Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Day 3 of the TCM Film Festival started early-- not as early as the 8:15 a.m. screening of Taxi the day before, but at 9:00 a.m. just early enough. In terms of quality of films, Saturday was probably the all-around best day, with Sunday coming in a close second. My detailed commentary on the festival is still to come, courtesy of and published by Slant magazine and The House Next Door. For now, just some brief thoughts and impressions of the five films of Saturday.

Pure nostalgia for a world where cowboys in full regalia lived in the modern world and nobody blinked an eye. My Pal Trigger (1946; Frank MacDonald) is easily one of the best Roy Rogers movies. It's got Dale Evans, Gabby Hayes as her irascible but goodhearted (or as Paddy Chayefsky would have it, crusty but benign) rancher father, oily villain Jack Holt, the Sons of the Pioneers as house band and backup for the hero, and the surprisingly engaging story of how Rogers and his most famous golden steed came together. This is a horse opera of a very high order; it gives the memories (and even sense memories) of juvenile cowboy fun a good name all over again.

"I came here to die with you. Or to live with you."

A beautiful 4K digitally restored version of Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) showcased that beautifully agonized western in a way it perhaps never has been. Every landscape, whether a range of mountains or the crevices of pain and travails etched on the faces of the characters, resonated and sung like never before this Saturday afternoon on the giant screen of the Grauman's Chinese Theater.

"Dyin' ain't much of a living, boy."

"To hell with them fellas. Buzzards gotta eat, same as worms."

"Went the day well? We died and never knew;
But well or ill, England, we died for you."

The world premiere of the new restoration of Alberto Cavalcanti's remarkable British propaganda thriller Went the Day Well? (1942), which dramatized a successful battle against a Nazi invasion of rural England (to say nothing of Hitler's actual toppling) while the outcome of the actual war was still very much in question, was one of the festival's top draws, and for good reason. Rialto Pictures is preparing a summer theatrical release for this brilliant movie, and I can't recommend your catching up with it more enthusiastically. When I write about it I promise to be discreet; it's a movie best left unspoiled by elaborate description for audiences who know little or nothing of its shocks and surprises.

I wasn't sure I had the emotional wherewithal to experience Pennies from Heaven (1982) at this point in my life, but the pull of the movie was irresistible, especially the chance to see it in a prime setting after years of screenings in crackerbox multiplexes and on VHS and cable. The movie remains the crowning achievement of Herbert Ross's career, which may sound like faint praise, Ross not being one of the movie's great stylists. But he knows how to stage the musical numbers for their most devastating swoon and ache-inducing effect, aided immeasurably by Gordon Willis' gorgeously period and picture-authentic cinematography and a cast of constant revelation headed by Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Jessica Harper, Vernel Bagneris, John McMartin and, of course, Christopher Walken.

The cinematic equivalent of Red Bull (or whatever Coca-Cola product that sports the most caffeine), Billy Wilder's brusquely, topically hilarious One Two Three (1961) was the perfect tonic to top off a long day of brilliant movies. This has long been one of my favorite movies, and now after seeing it projected for the very first time it remains even more so. Completely exhilarating.


"Here we go..."

"The only thing I want from you, Scarlett Piffl, is silence, and damn little of that!"

"Schlemmer, how many times have I told you I don't want those people standing at attention every time I come into the office?"

"I know. I've given strict orders."

"Can't they get it through their Prussian heads? They're living in a democracy now."

"That is the trouble. In the old days, if I ordered them to sit, they would sit. Now with a democracy, they do what they want. What they want is to stand."


Next: Day 4, the conclusion of the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival...