Thursday, May 19, 2016

Preston Sturges series: Screening of “The Lady Eve” May 24 at the Daystar Center

Preston Sturges series: The Lady Eve
Where: The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street, Chicago, IL
When: May 24, 2016
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Hosted by Stephen Reginald

Father and daughter con artists (Charles Coburn and Barbara Stanwyck) travel on transatlantic cruise ships swindling rich passengers in card games. When the two spot a big fish Charles Poncefort Pike (Henry Fonda), heir to Pike Ale—“The ale that won for Yale”—they decide to take him for all he’s worth. But when the daughter falls in love with their mark, things get complicated and hilarious. Preston Sturges directed his first big-budget hit with with amazing results. A critical and financial success, the New York Times declared The Lady Eve the best picture of 1941, above Citizen Kane! Once you see this film you’ll understand why they came to that amazing conclusion.

This was Preston Sturges’s third film as both writer and director and his first big-budget production, with A-list movie stars. After the critical and financial successes of The Great McGinty and Christmas in July, both released in 1940, Paramount gave Sturges free rein to craft The Lady Eve. For his leads, Sturges got Stanwyck and Fonda. From all accounts, both stars enjoyed working with each other and with Sturges. Sturges wrote The Lady Eve with Stanwyck in mind after he saw her performance in Remember the Night the year before. Sturges was so impressed with her characterization in that film that he knew she would be ideal as Eve.

Fonda, who had four films in release in 1940, including The Grapes of Wrath, was happy to star in a comedy. As Charles Pike, Fonda showed his lighter side, being especially deft at physical comedy. Fonda’s numerous pratfalls are one of the film’s major delights. Bosley Crowther in theNew York Times said, “No one could possibly have suspected the dry and somewhat ponderous comic talent which is exhibited by Henry Fonda as the rich young man.” As Eve, Stanwyck is one part of a trio of card sharks mixing it up with rich swells, like Pike, traveling by ocean liner. Along with her father, “Colonel” Harrington (Charles Coburn) and their “butler” Gerald (Melvin Cooper), Eve sees Pike as an easy mark.


A publicity shot during the filming of The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve is filled with a host of great character actors, most of which became part of the “Sturges Stock Company.” This stock company included William Demarest, Eric Blore, and Robert Grieg. The latter two appeared in Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels, also released in 1941.

When the movie was opened, Crowther, declared Sturges, “the most refreshing new force to hit the American motion pictures in the past five years.” He went on to say that a “more charming or distinguished gem of nonsense has not occurred since It Happened One Night.”

The Lady Eve is not only one of the best screwball comedies, but one of the best American films ever made.

Henry Fonda said Barbara Stanwyck was his favorite leading lady.

Backstory: Preston Sturges wrote the screenplay for Remember the Night with Carole Lombard in mind. He was disappointed that Paramount didn't secure her services, but when he saw Stanwyck in the lead, he was impressed. Stanwyck told Sturges that no one writes comedies for her. Sturges said he would write one for her; that screenplay was The Lady Eve.

Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
Before the movie, grab a cup of coffee from Overflow Coffee Bar, located within the Daystar Center. You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats. General Admission: $5 Students and Senior Citizens: $3.


Join the Chicago Film club; join the discussion
Twice a month we screen classic films and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.

Stephen Reginald is a freelance writer and editor. He has worked at various positions within the publishing industry for over 25 years. Most recently he was executive editor for McGraw-Hill’s The Learning Group Division. A long-time amateur student of film, Reginald hosts “Chicago Film Club,” a monthly movie event held in the South Loop, for the past two years. Reginald has also taught several adult education film classes at Facets Film School, Chicago.


Daystar Center located at 1550 S. State St. works through a grassroots network of collaborations and partnerships with individuals and other nonprofit organizations. Through this web, they’re able to provide educational, cultural, and civic activities that enrich and empower their clients, guests, and community members. To learn more about classes and events offered at the Daystar Center, please visit their Web site.



Monday, May 9, 2016

2016 #TCMFF: Sunday, The Third Full (and Last) Day

The last full day of the film festival is always a little sad. Even though the schedule is crammed with movies, it’s the realization that all good things must come to an end. On the positive side, my Thursday strategy of seeing The More The Merrier over Shanghai Express (1932) paid off. Shanghai Express was a TBD scheduled for noon.

