TCM Classic Film Festival 2023 Review: Celebrating Film Legacies

My eleventh opportunity to cover the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood provided an opportunity to enjoy some old favorites on the big screen and discover several outstanding new films. The central theme this year was “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet: Celebrating Film Legacies.” The films were placed into ten categories: “Better than the Original,” “Discoveries,” “Essentials,” “Festival Tributes,” “Hollywood Dynasties,” “Midnight Movies,” “Paying It Forward,” “Poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt,” “Special Presentation,” and “WB 100”. In addition to the WB 100 selections, there was an overall spotlight celebrating the 100th anniversary of Warner Bros. Studios.

My tentative schedule always weaves together old favorites, never before seen films that have been on my watch list for years along with highly anticipated special guests. There were last minute revisions, which is always the case, based on theater location, change in mood on what sounded appealing and fatigue as the festival progressed.


My first event was the media reception on Wednesday evening offering a lively discussion with hosts Ben Mankiewicz, Eddie Muller, Dave Karger, Alicia Malone, and Jacqueline Stewart. Each stated that they were most excited for the opportunity to mingle with classic movie fans.


Thursday began with Meet TCM, a conversation with TCM staffers on the future of the network and the process involved in planning the festival. Attendees were given the chance to ask questions which is always entertaining. Most focused on individual grievances or extreme gratitude for the channel, nuances of the festival or silly fun such as how to get a picture with Mankiewicz.

My one and only film on Thursday was Airport (1970). I opted for this since I had never seen it and was a special 70 mm presentation at the Hollywood Legion, my favorite venue of the festival. The star-studded cast includes Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jacqueline Bisset, Helen Hayes, George Kennedy, and Maureen Stapleton. Lancaster is the airport manager forced to contend with a massive snowstorm while pilot Martin must deal with a bomb on his flight. Hayes is the highlight; she is adorable and hilarious as the habitual stowaway. This overly dramatic, soapy fun and was a perfect start.


Day Two started early with success in the heavily sought after Theater #4 as it is the smallest theater at the festival and is the only one that plays 35mm prints. The Old Maid (1939) stars Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins as quarreling cousins who not only battle in the film but did during the filming as well. Director Edmund Goulding managed to successfully coax great performances from both in this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play based on the Edith Wharton novella about sacrifice and the consequences therein. Mario Cantone introduced the film and while it did not provide much information, he did elicit laughs from the audience especially with his Davis impression.

Somehow I managed to get back into Theater #4 for Larceny, Inc. (1942) about three ex-cons (Edward G. Robinson, Broderick Crawford, and Edward Brophy) who buy a luggage shop with the plan to tunnel into the bank vault next door. Their plan is thwarted when the business becomes a success and Robinson a hero of the neighborhood. Jane Wyman, Jack Carson, Anthony Quinn, and Jackie Gleason join in this fun gangster comedy. Michael Schlesinger, an extremely charming filmmaker and historian, was on hand to provide background and interesting tidbits. I could have listened to him talk for hours.

“Warner Night at the Movies: The Strawberry Blonde” (1941) offered a re-creation of going to the movies during this era with cartoons, a Sergeant York (1941) trailer, and a short about celebrities playing polo. Unknowingly, this choice provided a Jack Carson double feature as he stars in this amusing romantic comedy along with Rita Hayworth, James Cagney, and Olivia de Haviland. The story is told in flashbacks with Cagney explaining how he ended up in his current circumstances. This one of my favorites of the festival as its message of love and redemption was very powerful. It also provided another fantastic introduction. This time by by Warner Bros. Discovery Library Historian George Feltenstein whose impressive legacy of film restorations will benefit many future generations.

My #1 must-see film at the festival was American Graffiti (1973), which was for the first time. Being on the big screen in a packed theater made it worth the wait. Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard star as friends in turmoil the night before they head off to college. Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Mackenzie Phillips, Kathleen Quinlan, Candy Clark, and Suzanne Somers are also part of this stellar cast. George Lucas created a heartfelt adventure representing life in a small town and the importance of relationships at this time of life. David Karger attempted to interview Dreyfuss and Clark before the film, but they quickly took over. It is clear that they have a close bond from when they worked together so many years ago. Clark teased Dreyfuss relentlessly. There was also a moment of silence for Cindy Williams and Bo Hopkins.

House of Wax 3D (1953) proved to be the perfect way to end the day. Warner Bros. found great success with this horror remake offering the height of visual 3D effects of the 1950s which are still impressive today. Horror icon Vincent Price stars as a psychotic wax sculptor seeking revenge. Author William Joyce, who I know from his beloved children’s books, gave a great presentation featuring original posters and many fun facts about the making of the film.


Determined to make to it up for the midnight screening, I skipped the first slate of movies and attended When Worlds Collide (1951). Sound designer Ben Burtt and visual effects artist Craig Barron transformed the Hollywood Legion Theater for this special presentation, installing an additional sound system. The story of the destruction of Earth left a little to be desired but the presentation and impressive chair-shaking sound made it worthwhile. Events like this that offer unique experiences make the festival special.

Amy Irving stars in Crossing Delancey (1988) as a young Jewish woman balancing her time between the upscale world of the West Side of New York where she successfully works at a bookstore while trying to maintain her family roots in the Lower East Side. This was another film I had not yet seen before and loved it. Irving is enchanting as she struggles between love interests. Will she chose the dreamy cultured author (Jeroen Krabbe) or the Jewish pickle merchant (Peter Riegert)?

Irving and Riegert provided a lively discussion beforehand led by Eddie Mueller who several times stressed that a “classic movie” doesn’t have to be from the 1930s or ’40s. It is a movie that stands the test of time, which this delightful romantic comedy does.

Finally, it was time for noir! Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) is a fast-paced, intense thriller starring Barbara Stanwyck as a bedridden hypochondriac who is frantically trying to stop a murder after she overhears the plot when her telephone line gets crossed. Burt Lancaster plays her disgruntled husband and the history of their tumultuous relationship plays out through flashbacks while the current events unfold. This was my favorite film of the entire festival. After 75 years, it is truly a classic to be treasured. Eddie Mueller and Lawrence Hilton Jacobs (Welcome Back, Kotter) shared their love of the film in a hilarious exchange before the screening.

There’s Something About Mary (1998) was a last-minute decision. I went back and forth between this and In the Heat of the Night (1967) settling on the comedy since Lin Shayne was expected to be the special guest. It was the right decision as hearing Lin’s stories of the making of the film heightened my second viewing. Lin steals every scene that she is in. Bobby and Peter Farrelly deliver hilarity and tenderness centered on Ben Stiller’s lasting obsession with high school love interest Cameron Diaz. Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott, Lee Evans, and Keith David also shine.

Xanadu (1980) is a film that I can recite and sing along to due to how many times I have seen it so I was thrilled to see it on the schedule as a midnight movie. The passing of Olivia Newton-John in 2022 left a huge hole in my heart and being able to see her sing and dance (especially with Gene Kelly) on the big screen again was wonderful. It was a bigger audience than normal for a midnight showing and most stayed until the end. It was a fun crowd that clapped and sang along, making it a memorable experience.

My only complaints about the festival are that it went to fast and that I could not be in multiple theaters at once. There was not one film that I regretted going to because the programming was exceptional. TCM perfectly balances new and old classics that are diverse and stretch across every genre, creating an opportunity for all attendees to find something of interest in each time block, which typically offers five selections starting at 9 am with couple nights offering midnight movies. It is an event worth attending for fans of any type of film as long as they have the stamina to make the most of maximizing what is offered.

Lorna Miller

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