Each year, I seem to be more and more excited when my press credentials are approved for the Turner Classic Film Festival. This is my 8th year covering it and it was no different. Once the stress of getting in is over, the stress of which movies to see begins. There are typically three to five films to choose from for every time slot, which starts at 9 am.
This year I managed to get up to Hollywood early enough to attend the Meet TCM opening presentation. It offers insights on the network from staffers and includes a question-and-answer period. Once this was over, I was able to grab a full meal which was a rarity over the weekend.
My first movie selection was easy with Murder on the Orient Express (1974) since I had never seen it on the big screen. Additionally, I am usually drawn to anything involving crime. Recently having watched the Kenneth Branagh 2017 version, I was also curious how much it differed from the original since my viewing of the classic was many. many years ago. The presenter, film journalist Tara McNamara, was able to explain how director Sidney Lumet assembled such an amazing cast including, but not limited to, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud, and Ingrid Bergman. It was all about connections. Each actor was highly interested in working with another and it was a domino effect once he was able to figure that out. For example, Bergman wanted Bacall who wanted Gielgud. Albert Finney plays Hercule Poirot, who is tapped to solve a murder that occurs while he is traveling home. I really enjoyed the 2017 adaptation and was wondering why it was unsuccessful at the box office and received poor reviews. After watching the original it was clear, the new film didn’t have the heart and emotion of the first especially once the mystery is solved. While the current cast was fine, they simply couldn’t compare.
What ended up being my favorite film of the entire festival came next, while having no idea I was doing a Lumet double feature. Fail-Safe (1964) stars Henry Fonda as the President of the United States attempting to stop a nuclear war. This is one of the most intense movies I have ever seen, which is all performance driven. Fonda is superb displaying resolute calm during this time of incredible stress when the safety of entire world rests on his shoulders. Additional stellar performances include Larry Hagman as a language interpreter and Walter Matthau as an adviser who seems to have no concerns about starting World War III. The screenwriter, Walter Bernstein, was supposed to be in attendance but due to a fall was unable. This is a constant concern at this festival with many of the guests who worked on the films shown being in their later years.