April 6, 2017
Not long before the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival got underway, fans of the channel were heartbroken to hear the news that long-time host Robert Osborne had passed away. Although Osborne wasn’t there in person this year, you couldn’t go anywhere without feeling his spirit. This year’s festival was officially dedicated to his memory and one of the first events this year was a panel all about him.
During this event, several TCM staffers, along with Osborne’s long-time friend Diane Baker, gathered to share their memories. It was an absolute delight to hear everyone’s stories about how they met him, the advice he’d given them, and what it was like to work with him. Many of the stories were touching, but one thing they made very clear is that Robert wouldn’t have wanted sad songs being played for him, so many of the stories were on a lighter, funnier note.
For example, out of all the big-name guests who appeared on the channel over the years, the one Osborne seemed to be most intimidated by was Judge Judy. He was a huge fan of her show and one of the TCM staffers talked about how if you called up to his apartment while the show was on, you would hear Judge Judy blaring in the background. And given how many film legends he knew and befriended over the years, you might not expect Osborne to be the type to be starstruck often. But when Jean-Paul Belmondo was at the festival a few years ago to introduce Breathless, Osborne was reportedly a bit giddy after meeting him for the first time.
It goes without saying that Robert Osborne was one of a kind. While there are lots of people who have a talent for on-air hosting and experience interviewing celebrity guests, Diane Baker said it best when she pointed out that what set him apart is that he genuinely cared about who these stars were as people.
Not long after the Remembering Robert Osborne panel, there was a big announcement that changed my plans for the rest of the night. A nitrate print of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much had been part of the schedule from the get-go. There wasn’t a big-name guest to introduce it, but it was high on many peoples’ must-see lists because it was a nitrate print. However, since so many people seemed to be interested in The Man Who Knew Too Much, I was starting to lean more toward Requiem for a Heavyweight instead just to avoid the crowd. But then, I checked my phone and saw a notification announcing that Martin Scorsese would be introducing Man Who Knew Too Much and my whole plans for the night changed.
Martin Scorsese is my favorite living filmmaker and since he is such a strong advocate for film preservation, having the chance to see him at an event like this was really too much to resist. So not only did I decide to skip Requiem for a Heavyweight, I also decided to skip the documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time so I would have more time to line up for it. Dawson City had originally been at the top of my list of things I was most excited to see, but Scorsese was a game changer. This is a prime example of why one of the biggest pieces of advice I give to first-time festival attendees is to keep your options open. Because when your plan B involves getting to see someone like Martin Scorsese introduce a nitrate print of anything, you know you’re in a good place.
Before The Man Who Knew Too Much, I spent some time watching red carpet arrivals for the gala screening of In the Heat of the Night, which is always a lot of fun. The red carpet is always a way to see a lot of the festival’s special guests all in once place so you get to see a lot of people you wouldn’t get to see otherwise. In this case, it gave me a chance to see Lee Grant, Todd Fisher, Keir Dullea, John Landis, Beau Bridges, and Ruta Lee, which was great since I wasn’t able to see them at any of their events.
After the red carpet, I grabbed some dinner and got in line at the Egyptian theater for The Man Who Knew Too Much. Scorsese’s introduction was everything I’d hoped it would be. As he walked out to the podium, you could tell he was delighted to be there. Every single person who was there that night cares about film history and was excited to have the opportunity to see nitrate, so we were definitely his kind of crowd. “I’m sure you all already know about nitrate, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway just because I like talking about it,” he told the crowd. He then went on to not only tell us about the print of The Man Who Knew Too Much we were about to see, he talked a little bit about each of the nitrate prints being shown at the festival, such as where they came from or where he’d seen screenings of them in the past.
The print of The Man Who Knew Too Much we saw was originally part of David O. Selznick’s personal collection. Not only was the print itself in impeccable condition, the added shine that nitrate gives was the icing on the cake. It was my first time seeing this version of The Man Who Knew Too Much; I’d seen the 1956 Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day version several times before. On the whole, I preferred the 1954 version if only because of its unforgettable Albert Hall sequence. But I loved that in the end, it’s Edna Best’s character who takes charge of the situation and saves the day.
By the end of the day, it was clear that this was going to be an exceptionally great TCM Classic Film Festival.