I think one of the really great things about the TCMFF is that they do offer a little bit of everything for everyone. A good portion of the festival attendees travel from all over the world to Hollywood to be able to enjoy classic films with likeminded folks. Sometimes they come from places with large repertory cinema scenes, and sometimes not. For local Los Angeles residents, who maybe have a chance to see many classic film screenings year-round, the festival still offers first-looks at new restorations and rarely screened films. Everyone defines their idea of “classic” differently, and TCMFF has been able to cater to that as well, offering programming that covers everything from studio-era films up through the early 1990s. Special guests, presentations, and old favorites round out the experience, and that’s not even touching on what an amazing social event that TCMFF has become over the years. That is to say in short, the festival is a truly unique experience that keeps getting better and better each year.
I was (and to an extent still am) the kind of TCMFF-goer who wanted to watch all the “classical Hollywood” films. For me, that was usually pre-1960, and my own festival schedule in years previous has been seeing favorites for the first time on the big screen, or rarely seen pre-Codes and other gems that are so often the most popular movies at the festival. But this year, something strange happened. I only watched two films that were made before 1960.
My first day of movie-watching this year really started on Friday, but my festival experience started on Wednesday with the arrival of friends from out of town. As many others have mentioned, TCMFF has become an annual reunion of sorts, with many of us circling this weekend on the calendar as a chance to reconnect with good friends. I ran into Jessica from Comet Over Hollywood and Angela from The Hollywood Revue on our way over to the Roosevelt Hotel to pick up our press credentials. From there, we joined several other bloggers and friends out at the Roosevelt Pool where the early festival meet-and-greet was wrapping up. There I met up with Jill from The Retro Set and Danny from Pre-Code.com. I wrapped up the evening having a fun dinner at the favorite Italian restaurant Micheli’s (seriously, it has a cocktail piano player and singing waiters and waitresses, and unlike a lot of Los Angeles food that is overpriced and not all that good, Micheli’s is a gem) with Casey of Noir Girl, Millie from Classic Forever, Raquel from Out of the Past and her husband Carlos, artist extraordinaire Kate Gabrielle, KC of A Classic Movie Blog, and the lovely Laura of Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings and her husband Doug.
After missing Thursday night and Friday morning’s films due to class obligations, I decided to make 6 Hours to Live (William Dieterle, 1932) my first screening of TCMFF. I was torn between that and Brian’s Song, mainly because I’m a big sports fan and have never seen that film (but I have played “If the Hands of Time” on piano sometime long ago), but the plot description of 6 Hours to Live made it too enticing to pass up.
The film stars Warner Baxter, who plays Captain Paul Onslow, a delegate from the fictional country of Sylvaria (strangely, the rest of the countries mentioned in the film are real). He arrives at a trade conference in Geneva, the lone representative holding out on a new trade agreement which he believes will benefit the other countries but disadvantage Sylvaria. Because he’s the only dissenting voice, Paul has had several threats on his life. This worries Valerie (Miriam Jordan), the daughter of Baron Emil von Sturm (Halliwell Hobbes), Paul’s host while he is in Geneva. Valerie also has a romantic interest in Paul, much to the dismay of her childhood friend and would-be-suitor, Karl (John Boles). These threats escalate to the point where Valerie and Paul are shot at in their car as they return from the meeting hall.
Also rooming in at the Baron’s is Professor Otto Bauer (George F. Marion) and his assistant, Blucher (Dewey Robinson). The professor has brought his newest invention with him, a machine which allows him to bring dead rabbits back to life for a six hour period. Before a evening dinner, Valerie asks Paul to give up being a delegate and marry her. Paul hesitates because of his love for his home country, but eventually decides that Valerie means enough for him to give up his political career. As he is readying for dinner, an unknown assassin sneaks into Paul’s room and strangles him. Using the same machine that revived the rabbit, the professor is able to bring Paul back to life. Knowing he only has six hours to live and figure out who killed him, Paul takes to the city at night to flush out his murderer.
While this all sounds interesting on paper, I found the movie quite slow until the actual part where Paul expired and it turned into a murder mystery of sorts. Although I will say that formally, Dieterle has crafted a visually interesting film and somehow managed to keep what could be very different genre elements from making the film seem disjointed. I did think the mixture of what I guess could be called early sci-fi with the romance and mystery elements made for an interesting second half, but the beginning with the discussion of the trade agreement and Paul’s romantic dilemma seemed rather anti-climatic. Perhaps it’s because Warner Baxter plays very even to me, sometimes to the point of just being bland. But after he was a “dead man,” I found his weariness to work to his advantage as someone who knew they only had a finite amount of time back on earth. Dieterle ultimately gets a bit preachy about men playing God with bringing people back to life, but there are some really moving moments where Paul is able to philosophize on death having already experienced it.
After 6 Hours to Live I ran out of the theater to get into line for The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962). I was able to get in line, but by this time it was all the way around the back of the Hollywood and Highland complex and snaking around out to the street. My queue card was in the upper 500s, and apparently people were turned away for what was a 920 seat theater.
It was no wonder it was such a popular event. Angela Lansbury was in attendance and came out to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. She was interviewed by Alec Baldwin, talking about her amazing career in film, television and theater. On the appeal of acting on the stage, Lansbury said that when “the curtain goes up, you’re mine, and I’m yours.” Clearly, the audience in the TCL Chinese Theater IMAX felt that relationship exactly as they listened closely to every word.
In particular about this film, Lansbury mentioned she had been chosen for the role of Mrs. Iselin after working with director John Frankenheimer previously on All Fall Down (1962). In that film, she also plays a creepy mother figure to Warren Beatty. But she said it’s fun to play the villain, especially one so well-crafted as Mrs. Iselin. Lansbury mentioned that while getting off to a fast start in Hollywood with her first role in Gaslight (George Cukor, 1944), she found herself being frustrated with the lack of freedom and interesting roles being offered to her in film, so she moved on to the stage. But she cited The Manchurian Candidate as one of the last great films she was able to be in, especially seeing the finished result on the big screen. Lansbury even quoted the pivotal “Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?” line, much to the audience’s delight. This was my first viewing of the film, so I have to admit that reference went totally over my head.
While the interview itself would’ve been enough of a treat on its own, the film completely blew me away. I have seen the 2004 remake starring Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber, but I barely remember anything about the plot or the details. I remember being pretty shocked after seeing All Fall Down, and this Frankenheimer definitely left me in a similar state. It’s a taught thriller, but the performances by Lansbury, Laurence Harvey as her son, war hero Raymond Shaw, and Frank Sinatra as Shaw’s former commander, Ben Marco, turn this larger political thriller into an interpersonal cat-and-mouse game as well. Let’s just say that the ending, which wrapped up around 12:20 at night, definitely had me wide awake and thinking before bed for quite a while.
Tune in next time for me sobbing through a baseball movie at 9am, meeting an Academy Award winning composer, and absolutely loving Robert Altman’s take on Philip Marlowe.