The 21st day of Turner Classic Movie’s 31 Days of Oscar Festival continues on Friday, February 21st and features what is perhaps the most eclectic roster of films since this celebration of past Academy Award nominees and winners began. Among the highlights are a movie that created a star right before the audiences’ eyes and another that marks the beginning of the genre as well as one of the great cinematic love stories.
Stagecoach – John Ford’s seminal western about a diverse group of travellers crossing Indian Territory in a stagecoach marks the rebirth of the genre as the coming of sound made it far too difficult to film on location and caused them to fall out of favor with major studios for nearly a decade. The film deals with far more than high noon showdowns as it delivers an effective lesson regarding social prejudice as the passengers from various walks of life are forced to work together in order to survive. Thomas Mitchell is the drunk Dr. Boone who’s been run out of town, while Claire Trevor’s Dallas suffers a similar fate for being a lady of ill repute. Hatfield (John Carradine) a Southern cardsharp looks out for the gentile and pregnant Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) while Gatewood (Berton Churchill), the president of a local bank, is hoping to start a new life with the money he’s stolen from his place of employ. Whiskey salesman Mr. Peacock (Donald Meek) rounds out the group, that is until they pick up the Ringo Kid (John Wayne), who’s just escaped from prison and has a date to keep with the man that killed his brother in Lordsburg, where the stagecoach’s journey end. Curley and Buck (George Bancroft & Andy Devine) do their best to get them there safely but with Indians on the warpath, sniping within the stagecoach and a passenger about to give birth, they have their hands full.
Producer Walter Wanger wanted Gary Cooper for the role of the Ringo Kid but his fee was too high. Ford campaigned for Wayne from the start but the fact that he was known primarily for a series of B-westerns was hardly a selling point. However, what with Trevor, who was the biggest star in the cast at the time, commanding top dollar, Wayne suddenly became Wanger’s choice as he knew he could pay him peanuts. Ford put the actor through the ringer throughout the shoot, making Wayne the butt of practical jokes, haranguing him in front of the crew over nothing and making him do multiple takes on scenes when they weren’t necessary. This was all part of an initiation the director put all of his newcomers through and Ford was so impressed with the actor’s patience and reserve, he went back and shot the scene where Ringo first appears in which the camera zooms in on Wayne’s rugged face. A star was born and thus began a collaboration between the actor and director that would endure over the course of 24 years and 14 films. Not to be missed, this is one of the great American films. 12:45 PM
Double Indemnity – Made in 1944, this thriller from director Billy Wilder is often cited as the beginning of the Film Noir genre as it features many of the conventions that would become associated with this sort of film. Based on the novel by James M. Cain, the movie focuses on a plot hatched by Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), an insurance agent who’s lured into a plot by Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), the wife of one of his clients, to kill her husband. Not only are they out to collect the insurance on his death but want to cash in on a double indemnity clause that kicks in if a mishap on a train occurs. What looks like a full proof plan starts to unravel as greed and paranoia begin to tear the two killers apart. MacMurray is solid here, confident and strong, yet convincing in the way he falls victim to Stanwyck’s charms. This is the only role the actress received an Academy Award nomination for and she is unforgettable, oozing sex and temptation, creating a template for the Femme Fatale that others would forever emulate. Edward G. Robinson lends fine support as Neff’s boss who knows something’s fishy and doggedly tries to uncover the truth. Brimming with crisp dialogue and a story that never lets go until the last poignant moment, this is a perfect example of the sort of film Wilder built his reputation on as it contains biting commentary on the human condition and nary a wasted moment. 7:00 PM
A Place in the Sun – Elizabeth Taylor was never more lovely and Montgomery Clift more tragic than in George Stevens’ adaptation of the Theodore Dreiser novel An American Tragedy. George Eastman (Clift) is a working stiff who makes the mistake of falling for Angela Vickers (Taylor), his bosses’ daughter, oblivious to their difference in class. Not only does he have to contend with these social hurdles but there’s also the matter of his girlfriend (Shelley Winters), who finds out she’s pregnant and begins pressuring him to marry. The lengths Eastman goes to in order to be with Angela takes a tragic turn and Stevens slowly increases the tension as it becomes obvious that the love between the two principles is doomed. Taylor and Clift generate great chemistry and convey the sense that they are genuinely in love. Watch for one of the great screen kisses as Stevens holds a long take over Clift’s shoulder to concentrate on Taylor. She was never more luminous than she is at this moment. 9:00 PM