Saturday, February 27, 2010

uncredited/unOscared

When a performer decides to pass on taking credit for a performance in a film, does that performer also relinquish the opportunity to vie for an Oscar - or any other award for that matter? My friend Carrie Rickey, of The Philadelphia Inquirer, is of the opinion that, like the writing arm of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, one has to have official screen credit in order to qualify.

I'm asking because Colin Farrell turns in yet another accomplished, albeit uncredited, performance in Scott Cooper's "Crazy Heart" - one so good that he seems to effortlessly command the film every time he's own screen. For what it's worth, I think Farrell's is the outstandting performance in "Crazy Heart," not Jeff Bridges'. But that's just me.

Past "no screen credit" performances that were stand include a couple from two Sidney Pollack films - Bill Murray's wry turn in "Tootsie" (1982) and Gene Hackman's solid craftsmanship in "The Firm" (1993).

But getting back to Farrell, he continues to astound.

His work in Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream" (2007) and Martin McDonagh's "In Bruges" (2008) is among the best of any actor in recent years. He received screen credit for both but, alas, no nominations
.

cinema obscura: George Sluizer's "The Vanishing" (1988/1993)

If, as suspected, both Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock walk off with the best actor and actress Oscars on Sunday, 7 March, do you think some resourceful rep-house programmer will think to quickly book a film that they made together some seventeen years ago?

Bridges played the creepy psychotic who arbitrarily snatches Bullock away from Keifer Sutherland, burying her alive, in "The Vanishing," George Sluizer's 1993 American remake of his own 1988 Dutch film, the by-far superior "Spoorloos." The crime is carried out as a heartless, methodical experiment. The point isn't necessarily to torture the Bullock character but to observe Sutherland as he squirms in helplessness.

However, what seemed like a thing of sadistic beauty in the European version comes across a tad too literal in the American remake, even though the two films are virtually carbon copies of each other. It's amazing how subtitles can camouflage the vulgar, disguising it as artistry.

Michael Haneke's English-language remake of his "Funny Games" (1997/2007) suffered from the same disasterous disconnect.

Nevertheless, Bridges, Bullock (in the film's smallest role), Sutherland and Nancy Travis (a woefully underused actress who appears here as a woman who tries to assist Sutherland in his search) are all in fine form.

Hopefully, if "The Vanishing" does enterprisingly reappear after the Oscars, it should be presented in tandem with "Spoorloos." Ideally.

Note in Passing: Coincidentally, the American remake will receive a series of showings on the Fox Movie Channel - 8 March at 10 p.m. (est), 9 March at 2 a.m., 27 March at 8 and 10 p.m., 28 March at midnight, 12 April at 10 p.m. and 20 April at 8 p.m.

fleischer's best picture?

Although never fully appreciated in his lifetime, filmmaker Richard Fleischer does have a loyal cult following. And with good reason. Actually several good reasons. And they are ... "The Narrow Margin" (1952), "Violent Saturday" and "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing" (both 1955), "The Vikings" (1958), "Compulsion and "These Thousand Hills" (both 1959), "Barabbas" (1962), "The Boston Strangler" (1968), "10 Rillington Place" (1971), "Soylent Green" (1973) "Mandingo" (1965) and "Tough Enough" (1983).

And yet the only Fleischer film ever nominated for a best picture Oscar was, of all things, the original movie musical "Dr. Dolittle" (1967). Fleischer himself was not nominated. (Herbert Ross staged the musical numbers for him.) He was the only director of the five nominated films that year not to get a nod; his slot went to Richard Brooks for "In Cold Blood," which itself was not nominated for best picture that year. Got that?

Actually, "Dr. Dolittle" is much better than its unfairly tainted reputation suggests. The film expresses an urgently empathetic regard for animals and boasts a tricky, literate song score by Leslie Bricusse, one of whose numbers posits the nifty observation that "a veterinarian should be a vegetarian." And his "When I Look In Your Eyes" is, hands-down, one of the most affecting, heart-breaking love songs to grace any movie musical.

And given that title star Rex Harrison (pictured above with a game co-star) had already taught linguistics to a guttersnipe in "My Fair Lady," it seemed like a natural progression for him to ply his skills on ... animals.

