Welcome to another edition of Fedya's “Movies to Tivo” thread, for the week of April 10-16, 2017. I know a lot of you are broken up over the break-up of Aaron Rodgers and Olivia Munn, so why not recover with some good movies? Once again, I've used my good taste to select a bunch of movies that I know you'll all like. As always, all times are in Eastern, unless otherwise mentioned.
There were a lot of silly comedies about heiresses in the 1930s. A good example of this is Maid's Night Out, which will be on TCM at 12:45 PM Monday. Joan Fontaine plays the heiress, Miss Sheila Harrison, who is mistaken for a domestic worker by Bill Norman (Allan Lane). The thing is, Bill is born of wealth himself, being the son of a milk magnate. Bill doesn't want to go into the family business, but to please his father, he's working on the ground floor as a milkman for a month, so that Dad will finance his real love, a trip to the South Seas to study ichthyology. Sheila falls in love with the “milkman” not realizing he's wealthy, much to the consternation of her parents, since they've fallen on hard times and would like Sheila to marry into money. Complications ensue, especially when Sheila has to help with the milk route because Bill is in risk of not living up to his father's standards. This is a fairly routine movie from early in Fontaine's career when she was a contract player at RKO and not a big star.
I think this week might see the TCM premiere of Tales of Manhattan, at 8:00 PM Monday. The “Tales” here is a double entendre, as the movie is an anthology movie of many tales, with a common them being a formal jacket with tails. Henry Fonda gets to do comedy with Ginger Rogers and does well. Charles Boyer seduces married Rita Hayworth. But the best stories involve Charles Laughton and Edward G. Robinson. Laughton is a composer who has written a brilliant concerto that will make him famous, but he can't get anybody to conduct it, and can only conduct it himself if he has a formal coat with tails. The only thing is, the one he gets doesn't fit him right, which shows up at the performance. As for Robinson, he's a lawyer set to go to his law school reunion. Except that he's down on his luck living at the mission (excellent character actor James Gleason runs the mission). Then he gets the coat and can go to the reunion. But somebody is going to try to blow his cover. TCM's schedule lists the running time as 118 minutes in a 135-minute time slot, but there's also a 127-minute version which has a story involving W.C. Fields which was deleted from some prints. In the past when FXM has run the movie they've had the print with the Fields episode.
Over on StarzEncore Westerns, I'll mention The Black Dakotas, which will be on at 2:53 AM Wednesday. If you've ever thought the idea of Mr. Bette Davis (er, Gary Merrill) in a western was odd, well, here's your chance to see for yourself. Merrill plays the nominal bad guy here, a southerner named Brock Marsh who is out in the Dakota territory during the Civil War trying to foment violence so that the Union will be forced to send some of their troops west instead of south. To do so, he takes the identity of an emissary from Lincoln, who is trying to negotiate a peace treaty with the local Sioux. Part of that treaty is going to involve paying off the Sioux with a bunch of gold, and the southerners want the gold for themselves (they need the money) as well as pissing off the Sioux enough to attack the Union. All sorts of complications ensue as the southerners start fighting amongst themselves. Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels have bit parts, but not as the Lone Ranger or Tonto.
Italian-produced period pieces with Hollywood stars were a thing in the 50s and 60s as producers had to use their money in Europe, what with the capital controls. This week's victim is Tab Hunter, slumming it in lovely Italy making The Golden Arrow, which will be seen on TCM at 11:30 AM Wednesday. Hunter plays Hassan, a man who's become an outcast because he's allegedly a thief, but is in fact an Arabian prince! He's going to have to prove himself to win back his title, notably by retrieving the titular “Golden Arrow”, a magic sword. But fortunately he's going to have some help in the form of a bunch of bandits who can seemingly perform magic. So in addition to poor Tab Hunter in a silly costume, we get a bunch of cheesy low-budget special effects. Rossana Podesta plays the kidnapped princess, and the bandits can't quite understand why Hassan refuses to treat her the way a normal criminal would.
Back on FXM Retro is Seven Cities of Gold, which you can catch at 8:35 AM Easter Sunday. The scene is Spanish Mexico in the 1760s, when the conquistadors have heard of the legends of the gold that the native tribes to the north, in what is now California, have hidden. So they, led by Capt. Portola (Anthony Quinn), set out on an expedition to find it. Serving under Portola is Mendoza (Richard Egan), who falls in love with a native girl (Rita Moreno). But she dies accidentally, and the tribes all think that it was murder, so they decide to go after the Spanish with a vengeance. Also along for the expedition is Fr. Junipero Serra (Michael Rennie), who founded missions that would go on to become the big cities of San Diego and Los Angeles, among others. Serra has the Catholic zeal to try to convert all the natives, but also has the humility to try to intercede on their behalf and prevent any massacres. It's not totally accurate history by any means, but it's fairly entertaining.
