Happy March, everyone! Hopefully you’ve all been enjoying 31 Days of Oscars, I know I have. But we already have just a few days left of that before it’s back to the standard TCM schedule. Greer Garson will be the Star of the Month for March and her movies can be seen every Monday night this month. TCM will also be shining the spotlight on director Roberto Rossellini every Friday night in March. Now, let’s take a look at the rest of the schedule:
Danny Kenny (James Cagney) isn’t a man with big dreams. He likes working as a truck driver, he’s got his girlfriend Peggy (Ann Sheridan), he’s got a roof over his head, what more could he want? Well, he could use some extra cash so that he can send his musician brother Eddie (Arthur Kennedy) to music school. To get the money he needs, he starts participating in boxing matches. He’s a great boxer, but he doesn’t want to make a career out of it.
Peggy, on the other hand, has loftier ambitions. She loves to dance, and when she meets fellow dancer Murray Burns (Anthony Quinn), it’s immediately clear that they make great dancing partners. They keep entering and winning dance contests around New York, and when they have the chance to get into the vaudeville circuit, she can’t resist the opportunity and leaves Danny behind. Danny decides to make something of his life and starts pursuing boxing more seriously in the hopes of winning Peggy back.
Danny fights his way to the top, and when he’s in the same town for a fight as Peggy is for a show, he goes to see her. She still loves him and they decide to get married as soon as her tour is over. But when she gets another big opportunity, she’s in a position where she just can’t say no. Danny becomes even more determined to win her back, and when he’s fighting for a championship title, he refuses to give up, even when his opponent puts rosin on his boxing gloves and blinds Danny by rubbing the rosin in his eyes.
City for Conquest is exactly the type of movie you think of when you think of Warner Brothers. It’s tough and gritty, it’s got James Cagney in top form, and it’s even got some songs you’ll recognize from other classic Warner Brothers hits such as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933. Anthony Quinn was perfectly slimy as Murray and it was really interesting to see Elia Kazan in one of his few acting roles. It’s not the same caliber as The Public Enemy or Angels With Dirty Faces, but it is pretty enjoyable.
For my money though, Ann Sheridan was a big scene stealer. She did such a good job as Peggy, especially in the scene where she comes back to her hotel room and finds Murray and their manager waiting to tell her about their new big deal. It’s easy to see Peggy as nothing more than an ambitious woman, but I think she’s more complex than that. Peggy’s got a dream and when she and Murray started to make it, of course she got stars in her eyes and gladly said yes to anything that she thought would make it happen. But then she found out the man she trusted to help her is a controlling, abusive monster. She wanted to get away from him but was deeply conflicted between wanting to leave him and not wanting to give up on her dream. And then when she finally does get away from him, she ends up broke because she made the mistake of letting Murray control all the money. They could have done an alternate version of this movie told from Peggy’s perspective and it could have been pretty interesting.
Happy March, everybody! There are plenty of things I’m looking forward to on TCM this month! First of all, there’s the tail end of 31 Days of Oscars. The end of 31 Days of Oscars means the return of Silent Sunday Nights, and it’s back with some excellent silents. Lovers of pre-codes should definitely keep an eye on the schedule this month because I noticed quite a few pre-codes mixed in there. Starting this month, Drew Barrymore will take over Alec Baldwin’s co-hosting duties for The Essentials. Karl Malden is the star of the month and I haven’t seen very many of his movies, so this is a good chance for me to see more of his work. Every Monday night this month will feature films from the British new wave era, which is something I’m very eager to see. So, let’s get on to all my highlights for the month:
Back at the turn of the last century, Kings Row was thought to be a picture-perfect small town. But just like Peyton Place and Twin Peaks, Kings Row has got a very dark side. The movie begins in 1890 when all the main characters are just children. Parris Mitchell (Robert Cummings) and Drake McHugh (Ronald Reagan) are best friends and some of the rich kids in town. Parris wants to be a doctor when he grows up and is sweet on Cassandra Tower (Betty Field). Cassandra is the daughter of Dr. Alexander Tower (Claude Rains), who pulls her out of school under very mysterious circumstances. Parris doesn’t see her again until he returns to Kings Row as an adult to study medicine with her father, but he never forgets her.
