Once again I am heading to the TCM Classic Film Festival, and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s such a great opportunity to see classic films the best way possible – on the big screen with audiences who love them. The overall theme of this year’s festival is Music in the Movies, with sidebars on George and Ira Gershwin, Bernard Herrmann, Disney, and Roy Rogers. The largest groups of selections, in the Essentials and Discoveries categories, are not just about music, though, but cover everything from little-known pre-Code films to beloved classics like All About Eve to what many consider the greatest Hollywood film of them all, Citizen Kane.
You’ll find me mostly haunting the Discoveries screenings, though – many of those films are rare and hard to find, so this might be the only chance to see them. Of course, seeing anything on the giant screen in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, one of the few remaining true movie palaces in the country, is tempting, so I’ll sneak in there for some of the big-name screenings.
I’ve posted the full full lineup at Row Three, and my reviews and reports on the festival will be going over there too (under the TCM Film Festival tag). But here’s a quick rundown of what I’m planning to see over the weekend, and I’ll try to post some casual updates over here, too. I’ll be updating Twitter regularly @faithx5 as well.
Before he started the studio that would bear his name, Disney started the Laugh-O-Grams studio in Kansas City, Missouri. This collection of recently discovered and restored works heralds the earliest days of Walt Disney’s career. When I first saw this on the program, I was really hoping I’d get a chance to see them – the festival is also screening a set of Silly Symphonies, which would be great, but I’ve seen a bunch of those before. These I hadn’t even heard of and with my growing interest in silent film and animation history, the opportunity see something like this is pretty cool. TCM Festival.
UNDER WESTERN STARS (1938)
Joseph Kane; Roy Rogers, Smiley Burnett, Carol Hughes, Guy Usherf
I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a Roy Rogers film; I was afraid at first I wasn’t going to be able to get to any of the series celebrating his 100th birthday, but it turned out that scheduling allowed this one, his first starring role. No Dale Evans yet, but Roy and Trigger are already going strong. It’s also the only Rogers film in the National Film Registry, so there’s that. I also love that they’re showing this and several other films with accompanying shorts, this time the cartoon Deputy Droopy. That’s what I call a good old time at the movies. TCM Festival.
THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN (1935)
Josef von Sternberg; Marlene Dietrich, Lionel Atwill, Edward Everett Horton, Alison Skipworth, Cesar Romero
It’s been weighing on me pretty heavily lately that I’ve never gotten around to seeing any of Josef von Sternberg’s collaborations with Marlene Dietrich – in fact, my exposure to both von Sternberg and Dietrich in general is pretty meager. Apparently this film is a controversial one, too – got into trouble with both Production Code head Joe Breen and the Spanish government for the unrepentant sensuality of Dietrich’s Concha Perez (and the depiction of the Spanish police). It will hopefully be the first of many Dietrich-von Sternberg films I see this year. TCM Festival.
Roy Del Ruth; James Cagney, Loretta Young, George E. Stone, Guy Kibbee
This one stuck in last on my schedule when I realized that I had somehow left an empty spot early on Friday. Of course, early is 8:15am, so we’ll see if I actually make it down there in time for it. Anyway, I have never heard of this film, but it’s just after James Cagney’s star-making turn in The Public Enemy, placing him as a cab driver fighting the mob. So, like, still a gangster picture but he’s not a gangster. Loretta Young is his love interest; she impressed me in Platinum Blonde, another early sound picture (where I liked her more than in her later films), so I’m hoping for the same result here. Also of note, this is apparently the film that Cagney’s “You dirty rat” misquote comes from. TCM Festival.
THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943)
Edmund Goulding; Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine, Brenda Marshall, Alexis Smith, Charles Coburn, Dame May Whitty, Peter Lorre
Choosing this over A Streetcar Named Desire (which is on my List of Shame of unwatched films) was one of the hardest choices I had to make. But The Constant Nymph has been caught up in legal battles for ages, which has prevented its release on DVD and even, I think, kept it from playing on TCM. It’s been one of their most-requested films for years. So I had to go with the one I may never get a chance to see again (and that garnered and Oscar nomination for Joan Fontaine) rather than the one that’s easily available on DVD. TCM Festival.
