Ben's Top Pick for September
GUEST PROGRAMMER: KEITH CARRADINE - September 10
There are certain people in the movie business who are impossible to dislike - and admittedly, a few where the dislike comes easily. Count Keith Carradine in the former. He's got such an easy way about him, a kindness and affability, that you find yourself forgetting that you haven't been friends for 33 years. Truth is, I've met Keith only three times, interviewed him once meaningfully and once as a throwaway, and yet I still imagine he's going to phone me up and ask my family to join him for Sunday dinner. And Keith, just for the record, we're free pretty much every Sunday night.
Fittingly, for an actor who grew up around the business (his father, John Carradine, was a movie actor - perhaps you're familiar with his work), Keith's picks as TCM's Guest Programmer in September are each driven by bold performances, a mix of studio fare and independent flair.
Keith opens the night with Captains Courageous, MGM's 1937 film with Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew. Keith argues that Bartholomew gives perhaps the finest performance ever delivered by a child. Or maybe I argued that and Keith agreed. We're such good friends, sometimes we finish each other's sentences.
Captains Courageous also features Keith's father, John, in a supporting role. Keith's childhood wasn't anything close to a typical Hollywood story. He was raised almost entirely by his father, but their privilege was severely muted. "My father declared bankruptcy in 1960," Keith told the LA Times in 1977, "so we didn't have a lot. Everyone thinks he had money and loved making all those horror films. But he was doing them because he had to feed children."
There's an argument to be made that John is the most prolific movie actor of all time, but getting an accurate count is nearly impossible. A sophisticated Google search reveals the following information: When he died in 1988, The New York Times described him as a "saturnine actor who appeared in more than 200 films" (saturnine means "slow and gloomy" - I had to look it up). The Washington Post - describing him as a "gaunt actor with a rumbling voice" - said Carradine "made more than 475 films, playing mostly villains and mad scientists." But a Los Angeles Times headline put him over a magical number, "Actor John Carradine, Veteran of 500 films...Dies at 82."
Naturally, with a father so synonymous with screen acting, Keith wanted to be a forest ranger before his artistic nature asserted itself, and he drifted over the to the drama department at Colorado St. University. He's a restrained actor himself - and I think that's reflected in his programming choices. His second movie is studio filmmaking perfection, Mervyn Leroy's Random Harvest, from 1942. Greer Garson and Ronald Colman are each alternately exuberant and reserved in the film - so English, I suppose. Keith and I both can't help but cry at the film's ideal final moment. We'll probably watch it together next Sunday night.
Next up, Keith went off the map, but to a good place - weird, but good - with Performance, from Scottish writer Donald Cammell, who co-directed with Nicholas Roeg, making his directorial debut. James Fox - who is at times the spitting image of his brother Edward - plays a violent London gangster on the run from the even more dangerous people he works for. He ends up hiding out in the home of a reclusive former rock star, played by...wait for it...Mick Jagger. Mick shows serious promise in a movie that challenges contemporary views of sex, gender and identity. This is not a typical TCM movie - Keith calls it a "psychedelic noir." That sounds about right.
Finally, Keith chose one of his own films - but only under duress. Our producers literally begged him to include a Keith Carradine movie. Keith made three pictures for Robert Altman, including McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville. But his selection is the least known of the three, Thieves Like Us from 1974, made in between the other two.
"Thieves Like Us is my favorite," Carradine said in that 1977 LA Times story, "because it was the least successful. Not many people saw it. It had a simplicity to it, and a personalness to it...Nobody had ever heard of me before, and nobody had ever heard of my co‐star, Shelley Duvall."
Keith is the lead, one of three bank robbers in the Deep South during the Depression. Duvall plays his love interest, and their slow-developing relationship is so sad, so lonely that it feels entirely true. This is a Bonnie and Clyde story without any hype but full of unbridled humanity.
It's fitting that Keith's night would end with an Altman picture. Keith won an Oscar® for Nashville, for writing a song he also performed, "I'm Easy." And who was there with Keith at the Academy Awards that night? The man who made over 200, 475 or 500 movies, John Carradine. It was the only Oscar® ceremony John ever attended. That'll make a great dinnertime story, Keith. I'm in the book.
by Ben Mankiewicz