Another edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival has wrapped in Hollywood, and I had a great time hosting a variety of events, as a backup to the channel’s stalwarts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz, and meeting a vast number of dedicated movie fans from all parts of the country. From opening night on the red carpet, where I saw longtime friends Ann Blyth and Jane Withers reunited, to a showing of Cinerama Holiday at the Cinerama Dome, where I interviewed two of its featured players, it was a jam-packed weekend.
One of the highlights for me was a presentation of Hollywood home movies by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Randy Haberkamp and Lynn Kirste, the curator who supervises its home-movie archives. I’ve attended their shows before and written about them HERE, but this show offered tantalizing new material and several special guests. Actress Fay McKenzie shared memories of her USO tours during World War Two with Desi Arnaz and her brother-in-law Billy Gilbert. Bob Koster screened footage from the extensive collection of his father, director Henry Koster, including wonderful behind-the-scenes shots of My Blue Heaven featuring the screen debut of Mitzi Gaynor. Mitzi was there to provide a lively running commentary, still swooning over Dan Dailey after all these years. As for Jean Negulesco’s star-studded Malibu party footage, and Douglas Fairbanks’ home movies of a trip to Austria with Marlene Dietrich, my wife and I felt the same as everyone around us: those people were gorgeous, even without Hollywood makeup and lighting.
With anywhere from three to six events occurring simultaneously, it was possible to navigate the festival in a number of ways. My first “assignment” was cohosting a welcome breakfast at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Club TCM, which is better known as the Blossom Room, home of the first Academy Awards ceremony. Then I chatted with veteran producer Stanley Rubin and his wife, actress Kathleen Hughes, before a showing of his 1954 movie River of No Return starring Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum. I returned that evening to introduce a showing of John Wayne’s Hondo in 3-D, which looked simply great. That screening, like most I attended, was nearly full, and most of the audience had not seen the film in its original format before—or, in some cases, realized that it had been made that way. For this introduction, and for Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder on Sunday night, I made ample use of Bob Furmanek’s fact-filled essays at 3dfilmarchive.com.
Prior to showing Dial M and The Lady Vanishes I had the privilege of chatting with one of the “living links” to Alfred Hitchcock, actor-producer-director Norman Lloyd. Norman is a world-class raconteur, spry as ever at age 98, and understandably, audiences love him. He didn’t have a direct connection to either of the films being shown, but he offered tasty anecdotes about Hitchcock’s approach to storytelling, and his sense of humor.
On Saturday morning, my pal Jerry Beck of cartoonresearch.com celebrated Bugs Bunny’s 75th birthday by presenting our selection of Warner Bros. cartoons that showed off the character at his best—under the direction of such animation giants as Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, and Robert McKimson. We were delighted to see a full house at 9:15 in the morning, and the audience response was terrific. What a treat to see perfect-looking digital prints of these shorts on a big screen!
Saturday afternoon I had another treat, engaging in a 45-minute conversation with Max von Sydow. Although he is an imposing figure onscreen, as well as in person, the crowd at Club TCM soon learned that he is also charming, articulate, and possessed of a finely-tuned sense of humor. He had the audience in stitches recalling the filming of the James Bond opus Never Say Never Again, in which he, as arch-villain Blofeld, had to repeat a lengthy speech 26 times because the fuzzy kitten on his lap refused to cooperate. Finally, on that last take, the cat was “brilliant” and the director called “Print!” Naturally we talked about Ingmar Bergman, as well as other directors he’s worked with, including George Stevens, Steven Spielberg, and Woody Allen, who was so intimidated by his presence that he disappeared every time von Sydow tried to say hello to him on the set.
This year marked the first time TCM made use of the beautiful El Capitan Theatre, across the street from Grauman’s Chinese on Hollywood Boulevard, and I got to introduce a brand-new restoration of Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp in its original super-widescreen ratio of 2:55:1. Each showing at the El Capitan was preceded by a performance by music master Rob Richards at the Mighty Wurlitzer organ.
On Sunday morning I greeted two charming women, Betty York and Beatrice Troller, who more than half-a-century ago accompanied their young husbands on the adventure of a lifetime. As they explained to the early-morning audience, the Cinerama Corporation chose a “typical” young American couple and sent them on their first trip to Europe, and an equally “average” European couple who had never visited America. The resulting travelogue, Cinerama Holiday, was the top-grossing box-office release of 1955, but it’s rarely been seen since then. Like This is Cinerama, it opens in black & white in a conventional nearly-square shape: then, when the Americans approach their destination in Switzerland, the screen widens to the full sweeping size of Cinerama, in color and multi-track sound. The digital restoration of this feature, with a music score by Morton Gould, looks and sounds magnificent.
In the early afternoon I interviewed director Jerry Schatzberg about his underrated 1973 movie Scarecrow, which features unforgettable performances by Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. For one of the few times all weekend, I was actually able to stay and watch the film…but the minute it was over my family and I rushed across the street to Club TCM to see John Bengtson’s Silent Echoes presentation. John’s books on silent-film locations are wonderful, as is his blog, but his live programs are even better, as he uses PowerPoint technology to dissolve one vintage image into another and contrast them with modern-day snapshots of the sites.
Sunday night I gave myself one final treat: I’d never had a chance to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder on a big screen in 3-D. After doing an introduction, and chatting again with Norman Lloyd, I sat down to become a spectator. Watching the Warner Bros. restoration was a delight, especially in the midst of such a simpatico audience. Hitchcock’s staging of the film, in collaboration with cinematographer Robert Burks (who also shot Hondo in 3-D) is nothing short of masterful, making ample use of foreground objects and careful positioning of his actors on a simple set to make this more than merely a photographed stage play.
That’s what I take away most from the experience of the TCM Classic Film Festival: getting to meet and chat with friendly, happy, enthusiastic people who love having an opportunity to see vintage films and meet some of the actors and filmmakers this way.
I’m sorry I missed out on the many other events that took place, especially Bruce Goldstein’s “live” performance of dialogue for Frank Capra’s The Donovan Affair, using talented actors to make up for the missing soundtrack. But I had a full and rewarding weekend, and I look forward to doing it all over again next year.