For normal people, August is all about beaches, barbeques and basking in the sun. But for classic-film fans like me, in front of the TV is the place to be this month, as Turner Classic Movies presents Summer Under the Stars, a four-week block party of star-specific movie marathons.
With 31 days dedicated to 31 different performers, SUTS is the perfect staycation for movie maniacs. Full days (each beginning at 6:00 AM EDT) are dedicated to old reliables like Marilyn Monroe (this Saturday, August 4), James Cagney (August 14), and Gary Cooper (August 26), as well as lesser-known personalities, like early 1930s Warner Bros. leading lady Kay Francis (August 21), silent-film star Lillian Gish (August 15), and my personal favorite, Pre-Code cad Warren William (August 30).
It's a rare opportunity to revisit the work of a performer you've loved all your life, or to experience total immersion in one you've heard about, but never seen. Supplemented by TCM's dedicated micro-site, and on-air wrap-arounds from Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz, Summer Under the Stars can turn a newbie into a buff in four short weeks.
"One of my favorite things about Summer Under the Stars is it lends itself to discovery," Charlie Tabesh, TCM's senior vice president of programming, told me in an email message.
For example, let's say you've never watched a Tarzan movie with Johnny Weissmuller. On Friday, August 3, you can see all twelve films in which the five-time Olympic gold medalist (for swimming, in 1924 and '28) plays the vine-swinging Lord of the Apes. What fun, to watch Weissmuller morph from a tawny twenty-something in MGM's Tarzan, The Ape Man (1932) to a meaty middle-ager in RKO's Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948). Plus, TCM also throws in three titles from Weissmuller's Jungle Jim series, made for Columbia Pictures after he um, outgrew his loincloth.
William Berke's The Lost Tribe (1949) and Pygmy Island (1950), the second and fifth installments in the delightfully low-rent Jungle Jim saga, are making their TCM debuts on Friday night/Saturday morning. And this is where Summer Under the Stars shines brightest for classic-film completists. Throughout August, 27 titles will be making their first-ever appearance on the channel, providing a rare opportunity to watch a film that, in many cases, may be otherwise unavailable.
"You might start watching one day because you like a particular star, but I think it adds a real element of excitement when you come across one of their films that you’ve never been able to see before," Tabesh added. "For that reason alone, it’s very important that we introduce new films to our schedule during the month."
The discoveries continue on August 6 with star of the day Van Heflin in Irving Lerner's Cry of Battle (1963), the film Lee Harvey Oswald was watching when he was arrested for the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (Feel free to use that piece of trivia at your next cocktail party.) On August 9, TCM premieres five films featuring Japanese icon Toshiro Mifune, including all three chapters of director Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai trilogy (the first was a 1955 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film). Every movie on TCM's air that day will be in Japanese with English subtitles, and the first six are directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa. (If Japanese films are the weak link in your cinematic chain, August 9 would be a good day to "work remotely.")
Other TCM debuts this month include Henry Levin's Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) with James Mason on August 11, Bryan Forbes' The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969) with Katharine Hepburn on August 17, James Cann in Michael Mann's Thief (1981) on August 31, and three Tyrone Power features on August 25: the 1957 film version of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises; Henry Hathaway's Johnny Apollo (1940); and Henry King's Jesse James (1939), with Power and Henry Fonda as the notorious bank-robbing brothers.
Of the nearly 400 films airing on TCM in August, the one I am most excited to see is Clarence Brown's Night Flight (1933), out of circulation since 1942, due to rights issues with the estate of novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The recently restored drama about early aviation was the hottest ticket at the 2011 TCM Film Festival in Hollywood and will be shown for the first time ever on television on Friday, August 10 at 10:15 PM EDT.
By my calculation, I'll be "home sick" at least five days this month, thanks to TCM's Summer Under the Stars. I haven't figured out what excuses I'll be using, but I do know I'll know a lot more about movies in September than I do now. If only summer school was this much fun.
The following is a list of the 27 films making their first appearances on TCM this month:
Friday, August 3 – Johnny Weissmuller
3:00 AM The Lost Tribe (1949)
4:30 AM Pygmy Island (1950)
Monday, August 6 – Van Heflin
6:15 PM Cry of Battle (1963)
Thursday, August 9 – Toshiro Mifune
8:00 PM Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954)
9:45 PM Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955)
11:45 PM Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (1956)
1:45 AM Samurai Rebellion (1967)
4:00 AM Moshuto, the Rickshaw Man (1958)
Friday, August 10 – Lionel Barrymore
10:15 PM Night Flight (1933)
Saturday, August 11 – James Mason
12:45 PM The Sea Gull (1968)
3:15 PM Evil Under the Sun (1982)
5:30 PM Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
Wednesday, August 15 – Lillian Gish
2:45 AM Orders to Kill (1958)
Friday, August 17 – Katharine Hepburn
3:45 AM The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969)
Saturday, August 18 – Freddie Bartholomew
10:00 AM Tom Brown’s School Days (1940)
4:30 PM Professional Soldier (1935)
10:15 PM Kidnapped (1938)
Monday, August 20 – Anthony Quinn
8:45 AM Black Gold (1947)
12:45 AM Mohammed: Messenger from God (1976)
4:00 AM A Dream of Kings (1969)
Saturday, August 25 – Tyrone Power
11:15 AM The Sun Also Rises (1957)
1:30 PM Johnny Apollo (1940)
10:45 PM Jesse James (1939)
Sunday, August 26 – Gary Cooper
1:00 PM Garden of Evil (1954)
Wednesday, August 29 – Ingrid Bergman
2:30 AM Elena and Her Men (1956)
Friday, August 31 – James Caan
1:15 PM Another Man, Another Chance (1977)
12:00 AM Thief (1981)