TCMFF 2018, Day 3: Playing it By Ear

TCMFF is always full of hard choices, but in any given time slot, there’s usually at least one event that I’m least interested in, which helps narrow it down. That was not the case for me with today’s first block. Not only were all of the movies playing in the first time slot all excellent, there were some other cool events going on like a meet-up for fans of musicals and an event at the ASC clubhouse, so there was literally nothing I simply wasn’t interested in. I figured I would just play it by ear and see how I felt when I got up that day, but when I got up, my decision wasn’t any easier. I managed to narrow it down to the panel discussion at the ASC clubhouse and Kiss Me Deadly at the TCL multiplex, but I still didn’t know which way to go. Since they started at different times, I decided to just start getting ready for the day and depending on when I finished getting ready, that would decide it for me. The winner: Kiss Me Deadly.

Kiss Me Deadly

I had only seen Kiss Me Deadly once before, but that was several years ago and I didn’t remember it very well, so it was like getting to see it for the first time all over again. It may not have been the most lighthearted way to start the day, but I’m so glad I went because it was awesome. Getting to experience that ending in a theater was really intense. If you’re a fan of the movie and ever have the chance to see it in a theater, go see it because getting to hear the sound at the very end of the movie over a really good sound system is definitely something you won’t forget.

When You Read This Letter

After Kiss Me Deadly, I went to check out Jean-Pierre Melville’s When You Read This Letter. I only recently started discovering Melville’s work, so this was one I really didn’t want to miss. It’s a movie that can be extremely frustrating; filled with ambiguity and characters who behave in questionable ways. But it has a lot of beautiful shots and moments that are quite startling. There were quite a few moments that drew gasps from the audience. Without getting into any spoilers, the ending completely floored me, yet I was satisfied with it. I definitely need to see some more of Mellville’s films.

Sunset Boulevard Gloria Swanson William Holden

Next up was a trip to the Chinese Theater for Sunset Boulevard introduced by Nancy Olson. Sunset is one of my all-time favorite movies and I’d been waiting for about 10 years to have a chance to see it on the big screen, so this was an opportunity I was not about to pass up. Although I must say, never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever be waiting to see Sunset Boulevard while surrounded by a bunch of ‘NSYNC fans. The line for Sunset ran up through the Hollywood Highland shopping center, where there was also a long line for a pop-up shop with ‘NSYNC merchandise. Only on Hollywood Boulevard would there be a point in time when a bunch of Gloria Swanson/Bill Holden/Billy Wilder fans and ‘NSYNC fans would ever be in the same place at the same time.

Seeing Sunset Boulevard in a theater was everything I had hoped it would be. Gloria Swanson was just made for the big screen. There were several shots that were so much more impactful to see in a theatrical setting and the Franz Waxman score sounded absolutely amazing on the Chinese Theater’s sound system. Even though I’d seen the movie many, many times before, this was like getting to see it for the first time all over again. And Nancy’s discussion with Michael Feinstein before the movie was terrific. She talked a bit about her career before she was cast in Sunset and what it was like working with the great Billy Wilder. One interesting story she told was about how the clothes she wears in the movie were her own personal wardrobe. Billy hadn’t been satisfied with the costume designs Edith Head had been coming up with for her character, so he eventually told Nancy to just wear what she normally wears to the studio.

Show People Marion Davies William Haines Charlie Chaplin

The next time slot was another one I was very torn on. I always love Hollywood Home Movies, but this year, it was up against a screening of Marion Davies’ Show People over at the Egyptian, introduced by my friend Lara from Backlots. It ended up being another case where I made an extremely last minute decision and Show People won. I thought it would be nice to follow up Sunset Boulevard with a more lighthearted Hollywood tale. Plus, Show People is one of those movies that absolutely begs to be seen with an appreciative crowd. There’s nothing quite like getting to see a silent comedy in a theater full of people laughing along, plus it had been a long time since I’d last seen it so the jokes felt very fresh to me. Even though the movie got interrupted by a false fire alarm, going to this screening was nothing less than pure joy.

