Classic Links

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I wonder what happened to the original versions of these paper caricatures made for film advertisements? They're gorgeous!

This is a fascinating article about how Elizabeth "Tippy" Walker, the actress who played one of the young girls in The World of Henry Orient (1964) with Peter Sellers, is doing today. She's had an unusual life: "She said the lines she had to speak in “Henry Orient” were inappropriate because they were for teenage girls and 'written by old men.'"(hat tip @jlunderberger, Going to TCM Film Festival Facebook Group)

I loved this post about automat restaurants. I've seen so many in old movies and wished I could have gotten a piece of pie from a little cubby hole and coffee from a spigot.

This is a wonderful write-up of  the two appearances Sophia Loren made at TCM Classic Film Festival.

A dress worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind (1939) was auctioned off for $137,000. I'm surprised there was still one of her dresses left from that film to be auctioned off.

The Imperial War Museum has finally completed the notorious, and for 70 years unavailable, documentary about the end of the Holocaust. Alfred Hitchcock advised on this film, which had been completed to the filmmaker's specifications and will now be screened for the public.

Warner Archive: A Remarkable Cast of Children In Our Mother's House

Though he is featured prominently in much of the advertising for Our Mother's House, Dirk Bogarde doesn't appear in the film until the half point. Up to then, it is the domain of a remarkable cast of seven children who play siblings coping with the sudden death of their sickly mother. Now this unusual, original film can be enjoyed in a new release from Warner Archive.

There is only a glimpse of the life the children lived alone with their mother offered in the opening scenes. Oldest sister Elsa (Margaret Laclere) returns to the house with groceries, and while there is also a maid, it is clear that she calls the shots where her parent is concerned. She has clearly set up a rhythm as caretaker and capable head of the house.

When the children's mother dies in a quiet gasp of breath, they grieve, but are so accustomed to taking care of the household that they carry on. They fire the housekeeper and claim mama has gone to sea on doctor's orders. They bury her body in the garden, and set up a shrine in the gardening shed where they commune with her spirit, carrying on the religious fanaticism she has instilled in them.

The children keep on for months, undisturbed and even managing to cash their mother's annuity checks. They struggle when the youngest sister Gerty (Phoebe Nicholls) becomes ill, but manage without a doctor. Then young, stuttering Jiminee (Mark Lester, Oliver! (1968)) brings home a school friend who wants to live with them, arousing the suspicion of the school teacher.

They are saved in the nick of time by the arrival of Charlie Hook (Dirk Bogarde), their supposed father. Summoned by older brother Hubert (Louis Sheldon Williams) during Gerty's illness, he appears at first to be their benefactor. He takes them on outings, and plays with them. In one quietly disturbing moment, he seems sexually fascinated by the pre-pubescent Diana (Pamela Franklin, The Innocents (1961)), though he declines to act on his interest. Like in that moment, the fun is overshadowed by a sense of dread, that he is too good to be true.

It turns out that he is. Charlie spends the money left to the children by their mother. He buys a car, throws parties, and brings home woman after woman. When he starts the process of selling the house, the children protest, and the full extent of his ugliness is made clear. It is also obvious that he has underestimated the will of the children to keep what is rightfully theirs.

The most astonishing thing about Our Mother's House is the cast of children. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert compared their sensitive, uncanny work to that of Hayley Mills in Tiger Bay (1959) and the cast of Lord of the Flies (1963). As in those films, director Jack Clayton captures a naturalness in his young performers that seems to be coupled with real craft. There's nothing precocious or forced about them; it's fine ensemble work by any standard, made all the more fascinating because of the age of the actors.

For the first half of the film, the siblings adjust to life on their own, quietly grieving and attending to the important details upon which their survival hinges. Their personalities emerge: the sweet and sensitive Gerty, the well-meaning Jiminee, who often lacks good sense, high-strung Diana and quietly nervous Hubert. They are cared for by Elsa, who has taken on the mother role ever since her own mother became ill.

The kids have their own society, where work, play and spirituality all have their place. It seems they could go on this way until adulthood if they were only left to live as they please. There are moments though, where you are reminded of their youth, and that they need guidance. In punishing Gerty for accepting a motorbike ride from a stranger, the children seem to be enforcing rules and religious beliefs in which they have received instruction, but do not yet fully understand. Clayton subtly pushes forward reminders of their youth, from a shot beneath the kitchen table of their dangling legs, to a close-up on a hand still pudgy with baby fat.

When Charlie shows up, it feels like an intrusion. While he secures the status quo for the immediate future, he upsets the balance the children have so carefully achieved. Though he has an adult understanding of the world, his behavior is more childish than that of his claimed offspring.

It's an unusual story, told with evenhanded melancholy, occasional playfulness and a great deal of tension. At moments, it seems like a horror film, but the young cast always gives the proceedings a feeling of poignancy that overwhelms any genre leanings.

