Weekend’s Best Bet Continued…

In running through TCM’s lineup for this weekend, I came across far too many good flicks to list in my regular viewing recommendations in the left column. Not only are there a number of gems showing this weekend, but I have already written about them. So click on the links below to learn more about the movies and consider checking them out yourself this weekend. P.S. All times are Eastern Standard Time and on the U.S. programming schedule.

Beware, My Lovely
6:30 pm Friday on TCM
Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan

The Lost Weekend
10 pm Friday on TCM
Ray Milland, Jane Wyman

Sunrise
8 pm Saturday on TCM
Janet Gaynor, George O’Brien

The Great Race
1 pm Sunday on TCM
Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon

Butterfield 8
10 pm Sunday on TCM
Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey

 

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Days of Wine and Roses

Ring a Ding Ding

Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

     It can be difficult to judge a movie you would never want to watch again. Just as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a fantastic piece of cinematic art, so too is another drunken flick, Days of Wine and Roses. Unlike another movie that honestly portrays alcoholism at its worst, this masterpiece of sorts is more heartbreaking where The Lost Weekend is fascinating.

     Days of Wine and Roses works in some ways as a promoter of Alcoholics Anonymous, which makes one wonder why anyone would go to see it knowing the subject matter. What this take on the disease offers, however, is a love story that keeps us rooting for a happy ending.

     Jack Lemmon shows his dramatic gusto as Joe Clay, a public relations man who enjoys getting drunk. He convinces a sober secretary with a love of chocolate to go on a date with him and ends the night wasted but does not scare the woman away. This Kirsten (Lee Remick) will be swayed to the thrills of alcohol through the chocolate-flavored Brandy Alexander Joe orders her.

     Jump ahead to shortly after the birth of their daughter Debbie and Joe returns home from a work-related booze party only to be annoyed at his wife for not joining in his alcoholic fun. Despite the concern of her breast milk, Kirsten picks up a glass to make him happy. Flash forward again and the couple’s alcoholism has grown to the point that Kirsten accidentally sets the apartment on fire while Joe is away, and the man simultaneously loses his job. Now in a shabby apartment, the duo are ragged and run down as they spend most of their time drunk. Joe proposes that they give up drinking altogether and seek help from Kirsten’s father.

     The family moves in with Kirsten’s father Ellis (Charles Bickford) where they manage to remain on the wagon for two months while working at the man’s greenhouse. One night Joe smuggles in two bottles of scotch to reward their good behavior and before they know it the husband is sneaking out in a thunderstorm to the greenhouse where he has hidden another bottle in a flower pot. Unable to remember in which pot the booze is buried, Joe trashes the entire facility.

     From there the Clays’ future is downhill. After some time in the violent ward of the hospital, Joe enters AA only to give into his addiction when Kirsten runs away to a motel. Joe will eventually separate himself from his enabler and pull himself back up in the world, but Kirsten will never admit she has a problem.

     Director Blake Edwards took a break from comedy and other light-hearted flicks to give us the powerful Days of Wine and Roses. All the sorrow of the story is tied together by the knowledge that our two protagonists love each other powerfully and truly want to be together. The picture starts out painting Joe in a rather sour light as he can be blamed for starting Kirsten’s addiction, but by the end we are left resenting the woman for being such a poor influence on the man who wants to do the right thing.

     Also unique about Days of Wine and Roses is the passage of time. If one were to ignore the time references made in dialogue, he could conclude the movie’s plot takes place over a couple months. In reality the story jumps over more than seven years. There are not dissolve transitions we usually associate with the passage of time. Instead, regular cuts connect Joe drunkenly destroying the greenhouse with his appearance in the violent ward. We are later told that actually occurred after he had passed out drunk on the street. None of the changes in setting happen as instantaneously as we think, which is truly fascinating.

     Both Lemmon and Remick were nominated for best acting awards, and it nearly goes without saying that their portrayals of violent and sloppy drunkenness were spellbinding. One can’t help but want to shake these characters to get them to realize as we do how foolish they are to think they can control their addictions. Their performances and the emotionally enthralling story make Days of Wine and Roses important to watch, but probably only once.

