Monday, July 17, 2017

THE AFFAIRS OF ANNABEL (1938)

As I have mentioned before, I am a huge fan of Lucille Ball. That being said, I haven't seen all of her films, and am attempting to remedy that as best I can. TCM aired RKO's The Affairs of Annabel (1938) back in June, so I made sure the DVR caught it. The Affairs of Annabel is a comedy starring Jack Oakie and Lucille Ball (her first starring role), who appeared in a couple of films together before: Murder at the Vanities (1934) and That Girl From Paris (1937). The Affairs of Annabel was directed by Ben Stoloff, produced by Lou Lusty, and written by Bert Granet and Paul Yawitz from a story by Charles Hoffman. Renié did the gowns, and did a gorgeous job.

The film opens on a movie poster of Annabel Allison's (Lucille Ball) latest film, Behind Prison Bars. Annabel, her publicity agent Lanny Morgan (Jack Oakie), and the film's producer, Howard Webb (Bradley Page), are gathered in Webb's office, where he is worriedly reminding Annabel that said latest picture cost a lot of money to make and her last picture didn't do so hot. She reminds him that he's never lost money on her yet, but he insists that they have to make the public interested in her again, which sets off a light bulb in Lanny's brain. Ah! It's a prison picture, so they'll send Annabel to prison for a couple of days and garner some great publicity. She'll be the next Joan of Arc! For some reason, Annabel thinks Lanny's brilliance is second only to the brilliance of his polka-dot bow tie and exuberantly agrees to the scheme.

Can we pause for a minute to appreciate how fabulous Lucille Ball looks here? I want this outfit.

It doesn't go as well as planned, as Annabel is there longer than she expected to be, and when she finally is released, no reporters show up. Lanny explains that the prison frowned on the idea, and Annabel is understandably ticked off at him. He follows her to her car and tries to explain, but she's having none of it, shoves his face out of the window with her gloved hand, and drives off.

This is what it looks like when you're trying to placate someone and it isn't going well. (Lucille is sporting another great outfit by Renié, though, and there's the bow tie I mentioned earlier.)

Annabel storms into Webb's office at Wonder Pictures Studio to talk to him about firing Lanny. Webb's secretary Josephine (Ruth Donnelly) shoos everyone out of the Art Deco'd reception area, including a Vladimir Dukov (Fritz Feld), who looks somewhat like a Muppet and who has been wanting to see Webb for six months and rather testily wonders if he even exists. Josephine calls Lanny and informs him that he's about to be fired, which news Lanny takes rather cheerfully, as it seems this sort of thing happens often and apparently never sticks. They gather once again in Webb's office and Annabel rants about how none of Lanny's publicity stunts ever work out well. Lanny counters that he built Annabel into a big star and that he's tired of her ungratefulness. Webb fires Lanny and orders him to get the heck out of Dodge. On the way out, Lanny quickly devises a way to get rehired with the help of Mrs. Hurley (Leona Roberts), an actress who has arrived at the studio to see if there are any "mother" roles available. They give an elaborate performance (during which they surreptitiously haggle over what Lanny will pay her for this bit as his mother), which moves Annabel to convince a perplexed Webb to rehire Lanny. Lanny promises to do a better job with the whole publicity thing.

These two are really working it, but I was distracted by that strange-looking hat. The back is a flap that comes over the top and buttons in the front? Ok then.

Annabel leaves, and Webb tells Lanny about the new picture he has in mind for Annabel, in which she plays a servant girl who falls in love with a rich man. Lanny hears "servant" and comes up with another bright idea--Annabel will be a maid for awhile to get some experience for her new picture--again. Webb is amazed at Lanny's chutzpah, but Lanny is already off and running with this new scheme and gets Annabel hired as a maid at the home of one Mrs. Margaret Fletcher (Elisabeth Risdon). Lanny heads to Annabel's house with flowers to break the news to her. (It's obvious a woman did not write this screenplay, or else he would have been carrying chocolate too. At least, that's my personal catnip.) He enters Annabel's room just in time to see her throw a guy over her head in a sweet judo move.

Just look at how cute she is learning martial arts from Dr. Rubnick (Maurice Cass).

Undeterred by this evidence of what she can do to him if he pisses her off, Lanny informs Annabel that her prison picture has been shelved, but it's okay, because she's going to star in The Maid and the Man. He builds it up to sound absolutely fantastic, then tells her that it's unfortunate that the public won't find Annabel Allison believable as a maid. Annabel falls for this manipulative crap hook, line, and sinker, and indignantly states that she would be the best maid in the world if she so chose, and couldn't he find a position for her, just for a week? Enter Scarlet (Mildred Gover), the former maid at the Fletchers', whom Lanny has hired as Annabel's new maid. (Gover, by the way, is great in a short telephone scene with Oakie earlier in the film.) Annabel, suddenly aware that Lanny has done it again, flips him over her shoulder using the move she just learned. It was at this point that I mulled over learning some of these moves myself to use on Stephen whenever he acts up.

Annabel arrives at the Fletchers', where she is greeted by their adolescent son Robert (Lee Van Atta, in one of his last film roles) and the sound of dishes breaking. Mrs. Fletcher's brother, Major (Thurston Hall), who fits the "amiable but crazy old uncle" bill, is working on an invention to prevent plates from breaking when dropped. Corelle didn't exist until 1970, so there was still a need for that sort of thing in the 1930s. The Major's idea is to put a ring of rubber around the edge of each plate, which to me seems like it leaves a whole lot of plate susceptible to breaking, but hey, it's just a movie.

Annabel doesn't find her new job easy and demands that Lanny help her out, so he shows up as a brush salesman.

It blows my mind that people used to just let traveling salesman into their homes without a second thought. Also, Jack Oakie kinda reminds me of Jack Carson. (I just watched My Dream Is Yours the other day.)