Paul Muni Ann Dvorak Scarface

After Show People, I decided to go in a completely different direction (stylistically speaking) by seeing 1932’s Scarface, which was introduced by John Carpenter. As tempting as the screening of The Big Lebowski was, Scarface won this block for me since I figured I’d have fewer chances to see that movie in a theater. This is another movie I hadn’t seen in a pretty long time and I was really glad to revisit it. The performances by Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak are both electrifying to see on TV at home, just imagine how great it was to see them on a nice big screen.

Night of the Living Dead

Every year, I look forward to the festival’s two midnight movies, but I just didn’t have the energy for The World’s Greatest Sinner the day before. But that’s okay, because tonight’s screening of Night of the Living Dead was the one I was most excited for. You know it’s going to be a good screening when you’re having a blast and the movie hadn’t even started yet. There are a few attendees who often bring fun favors to hand out at the midnight screenings and this time, they had zombie cookies (both in black and white and colorized) and cardboard masks.

Originally, director Edgar Wright had been scheduled to introduce Night of the Living Dead, but unfortunately, he had some issues with his visa and wasn’t able to make it. However, he did arrange for Simon Pegg to to fill in for him, which was really awesome. It was a movie that clearly meant a lot to him, so his intro was great. Getting to see the brand new, crystal-clear restoration of Night of the Living Dead in a theater was a real treat. I’d recently picked up the Criterion blu-ray of that movie so I knew how good the restoration was, but getting to see it in a theater with so many people having fun and with Simon Pegg’s introduction, this was easily one of my all-time favorite TCMFF screenings. Completely and totally worth staying up late for.

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TCMFF 2018, Day 2: Memorable Events

Grand Prix 1966

For the first full day of TCMFF 2018, I started things off by doing two things I’d always wanted to do at the festival: go to an event at the Cinerama Dome and go to an event Eva Marie Saint would be at. Going to the screening of Grand Prix meant skipping one of my favorite movies — Witness for the Prosecution — but it was totally worth it because I’ll probably never be able to have that experience of seeing it in an original Cinerama Dome ever again.

I wouldn’t say it was my favorite movie of the festival, but it was one of my favorite experiences. Grand Prix was meant to be seen in Cinerama theaters and it made full use of every single inch of that massive screen. I absolutely could have ordered the DVD off Amazon when I got home or waited for TCM to show it, but it just wouldn’t have been the same. Plus, there wouldn’t have been the drama of seeing it in its original roadshow format, complete with overture and exit music. I really appreciated the effort they put into recreating the experience of seeing Grand Prix at the Cinerama Dome in 1966. They even handed out reproductions of the original program, similar to the ones you get when seeing a live theater show.

During the after-movie discussion with Eva Marie Saint, she stated that this wasn’t one of her favorites of the movies she made, but she was able to tell us stories about things like what it was like to work with legendary hairdresser Sydney Guilaroff. She also discussed what it was like to work with Brando on On the Waterfront.

Harold Lloyd Safety Last

After Grand Prix, I had originally been planning to head back to the TCL Multiplex to catch How to Marry a Millionaire. But when the discussion with Eva Marie Saint ran a little bit long, I didn’t have enough time to get over there. But I was just a few minutes away from the Linwood Dunn theater, where they were doing a special presentation of Harold Lloyd’s 3D photography, presented by Harold’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd, which I was extremely interested in anyway.

Whenever I talk to people who are attending TCMFF for the first time and they ask if I have any advice, one thing I’ll say is to just relax and go with it. And this is a good example of why I say that because even though the Harold Lloyd event wasn’t what I set out planning to go to that day, it ended up being one of my favorite events of the festival. This was a truly unique event that was so much more than just 3D photography, which was absolutely spectacular. He was a master at playing with depth. Lots of familiar faces were among his photography subjects, including Dick Powell, Arlene Dahl, Ronald Reagan, Jayne Mansfield, and Marilyn Monroe. Lloyd’s 3D photographs of Marilyn Monroe are actually the only time she is known to have been photographed in 3D. One photo that got a huge reaction from the crowd was one of Glenn Ford standing on the ledge of a cliff.

