Paranormal Police Procedural: Nothing But the Night (1972)


Christopher Lee and co-star Diana Dors sharing a laugh behind-the-scenes of
Nothing But the Night (1972)

To celebrate the season of scaring TCM has made Christopher Lee their Star of the Month. Viewers who tune in will be able to enjoy the tall, dark and handsome ‘Master of Menace’ in over 40 different films airing each Monday throughout October. Next week I encourage you to seek Lee out in the unsung British thriller Nothing But the Night (1972), which is sandwiched between one of five Fu Manchu films Lee appeared in (The Vengeance of Fu Manchu; 1968) and an interesting Amicus thriller (Scream and Scream Again; 1970). Nothing But the Night is one of the most unusual and provocative pictures in Lee’s extensive filmography and deserves a better reputation than it’s been saddled with for the last 44 years.


Farewell to the Frisco Kid

The Frisco Kid 1
The much-mourned passing of comic actor, writer, and director Gene Wilder on June 11, 2016 was one of the saddest shocks in a year already full of them. A master of both physical and verbal comic timing as well as an underrated dramatic actor, Wilder will be honored on Thursday, September 29, with a four-film sampling of his formidable talents including Young Frankenstein (1974), Start the Revolution without Me (1970), and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), plus a double airing of his one-hour Role Model interview episode from 2008. Of course, you could easily program an entire day of Wilder without covering everything, so hopefully this will be enough to either get fans back in the mood to explore his output or awaken newbies to the riches in his filmography, which also includes such milestones as Blazing Saddles (1974), The Producers (1967), and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). [...MORE]

Law and Disorder: The Naked Gun (1988)


David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker were three wiseasses from Milwaukee who killed time watching movies. They gained an admiration for the stoic leading men in cheap genre productions, those actors who jutted their chins and remained expressionless through the most absurd scenarios. ZAZ’s whole comic ethos stems from these viewings – their main characters are virtuous idiots wandering through a world that explodes with gags around them. These dopes’ deadpan obliviousness provide the majority of punchlines in  Airplane!, Top Secret, and The Naked Gun trilogy. And there was no one more virtuous or more idiotic than the fools portrayed by Leslie Nielsen – who was ZAZ’s platonic ideal for a comic actor. Often mistaken for his  Airplane!-mates Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves, he had that aging leading man gravitas (and mane of gray hair) and could play everything straight, reciting the most ridiculous lines as if he was in an airplane disaster film like Zero Hour (1957, the model for Airplane!). ZAZ’s follow-up to Airplane! was the short-lived and joke-packed TV show Police Squad! (1982), a parody of M-Squad and other square-jawed cop shows. The TV version was canceled after four episodes (six would air), but strong reviews (and a lead actor Emmy nomination for Nielsen) kept the project alive until ZAZ adapted it into the  The Naked Gun, which airs tomorrow night on TCM as part of their “Salute to Slapstick.” It is with The Naked Gun that Nielsen fully displays his comic gifts, a tour-de-force of deadpan, face-pulling, and pratfall.


Other Gold Diggers of 1933: Girl Missing (1933)


In the first scene of Girl Missing (1933), Guy Kibbee tries to seduce Mary Brian with the line: “I don’t feel fatherly, I feel…hotcha!” And so begins this randy, money-grubbing, mystery-solving pre-code starring Brian and motormouth Glenda Farrell. They are two out-of-work chorus girls indulging in some gold-digging to leach cash from old lechers. But in the wildly convoluted plot that races through 68 minutes, they get roped into the murder of a mafia bookie and the disappearance of a society dame (or so she seems). It’s a trial run for Farrell’s tamer post-code Torchy Blane (nine films between 1937 – 1939) movies, in which she played a sassy investigative newsgal sans sexual innuendo. In Girl Missing Farrell machine-guns her dialogue to mow down con-men, con-women, and anyone else who has the misfortune to walk past her in the frame. It airs tomorrow on TCM at 6:15AM, and is also available on DVD from the Warner Archive.


Playing it Straight: Dr. Strangelove

Years ago, Arthur Schlesinger was asked by David Wallechinsky to list his favorite political movies  for Wallechinsky’s 1977 edition of The Book of Lists.  Schlesinger had some interesting titles on his list, including Robert Altman’s Nashville, but the one at the top was Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  It had only been thirteen years since its release at that point but the movie was already regarded as one of the greatest comedy satires ever made.  It certainly deserves its placement in the pantheon of great political comedies and there’s little more I could say about it that hasn’t already been said (in fact, the best article I have ever read on the movie and its source material is here – it’s a fantastic piece) so in this space I’d like to focus on one thing only: the acting and how damned blasted wonderful it is from every single participant.



