Some interesting films on US television, October 2-8

By Marty Jonas (MJ) and David Walsh (DW)
2 October 1999

Video pick of the week—find it in your video store 

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)—John Huston's adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's novel is a rousing, enjoyable adventure film—one of his best. Sean Connery and Michael Caine have great chemistry as the buddies who try to steal the riches of the kingdom of Kafiristan by pretending that one of them is a god. Christopher Plummer makes an appearance as Kipling. (MJ)

Asterisk indicates a film of exceptional interest. All times are EDT.

A&E = Arts & Entertainment, AMC = American Movie Classics, FXM = Fox Movie Channel, HBOF = HBO Family, HBOP = HBO Plus, HBOS = HBO Signature, IFC = Independent Film Channel, TCM = Turner Classic Movies, TMC = The Movie Channel, TNT = Turner Network Television

Saturday, October 2

6:30 a.m. (HBOS)— Heaven Can Wait (1978)—Warren Beatty stars as a football player who dies before his time and returns to earth in another body, that of a millionaire businessman. Julie Christie is a social activist who awakens his conscience. With Jack Warden. Directed by Beatty and Buck Henry. Good-natured, but not extraordinarily insightful. (DW)

7:00 a.m. (A&E)— The Drowning Pool (1975)—Paul Newman, as private detective Harper, becomes entangled in a murder case. Joanne Woodward is his ex-wife. Based on the Ross Macdonald novels. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. (DW)

7:00 a.m. (HBOP)— Gattaca (1997)—In this future capitalist society, your place in the productive process is determined by your genetic makeup—which is mapped at birth and stays with you as your main ID for life. One man rebels against the system. Andrew Niccol wrote and directed this intelligent film, highly derivative of the fiction of Philip K. Dick. (MJ)

8:20 a.m. (Encore)— Young Frankenstein (1974)—One of Mel Brooks's funnier and more successful parodies, this time of the classic horror film by James Whale. Particularly effective because it uses many of the original sets. With Peter Boyle (as the monster) and Gene Wilder (as Dr. Frankenstein). (MJ)

*9:00 a.m. (TCM)— She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)—The second part of John Ford's cavalry trilogy, with John Wayne as an officer about to retire, drawn into campaign against a group of Indians. With Joanne Dru, Ben Johnson, Victor McLaglen. (DW)

*9:30 a.m. (Showtime)— Last Action Hero (1993)—Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle that proves to be a delight. A boy goes to a movie theater and meets his idol—an action hero—who steps out of the screen and takes him back in. A good action film that spoofs the genre and plays with the tension between movies and reality. It also includes hilarious send-ups of Olivier's Hamlet and Bergman's The Seventh Seal. Directed by John McTiernan. (MJ)

10:00 a.m. (Cinemax)— On the Riviera (1951)—Danny Kaye does his one-of-a-kind humor and plays a dual role in this farce about mistaken identities. Directed by Walter Lang. (MJ)

11:00 a.m. (Bravo)— Things Change (1988)—A poor Italian-American shoemaker willingly takes the rap for a mobster. David Mamet wrote and directed this disappointing, poorly resolved film that is distinguished by a remarkable performance by the elderly Don Ameche. With Joe Mantegna. (MJ)

*2:00 p.m. (TMC)— Reds (1981)—Warren Beatty's account of the life and times of John Reed, American socialist and author of Ten Days that Shook the World, the authoritative chronicle of the October Revolution of 1917. With Diane Keaton and others. (DW)

3:00 p.m. (HBOP)— Saturday Night Fever (1977)—A hardware store salesman in Brooklyn becomes a champion disco dancer at night. This is the film that launched John Travolta's film career, and he is a marvel as a dancer. Music by the Bee Gees. Directed by John Badham. (MJ)

5:00 p.m. (USA)— Red Rock West (1993)—Modern attempt at film noir, only partially successful, with Nicholas Cage, Dennis Hopper, and the late (great) J.T. Walsh. Directed by John Dahl. (DW)

9:00 p.m. (HBOP)— Gattaca (1997)—See 7:00 a.m.

