The countdown begins as we are exactly one week out from the beginning of TCM’s 6th Annual Classic Film Festival! Film fans from all over the globe will start descending on our little burg of Hollywoodland to mix, mingle and movie watch until rigor mortis sets in, and we couldn’t be happier!
This year TCM is offering up some unparalleled screenings, symposiums and amazing guests. As everyone who plans on coming, or has been here in the past, knows, the first order of business is to map out your schedule. So many films, so many options, so little time.
Rather than give you a laundry list of The Retro Set staff picks, we’re posting a couple choices from the three in attendance, Editors Jill Blake and Carley Johnson, and Creative Director Wade Sheeler. These are by no means the best of the best; just the ones we are dying to see, seated next to all you “wonderful people out there in the dark!”
And if you see us queued up for a screening, enjoying a poolside cocktail, or fighting the throngs of tourists unknowingly enrolling in Scientology with those seemingly benign “stress tests”, make sure to say “Hi!”
Without further ado, here’s The Retro Set’s Top Picks for the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival:
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)
Screening Friday, March 27 at 9:15 pm at the Chinese Multiplex 1
Yes, I’ve seen it (literally) a dozen times – but enjoying the Bond films at TCM (they seem to screen one every year) is like watching them for the first time. The prints are always beautiful, and the audience is so wound up, it’s something akin to Christmas, and still believing in Santa Claus. Outside of Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale and Sean Connery’s Goldfinger, I think it’s the best Bond of them all (solid story, amazing set pieces) and offers up one of those “What if” questions we film fanatics constantly torture ourselves with: “What if Sean Connery hadn’t skipped out on this one (he returned for Diamonds Are Forever), wouldn’t it be the epic, end-all, be-all of all Bond films ever? Ever?!”
OHMSS has many firsts, James Bond quits MI6 (or so he thinks), meets Blofeld face to the face (an immensely entertaining Telly Savalas) marries for the one and only time, and who better than Avengers’ minx herself – Diana Rigg to be the object of his affection? She is the perfect match for Bond. But the bonus of all bonuses is George Lazenby, the most underappreciated Bond of them all, will be there in-freaking-person to regale us with ribald stories and amusing anecdotes from the swingin’ sixties. As James Bond himself once said “I must be dreaming.” (Name that movie).
THE GRIM GAME (1919)
Screening Sunday, March 29 at 8:15 pm at the Egyptian
The world premiere of a Harry Houdini film with live orchestra accompaniment? I mean – c’mon – how can this not be at the top of everyone’s lists? Granted the programming competition is stiff – (Sophia Loren in person!) but that’s what makes TCM’s Film Fests so diabolically good – you have to make some hard life choices, and while just as a good an argument could be made for seeing La Loren in person (Psst – she actually will be in attendance at the Montalban Theatre the day before, BTW) , I have to see this curio with other lovers of silent film. I was lucky enough to be in attendance two years ago when the early Capra film, The Donovan Affair (the sound film without sound) had a live soundtrack provided by curator Bruce Goldstein and a team of actors, and the audience was “electrified.” It was like seeing Babe Ruth step out of a fog and appear in present day. And even though The Grim Game will air on TCM later this year, there is nothing – NOTHING – like seeing a world premiere restoration with a live audience. I believe this is the one experience that TCM Fest-goers will never forget.
GUNGA DIN (1939)
Screening Sunday, March 29 at 1:00 pm at the Egyptian
One of my favorite screenings from last year’s festival was the Sunday morning screening of the splashy technicolor action-adventure The Adventures of Robin Hood. Besides the sparkling print and tired but enthusiastic audience, this screening was even more special because of the AMPAS-sponsored presentation by visual effects expert Craig Barron and sound editor/director Ben Burrt. Sitting through a lecture on a Sunday morning may seem like a boring endeavor, but not in the hands of Barron and Burrt. Their “conversations” are highly entertaining and informative.
This year, Barron and Burrt are back with an in-depth look at one of my all-time favorites: the exciting Gunga Din (1939) directed by George Stevens and starring Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Victor McLaglen. Barron and Burrt’s presentation, followed by the 35mm screening of one the greatest films to come out of Hollywood’s greatest year, promises to be one of the best events of an already impressive festival lineup. And an added bonus: the screening is early afternoon, so you can head down to Larry Edmund’s Bookshop to see Carl Reiner that morning!