Much as he did for Contempt (1963), Georges Delerue lends the film a bittersweet lushness with his mysteriously beautiful score.

Perhaps this deeply satisfying film will achieve the classic status it deserves now that it is available to a wider audience.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Screenshot of the Week: Anita Ekberg in Boccaccio '70

Anita Ekberg plays around in Boccaccio '70 (1962).

Quote of the Week: Katharine Hepburn on Spencer Tracy

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Spencer had eyes like an old wild animal....He had a soul that had no release; you were not looking into an empty room. He found acting easy and life difficult.

-Katharine Hepburn, about Spencer Tracy

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Classic Links

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At a recent event in Prague Kim Novak displayed her paintings and shared some interesting comments about her art, films and the memoir she wrote and lost.

Roar (1981) is being re-released by Alamo Drafthouse. Directed by Noel Marshall and featuring then wife Tippi Hedren , step daughter Melanie Griffith, and lots of lions, the film is notorious for the real life injuries (70 total among cast and crew) and dangers from working closely with the big cats. The trailer actually lists the injuries the family suffered to make the film:

These pics of Kylie Minogue made up as Marlene Dietrich make her look more like a high class drag queen than the legendary star, but that works for me.

It's fun to get a glimpse of director Preston Sturges working with cast and crew in this gallery of shots from the production of Sullivan's Travels (1941).

getTV will be celebrating Frank Capra's birthday in May with a two-day tribute featuring early works like It Happened One Night (1934), Forbidden (1932) and American Madness (1932).

I was touched by this post about Yul Brynner and his battle with lung cancer. I remember seeing his anti-smoking PSA as a kid and feeling so sad for him.

My mega TCMFF coverage post has grown a lot in the past week. Take a look at all the great new links! I've got new posts from bloggers and a few new articles as well.

TCM Classic Film Festival: Day Four and Farewell

I couldn't think of a better way to start day four of TCMFF than with the rousing opening number of Calamity Jane (1953). Doris Day standing on top of a speeding stagecoach singing at the top of her lungs was quite the eye-opener. Though I knew it was ridiculous, there was a part of me that hoped right up until the screening began that Day would make a surprise appearance. I don't think there's any way TCM would handle such a sought after, high profile guest in that way, but I can dream.

My original plan had been to see Psycho (1960) next, but that seemed too jarring a change in mood. I decided to go with the TBA screening of Reign of Terror aka The Black Book (1949), figuring that if it was so popular the first time, it had to be worth seeing. 

The always nattily dressed Noir czar Eddie Mueller introduced the screening. Though I was a bit disappointed that Norman Lloyd would not be there to chat after the screening as with the first showing, Mueller provided interesting background on the film. 

He said that it was made on a low budget, partly so the expensive sets from Joan of Arc could be used again. This tidbit helped me to appreciate the artistry of the film, because while you can see how the filmmakers cut corners, the production never feels cheap.

Set during the French Revolution, Robert Cummings, Richard Basehart and Arlene Dahl star as the most Hollywood French people you'll ever meet. I didn't know that any of them were in the film, nor Beulah Bondi or Charles McGraw. I felt a little jolt of excitement with each new revelation in the credits. 

When I realized Anthony Mann was the director and John Alton cinematographer, I cheered! I also quickly understood why this was considered a noir film, as this pair knows a thing or two about shadowy doom. 

I loved going into this movie knowing nothing and appreciating every surprise it held for me. The lower budget actually helped the film, because Mann would just shoot a little tighter, Alton would set the lights a little lower and the shadows longer, and between the two of them, they created a marvelous sense of dread.

While it seems to be only available in rather ragged prints, I highly recommend searching this one out.

While The Philadelphia Story (1940) has never been a particular favorite of mine, I've always found it to be aglow with the kind of magic that first drew me to classic films. The story doesn't appeal to me, but the cast is amazing: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Virginia Weidler, Roland Young and Ruth Hussey among them. It's not so shabby that George Cukor was at the helm as director as well. 

This is a film so vibrant with its "classicness" that I'd watch it just to get my fix, especially as a teenage film fan. Apparently, that's what actress Madeline Stowe did when she was young too, so in my mind she was the perfect choice to introduce the film with Illeana Douglas. She was so clearly a classic film nerd, and so knowledgeable too, that I really hope TCM will work more with her in the future. (more about her intro. here.) 

As I expected, I enjoyed the film more with an audience, but at the same time, I was starting to wonder how I was going to make it through another film. 

As soon as the film ended, it was back in line again for Marriage, Italian Style (1964) with an introduction by Sophia Loren. I had been anticipating this moment the entire festival. 

