Saturday, March 17, 2012


My addiction to Turner Classic Movies is something that I struggle with daily and that I have no current plans to seek help for.  One of my favorite things about TCM is their diversity.  Everything from British New Wave to obscure, early 30s gems.  Sometimes they're winners, sometimes they're duds.  Each month I'll be letting you know about those films airing on TCM that are worth making room for on the DVR.  Links to purchasing information can be found by clicking on the film titles. 

THE L SHAPED ROOM (1962) Leslie Caron, Tom Bell, Brock Peters, Cicely Courtneidge, Bernard Lee, Avis Bunnage, Patricia Phoenix.

Leslie Caron shows off some leg in "The L Shaped Room"

Powerful drama with Caron as a single pregnant woman who decides to have her baby in spite of overwhelming pressure to have an abortion. She moves into a low income London flat where she meets a kind jazz player (Peters) a depressed writer (Bell) an aging actress with a heartbreaking secret (Courtneidge) and a prostitute (Phoenix). Superb, poignant performances by Caron and the rest. Cicely Courtneidge is a revelation. Well written with refreshingly honest dialogue. Highly recommended.

CENTRAL AIRPORT (1933) Richard Barthelmess, Sally Eilers, Tom Brown.

Barthelmess is a former pilot who is forced to step down after a crash in bad weather is blamed on “pilot error”. He then becomes a stunt pilot for skydiving stunt woman Eilers. Brown is Barthelmess’ younger brother and test pilot. They both fall for Eilers immediately. Brown wins her hand after a misunderstanding leads Eilers into thinking that Barthelmess doesn’t love her. Heartbroken, Barthelmess becomes a flyer for the Chinese air force. Years later he meets Eilers again and the sparks fly while baby brother Brown is away on a dangerous flight overseas. This is one of those early 30s 70 minute gems. A trifle, but entertaining. It’s kind of fun to see how airports looked once upon a time.

FRISCO JENNY (1932) Ruth Chatterton, Louis Calhern, Donald Cook, Helen Jerome Eddy, James Murray.

Chatterton is a prostitute who’s quitting the biz to get married and have her baby. But the great Frisco quake of 06 kills her husband. 2 years later she’s back on top as a Madam who caters to powerful politicians. When she saves one powerful politician (Calhern) and risks a jail sentence as a result, she gives up her child to a rich family from high society. She beats the rap but realizes her child is better off without her. 20 years later, Chatterton becomes the powerful head of a vice and bootlegging syndicate and watches as her son becomes a prosecutor who is determined to put her behind bars, unaware that Chatterton is his mother or that she has ruthlessly destroyed his rivals on his way to becoming District Attorney. Fun and fast paced melodrama. Chatterton is top notch. Highly recommended.

MISTER SCOUTMASTER (1953) Clifton Webb, Edmund Gwenn, Frances Dee, George Winslow, Jimmy Hawkins
Entertaining family fare with Webb as a television writer of a “mister wizard” type of show that is hemorrhaging ratings and sponsors. In an attempt to find out more about what children like in order to save his show, he becomes the scoutmaster for the local boy scout troop and gets more than he bargained for. However, Webb’s typical “Belvedere” style no nonsense approach quickly wins over both parents and scouts alike. Sappy but cute.

THE PURCHASE PRICE (1932) Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Lyle Talbot.

Stanwyck is a night club singer whose impending marriage into high society is her ticket out of “the life”. But the parents of the groom put the kibosh on the wedding when they find out that she was the former moll of a notorious criminal (Lyle Talbot). In an attempt to leave the shady past that haunts her, Stanwyck takes the place of a mail order bride intended for a farmer (George Brent) out in the boonies. But Brent is about to lose his farm unless he can convince the bank to give him time to plant specially designed seeds for wheat that will make him a fortune. As time goes on Stanwyck learns to love the life and Brent and in an effort to help save his farm, she turns to gangster Talbot for help. Bad idea. Very enjoyable, early performances by Stanwyck and Brent and a pre code gem.

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950) Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Karl Malden, Gary Merrill, Bert Freed, Tom Tully, Ruth Donnelly.
“Laura” team Preminger, Andrews and Tierney team up again for this superb film noir. Andrews is a cop with a penchant for beating up criminals. After accidentally killing a suspect he tries to cover it up. Things get more complicated when detective Malden pins the crime on an innocent cab driver who turns out to be the father of the victims estranged and abused wife (Tierney). 

It then becomes a race to see if Andrews can frame a gangster (Merrill) for the crime before Malden discovers the truth. All this as Andrews and Tierney fall in love. Intense, suspenseful and highly entertaining. One of Andrews best performances ever. Highly recommended.

MAN WITH THE GUN (1955) Robert Mitchum, Jan Sterling, Karen Sharpe, Henry Hull, Emile Meyer, John Lupton, Claude Akins, Angie Dickinson.

A less entertaining version of the Henry  Fonda film “Warlock”. A notorious “Town Tamer” (Mitchum) comes to town to patch things up with his ex wife (Sterling). Figuring he might settle down if things go well, he accepts a job to work his magic for a town that is being harassed by a powerful land grabbing rancher and his goons. But Mitchum’s methods are almost as bad as the bad guys as Mitchum lures the villains into town and kills them one by one, leaving the townfolk wondering what they got themselves into. AKA “The Troubleshooter” AKA “The Deadly Peacemaker”. Has some pretty good moments and Mitchum is fun.

TIME LIMIT (1957) Richard Widmark, Richard Basehart, Martin Balsam, Rip Torn, June Lockhart, Dolores Michaels, Carl Benton Reid.

Engaging if somewhat hammy drama about army lawyer Widmark investigating the court-martial of Basehart for treason. Apparently Basehart gave in to psychological torture and helped the enemy while in a North Korean POW camp. Basehart is determined not to be defended in any way and readily admits to being guilty. But as Widmark digs deeper, he discovers some shocking reasons for why Basehart did what he did.  Entertaining film.  Directed by the late Karl Malden.

CARVE HER NAME WITH PRIDE (1958) Virginia McKenna, Paul Scofield, Jack Warner, Denise Grey, Noel Wilman, Alain Saury.
Bio pic about WW2 British secret agent Violette Szabo. Born Free’s McKenna plays Szabo, who is recruited after her husbands (Saury) death by the British who think her marksman skills and multilingual talents can be put to good use. After she’s recruited she meets fellow spy Paul Scofield and falls in love. 
During one mission, Szabo is captured by the Germans and tortured. McKenna is very engaging as Szabo. The movie has a nice mixture of drama, espionage and action. Has a few slow parts but ultimately an entertaining movie.

THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING (1935) Edward G. Robinson, Jean Arthur, Donald Meek, Edward Brophy, Wallace Ford, Arthur Hohl.
Robinson meets his devilish double in "The Whole Town's Talking"
A comedy directed by John Ford isn’t something you see every day and this one had a particularly promising concept. Robinson as mild mannered paper pusher “Mr. Jones” who looks exactly like a notorious gangster called “Killer Manion”. After the police mistake Jones for “Killer”, he's given a note signed by the DA saying who he really is in case he’s ever stopped by the police again. 
Jean Arthur and Edward G. Robinson
Killer confronts Jones and uses the note as carte blanche to commit crimes. Jones, with a little help from his free spirit co worker (Jean Arthur), must find the courage to stop his evil doppelganger. This was a fun movie but it had some problems. Some of the gags just go on too long and fall a little flat. Another thing is that Jean Arthur seems to disappear in the second half of the film, only turning up again at the very end and that is unforgivable. Still, the premise and the stars make this a pretty good movie.

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