24 hours of Claudette Colbert today @TCM, including IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) at 6PM (ET) 

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The TCM Remembers - Lauren Bacall montage is touching and perfect. 

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TCM SUMMER UNDER THE STARS DAY 6 - PAUL MUNI  

Today’s Summer Under the Stars Pick is SCARFACE (1932) starring Paul Muni as scenery chewing gangster Antonio “Tony” Camonte, Ann Dvorak as his sexy sister Cesca, and George Raft as his coin-flipping henchman, Guino “Little Boy” Rinaldo. 

Director Howard Hawks’ seminal gangster film was loosely based on the life of Chicago mobster Al Capone, and adapted by Ben Hecht from Armitage Trail’s 1929 novel of the same name. In the wake of hand-wringing about the popularity of gangster movies, SCARFACE endured endless meddling by the Hays Office, beginning well before filming commenced. Script changes were made, an alternate ending was shot (without Muni, even though his character is hanged), a text preamble and sub-title (“The Shame of a Nation”) were added, and additional edits were made (supervised by Lewis Milestone), but the film still had problems passing local censorship boards. Multiple versions ended up in circulation, including the original cut, which was released at producer Howard Hughes’ insistence in territories without strong censorship regulations.

This hodgepodge of local censorship variations in part led to the across-the-board enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, beginning in July of 1934. The version of SCARFACE that circulates today omits the moralistic sub-title, but includes the hilarious cautionary preamble, concluding with the words:

The purpose of this picture is to demand of the government, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ The government is your government. What are YOU going to do about it?

5 Reasons to Watch:

1. The Opening Scene

The film kicks off with a mobster kicking off: Big Louie Costillo (Harry J. Vejar) is assassinated by Tony, in a scene based on the IRL rubout of Big Jim Colosimo by Capone in 1920. Hawks never shows us Paul Muni in this scene, though, filming the shooting in shadow and silhouette. Considering that we’re expected to root for Tony for the next 90 minutes, the decision not to introduce the character in the act of murder was a smart one.

2. In the book, Tony and the cop pursuing him are brothers. 

Early in the film Inspector Ben Guarino (C. Henry Gordon, pictured in the lobby card above) picks up Tony at the barber shop for questioning. The mobster then defiantly lights a match on Guarino’s badge, which earns him a sock in the kisser.

Interesting side note: in the book upon which the film is based, Tony and the cop are brothers. Had Hawks and Hecht carried this over to the film,  it would have added a real level of poignancy, particularly to the climax. 

3. Ann Dvorak

Paul Muni may be the star of the film, but he’s far from the best thing in it. For me, the breakout performer is Hughes-contractee Ann Dvorak. As Cesca, she slinks around with the grace of a dancer (Dvorak began her film career as an MGM chorus girl), and her meet-cute with Raft is unforgettable, communicated almost entirely without words. Dvorak’s Cesca also doesn’t pull any punches in SCARFACE’s Borgia-esque incest subplot, both acknowledging it and, to a perverse degree, encouraging it. That’s a remarkably modern approach, even for a Pre-Code film. 

That Dvorak didn’t become a bigger star is a tragedy, and you can read all about it in Christina Rice's excellent biography, Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel

4. Boris Karloff

Post-FRANKENSTEIN Karloff is eighth-billed as gangster Tom Gaffney. When Karloff is eighth-billed, you know you have a strong cast. And Frankenstein’s Monster wielding a machine gun is just as fun as it sounds. 

5. The Climax

The concluding gunfight with Tony and Cesca holed up in his fortress was apparently based on a real life, 1931 incident: the Siege of West 90th Street, wherein gangster Two-Gun Crowley fought off cops from his New York City apartment. 

The sequence in the film is memorably over-the-top, with Muni, who’s been setting the knob to 11 (Spinal Tap-style) for 90 minutes just breaking it off and going for broke. He chews the scenery like he hasn’t eaten in weeks. 

