It was a coincidence my longest day of movies at the 2012 TCMFF would begin with the World Premiere of the restoration of The Longest Day (1962). Producer Darryl F Zanuck’s epic tells the story of D-Day, when the Allies landed at the Normandy during World War II. He wanted a different approach to the material from past Hollywood films. This resulted in The Longest Day being shot in Europe, in black and white, and the French and German characters spoke in their native tongue, giving the film a more authentic, almost documentary feel to it, as history plays out before the audience. The mission was quite an endeavor, and once set in motion, it’s relentless. For different reasons, the film’s influence was evident over 25 years later in 1998 on both Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. Though he had a small role, as did many of the familiar faces, Robert Wagner spoke with Robert Osborne after the screening about working on the film and Zanuck contributing to the success of his career early on.
Producer/historian Serge Bromber presented “Retour De Flamme/3-D Rarities (1900-2003),” an amusing collection of 3-D shorts. The first was “Murder in 3-D (1941), a goofy curiosity that required the old red/blue anaglyph glasses. The narrator makes his way through a haunted house while monsters throw things at him and the camera. Bromber joked that the makers of the Russians films known as “Parade of Attractions” got sent to Siberia for their poor quality, but I thought they looked very good showcasing fish in a tank, birds in a tree, and jugglers. Louis Lumiere created a 3-D process and recreated his “train coming at the camera” shot. Georges Méliès unintentionally invented one as well when he placed two cameras together to shoot a scene, though it wasn’t realized what had occurred until archivists began restoring his films.
This program also included the biggest names in animation. Max Fleischer’s “Musical Memories” (1935) found an old couple reflecting on their lives while using stereoscopic viewers. Walt Disney’s “Working for Peanuts” (1953) stars Chip ‘n’ Dale, who frustrate zookeeper Donald Duck as they steal peanuts from an elephant. Chuck Jones’ “Lumber Jack-Rabbit” (1954) finds Bugs trying to outwit Paul Bunyan’s dog. The original version of Pixar’s “Knick-Knack” (1989), directed by John Lasseter, finds the mermaids’ upper bodies making the most use of the extra dimension.
The noir Night and the City (1950) could also have been called “Criss Cross” with all the double-dealing taking place. Set in London, Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is a terrible hustler and an even worse person, demonstrated through his constantly taking advantage of Mary (Gene Tierney), the one person who seems to care for him. He makes money by bringing men to see the ladies at the Silver Fox Club, run by Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan) and his wife Helen (Googie Withers). Harry comes up with a scheme to promote wrestling, even though mobster Kristo (Herbert Lom) controls the industry in London. Harry thinks using Kristo’s father, former wrestler Gregorius (Stanislaus Zbyszko), will protect him where others have failed. Harry needs money to get his first match off the ground and gets backing from Helen, so long as he helps her leave her husband, who she can’t stand, and open up her own club.
Watching Harry in action juggling his lies and manipulations is like watching a plate spinner from the circus. One wrong move, which is inevitable, and the whole thing will come crashing down in a spectacular fashion. Though Harry is a degenerate, so are many of the people he’s dealing with, but for a brief moment when trapped in a corner, his effort to make things right offer him a moment of redemption. “The Bloody Olive,” a Belgian comedy short that spoofs noir, preceded the film.
Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) is a Universal horror film that teams Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. A pair of young, American honeymooners, Joan and Peter Alison (Julie Bishop and David Manners), is taking a train ride through Hungary when they make the acquaintance of psychologist Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), who is returning after being away for 15 years. Sharing a cab, they get into a wreck that badly injures Joan, and Dr. Vitus suggests they go to his friend Hjalmar Poelzig’s (Karloff) place. However, “friends” is not an accurate description of their relationship after their history is revealed and Dr. Vitus learns about what happened to his family in his absence. Likely shocking at the time just for the satanic ritual alone, the film hasn’t aged well, coming off more odd than scary. Though its run time is only 66 minutes, and as sacrilegious as it will be to some, this film should be cut down into a good 30 minutes.
Before The Black Cat began, the actors’ children, Bela Jr. and Sara Karloff, spoke about what their fathers were like off screen and how the rumors of animosity between them was marketing hype. They have a playful rapport with each, likely from the number of times spent at events just like this. The best moment came when the moderator was given the signal to wrap it up, and Sara stated they should let the audience ask more questions since that’s what we were here to see.
John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966) introduces Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), appearing to be in his late 40s/early 50s, unhappy with his life as a banker and married man. He gets a call from someone claiming to be his old friend Charlie Evans, who died years ago, with an unusual offer from a mysterious organization known as simply as the Company. Arthur’s death is faked and he is given a new identity as Tony, a painter living in Malibu. His appearance his altered through plastic surgery, which is where Rock Hudson takes over the role. When the newness wears off, Arthur finds himself unsatisfied and wants out, but he soon learns that’s not the way the Company works.
