TCM’s Summer Under the Stars – According to Flickchart, Part 2
We’re halfway through Turner Classic Movie’s massive Summer Under the Stars event, where the channel features on each day of programming a different classic star throughout the month of August. We brought you a Flickchart-inspired guide to the first half of month two weeks ago, and here is the promised Part 2, covering all the stars featured from August 16-31 and highlighting their top-ranked films on Flickchart.
This half of the month features some big hitters like John Wayne and Ingrid Bergman, some well-beloved character and supporting actors like Lee J. Cobb and Shelley Winters, and some true obscurities like Pre-Code era starlets Mae Clarke and Virginia Bruce. There’s something for everyone here, with plenty of options, no matter your experience with classic film. So get your DVR ready, here we go…
August 16: Patricia Neal in The Day the Earth Stood Still
Patricia Neal didn’t just come to Hollywood with a background on the stage, she came with a full drama degree from Northwestern AND a Tony Award (from the first ever Tony Awards in 1947). Her theatrical background informed her acting style in her first stint in Hollywood from 1949 to 1953, but it became even more prominent when she returned in 1957 after working with the Actors Studio (best known for its promulgation of the Method style of acting in the 1950s). Theatrical acting doesn’t always work on screen, but it did in the 1950s, and it did for Patricia Neal, as she won numerous accolades for her film work in the ’60s, especially her Oscar-winning turn in Hud (1963). In her personal life, a multi-year affair with Gary Cooper during her early Hollywood career gave way to a long-time marriage to author Roald Dahl.
Her most acclaimed performance in Hud fares well with Flickcharters, who rank it at #459, but sci-fi beats out character drama, and The Day the Earth Stood Still ranks at #361. Neal plays a young widow who is befriended by the alien Klaatu, whose message of peace or else resonated strongly in the age of nuclear paranoia. The Day the Earth Stood Still remains one of the best-known sci-fi films of the 1950s, along with Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Both films play on Cold War paranoia, though with different foci, and it’s well worth catching up with them if you haven’t already.
Watch The Day the Earth Stood Still on TCM on August 16th at 8 pm Eastern. The aforementioned Hud is also on the schedule, and Flickcharters also highly rank 1957’s A Face in the Crowd (#551), Neal’s first film after joining the Actors Studio. For some hidden gem action, 1950’s The Breaking Point (ranked #12564 by only 12 users) is a great lesser-known noir, a more faithful version of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not than the Bogart–Bacall film.
August 17: Lee J. Cobb in 12 Angry Men
Lee J. Cobb is best-known for playing belligerent heavies, but he was one of the Hollywood’s most reliable supporting actors in any role. Like many of his contemporaries, he drew on stage experience, most notably for him, originating the role of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s 1949 Death of a Salesman (which he’d play on stage and TV multiple times throughout his career). As it did for everyone in the 1950s, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee came for Cobb, who had alleged ties to the Communist Party. He refused to testify for two years until the blacklist threatened his livelihood and his family – he finally gave in and named names to the Committee in 1953 so he could continue to work.
And work he did, including in two films that Flickcharters rank very highly – he played the angriest of the 12 Angry Men in Sidney Lumet‘s 1957 film (ranked #48), the last juror to give in and admit his personal reasons for his vote of “guilty.” This is a film that many people see in school (no doubt contributing to its high number of rankers for a classic film, over 26,000), but it seems most people end up liking it, drawn in by the enclosed atmosphere, the tight script, and the compelling acting put forth by Henry Fonda, Ed Begley, and perhaps MOST memorably by Cobb.
Watch 12 Angry Men on TCM on August 17 at 9:45 pm Eastern. The other Cobb film Flickcharters love is On the Waterfront (ranked #90), in which Cobb plays the vicious mob boss who not only holds sway over the dockworkers, but who forced Marlon Brando‘s character to throw a fight (he “coulda been a contenda” if it hadn’t been for Cobb’s greediness). For a hidden gem, give Thieves’ Highway a try (ranked #3951 by fewer than 100 users), a 1949 Jules Dassin noir – Dassin was also fingered by HUAC, but fled to Europe instead of capitulating.
