The 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: My Top Five Picks For Rod Taylor’s Tribute

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I’m so happy to be blogging once again for you all, and I couldn’t have found a better time to get back into the swing of things than during my favorite time of the year on my favorite channel: Turner Classic Movies’ Summer Under the Stars! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Turner Classic Movies, every year Summer Under the Stars honors a different classic film star during each day in August by showing a twenty-four hour marathon of their films. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed this year as my online film class as well as my trip to Virginia last week got in the way of my enjoyment of TCM’s thoughtful programming. In fact, it took quite a lot of deliberation when it came to choosing which stars I would write about this year for Kristen of Journeys In Classic Film’s always incredible Summer Under the Stars Blogathon (as I wrote not one but three articles for the blogathon last year), but finally I decided to downsize a bit due to time constraints and write about two of my favorite Taylors: the always powerful yet underrated performer Rod Taylor, and one of the most glamorous screen presences of all time, the larger than life Elizabeth Taylor. I’d like to thank Kristen first and foremost for always making this blogathon among my favorite ever to write for, and without further ado, keep reading for my top five recommended films that TCM will be showing today in honor of Rod Taylor and make sure to come back on August 31st to read about my top five picks for Elizabeth Taylor!

5. The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) on 10am EST

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Rod Taylor and Doris Day in a publicity still for The Glass Bottom Boat (1966).

I’ll admit that this is one of the films on my list that I still haven’t seen, but am truly excited to catch today during what promises to be an enthralling marathon honoring Rod Taylor. Our star of the day plays Bruce Templeton, the head of an aerospace research laboratory who mistakenly believes that Jennifer Nelson (Doris Day), his employee whose affection he is trying to win, is a Russian spy. It’s the second of two films that Taylor made with Day, which I was slightly stunned to find out considering the fact that she was eight years his senior, which of course wouldn’t be uncommon today but certainly would’ve been at the time. Besides that, the two made their names in entirely different genres, and I would normally assume that Doris wouldn’t be up for the adventure that always filled Rod Taylor’s pictures from start to finish, just as Rod wouldn’t be up for the romance or comedy that was often the focus of Doris Day’s movies. But they seem to make it work in The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), which expertly combines adventure, romance, comedy, espionage, aeronautics, and mermaids of all things in a concoction that could only be helmed by Frank Tashlin, an animator turned director who often produced pictures with plots so wild that they could only be found in cartoons. So many formidable personalities and subjects are on full display in The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) that I’m really wondering how it will all fit within its two-hour running time, but if you’re tuning in early to the salute to Rod Taylor like I am, I’m sure we’ll find out together!

4. Sunday in New York (1963) on TCM at 6pm EST

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Rod Taylor and Jane Fonda on the set of Sunday in New York (1963).

Here we have Rod Taylor shining in yet another romantic comedy, this one about Adam Tyler (Cliff Robertson), a womanizing airline pilot, and his sister Eileen (Jane Fonda) who visits him over the weekend in hopes that he will lift her spirits after breaking up with her boyfriend Russ Wilson (Robert Culp). Eileen admits to her brother that she’s tired of being a twenty-two year old virgin, a fact that was the leading cause of her relationship troubles with Russ, and that she’s been thinking about having a premarital fling with a stranger while she’s in New York. The idea causes Adam to develop a holier-than-thou attitude and tell his sister that he never has sex and that she shouldn’t either if she wants to keep her self respect, which is of course a lie as he often finds himself in bed with the opposite sex and is currently trying to pursue his occasional girlfriend Mona (Jo Morrow). Even despite the fib, Eileen decides to go ahead with her plan anyway and finds a worthy match in dashing music critic Mike Mitchell (Rod Taylor), but will her plans to seduce him over the weekend be interrupted when her boyfriend shows up with an engagement ring? This film is truly a product of its time, made during the sexual revolution of the sixties when more and more young men and women began to have sex before marriage. The plot likely wouldn’t be as much of a scandalous debate now as it was back then, but Sunday in New York (1963) is still a highly entertaining and witty picture adapted from an even more successful Broadway production. Jane Fonda and Cliff Robertson are always a delight to watch onscreen and are even better paired together in this film as brother and sister, but of course Rod Taylor steals every scene that he’s in with his sense of humor and dashing good looks. Definitely catch this evening flick if you can, as Rod is certainly not to be missed in it!

