Screengrab: Is This The Best Week Ever for Movies on TV?


From Richard Lutz.

Never start a story with a question as a headline. That’s the ironclad law when I was a cub reporter around the time of the Mongol Horde invasions across Europe.

But rules ain’t rules if they ain’t broken.

And whipping through the listings for this   Olympic Bonanza week, someone must have put something extra into the water when it comes to feeding tv planners.

It’s a great week to ignore the coming heatwave, the Games, financial scandals, the high summer,  Bradley Wiggins and, instead, grease the record button finger to stock up on some movies.

Before we hit the classics, a word about The Saint. Everyone remembers Roger Moore poking around as the tv  ‘tec with the suave airs and small revolver way before our Sir Rog become a stolid wooden 007.

But this evergreen tv series was begat from 9 RKO films from the late 30s and early 40s. Most starred deep voiced bored looking George Sanders, an actor best known these days for the voice of Sheer Khan in The Jungle Book and the hubby of both Zsa Zsa Gabor AND,  later,  her sister.

As the first incarnation of The Saint, he grappled with many a crook and Nazi in his day. And BBC2 is slapping them all over the daytime schedules: The Saint in London, The Saint in Palm Springs,, The Saint Meets The Tiger and The Saint in New York (he must have got around).

I have never seen these  films. But I’ll dip in to see how noir crime thrillers operated on the eve of war with Mr Sanders (born in Russia and earning his early wage in a Birmingham mill, by the way)  ready to do battle.

On the other side of noir is  The Third Man (Mon; Film4, 14.20). Get out the zither, the femme fatale, the Swiss  clocks, the Viennese bombscape and end of war paranoia and you have a classic with Orson Welles’ cheeky shadowy figure running through Austrian sewers. It is still one of the best black and white stories around.

James Stewart puts on the buckskin for one of his best westerns, Winchester ’73 (Tues; Ch4, 13.25). It is directed by Anthony Mann, one of the masters of the horse opera and even though it is  nigh on 60 years old, still is worth watching if only for the Jimmy Stewart aw shucks  mode of acting done the old way for the double features back in the day.

Still, if you are a glutton for sagebrush, check out 14 straight hours of cowboy movies on TCM. Starting with Gunsmoke and James Arness (ok, ok, it is tv stuff) and ending with Rio Bravo. There’ll be enough trail dust in your living room to choke the digi signals out of your flatscreen. TCM, with some alterations, has this barrage  of westerns almost every day.

Side stepping the cowboy movies and The Saint, tighten your seat belt for Clockwork Orange (Wed; ITV1, 22.50). It is Kubrick’s  take on the Anthony Burgess novel and didn’t shirk when it came to ‘a bit of ultra”,  sexual violence or sadistic gang menace. Malcolm McDowell stars as a youth who lives for the violent moment in a dystopian future. At times, it is uncomfortable viewing, but Kubrick tweeks it a bit to put an ungainly smile on your face.  It is dark and nasty though.

Harking back to cowboys for a second, The Last Picture Show (Wed; Sky Movies Indie, 11.55) unveils its director’s cut. Peter Bogdanovich oversaw a minimalist black and white film about a small Texan town closing its movie house- and also closing an era in smalltown America. Lots of names here: Jeff Bridges, Cybil Sheppard and a fond farewell to celluloid to Ben Johnson who rode like an angel in so many John Ford films until he was sacked by the oldtime director for actually questioning a command he was given. You’ll recognise Johnson not so much from what he looks like but from his beautiful cowpoke voice. His character is the last hurrah of the Old West.

Another take on the West’s slow emergence into modern America is Bad Day at Black Rock (Thur; Film4, 12.40) when one armed Spencer Tracey comes to a tiny town to kick start justice in a community run by bigots. It’s low key and Spence gets it right- one of his best roles as he comes towards the end of his career.

On the same night, a small tip of the hat to The Olympics (they are on this year in London if you have been living on Mars). Cool Runnings (Thurs; ITV2, 19.00) is a joyous story about a Jamaican bobsled team who are out to win in the Winter Games.  Smiles all around.

Next night, you can put your feet up for Cat Ballou (Fri; Ch4, 1.40 am but really Sat). Lee Marvin was a great comedian and Jane Fonda is his earnest straightwoman as she hires a drunk clapped out gunfighter who can’t even hold a gun straight  to install law ‘n order in the heyday of the west. Marvin shines.

And to add a footnote to a week that has many other films worth the effort, if you like your teenyboppers, hang out for Justin Beiber: Never Say Never (Wed; Sky Movies Family, 11.35).

OK, I’ll say never but many won’t