Hardly a week goes by in which Turner Movie Classics doesn't offer up at least three or four must-see titles to keep both the experienced cinephile and the enthusiastic neophyte clapping happy. But November seems especially full of good stuff, especially if you, like me, worship at the shrine of Carole Lombard. Thursday, November 10, is Carole Lombard Day on TCM, and the prime time schedule is loaded with can't-miss classics. The evening kicks off with Lombard's final film, To Be or Not to Be (1942), Ernst Lubitsch's masterpiece about a group of actors in World War II Poland gathering their Thespic talents to resist the Nazis, costarring Jack Benny and Robert Stack. Next on deck is Lombard as a dizzy society princess who picks up down-on-his-luck William Powell and makes him the family butler in Gregory La Cava's wonderful My Man Godfrey (1936). Number three is my personal favorite Carole Lombard movie, the quintessential screwball comedy Nothing Sacred (1937), directed by William Wellman from a nasty script credited to Ben Hecht, Ring Lardner, Jr. and Budd Schulberg-- a desperate newspaper reporter (Fredric March) passes off a perfectly healthy Lombard as a disease-stricken waif and turns her into the toast of Manhattan. Carole Lombard Night on TCM finishes off with a Lombard movie I've never seen, but one I fully intend to-- John Cromwell's In Name Only (1939). That same year Lombard previously appeared in Cromwell's Made for Each Other (1939), a glossy, well-made weeper costarring Jimmy Stewart, and In Name Only, a drama revolving around a desperate man, a devious shrew and the woman he truly loves, sounds like more of the same, but perhaps with a slightly more bitter aftertaste. The movie teamed her with Cary Grant for the third time, but none of those were in a screwball comedy. The fact that Lombard and Grant never made a comedy together is one of those missed opportunities that cause many movie fans, myself included, to riff in daydream land about what heights might have been scaled by such a combination of brilliant comedic talents. But Lombard and Grant together in a domestic drama is nothing to turn one's nose up at-- In Name Only remains a must-see for Carole Lombard fans, and on November 10 those of us who've never seen it will get a perfect chance to rectify that oversight.
But that's not all. Turner's early morning Film Noir series highlights two genuine gems in November. First up, Roy Rowland's Rogue Cop (1954; Saturday, 11/5, 8:00 a.m.) is a real find, a nasty, gritty noir about a corrupt cop (Robert Taylor) pressured by his mob connections to convince his straight-arrow policeman brother (Steve Forrest) to follow the path of graft and vice or else lose his life. Rowland wasn't a particularly distinguished director, and MGM was never known for its contributions to the film noir phenomenon, but Oscar-nominated cinematographer John Seitz sets an evocative table for the hard-nosed questions of morality and loyalty that Taylor fears may corrode his soul if left unconfronted. Also starring Janet Leigh, George Raft and Anne Francis.
And director Ida Lupino's highly regarded thriller The Hitch-hiker (1940; Saturday, 11/19, 8:00 a.m.) has a reputation that just keeps growing and growing. This hard-boiled drama, not often seen, is a key film in the cornerstone of the burgeoning cult forming around Lupino's directorial career. As writer Frank Miller puts it, "Although her first films dealt with social issues of particular interest to women- unwed motherhood, rape, mother-daughter relations, with The Hitch-hiker she made a transition to the type of fast-paced, hard-hitting material that would become a specialty throughout her later career. More recently fans and critics have reevaluated such 'masculine' work in light of its feminist subtext - the way her action films reduced male characters to the kinds of restless, out-of-control types usually played by women. Equally impressive was her ability to achieve professional quality on extremely low budgets (usually under $160,000), with an off-the-cuff shooting style that made her a one-woman New Wave movement."
Last but hardly least, Turner Classic Movies has a spectacular line-up under its Cult Movies banner in November, starting with The Thief of Baghdad (1940; Tuesday, 11/15, 1:00 a.m.), produced by Alexander Korda, directed by Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell and Tim Whelan and starring Conrad Veidt and Sabu.