For anyone who cares to give it a second glance and chance, "Dr. Dolittle" airs on the Fox Movie Channel at 10:30 a.m. (est) on Saturday, 6 March.

thoroughly awful

I thought enough time had gone by - yipes! more than 40 years - that I'd give it a second chance.

I'm referring to George Roy Hill's dismal "Thoroughly Modern Millie," the 1967 pseudo-musical which Turner Classic Movies disinterred - a premiere showing for TCM - at 8 p.m. last night, Friday, 26 February.


Let's just say that it hasn't improved with age.

In fact, it's now much worse, particuarly considering that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences saw fit to hand it seven - count 'em - seven undeserved Oscar nominations, including one for Carol Channing's embarrassing supporting performance. (There's a reason why some stage performers never make it as film personalities.)

Aside from the film being a truly annoying example of forced fun, it remains jaw-droppingly racist. Its presentation of Asians, as personified by the wince-producing performances of Jack Soo and Pat Morita, is unconscionable - almost as unwatchable as Mickey Rooney's notorious turn in Blake Edwards' "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961).

What's disconcerting is that "Millie" was produced by Ross Hunter who presented Asians in such a fabulous light six year earlier in Henry Koster's film of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Flower Drum Song" (1961), a movie musical whose entire cast (except for one Caucasian in a brief supporting role, Herman Rudin, who played the vagrant who robs Benson Fong) is composed of Asian performers, including Soo.

In "Flower Drum Song," Hunter and Koster nudged the talented Soo towards a winning performance that's best described as Martinesque (as in Dean Martin). One can only guess why Hunter and Hill elected to diminish Soo (and Morita) in such a cruel way in "Millie." It was shameful.

Anyway, it's still a lousy movie.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

cinema obscura: Carl Foreman's "The Victors" (1963)

The sole directorial effort of Carl Foreman, the prolific writer and producer, "The Victors" remains one of the most powerful anti-war films.

It was one of Columbia's major productions of 1963 - a three-hour (plus intermission) roadshow production for which the studio harbored Oscar fantasies. The studio's other big Oscar bid was Otto Preminger's equally sprawling "The Cardinal." But while "The Cardinal" has surfaced on VHS, Laser and DVD, "The Victors" continues to sit on some shelf at Sony.

Neglected.

But Wait! "The Victors" will be showing in a new print and in its full version at the Film Society of Lincoln Center at 8 p.m. on Monday, 1 March. Is it possible, just possible that, at long last, a DVD release will follow? (Apparently, Sony has already released one in the UK.) Let's hope so.

Shot in widescreen and black-&-white by Christopher Challis and boasting a huge international cast, "The Victors" works essentially as a series of short stories about the various members of an infantry squad as it treks from Sicily to Germany during the final weeks of World War II, crosscutting their interpersonal relationships with those they share with the enemy and with assorted women. Foreman, who wrote his own script, keeps his film big and hulking while also managing to concentrate on the human interest in his vignettes.

Peter Fonda, for example, pops up as a soldier obsessed with saving a puppy from the ravages of war; George Hamilton is a G.I. disillusioned when the woman he falls for - played by Romy Schneider - becomes a prostitute; Eli Wallach plays a harsh sergeant who has his face blown off in combat and, in the finale, Albert Finney appears as a drunken Russian soldier whose face-to-face encounter with the disgusted Hamilton neatly sums up the insanity of war.

The best moment in the film, for my money, is the stark sequence when a young American deserter is executed in the snow while Frank Sinatra's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" plays in the background.

There's more, but I haven't been able to see the film in years and it is quickly disappearing from my mind. Thank God for Lincoln Center.

As a writer, Foreman worked largely with producer-director Stanley Kramer, penning both including "Home of the Brave" (1949) and "The Men" (1950). His last film in tandem with Kramer would be the Fred Zinnemann-directed "High Noon" (1952), whose release coincided with Foreman's "hostile" testimony before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. His refusal to cooperate ultimately led to his blacklisting.

Foreman would continue to write movies, using assorted pseudonyms (including Derek Frye) and often without taking credit at all. It was pretty much known that he wrote the screenplay for David Lean's 1957 Oscar-winning "The Bridge on the River Kwai," although credit would go to Pierre Boule, the French author who wrote the novel upon which "Kawi" was based. Boule subsequently took home the Oscar for Best Screenplay, although the Academy would honor Foreman for his contribution in 1985, following his death from brain cancer the year before.

