San Diego Classic Film Calendar

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

TCMFF 2017 – Day 4

Sunday at the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) started with a second chance to see one of my top picks in the first of the TBA slots.

Arsenic and Old Lace – We'd had to skip this one in favor of Stalag 17 the day before, and it was a really tough call. The first block had pair a couple of pairs of shorter films against longer ones. The original plan was Cock of the Air followed be the film noir, Lured. Cock of the Air is a Howard Hughes pre-code that even with the lax enforcement of the Production Code of the era had to have 12 minutes removed, making the film incomprehensible in spots. A complete uncensored print was found but lacked the soundtrack on the removed footage. The Academy Film Archive hired actors to re-record missing dialog and added music and sound effects to complete the film. Still, up against Arsenic and Old Lace, a great comedy and one of my favorite Cary Grant performances that I had never seen on the big screen, Cock of the Air had to go.

Arsenic and Old Lace is very funny on TV, but with the benefit of an audience, it was hilarious. My daughter Jasmine loved it. We took seats on the aisle near the exit. I knew that the timing on getting to Lured would be rough. When the film ended, Jasmine and I were among the first handful of people out of the theater, but Lured had filled. Our only choice at point was The Front Page.

The Front Page – I kind of think of The Front Page like a song where you know the cover version way better than the original. Of course, I'm talking about His Girl Friday. The Front Page (1931) and His Girl Friday are virtually the same movie with two differences. In His Girl Friday, Hildebrand "Hildy" Johnson is changed to a woman Hildegard and made the newspaper editor's ex-wife. Those changes make the two films worlds apart. Now, I've seen His Girl Friday dozens of times. It's one of my go to films when I'm bored and don't know what to watch. The Front Page I had only seen once in the last several months, a rather bad copy on Amazon streaming.

The Front Page was a new restoration and looked great. Seeing the exact same dialog that I knew so well from His Girl Friday coming out of different actors' mouths without the benefit of the sexual tension of the later film was just weird to me. There isn't even a trace of bromance between Hildy Johnson (Pat O'Brien) and his editor Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou). Yes, It was very funny in spots, and Edward Everett Horton was great as Bensinger, the hypochondriac, poetry-writing, and possibly gay reporter. Still, I feel like maybe I would have really liked it had it not been for His Girl Friday, and now it was too late. Jasmine fell asleep for about 40 minutes early on and having never seen His Girl Friday, by the time, she woke up the killer was hiding in the roll-top desk and she had no idea what was going on. Still, it was cool to see with an audience who appreciated it.

The Palm Beach Story – For the intro, Cari Beauchamp interviewed Joel McCrea's grandson, Wyatt. Wyatt McCrea told the story of a small continuity error in the film. Joel McCrea's co-star Claudette Colbert refused to be photographed on her right side. That meant that Joel McCrea had to be filmed on his right side most of the time. Normally, Joel McCrea parted his hair on the right, but at the time of the filming he was starting to worry that his hairline was receding. With the part in his hair on the camera side, he was worried that the receding hairline would be too noticeable, so after the first few scenes, he switched the part to the other side, and no one noticed. I barely even noticed, and I was looking for it.

Also in attendance for the film were several members of Mary Astor's family. Mary Astor was worried about the film because she had never played comedy, but she is wonderful. I've seen this film a number of times but again, never in the theater. It's probably my third favorite Preston Sturges film, behind The Lady Eve and Sullivan's Travels. Still it's a great film, in spite of its I-would-have-gotten-a-D-had-I-written-this-ending-in-8th-grade ending. 

The Palm Beach Story pokes lot of fun at the idle upper class, from the Wienie King who gives money to strangers on a whim to Ale and Quail Club and their shenanigans on the train to Rudy Vallee's character who has millions, yet writes down every penny he spends but never adds it up to Mary Astor's character who changes husband with the same frequency that most women change hairstyles. It was a blast, and Jasmine absolutely loved it. 

Photo: Edward M. Pio Roda
Singin' in the Rain – After The Palm Beach Story at the Chinese IMAX, we immediately got back in line in the same theater for Singing in the Rain. We ended up sitting with @BeeKnees_pdx and her friend, Karetta. The intro had Scott Feinberg interviewing Debbie Reynold's son Todd Fisher, and actress Ruta Lee, a close friend of Debbie Reynolds who had worked closely with Reynolds through the Thalians charitable organization. 


