A Flickchart Guide to TCM in August, Part 1
It’s August! And you know what that means on TCM – Summer Under the Stars! Each day in August will be devoted to the films of a specific actor or actress, and most of the time they choose a really thoughtful cross-section of popular and obscure, so it’s a fantastic time to fill in some gaps on your favorites or get to know someone totally new to you. I’ve chosen three films to highlight per star – the highest ranked one on Flickchart, a second worthwhile one I’ve dubbed a “double feature,” and a wild card that’s a much lower-ranked film. There are lots more playing each day, so if you’re interested in a particular star, make sure to check out the full schedule on TCM’s microsite. Then grab some popcorn, turn down the lights, and enjoy Summer Under the Stars!
Note: I’ve only gone through August 15 in this post; look for the rest of the goodies midway through the month.
Tuesday, August 1 – Marilyn Monroe
Who better to start with than the person who probably most clearly defines “star” in the iconic sense, the blonde bombshell herself, Marilyn Monroe. Monroe started off as a model and bit player in the late 1940s, very quickly making her mark as a personality to be reckoned with, though her acting credentials continue to be doubted to this day. I think that’s a mistake, as Monroe is literally acting all the time, and in a way, she fooled everyone all the time, until the pressure overpowered her and she died at the age of 36. Despite her short life and career, lasting barely over ten years, Monroe is probably the single most recognizable Hollywood star of all time – even though many people who recognize her today may not have seen even one of her movies. This is a great day to change that, and see a wide range of Monroe performances, from her classic “dumb blondes” (spoiler alert, they aren’t really dumb) to more conniving and sometimes even murderous women.
Top Ranked: Some Like It Hot (1959; ranked #202 by 19953 users) – If you’ve only seen one Marilyn Monroe film, it’s probably this one, and that’s a great start. Billy Wilder is the only director to ever work with the chronically unprepared actress twice (see below), and he got one of her very best performances here playing the peppy but troubled Sugar Kane. If “I’m Through With Love” doesn’t break your heart in between all the uproarious laughter this film provides, I don’t know what to tell you. Playing 8/1 at 11:30am
Double Feature: The Seven Year Itch (1955; ranked #930 by 1727 users) – Billy Wilder’s first outing with Monroe cast her as “The Girl” in the fantasy going on in Tom Ewell’s head during a mid-life crisis. In one way, this is probably as close to the Monroe stereotype as she ever actually played (a sexy airhead), but on the other hand, that’s mitigated quite a bit because she’s literally only being seen through Ewell’s warped viewpoint. The film is over the top to be sure, but all the funnier for it. Playing 8/1 at 8:00pm
Wild Card: Clash by Night (1952; ranked #3890 by 159 users) – For a very different Monroe film, try this nasty little film noir where Monroe plays a supporting character to Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Ryan’s leads. Despite the film focusing on Stanwyck and Ryan’s self-destructive relationship, Monroe lights up the screen whenever she’s on it, presaging just how luminous a star she was about to be. Playing 8/1 at 7:30am
Wednesday, August 2 – Ray Milland
A dapper leading man in light comedies as well as dramas and noir films, the Welsh-born Ray Milland started out as a jockey at his family’s horse-breeding farm and an expert marksman and horseman in the British army before deciding to pursue acting. After several years at MGM in bit and supporting roles, he moved to Paramount and quickly moved up in the ranks to leading man, winning an Oscar for his role as an alcoholic in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend. During WWII, he tried to volunteer for the US Army, but was rejected due to a hand injury. At the height of his popularity, he was Paramount’s highest-paid actor. The three films chosen below represent a nice spectrum of Milland’s roles.
