Friday, October 2, 2020

Peter Cushing--Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month for October

Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month for this month is Peter Cushing, the British actor well known for the films he made for Hammer Film Productions and Amicus Productions. Every Monday night in October will be dedicated to Mr. Cushing's work. While he may be best known for his work in horror movies, Peter Cushing made films in a variety of genres, and TCM's selection of movies reflects that. In fact, perhaps Mr. Cushing's only notable films missing from the schedule are The Brides of Dracula (I am not sure why Turner Classic Movies is not showing it) and Star Wars (which is probably too expensive for  TCM to show).

Even beyond the horror movies Peter Cushing made for Hammer and Amicus, there are many movies worth checking out. I highly recommend Cash on Demand (1961), a wonderful crime thriller made at Hammer. It features one of Mr. Cushing's very best performances. It airs at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern on October 5. Following Cash on Demand is The End of the Affair (1955), in which Peter Cushing appears alongside Deborah Kerr, Van Johnson, and John Mills. It airs at 9:30 PM Central/9:30 PM Eastern. On Monday, October 12 TCM is airing Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960), a Robin Hood film produced by Hammer and starring Richard Greene as Robin Hood (reprising the role from the classic TV show The Adventures of Robin Hood) and Peter Cushing as the Sheriff of Nottingham. It's on at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern. Following Sword of Sherwood Forest is Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) at 8:30 PM Central/9:30 Eastern and Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966). Both films are loosely based on the TV series Doctor Who and, while neither movie is particularly good, they will be of historical interest to Whovians. Similarly, Violent Playground (1958), at 12:30 AM Central/1:30 AM Eastern on October 13, will be of interest as it features David McCallum (later of The Great Escape and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) as the leader of a juvenile gang.

Of course, October 19 is the night I am sure many Peter Cushing fans will be waiting for, a night of Hammer Horrors. It kicks off with The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), starring Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 Eastern. It is followed by Dracula (1958, known in the United States as Horror of Dracula), The Mummy (1959), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969).

October 26 will see another night of horror movies starring Peter Cushing, kicked off with Nothing but the Night (1973) at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern. It is followed by three films from Amicus Productions: Madhouse (1974), From Beyond the Grave (1974), and Scream and Scream Again (1970). Peter Cushing's stint as Star of the Month ends with two latter day Hammer Films: The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) and Dracula A.D. 1972.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Turner Classic Movies' Website Revamp

This past Wednesday Turner Classic Movies unveiled a revamp of their website. From what I have seen on Twitter and Facebook, TCM fans are less than pleased with the change. I must confess that I have very mixed feeling about the revamp.

For the most part I have to say that I like the new home page. It is cleaner, less cluttered, and more modern looking. The menu is easy to read and it is easy to find what one is looking for. I only have two caveats. The first is that the upper part of the home page, highlighting Turner Classic Movies events, programming, et. al., is a bit too big. I really think it should be smaller, so as to reduce scrolling. The second is that there is no link to TCM Backlot, making it harder to go from the TCM page to TCM Backlot. Other than those two rather minor things, however, the homepage looks good.

I also have no complaints about the TCM Shop. In fact, it doesn't even look like it has changed that much. It is still easy to use and still easy to find what one is looking for. 

Unfortunately, beyond the home page and TCM Shop, TCM's design team appears to have dropped the ball. A major point of contention for TCM fans is the new schedule. First, it takes much longer to load than the old schedule. On both my desktop computer and my phone, it takes several seconds to load. The second is that the font used is so large that one can only view about three movies on the schedule at a time. On the old schedule one could very nearly view a whole day or, at least, most of a day. A third problem is that the little drop down calendar is gone. The drop down calendar made it very easy to navigate the schedule and very easy to see what is going to be on TCM in the coming weeks and even months. With the new schedule one can only see the next six days (seven including that day), and it takes forever to scroll through it. A fourth problem that doesn't seem to be affecting people in the Eastern or Pacific Time Zones is switching Time Zones. I cannot seem to switch to the Central Time Zone. The schedule remains stuck on the Eastern Time Zone! Strangely enough, the only way I can reach the schedule for the Central Time Zone is to go to the schedule for the Mountain Time Zone. It should be no surprise that the new schedule seems to be Turner Classic Movies fans' number one complaint.

