John Wayne

What’s on TCM: April 2014

John Wayne Happy April, everyone!  For Turner Classic Movies, April 2014 isn’t just any ordinary month — it marks the channel’s 20th anniversary.  This entire month can only be described as a celebration of everything that makes TCM wonderful.  TCM will be celebrating their 20th year by handing control over to their fans with a week of viewer requested movies during the daytime from April 7-11th.  In prime time that same week, several of the top contestants in TCM’s Ultimate Fan competition will join Robert Osborne to introduce some of their favorite movies.  And on April 14th, the day the channel was launched, you’ll find a day packed to the brim with many of the greatest films ever made.

TCM’s anniversary isn’t the only major milestone happening this month.  April 2nd is the 100th birthday of Alec Guinness and April 3rd is Doris Day’s 90th birthday.  Both stars will be feted with 24-hour marathons of their films on their respective birthdays.  Also turning 90 this year is MGM Studios.  TCM will be featuring 48-hours of some of MGM’s finest films from April 17-18.

John Wayne fans may want to clear some space on their DVRs because  John Wayne is April’s Star of the Month.  Instead of having one night a week of his movies, as is usually the case for Star of the Month showcases, TCM will be dedicating five straight days to The Duke.  That’s right, from April 21-25, TCM will be all John Wayne, all the time.  Although I’m personally not the biggest fan of Westerns, I’ve gotta admit that John Wayne is a perfect choice to be Star of the Month during such a milestone month for TCM.

Now, let’s get on to the good stuff!

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Red River (1948)

Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and his friend Groot (Walter Brennan) join a wagon train headed to California, but along the way, they decide to leave in Texas to start up a cattle ranch.  It means Tom has to leave behind Fen, the woman he loves, but Tom has always dreamed of having his own cattle ranch.  He promises that he will send for her someday, but not long after leaving the train, Tom and Groot see that the train they were part of was attacked by Indians and Fen was killed.  The only survivor of the attack was Matthew (Mickey Kuhn as a child, Montgomery Clift as an adult), who finds his way to Tom and Groot and brings a cow with him.

Tom takes Matt and his cow along with them and begins to treat Matt like a son.  Nothing stands in Tom’s way of making his ranch a success and 14 years later, Tom’s herd has grown to over ten thousand.  But after the South loses the Civil War, not very many people can afford to buy his beef anymore so Tom decides the best thing to do would take all the cattle north to Missouri.  It would be a massive undertaking and Tom has to hire extra help to make it happen.  He knows it’s going to be hard and that people will want to quit along the way, but he tells everyone right off that he won’t tolerate anybody quitting.  As soon as he’s got a good crew ready, they set out for Missouri.

Just as Tom predicted, things start getting hard and very dangerous.  There’s a stampede and one of their wagons carrying food is destroyed.  Food has to be rationed tightly, Tom doesn’t have the money to get more supplies, and when some of the men find out that it might be easier to go to Albilene, Kansas than Missouri, they’re not happy when Tom insists on going ahead to Missouri instead.  Some try to desert, but Tom has them brought back, which pushes Matt to the breaking point.  Matt shoots Tom in the hand and takes control of the cattle drive, leaving Tom behind.  But Tom vows to catch up to them someday and when he does, he’s going to kill Matt.  Matt leads the way to Albilene, but they stop to help another wagon train being attacked by Indians, which is where Matt meets Tess (Joanne Dru).  Matt and Tess fall in love with each other, but he leaves her behind just like Tom left Fen behind all those years ago.  After he leaves, Tom ends up meeting Tess, who begs him to not kill Matt.  Tom doesn’t want to back off, but his meeting with Tess gives him a lot to consider.

I figured I’d start Blogging Under the Stars 2012 off with a movie that’s been on my “To Watch” list for a long time now.  Now that I’ve finally seen it, I can safely say that I wish I had seen Red River sooner.  I certainly never thought John Wayne was a bad actor, but his performance in this really blew me away.  His acting in the scene where Tom meets with Tess is definitely my favorite scene of any John Wayne movie that I’ve seen.  Red River was also the first film Montgomery Clift made.  Costarring with someone like John Wayne for your first movie has got to be pretty daunting task, but Clift managed to really hold his own against Wayne.  There were plenty of exciting moments to keep me entertained,  like the stampede scene and the scene where Tom makes his way into Albilene to have his match with Matt.  Overall, I was very impressed with it and that’s a big compliment coming from someone who isn’t too fond of Westerns.

What’s on TCM: August 2012

How is it already time for another round of Summer Under the Stars?!  As usual, TCM has done a great job of coming up with a nice blend of stars who are no strangers to the SUTS schedule and stars who have never been featured before.  The more I look at the schedule, the more excited I get to start my Blogging Under the Stars marathon.

