Old Hollywood Stars Get Their Day on the Screen

Viva Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas

Every summer, the Turner Classic Movies channel schedules Summer Under the Stars, i.e., binge-watching for old-movie fans. Each day in August is devoted to a film legend: John Wayne, Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, Katharine Hepburn, etc. Here are the days we’re most likely to spend spot-welded to the couch with a carton of takeout in hand …

Fred Astaire (Aug. 5). Get your dance on! Fred partners with Ginger Rogers in The Gay Divorcee (1934) and Swing Time (1936). However, the duo are at their most glorious in Top Hat (1935), gliding across glossy art deco sets to giddy Irving Berlin songs such as “Cheek to Cheek” and the title tune. You Were Never Lovelier (1942) pairs Fred with Rita Hayworth, who matches him step for step—Hayworth’s bewitching beauty often made audiences forget what a skilled dancer she was.

Joan Crawford (Aug. 10). A full survey of Joan’s career from 1927’s The Unknown, an eerie circus-set horror silent starring Lon Chaney to the low-budget schlock of ’70s creature-crapper Trog. In between: the classic working girl-goes-high society of Sadie McKee (1934), the still-sharp social satire of The Women (1939) and the tough-as-nails floozy soap operas of Flamingo Road (1949) and The Damned Don’t Cry (1950).

You Were Never Lovelier

You Were Never Lovelier

Robert Mitchum (Aug. 12). Mitchum was one of the few movie stars who was even more impressive off-screen—admire his skill as a raconteur in a 1971 episode of The Dick Cavett Show. He shines as an itinerant sheep farmer in The Sundowners (1960) and in The Lusty Men (1952), Nicholas Ray’s existential tale of rodeo-circuit losers. More traditional action fare can be found in the righteous B-movie Thunder Road (1958), an epic tale of fast cars and moonshine, and The Yakuza (1975), in which Mitchum battles the Japanese mafia.

Ann-Margret (Aug. 13). Ann-Margret wallows in Technicolor in Made in Paris (1966), where she plays a young fashion buyer who must decide between two handsome men and dozens of fabulous outfits. In the spy parody Murderer’s Row (1966) she helps Dean Martin save the world. Of course they’re showing Viva Las Vegas (1964), but don’t miss her other rock musical turn in Tommy (1975), holding her own alongside The Who and Tina Turner.

Groucho Marx (Aug. 14). A full menu of Marx Brothers films, from 1929’s The Cocoanuts to 1941’s The Big Store. Among the highlights are the ocean liner pratfalls and high-speed wordplay of Monkey Business (1931) and the completely unhinged political satire of Duck Soup (1933). As a bonus, there’s the so-bad-it’s-funny epic The Story of Mankind (1957): Watch Groucho as Peter Minuit hustle the Natives out of Manhattan.

Marlene Dietrich (Aug. 22). Both of her films with Billy Wilder are represented: The black post-war comedy A Foreign Affair (1948) and the elegant whodunit Witness for the Prosecution (1957). Then there’s the hokey exotica of her convent-raised courtesan in The Garden of Allah (1936) and the smug harem queen of Kismet (1934). Don’t miss Shanghai Express (1932), a sort of Grand Hotel on wheels where no one is what they seem—including Dietrich’s weary woman of the world, wreathed in ostrich feathers and cigarette smoke. Also standing out is Anna May Wong as her equally lovely, equally cynical traveling companion.

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