We All Go a Little Mad Some Times. . .


TCM in conjunction with Fathom Entertainment brings Psycho to the big screen on September 20 and September 23 at participating theaters. Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, which shows at 2:00pm and 7:00pm on both days, will be presented by Ben Mankiewicz in a brief filmed introduction. While many movie lovers have undoubtedly seen Psycho, rewatch it anew on a big screen with an audience, the way it was intended to be seen.

Every Hitchcock fan—and who isn’t?—has their favorite sequence or scene. Psycho is filled with iconic moments—from Marion’s first appearance in black underwear to her encounter with the cop in shades to the shower scene to the reveal at the end accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking score. My favorite sequence is the parlor scene in which a shy Norman Bates asks Marion to come into the parlor behind the office. As soon as he says “parlor,” think: “Come into my parlor said the spider to the fly.”


Appreciating W.C.

blogopenerLast weekend, TCM celebrated W.C. Fields in a tribute titled 100 Years in Film. Fields’ first venture into the movies was a century ago in a one‑reeler titled Pool Sharks (aka The Pool Shark). Fields’s granddaughter, Dr. Harriet Fields, cohosted the four-film tribute, which included David Copperfield plus the comedian’s three most popular films, It’s a Gift, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, and The Bank Dick.

Though Fields is justly famous for his vocal inflections, making him a perfect performer for talking films, he did appear in a handful of silent films. And, while I love his classics, I also have a fondness for two of his silent films, which I have been lucky enough to see. Sallie of the Sawdust, a film version of the play Poppy, was directed by D.W. Griffith in 1925. Griffith and Fields seem an unlikely creative pairing, but the legendary director rendered the small-town atmosphere perfectly, capturing the warmth and local color of Americana. I remember the imagery and characters made me yearn for an America that has long since passed, or maybe never really existed.

I discovered It’s the Old Army Game while researching movies shot in Florida, a long-time interest for me. The silent comedy stars Fields as a small-town, drug-store owner with the  indecent name of Elmer Prettywillie. Elmer puts up with the idiosyncratic customers who frequent his store, including the matron who wakes him up in the middle of the night for a two cent stamp and the freeloading firemen who always want soda pops on the house. Elmer is ripe for the pickings when a fast talking real estate speculator talks him into a Florida land scheme.


Telluride 2015


Tomorrow TCM hosts its yearly salute to the Telluride Film Festival with 24-hours of TFF-related programming. TCM kicks things off with The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey, 1968) and wraps up with China 9, Liberty 37 (Monte Hellman, 1978). I’m between film screenings at Telluride now, where the fest is marking its 42nd year as one of the more prestigious film festivals in the nation, and feel obliged to remind readers that one of the reasons TFF is so unique among a mushroom-like proliferation of other movie festivals resides in their dedication to highlighting the legacy of film (with archive prints, restorations of classics – also the reason I’m so fond of the TCM Classic Film Festival) as well as the liberties they afford their guest programmers, who are tasked with selecting overlooked films.   [...MORE]

September 5, 2015
David Kalat
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The Misunderstood Legacy of Dr. Caligari

There are times when the received wisdom on a movie separates from the movie itself and starts to run down a track of its own. Consider “Play it again, Sam,” the Thing Everybody Knows about Casablanca even though that line is never spoken in the film. Thinking that’s a line in Casablanca is a trivial error with no real consequences—the sentiment is recognizable from the film, such that it can be true-ish if not strictly accurate.

But then there’s the strange case of Dr. Caligari. Somewhere along the line, the Thing Everybody Knows about this landmark classic of horror cinema took root in our culture like intellectual kudzu—quickly overtaking all available territory and choking to death all the alternative points of view. Thankfully, this remarkable film is making a mini-comeback thanks to some intrepid restorationists, affording an opportunity to rethink its legacy.  (Plus it’s on TCM this Sunday, so now’s the time to read up and do our homework on it, right?)


KEYWORDS: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Susan Hayward in Her Own Words


Susan Hayward is TCM’s Star of the Month. Films she appeared in will be airing every Thursday evening throughout the month of September.

I didn’t know much about TCM’s current Star of the Month so I decided to delve into her past recently and was somewhat surprised by the way Susan Hayward had been portrayed (and ignored) by the media since her death in 1975. Nicknamed the “Divine Bitch” following the release of a similarly titled biography, the four-time Academy Award nominated actress didn’t make a lot of friends in Hollywood and is rarely described in flattering terms by studio executives and costars so the general picture we have of her seems somewhat skewed. I’m a firm believer that there are usually two-sides to every story so I decided to explore newspaper and movie magazine archives in an effort to learn more about the redheaded screen siren in her own words without the opinions of her biographers and colleagues getting in the way. In the process I discovered a complex woman whose turbulent real life was often more sensational than the fictional lives of the characters she portrayed.


What I Learned from Summer Under the Stars


Summer Under the Stars concludes today with the entire day devoted to the films of Shelley Winters. I thought I would look back on this month’s programming and ruminate on what I have learned as well as to make note of my favorite films. I invite readers to comment on their favorite moments from Summer Under the Stars and note any disappointments. Perhaps, TCM will take the feedback into consideration when programming next year’s August schedule. I am curious about which stars, films, and details appealed to regular TCM viewers, and if there are suggestions for the future; I am always impressed with the knowledge and perspectives of the TCM readers.


