If films are meant to let you see the world without leaving your chair, Turner Classic Movies is about to make that even more the case.
For its annual “31 Days of Oscar” festival that begins Wednesday (Feb. 1), the channel has grouped the titles by locale … starting the first day with Florida (“Some Like It Hot”) and Philadelphia (“Rocky”), and wrapping up in outer space (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) on Friday, March 2. England, the South Seas, Australia and the Middle East are among the many other stops on the cinematic itinerary.
“We always like to try different ways to do this,” principal TCM host Robert Osborne tells Zap2it. “It’s been kind of a stretch some years, but this one’s really neat, I think. Not only do we visit a different area each day or night, it’s particularly interesting because in so many of the movies, places like Mexico and Singapore were created on a sound stage.
“Some were done in the actual places, though,” Osborne adds, “so you get that mix as well. It really does show the genius of those art directors and set designers. You see something like ‘Dodsworth,’ much of which takes place in Italy, and it was all created on the back lot of the Goldwyn studio in Hollywood. ‘The Letter,’ with Bette Davis (featured Thursday, Feb. 23, on TCM), just reeks of the atmosphere of Malaysia — and it was done on a Warner Bros. sound stage.”
Osborne points to another Davis movie, “The Corn Is Green,” as “one where the backdrops are obviously fake, but people accepted it then, as they accept it when you go to a stage play and supposedly see the U.S. Capitol out a window. Everybody (in the play) has that same view, whether they’re in a hotel or an apartment or whatever.”
England (Feb. 4-5), New York (Feb. 10-12) and California (Feb. 25-26) will get entire “31 Days of Oscar” weekends of their own. Such scheduled attractions as those respective sites’ “Far From the Madding Crowd,” “Marty” and “Bullitt” clearly were filmed right where their scripts set them.
“After the Second World War,” Osborne reflects, “general audiences were traveling. And not just rich people, so they wouldn’t buy that [studio re-creation of a location] anymore. They wanted the real thing, and it changed the whole structure of motion pictures.”
The legendary 1942 drama “Casablanca” is a “must” in any “31 Days of Oscar” lineup, and it will be included in a night of Africa-set features Wednesday, Feb. 15. Its showing is especially significant in its 70th-anniversary year, and the release of an elaborate new Warner Home Video edition will mark that milestone Tuesday, March 27.
“‘Casablanca’ is one of those movies that no matter how many times you see it, it never grows old,” Osborne reasons. “It’s almost impossible to start watching it and not be able to stay through it. There’s no place to tune out of that movie.
“The amazing thing to me about it, always, is that it was nothing special at all when they made it and released it. It wasn’t anything that stood out in the crowd, and the fact that it is such a legendary movie now is kind of astounding. And (its leading lady) Ingrid Bergman never liked it at all.”
Having taken five months off from his TCM duties last year for minor surgery and a vacation, veteran Hollywood columnist and historian Osborne is pleased to have returned in plenty of time for “31 Days of Oscar.”
“I love this month, and I love the Oscars,” he confirms. “I think if there weren’t Oscars, we wouldn’t get as many good movies as we do. It’s always been something for people to shoot toward in doing better work, and I think it’s wonderful that work is rewarded.
“Right now, I think it’s getting over-rewarded,” Osborne notes, “because there are so many award shows. It kind of takes some of the steam out of the Academy Awards, but it’s always a pleasure to have this month where you can’t tune in to TCM and not see something that isn’t worth seeing. Even if something was nominated only for Best Sound, it’s still got something going for it.”