Thursday , October 22 2020
Where some people go to see old pictures and others go to take new pictures.

My 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival Diary

The 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival, which ran April 11 through 14, was the tenth time the folks from Turner Classics Movies came to Hollywood to hold this beloved festival, which also paid tribute to the 25th anniversary of the cable channel. There were a number of programming themes related to the festival theme: Follow Your Heart: Love at the Movies.

Wednesday

The channel has such a devoted following that many have united through social media. Out by the Roosevelt Hotel pool the day before the festival began, a get-together was held by a Facebook group of TCM fans. Some folks reuniting with friends they only see at the festival; some meeting in person for the first time; and some, like myself, who for whatever reasons don’t make much impression on folks. I was reminded of this when a blogger asked to follow me on Twitter because she liked the name of my site, unaware that she already did. Actors Ted Donaldson and Cora Sue Collins made appearances, chatting and signing autographs.

There was also a Media Meet Up held in Club TCM. Executives and presenters were on hand to chat and some like Dennis Miller drew lines of people wanting photos. The room had nice TCM-themed pillows which I am sure were stolen throughout the weekend.

Thursday

On Thursday morning, under the leadership of Jay and Constance Crump, a group of attendees who have attended every festival, met for a breakfast at Mel’s Diner. I got there late because I was trying to plan for San Diego Comic Con. When I got there with my wife, there was no room for two at the tables, so we sat along a wall. Constance was kind enough to say hello, but that was it. Some TCM executives visited tables and chatted with folks, but blew right by us.

The first official TCMFF event is held at Club TCM where the executives get to talk about the channel and the festival and some in attendance get to complain about the channel and the festival. It’s always interesting to hear this airing of the grievances from people who don’t like the inevitable changes and programming that doesn’t match their tastes.

My first movie was a fun pre-Code gangster melodrama Night World (1932) featuring a collection of characters swirling around a speakeasy owned by Happy (Boris Karloff, whose daughter Sara talked about her father to introduce the film). With all the drama between the characters, the film came across more like a soap opera, but it was entertaining.

Mogambo (1953), a remake of Red Dust (1932), which I have yet to see so can’t make any comparisons, is a love quadrangle of sorts set in Africa with Victor Marswell (Clark Gable, playing a similar role) in the middle of it. He first makes the acquaintance of Eloise “Honey Bear” Kelly (Ava Gardner), a woman who uses what she has to make her way in the world. When the maharajah she was supposed to meets cancels, she starts fooling around with Victor. Donald Nordley (Donald Sinden) and his wife Linda (Grace Kelly) arrive looking to go on safari. Victor and Linda hit it off, unbeknownst to her husband, but Honey Bear sees it and she isn’t too happy. There’s a good conclusion to the story, though Linda’s falling for Victor, with the actors’ noticeable 28-year age difference, could have been better detailed.

Friday

Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon (1957) presents a love story that is even more implausible between American business tycoon/notable philanderer Frank Flanagan (Gary Cooper) and the daughter of a French private detective (Maurice Chevalier) Ariane (Audrey Hepburn). Played by actors also with a 28-year age difference, it’s not clear why the two are attracted to each other besides the screenwriters making it so. When a client of her father’s announces he will kill Frank for fooling around with his wife, Ariane rushes to Frank’s hotel suite to warn him and ends up posing as a woman he has been with, throwing off the angry husband. Frank becomes intrigued by Ariane, who doesn’t reveal her identity and pretends to be a very experienced woman he might be interested in. Eventually, Frank hires a certain private detective to help learn who she is.

A Patch of Blue (1965) tells the story of Selina (Elizabeth Hartman), an illiterate, blind girl who lives a rough life with her prostitute mother (Shelley Winters) and alcoholic grandfather (Wallace Ford). While sitting in a park, she meets Gordon (Sidney Poitier), an African American man. They become friends and he tries to help her lead a better life against the wishes of her family. There are wonderful performances by the cast in a story with an ending that never appears certain because of the characters.

Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973) is a different type of love story. It’s about his love of filmmaking and shows the antics of a film crew on the fictional Je Vous Présente Paméla. Truffaut plays the director who has to juggle all the production difficulties and crew member interactions.

During this screening, TCM held a happy hour for the ten-timers on the rooftop of the Roosevelt. It was certainly a nice gesture, though I am curious if they would have done it without the pressure that was applied. I preferred to stay for the movies since I can get drinks at any time. Unfortunately, I missed out on a pin.

