A Flickchart Guide to TCM in August, Part 2
I’m sure you’ve been enjoying TCM’s Summer Under the Stars celebration, and we’re only halfway through the month! There’s so much more yet to come. So let’s get to it!
Thursday, August 17 – Rosalind Russell
With an early career like many others, a series of second-string and supporting roles, Rosalind Russell got her break when her numerous and varied audition tapes finally convinced George Cukor to give her the third-billed role in The Women – her zany comedic experience showed a whole new side of her that audiences loved and MGM was quick to cast her in more comedies, starting with the inspired His Girl Friday. The rest of Russell’s career struggled to live up to those high points, with one exception – her move to Broadway in the mid-1950s snagged her a Tony for the brash musical Auntie Mame, a role she’d reprise on film. Russell’s combination of good looks, professional bearing, and fearless comedy makes her always a joy to watch on screen, regardless of the quality of the vehicles she was given.
Top Ranked: His Girl Friday (1940; ranked #102 by 2736 users) – Solidifying her star, Russell played the fast-talking Hildy Johnson to Cary Grant’s fast-talking Walter Burns in this gender-swapped version of The Front Page. Howard Hawks directs with his signature interest in professional spaces and how women interact with men in them. Playing 8/17 at 12:00M
Double Feature: The Women (1939; ranked #1969 by 256 users) – Russell’s big break was still playing third lead behind Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford, but she definitely made the most of her role as the pot-stirring Sylvia Fowler. The role requires the actress, formerly typecast in uppercrust lady-type roles, to be decidedly unladylike, and Russell dives into it headfirst, making Sylvia supremely ridiculous and supremely memorable. Playing 8/17 at 9:15am
Wild Card: Craig’s Wife (1936; unranked by 0 users) – Though Russell, as I said, mostly played demure lady roles prior to The Women, this is something of an exception, an early chance for Russell to show some of her skill. Here she plays an icy, manipulative woman to great effect. Playing 8/17 at 6:00am
Friday, August 18 – Rod Taylor
With craggy good looks and an acting style honed on the stage in Australia, Rod Taylor made his way to Hollywood in the mid-1950s, first making his way in radio dramas, then alternating film and television roles throughout most of his career.
Top Ranked: The Birds (1963; ranked #381 by 25038 users) – In Hitchcock’s thriller, Taylor meets Tippi Hedren in Bodega Bay and they hit it off, setting in motion the series of events that will trap them in his family’s house, held hostage by a host of avian marauders. Taylor and Hedren would close friends throughout their lives. Playing 8/18 at 8:00pm
Double Feature: The Time Machine (1960; ranked #1309 by 1261 users) – Taylor’s star skyrocketed with this George Pal film, based on the H.G. Wells novel, wherein Taylor plays a Victorian inventor who comes up with a time machine. The extended segment with the Eloi and Morlocks is justly celebrated, but I also truly love the visuals of the time machine itself, and the sobering brief stops in the twentieth-century’s war-torn years. Playing 8/18 at 12:00N
Wild Card: The Glass Bottom Boat (1966; ranked #10800 by 71 users) – In the mid-1960s, you didn’t get much more popular than Doris Day, who had now entered the romantic comedy phase of her career and was mostly just singing title songs. Taylor had his chance as her love interest here. Playing 8/18 at 10:00am
Saturday, August 19 – Angela Lansbury
Angela Lansbury is one of the true triple threats of entertainment, finding incredible success on the big screen, the small screen, and the stage. Even in her very first film, as the somewhat suspicious maid in Gaslight, you could tell she was someone to watch, and she refused to let the studios typecast her, playing romantic leads, supporting roles, villainesses, innocents, and everything in between.
