Elizabeth Taylor

TCMFF 2015, Day 2: Early Technicolor, Dustin Hoffman, and BOOM!

Today involved making a lot of my hardest decisions of the entire festival. In a way, it was actually kind of nice to get those done and out of the way, but still, the decisions were tough. When it all came down to it, I ended up spending the majority of my day hanging out at the Egyptian theater, getting out of one movie and getting right back in line for the next one. The line-up there that day was just incredible.

David Pierce Dawn of Technicolor TCMFF 2015

David Pierce at the Dawn of Technicolor presentation. Photo courtesy TCM/Tyler Golden

The day started with a presentation called “The Dawn of Technicolor” given by James Layton and David Pierce, authors of the new book “The Dawn of Technicolor.” Although their book isn’t specifically focused on early musicals, this presentation was mostly focused on early Technicolor musical numbers as well as information about the early Technicolor process and some of the problems that came along with it. Now, I’ve always had an odd fondness for the look of early two-strip Technicolor, so I was relieved to find out that I am not alone in that. The Egyptian seats about 600, making it the third largest venue at the festival (behind the Chinese theater and the El Capitan) and it was a pretty full house. It was pretty exciting to see so many people who were willing to get up early to go see examples of early Technicolor; it made me feel a little less alone in my nerdiness.

Most of the clips featured in the presentation were extremely rare; the only one I had seen before was “The Lockstep” musical number from the scrapped revue The March of Time, which was featured in That’s Entertainment! Part 3. The clips they showed ranged from entertaining to downright baffling. The “Tip-Toe Through the Tulips” number from the mostly lost Gold Diggers of Broadway gave us all an idea of why that movie was such a rousing success in 1929. A color version of the “Meet My Sister” number from 1929’s The Show of Shows was really fun to watch and featured appearances from Loretta Young, Dolores Costello, and Ann Sothern in her second film. We were treated to a restored version of 1930’s The Sultan’s Jester, a 10-minute short produced by Warner Brothers which features a lot of bad jokes and some pretty wild acrobatics. If you ever have the chance to see Layton and Pierce give this presentation, I very highly recommend checking it out.

Dustin Hoffman Lenny

One of the hottest events of the entire festival was Friday’s screening of 1974’s Lenny with Dustin Hoffman in attendance. I had been really interested in the Christopher Plummer handprint ceremony at the Chinese theater, which was immediately before Lenny started, but ultimately, I decided to skip it to get in line for Lenny since Dustin Hoffman is one of my all-time favorite actors and the star of some of my favorite movies. This proved to be a good call because I don’t think I would have been able to get in if it weren’t for the fact that I was able to get out of the Technicolor presentation and immediately get in line for Lenny; a lot of people were shut out of this one.

Prior to the festival, I had never seen Lenny and didn’t know anything at all about the real Lenny Bruce, so I can’t talk about how accurate the movie is at depicting Lenny’s life, but Hoffman was amazing. I’m not sure why I haven’t heard this movie discussed more, but it’s definitely time for more people to rediscover it. Hoffman’s performance was a real tour de force and he had a terrific co-star in Valerie Perrine as Honey, the wife of Lenny Bruce.

Following the film, there was a discussion between Dustin Hoffman and Alec Baldwin about what it was like making the film and about his career in general. Hoffman was an absolute delight to listen to; he was funny, honest, candid, even showed a very heartfelt moment of vulnerability when talking about his late friend Robin Williams.  This was an interview I could have listened to all day; I so adore Hoffman as an actor, it was the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to hear him talk about how he researched the role of Lenny Bruce and what it was like to work with Bob Fosse. He and Fosse didn’t always see eye-to-eye on his performance, but Hoffman admitted that ultimately, Fosse was always right and joked that he’ll admit to a lot of things 40 years later. (If you’d like to see a clip of the interview, someone has uploaded a clip onto YouTube, but I will warn you that this clip is the most R-rated bit of the interview. But you do get to see both Hoffman and Baldwin doing their best Buddy Hackett impressions.)

