Saturday, April 27, 2019

2019 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (#TCMFF) Recap: The Works!

I was excited to be attending my fifth Turner Classic Movies Film Festival this April 11 – 14. The fact that it was the festival’s 10th anniversary and TCM’s 25th anniversary made it something special indeed.

Getting to LA from Chicago is pretty easy, but I’m always nervous up to the time of departure. Did I pack everything I need? Will the flight be on time? Will I finally make the #TCMParty class picture? All that anxiety disappears once I’m on the plane and in the air. Then it’s what films will I see? Here’s how it went down:

Thursday 4/11/19
After arriving in LA and checking into my room, it was off to get some lunch and then over to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room for the meet and greet at Club TCM. It’s always great to see folks you haven’t seen in a year and catch up face to face, which is really one of the highlights of the festival.

Last year I missed the #TCMParty class picture due to a miscommunication. This year I was determined to get into the 2019 picture if it killed me. The fact that it was the 10th anniversary really didn’t factor in, but it turned out to be fortuitous. Because I’m not very tall, I was in the front row when they were staging us for the picture. I was holding the inflatable “0” next to Aurora (@CitizenScreen) who was holding the “1.”. After numerous takes, the photographers got what they wanted: some pics and video footage of all of us cheering. Check out the photo below. Yes, that’s me, holding the “0” (No cracks please!).

How many people can you recognize from this photo? Click image to enlarge.

As a Classic Pass holder, I wasn’t going to the red carpet event movie screening (When Harry Met Sally),so I decided to see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) at 6:45 p.m. at the Egyptian. The digital transfer was perfect; the movie looked brand new and Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe never looked better in color. Seeing this classic with an audience was a hoot. The theater crowd loved it and made seeing it on the big screen a real joy.

Next up, I went back to the Egyptian for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) at 9:30 p.m. I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times, but the idea of seeing in on the big screen in the Egyptian with an appreciative audience couldn’t be denied. However, the introduction by film critic and journalist Tara McNamara was odd and in many ways inappropriate. The way she tried to cast this movie in light of the #MeToo movement was disturbing and quite literally made little to no sense at all. I really didn’t understand the point she was trying to make, nor did she seem to portray Shirley Temple in the best light. It was the strangest introduction of the festival. Fortunately the movie and the performances of Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Shirley Temple were comic gold. Also impressive were Ray Collins—in a rare comedic role—and Rudy Vallee.

After the whirlwind of the first night of the festival, it’s time for some sleep to rest up for Friday, the first full day of films!

Friday 4/12/19

I made up my mind that I was going to see The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) at 9 a.m. at the Egyptian (I always seem to be at this theatre). I was counting on the pre-code Merrily We Go To Hell (1932) being one of the “To Be Announced” films on Sunday. Did my crapshoot pay off? We’ll soon find out.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is one of the most interesting films noir of the 1940s. It has two very attractive leads in Lana Turner and John Garfield, which isn’t unusual for the genre. What makes it different from many other films noir is the fact that most of the action takes place in the bright sunshine of California. There are some night scenes for sure, but darkness and shadows don’t hide most of the action. And for most of the film, Turner is costumed in glowing white outfits that are so bright they’re almost blinding at times. The M-G-M polish is evident in the entire production, but that doesn’t keep it from being a worthy entry into the films noir canon. Turner and Garfield smolder, but there are great supporting performances from Cecil Kellaway as Turner’s hapless older husband, Leon Ames as the fiesty District Attorney, and Hume Cronyn as the shiftiest of shifty defense lawyers.

At 12:00 p.m. I was back, where else, but the Egyptian for a screening of Sleeping Beauty (1959). My older sister took me to see just about all of the classic Disney movies, but I had never seen this film before. Author and historian, Mindy Johnson, introduced the film. She interviewed two of the film’s animators: Jane Baer and Floyd Norman. Baer and Norman were very young when they worked on Sleeping Beauty. They described what it was like to work as a Disney animator (It was fun!) and other tales from the old days of animation before computers came on the scene. The movie was really enjoyable and the old-school animation was charming and visually appealing. I was glad that I was able to see this classic for the first time the way it was presented back in 1959.

