Tuesday, August 7, 2012

TCM's Summer Under the Stars 2012

If there is one month that Turner Classic Movies' viewers look forward to the most, it is probably August. Quite simply, that is when TCM holds its month long event known as Summer Under the Stars. From 1 August to 31 August TCM devotes the whole of each day to a single star. For example, the entirety of today was devoted to the films of Sidney Poitier. Turner Classic Movies first held Summer Under the Stars in August 2003. It received such a good reception from viewers that it became an annual event.

Indeed, the only TCM event that comes close to rivalling Summer Under the Stars is the 31 Days of Oscar. That having been said, I know that a few viewers (myself included) are not particularly fond of the 31 Days of Oscar because it is the one time of year when TCM sometimes shows several films of more recent vintage and it is a sad fact that winning an Oscar does not necessarily mean a film is actually good (a prime example in my mind is The English Patient). This is not the case with Summer Under the Stars, when the vast majority of films are top notch. It seems to me that for Summer Under the Stars Turner Classic Movies does try to get the very best films any given actor has done for his or her particular day.

As my first example of this, I'll use today's star, Sidney Poitier. Today TCM showed The Blackboard Jungle (1955), A Patch of Blue (1965),  and To Sir With Love (1967), among other films. As another example on 23 August, when TCM honours Gene Kelly, they will show On the Town (1949), Cover Girl (1944), An American in Paris (1951), and Singin' in the Rain (1952). For the most part it is very difficult to argue with the choice of films TCM makes with which to show with regards to any given star.

Of course, there are those anomalies when TCM does not show the best films of any given actor or even those films most identified with an actor. One example of this occurs on 25 August, when TCM honours Tyrone Power. While they are showing such great films as The Razor's Edge (1946) and Captain from Castile (1947), they are not showing The Mark of Zorro (1940) or The Black Swan (1942), two swashbucklers very strongly identified with the star and two of his very best films. Another example of this occurs on 11 August, when TCM honours James Mason. They are showing Lolita (1962), perhaps his most famous film, but they are not showing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) or any of the films he made with Gainsborough Pictures (namely, The Wicked Lady from 1945 and The Man in Grey from 1943). Granted, A Star is Born (1954) is a fantastic film, but it is really more Judy Garland's movie than it is James Mason's film.

While TCM usually shows the very best films of any given actor on their day during Summer Under the Stars, then, there are those exceptions. I suspect that these are the result of the fact that while Time Warner (TCM's parent company) owns the Warner Brothers library, the MGM library prior to 1986,  much of the RKO library, and various other film properties. Time Warner does not own most of the Paramount library (much of which is now owned by Universal Studios), the 20th Century Fox library (most of which is still owned by 20th Century Fox), or the various films produced by the British studios. This might explain why they are not showing The Mark of Zorro or The Black Swan on Tyrone Power's day (both are owned by Fox) or The Wicked Lady or The Man in Grey on James Mason's day (they don't own the rights).

At any rate, that Turner Classic Movies cannot always show the very best movies of any given actor on his or her day during Summer Under the Stars is a minor quibble. They do a marvellous job with the many film libraries they do own. And this year is even more special as they are honouring many actors that have never been honoured during Summer Under the Stars. Toshiro Mifune, Anthony Quinn, Lillian Gish, and, believe it or not, Marilyn Monroe are among the 14 stars being honoured during this Summer of the Stars that have never been honoured before.

Regardless, I have enjoyed this year's Summer Under the Stars so far and it looks like this will be a very good month. Indeed, this month will see TCM show Seven Samurai (1954--my favourite film of all time), North by Northwest (1959--my favourite Hitchcock film), The Apartment (1960--my favourite Billy Wilder film), and several other of my favourite films. Sadly, I do believe my DVR will be working overtime until 31 August.

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