How to get Turner Classic Movies in time to watch the film festival

It’s almost time for the TCM Classic Film Festival and you’re a bit out of sorts because you don’t have Turner Classic Movies to watch the festival at home. Maybe you just moved, switched services or cut the cord: the bottom line is that you need to watch TCM fast!

Relax – you’ve got options and they are quicker and easier than you think.

First off: you can’t get TCM for free. Sorry. Nor is there a standalone app you can buy. The Watch TCM app is linked to paid accounts with a cable provider or streaming service that provides TCM.

Basically here are your choices to watch TCM:

  • An account with either a cable or satellite provider.
  • A Live TV streaming service.

What’s the difference? A cable or satellite provider – think Spectrum, Comcast, X-Finity, DirecTV or Dish – is the traditional way to watch live television through a cable box or satellite dish. You can find TCM on most of these services, although it often comes on a higher tier at a higher price.

A Live TV streaming service is an app that lets you watch live television like you would with cable. It is not, however the same as an on-demand streaming service such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Apple TV+ where you pick what you want to watch from a library without the option for live TV. (This is where it should be noted that additional programming for the TCM Classic Film Festival will also be available to watch on the streaming service HBO Max, although you won’t be able to watch TCM live.)

The bonus: you don’t need to rent equipment. Instead, you most likely already have everything you need to get started: an internet connection plus a Smart TV or a device like Roku, Amazon Firestick or Apple TV. If you can use Netflix, you can use this.

Live TV streaming services that offer TCM include AT&T TV, Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV and Youtube TV. Full channel lineups, packages and prices are on all of their websites. As soon as you sign up online, you have service. Service is month-to-month so if you don’t like it, you can switch to another without penalty. If local channels are important to you, be sure to see what these services offer in your area.

GETTING STARTED

Cable/satellite

If you have cable or a dish but don’t get TCM, call to see if you can get it on another package. Most providers let you change tiers without an extra fee and they can do it on the phone for instant TCM. If you want to get cable or satellite, do an internet search to see what is available in your area. I won’t list prices because services and packages vary greatly depending on where you live and if you package TV with other services.

Streaming

This may be the easiest way to get TCM. Here are four available services.

Sling TV is the least expensive service that offers TCM. First you have to purchase one of Sling’s two basic packages: Orange Sling (recommended for sports/entertainment) or Blue (entertainment/news). Each is $35 regularly. This is important: To get TCM, you’ll need to add the “Hollywood Extra” package for $6 a month. (It has eight channels including SundanceTV, Reelz, StartTV, GRIT, Cinemoi.) The total cost, then, for Sling Blue and “Hollywood Extra” would be $41 with 50 hours of free DVR storage. Look for free trials and discounts. (If you’re lucky, you may still be able to get the $10 for the first month special.) Sling almost always offers free gifts by prepaying for two or more months such as getting a free TV antenna.

AT&T TV is the new live TV streaming service from AT&T (it replaces ATT U-Verse). TCM is available on all three packages starting with the “Entertainment” package that comes with more than 65 channels and 20 hours of free Cloud DVR service to record that late-night programming. Cost starts at $69.99 a month.

Hulu + Live TV. Packages start at $64.99 with TCM and 50 hours of free Cloud DVR storage. Current offer is a free one-week trial. Be sure to look at this live streaming option, not the regular Hulu streaming service.

YouTube TV. Packages start at $64.99 with TCM and come with unlimited DVR storage.

All of these options are constantly changing but this will give you a start. I’m not a tech expert, but I’ve done a lot of research looking for options for myself. I hope this is helpful.

TO WATCH TCMFF

The TCM Classic Film Festival starts at 8 p.m. May 6 on both TCM and HBO Max.

For the full schedule of live festival programming on TCM, visit filmfestival.tcm.com/schedule.

For the full list of on-demand festival programming on HBO Max, visit filmfestival.tcm.com/on-hbomax.

