Saturday, May 04, 2013

The TCM Classic Film Festival: Day Two

Day 2 of the TCM Classic Film Festival began with one of the screenings I was most anxious to see, the classic "train" film noir THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), starring Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, and Jacqueline White. I first reviewed this film back in 2009.

I made sure I was in line at the Egyptian bright and early -- I was first in line, to be exact!

Prior to the screening, the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller interviewed 90-year-old actress Jacqueline White, who was absolutely charming. She related that she had married and considered herself retired from films when she visited the RKO lot to show off photos of her new baby. While there she encountered director Richard Fleischer, who asked her to appear in THE NARROW MARGIN.

White said she found costar Charles McGraw to be a perfect gentleman, prompting Eddie Muller to joke she must not have gone out drinking with him, which she agreed she hadn't!

Although another film offer was forthcoming after THE NARROW MARGIN, White instead chose to devote herself to her husband, who was starting a business in Wyoming, and her family; she eventually became the mother of five children.

The closeup photo of Eddie Muller and Jacqueline White immediately below is courtesy of TCM.

Eddie's interview with Jacqueline can be seen in the festival video gallery under the Friday listings.

Before the movie Eddie Muller had asked for a show of hands to see how many people had not seen THE NARROW MARGIN before, and it turned out this was a first-time viewing for a majority of the audience. The crowd responded to the film enthusiastically, especially to great lines such as McGraw describing Windsor as "poison under the gravy." Seeing the film on a big screen, I particularly noted the wonderful staging of a fistfight in a small train compartment. A terrific movie in every way.

There were a couple minor projection issues with THE NARROW MARGIN, with a rough reel change and the sound dropping out for a few seconds, but by and large this print looked terrific.

After THE NARROW MARGIN it was time to get right back in line at the Egyptian for one of my very favorite Hitchcock films, NOTORIOUS (1946), which I enjoyed watching with my friend Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. The last time I had seen this film on a big screen was as a teenager, when my parents took me to see it at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. NOTORIOUS was introduced by former ESSENTIALS cohost Rose McGowan (photo below courtesy of TCM).

Truth be told, the NOTORIOUS print was the only one of the festival that was a major disappointment. While certain scenes looked great, others were murky and unfocused; the famous shot that zooms in on the key in Ingrid Bergman's hand was fuzzy. The film also jumped ahead a couple of times. It's a testament to the power of the movie that it still gripped me in its magic and I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it despite the less than optimum picture. I anticipate reviewing this title in more depth separately. (Update: The review is now posted!)

The third event of the day was Hollywood Home Movies: Treasures From the Academy Film Archive, presented at Club TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt. The program consisted of nearly 90 minutes of silent Technicolor home movies from the collections of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., James Wong Howe, Jean Negulesco, Henry Koster, John Huston, Richard Brooks, and more, with in-person narrators including Mitzi Gaynor, Fay McKenzie, and Bob Koster.

Fay McKenzie, who is 95, was Gene Autry's leading lady in several films and was the sister-in-law of comedian Billy Gilbert. The movies she shared included footage of her performing in a WWII USO show with Desi Arnaz.

Mitzi Gaynor is a livewire, as can be glimpsed in the non-flash picture below; she said she'd run into a fan in the hotel without all her makeup on and was asked if she was Mitzi Gaynor, to which she replied "Not yet!"


Footage from director Henry Koster's collection included Mitzi on the set of MY BLUE HEAVEN (1951) gazing adoringly at Dan Dailey, on whom she had a major crush.  Mitzi is seen below with Henry Koster's son Bob.

I especially enjoyed color footage of the cast of GUNGA DIN in Lone Pine; this was particularly fun since the movie itself was filmed in black and white.

After the program ended, Leonard Maltin and his wife Alice greeted fans:

The final movie of the night was ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)... the Chinese Theatre:

The screening was preceded by Ben Mankiewicz interviewing star Eva Marie Saint, which can be found in the festival video gallery. They had a nice rapport, and Mankiewicz pulled off a funny gag in which he responded to her (apparently long-running) criticism of his wearing jeans with his suit jacket by unzipping his jeans and revealing dress slacks underneath, just for her.

