April 8, 2017
Going into day three of the festival, I didn’t have many firmly-set plans in mind. Today was full of blocks where I just couldn’t make up my mind about what I wanted to do. In the end, I spent much of the day revisiting some of my old favorites.
For the first block of the day, I was stuck between The China Sydrome and Stalag 17. I like both movies a lot and it had been a long time since I’d seen either one. But when I got up, I simply wasn’t into the idea of starting the day with looming nuclear disasters, so I went for Stalag 17.
Admittedly, one of the biggest reasons I wanted to see Stalag 17 is that it gave me a chance to see Alex Trebek introduce it. Over the past few years, Alex Trebek has been on hand during the festival to introduce a movie or two, but I’ve never had the chance to actually see him introduce anything. After seeing him introduce Stalag 17, I may be making more of an effort to see him introduce other movies in the future. It should come as no surprise that Alex Trebek is extremely knowledgeable about the films he introduces and his introduction helped get me very excited to see the movie again.
Since it’s been several years since I had last seen Stalag 17, I didn’t really remember a lot of the details of the movie. But somehow, I’d forgotten just how much comedy is in the movie. One thing I couldn’t forget, though, is how incredible William Holden was in that movie.
Next up, I went with The Great Dictator. As much as I love The Last Picture Show, which was also showing during that block, The Great Dictator is a pretty special movie to me because it’s the movie that really inspired me to start learning about film history. I’ve also never seen it on the big screen before, so it seemed like a good time to change that. This screening was actually a bit of a slapstick comedy, anti-Hitler double feature. Before The Great Dictator, we watched You Nazty Spy with The Three Stooges.
Although The Great Dictator is easily the most famous cinematic satire about Hitler, You Nazty Spy was actually released several months before The Great Dictator. Both films have the distinction of being made during a time when Hollywood studios and the Hays Office weren’t keen on the idea of openly criticizing Hitler and the Nazi party. Chaplin was able to pull it off because, given his stature in the film industry, he produced it independently. But unlike The Great Dictator, You Nazty Spy isn’t a feature-length film and short films weren’t given as much attention from the Hays office. So say what you will about the Stooges, but they actually do have the distinction of being in the first American film to openly satirize Hitler.
After The Great Dictator, I headed over to the Roosevelt Hotel for Hollywood Home Movies. Hollywood Home Movies has always been one of my favorite events of the festival every year that I’ve gone, so this was my lone easy choice for the day. If you’re unfamiliar with the event, Hollywood Home Movies is a presentation of a selection of behind-the-scenes footage of film sets and home movies of stars at home which the Academy has collected and preserved. This year’s home movies were fascinating as always. When a presentation starts with footage of Hitchcock behind the scenes of 1929’s Blackmail and a short comedy film he made with his family, you know it’s going to be a good presentation.
In addition to the fantastic Hitchcock footage, we were treated to behind the scenes footage of The Adventures of Robin Hood, Bogart and Bacall at home and on their boat, and a behind the scenes look of The Trouble With Angels featuring Gypsy Rose Lee, Rosalind Russell, Hayley Mills, and Ida Lupino. As great as all that footage was, my favorite was “Gilbertone News,” a faux newsreel created by actor Billy Gilbert. This pseudo-newsreel contained footage of the Leading Men vs. Comedians baseball game, during which Mary Pickford threw out the opening pitch, a broadcast of Al Jolson’s radio show featuring the seven dwarfs, and Fay McKenzie, daughter of actor Robert McKenzie, modeling clothing that was in fashion at the time. Fay McKenzie was on hand for the event. She made her film debut at a baby held by Gloria Swanson in 1918’s Station Content, but you might best remember her as the woman laughing at herself in the mirror during Holly Golightly’s party in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Next up on my agenda was Saturday Night Fever, which was screened at the Chinese theater. Not only is Saturday Night Fever one of my favorite movies, it was being shown in the best venue for movies that are very music heavy. I love the sound system at the Chinese theater and to make things better, we were watching a brand new 40th anniversary print that looked and sounded incredible.
One of the really great things about the TCM Classic Film Festival is that it’s not just a special event for the attendees; it’s also a special event for the special guests who come to it. Saturday Night Fever was introduced by director John Badham and actress Donna Pescow, and during their discussion, John Badham stated that when the movie premiered at the Chinese theater back in 1977, he was not impressed with the way it sounded. The sound system the theater had at the time wasn’t as sophisticated as it is today, so the movie didn’t sound as good as it should have. It’s really cool that this festival gave him the chance to come back to that same theater after 40 years and present his movie to an audience who could hear it at its very best.
The next block was one of the hardest for me to decide on. The Graduate is one of my all-time favorite movies, but it’s also very likely I’ll have other chances to see it on the big screen. There was also the nitrate print of Black Narcissus, Unfaithfully Yours, and The Incident, all of which sounded fantastic. But since The Graduate had been heavily featured in the festival’s promotional material, after spending so much time looking at that started making me want to see it. And once I heard how incredible Saturday Night Fever‘s soundtrack sounded in the Chinese theater, I realized how good The Graduate‘s soundtrack would have sounded in that theater, so that ended up being my choice for that block.
In the end, I’m really glad I went with The Graduate. While it is indeed very likely that I’ll have other opportunities to see it on the big screen, it’s less likely that I’ll ever have other chances to see it again in that particular theater. There’s something about getting to see one of your absolute favorite movies at the world’s most famous movie theater that makes the whole experience even more special. Another thing that I would never be able to experience elsewhere is getting to see that movie introduced by the one and only Buck Henry. Henry was interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz, who has known Henry for several years, so they naturally had a really good, funny chemistry together.
Although I always love going to the midnight movies and I was really curious about Kentucky Fried Movie, I simply didn’t have enough energy to go to it, so The Graduate was my last movie for the day.