Wow, another TCM Classic Film Festival is in the books. I realized pretty early on that writing decent posts wasn’t going to happen for me after long days of movie watching, so now after having a little bit of time to digest all that was this year’s TCMFF, here’s some daily recaps!
After leaving the press event on Thursday morning (covered here), a group of us young people went over to Mel’s Diner for lunch. It was great to hang out with many who I met up with last year and now happily call good friends, like Jessica from Comet Over Hollywood, Trevor from TCM Party, Marya (Oldfilmsflicker) and Kristen (SalesOnFilm). All I met through various social media outlets and then later in person, so there really is a great presence not just of classic movie fans online, but the under-30 crowd on sites like twitter and tumblr. We were joined by Angela of The Hollywood Revue, Daniel (dsl89 on twitter) and Thomas Price, who was covering the festival for the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs’ The Scribe.
Although there were a few events during the afternoon, including the sold-out Sons of Gods and Monsters discussion with Rick Baker and Joe Dante at the Hollywood Museum, I decided to hang out until the films started that night. The TCMFF always starts on Thursday evening with the opening night screening, in this case the new restoration of Oklahoma! That screening is a red carpet event, with access only for the Essential and Spotlight passholders. But TCM always offers several other choices during the opening night screening for other passholders. Having seen most of the things in this block, and wanting to take a nostalgia trip of my own, I cheated and went to the Throwback Thursday screening of The Lion King over at the El Capitan Theater, which was not a TCMFF event (although in the following days the El Capitan hosted several films for the festival).
So my first official screening of the TCMFF was Bachelor Mother. I had never seen this witty comedy about a shop girl, Polly Parrish (Ginger Rogers), who after stopping to look at a baby just delivered on the step of an orphanage, is assumed to be its mother. David Niven plays the son of the owner of the department store where Rogers works. Niven is perfect as the kind yet totally oblivious David Merlin, who ends up falling for Polly. In a story that could be potentially dragged down with serious plot points, the leading pair manage to keep it a lighter comedy of errors.
Friday was the first full day of screenings, with the first being at 9am. While 9am doesn’t sound super early, you realize that you need time to stagger to the closest coffee shop for caffeine and then be in line usually 45 minutes to an hour ahead of the start time. I picked Clive Brook’s 1944 comedy, On Approval as my first film, and it ended up being a sell-out in the 177 seat Chinese Multiplex Theater 4, the smallest venue at the festival. Film historian Jeffrey Vance introduced the film, saying that it’s a divisive comedy: either you’ll love it or you’ll hate it. Very much a British comedy, the film is based on a contemporary 1920s stage play by Frederick Lonsdale. Brooks, who stars in the film, set the film adaptation back in the late 1800s, making it a Victorian period piece. The plot follows two couples as they vacation for a month on a Scottish island in a trial period for a potential marriage. However it soon becomes apparent that perhaps the couples should be swapped around, or they’re not compatible at all. It was Clive Brook’s only directorial effort, and one of the few films to capture stage star Beatrice Lillie in her element. While I didn’t love this film, I did laugh quite a bit, and didn’t find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum hating it.
Running back into line for the Chinese 4 theater right after On Approval, I got into a 35mm screening of Make Way for Tomorrow. Leo McCarey’s film about an older couple forced to leave their home due to unemployment and foreclosure has a reputation for being an absolute tear-jearker. Orson Welles was quoted as saying, “It would make a stone cry.” Bark and Lucy, played by Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi, are forced to separate and live with two different children when they lose their home. Throughout the course of the film we can see how each generation responds to the older member in their household, whether it be a sense of burden or embarrassment. The tears come when Bark, battling health issues, is about to move to California and reunites with his wife for possibly the last time. The couple visit the landmarks of their New York City honeymoon before Bark must depart on the train. The film truly is heartwrenching, grounded by the performances of Moore and Bondi, whose characters never seem to lose their nobility in the face of how life has treated them. Make Way for Tomorrow’s title seems ominous, marking the passing of time for an aging couple while criticizing the younger generation that seemingly pushes them away. In many ways it echos Ozu’s magnificent Tokyo Story, which screened later in the festival. McCarey, who won the Best Director Oscar for The Awful Truth the same year as this film, said that he should’ve won it for Make Way for Tomorrow, and while I enjoy the former very much, this film really does rock you to the core.
From there I went to see my first Powell and Pressburger film ever, and what an experience that was! Michael Powell’s wife Thelma Schoonmaker, a great editor in her own right who has a longstanding partnership with Martin Scorsese, introduced A Matter of Life and Death. The film follows RAF pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) who connects with American radio control operator June (Kim Hunter) as he is about to abandon his damaged plane…without a parachute. He somehow survives the jump, but is soon thereafter caught in a struggle between life and death after missing his appointment with heaven. The film was presented in a new DCP restoration, and the Technicolor couldn’t have looked any more glorious. Perhaps a bit thin on character development, A Matter of Life and Death had enough in its interesting portrayal of the afterlife and its fearless attitude about death that I was entranced. The use of black and white photography in this film, which was actually monochrome Technicolor which allowed the effect of color draining out of the picture without having to cut, was also a neat aesthetic thing to witness.
After getting enough of a break for dinner, I headed to the Egyptian for Harold Lloyd’s Why Worry?, which was accompanied by a new Carl Davis score conducted by the maestro himself. Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne, who has worked hard to preserve her grandfather’s legacy, spoke with Leonard Maltin about the film and its place within Harold Lloyd’s own career. Maltin mentioned that we owe having many of Lloyd’s films today to Lloyd himself, who meticulously took care of his own films. Why Worry? marked a transition for the actor. It was his last film with producer Hal Roach, and starred his new leading lady, Jobyna Ralston, who replaced Mildred Davis, who had retired when she married Lloyd. Though Lloyd often plays the American boy-next-door, this film’s character was slightly different for him. Lloyd stars as a wealthy hypochondriac vacationing in a South American town that just happens to be in the middle of a revolution. This was my first experience watching a Harold Lloyd film, and I’ll definitely be adding more to my list. It was smart and funny the entire way through, and Davis’ score was really top-notch, with little flares of Latin horn licks throughout. This was probably one of my favorite experiences of the festival. It’s hard to top watching a silent comedy to a full audience and live accompaniment.
I had planned to see the pre-Code Employees’ Entrance next, but didn’t check to see that it was in tiny Chinese 4 so I didn’t get there fast enough after Why Worry? let out and was sold out of the screening. I considered calling it a night, but one of the ushers mentioned that back at the Egyptian, they hadn’t even started seating The Italian Job. I ran back up Hollywood Blvd. and got a seat with Jessica, Carley of the Kitty Packard Pictorial and Nicole (Ch_eekyGirl). Legendary producer, composer and musician Quincy Jones was there to talk to Ben Mankiewicz about scoring films and his work on The Italian Job. Then as the movie began, Carley squeezed my arm and said, “He’s sitting right behind us.” That’s right. Quincy Jones sat right behind us during the film. He was tapping his toes to the music and saying reactions to the screen as if it were his first time seeing the movie. During the scene where the police catch up to the transport van only to open the doors and find the gold stolen, Jones said, “Too late!” I was so happy I missed out on the other film because I got to have an experience that I’ll remember forever. I had never seen the film either, and I loved every minute of it. From Michael Caine to the cars and the great color photography, the film is just very British and a lot of fun.
That was a wrap for Days 1 and 2!