Sex and the Single Girl

Wowza!

Sex and the Single Girl (1964)

     Both Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis have been actors of only moderate interest to me, but after viewing Sex and the Single Girl, I’m changing my tune. This wonderful joke on married and single life and male and female standards plays both leads to their best and makes for a riveting good time.

     Curtis as Bob Weston is managing editor at STOP magazine, a filthy gossip rag that prides itself on being the worst publication in town. Wood as Dr. Helen Brown is the latest feature of the magazine and author of the best-selling “Sex and the Single Girl” advice book. She is a psychologist who, thanks to STOP, is losing clients because they believe she is a virgin. Bob plans to slyly get the truth about Helen’s sexual experience to do a follow-up story, but of course falls in love along the way.

     Bob’s neighbors are the feuding couple Frank and Sylvia Broderick, played by middle-aged Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall. Frank is a hosiery manufacturer who is obsessed with examining women’s legs on a strictly professional basis, but his wife thinks he runs around. Because Frank hasn’t the time to see a marriage counselor, Bob takes it upon himself to pose as Frank and see Helen professionally, relaying any advice back to his neighbor. Doctor and patient have a moment of love at first sight upon meeting, but Bob, now known as Frank, has established himself as a married man.

     Bob makes a number of efforts to get Helen in bed, including faking a desire to kill himself that lands both parties in the river. Eventually the scam comes to a head when Helen’s request to meet with Sylvia results in three women showing up at her office, two of which are pretending to be the woman at Bob’s request. Once Bob’s identity is revealed and Sylvia understands the true nature of her husband, a car chase scene consumes the remainder of the feature.

     The last prolonged sequence in Sex and the Single Girl rings of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Great Race (which also features Curtis and Wood). The various parties, while chasing each other down en route to the airport, switch cars, drivers and strangers leading to the institutionalization of a police officer. The action is so distinctly different than the prior three-quarters of the flick that it could almost be it’s own short-subject movie.

    Possibly my favorite running gag in Sex and the Single Girl followed Curtis’ donning of a woman’s robe while he waits for his garments to dry at Helen’s apartment. When asked if he is uncomfortable in such a feminine item, he replies that he thinks he looks like Jack Lemmon, referencing of course Some Like It Hot, which five years earlier had both Curtis and Lemon in drag. The rest of the movie has characters saying Bob looks like Jack Lemmon at least half a dozen times.

     I cannot conclude without referencing two other essential members of the cast. First, an old Edward Everett Horton plays the head of STOP magazine and has few scenes but is a gem nevertheless. Secondly –and I thought I’d never say this– Mel Ferrer is highly amusing. He plays another psychologist in Helen’s office who finds himself fascinated with the girl after reading the STOP article. He had me giggling as he performed a rather adept solo dance while waiting for Helen to prepare for their date. On the whole, Sex and the Single Girl is highly romantic and greatly comedic and is supported by a fantastic cast.

  • Sex and the Single Girl is set for 4 p.m. ET Oct. 16 on TCM.

It Should Happen to You

Gasser

It Should Happen to You (1954)

      I have not necessarily been a fan of Judy Holliday, but she changed my mind in It Should Happen to You. She does a great job of playing a somewhat ditzy, vain, dreamer who seems to be oblivious to romance as she endeavors to “make a name for herself”.
 
      Holliday plays a non-native New Yorker Gladys Glover who just lost her job as a girdle model over a matter of “a quarter inch”. She runs into Jack Lemmon‘s Pete who is shooting documentary footage in Central Park. The two chat about how impossible it is to meet nice people in the city, completely ignoring that they have both proved an exception to the rule. Taking some vague assurance from Pete that she will make her dream of fame come true, Gladys opts to use the $1,000 she has saved to purchase three months of advertising space on Columbus Circle.
 
