Alfred Hitchcock

TCMFF 2014, Day 3 — From “Father of the Bride” to “Freaks”

Saturday, April 12, 2014:

Father of the Bride Spencer Tracy Elizabeth TaylorAfter having ended the previous day’s movies with Eraserhead, I woke up this morning in need of a little levity.  Originally, I had been planning to see Stella Dallas, but decided to go with Father of the Bride instead.  Not only is it a very funny movie, I had never seen a Spencer Tracy or Elizabeth Taylor movie in a theater before.  Plus it had the added bonus of playing in the same theater as the next movie I wanted to see, Godzilla.

Father of the Bride was delightful as always.  Godzilla was so much fun to see with a crowd and boy was the crowd enthusiastic!  This screening was the world premiere of a new restoration of the original Japanese version of Godzilla, in all its Raymond Burr-free glory.  The picture quality was absolutely stunning.  If you have the chance to go see this restoration on the big screen, I very highly recommend it.  Godzilla was introduced by historian Eddie von Mueller and Gareth Edwards, director of the upcoming Godzilla movie.

Godzilla

From Godzilla, it was back to Club TCM to check out the conversation with editor Thelma Schoonmaker hosted by author and historian Cari Beauchamp. In addition to Schoonmaker’s long collaboration with director Martin Scorsese (her work on his films has won three Academy Awards), she was an editor on the groundbreaking documentary Woodstock and was married to legendary British filmmaker Michael Powell, half of the Powell and Pressburger team.  (Fun fact: Martin Scorsese was also an editor/assistant director on Woodstock.  Scorsese brought cufflinks with him to Woodstock because he thought they’d be going out to dinner while they were there.)

Thelma Schoonmaker Cari Beauchamp TCMFF 2014

Photo courtesy Getty Images

Of the movies she’s done with Scorsese, she discussed Raging Bull the most. Raging Bull was a very challenging film to edit because there was so much improvisation from the actors; a challenge revisited with Scorsese’s most recent film, The Wolf of Wall Street.  She doesn’t visit the sets of his movies because she thinks it’s important to have a cold eye in the editing room.  Schoonmaker credits Scorsese with teaching her everything she knows about editing because he’s a director who thinks like an editor. As for what quality Scorsese most admires most in her, he knows he can trust her.  Ever since the time in film school when she helped him fix his student film that hadn’t been cut properly, he’s known she will do what’s right for his films.

Schoonmaker spoke very fondly of her time with husband Michael Powell. She’s very active in preserving her husband’s film legacy and also introduced his film A Matter of Life and Death at the festival.  She plays a role in overseeing the restorations of Powell’s work and mentioned that after this conversation, she was heading out to check some work on a transfer on one of his films.  If you are hoping to see a HD print of The Tales of Hoffman, you’ll be glad to know that she said the original negative is in excellent condition.

Next up was “Hollywood Home Movies: Treasures from the Academy Film Archive.”  We were treated to rare behind-the-scenes footage and personal home movies of film legends.  This was a must-see event for me because I knew it would be a totally unique event that I wouldn’t be able to attend elsewhere.  I was definitely not disappointed; the home movies we saw were absolutely fascinating.

The selections included home movies of Florenz Ziegfeld and Billie Burke, an extremely playful Alfred Hitchcock at home with Alma and daughter Pat, Jean Harlow in her dressing room, visitors to Hearst Mansion (including a cameo from Howard Hughes), Gilbert Roland and Constance Bennett with friends on their boat, behind the scenes footage of Gone With the Wind, the It’s a Wonderful Life wrap party picnic, Walt Disney riding on a backyard railroad, location footage of Oklahoma!, behind the scenes of Jerry Lewis on The Geisha Boy, and a montage of movie stars with their pets and other animals.

Vivien Leigh behind the scenes Gone With the Wind

Behind the scenes of Gone With the Wind

My favorite clips were the Ziegfeld/Burke home movies, which included Florenz Ziegfeld frolicking with a butterfly net and a pet elephant trying to walk into daughter Patricia’s playhouse; the Hitchcock home movies; and Jean Harlow in her dressing room.  I found the Jean Harlow footage particularly interesting because it wasn’t official, studio-sanctioned footage; it appeared to be filmed by a friend or MGM employee who was casually testing out their personal home movie camera.  So it doesn’t show “Jean Harlow the movie star,” it’s Jean being herself, casually chatting with the camera operator.  Even when she wasn’t being “Jean Harlow the movie star,” she was captivating to watch.  The hosts from AMPAS said they could tell from some grain on the film that it had originally been filmed in color, but unfortunately, they only had a black and white copy.