Bobby Henrey and Ralph Richardson in The Fallen Idol

The first movie I saw on Sunday was Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol (1948). This film from the UK starring Ralph Richardson and Michelle Morgan was one that I had never seen before. It was an intriguing tale of a diplomat’s son Philippe (Bobby Henrey) who idolizes his father’s butler, Baines (Richardson). To keep the young boy occupied, Baines made up stories about his life in Africa, a place he has never been. After Philippe witnesses a tragic accident, what’s true and what’s false gets complicated. The Fallen Idol was wonderfully directed and acted, especially by Richardson. After the movie, Bobby Henrey who played Philippe talked about his experiences making the film. Unfortunately, I had to dash before Henrey really got going in order to get in line to see Shanghai Express (1932).


I had never seen the film, directed by Dietrich’s mentor Josef von Sternberg. The restoration was flawless. Shanghai Express was Dietrich’s most commercially successful film and for good reason. The story moves along briskly and is beautifully filmed by Lee Garmes who won an Academy Award for his efforts. I was especially impressed with the slow screen dissolves, which instead of being a device to go from one scene to the other, actually helped advance the narrative. Dietrich never looked more glamorous and Garmes photographed her in the most flattering light; she looked absolutely stunning. The supporting cast is a who’s who of early-1930s cinema: Clive Brook, Anna May Wong, Warner Oland, and Eugene Pallette.

There was some time in between Shanghai Express and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966) so I went to the Roosevelt Hotel to hang out and visit with some people. While I was there, the folks promoting the TCM Backlot fan club had a trivia contest. I answered a question correctly and won a t-shirt and baseball cap, both with the TCM Backlot logo. Woohoo!

My trivia winnings
I was looking forward to seeing The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming for two reasons: 1. I hadn’t seen it since I saw it in the movies with my parents and 2. I was finally going to see Eva Marie Saint in person. Saint was in Chicago several years ago with Robert Osborne for a special screening of North By Northwest, but I was unable to attend. I thought, well that’s that; I’ll never get the opportunity to see her again. When I saw that she was on the TCM Film Festival schedule I almost couldn’t believe it. It’s hard to believe that Saint is 92 years old. She’s so vibrant and funny. She really enjoyed making The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and she shared some stories related to its production that were both interesting and amusing. Though the political climate between Russia and the United States has changed since the movie was released 50 years ago, it’s still hilarious. The cast was loaded with great comic actors, including Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters, Brian Keith, and Paul Ford. Again, even though the film is 50 years old, it’s aged very well.

Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray, and Jack Buchanan from The Bandwagon
Well it finally came…the last movie of the festival. Once again, I chose a film that I hadn’t seen before. The film was introduced by director and choreographer Susan Stroman and Illeana Douglas. Hard to believe, but I had never seen The Bandwagon (1953) before. The musical stars Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan (who stole the picture in my opinion), and Oscar Levant. The plot is a thin one, Fred is a washed up song-and-dance man attempting a Broadway comeback, but it’s really all about the dancing and musical numbers. Director Vincent Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed gave The Bandwagon that MGM polish with its vibrant Technicolor photography. Far from my favorite film musical, it was enjoyable mostly for the talent involved. After the film it was time to pose for some photos, touch base with some friends and head to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to say my good-byes and prepare for the early morning wake-up call and trip to the airport.

Here’s to next year’s festival!

Films seen after four days:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Brief Encounter
The More The Merrier
The Conversation
It’s A Wonderful Life
The Manchurian Candidate
Bambi
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell
The King and I
The Fallen Idol
Shanghai Express
The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming
The Band Wagon

Sunday, May 8, 2016

2016 #TCMFF: Saturday, The Second Full Day

Saturday the second full day of the festival offered some really great films. Fortunately, the choices were easier (for me) than on Thursday. The movie I chose to see in the morning was Bambi (1942). I only saw Bambi once before in the movie theater, but I love classic Disney. They always remind me of my youth growing up. My older sister always took me to the movies and we saw just about every Disney movie released or re-released between 1962 and 1970. Those were good times. Movies are like music, when viewed they can bring back past memories and emotions.

Donnie Dunagan was the voice and model for Bambi.
Author and filmmaker William Joyce interviewed Donnie Dunagan, the voice of Bambi, before the movie. Dunagan was an absolute delight. He charmed us with his stories about working at Disney (he also posed for Bambi’s facial expressions) when the studio facilities were brand new and how he squirted a grumpy Disney executive in the back of the head with his water pistol. According to Dunagan, he was the only Disney employee who didn’t like kids; he said everyone else was so nice to him. Dunagan went on to explain that being the voice of Bambi has given him many opportunities to meet people. He told the story of a young handicapped girl in a wheelchair brought to meet him by her parents. Dunagan introduced himself and he asked what her name was. She replied, “you can call me Flower if you want to.” Okay, we knew we’d be crying somewhere during Bambi, but we hadn’t counted on getting misty during the introduction. Joyce did a wonderful job interviewing Dunagan, carefully not making the interview about him (Alec Baldwin take note.).

