Friday, August 26, 2005

TV: The Daily Show

Once upon a time I wouldn’t have linked to this clip. But I said I was going to make some changes around here.

It’s great television. A conversation between Christopher Hitchens – whose writings on Iraq and the war on terror are worth reading because they reveal a nuanced, evolving position – and Jon Stewart, who on some nights is all that keeps me sane.

Hitchens holds his ground, but Stewart is magnificent. He shucks the comic persona and lays out in simple, heartfelt terms what he expects and desires from government in general and this administration in particular: to be treated like an adult.

Movie: Executive Suite (1954)

Speaking of being treated like an adult, I cued up this film on Turner Classic Movies’ new On Demand service expecting soapy melodrama. Instead, I was utterly galvanized.

The president of a company dies, and five executives (including William Holden and Fredric March) scheme amongst themselves to succeed him. They must also sway the two other members of the board, a shady manager with plans to make a killing by selling the firm’s stock short, and the unstable daughter of the company founder who’s also the dead man’s mistress (Barbara Stanwyck). It’s like THE HUDSUCKER PROXY played straight.

The film made one hell of an impression on me, because it tells a complex story about important issues. It says that what a man does is important, but his motives and methods are equally so.

The late, great Ernest Lehman beautifully adapts Cameron Hawley’s novel; the climactic boardroom scenes are spellbinding. There’s a hint of Ayn Rand in Holden’s big speech – even his character’s name, McDonald Walling, sounds like something out of THE FOUNTAINHEAD – but I kind of dig Rand.

The direction by Robert Wise also shines. In a piece written for the 2002 Academy Awards, David Mamet observed that a film’s editor was the audience’s best friend, because the editor only cares about the story. Wise began as an editor – he’s vilified in some quarters for being the studio hatchet man on Welles’ MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS – and it shows in his clean, efficient storytelling.

Comedian Bill Maher often says that people either want to live in the 1950s or the 1960s. It’s a glib line that misreads the Eisenhower era completely. But when it comes to movies, I think he’s onto something. I used to be a huge fan of the films that came out of the ‘60s political and cultural movements, but now many of them seem indulgent. I find myself drawn more and more to the movies of the previous decade, which are disciplined, well-crafted, and every bit as personal.

TCM will be airing EXECUTIVE SUITE September 1st at 8PM Eastern. Set those DVRs now.