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.

 

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.

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TCM Film Festival 10th Anniversary Recap–Day Two

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The Postman Always Rings Twice

Although I’ve seen this film several times before, my daughter had not and it is one of those essential film experiences so this was a choice for Friday morning. The screening was hosted by the Eddie Muller, the TCM Czar of Noir, and let’s face it, “Postman” is the prototypical noir. John Garfield is a genial drifter who happens into a job at a roadside diner. The wife of the proprietor is played by Lana Turner and the sparks immediately begin to fly. Suddenly, sex and murder are in the air and romance makes a root for two people who kill a genial old man for being in their way.

Like many classic films, you do have to accept some dramatic flair that goes along with the plot. The audience is supposed to laugh a bit at the cop who sympathizes so much with a cat that is collateral damage in the scheme, but it goes on a bit more than contemporary audiences will be used to, and it is the screenplay and direction that ends up being the source of mirth in the end.  The story is also pretty convoluted with double crosses and reversals galore. Frank and Cora are a little too clever for their own good, but they are not more clever than the D.A. or their own attorney.  There are too many trips to the hospital, accidental encounters with cops and nefarious background characters to keep track of. I think the film is vastly entertaining. My daughter enjoyed it but thought is was way too long and that the plot reversals go a bit too far at times.

There is little doubt that this is the film that most people will remember Lana Turner for. Although she was nominated for an Academy Award for “Peyton Place”, that melodrama is largely a misty memory for most. Her appearance here in the white shorts and the turban, is iconic and a reveal that will echo for decades down through other films like “Dr. No” and “Body Heat”. The house was packed and everyone seemed to have a grand time with this quintessential noir thriller.

Sleeping Beauty

 

This Walt Disney Masterpiece is Amanda’s favorite “Princess” film [as you should be able to tell by her wardrobe choice this day],so naturally we stuck around to

see it in the same theater we started the day in. The meticulous drawings of the characters and the vivid background make this one of the most beautiful animated films you are ever likely to encounter. The host for the discussion was author Mindy Johnson, who wrote a fantastic book on the women of the golden age of animation that we bought last year and had signed by all of the guests on last year’s panel. 

Her two guests this day were Jane Baer and Floyd Norman, two artists who worked on the film. Both of these guests were well into their eighties but had vivid memories of working on the project. Baer remembers doing the flames on the candles of the falling birthday cake, although she was not sure if her work was used or if other artists work was preferred. Norman was graciously polite by offering that the women animators where better at the facial details of the characters and that their work exceeded that of most of the men on the project.

 

Some nice photos of the guests in their time working on the project were shared with the audience and produced the requisite aaahs from the audience.

 

Academy Conversations: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Not only is one of my favorite films of all time being screened at the festival, it is featured in the Academy Conversations program, which is always one of the best features at the TCM Film Festival. This year is extra special because the two perennial hosts of this series, Ben Burtt and Craig Barron, both worked on the film. So in addition to the archives they were able to raid for information and picture, they have a treasure trove of personal stories and photos to add to the presentation. I may go a little overboard in covering this event, but it was hard to resist all the details that we were being given. Burtt is the Academy Award winning sound designer and he made substantial contributions to this particular movie. In fact one of the Academy Awards he possess is for this film. Barron was almost a newby by comparison. His one previous film was “the Empire Strikes Back”.  Both of these veterans of ILM are respected experts in their fields.  The very first presentation at a TCMFF that I attended was their presentation on “The Adventures of Robin Hood“, which just so happens to be my favorite film.

The whole Indiana Jones mythology is deeply rooted in the serials and B pictures of the 1930s and 40s. There was an elaborate comparison of pictures from some of those films to the images that ended up in Raiders and some of the subsequent sequels. The truck chase for instance was right out of an old Zorro serial, and the whip work is also cleverly mimicked in the movie. They showed some behind the scenes photos of them as young men working on the film, these shots were highly entertaining.

Even the sound of the whip is a complicated process as you can see from the clip above. Nothing in a movie is exactly what you expect it to be, and the additional sound that Burtt talks about here takes the scene up a notch. Another illustration that he provided concerned the gunshots and ricochets heard in the gun battles.

Depending on the environment in which it was being recorded, the gunshots come across as mild whistling sounds or booming blasts from a cannon. To get the ricochets, they fired along a dirt road in the desert, with a series of microphones along the path to pick up a distinctive echo effect.

The sound of an egg being peeled was used to make the crackling noise as a desiccated corpse turns toward Marion when they are escaping from the “Well of Souls”.  Ben Burtt  also explained how he was inspired even as a kid by sound effects. The class clown in his elementary school would take a ruler, slide it partially off the desktop and then pull it up and release to make a repeating twang sound. Burtt used this school day technique to create the sounds of the darts in the opening sequence of Raiders.

Craig Barron revealed some of the secrets for the visual effects, including the elaborate fishtank used to film oil and cloudy water together in different gradients to produce the well known cloud effects found in several early Spielberg films, including “Close Encounters” and “Poltergeist.”

 Of course the days of matte paintings and rear projection are largely behind us due to advances in Computer generated images, but it was not so long ago that they were the height of visual miracles in films. The example Barron shared is maybe one of the most famous end shots of all film history. The crated Ark of the Covenant is rolled down an aisle between dozens of other crates and as the camera pulls back, a warehouse full of similar crates is revealed, suggesting that the Ark is about to be lost again.

The team created blocks of wood as models for the artists to follow. A actual set of crates on either side is filmed with the Ark crate being rolled down the aisle and then the matte work is added to give the impression of an enormous room filled with similar looking boxes.

With the Famous Real “Indiana”

These two also did a presentation on Tarzan and His Mate for the festival, but that conflicted with another program that we wanted to see. If you ever get a chance to see them at work, be sure to take advantage of it.