3. The Time Machine (1960) on TCM at 12pm EST

Out of all of the interesting looking films being shown today, The Time Machine (1960) is without a doubt the one that I’m the most excited to see that I still haven’t had the pleasure of seeing yet. It’s the film that truly made Rod Taylor a star, and is based on the renowned science fiction novel by H.G. Wells. In it, Taylor plays Wells himself, a scientist and inventor who builds — you guessed it — a time machine, and uses it to find out  if the people of the distant future go on to build the Utopian society that Wells has always dreamed of. Instead he finds two races of people: an understated and mild-mannered one living above the Earth’s surface, and a dangerous and cannibalistic society dwelling below. His time machine is stolen by the latter race, and Wells has to risk being captured and eaten in order to travel back to his own time. The Time Machine (1960) has a timeless and eclectic cast built around star Rod Taylor, including Sebastian Cabot, who would go on to be best known as the voice of Bagheera in The Jungle Book (1969), Alan Young of Mr. Ed (1961-1966) fame, and of course Taylor’s leading lady and one of my personal favorite actresses from the sixties, Yvette Mimieux. Mimieux was only seventeen years old when filming began and actually broke the law in order to work on a full shooting schedule, but she improved her acting so much over the course of production that her earlier scenes were reshot later on. Rod Taylor himself wanted Shirley Eaton, who would go on to star in Goldfinger (1964), for Yvette’s part, but I personally can’t wait to see what happens when the two of them struggle to go back to Wells’ own time.

2. The Birds (1963) on TCM at 8pm EST

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A bloodstained Suzanne Pleshette and Rod Taylor taking a break on the set of The Birds (1963).

I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of the most iconic films of all time on my list. Normally I wouldn’t place such a no-brainer at as high of a spot as number two, but if for some certifiable reason you still haven’t seen The Birds (1963), this is my way of stressing that you need to remedy that. In this picture directed by the Master of Suspense himself, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is an heiress with an untamed past who is making an attempt to settle down and become an asset to her community, though she still isn’t too high and mighty to play practical jokes and heads to her local pet shop to purchase a foul-mouthed Myna bird for her conservative aunt. It’s there that she meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), a prosecuting attorney who’s searching for lovebirds as a gift to his sister, hasn’t forgotten some of Melanie’s past trangsressions, and believes that she should be in jail for some of the tricks that she’s pulled. For some strange reason Melanie finds him so intriguing that she buys lovebirds for Mitch herself and drives two hours to the quaint coastal town of Bodega Bay. Just as Melanie and Mitch begin to see past their prejudices for each other and fall in love, Bodega Bay proves that it isn’t so quaint after all as all flocks and varieties of birds begin to wreak havoc on the townspeople. I often find that it’s the classics that are overlooked, and for me The Birds (1963) is no exception. Many Hitchcock fans gravitate towards his other pictures like Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960), leaving this one in the dust and writing off the special effects as shoddy B-picture material. I respectfully disagree, feeling that Hitchcock artfully and skillfully used a combination of screen-projected animated birds (with the help of Disney Imagineer Ub Iwerks), stuffed birds, and of course real birds to achieve an effect that was truly frightening at the time of its release. I believe that The Birds (1963) has earned its spot among the pantheon of horror greats, and while Rod Taylor doesn’t exactly steal the show (that feat is easily accomplished by newcomer Tippi Hedren as Melanie and the birds, of course), he still delivers a strong performance that helps stabilize the picture despite its chaos. I mean really, if the town that I lived in was being ravaged by feathery fiends, I’d want to leap into Rod Taylor’s arms for comfort too.

1. 36 Hours (1964) on TCM at 6am EST

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James Garner and Rod Taylor in a scene from 36 Hours (1964).

I know, I know. Far too often my number one recommended film for Summer Under the Stars is being shown at a ridiculous time of the day or night, but what baffles me is why Turner Classic Movies would show such an underrated suspense like 36 Hours (1964) so early in their lineup of Rod Taylor’s films. Granted, this isn’t exactly a Rod Taylor vehicle, but Taylor still doesn’t disappoint and commands the screen as Nazi Major Walter Gerber, a man who devises an elaborate plot to kidnap high-ranking American offical Jefferson Pike (James Garner), transform his surroundings into an American Army Hospital, and convince him that he’s an amnesiac and that World War II is over so he’ll reveal the details of the upcoming invasion of Normandy. What really makes this film special is that every single character has their own clear set of motivations that drive their actions and make them seem almost justified. While I mentioned last month that Hitler’s Madman (1943) depicted Nazis in one of the most unflattering ways that I had ever seen, 36 Hours (1964) turns the tables a bit and makes Major Gerber a sympathetic individual, obviously wrong for following a despicable ideology but still a man at heart who deserves commendation for developing a nonviolent way of extracting information from the enemy. Eva Marie Saint also deserves credit for portraying a surprisingly tenderhearted character who seems stoic on the surface. Saint plays Anna Hedler, Jeff Pike’s fake nurse at the fake Army Hospital; she attempts to lead Pike astray and extract the necessary information out of him as well by leading him to believe that the two are engaged, but later we find out that Anna is actually a concentration camp survivor who is willing to do anything she can from being sent back. All in all, I must admit that I’m biased because Rod Taylor, James Garner, and Eva Marie Saint are three of my all-time favorite actors all starring in the same picture, but believe me when I say that the picture itself is more than worth rising early this morning to see.

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