Friday, July 31, 2020
Summer Under the Stars 2020: Some Thoughts
TCM has a pretty set programming manner when it comes to the SUTS schedule. Among the various luminaries there's usually one or two minority players, a foreign-language player, a silent film player and a few living players. This year we have Sammy Davis, Jr. for the African-American slot, Dolores del Rio for the Hispanic slot, Alain Delon for both foreign and living actors slot, Charlie Chaplin (and it can be argued John Barrymore) for silent films and along with Delon there's Goldie Hawn, Warren Beatty and Eva Marie Saint for the living players.
To be honest, I find this year's slate most disappointing for a variety of reasons. TCM seems to have an aversion to expand its roster beyond mostly "big names": Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Rock Hudson are all household names whom frankly don't need as much promotion as say a S.Z. Sakall or Sylvia Sydney would.
They are also repeating themselves: both John Wayne and Charlton Heston were featured SUTS players in the past five to seven years (Wayne, as well as 2020 SUTS players Cary Grant and Barbara Stanwyck were all SUTS players in 2017). Why would TCM have him back for a whole day of films when they featured them a mere three years ago?
There are probably many actors whom TCM could have chosen, particularly character actors who may not have the cache of a Claudette Colbert or William Powell, but whom I think have just enough of a filmography to allow for a full day of films (those currently living as of this writing in red*).
There's Isabelle Adjani, Brian Aherne, Jane Alexander, Frank Albertson, Don Ameche, Julie Andrews, Leon Ames, Eve Arden, Pedro Armendariz Sr., Edward Arnold, Diane Baker, Fay Bainter, Martin Balsam, Anne Bancroft, Ethel Barrymore, Ed Begley Sr., Wallace Beery, Ralph Bellamy, William Bendix, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Charles Bickford, Jacqueline Bisset, Claire Bloom, Ward Bond, Beulah Bondi, Ernest Borgnine, Nigel Bruce, Raymond Burr, Ellen Burstyn, Spring Byington, Michael Caine, Louis Calhern, Mario Moreno "Cantinflas", Claudia Cardinale, Leo Carrillo, Leo G. Carroll, Jack Carson, Lon Chaney Jr., Geraldine Chaplin, Cyd Charisse, Julie Christie, Glenn Close, Charles Coburn, Ronald Colman, Sean Connery, Valentina Cortese, Joseph Cotten, Tom Courtenay, Jeanne Craine, Broderick Crawford, Donald Crisp, Peter Cushing, Linda Darnell, Jane Darwell, Harry Davenport, Arturo De Cordova, Bruce Dern, Catherine Denueve, Marie Dressler, Richard Dreyfuss, Patty Duke, Margaret Dumont, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway, Delholm Elliott, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Maria Felix, Jose Ferrer, Sally Field, Albert Finney, Barry Fitzgerald, Rhonda Fleming, Jane Fonda, Joan Fontaine, Jodie Foster, William Frawley, Annette Funicello, John Gavin, Mitzi Gaynor, John Gielgud, Lillian Gish, Paulette Goddard, Thomas Gomez, Lee Grant, Sydney Greenstreet, Hugh Griffith, Alec Guinness, Fred Gwynne, Margaret Hamilton, Gene Hackman, Alan Hale Sr., Cedric Hardwicke, Barbara Harris, Rosemary Harris, Jack Hawkins, Helen Hayes, Van Heflin, Juano Hernandez, Wendy Hiller, Celeste Holm, James Hong, Bob Hope, Anthony Hopkins, Dennis Hopper, Edward Everett Horton, Trevor Howard, Kim Hunter, Tab Hunter, John Hurt, Sam Jaffe, Glenda Jackson, Glynis Johns, Dean Jones, James Earl Jones, Van Johnson, Victor Jory, Louis Jourdan, Katy Jurado, Diane Keaton, Patsy Kelly, Arthur Kennedy, George Kennedy, Deborah Kerr, Guy Kibbee, Tommy Kirk, Klaus Kinski, Alan Ladd, Diane Ladd, Dorothy Lamour, Elsa Lanchester, Martin Landau, Jessica Lange, Charles Laughton, Piper Laurie, Peter Lawford, Cloris Leachman, Christopher