TCM’s Summer Under the Stars – According to Flickchart, Part 1
August is coming up soon and for Turner Classic Movie fans, that only means one thing – it’s time for TCM’s annual Summer Under the Stars programming! Each day in August will feature a different classic movie star, from the very prominent (like Katharine Hepburn) to the quite obscure (like Virginia Bruce) and everything in between. This is a great time to catch up on little-known films from favorite studio era actors and actresses, but also a great time to become acquainted with stars you might not otherwise know through some of their best-known and most iconic roles.
To that end, we’ve crunched the numbers and come up with the top-ranked film on Flickchart for each star featured during Summer Under the Stars, and will also point out some of the other notable movies playing on their day. Because this is such a massive month, we’ll be splitting this into two posts; look for Part 2 mid-month.
August 1: Gene Tierney in Laura
Gene Tierney’s off-screen life often approached the tragic, as she suffered from bipolar disorder throughout her life and a bout of rubella (contracted from a fan at the Hollywood Canteen in 1943) resulted in a daughter born deaf and with severe retardation. Because of all this, she ended up dropping out of many films that otherwise would’ve benefited from her on-screen luminescence. A dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty, she was a prototypical noir fantasy in Laura (and a quintessential femme fatale in Leave Her to Heaven (ranked #1560), which earned her an Oscar nomination), and a memorable leading lady in many other films.
Laura is by far Tierney’s highest-ranked and most popular film on Flickchart, ranked #175 globally. Tierney plays the enigmatic Laura, who is presumed dead at the beginning of the film. Her death is investigated by cop Dana Andrews, who quickly becomes entranced by Laura’s story and her portrait. It’s one of the most romantic films noir ever made, and Tierney dominates the screen even when she’s only present in portrait form.
Watch Laura on TCM on August 1 at 3:45pm Eastern. Other notable Gene Tierney films playing on August 1 include supernatural romances The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (ranked #1394) and Heaven Can Wait (ranked #1423), as well as her “comeback” film after a long absence from the screen, 1962’s Advise & Consent (ranked #2430). A hidden gem to check out is The Razor’s Edge (ranked #4571), which also features an Academy Award-winning supporting performance from Anne Baxter.
August 2: Olivia de Havilland in The Adventures of Robin Hood
Olivia de Havilland’s most well-known onscreen persona is basically Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind – demure and retiring on the surface, but with hidden wells of strength. She played variations on this character in adventure films with Errol Flynn (eight of them!), in frothy comedies, and in period pieces, most of which were assigned to her by her studio, Warner Bros, whether she wanted to play them or not. Off-screen, de Havilland was willing to fight for what she wanted, and after several years of chafing under roles she felt weren’t challenging or interesting, she sued Warner Bros. in 1943 to get out of her contract, and was successful – the first time in the studio era an actor had managed to successfully do that (Bette Davis had tried unsuccessfully in the 1930s). Today she’s 99 years old, the oldest Oscar winner still alive (she won that Oscar for 1949’s The Heiress).
Flickchart users put The Adventures of Robin Hood at the top of her chart, at #276 globally, and with good reason. It’s not just the best of the Flynn-de Havilland cycle, but also one of the first great Technicolor films, and one of the most enduring adventure films of all time. De Havilland’s Maid Marion is demure, but also sharp, just as willing to engage Robin Hood in debate as to swoon in his arms. This was made midway through their cycle of films, and though they never had an off-screen romantic relationship, their onscreen chemistry was perfection.
Watch The Adventures of Robin Hood on TCM on August 2 at 8pm Eastern. The only other film TCM is playing that more than 100 Flickchart users have ranked is her 1964 horror film, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (ranked #2208) – definitely worth a look. Among hidden gems, note another Flynn pairing, though this time Bette Davis is in the way, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (ranked #6232). Davis and de Havilland remained close friends throughout their lives, bonded by their troubles with Warner Bros.
August 3: Adolphe Menjou in Stage Door
Likely an unfamiliar name to many, Adolphe Menjou got his start in silent films and made the transition smoothly into the sound era playing well-dressed men about town. He played romantic leads in the Pre-Code era, but often as the married man stepping out on the town or the wealthy older gentleman that gold diggers were trying to capture. His staunch Republican political beliefs brought him into conflict with some of his co-stars, notably Katharine Hepburn (they appeared together in several films), as the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings separated conservative from liberal Hollywood.