Jacqueline Bisset was interviewed before Day for Night, and apologized for canceling last year’s appearance when she was supposed to attend for Bullit but had a legitimate health reason. The interview ran long so instead of visiting the Road House (1948) I said Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). This fictional biography about Mr Chipping (Robert Donat, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor), a man who spent most of a life as a teacher and later headmaster at the same English boarding school. Though he had a wife (Greer Garson), Mr. Chips’ great love was fatherly for the many boys that passed under his tutelage in this touching story.

Santo vs the Evil Brain (1961) is the first in the Santo series, which is a bit of a surprise as the masked character, formerly seen in Mexican wrestling rings, is given little time to be the story’s hero as he is quickly brainwashed to serve the villain Doctor Campos. The movie is a crime story, spy story, superhero story mashed together filled with intentional and unintentional laughs. It was good to get an entertaining midnight movie at the festival, which has been hit and miss during this time.

Saturday

Kind Hearts of Coronets (1949) is a delightful black comedy about palace intrigue and murder. Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini (Dennis Price), 10th Duke of Chalfont, is in prison. He writes of his story and the viewer learns through flashbacks that his mother was disowned by her family when she ran off with his father, an Italian opera singer. Seeking revenge and what he feels is rightfully his, he works to kill all those in the D’Ascoyne family (all played by Alec Guinness) who stand in his way. The 70th anniversary world premiere restoration was screened and it looked good. This film is very funny despite its subject matter and was my highlight of the festival.

Unfortunately, Dana Delaney went on way too long during her introduction, so I had to leave Love Affair (1939) after Irene Dunne’s Terry had her fateful accident near the Empire State Building in order to make it into my next film. I really enjoyed Dunne’s performance, but didn’t buy her falling for French painter Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) nor the conceit of the story about her not wanting him to know about her condition if they did truly love each other.

It was a good thing I left early did as the line for Blood Money (1933) was huge and surely turned away many. It brought to mind Double Harness, a title that causes some fest goers to wince because they were shut out of that screening (some twice) years ago because the demand far exceeded the capacity of the dreaded, tiny Theater #4, which was not used this year. One of the first films condemned by the Legion of Decency, Blood Money (1933) tells a story about bail bondsman Bill Bailey (George Bancroft) and his interactions with different criminal elements. Nearly 100 years later it’s hard to understand what the fuss was all about.

Indiscreet (1958) played at the Legion Theater at Post 43, a wonderful new festival venue up the road on Highland Avenue. Not only does it contain a gorgeous theater but it also includes a bar downstairs, which is great for that 30-minute window between when tickets are handed out and seating begins. As far as the film, this second teaming of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, is one of those weak Hollywood pictures where the plot makes no sense and viewers are just supposed to be happy with all the beautiful things (actors, costumes, sets, etc.) on screen. If the characters were just honest about their feelings from the get-go, there would be no conflict and matters would be resolved quickly. Instead, people behave in needlessly odd ways to extend the story’s run time, which makes it a bit of a bore.

Sunday

My first and only visit to the Egyptian Theater was for the wacky horror film Mad Love (1935) about unrequited love. Introduced by Bill Hader, the film stars Peter Lorre in his American film debut as Dr. Gogol, a surgeon whose love is spurned by actress Yvonne Orlac (Francis Drake), in part, because she is married. Her husband Stephen (Colin Clive) is a concert pianist but when his hands are damaged in a train accident, Gogol replaces them with the hands of a knife thrower. Mayhem ensues in this bizarre story.

Based on the story of Frank and Helen Beardsley, Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968) tells of the blending of two U.S. Navy families, each of which found the parent (Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball) widowed. Together, they have 18 children and after their marriage, they have one more so clearly the adults need a hobby. The plot has a sitcom feel throughout, especially when Frank’s boys get Helen drunk her first time over the house for dinner. It was mildly amusing and is touching when the family finally comes together.

Writer/director Norman Lear could not attend his feature-film debut, Cold Turkey (1971), a mild satire about American life that comes up short on laughs even though it has a talented cast. Looking for some good publicity for his client, the Valiant Tobacco Company, advertising executive Merwin Wren (Bob Newhart) comes up with a contest to give away $25 million to any town that can stop smoking for 30 days. Because Eagle Rock, Iowa has been hurting financially since the military left, Reverend Clayton Brooks (Van Dyke) leads the residents in this effort, which is no easy task, even for he and his wife who are smokers. However, Merwin is tasked with making sure the town fails, so Valiant can keep their money.

The film is amusing, but with the talented cast and Lear at the helm, I was expecting the film to be funnier and the satire harder hitting.

I saw 14 films at this year’s festival and only Day for Night was a repeat, and I had never seen that on a movie screen and certainly not with Jacqueline Bisset. Even though I am again exhausted by Sunday night from the taxing work of watching movies and need a break from them, I can’t wait to hear about next year’s festival and its offerings.

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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