August 18: Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire
Vivien Leigh is mostly famous for three things – being chosen out of thousands of auditionees for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, her long-time marriage to Laurence Olivier, and her later career triumph in A Streetcar Named Desire (she’d win Oscars for both those performances). Most people would be hard-pressed to nail down what she did in between those things. Never wanting to be known just as a “film star”, she spent a great deal of time in the theatre, often with Olivier, though not always – she originated the role of Blanche duBois onstage before she immortalized it on film. Leigh also struggled throughout her life with bipolar disorder, which caused her to be labeled as difficult and temperamental to work with, though costars like Olivia de Havilland noted her professionalism as well.
Though Gone with the Wind (ranked #443) remains atop the list of top grossing movies adjusted for inflation and has almost 30,000 people ranking it on Flickchart, it actually isn’t Leigh’s highest-ranked film – that honor goes to Streetcar, which has a global ranking of #264 with roughly 5300 users. Gone with the Wind definitely gets some marks against it not only thanks to its extreme length, but also its very out-of-date racial politics, which likely give the less epic, but also less-controversial Streetcar, the edge. It doesn’t hurt that Brando electrifies the screen.
Watch A Streetcar Named Desire on August 19 at 3:45am Eastern (and yes, Gone With the Wind is playing, too). Leigh’s top hidden gem is Waterloo Bridge (ranked #5429), a film made the year after Gone with the Wind which was to have starred Leigh opposite her new husband Olivier, but Selznick seemed to want to keep them apart on-screen, and replaced him with major Hollywood star Robert Taylor. The schedule also includes the 1937 British film Fire Over England (ranked #10157) which DOES costar the two lovers, Leigh’s 1948 turn as tragic Anna Karenina (ranked #10913), and her penultimate film, 1961’s The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (ranked #16294).
August 19: John Wayne in The Searchers
At this point, John Wayne’s status as an icon largely outweighs his actual filmography, and often the popular conception of him depends as much on his politics (conservative, anti-Communist, pro-blacklist) as it does on his performances – though it is true that his persona on screen mirrors his off-screen personality and values. Among conservative Americans, this makes Wayne an American hero, but his legacy fares much less well in liberal circles, which unfortunately tends to make many people uninterested in seeing his films. Perhaps the unpopularity of westerns these days also plays into it. Looking at some of Wayne’s top-ranked films on Flickchart, though, remind us of the range of characters he played.
In John Ford‘s The Searchers (ranked #103), he plays Ethan Edwards, who returns home from the Civil War but soon finds his family torn apart a Comanche raid. He and his adopted nephew (who is part Native American) set out to find the kidnapped younger niece, a quest that will consume years of their lives. The Searchers isn’t quite a revisionist western, but it’s one of several westerns in the ’50s (most of the others are directed by Anthony Mann) that interrogated the heroic nature of the cowboy, with Ethan’s single-minded and racist bent for revenge making him a much more complicated character than those in most westerns of the time. It will certainly have you questioning Wayne’s white hat persona.
Watch The Searchers on TCM on August 19 at 10:15pm Eastern. Two more films that rank highly with Flickcharters are on the schedule: 1959’s Rio Bravo (ranked #153), a hanging-out western that’s just great fun to watch, especially thanks to recovering drunk deputy Dean Martin (yes, there’s singing in the movie, and it’s great), and 1952’s The Quiet Man (ranked #474), one of several films costarring Wayne with Maureen O’Hara, who is every bit his on-screen equal despite the rather questionable gender politics of the film’s Irish community.
August 20: Mae Clarke in Frankenstein
Sometimes the Pre-Code era of Hollywood filmmaking (1930-1934) feels, like the Silent Era, as though it has a whole set of stars that just basically disappeared once the Production Code started to be enforced. Mae Clarke is one of those, for a number of reasons – like other Pre-Code starlets, her sexy persona had a hard time surviving the more straight-laced requirements of the Code, but she also suffered nervous breakdowns in 1932 and 1934, and a serious (and scarring) car crash in 1933. While her Pre-Code career includes plum parts in such major films as The Front Page, Frankenstein, The Public Enemy, and Waterloo Bridge (all 1931, a frenetic working pace that may have led to that nervous breakdown), when she returned to the screen in the mid-1930s, she was relegated to B films and bit parts.