That night, Annabel waits for the stuffed squab Lanny was supposed to send over for dinner, forcing the family to drink tomato juice and eat bread in the meantime. This delay exasperates Mr. Jim Fletcher (Granville Bates), who is a curmudgeonly old soul about basically everything and who is therefore my spirit animal. A cop (James Burke) shows up while making his rounds in the neighborhood and flirts with Annabel. Lanny finally arrives with the dinner, interrupting the one-sided love-fest. The Major arrives with two gentlemen (Anthony Warde and Edward Marr) who are supposedly the financial backers for his invention, but they aren't all they seem to be. Hijinks ensue the next morning, and Lanny comes to the house to find out why Annabel won't meet him at the studio. I don't want to give away too much, but it becomes necessary for Lanny to hatch yet another of his crazy schemes; this one involves fifty actors in costume. Webb approves of the plan and insists on having a director oversee the whole thing; Lanny runs out and picks the first guy he sees. The scene goes down, Annabel's judo training proves not to have been in vain, and the entire story shows up on the front page of newspapers all over the world, giving Annabel some fantastic publicity.

Days later, Annabel, Lanny, and Webb are in Webb's office. Webb has just received news that the title of Annabel's picture is being changed from The Maid and the Man to The Diamond Smuggler. Lanny has a lightbulb moment and rushes out. Later that day, Annabel, thankful that everything has calmed down, picks up a box left at Josephine's desk for her and leaves the studio to head home in peace, but as long as she has Lanny in her life, that won't ever quite happen, if the ending is any indication.

One more outfit shot. Ah, the life of a movie star. Also, Lucille Ball could really wear a hat. She rocked every single one she wore in the film.

Lucille Ball was known as the "Queen of the B's," since she starred in so many B movies. This film is no exception, but it's funny and pleasant enough. The pace does slow a couple of times, but there are more than a few funny lines in the script, and the cast all have generally good comedic timing and do well with what they're given. There are some great character actors in this one, many of whom showed up in a hundred or more films (some in hundreds of films) during their careers, and many of whom are uncredited here. Ruth Donnelly as the secretary, Josephine, plays a fine secondary comic foil to multiple characters. Fritz Feld steals his scenes as energetic Mr. Dukov. James Burke gets a couple of fun scenes as blockheaded Officer Muldoon. Charles Coleman, who I think was in every film that Thomas Mitchell and Ward Bond weren't around to be in, even shows up for a minute as Annabel's butler (an occupation he played many times over). Look for Stanley Blystone as a cop in the climactic scene. Other uncredited actors I haven't mentioned yet include George Irving, John Sutton, Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Claire Du Brey, Kane Richmond, Gino Corrado, and Wade Crosby.

Lucille Ball and Jack Oakie play off each other well; in fact, they were put together in this film because they showed comedic potential together in their previous films. RKO considered this picture good enough to warrant a sequel, Annabel Takes a Tour, which was released a mere two months after The Affairs of Annabel. I always think of Lucille Ball as a sort of female Donald O'Connor when it comes to her films; the studios just didn't quite know how to use either actor's talents to their full potential. Lucille was already showing her comedy skills this early on. Watch when she gets angry at Lanny in the prison scene; it'll look and sound very familiar to fans of I Love Lucy. She delivers her funny lines with perfect inflection and comedic timing, and I recognized many of her facial expressions from her I Love Lucy days, where she would truly come into her own. This film isn't quite on par with that Emmy-award-winning show, but it's enjoyable, and watching it wouldn't be a bad way to pass a lazy summer afternoon.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

1776: The Film (1972)

I did some short movie reviews while writing my TCMFF posts, but this will be the first full-on movie review I've ever done. I'd call this more of a recap with a dash of actual review thrown in. There might be some spoilers, but the biggest one is probably that Congress ends up voting for independence, and I'm pretty sure none of us are in the dark about that.

I'm going to see Hamilton in November at the Pantages Theatre in L.A. I'm looking forward to it, but I decided to dip my toes in the historical musical genre a few months early and watch 1776. I love both musicals and history, so I figured I couldn't lose. William Daniels (who plays John Adams in the film and originated the role on Broadway) was a guest programmer on TCM in April, and this is one of the films he chose. At first I thought it was kind of precious that he chose a film in which he himself starred, but the man knew what he was doing. It's fantastic.

1776 from 1972 is the film version of the Broadway play 1776 from 1969. Got that? Jack Warner brought it to the screen (his final producing credit), Peter Stone wrote both the play and the screenplay, and most of the original Broadway cast did the film, too.

The film opens with John Adams (Daniels) standing in the belfry next to the Liberty Bell, looking as dignified in a pulled-back ponytail as he ever did as mustached teacher/principal Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World. The congressional custodian and all-around gofer, Andrew McNair (William Duell), comes up to tell him to get back down to Congress, as he's needed to help decide an issue concerning uniforms. Congress is hard put to agree on anything, proving that nothing has changed in the last two hundred years. Adams walks into the room, announcing that "I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm; and that three or more become a congress." We are only five minutes into the film and I'm already totally on board with this guy. Adams starts complaining about all the taxes England is putting onto the colonies and laments the fact that Congress refuses to consider independence. The others respond by telling him to "Sit Down, John." To be fair, he has a valid argument about seeking independency. I mean, look at how it turned out in the end.

Here we catch our first glimpse of zany Richard Henry Lee (Ron Holgate) and swoon-worthy Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard). Give yourself a minute to appreciate their outfits. (gif: fandomfox.blogspot.com)

Having been refused once again, Adams storms outside and asks God if He placed a curse on North America ("Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve"). He admits that grappling with a flood, famine, locusts, or an earthquake would have been difficult, but we got Congress instead, and "good God, sir, was that fair?" I have the same question in 2017.