For the record, I prefer this version of SCARFACE to Brian De Palma’s iconic 1983 remake, though both are larger-than-life in their own way. Muni and Pacino both chose to play it “big,” and both films are memorable for it. 

SCARFACE airs today at 9:45 PM (ET) on Turner Classic Movies. For the complete schedule and background on Muni, visit TCM’s site. The film is also for digital download and/or rental on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, and elsewhere. 

Sources: AFI.com, TCM

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TCM SUMMER UNDER THE STARS DAY 4 - JUDY GARLAND  
Today’s Summer Under the Stars Pick is SUMMER STOCK (1950), Judy Garland’s Technicolor swan song at MGM after 15 years, 27 features, and the lead role in perhaps the most beloved film of all time. 
Directed by Charles Walters, SUMMER STOCK is no WIZARD OF OZ, but it’s still a fun, standard-issue movie musical. Eleven years after her trip over the rainbow, Garland once again plays a lonely farm girl yearning for something more. And she gets it when her actress sister Abigail (Gloria DeHaven) shows up unannounced with plans to stage a show in the family barn. Jane (Garland) agrees on one condition: the cast must help her with farm work. Animal-related hilarity ensues. 
Things get complicated when Jane falls for her sister’s boyfriend Joe (Gene Kelly). And when Abigail leaves in a fit of pique, true love takes its course in the form of the most absurdly elaborate production numbers even staged in a barn. 
5 Reasons to Watch:
1. Like many films of the Studio Era, the supporting cast is as much of a draw as the leads. When Eddie Bracken, Marjorie Main, Phil Silvers, Ray Collins, Hans Conreid, and Carleton Carpenter are on your team, you’ve got a killer bench. Bracken is particularly hilarious doing his nervous nebbish bit as shopkeeper Orville Wingait, though his character here is far less likable than usual. And the large ensemble took some of the pressure off Garland, who was apparently not in good shape emotionally during production.  
2. Judy sings “Happy Harvest” by Harry Warren (music) and Mack Gordon (lyrics) while driving an actual tractor. No rear projection fakery for the pride of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. And the whole sequence - choreographed by Nick Castle - is covered  in exactly five shots. Amazing. 
3. Gloria De Haven’s character has a conversation with Eddie Bracken’s that may have inspired a generation of second-wave feminists: “A woman doesn’t want to be asked,” Abigail tells Orville. “She wants to be told.” Ahem.  
4. Appearing in their sixth film together (with leading roles in three), Garland and Kelly have a believably natural chemistry. “You’re wonderful,” Gene says to Judy toward the end of the film. “Every thing I could have hoped for in a leading lady.”
And Kelly delivers a solo number with a newspaper and the squeaky floor of a barn that is unforgettable. Seriously, if you don’t like it, then Studio Era musicals are probably not your thing, and never going to be. 
5. "Get Happy" (music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Ted Koehler) is a perfect, joyous closing anthem for the movie, and for Garland’s career at MGM. Talk about going out on a high note. 
One more thing: read the heartbreaking open letter Garland wrote to her fans in Modern Screen magazine in November, 1950, following the release of SUMMER STOCK. In an era where studios controlled publicity with military discipline and sought to maintain the fiction that film stars were flawless gods and goddesses, it’s a stunning example of the un-contrived vulnerability that is key to Garland’s appeal, and her longevity. 
SUMMER STOCK airs today at 6 PM (ET). For the complete schedule and background on Garland, visit TCM’s site. The film is also available on DVD as part of the Greatest Classic Legends series from TCM. You can also read more about the film at Aurora’s Gin Joint. 

TCM SUMMER UNDER THE STARS DAY 4 - JUDY GARLAND  

Today’s Summer Under the Stars Pick is SUMMER STOCK (1950), Judy Garland’s Technicolor swan song at MGM after 15 years, 27 features, and the lead role in perhaps the most beloved film of all time. 

