I'm a day late with my February preview and sitting down to begin just as 42nd Street (1933) is about to play on TCM. Studios are the theme for Turner Classic Movies' annual "31 Days of Oscar" programming and they kick off by unveiling their comprehensive collection of Warner Brothers titles.
Click here to skip the essay and get to the lists!
February 1 is a day of big titles, so I don't feel too badly about not getting to this in time to recommend movies such as Little Caesar (1930), The Public Enemy (1931), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) or The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). You don't need me to recommend those anyway.
Friends already know that TCM's Oscar month is my least favorite month from my most favorite station in any given year.
Part A of my explanation is above: Seen it, seen it, own it, own it, will watch at my leisure. Robert Osborne mentions that 11 of the 349 titles titles TCM airs this February 1-March 3 are TCM premieres. That's 0.3%. That ain't a lot.
Part B is a natural over-reliance on more recent titles. There's an 85-1/2 hour gap between February 3 and 6th in which not one movie TCM plays was released prior to 1950. Eighty five and a half hours.
I'll resist detailing what I'm thinking of as '80s night on Monday the 25th. I'll survive those 9 hours, I'm sure I will!
I understand that by virtue of its name Turner Classic Movies does not promise age, but I think we've been together long enough for this to be implied by a virtual handshake and a wink. For a classic television station TCM can play a lot of junk, but if it's old junk I'm a-okay with it. I like my old movies old. Not Mom and Dad old, but Grandma and Grandpa old.
So I've come to accept periods such as those 85-1/2 hours as counterbalance for the poor fellow who grits his teeth at TCM's regular 12 hour marathons of pre-World War II movies that I delight in.
I swore I wouldn't rip "31 Days of Oscar" this year. TCM has been very good to me since last February. There's been a run of Golden Age Star of the Month selections and a Summer Under the Stars schedule I'd happily repeat any year. Plus they seem to have been filling up my DVD-R discs with a host of rare pre-code RKO titles lately, a gift that I hope keeps giving.
Given my annual hostilities over TCM February I just can't preview it for you like I would any other month. There would be days like today where I suggest you watch everything and gaps like those 85-1/2 hours (Eighty five and a half hours!) where my recommendations went largely dark.
I suppose a Part C looms beyond A and B.
I prefer B-movies and the studio cookie cutter stuff to the types of movies generally nominated for an Oscar.
If you held out a pair of DVDs and one was Casablanca (1942) and the other was the pretty bad Isle of Fury (1936), a Warner's remake of the much more awesome The Narrow Corner (1933), I'm probably* going to be the only moron to wrestle Isle of Fury away from you so I can spend an hour laughing at Bogie's cheesy mustache.
*Note: Presented with a "desert isle" scenario I most certainly would select Casablanca. Remember, I said an hour with that mustache, not any more. Even I'm not that warped!
But I'll likely tune into TCM for Casablanca on Saturday night. It's not as though I don't like Casablanca anymore. The experience just isn't as special as it used to be since I've had either a VHS or DVD copy sitting nearby on the shelf for at least twenty years now (a fact reminding me that I am firmly entrenched in the Mom and Dad old demographic, I keep forgetting that!). By the same token my copy of Isle of Fury has a glitch and who knows when that's gonna play on TV again.
Last week my day was made when TCM aired four Richard Dix movies I'd never seen before. I know Richard Dix pops up on TCM at least once in February, in Cimarron (1931), a movie that saw him nominated for Best Actor and actually won Best Picture. I like Cimarron, but I had a lot more fun watching "The Reckoner" in action during The Public Defender (also 1931) earlier this week!
When you get right down to it February on TCM just isn't for me. (I get the feeling I wrote this same post last year!) I'm in the minority on this, I'm sure. There aren't nearly as many hidden gems to unearth as TCM offers in its more standard months, but among 349 movies there are going to be a few that might escape notice if nobody points to them.
6 "31 Days of Oscar" Titles I've Written Well About
I've actually written about several additional movies that TCM airs this month, but I'm not too proud to realize that some of my earliest articles are duds. I stand by any of these spoiler-free write-ups as worthwhile reading.
These movies are bigger than most of the titles found in the two lists following but do include some of my personal favorites:
February 1 - CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935), 8 pm EST.
If you're receiving this via email then Captain Blood has already aired. Sorry about that. But I thought it'd be worth including here in case you just watched it. I love this movie.
Why? Flynn, Flynn, Flynn. And De Havilland. But mostly Flynn. And Korngold's score. Flynn and Korngold.
I'm looking forward to watching this one yet again later tonight as I write this. Errol Flynn vs. Basil Rathbone offers incredible swordplay, but this adventure just captures me from beginning to end making me want to wave my fist back and forth in time to the soundtrack. Rousing.
February 2 - KINGS ROW (1942), 8:15 am EST.
Strong soapy stuff showing the darker side of American small-town life. You've likely seen Ronald Reagan wondering where his legs are in one of his most famous film clips, but Kings Row as a whole offers an interesting world to get lost in for awhile. Charles Coburn and Claude Rains both play fascinating and complicated characters. This one seems ripe for mini-series treatment which makes its 128 minute run time okay by me.
February 11 - LITTLE WOMEN (1933), 8 pm EST.
I only wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, prefacing my first impressions of the movie with the fact that I have somehow never read the book. That should make my perspective either ignorant or fresh, probably somewhere in between. Katharine Hepburn, who usually grates on me, captures my heart here. I can say the same for Jean Parker as well.
February 13 - THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER (1947), 10 am EST.
I wrote about this one only a couple of days ago. It just aired on TCM as part of their coverage of Loretta Young as January's Star of the Month (yet one more reason I don't begrudge them their February this year). It's a charmer and so too is Loretta. Romance and comedy set in the world of politics.
February 21 - STAGECOACH (1939), 1:45 pm EST.
Westerns aren't my favorite genre. In fact much of what I typed up above about what I generally like doesn't hold at all when it comes to the Western. I find cookie-cutter Westerns unwatchable. But a few well-made Westerns are among my favorite films of all time, no matter when they were made even. So give me a quality Western from 1939 with the top star and director of the genre and there's a pretty good chance I'm a fan. I've always loved Stagecoach and the Duke's entrance still fires me up every time.
March 1 - I MARRIED A WITCH (1942), 10:45 am EST.
I'm a big fan of Fredric March and have always found Veronica Lake, well, sultry at the least. This 1942 Rene Clair comedy opens so dark that you might be tricked into thinking it was a horror movie for a few moments. It quickly morphs into an unconventional romantic comedy featuring a centuries old witch, played by Lake, out for vengeance against the ancestor of the man who had her and her father (Cecil Kellaway, wonderful!) burnt at the stake hundreds of years back. Young Susan Hayward as the bitchy March fiance Lake must overcome.
Scroll through THIS page to see all of the movies I've written about--they're listed in order of when I wrote them, the most recent stuff at the top of the page.
I will be adding a few more to that page from the batch airing on TCM this month. Little Caesar (1930) seems most likely sometime very soon.
But now I've got another list for you:
5 Recommended "31 Days of Oscar" Titles
Again, I don't want to recommend anything too obvious, so I'm just going to list a handful of titles that I've enjoyed which maybe you've overlooked. There are always a few, as we'll see with my third list.
February 8 - IMITATION OF LIFE (1934), 10:30 pm EST.
As I write this the 1959 remake starring Lana Turner and John Gavin has racked up 6,848 IMDb votes. This original version has only 1,726. Now that's no paltry number in itself, but it pales in comparison.
The IMDb isn't the last word on who's viewed what, but considering it is a highly trafficked internet site and you've used that same internet to somehow find this little sliver of the world. So chances are you know the big site. Give it some weight even. Which means you're four times more likely to have seen the remake than the original with Claudette Colbert.
I don't recommend Imitation of Life because Warren William is in it. In fact, it's a lousy role for William that leaves him completely overshadowed by the actresses around him, especially Colbert. But even ahead of good old Warren I'm drawn to Imitation of Life because of the expanded role Louise Beavers gets to take on.
Oh, she's in her usual character, acting just as she does during her large assortment of little maid roles throughout the decade, but we get a lot more here. We get to go far beyond the typical Beavers, all "Yes suh's" and happy exterior, and experience her complicated relationship with daughter Peola (Fredi Washington), who tries to pass as white and is repeatedly foiled by her well intended mother.
February 11 - CIMARRON (1931), 6:15 am EST.
Yep, the same Richard Dix movie I kind of ripped up above. It's definitely creaky and a bit too long for me even, but it certainly shows the star appeal of Dix and offers a strong break-out for Irene Dunne as well.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the movie is the opening race to grab land in Oklahoma, though Dix's great moment comes while preaching before a full house of townsfolk, including his arch enemy.
