Friday, April 18, 2014

Tonight's Movie: M (1951) at the Noir City Film Festival

The TCM Classic Film Festival didn't officially open until Thursday, April 10th, yet in some ways I felt that the festival started the preceding Sunday, April 6th.

My friend Aurora arrived in town early for the TCM Festival, and along with my husband we spent an interesting and educational afternoon exploring two of the cemeteries where many classic era filmmakers are buried.

That was followed by a wonderful dinner at the Pig 'n Whistle with Robby and his lovely wife. Having enjoyed and admired Robby's Dear Old Hollywood blog for so many years, it was wonderful to have the chance to meet in person at last!

We then went to the Egyptian Theatre where we were joined by my friend Lindsay for the closing night of the Noir City Film Festival, a double bill of M (1951), directed by Joseph Losey, and THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), directed by Ida Lupino.

There was another TCM tie-in with one of the films, as a significant percentage of M was filmed in the historic Bradbury Building, which was one of the stops on the TCM Los Angeles Movie Locations Bus Tour.

M is a remake of Fritz Lang's 1931 film of the same name. Despite the 1931 version's status as a revered classic, I've always been leery of watching it because of the subject matter; the villain of the piece is a serial killer whose victims are children. Having braved the remake and found it to be an interesting story, I'm now more open to checking out the original, which stars Peter Lorre.

It may have helped in that I didn't have the original film to compare it to, but I thought the 1951 version was terrific. David Wayne is out-and-out creepy as a mentally disturbed man who compulsively kills little girls. This aspect of the film was handled as tastefully as possible or the film would not have been watchable for me.

The police, headed by Inspector Carney (Howard Da Silva) and Lt. Becker (Steve Brodie), make very slow headway in catching the killer. Crime boss Charlie Marshall (Martin Gabel) decides for various reasons that having a serial killer on the loose is bad for business and marshals his own forces to track the murderer down.

I thought the concept made for a terrific story, with a bunch of bad guys temporarily becoming antiheroes as they go after an even worse bad guy. With great actors like Raymond Burr and Norman Lloyd as the criminals on the case, it makes for an extremely compelling film.

My only quibble with this 93-minute movie was its overly drawn-out, talky ending, which was anticlimactic. Other than that, it's a movie very much worth seeing.

In the film's most exciting sequence, the bad guys corner the killer in the Bradbury Building. Previously I think the most interesting use of the building I'd seen was in the Mickey Spillane film I, THE JURY (1953), but M showed it even more extensively. Simply spending so much time in that historic building made the movie worthwhile.

The movie is a must for anyone interested in the old Downtown Los Angeles, as it also features Bunker Hill, the Angels' Flight Railway, and the 2nd Street Tunnel. I especially enjoyed seeing locations I'd recently seen on the TCM tour in the movie.

A fun anecdote: The Film Noir Foundation's Alan K. Rode mentioned that he had once asked Norman Lloyd about his scene stealing in the movie, with bits of business such as getting on a scale and weighing himself while other actors are talking. He said Lloyd responded "A good actor must do what a good actor must do!"

The girls in the film are played by Janine Perreau (sister of Gigi), Frances Karath (sister of Kym), Sherry Jackson, and Robin Fletcher. Karen Morley has a small role as the mother of one of the victims. The cast also includes Luther Adler, Glenn Anders, Walter Burke, Roy Engel, Jim Backus, Virginia Farmer, Madge Blake, and William Schallert.

I'm starting to think this is the "year of Steve Brodie," as he is turning up in my viewing with such regularity!

This film does not appear to have been released on VHS or DVD. With its fine performances and fascinating visual record of mid-century Los Angeles, it deserves to be more widely seen.

Coming soon: A review of the last of the 13 films I saw at the Noir City Film Festival, THE HITCH-HIKER (1953).

Quick Preview of TCM in July

The July schedule for Turner Classic Movies is now available online!

The July Star of the Month is Maureen O'Hara, which seems especially appropriate given that TCM just honored her at the TCM Classic Film Festival. I had the opportunity to see Miss O'Hara twice -- more on that coming in festival coverage -- and it was quite a thrill. It meant a great deal to me to be part of the audiences which had the opportunity to express our love and admiration for her.

Over two dozen O'Hara films will be shown on Tuesday nights in July, including titles such as THE BLACK SWAN (1942), SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY (1946), SITTING PRETTY (1948), RIO GRANDE (1950), and THE LONG GRAY LINE (1955).