Top Ranked: The Lost Weekend (1945; ranked #370 by 1412 users) – Before Billy Wilder made this film, drunkenness was almost exclusively treated as comic relief in films, and drunks were silly, funny, and harmless. This was the first film to seriously treat alcoholism as a disease and show the kinds of ill effects it has on individuals and their loved ones, as Milland’s character spends an entire weekend trying to get some booze after his sister takes all of his hoping to sober him up. The hallucination scene is still harrowing, though the film as a whole feels a little one-note and preachy today. At the time, it was ground-breaking and was rewarded with Best Picture, Director, and Actor Oscars. Playing 8/3 at 2:00am
Double Feature: The Big Clock (1948; ranked #3283 by 175 users) – Milland in noir mode here, playing a reporter working for tyrannical editor Charles Laughton. Now, anytime Laughton is in a film it’s basically his film, though Milland does a game job playing off him here, as he gets roped into Laughton’s private life unwittingly and I mean…I was going to recount the plot, but it’s super complicated and really, just watch it. There’s also a giant clock that Milland gets stuck behind, a metaphor for time running out on the two-handed deception he ends up playing. Playing 8/2 at 10:00pm
Wild Card: The Major and the Minor (1942; ranked #2804 by 182 users) – Another Billy Wilder film, this time Wilder’s very first behind the camera. A comedy more in line with Milland’s lighter roles pre-The Lost Weekend, this one has him as the titular Major, who comes across a 12-year-old girl alone on a train and protects her. Except the young girl is actually 20-something Ginger Rogers, pretending to be a minor to get a cheaper train ticket. This leads to some pretty awkward and funny situations. Playing 8/2 at 6:00pm
Thursday, August 3 – Lon Chaney
“The Man of a Thousand Faces,” Lon Chaney was a master not only of makeup and disguise, creating several of the silent era’s most grotesque and memorable monsters, but also of conveying the tortured humanity and deep psychological pain behind the makeup. He started out in Westerns in the early stages of Hollywood filmmaking, then moved into horror with a very long-lasting and fruitful collaboration with director Tod Browning. Chaney underwent incredible physical challenges to play the roles he did, tying his legs behind him and walking on his knees, or binding his arms to his body to play an armless man, tying his nostrils up to create a grotesque visage, or carrying a 40-pound weight on his back for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He created all his own makeup, prefiguring the makeup and prosthetic industries that became a backbone of Hollywood special effects.
Top Ranked: The Phantom of the Opera (1925; ranked #879 by 16857 users) – 90+ years later, this is still really the definitive film version of the famous story, as a mysterious masked figure helps a young ingenue become a famous singer, but at a terrible price. The unmasking scene as the Phantom’s true visage is revealed remains one of the scariest moments in screen history. Playing 8/3 at 8:00pm
Double Feature: The Unknown (1927; ranked #1702 by 226 users) – Alonzo the Armless (Chaney) works at a circus throwing knives with his feet; he’s in love with his stage partner Manon (a young Joan Crawford), and she feels comfortable around him because she has a phobia of men’s arms. Yeah, this movie is kinda messed up on a lot of levels. That’s not even getting into the twist, which is that Alonzo actually does have arms, but he hides them because they would identify him as a criminal. Sorry, that’s not really a spoiler. There are FURTHER TWISTS. Many film historians consider this Chaney’s finest and most complex collaboration with Browning. Playing 8/3 at 2:00pm
Wild Card: He Who Gets Slapped (1924; ranked #3882 by 81 users) – Another film with a circus edge, but it doesn’t start that way – instead, Chaney plays a scientist who has credit for his greatest discovery stolen from him by his patron, who humiliates him on stage. Having lost everything, Chaney becomes a circus clown repeatedly renacting his humiliation. I haven’t seen this, but it looks like it continues to get more complicated after that. John Gilbert and Norma Shearer are also featured as fellow circus performers. Playing 8/3 at 6:30pm
Friday, August 4 – Claire Trevor
Starting her career on the stage in 1929, Claire Trevor soon started adding short films to her repertoire and went Hollywood by 1933, where she played in b-level programmers until catching a break with the 1937 gangster film Dead End, where her performance as a syphilitic prostitute earned her an Academy Award nomination. The film that really brought her into the limelight, though, was 1939’s Stagecoach, again as a prostitute, this time with the proverbial heart of gold. Though she never became as big a star as many others at the time, she did build up a solid resume of mystery/thrillers and film noir, where she was at her best as a the femme fatale or heroine led astray by the rare homme fatale (as in Born to Kill).