Adams' wife Abigail (Virginia Vestoff) shows up in a daydream sequence. She asks him to come home because all the children are sick. If she really wants him to come home, she might want to adjust her strategy a bit. He reminds her that she was supposed to make saltpeter for gunpowder, but she hasn't done so because he forgot how to tell her to make it, and what's more, she's not going to make it until he sends her some pins. Ah, love. They proclaim their devotion to each other ("Till Then") and sign off by saying "Saltpeter, John," and "Pins, Abigail." These two really can't let it go.

The next scene opens on Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) posing for a portrait, dressed in purple and looking as serene as the Mona Lisa. Adams complains that Congress is being two-faced about independence. Franklin advises Adams to give up the fight for independence, as no one listens to him because he is obnoxious and disliked. He proposes that another colony in Congress broach the subject of independence. Adams asks whom Franklin has in mind, and Franklin responds, "I don't know. I really haven't given it much thought." Enter Richard Henry Lee (Ron Holgate), who rides up on a horse and says, "You sent for me, Benjamin?"

Lee agrees to their plan and rides off to get the Virginia legislature's authorization to support independence–as soon as he "stops off in Stratford long enough to refresh the missus--and then straight to the matter!" I can't describe how perfectly he delivers that line, but it's gold. Lee is sure he will get the legislature's support, as he is part of "The Lees of Old Virginia." This is a fun song, and I discovered that there are more words that end in "-ly" than I knew were in existence. Ron Holgate exudes an incredible amount of energy and happiness (and the man can belt out a tune!), and it's impossible not to get a lot of enjoyment out of watching this scene. I almost didn't even notice that Daniels and Da Silva were in it too.

I dare you not to enjoy this scene. (gif: dead bishop-blog.tumblr.com)
Fast-forward to June 7, 1776. The delegates convene once more, and no one makes a fancier entrance than Benjamin Franklin, who comes in some sort of wheelless rickshaw carried by two men--ostensibly because he has the gout, but I think he really just has a diva complex. Dr. Lyman Hall (Jonathan Moore), the delegate from Georgia, stares at this ridiculousness (as was I), leading Franklin to ask, "Well, what are you staring at? Haven't you ever seen a great man before?" I guess when you write pithy sayings that people will still be quoting hundreds of years later, you're allowed to think yourself pretty important. Adams comes in, over-loud as usual, and Franklin tells him, "Your voice is hurting my foot." (See? Diva complex.)

Richard Henry Lee arrives fresh from Virginia with the resolution for independence. They vote to approve a debate over said resolution. John Dickinson (Donald Madden), resident mean dude and Pennsylvania delegate staunchly opposed to independence, moves that the vote for independence must be unanimous. John Hancock (David Ford) agrees, and John Adams moves for a postponement of the vote, in order that a declaration of independence can be written. A committee is formed to write it, consisting of Adams, Franklin, Roger Sherman (Rex Robbins), and Robert Livingston (John Myhers). A reluctant Thomas Jefferson joins the committee and even more reluctantly agrees to write the declaration. What follows next is one of my favorite scenes. The five sing "But, Mr. Adams", and Adams and Jefferson quarrel over whether Jefferson will write the declaration or not while the other three delegates sing and dance in the hall and down the stairs. I just hope the Founding Fathers really were this much fun.

At this point I was falling off my couch from laughing so hard. (gif: fandomfox.blogspot.com)

Jefferson starts the task of writing out the declaration of independence, but has writer's block. He instead spends his time playing the violin and pining for his wife, Martha. Adams sends for her; she arrives, and all is well. Young Blythe Danner plays Martha Jefferson, and has a nice turn singing "He Plays the Violin" while waltzing around with Adams and Franklin the next morning, since her husband is still sleeping for, ahem, reasons.

Back at Congress, Adams goes about trying to persuade everyone to vote "yes" for independence. A courier arrives with bad news from General Washington. Adams, Franklin, and Samuel Chase (Patrick Hines) head off to New Brunswick to see if things are indeed as bad as Washington claims.

I won't lie, it was around this point in the film that my interest started to wane. Adams and Franklin return and talk to Jefferson about the budding new country ("The Egg"). Franklin thinks the turkey should be the national bird, which I thought was a bit of fiction added to the film for laughs until Stephen told me it was indeed true.

It is now June 28th, and changes are being suggested to the declaration. Several days pass and Jefferson agrees to most of the changes to his work, which angers Adams. A stalemate is reached when they come to the small problem of the slavery clause; the southern colonies, led by Edward Rutledge (John Cullum, who powerfully sings a spellbinding "Molasses to Rum"), will not vote for independence if the clause remains in the document. Adams is most insistent that the clause remain; however, with independence at stake, Jefferson crosses out the offending clause. The resolution for independence passes on July 4th. John Hancock signs the declaration first, and boldly. The rest of the delegates line up to sign it, the Liberty Bell tolling in the background. It seems (based on what I've read on Wikipedia) that not everyone actually signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, but hey, you've gotta have a solid ending.

The decision to bring most of the Broadway cast to the film was a good one. They each give a real personality to their characters, and they have strong singing voices, even though I thought Daniels' songs were slightly out of his range at times. The energy you see in a live performance was certainly brought to the film by the talented cast, but for me, this 168-minute film started lagging in the second half. It got a little more serious and factual and a little less fun. But it's a great film, and I have kept it on my DVR, if that means anything. 1776 got mediocre reviews upon its release (Roger Ebert, I'm looking at you), which kind of disturbs me, as it shows that people don't know a good thing when they see it. Check it out for yourself: you'll get a few catchy songs stuck in your head, appreciate the costumes, and learn a bit of (somewhat fictionalized) history. It's not a bad way to get in the celebratory mood for our day of independence coming up next month.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

TCMFF Recap Day 4, Part 2: The End ('Til Next Year!)

Is my last TCMFF post finally here? It is. (Hey, life happens.)


