Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to watch on TCM in October 2022

I have the same problem every October – most of TCM’s schedule is filled with horror films (which I simply cannot abide), and the pre-Code and film noir pickings are generally slim. This year is no different, particularly on the pre-Code side, but I finally managed to identify two non-scary films that I think you’ll enjoy.

SHADOWY PICK – Caged (1950)

It actually wasn’t hard to find a film noir movie to recommend; there were several first-rate features to choose from, but once I saw Caged (1950) in the line-up, my decision was made. Starring Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, and Hope Emerson, this is one gritty picture that you won’t soon forget.

The first words spoken in this film are directed at a group of females being transported to prison. As they arrive at their destination, a voice off-camera growls, “Pile out, you tramps. It’s the end o’ the line.” You’ll be riveted from that point on, if you’re anything like me. We’re next taken inside the prison, where our protagonist, Marie Allen (Parker), a terrified – and pregnant – 19-year-old, is introduced to her new home, which includes a callous nurse issuing rough, uncaring examinations of the new arrivals (“I hope your batch is cleaner than the last lot,” the nurse says. “I had to scrub them with brooms.”)

After Marie spends the required two weeks in “isolation,” she meets the other women inside the prison: the compassionate warden, played by Agnes Moorehead, and a mixed bag of inmates including Emma (Ellen Corby), a sweet but slightly daffy repeat offender; Georgia (Gertrude Michael), a southern belle who fantasizes about her rose-filled garden and pins her hopes on her wealthy father; hard-boiled Kitty (Betty Garde), who’s the leader of a shoplifting ring; and Kitty’s arch-rival Elvira (Lee Patrick like you’ve never seen her before), known as the “Vice Queen.”

Hope Emerson was scary. Period.

But the most memorable inhabitant of the prison is the hulking, captivatingly cruel matron Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson). When we first meet her, she’s lounging on the bed of her room at the prison, eating caramels and reading a romance magazine, surrounded by gifts she’s received over the years from “my girls.” Before she even says a single word, we know that she’s not to be trusted – a woman to be wary of at best, and feared at worst. And later, we learn that our instincts were spot-on; if she were running the prison, Harper tells the warden, she’d have her own special techniques for keeping the women in line: “Break ‘em in two if they talk out of turn. Anyone who doesn’t toe the mark sits in solitary for one month. Bread and water. One funny move from a girl and I’d clip every hair off of her head. That’s the way it used to be run and that’s the way it ought to be run. Just like they’re a bunch of animals in a cage.” Yikes.

You can catch Caged on TCM October 27th. It’s not pleasant, but it’s a must-see.

Other stuff:

  • You might recognize Queenie Smith, who is in one scene as Marie’s mother. She played the hotel maid who was the beneficiary of The Swede’s (Burt Lancaster) life insurance policy in The Killers (1946).
  • Eleanor Parker and Hope Emerson earned Academy Award nominations for best actress and best supporting actress, respectively. Parker lost to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday and Emerson lost to Josephine Hull in Harvey.

SATINY PICK: Bird of Paradise (1932)

My pre-Code pick for October is a new-to-me movie: an adventure/romance starring Joel McCrea and Dolores del Rio. This is usually the type of movie that I avoid like the plague, but I decided to give it a chance, and I’m glad I did!

The movie starts out with bunch of wealthy dudes out on a pleasure cruise, shouting out all kinds of nautical nothings to each other (“Five and a half fathoms!” “Getting shallow fast!” “Mind that jib!”). This doesn’t do much to snag my interest, but the film takes a pre-Codey turn as the boat heads for a tropical island – when Johnny Baker (Joel McCrea), the yacht’s pilot, surmises that they’ve reached one of the Virgin Islands, one the passengers quips, “Heaven forbid!”

The passengers are greeted by countless native-filled boats, and for some reason I wasn’t readily able to fathom, they start tossing numerous items in the water, including hats, alarm clocks, pipes, and a knife, while the natives dive in the water to claim them. But before I could spend too much time musing over this oddity, a shark is introduced into the mix! Johnny tries to lasso (or something) the shark but winds up with the rope tangled around his ankle, and into the water he goes. He’s saved by an island girl named Luana (Dolores del Rio), who retrieves Johnny’s knife from the water and cuts the rope, then swims over to the yacht to explain in her rapidly spoken native tongue how she pulled off the rescue. It’s quite a unique meet-cute, I’ll say that for it.

McCrea and del Rio sizzle in Bird of Paradise.

Later, on the island, the natives perform ritual dances, which grown increasingly frenzied as the native men start carrying the women off into the brush, leaving only one female – the king’s daughter: Luana. When Luana dances herself into literal unconsciousness, Johnny picks her up, but soon learns that this was a no-no: it’s taboo to touch the king’s daughter. Johnny obviously doesn’t give much credence to local laws, because later that night, he spies what appears to be a nude Luana swimming in the water and . . . well, you’ll just have to tune into TCM on October 23rd to see what happens next. (Among the sights you’ll see is McCrea trying to swat flying fish with a tennis racket (don’t ask), and del Rio pulling a boat through the water via a rope clenched between her teeth. So there’s that.)

Other stuff:

  • The film was directed by King Vidor, who helmed numerous silent film classics, including The Big Parade (1925) and Show People (1928), and after Bird of Paradise, he directed Stella Dallas (1937), and was uncredited for the scenes set in Kansas in The Wizard of Oz (1939).
  • Speaking of uncredited, Busby Berkeley reportedly choreographed the native dance sequences in the film.

Hope you enjoy October’s picks!

~ by shadowsandsatin on October 2, 2022.

12 Responses to “Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to watch on TCM in October 2022”

  1. not even the classic “monster” movies? i mean, sure… we like what we like and don’t what we.. don’t. a good ‘Frankenstein’ classic night is… pretty cool, no? 😉

  2. Two films I haven’t seen. Can’t explain why. Will try and rectify.
    I’m with you on horror films. Yet I’m writing a piece on Boris Karloff!

  3. Thank you for these recommends! Will see!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. I wish I had that problem. In order to get what use to be my favorite channel, now I would have to pay a ridiculous price to get TCM with 7 sports channels included.

    • I’m so sorry that you don’t have this problem, Don. When I had cable, I was definitely bummed to have to pay extra for TCM and the sports channels I never watched. But I couldn’t live without my TCM! 😉

      • When you are retired and living on a budget, there is only so much you can splurge on. I would grab TCM in a sec if I could get it by itself. The sad part is the people my age, 84, are the ones that would love have the memories that TCM would provide.

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