Some notes about what’s showing this week on Turner Classic Movies.
It’s either feast or famine — I’ve gone from recommending only a couple of cult films last week to finding the viewing overflowing this week. Much more after the break.
The Golden Age of Comedy (Sunday, 3/16, 2:45 AM ET, 1957) — Before movies were easily available on specialty cable channels or DVD, compilations were the only way viewers could see classics from the early days of film. The one focuses on clips of “comedians of the silent era” including Laurel and Hardy, Will Rogers, Carole Lombard, and Jean Harlow. (I’m curious about that description, since many of the latter were known for their dialogue and quips.) The only silent era comic I appreciate is Buster Keaton (not included here), so I’m looking forward to getting an introduction to some of the others. It’s a shame that such a thing would be prohibitive to create today, given licensing hassles and costs.
The General (Sunday, 3/16, 4:15 AM ET, 1927) — Speaking of Keaton, his masterpiece follows. It’s about a Confederate whose train and girlfriend are taken by the Union army. (And they’re beloved by him in about that order.) He sets out to get them back, resulting in breathtaking stunts propelling an action comedy.
And Keaton did it himself. If I’m remembering correctly, the water scene is when he literally broke his neck, although he didn’t know it at the time. (It was only discovered years later due to x-rays.) In the crash, the locomotive was actually dropped. (You’ll know what I mean when you see it.) It’s filmmaking before digital tricks (although they had their own shortcuts) when what was on-screen was more real… and all the more fantastic for that.
Libeled Lady (Sunday, 3/16, 8:00 AM ET, 1936) — One of the lesser-known screwball comedies, but all the more funny for not knowing coming in what’s going to happen. Spencer Tracy’s a newspaper editor whose publication is sued by heiress Myrna Loy for printing rumors about her being seen with a married man. (This is as foreign to us today as breach of promise suits.) Tracy comes up with the plan to have her fall in love with a married man supplied by him to make her drop the suit. (Kind of a post hoc, ergo prompter hoc.)
William Powell’s the scurrilous reporter who takes the job… and Jean Harlow is the wife, supplied by Tracy, even though she was already engaged to Tracy (and the actress to Powell in real life). Complicated, yes, but entertaining for watching four talents at their peak. Shame the ending is too convoluted to make sense. Contrast with:
His Girl Friday (Sunday, 3/16, Noon ET, 1940) — This one’s a classic, with Cary Grant as jealous editor trying to recapture star reporter (and ex-wife) Rosalind Russell. They talk so fast, though, it gives me a headache trying to keep up! And you have to take their belonging together on faith, because sometimes they can be awfully mean to each other. I’m not sure how I feel about the idea “they fight so much, they must be in love”, because I think it leads a lot of people to make the wrong decisions. It can make for lovely movies, though.
Rear Window (Sunday, 3/16, 6:00 PM ET, 1954) — The best Hitchcock, in my opinion. Grace Kelly made the best ice-cold blonde with heat underneath, and Jimmy Stewart’s niceness makes him a curious, trapped neighbor instead of a voyeuristic interloper. You may wind up wondering why he hasn’t married her already, since she’s obviously beautiful, brilliant, devoted, and daring. But many Hitchcock men have a fear of women, and he’s no different. It takes a life-threatening event to convince him, and thus, the thriller.
All About Eve (Sunday, 3/16, 8:00 PM ET, 1950) — The classic backstage comedy-with-an-edge. People say they don’t understand why women can be so catty to each other — this one sheds some light on the topic, with the implicit idea that there can only be one at the top of the heap and the way to get there is to knock off the previous. Bette Davis is the unhappy star and Anne Baxter the snake in her bosom, the apprentice who claims she only wants to learn from the master. But it’s George Sanders as critic Addison DeWitt who catches my eye.
Reportedly, it holds the record for the most female acting Oscar nominations in one movie with two for Best and two more for Best Supporting. Its 14 total nominations are still a record (tied with the overblown Titanic), and it won 6, including Picture, Director, Writing, and Supporting Actor for Sanders.
Possessed (Tuesday, 3/18, 11:00 AM ET, 1931) — This isn’t the better-known 1947 one with Joan Crawford, but an earlier pre-Code melodrama in which she lives in sin with Clark Gable, only for that to become a big problem as his political career advances. The question of how a woman is to achieve the good life with few opportunities open to her, especially during the Depression, is the subtext.