TCM Film Festival 10th Anniversary Recap–Day Four

Holiday

The last day of the Festival is always a bit melancholic, after waiting a whole year for the event to arrive, it is suddenly on the brink of departure for another year. However, just as we try to enjoy the days off after Christmas, the last day of the festival should be something to treasure as well. If you can find a romantic comedy starring Cary Grant, I think you are onto the path for success in overcoming your doldrums. If the movie also features Katherine Hepburn, my goodness you have hit the Jackpot.

There were a couple of things that were hard for me to believe about “Holiday”. First it was hard for me to believe I’ve never seen this movie before. I’ve seen “The Philadelphia Story” dozens of times and “Bringing Up Baby” is also an old friend. Grant and Hepburn only made four films together. I don’t have any memory of Sylvia Scarlett and I thought I might have watched “Holiday” at some point but as it played out, it was clear to me that I had not. The second thing that was hard to believe was that this movie was not screening in the main house for Sunday morning. This is just the kind of film that should bring all the classic buffs to a theater on a lazy Sunday morning at the festival. The crowd was quite large for the event, and I don’t know if there were disappointed fans turned away. As far as I could tell, the big house was not being used at the time so it probably could be done. Well, I’m not in charge of programming and I’m sure someone wiser than I calculated all the relevant factors.

There is a sense of the same kind of madcap foolishness in this film as found in the two pairings of the stars I had seen. Grant is an investment accountant of modest background who falls in love with the daughter of a millionaire. She loves him back but it becomes apparent that she has reservations about his odd life plan. He hopes to score an economic windfall that will allow him to retire on Holiday as a young man, and then get back into work when he has that experience behind him. The eccentric sister of Grant’s fiance is Hepburn, who approves of him when the others in the family have their doubts. As a critique of greed and convention, “Holiday” is a little light in themes, but when it comes to what a real love entails, Hepburn has it in spades over her bifurcated sister.

The morning hosts were Diane Baker and Ron Perlman. They talked generally about classic movies but did not have many specifics about this film. The conversation was fun but not essential to this experience.

The Robe

On the previous day, at the Fox Appreciation event, a nice clip of “The Robe” was shown, that highlighted the width of Cinemascope and the beautiful cinematography. I’d been a little uncertain about what we might see at this time slot, but that moment settled it for me. It was also fortuitous that this showing of the film was happening on Palm Sunday. There is even a sequence in the movie where we see Jesus arriving in Jerusalem and the crowd waving their palms in the air.

The crowd at the Egyptian was solid but not entirely packed. Our host for the screening was President of the Motion Picture Academy and celebrated cinematographer John Bailey. If you look at the list of movies he worked on you will be suitably impressed. Of course Amanda and I appreciated that he filmed the recent Lambcast Movie of the Month “Silverado”. It made complete sense for a director of photography to talk about this film, since it was the first movie to be produced in CinemaScope. Mr. Bailey provided a brief guide to the process and explained how the focus has to be adjusted by the lenses that are used in the process. It appears that the Technicolor label on the film is a bit of a misnomer because there was a new film stock used that had been created by the studio for it’s new process, it was simply that Technicolor had to do the corrections and prints.

The film stars Richard Burton in one of his first prominent roles. There is definitely a vibe around his character that is similar to Ben Hur, but in reverse. He is a Roman Tribune who is banished to Jerusalem because of a contentions relationship with soon to be Emperor Caligula. He and the slave that he has outbid his rival for, arrive in time to participate in the Crucifixion. What follows is a religious conversation and a variety of spectacular sets.  Victor Mature is quite good in his part but he is definitely a supporting player. The part of Caligula was played by actor Jay Robinson in his first big screen performance. He is incredibly over the top here that he might have had trouble getting subsequent work, except he has a distinctive voice and eyebrows.

The Killers (1964)

I had long heard of this movie but I have only a vague memory of seeing clips and those were black and white [at least in my memory].  This is supposedly a loose remake of an even more loosely adapted Ernest Hemingway story. I can’t testify to either of the previous sources, not having seen them, but I can say I see some Hemingway roots. The men in this film are all tough and fatalistic. The woman is cold and duplicitous. I also understood the film to be a low budget TV production that instead got a theatrical release. Well let me tell you, it does not play like a TV movie at all.

Director Don Siegel was the right man for the job. The story is told through a series of flashbacks and there are some brutal moments of violence that the camera does not turn away from. Just as in the future collaborations with Clint Eastwood, the possibility of violence floats under almost every scene and the characters are not sentimentalized at all. This was shot in color, and it does look like the kinds of color timing and saturation that you might get in a TV movie but it all worked well.  There are a half dozen really solid actors in their parts and I was impressed with the cast list as it came up on the screen during the titles.

Norman Fell and Claude Aikins are well known television actors, and both made frequent forays into the theatrical film as well. Clu Gulager is also a staple of television but has been in some of my favorite movies over the years including “The Last Picture Show”, “Into the Night” and “The Hidden”. He is also still working, he is going to be in the Tarantino film coming this summer. I think his role here was maybe the biggest part he had. He is a sadistic hit man who is partnered with Lee Marvin, so he is in the film for most of the running time. The image he cultivates with the ever present sunglasses is one that is always threatening. Lee Marvin owns the picture although you never think of him as a hero, he is clearly a bad man, he is also however a clever man. The two killers figure there must be a financial reason behind the hit they pull off at the start of the film and they plan on getting a part of the pot.