Ann-Margaret at the TCM Film Festival

Ann-Margaret at the TCM Film Festival. Photo courtesy TCM/Tyler Golden

Following the screening of Lenny, I went outside and got right back in line for The Cincinnati Kid, which would be introduced by Ann-Margaret. Gambling movies aren’t always my thing, but with a cast like Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Joan Blondell, Karl Malden, and of course, Ann-Margaret, it was hard for me to resist. But the movie held my interest the whole time and had lots of suspense. It also gave Joan Blondell a lot of opportunities to be the ultra-sassy type of character I always love watching her play in her early 1930s films. And being able to see Ann-Margaret in person was a treat. She talked about things like making her film debut along with Bette Davis in Pocketful of Miracles and how wonderful Bette was to her, her love of motorcycles, and working with Steve McQueen, who she recalled saying, “Eh, let them worry, it’s their job,” when the studio asked him to stop riding his motorcycle to work.

Steamboat Bill Jr

After The Cincinnati Kid, it was time for me to get in line for Buster Keaton’s classic Steamboat Bill, Jr. with live music conducted by the great Carl Davis. Steamboat Bill, Jr. wasn’t a new movie to me, but it’s always incredible to see one of the great silent film comedies with a big audience, especially when the music is being conducted by one of the top composers of silent film scores. It’s truly an experience unlike anything else.

The Bank Dick WC Fields

I finally got a break from the Egyptian Theater after Steamboat Bill, Jr. when I went over to the TCL multiplex to see 1940’s The Bank Dick, introduced by Allen Fields and Ronald J. Fields, two of W.C. Fields’ grandchildren. Being able to see his grandsons was a real trip because one of them looked and sounded so much like W.C. Fields. In all honesty, my memory is a little hazy of this screening since I dozed off at a couple of points, but what I do remember of the movie, I immensely enjoyed.

Elizabeth Taylor Boom

I was willing to stay up til midnight to find out the context of how and why this hat was worn.

Oddly enough, one of the biggest highlights of the entire festival was the midnight screening of Boom!, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s film adaptation of Tennessee William’s “The Milk Truck Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.” Boom! is best remembered for being the only movie Taylor and Burton made together that lost money. And the movie does completely miss the mark in every conventional way, but that’s what made it so much fun to see in a theater. Boom! is the kind of movie that is best watched late at night after you’ve had a few drinks. John Waters has called the movie “so bad, it’s the other side of camp,” and everything else he has said about the movie is completely dead on. To give you an idea of what Boom! has to offer, I’ll quote the awesome Anne Marie of The Film Experience:

I know a lot of other people at the festival read John Waters’ comments about the movie and were totally sold on the movie by them. And judging by how many times I heard people around the festival doing their best imitations of Elizabeth Taylor shrieking, “WHAAAAAT!” I think it’s safe to say Boom! was a success. John Waters was right — it’s really best seen with an appreciative audience and this audience was, indeed, appreciative.

On that note, I will leave you with the trailer for Boom!

Father of the Bride (1950)

Father of the BrideUpon getting the news that their daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) is getting married to her boyfriend Buckley (Don Taylor), Stanley and Ellie Banks (Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett) are immediately thrown into the whirlwind of planning a wedding.  While Ellie is largely enthusiastic about Kay’s impending nuptials, Stanley isn’t as easygoing about the whole thing.

Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a movie if the wedding plans went smoothly.  First Stanley worries that Kay might be marrying a good-for-nothing lowlife, but when those fears are put to rest, every new event brings on a new source of anxiety for Stanley.  First Stanley and Ellie go to meet Buckley’s parents and Stanley accidentally drinks too much.  Then during the engagement party, few guests are interested in the large batch of martinis Stanley has made for the occasion so he spends the entire party in the kitchen playing bartender.