CLOSING PARTY

After seeing our final TCMFF film (LADY IN THE DARK), Julia, Patrick, Stephen and I headed down the street to the closing party at the Roosevelt. We gave goodbye hugs to some friends, and took pictures with others; I even met more TCMParty friends in person that I hadn't yet run into during the festival. Julia and I worked up the courage to introduce ourselves to Ben Mankiewicz, who took a couple of pictures with us. I also got to meet Tiffany Vasquez, TCM's newest host. 



There's a fun story to go along with my meeting Ben. As I was shaking his hand, he commented on one of the buttons that Jay had given me, a button featuring Ben as "007Mank." (I'll show a photo below of the buttons I got.) Ben told me, "I saw that. I like it!" I told him my friend had made it, and now that I think about it, I should have given the button to Ben.

Several days ago, I learned just how Ben already seemed to know about the button. Stephen and I were watching TCM, and Tiffany Vasquez was introducing a film. Stephen took a good look at her and asked, "Wait...who is that?" I said, disbelievingly, "Stephen! That's Tiffany Vasquez. She's the newest host for TCM." He then informed me that he had seen her at the TCM Boutique at TCMFF, and she had noticed the buttons--including Jay's--on his lanyard. According to Stephen, she said of Jay's button: "That's great! Can I take a picture of it?" She then did, and said, "I'm going to send this to him right now. He'll love it!" And apparently, she proceeded to text the photo to Ben Mankiewicz.

I sure hope that story's true, because how awesome is that? Its veracity completely depends on Stephen's recognition skills. So, I'd say we have a 50/50 chance. Maybe 60/40. (I jest.)

Anyhow, Stephen and I had a great time with friends, chatted at length with Patrick, Jeff Lundenberger, and Dave Sikula, and left for a final walk "home" with Patrick.



BUTTONS

I got some pretty sweet buttons for my lanyard this year. Starting with the Cinema Shame button and going clockwise:
  1.  Cinema Shame button from Jay for his Cinema Shame podcast.
  2. Pre-Code button from Danny showing Jeanette MacDonald and Genevieve Tobin in a scene from ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932).
  3. Norma Shearer button from the Canadian trivia team.
  4. TCMParty button from Alan depicting a scene from THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942).
  5. TCMParty button from Joel.
  6. Another TCMParty button from Alan celebrating a favorite among the TCMParty-ers, our friend Gayer Than Thou.
  7. Another TCMParty button from Joel, featuring a shot of Joan Blondell in BLONDE CRAZY (1931). It's well-known that Joan is one of Joel's favorites (she's one of mine, too). #SimmaDown is the hashtag we use whenever someone (or multiple people) gets a little hot and bothered over an actor or actress in whatever film we're live-tweeting. Recent example: the general TCMParty swooning over bearded Clark Gable in STRANGE CARGO (1940). And yes, we've had to use #SimmaDown for Joel and Joan Blondell.
  8. The now-famous button from Jay promoting his #Bond_age_ shenanigans. You've gotta love Ben's look here.





FINAL THOUGHTS

There really isn't any other place to put this, so I'm just going to put it here: I'm still sad that they didn't show even one Buster Keaton film during a festival with the theme "Make 'Em Laugh: Comedy in the Movies." That's basically sacrilege. However, I do like that fact that the first TCM film festival I attended had a comedy theme. That's right up my alley.

I'll state rather obviously that I loved meeting my TCMParty friends. I already had high expectations before TCMFF of how it was going to be to meet everyone; it was even better than I hoped it would be. You can't find much better people than you'll find in the TCMParty group. It was really rather nice to have a ready-made posse for my first year attending TCMFF, too. I look forward to hanging out with everyone again next year, and meeting other friends that I didn't get a chance to see this year. 

Is it worth it to attend TCMFF? In a word, yes. I got the tickets on a whim this year (at the end of February!), thinking it'd be fun to meet everyone and watch some films. Well, I'm hooked--I'll be going back next year. 

That's all for TCMFF 2017! 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

TCMFF Recap, Day 4, Part 1: The Films

I was going to cover all of TCMFF Day 4 in one post, but I have decided to recap the films part of the day in this post, and the closing party and my final thoughts regarding TCMFF in another, final TCMFF post. This post was getting to be too long, and I didn't want to try to cram all my final thoughts into a single paragraph. So, on to the films!


COCK OF THE AIR (1932)

Morning came around at the same time as all the other mornings, but by day four, I was pretty tired. I really wanted to skip this first screening, but I motivated myself by mumbling something along the lines of, "Keep...going...pre-Code..." as I showered, dressed, and possibly fixed my hair with my eyes closed. (That particular morning's routine is kind of a blur.)

Most of the pre-Codes were shown in the Egyptian Theatre this year, for which I'm thankful, because getting shut out of them was not very likely. However, this one was in Multiplex Theatre 6, which seats about two-thirds less people than the Egyptian. I needn't have worried, though, because I was first in line for the movie--well, the Classic Pass line, anyway.

BAM.

Just when the Spotlight Pass line would empty, a few more Spotlight people would show up and in they'd go, until I thought the screening would just be full of Spotlight people and we lowly Classic peasants would be told to go see Fred MacMurray in THE EGG AND I. At last, though, they let us into the theatre. I think everyone and their mother showed up for this one; I saw most of the TCMParty crowd. Stephen and I sat smack dab in the middle of the theatre, and we happened to sit next to Kelly, who heads up this TCMFF-related Facebook group. I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that she was wearing the coolest hat and an awesomely poofy black-and-white outfit.