Top Ranked: Key Largo (1948; ranked #332 by 1871 users) – Trevor had a strong career as a noir leading lady, but her finest moment of all may just be her supporting role here as gangster Edward G. Robinson’s alcoholic girlfriend, for which she won a well-deserved Oscar. She more than holds her own on screen not only against Robinson, but also Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Lionel Barrymore. Playing 8/5 at 2:00am
Double Feature: Murder, My Sweet (1944; ranked #985 by 393 users) – One of Trevor’s most well-remembered roles is the femme fatale in this Raymond Chandler story. Dick Powell plays Philip Marlowe here, a bit more hardened and less funny than Bogart would play him in The Big Sleep, and Trevor plays a love interest who quickly turns out to be something entirely other. It’s a meaty role and Trevor bites into it with gusto. Playing 8/4 at 10:00pm
Wild Card: Raw Deal (1948; ranked #5625 by 78 users) – This is actually one of my favorite Trevor films, though I can easily see people disagreeing with me. She plays the girlfriend of a guy in prison, helping him escape and take it on the lam. Also along for the ride, though, is the young social worker trying to reform the guy – they kidnap her. She and Trevor become sort of opposing good/bad influences on the criminal. But Trevor also has a very dispassionate voiceover that I could see many as interpreting as sounding bored or lackluster, but to me it became almost poetic in juxtaposition with the raging emotions on screen. Playing 8/4 at 4:00pm
Saturday, August 5 – Gene Kelly
When you think of great classic Hollywood dancers, two names tower over all the others – Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly. Despite their mutual respect for the others’ craft, they had very different styles, with Astaire exuding elegance and Kelly taking a more man-of-the-people, athletic approach. Kelly was definitely the right dancer at the right time for the 1950s and its focus on all-American boy-next-door charm. He quickly became one of MGM’s biggest stars in the 1940s, and turned to directing by 1949’s On the Town. Though he co-directed several films with Stanley Donen first, by the 1960s, Kelly focused much more on directing and even dramatic acting, though it’s his big movie musicals that continue to capture our hearts and imaginations today.
Top Ranked: Singin’ in the Rain (1952; ranked #200 by 18485 users) – Widely considered the greatest musical Hollywood ever made, it certainly is a strong contender, with its evocation of Hollywood’s shift to sound (it’s hardly exaggerating, either, even as it plays hidden microphones and poor diction for laughs), catalog of rediscovered Arthur Freed tunes, and exuberant performances from Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, and more. It’s pretty amazing that a film that started as an excuse for MGM producer Arthur Freed to incorporate his old songs in a movie ended up being one of the best films ever made, but that’s how it works sometimes. Playing 8/5 at 8:00pm
Double Feature: On the Town (1949; ranked #1485 by 494 users) – Kelly’s first foray into directing (alongside Stanley Donen) is this ensemble film about sailors on leave in New York, with just one day to see all the sights, get the girls, and get back on board their ship. It’s often silly, but never lets up with its winning combination of songs, dancing, and actors – Ann Miller is a particular delight, if you ask me. Playing 8/6 at 12:30am
Wild Card: The Pirate (1948; ranked #3415 by 238 users) – Often maligned as being kind of a mess and over the top (both of which things are true), this film is ripe for rediscovery by those like their old films a little on the weird side. Judy Garland is a Spanish heiress longing after stories of a famous pirate; traveling acrobat Gene Kelly pretends to be the pirate and ends up in all kinds of trouble over it. Not least among the film’s pleasures is a number that may be the only time Gene Kelly ever got outdanced – by the simply incredible Nicholas Brothers. Playing 8/5 at 9:30am
Sunday, August 6 – Robert Mitchum
Before deciding to try his hand at acting, Robert Mitchum was a troubled child, a school dropout, rail-riding hobo, and boxer. Thankfully, acting stuck, though it took him a half-decade in b-movies and programmers before his world-weary, heavy-lidded charm found its perfect fit in tough war films and tougher film noir. He’s perhaps the perfect embodiment of the noir anti-hero in films like Out of the Past, while also managing to portray dangerously unhinged villains on the one hand and charming romantic comedy leads on the other. Mitchum’s “bad boy” persona spilled off-screen too, when he was arrested in 1948 for marijuana possession and memorably posed for pictures in the penitentiary – usually this kind of thing would end a star’s career in the 1940s, but audiences didn’t seem to mind Mitchum being a bad boy offscreen as well.
