By John Seal
April 19, 2004
From the obscure to the obscurest to the merely overlooked or underappreciated; they all have a home in the TiVoPlex! All times Pacific.
11am Turner Classic Movies
Harold Lloyd’s Funny Side of Life (1963 USA): This entertaining clip compilation - featuring scenes selected by Lloyd himself - was released a year after the box office success of an earlier anthology, Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy. The late ‘50s and early ‘60s saw renewed worldwide interest in the works of the silent funnymen, with Chaplin reissuing and re-scoring his Little Tramp comedies, Buster Keaton’s career rejuvenated by AIP comedies, and similar slapstick collections like Robert Youngson’s The Big Parade of Comedy (1964 USA) filling theaters. Funny Side of Life only did middling business (it ended up primarily playing at colleges in the United States, but did better overseas), but is an excellent primer for those unfamiliar with the mild-mannered Nebraskan’s groundbreaking brand of high-altitude comedy. For those looking to further explore Lloyd’s work, a mouthwatering selection of hard-to-see rarities is scheduled immediately afterwards, starting at 12:30pm with 1919’s Bumping into Broadway, featuring Harold as a love-struck playwright bankrupting himself to win the hand of lovely young actress Bebe Daniels. It’s followed by 1920’s Number, Please? (one of the few Lloyd films currently available on DVD) at 1pm; An Eastern Westerner (1920 USA), featuring Harold as an East Coast toff sent out West for toughening, airs at 1:30pm; and 1921’s Now or Never - with Harold as a child-hating babysitter - airs at 2pm. Another 1921 Hal Roach production, Among Those Present, is scheduled at 2:45pm, and stars Harold as a bellboy masquerading as nobility, whilst the oft-seen Grandma’s Boy (1922 USA) rounds out the schedule at 4pm. Even though TCM has aired this one in the past, it remains one of my favorite Lloyd comedies, and is well worth a second (or third) viewing.
Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary (2002 OST): Traudl Junge, who served as Hitler’s secretary from 1942 until his suicide shortly before the collapse of the Third Reich three years later, appeared in this film shortly before her own demise in 2002. Apparently desperate for redemption as her life drew to a close, Junge opened up for directors Andre Heller and Othmar Schmiderer, sharing her insights about the Führer and proclaiming her ignorance of the horrors of Nazi Germany. Blind Spot went on to win awards at both the Berlin and Chicago International Film Festivals, and is a companion piece of sorts to The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993 GER), another pseudo-apologia about a misguided German woman’s dalliance with Nazism. Unfortunately, this won’t be the last film of its kind, as George Santayana’s famous quote about ignorance and historical memory is as relevant as ever today. Perhaps in 30 years’ time we’ll find out that Condoleeza Rice was mesmerized by Dick Cheney’s magnetic personality. Also airs at 8:30pm.
4:05am More Max
The Frisco Kid (1979 USA): Ah, the venerable Jewish western. This thoroughly amusing (and still unavailable on DVD) buddy movie features Gene Wilder as a Polish rabbi en route to his new synagogue out west. Along the way his Torah is stolen, and he hooks up with reluctant outlaw-with-a-heart-of-gold Harrison Ford, who helps him maneuver his way through inhospitable territory, recalcitrant villains and uncooperative Native Americans on his way to San Francisco, a city Wilder’s character believes to be “somewhere near New York”. Director Robert Aldrich’s penultimate film, The Frisco Kid successfully blends action and comedy elements and features cinema villain William Smith, Vincent Schiavelli, and Hollywood old-timer Ian Wolfe in supporting roles. It’s not quite Blazing Saddles, but it has its moments, including a hilarious dance sequence featuring Wilder and a tribe of Indians.