TCM is playing both of her best-known and top-ranked films – Frankenstein (ranked #234) and The Public Enemy (#653). In the first, Clarke is Dr. Frankenstein’s demure but alluring fiancee, who is memorably terrorized by the Monster when he breaks and enters her room. In the second, Clarke gets her most iconic moment when James Cagney smashes a grapefruit in her face. It’s perhaps an ignominious thing to be remembered for, but we can’t always choose our fifteen seconds of fame.
Watch Frankenstein on TCM on August 20 at 9:30pm Eastern and The Public Enemy at 2:45am Eastern (on the 21st). Clarke’s top hidden gem according to Flickchart is one of her later small parts, as a bank clerk in 1966 western comedy A Big Hand for the Little Lady (ranked #6372), but right behind are what she considered her best performance, 1931’s Waterloo Bridge (ranked #7214), and her breakout role as Molly Malloy in the first version of The Front Page (ranked #7219), as well as a number of her lesser-known Pre-Code films, if that’s your thing (and, um, it should be).
August 21: Alan Arkin in Wait Until Dark
Alan Arkin’s career as a major screen actor may have begun (barely) in the classic era, but he’s still winning laughs, hearts, and awards to this day in films like Little Miss Sunshine and Argo. Several other actors featured this month have had run-ins with the House UnAmerican Activities Committee during the Communist witchhunts in the ’50s, but Arkin’s parents were actually Communists and driven out of their jobs. Arkin still wanted to be an actor and eventually found his way into Second City in New York, the theatre group that famously served as a training ground for Saturday Night Live comedians. Arkin didn’t take that route, but caught Hollywood’s eye in the mid-1960s and embarked on a long and successful career in both comedy and drama.
TCM understandably focuses on his earlier work (though there are a couple of ’80s and ’90s exceptions), and the highest ranked is his chilling turn as a psychopathic killer in 1967’s Wait Until Dark (ranked #435). The film belongs to Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman who doesn’t realize she has stolen drugs in her apartment, but Arkin is mesmerizingly evil as her main assailant. You can read more about Wait Until Dark in our recent Reel Rumbles post pitting it against 1963’s Charade.
Watch Wait Until Dark on TCM on August 21 at 1:00pm Eastern. Flickcharters also appreciate Arkin’s comic turns in The In-Laws (ranked #2068) and Freebie and the Bean (ranked #5290). The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (ranked #6124) is a solid hidden gem choice, and one of Arkin’s first straight dramatic roles, proving his flexibility.
August 22: Marlene Dietrich in Witness for the Prosecution
One of the most fascinating and enigmatic stars to ever appear on the silver screen, Marlene Dietrich got her start in German silent film, then emigrated to America with her director (and lover at the time) Josef von Sternberg in 1930 and did a string of films with him until 1935. These films are widely considered among the most stylish and subversive films of the studio era, and made Marlene an exotic favorite rivaling the popularity of Greta Garbo. After that streak, her career waned, though she had plenty of individual memorable roles spread throughout, usually for major directors like Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, or Orson Welles who could lure her back to the screen. During WWII she made decent but forgettable films, but focused on war work, being virulently anti-Hitler, who she saw as ruining her homeland, and was one of the first stars to start selling war bonds and doing entertainment tours for the troops. She even reportedly had a plan to seduce and assassinate Hitler, though the US government never took her up on it.
One of Dietrich’s greatest later performances is in Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution (ranked #236) in which she plays the wife of Tyrone Power, a man accused of murder who’s relying on her testimony to prove his innocence. The film is a roaring good time, a very funny but also quite suspenseful courtroom drama that stars Charles Laughton as a barrister about to retire who takes this one last case because it interests him. When Laughton is on, there’s no one more watchable in all of film history, and he is definitely on here.