It recently came out on DVD, but why not check out writer/producer/director/star Jerry Lewis' wild comedy The Bellboy (1960; Sunday, 11/13, 10:30 p.m.) and save a spot on your Netflix queue?
The Mystery of Mr. X (1934; Monday, 11/28, 8:30 a.m.) is a terrific thriller from director Edgar Selwyn about a criminal released from prison who sets out to murder 15 policemen-- one for every year he spent behind bars. It stars Robert Montgomery and Elizabeth Allan.
A fascinating oddity from the oeuvre of director Nicholas Ray, Party Girl (1958; Tuesday, 11/08, 6:00 p.m.) is, as described by writer Jeremy Arnold, "an unusual blend of film noir and musical." Robert Taylor plays an unscrupulous mob lawyer (he exploits his own handicapped leg to gain sympathy with juries) who has become rich from springing gangster Lee J. Cobb's underlings from various murder raps. Unhappily married to a wife who can't stand him, he falls in love with a showgirl (Cyd Charisse) who convinces him to give up his crooked behavior. But she's soon kidnapped by Cobb, who uses her to keep Taylor under his corrupt thumb. Don't miss this one.
Finally, one of the great things about loving movies is the occasional surrender to an irrational love of the silly, the delightful, the nonsensical, the bizarre and the flat-out ridiculous, the highs that only genuine movie love can provide. One such source of irrational giddiness for me is screening mere hours from now, Friday, 11/4, at 1:45 p.m., and if you happen to see this article and can get to a VCR or a DVD recorder in time, I highly recommend catching Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku's exhilaratingly goofy The Green Slime (1969). The movie, the first-ever American-Japanese co-production, would pave the way for the Fukasaku-codirected Tora! Tora! Tora! a couple of years later, and it's a typically garish pop explosion of wild set design, ill-conceived rubber monsters and wooden, if strangely straightforward acting (the movie stars Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel and the luscious Luciana Paluzzi). This bubbling pot of sci-fi insanity is stirred by Fukasaku's eye for vivid composition, zippy pacing and appreciation of what little dread the cornball sci-fi plot will accommodate. It seems a fungus attaches itself to a space probe and oozes its way onto a heavily populated home base space station, where it begins mutating into the aforementioned rubber-tentacled, monocular and relentless rampaging beasts. Believe me, all this was way more than enough to send this overexcited 10-year-old viewer into orbit when I saw it at the fabled Alger Theater of my youth, and I know several others, including my cousin Murray and blogger pal Robert (check out "favorite movies" under his profile if you don't believe me), who were similarly transported. Well, Murray, Robert, and anyone else who has never seen this wonderful movie, get ready, because Turner Classic Movies is presenting this rarely screened wonder in a very collectible letterboxed edition, which will more than do until MGM's Midnite Movies DVD division, currently on life support but still active, can get its act together and package this one for the rabid few. Every other movie I've mentioned in this article is without question a "better" movie than The Green Slime, and within Fukasaku's filmography you'd probably be more well-served by checking out titles like the deliriously grand and weird Kurotokage (Black Lizard) (1968), Jingi naki tatakai (Battles Without Honor or Humanity) (1974), Kimi ga wakamono nara (If You Were Young: Rage) (1970) or even the notorious, and disappointing, Batoro rowaiaru (Battle Royale). But for me, thanks to the eroticized sci-fi come-on imagery of the film's poster and the electric giddiness the actual thing inspired in me when I first saw it, there are few movies that sum up the delights-- imagined, promised, fulfilled and, yes, unfulfilled-- that are the exclusive purview of cheap science fiction cinema better than Fukasaku's The Green Slime. I can't wait to see it again. It will be as good as I remember it.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 6 1:16 a.m.
While we're on the subject (sort of) of MGM's Midnite Movie DVD line, here's a link to a petition asking Sony and MGM Entertainment to continue producing Midnite Movies. There are many terrific (and not-so-terrific) movies showcased by this series, perhaps to even better effect than they were when they were originally released, and it would be a shame indeed if such a valuable resource for "B" movies were to disappear. Please consider signing it today.