Welcome to another edition of Fedya's “Movies to Tivo” Thread, for the week of July 25-31, 2016. Packer training camp opens this week, but there are five meaningless exhibition football games before the real football begins. So while you're waiting for real football, why not enjoy some good movies instead? As always, I've used my good taste to bring you an interesting cross-section of the good flicks you can catch this week. Times are in Eastern, of course, unless otherwise mentioned.
We'll start off this week with something not on TCM: Destry Rides Again, at 7:50 AM Monday on StarzEncore Westerns. James Stewart plays Tom Destry Jr., but more on him in a bit. The western town of Bottleneck is lawless, mostly because it's run by land-shark Kent (Brian Donlevy) and the saloon owner Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich), who have run off a bunch of sheriffs. The new sheriff Dimsdale (Charles Winninger) decides he's going to change things by hiring Tom Destry Jr., son of a previous sheriff, as a deputy. What he doesn't realize is that Destry Jr. is the polar opposite of his father, being very mild-mannered and not wanting to commit violence. Things begin to change around town, however, when Frenchy begins to fall for Tom. This is a relatively comic western, as can be seen from the actor playing cowboy turned second deputy, Mischa Auer.
On Monday night, TCM is shining a light on actor Robert Francis, a promising young actor who made four films before his untimely death in a plane crash. He's probably best known for his role as the young naval officer with a girlfriend back home in The Caine Mutiny (airing at midnight Tuesday ie. 11:00 PM Monday LFT), but this week I'll recommend The Bamboo Prison instead; that's on at 10:30 PM Monday. In this one, Francis plays Sgt. Rand, an American officer who was taken POW during the Korean War and is still at a POW camp, even though he's turned and become a supporter of Communism. New to the prison is Cpl. Brady (Brian Keith), who is really there to find out what's going on with all the American POWs. He discovers that Sgt. Rand may not be all he seems to. There's EG Marshall as a communist-sympathizing priest, and a Soviet ballerina who married another American turncoat.
A movie returning to FXM Retro after an absence is The Adventures of Hajji Baba, at 11:55 AM Tuesday and 10:10 AM Wednesday. Hajji Baba, played by John Derek, is a barber in medieval Persia who, while out in the desert, runs into Princess Fawzia (Elaine Stewart) and her entourage. She's being taken to be married off to a prince in an arranged marriage which should cement her father's power and wealth. She doesn't want that, and when she finds out just who this prince is, Hajji helps fight off the prince, winning Fawzia's affection. Of course, this is a problem since a princess can't be in love with a commoner. There's also the problem of the Turkoman warriors, a group of amazons led by Banah (Amanda Blake, who would go on to be Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke). They take Hajji and Fawzia hostage. It's all a moderately entertaining adventure yarn, although the last time it showed up on FXM they butchered it by showing a pan-and-scan print. (Oh, and the less said about the title song, the better.)
We get two final days of westerns as part of TCM's salute to 100 great westerns. One that I don't think I've recommended before is Wild Rovers, at 1:30 AM Wednesday. William Holden plays Ross, an aging cowhand who has become a sort of mentor to Frank (Ryan O'Neal), who is young enough to be Ross' son. Frank looks at Ross and decides that he doesn't want to be like Ross when he gets to be that age, instead wanting something better from life. This, especially after they see another cowhand die in an accident. So Frank gets the brilliant idea of robbing the local bank and taking the money to make a fresh start in life; Ross reluctantly goes along. The robbery goes off OK, except that their boss Walter (Karl Malden), who owns practically everything around and whose money was most of the bank's deposits, wants his money back. So Walter has his two sons (Joe Don Baker and Tom Skerritt) pursue the robbers. This was directed by Blake Edwards, of all people, somebody you wouldn't necessarily think of when it comes to westerns.
Thursday morning and afternoon sees a birthday salute to Joe E. Brown on TCM, with a lot of his early comedies being highlighted. One of his movies I think I haven't recommended before is Sally, airing at 7:45 AM Thursday. Sally, played by Marilyn Miller, is a woman who was left at an orphanage as a child, growing up with a hard life and wanting to make it as a singer and dancer. Now working as a waitress, she meets a theatrical agent who might give her a chance, except that she accidentally spills food in his lap – there goes the chance. She meets a wealthy scion who is taken with her dancing, watching it through the windows of the restaurant, but his dad wants him to marry a more suitable socialite. Still, Sally pursues her dream of making it on the Broadway stage. Joe E. Brown plays a platonic friend, a former Grand Duke impoverished by a European revolution. This film is taken from a musical of the same name which made Miller a star a decade earlier, and which introduced the song “Look for the Silver Lining”. The movie was originally made in two-strip Technicolor, but only one scene survives that way today.