5:15am Turner Classic Movies
Tough Guy (1936 USA): TCM has a huge block of dogs scheduled this morning. No, the films aren’t all that bad (though certainly none could be considered classics), but they do all feature canine characters in lead roles. I’m certainly not going to recommend all of them (I’m not barking mad, after all, and I’ve never had much time for Lassie), but this Rin Tin Tin bill-filler has an intriguing cast that will interest old-time film fans. Besides Rinty (actually Rin Tin Tin II, replacing his father, who had died in 1932), Tough Guy features Jackie Cooper as a teenage runaway who ends up needing the trusty German Shepherd’s aid whilst escaping from gangsters portrayed by Dwight Frye, Mischa Auer and a typecast Joseph Calleia. It’s a pleasant if insignificant diversion co-written by the appropriately named Edgar Allan Woolf. A pair of RKO quickies, My Pal Wolf (1944 USA) and Banjo (1947 USA), follow at 6:30am and 7:45am respectively, and are primarily of interest thanks to the presence in both of child actress Sharyn Moffett and shrill termagant Una O’Connor, the impossibly annoying Minnie of 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein. Oddly, these films were both written by Lillie Hayward, whose career encompassed a wide range of animal films, including My Friend Flicka (1943 USA), Black Beauty (1946 USA), and Disney’s The Shaggy Dog (1959 USA), amongst others. On the plus side, Hayward also wrote the grossly underappreciated 1942 Fox horror flick The Undying Monster, in addition to a number of pre-Code Warner’s dramas, but she’s best remembered today for her affinity for a less gruesome variety of creature feature.
6:30pm Fox Movie Channel
Hoffa (1992 USA): It’s not the best biopic ever made by any means, but Hoffa benefits from a fine Jack Nicholson performance as rough-hewn Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa, whose mysterious disappearance from a Michigan restaurant in 1975 still provokes controversy today. The film’s biggest problem is director Danny DeVito, who seems more interested in getting screen time for his own character, Bobby Ciaro, and who seems patently unsuited for the task of bringing David Mamet’s screenplay about union corruption to the screen. Though it’s always good to see familiar faces like John C. Reilly, J. T. Walsh and Cliff Gorman, Hoffa is overstuffed with characters and wears out its welcome long before its 140-minute running time is up. Nonetheless, this gets a qualified recommendation based on Nicholson’s performance and the fact that Fox is airing it wide-screen. Hoffa is a disaster in pan-and-scan, so if you have any interest in seeing it, have a look tonight.
Alexei and the Spring (2002 JAP): In 1997, Japanese director Motohashi Seiichi went to Belarus and made a film, Nadya’s Village, about the after-effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on the surrounding regions. This is a sequel of sorts to that film, focusing less on the disaster’s immediate impact and more on the post-meltdown return to “normalcy” in the tiny hamlet of Budische. Narrated by a 34-year-old village resident named Alexei, the film looks at the remaining handful of mostly elderly villagers who refused to relocate to urban public housing after the 1986 disaster. An elegiac Ryuichi Sakamoto score adds piquancy to the tale, which focuses on the miraculously uncontaminated titular spring that provides well water for the village. Filled with striking imagery by cinematographer Masafumi Ichinose, this is a love poem for the rapidly disappearing, slow-paced rhythms of life in rural Eurasia.
Rude Boy (1980 GB): This rough-and-ready kitchen-sink drama drew attention on release thanks to its connection to the “only band that matters”, The Clash. Whilst it’s true that Joe Strummer and company were an incomparable live act (I bore witness to their magnificence twice, in 1979 and 1980), the sad fact is that this isn’t really a very good movie. Written for the screen by Clash fan Ray Gange, who cast himself as a sycophantic roadie, Rude Boy is an overlong, under produced, and poorly acted look at punk rock and working-class life circa late 1970s Britain. Still and all, if you’re a Clash fan or aging punk, you absolutely have to see it, and at least there’s some fun to be had spotting faces in the background, including those of Sham 69 big mouth Jimmy Pursey and punk publicist and author Caroline Coon.
