Tag Archives: second looks

Looking Backward: Second Looks, Friday, May 31

2 Jun

To begin: at the risk of gushing…

newleafMy glee in watching A New Leaf was theoretically palpable to anyone, for tears of joy (etc.) could indeed have been touched if they hadn’t already been absorbed by my fingertips.

There. I said it. That’s not hyperbole. It’s fact.

I want less to talk about the specifics (the perfection of the acting ensemble, the howls I settled into during Mattheau’s scene with his lawyer that continued through May’s every tick as Henrietta, only paused while I wept openly and shamelessly through the whole fern-naming scene) than I want to go out and grab strangers on the street and bring them to my house to watch it. 

Also, the dialogue: ‘She’s unscrewing my Montrezzini!,” almost everything out of George Rose’s mouth, “Heavens!” A thing of beauty. And yet I still dream of the darker director’s cut. Though I’m nothing but happy with this.

Lee & Mifune 1941I’d like to take a look at the director’s cut of 1941, too, but it was a pleasure to watch again for the first time in probably 30 years, since the days when it was on cable every 20 minutes between Beastmasters. Still a mess, still too much screaming, but I still did a lot of laughing. Also, Mifune and his glove gesture. A master in everything he did. And let’s lament again the premature losses of Belushi and the underappreciated Wendy Jo Sperber.

thoselipsThose Lips, Those Eyes very much has the sentimental sensibilities of its era in a Summer of ‘42 way, but is very sweet and mostly you’re signed on for Langella’s tremendous performance. A lot of actors-playing-actors-sentimentalizing-A-Life-On-The-Stage movies collapse into a romanticism that bugs the crap out of me (full disclosure: I make a living as a stage actor), but this is more of an elegy to someone trying to maintain that romanticism than it is a celebration of it. Which is a pleasant surprise, as is the intriguing father/son relationship of Hulce & Stiller.

absolute-beginnersAbsolute Beginners was more touch & go for me than the rest (Fascist Dude: “That’s the last white breath you’ll draw!” Which, what does that even mean?), but despite marrow-level tonal problem, the Gil Evans score, the performances of Bowie and Ray Davies (!!) and the general stylishness have their cheesy 80s charms- I had to give up early on as far as my historical geekery is concerned (“’So What’ and ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’ are both from 1959!”), though the Bowie number really finally morphed into a Donen-esqueness.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my Friday nights until Second Looks returns (which I’m led to believe is likely – and TCM would be foolish not to bring Illeana Douglas and this spotlight feature back as soon as they can).

A Hasty Looking Forward Post: Second Looks & more

31 May


I’m swamped. The ol’ theatre company is opening a weekend concert thing tonight and I have six or seven instruments to tune. So I have no excuse to be writing Upcoming Movie posts for an as-yet-undetermined audience. So this will be brief & unadorned.


I need not mention that Second Looks begins at 8:00 p.m. on TCM tonight. But I just did. Tonight: three I’ve been looking forward to (Elaine May’s A New Leaf; Those Lips, Those Eyes; Absolute Beginners) and one I loved as a kid (1941). Watch them. They all sound worthy of inclusion.

phantom-tollbooth1Also, Saturday, June 1 at 9:00 a.m., another neglected full-length Chuck Jones animated feature, The Phantom Tollbooth, based on the Norton Juster book (allegedly for kids). Don’t say there’s nothing to do in the Doldrums…

the-court-jester-basil-rathbone-danny-kaye-glynis-johns-1956While I’m at it, I should note that the perfect double feature that is The Court Jester and The Adventures of Robin Hood will begin at 8:00 p.m. Sunday, June 2. There is no reason not to watch that. Unless you’re playing ukulele in a variety show jumpsuit for a confused crowd of theatregoers…


Looking Backward: TCM Second Looks, Friday, May 24

26 May

It’s difficult, I find, to write specifics about Second Look movies after indulging in the pleasures of participating in the massively-attended live Twitter Wingdings Illeana Douglas hosts during these programming blocks.

