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Turner Classic Movies: Dysfunctional-Family-Oriented Christmas Films + Lilli Palmer & Blake Edwards

Turner Classic Katharine Hepburn in Little Women Best Picture Academy Award nominee cloying or moving?Turner Classic Movies presents Katharine Hepburn in Little Women 1933: Up to the Christmas Day viewer to decide whether this Best Picture Academy Award nominee is moving or cloying.

Turner Classic Movies' year-end programming: From Katharine Hepburn and 'A Christmas Carol' to Lilli Palmer & Blake Edwards

Turner Classic Movies' Christmas 2010 daytime programming includes George Cukor's version of Little Women (1933), Edwin L. Marin's version of A Christmas Carol (1938), and William Wyler's version of Ben-Hur (1959). (See the Turner Classic movie schedule further below.)

Starring Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Frances Dee, and Jean Parker as the titular characters, Little Women was nominated for the 1932–1933 Best Picture Academy Award (basically covering movies released in the Los Angeles area from Aug. 1932 to Dec. 1933).

Katharine Hepburn's portrayal of the independent-minded Jo March was bypassed for the Best Actress award, possibly because the recent Broadway arrival ended up receiving more nomination votes for her work as rising Broadway actress Eva Lovelace in Lowell Sherman's Morning Glory (1933), which eventually earned Hepburn her first of four Academy Award statuettes.

Double Oscar nominees & multiple Katharine Hepburn Best Actress wins

For the record: the last time actors were shortlisted for more than one performance in the same category in the same year was during the period 1929–1930: Norma Shearer (The Divorcee & Their Own Desire), Greta Garbo (Anna Christie & Romance), Maurice Chevalier (The Big Pond & The Love Parade), George Arliss (Disraeli & The Green Goddess), and Ronald Colman (Bulldog Drummond & Condemned) were all double nominees. Since then, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' rules have prevented double nominations in the same acting category.

For the record II: Katharine Hepburn's three other Best Actress Academy Award wins were for the following:

  • Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967).
  • Anthony Harvey's The Lion in Winter (1968). Tied with Barbra Streisand in William Wyler's Funny Girl. (More on Turner Classic Movies' presentation of The Lion in Winter further below.)
  • Mark Rydell's On Golden Pond (1981).

Best 'Little Women'

Back to Little Women … Heresy, perhaps, but Mervyn LeRoy's 1949 color version of Little Women, starring June Allyson as Jo March, is both less syrupy and more enjoyable than the 1933 George Cukor film. Others in the cast: Janet Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, Peter Lawford, Rossano Brazzi, and Leon Ames.

Yet the most effective big-screen adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's 1868/1869 novel remains Gillian Armstrong's 1994 effort starring – a however miscast – Winona Ryder. Others in the cast: Gabriel Byrne, Susan Sarandon, Kirsten Dunst, Trini Alvarado, Samantha Mathis, Mary Wickes, Claire Danes, Christian Bale, and Eric Stoltz.

'Ben-Hur' vs. 'Ben-Hur'

Although the 1938 A Christmas Carol has its admirers, the most prestigious version of Charles Dickens' classic novel remains the British-made Scrooge (1951), directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and starring Alastair Sim in the title role.

As for Ben-Hur 1959 … Well, William Wyler was generally a first-rate director (These Three, The Letter, The Little Foxes), but this multi-Oscared semi-biblical epic pales in comparison to Fred Niblo's more concise, less pretentious, and (mercifully) dialogue-less 1925 version starring Ramon Novarro – who, though hardly a flawless Ben-Hur, was eons better than Best Actor Oscar winner Charlton Heston.

Turner Classic Movies' spirited Christmas evening

As night falls, Turner Classic Movies' Christmas Day offerings become more spirited.

While stuffing your face with your favorite Christmas dish, you'll be able to enjoy 1968 Best Actress Oscar co-winner Katharine Hepburn spar with Best Actor Oscar nominee Peter O'Toole in Anthony Harvey's New York Film Critics Circle Best Picture winner The Lion in Winter.

Hepburn plays Eleanor of Aquitaine; O'Toole is her – to put it mildly – estranged husband, Henry II. That's the same (Oscar-nominated) role he had played quite theatrically four years earlier in Peter Glenville's Becket.

Next, Turner Classic Movies will show Mike Nichols' co-masterpiece (along with The Graduate), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), in which Oscar winners Elizabeth Taylor (Best Actress) and Sandy Dennis (Best Supporting Actress), and Oscar nominees Richard Burton and George Segal (the former as a lead; the latter in the supporting category) get soused and then proceed to laugh, cry, and yell at each other.

