There’s more TCM Fest stuff to come, including a rundown of the Return of the Dream Machine program, which featured films from 1900-1913 projected with an original 1908 hand-cranked projector – it was a very special evening, and introduced me to one of the most amazing, incredible, and bizarre pieces of early cinema I’ve yet seen. It affected me so much that I feel the need to share it with everyone I know, in every outlet I have. Ladies and gentlemen, behold….The Dancing Pig.
[The most amazing thing about this short is that apparently this vaudeville program was so popular at the time that there were numerous film versions made of it, by almost every studio. This one from Pathe seems to be the main one that's survived to today.]
I grew up watching this film, and just assumed that it was as much a part of everyone else’s childhood as it was mine, just like any other Disney movie, or other animal movies like Lassie Come Home or National Velvet. Apparently that’s far from the case, as only one other person I knew at the festival had seen it (and she’s a certified Disney fanatic who went to great lengths to obtain a copy), and most people had never heard of it until it was in the festival program. It has never been released on DVD except as a bonus through the Disney Rewards Program. I’m pretty sure we bought it on VHS when I was a kid, but it’s possible we taped it off the Disney Channel or something. As the sole person in my group who had nostalgia for the film, I found myself trying not to oversell it, fearing that it wouldn’t live up to my memories. Thankfully, while it’s definitely fairly minor Disney, its charm and winsomeness remain intact through some admittedly cornball plot development.
Young boy Jeremiah Kincaid wants nothing more than to own a prize racehorse someday (this being rural Indiana in 1903, it’s harness racing he’s thinking of, not Thoroughbred racing)…until one of the farm’s sheep has a black lamb and refuses to accept him, and Jeremiah convinces his granny (his parents are unmentioned) to let him raise the outcast. Soon Jeremiah has big dreams for the troublemaking lamb Danny, hoping to take him to the state fair and win a blue ribbon. Lots of other little vignettes fill out the story, notably a treacherous trip into the swamp for Jeremiah and his cousin Tildy seeking out a bee tree, and an overnight search for the lost Danny in a frog-drowner of a rainstorm.
Colleen Moore is absolutely, unequivocally the most adorable thing ever as Pert Kelly, a young girl who goes out and parties every night, embodying the carefree flapper spirit. We catch up with her when she’s agreed to go out with a super smarmy guy because he’s rich, but she clearly has limits on how far she’s willing to go. Exactly where those limits are become a sticking point when she trades out smarmfest for cleancut young Winthrop Peabody Jr (played by a very handsome Neil Hamilton) enjoying his last evening out before taking the job as personnel manager for his father’s department store. Turns out Pert is a clerk in the store, and when Peabody Sr discovers the kind of girl his son is going with, he objects – not because she’s a working girl (he’s too progressive for that), but because he assumes such a party girl has “been around,” as they say.
Orson Welles’ career is the stuff of legend – wunderkind Hollywood golden boy with Citizen Kane, then losing most of his subsequent films to studio interference, and eventually finding it impossible to raise enough money to even complete the films he wanted to make. By 1965 when he made Chimes at Midnight, the funding came from Spain and Switzerland, and the film barely got a release in the US. Even before becoming a big shot Hollywood actor/writer/director, Welles was already a noted Shakespearean scholar and actor, and in the late 1940s, his film output shifted to Shakespeare as well, with versions of Macbeth and Othello. He’d long intended to do a Falstaff story, combining the five plays featuring the characters – a stage version called Five Kings hadn’t quite gotten off the ground as early as 1939, then he staged it in 1960, when it was also unsuccessful. Undaunted, he focused on a film version, which became Chimes at Midnight (sometimes known as just Falstaff). Unlike many of his projects during his later career, Chimes at Midnight was finished, and finished pretty much according to Welles’ wishes.
Upon initial release, the film was dismissed by critics, but it has since gained a reputation as one of Welles’ greatest films – Welles himself felt it was his best work. Rights issues have plagued the film, however, and it’s been very difficult to see in any kind of decent quality (it is watchable on YouTube). Rumor has it that the print screened at TCM Fest (courtesy of Filmoteca España) will soon make its way to DVD/Blu-ray, which would be great. As of now, though, the people who saw it at TCM Fest have probably seen the best version of it since its original release.