Inside Daisy Clover (1965)

She carries that hat off almost as well as Jerry Biffle.

#TCMparty has been around much, much longer than Second Looks, but I must say there’s a lot of life in these Friday nights; I think it’s in the nature of the Second Looks idea that there’s a uniformly fun attitude about these movies – they’re unfamiliar to most, beloved by a cult, and if ever a crowd was willing to accept a proposed movie as sometimes-touch-and-go but worth the attention, it’s the #TCMparty-ers. Which makes for lively chatter. (There was even some time in Twitter Jail for Douglas last night because of the crazy amount of activity. A badge of honor.) But precious little of the Internet’s usual polarizing diatribe style of discourse.

I have to collapse after the third movie (usually around 2 a.m. here), so I missed out on the end of the conversation, but I recommend the experience highly. It’s the best party on the Internet.

Anyway, in brief:

Inside Daisy Clover would probably have worked really well if it had been made in 1970 instead – the waning days of the studio system were barely willing to take on the subject matter the film danced around, and the temporal distance from the era it dealt with was awkward  – but there were still some stunning visuals and tremendous performances from Christopher Plummer (same year as Sound of Music!), Ruth Gordon, Katharine Bard, Robert Redford and, of course, Natalie Wood, who I still think does better silent than verbal work (the breakdown and the self-imposed muteness after) but has ample face time here for the former;

The Loved One (1965)

Who is Aimee wearing? Chanel’s Leia Boleyn collecton.

The Loved One, as noted, I’ve seen and loved already, but it was really nice to watch it with some other Misfit Toys of its age (all the movies were from 1965 except The Arrangement from 1969);

Mickey One (1965)


Mickey One was a grand surprise, a movie I’d probably never have run across and was really into. The Getz/Sauter score, the Chicago locations, the general Frenchness, frisky but not cloying, a bunch of incredible faces among the day players, and a terrific not-depending-on-his-looks Warren Beatty bein’ all paranoid and freaked out (and a surprisingly effective lounge entertainer);

The Arrangement (1969)

(Season 7 Mad Men spoiler)

The Arrangement lagged for me in its final half hour, but overall it was kept exciting by Kazan’s direction and Kirk Douglas’s face which, young and old (cf. Ace in the Hole on a previous Second Looks), is un-unwatchable (the breakdown and the self-imposed muteness after…hmm), and the cast is impressive top to bottom. I was surprised by how little Kazan’s late 60s gimmickry bothered me – I guess the context of Guy Losing It forgives a lot of trickery (and I forgave this more than I was willing to forgive Fight Club by the end. Maybe that’s just me.) Think like the doorknob Foley when Charles doesn’t enter Gwen’s bedroom and the lights and shadows in the little room where Flo & Eddie have their final knockdown (my Wife as we watched noted that the married couple at its center are named Flo & Eddie; coincidence).

The Arrangement also really drove home Inside Daisy Clover’s lessons that sisters named Gloria are a handful, and breakdown-based real estate decisions are invariably flammable. (Sidenote: I just happen to be in the middle of Walker Percy’s Lancelot, which…nevermind. I’m beset on all sides here.)

Another Second Look worth every minute of lost sleep.

Looking Forward: TCM Second Looks, Friday May 24

22 May

This week’s lineup: Inside Daisy Clover (1965) (1965); The Loved One (1965) (1965); Mickey One (1965) (1965); and The Arrangement (1969) (1969).

This time around I can speak only for The Loved One, a gleefully messed-up adaptation of a gleefully messed-up Evelyn Waugh novel with a ridiculous cast including the recently-late Jonathan Winters in arguably his best harnessed role(s), the recently-revisited Liberace…

The Loved One (1965)

“…our Mr. Starker will counsel you as to your loved one’s additional needs.”