Top Ranked: The Manchurian Candidate (1962; ranked #312 by 6974 users) – Perhaps Lansbury’s most terrifying role, as the villainous mother of sleeper agent Laurence Harvey (she and Harvey were actually about the same age). Playing 8/19 at 8:00pm
Double Feature: Gaslight (1944; ranked #635 by 742 users) – Ingrid Bergman is the star here, being driven mad by her conniving husband Charles Boyer, but Lansbury makes the most of her small debut role, ensuring that even with all the star power and plot twists on screen, you don’t come close to forgetting her. Playing 8/19 at 10:30pm
Wild Card: The Harvey Girls (1946; ranked #3473 by 200 users) – This is a personal favorite of mine, with Judy Garland leading a group of waitresses at the Harvey restaurants that popped up along the railroad tracks as they moved west, bringing civilization and coffee to the wild west. But Harvey restaurants displaced saloons and their dancing girls, of which Lansbury is one – setting up a pure/impure dichotomy that doesn’t play out as cleanly as you might expect. Playing 8/19 at 6:00pm
Sunday, August 20 – Cary Grant
There’s no one in classic or modern Hollywood that epitomizes the suave and debonair like Cary Grant – his good looks and charm exuded from the screen for an amazing three and a half decades during which he only seemed to age into BETTER looks. But that suave image isn’t the whole truth, as anyone who’s seen his comedies can attest – Grant can goof with the best of them, a skill likely learned during his acrobatic troupe days as a very young man. Like most iconic stars of the Golden Era, Grant usually played some version of Grant, but there are enough variations on that and his persona is so ridiculously charming, that it hardly matters.
Top Ranked: The Philadelphia Story (1940; ranked #94 by 3052 users) – The ex-husband rarely gets a fair shake, but here Grant’s C.K. Dexter Haven seems to have the upper hand throughout his ex-wife Tracy Lord’s wedding plans, simply by being there as a “WTF are you doing” comparison to her dull as a post fiance. Playing 8/20 at 6:00pm
Double Feature: Suspicion (1941; ranked #571 by 1158 users) – If Hitchcock had gotten his original ending for this thriller, Grant’s role would’ve been quite a bit darker than the actor had ever played. As it is, the studio faltered on making such a prominent star a villain, and forced a safer and blander ending. That said, knowing what the ending SHOULD have been makes all the difference, and it’s exhilarating to imagine Grant playing it. Playing 8/20 at 2:00pm
Wild Card: Penny Serenade (1941; ranked #6053 by 154 users) – Grant’s Hitchcock films and several of his comedies are pretty well-known, but he was also capable of turning out tearjerkers with the best of them. Though one might argue Irene Dunne does the heavy lifting in this marriage/parenting melodrama, Grant is certainly right there with her all along the way, and Penny Serenade stands as one of the most affecting films of his career. Playing 8/20 at 6:00am
Monday, August 21 – Ann Harding
TCM always likes to throw one truly obscure wild card into Summer Under the Stars, and this year it’s Ann Harding. An accomplished stage actress, she was lured to Hollywood at the dawn of the talkie era (as many stage actors were), Harding specialized in soapy melodramas in the Pre-Code era, and suffered from typecasting as a suffering patrician type soon after, but made a comeback in the 1940s with some enjoyable comedies and matronly roles.
Top Ranked: Double Harness (1933; ranked #13043 by 15 users) – In this Pre-Code, Harding tricks playboy William Powell into marrying her, but soon wants him to fall in love with her for real. This was THE hot ticket at TCM Fest last year, so hot I didn’t get to see it. Looking forward to the chance now! Playing 8/22 at 2:30am
Double Feature: The Animal Kingdom (1932; ranked #18047 by 1 users) – Harding’s stage training stood her well in adaptations of hit Broadway shows, like this one about an intellectual publisher torn between his society wife and a free-thinking lover. Playing 8/21 at 9:30pm
Wild Card: Eyes in the Night (1942; ranked #16197 by 7 users) – Having retired from the screen in 1937, Harding returned with this light mystery, which sounds like it would be right up my alley. Playing 8/21 at 4:30pm
Tuesday, August 22 – Glenn Ford
In among the stars who flamed brightly and those who electrified the screen, Hollywood also had its share of steady, quietly charismatic actors who showed up and turned in a solid performance every time, regardless of the project. Glenn Ford was one of the best of these dependable actors, as comfortable in noir as he was in westerns, projecting an air of calm and strength even when circumstances fell apart around him (which was often), while managing to convey an undercurrent of anger when called for. Ford also served his time in the military, both during WWII itself (returning, as so many actors did, to capitalize on world-weary noir characters) and later in life in the Navy reserves. He was married for nearly two decades to sensational actress-dancer Eleanor Powell.
