Duke Box #35: Our Guide to the Best Films on TV

Hi everyone,  

If you're feeling a bit musically-minded this week, you're in luck - from an MGM classic and reworked opera, to documentaries and a searing biopic, there's a fair bit to choose from. If that's not your bag, well, not to worry, because there's lots to look out for, like the trio of Hirokazu Koreeda films cropping up on Film 4 (including the sublime Shoplifters) and a host of thrillers coming in all shapes and sizes - including the masterful The Manchurian Candidate. And keep an eye on the repeats for a few reappearing gems!

(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 34

Saturday 14

Easter Parade (1948) – BBC2, 3.15pm
Good-Time Girl (1948) – Talking Pictures TV, 7.30pm
Journey’s End (2017) – BBC2, 9pm
The Exorcist III (1989) – The Horror Channel, 9pm
Fourth Protocol (1987) – Talking Pictures TV, 9.10pm
Ant-Man (2015) – BBC1, 10.20pm
As Good as it Gets (1997) – 5Star, 11.35pm
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – BBC2, 12.10am

Another chance to see: The Devil Wears Prada (C5, 11pm), Twelve O’Clock High (Sony Action, 12.15pm), Lonely are the Brave (ITV4, 2.10pm), Dragonheart (Film4, 4.50pm), Dirty Dancing (5Star, 5.10pm), Chocolat (Sony Movies, 6.30pm), The Lego Batman Movie (ITV2, 6.55pm), Babel (Sony Movies, 9pm), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (5Star, 9pm), Pale Rider (ITV4, 9pm), This Property is Condemned (Talking Pictures TV, 11.30pm), A Fistful of Dynamite (ITV4, 11.25pm)

There’s another big Technicolor MGM extravaganza in the afternoon with Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade, which sees Fred Astaire’s nightclub performer take a chance on Judy Garland’s naïve chorus girl. Another, much darker film from the same year crops up in the evening, as the harrowing Good-Time Girl sees Jean Kent star as a young girl in post-war England who finds herself smothered by misfortune and a victim of circumstance, eventually wrapped up in a world of crime. There are three very different options for 9pm viewing. An adaptation of R.C. Sherriff’s classic play and novel, WWI story Journey’s End follows a band of British officers waiting in a dugout, watching their leader struggle to keep it together. Seeing The Exorcist III might make you scoff a little but it’s a great horror that’s more than worthy of following on from The Exorcist and making up for the awful Exorcist II: The Heretic (sorry Richard Burton). George C. Scott stars as a police officer from the first film, this time investigating a series of demonic murders. The film contains one of the best scares in all of horror, let alone in the Exorcist universe. Fourth Protocol, meanwhile, is a Cold War spy thriller, which sees Michael Caine’s British Agent in a race against time to prevent a Russian nuclear detonation next to a US base on UK soil. A pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan pops up as a ruthless K.G.B. Agent, while Joanna Cassidy, Ned Beatty, Julian Glover and Michael Gough all co-star. There’s some fun Marvel in Ant-Man, starring Paul Rudd as an engineer-come-burglar who becomes a superhero that can shrink to ant-size but with super-strength, thanks to Michael Douglas’ wily inventor. It’s a hoot, doesn’t take itself too seriously and the cast, including Evangeline Lilly and a scene-stealing Michael Pena, are having a blast – and there’s a fantastic use of Thomas the Tank Engine. The multi-award-winning As Good As It Gets appears quite late on, starring Jack Nicholson as a misanthropic author, Helen Hunt as a single mother and Greg Kinnear as a gay artist who form an unlikely bond after the latter is assaulted. Nicholson and Hunt both scooped up Oscars and Golden Globes for their performances. Finally, and film of the day for me despite its late time slot, there’s The Manchurian Candidate, a tense, taut thriller about the Cold War, sleeper agents and a former POW who may or may not be compromised. Frank Sinatra stars as the army major suspicious of Laurence Harvey’s returning prisoner and the events surrounding their capture, but it’s Angela Lansbury who steals the film as Harvey’s mother – a chilling politician’s wife who is ruthlessly ambitious with a sinister preoccupation with her son.    


