A Flickchart Guide to TCM in February
February is TCM’s Oscar month, where every film programmed is Oscar-nominated. That means a wealth of great classic films. In fact, there are a whopping 89 Movies to See Before You Die playing this month, so get those DVRs ready! This particular month tends to turn up very well-known movies, but there are still plenty of gems outside the Top 1000 and with fewer than 200 rankers.
You’ll see below the list of 89 (!) films that are in the Flickchart Top 1000, but there are plenty of great films that have over 200 rankers without quite making that threshold. These are films that you really shouldn’t miss, and are favorites among classic film fans.
The Band Wagon – Feb 11, 12:00N
1953 – ranked #1545 by 450 users – directed by Vincente Minnelli – starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant
If Singin’ in the Rain is Gene Kelly’s MGM musical masterpiece, then The Band Wagon is Fred Astaire’s, and while it’s nowhere near as well known outside the world of fans of classic musicals, it’s nearly as great. Astaire plays an aging movie actor trying to resuscitate his career with a turn on Broadway, with the help of his songwriting buddies (a thinly veiled tribute to prolific writers-of-showtunes Betty Comden and Adolph Green), the New York Ballet’s finest dancer, and Broadway’s latest hotshot director. These disparate things do not meld together well, as evidenced by the overwrought Faustian rip-off they stage first. Now, some will argue that the revue-style show they perform at the end is a step backwards artistically, and I agree, none of those songs make sense together as an integrated show. But the key phrase of this movie is “That’s entertainment,” and logic be damned, this thing passes the entertainment test with flying colors — especially if you’re a fan of seeing some of the best dance routines ever put on film, from the whimsical “That’s Entertainment” itself to the luxuriously beautiful “Dancing in the Dark” to the satiric extended “Girl Hunt Ballet” and even the juvenile humor of “Triplets” (which is more of a song than a dance, but it’s ridiculous fun.) I’m admittedly a sucker for these kinds of things, but when you just want to kick back and be entertained with some of the best musical talent 1950s Hollywood had to offer, you could do much MUCH worse than this.
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon – Feb 4, 10:15pm
This middle entry of John Ford’s informal “Cavalry” trilogy (which all star John Wayne as a cavalry officer but otherwise have nothing to do with each other) just might be the best, though I admit Fort Apache gives it stiff competition. Here Wayne is about to retire from the cavalry with just one more mission left to go: deal with an Indian threat (of course) and escort his commanding officer’s womenfolk to a stagecoach heading east. The theme of the film is failure and endings, which sounds like a downer, but this film straddles the line of realism and idealism almost perfectly, showing the difficulty of handling the multiple issues facing a Cavalry outpost and also the difficulty of leaving a position that has been so great a part of your identity. Wayne is excellent at this kind of part, portraying Captain Brittles as both weary of his service and also reluctant to leave it, while Ford uses Victor McLaglen to great effect as bittersweet comic relief.
Now, Voyager – Feb 8, 8:00pm
Last month I made a comment about The Letter aging a bit better than Now, Voyager, and took some flack for it. Well, I’m fair. I do also like Now, Voyager quite a bit, so I’m happy to feature it as well. Bette Davis is an unattractive frumpy spinster under the thumb of her domineering mother. In danger of a nervous breakdown, she’s taken to a sanitarium where she blossoms outside her mother’s influence. Then she falls in love with an unhappily married guy who won’t divorce his wife for the sake of his daughter. When people defend melodrama, this is the kind they’re talking about. It’s unquestionably a melodrama, but it’s a really good one. There’s a lot of character growth and development, yet there’s also an understanding that not everything comes out rainbows and unicorns. The best melodramas of the classic era manage to be realist and romantic at the same, and this one fits that perfectly. This is Davis in her prime, when she had a ton of control over her films (Irving Rapper was her director of choice during this era, and she got him), and she owns every second of this, from dominated frump to independent woman. For more prime Davis, see Dark Victory on Feb 14 at 12:00N.