One of the biggest highlights of the event was getting to see some of Harold’s home movies. It’s always interesting to see the home movies of Hollywood legends because you can really learn a lot from them. The main thing I learned by seeing Harold’s home movies is that he very genuinely loved film technology. They showed a series of clips that spanned several decades and some of them were remarkably innovative in regards to the technology involved. There was footage of him with his family in the 1920s which was shot on 35mm, there was footage from the late 1920s/early 1930s which was in color, and most remarkably, there was footage from the 1930s which actually had sound.

They also screened a couple of his short films on a hand-cranked projector from 1909 and accompanied by one of the few remaining original fotoplayers from the silent film era. There was also a sequence from Safety Last! which had gone through an experimental 3D conversion. I normally have strong opinions against converting films to 3D when the filmmaker is no longer around to approve of it. But I believe that if any of the big silent film stars would be OK with having one of their movies converted to 3D, at least just as an experiment, it would have been Harold Lloyd. I was impressed by how good it looked.

Carole Lombard Gary Cooper I Take This Woman

After the Harold Lloyd event, I had a little bit of a break before checking out I Take This Woman starring Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper. I won’t cut corners on this one — it wasn’t a particularly great movie. The cast did the best they could with what they had to work with, but it just wasn’t the greatest script. However, I’m very happy that I at least had a chance to see it for myself. I’m a fan of both Lombard and Cooper so this is the sort of movie that I could picture myself reading about on IMDB and really wishing I could see it. Now I’ve seen it and I’m a little bit closer to seeing as many Carole Lombard movies as possible.

Jayne Mansfield Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter

For my last movie of the day, I couldn’t resist the chance to see Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter on the big screen. There were a lot of great things going on during that time slot, but I always get such a big laugh out of Rock Hunter and I knew getting to see it on the big screen with a crowd was going to be a lot of fun — and I was not disappointed. There really isn’t anything quite like seeing a great comedy with an appreciative crowd. It had been a while since I’d last seen it, so all the jokes felt really fresh to me. It was a delightful way to end the day.

TCMFF 2018 Hits the Ground Running

TCMFF 2018

2018 marked my fifth year attending the TCM Classic Film Festival and over the years, I’ve sort of fallen into a routine. I fly into town on Wednesday morning, a day before the official festival activities really get started, and use that extra time to get settled, catch up with my friends, and try to adjust to the time zone difference. Aside from the travel aspect of it, it’s typically a pretty quiet day for me. This year, I feel like I got into town and got into full festival mode right off the bat.

Once I got into Hollywood, I dropped my things off at the hotel and headed over to the Roosevelt to pick up my media credentials and get a badly needed lunch at 25 Degrees. Before I knew it, I’d made four new friends at lunch (shout out to the first-timers from DC!), said hi to Ben Mankiewicz, and saw Eddie Muller as I was getting ready to leave 25 Degrees. If you’ve never been to the festival, I feel like this really sums up the general atmosphere of being there. When you’re at an event like this, you have something in common with everyone so it’s really easy to get into conversations with people you’ve never met before. And randomly running into TCM’s on-air hosts in places like Starbucks and other restaurants in the area is absolutely something that happens.

Cora Sue Collins Andrew Yang TCMFF 2018

Later in the day, I stopped by an event by the Hollywood Roosevelt’s pool hosted by the Going to the TCM Classic Film Festival Facebook group.  I wasn’t there for the whole event, but what I did catch was absolutely remarkable. When I got there, Barbara Rush and Cora Sue Collins were telling stories about their careers and boy, did they ever have stories to tell. Between the two of them, I got to listen to them talk about people like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, William Powell, Hedda Hopper, and Loretta Young. For example, Rush talked about how Crawford gave her advice on dealing with her publicity photos while Crawford was a good friend of Collins’s mother. After the discussion with Cora Sue and Barbara, there was an appearance by Andrew Yang, the great-grandson of Mary Astor, who had brought Mary’s Oscar with him.

