James Mason

What’s on TCM: May 2015

Dr. Strangelove Poster

Happy May, everyone! Ready for a new month of movies to look forward to?

Sterling Hayden is the Star of the Month for May and his movies can be seen every Wednesday night this month. In addition to Sterling, there’s also a lot of Orson Welles on the schedule this month because he’ll be the subject of this month’s Friday Night Spotlight.

TCM will also be doing a spotlight on disaster films on May 7, 14, and 21. On May 23, 24, and 25, TCM will be doing their annual Memorial Day war movie marathon.

May’s celebrity Guest Programmer is Tony Bennett and Gary Sargent, whose selections I really love.  But I’d say the highlight of the month is the night of May 2, which will give me the chance to indulge my love of both Garbo movies and bad disco movies.

Without further ado, let’s take a better look at the schedule.

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East Side, West Side (1949)

Brandon (James Mason) and Jessie Bourne (Barbara Stanwyck) are a very happily married couple and part of Manhattan’s elite.  Things weren’t always so happy for them, though.  Brandon has a history of infidelity, but Jessie is the only woman he loves and he’s determined to leave the past behind.  All is going well for them until one night, he visits a nightclub and finds out Isabel Lorrison (Ava Gardner), his former girlfriend, is back in town.  She wants to pick things up with him again and Brandon fights hard to resist her advances.

While at the club, Brandon ends up getting into a fight with Isabel’s date for the night.  Rosa Senta (Cyd Charisse) witnesses the fight and tries to help Brandon since she respects Jessie and doesn’t want to see the incident splashed across the society page.  Sure enough, though, the story makes the paper and some of Jessie’s friends are worried about what Isabel’s return could mean for their marriage.  Jessie goes to meet Rosa to thank her for helping Brandon and gives her a ride to the airport so she can pick up her boyfriend Mark Dwyer (Van Heflin).

It just so happens that Mark is the guest of honor at a party being thrown by some of Jessie and Brandon’s friends.  But just before the party, Isabel convinces Brandon to come see her at her apartment.  Although he has every intention of ending things with her once and for all, he ends up staying so long that Jessie has to go to the party alone.  But while at the party, she gets to know Mark some more and he begins to fall in love with her.

The next day, Jessie gets a call from Isabel and goes to her apartment to confront her.  Isabel swears up and down that she’s the one he really wants, and Jessie begins to worry she might be right, but then she gets a call from Brandon telling her that Isabel has been murdered.  Naturally, Brandon gets brought in for questioning, and even though he’s cleared in the matter, the incident forces Jessie to make up her mind whether or not she wants to stay with Brandon.

I was surprised that East Side, West Side got pretty mediocre reviews on my cable guide and the TCM website, because I really enjoyed it.  If it had been made with a lesser cast, I don’t think I would have been nearly as good, but everybody was completely on point here it absolutely made the movie.  I loved Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin together.  Ava Gardner was one deliciously conniving other woman; she truly revels in making you hate Isabel.  Even Cyd Charisse was good, which might be surprising to a lot of people since this isn’t a musical.

My only complaint was that I was getting bored during the scenes where Van Heflin puts on his detective hat to figure out who killed Isabel.  Those scenes didn’t seem to fit in very well with the rest of the movie.  It was almost like they came out of some other movie.  First it was a drama about marriage, then all of a sudden it turned into a murder mystery, and then it went right back to being a drama again.

But that issue aside, I was very surprised by just how good East Side, West Side was.  Definitely keep an eye out for this one, I don’t think it really gets the credit it deserves.

Thunder Rock (1942)

When his employer realizes that lighthouse keeper David Charleston (Michael Redgrave) hasn’t been cashing his paychecks, an inspector and David’s friend Streeter (James Mason) take a trip out to Thunder Rock on Lake Michigan to check on him.  Living and working on Thunder Rock is not easy; it’s a very lonely job.  David seems to like the isolation, though.  He has no need for money, he doesn’t read books to keep himself busy like other lighthouse keepers do, and he doesn’t even want to take his mandatory leave.  Streeter worries about David spending so much time alone, especially after David tells him he’s been seeing ghosts.

Ninety years earlier, there had been a shipwreck that claimed the lives of several immigrants from Europe.  When David read about it in the lighthouse records, he became haunted by these people.  He sees their ghosts, but the only one that realizes he is dead is Captain Joshua Stuart (Finlay Currie).  As he learns more about the pasts of these people, he realizes that each of them had come to America to run away from something.

David himself was running away from something when he came to Thunder Rock.  He had been a journalist in Europe, but after being censored for writing against fascism, he left his newspaper job to give lectures and write books to warn everyone about the rise of fascism.  But after being worn down by an apathetic public, he decides to get away from it all, leaves Europe, and becomes a lighthouse keeper.  When David tries to tell the ghosts that they shouldn’t have given up their fights so soon, even they see the hypocrisy of that sentiment.  But with their help, David realizes he needs to get back out into the world and keep spreading his message.

I’d say Thunder Rock was good, but not great.  Michael Redgrave was excellent and I loved the atmosphere of the movie, but I was a little disappointed by how little James Mason was in it.  In fact, if I had known how little James Mason was in it, I probably would have chosen another movie to write about for today.  When I read the synopsis, I was expecting something along the lines of The Uninvited or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but Thunder Rock isn’t as strong as either of those.  Some might find the anti-fascism message pretty heavy-handed, but you have to keep in mind that it was made in England in 1942, so it is very much a product of its time.   Although not a great movie, it would be a good one to watch on a rainy day.

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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