Some key O'Hara titles are missing from the lineup -- no MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), THE QUIET MAN (1952), or THE PARENT TRAP (1961) -- but there are some less well-known movies I'm looking forward to checking out, such as IMMORTAL SERGEANT (1943) and THE BATTLE OF THE VILLA FIORITA (1965).

July will also feature multi-film tributes to Leslie Caron, Chester Morris, George Sanders, Mae West, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Kay Francis, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, James Cagney, and Red Skelton.

One of the really fun "theme" days features two musicals apiece starring Dick Powell, Eleanor Powell, and Jane Powell. The Saturday morning series is Bonita Granville in the NANCY DREW movies, and the Friday Night Spotlight theme for July is WWI.

Among the titles I especially look forward to checking out: JOURNEY TO ITALY (1955) with George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman, which I first read about after the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival; DARK DELUSION (1947), the last "Dr. Gillespie" film with Lionel Barrymore, James Craig, and Lucille Bremer; SECRET COMMAND (1944) with Pat O'Brien, Chester Morris, and Carole Landis; THE MARRYING KIND (9152) with Aldo Ray and Judy Holliday,; THE FLORENTINE DAGGER (1935), about a descendant of the Borgias, starring Margaret Lindsay; LADY GANGSTER (1942) with Faye Emerson; and LADY SCARFACE (1942) with Dennis O'Keefe and Judith Anderson.

In the meantime, John Wayne is the Star of the Month for April, with a special multi-day marathon beginning next Monday, April 21st, and running through April 26th. He's followed by June Allyson as the Star of the Month for May and Rock Hudson as the Star of the Month in June.

Tonight's Movie: Cheaper By the Dozen (1950) at the TCM Classic Film Festival

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey has always been one of my favorite books. In fact, a kind friend, knowing I love to reread it, sent me a lovely Kindle edition last Christmas, so I can easily take it with me wherever I go!

It just so happens that Jeanne Crain, one of the stars of the film version of CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950), has long been one of my favorite actresses; as a matter of fact, I just profiled her for the ClassicFlix site.

Despite being one of my favorites, somehow I'd never seen Crain in a single film on the big screen, so CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN was the perfect film for me to kick off opening night of the TCM Classic Film Festival. It would be the first of 14 movies seen between Thursday and Sunday nights!

I'd seen CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN several times over the years, but it had been so long since my last viewing that it felt fresh and new. And what a treat to see it in a very nice 35mm print!

It's the very enjoyable fact-based tale of a pair of efficiency experts (Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy) raising a large brood of children. Webb's Frank Gilbreth is a mix of old-fashioned (he chaperones his daughter on a date) and new-fangled (believing in education by ability, not grade), frequently with comical results.

Although Webb is occasionally able to indulge in some of the snark that made him famous, in roles such as LAURA (1944) and SITTING PRETTY (1948), his love for his children is quite apparent, and in fact having that kind of parental devotion coming from an actor known for his sarcasm makes Webb all the more touching and effective in the role. The way he ruffles the little boys' hair and reacts when little Lillie tells him why she wants to earn money is moving.

This is a quieter role for Loy as the steadfast, ever-patient wife, and she uncharacteristically tends to recede into the background, yet she too has her moments, especially when she must ultimately take over the family business.

Jeanne Crain plays oldest daughter Ann, constantly at odds with her father's old-fashioned ways. In real life the 25-year-old Crain was already a mother a couple times over, but she's completely believable as a high schooler trying to be more independent and also make life easier for the siblings who would follow her.

Barbara Bates is most prominent among the siblings, playing Ernestine. Loy, Crain, and Bates would reprise their roles in the sequel, BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952), along with child actress Carol Nugent, playing Lillie Gilbreth.

I haven't seen BELLES ON THEIR TOES in some time and intend to watch it soon. I'm especially looking forward to it as another favorite, Debra Paget, plays Martha, played by Patti Brady in the original film.

Jimmy Hunt (SADDLE TRAMP, THE LONE HAND), who plays Bill in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, would play Fred in the sequel, while Roddy McCaskill switched from Jack to Bob, Anthony Sydes switched from Fred to Dan, and Teddy Driver switched from Dan to Jack. The way casting was handled between the two films is a bit confusing!

A factual side note regarding the children: The second-eldest of the Gilbreth "dozen," Mary, died at age five. Despite that, Mary is portrayed in the first film as an older child by Betty Barker.