Randolph Scott, Irene Dunne, and Cary Grant in My Favorite Wife

At 2:45 p.m. I found myself, where else, but at the Egyptian! This time I was there for another comedy classic. My Favorite Wife (1940) is one of my favorite Irene Dunne and Cary Grant movies—truth be told, I love all three movies they made together—and one that still brings the laughs due in great part to the extraordinary talents of the two leads. Dunne and Grant were so natural in their comedy performances and together they’re comedy gold. Mario Cantone introduced the film. After his introduction he interviewed Jennifer Grant, daughter of Cary and Dyan Cannon, on what it was like to have Cary Grant as her dad. It was great! Special treat at this screening was the opportunity to share it with Melanie Hooks (@melaknee13), producer of my favorite podcast, Classic Movie Recall. We had connected some months earlier on social media so it was especially sweet to meet her in person.
I “escaped” the confines of the Egyptian for my next movie at 6 p.m. I went to Chinese Multiplex House #1 to see a movie that I had never seen before, Day for Night (1973). Directed by Francois Truffaut, I remember this film being heralded as a classic the moment it was first released. In French with English subtitles, the film stars Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Aumont, and Jean-Pierre Leaud. This movie about making movies was interesting and engaging in the way it gave you a glimpse into how movies are made woven into the narrative. Eddie Muller introduced the movie and then interviewed star, Bisset. Muller admitted that the movie changed his life as a young man and his admiration for the film and its lead actress was plain to see. Bisset was gracious and classy during the interview, explaining the differences between making movies in the U.S. and Europe.

Cornell Wilde, Richard Widmark, and Ida Lupino in a tense scene from Road House

I may have grabbed something to eat, but honestly, I don’t do too much eating during the festival. At most I eat two meals, but it’s mostly just one meal a day, with a few protein bars in between. At 9:30 p.m. I was back at the Egyptian for Road House (1947). This is one of my favorite Ida Lupino movies. It’s not a film that will change your life, but you’ll have a lot of fun watching it. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the nitrate print of this film noir classic on the big screen. Boy was it a blast. The film was introduced by Sloan De Forest who was an enthusiastic fan of Lupino and the film and joked that she was glad she “could give Eddie Muller a break.” The rest of the cast was terrific and included Cornel Wilde, Celeste Holm, and Richard Widmark at his looniest.

After the fun and excitement of seeing Road House on the big screen, it was time for some shuteye. Another big day of watching movies would start again on Saturday.

Saturday 4/13/19

I was up bright and early to head back to Chinese Multiplex House #1 to see the 1951 science fiction classic When Worlds Collide. I remember seeing this film on television growing up. It was usually on Saturday afternoons before the days of cable. Comedian Dennis Miller introduced the film. Miller then introduced and interviewed star Barbara Rush. Rush looked every inch the movie star even at 92! Miller was obviously smitten with Rush, which made the interview a joy. Seeing the movie on the big screen with an audience was fun. The special effects, which were quite impressive when first released, seem kind of simple today, but the story was compelling and there were many parts of the film that I had forgotten. The real treat was the opportunity to see Rush in person though and a treat it was.

After When Worlds Collide, I walked over to The Legion Theater Post 43, the newest theater to the festival. The only theater owned and operated by veterans, it was one of the hits of the festival. Beautifully restored, with some of the most comfortable movie theater seating I’ve ever experienced, The Legian was a real treat. At 12 p.m. they screened Fox: An Appreciation (2019). The film was a series of clips that were introduced by Shawn Belson, Archivist at Twentieth Century-Fox. The history of the studio was told via clips of the studio’s many classic films. This presentation wasn’t as great as I had hoped it would be, but I was glad I had to opportunity to see it in such an amazing theater.

At 2:45 p.m. I went to Chinese Multiplex House #6 to see Love Affair (1939) starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. An Affair to Remember (1957) is a remake of  the’39 original and perhaps the more famous of the two, but not the best version in my opinion. Dana Delany who introduced the film also found Love Affair the superior version. She shared her analysis of the film and her admiration for its two stars. Dunne and Boyer made three films together, but this is undoubtedly their most popular and enduring. Delany apologized for not being able to watch the movie with us. She said she was attending a memorial service for Luke Perry, which made the audience sigh. She said Perry loved classic films and that the two would often talk about classic movies when working together during down time. She dedicated the film to Perry.

Lawrence Olivier and Merle Oberon
Next on my list was another trip to The Legion Theater to see Wuthering Heights (1939) starring Merle Oberon, Lawrence Olivier, and David Niven. Had it not been for Gone With the Wind, Wuthering Heights might have been the Best Picture winner that year. It’s a beautifully mounted film, with a wonderful score and terrific black and white cinematography by Greg Tolland, not to mention excellent direction from William Wyler. Alex Trebek, who looked terrific, introduced the film. He said he wasn’t going to accept the invitation to participate in this year’s festival because it takes some preparation and he said, “I had other things going on.” But when he found out they wanted him to introduce Wuthering Heights, one of his all-time favorite films, he said yes. His introduction was insightful and he recommended that fans of the film not go out and read the novel, which is much darker. He’s not kidding; the novel is no picnic!

