Friday, November 04, 2005


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.

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.


Alison said...

I used to try to schedule around TCM's schedule but it proved impossible. Now I just turn it on when I get home and see what's on.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yeah, I used to try to do the same thing, thinking there was some way to actually see everything they had to offer. I've since amended my misguided ways, for the most part, but when a good month like this one comes along-- well, let's just say it's why God invented DVD recorders! How have you been, AV?

Anonymous said...

Oooh, Carole Lombard. My fantasies about a romantic comedy starring Carole and Cary rival (well, ALMOST rival) any personal fantasies I have starring me and George Clooney (a modern-day Cary Grant if ever there were one-- and there aren't one-- tho' my beloved thinks Pierce Brosnan is closest; my beloved is darling, but he aims a trifle low, I feel).

SO... when asked by Diane Sawyer what he anticipated in heaven, aforementioned fantasy-object George Clooney said: Nat King Cole at the piano and Rosemary Clooney singing "When I Fall in Love." That's good enough for me, and I hope I'm worshipfully clutching George's hand when he and I are welcomed into heaven to Rosie's and Nat's celestial chorus.

But on a more cinematic note, I think I might want to be ushered to a deluxe cinema with plush seats, excellent popcorn, and a double feature of Lombard/Grant flicks masterminded by Lubitsch and Wilder-- quelle heaven, indeed!


blaaagh said...

Having finally seen Hitchcock's "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," thanks to you, I've now seen my first Carole Lombard movie, and I could definitely catch the bug you've had for some time. Must be nice to have of these days I'll break down and spend the money for digital cable.

Murray said...

The Green Slime is one of the movies that I definately remember from my childhood, it and Soylent Green really stand out in my mind for some reason, maybe it was the company I was with when I watched them. I got to say, I loved going to movies with you when we were kids, and even though we have not been to a movie together in ages, I still love going to movies with you through this blog. I can't wait to see it again also. Do you know if it has been CC'ed.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ah, yes, Soylent Green. I remember tagging along with you to see that one-- I think that was the first time I ever met your soon-to-be wife-- when I was about 13 years old, I believe. I remember her talking about how she was gonna try and set me up with her sister, so of course I thought about that a whole lot more than I did the movie that night! Alas, the proposed matchmaking never panned out, but, hey, Soylent Green lives! (And I hear it's people!)

I did manage to catch a glimpse of The Green Slime Friday afternoon-- it was not, as advertised on the TCM Web site, letterboxed, and the print looked like it had been around a while. Usually if a spiffy new letterboxed print of something like this shows up on TCM, that's a pretty good clue that it's getting shined up for DVD, but this did not look like the case here. And I can't say so for sure, but I doubt the movie has been captioned yet. If MGM (or Sony, I guess, which now owns the MGM film library) ever resurrects their Midnite Movie label up to full speed again, I would think that The Gren Slime would be a prime candidate for a digital presentation. But for now, I'll cherish the DVD I dubbed off of TCM Friday afternoon until something better comes along.

Yeah, I seem to remember seeing a lot of movies with you, Karen and Brian in the early-to-mid '70s. Remember Evel Kneivel with George Hamilton? Or Zachariah, the first "electric" western? How about THX 1138? (There was a little frontal nudity in that one, as I recall, although everyone in it was bald...) And your parents, carrying on a tradition started by my own mom of taking kids to violent Clint Eastwood cop films, took my sister and I to the drive-in to see Magnum Force. There's many more I'm sure I'm forgetting. What I wouldn't give to get ahold of a stack of old show calendars!

And thanks for the nice words about going to the movies with me through this blog-- I never thought about it before, but that's one of the things I always hoped for with this little undertaking, and you just articulated it in the best way.

blaaagh said...

The SF Chronicle's Datebook for last Sunday featured what was presented as a new Midnite Movies release among their DVD highlights for the week: a double feature of "Panic in Year Zero" with Ray Milland and "The Last Man on Earth" with Vincent Price (which one of your readers, Wonderlandsomething, recommended to me on your blog recently). So it would seem the Midnite series is still going. Can't find "The Green Slime" on the MGM site, of course, but we can hope.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I never thought to look on the MGM Web site...

It seems somewhat incomplete though-- for example, I couldn't find the recent release of Dunwich Horror on a double feature with another title I can't remember now. I wonder if it's just not been updated in a while.

I also found a list on that purports to be a complete roster of MGM Midnite Movie titles. I'm not sure I buy that either (where's Valley of the Giants?), but it's interesting to look through anyway:

(If the above link gets truncated in this comments column, you can find the article by simpling Googling "Listmania MGM Midnite Movies")

And here's a link to a petition asking Sony and MGM Entertainment to continue the MGM Midnite Movies line. I think I'll put this on the actual article, but until I do, please go here to sign it:

aaron w graham said...

Thankfully, TCM is now in Canada, so I'll be able to enjoy such broadcast rarities when they replay.

Brian said...