As a producer, Forman was responsible for such fine films as "Born Free," "Young Winston" and, best of all, John Dexter's 1970 "The Virgin Soldiers," another vivid (and lost) anti-war film starring Hywell Bennett (and whatever happened to him?), Lynn Redgrave and Nigel Davenport.

But, for me,"The Victors" remains his towering achievement.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

cosmopolitan composition

Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" is a companionable thriller of some intellectual weight, elegantly bathed by cinematographer Pawel Edelman in the same soft blue of a Sapphire Gin bottle and ever-so-subtly driven by Alexandre Desplat's tinkly score. This is Hitchcock - updated, yes, but not at all compromised.

Ewan McGregor (above & below) is first-rate as the titular writer recruited to ghost the memoirs of a former British prime minister, essayed by an even better Pierce Brosnan, game as always. Of course, dangerous secrets and threats are uncovered.

Polanski nudges a superior cast - Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, the odd couple of Jim Belushi and Eli Wallach and, oh, particularly Olivia Williams - towards seemless ensemble performances.

The haunting chill of this singlar, enigmatic film stays with you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sarah Palin & The Gladys Glover Connection

A while back when she first came on the scene, the ever-fascinating Sarah Palin inspired me to ruminate on which movie character she resembled the most - Tracy Flick in "Election," "Lonesome" Rhodes in "A Face in the Crowd," Suzanne Stone Maretto in "To Die For," Marge Gunderson in "Fargo" or Raymond Shaw in "The Manchurian Candidate."

Well, I missed the most obvious - Gladys Glover, the marvelous Judy Holliday creation in George Cukor's "It Should Happen to You!" (1954). As conjured up by the preternaturally astute Garson Kanin, Gladys is a nobody who desperately wants to be a somebody - no ... matter ... what.

And succeeds she does - if only as a symbol of ... nothing.

As for Palin in the here and now, I love how "Family Guy's" Seth MacFarland kept low and let Palin and her clone Bristol mouth off about his show's edgy Down syndrome episode before - ta-da! - announcing that Andrea Fay Friedman, the main vocal talent in the episode, is an actress who has Down syndrome herself, and that the show was supported by Gail Williamson, executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles. How's that working fer ya, Sarah?

Monday, February 15, 2010

cinema obscura: Irving Reis' "Dancing in the Dark" (1949)

Adolphe Menjou, Betsy Drake and Mark Stevens in Reis' drama-with-music, "Dancing in the Dark" (1949)
Fans of film musicals seem to concur on only a half dozen titles as truly great, and Vincente Minnelli's 1953 "The Band Wagon," adapted from the 1931 Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz
stage revue, is one of them.

But Minnelli's film is predated by another version of the Schwartz-Dietz show - Irving Reis' 1949 "Dancing in the Dark," not available on home entertainment but receiving a rare screening on the Fox Movie Channel at 8 a.m. on Friday, 19 February.
Both films, coincidentally or not, scuttled George S. Kaufman and Dietz's stage "book" which was actually a series of skits. Each retained only the score, inventing new narratives which - again, coincidentally or not - are strikingly similiar.

For "Dancing in the Dark," writers Mary C. McCall Jr., Marion Turk and Jay Dratler came up with a plot about a has-been actor (William Powell) hired by Fox's studio head (Adolph Menjou) to coach a newcomer (Betsy Drake) in a big budget musical called "Bandwagon." For Minnelli's version, Betty Comdon and Adolph Green (with an uncredited assist Alan Jay Lerner) conjured up the story of a washed-up song-and-dance man (Fred Astaire who starred in the original revue with his sister, Adele) recruited to make a comeback in a musical of "Faust" being helmed by a pretentious snob (Jack Buchanan).

While Minnelli's "The Band Wagon" is a glossy, flashy musical, pure MGM through and through, Reis' "Dancing in the Dark" is more of a muted drama with the songs discreetly woven in more or less as strands.

There's never any question which is the better film.
Fred Astaire, accompanied by Leroy Daniels, in Michael Kidd's bracing "Shine on Your Shoes" routine, a number that was not in the original Broadway revue (but from another Dietz-Schwartz-Kaufman stage revue, 1932's "Flying Colors")

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

cinema obscura: Bill Guttentag's "Live!" (2007)

No one plays hungry restlessness better than Mendes
One modern Cinema Obscura that I always wanted to see is Bill Guttentag's "Live!," which, to the best of my knowledge, never received a U.S. theatrical release between its Tribeca Film Festival screening on 28 April 2007 and its under-the-radar DVD release on 1 December, 2009.

