After a two-year hiatus, during which the festival was conducted virtually, it was wonderful to be back among the hustle and bustle of Hollywood Blvd. alongside thousands of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) aficionados, sight-seeing tourists, and local folks trying to make a few bucks off the previous two groups.
In the lead up, TCM announced The Plot Thickens podcast will premiere Season Four this fall focusing on actress Pam Grier, who is set to make her first appearance at the festival to introduce her breakout film, Jack Hill’s Coffy (1973). TCM host Ben Mankiewicz will also be appearing on the podcast.
Thursday opened with the “Meet TCM” panel where attendees get to ask questions and voice concerns of the channel’s staff members. As audience members presented themselves, it seemed a lot of first timers were attending this year. I am guessing after the two-year lockdown, a lot of folks have been motivated to check things off their bucket list.
My movie viewing began in the infamous Chinese Multiplex House 4, notable for being the smallest venue the festival uses, resulting in the turning away of many disappointed attendees over the years. William Dieterle’s Jewel Robbery (1932) is a pre-Code romantic comedy starring William Powell as a debonair leader of a group of jewel thieves and Kay Francis as a Baroness he meets during a jewlery store heist. The Baroness is quite the liberated woman. Not only does she become enamored with the unnamed gentleman thief (and who wouldn’t be enamored by Powell), but she had been at the jewelry store with both her husband and a lover as the former was buying her a very expensive ring. The thief makes his way into the Baroness’s home. At first, she worries about being seen as an accomplice only to then become one by helping him escape. The film ends with her giving the audience a knowing wink as she heads off to meet him. The chemistry between Powell and Francis make you root for them even though he’s a crook and she’s a philanderess, neither caring about anything more than their own selfish desires.
I kept the jewel robbery theme going by next watching Jules Dassin’s Topkapi (1964), supposedly one of Christopher Nolan’s favorite films, but it’s quite a mess in more ways than one. Even though it was the World Premiere of a photochemical restoration, the film looked in rough shape. Granted, I don’t know what state it was in before as this was my first time seeing the film, but it didn’t look like what one would expect from a “restoration”.
The story, which would go on to inspire Bruce Gellar in his creation of Mission: Impossible, is about the theft of Sultan Mahmud I’s jewel-encrusted dagger from Topkapı Palace by a team of thieves who have specific skills, such as gadgets and wire work. Elizabeth Lipp (Melina Mercouri) enlists her ex, criminal Walter Harper (Maximilian Schell), to assemble the team. Everything done to execute this plan seems well thought out, so it’s a bit surprising that they use a stranger, street hustler Arthur Simon Simpson (Peter Ustinov). Sure, he’s expendable so it makes sense they use him to unknowingly transport explosives and weapons across a border, but they keep him in the fold so it’s no surprise he proves to be their downfall. However, Ustinov’s humorous performance is the film’s best element.
The film runs too long, including the execution of the theft. The most unrealistic part of the plot is Elizabeth controlling the men with her sex appeal. Granted, the director, who was also her husband, may have found her appealing, but the 44-year-old Mercouri isn’t convincing at all in the role.
Friday began with Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie (1982), a well-written comedy about Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), an actor who poses as actress Dorothy Michaels to get a role on a soap opera. Michael as Dorothy refuses to put up with what women normally do on screen and on set. This inspires the show’s female producer to flesh out Dorothy’s character, which fans across the nation appreciate. As if hiding his identity while appearing on a hit show isn’t tough enough, Michael begins an affair with his friend Sandy (Teri Garr) in order to disguise that he was trying on her clothes for Dorothy. He also develops a crush on castmate Julie (Jessica Lange), who sees Dorothy as a friend and tries to set up Dorothy with Les (Charles Durning), her widowed father. The way Michael gets Dorothy out of her contract during a live broadcast is a brilliant piece of writing, and the scenes where he seeks forgiveness from those he’s hurt are touching. I think Teri Garr deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar over Jessica Lange, but the Academy doesn’t understand comedy.
After her hand/footprint ceremony in front of the Chinese Theater, Lily Tomlin had to go back to work so she didn’t speak in front of Carl Reiner’s All of Me (1984), another film where a male character has to deal with a feminine side. Her appearance was a big factor in my attending the screening, or I may have chosen Joan Crawford in Queen Bee. Instead, Grace and Frankie co-star June Diane Raphael sang Lily’s praises.
In Steve Martin’s fourth and final pairing with Reiner as director, he plays Roger Cobb, a frustrated attorney. He has to adjust millionairess Edwina Cutwater’s (Tomlin) will so Terry Hoskins (Victoria Tennant) will be the sole beneficiary because Terry has agreed to allow dying Edwina’s soul to take over her body. Roger deems this a ridiculous notion until a screw up sends Edwina’s soul into his body. Making matters more difficult, Terry also thought this was a ridiculous notion and was only going along with the plan it for the payday so works to keep Edwina’s soul away from her. The film is silly and lighthearted. Martin’s physical performance of two souls trying to control his body is very funny.
William Wyler’s The Letter (1940) opens with Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis), wife of a rubber plantation manager, having shot Geoff Hammond because as she claimed he “tried to make love to me.” She garners sympathy from her fellow British citizens while she sits in jail, but her attorney Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) discovers it misplaced when his clerk, Ong Chi Seng (Sen Yung), reveals there’s a letter Leslie wrote to Hammond that would not help her case and Hammond’s widow wants $10,000 to turn it over.
Even though the Hays Code caused a change in the ending, The Letter is an engaging thriller, and solely because I kept waiting for a twist in Leslie’s favor that never came. I appreciated Leslie’s character staying consistent in her feelings when it would have been so easy for her to lie to her husband to protect herself.
Unfortunately, The Letter audience was the worst so far at the festival with people taking photos during the film and checking devices for times and messages. I get some folks haven’t been out in a few years but one would think TCM/classic film viewers would hold a higher respect for the films and their fellow audience members.
Harry Essex’s I, The Jury (1953) was a very popular title as the line to get in was long. Based on Mickey Spillane’s debut novel, it is notable for being the first film to feature Mike Hammer, It is also notable for being shot in 3-D. When his former war buddy, insurance investigator Jack Williams (Robert Swanger) is murdered, private detective Mike Hammer (Biff Elliot) appoints himself to the case. Captain Pat Chambers (Preston Foster) of the homicide squad isn’t thrilled about it but knows Hammer won’t listen and tries to keep him on a short leash.
Hammer isn’t a traditional detective. He’s more likely to use his fists than his mind to solve a case, and isn’t concerned about anyone’s rights. But if he’s your pal, no one will work harder to avenge you. Cinematographer John Alton does great work on this noirish tale and I enjoyed the 3-D shots, which didn’t get in the way of the film.
Noir Alley’s Eddie Muller dubbed writer/director Steve De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile (1988) his favorite film, and the filmmaker was on hand to talk bout the long process it took to get the film finished. Set in Los Angeles, the love story between Harry (Anthony Edwards) and Julie (Mare Winningham) is interrupted before it even gets going by World War III. After sleeping through his alarm, Harry is hours late picking up Julie after work at the diner. While at the phone booth trying to reach her, Harry takes a call that is a wrong number. The caller is looking for his father to apologize for his past sins because rockets are headed to the U.S. Before he can understand what’s happening, Harry hears the caller shot dead and is told to forget what he heard. Back in the diner, Harry tells the patrons what he heard and the story is verified. Harry goes in search of Julie while mayhem ensues and escalates as people try to escape Los Angeles amid an impending doom. The movie had some fun moments and I can appreciate the ending but overall, I thought it underwhelming.
Read Part Two of my 2022 TCMFF Diary.