Covering several decades and allowing Dix and Dunne to wear lots of make-up as they grow older, Cimarron provides a thoughtful look at the old West and a somewhat sensitive look at its people. We get the relationship between husband and wife of that time plus an honest attempt to show all peoples of the time including a courageous black servant (Eugene Jackson) and a thoughtful Jewish merchant (George E. Stone), both tied closely to the main family.
There's a lot going on in Cimarron and while "good for 1931" is the usual backhanded compliment it receives, chances are that if you do like movies of this period you're going to enjoy Cimarron.
Another one that was remade, in 1960 with Glenn Ford.
If you enjoyed Little Caesar and The Public Enemy earlier Friday, than mark down The Racket on your calendar as their gangster precursor. It comes just after Josef von Sternberg's better made though by my eyes slightly less exciting Underworld (1927) in the overall cycle of gangster titles.
Pits Wolheim, and his perfect gangster face, against copper Thomas Meighan with George E. Stone making another appearance on our list as Wolheim's younger brother. Also includes a chance to see Marie Prevost, though her character wasn't built up as much as I had hoped.
Yet another one remade, in 1951 with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan squaring off, and more likely to be seen through one of the Film Noir box sets.
I'm planning to cover the 1928 version in detail on the site before the 19th, so I'll save further comment until then.
Charles Laughton brings overwhelming personality to the role of Henry VIII in the Alexander Korda production: He's loud, he's obnoxious, he's selfish, he's hungry. For women as much as food. We notice Robert Donat for the first time in support as the King's right hand Thomas Culpepper. Also a breakout for the future Mrs. Korda, Merle Oberon, briefly on screen at the beginning of Henry VIII as a wistful Anne Boleyn.
His other wives are just as wonderful: Wendy Barrie is lusted after by Laughton as Jane Seymour; Mrs. Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, owns every moment she's on screen, even upstaging her husband, as the uproarious Anne of Cleves; Binnie Barnes is alluring as fifth wife, Katherine Howard, who rose from the ranks to become the most interesting of Henry's wives in this movie; Everley Gregg finishes the film out as Katherine Parr, the last of aging Henry's wives.
The Private Life of Henry VIII is one of those I wrote about a few years ago. While I didn't list it above, I still think THIS ONE is pretty good, even if my paragraphs are a bit long.
March 1 - THE MOON AND SIXPENCE (1942), 7:30 am EST.
A fictionalized account of the life and career of the painter Gauguin as adapted from a novel by Somerset Maugham. George Sanders plays the artist and Herbert Marshall is the Maugham-based character, a nice choice since he had previously played Maugham in The Razor's Edge and had appeared in other Maugham based titles such as both versions of The Letter (1929 and 1940).
It's a story of drive and passion overruling polite and normal behavior, and in that latter vein Sanders supporters will be happy to find their man as great a cad as ever. It's fascinating to watch his Charles Strickland just chuck it, leave an established normal life behind with the overwhelming desire to do nothing else but paint. He works his way through the movie to Gauguin's beloved South Seas where we find him a more complete man.
Yet another on my short list, with Little Caesar and The Racket, for detailed coverage on the site sometime this month.
For another view of Gauguin see Anthony Quinn's Oscar winning supporting role in Lust for Life (1956) starring Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh. An MGM title somehow not airing on TCM this month.
7 "31 Days of Oscar" Titles on My Want List
I've included (yeah, copied) the cast members and synopsis as listed in the February 2013 TCM Now Playing Guide. In most cases that's what drew me to these picks anyway.
(Any parenthetical comments following TCM's text are my own added two cents.)
February 8 - BERKELEY SQUARE (1933), 8 am EST.
A young American man is transported back to London in the time of the American Revolution and meets his ancestors. Starring Leslie Howard, Heather Angel, Valerie Taylor, D: Frank Lloyd
(Comment: Leslie Howard, time travel, period piece? I'm in!)
February 8 - BLOOD AND SAND (1941), 1:30 pm EST.
A married matador's rise to stardom is complicated by an affair with a beautiful aristocrat. Starring Tyrone Power, Rita Hayworth, Linda Darnell, D: Rouben Mamoulian
(Comment: Truth be told, doesn't sound like my cup of tea, but I love Ty Power in most everything and this was most commented upon as an oversight back when I wrote my alt-Power schedule during August's Summer Under the Stars. It might be work, but I've gotta watch!)
