TCMFF 2019, Day Three: Bring on the Dramatics
April 20, 2019
Less than six hours of sleep on Friday night didn’t stop me from jumping out of bed early to hit the road for Saturday’s packed day of TCMFF programming!
I made it to the theater in plenty of time to catch When Worlds Collide, a 1951 sci-fi flick I thought I hadn’t seen before. (The jury’s still out—the spaceship looked very familiar, but this is a 1950s science fiction picture we’re talking about.) Star Barbara Rush spoke to sci-fi fan Dennis Miller about this film and her career, which I’ll share in a later article about TCMFF guests. As for the movie, it was a fun romp, definitely far out and unrealistic, but with enough credible drama and grounded human emotion to sustain an audience. Given how far science and technology have advanced over the past 65 years (spacecrafts have visited other planets!), it was hard not to chuckle at some of the outlandish scientific configurations, but hey, you never know if/when our society could face some similar horrific world-ending force or phenomenon. I wonder if we’d try to build a space shuttle to haul us off this planet if that ever goes down... Probably.
Dennis Miller speaking with Barbara Rush before When Worlds Collide.
I went from totally unrealistic with my first film of the day to uncomfortably realistic for the second: 1974’s A Woman Under the Influence. To be honest, this normally wouldn’t have made my TCMFF schedule, but my boyfriend is a John Cassavetes fan, and I’ve heard a lot about this movie. Clocking in at over 2.5 hours, I was surprised I stayed awake, but the script, acting and camerawork made this an unnerving experience... basically, very difficult to fall asleep. Gena Rowland’s performance was so profound and raw that it was distressing to watch at points. As her husband, Peter Falk almost had a tougher role to fulfill; I understood the uncertainty he faced regarding what to do with his mentally ill wife, but at the same time, some of his actions were incredibly frustrating. Certainly, we’ve come a fair way with the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, but I do commend this film for not sugar-coating Rowlands’ troubles and presenting her struggles and the reactions of everyone around her in an honest way. Rowlands was scheduled to appear but unfortunately had to cancel, and archivist Ross Lippman, who presented this film with her in the past, speculated that her cancellation may have had something to do with frequent Cassavetes collaborator Seymour Cassel’s recent passing. Given the extremely emotional subject matter, I also found myself wondering about the three actors who played the children and what they thought about filming some of those more emotional scenes. Lippman was great, but I think it would have been fascinating to hear from them too; I wonder if TCM approached them to introduce the movie.
A behind-the-scenes photo from A Woman Under the Influence.
My original plan was to race over to Love Affair (1939) after A Woman Under the Influence, but the turnaround was less than 30 minutes and two emotional dramas in a row would have dispirited me. So, I turned to food for comfort. After a quick lunch, I headed over to the Multiplex to hop in line early for Blood Money (1933), one of my most anticipated films of the fest. And I’m glad I did, because once the other movies let out, it was a mad house! Many ended up being turned away—sigh, such is the popularity of the pre-Codes. As presenter Bruce Goldstein explained in a very succinct yet packed intro presentation, Blood Money was the third film made by 20th Century Pictures, and, fun fact, it was released the same year star Frances Dee appeared in the classic Little Women. Well, Dee was worlds apart here, playing a woman unlike any character I’ve ever seen in a pre-Code—kleptomaniac, sex crazed, and loads of other -iacs that I don’t know the proper terms for. Seriously, it was worth it just to witness her character (and the final scene she appears in) alone. But this movie also boasted Judith Anderson in her film debut, also channeling a completely different woman than I’ve seen her play, a glamorous gun moll romanced by a bail bondsman! (WTF is the correct response to that description.) This was the first screening where exhaustion started to set in for me, so that didn’t help keep some of the characters straight, but I still was able to appreciate the pre-Code goodies this one delivered, and I'd love to see it again sometime.
Blood Money was also the only film on the schedule to include a discussion before and after, and boy did I appreciate the one after. Goldstein took clips from the picture and indicated by way of text what parts censors in different states and territories objected to. I got a kick out of this because these are the papers I research in every Tuesday at the Academy library, and I really loved how he presented this; actually seeing the scenes and, at times, the word or two of dialogue, that were cut helped put this better into perspective for the audience. Heck, it even made a big difference to me to see it visually displayed this way because the delivery and framing can give you a better idea of why certain pieces of dialogue were objectionable as opposed to just reading the line—not to mention, it serves to sufficiently baffle audiences as to why certain words and sayings were unacceptable. This gives me ideas...
I skipped another slot here (sorry Life Begins at 40) to eat a meal that didn’t involve popcorn and amble over to the Roosevelt poolside to catch a part of Patty McCormack’s intro for The Bad Seed (1956). I spoke to her on the carpet, so some of what she said was a repeat of what I already heard, but she did provide a lot of insight, such as the fact that people were afraid of her after the played Rhoda—and she enjoyed that! I’ll share more from her Q&A at a later time.
Eddie Muller chatting with Patty McCormack poolside before The Bad Seed.
Saturday night I made a semi-odd programming choice: I ditched 1958’s Indiscreet (which I’ve seen and enjoy) and 1931’s Waterloo Bridge (a pre-Code I haven’t seen but I own) for Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic Samson and Delilah (1949). The deciding factor: nitrate, all the way, because Biblical epics have never been my cup of tea.
To be honest, this was probably my least favorite film of the fest. It was lovely to hear insight on star Victor Mature from his daughter Victoria, but that was probably the most I got out of this picture. After the intro and Q&A, the movie started almost one hour late, and with a runtime of over two hours, that meant it would let out around 12:30am, a time I usually like to be fast asleep. So, I only stayed for half the flick, which was enough for me! The sets, production design, and the costumes (looking at you, Hedy Lamarr) were indulgent and lavish, and the action was on par, just as one would expect from DeMille. Heck, the gold shimmered in the nitrate print, almost blindingly so at points, in ways I rarely see—not to mention, the print itself looked great! All that said, I just couldn’t engage with the story. As mentioned, Biblical tales aren’t my fancy, and I simply did not find the story or characters enjoyable; honestly, I’m pretty sure I would have left early even if the movie didn't end so late. (Also, there’s no way anyone could ever believe Lamarr and Angela Lansbury as sisters. Just no.)
Alan K. Rode and Victoria Mature discussing Victor Mature before Samson and Delilah.
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