Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day Four

Saturday morning, April 12th, I was in line at the El Capitan Theatre bright and early for a 9:00 a.m. TCM Classic Film Festival screening of THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967).

Here's a great night shot of the El Capitan marquee which was released for media use by TCM:


I had contemplated seeing Barbara Stanwyck's STELLA DALLAS (1937) in that time slot, especially as it has a supporting cast which includes Tim Holt and Anne Shirley, but the pull of Disney was too strong!

THE JUNGLE BOOK was the third film I ever saw on a big screen as a child, and it was the first film I saw at a drive-in, paired with BLACKBEARD'S GHOST (1968). (In fact, I suspect I could count the films I saw at a drive-in on one hand!) THE JUNGLE BOOK is one of those movies I saw in bits and pieces when my children were younger, but I don't believe I'd sat down to watch it all in a single sitting since that drive-in screening of the late '60s.


I jokingly Tweeted at the time that the El Capitan organist serenading us with Disney tunes at the TCM Classic Film Fest was "almost too much awesomeness to handle." It really was a delightful way to start a day in which I would see four excellent films plus the legendary Maureen O'Hara.


Ben Mankiewicz joined us to introduce the film, which was shown in a digital format. He shared that he had just seen the film for the first time as part of his preparation a few days prior. He said he wasn't sure if his reaction was because he's now a parent, but that it moved him and made him cry, and he also described the movie as "78 minutes of joy." And that it was.


Still a bit teary from the happy glow of THE JUNGLE BOOK, I went back across the street to the Chinese Multiplex for another great experience, seeing a restored digital print of Frank Capra's MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936). I had seen the film on a big screen years ago, but not as long ago as THE JUNGLE BOOK! You simply can't go wrong with Jean Arthur paired with Gary Cooper.


MR. DEEDS was also the first of three sightings that day of everyone's favorite extra, Bess Flowers. There are many shots of her in the courtroom sequence in MR. DEEDS; she was a party guest in WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956) and a dancer at a restaurant in HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946). The latter is my second Flowers sighting in the last few months which hasn't yet made it to her IMDb entry, where at present she has 843 credits listed.


After MR. DEEDS my friend Lindsay and I raced back across the street to join the huge line at the El Capitan, where Maureen O'Hara was introducing HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941).

A shot of the packed house inside the El Capitan:


Robert Osborne came out to introduce Maureen...


...and they had a short but spirited chat. Miss O'Hara may be a bit frail now but she is as fiery as ever. When Mr. Osborne asked her a question about working with John Ford, she quipped "I thought we were here to talk about me!"


In all seriousness, though, it meant a great deal to be part of the crowd expressing our love and admiration for the truly legendary actress, and she appeared to be deeply moved by the prolonged standing ovation. I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to be there.

O'Hara told the adoring crowd "Don't be fooled into thinking I do magic things." I think the audience would disagree.


Here's a great close-up from Maureen, released to the press by TCM:


After the interview I did something I've never before done at the festival and slipped out of the theater without seeing the movie, as I'd just seen -- and loved -- HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941) last New Year's Eve. I was also concerned that if I watched HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY I might not be able to get in line early enough to see the next film on my list, WRITTEN ON THE WIND, which I hadn't seen for roughly a decade.


I'd initially thought of going to see Kim Novak introduce BELL BOOK AND CANDLE (1958) at the Egyptian Theatre in that time slot, but since I was fortunate enough to see her in person at the festival's opening night, I decided instead on WRITTEN ON THE WIND.


I anticipated this Douglas Sirk film would be a visual feast on a big screen, but in all honesty this 35mm print was probably the most disappointing of the festival. It didn't have any skips or major flaws, but the level of dark graininess was not what I would have expected. Despite the fact that the movie wasn't as visually dazzling as it otherwise might have been, I love this film in all its glorious excess, starting with its fantastic title sequence, and I still enjoyed it immensely.

I ended my moviegoing day with one of my favorite screenings among the many great movies seen at the festival, Edgar Ulmer's little-known PRC film HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946).


The movie was engagingly introduced by the director's well-informed daughter, Arianne Ulmer Cipes, and Jan-Christopher Horak of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.


I'll be sharing an overview of the festival's final day in the near future, and I'll also be sharing more about the films referenced above in individual posts.