Directed by Charles Walters, SUMMER STOCK is no WIZARD OF OZ, but it’s still a fun, standard-issue movie musical. Eleven years after her trip over the rainbow, Garland once again plays a lonely farm girl yearning for something more. And she gets it when her actress sister Abigail (Gloria DeHaven) shows up unannounced with plans to stage a show in the family barn. Jane (Garland) agrees on one condition: the cast must help her with farm work. Animal-related hilarity ensues. 

Things get complicated when Jane falls for her sister’s boyfriend Joe (Gene Kelly). And when Abigail leaves in a fit of pique, true love takes its course in the form of the most absurdly elaborate production numbers even staged in a barn. 

5 Reasons to Watch:

1. Like many films of the Studio Era, the supporting cast is as much of a draw as the leads. When Eddie Bracken, Marjorie Main, Phil Silvers, Ray Collins, Hans Conreid, and Carleton Carpenter are on your team, you’ve got a killer bench. Bracken is particularly hilarious doing his nervous nebbish bit as shopkeeper Orville Wingait, though his character here is far less likable than usual. And the large ensemble took some of the pressure off Garland, who was apparently not in good shape emotionally during production.  

2. Judy sings “Happy Harvest” by Harry Warren (music) and Mack Gordon (lyrics) while driving an actual tractor. No rear projection fakery for the pride of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. And the whole sequence - choreographed by Nick Castle - is covered  in exactly five shots. Amazing. 

3. Gloria De Haven’s character has a conversation with Eddie Bracken’s that may have inspired a generation of second-wave feminists: “A woman doesn’t want to be asked,” Abigail tells Orville. “She wants to be told.” Ahem.  

4. Appearing in their sixth film together (with leading roles in three), Garland and Kelly have a believably natural chemistry. “You’re wonderful,” Gene says to Judy toward the end of the film. “Every thing I could have hoped for in a leading lady.”

And Kelly delivers a solo number with a newspaper and the squeaky floor of a barn that is unforgettable. Seriously, if you don’t like it, then Studio Era musicals are probably not your thing, and never going to be. 

5. "Get Happy" (music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Ted Koehler) is a perfect, joyous closing anthem for the movie, and for Garland’s career at MGM. Talk about going out on a high note. 

One more thing: read the heartbreaking open letter Garland wrote to her fans in Modern Screen magazine in November, 1950, following the release of SUMMER STOCK. In an era where studios controlled publicity with military discipline and sought to maintain the fiction that film stars were flawless gods and goddesses, it’s a stunning example of the un-contrived vulnerability that is key to Garland’s appeal, and her longevity. 

SUMMER STOCK airs today at 6 PM (ET). For the complete schedule and background on Garland, visit TCM’s site. The film is also available on DVD as part of the Greatest Classic Legends series from TCM. You can also read more about the film at Aurora’s Gin Joint

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TCM SUMMER UNDER THE STARS DAY 3 - WALTER PIDGEON 

Today’s Summer Under the Stars Pick is ADVISE & CONSENT (1962), Otto Preminger’s groundbreaking, still-relevant political procedural, based on Allen Drury’s 1959 novel of the same name. The Columbia release features a Murderer’s Row of aging Studio Era icons, including TCM Star du jour Walter Pidgeon, Charles Laughton as a larger-than-life Southerner, JFK brother-in-law Peter Lawford as a womanizing New England senator, and Henry Fonda as a controversial Secretary of State nominee.

The Canadian-born Pidgeon plays Senate Majority Leader Munson, the man at the center of an exploding controversy over a nominee who may or may not be a reformed Commie. 

5 Reasons to Watch:

1. The film has a strikingly authentic look, due, in part, to Preminger’s filming in actual Washington D.C. locations, including the Capitol building. Preminger makes extensive use of long, static takes during the hearings (in brilliant widescreen compositions by D.P. Sam Leavitt ) which furthers the sense of realism.

