More Than Meets The Mogwai

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

James Ellroy Takes Over TCM

Tonight on Turner Classic Movies, crime novelist James Ellroy has his turn opposite Robert Osbourne as part of the month’s ongoing series of revolving-chair guest programmers. His four selections prove to be a hearty mix of interesting curios and indelible masterpieces, some of which I’ve seen and can endorse, and some of which will be new to me.

First up is Irvin Kershner’s STAKEOUT ON DOPE STREET (1958), which I have not seen, but since it’s a veritable ROCK ALL NIGHT (Corman, 1958) reunion for co-stars Jonathan Haze and Abby Dalton, I can’t pass it up; Irving Lerner’s MURDER BY CONTRACT (1958) follows next, and again, I’ve not seen it, but the last two – Don Siegel’s THE LINEUP (1958) and Richard Fleischer’s ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) - are both exceptional and definitely not to be missed, especially if you’re an enthusiast of either director.

The Siegel is set in the auteur’s favoured locale of San Francisco, and is notable because it marks the first time he would shoot in these locations. The landmarks are captured in intense black-and-white strokes that add a sense of icy composure, making for a series of images that have since become inextricably intertwined with the way I think of the city. Unforgettable also is the largely silent psychotic hit man Eli Wallach portrays, not to mention his arguably homoerotic relationship with his attentive superior, played by a dapper Robert Keith. Wallach’s abrupt ruthlessness in this film knows no equal.

The Fleischer film, made as a programmer during his tenure at RKO, is less than 70 minutes and can be said to be in the same editorializing style as THE LINEUP. I haven’t seen it in a number of years, but this taut study of a robbery gone wrong was one of the first indications that there was more than meets the eye in the films of Richard Fleischer – I can’t wait to take another look. (TCM follows it up with another Fleischer: 1949’s FOLLOW ME QUIETLY).

Adding to the evening’s rich entertainment will be Ellroy’s observations on the works before and after the airings and it’s these nightly guest intros that have become something of an addiction for me, even when said guests are less than distinguished – Rose McGowan, for instance, who unfortunately didn’t have the chutzpah to choose BARBARELLA!

Not surprisingly, Gore Vidal’s been the best so far, engaging in a discussion about the merits of Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare pictures after his choice of 1935’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Dieterle, Reinhardt) -- he dissed the Olivier's for being so stuffy, but TCM still aired HAMLET after Vidal’s picks anyway, enabling the home viewer to make up their own minds while Vidal’s arguments were still fresh on their brains.

The films start at 7pm CST.

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