’31 Days of Oscar’ on TCM: From fake biopic & passionate bromance to the deadly clash of civilizations
Turner Classic Movies’ “31 Days of Oscar” continues on Feb. 6 with more recent fare – as in, several films released in the last four decades or so. Among these TCM presentations are A Beautiful Mind, The Wind and the Lion, The Man Who Would Be King, Broadcast News, and Swing Shift.
But Turner Classic purists shouldn’t despair. After all, TCM will also be showing pre-1960 entries such as the landmark teen drama Rebel Without a Cause and the concisely titled Bette Davis star vehicle The Star.
Now on to a brief overview of TCM’s Feb. 6 movies.
Oscar-winning ‘hetero-washing’ inanity ‘A Beautiful Mind’: Dishonest biopic in the traditional Hollywood style
Here’s further evidence of its phoniness: A Beautiful Mind won not only the Best Picture Academy Award but also Oscar statuettes for director Howard, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (adapting Sylvia Nasar’s book), and lead actress Jennifer Connelly – in, where else, the Best Supporting Actress category.
Admittedly, Connelly is actually quite good as Alicia Nash, wife of schizophrenic mathematical genius and Nobel laureate John Nash (Russell Crowe, reprising his mannered The Insider performance). In fact, she is the one element that makes the film (almost) watchable.
Inspirational b.s. vs. John Nash gay rumors
As an A motion picture, A Beautiful Mind also boasts first-rate production values, chiefly among them Roger Deakins’ cinematography. But no matter how good its technical credits, the film’s narrative feels contrived and dishonest – one more Hollywood biopic assembled for maximum commercial gain (i.e., simplified, bowdlerized, idiotized).
Therefore, at the end of A Beautiful Mind John and Alicia Nash are seen walking away together, even though in reality they were divorced in 1963. (The couple would remarry in 2001 – coincidentally or not, the same year the movie came out.)
Besides, John Nash’s intimate relations with other men and his 1954 arrest for “indecent exposure” in a Santa Monica public bathroom are completely ignored so he can come across as the sort of 100 percent heterosexual male mainstream audiences can root for. The filmmakers’ lame excuse was that they just couldn’t deal with all the details of his life.*
But ultimately all that matters is … A Beautiful Mind earned $313.54 million at the worldwide box office.
Moral of the story: Feed them as much b.s. as you want and they will eagerly swallow it whole and ask for seconds – as long as you’re feeding them the type of b.s. they want to savor.
Roger Deakins: Always the bridesmaid, never (to date) the bride
As an aside: not including this year, cinematographer Roger Deakins has been shortlisted for 12 Academy Awards without having ever taken home an Oscar statuette.
For the year 2001, he was bypassed for A Beautiful Mind, but found himself nominated for Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Man Who Wasn’t There.
This year, Deakins is in the running for Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario. His chances of winning are slim, as the favorites in that category are Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant and Edward Lachman for Carol.
Post-Oscar update: Roger Deakins lost the 2016 Best Cinematography Oscar to Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant.
John Nash gay stories
* John Nash and his wife denied that he was gay or bisexual. Additionally, A Beautiful Mind author Sylvia Nasar asserts in The Guardian that she found no evidence – or even direct claims – that Nash engaged in sexual relations with other men, despite the fact that he enjoyed “several emotionally intense [same-sex] relationships.”
As for his arrest in the Palisades Park bathroom in the middle of the night, Nasar states that it was a “police trap,” adding that the Santa Monica-based think-tank RAND ignored “Nash’s flat denial and [said] it ‘didn’t really matter whether the cops were telling the truth or not.’”
As found in Nasar’s own book, the “flat denial” consisted of Nash telling his bosses “something to the effect that he was ‘merely observing behavioral characteristics.’” The charge would later be dropped.
And according to Nasar herself, while an undergraduate John Nash climbed into a sleeping male friend’s bed and “made a pass at him.” Years later, he came on to fellow mathematician John Milnor, for whom what Nash felt “may have been something very close to love.”
There would be other reported same-sex infatuations and “special friendships.”
The John and Alicia Nash story ended tragically. The couple, both in their 80s, were killed in a car accident in May 2015.
