A Flickchart Guide to TCM in September
Turner Classic Movies is back to its regularly scheduled programming after the month-long Summer Under the Stars celebration of Hollywood stardom. Of course, TCM’s regularly scheduled programming is still pretty special, and in September they have a spotlight tie-in with film historian Mark Harris’s acclaimed book Five Came Back, a study of five Hollywood filmmakers who joined the war effort making documentaries for the military and war-related fiction films for Hollywood. They’ve also got Star of the Month Susan Hayward, and various other smaller marathons and tributes to directors, stars, and themes. We’ve run the Flickchart numbers, and here’s our guide to what you shouldn’t miss on TCM in September. Check their full schedule here for other showings, and for exact times of the films highlighted below.
Spotlight: Five Came Back
The major highlight of the month is a series on Tuesday evenings focused on the war documentaries and feature films from the filmmakers featured in Five Came Back: Frank Capra, John Huston, John Ford, William Wyler, and George Stevens. Author Mark Harris and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz will be hosting the series, introducing each evening of films and giving historical and critical context. Most of the documentaries and shorts included don’t feature very prominently on Flickchart simply because they’re not very widely seen, but since this is a perfect time to rectify that, we’ll discuss everything playing in this spotlight at least a little bit. If you’re a history buff or have any interest in what Hollywood was doing during WWII, you’re going to want to tune into as much of this as possible, regardless of Flickchart rankings.
September 1: Frank Capra
The only fiction film playing tonight is Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (ranked #1598 by 296 users), which was released in 1941 just before the US entered WWII and isn’t directly a war film – Capra chose to develop his darker themes in more allegorical stories. Meet John Doe is something of a capper for the Depression Era, a story of grassroots politics and the little guy standing up to The Man. WWII would end the Depression in America definitively, with the war bringing new jobs and prosperity, albeit along with an enormous cost in human life.
The majority of the evening is devoted to Capra’s landmark documentary series Why We Fight – not every episode is airing, but we get Prelude to War, The Battle of Russia, The Battle of Britain, and War Comes to America, plus Tunisian Victory, which is not actually in the Why We Fight series, but was directed by Capra and Hugh Stewart. These documentaries all rank in the #11,000-#13,000 range, largely because only 11 or 12 people have ranked them.
Mixed in with the features and longer docs, TCM is airing WWII-era shorts, both documentary shorts and animated cartoons from Warner Bros’ Sgt. Snafu series, featuring an inept soldier and directed by top Looney Tunes directors like Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Friz Freleng. The shorts tonight are all from 1943 and 1944 when the Hollywood war effort really got into gear. TCM has these shorts separated out on their schedule, but they may not be on your DVR guide.
September 8: John Huston
Huston was very early in his career when the war started, having completed his directorial debut The Maltese Falcon in 1941 (he’d been a screenwriter for most of the 1930s). He was a protege and close friend of William Wyler (see September 23), and the two of them quickly became invested in the war effort after Pearl Harbor. Huston knocked out another two films in 1942, including war adventure Across the Pacific (ranked #7023 by 67 users), which is playing on TCM tonight, before going to work full-time making war documentaries for the Army Signal Corps.
All three of the documentaries he made are playing on TCM tonight, which is more than some of them did during the war. Huston’s docs tended to show the dark side of war – an intelligence error that cost many lives (The Battle of San Pietro), the psychological damage undergone by soldiers (Let There Be Light) – and hence the war department refused to release them, afraid they’d be demoralizing. Now they’re considered among the finest documentaries made during the war.
Huston wouldn’t return to Hollywood filmmaking until 1948’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (a Flickchart favorite at #59 globally), and from there on would focus on film noir and high adventure films. He did make The Red Badge of Courage in 1951 (ranked #5378 by 118 users), which is an American Civil War film, but starred Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of WWII. TCM is also showing the much later adventure film The Man Who Would Be King (ranked #401 by 1509 users), starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine as a pair of rogue Indian army officers seeking their own Oriental kingdoms in the British Imperial period.
September 15: John Ford
John Ford is one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, and he blazed the trail for Hollywood filmmakers joining the war effort. He joined the Navy in mid-1941, three months before Pearl Harbor; though most people knew war was inevitable by 1941, Ford believed it was his duty to be prepared for it. When the news came that the US was at war, he had already been training a military filming unit, preparing special equipment to shoot on board ships, and getting ready to faithfully capture the events of the war.
The previous three years especially had been great for Ford, with an astounding run of films from 1939’s Stagecoach to 1941’s How Green Was My Valley that included two Best Director Oscars for him and a greater emphasis on social issues. But already by 1940 he was also making war films, and TCM is focusing on his work in that genre, both fictional and documentary. 1940’s The Long Voyage Home (ranked #5239 by 101 users) focuses on life on board a freighter at the beginning of WWII, 1945’s They Were Expendable (ranked #2666 by 267 users) tells the true story of the introduction of U-boats in the Pacific, and 1955’s Mister Roberts (ranked #889 by 629 users) is a somewhat comedic look back on life in the Navy during the war.
