Some notes about what’s showing this week on Turner Classic Movies:
Ace in the Hole (Sunday, 8/26, 10:15 PM ET) — Based on Mark Evanier’s description, an extraordinarily jaded film directed by Billy Wilder about media manipulation of tragedy and disaster to reveal the worst of human nature. It’s also about someone trapped in a mine, so it’s timely as well, given Utah. Starring Kirk Douglas. Also on his day:
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (Monday, 8/27, 4:00 AM ET) — I know I’ve seen this, but I don’t recall much about it but the mood. Douglas (in what’s reportedly his first role) plays Barbara Stanwyck’s drunk husband, and there’s lots of shadowy shots and guilty secrets, suitable to a noir. Very evocative about how the past is easily dug up, even unintentionally.
Hollywood Canteen (Tuesday, 8/28, 6:00 AM ET) — The Live Aid of its day, this 1944 film has a thin love story as an excuse to see bits from many Warner Bros. stars, all aimed at supporting our boys in the war. The plot revolves around a recuperating GI getting a date with his favorite Hollywood star, Joan Leslie. Although most of us today say “who?”, she’s warm and friendly and believable. A real time capsule.
Buster Keaton Day is Thursday, August 30. It starts with his mid-60s work, basically cameos, including in some beach movies. Then come the late 20s, not-very-good films. So wait until 8 PM, when the classics start.
Watch as many of these as you can, because they’re all amazing:
- Steamboat Bill, Jr. — The one where the side of the house falls on him. The plot is pointless but classic, involving the more “civilized” son trying to live up to his burly father’s expectations and win the daughter of a business rival. This movie was also what the first Mickey Mouse cartoon was based on. Just spend an hour watching one of the most astounding physical athletes ever doing what he did best: entertaining viewers.
- The General — When his train is stolen by Union soldiers, a Confederate soldier takes it back. Impressive chase scenes with locomotives (who would have thought of playing tag with real trains?), and I think this might be the one where Keaton broke his neck without knowing it. He’s standing under a water tower, and the flood knocks him down. Funny, but years later a physical revealed that he’d been injured and not even noticed. One of his best, and one of the best American films of all time.
- College — To get the girl (Keaton believed in nice basic universal motivations), a geek tries to excel in athletics. I enjoy seeing how he tackles the different sports, even though the blackface scene is discomfiting today.
- The Navigator — Trapped with a girl on an abandoned ship, the two try to survive. More of a string of sketches than a full movie.
- Sherlock, Jr. — Fascinating in its metaphysics. An aspiring detective dreams himself into the film he’s projecting. The sequence where the backgrounds change as film splices is wonderful, and watch especially for the dive-through-a-window costume change. I found myself rewinding that several times to see how it was done.
- Our Hospitality — Keaton’s take on Romeo and Juliet as set against the Hatfield/McCoy feud. The woman’s played by his real-life then-wife, Natalie Talmadge, and the prologue baby by their child.
- The Balloonatic — A short in which Buster goes camping.
- The Blacksmith — Another early short, of most interest for me in showing the technology of the time.
- Cops — Perhaps his most famous short, which ends with every policeman in the city chasing him. He’s mistakenly thought to be a terrorist, you see. Hmm, maybe I do need to watch it again.
If you can’t watch them all, watch at least one. There’s a reason why these 80-year-old comedies are viewable over and over. Keaton was a genius.
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