Top Ranked: Gilda (1946; ranked #554 by 1000 users) – Ford returned from WWII to jump right into this noir role opposite Rita Hayworth, playing her ex-lover who runs into her again through his business partnership with her husband, which starts all sorts of havoc. Ford and Hayworth became close friends (and maybe more) during the shoot, and remained friends throughout their lives. Playing 8/22 at 12:00M
Double Feature: Blackboard Jungle (1955; ranked #2987 by 233 users) – One of the first in a long tradition of “inspiring teacher” stories, Ford here plays a teacher venturing into the inner city to take on such rebellious youths as Sidney Poitier (in one of his earliest roles). The film is also notable for the first time rock n roll, in the form of “Rock Around the Clock”, played on the big screen. Playing 8/22 at 4:00pm
Wild Card: Experiment in Terror (1962; ranked #5092 by 89 users) – Director Blake Edwards was better known for stylish comedies, but was also capable of making some truly thrilling thrillers, including this one which has Lee Remick as a woman threatened by a mysterious man on a telephone into helping him steal money from the bank where she works. Don’t worry, Ford doesn’t play the villain, but the FBI agent she manages to contact. Playing 8/22 at 8:00pm
Wednesday, August 23 – Greer Garson
Though she’s hardly a household name today, Greer Garson accomplished the astonishing feat of garnering five sequential Oscar nominations in the 1940s (out of a total seven nominations in her career). Her refined Anglo-Irish background made her the perfect candidate to take over as MGM’s leading prestige drama actress, and she prestiged the heck out of everything from classic literature to the Blitz to scientist biopics. Prestige films like this fell out of favor after the end of the war, and Garson wasn’t well-suited to the grittier noir and zanier comedies that followed, but she continued to work sporadically until the 1960s.
Top Ranked: Mrs. Miniver (1942; ranked #1568 by 430 users) – Best Picture and Best Actress winner for 1942, Mrs. Miniver struck a nerve with Americans just entering WWII, thanks to its solid evocation of British resilience during the 1939-1940 Blitz. It’s still a very powerful film, but it was especially the perfect film for the perfect time at its release. Playing 8/23 at 1:00pm
Double Feature: Madame Curie (1943; ranked #6646 by 101 users) – One of Garson’s best roles was a the famed scientist Marie Curie, whose experiments with radiation set the stage for many scientific and technological advances in the 20th century. Playing 8/23 at 8:00pm
Wild Card: Adventure (1945; ranked #17770 by 6 users) – The tagline reads “Gable’s back, and Garson’s got him!” Clark Gable had been off screen for a few years following the tragic death of his wife Carole Lombard in a plane crash, and MGM wanted to make the most of his return by pairing him with one of their most popular actresses of the time. By most accounts, the chemistry between Gable and Garson wasn’t quite there, but I’m still curious to see it. Playing 8/23 at 3:15pm
Thursday, August 24 – Dennis Morgan
A charming boy-next-door type, Dennis Morgan’s bright smile and sweet crooning singing voice carried him through many a musical and light comedy throughout the war years and beyond, often playing a young serviceman on leave.
