Don't you hate when TCM guest programmers pick titles from the same old classic safety list TCM shows constantly? Here's their big chance and they pick Maltese Falcon, Dr. Strangelove, Casablanca and, um, Citizen Kane! Yeah, right. I love them too, but we need guest programmers like me, who are keenly aware of all the films TCM hasn't shown in at least 100 years, if ever. These four are classics that should be ubiquitous but instead are never aired... why? Why, Nat?
1962, dir. John Huston
Why don't they screen Freud to tie in with Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method? Are Freud's theories of infantile sexuality still too shocking? Any John Huston film starring Montgomery Clift and filmed in expressionist-Victorian hothouse black-and-white should be a mainstay! Damnit, I want to see Klaus Kinski making love to a mannequin while the visibly uncomfortable, drug-addicted, partially paralyzed, perfectly cast Freud/Clift looks on, agape, theories coagulating to Frankenstein life in his mind. Imagine a prequel to Suddenly Last Summer, with Clift's shrink dreaming his way back to being the world's first psychoanalyst, and clinging to what shreds of Tuinal-induced hallucinatory calm he can while while he treats his Venable patients --that's truth, that's Freud!
1944 - dir. Robert Siodmak
Technicolor is king and shapely Maria Montez is queen here on the Island of the Cobra. Bold crazy greens pulse all through the inspired costumes and there's tarot card-level archetypal juice combed into a plot that's strictly serial: See! The evil Montez ordering virgins into the volcano by the hundo at the height of her ecstatic and sexy snake dance! See! Her letting a man she doesn't even know kiss her under the water. Realize! That 1944 was the height of the war, and censorship made sure all the skin had to be in pools (would a genre like Esther Williams pool musicals ever work today?) or on ice (or Sonia Henie?), i.e. folded into the story naturally via displays of athletic prowess. Luckily we're liberated! Not just from the Axis (who also loved displays of athletic prowess) but from the Catholic legion of 'Decency.'
Montez is good/bad and awesome. Sabu is annoying, Huntz Hall forgettable, Chaney silent, the score awesome with timpani, the language pidgined. The king cobra Montez dances for is pretty floppy (though it does have a good tongue). The evil queen also has a good twin, engaged to Ramu (Hall) who swims to her rescue after she's kidnapped right before the marriage ceremony
It's no accident that right before I popped this in something also from the WW2 era was on TCM, about an officer who had to ship out before his marriage could be consummated, the sexual tension ran cold and coded, as was the style of the time, the censors claimed. The interrupted wedding at the start of Cobra Woman plays on, maybe even satirizes that idea. Religion and its ability to make people act against their own best interest is satirized mercilessly in the witty script. When Ramu asks why the people of the island willingly go to their deaths in the volcano, the queen notes that "the ceremony appeals to their emotions... fear has made them religious fanatics!"
Luckily when the boys finally came home from the war, they were too used to fighting to let some pious control freaks tell them what do do, and censorship began to collapse into the shadows of film noir.
Shot with fairy tale picture book gone wild flair by the great Robert Siodmak, Cobra Woman is more about the shot and the image than the story, which is strictly from Flash Gordon-ville, but the presence of an evil princess (ala Aura in Flash) is really refreshing and cool. Such a figure is archetypal but sorely lacking in the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars franchises, both of which are ubiquitous while Cobra is available only from the Universal Vault Collection, though their DV-R is pretty badass.
And you can find it here!
1931 - dir. Josef von Sternberg
Dietrich and Joe made seven lovely films together - most are on DVD--Blue Angel, Morocco, Blonde Venus, Scarlet Empress, Devil is a Woman, but two--Shanghai Express and Dishonored--are not. Thanks to savvy guest programmers, Scarlet's become a mainstay on TCM lately, but Dishonored remains MIA and it's a damned shame. The (true-ish) story's been better told by Fraulein Doktor but this is better than Garbo's Mata Hari. Here Dietrich plays a Prussian spy who seduces men and steals their military secrets. But she weakens and aids the enemy, though why she should choose a creepy, leering Victor McLagen to give up her life for is beyond me. What a waste! But it's Sternberg so we never get the sense she loves him so much as she set him free because it twists the masochistic knife in us, and says fuck you to the world. Anyway, she is victorious in an earlier maneuver against Warner Oland, and a New Years masquerade shows off Sternberg's penchant for crowd scene bacchanals and there's a great final firing squad scene that should be embraced by self-destructive hipsters everywhere.
1936 - dir. Howard Hawks
I might have missed this over the years because of the bland title and I dislike Pat O'Brien, but it's by Howard Hawks and also stars Jimmy Cagney, and say what you want about Pat and I will but he talks fast and Hawks needs rapid patter overlapping dialogue men and I'll tell you something else there's nothing like Hawks when he has two good actors who can talk like machine guns and aren't afraid to display motormouths we usually associate only with speed freaks which isn't to say Dexedrine is bad at least not in Hollywood where 18 hour workdays are normal and a man like Hawks wants you looking wired and ready, so where the hell is it? The film I mean?