At first, Kay only wants a small, simple wedding.  But since Ellie has always regretted not having a large wedding of her own, she wants to give Kay the wedding she never had.  Stanley puts his foot down at a maximum of 150 guests, but that number quickly grows to 250.  The whole wedding planning process is enough to make Stanley consider paying Kay to just elope already.  And when the RSVP cards are rolling in, Kay wants to call the whole wedding off after getting into a fight with Buckley.  But they quickly work things out and the wedding goes on as planned.  When all is said and done, Stanley decides all the stress was worth is.

Father of the Bride is completely charming and an absolute delight.  This is a movie that just gets it exactly right in every way.  Spencer Tracy’s performance is nothing less than a joy to watch.  And when you take his performance and combine it with Joan Bennett, direction from Vincente Minnelli, and a wonderful screenplay, you have a real winner of a movie.  It’s very funny, warm, and sentimental without being sappy.  Plus, who could ever forget that shot when we first see Elizabeth Taylor, looking positively radiant, in her wedding gown?  Simply put, Father of the Bride is a real must-see movie.

A Date With Judy (1948)

A Date With Judy PosterThe big school dance is coming up and Judy Foster (Jane Powell) is planning on attending with her boyfriend Oogie Pringle (Scotty Beckett).  Oogie is also the brother of her best friend Carol (Elizabeth Taylor).  But right before the big dance, Oogie decides he can’t take Judy, so the owner of the local soda shop gets his nephew Stephen Andrews (Robert Stack) to take Judy instead.  Judy is immediately smitten with Stephen and so is every other girl at the dance, including Carol.  Oogie is very jealous, but Judy swears she won’t take Oogie back.

Meanwhile, Judy’s parents’ anniversary is coming up.  To surprise his wife, Judy’s father Melvin (Wallace Beery) decides to learn how to rumba so he can surprise his wife when they go out to celebrate their anniversary.  He takes lessons from Rosita Cochellas (Carmen Miranda), girlfriend of bandleader Xavier Cugat (himself).  Melvin wants to keep this a secret, so he has Rosita give him lessons in his office, but when Judy pays an unexpected visit to his office, she gets the wrong idea when she sees Rosita’s purse there.

Oogie wants to get back together with Judy and Carol does her best to help, but Judy wants to continue seeing Stephen.  Judy even wants to marry Stephen.  But Stephen is more interested in Carol, or at least he is until he realizes just how snobbish Carol can be.  And even if Judy wanted to get back together with Oogie, she’s more concerned with trying to save her parents’ marriage.  On the night of the anniversary celebration, Judy and Carol confront Rosita and realize what a mistake they’ve made.  Not only is Judy’s parents’ marriage safe, but by the end of the night, Judy and Oogie get back together and Stephen comes around to Carol again.

A Date With Judy is nothing exceptional, but it’s likeable enough.  My biggest complaint about it is that for the type of movie it is, a light and fluffy bit of nonsense entertainment, it felt overly long.  It’s a nearly two-hour long movie that felt like it should have been more like 90 minutes.

However, I was very pleasantly surprised by Wallace Beery’s performance in it.  When I think of Wallace Beery, I think of him playing loutish characters in things like Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight and from what I’ve heard, he was a lout off-screen as well.  But in A Date With Judy, he actually brought a lot of warmth and charm to his character, which was a very refreshing change of pace.  The biggest highlight of A Date With Judy is getting to see Beery as Melvin trying to learn how to rumba.

Liz & Dick (2012)

Liz & Dick opens with the title appearing over this picture, the movie’s one and only decent publicity photo. It’s all downhill from there.

If you’re pressed for time, I can sum up my thoughts on Liz & Dick in five seconds:

Now, on to my real review.