If you want to watch something that will constantly have you scratching your head, try Guns of the Timberland, which will be on TCM at midnight Thursday (ie. 11:00 PM Wednesday LFT). This is on as part of a night of Frankie Avalon movies – yes, that's Frankie in a western; at least Annette Funicello isn't here. The actual star here is Alan Ladd, whose daughter Alana shows up to be Frankie's love interest. Anyhow, Ladd plays Jim Hadley, leader of a crew of lumberjacks. They show up in a ranching area, with the ranchers being led by Mrs. Riley (Jeanne Crain). The ranchers believe that the loggers are simply going to cut down all of the trees and leave, leaving the land useless and destroying the ranchers' livelihood. So they fight for their livelihood. Hadley himself actually has halfway decent intentions, but his partner Monty (Gilbert Walker) doesn't seem to care about little things like property rights. It's based on a Louis L'Amour story, but the screenplay was actually written by Aaron Spelling. As I said, WTF?
Don Ameche was a contract player at Fox, but he was lent to MGM for The Feminine Touch, which will be on TCM at 3:45 AM Friday. Ameche plays Prof. Hathaway, a college psychology professor who quits because he's asked to pass a football player who otherwise wouldn't pass the class. All for the best, anyway, since he's too stuffy an intellectual and has written a book on the subject of marital jealousy that he wants to get published anyway. So he and his wife (Rosalind Russell) go to New York City to meet with the publishing house. Secretary Nellie (Kay Francis) is interested in the book, and also interested in Prof. Hathaway, something which is sure to make Mrs. Hathaway jealous. But the missus has a trick up her own sleeve. The head of the publishing company, Elliot Morgan (a young Van Heflin) is more interested in Mrs. Hathaway than the professor's book. And interesting if slightly flawed comedy.
Jesus was supposedly crucified on Good Friday. Somebody's going to get crucified for the design flaws in The Towering Inferno, which will be on StarzEncore Classics at 7:43 AM Friday and 3:49 AM Saturday. That person could be architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman), who drew up the plans for the tallest building in San Francisco, a ~120-story monstrosity (why they'd build that high in an earthquake zone is beyond me). Perhaps his design was safe, but his client Jim Duncan (William Holden), had his daughter's husband Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) manage the project, and this might be to blame for the problems in the building. Anyhow, the building is celebrating its grand opening, with a star-studded cast. There's Robert's estranged wife (Faye Dunaway); Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones; Robert Vaughn as a senator; Robert Wagner; and even O.J. Simpson. Once the building catches fire, it's up to fire chief O'Halloran (Steve McQueen) to stop it before too many bigwigs die. Watch the diagonal opening credits: Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were rivals who both wanted top billing (and both got the exact same number of lines), so the producers' compromise was to have one name in the bottom left and the other in the top right so depending on whether you read left-to-right or top-to-bottom, a different name shows up first.
The TCM Spotlight this month is post-war melodramas, and when you think of those, you should think of director Douglas Sirk. There's a night of his movies on Friday in prime time, including All That Heaven Allows at 12:45 AM Saturday. Jane Wyman plays Cary Scott, a wealthy woman in one of those conservative New England towns, who recently became a widow and has adult children. Her gardener Kirby (Rock Hudson) is as erudite as Fedya, and he's taken with Cary. Her children, of course, want her to do the proper thing and marry Harvey (Conrad Nagel), somebody of her social standing. But Cary isn't so sure. She likes Kirby a lot more than Harvey, but she also realizes that all her friends aren't going to approve of marriage to a man much younger than her and also the hired help. Can Cary find true happiness? Douglas Sirk films are always entertaining, but there's also the risk of overpraising them simply because of the perception that they challenge 1950s values.
Easter is this week, and if you want to see the Easter bunny, you're not quite going to find it in Night of the Lepus, which will be on TCM at 11:30 PM Saturday. Rory Calhoun plays Cole Hillman, a rancher out west who realizes he's got a rabbit problem on his hands. For obvious reasons he'd like the problem solved, but preferably not by poisoning them but instead just having the rabbits stop, well, ****ing like rabbits. To that end he calls the president of his alma mater, Bones McCoy (well, actually the character is named Clark but played by DeForest Kelley). He gets in touch with zoologist Roy Bennett (Stuart Whitman) who brings his wife (Janet Leigh) with him and decides a course of hormone therapy is in order. Except, of course, that the therapy doesn't work as intended, instead leading to a bunch of giant mutant rabbits that are carnivorous and would like to eat humans! Micah Torrance (er, Paul Fix) comes out of North Fork and The Rifleman to play the local sheriff.