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Movie-Buff Heaven: The TCM Classic Film Festival

Movie-Buff Heaven: The TCM Classic Film Festival

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
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

Prior to showing Dial
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 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

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
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.



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