I hung around The Legion Theater to see Indiscreet (1958) at 9:15 p.m., a movie I had never seen. Before the film some friends and I went downstairs to the bar to enjoy a drink before the movie started. One of the pluses of the Legion is their full bar. Even if you weren’t drinking, it was a great place to hang out and talk movies and soak up its rich history. Indiscreet was directed by Stanley Donen and starred Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. It was a delight from start to finish. It was sophisticated and beautifully photographed.

Well, it was the end of another day of movies. Back to hitting the sack to rest up for the last (sigh!) day of the festival.

Sunday 4/14/19

Sundays at the festival are always bittersweet. There’s a full day of movies, but you know it’s the last day and that’s kind of sad. I was hoping the pre-Code Merrily We Go To Hell (1932) would be one of the TBA movies and I lucked out! At 9 a.m. it was presented at The Legion Theater in glorious black and white. The film starred Sylvia Sydney and Fredric March with Dorothy Arzner directing. Also in the cast was Cary Grant in a small role. Sydney was adorable as March’s much put-upon wife. There were times when she smiled that she reminded me of Gene Tierney. March was drunk during most of the action, which is a fairly typical scenario for pre-Code films. What was interesting for me was seeing character actress Esther Howard in a substantial role as the editor of the paper March worked for. I’m used to her doing comical bits in Preston Sturges movies, so seeing her as a younger woman was a bit of a revelation.

Since it was Palm Sunday, I thought catching The Robe (1953) at the Egyptian would be fitting. The Robe made history as the first film released in Cinemascope setting the standard for widescreen film production and was a forerunner to Panavision. Attending the movie were Bob Koster, director Henry Koster’s son, and Victoria Mature, star Victor Mature’s daughter. Unfortunately, neither were interviewed before the film, which was disappointing. In any event, seeing The Robe in a restored transfer was worth it. It looked brand new and seeing Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, and Michael Rennie in their primes in the glory of Cinemascope and stereophonic sound was just plain awesome.

After The Robe, it was off to Club TCM for The Complicated Legacy of Gone With The Wind” at 2:30 p.m. Film historian and author Donald Bogle hosted the panel. The panel consisted of film producer Stephanie Allain; author and film critic Molly Haskell; and Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, Jacqueline Stewart. I was a little worried how this panel would go, but the discussions and insights into this classic film were really enlightening. All of the panelists liked the movie and thought it was worthy of public screenings. They all acknowledged that there were problems with the film as far as its depiction of slavery is concerned, but all agreed that the film has a lot to offer modern audiences. The production, even after 80 years, holds up amazingly well. The acting of the main players also holds up, especially Vivian Leigh’s portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara as well as Hattie McDaniel’s ground-breaking role as Mammy. The panelists could have discussed the film for hours and we would have stayed and listened. It was really a very enjoyable experience.

Donald Bogle, Stephanie Allain, Molly Haskell, and Jacqueline Stewart
With all that background information now in my head, it was time to see the genuine article, Gone With The Wind at 4:30 p.m. on the big screen in the Chinese Theatre. And what a treat it was. The new digital transfer was absolutely stunning. The color was perfect and so was the sound. The story of the love affair between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction really needs no explanation. The audience ate it up—one woman was dressed in Scarlett’s curtain dress, minus the rod—as if seeing it for the first time. And honestly, when you see a movie in a theater like the Chinese, it is like seeing just about any movie for the first time. Missing was some kind of video of Olivia de Havilland (still with us at 102!) or an interview with her daughter, Giselle, who has attended the festival in the past, but we can’t have everything.

Vivian Leigh and Hattie McDaniel

Boo, hoo, the movie is over and so is the festival. But it’s back to Club TCM for the Closing Night Party and the opportunity to bid farewell to all our friends until next year!

List of films I saw this festival:
Gentleman Prefer Blondes
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Sleeping Beauty—First time seeing this film
My Favorite Wife
Day for Night—First time seeing this film
Road House
When Worlds Collide
Fox An Appreciation—Special for the festival and new to me*
Love Affair
Wuthering Heights
Indiscreet—First time seeing this film
Merrily We Go To Hell—Fist time seeing this film
The Robe
Gone With The Wind

Total: 14 films and one documentary*


  1. Really enjoyed the overview of your fest including the films we saw -- and didn't see -- together! We were at five of the same screenings.

    Couldn't agree more about McNamara's introduction, I found it odd and unsuited to the moment.

    So glad you got to enjoy my favorite Disney cartoon on the big screen! :)

    Always great to see you, looking forward to next year!

    Best wishes,

  2. Sounds like a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing the details of your trip.


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