Elia Kazan

What’s on TCM: September 2012

Happy September, everyone!  I hope you all enjoyed this year’s edition of Summer Under the Stars.  One good thing may be coming to an end, but fear not, there are some very, very cool things to look forward to in September.

Silent film fans, rejoice!  Every Thursday night this month, TCM will be spotlighting movies produced at Mack Sennett studios, which means there will be tons of silent films being played during prime time.  83 short films will be included in this tribute, the vast majority of which have never been shown in TCM before, and will feature stars  such as Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle, and Gloria Swanson.  I, for one, am very excited for this!

Lauren Bacall is the Star of the Month and every Wednesday night in September will be full of her movies.  September 3rd will be TCM’s annual tribute to the Telluride Film Festival

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City for Conquest (1940)

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 1933Anthony 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.

What’s on TCM: April 2011

April is looking like it’s going to be a pretty busy month on TCM, especially if you’re interested in the Civil War.  TCM will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War by playing movies about the Civil War every Monday and Wednesday this month.  There will also be lots of Ray Milland to look forward to since he will be the star of the month.  The Lost Weekend, The Major and the Minor, Dial ‘M’ For Murder, all his best movies are in there.  There’s even a night full of real rarities that I’m very much looking forward to.

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A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Spending some time in jail for drunk and disorderly conduct turns out to be a life altering event for Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith).  While he’s in jail, Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) stops by to broadcast her radio show and the sheriff makes a deal with Larry that he’ll be released early if he sings on the air.  He agrees, and Marcia quickly realizes that his charisma and folksy charm would be a great hit on the radio.  She nicknames him “Lonesome” and her uncle hires him to host the morning show at the radio station.  Sure enough, Lonesome Rhodes is an instant sensation.  Meanwhile, Marcia is becoming more and more smitten by Lonesome Rhodes and although he comes onto her, she turns him down.  The only man in town competing with Lonesome for Marcia’s attention is Big Jeff, who is running for mayor.  When Lonesome becomes jealous of him, he successfully convinces his audience to take Big Jeff down a peg and for the first time, Lonesome realizes just how much power he wields over his audience.

Lonesome quickly works his way up from small town radio personality to television personality in Memphis.  While doing his show in Memphis, he ends up making fun of the sponsor and is yanked off the air.  The crowd protests, the sponsor realizes their sales are actually up because of Lonesome Rhodes, and he is given his job back.  Not only does he get his job back, but someone who works for the sponsor manages to get Lonesome his own show in New York.  His New York show is sponsored by an energy pill, Vitajex, and sales soar when it’s being pitched by Lonesome Rhodes.

Lonesome becomes completely and totally drunk on power and fame.  When he isn’t on camera, he makes fun of his audience, treats his staff badly, and even stabs Marcia in the back when he suddenly marries a young majorette (Lee Remick).  When Lonesome is introduced to a senator in the midst of a failing presidential campaign, Lonesome becomes the senator’s media consultant and, once again, the Lonesome Rhodes touch proves to be golden.  However, what goes up, must come down and Marcia takes it upon herself to destroy the monster she helped create.  While the end credits of his show are rolling, Lonesome’s microphone would be cut off.  But when Marcia was left alone in the control room, she turned his microphone back on and revealed Lonesome’s true thoughts about his audience to millions of viewers.  Oblivious to what has just happened, Lonesome returns home expecting it to be filled with dignitaries, only to find an empty penthouse.

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