Regarding the film itself, I was a bit upset that I didn't go to the Fathom Events screening back in January. I normally go to almost all of the Fathom Events screenings even when I'm not that crazy about the film, so for me to miss a film I like is kind of a rarity. I sort of felt like I was paying for it by missing another film I might not get another chance at. I think the backup plan was Hell Is for Heroes, but when Bob Newhart cancelled, that made Singin' in the Rain an easier call. Ariel Schudson (Archive-Type, Musings of a Passionate Preservationist) suggested Detective Story, but when she heard that neither Jasmine or I had ever seen it on the big screen, she said, no, you need to see Singin' in the Rain.

Spent an awful lot of time in the Chinese Sunday;
this is in the lobby; if you don't know what it is,
we can't be friends anymore
Jasmine had never seen Singin' in the Rain, period, but she was still leaning toward Hell Is for Heroes. I told her that this would give us more time for dinner, before the last screening. When in doubt at TCMFF, offer the person you're with food, and you'll get your way. I think I was feeling lazy that week in January when I didn't go to the Fathom Events screening of Singin' in the Rain. I now think that fate had conspired in my favor to have us see it at TCMFF. Is there a difference between a small theater in the multiplex with maybe 60 or 70 people and 900 people at the Chinese? Or between a pre-recorded intro and a live intro with people who have real connection to one of the stars? Or an audience who likes a film vs one who knows the film by heart and applauds all of the musical numbers. Oh yeah? For Jasmine, she is pretty open-minded musically, especially for someone her age, but still was leery of a musical. She loved it. 

Speedy – We only had to run upstairs to get our line numbers, for the last screening of the festival. There is a ramen place in the mall next door to the theater. I was a bit worried about the timing. We had run into someone that day who had said they were really slow. Fortunately, we had our food in a few minutes, and it was good.

Speedy with live musical accompaniment was our last screening of the festival and one that both Jasmine and I were looking forward to since it was first announced. The Alloy Orchestra is a three piece group which features junk percussion/musical saws/accordion, keyboards, and clarinet/more percussion. You just couldn't help but smile when the film rolled, and they started playing. It was an absolute delight, and the accompaniment only made it more so, the perfect way to end the festival. When I talked Jasmine back at home, she said we should have sat close to the front, so we could see the musicians. Good point, I hope we remember that next time. 

Closing party – I love the closing party. It's a somewhat melancholy event because you know it's over and it's going to be a year before the next TCMFF. That and it goes way too quick. With the late Sunday screenings ending at 9:30 or 10, that only leaves a couple of hours, before they kick people out of Club TCM at midnight. At least this year the lobby bars stayed open, so the die-hards like me could stay and talk. 

I did get to meet Teresa whom I'd never before and talk to many of the people I've met over the years. I had about four or five of my souvenir condoms left and was able to give them away to Eddie Muller, Ben Mankiewicz, and others. Ben's reaction was perfect (see story here). All in all, it was another wonderful TCMFF. Thanks to all involved.

As we were leaving the theater after Speedy, Jasmine and I saw the following on Hollywood Blvd., slumped and crumpled in its frame, a fitting end for the TCMFF that was.


Here's the body count. If you count Beyond the Mouse as a single film, I saw 18 films in TCMFF 2017, more than any of the three previous festivals, despite skipping films for a dinner breaks on both Friday and Saturday nights. Jasmine saw one less than me. Of the 18, only two were new to me, again counting Beyond the Mouse. Still only one had I seen in the theater, The Jerk, when it first came out. For Jasmine, all were new to her, except The Palm Beach Story, which she had seen with her grandmother, go Maa-ma! We saw one silent, one nitrate, and one movie that scared the bejeezus out of us (The Incident). We saw Sean Connery in futuristic speedo and met Dick Cavett in the elevator. Jasmine met Ben Mankiewicz for the first time and didn't freak out. I drank on occasion and ate infrequently though not as bad as in previous years, and Jasmine and I went bowling in a place you would never expect to find a bowling alley. Most importantly, we spent the better part of six days geeking out on old movies. What could be better than that?


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