I WAS one of many critics who rated Good Night, and Good Luck (Saturday, 8.30pm, M Premiere) the best American film of 2005. Directed by George Clooney, it depicts the conflict between veteran US radio and television journalist Ed Murrow (David Strathairn) and notorious senator Joe McCarthy, anticommunist crusader and destroyer of innocent reputations during the years of the Cold War. Clooney, whose father was a TV journalist and who also plays Murrow’s co-producer Fred Friendly at CBS, beautifully evokes the world of US TV journalism in the 1950s. Some critics have claimed that the film overstates Murrow’s role in bringing about McCarthy’s downfall, but it remains a fascinating insight into the political hysteria of those times. Acting, script and direction are all beyond praise.
Frank Langella, who plays CBS chief executive William Paley in Clooney’s film, also can be seen in Robot & Frank (Sunday, 8.30pm, M Masterpiece), a first feature from American director Jake Schreier, set in the near future’’. Langella is Frank Wells, a retired jewel thief — a proud, lonely, rather grumpy old codger whose memory isn’t what it used to be. One day his son (James Marsden) arrives with a present for dad — a robot butler, programmed to cater to Frank’s every housekeeping need and prepare his meals. It’s not a sci-fi film but a wry and witty study of conflicted personalities and the cruel pressures of old age. The robot’s first thought is to give Frank a new interest in life and pretty soon the two are working together in Frank’s old field of expertise, safecracking and robbery. Their first success is to break into the local library (run by Susan Sarandon) and steal a valuable first edition.
Working from a screenplay by Christopher Ford, Schreier gives the film a lovely, wistful tone, tinged with sadness. And nothing is strained — least of all Langella’s gravely beautiful performance as the flawed hero.
The Stranger (Monday, 10pm, TCM) is one of Orson Welles’s least remembered films, lacking much of the flamboyance and visual daring of, say, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, but nonetheless a masterpiece. Edward G. Robertson plays Wilson, a Nazi hunter on the trail of a suspected war criminal complicit in the Jewish genocide, who has infiltrated a small New England town posing as a college professor calling himself Charles Rankin. Welles plays Kindler, a supremely chilling portrait of ruthlessness and amorality. As post-war classics go, The Stranger ranks with A Streetcar Named Desire (Saturday, 8.30pm, Fox Classics), in which Marlon Brando cemented his screen reputation as the brutish Stanley Kowalski in Elia Kazan’s great film of Tennessee Williams’s play. Vivien Leigh is neurotic Blanche DuBois, who falls foul of Stanley’s attentions.
(M) ★★★★ Saturday, 8.30pm, M Premiere
(M) ★★★ ✩ Sunday, 8.30pm, M Masterpiece
(M) ★★★★ Monday, 10pm, TCM
Frank Langella in