This is a poster from 1963's "Critic's Choice," the last of four film teamings of comedy legends Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. It's a tie-in to something Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. is planning next month, though it has nothing to do with this movie -- merely its title.
While some may argue that the rise of the Internet and the blogosphere have whittled away at their influence, film critics have been an indispensable part of the cinematic culture for close to a century. And during October, TCM is paying tribute to critics by asking 16 of them to select a double feature from the channel's voluminous film library. The choices -- four films, two critics each night -- will air on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Moreover, each will appear with prime-time host Robert Osborne to not only talk about the movies they selected, but how they developed their interest in film criticism.
The lineup is an intriguing blend, as old as the silent era, as recent as 2000. Here is the schedule, with the twin bills from each critic (all times Eastern):
Monday, Oct. 4
* 8 p.m. -- "Penthouse" (1933). A pivotal film for Myrna Loy, as it was her first collaboration with W.S. Van Dyke and one of the first movies to lift her out of the vamp/Asian rut she inhabited for much of the early '30s. Myrna plays a call girl who falls in love with wealthy lawyer Warner Baxter.
* 9:45 p.m. -- "Skyscraper Souls" (1932). Another fairly obscure pre-Code gem, this stars Warren William as the towering building's rather oily owner who exploits everyone he meets. You'll also see a young Maureen O'Sullivan, Gregory Ratoff and Anita Page, among others. Based on a novel by Faith Baldwin, whose "Spinster Dinner" would be shaped into the Carole Lombard film "Love Before Breakfast."
* 11:30 p.m. -- "Touch Of Evil" (1958). This is the remastered version, more true to the vision of director (and actor) Orson Welles than the original release, which wound up on the bottom of double features. Starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and featuring a memorable cameo by Marlene Dietrich. Don't miss the opening tracking shot, lasting more than three minutes and finally restored the way Welles wanted it.
* 1:30 a.m. -- "I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang" (1932). Based on a true story, this tale of a war veteran whose life unjustly descends into barbarism features a classic performance by Paul Muni. The closing scene is rightly considered one of the most powerful endings in film history.
Wednesday, Oct. 6
* 8 p.m. -- "Citizen Kane" (1941). After a septet of Carole Lombard films during the day to celebrate the 102nd anniversary of her birth (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/320567.html), watch a classic Lombard saw in a private screening a few months before her death. Like "Touch Of Evil," this Welles gem wasn't universally lauded at first, but it was rediscovered and re-evaluated after World War II. And it remains a revolutionary motion picture.
*10:15 p.m. -- "The Seventh Seal" (1957). This allegory of death from Ingmar Bergman became an art-house favorite and brought stardom to Max von Sydow, who portrays a knight in medieval Sweden during the Black Plague, international renown. Not for all tastes, but nonetheless powerful.
* midnight -- "The Third Man" (1949). Postwar intrigue in Vienna starring Joseph Cotten, who'd worked with Welles in "Citizen Kane"; this time, Orson has a memorable supporting role as the mysterious Harry Lime. The concluding chase through Vienna's sewers is justifiably famous.
* 2 a.m. -- "The Earrings Of Madame de..." (1953). From famed French director Max Ophuls, this romance of vanity reunites Charles Boyer -- making his postwar debut in French cinema -- with Danielle Darrieux, his co-star in "Mayerling" some 17 years earlier. Vittorio De Sica, an actor before gaining greater fame as a director, has a supporting part.
Monday, Oct. 11
* 8 p.m. -- "The Big Sleep" (1946). Nice pedigree for a film: Story by Raymond Chandler; script by, among others, William Faulkner and Philip Epstein of "Casablanca" fame (Chandler was under contract to Paramount, and this was a Warners property); directed by Howard Hawks; starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It took nearly a year and a half to make the film due to rewrites and whatnot, but it was worth it.