*12:00 a.m. (HBOP)— Taxi Driver (1976)—Paul Schrader wrote and Martin Scorsese directed this bleak, obsessive classic that looks at the underside of New York City. Starring Robert De Niro, Jody Foster and Harvey Keitel. Great score by Bernard Hermann. (MJ)

1:05 a.m. (TBS)— Rain Man (1988)—Barry Levinson's anti-Reaganite work, with Dustin Hoffman as an autistic man and Tom Cruise, a 1980s Babbitt, as his yuppie hustler brother. (DW)

*3:00 a.m. (TNT)— Seconds (1966)—A middle-aged executive (John Randolph) exchanges his aging body for a new one and gets a new name and lifestyle in the bargain. A haunting film with many moving moments, especially at the end. Directed by John Frankenheimer in the good years before his decline. Rock Hudson, in one of his best roles, plays the executive after the operation. Stunning photography by James Wong Howe, one of the great Hollywood cinematographers. With Salome Jens and Murray Hamilton. (MJ)

Sunday, October 3

8:00 a.m. (HBO)— Contact (1997)—An intelligent, refreshingly non-xenophobic film on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Jodie Foster plays the single-minded astrophysicist in this adaptation from the novel by the late Carl Sagan. Unfortunately, toward the end the film becomes mushy-minded and tries to make its peace with religion. (MJ)

*8:30 a.m. (Sundance)— Last Year at Marienbad (1961)—Alain Resnais' enigmatic film is one of the classics of French cinema. It asks questions (never answered) about the nature of time and memory. A marvelous film to watch, with its energetically mobile camera and lengthy tracking shots down ornate corridors. (MJ)

9:30 a.m. (AMC)— Battle Cry (1955)—Raoul Walsh World War II melodrama, about the lives and loves of a group of Marines getting ready for battle, with Van Heflin, Aldo Ray, Tab Hunter and Dorothy Malone. (DW)

11:20 a.m. (Encore)— Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)—Mike Myers plays a double role in this consistently amusing send-up of James Bond movies and the manners and styles of the 1970s. (MJ)

1:00 p.m. (Cinemax)— A Star Is Born (1954)—Judy Garland is the star on the way up and James Mason the unfortunate drunk on the way down, in George Cukor's version of the tragic tale. A remake of the 1937 film made by William Wellman, with Fredric March and Janet Gaynor. (DW)

5:00 p.m. (Bravo)— The Ruling Class (1972)—In a career of over-the-top roles, this is Peter O'Toole at his most unrestrained. It includes bizarre musical numbers and long stretches where the character believes he is Jesus Christ. Not for everyone. Directed by Peter Medak. (MJ)

5:30 p.m. (AMC)— A Shot in the Dark (1964)—Blake Edwards directed the second of the Inspector Clouseau films, starring the inimitable Peter Sellers. With Elke Sommer, George Sanders and Herbert Lom. (DW)

6:00 p.m. (Encore)— American Graffiti (1973)—A film that probably had a negative effect on the course of American film-making, this is director George Lucas's entertaining fantasy about teenage life in California in the 1950s. With Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul LeMat, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark. (DW)

*6:30 p.m. (Sundance)— Last Year at Marienbad (1961)—See 8:30 a.m.

6:30 p.m. (HBO)— Contact (1997)—See 8:00 a.m.

8:00 p.m. (AMC)— Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)—The pioneer auto-maker (played by Jeff Bridges) and his company are destroyed by the giants of the auto industry. Director Francis Coppola obviously meant this as a parable about the independent artist versus the film industry, with Tucker standing in for Coppola. The whole thing seems oversimplified. Good performance by Martin Landau. (MJ)

8:00 p.m. (Encore)— Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)—See 11:20 a.m.