Martin Scorsese Eva Marie Saint and Cicely Tyson TCMFF 2018 Red Capret

Martin Scorsese, Eva Marie Saint, and Cicely Tyson on the Red Carpet

The festival got into full swing the following day and I started things off by watching the red carpet arrivals for the 50th anniversary screening of The Producers. I’m a big fan of doing this because it gives me a chance to see a lot of the guests I don’t get to see otherwise during the festival, plus a few others who are just there for the big opening night screening. This year had a really fun group of special guests. Of course, Mel Brooks was there and it’s always a treat to see him in person. Since Martin Scorsese was being awarded the first Robert Osborne Award, he was also there — very briefly, but as a big Scorsese fan, still enough to be very exciting for me. Eva Marie Saint, Cicely Tyson, Mario and Melvin van Peebles, Norman Lloyd, Ruta Lee, Diane Baker, Rosanna Arquette, and Paul Sorvino all also made appearances. Paul Sorvino even gave us an impromptu opera performance! Since Dennis Miller was introducing a couple of movies during the festival, he made an appearance on the red carpet and seemed to be having the time of his life — he even came into the bleacher section and started shaking hands with people.

Toshiro Mifune Throne of Blood

I decided to skip the first block of movies in favor of getting some dinner before checking out Throne of Blood. Even though I love foreign films, I feel like I don’t often get around to seeing them at the festival so I was really happy to be able to make my first movie this year a foreign one. It wasn’t my first time seeing the movie, but getting to see it on the big screen was a real pleasure. There was a lot in the sound that I hadn’t fully appreciated by watching it at home. And I loved being able to see it with a crowd of people audibly gasping during the legendary arrow scene. All in all, it was an excellent way to start things off.

My Choices for TCMFF 2018

 

TCMFF 2018

It’s that time of year again! In a little under three weeks, I’ll be heading off to Hollywood for the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival. The festival is always one of the big highlights of the year for me and I’m ridiculously excited to get out there for this year’s line-up.

As always, there were a lot of hard choices to make. In a few cases, there were so many things to choose from that I’m just going to wait to see how I feel the day of. But after much hand-wringing and over-analyzing, I think I have my general plan figured out. I fully expect my plans to change a little bit — they always do. But for now, here’s where I’m planning to be:

Thursday, April 26

Throne of Blood

Over the past few years, watching the red carpet arrivals has been my favorite way to spend opening night. It’s a lot of fun and a good way to see some of the special guests who I otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to see. Whether or not I make it to the first block of movies is pretty up in the air, though. I would absolutely love to see Finishing School, but there’s a good chance I’ll end up needing a dinner break. After that though, I’m definitely in for Throne of Blood. Even if I miss Finishing School, seeing the famous arrow scene in Throne of Blood seems like an excellent way to start the festival.

Friday, April 27

How to Marry a Millionaire

Right off the bat, I have to make some hard choices here. For the first block, it’s awfully hard for me to pass up the chance to see Strangers on a Train or Ernst Lubitsch’s The Merry Widow on the big screen. There’s also a screening of some Pink Panther cartoons, which would be fantastic. And in the second block, there’s Witness for the Prosecution at the Egyptian, which had been one of the early announcements I was most excited for. But I actually don’t think I’m going to go for any of those. Instead, I’ll most likely go check out Grand Prix at the Cinerama Dome. It really, really pains me to miss Witness for the Prosecution, but I’ve never been to a screening at the Cinerama Dome and I’ve never seen Eva Marie Saint introduce anything, so this seems like a great opportunity.

Opting for Grand Prix also gives me a little more flexibility for the next block. The two I’m most interested in next are How to Marry a Millionaire and the presentation of Harold Lloyd’s work with 3D photography, as well as some of his short films. If I had done Witness for the Prosecution at the Egyptian, that would only leave me with a few minutes to get to Millionaire or I’d be taking a gamble on whether or not I could get to the Linwood Dunn Theater for Harold Lloyd, since that theater seats less than 300 and I wouldn’t exactly be able to line up early. But with Grand Prix, I have more time to work with either way. I’m leaning toward the Harold Lloyd presentation since that sounds like the more unique experience, but I could see myself being swayed by Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, and Betty Grable.