INHERIT THE WIND (1960)
Screening Friday, March 27 at 9:00 am at Chinese Multiplex 6
If you have read some of my pieces here at The Retro Set or follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you know that I have a serious appreciation/love/obsession (?) for Fredric March. At the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival, I attended the world premiere restoration of The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)– the first (and only) Fredric March film I’ve seen on the big screen. It was an incredible experience (despite the fact that the audience probably laughed more than they should’ve) and I’ve kept my fingers crossed for more March goodness at future events.
Although I was really holding out for a screening of DeMille’s very pre-code The Sign of the Cross, or even an entire festival dedicated to the films of Fredric March (as I cheekily suggested to TCM Director of Programming Charlie Tabesh a couple years ago), I am very excited about the 35mm screening of Stanley Kramer’s Inherit the Wind. This excellent dramatization of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial starring March, Spencer Tracy, and Gene Kelly (no dancing here!) may be a bit heavy for its 9:00 am time slot, but this Freddie March fan/Southern gal wouldn’t miss it for the world.
STEAMBOAT BILL JR. (1928)
Screening Friday, March 27 at 7:15 pm at the Egyptian
Carl Davis is the John Williams of silent film. His scores played a key role re-invigorating the silent film viewing experience and while, like with Williams, he’s not everyone’s composer of choice , the man is a legend and experiencing his music performed live is a sweeping experience. He will be conducting the world premiere of his new score for Buster Keaton’s 1928 comedic masterpiece Steamboat.
Of course, Buster Keaton himself is reason enough to get thee to the Egyptian Theatre as this film is rollicking, wildly creative adventure comedy that must be seen to be believed. The great stoneface is the awkward, sensitive son who is spending his vacation from school with his tobacco-chewing, rough and tumble steamboat captain father (Ernest Torrance). Buster repeatedly tries to win his father’s favor, but of course, his attempts at matching his father’s physicality lead to (hilarious) disaster. The fact that Buster has fallen in love with the daughter (a too-cute-for-words Mary Byron) of his father’s arch nemesis (Tom McGuire) certainly doesn’t help, and the disastrous set of events is topped only by a disaster from mother nature herself. (Culminating in one of the most dangerous stunts of the silent–or any–era.)
I can’t wait to see this film on the big screen with the enthusiastic crowd that TCM Fest silent film screenings always attract. It is Keaton’s last film before signing over his creative freedom to MGM, and he is still very much at the zenith of his creative prowess, his sheer genius infusing even the simplest of throwaway gag. This is not only one of the greatest comedies of the silent era, but one of the greatest comedies of all time, bar none.
WHY BE GOOD? (1929)
Saturday, March 28 at 9:15 am at Chinese Multiplex 1
Colleen Moore dazzles in the vibrant jazz age comedy, Why Worry?, a film that is bound to be one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the festival. The fact that this film is able to be seen here in 2015 at all is something of a miracle. This was thought a “lost silent”, one of the many thousands lost to time indefinite. But when Ron Hutchinson of the immeasurably valuable Vitaphone Project was tipped off that a 35 mm nitrate print of the film existed in an Italian archive? The ball started rolling.
The story itself is one of the most tired tropes around: poor girl falls in love with rich guy and their parents don’t want them together and against great odds true love prevails. Been there, done that, right? WRONG. Because this film features one of the most criminally overlooked comediennes of all time, Colleen Moore. Moore has the almost supernatural ability to reach out, grab the audience by the heartstrings, and not let go until she’s darn good and ready to. Also, since this film is one of the silent films in the wake of talkies, it features a synchronized soundtrack with a toe-tapping hot-jazz score that you are absolutely going to love.
I had the great pleasure of seeing this film late last year at the LACMA, and the reaction was one of complete delight. Chances are you’ll have to line up early for this one, and I put ready money on its being a sell-out … which means you’ll probably have a good chance of it being one of Sunday’s TBD selections.