The 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day 2
April 19, 2023
Welcome to my recap of the 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival! Earlier this week, I wrote about my pre-fest activities and day one. You can read that HERE.
The first full day of TCMFF basically went according to plan for me. That said, at one point, it seemed like I would be able to spend the entire day at the fest, but then work reared its head again. (The schedule I crafted for myself those precious few days I thought I’d be attending the full day consisted of 1933’s King Kong, 1933’s Footlight Parade and Russ Tamblyn’s intro for 1957’s Peyton Place.)
First on the docket was the Club TCM program “Banned in the South: Hollywood, Censorship and Depictions of Race” with Shari Belafonte and David Pierce. As someone who has done a lot of research in Production Code files, I’ve come across snippets about censoring Black actors and entertainers in the South. While I knew the reason (racism), I didn’t know much more than that, which is why I was very much interested in learning more about the experience of Black performers during this conversation. There’s a lot more to share on this subject, so stay tuned for a more detailed dive into this special event on the blog in the coming weeks. What I will say right now is that I was disheartened, maddened and blown away by seeing so many incredibly casual, blunt examples of racism from people in positions of power, even though I knew it existed. Viewing blatant injustices back to back to back reinforced how pervasive this thinking was (and still is), and it’s closer in time than we think—less than 100 years ago. All in all, it was a powerful, impactful learning experience, one I’m glad TCM was willing to engage with and share with us.
I actually had some time in between events for a quick bite to eat—a rarity at TCMFF! After dinner, I headed back to the Chinese Multiplex to hop in line for the 90th anniversary screening of Man’s Castle (1933). I got there so early, in fact, that they hadn’t updated the line cards from the previous movie! Snagging the first queue card ensured that I’d get in, and actually, this turned out to be the smallest crowd I experienced for a pre-Code at the entire festival. (I think the last-minute announcement of George Clooney appearing at 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven altered many attendees’ schedules.)
First in line for Man's Castle! (Photo by Kim Luperi)
My initial idea was to grab my number for Man’s Castle and race over to the Roosevelt pool for Frankie Avalon’s introduction for Beach Party (1963). However, the start time for Man’s Castle was pushed back 15 minutes, so by the time I got my number and ran across the street, Avalon had just wrapped up his intro. (Unfortunately, there was a shooting near the theater that night and we were briefly placed on lockdown, so even if the start time for Man’s Castle hadn’t been pushed, I don’t think I would have been able to leave, anyway.)
I’ve seen Man’s Castle before, albeit in an inferior form online. In their introduction, Sony’s Rita Belda and the Academy Museum’s Jenny He noted that the focus for this brand-new restoration was on the parts of the film censored in 1933 and 1938. The teams utilized three prints: the original negative, which was in the best shape, a nitrate print and a nitrate dup negative. The latter two sources were rife with damage and various issues. That said, they returned all the footage they could to this version, which totaled about eight minutes. That’s a lot of ‘new’ material! I would love to see a side-by-side comparison of what went back in, as most of the big scenes and lines that were censored appeared in both the movie I originally saw online and this new restoration. (I do recall some abrupt cuts in Glenda Farrell’s dialogue during my first viewing, and they noted that a lot of her lines were added back in.)
Loretta Young and Spencer Tracy in Man's Castle.
I’m still not sure what to make of this movie after multiple viewings. Frank Borzage’s direction and soft focus can give a thoughtful, dreamlike quality to Spencer Tracy’s complex, emotionally manipulative character at times; he’s genuinely sweet and thoughtful at moments, rotten and hard in others. The stark Depression backdrop paints a realistic, no frills picture of what audiences of the day were dealing with, and Tracy’s character espouses some interesting ideas. So, it’s moving but kind of messed up, too. I’m also always shocked at how quietly brazen some of the pre-Code elements—Tracy and Loretta Young’s characters living together out of wedlock, her getting pregnant, some of his stark language towards her and her body—are in this picture. Columbia sure got away with a lot in Man’s Castle!
I had some grand idea that I may be able to stay awake and alert long enough to attend the introduction for Batwoman (1968), Friday’s midnight movie. All hopes for that were dashed when I started feeling tired during parts of Man’s Castle, so I headed home. I also made that decision because my earliest movie—and the one I anticipated would be the most popular of my fest selections—started at 9am on Saturday.
Keep your eyes out for my recap of day 3, my first full day of the fest, coming soon!
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.