Watch Witness for the Prosecution on TCM on August 22 at 8:00pm Eastern. Her absolutely last great film is Judgement at Nuremberg, which Flickchart users rank at #475, but you can also catch a number of her collaborations with von Sternberg, including their first major hit The Blue Angel (ranked #1325). A consummate scene-stealer, she walked away with Hicthcock’s Stage Fright (ranked #2849, which is surprisingly low for Hitchcock) and Wilder’s A Foreign Affair (a hidden gem ranked at #4823 by fewer than 100 users) right from under her mousier costars’ noses.
August 23: Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain
The legendary story of Hollywood stardom – being discovered in a Hollywood soda parlor or a local beauty pageant and made into a star – is very close to Debbie Reynolds’ actual story. Born in Texas but moved to Burbank at a young age, Debbie won the Miss Burbank beauty pageant in 1948 and signed a studio contract the same year. In 1950 when she moved from Warner Bros. to MGM, she quickly established a sunny, girl-next-door persona the perfectly exemplified the wholesome image 1950s Hollywood wanted to project, and she maintained that in musicals and light comedies until the mid-1960s, with just a few dramas thrown in to prove she could do it. Her storybook marriage to Eddie Fisher in 1955 was dashed in 1958 (their daughter Carrie Fisher is well-known for her own work), when he announced he was leaving her for Elizabeth Taylor – but publicity-wise, Reynolds came out on top of that, too.
It was pretty common for studios, especially MGM, to throw anyone and everyone into musicals – Debbie had a pleasant singing voice (her rendition of “Tammy” for Tammy and the Bachelor was #1 on the Billboard charts for several weeks) but no formal dance training, so jumping into Singin’ in the Rain (ranked #196) opposite seasoned and demanding hoofers Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor was rough for her, but she was determined and the film, which hinges on her character’s eager and sincere personality, remains one of her best. She tells a wonderful story in her autobiography of working on her dance routines to the point her shoes were getting bloody; at once point she collapsed in tears after Kelly stormed off, upset at her inability to get his steps. Fred Astaire, who was rehearsing on the next stage over, happened by and kindly helped her up and worked with her patiently on the routine until she got it.
Watch Singin’ in the Rain on TCM on August 23 at 8pm Eastern. Her bravura performance as The Unsinkable Molly Brown (a backwoods girl whose husband strikes it rich, leading them into society and eventually onto the Titanic, from which she was one of the few survivors – yes, it’s based on a true story) is her only other film with more than 100 Flickchart users ranking it, which just proves that more people need to tune into TCM today. Positively delightful hidden gems include The Tender Trap, a non-musical romantic comedy opposite Frank Sinatra (I reiterate, this is NOT a musical), Hit the Deck, a musical ensemble film that also stars Jane Powell, Ann Miller, and http://www.flickchart.com/Charts.aspx?actor=Russ+Tamblyn”>Russ Tamblyn, and Give a Girl a Break, with a bright young Debbie hoping to break into show business.
August 24: Warren Oates in Badlands
Rarely a leading man, Warren Oates is best known for the character roles he played in a series of Sam Peckinpah films of the 1960s. He first broke into acting on television, his weathered face serving him well in the westerns that were so popular on the small screen at the time. One of them was The Rifleman, where Oates first caught Peckinpah’s attention. He’d eventually land leading roles in a couple of 1970s films that have become cult favorites – Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Monte Hellman‘s Two-Lane Blacktop. TCM isn’t playing Two-Lane Blacktop, but I urge you to seek it out – it’s something special.
His top-ranked film, though, is one he’s only in for the first several minutes – as Sissy Spacek‘s disapproving father in Terrence Malick‘s Badlands (ranked #99), Oates only last as long as it takes for Martin Sheen to get fed up and burn his house down with him in it, before Sheen and Spacek set off on their cross-country crime spree. That said, Oates makes quite an impression in those few minutes, and that’s what being a great character actor is all about.
Watch Badlands on TCM on August 24 at 8pm Eastern. Three of his Peckinpah collaborations are also playing: The Wild Bunch (ranked #171), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (ranked #568), and Ride the High Country (ranked #1672), and all of those are well worth watching, as their Flickchart rankings attest.
