Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Giant Ants Invade Palm Springs!

The inaugural Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival was held on October 23 to 25. My wife and I attended, and I have to say we had a blast. Host Alan Rode’s selection of movies and guests was excellent. We drove up Friday afternoon from San Diego, and stayed at a hotel about a 10-minute walk from the theater. Truth be told,  we never did walk to the theater. It always seemed like we were in too much of a rush to get there in time.

The festival started on Friday night with a showing of The Fly. Of course, I'd seen this but I had never seen it in the theater. The film was a hoot, and afterwards Allen Rode did an interview with star, David Hedison. At 88, Hedison is in really good shape, sharp, and full of lots of great stories. 

Alan Rode interviewing David Hedison
In The Fly and other films early in his career, Hedison was billed as Al Hedison (his full name is Albert David Hedison). Shortly after The Fly, they wanted him to change his name, because Al wasn’t a good name for a movie star. “Pacino did pretty well with it,” he joked. He talked about how he really didn't mind having a piece of cloth over his head through most of the film in The Fly, but his biggest regret was the last scene, where he was caught in the spiderweb. He said he did some really great acting there screaming for help, but when he saw the film he was appalled that they had speeded up his voice.

He told a story about how when he first came to Hollywood, he made a film called The Enemy Below with Robert Mitchum. He didn't know anything about film-making at the time, and there was a scene where his character had to jump off of the conning tower of the submarine. He was petrified of heights but figured that he was expected to do it, so he went through with it. After he was done, the director thanked them and said, "It was really great you did that. Most actors wouldn't do that sort of thing." He also talked about his work on on various films and of course the TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. When asked what his biggest regret in his career was, he said that he turned down the chance to play the role of the Captain on The Love Boat.


Saturday started with the screening of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This was the only film that I had seen in the theater, although my wife she said, she had never seen it all the way through before. Alan's intro to the film was informative as were all of his intros. The director, Don Siegel, didn't want to shoot the opening and closing scenes, but producer Walter Wanger convinced him that the film company would do it anyway if he didn't and probably screw up the movie. Reluctantly, Siegel agreed. Alan also said that as a practical joke, they snuck into star Dana Wynter’s apartment and placed the pod under her bed while she slept. The film of course was great. Then again, I'm probably prejudiced. It's one of my all-time top favorite science fiction movies. After the film we spoke with Laura whom I'd met at TCMFF last year (Laura's Miscellaneous Musings) and her husband. 

You had about an hour and a half between films, just enough time to get a meal if you didn't dawdle too much. It was a little too close to breakfast for us, so my wife and I ended up just hanging out. In the same parking lot as the theater, there was a farmer's market so we wandered around and picked up a piece of fruit as a snack. I also picked up a couple bottles of beer from a local craft brewer, Coachella Valley Brewing Company.

Next up was The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Star Julie Adams was on hand, signing books and pictures, and she spoke after the screening. Her autobigraphy co-written with her son was Mitchell Danton on sale and for an extra $10, you could get an autographed photo. The film was great and in my opinion the best of the later Universal Monster movies. Afterwards Alan interviewed Julie Adams. Unfortunately, at 89, Julie Adams wasn't as sharp as David Hedison had been earlier. At times, her answers were a bit vague. Fortunately, her son was on stage to fill in the details or prompt her to get a better answer out of her. 

Afterwards my wife and I went to a little Greek place for lunch about two blocks away. It was really good and after more less not having anything between the first two movies, nice to get some good food. The next film was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. This is such a great film, and it was really cool to see Ray Harryhausen’s work on the big screen. I do have to say that the highlight for me was seeing Lee Van Cleef in a very small but critical role as a sniper who shoots the radioactive bullet to kill the monster. Even back in 1953, Lee Van Cleef was a badass.

Since we'd had a late lunch my wife and I decided to go back to the little Thai place we found for appetizers, before the final film of the evening, The Incredible Shrinking Man. This is a very good film very underrated. If you haven't seen it, you really need to. Probably the best thing about the film, other than the special effects with a giant house cat and a tarantula and great use of oversized props, is the ending. I don't wanna spoil it but it's not what you would expect and way cooler than the typical Hollywood happy ending.


Sunday started with The Thing from Another World. Alan's introduction to the film talked about how even though the Director credit is Christian Nyby, it really was directed by Producer Howard Hawks. He said that it was sort of like when you have a boss who can't let go and let you do your job and end up doing it themselves anyway. Hawks worked closely with the actors, encouraging them to improvise and rewriting the script as they went. Hawks was on hand for every shot and camera placement. Still, the end result is a great film. I had never seen it in the theater with an audience that way very funny. It reminded me a lot of Aliens, really great military guys giving each other crap type of humor.

Next up was It Came from Outer Space, based on the story by Ray Bradbury. In his introduction, Alan explained that Ray Bradbury had done a full treatment with dialog not just the story he was credited with, and really should have got at least some credit for the screenplay. He also mentioned that It Came from Outer Space was one of the first 3D films, and you could see bits and pieces that were obviously done for the sake of 3D. Still the film works well as a regular 2D film. Sitting in the theater with us was one of the stars, Kathleen Hughes. She was actually sitting in the next roll up and about five seats down from us. According to Alan, she was the person who was most thrilled to be an actress of anyone he ever met and would never turn down the opportunity to see herself on the big screen. She said that she had seen the film about three weeks earlier when her granddaughter called her and told her they were playing it on MeTV.

After the film, she got up with Alan for an interview. She was a hoot. At the time It Came from Outer Space was shot, there was something of a race to get the first 3D film released in theaters with Warner Brothers working on House of Wax and Universal working on It Came from Outer Space. Warner Brothers won. When they first got 3D cameras in at Universal, they needed to test them. Kathleen Hughes was on contract with Universal at the time and said that they tested them on her because she was very three-dimensional. She really wanted to play the lead in the film but by the time she learned of the film, they had already cast it. Still she asked to read the script, and there was another small role for a woman. She played the part of Russell Johnson's (the Professor from Gilligan's Island's), somewhat slutty girlfriend, the type of role she love to play. 

One of her favorite roles was playing the worst sister in the 1956 film, Three Bad Sisters. She likes using the whip. Her career spanned almost 50 years, though she really never made it big. Possibly her biggest claim to fame is the publicity photo (left) that they took for It Came from Outer Space. It had absolutely nothing to do with the film, but it was the type of photo they would take to promote a film back then. It's been used on greeting cards and to sell numerous products. At one point, a company used it to sell condoms. That was one thing that her late husband, Producer Stanley Rubin, decided he needed to put a stop to, so he got their lawyers to stop it.

The festival ended with a screening of the classic, Them! 1950s science fiction movies don't get much better than giant ants. It was a great way to end the festival.

I thought I would save the best for last. I have to say that, host Alan Rode, did an absolutely wonderful job planning at this festival. The choice of films was superb, so much so it makes me wonder how he's going to match it next year. His introductions to the films were both informative and highly entertaining, and the selection of guests was awesome. Great job, Alan. On a related note, Alan also produces and hosts the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival each Spring in Palm Springs. The 2016 Noir Festival looks to be well worth the trip back. 

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