One of the films Menjou appeared in with Hepburn was Stage Door, which with 151 users ranking it at #2326 globally is the most popular of TCM’s slate today. It’s a film that really ought to be much more popular than it is, a terrific swoop through the lives of a bunch of wannabe Broadway actresses living in a boarding house catering to theatrical wannabes. Menjou is the sugar daddy producer who has one favorite after another of the girls, including both leads Ginger Rogers and Hepburn, who sees right through him. Menjou is slick and charismatic, the phoniest phony in a world of phonies.
Watch Stage Door on TCM on August 3 at 11:15pm Eastern. Several other films spotlighting Menjou are well-loved in classic film circles but haven’t made much of a splash on Flickchart yet, including the 1937 version of A Star is Born (ranked #3312), the 1921 Rudolph Valentino hit The Sheik (ranked #4829), and Charlie Chaplin’s first non-comedy A Woman of Paris (ranked #5138).
August 4: Teresa Wright in Shadow of a Doubt
Teresa Wright holds a unique honor in the annals of Oscar history – she was nominated for an Oscar for each of her first three films (winning the third, for Mrs. Miniver in 1942). No one else can boast making such an instant and repeated impression on the Academy. It fits with her overall work ethic, though. She came from the stage, where producer Samuel Goldwyn discovered her in the lead role of Our Town, and insisted that her contract include clauses preventing her from being forced to pose for glamour or pin-up photos, preferring instead to stay focused on and be known for her acting alone. That paid off in terms of critical acclaim, at least – even once her films started to decline in quality once she left Goldwyn in 1948, Wright’s performances were always universally praised.
Alfred Hitchcock was one of many who thought highly of her acting talents, calling her one of the most intelligent and serious actors he had worked with when she starred in his 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt. Flickcharters love Hitchcock, and this one is no different, ranking #98 globally. Wright is the innocent here, glad to have her uncle Charlie visit and bring some life into her humdrum small-town existence, only to suspect he may actually be a murderer. The film is taut and depends just as much on Wright’s slowly blossoming performance as on Joseph Cotten‘s slowly unraveling one.
Watch Shadow of a Doubt on TCM on August 4 at 10:15pm Eastern. Wright’s three other top-ranked 1940s films are also playing on the 4th, including her Oscar-winning role in Mrs. Miniver (ranked #2143), her Oscar-nominated role as Lou Gehrig’s wife in The Pride of the Yankees (ranked #994), and her should-have-been-Oscar-nominated role in The Best Years of Our Lives (ranked #211) – seriously, everything else from that film got an Oscar. Also note her debut film The Little Foxes, where she played Bette Davis‘ daughter and earned her first Oscar nomination (ranked #3865).
August 5: Fred Astaire in Top Hat
Fred Astaire needs no introduction to fans of classic musicals, but for anyone else reading, Astaire basically dominated Hollywood dance musicals throughout the 1930s and held his own against new kid on the block Gene Kelly for another two decades after that. Prior to Astaire making his way to Hollywood, most dancing in movie musicals was, well, kind of clunky and often based on the geometric patterns that Busby Berkeley popularized in 42nd Street. Astaire brought grace and class to solo and partner dancing, and with his ten-film partner Ginger Rogers, raised the bar on ballroom and tap dancing in the movies skyhigh.
Nowhere is that more evident than in Top Hat, the highest-ranked Astaire film on Flickchart at #369 and a shining example of his chemistry with Ginger Rogers as well as his solo virtuosity. The film’s story is a lark of mistaken identity (involving a great character actor supporting cast), but the dancing is where it’s at. The songs are by Irving Berlin, and the two best known have become iconic – “Cheek to Cheek” was a highlight for Fred and Ginger (and a notorious feather dress that caused Ginger no end of headaches) and “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” of course became an Astaire standard, solidifying his debonair persona.
Watch Top Hat on TCM on August 5 at 11:15am. All but one of Fred and Ginger’s other nine pairings are on the schedule as well, including Swing Time (ranked #791), Shall We Dance (#2325) and The Gay Divorcee (#2407). Also check out the best film of his MGM period, 1953’s The Band Wagon (ranked #1657), which contains “The Girl Hunt Ballet,” an extended musical spoof on the detective genre that’s pretty much as good as it gets.
August 6: Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters
Michael Caine is a familiar name to the current generation thanks to his roles in Christopher Nolan films, notably as Alfred in the Dark Knight trilogy, but his career spans back to the 1960s, when he broke into films after a few years in the London theatre and played on his Cockney background and accent in films like Alfie and The Ipcress File. Caine has sometimes been criticized for the low quality of films he’s been in (largely in the ’80s and ’90s), but even when he does a film for the money, he doesn’t phone it in and he always remains entertaining.