August 25: Virginia Bruce in The Great Ziegfeld
One of the most obscure stars in this year’s Summer Under the Stars lineup, Virginia Bruce seemed poised on the edge of stardom in the mid-1930s on the strength of her blonde beauty and pleasing soprano voice, only to suddenly fade into obscurity starting in 1937. It seems that studio politics played a big part in this, as her mentor at MGM, wunderkind producer Irving Thalberg, died that year, allowing studio head Louis B. Mayer to take out his dislike of silent screen actor John Gilbert on Bruce, Gilbert’s ex-wife (they were married from 1932 to 1934, a brief time during Gilbert’s own career decline, but apparently long enough for Mayer). Whatever the reason, after a very promising 1936 with strong supporting roles in two major musicals, Bruce had barely any decent work after that, and faded to B movies and television by the mid-1940s.
The only one of her films that makes much of an impression on Flickchart is The Great Ziegfeld (ranked #5147), and that’s likely only because it happened to win Best Picture at the Oscars. She plays one of the main Ziegfeld girls, though she has to share the screen with Myrna Loy (one of many times Loy played opposite William Powell, who plays Ziegfeld) and Luise Rainer, who won the first of her two back-to-back Best Actress Oscar as Ziegfeld’s first wife. Bruce memorably holds the top of a giant wedding cake set-piece musical number, which is so extravagant it could never have actually appeared on a stage, Ziegfeld Follies or otherwise.
Watch The Great Ziegfeld on TCM on August 26 at 1:00am Eastern (actually the 27th). All the rest of her scheduled films count as hidden gems, with fewer than 100 rankers on Flickchart; the most highly-ranked include 1940’s The Invisible Woman (ranked #8422), which sounds like a great B horror flick, 1935’s The Murder Man (ranked #10854), with an early supporting role for James Stewart, and 1932’s Kongo (ranked #11070), one of the most astoundingly Pre-Code films that ever Pre-Coded.
August 26: Greta Garbo in Ninotchka
Garbo’s aloof and enigmatic persona was part of her great allure to 1920s and 1930s audiences. She was exotic and tragic onscreen, that perfectly chiseled face keeping as many secrets as it revealed, and assiduously private off-screen. She demanded and got the best from her studio MGM, as befit their biggest star, and in return she gave them box office success after success from 1926 to 1939, when WWII closed off foreign markets and domestic audiences were beginning to prefer less exotic and more escapist entertainment. Her abrupt retirement in 1942 turned out to be permanent, despite many attempts to entice her back to the screen – she lived out the rest of her 84 years in quiet seclusion, embodying her most famous line from Grand Hotel: “I want to be alone.”
Not long before that retirement, though, she added comedy to her repertoire, which had previously been filled with drama, romance, and tragedy. 1939’s Ninotchka came emblazoned with the tagline “Garbo Laughs!” – and laugh she did, as her characters tough Communist exterior is thawed by the charms of Paris, and Melvyn Douglas. One of Ernst Lubitsch‘s most well-remembered films, Ninotchka satirizes the Communist regime at a time when the USSR was actually an American ally, somewhat of a risky move, but Lubitsch’s deft touch and Garbo’s infectious laugh keep things on the light side, and earned her a fourth Academy Award nomination (she never won).
Watch Ninotchka on TCM on August 26 at 6pm Eastern. Two of her other well-known films are playing as well: the aforementioned Grand Hotel from 1932 (ranked #1546) and 1937’s tearjerker Camille (ranked #3725). In general, a lot of Garbo’s films haven’t aged that well (her performances have, but the rest, not as much), but these three are exceptions that still hold up today. For a hidden gem, check out the film that made her a huge star in America, 1926’s The Flesh and the Devil (ranked #5142), the first of several films she starred in opposite heartthrob (and her rumored off-screen lover) John Gilbert.
August 27: Monty Woolley in The Bishop’s Wife
Known for his supporting roles as alternately kindly and irascible old gentlemen, Monty Woolley came to acting as a second career. Born into a well-to-do East Coast family with strong social connections, he received degrees from both Yale and Harvard and taught English and Drama at Yale for several years before before drifting into the New York theatre world thanks to his close friendship with songwriter Cole Porter. He gave up his academic career entirely at the age of 47 to pursue acting, and he soon made the jump into films as well, lighting up many a 1940s film with his presence.
