skip navigation
Scorsese Screens - April 2013
Remind Me

April Highlights on TCM

This month on TCM, there are two intriguing double features, each highlighting the work of a particular actor at two very different stages in their lives and careers. I've always loved the idea of double bills, where you look at two films in light of one another and come away with a sense of both that is quite different from the one you would have had if you'd watched them separately. The reality of the double bill in theaters is, of course, almost a thing of the past (although Bruce Goldstein, a mainstay of the TCM Film Festival, is keeping them alive and well at New York's Film Forum), but I often think of how two pictures will play together when I'm planning what to watch with my family on Saturday afternoons, and I'm glad to see that TCM is continuing the practice.

Walter Huston Double Feature (April 14, 8pm) In 1934, Walter Huston played the role of the restless retired industrialist Sam Dodsworth in Sidney Howard's stage adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' novel. Two years later, William Wyler worked with Howard to bring Dodsworth to the screen for Samuel Goldwyn. He made one of the great films of the '30s, and Huston is astonishing in the picture. There isn't a trace of the transplanted stage performance, and he seems to be playing his wounded but dynamic character from the inside out. 13 years later, not so long before he died, Huston gave one of his very last performances in his son John's adaptation of B. Traven's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and he is just as deeply inside a very different kind of character, a rusty old prospector named Howard who has spent his life in the wilderness-different speech, different way of moving through the world, different way of being. Elia Kazan, in his autobiography A Life, refers to Huston's performance in that film as one among the "treasures of my life." Taken together, these two performances leave you with a picture of an artist with such a deep dedication to acting that he allows himself to remain open to absolutely anything.

Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett (April 21, 8pm) Spencer Tracy was 17 years younger than Huston, but he also started in pictures at the beginning of the sound era. John Ford had spotted him in the stage production of The Last Mile and cast him in Up the River, and he stayed on at Fox through the mid-'30s, when he jumped to MGM. One of his very best Fox pictures was a programmer directed by Raoul Walsh called Me and My Gal, in which he played a Lower East Side patrolman who romances a neighborhood girl played by Joan Bennett. Large portions of the picture appear to have been improvised on the spot, and the wisecracking flirtations between Tracy and Bennett are wonderful: they appear to work in natural harmony, like two jazz musicians floating over and around each other's phrases. This was a particular gift of Tracy's, I think, because he gave the appearance of great ease with almost all his fellow actors, but it's wonderful to watch the two of them at this very early stage in their lives and their careers, when they were both so young and beautiful. 18 years later, they appeared together again in Vincente Minnelli's Father of the Bride, this time as a couple preparing for their daughter's wedding. Both had visibly aged, Tracy more noticeably than Bennett-he had become heftier and his face craggier, and he looked older than 50-and their middle class characters were in a state of mounting anxiety and exasperation throughout the picture. So it's inspiring to watch Tracy render this anxiousness with the same artistry and subtlety he brought to the role of Danny, albeit with two more decades of experience under his belt.

by Martin Scorsese