Here we are again! As I mentioned in our last article, this week is going to be a bit of an interesting one. April 1st arrives on Thursday and with that, we’re treated to the joy that is ’31 Days of Oscar’. So, it’s going to be just that much harder to narrow down the picks… most of these movies are sure to be good. Are we ready for a marathon month of viewing?
Without further ado, let’s dive into this week’s picks!
First time watch alert! There’s only a handful of movies in Jean Harlow‘s filmography I haven’t watched yet and Riffraff is one. The film features Harlow opposite Spencer Tracy, Una Merkel and Mickey Rooney. J. Walter Reuben directs the film from a script by the amazing Frances Marion and Anita Loos (among others).
The plot is a different one for Harlow, featuring the actress as a young fish cannery employee who falls in love with, and marries a young man (Tracy). He has aspirations beyond his ‘station’ and quickly becomes involved in union politics. I think we all can guess where things go from here…
Jean Harlow is a fascinating and complex performer. Due to her premature death more than 80 years ago, her screen persona stands as representative of a very specific era in cinema. Her strength, her sexuality and above all, her raw talent leaps off the screen, establishing her as the dynamic performer she was. That being said though, these movies aren’t always the easiest, or most accessible viewings through a contemporary lens.
Riffraff is a WatchTCM airing, playing at 3:00am PST on Monday March 29th.
Smilin’ Through (1932)
First time watch alert! Leslie Howard holds the title as my longest standing actor interest whose filmography I’m most pitifully under-watched. Luckily, this happens to be the delightful Howard’s birthday week, so TCM is treating us to a small smattering of his movies.
Smilin’ Through partners Howard with the Queen of MGM herself, Norma Shearer and Fredric March in a star-crossed love story about a woman (Shearer) who falls in love with a man (March). However, there’s one thing she doesn’t know (Gasp!). It turns out, his family is responsible for the death of her parents. There’s war, star-crossed lovers, melodrama aaaaand 1930s era Fredric March and Leslie Howard. Not at all bad.
Smilin’ Through will be a WatchTCM airing for most at 8:30am PST on Monday March 29th.
Romeo and Juliet (1937)
There is no shortage of retellings of Romeo and Juliet. The William Shakespeare play is one of the most popular and often rehashed works in the history of literature. With that being said, I’ve seen this movie get its fair share of knocks in favor of some of the more recent remakes. However, there’s something about this one which always pulls me in.
Romeo and Juliet stars Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer as the star-crossed lovers. The cast behind them brings the requisite amount of MGM glitz with names like: John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Edna May Oliver and Andy Devine. George Cukor receives credit behind the camera.
Have I talked about MGM prestige? This movie absolutely oozes this unmistakable quality from each and every pore. Sure, Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer aren’t the sprightly teenagers which Romeo and Juliet are supposed to be. If you’re looking for a faithful literary retelling, this isn’t really it. However, this is a finely polished examples of MGM’s work during the Irving Thalberg era. It is movies like this which helped establish the studio’s legendary reputation and is worth a watch for those interested in 1930s cinema.
Romeo and Juliet airs at 12:15pm PST on Monday March 29th.
That Touch of Mink (1962)
I hear you. We talked about Doris Day soooo much this month. Well, the actress would have been celebrating her 99th birthday this week, so we’re giving her some more time in the spotlight. It also doesn’t hurt That Touch of Mink is a flipping delight.
The romantic comedy stars Day and the legendary Cary Grant. The supporting cast behind them is equally good, including: John Astin, Audrey Meadows and Gig Young. The movie follows Day and Grant as a couple of polar opposites who keep finding themselves forced together by fate. Will these two crazy kids make it work?
This movie is a solid one all the way around… I mean, with that cast, how could it not be? Though, That Touch of Mink stuck with me for a different reason… its automat setting in the early acts. We tragically don’t see automats around anymore and it is one of culture’s great tragedies. Very few movies have lingered with me quite in the way this one has and to me, this is a testament of the look and feel of this memorable picture.