Little Women – Feb 15, 9:30am
There’s a new version of Little Women coming out this year, directed by Greta Gerwig (and it’s one of our most-anticipated films of the year), so why not catch some of the earlier versions of this oft-filmed masterpiece? This is widely considered one of the best adaptations, and I can’t disagree. A very young Katharine Hepburn is a perfect fit for the strong-willed Jo, while lesser-known but highly accomplished actresses fill out the March sisters. Then there’s the imperious Edna May Oliver as Aunt March, a performance that hasn’t been bettered in any other version. It’s also an interesting film historically, as it was released in 1933 at the height of the Pre-Code Era, but this is about as far from Pre-Code as you can get in terms of subject matter and treatment. In fact, this is the type of wholesome, family-friendly film that MGM would specialize in throughout the majority of the studio era. It presages the enforcement of the Code, pointing the way for the kinds of films you can expect to see a LOT more of in the late 1930s and 1940s.
My Favorite Wife – Feb 8, 2:30pm
Now, this is NOT a Pre-Code, but you can easily imagine it might be. Cary Grant has just gotten married, having had his first wife (Irene Dunne) declared dead seven years after she was shipwrecked at sea. Guess who shows back up the day he and his second wife leave for their honeymoon? Yep, and she brings Randolph Scott in tow, who’s been shipwrecked with her on an otherwise deserted island for the past seven years. This film just skirts the edge of respectability like the best screwball comedies always do. And though this one doesn’t quite get the press of its cousin The Awful Truth (which also starts Grant and Dunne), it’s definitely a must-see if you’re a fan of the screwball genre.
Grand Hotel – Feb 24, 8:00pm
This is granddaddy of ensemble films, basically an excuse for MGM to trot out all of their big-name stars in the same film, and yet it all hangs together and works probably better than it should. It did win Best Picture the year it came out, probably as much for ambition as for quality, but that’s not really to denigrate its quality. Numerous storylines play out in the titular hotel, belying the permanent resident Dr. Otternschlag’s assertion that “people come and go; nothing ever happens.” People do come and go, but a whole lot happens, from John Barrymore’s penniless Baron and his infatuation with Greta Garbo’s reclusive ballerina (“I want to be alone”) to Joan Crawford’s secretary’s attempts to further her acting career through an alliance with Wallace Beery’s wealthy industrialist, and the adorable terminally-ill man who’s trying to enjoy his last days (the always scene-stealing Lionel Barrymore). It would be worth the price of admission for the cast alone, but the way all the stories develop and intertwine with each other is also a template for all future ensemble films, and it holds its own against them all.
The Crowd – Feb 13, 4:45pm
Considered one of the finest silent films ever made (and let’s just drop that “silent” qualifier actually), The Crowd took a different tack than many of its contemporaries, telling the unglamorized story of a young man idealistically expecting to make it big in the city and not succeeding the way he hoped. Its huge and mechanistic office scenes are justly famous, and have been copied many times over, most notably by Billy Wilder in the sales room of The Apartment. Most films of this era, and moving into the depression-era 1930s, were escapist, so King Vidor was definitely playing against type with this one. While it was only a modest success at the time of release, it has since been hailed as a masterpiece of realist filmmaking, and in fact, it was among the very first 25 films inducted into the National Registry upon its creation in 1989.
The Stranger – Feb 12, 8:15am
Welles is said to have disliked this film among his filmography, and it’s not really too surprising; it’s a studio product for sure, with little of his personal stamp on it. On the other hand, it is a damn good noir, with a very specific postwar topic that’s unusual and interesting: the attempt to unearth Nazis who escaped Germany and took other identities to escape going to trial for war crimes. Here Edward G. Robinson is the star Nazi hunter of the United Nations War Crimes Commission, and he’s on the trail of a notorious Nazi fugitive, and the trail leads to the aggressively normal rural town of Harper, Connecticut. Welles himself plays the potential suspect, and I hope you’ll excuse me if I sometimes prefer Welles the actor to Welles the director, and this may be the case here. He’s just the right combination of charming and dangerous, almost like watching Harry Lime for a whole movie.