Just saw a fun Lombard obscurity: Bolero with George Raft. There's just something about her that's different from any other star of the period; a kind of strength she exudes even when she plays characters with great weaknesses.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I think that's exactly right, yet somehow the one quality never ends up undermining the other on screen-- she makes them coexist believably so that what comes off as a natural attribute (the strength) never gets in the way of her ability to create a character who might not herself be strong. A film of hers that hasn't nearly the reputation it deserves is True Confession (1937), costarring Fred Macmurray and directed by Wesley Ruggles. Have you seen it? It's a terrific screwball comedy. Was Bolero part of the pre-code festival going on up there right now? Because I'd love to see Lombard let even more of that natural sauciness spill onto the screen.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Brian: I think Pauline Kael may have answered my pre-code question for me. In her capsule review of Bolero, from 5001 Nights at the Movies, she writes:

"The Astaire and Rogers pictures were making money at RKO, so somebody at Paramount got the idea of passing off Raft and Lombard as a dance team. The studio poured every sultry effect shameless people could dream up into this movie, and, almost incredibly, got by with it-- though it was low camp even then. In the big number, set to Ravel's "Bolero," Raft and Lombard gyrate on a circular elevated platform while bare-chested black men sit around them, pounding on drums. Some of those who saw the picture in the '30s could never again keep a straight face when they heard that music."

And it turns out this one was directed by Wesley Ruggles too! Wow! I've gotta see this!

Peet said...

Damn, I need to see that Green Slime flick! The poster alone makes it a masterpiece. Unfortunately, I won't be able to see it in Europe, I guess...

blaaagh said...

All righty, I've signed it. Thanks for steering us toward it! I, too, noticed how imcomplete the MGM/UA site is in listing the Midnite Movies titles. Wha--?

Brian said...

Not only was Bolero directed by Ruggles, it (according to imdb) was co-directed by an uncredited Mitchell Leisen. I saw it on a double bill with Leisen's outrageous Busby Berkeley ripoff Murder at the Vanities, indeed as part of that pre-code series up here in Frisco. I haven't seen True Confession yet, but expect to see at least one more Lombard film in this series, White Woman with Charles Laughton. I also saw Virtue, which is even better than Bolero, at a cross-town pre-code series last month. I'm really just starting to get into Lombard. Finally.

Kael's description of Bolero is priceless and accurate, except that she muddles the history slightly; at the time it was made only one Astaire/Rogers team-up had been released: Flying Down to Rio.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Brian: I really appreciate your stirring up the Lombard pot for me and sharing your experiences with these early films. It makes me realize all over again just how much she did that I still haven't seen. Is this pre-code series you're taking such delicious advantage of a traveling program, or is it something curated specifically for the Balboa?

(By the way, I did make it to the Roxie the Thursday before Halloween-- my best friend and I attended a screening of Los Angeles Plays Itself, the perfect prelude to returning with him down here to do some running around. We were in the "Little Roxie", actually, but no matter-- I still enjoyed the Mission District. We had an excellent burrito at the Mariachi taqueria just around the corner from the theater and then got to spend some time talking to the very friendly ticket-taker/snack bar attendant/projectionist before and after the show. I hope to get back up there soon!)

Brian said...

My understanding is that the Columbia pre-code series at the Castro last month, which is where I saw Virtue, was not a travelling series. The Paramount series currently at the Balboa is similar to the one that New York's Film Forum ran earlier this year. Though I believe there are at least a few titles we got that they didn't (and probably vice versa). I don't know if they're going anywhere afterward (I suspect the Von Sternbergs are the same prints you Southies got to see recently) but a lot of the prints come directly from UCLA.

Next time you come through town give me a heads up. I was actually playing a music gig at a bar three blocks south of the Roxie that very evening.

The Mysterious ]Ad]r`ia]~n [Be[ta`m[a~x said...

We had a pre-Code festival in Los Angeles at UCLA back in May/June of this year.

Here's what you missed:

And here's a 2003 one:

I missed most of these, too, but was able to dig up copies of these films at the excellent Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee video store in North Hollywood. The Story of Temple Drake (1933, Stephen Roberts), starring Miriam Hopkins, really floored me. Intense and gritty, it's actually an incredibly good film, and risqué to boot. I also saw Blood Money (1933, Rowland Brown), which was decent, and Search for Beauty (1934, Erle C. Kenton), starring Ida Lupino and Buster Crabbe, which was really outrageous. See the UCLA description, which says it best:

This risqué and riotous tale features the hunky Buster Crabbe and young ingenue Ida Lupino, making her American film debut. Crabbe and Lupino star as Olympic athletes duped by a pair of unscrupulous hustlers into fronting a fitness magazine—really a titillating skin rag—and a resort, "Health Acres." While the earnest pair has high hopes for the fitness camp, their patrons have other ideas. SEARCH FOR BEAUTY includes hilarious dialogue, salacious innuendo and a shocking locker room sequence featuring a bare-bottomed Crabbe. Also appearing are 30 winners of the "International Beauty Contest," a studio stunt that offered the winners a trip to Hollywood and a part in the film. Based on the play "Love Your Body" by Schuyler E. Grey, Paul R. Milton.

Lupino's Hitch-Hiker is good, and I have taped Party Girl off TCM myself, but have yet to get around to watching it. I agree with Alison that it's impossible to schedule around TCM's insane line-up. And some of the rarest stuff is on at all hours of the night. And when you try to get around it by taping the stuff, you just end up with piles of tapes or DVDs you can't ever get around to watching!

- The Mysterious ]Ad]r`ia]~n [Be[ta`m[a~x