The intriguing concept of Seconds had great potential as it explores a man provided extreme methods to begin a new life, but it ultimately faltered in its execution, explaining why it was booed when it screened at Cannes. The story had some great plot twists but then others hard to believe Arthur/Tony didn’t see coming. Considering what he experiences, it’s suprising he has no doubts about his new reality. The pacing of the second act is very bogged down as scenes meander much longer than necessary. In particular, the sequences of the bacchanal getaway with his new girlfriend Nora Marcus (Salome Jens) and the party at his home where he gets drunk and talks about Arthur’s life run too long. Also, the print, which was from the UCLA Film and Television Archive, was the most ragged of all I saw during the festival.
Richard Anderson, who will always be Oscar Goldman from The Six Million Dollar Man to me, had a small role as the Company’s Dr. Innes and spoke before the film. He talked about his friendship with Cary Grant, who gave him some advice about getting the last line in a movie, which Anderson followed here.
My final day began over at the famous Cinerama Dome for the presentation of How the West Was Won (1962), an epic Western told in epic proportions because the format required three cameras to record and three projectors to screen onto a curved wall. Though not perfect, the images lined up much better than expected. It also helped that some scenes were staged so items on the set could help hide the seams. Set over a half century and three generations of the Prescott family, the film provides a little history about what life was like in America. Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden) leads his family out West to Illinois by way of the Erie Canal. The family runs into some trouble from local scoundrels and roaring rapids; the POV shots of the latter were intense and the theater staff correctly warned us ahead of time it could induce nausea.
Zebulon’s daughter Lily (Debbie Reynolds) heads off to St. Louis where she comes into a California goldmine. She joins a wagon train headed out there and finds suitors in gambler Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck) and wagon master Roger Morgan (Robert Preston), who each want to marry her for their own selfish reasons. Lily’s sister Eve (Carroll Baker) has a son Zeb (George Peppard), whose story takes the lead for the remainder of the film He joins the Union side of the Civil War and changes the course of history; he leads the Calvary assigned during the construction of the railroad through Arapaho Indian Territory, but Mike King’s (Richard Widmark) lies to the Arapaho make the job difficult; and the film concludes with Zeb working as a Marshal in Arizona and dealing with outlaw Charlie Gant (Eli Wallach), who seeks revenge for the death of his brother.
The plot, story, and acting are adequately entertaining and the cast features a number of big stars, including Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, but it’s the expansive landscapes and elaborate action scenes that really impress in HTWWW. The buffalo stampede and train robbery are memorable scenes, so hats off to the stunt men responsible.
Rather than wait for the discussion with Debbie Reynolds, I drove back to the main hub of the festival for Call Her Savage (1932), which has been restored by the Museum of Modern Art. Starring Clara Bow in her penultimate film role, this raucous Pre-Code girl-power drama finds Bow as Nasa Springer, a rambunctious young woman ready to throw a sharp barb or right cross, depending on her mood. She rebels against all who try to confine her to their idea of what she should be. Nasa leads a wild, melodramatic life, though the reason the story gives for her wildness is amazingly ignorant and will be considered insulting by a few. Bow is captivating in role and not just because of her beauty and sex appeal. She delivers a range of emotions and is deft at comedy. Discovering this film was one of the highlights of the weekend.
Though I had seen it before and didn’t remember caring much for it, I joined my wife for The Pink Panther (1964). Roberts Wagner and Osborne had a chat before and revealed interesting details about actors up for role. While Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) went on to became synonymous with the Pink Panther franchise, this first film focused more on international playboy Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven), also known as the jewel thief called “The Phantom.” He woos Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale) of Lugash in order to steal the legendary Pink Panther diamond from her. Unfortunately for the film, Niven at 54 is as unbelievable as a playboy as is the notion gorgeous Dala would be into him. Also unfortunate is any scene without Clouseau was a bore. After an hour in and a stomach wanting a good meal, we left for a leisurely dinner rather than the mad dash between films our schedule usually called for through the weekend.
My festival experience ended with a 2k restoration of The Thief of Bagdad (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks and accompanied by the Mont Alto Orchestra playing its original score. This fairy tale finds Ahmed (Fairbanks) the thief falling for a princess (Julanne Johnston). Three princes arrive in Bagdad to bid for the princess’ hand in marriage, including The Mongol prince (Sojin) who is more interested in taking over the city. Ahmed poses as a prince and unintentionally fulfills a prophecy, so the princess wants to marry him, but the ruse is soon discovered and he is punished. Not wanting any of the remaining suitors, the princess suggests a contest to see who will bring her the rarest gift after seven moons have passed. Naturally, Ahmed takes part. The film is a wonderful fantasy that holds up well. There’s no surprise it was one of the most expensive films of the 1920s with its impressive production design and special effects. The film is getting a Blu-ray release in the Fall.
Though a little pricey, the TCM Classic Film Festival is a very fun experience. Fans who enjoy the magic of the movies are provided an opportunity to see classic and obscure films on the big screen alongside fellow aficionados and on occasion receive the bonus of hearing from those who worked on the films. My final tally for this year’s festival was 15 films seen in just over 72 hours and there were quite a few I was disappointed I missed out on, but choices had to be made. Watching a lot of movies can wear a person out, but I am already awaiting next year’s festival. For those who can’t wait until next April, the TCM Classic Cruise takes place January 21-26, 2013.
Read Part 1 of my 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival Diary.