2. The extremely British Charles Laughton makes his final screen appearance as Seabright Cooley, the senior senator from South Carolina. Laughton was fighting cancer during filming and died six months after the film’s release at age 63. Sadly, he looks quite a bit older in the film, though he still manages to bound up the Capitol Steps in one scene. 

3. Gene Tierney came out of a 7-year movie hiatus to play the girlfriend of Pidgeon’s character (the two are pictured above). There was a 23-year age difference between the two actors, though that’s not readily apparent in their scenes together. (Tierney’s break from acting was due to emotional problems, and her treatment included shock therapy.) Tierney makes liberal use of the word “bitch” in one scene which, in typical Preminger style, flew in the face of the Motion Picture Production Code. 

4. 40-year-old Betty White makes her feature film debut as the senator from Kansas. She wouldn’t appear in another theatrically released film until 1998. And Will Geer, Grandpa Zeb from The Waltons, is featured as a Democratic senator. 

5. Perhaps the most striking thing about the film is the sub-plot featuring Don Murray as a closeted gay senator from Utah. The scene in which he visits Manuel (Larry Tucker), a soft-spoken man who drinks tea and has four cats (get it?), and then goes to a gay bar (in 1962!) must have thrilled the censors. Oh, Otto Preminger, you are my hero. 

ADVISE & CONSENT airs tonight at 2:15 AM (ET). For the complete schedule and background on Pidgeon, visit TCM’s site. The film is also available to stream on Warner Archive Instant

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HAPPY SUTS DAY! TCM SUMMER UNDER THE STARS DAY 1
August is upon us, and the best way to avoid the depressingly ubiquitous “Back to School” ads on commercial TV is to turn off commercial TV, and watch Turner Classic Movies. The month-long Summer Under the Stars series kicks off today with 24 hours of Jane Fonda films, including James Bridges’ THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) at 5:45 p.m. (ET). 
Here’s my favorite CHINA SYNDROME memory, and it’s appropriate as we think about kids going back to class: When I was at NYU, our cinema studies class was assigned to watch the film on VHS for a discussion the following week. I didn’t live on campus so, while my classmates watched the copy at the NYU library, I rented the movie at my local video store on Long Island (where I lived with my parents).
The following week in class, nobody understood why I was going on about Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas and nuclear power plants. Because the assignment had actually been to watch CHINATOWN. That may explain why I never became a film scholar. 
For more info on Summer Under the Stars visit the typically excellent TCM micro-site.

HAPPY SUTS DAY! TCM SUMMER UNDER THE STARS DAY 1

August is upon us, and the best way to avoid the depressingly ubiquitous “Back to School” ads on commercial TV is to turn off commercial TV, and watch Turner Classic Movies. The month-long Summer Under the Stars series kicks off today with 24 hours of Jane Fonda films, including James Bridges’ THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) at 5:45 p.m. (ET). 

Here’s my favorite CHINA SYNDROME memory, and it’s appropriate as we think about kids going back to class: When I was at NYU, our cinema studies class was assigned to watch the film on VHS for a discussion the following week. I didn’t live on campus so, while my classmates watched the copy at the NYU library, I rented the movie at my local video store on Long Island (where I lived with my parents).

The following week in class, nobody understood why I was going on about Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas and nuclear power plants. Because the assignment had actually been to watch CHINATOWN. That may explain why I never became a film scholar. 

For more info on Summer Under the Stars visit the typically excellent TCM micro-site.

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Happy #Cinemental New Year #TCM fans!

Happy #Cinemental New Year #TCM fans!

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Hurry home! Osborne’s back! #WelcomeBackBob #TCM

Hurry home! Osborne’s back! #WelcomeBackBob #TCM

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Feels like he’s been gone for 50 years. #WelcomeBackBob #TCM

Feels like he’s been gone for 50 years. #WelcomeBackBob #TCM

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