TCM CELEBRATES its annual Summer Under the Stars this month by devoting each day of the calendar to a particular star. It’s like 31 film festivals delivered right to your home! I’ve chosen six titles for particular attention. Will any of these will be on your August watch list?
And for the complete August lineup, along with specific air times in your time zone, be sure to visit TCM.com.
EVER NOTICE how nearly every movie or TV series about life after the breakdown of civilization depicts rampant lawlessness and brutal tribalism? Not a hopeful scenario, but probably a realistic one judging from our continued interest. Back as 1962, with the threat of atomic war appearing every day in the headlines, this unflinchingly bleak thriller—released just 3 months before the Cuban Missile Crisis—must have seemed like a preview of coming attractions.
Panic in Year Zero was directed by Ray Milland, who also stars as a husband and father who will stop at nothing to protect his family after an atomic bomb destroys Los Angeles. He’s experienced enough of life to know exactly what’s coming next. The only question is, will he and his loved ones be able to retain their humanity and also stay alive?
Set to a horn-infused period score by exotica king Les Baxter, this harrowing saga feels as relevant today as it must have 55 years ago.
“No longer like a toad in these foul cellars will I secrete the venom of hatred—for you shall bring me love!”
I DON’T KNOW how many people will watch a silent movie anymore. But I have to assume it’s more than a few, or TCM wouldn’t keep programming them. That’s a heartening thought, especially since cinema history is important to me—and The Phantom of the Opera is airing in August!
Lon Chaney‘s performance and self-applied makeup are the stars of the show, but there is so much more going on here that the film remains every bit as compelling today as it was when it thrilled audiences in 1925. It’s part horror movie, part melodrama, and part treatise on the enormity of love—so visually and exuberantly rendered that you can almost feel the excitement of its creators as they explored the potential of what was then still the relatively new craft of cinema.
Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, and costarring Mary Philbin (above).
BEING TRAPPED in a house during a hurricane is one thing. Being trapped in a house during a hurricane with a bunch of murderous gangsters is quite another.
And that’s the pot-boiling scenario that threatens to boil over at any minute in this tense drama from director John Huston, featuring a fabulous ensemble cast that includes Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, and the great Lionel Barrymore.
Bogart is the reluctant hero here, a disillusioned war veteran suddenly forced to match wits and wills with swaggering criminal Johnny Rocco (Robinson), whom he despises. Their interactions are riveting, but it’s Claire Trevor who steals the show as Rocco’s alcoholic girlfriend. She’s the wildcard in this game because she’s had it with Rocco’s cruelty and senses that she’s about to be kicked to the curb.
A great drama that engrosses you right through to its thrilling conclusion.
THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE has been the subject of dozens of great films, and this one ranks among the very best. Made after the war, it’s a thoughtful, though action-packed, reflection upon the effects of a terrible battle on the men who fought it.
The cast, including Van Johnson and John Hodiak (above, l. and r.), is uniformly great, with an outstanding turn by Ricardo Montalban as a Latino soldier from Los Angeles who’s enchanted by his first experience with snow, even under the most hellish conditions.
ANOTHER WAR PICTURE for the month, this one about a band of mercenaries—led by Rod Taylor (above, center)—hired to carry out a dangerous mission in the midst of the Congo Crisis.
At the time of its release, the film was criticized for its unrelenting violence. And it is brutal. But considering the well-documented atrocities that took place during the Crisis, I’d rather consider the film unflinching than unnecessarily violent. That aside, it’s one doozy of an adventure from beginning to end, among the forerunners of cinematic realism that would arrive in a big way during the 1970s.
Costarring Yvette Mimieux and Jim Brown (pictured above, l. and r.), Dark of the Sun was directed by legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The African Queen; Death on the Nile).
JAMES CAGNEY’S long career was characterized by great performances, but he never gave one more powerful, or disturbingly unforgettable, as his portrayal of unstable outlaw Cody Jarrett in director Raoul Walsh‘s magnificent 1949 drama, White Heat. Costar Virginia Mayo once revealed that Cagney was so convincing in the part that he actually scared her.
The movie is well known for its dialogue, and several iconic, often-imitated scenes, but it’s Cagney who makes it an event. There isn’t a single moment of screen time where you don’t believe you’re watching a dangerous psychopath run wild.
As Walsh once said in an interview, “When you have a man like Jimmy Cagney in a gangster picture, he will give it an approach that nobody else can handle. And the audience are arrested in their attention to him from beginning to end. They’ll follow every little thing he does.”
And to that, I will attest. Add this one to your watch list.
NOTE: All programming is subject to change. In the event of any changes, this guide will be updated.