Henry V – Feb 5, 3:00am
One of my favorite exercises is to compare Laurence Olivier’s 1944 version of Henry V with Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 version. They use nearly the same script (obviously the play, but in shortening it for the screen, they both excise almost exactly the same lines) and yet the tone comes across very differently in each. Branagh’s take, though very stirring in the St. Crispin’s Day speech, feels anti-war to a great degree, focusing on the potential dangers of going to war with France and the great losses on the battlefield. By contrast, the 1944 version, made at the very height of WWII, could almost be accused of jingoism, focusing on the patriotic actions of Englishmen against continental interlopers (French, German, who’s really counting?) I’m not saying that’s bad or anything; it’s the right film for the right time. I do really appreciate the way this version’s art direction is explicitly based on medieval art — everything is very carefully designed and it pays off, especially for anyone interested in the period for it’s own sake. It also uses a very interesting device, beginning with the play being performed on the stage, and only after the initial scenes shifting out of the theatre.
The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T – Feb 6, 8:15am
I initially had this in the Hidden Gem section because I assumed surely 200 users hadn’t ranked this bizarre little oddity, but I guess I (slightly) underestimated Flickchart users’ interest in bizarre little oddities, because it just makes the 200-user cutoff. There are a few films and several cartoons based on the work of Dr. Seuss, but the was the only film he ever actually wrote. The main character is Bart, a boy who hates his piano lessons and his piano teacher so much that when he falls asleep he dreams he and 499 other boys have been enslaved and forced to play on a giant piano by the teacher, who’s now a megalomaniac planning to marry Bart’s hypnotized mother unless Bart and his plumber friend August can rescue her. The production design is just awesome and weird, as you’d expect, and the story is silly fun, while also feeling somewhat of an accurate projection of the fears and desires of a young boy.
Though this month is geared toward major films that have been nominated for Oscars, there are plenty of Oscar-nominated films that fall way under the radar or have been unjustly forgotten in the intervening years. These films have all been ranked by fewer than 200 people and deserve a little more love.
Night Train to Munich – Feb 12, 4:00pm
An espionage thriller set on a train and ending in a well-choreographed shootout, you may think this film bears a passing resemblance to Hitchcock’s 1938 The Lady Vanishes, and you’d be right. Both are scripted by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, both star Margaret Lockwood, and both even share the supporting comic relief characters Charters and Caldicott (played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), who were invented for the Hitchcock film but proved so popular as a team that they appeared in several more films through the early 1940s. This film is a bit unjustly overshadowed because Hitchcock’s fame far outstrips that of director Carol Reed (best known for The Third Man), but this one is so good on its own terms that it really deserves to be rediscovered. A recent Criterion release should raise its profile, and of course, I’m telling you now to watch it, so what more do you need?
Under Western Stars – Feb 14, 3:00am
I can’t necessarily claim that this is among the greatest films ever made, but it’s fun especially for fans of westerns. This is the very first Roy Rogers film, and the formula is set right away (aside from not including his frequent costar and wife Dale Evans), from Trigger to Roy’s singing and his idealistic help for the locals. B-movie westerns were a dime a dozen in this era, and some of them are unwatchable. This one is very watchable, with a plot that almost prefigures Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and it’s a good intro to Rogers, who would soon be among the most popular stars of the time.
Lassie Come Home – Feb 9, 8:00pm
The fact that this is so low on the global chart, with so few users ranking it, just astounds me, as this was THE kid and dog film for me when I was growing up. I guess that’s growing up as a classics-loving kid for you, but it still surprises me that the film hasn’t remained in public consciousness, given that the title dog is still a household name (thanks largely to her TV series). In the movie, Joe Carraclough (Roddy McDowall) and his collie Lassie are inseparable until his family is forced to sell her to pay the bills. She always manages to come home, though, but a move to the north of Scotland makes her hard-pressed to return all the way to Yorkshire. Her adventures, trials, and friendships along the way make up the bulk of the film, both heartwarming and heartbreaking. It’s basically the template for stories like Homeward Bound except that Lassie doesn’t talk. The film is a masterpiece of family filmmaking, and for more family-friendly animal pictures check out Born Free and National Velvet, both playing on Feb 22.