When asked whether she'd pick Brando or NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) costar Cary Grant as her favorite, Saint diplomatically refused to choose, then jokingly threw out an alternative name, "Yves Montand!"

Saint recounted an interesting anecdote, that in the scene where Terry and Edie are running from the truck, the alley door was locked and Marlon stuck his hand in through the glass to open the door and "probably saved my life." I noticed that in the film the shot of his hand going through the glass is done in closeup, so I wonder if he spontaneously did that in the long shot and then a closeup was filmed to match.

This was actually my second time to see Eva Marie Saint in person; the first time, when I was a teenager, was in a stage production of THE FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER opposite Henry Fonda at the Huntington Hartford Theatre. Coincidentally, Fonda's daughter Jane was also honored at the TCM festival, placing her footprints next to her father's at the Chinese Theatre.

As it turned out, this digitally restored print of ON THE WATERFRONT was the only disappointment among the digital films I saw at the festival. While the picture looked great in medium and long shots, the closeups were muddy and blurred, looking slightly pixilated. It seemed as though perhaps individual faces in this print just weren't meant to be blown up full size on the giant screen of the Chinese Theatre. This was the only day of the festival I had any issues with print quality, and the movies I saw Saturday and Sunday were all in great shape, 35mm and digital alike.

Although the look of the film was a bit perplexing, for the most part the odd-looking closeups didn't interfere with my enjoyment of this timeless classic, which I first reviewed here almost exactly a half-dozen years ago. The sound quality was outstanding, and I particularly appreciated Leonard Bernstein's score on this viewing.

As I watched ON THE WATERFRONT, it was fun to reminisce that the very first time I saw the movie was as part of a 50-hour Oscar marathon at the Filmex festival I attended with my father in Century City in the late '70s.

Lots more links to my coverage of the festival can be found at This Week: The 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review.

Coming soon: Day 3 of the festival, and reviews of NOTORIOUS (1946) and THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948).


Blogger Silver Screenings said...

I'm surprised to hear that some of the films turned out to be disappointments quality-wise. I would not have expected that.

Great story about Mitzi Gaynor sans makeup running into a fan at the hotel!

6:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NARROW MARGIN w/ Jacqueline White was definitely on of the highlights of the TCMFF for me. She is a remarkable woman, and almost beatific at age 90.

It's odd that you experienced variation in image quality and focus during NOTORIOUS, considering that it was a 35 mm print. I can understand scratches or even slight jumps/edits in an older 35 mm print, but focus should be consistent. That suggests some unfortunately sloppy work on the part of the projectionist, or maybe a warped print. I sincerely doubt it was the latter, considering the stringent quality control process TCM engages in for TCMFF prints.

Ironically, the the only print imperfections I experienced were also 35 projection - THE NARROW MARGIN (as you indicated) and SAFE IN HELL which was somewhat beaten up.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Robby Cress said...

Thanks for the recap. I enjoyed the comment regarding Mankiewicz wearing jeans with his suit jacket and his response to Saint! Sounds like was interesting discussion.

12:30 PM  
Blogger LĂȘ said...

Another nice piece of info9rmation. mitzi seems to be a lovely lady! From your schedule, I'd only choose Notorious, a film I shamefully have to say didn't watch yet.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much to you all for taking the time to comment.

I was rather surprised there were some print issues, but it was hard to be too negative about it because I believe TCM really does work hard to secure good prints, and most of what I saw was outstanding. I suspect they will learn from this year's event and work even harder on the prints for next year.

Jacqueline White was such a treat!!

Best wishes,

1:17 PM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I really wish I had been able to go to that Hollywood Home Movies event. It looks fantastic! And I completely destroyed my feet hightailing it to the taping of the Eva Marie Saint interview when I probably would have been better off just going to the On the Waterfront screening oh well. Fantastic recap Laura!

I love that line from Mitzi Gaynor. She is such a hoot!

1:37 PM  

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