TCM Film Festival 10th Anniversary Recap–Day Three

When Worlds Collide

Starting off Saturday morning with a 1950s Science Fiction film just seems appropriate. This George Pal produced extravaganza features many of the disaster tropes from future films like “Armageddon” and “2012”, but the human story is actually more the point. There are a few brief sequences of disaster when the planet orbiting the star that is approaching Earth is near, but most of the drama is in the decisions about who gets to ride in the Ark spaceship and who loves who.

The screening was hosted by Dennis Miller, an avid film fan and the perfect stand in for me. His gee whiz enthusiasm for the movie and his fanboy crush on movie star Barbara Rush, reflected exactly how I would have felt if I were sitting in his seat. They talked about her career quite a bit and she still works. She had kind things to say about Producer George Pal and she seemed to be a fan of the movie as well. Maybe we can get a screening of Robin and the Seven Hoods next year and it can all be about working with the Rat Pack.

The special effects in the film are really quite good and the miniatures and photographic effects are convincing up until the climax of the movie. The survivors arrival on the new planet is a bit rushed and the background art matte looks like a coloring book rendition of another world. It was flat, overly simple and the colors were garish. Before this, the movie looked great and the cinematography was top notch. Actor John Hoyt, who will be familiar to anyone who has watched a TV show from the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s because he was in everything, plays the cartoonish bad guy in a wheelchair. When he gets his comeuppance, everyone was happy.

Fox: An Appreciation

No one seems to want to acknowledge that Twentieth Century Fox exists in name only right now. I suppose, much like the once potent United Artists, the logo and masthead will continue to appear on theatrical releases, but as an independent film studio, Fox is no more. They will be a Disney brand for films that Disney does not want to have the Disney name on. I thought the event would be a bit more bittersweet, but instead, it was a celebration of the restoration efforts of the Fox Archive project, and that was certainly worthwhile.

Our guide for this review of great Fox films was Schawn Belston, who is the Executive Vice President of Media and Library services at Fox. This was a clip presentation with maybe twenty to thirty films getting a few moments of special attention. The opening of the program featured all of the 20th Century Fox logos and the fanfare that have opened their films since the founding of the studio. The first clip also reflected their greatest success, “Star Wars” which did play at the Festival but I skipped to see something else.

From Shirley Temple to Die Hard, a long list of distinguished movies were honored and a little bit of history about their restorations was thrown in as well. I especially appreciated Mr. Belston singling out the amazing score for the original “Planet of the Apes” and naming it’s composer out loud. Jerry Goldsmith is my favorite movie music man and this was a nice little bonus from my perspective.

This presentation was at the newest venue to join the TCM FF, American Legion Post 43.  Now you might think a Legion Hall is just a bar, a hall and some pool tables, but in this case you would be wrong. The main hall has been fitted out to be an elegant theater which would be capable of handling live productions as well as film presentations.

I did not get a shot from the back of the theater but the proscenium is quite large and you can see how cavernous this place is.

This was the only event that we attended at the Legion Post but there were films playing here all weekend. The only real drawback was the hike to the location. It is not actually any further than the Egyptian Theater is from the Roosevelt or the Chinese Theater, but the trip is a little up hill and the grade made it a bit intimidating. That plus the fact that the weekend featured typical warm California Spring days, probably deterred a few souls from attending events here.  I know my blogging friend Kristen Lopez bailed out on Wuthering Heights because of it. She has a chair and moving uphill was not going to be comfortable for her. Maybe nest year there can be a shuttle for those with mobility issues.

Those who did make it to the venue, I hope you went downstairs to use the bathroom. That would have given you a chance to see an old school hospitality room.

All About Nora

This was a panel presentation about writer/director Nora Ephron. She was responsible for some of the biggest adult targeted films of the last couple decades. I already mentioned “When Harry Met Sally”, but she wrote and directed two other famous and worthy romantic comedies, “Sleepless in Seattle’ and “You’ve Got Mail”. She passed in 2012 and the last film she worked on was “Julie & Julia”.

This event took place in Club TCM, the main meeting room in the Roosevelt Hotel. There were a number of items on display that are going up for auction through Bonhams pretty soon, so while I was waiting for the discussion, I browsed but made no purchases.

When the presentation began, it was hosted by one of the rookie hosts on TCM  Dave Karger. He introduced a distinguished panel of Ephron experts. Lauren Shuller Donner, who produced several of Ephrons films, J.J. Sacha who was her personal assistant for 14 years, actress/producer Rita Wilson who was cast in “Sleepless in Seattle” and has a great scene in the movie and Jacob Bernstein, her son and the creator of a documentary on her work.

Karger led the discussion with some appropriate questions and everyone had stories to tell. There was also a Q and A with the audience and some of those questions were worthwhile. There was a very nice touch for the conclusion of the program. Nora Ephron produced her own memorial service and had very strict food and drink guidelines. There was a pink champagne that she specified to be served at her memorial. At the conclusion of this event, everyone in the audience was served a glass of that beverage and we all offered a toast to the missing honoree.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Right off the bat I need to tell you that this was going to be on my schedule from the moment it was announced. I love this movie so much that one of my dogs is named after the outlaw played by Paul Newman. Another reason is that it features a performance by character actor Strother Martin, and as the keeper of the flame on the Strother Martin Film Project, I could not very well miss it. The frosting on the cake however was the appearance of the composer of the Academy Award winning song and score for the film, Mr. Burt Bacharach.