* 10 p.m. -- "His Girl Friday" (1940). More brilliance from Hawks, aided by rapid-fire dialogue from Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, with all sorts of delightful in-jokes (plus Ralph Bellamy). This, "The Front Page" with a sex change, might have had Lombard in the Russell role if Columbia had been able to afford her...although it's difficult to envision anyone topping Roz's standout performance.
* midnight -- "The Perils Of Pauline" (1947). This not-very-accurate biopic of early silent star Pearl White features brassy Betty Hutton, then at the peak of her career, along with John Lund and Billy de Wolfe -- with songs from Frank Loesser. Some of White's original co-stars have cameos in the silent film sequences.
* 2 a.m. -- "Hail The Conquering Hero" (1944). Eddie Bracken made two classics for Preston Sturges, one with Hutton ("The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek") and this one, where he plays a small-town boy discharged from the Marines for hay fever, but a misunderstanding leads the citizens to believe he is returning as a war hero. Sharp, perceptive and very funny.
Wednesday, Oct. 13
* 8 p.m. -- "The General" (1927). Many consider this Buster Keaton's masterpiece, loosely based on an actual incident that occurred during the Civil War. His painstaking attention to detail provided a realism unusual for a slapstick comedy; watch the scene where a locomotive falls into a river as a burning bridge collapses.
* 9:30 p.m. -- "Smiles Of A Summer Night" (1955). A charming, lyrical Ingmar Bergman comedy that helped put him on the map with American audiences and would influence much of Woody Allen's work.
* 11:30 p.m. -- "Something Wild" (1961). If you only know Carroll Baker from "Baby Doll" or one of the 1965 "Harlow" films, check out this low-budget obscurity where she plays a rape victim who winds up on the Lower East Side and is preparing to jump off a bridge when... This American version of Italian neo-realism also features a jazzy score written by none other than Aaron Copland!
* 1:30 a.m. -- "He Ran All The Way" (1951). This film noir thriller has a Red Scare undercurrent. It was co-written by an uncredited Dalton Trumbo, and it would be John Garfield's last film; blacklisted, he died a year later. With Shelley Winters and Gladys George.
Monday, Oct. 18
* 8 p.m. -- "Oliver!" (1968). A bit of a surprise as winner of the best picture Oscar, this adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" featured a relatively anonymous cast (Ron Moody portrayed Fagin rather than initial choices Peter O'Toole and Peter Sellers), but became a smash hit.
* 10:45 p.m. -- "The Black Stallion" (1979). Francis Ford Coppola adapted this popular children's tale about a boy and his horse into a well-received film. With Mickey Rooney as the retired jockey turned horse trainer.
* 1 a.m. -- "Almost Famous" (2000). This look back at the rock scene of the early 1970s, told through the eyes of a youthful rock journalist (which director-writer-producer Cameron Crowe had actually been), was a considerable hit and turned Kate Hudson, playing a groupie, from Goldie Hawn's daughter to a star in her own right.
* 3:15 a.m. -- "The Lady From Shanghai" (1948). Welles turned Rita Hayworth, then his wife (though not for much longer), into a blonde -- much to Columbia mogul Harry Cohn's dismay -- for this unusual film noir, best known today for a famed funhouse scene.
Wednesday, Oct. 20
* 8 p.m. -- "Ride Lonesome" (1959). Arguably Randolph Scott's best collaboration with Budd Boetticher, this western about a man seeking revenge for the death of his wife features three future stars of the western genre -- James Coburn ("The Magnificent Seven"), Pernell Roberts ("Bonanza") and Lee Van Cleef (spaghetti westerns).
* 9:30 p.m. -- "Park Row" (1952). Former newspaperman turned director Samuel Fuller made many satisfying films, although this one about the newspaper business of the late 19th century (for which he wrote the screenplay) unfortunately tends to be overlooked.