In the meantime, be sure to also read this great festival overview recently posted by Aurora at Once Upon a Screen.

For more links to my coverage of the festival, please visit The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Big Gusher (1951)

Tonight I continued to work my way through the long filmography of "B" movie director Lew Landers, watching THE BIG GUSHER (1951) which was recommended to me last year by readers John Knight and Blake Lucas.

THE BIG GUSHER reunited Landers with Preston Foster, who starred in Landers' very appealing DOUBLE DANGER (1938) a dozen or so years before. Foster teams with Wayne Morris playing Hank and Kenny, partners who get a bonus for bringing in an oil well; they plan to use the bonus money to go into business drilling for themselves.

They're not counting on Hank losing his head over some drinks and a pretty girl (Dorothy Patrick) who earns some needed money on the side manipulating Hank to buy a probably worthless oil lease from Jim Tolman (Emmett Vogan). It looks like Hank and Kenny's money is down the drain, until an old oil man (Paul E. Burns) convinces the partners there's oil on the property...

The plot device of having seemingly responsible Hank get drunk and lose money not once but twice is tiresome, especially as I like Foster and was disappointed in his character. I also wasn't expecting Betsy (Patrick) to be quite so calculating!

That said, this is, as Blake said, "fast and breezy," clocking in at just 68 minutes, and I had a good time watching it. As usual, Landers squeezes the most entertainment value possible out of the script he was handed to work with, and it's a nice way to spend an hour or so.

Foster and Morris have a good relationship, managing to stay on solid footing with each other despite financial and romantic problems, and since I'm a Foster fan I enjoyed that Betsy went for him rather than the younger Morris, who might have been the more conventional matchup. There are even a couple cute jokes about the age issue, and all in all I thought Hank and Betsy's sparring romance was well-handled and a nice change from the usual.

In addition to particularly being a Foster fan, I also like Dorothy Patrick, who starred in films such as BOYS' RANCH (1946) and FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949), to name just a couple.  I'm always glad to have her turn up in a good-sized role, as she does in this film. And how cool is it that Blake knew her when he was a kid?

Stock footage of oil drilling is smoothly mixed in with shots of the actors, and while the film must have had a shoestring budget it's nicely put together and edited. There's even a couple minutes for Cappy (Burns) to give Betsy, and by extension the audience, a brief lesson on oil drilling.

THE BIG GUSHER was written by Daniel Ullman, who also wrote a couple of Westerns I've really liked in the past year, WICHITA (1955) and CANYON RIVER (1956). He also wrote the Wayne Morris Western THE FIGHTING LAWMAN (1953), which unfortunately was a disappointment.

THE BIG GUSHER is out on a nice-looking DVD in the Sony Choice line. It can be rented from ClassicFlix.

Films directed by Lew Landers which have previously been reviewed at this site: NIGHT WAITRESS (1936), WITHOUT ORDERS (1936), FLIGHT FROM GLORY (1937), THEY WANTED TO MARRY (1937), THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF (1937), DANGER PATROL (1937), BORDER CAFE (1937), DOUBLE DANGER (1938), CRASHING HOLLYWOOD (1938), CONDEMNED WOMEN (1938), SKY GIANT (1938), SMASHING THE RACKETS (1938), TWELVE CROWDED HOURS (1939), PACIFIC LINER (1939), CONSPIRACY (1939), STAND BY ALL NETWORKS (1942), ALIAS BOSTON BLACKIE (1942), AFTER MIDNIGHT WITH BOSTON BLACKIE (1943), THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1947), DAVY CROCKETT, INDIAN SCOUT (1950), and MAN IN THE DARK (1952).

Tonight's Movie: The Border Patrolman (1936)

THE BORDER PATROLMAN is an engaging little "B" movie starring George O'Brien.

O'Brien, playing the title character, is hired by wealthy Jeremiah Huntley (William P. Carlton) to keep an eye on his spoiled granddaughter Patricia (Polly Ann Young) while they're staying at a desert resort.

Patricia, a bored wild child constantly getting into trouble, is involved with Courtney Maybrook (LeRoy Mason), not realizing that all he's interested in is her money -- and that he's also using her to smuggle diamonds across the border to Mexico.

This 60-minute spin on the "Taming of the Shrew" theme is pretty entertaining, even watching it in a murky YouTube print. Aside from the fact it stars the always-enjoyable O'Brien, the film is of note for a couple of additional reasons.

