We’re in the final month of 2015. Funny how time flies! And your eyes aren’t deceiving you, we’re doing a full TCM Top Twelve this month, both to honor the twelfth month of the year and because I couldn’t bare to cut this list down any further. Here are twelve movies to watch, whether you’re in the mood for a family film, a dark noir, or something that makes you want to get up and dance! We’re almost ready to say goodbye to 2015, so let’s see what TCM wants to give us as thanks!
**All times are Eastern. TCM can change the schedule at their discretion.**
Part of my interest in watching this stems from a blooper reel involving Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and a rather blue joke. I doubt the film is that crude, but I gotta see where the levity comes from! Directed by Anatole Litvak, whom Davis had an affair with, The Sisters (1938) follows three girls living in the west who marry unhappily. I’m sure Davis and Flynn act leaps and bounds over everyone else. The Sisters airs December 1st at 9:30am.
I could have sworn Lured (1947) was on a previous TCM Top list but checking through my records indicate it hasn’t been. Lured stars Lucille Ball as a woman helping the police track down a serial killer. So, not only is this Ball in drama mode, it’s also directed by Douglas Sirk pre-melodrama which sounds like this could be a classy noir production. It also features TCM star of the month, George Sanders, and Boris Karloff. Catch Lured at 8pm on December 3rd during an evening devoted to Star of the Month George Sanders.
Fans of the site know of my newfound adoration for the niche aquatic theatrics of Esther Williams. Her brand of romantic comedy mixed with water ballet would can never be replicated in modern films today. But she wasn’t the first actress to become a star based on her talent outside of films. Sonja Henie was a world-renowned ice skater whom Hollywood built films around. I’ve yet to watch Henie in anything, but with the weather outside turning cold, I figured now’s about as good a time as any to see how Henie does, on and off the ice. Sun Valley Serenade (1941) looks to be part of a genre I call “creepy orphan romance films,” wherein an orphan is raised by a man only to grow up to be gorgeous, or Sonja Henie, and become a love object to the non-blood relative who raised her. Hey, maybe the film makes a convincing argument for the relationship! Like Williams’s films, this also includes appearances by popular musical stars including Glenn Miller and Dorothy Dandridge, so expect a lot of musical padding. Sun Valley Serenade airs December 6th at 1:45pm.
(Latin Lovers (1953) is a bit of a cheat as I recently acquired it through Warner Archive.) Speaking of Esther Williams, this next film features one of Williams’s regular co-stars, Ricardo Montalban. I’ve become a fan of Montalban, particularly his musicals, and the plot of Latin Lovers looks to be pure escapism, telling the story of an heiress (Lana Turner) finding love in a Brazilian locale. You can’t get more exotic and romantic than Ricardo Montalban – okay, maybe you could if it was Fernando Lamas, who also made films with Williams and Turner. The film also stars Jean Hagen and Rita Moreno, two stars I’m always happy to see in anything. You can enjoy Latin Lovers at 12:30pm on December 11th.
The monthly horror movie is The House By the Cemetery (1984) directed by horror icon, Lucio Fulci. I don’t believe I’ve watched a Fulci film, but his name comes up constantly as one of the de facto horror directors and I always try to include one film aired during TCM Underground. The film follows a scientist who moves into a deceased friend’s house to continue his research. Hmm, moving into a dead person’s house sounds totally logical (yeah, right). I expect this to be good fun, breaking up the constant Christmas jubilance. The House By the Cemetery airs at 2am on December 13th – since TCM counts a “day” from 6am to 6am this shows up on the 12th on their schedule.
I had no idea there was a subgenre of Christmas films known as “Christmas mysteries,” but TCM is devoting the entire night of December 13th to them. Deanna Durbin is another actress whose work I’ve spotlighted in this column, but I’ve yet to actually watch any of her films. Lady on a Train (1945) is considered one of her rare turns to adult acting with Durbin trying to solve a murder without the help of the corpse. It also stars the likes of Ralph Bellamy and Edward Everett Horton (adore!), and, again, will give a dose of Christmas with a hint of darkness, perfect for those missing Noirvember. Lady on a Train airs December 13th at 8pm.
The Treasures From the Disney Vault series returns and Christmas is the perfect time for Disney! When I talked to Leonard Maltin at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival he mentioned So Dear to My Heart (1948) was one of Walt Disney’s favorite films, and you can’t get a better recommendation for watching a movie than that! Starring Disney alumni like Burl Ives and Bobby Driscoll, So Dear to My Heart is a boy and his lamb story so I’m already expecting to bawl my eyes out. So Dear to My Heart airs during a night of Disney content at 8pm on December 17th.
I’ve already listed 21 must-see dance sequences but there’s always inspiration for more. The first installment in the That’s Entertainment series, in 1974, was both a loving homage and melancholic tribute of an era gone by, with various stars walking the soon-to-be sold MGM studios. By 1994, when That’s Entertainment III, arrived, so many classic stars from the first film would be gone and the movies honored even furthered removed from that glorious heyday. But at least we can still appreciate the dancing! This tribute to MGM musicals should give me just as much entertainment as the first installment. That’s Entertainment III is the noon movie on December 19th.
After devoting an entire week in July to the work of Fred and Ginger there’s always room for more. Follow the Fleet (1936) is considered one of the premiere films Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made, but it wasn’t in the box set I had for the duo, thus I’m rectifying that slight now. Rogers plays a dance-hall hostess seduced by one of two sailors (Astaire, of course) on leave. After the utter enjoyment I found in On the Town (1949) I’ll watch any musical with dancing sailors! Follow the Fleet airs at 6am on December 20th.
Call me a bad classic film fan, but I had no idea Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford reteamed after their work in Gilda (1946). But reteam they did with the 1952 noir, Affair in Trinidad. Hayworth, again, plays a nightclub singer who enlists the help of her brother-in-law (Ford) to track down her husband’s killer. Now I’m not expecting anything on the level of Gilda, but you can’t go wrong with either actor in a noir, you just can’t. Affair in Trinidad is part of an evening devoted to “Affairs,” at 10:15pm on December 27th.
William Wyler is one of the few directors known for directing a feature as well as its sequel. In 1936 Wyler adapted Lillian Hellman’s novel, The Children’s Hour with a trio of A-list stars – Merle Oberon, Joel McCrea, and Miriam Hopkins – later revisiting the film in 1961 with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. Both features shy away from tackling the topic of homosexuality despite a premise involving two women accused of an illicit relationship, and this 1936 version supposedly hides the fact even more than the 1960s version, but I can’t get past this film’s cast. And you should note that These Three is currently not available on DVD, so if you’ve been interested in watching this then now’s your chance. These Three airs December 28th at 10pm.
I always try to close out the year by spotlighting a film airing as part of TCM’s In Memoriam series, honoring those actors who passed away throughout the year. This year’s feature is Kansas City Confidential (1952), starring the recently deceased Coleen Gray. This sounds like an Agatha Christie novel with a detective committing a heist where his colleagues’ don’t know their various identities. According to the synopsis on the side, this had to inspire Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1952). Kansas City Confidential airs at 2am on December 31st.
THE TCM TRIO
Spend Christmas Eve with a trio of the best holiday features starting with Barbara Stanwyck as a frazzled columnist trying to have it all (or at least fake it) in Christmas in Connecticut (1945). Then, Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum fall into a Holiday Affair (1949) at 4:15pm. Finally, Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien sing, dance, and grow in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!
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.