Duke Box #19: Our Guide to the Best Films on TV

Hi everyone,

There are some big names and some big films cropping up this week, including old Hollywood gems and world cinema wonders. Therefore, for Pick(s) of the Week: if you want to go classic, you can't go far wrong with Otto Preminger's film noir classic Laura (1944). However, with not one but two fantastic films from Pawel Pawlikowski featuring on Film4 this week (a lot of alliteration), it'd be remiss of me not to highlight both Ida (2013) and Cold War (2018) as ones to watch.   

Rather bizarrely, there are a good number of recommendations cropping up at not so great times. I've picked them out for anyone who can record or watch on catch-up, but I'll flag them up again if they appear in a kinder placing.

(A reminder that this list isn’t exhaustive and that some films will be repeated at different times – these are just some titles that I've selected as ones to try out or revisit, hopefully at the best times. Some films may also change if channels decide to alter their listings.) 

Duke Box 18 Listings

Saturday 25

Champion (1949) – Talking Pictures TV, 1.40pm
Zootropolis (2016) – BBC1, 5pm
The Admirable Crichton (1957) – Sony Classic, 7.05pm
An Officer & a Gentleman (1982) – 5Star, 9pm
Pitch Perfect (2012)– ITV2, 9pm
The Post (2017) – C4, 9.15pm
Iron Man 3 (2013) – BBC1, 10.20pm
The Pumpkin Eater (1964) – Sony Classic, 11.10pm

Another chance to see: Escape to Victory (ITV4, 12.30pm), The Addams Family (5Star, 2.15pm), Seven Men from Now (Paramount, 2.35pm), The Towering Inferno (ITV4, 2.55pm), Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World (Sony Movies, 6.15pm), You Only Live Twice (ITV, 9pm), Face/Off (Sony Movies, 9pm), Sicario (C4, 11.35pm)

A hard-hitting combination of noir and sports, Champion stars Kirk Douglas as a boxer who’ll do anything to make it to the top – even if it means making a few enemies along the way. The BBC Saturday tea-time slot has been filled with family-friendly gems in recent weeks and Zootropolis is no exception. A fun, smart and inventive addition to the Disney canon, it tells the story of the unlikely partnership between a rabbit police officer and a con artist fox who uncover a criminal conspiracy in their anthropomorphic world. It’s so, so good. There’s a J.M Barrie adaptation in the early evening with comedy The Admirable Crichton, which sees the class system put to the test after an Edwardian Lord, his family and his servants find themselves shipwrecked on a deserted island. Richard Gere, Debra Winger and an Academy Award-winning Louis Gossett Jr. star in Taylor Hackford’s An Officer and a Gentleman, a romantic drama that follows a troubled US Navy Aviation Officer candidate as he develops a relationship with a local girl and clashes with his tough drill instructor. Also on at 9pm is Pitch Perfect, a fun, light-hearted musical comedy about competing college acapella groups; Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson and Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt are among the ensemble. Speaking of ensembles, there’s an almighty one in Steven Spielberg’s The Post, a classy telling of The Washington Post’s attempts to publish the ‘Pentagon Papers’ – covered-up, classified documents about the US government’s involvements in international affairs and wars – and the subsequent attempts to silence the press. Meryl Streep stars as Kay Graham, America’s first female newspaper publisher, with Tom Hanks as co-lead as long-term editor Ben Bradlee. For something a bit more popcorn, there’s Shane Black’s foray into the Marvel universe with Iron Man 3, which features a pretty great appearance from Ben Kingsley. Appearing later in the evening is the Harold Pinter-penned drama The Pumpkin Eater, starring Anne Bancroft (who won Best Actress at Cannes for this role) as a mother of numerous children who falls into spiralling depression after her husband’s infidelity. Peter Finch, James Mason and Maggie Smith also star.


Sunday 26

Funny Face (1957) – Talking Pictures TV, 6.25pm 
Ice Age (2002) – ITV2, 7.25pm
Cold Mountain (2003) – 5Select, 9pm
The Salesman (2016) – BBC2, 12.10am
Still Alice (2014) – C4, 12.30am
Phone Booth (2002) – Paramount, 1.15am
Chevalier (2015) – Flm4, 1.45am

Another chance to see: The Fallen Idol (5Star, 10.05am), The Taming of the Shrew (Sony Classic, 10.30am), Bridge to Terabithia (Sony Movies, 12.35pm), Gandhi (Sony Classic, 3pm), The Tall T (Sony Action, 3.45pm), McLintock! (Paramount, 3.55pm), Chicken Run (ITV2, 4.50pm), What a Way To Go! (Sony Classic, 6.45pm), Eddie the Eagle (Film4, 6.55pm), John Wick (5Star, 9pm), Tom Jones (Sony Classic, 10.45pm), Fargo (ITV4, 11.40pm)

Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire star in Stanley Donen’s gorgeously shot musical Funny Face, a film whose ugly duckling storyline is a little dated now (although surely any film with Audrey Hepburn in that role is pure fantasy anyway), but it is a simply beautiful piece of film – and it features the lovely ‘S’Wonderful’ in its soundtrack. There’s some early-evening family viewing with Ice Age, a fun Dreamworks animation that sees a sabretooth tiger, a woolly mammoth and a sloth form an unlikely team in order to return a lost baby back to its human tribe. Continuing his penchant for adaptations, which included The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella’s Cold Mountain follows a wounded Civil War soldier trying to make it home to reunite with the woman he left behind, while she spends her long wait for him struggling to survive on her farm. Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger lead a cast that also includes Eileen Atkins, Natalie Portman, Brendan Gleeson, Donald Sutherland and many, many more. Just after midnight is The Salesman by Asghar Farhadi (The Separation, Everybody Knows), the emotionally intense Oscar-winning drama of a husband and wife who decide to put on a performance of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman to raise money for an apartment, only for a devastating event to uproot their lives. Still Alice also saw an Oscar win, as Julianne Moore won Best Actress for her sensitive and considered performance as a linguistics professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after her 50th birthday. The scenes between Moore and Kristen Stewart, playing her daughter, are the film’s best. In the early hours of the movie there’s some Hitchcockian-lite thriller action with Phone Booth, as Colin Farrell’s passer-by unwittingly puts his life at risk when he steps into a phone booth to answer the call of a sniper (Kiefer Sutherland). Then, finally, there’s Greek comedy (or tragedy, depending how you look at it) in the sniping Chevalier, an exploration of competitive masculinity as six friends take a fishing trip in the Aegean that turns into an intense contest for superiority.


Monday 27

Laura (1944) – BBC2, 2.15pm
So Long at the Fair (1950) – Talking Pictures TV, 6.20pm
How to Steal a Million (1966) – Sony Classic, 9pm
The Hunger Games (2012) – 5Star, 9pm

Another Chance to See: My Favourite Brunette (Sony Classic, 1.15pm), Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation (Film4, 9pm)

A real classic of the noir genre, starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Vincent Price, Otto Preminger’s Laura follows a detective who finds himself falling in love with the woman whose brutal murder he is investigating. There’s more mystery rearing its head in British thriller, So Long at the Fair, which boasts Jean Simmons, Dirk Bogarde, David Tomlinson and Honor Blackman in its cast. It follows a woman who visits the Paris Exhibition with her brother only to wake one morning to find him vanished and no one else able to recall his being there in the first place…Based on a urban legend, it’s best not to read up any of more if you’re planning a watch. Crime also plays a part in How to Steal a Million…only far more jovially. Directed by William Wyler (Roman Holiday, Ben-Hur), the film stars Audrey Hepburn as an art-forger’s daughter who hires Peter O’Toole’s burglar to nab one of her father’s fakes to protect his secret. Elsewhere at 9pm is the first entry into The Hunger Games franchise. The sequels always seem to pop up, so here’s the perfect chance to dive into the teen-friendly dystopian story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who must represent her district in a televised battle-to-the-death. Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks and a scene-stealing Stanley Tucci also appear.


Tuesday 28

The Scarlet and the Black (1983) – Sony Action, 2.55pm
Ida (2013) – Film4, 10.45pm
Scream of Fear (1961) – Talking Pictures TV, 1.50am

Another chance to see: The Reckless Moment (Sony Classic, 11.05am), Fantastic Voyage (Film4, 12.35pm), Gandhi (Sony Classic, 12.50pm), Champion (Talking Pictures TV, 6.50pm), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Sony Classic, 9pm), Tom Jones (Sony Classic, 11.15pm), The Thing from Another World (Sony Classic, 1.50am), Inside Llewyn Davis (C4, 2.40am)

Although originally a made-for TV movie, it was a bit hard to ignore The Scarlet and the Black when I saw it listed. It’s the true story of the Vatican’s efforts, led by Irish Catholic priest Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, to protect the lives of escaped POWS, Allied forces, Jewish people and refugees escaping the Nazi troops in Rome. Gregory Peck stars as priest, which Christopher Plummer and John Gielgud co-star. Coincidentally, Catholicism and WWII also play a part in the Oscar-winning Ida, written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (the man behind Cold War, screening Wednesday). This understated-but-powerful drama follows a young woman, orphaned during WWII, who is on the brink of becoming a Catholic nun, only to uncover a family secret that halts her decision. Highly recommended viewing. Finally, in the evening, there’s another addition from the Hammer Horror catalogue. Described by star Christopher Lee as “the best film [he] was in that Hammer ever made”, Scream of Fear follows a young heiress (played by Susan Strasberg, daughter of notorious method acting coach Lee Strasberg) who believes that her father has been killed, despite everyone saying he is alive…


Wednesday 29

Akeelah and the Bee (2006) – Film4, 1.50pm
The Rainmaker (1956) – Talking Pictures TV, 4.50pm
Cold War (2018) – Film4, 9pm
Storyville: Hurt Locker Hero – BBC4, 12.15am
Salt of the Earth (1954) – Talking Pictures TV, 2.15am

Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne and a young Keke Palmer star in the charming family drama Akeelah and the Bee, about a young girl whose enjoyment for spelling sees her enter the National Spelling Bee – firmly as the underdog. In the later afternoon, Katherine Hepburn, Burt Lancaster and Wendall Corey star in The Rainmaker, a wry Depression-era set romance in the Midwest that follows a woman who harbours a love for the local sheriff but finds herself falling for a con man who promises he can bring rain to their drought-suffering cattle ranch. In a shift of style, pace and locale, Cold War was one of the highlights of 2018, an epic black-and-white romance from Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski that follows a singer and musician’s love affair before and during the Cold War. It’s simply breathtaking and saw Pawlikowski pick up a Best Director nod at the Oscars. There are two other hard-hitting films to keep an eye out for after midnight too. Documentary Hurt Locker Hero seems to tell the Kurdish equivalent of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, as it tells the story of a colonel who disarmed thousands of roadside bombs and trap with not much but his courage and wire cutters to help him. After that there’s Salt of the Earth, a powerful story of revolution whose cast largely features non-professionals and actual participants of the Mexican-American miners’ strike it is inspired by. Considered ground-breaking at the time, especially as it closely explored the important roles of women too, it’s still gripping viewing today – think Ken Loach in New Mexico.


Thursday 30

Only the Brave (2017)– Film4, 6.25pm
Defence of the Realm (1985) – Talking Pictures TV, 6.50pm
Stephen King’s It (1990) – Paramount, 1.05am
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) – Talking Pictures TV, 1.10am
What Maisie Knew (2012) – C4, 2.45am

Another chance to see: The Tall T (Sony Action, 1.15pm), The Wild One (Sony Classic, 1.10pm), On the Waterfront (Sony Classic, 2.50pm), Funny Face (Talking Pictures TV, 3pm), Tunes of Glory (Sony Action, 4.50pm), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Sony Classic, 5.05pm), Georgy Girl (Talking Pictures TV, 6.55pm), A Taste of Honey (9pm), The Post (Four7, 9pm), Rocky Balboa (ITV4, 9pm), An Officer and the Gentleman (5Star, 11pm), The Fisher King (Sony Classic, 11.05pm)

There is quite the mixture of films to choose from today, even if, like other times this week, a good number of them come quite late in the day. The early evening sees Josh Brolin, Miles Teller and Jeff Bridges star in Only the Brave, a powerful tribute to the true story of an elite crew of firefighters who risked it all – and suffered huge losses – to protect a town from a historic wildfire. Elsewhere there’s Defence of the Realm, a political thriller starring Gabriel Byrne, Greta Scacchi, Denholm Elliott and a good number of familiar faces. It’s a showcase for Elliott, who stars as a veteran reporter who finally finds himself in a weighty story: exposing an MP as a possible spy. In the second technically-a-TV-movie of the week, Stephen King’s IT is no masterpiece, but it is does feature a truly brilliant performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown – quite literally the stuff of nightmares. Ava Gardner and James Mason (he’s popping up a lot lately) star as doomed lovers in the gorgeous mystery Pandora and the Flying Dutchman – a film that’s so cherished in the Catalonian town where it is was shot, that they erected a statue in Gardner’s honour. Today’s final film – in a dreadful time slot – is What Maisie Knew, an American indie that offers an alternative story of divorce and custody battles by focusing on the perspective of the child at the centre of it. Starring Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgaard and a wonderful Onata Aprile as Maisie, it’s poignant, wry, dark and more than a gimmick.


Friday 31

Babel - Sony Movies, 9pm
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) – C5, 10pm
Poltergeist (1982) – BBC1, 10.45pm

Another chance to see: Sabotage (Talking Pictures TV, 11.25am), Bugsy (Sony Classic, 9pm), Pitch Perfect (ITV2, 9pm)

A short and sweet end to the week here but a trio of delights nonetheless. Three is also the magic number in Babel, from Birdman and Amores Perros director Alejandro González Iñárritu, which follows three stories set in three continents that are all profoundly connected - including a tragic accident that befalls Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt's travelling couple.  For something a little more lighthearted, break out the Celine Dion CD, put on your pjs and grab a bottle of wine for an evening with Bridget Jones’ Diary, which is unbelievably and quite depressingly nearly twenty years old now. Renee Zellweger is perfect as the hopeless London singleton, whilst Hugh Grant and Colin Firth are clearly having a ball as her love interests. It’s endlessly quotable too, even if I can’t use many of them here in this blog…If thrills are more your thing, then you could do much worse than Tobe Hooper’s fun eighties horror Poltergeist. Written by none other than Steven Spielberg, it follows a family whose home becomes haunted by a host of demons…”They’re heeeeere.” It’ll make you want to look under your bed before you go to sleep…but it’s probably best that you don’t.