Monday, November 02, 2009
Shadows of Russia: TCM, Lou Lumenick and the Siren
Today the Siren fulfilled the dearest dream of many a classic-film buff: Thanks to Jack Warner, New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick, and the wonders of email, she helped program a film series at Turner Classic Movies. Here's the TCM press release.
This January (the Siren's birthday month, and what a present it will be), TCM is screening a month-long film series, Shadows of Russia. The selections focusing on the many views of Russia and communism to be found in American movies. Some films are masterpieces that the Siren and her readers know almost by heart (Ninotchka, The Manchurian Candidate, The Scarlet Empress), others the Siren loved on viewing but needs to get re-acquainted with (Reds, The Way We Were), still others are oddities deserving of a more focused look (Rasputin and the Empress, Red Danube, Conspirator, Comrade X). And there are some rare films being shown, including Leo McCarey's film maudit My Son John, with poor doomed Robert Walker in the lead; The North Star, of which I am told TCM has located a good print that should show off James Wong Howe's cinematography; and I Was a Communist for the FBI.
And all this goes back to Mission to Moscow, and therefore, in a roundabout way, to good old Jack Warner.
Here's how it went down. Lou Lumenick, who in addition to his movie-reviewing duties at the Post is a formidable student of film history, posted an alert in February that Mission to Moscow, the bizarre 1943 Warner Brothers paean to Stalin's Russia, was showing on TCM on a Sunday morning. (His original post is gone, but you can read his thoughts on the DVD here.) The Siren watched, posted her thoughts and discussed the movie with Lou via email.
We agreed it was a shame that Mission to Moscow, which TCM seldom shows, hadn't had a prime-time airing where it could get a thorough intro, because if ever a movie needed a detailed intro with background and context, it's Mission to Moscow. That led to a discussion of American movie depictions of Russia and communists over the years. These movies ran a surprisingly large gamut and their bent tended to coincide with U.S. politics and viewpoints more than with Russian history and realities.
Many of these films have languished, unshown and nearly undiscussed. Wouldn't it be great, we e-dreamed, if we could get TCM to show some of them. Better yet, suggested Lou--a whole month of them. Lou decided to contact the TCM programmers. The rest of the story can be found at his place.
And yes, that's my real name there on the release and at Lou's place, Farran Nehme. Pleased to meet you. I figured it was as good a time as any to come out. If my name is going to be mentioned at the TCM sites I want it to be my real moniker and not some mistress of Alexander the Great's.
So here is the list of films and times for January. The Siren hasn't seen all of these herself, as some have been scarce indeed. The schedule is the result of months of lists and suggestions going back and forth between Lou and me, and the skill of the expert programmers at TCM. The Siren has a widely varying group of readers and she thinks there is something for almost everyone here, whether you are left or right, auteurist or anti-auteurist, Warner Brothers or MGM. She hopes you will all be around in January to discuss the films with her.
Wednesday, Jan. 6
Part One: Twilight of the Tsars
8 p.m. The Scarlet Empress (1934) – starring Marlene Dietrich and John Lodge.
10 p.m. Rasputin and the Empress (1932) – starring John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore.
Part Two: Red Romance
12:15 a.m. Red Danube (1949) – starring Walter Pidgeon and Ethel Barrymore.
2:30 a.m. Reds (1981) – starring Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Maureen Stapleton.
Wednesday, Jan. 13
Part Three: The Lighter Side of the Revolution
8 p.m. Comrade X (1940) – starring Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr.
10 p.m. Ninotchka (1939) – starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.
Part Four: The Left on Campus
Midnight The Way We Were (1973) – starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford.
2:15 a.m. Spring Madness (1938) – starring Maureen O’Sullivan, Lew Ayres, Ruth Hussey and Burgess Meredith.
3:30 a.m. The Strawberry Statement (1970) – starring Bruce Davison, Kim Darby and Bob Balaban.
Wednesday, Jan. 20
Part Five: Our Red Army Pals
8 p.m. The North Star (1943) – starring Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews and Walter Huston.
10 p.m. Mission to Moscow (1943) –starring Walter Huston, Ann Harding and Oscar Homolka.
Part Six: Diplomatic Immunity
12:15 a.m. The Kremlin Letter (1970) – starring Bibi Andersson, Richard Boone, Max von Sydow and Orson Welles.
2:15 a.m. Conspirator (1949) – starring Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor.
4 a.m. Counter-Attack (1945) – starring Paul Muni and Marguerite Chapman.
Wednesday, Jan. 27
Part Seven: Spies Among Us
8 p.m. My Son John (1952) – starring Helen Hayes, Robert Walker and Dean Jagger. John McElwee's excellent rundown on this seldom-shown film can be found here.
10:15 p.m. I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951) – starring Frank Lovejoy and Dorothy Hart.
Part Eight: The Height of the Cold War
Midnight The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury.
2:15 a.m. The Bedford Incident (1965) – starring Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier.
4:15 a.m. Scarlet Dawn (1932) – starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Nancy Carroll.
5:15 a.m. The Doughgirls (1944) – starring Jane Wyman, Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith and Eve Arden.