Top 5: If You Were a TCM Guest Programmer

I’m not someone with many hopes and dreams, 17 years of bill collecting will do that to you, but for me sitting across from The Mighty Robert Osborne and guest programming an evening of Turner Classic Movies would be like hitting the Powerball. I’m not sure how one gets invited to do such a thing, and can tell you from experience that a letter explaining you have only six-weeks to live doesn’t help, so in the meantime we’ll all have to live vicariously through Dennis Miller or play guest programmer right here.

Sharing great movies with those who haven’t seen them is a passion of mine, so that would be the focus of my choices (and why I love Miller choosing “Dodsworth“).

1. Springtime in the Rockies (1942) — Check this cast out: Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda, John Payne, Cesar Romero, Harry James, Charlotte Greenwood and Edward Everett Horton. Twentieth Century-Fox had them some stars and TCM would just have to make a phone call to Fox and borrow this simple, sweet, unassuming color musical packed with a dozen lovely tunes over a very well-paced 91 minutes. Fox could never compete with what MGM was doing in the musical department, and to their credit didn’t really try. So instead of aspiring to create classics they went for escapism, and sometimes those are the best movies of them all.

2. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) — Director Otto Preminger and The Mighty Dana Andrews made a number of tough little noirs together but the story of Mark Dixon (Andrews), a stoic, brutal cop who plays rough with the bad guys and is thisclose to losing his job, ranks in my All-Time Top 50. Just as his emotional life opens up courtesy of the luminous Gene Tierney – she with the overbite to die for – Dixon finds himself a criminal when he takes things too far, kills a suspect, and goes to great lengths to cover his crime up. An amazing cinematic accomplishment and beautifully photographed in glorious black and white with enough atmosphere for five movies.

3. The Southerner (1945) — An American film directed by French Director Jean Renoir, this absorbing tale covering a year in the hard life of a family of Depression-era tenant farmers fighting the elements and their troublesome neighbors is a stunningly filmed, beautifully acted near-masterpiece. Zachary Scott and Betty Field personify quiet perseverance and a supporting cast that includes Beulah Bondi, J. Carrol Naish and Percy Kilbride is just as marvelous. I’ve been a fan for 25 years and keep waiting for the revival, especially with Renoir attached, but not yet — though I haven’t lost faith.

4. The Swimmer (1968) – Burt Lancaster was 54 when he made this so be prepared to resent him for looking so good wearing only a pair of swim trunks, which he does throughout most of the movie. The story is simple: Ned Merrill (an outstanding – as usual – Lancaster) decides to “swim” home using the suburban swimming pools of his neighbors. You have no idea what the hell’s going on or even what the whole thing’s about until a psychological puzzle starts to emerge, and where it leads will hit like a ton of bricks. The cinematography is beyond impressive, perfectly capturing a time and place – which is vital to the success of one of the most original movies you’ll ever see.

5. The Exterminating Angel (1962) - A Mexican film written and directed by Luis Brunel Bunuel and one of the more bizarre cinematic offerings to come out of any country. After the opera, a group of high society types enjoy a lavish dinner party but no one leaves. They can’t. No one can bring themselves to walk out the door. Nothing stops them. No one keeps them. They just can’t cross the threshold to go home. Days pass. The food runs out. Some fall ill. They’re shipwrecked in a room… Bunuel’s surreal and fascinating criticism of never ending upper class dinner parties plays like a great, subtitled “Twilight Zone.”

Those are my five. Which five would you foist on the American people?

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