Doesn't that sound like your typical Christmas family dinner? And it gets better as the night grows darker: there's more laughing, crying, yelling, and drinking – plus several disturbing revelations (but how much of it is true?) – in this brilliant adaptation of Edward Albee's play about a quartet of highly dysfunctional heterosexuals.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Elizabeth Taylor Paul Newman. Family-oriented Hollywood releases on Turner ClassicCat on a Hot Tin Roof with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman: One of several family-oriented Hollywood releases to be seen on Christmas Evening on Turner Classic Movies.

Declawed 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will be followed by Richard Brooks' miserably bowdlerized version of Tennessee Williams' play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), with Best Actress Oscar nominee Elizabeth Taylor attempting to understand why Best Actor Oscar nominee Paul Newman won't have sex with her. Considering how fuzzy the homosexuality of Newman's character plays out in Brooks' film, it's no wonder Taylor is at a loss to understand what the hell is going on inside her husband's head.

Despite its Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay (Brooks and James Poe) nominations, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof isn't one of the better film adaptations of a Tennessee Williams play. On the positive side, Madeleine Sherwood (The Flying Nun) and Jack Carson provide solid support.

Burl Ives, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year for William Wyler's The Big Country, plays Newman's Big Daddy. By the way, that's just a family nickname; there's nothing kinky about this particular father-son relationship.

Oscar-winning dysfunctional family movie

Turner Classic Movies' family-oriented Christmas Night will (more or less) come to a close with some more heavy-duty – but less steamy – goings-on, courtesy of Robert Redford's Best Picture Oscar winner Ordinary People (1980). The family drama gets maudlin at times and it isn't nearly as insightful as it believes itself to be, but the performances and director Redford's unobtrusive handling of the material make it well worth a look.

Best Actress nominee Mary Tyler Moore is good as the cold Mom, incapable of dealing with the death of her favorite son, but Donald Sutherland's understanding Dad and Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Timothy Hutton's troubled son are the ones who provide the film's acting highlights.

As an aside … Notwithstanding his Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Timothy Hutton is the actual lead in Ordinary People.

Turner Classic Movies' schedule (PT): Dec. 25

5:00 PM The Lion in Winter (1968). Cast: Peter O'Toole. Katharine Hepburn. Anthony Hopkins. Jane Merrow. John Castle. Dir.: Anthony Harvey. Color. 134 mins.

7:30 PM Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Cast: Elizabeth Taylor. Richard Burton. George Segal. Sandy Dennis. Dir.: Mike Nichols. B&W. 131 mins.

10:00 PM Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). Cast: Elizabeth Taylor. Paul Newman. Burl Ives. Jack Carson. Madeleine Sherwood. Dir.: Richard Brooks. Color. 108 mins.

12:00 AM Ordinary People (1980). Cast: Donald Sutherland. Mary Tyler Moore. Timothy Hutton. Judd Hirsch. Elizabeth McGovern. Dir.: Robert Redford. Color. 124 mins.

Bicycle Thieves Ladri di biciclette. Neorealist classic one of the greatest conservative movies?Bicycle Thieves a.k.a. Ladri di biciclette on Turner Classic Movies: Vittorio De Sica's neorealist classic about the plight of post-World War II Italy's working class one of the greatest “conservative” movies ever made?

Vittorio De Sica & Lilli Palmer among Turner Classic Movies' post-Christmas goodies + gay icon mystery

Dec. 26 update: Recommended Turner Classic Movies presentations range from a silent version of The Wizard of Oz and Vittorio De Sica's “conservative” (!!) neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves to the British melodrama Beware of Pity, starring Nazi Germany escapee Lilli Palmer. (See the Turner Classic movie schedule further below.)

Directed by and featuring silent film comedian Larry Semon (as the Scarecrow and a couple of other characters), the 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz is Turner Classic's Silent Sundays offering. This lesser-known filmization of L. Frank Baum's novel features Dorothy Dwan in the role that would become associated with Judy Garland – especially in the minds of some gay men, a mystery that remains as unfathomable as the casting of Billie Burke as Good Witch Glinda in MGM's opulent 1939 release.

Really, why Judy's Dorothy as a gay icon? Why Dorothy to begin with?

Countless other gay movie icon possibilities range from Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face to Norma Shearer in Let Us Be Gay. From Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs to Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro. From (gay actor) Ramon Novarro in Ben-Hur (or any of his other movies) to Frances Dee in Blood Money (or The Gay Deception or I Walked with a Zombie). From Toto to Asta.

'Bicycle Thieves' right-wing?

