A Flickchart Guide to TCM in March
Another month done, another month of great TCM programming begins. With 31 Days of Oscar finishing up, we move back into normal TCM scheduling, and Star of the Month Joe E. Brown leads the way with some 30 films playing on Wednesday evenings throughout the month. Brown is mostly known for his “Nobody’s perfect” response to Jack Lemmon’s big reveal at the end of Some Like It Hot, but he had a long career as a rubber-faced comedian before that. I haven’t seen many of his films, though, so I haven’t featured any — if you’re interested in checking them out, the full schedule along with an essay about him can be found here. Aside from Brown, we have more films about the black experience on film, an all-day tribute to Kirk Douglas on March 5, and the TCM Spotlight Life at Sea featuring films about seafaring every Monday.
Lots to keep any DVR full! Here are my top ten picks for the month, split into Must Sees and Hidden Gems. Look to the bottom of the post for the list of Films You Must See Before You Die, AKA films in the Flickchart Top 1000.
These are all great films that fall outside the Flickchart Top 1000 but have been ranked by more than 200 users. They’re pretty much all beloved classics that simply don’t quite hit the top echelons of Flickchart (though many maybe should!)
Gun Crazy – Mar 20, 10:30am
One strand of film noir is glossy, star-driven crime dramas like Double Indemnity; another is low-budget programmers with B-level actors. Both are good, but when the B noirs are great, their rough edges often make them just that much more memorable. Gun Crazy is one of the best B-level noirs, with a Bonnie & Clyde-esque couple carrying out crimes with barely-repressed sexuality. The centerpiece is a one-take robbery shot from the back of the getaway car, and the casual, nearly ad-libbed dialogue adds texture to the violence that’s about to ensue. Cummins and Dall are hardly household names now, but their intensity on screen here helps this film earn the legendary status it has among noir aficionados.
Creature from the Black Lagoon – Mar 21, 4:30pm
A late addition to the Universal Monster series (most of the others were introduced in 1931-1933), the Creature has become one of the most iconic movie monsters ever. He’s a primordial creature that has survived in the waters of the black lagoon, surfacing to fall in love with a human woman, which her fiancé and friends (scientists studying prehistoric fossils of a species to which our creature belongs) can’t get on board with. Since the creature doesn’t talk and his face is barely humanoid, his motivations are a little less well-developed than that of earlier Universal Monsters, but his silhouette — both menacing and pitiable — has become a major touchstone of the 1950s cycle of horror creature features with science fiction elements; the film was also part of the era’s 3D fad.
The Most Dangerous Game – Mar 9, 12:15pm
Action/adventure movies in the 1930s knew how to get in, tell their story, and get out, and that’s exactly what this film does; it’s barely over an hour long, and there’s not an ounce of fat on it. Joel McCrea and Fay Wray find themselves on an island with a man who appears to be your normal big game hunting enthusiast, but turns out normal big game doesn’t excite him anymore, so now he hunts humans. So he gives them a head start in the jungle and they have to escape his hunting hounds and his rifle to survive. It’s a stellar example of a specific kind of filmmaking, quick-moving but well-paced, shocking for the time, and just simply straight-up entertaining.
Dinner at Eight – Mar 27, 9:15pm
“I was reading a book the other day. This guy said that machinery is going to take the place of every profession.” “Oh, my dear, that’s something you need never worry about.” You can see a lot more films with Jean Harlow on the March 3 (see below under Hidden Gems), but don’t miss this ensemble piece featuring the dialogue above: Marie Dressler reassuring a voluptuous Harlow that not EVERY profession is in danger from machines. That’s maybe the most famous moment of Dinner at Eight, but there’s a lot going on in this movie, both light and humorous and more serious. It’s something of a follow-up to MGM’s great 1932 success Grand Hotel, reuniting several of the stars of that film and adding in some new ones in a story surrounding a society dinner party, but every guest comes with their own baggage and tangled up stories with other guests.