As a side note, this was the program where I stumbled walking up the aisle of the Chinese Theater and took a tumble on the landing between the front and back sections of the theater. I was less worried about my dignity than I was about the impact I had on my righjt leg which began to stiffen up later that evening and threatened my mobility for the rest of the festival. It all worked out, but for a few hours I thought I might have to see a doctor this week, and not Dr. Jones.

Day For Night

I have a number of blind spots in my film going background and a lot of them are made up of foreign language films. I knew the name of Francois Truffaut from back in the day, even though I’d never seen any of his films. Of course he was recognizable to me from his role in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. This Academy Award winning Best Foreign Language film has been a movie that I looked forward to seeing for years. I even knew the reference that the title makes well before I knew anything else about the film.

The host for the program was again Eddie Muller, who basically identified this as the movie which cemented his desire to be a part of the film industry in some capacity. His guest was the International Star of the film Jaqueline Bisset. This is a woman who has accurately been described as one of the most beautiful women to grace the screen. In person, she lived up to that praise. She was also loquacious and honest in sharing her story about the film and the actors she worked with.

 

It turned out that the film is one of the highlights of the festival for me. It was completely charming and full of the kinds of behind the camera sorts of details about movie making that make the subject so interesting to all of us. The performances were first rate and the movie is very funny at times. I did not realize that there were going to be so many comic elements to it. This may have been Amanda’s favorite film of the Festival as well.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

This was a sentimental favorite to close out the second day of the festival. The program was hosted by Michael uslan, a prolific film producer and fan of classic movies. He mostly told stories about the actors in the film and about the original production’s history. He also briefly mentioned to remake featuring Peter O’Toole, but the focus was on this 1939 classic. This is the performance that won Robert Donat his Academy award, famously beating out Clark Gable’s iconic appearance i “Gone With the Wind”.

The storytelling is a little old fashioned from the perspective of mu daughter, and frankly I think I understand what she means. Somethings do not get well explained and the passage of time is often shown in a way that might be parodied by a modern film. It all still works but the film does feel a bit longer than necessary. At nearly two hours it does try to encapsulate several decades in the life of our title character.  Greer Garson is terrific in the film, but she is probably only in it for about forty minutes in the middle and we will miss her substantially in the back half of the movie.

This was our longest day at the festival and while watching the film, my leg started tightening up as a result of the fall I had earlier. I limped back to the car, and Amanda was worried that I could not drive home but I was fine. Luckily, a nice dose of Advil helped me get to sleep. So I finished the evening with more “Goodnight Mr. Slips” than I wanted.

TCM Film Festival 10th Anniversary Recap–Day One

This was the sixth TCM Film festival that I have attended, and the third year in a row that we included the Opening Night Red carpet Event in our schedule. I see that a lot of festival attendees begin their experience a day or two earlier with special lectures or tours in the area. Since I am usually squeezing in the Festival around my work schedule, I have to wait util the official beginning of the event. [although I am retiring and next year I will be free to gallivant wherever and whenever I please.]

For the past four festivals I have been accompanied by my youngest daughter Amanda, who is as movie crazed as I am and will gladly sit down for a pre-code classic or a late eighties recent classic. Like her old man, her favorite decade of film is the glorious 1970s, but we have a healthy love for all the prior decades as well. We started off the opening day by checking in and getting the gift bag that came with the pass we had purchased, and then we strolled down the street to have dinner at the venerable Musso and Frank, which is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary this year. Thursday night is Chicken Pot Pie night, which is what I had last year, so Amanda ordered that. I chose the scallops and was rewarded with a light but very rich meal. Since I skipped the Lyonnaise Potatoes, I did not feel too bad devouring the hard crusted sourdough bread and butter that was set on the table when we ordered.

We turned down desert and walked back to the Chinese Theater to walk the Red Carpet Event. We saw a couple of celebrities, including the Chair of TCM itself, and David Paymer was out front talking with some of the crowd.

We went into our seats in the theater, loaded down with the popcorn and soda that comes with the celebration of opening night. I did a quick little Facetime video while we awaited the start of the proceedings.

The Opening night film this year was “When Harry Met Sally”, which is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year. I was a little sad at times during the evening because my memories of the film are now bittersweet. My wife and I went to see the film when it opened, on our ninth wedding anniversary. “When Harry Met Sally” was also the first Laserdisc I purchased a year later when we treated ourselves to a new Laserdisc player as an anniversary gift for our 10th. I remember how pleased and surprised my wife was at the selection, and we enjoyed the film many more times over the years. This coming August will be the first year I will be alone for our wedding Anniversary, and the cloud of loneliness hovers over the heartwarming memories.

Before the film presentation, there was a brief video salute to the founder of TCM and it’s namesake, Ted Turner. Mr. Turner was there in person, seated about five rows behind where we were. In a nod to social politeness, nothing was mentioned about film colorization and his early advocacy of that. Instead, the focus was on his love of old movies and the desire to create a place for all of us who love them as well. Best to dwell on the positive at an event like this.

The main guests for the film were the two stars and the director. Rob Reiner was brought out first by host Ben Mankiewicz, and then Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan appeared, and they were rolled out on a couch like the one the married couples were interviewed on in the film. That of course was the close of the movie, so it was as if Billy and Meg had been sitting on the couch for 30 years since and are in the same spot for this evening. It was a very cute idea that when over well with the crowd.

What followed was a delightfully entertaining conversation about the origins of the movie, the work of screenwriter Nora Ephron and the contributions made by all of the cast members during the shoot. It seems that the iconic gag line “I’ll have what she’s having” was suggested by Billy Crystal, and that Meg Ryan was the one who actually volunteered to act it all out in front of the full crowd at the deli. Everyone seemed in good spirits and talked graciously about the late Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby. Nora Ephron was the focus of a tribute that would happen later in the festival, and another of her films was also being shown during the weekend.

A truly cool moment emerged when Rob Reiner, while talking about the music of the film, mentioned the work of composer Marc Shaiman, who was there in the audience and then came forward and briefly joined in the conversation. He was an enthusiastic spark plug in the middle of the discussion and made the moment feel even more special by his contribution.