TCM's Tom Brown did a very nice introduction to the film, and he pointed out something I'd forgotten: 20th Century-Fox rented the house from the MGM film MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. When the Gilbreth family moves early in the film, they move into the Smith house at "5155 Kensington Avenue." The interiors were also used. I'm aware of at least two more films which used the house, MGM's CYNTHIA (1947), which used both the interior and exterior, and LITTLE WOMEN (1949), which briefly used the interior for Aunt March's home.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN was directed by Walter Lang from a screenplay by Lamar Trotti. It was filmed in Technicolor by Leon Shamroy.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN is available on DVD, as is the sequel, BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952).

The second film of the night was an old favorite, Ginger Rogers and David Niven in BACHELOR MOTHER (1939), which I reviewed here back in 2006. I've seen this film countless times, but it was more than wonderful to see it with a packed, responsive audience! It was especially fun that so many fellow classic film bloggers were at the screening. Ginger's thunderstruck facial expressions were never funnier.

BACHELOR MOTHER was introduced by comedian Greg Proops. I'll admit I'd never heard of him, but he did a nice job and knew the film.

For another take on this evening, Kim attended the same opening night screenings and has written about the experience at I See a Dark Theater.

Coming soon: A look at Day Three of the festival and a review of STAGECOACH (1939), with even more to follow!

Coming to DVD: Maverick - Season 5

There's wonderful news for fans of MAVERICK: Season 5 will soon be available on DVD thanks to the Warner Archive.

Jack Kelly fans will be happy to see that he finally graces the cover in a solo shot!

The shortened final season of MAVERICK includes gems such as "The Art Lovers" with Jack Cassidy and "Three Queens Full," a spoof of BONANZA featuring characters including "Moose" and "Small Paul."

Previously: Coming to DVD: Maverick - Season 1, Coming to DVD: Maverick - Season 2, New on DVD: Maverick - Season 3; Coming to DVD: Maverick - Season 4.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day Two

The first official day of the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival began bright and early with a press conference at the Chinese Multiplex on Thursday, April 10th.

Robert Osborne was first to speak to us. He particularly addressed that TCM would have loved to have Olivia de Havilland attend the festival, but she finds adjusting to the time changes when traveling to and from California too arduous at this stage of her life. He said the last time she visited her daughter in Southern California it took her a year to recover.

Mr. Osborne also said that he had traveled to Paris at one point to film a PRIVATE SCREENINGS interview with Miss de Havilland, but when the TCM team arrived she was ill in the hospital, and a later attempt to connect in New York was also thwarted due to illness.

Osborne listed his favorite films for us: THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1946), SUNSET BLVD. (1950), A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951), and THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984).

Ben Mankiewicz joined us next. He spoke of his gratitude for his job at TCM and of the bond that TCM has with its audience. He reminisced about spending one-on-one time with Mickey Rooney on the TCM Classic Film Cruise and shared the names of people he felt starstruck to interview, Peter Bogdanovich and Max von Sydow. He also mentioned the work that goes into preparing for the many introductions and interviews which take place in a short time frame at the festival.

Last up were TCM's programming director, Charlie Tabesh, and festival director Genevieve McGillicuddy. Among the topics they covered were TCM being a community beyond the channel itself, including social media and the film festival, and they particularly mentioned paying attention to opinions about the channel shared via social media.

Tabesh also said it's a thrill for him when someone at the festival enjoys a film they've never seen before or perhaps never even heard of.

I wish that Terry Teachout, who just wrote a sadly uninformed piece on TCM's 20th anniversary for the Wall Street Journal, had been present for the press conference. Teachout erroneously assumes "under-30 moviegoers [are] reflexively tuning out black-and-white films because they look old fashioned" and that TCM has "aging viewers."

The reality, as described by Robert Osborne in the press conference, is that over 60% of TCM viewers are in the 18-49 age range; additionally, roughly half of festival attendees are under the age of 30. This year the festival drew more attendees in their 20s and 30s than ever before, all lured by TCM and their love for classic films. Osborne said when he took the job he thought TCM would be a "nostalgia channel" but instead it's developed a very robust audience of younger people who love the channel. All of the speakers emphasized there was no need for TCM to do anything special to court younger viewers as it already has them.

Referring back to the Wall Street Journal article, Teachout also seems completely unaware of the fact that TCM offers on demand streaming via Watch TCM. TCM is to be admired for the cutting edge way it combines "old" (classic films) and "new" (embracing social media, bloggers, and streaming). (April 18th update: I received an email from TCM this morning with the great news that Watch TCM is now also available for the Amazon Kindle Fire! I just downloaded it.)

