Hope you didn’t miss my February TCM preview too much. At the beginning of the month I felt a bit bad about skipping it, but as February wore on and Prime Time became filled with ‘60s and ‘70s Oscar nominees I felt better about the decision. They still slipped in some oldies in the morning (sometimes), but "31 Days of Oscar" has always been weak on all but the best known 1930s movies, so I’m glad we’re about to move on to March.
But March is TCM's shortest month since those "31 Days of Oscar" keep on running through 6 am Eastern on March 4. At that time TCM, like an addict caving to withdrawal, begins Oscar detox with 14 hours of “Daytime Underground,” a schedule including titles such as A Bucket of Blood (1959, 6:00 am) and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962, 5:45 am). While I’m happy to recommend both The Last Man on Earth (1964, 1:30 pm) and Spider Baby (1967, 3:00 pm), they’re still not exactly what I’m looking for.
We don’t have to wait too much longer for the good old oldies though.
Pick of the month. Friday, March 6, 9:45 am - Big City Blues (1932) starring Eric Linden and Joan Blondell, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. One of 11 movies from the 1930s playing as part of TCM’s Guy Kibbee birthday (1882-1956) celebration (more below).
I just watched this one again so I could update my 2013 post with the ratings plugin I started using more recently. Apparently no one loves this title as much as me - I rate it an 8/10 and was very tempted to call it an 8.5.
In that post—and I found myself scribbling the same note as I watched the other night—I write that this fast-paced pre-Code Depression/Prohibition-era romp moves as fast as Three on a Match with just as an impressive collection of supporting actors. Evalyn Knapp, Lyle Talbot, Herman Bing, J. Carrol Naish, Sheila Terry, Humphrey Bogart - None of these actors are even billed on the opening credits! (Plus there’s the voice of Dick Powell).
The movie stars Eric Linden as a small town boy looking to give New York a shot. Throughout these brisk 63 minutes the city becomes as big a character as any of the others with many opinions, flattering and not so flattering, offered about it. Linden is greeted in NY by his slick-talking cousin, played by Walter Catlett, who introduces him to love interest Joan Blondell. This meeting leads to one of the most depraved booze-fueled parties I’ve seen in any pre-Code. These people are sloshed and the party can only end in one of two ways: either everybody passes out or trouble sends them scurrying. Well, Linden and Blondell are soon on the run from the law and they wind up sharing a gambling house scene that provides more breathless desperation than any R-rated sex scene ever supplied. Seriously, it’s like Joan Blondell is talking dirty when she’s coaxing those dice. Oh yeah, the cast also includes Ned Sparks, Grant Mitchell, and, of course, Guy Kibbee, since TCM is playing this for his birthday.
Themes of Interest
March 5, evening: Five movies featuring Helen Hayes. Includes Arrowsmith (1931) at 8 pm, followed by Night Flight (1933) at 10. I didn’t care for Arrowsmith myself, though I appear to be in the minority with that view. It’s generally agreed that Night Flight looks great on paper, but winds up a mess. Both are worth checking out though. My top recommendation from this group is Hayes’s Academy Award-winning performance in The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931), which plays at 2 am. It’s one of those mother-love tales that provides great Oscar bait in allowing the lead actress to age through the decades, but my goodness, Helen Hayes makes the most of it. That’s followed by A Farewell to Arms (1932) at 3:30 am.
March 11, evening: Maisie marathon of ten movies featuring Star of the Month Ann Sothern. Runs from 8:00 pm through 11:30 am the following morning.
March 17, daytime and evening: Annual St. Patrick’s Day schedule of Irish themed movies. Similar to "31 Days of Oscar" in shuffling around the same group of movies every year.
March 18, daytime: Robert Donat (1905-1958) birthday tribute. Includes The Citadel (1938) at 2:00 pm followed by Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) at 4, plus a couple of other titles saved for mention below. My favorite Donat title, The Magic Box (1951), didn’t make the cut this year.
March 19, daytime: Katharine Hepburn marathon. The first five of six films are releases from 1933-1937 including The Little Minister (1934) and Quality Street (1937).
March 23, daytime: Joan Crawford (1905-1977) birthday tribute. The schedule is set in reverse chronological order beginning with a couple of 1960s entries and working backwards to the oldest Crawford movie playing that day, Mildred Pierce (1945).
March 26, daytime. Perry Mason. Five movies play between 1:00 pm and 8:00 pm beginning with three of the four movies featuring Warren William as Mason: The Case of the Curious Bride (1935), The Case of the Lucky Legs (1935), and The Case of the Velvet Claws (1936) - Each of those preceding links will open in a new tab and take you to my Warren William site. They’re followed by the single entries from Ricardo Cortez, The Case of the Black Cat (1936, 5:15 pm), and Donald Woods, The Cast of the Stuttering Bishop (1937, 6:30 pm). Best of the bunch is a toss-up between the first two Warren William titles, either Curious Bride or Lucky Legs.