Guttentag, an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker (2003's "Twin Towers"), made his fiction-film debut with "Live!" and, on paper, it sounds like a compelling doozy, mockumentary-style, with the always game Eva Mendes vamping as a network's cynical president of prime-time programming who comes up with an idea for the ultimate reality series - a weekly game of Russian Roulette, wherein contestants vie for $5 million.

With loaded guns.

Live.

On-air.

I can't imagine any other actress, besides Mendes, who could pull off as premise as ballsy and deranged as this one.

"America's ever-elastic appetite for assimilating what was once offensive, rendering it both acceptable and profitable, gets a mostly deft satirical workout in 'Live!' Playing like 'Man Bites Dog' meets 'Network' retooled for the current media climate, well-cast venture from Oscar-winning docu vet Bill Guttentag incorporates its lacerating commentary about reality TV and fame into a suspenseful fake-docu format..."

So wrote Lisa Nesselson in her 1 October, 2007 review in
Variety

Guttentag's large cast also includes David Krumholtz as an eager young documentary filmmaker (and possible stand-in for the director), Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Missi Pyle, Andre Braugher, Paul Michael Glaser, Charlotte Ross, Katie Cassidy, Rob Brown and Jay Hernandez.

"Live!" will receive a rare screening at the ever-enterprising
Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, CA. at 7 p.m. on Sunday, 7 March. Guttentag, who also directed the recent "Soundtrack for a Revolution" documentary, will be present to introduce and discuss his film. Wish I could be there.

Friday, February 05, 2010

cinema obscura: Tony Richardson's "A Death in Canaan" (1978)

This superior television movie, based on the 1976 Joan Barthel best-seller, is noteworthy for three reasons - its intelligence, an astonishing lead performance by the ever-underrated Stefanie Powers and the TV directing debut of the estimable Tony Richardson. The solid acting ensemble includes such reliables as Brian Dennehy, Kenneth McMillan, Conchata Ferrell, Jacqueline Brooks, Charles Haid, Charles Hallahan, Tom Atkins, Bonnie Bartlett and Paul Clemens in his first role as Peter Reilly, a New Canaan, Conn. teenager who found his mother's mutilated body and was charged with her murder.
Dustcover art from Joan Barthel's Book, "A Death in Canaan," published by Dutton in 1976)
Based on a true story, "A Death in Canaan" follows Powers, playing Barthel, as she tries to document the investigation of the 1973 case and the hands-on involvement of the townspeople, friends and neighbors of the solitary, fatherless Reillys. It was just Peter and his mother.

Powers plays Barthel with a perfect blend of neerve, insecurity and charm. Clemens, incidentally, is the son of veteran actress Eleanor Parker. Around the same time, he also appeared in another fine lost film, Jerome Hellman's "Promises in the Dark" (1979), starring Marsha Mason, Kathleen Beller, Ned Beatty, Susan Clark and Michael Brandon.

Profoundly moving, "A Death in Canaan" is enhanced by Richardson's subtle direction of an exceptional cast.

The movie, now very difficult to see, was originally made for a 150-minute time slot, including commercials. One of its most recent - and last - TV airings was more than five years ago on the Lifetime channel, which inexplicably edited it down for a 120-minute time period.

Monday, February 01, 2010

turner this month - bravo!

It's that time of year again when Turner Classic Movies devotes its February schedule (and then some) to "31 Days of Oscar." Yes, the usual suspects are on hand ("Lawrence of Arabia." Yeah! "West Side Story." I'll pass.) but there are also a few premiers and new additions to Turner's single-minded slate.

All starting times are eastern standard time.
Holden/McQueen
Steve McQueen was the one name that came out of a recent poll asking young actors who was their greatest acting inspiration. McQueen, the cool guy with the seething intensity. But William Holden got there first - and arguably played the definitive Steve McQueen role as the fast-talking con J.J. Sefton in Billy Wilder's 1953 P.O.W. comedy "Stalag 17," airing 9 September at 10 p.m.

