Friday, April 19, 2019

At the Moves -- Part Two

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.

SATURDAY. I made my pilgrimage to The TCL IMAX Chinese Theater. It's the granddaddy of movie palaces, with more than 900 seats and the biggest screen I have ever seen. And it's steeped in Hollywood history. This is the theater that hosts the Oscars each year. This is the one with the iconic hand/footprints in its forecourt.

This is where I saw From Here to Eternity (1953). A grand black and white epic that is just literally awesome on the big screen. This movie is iconic for the oceanside clinch between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. But their love story isn't what grips me. It's the one between overly earnest Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt and Lorene, the "hostess" at the New Congress Club.

Prewitt is a ridiculously handsome Montgomery Clift and Lorene is a decidedly unwholesome Donna Reed. She very nearly steals the picture with her Oscar-winning performance. But for Frank Sinatra, who also won an Oscar for his comic, heartbreaking supporting role as Maggio.

I sat behind two young (late teens? early 20s?) women who clearly knew nothing about the movie before it started. They were sitting alongisde their parents, who told them it was about soldiers stationed at Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 ("and you know what that means"), but beyond that, it was all new to them. One of the girls started to really cry when Maggio meets his unfortunate, inevitable end. I was jealous of them, experiencing this for the first time and in such a great theater. And I thought, "Good for you, Francis. You deserved that Oscar."

The movie was introduced by Donna Reed's daughter, Mary. She talked about her mother's role in this movie and, with great pride, about how Donna Reed supported the war effort in the 1940s. Hearing from her enhanced the movie.

Then I went to the Chinese Multiplex for Father Goose (1964). This movie is not high art, but it's dear to me all the same. When I was a kid, I watched it on TV with my dad, and it made him laugh out loud. My father was not an especially happy man, and sharing this joy with him is an indelible memory.

It's one of Cary Grant's favorite films. He plays Walter Ecklund, a scruffy loner who loves his whisky and his boat. He ends up on a secluded South Seas island, watching for Japanese ships and reporting back to the British Navy. For reasons too complicated to go into, he suddenly has to share his primitive island with a straight-laced French school teacher and seven little girls. It's funny and silly and romantic.

It was delightful to watch it with a theater full of Baby Boomers who remember it as fondly as I do. It was introduced by three of the seven little girls, who are now all older than I am!

Back to the big screen for one of the highlights of TCM Film Festival: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Introduced by Burt Bacharach!

I Say a Little Prayer for You ... Alfie ... Do You Know the Way to San Jose ... Arthur's Theme (The Best that You Can Do) ... I'll Never Fall in Love Again ... This Guy's in Love with You ... He wrote 'em all. And, of course, Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head. What a thrill to see him and hear him talk about his work! He's 90 now, but he moves well and is sharp as a tack. And quite willing to let the chips fall where they may.

And then, of course, the movie! It was written by one of my all-time favorite authors, William Goldman. And then there are Newman and Redford, the two coolest guys to ever appear on screen. Period. They made me laugh, they kept me intrigued and exhilarated, and then, at the end, they broke my heart. And you haven't lived until you've seen those two glorious sets of blue eyes on that big, BIG screen!

My seatmate was TCM's Alicia Malone. She couldn't have been sweeter. At first I didn't want to bother her because she wasn't working this event, she was just there as a fan. But we talked about Leonardo diCaprio/Robert Redford and our cats. I missed Reynaldo so much and she missed her Fur Monster. We scrolled through our phones, sharing kitty pix like two crazy cat ladies.

I have so much more to post about this vacation, but I must back away from the keyboard for a moment. 

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.

April Prompt -- Day 19

"Your favorite song to sing" 

It's April, so there's really only one choice:
They got the power, they got the speed
to be the best in the National League.
Well this is the year and the Cubs are real!
So come on down to Wrigley Field.
We're singing, Go, Cubs, Go! Go, Cubs, Go! 
Hey, Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs are gonna win today!

For more about the April Challenge, click here.
Image courtesy of Youngkeit at