TCMFF 2018: Preview and Picks
April 11, 2018
The full schedule for the 9th annual TCM Classic Film Festival was unleashed upon the world one week ago, and as usual, it was immediately embraced, scrutinized, and agonized over with the customary fervor from fans across the globe.
Two initial thoughts: 1. Ninth?! Where did the years go? I swear I was attending the 5th festival just yesterday. 2. That was one of the easiest programs for me to charge through, overall. Honestly, there were two or three time slots that didn't call for any tortuous compromises, which was a little jarring. That's not a knock against TCM; I’ve either seen the movies in those blocks or simply don't have a strong interest in them. But fear not, because TCMFF always likes to present a challenge, and #9 is no different; while I'll be on easy street for two or three blocks, there are at least four periods that will make for some excruciating decisions!
Oh, the joy of marking up the TCMFF schedule. (Picture by Kim Luperi)
As per usual, most of my picks were selected from the complete schedule, since I prefer the more obscure and lesser-known titles that generally don’t merit an advance announcement; I’m also following suit with last year and focusing on rare one-of-a-kind presentations and special guests. That said, below is my tentative game plan for TCMFF 2018, which I’m formatting a bit differently compared to past editions. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed/fretted/pulled my hair out compiling it.
Let's hope I won't have one of these the very first block of the fest!
Block 1 – Off to the races!
Last year I covered the red carpet and skipped the first screening of the fest, which takes place in the evening. No confirmation yet whether I’ll be back chatting with the guests, but if I am, I definitely don’t want to miss out on the first round of films this year. Though Detour (1945) is a world premiere restoration and I'm curious as to what Dennis Miller has to say about Them! (1954), there’s a pre-Code scheduled, Finishing School (1934), which basically means I’m blind to every other selection. Unfortunately, the pre-Codes have largely been relegated back to the 177-seat Theater 4 this year after breaking out and enjoying some time in the spacious Egyptian Theater, but hopefully, opening night film The Producers (1968) will keep the top-level pass holders occupied long enough so the rest of the pre-Code fans can relish this picture, which was written and co-directed (!) by a woman, Wanda Tuchock.
Winner: Finishing School
Block 2 – I’m probably already sleepy but it’s THE FIRST NITRATE SCREENING
Did I just reveal my selection? Out of the four films playing, Stage Door (1937) is actually the only one I've seen, and while I usually eschew familiar titles for new experiences, the rarity of this nitrate print is the main selling point. If I don’t make it in (the Egyptian seats over 600), then it’s basically a coin toss between a brand new restoration, which reinstated a whopping 14 minutes cut from the original camera negative (1941’s The Sea Wolf), and an appearance by a 98-year old writer, Walter Bernstein, before a new-to-me picture (1964’s Fail-Safe).
Winner: Stage Door
Runner-up: Fail-Safe, cause those restored 14 minutes in The Sea Wolf should now be around forever.
Block 1 – This is deceptively easy...
To my delight, this first group on Friday doesn't pose too many difficulties. I’ve seen Strangers on a Train (1951), I’m not big on the Pink Panther, and – don’t yell at me – I have a weird aversion to Jeanette MacDonald (and musicals), which means The Merry Widow (1934) isn’t a must-see either. I’ve never heard of Intruder in the Dust (1949), which instantaneously piques my interest. Plus, it’s on 35mm and historian Donald Bogle, who I've always found very warm and informative, will introduce it. BUT, I’ve also never attended the Hand and Footprint Ceremony (this year’s honoree is Cicely Tyson). So… decisions.
Winner: Intruder in the Dust
Back-up: The Merry Widow (got to get over my MacDonald antipathy) or Hand and Footprint Ceremony
Block 2 – Why isn't this nerve-wracking yet?
My Brilliant Career (1979) has a lot going for it: director Gillian Armstrong will partake in a Q&A, it was the first Australian 35mm color film directed by a woman, etc. But I also find The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) uproarious and would relish watching that with an audience. However, I think the decision will again come down to a special guest, in this case Ruta Lee. I had no clue she was in Witness for the Prosecution (1957), and I can only imagine what this firecracker has to say about Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, and Tyrone Power.
Winner: Witness for the Prosecution
Runner-Up: My Brilliant Career
Block 3 – Did Friday just get mad at me?
