Four days of devouring big-screen classics has left me deliciously sated! At least until my next film fest.
About 25,000 people attended this year’s sold-out TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, which featured more than 70 films and special events. Stars who made appearances included Julie Andrews, Alec Baldwin, Drew Barrymore, Warren Beatty, Leslie Caron, Kirk Douglas, Angela Lansbury, Hayley Mills, Peter O’Toole, Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds and Mickey Rooney.
Before the screening of 1940’s “Fantasia,” in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Sunday night, TCM’s Bob Osborne announced that there will be a third fest in 2012. He also announced a new event: the TCM Classic Cruise, Dec. 8-12, 2011, a five-day/four-night event aboard Celebrity Millennium. The cruise will sail from Miami to Key West and Cozumel.
Most important for me was getting my noir fix and, happily, dark delights abounded. For example, there was the chance to see Nicholas Ray’s “Bigger Than Life” with James Mason as a teacher struggling with an addiction to prescription cortisone. As co-star Barbara Rush told Osborne before the screening, this 1956 psychological drama has been programmed in several film noir festivals “because it’s so dark and so scary.”
As you’d expect from Ray, it’s very well done and the performances are excellent. Despite telling the audience that she was “very old,” Rush is very lively. When Osborne asked her to talk about her leading men, she replied, “I had them all!”
Another noir high point was meeting the charming Marya of Cinema_Fanatic and chatting with renowned author Foster Hirsch at the screening of 1953’s “Niagara,” directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Marilyn Monroe (as a murderous wife), Joseph Cotten (as her off-kilter husband) and Jean Peters (as a plucky, pretty brunette). Hirsch told the audience that film noir can absolutely be in color, describing “Niagara” both as a “minor masterpiece” and a “pulp-fiction paperback come to life.”
He pointed out the contrast in lighting between the bright exteriors and dark interiors, ending with the comment: “If you’ve come for laughs and joyous uplift, you’ve come to the wrong place.”
Also a treat was seeing “The Man with the Golden Arm” from 1955. Adapted from a Nelson Algren novel, it’s a story about drug addiction in a gritty urban setting, by master noir director Otto Preminger. I’d seen it before but, as with “Niagara,” the big screen really intensifies the storytelling. It is definitely Frank Sinatra’s best performance and one of Kim Novak’s finest as well. In attendance were Preminger’s daughter Vicki Preminger and Sinatra’s daughters Nancy Sinatra and Tina Sinatra. Rounding out the noir programming were “The Third Man” (Carol Reed, 1950), “Gaslight” (George Cukor, 1944) and “Taxi Driver” (Martin Scorsese, 1976).
Other films with noir elements included Orson Welles’ masterpiece “Citizen Kane” (1941), “The Tingler” (1959), “The Mummy” (1932), “Went the Day Well (1942) and “Whistle Down the Wind (1961). (I saw all but “Kane,” which I’ve seen several times before.)
The festival also honored master composer Bernard Herrmann, who scored “Citizen Kane” and “Taxi Driver” as well as “Psycho,” “Vertigo,” “Cape Fear” and many others.
On the neo-noir front, I’ll be excited to see Cinemax’s upcoming “Femme Fatales” anthology series “about powerful, sexy and dangerous women” starring Ana Alexander and Anya Monzikova, both of whom walked the fest’s red carpet to promote show.
The first of 13 stand-alone episode starts May 13 and I hope to catch up with the actresses sometime soon.
By Michael Wilmington
Jean Harlow may have been the first of the movie blonde bombshells, but her sharp, saucy screen persona was quite a ways removed from that of her sublime successor, Marilyn Monroe.
Brassier and earthier than Monroe, Harlow was a bouncy sexpot who knew what she wanted and knew how to get it: a streetwise babe who lived in the real world and knew just how to manipulate it to her advantage. Harlow, like Monroe, had a baby-talk mode, but it was more clearly a put-on. Harlow’s juvenile antics, her “Daddy’s girl” banter with sugar daddies like beefy Wallace Beery let the audience firmly in on the joke.
Marilyn, or at least her screen persona, often seemed more like a little girl in a woman’s body, a blonde baby doll who never quite grew up, and often lived in a world all her own. Marilyn on screen, in some ways, is always a fantasy. Harlow on screen is usually real. Very real.
In the new TCM/Warner Home Video “Greatest Classics Legends: Jean Harlow” set, Harlow holds her own with the elite of MGM’s acting royalty — with the Barrymores (John and Lionel), and with Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Rosalind Russell, and classy supporting players like Billie Burke, May Robson and C. Aubrey Smith, and even with the young James Stewart.
Holds her own? She’s a star, even in a roomful of stars. This Jean Harlow set includes the following four films.
“Dinner at Eight” (George Cukor, 1933) An MGM all-star special and in some ways, a better movie than the studio’s talent-studded “Grand Hotel” — wittier, more knowing, with a deeper, stronger cast, and more beautifully directed, by Cukor. David O. Selznick was the producer, and the source was the hit Broadway play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, with the screenplay and additional dialogue from Herman Mankiewicz, Donald Ogden Stewart and Frances Marion.
The play is classic. The script is brilliant. The direction and production are impeccable. The stellar cast, one of the all-time great Hollywood ensembles, includes Lionel Barrymore as the beleaguered shipbuilder Oliver Jordan and Billie Burke as his fluttery society wife, who’s holding a dinner (at eight) for British aristocrats Lord and Lady Ferncliffe.
On her guest list: Old-time diva actress Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler); washed-up alcoholic Hollywood actor Larry Renault (John Barrymore, in an astounding piece of self-revelation and a classic of the actor‘s art), who’s romancing their twentyish daughter Paula (Madge Evans); voracious business shark Dan Packard (Wallace Beery) and his feisty platinum-blonde trophy wife Kitty (Harlow, in one of her best roles); smooth society doctor (and Kitty’s lover) Wayne Talbot (Edmund Lowe) and his tolerant wife (Karen Morley); and Paula’s hapless society beau (Phillips Holmes).
I’ve often thought that playwright Garson Kanin may have gotten the idea for “Born Yesterday” while watching Beery and Harlow in this film. In fact, she’s great with all her co-stars. A classic Harlow-Dressler moment is this exchange:
In the last scene, as they stroll in for dinner, Harlow muses, in a thoughtfully brassy way, “I was reading a book yesterday …”
Dressler: “Reading a book?”
Harlow: “Yes, it’s all about civilization or something, a nutty kind of a book. You know, the guy said that machinery is going to take the place of every profession! ”
Dressler, as she takes Harlow’s arm: “Oh, my dear, that’s something you need never worry about!”
It couldn’t be bettered. And neither could the movie, which, in some ways, is less another “Grand Hotel,” and more in the line of Jean Renoir’s great ensemble comedy-drama “The Rules of the Game.” Not as good, of course. Nothing is. More