Some of the days I’m most looking forward to are: Myrna Loy (August 2), Marilyn Monroe (August 4), Toshiro Mifune (August 9), Ginger Rogers (August 12), James Cagney (August 14), Lillian Gish (August 15), Jack Lemmon (August 22), Gene Kelly (August 23), Kay Francis (August 21), and Warren William (August 30).  I have seen woefully few Akira Kurosawa films, so I am really looking forward to Toshiro Mifune’s day.  As a fan of silents and pre-codes, I was thrilled to see Lillian Gish, Kay Francis, and Warren William got spots on this year’s line-up.  Lately, I’ve been really getting into Tyrone Power movies, so I’m glad to see he got a day this year.  And since I’ve always wanted to see more Jeanette MacDonald movies, I’ll definitely be tuning in a lot for her day.

The complete Summer Under the Stars schedule is available to be download here.

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Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980)

If you have an interest in silent film, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s thirteen-part documentary series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film is essential viewing.  This series truly is a treat for silent film fans.  It’s very insightful, has a great narration by James Mason, and is chock full of interviews with actors and actresses, directors, producers, writers, cameramen, stuntmen, and journalists who were all part of the film industry during that era.

Quite a few big names were still alive at the time and were able to be interviewed for this documentary including Gloria Swanson, Janet Gaynor, Anita Loos, King Vidor, Hal Roach, Bessie Love, Mary Astor, Lillian Gish, Jackie Coogan, Colleen Moore, Louise Brooks, Frank Capra, and Charles “Buddy” Rogers, just to name a few.  Interviews with some of these people were quite rare, which makes this documentary an extremely important resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the silent film era.

Although the series was released on VHS and Laserdisc, due to copyright issues, it has yet to make its way to DVD.  Copies of the complete series on VHS are for sale on Amazon, but the asking prices are pretty ridiculous ($989 for a set?  Get out of here.)  I really hope the copyright issues can be worked out someday and it can be released on DVD, because it absolutely deserves to be seen.  In the meantime, the whole series is currently up on YouTube.  Each episode is just under an hour long, so it will take you a while to make your way through the series, but the time investment is absolutely worth it.   I’ve included a link to each episode along with my episode summaries.

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Without Reservations (1946)

Kit Madden (Claudette Colbert) is one of the most celebrated writers in America.  Everyone is talking about her novel “Here is Tomorrow” and it’s in the process of being turned into a movie starring Cary Grant and Lana Turner.  But just as she’s about to get on a train to California, she finds out Cary Grant isn’t able to do the movie after all.  Even though the producer thinks they should try to find an unknown actor to take his place, Kit had her heart set on Cary Grant.  She thinks nobody else could play that part better, until she looks up and finds herself sitting across from Rusty (John Wayne) and Dink (Don DeFore), a couple of Marines.  She realizes that Rusty would be a perfect choice for the movie.

She strikes up a conversation with Rusty and Dink and really hits it off with both of them.  There’s just one little problem — they’ve read her book and aren’t as fond of it as everyone else is.  So she tells them her name is Kit Klotch, tries to defend her book, and sends a telegram to the producer to tell him she’s found someone to take Cary Grant’s place.  While at a stop in Chicago, she gets word back saying that she should stay with Rusty and Dink.  But when she tries to keep up with them, she misses her train and loses her baggage.  When she gets on Rusty and Dink’s train, she has to pretend she’s lost her ticket and has to ride in the coach section.  But Rusty and Dink have her join them for dinner in the dining car and the three of them have a grand time. At least they have fun until Kit is accused of stealing another woman’s orchid and she gets thrown off the train.  But by then, she, Rusty, and Dink have become so close that they get off the train with her.

The three of them start walking and keep on walking until they meet someone with a car they’re willing to sell.  Kit buys the car and they start driving to California.  At one point, they stop, and Rusty comes onto Kit.  Kit is caught a little bit off guard by this and Rusty is hurt by her reaction.  But when the car starts overheating and the three of them have to stop at a ranch, the rancher’s daughter immediately takes a shine to Rusty.  Kit can’t stand seeing Rusty with another woman, so she tells the rancher that Rusty and Dink aren’t really Marines and their uniforms were stolen so that he would make them leave.  As they leave the ranch, Kit admits what she’s done, but surprisingly, Rusty and Dink aren’t mad.  In fact, Rusty is happy because she’s finally admitted her feelings for him.  Later when they need a hotel, Kit secretly tries to use her famous name to get them a room.  But when someone notices a newspaper article that had erroneously been printed early saying that Kit was in Hollywood that day, she winds up in jail.  When her movie’s producer comes to bail her out, Rusty and Dink find out who she really is and why she started following them, and Rusty wants nothing to do with her.  Kit and Rusty go their separate ways, but eventually, he decides he doesn’t want to be away from her anymore.