Another star I was very excited to hear would be at TCMFF this year is Marsha Hunt. I have never seen None Shall Escape and with Marsha Hunt there to introduce it, this is one of my must-sees. After that, I’m hoping to quickly get something to eat before I Take This Woman. A rare pre-code starring Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper — I’m sold just on that premise.

After that, I’ll be heading to Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter. I love this movie; it’s hilarious and it would be so much fun to see it with a crowd. In fact, one reason why I’m tempted by How to Marry a Millionaire is because I feel like getting to see a Marilyn Monroe movie and a Jayne Mansfield movie on the same day would be amazing. Lastly, I’ll be down for The World’s Greatest Sinner at midnight. I’ve never seen it, but it sounds like the kind of gloriously crazy movie that makes the midnight screenings at TCMFF so memorable.

Saturday, April 28

Sunset Boulvard Gloria Swanson Cecil B. DeMille

Once again, I’m starting the day off with a lot of hard choices. In the first block, His Girl Friday, The Ox-Bow Incident, Kiss Me Deadly, Love Finds Andy Hardy, and A Letter to Three Wives are all playing at the same time, as well as an event over at the ASC Clubhouse. If I had to make my choice today, I’d go with Kiss Me Deadly, but I have a feeling this is just going to come down to how I wake up feeling that day.

After that, I’ll most likely be heading to theater 6 in the TCL multiplex for When You Read This Letter. I recently watched Le Samourai for the first time and loved it, so I’d be very happy to see another Jean-Pierre Melville movie. Although This Thing Called Love sure sounds intriguing.

Now we’re at some of my hardest decisions of the festival. At the Egyptian, there are three movies in a row I’d be delighted to see on the big screen: Wife vs. SecretaryGirls About Town, and Show People. But then there’s Sunset Boulevard at the Chinese Theater, introduced by Nancy Olson, and Hollywood Home Movies at the Roosevelt. Normally, I would say that Sunset Boulevard is something I’d likely to see in a theater at home. But it’s a movie I’ve been dying to see on the big screen for several years now and the Chinese Theater would be the perfect place to see it. I’ve also done Hollywood Home Movies every year that I’ve attended the festival and I’ve loved it every time. It’s a tough call, but I think Sunset and Hollywood Home Movies win out here. I figure that at least the other movies have the potential to get a TBA slot on Sunday.

For the second-to-last block of the day I’m very excited to see the 1932 version of Scarface on the schedule. But I was also just thinking recently that I haven’t seen The Big Lebowski in a really long time. I’ll most likely go with Scarface, but if there are any last-minute guest additions for Lebowski, my choice could get even harder.

Tonight’s midnight movie is one of my big must-sees this year’s festival: Night of the Living Dead introduced by Edgar Wright. I just got the new blu-ray of this from Criterion and the restored print is absolutely amazing, so I can’t wait to see it on a big screen.

Sunday, April 29

Silk Stockings Fred Astaire Cyd Charisse

I usually don’t get my heart set on too many things in advance for Sundays during the festival. Since there are several TBA slots for movies that were popular enough to deserve a second screening, and there are several movies I’m hoping will take the TBA slots this year, this approach holds very true once again. But if I were to go just based on the things I know will definitely happening, I’d choose Woman of the YearPlaces in the Heart, either Silk Stockings or the presentation on almost-lost films in Club TCM, and either A Star is Born or Animal House.

Let’s Get FilmStruck

FilmStruck

While many people have been quickly abandoning physical media in favor of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, classic cinema enthusiasts have largely been left out. With a few exceptions, most mainstream streaming services typically favor more modern movies, meaning fans of classic film have mostly been forced to stick to their DVDs, blu-rays, and even VHS tapes if they want to watch something made prior to the 1970s. But FilmStruck fills a major gap that had existed in the world of movie streaming services.

FilmStruck is a streaming service curated by Turner Classic Movies that launched in November 2016. Targeting fans of classic cinema, foreign films, and cult movies, FilmStruck features a wide range of movies from the Criterion Collection, Janus Films, Kino Lorber, Milestone, and more. I signed up for the service the day it became available for Roku players, so by now, I’ve been using it for several months and have had plenty of time to get familiar with all that it has to offer. And I can safely say that it is, by far, my favorite movie streaming service.

