The melancholy set in as I sat in Grauman’s Chinese Theater, undoubtedly one of the stars of the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (TCMFF) each year. I was surrounded by friends and in the presence of a legend. Sophia Loren was front and center interviewed by a star-struck (and endearing if I may say) Ben Mankiewicz. I hung on to every word in the exchange between them, but my thoughts kept slipping back to real life and the fact that the festival was almost over. In a couple of days I’d return to reality where circumstances are serious and where several aspects of my life hang in the balance. It’s not a comfortable feeling nor is it one I’m particularly good at dealing with. That feeling has lingered. So much so, in fact, that I considered leaving my festival coverage to one post, the social affair that is TCMFF that I published last week. But I know I’d regret not having a diary of the screenings and presentations I attended on this blog. So I ventured forth and compiled my list, placing myself in each theater, in each moment, breathing the air of escape and – lo and behold – it proved therapeutic – the magic of the movies.
I also remembered that TCM celebrates its 21st anniversary today, another reason to be grateful for the memories. Each mention I make below means far more than simply watching a movie in a darkened theater, it means sharing the films with those I now call friends thanks to TCM. Here’s to many more decades and a sincere thanks from all of us for keeping classics front and center.
Now to the task at hand…
For most people watching twelve movies in four days is inconceivable and perhaps weird. For classics fans it’s a underachievement, particularly for the lucky ones who attend TCMFF, which serves stellar choices five at a time.
TCMFF fascinates me. Considering the work it entails to put such a vast event together as well as the people and their stories are enthralling. In the three years that I’ve attended the festival I’m also riveted by how attendees decide on which movies to watch. The reasons for choices range from family connections, to childhood memories to celebrity appearances to the best choice available. The diehards simply attend movies based on a schedule that allows the most screenings at the end of the four days and others base choices on production year – the older the better. I have no one method to pinpoint. While I like to pretend I do the fact is that I try to simply balance between the many things TCMFF has to offer – whether it’s a presentation, a celebrity, new-to-me films or old favorites I’ve never seen on a big screen. This year I flailed a bit and felt throughout I had no good, steady plan of action, but in retrospect I did quite well. Of the twelve films I saw half were new-to-me and last-minute choices dealt unique experiences. So, without further ado, my movies at this year’s TCMFF – part one.
Byron Haskin’s TOO LATE FOR TEARS* (1949)
During his introduction of TOO LATE FOR TEARS, noirchaelogist Eddie Muller told us we were in for a memorable movie experience, “the place to be” to start the 2015 TCMFF movie experience and I couldn’t agree more. Playing opposite this terrific noir was Garbo on a big screen and forgoing that was not easy, but watching the deliciously duplicitous Lizabeth Scott spread venom and listening to the memorable dialogue here turned out to be a festival highlight. Line after line had the viewers in stitches in that dark noir “yikes” sort of way.
Muller mentioned how Lizabeth Scott didn’t like this movie and he could never get her to introduce it at any event. That’s a shame because she really is a femme fatale for the ages, reminding me I need to watch more of her films STAT. Beautiful and as cunning and evil as they come, Scott was a natural fatale as she gives the impression she isn’t trying too hard.
“I didn’t know they made ’em as beautiful as you are, and as smart. Or as hard.”
Starring opposite Lizabeth Scott in TOO LATE FOR TEARS are Dan Duryea and Don DeFore who are both a pleasure to watch and listen to (and terrific opposite Scott). Kudos to me and the gang I watched this with at the Cineplex for making the right choice!
Michael Curtiz’s THE SEA HAWK* (1940)
A few of us went directly to Errol Flynn without passing GO after the noir. Standing in line checking my phone I hear a guy on the BREAKER MORANT (1980) line yell over to me, “you’re missing the most important film at the festival” to which I replied (half kidding) “you’re missing the most image – Errol Flynn with a sword.”
Choosing to watch a movie because its star is beautiful is as good a reason as any, but in truth I chose THE SEA HAWK because I’d never seen it. Again, a difficult choice since this played opposite William Powell and Carole Lombard in one of my all-time favorites, MY MAN GODFREY. Anyway, with an introduction by Rory Fynn, Errol’s daughter who has become the foremost authority on her father’s work after the 2007 publication of her book, The Baron of Mulholland: A Daughter Remembers Errol Flynn. I am confident I made the right choice again.