When the movie actually runs, you are reminded how it really reinvigorated the idea of romantic comedies. The approach was fresh and instead of a series of contrived events, you got moments of personal revelation and witty dialogue to boot. All of the stars were excellent in their roles and the promise of the young Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby is weighed down a bit by their absence in the  opening discussion. The scenes where all four characters are talking simultaneously on the phone will  remind you of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, and the clever echoed dialogue shows how we all want the same sort of thing, to be loved.

Movies I Want Everyone to See: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

[Originally Published on Fogs Movie Reviews Fall of 2013] [Re-Published now in conjunction with the 2018 TCM Film Festival]

I recently spent the weekend with some friends and a guy I know well, and have been friends with for more than thirty five years, had the audacity to suggest that the remake of this film was more entertaining than the original. I instantly dropped my jaw, exclaimed loudly that he had to be kidding and then proceeded to disagree in a condescending manner. I have to apologize for the tone, it was not called for and I would not want my friend to be angry at me because I mocked his preference for the 2009 version. I do want him to know and understand that although I liked the Denzel/Travolta film, it can’t really hold a candle to the original and that vigorous defense of the 1974 classic  begins now as I once more recommend a movie that I want everyone to see.

The nineteen seventies were the last golden age of movie making. There have been plenty of great movies since then, and there have even been periods of time when a film making movement has taken center stage. Yet pound for pound the period of time when the studios were still controlled by film makers and not corporate conglomerates, remains the longest sustained period of film making excellence since the 30s. The mavericks that ran the studios lead by the seat of their pants, and their taste in films. When they succeeded, like Robert Evans did at Paramount, the atmosphere was invigorating. After “Heaven’s Gate” and the fall of United Artists, the movie business changed. Not always in negative ways but it was very different. “The Taking of Pelham 123” is one of those films that represent a gritty view of the world, with cynicism that reflected the time and place and was not simply a joke or a stylistic flourish. It’s not the kind of film that would have appealed to a modern studio as much. Maybe the indie world would be able to put something like this on the screen these days but it would not have had the cache of this version. The remake exists because there is already a story, and a success that the marketers can shoehorn into their philosophy. The remake is a casting gimmick, it worked but only because the groundwork had been laid out by the original.

MatthauThis is a crime film where the crime involves holding hostages for ransom. The conceit is that the location of the kidnapping is a moving target underground. The set up of the movie familiarizes us with a variety of characters, most of whom are working stiffs in the NY Transit System. Walter Matthau, who made his daily bread playing cynical types, is the worn down head of the transit police in charge of one section of the subway system. Lt. Garber, mouths off at his co-workers, dutifully provides a tour to visiting transit dignitaries and generally growls his way through another work day. The re-make casts Denzel as as a dispatcher rather than a cop. OK that might work, except it the remake then  gives him a back story and a plot line that have nothing to do with the main event. The goal is to layer the character and make the plot deeper. In my view it comes off as uncertainty as to how to make the plot as tense as possible. They resort to tricks to build empathy for Garber.  Matthau’s cop version is just doing his job. He is good at it and he struggles with the crisis he is faced with but our rooting interest is in the events not the man. Denzel is given multiple crisis to deal with and his willingness to do the job is undermined by the suspicion around him because of a separate story that is not really the focus of the film.

As a great illustration of the urban grittiness found in the original, take a listen to this terrific main theme that muscles the story onto the screen and tells you this is a film about tough men and dangerous situations, and manages to do so without resorting to theatrics.

I don’t remember the score from the remake, but I do remember the over the top “bad guy” played by John Travolta. Dark glasses, close cropped hair, Fu Manchu mustache and tattoos galore are all trademarks of movie bad guys in the last twenty years. All the gang in the original had fake mustaches but they wore them as a cover not as an attempt to intimidate. Even though there is not any back story or character costuming, the four hijackers in the 1974 film all had distinct personalities and they were easy to remember by their colorful sobriquets.  I am pretty sure this is where Tarantino cribbed the idea for naming his characters in “Reservoir Dogs”.

Robert-Shaw-as-Mr-Blue-600x255The ultimate measure of any story like this is the villain, and while Travolta was scary and played the part as was written, his character is not as interesting or unnerving as Robert Shaw’s Mr. Blue. While we ultimately hear a little bit more about his background, the truth is none of it matters because we know from the beginning that he is a ruthless professional. The look in his eye and the demeanor he conveys is all we need to know he is an alpha. Shaw never screams or shouts. Mr. Blue’s cool voice and nearly expressionless face tells every passenger on that train that he is not a man to be f***ed with. The next year after this, Shaw did “Jaws” which was a performance that draws attention to the characters idiosyncrasies.  Except for his intolerance of the psycho Mr. Grey, we see little of his motivation or internal processes. Shaw underplays every scene and the dialogue with Matthau on the radio is deadly earnest. He never compromises. The one time his timetable is adjusted has nothing to do with negotiating but everything to do with the situation, he still is in charge.

The way the hijackers maintain their control of the situation is by following Mr. Blue’s lead. He guns down a hostage in cold blood and he doesn’t accept the improvisation of his reckless ex mafia colleague. When he speaks to the passengers there is no mock sympathy or reassurance. He simply speaks directly and he acts as he has promised to.

Robert Shaw as Mr. Blue, menacing Matthew Broderick's Dad.

Robert Shaw as Mr. Blue, menacing Matthew Broderick’s Dad.