Is it because I called the other slots “easy”? Perhaps. But I'm pretty sure the day is getting back at me by programming a classic film pile-up. I usually always try to see fest honorees once, which would put me in Sounder (1972) with Cicely Tyson. But then there’s The Set-Up (1949) with the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller. And A Hatful of Rain (1957), a flick I’ve never seen that boasts an appearance by the wonderful Eva Marie Saint. And then a pre-Code, Blessed Event (1932). WHY, TCM, WHY? And I’m not even done yet! I’ve never had much interest in seeing How to Marry A Millionaire (1953), which I thought was a musical until a reader pointed out otherwise (thank you!). Nope, this afternoon I’m trekking to the Linwood Dunn Theater to see the special Harold Lloyd 3D program, which features his 3D photographs and a 3D conversion sequence of Safety Last (1923), among other things. Oh, and the accompaniment comes courtesy Joe Rinaudo on a 1917 Fotoplayer, a behemoth machine that provides music AND sound effects. If you’ve never seen one of these in action, I recommend it. There are only 12 left IN. THE. WORLD.
Winner: Harold Lloyd 3D program
Runner-Up: A Hatful of Rain
Sorry, ladies. If it were another time slot, you'd have a chance.
Block 4 – THERE IS NO CONTEST HERE
I’m going to have to book it back from the Dunn – like skip out early AND hop in an Uber – because I promised myself I would be first in line for None Shall Escape (1944), with 100-year-old Marsha Hunt in attendance. OK, so that may not happen, but I still really want to make this. Despite the fact that I've seen None Shall Escape twice (once with Marsha in the audience), there’s simply no passing up another chance to be in her presence. I hope this theater is sold out, because not only is this print a brand new restoration, but the film is incredibly historic and timely. I’m so happy None Shall Escape will be exposed to a large audience, because its rediscovery is truly long overdue. Sorry, Three Smart Girls (1936), The Odd Couple (1968), Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), and The Right Stuff (1983).
Winner: None Shall Escape
Runner-Up: Not an option
Creature from the Black Lagoon would make an appropriate poolside screening...
Mini Block 5 – Did someone say party?!
Usually, TCM reserves celebrations for opening and closing night, but this year it looks like they’re breaking it down on day two with a Roaring Twenties party! It does lead in to a screening of The Roaring Twenties (1939) later this evening, so it’s not a completely random reason to drink poolside. Perhaps I’ll swing by before making the decision between the two features in this slot, I Take This Woman (1931) and Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D (1954). Normally, a pre-Code would have no competition against a 3D 1950s sci-fi flick, but as I've already experienced I Take This Woman and didn't love it, the playing field is more even. But heck, knowing me, this rarely-seen-in-87-years-pre-Code still has the upper hand.
Winner: I Take This Woman
Runner-Up: Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D
This poster seems to be missing the title: Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
Block 6 – Not ready for primetime
The mini block spills over into one 8pm picture, The Roaring Twenties (1939), which I caught at the Egyptian a few years back. Though I'm not a horror fan, I can actually survive The Exorcist (1973), and a conversation with director William Friedkin is certainly a selling point. I'm very relieved that I won't have to battle the crowds for the nitrate screening of Leave Her to Heaven (1945), which was the first nitrate print I ever experienced - shout out to the UCLA Film and Television Archive! Honestly, I’m rather indifferent to Point Blank (1967) and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) – I know, I know – but it’s mostly because those are readily available on DVD. And you know what I can’t see elsewhere? Olivia Hussey, Leonard Whiting, and Michael York, the stars of the 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, in person.
Winner: Romeo and Juliet
Runner-Up: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but probably The Exorcist
Block 7 – Zzzzzzz
TCMFF’s midnight movies have always eluded me because I have a hard time staying up that late without a nap on New Year's Eve, let alone after a jam packed day of moviegoing. But the fact that I’m unfamiliar with The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) intrigues me, and so does the outrageous plot. I can already tell this will be a blast as a midnight programmer, but there’s an 83% change I’d nod off – and a 96% certainty I wouldn’t be a happy camper in the AM.
This makes me want to see His Girl Friday again...
Block 1 – Taking it easy
Saturday starts off right with a nice mix of classics: a few I've seen before (1940’s His Girl Friday, 1938’s Love Finds Andy Hardy, and 1955’s Kiss Me Deadly, which screens at Noir City Hollywood Sunday), one that doesn’t rouse my interest (1943’s The Ox-Bow Incident), and one that sits on my lengthy but not actually real to-watch list (1949’s A Letter to Three Wives). The last title will remain unseen for now, because at 10am, a travelogue/documentary I’ve never heard of, Windjammer: The Voyage of the Christian Radich (1958), will be presented at the Cinerama Dome. Pro tip: Always read the synopses, because I had no idea that Windjammer was the only movie shot in the Cinemiracle process – or that Cinemiracle was a thing. The late start and long runtime makes it tough, but obscure rare screenings like this warrant my full support, mainly so TCM will continue programming similar fare!
