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Live From the TCM Classic Film Festival Day 2: THE THIN MAN (1934), GREY GARDENS (1975), DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), WHY WORRY? (1923)

The TCM Classic Film Festival continued seamlessly into its second day today, with a plethora of diverse films to choose from, running from 9:00 AM straight through midnight tonight. Though I am not attending the midnight movie this evening (I needed to get back to update Backlots), I will  be attending the midnight movie tomorrow night–a showing of Freaks for which I am very excited. Hence, I will be resting up tonight so that I can be alert and awake for this glorious midnight screening tomorrow.

This morning’s viewing was a true classic–one that I had seen on the big screen once before but of which I never tire. It’s The Thin Man, a fun romp of a detective story, a Dashiell Hammett murder mystery told through the lens of husband and wife Nick and Nora Charles and their endless supply of alcohol.

The Thin Man is as much about the drinking as it is about the detective story. There is barely a moment in the film when Nick and Nora don’t have martinis in their hands, or are talking about having martinis in their hands. It is also an incredibly sexual film, in a very subtle and effective way. Eddie Muller, speaking before the film, discussed the significance of The Thin Man‘s release right on the cusp of the enforcement of the Hays Code and the repeal of prohibition. Audiences thrilled at being able to see positive characters onscreen who drank and got away with it, and while Nick and Nora are certainly functioning alcoholics, they are among the most lovable, charming and memorable ones the screen has ever seen. And though the film had to comply with the newly strict rules of the Hays office (having Nick and Nora maintain separate beds, for example), director W.S. Van Dyke worked sexual innuendo into the film brilliantly. One of my favorite moments is when the police are at Nick and Nora’s house to arrest a would-be murderer, and this exchange happens:

Policeman: You ever hear of the Solomon Act?

Nora: Oh that’s all right, we’re married.

The film is also notable for establishing a precedent that husband and wife characters could be friends AND lovers. Nick and Nora are clearly the best of friends, teasing and ribbing each other mercilessly, but also show great love within that teasing mentality. Within this clip are some choice examples from this movie and from the rest of the Thin Man series.

Next up was Grey Gardens, one of my favorites and a highlight for me at the festival this year. A documentary by the Maysles brothers about former aristocrats Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, living in squalor at their East Hampton estate after their fortune was mishandled. It is a powerful documentary, and sheds light on what it means to be a member of the old aristocracy, what it is like to be a person “fallen from grace,” and what it means to be a family.

Both characters are very strong personalities, and ever since I first saw this movie many years ago, I have loved Little Edie. Her ability to maintain such a clear sense of herself in trying times, her devotion to her mother, and her eccentric and unique fashion sense are indicative of a strong independent spirit that cannot be easily crushed. At this screening, we were lucky to have Al Maysles there, who talked to us a bit about what Little Edie was like. “It was love at first sight,” he said. Edie adored him right back, and they stayed in close touch right up until Little Edie’s death in 2001. Here is a recording of Little Edie talking to Al Maysles on the phone, many years after the film came out.

Next up was Double Indemnity, for which I was unable to stay for long, because I had to go see Why Worry? I have seen Double Indemnity so many times that I didn’t feel particularly bad leaving early, but suffice it to say–seeing Barbara Stanwyck on the new IMAX screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a magical experience. She dominates that role.

Someday I’m going to write an entire blog post on Double Indemnity. It would be futile to try to talk about it here in my limited space, so I will leave the richness of the plot, the script, and the story for another time. But I will say that for a Barbara Stanwyck fan, there is nothing better than seeing her on a big IMAX screen in Double Indemnity.

My last film of the night was Why Worry? This was a Harold Lloyd feature, his last with Hal Roach telling the story of a wealthy hypochondriac who ends up in the middle of a revolution at his health resort. It is a very funny movie, and expectedly so given the caliber and talent of Harold Lloyd.

But the highlight of this evening with Why Worry? was the debut of the new score by Carl Davis, who wrote a brilliant score and got a standing ovation from the crowd when it was over. In attendance was also Suzanne Lloyd, Harold’s granddaughter, who talked a bit about her father’s legacy and place in classic cinema.

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Harold Lloyd with Carl Davis and the orchestra.

Tomorrow I have to choose between Stella Dallas and City Lights. This is going to be a tough day! See you then!

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Full Schedule Released for the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival

Following several days of great anticipation among festival attendees, the TCM Classic Film Festival unveiled its final lineup yesterday via its website. Featuring a veritable amalgam of lesser-seen movie classics and fan favorites, this is sure to be a year to remember.

One of the unexpected highlights of this year will be a midnight showing of the 1932 cult classic Freaks, a dark look into the world of circus sideshows and one of my personal favorite films of the early 1930s. Freaks includes a cast comprised almost exclusively of real-life sideshow performers, and is startlingly progressive and forward-thinking in its treatment of people with disabilities and analysis of the sideshow life. I will definitely be attending this film and will be reporting back with a full analysis.

Another highlight for me is the fact that TCM has programmed two Oscar-nominated Barbara Stanwyck films, Double Indemnity (1944) and Stella Dallas (1937), to be shown on Friday and Saturday. Double Indemnity celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, and the screening will be a special 70th anniversary restoration of the film. Both Stella Dallas and Double Indemnity feature some of Barbara Stanwyck’s best work in a career made up of great performances. Watch this heartwrenching scene at the end of Stella Dallas, followed by her turn of evil in Double Indemnity, and you will see why Barbara Stanwyck is considered one of the greatest and most versatile actresses of her time. I very much look forward to seeing both of these movies on the big screen.

Last year TCM paid tribute to filmmaker Albert Maysles, and this year they show one of his seminal works, the classic documentary Grey Gardens, a stark but ultimately endearing examination of aristocracy in decline. Maysles and his brother, David, befriended Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (known as “Big Edie”) and her daughter, Edith (“Little Edie”), aunt and cousin to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and filmed them over the course of several months as they dealt with the consequences of embezzlement of their funds by a corrupt family member. They lived in squalor in Grey Gardens, their formerly glamorous estate in upstate New York, and had essentially become isolated from everyone but each other. It is a beautiful, funny, and sweet examination of what it means to be family, and how to make the most of a negative situation.

I am a huge fan of Grey Gardens. I think Little Edie is one of the greatest characters, real or created, in the history of cinema. Her outlook on life, her unique relationship with her mother, and her outrageous fashion sense (she has a talent for converting clothing items into other clothing accessories) makes for a character that a filmmaker could only dream of. Watch her below, in the famous clip of her describing her “costume for the day.”

As the festival approaches, I will post a complete list of what readers may expect to see on the blog, and my tentative schedule. To see the complete TCM lineup, click here!

See you next time!