Friday, April 19, 2019

At the Movies -- Part One

Last week I went to the TCM Classic Film Festival and had a freaking awesome time. A wallow for movie lovers, like me. It was about the camaraderie of meeting fellow buffs in line, of watching classics I love with others who love them, too, and on the BIG screen.

I'll split my Thursday-Sunday movie going up over multiple posts.

THURSDAY NIGHT. My first movie of the festival was Ocean's 11 (1960). I saw it poolside at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt, and it was introduced by Angie Dickinson. Since the film is about a New Year's Eve heist, we were given Happy New Year fedoras and tiaras.

Angie is 87 years old, has a little trouble walking, and is quite outspoken. She reminisced about her career, wished aloud she'd been considered more of an actress than a sex symbol, and understands that she's best remembered as Pepper Anderson on Police Woman (1974-78). She admitted she and Sinatra were lovers, off and on, for years but would say little more about it. (Good for you, Angie!) And frankly, she really doesn't much care for this movie.

Oh well, I did. Poolside is not the best venue for seeing a film. It's glamorous, sure, but the screen is not that big and it did wobble a bit in the chilly night wind. But Ocean's 11 is not high art, more about glitz than substance, so it was fitting.

FRIDAY. The first full day of the Festival kicked off at 9:00 and I was there, ready. Funny how I cannot make 9:00 AM at the office, but for a movie? I'm right on time!

I had planned on seeing a movie I'd never even heard of before: Merrily We Go to Hell, a Prohibition-era comedy about an heiress and a newspaperman. The title is a popular toast of the time, which is noteworthy because in 1932, no one was supposed to be drinking. I was intrigued because it was directed by one of Hollywood's pioneering women, Dorothy Arzner, who I know more by reputation than by her work.

But here's the thing. When I got to the theater, I was drawn inexorably to The Clock (1945). Because it's Judy. Garland was my gateway drug to the classics, so it just seemed fitting that I spend my first morning with her.

It's one of Judy's few non-singing roles. She is luminous. Her skin is perfect, her eyes are huge. It turns out I was sitting in front of the niece of Dottie Ponedel, Judy's makeup artist and close friend. That's the thing about the TCMFF -- everyone around you is a movie fan and so you instantly have loads in common.

The film was introduced by comedian Mario Cantone, who you probably know from Sex and the City. I don't know why: he didn't have much affinity for the film. Dottie's niece would have done a better job.

Anyway, here's the bare bones of the plot: Soldier Joe (Robert Walker) is on leave in New York. For just 48 hours. While he's sitting in Penn Station, trying to figure out where he should go first, Alice (Judy) rushes by, trips and breaks her heel. Being an officer and a gentleman, he helps her repair it and then she repays his kindness by being his tour guide. After all, he's in uniform and there's a war on and it's the only decent thing to do.

Naturally, they click. Even though they only have 48 hours, live in completely different worlds, and there's a war on. At the end of their romantic afternoon, they part. But Joe can't let her go and chases her bus. They agree to meet under the clock at The Astor Hotel for a proper date. They fall in love and, improbably, marry. Though I'm told these whirlwind, wartime City Hall weddings were not unusual in the 1940s.

This movie was directed by Vincente Minnelli. He and Judy rekindled their affair during filming, got married, and gave the world Liza.

Then it was off to the Egyptian Theater for Sleeping Beauty (1959). How had I never seen this before? It's beautiful! Two of the original animators were there to introduce it, which was thrilling. Jane Baer and Floyd Norman worked on it, literally, for years. It was nice to hear how inclusive it was at Disney Studios. It was about all about talent, and all races and creeds were welcome ... if you could draw.

They talked about how thrilling it was at Disney Studios in the late 1950s. Not only were they working on an animated feature film, "Walt" (they called him "Walt") was launching Disneyland and The Mickey Mouse Club was in production.

There's a sequence where Fauna bakes a cake that took forever, and Ms. Baer is still justifiably proud of it. The candles! She finally got the candles just right!

Back to the Chinese Multiplex for Vanity Street (1932). I'm just learning to appreciate pre-code movies, and this one was new to me. It's about a hungry, homeless girl in NYC during The Depression. She picks up a brick and tosses it through a drugstore window, hoping to get arrested. Because at least in jail, they feed you. The detective who responds to the call can see that she's not a criminal, just a blonde in trouble, and he gives her the key to his apartment. To sleep on his sofa. He's gruff and world-weary, but decent and wouldn't press his advantage.

He uses his connections to get her a job in the chorus of a nightclub revue. While she's saving money to get out of poverty and rent her own place, she falls in love with him. He rebuffs her. She moves out and into a bad crowd -- drinking, partying, and staying out all night with men not as honorable as the cop. One of those men ends up dead and she's a murder suspect.

It was pre-code sleazy (not much is worn beneath those slinky dresses) but it had a lot of heart. And the performance at the center -- Charles Bickford as the cop -- was sterling. Bickford's career spanned 50 years and I've often seen him in more mainstream movies: A Star Is Born, The Days of Wine and Roses and The Farmer's Daughter. He always played fathers or elder statesmen. It was interesting to see him young and powerful.

I ended the night with a haunting little low-budget thriller called Open Secret (1948). Barely an hour long, and mostly forgotten (one of the reasons why TCM is so important!) it's a powerful indictment of anti-Semitism.

Paul and Nancy are honeymooning with a drive across country and stop to visit the groom's WWII army buddy. Ed tells the landlady to let them in and make themselves at home until he gets back ... only he never does. Paul and Nancy stick around for awhile -- Paul wants to thank Ed and Nancy has yet to meet him -- and at first they enjoy the bucolic little town. And then they begin notice things. Ugly things. The suspense builds as they figure out what the local "patriotic organization" is really up to: running Jews out of town, and murdering the ones who won't go. "They" are taking our jobs, "they" are responsible for international unrest.

It's an unfortunately timely movie, as we are encouraged to believe in the brown menace storming our border on the south. And it shows that special effects are not essential to a good movie. All that's needed is a powerful story and good actors.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a fabulous, fascinating getaway!!