Top Ranked: The Night of the Hunter (1955; ranked #37 by 3649 users) – Charles Laughton only made one film as a director, but wow is it a doozy. Robert Mitchum as a crook who poses as a preacher to get at his former cellmate’s treasure, terrorizing some kids to get to it. It’s a crime film, but it’s also a visual tone poem like the cinema had barely seen in 1955 – unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a popular hit at the time, though it’s now considered one of the greatest films ever made, and Mitchum’s LOVE/HATE knuckles have become iconic. Playing 8/6 at 8:00pm
Double Feature: Out of the Past (1947; ranked #146 by 1486 users) – To many the quintessential noir, Out of the Past forces Mitchum’s character to confront his past when a girl he’d loved turns up again. Femme fatales, disillusioned men who can’t resist them, flashbacks, doom – all the classic noir elements are here, with enough deep shadows and high contrast lighting to please any cinematography aficionado. Playing 8/6 at 10:00pm
Wild Card: His Kind of Woman (1951; ranked #7660 by 61 users) – A lesser known Mitchum film has him playing against Jane Russell in a film that’s part crime thriller, part romance, and part comedy. The tone never quite settles down, but someone that’s okay and the film is way more fun to watch than you’d ever expect – or maybe with Mitchum and Russell in the leads, you WOULD expect it. Playing 8/6 at 12:00N
Monday, August 7 – Eleanor Parker
If you know the name Eleanor Parker at all, you’re either a true classic film aficionado with relatively deep exposure, or you’re a huge Sound of Music and you’ve looked at the credits closely enough to recognize her name as Baroness Schrader. She doesn’t get the guy in Sound of Music, but in the early 1950s, she was highly acclaimed actress, receiving three Academy Award nominations between 1950 and 1955. It’s unfortunate that her star has not remained as high, because she and her films are well worth enjoying.
Top Ranked: Scaramouche (1952; ranked #5618 by 77 users) – As swashbucklers go, this one remains must more obscure than The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, or The Sea Hawk, but it does boast one very notable thing: the longest sustained swordfight in swashbuckling movie history. That fight covers a lot of ground, too, so it never gets samey or boring. Parker plays the love interest, with the saturated Technicolor giving full lustre to her flaming red hair, something missing from most of her best films of the period, which tended to be in black and white. Playing 8/7 at 10:00pm
Double Feature: Caged (1950; ranked #7212 by 54 users) – Women in prison is something of an overplayed exploitation subgenre, but Caged is not exploitative at all. It’s a very solid, very sobering look at a women’s prison, with an innocent Parker put into jail alongside thieves and hardened criminals. I mean, it’s 1950, so it’s not Oz in terms of shocking content, but it can be pretty hard-hitting in places, while also never failing to be engaging, and Parker’s performance is a whole lot of that, earning her her first Academy Award nomination. Playing 8/7 at 4:00pm
Wild Card: Between Two Worlds (1944; ranked #14861 by 10 users) – This is a bit of a wild card even for me, as I think I’ve seen this film a long long time ago, but I remember little about it. It’s a bit of a fantasy, with a group of people on a ship realizing they’re actually not on some kind of pleasure cruise but actually in between heaven and hell, a kind of purgatory. John Garfield is in it as well as Parker, and he’s definitely always worth watching. Playing 8/7 at 6:00am
Tuesday, August 8 – Franchot Tone
Franchot Tone’s French-inflected name fit with the kind of upper-crust, toney lead characters he usually played – by the late 1930s, he was one of the Hollywood’s most visible leading men, yet often in stifling, typecast roles that allowed him little room to stretch, and even less to command the screen against the strong women he was usually opposite, like Joan Crawford (to whom he was also married for several years). He’s a fine foil for them, though, and when given a chance to shine, as in Billy Wilder’s Five Graves to Cairo, he could step up to the plate. He faded from the screen back to the stage in the 1950s, though he came back for occasional and memorable character parts.
Top Ranked: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935; ranked #1120 by 704 users) – Mutiny on the Bounty proved an embarrassment of riches when it came to its ensemble male cast, with Clark Gable (as Fletcher Christian), Charles Laughton (as Captain Bligh), and Tone (as Midshipman Byam) all receiving Oscar nominations as Best Actor (perhaps splitting the vote, none of them won, and the Oscar went to The Informer‘s Victor McLaglen instead). Byam is the one who refuses to have anything to do with the mutiny, but still has to defend himself when the situation comes to trial. Playing 8/8 at 5:30pm
Double Feature: Five Graves to Cairo (1943; ranked #3064 by 177 users) – In this wartime espionage thriller, Tone is the sole survivor of a British tank unit in North Africa, who stumbles upon a French inn that will soon play host to German commander Rommel. Seeing an opening, he pretends to be a German spy to get intelligence for the British army. It’s a dangerous game, and very well-played. Rommel, in an absolute casting coup, is played by famed silent film director and actor Erich von Stroheim. Playing 8/8 at 3:30pm
Wild Card: The Girl from Missouri (1934; ranked #12554 by 16 users) – Tone admittedly does little here besides act as a foil for Jean Harlow, but come on, just about any movie with Jean Harlow is worth checking out. It’s interesting to compare this one, which came out just after the Production Code started being enforced, with some of her earlier Pre-Code films, as the content is very similar (gold digger goes after what she wants) but the effect is completely different – here she’s almost innocent in what she’s doing, with no malice at all, the epitome of the golddigger with a heart of gold. Playing 8/9 at 2:45am
Wednesday, August 9 – Sandra Dee
“Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity…” Maybe the song in Grease isn’t QUITE how Sandra Dee would’ve preferred to be immortalized, but there you go. Dee did have a screen image of squeaky clean teen goodness, playing bright and exuberant teens in comedies and innocent girls on the cusp of sexual maturity in melodramas in the late 1950s. Her popularity didn’t survive her aging out of being able to play teenagers (nor, unfortunately, did her marriage to another teen idol, Bobby Darin), though she did do a few one-off supporting roles and TV movies later in her life.
