The entire month of November has reminded me of Dr Strangelove, one of my favorite Kubrick films. The idea was that Stanley Kubrick read this very serious screenplay and after finishing it, said no one would believe it isn’t a dark comedy! The past few years, in fact, have been like a page out of Strangelove!
This month on Turner Classic Movies, we recommend our Armchair Film Festival attendees should record:
The Stanley Kubrick Fest:
Featuring Dr Strangelove: How I stopped worrying and learned to love the Bomb, showing this month on Turner Classic and featuring Peter Sellers in three parts, including the infamous Strangelove himself. 2001: A Space Odyssey is also showing (Doubles as part of our Sci-Fi fest too!)
Hitchcock Festival: Rear Window/ The Birds/ Marnie & Torn Curtain
These are some of my favorite Hitchcock films showing this month on TCM. They show The Birds and Rear Window frequently, but Marnie is one that isn’t shown as much. Some of the more misogynist overtones of the Hitchcock era are on display in Marnie, but the psychological aspects of character are rarely explored in films of this era.
In The Birds, Hitchcock is at his most “Hitchcockian” level in this film with Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. There is a theme of the quiet rebellion that flows throughout the film. The terror is in the quiet moments really, where the gathering flocks are massing.
Torn Curtain is another one that doesn’t get a lot of air time. One of the more memorable scenes is one where Paul Newman, who is trying to escape from behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War era, is discovered as a spy and struggles to kill a man. The struggle is so intense and real that later Hitchcock remarked that he wanted to depict the act of murdering someone as something that is not easy, as was often depicted in films. Instead, it was difficult and showed the violent act as it might actually occur when someone is fighting for their life!
The Pioneers of MeToo:
Myrna Loy in The Thin Man is at her best trading witticisms with her screen husband William Powell in this film series based on Dashiell Hammett’s characters. Myrna Loy reprised this role for a series of films as the cool and collected wife, Nora, helping her detective husband Nick Charles, solve crimes.
Gene Tierney in The Ghost and Mrs Muir is also cool and collected in this romantic ghost story/fantasy about a young widow with a daughter (young Natalie Wood!) , who moves into a house that’s haunted by the powerful personality and spirit of a dead sea captain, played by Rex Harrison.
The Hurt Locker – This film is memorable in the annals of “#MeToo” history as it was the first to give the Academy Award for Best Director to a woman. We have had some wonderful female directors in years past: notably Sofia Coppola, Ida Lupino, Penny Marshall, and many other brilliant women filmmakers who paved the way. But it was not until 2008 that the Academy decided to give the award for Best Director to Kathryn Bigelow.
My Brilliant Career -Judy Davis has had a remarkable career, and this Australian film, beautifully photographed and also starring Sam Neill, is one that was considered a breakout performance for Davis. It was one of the few films that depicted the life of a young woman, in an era that Jane Austen and others knew well, where the only way to advance your career was to marry! Davis’ character had different ambitions, and this film was one of the first to show an independent young woman from Victorian life who was not set on simply settling for marriage.
Comedies to record:
A Hard Days Night is a film that could be considered a musical comedy. It was so unique for its time, as were the Beatles, and that makes it hard to categorize. There are some funny moments with the four ‘mop-top’ lads from Liverpool as they get ready for an appearance on a television show and the camera follows them through a “Day in the Life” of their meteoric rise to fame.
Duck Soup is one of the Marx Brothers films that I find easiest to watch. There are funny moments with the Marx Brothers, but you need to be in a certain mood to simply not worry about plot and the logic of plot points. The lingering chaos that reigns in all Marx Brothers films is held together by the steady influence of the surrounding players such as the character actress Margaret Dumont, seen in so many of their movies. She leaves us with the lingering impression of permanent fantasy with the closing lines: “Hail Freedonia!” (A perfect metaphor for a chaotic Election Season!)
My Favorite Year is just a standout performance from Peter O’ Toole and one of his rare comedies. Earth Girls are Easy is a film from 1988 that features a young Jim Carrey in a breakout performance as one of the aliens who lands in Geena Davis’ home. The Paleface with Bob Hope was remade as The Shakiest Gun in the West with Don Knotts. The two films are shown side by side, with Bob Hope and Don Knotts playing the same basic role of a fish out of a water. They both play a dentist who winds up in the Wild West and is saved in both instances by a beautiful and tough frontier woman who is handy with a gun!
Marjorie Main in Ma and Pa Kettle probably laid out the baseline character for so many of the rural comedies that made it to television in later years. There was the Beverly Hillbillies, then Green Acres, both hit comedies of the sixties. Some may remember The Real McCoys with Walter Brennan, which predated both of the hit TV shows. All of them were shows depicting comic life in rural America. No one was funnier than the original pair in Ma & Pa Kettle, and there were several spin-off films from the original.
Groundbreaking Science Fiction: 2001 and Solaris
From the Book: 6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village, there is a quote about 2001: A Space Odyssey that says it works ‘on many different levels and is the gold standard for most science fiction films of the latter part of the twentieth century’ It is definitely the one film that stands up and is in marked contrast with Star Wars, which defined all outer space films for the last quarter century and more.
The other ground-breaking film was Solaris, from 1972. This Russian film was adapted from a noted Polish author, Stanislaw Lem. It’s a psychological study about a man who is sent to unravel the mystery of a death aboard a space station located on a distant planet,
The Best of Elvis:
In the rich panoply of information on Elvis Presley, we tend to forget his career as a movie star. Of the many films Elvis made, Jailhouse Rock was considered one of his best.
Cary Grant Fest:
That Touch of Mink is considered a dated comedy, but there are so many rich scenes in it. One is the scene where Doris Day is given a job working with computers and we see the idea of how computing was done in a very primitive state with a room full of massive machines to compute data. The other great scene is with the talented character actor John Astin, whom we know as Gomez Addams from the Addams Family TV sitcom. The other comedy featuring Cary Grant, Indiscreet, is also a dated plot. Grant pretends to be married and is discovered to be single by his new girlfriend, played by Ingrid Bergman. One of the best scenes is near the end where Grant is dancing at a party and full of good humor while Bergman is plotting against him and smiling as she watches him ham it up. This is a classic comedy, and definitely recommended viewing.
The American Musical:
An American in Paris is recommended for anyone who has never seen the film. The Gershwin music steals the show, and the dance sequences are all memorable ones with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. From 6 Degrees of Film: “Gene Kelly stylishly executed many dance moves that broke the rules when he filmed this beautiful musical with Paris and a host of Gershwin tunes as the backdrop.”
The entire month is filled with so many classic series of films that are ‘must-see’ from great actors and some of Hollywood’s best-known directors. Don’t miss any of these classics, and don’t forget to set your machines to record all month long on Turner Classic! It’s one of the best ways to watch movies in this era of Covid-19…Until we are back in theatres, film fans, stay safe and I’ll see you at the movies!-ML