James Dean rebels: Gay subtext in bromance with Sal Mineo, difficult life with ‘apron-wearing dad’
Life can be tough indeed. The TCM synopsis (I was unable to find its source) for Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), starring James Dean, says it all: “An alienated teenager tries to handle life’s troubles and an apron-wearing dad.”
If that weren’t enough, the older teen Dean (then in his mid-20s) must care for the younger teen Sal Mineo (16 at the time), whose hero-worship – nearly half a century prior to the heterosexualization of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind – goes way beyond mere admiration for his idol’s red jacket, blue jeans, and groovy pompadour. Needless to say, it all ends in tragedy.
Both Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood (as Dean’s heterosexual love interest), were shortlisted for Academy Awards in the supporting categories. They lost to, respectively, Jack Lemmon in Mister Roberts and Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden.
Overemoting in the title role, Dean was bypassed for Rebel Without a Cause, but was posthumously nominated in the Best Actor category for East of Eden. He lost to Ernest Borgnine in Marty.
James Dean died in a road accident on Sept. 30, 1955. Rebel Without a Cause opened nearly one month later.
- Tyrone Power bisexuality and Cesar Romero affair rumors.
- Cary Grant and Randolph Scott gay lovers?
- 20th Century Fox actors Lon McCallister and William Eythe when gay closets were the rule.
- TCM perennial Van Johnson: The gay boy next door.
TCM presents the continuous battle between ‘Westerners’ and uncivilized, dark-skinned natives
John Milius’ The Wind and the Lion and John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King are both 1975 releases featuring “Westerners” (i.e., white people) stranded in “exotic” and potentially dangerous locales (i.e., places inhabited by dark-skinned non-Christians) in the distant past: the former in early 20th century Morocco; the latter in a remote region in colonial India in the late 19th century. (That particular area, Kafiristan, is located in today’s Afghanistan.)
The thematic similarities between the two films end there, for whereas The Wind and the Lion takes a right-wing, pro-imperialism stance – as long as it’s the U.S. playing the role of Global Big Daddy – The Man Who Would Be King, if one looks closely, takes the opposite view. There are other differences as well.
Berber Sean Connery: Loutish but nice ‘darkie’
The tale of an uncivilized but sympathetic Darkie (Sean Connery as a Berber chieftain) who develops a grudging romance with the uptight white American Mom (Candice Bergen) he has kidnapped, The Wind and the Lion is little more than a B movie with an A budget and excessive running time. The best thing about it is Billy Williams’ cinematography – which, surprise, was not nominated for an Academy Award. Instead, the film was shortlisted for Best Sound and Best Original Dramatic Score (Jerry Goldsmith).
In case you get bored halfway through The Wind and the Lion, check out instead Frank Capra’s The Bitter Tea of General Yen. Similar narrative, but better actors (Nils Asther, Barbara Stanwyck), shorter running time, and more humor (whether or not intentional) and sexual tension (totally intentional).
Down with ‘Que Viva Britain!’
Based on Rudyard Kipling’s 1888 novella, The Man Who Would Be King – unlike The Wind and the Lion – was quite well received upon its release and is considered by some one of John Huston’s best films. On the surface an old-fashioned Hollywood adventure epic, The Man Who Would Be King ultimately turns the table on its two white characters (Sean Connery, Michael Caine), one of whom (Connery) is seen as a god by the “primitive” dark-skinned locals.
The problem is: long before the Internet provided the means to fool most of the people all of the time, you could fool most of the people only some of the time. In other words, don’t expect any rousing Que Viva Britain! finale à la Gunga Din or the 1936 version of The Charge of the Light Brigade.
A bit of trivia: John Huston – who has a supporting role in The Wind and the Lion – began planning to transfer Kipling’s novella to the screen in the 1950s, with Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart as the leads. In the 1970s, his initial choices were reportedly Paul Newman and Robert Redford, fresh off of The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
TCM presents unfairly neglected ‘Swing Shift’: Goldie the Riveter
A box office flop at the time of its release, Jonathan Demme’s comedy-drama Swing Shift (1984) is the only Goldie Hawn movie of the 1980s that is more than an excuse to showcase the actress’ comic talent.