Dunagan stayed around after the movie was over. I got to shake his hand and have him say, “enjoy your life!” What a treat; I will never forget that experience. Oh, the movie was good too!

Carl Reiner was interviewed by Illeana Douglas.
Next I was off to spend “An Afternoon With Carl Reiner” and the screening of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982). The movie, a homage and spoof of film noir movies from the 1940s was a hoot. Hearing the entire audience howl with laughter inside the Chinese Theatre was contagious. Starring Steve Martin (looking so young) and Rachel Ward (looking so beautiful), the film was a technical marvel, splicing pieces of famous films noir starring the likes of Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Burt Lancaster, and Ava Gardner, to name a few. I enjoyed it more this time then when first released since my depth and knowledge of classic films is much deeper.

After the movie, Reiner was interviewed by Illeana Douglas. Reiner talked about his early career as a writer and performer and how The Dick Van Dyke show came about. He had some great stories, including how he chose Mary Tyler Moore to play Van Dyke’s wife Laura in the classic sitcom. He reminisced about working on movies like The Thrill Of It All with Doris Day and James Garner and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming with Eva Marie Saint (who would introduce the film Sunday afternoon) and Alan Arkin, in his first major film role. It was great to be able to see this living comedy legend in person.

Phil Silvers, Peter Lawford, Gina Lollobridgida, and Telly Savalas in Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell

The next set of movies presented itself with some more tough choices: Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968), The Big Sleep (1946), The War of the Worlds (1953), which was newly restored, and The Yearling (1946), featuring Claude Jarman Jr. I had seen all of the movies before, except Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell. I really wanted to hear Jarman talk about what it was like working with Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman, but I opted to see Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell with Gina Lollobrigida. Lollobrigida at 87 is still beautiful and vibrant. She talked about how she never intended to be an actress (she studied art), but started out playing bit parts for money, which she needed and then being offered lead roles in Italian films, and then finally making it to Hollywood. The movie was delightful and what a cast: Lollobrigida in the title role, Shelley Winters, Peter Lawford, Phil Silvers, Janet Margolin, Lee Grant, and Telly Savalas! Lollobrigida kept the movie moving smoothly with great comedic skill and charm. Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, according to the TCM Film Festival guide was the uncredited inspiration for the musical Mamma Mia! Once again, the great Chinese Theatre was filled with riotous laughter watching some of the greatest talents from the mid-20th century. What a joy!

Deborah Kerr and Yul Bryner in The King and I presented in Cinemascope 55
Next up was the restored version of The King and I (1956). I think the last time I saw this movie was at least 30 years ago. The movie was introduced by Rita Moreno who talked about how she was cast and what it was like working on such a big budget film with stars Deborah Kerr and Yul Bryner. The Cinemascope 55 restoration was perfect. This was another movie on the Chinese Theatre’s great screen and it looked amazing. After the movie ended, I sprinted to the multiplex to get in line for Midnight (1939), one of my favorite screwball comedies.

The cast of Midnight; did I mention I didn’t get to see this one?
Another disappointment: Midnight was sold out! There wasn’t anything else I really wanted to see so I consoled myself the only way I knew how. I had a late sit-down dinner. I tweeted my disappointment and when I saw tweets from those mentioning Bonnie Hunt’s introduction to the movie, I wanted to scream, but I somehow managed to control myself. I’m so mature. Still I managed to see four movies. Not bad at all!

Sunday is the last day (boo, hoo) of the festival. Will my Friday strategy pay off? Check back and see.

Films seen after three days:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Brief Encounter
The More The Merrier
The Conversation
It’s A Wonderful Life
The Manchurian Candidate
Bambi
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell
The King and I

Saturday, May 7, 2016

2016 #TCMFF: The First Full Day

Decisions, decisions. Friday, April 29, the first full day of the TCM Film Festival, was chock full of great movies. The morning schedule was especially strong featuring three movies I wanted to see on the big screen: The More The Merrier (1943), Shanghai Express (1932), and Love Me Or Leave Me (1955). I thought that Shanghai Express was the most likely candidate to be one of the TBD features on Sunday, films that proved popular enough to be repeated, so I had to choose between The More The Merrier and Love Me Or Leave Me. I decided on George Stevens’s The More The Merrier with Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn. Seeing this classic on the big screen with an audience was a delight. There’s nothing like a movie theater filled with laughter and Arthur, McCrea, and Coburn gave us plenty to laugh about.