8:00 p.m. (FX)— The Fly (1986)—David Cronenberg's film about a scientist (Jeff Goldblum) who experiments on himself and evolves into a human fly. Cronenberg apparently saw his character's condition as a metaphor for AIDS. Geena Davis is the woman who stands by him. As usual, Cronenberg gets caught up in the machinery of his conceits and loses track of his theme. (DW)

*8:15 p.m. (TCM)— Winchester '73 (1950)—Remarkable Western, directed by Anthony Mann, about a man (James Stewart, in the first of his films with Mann) tracking down a stolen Winchester rifle and the man who took it. The gun is the connection between the different episodes. With Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea and Stephen McNally. Script by Robert L. Richards and Borden Chase. (DW)

*9:00 p.m. (HBOF)— Last Action Hero (1993)—See Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

*11:15 p.m. (Encore)— Full Metal Jacket (1987)—Stanley Kubrick directed this film about the Vietnam war, which in its first half—Marine training at Parris Island—may be the most harrowing depiction of military life ever put on film (mainly due to the presence of ex-drill instructor Lee Ermey). However, as a coherent anti-war film, it does not equal Kubrick's own Paths of Glory. (MJ)

12:35 a.m. (HBOS)— Lifeboat (1944)—Alfred Hitchcock's tale of shipwreck survivors during World War II. With Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix and Walter Slezak as a Nazi taken aboard. (DW)

2:30 a.m. (AMC)— Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)—See 8:00 p.m.

Monday, October 4

11:10 a.m. (TMC)— Carousel (1956)—Hollywood turned a great dark Broadway musical into a perky feel-good film. Most of the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs are intact, however. Starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones. Directed by Henry King. (MJ)

11:15 a.m. (HBOS)— Contact (1997)—See Sunday at 8:00 a.m.

12:45 p.m. (HBOP)— Gattaca (1997)—See Saturday at 7:00 a.m.

*2:00 p.m. (FXM)— All About Eve (1950)—Joseph Mankiewicz wrote and directed this classic about backstabbing in the world of the theater. The dialogue is nonstop witty and incisive. Memorable performances by George Sanders and Bette Davis. (MJ)

*3:30 p.m. (HBOS)— Miller's Crossing (1990)—The Coen Brothers do their version of the Red Harvest (Dashiell Hammett) story: gangsters wage a civil war for control of a city. Overblown and self-conscious, but it holds one's attention. With Gabriel Byrne and Albert Finney. (DW)

5:30 p.m. (HBOS)— John Grisham's the Rainmaker (1997)—Francis Coppola took a John Grisham potboiler and made it into an engrossing but pedestrian film. Nonetheless, it is rich in characters, with particularly good work by Danny DeVito and Mickey Rourke (in a surprising stand-out performance as an ultra-sleazy lawyer) Also starring Matt Damon, John Voight and Claire Danes. (MJ)

8:00 p.m. (TCM)— The Shop Around the Corner (1940)—James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are co-workers who, unbeknownst to themselves, have entered into a romance through letters. Marvelous Ernst Lubitsch film, occasionally precious, but deeply felt. (DW)

8:00 p.m. (VH1)— Tommy (1975)—The Who's rock opera done with dazzling, overheated images that assault and often insult your eyes. Often hard to take, but for once director Ken Russell has found a work for which his often annoying style is suitable. Filled with stars such as Jack Nicholson, Tina Turner, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton. (MJ)

12:30 a.m. (Showtime)— Modern Romance (1981)—Occasionally amusing film, directed by and starring Albert Brooks as a neurotic film editor obsessed with Kathryn Harrold. (DW)

1:00 a.m. (VH1)— Tommy (1975)—See 8:00 p.m.