Set in Los Angeles during World War II, this TCM presentation tells the story of Goldie the Riveter, a weapons factory worker who befriends other working women (Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Christine Lahti among them) while dealing with loneliness and desire – husband Ed Harris is away, but musician and fellow factory worker Kurt Russell is both nearby and available.
Although not exactly a masterpiece, the unfairly neglected Swing Shift is one of the better Hollywood releases of the decade, on a par with Demme’s own Melvin and Howard. It’s also far superior to several Academy and critics’ favorites of 1984 – e.g., Robert Benton’s Places in the Heart, Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields, Norman Jewison’s A Soldier’s Story.
More on TCM: ‘Broadcast News’ slick & superficial critics pleaser
Heralded for its wit and incisiveness, James L. Brooks’ multiple Oscar-nominated Broadcast News (1987) is everything the largely forgotten Swing Shift isn’t: belabored, artificial, superficial.
A major disappointment, considering Brooks’ enjoyable Mary Tyler Moore television series (and its perfectly watchable spin-offs, Phyllis and Rhoda), but – paradoxically – totally expected considering that three of screenwriter-director Brooks’ five other feature films were Terms of Endearment, As Good as It Gets, and Spanglish. (I’ve yet to check out I’ll Do Anything and the box office cataclysm How Do You Know, starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson.)
Despite my qualms, Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Albert Brooks (no relation to James L.; or to Mel Brooks, Phyllis Brooks, or Louise Brooks, for that matter) is remarkably good as the newsman who doesn’t quite have what it takes – good looks, charisma, poise – to become a star newscaster.
And that leads me to another major problem with Broadcast News: Best Actor nominee William Hurt doesn’t come across as personable or charismatic either, which makes it all but impossible to accept Holly Hunter’s experienced journalist/TV news producer failing to see through him.
‘Broadcast News’ Best Actor cameo
Jack Nicholson, who had previously worked with James L. Brooks on Terms of Endearment, has a cameo in Broadcast News; bizarrely, that bit was listed as one of the three performances that earned him the New York Film Critics Circle’s Best Actor award. For the record, the other two, in which Nicholson actually had something to do, were George Miller’s The Witches of Eastwick, in which he devours the scenery, and Hector Babenco’s Ironweed, in which he is shockingly subdued.
Despite its seven Academy Award nominations, Broadcast News failed to take home a single statuette. The big winner that year was Bernardo Bertolucci’s bloated The Last Emperor, toplining John Lone, Joan Chen, and Peter O’Toole.
James L. Brooks’ effort had better luck with the New York Film Critics. Besides Jack Nicholson’s Best Actor cameo, Broadcast News topped the Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress (Holly Hunter), and Best Screenplay (Brooks) categories.
TCM favorite Bette Davis goes berserk in ‘The Star,’ but misses out on Best Actress Oscar
TCM perennial Bette Davis received her ninth Best Actress Oscar nomination for The Star (1952), an old-fashioned, Hollywood-set B movie – it’s definitely no Sunset Blvd. – with a role for Davis to sink her teeth in. The problem is that director Stuart Heisler allows his star to also sink in her fingernails, toenails, elbows – to the point that Davis’ performance as a fading, middle-aged movie actress not unlike herself comes across at times as a risible caricature.
Yet that’s still Bette Davis, whose caricatures are more compelling than most actors’ meticulously delineated characters. If you haven’t watched The Star, here’s your chance to witness the former Queen of Warner Bros. trying to pass for a woman half her age; driving around drunk, Academy Award in tow (one of Davis’ own), while bitching about “starlet” Barbara Lawrence (who plays herself); and eventually finding redemption in the arms of all-American hunk Sterling Hayden (cast at Davis’ suggestion).
In Mother Goddam, Bette Davis wrote:
I have always felt The Star was very underrated by critics and the public. [Screenwriters and husband-and-wife team] Katherine Albert and Dale Eunson had been familiar with the Hollywood scene for many years. Their script was an authentic picture of a “motion-picture star” as opposed to the actress-type star. I enjoyed very much playing in their really great script of Margaret Elliott’s demise as a Hollywood star and rebirth as a person.
The Best Actress winner that year, by the way, was Shirley Booth for Daniel Mann’s Come Back Little Sheba – a movie Bette Davis had turned down. “One of the really great mistakes of my career,” she would lament in Mother Goddam.
