Written by Senora Bicho
I would not consider myself a fan of classic movies but thought that covering the second annual TCM Classic Film Festival up in Hollywood would be interesting. The festival includes over 70 different classic movies to choose from spread over four days and several theaters including the historic Egyptian and Graunman’s Chinese. There are also several panels offered featuring such film topics as “The Best Trailers Ever Made” and celebrity signing sessions. I was not able to make it to any of the panels or signing sessions since there were too many movies that I want to see instead. There are typically five movies showing across the same timeslot and the first major challenge is deciding which one to go and see. Inevitably there were always at least two films that I was debating between up until the last possible second.
The first movie that I decided on was Royal Wedding starring Fred Astaire and Jane Powell. It seemed an appropriate choice since William and Kate where exchanging their royal vows on the same day. The story is about a brother and sister dancing team who are both long-time singles, cynical of marriage and long-term commitments. They are given an opportunity to open their show in London during the celebration leading up to a royal wedding. While in London, they both start romances that have them questioning their opinions about marriage. The story is a bit corny but the dance numbers have the charm and elegance you can always count on from Astaire films. The famous dancing-on-the-ceiling scene is still amazing to watch, especially on the big screen, which is extremely impressive considering it was made in 1951.
I went from singing and dancing to action and adventure in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) comes across the island of Colossa while on his way home to Baghdad to marry Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant). While looking for food, Sinbad and his crew run into Sokurah the magician (Torin Thatcher) being attacked by a cyclops. Sokurah summons a genie from a magic lamp that helps them all escape. However, during the escape Sokurah loses the lamp. Sinbad refuses to go back for the lamp and sails home. While in Bagdad, Sokurah uses a spell that forces Sinbad back to the island where they must face more than just the cyclops to survive. The special effects and creatures are good for the time but are often distracting when shot over the already filmed scenes. I would never watch this movie again but I appreciate what an achievement it was and how audiences must have reacted to it.
As one of the stars in Design for Living, Gary Cooper made the decision for my next movie. Tom Chambers (Fredric March) and George Curtis (Cooper) are struggling artists on their way to Paris when they meet Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins). Gilda makes an immediate impression on the two men and soon is involved in a secret romance with each of them. When Tom and George discover that Gilda has been seeing both of them, the three come to an agreement. Gilda will help the men become successful and she will no longer see either of them romantically. This was my favorite film of the weekend; it is funny and very risqué for its time but also addresses issues such as passion versus stability along with the price of success and what you are willing to sacrifice for it. My only complaint is that the chemistry between March and Cooper is not utilized as much as it could have been. There is only one scene towards the end of the film that highlights how wonderfully these two actors play off of each other.
One of the highlights of the weekend was seeing Robert Osborne introduce what he considers to be one of the greatest films ever made. I could have listened to him talk for an hour but alas the 10 or so minutes passed in a flash; his passion and devotion to classic films is awe-inspiring. Dodsworth was the first in a line with an underlying theme of bad wives and the men who put up with them. Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is a successful automaker who is convinced by his wife of 20 years, Fran (Ruth Chatterton), to sell the company and travel Europe. Fran is considerably younger than Sam and it is quickly apparent that she is struggling with the idea of growing old. As their vacation progresses, Fran pulls further and further away from Sam and treats him as if she is smarter, more worldly, and above him. The marriage begins to completely unravel leaving Sam to make some difficult decisions. This is a film worth watching due to the performances, strong and relevant storyline, and especially for the scenes with Mary Astor as she lights up the screen with her understated elegance and beauty.
The Tingler, a thriller from 1959 directed by William Castle, was last up on Friday. The program promised an interactive special viewing presented by Bruce Goldstein who has traveled the world scaring audiences with his theater gimmicks. Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) is a scientist investigating a phenomenon of people literally dying from fear. As he continues his experiments, which involves him using LSD at one point, he uncovers a creature that attaches to the spine and grows as fear is heightened in the victim. There is a cool twist at the end and watching Price is always a treat. The theatrics left a little to be desired but created anticipation and a fun atmosphere.
Day two started with the second highlight of the weekend, a discussion with Hayley Mills before The Parent Trap. This movie is a nostalgic favorite and Mills was lovely and charming. The audience greeted her with overwhelming warmth and appreciation. This was the funniest to watch on the big screen with fellow lovers of this Disney classic. Haley Mills stars as twins who have been separated at a young age when their parents’ divorce. They meet at a summer camp and hatch a plan to try and get their parents back together. The beautiful Maureen O’Hara and ruggedly handsome Brian Keith co-star as the parents. I was pleasantly surprised by how well this film holds up. It is funny and sweet with a strong story and endearing characters. The audience clapped furiously when each actor first appeared on screen and we laughed, booed, and cheered together throughout. It was one of my most memorable and joyful movie-going experiences. This alone will have me wanting to come back to the festival next year.
I was grateful to be in such high spirits for what would turn out to be the dreariest film of the weekend, Frank Sinatra as a drug addict in The Man with the Golden Arm. Frank Machine (Sinatra) is a parolee and recovering heroin addict. While in jail, he learns to play the drums and is determined to leave his old life of being an illegal card-game dealer behind. Through a course of events and pressure from his needy wheelchair-bound wife, he is dragged back into his old life and returns to doing drugs. Sinatra deserved his Oscar nomination for his intense, believable performance. The movie is rather long and drawn out at times with the scenes highlighting the controlling wife being extremely repetitive.Kim Novak as Sinatra’s love interest and Darren McGavin as the drug dealer are equally realistic while being intriguing characters that I would have liked to see more of.
The promise of Marilyn Monroe in an uncharacteristically dark role aided me in my next selection. Niagara is film noir at its best. The Cutlers (Max Showalter and Jean Peters) are celebrating a postponed honeymoon at Niagara Falls when they encounter George (Joseph Cotton) and Rose (Monroe) Loomis. It is quickly apparent that the Loomises are having marital problems and the Cutlers are unwittingly drawn into a dark plot involving adultery, deceit, and murder. Monroe’s portrayal of a femme fatale is brilliant. Her performance has a subtlety not normal in her larger-than-life performances. She still manages to steal every scene with her breathtaking beauty but she is sultry, mysterious, and vulnerable. The story includes multiple surprising plot twists and kept me fully engaged. I recommend this film highly to any fan of film noir or Monroe.
Last but certainly not least was Shaft featuring a discussion with star Richard Roundtree. My expectation was that this would end my festival experience with fun-filled action and it delivered. Shaft is a private detective searching for the kidnapped daughter of a mobster. Roundtree fills every inch of the screen and is perfectly cast as the womanizing, take-no-guff, tough-as-nails hero. It was slow but entertaining. It has always been on my list of my need-to-see films due to its groundbreaking history and I am glad to have finally seen it.
Overall, I had a blast at the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival and hope to attend next year to see even more movies. It is wonderful to sit in a theater among fellow enthusiasts with no talking and no texting. People traveled from all over the country to attend this event and everyone seemed to be having a great time, the only complaints were not being able to get to everything and having to make the tough decisions on what to see. This event is truly a movie-lover’s dream and I tried to soak in every glorious moment. My only regret is not staying to see the midnight showing of The Mummy on Saturday night. Even after nine movies, I was left wanting more, which speaks volumes for the quality of the programming