I really wanted to see this movie, but I couldn’t be in two places at once.

After the screening of The More The Merrier, I ran into my first disappointment of the festival (last year I didn’t get to see Too Late For Tears). I was in line for Double Harness (1933), but the film, in one of the smaller venues, sold out almost immediately. Being a fan of William Powell and Ann Harding, I really wanted to see this film (I’ve never seen it). With nothing else on my schedule, I went to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to buy a copy of Illeana Douglas’s book, I Blame Dennis Hopper. I waited on line to meet Illeana and to get my book autographed. I asked her what we have to do to get Theodora Goes Wild at the TCM Film Festival? She said we just have to keep “pestering” them about it. She lamented that when she brings it up, they remind her that she’s only doing so because her grandfather is in it. The nerve! With plenty of time before the next movie, I had a rare sit-down meal, so I had a nice lunch at Mel’s Diner before I went to see The Conversation (1974).

The charming Illeana Douglas and me

The Conversation featured an interview with its director Francis Ford Coppola by Ben Mankiewicz. I have to say I enjoyed the Coppola interview more than the movie. Coppola came across as very humble and likeable. I expected him to be more brash and full of himself (not sure why I thought this). The Conversation wasn’t my type of movie, but I can now check it off of my list. After the heaviness of The Conversation, it was time for something different.

Snow making on the backlot for It’s A Wonderful Life

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) was playing at the Chinese Theatre, an event I couldn’t pass up. I have this film on DVD and have seen it dozens of times, but to see it on the big screen with 900 + people, how could I pass that up? Craig Barron and Ben Burtt introduced the film. They shared how they made snow for the film, which was a new process at the time. Prior to It’s A Wonderful Life, movie snow was made from bleached corn flakes. The problem with the corn flakes is that when stepped on, you could hear them crunch, requiring the filmmakers to re-dub the dialogue, something, director Frank Capra didn’t want to do. The new snow was a mixture of fire retardant foam and glycerin, which looked real on screen and didn’t crunch. Barron and Burtt also treated us to film of a picnic wrap party that included the cast and crew, including star James Stewart and director Frank Capra, participating in sack and three-legged races, eating ice cream and watermelon…just like the rest of us.

Angela Lansbury watches James Gregory on TV in The Manchurian Candidate.

After the heartwarming tale of George and Mary Bailey, it was on to more serious fare with The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Ben Mankiewicz interviewed Dame Angela Lansbury before the screening. She explained how she got the role (Frank Sinatra originally wanted Lucille Ball) and the impact it made on her life and career (she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar). The performances of all the principals: Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, and Janet Leigh were excellent. The movie, filmed in black and white, looked beautiful, which contrasted with the film’s serious tone and subject matter.

Well, that was the end of the first full day. Four movies!

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter from
the first day of the festival



Films seen after two days:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Brief Encounter
The More The Merrier
The Conversation
It’s A Wonderful Life
The Manchurian Candidate








2016 #TCMFF: The Festival Begins
2016 #TCMFF: Saturday, The Second Full Day
2016 #TCMFF: Sunday, The Third Full (and Last) Day

Thursday, May 5, 2016

2016 #TCMFF: The Festival Begins

The air temperature during this year’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival may have been cool, but there was plenty of warmth in the air when classic movie fans gathered at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel Thursday afternoon. Meeting fellow movie bloggers and other social media friends was like a high school reunion. And just like a high school reunion, we all picked up where we left off at last year’s fest.

While we were all catching up at the Roosevelt Hotel, we had the pleasure of meeting Monika Henreid, actor Paul Henreid’s daughter. I spent a few pleasant moments chatting with her and sharing one of my favorite of her father’s films, Devotion (1946). Monika is preparing a documentary about her famous dad, Paul Henreid…Beyond Victor Laszlo. The 90-minute documentary and companion book are set for a 2017 release.

Thursday’s film choices were easy ones for me: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and Brief Encounter (1945). It’s been over 25 years since I saw A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I’d never seen Brief Encounter before.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Elia Kazan’s first directorial effort, was beautifully restored. Ted Donaldson who played Neely in the film introduced it. His recollections of the film’s production and the other cast members was enlightening and entertaining. He also told a funny story about Joan Blondell who he had a crush on.

