15 Classic Movies to Watch on TCM in March
1. “A Star is Born” (1954)
Why Should I Watch? If the Lady Gaga-starring remake from 2018 did anything, it was to show us the power of the “Star is Born” narrative – and if you’re going to watch any of them why not watch the best? Judy Garland stars in her what-should-have-been Oscar-winning role as Esther Blodgett, a woman whose rise to fame comes at the expense of her husband, Norman Main (played by James Mason). Outside of this being a career best for both Garland and Mason, the movie has an added power if you know anything about Garland’s history. The scene wherein Esther details her feelings about Norman’s alcoholism is a gut punch every time, especially as it’s easy to hear it as Garland talking about herself. Laugh, sing, and cry with “A Star is Born” on March 2.
2. “North By Northwest” (1959)
Why Should I Watch? One of TCM’s themes this month is on movie MacGuffins, wherein an item that should hold all the significance in a movie means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Alfred Hitchcock coined the term so it’s understandable that one night of the theme is focused solely on his features. “North By Northwest” has the most fascinating use of the MacGuffin as it isn’t an object, but a person. Cary Grant plays Roger O. Thornhill, a man presumed to be a secret agent. As he attempts to clear his name and avoid getting killed, he meets up with a femme fatale and one low-flying crop duster. Outside of this being from the Master of Suspense himself, this a must for Eva Marie Saint’s performance. As one of Hitchcock’s cool blondes there’s a layer of sexuality and confidence to her that is fantastic to see onscreen. “North By Northwest” airs March 5.
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3. “Westworld” (1973)
Why Should I Watch? For all the success of HBO’s television take on “Westworld” it’s easy to see how people forget the movie version from 1973. Directed by author Michael Crichton, the film sees two men visit a Wild West fantasy park on the same day the robots go rogue. The movie is definitely dated, especially in its depictions of women, but the “robots go wild” conceit still captivates, especially when your baddie is played by the utterly intimidating Yul Brynner. “Westworld” airs March 7.
4. “Light in the Piazza” (1962)
Why Should I Watch? “Light in the Piazza” was a new discovery for me last year in the wake of actress Olivia de Havilland’s passing last year. De Havilland plays a mother traveling with her daughter through Europe. Unfortunately, her desire to marry off her child brings up a dark secret no one wants to admit. The film is often brought up in discussions of disability for its portrayal of traumatic brain injuries and neurodivergent behavior. It’s definitely presented through a 1962 lens but it’s treated with such sensitivity. Yvette Mimieux, who plays De Havilland’s daughter, is so wonderful and considering how often disability narratives end negatively, this one has a positive ending that will leave you weeping. A beautiful, underrated gem. You can watch it on TCM March 9.
5. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967)
Why Should I Watch? One of the network’s main themes this month is reframing certain classics, discussing them in ways that acknowledge their past issues and contextualizing their relevance for today. (You can learn more about the theme via the video below). That being said, one feature definitely worth spending time with is Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Sidney Poitier stars in what should have been an Oscar-nominated performance as a man brought to visit his girlfriend’s white parents. If you think this sounds like the premise to “Get Out,” you’re on the right track. In 1967 the movie was aimed at those sitting on the fence with regards to the Civil Rights movement and it does focus heavily on the white parents, played by Spencer Tracy (in his final role) and Katharine Hepburn, but Poitier shines through regardless. It’s the perfect film to look at through the re-contextualized frame TCM will be discussing. It airs March 11.
6. “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944)
Why Should I Watch? Director Frank Capra is best known to audiences for the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but in 1942 he directed one of the funniest looks at death and murder you’ll find. “Arsenic and Old Lace” tells the story of Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) who, by accident, discovers his two kindly old aunts are murderers with dead bodies in their house. Comedy gold! Though the film wasn’t a big hit upon release — it was delayed two years after filming — it’s become one of the funniest black comedies out there. Grant’s facial expressions alone are worth watching, despite the actor claiming later he wasn’t a fan of the broad comedy. Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre as the baddies are also hilarious and terrifying, but it’s Josephine Hull and Jean Adair as Mortimer’s murderous aunts that steal the show. If you’re looking for a fun Halloween-esque movie in March, “Arsenic and Old Lace” is for you. Catch it on TCM March 14.
7. “Trouble in Paradise” (1932)
Why Should I Watch? There was never a more fun time in classic film history than the pre-Code era — the years before 1935 when the Production Code officially took effect and removed sex and salaciousness from movies. And there’s no greater example of the wild and wacky world of pre-Code like Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 comedy “Trouble in Paradise.” Herbert Marshall plays thief Gaston Monescu, who finds himself torn between his equally thieving girlfriend Lily (Miriam Hopkins) and wealthy heiress Madame Colet (Kay Francis). There’s an elegance and sophistication to Lubitsch’s films in general, but “Trouble in Paradise” adds an infusion of sensuality to the proceedings. Gaston and Lily are turned on by crime, as seen in a sexy dinner sequence where the two are stripping each other of stolen goods. The feature is also a great way to see both Hopkins and Francis’ comedic timing. Both actresses starred in melodramas but here they have such a deft hand with comedy. It’s a perfect movie that you can see on March 14.
8. “Stagecoach” (1939)
Why Should I Watch? Another classic being reframed during the month is John Ford’s legendary Western “Stagecoach.” Ford’s feature is a Western for those who don’t necessarily like the genre, as it has an emotionally complex and resonant story about how we perceive people. The story is simple: a group of people are traveling via stagecoach to a town called Lordsburg. Each of the travelers has their own reasons for going there, some hoping for a fresh start and others running from their pasts. The movie is most famously known for giving John Wayne the role that would turn him into a star, and in many ways, because Wayne’s persona wasn’t defined yet, it doesn’t feel like a “John Wayne” role. His relationship opposite Claire Trevor, who plays a sex worker trying to escape her reputation, is so romantic and sweet. It’s a feature that, by not strictly focusing on the stereotypes that define the Western, sticks with you long after it’s over. “Stagecoach” airs March 19.