The supporting players are a combination of believable types and loathsome stereotypes. Most of the employees of the N.Y. Transit system come off as they are supposed to, harried professionals who view these events from the point of view of a bureaucrat rather than an average citizen. Ben Stiller’s Dad shows up, not cracking wise so much as he is humorously supporting Garber as his partner in the Transit police. Veteran TV character actor Dick O’Neil plays the intolerant train schedule manager who can’t be bothered to worry about dead customers when the trains are getting off schedule. He asks at one point what the customers want for their  lousy 35 cents, to live forever? This is the kind of casual negativity that pushes Garber into one of his few outward displays of frustration.  We get a chance to see the craven actions of political figures as they calculate the costs of paying a ransom. A calculation that has more to do with the next election than saving the lives of the hostages.  We never get to know much about the captives, they are stereotypes; old man, panicked mother, hooker etc. This is not a story of the lives of the victims of this crime or the perpetrators or the cops. The story focuses on the events of the crime.

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The New York subway system seems familiar because we’ve seen it in a hundred movies. Overcrowded, not quite clean, sometimes antiquated and claustrophobic.   The film manages to convey all of that without dwelling on any of it. The darkness surrounding the train car becomes the background for some good tense scenes. One cop even jokes that because of his color he wants everyone to be aware that he is between the SWAT team and the criminals. There is a very morbid sense that everyone in those tunnels is just another rat in a hole and they all have to fend for themselves. While there are nihilistic films out there today, it is hard to see a major studio building a film around that sort of attitude. The characters would have to be sympathetic and the bureaucracy would be the focus of anger rather than the kidnappers. The cops at the surface have many of the same attitudes that we might see fifteen years later in “Die Hard”.  They are ready to shoot first and ask questions later. They are not always competent, witness the car crash that delays delivery of the money, but they don’t play most of this for laughs. The police in authority are not figures to be mocked like Dwayne Robinson, they are also working professionals that are worn from the job but shrug their shoulders and do it anyway. This whole film is very much a blue collar thriller. The bad guys are a team of desperate men not an army of tactically trained experts. The Transit employees are real people in a tough thankless job that have become jaded. The cops are overwhelmed and smart but not brilliant. The only pure comic personae is the Mayor with the flu.

The remake is filled with visual twists and plot developments to astound us. This movie is not filled with fireworks but it manages to hold our attention and be entertaining. The plot scenario might sound farfetched but set in the days of D.B. Cooper and hijacking of planes to Cuba it feels real. The city, the subway the  passengers, the crooks and the cops all come across as real people. This is not a spy adventure or an action film with a hero who overcomes incredible odds. It is an urban thriller that  makes it’s story feel like it could happen and characters that might really exist. The final clue that nails the hijacker that gets away is even more fun now a days when we see so many stories about stupid criminals. Even though the denouncement is played for a laugh, it also feels authentic.

Taking 3

I’m sure most of the readers of this site have probably watched this film a time or two. Fogs gave me a term in a on-line post that I now use regularly. This is a “Black Hole” film. It’s gravitational pull for me is overwhelming, and every time I encounter it I lose another 104 minutes of my life but I gain a 104 minutes of time with story tellers who know what the hell they were doing.

Richard Kirkham is a lifelong movie enthusiast from Southern California. While embracing all genres of film making, he is especially moved to write about and share his memories of movies from his formative years, the glorious 1970s. His personal blog, featuring current film reviews as well as his Summers of the 1970s movie project, can be found at Kirkham A Movie A Day.

TCM Film Festival Day Four

After waiting a whole year and salivating over all the choices for a number on months, it is always a little melancholic to arrive at the final day of the Film Festival. Like the end of a Christmas day or most weekends, the conclusion of something you enjoy so much feels a little heavy, like sun-downer syndrome. Still I had a day full of films ahead of me, and since I am a 70s guy, I made the most of the bigger venues and saw three from the last golden age of Hollywood film making.

The Black Stallion

This is one of the most beautiful films you ever saw. The cinematography by Caleb Daschanel is entrancing, both the sections set on a Mediterranean Island and those taking place in middle America in the 1940s. I think the phrase “magic hour” might have been invented to describe much of the work here. Amanda had never seen this film. I bought a copy on DVD for the girls when they were younger but they never got around to watching it before they were off to college, so I guess it is my fault for not forcing it down their throats.

We are suckers for animal stories around here. we have had dogs and cats and snakes and rats and assorted amphibians and rodents as members of the household . We have never however had a horse. I have a cousin who has devoted large parts of her life to horses and after seeing movies like this, you can easily understand how this could happen. “The Black” as he comes to be known, has a magnetic effect on the young boy Alec, who is the star of the movie. Our screening was hosted by film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. He noted that Kelly Reno, who played young Alec was basically just a ranh kid who could ride from the time he was very young. He has to carry a lot of the film and it is a very good child performance.

Maltin was joined by co-screenwriter Jeanne Rosenberg, who was fresh out of film school at USC when she happened into the gig. Originally she connected with the director as a production assistant just based on a phone call when she heard that Carroll Ballard was going to make a movie of her favorite childhood book. The screenplay was not something the first time director had nailed down and it was still being revised by Melissa Matheson. As the production geared up, Rosenberg worked with Matheson to fashion the story into a screenplay and get so many things right.

The first half of the movie is a magical story of the boy and the horse coming together and saving each other after a maritime disaster. Hoyt Axton plays Alec’s dad, a man who is lucky at cards but maybe not at much else as we see. He played a similar type of character a few years later in “Gremlins”. The shipwright and beach sequences are the most memorable scenes in the film and they just look gorgeous. When the story shifts back to the small town setting for the final half, two new adult characters become part of the story. Terri Garr who is always so welcome is Alec’s  long suffering mother. It’s Mickey Rooney however who comes closest to stealing the film from the horse. As a retired race horse trainer, who is struggling with his farm and separation from the racing life, Rooney comes across as a sincere and interesting mentor to Alec. He was nominated for Supporting actor that year, and that performance probably lead to the Honorary Oscar he deservedly received three years later.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

One of our favorite films of all times was playing in the same Egyptian Theater right after “The Black Stallion”, so we went right out the door for one and got back in line for the next. I did a write up for “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” for a Robert Shaw Film Festival that I did on the web site seven years ago, you can read the original post here. I also wrote about the film for a series I contributed to on the now defunct Fog’s Movie Reviews. I have been slowly re-posting those reviews on this site under my series “Movies I Want Everyone to See”. As soon as this post goes up, I will add the Pelham post to the blog and you can read about it in more depth.

