Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Margaret Moser

NOVEMBER 10, 1997:  Much discussion going on at my couch about The X-Files season premiere (FOX; Sun, 8pm). Weezer enjoyed it, and demanded a second viewing. I wasn't any happier after the second viewing. I thought the episode was unnecessarily repetitive and sort of convoluted, leaving a lot of is-he-or-isn't-he-a-bad-guy taint on Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) and me in another snit because Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is succumbing to the cancer that may or may not have been given to her. (Meanwhile, Anderson is being quoted in TV Guide this week saying that she has seen costar David Duchovny nekkid and that he really and truly is "hung." Huh.)

The opener for the show's fifth season also had a lighter look to it, despite its weighty theme. It seems that the shadows and noir-style lighting that has served the show so well are being brightened somewhat. (Duchovny has been doing much grumbling about The X-Files Canadian locations and the amount of time he's spending away from new wife Tea Leoni of Naked Truth (NBC, Wed, 8:30pm), but if her dismal show doesn't find a theme, she'll have plenty of time to visit him on the set no matter where it is. That contrast was particularly noticeable when the season premiere was followed by a first-season repeat, with a very girlish Scully and more poker-faced Mulder. That premiere episode also placed second in the ratings for its time slot that night, and settled into eighth place among shows watched for the week. It was also, so says FOX, the second-most-watched episode of The X-Files series ever. Naturally, it is continued next week....

I turned off the color on X-Files a while back, playing around with the remote control buttons. It looks remarkably good in black & white. And it reminded me of how bitter I was at my parents for not buying us a color TV when I was young. It wasn't until I left home that they bought one, so I grew up in black & white.

I doubt if that's the reason I adore black & white films, though. I think I just like them because they represent a kind of love for filmmaking that doesn't exist much anymore. In a lot of cases they also represent low budgets and lack of technology but that's sort of moot; the rich texture of black & white can be every bit as seductive as color.

When Robert Mitchum died in August, I was on vacation at home, writing and watching a hell of a lot of TV. "You keep it on like a campfire," my ex-husband used to say. He was right - it's my company when I'm alone. I got lucky on vacation and Mitchum kept me company, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies (TWC; Ch 23) who ditched their regular programming and ran lots of films of ol' sleepy-eyed Bob in his honor. It was heavenly.

This classic film entertainment network from Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. broadcasts about 400 movies every month from a library of more than 5,000 films, from 1915's Birth of a Nation to more contemporary films like 1977's Annie Hall. (It's amazing how dated a film like 1982's The Year of Living Dangerously [TCM; 11/13; 3am] already looks.) Besides featuring classic titles such as 1939's Gone With the Wind, 1962's Lawrence of Arabia, 1941's Citizen Kane, 1950's Sunset Blvd., and 1941's Casablanca, TCM pays tribute every month to an actor/actress and a director. This month, Katharine Hepburn is featured, as is director Nicholas Ray.

I've never been much of a fan of Hepburn. That overly genteel, New England style never appealed to me, and I found her performances stilted and sometimes grating. I also think she created a tremendous body of work and clearly many people find her captivating.

I find more kindred spirit in director Nicholas Ray's work, including his 1949 lovers-on-the-lam directorial debut, They Live by Night(TCM; 11/7; 7pm), with Farley Granger and Howard da Silva this Friday. Ray had studied architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright and imaginatively applied it noir-ishly to the atmosphere of his films throughout his career - Ray died in 1979. Following Night on Friday are two other early Ray efforts, 1949's A Woman's Secret, with Maureen O'Hara, Gloria Grahame, and Melvyn Douglas (TCM; 8:45pm), and 1950's In a Lonely Place, with Grahame and Humphrey Bogart (TCM; 10:30pm).

Other Nicholas Ray films running this weekend include Born to be Bad with Joan Fontaine and Robert Ryan (TCM; 11/8; 7pm); Flying Leathernecks with Ryan and John Wayne (TCM; 8:45pm); and On Dangerous Groundwith Ida Lupino (TCM; 10:30pm) on Saturday. Sunday features The Lusty Men with Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward, and Arthur Kennedy (TCM; 11/9; 7pm) but it also runs what is often considered Ray's greatest film, 1955's Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo (TCM; 9pm). A celebrity (whose name I've forgotten) recently complained about James Dean having died so young, suggesting that his youthful mystique endures because he never grew up and that he's worshipped as the ultimate cool guy for leaving such a beautiful corpse. This is probably true - would we really have canonized him as St. James if he had survived the crash? What kind of films would he really made in the Seventies while fellow bad-boy Mitchum was off making The Yakuza? Bad ones, I bet. No matter. Nicholas Ray's film will live on, as will Dean's electric presence in it.

Regular readers of this column know that when the tone becomes too pedantic in "TV Eye," an antidote is right around the corner, and on TCM no less. Hot Rods to Hell (TCM; 11/6; 7pm) comes on Thursday night for those who are tired of getting cavities from watching Friends. Hot Rods is one of those cheesy, late Sixties teen exploitation flicks (and "flicks" is just the word for this) starting faded Hollywood stars (Dana Andrews, Jeanne Crain) and the hip, aspiring Mimsy Farmer (The Miniskirt Mob). One of those big-screen potboilers follows, 1960's All the Fine Young Cannibals(TCM; 11/6; 9pm), with Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood, George Hamilton, Susan Kohner, and Pearl Bailey. Cannibals is supposedly based on the life of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker but it seems to be a lot more Wood.

And if worse comes to worse, you can always tune into the six-hour block of Beavis & Butt-head on Saturday night (MTV; 11/8; 10pm). Don't forget to set that VCR, huh-huh. *


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