The Private Life of Henry VIII – Feb 20, 8:00pm
Following the lives and loves (or at least marriages) of Henry VIII from Jane Seymour to Catherine Parr, this film won Charles Laughton an Oscar for his portrayal of the famed rotund king, and he’d be the definitive Henry VIII for many years to come, even reprising the role in 1953’s Young Bess. The film also made him an international star, leading the way to his long career in Britain and Hollywood. Special bonus: right after this, you can watch 1966’s A Man for All Seasons, which features Robert Shaw as a young and virulent Henry VIII playing off against Sir Thomas More. A great double feature!
The Window – Feb 15, 4:00am
“Child noir” could almost be its own subgenre, boasting prominent titles like Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol and this film. A boy known for compulsive lying witnesses a murder from his fire escape one night, but of course no one believes him except the murderers, who put the boy’s life in quite a bit of danger. Bobby Driscoll was one of the best and most prolific child stars of the 1940s, and the film really shows his skill. His real life story is a sad one, though, as he aged out of child roles and struggled in his career, eventually turning to narcotics and dying alone and destitute by the age of 31. Child stars often have hard lives.
Our Dancing Daughters – Feb 13, 11:15am
Before Joan Crawford was the queen of camp or the master of melodrama, and before she feuded with Bette Davis, she was one of the quintessential flappers. She began her career in the chorus line, then moved to Hollywood, dancing at nightclubs, winning Charleston and Black Bottom competitions, and hoping to catch the eye of the studio scouts. She did, and a series of late silents like this, featuring her flapper party girl persona, followed. This is the one that catapulted her to stardom, where she rivaled Clara Bow as the personification of 1920s glamour and fun. If there’s a case that silent film musicals exists, this might just be exhibit A. It’s a lot of fun and a wonderful glimpse into a bygone era that represented the height of modernity when it was made. TCM is also playing other late silents all day, so keep it tuned here for more.
Caged – Feb 7, 1:30pm
The women-in-prison genre often tends toward exploitation, but this early example wants to be a socially conscious prison reform film, showing how a relatively meek woman (Eleanor Parker) incarcerated for a few months as an accessory to a robbery attempt turns into a hardened criminal through exposure to more extreme inmates and mistreatment from prison matrons. That said, it walks a fine line between social consciousness and camp, and that’s kind of why I love it. It gets its point across, and it has a lot of noiry grimness, but it’s also just over-the-top enough to be a fun watch.
The Front Page – Feb 8, 4:15am
His Girl Friday is a stone-cold classic film, hitting near the top of greatest comedy and indeed greatest film lists with regularity, but its story of sparring newspaper editors and writers covering a murder trial isn’t original. It’s a remake of this film, which is itself an adaptation of a play. The thing His Girl Friday contributed is gender-swapping the reporter, which proved a genius move. That said, the dialogue and action of this original all-male newspaper crew is also top-notch and well worth taking the time to watch. And if you like this, there’s also the 1974 Billy Wilder remake, also all male, which isn’t considered nearly as good.
The Stratton Story – Feb 9, 11:15am
Baseball biography movies had a little burst of popularity in the 1940s, possibly stemming from the success of Pride of the Yankees (1942), which told the story of Lou Gehrig. This film and a film about Babe Ruth followed. The Stratton Story covers the life of the now comparatively forgotten Monty Stratton, a major league pitcher who had to undergo a leg amputation. This is one of three films James Stewart made with June Allyson, and all of them are worth watching. I have especial love for this one and The Glenn Miller Story (about big band leader Glenn Miller), but Strategic Air Command is fun, too.
