PZ’s April Movie Picks, Part Two

The Manchurian Candidate, My Fair Lady, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and more!

Mockingbird / 4.13.21

PZ and John Glover have put together another excellent list of Turner Classic Movies airing this month. Watch overlooked movies that feature Christian themes and the dynamics of grace. Original sin, low anthropology, and plenty of potential abreactions abound. Other movies that you might have missed, and that deserve a viewing, are on this list. All times are Eastern and are subject to change.

April 17, 12:30 am, The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

This is an alarming film about a Chinese Communist plot to assassinate a U.S. presidential candidate and cause utter mayhem. It is basically a perfect espionage thriller, though I wish the Laurence Harvey character weren’t disguised as a priest at the climax. (That was gratuitous.) The scenes in the Korean brainwashing camp are unforgettable and not sadistic. Also stars Frank Sinatra.

April 18, 8:00 am, My Fair Lady (1964)

This is pure Broadway musical/cinema magic! Everything about My Fair Lady works — every note and every angle. Just watch the flowers in “On the Street Where You Live.” (And note the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Brett, as a young man!) Critics sometimes complain that the ending of the musical is less “feminist” than the ending of the G. B. Shaw play on which it is based. I find the musical’s ending both romantic and true to life. “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

April 18, 5:45 pm, National Velvet (1944)

This is an excellent, touching movie about a teenage girl who becomes the surprise victor in an English horse racing championship. There are several outstanding features to this movie, and you will see them all. (It does take a little while to get going.). National Velvet the book was written by Enid Bagnold, an author worth getting to know. She also wrote The Chalk Garden, a play that was later made into a touching movie. Miss Bagnold seems to have become something like a Christian towards the end of her life, after a sophisticated but spiritually sterile adulthood. (You can tell, PZ is an Enid Bagnold fan.)

April 20, 2:30 am, One Foot in Heaven (1941)

This is a relevant movie for almost all readers and followers of Mockingbird. Fredric March plays a small-town Methodist minister who both wins the town to faith and suffers the classic, projecting slings-and-arrows of opposition that every pastor faces. This was Fred Barbee’s favorite movie — may he rest in peace (and he does!) — and I always think of him at the end, as March summons the town to praise by means of “The Church’s One Foundation.” I have read the book on which One Foot in Heaven is based, and the movie is better!

April 20, 10:30 am, Our Town (1940)

Small town lovers search for happiness. This is the only Hollywood version of Thornton Wilder’s famous play, and it is pretty good. It’s not great — probably because of William Holden’s mezzo-mezzo performance and maybe because the ending (with Wilder’s permission) was changed slightly. But it is well worth seeing, if only for the art direction, which was by a personal hero, William Cameron Menzies. I think you’ll like it.

April 20, 3:30 pm, Paisan (1946)

This is one of the great foreign movies. Roberto Rossellini directed it, and each segment — for it consists of five completely independent stories — is brilliant. Paisan all takes place in the final days of World War II in Italy.

-One segment concerns race and is unsurpassed in empathy;
-One concerns heroic self-sacrifice on the part of a teenage girl;
-One concerns a romantic disappointment that makes one hurt all over;
-One concerns a moment of supremest grace in a monastery;
-One, again, concerns heroic sacrifice to its furthest point.

Paisan is my favorite “Neo-Realist” film. Run, don’t walk!

April 21, 4:00 pm, The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Tabloid reporters crash a society marriage. Here is the ultimate Katharine Hepburn movie, and one of the best Hollywood comedies of all time. And it has such heart! Together with its denouement — which is both perfect and credible.

The Philadelphia Story, like It Happened One Night, should make all right-thinking Episcopalians smile, for the rector at the end is perfectly attired, and the home (i.e., Philadelphia ‘Main Line’) “altar” is just right. This is a movie for one to delight in.

April 23, 3:30 am, Pygmalion (1938)

Here is the earlier film version of My Fair Lady — with Leslie Howard and the superb Wendy Hiller. (Shout out to Terry Betteridge!) Pygmalion is truer to the Shaw original than the 1964 movie musical; but in this case, the difference, which concerns the ending, takes nothing away from the viewer’s pleasure at the close.

