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TCM Top 11: Summer Under the Stars 2021

So, kids, I’ve spent the last month trying to figure out how to cover Summer Under the Stars as we come speeding into August. Who out there is getting ready to camp out in front of the television for 31 straight days? How does one go about picking the must-sees with a programming line-up like this? 

Well, yours truly wanted to take this time, sit down and talk about some of the movies I’m excited about this month. Are these picks the” best” from these respective performers? Not always. However, if there’s only one movie you can check out on each of these days, make sure it’s one of these. 

Without further ado, here are my picks for Summer Under the Stars.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Kim Novak is an actress with a deceptively small filmography; however, very few performers bring quite the same number of ‘classics’. Novak’s reputation and screen persona are iconic and her work in Bell, Book and Candle is one of the roles which most contributes to our memory of this iconic actress. 

Bell, Book and Candle follows a writer (James Stewart) who finds himself taken with his quirky neighbor (Kim Novak) as his own relationship is hitting a rough patch. However, there’s a bit of a problem… She’s a witch… and there may or may not be a love spell involved.

Bell, Book and Candle is a work of candy-colored studio fair of the most unconventional variety. Not only does this movie look flawless, but the performances are stellar from top to bottom. Novak is rarely better, Stewart is his usual charismatic self, and one must always pay homage to the delightfulness that is Jack Lemmon.

Bell, Book and Candle airs August 3rd at 5:00pm PST.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

As a comedy duo, Abbott and Costello feel like they’ve always been in my life. I’ve watched the comedians’ films for as long as I can remember, and of those, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is not only one of the first I watched, but is also one of my favorites. 

The movie follows Bud and Lou as two shipping clerks who become unwittingly involved in not only Count Dracula’s (Bela Lugosi) scheme to reanimate ‘Frankenstein’ (Glenn Strange), but also Lawrence Talbot’s (Lon Chaney Jr) plot to finally destroy Count Dracula. 

Sure, the film is one of the closest things the 1940s get to a shameless franchise crossover, but it is worth a watch. It’s a solid horror-comedy that sells both elements easily. Lugosi and Chaney were still coasting on the reputations they established at Universal over the previous decade and there’s a love and respect for the Universal Monster fair that is still so well-remembered today.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein airs August 7th at 5:00pm PST.

Klute (1971)

Jane Fonda Day is going to be impressive. So, it was quite a challenge to pick even one of these movies to recommend. Frankly, whether you watch The China Syndrome, Sunday in New York, or Klute, you’re in for a quality viewing experience.

Klute follows a police officer (Donald Sutherland) who while searching for a missing man, becomes involved with a sex worker (Fonda) being threatened by an unseen assailant.  

The Alan J. Pakula thriller is 1970s, new wave cinema at its finest. The brooding and moody movie is flawlessly acted by not only Sutherland but Fonda as well. The actress took home a much-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress. If you’re a fan of thrillers, mysteries, or neo-noir, make sure to add this one to your list.

Klute airs August 13th at 7:15pm PST.

Woman of the Year (1942)

We’re drifting from New Hollywood of the 1970s to the studio era at its most iconic. Most classic film fans are at least familiar with the legendary screen-pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The duo made 9 films together beginning with 1942’s Woman of the Year.

Woman of the Year follows Hepburn and Tracy in a fairly standard rom-com plot. He’s a gruff, slightly slovenly sportswriter who finds himself attracted to a smart, shrewd, crazily accomplished political correspondent. This is Katharine Hepburn at her “Hepburn-iest”. 

Granted, there are elements of Woman of the Year which feel very ‘of its time’. However, there’s so much which can be said about the construction of the film, particularly Hepburn as Tess. While the movie might wrap up as a very ‘studio’ film, Woman of the Year is subtly subversive in its crafting of relationships, gender roles, and the roles of women on screen thanks not only Hepburn, but screenwriters Ring Lardner Jr and Michael Kanin. There’s a lot to love here.

Woman of the Year airs August 21st at 11:00am PST.

At the Circus (1939)

Raise your hand if you were excited that Eve Arden is slated to get a day during Summer Under the Stars this year. As I already mentioned, there is no shortage of fun movies to sink your teeth into. However, anything involving The Marx Brothers will always get a shout-out from me. 

Coming in 1939, At the Circus comes at the tail end of The Marx Brothers’ successful run during the 1930s. Sure, there are better films in their filmography (*cough A Night at the Opera *cough), but At the Circus shows the trio still on their A-game with their standard formula. Aside from Eve Arden (playing an evil tightrope walker), the cast includes former Jack Benny crooner Kenny Baker in a rare film role and Marx Brothers staple Margaret Dumont in her usual part. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Groucho’s performance of ‘Lydia the Tattooed Lady’ which happens early in the first act. The moment is a truly iconic bit of Marx Brothers’ history and one which should be seen by all of the comedian’s fans.

At the Circus airs August 23rd at 6:15am PST.

Boy’s Night Out (1962)

This is the second appearance of Kim Novak on our list…. this time, it’s just coming on Tony Randall day during Summer Under the Stars. Like Bell, Book and Candle, Boy’s Night Out in another favorite of mine in Kim Novak’s iconic filmography… and Tony Randall isn’t bad either. 