Top Ranked: Christmas in Connecticut (1944; ranked #3057 by 195 users) – The epitome of his “soldier on leave” roles during the war, here he writes to columnist Barbara Stanwyck about how her column about her life in her farmhouse in Connecticut has meant so much to him while recovering from an injury, prompting Stanwyck’s editor to invite him to visit her as a publicity stunt for the paper. Only thing is, she’s been making all that up from her tiny flat in NYC. So she borrows a farm, a husband, a baby, and the whole shebang over Christmas, with endearing results. Playing 8/24 at 12:30pm
Double Feature: It’s a Great Feeling (1949; ranked #18787 by 16 users) – Morgan plays himself in this one, along with Jack Carson – two Warner Brothers actors who help a young girl (Doris Day in an early role) trying to break into pictures. It’s interesting to think of those two guys as big enough stars to have pulled off playing themselves, but maybe the fact that they’re both sort of second-string is why it worked. Playing 8/24 at 4:30pm
Wild Card: My Wild Irish Rose (1947; ranked #21134 by 4 users) – Morgan got a chance to exercise his pipes in this musical biopic of Irish tenor Chauncey Olcott, torn between two women – his Irish love Rose, and stage star Lillian Russell. Playing 8/24 at 12:00M
Friday, August 25 – Simone Signoret
One of the most highly acclaimed stars of 1950s-1960s French cinema, Signoret started working as an extra to support her mother and brothers when her Jewish father fled France to join DeGaulle’s Resistance. By the late 1940s, she was getting more substantial roles and had a string of hits in the 1950s with major directors like Jacques Becker, Max Ophuls, and Henri-Georges Clouzot. She won an Oscar for the English-language Room at the Top and offers from Hollywood started pouring in, but she turned them down, preferring to stay at the top of European cinema, a choice which worked out well for her throughout the 1960s. Along with her long-time husband Yves Montand, she was also very active politically, supporting human rights and protesting wars around the world.
Top Ranked: Diabolique (1955; ranked #172 by 1062 users) – Almost certainly Signoret’s finest hour, solidifying her persona as a complicated and dangerous woman, a mistress who conspires with a man’s wife to kill their mutual lover. While Vera Clouzot plays the wife as a weaker woman who’s nonetheless had enough of her husband’s shenanigans, it’s Signoret whose determination and will take the upper hand. Playing 8/25 at 10:15pm
Double Feature: La Ronde (1950; ranked #3362 by 135 users) – “A wonderful merry-go-round of love” and the tagline is telling the straight truth, as this film follows lovers as they move on to other lovers in a never ending cycle – a story which fits director Max Ophuls, known for his circular camera moves as well as his circular plots. The film is episodic by nature but held together thematically very well. Playing 8/25 at 6:00am
Wild Card: Casque d’Or (1952; ranked #5451 by 62 users) – I know very little about this aside from its title, but Jacques Becker is known for noirish French crime films, and this is an underworld love triangle with Signoret in the middle – set in the Belle Epoque, which is sure to lend it an exotic air. Playing 8/25 at 8:00am
Saturday, August 26 – James Cagney
James Cagney is known as one of the quintessential gangsters of classic Hollywood, often imitated with signature misquotes like “you dirty rat!” Yet Cagney wasn’t only a charismatic gangster (with a heart of gold), he was also a very talented hoofer and he got to use those talents in a number of films, from Pre-Codes like Footlight Parade to his justly celebrated turn as Broadway composer and star George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. His career spanned three full decades, and he electrified the screen every time he was on it.
Top Ranked: White Heat (1949; ranked #285 by 959 users) – Debate rages whether this is a film noir or a gangster film or simply a psychotic crime film, but whatever it is, Cagney plays the hell out of it as a desperate criminal on the run with a very close (some might say too close) relationship with his mother. When Cody Jarrett blazes out at the end, it isn’t the end of Cagney or gangster films, but it definitely feels like a momentous turn in the history of cinema. Playing 8/26 at 8:00pm
Double Feature: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942; ranked #927 by 897 users) – Actor, dancer, and composer George M. Cohan was the patriotic American voice of WWI, writing such anthems as “Over There”, “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Yankee Doodle Boy.” What better time to honor him with a biopic than in the midst of WWII, when those songs would resonate once again. It was perfect timing, and Cagney turned in an iconic performance as the iconic showman, winning an Oscar for his portrayal. Playing 8/26 at 2:00pm
Wild Card: The Roaring Twenties (1939; ranked #1374 by 318 users) – Not as well known a classic gangster picture as, say, The Public Enemy or Angels with Dirty Faces, but I always recommend it as a great gangster film in need of a comeback. Three friends diverge after WWI, trying to make their way in 1920s America, one going straight, one doubling down on bootlegging, and one (Cagney) trying to go straight as a cabbie but continually pulled into bootlegging on the side. A fantastic supporting performance from Gladys George bolsters an already compelling plot. Playing 8/26 at 10:00pm
Sunday, August 27 – Leslie Caron
Discovered by Gene Kelly when she was dancing ballet in Paris, Leslie Caron quickly became a star in Hollywood musicals due to her graceful dancing and gamin charm. Caron found screen musicals exhausting and wanted to move into more dramatic roles, and unlike many musical stars of the era, she managed to do so, garnering acclaim for 1961’s Fanny and 1962’s The L-Shaped Room, and keeping busy with European cinema throughout the next few decades.