This screening need to be special because we passed up the showing of “The Ten Commandments” hosted by Ben Burt and Craig Barron. Their presentations have been the highlights of each of my previous Film Festival experiences and the Special Effects and Set Design are the best things about the Ten Commandments. I sure hope their presentation ends up on TCM Backlot so I can enjoy it. Anyway, it turns out that we made a good choice because the movie was preceded by a most insightful presentation by Bruce Goldstein, who among other things is the director of Repertory Programming at the New York Film Forum.

Goldstein’s talk was punctuated with historical references to NYC in the 1970s and also an extensive review of the use of the New York subway system as a film location. There were clips from “Death Wish’, “The Incident”, “The Warriors” and even Michael Jackson’s “Bad” which was shot by Martin Scorsese in some of the same spots. The best clip however was the video of former Mayor of NYC Ed Koch, introducing the film at a 1991 Film Forum event. Actor Lee Wallace plays the Mayor of NY in Pelham, and he bears an astonishing resemblance to Koch, who became the mayor much later. People often thought the film Mayor was modeled after Koch but the film preceded Koch’s term by 4 years. Wallace would also play the Mayor of Gotham City in Tim Burton’s “Batman”, almost certainly this time inspired by Koch. Goldstein says that “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” is the one film that gets New York Geography absolutely right. We got a little travelogue of the subway system as part of his talk as well.

The soundtrack of this film is terrific and it is a great example of the muscular style of gritty crime films made in the seventies.  In a theater with a good sound system it is like being punched into paying attention to what is happening. So much is great about this movie, I hope you will take the time to visit my post on it.

Hamlet

Shakespeare is the greatest writer in history. You may love someone else’s work more but no one had the impact on the language and culture that the Bard has had. In the Twentieth Century, there have been plenty of actors who have made their mark as interpreters of the works of William Shakespeare. The boards are littered with English actors who cut their teeth on the plays of Shakespeare. My guess is that most of them would say that Laurence Olivier was the leading Shakespearean of his time. He headed Theatrical companies that specialized in the plays and he made movies out of several of them. The 1948 version of “Hamlet” may leave out a substantial portion of the play, but it gets the most important elements in with enough interest for film audiences to have been awarded the Best Picture Oscar that year and Olivier himself was named Best Actor.

Actor Alan Cummings joined new TCM Host Dave Karger for an exploration of the play and the film. Cummings was polite but did communicate that he had reservations about the interpretation that Olivier had made of the play. He was especially miffed at the prologue that suggested the play was about a man who could not make up his mind. He felt this was a disservice to the true themes of the story. Cummings spoke of his own experiences doing the play in an almost accidental fashion in London.

From my perspective, the film was excellent, showcasing the setting as well as the actors. While Olivier gets credit as the first director to direct himself to an Academy Award for acting, his direction of “Hamlet” includes some great uses of camera and lighting to make the plays ghosts and murderous subplots more intriguing. The film gets the big scenes right and anyone can follow what is going on. The outdoor locations that are used in just a couple of scenes add to the sense that this is not just a stage-bound version of the play.

Before the start of the movie I had a chance to briefly visit with fellow Lamb member Kristen Lopez. She has been another guest on several of the Lambcast Podcasts that I have been on and I was a guest last year on the show “Walt Sent Me” which she and co-host Todd Liebnow  put together. I know she is a big fan of Oscar Isaac and she went to see him doing “Hamlet” last year on Broadway. I suspect he is her favorite Hamlet.

I’ve seen the Kenneth Branagh complete text version of the film, and the Mel Gibson version, which like the 1948 film cuts things down to it’s essentials. I still think Laurence Olivier is definitive, but maybe I will change my mind if Oscar brings his version of the play to the West Coast.

Animal House

The passage of time is not always enough to qualify a film as a classic. There are plenty of films from the 1970s that would never reach that threshold even if another forty years passes. “Animal House” however was a “Classic” from the moment it first screened. This is one of the films that I covered on the original project that started this blog.

I have seen this movie dozens of times and I might well have skipped this to see the 1925 “Phantom of the Opera’ at the Egyptian, but this was closing night, it was playing on the TLC Chinese Imax screen and most of the original cast was going to be there to share some memories. So even though it is a well worn path, we followed it to a great closing night presentation.

This is Amanda’s favorite comedy. I’m sure much of that has to do with her college experience with the Trojan Marching Band. They play the closing song as a theme for their post game performances, and all the band members do the Bluto.

The line up for the presentation included most of the cast. Peter Riegert, Tom Hulce and Kevin Bacon were missing, but everyone else of note was there and director John Landis, co-producer Matty Simmons, lead a lively recount of behind the scenes events. Landis told how the studio wanted Chevy Chase in the film bur Landis was afraid it would become a SNL film and he did not think Chase was right. In his memory, he maneuvered Chase into passing on the film because choosing Foul Play would give him leading man status opposite Goldie Hawn and “Animal House” would mean he was part of an ensemble.

James Widdoes told  a story about the cast getting into a fight with the members of a fraternity at the University of Oregon. The cast had been invited to a party by some of the sorority girls who were hanging around the shoot but the guys in the frat, many of them on the football team, took exception to the actors “crashing” the party. Bruce McGill and Tim Matheson seemed to be getting the bums rush out the door and Widdoes tossed his beer at the frat guys and gave them an “f@#k you”, which as you can imagine did not go over well.

Mark Metcalf, who was the authoritarian Niedermeyer from the rival frat in the film, described how he arrived on set several days after the rest of the cast and was invited over to the table in the cafeteria where they were seated. As he approached them, they started flinging food at him in a manner very similar to the food fight that breaks out in the film.