March 30, daytime. Granville Bates marathon. Seven movies, 1935-40, featuring the very busy character actor play between 11:15 am and 8:00 pm, highlighted by Garson Kanin’s The Great Man Votes (1939) starring John Barrymore at 4:30 pm. Though my favorite Granville Bates entry of the day actually plays earlier as part of a run of movies produced by Robert Sisk - Don’t miss Edward Ellis in a rare starring role in A Man to Remember (1938), also directed by Kanin, at 6:00 am.
Reviews and Related
Friday, March 6, 1:30 pm - Going Highbrow (1935) with Guy Kibbee, ZaSu Pitts, and Edward Everett Horton, plus Ross Alexander and June Martel. Directed by Robert Florey.
Tuesday, March 10, 8:30 am - Symphony of Six Million (1932) starring Irene Dunne and Ricardo Cortez. Directed by Gregory La Cava.
Part of a double-feature I watched the other night alongside Big City Blues. It had been longer since I’d last seen and then written about Symphony of Six Million (July 2011), but like Big City Blues I found my thoughts hadn’t changed much (rated it 6.5/10). It’s a big idea with a too big score that doesn’t quite live up to the size.
Symphony of Six Million is an unusual pre-Code film in that it doesn’t push the censors and, more notably, surrounds familiar subject matter with an unfamiliar cultural view.
The film is about a Jewish family in New York and actually seems to have been made with the idea of entertaining an audience of that background rather than just providing laughs for others. Ricardo Cortez stars as the doctor in what was a highly praised performance at that time. I don’t know if I’ve just seen Cortez play too many cads and scam artists, but he didn’t seem right for me here, despite his own Jewish roots. As I mentioned in the older review, he was great when silent—especially in the operating room—but there’s a smugness about Cortez whenever he opens his mouth that made him better suited to those more slippery roles he really excelled in. More of a supporting role for Irene Dunne as the love interest. Her fans will probably be disappointed in this one. Most of the fun comes from Gregory Ratoff in his first Hollywood feature film. Symphony of Six Million is good enough drama, but once you get beyond the Jewish flavor it’s nothing special. And just too much Max Steiner.
Monday, March 16, 10:00 am - Fury (1936) starring Spencer Tracy and Sylvia Sidney. Directed by Fritz Lang. Excellent performance by Tracy in movie about the dangers of mob mentality. He is awesome after consequences rob him of his idealism and he becomes hellbent on vengeance. Sylvia Sidney is a favorite and she has a decent part here, subservient to Tracy, but more involved than a typical love interest role.
Monday, March 16. 9:30 pm - China Seas (1935) starring Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery. Directed by Tay Garnett. Great action with a very deep cast plus all of the usual Gable-Harlow heat.
Wednesday, March 18, 6:30 am - The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) starring Charles Laughton with a host of big-time British actresses playing his various wives, including Elsa Lanchester, Binnie Barnes, Wendy Barrie, and Merle Oberon in a breakthrough role at the open of the film. Directed by Alexander Korda. Playing as part of Robert Donat day. Titanic performance by Laughton who makes the part his and shifts our view of history out of the books and to this movie.
Friday, March 27, 6:30 pm - Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever (1939) starring Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Cecilia Parker, Fay Holden. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke II rather than George B. Seitz, who handled most of the Hardy series. Emerges as the darkest of the bunch. Rooney’s Andy Hardy has a crush on his teacher (Helen Gilbert) that results in more teenage angst than the entire rest of the series combined. It’s likely the least fun for fans of the Hardy series, though if other entries have grated on you, then this is the one to try.
Wednesday, March 4, 10:30 pm - Trade Winds (1938) starring Fredric March and Joan Bennett with TCM's Star of the Month Ann Sothern. Bennett dies her blonde hair a deep black during the action of this one. It works so well for her in this entertaining movie that she keeps it going forward. Good work by March too. Another one from director Tay Garnett.
Friday, March 6, 7:30 am - Central Park (1932) starring Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee, Wallace Ford. D: John Adolfi. Man, John Wray is always so creepy!
Sunday, March 8, 8:30 am - Gun Crazy (1950) starring Peggy Cummins and John Dall, directed by Joseph H. Lewis. See my recent review of Persons in Hiding (1939) for a similar earlier title you really ought to try to get your hands on to pair with this better known noir classic.
Sunday, March 8, 8;00 pm - The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) starring Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, and George Sanders. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. A Twentieth Century-Fox title that hasn't played on TCM for awhile due to rights issues - be sure to catch it now.
Monday, March 9, 6:45 am - Life Begins (1932) starring Loretta Young, Eric Linden, Aline MacMahon. Plus strong support from Glenda Farrell. Directed by James Flood. I really want an Eric Linden day.
Monday, March 9, 8:00 am - Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933) starring Kay Francis, Lyle Talbot, and Glenda Farrell. Directed by Lloyd Bacon. Talbot is a real piece of work in this one.
Tuesday, March 10, 7:15 am - Laugh and Get Rich (1931) starring Hugh Herbert, Edna May Oliver, and Dorothy Lee. Directed by Gregory La Cava.
Tuesday, March 10, 4:30 am - The Shopworn Angel (1938) starring Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, and Walter Pidgeon. Directed by H.C. Potter. A key title for me as I came to embrace Margaret Sullavan throughout 2014. Used to have a hard time with her, now I wish she’d made more movies.