1:35 a.m. (Encore)— The Name of the Rose (1986)—A murder mystery set in a medieval monastery (the MacGuffin is a lost book by Aristotle). Though lacking much of the rich detail of Umberto Eco's fine novel, the film stands well on its own. Sean Connery is perfect as the monk-detective, John of Baskerville. With Christian Slater, F. Murray Abraham and William Hickey. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. (MJ)

2:00 a.m. (Bravo)— Breaker Morant (1979)—Australian film, directed by Bruce Beresford, about three soldiers in Boer War court-martialed for murdering prisoners. With Edward Woodward and Bryan Brown. (DW)

2:00 a.m. (TCM)— High Noon (1952)—Gary Cooper stars in this Fred Zinnemann-directed Western about a sheriff who, on his wedding and retirement day, has to confront a gunman seeking revenge. With Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado et al. (DW)

4:00 a.m. (A&E)— Beat the Devil (1954)—Humphrey Bogart, Robert Morley and Peter Lorre team up in this cynical John Huston film about a group of lowlifes planning to acquire land rich in uranium deposits. (DW)

*4:00 a.m. (FXM)— All About Eve (1950)—See 2:00 p.m.

Tuesday, October 5

*6:00 a.m. (TCM)— Shall We Dance (1937)—A Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film, directed by Mark Sandrich. A tedious story-line, but graced by such Gershwin melodies as "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," and "They All Laughed." (DW)

7:40 a.m. (Starz)— The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974)—Richard Dreyfuss, in an early role, plays a canny, upwardly striving young man in the Jewish section of Montreal. Ted Kotcheff directed, and Mordecai Richler wrote the screenplay from his own novel. (MJ)

10:00 a.m. (HBOP)— Heaven Can Wait (1978)—See Saturday at 6:30 a.m.

11:00 a.m. (AMC)— Little Fugitive (1953)—Odd independent film, directed by Morris Engel, about a young boy who thinks he's killed his brother and gets lost in Coney Island. Interesting shots of 1950s New York City. (DW)

12:30 p.m. (Bravo)— Breaker Morant (1979)—See Monday at 2:00 a.m.

12:30 p.m. (AMC)— Finian's Rainbow (1968)—Petula Clark sings beautifully, Fred Astaire is miscast as her dreamy dad, and Tommy Steele quickly wears out his welcome as the broad-smiling, hyperactive leprechaun in Francis Copplola's flat version of the hit populist Broadway musical. In the course of this unrelentingly upbeat film, a tobacco-growing commune struggles for survival and a bigoted Southern senator is turned into an African-American. However, the songs by E.Y. Harburg retain their charm. (MJ)

*7:00 p.m. (HBOP)— Miller's Crossing (1990)—See Monday at 3:30 p.m.

*8:00 p.m. (TNT)— Fearless (1993)—Jeff Bridges experiences the eerie effects of having survived a jetliner crash. Stunning performance by Rosie Perez. Directed by Peter Weir. (MJ)

*9:00 p.m. (AMC)— The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)—A visitor from another galaxy visits our planet to issue a stern warning. Robert Wise's film is a liberal plea for peace and understanding; as such, it defied the McCarthyite xenophobia and bellicosity dominating Hollywood at the time. It stands up surprising well almost 50 years later. Starring Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie. (MJ)

*1:00 a.m. (TNT)— Fearless (1993)—See 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, October 6

6:20 a.m. (HBOS)— The Great Gatsby (1974)—A pallid, but occasionally interesting film, based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel about the "careless" rich and their gangster friend, on Long Island in the 1920s. Robert Redford is too placid as Jay Gatsby, Mia Farrow too jittery as Daisy Buchanan. (DW)

8:00 a.m. (TCM)— Dinner at Eight (1933)—A collection of individuals from various social classes, all facing a crisis, prepare to dine at eight. George Cukor directed this MGM version of the George Kaufman-Edna Ferber play, with Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery and John Barrymore. (DW)

8:00 a.m. (HBOP)— Contact (1997)—See Sunday at 8:00 a.m.

*8:05 a.m. (TMC)— Reds (1981)—See Saturday at 2:00 p.m.

8:45 a.m. (HBOS)— Heaven Can Wait (1978)—See Saturday at 6:30 a.m.

