Olivia De Havilland

What’s on TCM: July 2016

Olivia de Havilland

Happy July, everyone! Hope everyone is having a nice summer so far. But while it’s tempting to go out and enjoy the nice weather this time of year, TCM has some pretty convincing reasons to stay inside and watch movies.

First of all, in honor of her 100th birthday, Olivia de Havilland is July’s Star of the Month! Since I’m a big fan of hers, I’m certainly looking forward to being able to see several of her movies every Friday night this month.

If you’re a fan of Westerns, you’re going to absolutely love this month’s schedule. TCM is doing a spotlight called “Shane (Plus A Hundred More Great Westerns),” so every Tuesday and Wednesday this month, it’s nothing but Westerns all day long. Westerns aren’t one of my favorite genres, but even I can find a few things to look forward to in that schedule.

Throughout the month, TCM will be doing a series highlighting some of the most definitive films to come out of the 1970s. And last, but certainly not least, there will be a two night spotlight on classic films made by African-American filmmakers, which should be fantastic. Many of the films in that series have never been shown on the channel before.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the rest of the schedule.

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In This Our Life (1942)

In This Our Life 1942

Sisters Stanley (Bette Davis) and Roy Timberlake (Olivia de Havilland) both come from a prominent family, but lead very different lives. Roy is the more humble and sensible sister and is married to Peter (Dennis Morgan) while Stanley is very selfish and is much more wild than Roy. Stanley isn’t a particularly likable person, but her uncle William (Charles Coburn) adores her and loves giving her expensive gifts and foots the bill for her reckless lifestyle. Stanley is engaged to Craig (George Brent), a lawyer, but the night before they are to be married, Roy runs off with Peter, marries him, and they leave for Baltimore.

Roy isn’t one to wallow in self-pity so she gladly divorces Peter and channels her energies into her work. One day, she runs into Craig and the two of them hit it off and start seeing each other. Craig is a very good man; an honest lawyer and even gives a job to Parry Clay (Ernest Anderson), the son of the Timberlake family’s maid Minerva (Hattie McDaniel), so he can put himself through law school. Meanwhile, Roy and Peter’s marriage is a complete disaster. Roy is still incredibly selfish and Peter doesn’t approve of her spending habits; they’re both completely miserable. Eventually, it drives Peter to kill himself, just as Roy and Craig decide to get married.

Stanley comes back home and it isn’t long before she’s bored and wants to leave. However, she needs money to leave and she can’t get it from her father or her uncle, so she tries talking to Craig to see about getting money from Paul’s insurance policy early. She invites him to come join her for dinner one night and when he stands her up, she gets raging drunk and tries to drive home. Along the way, she hits a child, who dies. Stanley’s car is pretty recognizable to people around town so it isn’t long before the police come to see her. Desperate to avoid accepting responsibility, Stanley tries to pin it all on Parry, but she doesn’t realize how protective Roy is of Troy.

In This Our Life is a really overlooked movie. With lesser stars and a lesser director, it easily could have become a completely forgotten film. But Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland are both so perfect for their roles in it, plus the supporting cast is fantastic, as is John Huston’s direction. Together, they all took what easily could have been a mid-rate melodrama and made it something memorable. Stanley is exactly the type of character Bette Davis reveled in playing and Olivia de Havilland made the perfect calm, yet strong, contrast to Davis. If you’re a fan of Davis or de Havilland, there’s a lot to love about this movie. In This Our Life is also very noteworthy for having a rather progressive representation of African-American characters, which is indeed refreshing to see in a 1940s-era film. Definitely keep an eye out for this on the TCM lineup; it’s well worth a watch.

The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)

Charge of the Light Brigade 1936

Brothers Geoffrey (Errol Flynn) and Perry Vickers (Patric Knowles) are both British Lancers stationed in India. Geoffrey is engaged to Elsa Campbell (Olivia de Havilland), daughter of Colonel Campbell (Donald Crisp). Unbeknownst to Geoffrey, Elsa and Perry have been seeing each other for a while and have fallen in love with each other. When Perry tries telling Geoffrey about Elsa, Geoffrey refuses to hear any of it. The news drives a wedge between Geoffrey and Perry and they stay estranged even as they are ordered to different outposts.