That Touch of Mink airs at 5:00pm PST on Monday March 29th.
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
Natalie Wood is one of the actresses who has always been in my life. Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause, The Great Race… I’ve been watching her films for as long as I can remember and her work always manages to speak to me thanks to her grounded performances.
In a career filled with essentials, Splendor in the Grass is one of the most well-remembered. The movie stars Wood opposite a pre-most-things Warren Beatty, Pat Hingle, Barbara Loden and Audrey Christie. Elia Kazan directs the period drama.
The movie follows Wood and Beaty as a pair of teenage, star-crossed lovers (that is a trend this week!) during the Great Depression. The pair struggles to make their relationship work in the face of the societal pressures collapsing in on them, driving both to the brink of their health and sanity. Splendor in the Grass is widely considered one of Wood’s most powerful performances and is a must-see for fans of the actress.
Splendor in the Grass airs at 5:15am PST on Tuesday March 30th.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
We have another Godzilla movie hitting HBO Max this week, so let’s take a step back to where the franchise began… as far as Hollywood is concerned, at least. I’m a Raymond Burr fan from way back, so I would be shirking in my responsibilities if I left this one off the picks.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! hit theaters in 1956. Ultimately, the film is an Americanization of the 1954 Japanese film Gojira. The movie features new footage (inserting Burr’s character) worked into the pre-existing story in order to shift it to more of a ‘Hollywood’ sensibility.
Over the last sixty years, Godzilla grew to become such a prominent part of not just Japanese popular culture, but around the world. Even those who haven’t seen the films know the roots and undoubtedly have some preconceived notions. While this one isn’t the original, it’s a fun and fascinating experience to take a step back to the early days of this popular series and understand its genesis. Fans of monster movies and creature features, as well as Raymond Burr fans alike (I know I can’t be the only one!) should definitely take a look-see at this one.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! airs at 5:00pm PST on Wednesday March 31st.
Adam’s Rib (1949)
First time watch alert! Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are a gift of adorableness that keeps on giving. As a team, these two rank right alongside William Powell and Myrna Loy in terms of long-running, memorable on-screen couples.
Adam’s Rib stars Hepburn and Tracy alongside the great Judy Holiday and Jean Hagen, as well as Tom Ewell and David Wayne. George Cukor directs the movie from a script by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. The story follows the leads as married lawyers who end up on opposing sides in the trial of a woman who shot her husband.
Hepburn and Tracy’s pairings are ones which have become increasingly interesting to me the older I’ve gotten. While I haven’t watched as many as I would like, the ones I’ve seen, like Woman of the Year and Desk Set, have proven particularly memorable. This time out, the combination of Cukor’s direction, Gordon’s writing and a relatively new appreciation I’ve grown for Judy Holiday, makes me particularly interested to check this one out.
Adam’s Rib is a WatchTCM airing for most, playing at 3:00am PST on Thursday April 1st.
After the Thin Man (1936)
Truthfully, each and every installment of The Thin Man series should make the picks. The combination of William Powell and Myrna Loy is just too darn good.
I’m going to go ahead and say it, After the Thin Man is the best of the series. The second entry in the franchise follows our favorite detectives, Nick and Nora Charles, as they are summoned to see Nora’s family. It turns out her cousin’s husband is missing. Can Nick crack the case?
This movie works on all fronts. Of course Powell and Loy are amazing. At the same time though, they are supported by one of the most interesting and colorful groups of supporting performers these movie ever put together. Most notable is Jimmy Stewart cast fantastically against type. Meanwhile Jessie Ralph is delightful as Aunt Catherine and I think of her every time I hear the name ‘Nicholas’.
Start your day with After the Thin Man! It plays at 7:00am PST on Thursday April 1st.
The Band Wagon (1953)
Essential alert! The Band Wagon is another in the long line of amazing musicals to come out of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the early 1950s. The movie stars the legend himself, Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan. The movie is a traditional backstage story revolving around the production of a Broadway musical version of Faust. Vincente Minnelli directs the memorable film.
