Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tonight In Hollywood: Opening Night, TCM Classic Film Festival 2015

March 2015 is a time for retro big screen fun on an epic scale. Yours truly just provided hard work, lots of rewinding, a keen eye for the ridiculous plus the essential "and now for something completely different" sensibility - not to mention plenty of 16mm tape splices - to last weekend's KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival at Foothill College.

Sadly, this month saw the last of the annual Syracuse Cinefest marathons, run for 35 years with great love of movies by Gerry Orlando, plus numerous stalwart historians and silent film accompanists.

Today, the TCM Classic Film Festival, by far the most lavishly funded among this roster of events, kicks off its 2015 incarnation. The theme is History According to Hollywood, so a number of epic motion pictures along these lines - Inherit The Wind, Judgement At Nuremberg, Lawrence Of Arabia, Madame Curie, Malcolm X, A Man For All Seasons, Patton, Reign Of Terror, They Were Expendable and Young Mr. Lincoln - are among the offerings.

Fortunately for those who cannot attend, the Film Noir Foundation's 2014 Nancy Mysel Legacy Project Recipient and writer of the Sinematic Salve-ation blog, Los Angeles archivist Ariel Schudsen, will be covering the festival in detail - no doubt with her customary enthusiasm and insight. Am especially awaiting her review of the French Revolution "guillotine noir" directed by the incendiary and mindbogglingly creative Anthony Mann.

While having my difficulties reconciling the phrase "reign of terror" with star Robert Cummings - incongruous pop culture associations to light comedies, the 1950's TV sitcom Love That Bob (a.k.a. The Bob Cummings Show) and that not-too-great Twilight Zone episode he starred in are plentiful - this opus, after all was helmed by one of the greatest and most versatile directors who ever rocked a 35mm movie camera.

The authors of The Dawn Of Technicolor will be there to give a presentation not to be missed by those who love movies and film preservation.

The Dawn Of Technicolor by James Layton and David Pierce is a stunning piece of scholarship and a must-read. It includes an annotated filmography of all two-color Technicolor titles produced between 1915 and 1935.

Since the impressive lineup includes quite a few titles which have somehow escaped this correspondent through decades of crazed moviegoing, today's posting shall note just a scant few highlights, including a number of Blogmeister Favorites.

Many moons ago, this movie buff was completely and entirely blown away at a college screening of Orson Welles' Chimes At Midnight a.k.a Falstaff - a 16mm print. Your Correspondent has not seen it since but recalls being absolutely stunned and sitting quietly for at least 10 minutes before arising and exiting the college theatre.

Yes, the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog would love to catch a 35mm print of this Orson Welles masterpiece, Falstaff a.k.a. Chimes At Midnight on the big screen sometime.

Many more moons ago - a LOT longer ago - this writer took a Castle Films 8mm reel of a certain comedian juggling cigar boxes and watched it over and over and over. Said comic is represented in the festival by one of the funniest and most outrageous pieces from his long career in show business, the 1940 Universal feature, The Bank Dick.

And speaking of comedians, there's also The Loved One, a wonderful black comedy directed by Tony Richardson and written by the formidable Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood.

The Loved One features the John Coltrane of extemporaneous comedy, Jonathan Winters, the incomparable King Of Improv (with his friend, the late Robin Williams, seated by his side as The Dark Prince), along with an all-star ensemble including Anjanette Comer, Robert Morse, Rod Steiger, Liberace, "Uncle Miltie" Berle and many more!

It's preaching to the classic movie converted to gush about one of the funniest screwball comedies ever made, My Man Godfrey, viewed as many times by this writer as fanboys have seen Star Wars AND The Empire Strikes Back combined, but it will receive a return to big screen glory as part of this festival.

There is Gregory LaCava's direction, the hilarious Carole Lombard, a wonderfully snotty performance by Gail Patrick (future producer of TV's Perry Mason), comic character actors galore and a simple but solid storyline tracing how a scion of the Boston well-to-do, beaten badly by the bottle, makes his way back to the world of the living as a (strictly incognito) butler.

And, speaking of a director known for screwball comedies, Preston Sturges is represented by one of his quieter and more evocative Paramount films, and a personal favorite - Christmas In July.

The devastating noir thriller Nightmare Alley, a tale of sleazy sideshow skullduggery starring heartthrob Tyrone Power as a scumbag, will do what it normally does - surprise the living daylights out of an audience.

On a lighter note, there's The Smiling Lieutenant, a signature "Lubitsch Touch" sophisticated comedy starring ever-randy Maurice Chevalier. Of course, this movie being seriously Pre-code, we KNOW why the lieutenant is smiling. . . he's making whoopee with Claudette Colbert AND Miriam Hopkins, although, as far as we know, not at the same time.

Also notable: one of the few silver screen appearances of internationally famous magician and ingenious escape artist Harry Houdini, in his first feature film, The Grim Game.

A highlight of the festival will be an epic film starring Buster Keaton, who knew the legendary Houdini as a key friend and cohort going all the way back to days as the acrobatic child performer in The Three Keatons, billed as "the human mop". In Steamboat Bill Jr., the Great Stone Face will thrill a theatrical audience yet again with his filmmaking genius, indefatigable derring-do and impossible stunts, accompanied by the world premiere of an original score composed and conducted by Maestro Carl Davis.

So, dear readers, if you happen to be in Hollywood, run, don't walk to this fest. Further details are available here.

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