10:30 a.m. (HBOP)— John Grisham's the Rainmaker (1997)—See Monday at 5:30 p.m.

*11:00 a.m. (Sundance)— Salesman (1969)—Albert and Davis Maysles's exceptional cinéma verité documentary follows four Bible salesmen around the Midwest. Much of it is very sad as they sit around in drab motel rooms discussing their futile day and try to think up new selling strategies. (MJ)

*12:30 p.m. (Bravo)— Amarcord (1974)—Fellini's semi-autobiographical work about a small town in Italy under Mussolini. An extraordinary film. (DW)

*3:50 p.m. (Starz)— A Merry War (1998)—An advertising man in 1930s London abruptly leaves his job to become "a poet and a free man." He works in a bookshop and lives in squalor, but vows never to give in to the world of money. Richard E. Grant plays the disagreeable Gordon Comstock, and Helena Bonham Carter his patient girlfriend. This witty film version of George Orwell's novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying punctures the pretensions of the British middle class. Directed by Robert Bierman. (MJ)

5:55 p.m. (TMC)— Sliding Doors (1998)—Charming, likable light comedy hinges on a gimmick that works well: the film shows the two paths the main character's life could take depending on whether or not she misses her train. A vehicle for the talented Gwyneth Paltrow, performing with a flawless British accent. (MJ)

*11:00 p.m. (Sundance)— Salesman (1969)—See 11:00 a.m.

1:00 a.m. (Encore)— The Boys in Company C (1978)—One of the better realistic films about the Vietnam War. Avoids the cliches of most other war films. With James Whitmore, Jr. and Stan Shaw. Directed by Sidney J. Furie. (MJ)

Thursday, October 7

6:30 a.m. (Cinemax)— Band of Angels (1957)—A remarkably complex look at black-and-white relations in Civil War America. Clark Gable plays a Southern gentleman with a past as a slave trader, Yvonne DeCarlo is a Southern belle who discovers she has black ancestors and Sidney Poitier is an educated slave. Directed by Raoul Walsh, from the novel by Robert Penn Warren. (DW)

*9:30 a.m. (Sundance)— Last Year at Marienbad (1961)—See Sunday at 8:30 a.m.

12:00 p.m. (TCM)— He Walked by Night (1948)—Officially credited to Alfred L. Werker, Anthony Mann directed some of the most visually interesting scenes in this film noir about the police hunt for a psychotic killer, excellently played by Richard Basehart. (DW)

12:15 p.m. (AMC)— Land of the Pharaohs (1955)—Howard Hawks's historical epic is full of the typical Hollywood hokum, but the scenes of the building of the pyramids are truly impressive. William Faulkner helped write the screenplay. With Jack Hawkins and Joan Collins. (MJ)

1:15 p.m. (Encore)— Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)—See Sunday at 11:20 a.m.

1:30 p.m. (TMC)— Saturday Night Fever (1977)—See Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

*2:00 p.m. (HBOP)— Rosemary's Baby (1968)—John Cassavetes is excellent as ambitious actor who involves himself in diabolical activities to advance his career. Mia Farrow is his unsuspecting wife. Roman Polanski wrote the screenplay, based on the Ira Levin potboiler, and directed. (DW)

*4:00 p.m. (Sundance)— Last Year at Marienbad (1961)—See Sunday at 8:30 a.m.

4:30 p.m. (Showtime)— Detective Story (1951)—William Wyler's somewhat dated film about the activities inside a New York City police station. Kirk Douglas is a bitter cop, Eleanor Parker his wife, William Bendix another detective. The good cast also includes Horace McMahon, Lee Grant and Joseph Wiseman. (DW)

6:10 p.m. (Encore)— Young Frankenstein (1974)—See Saturday at 8:20 a.m.

6:15 p.m. (HBOS)— Lifeboat (1944)—See Sunday at 12:35 a.m.

