TCMFF 2019, Day Four: How Is It the End Already?

April 23, 2019

I woke up Sunday not believing it was the final day of TCMFF. Seriously, how can 60 hours fly by so fast? (In case you missed it, check out my recaps of each day of the fest: Thursday, Friday, Saturday.)

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This morning presented a big decision: Holiday (1938), one of my gateways to classic film, or Mad Love (1935), which I’ve never seen before. Mad Love it was! Luckily, I took another glance at the schedule before leaving my apartment and noticed the movie was playing at the Egyptian, not the Multiplex. That was a good call, because the theater was packed; I picked up a queue number in the mid-200s when I arrived at 8:20! Comedian Bill Hader spoke before the film, making his introduction a mini stand-up routine by telling us how he discovered Mad Love late one night on TCM when he was trying to fall asleep. He also acknowledged child star Cora Sue Collins, who appeared briefly in the movie and was sitting in the audience. (Because this is TCMFF, she of course received a rousing standing ovation.) Collins told Hader before the screening that Peter Lorre was a sweet man; case in point: in one scene they shared he dropped the real scalpel he was holding and apologized profusely to her for the near-accident.  

Hader also asked the audience if they’ve seen the Mad Love trailer (I hadn’t but since have), which features Lorre chatting on the phone about the movie while lounging in a chair next to a dog. Naturally, Hader re-enacted the spot with a killer Lorre impression that brought the house down, adding a joke about recycling the trailer idea today with the likes of Robert Downey Jr. talking about his appearance in the upcoming Avengers movie: “I play Iron Man,” Hader teased. (It was funnier in person, trust me.) 
 

As for the movie, Mad Love was bonkers, just as I expected—what else could you anticipate from a tale in which a doctor obsessed with an actress replaces her husbands’ mangled hands with those of a knife-throwing murderer? Starting off in a theater of horrors set the mood accordingly to fully twisted, and it really made me wonder what this film would have looked like as a pre-Code had it been made a few years prior. Lorre and Colin Clive have the perfect faces for horror, and their expressions and mannerisms contribute so much to the creepy vibe. Not to mention, director Karl Freund was a cinematographer, a background you could certainly tell by some of the striking shots and sulking shadows which served to heighten the atmosphere. 

What the what, Peter Lorre?!

My first TBA of the fest was Night World (1932), which I didn’t make it into opening night. The 58-minute runtime was most appreciated on the final morning of the fest, and the theater was crowded. There wasn’t much to this story—it took place almost entirely in a night club—but it still packed the pre-Code in, particularly with a random Busby Berkeley number and a very effeminate male character. Boris Karloff starred as a gangster nicknamed Happy, and yes, he smiled a lot, which made me mildly uncomfortable. Mae Clarke was in regular shape, sweet with a little sass, and Lew Ayres seemed to be prepping for Holiday (1938), with a drama-fueled background that involved being drunk the whole time. All in all, Night World was a fun pre-Code jaunt, though it felt slow and aimless at times—yes, even considering it didn’t even hit the hour mark.

Night World’s short runtime enabled me to grab a meal to go, walk up to the American Legion theater, and enjoy my lunch in line. Cold Turkey (1971) was next on the docket, a film I overlooked the first three times I reviewed the TCMFF schedule...until someone told me the plot. A Norman Lear comedy—the only film he directed—starring Dick Van Dyke and Bob Newhart about a town that attempts to give up smoking for a month to win $25 million?! Yeah, that sounded like the exact type of madcap I adore. Lear was slated to attend but unfortunately had to cancel, which was a shame, because I was very much looking forward to hearing from the TV legend. But the movie was a riot—a mix of outrageous, stinging satire, and sly, oddly bleak social commentary. It was a delight watching Van Dyke and Newhart in their primes in roles a bit outside what audiences were used to seeing them in. And character actor Edward Everett Horton made his final appearance in this movie; he had no dialogue, but his wonderful emotive facial expressions still delivered. It’s hard to make me laugh out loud but a few moments in Cold Turkey got me, and sitting in a row full of friends made it all the more gratifying. 

From there, I deviated from my original plan to see A Woman of Affairs (1928) with Leonard Maltin, Kevin Brownlow AND a live orchestra. Three days of non-stop movies were wearing me down, and I knew I wouldn’t fare well for a 98-minute silent picture. Instead, I decided to stay where I was to savor a rarity—not the movie, but the experience: watching a beloved film at TCMFF. I missed Love Affair (1939) the previous day but finally got my Irene Dunne fix with the TBA screening of My Favorite Wife (1940), my favorite Dunne and Grant. Cary Grant’s daughter Jennifer was on hand for a Q&A, which was a treat, as I’ve never heard her speak about her father before. (I’ll include her discussion in a future post, so stay tuned!) Though I heard fantastic things about the Garbo silent, I’m happy I made the time for a flick I would never otherwise see at the fest—and, hey, I didn’t fall asleep! It was also lovely to relax, grab a drink at the Legion bar, and catch up with a TCM staffer before the film started. This lower key screening was exactly what I needed, especially with the final picture of the fest and the party coming up.

Jennifer Grant chatting with Mario Cantone before My Favorite Wife.

Even after seeing a comedy that gave me a jolt of energy, I was feeling iffy about my ability to stay awake during the last movie, The Dolly Sisters (1945), presented on nitrate. I shared a nice conversation with a fest first timer in line, which, to be honest, may have been the highlight of this event. The last few years TCM has offered one musical parting gift, last year’s being Lady in the Dark (1944). I very much enjoyed the psychological intricacies of that movie, but The Dolly Sisters’ rather bland biographical bent really didn’t capture my attention. Sure, some of Betty Grable and June Haver’s musical numbers and costumes were impressive, but those are the only items I found intriguing. Alicia Malone introduced the film and thankfully gave us a heads up as to what we now consider an insanely racist musical number. Luckily, most of the audience acknowledged this during the movie, save for a lone viewer who clapped afterwards. Can you say awkward? 

I was happy to head over to the closing night party afterwards, too late for the champagne toast (with engraved 25th anniversary flutes!) but in time for the cupcakes and delicious mini ice cream sandwiches. (I didn’t even know one could make ice cream sandwiches that small but now I’m obsessed.) As usual, three and a half days flew by in the blink of an eye, and everyone I spoke to that evening couldn’t believe the big 1-0 was already over. I savored the last few hours with friends from all over the country before everyone headed off in different directions—or, you know, In-N-Out.

So fancy! 

Another successful TCMFF in the books! Until next year, friends. Stay tuned for more recaps of the red carpet and select TCMFF screenings soon.

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I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

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