Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter David Mamet will set aside his typewriter to program an evening of his favorite classic films when Robert Osborne co-hosts the new installment of TCM’s widely celebrated Guest Programmer series on Thursday, March 22.
Once a month, the TCM movie showcase invites a celebrity to pick four of his or her favorite movies and discuss with Osborne what he or she has come to love about each chosen film. Mamet (“The Untouchables”, “Glengarry Glen Ross”) is the latest guest, and joins an eclectic list of past guest programmers that includes Bill Cosby, Hugh Hefner, Burt Reynolds, Isaac Mizrahi and Chevy Chase.
Beginning at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PST, Mamet will introduce several of his favorite movies, starting with Noel Coward’s war classic “In Which We Serve”. Coward, a noted writer, initially helmed this very British look at the days before the US joined the effort in WWII, but newcomer David Lean completed directing duties. Coward (“Cavalcade”, Brief Encounter”) was immensely popular in his day. Like Mamet, he started in theater and reached a high level of success before turning his creative efforts to the world of cinema. Also like Mamet, Coward was heralded for his deft handling of the English language. Mamet should have plenty of insight to offer on the relevance of an author working within a specific era. Just as Coward’s work best represents Britain and all things British during the WWII era, Mamet’s own voice has come to represent a very American style reflective of his own era.
Another favorite of Mamet’s is William Wellman’s “Island in the Sky”, with John Wayne. Director Wellman (“The Public Enemy”, “A Star is Born”) was a well-known aviator and flying fanatic. His love of the sky and the camaraderie of men who conquer insurmountable odds was a prominent theme throughout Wellman’s career (“Wings” – the first Best Picture winner, “The High and the Mighty”). Here, the most obvious Mamet comparison would likely be the representation of men and their relationship to one another, as well as their struggles, in “Glengarry Glen Ross”. It’s natural that, “Island in the Sky”, with its harrowing story of conflict and struggle, would draw Mamet’s admiration.
Although “Island in the Sky” is a lesser known John Wayne feature, it is a great adventure stocked with many great character actors recognizable from the golden age of cinema, such as Andy Devine (“Stagecoach”), Lloyd Nolan (“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”), and a young James Arness, long before his days as Marshal Matt Dillon in “Gunsmoke”. It’s sum may not be greater than it’s parts, but with such great talent devoted to this labor of love, “Island in the Sky” lives up to the measure of the men who created it.
Of course, the quality of these favorite picks is not the focus here. Rather, it is the conversation that is generated between these two classic film devotees, especially if you happen to be a fan of either man. Robert Osborne is undisputedly a well-informed authority of the moving image, and David Mamet is a recognizable artisan of his craft. Both men have much insight to offer about any film they wish to discuss, whether it be “Citizen Kane” or “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”. Even if you don’t catch all four movies, I highly recommend you don’t miss the discussions before, in between or after the films, particularly if you deem yourself a student of the art of filmmaking. Consider it an opportunity to be the fly on the wall, and if you’re smart you’ll take notes!
Also on Mamet’s short list of picks is Stanley Kubrick’s noir thriller, “The Killing” and French crime film, “Le Jour Se Leve.”