Summer is winding down, the kids are going back to school. You could say that, for those who enjoy the summertime, the circus is leaving town. But that’s no reason to get morose because TCM has the best theme month of the year (in my opinion) in August: Summer Under the Stars! In this special TCM Top 10 I’ll be listing the ten movies I’m checking out this month, as well as detailing ten stars worth calling in sick to work for (or otherwise watching in their entirety). As always feel free to leave your own must-sees in the comments!
**All times listed as Eastern. TCM can change the schedule at their discretion**
I recently did a Ticklish Business episode about SUTS (which you can hear soon), and my wonderful guest Lara Fowler recommended The Dark Corner (1946). Lucille Ball plays a secretary helping her boss meet a murder rap in a plot that sounds very similar to Phantom Lady (1944). Directed by Henry Hathaway – usually known as a Western director – it also includes Clifton Webb and that great thug, William Bendix. Lara recommended this heartily so I’ll take her word for it. The Dark Corner airs August 2nd at 8pm during TCM’s tribute to Lucille Ball.
Since no one is covering Fay Wray during my blogathon – still time to do so, if you’re interested – I figured I should put one of her films on here. The 1930s scream queen was the star of several horror features, one of which is 1932’s Doctor X, the first of her pairings with Lionel Atwill – the duo teamed up again the following year for The Mystery of the Wax Museum. Similar to the other film, a reporter investigates cannibalistic murders at a medical college. Pretty safe to assume Atwill is at the center of it and Wray screams a lot? Either way you can’t go wrong with these early Technicolor chillers. Celebrate Fay Wray with Doctor X on August 4th at 10:15am.
I haven’t included a documentary in the column for awhile, and there’s no better star worth watching a doc on than Jean Harlow. Harlow: The Blonde Bombshell is a 1993 examination of the star’s life and tragic death, narrated by Sharon Stone. Though it’s doubtful the die-hard Harlow fans who have read books on her will find anything new, this should be a nice introduction to her work and personality. Harlow: The Blonde Bombshell airs August 7th at 3pm.
You didn’t expect me to pass up the opportunity to put an Esther Williams movie on this list, did you? Skirts Ahoy! (1952) puts Esther in the Navy to secure a sea-faring husband. So, How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) on the high seas? Williams is the biggest name in this film, alongside Joan Evans and Vivian Blaine, but the premise yields itself up to Williams swimming, which is all we hope for with her films. Skirts Ahoy! airs on Williams centennial, August 8th at 6pm.
Her uncontestable beauty makes Hedy Lamarr an actress whose work you immediately gravitate towards. No one that beautiful can be real. I had such a hard time picking which Lamarr movie to watch, I went ahead and listed her in my SUTS Must-Sees below. Though I’ve only watched two of her films, her acting and the plots she worked with are compelling. The Heavenly Body (1943) sees Lamarr teamed up with the debonair William Powell to play in this film about a neglected housewife who takes up astronomy. It also stars James Craig (who I often confuse with Brian Donlevy for some reason). I’m sure this is a silly little picture, but those are often the sweetest! You can find The Heavenly Body on August 10th at 11:30pm.
Ralph Richardson, another neglected blogathon subject, gets prime placement in this list, starring in the H.G. Wells adaptation Things to Come (1936). Directed by the vibrant William Cameron Menzies, who also designed the sets, Things to Come tells the tale of two philosophers trying to end all the wars in the world. I’ve heard nothing but good things, and this also has a Criterion release (always a mark of quality). I anticipate this looking utterly beautiful and having some wonderfully idealistic thoughts on war post-WWI, pre-WWII. Things to Come airs on August 13th at 8am.
Two Weeks in Another Town sounds like a take on The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), probably because Kirk Douglas plays a drunken movie director looking for a comeback in both. Either way, the film includes Edward G. Robinson and the day’s star, Cyd Charisse. I don’t believe I’ve watched Charisse in anything post-1950 so it’ll be fun watching how she adapted to the swinging ’60s. Two Weeks in Another Town airs August 14th at 10am.
Not to needlessly shill for my podcast, Ticklish Business, but I’ve heard about It’s Love I’m After (1937) twice now while working on the show – once from Nora Fiore during my Olivia De Havilland Centennial episode and during my recent SUTS tribute. Described as the ultimate story of a fangirl and the celeb she loves, It’s Love I’m After sees Leslie Howard and Bette Davis as a married couple at odds due to the affections of an obsessed fan played by De Havilland. That premise sells me everytime, so all I need to do is watch it! It’s Love I’m After airs August 21st at 7:30am.
