TCM Film Festival Day Three

Saturday at the film festival would be our busiest day this year. First in the lineup was the Cary Grant Sophia Loren comedy, “Houseboat”. I have a vague recollection of seeing this on TV as a kid, but in truth, I don’t remember it at all. I’m not sure if Amanda had seen a Sophia Loren film, but she is a Cary Grant fan and this was playing in the big house so it seemed to be a good way to start the day. The host told stories about the affair that Grant and Loren had had on their previous picture together and how this film was made at an awkward time in their relationship as Grant was willing to leave his wife and marry Loren, and she fell in love with and married another man. The child actors were cute but a little wooden, and the slapstick elements sometimes overshadow whatever story there is here. 

It was not until the film was over that I prompted Amanda to identify the actor who played Al, Grant’s friend who was rude to Loren in a dinner scene on the boat. When she realized it was Mayor Vaughn she was amused by how young he was in this film. 

It was early for us and she had stayed up to visit her sister, so I did not give her too much grief about not recognizing an actor from her favorite film. We skipped the popcorn and coke and decided to snack at some of the later screenings rather than first show of the day.

The next program we went to was up the hill at the American Legion Theater, and we felt like we had plenty of time to get there, but there was a surprisingly long queue when we arrived but it was still not going to be an issue for us, we would get in. Thank goodness because it was my most anticipated program of the weekend. “The Flame and the Arrow” is a Burt Lancaster adventure film that mimics much of “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, and it is filled with the kinds of athletic stunts that Lancaster had done in his seven years in the circus. 

The reason that this event was anticipated by me was that this was the presentation that would feature a talk by Ben Burtt and Craig Barron, two tech wizards who have delighted me in the past with their explanations of the effects for “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “Gunga Din”, “War of the Worlds”, and more. Their presentation early on focused on the stunt work created by Lancaster and his Circus partner and actor Nick Cravat. They showed some great behind the scenes clips and a couple of home movies to illustrate the athleticism of the two. They also detailed the matte work used to create the illusion that the setting was grander than it actually is, including some mountains and castle shots. 

This was a project that Lancaster wanted to do so he could make use of his gymnastic skills. It was also a more comic adventure film and when Jack Warner stopped by the set during a shooting sequence that featured some tomfoolery, he was upset that he was getting the Marx Brothers rather than Errol Flynn.  

There was a major difference in this Barron/Burtt presentation from earlier Festival Programs they had done, they had a guest that they included. Gordon Gebert was a child actor who had a substantial part in the film, and now he is a architecture professor in his 70s, but still sharp and able to recall details of making the film.

Mr. Gebert also appeared in the classic “Holiday Affair” with Robert Mitchum. He pointed out a few places where the magic of Hollywood placed him in peril, when he was actually quite safe. He also did a little retconning of a brief smile that appears on his face in the film, suggesting that he was actually plotting his capture the whole time thus the smile is not incongruent. 

The film is a beautiful technicolor work that was being presented  in 35 mm and it looked grand.

One of the classifications that the programs at the festival get listed in is “Discoveries”. We decided that since the pass level we had chosen for this year featured a picture from a film in the Discoveries category, we should go to see it. 

“A Man Called Adam” is a film I never heard of before and it was something of a box office success, but it is understandable how it might get lost in the years since it was released. It is a film with a civil rights theme, that was overshadowed in subsequent years for bigger hits that milked the same territory. With rapid changes in race relations over the next couple of decades, a film that was not an Academy Award winner, and did not feature the star power of Spenser Tracy, Sidney Pointier, Katharine Hepburn or Rod Steiger, could be misplaced.

Donal Bogle, is an author of nine books on African Americans in the entertainment world and he gave a splendid but brief talk about the history of the film and the participation of Sammy Davis Jr. and Cicely Tyson in the film. The movie itself focuses on jazz music and it does a nice job with the musical sequences. Sammy was great in the part but his character is written as being an ass, and it gets tiresome after a while, especially when the plot begins to repeat the same notes over again. I’m glad we saw it, but it was not special enough to me to be counted as a highlight of the festival, in spite of it’s pedigree. 

Next we did something that others apparently do on a regular basis, but it was our first time. We went to a film for the program and left before the movie. The problem was that “The Hustler” was not scheduled to end until 8:45, and that would make us late for the program we wanted to see at 9:15. So we popped in and listened to Piper Laurie for twenty minutes as she and Eddie Muller talked about her career but particularly her involvement with “The Hustler”. I was unfamiliar with how many films she had made prior to that movie, and it was nicely shown in a film clip tribute, how she was trying to break out of the kinds of parts she had been stuck in. There was going to be a much deeper conversation in a Club TCM Interview, but we had something scheduled against that, and once more had to make difficult choices. So we saw this interview, had some dinner, went up to the room to change and wash up, before the final program of the day.

“Diner” is a film I saw initially because my friend Rick Rollino had recommended it so highly, back in 1982. It is a precursor to Seinfeld because it is basically about nothing. Six friends have some conversations at the diner, one of them is planning a wedding, one is struggling through a young marriage, and the others are in college or trying to avoid going to work or school. It is an ensemble piece that featured several young actors on the brink of very successful careers. 

TCM Host Dave Karger interviewed the four guests, we were missing only Daniel Stern and Mickey Rourke from the main cast. Ellen Barkin was the closest there was to a meaningful female character and it would have been nice to have her included but it really was something of a boy’s club from the start. 

Kevin Bacon and Tim Day had some stories to tell, but Karger seemed to be under the impression there was an Animal House style living situation when they shot the film and it was clear that that was not the case. Bacon had appeared in some films and had just decided to forgo a long term contract on the soap opera, “The Guiding Light”. This was Daly’s first film role.

Paul Reiser was a comedian at the time and had no clear explanation how he ended up being cast. He felt it was a little bit of an accident, and when he asked about the movie, he was told it was a story about five friends and he would be the sixth. He told a story about his manager calling him after reading the script and asking about his character. When Reiser told him the character’s name, his manager said, “yeah, you’re not in this movie”, because his character had no lines. Director Barry Levinson allowed a lot of improvisation on the shoot and Reiser is in the movie with a lot more to say, all of which he largely created himself. As

the comedian of the group, he had a lot of punchlines about other cast members stories as the discussion went along, and it was clear he was having a great time talking about the movie and his friends. By the way, his look on “The Kominsky Method” is clearly a result of hair and make-up, he was not nearly as schlumpy on the stage this evening as his character in that TV show.  

I know that Steve Guttenberg has been the subject of derision in the past few years, as a result of a stunt where he appeared naked in Central Park. It looks though as if he is the best preserved of the group and he has retained a youthful exuberance that came across on the program. Although he steered off course several times, he was well aware of it and usually returned to the question Karger was asking, but he always wanted to get in an extra comment or piece of information and they were all welcome. 

Just two other things about the day. We rode up in the shuttle to the “Diner” presentation and it was not a time saver, but it was a comfortable ride rather than a long walk. The line at the Legion Theater was long, but everyone was friendly and we had a nice time visiting with a woman from the Valley in the bar and on the line. Several people also complimented me on my Errol Flynn T-Shirt, which did please me because I got it for the purpose of wearing at the festival.