As a FilmStruck subscriber, you have your choice of two subscription tiers: the basic tier which gives you access to the main FilmStruck service and a more expensive one that gives you access to the Criterion Channel in addition to the main FilmStruck section. The whole idea of being able to stream movies from the Criterion Collection was one of the things that interested me most about FilmStruck, so naturally, I went with the option to get the Criterion Channel.

Regardless of which subscription service you choose, you’ll have a huge variety of movies and extra features to enjoy. While you can always just search for a specific movie, actor, director, or genre, one of the things I love most about FilmStruck is the fact that movies are also grouped together based on a common theme. This is such a great way to discover new movies. In the time that I’ve been using it, I’ve seen FilmStruck do spotlights with themes like punk films, films by Powell & Pressburger, Howard Hawks screwball comedies, movies made by Vivien Leigh before Gone With the Wind, LGBTQ movies, British noir, and directorial debuts, just to name a few. There’s also a Cinema Passport series which highlights movies made in different countries around the world. It’s worth noting that all the spotlights I just mentioned were/are available on the basic FilmStruck service, so even if you don’t go for the Criterion-level subscription, you’re still getting a lot of amazing programming. In addition to the movies, some titles have extra features such as introductions, scene commentaries, trailers, and featurettes.

With the Criterion Channel, you’re able to stream a selection of movies released by the Criterion Collection, complete with all the bonus features included on the DVD/blu-ray release. If you’re a big fan of Criterion Collection discs like I am and often find yourself wishing you could check a disc out before buying it, this lets you have a chance to do just that.

The Criterion Channel also features a lot of original content and special features not available on the basic FilmStruck service. My personal favorite is the weekly Friday Double Feature, which suggests a pairing of movies that share a common theme. This is something I never even knew I wanted in a streaming service until FilmStruck came along. But now every Friday when I get home from work, one of the first things I do is check to see what the new double feature is because there’s a very good chance it could be what I’ll end up watching that night. They also do something similar on Tuesdays where they pair a short film and a feature-length movie.

Like most other streaming services, movies are only available on FilmStruck for a limited amount of time. But I’ve consistently been impressed by how frequently new movies are added to the service. I also greatly appreciate the fact that both basic FilmStruck and the Criterion Channel have a list of the movies that will leaving soon. I’m sure many of you have experienced the disappointment of adding a movie or show to your watchlist on other services, only to have it disappear from the service without warning, so this is a big help. There’s also a list of movies that have recently been added, which is great. On the main FilmStruck section, there’s even a list of movies that are recommended for you.

On the whole, I really don’t have any complaints about FilmStruck. I’m extremely happy with the variety of movies it offers, I love the original features, and the themed collections are very interesting. Perhaps the only criticism I have of it is that I find it easier to browse its contents by either going to the website or by using the mobile app, but I can also say the same thing about Netflix. All in all, this is the streaming service I’d been waiting for. I’m still a huge fan of physical media, but FilmStruck is an excellent way to discover movies, whether you’re just starting to explore these sorts of movies or you’ve been a fan of these sorts of movies for years.

Update: Very shortly after publishing this review, it was announced that FilmStruck was partnering with Warner Brothers and that all content from the Warner Archive Instant streaming platform would be moving over to FilmStruck. They also launched the new TCM Select collection, which features a rotating selection of major golden age classics like Casablanca, Now Voyager, and And American in Paris. Like watching on TCM, movies in this collection feature an introduction from Ben Mankiewicz, as well as other related video clips from the TCM archives.

These new features and partnerships have already brought a lot of valuable content to the service. Today, I came home from work to see a great collection of Bette Davis movies had been added, as well as all the Astaire/Rogers movies. These are all available on the main FilmStruck platform, so this is another great example of how much amazing stuff you get access to even with the basic subscription option.

