It’s the last full week of March, kiddos! There’s only a few more movies before things get alot more prestigious with the start of 31 Days of Oscar next Thursday. But first, the week at hand! Stay tuned for lots of essentials and tons of big studio fair sure to light up your tv screens this week.
Without further ado, here are my picks!
Dancing Lady (1933)
This week, TCM pays tribute to birthday girl Joan Crawford. There’s lots of great programming for fans of the actress, or those looking to learn more about this fascinating and complicated woman.
Dancing Lady is a cute one, sure to scratch any number of Old Hollywood itches. The movie features a dynamite cast, including Clark Gable, Franchot Tone and Fred Astaire in his feature film debut. The pre-code follows Crawford as a dancer clawing her way to stardom over the romantic speed bumps that come her way.
I first time watched the movie last year (as part of my Franchot Tone project). As someone who hasn’t had much of a background in pre-Mildred Pierce Joan Crawford, Dancing Lady was a fascinating watch and really opened my eyes to exactly why this woman became a star just a few years before.
Dancing Lady is a WatchTCM airing for most at 3:00am PST on March 23rd.
A Woman’s Face (1941)
This is a first time watch alert. A Woman’s Face is a work which went suprisingly under my radar for a long time. I’m set to change this however! In a career as long as Joan Crawford’s was, an actress is going to amass a fair amount of ‘essentials’ and I’m excited TCM is showing this slightly deeper cut as part of this tribute.
This is one of a two films noir representing on the list this week (yes, I’ve been slacking in my responsibilities of late) and stars Crawford fronting a talented cast which includes Melvyn Douglas, Conrad Veidt and Donald Meek. A Woman’s Face comes from the legendary (but not often ‘noir’) director, George Cukor.
The story is a unique one in the noir pantheon, following Crawford as a criminal who meets a plastic surgeon (Douglas) to hopefully fix a ‘disfiguring’ facial scar. Just examining this plot from a superficial level poses some interesting questions about not only film noir (and a woman’s role within it), but also larger questions about appearance and stardom for women during this period.
A Woman’s Face airs at 6:30am PST on March 23rd.
Mildred Pierce (1945)
Essential alert! And for that matter, noir alert! Joan Crawford day is a gift that keeps on giving this week. Crawford stars in Mildred Pierce opposite the always delightful (and Ticklish Business favorite) Eve Arden, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott and a career defining turn by Ann Blyth. Michael Curtiz directs the film from a script by Ranald MacDougall (among others).
Crawford’s work in Mildred Pierce is tremendously important in the scope of her almost fifty year screen career. The film represented a return to form for her as a performer. She took home the Best Actress Academy Award for the movie and it jumpstarted her career after a number of lean years.
Mildred Pierce shines on all fronts. The film is of course a beautiful work of noir and most certainly an essential of the subgenre. At the same time though, the performances are all a treat. I mean, Crawford is good. The popular Jack Carson is… Jack Carson (do with that what you will). However, Ann Blyth is genius. The young actress packs all the hardened (and spoiled) ferocity of the best noir villains in an adorable 5 foot two inch package. Her work in this movie alone makes it a must see.
Mildred Pierce airs at 10:30am PST on March 23rd.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)
Essential alert! This is the last Joan Crawford pick, I promise. This birthday marathon is just too darn good. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is iconic. It’s essential. It’s one fascinating movie to watch. You have to see it to believe it.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane stars Crawford opposite Bette Davis as feuding sisters who struggle to step beyond the hostilities stemming from their upbringing. Robert Aldrich directs the dramatic thriller.
Ultimately, this description doesn’t do this movie justice. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is remembered the way it is thanks to the combination of these two dynamic actresses. Davis and Crawford were legendary and fierce talents in their own right, so pairing them together in one movie allows the power to flow from the screen.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane airs at 2:30pm PST on March 23rd.
Broadway to Hollywood (1933)
First time watch alert! I wanted to sneak this little pre-code in here after I read the plot synopsis. Truthfully, it is thanks to the presence of Alice Brady, an actress whom I adore, but have seen precious little of her work. Film fans will recognize Brady from her work throughout the 1930s in movies like The Gay Divorcee, Gold Diggers of 1935 and In Old Chicago.
Broadway to Hollywood features Brady working alongside Frank Morgan, Jackie Cooper, Mickey Rooney and Russell Hardie. Willard Mack and Jules White are credited as directors. The movie is described as a show business drama featuring Brady and Morgan as a pair of vaudeville performers raising their son (shown at various ages) on stage as the popularity of the theatrical art form waned.
Broadway to Hollywood airs at 1:15pm PST on March 24th.
The Passionate Friends (1949)
I wrote about Brief Encounter around Valentine’s Day when the beautiful and tragic romance aired on TCM. This week, we’re getting another dose of David Lean stomping on our preciously fragile feelings as TCM celebrates the legendary director’s birthday.
The Passionate Friends gives Trevor Howard another opportunity to destoy audiences into a weepy mess. He co-stars opposite Ann Todd and the always amazing Claude Rains in a story about former lovers fighting against their feelings in the face of her unhappy marriage to another man (Rains). Fans of Brief Enounter, weepy romances and heck, David Lean should make sure to add this one to their lists.
The Passionate Friends airs at 9:00am PST on March 25th.
Great Expectations (1946)
First time watch alert! I have great expectations for this one… Yes… I’m sorry too.
This is yet another entry in TCM’s celebration of the legendary British director David Lean. The film’s cast is equally legendary, featuring John Mills, Jean Simmons, Valerie Hobson and Sir. Alec Guinness.
The film is (of course) based on the classic novel by Charles Dickens and spotlights Mills as Pip, a young orphan who pulls himself up by his metaphorical bootstraps in Victorian England.
