Love old or unusual movies but never know when they’re on? Here are several I recommend.
Family values double feature!
Star Witness (1931): It’s always so inconvenient when your family witnesses a gangland shooting, am I right? That’s what happens to the Leeds clan in this snappy pre-Code programmer. Walter Huston plays the DA who does his best to get grandpa (Charles “Chic” Sale) to testify at the trial of the gangster in question (Ralph Ince). If all this wasn’t bad enough, the dangerous gang starts using kidnapping to intimidate the poor hapless family. Can baseball and apple pie and family values overcome the nefarious brutish gangsters?
Turner Classic Movies, Tuesday, 12:45 a.m.
Test Pilot (1938): Victor Fleming was arguably the quintessential director for Clark Gable. Fleming really understood the qualities that popped for his friend on the screen: macho energy, charm, that look of a naughty rascal in his eye. In this film, Gable plays an adrenaline-addicted, hard-living test pilot for an aviation mogul (Lionel Barrymore). The movie asks the question: Can an irresistible farm girl (Myrna Loy) and his sensible sidekick (Spencer Tracy) reform him into a more responsible guy? The year after making this film, Gable had George Cukor fired from Gone With the Wind and had David O. Selznick hire Fleming instead.
Turner Classic Movies, Wednesday, 2:45 p.m.
The Dead Zone (1983): A lot of film adaptations of Stephen King works are lame — but not this one. Christopher Walken stars as a young man who awakens after a long coma to discover he has a new psychic ability that is triggered when he touches another person. Since this is a King story, this ability leads to some very dark places. The cast includes Brooke Adams, Herbert Lom and Martin Sheen. Arguably the most mainstream film made up to this point in shockmeister director David Cronenberg’s long and interesting career.
Now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Best Worst Thing That Could Have Happened (2016): Success is great, but it doesn’t always make for the best story. This affectionate film documents the experience of auditioning for and getting cast in the legendary 1981 Stephen Sondheim/Hal Prince flop Broadway musical Merrily We Roll Along. The film had special resonance for me because all of this happened so soon after I moved to New York, and I had friends who went through some of these experiences. The film is helped immeasurably by a treasure trove of footage shot at the time, coupled with lots of amusing anecdotes from the survivors. This documentary is a theater lover’s delight.
Now streaming on Netflix.
Trivia Question 893: Speaking of Stephen Sondheim, do you remember the name of the feature film that he co-wrote the screenplay for?
Answer to Trivia Question 891: Roland Emmerich made the excellent historical costume drama Anonymous, which speculated about who might have written the plays attributed to William Shakespeare.