Leading lady Polly Ann Young was Loretta Young's older sister, and there are moments she looks and sounds quite like her more famous sister. This was one of just under three dozen films Polly Ann made before she retired from the screen in 1941. She was the leading lady in a number of "B" Westerns including THE MAN FROM UTAH (1934) with John Wayne.

Much of the film was shot at a striking desert resort. IMDb provided the information that the movie was shot at Death Valley, and with some further research via Google Images I deduced that it was the Inn at Furnace Creek which opened in 1927.

I very much wish this film were available in a better print which would allow clearer looks at both the lead actors and the resort!

THE BORDER PATROLMAN was directed by David Howard, who directed many of O'Brien's Westerns.

The supporting cast includes Smiley Burnette, Mary Doran, Al Hill, and Charles Coleman (as, what else, a butler!).

It's interesting to note that a New York Times review of the day referred to Polly Ann as "the most spirited of Hollywood's Young sisters." While regretting that O'Brien wasn't appearing in another SUNRISE (1927), the reviewer says of O'Brien that "he goes ably about his accustomed screen routine of taming a fractious female and bringing the lawless to justice."

TCM Star of the Month: John Wayne

On the evening of Monday, April 21st, Turner Classic Movies launches a special Star of the Month tribute to the legendary John Wayne.

The TCM schedule will be all Wayne, all the time, with 55 Wayne films airing back to back until Saturday morning, April 26th.

Robert Osborne will be joined by Wayne biographer Scott Eyman to introduce the movies. Eyman's new book, JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND, has been very well reviewed; two such examples are by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times and KC at Classic Movies.

I received a review copy of the book just before the start of the TCM Classic Film Festival, and I'll be reading and reviewing it as soon as possible.

Back in 2007 Eyman prepared a special list, 100 Reasons to Love John Wayne, on the centennial of the actor's birth. It's a list well worth reviewing this week.

The series kicks off this evening with Raoul Walsh's THE BIG TRAIL (1930) which did not do well at the time but is fascinating from today's vantage point, in terms of both the young Wayne and Walsh's excellent location work, shot with multiple cameras in an early widescreen process. As a teenager I saw the film in widescreen on a memorable birthday trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

THE BIG TRAIL is followed by a number of what my husband jokingly calls Wayne's "Purgatory Westerns," the many "B" movies he appeared in before becoming an "A" leading man again -- permanently -- in the star-making STAGECOACH (1939).

Wayne also appeared in a few pre-Codes being shown this week, such as BABY FACE (1933) and THE LIFE OF JIMMY DOLAN (1933).

STAGECOACH airs in prime time on Tuesday, April 22nd. I just saw it on a big screen for the first time at the TCM Classic Film Fest and will be reviewing it in the near future. I can't recommend it highly enough. Wayne and director John Ford set the gold standard for the classic Western theme of a group of disparate travelers coming under attack.

Films shown this week which have been reviewed here in the past include THE QUIET MAN (1952) on April 23rd; REAP THE WILD WIND (1942) on April 24th; and TALL IN THE SADDLE (1944), WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (1946), ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947), BIG JIM MCLAIN (1952), and NORTH TO ALASKA (1960) on April 25th.

Of these films I like them all to varying degrees, but particularly recommend the classic THE QUIET MAN, the witty yet lesser-known TALL IN THE SADDLE, and ANGEL AND THE BADMAN, which I recently wrote about on a list of favorite Underrated Westerns.

It's worth noting that Wayne was a fine comedian, and the light romantic comedy WITHOUT RESERVATIONS, costarring Claudette Colbert, works really well despite a pairing that's a bit incongruous at first glance.

Other Wayne films I particularly recommend watching this week are three John Ford films airing on April 23rd: SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), which was filmed at Monument Valley and contains what I think might be Wayne's best performance; RIO GRANDE (1950), an all-time favorite Western with Maureen O'Hara and a fantastic cast, including the Sons of the Pioneers; and the very fine WWII film THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), costarring Robert Montgomery and Donna Reed.

Ford and Wayne's THE SEARCHERS (1956), airing (depending on the time zone) late on the 22nd or early on the 23rd is, simply put, one of the great American works of art.

Howard Hawks' RED RIVER (1948) airs on April 24th, and on April 25th you can't go wrong with one of the very best Westerns ever made, Hawks' RIO BRAVO (1959).

