On Friday, Day Three of the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival, I was in line bright and early for Marlene Dietrich in SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932). It was the first film in what would be my busiest day of the festival, a five-movie day!
SHANGHAI EXPRESS was a beautiful digital restoration. It was my first time to see the film, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially as I love a good "train" movie. It was such a good movie that it even overcame my lack of enthusiasm for Marlene Dietrich! (Update: Here is my review.)
Prior to SHANGHAI EXPRESS, Jeremy Arnold briefly interviewed Nicholas von Sternberg, son of the movie's director, Josef von Sternberg. He joked that his father was nicknamed "Midnight Joe" because of lengthy days of filming, and he had positive memories of Marlene Dietrich, including sitting on her lap when he was a little boy.
I had planned on another pre-Code, DOUBLE HARNESS (1933), as my second film; it was introduced by actor James Cromwell, son of the film's director John Cromwell. Unfortunately the line was so incredibly long, even an hour before the movie, that we were told most of us would not make it into the theater.
DOUBLE HARNESS ended up selling out a second time on Sunday, with one issue being that Spotlight passholders, who pay the highest price and are guaranteed seating in any screening, took up over half the seats at each showing. Theater 4, where the pre-Codes were booked, is the smallest theater in the festival at 177 seats; incidentally, this year it was also the only one of the three theaters in the multiplex equipped to play 35mm. In the past TCM had an issue with film noir selling out in Theater 4 and moved those films to the Egyptian.
The need to line up extra-early for Theater 4 led to my adjusting a couple things on my original schedule, such as plans to see PLEASURE CRUISE (1933) and LAW AND ORDER (1932). Hopefully TCM will come up with a solution for pre-Codes in the future which will make it possible for more festival attendees to see them, particularly without having to give up seeing other films in order to get an early spot in line. I'd also love to see them go back to showing a higher percentage of films in 35mm.
All's well that ended well as I had plenty of time to get out of the DOUBLE HARNESS line and move a few blocks down the street to the Egyptian Theatre, where I saw a lovely 35mm print of John Garfield's last film, HE RAN ALL THE WAY (1951). HE RAN ALL THE WAY was a really terrific film noir which even included scenes shot at the Long Beach Plunge, where my dad learned to swim as a kid. Most of the time slots at the festival had multiple films I would have enjoyed seeing, as this situation illustrates. (Update: Here is my review of HE RAN ALL THE WAY.)
I stayed at the Egyptian for the third film of the day, TRAPEZE (1956), which was preceded by Illeana Douglas interviewing Gina Lollobrigida. It was a thrill to see this mega-star in person!
She described becoming a movie star; early on in her career she wasn't really interested in movies so she demanded a huge amount of money and to her surprise the producers agreed. She told great stories, such as Humphrey Bogart advising her not to lose her accent, and she also spoke movingly of her grief at Tyrone Power dying during the production of SOLOMON AND SHEBA (1959).
An official TCM photo of the interview:
The 35mm print of TRAPEZE was the only poor print I saw at the festival; fortunately it wasn't scratched or jumpy, but the picture was overly grainy and distorted. It reminded me of the WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956) print I saw in 2014. However, I soon became absorbed in the story and was able to overlook the picture, despite it being less than ideal. Fortunately the vast majority of films screened at the festival are in outstanding condition.
From TRAPEZE it was off to the "big" Chinese Theatre for IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). It was the only film I saw in that theater during this year's festival.
A big part of the appeal of seeing IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE during the festival was that it was preceded by a presentation by special effects wizards Ben Burtt and Craig Barron. Burtt & Baron thoroughly research their presentations, which are truly fascinating; I previously saw them give a talk on GUNGA DIN (1939) in Lone Pine. I saw them twice during the festival and both of their presentations were definite festival highlights.
The WONDERFUL LIFE presentation included information on the creation of the movie's "snow," the special effects for shots of George and Mary's home (I didn't know it was the MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS house!), and never-before-seen home movies of the wrap party.
Making it even more special: sitting in my row a few seats over was a gentleman who was the Martini baby in the movie! When his big moment came, when the Martinis move into their new home, the audience burst into applause.
I thought it was my first time to see IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE on the big screen, but a look at my records when I got home reminded me I'd seen it at UCLA's Royce Hall as a teenager. Needless to say, though, that was quite a while back, and enjoying the movie in a pristine DCP print with an enthusiastic audience was a very special experience.
The last scene, panning all the amazing character faces, always really gets me, and this viewing was no exception. As I Tweeted afterwards, I was "overwhelmed." It took a little while for the misty eyes to clear up after that one!
I would have really loved to see Angela Lansbury interviewed prior to THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) at the Chinese Theatre, but the line was understandably huge, and I'll be honest and say that her interviewer, Alec Baldwin, is someone who made it easier for me to pass up the opportunity.
MY SISTER EILEEN (1955) introduced by Chris Lemmon was also an appealing option, but as I'd suspected I would, I ended up at the Egyptian Theatre, where Eddie Muller introduced one of my favorite films of the last few years, REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947). I saw it in 35mm twice in 2013, and I was thrilled for the chance to see it in that format one more time.
Coming soon: Days Four and Five, and more individual reviews! My thoughts on my first film of the fest, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945), were posted earlier today.
TCM has put together a compilation of social media coverage by many attendees, including yours truly, at Storify, which provides a great overview of the entire festival.
A few more links in today's roundup of festival coverage:
"TCMFF 2016 Recap: Day 1" by Lindsay at Lindsay's Movie Musings
"TCMFF Day 5 and Day 6 recaps by Raquel at Out of the Past
"Ten Things I Learned at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival" by Dennis Cozzalio at Trailers From Hell
"#TCMFF: Saturday, the Second Full Day" by Stephen at Classic Movie Man
"2016 TCM Classic Film Festival: Elliott Gould and The Long Goodbye (1973)" by Kristina at Speakeasy
"2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Review: Day 1 and 2" by Lorna Miller at Cinema Sentries
Additionally, there's a podcast review of the festival here featuring Miguel of Horrible Imaginings and Will of Cinematically Insane, and another podcast on the San Diego PBS site hosted by Beth Accomando.
Be sure to also check out sites I've linked to in past roundups for additional coverage!