COCK OF THE AIR stars Billie Dove and Chester Morris (whom I'd seen a couple of days earlier in RED-HEADED WOMAN). The Hayes Office's strict oversight forced some cuts to be made to the film, but a complete version was found (sans soundtrack) in 2007. Current-day actors supplied the missing dialogue for what were previously-cut scenes, and while that was very noticeable, I was grateful just to be hearing the complete script. A small icon showed up in the lower right corner of the screen during each scene that had previously been cut, and it was interesting to see what the Hayes Office had deemed unsuitable for audiences. I did enjoy the film, although I had no patience for the way Lilli (Dove) kept leading Lt. Craig (Morris) on multiple times. At one point, I leaned over and whispered to Stephen, "If I were him, I'd have ditched her ten minutes into the film!" That being said, I'm glad I dragged myself out of bed in time to catch this entertaining pre-Code.


LURED (1947)

I am a major Lucille Ball fan, but I had never heard of this film before I saw it on the schedule for TCMFF. As soon as I saw that it had Lucille Ball, this became a must-see! There were quite a few people in line for this one; the staff held up our line just as Joel and I were going to walk in. We wondered for a moment whether we'd be shut out, but I guess they were just checking to see if we were that Joel Williams and that Priscilla Smith, because they then directed us to the V.I.P. section, baby!

V.I.P.s look just like everybody else.

The seats were so roomy and comfortable, and it was great looking down at all the commoners in their tiny, ground-level seats. The one thing that made this screening even better was the fact that they interviewed Sara Karloff before showing the film. The guy interviewing her (I forget who it was) did not know what hit him. To say that that this wonderful woman is feisty (yet adorable) is an understatement. He tried to ask her how old she was during a certain time period--the 1950s, I think--and she retorted, without skipping a beat, "That is none of your business!" I'm not gonna lie, achieving that level of sass while simultaneously being well-loved and adorable is something to which I aspire. I enjoyed hearing Sara's warm memories of her father. I also enjoyed the film, although in my opinion, it's not quite edgy enough to be a true film noir. However, Lucille Ball shines in it, and while Boris Karloff is only on screen for ten minutes or so, he made it count, and his scene was one of my favorites.


THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942)


Wyatt McCrea (Joel McCrea's grandson) and Cari Beauchamp introduce THE PALM BEACH STORY.
(I seriously have to look into getting a better camera than an iPhone.)

For the most part, I chose films at TCMFF that I hadn't seen before, bypassing more well-known favorites in the process (LOVE CRAZY instead of SOME LIKE IT HOT; THE GREAT DICTATOR instead of THE AWFUL TRUTH; BLACK NARCISSUS instead of THE GRADUATE; LADY IN THE DARK instead of CASABLANCA). However, I was determined to carve out time for one particular favorite: THE PALM BEACH STORY. I have loved this film ever since I first saw it on TCM, and I am shamelessly a huge Rudy Vallée fan. This film has many great actors, character and otherwise: Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert, Robert Dudley, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, and, last but not least, Mary Astor, who got nearly the same reaction from the PALM BEACH STORY crowd as Una Merkel did from the RED-HEADED WOMAN crowd. It was exciting to see members of the McCrea and Astor families in the audience, and I was happy to be able to catch this favorite with Diana and Julia--and happy to see another film at Grauman's.

We waited for enough light from the promo playing on screen, and ta-da!


LADY IN THE DARK (1944) 

I had planned on seeing WHAT'S UP, DOC? (1972) after THE PALM BEACH STORY, but while I was in line to get my queue card, I dropped my phone and completely shattered the screen. Off I went to the Verizon store to get a new phone--but I made it back in plenty of time to see LADY IN THE DARK! I had a choice between CASABLANCA, SPEEDY, and LADY IN THE DARK; I will never regret choosing this one. Our little group was all together again for this final film: Stephen, me, Julia, and Patrick. (Why did I not get a picture at this final screening?)

I'm not even going to try to unpack this film, because this post is going to be long enough. The audience would applaud approvingly at some ahead-of-its-time thinking one minute and groan in disbelief at some good old jaw-dropping 1940s sexism the next. Throw in some head-scratching psychology for good measure, and there you have it. It's really not an okay film, but I'll be darned if I didn't enjoy its bizarre-ness anyway. It's got a dream sequence with Ginger Rogers in a dazzling red sequined dress with a fur skirt, and Ray Milland in a sparkly multicolored outfit with matching top hat, and who wouldn't enjoy that?




That's all for the films part of TCMFF Day 4. My final post on TCMFF will be coming soon. 'Til next time...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

TCMFF Recap, Day 3: A New Favorite, A Sleeper, and Sister Ruth

I began Day 3 of TCMFF with much more energy, simply because I had gotten more sleep. I was especially excited for my first film of Day 3, THE COURT JESTER, because I would be watching it in the iconic Grauman's Chinese Theatre. I have been in the courtyard of Grauman's many times, as I go to Hollywood nearly every time I am in L.A. to visit my uncle and cousin. Somehow, though, I had never found the time to go into the theatre itself. Stephen and I met up with Patrick and made our way inside.

See? This is from January. Jack Benny is second only to Lucille Ball in my book.

Some blogger with better descriptive skills than I will have to tell you exactly what it looks like inside Grauman's, but suffice to say, it is gorgeous. I've included a photo that I found online, but I don't think it will do the place justice.

Nope. Doesn't do it justice.


THE COURT JESTER (1955)

Stylin' Fred Willard and Illeana Douglas introduce THE COURT JESTER.