7:00 p.m. (Sci-Fi)— Starman (1984)—Basically the same story as Spielberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)—an alien creature tries to return to his home in another galaxy—but far superior to that children's film. Jeff Bridges, in another fine performance, plays the alien, who takes on the appearance of a woman's dead husband. During a long trip by car to find his spaceship, she (Karen Allen) falls in love with him. Sensitive and moving, this is probably John Carpenter's best film, many notches above his usual pulp output. (MJ)

8:00 p.m. (Comedy)— Married to the Mob (1988)—Michelle Pfeiffer is the widow of a Mafia hit man, trying to change her life. Dean Stockwell is the crime boss who lusts for her. With Matthew Modine. A semi-amusing, semi-conformist film, directed by Jonathan Demme. (DW)

10:00 p.m. (Encore)— Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)—See Sunday at 11:20 a.m.

*10:00 p.m. (AMC)— To Be or Not to Be (1942)—Ernst Lubitsch's classic black comedy about an acting troupe in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Jack Benny is superb as the conceited ham who heads the troupe, and Carole Lombard is his faithless wife. Not to be missed. (MJ)

12:25 a.m. (HBOS)— John Grisham's the Rainmaker (1997)—See Monday at 5:30 p.m.

4:00 a.m. (A&E)— Giant (1956) [Part 1]—George Stevens directed this work, described by many as "epic," about two generations of a Texas family. With Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean in his last role. (DW)

Friday, October 8

5:30 a.m. (TMC)— Saturday Night Fever (1977)—See Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

*9:15 a.m. (TMC)— Five Easy Pieces (1970)—Early Jack Nicholson film that helped define his sardonic screen persona. He plays a concert pianist from a wealthy family who opts to work on an oil rig. Watch for the memorable scene in the diner between Nicholson's character and a waitress. Directed by the underappreciated Bob Rafelson. With Karen Black, Billy "Green" Bush and Susan Anspach. (MJ)

12:40 p.m. (Encore)— At Long Last Love (1975)—Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd can neither sing nor dance—they are definitely not Astaire and Rogers. Still, it's fun to watch them mangle Cole Porter's beautiful music and lyrics. Peter Bogdanovich's glitzy, expensive film proves that a warm affection for 1930's film musicals is not enough. One of the great bombs. With Madeline Kahn (often funny, despite her material) and John Hillerman. (MJ)

1:30 p.m. (AMC)— How Green Was My Valley (1941)—John Ford's powerful film about Welsh coal miners. With Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Donald Crisp and Roddy McDowall. (MJ)

2:00 p.m. (HBOP)— Saturday Night Fever (1977)—See Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

4:00 p.m. (Comedy)— Married to the Mob (1988)—See Thursday at 8:00 p.m.

*8:00 p.m. (Showtime)— The Big Lebowski (1998)—A lovable, sprawling mess of a film by the Coen brothers about mistaken identity and bowling. Generally hilarious. With Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. (MJ)

8:00 p.m. (Encore)— The Deer Hunter (1978)—Michael Cimino's somewhat strained portrait of a group of Pennsylvania steelworkers, their experiences in Vietnam and back home again. With Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, John Savage. (DW)

9:00 p.m. (HBOS)— Heaven Can Wait (1978)—See Saturday at 6:30 a.m.

10:00 p.m. (FXM)— Alien (1979)—A bloodthirsty alien creature pursues the crew members of a merchant space vessel. Beautifully done, one of the most frightening films ever made. Sigourney Weaver plays Ripley, one of the first smart and clever heroines in modern film. With Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm and John Hurt. (MJ)

*12:05 a.m. (HBOF)— Last Action Hero (1993)—See Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

4:00 a.m. (A&E)— Giant (1956) [Part 2]—See Thursday at 4:00 a.m.

*4:20 a.m. (HBO)— The Ice Storm (1997)—Excellent film by Ang Lee of aimlessness and disillusionment in the 1970s. As the middle class disintegrates in suburbia, we see the disintegration of the White House playing out in the background as the Watergate crisis runs its course. The fine cast includes Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Jamey Sheridan and Christina Ricci. (MJ)