It was a wonderful experience walking by the already lengthy line queued up for the Chinese Theater. So many friends, old and new, waited to be a part of this marvelous moment too. As we took our spot at the end, many more passed by. It began to hit me that the end was near and I would soon be communicating with these people solely online again.

But what a great finale it was! Ben Mankiewicz began the event by reading a message from Robert Osborne, in which he praised the festival staff and said that he was on the mend. That was enormously comforting to hear.

Then Sophia Loren was announced, and just seeing her stride across the theater to her chair was a thrill. It was no mystery to anyone in the room why this woman was one of the biggest stars in the world. Mankiewicz was clearly in awe, as were we all.

Simply hearing Loren talk in that purring, Italian-accented voice was marvelous. She was funny, interesting, kind and quite glamorous in her white pant suit. It was a wonderful way to end the festival (more about her interview here.)

Though I tend to love movies that pair Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, this one was not one of my favorites. It was beautifully filmed and acted, but the story depressed me. Loren suffers so much as the longtime-mistress of a caddish bakery owner. I couldn't stand to see her that way after such a happy appearance from her in person! I will probably need to revisit this film another time.

Just like that, it was time for the Closing Night Party at Club TCM. As I walked with my friends down crowded Hollywood Boulevard, I savored the moment. I was tired, hungry, and glad I didn't have another film to see that day, but also a bit emotional.

It was great fun to see everyone gathered in Club TCM. I said goodbye to friends and was delighted to meet many more film fans, even during the last few hours of the festival. 

I enjoyed a glass of Bogart gin courtesy of TCM, but realized that that single drink was making me tipsy because I'd mostly subsisted on a large bag of popcorn that day. Good thing my hotel was only a block away.

When the lights went up in Club TCM, a gentle reminder the party was over, I was reluctant to go. Every hug goodbye included a promise to return the next year. With TCMFF 2015 barely in our rearview, we were already planning for 2016.

TCM Classic Film Festival 2015: Day Three

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Saturday was one of the most purely enjoyable days of the festival. All I did was watch movies and I think the simplicity of it all appealed to me. My energy started to flag a little, partly because I hadn't had a sit down meal for too long, and because I attempted another midnight movie, but I was still having a blast.

The first film of the day was Colleen Moore's last silent film, Why Be Good? (1929). Long thought to be lost, it was finally found and restored, and in 2014 Warner Archive released it on MOD disc (my review here). I found it to be the quintessential flapper film, with lots of fun parties and frocks, the frivolity leavened by a still relevant discussion of the double standards women, especially young women, face in romance.

I was curious to see how an audience would react to the film, and thrilled that a huge group of bloggers and #TCMParty regulars showed up for the screening. These photos really give you an idea of the camaraderie that develops between attendees of TCMFF (both photos courtesy of Laura. That's Karen and Kristina in the front, Lara, Angela and Jessica in the back):

And it isn't all about people who write blogs either. While I naturally gravitate towards people who write about the movies, I also enjoyed the company of many people who were there simply to check out the films.

I found watching Why Be Good? to be especially enjoyable with a audience. It's got a very crowd friendly mix of comedy, lively flirtations, glamour and wit. I hope that more Colleen Moore films will become available in the future, because she is an appealing actress: a mix of girl-next-door friendly and movie star charismatic.

Christine Ebersole

After the film, I got right back in line again for 42nd Street (1933) in the same theater. Broadway star Christine Ebersole helped with the introduction, and while she didn't seem to know much about the movie, she had plenty to say about the actual 42nd Street. While I enjoyed the slightly tart and very amusing Ebersole, I was disappointed that the intro. didn't include more tidbits about the film.

I would have gone to see a Busby Berkeley-choreographed musical on the big screen whatever the condition of the print, but it was especially exciting to see it in a new restoration. This version of the film will be used for the upcoming Warner Archive Blu-ray release. I sat very close to the screen for this one, ready to soak up every gorgeous detail.

Though I've seen 42nd Street more times than I can count, I still laughed at all the jokes, and every number thrilled me. Something about that movie is eternally fresh and alive to me.

With only a bag full of snacks to sustain me, I got right back into line again to see Air Mail (1932), an early John Ford drama. Leonard Maltin introduced the film, and he warned us that we weren't about to view a classic. Nevertheless, he said that it was an enjoyable watch. With that framework, it was easier for me to enjoy the drama on its own terms.

It's the story of the pilots on an air mail outpost. In a rare hero role, Ralph Bellamy is sympathetic, but has a slightly stern effect. I could see why he never made it as a leading man. When he softens, he's more likable, but that wasn't the proper persona for a dramatic lead.

Pat O'Brien steals the film in a flashy part as a skilled, daring, but irresponsible pilot who has an affair with a pilot's wife and angers the rest of the men with his reckless flying. It was amusing to see him playing a cad. A shame he didn't do that more often.