The Gone With the Wind behind the scenes footage was a real treat.  It was color 8mm footage that showed Vivien Leigh with her stand in, Clark Gable riding horses with Cammie King, and the setups for filming the scene at Twelve Oaks where Scarlett is surrounded by all the men at the party and the scene where Rhett and Scarlett are on their honeymoon and are having dinner with the can-can dancers in the background.  I was also thrilled to see the It’s a Wonderful Life picnic since that was something Karolyn Grimes had talked about when I saw her at the Redford back in November.

The types of film used for some of the home movies were also unintentionally revealing about the types of people who used it.  The Ziegfeld/Burke home movies were filmed on 35mm, something that would have only been used by the very wealthy in the early 1920s.  The Hitchcock home movies, which dated from 1929-1936, were in color, so it should come as no surprise that he was definitely a person on the cutting edge of film.

After “Hollywood Home Movies,” I headed over to the Chinese theater for A Hard Day’s Night.  I was really torn between seeing A Hard Day’s Night and Bell, Book, and Candle introduced by Kim Novak at the Egyptian.  I had been leaning more toward Bell, Book, and Candle, but I really wanted to see something at the Chinese theater and I was starting to worry that I might not get to see anything there, so A Hard Day’s Night won.

Alec Baldwin Don Was TCMFF 2014

Photo courtesy Getty Images

Beatlemania may have started 50 years ago, but it was still going strong at TCMFF.  I couldn’t have asked for a better venue to see A Hard Day’s Night in. Their sound system is wonderful, so it was a dream to hear all those Beatles classics  that way.  The picture quality was absolutely pristine.  The Chinese theater seats over 900 so it was packed with a lot of enthusiastic fans.  The excitement was palpable and I loved every minute of being a part of it.

A Hard Day’s Night was introduced by Alec Baldwin and music producer Don Was (who has produced albums for Ringo Starr, The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Bob Dylan, just to name a few).  Their introduction was one of my favorite introductions of the festival; it was hard to not be engrossed by their enthusiasm.

Then it was time to head to the El Capitan to get in line for The Women.  I joined Raquel (Out of the Past), K.C. (A Classic Movie Blog), and Lara (Backlots), who are exactly the kind of people you want to be in line with to see The Women. I had so much fun discussing the movie with them and quoting the famous, “There’s a name for you ladies…” line in unison.

The Women TCMFF 2014

Photo courtesy Getty Images

Over the course of TCMFF, I saw a lot of movies with very enthusiastic crowds, but I think the crowd for The Women took the cake.  I’m used to people applauding for certain things like a star’s entrance or a name appearing in the opening credits.  Since this is a movie with such an incredible cast, there was a lot of applauding going on.  The crowd went wild for Norma Shearer saying, “I’ve had two years to grow claws, mother! Jungle red!” It’s a fabulous movie to watch at home and even better to see with a crowd.  The Women was introduced by Ben Mankiewicz and actress Anna Kendrick. Much shade was thrown at the 2008 remake.

Freaks Poster

The last movie of the day was the midnight screening of Freaks.  I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about this screening since I was pretty exhausted by the time I got there.  But I’m glad I had to check out one of the ultimate midnight movies on the big screen.

And I just love the fact that I started this day with Father of the Bride and ended it with Freaks. 

What’s on TCM: September 2013

Kim Novak VertigoHappy September, everybody!  TCM’s Summer Under the Stars may be drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean September is going to be a boring month.  In fact, September looks like it’s going to be one of my favorite TCM months in a long time.

First of all, TCM will be kicking off their major Story of Film series.  Not only will they be showing Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film — An Odyssey documentary series on Monday and Tuesday nights, but TCM will also be playing many films featured in the documentary.  This reminds me a bit of the programming TCM did when they had their Moguls and Movie Stars series back in November of 2010.  However, unlike Moguls and Movie Stars, The Story of Film looks beyond the American film industry and branches into world cinema so they will be showing many films that were not discussed during Moguls and Movie Stars.  Fans of silent films have good reason to be excited for this because there will be many nights focusing on the silent era.  If you want to expand your knowledge of film history in general, you are not going to want to miss this series.  This series will continue into October.

If you’re an Alfred Hitchcock fan, you’re going to love the Sundays with Hitch series this month.  Every Sunday, almost all day long, will be dedicated to none other than the Master of Suspense.

Kim Novak will be the Star of the Month.  Her movies can be seen every Thursday this month.

Friday Night Spotlight also makes its return with a series called “Future Shock” hosted by Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, dedicated to movies about futuristic dystopias.  There are a few more modern movies in this line-up, but I can forgive that considering how many nights are dedicated to silent film this month.

