Day three of the TCMFF again started for me at 8:30 when I got in line for King Vidor’s Stella Dallas. I jokingly coined this year’s festival as the “TCM-mess-with-my-emotions festival” because of the all the tearjerker films I saw. There wasn’t a dry eye in Chinese Theater 1 by the end of Stella Dallas either. Being a perfect fit for the family in the movies theme of the festival, Stella Dallas follows Barbara Stanwyck’s title character as she rises and falls from a modest background to being the wife of a young executive. Even through her marital troubles, mostly brought on by her own poor choices, Stella’s light in life is her daughter, Laurel, and the film focuses on Stella’s own sacrifices for her daughter. While Stella’s own choices are sometimes infuriating, Stanwyck manages to make you sympathetic to a character who could easily become an unlikable caricature.
I then went to see the new restoration of Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I must say Gary Cooper is in his prime here. As part of Capra’s cycle of films looking at the common man, Mr. Deeds follows Cooper’s Longfellow Deeds, a simple poet for greeting card companies who suddenly inherits a great fortune from a deceased relative. All at once he’s plucked from small-town America and sent to the big city, where his lawyers are out to get power of attorney over the fortune. He’s also chased by an ace newspaper reporter, “Babe” Bennett (Jean Arthur), who is out to get the scoop on the country bumpkin’s odd antics. Posing as a damsel in distress to get closer to Deeds, Bennett ends up falling for him, which puts her in hot water once it’s revealed that she was leading the establishment in charge of making fun of him. I’ve perhaps overlooked Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in favor of Meet John Doe and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but seeing it again has made me appreciate it a lot more. Cooper and Arthur are really wonderful together, and even as big of a movie idol as Coop was, there was always a down-home kind of charm about him, which is very evident here.
From there, Laura and I ran out of the theater to go across the street to the El Capitan for How Green Was My Valley. With star Maureen O’Hara in attendance, the line quickly wrapped around the building. The renovation of the Chinese Theater IMAX this past year made the El Capitan the largest capacity theater venue at the TCMFF, with close to 1,000 seats, and we were right in the mid 100s when we jumped into line, so there was some relief that we’d get in.
The El Capitan is a beautiful venue, and they did have the regular house organist, Rob Richards, playing songs from different classic films beforehand. Robert Osborne introduced a video tribute to O’Hara, followed by him inviting her onstage. O’Hara was greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation, which she seemed to really appreciate. Osborne began by asking her a question: “Tell us about working with John Ford.” O’Hara replied with, “I thought we were here to talk about me!” to the crowd’s delight. At age 93, she’s still strikingly beautiful, sharp as a tack and speaks with a light touch of Irish brogue. O’Hara spoke directly to the audience, wishing us all a long life and talking about life and living. Though not a question and answer interview, it was so wonderful to be able to see a living legend and just participate in the outpouring of admiration for the actress.
How Green Was My Valley now has the title of being the film that beat Citizen Kane for the Best Picture Oscar in 1941, but it’s a great film in its own right. I had never seen How Green Was My Valley, and was stuck by how beautiful and emotional a film it is. This was another new restoration by 20th Century Fox, and I felt very lucky to have my first viewing of it this way. The film follows a young Huw (Roddy McDowell) growing up in a colliery town in Wales with his older brothers and sister. Maureen O’Hara plays Angharad, the only daughter in the family, who falls in love with the town preacher, Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon). Theirs is an unrequited love, as she marries the mine owner’s son and moves away to South Africa. The film follows the hardships of the men working in the mines and the changing of the times in the valley. But it really is a portrait of family and small-town life, and its told beautifully through the skills of John Ford. Robert Osborne pointed out that the plans for the film had originally been to adapt the entire novel by Richard Llewellyn, but it was decided that that would be too lengthy. The end result, a film told in flashback through the eyes of young Huw, gives the film a lot of weight with not only it being a coming of age story, but an illustration on the loss of innocence.
My next film was the fast paced pre-Code Hat Check Girl, starring Sally Eilers and Ginger Rogers. The two play virtual opposites, with Eilers as a the good girl and Rogers as the one who sells bootleg liquor on the side. The film is a murder mystery filled with romance and blackmail, which all gets resolved in its neat 64 minute running time. The film was a world premier restoration on 35mm from MoMA, and it was a treat to see a film that for a long time had not been seen.
I ended up skipping the following block because I wanted to see Freaks at midnight. Well, about fifteen minutes into Tod Browning’s classic, I knew I was in trouble. So Freaks joined Island of Lost Souls as midnight TCMFF films that I have slept through the majority of their running time.
But on Sunday I was able to catch three really fun films, including one that might’ve been my favorite of the festival, so more to come!