October 27th, 2008

carole lombard 01
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Saving the last for last

The American version of Turner Classic Movies concludes its salute to Carole Lombard as "Star Of The Month" tonight by showing four of her later films. All have been shown on the channel numerous times before, so I suppose the main angle here will be host Robert Osborne's opening and closing remarks for each film.

What's also interesting is that TCM is showing the four films in reverse chronolgical order. Here's the schedule (all times Eastern):

* 8 p.m. -- "To Be Or Not To Be" (1942). I occasionally wonder whether public reaction to this film, which at the time seemed to some in poor taste, might have been different had it not been for Lombard's death. Ernst Lubitsch's black comedy didn't seem quite so funny with the U.S. at war and Carole a domestic casualty. (Most of it had already been filmed by the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor.) I'm certain Lombard would have vigorously defended the film, stressing that its portrayal of Nazis as fools was on target. And had she lived, how would this film have affected her career? Her next project was scheduled to be "They All Kissed The Bride," for which Joan Crawford took her place and donated her salary to the Red Cross. (It airs at 3:30 a.m., after the four Lombard films.) She might have done one or two more comedies after that, then gauged the public mood to see which direction to go next.

* 10 p.m. -- "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (1941). Perhaps a new direction would have involved Alfred Hitchcock (here being directed by Carole for his traditional "cameo"), but on the suspense master's turf, not romantic comedy. Lombard may not have been as "icy" as some of the later Hitchcock blondes, but they had excellent rapport. (He even rented her Beverly Hills house for a time after she had married Clark Gable.) And while it's easy to simply substitute Carole for another heroine in the Hitchcock canon, one senses he would have found a property best suited to her talents, perhaps a story he never directed on screen. Oh, and let's not forget this was Carole's only pairing with Robert Montgomery, after she failed to get her first choice, Cary Grant. Bob has solid chemistry with Lombard, and it's unfortunate this was the only time they ever worked together.

* midnight -- "Vigil In The Night" (1940). Lombard worked with her share of great directors -- Hawks, Wellman, Lubitsch -- but it's often forgotten that she collaborated with George Stevens as well. Perhaps this film is overlooked because it's probably her most serious work, but it succeeds if you believe in her character amidst the rather somber tone. I wonder whether TCM will show the film's alternate ending, seen in most international markets, in which the characters learn that Poland has been invaded by Germany and Great Britain has declared war on the Nazi regime (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/79206.html). TCM showed this alternate ending a few years ago when it showed 24 hours of Lombard in its "Summer Under The Stars" celebration, and one hopes it will run this time, too.

* 1:45 a.m. -- "In Name Only" (1939). Ask most movie fans to name the top actor and actress of the screwball genre, and they'll likely say Cary Grant and Carole Lombard. What's ironic is that their only co-starring vehicle isn't a comedy at all, but a romantic drama, somewhat soap opera-ish. Only the professionalism of Lombard, Grant and Kay Francis (the unsympathetic part of this love triangle) prevent it from falling into parody.

Thus concludes TCM's Carole Lombard tribute for the month. We thank the channel for recognizing Carole on her centennial.
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