It’s going to be a very busy month, so let’s take a closer look at the schedule…

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DVD Review – Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection

Hitchcock Essentials CollectionSince I’m just starting to get into blu-rays, one thing I really had my eye on was the huge, 15-disc “Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection” blu-ray set.  That collection has so many excellent films and I thought something like that would be a nice way to help start my blu-ray collection.  But then I read some reviews of the set and started having second thoughts.  The impression I got from the reviews is that although some of the movies looked spectacular, others had room for improvement.

But then I noticed “Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection” had been released on blu-ray just a few days earlier.  “The Essentials Collection” includes Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and The Birds.  After thinking about it, I figured that even if I did order “The Masterpiece Collection,” those are the five movies I would probably watch the most often anyway so I might as well save some money and go for “The Essentials Collection” instead.

I can very safely say that I have no regrets about that decision.  After it came in the mail, the first thing I did was put each disc in the player to get a quick idea of the picture quality.  When I put in the disc for Rear Window, my first reaction was, “Wow, this was money well spent.” And at that point, I hadn’t even started watching the actual movie yet, I was still on the main menu.

All the movies in “The Essentials Collection” are presented in 1080p and look absolutely glorious.  I’ve seen each of these movies several times over the years — on television, in theaters, on standard DVD — but seeing them on blu-ray was like getting to see them for the first time all over again.  I always love it when I can find new things, however minor they may be, in a movie I’ve seen dozens of times.

Each film comes with a plethora of bonus features bound to please any Hitchcock fan.  I recognize some of the features from past DVD releases, but there are other new features, such as excerpts from Francois Truffaut’s conversations with Hitchcock, that make some very welcome additions.

All in all, I have no complaints about this collection.  If you’re like me and are looking to upgrade some of your Hitchcock movies to blu-ray, but don’t want to spend over $100 on “The Masterpiece Collection,” “The Essentials Collection” is a really nice alternative.

The Many Criss-Crosses of Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train Poster

The plot of Alfred Hitchock’s Strangers on a Train hinges on the idea of two people swapping murders, a “criss-cross.”  However, the whole “criss-cross” theme doesn’t just apply to the story, it’s also constantly echoed in the sets, costumes, and props.

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What’s on TCM: January 2013

Annex - Young, Loretta (He Stayed for Breakfast)_03Happy new year, everyone!  With winter officially underway, it’s very tempting to spend every night at home watching movies with a cup of hot chocolate, and TCM has plenty of reasons to do just that.

Loretta Young is January’s Star of the Month, in honor of her 100th birthday, and will be spotlighted every Wednesday night this month.  If you’re a fan of pre-codes, you’re bound to adore the first two Loretta Young nights.  I tend to enjoy heist films, so I’m really looking forward to every Tuesday night this month being dedicated to movies about big robberies.

Another star who would be celebrating their 100th birthday this month is Danny Kaye.  If you only know him from White Christmas, be sure to tune in on January 20th because TCM will be playing his movies for a full 24 hours, including an episode of The Danny Kaye Show and an interview he did on The Dick Cavett Show.

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What’s on TCM: November 2012

Happy November!  Even though this isn’t one of my favorite months on TCM, it’s still a pretty busy month.  First of all, Constance Bennett is the Star of the Month, which I’m pretty happy to see.  Her movies will be shown every Tuesday night in November.

If you’re a fan of seeing how films compare to the novels they were based on, you are going to love this month.  Every Monday and Wednesday night will be full of movies based on books and the adaptations will continue until prime time on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I love the idea of this series, but I would have liked to have seen it done on Mondays and Thursdays instead, just because it’s kind of an avalanche of book adaptations during the first part of the week.

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Tippi Hedren and The Birds at the Redford

Picture from the Redford’s Facebook page.

In all the time that I’ve been going to classic film screenings, I have never seen a Hitchcock movie bring out a lame crowd.  Even if the movie plays midnight, people are always eager to see one of Hitch’s movies on the big screen.  So back in March when The Redford Theatre announced they would be showing The Birds, I knew there would be a good crowd for it.  But when they added that Tippi Hedren herself would be making an appearance at all three of their showings, I knew we had better get our tickets early because it was going to be crazy.

The Redford pulled out all the stops to make this an unforgettable event.  For their Saturday night screening, they arranged a VIP event before the movie where, for a higher ticket price, Tippi would give a talk about The Birds,  everyone would be given an autographed picture, and you got the added bonus of having first pick of the seats in the theater.  My mom and I are big fans of the movie, we decided to go all out for this and got tickets for the VIP event.