John Mills is a figure who has been with me for a long time due to his role in Swiss Family Robinson; however, I’ve seen precious little of his work outside of the Disney establishment (despite his reputation as one of the grand old figures of British acting), and I can’t think of a better work to see him at his best.
Great Expectations airs at 11:00am PST on March 25th.
At the Circus (1939)
I have long been a Marx Brothers fan. In fact, the trio’s work in A Night at the Opera is one of the first classic Hollywood movies I remember watching. I haven’t had much time to talk about the comedians, so be sure to check out At the Circus.
While it isn’t as well known as some of their other films, I’ve always found At the Circus to be a fun one. The movie follows the Brothers (in their usual characters) as they try to save a floundering circus lead by a post-Jack Benny Show Kenny Baker.
The movie is worth it alone for Groucho’s performance of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” which is an essential moment in Marx Brothers filmdom. At the same time, as a fan of the Jack Benny Show, I enjoyed seeing Kenny Baker thriving in a lead role right after leaving the popular radio show. (In the grand scheme of things, Baker didn’t land a lot of credits). The movie is a fairly standard entry in the group’s later MGM fair, so if you like A Night at the Opera or A Day at the Races, be sure to add this to your lists!
At the Circus airs on Friday March 26th at 11:30am PST.
King Kong (1933)
With each and every version of King Kong that hits movie screens, I’m constantly amazed at just how much of a marvel the first film actually was. In fact, if I’m being perfectly honest, aside from advancements in special effects, what have the four remakes which followed really given us?
King Kong is one of those Hollywood essentials which made its mark and just held on tight. I remember visiting the Empire State Building at a young age… I hadn’t seen the movie yet (the thought of that giant gorilla terrified me); however, I still remember the feeling of awe at how Kong managed to climb that building.
King Kong can be a challenging viewing for contemporary audiences. Reactions differ and sensibilities have certainly changed with advances in effects. However, every time I’ve watched it, I’m always struck by the power of the special effects, especially with an eye towards the filmmaking of the era. To think that all of that was done by hand. This is special effects as a true art form.
King Kong airs March 26th at 3:15pm PST.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
The Bridge on the River Kwai is a hefty war drama which deserves all of the praise it receives. The film stars William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Sir. Alec Guniness and Sessue Hayakawa in a story about the trials and tribulations of British prisoners of war during World War II. The film is airing outside the David Lean birthday marathon this week, but this is one of the director’s most legendary films in a career filled with epics.
Truthfully, I went into this movie a little reluctantly as a first-time-watch. As a general rule, I haven’t found myself to be a huge fan of war movies. However, this one was different. Between the brilliant performances and the tremendous scale of Lean’s direction, The Bridge on the River Kwai proved a powerful and interesting watch. Make sure you check this one out.
The Bridge on the River Kwai airs at 2:00pm PST on March 27th.
Pépé Le Moko (1937)
International cinema alert and essential alert! Heck, I might as well call this a first time watch alert as I haven’t revisited this one since film school. The 1937 film stars Jean Gabin, Gabriel Cabrio and Saturnin Fabre. Julien Duvivier directs Pépé Le Moko from a script he co-wrote with Henri La Barthe.
Gabin stars as the titular character, a wanted criminal evading arrest in the Casbah. Forever caught in a metaphorical chess match with the police, he struggles with questions of life, love and the ramifications of his old life.
Pépé Le Moko is considered a groundbreaking work of poetic realism, a film movement which took hold in French cinema of the 1930s, thanks to directors like Duvivier, Jean Renoir and Marcel Carne. While this film is widely available on physical media, this is a rare movie to see on the cable networks and is well worth a watch this week.
Pépé Le Moko airs at 9:15pm PST on March 27th.
First time watch alert! This is one of those nagging first time watches I keep missing my opportunities to finally see… despite really wanting to dive in. I’m doing it this week! I promise. Bette Davis toplines Jezebel in a career defining role, opposite Henry Fonda, George Brent, Margaret Lindsay and Donald Crisp. William Wyler directs the classic film.
Davis stars as a brash and headstrong young woman in the pre-Civil War south who must win back her fiancee (Henry Fonda) who can’t live with her…Bette Davis… like behavior. Will these two crazy kids be able to work it out?
As a performer, it has taken me a long time to really get a feel for Bette Davis’ work and I’m still addressing some long-standing blindspots. Jezebel’s combination of Davis and a pre-most things Henry Fonda brings a particular chemistry I’m excited to check out.
Jezebel airs at 9:00am PST on March 28th.
Here’s the bullet point breakdown for this last full week in March:
- Monday night is probably the biggest of Doris Day‘s ‘Star of the Month’ celebration, featuring her work from the late 1950s and early 1960s (including each of her pairings with Rock Hudson).
- Tuesday features the Joan Crawford birthday celebration in the morning before moving to a spotlight of Jodie Foster for the ‘Growing Up on Screen’ series.
- Wednesday features a PM Sydney Greenstreet marathon.
- Thursday morning sees the network spotlighting birthday boy David Lean before transitioning to the final night of the ‘Reframed’ series.
- Friday morning brings an all-day marathon of movies featuring gorillas. In the evening, the network pays tribute to actor Danny Glover.
Well, well, well! That’s that. Overall, it’s going to be a busy week of viewing! There’s a number of interesting choices going out over the TCM airwaves over the next seven days (I was particularly surprised about the inclusion of Pépé le Moko as part of Noir Alley). While there’s alot of essentials here, there’s a good deal which could be first time watches for many people (myself included).
Podcaster, film historian, and general lover of all things classic film and television. Studying the contributions of women behind the camera in classic television.
You can find me on Twitter @kpierce624!