Lee, Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Norman Lloyd, Gina Lollobrigida, Bela Lugosi, Keye Luke, Marjorie Main, Anna Magnani, Karl Malden, Steve Martin, James Mason, Victor McLaglen, Burgess Meredith, Torisho Mifune, Vera Miles, John Mills, Carmen Miranda, Thomas Mitchell, Sara Montiel, Roger Moore, Terry Moore, Jeanne Moreau, Frank Morgan, Robert Morley, Chester Morris, Audey Murphy, J. Carrol Naish, Robert Newton, Kim Novak, Jack Oakie, Merle Oberon, Pat O'Brien, Arthur O'Connell, Edna May Oliver, Barbara O'Neil, Maureen O'Sullivan, Peter O'Toole, Maria Ouspenskaya, Geraldine Page, Janet Paige, Eugene Pallette, Irene Papas, John Payne, Brock Peters, Jean Peters, Mary Pickford, Walter Pidgeon, Silvia Pinal, Donald Pleasance, Christopher Plummer, Dick Powell, Eleanor Powell, Robert Preston, Charlotte Rampling, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Reagan, Lynn Redgrave, Anne Revere, Fernando Rey, Burt Reynolds, Diana Rigg, Thelma Ritter, Jason Robards, Cliff Robertson, Flora Robson, Gilbert Roland, Gena Rowlands, Ann Rutherford, Margaret Rutherford, Ann Savage, Paul Scofield, George C. Scott, Zachary Scott, Omar Sharif, Robert Shaw, Johnny Sheffield, Maggie Smith, Sissy Spacek, Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, Lewis Stone, Donald Sutherland, Gloria Swanson, Akim Tamiroff, Robert Taylor, Peter Ustinov, Mamie Van Doren, Max von Sydow, Conrad Veidt, Jon Voight, Christopher Walken, Anton Warbrook, H.B. Warner, Clifton Webb, Mae West, James Whitmore, May Whitty, Mary Wickes, Richard Widmark, Cornel Wilde, Gene Wilder, John Williams, Chill Wills, Shelley Winters, Jane Withers, Joanne Woodward, Monty Woolley, Keenan Wynn, Loretta Young and Roland Young among many, many choices.
Granted, some were probably SUTS players in the past, though I cannot remember any of the above listed as being featured within the past three to maybe five years; also, some would be stretches to fill a whole day's worth of programming. For Funicello and Gaynor I imagine, they might have to dive into television programs and specials. However, TCM hasn't been shy about using television programs or specials to fill in slots. For the previous Charlton Heston SUTS day a few years back they used the Turner Network Television presentation of A Man for All Seasons. Just this year, they broadcast the miniseries Young Catherine as part of their Wonder Women series focusing on royalty. As such, putting in a television production isn't too outlandish for TCM.
Again, perhaps some films can't be featured due to broadcast rights, but given how TCM is a prestige network, it does seem curious that a producer wouldn't at least entertain the idea of having their film broadcast on "Turner Classic Movies".
There are other issues as well with this year's schedule. Among the living performers, there is an absolute dearth of more contemporary films. The newest film to be shown is for Goldie Hawn: 1996's The First Wives Club (which coincidentally costars the recommended Diane Keaton). That is twenty-four years old, hardly "contemporary". As a side note, it is surprising that they for whatever reason opted to include Protocol but skip over The Sugarland Express, which is considered among Hawn's best work.
Warren Beatty's most recent film is even older: 1990's Bugsy. Granted, a lot of his newer films (Love Affair, Rules Don't Apply) weren't critically adored, but why not include the more favorably praised and merely twenty-two year old Bulworth? For that matter, why not include Love Affair or Rules Don't Apply? One can learn from the artistic misses as well as their hits. I'd love to see Ishtar shown between Bonnie and Clyde and Reds (which coincidentally costars the recommended Diane Keaton).