Geoffrey is sent to Chukoti and Perry goes to Lohara. When Geoffrey’s troops are ordered to Lohara on maneuvers, Col. Campbell disregards warnings about the potential for an attack by Surat Kahn (C. Henry Gordon) and sends most of the soldiers to Lohara anyway. Sure enough, Kahn attacks and it’s a far more brutal attack than anyone could have anticipated. Not only are many soldiers killed, Kahn’s troops also slaughter many of Chukoti’s women and children. Geoffrey and Elsa survive, but Geoffrey finally begins to see that Elsa really does love Perry.

When Kahn joins forces with the Russians, Geoffrey is sent to Crimea, but is given orders not to attack Kahn. However, Geoffrey wants to avenge the attack at Chukoti and re-writes the orders so that he can lead an attack on Kahn. The attack would be a suicide mission and he knows it. In one final act of nobility, he arranges it so that Perry will be away from the action and will live to marry Elsa.

The Charge of the Light Brigade is a first-rate adventure movie. Adventure movies aren’t always my thing, but Charge of the Light Brigade has plenty of thrilling action scenes paired with an intriguing human interest story; a nice balance for my taste. (However, I’m not a fan of the fact that so many horses were hurt or killed during production, Congress had to step in and create laws to protect animals on film sets.) I wish Olivia de Havilland’s role had been more substantial; it wasn’t a particularly interesting role. But it is awfully hard to resist getting to watch Errol Flynn at his peak, doing what Errol Flynn did best. It may not be very historically accurate, but it sure was entertaining.

TCMFF 2014, Day 1– Press Day

Thursday, April 10, 2014:

Robert Osborne at Press Day, TCMFF 2014

The 2014 Turner Classic Movie Classic Film Festival officially got underway on Thursday, April 10.  For those of us attending with media credentials, the day started with the chance to attend press conferences with TCM’s Robert Osborne, Ben Mankiewicz, Senior Vice President of Programming Charles Tabesh, and Managing Director Genevieve McGillicuddy.

The biggest revelation from Robert Osborne’s conference was about Olivia de Havilland.  There has been much speculation lately that Olivia would be doing a Private Screenings interview and would possibly be making an appearance at this year’s festival.  The Private Screenings interview rumors were true, but unfortunately, it did not end up happening. Olivia agreed to do the Private Screenings interview and since she lives in France, Robert Osborne and the TCM crew flew out there to film it.  But when they got there, Olivia was in the hospital. Olivia felt awful about not being able to do the interview and offered to fly to New York to film it there instead, but once again, health problems stood in the way.  As for her coming to the festival, she simply cannot handle traveling that far anymore. According to Robert, the last time she traveled to California to visit her family, it took her a year to fully recover from it.

Although many people might expect a classic film festival to be mostly full of people wanting to revisit movies from their youth, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  66% of TCM’s viewers are 18-44 years old and about half of festival attendees are under 30.  Robert Osborne stated that when he got started with TCM twenty years ago, he thought it was going to be a nostalgia channel, but he’s thrilled that younger people have embraced it so strongly.  In fact, Charles Tabesh said one thing he would really like to do in the future is have a series of child guest programmers.  (Personally, I hope that works out because that could be really fascinating.)

Ben Mankiewicz, Press Day TCMFF 2014

There has long been concern among some TCM viewers that TCM will start showing more and more modern movies in hopes of luring in younger audiences. Robert, Ben, Charles, and Genevieve were all very adamant that the TCM we all know and love will not be changing.  There’s no need for them to actively court young viewers when they already have young viewers.  TCM just celebrated its 20th anniversary and Ben made it clear that when TCM celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2034, it will not be playing a bunch of movies from 2004.