     Peter Lawford comes in as Evan, who works high up in his family’s soap company and who desperately wants the Columbus Circle spot Gladys purchased. The young woman is unwilling to budge, but ultimately scores six billboards throughout the city in exchange for her one. She also scores several dates with Evan, whose motives seem to be about getting the gal to bed. Meanwhile, Gladys’ friendship with Pete has blossomed as the man has moved into her building. He is utterly frustrated over his inability to share his romantic feelings for the woman, who is distracted by her new-found fame.
    
     I have to wonder how strange it must have been in 1954 for someone to become famous for doing nothing. Contemporary society is plagued by reality show stars and celebrities famed only for having a sex tape. Gladys’ popularity, however, is shrouded in mystery. The billboard merely feature her name, nothing more, so when giving her name to a department store clerk, she is first “recognized” and hounded by fans. When a TV show host speculates over who Ms. Glover is, the woman calls him up and ends up with an agent who books her TV show appearances.
 
     This was Jack Lemmon’s second film and his first leading role. He plays his usual quirky self, although one who is less nervous than in some of his more famous spots. I always find the man enjoyable to watch, and I do not think anyone else could have played the role in the same manner or in a way as appealing. For a moment toward the start of the movie, the viewer might be convinced this will be a story of the nice guy versus the rich, handsome guy in acquiring the girl’s affections, but It Should Happen to You is not like that in the least. Lawford’s character, although seeming to gain ground, never stands a chance against Gladys’ love for fame. Pete also suffers a position second to the attention Gladys has gained, but is able to provide a happy ending after smacking the protagonist back to reality.
  • It Should Happen to You is set for 6:30 p.m. ET Feb. 18 on TCM.

The Great Race

Ring a Ding Ding

The Great Race (1965)

     With the death of Blake Edwards last week, it was a lucky coincidence I had recorded The Great Race recently. What Edwards had hoped to be “the funniest movie ever” is a great example of the writer/director’s work and one that I imagine will continue to entertain audiences of all ages for decades to come. Edwards was best known for his comedies — The Pink Panther movies and Operation Petticoat — but also contributed significant dramatic films — Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Days of Wine and Roses.

     By re-teaming the duo seen in the wildly successful Some Like it Hot from 1959 (not his film), Edwards might not have made THE funniest movie of all time, but he sure crammed a load of laughs into this nearly three-hour saga. The relationship between Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in The Great Race, however, is quite different from the pals who sought Marilyn Monroe‘s affection in their previous on-screen pairing. Curtis plays the Great Leslie, a stunt man of sorts who arranges an automobile race from New York to Paris (moving westward). Lemmon plays Professor Fate, the villain who seeks to foil Leslie’s stunts and to defeat him in the race. Natalie Wood is the suffragette who in this early 20th century time period seeks equality for women. She wrangles herself a test job as a reporter who will participate in and cover the race.

     The story is just a device by which Edwards was able to insert gag after hijink and slapstick galore onto the big screen. Wood is beautiful if not utterly annoying, Curtis is his usual dry, handsome, not-contributing-a-whole-lot sort; and Lemmon steals the show with sidekick Peter Falk as Max. Lemmon is almost unrecognizable with black hair and mustache, hunched back and smarmy villanous laugh. What he is recognizable as, however, is the bad guy from the Wacky Races cartoons that Hanna-Barbera premiered not long after this movie. Dick Dastardly and his canine sidekick Muttley (who really does resemble Falk) starred in the race-based cartoons that I remember watching as a kid in the ’80s and ’90s. This would be yet another example of when Edwards managed to create such absurd and memorable characters that they were equally suited to the world of animation as they were in live-action (the other being Pink Panther, of course).

Max & Prof. Fate/Dick Dastardly & Muttley

     I regret that I only became aware of Edwards over the course of the past months through the Pink Panther movies. Even as an Audrey Hepburn fan, I was not aware he was the brains behind possibly her most famous role. His sort of comedy is the type that really appeals to me — it is stupid, easy laughs over which a person of any age or intelligence level can crack up. Although it is long, The Great Race is the sort of movie you can pick up and leave off anywhere in the film because, as I mentioned, it is not about the story or the climax but rather is important for the fun one has along the way.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

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