October Highlights on TCM
EDGAR ALLAN POE (October 24, 8pm)--Not every writer is easily adapted for the movies. William Faulkner, for instance, is one of the greatest writers in the history of American literature, but making movies out of his greatest novels (as opposed to a more conventional novel like Intruder in the Dust, which was made into a wonderful picture) is extremely difficult. (The irony is that Faulkner himself did write for the movies, and he was very good at it.) You could say the same of Herman Melville. Edgar Allan Poe, on the other hand, is perfect for the movies. There have been a couple of hundred movies based on Poe's fiction, pictures of all types and lengths, starting with the beginning of cinema itself right up through today. Shorts, features, animated, avant-garde, American, French, British, Czech, Finnish, Italian, Polish--you name it. TCM is showing six of the best Poe adaptations. Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Black Cat are from the early '30s, two wildly expressionistic low-budget films from two émigré directors, Robert Florey and Edgar G. Ulmer. Both pictures make extraordinary use of light and shadow and expressionistic sets. And both are genuinely scary. I suppose that the Ulmer is the more terrifying of the two--I'm thinking of the climax, where one character gets his revenge on another (I won't tell you who: let's just say that they're played by Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff). The Raven is part of Roger Corman's cycle of Poe adaptations made for A.I.P. in the early '60s with Vincent Price. It is actually a comedy inspired by the poem, with Price, Karloff and Peter Lorre in the leads and a young Jack Nicholson in a supporting role. The Fall of the House of Usher is not the Corman/Price version but a homemade 1949 British adaptation by Ivan Barnett that has a unique power, the kind only found in extremely low budget moviemaking.
ROUBEN MAMOULIAN (October 8, 6am)--TCM is also paying tribute to the director Rouben Mamoulian on his birthday. Mamoulian, who was ethnically Armenian, was born in Tbilisi, Georgia. He broke into theatre in England, and then emigrated to America in the '20s. He became a star among Broadway directors after his staging of Porgy, and he was brought out to Hollywood in the late '20s to direct Applause. Mamoulian, who, like Kazan and Visconti, maintained two careers on stage and screen, was one of the people who revolutionized sound in movies, and he worked in pictures through the early '60s. TCM is showing three of the best of those early sound films--his stunning adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Fredric March, The Gay Desperado and Queen Christina, one of Greta Garbo's greatest films. They're also showing his last credited picture, Silk Stockings, a wonderful musical remake of Ninotchka.
SPENCER TRACY (Mondays)--I know that the Star of the Month is covered elsewhere on this website, but I want to say a word for two of the pictures in this month's Spencer Tracy tribute. Me and My Gal by Raoul Walsh and Man's Castle by Frank Borzage are two of the very best and most soulful pictures of the Great Depression, and Tracy is magical in both.
by Martin Scorsese