Some notes about what’s showing this week on Turner Classic Movies.
February kicks off their annual Academy Award month, 31 Days of Oscar. (Yes, it extends into March.) This year, they’re arranged by genre during the day and by decade at night, a system that makes much more sense than previous years. Last year, I think it was by type of award, which was more informative (I don’t know now, reading the guide, which awards particular films received or why they were recognized), but made for patchier viewing groups.
Today, Sunday, starts with classic musicals starring big-name talent. I find Brigadoon much too slow, and I still find it funny that they made an Oscar-winning musical about a girl raised to be a rich man’s mistress, but there’s also Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, and especially Gene Kelly.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Sunday, 2/3, 2:15 PM ET, 1954) — If you’re only going to watch one, though, I’d pick this one. It’s another “only in the movies” premise where a girl marries a mountain man after knowing him one day, and then his brothers get jealous and kidnap six other women. The convenient sudden snow means that by the time the rescue party arrives, they’ve all settled down as couples. Really confused view of courting… or maybe a simplified view with only the essentials. The brothers are color-coded by shirts to keep them straight, and Julie Newmar plays one of the girls. Some amazing dancing, and Howard Keel, as lead brother, has never sounded better.
Sense and Sensibility (Sunday, 2/3, 8:00 PM ET, 1995) — I can only dream of being as clever and talented and funny as Emma Thompson, who won the Oscar for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay). Still entertaining, almost 200 years (!) after the story was first written by Jane Austen. And Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman are wonderful beaus.
Quiz Show (Sunday, 2/3, 10:30 PM ET, 1994) — I haven’t seen this since it came out, and I’m curious to see if it holds up (all I remember in detail is thinking Rob Morrow put on a funny accent), but I can’t record it, since it’s on against Mad Men, which I’m now catching up on. I just found that kind of funny, that two 1950s-set pieces about how the era’s facade covered terrible deception were up against each other.
Night and Day (Monday, 2/4, 3:45 PM ET, 1946) — It’s biopic day, a genre I don’t generally care about one way or another. TCM’s program guide refers to this as a “fanciful biography of songwriter Cole Porter”. “Fanciful” is a kind shorthand for “Hollywood version with little to no truth attached.” It’s fun seeing Cary Grant be the songwriter, but it overlooks many key facts, including his true sexuality and that he was generally a jerk to many people.
Pay attention to Monday evening, though, with some of the very earliest best picture winners from the 1920s showing. I know I beat this drum often, but during my childhood, it was still the case that you never knew if you’d ever see a favorite film again. Now we live in a world where just about any filmed entertainment is available, including movies made decades before you were born. Take advantage of this to explore the medium.
42nd Street (Tuesday, 2/5, 2:15 AM ET, 1933) — Okay, lecture over, because it does take a certain frame of mind to watch some of these time capsule pictures. Like this, the “definitive backstage musical”. This is the one where the talented girl is plucked from the chorus when the diva hurts her ankle on opening night, where she’s told, “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve *got* to come back a star!” In other words, it’s hoary, and the tapdancing comes from another era, but still worth watching.
Tuesday’s theme is “Coming of Age”, and I was pleasantly surprised to note that they included Little Women and something called Janie. Too often only boys are assumed to be worth focusing on as they transition from child to man. Growing up’s just as tough on the girls (maybe more so).
Next comes “Journalism” on Wednesday, with a whole bunch of intriguing films, starting with When Ladies Meet (Wednesday, 2/6, 10:15 AM ET, 1933), the first one. (It was remade in 1941 with Joan Crawford and Robert Taylor.) A single lady novelist (because married women don’t write) thinks about having an affair with her married publisher, only to become friends with his wife without knowing that’s who she is. If I remember correctly, watching this I wondered why anyone would be attracted to the guy (Frank Morgan), but that’s not the point, really; it’s to reaffirm the sanctity of marriage in the face of “modern” (for the era) behavior. And it all works because of the strength of the performance of Myrna Loy, playing the writer.
Libeled Lady (Wednesday, 2/6, 2:00 PM ET, 1936) — Magnificent Myrna also stars in this gem, a screwball comedy with the all-star cast of William Powell, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow. I still think the ending makes no sense — maybe someone who watches it fresh can come back and explain it to me — but watching them get there is divine. Loy is an heiress suing Tracy’s newspaper for libel when it prints unsubstantiated gossip about her, so reporter Powell is sent to fake scandalous behavior with Loy after the fact, involving her running around with a married man, with Harlow playing his put-upon bride when she’s really Tracy’s girlfriend (and Powell’s in real life). And this was nominated for Best Picture! That surprises me. It lost to The Great Ziefeld, another Powell/Loy film.
Jumping ahead, Thursday night is dedicated to classics of the 60s, or as I like to call them, “movies that changed filmmaking but now seem pretty dated”. No one can watch 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lolita, or Easy Rider today with the same impact they had 40 years ago. I’m not even going to try.
The same, by the way, is true of the movies showing Saturday night from the 80s, but since I remember watching those fresh, it’s less of a problem for me. Wargames, Stand by Me, and Dead Poets Society pretty well encapsulate the feeling of the era, trying to grow up and figure out the future while living under the threat of nuclear destruction. It seems so far away now, but then, it shadowed many decisions, because it’s hard to plan long-term if you’re not sure you’re even going to make it to retirement.