More on TCM: Oscar documentary, early gay movie character
TCM will also be presenting Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s made-for-TCM 2014 documentary And the Oscar Goes To…. As the title makes clear, that’s a history of the Academy Awards.
And finally, in keeping with the gay topic broached in my overview of A Beautiful Mind and Rebel Without a Cause, on Feb. 6 TCM will also be showing Vincent Sherman’s soap opera The Young Philadelphians (1959), featuring a rare gay character in a post-Production Code, pre-1960 Hollywood movie.
Ah, and future TV Batman Adam West plays the gay guy. Is nothing sacred?
See TCM movie schedule below.
TCM ’31 Days of Oscar’ films on Saturday, Feb. 6, ’16
3:45 AM THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS (1959). Dir.: Vincent Sherman. Cast: Paul Newman. Barbara Rush. Alexis Smith. Robert Vaughn. Brian Keith. Billie Burke. Diane Brewster. John Williams. Otto Kruger. Paul Picerni. Robert Douglas. Frank Conroy. Adam West. Anthony Eisley (as Fred Eisley). Richard Deacon. B&W. 137 mins. Letterbox Format.
6:15 AM THE WIND AND THE LION (1975). Dir.: John Milius. Cast: Sean Connery. Candice Bergen. Brian Keith. John Huston. Color. 119 mins. Letterbox Format.
8:15 AM THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975). Dir.: John Huston. Cast: Sean Connery. Michael Caine. Christopher Plummer. Color. 129 mins. Letterbox Format.
10:30 AM A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001). Dir.: Ron Howard. Cast: Russell Crowe. Ed Harris. Jennifer Connelly. Color. 135 mins.
1:00 PM RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988). Dir.: Sidney Lumet. Cast: Judd Hirsch. Christine Lahti. River Phoenix. Color. 116 mins.
3:15 PM SWING SHIFT (1984). Dir.: Jonathan Demme. Cast: Goldie Hawn. Kurt Russell. Christine Lahti. Ed Harris. Color. 100 mins.
5:00 PM BROADCAST NEWS (1987). Dir.: James L. Brooks. Cast: William Hurt. Holly Hunter. Albert Brooks. Jack Nicholson. Color. 132 mins. Letterbox Format.
7:30 PM AND THE OSCAR GOES TO… (2014). Dir.: Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Color. 95 mins.
9:30 PM EASY RIDER (1969). Dir.: Dennis Hopper. Cast: Peter Fonda. Dennis Hopper. Robert Walker Jr. Jack Nicholson. Luke Askew. Luana Anders. Phil Spector. Tony Basil. Karen Black. Antonio Mendoza. Uncredited: Carrie Snodgress. Dan Haggerty. Bridget Fonda. Color. 96 mins.
11:15 PM REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955). Dir.: Nicholas Ray. Cast: James Dean. Natalie Wood. Sal Mineo. Jim Backus. Ann Doran. William Hopper. Rochelle Hudson. Corey Allen. Dennis Hopper. Edward Platt. Virginia Brissac. Ian Wolfe. Uncredited: Nick Adams. Color. 111 mins. Letterbox Format.
1:15 AM THE STAR (1952). Dir.: Stuart Heisler. Cast: Bette Davis. Sterling Hayden. Natalie Wood. Warner Anderson. Minor Watson. June Travis. Robert Warwick. Barbara Lawrence. B&W. 90 mins.
’31 Days of Oscar’ schedule via the TCM website.
Image of Russell Crowe in the “recent” TCM movie A Beautiful Mind: Universal Pictures.
Image of Michael Caine and Sean Connery in the somewhat subversive TCM presentation The Man Who Would Be King: Columbia Pictures / Allied Artists.
Image of Goldie Hawn the unfairly neglected Swing Shift: Warner Bros., via Cult Film Freaks.
Image of Sal Mineo and James Dean in the TCM staple Rebel Without a Cause: Warner Bros.
Paul Newman and Alexis Smith The Young Philadelphians image: Warner Bros.
Image of Albert Brooks and Holly Hunter in the not-so-classic TCM presentation Broadcast News: 20th Century Fox, via the Criterion Forum.
TCM perennial Bette Davis The Star image: 20th Century Fox, via bobbyriverstv.