Hot Toddy: The True Story of Hollywood’s Most Sensational Murder

Hot Toddy Book CoverWhen actress Thelma Todd was found dead on December 16, 1935, the circumstances surrounding her death would become a subject of much debate that would last for over 80 years. Did she commit suicide? Was it an accident? Or was she the victim of a crime?

Although there already had been a lot of speculation about how Todd might have died, the 1989 publication of Hot Toddy: The True Story of Hollywood’s Most Sensational Murder by Andy Edmonds brought that speculation to a new level by alleging that Todd had been the victim of a mob hit orchestrated by none other than Lucky Luciano, the major mob leader.

But is it true? Was one of Hollywood’s most famous unsolved mysteries orchestrated by one of the most notorious gangsters of all time? It’s hard to say. To this day, Thelma Todd’s death is officially considered an accident. But in the time since the publication of Hot Toddy, the Luciano theory has certainly become one of the most popular theories. And it’s hard to not be at least a little intrigued by it. As someone who has long been fascinated by this case, I know I was, so I’d had this book on my list of books to read for a long time.

Hot Toddy covers the entire course of Thelma Todd’s life, from her youth in Lawrence, Massachusetts to her time as a student at an acting school run by Paramount, her rise to Hollywood stardom, and her mysterious death. Although there had long been rumors that Thelma Todd had been murdered, Edmonds’ book stood out because she had anonymous sources who claimed to have been with Thelma shortly before her death.

In 1991, Hot Toddy was turned into a made-for-TV movie by the name of White Hot: The Mysterious Murder of Thelma Todd, starring Loni Anderson as Thelma Todd. Now, that movie may eventually get a review of its own, but as I read Hot Toddy, I couldn’t help but think, “Yeah, this totally reads like something that would eventually get turned into a made-for-TV movie starring Loni Anderson.”

Edmonds definitely had a specific image of Thelma in mind when she wrote the book. She really tries her best to set Thelma up to be a product of her father’s shady connections and her mother’s ambitions, desperately fighting to find something in her life that’s truly her own. Add Hollywood stardom, men, booze, pills, and gangsters to the mix and Hot Toddy gets pretty tawdry pretty quickly.

A few years ago, Michelle Morgan published another book on the Thelma Todd case titled The Ice Cream Blonde. Danny of pre-code.com pointed out that much of the biographical information in Morgan’s book comes from fan magazine interviews and letters to fans, which likely contained sanitized, studio-approved statements. And that’s a very valid point. But ultimately, I found Morgan’s style of writing much more palatable since she never seemed to have an agenda or an angle she wanted to work.

I will say that Edmonds’ book goes into more detail about Thelma’s pre-Hollywood life, which I did enjoy for the most part. I found the bits about her time at the acting school particularly interesting, since the whole concept of that school was a great example of how the film industry was trying to rehab its image after some noteworthy scandals.

But the big thing Hot Toddy is known for is claims about Luciano. As I mentioned, Thelma Todd’s death is still officially considered an accident, so this book certainly did not solve the case once and for all. How much you can believe it depends on how much trust you’re willing to place in her anonymous sources. I really wasn’t a big fan of the extended conversations that are detailed in the book purely because I have a hard time believing that any eyewitness to those conversations would remember them in such detail over 50 years later.

Aside from the Luciano claims, it’s worth mentioning that some reviews from Hot Toddy‘s initial publication pointed out mistakes in some of the book’s details. One review in the LA Times cited a basic geographical error in one of her claims. Anita Garvin, another actress with ties to the restaurant industry and friend of Thelma’s, was interviewed for Hot Toddy. A few years after its publication, Garvin was interviewed for a Mabel Normand fansite and had this to say about it:

AG: I swore that after what they wrote about Thelma Todd, you know “Hot Toddy,” I swore after I was interviewed on the thing I would never do this again: because they screwed the whole thing up! They were absolutely out of their minds. There wasn’t anything in that book that was worth five minutes of her time. What they did to Thelma Todd! “Hot Toddy” they liked the title, but I could see through whoever wrote it. (groans) Oh God!

WTS: That was Andy Edmonds.