BIGGER THAN LIFE (1956)
Nicholas Ray; James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau, Robert F. Simon, Christopher Olsen
I became a huge Nicholas Ray fan after seeing In a Lonely Place, but I haven’t gotten around to this one yet, which was rejected by its original audience but championed by Cahiers du cinema writers Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. I agree with like 90% of their taste, so I’m really looking forward to checking out this tale of disquieted middle America, with a teacher’s prescription drug addiction turning him into a modern-day Jekyll and Hyde. The widescreen, Technicolor cinematography looks luscious as well. TCM Festival.
THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)
Nathan Juran; Kerwin Matthews, Kathryn Grant, Richard Eyer, Torin Thatcher
This is part of the Bernard Herrmann series; I had no idea he had written the music for this, but that’s just icing on the cake. I’ve got a real soft spot for stop-motion effects, and I’ve sadly not seen very many films by the master of stop-motion effects, Ray Harryhausen. This is one of his best-known, and I’m really looking forward to getting a chance to see it on the big screen. TCM Festival.
DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933)
Ernst Lubitsch; Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Miriam Hopkins, Edward Everett Horton, Franklin Pangborn, Isabel Jewell, Jane Darwell
One of only two or three films I’m catching that I’ve seen before, but it’s been so long and I remember so little of it that it’ll be like seeing it for the first time. Lubitsch is always a fantastic director (well, almost – I’ve got no love for Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife) and the pre-Code era really let him indulge his European sensibilities, as in this film about a trio of Bohemian artists; even toned down a bit from the original Noel Coward play, it’s far racier than the screen would allow only a year or two later. TCM Festival.
Stanley Kubrick; Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov
I’m only planning to see a few in the classic Chinese theatre this year, and this is one of them – a sword and sandal epic from Stanley Kubrick, Kirk Douglas, and Dalton Trumbo, all powerful personalities fighting to get their vision on screen. I’ve never seen it before, but I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been on my list for a looooong time. Plus, Kirk Douglas is gonna be there. TCM Festival.
THIS IS THE NIGHT (1932)
Frank Tuttle; Lili Damita, Charles Ruggles, Roland Young, Thelma Todd, Cary Grant
Cary Grant’s debut film! That’s all you need to say to perk up my interest, even though he’s fifth-billed and ends up having his wife stolen by Roland Young (!). In any case, the double-crossing plot to get her back sounds entertaining, and seeing such a young Grant will be a treat. This is newly restored by UCLA, too, so the print should look gorgeous. TCM Festival.
Frank Lloyd; Clara Bow, Preston Foster, Richard Cromwell, Herbert Mundin, James Gleason
My second hard choice was The Outlaw Josey Wales vs. this film, which is Clara Bow’s final film performance and a difficult one to find. Again, I had to go with the rarer film, since Josey Wales is readily available and even plays rep cinemas with some frequency. Whereas I might never get to see this again. Still a very difficult choice. But I’ve never seen Bow in a sound film, so I’m curious about that as well as the tension between her trying to move beyond her It Girl persona and the studio very much wanting to keep her in it. TCM Festival.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955)
Otto Preminger; Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak, Eleanor Parker, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin
The program had me on this one when it mentioned there was a jazz trumpet over the opening titles. For some reason, 1950s and 1960s films with jazz scores are totally my thing right now, and I know Otto Preminger used jazz perfectly in Anatomy of a Murder; I’m hoping for the same thing here. Oh, and it’s also the film where Sinatra proved (again) that he had real acting chops, playing a drug addict trying to stay clean. Add in a new restoration print, and I have high hopes for this one. TCM Festival.