There’s nothing better than a pre-Code, especially a pre-Code whose premise mimics our own nighttime soap operas. When Ladies Meet (1933) pits Ann Harding against Myrna Loy as a female novelist and the woman whose husband she’s trying to steal. Sorry, but if the husband is Robert Montgomery I think both women can do better, but that’s just me. Harding and Loy sounds like a formidable pairing, but I think Myrna’s got this one, irrespective of who she’s playing. When Ladies Meet is the 10:30am movie on August 22nd.
I haven’t come down on whether or not I enjoy Charles Boyer as an actor, but the premise of All This, and Heaven Too (1940) sounds like a romantic entanglement worth investing in; Boyer plays a nobleman who falls for his children’s governess (played by Bette Davis). The story alone sounds like a non-musical, dramatic interpretation of The Sound of Music (1963) minus Davis twirling on a hilltop. Though Boyer doesn’t do much for me, and Anatole Litvak as director doesn’t inspire confidence, you can’t go wrong with Davis. All This, and Heaven Too airs at 5:30pm on August 29th.
Summer Under the Stars Must-Sees
Jean Harlow was brassy, sly, sweet, child-like with an adult’s gaze of the world around her. I devoted an entire month to Harlow, but here are several titles worth watching: Personal Property (1937), Dinner at Eight (1933), Libeled Lady (1936), Red Dust (1932), Wife vs. Secretary (1936) and Red-Headed Woman (1932). Jean Harlow’s tribute is August 7th.
I’m actually devoting all of Monday to watching Esther Williams films (if you’re on Twitter, drop by #TCMParty and say hello!). Here’s a few I already enjoy – Easy to Love (1953), On an Island With You (1948), Dangerous When Wet (1953), Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) and Thrill of a Romance (1945) – and a few I’ll be making time to see – Fiesta (1947), Texas Carnival (1951), Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) and Neptune’s Daughter (1949). Swim with Esther Williams on August 8th.
Lamarr is the only star in this section placed because I wanted to watch so many of her films. The ones I’m making time for: I Take This Woman (1940), Crossroads (1942), White Cargo (1942), Come Live With Me (1941). Hedy Lamarr’s tribute is August 10th.
You are all aware of my affinity for Cyd Charisse and her dancing gams. On August 14th you too can dance with Charisse and her amazing body of work. Some titles that get my seal of approval: East Side, West Side (1949), Singin’ in the Rain, of course (1952), Brigadoon (1954), Silk Stockings (1957), Tension (1950) and The Unfinished Dance (1947).
The prom queen of this year’s Summer Under the Stars blogathon, I didn’t realize just how popular Anne Baxter was until everyone wanted to write about her. Baxter definitely has “it,” as evidenced by the various roles she took, in genres of all stripes. Angel On My Shoulder (1946) almost made the top ten proper, and I’m still preparing to watch it. Other titles I’ve watched and recommend on the 16th: The Blue Gardenia (1953), All About Eve (1950), The Razor’s Edge (1946), and Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958).
No man ever embodied the term “hard boiled” like Humphrey Bogart. Tough-talking, fast-drawing, but with an inner core of goodness that usually overrode his villainy, there’s so much bound up within Bogart that’s made him legendary. The Bogart movies you should make time for on the 20th: Casablanca (1942), Dark Passage (1947), Key Largo (1948), Sabrina (1954), The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947), The Maltese Falcon (1941).
What can be said about Bette Davis that hasn’t been penned by my betters? Bette Davis is the ultimate star with a body of work to prove it. Housewife (1934) just skirted being on the ten in favor of It’s Love I’m After. I’m also prepping to finally sit down with The Letter (1940), The Catered Affair (1956), The Little Foxes (1941), Old Acquaintance (1943) and Dead Ringer (1964). Titles I recommend you watch on the 21st: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).
Boris Karloff was more than just the man rocking the flat-top of Frankenstein’s monster. His career extended beyond Whale’s iconic monster into noir, dramas and action-adventures. However, I’d be remiss not to recommend the litany of fantastic horror features TCM is airing in honor of Karloff on the 26th: Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Mummy (1932), and The Black Cat (1934).
If you’ve read my site for any length of time you’re aware of my crush on James Garner (TCM, get on doing a Cliff Robertson day next year!). Garner is the king of cool (sorry, Steve McQueen) with roguish charm and an affable nature that makes you smile in any situation. What’s worth your time on the 27th? The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Thrill of It All (1963), Support Your Local Sheriff and Marlowe (both 1969).
Jean Arthur’s bubbly attitude is infectious and once it meets her iron will there’s no stopping her characters from achieving anything they set out to do. Arthur’s films, many of them comedies, are just fun because of Arthur’s wide grin and high-pitched voice. Some Jean Arthur titles you should watch on the 28th include The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The More the Merrier (1943), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and You Can’t Take It With You (1938).
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.