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

Sometimes it takes me a while to come up with my Shadowy and Satiny picks for the month, either because there aren’t many good films from which to choose, or I’ve already written about them in previous posts, or there are just so many winners, I scarcely can settle on one!

But I didn’t have any problems picking December’s TCM recommendations – as soon as I saw that these two films were airing this month, my work was done.

Shadowy Pick: Flamingo Road (1949)

I haven’t seen many Joan Crawford movies that I don’t love. (Keep in mind that I’ve never seen Trog.) And Flamingo Road is no different. In fact, it’s one of my favorite Crawford films – and that’s saying something. In it, Joan plays Lane Bellamy (love that name), a real dame who drifts from one town to another, and one job to another, just making enough to keep it together. We meet her when she’s working as a hooch dancer at a traveling carnival; world weary and fed up with carny life, she stays behind when the carnival is run out of town by local authorities. Before long, she’s made the acquaintance of the deputy sheriff, Field Carlisle (Zachary Scott), who helps her get a job and a place to stay; Sheriff Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet), an imposing figure who runs the town like a king in his fiefdom, and takes an instant dislike to Lane; Lute Mae Sanders (Gladys George), owner of the town’s roadhouse and a straight-talking gal who gives Lane a job after Titus gets her fired from her waitress gig; and Dan Reynolds (David Brian), boss of the state political machine who falls for Lane.

— Sheriff Semple likes milk, but he doesn’t like Lane.

There’re a lot of moving pieces in this one – there’s Lane’s ongoing battles with Titus Semple; the budding romance between Lane and Field, even though he’s practically married to the wealthy Annabelle Weldon (Virginia Huston); Titus’s plans to boost Field up the political ladder, to senator and beyond, so he can manipulate him from behind the scenes. Although the notoriously grumpy Bosley Crowther of the New York Times labeled the film a “murky thing” and a “jumbled melodrama,” I beg to differ. (I usually do with ol’ Bos.) Flamingo Road isn’t Shakespeare, but it’s entertaining, never boring, filled with memorable scenes – and it stars Joanie. Sounds like a winner to me. Tune into TCM on December 27th and see for yourself.

Other stuff:

The film was helmed by the great Michael Curtiz, who also directed Crawford and Zachary Scott in Mildred Pierce four years earlier.

Flamingo Road marked the last big screen appearance of Alice White, who started her career in silent films and was popular during the pre-Code era in movies like Employees Entrance (1933) and Picture Snatcher (1933). I’ve been meaning to do a post about her life and career for quite some time now; maybe I’ll get around to it in 2023!

— Huston appeared in Out of the Past with Mitchum.

You might recognize the actress playing Field’s fiancée, Annabelle – Virginia Huston played the small-town girl Robert Mitchum falls for and tells his story to in Out of the Past (1947). Huston would appear in another Crawford noir a few years later, playing her secretary in Sudden Fear (1952).

David Brian, the politically savvy businessman who meets Lane at Lute Mae’s, would go on to co-star with Crawford in two other noirs, The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) and This Woman is Dangerous (1952). He made his big screen debut in Flamingo Road.

In 1980, the story of Flamingo Road aired as a made-for-TV movie and the following year it morphed into a nighttime soaper on NBC-TV, designed to rival CBS’s Dallas and Knots Landing. Howard Duff starred as Titus Semple; the cast also included Morgan Fairchild, Stella Stevens, and Barbara Rush. It was a hit at first, but it struggled against ABC’s popular Hart to Hart (with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers) and was cancelled after just two years. (It’s not available on any streaming platforms, but I just bought the entire series on DVD from Etsy!)

Satiny Pick: The Silver Cord (1933)

This one airs on December 28th as part of TCM’s witty salute to silver and gold; other films airing that day include The Silver Streak (1935), Flaming Gold (1933), and Gold Is Where You Find It (1938). I can’t vouch for these, but The Silver Cord is something else, y’all. Sweet little Aunt Pittypat (Laura Hope Crews) from Gone With the Wind stars as the mother-in-law from hell – also known as Mrs. Phelps, mother to two sons, David (Joel McCrea) and Robert (Eric Linden). Robert is engaged to Hester (Frances Dee); both of them live in her home (for some reason), and David, a budding architect, has just returned home from Europe with a new wife in tow, Christina (Irene Dunne), a research biologist.

— Christina delivers a speech at the end that has to be heard to be believed.

