Some notes about what’s showing this week on Turner Classic Movies.
How timely, to start with Death and Politics. Death, that’s the focus of the 90s era movies that air tomorrow night. Interesting, wasn’t it, to see the exploration of the chase for a cannibal killer get so many awards?
The Silence of the Lambs (Monday, 2/11, 1:00 AM ET, 1991) — I’m talking, of course, of this film, which is one of only three to win all of Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay. Based on this evening’s selection, which also includes Se7en (3:15 AM, 1995) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (8:00 PM, 1993), people in the 90s wanted fantastic takes on horrific subjects and to wallow in the unpleasant (taken to the extreme). They no longer believed everything would turn out ok and justice would be served.
Ok, I’m exaggerating in including the animated film in this category, but there’s still something unbalanced and death-loving about replacing the long-running authority figure of Santa Claus with Jack Skellington. What does all that say about the culture then? I’m tempted to talk about recessions and post-Reaganism and the like, but Politics is the subject of Monday’s movies.
There’s a wide range of subjects and approaches within that timely basket, including a couple of romantic comedies (I Married a Witch (10:30 AM, 1942), continuing the fantasy theme, and the recommended Born Yesterday (1:45 PM, 1950)) and the classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (3:30 PM, 1939).
That last one has the dynamite cast of Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur, as well as the advantage of a more idealistic era. Sure, the government’s shown as corrupt… but the moviemakers seem to believe that a good man can still make a difference. I’m not so sure that’s a commonly held idea any more.
It Happened One Night (Monday, 2/11, 8:00 PM ET, 1934) — This was the first film to win the five awards mentioned above, and the only one for forty years (until One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975). It was also the source of the only Oscars for Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. It’s a fun ride, sometimes credited as the first screwball comedy.
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Monday, 2/11, 10:00 PM ET, 1936) — Jean Arthur again (she’s snazzy!) with the laconic Gary Cooper as a small-town poet who deals with a sudden inheritance. Reportedly, this movie was going to have a sequel, which wound up being Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when Cooper wasn’t available.
Theodora Goes Wild (Tuesday, 2/12, 7:45 AM ET, 1936) — I adore this little-known film, in which Irene Dunne plays a small-town good girl with two maiden aunts who rule the town with their family’s place and their disapproval of most everything. Turns out, though, that she’s also the author of well-known “scandalous” novels, and big-city artist Melvyn Douglas finds out. He comes to town and torments her as cover for falling in love, only to turn out to have a secret of his own, so she turns the tables. Funny, well-acted, a charming portrait of the appeal of both kinds of life (big-city and small-town), and with a point of view.
Let’s stop there. The problem with Oscar month is that there are so many good movies and stars to watch that it can become overwhelming. I want this to be fun instead of a chore.