Saturday, April 30, 2011

TCM in May: Highlights

It doesn't seem possible tomorrow is May 1st, but here we are! It's time to review another month of interesting viewing choices on Turner Classic Movies.

Esther Williams is the May Star of the Month, with her films airing beginning Thursday, May 5th. I'll be posting more details on that a couple of days from now.

Here's a look at a few of this month's highlights:

...May 3rd is an eight-film tribute to Mary Astor, including the classic comedy MIDNIGHT (1939) and Astor's Oscar-winning role in THE GREAT LIE (1941).

...On May 5th there's a lineup of "family" films including MOTHER CAREY'S CHICKENS (1941), YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938), ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952), THE HAPPY TIME (1952), and SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN (1963). SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN, based on a book by Earl Hamner Jr., stars Maureen O'Hara and Henry Fonda, with James MacArthur as "Clayboy."

...BACK FROM ETERNITY (1956), shown on May 7th, is a remake of the classic "B" movie FIVE CAME BACK (1939), about plane passengers stranded in a Very Bad Place. Robert Ryan stars, and that's reason enough for many of us to be interested in seeing it.

...Mother's Day, on May 8th, has a day-long schedule of films celebrating mothers. If you've never seen it, treat yourself to Irene Dunne in one of her best roles, starring in I REMEMBER MAMA (1948). Dunne received her fifth and final Best Actress nomination for this movie; it's a shame she never received one, given the excellence of her career. Dunne could do it all: comedy, drama, accents, and a beautiful singing voice, too.

...I've not seen it yet, but have read that some think Hedy Lamarr's best role was in H.M. PULHAM, ESQ. (1941), also starring Robert Young. It's on May 9th.

...Also on the 9th, I'm quite intrigued by the pairing of Joan Fontaine and Mario Lanza in SERENADE (1956), directed by Anthony Mann.

...May 11th is "must viewing" for classic film fans. An interesting lineup of Joan Bennett titles kicks off with Fritz Lang's SCARLET STREET (1945), costarring Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea. The real highlight of the evening, however, is the rarely seen TRADE WINDS (1938), costarring Fredric March, Ann Sothern, and Ralph Bellamy. During the course of this film Bennett transforms herself from a blonde to a brunette -- and she remained a brunette for the rest of her career!

...After TRADE WINDS, the film I'm most excited about in May is LYDIA (1941), starring Merle Oberon and Joseph Cotten. I read about it years ago in Lawrence J. Quirk's THE GREAT ROMANTIC FILMS, but this will be my first opportunity to see it. It airs Sunday, May 15th.

...A day of films on Henry Fonda's birthday, May 16th, includes one of his finest roles, in John Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939). Listen for Alfred Newman's "Ann Rutledge Theme," which reappears in later films including BELLE STARR (1941) and Ford's THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962).

...One of the completely unknown titles I plan to check out this month is BETWEEN TWO WOMEN (1937), starring Franchot Tone, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Virginia Bruce. It airs May 17th as part of a nine-film O'Sullivan birthday tribute. Other choice titles that day include PAYMENT DEFERRED (1932) with Ray Milland and WOMAN WANTED (1935) with Joel McCrea.

...May 20th is James Stewart's birthday. There are several excellent films on the schedule; those who've never seen him in ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) should make plans to check it out. He's superb. I love the bits with his fishing tackle.

...VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1954) is on May 21st. One of my daughters and I came across this Robert Taylor-Eleanor Parker film on a Saturday morning a few years ago, and we couldn't stop watching. It's not really a great movie, but it's quite entertaining.

...The romantic comedy SUNDAY IN NEW YORK (1963) was recently issued by the Warner Archive in a remastered widescreen print. TCM has showed a pan and scan print of this film in the past, and TCM's Now Playing guide doesn't indicate the May 22nd airing will be widescreen; I hope they're going to be able to upgrade the print they show at some point.

...ON MOONLIGHT BAY (1951) is a favorite Doris Day musical, with a nice MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS feel to it -- it's even got Leon Ames playing her father. Gordon MacRae is the boy next door. It's shown on May 23rd.

...SOUTH PACIFIC (1958) is one of the weaker translations of Rodgers & Hammerstein from stage to screen -- I'll never understand the colored lenses! -- but it's still got a lot to recommend it, including Mitzi Gaynor in the lead, Ray Walston perfectly cast as Luther Billis, and superb orchestrations of the brilliant score. It's definitely worth checking out when TCM shows it on May 24th.

...Director Archie Mayo will be honored with a six-film tribute on May 25th, including a pre-Code I've heard is quite good, THE LIFE OF JIMMY DOLAN (1933), starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Loretta Young. I suspect the film might be worth watching even if only to see two of the most attractive stars of '30s films!

...There's another birthday tribute on May 26th, this time celebrating John Wayne. There's a bunch of good movies on tap, including the cute romantic comedy WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (1946), but I consider the pick of the day to be RIO BRAVO (1959), which is simply one of the greatest Westerns ever made. Wayne's character even inspired the name of our dog, Chance!

...I love submarine movies, and Robert Montgomery in a submarine is even better! The pre-Code HELL BELOW (1933) will be shown as part of the Memorial Day weekend lineup on Friday, May 27th. It teams Montgomery with his frequent costar Madge Evans, and it costars Walter Huston, Eugene Pallette, Robert Young, and Jimmy Durante (?!).

...Montgomery will be seen again on the 29th in one of the truly great war films, THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), costarring John Wayne and Donna Reed. Montgomery also did uncredited work on the film assisting director John Ford.

...There are many more classic war films showing Memorial Day weekend, including Cary Grant in DESTINATION TOKYO (1943) on the 27th, Spencer Tracy in THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944) on the 28th, Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, John Hodiak, and James Whitmore in BATTLEGROUND (1949) on the 29th, and SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944) and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946) on the 30th.

...After a weekend paying tribute to the military, the month concludes on a lighter note on the 31st, with a batch of Westerns, including Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in MY PAL TRIGGER (1946) and Fred MacMurray and Anne Baxter in the 20th Century-Fox film SMOKY (1946). I'm always glad to see a Fox film turn up on TCM.

There are many more excellent movies playing on TCM this month; for further information, please consult the complete schedule.

Happy May viewing!

Update: TCM Star of the Month: Esther Williams.


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