Recently, and don’t ask me how, we regained access to Turner Classic Movies on our cable system.
Evidently, somehow during the reshuffling of its packaging, our cable provider determined TCM was no longer part of its “Super Duper Basic” or “Super Premium Basic” or even just “El Cheapo Basic” and was now just, well, on all the time.
It’s since become my favorite mode of home entertainment, well, after the Weather Channel of course. (There is nothing more entertaining, in my mind, than watching TV reporters stand in the middle of a tropical depression as palm fronds, street signs and small pets blow past while they tell viewers, “Please stay inside!”)
When I get home from a late shift at the paper or when I get up midmorning, it’s frequently the only station not showing reruns or old episodes of one of the many incarnations of “Law & Order.”
TCM, you may recall, started when maverick broadcast mogul Ted Turner acquired the film libraries of some legendary Hollywood studios and figured he could make a buck or two showing them on his cable channels. It’s not to be confused with his TNT channel, which specialized in “improving” some of those classic black and white films by colorizing them. “Daddy, why is Humphrey Bogart wearing a yellow dinner jacket?”
“Quiet, dear, just remember we are rooting against the Nazis and for the French.”
Instead, TCM — which has gone through multiple corporate hands now — specializes in showing uncut, commercial-free versions of films from Hollywood’s “golden age,” with some silent classics, a few foreign entries and some more contemporary movies thrown in.
And I’ve a few thoughts. First of all, very few of these blockbusters of yesteryear are based on comic books.
(That number’s not zero, by the way. There was a successful serial based on the “Flash Gordon” comic strip, and a Dick Tracy movie way before Warren Beatty and Madonna. But still.)
Second, not a few of these fondly remembered classics are really bad. The plots are contrived, the dialog unbelievable and the love scenes are, oh, indescribable. The treatment of minorities — Asian, black, Native American — is remarkably equal — and cringe-inducing. Nearly all foreigners are treated as comic relief when they are not positively evil. And women, well, even those plucky gals with lots of spunk usually wind up reverting to traditional roles to land their guy.
Finally, the truly great movies really do hold up, despite the flaws and restrictions of the old studio system. For directors like John Ford or Howard Hawks, telling the story meant not wasting a scene, not a frame of film.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe my table at Rick’s is ready.