Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
In 1959–when Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe were red-hot–one of the finest and most important American films was released, did well, won an award or two (like the New York Film Critics’ selection of James Stewart as best actor) and then passed from the scene. But it should be required viewing for anyone who cares about such things as true quality in picture making, a few of America’s best aspects, our complicated judicial system and life’s generally ambiguous pathways. Co-starring Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara (only his second film), George C. Scott (his first big role), Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, and the national hero, Joseph N. Welch (the man who brought down Joe McCarthy) as the judge, the film is Otto Preminger’s totally enthralling and superb adaptation of Robert Traver’s best seller founded on a true story of rape, murder and the trial, Anatomy of a Murder [Wednesday, May 20, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 10 P.M.] .
That Robert Traver is a pseudonym for the actual defendant’s lawyer in this case, that the entire movie was shot on the real locations in upper Michigan where it happened, and that Preminger was first trained as a lawyer–his father being Attorney General of Austria and one of its most famous attorneys–helps to give the work its pervasive feeling of truth. Stewart gives a performance of absolutely perfect pitch. Though he was among the top five stars of the 50’s, Anatomy was the peak in popularity for his career and one of the last roles of significance he was to have. All the other performances, down to the bits, are right up there with Stewart, the movie being a kind of seamless blending and contrast of young and older star actors, a Preminger trademark at its zenith. His best and most personal film, it also features a unique, utterly fresh score, one of only two ever composed by the innovative and incomparable Duke Ellington (who appears briefly at a piano bar).
The picture also had a tremendous impact on the freedom of the screen: After getting taboo words like “virgin” and “pregnant” into his otherwise innocuous The Moon Is Blue (1953), and being the one to finally address drug addiction, with Sinatra in one of his most powerful dramatic portrayals, in The Man With the Golden Arm (1956), Preminger dealt Hollywood’s Production Code the coup de grâce with Anatomy , as America’s own Jimmy Stewart uses words like “penetration,” “panties” and “spermatogenesis.” Indeed, accepting the role was a measure of Stewart’s artistic conscience: Though many of his heartland fans objected to what they saw, Stewart told me once there was no way he “could turn down a part as good as that.” The theme of the movie, spoken by Stewart, that people are neither all good nor all bad, is worth remembering daily.
Other do-not-misses, but more on them anon: Robert Montgomery, John Wayne in John Ford’s poetic and heartbreaking 1945 World War II combat drama, They Were Expendable [Monday, May 25, TCM, 82, 5:30 P.M.] . Two, count ’em, two rare James Cagney musts: In the light but touching vein, with Olivia de Havilland and a young Rita Hayworth in Raoul Walsh’s nostalgic 1941 classic, The Strawberry Blonde [Saturday, May 23, TCM, 8 P.M.] ; and Cagney, darker, more reckless and 10 years younger, in Howard Hawks’ fast-paced 1932 racetrack-rivalry-between-brothers drama, The Crowd Roars [Sunday, May 24, TCM,3P.M.] .
Wednesday, May 20
After summoning his spirit from the beyond, Cher does the next best thing, hosting a TV tribute to her late husband, with Sonny & Me: Cher Remembers . [WCBS, 2, 8 P.M.]
Again with the Seinfeld finale ? O.K., so it wasn’t so hot. It was too long and disgustingly self-congratulatory. Writer Larry David didn’t give the four main players enough to do. And when they started cracking wise during the carjacking scene, they seemed more like characters in some rococo black comedy than themselves. The best scene was the tacked-on ending, added at the last moment by Jerry Seinfeld (without Mr. David’s input), of Jerry doing a stand-up routine in prison. “Anybody here from cell block D?” That was nice. The rest we could have done without. Still, Seinfeld leaves behind seven years (out of nine) of good solid comedy. [WNBC, 4, 8 P.M.]
Julia Roberts shows off all her Julia Roberts-ishness on tonight’s edition of In the Wild . You will experience tender emotions as Miss Roberts gives a bottle to a three-month-old orangutan baby. You will shudder as a 400-pound brute takes Miss Roberts in a hug–and won’t let her go! Old-time Hollywood producers, watching from run-down rest homes, will be shouting at the TV: “That girl is magic! I want her in my next picture!” [WNET, 13, 8 P.M.]
With not much on its prime time schedule (we keep trying to like Everybody Loves Raymond , but it’s kinda hard to pay attention), CBS opens its vaults for CBS: The First 50 Years and airs some of the best sitcom stuff ever (clips from I Love Lucy , The Andy Griffith Show , The Mary Tyler Moore Show ), moments from its glorious 80’s soaps and examples of its trademark authoritative news reporting. (So what the hell happened?) [WCBS, 2, 9 P.M.]
Six young celebrities field softball questions and show off their magnificent homes for Barbara Walters on Six to Watch . All of the guests either work for ABC (Jenna Elfman) or need some public relations help (Kobe Bryant is trying to make himself a palatable commercial pitchman after another season of showboating; David Spade has the personality of … David Spade; Jon Bon Jovi is trying to put his bad-hair past behind him and become an actor ; Minnie Driver has some kind of general celebrity attitude problem; and Rupert Everett would like to play straight roles). Well, they’ve come to the right interviewer. [WABC, 7, 10 P.M.]