THE COURT JESTER was a random TCMFF pick for me, and I hadn't seen it before. I am not the biggest Danny Kaye fan (I'm still disappointed that Donald O'Connor couldn't make WHITE CHRISTMAS), and he is the main star. However, Angela Lansbury is also in this film, and I love her. Fred Willard and Illeana Douglas introduced this newly restored film; by the time Fred got done raving about it, I was eager to watch it. The whole movie is silly, in a good way, and funny; I particularly enjoyed the scene towards the end where Hawkins (Danny Kaye) is knighted with lightning-fast speed. I also liked the scene in which he quickly switches back and forth from brave to cowardly at a snap of the fingers (including his own), thanks to a spell put on him by a witch, Griselda (Mildred Natwick). The "Get it? Got it? Good!" bit is hilarious, too. Basil Rathbone and Glynis Johns co-star in this film, and they and Angela Lansbury turn out some great performances. I think the fact that I had someone sitting behind me who was clearly a Danny Kaye fan added to my enjoyment of the film; he was laughing (and coughing) raucously every thirty seconds or so. His laughter was contagious; I was giggling just as much at him as I was at the film. You just can't get these experiences watching these movies at home.

I have heard people mention something like this happening to them at TCMFF: they see a film that they either know nothing about or for which they have low expectations, and it ends up being one of their favorite experiences of the festival. That is precisely what happened to me with this film. Patrick mentioned the other day that he's thought about THE COURT JESTER every day since TCMFF; I've had a hankering to see it again, myself.


THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940)

After THE COURT JESTER, Stephen and I headed to Chinese Multiplex House #6 for THE GREAT DICTATOR. I'd heard that trying to find the Multiplex theatres was going to make me feel like Stanley searching for Dr. Livingstone, but it was a cinch. We got there in such good time that we got to take a selfie before the film.

Awww.

THE GREAT DICTATOR was also on the list of "films I haven't seen." We settled in for the film and were told that we'd be watching a Three Stooges short, YOU NAZTY SPY, before the main attraction. I'm not a big Three Stooges fan, so to me, this just added twenty minutes to the screening.

This film stars Charlie Chaplin and his soon-to-be-estranged-wife at the time, Paulette Goddard. Chaplin plays two roles, that of The Barber, and that of a dictator named Hynkel (a take on Hitler). The Barber saves the life of a pilot, Schultz (Reginald Gardiner), during World War I. Schultz and The Barber meet again twenty years later when Schultz and his soldiers are in command over the ghetto in which The Barber lives. Hannah (Paulette Goddard) is The Barber's feisty neighbor who resents the presence of the storm troopers (I know). Schultz objects to how the Jews are being treated and is thrown into a concentration camp. He escapes, but he and The Barber are soon captured and taken to another concentration camp. They escape by dressing as soldiers. The Barber bears a striking resemblance to Hynkel, is mistaken for him, and must make a speech, else they be discovered. The speech at the end is an iconic scene, but this film didn't grab me, although it had both funny and touching moments. I don't know if I was just tired or what, but I fell asleep for a few minutes somewhere in the middle of it.


TAKING A BREAK -- HEADING TO AMOEBA

I had THE UNDERWORLD STORY slated for the next time slot, but it had aired on TCM a couple of weeks before TCMFF, and I had watched it then. None of the other films in this time slot were calling my name, so I decided that this would be a good opportunity to check out Amoeba Music, which I like to do whenever I'm in Hollywood. Patrick had wanted to check out Amoeba too (we're both big vinyl fans), and none of the films really interested him, either, so off we went. We each got a pretty good haul, mine mostly thanks to Patrick, who had better luck than I did at finding LPs that I'd like.

We took a selfie in front of the Jazz section because of course.


THEODORA GOES WILD (1936)

Stephen and I went back to the Egyptian and met up with Julia for THEODORA GOES WILD, starring Irene Dunne (in her first comedic role) as Theodora Lynn, a small-town, proper young lady who plays the organ for her church and teaches Sunday School--and who is secretly the author of what the entire town considers to be a scandalous book. Illeanna Douglas introduced the film; her grandfather, Melvyn Douglas, stars as Theodora's love interest, Michael. Thomas Mitchell and Spring Byington are among the fantastic supporting cast. Douglas and Dunne have nice chemistry together, and the lengths to which Theodora will go to live happily ever after with Michael get more outrageous as the film progresses. This film was fun to see in a theatre full of people.


BLACK NARCISSUS (1947)

After the rollicking fun that was THEODORA GOES WILD, it was time to settle down to the creepy goodness that is BLACK NARCISSUS. This Technicolor film was being shown on nitrate, and it was beautiful. I had seen bits and pieces of this film before, but had never watched the whole thing; I didn't know what I was in for.

Patrick, me, Julia, Diana, and Kaci. We're smiling because this was before we saw BLACK NARCISSUS. (Kidding.)
Deborah Kerr stars as Sister Clodagh, a nun chosen to lead a new school and hospital in the Himalayas. She and a group of other nuns have to endure the harshness and unfamiliarity of their new environment; adding to the difficulties is the irreverent Mr. Dean (David Farrar), who manages to look good for the ladies while working on various projects around the convent. He finds himself attracted to Sister Clodagh, and she is drawn to him as well. Sister Ruth--who is more and more unstable as the film goes on--is attracted to Dean, herself; he rejects her. She perceives that Sister Clodagh is the reason for his rejection, and seeks revenge. Sister Ruth kind of steals the movie for me, and there is a lot going on in this movie (a young, gorgeous Jean Simmons even shows up as Kanchi). But Sister Ruth's eyes, and that creepy smile--I'm not even watching the film right now, and I'm getting chills. It's an intense performance by Kathleen Byron. It was a stunning film with which to close out the day.


After watching an intriguing film like that, there really isn't anything more to do with your night than to pray you don't have nightmares about Sister Ruth later and head to Popeye's to get some food on the way back to your room--which is exactly what Patrick, Stephen, and I did. (Well, they probably didn't pray about the Sister Ruth nightmare thing.) We didn't sit around talking as long as we did the other night, but, hey, it was the end of Day 3, and we were tired.

We still had the final day of TCMFF to go, though, and it was going to be a good one!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

TCMFF Recap, Day 2: Friends. Films. Buttons!