You can catch McQueen himself in a similar, if more laconic, variation on the same character in John Sturges' "The Great Escape," made a decade later in 1963, on 6 September at 6 p.m. McQueen's name in it? Most apt. Capt. Hilts - aka "The Cooler King."
Lotte Lenya, as Contessa Magda Terribili-Gonzales, with Beatty, as gigolo Paolo di Leo, in Quintero's "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone"
If you can't get enough of Marsha Mason, particularly during her Neil Simon period, here's your chance. "Only When I Laugh" (1981), Glenn Jordan's film of Simon's excellent "The Gingerbread Lady" which pairs Mason with Kristy McNichol as mother and daughter, airs at 6 a.m. on 1 February; Herbert Ross' "The Goodbye Girl" (1977) at 10:30 p.m. on 20 February, and "Chapter Two" (1980) at 12:30 a.m. on 21 February.

The late James Coco is featured in "Only When I Laugh" and also in Arthur Hiller's 1972 film version of "Man of La Mancha," airing immediately afterward at 8:15 a.m., 1 February. During her recent PR blitz for "Nine," Coco's co-star in the Hiller film, Sophia Loren, stated several times that the reason she wanted to do Rob Marshall's "Nine" is because she had never made a musical. Say what, Sophia? "Man of La Mancha" is certainly a musical - not a particularly good one, but definitely a musical.

Six worth checking out: Nicholas Ray's epic "55 Days at Peking" (1963), with the socko cast of Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner and David Niven, at 10:30 a.m., 1 February; King Vidor's "The Champ," with an icredible performance from Jackie Cooper, at 7:15 a.m., 3 February; Elia Kazan's "Pinky" (1949), with a very fine Jeanne Craine, at 8 p.m., 3 February; Delmer Daves' "The Pride of the Marines" (1945), starring John Garfield, at 1:30 p.m., 4 February; Michell Leisen's Paulette Goddard celebration, "Kitty" (1946), at 10 p.m., 4 February, and Mervyn LeRoy's show-bizzy "Gold Diggers of 1933" (1933), at 10:45 a.m., 5 February.

Sidney J. Furie takes evident pleasure in meticulously re-creating the era and setting in his 1972 biopic of Billie Holliday, "Lady Sings the Blues," with a debuting Diana Ross in a jaw-dropping turn as the conflicted jazz singer. Alas, a competing Holliday film, starring the sublime Diana Sands in the title role, never got out of the gate. Furie got there first and his film, airing at mindnight on 5 February, soared.

This month, Turner also showcases Warren Beatty his first two film, made back-to-back in 1961. His first, Kazan's hauntingly beautiful "Splendor in the Grass," featuring Natalie Wood's best performance as a teenage girl driven mad by a repressed sex drive, airs at 1 p.m., 20 February. In "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone," at 2 a.m., 7 February, Beatty plays the hired lover of Vivian Leigh in the big-screen version of the Tennessee Williams novela. (Helen Mirren and Olivier Martinez appeared in a TV version in 2003.) "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" was the only film ever directed by José Quintero, the famed stage director who helmed the original production of "Long Day's Journey into Night."

Jean Simmons, who died 22 January at 81, plays a young Ruth Gorden in George Cukor's first-rate biopic of the actress/playwright's early years, "The Actress" (1953), at 5:30 a.m. 8 February. Spencer Tracy plays her father and Anthony Perkins co-stars.

In all honesty, I was never able to get through "A Thousand Clowns," the 1965 film version of the 1962 Herb Gardner play that brought much acclaim to star Jason Robards (then billed as Jason Robards, Jr.) and a Tony Award to his co-star, Sandy Dennis. Producer Fred Coe, who directed the Broadway production, recruited Robards to recreate his grating performance of a self-satisfied slacker for his film version, a movie that dares you - nay, forces you - not to fall head over heals in love with both Robards and New York City and all its dizzying eccentricities.

Coe - who would direct only one other movie, Patty Duke's affecting "Me, Natalie" (1969) - ineplicably replaced Dennis with Barbara Harris (in her film debut) and A. Larry Haines with Martin Balsam (who, even more inexplicably, would win an Oscar). The rest of the stage cast remains intact - William Daniels, Gene Saks and, unfortunately, Barry Gordon, one of those cloyingly precocious stage kids who were quite ubiquitous at the time. (John Megna and Paul O'Keefe come to mind immediately.)