(Comment: Saw this a long while back, on AMC I think, and honestly don't recall it too fondly. But I'm willing to give these 154 minutes a fresh chance. Love history and biopics so wouldn't be surprised at all if I enjoy it much more today.)
February 11 - THE INFORMER (1935), 1 pm EST.
An Irish rebel turns in his best friend to earn passage money to America, then has to dodge the suspicions of his cohorts. Starring Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster, D: John Ford.
(Comment: I don't care for Victor McLaglen, but I'd better see the movie he won his Oscar for before I dare to stand too strongly behind that opinion. I did enjoy him in Professional Soldier)
February 20 - WAY DOWN SOUTH (1939), 7 am EST.
A young orphan fights off attempts to steal his inheritance. Starring Bobby Breen, Alan Mowbray, Clarence Muse, D: Bernard Vorhaus.
(Comment: Sounds like something favorite Freddie Bartholomew might have been in if it were made a couple of years earlier. Will watch anything with Mowbray or Muse.)
(Comment: In his Now Playing column Martin Scorsese mentions this as "one of the only Hollywood films to deal with the Spanish Civil War as it was happening." Okay, sold.)
February 21 - VOGUES OF 1938 (1937), 9:45 am EST.
A penniless heiress takes a modeling job to get her family back on it's feet. Starring Warner Baxter, Joan Bennett, Helen Vinson, D: Irving Cummings.
(Comment: Love the cast, which also includes more Mowbray. And they're in Technicolor here! The '30s musicals have really grown on me too.)
If you're like me and trying to cut through the haze of oft repeated Oscar titles, this handful might help pave the way. At least the dozen named on the last two lists.
But there's nothing wrong with settling in to Casablanca (1942), Citizen Kane (1941) or Gone With the Wind (1939) for the umpteenth time either. They don't all need to be old junk, sometimes classic is classic.
I'll be back soon ... or you can keep on reading for my more commercial exit.
"31 Days of Oscar" Picks on DVD
The following are all Amazon affiliate links. This just means that Amazon pays me a small percentage of their sale if you buy from their site through my links--your price remains the same.
I'm listing these down here because I thought it might be too disruptive to include them throughout the text above. All 18 titles can be had, though in varying quality with 3 titles still only available on VHS at this time. All the details down below.
While I recommend you save your dollars and set your DVR, I do want to thank you very much in advance for any of your purchases made through these links.
- Captain Blood or for a bit of a better deal get it as one of four movies in this TCM Greatest Classic Film Collection
- Kings Row or, again, better deal coming with four additional titles in the Ronald Reagan Signature Collection
- Little Women and, again, a bit more bang for your buck with this TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection
- You've got to pull out your old VCR to get The Farmer's Daughter - again, no DVD release on this one, that link is to a VHS tape.
- Stagecoach (The Criterion Collection). Other options exist but they're all out of print and a bit overpriced in comparison to what Criterion gives you.
- I Married a Witch [VHS] is another one you'd have to go the VHS route on - No Region 1 DVD as of this writing.
- Imitation of Life Two-Movie Special Edition includes both the 1934 and 1959 versions of the movie.
- Cimarron is a "Special Edition" DVD without much in the way of extras.
- The Racket is a tricky find but my copy comes courtesy of Academy Collection: The Envelope Please, Vol. 1 which includes 7 other Oscar winners - The Private Life of Henry VIII is one of them.
- Or you can grab Laughton as King Henry in this budget edition or this tempting set of Alexander Korda movies.
- The Moon and Sixpence includes both black & white and theatrical version with color tinted scenes. They're only tinted as well as my screen capture up above.
- This all region copy of Berkeley Square looks a bit homemade.
- Blood and Sand or wait for a sale (there's one running now apparently) and do as I did: Tyrone Power Collection
- Wilson [VHS] is another VHS only purchase. For now.
- The Informer or go deluxe with The John Ford Film Collection
- As the Way Down South DVD case says, Roan puts out some nice restorations. Or make it a Bobby Breen double feature and go the Alpha route: Hawaii Calls / Way Down South
- Blockade ... only option, but at least it's DVD.
- Vogues of 1938 sounds like a lousy transfer, set your DVRs instead.
Have a great month and thank you again!
Be back soon, Cliff