The network could also have expanded beyond the selections for those players who continued their work long after their most recent Summer Under the Stars film. For Ann Miller, 1957's The Great American Pastime is the "newest" of her films to be shown. Why not opt to show her final film role in David Lynch's 2001 neo-noir Mulholland Drive? Widely regarded as one of the best films of the millennium, it would be a golden opportunity to give it a high-profile showing. However, rather than put anything from this century, we're going to pretend Miller did nothing past The Great American Pastime apart from The Love Boat guest appearances.
For Charlton Heston, his filmography is cut off in 1973 with both Soylent Green and The Three Musketeers. Heston kept working for another thirty years, but such films as the sequel The Four Musketeers, Midway, Tombstone, True Lies, Any Given Sunday and Hamlet are all excluded. To be fair, the remake of Planet of the Apes should be excluded too, but that's neither here nor there. For Eva Marie Saint, her appearance at Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival is part of her day, but they couldn't squeeze in Heston's Private Screenings appearance for his? Why not show the TNT Treasure Island as part of his day in the same way the TNT adaptation of A Man for All Seasons was a few years back?
Sylvia Sydney's most "recent" film is curiously like Heston, also from 1973 (Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, which coincidentally costars the recommended Joanne Woodward). Why not broadcast one of her many TV movies such as 1980's FDR: The Last Year, 1985's An Early Frost, 1990's Andre's Mother or even, horror of horrors, 1988's Beetlejuice? I'm not advocating that Turner Classic Movies show Mars Attacks!, but the network's insistence of not going into so many of the SUTS players' later work is surprising and a little frustrating.
They may not be "classic". They may not even be "good". However, some of those latter-day films have stood the test of time. They at least would be recognizable to those of us who do love "classic" film but who are not ossified to where we can't enjoy and appreciate a film made within our lifetime.
More examples of TCM's almost pathological insistence that there is a cutoff point to "great" films. 1980 is the cutoff for Burt Lancaster in Atlantic City (whose day surprisingly does not include 1963's The Leopard which could also have been screened for Alain Delon's day). Why not venture towards another Criterion selection: 1983's Local Hero or even his final film, 1989's Field of Dreams?
For Laurence Olivier, films from the 1930's and 1940's dominate his day. Only one film goes past 1960: 1979's A Little Romance. While it would have been nice to see 1981's Clash of the Titans, why skip over some genuine classics he made between 1960 and 1979: Spartacus, Sleuth, Marathon Man, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution or The Boys From Brazil? I'd even enjoy watching him in the atrocious The Jazz Singer remake or the infamous and rarely-if-ever shown Inchon than trod the familiar ground of Hamlet and Henry V again (though curiously neither Richard III or Othello are showing, giving a perhaps incomplete look at his Shakespearean films). It might have been nice to see his television films: 1982's A Voyage Round My Father or 1975's Love Among the Ruins if for anything a chance to explore unfamiliar territory as opposed to keep repeating "the greatest hits".
Bette Davis worked until 1989 with Wicked Stepmother, but one wouldn't know it thanks to TCM's Summer Under the Stars selection for her day. It stops in 1962 for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. One might think that maybe the all-star 1978 Death on the Nile might be worth watching; now that TCM is able to look inside the fabled Disney Vault, such films as Return From Witch Mountain (also from 1978) or 1980's Watcher in the Woods might be available. Even 1989's Wicked Stepmother, where Davis' appearance is smaller, might have been at least more adventurous.
The point of this particular complaint is that Turner Classic Movies seems set in its ways, making this year's Summer Under the Stars schedule a dull, lifeless affair. It could be more exciting, more open to newer or rarer films, newer stars, newer experiences. Instead, it keeps playing it safe, and slipping into doldrums in the process. Again, it's a year of "The Best-Known Names in Their Greatest Hits". Seems strange that a network that delights in introducing both classic film stars and their films isn't apparently that interested in going beyond familiar roads.