You know from the moment Mrs. Phelps enters the film that she is a gigantic piece of work: “Dave! Dave boy! Dave!” she calls him, hysterically dashing from one end of her vast living room to the next. “Where are you!? Where are you, Dave? Dave, come here this minute! Don’t you hear me? It’s MOTHER!” From that point on, you’d better hang on to your hats, because this chick is about to take you on the ride of your life. Not only is she determined to use her significant manipulative wiles to break up the union of David and Christina, but she also works on putting the kibosh on Robert’s upcoming nuptials as well. And when I say she wants to come between her sons and their mates, I’m not just whistling Dixie. There’s one scene, where Mrs. Phelps and Robert are alone, discussing Christina and her plans to whisk David away from his mother’s loving care. Mrs. Phelps sits down by the fire, instructing her son to sit at her feet, “head in my lap.” She then goes to work on Robert, craftily discrediting his fiancée: “Have you ever thought that perhaps you didn’t love Hester?” she asks. “I want to save you from throwing yourself away, as Dave has thrown himself away.” She extracts a promise from Robert that he will break off his engagement with Hester, then says in a voice that’s close to ecstasy, “Then I won’t have to be lonely. I won’t have to be lonely. Kiss me.” And then she plants a LONG, totally non-motherly kiss right on her son’s lips. It’s crazy, y’all. And that’s just the beginning. If you haven’t seen this one (and even if you have), do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t be sorry.

Other stuff:

— McCrea and Dee were married for nearly 60 years.

Frances Dee and Joel McCrea met on the set of this film and married later that same year. The remained together until McCrea’s death on October 20, 1990 – their 57th wedding anniversary.

The film was directed by John Cromwell, who also directed the Broadway play on which the film was based. Laura Hope Crews was in the Broadway production as well. Incidentally, Cromwell’s son is James Cromwell, who has appeared in countless film and television shows, including Babe (1995), L.A. Confidential (1997), Babe, and HBO’s Succession. (I first saw him as Stretch Cunningham on All in the Family.)

Jane Murfin wrote the film’s screenplay. She also wrote (or co-wrote) the screenplays for such films as What Price Hollywood? (1932), Double Harness (1933) The Women (1939), and Pride and Prejudice (1940).

Mark your calendars so you won’t miss either of these memorable movies. You only owe it to yourself.

~ by shadowsandsatin on December 2, 2022.

3 Responses to “Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to watch on TCM in December 2022”

  1. I absolutely love Flamingo Road. It is melodrama at its very best.

    I had never even heard of The Silver Cord but found it on ok.ru. Thanks for the recommendation. This was great. Laura Hope Crews is utterly creepy as Mommy Dearest, though occasionally she should have toned down the histrionics.

    Irene Dunn is wonderful as a throughly emotionally mature woman who knows what she wants out of life without being in the least conceited or arrogant.

    McCrea however is uncharacteristically wimpy. He’s of course not as pathetic as his little brother, but still has some serious growing up to do.

    • I agree with all of this. I watched Flamingo Road again while preparing for the post, and there are so many scenes that I just love – not the least being the double slap Joan delivers to Sydney Greenstreet! And speaking of wimpy, poor Zachary Scott was a mess in this one.

      I’m glad you enjoyed The Silver Cord — it’s so wild, I can’t help but love it. You’re right about Crews’s performance (her very first scene is the very definition of over the top — although I love that, too!). I agree about McCrea, too. At first you think he’ll be okay, but then he totally does a 180 (360?). I’m not sure I’d even want him after all that!

  2. I first saw FLAMINGO ROAD when I was in elementary school. (Shhh! My parents STILL don’t know!)

    I knew nothing about the Production Code at the time, but I immediately understood — probably for the first time as a film watcher — that a LOT of stuff was happening onscreen that wasn’t being talked about directly, or called by it’s right name — AND I WANTED TO KNOW ALL ABOUT IT!

    The characters seemed to be talking in some kind of code I didn’t yet understand, but desperately wanted to learn. I started looking at old movies as puzzles to be solved, which made them more magical to me. And even though I’m now fluent in the language of innuendo, I still feel that way!

    In other news, Pre-Code Joel McCrea is ALWAYS a good idea, and I have a serious case of FLAMINGO ROAD box set envy! I also hope never to see TROG in its entirety. The clip in the Crawford documentary that’s a DVD extra on the special edition of MILDRED PIERCE haunts my dreams already…

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