In the next few hours, Turner Classic Movies will present one of MGM's last silent films (with synchronized score), one of the best movies of the 1960s, one of the most outrageous pre-Code releases of the early 1930s, and a documentary about the portrayal of women in pre-Code movies. All that in addition to a Wildfire vehicle and a production that sounds a lot like a (however unofficial) remake of Fred Zinnemann's The Search. Either get your various recording devices ready, or start drinking lots and lots of coffee.
Starring Renée Adorée (above right), a sensational actress whose style was more naturalistic than that of most performers out there today, Tide of Empire (1929) was one of MGM's last silent film releases. Allan Dwan, by then already a veteran, directed. Make sure to check this one out, as TCM rarely shows it. (For the record: the 1929 Greta Garbo vehicle The Kiss was MGM's last silent film.)
Ermanno Olmi isn't nearly as well-known as, say, fellow Italian filmmakers Federico Fellini or Vittorio De Sica – but he should be. Olmi was a master at telling “ordinary” stories about “ordinary” people – while making the ordinary feel extraordinary. Il Posto (1961) may well be the best among such Olmi efforts. As the working-class youth who gets a job at a big corporation, non-professional Sandro Panseri delivers the sort of honest, naturalistic performance that would be the envy of nearly every Oscar winner – if they ever bothered to watch Il Posto instead of stuff like The Kids Are All Right or Inception.
In Alfred E. Green's Baby Face, Barbara Stanwyck proves that this may be a “man's world,” but women with looks and brains to match can go very far, thank you. Condemned by the anti-sex crowd as offensive, debased, debauched, nasty, immoral, vile, evil, and probably of satanic origin, Baby Face is one of the most pointed amoral parables ever made. Stanwyck, after all, fucks her way up the corporate ladder and comes out on top.
Baby Face should not be missed. Unless, that is, you're one of those people who think women who use sex to get ahead should be punished in movies (and in life). If that's the case, go watch some politically correct slasher flick. Women who enjoy sex – especially those who do sex for a living in some manner – are always getting brutally punished in those.
Inspired by Mick LaSalles' book, Complicated Women feature interviews with historians and some of the women who made movies way back in the early '30s, among them Kitty Carlisle and Frances Dee (delightful as a masochistic, sex-starved, and oh-so sweet-looking young thing in Blood Money).
Wildfire, the wild horse wonder (or at least one of them), co-stars with Steve Cochran in The Lion and the Horse (1952), while producer-director Albert Zugsmith made Dondi (1961), in which World War II GIs adopt an Italian orphan. Dondi sounds quite a bit like Fred Zinnemann's The Search, in which private Montgomery Clift “adopts” a Czech boy looking for his long-lost mother. David Janssen, Patti Page, and Walter Winchell (!) are featured in Dondi.
Zugsmith, by the way, is the guy responsible for Sex Kittens Go to College, College Confidential, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, Confessions of an Opium Eater, and Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. So, Dondi is an oddity in Zugsmith's career.
Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:
9:30pm Tide of Empire (1929)
A cowboys love life turns topsy turvy when he wins his girlfriend's family ranch.
Cast: Renée Adorée, George Duryea, George Fawcett, William Collier Jr. Dir.: Allan Dwan BW-72 mins
11:00pm Il Posto (1961)
A young man fights to become a cog in the big business machine.
Cast: Sandro Panseri, Loredana Detto, Tullio Kezich, Mara Revel Dir: Ermanno Olmi BW-93 mins
12:45am Baby Face (1933)
A beautiful schemer sleeps her way to the top of a banking empire.
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook, Alphonse Ethier Dir: Alfred E. Green BW-76 mins
2:15am Complicated Women (2003)
Documentary that looks at the phenomenon of “pre-code women” during the years 1929-1934.
Cast: Frances Dee, Kitty Carlisle, Molly Haskell, Mick LaSalle Dir: Hugh Munro Neely BW-55 mins
4:45am Dondi (1961)
World War II GIs adopt an Italian war orphan.