Caine is one of only two actors to be Oscar-nominated every decade from the 1960s to the 2000s (Jack Nicholson is the other), and his first Oscar was for Woody Allen‘s Hannah and Her Sisters, one of Allen’s finest films. He plays the husband of Hannah (Mia Farrow), who over the course of a year between two family Thanksgiving dinners carries on an affair with Hannah’s sister Lee. Though he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Caine’s performance is one of the most memorable in the film (which has excellent performances all around), making you sympathetic to him while never condoning his actions.
Watch Hannah and Her Sisters on TCM on August 6 at 8pm Eastern. Two other films in the lineup popular with Flickchart users are John Huston‘s The Man Who Would Be King (ranked #400) and 1971’s Get Carter (#669). If you like the schlock, TCM is also playing two films considered among Caine’s WORST by critics and Caine himself: The Swarm (ranked #9176) and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (#11864).
August 7: Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby
Katharine Hepburn has been many things in her seven-decade career: an ingenue, an exotic, box office poison, a comedienne, an independent woman, flighty, grounded, sarcastic, a daughter, a wife, a matriarch….and an icon. Her decades-long unofficial relationship with Spencer Tracy (both offscreen and on, in a series of nine films) is the stuff of legend, as is her popularizing masculine pantsuits and winning a record-holding four Best Actress Academy Awards.
Hepburn’s top-ranked film on Flickchart is The Philadelphia Story at #95, but although TCM plays that often, they are not playing it this month. They are playing Bringing Up Baby, though, her second-highest on Flickchart at a very close #119. When Bringing Up Baby came out in 1938, Hepburn’s career had been on a downward spiral for three or four years, as her studio RKO cast her in a string of period pieces that simply didn’t fit this most modern of modern women. Bringing Up Baby did not stem that tide; although critics liked the film, audiences stayed away and Hepburn was labeled “box office poison.” (She made a triumphant return two years later with The Philadelphia Story, which she played first on the stage.) Thankfully, time has revived Bringing Up Baby, and it now takes its rightful place as one of the most outrageously hilarious screwball comedies ever made.
Watch Bringing Up Baby on TCM on August 7 at 11:30am Eastern. Though Hepburn’s run of period pieces in the 1930s (some of which are playing on TCM in this spotlight) was unsuccessful, her 1968 role as 13th century matriarch Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter was quite the opposite, winning her a third Academy Award and notching the second-highest Flickchart ranking of TCM’s lineup (fourth overall, at #526). It’s followed by a trio of pairings with Spencer Tracy, most notably Adam’s Rib (#761), where the two play married lawyers on opposite sides of a domestic violence case (it’s a comedy). For a hidden gem, check out 1935’s Alice Adams (ranked #5196), Hepburn’s last box office success in the 1930s.
August 8: Raymond Massey in Arsenic and Old Lace
If Raymond Massey is known by name today, it’s largely for one role – the one in the film Flickchart ranks the highest, Arsenic and Old Lace (ranked #205). He started his career on the London stage in the 1920s after experiencing shell shock in WWI, and quickly moved into films. Though he’s Canadian by birth, he achieved fame during his life for playing quintessential Americans Abraham Lincoln in three different films and John Brown in two. In an interesting connection to yesterday’s star, Massey’s dramatic breakup and divorce from his second wife Adrianne Allen was the inspiration for the case in Adam’s Rib.
There’s a running joke in Arsenic and Old Lace that Massey’s character Jonathan, a criminal on the run who has undergone plastic surgery as a disguise, looks like Boris Karloff. Karloff actually originated the role on Broadway, and seems like he would’ve been a shoo-in to play it on film as well. But in a weird quirk of production history, Arsenic and Old Lace was filmed in 1941, when a break in Cary Grant‘s busy schedule permitted, but not released until 1944 due to contractual obligation to wait until the play finished running. The play was extremely popular, and Boris Karloff was still playing in it every night while Frank Capra was shooting the film. Massey stepped into Karloff’s difficult-to-fill shoes and pulled the role off nicely, balancing the off-kilter absurdity of the other characters with his darker and sometimes almost terrifying (but no less absurd) presence.
