Some notes about what’s showing this week, which captures the rest of the year, on Turner Classic Movies.
It’s the Holiday Season
I wasn’t writing early enough to recommend that you watch the odd romance Holiday Affair, in which single mom Janet Leigh winds up with a restrained Robert Mitchum, but this evening, they’re airing a number of my favorites plus one I wonder about.
The Bishop’s Wife (Friday, 12/24, 8:00 PM ET) — They start with the one I find confusing. Cary Grant’s an angel sent to make the lives of the religious David Niven and his wife Loretta Young better, but he winds up romancing her. At least, I think that’s what’s happening — I haven’t seen this for years, but I seem to recall that the explicit message of the film, what it tells us we should think and hope for, contradicts the visuals. Maybe that’s why it’s not currently in print on DVD. Some wonderful star power there, though.
Remember the Night (Friday, 12/24, Midnight ET) — This one, on the other hand, is newly rediscovered and available, and it’s quickly become one of my two favorite holiday movies. (The other is Christmas in Connecticut. By coincidence, both star Barbara Stanwyck.) I like it so much because it sets out its own expectations of what makes for a wonderful holiday, valuing tradition without being a slave to it. It’s also bittersweet and a bit tart, as Stanwyck’s shoplifter spends Christmas with Fred MacMurray’s district attorney who put her in jail. It’s not a children’s movie, but romantic in its own way, and it’s rare in putting forth the idea that there can be some things stronger than family by birth.
Bell, Book and Candle (Saturday, 12/25, 4:00 AM ET) — A magical comedy in which an impressive supporting cast — Jack Lemmon, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold, and Elsa Lanchester — spin laughs around the romance between Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak’s witch. The magic makes for clever symbolism of what falling in love is like, set in a 1950s New York of long, long ago, just on the cusp of the free-spirited 60s. Very stylish.
The Shop Around the Corner (Saturday, 12/25, 8:00 AM ET) — Another one out of print (at least on its own), so thank you TCM for making these fine classics so easily available. Depression-era Budapest is the setting for a classic case of mistaken identity. Co-workers Jimmy Stewart (almost 20 years earlier) and Margaret Sullavan spat at work in their retail store, but fall in love through the written word as pen pals. A very different time, as shown by the letters, but I like a feeling of old-fashioned history at the holidays.
Someone in the programming department has a sense of humor, as Christmas night is dedicated to “Family Fun” — for which read battles galore, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and other films distinguished by their arguments.
Holiday (Tuesday, 12/28, 4:00 PM ET) — It’s not a Christmas movie, but I like this pairing of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn better than in Bringing Up Baby. She’s rich and wacky — but more practically sensible than the rest of her hide-bound status-constrained family. He’s poor and hard-working, but he doesn’t value money and position as much as everyone else thinks he should. He’s also engaged to her sister, which provides the needed complication.
If you missed TCM’s focus on Disney’s live-action movies a couple of years ago, you can check it out again on Sunday, Boxing Day, December 26. Some fondly-remembered family films — Pollyanna, Swiss Family Robinson, The Love Bug, The Parent Trap, and many more — start at 6:30 AM and continue all day, bookended by The Age of Believing, the original documentary on the movies at 6:30 PM.
Well, That’s a Coincidence
Bye Bye Birdie (Monday, 12/27, 10:30 AM ET) — I’m not sure how we got on the topic of The Ed Sullivan Show at lunch today — probably pondering the difference between media aimed at everyone back then and the narrowcasting so popular now — but it always makes us think of this movie. We own it, so we were planning to watch it again, but this makes it very convenient for the TiVo. There’s something about Conrad Birdie, the departing rock star … he’s Elvis, but a kind of zombie Elvis, with an oddly robotic portrayal. Then there’s Ann-Margaret, who’s always watchable by men of a certain age, and the charming Dick Van Dyke, and Paul Lynde as a devoted family man (funny given what we know now). Just ignore the badly miscast Janet Leigh as a fiery Puerto Rican.
They Don’t Make Them Like That Any More
Note that programming has changed for the evening of December 27. Instead of the classic science fiction originally scheduled, TCM is running a tribute to the recently departed Blake Edwards, with his best-known films, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (8 PM), The Pink Panther (Midnight), and the always-funny Victor/Victoria (2 AM).
You may also want to check out the channel all throughout Friday, New Year’s Eve. The day is a bundle of Cary Grant classics — including Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, Arsenic and Old Lace, and Hitchcock’s North by Northwest — while the evening, in keeping with the holiday, is a Marx Brothers marathon. Duck Soup is my favorite!