Everyone had a contribution to make which made the effort to see this film worthwhile. And then of course the movie is hysterical and all the jokes continue to land, forty years later.

Singer Steven Bishop also did a nice a Capella version of the closing song, which many in the audience attempted to join in on. Basically, a splendid time was had by all.

Finish up

A lot of great films over the course of four days. I found this picture on the Festival Web Site and thought you might appreciate where we sat for most of the screenings. This is from the Bullitt Screening. In the Yellow circle you will see me in my burnt orange shirt, Amanda to the right and next to her is our friend Michael. Good Times

 

TCM Film Festival Day Three

The original plan was to see “Kiss Me Deadly” and try to squeeze in a program called “Crackin’ Wise” and finish off the day with a nitrates screening of “Spellbound”. None of those three things happened. This was still a jam packed day and there were other programs to see that held all kinds of allure for me.

His Girl Friday

The first change of the day began before anything had really started. I was with my daughter and while we are not locked at the hip, I do enjoy taking in the films at the festival with her as much as possible. Although I wanted to keep a Noir thing going by seeing the Mickey Spillane based “Kiss Me Deadly”. I have seen it before however and missing it was not going to hurt that much. Amanda had not seen His Girl Friday before and that’s where she was headed so I chose to tag along. There was another reason I chose this, my friend Michael, who is a blogger here in Southern California, was going to see this and I hadn’t seen him in almost a year so this would be a good chance to catch up because he was going to see Rosalind Russel and Cary Grant as well.

Sure enough we caught up with him and we spent several screenings together for the rest of the festival.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russel are great in this rapid fire remake of “The Front Page”. The switch in gender and relationship from the previous film works really well, and Ralph Bellamy gets pushed off as a third wheel in another picture that he stars in. Author Cari Beauchamp, an Academy Scholar and contributor to numerous publications, walked us through some background on the film and mentioned something that particularly interested me. The average person speaks at a rate of 120 to 150 words a minute, according to Beauchamp, Grant and Russel both exceed 200 words a minute in most of their scenes. Even with that active pace and shap direction, because of the two late nights in a row, I dozed in a couple of spots. I may have missed five to ten minutes of the film, fortunately, I’ve watched it a number of times. Amanda was very entertained by the whole thing.

Bullitt

Jaqueline Bisset was scheduled to appear at this which was one enticement to see this movie, but she had to cancel at the last minute for a family emergency. Host Eddie Muller was particularly disappointed, but vowed to try to get her on the program next year. [My suggestion is a screening of “The Deep”]. Miss Bisset however was not the main reason I wanted to see this screening. The car chase that begins and ends all car chases was the main draw. This looked like the movie that was going to have the biggest crowd at the festival, despite being perceived by many of the fans as outside the “classic” studio period. I had just seen a story on CBS Sunday Morning about the Mustang that was featured in the film.

Amanda also has the wits to recognize McQueen as the King of Cool. She dotes on him almost as much as her favorite, Robert Shaw (tomorrow). McQueen’s image was everywhere at the festival, including the “Essential” passes that we wore around our necks for admission to every Festival activity.

The sound design on this movie is tremendous and when the Charger and Mustang take over the streets of San Francisco, it is a wonder to behold and especially to hear. I saw “Bullitt” in it’s original theatrical release in 1968. My older brother Chris took me, it was playing with a long forgotten George Peppard film, “House of Cards”. I remember describing to my friends on the playground the violent shotgun killing of the witness, but especially detailing the car chase.

McQueen looks so cool in his turtleneck sweater and blazer, the sunglasses cap off the effect and you have an authority figure that the rebel generation of the 1960s can relate to.

An Invisible History: Trailblazing Women of Animation

This was flat out my favorite program at this years TCM Film Festival. The gathering of talent and history was incredible and the stories these women shared were fascinating insights into the world of animation, particularly at the Disney Studios.

Mindi Johnson introducing Ruthie Tompson

To begin with, author and animation historian Mindi Johnson, introduced us to Ruthie Tompson, who as a little girl was a model for the kids featured in Disney’s original Alice shorts, which mixed animation and live action, before Mickey Mouse. If you can do math, you will have figured out that Miss Tompson is not exactly a kid. Here she is in her 108 years of glory.  She sounded great and made just a couple of remarks as an introduction to the rest of the program. She ended up going to work for Walt and did ink and paint on the first real Mickey Mouse short, “Plane Crazy” which was screened as part of the audio visual presentation put together by the host.

What followed that introduction was a long line of innovators in the animation arts. Mindi Johnson described the bungalows that the inkers worked in and showed us a variety of pictures that illustrated the labor intensive process that was required to get these cartoons in shape. When color entered into the scene in more abundant ways, the painting process became more complicated and the women who participated in putting these shorts together began to be designers in addition to the detailed ink work they did.

On the program, there were women who contributed to every Disney Feature Film ever released, including Pixar films and Roger Rabbit.

After the presentation, there was a book signing at the Roosevelt Hotel Lobby. Amanda and I scrambled over there, bought a beautiful copy of Mindi Johnson’s book, and then had it signed by all the women on the panel.

I frankly pity any animation fan who was not there for this wonderful look at the hidden history of outstanding women in the field.

Heaven Can Wait

We headed back to the Main Chinese theater and reconnected with Michael for our next screening, the comedy “Heaven Can Wait” which was nominated for nine Oscars in 1978, including the big one, but walked away with just the prize for set decoration. This film had Warren Beatty’s influence all over it. Three of the actors were nominated [including Beatty] and the film was co-directed by Beatty and Buck Henry , who was one of the guests for the presentation. We saw Henry last year at a screening of “The Graduate”, and he was a little more mobile then. This year he did not get out of his wheelchair. He was also a bit more cryptic and slow with his answers, but when he interjected a comment, the wit and sharpness are still there.

