TV’s Best Channel: Turner Classic Movies

Mr. TVFMF doesn’t write enough here about his favourite TV channel–Turner Classic Movies. The U.S. cable net–celebrating its 15th year–is a film buff’s dream, smartly programmed with the deepest studio vault in television, and lovingly presented. It is a model for all other specialty channels.
We’re already seven days into this month so wanted to point to some TCM July highlights. All month on Thursdays, TCM is saluting films from what many critics consider to be Hollywood’s greatest year–1939. Such 70-year-old gems as Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Gunga Din and Wuthering Heights are being presented.
TCN also has a tribute to Karl Malden planned for July 10, with three of his greatest films, including On The Waterfront, scheduled. The Oscar-winner passed away last week at 97, his death obscured by all the hoopla over the passing of MJ, Farrah Fawcett and Fred Travalena (okay, maybe not so much Travalena). TCM immediately went to air with one of their signature obits, always moving and impressive (watch Malden’s TCM obit here).
Robert Osborne–now available for US$16.95 in bobble head form!–is the face of the channel and is always a welcome presence. He’s got the greatest job in the world–introducing classic films–but you never begrudge him his good fortune. The veteran Hollywood Reporter scribe has earned his star turn (the 77-year-old started out as a contract player for Desilu productions) and his enthusiasm for films is genuine and sincere, never gushy or forced. You want to hang with him in that wood-panelled studio, especially this month when he’s joined by guest programmer Cloris Leachman (her evening of favourite films airs July 22).
Daytime and weekend host Ben Mankiewicz is a more hip and urbane presence. I wish he’d jump back in that ’65 ‘Stang and do more of those Hollywood landmark visits, they were a fun side dish for film buffs.
TCM is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, with Destination Moon (1950), The Right Stuff (1983) and others on the sked. Tonight and every Tuesday in July you’ll find films from overlooked Hollywood actor Stewart Granger (real name James Stewart!), including tonight’s double bill of Scaramouche (1952) and King Solomon’s Mines (1950).
TCM also packs in plenty of what I love most about this channel–those cool little one-reelers from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Pete Smith Specialties, Joe McDoakes comedies–it’s all good, and what beautiful prints. Same goes for their Silent Sundays entries, which are never silent (the orchestration and accompanying music is terrific) and never deadly.
The channel’s original shorts–usually salutes to Hollywood icons narrated by a star from today–are equally entertaining and very effective, especially when it is Jane Fonda talking about dad Henry, or a director providing insight into a famous star like Burt Lancaster.
The other deal with this service, of course, is that it is commercial-free. All this and no clutter–pinch me, I’m dreaming. No wonder commercial TV is in such a tail spin–we’ve seen the alternative, and it is heaven.
Usually there is a price to pay to see what you want on TV without the clutter. You do have to pay to subscribe to TCM, but it is worth every penny, especially if you love classic films.
Next month, in August, TCM has their seventh annual “Summer Under The Stars” marathon, with a different Hollywood icon saluted each night. Henry Fonda is Aug. 1, James Mason is Aug. 2, Marion Davies Aug. 3 and on and on.
All of this especially shines in the summer, when the networks are reduced to stunts and reruns. Happy 15th, TCM.

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