Ask a classic movie fan, and they’ll most likely point to The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) as his definitive role, in which he plays an irascible houseguest who refuses to leave – a role he originated on Broadway and later played on television as well – or perhaps his role as a kindly wartime boarder in Since You Went Away (1944), but it speaks to The Bishop’s Wife‘s widespread appeal as a holiday film that it ranks as Woolley’s highest among Flickchart users at #1821. He plays an athiest professor (likely not a stretch for Woolley) who is nonetheless charmed by Cary Grant‘s angel, sent down to guide bishop David Niven in a time of stress.
Watch The Bishop’s Wife on TCM on August 27 at 1:45am (really the 28th). You can also check out The Man Who Came to Dinner, which ranks a respectable #2805 from just over 100 users. TCM isn’t playing Since You Went Away this time around, but for some laughs (and some very untrue biography), try Woolley playing himself as Cole Porter’s best friend in Night and Day (ranked #12083) – Cary Grant plays Porter.
August 28: Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca
August 28 is a very special day for Ingrid Bergman fans – not only is she TCM’s featured Star, but it would be her 100th birthday. One of Hollywood’s most enduring stars thanks to her natural beauty and earthy persona, she also had quite a turbulent personal life. The Swedish actress chafed under her seven-year contract with David O. Selznick, unable to get the kind of challenging roles and freedom she craved (she found an ally in Alfred Hitchcock, who similarly struggled with his commitment to Selznick – their collaboration on Notorious resulted in a high spot for both of their careers). Once released from Selznick, however, she earned the ire of Hollywood by running away with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, leaving her long-time husband and children behind and betraying her wholesome screen image. Her six films with Rossellini varied widely in quality and success, but her return to Hollywood with 1956’s Anastasia was a triumph, winning her an Academy Award and Hollywood’s “forgiveness.” She continued working into her old age, receiving acclaim (and another Oscar) for Murder on the Orient Express and finishing her career with Autumn Sonata, from Sweden’s greatest director Ingmar Bergman.
Her best-known film by far and easily the most popular among Flickchart users is Casablanca (ranked #14 on the global charts by an astounding 40,000+ users), in which Bergman’s soft and naturalistic acting served her well as a woman caught between her love for two men. The script was still being written as the film was shooting, so Bergman didn’t know whether she’d end up with Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) or Viktor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) in the final reel, which meant she had to play it so either way would be believable – and her indecisive yearning is a large part of why that film’s romance plays as well as it does. Given Flickchart user’s affinity for the film, you’ve probably already seen it, but if you haven’t, now’s the time.
Watch Casablanca on TCM on August 28 at 8pm Eastern. If you have seen Casablanca, there are plenty of other highly regarded films to check out, starting with Bergman’s first Oscar-winning performance in 1944’s Gaslight (ranked #722), a Gothic thriller of a woman whose husband is trying to drive her mad (yes, this is the origin of the term “gaslighting”). Of course, Swedish actress Bergman HAD to work with Swedish director Bergman at some point (there’s no relation between the two), though it took until 1978’s Autumn Sonata (ranked #1506). TCM is also playing several of her Italian films with Rossellini, and Flickchart users say the best is Journey to Italy (ranked #3808).
August 29: George C. Scott in The Hustler
George C. Scott was a rare combination of a born character actor who had the charisma and bombast to carry a film as the lead as well. He burst on the scene in the late 1950s, earning two Academy Award nominations back to back for Anatomy of a Murder and The Hustler, but he quickly expressed his disdain for awards in general – he’d famously turn down his Best Actor Oscar for Patton in 1971. But his lack of interest in awards didn’t prevent him from turning in some of the most acclaimed performances of the 1960s through the 1980s, always at his best when embodying rage both terrifying (1972’s Rage, his directorial debut) and comic (Dr. Strangelove).
Scott’s second Oscar-nominated turn is the film favored by Flickchart users, though likely more for Paul Newman‘s central role as the young pool shark The Hustler than for Scott’s supporting role as his Newman’s unscrupulous manager, a professional gambler who takes advantage of Newman both professionally and personally. Still, Scott impresses in the role, obviously, and adds a lot to the drama’s overall grit.