AG: I know Andy Edmonds. But I knew Thelma very well, and she was straight laced. She never went through all these things. And she (Edmonds) even got my husband and I – had our business and things – she got that all wrong. It was at the old Monmart on Hollywood Blvd. near Highland. She had us on out on the strip someplace before there was a strip. She got everything backwards. And she interviewed me and I gave her the straight scoop on Thelma. But I think she just decided she knew because she probably liked the title “Hot Toddy” and thought she was going to make it “Hot Toddy!”

If you have an interest in the Thelma Todd case, Hot Toddy is a must-read if only for the fact that it’s the most well-known book about it. Or if you’re looking for something to read that’s a bit on the tawdry side, you might enjoy Hot Toddy. Regardless of why you read it, just be prepared to go into it ready to take a lot of its claims with a grain of salt.

Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016)

Dawson City poster

It’s estimated that about 90% of all films made prior to 1929 are lost and many of those are very likely gone forever. With those kinds of odds, it’s no wonder that classic film fans get so excited over news that a print of a thought-to-be-lost film has been found. But if there’s anything more exciting than finding a print of one lost film, it’s finding a whole stash of them, and that’s exactly what happened in Dawson City in 1978.

At its peak during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898, Dawson City was home to over 30,000 people. One year later, that population had dropped to 8,000 and today, the city’s population is approximately 1,300. But throughout all the ups and downs the city has encountered over the years, one thing has remained consistent: entertainment has remained an important part of the town.

Dawson City was hardly the only city to have its own movie theaters, but what makes Dawson City unique is that, because of its location, it was at the end of the distribution line for films and newsreels. Returning films after screening them would have been very expensive for the distributor and, at the time, it wasn’t widely believed that film had any long-term value. So when a movie arrived in Dawson City, it likely stayed there. Since there was nothing else to do with them, the city eventually became overwhelmed by reels of film. Physically storing them all became difficult and every once in a while, people would hold bonfires fueled by excess film and heaps of film would simply be thrown into the Yukon River to be carried away. At one point in 1929, hundreds of film reels were put into a former swimming pool, which was then boarded up to be used as a hockey rink.

The film reels that ended up under the hockey rink remained there until 1978 when the lot was being leveled. What ended up being unearthed at that site was a priceless treasure trove of movie reels and newsreels from the early 20th century. It was a find Vanity Fair dubbed “the King Tut’s tomb of silent-era cinema.” Many of the films discovered there were believed to have been lost and included some of the biggest names of the silent era, such as Harold Lloyd, Fatty Arbuckle, and D.W. Griffith. Since the highly-flammable nitrate prints had been stored in permafrost, they weren’t prone to spontaneously catching on fire the way reels stored through more conventional means were.

Bill Morrison’s Dawson City: Frozen Time isn’t a documentary solely about the big film discovery; it chronicles the entire history of the town. Morrison primarily uses footage uncovered in Dawson City to tell the story of the city from its earliest days to the height of the Gold Rush to the modern day. Appropriately, most of the documentary is presented similarly to a silent film, without narration and a haunting musical score. If you’re a fan of silent film, being able to see some of this footage is a real treat. Not only is it exciting to see it at all, it’s absolutely fascinating to see the footage used so imaginatively.

While the Dawson City discovery included priceless finds involving major Hollywood stars, the newsreels they found there are every bit as important. Some of these newsreels include footage of well-known historical events such as the 1919 World Series, the year of the infamous Black Sox scandal. Speaking as someone who doesn’t follow baseball, or any other sport for that matter, being able to see that footage was pretty amazing. Not only do you have the chance to see some of the players involved in the scandal, it also gives you a chance to see how fans would keep up to date with games in an era before ESPN was a mainstay in bars around the country.

Dawson City: Frozen Time had been a movie I really wanted to see at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival, but I ended up not being able to make it. Everyone I had talked to who did see it described it as a fever dream, and that’s a pretty accurate way to describe it. It’s haunting, it’s surreal, and it’s absolutely incredible. If you’re like me and love hearing the stories of how lost films are uncovered, Dawson City: Frozen Time is well worth your time. I’m really glad I finally had a chance to see it.