TCMFF: Day Four Recap

shareSunday for TCMFF seems to be a lighter day than Friday and Saturday, depending on what you might’ve seen earlier in the weekend. The festival holds open one theater’s block of programming as TBAs on Sunday, and they are repeat screenings of films that were popular and sold out the first time around. These are usually announced by Saturday. I found out that they were screening Employees’ Entrance again, which I had been sold out of on Friday night, and The Great Gatsby, which was a film I really wanted to see but it was opposite Maureen O’Hara and How Green Was My Valley.

I started my day off with a really fun screening of The Adventures of Robin Hood at the Egyptian. In this “Academy Conversations” with two Oscar winners, sound effects master and editor Ben Burtt (Star Wars, WALL-E) and visual effects supervisor Craig Barron (Titanic, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) gave a multimedia presentation demonstrating the visual and sound effects of The Adventures of Robin Hood.¬†This ranged from looking at how matte paintings were used to fill in landscape and sets, to the kinds of cuts on the arrow feathers that produced such a distinct sound effect while in flight. Burtt and Barron also presented behind-the-scenes production photos and more recent shots of the locations used for the film. The movie itself was a delight and played to a packed house. Beautiful technicolor and dashing Errol Flynn in all his swashbuckling, green tights glory.

From there I went to the first of my two second chance screenings, Employees’ Entrance. A 1933 pre-code directed by Roy Del Ruth, the film stars Warren William as Kurt Anderson, a totally despicable department store manager who hires a fresh-faced Madeline Walters (Loretta Young) as a clothing model. Anderson looks to solicit new sales ideas from his staff, and is impressed by a pitch by Martin West (Wallace Ford). Anderson promotes West as his new protege, while callously firing the longtime clothing department head, who then commits suicide. West and Walters fall in love and get married, but must keep it a secret because Anderson warns West that marriage is a distraction. Anderson soon finds out they are married, and tries to seduce West with another woman. When that fails, he sets it up so that West will overhear his wife and Anderson talking about the times they slept together, once before she was married, and once recently. At just 75 minutes in running time, the film resolves all of this with last minute corporate management votes and firing of guns. Employees’ Entrance has its light moments, but it wasn’t a laugh out loud kind of comedy. William elicits plenty of cringe-worthy moments as Anderson, and the movie really is about his character’s awful morals and behavior. After hearing that his old department head committed suicide by jumping out a window, Anderson states, “Well, some people outlast their usefulness,” which got quite the love-to-hate reaction from the audience. Before the screening, New York Film Forum’s Bruce Goldstein gave his “Pre-Code 101,” presentation, which outlined the characteristics of these distinct films made before the Hollywood Production Code went fully into effect in 1934.

My last film of the festival was a special one, Paramount’s 1949 version of The Great Gatsby starring Alan Ladd. The film was introduced by Ladd’s son, actor and producer David Ladd. David, who resembles his father, especially in his smile, said the role of Jay Gatsby seemed to fit his father’s own personality well. David also mentioned that this rarely seen film was one he was very proud of in his father’s legacy. The film was directed by Elliott Nugent, who was mostly known at Paramount for directing more romantic comedies and other lighter fare. Alan Ladd, whose own personal history followed a rise from humble origins to fame, fits Gatsby well. I’ve always admired Ladd for being able to communicate a lot with a look or facial expression, and his quietness works perfectly with Gatsby’s unrequited yearning. The rest of the film’s casting is great as well, with the exception of Daisy (Betty Field). To be fair, Field isn’t by any means a bad actress, but her portrayal leans more towards a more standard young ingenue and not the complex figure that is Daisy Buchanan. A special shout-out to Shelley Winters as Myrtle, who one of my friends dubbed “the go-to-dead-character-actress.” The film was screened on a great 35mm print, and it’s really a shame that it’s so difficult to see because for the most part, it’s a very faithful-feeling adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel.

After Gatsby, a group of us headed over to the Roosevelt for the closing night party at Club TCM. I actually did not spend any time at Club TCM this year, so I barely got to see the wonderfully decorated interiors. There were several items of memorabilia, like Sam’s piano and the letters of transit from Casablanca, one of Dorothy’s dresses from The Wizard of Oz, and several set and costume sketches and art from Gone with the Wind. Also on the wall were the originals of the art that was commissioned from names like Kim Novak, Jane Seymour and Jules Feiffer to celebrate TCM’s 20th Anniversary. The art was available on a set of printed cards which were offered in the the gift shop, with the proceeds going to support The Film Foundation. As each film let out, the room filled up with festival goers socializing and taking the last opportunity to say goodbye before we all departed for home. There were plenty of photos, hugs and a special toast to TCM. The last night is always sad because it feels like the weekend went by in a whirlwind, and you become used to the company of good friends. At the afterparty, it feels a little bit like Cinderella’s coach turning back into a pumpkin, but you leave having reconnected with old friends, made new ones, and looking forward to next year’s classic film family reunion.

I have to say, I had a wonderful experience my second year at TCMFF. I’ve found that even if you’re a film watching die-hard, the programming offers enough rarities to satisfy those who have access to a lot of film screenings on a regular basis. TCM also offers plenty of new restorations of the staples so that those getting to see a classic film on the big screen for the first time or those seeing it for the 20th time are getting a great experience. I personally would love to see some more foreign selections, but I understood when Charlie Tabesh brought up the difficulty of finding good prints. But I do think TCM has done an admirable job with working in documentary films, some foreign films and expanding the timeline up through more contemporary eras. The opportunity to have a wide variety of on-screen and behind the scenes talent, historians and programmers introducing these films is also a treat. TCMFF has become a can’t miss date on my calendar, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for next year. I want to again thank TCM for the opportunity to cover the festival. Here’s to TCM for a wonderful 5th annual festival, their 20th anniversary, and for throwing the best party in town.


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