Friday, April 7 was the first full day of TCMFF, and despite getting only two hours' sleep, I was rarin' to go. I'm not a morning person by any means, but if you give me enough motivation, I'll be ready almost as early as anybody else. A full day of seeing friends and films was motivation enough, so I was out the door in good time for my first film of the day, which was being shown bright and early (for me) at 9 a.m.



RAFTER ROMANCE (1933)

As of the night before, Julia and Patrick were unsure of whether they'd be joining me and Stephen to see this one, but they both ended up deciding to check it out, so our little group was all together again. We got our tickets, then sat around waiting to go inside. While we were chatting, a woman walked up with a bag full of buttons and a paper full of trivia questions about Canadian actors/actresses/etc. Miraculously (ahem), each of us got our question right, and therefore we each received a button. (I picked the full-size Norma Shearer button. They had mini Norma Shearer buttons too, but if I get a choice of button size, it's go big or go home.)

Stephen, Julia, me, Patrick, and Joel, making Canada proud.
(PC: @925screenings)

RAFTER ROMANCE was being screened at the Egyptian, which is where I practically lived during TCMFF. In fact, every film I'd see the first two days of TCMFF would be shown at the Egyptian. Since it was newly renovated, they were adamant about no outside food or drink being brought inside. They were so concerned about it that the line staff even told me "no outside food or drink" when I had nothing in my hands. (Okay, I'm exaggerating.) The Egyptian boasts new seats as part of the renovation. They are apparently more comfortable than the old seats, but as I haven't attended any previous TCMFFs, I can't make a comparison. They were comfortable enough, but not as comfortable to me as Grauman's Chinese Theatre's, a fact I would discover later. Grauman's seats leaned back, and it also had a lot more legroom–something that is really important to me, as I am 5'10" and all leg.

Anyhow, on to the film, which was a new one for me. I'm a fan of pre-Codes, so this was a fun one to see. It stars Ginger Rogers (whom I adore) and Norman Foster as Mary and Jack. They share an apartment, thanks to their landlord (George Sidney); he's fixed it to where each one gets to stay there while the other is at work. It's not as smooth an arrangement as it is supposed to be, and the results are pretty much what you'd expect in a lighthearted romantic comedy. It's a fairly rarely-seen film, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to see it on the big screen.

So. Adorable.




ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932)

I got right back in line at the Egyptian with Stephen and Patrick for this one. Side story: Julia and I had been talking on Thursday about who we had met so far at TCMFF, and who we still wanted to meet. She said in passing, "Oh, I met the pre-Code guy yesterday (AKA Danny of pre-code.com). He's cool, you should meet him." Well, I happened to see him in line for ONE HOUR WITH YOU, so I walked up and introduced myself. Danny was as nice as nice could be, and to top it off, he gave me a button. Anyone who gives me a button is a winner in my book. (The pic on the button came from a scene in this very film. I'll share a photo of all the buttons I got in my final TCMFF post.) I also met Kristen, who is pretty darn cool, and they and Patrick and I all talked for a bit while waiting to get into the theatre.

Danny, Kristen, me, and Patrick.
(PC: Danny)

ONE HOUR WITH YOU was another pre-Code I had never seen, starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald as married couple Andre and Colette. Genevieve Tobin plays Colette's best friend Mitzi, who schemes to have Andre for herself. Ernst Lubitsch directed this film, which is the main reason I decided to see it (but also because it is pre-Code). This one was howlingly funny, and one of the highlights of TCMFF for me. This film had many hilarious moments, not the least of which was Maurice Chevalier's rendition of "Oh, That Mitzi!" I can't adequately describe how funny his expression is every time he sings the "oh" in "Oh, That Mitzi!" It's something you've just gotta see for yourself. This film was announced as one of the TBA films on the last day of TCMFF, and I was tempted to see it again, but circumstances caused me to miss seeing a film in that time slot entirely (more on that in a later post).



MONKEY BUSINESS (1931)

I'm not the biggest Marx Bros. fan, but Dick Cavett was introducing this film, and I'd be darned if I was going to miss Dick Cavett, since I wouldn't be able to make it to his conversation and book signing on Sunday. As my friend Jake says, he's quite the raconteur, and the last of a breed. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him talk, and wouldn't have minded if they had just completely skipped the film to let him keep talking. That being said, it was a fun film; I especially enjoyed Harpo, and loved when he and Chico played the harp and piano, respectively, during the film. One of the nice things about this screening was the fact that I unexpectedly ran into my friend Meredith; I hadn't been able to find her up to that point. She was sitting outside the Egyptian as I walked up. I looked at her and said, "Meredith?" and she said, "Priscilla?" and then we got really excited about finally meeting each other in person and hugs ensued and it kind of reminded me of how Dorothy and Tommy Lunt act in this scene from THE GOLDEN GIRLS (start at 1:15): 

 

I also got to meet her friends Jeremy and Amelia, who were sitting there with her. It was great to meet everyone, and we all sat together for MONKEY BUSINESS. Amelia is a huge Zeppo fan, and listening to her and Meredith's comments throughout the film was a highlight for me.

Outside after MONKEY BUSINESS:
Jeremy, Amelia, Meredith, and me.

I wrapped up the day by seeing SO THIS IS PARIS (1926), another Lubitsch-directed film which I may discuss at length in a later post, and RED-HEADED WOMAN (1932), which I have seen before. It's a pre-Code starring one of my favorites, Jean Harlow. I was supposed to end my Friday with the nitrate screening of LAURA (1944), but by that point, I was just too tired, and headed back to the room early to catch up on sleep.

That's a wrap on Day 2...whew! Day 3 recap coming soon! 'Til next time...


Friday, April 14, 2017

TCMFF Recap, Day 1, Part 2: The Films

I have a new laptop, people! My incredibly generous husband saw me hunched over my iPad typing like mad and decided that instead of paying for back surgery later on, he'd go ahead and splurge on a laptop now so I can type out my posts with a bit more ease (and a bit less neck pain). I also figured out how to add pictures to my posts, so I consider myself a success story.