Watch The Hustler on TCM on August 29 at 8pm Eastern. Also check out highly-ranked Anatomy of a Murder (#158), with Scott as the prosecuting attorney to James Stewart’s defense attorney, and Patton (#320), Scott’s career-defining role as the controversial WWII general. The hidden gem to look for is Petulia (ranked #4913), an offbeat romance costarring Julie Christie.
August 30: Gary Cooper in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Along with James Stewart and Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper was one of the classic Hollywood’s quintessential American everymen, his rugged features and soulful eyes ensuring his popularity in westerns and adventure films, and his slightly slow demeanor crystallizing his persona in idealistic roles like Mr. Deeds and John Doe in his pair of Frank Capra films, real-life pacifist/war hero Alvin C. York in Sergeant York, baseball legend Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees and later the uncompromising sheriff in High Noon. The later role showed Cooper’s support for writers blacklisted by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (the film is a thinly veiled critique of the Communist witchhunts), despite Cooper’s earlier status as a “friendly witness” who may have prevaricated on the stand rather than actually naming names.
High Noon is Flickchart’s highest-ranked Cooper film, but TCM has opted to skip that one this time, which puts Capra’s 1936 Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in the spotlight (it’s ranked #557 by nearly 1000 users). In the film, Cooper plays the eponymous character, a country bumpkin who suddenly inherits $20 million from a distant uncle and is thrown into an elite world he knows nothing about. It’s a great film, filled with Capra’s signature combination of idealism and realism, with an as-always sparkling performance from Jean Arthur as an undercover reporter who ends up inevitably falling for Deeds.
Watch Mr. Deeds Goes to Town on TCM on August 30 at 8pm Eastern. Two of Cooper’s other signature roles are also on the schedule, Sergeant York (ranked #1386) and Meet John Doe (ranked #1600). For a fun experiment, check out one of his last films The Wreck of the Mary Deare (ranked #14652 by only 14 people) and imagine what it would’ve been like directed by Alfred Hitchcock instead of Michael Anderson…because it nearly was.
August 31: Shelley Winters in Lolita
In a way, Shelley Winters’ career feels a little bit like “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” despite her many memorable and acclaimed screen roles. She started off in films as early as 1943, but wouldn’t really land any major films until the late 1940s, when she was quickly typecast as the bad girl leading men astray from their wholesome girlfriends. In 1951, she managed to break out of that with A Place in the Sun, playing the mousy working girl who falls for Montgomery Clift, but then she was typecast in lower-class harridan roles. Her characters were forever being murdered onscreen, either in favor of another woman or simply because she was in the way of the male character’s goals. In the late 1950s, she reinvented herself again after a few years at the Actors Studio, this time as an often-brassy character actress – in this persona, she won acclaim and several awards. It was a good career filled with memorable supporting roles, but an unusual one that never saw her really take on lead roles or become a typical Hollywood star. Perhaps she liked it better that way.
In 1962 she took on one of her most affecting roles, that of Lolita’s lovesick and ignored mother Charlotte in Stanley Kubrick‘s adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (ranked #397). Charlotte craves the attention of James Mason‘s Humbert Humbert, who only has eyes for underage Lolita. As you might expect for 1962, the raciness of the novel had to be toned down substantially for the screen, though actress Sue Lyon was actually only 14 during filming, to James Mason’s 53. Winters’ sexually frustrated and incredibly clingy character isn’t exactly likeable, but in Winters’ hands, she’s still sympathetic in her pitiful way.
Watch Lolita on TCM on August 31 at 10pm Eastern. TCM skipped Night of the Hunter for Robert Mitchum and they’re skipping it again for Shelley Winters – it would be her highest ranked as well as his, so you should definitely check it out. On TCM’s schedule though, we have 1972 disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure (ranked #1190), a memorable late role for Winters, and the too-little-known A Patch of Blue (ranked #4084 by just around 100 users), a charming little civil rights era film about a young blind girl who befriends Sidney Poitier despite her racist mother’s (Shelley) protests.