When I saw that Without Reservations involved John Wayne in a Claudette Colbert comedy, I was definitely intrigued.  This seemed so different from how I typically think of John Wayne that I couldn’t resist checking it out.  I certainly wasn’t disappointed, though.  Without Reservations is such an adorable movie.  Now those are words I never thought I’d find myself saying about a John Wayne movie!  Claudette, John, and Don DeFore made a great trio and were simply delightful to watch.  With a lesser group of key players, this movie probably wouldn’t have been as enjoyable.  And it was fun watching for cameos from Jack Benny, Mervyn LeRoy, Raymond Burr, and Cary Grant.  I’m always happy to see Cary Grant pop up in a movie, even if it is only for a minute!  It’s a great movie, I’m definitely glad I decided to watch this one today.

Baby Face (1933)

Baby Face 1933 Barbara Stanwyck

To say that Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) had a lousy upbringing is a huge understatement.  Her mother died when she was very young, leaving her to be raised by her father Nick, the owner of a speakeasy in Erie, Pennsylvania.  He makes her work in the speakeasy and has even been pimping her out to his customers since she was fourteen years old.  She does have two friends in Chico (Theresa Harris), her co-worker, and Adolf,  a cobbler who is a big fan of Nietzsche.  Lily has had just about enough of her life and is ready to leave, but just as she gets into a huge fight with her father about it, a still explodes and he’s killed in the fire.  Not knowing where else to turn, she turns to Adolf, who advises her to go to a big city and use men to get whatever she wants.  So she and Chico sneak onto the next train, where Lily seduces a worker on the train so he won’t throw them off the train.

When they arrive in New York City, Lily sets her heart on getting a job at the Gotham Trust.  She’s never worked in an office before, but once again, she seduces her way into the job.  She continues to use men left and right to move up within the company.  Even a young John Wayne is no match for Barbara Stanwyck’s wiles.  She works her way up to executive Ned Stevens (Donald Cook).  Ned’s happily engaged to Ann Carter (Margaret Lindsay), but Lily likes the challenge.  She even specifically arranges it so that Ann will find her together with Ned!  Ann tries to get her father J.R. Carter, the vice president of the company, to make Lily back off, but Lily wins him over in her usual style.  Not only does Lily get herself a new boyfriend, he gets her a stylish new apartment and a job for Chico as her maid.  What Lily doesn’t count on is Ned flying into a jealous rage and shooting J.R. before shooting himself.

The only man who seems able to resist Lily is Courtland Trenholm (George Brent).  After he’s elected president of the company, Lily’s first order of business is to try to get $15,000 from the company to stop her from handing over her personal diary to the press.  Instead, Courtland gives her a job in their Paris office to get her out of the way.  Lily accepts, and in Paris, she works her way up to being the head of the travel bureau.  When Courtland stops by the Paris office, he’s quite surprised to see that she wasn’t just another gold digger and finally succumbs to Lily’s charms.  Like J.R. before him, Courtland buys Lily lots of expensive gifts.  Unfortunately, Courtland finds himself in hot water after the bank fails.  He turns to Lily and asks her to sell her expensive jewelery so he can afford to defend himself, but she refuses.  Rather than face ruin, he shoots himself.  But Lily realizes that no amount of money can buy true love and changes her mind.  She finds Courtland in time and she’s able to save his life.

You didn’t think I was going to spend thirty days talking about pre-codes and not mention Baby Face, did you?  There were some pretty scandalous movies made in the pre-code era, but I think Baby Face is most definitely the most sordid of all the pre-codes.  There is absolutely nothing even remotely safe about Baby Face.  It takes elements that would be controversial enough on their own, but then adds a twist to them that makes them even more shocking.  Not only was Lily a prostitute, she was pimped out at a very young age by her own father.  And not only does she use men to get ahead in life, she’s actually encouraged to do so and she doesn’t blink an eye at her own behavior.  Baby Face is Barbara Stanwyck at her toughest and she is amazing to watch.  If you’ve never seen this movie before, just watch this clip:

It’s always great to watch Barbara Stanwyck telling somebody off and the scene where Lily yells at her father is my favorite instance of that.  And I love her tough girl attitude in that scene.  Who else could break a bottle over a man’s head and go back to her drink like it was nothing more than hitting a fly with a flyswatter?  This is one of those movies that truly must be seen to be believed.

What’s on TCM: December 2010

December can only mean one thing: Christmas movies galore!  Up this month are plenty of traditional Christmas classics along with a few off-beat ones that will certainly please fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  In addition to that, every Thursday in December, TCM will be saluting living legend Mickey Rooney by playing 24 hours of his movies, including every Andy Hardy movie and all his pairings with Judy Garland.  Speaking of living legends, a new episode of Private Screenings will be premiering this month featuring Liza Minnelli.  To celebrate, TCM will be taking two nights to showcase some of the best movies by Liza, Judy, and Vincente.  This month’s guest programmer is Eli Wallach, who has made some very stellar choices.  Fans of John Wayne will be glad to hear that on December 22, there will be 24 hours of nothing but John Wayne.  When New Year’s Eve rolls around, why not bid 2010 adieu with Cary Grant movies all day and Marx Brothers movies all night?  And to top it all off, the final two installments of the Moguls and Movie Stars series air this month on the first two Mondays and Wednesdays.

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