TCM Film Festival Day 1: The Cincinnati Kid

I don’t know how anyone could not be a Steve McQueen fan. His laconic style was the epitome of cool back in the day. We lost him much too soon and his work as an actor is often overshadowed by his status as an icon. I remember seeing this film on television, probably on a Friday night, and watching it to the end and being hugely disappointed because of the climax of the film. Of course I was maybe twelve or thirteen at the time and the needs of an adolescent are not always the best way to service an adult drama (do you hear that contemporary Hollywood?).

After having sat through the tough and sad real life story of Lenny Bruce, my friend Michael and I queued up for a second helping of dingy drama, but this time in a much more romantic movie setting, the 1930s in New Orleans. This fictional story of an up and comer taking on “the man” at the top of the poker playing mountain, is filled with wonderful character actors, gritty sets and a jazz based score. Originally a Sam Peckinpah film, the producers replaced him with Norman Jewison and recast  Tuesday Weld in the part originally to be played by Sharon Tate.

Even though we we near the end of the line to get into the film, we ended up in almost exactly the same seats we had had just a few minutes before. I’d not eaten anything that day so I went to the concession stand to get some popcorn. It was nice that I did because at the back of the line of the concession stand I had to move slightly forward to allow the featured guest to get into the theater. That’s right, Ann Margaret brushed right by me while I waiting to get some corn and coke. She did move by quickly but you can see that she retains the glow of beauty that has made her a star for fifty years.

TCM Host  Ben Mankiewicz interviewed Ann Margaret before the screening of the film and she was delightful. They had done a Club TCM Interview earlier in the day, so there were occasional references to events that they had discussed earlier but the overall effect was a positive one.

If you have not seen The Cincinnati Kid, let me recommend to you for the cool of Steve McQueen, the sensuality of Ann Margaret but especially for the seasoned wisdom of Edward G. Robinson. Robinson plays the top dog in the poker world, and he is appropriately confident, wary, and assured. Rip Torn is impossibly young in the movie and most of you won’t recognize him.  The perspective that time has given me on the movie made it a very worthwhile couple of hours.

TCM Film Festival Day 1: Lenny

A lot of the fans of TCM wonder why films from the 70s, 80, and 90s would be included in a “classic” film festival. That’s understandable, most of the fare on the TCM channel comes from the heyday of the studio system when movie making was part of a factory process. The collapse of the old ways of doing things ushered in chaos, innovation, vulgarity, sexuality a very different sensibility. I love studio films from the dream factory but the term “classic” is not really limited to a time period. From my perspective, a film earns that title if it made a unique mark on the industry and culture. So many of the films that I love come from the second and shorter golden age of Hollywood, 1969 to 1977. For a few brief years, the inmates were in charge of the asylum, and there were some amazing films produced as a result.

One of those films is “Lenny”, the biopic of comedian Lenny Bruce by director Bob Fosse. Bruce turned into a controversial figure after becoming the subject of prosecution for violating obscenity laws. That controversy spurred him into becoming an activist and political figure in the culture war that was breaking out in the early 1960s. The film was widely lauded for it’s photographic style and the nominated performances of the two leads. It is however a slog to get through since the story does not have a strong narrative and the subject matter is sometimes lurid and ugly. This screening was not originally in my schedule for the festival but the work related meeting that was going to keep me out of the festival until late afternoon was not happening and so I took a chance on seeing this again, for maybe the third time since it was originally released.

In the line up to get in, I chatted with two very nice women who were old friends and were at their second TCM Festival. One is from Virgina and the other from the San Diego area. After twisting her friend’s arm into going with her last year, this year the formerly reluctant friend became the programmer for their Festival and choose this movie for their Friday morning. When the line began to move, I heard someone call out my name and I spotted my on-line friend Michael, le0pard13.com standing in line in front of me. He indicated that he would find seats for us and I joined him inside the theater. I’ve run into Michael a few times at screenings at the Egyptian and he is a great movie companion, full of enthusiasm and knowledge and also willing to listen when you have something to say. We ended up attending four films together at the Festival and I enjoyed every minute of his company.