…not to mention Robert Morse (in a role Bert Cooper probably didn’t go see him in), John Gielgud, and Rod Steiger in (and please appreciate this statement) his most unsettling role. Which is also hilarious.

The rest I am blissfully unaware of, except for Inside Daisy Clover, which I’ve seen little chunks of and which my wife “loved as a child but was less excited by as an adult,” which begs the question, “what were those people letting her watch?” But in the 7os, kiddos, we were strong of will and could handle things that lived in that land between Saw and the straight-to-video Tinker Bell movies. Strong of will were we…

Looking Backward: Ace in the Hole (1951) & Second Looks Friday

18 May
Ace in the Hole (1951)

I felt like this for most of the movie. But in a good way.

Woof. The Darkness. I understand entirely why the early 50s in all their prosperity and joie de post-guerre would reject Ace in the Hole outright. Even though Wilder tries to Tartuffe the characters by making Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) the Prime Evil who catches hell about his lack of ethics from his journalistic superiors, the intent to indict the whole circus is pretty clear, so small wonder Wilder did about as well with his relevant powers-that-be (the Media) as Moliere did.

Fascinating to watch everyone succumb, too; to watch listless rubbernecking balloon into something sinister (from the lady who just seems to want to participate by getting her little elevator story out there to Mr. Federber (Sam Drucker!) and his pretend ad lib insurance commercial, from Jan Sterling’s Lorraine and her quick eye for an easy burger-buck to the contractor’s on-again/off-again willingness to go along with all the craziness) in a way that’s clearly fictional but rings true.

Charles Lang’s cinematography here could be offered in a court of law as a reason why black and white stuck around after color’s prominence for reasons beyond finance. (Seeing this within twenty-four hours of Our Man in Havana has made me plumb wary of shadows.)

Kirk Douglas

Wheels turning…

But the real star is the silent face of Kirk Douglas. Yes, yes, he talks, of course he talks, this is Billy Wilder, no one’s allowed to not talk, but the reason the whole enterprise works is the sense that every step on this flowchart is considered for a moment. He doesn’t let Tatum leap into things – this isn’t a brash character whose overexcited head for ideas gets out in front of him – but nor does he let him become coldly calculating. He seems to sense that there’s a new coin to toss each time the situation comes to a turn, if that isn’t a mixed metaphor (I can’t tell; I was up all night watching a bunch of movies, including this one. Second Looks is magnificent, but it’s killing my sleep schedule), and a choice happens there as he sits or stands in semi-shadow. Until that last shot, when his face is all shadow.

Mercifully, TCM chased the cruel rotgut whiskey of Ace in the Hole with the plotless but driving laughfest that is Top Banana next, which, while still technically featuring a morally fast-and-loose character (played in that case by Phil Silvers) dealing falsely with media expectations, well…it sprays a lot more soda water to wash off the New Mexico desert dirt of Ace in the Hole. I’ve mixed my metaphors again. Is the seltzer here a chaser or a bath? Let’s keep it a chaser, because It’s Always Fair Weather added a dash of orange bitters and Our Man in Havana gave a few rum coves from Britain the oh I’m exhausted. But a splendid lineup again, Second Looks. Hoping this becomes a regular feature…

Looking Backward: Our Man in Havana (1960)

17 May
Our Man in Havana (1960)

“Oh, there are lots of other jobs that aren’t real…”

I couldn’t resist. I knew Our Man in Havana was coming up on TCM Second Looks Friday night, but I’ll be zonked by 2:00 a.m., and I came across a copy, so I jumped the gun. Sue me.

The moment I knew I loved this movie: Wormold (Sir Alec Guinness), about to scale a wall, takes a moment to say a friendly howdy to a local blind beggar of his acquaintance (“Fidel”), who responds in kind as he ambles down the street. (A bit later, Noël Coward closes a bamboo door – secrecy, you know, old man – which I had to run back and watch again out of pleasure, but still I’m sticking with the blind man moment.)