Butterfly (2000 USA): It’s strange working at a Web site. You rarely meet your bosses or your co-workers, but you become intimately familiar with them nonetheless. You start to imagine what they look like, how they talk, how they walk…and if you do eventually meet them, they generally don’t really live up (or down) to your expectations. The talk around BOP is that I’m some tree-huggin’, free lovin’, acid-droppin’, freak-flag wavin’, commune-livin’ long-haired Bay Area hippie. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I live in a big city, I’ve been faithful to the same woman for a good 20 years, I’ve never even seen LSD, and I can’t stand it when my hair touches my collar. By the way, this is a really interesting documentary about Julia “Butterfly” Hill, who squatted in an old-growth redwood for two years in an effort to halt the harvesting of trees by the Pacific Lumber Company in environmentally fragile areas of Northern California. Power to the people!
5am Turner Classic Movies
Kiss Me Deadly (1955 USA): Hard to believe that after 18 months of writing this column, I haven’t previously had the opportunity to recommend Robert Aldrich’s noir nightmare about a suitcase full of radioactive MacGuffins and the mayhem surrounding it. I don’t know whether TCM is airing the version with the “happy” ending or the version with the apocalyptic ending, but either way, this is one of the furthest-out films of the 1950s and will impress even the most ADD-addled post-baby boom young adults. Very loosely based on Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer stories, the film stars Ralph Meeker as the hyper-masculine private dick on the trail of the deadly luggage, as well as long-forgotten sex kitten Gaby Rodgers as a slinky bad girl with one eye on Hammer and the other on her ulterior motives. Ernest Laszlo’s black-and-white photography is some of the best you’ll ever see, A. I. Bezzerides’ screenplay is replete with snappy one-liners and twisty plot turns, and your head will be spinning by the final reel regardless of which version ends up being aired. It may not be one of the 20 greatest films of all time, but it does rest comfortably on my list of 20 personal favorites.
9pm Turner Classic Movies
The Ring (1927 USA): Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock’s most satisfying silent feature, The Ring has long been overshadowed by his Jack the Ripper fantasy of the same year, The Lodger. Seventy-five years on, The Ring remains in the shadows, appearing as a bonus feature on the DVD release of the inferior crime thriller Number 17 (1932 GB). Starring Carl Brisson and Ian Hunter as a pair of boxers wooing ticket-seller Lillian Hall-Davis, the film features terrific fight sequences, some surprisingly acrobatic camera work, and a small but memorable performance by Gordon Harker, who worked with Hitchcock again in the following year’s inferior comedy, Champagne. Though it doesn’t have the pedigree or the acclaim of Hitch’s more atypical films of the 1920s and ‘30s, The Ring deserves better, and its appearance tonight will hopefully help raise its profile in the Master of Suspense’s filmography.
The Hard Word (2002 AUS): Here’s one that scuttled in and out of theaters faster than you could say g’day, mate. Starring Memento man Guy Pearce as a mustachioed villain plotting one of those big heists designed to ease the way to early retirement, The Hard Word (making its television premiere this evening) is an unexceptional but quite watchable Australian crime drama. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but its antipodean setting is a welcome diversion, Pearce is good, and co-star Rachel Griffiths is decent as an overdressed gangster’s moll. Also airs at 4:15am.
3am Turner Classic Movies
’Neath Brooklyn Bridge (1942 USA): By now you should know the drill, and this week’s East Side Kids flick offers no surprises in its idealized and nostalgic tale of youth in the Bowery. This time Glimpy, Muggs, and company find themselves mixed up in murder as they try to clear the name of sweet young thing Ann Gillis, so for a change, there’s no big fight scene involving eternal punching bag Bobby Jordan. But fear not, gangster fans! TiVoPlex favorite Marc Lawrence is on hand as a villain, allowing the world to continue spinning on its axis. ‘Neath Brooklyn Bridge is a thoroughly ordinary East Side Kids movie: if you’ve seen one, you really have seen them all, but there’s definitely something comforting about the predictable path they tread.