When he returns to Kings Row, he’s also reunited with his old best friend, Drake. Drake is ready to propose to Louise Gordon (Nancy Coleman), daughter of the town’s other doctor, Henry Gordon (Charles Coburn). However, Dr. Gordon refuses to let him marry Louise, which absolutely devastates Louise. However, Drake quickly finds solace in another childhood friend, Randy Monaghan (Ann Sheridan). Meanwhile, Parris has been quite busy. His studies have been going very well and he’s set to be going to medical school in Vienna soon. He’s also started a secret affair with Cassandra, but he’s also had to deal with his grandmother dying of cancer. Before he leaves for Vienna, Cassandra begs him to take her with him, but there’s nothing romantic about it, she seems terrified of something. The next day, both Cassandra and Dr. Tower are dead. After Parris starts reading Dr. Tower’s notebook, he finally finds out why she was pulled out of school all those years ago.
Parris leaves for Vienna and life is great for him there. He decides to go into psychiatry and he proves to be a first-rate student. When he’s done with school, he’s offered a job with the school. But things haven’t been so great for Drake. He lost all his money in a bank scandal and the only job he could get was at the railroad yard. Unfortunately, he is injured in an accident and Dr. Gordon amputates both of his legs. Drake becomes deeply depressed, but at least he’s got a good caretaker in Randy, who never leaves his side. She even marries him after the accident. When Parris finds out about the accident, he takes a leave of absence to return to Kings Row. As soon as he gets back to town, he is called to Louise’s house by her mother. Her mother is concerned about her mental state, but when he talks to Louise, he finds out some very disturbing details about her father. Details that directly relate to Drake’s accident. Now Parris is stuck in an ethical quandary. If Drake found out the truth, it could potentially destroy him even further. But the only way he could make sure the truth would never come out would be to have Louise committed to a mental institution, where she’d surely face a lifetime of horrid conditions.
If you liked Peyton Place, then Kings Row is right up your alley. They’re both all about exploring the darker side of seemingly idyllic small towns, only Kings Row focuses on a male friendship instead of a mother-daughter relationship. I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Kings Row just because I’ve always been pretty “meh” about Ronald Reagan as an actor. But I’ve got to admit that I loved this movie. The whole cast is fantastic; I even actually really liked Ronald Reagan in it. But the most surprising performance to me was from Charles Coburn. I always associate Coburn with more lighthearted roles like the ones he had in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The More the Merrier, so seeing him playing an incredibly dark, sinister character was definitely a change, but he sure was amazing. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time in this movie, but he made the most of the time he did get. I’d say this is a “must see” kind of movie.
When Ernest and Daisy Stanley (Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke) invite the famous radio personality Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) to dine at their home while he’s in town for a lecture, they’re only expecting the prestige that comes with having a celebrity come to their home. What they don’t count on is Sheridan taking a fall on their steps and injuring his hip. Unable to leave until it’s healed, Sheridan turns the Stanleys’ house completely upside down. He and his secretary Maggie (Bette Davis) take over the entire first floor of the home: the phone is ringing off the hook, his Christmas presents are being delivered left and right, and Sheridan invites over some colorful guests like members of his prison fan club. The Stanleys’ house staff is completely exhausted by trying to meet all his demands and dodging Sheridan’s endless barrage of insults. And just to make things more interesting, some of those Christmas presents are things like penguins and an octopus.
One afternoon, Bert Jefferson (Richard Travis), the owner of the local newspaper, comes by to see if he can get an interview. Sheridan initially turns him down, but Bert wins him over with some good snarky comments. Bert also wins over Maggie and the two of them go ice skating together. Maggie quickly falls in love with Bert and when she reads a play she wrote, she gives it to Sheridan hoping he’d get it into the right hands. Instead, he sees that Maggie is smitten and, afraid Maggie will quit her job to be with him, calls up his actress friend Lorraine Sheldon (Ann Sheridan) and has her come to town right away.
