide star at age 33. After appearing in one of the top-grossing films of all time you’d expect Hollywood to embrace the sun-kissed actor without reservation but Redford had to fight incredibly hard to continue to make the kind of movies he wanted to make. Behind many of the popular box office successes and critically acclaimed films that followed, Redford was battling studio heads, arguing with writers, waging war with producers and doing everything in his power to make meaningful films that provided him with complex and challenging roles throughout the 1970s. Today Redford’s impressive filmography during that decade is a testament to his artistic integrity at the time and illustrates his commitment to making quality pictures that entertained but also left audiences with a lot to think about. And some of the best films Redford appeared in during this period were directed by his longtime collaborator and friend, Sydney Pollack.

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Bonus: Mike Malloy’s EUROCRIME! reviewed!

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This week on TCM Underground: VIGILANTE (1983)

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When his wife and son are brutalized by thugs and a corrupt criminal justice system puts the perpetrators back on the street, a family man turns vigilante to find some measure of bloody justice.

Cast: Robert Forster (Eddie Marino), Fred Williamson (Nick), Woody Strode (Rake), Rutanya Alda (Vickie Marino), Don Blakely (Prago), Willie Colon (Rico), Carol Lynley (ADA Mary Fletcher), Richard Bright (Burke), Joseph Carberry (Ramon), Joe Spinell (Eisenberg), Vincent Beck (Judge Sinclair), Bo Rucker (Horace), Frank Pesce (Blueboy), Steve James (Patrolman Gibbons), Frank Gio (Patrolman Shore), Randy Jurgensen (Detective Russo),  Peter Savage (Mr. T), Dante Joseph (Scotty Marino), Henry Judd Baker (Quinn). Director: William Lustig. Screenplay: Richard Vetere. Cinematography: James Lemmo. Music: Jay Chattaway.

Color – 90 min.

Showtime: Saturday, January 24th 11:45pm PST/2:45am EST.  [...MORE]

Comedy of Remarriage: The Moon’s Our Home (1936)

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Struggling stage actors Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan were married on December 25, 1931. They divorced two months later. In 1936, Fonda and Sullavan were both burgeoning movie stars, and appeared together in the romantic comedy The Moon’s Our Home, whose story of whirlwind romance and hurricane breakup recalled their brief fling. Recently released on DVD from the Universal Vault, the studio’s burn-on-demand service, the film is an aggressive farce that gained added oomph from Fonda and Sullavan’s fraught, passionate relationship (the transfer looks soft and interlaced, but it’s watchable). Director William A. Seiter was a sensitive shaper of star personas, having helped mold the Dadaist antics of Wheeler and Woolsey and the blossoming sass of Ginger Rogers. The Moon’s Our Home, with the aid of some acidic dialogue contributed by Dorothy Parker, is a bumptious battle of the sexes, with Sullavan a bite-sized Napoleon and Fonda her arrogant outdoorsman opponent. Their fights are shockingly violent, and the film ends with one of them in a straightjacket.

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Before Denby, Ebert, Sarris, and Kael, There Was James Agee

ageeopenerSo many faceless movie reviewers with forgettable names and interchangeable writing “styles” populate the Internet that it is hard to imagine a time when reviews were penned by established authors, historians, or intellectuals with distinctive voices. Writers and thinkers such as John Grierson, Carl Sandburg, Alistair Cooke, Vachel Lindsay, Grahame Green, and James Agee all reviewed Hollywood movies in their time. A few months ago, a colleague lent me a copy of Agee on Film published in 1958. The book consists of a collection of Agee’s reviews from The Nation and Time, plus two essays on film originally published in Life.

I became an Agee admirer after reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a chronicle of the struggles of three Southern sharecropping families. At once brutal and poetic, the book includes photos by Walker Evans. The pair was originally assigned by Fortune magazine to produce an article about the conditions of sharecroppers in the Deep South during the Depression. Agee rejected a traditional reporting style and authored an impressionistic portrait of three rural Southern families living in extreme poverty—a class of people usually ignored and generally scorned by society. Needless to say, Fortune was not thrilled with the artistic approach when they issued the articles in 1939. In 1941, Agee and Evans published their work in book form. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men flopped at the time, but it is now considered an important social document as well as a milestone in modern journalism. Though often described as a journalist, he was no mere reporter. Agee’s style was literary, evocative, and expressive but also accessible.

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