On to the main topic of my post.

I live in a small town, but thankfully, one of my local movie theatres shows the TCM Big Screen Classics series every year. I am grateful that I have been able to see such films as SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, GONE WITH THE WIND, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, and THE WIZARD OF OZ on the big screen. However, attendance at these films is usually pretty sparse, at least where I live, and it would appear that very few people are left in this world who have a love for classic films. Imagine my delight when I discovered the TCMParty group on Twitter. These people loved classic movies, just like me, and what's more, they were some of the funniest, wittiest people I'd ever encountered. I only wished we all lived in the same city, so we could watch these films together in person, instead of live-tweeting from a hundred different locations. And then along came TCMFF. Let me tell you, the experience of watching classic movies with hundreds of other classic film fans is an experience I won't soon forget.

I wrapped up my post last time without talking about any films, so this post will be about the two films I saw Thursday night, the first night of TCMFF. I hadn't seen either of these films before. They showed both of these at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre, which is a gorgeous place just up the street from Grauman's Chinese Theatre. (I will always call it Grauman's.) The first film of my first-ever TCMFF was (drumroll please)...



LOVE CRAZY (1941)


Getting tickets was simple enough, and we saw a few friends standing around waiting to get in line. Julia and I took the opportunity to grab a quick photo with Joel, and I have to say that his Hawaiian shirt stole the spotlight and inspired several very funny tweets.

As Joel said, behold the power of the Hawaiian shirt.

Dana Delany introduced this film. I thought she did a good job when she was a guest host for TCM in December 2016, when Myrna Loy was Star Of The Month, and I enjoyed hearing her introduce LOVE CRAZY. This is yet another William Powell and Myrna Loy vehicle. They made fourteen films together, and this was their tenth. (I really wish I could have said this was their fifth, for obvious THE THIN MAN reasons.) The site Rotten Tomatoes gives this film a 100% rating, but I wouldn't go that far. However, while not on par with the first THIN MAN film, it was still funny in its own right, and made even better by the fact that I was sitting next to Julia. She is a really fun person with whom to watch a movie; I guess we have the same sense of humor, because she laughed at everything at which I laughed. I've gotta say, it's a lot better laughing at a screwball comedy with a bunch of other people in the theatre laughing with you than it is laughing at it by yourself in your living room.



Florence Bates does a knock-out job in her role as Myrna Loy's mother, and Jack Carson was absolutely fantastic as bow-and-arrow-man Ward Willoughby. This film had many laugh-out-loud moments, and if you've ever had a yen to see William Powell in drag, then this film's for you. It was a funny, lighthearted film with which to start the film festival, which was good, because the next film I saw was a bit heavier in tone.



THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934)

Our first TCMFF film under our belt, Stephen, Julia, and I exited the Egyptian Theatre and got right back in line to go back inside for THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.  Patrick joined our little group for this screening. Julia suggested that for this screening, we find seats towards the back of the theatre. We were sitting towards the front of the rear section for LOVE CRAZY, and by the end of that film, our necks were hurting from having to look slightly up instead of straight ahead. It was a good suggestion, and we ended up sitting there most of the time we were in the Egyptian (which was a lot of the time).

Patrick, Julia, me, and Stephen at THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH

I was interested to see this film for several reasons. First, they had renovated the projection booth at the Egyptian to be able to screen nitrate films, and this was one of four that they would be showing during the festival. I'm not even a quarter as knowledgeable about film as many others are, so I don't think I could truly, fully appreciate the fact that it was being shown on nitrate, but I was still curious to see what it would look like. Second, this was Peter Lorre's first English-speaking role, and I do like Peter Lorre. Third, this was an early Hitchcock, and I have become more and more interested in his films lately, thanks in part to my coworker, Angel, with whom I go to watch the Classic Series movies in the theatre. She is a major Hitchcock fan.

I was fascinated by that blonde streak in Peter Lorre's hair, I'm not gonna lie.
I had downloaded the TCMFF app onto my phone, and an hour or so prior to showtime, I received a notification telling me that Martin Scorsese was going to introduce the film! It was great to hear him talk with passion about nitrate films and films in general. This film really held my interest, despite the fact that it ended around 11-11:30 p.m. and I was tired from the drive up and from the excitement of meeting everyone and actually being at TCMFF. I cringed at the scene in the dentist's office, and found myself sitting tensely for much of the latter part of the film, as there were quite a few suspenseful moments. This film didn't exactly go along with the official TCMFF 2017 theme of "Comedy in the Movies," but it's one I'm glad I didn't miss. I wish I had taken notes, but I didn't know I'd be writing posts on TCMFF, and hindsight is 20/20. I'll have to rely on my memory, and that's not very promising.

After the film ended, we decided to go back to the room. As it happened, Patrick's hotel was close to where Stephen and I were staying, so we all walked back together. Patrick had brought some records along to give to me, so Stephen and I stopped in to pick them up and shoot the breeze for a bit–which turned out to be longer than a bit! But TCMFF happens only once a year, so of course you're going to spend all the time you can with friends. We got back to our room rather late, and I was so wired from all the excitement of the day that I couldn't fall asleep. Eventually I did fall asleep around 4 a.m., my alarm set for 6:30 a.m. to get ready in plenty of time for the first film on Friday at 9 a.m. I woke up ready to get through my day on nothing but adrenaline and two hours of sleep. My body doesn't handle caffeine well at all, so for the most part, I don't drink coffee or any other caffeinated beverages. I had heard that TCMFF can nearly kill you via exhaustion, and here it was only Friday morning and already it seemed that everything I had heard was indeed true.

I'll be posting some highlights from TCMFF Day 2 soon. 'Til next time...