Trivia!: First, the film's title song, warbled by Rita Gardner (then the wife of the playwright/screenwriter), was penned by Gerry Mulligan and ... Judy Holliday. (They were an item at the time and had a scene together in Minnelli's "Bells Are Ringing"; Holliday died the year that "A Thousand Clowns" was released.) Also, Tom Selleck played the Robards role in the very short-lived 2001 revival of the play.

"A Thousand Clowns" screens at 8 p.m. 8 February.
Hackman and Douglas engage in a bracing acting duet in Gilbert Cates' "I Never Sang for My Father"
"Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor's mind toward some resolution, which it may never find."

This beautiful line - written by Robert Anderson - bookends Gilbert Cates' fully-realized 1971 film version of Anderson's "I Never Sang for My Father," spoken in voiceover by star Gene Hackman at both the beginning and conclusion of the narrative. The autobiographical film, on Turner at 7 a.m., 9 February, details the contentious relationship between a grown man, played by Hackman, and his willful father, a commanding Melvyn Douglas. Acting doesn't get much better than this. Estelle Parsons, who played Hackman's wife in "Bonnie and Clyde," is his sister here, a role played on stage by Anderson's wife, Theresa Wright. Anderson's relationship with his own father clearly had an impact on his art; his "Tea and Sympathy" also deals with a son and a disapproving father.

There are many reasons to watch Irvin Reis' delicious "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" (1947) - 6 p.m., 9 February - but this time, watch it specifically for the hilarious and hilariously tricky dinner-table repartee during the extended nightclub sequence.
LAURENTS & SPIGELGASS & SONDHEIM
If I had to pick one element of "Gypsy" (1962) that I find transporting, it would be its language - the wordplay devised for both stage and screen, the film version being screened at 5:30 p.m., 10 February.

Arthur Laurents wrote a master script for the play, abetted by the witty, incisive lyrics that Stephen Sondheim penned for Jule Styne's melodies, while playwright Leonard Spigelgass made the smart move of retaining nearly all of Laurents' dialogue for the film version, adding some all-important narration and a few lines of his own here and there.

My favorites:

Rose, learning her chorus boys are bailing: "Ingrates! You'd take the bread out of that man's mouth (pointing to Herbie) and spit it in his face! Well, as the good Lord says, 'Good riddance to bad rubbish.'" (Laurents)

Rose, testifying to a theatre manager that he children like the candy that Herbie's trying to sell: "Butterfingers and Baby Ruth. So help me. I speak as a mother - and who could argue with a mother?" (Spigelgass)

Miss Mazeppa, trying to impress the young Gypsy: "Once I was a schlepper / Now I'm Miss Mazeppa." (Sondheim)

The airing of "Gypsy" is preceded by two Gene Kelly flicks, "On the Town" (1949), which Kelly directed with Stanley Donen, and Charles Vidor's "Cover Girl" (1944), beginning at 10:15 a.m., and it is followed by two Richard Widmark noirs - Henry Hathaway's "The Kiss of Death" (1947) and Sam Fuller's "Pickup on South Street" (1953).

Roz Russell, of course, inherited Ethel Merman's stage role in "Gypsy." You can see The Merm herself, recreating her own stage role in Walter Lang's "Call Me Madam" (1953) at 10 p.m., 11 February - worth checking out if only to hear co-star George Sanders sing. It is followed by two movie-musical classics - the Kelly-Donen tandem affair, "Singin' in the Rain" (1952,) and Vincente Minnelli's saavy "The Band Wagon" (1953), with Fred Astaire and Jack Buchanan, beginning at midnight.

J. Lee Thompson's "The Guns of Navarone" - airing at 8 p.m. on 13 February - was a 1961 best picture Oscar nominee. It was a good year. The other nominees were Joshua Logan's "Fanny," Robert Rossen's "The Hustler," Stnaley Kramer's "Judgment at Nuremberg" and the winner, "West Side Story," directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.
Barbara Stanwyck and her nerdy professors in Howard Hawks' irresistible "Ball of Fire"
Howard Hawks' eminently playful 1942 comedy, "Ball of Fire" (from an original screenplay credited to Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, who borrowed from the "Snow White and Seven Dwarfs" fable), screens at 6 p.m., 14 February. Not to be missed, it offers up a brassy Barbara Stanwyck as Sugarpuss O'Shea, a burlesque dancer who falls in with eight bookish/nerdy professors assembling a dictionary of slang.

