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Movie Heaven, Courtesy Of TCM

by Leonard Maltin
April 16, 2014 3:51 PM
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Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage - Courtesy of TCM Film Festival Sharing a moment with the Illustrious Quincy Jones

I’m still recovering from the fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. I don’t experience it as most people do, since I work throughout the weekend, but I have as good a time as the attendees, who come from far and wide and spend the entire time beaming. Because there are so many events going on at all hours, hosted by Robert Osborne, Ben Mankiewicz, and an array of filmmakers, historians, and special guests, I can only provide a (brief) diary of my own experience.

On Friday I treated myself to one extracurricular screening: a digital restoration of Cy Endfield’s Zulu, shot in the widescreen Technirama process. It looked great on the giant Egyptian Theatre screen: in that pre-CGI era, the movie shot night-for-night, sunrise-for-sunrise, and gathered masses of Zulus for its unrivaled battle scenes. Quite incredible. That evening I spent an hour onstage at Club TCM with Quincy Jones, whose mind goes a hundred miles a minute: an amazing man whose circle of acquaintance and experience is, I daresay, unrivaled. I then raced to the Egyptian Theatre where, a mere fifteen minutes later, I interviewed Suzanne Lloyd before a screening of her grandfather Harold’s little-seen 1923 comedy Why Worry? Carl Davis led an 18-piece orchestra in the world premiere of his lively and engaging new score. What a treat!

Saturday was another busy day, as I introduced a program of animation by John and Faith Hubley (with their daughters Emily and Georgia in attendance). A number of people told me they were especially happy that along with the Hubley’s innovative, Oscar-winning shorts I included a Marky Maypo commercial. How could I not?

Then came an especially satisfying experience. Several months ago, TCM’s Senior Vice President of Programming, Charlie Tabesh asked me if I had any rare or unusual films to recommend for the festival. I named The Stranger’s Return (1933), which is arguably King Vidor’s least-known movie—yet one of his best. Miriam Hopkins, Lionel Barrymore, and Franchot Tone star in this surprisingly mature film about a divorced woman from New York City who travels to her family’s farm for the first time, in search of her roots. I saw it decades ago when William K. Everson screened a 16mm print and fell in love with it then. Vidor never mentioned it in his autobiography, and I wonder if its commercial failure led him to make his next film (the ambitious Our Daily Bread) away from the studio system.

The Stranger’s Return has been out of circulation because MGM didn’t renew its rights to the original story, by Philip Stong, the man who wrote State Fair. At Charlie’s urging, Warner Bros. got to work and cleared the rights. But another challenge presented itself: when I borrowed the 35mm vault print from MGM for a showing at the Denver Film Festival some time back, there was a jump cut in the final scene. This was not so easily resolved. A fire long ago at the George Eastman House destroyed the original camera negative, so we had to use the same 35mm print—possibly the only one extant. Fortunately, I was able to consult the original editor’s cutting continuity and learned that the missing footage was brief and didn’t affect or alter the conclusion of the story. Whew! (I wasn’t able to stay for the showing, but the next day several people stopped me on Hollywood Boulevard to say how much they liked it. I’m hopeful that TCM will assemble a complete print, using surviving 16mm footage, and present it to an even wider audience on their network.) Incidentally, TCM blogger Jeremy Arnold did extensive research for his essay about the film and read an oral history with Vidor that’s quite revealing. I encourage you to read it HERE.

Saturday evening I spent a breezy hour onstage with the ever-youthful Richard Sherman, who reviewed his supercalifragilsticexpialidocious career and had the audience cheering. Knowing him as well as I do, I threw him a few curves—like asking him to sing and play the song about Admiral Boom that was cut from Mary Poppins—and being a good sport, he obliged. I also asked him about growing up in Hollywood, where he went to school with a little girl who invited him to her birthday party. Her father gathered the kids and took them to a clubhouse-type theater in the back yard, where he screened some Laurel and Hardy comedies. No one laughed louder than he did: it was Stan Laurel.

Photo by John Sciulli/WireImage - Courtesy of TCM Classic Film Festival (l-r) All smiles are John Williams, Norman Jewison, yours truly and Lynn Stalmaster

Sunday morning I had the pleasure of talking to Norman Jewison, casting director Lynn Stalmaster (also a schoolmate of Richard Sherman) and the great John Williams following a screening of Fiddler on the Roof at the newly-IMAXed Chinese Theater. It was a treat to be in their company as they all have such obvious regard for one another. Norman told the hilarious saga of tracking down violin virtuoso Isaac Stern to provide the sound of the title character. Backstage, John added his memory of the recording session where they had to get Stern to stop puffing on his cigar long enough to play—on his Stradivarius.

Later that day I enjoyed gabbing with Judy Garland aficionado John Fricke about the backstage story behind Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade. The house was full for this screening, and had the rare opportunity to see the MGM musical in an IB Technicolor print, provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

As usual, the unsung heroes of Boston Light & Sound provided a smooth and satisfying experience in all the venues where films unspooled. Festival director Genevieve McGillicuddy and her hard-working staff knock themselves out to provide a great weekend for everyone in attendance. This year marks Turner Classic Movie's 20th Anniversary and like everyone else who loves classic movies I’m grateful they’re still going strong.

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  • Lee | April 17, 2014 1:05 AMReply

    For some reason, I'm picturing a mashup of these movies and "Snakes on a Plane".

  • Walt Mitchell | April 16, 2014 5:07 PMReply

    Thank you for this report! Fun for all, as always! (Wish I could have been there.) Re Quincy Jones: I have three (of four, and maybe five) 78s he conducted on the Hansen label nearly 60 years ago! They are mostly Disney material and include vocals by Disney songwriter George Bruns and Mouseketeers Tommy Cole and Darlene Gillespie, among others. I'd like to contact Mr. Jones and ask him if he can remember anything about these records--how they came about, etc. All I know about the Hansen label is that Hansen manufactured the very first Disneyland records as Walt was just getting into the record business. But these Hansen records make no reference to that fact--no reference to Disney at all on the labels!

  • Karen | April 16, 2014 4:47 PMReply

    I've attended the last 3 festivals with my daughter and the festival is just wonderful. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Mr. Maltin, Mr. Osborne and Mr. Mankiewicz and they all were so nice! In fact, everyone involved including those we met in line have been very kind and interesting. My only complaint is we couldn't see everything on the schedule - so many hard choices. We especially loved the Harold Lloyd silent film with the live orchestra. Thanks Leonard and TCM for all your hard work!

  • Norm | April 16, 2014 3:54 PMReply

    Maltin "works" the weekend, and we get more homework...King Vidor a very interesting person of a bygone era,still manages to influence latter generations.That's staying power...

  • Joe Smith | April 16, 2014 3:47 PMReply

    Thanks for the recap. For five years, I have wanted to attend the TCM Film Festival, and for various reasons, I haven't been able to do so. TCM has been my default channel for a decade: the three numbers I type in first each time I turn on the TV. You're recap gives me yet another reason to get there in 2015.

  • KC | April 16, 2014 12:10 AMReply

    It's astounding to me that you race between these events and make appearances. I was exhausted enough being a spectator. Thank you for your hard work. I enjoyed the Lloyd introduction (and movie) very much. I so wish I could have seen Quincy Jones and Vidor pic. as well, but you know how alluring everything is at TCMFF. Decisions are very difficult! It amazed me to learn that Boston Light & Sound actually removed digital projectors and installed 35mm just for the festival. Everything ran so smoothly. No wonder they are the best in the industry. Anyway, thanks again for your dedication to this festival. I know it isn't easy to do, but you sure make it look like it is.

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