August is always a difficult month for classic film fans due to a little event called Summer Under the Stars. Yes, SUTS is a big deal for the TCM community which is why I always present a super-sized edition of my Top 12. You still get the requisite twelve movies I’m hoping to watch this month. I’ll also include five stars as part of this month’s SUTS who you should consider staying in and devoting 24 hours to.
All times are Pacific, so plan accordingly. Also, this schedule can change at the discretion of TCM.
I remember writing a post about my favorite movies of the 1930s and someone asking why I didn’t include The Ruggles of Red Gap. I didn’t because I’d never heard of it. The plot follows a rancher who wins a snooty British butler in a poker game, and I’m assuming it’ll have zany comedy considering it’s directed by Leo McCarey. I’m also a fan of Charles Laughton and have only watched him in unintentional situational comedy. The Ruggles of Red Gap airs during SUTS’ tribute to Mary Boland on August 4th at 5pm.
“Soylent Green is people!” That’s the rallying cry of the movie, and unfortunately all I know about it (we didn’t read the novel in high school/college). Charlton Heston is an actor I can take or leave, but this is considered one of his iconic roles and a landmark in dystopian fiction. Soylent Green airs during Charlton Heston’s day, August 5th at 12:30pm.
Even though Marlene Dietrich week has come and gone, there’s still plenty of her movies that I haven’t watched. The Lady is Willing follows a Broadway showgirl (Dietrich) who wants to adopt a child but has to be married first. Cut to her hasty marriage to a pediatrician, played by Fred MacMurray. Dietrich playing a mother has its pros and cons, but maybe the movie will present some type of 1940s social commentary on working women and children/marriage. Unfortunately, it’s directed by Mitchell Leisen whose work I haven’t latched onto yet. Regardless, the pairing of sweet MacMurray with the tempestuous Dietrich could yield positive results. The Lady is Willing airs during a day devoted to Fred MacMurray, August 7th at 4:30am.
Director Mervyn LeRoy has crafted some of the finest films in cinematic history, and that’s tall praise from me. I’m always surprised to find a new movie directed by him, and no two are the same. They Won’t Forget tells of a Southern schoolteacher accused of killing a young girl. I’m a fan of crime stories and for 1937, I’m interested to see whether racism is explored or only discussed peripherally. Claude Rains is in the lead (always amazing) while Lana Turner, in her first role, plays the murder victim. They Won’t Forget airs during Lana Turner day, August 10th at 3am so set those DVRs!
Ah, the film with the famous character, Duke Mantee! The plot of The Petrified Forest sounds similar to Humphrey Bogart in another film: Key Largo; both focus on a villainous man holding a group of people hostage in a remote location. Where the latter movie had Bogie and Bacall, The Petrified Forest has companions Bette Davis and Leslie Howard (oh, Leslie). Bogart and Davis were phenomenal in Dark Victory, so maybe this is an earlier example of lightning striking twice. The Petrified Forest is one of several amazing works airing during Bette Davis night; you can catch this August 14th, at 7:30am.
Everything about Designing Woman, from the plot to the poster art, screams Hepburn and Tracy as opposed to Bacall and Peck. The story of a sports writer and a fashion designer who realize their hasty marriage might have been a mistake has to have been the source of a few Tracy/Hepburn romps, right? Either way, Lauren Bacall is always an actress worth watching and Gregory Peck is equal to her in assertiveness and talent. Designing Woman airs during Gregory Peck’s day on August 15th at 10:15am.
The TCM description for The Mad Miss Manton calls it “sleuthing and slapstick combined” which I’m finding hard to believe in a Barbara Stanwyck film. Stanwyck is so fantastic at playing dames that I’ve never seen her put down her guard to do outright slapstick. The Mad Miss Manton features a daffy socialite investigating a murder; shades of The Thin Man, perhaps? Catch The Mad Miss Manton during a day focused on Hattie McDaniel, August 20th at 10am.
Shakespeare is Shakespeare, so you’ll realize right away whether it’s made for you or not. If you do plan on engaging in The Bard, the best route is to watch a Sir Laurence Olivier production. Olivier joins Maggie Smith in retelling the story of the Moor known as Othello, and the treacherous Iago who double-crosses him. I’m assuming Olivier is playing Iago…I mean that weird photo of him on the poster isn’t him in blackface, right? That should be an interesting experience. Othello is on during Maggie Smith day, August 22nd at 9:30am.
I didn’t watch a lot of animal movies as a child, mainly because I understood the circle of life and those type of movies never have happy endings, do they? I decided to compromise for the sake of this list, and pick a movie that I’ve heard is the best movie about an animal, and inspired countless girls to take up equestrian. Elizabeth Taylor cemented her position as the child star of the century in National Velvet, and she’s part of a cast that includes Angela Lansbury and Ann Revere. You can watch National Velvet, on top of a bunch of other superb Taylor films, during her day on August 23rd at 5:45am.
Charles Coburn day is back-to-back must-sees, so many that I added him to my SUTS recommendations below. The one I pulled out is Vivacious Lady starring Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stewart who play a couple forced to deal with Stewart’s conservative family. Meet the parents-esque movies are always fun and Rogers is usually a delight in brassy roles like the one she’s playing here. It’s also directed by the legendary George Stevens as another mark of quality. Vivacious Lady airs during a day devoted to Charles Coburn, August 24th at 3am.
Pinky’s almost made me list several times previously, but for one reason or another it’s usually been cast out. Well, thankfully TCM is giving me no more excuses this month. Pinky tells of a light-skinned black woman (Jeanne Crain) who returns home after years of passing for a white woman. Director Elia Kazan is a master of social commentary, and while the movie sounds extremely dated, Kazan makes the experience worthwhile. Jeanne Craine is the star of the movies on August 26th, with Pinky airing at 5pm.
I’ve seen the classic Vincent Price remake of this film, retitled House of Wax. Interestingly enough, when I bought that film on DVD it came with the original, The Mystery of the Wax Museum. The original appears to be directed by Casablanca helmer Michael Curtiz (another director who was a chameleon), and stars King Kong screamer, Fay Wray. If anything, this will be a fun little horror picture to close out the month with. The Mystery of the Wax Museum is part of the day devoted to Glenda Farrell, airing on August 29th at 6:15pm.
The five actors/actresses assembled had far too many movies for me to choose just one (although I did in certain instances). I went with several whose films I’d seen and/or reviewed. I’ll be including just a few of the amazing films you can see during these days; I’d make plans to stay in!
Natalie Wood (August 18th): West Side Story, The Searchers, Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, Gypsy, Inside Daisy Clover
William Holden (August 21st): Executive Suite, The Moon is Blue, Picnic, Born Yesterday
Elizabeth Taylor (August 23rd): Father of the Bride, Father’s Little Dividend, Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Charles Coburn (August 24th): Bachelor Mother, Heaven Can Wait, The Lady Eve, The More the Merrier
Jeanne Craine (August 26th): Apartment for Peggy, Dangerous Crossing, Leave Her to Heaven
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.