Weird, lovely, dry little movie, and quite a thing it is: a man learns quickly that feeding the narrative is more profitable than providing the truth. Without giving too much away, only the Cuban setting feels dated (and was dated already when filming started, apparently, just after the revolution). Well, that and the vacuum cleaner technology, which has come a long way. But I’m referring as much to the direction and performances as the subject matter. Three cheers, as always, for Carol Reed.

(The whole thing made me wonder whether Steven Soderbergh, avowed fan of Reed’s The Third Man and inveterate crooked-angle user, has ever considered any Graham Greene…it does adapt well.)

Another tremendous dopily hono(u)rable Everyman performance from Sir Alec. If you’re keeping track, this one falls between his horse’s ass in The Horse’s Mouth and his Arabian prince in Lawrence. So it’s not like he had range.

Ernie Kovacs

It isn’t whether you win or lose…

And this is one more reason to mourn the early passing of Ernie Kovacs. I have nothing against James Dean or Heath Ledger or anything; I’d just like to propose a spare seat at that gone-too-soon table, is all. I’m intrigued still, after pondering Bell, Book & Candle again recently, at his ability to be comic and sinister at the same time in a way that resembled no one else’s comic villainy (in the case of BB&C, that’s too strong a word – perhaps rascality). Then he starts talking about torture and creeps me the hell out.

This is also a film that almost never turns up on the schedule, so catch it while ye may – and enjoy the always-enjoyable pre-/post- viewing discussions that start with Second Looks host Illeana Doiglas and spread like kudzu over Twitter via the TCMParty hashtag.

Looking Forward: Friday Night “Second Looks,” featuring Ace in the Hole (1951), Top Banana (1954), It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), and Our Man in Havana (1960)

15 May
Ace in the Hole (1951)

Phone the neighbors, wake the kids: Second Looks!

Looking forward to this lineup quite a bit – I’m not certain about Ace in the Hole as a forgotten/underestimated film (there’s a Criterion edition, after all; I think of maybe Five Graves to Cairo or The Fortune Cookie falling more under that heading), but as far as recognition goes, it’s no The Apartment or Some Like it Hot, so I suppose it’s a fair choice. And for all my nitpicking here, I haven’t seen the damned thing and very much want to, so…shutting up and anticipating.

Top Banana (1954)

What I love about this picture? The snap.

Top Banana is kind of a mess to watch – the hacked up editing is a royal mess, and just gets worse as the movie continues, so I warn you not to concern yourself with puny concerns like a “plot” or “concern for characters.” Phooey. You’re here to watch a machine at work, and that machine is Phil Silvers in burlesque mode. There are actors in this who give you the impression that you’re watching a glorified 50s teleplay (which, in many ways, you are), but they only serve to make the Pros shine even more (not just Silvers; Dick Van Dyke Show players to be Rose Marie and Herbie Faye, plus Joey Faye and Jack Albertson) in what is more or less a live performance. The ladder scene, the burlesque flashback (pointless, technically, but also the prime reason to watch)…let’s just say that while sane actors have dream roles like Othello or Mary Tyrone or whatever, I’d love a shot at Jerry Biffle. You may say I’m a dreamer.

It’s Always Fair Weather is perfect as a Second Look, though I’m not sure what keeps people away from it. I suppose it’s a bit dark for a Comden/Green/Kelly/Donen musical, but man. Trashcans. Cyd Charisse. Roller skates. Cyd Charisse. Also, Cyd Charisse.

It's Always Fair Weather (1955)

I forgot how I was going to caption this.

I’m back.

Regardless, it’s not perfection like Singin’ in the Rain, and it shows some marks from its era, but it’s got a lot of masterful work in it. And also, Cyd Charisse.*

Our Man in Havana (1960)

A man called… “Smith.”

