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2013 TCM Classic Film Festival: No Sleep, Some Food, the Best Times

The fourth annual (and my second) TCM Classic Film Festival is over. What a wonderful experience, one that I never expected would have exceeded that of the fantastic 2012 festival. I spent time with friends new and old, sipped cocktails poolside at the historic Roosevelt Hotel, had steaks and expensive wine in the Chaplin booth at Musso & Frank Grill, had a piece of memorabilia appraised by Bonhams, and enjoyed the greatest classic films on the big screen, several of them new-to-me. I barely slept, I ate like a bird, but I had the greatest time a classic film fan can have.

Before I made my trip to Hollywood for the festival, I wrote up my picks. Just like in 2012, I wasn’t able to stick to all of them. In some cases, the screenings were “sold out” and in other cases I either changed my mind at the last minute or was persuaded by friends. In case you missed it, here is my pre-festvial piece, The Tantalus Dilemma Redux.

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The Tantalus Dilemma Redux

In 2012 I attended the 3rd Annual TCM Classic Film Festival (and my 1st). In 2010 I was unable to attend because I had a bun in the oven and in 2011 the little bun was too young for me to leave. It was hard for me to stay here, watching the commercials, seeing the live blogs and tweets, and of course the footage from the Festival itself. I honestly didn’t think it would ever be a possibility for me to go. When the opportunity arose for me to attend in 2012, everything fell into place. All of the things I worried about were non-issues and all of the things I didn’t think would be issues? Well…

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There Once Was a Man From Nantucket…

True Classics is three years old! (!!!!!!!!) In the blogging racket, three years is an ETERNITY. I raise my bottle of Boone’s Farm to the entire True Classics crew: Brandie, Nikki, Carrie, and Sarah. Thanks for being amazing classic film ambassadors and all-around awesome-y!  To celebrate the occasion, the ladies are hosting a limerick contest! Below are my entries for the event.

 

With vision that’s doubled and blurry
She visits Doc Brent in a hurry
Her prognosis was bleak
She’d die in 12 weeks
He withheld though, to not make her worry

Inspired by Dark Victory (1939)

Why’d Ms. Timberlake stop to think?
She should’ve been in the pink!
Before they retired
Philip desired
To give her That Touch of Mink 

Inspired by That Touch of Mink (1962)

Sheriff Bart took the job no one wanted
The townspeople, their hatred was flaunted
With a tip of his hat
“Where the white women at?”
With his cunning and wit, he taunted

Inspired by Blazing Saddles (1974)

Macaulay was quite a swell guy
He stuttered  uh…uh well… I…
He’s the voice of doom
The drunk in the room
Sipping champagne and rye

Inspired by The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Alicia was loose and unfit
Uncle Sam, for she’d commit
With a tinge of hate
“Alex is my playmate”
Jealous, said Dev, “just skip it.”

Inspired by Notorious (1946)

 

Two “friends” named Randy and Cary
Many women they courted to marry
On the beach in their socks
Shorts tight on their cocks
Of women, claimed Hedda, they’re wary

Inspired by Hollywood tabloid trash and salacious “biographies”
(For the record: I love Hollywood tabloid trash and salacious “biographies”)

 

The man Kelly was known for his class
for women he bowed when he’d pass
When he yelled “Gotta Dance!”
All fell in a trance
Admiring his luscious firm ass

Inspired by Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
(and every other Gene Kelly performance)

 

TCM Classic Film Festival: No Sleep, No Food, Good Times

Count me now on the list of jerks who’s been to the TCM Classic Film Festival. To say that my experience was incredible is a complete understatement.

I arrived in California on Wednesday evening. After a lovely, relaxing dinner with some close friends, I traveled up to Hollywood from Orange County to check into my hotel. Little did I know, that meal would be the last one for quite a while. After finally meeting some of my Twitter friends in person for the first time, I settled in for a good night’s sleep. It would be the last one of those too. I quickly learned there is no place for eating or sleeping at the festival. After all, “sleeping is giving in, no matter what the time is.”

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Fredric March: The Eyes Have It

by Bobby Rivers

“Some of you seem to think this is a course in anatomy.”  ~Fredric March in The Wild Party as the anthropology professor in a women’s university.