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Paramount in the 1950’s

Paramount in the 50’s just wouldn’t have been the same without Billy Wilder.  He made two of his most, in my opinion, under-appreciated movies at Paramount: 1953’s Stalag 17 and 1951’s Ace in the Hole.  But in 1950, he released a movie that defined not only his career, but the entire film industry — Sunset Boulevard.

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The Testament of Judith Barton


Vertigo is a movie I’ve seen plenty of times, but I can’t say that I ever really thought too deeply about the character of Judith Barton (played by Kim Novak).  I always got too engrossed with the story of Scottie’s obsession with Madeline to think very much about who the woman behind the gray suit really is.  But after reading The Testament of Judith Barton by Wendy Powers and Robin McLeod, I’ve got a whole new perspective on Vertigo.

In The Testament of Judith Barton, we not only get to see the events of Vertigo through Judith’s eyes, we also find out more about her background.  We learn all about her childhood in Salina, Kansas as the tomboy daughter of a jeweler who passes away when she’s quite young.  After graduating from Catholic school, Judith and her aspiring actress sister Maggie head out to California in search of brighter futures.  However, once they get to California, Judith and Maggie go their separate ways.  Maggie goes on to Los Angeles while Judith starts a new life in San Francisco.  While working in a jewelery shop, Judith has her first encounter with Gavin Elster.  When she suddenly finds herself in need of money, Elster comes to her with the idea of paying her to impersonate his wife Madeline.

When I started reading The Testament of Judith Barton, I was mostly looking forward to seeing the events of the movie from Judith’s perspective.  But I was surprised by how wrapped up I became with the part that deals with Judith’s life in Kansas.  That section paints a vivid portrait of a fairly simple midwestern girl; hardly the type of person you’d expect to get caught up with a man like Elster.  But what makes the section that covers the events of the movie quite special is the fact that Powers and McLeod were able to get permission from Hitchcock’s estate to use excerpts from the Vertigo screenplay.  Being able to integrate actual lines from the film helps The Testament of Judith Barton blend seamlessly into the story we already know so well.

If you’re a fan of Hitchcock, I absolutely recommend checking out The Testament of Judith Barton for yourself.  It’s not often that you’re able to get such a fresh perspective on an old favorite movie. Please visit the book’s website for details on how to get a copy for yourself.

Disclosure:  I was provided a free review copy of The Testament of Judith Barton.

The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Usually, when a dead body turns up in the woods, people aren’t lining up to admit being responsible for that person’s demise.   But when Harry Worp is found dead in the woods, three people believe they are each responsible for killing him.  First there’s Harry’s wife, Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine).  She thinks she killed him by hitting him over the head with a bottle.  Then there’s Captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), who believes he accidentally shot Harry while hunting rabbits.  And last, but certainly not least, there’s Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick), who hit Harry on the head with the heel of her hiking boot when he tried to assault her.  But either way, none of them are exactly sad to see Harry go.

When local artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) comes along to sketch the scenery, he stumbles upon Harry’s body and also finds Albert nearby.  Albert explains what happened and Sam agrees to help him bury Harry.  Before Sam knows it, he’s helped bury and exhume Harry multiple times and is wrapped up in trying to figure out exactly how Harry died.

The Trouble with Harry manages to be both an unusual Alfred Hitchcock film and still distinctly his style.  If you go into The Trouble with Harry assuming that, because it’s Hitchcock, it will be a thriller like Vertigo or North by Northwest, you will be sorely disappointed.  Instead, it’s actually a dark comedy.  I wouldn’t call it one of Hitchcock’s best films, but I am fond of it since I have a somewhat dark sense of humor so I thought it was hilarious.  The humor is very much Hitchcock’s style; much more so than Mr. and Mrs. Smith was.  The cinematography is stunning; there are so many shots worthy of being on a postcard.  And I love the stark contrast between the picturesque scenery and the morbid comedy. The Trouble with Harry is also noteworthy for being the film debuts of Shirley MacLaine and Jerry Mathers.  It was also the first Hitchcock film to be scored by composer Bernard Hermann.

This was one of Hitchcock’s personal favorites of the movies he made and I can see why. However, I can also easily see why it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Dark comedy is one of those things that you either like or you don’t and I’ll admit the movie gets off to a little bit of a slow start.  The Trouble with Harry wasn’t a big box office success when it was first released, but I have a feeling it might have found more of an audience if it had been made in the 70’s or 80’s instead.

This year’s For the Love of Film blogathon is raising money to make the three recently rediscovered reels of 1923’s The White Shadow available to stream on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s website for three months. Hitchcock served as an assistant director for The White Shadow, one of his first major jobs. If you would like to donate, simply click the button!  For more from the For the Love of Film Blogathon, you can find other contributions at Ferdy on Films, The Self-Styled Siren, and This Island Rod.