During the war, Ford made both training films like How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines and films that blurred the line between drama and documentary like December 7, a re-enactment of Pearl Harbor co-directed with cinematographer Gregg Toland, and The Battle of Midway, both of which earned Oscars for Ford. As on the other evenings in the series, TCM is also playing a selection of Pvt. Snafu shorts, so keep watching your DVRs after the features end.
September 23: William Wyler
William Wyler’s name isn’t as well-known these days, but he was extremely successful and acclaimed in his career – he remains the only filmmaker to ever direct three Best Picture winners (Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Ben-Hur – he also won directing Oscars for each of them). His series of pictures with Bette Davis in the 1930s and 1940s were hugely profitable, and he was legendary on set for his perfectionism (various versions of this legend has him nicknamed everything from “Forty-Take Wyler” to “Ninety-Take Wyler”).
Wyler was born in Germany, but naturalized as a US citizen in 1928, and he was so successful at assimilating to an American identity that his background as a German Jew was seldom remarked on – until Hitler’s treatment of Jews in Germany made it an unavoidable topic of conversation, and he spent most of his considerable salary trying to sponsor his remaining relatives to leave Germany. In most cases he was unsuccessful. He joined the Air Force in 1942, going on bombing raids personally to film Memphis Belle, Thunderbolt, and The Fighting Lady. One such mission left him deaf in one ear, and another cost the life of his cinematographer Harold J. Tannenbaum.
Before he left for war, Wyler made what is possibly the definitive homefront movie, showing the courage of British civilians in the face of potential Nazi invasion in Mrs. Miniver (ranked #2108 by 332 users). Returning from the war a wounded veteran, he made what is almost certainly the definitive “returning home from war” movie, tracing the lives of three veterans as they struggle to readjust to civilian life in The Best Years of Our Lives (ranked #206 by 1656 users). Both films earned Oscars for Best Picture and Director, and Actress and Actor respectively, and TCM is playing them both in honor of Wyler.
TCM is also playing the three Air Force documentaries mentioned above, as well as a dramatic version of one of them, Men of the Fighting Lady from 1954, not directed by Wyler. The shorts chosen to go along with tonight’s programming are fitting as well, focusing on the homefront and soldiers returning from active duty.
September 29: George Stevens
The fifth director featured in Five Came Back is George Stevens, who was known prior to the war as a director of light comedies and musicals (Swing Time, Vivacious Lady), but he saw the shadow of war as an opportunity to direct more meaningful things. He tried hard to parlay his success on adventure film Gunga Din (1939) into working on films directly about Nazi Germany, but at the time Hollywood studios were extremely gunshy about making anything that might seem political or interventionalist at a time when the US was supposedly neutral. However, things were changing, and Warner Bros’ open support for anti-Nazi films with the release of Confessions of a Nazi Spy showed that not ALL of Hollywood was neutral.
Still, it wasn’t enough for Stevens, who joined the the U.S. Army Signal Air Corps in 1943, after directing lovely homefront comedy The More the Merrier, which TCM is playing (ranked #5129 by 57 users). His focus during the war was on major events like D-Day (his unit shot the only color footage of the war) and the liberation of Paris, as well as concentration camp footage at the Duben Labor Camp and Dachau. TCM’s choices for the evening are two 1945 docs that expose The Nazi Plan and argue that The Justice Be Done. Fittingly, the other two films chosen to represent Stevens’ interests are his 1959 adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank (ranked #3466 by 334 users) and the Stanley Kramer-directed Judgment at Nuremberg, which picks up where Stevens left off with the Nazi war trials.
Star of the Month: Susan Hayward
Turns out September’s Star of the Month Susan Hayward is quite obscure on Flickchart, with only two of her films cracking the Top 5000, and only one attracting more than 100 rankers! Perhaps this five-time Oscar nominee deserves a bit of a comeback. If you’re unfamiliar with Hayward, here are Flickchart’s top five to get you started.
Beau Geste (ranked #4121 by 94 users) – This 1939 version of the frequently-filmed adventure story about French Legionnaires is probably the best known, with Gary Cooper taking the lead role. It’s playing September 3.
I Want to Live! (ranked #4342 by 127 users) – Hayward won her only Oscar (out of five nominations) in 1958 for this film, playing real-life death row inmate Barbara Graham. It’s playing September 17.
The Lusty Men (ranked #7021 by 30 users) – One of the more director-driven films in this section, with Nicholas Ray directing Hayward and Robert Mitchum in a film about rodeos and the men that ride in them. It’s playing September 10.
