A Call to Arms: 49th Parallel (1941)

49TH PARALLEL (1941)

In 1940, the British government asked director Michael Powell to make a film supporting the ongoing war effort against Nazi Germany. Along with his partner, Emeric Pressburger, Powell wanted to use the sanctioned platform to sway the United States, who remained neutral at the time, into joining the fight alongside Britain. To attempt this complicated feat, Powell and Pressburger set the story for this propaganda film in Canada, a friendly ally of the United States and a country involved in World War II since September 1939. The end result was 49th Parallel (1941), a cautionary tale based on realistic, albeit fictional events. The title is in reference to the latitude at which most of the Canadian-U.S. open border is located. Powell and Pressburger hoped that by showing the German enemies right at America’s doorstep, it would frighten its citizens into demanding their country join the war.

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Love in Enunciation: Leslie Howard in Pygmalion (1938)

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Aside from George Cukor’s visually stunning musical masterpiece My Fair Lady (1964), Pygmalion (1938), directed by Anthony Asquith (with Leslie Howard receiving co-director credits), is the only other significant film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 stage play of the same name. Of the two films, Pygmalion is the more faithful adaptation and arguably the better movie. Although it lacks the splashy technicolor, catchy Lerner and Loewe musical numbers and intricate Cecil Beaton designed costumes featured in My Fair Lady (and those incredible hats!), Pygmalion tosses aside the showiness (although Schiarpelli fashions are nothing to sneeze at) for a more genuine and authentically English production. Its stripped down approach accentuates the stark contrast between the ill-mannered, uneducated, poorly dressed flower girl, and the simple, well-spoken, dignified elegance of a duchess. The success of this adaptation is likely due to Shaw himself. Producer Gabriel Pascal obtained filming rights from Shaw directly, who was originally hesitant to make the deal. The playwright was involved in the production, lending his talents to the adapted screenplay, which won him the Academy Award in 1939. Despite his involvement with the film, Shaw was greatly disappointed with the tacked-on happy ending. Shaw was aware that his original ending wouldn’t be in the film, so he negotiated a reasonable compromise with Pascal. Unbeknownst to Shaw, Pascal had filmed an ending which was different from what was agreed upon. When he discovered Pascal’s changes, the notoriously difficult Shaw was quite mad, and rightly so. Maintaining his integrity as a well-respected playwright was paramount, and altering the outcome of two of his most famous characters jeopardized that, or so he thought. Moviegoers in the 1930s wanted to see even the most flawed of characters find some sort of happiness, especially in their romantic lives.

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Mad for Tchaikovsky: Glenda Jackson and The Music Lovers (1970)

THE MUSIC LOVERS

The online theater community practically exploded this past weekend when reviews started hitting for the great Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage with a landmark production of King Lear at the Old Vic, her first time in the footlights in twenty-five years. Jackson hasn’t exactly been in hiding in the meantime; she became a member of Parliament since 1992, standing down in 2015 after an outspoken career including several fiery speeches that became worldwide sensations.

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Beatlemania: A Family Tradition

HARD DAY'S NIGHT, A (1964)

My mom’s first experience with The Beatles was like most people of her generation; her first glimpse of the mop-topped foursome was on February 9, 1964, on America’s favorite Sunday night pastime, The Ed Sullivan Show. Mom was only nine years old and hadn’t heard The Beatles’ music, and wasn’t even quite sure who they were, but the two-set spotlight on Sullivan was enough to excite her. Her friend Jeannie called her on the phone in advance of the Sullivan episode and told her she just had to watch this amazing band. Jeannie, likely telling my mom, “They’re cute! They dress alike, and have these adorable haircuts…and they talk so different!” Jeannie was the same age as Mom, but had siblings much older than her, so she knew about the band because of them. Taking her friend’s advice to heart, Mom made sure to tune in for The Beatles’ performance. As soon as Paul sang those first few words from “All My Loving,” the young girls on television and at home collectively lost it. Moved by the spirit, Mom began flailing her arms and kicking her legs. In her frenzied state, she failed to notice that one of her shoes was dangerously close to flying off her foot. Next to the chair she was sitting in sat her mom, my dear Granny, undoubtedly smoking a cigarette with the ash perfectly curled on the end, with a cup of coffee perched on the flat wooden arm of the sofa. (Apparently my grandparents always had a pot of coffee on and drank the stuff around the clock.) Mom continued to kick her feet until her shoe flew off her foot, hitting Granny’s full coffee cup, causing it to fall and shatter all over the floor. According to Mom, my Granny thought the whole situation was a hoot, which sounds about right.