One of them is Gary Cooper, younger and more attractive, but no less proper and nerdy; the other seven are played by studio stalwarts Richard Haydn, O.Z. Whitehead, S.Z. Sakall, Tully Marshall, Oscar Homolka, Leonid Kinskey and Aubrey Mather.

Back in August, I invoked the title of the delightful Chuck Lorre sitcom,
"The Big Bang Theory," a Hawksian effort that owes much to "Ball of Fire."

"My Favorite Year" (1982), set for 6 p.m. on 17 February, is a reminder of what a bright start Richard Benjamin had as a director. This was his first film. "Racing with the Moon" and "City Heat" followed in 1984. There have been eleven more titles but Benjamin matched the success of his debut film - although I kind of like all of his efforts, particularly his last, Lisa Kudrow's "Marci X" in 2003, a very funny, underrated movie.

Dino & Vincente
The ever-resourceful programmers at Turner have come up with a doozy of a double-bill for the morning of 19 February. Starting at 7:45 a.m., TCM is airing back-to-back screenings of two Dean Martin/Vincente Minnelli collaborations, "Bells Are Ringing" (1960) and "...Some Came Running" (1958).

With his shrewdly-made “Bells Are Ringing,” Minnelli, seemingly cognizant of changing times, serious redefines the film musical into something lighter, less insistent and virtually dance-free. Note in particular the revolutionary way in which Minnelli staged Martin's "I Met a Girl" number and what's left of "Mu-Cha-Cha."

“...Some Came Running,” based on the James Jones book, stars Frank Sinatra in fine form as another one of his moodily disenfranchised; Martin as his gambling partner/enabler and Shirley MacLaine as a "pig" (Martin's word for her) who devours a juicy, dripping hamburger in a scene that will have you hankering for one after the show.

Mark this date: Saturday, 20 February, 10:30 a.m. Mike Nichols' "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966), with Burton, Taylor, Dennis and Segal.

Cocktails and flirting - Paige uses both on Bob Hope in Jack Arnold's "Bachelor in Paradise" (1961)
Two solid comedies open and close 21 February. Jack Arnold directs Bob Hope and Lana Turner in the randy "Bachelor in Paradise" (1961), airing at 7 a.m., but the one to watch is the ever-watchable and incorrigible Janis Paige.

Much later, at 2:30 a.m. 22 February, catch Richard Quine's Judy Holliday comedy, "The Solid Gold Cadillac" (1956), and notice just how topical it is. (Abe Burrows adapted the 1953 play by George S. Kaufman and Howard Teichmann.) BTW, it's a black-&-white film but the final scene, featuring the titular Caddie, is in glorious color.

On 23-24 February, Turner airs Vincente Minnelli's two Paris musicals, both Oscar-winners - "Gigi" (1958) at 11:15 p.m. and "An American in Paris" (1951) at 1:15 a.m.
Arguably, the crown jewel in George Stevens' impressive filmography, "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1959) gets a prime-time showing at 8 p.m. 24 February. Shelley Winters won a Oscar for her solid work here; Joseph Schildkraut, Gusti Huber and Lou Jacobi recreated their Broadway roles; Ed Wynne took over the role played on stage by Jack Gilford; newcomers Richard Beymer and Diane Baker were quietly showcased by Stevens, and Millie Perkins makes an exquisite Anne.

Whitman and Leigh in "An American Dream" and Taylor and Smith in "The V.I.P.s"
The month winds down with two curiosities - "An American Dream" (1966), Robert Gist's game film of the Norman Mailer exploitative novel starring Suart Whitman and Janet Leigh, shows up at 5:45 a.m. on 26 Friday. Later that afternoon, there's Anthony Asquith's "The V.I.P.s" (1963), a Burton-Taylor vehicle that was the rage in its day. It was hotly anticipated (Jolie and Pitt would be a hoot in a remake) but also something of a letdown, hugely anticlimatic. What redeems it are the charming supporting performances of Rod Taylor and Maggie Smith, who would go on to do "Young Cassidy" for Jack Cardiff and John Ford.