It's a great week for Wayne fans, and I strongly encourage those who aren't quite so familiar with Wayne to dive into his movies and discover what made him one of the greatest stars of all time.

In closing, here's an anecdote from a profile of actress Binnie Barnes in a 2012 issue of "Films of the Golden Age." In a 1985 interview she said that she'd been asked who was the best actor she'd ever worked with -- was it Laurence Olivier? Ralph Richardson? Her answer was "John Wayne."

For more on this month's TCM schedule, please visit TCM in April: Highlights.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the Internet...

...The Lady Eve's Reel Life is sponsoring a wonderful blogathon on May 5th, Power-Mad, celebrating the centennial of Tyrone Power's birth. Needless to say, I had to be part of this great celebration of my favorite actor! So far over two dozen bloggers are signed up, each one reviewing a different film. I'll be watching THIS ABOVE ALL (1942), costarring Joan Fontaine, for the very first time and am really looking forward to it.

...Here's a great-looking book I spotted in the TCM boutique at the recent festival, which I intend to purchase in the future: FIVE CAME BACK: A STORY OF HOLLYWOOD AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR by Mark Harris. The book chronicles the wartime experiences of five famed directors, John Ford, George Stevens, William Wyler, Frank Capra, and John Huston, telling "the untold story of how Hollywood changed World War II, and how World War II changed Hollywood."

...A book I purchased at the TCM boutique: EDGAR G. ULMER: A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS by Noah Isenberg. I grabbed it right away as I was interested to learn more about HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946), a really interesting low-budget film seen at the TCM Festival, which starred Margaret Lindsay and Nancy Coleman.

...For those who may have missed the mention amidst my coverage of the TCM Classic Film Festival, TCM's great Watch TCM app is now available for the Kindle Fire.

...Kevin Costner hopes to make a Western trilogy. Speaking of Costner, I really enjoyed his DRAFT DAY (2014) last month, despite being a bit formulaic, and it was nice to see that Leonard Maltin had the same opinion.

...Here's John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows, counting his movie blessings.

...A new coffee table photo book: MOM IN THE MOVIES by Richard Corliss in collaboration with TCM, published by Simon & Schuster. The book includes sidebar essays by "friends of TCM" such as Eva Marie Saint, Jane Powell, Tippi Hedren, and Illeana Douglas.

...Coming to DVD from Timeless Media: Season 2 of Dick Powell's ZANE GREY THEATRE. The set will have all 30 episodes. Season 1 came out in 2009 from VCI. The Caftan Woman recently wrote about the show for the "Big Stars on the Small Screen" Blogathon.

...Speaking of the Caftan Woman, her "One for April" choice on TCM is one of my all-time favorite movies, RIO GRANDE (1950) starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. It airs on TCM Tuesday, April 22nd. I'll have more on the forthcoming big John Wayne week on TCM in the near future.

...There's a great piece on Dan Duryea and THE UNDERWORLD STORY (1950) by Mark at Where Danger Lives. This Warner Archive DVD is in my "to watch" stack!

...A new book from Johns Hopkins University Press: MUSIC IN THE SHADOWS: NOIR MUSICAL FILMS by Sheri Chinen Biesen. Biesen is also the author of BLACKOUT: WORLD WAR II AND THE ORIGINS OF FILM NOIR.

...Rick recently reviewed the little-known Disney film THE SWORD AND THE ROSE (1952) at ClassicFilm and TV Cafe. THE SWORD AND THE ROSE stars Glynis Johns and Richard Todd. I thought it was terrific when I saw it in February, and I also loved Todd and Johns in Disney's ROB ROY: THE HIGHLAND ROGUE (1953).

...The Classic Film and TV Cafe hosted a James Stewart Blogathon last week with over two dozen bloggers participating. Visit the Cafe for a roundup of links. Among the many posts I enjoyed reading were the Caftan Woman on one of my favorites, BEND OF THE RIVER (1952), and Lindsay on THE NAKED SPUR (1953), which I just saw for the first time in February.

...There's a Romantic Comedy Blogathon coming May 1st, cosponsored by Backlots and Carole & Co.

...Coming from Criterion in July: The Essential Jacques Demy, a collection including THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964) and THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967).