The Chinese Theatre being readied for the festival's opening night:

Following the press conference I was happy to meet several more bloggers for the first time in front of the Chinese Theatre, a lovely group of young ladies from all over the country which included Millie, Kate, Sarah and Nicole, plus Casey, who I'd been happy to meet the day before.

Then it was time to check in with TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Here's a view looking down on the lobby; interviews are regularly filmed in the upper righthand corner and the TCM Boutique is in the upper lefthand corner.

After lunch I was invited to film a short interview with TCM, where I was asked questions about what TCM and the festival mean to me. Raquel went along with me for moral support, and she was filmed as well! (There's a photo from the filming at her blog.) We had the chance to share how, after knowing each other online for years, we were able to enjoy meeting at the festival for the first time last year. I haven't seen any of the footage used to date but we may well show up in retrospective videos or other promotional footage in the future.

Thursday was also credential time! I loved the photo from THE WOMEN used for the Media passes!

Members of the media also received a nifty tote bag depicting the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, a set of notecards, and a journal.

The notecards were based on a set of paintings inspired by classic films, painted by several celebrities in honor of TCM's 20th anniversary.  Some of the artists were present for the opening of Club TCM. I was thrilled to have great close-up looks at Kim Novak, the beautiful star of so many films I've enjoyed...

...and lovely Jane Seymour. I've admired Seymour for many years, particularly in SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) and EAST OF EDEN (1981), so I really appreciated the opportunity to see her, even though she's not a classic film era actress.

Following the opening of Club TCM, I enjoyed dinner at Baja Fresh with Joel, Aurora, Paula, and Kellee, and then it was off to the first line of the night, for CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950)! That was followed by Ginger Rogers in BACHELOR MOTHER (1939), a terrific double bill.

For more on this day, particularly regarding the press conference, please visit additional reports from Lindsay's Movie Musings, Out of the Past, The Hollywood Revue, Classic Movies, and Comet Over Hollywood.

There have been many wonderful things written about the festival. A small selection of favorite pieces:

"Movie Heaven, Courtesy of TCM" by Leonard Maltin

"My TCM Film Fest Family Album" by Will McKinley at Cinematically Insane

"Who I Met, Who I Saw and My Thoughts on the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival" by Raquel at Out of the Past -- and be sure to check out all of Raquel's daily recaps!

"2014 TCM Film Festival Summary" by Joel Williams at Joel's Classic Film Passion

"TCM Film Festival 2014: The Stars" by KC at Classic Movies

"TCMFF: Days 1 and 2 Recap" by Lindsay at Lindsay's Movie Musings

"2014 TCM Classic Film Festival Quick Recap" by Chris Sturhann at Blog of the Darned

"The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival: A Bridge Between Past and Present" by Daniel Schindel at Los Angeles Magazine

There are many more great blog posts and articles on the festival, so don't stop with this list -- I'm trying to read them all!

Coming soon: A review of the first film I saw at the festival, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950), and a recap of Day Three, with much more still to follow!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day One

The first official day of this year's TCM Classic Film Festival was on Thursday, April 10th, but for me it really began the day before, on Wednesday, the 9th.

The fun started when I met "KC" of the blog Classic Movies for lunch at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. KC and I have known each other online for years, and it was such fun to finally get to know each other in person! Having her at the festival made this year even more special.

We shopped in the TCM Boutique, and then my husband joined us for sodas in the historic Pig 'n Whistle.  Later on we met up with Raquel and her husband Carlos to enjoy shopping at Larry Edmunds Bookshop, a favorite destination of film fans for decades.

I left Larry Edmunds with two great new additions to my library of books on film, UNIVERSAL-INTERNATIONAL WESTERNS 1947-1963: THE COMPLETE FILMOGRAPHY by Gene Blottner and LOS ANGELES'S BUNKER HILL: PULP FICTION'S MEAN STREETS AND FILM NOIR'S GROUND ZERO! by Jim Dawson.

Larry Edmunds had a nice window display featuring many of the films scheduled to play at the festival:

My husband and I had never eaten at Musso & Frank so we enjoyed checking out one of Hollywood's historic restaurants...

...before moving on to the social media gathering TCM threw at Sadie Kitchen and Lounge, located next to Miceli's on Las Palmas. It was great to meet Nora, TCM's social media manager who is the "voice" of TCM on Twitter.