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (1981)
Herbert Ross; Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Jessica Harper, Vernel Bagneris, Christopher Walken
I initially wrote this one off my short list because 1981 is a stretch for me as a “classic”, and because I distrust musicals from the 1980s, but then I noticed it has Bernadette Peters in it. And that put it right back on the list because Bernadette Peters is awesome. The program describes it as a “mash-up of two popular Hollywood genres of the ’30s — the glamorous musical and the gritty social problem picture,” and with that, I’m fully on board. Looks like it’s a definite throwback to the old-school musicals I know and love, and I’m excited to discover it. TCM Festival.
George Cukor; Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty, Angela Lansbury
This was a really tough choice because it’s up against La Dolce Vita and Shaft – I’ve seen all of these movies (plus the other two in the same slot), and would’ve loved to see them again. Gaslight barely got the nod because I remember it the least well of the three, making it due for a rewatch, plus Angela Lansbury is going to be here talking about it, and she’s a treasure. TCM Festival.
THE MUMMY (1932)
Karl Freund; Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners
The original 1932 version of The Mummy has been on my October horror to-watch list for at least two years now, and I’ve never managed to fit it in. So happy to have the chance now, and at a midnight screening no less. Last year the midnight cult screening was Bride of Frankenstein, which I’d seen before – it’s gonna be fun to share a new one (to me) with a midnight audience, who are always rowdy fun. TCM Festival.
NIGHT FLIGHT (1933)
Clarence Brown; John Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Montgomery, Myrna Loy
The program is calling this “the Grand Hotel of adventure films,” playing off the star-studded ensemble cast that both films boast. Apparently this one is a little more disjointed (one criticism is that the superstars are rarely in scenes together), but I’m still looking forward to seeing them. Both male Barrymores, plus Gable, plus Loy, plus Helen Hayes, plus ad nauseum…yeah. And produced by David O. Selznick is not usually a bad thing. Plus it’s been out of circulation since 1942 (why? I don’t know), so it’s pretty rare to get a chance to see it. TCM Festival.
Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood
The festival has a number of panels with academics, historians, or filmmakers discussing specific topics; I try to make it to at least one of these, and this year I’m pretty sure it’s going to be this one, with historian Donald Bogle talking about the history of African-Americans in Hollywood during the studio era. Last year he curated and introduced a program of Warner Bros. cartoons that were pulled from circulation because of racist content in the 1960s, and he had some really helpful and perceptive things to say; I’m looking forward to hearing more about the topic in a less specific context.
A TRIBUTE TO THE NICHOLAS BROTHERS
The Nicholas Brothers
If you watch many 1940s musicals, you’ll become acquainted with The Nicholas Brothers before too long, as they’re responsible for some of the most down-right incredible dance numbers ever put on film. They also had stunning careers on Broadway, television, vaudeville, and nightclubs, and it’s not hard to see why as soon as you see them perform. On film, all you see of them is specialty numbers – this tribute will I’m sure fill in the blanks of their lives and careers. TCM Festival.
various; Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor
The Closing Night Gala is a brand-new digital restoration of one of Walt Disney’s crowning achievements. I’ve seen this before, obviously, but only on television. Seeing a restoration print, in Grauman’s Chinese theatre? Yeah, that’s not something I’m going to pass up. TCM Festival.
What I’m Missing
Even with all those fifteen or so films listed above that I am planning to see, there are dozens more I’m having to skip. The most painful are the aforementioned The Outlaw Josey Wales and A Streetcar Named Desire, both ones I passed over in order to go to harder-to-find films, but that are very high on my personal to-watch list. Also, I’m skipping An American in Paris, but mostly because it’s the Opening Gala and I didn’t want to go to the hassle of getting the additional credential required for that. I would’ve loved to have seen Gold Diggers of 1933 on the big screen with an audience, but I’ve seen it a dozen times and I couldn’t justify it over one I haven’t. Ditto lots of others, including Girl Crazy, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, All About Eve, The Third Man (which is still tempting), Carousel, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Goldfinger, La Dolce Vita, Manhattan and West Side Story. There’s also Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver, and The Godfather, all great films I think are swell, but are up against things I haven’t seen and lost out. So many others, really, I could list the whole schedule. There’s enough incredible films here to fill up three or four festivals. I hope they saved some good stuff for next year!