When Lorraine arrives on Christmas Eve, he tells her to try to charm Bert away from Maggie. Even though Lorraine tries hard, Maggie sees exactly what Sheridan is trying to do. Another actor friend of Sheridan’s, Beverly Carlton, comes to town on Christmas Eve, too. As luck would have it, Beverly can do an uncanny impression of Lorraine’s current boyfriend so Maggie has Beverly call Lorraine, pretend to be her boyfriend, and tell her he wants to marry her. Lorraine buys it hook, line, and sinker, but when Sheridan finds out who really called her, he fills her in and she goes right back to working on Bert.
By the time Christmas morning rolls around, all sorts of chaos ensues in the Stanley home. Maggie quits her job, Sheridan’s friend Banjo (Jimmy Durante) comes to town, Bert decides to go with Lorraine, and, to top it all off, Ernest Stanley cracks and brings the sheriff over to force Sheridan out of his house. But when Maggie tells Sheridan off, he realizes he has to get Lorraine away from Bert to make Maggie happy. Luckily Banjo come up with an idea to get Lorraine away from Bert and off to Nova Scotia with him. With Lorraine on her way to Nova Scotia, Sheridan gives Maggie his blessing to marry Bert and is finally ready to leave. But just as he’s out the door, he slips once again and it’s back to the Stanley home for him.
I adore The Man Who Came to Dinner! It’s so incredibly sharp and witty, I just can’t get enough of it. Bette Davis didn’t make too many comedies in her long career, which I always thought was a shame because she was often absolutely hilarious in interviews. She was never going to be a rival to Carole Lombard, but she knew how to deliver a witty line, which was exactly what this movie called for. This was really a nice breath of fresh air in Bette’s career when you consider that she made this right after The Little Foxes and in the same year she also did In This Our Life and Now, Voyager. The supporting cast was great, Jimmy Durante and Ann Sheridan were a lot of fun. But even though Bette Davis gets top billing, there’s no denying that the real star here is Monty Woolley. He was amazing at delivering all those razor-sharp comebacks. I always love a movie full of snappy comebacks and The Man Who Came to Dinner certainly gives movies like The Women a run for the money in that department! It’s one of those movies you have to see more than once just to catch everything. But it’s such a delightful movie, watching it more than once is no chore.
Nora Prentiss is less about Nora and more about Dr. Richard Talbot (Kent Smith). When we meet Dr. Talbot, he is a successful, married doctor from San Francisco with two children. However, he has become bored with his life and his marriage. That all changes when nightclub singer Nora Prentiss (Ann Sheridan) is hit by a car. Dr. Talbot brings her to his office and tends to her. Her injuries are only minor, but the two begin to see each other more and more often. First he comes to see her perform at a nightclub, then they have dinner together, and before we know it, they’re off to his vacation home together. Eventually, Dr. Talbot decides he wants to leave his wife, but can’t bring himself to actually ask for a divorce. When a patient has a heart attack and dies in his office, Dr. Talbot places some of his personal effects on the man, puts him in his car and drives him to a deserted area, where he sets the car on fire and pushes it off a cliff. Since now people would think he was dead, he was free to run off to New York with Nora and marry her.
But of course, faking your own death never really works out in movies. He finds out the death is still being investigated back home, so he has to lay low to avoid possibly running into anybody he knew back home. He didn’t tell Nora what he did and she doesn’t understand why they can never go out and do anything. Nora eventually has to go back to work and gets a job singing in a new nightclub run by her old friend Phil Dinardo (Robert Alda). But Dr. Talbot starts to suspect that Nora and Phil are having an affair. His fears are unfounded, but his possessiveness drives him to confront Phil, which sets off a chain of events that leads to him being put on trial for murdering himself.
It’s August, and that can only mean one thing: Summer Under the Stars! Like 31 Days of Oscar, Summer Under the Stars never disappoints and I’m definitely excited for this year’s schedule. There are plenty of days dedicated to showcasing some SUTS mainstays like Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Henry Fonda. But this year they’re really mixing things up and spending nearly half the month focusing on people who have never been part of SUTS before, including John Gilbert, Ethel Barrymore, and Gene Tierney. Not only are there lots of stars who are new to SUTS, there are also tons of movies being premiered this month. I counted a grand total of 54 TCM premieres in August, 19 of which are on Thelma Todd day alone.
Here is a complete list of the stars featured this month. To get the complete schedule, you can download a copy here.