January Highlights on TCM
THE BREAKING POINT (January 17, 12:45 am)--Like many others, I'm an admirer of Howard Hawks' (and Jules Furthman's and William Faulkner's) extremely loose adaptation of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, but I also admire this lesser-known version directed by Michael Curtiz, which is closer to the novel. The action is shifted from Key West to the coast of California and a character is added--a "good-time girl" played by Patricia Neal --but the narrative is intact and so is the sadly fatalistic mood. The Hawks version (which is so different from the novel that it hardly counts as an adaptation, apart from the opening episode) is a wartime melodrama tailored to Bogart, but the Curtiz film, adapted by Ranald MacDougall, sticks to the story of a man who has to resort to desperate measures in order to keep his business and his family afloat, and he winds up getting in too deep. I like the flavor of the picture, the feeling of everyday sadness, the sense of a desperate man who is in over his head. And I love John Garfield as Harry Morgan. This was his penultimate picture before he died of a heart attack at the age of 39 (interestingly, the picture he made right before this one, Under My Skin, was also a Hemingway adaptation), and you could feel how exhausted he was: his heart problem was catching up with him and he had been hounded for years by HUAC. In this and his last picture, He Ran All the Way, he took that exhaustion and channeled it into his acting. He was a great star and a very sensitive artist.
GASLIGHT (January 16, 8:30 am)--TCM is showing the original version of Gaslight this month as part of a Diana Wynyard birthday tribute (they're also showing George Cukor's better-known remake). I'm very fond of both film versions of the story (adapted from a play by Patrick Hamilton). This one, directed by Thorold Dickinson, is leaner, more austere, and the dynamic between husband and wife is quite different. Wynyard was not as beautiful as Ingrid Bergman, her character is seen as an ugly duckling, so the dominance of the husband (played by Anton Walbrook) has a far more sadistically authoritarian edge. Dickinson was a very interesting figure in British cinema, little-known today, and his pictures are well worth seeing. In fact, there's another Dickinson film, made one year later and also with Wynyard, being shown this month. The Prime Minister (January 12, 9 am), with John Gielgud as Disraeli, is one of Dickinson's lesser pictures, but it's lively and enjoyable and, like Gaslight, has a wonderful feeling for Victorian England.
HITCHCOCK IN THE '30s (January 27, 8 pm)-- TCM is also showing three of Hitchcock's best British films from the '30s, of which Sabotage is the least known today. It's based on a Joseph Conrad story called The Secret Agent (not to be confused with Secret Agent, based on Maugham's Ashenden, which he made the same year), about a foreign operative (Oscar Homolka) whose wife (Sylvia Sidney) and young brother-in-law (Desmond Tester) know nothing of his activities. There's a wonderful sense of drab domestic life in the small walk-up apartment where the three of them live above the movie theater they own and operate, and of the bustling street life outside. I love Homolka's encounters with his fellow undercover anarchists, each one as apparently conventional as the next. And the final stretch of the picture, which I won't give away, is absolutely gutwrenching. It may be true that Hitchcock did his finest work in America, but he was great right from the start.
by Martin Scorsese