* 11 p.m. -- "The Last Flight" (1931). Written by aviator and one-time Fay Wray husband John Monk Saunders (he also wrote the story for the Lombard film "The Eagle And The Hawk"), this tale of aviators after World War I wasn't a big hit at the time but has been rediscovered. Starring Richard Barthelmess, David Manners and Johnny Mack Brown.
* 12:30 a.m. -- "All Through The Night" (1942). "To Be Or Not To Be" wasn't the only film to lampoon Nazis; so did this one, which was also filmed prior to Pearl Harbor and is set in Brooklyn (the Nazis here are members of the German-American Bund). It stars Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre and William Demarest; you can even spot Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason in small parts.
Monday, Oct. 25
* 8 p.m. -- "The Fuller Brush Man" (1948). Red Skelton made a number of funny films during the 1940s, although this one was done at Columbia, not MGM. Frank Tashlin co-wrote the screenplay, in which Red's character is implicated in a murder he didn't commit, and Janet Blair is his leading lady.
* 9:45 p.m. -- "The Magnificent Yankee" (1950). Louis Calhern reprised his Broadway role of Oliver Wendell Holmes in this adaptation, with Ann Harding as his wife. This was a good year for Calhern; not only did he win an Oscar nomination for this film, but he played Buffalo Bill in "Annie Get Your Gun" and had Marilyn Monroe for a mistress in "The Asphalt Jungle."
* 11:30 p.m. -- "Mickey One" (1965). Two years before teaming up for "Bonnie And Clyde," Warren Beatty and director Arthur Penn worked on this tale about a troubled nightclub comic on the lam, done in an American equivalent of French New Wave style. (This will also air at 6:15 p.m. ET Saturday, just before "Bonnie And Clyde," as part of a tribute to Penn, who died this week.)
* 1:15 a.m. -- "Hollywood Hotel" (1937). This comedy, directed by Busby Berkeley, features the debut of the Tinseltown anthem "Hooray For Hollywood," written by Johnny Mercer and Richard Whiting, plus it features music by Benny Goodman's orchestra, then nearing the peak of its popularity. With Dick Powell and two of the Lane sisters (Rosemary and Lola).
Wednesday, Oct. 27
* 8 p.m. -- "The Lady Eve" (1941). What actress ever had a better year than Barbara Stanwyck in 1941? "Meet John Doe," "Ball Of Fire" and this Preston Sturges smash that reunited her with Henry Fonda, her comedic co-star three years ago in "The Mad Miss Manton." This is more substantial fare, as she toys with the wealthy dope.
* 10 p.m. -- "Sweet Smell Of Success" (1957). Want a feel for New York in the mid-fifties? Check out this acerbic portrait of Manhattan, with Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsecker, an ersatz Walter Winchell, and Tony Curtis (who died Wednesday at 85) as his self-loathing assistant; the beauteous Barbara Nichols also shines in a small role. Lancaster's production company owned the property, and initially Burt wanted Hunsecker to be played by...Orson Welles.
* midnight -- "Lady Of The Night" (1925). LaSalle is best known for sparking the career rehabilitation of Norma Shearer through his fine book, "Complicated Women," so it's no surprise he chose a Shearer film. This one, a silent where Norma plays dual roles (one wealthy, one streetwise, both infatuated with the same man), is relatively unknown but well done. Adela Rogers St. Johns wrote the story the screenplay is based upon. Shearer's over-the-shoulder double (when both her characters were in the scene)? None other than Lucille Le Sueur, later known as future Shearer rival Joan Crawford.
* 1:15 a.m. -- "Gold Diggers Of 1933" (1933). Ginger Rogers singing "We're In The Money" in pig Latin, camera zooming in on her until her mouth fills the entire screen...a dance number to "Pettin' In The Park" where the girls change clothes behind a flimsy screen after a shower...60 girls playing neon violins in the dark. Yes, this is pre-Code, Busby Berkeley style. But there's also the moving "Remember My Forgotten Man" that concludes this musical comedy on a poignant note.