Saturday, April 30, 2011


Those four days of bleary-eyed movie fan bliss known as the TCM Classic Movie Festival are upon us again, and once again I have been lucky enough, under the aegis and good graces of Keith Uhlich, Ed Gonzalez, Slant magazine and The House Next Door, Slant’s official blog, to be turned loose upon the general area of Hollywood and Highland to experience it and cover it. (My extensive coverage of last year’s festival can be read here. Readers up for another go at similar reportage can expect something new for 2011 and in the same vein sometime in the next couple of weeks.)

Fears of not enough support for a second festival were put to rest quickly when Turner Classic Movies reported a better-than-doubling of sales for passes for the festival from last year’s sales figures. And just like last year, a major part of the fun of the festival is in the fascinating and entertaining conversations struck up between strangers, seatmates on a journey through a shared appreciation for film history. I’ve met someone new at every film I’ve attended, and spent a grand time with old friends as well.

As for the movies themselves, this year’s lineup of films is nothing if not as eclectic as the selection from the first year—my only complaint so far is that Theme 2011, Music and the Movies, while it has yielded worthy focus on Bernard Herrmann and great movie musicals like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Royal Wedding, Pennies from Heaven and Cabin in the Sky, has also yielded a closing Sunday night lineup across the festival schedule that is less inspiring-- Fantasia doesn’t stir the blood like Metropolis did last year and, the appearance of George Chakiris notwithstanding, screenings of West Side Story and Manhattan (a tribute to George Gershwin in films) are just too commonplace for such climactic positioning. As the Sunday slots left open for rescheduling popular films from earlier in the festival get filled in, perhaps Sunday will start looking brighter. But for right now, in lieu of the more detailed commentary to come later, here’s a brief look at what I’ve been able to take in on day 1.5 (Thursday evening, all day Friday). To sum up in the briefest, broadest possible way, of the first six films I’ve seen five have been comprised of or featured moments, images or actors of surpassing beauty. (And one featured one of our most caricatured actors in perhaps his finest performance.) Not bad for really just the first day. Saturday comes quickly, in just a few hours. Sleep awaits and with it dreams of the flights of beauty, violence, agony and transcendence to come. Here are some of the things I dreamt on the big screen on Day 1.5…

Streamers, scrims, nets, patterns of latticework, iron gates, one upon another and another and another... The most thickly atmospheric, claustrophobically beautiful (and last) of Josef Von Sternberg's Marlene Dietrich cycle, The Devil is a Woman (1935).

Cagney, all elbows and fists, in Taxi (1932; Roy Del Ruth), a quintessential pre-Code Warner Brothers (First National) melodrama with enough electricity to light the Eastern Seaboard...

...and who knew Loretta Young, Cagney's rip-snorting costar, was ever this beautiful? (Okay, maybe you did, but I sure didn't.)

"It ain't right to kill a man and let a rat live!"-- Edward G. Robinson, devastating in Mervyn LeRoy's Two Seconds (1932)

Kathryn Grant is Princess Parisa, who inspires Kerwin Matthews in more ways than one, completely beautiful in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958; Nathan Juran)

Another kind of beauty, courtesy of Ray Harryhausen from the same film...

Miriam Hopkins, incandescent in Ernst Lubitsch's maligned and underseen, but perfectly wonderful Design for Living (1933)...

with unlikely and breezy comic support offered by Fredric March and Gary Cooper.

Bodies in motion in the completely entrancing, almost totally geographically artificial Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954; Stanley Donen). (The screening was marred only by a pitifully sub-par print).

Billed as Julie "Newmeyer," the Catwoman emerges as Dorcas, the loveliest (and certainly most Amazonian) of the Seven Brides.

Jane Powell, sprightly and beautiful at age 82, spoke with Leonard Maltin on stage before the movie and described the appeal of her movie star personality as being essentially consistent with her own: "I just showed up and changed my clothes a lot."

Up Next: Day 2.