One interesting thing Robert Osborne said is that he never expected his job description to include being a nurse.  He and Ben both said they are most moved by hearing fans tell them about how Turner Classic Movies helped them cope with periods of unemployment, illnesses, and other difficult times in their lives. Ben elaborated that the personal connection many fans have with TCM is completely unique.  Although he enjoys watching things on ESPN and HBO, he does not have the attachment to those networks the way people do with TCM.

The Male Animal (1942)

The Male Animal PosterIt’s homecoming weekend at Midwestern University and while almost everyone on campus is excited about the big football game, English professor Tommy Turner (Henry Fonda) has more important things to worry about.  Dean Frederick Damon (Ivan F. Simpson) has just read an inflammatory editorial written by Michael Barnes (Herbert Anderson), the boyfriend of his wife Ellen’s (Olivia de Havilland) sister Patricia (Joan Leslie).  In the editorial, Michael states that Tommy plans to read a letter written by a controversial figure to his class.  Tommy does indeed plan to read the letter in class, but the Dean wants Tommy to change his mind to avoid upsetting some of the university’s trustees.

Not only is Tommy’s job suddenly on the line, he’s got marital problems to worry about, too.  Ellen’s birthday is coming up and Tommy has forgotten all about it.  But one person who hasn’t forgotten Ellen’s birthday is her ex-boyfriend Joe Ferguson (Jack Carson).  He’s in town for the big homecoming game and is also newly divorced.  Tommy begins to worry that Ellen and Joe are still in love with each other and on the day of the big football game, decides to drive Ellen away from their marriage because he thinks that’s what she wants.  While Ellen and Joe are at the game together, Tommy stays home and drinks with Michael.  By the time Ellen and Joe come back, Tommy is completely drunk and he starts a fight with Joe, who knocks him out until Monday.

Tommy finally comes to just in time to go to class and read that letter.  But by then, everyone has read the editorial and is clamoring to visit his class to see what happens.  Michael has been expelled over his editorial and one of the trustees threatens to fire Tommy if he reads that letter.  On top of that, Ellen is about ready to leave town with Joe, but before leaving, they stop by Tommy’s class.  He defiantly reads the letter and makes an impassioned statement on the importance of freedom of speech.  Everyone, including Ellen, is deeply moved by Tommy’s class and rallies in support of him and Ellen changes her mind about leaving Tommy.

The Male Animal is a really fun little movie.  It’s the very definition of an underrated comedy.  I liked getting to see Henry Fonda use both his comedic and dramatic talents in the same movie  We all know Fonda was amazing at giving heartfelt speeches and his speech about freedom of speech is a signature Henry Fonda moment.  But he also does some fantastic comedic work in this, particularly in the scene where Tommy gets drunk and tries to pick a fight with Joe.  Speaking of Joe, Jack Carson was a perfect foil for Henry Fonda to play against.  My biggest complaint about The Male Animal is that Joan Leslie is woefully underused.  The scenes of her character dealing with a girl named “Hot Garters” Gardner trying to steal her boyfriend had me in stitches.

The Strawberry Blonde (1941)

One Sunday afternoon, dentist Biff Grimes (James Cagney) gets a phone call about a man who urgently needs to have a tooth pulled.  Biff doesn’t typically work on Sundays, but when he finds out the man in question is Hugo Barnstead (Jack Carson), he’s willing to make an exception.  It’s not because Hugo is a big-shot business man and he thinks having him as a patient would be good for his career.  No, his reasons are much more personal.

About ten years earlier, Biff was studying to become a dentist and was good friends with Hugo.  Back then, all the guys in town would line up to watch Virginia Brush (Rita Hayworth) as she walked by.  One night, Hugo manages to land a date with Virginia and he asks Biff to come with him because Virginia was bringing her friend Amy (Olivia de Havilland).  Virginia is concerned with being respectable and proper (or at least appearing to be), but her friend Amy is much more forward-thinking and loves to shock people with her modern ideas.  Biff finds Amy rather off-putting and after that night, he puts all his efforts into wooing Virginia.  The two of them spend a memorable day together and Biff asks to see her again, but she can’t see him for a few weeks.