Talky, but just right — and never too much. Personally, I will always take Audrey’s Eliza and her history with Professor Higgins, but without prejudice to this British gem.

April 23, 5:15 am, Quo Vadis (1951)

A Roman commander falls for a Christian slave girl as Nero intensifies his persecution of the new religion. For some reason I can’t put my finger on, this movie always slightly disappoints. The novel, by Henryk Sienkiewicz, is so very fine and moving — and accurate to the Christian history it presents. This Hollywood version tries hard but doesn’t quite “get it” right. Maybe it’s the overall tone, maybe it’s the inability to realize the explicit Christian scenes. (The Robe, 1953, did that better). When I saw Quo Vadis as a boy, I was quite taken by Patricia Laffan’s performance as “Poppaea.” Only later did I find out Miss Laffan had starred in Devil Girl from Mars a year or so earlier. Anyway, for whatever reason, I could not shake “Poppaea” from my mind. See what you think.

April 23, 10:00 am, Random Harvest (1942)

A woman’s happiness is threatened when she discovers her husband has been suffering from amnesia. Random Harvest will never age, for it is one of the great movie romances, let alone romantic novels. James Hilton wrote the book, and he also narrates the spell-binding (in retrospect) beginning. Greer Garson and Ronald Colman are perfect, and if you don’t cry several times during this remarkable story, then, as Rod Stewart once said, “I don’t know where you’ve been.” The script for Random Harvest is required to make visible — because it’s a movie — something that in the book is kept hidden until the very end. Yet it completely works! This is also one of my wife Mary’s favorite movies, and I, with Mary, simply cannot recommend it highly enough. And oh, still read the book. And look for the Church of England vicar who is the very model of pastoral self-sacrifice.

April 24, 3:30 am, Romance (1930)

This is a little gem, and quite startling to any of our readers who are Episcopal clergy. For Romance turns on the love of an unmarried curate for … Greta Garbo. There’s a good bishop in this movie, a passionate single minister, and more than one plot twist. And it turns out it is all in service of helping a counsellee who not only needs “advice,” but requires empathy. He gets it. Wonder what you will think of Romance.

April 24, 11:15 am, The Sandpiper (1965)

Speaking of Episcopal clergy, here is another depicting the unresolved headmaster of an Episcopal day school who is sincere, caring, and unhappy — at the same time. Richard Burton, as “Mr. Hewitt” — The Rev. Dr. Edward Hewitt — is terrific and true to life. Elizabeth Taylor, as “Laura Reynolds,” is a touching hippie who also just about topples an entire school, let alone the family of its head. The paperback novelization of the movie, which I recommend, is better than the movie itself, because the ending is more truly hopeful as well as redemptive — for all parties. A ministry is re-kindled, a little boy is helped, and an aging flower child finds the true meaning of “Om mani padme hum.” PZ’s favorite line from The Sandpiper is when Richard Burton explains to Elizabeth Taylor and a friend that Episcopal clergy are properly referred to as “Mister” rather than “Father.” Remember, everybody, he said it. Fun fact: Burton also starred as a clergyman in The Night of the Iguana. (P.S. I almost got Richard Burton’s autograph once after a performance of his Hamlet on Broadway. Got to within COVID distance of him but didn’t have the courage to ask for his signature.)

April 25, 12:30 am, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)

A Chinese showman uses his magical powers to save a Western town from itself. This movie promises more than it delivers, though it somehow “lingers in the mind.” Every teenage boy who ever saw it when it came out will never forget the scene where “Pan” tempts Barbara Eden with his flute-playing. It is massively unforgettable. The basic take-away from Dr. Lao is a little Buddhism, a little animated magic with dinosaurs, and — really — a little boy who finds a substitute father. This post is dedicated to Sam Candler, long-time friend and partner in ministry, whose childhood love for Dr. Lao has bound me to him for life.