Sunday 15

633 Squadron (1964) – BBC2, 5.10pm
The Man Who Would Be King (1975) – Film4, 6.10pm
The Blob (1958) – The Horror Channel, 6.55pm
I Am Steve McQueen (2014) – Sky Arts, 12am

Another chance to see: Forty Guns (Sony Action, 12pm), Robin & Marian (Film4, 4pm), Shrek (ITV2, 5.05pm), Gladiator (5Star, 9pm), High Plains Drifter (ITV4, 9pm), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (E4, 9pm)

This Sunday teatime sees a fair few older films and stories make an appearance, beginning with war film 633 Squadron. It tells the fictional story of an RAF squadron tasked with blowing a German rocket fuel factory in Norway, weakening the Nazi assault on D-Day. While it might look a bit more old-fashioned now, the film still aptly soars in its impressive flight and plane sequences, showing why it’s proven so influential over the years. John Huston fought for years to adapt Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, eventually bringing it to the big screen with Sean Connery and Michael Caine in the leading roles. The duo star as two rogue ex-soldiers who adventure to the remote lands of Kafiristan, where the former is mistaken to be a god. It’s only a matter of time before the deception goes to their heads and the ruse begins to fall apart…Rather wonderfully, The Horror Channel is screening the original version of The Blob and I implore you not to be put off by that title. Sure, the film was second-billed in a B-movie double feature, but it’s stood the test of time pretty well, while it’s an early, influential champion of the horror trope of teens (led here by Steve McQueen!) taking on the monster. And boy is there a chilling final line. If you’re in the mood for more McQueen, well you’re in luck, because there’s documentary I Am Steve McQueen on at midnight, which brings the legacy of the actor to life through interviews with some of his closest friends and co-workers, to those inspired by him.


Monday 16

Two Thousand Women (1944) – Film4, 3.05pm
The Bourne Identity (2002) – ITV4, 9pm
Shoplifters (2016) – Film4, 11.10pm
Like Father, Like Son (2013) – Film4, 1.30am

Another chance to see: Charade (Talking Pictures TV, 10.20am), The Big Steal (Sony Action, 11.40am), Stranger Than Fiction (Sony Movies, 4.45pm), Breaker Morant (Sony Action, 5pm), Whistle Down the Wind (Talking Pictures TV, 6.30pm), Eye in the Sky (Film4, 7pm), The Nice Guys (ITv4, 11.20pm)

It’s all about the Hirokazu Koreeda double-bill on Film4 tonight. The Palme d’Or winning Shoplifters appears first – a beautiful, understated and richly rewarding story of an impoverished family of small-time crooks who find a child and take her in. The film subtly casts its eye on society and perseverance. If it hadn’t been up against Roma it could well have swept the Best Foreign Language Film at the awards shows too. Family is such a key theme for Koreeda (think Our Little Sister) and Like Father, Like Son is no different, telling the story of a workaholic businessman who learns that his biological son was switched with another at birth. If you love Koreeda’s powerful, thought-provoking stories, keep an eye out for I Wish on Tuesday night as well.  Elsewhere during the day there’s WWII story Two Thousand Women, about, well, 2000 women imprisoned in a French chateau, trying to get by as they secretly conceal two British airmen who they plan to help escape, and action thriller The Bourne Identity, which sees Matt Damon’s bullet-riddled man wake up with amnesia and a whole set of dangerous skills, setting off on a desperate search to discover who he is before he’s assassinated. Adapted from Robert Ludlum’s novel, it’s a rip-roaring film that’s smart and thrilling, with a supporting cast including Franka Potente, Chris Cooper and Brian Cox.  


Tuesday 17

Cast a Dark Shadow (1955) – Paramount, 1.20pm
Blade (1998) – 5Star, 9pm
I Wish (2011) – Film4, 12.45am
Happy as Lazzaro (2018) – C4, 2.05am

Another chance to see: The Spy in Black (Film4, 11am), The Man Who Could Work Miracles (Sony Action, 12.15pm), Good Time Girl (Talking Pictures TV, 7.25pm), Casino Royale (ITV4, 9pm), Blade Runner 2049 (ITV4, 11.55pm)