When the day of their date arrives, Biff waits for Virginia in the park, but is in for a surprise when Amy shows up instead.  Even worse, he gets word that earlier that day, Virginia married Hugo.  After talking to her for a while, Biff begins to see something in Amy that he hadn’t seen before and they start seeing each other.  Eventually, they get married and when they run into Virginia one day, she invites them over for dinner.  By then, Hugo’s contracting business has really taken off and he offers Biff a job as Vice President of his company.  However, Hugo is involved in some illegal business practices and really just wants Biff around to take the fall for it.

Biff ends up spending a few years in prison because of Hugo, but while he’s there, he finishes his dentistry program and starts practicing as soon as his sentence is over.  So when Biff gets the call about Hugo needing his tooth pulled, he knows this is his chance to get his revenge.  But when Hugo and Virginia arrive and he sees how miserable they are together, he realizes he’s truly gotten the last laugh.

I’d never even heard of The Strawberry Blonde before today, but I’m really glad I took a chance on it.  It’s funny and pretty endearing for the most part.  James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland were hilarious in this and played off each other so well.  Cagney has charisma to spare here and did such a great job of making Biff sympathetic.  You don’t typically think of Olivia de Havilland as a comedienne, but she made me laugh out loud in this movie.  All she had to do was wink and I was cracking up.  The supporting cast is excellent, particularly Alan Hale, who played Biff’s father.  Rita Hayworth didn’t really have to do very much other than act very proper.  I actually liked Rita the most in her last scene where we get to see how eight years of marriage to Hugo has changed her. Also, you might be surprised to know this was directed by Raoul Walsh.  At the time, he wanted a little change of pace from movies like High Sierra and The Roaring Twenties, and The Strawberry Blonde fit the bill perfectly for that.  Walsh proved he can direct comedy just as well as he can direct gritty noirs or gangster films.

The only thing keeping me from calling The Strawberry Blonde “completely charming” is the fact that the way Biff gets revenge on Hugo is awfully ghoulish.  Hugo certainly deserved to get some kind of punishment for his behavior, but watching him get a tooth yanked with no anesthesia while his wife and former friends laugh with delight just seemed too awful even for him.

It’s Love I’m After (1937)

Basil Underwood (Leslie Howard) and Joyce Arden (Bette Davis) are two actors known for their chemistry together on stage.  Off-stage, the two of them are in love with each other, but have quite a volatile relationship.  They’ve  been wanting to get married and have planned to do so plenty of times, but for various reasons, it’s never actually happened.  But after finishing a performance of “Romeo and Juliet,” they decide once and for all that they’re really going to make it happen this time.  However, during their performance that night, heiress Marcia West (Olivia de Havilland) was in the audience and she fell deeply in love with Basil.

After the show, Marcia went backstage to tell Basil what his performance meant to her and decides that Basil is her ideal man.  However, her fiance Henry (Patric Knowles) isn’t too thrilled with this and goes to see Basil himself.  Henry asks Basil to come out to her home and act like a total heel so she’ll get over her infatuation with him.  Basil agrees, much to Joyce’s dismay.  Once Basil arrives, he puts on his worst behavior and is shocked to find that Marcia loves him anyway.  Not only that, he quickly begins to enjoy her adoration.

When you think of Leslie Howard, you generally think of movies like The Scarlet Pimpernel, Romeo and Juliet, and Gone With the Wind.  He’s definitely not the first guy you think of when you hear the words “screwball comedy.”  But did you know that Leslie Howard could be really funny?  And by “really funny,” I mean downright hilarious.  Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland also aren’t generally remembered for being in comedies, but they both prove to be quite funny here.  I’d seen Olivia and Leslie together in Gone With the Wind, Bette and Olivia together in a few other movies, and Bette and Leslie together in other movies, so I really loved getting to see the three of them together and doing something so different for all of them.  Why this movie isn’t better remembered for any of them is beyond me, because it’s witty, well-acted, and fast paced; an absolute delight.