Ben Mankiewicz lead the discussion and Dyan Cannon, nominated for her role in the film, took the lead on most of the background, allowing Buck to participate when he was good and ready and not before. 

This film is a loose remake of “Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which was screened last year at the festival although I missed it. This was the 40th anniversary of the film, although Dyan Cannon did not want to acknowledge that, I know what she means, it just does not seem possible that it was that long ago.

The movie is a featherweight story of a heavenly mix up with some body swapping comedy and slapstick humor from Charles Grodin and Miss Cannon. Amanda had never seen it before and she enjoyed it while recognizing that it was largely a frothy entertainment from the decade of cinema that she most loves. Ben made mention of the fact that Cannon was at one time married to Festival favorite Cary grant, and she quikly volunteered that their love life was great. It was a big laugh and she does have a book coming which looks back on that time so that should be interesting.

The Big Lebowski

The one thing that could lure me away from the nitrate screening of “Spellbound” that was was originally planning on, was the last minute addition of Jeff Bridges to the line up of guests to talk about the Coen Brother’s stoner film noir. Lebowski is twenty years old this year, and I know many classic film fans would probably find it’s inclusion problematic because of it’s recent vintage. I did hear a few people complaining because there is a Fathom Screening in conjunction with TCM coming up later this year so maybe this showing was superfluous. Forget that, the movie is entertaining as hell and still completely weird. Which was pretty much a description of Jeff Bridges as well.

Just as Mel Brooks and William Friedkin had, Bridges barely sat during his time in front of the audience. He roamed the stage and actually lead us all in a Buddhist style chant before the interview actually began.

Eventually, Ben managed to corral him and get him to sit for some questions. It is probably well known that much of The Dudes” costuming came directly from Bridges own closet, including the sweater jacket that is so iconic. Bridges mentioned that co-star John Turturro was not quite sure that the film was something he thought much of, but after several years he has come around and it seems that it may be his most recognized part.

Bridges had very nice things to say about the late Ben Gazzara, who had been a contemporary of his father. Even though the subject might have called for it, and in California, the laws do not frown on it, I did not detect the scent of herb in the air. Bridges loopy conversation might suggest that he was taking advantage of the new policy, but I suspect he was mostly high from the warm reception he got from the crowd at the festival.

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.

TCMFF: Opening Night The Producers

AFI says it’s the number 11 comedy of all time, I can find no reason to disagree.  Mel Brooks first film is a slap stick like Affair with lecherous men, providing sexual gratification to little old ladies in exchange for their investment in Broadway shows. Gene Wilder is a timid  book keeper who figures out a way to make money from a flop. So the search is on for the elements of a guaranteed failure.

Everyone remembers how great Zero Mostel and Wilder are in their parts. Special mention must go to Kenneth Mars as the deranged playwright.  His morose Nazi, seeking redemption for der Fueher is comically tragic.  No tragedy, just hilarity when Dick Shawn appears as the actor, supposedly destined for failure,  who steals the play with his loopy line readings. He almost steals the movie as well.

Springtime for Hitler was a show stopper in the film, and I’m sure the number had a huge impact on the decision to turn the film into a Broadway musical. The film made from the musical play does not quite deliver the same goods, but I remember enjoying it anyway.

As usual, The TCMFF planned a great program for opening night. Before the screening,  Leonardo DiCaprio came out and presented an award named after the late Robert Osbourne,  to Martin Scorsese,  for his efforts at preserving films. Both gave nice speeches,  and Scorsese was particularly passionate regarding seeing films on the big screen.  Marty

Then Mel Brooks came out, supposedly to be interviewed,  but he is a force of nature that cannot be contained. He basically riffed for twenty minutes on the background of the film and the actors.  Host Ben Mankiewicz cold barely ask a question much less get a direct answer,  but he knew that going in, he’s done this type of thing with Brooks before. At 91, Mel puts the rest of us to shame when it comes to energy. Mel

TCM Film Festival Day 4

Sunday mornings in Hollywood are a quiet time most weeks, but when the TCM Film Festival is in town, the pace gets quicker on the last day and it starts early.

Cock of the Air (1931)

This was a Howard Hughes production and it was pre-code so it is definitely a little racy for the time. Although mild by today’s standards, this film must have had tongues wagging with it’s story of a flirtatious aviator and a French Opera singer. The fact that the Opera singer is given a medal for moving away from Paris, where she is a distraction to too many officers, let’s you know that this is not a chaste figure making a sacrifice for her country.

The dialogue is full of innuendo and then there are the stars costumes. They leave little of her decolletage to the imagination. The Hayes office forced 12 minutes of cuts in the film and it was thought that they were gone for good but a decade ago, the Motion Picture Academy discovered an uncensored print that lacked a soundtrack. Using the existing material and a copy of the script, four actors dub in the lines from the scenes that were previously cut. In the screening we saw, the sections that had been cut were identifiable by an icon on the screen that came and went as the story played out.

It was a fascinating experience to see the restored film in excellent shape, but even more so with the “lost” material reinserted and the censors cuts clearly indicated.

The film has a contentious romance at it’s heart but there is also a lot of humor built into the story. There is not really much in the way of battle action but there are a few flying scenes and the bedroom farce sections will keep you in stitches.

Lured (1947)

It’s completely normal to think of Lucille Ball as a television star. That is where she ultimately made her biggest mark, but she also starred in over 70 features and she was sometimes thought of as the Queen of the Bs of her era. This film is a noir inspired melodrama featuring a serial killer, dance hall girls, the personal columns and George Sanders. It is directed by 50s favorite Douglas Sirk, but features the glorious black and white of the late 40s noir films rather than the technicolor of “Magnificent Obsession” or “All that Heaven Allows”.