Top Ranked: Imitation of Life (1959; ranked #1731 by 288 users) – Directed by melodrama master Douglas Sirk, this might as well be in the dictionary under “melodrama.” Not that melodrama is a bad thing, because it isn’t, especially in Sirk’s very capable hands. Lana Turner leads as Lora, a woman pursuing an acting career, leaving her household in the care of Annie, a black woman – both women have similarly-aged daughters. Lora’s is played by Sandra Dee, who gets in a heap of trouble by developing a crush on her mom’s boyfriend, while Annie’s breaks her mother’s heart by passing for white and rejecting her mother completely. Lots of angles to this, though of course the race one is the most foregrounded. Playing 8/9 at 5:45pm
Double Feature: Gidget (1959; ranked #7797 by 122 users) – One of Dee’s most iconic teen characters, Gidget kicked off a craze for teen beach movies that included not only a whole series of Gidget movies but also the Annette Funicello Beach Party movies and spoofs like Psycho Beach Party. Would that today’s youth and surf culture were this wholesome! Playing 8/9 at 4:00pm
Wild Card: The Reluctant Debutante (1958; ranked #15905 by 16 users) – A really enjoyable little fish-out-of-high-society film, as Sandra Dee goes to live with her rich father Rex Harrison and stepmother Kay Kendall, who want to introduce her into polite society. Except Dee is bored stiff with polite society and wants to hang out with an apparently no-good drummer instead. Look for a delightfully scene-stealing performance by Angela Lansbury. Playing 8/9 at 12:00N
Thursday, August 10 – Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier rose to prominence in Hollywood right along with the Civil Rights Movement, one of the first African-American actors to not be either typecast as maids and butlers or relegated to musical interludes, and now, fifty years on, that still feels momentous. He starred in a series of serious and racially-charged films throughout the 1950s and 1960s, taking on the tensions of the time head-on, and yet he didn’t escape criticism even from his peers, many of whom saw his repeatedly playing righteous and all-but-unflawed heroes as capitulation to the status quo, respectability politics on a ten-story screen. Even so, Poitier’s legacy remains huge.
Top Ranked: In the Heat of the Night (1967; ranked #310 by 3289 users) – Poitier plays northern detective Virgil Tibbs, sent down to collaborate on a murder case with southern sheriff Rod Steiger. Suffice it to say that in 1967, no southern sheriff wanted to work with an African-American, no matter his qualifications. Poitier and Steiger are magnetic in their antagonism and eventual respect. Playing 8/10 at 12:00M
Double Feature: The Defiant Ones (1958; ranked #1351 by 545 users) – Chain gang prisoners Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis escape, but they’re chained together, so they’re going to have to work together to survive. A black man and a white man chained together in 1958 is kind of an on-the-nose plot setup, but sometimes you need things to be on the nose, and that may be the case with race-related things at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Playing 8/10 at 10:00pm
Wild Card: A Patch of Blue (1965; ranked #3928 by 129 users) – A blind girl meets Poitier and finds herself becoming friends with him and eventually falling in love with him, never realizing that he’s black, until she brings him home to meet her mom. I remember this being a very sweet and charming little film, though in retrospect, it may play very close to the now-largely-discredited ideal of color blindness. That’s why it’s a wild card – I haven’t seen it in long enough that I’m not entirely sure how it will play today. Playing 8/10 at 6:00pm
Friday, August 11 – Ginger Rogers
Sure, Fred Astaire is the brains behind the choreography, but you know what they say about Ginger – she could do everything Fred could do, backwards and in high heels. Her career as a whole is surprisingly NOT a musical one, though she did also feature in a couple of Busby Berkeley musicals before teaming up with Astaire. As great a dancer as she was in that partnership, she largely eschewed musicals in favor of straight comedies and dramas when she wasn’t with Fred. But that’s okay, because she’s a sparkling comedienne, whether in the more sarcastic vein of her 1930s films or the more wide-eyed doof roles she tended to play more of in the 1940s. Her dramas are…well, they’re okay, but they’re not where she shines, let’s just be honest here. When Ginger was on, though, her charisma was pretty hard to beat.