Not only did TCM's design team drop the ball with regards to the schedule, but with regards to the TCMDB (the TCM Data Base) as well. Once more, both the font and the images on the page are much too large, meaning it takes a while to scroll through. Another problem is that on the old TCMDB, the entry for any given movie would tell when it was scheduled on Turner Classic Movies. For instance, if I looked up Horror of Dracula (1958) today, the entry would show that it is airing on Monday, October 19 at 8:30 PM Central. On the new version of the TCMDB entries for movies do not display when they are scheduled to air on TCM. That is frustrating.

That the schedule and the TCMDB have lost some of their functionality are a source of displeasure for many TCM fans. In fact, I have yet to hear anyone say that they like the changes made to them. What is more, it is clear that this is not a mere case of people disliking change. People are being very specific in their complaints (such as the ones I have outlined here). In fact, in the tweets I have seen, TCM fans have an entire list of grievances regarding the new schedule.

If you are one of the Turner Classic Movies fans unhappy with the changes to the TCM website (and I am thinking the odds are good that you are), you can contact Support and let them know your objections to the site revamp. They will pass your complaints to the design team. If you do so, please be polite! The customer service representative who handles your ticket is not responsible for the changes to the site and could well be as frustrated with it as you are with those changes. Anyway, to contact Support, go to the bottom of any page on the site and click on "Contact." That will take you to the TCM Help Centre. You will then scroll to the bottom of that page and click on "Contact Us." That will take you to the page where you can submit a request.

While there are things I like about the new TCM website (the home page, the TCM Shop), I am very disappointed in the changes to the schedule and the TCMDB. In fact, I think the new versions of the schedule and TCMDB are so inferior to the old versions of the schedule and the TCMDB that they might be better off trashing both and restoring the old versions. Regardless, I hope they make improvements to the schedule and the TCMDB soon, because otherwise writing my "what's coming up on TCM next month" posts on this blog is going to be very difficult.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Hammer Horror on Turner Classic Movies in October

Every October means one thing on Turner Classic Movies: lots and lots of horror movies! Naturally many of those horror movies shown during the month on TCM will have been produced by Hammer Films. This October Peter Cushing is the Star of the Month, so there will certainly be several Hammer horror movies airing next month. In fact, the only oversight I can see is that once more TCM is not showing The Brides of Dracula (1960), which is the best film Peter Cushing ever made for Hammer in my humble opinion. Here are the Hammer horrors airing on TCM this October. All times are Central.

Monday, October 19
7:00 PM The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
8:30 PM Dracula (1958, AKA Horror of Dracula)
10:15 PM The Mummy (1959)

Tuesday, October 20
12:00 Midnight The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
1:45 AM Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
3:30 AM Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! (1970)

Tuesday October 27
2:15 AM The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
3:45 AM Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

Friday, October 30
10:00 PM The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Since Peter Cushing is the Star of the Month, TCM will be showing Hammer movies other than their horror movies. I highly recommend Cash on Demand (1961), a crime thriller that is also one of the best films Mr. Cushing ever made for Hammer, airs on October 5 at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern. On October 12 TCM is showing  Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960) at 7:00 PM Central/8:00 PM Eastern, and She at 11:30 AM/12:30 Midnight.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon!

I wanted to thank all of the participants for a successful 7th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon. This year's entries covered films from the Twenties to the Naughts, with a good number of genres covered as well. So far it has been a hectic week for me, but in the next few days I will be commenting on your various posts!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sink the Bismarck! (1960)

 (This post is part of the 7th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

If there was a Golden Age of World War II movies, it would have to be the period from the Fifties to about the mid-Seventies. It was during this period that some of the all-time classic World War II films were released. It should come as no surprise that many of these films were British productions or, at least, co-productions made by the United Kingdom with other countries. Among the classic World War II movies produced or co-produced by Britain were The Dam Busters (1955), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Guns of Navarone (1961), and The Dirty Dozen (1967). Sink the Bismarck! (1960) numbers among the best of the British World War II movies made during this period, although today it is largely forgotten by many.

Sink the Bismarck! was based on the 1959 novel The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck  by C. S. Forester. The novel in turn was based on the real-life events behind the British Royal Navy's pursuit of the German battleship Bismarck. The novel had actually begun as a screen treatment that C. S. Forester had written for 20th Century Fox. Sink the Bismarck! then began life as a screen treatment before being turned into a novel before the novel was adapted for the screen.

