What’s worth watching on TCM this January?

by Martin Hafer

What’s worth watching on TCM this January?

My monthly article about Turner Classic Movies is not intended to talk about every film worth seeing.  Heck, in my opinion just about everything on TCM is worth seeing!  Additionally, I am not mentioning the well-known classics, as just about everyone knows that Casablanca and Gone With the Wind are great films.  Instead, I try to point out the great and near great films that are often missed by most viewers.  Or, occasionally, the films so mind-bogglingly bad that you have to see them to believe them!  However, this month’s selections are all fantastic and good films!  Not terrible a film like Plan 9 From Outer Space among them!

Tuesday, January 3rd at 10:30am  Close to My Heart (1951).  Gene Tierney and Ray Milland star in this picture about a couple who cannot conceive and she decides to look into adoption.  It’s a very sensitive portrait of infertility (something very rare in films) and is a real tear-jerker.  It’s also among Tierney’s best performances.

Tuesday, January 3rd from 10:15pm to 6:30am  A night of tough prison pictures, three of which are must-see films.

10:15pm  Brute Force (1947).  This is one of Burt Lancaster’s first films and helped make him a star.  However, his performance is overshadowed by Hume Cronyn, who plays a sadistic guard who does his best to create an air of resentment and hate in his cellblock…which ultimately leads to a prison riot.

1:30am  The Big House (1930).  This is probably the first great prison film, as Chester Morris and Wallace Beery play tough mugs in a prison ready to explode with violence.  The most interesting character, however, is played by Robert Montgomery…who plays a cowardly stoolie!

3:15am  The Last Mile (1932).  An innocent man is sent to death row and is caught up in yet another prison riot!  While far from a perfect film, it improves as you watch and makes a very convincing argument against capital punishment.  Powerful.

Saturday, January 7th from 8pm to 1am.  The three best Bob Hope/Bing Crosby road films.  Silly and fun…if you don’t like these, you probably shouldn’t watch any more of their pictures!

8pm  Road to Singapore (1940).  This is the first Hope/Crosby film and the boys battle over who gets sexy Dorothy Lamour.

9:45pm  Road to Zanzibar (1941).  The boys are in Africa and battle over who gets sexy Dorothy Lamour.

11:30pm  Road to Morocco (1942).  The boys are in North Africa and battle over who gets sexy Dorothy Lamour….do we detect a trend?!

Sunday, January 8th at 5:45pm  Rollerball (1975).  Not to be confused with the terrible and unnecessary remake!  Despite the violence, this film is an incredibly intelligent film about the future…where the world is run by corporations and the public is entertained by an insanely violent blood sport.  The music is amazing!

Monday, January 9th at midnight  A Clever Dummy (1917) and Teddy at the Throttle (1917).  Two wonderful silent shorts starring two of the lesser-known silent comics, Ben Turpin and Bobby Vernon.  Not to be missed!

Wednesday, January 11 at 1am  White Heat (1949).  This is probably Jimmy Cagney’s best film, as he plays an incredibly psychotic gangster with mommy issues!  The ending at the oil refinery is one of the most memorable scenes in movie history…where Cagney utters the immortal line “…top of the world, Ma!”.

Wednesday, January 11 at 10pm  The Killers (1946).  In my opinion, this is the greatest film noir pictures of all time.  It begins with two bruisers awakening a poor guy from his sleep and drilling him full of lead!  The poor guy is Burt Lancaster and one of the baddies is William Conrad (the rotund actor who played ‘Cannon’ in the 1970s).  The rest of the film consists of the investigator, Edmund O’Brien, trying to put the pieces together to find out exactly why the man was murdered.  Ava Gardner is great as a screen femme fatale.

Friday, January 13th at 8pm  Cleopatra (1934).  This is the best version of the story, though not nearly as famous (and infamous) as the Elizabeth Taylor version.  Claudette Colbert stars at the Egyptian queen and the film is shocking for its Pre-Code scenes of partial nudity and excess.  An amazing film.

Monday, January 16 at 12:30am, 1am and 2am.  Three wonderful Mabel Norman/Fatty Arbuckle silent short comedies.

12:30am  Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913).  A young man (Mack Sennett) is in love with the maid (Mabel) but his family is not pleased and force him to break it off.  Later, she becomes a movie star and he sees her in a film begin chased by bad guys…and he springs into action because he foolishly believes it’s real!

1am  He Did and He Didn’t (1916).  A doctor (Arbuckle) eats too much and dreams his wife is being unfaithful.  Cute and different from the usual Keystone Studios shorts.

2am  Fatty and Mable Adrift (1916).  This is my all-time favorite silent shorts as it’s funny but also incredibly romantic and sweet.  See this one!!

Tuesday, January 17th at 1:15am  One Potato, Two Potato (1964).  Despite the strange title, this is a very well made and sensitive story about an interracial marriage and how tough such marriages were back in the day.  A brave film for its time.

Tuesday, January 17 at 11:30pm  Two-Way Stretch (1960).  A very clever comedy about a master criminal (Peter Sellers) who plans on committing the perfect crime…even though he’s behind bars!

Wednesday, January 18th at 4am  Pardon Us (1931).  Laurel & Hardy’s take on a prison film.  It’s the team’s first full-length picture and a lot of fun!

Monday, January 23rd at 11am  Kitty Foyle (1940).  Ginger Rogers won the Oscar for playing the lead in this weepy picture about a poor gal who lets herself in for heartache when she falls for a high-society guy.  Terrific acting…have some kleenex nearby…just in case!

Friday, January 27th at 5:45pm  Between Two Worlds (1944).  Passengers en route to some vacation spot slowly start to realize that they are actually dead and on their way to eternal judgment!  Not as scary as it sounds, this film’s been remade several times but this is the best version.  Powerful and well worth seeing.

Sunday, January 29th at 4:30am  Coma (1978).  Normally you don’t see me recommending newer films in this column, but this Michael Crichton thriller is a masterpiece of horror and suspense.

Tuesday, January 31st at 10:45pm  The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936).  This is the surprisingly well made, exciting and true story of Dr. Samuel Mudd, the man who was convicted and sent to a hellish prison for his supposed part in the Abraham Lincoln assassination.  The story concerns Mudd’s life in prison and the way he managed to obtain a pardon!

As I mentioned already, there are lots of other great films on TCM this month and every month and these are just a few of my favorites.  A few I’ve mentioned in previous articles are coming on as well, but I’ve mentioned Caged, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Larceny Inc. so many times that I’m going to have to just tell you to see them if you haven’t (particularly The Umbrellas of Cherbourg).  Happy viewing and let me know what you think.

Rollerball (1975) Trailer