Top Ranked: Top Hat (1935; ranked #352 by 1134 users) – If you’re only going to watch one Fred & Ginger movie, I say make it Swing Time (best dancing ever put on film), but Flickchart disagrees with me and puts Top Hat on top, and I’m okay with that, too. Top Hat has a more engaging and less shrill story – it’s still pretty ridiculous, but by and large, the non-dancing parts are better in this one than in most other F&G pairings. Playing 8/11 at 10:00pm
Double Feature: Bachelor Mother (1939; ranked #5405 by 89 users) – Ginger is in her comedy element here, playing a young shopgirl who picks up a baby left on the orphanage steps to keep it from falling, and is mistakenly thought to be its mother. The orphanage insists she take it home with her, and when the situation is discovered by the department store where she works, she’s forced to elaborate a whole phony story to keep from losing her job. David Niven plays the son of the department store owner, who takes especial interest in the case….and in Ginger. This little thing is honestly one of my favorite comedies of the 1930s, no question. Playing 8/11 at 6:15pm
Wild Card: Star of Midnight (1935; ranked #8513 by 45 users) – William Powell took a brief break between the first two Thin Man movies to play a detective in a remarkably similar film, only this time it’s Ginger opposite him instead of Myrna Loy. The pairing isn’t nearly as inspired nor the film nearly as memorable, but it’s a fun and energetic diversion. Playing 8/11 at 12:30pm
Saturday, August 12 – John Wayne
Perhaps the star who developed his persona the most completely of any Hollywood actor, John Wayne has become synonymous with a certain type of rugged, conservative American – a type that’s very out of favor with a lot of Americans right now, though others still hold on to his ideals (or his persona’s ideals, as it’s very difficult to separate where John Wayne ends and “John Wayne” beings). Beyond his off-screen politics, though, Wayne is actually a more shaded and interesting actor than he’s often given credit for. It’s true, he did make a boatload of westerns and war films and not a WHOLE lot else, but he manages to give them a weight and relatability that not everyone could pull off. The trio below all happen to be John Ford films, with whom Wayne worked regularly for over thirty years.
Top Ranked: The Searchers (1956; ranked #105 by 4966 users) – Despite being directed by traditionalist John Ford and starring traditionalist John Wayne, The Searchers could actually lay claim to being one of the very first revisionist Westerns. Ethan Edwards is not a good guy here, and the film constantly problematizes his quest to find his kidnapped niece and get revenge on the American Indians who captured her and killed the rest of her family. The quest is long and arduous and Edwards gets more and more dark and twisted as it goes on. If a traditional westerns has obvious white hats, then this is not one. Playing 8/12 at 10:30pm
Double Feature: Stagecoach (1939; ranked #243 by 1990 users) – The film that brought Wayne into prominence and set off a three-decade working relationship between Wayne and Ford plays more like a bottle drama a lot of the time rather than a western. Oh, there’s a stagecoach and there’s an Indian raid, so you get your classic Western stuff, but a lot of the time is spent on disparate characters interacting with each other in the forced proximity of the stagecoach. Some elements have become cliched (like Claire Trevor’s hooker with the heart of gold), but the character moments play out so well that they feel fresh, which of course, they were at the time. Playing 8/12 at 12:15pm
Wild Card: They Were Expendable (1945; ranked #2879 by 304 users) – From Western to war, as Ford explores the introduction of the PT boat in the South Pacific theatre. Wayne plays the commander who wants to use the PT boat to island hop around the area, but he keeps getting shut down or delayed by the brass. The thing I like so much about this film is that while it has a very specific focus in terms of a particular technology’s introduction into the war and how it ended up saving everyone’s butt, it actually plays like a very meandering “day in the life of a sailor” kind of film, capturing some of the “hurry up and wait” that war can quite often actually be like. It’s very nearly a hang-out film. Playing 8/13 at 3:15am
Sunday, August 13 – Barbara Stanwyck
If I had to name one classic era actress who means the most to me, Barbara Stanwyck would likely come out on top. Her brash confidence and take-no-guff Brooklyn demeanor never truly left her, even when she played more vulnerable parts – though don’t get the wrong idea, she could bring the tears as well as the huzzahs and the laughs, but you always felt that her actions were dictated by HER decisions and no one else’s. She could hop from sexy Pre-Codes to weepy melodramas to screwball comedies to grim film noir without batting an eyelash, and she excelled at them all, and always, always elevated lesser material to her level whether it deserved it or not.
