The TCM Top 12 for December 2016
As cool as the slideshow effect is, it lacks the intimacy of me sharing my thoughts on the films I’ve selected for the TCM Top Ten. So, let’s get down to looking at what’s on TCM this month!
December is the time to relax and enjoy time with the ones you love. So what better way to do that then by watching some of the best films ever made? TCM’s December schedule is so jam-packed with greatness that ten slots weren’t enough. Really, twelve slots wasn’t enough but I had to cut some. Feel free to include your own suggestions – several I probably desperately wanted to include – in the comments.
**Times listed as Eastern. TCM can change the schedule at their discretion.**
I feel pretty terrible that I haven’t watched any of Dorothy Arzner’s work – or if I have I don’t recall. Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) stars Maureen O’Hara and Lucille Ball as two dancers competing for the same man. Sorry, Lucy, but there’s no way you’re beating Queen O’Hara! I don’t necessarily think of O’Hara as a dancer but the ginger goddess can do anything, and Ball’s always game for some song and dance. I’ve heard great things from women who consider this a landmark film for positive portrayals of women. You can dance along with Dance, Girl, Dance on December 8th at 8:15am.
You might be saying, “Did Kristen just put a Western on her list?” Yes, I did. This being the Christmas season, I wanted to try to branch out from the regular jolly holiday films everyone else watches. Like the title implies, three men – one of whom is John Wayne – must save a newborn from the harsh desert and deliver it to the nearest town. The religious imagery is evident from the premise, with our three godfathers representing the three wise men. You can’t go wrong with John Ford, and after thoroughly enjoying Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956), I should probably be watching more of the man’s work. 3 Godfathers (1949) airs December 11th at 10:15am.
Noirvember may be over, but that’s no reason to for Sudden Fear (1952). See what I did there? Sudden Fear stars Joan Crawford as a wealthy middle-aged woman seduced by an ambitious artist played by Jack Palance. I’m assuming this is what happened to Mildred Pierce after the restaurant business went bust? Palance’s character doesn’t love Crawford, though, and plans to bump her off with the help of his mistress (noir queen Gloria Grahame). I love Joan Crawford and her work in noirs is second to none. Though I doubt this will be on par with Mildred Pierce (1945), you can’t beat Crawford and Grahame going head to head. The brunette noir queen versus the blonde noir sexpot? I’m in! Be struck with Sudden Fear on December 14th at 8pm.
Kansas City Princess’ (1934) premise is so great I’m going to lift it direct from the TCM website: A pair of con women masquerade as girl scouts to escape to New York. And did I mention these con women turned girl scouts are played by Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell? Because they are! Kansas City Princess sounds hilariously absurd. Hollywood loved turning grown women into little girls – this, The Major and the Minor (1942), Too Young to Kiss (1951) to name a few. Maybe it was an ironic acknowledgement of Hollywood’s obsession with youth and beauty hearkening back to Mary Pickford’s “girl with the curls,” or it could have been an extreme desire to portray women as sexy young girl goddesses. I’m probably giving this movie far too much credit but put Joan Blondell in anything and I’ll be entertained. And if you enjoy TCM exclusives, this is unavailable on DVD. Make a date with a Kansas City Princess on December 15th at 9am.
Whenever TCM shows a documentary directed by David Heeley, you should automatically hit “record” on the DVR. Heeley and co-director Joan Kramer were given access to an amazing stable of stars, documenting their lives and capturing the real person underneath the glittering veneer. Fonda on Fonda (1992) sees Jane Fonda reminisce about the life and career of her father, Henry, and their relationship together. If I know Heeley and Kramer’s work, I’m anticipating some respectful truths revealed and a deep sensitivity for the blending of star and human. This is unavailable on DVD. Fonda on Fonda airs December 16th at 5:45am.
With the adaptation of August Wilson’s play Fences coming to theaters this year, there’s no better time to indulge in other stage adaptations captured on film. I’ve heard this version of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman from 1985 is the best, and that Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich are the greatest interpretations of Willy Loman and his son, Biff, respectively. If you haven’t read Miller’s play, the story follows a traveling salesman put out to pasture, coping with the fact that his life didn’t turn out as planned. Like most of Miller’s work, it’s very existential and somewhat depressing, but the phenomenal acting turns are guaranteed. Death of a Salesman airs during an evening devoted to “The Golden Years” on December 20th at 11:30pm.