For the regular TCM website, visit tcm.com.

When ‘Murder, She Wrote’ brilliantly became a sequel to a 1949 film

Television sleuth Jessica Fletcher solved a remarkable number of mysteries throughout the 12-year run of “Murder, She Wrote.”

During the 264 episodes and four movies, the mystery writer – eternally personified by the legendary Angela Lansbury – dealt with greed, infidelity, theft, poisonings, curses, voodoo and ghosts during hundreds of investigations.

Yet I find the most impressive case was in the inventive “The Days Dwindle Down” (Season 3, Episode 21) in which Jessica is asked to solve a decades-old murder that comes with a unique twist. The episode is a “sequel” to the real 1949 detective film “Strange Bargain.”

That ingenious idea of basing an episode off a classic film makes “The Days Dwindle Down” worthy to be in the 7th annual “Favourite TV Episode” blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote from his blog, “A Shroud of Thoughts.”

Let’s break it down into three important parts: how the idea came to be, the film and how it all came together on “Murder, She Wrote.”

THE IDEA

Although “Murder, She Wrote” was only in its third season at the time, the producers were already looking for “a new way to tell a story,” according to a 1987 interview with Executive Producer Peter Fischer in the Los Angeles Times. The show had also gained a reputation for its notable collection of guest stars from the classic film era, thanks to their relationships with star Angela Lansbury.

Those two factors – new storytelling and classic Hollywood – combined to give Fischer an idea. “If only I could find an old movie where everyone was still around, then we could solve the case 30 years later,” he said in the article.

Fischer started by sifting through hundreds of films. He needed a mystery that Jessica Fletcher could solve plus living cast members from the film who would be willing to reprise their roles year later. It was a time-consuming task that would take nearly a year until Fischer found “Strange Bargain.”

The film had a tidy conclusion that would have to be ignored so Jessica would have a mystery to solve, but everything else was there including the three main stars – Martha Scott, Jeffrey Lynn and Harry Morgan.

Jeffrey Lynn, left, Martha Scott and Harry Morgan in the film “Strange Bargain.”

From there, a few characters were added or had their storylines extended to provide more details for Jessica. Original film clips and new black and white footage told the original story in flashbacks and did it so well that you don’t need to watch the movie to understand the episode. Still, I recommend seeing “Strange Bargain” simply because it’s an easy to watch film and you’ll be more invested in the Wilson family, the main protagonists.

THE MOVIE

“Strange Bargain” certainly lives up to its title. In fact, the plot borders on being so ludicrous – a despondent man will pay an employee to make his suicide look like a murder – that it almost overshadows the fact that the film is a solid mystery yarn.

Sam Wilson (played by Jeffrey Lynn) is a loving father and husband who is having trouble making ends meet in his job as an assistant bookkeeper. When he asks his boss, Malcolm Jarvis (Richard Gaines), for a raise, he’s shocked to learn he’s being fired after 12 years.

Not only is the firm in bad shape, the once wealthy Jarvis is broke. As an indication of Sam’s character, he addresses his boss as “sir “and tries to comfort him (“The firm will come back, Mr. Jarvis”), despite his own plight.

As it turns out, the job loss isn’t the worst of it.

Sam (Jeffrey Lynn), left, is asked by his boss Malcolm Jarvis (Richard Gaines) to join him in a “Strange Bargain” in the 1949 film.

The desperate Jarvis has concocted the strange bargain of the title. He has taken out extra life insurance and plans to kill himself to help his wife and son financially. Since a suicide nullifies the insurance payout, Jarvis asks Sam to make it look like a robbery; in return, Jarvis will pay him his last $10,000. Sam is horrified and steadfastly refuses while pleading with Jarvis not to kill himself.

But Jarvis moves forward with his plan. Sam tries to stop him but he’s too late. Jarvis is dead and a note addressed to Sam, plus the money and the gun are nearby. Rattled and confused, Sam takes the gun and leaves, then decides to shoot two bullets through the window as Jarvis had asked him to do.