Carmen Jones – Mar 15, 11:45am
I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Oscar Hammerstein’s take on Puccini’s opera Carmen (Hammerstein wrote English lyrics to Puccini’s original music and transposed the story to a 20th century African American setting, substituting the US army for toreadors.) It often gets too shrill for me, and I don’t care for the story, but I’ll blame Puccini for that. Still, it’s likely the best way to see Dorothy Dandridge, one of the African American actresses (the first to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award, for this film), who certainly would’ve been a much bigger star had Hollywood not been as segregated as it was in the 1950s. She died too soon at the age of 42.
Hidden Gems are films that have been ranked by fewer than 200 people on Flickchart. Many of them are still great films, but for some reason haven’t found the audience they should among Flickchart users. Let’s find them a bigger viewership and boost those numbers!
Follow the Fleet – Mar 29, 11:30am
Follow the Fleet is usually about halfway down the list of Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies people are aware of, behind at least Top Hat, Swing Time, and The Gay Divorcee, but it’s one of their best, with a great Irving Berlin score and Fred and Ginger playing second leads, which gives them the opportunity to mostly have a good time and not have to carry much plot. The stars are Randolph Scott and Harriet Hilliard (soon more famous as Harriet Nelson of Here Come the Nelsons) as a sailor on leave and the mousy schoolteacher he ends up stuck with instead of a glamour girl (spoiler, he ends up being okay with it). Meanwhile Fred and Ginger are old flames and dance partners reunited when he’s on leave. Naval songs, dance competitions, fancy show numbers — this movie has it all, and it deserves to be included among the unmissable Astaire-Rogers outings.
Pale Flower – Mar 23, 3:45am
The Japanese New Wave of the 1960s offered a fresh and somewhat avant-garde alternative to the classic Japanese cinema dominated by Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi, with style often trumping story, as is the case in this film. Ostensibly about a gangster returning to the yakuza after being in prison, mentoring a young thrill-seeking woman, and dealing with power shifts in the gangs in his absence. I dare you to follow this story clearly on a single viewing, though, as the film is very heightened by its visuals and sound design to the point that character motivations and even narrative are at times difficult to follow. That said, the mood and texture of the film are very memorable as a very late, very self-conscious noir, making it well worth watching.
Dodge City – Mar 20 3:15am
Similarly to Follow the Fleet, few people would put Dodge City among the top echelons of the many Errol Flynn-Olivia de Havilland films, but it’s a really solid and enjoyable western that ought to be more widely seen. Centered on the famous frontier city Dodge City, Kansas, which has a reputation for lawlessness, each attempted sheriff driven out by outlaw gangs. Enter Errol Flynn as a wagon train leader who reluctantly takes on the job when he sees how bad things have gotten. Pretty typical story, but with flair, beautiful late ’30s Technicolor, and one of the greatest barroom brawls ever put on film. Really fun, especially for fans of westerns.
Red-Headed Woman – Mar 3, 9:45am
When MGM first signed Jean Harlow to contract, they didn’t quite know what to do with her, but by 1932’s Red-Headed Woman it was clear they’d figured it out. She’s a gold digger, a home wrecker, an adulteress, and nearly a murderer — this is a Pre-Code after all, and they pretty much hit all the bases with this one. The ending is kind of a shocker even for a Pre-Code. She’s also pretty delightful in a pretty sleazy role. If you can’t get enough Harlow (and who can?), keep it on TCM all day, as they’re showing seven of her films spanning her career from Pre-Codes like this up to her final film, Saratoga.
Larceny Inc – Mar 13, 8:45am
In this crime comedy, Edward G Robinson plays a crook who plans to go straight, but you know how that goes, and soon he decides to rob a bank with the elaborate scheme of buying a luggage store next door and tunneling into the bank from the basement. Problem is his adopted daughter (Jane Wyman) finds out about the plan and tries to stop it by making the luggage store actually successful, preventing the criminals from working on the noisy tunnel thanks to the dozens of people shopping in the store. It’s all pretty slight, but Robinson can sell even slight stories and he sells this one even better than Jane Wyman sells suitcases.
Movies You Must See Before You Die
I know, you just want to know the stone-cold classics you have to see be film literate. Bad news, no one list is going to give you that definitively. Good news, the Flickchart Top 1000 is a decent place to start, especially filtered through TCM’s programming. If you haven’t seen these films, DVR them and don’t even ask questions.