TCM’s Director of Program Production, Studio Production & Programming, Scott McGee introduced Ms. Flynn and conducted the pre-screening interview. Being that Ms. Flynn was 12-years-old when her dad passed she never experienced Errol Flynn the movie star or matinee idol as Scott referred to him, instead she said that while she could appreciate seeing him up on a big screen so young and charming what she appreciates most now is recognizing aspects of her father in her son Sean who was present at the screening and who bears a strong resemblance to his grandfather. When introduced a woman in the audience yelled “he’s gorgeous.”
Rory Flynn is charming and expressed with sincerity how grateful she was to be a small part of the festival, appreciative to TCM for allowing her to watch her father’s films through the years. In reference to THE SEA HAWK she talked about Rafael Sabatini, the novelist of THE SEA HAWK who wrote two adventure stories purchased by Warner Bros. that would eventually star Flynn, our movie and CAPTAIN BOOD in 1935.
The production design – the movie was shot at Warner Bros. Stage 21 in its entirety and looks fantastic with full scale ships built specifically for this movie. Stage 21 was destroyed by a fire in 1952, by the way. The film’s cinematography by Sol Polito who made 14 films with Curtiz was also discussed, the high contrast black and white which makes for a rich cinematic vision. The score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold is also a standout and set the standard for scoring – no doubt the film wouldn’t be the same without it. “You can’t even think about Errol Flynn without thinking of Korngold’s music, they are inextricably linked” said McGee and Flynn agreed. Korngold did uncredited work in CAPTAIN BLOOD and the terrific score of ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD.
As far as Flynn’s performance, Rory said “I think he’s wonderful. He was at his peak after working five years in the genre.” THE SEA HAWK, which followed CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935) and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), both also directed by Curtiz, solidified Flynn as the premier action/adventure star. His physicality, sword fighting skills in particular were perfected by this point. Also interesting is the fact that THE SEA HAWK was the favorite film of Winston Churchill. I can’t say I agree with Mr. Churchill as I didn’t love this movie, but it’s certainly a fun watch for many of the reasons mentioned above as well as for its fantastic cast. Besides Errol Flynn you get dependable, talented types like Claude Rains, Donald Crisp and Alan Hale. The leading lady in this is Brenda Marshall and the special treat, my favorite performance in the movie actually is delivered by Flora Robson who’s terrific as Queen Elizabeth.
One of the most popular screenings at this festival was THE 90-minute presentation, THE DAWN OF TECHNICOLOR. Everyone in attendance at that screening raved about it the rest of the weekend. I, however, chose John Ford’s MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946), which was a dream.
Watching a John Ford movie on a big screen is a religious experience. No exaggeration. Every single shot in this thing is a masterpiece whether it’s the personal, close-up or the grandiose wide-shot. Nothing is left to chance and each is more breathtaking than the last. I was sitting next to Kellee Pratt (@Irishjayhawk66) and we kept elbowing each other, “jaysus, look at that shot.”
Peter Fonda mentioned he’d never visited the MY DARLING CLEMENTINE set saying the first set he ever visited was Ford’s FORT APACHE in 1948, two years after CLEMENTINE. He did say, however, that this movie is a favorite of his tied with THE GRAPES OF WRATH as far as his dad’s performance goes. As many others also feel Peter also considers CLEMENTINE Ford’s best Western. CLEMENTINE if the fourth of seven films Henry Fonda made with John Ford.
Fonda and Carradine shared a great rapport and funny exchanges. They were exactly what you’d expect.
Worth mentioning – the memorable title sequence that introduces MY DARLING CLEMENTINE was used in the “100 Years of Title Design” presentation I attended on Sunday, the last day of the festival. Presented by Ian Albinson, founder of “Art of the Title,” an online publication dedicated to title sequences that span the entire history of film. The information and images offered were fascinating and included some of my favorites like the wonderful opening sequence of MY MAN GODFREY.
In any case, I hadn’t seen CLEMENTINE in years, but even if I had recently seen it this big-screen presentation was awe-inspiring. My favorite tidbit shred by Peter Fonda was that (reportedly) John Ford cut dialogue related to character and theme, because he knew Henry Fonda’s silences were more eloquent than any dialogue. This is cinema truth and is exhibited beautifully throughout this film.