Top Ranked: The Lady Eve (1941; ranked #316 by 920 users) – Stanwyck only worked with writer/director Preston Sturges this one time, but it was quite the collaboration, and pretty easily my personal favorite film from both of them. Stanwyck is Jean, the daughter of a cardsharp, and they pick hapless Hopsy (Henry Fonda) as their next target. Unfortunately just as Stanwyck is actually falling for him, he discovers their plot and drops her flat, leading her to get her revenge by pretending to be The Lady Eve. It’s a hilarious double-cross with some of the most inspired comedy sequences I’ve ever seen. Playing 8/13 at 12:00N
Double Feature: Ball of Fire (1942; ranked #771 by 343 users) – Not to be outdone by Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks tapped Stanwyck for his screwball comedy Ball of Fire, casting her as a showgirl on the lam against Gary Cooper’s hapless (and stuffy) professor, who is writing a dictionary and needs help on “slang”. I won’t say it’s QUITE as inspired as The Lady Eve, but beat for beat, it’s pretty close and has the added bonus of the other charmingly hapless professors, played by a who’s who of 1940s character actors. Playing 8/13 at 2:00pm
Wild Card: Jeopardy (1953; ranked #11485 by 25 users) – Switching to noir, one might expect to see Double Indemnity on this list, but I guess TCM decided to play it a little less obvious (it would’ve been the top-ranked one if they were playing it), and that’s fine with me. This one plays somewhere between noir and thriller, with Stanwyck and her small family planning a quiet trip to the beach – until her husband gets trapped out on a pier and she has to go get help, but instead runs into a criminal on the run who forces her to do what he wants instead of helping. It’s very intense, and there’s some great, desperate work from Stanwyck. Playing 8/14 at 4:45am
Monday, August 14 – Vanessa Redgrave
Very few film actors come into the world with the kind of family acting pedigree of Vanessa Redgrave – her father was acclaimed actor and director Michael Redgrave, and her siblings Lynn and Corin are also major actors. But Vanessa has probably eclipsed all of them, at least as far as her film career goes, maintaining fame and critical successes on screen for over fifty years as well as ongoing work on stage and television. She’s a triple threat, earning awards at the Oscars, Emmys, and Tonys. Making her mark first in films like Blow-Up that highlighted her cool, modern intellectualism, she’s continued through big-budget musicals, blockbusters, and art-house films, gracefully aging into a matriarch of the screen.
Top Ranked: Blow-Up (1966; ranked #619 by 1287 users) – Michelangelo Antonioni’s first foray into English language film applies his preoccupation with alienation and distance to the London mod scene, following a fashion photographer who may or may not have accidentally captured a murder in the background of one of his photos (and which may involve Redgrave, who also acts as an elusive model for him). It’s a quintessentially ’60s film, which does care about the potential murder and its effect on our photographer, but doesn’t care at all about actually solving the mystery about the murder, making it equally frustrating and evocative. And also essential. Playing 8/15 at 12:30am
Double Feature: Camelot (1967; ranked #2890 by 461 users) – Barring Julie Andrews, who originated the role of Guinevere in Lerner & Loewe’s Broadway play, I’m not sure there’s a better casting choice for Guinevere than Redgrave. She even did her own singing, which is perhaps not quite on par with Andrews, but is pretty damn good for someone who isn’t a professional singer. The movie actually captures several aspects of the Arthurian legends better than any other film, if you ask me, especially the early romance between Arthur and Guinevere, which is really given time to develop so you can feel what’s been lost when it’s broken. Playing 8/15 at 2:45am
Wild Card: Agatha (1979; ranked #11707 by 71 users) – In 1926, famed mystery writer Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days, finally turning up at a hotel in Yorkshire under an assumed name. This disappearance has never been fully explained. This film, starring Redgrave as Christie, is an imaginary account of what might have happened during those 11 days – that’s literally all I know about it, and I’m pretty much dying to see it. Playing 8/14 at 2:00pm
Tuesday, August 15 – Ricardo Montalban
Though Ricardo Montalban spent the bulk of his film career playing Mexican (or Native American) villains in countless westerns or eye candy Latin lovers in dozens of romantic comedies and musicals, he’s known today for one very iconic role – Khan in one episode of Star Trek and the film Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, widely considered to be the best of the original Star Trek films. However, 1982 is a bit out of TCM’s normal purview, so they’ve chosen to focus on his earlier work, which occurred during a time period in Hollywood history when they really didn’t quite know what to do with a gorgeously handsome but obviously Latin American man when heroes were almost invariably white.
