TCM NEVER FAILS to come up with fresh new ways to appreciate the classic movies we all love, and this month’s focus on character actors proves the point. What a great way to recognize some of cinema’s most valuable players!
And for the complete April lineup, along with specific air times in your time zone, be sure to visit TCM.com.
IF YOU KNOW CLASSIC MOVIES, you no doubt recognize the four faces above. You may not know their names, but therein lies the plight of the character actor. They’re not marquee stars, they’re supporting players whose job it is to enhance a film with quirks and color and memorable moments.
As actress Amy Sedaris puts it, “You know when you watch old movies, it’s always the small parts you remember, the character actors who come in like a breath of fresh air.”
Sedaris (BoJack Horseman) is quite a character actor herself, as are all of the great performers being spotlighted on TCM in April as Star of the Month. Take Franklin Pangborn (above, top left). Could any leading man do a better job of conveying prickly annoyance? Just look at that face! No, all four faces! Colorful, memorable, and bigger than life, that’s what being a character actor is all about.
April’s lineup features the best in the business.
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933; Guy Kibee)
Holiday (1938; Edward Everett Horton)
Fifth Avenue Girl (1939; Walter Connolly)
Turnabout (1940; Franklin Pangborn)
One Man’s Journey (1933; May Robson)
Sing and Like It (1934; ZaSu Pitts)
David Copperfield (1935; Edna May Oliver)
The Bride Walks Out (1936; Helen Broderick)
The Lady Eve (1941; Eric Blore)
The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941; Eugene Pallate)
George Washington Slept Here (1942; Charles Coburn)
Women of the Year (1942; William Bendix)
Babes in Arms (1939; Margret Hamilton)
Topper Takes a Trip (1939; Billie Burke)
Journey for Margaret (1942; Fay Bainter)
Sister Kenny (1946; Beulah Bondi)
Gentleman Jim (1942; Ward Bond)
The Human Comedy (1943; Frank Morgan)
The Song of Bernadette (1943; Charles Bickford)
Janie (1944; Edward Arnold)
On the Town (1949; Florence Bates)
By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953; Mary Wickes)
The Long, Long Trailer (1954; Marjorie Main)
Rear Window (1954; Thelma Ritter)
The Fighting Sullivans (1944; Thomas Mitchell)
A Kiss in the Dark (1949; Victor Moore)
The Green Promise (1949; Walter Brennan)
Tea for Two (1950; S.Z. Sakall)
The Opposite Sex (1956; Agnes Morehead)
Our Miss Brooks (1956; Eve Arden)
Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960; Spring Byington)
Bells Are Ringing (1960; Jean Stapleton)
I’VE BEEN A HUGE FAN of The Set-Up for decades, but it was only recently that I learned it was based upon a 1928 modernist poem—a rather lengthy poem, also entitled The Set-Up, by author, journalist, and screenwriter Joseph Moncure March. Among other things, modernist poetry is characterized by themes of disillusionment, fragmentation, and alienation, three words that slip into place like puzzle pieces when you discuss this 1949 boxing drama directed by the great Robert Wise (West Side Story; The Sound of Music). It’s an evocative and deeply immersive piece of work.
Robert Ryan stars as Bill “Stoker” Thompson, a journeyman prizefighter nearing the end of his career. But he can’t accept it. He’s the only person in his life who doesn’t believe he’s washed-up. Even his manager (George Tobias) has given up on him, taking money from a gangster in exchange for a dive in the belief that Stoker doesn’t have a chance, anyway. Hence the film’s title.
But Bill does have one person left in his corner: His devoted wife, Julie (Audrey Totter), who’s witnessed far too many beatings and would give anything for her husband to retire.
Interestingly, the film is set in real time. A clock opens and closes the picture, letting us know that we’ve just experienced the story as we would if we had lived it ourselves. This heightens the drama and marks our stopover in the film’s world, a bustling yet desolate boulevard of broken dreams ironically called Paradise City, where wise guys profit off the sweat of others and “fans” pay good money to watch people bleed.
It all sounds rather bleak, and it is. But there’s love among the ruins, and where there’s love there is always hope. The Set-Up is an unforgettable film.
THERE’S AN EXTENDED SEQUENCE in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid wherein our two main characters are relentlessly pursued by a posse that seems to have an unnatural ability to stay on their trail. As inevitable as death itself, the posse is just always there—on the horizon, moving steadily closer. If you’ve seen the film, you probably see an obvious metaphor in this. But I believe there’s another one at play, as well, one having to do with the fact that Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) are relics of the past being pursued by an inevitable future—a far-less-wild west where train tracks mean development, and outlaws are outmoded.
But there will be plenty of romance and adventure before that happens. We see the boys’ exploits largely through the eyes of Sundance’s girlfriend, Etta Place (Katharine Ross). Butch and Sundance are charming, and she loves ’em. But they are criminals who’ve stepped on some mighty powerful toes, and Etta (and we) can’t help but feel that their days are numbered.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is probably the seminal “buddy picture” of the modern era. Redford and Newman are at their best here, as are director George Roy Hill (The Sting; Slaughterhouse-Five) and legendary screenwriter William Goldman (Marathon Man; A Bridge Too Far). If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a treat.
THE DICTIONARY defines the adjective “lurid” as:
And oddly enough, on April 1st, TCM’s Saturday late-night drive-in features two films that perfectly reflect those definitions, in order.
Blood and Black Lace (1964)
When you see color composition in a scene like the one pictured above, you know you’re watching something that was directed by either Dario Argento or his mentor, the great Mario Bava.
It was the maestro himself who created this vivid nightmare, a brutal murder mystery set in the world of high fashion. Like most of Bava’s films it’s beautifully crafted and meticulously shot and as violent as all get out. And it’s that dichotomy that made the late Bava a genre unto himself.
Interestingly, Blood and Black Lace is widely regarded to be the film that gave rise to the “slasher” genre that emerged more than a decade later.
British horror films during the 1960s and ’70s were lurid to the point where you almost felt guilty for watching. Almost.
SHOCK!… HORROR!… BLOOD! screamed the posters, and more often than not, the movies delivered. Corruption certainly did. It’s so lurid that its distributors went so far as to declare on their theatrical poster that “Corruption is not a woman’s picture! Therefore, no woman will be admitted alone to see this super-shock film!!
Now, while that’s discriminatory and probably not even legal, I’m going to give the distributors the benefit of the doubt and assume that they at least meant well. Corruption is yet another take on the classic scenario depicted some years earlier in the French classic Eyes Without a Face (1960), that of a surgeon murdering women in order to obtain the tissue necessary to restore someone who’s been disfigured. In this case the surgeon is Peter Cushing, and the object of his mad desperation is his model girlfriend, played by Sue Lloyd. The lengths to which he’ll go will come as a shock to Cushing fans more accustomed to him playing the hero. Here he’s scary and absolutely unhinged. But it’s a horror film, after all, one that takes its mission quite seriously.
It’s also something of a cultural time capsule, dropping us headlong into the swinging London social scene of the late 1960s. That’s always an amusing trip.
NOTE: All programming is subject to change. In the event of any changes, this guide will be updated.