Cast: David Janssen, Patti Page, David Kory, Walter Winchell Dir: Albert Zugsmith BW-99 mins
Alan Ladd & Ella Raines on TCM
Pre-1948 Paramount talkies are owned by Universal (or whichever conglomerate owns Universal; I've lost track of them by now – Comcast? NBC? General Electric?). For the most part, Universal couldn't care less about the movies in their archives. Relatively few have been released on DVD and most of them are hardly ever shown on cable.
Well, Turner Classic Movies has leased the Universal library – whether all of it or only some titles, I don't know. That's why the early Mae West movie This Is the Night (1932) was shown a couple of weeks ago, and that's why we now have Lucky Jordan (1942), the film that helped turn Alan Ladd into a star.
I've never seen this Frank Tuttle-directed crime drama, but Ladd was excellent in This Gun for Hire and was quite effective in The Glass Key as well, both 1942 releases co-starring Veronica Lake. Ladd's Lucky Jordan leading lady, however, is Helen Walker, a minor player whose career was seriously damaged following a deadly car crash in 1946. (Walker suffered serious injuries, and one of the hitchhiking soldiers she had picked up near Palm Springs died. She was accused of driving under influence and was brought to trial; she was eventually acquitted. Walker would die of cancer in 1968.)
Starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, and Ava Gardner, The Snows of Kilimanjaro was a major box office hit when it came out in 1951. But is it Ernest Hemingway? Hemingway or not, it surely did no harm to the careers of its three stars or director Henry King.
Robert Siodmak's Phantom Lady (1943) is one of the major film noir classics. Well, it's not on a par with Laura (1944) or The Big Sleep (1946) in terms of lasting popularity, but for those who know their 1940s noirs, Phantom Lady is considered one of the very best.
And it is a curious piece. There are plot holes here and there, but the performances are interesting – Franchot Tone cast against type; Ella Raines looking about as good as Gene Tierney in Laura; Siodmak keeps the action tight; and Elisha Cook Jr has a musical interlude of sorts that will leave you either mesmerized or scratching your head. Aurora Miranda, Carmen Miranda's sister, has a supporting role in Phantom Lady as well.
Love Me Tonight (1932) is considered the best Ernst Lubitsch movie that Lubitsch never made. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, this saucy musical stars Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier in top form. In a supporting role as what some would call a nymphomaniac, Myrna Loy nearly steals the show: She'll eagerly take them all, from grown men to schoolboys. And to think that Myrna Loy's character is probably more offensive to the politically correct prudes of 2011 than to most audience members in 1932. Whether or not you're a prude, Love Me Tonight is not to be missed.
Love in the Afternoon is the Lubitschesque romantic comedy that – thankfully – Lubitsch never made. Despite a cast that includes Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn, Billy Wilder's romantic comedy falls flat at every turn. Its saving grace is a surprisingly subtle Maurice Chevalier.
Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:
5:00pm Lucky Jordan (1942)
A racketeer struggles to adjust to military life after he's drafted.
Cast: Alan Ladd, Helen Walker, Sheldon Leonard, Mabel Paige Dir: Frank Tuttle BW-84 mins
6:30pm The Snows of Kilimanjaro(1952)
As he fights a deadly jungle fever, a hunter remembers his lost loves..
Cast: Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Hildegarde Neff Dir: Henry King C-114 mins
8:30pm Phantom Lady (1944)
A mystery woman is a murder suspect's only alibi for the night of his wife's death.
Cast: Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis, Aurora Miranda. Dir: Robert Siodmak BW-87 mins
10:00pm Love Me Tonight (1932)
A Parisian tailor falls in love with a princess.
Cast: Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Myrna Loy, Charlie Ruggles, Charles Butterworth Dir: Rouben Mamoulian BW-89 mins
12:00am Love in the Afternoon (1957)
An aging American tycoon overcomes his inhibitions to court a young Parisian.
Cast: Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier, John McGiver Dir: Billy Wilder BW-130 mins