The Three Musketeers – Feb 23, 1:30pm
There are so many versions of The Three Musketeers. It’s been done by Fairbanks, Disney, Paul W.S. Anderson, Mickey Mouse, Richard Lester, and even the comic trio The Ritz Brothers. This one falls in the middle of the pack in terms of quality, but it’s so packed with 1940s MGM star power and bright Technicolor that I can’t help but love it anyway. Gene Kelly doesn’t sing or dance as D’Artagnan, but his dancer’s athleticism serves him well in the role. Lana Turner at the height of her glamour is the treacherous Lady DeWinter, and get this: none other than Vincent Price is Cardinal Richelieu. How are you gonna miss that? There are also a bunch of other swashbucklers playing today, so if I haven’t convinced you to try this one, check out the others.
Movies to See Before You Die
These are all movies that rank in Flickchart’s Global Top 1000, which we think everybody should try to see before they die. TCM can help a lot with that goal this month, with nearly 90 films in this category!
Casablanca (1943) – Feb 12, 6:00pm – ranked #17 by 44822 users
Citizen Kane (1941) – Feb 25, 11:15pm – ranked #30 by 37152 users
Rashomon (1950) – Feb 5, 8:30am – ranked #39 by 6236 users
12 Angry Men (1957) – Feb 20, 6:15pm – ranked #49 by 29731 users
Bicycle Thieves (1948) – Feb 5, 5:30am – ranked #67 by 3649 users
The 400 Blows (1959) – Feb 4, 9:30am – ranked #69 by 3191 users
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) – Feb 24, 1:15am – ranked #70 by 5244 users
It Happened One Night (1934) – Feb 25, 10:00am – ranked #76 by 3997 users
8 1/2 (1963) – Feb 21, 8:00pm – ranked #90 by 2878 users
On the Waterfront (1954) – Feb 13, 12:15am – ranked #91 by 7981 users
The Philadelphia Story (1940) – Feb 14, 8:00pm – ranked #96 by 3281 users
Network (1976) – Feb 18, 3:00am – ranked #97 by 7410 users
Cool Hand Luke (1967) – Feb 22, 12:30am – ranked #98 by 10894 users
The Maltese Falcon (1941) – Feb 27, 10:00am – ranked #107 by 15228 users
All About Eve (1950) – Feb 7, 8:00pm – ranked #114 by 5014 users
The Great Dictator (1940) – Feb 8, 12:15pm – ranked #118 by 3756 users
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – Feb 27, 12:15am – ranked #127 by 24799 users
The Thin Man (1934) – Feb 10, 9:45pm – ranked #133 by 1889 users
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) – Feb 4, 3:15am – ranked #139 by 6140 users
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – Feb 13, 8:00pm – ranked #161 by 21017 users
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) – Feb 9, 2:45am – ranked #169 by 14165 users
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) – Feb 11, 2:00am – ranked #181 by 2003 users
Brief Encounter (1945) – Feb 14, 6:30pm – ranked #195 by 1108 users
Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – Feb 13, 12:00M – ranked #197 by 15602 users
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – Feb 12, 2:15am – ranked #202 by 19348 users
The Battle of Algiers (1966) – Feb 5, 2:00pm – ranked #206 by 1070 users
Witness for the Prosecution (1957) – Feb 20, 4:15pm – ranked #207 by 1632 users
To Be or Not to Be (1942) – Feb 12, 2:00pm – ranked #208 by 890 users
High Noon (1952) – Feb 18, 8:00pm – ranked #211 by 5057 users
Bonnie & Clyde (1967) – Feb 9, 12:45am – ranked #224 by 9980 users
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) – Feb 23, 1:30am – ranked #242 by 1880 users
White Heat (1949) – Feb 27, 4:00pm – ranked #272 by 1064 users
Rebel Without a Cause – Feb 28, 6:00pm – ranked #292 by 6406 users