Sam Wilson destroyed this note left by Malcolm Jarvis that would have cleared him of wrongdoing in “Strange Bargain.”

Back home, Sam finds blood on his hands, hat and the steering wheel and desperately tries to wash it off. He also burns the note from Jarvis – in retrospect, the only proof that he isn’t a murderer.

Once the dogged Lt. Richard Webb (Harry Morgan) starts his investigation and makes it known that something isn’t right, the film shifts into a taut thriller of whether the likable Sam will take the fall for a murder he didn’t commit.

The Wilsons (played by Martha Scott and Jeffrey Lynn) offer their condolences to young Sydney (Raymond Roe) over the death of his father in “Strange Bargain.” In the “Murder, She Wrote” episode, the adult Sydney is played by Richard Beymer.

The script by Lillie Hayward is cunning in how it unnerves Sam by forcing him to return to the scene of the death and having others – including his wife and son – talk incessantly about the investigation. They do it so often, it almost works as a comedy, except the viewer can see the toll it’s taking on Sam.

“They won’t leave a stone unturned until they find that murderer,” his wife, Georgia (Martha Scott), tells him. “Lt. Webb always gets his man,” says his idolizing son.

The film’s ending is a solid surprise and works well, but since J.B. Fletcher needed a mystery to solve, you’ll have to put the movie’s last few minutes in the back of your mind before watching its sequel on “Murder, She Wrote.”

THE TV EPISODE

In “The Days Dwindle Down,” Jessica is being wooed by yet another Hollywood hotshot. He’s not there to discuss her latest novel “The Stain on the Stairs,” no, this guy sees dollar signs in the stack of newspaper clippings he’s collected about Jessica’s detective skills with headlines like “Writer rights wrong.”

“This real-life sleuth action will play like a Beatles’ reunion,” he tells “Jessie.” 

His big money-making idea is a new talk show starring Jessica and the victims of the murders she has solved. After explaining the difficulty in booking the victims to him (ahem), Jessica also says she doesn’t want to profit off the misfortunes of others.

The conversation is overheard by a sad-looking hotel employee who later visits Jessica. She is Georgia, Sam’s wife (again played by Martha Scott), who pleads with Jessica to her clear her husband’s name. Sam has just been released from jail after serving a 30-year sentence for a murder she swears he didn’t commit, but he’s a shell of himself. “He was broken, just broken. He sits there and broods and waits to die,” Georgia says. “I don’t want vengeance, or money or publicity. All I want is us, in whatever time we left, to have a life together.”

Her words echo the refrain of “September Song,” the often recorded American standard (think Frank Sinatra) where the episode gets its title: “Oh, the days dwindle down/To a precious few/September, November. And these few precious days/I’ll spend with you.”

Georgia (Martha Scott, center) brings Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) to meet her husband Sam (Jeffrey Lynn) who has been released after serving 30 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit. Note the vintage black and white photo of Lynn on the table in the background.

When Georgia pleads “Please, Mrs. Fletcher,” we know where this is going: Jessica never turns down a “Please, Mrs. Fletcher.”

(During this scene watch actress Angela Lansbury whose eyes water up during Martha Scott’s performance in what feels like a real reaction, not part of the script.)

Deeply touched by Georgia’s unwavering belief in Sam, Jessica agrees to speak to him. As he tells his story, she quickly finds holes in the case. Why would the police believe the killer shot bullets from outside the home after he killed Jarvis, thereby drawing unnecessary attention to himself? Why didn’t the police find the gun? And what about the missing police files?

Sam and Georgia’s son, Rod (Art Hindle), became a police officer in hopes of clearing his father and has collected an impressive amount of information that he gives to Jessica. There’s enough to convince her that things don’t add up.

