Not sure whether y’all have noticed by now but so far this summer Turner Classic Movies has been an absolute revelation. July was “Spotlight on Directors” month, with each day being devoted to 1 or 2 directors; these daily marathons enabled me to see tons of films by the likes of Howard Hawks, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Otto Preminger, Jules Dassin, and countless others, many of which I’m not likely to be able to see again anytime soon. Of course, my parents’ DVR was a crucial help; without it, how else could I possibly have caught a 2:00AM showing of The Lady From Shanghai (one of my favorite films), followed by a 4:00AM showing of the ever-elusive The Magnificent Ambersons? Tragically, I don’t have the luxury of a DVR at my apartment here in Madison, so if I’m going to stay on top of TCM, some serious schedule-scouting will be necessary. What better place to report on films which may be worth seeing than here? Can’t think of one.
Since July was the month of the director on TCM, it follows that August is the month of the star (mere character-actors are apparently undeserving of 24 hours of tributary programming). TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” kicked off yesterday with a day’s worth of Henry Fonda films (including The Wrong Man, which, I’m happy to report, was great). Today is James Mason day, and their selections are pretty interesting. Thankfully we’ll be spared from again having the opportunity to see Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (which has been on TCM many times in the past couple months), but the omission of Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life is kind of unfortunate. Bigger Than Life opened the Cinematheque’s summer schedule this year, though I was unable to attend the screening, being halfway across the country and all (insult was added to injury by the fact that Bigger Than Life was also part of iconic NY theater Film Forum’s currently-in-progress and staggeringly comprehensive Ray retrospective, the entirety of which I was unable to attend, again being halfway the country away and all); anyway, it’s a doozy of a performance by Mason, who at times seems to will the rest of the cast into psychic territory they would otherwise only flirt with (obviously it doesn’t hurt that a director like Ray was calling the shots).
Anyway, regarding the films which are actually going to be shown today, Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest (1959) is on at 9:00PM. Personally I find the film to be Hitchcock at his most aggravating, implausible, and overlong; that said, many Hitchcock enthusiasts seem to swear by it. I’ll admit that the exchanges between Cary Grant and Mason are sticky stuff, and, on the whole, the film is sort of fun, particularly before it descends into the James Bond-esque fantasy of its drawn-out second half. But if you typically find Grant irresistible and Mason snicker-provoking, I guess you could do worse than to check North By Northwest out.