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Angry Cinema: The British New Wave

LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, THE (1962)

In the late 1950s, Britain was a country in transition. The destruction caused by two world wars remained evident but the economy was booming and unemployment was at an all-time low. Popular music was bringing diverse groups of individuals together and creating a sense of unity among the youth. Despite the overall prosperity, the stark differences separating the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots’ were more apparent than ever thanks to the integration of the social classes. The underlying unrest and dissatisfaction erupted in labor strikes, anti-nuclear protests and violent race riots eventually finding expression in the film movement we now call The British New Wave.

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THE CREEPING FLESH

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The Creeping Flesh (Freddie Francis, 1973) screens on TCM later this week and it’s worth highlighting for several reasons. Oddly enough, for me anyway, the skeleton found in New Guinea by a Victorian scientist – one that can regenerate flesh and which is posited as some ancient embodiment of evil – is low on the priority list. [...MORE]

Paranormal Police Procedural: Nothing But the Night (1972)

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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.

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Panning for Gold with Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka

Eureka 1 I have a real soft spot for that strange period after the ‘70s when all the British filmmaking enfants terribles tried to wedge their styles into a movie landscape that had radically changed in front of them. Ken Russell tore into the American cinematic arena with Altered States (1980) and Crimes of Passion (1984); Lindsay Anderson veered from satirical outrage with Britannia Hospital (1982) to genteel drama with The Whales of August (1987); John Boorman went phantasmagorical with Excalibur (1981) and primitive with The Emerald Forest (1985); Derek Jarman dispensed with narrative entirely for The Angelic Conversation (1985) and The Last of England (1988). Then there’s the strange case of Nicolas Roeg, who was riding high after the triple punch of Walkabout (1970), Don’t Look Now (1973), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Needless to say, the early ‘80s took him in some very surprising directions, first with the very ill-received Bad Timing (1980), which is now regarded as a transgressive classic, and what remains one of his most neglected and misunderstood films, Eureka (1983), airing on TCM in the appropriately wee hours of Friday. [...MORE]

That Ealing Touch

Alec Guinness in The Lavendar Hill Mob
If you know the name “Ealing Studios,” chances are it makes you think of a string of astonishing comedies the British studio cranked out in the decade or so after World War II, usually starring Alec Guinness, including such essentials as The Lavender Hill Mob (1951, seen above and airing this Saturday, September 10), The Ladykillers (1955), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Man in the White Suit (1951), and Whiskey Galore! (1949). If you haven’t seen any of those, put them at the top of your “to watch” list pronto! However, there’s much, much more to the Ealing name than most Americans ever saw, and only in recent years has it been possible to really appreciate the scope of its output.  [...MORE]

We’re Off to See the Zardoz

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In the pantheon of wildly ambitious, certifiably insane major studio films released in the go-for-broke 1970s, few can hold a candle to Zardoz (1974). Director John Boorman was riding high on the success of Warner Bros.’ Deliverance two years before, so he was essentially given free rein to choose whatever story he wanted as long as the budget was right. The 20th Century-Fox production was envisioned by Boorman as his second vehicle with Burt Reynolds, but when the mustachioed superstar proved too ill to sign on, Sean Connery was brought on instead. The result is a hallucinatory and utterly unique fever dream of a film, as much fantasy as sci-fi despite its marketing (perhaps because Boorman was still frustrated at being unable to launch an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings), and once seen, it’s certainly not easy to forget. [...MORE]

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