Well, settle on in kids. It’s 31 Days of Oscar time. So, it goes without saying that most… if not all… of these movies can likely be tagged as an ‘Essential Alert’. Some are more ‘Film School 101’-ey than others, but even the films not listed here are most definitely worth a watch. So, do with that information what you will.
Without further ado, here are the picks!
The Entertainer (1960)
First time watch alert! Those who know me will know, I’m always an advocate for watching Laurence Olivier. The actor is one of the legends of acting and as such, his movies are always a good decision.
The Entertainer comes out of the British New Wave of the late 1950s and early 1960s and partners Olivier with legendary director Tony Richardson in telling the story of a British dance hall performer struggling to stay relevant in an ever changing industry.
The Entertainer is a WatchTCM pick, having aired April 5th at 1:00am PST.
Flying Down to Rio (1933)
As a Fred and Ginger fan, I would be shirking my responsibilities if I didn’t mention Flying Down to Rio. The movie is commonly known as the first pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The film is of the backstage musical variety, following a band leader (Gene Raymond) in a romance with a singer (Dolores Del Rio) as his band plays a gig in… you guessed it, Rio.
Speaking truthfully, Flying Down to Rio isn’t my favorite of the Fred and Ginger pairings and there are a number of better examples. Their work together here is relatively minor; however, when they are finally on-screen at the same time, you can see why they ended up partnered for the better part of the next decade. It’s truly magnetic.
Flying Down to Rio is a WatchTCM airing playing at 1:15am PST on April 6th.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
If you catch no other movies on the schedule this week, make some time for this classic work of science fiction. Forbidden Planet stars Leslie Nielsen about as far away from Frank Dreben as anyone can remember. He co-stars with the iconic Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Richard Anderson and Earl Holliman.
The story follows a group of soldiers investigating a planet which recently lost all but two of its inhabitants. Forbidden Planet is a well crafted and entertaining mixture of science fiction, romance, with even a little mystery and horror thrown in. This is a classic and memorable movie which truly deserves its inclusion in 31 Days of Oscar.
Forbidden Planet is a WatchTCM airing having played at 4:45am PST on April 6th.
42nd Street (1933)
Come and meeeeeet those dancing feeeeeeet. On the avenue, I’m taking you to 42nd street…
Its stuck in my head now… The Busby Berkeley musicals from the 1930s are the stuff that dreams are made of (to quote the obviously over-used expression). Now, I have to be honest here… 42nd Street fills a spot on this list much like Flying Down to Rio. While it isn’t my favorite of this series (this honor is split by Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1933), 42nd Street is the film that started it all.
42nd Street stars Ruby Keeler as a chorus girl thrust into the spotlight after a Broadway leading lady breaks her ankle. The movie features a typically amazing Warner Brothers cast: Warner Baxter, George Brent, Bebe Daniels, Una Merkel, Guy Kibbee, Ginger Rogers, Ned Sparks, Dick Powell and Allen Jenkins… to name a few.
42nd Street airs at 11:00am PST on April 6th.
The 400 Blows (1959)
The 400 Blows holds a special place in my heart as the first classic of the ‘International’ variety I remember watching. This is one of those “Film School 101” essentials that should be ticked off everyone’s list at some point. The movie comes from legendary director François Truffaut and is one of the more iconic works to come out of the ‘French New Wave’. In fact… I’ll say it: I enjoy François Truffaut’s work far more than Jean-Luc Godard’s (writer ducks from onslaught of flying tomatoes).
The 400 Blows is yet another start of a series. The film was Truffaut’s first pairing with Jean-Pierre Léaud as ‘Antoine Doinel’. The film follows Antoine as a young boy from a working class French neighborhood struggling against the pull of a life of crime. The character would return in five more films (between 1959 and 1979) and each time was played by Léaud).
The 400 Blows airs at 5:00pm PST on April 6th.
Grand Prix (1966)
This is the first of two car movies on this list. While these movies couldn’t be more different, they are both amazingly good watches, worthy of all the praise they receive. Grand Prix follows the events surrounding a Formula 1, ‘Grand Prix’ auto race during its most fashionable, but most death defying period… the middle of the 1960s.
This film holds a special place in my heart for another reason. We lost actress Jessica Walter who co-stars in this movie less than a month ago. Walter shares the bill with James Garner, Brian Bedford, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, Toshirô Mifune as well as a host of real life racing legends from the era. John Frankenheimer directs the picture.
Grand Prix is, admittedly, a beast of a movie. However, there is so much working in favor of this picture. This gigantic cast taps into ‘Grand Prix’ racing during a fascinating cultural moment. It is big, loud and brash, but at the same time it is incredibly human, raw and flawed.
