Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Wonderful World of TCM: Double feature of watchable oldies

Oh, it's been a long time since we visited The Wonderful World of Turner Classic Movies! Longtime readers (and of course the various organizations that have me under surveillance) know that I currently have no DVR, and with my work/superheroics/foosball schedule being what it is, I rarely get the opportunity to sample The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind.

The good news is that Watch TCM (unfortunately, it requires authentication) offers a wide variety of golden oldies every week, a rotating assortment of classics, B-movies, shorts, and everything else you'll see on the muthaship. The bad news is that you sometimes have to act quickly because the movies have short windows of availability.

The good news (see, I have even more of it), is that you get closed captions and even intros if they are available. The bad news (fair and balanced, I is) is that Bobby Osbo does not shoot an intro for all the pre-codes and obscurities they run during the day.

You know what, though? I always thought the real gold on TCM was the weird stuff it ran in those morning hours. Prime time gives you the themes and the stars of the month and the classics you have already seen a bunch of times, but earlier, all kinds of stuff pops up.

I don't know when TCM ran these two movies, but I was glad to see them: Her Majesty, Love (1931); and Stranger in Town (1932). These are not great films--one of them isn't even that good--but they are refreshing in their own way.

"Her Majesty, Love" is a flat romance between two people from different social strata. Leonard Maltin's guide gives it a lowly *.5 and calls it "unbearable," but I think that's a bit harsh. Maltin and I clashed recently (he doesn't know about it, but I disagreed with his book's take on "The Kid from Cleveland," which I reviewed for ClassicFlix. Someday, I hope we settle this beef). After all, the father of the gal is played by W.C. Fields, and Leon Errol is also on board to do some of his typical drunk business. Fields doesn't have nearly enough to do, but where I come from, if you have a chance to see a movie with he and Leon Errol, you see that movie (Our class reunions are pretty wild where I come from).

"Stranger in Town" is a better overall picture. It's an unpretentious story of a town elder (Chic Sale doing his "old-timer" gimmick) fighting to save his grocery business when a young man comes to town on behalf of a discount grocery chain and sets up operations across the street. Complications ensue when Sale's daughter (Ann Dvorak) falls for the young man.

Again, not a classic, but it's a watchable little light comedy, and I don't mean that as faint praise. This one isn't even in Maltin's book, and while I lament the lack of so many films of the classic studio era in that otherwise awesome guide, these are the kind of oddball flicks I love to check out on TCM.

Watch TCM is a  hidden gem, but it also frustrates, and not just because it isn't available for Roku or another TV-based platform. I know that there are big walls separating, say, Turner Classic from Warner Archive Instant, but this selection of films is *exactly* what WAI should be offering each month. Instead, it's almost a ghost service right now instead of the "TCM on demand" so many of us hoped it would be. Folks, if you haven't cut the cord yet and you're looking for a streaming classic film service, there is no need to wait for Filmstruck. Such a service is already here...sort of.

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