Winner: Windjammer: The Voyage of the Christian Radich
Runner-Up: A Letter to Three Wives
If you guessed this was a poster for When You Read This Letter, you're correct.
Block 2 – How does one go about cloning oneself?
This slot pits two of my must-see selections against each other... and then for fun, TCM throws a few more curveballs in the mix. Can I just spread this entire block out among the rest so I can experience it all? Though Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Bullitt (1968) have special guests (Robert Benton and Jacqueline Bisset, respectively), I’m ruling them out because they're available elsewhere. I’m even dismissing When You Read This Letter (1953), a rare French noir I’d normally be chomping at the bit to see. Yes, it’s that brutal whittling it down to the final two selections. The first is This Thing Called Love (1940), a Rosalind Russell/Melvyn Douglas comedy that 1. is exceedingly rare, 2. is about a married couple attempting celibacy, and 3. was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, which means there’s something juicy here. The second is Ida Lupino’s rape drama Outrage (1950). I missed a screening of Outrage this past weekend in LA, but what appeals to me most about this booking is the presence of Lupino’s former assistant, author Mary Ann Anderson. I'm 100% counting on her to provide marvelous insightful into this pioneering actress/writer/producer/director. So here’s what I’m banking on: This Thing Called Love plays in tiny Theater 4, so it should sell out and warrant a TBA block on Sunday. Just not the 3:45 slot, please. I’m already spoken for then.
Winner: Outrage (or I can just invite Mary Ann Anderson over for a chat?)
Runner-Up: This Thing Called Love
Honorable Mention: When You Read This Letter
Sorry, Myrna. (I believe this is a French Wife vs. Secretary poster.)
Block 3 – Nothing is as simple as it seems
TCM, I adore you. But it would have been cool with me if you moved any of the titles from the previous slot here. I kid, because there are some wonderful selections in this block, from programs on African Americans in the film industry and trailblazing women in animation, to a movie written and directed by a 2017 Oscar winner (James Ivory, 1987’s Maurice) to a rom-com (1936’s Wife vs. Secretary) to two Golden Age actresses (Cora Sue Collins from 1938’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Nancy Olson from 1950’s Sunset Boulevard). After typing that out, I’m finding this decision 200% harder than anticipated. I’d normally never pass up a Myrna Loy flick, but I don't really care for Wife vs. Secretary, and while Nancy Olson is certainly a captivating choice, Cora Sue Collins has worked with Greta Garbo. Twice.
Winner: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Runner-Up: Sunset Boulevard
Example of a Paramount wisecrack from I'm No Angel (1933).
Mini Block 4 – Why does this get more difficult as the day goes on?
Man, only three selections in this short slot and two I really want to see. The battle comes down to a pre-Code, Girls About Town (1931), and the special presentation Crackin’ Wise. Andrea Kalas, VP of Archives at Paramount, attended TCMFF last year with Republic Preserved, an exhibition of rare clips with an archival-centric Q&A that was easily a highlight of the fest for me. I'm 92% sure this show would be just as entertaining, as it features funny lines from obscure movies from Paramount’s archive. But that pre-Code is so sparkly and alluring. And it’s got Kay Francis, Lilyan Tashman, and director George Cukor, to boot!
Winner: Girls About Town
Runner-Up: Crackin’ Wise
Block 5 – I don’t like decisions anymore
I'd be down to see every option in this time slot. For starters, I always enjoy indulging in Hollywood Home Movies, which has surprised with special guests in the past. Heaven Can Wait (1978) I watched in a theater recently, even though Dyan Cannon and Buck Henry in person are strong draws, and Show People (1928) I caught at the Academy several years ago. The World of Suzie Wong (1960) is new to me, and the fact that star Nancy Kwan will be there is enticing. Park Row (1952) is another unfamiliar title, and if director Sam Fuller called it his favorite film, it must be worth a visit. However, it's hard to top Where the Boys Are (1960) poolside. This is one of the very first classics I fell for back in high school, and I'd love to experience it with an audience. I also secretly hope Paula Prentiss pops in, cause I’m still kicking myself for missing her a few years ago!
Winner: Where the Boys Are
Runner-Up: The World of Suzie Wong
Block 6 – It’s nighttime, which means nitrate-time!