Wednesday, March 11, 11:30 am - Gaslight (1940) starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard. Directed by Thorold Dickinson. I prefer this British made version of the film to the better-known 1944 Hollywood remake.
Thursday, March 12, 1:00 pm - They Died With Their Boots On (1941) starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Directed by Raoul Walsh. Plays again on Saturday, March 28 at 5:30 pm. The one with Olivia’s famous faint. Very entertaining, as is anything propelled by Flynn’s charm and movie star glow.
Thursday, March 12, 4:45 am - Picture Snatcher (1933) starring James Cagney, Ralph Bellamy, and Patricia Ellis. Directed by Lloyd Bacon. Fast-talking Cagney in fast-moving Warner Bros. film ripped right from this headline.
Sunday, March 15, 6:00 am - Gold Diggers of 1935 starring Dick Powell, Adolphe Menjou, Gloria Stuart, Alice Brady. The movie is okay, a bit silly for me, but hang around for Wini Shaw’s “Lullaby of Broadway” performance, which has become one of my two favorite bits of Busby Berkeley choreography. Like my other favorite, “Remember My Forgotten Man” in Gold Diggers of 1933, Lullaby of Broadway tells its own story over several minutes while being catchy as can be in doing so. It comes at the end of the movie, so hang in there—I promise it’s worth it!
Sunday, March 15, 10:15 am - Bright Eyes (1934), the one that made Shirley Temple HUGE. With James Dunn and a wickedly fun Jane Withers. Directed by David Butler.
Monday, March 16, 8:30 am - The Angels Wash Their Faces (1939) starring Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan, and the Dead End Kids. Directed by Ray Enright.
Monday, March 16, 4:15 pm - Boom Town (1940) starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, and Hedy Lamarr. Directed by Jack Conway. Gable and Tracy wrestle each other in business for a good two hours. Some say that running time is too much, but it always keeps me entertained.
Wednesday, March 18, 8:30 am - The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) starring Robert Donat, Elissa Landi, and Louis Calhern. Directed by Rowland V. Lee.
Friday, March 20, 11:30 am - Park Row (1952) starring Gene Evans, Mary Welch, Bala Kovacs. Directed by Samuel Fuller. The newspaper game in 1880s New York.
Friday, March 20, 1:15 pm - 42nd Street (1933) starring Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, and Dick Powell. Directed by Lloyd Bacon with choreography by Busby Berkeley. Okay, we know it doesn’t contain either of my two favorite Berkeley numbers, but it remains my overall favorite of all the movies he worked on.
Saturday, March 21, 8:45 am - White Zombie (1932) starring Bela Lugosi and Madge Bellamy. Directed by Victor Halperin. Indie is inferior to similar horror movies coming from Universal at this time, but Bela’s intensity and the overall atmosphere has grown on me over the years.
Sunday, March 22, 6:00 am - Primrose Path (1940) starring Ginger Rogers, Joel McCrea, and Marjorie Rambeau, who’s incredible as always. Directed by Gregory La Cava. Haven’t had a chance to look into the background of this production yet, but I’d imagine someone had to distract Joe Breen to get it by him.
Wednesday, March 25, 9:30 am - Come and Get It (1936) starring Edward Arnold, Frances Farmer, and Walter Brennan. Directed by Howard Hawks/William Wyler. I love Edward Arnold’s mini-run as a leading man. I prefer Diamond Jim (1935) and The Toast of New York (1937) to this one, but I still like Come and Get It.
Saturday, March 28, 7:00 am - Mata Hari (1931) starring Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro, and Lionel Barrymore. Directed by George Fitzmaurice.
Sunday, March 29, 8:00 pm - Grand Hotel (1932) starring Greta Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Wallace Beery. Directed by Edmund Goulding. I still say Crawford outshines them all. The Barrymore-Garbo love scenes are beginning to drag this one down for me.
Sunday, March 29, 12:00 am - The Penalty (1920) starring Lon Chaney, Ethel Gray Terry, and Charles Clary. Directed by Wallace Worsley.
Monday, March 30, 6:00 am - A Man to Remember (1938) starring Edward Ellis, Anne Shirley, and Lee Bowman. Directed by Garson Kanin. Mentioned a little above as part of Granville Bates day. Which it technically isn’t.
TCM Star of the Month for April is Anthony Quinn.
I'll add a link to Kristina's March Classic Movie Viewing Guide after she posts her round-up of various previews and recommendations at the Speakeasy.
In case you missed it, last month I published a revised edition of my Freddie Bartholomew biography as an eBook for Amazon's Kindle. You can pick it up for just 99¢.
I added a "Personality Index" to the site. It collects every name I've tagged more than once in various reviews and articles. Just another tool to help you find what you're looking for.
Of potential interest to collectors, I've acquired a huge collection of 1910s-50s movie star photos. The greater bulk of the collection are 5x7 fan photos from the 1920s. I've begun listing them on eBay this past week and will continue throughout the greater part of March.
My next review should be of the Warner Archive release They Gave Him a Gun (1937). Look for it by mid-week.