9. “The Chase” (1966)
Why Should I Watch? Before director Arthur Penn gave us the immortal “Bonnie and Clyde,” he debuted the multilayered feature “The Chase,” the story of what happens to a small town when they discover local prisoner Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford) has escaped from jail. Each member of the town has a specific connection to Bubber, as well as a reason why they don’t want him to return. Right away the cast should make you sit up and take notice: Redford, Jane Fonda, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and Angie Dickinson, for starters, all acting off a Horton Foote stageplay and novel. If you’re a fan of ensemble-based character dramas from the late ’60s, this is perfection. Not to mention it’s easy to see how Penn would utilize this as a springboard for “Bonnie and Clyde” the year after. Go on “The Chase” March 19.
10. “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955)
Why Should I Watch? Full disclosure, I absolutely love “Bad Day at Black Rock,” so any time it’s on the TCM schedule I’m obligated to talk it up. Spencer Tracy stars as a one-armed man named John Macreedy who is dropped off in the town of Black Rock. His goal is to visit a man named Komoko who lives in the town, but he starts to discover the residents aren’t too keen on Macreedy dropping in on Komoko – or staying in Black Rock at all. At barely 90 minutes, this movie is intense from the minute Tracy’s Macreedy steps off the train. It’s obvious something has happened in the town, and the longer things go on the more your imagination starts to wonder at the horrors to be revealed. Add onto that the fact that Robert Ryan, everyone’s favorite bad guy performer, is overseeing everything in the town and it’s a recipe for trauma and a staunch condemnation of Asian-American violence that still, unfortunately, is relevant today. “Bad Day at Black Rock” airs March 20.
11. “Mildred Pierce” (1945)
Why Should I Watch? The news that Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce are re-teaming after their turn in the television version of “Mildred Pierce” gives us an excuse to talk up the 1945 original take on the James M. Cain novel. Joan Crawford, in the role that got her an Academy Award, plays the eponymous Mildred, a woman hoping to make something of herself in order to support her daughters. The problem is her eldest daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth) doesn’t believe anything Mildred does is good. The battle of wills between the pair culminates in tears, slaps, and murder. “Mildred Pierce” is a great beginning entry in the film noir genre, but it’s also a fantastic look at women’s roles in the 1940s. Pierce’s mother-love is all-consuming and says so much about the attempts women were making to navigate home, finances, and personal ambition. You can follow the journey of “Mildred Pierce” on March 23.
12. “King Kong” (1933)
Why Should I Watch? Whether you’ve seen it one or 100 times, there’s something so mesmerizing about Merian C. Cooper’s “King Kong.” The story of the great ape has certainly seen its fair share of writing and valid criticisms about its depiction of race. That aside, the main reason to watch “King Kong” these days is for the groundbreaking — in 1933, — stop-motion effects, as well as the creation of what we now know as blockbuster entertainment. “King Kong” creates such an entertaining sense of transportation that’s thrilling to see, even in 2021. You can watch “King Kong” on March 26.
13. “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979)
Why Should I Watch? If you want to watch an actor’s showcase you can’t do better than “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Dustin Hoffman plays Ted Kramer, a man oblivious to the concerns of his wife (Meryl Streep) until she leaves him, forcing him to raise his young son alone. There’s a lot to deconstruct with this movie, particularly as it regards Streep’s character, Joanna, and her decision to leave the family. The single father trope, up to this point, had been presented as happy, and aided by female characters in some form. Watching Hoffman’s Ted navigate raising a child and realizing how much of a learning curve it is did a lot, at the time, to emphasize the dynamics in parenting. Mostly, it’s a movie to watch for the powerhouse performances of both Hoffman and Streep, both of whom won Academy Awards for their performances. “Kramer vs. Kramer” airs March 28.
14. “The Thrill of It All” (1963)
Why Should I Watch? It would be terrible to not include a feature with TCM’s Star of the Month, Doris Day, and you have a ton of options from her Western musical “Calamity Jane” to her work with Rock Hudson in the likes of “Pillow Talk.” But one audiences might not know of, but should, is 1963’s “The Thrill of It All.” Directed by Norman Jewison with a script by the late Carl Reiner, the film follows Beverly and Gerald Boyer (Day and James Garner, respectively) and what happens when Beverly finds popularity as a television spokesperson. Outside of Day and Garner being an incredibly attractive pair, Reiner’s script does an amazing job of looking at gender dynamics. As Beverly’s success rises, Gerald starts to feel insecure about his own position as breadwinner. Comedy and hijinks ensue in a way that’s relatable and charming. “The Thrill of It All” airs on TCM March 29.
15. “Splendor in the Grass” (1961)
Why Should I Watch? What can be said about Elia Kazan’s look at teenage love that hasn’t already been said? Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty play two lovestruck Kansas teens living in the 1920s who struggle with their uncontrollable desire for each other. For Wood’s Deanie, she’s reminded that “good girls” don’t have sex, while Bud is being told to follow his dreams and not settle down and get married. The film is a dark and frustrating look at how parents instill morals in their children and how that often leads to shame and resentment as children start to explore sexuality. Wood and Beatty have such an electrifying chemistry with each other that i intensified by the looming threat of the Depression. “Splendor in the Grass” airs March 30.
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