Or not. Given the recent nitrate revival in LA, I’m hoping any movies I miss, such as this evening's selection, Spellbound (1945), will play again, especially since so few surviving nitrate prints can be projected. Roger Corman’s The Raven (1963) sounds like a hoot, but I think horror master and Howard Hawks fan John Carpenter’s presence at Scarface (1932) sways it. I'm 100% assuming his introduction will be an experience to behold.
Block 7 – In my dreams, but please not literally
Night of the Living Dead (1968) with Edgar Wright would be nuts. Here’s hoping I don’t get haunted by any zombies in my sleep as retaliation for missing this.
According to Google, there are two languages on this Once Upon A Time in the West poster: French and Dutch.
Block 1 – How did we arrive at Sunday already?
Ah Sunday, the day of the formidable TBAs. It's incredibly difficult trying to foretell which films will be awarded those prized slots while also attempting to plot your schedule around them. But I shall try. As has been the case this fest, the morning block is rather relaxed for me, which means I don’t have to hit the ground running. I probably should see Once Upon A Time in the West (1968) and The Black Stallion (1979), but I’m already not feeling either of those first thing on a Sunday. Comedies are always welcome, but when the laugher, in this case Woman of the Year (1942), goes up against an unfamiliar flick, Tunes of Glory (1960), there’s not much of a match. Similar to pre-Codes, new-to-me movies are my kryptonite. Apparently, Tunes of Glory is far from rare, but it’s a world premiere restoration, which is something!
Winner: Tunes of Glory
Runner-Up: Woman of the Year
We feel you, Jimmy Stewart. (From Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.)
Block 2 – And the TBAs begin...
I hope the TBA isn’t anything I can’t miss... because I'm going to miss it. This slot contains some goodies, including Growing Up Mankiewicz, a special presentation at Club TCM, and the quintessential Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), which I’ve re-visited recently. As I still feel comfortable taking subways, I’m not down to experience The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), and as much as I’d like to see Sally Field, Places in the Heart (1984) is a pass. Though I know I won’t be able to sit through The Ten Commandments (1956) in its entirety, I’m making Craig Barron and Ben Burtt's preceding presentation a priority. I’m proud of my track record of catching every one of the duo's entertaining tech-rich intros, from their very first one in 2012 (I think!) to now. I’ve also enjoyed watching their popularity grow; heck, this year they'll command the Chinese IMAX! (Well, that might be for the movie, but still.)
Winner: The Ten Commandments (for the intro)
Runner-Up: Growing Up Mankiewicz
Block 3 – Don’t bother me, I’ll be in Club TCM
I’m glad this is a rather easy decision for me, but I have one request: TCM, do not schedule the inevitable TBA screening of This Thing Called Love here, please and thank you. Cause all of this block's options (1988's Bull Durham, 1957's Silk Stockings, 1948's Hamlet, etc.) disintegrated once I set my eyes on the program in Club TCM, Mostly Lost: Identifying Unknown Films at the Library of Congress. The wannabe archivist in me is screaming that the LOC will be bringing part of their annual film identification workshop to TCMFF. I’ve heard about this, and the chance to partake and observe is a huge treat that I cannot pass up.
Winner: Mostly Lost
Runner-Up: Depends on the TBA
Mini Block 4 – The tiniest of them all
TCM, if you’d like to drop This Thing Called Love in this lone TBA slot, that would be perfect. Thanks in advance for your cooperation.
Winner: TBA, please be awesome (I’m assuming it will be)
Block 5 – Don't cry because it's over...
As usual, TCMFF is going out strong. With such a huge list of guests, I'm admittedly interested in Animal House (1978) – and I’m sure my dad would be proud if I saw it. But there are two TBAs pitted against each other and two rare screenings: Phantom of the Opera (1925) with the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra live AND A Star is Born (1937) on nitrate. Talk about choices! But aside from the TBAs, this choice shouldn’t be too unbearable; I've seen Phantom at the Academy and even though the Mont Alto is a gem, I think I’ll be closing this fest out with a bang. Hopefully not literally, you combustible film stock, you.
Winner: A Star is Born
Runner-Up: TBAs or Animal House, which should get me in the partying mood, no?
It’ll be bittersweet bidding farewell to all my friends at the closing night party, but the memories we make at the festival will hold us over until we meet again at TCMFF #10! What a celebration that will be.
If you're attending TCMFF, let me know what films are on your schedule! Feel free to drop a link below and I'll add it to my list.