The film itself is fascinating to see because the black and white photography seems to fit the actual time period and subject more effectively than color would have. The time period covered featured TV in Black and White. Comics talking to each other and working in nightclubs just feel like they belong in B & W. I remember “Broadway Danny Rose” the Woody Allen film featuring a number of comics and other acts of the era was also shot in B & W. Fosse had won the Academy Award for Director just two years before for “Cabaret” a musical theater piece that is much more in his groove that this picture was. He only directed five full length features, and was nominated for his work for three of them, including this film.

The special guest arranged by the Festival was star Dustin Hoffman, who was interviewed by actor and frequent TCM co-host Alec Baldwin. The interview took place after the film and Hoffman was greeted with a warm ovation from the capacity crowd. I’d actually seen him going into the theater when we were standing in line so he was there for the screening not just the interview.  At another film line in the Festival, I spoke with a woman who had sat right in front of Hoffman and Baldwin during the screening and she said that Hoffman regularly was commenting to Baldwin about things going on in the film.

Hoffman shared memories of working on the film and struggling with Bob Fosse over the direction that the performance would take. He was gracious enough to say that Fosse was the one who was right in the long run. Those of you who have seen “All That Jazz” will recall that the lead in that movie, a somewhat fictionalized version of Fosse, was working on editing a movie about a comic. Those sequences were directly based on Fosse’s struggles to get this movie to take shape. According to Hoffman, it was Fosse’s decision to use interviewing sequences to string the episodes together, that finally allowed the film to become more coherent.

Hoffman praised the performance of his co-star Valarie Perrine and said that if we had encountered the “real” Honey Bruce, we would be amazed to see that Valarie Perrine embodied her perfectly. He also shared stories of his being cast in “The Graduate” and of working with Jon Voight in “Midnight Cowboy”. As he discussed the improvisational style that Lenny Bruce used, he invoked the name of his late friend Robin Williams and a very real moment occurred when he struggled to compose himself to go on. Alec Baldwin was a supportive interviewer and managed the moment with grace. The two of them were so caught up in the conversation that they seemed to have lost track of time and the interview ran long and another screening was scheduled in the theater. As we were exiting, the lobby was already full of people waiting to get in for another program. No one seemed to mind, since everyone was enjoying their experience so much.

TCM Film Festival Day 1: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

2a45e-mv5bmtc0ndyzmjgynv5bml5banbnxkftztcwmjgymzy0na4040-_v1_sx214_al_

It is a well known fact that I am a James Bond Fanatic. Since the time I could remember going to the movies, I have been going to James Bond films. The inclusion of one of the least appreciated and most unusual 007 movies in the Festival this year had me twitterpated immediately. Here’s the rub though, I had not completely understood the options on the pass that I purchased. This is only the second time for me at the TCMFF, and it was the first where I bought a pass rather than simply purchasing an individual ticket. The Palace pass that I committed to gave me access to the screenings at the Egyptian, Theater, Poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel and at the Chinese Theater. Check that. The Chinese IMAX Theater. I did not realize until two days before the start of the event that the Chinese Multiplex screening were not covered by the pass. That meant that four of the films I had on my original plan would have to be crashed. I wasn’t worried about the money, I was worried about getting locked out