It was absolutely wonderful reconnecting with old friends and meeting several people in person for the first time. Despite the fact we live all over the country, we feel that we know each other well and have an instant connection, united by our love for classic films.

I was honored to be invited by TCM to speak at the gathering, along with TCM Guest Programmer contest winners Tiffany Vazquez and Peter Tubla, and Twitter's #TCMParty founders Paula Guthat and Trevor Jost.

The way things worked out, the party was such a rip-roaring social success, especially with much-appreciated appearances by Ben Mankiewicz and Illeana Douglas, that we agreed with our TCM hostess that additional entertainment wasn't really necessary, other than helping with a trivia contest. (My husband enjoyed pitching in with a question!) TCM very kindly gave each of us beautiful travel bags as a thank you.

Some of the gang with Ben and Illeana:

The whimsical caption was my husband's contribution!

There was one more stop to make that evening, a party hosted by the Warner Archive and Marya of OldFilmsFlicker at the historic Formosa Cafe. It was great fun for me to transport a bunch of my favorite people from all over the country to the party in my van!

We were packed into every inch of the little cafe, which dates from 1925. I'd never been inside before so I enjoyed the chance to check it out.

To make things even better, Matt of the Warner Archive passed out free movies, and I brought home two Marsha Hunt films: MUSIC FOR MILLIONS (1944), starring June Allyson and Margaret O'Brien, and THE PLUNDERERS (1960) with Jeff Chandler and Dolores Hart. I'll be reviewing them here in the future!

There's more on the day's events from Raquelle at Out of the Past and Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film. I'm sure there will be even more posts as bloggers gradually return home this week.

Coming soon: An overview of the festival's official opening day, including a TCM press conference and personal appearances at Club TCM by two beautiful ladies, Kim Novak and Jane Seymour. Also in the works for the near future: a review of the first of the 14 films I saw at the festival, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950), with Clifton Webb, Myrna Loy, and Jeanne Crain.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review

The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival came to a conclusion last night, and I think everyone who attended would have been happy if the festival could have gone on much, much longer -- if only things like eating, sleeping, and earning a living weren't necessary!

Last year's festival was wonderful, and if anything the 2014 edition was even better. To say that this year's festival was a memorably happy experience is an understatement. It was pure joy from start to finish.

This year even more classic film bloggers and Twitter users attended the festival, and between reconnecting with friends met last year and meeting some people in person for the very first time, the festival had the feel of a big reunion.

There are friendly, familiar faces around every corner -- in line, in the theaters, even in Starbucks! Spending time enjoying wonderful movies with friends is the best part of the festival for me.

TCM puts on a very classy operation; as my Twitter pal Lou Lumenick Tweeted, "Some other film festivals I've been to could learn a lot about how to treat audiences from TCMFF."

I also particularly appreciate that TCM acknowledges the role bloggers and Twitter users play in covering and supporting the network and the festival, including providing many of us with credentials which allow us to cover the entire festival.

This year TCM even invited a number of bloggers and Tweeters to a small "Tweet-up" party the evening before the festival, and both Ben Mankiewicz and Illeana Douglas stopped by to visit with us.

The festival closed out last night with Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz giving the network a 20th anniversary toast at the Club TCM party, after which many bloggers convened poolside for final photos and goodbyes.

This year I was able to catch the early morning screenings and increase the number of films seen in the festival's 3-1/2 days to 14, up from 11 in 2013. Four of the films were brand-new to me, and seeing THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) in 3D felt like a brand-new experience in some ways as well!

As was the case last year, I'll be breaking down my coverage into an overview of each day, along with individual reviews of films which have not been reviewed here previously. This year I saw twice as many never-reviewed films as last year, so this will take a while!

As my posts go up I plan to add links to the bottom of this introductory post, so all of the festival coverage can be easily found in one place.

I also have several non-festival posts in the works, some of which were previewed last week, so there will be lots of classic film coverage in the coming weeks!

In the meantime, here's a Los Angeles Times overview of the festival written last week by Susan King.

TCM 2014 Festival Posts: The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day One; The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day Two; Tonight's Movie: Cheaper By the Dozen (1950) at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Previous 2014 coverage: Coming Soon!; The TCM Classic Film Festival 2014 Schedule; Film Festival Coverage Coming to Laura's Miscellaneous Musings.

Related: The 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review.