Admittedly, the plot of The Band Wagon is a bit quirky. However, the draw of this movie is by far and away the incredible music numbers. From “That’s Entertainment” to “Dancing in the Dark” and “Girl Hunt Ballet”, each of these songs are works of art on their own. In fact, I have been watching and enjoying these even before I saw the movie, thanks to repeat viewings of That’s Entertainment. If you’re a fan of musicals, make sure to add this one to your list.
The Band Wagon plays Friday April 2nd at 12:45pm.
The Birds (1963)
Sure, The Birds isn’t hard to find on TCM. In fact, I’m pretty sure it aired within the last couple of months on the network. However, the Hitchcock classic is always worth a watch when it hits the airwaves.
The Birds, if I’m remembering correctly, was the first Alfred Hitchcock movie I watched and I would argue it is probably the director’s most accessible. The movie follows a group caught in the middle of a freak bird attack in Northern California. Tippi Hedren stars in the film along with Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Veronica Cartwright, and Suzanne Pleshette.
The thriller is an entertaining one, combining the humor which is so prevalent in Hitchcock’s work with the finely crafted suspense for which the auteur is known. It’s a fun watch if you’ve seen it before and a must see if you’re just diving in.
The Birds is a WatchTCM airing for most, playing at 1:00am PST on Saturday April 3rd.
Bullitt can be a bit of a tricky watch for some. The 1968 Steve McQueen drama is known first and foremost as being the best car chase ever captured on celluloid. The French Connection is number two… there, I said it. However, notice, I called it a drama… not a thriller.
Bullitt stars Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Don Gordon, Jacqueline Bissett and a beautiful dark green Ford Mustang. The movie follows a police officer (McQueen) trying to take down an underworld mob boss who’s making his life difficult.
Bullitt can potentially be a bit deceptive. Aside from the legendary car chase, it’s more of a soft-spoken film and I know viewers who have struggled with the pacing. (No, I won’t call it boring… some might, but I won’t!). In fact, I would argue that the movie is a bit like Steve McQueen himself. It doesn’t need to be loud or brash. It is the epitome of cool.
Bullitt plays at 11:00am PST on Saturday April 3rd.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Essential alert! Most are familiar with Citizen Kane— by reputation at least. The Orson Welles drama has been widely declared the greatest film ever made. The movie features Orson Welles opposite Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Dorothy Comingore and Ray Collins. The story follows Welles in a fictional, but thinly veiled, retelling of William Randolph Hearst’s life.
I’m going to be truthful here. It’s not an easy sit. In fact, it took me four times to actually get through it… I fell asleep during the first three. Okay! I hear you. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement. However, the fourth time I tackled the behemoth of a movie, I finally saw what everyone was so fascinated by. Even when viewed at the most superficial level, Citizen Kane is a marvel of visual style. The filmmaking is gorgeous– though, it is annoying to think that Welles was only 26 years old while making it.
So, with all that being said, Citizen Kane is most certainly a challenge. However, for those hardened film fans and cinephiles out there, make sure you check this one out. It doesn’t get much more prestigious than this one.
Citizen Kane is a WatchTCM airing for most, playing at 3:00am PST on Sunday April 4th.
Here’s the bullet points for the week!
- Monday features Thalberg-era, MGM prestige pictures in the morning before transitioning to the final night of Doris Day’s as ‘Star of the Month’ celebration.
- Tuesday brings a daytime tribute to Warren Beatty before focusing on Natalie Wood for the final night of the ‘Growing Up On Screen’ series.
- Wednesday night features a fun line-up of monster movies and creature features.
- Thursday sees the beginning of ’31 Days of Oscar’!
Stay turned for more from me as ’31 Days of Oscar’ picks up speed. Your faithful picks author will likely be glued to her screen all month, desperately trying to keep from just declaring the entire line-up as a pick and you all being treated to a series of 4,000 word articles.
What ’31 Days of Oscar’ films are you most excited for? Shout them out in the comments!
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!