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What’s on TCM: March 2012

Happy March, everybody!  There are plenty of things I’m looking forward to on TCM this month!  First of all, there’s the tail end of 31 Days of Oscars.  The end of 31 Days of Oscars means the return of Silent Sunday Nights, and it’s back with some excellent silents.  Lovers of pre-codes should definitely keep an eye on the schedule this month because I noticed quite a few pre-codes mixed in there.  Starting this month, Drew Barrymore will take over Alec Baldwin’s co-hosting duties for The Essentials.  Karl Malden is the star of the month and I haven’t seen very many of his movies, so this is a good chance for me to see more of his work.  Every Monday night this month will feature films from the British new wave era, which is something I’m very eager to see.  So, let’s get on to all my highlights for the month:

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The V.I.P.s (1963)

On any given day, you’re bound to encounter all sorts of characters at an airport.  On this particular day, it seems that all the drama is happening in the V.I.P. lounge of Heathrow Airport.  Movie director Max Buda (Orson Welles) is there with aspiring actress Gloria Gritti (Elsa Martinelli), trying to get out of the country so that he won’t have to pay a massive tax bill.  Frances Andros (Elizabeth Taylor) is about to leave her mogul husband Paul (Richard Burton) and run off to New York with her boyfriend, Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan).  Then there’s Les Mangrum (Rod Taylor), who desperately needs to get to New York so that he can get a loan to save his tractor company.  He’s accompanied by Miss Mead (Maggie Smith), his loyal secretary who is secretly in love with him.  And last, but not least, there’s The Duchess of Brighton (Margaret Rutherford).  She’s fallen on hard times and in order to afford to keep her family’s estate, she has to go to Florida to take a job.

All of these personal dramas become even more tumultuous when all flights out of Heathrow are delayed by fog.  At first, they expect to only be delayed an hour, but it soon becomes clear that they won’t be able to fly out until the next morning and they are all put up in a hotel for the night.  By then, Paul has found out about Frances’ plan to leave him and shows up to put a stop to it.  Les makes a few last-ditch attempts to get the money he needs, and just when he thinks he’s ruined, Miss Mead saves him in just the nick of time.  Max finds a way out of his tax woes, but not a particularly desirable one.  Even the Duchess is able to find a way to keep her family home.

The V.I.P.s may be regarded as one of Elizabeth Taylor’s lesser movies, but I actually enjoyed it.  It’s a guilty pleasure of mine.  If you go into it hoping for straight drama, look elsewhere because it doesn’t really work on that level.  However, if you’re in the mood for something campy, then you might have some fun with The V.I.P.s.  Essentially, it’s Grand Hotel, but set in an airport and campier.  The writing isn’t particularly good, but it was over the top enough to be fun.  Elizabeth Taylor seemed kinda bored most of the time, apparently she only took the role so she wouldn’t have to worry about Richard Burton getting distracted by Sophia Loren.  But boy, does she ever look fabulous!  Richard Burton hams it up big time and Orson Welles’ accent is pretty ridiculous.  And Margaret Rutherford’s boozy, pill-popping Duchess of Brighton is just a hoot.  But I think the most hilarious part of this movie is the hotel the airline puts these people in.  If that were the hotel you really got to stay at when your flight gets delayed, travel delays wouldn’t be quite so bad.  But we all know in reality, you’re really going to the nearest Best Western, not a swanky, stylish place like that.  Also, if you’re into 1960s fashions, this is worth checking out if only for the eye candy factor because it is a very stylish movie.

What’s on TCM: December 2011

We’re down to the last month of 2011 already!  TCM will be closing out the year in top form.  December’s star of the month is William Powell, which I am very excited about since I’m a big fan of his.  It also means we get two nights of movies featuring him with Myrna Loy, one night being the entire Thin Man series and another night featuring their other collaborations.  His movies will be showcased every Thursday night this month.  TCM will also be celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens a little early (his birthday isn’t actually until February) by devoting Monday nights to showing various film adaptations of his work.  And of course there are Christmas classics galore to look forward to!

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