Watch Arsenic and Old Lace on TCM on August 8 at 5:45pm. The next highest-ranked film playing is 1955’s East of Eden (ranked #494), in which Massey plays James Dean‘s father. Also check out one of Massey’s earliest films Things to Come (ranked #3734), an early sci-fi film based on an H.G. Wells story. Two of Massey’s films in the lineup are ranked unusually high for the lower user counts they boast, which probably means they’re worth checking out – his main outing as Honest Abe in Abe Lincoln in Illinois and the swashbuckling adventure film The Scarlet Pimpernel.
August 9: Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train
Though Robert Walker was a popular star in the 1940s thanks to his boyish good looks and charm, his life was beset by sorrow and mental instability. He and his young wife Phyllis Isley (later Jennifer Jones) moved back and forth between Hollywood and New York trying to find acting work until Phyllis was discovered by producer David O. Selznick, who changed her name, fostered her career and fell for her hard. At first, their affair meant work for both Jones and Walker, including appearing opposite each other in Since You Went Away, but by 1945 Jones divorced Walker to marry Selznick and Walker’s career and life went on the downswing, culminating in a stay at a clinic for a mental disorder in 1949.
When he left the clinic, Alfred Hitchcock approached him to play a very different part than he’d played as a young male ingenue in the ’40s – the psychologically disturbed role of Bruno Anthony in Strangers on a Train, who approaches all-American tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and suggests they swap murders. Guy takes it as weird hypothetical small talk, but Bruno is serious. The film is one of Hitchcock’s best, maybe THE best in terms of pure suspense. Flickcharters certainly rank it highly, at #78 on the global list. After this film, he would make one more before his sudden death 1951, of an apparently accidental cocktail of alcohol and anti-psychotics.
Watch Strangers on a Train on TCM on August 9 at 8pm Eastern. Walker has no other films that have been ranked by more than 100 users on Flickchart, but he has a number of hidden gems on TCM’s schedule worth checking out. I actually selected The Clock (ranked #4993) as my “blogger’s pick” for the Flickchart Best of 1945 post, so I definitely give a personal recommendation for that (it’s also Walker’s second-highest ranked film after Strangers on a Train). Also note two war dramas, Bataan (#5838) and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (#9898), as well as the biopic Madame Curie (#6424), which earned Greer Garson one of her many Oscar nominations.
August 10: Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Joan Crawford is in an interesting position as a classic film star, in that most people know who she is, but most of her films actually aren’t that well-known outside of classic film circles. Her off-screen drama with her daughter Christina led to Christina’s scathing memoir Mommie Dearest, the movie version of which offers the indelible image of Faye Dunaway-as-Crawford screaming “no wire hangers!” in a fit of outrage. In Crawford’s films, we find the persona of a strong, working class woman who survives everything life throws at her and emerges on top through her own hard work and perseverance, and in a lot of ways, that’s what Crawford did, too – working her way up from chorus girl to silent film flapper to Depression-era role model to film noir heroine to a late career playing camp for all it’s worth.
One of her most memorable late career films plays on another bit of life-long drama – her famous feud with Bette Davis. In What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (ranked #458), they play aging sisters, both of whom used to be child stars. Davis is the dominant sister Jane, caring for Crawford’s wheelchair-bound Blanche, if by “caring” you mean “being as cruel and insulting as you can possibly be while still keeping someone alive”. According to legend, the two actresses hated each other just as much as ever and played tricks on each other throughout filming – at one point when Davis has to carry Crawford, Crawford reportedly stuffed her pockets full of rocks to make it as difficult as possible. The end result is something quite special and unique, though Davis really dominates the film.
Watch What Ever Happened to Baby Jane on TCM on August 10 at 1:45am Eastern (which is technically the 11; set your DVRs). Crawford’s second highest ranked film is her Oscar-winner Mildred Pierce, but TCM is not playing it, likely because they did during July’s Summer of Darkness noir programming. Instead, we have two notable films ranked by over 100 users that hit two distinct parts of Crawford’s career – 1927’s The Unknown, a Lon Chaney silent horror film (ranked #1649) and 1939’s The Women (ranked #1957), a delightfully catty comedy featuring a quintessential Crawford role – a scheming gold-digging homewrecking perfume salesgirl.