It won't explore lesser known actors with large filmographies (sometimes larger than the more well-known actors).
Cary Grant has 77 screen credits. Charles Coburn has 97 screen credits. Eugene Pallette has a whopping 262 screen credits. Granted, Coburn's credits include television work, but that could be included without it being a scandal. There is no reason why Pallette cannot have a Summer Under the Stars day to replace John Wayne, who has appeared twice in four years.
Bette Davis has 123 screen credits. Mary Wickes has 144. Again, Wickes has television work included, primarily series such as The Father Dowling Mysteries. However, if Wickes were featured, it would allow one to appreciate the breath, range and longevity of her career: from 1942's The Man Who Came to Dinner and Now, Voyager (both coincidentally starring Davis) to 1992's Sister Act and 1994's Little Women. Would it be so horrifying if the popular and well-liked Sister Act appeared on the same network that prides itself on showing such lofty fare as Satanis: The Devil's Mass, It's Alive, The Yakuza, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II and Chopping Mall?
It won't explore more obscure films from the "big names" it presents or look into the later work of actors dead or living. Among the living players it features, it keeps them solidly away from anything the casual viewer would know, focusing primarily if not exclusively on work they made before most of us were even alive.
Last year, Shirley MacLaine was a SUTS player. Only TWO films shown for her day were from the 1980's (Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias). Not shown were Madame Sousatzka, Postcards from the Edge, The Evening Star (the Terms of Endearment sequel) or Bernie. The most recent film that year for another living SUTS player, Dustin Hoffman, was 1992's Hero (which I found a very bizarre choice). Outbreak, Wag the Dog, Finding Neverland and Quartet all apparently not good enough to feature for his day.
I am sure that if Michael Caine were selected one year, TCM would think itself daring by showing Hannah and Her Sisters but to show something like The Cider House Rules, The Quiet American or Children of Men would be laughable, and you can most certainly forget the idea that you'd see films like Youth, Inception, The Prestige, Miss Congeniality or Interstellar. They's sooner show Beyond the Poseidon Adventure than The Dark Knight. If Dean Stockwell were featured, we'd see The Boy With Green Hair but probably not Blue Velvet and especially not Air Force One.
God forbid anything popular show up on TCM.
I'll lay money on this: if Martin Landau were ever a Summer Under the Stars player, Turner Classic Movies would probably NOT include Ed Wood among the programming despite it being his Oscar-winning role. Since it was from 1994 it might be too "recent" to program., It's also probably too "popular", a film many people at least know of and made within at least my lifetime.
It's almost as if Turner Classic Movies does not think films exist past 1980, unless it's for TCM Underground.
Finally, I have a big beef with Dolores del Rio Day. She has a wide variety of Mexican films that could be shown, but Turner Classic Movies has opted to show not one of her Spanish-language features. I'm at a loss as to why TCM has decided that it cannot or perhaps will not feature the Mexican films of the Mexican actress who is the Hispanic player they chose to feature (Rita Hayworth being Hispanic still a subject of debate).
The network featured many Swedish-language films for Liv Ullmann last year and we'll be treated to Alain Delon's French work. That is to be expected. However, for the Latin player, the network that prides itself on its diversity and inclusion, which delights in showing off how progressive they are with their Spotlights On Series cannot be bothered to recognize that del Rio had a career in anything other than English.
In the TCM Universe, Europe and Asia (primarily the Far East) make cinema. Latin America maybe at the very most makes short films or subjects for travelogues.
2020 has been a simply horrible, horrible year. As such, perhaps the dull Summer Under the Stars 2020 schedule fits perfectly to the year's mood.
*Update: Bette Davis and John Wayne have been replaced by Olivia de Havilland and Natalie Wood respectively. De Havilland replacing Davis was done to allow a tribute for Dame Olivia due to her death on July 26 at 104. I am of two minds of replacing Wayne: on one hand it is good to feature another performer, but in these highly charged times I do wonder if Wayne's right-wing views made him unpalatable to the increasingly woke folks at Turner Classic Movies.