Plus Jessica asks the question: What if it wasn’t a suicide, what if Jarvis was murdered?

Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), left, tracks down Miss Vantay (played in the episode by June Havoc) who is ready to dish the gossip.

Jessica and Rod work together and find new suspects. There’s the son, Sydney Jarvis (Richard Beymer), who lies about his mother being dead. Jarvis’ secretary Miss Vantay (played here by June Havoc) who loves to gossip but is clearly hiding something. The new character of Dorothy Hearne Davis (Susan Strasberg), who runs the company now, isn’t telling the truth about her late grandfather, one of the original suspects.

Then there’s the person who takes a shot at Jessica, using the same gun that killed Jarvis. How is that possible if Sam threw the gun in the ocean? Jessica figures it out.

As secrets are spilled, it’s sadly revealed that people had information that could have kept Sam out of jail.

Even as an adult, Sydney (Richard Beymer) is still caught between his parents Edna and Malcolm Jarvis, as cleverly depicted in this scene from “Murder, She Wrote.”

There are many reasons why this episode works on its own and as a sequel to the film. Much of that credit goes to writer William Gerson whose clever work adds mystery by taking us deeper into minor characters and elaborates on moments in the film that were red herrings or never fully explained. As an example, Miss Vantay (played by Betty Underwood in the film) is only shown briefly, but she clearly had it out for Sam. “I don’t know what makes me more nervous, seeing the boss or getting by his secretary,” Sam tells Jessica, making the viewer wonder what was her true role.

The use of phrases that would have been popular in the 1940s is delightful and adds to the time capsule feel of the episode such as when Lt. Webb says he thought Miss Vantay was “playing bed sheet bingo with the boss.”

I appreciate the respect shown in the episode for the original film as it adds new elements but still effectively ties both works together. “The Years Dwindle Down” is not only one of the most entertaining episodes of “Murder, She Wrote,” it is one of the cleverest episodes of television you’ll ever see.

Debbie Zip, pictured with Art Hindle, appears in the 1987 “Murder, She Wrote” episode “The Days Dwindle Down.” The following year, Zipp would start her recurring role as Donna Mayberry.

TRIVIA

  • Eagle-eyed “Murder, She Wrote” fans will recognize Debbie Zipp as Rod’s pregnant wife. In Season 4, she started her recurring role on the series as Donna Mayberry, the girlfriend and future wife Grady Fletcher (Michael Horton), Jessica’s nephew. Zipp and Grady are married in real life.
  • That’s Gloria Stuart taking over the role of Edna Jarvis, the wife of the dead Mr. Jarvis, for the TV show. In the film, Edna was played by Katherine Emery.

‘Pet Set’ is an irresistible mix of Betty White, animals and celebrities

Betty White is kneeling on the ground next to a 550-pound lion named Zamba. She’s brushing his mane, fluffing it up and teasing the top. When he rolls over, she continues brushing, then rubbing his belly with a big smile on her face.

It was mesmerizing to watch this 50-year-old footage from “Betty White’s Pet Set,” as the petite Betty and the enormous Zamba played together. It wasn’t the only time Betty would get close to a dangerous animal on the show – she also sat with a 250-pound leopard, let a Bengal tiger lick her face and was overrun by puppies.

Betty’s lifelong love of animals gives her a natural ease that’s evident on the show, now available in a new 50th anniversary DVD set from MPI Video, where she interacted with seemingly the entire animal kingdom.

Debuting in 1971, the 39-episode series had been unseen for decades leading it to be called the “lost Betty White series.” Consider this DVD set, then, a treasure found.

It’s not only a great series for those who love Betty and animals, but also for fans of classic television and movies since it has an impressive guest list of such stars as Doris Day, Mary Tyler Moore (Moore and her poodles are pictured at the top of this story), Rod Serling, Johnny Mathis, Donald O’Connor, Burt Reynolds, Vincent Price and Jimmy and Gloria Stewart. (The guest for each episode is clearly labeled in the packaging and in the DVD menu, allowing you to pick episodes with your favorite celebrities if you like.)

