Laura to Cape Fear: the week's best TV films

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Gene Tierney in Laura 1944 film noir classic Laura
Gene Tierney in Laura 1944 film noir classic Laura

Film of the week

Thursday April 28

Laura, Talking Pictures TV, 6.15pm

When beautiful New York advertising executive Laura Hunt answers her door late one Friday night and is murdered with a shotgun blast to the face, hard-boiled, baseball-loving detective Mark McPherson is called in to investigate. And so begins director Otto Preminger’s classic 1944 film noir, which stars Dana Andrews as McPherson and a luminous Gene Tierney as the titular Laura. Who pulled the trigger and why? Who, if anyone, was with Laura in her flat when she died? McPherson sets out to answer these questions and crack the case.

Through a series of flashbacks he learns about Laura from those who were closest to her. First up is waspish, ageing newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), who takes the victim under his expensively-suited wing when she approaches him in a restaurant looking for a product endorsement for an advertising campaign she is working on. Next is Laura’s fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price, a decade before he established himself as a hammy horror movie favourite). He’s a smooth, slippery playboy who seems unusually close to Laura’s aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), an older socialite with many jewels and few scruples. What state was Laura and Shelby’s relationship in when she was murdered? Finally there’s Betty, Laura’s devoted maid. Could she be involved?

So far, so police procedural as McPherson works his way through the testimony and alibis of these four, tries to establish motive, sifts their recollections for truth and mistruth – and smokes relentlessly in that way they do in 1940s murder mysteries. But what pitches Preminger’s film into classic territory, however, is what happens to McPherson as he investigates: he becomes obsessed with Laura. Can you fall in love with a dead woman you have never met? Yes, if you spend hours in a sitting room dominated by a huge portrait of her, read her diaries and personal letters, or stalk her boudoir and search through her drawers. Preminger’s film bulges with psycho-sexual weirdness (and in all the right places!) with Andrews’s deadpan delivery and Tierney’s goody-goody persona only adding to the feeling of strangeness. On top of that, there’s a killer twist which pulls the rug out from everyone’s feet – characters included.

It’s based on a 1941 novel by former Communist and avowed anti-Nazi Vera Caspary, whose USP was works about female identity and what these days we call female empowerment. Meanwhile one of the three script writers who worked on the adaptation was Elizabeth Rheinhardt, who cut her teeth writing screwball romantic comedies. Laura was nominated for five Oscars, winning for Best Cinematography, though oddly it wasn’t nominated for its music – yet today composer David Raksin is best remembered for his now-famous score. The main theme is now a jazz standard and has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Charlie Parker to Carly Simon and Robert Wyatt.

And the best of the rest …

Saturday April 23

Funny Girl, BBC Two, 2.05pm

How better to celebrate Barbra Streisand’s 80th birthday than with this amiable romantic musical that landed her the Academy Award as Best Actress? She plays comedienne Fanny Brice, who escapes her life as the daughter of a Jewish saloon owner in the slums of the Lower East Side of New York to become one of the star performers at Ziegfield Follies. Success in the world of showbusiness contrasts sharply with her personal fortune: her marriage to suave Nick Arnstein (Omar Sharif) falters and culminates in divorce and heartache. The iconic songs include People and Don’t Rain On My Parade. Sadly, the 1976 sequel, Funny Lady, was an unworthy successor.

Sunday April 24

Passengers, Channel 4, 11pm

The Starship Avalon launches, loaded with 258 crew and 5,000 passengers in deep sleep, bound for the distant colony of Homestead II. A meteor shower causes a malfunction to the ship’s central computer and mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and journalist Aurora Dunn (Jennifer Lawrence) wake 90 years prematurely. As they come to terms with their predicament, romance sparks between Jim and Aurora. When crew chief Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne) is also roused early by a software glitch, a shocking secret is exposed that undermines the couple’s relationship. Passengers is a glossy meditation on solitude and self-sacrifice with a terrific cast. Andy Garcia has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo at the end.

Monday April 25

Independence Day, Film 4, 9pm

Essentially a reworked version of War of the Worlds, Independence Day sees a whole host of aliens visiting Earth, intent on destroying it. After the world’s landmarks are laid to waste spectacularly, it seems to fall to the Americans – in the form of cocky, courageous fighter pilot Will Smith, computer genius Jeff Goldblum and plucky president Bill Pullman – to save the planet. Don’t let the flag-waving patriotism put you off – or the Grand Canyon-sized plot holes, such as Smith’s remarkable capacity to fly an alien spaceship and Goldblum hacking into an alien mainframe with not so much a system error in sight, for that matter - this is glorious escapism. Featuring fun performances, a super David Arnold score and impressive special effects, it’s blockbuster that deserved the hype.

Tuesday April 26

The Old Man & The Gun, Film 4, 11.10pm

Robert Redford makes his final screen appearance before retirement in David Lowery’s gently paced crime caper – a (mostly) true story, which is also an unabashed valentine to the charismatic leading man. Photographed in lustrous close-up, Redford beguiles us with each glance into camera as real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker, who ran rings around the authorities and escaped from San Quentin State Prison in a canoe. The script stages a couple of tense robberies with aplomb, but characterisation always take priority and there is a lovely scene of verbal to-and-fro between Redford and co-star Casey Affleck in the corridor of a roadside diner. Lowery’s film is the cinematic equivalent of a warm hug: comforting, heartfelt and undeniably pleasurable.

Wednesday April 27

Calm With Horses, Film 4, 9pm

Nick Rowland makes his feature film directorial debut with a gritty 2019 Irish drama of crime and punishment, adapted from a short story by Colin Barrett. Paudi Devers (Ned Dennehy) and his brother Hector (David Wilmot) are drug dealers, who preside over a vast network of criminals. Their cousin Dympna (Barry Keoghan) is entrusted to oversee former boxer Douglas (Cosmo Jarvis), who doles out beatings at the Devers’ command. Douglas needs the work to support his autistic five-year-old son Jack (Kiljan Moroney), who requires expensive specialist schooling. The hard man recognises his boy’s behavioural traits in himself and contemplates the possibility that he has a similar developmental disorder. As Douglas seeks answers, he is ordered to kill for the first time.

Thursday April 28

Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, BBC Four, 9pm

Proving that the perils of property developing have been with us for a long time, this classic comedy stars Cary Grant and Myrna Loy as a city couple who set out to build a home in the wilds of rural Connecticut. They discover they have bitten off more than they can chew thanks to a host of legal problems and an apparently endless stream of cowboy workmen and high-priced materials. The 1986 movie The Money Pit, starring Tom Hanks, was loosely based on this film, but the Grant/Loy version remains far superior, with both stars demonstrating their talent for screwball comedies. HC Potter, who also made Grant’s 1943 film Mr Lucky, directs, and look out for Lex Barker, who made the first of three Tarzan films a year after this was released.

Friday April 29

Cape Fear, BBC One, 10.40pm

Brutal rapist Max Cady (Robert De Niro) is released from jail following a long stretch and immediately hunts down the man he blames for his incarceration - his lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), who was so horrified by Cady’s crimes, he failed to mount much of a defence. What takes place next is a nasty game of cat-and-mouse in which Cady becomes increasingly unhinged as he plots his revenge on Bowden and his family. Many movie buffs still prefer the original 1962 film, which took a more restrained approach to the plot and starred Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum (who both have cameo roles here). However, judged on its own merits, Martin Scorsese’s remake is a stylish thriller with a terrifying performance from De Niro and an eye-catching one from an Oscar-nominated Juliette Lewis as Bowden’s teenage daughter.

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