John Cassavetes is the doomed race car driver who gets involved with a mystery woman played by Angie Dickinson. He is very low key in this part until the final sequence of flashbacks that shows us when he ended up being dead, long before his actual death. Angie Dickinson plays a femme fatale who has eyes for more than one man in the story. She was the guest at the screening

 

The real revelation in the movie was Ronald Reagan. This was his last film, and although he reportedly hated playing a heavy and the slap he gives to Dickinson, he was really quite good in the part. Reagan always had charisma on screen, but he was usually most effective in a secondary role rather than trying to carry the picture. This movie shows that in addition to the charming comedic parts he usually played, his range could be broader.

This was a heavily attended program and we were in the last group to be admitted to the theater. I felt we were fortunate to get in and see a great star like Dickinson, who was generous in her praise of everyone in the movie. She said that even though she is a Democrat, she thinks everyone can agree that Reagan was a good President, but she also thought he was a good actor. Someone in the crowd is a friend of Clu Gulager, and we got a little shout out from him via a text message of greeting to Angie.

Although there were still opportunities to see some more films at the Festival, Amanda had to be at work early on Monday, and all the screenings were not going to finish until nine. We skipped another film and the closing party, and headed home, completing the 2019 Festival with a very satisfying piece of crime film and history.

 

Back to the Future Trilogy

why-drew-struzan-deserves-an-honorary-oscar-back-to-the-future

OK, this is a good way to start the New Year on a movie blog. Last night I had the chance to see the three films from Robert Zemekis that cemented his position as the most commercial director of the 1980s outside of Steven Spielberg, who of course was a producer on all three films himself. This was a digital presentation at the Egyptian Theater and the house was packed. I saw several attendees wearing down vests and one guy with Griff’s hat on from the second movie. It is now 2015 and that was the year in the future that Marty and Doc went to to try and straighten out Marty’s kids. Unfortunately we don’t have the Hoverboards, Flying cars and self tying shoes predicted in the film, but we do have skype, flatscreen TVs, Google Glass, and more channel choices that someone could watch at the same time than anyone should find necessary.

Back to the Future 1This will not be a full review on each film but rather just a quick recap and a few comments. These movies are pretty well known and are beloved by millions. The first in the series is one of the great pop entertainment surprises ever. While the follow ups struggle to achieve the same kind of magic as the original, they manage to do the one thing that every consumer of films wants, entertain us.

back_to_the_future_ver2The original film roared out of no where in 1985 to incredible popular success and made Michael J. Fox an entertainment icon rather than simply a good character on a successful TV show. The cleverness of the concept and it’s execution are hard to match. This film is funny, exciting and it manages to raise our awareness of family history and it’s significance along the way. While Fox is clearly the star, the secret weapon in this film is Christopher Lloyd, who got laughs from an intake of breath and a bug eyed scream. He manages to make some of the slapstick work where so often it does not in modern films. I will also mention that Lea Thompson is best used in this film and she does the “good girl with a bad side” 50s character just perfectly. She is also strikingly attractive in the film.

back_to_the_future_part_ii_ver3Four years later, the second film was released at the Thanksgiving holidays. It was a success but came nowhere close to matching the original box office draw of it’s predecessor. Maybe too much time had elapsed or maybe it is the sour tone of the movie. Fox is still great, but the complicated movement between time periods and the inconsistency of some of the rules make it a little sloppy. Having to invent a character fault in Marty, in order to justify the story line is also a bit frustrating. Thomas Wilson as Biff/Griff does a great job in building his malignant character, but because the movie uses him in such cartoony ways and so frequently, the movie feels shrill. Doc Brown gets short shrift in this chapter of the story and Elizabeth Shue, as the new Jennifer, is put to sleep a third of the way into the movie and does not return until the coda of the third film. When I first saw this thirty years ago, it was a bit of a letdown. Last night however, it was pure joy. The future sequences play even more effectively now that we are in 2015 and the suspense bits still work. While I feel as if this is the weakest of the three films, that does not mean it is not a success. There is plenty here to enjoy.

back_to_the_future_part_iiiThe third chapter was awkwardly set up in the second film, but once it gets started it works just fine and it feels seamless rather than forced. The historical context is fun and the western tropes that are lampooned were amusing. Marty adopts the “Man with No Name” persona, and gives him a name, Clint Eastwood. The fact that Clint was a big star at the time but also the only star who tried to keep Westerns alive during the 80s was a big whoop for film fans. Familiar Western character actors are sprinkled through the film and the gulf between the real west and the movie west is explored just a bit. The addition of Mary Steenburgen to the cast was a nice touch and gives Doc a great conclusion to his story. Watch Wilson copy Lee Marvin from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance” in his portrayal of “Mad Dog Tannen”. He gets the walk, swagger and body movement just right, and in case you missed it, he carries a riding crop in his non-shooting hand. This was a simpler version of the time travel story and it effectively wrapped up the story lines they had created in the second movie. The fact that the two sequels were shot simultaneously saved some money and allowed this film to be released just seven months after the second installment.

Back to the Future 2A pleasant evening was had by all and I am much more ready to come back to these films than I have been for a while. They really were terrific entertainment even when there are some issues in the time story sequences.