Top Ranked: Border Incident (1949; ranked #7858 by 79 users) – Montalban’s first starring role came in this Anthony Mann film noir, about a pair of border patrol agents (one Mexican and one American) who try to stem the tide of illegal immigration. Wait, was this movie made in 2017? I haven’t actually seen it yet, but I’m a big fan of Anthony Mann, so I’m very curious to check it out. Playing 8/15 at 3:30pm
Double Feature: Sayonara (1957; ranked #7928 by 105 users) – In one of those bizarre cases of Hollywood assuming that “not white” actors could play literally any other race, Montalban plays a Japanese character here. Despite that obvious casting misstep, the film itself is pretty good, focusing on American officer Marlon Brando and his ill-advised love for a Japanese woman (who is actually played by a Japanese-American, so they didn’t get it ALL wrong). Playing 8/15 at 5:30pm
Wild Card: Two Weeks with Love (1950; ranked #15052 by 12 users) – Montalban also paid his dues in playing the “exotic” Latin American lover in a whole string of musicals, and this is probably one of the better ones. Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds (one of her earliest roles) play sisters vacationing in the Catskills with their family, where both girls fall in young love – Powell with Montalban. Playing 8/15 at 10:00am
Movies to See Before You Die
I’m not going to break out all the genre categories I usually do, but I will run down the list of films that rank in the Flickchart Top 1000, because it’s a quick and easy way to see the absolutely essential stuff playing this month and knock some off your to-watch list if you’re trying to complete the Top 1000. Note this only includes movies up through 8/15 – look for the rest in Part 2 of our Flickchart guide to Summer Under the Stars.
The Night of the Hunter (1955; ranked #37 by 3649 users) – Playing 8/6 at 8:00pm
The Searchers (1956; ranked #105 by 4966 users) – Playing 8/12 at 10:30pm
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962; ranked #109 by 2248 users) – Playing 8/12 at 5:45pm
Rio Bravo (1959; ranked #142 by 2558 users) – Playing 8/13 at 12:45am
Out of the Past (1947; ranked #146 by 1486 users) – Playing 8/6 at 10:00pm
Singin’ in the Rain (1952; ranked #200 by 18485 users) – Playing 8/5 at 8:00pm
Some Like It Hot (1959; ranked #202 by 19953 users) – Playing 8/1 at 11:30am
Stagecoach (1939; ranked #243 by 1990 users) – Playing 8/12 at 12:15pm
In the Heat of the Night (1967; ranked #310 by 3289 users) – Playing 8/10 at 12:00M
The Lady Eve (1941; ranked #316 by 920 users) – Playing 8/13 at 12:00N
Key Largo (1948; ranked #332 by 1871 users) – Playing 8/5 at 2:00am
Top Hat (1935; ranked #352 by 1134 users) – Playing 8/11 at 10:00pm
The Lost Weekend (1945; ranked #370 by 1412 users) – Playing 8/3 at 2:00am
The Asphalt Jungle (1950; ranked #460 by 1120 users) – Playing 8/1 at 9:30am
Inherit the Wind (1960; ranked #476 by 1213 users) – Playing 8/5 at 10:00pm
The Quiet Man (1952; ranked #478 by 1620 users) – Playing 8/12 at 8:00pm
Blow-Up (1966; ranked #619 by 1287 users) – Playing 8/15 at 12:30am
Ball of Fire (1942; ranked #771 by 343 users) – Playing 8/13 at 2:00pm
The Phantom of the Opera (1925; ranked #879 by 16857 users) – Playing 8/3 at 8:00pm
The Seven Year Itch (1955; ranked #930 by 1727 users) – Playing 8/1 at 8:00pm
Murder, My Sweet (1944; ranked #985 by 393 users) – Playing 8/4 at 10:00pm