“If I haven’t told you already, I will now. ‘The Pet Set’ is one of my favorite shows. I’m thrilled it’s going to be seen again after all these years,” Betty said in a release about this new home video of the series she created and produced with her husband Allen Ludden.

Each 22-minute episode has a celebrity guest and their pet plus related segments with animals both on and off the set. While there are the expected adorable animal babies, you’ll also meet elephants, snakes, vultures, anteaters and more.

And this isn’t a show where the expert is the only one handling the animals, Betty is right there holding them, putting her arm out for a bird to sit on, rubbing them in their sweet spot. Guests can pet and hold the animals to their comfort level, which also provides moments of unintentional laughter.

Many of the animals come from regular guest Ralph Helfer (who gives off a Robert Foxworth vibe), the founder of Africa U.S.A. who worked with and trained many animals (Gentle Ben, Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion) from television and movies (“Daktari,” “Bonanza”).

Giving overdue credit to character actor Richard Deacon

Uncredited. What a perfect word to succinctly sum up the career of character actor Richard Deacon.

Not only is his impressively extensive resume filled with “uncredited” roles, Deacon also never received the credit due from his long body of work that included roles on some of the best-loved classic TV series including the iconic “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

Although he had a lengthy career, Richard Deacon is best known as part of the great cast in “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” It starred, from left, Morey Amsterdam, Deacon, Dick Van Dyke, Rose Marie and Mary Tyler Moore.

Instead, he’s typecast in our memories as a striking visual: tall (6-1), bald, bespectacled. Yet even when he’s in the background in one of those uncredited roles, Richard Deacon stands out.

Deacon deserves our respect and attention and that’s why I chose to write about him for the 9th annual “What a Character” blogathon hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club. You can read all of the other entries by going to those blo

Deacon’s first film role was as an MP in the sci-fi yarn “Invaders from Mars.” That was 1953 and over the next seven years he would be in at least 40 movies of various genres (and on as many TV shows). Most roles were “uncredited” so you won’t find him in the credits, and often his character is referred to generically like desk clerk, salesman, hotel manager, pawn broker, banker.

Let’s think about those just those seven years to get a full appreciation for Deacon and his remarkable perseverance. He must have had a strong lack of ego and, I would bet, a deep passion for his craft to work so hard, for so long without being labeled “a star.”

A handy guide to nearly 100 horror films airing on TCM in October

It’s our time, horror movie fans.

Once again, Turner Classic Movies has curated a made-to-order fright fest with a schedule of nearly 100 horror films throughout October.

Friday evenings are devoted exclusively to scary movies starting Oct. 2 when horror author David J. Skal, whose new book with TCM is “Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond,” introduces four films starting at 8 p.m.

Those four movies and many others in the book will be shown on TCM in October including “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Mystery of the Wax Museum,” “Them!” and “The Wolf Man.”

TCM’s Star of the Month (#sotm) is horror great Peter Cushing, whose films will be featured in prime-time every Monday night in October. Though the first two weeks (Oct. 5 and 12) focus on Cushing’s early roles and non-horror work, Oct. 19 is devoted to his Hammer films  – including three Frankenstein movies – and Oct. 26 is all horror including two Dracula films.

Oct. 14 is Tod Browning Day with seven of his films programmed including three with Lon Chaney. The month culminates in around-the-clock horror films on Oct. 30 and 31.

Here is the list of films to help you plan your viewing and DVR schedule. Continue reading “A handy guide to nearly 100 horror films airing on TCM in October”

TCM and ‘Women Make Film’: an astonishing trip through movie history

It’s only 3 minutes into the documentary “Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema,” and I’m hooked from the first movie clip.

