Part III of Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood, “The Dream Merchants,” narrated by Christopher Plummer, continues today (a rerun of Monday’s presentation) on Turner Classic Movies (website).
Accompanying features and shorts focus on 1920s comedies.
Charles Chaplin’s The Pilgrim is on right now. Following “The Dream Merchants,” TCM will show two Buster Keaton comedies: the short One Week and the feature Steamboat Bill Jr.; Harold Lloyd’s best-remembered effort, Safety Last!; the Marion Davies vehicle Show People; the Clara Bow vehicle It (in which Gary Cooper has a bit part); and the Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle short Fools’ Luck.
I’m usually not a silent-comedy fan. I’ve seen nearly all of the movies listed above, and my favorite by far – despite its dragged-out last third – is King Vidor’s Show People, in which Marion Davies does a hilarious impersonation of Gloria Swanson. William Haines, then one of MGM’s top male players, is her leading man.
Haines starts out quite well, but as so often happens in his movies, he becomes increasingly obnoxious and grating as the film progresses. (One major exception: The Adventures of Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford, in my view Haines’ best movie and most restrained performance.)
Back to Show People: Agnes Christine Johnston, Laurence Stallings, and Wanda Tuchock’s screenplay takes the viewer inside the gates of a major late-’20s Hollywood studio – more specifically the once-glorious, now-bankrupt MGM.
That in itself is enough for me to strongly recommend this late silent comedy.
I know, I know, today the focus is on comedies, but on Monday several dramas were shown.
Ben-Hur, after all, was the supreme studio production of the 1920s, and a landmark in the history of both Hollywood and MGM, which was created in large part because Goldwyn Pictures (the middle “G”) was floundering thanks to Ben-Hur‘s out-of-control production costs.
Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:
7:00pm Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: Dream Merchants, The (2010)
8:15pm One Week (1920)
Cast: Buster Keaton
8:45pm Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)
In this silent film, a student tries to win a rival captain’s daughter after taking over his father’s riverboat.
Cast: Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence, Tom Lewis, Tom McGuire Dir: Charles F. Reisner BW-69 mins
10:00pm Safety Last! (1923)
In this silent film, a small-town boy out to impress his girlfriend scales a skyscraper in the big city.
Cast: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young Dir: Sam Taylor BW-73 mins
11:30pm It (1927)
A shop girl turns party girl to land her boss.
Cast: Clara Bow, Antonio Moreno, William Austin, Jacqueline Gadsdon Dir: Clarence Badger BW-77 mins
1:00am Show People (1928)
In this silent film, a small-town girl tries to make it in Hollywood.
Cast: Marion Davies, William Haines, Dell Henderson, Paul Ralli Dir: King Vidor BW-79 mins
2:20am Short Film: One Reel Wonders: 1925 MGM Studio Tour (1925)
3:00am Fool’s Luck (1926)
In this silent short, an eviction notice sends a young man on a series of perilous adventures.
Cast: George Davis, Virginia Vance, Jack Lloyd, Lupino Lane Dir: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle BW-15 mins
‘Hearts and Minds’ & Twisted Gay Love: TCM Films
Turner Classic Movies has a lot to offer tonight (Nov. 14) and tomorrow morning. There’s a lot to say about the scheduled movies, but since time is short – the first one listed below has already started, I’ll be brief.
First of all, don’t miss Sidney Franklin’s The Hoodlum, a 1919 comedy-drama that feels more modern than most of the stuff that gets released today. Mary Pickford is simply sensational in the title role.
Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, considered by many one of the greatest movies ever made, features one of the greatest performances ever: Machiko Kyo’s conniving wife.
Peter Davis’ Oscar winning Hearts and Minds probably caused strokes and heart attacks in American militaristic right-wingers. One sequence that haunts me to this day shows a U.S. military officer describing the Vietnamese as cold, detached people unlike “us.” The next scene shows a desperate Vietnamese woman who had lost a loved one in the war. (Does the demonizing of the Vietnamese ring familiar to those witnessing the far-right’s current demonization of Muslims?)
Otto Preminger’s The Moon Is Blue – which features the word “v*rgin” – marked the beginning of the end of the Production Code’s censorship madness after it was released without a Seal of Approval and became a gigantic box office hit. Someone should have the guts to do the same to the current sex-o-phobic prudes at the MPAA.
Starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole as, respectively, Thomas Becket and King Henry II, Peter Glenville’s Becket is a theatrical bore. But it’s also a curious historical piece (based on a play by Jean Anouilh) that chiefly works as a twisted gay love story.
David Lean’s Summertime has spinster Katharine Hepburn at her best. In a supporting role, Isa Miranda manages to steal a few scenes. I wouldn’t say Summertime is one of Lean’s greatest, but it’s still superior to most love stories out there.
Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:
9:30pm The Hoodlum (1919)
A spoiled rich girl fights for her life when she’s trapped in the slums.
Cast: Mary Pickford, Ralph Lewis, Kenneth Harlan, Melvin Messenger Dir: Sidney A. Franklin BW-83 mins
11:00pm Rashomon (1950)
In medieval Japan, four people offer conflicting accounts of a rape and murder.
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Takashi Shimura, Masayuki Mori Dir: Akira Kurosawa BW-88 mins
12:45am Hearts and Minds (1975)
Filmmakers capture conflicting attitudes toward the Vietnam War.
Cast: Daniel Ellsberg, General William Westmoreland, Clark Clifford, Georges Bidault Dir: Peter Davis C-112 mins
2:45am Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)
Kentucky miners risk their lives in a violent strike.
Cast: Nimrod Workman, E B Allen, Bessie Lou Cornett, Jim Thomas Dir: Barbara Kopple C-104 mins
4:30am The Moon Is Blue (1953)
Two womanizers fall for a woman determined to keep her virginity.
Cast: William Holden, David Niven, Maggie McNamara, Tom Tully Dir: Otto Preminger BW-99 mins
6:30am The Crimson Kimono (1959)
Two detectives clash over the hunt for a stripper’s killer in Los Angeles’ Japanese district.
Cast: Victoria Shaw, Glenn Corbett, James Shigeta, Anna Lee Dir: Samuel Fuller BW-81 mins
8:00am Summertime (1955)
A schoolteacher is surprised to find love on a Venetian vacation.
Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Rossano Brazzi, Isa Miranda, Darren McGavin Dir: David Lean C-100 mins
10:00am Becket (1964)
England’s King Henry II appoints his best friend Archbishop of Canterbury then turns on him.
Cast: Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud, Donald Wolfit Dir: Peter Glenville C-148 mins