The TCM Classic Film Festival 2010: A Festival Is Born

Cinema Sentries

No longer available online, this review is being re-published.

The inaugural TCM Classic Film Festival brought the cable channel to the silver screens of Hollywood Blvd. movie theaters for four days playing the likes of Grauman’s Chinese and the Egyptian. Much like the channel, the festival’s programming spanned the medium’s history, and as a bonus, many of the selections featured introductions and Q&A’s from participants, their relatives, and peers.

Living in Los Angeles, I am spoiled. There are quite a number of venues throughout the county to catch classic films, some of which include discussions with participants, so while I completely understand out-of-towners taking advantage of a 70mm screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or watching a comedy like The Producers (1968) and the silent Safety Last (1923) with a large audience, I more often than not chose rare films or ones I had never seen before.

Friday afternoon, writer/director Curtis Hansen introduced Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950), a movie that inspired him, as a “unique portrait of Hollywood.” He stated it was a film noir and there are elements of that genre, but I found this tale about a physically abusive relationship involving a screenwriter (Humphrey Bogart) with anger issues who is a suspect in a murder of a young woman more of a romantic melodrama.

Continuing the Hollywood theme was a brand new print of Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man (1980). This bizarre tale tells the story of Cameron (Steve Railsback), a Vietnam Veteran on the lam who hides out as a stuntman on the set of a WWI movie directed by Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole in an Academy Award-nominated performance). Rush talked beforehand about the film playing with illusion and reality, which it deals with as events happening to Cameron turn out to be events in Cross’s movie. However, I found The Stunt Man to be a chaotic mess. It was interesting to hear Rush, Railsback, and co-star Barbara Hershey knock studio executives for the poor handling of the film, but there’s no way it would have played well across the country.

My last screening of the day was No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948) a post-WWII British film that tried to be an American gangster picture. Bruce Goldstein had a very good presentation that showed reaction at the time by religious and political leaders. It was alleged to have been a complete, uncensored version, but a scene told to the audience by Tim Roth where the barkeep gets his eye taken out wasn’t shown. It’s not a classic, but it was a fun time laughing with an audience at the below-average acting and odd story of a woman who falls for a gangster that saves her from kidnappers.

Unbeknownst to me, Saturday would be bookended by Peter Bogdanovich introductions and I could have spent the whole day listening to him tell compelling stories. In the morning, before a brand new print of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), a story about the downfall of a wealthy family, he told charming tales about his time with Orson Welles and discussed what is the “greatest damaged film” in his estimation. Forty-four minutes were cut and destroyed by RKO.

The day ended with a midnight showing of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), which featured a new audio restoration. Bogdanovich had directed Boris Karloff in Targets (1968), one of his final films, and told bittersweet tales about what a professional he was in his latter days. I almost skipped this because I was tired after a long day of movie-watching but I am so glad I didn’t because it turns out, even though there are multiple sequences I have seen many, many times over, I had never seen it in its entirety before. Bride is very good and can be used to support anyone arguing in favor of sequels. While thrills and chills are expected, there is a smart story and even moments of humor.

Back in the afternoon, Leave Her To Heaven (1946) is a color film noir starring Gene Tierney as a sociopathic woman who won’t let anything get between her and the man (Cornel Wilde) she loves. That includes his handicapped brother (Daryl Hickman) and her unborn child. She won’t even let death stop her obsession. The melodrama here is so over the top it was unintentionally laughable. Though there are problems, it was a pleasure to see Vincent Price do well in a non-horror related role. Film Foundation had restored the print, and a promotional clip of their mission preceded the film. Afterwards, TCM’s Robert Osborne interviewed Hickman.

Part of the theme throughout the weekend was a tribute to the three generations of Hustons: Walter, John, Angelica, and Danny. Angelica was represented with Woody Allen’s brilliant Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). She was interviewed about herself and her family beforehand and was later joined by Martin Landau afterwards for a discussion about the film and working with Allen and each other. I was most intrigued by the different endings that were shot.

The Story of Temple Drake (1933) was a World Premiere of a restoration in progress. Based on William Faulkner’s Sanctuary, the film was pulled from theaters because of its scandalous story. Naturally over 70 years later, it’s difficult to see what the issues were, especially because the most shocking material from the book isn’t even hinted at. Miriam Hopkins delivers a very good performance and it’s too bad it’s been unavailable for so long.

More material pulled from public consumption was highlighted in “Out of Circulation Cartoons”. Film historian Donald Bogle gave an enlightening presentation about eight (of what are known as the Censored Eleven) Warner Brothers cartoons understandably shelved in 1968 because of their racial insensitivity to African Americans. They were made over the years by legends in the animation business like Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, and Friz Freleng, better known for creating Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. Not all the material was offensive. The caricatures of Fats Waller and Cab Calloway seemed similar to other celebrities of the time, but there was an unfortunate and ugly pervasiveness in stereotypes from old, servile Uncle Toms and lazy coons resembling Stepin Fetchit to sexualized light-skinned woman and dark-skinned mammies. There was some good humor but also a lot of stale jokes due to an over reliance on cliches like shooting dice.

Alongside introductions by Eli Wallach for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) and centenarian Luise Rainer for The Good Earth (1937) as well as the Alloy Orchestra accompanying Metropolis (1927) to close out the event, Sunday found a third of the screenings repeating films from earlier in the festival, which was no doubt welcomed by those who may have missed the cut.

Even before the second TCM Classic Film Festival was announced for Spring 2011, the event was a success for me, so it’s fantastic to learn more people will have the opportunity to take part in this celebration of film history.

Previously published at Film School Rejects.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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