TCM Guest Programmer Month: scheduling by the stars


I’m not sure why, but even though I enjoy watching classic movies on television, I don’t like renting them. Something about catching them when they air makes them cooler. So I keep tabs on Turner Classic Movies’ schedule, just in case it’s Topper movie day or spy movie day or Barbra day.

During the month of November, TCM is turning over its evening programming to celebrities, from Whoopi to The Donald to Cybill — even Kermit the Frog gets a turn. And not only do they choose the films, but they also join host Robert Osborne to explain why.

Tonight (Nov. 5), Rose McGowan is guest programmer.

McGowan grew up in a Children of God commune in Italy, where her father led a chapter of the cultish organization. In her interview with Osborne, she explains that even as a small child, she could recognize false prophets within the group. One of McGowan’s choices is Night of the Hunter, the 1955 film with Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. Mitchum plays a homicidal preacher who stalks two children — a brother and sister — because $10,000 is stuffed inside the little girl’s doll. McGowan thinks the movie reflects the fact that children can see more of the truth than we think. This film definitely would fit on Ace’s list of non-horror movies that haunt me.

McGowan’s other selections are Out of the Past, with Mitchum and Kirk Douglas; A Place in the Sun, with Winters, Montgomery Clift and a not-yet-18 Elizabeth Taylor; and That Touch of Mink, with Doris Day, Cary Grant and Gig Young.

On Nov. 15, Cybill Shepherd selects Alfred Hitchcock‘s thriller, Notorious, starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Shepherd describes it as a “shocking, monstrously sexual love affair.” The film is famous for the erotic sensuality Hitchcock was able to convey within the bounds of the time’s tight censorship. The sexual tension between Grant and Bergman is so intense that Shepherd describes it as “a permanent hot flash.”

For the rest of the evening, Shepherd lightens the mood with Greta Garbo‘s first comedy, Ninotchka, and His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.

Tracey Ullman (Nov. 17) chose Born Yesterday, with Judy Holliday, because it’s such an “essentially American” movie. Ullman tells Osborne that the U.S. seems to think it has to import older women from Great Britain, while older American actresses “freeze and fill” to try to look young. But, Ullman says, “You can’t take a bit of your bum and put it in your lip and think it’s gonna fool people.”

Some celebrities’ selections fit with their public images. Martha Stewart (Nov. 30) surely has advice in mind as she watches Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Harvey Fierstein (Nov. 26) goes with The Catered Affair, which he is making into a stage production, The Boy With Green Hair, The Devil Is a Sissy and The Women.

Other guest programmers include Renee Fleming, Alec Baldwin, Chris Elliott and Matt Groening. Personally, I’m impressed with the selections, for the most part. For details, visit the TCM website. Click on a day of the month for interviews with the celebs and film summaries.

When TCM has month, my top pick will be easy — Harold and Maude. That movie literally changed my life. I saw it when I was struggling with my sexual orientation and a woman I was falling in love with took me to see it. As Cat Stevens sang, “if you want to be free, be free,” I knew I was about to be. And for the past 15 years, I’ve watched Harold and Maude once or twice a year to remind me that I am.

My other choices would be harder. I’m not sure Defending Your Life qualifies as a classic movie, but I love it. And definitely some Katharine HepburnThe Lion in Winter, maybe.

How about you? What classic movies would you pick?

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