We get one final look at America in the 1970s on TCM in prime time Thursday night, with films such as Let's Do It Again at 4:00 AM Friday. Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier (the latter also directed) play a pair of friends who are also members of a fraternal lodge that's failing financially. So the two get a daring idea. They'll take the lodge's building fund, and go to New Orleans to sponsor boxer Bootey (Jimmie Walker, just before Good Times). However, he's no good, and the only way they get can get him to be any good involves Poitier hypnotizing him. They place wagers on him and those wagers pay off, but that brings the attention of the mob which controls all those bookies, since this isn't Vegas. If it weren't for the recent sexual assault allegations, you might be surprised at Cosby's brand of comedy here; Poitier is OK but isn't the world's best comic actor by a long shot. You probably already know the title song, by the Staple Singers.
On Friday, TCM is showing a bunch of movies with actress-turned-First Lady Nancy Davis. One that doesn't show up so often is Donovan's Brain, which is on at 3:30 PM Friday. Former Dr. Kildare Lew Ayres stars as Dr. Cory, who has been doing research on the brains of lesser primates, and keeping them alive outside their animal bodies. He gets an opportunity to do much greater research, however, when the financier Donovan is in an accident, and Cory tries to keep the brain alive in an electromagnetic bath and do research on it. What he doesn't know, however, is that Donovan was a pretty bad man, and that the brain in that bath is beginning to develop telepathic powers, taking over the body of Dr. Cory! Nancy plays Mrs. Cory, who is the one to get the realization that they're going to have to unplug Donovan's brain, but by this time it's not only taking over Dr. Cory's body, but developing its own defense mechanisms.
If you like recent movies, you might enjoy Fletch, which is running on StarzEncore Classics at 10:50 AM Sunday, and on various channels in the Starz family at various other times. Chevy Chase plays Irwin Fletcher, nicknamed “Fletch”, an investigative journalist currently doing a story on the illicit drug trade. While researching that story and in disguise as a beach bum, he's approached by the wealthy Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson), who has an unsual request: he's dying of cancer, and would like the “bum” to kill him. Fletch, good journalist that he is, decides to do an undercover investigation on Stanwyk, and determines that Stanwyk is in fact quite healthy, and in fact may be involved with the drug trade going on on the beach, as well as a whole lot of other things. Of course, Chevy Chase being a comic actor, he gets to deliver a lot of funny lines and don a bunch of disguises, but there is a pretty solid mystery here.
TCM is showing a bunch of race movies tonight, and then another block of them next Sunday night. One of the interesting ones next Sunday is Dirty Gertie from Harlem USA at 9:15. This is a version of the "Miss [Sadie] Thompson" story from Somerset Maugham later retitled Rain; under the latter title it was a big movie for Joan Crawford in the early 1930s. The story involves a woman of ill repute who, in order to escape her past in the US, has decamped to tropical islands, the Caribbean in this all-black version. A preacher comes to the islands and tries to reform our heroine. And this is where part of the problem with this version comes in. Black audiences of the day had even more reverence for men of the cloth than white audiences would have, so the director had to change the ending of Maugham's story to fit in with the sensibilities of black audiences. Except that the new ending is a cop-out. And then there's Gertie, who unfortunately isn't all that dirty, just doing a littly shimmying in her big nightclub scene towards the end. Still, this is an interesting movie to watch just to see how the story was changed.
And as for the shorts? Well, TCM's shorts haven't been programmed too far in advance. The Ace Drummond serial is technically a bunch of two-reel chapters, and TCM is finishing up the series with the final five chapters this Saturday at 9:30 AM, before Summer Under the Stars and something new will be replacing it come September. One that is one the schedule, however, is Facing Your Danger, at 7:12 AM Wednesday (following Quantrill's Raiders at 6:00 AM). This is a Technicolor short about the first successful run down the rapids of Arizona's portion of the Colorado River, at least in the days before the Glen Canyon Dam was built and screwed up the river's flow even more. (Hoover Dam had already been built by this time.) Quite a few people died trying to race the rapids, which were apparently quite dangerous. The footage would probably look even more spectacular on the big screen.