...Doris Day recently made an appearance at a 90th birthday party; she looks great, and it's wonderful for her fans to see her appearing so happy.

...From KCET: "10 Old-School Restaurant Exteriors." (Via Robby.)

...Helen Mirren played Alma Hitchcock in HITCHCOCK (2012), and she's now been cast as another filmmaker's wife, in a period drama about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo will be played by Bryan Cranston of BREAKING BAD.

...Coming to DVD: Season 2 of James Arness and Bruce Boxleitner in HOW THE WEST WAS WON will be released on July 15th.

...Royalty Watch: Here's adorable photos of little Prince George visiting a zoo in Sydney, Australia on Easter Sunday. Cute photos from an earlier appearance in New Zealand are here.

...So much cuteness! A shy rescue cat becomes best buddies with the family dog. Check out the adorable video.

...Attention Southern Californians: Next Saturday, April 26th, there is a free 35mm screening of THE NARROW MARGIN (1952) at the Egyptian Theatre, along with a tribute to producer Stanley Rubin. The tribute is at 2:00 p.m. and the screening, introduced by Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation, will be at 3:00. A reception follows.

...Last Friday evening was the opening night of a free series at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater honoring the TV work of actor Norman Lloyd. The series runs through June 8th. The 99-year-old Lloyd was recently interviewed by Susan King of the Los Angeles Times.

...Notable Passings: Actress Mary Anderson (seen here), the widow of cinematographer Leon Shamroy, has passed away at the age of 96. Anderson was one of the last surviving cast members of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), in which she played the small role of Maybelle Merriwether; her other films included THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943), LIFEBOAT (1944), and WILSON (1944)...Dorothy Mitchum, the widow of Robert Mitchum, has passed on at the age of 94. The Mitchums were married for 57 years and had three children.

Happy Easter, and have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: North to Alaska (1960)

Easter Sunday seemed like a good time to catch up with a lighthearted John Wayne-Stewart Granger movie I'd never seen before, NORTH TO ALASKA (1960). The timing seemed especially good as John Wayne's big week as Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies starts tomorrow!

NORTH TO ALASKA is a Wayne film my kids watched regularly when they were growing up, but somehow when they watched this, HATARI! (1962), or McLINTOCK! (1963) I was always working. I've thus seen bits and pieces here and there but decided it was finally time to start catching up with these "later" Wayne films.

NORTH TO ALASKA is overlong, clocking in at 122 minutes, and a little too silly at times, but it's buoyed by an appealing trio of leads, John Wayne, Stewart Granger, and Capucine.

Wayne and Granger play mining partners in Alaska. Sam (Wayne) travels to Seattle on business and also plans to fetch the French-born fiancee of George (Granger), who's been waiting for him to strike it rich.

Alas, the girl gave up waiting and married someone else. Sam meets a French saloon gal, Michele (Capucine), and decides George might consider Michele a good replacement for the fickle fiancee. Michele is attracted to Sam and leaps at the chance for a new life. Sam doesn't count on falling for Michele himself, and he's the last to realize he loves her.

Meanwhile, there's all manner of goings-on, as George's kid brother (Fabian) is sweet on Michele and there's also skullduggery involving claim jumpers and a con artist (Ernie Kovacs).

Kovacs' character bored me silly, and the focus on his character early on gets the movie off to such a slow start I was almost ready to reach for my fast-forward button.

The truth is there's a very enjoyable, congenial movie buried inside NORTH TO ALASKA which just focuses on Sam, George, and Michele, and I found that part of the film very entertaining. The rest of it, not so much. An entire subplot with George and Sam defending a neighbor's claim was nothing but excess. This film should have been pared down to a tighter story and been told in maybe an hour and 40 minutes rather than over two hours.

The widescreen location filming is attractive. Point Mugu in Southern California stands in for the Alaska coastline, and Point Mugu Rock can be briefly spotted in the background.

A couple of years ago Deb did a nice piece on the film at Sidewalk Crossings, including a peek at one of the film's locations, Hot Creek, near Mammoth, California.

The supporting cast includes Joe Sawyer, Karl Swenson, Kathleen Freeman, Mickey Shaughnessy, John Qualen, Richard and Stanley Adams. Look for James Griffith in a tiny role at the end as a Salvation Army preacher.

NORTH TO ALASKA was directed by Henry Hathaway and filmed by Leon Shamroy.