Lucy is an American actress, stranded in London trying to make ends meet as a hostess in a dancehall. Her friend disappears and Scotland yard uses her to try and bait a serial killer who has been sending poetry inspired by a disturbed bard. It is interesting to see that the procedural of using a profile of a killer has been around a lot longer than “The Silence of the Lambs”.  Working as a police undercover agent, Ball encounters suspects and falls in love with the stylish and snobby George Sanders. Sanders turns out to be a suspect as well. complicating the romance. The use of the personal ads and the cop falling for a suspect reminds me of the Al Pacino movie, “Sea of Love”.

For a film that ultimately relies on suspense, there is a lot of humor and fluff. Balancing a romance with a serial killer story is awkward. Boris Karloff is another suspect, and at first he is played as a bit of a comic character but it does turn dark pretty quickly. I know that I have seen Cedric Hardwicke in movies before, but it is only days later that I realized he played the Pharo in “The Ten Commandments”, I should have made that connection sooner. Charles Couburn as the head of Scotland Yard’s team investigating the murders, makes no attempt to do an English accent, he gets by on his general charm and old man wisdom. Alan Napier was in “The Court Jester” yesterday and interestingly enough is Detective Gordon in this movie. I say interesting because that’s one step away from a part that he did not have in his most famous role. He was Alfred in the 1960s Batman, and there he just answered the”bat phone” when Commissioner Gordon called.

Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara was in attendee and she told a few stories about her father who was featured in this film.

Postcards From the Edge (1990)

Just as Robert Osborne’s death hung over the Festival which was dedicated to him, the double whammy of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds was also heavy on many film lovers minds. There were two films being screened to honor the Mother/Daughter tandem that we lost in December. “Singin’ in the Rain” was in the big house at Grauman’s but we had been to a screening in January so chose instead to see the Roman à clef  “Postcards from the Edge”, screenplay by Carrie Fisher. Although Fisher denied that it was based on her relationship with her own mother, the parallels are to obvious to ignore.

Meryl Streep first sang on screen not in “Mama Mia” or “Into the Woods” or “Ricki and the Flash”, but rather in this film, where she plays the drug abusing actress daughter of a famous old time Hollywood singer Actress, played by Shirley MacLaine. There are a lot of Hollywood inside jokes, including a running story line concern the casual mating behaviors of people in the film business. The movie is littered with a variety of well known actors in brief parts including Rob Reiner, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfess, Dennis Quaid, and in one last minor role before she broke out into stardom later in this year Annette Bening.

I can’t say that there is a strong narrative but I can say that the two leads were great in their parts. You can see under the brash enthusiasm of MacLaine’s character to her more vulnerable parts. As usual, Streep is excellent and she is called on to do several district moods. She plays it straight when acting in a not very good film, she is angry as the casual lover betrayed by her own casualness, and she is frightened by the stupidity of her own choices when it comes to drug use. I thought her best moments were with Director Hackman as he tries to be honest with her and rescue her career at the same time.

This was the second Mike Nichols film we saw at the festival. It is not a work as assured and ground breaking as “The Graduate” but it was typical of the kinds of comedic dramas he would specialize in most of his later career.

What’s Up Doc? (1972)

We left the screening of “Postcards” before the guests, Todd Fisher and Richard Dreyfess came out, because scheduling was tight and we wanted to get in to see this second Peter Bogdanovich film. Amanda had seen the bleak but moving “Last Picture Show” the day before, and this was an opportunity to cut loose and see what else he can do. From one year to the next it is hard to imagine a bigger shift in tone that this revival of the screwball comedy, featuring Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal.

Streisand has the role that in the 1930s would have been played by Katherine Hepburn or in the 1940s by Barbara Stanwyk. She is a slightly nutty misfit with a huge pool of knowledge on the tip of her tongue because she has been thrown out of so many colleges and so many majors. She latches onto O’Neal as a cute professor of Musicology with an interesting theory of music and rocks. His fiance introduces us to Madeline Kahn, in her first film role where she steals the whole picture. Kahn is the dowdy and dominating woman that runs the life of the absent minded O’Neal and Streisand is jsut the ticket to relieve him of that burden.

Throw in four identical suitcases with stolen jewellery, secret government information, rock specimens and clothes and underwear and you are all set for the kind of slapstick and mistaken identity that made those films of an earlier era so fun. There is literally a gag with people going in and out of hotel room doors that looks like it could have been cribbed from a Marx Brothers film.  Like most of those older films, this movie has scene stealing character actors and wild shifts in momentum. The last section of the movie features an astounding chase through the streets of San Francisco, on foot, bike and in cars. “Bullit” looks simple by comparison.

 Bogdanovich appeared before the film to talk about the actors and the process of getting the movie made. He seemed to have clearly understood that if he wanted to have the ability to wok in different genres, he need to get to direct this film. This was also a film written in part by Buck Henry, who had been the guest the night before for “The Graduate”.

Speedy (1928)

We finished the festival with a silent film from Harold Lloyd. Along with Keaton and Chaplin, Lloyd is one of the cornerstones of not just silent films but comedy films specifically. This version of the film is apparently widely available but this screening had something extra special to recommend it. It was to be accompanied by a live orchestra playing original music for the film.

The Alloy Orchestra is really a four piece ensemble and they follow the action closely throughout the film. Sprinkled in the score are familiar motifs relating to baseball and carnivals, which are both featured in the story. A feckless young man with great confidence, goes from job to job, trying to impress the parents of the girl he is in love with. His failure as a soda jerk or cab driver is incidental to the wild moments he encounters on the streets of New York and Coney Island.

The film narrative is slight but there are dozens of visual gags and the actors do a nice job playing sweethearts who are unaffected by the upheaval that surrounds them. In the end, the young man saves the day for his future father-in-law, but he ruins a suit and Babe Ruth’s day along the way.  Suzanne Lloyd, Harold’s Granddaughter and keeper of his legacy was present to reminisce with film historian and critic Leonard Maltin.

If you want to see what NYC looked like nearly a century ago, this movie will give you an extensive tour and make you long for the days when Coney Island served cotton candy in paper sacks.