Sunday, November 11, 2007

Viewing Tip: Ellroy Vision

November is guest programmer month on Turner Classic Movies. Each night, the best network on television hands over the reins to various luminaries. There are some nice surprises scattered throughout the lineup – Charles Busch picking the underrated showbiz melodrama The Hard Way, Tracey Ullman opting for Kes, an early Ken Loach film, and 1959’s I’m All Right Jack – along with the occasional dud. Like Donald Trump night. With TCM’s vast library at his disposal, the Donald selects warhorses like The African Queen, Gone With The Wind, and Citizen Kane. Nice to see his talent for the thuddingly obvious isn’t limited to real estate. (“Slap some gold trim on there. People love that crap.”)

The night I’m waiting for is this Tuesday, November 13, when novelist James Ellroy takes to the air. His choices include a trio of California-set crime dramas from 1958, all of which are new to me:

Stakeout on Dope Street, the debut feature by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back), with a cast that includes Roger Corman staple Jonathan Haze;

Murder by Contract, a hit man drama with Vince Edwards;

The Lineup, a cult favorite directed by Don Siegel.

I can unreservedly recommend Ellroy’s last pick. Armored Car Robbery is a crackerjack heist film from B-movie maestro Richard Fleischer, starring one of noir’s great tough guys Charles McGraw.

Clips from all four films can be seen at TCM’s website, along with a brief interview with Ellroy. He doesn’t tone down his act for the network’s gentlemanly host Robert Osborne. When asked why he chose Dope Street, Ellroy replies, “Because it made me want to shoot big H and crawl back into the gutter from which I emerged.” All that plus a shout-out to the czar of noir himself, Eddie Muller. The fun begins Tuesday at 8PM Eastern, 5PM Pacific.

TCM keeps up the noir theme after Ellroy’s picks end. At 1:45AM Eastern the network will be showing another Richard Fleischer gem, 1949’s Follow Me Quietly. This thriller about the hunt for a serial killer known as “The Judge” contains one of the creepiest shots I’ve ever seen in a movie. Quietly runs a mere 59 minutes, and is worth setting the DVR for.

TV: This Week’s Reason To Love 30 Rock

Jack Donaghy reading an official NBC ratings report: “Look how Greenzo is testing. They love him in every demographic. Colored people, broads, fairies, commies. Gosh, we’ve got to update these forms.”

That line was scripted. Which brings us to ...

News: Strike Stuff

Expect this to be a semi-regular feature until this mishegoss is over.

Lawsuits are all-American, but strikes still make some people uncomfortable. Tool around the web and you’ll find wags condemning the walkout, usually citing an Ayn Rand free market libertarianism often influenced by business practices in the start-up world. John Rogers handily demolishes those arguments. Make sure you read the comments, where he does it again.

Variety’s blog Scribe Vibe has far outstripped the paper’s coverage of the work stoppage. I’d link to this entry, in which several top talents weigh in on the strike from Friday evening’s Jack Oakie Celebration of Comedy in Film, even if it didn’t contain some interesting comments. I just love that the Motion Picture Academy still has an event named after Jack Oakie.

For those coming in late, screenwriter Howard Michael Gould lays it all out.

If you’ve got a minute, why not sign this petition in support of the writers? It probably won’t do any good. But it’s certainly not gonna hurt.