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – Feb 8, 2:15am – ranked #296 by 3847 users
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) – Feb 18, 12:45am – ranked #307 by 6124 users
In the Heat of the Night (1967) – Feb 9, 8:00pm – ranked #318 by 3520 users
La Strada (1954) – Feb 21, 10:30pm – ranked #323 by 1043 users
Key Largo (1948) – Feb 24, 3:30am – ranked #337 by 1998 users
Top Hat (1935) – Feb 17, 8:00am – ranked #348 by 1232 users
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) – Feb 3, 7:00am – ranked #356 by 760 users
The Dirty Dozen (1967) – Feb 26, 3:30pm – ranked #361 by 4228 users
Three Colors: Red (1994) – Feb 20, 2:15am – ranked #367 by 1429 users
The Lost Weekend (1945) – Feb 3, 3:00am – ranked #386 by 1537 users
The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) – Feb 16, 11:30am – ranked #395 by 923 users
Umberto D. (1952) – Feb 22, 9:30am – ranked #402 by 545 users
Wait Until Dark (1967) – Feb 2, 6:00pm – ranked #410 by 1388 users
A Hard Day’s Night (1964) – Feb 24, 10:30am – ranked #427 by 4249 users
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – Feb 28, 8:15am – ranked #444 by 894 users
The Awful Truth (1937) – Feb 25, 6:00am – ranked #447 by 889 users)
Ninotchka (1939) – Feb 8, 8:00am – ranked #451 by 958 users
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) – Feb 19, 1:00pm – ranked #453 by 1828 users
East of Eden (1955) – Feb 13, 2:15am – ranked #465 by 1070 users
The Asphalt Jungle (1950) – Feb 27, 2:00pm – ranked #469 by 1230 users
Mildred Pierce (1945) – Feb 6, 2:30am – ranked #470 by 1066 users
Through a Glass Darkly (1961) – Feb 5, 4:15pm – ranked #481 by 667 users
From Here to Eternity (1953) – Feb 27, 12:00M – ranked #504 by 1995 users
The Quiet Man (1952) – Feb 18, 9:45pm – ranked #505 by 1719 users
Gaslight (1944) – Feb 26, 8:00pm – ranked #516 by 862 users
Day for Night (1973) – Feb 5, 12:00N – ranked #519 by 709 users
The Lion in Winter (1968) – Feb 3, 8:00pm – ranked #536 by 1303 users
Papillon (1973) – Feb 22, 2:45am – ranked #546 by 3338 users
Marty (1955) – Feb 3, 10:30am – ranked #549 by 910 users
Lifeboat (1944) – Feb 15, 10:00pm – ranked #573 by 1240 users
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) – Feb 8, 4:00pm – ranked #584 by 1121 users
Au revoir les enfants (1987) – Feb 17, 4:00am – ranked #593 by 833 users
Blow-Up (1966) – Feb 19, 12:00M – ranked #594 by 1423 users
You Can’t Take It With You (1938) – Feb 19, 8:45am – ranked #617 by 810 users
Holiday (1938) – Feb 25, 4:00am – ranked #627 by 466 users
A Man for All Seasons (1966) – Feb 20, 10:00pm – ranked #670 by 1330 users
The Public Enemy (1931) – Feb 25, 8:00pm – ranked #673 by 1091 users
Doctor Zhivago (1965) – Feb 3, 4:30pm – ranked #722 by 4014 users
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) – Feb 17, 6:00am – ranked #724 by 1501 users
Kramer vs Kramer (1979) – Feb 14, 12:00N – ranked #737 by 4931 users
An American in Paris (1951) – Feb 7, 2:00am – ranked #746 by 1480 users
Ben-Hur(1959) – Feb 18, 4:00pm – ranked #787 by 16354 users
Mon Oncle (1958) – Feb 5, 10:00am – ranked #817 by 521 users
Glory (1989) – Feb 26, 3:15am – ranked #819 by 20014 users
Adam’s Rib (1949) – Feb 8, 6:00am – ranked #850 by 1035 users
Captain Blood (1935) – Feb 23, 9:30am – ranked #860 by 691 users
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) – Feb 16, 8:00pm – ranked #861 by 2857 users
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) – Feb 9, 1:15pm – ranked #939 by 1004 users
The Longest Day (1962) – Feb 6, 8:00pm – ranked #1000 by 895 users