Dr. Strangelove (1964) – Mar 26, 6:15pm – ranked #29 by 38468 users
North by Northwest (1959) – Mar 6, 10:15am – ranked #30 by 27678 users
Citizen Kane (1941) – Mar 29, 8:00pm – ranked #32 by 37731 users
12 Angry Men (1957) – Mar 1, 1:30pm – ranked #51 by 30282 users
Paths of Glory (1957) – Mar 5, 8:00pm – ranked #55 by 6132 users
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) – Mar 15, 2:00am – ranked #72 by 5396 users
Strangers on a Train (1951) – Mar 2, 4:00pm – ranked #89 by 5814 users
8 1/2 (1963) – Mar 6, 5:30pm – ranked #90 by 2987 users
Badlands (1973) – Mar 20, 12:15pm – ranked #114 by 3261 users
The Searchers (1956) – Mar 28, 1:45pm – ranked #119 by 5447 users
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – Mar 14, 10:30pm – ranked #128 by 25159 users
The Thin Man (1934) – Mar 1, 6:15am – ranked #134 by 1960 users
Out of the Past (1947) – Mar 5, 2:00pm – ranked #136 by 1699 users
Duck Soup (1933) – Mar 6, 7:15am – ranked #142 by 5908 users
Breathless (1960) – Mar 20, 4:00pm – ranked #150 by 2670 users
Bringing Up Baby (1938) – Mar 6, 8:30am – ranked #151 by 4081 users
The Killing (1956) – Mar 26, 2:45pm – ranked #161 by 2880 users
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – Mar 2, 10:30am – ranked #165 by 21307 users
Laura (1944) – Mar 2, 8:00pm – ranked #168 by 2147 users
All the President’s Men (1976) – Mar 14, 8:00pm – ranked #170 by 8727 users
The Great Escape (1963) – Mar 24, 9:45am – ranked #171 by 17849 users
Dial M for Murder (1954) – Mar 21, 8:00pm – ranked #186 by 5502 users
Some Like It Hot (1959) – Mar 25, 8:00pm – ranked #217 by 20926 users
The Magnificent Seven (1960) – Mar 7, 12:00N – ranked #218 by 5654 users
Black Narcissus (1947) – Mar 2, 2:00am – ranked #220 by 974 users
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – Mar 20, 6:45pm – ranked #240 by 10200 users
White Heat (1949) – Mar 28, 6:00pm – ranked #276 by 1136 users
Wait Until Dark (1967) – Mar 21, 10:00pm – ranked #417 by 1436 users
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) – Mar 4, 1:15pm – ranked #449 by 1909 users
Lolita (1962) – Mar 6, 2:45pm – ranked #471 by 5040 users
The Asphalt Jungle (1950) – Mar 26, 4:15pm – ranked #476 by 1278 users
The Quiet Man (1952) – Mar 17, 8:00pm – ranked #509 by 1775 users
Bullitt (1968) – Mar 21, 6:00pm – ranked #529 by 3741 users
The Battleship Potemkin (1925) – Mar 16, 11:45am – ranked #533 by 2110 users
My Darling Clementine (1946) – Mar 19, 8:00pm – ranked #583 by 931 users
Elevator to the Gallows (1958) – Mar 21, 12:00M AND Mar 22, 10:00am – ranked #592 by 436 users
Spartacus (1960) – Mar 5, 9:45pm – ranked #598 by 11727 users
The Haunting (1963) – Mar 27, 6:00pm – ranked #621 by 1427 users
Planet of the Apes (1968) – Mar 6, 12:30am – ranked #672 by 30220 users
Autumn Sonata (1978) – Mar 9, 3:45am – ranked #781 by 462 users
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) – Mar 27, 3:30am – ranked #812 by 1818 users
Winchester ’73 (1950) – Mar 19, 11;30pm – ranked #838 by 632 users
Captain Blood (1935) – Mar 16, 8:00pm – ranked #852 by 722 users
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) – Mar 26, 1:00am – ranked #910 by 2944 users
Fiddler on the Roof (1971) – Mar 29, 1:45am – ranked #980 by 3334 users
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) – Mar 6, 2:30am – ranked #997 by 554 users