Grand Prix airs at 9:15pm PST on April 7th.
The Great Race (1965)
Okay, I lied. If you watch none of the rest of these picks, make sure it is The Great Race (and Forbidden Planet). The period comedy is one which I never feel gets the love it truly deserves. This is one of the first movies I remember watching and it will forever be one of my favorites.
The Great Race follows battling daredevils, ‘The Great Leslie’ (Tony Curtis) and ‘Professor Fate’ (Jack Lemmon) as they compete in an automobile race between New York and Paris. The co-stars are just as dynamic: Natalie Wood, Peter Falk, Keenan Wynn, Vivian Vance, Dorothy Provine, Larry Storch, George Macready, and … you get the point. Blake Edwards directs the film.
Did I mention this one contains the best pie fight (heck, I’ll go as far as to say best ‘food fight’) captured on celluloid?
The Great Race is a WatchTCM airing for most, playing at 2:30am PST on April 8th.
Guys and Dolls (1955)
Guys and Dolls is another essential in my world, and I will always recommend it. The movie is one of the first musicals I remember really loving. (Frank Sinatra had just passed, I was in middle school and was watching everything of his I could find…it was a perfect storm, really).
The movie is most notable (some would probably say notorious) thanks to its casting of Marlon Brando in a leading (and singing) role as Sky Masterson. Okay, Brando isn’t who I would first think of to sing “Luck Be a Lady” during this era. However, I will say that I think it works. Sure, Brando isn’t trained or powerful in the vocals (how many vocalists really can match Sinatra?), but his performance is colorful, charismatic and he brings a sense of fun to the role with which he isn’t often associated.
Guys and Dolls brings together a truly fun cast. Aside from Sinatra and Brando, Jean Simmons brings everything she has next to the truly under-remembered Vivian Blaine. The supporting characters are a colorful bunch as well: Stubby Kaye, Johnny Silver, Sheldon Leonard and B.S. Pully.
Guys and Dolls airs at 10:00pm PST on April 8th.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
There’s a number of musicals in the picks this week, so here’s one more. The Beatles hit the world fast and hard in 1964 and the world changed. Right smack dab in 1964, The Beatles released their debut film A Hard Day’s Night. The slice-of-life musical comes from ground-breaking director Richard Lester and captures Beatlemaina as it was. The story follows the ‘Fab 4’ in the chaos of their lives as they prepare for a television gig and deal with Paul’s rascally grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell).
A Hard Day’s Night is the first of The Beatles’ films. However, I would argue that it is equally as well-remembered thanks to the direction of Richard Lester. The United States born Lester had come up in British television working alongside some of the legends of comedy, most notably Peter Sellers. Lester’s style is hugely influential, especially during the middle and end of the 1960s. A Hard Day’s Night is one of his earliest directorial efforts, but by the middle of the decade his style came to be synonymous with everything we now associate with ‘Swinging London’.
A Hard Day’s Night airs at 9:30am PST on April 9th.
Imitation of Life (1959)
The next film on this list is a bit of rarity, a remake which is just as much (if not more) remembered than its original source material (notice, I’m not saying if it’s deserved or not). Imitation of Life comes from the ultimate melodrama director Douglas Sirk and stars Lana Turner, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner, Juanita Moore and John Gavin in a story about a young girl (Kohner) trying to pass as white during the middle of the 1950s.
The story is everything you’d expect of a Lana Turner led, Douglas Sirk vehicle. It’s glamorous, lush, opulent and soapy as anything. So, this one might not be the most fun for everyone, but for fans of soap operas, Sirk and anyone in this brilliant cast, this is definitely one you should be adding to your list.
Imitation of Life airs at 2:45pm PST on April 11th.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
We’re taking a gigantic step forward with this pick, looking at a movie that I truthfully haven’t watched in far, far too long. To make matters worse, I, unfortunately, missed this work in the picks when TCM paid tribute to actor Sidney Poitier earlier this year. I won’t be making the same mistake twice.
In the Heat of the Night stars Poitier opposite Rod Steiger and Lee Grant. Norman Jewison directs the story which follows a black police detective who finds himself caught up in a murder investigation in the American South. The film is an intense character examination coming at a time in the United States when the nation was changing at a searingly fast rate. With its well-crafted story and whip-smart performances, In the Heat of the Night stands very much at the forefront of the evolution facing Hollywood during this time.
In the Heat of the Night airs at 7:30pm PST on April 11th.
Well, that’ll be all this week, kiddos! My goal here was to keep this readable… in all truthfulness, I cut six movies from this list. There’s alot to watch this week, and I trust you all to make good choices.
What have you watched and enjoyed so far this 31 Days of Oscar? 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!