August 11: Rex Ingram in The Thief of Bagdad
Most African-American actors in the classic era were relegated to playing maids, servants, convicts, or entertainers, but Rex Ingram got a bit more variety in his roles, though he also wasn’t nearly as prolific as many of his contemporaries. Before becoming an actor, Ingram got a medical degree from Northwestern University, so he was no slouch. In the silent era, he played a lot of native roles, especially in the Elmo Lincoln Tarzan series, but sound worked in his favor due to his imposing presence and powerful voice – in 1936, he landed the role of De Lawd in The Green Pastures (ranked #10737), and then Jim in The Adventures of Huck Finn (ranked #11057) and other iconic characters.
Both of those last two films are playing on TCM, but his best-known role (and highest-ranked on Flickchart at #1443) was as the Djinn in the 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad, an early Technicolor spectacular co-directed by Michael Powell, before he teamed up with Emeric Pressburger to form The Archers. The film is largely a remake of the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks hit, but it has solidified its own place in film history, acclaimed at the time for its use of color, named as a Great Movie by Roger Ebert and exerting great influence on such later films as Aladdin (which borrows the design of the evil Vizier Jaffar and bases the monkey Abu on the thief character played by Indian child actor Sabu in this film).
Watch The Thief of Bagdad on TCM on August 11 at 4pm Eastern. Flickchart users also have an appreciation for Humphrey Bogart-starring adventure Sahara (ranked #2146), in which Ingram plays a Sudanese military commander, and Cabin in the Sky (ranked #4060), one of a very few all-black films MGM made in the early 1940s to showcase their contracted talent. In the latter, Ingram plays The Devil, who tempts Joe away from his devout wife in a version of the Faust story – Ingram is one of the few actors to have played both God and the Devil.
August 12: Robert Mitchum in The Yakuza
Though he only received one Oscar nomination in his career (Supporting Actor for 1945’s The Story of G.I. Joe), Robert Mitchum is now considered one of the finest and most iconic actors of the studio era. After a youth filled with school expulsions and riding the rails around the country, he got into acting the slow way, through bit parts and supporting roles in the Players Guild of Long Beach where he also worked as a stagehand, then into small roles in RKO westerns. He was being groomed as lead in a series of B westerns for RKO when roles like the one in The Story of G.I. Joe came his way, and he showed his versatility in war films and then found his niche in noir with a series of iconic films like Out of the Past. He saw acting as a job rather than an art, and his nonchalant naturalism works well for him in every role he was in.
But TCM has opted to schedule deep cuts for Mitchum’s spotlight day, with the top-ranked film on the schedule barely cracking Flickchart’s Top Ten. 1974’s The Yakuza (ranked #4690) transposes a noirish story into the contemporary 1970s Japanese underworld. Mitchum plays an aging detective asked by an old war buddy to help him out of some trouble he’s gotten into with the Yakuza, which dredges up old connections and memories that Mitchum’s character had rather left forgotten. The script was Paul Schrader’s first; he’d become a New Hollywood legend with Taxi Driver and Raging Bull (among others). Robert Towne, already acclaimed for Chinatown, also worked on some rewrites, giving the film a pretty great pedigree. Thought not a hit with either critics or audiences at the time, it has gathered a cult following in the years since.
Watch The Yakuza on TCM on August 12 at 12:30am Eastern (which is actually the 13th, yes). Barely squeaking over 100 users on Flickchart are Mitchum’s cast-against-type turn as a mild-mannered Irish schoolmaster in David Lean‘s Ryan’s Daughter (ranked #5384) and 1958’s Thunder Road (ranked #5463), which Mitchum also produced, co-wrote, and is rumored to have directed at least in part. For a solid hidden gem, check out the Nicholas Ray western The Lusty Men, which is ranked quite high for the number of users ranking it.
August 13: Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge
Ann-Margret is perhaps as well-known for her musical career as for her acting one, starting off as a performer in local productions, then in Chicago nightclubs before heading to Las Vegas and then getting both a record deal and a Hollywood studio contract in 1961. Both the recording company and the studio played her up as “the female Elvis”, having her record covers of some of his songs, appear in pop musicals like Bye Bye Birdie, and eventually star opposite Elvis himself in Viva Las Vegas. Her vivacious on-screen appearance somewhat belied her more reserved off-stage personality. After making a splash as a pop star, she moved on to some more challenging roles that often play against her initial glamorous persona, but since 1967 has always balanced her film career with Las Vegas shows and television guest appearances.
One of the more challenging films on her resume also ranks the highest with Flickcharters – the 1971 Mike Nichols film Carnal Knowledge, which ranks #1541 globally. She holds her own in the somewhat thankless role of Jack Nicholson‘s viciously abused but ever-loving girlfriend. The film is honestly difficult to watch for me, in large part because Ann-Margret makes you sympathize with her so much despite how much you want her to just leave Nicholson. The role is a stretch for the teeny-bopper star of Bye Bye Birdie, but she pulls it off.