Though a word isn’t spoken in it, much is communicated. A small circular light pierces the dark screen as a young man in World War II Germany is looking for his love. Another light appears, and the circles meet, like “two moons.” The two young lovers, tears in their eyes, finally see each other, but then hastily shut off their lights in fear of approaching soldiers.

The scene is from “We Were Young,” a 1961 film by Bulgarian director Binka Zhelyazkova and it’s so captivating I wrote down the title and circled it multiple times as a reminder that I must see this film.

A screenshot of a striking scene from “We Were Young” in which a young woman and man  have just a moment to silently gaze at each other on a street in World War II Germany.

I’ve since watched the two-minute clip multiple times and remain entranced.

There are countless moments like that throughout the 14-part film by Mark Cousins, the filmmaker, author and former film critic who previously made the epic 2011 documentary “The Story of Film: An Odyssey.”

Like that extensive documentary, “Women Make Film” is well worth your time especially as it’s presented in a three-month immersive programming initiative by Turner Classic Movies focusing on female filmmakers.

TCM will present a new 60-minute episode of the documentary at 8 p.m. each Tuesday starting Sept. 1, followed that evening by seven movies directed by women. It continues weekly to Dec. 1.

Continue reading “TCM and ‘Women Make Film’: an astonishing trip through movie history”

TCM unleashes ghosts, witches, curses and creatures in a feast of October horror films

Movies teach us lessons.

Like think twice before accepting an invitation to stay overnight in a mansion. Don’t visit an English village – especially in the 17th century. If an inheritance involves an old house or meeting relatives for the first time,  you might want to politely decline. And Dracula is never really dead.

Those are some of the recurring themes in the more than 70 horror films being aired in October by Turner Classic Movies.

TCM’s annual October scarefest returns with a night of themed horror movies every Thursday in October: “Betwitched” is the theme on Oct. 3, “Black Magic” on Oct. 10, “Ghost Stories” on Oct. 17, “The Undead” on Oct. 24 and “Horror Classics” on Oct. 31.

Friday nights are devoted to the TCM Monster of the Month, Godzilla (who brings along a few friends). You’ll find other horror films sprinkled throughout the schedule, too, with a horror marathon starting at 8 p.m. Oct. 30 and concluding in royal fashion with “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” at 6:45 a.m. Nov. 1.

This is what we have to look forward to: at least 10 movies from Hammer Film Productions; 8 movies starring Christopher Lee; 6 films each that  feature Vincent Price and Peter Cushing; 4 with Karloff and 3 films directed by Roger Corman. Multiple movies carry the names of Barbara Shelley, Val Lewton, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Matheson and American International Pictures (AIP), another favorite studio for horror fans.

Continue reading “TCM unleashes ghosts, witches, curses and creatures in a feast of October horror films”

Chaney, Lee, Karloff, Price: TCM sets wonderfully horrific lineup for October

Horror fans rejoice! Turner Classic Movies has once again packed a horrific lineup for October programming including a creature of the month, a night devoted to ghostly encounters and 200 years of Frankenstein.

Plus, there’s  not one star of the month but four as TCM showcases four greats of the horror genre. Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price will each have a Wednesday night devoted to them in October. The series starts at 8 p.m. Oct. 3 with Chaney and includes five of his silent films.

The misunderstood Mummy is the designated creature of the month, earning a slot every Sunday night starting at 8 p.m. The schedule includes some cool Universal films in the “Kharis” series on Oct. 7 and a trio of mummy films with a sense of humor on Oct. 14.

The Bowery Boys even get in on the action with a night of horror films starting at 8 p.m. Oct. 30.

Here’s a look at the schedule broken down by topics with some descriptions:

The Mummy

Oct. 7

8 p.m. “The Mummy’s Hand” (1940). Depending on your point of view, this may or may not be a sequel to the Universal original. It is the first in a series with a mummy named Kharis. Continue reading “Chaney, Lee, Karloff, Price: TCM sets wonderfully horrific lineup for October”