When Movies Were Movies
With icons like Montgomery Clift, Gene Tierney, and Judy Garland on the screen and living legends like Anjelica Huston, Eva Marie Saint, and centenarian Luise Rainer greeting audiences, the TCM Classic Film Festival promises a movie-lover’s paradise featuring, as MGM once touted its players, “more stars than there are in the heavens.”
The festival, the first one to be held by the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, will take place in Hollywood April 22-25, with screenings at three theaters — Grauman’s Chinese, Mann’s Chinese 6, and the Egyptian — and additional events at the nearby Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
While TCM lets film buffs watch uncut, uninterrupted classics from the comfort of their couches, “there’s nothing quite like seeing these movies on the big screen,” says TCM host Robert Osborne. “You think you’ve seen Casablanca or Saturday Night Fever or Singin’ in the Rain, but until you see John Travolta strutting down the street in Saturday Night Fever on a big screen three stories tall and share it with other people, there’s no experience quite like it. We love the fact that people love TCM, and we love to bring you movies on TCM, but we also love this other experience to be felt by people.”
The festival, which includes more than 40 films along with numerous panel discussions and Q&A sessions, offers much of interest to any fan of vintage cinema, but some titles may appeal especially LGBT audiences. For instance, the fest will screen a newly restored print of Elia Kazan’s 1960 film Wild River, starring the great gay (or perhaps bi) actor Montgomery Clift as a federal government engineer overseeing construction of a dam — and clashing with the locals — in Depression-era rural Tennessee.
“It is a very Kazan type of film; it is a story with some political implications,” says Osborne. “It is also interesting for fans of Montgomery Clift, because it’s Clift in the latter part of his career, after he’d had all that damage done to his face [in a severe auto accident in 1956], and he really doesn’t look like the Montgomery Clift of A Place in the Sun or The Heiress or Red River, but he is no less powerful an actor.” The film also features Lee Remick, Jo Van Fleet, and, in his screen debut, Bruce Dern. Curtis Hanson, director of L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys, will introduce the movie.
Also on display at the fest will be iconic leading lady Gene Tierney, not only in her best-loved film, the high-class mystery Laura, but also in a new print of the deliciously over-the-top Leave Her to Heaven, as a woman who will stop at absolutely nothing in pursuit of love and revenge. “That is an incredibly beautiful film in three-strip Technicolor with vivid images, and it’s been restored, and it looks every bit as good as it did in 1945, when it was released,” Osborne says. Cast member Darryl Hickman, who was just 14 when he made the movie, is scheduled to appear for a Q&A with the audience.
Another restored film to be screened is the Judy Garland–James Mason version of A Star Is Born, directed by George Cukor, for the festival’s opening night gala. “It’s going to look as good and crisp as it did when it was released back in 1954,” Osborne says. It will not, however, include footage that was notoriously trimmed upon the initial release, shortening the film to allow more showings per day; that remains unrecovered. “We keep hearing rumors that somebody does have it, but I’ve never known anybody who actually saw it,” he says. “It just seems strange that it hasn’t been spirited away by somebody. But it’s very hard for me to believe someone would have it and would not have shown it to people one of us knew somewhere along the line.”
With some under themes such as “Hollywood on Hollywood,” “Vanity Fair’s Tales of Hollywood,” “The Film Foundation” (restoration), and “The Hustons: A Hollywood Dynasty,” other likely festival highlights include:
- Midnight Cowboy, the 1969 Oscar winner from gay director John Schlesinger (who took home a statuette for Best Director). It’s the only X-rated film to win Best Picture, with the X subsequently having been appropriated by porn flicks and replaced by NC-17 in the MPAA rating system; Midnight Cowboy’s rating was eventually revised to an R. Jon Voight, who starred with Dustin Hoffman, will be on hand to discuss the film.
- The Good Earth, introduced by 100-year-old star Luise Rainer, making a rare public appearance. Rainer won the second of her two consecutive Oscars for this 1937 film, in which she and Paul Muni played a Chinese peasant couple.
- North by Northwest, the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock classic starring Cary Grant, introduced by cast members Eva Marie Saint and Martin Landau. The latter had a small but memorable role as Leonard, henchman to villain Philip Vandamm (James Mason) — Leonard reads clearly as gay to any savvy viewer. Landau will appear at screenings of two of his other films as well: Cleopatra, where he’ll be joined by director Joe Mankiewicz’s son Tom, and Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, alongside costar Anjelica Huston.
- Also from 1959, Douglas Sirk’s magnificently melodramatic Imitation of Life, with Lana Turner emoting in fabulous fashions and producer Ross Hunter’s penchant for opulence obvious in every frame. Scheduled with the screening is what promises to be a fascinating discussion with costars Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner, who played, respectively, Turner’s African-American maid and the maid’s daughter, who passes for white. Another Turner movie in the fest is Vincente Minnelli’s inside-Hollywood drama The Bad and the Beautiful; Turner’s lesbian daughter, Cheryl Crane, will provide an introduction.
- A Woman’s Face, George Cukor’s rarely seen 1941 melodrama starring Joan Crawford as a disfigured criminal and Melvyn Douglas as her plastic surgeon. Introducing the film will be Crawford’s grandson Casey La Londe and Douglas’s granddaughter Illeana Douglas, herself a noted screen performer. At another festival event, La Londe will show some of Crawford’s home movies.
- Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder’s superb 1959 comedy with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis posing as women, the former being pursued by Joe E. Brown, the latter pursuing Marilyn Monroe. Curtis will introduce the film, and he’ll also be on hand for a discussion at a screening of Sweet Smell of Success and an event at which he’ll show his original art and sign books.
And the festival offers much, much more, including the quintessential Rock Hudson–Doris Day movie, Pillow Talk; a restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, with added footage; a new print of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, introduced by star Jean-Paul Belmondo; James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, with restored audio; appearances by directors Mel Brooks and Peter Bogdanovich, writer Buck Henry, stars Jerry Lewis and Norman Lloyd, special effects master Douglas Trumbull, and numerous others; and panels on many aspects of filmmaking
For those who can’t get to the festival in Los Angeles, TCM is airing special festival-related programming the same weekend and presenting one-night “Road to Hollywood” screenings in five cities leading up to the fest. The Boston, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C., events have already taken place, but there’s still time to make the screening in San Francisco (The Lady From Shanghai, April 21). For a full festival schedule and ticket information, click here.