In movies, I’m always the one to lose it when a dog is in peril. There’s something about the helplessness of man’s best friend that always gives me panic attacks when they’re placed in danger or hurt. So it’s understandable why I’ve avoided the ultimate man and his dog film, Old Yeller (1957). Disney was the master of sobs. I dare you to watch Dumbo (1941) and not bawl like a baby during “Baby Mine.” Most people know how Old Yeller ends and it’s for that reason I’ve avoided it. What’s the point of seeing something I know will upset me? But, Disney was all about the circle of life, and since I tout myself as the ultimate Disney fan….I gotta see it. Old Yeller is about a boy and his dog….you know the rest. You can watch Old Yeller along with several other films during Treasures From the Disney Vault on December 21st at 9:30pm.
The excitement of Christmas day usually kills my appetite for sleep, so I’m all for spending the night celebrating Robert Osborne’s Christmas Eve picks. The Dolly Sisters (1945) stars Betty Grable and June Haver as Hungarian sisters turned into famous entertainers. I honestly know nothing about the Dolly sisters, but I’ve heard the coloring and costuming in the film is beautiful. I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Grable’s filmography so far; her and John Payne were tons of fun in Springtime in the Rockies (1942). You too can meet The Dolly Sisters on December 24th at 10pm.
Ticklish Business listeners are aware I don’t like Charlton Heston as an actor. So then how do I end up watching the films he’s in? The Omega Man (1971) was a recommendation from my mom who says it’s “amazing.” Heston plays the lone survivor of a biological plague that’s turned everyone into monsters. The film is an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, a book I enjoyed a lot – and whose film adaptation skewed a bit too close to Old Yeller for my comfort. I’m unclear how this version differs from the Will Smith film, but I’m all for Heston in another dystopian future a la Soylent Green (1973). The Omega Man airs December 26th at 8pm kicking off a night devoted to last men standing.
Maybe it was the residual interest in The Dolly Sisters but I’ve picked another sisters movie for this month. In Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven play the two girls with Van Johnson as the sailor they’re fighting over. No disrespect but Van Johnson got a lot of ladies and he was….homely. The film also stars Jimmy Durante, a requirement of frivolous musicals, Gracie Allen, Lena Horne, and Harry James with Xavier Cugat. Wait, are we sure Esther Williams isn’t going to jump into a swimming pool? Two Girls and a Sailor airs during an evening devoted to stars we lost this year on December 29th at 10:15pm.
Myrna Loy is TCM’s Star of the Month for December. I’ve watched several of her films already, but I can still be surprised to see Ms. Loy in something unexpected. Did you know Myrna Loy made a movie with Ms. Olivia de Havilland? Me neither! The Ambassador’s Daughter (1956) stars de Havilland as the eponymous daughter who falls for a soldier played by John Forsythe. TCM doesn’t specify where Loy fits in. Is she old enough to be de Havilland’s mother? This is another one that is unavailable on DVD. Honoring Myrna Loy, The Ambassador’s Daughter airs December 30th at 10pm.
I like musicals. It’s not a new revelation, but I’ll give almost anything a chance so long as there’s dancing in it. It’s why the That’s Entertainment! series of films always captures my attention. It grabs all my favorite elements of musicals and distills them into a great package with introductions by stars who are sadly gone now. The final installment in the trilogy came out in 1994 but in between That’s Entertainment! installments is That’s Dancing! from 1985 that I’m assuming does absolutely nothing different from its predecessors. Gene Kelly, Liza Minnelli and Mikhail Baryshnikov are the names touted to appear in the film. It’s got dancing, I’ll be there. That’s Dancing! airs on New Year’s Day, December 1st at 3am.
Kristen Lopez View All
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.
Old Yeller! Remember seeing that movie at the cinema as a school kid. I’ll look forward to seeing it on TCM and probably bawling like a baby once again!
No one loves John Ford more than I do, and his 3 Godfathers is an excellent adaptation of the story. However, it falls just a notch below my favourite version from 1936 and directed by Richard Boleslawski. Do yourself a favour and check out both, along with William Wyler’s Hell’s Heroes from 1929. You’ll certainly have your western quota for the entirety of next year.