Welcome to another edition of Fedya's "Movies to Tivo" Thread, for the week of February 11-17, 2019. Valentine's Day is this week, so if you've got a romantic partner, or a numbered list of them, why not sit down with dinner and a good movie? Once again, I've used my good taste to select a bunch of movies I know you'll all find interesting. No Star of the Month, of course, since TCM is busy with 31 Days of Oscar, but there's still a wealth of good stuff. As always, all times are in Eastern, unless otherwise mentioned.
Albert Finney died late last week, after I had posted last Sunday's thread recommending his performance as Daddy Warbucks in the musical version of Annie. That's going to be on again Monday at 1:30 AM on StarzEncore Family. I'm also sorry to say that TCM just happened to schedule Tom Jones for this past Friday, just hours after news of his death came out. But in addition to Annie, there's some other Finney stuff on various cable channels this week. Finney's fifth and final Oscar nomination came for Erin Brockovich, which is going to be on Starz Cinema at 12:34 PM Wednesday. Julia Roberts plays the title character, who finds that a big company has possibly been poisoning a small town's water supply, and starts a class action lawsuit. Of course, the real-life Brockovich isn't quite the person portrayed in the movie, but that's another story. There's also Big Fish, on HBO2 at 8:00 AM Sunday, about a now-dying man (Finney) whose estranged son (Billy Crudup) returns home to try to figure out which of the tall tales Dad has been telling about himself are actually true.
Getting to regularly scheduled programming, TCM's 31 Days of Oscar continues with the fun The Star, at 2:00 PM Monday. Bette Davis plays the titular star, an actress named Margaret Elliot whose best days are behind her. She can't get juicy roles; her husband divorced her and her daughter Gretchen (Natalie Wood) lives with Dad; and creditors are coming after her. So she decides to celebrated her fall from grace by getting drunk and driving drunk through Beverly Hills with one of her Oscars (the statuette is one of Davis's two real-life Oscars) on the dashboard! After the inevitable crash, boat builder Jim Johanssen (Sterling Hayden) comes to bail her out, and lets her live with him! It turns out the 15 years earlier, Margaret plucked Jim from obscurity to try to make him a Hollywood leading man, but he had no acting aptitude. Still, he's going to try to reform her and teach her there's life after Hollywood. But Margaret wants another leading role.... Bette Davis chews the scenery but good, and the movie is a whole lot of fun.
Those of you who like musicals might be interested to know that there was a movie version of The Pirates of Penzance, and that it's going to be on at 4:18 AM Tuesday on Starz Family. Based on the operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan, Rex Smith plays Frederic, a man who got apprenticed as a pirate thanks to a mistake from his childhood maid Ruth (Angela Lansbury): he was supposed to be a ship's pilot, not a ship's pirate. But the indenture is over, his having reached legal age. So he and Ruth leave the foppish pirates of Penzance led by the Pirate King (Kevin Kline) and return to land. It's there that Frederic meets Mabel (Linda Ronstadt), the daughter of the very model of a modern major-general (George Rose), and the two fall in love. However, Frederic's past as a pirate's apprentice may come back to haunt him, in more ways than one. An interesting bit of trivia is that the original opera actually premiered in New York: there was no copyright treaty between the US and UK at the time, and Gilbert and Sullivan assembled two complete casts to perform the show on either side of the Atlantic before any unapproved copies of the music and libretto could make their way across the ocean.
A few months back I mentioned the Leslie Nielsen movie Night Train to Paris. A much better movie is Night Train to Munich, airing at 4:00 PM Tuesday on TCM. The Nazis marched in to what was left of Czechoslovakia in 1939, leading many people to flee. Weapons engineer Axel Bomasch (James Harcourt) is one of them, but his daughter Anna (Margaret Lockwood) gets stopped and sent to a concentration camp. However, she's able to escape with the help of fellow inmate Karl (Paul Henried) and make it to England, where her father escaped to continue his research. What she doesn't realize is that Karl is actually a Nazi agent, and using Anna to find out where her father is hiding. Sure enough, he finds out and kidnaps the two back to Germany. It's up to British agent Gus Bennett (Rex Harrison) to infiltrate Nazi Germany and rescue Axel and Anna via the titular train and get them to neutral Switzerland. Caldicott and Chalmers, the comic relief duo from The Lady Vanishes show up here too.
TCM's Wednesday morning and afternoon lineup is a bunch of silent films nominated for Oscars at the first Academy Awards. Among them is Our Dancing Daughters, at 11:15 AM Wednesday. Joan Crawford plays Diana, a good-at-heart girl who feels enough of the pull of the flapper era to go to the big society parties along with her friends Ann (Anita Page) and Beatrice (Dorothy Sebastian). Beatrice quickly finds a man willing to marry her (Nils Asther) if she'll put her past aside, but things are a bit more difficult for the other two. At one of the parties they meet millionaire and former college football star Ben Blaine (Johnny Mack Brown), and Diana falls in love with him. The feeling might be mutual, except that Ann turns out to be a gold-digger who seduces Ben because she needs to find a rich man to help support her mother. Ben winds up marrying Ann, only to find out what a mistake he's made. The movie was originally released with a synchronized score and sound effects, and made Crawford a star. It also spawned two similarly titled sequels, Our Modern Maidens and then Our Blushing Brides.
