The first full day of moviegoing at the TCM Classic Film Festival on Friday, April 11th, got off to a great start thanks to my decision to spend opening night in a local hotel this year. Not having to struggle through rush hour traffic for a couple of hours made things so much nicer; I was able to get a reasonable amount of sleep and still be in line around 8:00 a.m. for the 9:15 showing of STAGECOACH (1939)!
All was quiet when I got to the Hollywood and Highland Center about 7:30 that morning...
...but it was so nice to run into fellow movie-goers Joel and his wife Beth at Starbucks and enjoy a quiet breakfast chatting before the day's movie mania began. By the end of the day I would see 5 films, on my way to seeing a total of 14 at the festival. Joel would make it to a remarkable 19 films!
Joel and I had the same plan for the first screening of the day: STAGECOACH (1939) in 35mm at the Chinese Multiplex.
Somehow I hadn't seen STAGECOACH since watching it on commercial television as a child, despite loving John Wayne and John Ford and owning not one but two different DVD versions! To say I loved it would be an understatement. The movie absolutely blew me away, from the star-making performance of John Wayne to Yakima Canutt's stuntwork (applauded by the audience) to the great cast; as I wrote before the festival, "It's even got Tim Holt!" I plan to write more about this film in a separate post, along with any other films seen at the festival but not previously written about here. (Update: Here is my review.)
STAGECOACH was introduced by writer Nancy Schoenberger, who is working on a forthcoming book on John Ford and John Wayne. Speaking honestly, it was the weakest introduction I saw at the festival; she was knowledgeable but seemingly underprepared for sharing the information in that setting.
From STAGECOACH it was on to the first of back-to-back films at the big Chinese Theatre, Orson Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL (1958). The digital print was very beautiful and I was glad to finally see it, though it was probably the film I enjoyed the least of my 14 festival films. As I watched the movie the phrase "carnival of weirdos" popped into my head, and I think it's an apt description.
I'm going to be curious to take the advice of my friend Blake (his comment is here) and compare the version I saw to a different cut.
Charlton Heston's son Fraser presented a graceful introduction:
Fraser mentioned that TCM founder Ted Turner had given him his first directing job. He described TOUCH OF EVIL as a "disturbingly dark film noir" and said his father referred to TOUCH OF EVIL as the "best B movie ever made." (Update: Here is my more detailed review of the movie.)
Then it was back into the Chinese line for MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), one of my three most favorite films of all time. (The others, for anyone keeping track, are SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.) This was my eighth time to see it on a big screen and my second time to see Margaret O'Brien in person; I'd seen her at a screening at the Vagabond Theater when I was a teenager.
The digital projection of this movie was disappointingly fuzzy on the big Chinese screen, but at the same time I enjoyed watching it projected in such a large size, which enabled me to pay close attention to all the details in the corners of the picture.
I'll be sharing some scans of stills from my collection when I write more about MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS in the future.
The high point of the festival might have been the screening of WHY WORRY? (1923) in 35mm at the Egyptian Theatre.
Leonard Maltin and Harold Lloyd's granddaughter Suzanne introduced the movie, which was accompanied by Carl Davis conducting a live orchestra in the debut of his new score.
Some of the film's comedy was mind-blowingly funny -- Harold climbing up the giant made me laugh till I cried -- and the lively score was a delight. The audience stood and literally cheered at the end of the film.
After WHY WORRY? I dashed down Hollywood Boulevard along with KC and Angela to make it into the screening of EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933), which I reviewed in 2007. We were fortunate to make it into the sold-out screening just in time!
EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE was preceded by a special lecture on "Pre-Code 101" by Bruce Goldstein of New York's Film Forum, and it was terrific. He used well-chosen clips to present a brief overview defining pre-Codes and the greatest stars of the era. It provided wonderful context for the movie.
The first time I saw it a few years ago I hadn't liked EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE as much as some other pre-Codes, but it's one of those movies which plays really well with a packed house; we collectively gasped at Warren William's outrageous behavior as though he were the villain of an old-style melodrama.
The pre-Codes and more obscure titles are typically shown in the smallest house of the multiplex, with resulting sellouts. Hopefully next year some of these films will be shown in one of the larger theaters, as they always draw a crowd.
I closed my look at Day Two of the festival with a roundup of pieces on the festival by other writers. Here's a fresh list of additional reading on what is described by all as a very, very special experience:
"There's No Place Like TCMFF: A Personal Overview" by Nora, The Nitrate Diva
"TCM Classic Film Festival 2014 aka the Best Experience I've Ever Had!" by Nicola, the Vintage Film Nerd
"Classic Links: TCM Classic Film Festival 2014 Edition" by KC at Classic Movies
"Movies Are a Necessity to Our Lives - TCM Film Festival Roundup" by Jessica at Comet Over Hollywood
"2014 TCM Classic Film Festival: Pre-festival Festivities" by Diane at Classic Movie Blog
"TCM Classic Film Festival 2014" by Tiffany Vazquez, TCM Guest Programmer Contest Winner, at This Looks Filmiliar
"Opening Night TCM Classic Film Fest 2014" by Elise at Elise's Ramblings (great photos!)
"TCM Film Fest Diary: Day 1" by Emily at The Vintage Cameo
"TCM Film Festival Part 1" by Kate at Scathingly Brilliant
"TCM Classic Film Festival Wrap-Up" by Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film
Keep in mind that many of the blogs listed above have multiple posts on the festival, so be sure to take a little time to explore each blog while you're there!
For more links to my coverage of the festival, please visit The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review.
Coming soon: A look at Day Four of the festival and a review of STAGECOACH (1939), with even more to follow!