Lastly, another one I should be embarrassed about but can’t be (you know, one has only so many hours), Our Man in Havana. How is it that I’ve seen Alec Guinness vehicles like The Captain’s Paradise and Last Holiday, to say nothing of the more obvious big name Ealing comedies, but not this one, which I feel like I’ve known for years was out there waiting? Plus Maureen O’Hara, Ernie Kovacs and with Carol Reed in the canvas-backed highchair? My Saturday is going to be shot, but technology or no, I may have to stay up until 4:00 a.m. EST watching this one.

See you back here after (and probably making a nuisance of myself on #TCMParty during)!

*Not to mention Michael Kidd. The Wife and I, like most married types, have a running Michael Kidd gag. We went through a spell ten years or so ago wherein we watched several documentaries or DVD extras that were by chance for movies in some way featuring Michael Kidd. They were all famous and successful, but in his interview, an older, surlier Kidd (seemingly always during the same longer interview) started every story (at least, our memory has made this so) with some variation of, “Well, they called me and told me they wanted me to do this picture and I really didn’t want to. I wasn’t interested and I didn’t see any reason to get involved in it.” And the result was always Seven Brides or what have you.

Michael Kidd

“I didn’t want this Oscar, you know.”

This has taken on a life of its own in our household, sometimes pointedly (“Kidd didn’t want to cross left in that scene, you know”), sometimes at random (“You know who was supposed to star in Thoroughly Modern Millie but wasn’t interested?”), always hilarious. To us. The winter nights just fly.

Looking Backward: The Great Moment (1944), “Second Looks,” and The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)

11 May

When I lived in Boston, I used to read in the Public Garden, usually in the shadow of a column not too far from the equestrian statue of Washington. Throughout the first autumn I was there, the weather was so nice that I kept dozing off every time I started to read. Eventually I took a closer look at the column – a monument to the discovery of the painkilling properties of ether. So the dozing made sense, I guess.

My understanding of the story behind the studio’s meddling with The Great Moment (gleaned from the magical community that is the TCMParty hashtag) is fairly (I almost said “patently”) obvious throughout. The pace just isn’t a Sturges pace, and it’s clear that a few conversations are joined in medias res but weren’t filmed that way. Things are missing, the tone is uneven. But there’s something about watching the Sturges/Paramount stable get to try something unusual that has its pleasures. For me.

Demarest and McCrea

The man knew his business.

Kudos to William Demarest for doing what he clearly knew to be his job – his repetitive “night of September 30th” story is a highlight, or at least a running gag that works. It’s a tricky proposition for an actor: will I be known for range (Streep, Day-Lewis) or for reliability (everyone in this cast)? Coming from the world of Clown, there’s something really appealing to me about being a Pangborn, a Kibbee or a Hale. No one is ever unhappy to see your face, and after a certain critical mass of exposure/dependability you start to take on an important Brechtian function, becoming a human shorthand character that starts communicating expectations just by showing up (which can then be used or abused as necessary).

As I write this, The Horn Blows at Midnight is still on – Benny just did his brilliant read of the “eight beautiful – nine beautiful – TEN beautiful girls?” line. Like nearly anyone who knows this movie, I knew the jokes at its expense first (one of the first videotapes I ever owned, circa 11 years old, was a pair of Jack Benny Programs from the early 50s, one of which featured Humphrey Bogart and a cheap stab at this movie). Its charms are hard for me to resist or further explain. I will simply sit here quietly, laughing to myself and getting the Fallen Angel Twinges every sixty minutes. Pardon me.

The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)

Oh, come on, it’s not THAT bad.

Again, both of these are a result of TCM’s decision to do these “Second Looks” Fridays hosted and curated by Illeana Douglas, who has equaled any (and surpassed most) of the channel’s celebrity programmers. Douglas clearly has a level of enthusiasm, knowledge, and articulation that really hit the sweet spot for an ideal guest host. Here’s hoping they decide to bring her and this feature back on an at least semi-regular basis. It’s nice to have the obscurities treated with the delight and information usually reserved for name pictures and the “problematic” seen as worth watching for all kinds of reasons.