In that 1929 talkie directed by Dorothy Arzner, he also teaches feminism to his flirtiest student, Stella, played by Clara Bow.  The professor literally saves that babe in the woods from possible rape after she hit a roadhouse for some hot cha cha.  He educates her on the college’s founder: “She braved the ridicule of her friends and the abuse of her contemporaries to bring a true freedom to women.”  Prof. Gilmore falls for Stella but she must embrace “work, scholarship and achievement” and stop being a party girl. This movie made Fredric March a star. We can see why. The camera loved his face. Early March had matinee idol looks and serious actor skills.  His tone here — in vocal quality and performance — still feel modern.  Certainly more modern than Bow’s.  Her Betty Boop faces were more suited for a silent film.  She does too much. March seems to have hit Hollywood cameras with a natural sense that less would be more in the new sound era.  He stars in another film directed by Dorothy Arzner, Sarah and Son.  With this 1930 film, Arzner became the first woman to direct another woman to a Best Actress Academy Award nomination.  Oscar nominee Ruth Chatterton (much better and memorable as the restless wife of Dodsworth) played the German Sarah.  Bow’s physical excess is matched by Chatterton’s vocal excess. Her accent sounds a little to the left of Lili Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles (“I vant you should get up und get out und get some money.  Or you don’t see me again…mebbe.”)  She’s the hoofer/singer who married a lazy American.  He gives their baby away and then dies.  March stars as the respectful lawyer who helps the hard-working single mother reclaim her son.  Again, he’s natural.  Every time Chatterton opens her mouth, lederhosen pops out.

The Eagle and the Hawk.  I wish this World War I film was as popular as 1930′s All Quiet On The Western Front.  The star quality felt about March in his first Arzner film has been confirmed by the time he stars in this 1933 drama.  And he’d been recognized by Hollywood with the first of his two Best Actor Oscars, winning for 1931-32′s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  His second Oscar® came for William Wyler’s 1946 classic about World War II veterans, The Best Years of Our Lives. Only about 70 minutes long, The Eagle and the Hawk packs quite a punch and contains one of my favorite March performances.  The movie is visually handsome, with the 1930s pearly Paramount sheen plus a gorgeous use of darkness and shadow in its black and white cinematography.  The aerial sequences are exciting.  March and jovial Jack Oakie were both in The Wild Party but didn’t have scenes together.  They do in this WWI picture.  They’re best friends. Cary Grant plays the bad-ass.  ”This is a war.  I’m hired to kill the enemy,” Grant’s airman says.  We see each pilot’s character in the opening credits.  Jerry (March) is the upper class good sportsman.  Mike (Oakie) is the happy-go-lucky slug. Crocker (Grant) is the unsympathetic roughneck.  Here, March is in peak form.  His internal work is masterful.  He mentally breaks down from a likable guy who sees war as sport to a haunted shell of a war-hating hero by the end. He drinks, as several March characters do. We feel the rage building in Jerry’s soul.  He’s at war with himself every time he gets more medals for shooting down the enemy.  ”I got these for killing kids!”  It’s all there in March’s eyes.  And in his stillness. He was one of those actors who realized early on that to be still, to let the audience come to and into your character was very powerful.

A commanding officer asks Jerry to give the new fresh-faced recruits a pep talk with tales of his latest victory. We see the self-loathing and irony in his eyes as he tells them  ”…you’re fighting for humanity and for the preservation of civilization.”  In March’s most stirring scene, Jerry has a nightmare about combat.  He’s dreaming but his eyes are open.  For that’s what war has made his life — a nightmare with his eyes open. A much-needed breather from the horrors of war is supplied by Carole Lombard as The Beautiful Lady at a London party.  Her serious role as an elegant woman who comforts Jerry for a night on leave is practically a cameo.  Four years later, March and Lombard co-star for lively loopiness in the screwball comedy, Nothing Sacred.

My first professional broadcast job was doing news on 93 QFM, a radio station in Milwaukee.  During that gig, I got to meet and spend time with Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting and Martha Raye when they toured in a 1970s stage revue that played Milwaukee for a week.  One night after the show, we went out to a barbecue rib joint for dinner and they started telling show biz stories.  Martha, who was under contract to Paramount in the 1930s, piped up with what a flirt Fredric March was.  Not only that, but he was endowed with more than just a great acting talent.  Rosemary and Margaret practically did the Danny Thomas Spit Take with their beverages.  I said “Fredric March?”  She said, “Why do you think he wore that cape in Death Takes A Holiday?  He needed something long enough to cover it up.”  What a marvelous night that was with Martha Raye, who later added “Lombard knew how to handle him.”  Rosemary Clooney and Margaret Whiting were tired and wanted to go back to the hotel after we finished dinner.  Martha turned to me and said, “Let’s get a nightcap.”  Over vodka tonics in downtown Milwaukee, I asked her if the celebrated actor was really that much of a Casanova.  Martha Raye’s answer:  ”Honey, if he saw a crack in the wall, he’d make a pass at it.”  I miss Old Hollywood.  Fredric March.  He was gifted.

