Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Dostoevsky night on TCM

Tomorrow morning is the 80th anniversary of the birth of Elvis Presley, so it's perhaps unsurprising that TCM has been running promos frequently mentioning that fact. One that seems to show up especially often is the piece Kurt Russell did when Elvis Presley was Star of the Month many years ago. Not that Russell does a bad job, but boy have we seen that piece enough times by now.

I haven't seen quite so much mentioning any of the movies that precede Elvis' birthday, which together comprise a night of films based on the works of 19th century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. When I spent a semester in Sankt-Peterburg studying Rusian decades ago, we visited Dostoevsky's last apartment, which had been turned into a museum; several Russian writers got that treatment. One of the interesting things I remember was that the Russian guides at the Dostoevsky museum tended to use the word izvestny to describe Dostoevsky, a word that means "famous" or "well-known". Pushkin, however, routinely got the word veliky, meaning "great". Anyhow, the Dostoevsky excursion also involved going to some of the adreses mentioned in "Crime and Punishment", which weren't particularly glamorous being in narrow alleys and whatnot. It's not surprising that a version of Crime and Punishment shows up on TCM tonight, at 10:45 PM; this one stars Peter Lorre as Raskolnikov, the man who kills a pawnbroker woman, only to be racked by moral qualms over what he's done as the detectives needle him.

Starting the night off is the other of Dostoevsky's best-known stories, The Brothers Karamazov at 8:00 PM. This is a movie I have a bit of a problem with mostly due to the casting. Yul Brynner plays one of the brothers. While he's certainly a capable actor, I've more and more come to the conclusion that for me, a little of Yul Brynner goes a long, long way. Also interesting is the casting of William Shatner as the good brother who's become a virtuous Orthodox priest. This was several years before Star Trek, of course, but there's still something to Shatner's acting that's not quite right here. It works well in Judgment at Nuremberg where Shatner's playing a military adjutant to Spencer Tracy, but not so much as an Orthodox priest.

Another movie I have a problem with is The Great Sinner, at 12:30 AM. Based on Dostoevsky's novella "The Gambler", this one has Gregory Peck playing the writer with writer's block who falls in love with Ava Gardner at one of those Western European spas, and then racking up heavy gambling debts. The whole idea of anybody having a "system" with which they can beat the casino, especially at something like roulette, is something that seems ludicrous to me, even though the idea shows up in a whole bunch of gambling-themed movies.

The final film, Hakuchi, is Akira Kurosawa's take on Dostoevsky's story "The Idiot". It airs at 2:30 AM. I haven't seen this movie, so I can't really comment on it.

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