The film holds up marvelously and I can’t imagine I need to tell anyone reading this how entertaining it is. It was the biggest hit of 1969 and probably even better remembered for pairing Paul Newman and Robert Redford than “The Sting”. This was another packed house at the main Chinese Theater.

Bacharach is ninety-one this year and he was a little unsteady but his mind was sharp and his wit was keen. Eddie Muller conducted the interview and of course there was a lot of talk about all of the hits that Burt had written over the years. If you think you don’t know his work, guess again, you have heard dozens of his songs.

At the time the movie was made, he was married to Angie Dickinson, and she was theone who sort have got him the job. They were staying at a hotel in NYC when she ran into George Roy hill and she mentioned that her husband was a composer. The story Bacharach tells then involved sending information back and forth and ultimately getting the gig by chance.

Bacharach also said that his favorite composition was for the theme for “Alfie” another Academy Award Nominated song, again with lyrics by Hal David.

As we watched the movie play out, once again i was caught up in the cleverness of the dialogue and the effectiveness of Paul Newman’s comedic timing. He apparently thought he was miscast in a comedy, but this showed that he was capable in the right vehicle. He and director George Roy Hill would do another comedy in the 1970s, “Slap Shot”. That movie also features a performance by another co-star of “butch and Sundance, Strother Martin.

I was really pleased by the fact that when Strother showed up on screen, there was a smattering of applause for him. We had gotten those bits of audience approval for the stars of the film when they first show up, but leave it to a TCM Film crowd to know that they were seeing one of the great character actors of the second half of the Twentieth century.

Escape From New York

I know there are fans of the channel who will be aghast at the fact that this film is playing at the festival. It is not from the golden age of Hollywood, it is a low budget film and it is a genre that is probably not well loved by some of the TCM fans. Well the hell with all that, I am perfectly happy this was on the program and so were a number of other people. This was a high priority for Amanda and I, we are both big fans of the star and the director of this film, and both of them were going to be at the screening.

This is an mp3 file of the conversation that took place before the movie. I have not included any video because frankly, we were well in the back of the theater and just happy to get in.

The stories were fun and Carpenter pointed out that the only reason that the sequel exists is that Kurt Russel wanted to play the character again. Fans of the film have probably heard the legendary commentary track that came from the Laser Disc release originally and then appeared on DVD versions of the film. John Carpenter and Kurt Russel are friends and they seem to enjoy the heck out of each others company and it showed on that audio track and in this interview as well.

At one point the film was censored because of the presence of the World Trade Center Towers, and Carpenter thought that was a silly thing to have happen for the kind of fantasy film this really is.

We stayed for the film, even though I practically have it memorized and it was getting late. It’s just hard to skip an opportunity to watch it all on the big screen. The cast really is terrific, and it’s interesting that both Kurt and John’s former wives have roles in the movie.  So ended the long Saturday at the Festival. Next up, Last Day.


TCM Film Festival Day Two

Normally, I am pretty good about posting on the day of an event or maybe a day later. The Festival kicked my ass a little since I also went to see the Avenger’s movie on opening night and have suffered from exhaustion as a result for four days. I will begin catching up right now.

Pink Panther Cartoons on the Big Screen

This was a delightful program that ran the opening credits of the original film, and then followed up with a selection of shorts that were created subsequently. Most of the material was shown on television in the seventies as kids programming but it was nice to see it on the Big Screen and to hear a bit of history as well. Animation Historian Jerry beck lead us through some of the development of the shorts and provided context. He was at one point joined by Larry Mirish, the son of Producer Walter Mirish, who added to the context and provided some insider insight as well.  The daughters of Animation Director Friz Freleng were in attendance and were also briefly introduced. I was fortunate that I’d seen the cartoons before because I ended up dozing off for two of them after the late night followed by an early start.

One of the animation directors also joined the conversation and displayed a cartoon he drew while waiting and then a series of rough sketches, as would have been used to storyboard the cartoon shorts.

Charge of the Light Brigade

I am an Errol Flynn fan. This movie has virtually no connection to the historical event that is referenced in the poem by Tennyson. It does however have the spirit and that was enough to make it entertaining. This is the film that introduced Flynn’s pencil mustache and cemented his stardom. It is also the second of nine movies that Flynn made with Olivia deHavilland. We were given some background on the movie by a film historian and then treated to a reading of the poem by actor Casey Campbell.  I don’t have that rendition but I did find this:

The studio provided a print, so we actually were watching a film as opposed to a DCP, it looked great. David Niven has a small part in the movie and it is the source of his title for his own autobiography, “Bring on the Empty Horses”. As will be noted by many, the film notoriously wasted horses in battle scenes that used trip wires which lead to the death of a couple dozen horse. It lead to a long chilly relationship between Flynn and director Michael Curtiz, and eventually produced standards for animal treatment in the movies.


