TCM Festival 2016 : The Movies Part 1 and The Great Fire Alarm Adventure
I’ll first start by saying it’s impossible to catch all the movies as there are major decisions to be made going in. Should I catch It’s Wonderful Life with a packed house and wipe the tears from my eyes when Jimmy hears that bell ringing while clinging to his family or catch that Warren Oates independent film long thought to be lost?
If I go see The Longest Yard minus Burt Reynolds appearance as was originally called for, I’ll miss an early Walter Huston-Harry Carey western. There’s just no way of pleasing everyone when the schedules are drawn up so you just go with what your gut tells you based many times on the walking distances between theaters that you are hoping to catch the next showing at.
My dance card looked like this in the end.
The movies kicked off on Thursday night.
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn – Elia Kazan’s sentimental debut behind the camera proved to be a great drama of family life with Dorothy McGuire raising her children in the slums of Brooklyn. Wonderful performances within from the child actors playing her children and one can always count on Joan Blondell and Lloyd Nolan in support. Just as we are getting to the emotional pay off with about 15 minutes remaining…….
Cue the Fire Alarm ……. no fooling! Is there a dalmatian in the house?
The Chinese Multipex playing 3 films to kick off the festival had to empty out. Uncertainty and panic gripped the movie going audience. Will we see the ending? What about the next features slated to start at 10? It’s the crowd watching the heavy weeper, One Potato, Two Potato who really had their emotions played with. Apparently the alarm went off at the least opportune time in this heavy handed tissue drama.
Finally the false alarm rumors were proven correct and it was back in to the films. Hit rewind by about ten minutes and the films played themselves out.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a first time viewing for me and highly recommended. Following the movie, Ted Donaldson was on hand for a chat about the film. Now in his 80’s he played McGuire’s young son in the film.
Brief Encounter – David Lean’s romantic weeper was a first time viewing for me. I have long been aware of this star crossed lovers tale but of course was never interested to see it while growing up. As an adult it just never seemed to surface on my radar. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are wonderful here and growing up on the grizzled Howard films of his later career, this proved rather interesting seeing him as the romantic lead. Long considered a classic and credit to all those involved.
The film was introduced by Illeana Douglas and even she pointed out that this was long before Howard became the grizzled looking fellow who drank a little too much gatorade eliciting plenty of chuckles from us film buffs.
Friday’s line up.
The Shanghai Express – An opportunity to see Marlene Dietrich on the big screen in a restoration of one of her early films from Josef von Sternberg proved too tough to pass up. Marlene personifies the glamour years of Hollywood and she clearly shows this audience why in this tale of the far east mixed with warlords and the British Empire.
Marlene plays a well kept lady of leisure on board the Shanghai express with a host of other characters including an ex lover, Clive Brooks, competition perhaps in Anna May Wong and as we’ll soon see a warlord portrayed by Warner Oland looking very much like Charlie Chan. It’s a tale of love and sacrifice with plenty of intrigue thrown in for the sake of entertainment.
I couldn’t help but get a kick out of Brooks’ rather stiff British officer. If I didn’t know Jack Hawkins came along in the fifties, I’d think Brooks was parodying old Jack.
On hand to introduce the film was von Sternberg’s son Nicholas in my first viewing of this 1932 sensation.
He Ran All The Way – Noir and John Garfield proved to be a major influence in hurrying over to the Egyptian Theater for this packed house showing of Garfield’s final film at the age of 39.
Garfield is on the run from a robbery gone wrong who follows a young Shelley Winters (I sometimes think Shelley was never young) home and takes up residence holding her family at bay with gun in hand. The world’s closing in on John who gives us a great claustrophobic performance of a psychotic gangster whose running out of time and luck.
I had already seen this swan song of Garfield’s and upon this viewing was quite taken with character player Wallace Ford as Winter’s father who has a strong role. He refuses to give in to John’s hood and shows a father’s courage right up to the fade out. Knowing this is Garfield’s final screen shot makes the finale all that more impressive.
Directed by John Berry and scripted by Dalton Trumbo who along with Garfield all ran afoul of the Communist witch hunt of the era that was brought to haunting life by Berry’s son, Dennis who was there for an interview at the showing.
Also in attendance and giving the crowd a wave was 101 year old Norman Lloyd who played Garfield’s gangster pal in the movie!
Trapeze – Sure I’ve seen this 1956 Carol Reed film a few times during my early years. It’s a circus movie and what kid wouldn’t be interested? Not to mention it has two of my favorite film stars. Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. On hand to introduce the film was leading lady Gina Lollobrigida so that kind of sealed the deal. It’s too bad a better print wasn’t made available at the same time.
Prior to the film, Gina spoke to the crowd of working with Reed as her director and not taking to kindly to her producer offering acting advice. Surprise! The producer was Burt Lancaster. After they got that disagreement out of the way it appears that the shoot went fairly smoothly and Gina seemed to enjoy her time on the high ropes and swings. She also got a bit sentimental as she talked of working with Tyrone Power on his final film and seeing him taken to the hospital, never to return.
Trapeze itself isn’t a great film but it does have what many films of today lack. Star Power.
Burt and Tony vie for the lovely lady’s hand in this story of the up and coming trapeze wizard Tony and the once great Burt who is now resigned to being a catcher after a serious accident years prior had ruined his career as the star of the big top.
Private Property – Sorry Jimmy Stewart but Warren Oates ruled the day.
While the crowd didn’t fill the theater for this 1960 black and white feature, it did leave a lasting impression. On more than one occasion I heard this low budget film talked about while waiting in line ups for films over the next couple of days. It seemed to rate very highly on the list of memorable titles viewed at the fest for those who did take a chance on it.
My opinion is no different.
The subject material is far from what was acceptable to movie going audiences circa 1960. The plot revolves around two drifters played by Corey Allen and Oates who plot how best to rape a statuesque blonde played by Kate Manx. Allen is the smooth talker who slowly worms his way into her home as a landscaper while Warren watches from the shadows. It’s a disturbing first 60 minutes keeping the audience on edge as to just how far this movie is going to go. The final 2o minutes prove to be just as hair raising.
This plays much more like a 1970 feature from the Roger Corman school of film makers where we might have seen a young Peter Fonda or Jack Nicholson involved. For a 1960 feature, it’s easy to see how this would fall through the cracks and wind up in the almost lost category.
Before the film started there was a really good discussion on the preservation of film from Scott MacQueen. He talked of how the major studios do their best to save their fading products from the past. It was pointed out that now it’s the independent features that are clearly in trouble as they don’t have any “big” money behind them to save and preserve them.
Thankfully this film from director Leslie Stevens on a supposed budget of just $59000 was saved and restored by UCLA. Glad I was there to be among the first to see it’s rebirth in this world premier.
Repeat Performance – Yes I’ll admit it. I’m human and the eyelids got a might heavy for this late night showing at the Egyptian. I think I missed more then I saw so I’ll just say the opening of this Noir flavored tale was pretty cool.
Guess I’ll have to find a copy.
Still to come……..
Saturday and Sunday’s viewing and much more before I caught that early morning flight to Toronto on Monday.
A special thank you to fellow traveler and festival attendee Kristina of Speakeasy for the pics of Mr. Donaldson and Mr. von Sternberg