Leaving this baffling mystery behind, Albert Lamorisse's Academy Award-winning short The Red Balloon (1956) will follow The Wizard of Oz, and then Turner Classic Movies will present Vittorio De Sica's Special Academy Award recipient* Bicycle Thieves / Ladri di biciclette (1948), considered by some one of the greatest movies ever made.

One of the most bizarre commentaries about De Sica's neorealist effort was written by a right-wing-magazine contributor who listed Bicycle Thieves as one of the greatest “conservative” movies ever made. The movie was labeled “conservative” because, according to the writer, De Sica's socially conscious drama about the indignity of poverty, of class distinctions, of our human-fucks-up-human world is actually about a man's inalienable right to own and keep material things (i.e., the lead character's – eventually stolen – bike).

Back to reality and sanity: non-professional actors Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola are flawless as father and son struggling to eke out a living in post-World War II Italy. In fact, they make most overpaid, pampered Hollywood performers – then and now – look like inept amateurs.

If you haven't watched Bicycle Thieves, you must. And if you already have, well, it's always worth another look. Who knows, you might be able to find some hidden “conservative” elements in it.

* Bicycle Thieves' Special Oscar was for the “most outstanding” foreign-language film released in the U.S. in 1949. Non-English-language movies would get their own regular Oscar category only in 1956.

Lilli Palmer Beware of Pity. Paraplegic baroness learns pity vs love difference in Soviet Union hitLilli Palmer in Beware of Pity: On Turner Classic Movies, paraplegic baroness discovers difference between pity and love in purported Soviet Union box office hit.

Paraplegic baroness Lilli Palmer learns difference between pity & love

Directed by three-decade film veteran Maurice Elvey (The Wandering Jew, The Clairvoyant) from a Stefan Zweig novel, the British-made Beware of Pity (1946) boasts a cast that includes Cedric Hardwicke, Gladys Cooper, and that most underrated of actresses, Lilli Palmer.

How can it not be recommendable? The plot, as per Turner Classic Movies: “A paraplegic [Lilli Palmer] mistakes a man's pity for love.”

Beware of Pity is supposed to have been a hit in the Soviet Union; less so elsewhere.

Busy international actress

The same year Beware of Pity came out, Lilli Palmer starred in her first Hollywood film, Fritz Lang's spy thriller Cloak and Dagger, opposite Gary Cooper. However, for both professional and personal reasons – re: the latter, husband Rex Harrison became involved with actress Carole Landis, who killed herself at age 29 in 1948 – Palmer's American movie career never quite took off.

In the ensuing decades, she would work on both sides of the North Atlantic, in movies, on television, and on stage. Notable big-screen efforts include:

  • Kurt Hoffman's pleasant German musical Fireworks (1954), co-starring Romy Schneider.
  • George Seaton's solid spy drama The Counterfeit Traitor (1962), with Palmer delivering a remarkable performance as a Nazi victim.
  • Alfred Weidenmann's Adorable Julia (1962), in the title role opposite husband Charles Boyer and romantic interest Jean Sorel.

Turner Classic Movies should show these – along with some (or all) of Palmer's other 70+ films.

Lilli Palmer's final film appearance was in a supporting role in John Frankenheimer's meandering 1985 thriller The Holcroft Covenant, starring Michael Caine. She died at age 71 in January of the following year.

Turner Classic Movies' schedule (PT): Dec. 26

9:00 PM The Wizard of Oz (1925). Cast: Larry Semon. Bryant Washburn. Dorothy Dwan. Virginia Pearson. Oliver Hardy. Charles Murray. Mary Carr. Frank Alexander. Josef Swickard. Otto Lederer. Spencer Bell. Dir.: Larry Semon. B&W. 72 mins.

10:15 PM The Red Balloon (1956). Cast: Pascal Lamorisse. Sabine Lamorisse. Dir.: Albert Lamorisse. Color. 34 mins.

11:00 PM Bicycle Thieves (1948). Cast: Lamberto Maggiorani. Enzo Staiola. Lianella Carell. Elena Altieri. Dir.: Vittorio De Sica. B&W. 89 mins.

1:00 AM Beware of Pity (1946). Cast: Lilli Palmer. Albert Lieven. Cedric Hardwicke. Gladys Cooper. Linden Travers. Ernest Thesiger. Emrys Jones. Ralph Truman. David Ward. Anthony Dawson. Dir.: Maurice Elvey. B&W. 103 mins.