The Set-Up

This is a boxing movie that also qualifies as Film Noir. It was introduced by TCM Czar of Noir Eddie Muller, who’s father was a famous boxing journalist. A boxer a little long in the tooth is being set up to take a dive by his sleazy manager. The problem is that he is not informed so the manager can keep all of the money he gets from the local gangster who is paying off.

The crowds and venue all feel authentic to the times. Boxing was a widely viewed sport that has changed dramatically since other entertainment options came on the scene after World War Two. I know as I drive around town, that there are former arenas that had weekly fights here in L.A., those days seem to be gone, but maybe I just don’t come in contact with that culture because it has shrunk. Anyway, the film is shot in real time, so the whole thing follows an eighty minute period of time, including four rounds of boxing. Ryan was a boxer at Dartmouth College and he looks good in the film. Amanda attended this screening with me and she seemed to really appreciate the gritty look and feel of the movie, as well as it’s fairly depressing ending.

This was a second film in a row to be based on a poem. A lengthy (16,00 word) piece that appeared in the New Yorker, the poem featured a black boxer who was fighting prejudice as well as his opponent. That is mostly excluded except for some brief references to black boxers on the card with Ryan’s character. A local rap artist contacted Muller and was invited to present part of the poem as a lead in to the film. Unfortunately, he neglected to print a copy of the segment he planned on performing and an embarrassing few minutes passed while he sought it out on his cell phone. The reading was great but it was clear this was an impromptu moment from a non-professional.

Three Smart Girls

I am pretty sure this is my first Deanna Durbin film. She was an actress who was noted for her sensational singing voice. trained for the opera but diverted from the stage by a movie career she did not really want, Durbin left Hollywood at the age of 28 or so. She made just over twenty films in a dozen years, and she was a Shirley Temple rival at the box office. In this movie she is not the lead but her character has all the emotional high points and when she starts singing, everything else in the film feels irrelevant.

The story involves the children of divorced parents plotting to stop the marriage of their father to a gold digger. The children have not seen their Dad in ten years and travel from Switzerland to New York to carry out their plot.  Mistaken identities and subterfuge follow and the story reaches a climax with a song in the police station.

The movie was not deep but it was delightful.

The Creature From the Black Lagoon

This is a well known horror film from the 1950s. I’ve seen it on TV over the years and I remember being frightened by it as a child and slightly bored by it as an adolescent. This screening was anything but boring, it was a real treat.

To begin with, the movie was introduced by TCM fan and one time Guest Programmer Dennis Miller. I missed the pool side screening of “Them” which he introduced with actress Illeana Douglas, I’m sure that was a hoot. He basically talked about his love for old movies and his appreciation of the fact that some of the actors in these movies are still around. He gave a shout out for Olivia de Havilland sleeping in Paris that night but also visualized the star of this movie, Julie Adams, coming across this and seeing herself in that white bathing suit and saying, “yeah, that’s me alright”. It was a cute piece of warm imagination. He also joked about the fact that it is basically “The Shape of Water” before they learned how to hide the costume zippers.

I heard a number of people titter and guffaw at moments in the film, as if they were creaky and so old fashioned as to be unbelievable. They seemed to be responding to the movie as camp. Like Mr. Miller, I’m willing to give people credit if they seem to be trying to sell the story and these actors and technicians do. Miller’s joke about having to have two different actors play the creature, one for the underwater scenes and one for the land sequence, is amusing, but he was not disparaging of the film.

Sometimes the dialogue is a little old fashioned and yes the sexist sensibilities of the fifties are on display, but none of that takes away from the drama and horror of the story. One of the things that made this screening so great was that it was presented in 3D. The movie looked great and there were two or three moments where the 3D did it’s job in making us jump and be engaged with the story.

The Exorcist

I mentioned in the post about “The Producers”, that a Mel Brooks interview is basically just setting him loose on the audience. Well it is not to far a leap to say that the experience is almost the same with director William Friedkin. I’ve been at some previous presentations with Friedkin and he is a fearless raconteur. He enjoys the moment, shares good details and takes his time in telling his own stories. Host Ben Mankiewicz did ask questions and the audience did as well, but Friedkin often used those as jumping off points for observations about the context of the movie or details that were fascinating but tangential.

He discussed his casting of Mercedes McCambridge as the voice of the demon possessing the little girl in the story. Her commitment to the vocal performance included some method acting that I would imagine would not go down well with today’s actors. He was asked about a rumor that one of the on screen performers became a serial killer and was the inspiration for Friedkin’s film “Cruising”. Mankiewicz was quick to dismiss the story but in turn was shocked when Friedkin confirmed it. The tech in the hospital scene was Paul Bateson, who was convicted of one murder but believed to have committed several more.

The screening was of the updated version of the movie from 2000. So it contains the “spider walk” sequence and the modified ending of the movie. The spider walk was the only thing that I think added to the film, the other scenes and inserts don’t feel necessary to me.