There’s a wee touch of the Bluebeard to the British noir Cast a Dark Shadow, which sees Dirk Bogarde’s caddish fortune-hunter who plans on killing his rich wives to inherit their wealth. It’s often lauded as Margaret Lockwood’s finest work, earning her a BAFTA nomination– a shame then that following a series of flops her prominent name on the poster put people off and resulted in her leaving films alone for another two decades. Wesley Snipes stars as the half-vampire/half-mortal man tasked with protecting humans (while being mentored by Kris Kristofferson!) in pounding comic book adaptation Blade. It might not be mad on plot, but its action is on point and you can tell that Snipes loves his character. After midnight, meanwhile, there are a couple of excellent world cinema picks to enjoy, with Koreeda’s aforementioned I Wish and Italian drama Happy as Lazzaro. The former follows two young brothers, separated from each other due to their parents’ divorce, who hear a rumour that two bullet trains passing at top speed will produce a wish-granting miracle. In true Koreeda style, it balances the sentimental and emotional with an undercurrent of realism and the innocence of children – a magical combination. Happy as Lazzaro also delves into fantasy, although a bit more literally, in its story of a kind young farmworker builds a friendship with the son of the boss who exploits him. That’s really the first stepping stone in a story that’s a little bit allegorical and a little bit of social commentary, taking the viewers on a dazzling and twisting journey through friendship and the hope for progress.  


Wednesday 18

Oh…Rosalinda!! (1955) – Talking Pictures TV, 2.30pm
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010) – BBCFour, 10pm

Another chance to see: Blanche Fury (Film4, 11am), This Gun for Hire (Sony Action, 11.30am), The Post (Film4, 9pm), Pale Rider (ITV4, 10pm)

The big ticket today features Andy Serkis in a stupendous, BAFTA-nominated performance as cult-punk icon Ian Drury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Drury takes you on a journey (not dissimilarly to his role in stage play Road), from how he contracted polio as a child, to his shaping of the British punk scene. Serkis is magical, but the supporting cast is equally potent, with Olivia Williams, Naomie Harris, Toby Jones and more making appearances. There’s a different kind of music happening in the afternoon’s Oh…Rosalinda!!, a cinematic adaptation of the classic opera Die Fledermaus, courtesy of director maestros Powell and Pressburger. Anthony Quayle and Michael Redgrave star in this post-war Vienna set romp.


Thursday 19

I Am Johnny Cash – Sky Arts, 10pm

Another chance to see: Hour of the Gun (Paramount, 12.10pm), The Professionals (Film4, 4.35pm), Wonder (Film4, 6.45pm), I See a Dark Stranger (Talking Pictures TV, 6.45pm), Easter Parade (BBCFour, 8pm), The Talented Mr Ripley (5Star, 9pm), The Bodyguard (C5, 11pm), The Rocky Horror Show (Talking Pictures TV, 11.20pm), Hounds of Love (Film4, 1.15pm), Nosferatu, the Vampyre (Talking Pictures TV, 1.20am)

The great thing about seeing a title like I Am Johnny Cash popping up in the listings is the songs that immediately start playing in your head (it was ‘The Man Comes Around’ for me). This documentary takes a close look at the iconic musician’s legacy, featuring commentary from loved ones, an exploration of his creativity and some classic concert footage. There are also some tempting picks on catch up, including a trio of late night treats that wouldn’t look out of place for Halloween. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, the Vampyre is an intriguing reimagining of F. W. Murnau’s cheeky take on a classic vampire.


Friday 20

The Million Pound Note – Film4, 12.50pm
A League of Their Own – Sony Movies, 4.30pm

Another chance to see: The Violent Men (Film4, 2.40pm), Robin & Marian (Film4, 4.40pm), A Fistful of Dollars (C5, 9pm), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (E4, 9pm), The Passenger (Talking Pictures TV, 12am)

There’s social satire abounds in the lunchtime screening of British comedy The Million Pound Note, a Mark Twain adaptation that’s a sort of precursor to hit eighties comedy Trading Places. Gregory Peck stars as a destitute American sailor caught in the middle of two wealthy brothers’ bet about whether simply possessing a million-pound note enables its owner to get what he needs without actually spending it. Then in the afternoon there’s Penny Marshall’s lovely baseball comedy A League of Their Own – a real comfort film of mine. Inspired by the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League set up during WWII, it’s a story packed with sparkling wit, joy, sports and emotion and an exciting ensemble that includes Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Lori Petty, Madonna, David Strathairn and more. Fun Fact #1: Madonna’s rather wonderful ‘This Used to Be My Playground’ was written as the theme for the film and released to promote, but for contractual reasons, couldn’t actually be included on the film’s soundtrack. Fun Fact #2: the comedy graced our big screen as a Mystery Film back in 2019. Finally, I just want to highlight there’s another chance to see Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger, featuring Jack Nicholson as a war correspondent who takes the identity of a dead arms dealer. Midnight isn’t a great time for it but it’s not on TV all that often.