Laura to Cape Fear: This week’s best TV movies

Laura, Talking Pictures TV, 6.15pm

When New York advertising beauty director Laura Hunt answers her door late one Friday night and is killed with a gunshot wound to the face, hard-boiled, baseball-loving Detective Mark McPherson is called in to investigate. Thus began director Otto Preminger’s classic 1944 film, starring Dana Andrews as Macpherson and illustrious Gene Tierney as Laura. Who pulled the trigger and why? Who, if any, was with Laura in her apartment when she died? Macpherson sets out to answer these questions and solve the case.

Through a series of flashbacks, he gets to know Laura from those closest to her. First is Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), an old newspaper columnist, who takes the victim under his expensive wing when she approaches him in a restaurant looking for a product endorsement for an advertising campaign she’s working on. Next up is Shelby Carpenter, fiancĂ© of Laura (Vincent Price, a decade before he established himself as a favorite horror movie actor). He’s a slick, slippery boy who seems unusually close to Laura’s aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), an older social figure with many gems and a few naughty people. What was Laura and Shelby’s relationship in when she was murdered? Finally there’s Betty, Laura’s faithful maid. Could you participate?

So far, police procedures like MacPherson work their way through the testimonies and excuses of these four, trying to establish a motive, sifting their memories for truth and error – and smoking relentlessly that way as they do in murder mysteries of the 1940s. What pushes Preminger into the classic realm, however, is what happens to McPherson during his investigation: he becomes obsessed with Crystal. Could you fall in love with a dead woman you’ve never met before? Yes, if you spend hours in a sitting room dominated by a huge picture of her, read her memoirs and personal letters, or chase her hoaxes and look in her drawers. Preminger’s movie bulges out with psychosexual weirdness (and in all the right places!) with Andrews’s unruly rendition and Tierney’s good-natured personality that only adds to the grotesque feel. On top of that, there’s a killer twist that pulls the rug off everyone’s feet – characters included.

It’s based on the 1941 novel by ex-communist and anti-Nazi Vera Caspari, whose USB was working on feminine identity and what we call women’s empowerment these days. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Reinhardt was one of the three screenwriters who worked on the adaptation, cutting her teeth writing romantic comedies. Laura has been nominated for five Oscars, and won Best Cinematography, although oddly enough she wasn’t nominated for her music – today composer David Raxen is best remembered for his now-famous score. The main topic now is the jazz standard and has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Charlie Parker to Carly Simon and Robert White.

And the best of the rest…

Saturday 23 April

Funny Girl, BBC Two, 2.05pm

How could Barbra Streisand’s 80th birthday be celebrated better than with this sweet, romantic musical that awarded her an Academy Award for Best Actress? You play comedian Fanny Price, who escapes from her life as the daughter of a Jewish salon owner in the slums of New York’s East Side to become one of the stars of performances at Ziegfield Follies. Success in the show business is in stark contrast to her personal fortune: her marriage to Nick Ernstein (Omar Sharif) is faltering, culminating in divorce and grief. Popular songs include People and Don’t Rain On My Parade. Unfortunately, the 1976 sequel, Funny Lady, was an unworthy successor.

Sunday 24 April

Passengers, Channel 4, 11 p.m.

Loaded with 258 crew members and 5,000 deep sleep passengers, the Starship Avalon is launched, bound for the remote Homestead II colony. Meteor showers caused a malfunction in the ship’s central computer, mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and journalist Aurora Dunn (Jennifer Lawrence), who woke up 90 years ago. As they come to terms with their predicament, romance erupts between Jim and Aurora. When crew chief Jose Mancuso (Lawrence Fishburne) is woken early by a software glitch, a shocking secret is revealed that undermines the couple’s relationship. Passengers are a brilliant meditation on solitude and self-sacrifice with a fantastic staff. Andy Garcia has a blink cameo and you’ll miss it eventually.

Monday 25th April

Independence Day, movie 4, 9 pm

Essentially a modified version of War of the Worlds, Independence Day sees a whole group of aliens visit Earth, intent on destroying it. After stunningly destroying the world’s landmarks, it seems that it is up to Americans – in the form of cocky and brave fighter pilot Will Smith, computer genius Jeff Goldblum, and brave President Bill Pullman – to save the planet. Don’t let flag-waving patriotism bother you – or plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon, like Smith’s remarkable ability to fly an alien spacecraft and Goldblum hacking an alien mainframe with no major system error in sight, for that matter – this is a glorious escape . Featuring fun performances, a great David Arnold score and great special effects, it’s a game worth the hype.

Tuesday 26 April

The Old Man and the Gun, Movie 4, 11.10 p.m.

Robert Redford makes his last on-screen appearances before retiring in David Lowery’s gentle paced – a (mostly) true story that’s also an unabashed Valentine’s Day for the charismatic pioneer. Filmed in a glossy close-up, Redford fools us with every look on the camera as real banker Forest Tucker, who ran rings around the authorities and escaped from San Quentin State Prison in a canoe. The script features a few burglaries tense with self-confidence, but characterization always takes priority and there’s a lovely scene of verbal talk between Redford and co-star Casey Affleck in the aisle of a roadside restaurant. Lowery is the cinematic equivalent of a warm hug: comforting, honest, and undeniably fun.

Wednesday 27 April

Calm with the Horses, movie 4, 9 pm

Nick Rowland made his directorial debut with the 2019 Irish drama gritty crime and punishment, based on a short story by Colin Barrett. Powdy Devers (Ned Dennehy) and his brother Hector (David Willmott) are drug dealers who head an extensive network of criminals. Their cousin Dympna (Barry Keoghan) is tasked with supervising former boxer Douglas (Cosmo Jarvis), who is punching at the behest of Devers. Douglas needs to work to support his five-year-old autistic son, Jack (Kelgan Moroni), who requires an expensive specialized education. The difficult man recognizes his son’s behavioral traits in himself and considers the possibility that he may have a similar developmental disorder. As Douglas searches for answers, he is ordered to kill for the first time.

Thursday 28th April

Mr Blandings builds his dream house, BBC Four, 9pm

Proving that the perils of property development have been with us for a long time, this classic comedy star Cary Grant and Myrna Lowe as a town couple set out to build a home in the rural Connecticut wilds. They discover they’ve gnawed off more than they can chew thanks to a bevy of legal troubles and a seemingly endless stream of cowboy workers and expensive materials. The 1986 movie The Money Pit, starring Tom Hanks, was loosely based on that movie, but the Grant/Loy version is still much better, with both stars showing off their talent for spiral comedy. H.C. Potter, who also made the 1943 Grant movie Mr. Lucky, directs Lex Barker, researching Lex Barker, who made the first of the three Tarzan films a year after that movie was released.

Friday April 29

Cape Fear, BBC One, 10.40pm

Brutal rapist Max Cady (Robert De Niro) is released from prison after a long period of time and immediately pursues the man he blames for his imprisonment – his lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), who is terrified of Cady’s crimes, but fails to do so. Lots of defense. What happens next is a nasty cat-and-mouse game as Cady becomes increasingly disengaged as he plots revenge on Bowden and his family. Many movie buffs still prefer the original 1962 movie, which took a more conservative approach to plot and starred Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum (who both have great roles here). However, on its own merits, Martin Scorsese’s remake is a stylish thriller with a terrifying performance from De Niro and an eye-catching performance from Academy Award-nominated Juliette Lewis as Bowden’s teenage daughter.

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