2015-03-27 19.18.57
I said farewell for the day to my friend Michael, he was headed to the Hotel to pick up his Festival Souvenir Book and then over to see “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.  His plan was to go to the 9 pm screening of “Apollo 13” in the big house. While that is something I would love to have done, there was no way to manage it because I was absolutely going to see OHMSS, with special guest, 007 himself George Lazenby. Now here was my dilemma,  how do I go to the screening of “The Invisible Man” that I had planned on, and still get into the Bond film when the other movie would let out just a few minutes before 007 was to begin? I decided I could not take a chance. Since I had to be in the Standby line, I wanted to get there early. So I did, two hours and fifteen minutes early to be exact. I had to stake out my spot more than an hour before they passed out the priority numbers that allow you to purchase a ticket should there be room. It wasn’t that big of a deal, I spent the Summer of 1977 standing in two to three hour lines at the Chinese Theater every Friday, you know why. I was rewarded for my diligence with a coveted priority number. 2015-03-27 20.32.49
I should have guessed that it would be my destiny to get in, as I was walking to the theater originally, I had a text message from my daughter informing me that the “SPECTRE” teaser was about to be released on-line.So how could I not have enough luck to get in? As I looked at the others in line, none of the Standby folks seemed to have a pass to any of the rest of the Festival. They all seem to have come for this one event only. One person said that there had been a screening of a Bond film at an earlier edition of the Festival and that it had not been well attended. That was had for me to believe but it gave me confidence that we would get in.
I was the first in the line and I marched right in when the called in the first group of ten, once in the theater, I was able to find a very satisfactory seat near the center about two thirds of the way back. Now I had been on the lookout for a couple of fellow bloggers at the Festival. These are people that I know on-line but have never met before. As I was getting comfortable in my seat, a couple came in and sat down next to me, and from the row behind us I heard a woman call out “Paula, is it OK if I come sit with you guys?” The woman standing next to me turned back and said “sure”. I don’t know a lot of people named Paula, in fact I know of only one, she runs a art house theater in Detroit and blogs at Paula’s Cinema Club . I’m not particularly shy so I just piped up and asked her, “You’re Paula? any chance you are from Detroit?” Sure enough it was her and by accident we were seated next to each other. I introduced myself by name and mentioned that I was on her site occasionally and she was quite friendly. When she left to get concession items, I chatted with her husband Tim about the theater that they run, Cinema Detroit.He was very forthcoming with their story and I was very inquisitive. It had been my dream at one point to own my own revival theater and program it with classic and independent films, and they were doing that themselves. When Paula returned I mentioned that I would probably do some posts on the Festival and I would mention that I saw them. I gave her a card I’d made up for my blogs and she suddenly said, “Oh, 70srichard, I do know you.” The card has the distinctive “Jaws” Masthead on it so she was able to put two and two together without the right input from me in the first place. Anyway, “Hey Paula”.

Let’s get to what brought us here in the first place, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, the first James Bond feature to star someone other than Sean Connery in the role of 007. I know several Bond fans out there who are quite disparaging of this entry in the series and they lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of the novice film star George Lazenby. I have seen him described as “stiff” and “charisma free”. I have never thought that. I do see some faults after all this was his first acting gig ever, but I thought he looked the part and carried it off reasonably well. He was also surrounded by a cast of actors who were professionals and gave him plenty of support. It also helps that he has one of the finest narrative plots of the whole film series. James Bond falls in love and improbably marries the girl that he saves in the first scenes in the movie. Tracy is played by the talented Diana Rigg, who I knew as Mrs. Peele in the Avengers TV show. Her talent allows some of the scenes between them to play much more believably.

2015-03-27 21.21.43
TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz introduced and interviewed the only man to play James Bond a single time in the movies, Mr. George Lazenby.

IMG_0159-1024x768

I found this shot at http://thirtyhertzrumble.com/30007hz-2015-tcm-film-festival-post-mortem/ This guy had a closer seat than I did.

Both of these guys have a great sense of humor and Mr. Lazenby is past the point of worrying about being politically correct. He told some pretty sexist stories and some unflattering personal anecdotes but they were all done with great gusto and in the spirit of having fun, not of diminishing anyone. There were some extra details and side trips in his well known tale of how he came to be James Bond. He also provided a simpler version of why he walked away from the role as he did. It came down to some advice that simply predicted the days of Bond were numbered and it was better to get out before the crash. Mankiewicz suggested that it was some bad advice but Lazenby said it wasn’t because he has had a very satisfying life ever since and he had no real regrets. It was also interesting to hear why Lazenby thought director Peter Hunt bailed on talking for the nine months of production to him after championing him for the role.Ben and George could probably have gone on for another hour given that they were having so much fun with each other and the audience, but eventually the movie had to begin.

I’m sure film lovers from all over know the feeling of excitement and bliss when a beloved moment arrives and it is as if Christmas morning is just starting. For me it was not the Gun-barrel crawl or the one reference to Lazenby being the new guy in the series. It comes right after that when John Barry’s electronic based musical title theme kicks in and they are followed by those great horns. Those first notes got my heart racing and my memories stirring. I was ready for 007 to save the world again. I had two or three similar moments at the film festival last weekend, but this one was the first and it was well earned. <br />
<br />
<br />