NORTH TO ALASKA is available on a widescreen DVD. It's also been released on VHS and Blu-ray. It can be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.

Tonight's Movie: Man From God's Country (1958)

MAN FROM GOD'S COUNTRY is a so-so George Montgomery Western which rebounds from a listless first half to a more interesting conclusion.

Montgomery plays Dan Beattie, who resigns as sheriff of a small Western town when he's harrassed by some of the townspeople for shooting a man in self-defense.

Dan decides to head to the town of Sundown and look up his Army pal Curt Warren (House Peters Jr.). In Sundown Dan is mistaken for a railroad agent by Beau Santee (Frank Wilcox) and his hired gun (James Griffith); Santee doesn't want the railroad to come to Sundown and wants to get Dan out of the way.

Curt works for Beau and seems to have lost his moral compass, to the disappointment of his son (Kim Charney, SUDDENLY) and girlfriend (Susan Cummings). It's going to be up to Dan to deal with the crooks and set his friend back on the right path.

The movie is only 72 minutes long but it takes quite a while to set up the story. It doesn't help that the first part of the story, with Dan not supported in his job as sheriff, doesn't have a great deal to do with the rest of the film, other than to explain his friendship with Col. Miller (Gregg Barton) and his initial reluctance to become involved in the problems he finds in Sundown.

The last half hour is more interesting, with plenty of action and a good shootout to conclude the movie.

The Warner Archive DVD is a beautiful widescreen print. Much of the movie was filmed on location in Southern California. However, one of the film's problems is the intercutting of location shots of Montgomery with shots of James Griffith shooting at him from a soundstage set; the contrast between location and soundstage in the same sequence is disconcerting, but apparently the film didn't have enough of a budget for the filmmakers to be concerned about the issue.

MAN FROM GOD'S COUNTRY was directed by Paul Landres, filmed by Harry Neumann, and written by George Waggner. Waggner, who liked to bill himself as george waGGner, wrote for a number of Warner Bros. Westerns in the same time frame, including MAVERICK.

Randy Stuart costars as a saloon gal sweet on Dan. Most of her screen career was in the late '40s and '50s, including guest roles on Warner Bros. Westerns. In the '60s she played Harry Morgan's wife in a couple episodes of DRAGNET.

The supporting players include Phillip Terry, Byron Foulger, and Frank Sully.

Previous reviews of George Montgomery Westerns: THE TEXAS RANGERS (1951), CRIPPLE CREEK (1952), GUN BELT (1953), THE LONE GUN (1954), MASTERSON OF KANSAS (1954), BATTLE OF ROGUE RIVER (1954), ROBBERS' ROOST (1955), CANYON RIVER (1956), GUN DUEL IN DURANGO (1957), TOUGHEST GUN IN TOMBSTONE (1958), and BADMAN'S COUNTRY (1958).

Easter Blessings

Very best wishes to all for a happy Easter Sunday!


Lovely Anita Louise celebrates the holiday in the above photo.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day Three

The first full day of moviegoing at the TCM Classic Film Festival on Friday, April 11th, got off to a great start thanks to my decision to spend opening night in a local hotel this year. Not having to struggle through rush hour traffic for a couple of hours made things so much nicer; I was able to get a reasonable amount of sleep and still be in line around 8:00 a.m. for the 9:15 showing of STAGECOACH (1939)!

All was quiet when I got to the Hollywood and Highland Center about 7:30 that morning...


...but it was so nice to run into fellow movie-goers Joel and his wife Beth at Starbucks and enjoy a quiet breakfast chatting before the day's movie mania began. By the end of the day I would see 5 films, on my way to seeing a total of 14 at the festival. Joel would make it to a remarkable 19 films!

Joel and I had the same plan for the first screening of the day: STAGECOACH (1939) in 35mm at the Chinese Multiplex.


Somehow I hadn't seen STAGECOACH since watching it on commercial television as a child, despite loving John Wayne and John Ford and owning not one but two different DVD versions! To say I loved it would be an understatement. The movie absolutely blew me away, from the star-making performance of John Wayne to Yakima Canutt's stuntwork (applauded by the audience) to the great cast; as I wrote before the festival, "It's even got Tim Holt!" I plan to write more about this film in a separate post, along with any other films seen at the festival but not previously written about here.