Michael Curtiz’s THE PROUD REBEL* (1958)
This was an unintended screening for me and several others who were closed out of Anthony Mann’s REIGN OF TERROR (1949). However, it proved a charming and entertaining alternative albeit of the tear-jerker variety, which I’m not usually drawn to.
THE PROUD REBEL is a Western directed by Michael Curtiz that I’d never even heard of. The presentation of the film was a world premiere restoration and it looked beautiful featuring fine performances by Alan Ladd, Olivia de Havilland (now one of my favorite of hers in fact) and Ladd’s own son, David Ladd who at ten years old was nominated for a Golden Globe for his poignant performance in the movie. David Ladd introduced THE PROUD REBEL.
Mr. Ladd discussed how thrilled Alan Ladd was to have Olivia de Havilland as his co-star in this picture and alluded to the fact that Curtiz agreed to direct only after Olivia signed on to appear. David discussed how he fell madly in love with Olivia despite being a child. On acting with his father – “when you’re working with your father he’s gonna keep you honest.”
Eddie Muller who conducted the interview with Ladd said we should expect “One of the great dog movies of all time. Your heartstrings will get a work-out.” He wasn’t kidding. Lots of tissues were used in this screening – a lovely discovery.
Also in the audience watching THE PROUD REBEL, by the way, was Olivia De Havilland’s daughter. Although I only got a distant glimpse of her it was a thrill knowing she was there.
Next I headed to the Roosevelt Hotel lobby where I caught the tail-end of Ben Mankiewicz’s interview with Ann-Margret. Although I heard not one word of it I will be on the lookout as it will air on TCM sometime in the near future. However, I managed a couple of decent shots given I left my camera at home and had to use the iPhone.
Charles Reisner’s STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928)
One of the festival hot-ticket events was this screening of Buster Keaton‘s last independent film and his biggest financial flop, which is top-rate entertainment. The score composed and conducted by Maestro Carl Davis enhanced Keaton’s slapstick and as I always mention to my non-classic film fan friends and family, you have not experienced a silent film until you can do so in an arena that presents it with this kind of reverence.
Edward F. Cline’s THE BANK DICK (1940)
I almost hate to admit that this was one of the screenings I most looked forward to (although I mentioned it in my pre-fest coverage). There’s so much wrong with W. C. Fields‘ brand of comedy that I don’t know where to begin. He hates people – from old ladies to small children, cheats, drinks excessively – you name it. But man is he ever funny! And THE BANK DICK is tops on the list of Fields’ outings in my opinion.
On hand to introduce THE BANK DICK were Fields’ two grandsons, Ron and Allen Fields for whom this appearance is just one of the many W. C. events planned this year, the 100th anniversary of W. C.’s acting debut. You can take a look at the Official W. C. Fields site for information about upcoming events throughout the country celebrating the centennial. Interviewed by Illeana Douglas the men shared lots of entertaining anecdotes about their famous grandfather and this film. They admitted W. C. is an acquired taste but those in attendance were enthusiastic fans for the most part.
“Why has the persona of W. C. Fields lasted so long?” – The Fields brothers answered – even the Library of Congress has deemed W. C. an icon of American culture, not just an icon of comedy. As they explained, W. C. took the world personally and his comedy reflected that. The comedian/actor never stuck to a script and as a result much of his dialogue reflected the times and his real opinions. A favorite anecdote recalled how Fields was an avid supporter of FDR’s until the President said that no actor should be paid more than $25,000 per picture. Fields, who was getting $100,000 per picture, changed his allegiance that day. Also interesting is that W. C. made no film that bore his name as writer although he wrote them all. Instead he made up names or used names of people he’s run into along his path in life – like a bootlegger he knew in the Catskills.
Anyway, before the movie had us in stitches the stories about Fields did. This was a blast! I was quite surprised to see the theater only about half full. I’ll add that this was a terrific film to follow the Buster Keaton screening – a master of silent comedy followed by a master of verbal comedy.
And now I must take a break and offer one to you as well – there’s still much more to come, but this post is long enough already. I’ll finish my diary in a few days reliving every minute with each and every word. In the meantime you may like to listen to this Behind the Lens post-festival recap. Kellee Pratt and I were thrilled to be asked by radio host Debbie Lynn Elias to be a part of her show. She and her co-host Greg Srisavasdi are the best!
Also – enjoy The Official TCMFF photo and video recap.