Well, it’s August once again and it’s time for Turner Classic Movies to give us another “Summer Under The Stars” where each day of the month is devoted to a marathon of films featuring a particular star. This months schedule is chock full of depressingly predictable, near criminally bland offerings. Both in selection of stars and choices of movies for those stars. Seriously, why is there no Helen Hayes day(if you haven‘t seen My Son John, seek it the hell out at all costs, an epic Hayes performance)? Or Dean Jagger day? Or Claude Rains day? Or Richard Dix day? Or Arthur Kennedy day? Here’s a thought, how about Summer Under The Character Actors featuring James Gleason, Nat Pendleton, Agnes Moorehead, Aline MacMahon.
Summer Under The Stars is a great idea on paper. It’s a great idea particularly for viewers new to TCM or especially those who are new to classic movies. However, for a long time TCM viewer, August’s SUTS can be a painfully boring and repetitive experience. Look, I love Casablanca and Double Indemnity and Lassie Come Home as much as the next movie buff (I’ve got to the point where I can recite entire films dialogue). But when the viewer has seen those films more than a couple dozen times each, and see’s them shown throughout the year on TCM as many times, I start to get irritated. And when I get irritated I get crabby. I mean, I guess I should be grateful that the scheduling department for Summer Under The Stars didn’t come up with yet another excuse to show Logan’s Run and Trog for the eighty seven zillionth time.
You have to have a mix for new viewers and longtime viewers who are sick to death of seeing the same thoughtless, uninspired, boring programming over and over and over and over and over. Sure, show the iconic stuff for half of the marathon but give us the more obscure stuff the other half of the day. There is still, believe it or not, a ton…A TON of obscure classic movies that TCM hasn’t shown in years. I’m still waiting for them to show Ice Palace(1960) again, the movie adaptation of the Edna Ferber novel. And I don’t know how long it was before they finally got around to showing Red Sun(1971). And I’m not even talking about the films they don’t have or don’t have the rights to show for whatever reason. I’m talking about the films they do have that have been sitting in their library unaired for years.
With all of this in mind, I’ve made a list of lesser known, less iconic films that haven’t been shown ad nauseam that are going to be shown during this month’s Summer Under The Stars. August 4 is Fay Wray day and this is probably the one day out of the entire month that is exempt from my above rant. Fay Wray day is full of pre-codes and obscure gems. My personal favorites are The Richest Girl In The World(1934). Miriam Hopkins is the star of the film, Wray plays her best friend. It’s a hilarious comedy about wealthy Hopkins having friend and personal assistant Wray pretend to be Hopkins to discourage fortune hunters. She continues the charade when she falls for cynical Joel McCrea. There’s also It Happened In Hollywood(1937) starring Richard Dix as a once popular, kind hearted western movie hero who falls on hard times while his former leading lady‘s(Fay Wray) star rises. This is one of those great “movies about Hollywood” movies.
August 5 is Karl Malden day. No surprises here but you might want to set aside All Fall Down(1962) with Warren Beatty as a drifter with a borderline incestuous mother(played brilliantly and disturbingly by Angela Lansbury). As a Jean Harlow fan, I have to recommend watching all of her films showing on August 7 but the two I would single out are Beast Of The City(1932) which is full of glorious pre-code violence and Bombshell(1933), another great “movie about Hollywood” with Harlow basically playing herself, a big movie star dealing with a leeching entourage of family and friends and a hilariously despicable agent(Lee Tracy). August 10 is Hedy Lamarr day and there are three good ones to single out. Crossroads(1942) and The Conspirators(1944) are two highly enjoyable spy/noir’s. There’s also H.M. Pulham Esq.(1941), an epic, poignant drama with Robert Young as a rich man’s son who tries to break free of family expectations and goes into marketing after WW1 with friends Arthur Kennedy and cynical business woman Lamarr. This one is a must see. It’s not often you see Time Bandits(1981) shown commercial free so that’s one of the better offerings on August 13’s Ralph Richardson day. August 14 is Cyd Charisse day and there are a couple fun offerings in East Side West Side(1949) about a woman(Stanwyck) and her philandering husband(James Mason) trying to rebuild a marriage that is put to the test when one of Mason’s more persistent ex lovers(Ava Gardner) turns up murdered. This isn’t exactly a rarity on TCM but still worth a look for the terrific cast and the well written melodrama.
If there’s such a thing as bright pink, musical film noir then Party Girl(1958) would be at the forefront of the genre. A fun gangster film with Robert Taylor as lawyer to Lee J. Cobb’s psychotic crime lord. Cyd is the showgirl moll who does a lot of really pink dance numbers. Fun movie. I’m not quite sure who the star is for August 17 as I don’t see any one star consistently featured in the cast of those films being shown. All I know is they’re showing two outstanding films, one of Anthony Mann’s greatest and least talked about films, Men In War(1957). A taught, suspenseful war pic with Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray locked in a brilliantly acted battle of wills. There’s also Phil Karlson’s violence filled The Phenix City Story(1955), a documentary like story about exposing corruption in a small southern town.
I don’t know. Maybe this feeling of repetitiveness in TCM scheduling is just in my head. Maybe I’ve just lived too long and seen it all. Maybe I need more bran in my diet. Who knows. All I know is that my TCM viewing has tapered off the last few years because every time I look at the schedule they’re showing a movie I’ve seen at least half a dozen times. Lastly, you do a Roddy McDowall day and you bypass such classic Roddy showcases as Legend Of Hell House, Curse Of The Golem and Evil Under The Sun and any one of the Planet Of The Apes films for Cleopatra? A 4 hour film in which Roddy is on screen for roughly 30 minutes? It’s a madhouse!!! An incredibly repetitive MADHOUSE!!!