Reap the Wild Wind (ranked #8400 by 48 users) – Hayward was in no fewer than five films in 1942, several of them supporting roles like in this John Wayne/Paulette Goddard Western adventure. It’s playing September 3.
Canyon Passage (ranked #8912 by 22 users) – Coming just one year before Hayward’s streak of Oscar nominations began is this lead role in another western, this one directed by a filmmaker better known for noir, Jacques Tourneur. It’s playing September 3.
These directors each have a 5+ film marathon sometime during the month. We’re just highlighting their top-ranked film, but if you’re interested in any of these filmmakers, definitely check out the rest of their mini-marathon.
Jean-Luc Godard – Breathless (ranked #126 by 2034 users) – Godard is one of the leading lights of the French New Wave, and Breathless is his own breathless calling card. Fresh and exciting for some, amateurish and inscrutable for others, but it’s a must-see either way. It’s playing September 16.
Michael Powell – A Matter of Life and Death (ranked #203 by 519 users) – Filmmaking team Powell and Emeric Pressburger (aka The Archers) are well-known for their use of color, and this is a great example – a dying pilot (in color) goes to heaven to plead his case to live (in B&W). Sweeping and romantic. It’s playing September 30.
Robert Bresson – A Man Escaped (ranked #470 by 320 users) – Bresson tends to be a rather austere French filmmaker, picking up somewhat where the Italian Neorealists left off; A Man Escaped, though, is pretty pure prison escape film – methodical but very enjoyable. It’s playing September 25.
Sidney Lumet – The Verdict – (ranked #507 by 1357 users) – Lumet started his film career with 12 Angry Men and he’s always excelled at courtroom drama, so it’s unsurprising to see The Verdict come out on top of this particular mini-marathon. It’s playing September 14.
Robert Wise – Somebody Up There Likes Me (ranked #3355 by 182 users) – Wise is best known for his big-budget 1960s musicals West Side Story and The Sound of Music, but he’s at least as comfortable with small dramas, like this character-driven boxing drama. It’s playing September 10.
George Cukor – It Should Happen to You (ranked #7873 by 49 users) – Cukor was most comfortable women’s pictures starring Katharine Hepburn and many others; TCM is going a bit more obscure here, though a romantic comedy with Judy Holliday does fit the bill. Notable as Jack Lemmon‘s first major screen appearance. It’s playing September 2.
These stars each have a 3+ film spotlight going on in September; just like the directors, we’re highlighting their top-ranked film, but there are other riches to be found if you’re interested in delving deeper.
Elizabeth Taylor – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (ranked #242 by 1454 users) – Taylor veers wildly from understated to histrionic here, but that’s in keeping with her cruel but deeply damaged character, and it earned her a second Oscar for Best Actress. It’s playing September 24.
Peter Sellers – Being There (ranked #257 by 3163 users) – Sellers’ final film is a fitting one to represent him, a gentle satire about an innocent raised on television encountering the outside world for the first time, and being taken for a genius. It’s playing September 8.
Omar Sharif – Doctor Zhivago (ranked #644 by 3561 users) – This is part of a three-film tribute to Omar Sharif following his death in July, and his turn as Boris Pasternak’s eponymous doctor is one of his most iconic and memorable, so tune in and remember the groundbreaking Egyptian star (even though he’s playing a Russian). It’s playing September 21.
Irene Dunne – My Favorite Wife (ranked #2389 by 178 users) – Dunne was a major star in the 1930s and ’40s, but it seems Flickcharters are less aware of her work; this is a great place to start, with a daffy comedy about a wife who returns home after being shipwrecked for seven years, just as her husband is about to remarry. It’s playing September 29.
Abbott & Costello – Buck Privates (ranked #5517 by 106 users) – Abbott & Costello’s humor hasn’t aged as well as, say, the Marx Brothers, but aside from their genre-bending Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, this is the one to see, an army comedy that anticipated America’s entry into WWII by almost a year. It’s playing September 18.
Flickchart Top Five
These are the top-ranked films playing on TCM this month, regardless of whether they’re programmed in a specific series or not. There are other mini blocks of programming throughout the month that we’re not highlighting (like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is playing in a triple feature of 40th Anniversary films), but this is the most direct way to highlight the best that TCM has on offer in September.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (ranked #16 by 48038 users) – The Jack Nicholson-led, mental hospital-set comedy swept the Oscars in 1975, and remains beloved, as you can see by its Top Twenty global Flickchart rating. It’s playing September 26 as part of a triple feature of films reaching their 40th Anniversary.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (ranked #59 by 4497 users) – John Huston‘s first film after returning from WWII is a hard-hitting anti-greed western featuring one of Humphrey Bogart‘s finest performances. It’s playing September 8 as part of the Five Came Back programming devoted to Huston.
