January Highlights on TCM
TCM BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE: ERNST LUBITSCH (January 29, 6:45am)--January 29 is the 121st birthday of Ernst Lubitsch, and TCM is celebrating the occasion with seven of his films. Lubitsch, born and bred in Berlin, started on the stage as an actor with Max Reinhardt's company, and began his movie career in 1914 as an actor in his own films. But in 1920, he devoted himself exclusively to directing and two years later he left Berlin for Hollywood. Lubitsch made a few melodramas, many of them historical (including The Loves of Pharaoh with Emil Jannings, one of his last German pictures, which is being shown here), but he was known early on as a master of comedy. Lubitsch's greatest films, five of which are included in the birthday tribute, are as wise as they are funny and there isn't one single laugh that goes against the grain of the overall conception--the films are as elegantly structured as Mozart's sonatas, and they are so delicately shaded between laughter and tears, vanity and generosity, cruelty and beauty, and a million other fleeting emotions, that they take your breath away. To Be or Not To Be, about a troupe of Polish actors who use their skills to stand up to the Nazis, is one of the most daring films ever made in Hollywood, even more daring than Chaplin's The Great Dictator, I think. On one level, it's a high-wire act, because it never short-changes the suspense elements or the real terror of the Nazis, and at a certain point the laughs begin to stick in your throat--as Andrew Sarris wrote, the film "bridges the abyss between laughter and horror." On another level, it's a very moving affirmation of civility and creativity in the face of monstrous brutality. Like Ninotchka and The Shop Around the Corner, which are also being shown, To Be or Not To Be seems greater and greater to me with every new viewing. Lubitsch was one of the cinema's greatest masters, and I've never stopped learning from him.
GREEN LIGHT (January 9, 1:30pm)--There are quite a few Frank Borzage films being shown this month, some of them in the Star of the Month tribute to Joan Crawford. As part of another birthday tribute to Anita Louise, TCM has scheduled Green Light, an interestingly dated picture based on a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, who also wrote the books on which both versions of Magnificent Obsession were based (Borzage filmed an adaptation of another Douglas novel, Disputed Passage, in 1940). It's a minor film, but it has an overwhelming spiritual intensity that is a hallmark of Borzage's cinema.
INTRUDER IN THE DUST (January 20, 11am)--On Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday, the 1949 version of Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust will be shown. This picture--directed by Clarence Brown, written by Ben Maddow (who would soon be blacklisted) and beautifully photographed by the great DP Robert Surtees--was shot on location in Mississippi and it's by far the best screen adaptation of a Faulkner novel I've ever seen. It has the flavor of Faulkner's writing, and it has a remarkable performance by Juano Hernandez as a tough, uncompromising African-American man falsely accused of murder. A very special picture.
by Martin Scorsese