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Bobby Rivers is a veteran network TV host & entertainment reporter. He had his own VH1 celebrity talk show, reviewed movies for ABC News/Lifetime TV & Premiere Radio and hosted “Metro Movies with Bobby Rivers,” a weekly local show highlighting the NYC film scene. He’s acted in TV commercials and played clueless “Prof. Haige” in satirical news features for The Onion.

The Eagle and the Hawk

You know what is one of the best film discoveries? When you realize two of your favorite actors starred in a film together that you have never seen.

In the case of The Eagle & the Hawk it would be Fredric March & Cary Grant. Of course with big names like this you expect the film to not be very good because why else did you not hear about it before? I’ve only been a fan of Fredric March for two years or so but I’ve been a fan of Grant for years so I thought I at least knew most of what he was in. Thus when I first watched The Eagle and the Hawk a little over a year ago, I wasn’t expecting much.  However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised; it turned out to be a pretty decent war drama. That’s one of the best things about being a film fan realizing there are always new films to discover and it doesn’t have to be a well known film either. Sometimes a great film is one that you have not even heard of before.

March feeling guilty for grounding Grant’s character: The start of a rocky relationship
March feeling guilty for grounding Grant’s character: The start of a rocky relationship
 The Eagle & the Hawk is about Royal Air Force WWI pilots that discover the harsh realities of war. Early US war films are always rather interesting for me to watch because they contrast so much with later war films once we hit WWII. In 1933 when this movie was made, the US was still decidedly anti-war and it shows in every way in this film. In fact if there is another movie with a similar theme I can compare this one to it would be All Quiet on the Western Front, with both movies truly showing the futility of war.

As for our two protagonists, I listed March’s name first on purpose and not just because this blog event is dedicated to him. March is decidedly the star of the film. Cary Grant was known (in large part because of his distinctive voice) but he had not made it big quite yet and is the supporting player here. March on the other hand had already won an Oscar. March shows that Oscar was deserved and gives a richly layered performance in this film as the lead character Jerry Young. Young is an American pilot who fights for the RAF. He is excited for the chance to go to France to fight heroically for his country. However, this excitement quickly turns to disillusionment as Young realizes the only thing he is fighting for is to see the next young pilot killed. Young flies the RAF planes into enemy territory while an observer takes note of the enemies’ base and guns down any enemy planes. Unfortunately these partnerships are quickly dissolved as one after one the gunners are shot down. C’est la guerre to the other seasoned soldiers on the base. In one early scene in the film a man’s bed sheets are rolled up shortly after he dies, his name erased off the board, like he was never there. March however takes the deaths much harder. Fighting for a cause you believe in is one thing but watching men die is something else.

 I’m a chauffeur for a graveyard, driving men to their deaths day after day.

March first becoming aware of what war really is about
March first becoming aware of what war really is about
Young is named a hero in the film because of his constant successes. He gets medals for his bravery and is told to make speeches to inspire the young recruits.  He is the character the younger soldiers (many of them just boys) look up to. This slowly kills Young inside as he realizes as a “hero” he is only inspiring these soldiers to their deaths.

The way March’s character changes and unravels in the film is a testament to his astounding acting skill.  The script tells us that Young is cracking but it is the subtle changes in March’s voice and facial expressions that really show us. There are only two scenes where I feel the subtlety breaks down: a nightmare scene & March’s final speech in the film where we can see what the war has truly done to his character.

Another interesting thing about this movie is Grant’s role is not a rival lover. While there is a brief romance in the film (with a young Carole Lombard) the film instead focuses more on the war itself and the relationship of the pilots. I found the fact that romance was such a small after thought in The Eagle and the Hawk to be a nice treat, especially for films of the time.

a publicity photo, Lombard only has a very small part in the film
a publicity photo, Lombard only has a very small part in the film

The relationship between Grant & March’s characters is actually the heart of the film. Grant plays Henry Crocker, the tough one in the group, who isn’t disillusioned about the war at all. He is not above shooting down the enemy even when his is escaping on a parachute. For Crocker there are no rules in war, just survival. Crocker is a character you would never get to see Grant play later on in his career.

Of course Crocker and Young’s ideals are very different and they clash throughout the film. Although Crocker and Young are not on the best of terms, the two are forced to work together because they are both the best at what they do and in such a dangerous job being the best is crucial. However as the film goes on you can see that Crocker’s character is the only person in the film that truly understands what Young is going through. He sees things the others cannot because he doesn’t see Young as a hero but as a man. This leads to a fantastic ending scene between the two characters that I will not spoil here.

