When life gets so busy that you don’t know which way is up, it’s a good idea to stop and appreciate the little things that make life worth living. For me, one of those things is what I believe to be the greatest channel in the history of television, Turner Classic Movies.
TCM was the brainchild of media magnate Ted Turner and while his reputation may have taken a hit for releasing colorized versions of It’s a Wonderful Life and Yankee Doodle Dandy, his heart has always been in the right place where film preservation is concerned.
His intent for issuing the computer-colored versions of various movie classics was to get people interested in classic films made during Hollywood’s “Golden Era”. Needless to say, seeing a slightly orange Jimmy Stewart have a spazz attack over Zuzu’s petals won Turner no fans where film aficionados were concerned. The creation of TCM, however, did the legion of movie buffs who appreciate classic films a huge favor and it’s fun to watch the channel grow year by year. Channel host Robert Osbourne claims that he has the world’s largest commercial film library at his disposal and it’s no idle boast. While the usual suspects appear regularly on the channel (Citizen Kane, It Happened One Night, Lawrence of Arabia, etc.), what makes their line-up so impressive is that every month, they show at least ten films that are not available on any home video format. Just recently, they held a month-long tribute to James Cagney and showed over 15 of his earliest, more obscure works. While it is was interesting to see this incomparable dynamo in White Heat and The Public Enemy again, watching such obscure early features as The Mayor of Hell, Taxi and The St. Louis Kid, was far more fascinating as I was able to see this film legend honing his craft and shaping what would become his indelible, incomparable persona in movies I couldn’t see elsewhere.
Right now, TCM is in the middle of their annual 31 Days of Oscar festival, in which every film they show between February 1 and March 2 was either nominated or won an Academy Award. Granted, the simple fact that a film was recognized by the folks who hand out the Oscars is no guarantee that the movie is worth your time, (yes, The Greatest Show on Earth will be shown on February 27. Do yourself a favor and avoid it like the plague.), likely or not you’ll be able to find something worthwhile every day this month.
For example, the evening of February 13 is devoted to films starring Cary Grant that were nominated, (don’t miss My Favorite Wife at 11:15 p.m.), the evening of Feb 19 includes that wonderfully cheesy western Duel in the Sun with Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones, while February 22 features Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau’s best collaboration, The Fortune Cookie.
The usual Oscar Hollywood fare aren’t the only films being shown this month. Foreign films that were nominated, such as The Red Shoes (Feb 12), Rashomon (Feb 27) and My Life as a Dog (Mar 1) will be shown as well. But perhaps the most fun to be had by film buffs during this month occurs between feature films, as Oscar-nominated shorts will be shown between the main movies. Cartoons, travel films, comedy shorts and other award-winning finite flicks that you can’t seen anywhere else are just a click or two up the dial.
The filmmaker and cinema historian Peter Bogdonavich once said that the vast number of worthwhile old films that had been made yet unseen by the current generation was like a lost treasure. Truth is, they aren’t really lost; most of them simply reside at Turner Classic Movies. So, turn off that new reality show you have droning on in the background, put down your iPod for a bit and turn to TCM. Chances are, you’ll find some movie to fall in love with that you never heard of before or get reacquainted with a flick you forget all about. One thing’s for sure, whatever happens to be on is better than American Gladiators.