Highlights From the TCM Classic Film Festival

Charles Coburn and Jean Arthur in a scene from THE MORE THE MERRIER, 1943.

The TCM Classic Film Festival came to a close last night, and I am currently fighting off a tremendous case of sleep deprivation following my flight home at 6:15 in the morning. Despite my lack of sleep, I still feel the elation of the festival in every fiber of my being.

What a weekend it was. Attendees come from all over the country and the world, and every year it feels like a family reunion–except, as a friend of mine put it, for the fact that “everyone likes each other.” Those of us who are regular attendees can hardly walk 10 feet across the Roosevelt Hotel lobby in less than half an hour, because everyone we see is a close friend whom we haven’t seen in a year. It’s truly unlike anywhere else.

As expected, the highlight of the festival was the screening of The More the Merrier at the Egyptian Theatre. The pure joy and infectious laughter of the crowd was something very rare and unique to festivals like TCM–this level of excitement is not something one encounters at the standard neighborhood movie theater. It reminded me of just how special this festival is, and why we keep coming back year after year.

The More the Merrier is a movie that we had been fighting tooth and nail to bring to TCM for some time now. Along with my fellow fans of the movie, I was slightly concerned that it wouldn’t get much of a showing, owing to the fact that it was scheduled opposite Shanghai Express and Love Me or Leave Me. We shouldn’t have worried. The theater was packed, and the audience enjoyed themselves more than at any other screening I attended, 9:00 in the morning or not.

The-More-the-Merrier-dual-solo-rumba

Another highlight for me was the wonderful Midnight, starring Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche. The movie was introduced by Bonnie Hunt, who lauded it as one of her favorites, and then backed up her claim by staying to watch it with us. She is a charming presenter, filled with humor and a down-to-earth air about her. As with The More the Merrier, the audience was enthusiastic and involved, laughing out loud at the perfect Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett script about a chorus girl who gets caught up in a millionaire’s scheme. My favorite line: “When I married, I didn’t realize that in the Czerny family there was a streak of… shall we say, eccentricity. And yet, I had warning. Why else should his grandfather have sent me, as an engagement present, one roller skate covered with thousand island dressing?” Claudette Colbert is a gem, and John Barrymore does a hilarious scene on the telephone in which he pretends to be Ameche’s wife and daughter.

Barrymore died a mere 3 years later. While he showed a talent for comedy early on, he never truly became known as a comedy star–something that may have come had he lived longer. His performances in Midnight and Twentieth Century 5 years earlier are world-class.

claudette-colbert-john-barrymore-in-midnight

On Friday night, I went to see Angela Lansbury interviewed before a showing of The Manchurian Candidate. The line to get in was one of the longest I have ever seen in any of my years attending the TCM Festival. I knew it was going to be packed, so I got there over an hour early. By the time I arrived around 6:45 for the 8:00 interview, the line had snaked around to the side of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, up the stairs, through Hollywood and Highland center, and almost around to the back of the complex. Despite my early arrival, I was number 293 in line.

Angela Lansbury is one of the most versatile and prolific actors alive. She has excelled phenomenally in every medium she has attempted, becoming a legend of film, a legend of the Broadway stage, and a legend of television in equal measure. Very few people achieve the level of stardom that she has, even in one medium–and she has conquered them all. TCM festivalgoers know this, and the level of respect that she has earned among this crowd is immense.

Trying to contain an interview with Angela Lansbury within the confines of one single movie is futile. Lansbury’s career is so immense and far-reaching that a focus only on The Manchurian Candidate gives the impression of a big elephant in the room–the rest of her career. While interviewers have set guidelines to follow, and interviewer Alec Baldwin had to bring her back to The Manchurian Candidate at some point, there were moments where Angela Lansbury clearly wanted to talk about her early career in film, and about her roles as Mame Dennis in Mame and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. She is prime material for a lengthy interview, along the lines of what TCM does every year–last year with Sophia Loren and this year with Faye Dunaway. And judging by the line I stood in, number 293 over an hour before the interview, there is a Grauman’s Chinese Theater-full of people who agree.

The Hollywood home movies were a joy. We were treated to behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of The More the Merrier (which obviously made me happy), footage from Marjorie Morningstar, and home movies of the Nicholas Brothers, presented by Fayard Nicholas’ son, Tony. Tony’s daughters and grandchildren were there as well, and we had a nice surprise when one of the grandchildren, who looked to be about 9 years old, did an impromptu tap routine. It is comforting to know that the out-of-this-world talent of the Nicholas Brothers is being passed on through the generations.

The reasoning behind my current sleep deprivation is the fact that I was originally scheduled to fly home last night. But when I saw the schedule and realized that Network was playing on Sunday night, I changed my flight to early the next morning. There was no way I was going to miss it.

As I have mentioned before, I consider Network to be one of the most timely, prescient and telling movies ever made. It was a thrill to hear audiences gasping with recognition at lines such as “We are talking about putting a manifestly irresponsible man on national television,” recognizing the eerie parallels with today’s election news cycles. There were some people who laughed all the way through the movie, something that I felt to be a recognition of the absurdity of the story. But upon leaving the theater, a friend of mine expressed that she was upset that people laughed during the movie, that it trivialized the brilliance of it. I’m not sure which one of us is in the right, but I think it was unexpected for us both.

Once again, a remarkable festival. Here are some things that I would like to see next year:

  • A Conversation With Angela Lansbury
  • More pre-Codes. Double Harness, the William Powell pre-Code that showed on Friday morning, filled up quickly and left many people disappointed. It was rescheduled for Sunday, and filled up yet again. Every year, the pre-Codes fill up. This, to me, means that the TCM Film Festival crowd has a special affinity for this era.
  • As an addendum to the previous point, I would love to see a showing of Ladies They Talk About (1933). Combining Barbara Stanwyck with pre-Codes would be a surefire hit for the festival.

Thank you, TCM, for a wonderful festival this year. I can’t wait for next year’s “family reunion!”

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4 responses to “Highlights From the TCM Classic Film Festival

  1. Susan Reynolds

    I am so happy to hear about the screening and response to The More the Merrier…..Jean Arthur on the big screen is always a welcome sight!

  2. Oh yes, it was so thrilling!

  3. If you don’t laugh at Network…you’re taking life way too seriously, imho. “Why is it that a woman always thinks that the most savage thing she can say to a man is to impugn his cocksmanship?”

  4. I love that line. If for no other reason, and there are so many reasons, everyone should see NETWORK just to hear William Holden say “cocksmanship.”

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