Pay TV: 'Tis the season to be as nasty as you like
THERE'S no shortage of horror, violence and noir nastiness in the run-up to Christmas.
For those drawn to stories of outback serial killers there's Greg Mclean's brilliantly effective shocker Wolf Creek (Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie Greats), perhaps the most frightening film made in this country. the Godfather part II (Saturday, 10.15pm, Showtime Drama) offers its famous quota of gangland killings and betrayals (and is considered by many the best sequel to an established masterpiece).
And who can resist another viewing of the Postman always Rings twice (Saturday, 7.30pm, Fox Classics), the best version of James M. Cain's torrid tale of lust, in which a venal wife (Lana Turner) plots with a love-struck drifter (John Garfield) to murder her husband?
In the spirit of the season, this column is sticking to spiritual uplift, mindless escapism and nice stories with happy endings. That rules out Romeo and Juliet (Wednesday, 8.30pm, Fox Classics), the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli film with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, which has the unhappiest of all endings (and should be boycotted in any case for Zeffirelli's unforgivable omission of Juliet's speech before she swallows the fateful potion). It also rules out Patton (Sunday, 9.10am, Showtime Action), a mighty biopic of US General George S. Patton, magnificently played by George C. Scott. Arguably Patton has a happy ending (we won the war, didn't we?), but the battle scenes, majestically filmed, seem strangely detached and impersonal. Don't miss the opening minutes, when Patton delivers a famous morale-boosting speech to his men.
And what about Shadowlands (Friday, 8.30pm, Fox Classics), a great, miserable film about Oxford writer and theologian C. S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins), who marries an American poet and loses her in tragic circumstances? Directed by Richard Attenborough, it's among the most wrenching tear-jerkers this column can remember, and on the strength of Hopkins's beautifully sombre performance it's hard to believe that Lewis wrote the Narnia stories, whose latest film version can be seen in cinemas.
About the time Patton was rallying the 101st Airborne for a last push against Hitler's forces, MGM was making Meet me in St. Louis (Thursday, 8.30pm, TCM), once well described as a Valentine to the good old days and all they stood for. No wars to worry about — this was America in all its primal innocence, symbolised by the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis, beautifully re-created under Vincente Minnelli's direction. Minnelli became better known as the husband of Judy Garland, who plays the daughter of a well-to-do family in love with the boy next door. Garland never looked lovelier and Margaret O'Brien is a delight as her mischievous little sister. this peerless slice of Americana also has some great songs.
Not as folksy but every bit as enjoyable is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Monday, 8.30pm, TCM), a highly entertaining musical set in Oregon mountain country where seven woodsmen, finding themselves in want of wives, kidnap some local beauties. Jane Powell and Howard Keel are stand-outs in the cast, the musical score won an Oscar and the film boasts some terrific dance sequences choreographed by Michael Kidd. I also can recommend the seven heroes of the Magnificent Seven (Wednesday, 10.45pm, Starpics), a rousing western remake of Akira Kurosawa's the Seven Samurai, in which a small community, terrorised by bandits, seeks the protection of a bunch of good-hearted gunmen and outlaws (including Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen).
There's a (almost) happy wedding — at last — in Muriel's Wedding (Monday, 8.30pm, Fox Classics), plus plenty of ABBA songs, and an aborted wedding (thank goodness) in the Philadelphia Story (Wednesday, 8.30pm, TCM), both of them worth seeing again.
In Sweet Home Alabama (Friday, 8.30pm, Starpics), Reese Witherspoon's character, Melanie, is in urgent need of a divorce. once it would have been a very sophisticated Hollywood that played on a wife's efforts to get divorced in a hurry. There's a nice scene when Melanie cleans out her husband's bank account, spruces up his run-down house and tricks herself out as a primly aproned 1950s housewife chopping vegetables in the kitchen: "You want a wife — you've got a wife!" It's a funny film, set in sing-song Alabama country with some amusing off-beat characters. Witherspoon gives it much buoyancy and charm.
Patton (M), Sunday, 9.10am, Showtime Action
Meet me in St Louis (G), Thursday, 8.30pm, TCM
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (G), Monday, 8.30pm, TCM
Wolf Creek (R18), Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie Greats