Turner Classic Movies' Blake Edwards homage

Dec. 27 update: Turner Classic Movies will remember Blake Edwards, who died at the age of 88 this past Dec. 15, on Monday evening. TCM will present five of his best-known efforts: Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), The Pink Panther (1964), Victor Victoria (1982), and Operation Petticoat (1959). (See the Turner Classic movie schedule further below.)

Apart from The Pink PantherPeter Sellers was brilliantly cast in Dr. Strangelove and Being There, but his slapstick comedy antics can be problematic – the other four movies are highly recommended. Although they're hardly “great cinema,” each of them provides excellent opportunities for their mostly first-rate casts.

Best Actress Academy Award nominee Audrey Hepburn (instead of Marilyn Monroe) is enjoyable as a free-spirited call girl in Breakfast at Tiffany's, a disgracefully bowdlerized but still entertaining version of Truman Capote's novel. Just make sure not to think of Hepburn's Holly Golightly as a “call girl” – or as anyone even remotely associated with sex – and the movie (excepting the Mickey Rooney bits) should be a pleasant enough experience. As a plus, George Peppard and Patricia Neal provide more than able support.

Turner Classic Days of Wine and Roses. Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon fight alcoholism in bleak Blake EdwardsTurner Classic Movies is showing Days of Wine and Roses, starring Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon: Oscar-nominated actors fight alcoholism in unusually bleak Blake Edwards effort.

'Days of Wine and Roses' & 'Victor Victoria': Career highs for Lee Remick, Robert Preston & Lesley Ann Warren

Days of Wine and Roses gave Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick the most demanding dramatic roles of their careers up to that time. Lemmon and Remick, both of whom were Oscar nominated, play a married couple who slowly come to the realization that they have one important thing in common: alcohol addiction.

Starring Edwards' Oscar-nominated wife Julie Andrews and James Garner, Victor Victoria offers witty lines, hilarious performances (supporting Oscar nominees Robert Preston and Lesley Ann Warren, plus Alex Karras), some classy musical numbers, and a much welcome subversive take on gender and sexuality that is quite rare in American movies, especially those produced by the major studios.

Ernst Lubitsch would have approved – though Lubitsch would also have left the inane slapstick scenes featuring a Peter Sellers-like character on the cutting-room floor.

Among the actresses who previously tackled the Victor/Victoria role(s) were Renate Müller in Reinhold Schünzel's 1933 German original, Viktor and Viktoria, and charming Jessie Matthews in Victor Saville's otherwise uninspired, British-made First a Girl (1935).

The least-remembered among Turner Classic Movies' five Blake Edwards presentations, Operation Petticoat was actually a huge hit upon its release. Both Cary Grant and Tony Curtis are in top form as they sail their pink submarine through perilous, female-infested waters during World War II.

Coincidentally, that same year Curtis (sort of) impersonated Grant in Billy Wilder's classic comedy Some Like It Hot.

Turner Classic Movies' schedule (PT): Dec. 27

5:00 PM Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Cast: Audrey Hepburn. George Peppard. Patricia Neal. Buddy Ebsen. Mickey Rooney. Alan Reed. Martin Balsam. John McGiver. José Luis de Vilallonga. Stanley Adams. Elvia Allman. Orangey the Cat. Beverly Powers. Dorothy Whitney. Dir.: Blake Edwards. B&W. 115 mins.

7:00 PM Days of Wine and Roses (1962). Cast: Jack Lemmon. Lee Remick. Charles Bickford. Jack Klugman. Dir.: Blake Edwards. B&W. 117 mins.

9:00 PM The Pink Panther (1964). Cast: Peter Sellers. Capucine. David Niven. Claudia Cardinale. Robert Wagner. Fran Jeffries. Brenda De Banzie. John Le Mesurier. James Lanphier. Meri Welles. Dir.: Blake Edwards. Color. 115 mins.

11:00 PM Victor Victoria (1982). Cast: Julie Andrews. James Garner. Robert Preston. Lesley Ann Warren. Alex Karras. John Rhys-Davies. Graham Stark. Peter Arne. Malcolm Jamieson. Herb Tanney. Michael Robbins. Joanna Dickens. Dir.: Blake Edwards. Color. 134 mins.

1:30 AM Operation Petticoat (1959). Cast: Cary Grant. Tony Curtis. Joan O'Brien. Dina Merrill. Dir.: Blake Edwards. Color. 121 mins.


Cast info for the various Turner Classic Movies presentations via the IMDb.

Katharine Hepburn Little Women image: RKO Pictures.

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor Cat on a Hot Tin Roof image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Lilli Palmer Beware of Pity image: Two Cities Films / Eagle-Lion.

Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick Days of Wine and Roses image: Warner Bros.

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