Boy’s Night Out follows a group of suburban men (Tony Randall, Howard Duff, Howard Morris, and James Garner) during the early 1960s who rent a bachelor pad in the city where they decide to ‘keep’ a gorgeous young woman (Novak). While the men have all kinds of lascivious ideas going through their heads, what they don’t realize is that she’s also a sociology student studying the sex life of the suburban American male. 

Boy’s Night Out is a spot-on comedy which in the humble opinion of this writer, doesn’t get the love it deserves. Probably most notable is the clever and tongue-in-cheek performances in the picture coming from Garner, Randall, and Howard Morris. This one is a personal favorite and is not to be missed.

Boy’s Night Out airs August 26th at 6:45am PST.

Hotel (1967)

Hotel is a late-night airing as part of Merle Oberon day. The super-sized character drama is a worthy entry to any DVR or WatchTCM schedule… especially you Rod Taylor fans out there. In fact, this really is a must-see for the Rod Taylor- Stans in the house.

Hotel follows the guests and employees of a once-glamorous hotel in New Orleans as they struggle through the daily grind of their lives. The movie is a precursor to gigantic films like Airport and The Towering Inferno which dominated the box office during the following decade. Hotel includes an impressive cast with names like Richard Conte, Melvyn Douglas, Karl Malden, and Kevin McCarthy supporting Rod Taylor. Hotel comes from a novel by the always formidable Arthur Hailey. 

Hailey is of course defined by the sweeping character dramas he wrote, many of which made it to the screen during the 1970s and 1980s. This one brings a beautiful sense of nostalgic glamour that hasn’t been lost on Hollywood. The movie was reworked in the 1980s as a television series starring James Brolin.

Hotel airs on August 28th at 12:45am PST.

Cat Ballou (1965)

True story, I can remember loving Cat Ballou since I was in kindergarten. Not kidding! I brought my VHS in for show and tell once… The kids didn’t get it.

Cat Ballou follows the story of a young woman (Jane Fonda) who becomes a gunfighter after her father is murdered as part of ruthless western expansion. Together with her lovable gang, they wreak havoc on the west. Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman, Lee Marvin, and Tom Nardini costar.

This movie airs as part of Lee Marvin day and I suppose that makes sense. Marvin won a well-deserved Oscar for his portrayal of drunken gunfighter Kid Shelleen… Think of how many comedy acting winners you can think of. There aren’t many. Though, this could have easily fit during Jane Fonda day as well. It’s a delightful western comedy that gives more than a hint to the amazing work we’d see from Jane Fonda as she grew into her persona. Definitely add this to your list if you haven’t watched it.

Cat Ballou airs at 12:15pm PST on August 28th.

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

I’m cheating here. Lee Marvin is already represented on this list; however, is too much Lee Marvin really a bad thing?

The Dirty Dozen is a bit of an outlier on this list. The violent action thriller follows a troop of military prisoners sent on what essentially equates to a suicide mission. For the kids out there… It’s the World War II version of The Suicide Squad. The film is helmed by an all-star cast, including: Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Richard Jaeckel, Clint Walker and John Cassavetes.

War movie fans, action film efficianados, if you like your movies brash, violent and with a fascinating blend of anti-heros involved, check this one out.

The Dirty Dozen airs at 2:15pm PST on August 28th.

Footlight Parade (1933)

Of course, you couldn’t really pick wrong if you’re diving into the Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930s. However, I was positively giddy to see that as part of James Cagney day, TCM is choosing to air my favorite of these musicals, Footlight Parade.

Footlight Parade features Cagney as a producer of stage ‘prologues’ struggling to get a new series of performances off the ground. The movie features a standard Berkeley cast, including Joan Blondell, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler.

The musical numbers in the feature are the usual, delightful Berkeley fair with catchy and jaunty tunes like “Honeymoon Hotel”, “By a Waterfall” and the cringey (but toe-tapping)”Shanghai Lil”. Without fail, musical fans should find plenty to like here.

Footlight Parade airs on August 30th at 5:00pm PST.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

I’m bringing this list to a close with an undisputed essential. The Best Years of Our Lives airs as part of Fredric March day and is a worthy pick to bring things to a close.

The Best Years of Our Lives is an iconic character examination, set on the United States homefront in the years following the Second World War. The film stars March alongside Myrna Loy, Theresa Wright, Dana Andrews and Harold Russell in a story chronicling the struggles of veterans adjusting to the ‘normalcy’ of the post-war years.

The Best Years of Our Lives is a dynamic acting feast which is made by this talented cast of performers very much at their peak. This emotional and beautiful film is definitely one to close out Summer Under the Stars and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

The Best Years of Our Lives airs on August 31st at 5:00pm PST.

**

That brings my Top 11 picks for Summer Under the Stars to a close. However, it goes without saying that these are only a drop in the bucket. What movies are you looking forward to during Summer Under the Stars? Let us know in the comments?

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Kimberly Pierce View All

Podcaster at Hollywood and Wine, historian and filmmaker studying contributions of women in Classic TV. Film critic for Geek Girl Authority. Classic film lover for Ticklish Business.

You can find me on Twitter @kpierce624!

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