The Red Shoes (ranked #72 by 1123 users) – One of the most vibrant and sweepingly romantic films ever, with an extended ballet sequence sure to capture even the most anti-ballet viewers. It’s playing on September 19 as part of a triple feature devoted to actor Anton Walbrook.
2001: A Space Odyssey (ranked #84 by 54393 users) – Potentially Stanley Kubrick‘s magnum opus, treating no less than the evolution of man from ape to space being, with a side helping of paranoid computers named HAL. It’s playing September 22, along with a bunch of other classic sci-fi films.
Bringing Up Baby (ranked #120 by 3430 users) – Audiences in 1938 didn’t warm to Bringing Up Baby, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most well-known and beloved screwball comedies ever. It’s playing September 27.
More Movies to See Before You Die
We have a series here on Flickchart called Movies to See Before You Die, which we’ve defined as any films in the Top 1000. That describes all the films below. If you’re working on completing the Flickchart Top 1000, take a look and see if there’s anything TCM can help you check off!
Breathless (ranked #126 by 2034 users)
Metropolis (ranked #130 by 6259 users)
Dog Day Afternoon (ranked #148 by 12815 users)
Dial M for Murder (ranked #175 by 4568 users)
A Matter of Life and Death (ranked #203 by 519 users)
Arsenic and Old Lace (ranked #208 by 3945 users)
Witness for the Prosecution (ranked #232 by 1342 users)
Rebel Without a Cause (ranked #236 by 5577 users)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (ranked #242 by 1454 users)
Being There (ranked #258 by 3163 users)
Barry Lyndon (ranked #263 by 4281 users)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (ranked #300 by 1911 users)
Pierrot le fou (ranked #354 by 638 users)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (ranked #359 by 5642 users)
The Man Who Would Be King (ranked #400 by 1509 users)
Eyes Without a Face (ranked #416 by 556 users)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (ranked #435 by 1481 users)
Wait Until Dark (ranked #440 by 1118 users)
Judgment at Nuremberg (ranked #452 by 898 users)
The Asphalt Jungle (ranked #466 by 996 users)
A Man Escaped (ranked #472 by 320 users)
Forbidden Planet (ranked #473 by 2309 users)
The Quiet Man (ranked #482 by 1443 users)
Amarcord (ranked #484 by 869 users)
East of Eden (ranked #490 by 824 users)
The Verdict (ranked #507 by 1357 users)
The Lion in Winter (ranked #533 by 1100 users)
Doctor Zhivago (ranked #644 by 3561 users)
Au Hasard Balthazar (ranked #652 by 366 users)
Gaslight (ranked #729 by 593 users)
Cat People (ranked #745 by 646 users)
Hausu (ranked #798 by 653 users)
Pickpocket (ranked #867 by 391 users)
Smiles of a Summer Night (ranked #874 by 330 users)
I Walked With a Zombie (ranked #956 by 598 users)
A Woman is a Woman (ranked #983 by 349 users)
Jandy’s Hidden Gems
Of course, I have my personal favorites that don’t fit in anywhere else, so these are my top picks from everything ELSE playing in September. As you can tell, TCM is an embarrassment of riches.
Why Be Good? (ranked #13639 by 8 users) – If you only take one recommendation from me this month, take this one and watch Why Be Good?. It’s a late silent (actually transitional; it has synced music and sound effects) with Colleen Moore and she’s delightful, plus the film is ahead of its time on gender issues. I love it so much. It’s playing September 28.
The Man from Laramie (ranked #1904 by 231 users) – This is my personal favorite of the Anthony Mann–James Stewart cycle of westerns, all of which richly deserve to be better known than they are. Stewart is great as an indifferent cowboy who doesn’t want to get involved in a town’s internal feud, but ends up having to despite his desire to just mind his own business. It’s playing September 9.
The Letter (ranked #2705 by 176 users) – Often considered an early or proto-noir film, this has one of the most gripping opening sequences I’ve ever seen. Let’s just say Bette Davis is not to be trifled with, though her motives are sometimes rather obscure. It’s playing September 28.
Good News (ranked #10226 by 27 users) – Musicals are kind of a tough sell with the Flickchart crowd, and I suspect this will be, too, but if you aren’t averse to the genre, this is a lesser known but really fun college musical with some ridiculous but awesome musical numbers. It’s playing September 9.
The Hitch-Hiker (ranked #5598 by 90 users) – You can count the number of female directors working in studio-era Hollywood on one hand, and Ida Lupino was one of them; she specialized in tough noir films, and this is one of her best, with a pair of off-the-grid drivers hijacked by a criminal hitchhiker. It’s playing September 3.