Monthly Archive for October, 2010

Boys Town

Boys Town (10/31/10) TV-TCM (1938 ***1/4) Directed by Norman Taurog, starring Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney and Bobs Watson as Pee Wee. Father Flanagan has a dream — a crazy dream about a town for and governed by boys. I know this movie is pretty cheesy, what with Mickey Rooney’s over-the-top transformation from street-tough wiseguy atheist dickhead to adored humble believer. But deep down under my gruff exterior I’m still a sucker for schmaltz. There’s something appealing to me about an old movie with a Catholic priest as the main character like this one or Bing Crosby’s The Bells of Saint Mary’s. My affection for this film may also be the result of having grown up in Omaha and having visited the actual Boys Town, which the film assures us is “a real place.”

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (10/31/10) TV-IFC (1987 **1/2) Directed by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell and Sarah Berry. In a cabin in the woods, a voice on a reel-to-reel tape machine unleashes a horror from hell. This movie is considered a camp horror classic, and with good reason. At the time it was released, it was pretty inventive. I’m sorry to say I didn’t really enjoy it nearly as much as I did when I was younger. Maybe I’ve lost something in the intervening decades. Or maybe it comes down to the fact that horror, even over-the-top horror comedy like this, isn’t really one of my favorite genres.

Up the Down Staircase

Up the Down Staircase (10/31/10) TV-TCM (1967 ***) Directed by Robert Mulligan, based on the novel by Bel Kaufman, starring Sandy Dennis, Patrick Bedford, Jeff Howard and Jean Stapleton. A young idealistic teacher’s very first assignment is at a tough inner-city high school. My mom was a teacher, and some of her first assignments were pretty scary. I have great respect for anyone who goes into teaching, particularly those who teach junior high or high school in impoverished areas. I’m pretty sure I read the book on which this movie was based when I was a kid, and probably I’d seen the film. If I had, I’d forgotten how truly gritty it was. Gritty, but very effective, which is no surprise given the director’s credentials. It’s worth repeating from my recent review of The Other that Robert Mulligan, the film’s director had previously directed To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes (10/31/10) TV-TCM (1948 ***1/2) Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, starring Marius Goring, Anton Walbrook and Victoria Page. The world of international professional ballet is filled with egos, betrayal and tragedy. This is possibly one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. My hat is off to The Film Foundation and the restoration work done. Even on our TV the colors were amazing. Having said that, the story was a challenging one for me to identify with. I did my best and certainly appreciated the greatness of it. But I still felt at times like a shoeshine boy who’d been accidentally invited to a society party. It was a bit beyond my station.

Little Children

Little Children (10/30/10) TV-Sundance (2006 ***) Directed by Todd Field, based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, starring Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly and Jackie Earle Haley. A sex offender moves to a sleepy little community and coincidentally a man and woman have an affair. Haley, a child actor in original Bad News Bears films, was simply amazing in what was a very difficult and potentially career-ending role. Though I recognize the film’s quality, the key to this movie working, I think, was to make the complex human failings and fragility of the main characters sympathetic to the viewer, but I never quite managed to get there emotionally… or even really meet them half way.

What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (10/30/10) TV-TCM (1966 **) Directed by Woody Allen and Senkichi Taniguchi, starring Tatsuya Mihashi, Akiko Wakabayashi and the Lovin’ Spoonful. Long before Mystery Science Theater 3000, Woody Allen, Louise Lasser and others redubbed a Japanese film called Kokusai himitsu keisatsu: Kagi no Kagi (AKA International Secret Police: Key of Keys). As much as I love Woody Allen, I feel like the job would have been better executed by Mel Brooks. The premise was great, and they had a lot of visual material to work with, but it never got nearly as silly (or weird) as it could have.

Brewster McCloud

Brewster McCloud (10/30/10) TV-TCM (1970 **1/2) Directed by Robert Altman, screenplay by Doran William Cannon, starring Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murphy and Shelly Duvall. A young man living undiscovered in the bowels of the Houston Astrodome dreams of building a flying machine. This film was introduced on TCM by SNL’s Bill Hader, who described it as “weird, even for the seventies.” I watched it originally because I was a fan of Harold and Maude‘s Bud Cort, and he didn’t star in that many films. His performance and character in Brewster McCloud wasn’t nearly as satisfying and never connected fully with the audience.

The Other

The Other (10/30/10) TV-TCM (1972 **1/2) Directed by Robert Mulligan, written by Tom Tryon (based on his novel), starring Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, Uta Hagen and Diana Muldaur. One summer during the depression, a young boy and his evil twin set out to murder everyone in a five mile radius. This movie gave me major goosebumps when I watched it on TV as a kid. In spite of its obviously limited budget, it holds up surprisingly well. This shouldn’t be a surprise, considering it was directed by the same man who directed To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). One of the most unusual aspects of the film is that its main characters were played by actual twins, rather than using trick photography.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (10/30/10) TV-TCM (1976 **1/2) Directed by Nicolas Gessner, screenplay by Laird Koenig (based on his novel), starring Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen and Scott Jacoby. A young girl with a recently deceased father attempts to keep up appearances in spite the unwanted advances of a creepy pedophile. This was one of several low-budget films I watched on TV in my childhood that somehow stayed with me. I was somewhat surprised to see late in the film that there was a nude / implied sex scene with Jodie Foster’s 13-year-old character (or rather her body double). I doubt that would be permitted today, even in an R-rated film. Yet another example of how much the world has changed since my childhood.

Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday (10/25/10) TV-TCM (1953 ****) Directed by William Wyler, screenplay by Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton, starring Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck and Eddie Albert. The stresses and responsibilities of royalty become too much for a young British princess, and so she escapes to the bedroom of an unscrupulous American reporter. The next day they eat gelato and ride a Vespa. It’s been way too long since I last watched this incredible film. Given Roman Holiday‘s fairly simple plot, it’s surprising how emotionally engaged I was by the end. I don’t think it could work as a remake, mainly because a remake wouldn’t star Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.