TCM Classic Film Festival 2022: Recapping Days 1 and 2
April 30, 2022
It’s hard to believe, but the 13th annual TCM Classic Film Festival wrapped less than one week ago! After two years of virtual festivities, it felt wonderful to see friends in person again and share our love of classic Hollywood together.
As I mentioned in my festival preview, this year I didn’t have a media or classic pass. So I went back to my roots, trying my luck in the standby line as I’d done the first five years of TCMFF. How’d it go? I caught five movies, one live read, and three special conversations, so I’d say it was a success!
Here’s a recap of a few days leading up to the fest and days 1 and 2.
For the past few years, my schedule the day or two before TCMFF opening night has been packed. Whether it’s a TCM-sponsored event or fan get togethers, it’s great to take some time before the movie marathon, while we’re all bright eyed and not living off coffee and concessions, to hang out with friends. This year, several of us involved in the West Coast Classic Film Bloggers Zoom Association met for dinner at Micelli’s Tuesday night before the fest. Chatting classic movies, catching up with friends, and old school Italian food – what could be better?!
My original plan was to open the fest with Jewel Robbery (1932). Yes, I’ve seen this film (and I even own it!), but I knew it would be a hoot to watch with an audience given the subject matter, the witty script, and the team of William Powell and Kay Francis. But… TCM scheduled it in theater 4, a tiny venue for a highly anticipated, popular movie. Had I possessed a pass, I’d say my chances would have been 50/50. On standby? More like 1%. So I decided against those incredibly low odds and instead went to dinner with a friend of mine from high school who was in town for work. As much as I adore Jewel Robbery and would love to experience it with an audience, I’d say I made the right choice. (And, spoiler: I did get to see it on the final day of the fest.)
Ben Burtt introducing Spy Smasher Strikes Back. (Photo by Kim Luperi)
Movie 1: Spy Smasher Strikes Back (1942)
I recently watched some chapters of Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island (1936), the first serial we came across on YouTube after my boyfriend starting reading a bio of serial director William Witney, and found myself wondering what a serial would be like condensed to a feature.
TCMFF answered that question – and they did so with a Witney serial! Well, Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt actually did. He took the 12-chapter Republic serial Spy Smasher and edited it down to a feature length “experimental film,” as he called it, and boy, was he right.
There were twin brothers, Nazis, TV traitors, fake executions, a bat plane, kidnappings – all the action you could ask for with none of the character development! I wasn’t able to pinpoint each separate chapter as much as I thought I would, so there was some flow to it but… serials definitely weren’t made to be a narrative feature, that’s for sure.
That said, I live for special presentations like this at TCMFF, the kind of thing you can’t see anywhere else. And an Oscar winner editing down an 80-year-old obscure serial, deconstructing the sound tracks, and adding flourishes here and there? Yeah, that’s definitely something you won’t find elsewhere.
Burtt preceded the show with a short discussion comparing this type of superhero action story to the blockbusters of today, which was interesting, and he also briefly talked about his experience condensing this tale. I’ll write more about this unique experience at a later date, so stay tuned!
Bebe Daniels in Cocktail Hour.
Movie 2: Cocktail Hour (1933)
The standby experience was a nail biter for this one! I was first in line – it’s a pre-Code so I got there way too early (3 hours!) – and they initially admitted just the first three people in. Staff informed us that the only available seats were in the front row… and then they ushered me to the balcony where there was room a plenty and big cushy seats. Luckily, they let a few more standby fans in because there were about 10 open seats up there, and the more the merrier for pre-Codes, I say!
Risqué dialogue, an independent leading lady, lots of drinking, and gender politics between Bebe Daniels’ artist and boss Randolph Scott easily earmarked Cocktail Hour as a pre-Code. As they tend to do for pre-Code screenings, fans enthusiastically engaged with the movie, especially when suggestive or empowering lines popped up. We also got to witness a bit of censorship in action. This version of the picture is missing about 2-3 minutes of footage excised from a bar scene, but the audio survived, so we could still listen to the dialogue while stills stood in for the segment that had been removed.
Overall, I’m happy I got in to Cocktail Hour; I mean, I try to see all the pre-Codes I can! Though the story meandered a bit, stumbling along in the second half like it didn’t know where it was headed, the movie’s pre-Code moments were worth the price of admission. (Weird story example: There was a late in the game almost-murder that seemed out of place.) I thoroughly enjoyed Daniels’ performance and her character in this movie until the film’s sappy ending, which saw her chase down Scott to take him up on that marriage proposal she nonchalantly waved off at the beginning. To me, it felt like a concession, but I also know that in 1933, concessions were being made; I could definitely see that ending being the result of some back and forth between the industry censors and Columbia. With that said, now I want to find this movie’s censorship file!
I started work on Friday at 7am so I could take a mid-day break, so by 8:45pm, when Cocktail Hour let out, I was done for the day. I drove home to get some sleep and rest up for a full movie-going weekend, which I’ll recap in the next few days.
thanks for stopping by!
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.