Thursday, May 21
Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky made the indie documentaries Brother’s Keeper and Paradise Lost . Now, they’re stepping into prime time with Where It’s At: The “Rolling Stone” State of the Union . With Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner producing, they interviewed Beck, Bruce Springsteen, Jewel, Sean (Puffy) Combs and lots of unfamous people, too. “It’s a dream job for a documentarian to get a decent budget and to travel around the world talking to people,” said Mr. Sinofsky. “In an ideal world, I would have loved to do a road movie that has a story with structures and themes, but what an opportunity to do a show that will be seen by millions. We think it’s a really good piece of TV, and we worry because TV execs low-ball the American public. They think of them as Joe Six-Pack, and it was very good for ABC to say, you know, ‘We’ll take a chance, it will be human beings talking about what’s important to them.'” …
“My only disappointment about doing a network TV show like this was that, if we were on our own, I think we would have delved into the extremes,” said Mr. Berlinger. “We would have liked to present a wider range of situation. We would have gone a little deeper into the murkier corners of the country … It’s hard to get a two-hour prime time special on TV with your vision intact.” [WABC, 7, 9 P.M.]
Friday, May 22
Who said the kids have short attention spans? MTV’s nightly sex advice show, Loveline , is the least visually appealing thing on TV. The hosts are sitting there taking phone calls, and half the time you can’t hear what the callers are saying, and then they kind of ramble on and on with their advice, with one guy trying to be cheeky and blunt, and the other one trying to be professionally bland. It goes on and on, an hour every night, but the kids watch it, so go figure. [MTV, 20, 11 P.M.]
Saturday, May 23
Tonight on Baywatch (yes, it’s still on the air), Mitch (that’s David Hasselhoff) finally decides to marry. First in a two-parter. Somewhere, in a small town in Germany, the little girls are weeping. [UPN, 9, 7 P.M.]
Sunday, May 24
NYTV correspondent Nick Paumgarten reports: Stan Fischler, a.k.a. the Hockey Maven, is a Brooklyn-born hockey aficionado who has written over 60 books about the game. He has also served as a color commentator on National Hockey League broadcasts since 1975. During this past season, he turned up all over the place as a roving interviewer and critic during cable broadcasts of Rangers, Islanders and Devils games. But when the Rangers and Islanders failed to make the playoffs and the heavily favored Devils got dumped in the first round, Mr. Fischler suddenly found himself facing an idle spring.…
So NYTV turned to Mr. Fischler to find out what to watch for in Game 1 of the conference final between the Dallas Stars and the winner of the St. Louis-Detroit series: “You look for strange players,” he said. “Dallas has one of the strangest players in hockey in [defenseman] Craig Ludwig. He’s about a thousand years old. His pads are wider than goalie pads. How he’s getting away with illegal pads like that I don’t know. And he looks like he shouldn’t be playing in a helmet, like he doesn’t want to be playing in a helmet. He looks like he just got hauled out of a tavern, and they said, Hey, we got a pickup game. Come out and play.…
“And, of course, the other thing that’s so fascinating about Dallas is the coach [Ken Hitchcock]. The guy was 400 pounds at one time! You know that, right? He weighed 400 pounds! This guy is one of the greatest testimonials to dieting in the history of the world. I guess it’s six years now that he’s been dieting. I’d say he’s 200-plus these days, but he’s at least acceptable now. He was a joke when he was working as an assistant coach for the Flyers. They said he’d never make it because he’d be mocked by too many players.…
“And, obviously, there’s the superstar, Mike Modano. He’s one of the elite six in the league. Plus, he’s got personality. You talk to him, it’s like you just opened up a seltzer bottle. There’s something nice and bubbly about him, and he’s an American. He has buck teeth, and so do I. That’s why I like him. Neither of us have used braces.…
“Another thing about Hitchcock: He’s got his mustache … I’ve gotta tell you a funny story about a mustache. I grew up in Brooklyn and the first Dodger team I ever saw was in ’37, when I was 5. The Dodgers had an infielder named Frenchy Bordagaray. His nickname was Frenchy. His real name was Stanley, which meant I automatically liked him. Another reason I liked him was that, like myself, he was Hungarian. So Frenchy, he showed up at training camp–remember, this was the 1930’s–he showed up wearing a mustache and a goatee!”
Anyway, watch Messrs. Hitchcock, Modano and Ludwig, but not Bordagaray, continue their quest for the Stanley Cup. [WNYW, 5, 2 P.M.]
It’s 4:45 A.M. If you are watching Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. , something is desperately wrong with you. [TBS, 22, 4:45 A.M.]
Tuesday, May 26
Mary Matalin and James Carville hire Jamie as their P.R. woman on Mad About You . Leah Oppenheim, a 23-year-old grad student at Bank Street College of Education, has been thinking a lot about Ms. Hunt and Mad About You lately, and, in general, the portrayal of Jews on TV, and she’ll be teaching a course called “Is There Jewish Life on Television?” at the 14th Street Y this summer.…
“I’m going to do it thematically,” she told NYTV. “I might take Jewish women as a theme and discuss Fran Drescher and how she fits into the tradition of Jewish women on TV. I don’t like her stereotype–she’s a little bit outrageous–but I think you can place her with Sophie Tucker and Fanny Brice. Also, as far as I can discern, Helen Hunt is Jewish. It’s funny to look at Mad About You , and she’s playing the quintessential WASP. I mean, Jewish women can look like that, they can look like WASPs.… Another theme would be the way Jewish humor has become so integrated into American culture, but if you look at a show like Mad About You , Paul Reiser has always refused to identify his character as Jewish when all the humor on the show is derived from this idea of Jew and WASP.…
“I want to discuss stereotypes and to raise awareness. I want to keep adults and children aware of the constant barrage of media that we take in … I was thinking about the children’s shows, and I never thought about it until recently, but there’s no Jewish character on Sesame Street , which is a gross omission for a show that’s supposed to be a mirror of New York City. Rugrats is a good example–it has this sort of bizarre state where everyone’s Jewish and Christian at the same time. There’s a grandfather who appears to be a Jew and they celebrate Hanukkah and Passover, but this is the world that kids live in today.” [WNBC, 4, 8 P.M.]