April 25, 2:15 am, Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Thornton Wilder worked on this Alfred Hitchcock movie and sought to give it a little bit of “Our Town” atmosphere. As a whole, Shadow of a Doubt is brilliant. It is a strong dose of low anthropology and look for many shafts of that particular (dark, but true) light. Watch especially for the conversation in the “dive bar,” with the waitress, as the Joseph Cotten character offers his philosophy of life to Teresa Wright. I don’t think you’ll ever forget it. (Notice, too, the properly attired Episcopal minister, who, incidentally, misses the entire Biblical drama being played out right under his nose.)

April 27, 12:30 pm, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Years after a murder drove them apart, an heiress tries to win back her lost love. Here is another masterpiece. My childhood friend Lloyd Fonvielle (R.i.P.), of whom you have heard me speak, was an aficionado of the film noir category. Lloyd believed — rightly IMO — that movies of this kind (i.e., darkly themed mysteries) were produced in the late 1940s as a direct psychological reaction to the horrors and collective shock of World War II. Lloyd saw these movies’ low anthropology as an accurate response to the disillusioning intervention of global war and massacre. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers fits this description in principle, and fits it well. As I said, it is a masterpiece. Listen especially for the dialogue at the end, in the car, between Van Heflin and Lizabeth Scott. The whole thing is both Aeschylean and … Old Testament.

April 27, 4:15 pm, Strangers on a Train (1951)

Books positively have been written about Strangers on a Train. Let’s just say, here is another low anthropology entry. I won’t even start, though I recommend it to you highly. On the detail-side, watch for the scenes in Union Station, D.C. I miss so much the way the station used to be, and doubt if it ever will be again. Who needs all those not-so-good restaurants. Half of them are never open; and the ones that are invariably disappoint. (Plus, have you ever tried to park your car at Union Station? It is literally impossible to do so.)

April 29, 9:45 AM: To Be or Not to Be (1942)

A troupe of squabbling actors joins the Polish underground to dupe the Nazis. This movie is sort of the actual movie of the much later The Producers (1967). That is because To Be or Not to Be is a send-up of the Nazis and Hitler when the Nazis and Hitler were actually around. Jack Benny is brilliant, as is Carole Lombard. But don’t miss Lionel Atwill, who was famous for his Universal horror movies but proves to be extremely funny in this movie. Believe it or not, a feel-good movie about the Nazi occupation of Poland.

April 29, 6:00 pm, Travels With My Aunt (1972)

A stodgy young man gets caught up in his free-living aunt’s shady schemes. I like this movie — and recommend this movie — for one reason: Cindy Williams. That great co-star of American Graffiti (1973) has a supporting role in Travels, and she wins me every time. Of course, there is a lot more to this movie than Cindy W., but “I Only Have Eyes for (Her).” Why do you think that is? Well, I’ll tell you: Cindy Williams looks just like Mary! (And she’s got her smile and her spunk, too.)

April 30, 8:15 am, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Well, this is the last TCM movie I am tagging for Mockingbirders during the month of April. I guess one has to get face to face with it eventually. I saw this movie, like, the first day it opened where I lived. And we were all stunned. One of our prep school masters with whom I saw the movie was so taken with it that he and his wife stood up at the end and gave it a standing ovation for over five minutes. Right in the middle of the Uptown Theater on Connecticut Avenue. (We were embarrassed.) But the special effects, especially during the “Blue Danube” sequence, were — and still are, partly because of the music — supernal; and the basic story, untouchable. My friend David Ignatius, with whom I saw 2001 that first epic night, much later gave me a book about it, and the implicit atheism of the script had gone right over my head at the time. Anyway, it is a work of art. Just skip the long “H.A.L.” deviation, for that goes on forever. 2001 is worth it for the “Blue Danube” and for the ending.

Oh, and my friend Lloyd (again) saw it in a packed theater in the summer of ’68 in Palo Alto; and at the end, when the “Star Child” comes into view, a totally stoned hippy got up, rushed forward, and threw himself through the screen, screaming, “It’s God! It’s God!” No kidding, that really happened. LOVE YOU.