Top Ranked: An American in Paris (1951; ranked #726 by 1336 users) – Caron’s debut film made her an instant star, and with good reason – her waifish charm complemented Gene Kelly’s American machismo, not to mention her ballet skills proving the perfect vehicle for Kelly’s vision for the American in Paris ballet. Playing 8/27 at 1:30pm
Double Feature: Gigi (1958; ranked #2941 by 714 users) – Though this is a musical (Caron’s last, in fact), Caron does very little musical in it – no dancing, and even her singing is dubbed by Betty Wand. You could actually consider this her transition into the dramatic acting that would dominate the rest of her career. Playing 8/27 at 3:30pm
Wild Card: The L-Shaped Room (1962; ranked #16095 by 15 users) – When Caron turned her back on light musicals, she REALLY did – this drama is about an unmarried pregnant girl in a London boarding house, considering abortion, getting into dead-end relationships, etc. Very not light, and very envelope-pushing content for 1962. Playing 8/27 at 11:00pm
Monday, August 28 – Slim Pickens
Perhaps best known for two satires – the caustic third lead in Blazing Saddles and riding the bomb in Dr. Strangelove – Slim Pickens earned his spurs in countless traditional westerns starting in the 1950s, and was in fact a real rodeo cowboy as well. He’s said to have gotten his stage name from his rodeo days, when a more seasoned competitor told him there’d be “slim pickins at this rodeo” for him. Pickens was also active on TV throughout his career, in straight westerns as well as country comedy like “Hee-Haw.” A true professional, Pickens showed up and gave his best regardless of the material.
Top Ranked: Blazing Saddles (1974; ranked #220 by 24515 users) – Mel Brooks’s satirical westerns played with several of the classic western tropes, not least of which involved taking down the inherent racism in a lot of Golden Era westerns by having the sheriff be a black man. Pickens played Taggart, the prickly henchman to corrupt Hedley Lamarr. Playing 8/28 at 10:00pm
Double Feature: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973; ranked #1250 by 672 users) – Pickens isn’t one of the leads in this Sam Peckinpah take on the Billy the Kid legend, which focuses on the aging Pat Garrett, but he’s definitely the kind of guy who makes himself memorable in any role. Playing 8/28 at 11:45pm
Wild Card: 1941 (1979; ranked #3816 by 1779 users) – Often considered one of Steven Spielberg’s worst films, I must admit I’m quite curious to see this comedic take on the days following Pearl Harbor. Perhaps morbidly curious. Playing 8/29 at 4:00am
Tuesday, August 29 – Marion Davies
It’s impossible to talk about Marion Davies’ career without talking about how much her personal life overshadowed it – her most famous role was as the long-time lover of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, twenty years her senior. Enamored of her, Hearst spent enormous funds on establishing a studio especially for her, getting her roles, and buying her palatial Santa Monica estates. Hearst railed against Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (a thinly veiled portrait of Hearst) largely because he saw the Dorothy Comingore character, a mediocre opera singer promoted by Kane, as an attack on his beloved Marion – Welles denied this and spoke well of Davies. Most of Davies’ films aren’t well-known today, but her comedies especially show an actress who deserved better than to be remembered merely as Hearst’s paramour. Ironically, Hearst’s own efforts to promote her in prestigious costume dramas may have done her career more harm than good, as she clearly had a gift as a comedienne.