Out of the Closet: Tab Hunter Confidential (2015)

On September 19 TCM is airing a Tab Hunter double feature.
More info about programming can be found at the end of my post.

Everyone loves a good Hollywood tragedy. The violent murders of Sharon Tate and Sal Mineo generate more press and web articles than the body of work they left behind while the estates of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean continue to benefit from our endless fascination with early death by misadventure. For better or worse, we obsess over stories of fallen stars who died while they were still young and beautiful as well as those who died violently or wasted away in obscurity. Stories about celebrities who endure great personal and professional hardship but manage to survive and thrive into comfortable old age tend to sell fewer magazines. Tab Hunter’s story is a survivor’s story. It’s uplifting, empowering and intriguingly retold in Tab Hunter Confidential (2015), a new documentary directed by Jeffrey Schwarz that was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray. It is also currently streaming on Amazon and Netflix.


Family Ties: Sunset Song (2015)


“The June moors whispered and rustled and shook their cloaks, yellow with broom and powdered faintly with purple – that was the heather but not the full passion of its colour yet … and maybe the wind would veer there in an hour or so and you’d feel the change in the life and strum of the thing, bringing a streaming coolness out of the sea”. – Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sunset Song (1932)

Chris Guthrie, the young protagonist of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel of rural Scottish life Sunset Song, is introduced as part of the landscape, an adornment to the hinterlands of Aberdeen. Her family suffers mightily, with an abusive father, a depressed mother, and the coming of WWI, but Chris always remains loyal to the land which bore her. Terence Davies’ 2015 film adaptation, now available on DVD and VOD in the U.S., is an elegiac heartbreaker which presents Chris as an iron-willed witness to the end of Scotland’s pre-industrial way of life. Played by model Agyness Deyn with stiff-backed reserve, Chris remains fiercely loyal to her conservative town despite the continued thwarting of her artistic ambitions – she is an enigma, and her mystical devotion to home is something that Davies dares not try to explain. She has absorbed an entire country’s worth of tragedies, but carries on anyway, as Davies’ camera floats around her, keeping her mystery intact.


Gene Hackman: A Perfectly Ordinary Man

Gene Hackman shows his talents today on TCM with a pair of terrific movies, The Conversation from 1974 and Scarecrow from 1973. He also makes an appearance, and a great one, in the movie following those two, Young Frankenstein, and it was in the seventies that he became not only a box office draw but one of the most respected actors in the business.  He did all of it without matinee idol looks, a brooding persona, a flamboyant acting style, or a playboy personality.  He was perfectly ordinary in every way, except for the acting.



Print the Legend: Barbarosa (1982)



In 1982 Universal Pictures quietly dumped the Willie Nelson-Gary Busey Western Barbarosa into a few drive-ins. After low turn-out, they pulled it from distribution. There may have been more critics to see it than paying customers, and it was a strong notice from Gene Siskel condemning the studio’s treatment of the film that led it back into theaters six months later. The damage was done however, and Barbarosa sunk from view despite accruing a string of rave reviews (from Pauline Kael, Janet Maslin, and Dave Kehr, among others). A new DVD and Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing gives viewers another chance to see this engagingly shambolic revenge film, the first American feature directed by Aussie Fred Schepisi (Roxanne).


A Grand & Moving Thing: The King and I (1956)


Yul Brynner in The King and I. TCM & Fathom Events are screening this classic musical on August 28 and 31 in select theaters across the U.S.

“If you live long enough and you’re lucky you may get the chance to see two or three originals in your lifetime.”
- TV commercial advertising the 1982 stage production of The King and I at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre

In December of 1982 I was given a ticket to see Yul Brynner perform The King and I at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. It was a birthday gift from my mother who knew how much I loved the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and Yul Brynner. I was a hard-to-please adolescent and I’d never had the opportunity to see a big Broadway production before but at the time I was studying dance and trying to figure out if I wanted to pursue a career in theatre, music or writing. You all know what I eventually decided to do but seeing Brynner on stage in the role he made famous was one of the most electrifying and downright amazing experiences of my life.

At age 62, the bronze and barrel-chested actor was still a charismatic and commanding performer. A true ‘original’ as the commercial for The King and I advertised who had created the character of King Mongkut on stage in 1951 before bringing him to the screen in 1956. A year after I watched Brynner belt out “Shall We Dance?” he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and died in 1985 following a hugely successful return to live theatre. His death devastated me but Brynner remains immortal in my mind thanks to his unforgettable appearances in a number of great films.

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