WHICH Hollywood comedy has a cast of female characters called M’Lynn Eatenton, Truvy Jones, Ouiser Boudreaux, Annelle Dupuy Desoto, Clairee Belcher and Shelby Eatenton Latcherie? Yes, ma’am, it’s Steel Magnolias (Tuesday, 7.30pm, 7Two), the story of six southern women whose lives intersect in a beauty parlour in a small Louisiana town. The women are played, respectively, by Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis and Julia Roberts, and the ensemble cast is generally better than the script. But director Herbert Ross (working from a screenplay by Robert Harling, based on his play) delivers a fine, sudsy mixture of gossiping, bickering, hassling and coping — the kind of pre-feminist comedy in which women were assumed to inhabit a world of exclusively female concerns, somehow divorced from the wider world of men. I recommend that viewers follow it, if they can, with another look at The Help, last year’s fine film about the lives of southern women in the 1960s.
Julia Roberts’ fans can also see her in Stepmom (Tuesday, 7pm, 7Two), about the efforts of rival women to capture the hearts of two children from a broken marriage. The wellto-do suburban Harrisons are splitting up. Luke (Ed Harris) has fallen for Isabel (Roberts), a hotshot photographer in an advertising agency, and Susan Sarandon is the hard-working fulltime mum left to look after the kids. Director Chris Columbus gives us an accomplished tearjerker, a perceptive and often subtle exploration of modern parenthood. The children — an impish little fellow called Ben and the resentful teenage Annie — are brilliantly good.
Worth seeing another time is Funny Girl (Sunday, 3.30pm, Gem), the 1968 biopic of rising Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice, a role that won Barbra Streisand an Academy Award. Omar Sharif as her husband Nick Arnstein wasn’t even nominated. Director William Wyler also made the 1939 version of Wuthering Heights starring Laurence Olivier, but this was his only musical and it gave us songs such as Don’t Rain on My Parade and Second Hand Rose.
Downfall (Sunday, 9.45pm, SBS One) is Oliver Hirschbiegel’s gripping account of Hitler’s last days in his Berlin bunker. The story has been told before — notably in a 1981 television film with Anthony Hopkins and in G. W. Pabst’s 1956 film The Last Act — but this is surely the definitive version. It is based partly on the reminiscences of Traudl Junge, Hitler’s secretary, who died in 2002, two years before the film’s release. Junge, played by Alexandra Maria Lara, is an unrepentant Nazi to the end. But the film belongs to Bruno Ganz for his portrayal of the paranoid megalomaniac who blames everyone but himself for Germany’s collapse while his closest acolytes party in the bunker and soldiers drink themselves into oblivion. Downfall has inspired a million internet parodies (much, I would imagine, to the filmmakers dismay.), but it’s a great and horrifying film.