Top Ranked: Show People (1928; ranked #4336 by 91 users) – A King Vidor-directed show biz farce with Davies playing a wannabe star who heads to Hollywood from small-town Georgia; she starts off happily with comedies, but gets wooed by High Art Studios, and you can guess where that’s going. Sounds almost like a mirror of Davies’ actual career! This, along with The Patsy (see below), are widely considered Davies’ finest roles. Playing 8/29 at 10:15pm
Double Feature: The Patsy (1928; ranked #8942 by 40 users) – Davies’ other film with Vidor has a younger sister falling hopelessly in love with her sister’s boyfriend, only to find out that her sister is cheating on him. Not only a high water mark for Davies, but this is also considered the comeback film for Marie Dressler, who would have a very good late silent/early talkie period, including an Oscar win in 1931. Playing 8/29 at 6:30pm
Wild Card: The Red Mill (1926; ranked #10146 by 29 users) – It may sound unusual for a silent film to be based on an operetta, but such things happened more often than you’d think – remember silent films were never fully silent, and the score played by orchestras or organists would almost certainly have included airs from the operetta’s score and feel very musicals despite the lack of synchronized sound. This one involves arranged marriages and mixed-up lovers and elaborate plots to be with the one you love. Playing 8/29 at 12:00N
Wednesday, August 30 – George Sanders
A brilliant supporting actor though rarely a lead, George Sanders lent his signature cynical wit and sonorous voice to many films from the 1940s through the 1970s. His finest hour on screen was perhaps sardonic theatre critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, but unfortunately it seems that world-weariness and cynicism haunted Sanders offscreen as well, as he suffered from depression and ennui through most of his life. I’m always saddened that he couldn’t share the joy he brought to audiences in so many memorable performances.
Top Ranked: Foreign Correspondent (1940; ranked #599 by 800 users) – After the gothic romance Rebecca that brought him to Hollywood, Hitchcock did this variation on his bread and butter espionage film, with Joel McCrea as an American journalist sent to cover the escalating situation in Europe, teaming up with British journalist Sanders to investigate what turns out to be a spy ring. Playing 8/30 at 4:00pm
Double Feature: Village of the Damned (1961; ranked #1823 by 611 users) – Sanders left his cynicism aside for an earnest performance as the father of one of the kids who starts acting very strange in this classic “creepy kids” horror film. His performance grounds what might otherwise have become very campy (the sequel, for example, is absolutely terrible), and instead makes it excellent. Playing 8/30 at 10:00am
Wild Card: Lured (1947; ranked #7436 by 67 users) – Director Douglas Sirk is best known for his lush Technicolor melodramas in the 1950s, but before all that, he did this dark film noir about a serial killer luring young women to their deaths through the personal columns. This is very high on my own to-watch list. Playing 8/30 at 2:00pm
Thursday, August 31 – Elizabeth Taylor
TCM started this year’s Summer Under the Stars with Marilyn Monroe, and they’re ending it with Elizabeth Taylor, quite possibly the two most iconic female stars from the Golden Era. On screen from age ten, Elizabeth Taylor’s star never diminished in her career as she successfully transitioned from child actress to ingenue to sexpot to, well… harridan. She continually pushed the envelope of what she was capable of, winning two Oscars for roles that were considerably less glamorous than her persona up to then would suggest. Her private life has gotten as much press as her career over the years, with several high-profile marriages and divorces keeping the scandal sheets busy, but her performances continue to stand on their own merit.
Top Ranked: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958; ranked #443 by 1539 users) – In one of the first films where she moved from ingenue to something more abrasive, Taylor played Maggie, wife to Paul Newman’s Brick Pollitt, who clash with Brick’s brother over their father’s will (while their father is still alive, mind you). Playing 8/31 at 10:00pm
Double Feature: Father of the Bride (1950; ranked #2392 by 712 users) – In full ingenue mode, Taylor is the titular bride, obliviously planning her nuptials as her father Spencer Tracy has a hilarious nervous breakdown over his role as father of the bride. Playing 8/31 at 8:15am
Wild Card: National Velvet (1944; ranked #3834 by 300 users) – And to run the whole gamut backwards, here is Taylor as a child, playing the effervescent Velvet Brown, who dreams of running her horse The Pi in England’s most famous steeplechase, the Grand National. This was a favorite of mine as a child, and it hasn’t faded into nostalgia at all. Playing 8/31 at 6:00am