Brief Encounter was completely new to me, although I was familiar with its reputation as one of the great films to come out of Britain during the 1940s. Beautifully directed by David Lean, Brief Encounter was a simple love story set in Britain as WWII was winding down. It has wonderful performances from Celia Johnson (a Best Actress nominee) and Trevor Howard. I was glad I finally saw it and on the big screen too!

Last year the festival was almost a month earlier and it was hot! This year, figuring it would be the same, I packed mostly shorts and t-shirts. I even brought a bathing suit to go swimming. The temperature barely reached the 50s and this Chicago boy was freezing most of the time. I ended up wearing the jeans and hoodie I wore to the airport the entire time. It was the same hoodie I brought last year, that I only wore in the theaters which seemed to get colder the longer the movie ran. Tip: If you go to the festival, bring a sweater or a hoodie because the theaters do get chilly. This year I watched several movies with my hood on.

Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn in The More The Merrier

I had a good idea what I wanted to see this year, but Monday morning’s screenings were all good. I wanted to see The More the Merrier (1943), Shanghai Express (1932), and Love Me Or Leave Me (1955), all starting at roughly the same time. But I had a strategy. Check back later to see if my strategy worked!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

#TCMFF Here I come!

Today I’m off to the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. The four-day event features some of the best in classic films and celebrities like Eva Marie Saint, Gina Lollabridgida, Rita Moreno, and Burt Reynolds. I’ll be posting pics via Facebook and Twitter so you can follow along with me.

The Egyptian Theater
Like last year, I plan to write several blog posts on the movies I saw and the people I met.

Eva Marie Saint will introduce this movie on Sunday.

2016 #TCMFF: The Festival Begins
2016 #TCMFF: The First Full Day
2016 #TCMFF: Saturday, The Second Full Day
2016 #TCMFF: Sunday, The Third Full (and Last) Day

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Great Films of 1939: “The Four Feathers” May 14 at Daystar Center

Great films of 1939: The Four Feathers
Where: The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street, Chicago, IL
When: May 14, 2016
Time: 6:45 p.m.
Hosted by Stephen Reginald

The Four Feathers (1939) was the third movie version of the A. E. W. Mason novel and considered the best of the bunch. Produced by Alexander Korda and directed by brother Zoltan, The Four Feathers is an epic production, filmed in Technicolor when the process was still a bit of a novelty. Like Gunga Din (1939), it portrays the British Empire, during the late 19th century. As an adventure and melodrama, The Four Feathers is hard to beat.

The plot revolves around Harry Faversham’s decision not to follow in the family tradition of serving in the army. He very dramatically resigns his post on the eve of his regiment’s journey to the Sudan. Their mission: To recapture Khartoum, the capital and second largest city in Sudan. Branded a coward by friends —the white feathers given to Harry by his comrades are emblems of cowardice—, and his fiancĂ©e played by the lovely June Duprez. As a result, Harry becomes a tormented soul.

In an attempt at redemption, he disguises himself as an Arab to rescue his friends, who are imprisoned by Egyptian rebels, and prove that he isn’t a coward. A good story supported by a superior production, The Four Feathers holds up remarkably well. The on-location color cinematography is remarkable. The spectacle of the battle scenes, combined with the dazzling red uniforms of the British soldiers, make for a powerful epic. The New York Times was impressed with the film, calling it “explosively cinematic” and overwhelmed by the “sheer weight of size and width of camera field.”

C. Aubrey Smith, John Clements, and June Duprez

The all-British cast includes John Clements, Ralph Richardson, C. Aubrey Smith, and June Duprez.

Part of the “Great movies of 1939” series. Discover some of the greatest movies from Hollywood’s most famous year.




Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
Before the movie, grab a cup of coffee from Overflow Coffee Bar, located within the Daystar Center. You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats. General Admission: $5 Students and Senior Citizens: $3.

Join the Chicago Film club; join the discussion
Twice a month we screen classic films and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.


Stephen Reginald is a freelance writer and editor. He has worked at various positions within the publishing industry for over 25 years. Most recently he was executive editor for McGraw-Hill’s The Learning Group Division. A long-time amateur student of film, Reginald hosts “Chicago Film Club,” a monthly movie event held in the South Loop, for the past two years. Reginald has also taught several adult education film classes at Facets Film School, Chicago.


Daystar Center located at 1550 S. State St. works through a grassroots network of collaborations and partnerships with individuals and other nonprofit organizations. Through this web, they’re able to provide educational, cultural, and civic activities that enrich and empower their clients, guests, and community members. To learn more about classes and events offered at the Daystar Center, please visit their Web site.

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