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What I saw at the first half of this year's festival.

The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival: Lions and Pre-Codes and Noirs, Oh My!

At the official press conference, the TCMFF gang (TCM’s head programmer Charlie Tabesh, TCM General Manager Jennifer Dorian, host Ben Mankiewicz, and festival director Genevieve McGillicuddy) spoke about the guests planned for this year’s festival. Collectively, they guessed Angela Lansbury would garner the biggest crowd at The Manchurian Candidate, were happy they finally got Faye Dunaway to attend (she’ll be interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz and speak before Network), announced Christopher Lloyd joining the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest screening, and one day they hope to book Sidney Poitier and Barbra Streisand.

In other news, the top-two tiers of passes (Spotlight and Essential) sold out quickly, in about 14 minutes. There is a new streaming service coming called Filmstruck that TCM will curate but there are currently no plans for a separate TCM streaming channel. TCM Backlot, a subscription-based fan club, is also being rolled out. They looked at a holding an event at the Hollywood Bowl, but it didn’t work out. Maybe one day

Thursday

Film historian Donald Bogle spoke with director Larry Peerce before One Potato, Two Potato (1964), an independent film made outside the studios about an interracial relationship between Julie Cullen (Barbara Berrie, who won the Best Actress award at Cannes in 1964), a white woman, and Frank Richards (Bernie Hamilton), a black man during a time when interracial marriages were still illegal in some states. Their life gets even more complicated when Julie’s ex-husband, Joe (Richard Mulligan), returns after a four-year-absence wanting to establish a relationship with their young daughter and not happy at the color of her stepfather. Though clearly on a limited budget, the film tells a compelling story.

Unfortunately, the film (and others running at the Hollywood & Highland mall) was interrupted by a fire alarm. As the crowd waited outside, they grew restless. Some even unfairly agitated, as if the staff were responsible for this incident and dying in a fire were preferred to missing the end of a movie, but once the all clear was given by the fire department, those who stuck around were able to make their way back inside.

It turned out the One Potato audience evacuated during the climatic scene, but even though the emotional momentum was stunted, the film still delivered a powerful conclusion to the story.

Eddie Mueller introduced Los tallos amargos (The Bitter Stems) (1956), an Argentinian noir that had been lost. His Film Noir Foundation helped raise money to restore the film and it was a worthy investment. The film tells the story of a Buenos Aires newspaper reporter who teams up with a Hungarian expat to create a correspondence-school scam. Naturally, once the money starts rolling in, trust between these untrustworthy gents erodes.

Friday

This day was a mammoth as seven movies were on the agenda, and even as I write this I can’t believe how ridiculous that looks.

First up was the world premiere restoration of Shanghai Express (1932), the fourth and most financially successful pairing between director Josef von Sternberg and actress Marlene Dietrich. Author Jeremy Arnold spoke with von Sternberg’s son Nicholas about his father. Set in China during a civil war, the story offers adventure and romance, as rebels hijack the train where Shanghai Lily (Dietrich) and her former beau are reunited. The restoration delivered a sharp image.

To the envy of many who were turned away (twice), I was lucky to see Double Harness (1933), a pre-Code romantic comedy that finds Joan Colby (Ann Harding) taking a pragmatic, business approach to marriage, which nets her wealthy playboy John Fletcher (William Powell), but what will when the truth gets out, as it inevitably does in these scenarios? Written by Jane Murfin and based on a play by Edward Poor Montgomery, the script is well written moves along at a good pace. Actor James Cromwell, son of the director John Cromwell, was on hand to chat.

Tea and Sympathy (1956), a 1950s technicolor melodrama directed by Vincente Minnelli, tells the story of Tom (John Kerr), a young man who doesn’t fit in with the “manly” boys at his prep school. He develops a relationship with Laura Reynolds, (Deborah Kerr), the wife of the school’s football coach, as Tom’s sensitive nature reminds him of her first husband who died in WWII. The film hints at Tom being a homosexual as much as the times would then allow, but the ending makes it even less clear. The original play was likely more straightforward and I am curious to check it out.

Private Property (1960), a gritty drama about two thugs (Corey Allen and Warren Oates) who trick a lonely woman (Kate Manx) into inviting them into their home while her husband is away. Both men are interested in her, and things turn dark quickly as the woman realizes what these men have in mind. A tough film to watch has there’s little redeeming qualities on display.

Voices of Light is an amazing performance that combines Carl Dreyer’s classic silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) with an opera/oratorio for voices and an amplified instrumental ensemble by Ricahrd Einhorn. The film looks at the trial and execution of Joan of Arc. Dreyer’s frequent use of close-ups allows the audience to understand the emotion of the story as the characters have nowhere to hide. It’s an amazing film in its own right, but opera/oratorio do a magnificent job accentuating the experience. Voices of Light concludes with a moment so powerful that my being surprised by it was part of the reason, so I won’t give it away, but will highly recommend going to see this performance if given the chance. It wasn’t just the best event I saw at the 2016 festival, but as someone who has gone every year, it’s the best event at all the festivals.

Taking a page from It’s a Wonderful Life, Repeat Performance (1947) is a film noir with a twist. Sheila Page (Joan Leslie) has just shot and killed her husband on New Year’s Eve 1946 as the audience meets her. Like many people who make a grave mistake, she wishes for a do-over, but here she is given just that, reliving 1946 with those she knows, but can she escape her fate? The film was all right, but nothing remarkable.

Roar (1981) is a weird film. Clearly a passion project for animal-rights activist Tippi Hendern, but there’s barely a story as the film progressed from one scene with actors/stunt men battling wild animals to another without rhyme or reason. Being a midnight movie after a long day, I could only stand so much pointlessness and gave up.

[My coverage of the last two days is available.]

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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