For those of you who like more recent movies, I've got one that's only 30 years old: Black Widow, at 8:00 PM Thursday on Cinemax (three hours later if you only have the west coast feed). Debra Winger plays Alexandra, an FBI investigator of serial killers who is beginning to believe that she's got on on her hands. There's a case of a couple of rich guys who have been poisoned to death, with them leaving everything to their much younger trophy wife. Alexandra thinks these are the work of the same person, so she begins to investigate. Of course, we already know that it is since the opening scenes show the killer in action. Catharine (Theresa Russell) is the "Black Widow", who mates and then kills just like the spider. Alex investigates, and by this time Catharine is on to her third husband, William (Nicol Williamson), but Alex knows that if she warns him, he won't believe her and she'll lose track of Catharine. Catharine eventually realizes that the law is onto her....
There's more Bette Davis, in the form of Dark Victory, at noon Thursday on TCM. Davis plays Judith, a society heiress who has never known hardship in her life, instead riding horses with other members of the horse set. That is, until she has trouble riding and difficulty with things like balance. The eminent Dr. Steele (George Brent) performs surgery, only to find an inoperable glioma that's going to kill her -- prognosis negative,as they say. But Judith falls in love with the good doctor, helping fund his research and even being willing to marry him. That is, until she finds out what "prognosis negative" means, these being the bad old days when doctors "protected" people by being dishonest about diagnoses. It's time for another of Bette's fun meltdowns. Judith decides to live with verve and die with dignity. Among those playing Judith's society friends are Geraldine Fitzgerald and Ronald Reagan, while Humphrey Bogart is hilariously miscast as an Irish horse trainer.
We've got a couple of westerns this week, starting with Two Mules for Sister Sara on StarzEncore Westerns at 8:12 PM Friday. Shirley MacLaine plays Sara, a nun in Mexico in the era of French occupation of the 1860s. She's about to be violated by bandits when, to her great fortune, Hogan (Clint Eastwood) shows up to save her. Sara says she's wanted by the French because she's in cahoots with the Mexican revolutionaries fighting the French. Hogan is fighting the French too, but he's only in it for the money. He's trying to help the Mexicans capture a French garrison, in exchange for a share of the proceeds from the garrison. Sara supposedly has knowledge of the garrison's defenses, which could be used to help Hogan and the Mexicans. And then Sara reveals to Hogan that she hasn't been entirely forthcoming in telling him why she's wanted by the French.... Eastwood is good as always; MacLaine isn't bad even if she isn't the first woman you'd think of in a western.
The other western is The Naked Spur, at 4:00 AM Saturday. James Stewart (thankfully not naked) plays Howard Kemp, a bounty hunter who served in the Civil War and lost his ranch as a result. So he wants the $5,000 bounty on the head of murderer Ban Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) to buy the ranch again. While trying to find Ben, he takes on Jesse Tate (Mallard Mitchell), a prospector; and Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker); who also served in the war but not quite as honorably as Howard. Eventually they find not only Ben but Ben's girlfriend Lina (Janet Leigh, sadly not naked) and try to bring him back to Kansas for the bounty. But Ben is no dummy and realizes that the three aren't quite in agreement, especially Howard and Roy, so Ben tries to drive a wedge between his captors allowing him to escape. It's a lot like the psychological pressure pressure Glenn Ford uses on Van Heflin in the later 3:10 to Yuma. It's a compact little cast against some great vistas of the Rocky Mountains.
Another movie for music connoisseurs is Sweet and Low-Down, which will be on FXM Retro at 7:20 AM Sunday. Benny Goodman plays himself, which is a good thing since he wasn't enough of an actor to play anybody else. Anyhow, at a free concert his clarinet gets swiped, which is just an excuse to get Benny to the tenement apartment of trombonist Johnny Birch (James Caldwell, who could neither act nor coach in the NFL). Johnny becomes a member of Goodman's orchestra, which goes on tour. There's a bit of trouble between the band's singer Pat Stirling (Lynn Bari) and Johnny, and more trouble when then the band performs at a military school. One of the cadets has snuck in his adult aunt Trudy (Linda Darnell) by claiming she's his 16-year-old friend, and Trudy falls for Johnny. Except that Johnny thinks she's only 16 and he doesn't want to rob the cradle. So imagine his surprise when the orchestra goes to New York and Johnny finds that Trudy has followed them. This is one of those feel-good musicals made for a war-time audience, so forgive the trite plot and enjoy the music.
Finally, I'll recommend a movie that I think hasn't been on TCM in over a decade: Atlantic City, at 2:00 AM Sunday on TCM. Burt Lancaster plays Lou, a small time gangster who came to Atlantic City decades ago and decayed along with the city, never having made it big, just like the old widow he's a sort of gigolo for. Sally (Susan Sarandon) lives across from Lou, and is trying to become part of the city's renaissance by learning to become a blackjack dealer/croupier for the new, more modern casinos going up. But she has a deadbeat ex in David (Robert Joy), who has heard about a drug deal and has made the brilliant decision to intercept the drugs and deal them himself. The big-time players are nine too happy about this. David is out of his league and Sally is ignorant of what the underworld is really like. Lou sees this as a chance to regain some lost glory, as well as to gain the respect of Sally, who he's secretly been perving on, by showing them how it's done and beating the gangsters at their own game.