The screenplay for Sink the Bismarck! was written by Edmund H. North, who had previously written such movies as Young Man with a Horn (1950) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Edmund H. Noth worked closely with C. S. Forester in adapting Mr. Forester's novel as a film. Sink the Bismarck! was directed by Lewis Gilbert, who would go onto direct several more World War II movies as well as three James Bond movies. Edmund H. North and Lewis Gilbert decided that the movie should be made in the style of a documentary, with the action moving back and forth from an Admiralty war room to the battles at sea. To add even more realism, Edward R. Murrow recreated his broadcasts from World War II.

Adding yet more realism to the film, Sink the Bismarck! used actual World War II era ships. That they were able to do so was largely due to producer John Brabourne, who was Lord Mountbatten's son-in-law. Lord Mountbatten was then Chief of the Defence Staff, so Sink the Bismarck! had access to the Admiralty in a way that few movies would. The H.M.S. Belfast was used to portray the cruisers that were hunting the Bismarck, including the Dorsetshire, Norfolk, Sheffield, and Suffolk. The destroyers involved in the battle were portrayed using the HMS Cavalier. The H.M.S. Victorious briefly appeared as herself in one scene. Every scene involving aeroplanes launching from carriers were filmed using the HMS Centaur.  For any scenes showing the various ships' 15-inch guns, the HMS Belfast was used.

Of course, not every scene in the movie could be filmed using actual ships, necessitating the use of miniatures. The miniatures would have to be particularly realistic to be convincing, and so Howard Lydecker of the renowned special effects team the Lydecker Brothers was hired. With his brother Theodore Lydecker, Howard Lydecker has worked on various Republic productions for decades. He had been twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects, first for Women in War (1940) and then for Flying Tigers (1942). Special effects cinematographer L. B. Abbott shot the miniatures using a spherical lens so as to make the miniatures look larger and spread more apart.

Special attention was paid to historical accuracy in the making of Sink the Bismarck! and it is regarded as among the most historically accurate World War II movies ever made. That having been said, it did depart from history in some respects. The character of Captain Shephard (played by Kenneth More) was entirely fictional and was in no way meant to represent the real-life Director of Operations at the time, Captain R.A.B. Edwards. This was acknowledged in the film's epilogue. Similarly, the timeline of the hunt for the Bismarck was compressed so as to make for a tighter film. Other instances in which the film departs slightly from history is due to the fact that much of the information regarding the hunt for the Bismarck was still classified in the Fifties. It would not be until 1975, when much information was declassified, that much of the truth behind the hunt for the Bismarck was known. For instance, many of the hunches that Captain Shephard has in the movie were actually backed up by British intelligence.

Perhaps the biggest and most unfortunate historical inaccuracy in Sink the Bismarck! is its portrayal of German Admiral Günther Lütjens as a stereotypical, dyed-in-the-wool, fanatical Nazi. In truth Admiral Lütjens disagreed with Nazi policies. He condemned the crimes committed against Jews during Kristallnacht. When Adolph Hitler visited the Bismarck, he refused to give Hitler the Nazi salute, and instead gave him the traditional navel salute. While Sink the Bismarck! portrays Admiral Lütjens as believing the Bismarck was unsinkable, in reality Admiral Lütjens had serious doubts about the Bismarck's mission. Sink the Bismarck departs from history with regards to Admiral Lütjens's role in the battle between the Bismarck and the British ships the HMS Hood and the HMS Price of Wales. The movie depicts Admiral Lütjens as ordering the Bismark's captain, Ernst Lindemann, to open fire on the two ships. In reality, Admiral Lütjens gave orders not to engage the HMS Hood. Captain Lindemann disregarded Admiral Lütjens's orders and opened fire on the Hood anyway.

Ultimately, Sink the Bismarck! is very different from other World War II movies made in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, and not simply because it focuses on naval battles rather than battles on land. In focusing primarily on the events in an Admiralty war room, Sink the Bismarck! largely plays out as a military procedural in much the same way that The Naked City (1948) and He Walked By Night (1948) are police procedurals. It takes us within the war room so we can see step by step how the Bismarck was tracked and ultimately defeated. The suspense in the movie comes not from its action scenes, but instead from the battle of wits between the British Admiralty and the German Navy.

Sink the Bismarck! is one of the best World War I I movies ever made and really deserves to be better known than it is. While many films portray the military in the field, it is one of the very few that actually portrays what goes on behind the scenes in a war room. It is a suspenseful film, made all the more so by the film's realism. And while it departs from history a bit, it is still more historically accurate than most World War II movies.