2014 TCM Classic Film Festival Review: Day One and Two

I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and was wanting more once it was over.
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The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival was my fourth and favorite. It may have been the festival programming or the movies I chose to watch, but I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and was wanting more once it was over.

Day One

After picking up my pass and surviving the chaos at the Welcome Party at Club TCM, I headed over to Hooters where I luckily secured a prime window seat to see the red-carpet action for the Oklahoma! opening gala. Several celebrities were in attendance such as Shirley Jones and Maureen O'Brien.

My festival officially started with Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), which perfectly fit into the overall theme of “Family in the Movies: The Ties That Bind.” As I go through the schedule each year struggling to decide what to see, it always comes down to two things: sentimental favorites that I have never seen on the big screen or films that I have always wanted to see. This film fit into the first category. I was pleased I enjoyed it as much as I remembered and was able to understand definite reasons why this time around.

Frank Gilbreth (Clifton Webb) is the father of 12 children. He rules with fairness by holding household meetings and consulting his wife Lillian (Myrna Loy), a psychiatrist. Frank struggles with his children growing up and finding their voices, especially Ann (Jeanne Crain), the eldest child and a senior in high school. She fights for more freedom with such acts as cutting her hair and wearing high heels. Webb is charming as a strong father with realistic flaws and can be summed up with a quote that remains with me, “Inner dignity means never being embarrassed.” What I have come to appreciate about the film is the inner strength of the women, especially when the unexpected turn comes towards the end. Lillian is definitely second in command but is also Frank's trusted companion and consultant.

The Heiress (1949), winner of four Academy awards and directed by William Wyler, displays a very different kind of family. Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) is a plain-looking, socially awkward woman living with her disapproving, controlling father (Ralph Richardson). One evening at a dance, she meets Morris (Montgomery Clift), who is immediately interested in her. Morris is poor, making Catherine's father suspicious of his intentions. Does Morris truly care for Catherine or is he just after her money?

There are two elements that make this film highly successful. First, the transformation of Catherine. De Havilland's performance, which earned her a second Oscar, is mesmerizing as she turns from insecurity to independence. Second, is the relationship, or lack thereof, between Catherine and her father. The subtly Wyler uses to clearly illustrate Richardson's obsession with his dead wife and his dislike of his daughter is brilliant.

Day Two

I made a last-minute decision to start off my day with The World of Henry Orient (1964) due to the draw of Peter Sellers. However, he is hardly in the film, which left me a little disappointed.

The story is about the friendship between two teenage girls, Valerie Boyd (Tippy Walker) and Marian Gilbert (Merrie Spaeth). Marian is an outcast who leaves school everyday to visit a psychiatrist. Her parents travel a lot so she starts spending more and more time with Valerie and her family. While at a concert, Marian falls in love with concert pianist Henry Orient (Peter Sellers) and the two girls start stalking him. When Marian's parents come home for the holidays, her mom (Angela Lansbury) becomes concerned when she reads Marian's diary and learns of the “relationship,” which results in Marian running away from home and bringing everything to a head.

The film suffers from straggling the line between comedy and drama. It is touted as a comedy and is moving along in that direction but turns serious upon the entrance of Landsbury and Tom Bosley as Marian's father. The most compelling part of the film is once it takes that turn. Also, Lansbury is not only the sexiest I have ever seen her, but it is quite a different role for her.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) was another of my sentimental selections. It started off with a charming interview of Margaret O'Brien discussing what it was like working with Judy Garland and how she was successful in her big crying scene due to a competition with June Allyson.

The Smiths are a typical family filled with excitement in anticipation of the 1904 World's Fair taking place in their home town of St. Louis. Rose (Lucille Bremer) is the oldest daughter and hoping for a wedding proposal while Esther (Judy Garland) is in love with the boy next door. Tootie (O'Brien) is the youngest child, always causing trouble with her rambunctiousness. When Mr. Smith (Leon Ames) announces that his job is moving them to New York, the family is devastated by the upheaval it will bring to all of their lives and the possibility of missing the World's Fair. Unlike Cheaper by the Dozen, there is little realism in the family dynamics and overall storyline. Instead, it is more of a soap opera strung together with great songs. “The Trolley Song” still brings a huge smile to my face.

Paper Moon (1973) was one of the biggest highlights of the weekend and was on my must-see list. Ryan O'Neal was scheduled to be in attendance, which would have been really interesting, but cancelled. I would have enjoyed hearing his recollections about the filming and subsequent relationship issues with daughter Tatum O'Neal. However, Ben Mankiewicz provided a detailed introduction with behind the scenes information.

Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) cons people by telling them that their recently departed loved ones had purchased them a Bible with a balance due. While attending a funeral, he meets nine-year-old Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal), the daughter of the deceased, and is convinced to take her to her aunt's home where she will live. While on the road, Addie displays a quick mind and ability to aid Moses in his cons. They become a team. When Moses falls for an exotic dancer, Trixie (Madeline Kahn), he invites her on the road and trouble ensues as Addie fights for his sole attention.

The film is beautifully shot in black and white. This is a fun ride that I was instantly absorbed in. Ryan and Tatum are equally impressive with their performances and play off of each other in a way that their real-life relationship helped to enhance. There was a bit of sadness watching them though, knowing how their relationship ended up.

The Innocents (1961) was introduced by Illeana Douglas, who highlighted the uniqueness of the lighting and sound of this spooky, intense film. Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) is the new governess for Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin). The previous governess died suddenly and their uncle (Michael Redgrave) is only concerned about finding someone to care for the children without troubling him so he is free to enjoy his bachelor travels. Soon it becomes clear that there is something odd at the country estate, and when Miles is expelled and returned home, things only continue to worsen.

The Innocents is what is lacking in today's horror films. It slowly builds with psychological terror and fear of unknown. There is no blood and no scares derived solely for shock value. The ending is ambiguous, leaving the viewer questioning what the whole film was about and what was real. While exiting the theater, I heard one of the volunteers comment how shell-shocked every viewer looked.

TCM is to be praised for showing the most shocking and disturbing film I have ever seen: Eraserhead (1977). People trickled out through the entire screening; however, my curiosity kept me glued to my seat. Director David Lynch started the film while studying at the American Film Institute and it took five years to finish. It is the story of man (Jack Nance) who learns that his girlfriend is pregnant and their lives progress once they bring the “baby” home from the hospital. This is the strangest of all Lynch films, which says it all. It has to be seen to be believed. Being the midnight showing, there weren't many places still open after but luckily I managed to find a place where I could order a much needed drink to let me brain unwind.

[Editor's Note: Lorna's coverage of Day Three and Four can be found here.]

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