Watch Carnal Knowledge on TCM on August 13 at 2am Eastern (really the 14th). Ann-Margret films are fairly popular with Flickcharters, with the Steve McQueen-starring Depression-era gambling drama The Cincinnati Kid (ranked #2094), The Who rock opera Tommy (ranked #3187), and the afore-mentioned Bye Bye Birdie (ranked #302) all ranked by several hundred users. A hidden gem is her screen debut, 1961’s Pocketful of Miracles (#9683), a remake of Frank Capra‘s Lady for a Day with Bette Davis taking of the lead role.
August 14: Groucho Marx in Duck Soup
Groucho Marx apparently needs the least introduction of any of the actors featured during Summer Under the Stars, as Marx Brothers films tend to rank very high on Flickchart – in fact, of all the stars this month, Groucho Marx has by far the most users ranking his films. Marx is, of course, one third (or one fourth, sometimes, or even one fifth occasionally) of the Marx Brothers, one of the most notable and popular comedy teams in 1930s cinema. Each brother brought different strengths to the team, and Groucho’s was clever, often bitingly sarcastic wordplay combined with a distinct look of bushy eyebrows, glasses, and an ever-present cigar.
The Marx Brothers dynamic was honed in vaudeville for years, then brought mostly intact to the screen in 1929’s The Cocoanuts and a string of successfully zany films culminating in Duck Soup, the most popular Marx Brothers film on Flickchart (and most anywhere else), ranking at #117 globally. Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, appointed leader of Freedonia by a rich benefactor who otherwise refuses to help the country – before long the whole place devolves into anarchic battle with neighboring Sylvania. The Brothers always tend toward the absurd, but Duck Soup takes it two or three levels past. The film wasn’t a success when released (though it has now become a beloved classic), and led to the Marx Brothers moving from Paramount to MGM and accepting a much more controlled version of their comedy, which is balanced by traditional romance subplots in A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races.
Watch Duck Soup on TCM on August 14 at 10:45pm Eastern. As I said, most of the other Marx Brothers films are also quite popular – TCM has A Night at the Opera (ranked #190), Animal Crackers (#366), Horse Feathers (#735), and Monkey Business (#826) all on the schedule – and all of those count as Movies to See Before You Die by Flickchart standards! If you are looking for something more obscure, try one of the three solo Groucho movies on the schedule – A Girl in Every Port, Double Dynamite, or The Story of Mankind.
August 15: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in Little Caesar
One could easily be forgiven for assuming it was Douglas Fairbanks SENIOR, the iconic silent swashbuckler, who had a spot in Summer Under the Stars, but his son Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. also had a long and valuable career. He began that career in the late silent era, having been given a contract basically on the strength of his father’s name, but he quickly proved himself worthy of the ingenue and action parts he was given. He also married Joan Crawford after a whirlwind romance while filming Our Modern Maidens, but the marriage only lasted until 1933. Like other Hollywood stars, Fairbanks went into the service when WWII hit, and had a very distinguished military career, receiving medals from nearly every Allied country thanks to his leadership of the Beach Jumper program, a dangerous but highly successful deception tactic that landed a few men as a diversion from a larger landing party in a different spot.
In terms of his film career, many of his lead roles aren’t well-remembered today, but several of his supporting roles have stood the test of time. Little Caesar (ranked #1467) is Edward G. Robinson‘s calling card into the world of Hollywood gangster films, and it, along with The Public Enemy and Scarface, remains among the films credited with creating the genre. Fairbanks plays Robinson’s childhood friend who went straight while Robinson went crooked, a divergence of paths that inevitably brings them into eventual conflict. Fairbanks also gets to romance Glenda Farrell, which isn’t too shabby a deal.
Watch Little Caesar on TCM on August 15 at 3:15am (which is the 16th). Fairbanks’ other high-ranking film on the schedule is 1939’s Gunga Din (ranked #1622), where he plays one of a trio of British soldiers (the others are Cary Grant and Victor McLaglen) who fight alongside their Indian waterbearer Gunga Din against a cult of murderous Indians. Another adventure film, The Prisoner of Zenda, counts as a solid hidden gem at #4323, with Fairbanks as the charismatic villain in a story of identical cousins, kidnapped kings, and mistaken identity.