Grab Your Tux and Let’s Go Clubbing


Between Capitolfest and TCM’s focus on stars from the 1930s, I have discovered a newfound love for films from the Depression era. Among the many reasons for this recent interest is the imaginative, almost dream-like quality to some of the production design. I don’t know a lot about Golden Age production designers beyond recognizable names such as Cedric Gibbons and Hans Dreier, but I am beginning to understand the connection between their set designs and the overall tone or ambiance in films from this time frame.

Some of my favorite set designs are of nightclubs. Nightclubs and speakeasies boomed in America during the late 1920s, boosted by Prohibition and the liberation of women after securing the right to vote. Though clubs were regularly raided, many survived the end of Prohibition to become successful in the 1930s. Famous clubs like the Rainbow Room or the Park Avenue Club boasted elegant interiors by well-known designers, but the majority merely adopted gimmicky decorative styles to help them stand out from other clubs.


August 22, 2015
David Kalat
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The Return of Arsene Lupin Returns, Returns

This is a DVR alert for the upcoming screening of the 1938 mystery thriller Arsene Lupin Returns, starring Melvyn Douglas, Virginia Bruce and Warren Williams.  It’s a sequel to one of my all-time faves, Arsene Lupin.  I’ve raved about that gloriously brilliant 1932 Pre-Code classic several times in this blog before (and this counts as yet another rave, if you’re keeping count), generally in the context of being gobsmacked that it isn’t better known or loved.  There are so many lesser, markedly inferior films of the 1930s that garner audiences solely on the basis of technically being a “gothic horror.” The completest mindset of many horror film fans ensures that anyone who enjoys classics Dracula and Frankenstein will eventually find themselves sitting through something interminable and inexcusable like The Mask of Fu Manchu (which has the sin of being at once racist, sexist, and also boring!)  Meanwhile, Arsene Lupin rides to dizzying heights of entertainment but does so without Boris Karloff or fake cobwebs, so it gets forgotten.

(Grrr).  Anyway, stepping off my soapbox, I realize this week’s mission is a toughie.  If I find it hard to persuade people to watch the 1932 Arsene Lupin which is virtually flawless, what’s it going to take to convince them to watch its lower-budgeted 1938 Production Code-era sequel, in which none of the original cast or crew returned?


KEYWORDS: Arsene Lupin, Melvyn Douglas, Virginia Bruce, Warren William

Mae Clarke: Frankenstein’s First Bride


FRANKENSTEIN (1931) airs tonight on TCM at 9:30PM EST/6:30PM PST

The name Mae Clarke might not immediately ring any bells but the fair-haired, spirited and sad-eyed beauty was a promising leading lady in pre-code Hollywood before personal disappointments, mental health issues and a disfiguring car accident took their toll. When Clarke died in 1992 at age 81 most classic film fans remembered her as the woman who gets a grapefruit smashed in her face by James Cagney during THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) or they might have recalled her daring leap from a window to protect the man she loves in THE FRONT PAGE (1931). Thankfully, many of Clarke’s earlier films have been restored and made available since then. We’re now able to get a much broader understanding of why a 1932 issue of Picture Play magazine prophesied a “brilliant career for her” and Modern Screen claimed, “Mae Clark deserves a place among the big names of filmdom and will get there before long–watch her!”

Today TCM is featuring Mae Clarke in their Summer Under the Stars programming and you can catch her in a number of films including James Whale’s WATERLOO BRIDGE (1930), where she plays the doomed Myra. Many consider it her best film and Clarke often referred to it as her favorite role but today I’d like to focus on her often-overlooked performance in Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931), where she plays the sympathetic fiancé of Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive).


Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and . . . Dali ?

blogopenerThis Friday, August 14, TCM salutes Groucho Marx as part of this month’s Summer Under the Stars. Most of the day is devoted to the classic comedies of the Marx Brothers, which regular TCM viewers have seen multiple times. One of the most rewarding experiences for any avid movie lover is to watch a familiar film with a new perspective, leading the viewer to discover new insights and therefore a new appreciation. I hope my post today offers some of you a different perspective on the Marx Brothers’ movies.

Studying and teaching art history has prompted me to look at the movies in new ways. For example, when first studying the Dadaists in graduate school, I thought immediately of the Marx Brothers, because Dadaism was intentionally subversive and anarchic. It was born out of the anger and frustration over WWI and its causes, and it was designed to ridicule artistic traditions, moral conventions, and social institutions. In cafes and theaters, Dadaists dressed in ridiculous costumes, uttered meaningless noises, or performed poetry based on puns, nonsequiturs, and the interplay of words. Visual artists created collages and sculptures that reflected Freud’s and Jung’s ideas on the subconscious. After the war, the Surrealists picked up where the Dadaists left off, though their perspective was less nihilistic and they were more interested in tapping into the subconscious for their imagery. Surrealism is really about the irrational juxtaposition of recognizable images. Normal, everyday objects lose their identity or meaning because they have been taken out familiar contexts, or because they are depicted as warped or decayed. The imagery can be disturbing, provocative, and/or humorous. The artist whose work came to define Surrealism, at least for the mainstream public, was Salvador Dali, and Dali may have been the Marx Brothers’ biggest fan.


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