Also in the cast: Gloria Stuart in a slight, sweet performance and the always intriguing Leslie Fention in a small role.

It was an entertaining film,with some great stunt flying. As one of the few new-to-me picks at the festival, I was happy I took a chance on it.

Though I probably should have taken the time to sit down for a decent meal, I wanted to make sure to get in line early to see Shirley MacLaine before The Apartment (1960). If I'd only known those two hot dogs and BBQ chips were going to end up being my dinner, I might have gone for something better. 

I've written a bit about Maltin's conversation with Maclaine here. It was definitely one of the highlights of the festival, mostly because the actress doesn't hold back. She freely gives her opinion on everything, so you know who she didn't like and that gangsters were teaching her to cheat at cards. The woman has led a colorful life and she is unapologetic about the unconventional nature of it all.

While I enjoyed the film, I had my usual problem of losing patience with it. There are memorable moments scattered throughout and everything, from the performances and script to the music and cinematography are top notch. Still, it always starts to drive me crazy around the mid point, I think because so many of the characters are just horrid people!

I'd originally planned to check out The French Connection (1970) next. I've always wanted to see that movie on the big screen, but I couldn't resist the novelty of the Return of the Dream Machine: Hand-Cranked Projector Show. This program of one hundred year and older films, presented with a hand-cranked projector as they were upon original release, was unlike anything I'd ever seen.

Before the film, a tiny hand-cranked Edison phonograph played music via wax cylinders. It fascinated me that no electricity was used to operate it, though a microphone was needed to make the sound sufficient to fill the theater:

It took some time to start the program, as the projector was being set up and calibrated for only one show. It was amazing to be able to see this gorgeous apparatus up close:

Randy Haberkamp of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented the program, which included an introduction to each film. He gave a short history of how projectors like the 1909 Model 6 camegraph motion picture machine to be used that night were used in the early days of cinema. He explained that projectionist Joe Rinaudo would be steadily cranking the handle of the projector at the same rate of speed as the camera operators who filmed the movies.

The program included some of the most famous early films, including A Trip to the Moon (1902), A Corner in Wheat (1909), The Great Train Robbery (1903) and one of my favorite silent shorts, Lois Webers' aptly-named Suspense (1913). 

There was something very reassuring about seeing the projectionist's arm moving in the shadows next to the screen. It was an unusually intimate way to see movies.

The whole thing felt like a special presentation at a museum, rather than a typical screening. It was an eye-opening experience, because it made me think about how much the way we see films has changed and what kind of an effect that has on viewer perspective.

I dashed out after the last film on the program to get in line for the next film, and missed a surprise entry, a hand-colored serpentine dance from over one-hundred years ago. I hear it was gorgeous. Next year I am definitely going to make a point of enjoying the film I'm watching to the end, instead of fretting about getting into the next line.

By then I was ready to collapse, but I couldn't bear to miss the rare opportunity to see Nothing Lasts Forever (1984). I knew I would probably fall asleep, but I was determined to see what I could of Tom Schiller's underseen nostalgic film, which hadn't even been broadcast on television until TCM aired it earlier this year.

I happened to miss that TCM showing, and when I finally settled down to watch it on Watch TCM, the last day it was available, I fell asleep because I'd had an unusually busy day. 

The film's star Zach Galligan introduced the film, and he shared lots of entertaining stories about his early career, in addition to a good back history of the film. He was auditioning for Risky Business at the same time as Nothing Lasts Forever, and he thought that Tom Cruise's breakout hit was sure to be a flop.

There are many reasons that the film Galligan decided he wanted became the one to fade away. It was completed when there were several new executives at MGM who didn't understand how to market the film and didn't want to figure it out. There were also rights issues with some of the stock footage used. The final death knell was a failed screening in Seattle (which surprised me, I thought we were a pretty progressive film town by then).

Then Galligan announced that Tom Schiller was in the audience. The surprise appearance delighted the crowd. Though the director was shy and seemed quite happy for his lead actor to handle the introduction, he also looked pleased that his work was being recognized. I talk more about their appearance in my stars post.

The movie was perfect for the midnight slot: quirky, mysterious, funny and deeply cynical about the 1940s-style, but also strangely futuristic society it depicted. 

I have to admit I never fully understood what was going on. I was running on fumes by then, and falling in and out of sleep for most of the film. But I was alert enough to enjoy the movie's unique beauty. I liked the way it moved between color and black and white, creating the dramatically opposing worlds of Earth and the planet our hero travels to by bus. 

It also gave actors like Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Imogene Coca, the astonishly-named Apollonia van Ravenstein and others the opportunity to play out their own personas while also embodying these unusual characters.

Apparently TCM will be showing the film again in May, so I'll be sure to watch it when I've had some decent sleep. From what I did see, it's a treasure.

I don't remember how I got back to the hotel. I was a zombie, but so ready for day four!

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