Thursday, April 6
This 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival got off to a somber start due to the recent death of Robert Osborne, host of the channel since its launch in 1994. With his missing the previous two festivals and his retirement from the channel last year, his loss was expected but that didn’t lessen the blow for many of his fans.
Before the festival kicked off with its Welcome Party at Club TCM or the Official Opening Night Film (In the Heat of the Night), the tribute “Remembering Robert” was held. It opened with a touching video tribute that included clips of his interviews and bloopers. TCM co-workers and friends shared stories of Osborne, his coming to Hollywood to be an actor and behind-the-scenes interactions at the channel. It was funny to learn that even he was not a fan of all movies TCM aired. He didn’t care for the ’50s sci fi/monster movies of the Drive-In Double Features and missed hosting with the “flu” during the Beach Movie Festival.
Love Crazy (1941) starred William Powell and Myrna Loy in the 10th of their 13 films together. No on-screen couple made marriage look more ideal than Powell and Loy, especially in the Thin Man series. In this screwball comedy, the pair are Steve and Susan Ireland. Instead of solving crimes, they attempt to avoid trouble as they each get into situations with members of the opposite sex that don’t look good from a distance and cause all sorts misconception mayhem. Susan wants a divorce and Steve pretends to be insane to stop it but does too good of a job. The entire endeavor is a silly affair held together by the charm of the leads.
While it was great to have nitrate screenings no longer limited to the 178-seat shoebox that is the notorious Theater #4, a breaker of many attendees’ hearts over the years, I was worried the Egyptian might be a tough ticket once the news leaked that Martin Scorsese would be introducing Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). He chatted about the nitrate print, which came from the Eastman House. I anticipated being wowed by the visuals, but wasn’t too impressed. The image looked good, but nowhere near the religious experience he and others made out would be the common reaction to the medium.
Dealing with a common Hitchcock plot point, the Lawrence family find themselves caught up in international intrigue when they learn of a plot to assassinate a world leader but their silence is secured when their daughter Betty is kidnapped. At 75 minutes, the film moves along at a brisk clip, impacting the realism of the actors’ performances, which lessens the audience’s empathy for the good guys, but TMWKTM is an entertaining thriller.
Friday, April 7
Script Supervisor Angela Allen, who worked on 14 John Huston films, was on hand to introduce Beat the Devil (1953). While not considered one of the more glamorous jobs on a film set, she was the ideal guest to have on hand. This is because it turns out Huston didn’t like the script so Truman Capote joined him on location in Italy to help with the rewrite, causing the production to be shot in order because no one had any idea where the story was going.
Humphrey Bogart plays Billy Dannreuther, another down-on-his-luck American, who is working with an international group of criminals, Peterson (Robert Morley), ex-Nazi Julius O’Hara (Peter Lorre), Major Jack Ross (Ivor Barnard), and Ravello (Marco Tulli), in a scheme to buy uranium-rich land in Africa. While they and Billy’s wife Maria (Gina Lollobrigida) wait for a ship, Harry (Edward Underdown) and Gwendolen Chelm (Jennifer Jones) enter the picture. They are also waiting for a ship to Africa and complicate matters. This is in part because not only do Billy and the others not trust each other, three of the four married folks clearly aren’t fully committed to their partner. Thanks to its talented cast and the writers who were able to deliver by the seat of their pants, Beat the Devil is a delightful mash-up of genres, including noir and adventure.
The fest hosted the West Coast premiere of Julien Duvivier’s Panique (1946), based on Les Fiançailles de M. Hire by Georges Simenon, whose son Pierre spoke during the introduction. While not being too overt, the story looks at the French people’s complicity in the horrible way the Jewish people were treated during World War II.
After a man murders an elderly woman, he and his girlfriend are able to whip up resentment and frame, Monsieur Hire, a Jewish man who is clearly different from his neighbors. The ease and speed with which this group of people in the story are able to turn on a perceived outsider is chilling. That no one sees how they are being manipulated is rather tragic, as is the ending. During the introduction, we were told that it’s clear in the book Hire is Jewish but would only be hinted in the film, which isn’t entirely accurate because it’s clear in the movie as well.
Writer/director/producer James L. Brooks and co-star Albert Brooks were on hand to talk about the seven-time Oscar-nominated Broadcast News (1987). Made contemporaneously as the TV News business was changing, viewers got to see the fork in the road represented through the characters of hard-nosed reporter Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) and handsome, charming anchorman Tom Grunick (William Hurt). Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is the producer who ends up in a quasi-love triangle between the two men. The film’s foundation is its great script with a plot that doesn’t go the obvious directions and with marvelous dialogue that indirectly reveals the characters.
During their discussion, James said he wasn’t sure who Jane would go with, explaining the film’s ending. Albert saw a CNN anchor at 2 AM who was drowning and called James, which resulted in the classic scene of Aaron’s disastrous turn anchoring the news. He also said he began campaigning for the Best Supporting Actor after Sean Connery admitted hitting a woman in People.
Living in Southern California, I am undeniably spoiled with the number of classic films that screen year round and the number of guests who are able to attend. That’s why I enjoy when TCMFF offers rare treats on screen, such as the digital restoration of Lewis R. Foster’s Those Redheads from Seattle in 3D (1953).
Set during the Gold Rush, Mrs. Edmonds (Moorehead) and her four daughters travel to Alaska but their family patriarch has been killed. They attempt to take over his newspaper, which led to his demise. Pat (Teresa Brewer) makes the scandalous choice to sing and dance at the the Klondike Club, which is owned by Johnny Kisco (Gene Barry). She develops a crush on him, but he has eyes for her sister Kathie (Rhonda Fleming). As musicals go, this was a little too corny and predictable for my tastes, but the 3D was impressive. It did a great job showing depth.
Before the midnight screening of John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974), an attendee was kind enough to hand out cookies decorated like Sean Connery’s character Zed, complete with red tunic. It’s a shame she wasn’t handing out alcohol or drugs because this was one bizarre movie.
With the help of Wikipedia because the movie was extremely puzzling, the future finds humans divided into a workforce, known as Brutals, and those living off them, known as Eternals. Keeping the Brutals in line with the threat of death, which gives them great glee, are Exterminators, such as Zed (Sean Connery). Not satisfied with life, Zed jumps into the giant, flying stone head known as Zardoz and is taken to the home of the Eternals. He learns of their immortality, which has led to boring, meaningless lives, and also of his own identity.
Boorman clearly has something to say about humanity and those who are wasting it, but he has a convoluted way of presenting it in a plot that makes little sense, especially once the larger story is revealed, and with too many scenes that don’t add anything. Making things even more inscrutable is the avant-garde approach Boorman and cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth take in shooting the film. I was really hoping the Zed cookie would have more than sugar in them. I had to fend off exhaustion and confusion through will power alone, and barely made it through the film and to the festival’s halfway point.
Read Part 2 of my coverage.