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Feasting On The TCM Fest

by Leonard Maltin
April 18, 2012 1:00 AM
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On Saturday night I spoke to 102-year-old Carla Laemmle, the last surviving cast member of Dracula, who charmed everyone in attendance with her wonderful spirit. Just before our interview, horror-film scholar David Skal gave me a great tip: I asked Carla if it was true that she remembered her parents showing her a newspaper headline about the sinking of the Titanic, one hundred years ago that night. She said yes!  Even though she was only two years old, the shock of the tragedy stayed with her all these years. As you may know, Carla has a small role as a dowdy secretary in the opening scene of Dracula, but it is historic because she speaks the first lines of dialogue in the picture.

Beautiful vintage costumes like this gown worn by Lana Turner in 'The Great Garrick' were on display in the lobby of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

I had two occasions to interview a younger Hollywood veteran, producer Robert Evans, before screenings of Love Story (which saved Paramount Pictures from being shut down) and Black Sunday. Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, who now owns Paramount, came to the Love Story matinee on Friday to show support and friendship for Evans, who is bursting with great stories. Knowing the film-buff crowd on hand, I asked him to relate how he was discovered by Norma Shearer, who saw him alongside a hotel pool and chose him to play her late husband Irving Thalberg in The Man of a Thousand Faces. He then told us how generous James Cagney was to him when he was too nervous to get out his first line of dialogue.

Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne always has interesting things to say about her grandfather’s movies, as she is the keeper of his flame. I always enjoy talking to her before a screening. There was a great turnout for his 1924 silent comedy Girl Shy, which played at the Egyptian Theatre with live accompaniment by the Robert Israel Orchestra.

In fact, festivalgoers turned out in large numbers to see films even when there wasn’t a guest on hand. I was honored to introduce my all-time favorite movie, Casablanca, and must admit I was mildly surprised to see about 700 people at Grauman’s. They came from far and wide for just this reason: to be able to see a great movie on a large (and historic) screen. I tried to provide some context and behind-the-scenes stories about this landmark film, as I did the first morning of the festival, when I introduced the long-unavailable 1947 movie The Macomber Affair, arguably the best screen adaptation of an Ernest Hemingway story. Warner Bros. has just cleared the rights so the film can be screened once again, and I’m happy to report that it will turn up later this year on TCM.

Bruce Goldstein of New York City’s Film Forum hosted a tough, but enjoyable, round of illustrated movie trivia (using film clips) at Club TCM on Friday afternoon, and stumped everyone in the room with the question, “What person who is in attendance this weekend appeared in the pilot episode of the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies?” The answer: TCM’s own Robert Osborne!

The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller backstage with Gun Crazy star Peggy Cummins.

At the closing night party I met dozens of nice people who had traveled from all points on the compass to be part of this festival. Contrary to stereotype, there were a number of young people, along with folks in my age bracket who, in some cases, got to attend as a birthday or anniversary present. TCM has captured lightning in a bottle with this elaborate and ambitious event. They featured actors, writers, directors, costume and fashion designers, historians, publicists, and art directors over the course of the busy weekend, and everyone seemed to have a great time.

There was also a feeling of serendipity in the air. One of the high spots for me was getting to see the apparently ageless Peggy Cummins, who flew in from London, before a screening of her amazing film noir Gun Crazy. (As she admitted to interviewer Eddie Muller, she made other movies she liked, such as The Late George Apley with Ronald Colman and Moss Rose with Victor Mature, but even in 1950 she appreciated the opportunity to break away from playing “pretty young things” by becoming the femme fatale in Joseph H. Lewis’ exceptional crime story.)The night before that showing, my family and I had dinner with friends at a restaurant in the Hollywood & Highland complex, which houses the Mann 6 theaters where many screenings were held. At one point I realized that Miss Cummins and her friend Eunice Gayson (an original Bond Girl from Dr. No) were seated two tables away and went over to pay my respects. We had a lovely conversation, and at one point she asked the name of the actor with whom I was dining, whom she had met briefly on her way to the restaurant. I told her his name was James Karen, a lifelong actor whose uncle was Morris Carnovsky. After a beat, she said, “Wasn’t he in Gun Crazy?” Indeed he was. How perfect that such a connection should come about at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

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  • Dustin | April 28, 2012 1:04 AMReply

    I was fortunate enough to be at Snow White and Casablanca, both showcased in digital and both breath taking. Where else to see those films other than the Chinese Theater, right? I was disappointed however to miss out on Dracula. Several pass holders made the film a priority. I was also rather disappointed in the fact that Zorro's Fighting Legion did not precede any of the films aforementioned.

    Funny side note: Ginnifer and her pixy cut were at the Sunday morning Rosemary's Baby screening. Brett Ratner was also in attendance.

  • Quieny | April 22, 2012 9:14 PMReply

    I agree with you Thornhill, I get the Latin TCM in Mexico, and it has more TV shows than movies. Major disappointment!

  • Thornhill | April 19, 2012 11:44 PMReply

    Everything about TCM in the U.S. makes people outside the United States so very very jealous.
    Why does TCM in the rest of the world have no respect for its viewers or its brand-name?
    TCM in Australia has no policy of screening movies in their proper ratio... they are never introduced (Robert Osborne... who he?)
    A case in point to highlight the differences: I was complaining to a friend in the U.S. that a film I had always wanted to see was “Raintree County”. It has never been released on DVD in Australia, and the only way to see it was the shoddy print on TCM. He sent me a copy recorded from TCM-U.S. Wow! What a revelation! Not only is it WideScreen, it even has the overture, intermission card and the entr’acte and runs 186 minutes. And where’s the TCM logo? It appears very briefly every hour! In Australia, the TCM logo appears in the top right hand corner of every frame of every film, every frame of every short, it is a permanent fixture! The version of “Raintree County” screening here runs approximately 160 minutes, has no overture or entr’acte and is a pale pan’n’scan print. Why? My question to TCM executives would be: why does that glorious complete print screen in the U.S., but the rest of the world has a vastly inferior product?
    A look at the TCM-U.S. web-site is like looking into a treasure chest. You are actually told which films are to be screened in WideScreen (and that appears to be ALL ‘Scope films!!!).
    Not only that, the short films are listed by title and screening time! Now look at the TCM-Asia web-site… a list of film titles with the briefest synopsis. That’s it. We are not told which films are to be in W/S (well, that’s easy: we presume they won’t be!). We have no way of knowing which short films will be screened or when (that’s easy too: we know it will be the nth re-run of a Robert Benchley or a Pete Smith… that’s the choice). We do know that EVERY film will be preceded by that annoying “This Week… in Hollywood History”, and with that logo on every frame, as if they had something to be proud of

  • Ken Blose | April 19, 2012 4:41 PMReply

    The highlight for me...meeting you! I hope to go for the whole weekend next year, just did one day and I loved it!

  • Norm | April 18, 2012 3:39 PMReply

    Great Event ! One for the Ages...Maltin is Everywhere...

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