STAGECOACH was introduced by writer Nancy Schoenberger, who is working on a forthcoming book on John Ford and John Wayne. Speaking honestly, it was the weakest introduction I saw at the festival; she was knowledgeable but seemingly underprepared for sharing the information in that setting.


From STAGECOACH it was on to the first of back-to-back films at the big Chinese Theatre, Orson Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL (1958). The digital print was very beautiful and I was glad to finally see it, though it was probably the film I enjoyed the least of my 14 festival films. As I watched the movie the phrase "carnival of weirdos" popped into my head, and I think it's an apt description.

I'm going to be curious to take the advice of my friend Blake (his comment is here) and compare the version I saw to a different cut.


Charlton Heston's son Fraser presented a graceful introduction:


Fraser mentioned that TCM founder Ted Turner had given him his first directing job. He described TOUCH OF EVIL as a "disturbingly dark film noir" and said his father referred to TOUCH OF EVIL as the "best B movie ever made."

Then it was back into the Chinese line for MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), one of my three most favorite films of all time. (The others, for anyone keeping track, are SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.) This was my eighth time to see it on a big screen and my second time to see Margaret O'Brien in person; I'd seen her at a screening at the Vagabond Theater when I was a teenager.


The digital projection of this movie was disappointingly fuzzy on the big Chinese screen, but at the same time I enjoyed watching it projected in such a large size, which enabled me to pay close attention to all the details in the corners of the picture.


I'll be sharing some scans of stills from my collection when I write more about MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS in the future.


The high point of the festival might have been the screening of WHY WORRY? (1923) in 35mm at the Egyptian Theatre.


Leonard Maltin and Harold Lloyd's granddaughter Suzanne introduced the movie, which was accompanied by Carl Davis conducting a live orchestra in the debut of his new score. An official TCM photo of Davis:


This photo of Maltin and Lloyd is also an official TCM photo:


Some of the film's comedy was mind-blowingly funny -- Harold climbing up the giant made me laugh till I cried -- and the lively score was a delight. The audience stood and literally cheered at the end of the film.


After WHY WORRY? I dashed down Hollywood Boulevard along with KC and Angela to make it into the screening of EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933), which I reviewed in 2007. We were fortunate to make it into the sold-out screening just in time!


EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE was preceded by a special lecture on "Pre-Code 101" by Bruce Goldstein of New York's Film Forum, and it was terrific. He used well-chosen clips to present a brief overview defining pre-Codes and the greatest stars of the era. It provided wonderful context for the movie.


The first time I saw it a few years ago I hadn't liked EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE as much as some other pre-Codes, but it's one of those movies which plays really well with a packed house; we collectively gasped at Warren William's outrageous behavior as though he were the villain of an old-style melodrama.

The pre-Codes and more obscure titles are typically shown in the smallest house of the multiplex, with resulting sellouts. Hopefully next year some of these films will be shown in one of the larger theaters, as they always draw a crowd.

I closed my look at Day Two of the festival with a roundup of pieces on the festival by other writers. Here's a fresh list of additional reading on what is described by all as a very, very special experience:

"There's No Place Like TCMFF: A Personal Overview" by Nora, The Nitrate Diva

"TCM Classic Film Festival 2014 aka the Best Experience I've Ever Had!" by Nicola, the Vintage Film Nerd

"Classic Links: TCM Classic Film Festival 2014 Edition" by KC at Classic Movies

"Movies Are a Necessity to Our Lives - TCM Film Festival Roundup" by Jessica at Comet Over Hollywood

"2014 TCM Classic Film Festival: Pre-festival Festivities" by Diane at Classic Movie Blog

"TCM Classic Film Festival 2014" by Tiffany Vazquez, TCM Guest Programmer Contest Winner, at This Looks Filmiliar

"Opening Night TCM Classic Film Fest 2014" by Elise at Elise's Ramblings (great photos!)

"TCM Film Fest Diary: Day 1" by Emily at The Vintage Cameo

"TCM Film Festival Part 1" by Kate at Scathingly Brilliant

"TCM Classic Film Festival Wrap-Up" by Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film

Keep in mind that many of the blogs listed above have multiple posts on the festival, so be sure to take a little time to explore each blog while you're there!

For more links to my coverage of the festival, please visit The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review.

Coming soon: A look at Day Four of the festival and a review of STAGECOACH (1939), with even more to follow!

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