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FLICK PICKS: October festivals
September 29, 2009  | By Diane Werts
bound for glory carradine.jpg

With a new month comes a host of new festivals on Turner Classic Movies. October salutes Leslie Caron, Esther Williams, Depression-set films, and thrillers to kick off an ongoing survey of movie genres.

"A Night at the Movies" is the new umbrella label for not just stylistically paired titles but also original documentaries delving into them. The new hour The Suspenseful World of Thrillers (Friday, Oct. 2 at 8 p.m. ET, TCM) really does cover the waterfront -- not just the studio-era staples of TCM (Hitchcock, Gaslight, Sorry Wrong Number), but everything from vintage chillers like Fritz Lang's German early-sound classic M to thriller-come-latelys like Fatal Attraction and Paul Verhoeven's 2006 Dutch film Black Book(with ever-handy Nazi villains).

That's a lot to do in an hour, and you could make accusations of both gloss-overs and omissions here. (Not to mention too many stills and too few clips, a telltale sign of a too-low production budget.) But TCM is at least still trying to honor the richness of our cinema heritage in ways that other supposed "movie" channels (yes, you, AMC) have long since abandoned. ("A Night at the Movies" is also a nice nod back to the late '80s founding of TCM precursor TNT, too, with its Film School "essentials" collections.)

shadow of a doubt cotten.jpgHitchcock gets the first week's focus of thrillers filling Friday nights all month. Rear Window (Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. ET) is followed by a Suspenseful World repeat (11 p.m. ET) and then the master's own favorite film, the evil-in-the-family creepfest Shadow of a Doubt (midnight ET, all Friday night on TCM).

Political thrillers unreel on Oct. 9, led by, of course, The Manchurian Candidate. Oct. 16 has crime thrillers like The Narrow Margin. Gothic thrillers on Oct. 23 include The Night of the Hunter. (Oct. 30 is taken over by TCM's Halloween marathon.)

The Depression comes first on TCM, though, starting Oct. 1 with David Carradine as activist balladeer Woody Guthrie in 1976's Bound for Glory (Thursday at 8 p.m. ET), launching TCM's run of hard-times Thursday nights all month. The opening night proves this festival has range, too -- from King Vidor's studio-bucking 1934 indie drama about communes, Our Daily Bread (10:45 p.m. ET), to the '30s war veteran anti-drug tale Heroes for Sale (12:15 a.m. ET), to John Ford's immortal The Grapes of Wrath (1:30 a.m. ET), to Pare Lorentz' dust-bowl documentary The Plow That Broke the Plains (3:45 a.m. ET, all Thursday night/Friday morning on TCM).

Gold-Diggers-of-1933.jpgIf those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it, maybe we'd all better pay attention to this earlier era of economic emergency. Oct. 8's titles include cutting comedies like Preston Sturges' must-see Sullivan's Travels, where the Coen brothers got the notion for O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Which shows up Oct. 15 alongside such other retro takes as Paper Moon. The mix on Oct. 22 is mind-bending, from Busby Berkeley's Gold Diggers of 1933 to Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo. And Oct. 29's finale collects six films from the 1932-33 depths of it all, instant history written with Hollywood lightning.

Leslie Caron films fill Monday nights starting Oct. 5 with TCM host Robert Osborne's 1999 Private Screenings chat with the French-born actress, followed by some of her '50s musical magic, An American in Paris and Gigi. Subsequent TCM Mondays move through the gamine yet glamorous actress' career till Oct. 26 spotlights 1970s efforts Goldengirl and Valentino.

esther williams movieland.jpgEsther Williams would represent a polar opposite star -- all-American, athletic and pretty much accidental, having come to Hollywood off a champion swimming career. If you've seen That's Entertainment! you know what this '50s box-office topper can do with a pool and a smile. Getting October Tuesday nights into the swim on Oct. 6 are quintessentials Easy to Love and Million Dollar Mermaid.

TCM has more, of course, with Dennis Miller on the 21st playing October's guest programmer (The Third Man AND Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House), plus Halloween-centric salutes to Lon Chaney, William Castle, silent shockers, meteor movies, psychic powers and more.

We'll catch up to those in due time. What we've already recommended should be enough to keep your DVR humming till then . . .


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