Another thing that makes the relationship between Young & Crocker work so well for me is the chemistry between March & Grant was spot on. I would have loved to see them team up again later in their career when Grant was a more established actor but sadly it wasn’t meant to be. I guess I should be happy that two of my favorite actors got to star together at least once & the film itself focused on the relationship between their two characters.

Eagle and the Hawk was directed by Stuart Walker & also stars Jack Oakie who provides the few lighter moments of the movie. Besides the occasional airing on TCM it is also available in the Cary Grant: The Early Years DVD box set.

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Kim is an occasional contributor to Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. Make sure to check out her other posts here at the site.

Pre-Code March in Merrily We Go to Hell

Merrily We Go to Hell opens with a deceptively jovial score – if your eyes were closed, you’d bet money that you were about to take in a zany Marx Brothers feature or, at the very least, a film containing an overabundance of carnival scenes. But although this film contains the word “merrily” in the title, and while has its share of lightweight, comedic touches, there’s really nothing merry about it.

A first-rate pre-Code offering released by Paramount in 1932, Merrily We Go to Hell was loosely based on a novel by Cleo Lucas, I, Jerry, Take Thee, Joan – the financially struggling studio changed the name in the hopes of attracting more moviegoers (although at least one newspaper refused to print the film’s title in its ads).

Jerry makes no secret of the fact that he prefers the company of men.
Jerry makes no secret of the fact that he prefers the company of men.

In a nutshell, Merrily stars Fredric March as Chicago newspaper columnist and aspiring playwright Jerry Corbett, and Sylvia Sidney as canned goods heiress Joan Prentice. After an imaginative “meet-cute,” Jerry woos Joan, who agrees to marry the fun-loving writer despite his obvious penchant for drink, and although he herself warns, “Any girl would be a fool to marry a man like me.” (It’s Jerry’s favorite drinking toast, incidentally, that provides the film’s title.) Jerry even tells Joan, early on, that he prefers the company of men to that of women: “I figured out a long time ago that a punch in the nose heals much quicker than a broken heart.”

Once married, Jerry manages to stay sober while struggling to fulfill his dream to become a playwright, but he dives headfirst back into the bottle again when his play is finally produced, and when his old flame, Claire (Adrianne Allen), is cast in the starring role, the film leaves all semblance of comedy behind. The remainder of this 83-minute feature packs in adultery, open marriage, and family tragedy before winding up in a somber but satisfying clinch at the end.

Fredric March’s Jerry is the heart and soul of the movie – his face is the first we see when the film opens, on the patio at a cocktail party, crouched behind a table filled with liquor bottles, flicking bottle tops in the direction of the partygoers inside. “Silly people,” he slurs, chuckling to himself. “I don’t like that fellow with the little mustache.” Political correctness aside, Jerry actually makes a rather charming drunk (at first), unsteadily maneuvering his way around the patio, warbling a little ditty about gingerbread and crème de menthe, and vowing to stop drinking “next Tuesday afternoon at three o’clock sharp.” It’s no wonder Joan falls for him, hard. His antics are less amusing, though, when they include showing up at his engagement party clad in tuxedo and top hat – and passed out in the back seat of his best buddy’s car, and placing a corkscrew bottle opener on Joan’s hand at their wedding because he has misplaced the ring.

On their wedding day, Jerry substitutes a corkscrew bottle opener for Joan’s wedding ring.
On their wedding day, Jerry substitutes a corkscrew bottle opener for Joan’s wedding ring.

March offers a fascinating portrait of a man battling to overcome his demons – not only against alcohol, but against the lingering lure of his first love. His inner weakness is nearly his undoing, which is demonstrated most compellingly when, on the opening night of his play, he announces his intentions to go to Claire unless his wife prevents him. “If you love me, you’ll lock that door so I can’t get out,” he says, pitifully unable to stop himself. March infuses this scene with pathos and heartbreaking frailty, invoking our sympathy even as he leaps headlong into an affair. We are captivated even more by March’s superb performance toward the film’s end, as he fights to regain Joan’s love, never giving up, even in the face of obstinate opposition from Joan’s well-meaning father (George Irving).

Esther Howard (left, with Sylvia Sidney) makes a striking addition to the cast.
Esther Howard (left, with Sylvia Sidney) makes a striking addition to the cast.

The film features in a small role, a young Cary Grant, as an actor with whom Joan unhappily engages in a dalliance of her own, and Esther Howard, looking blonde and sophisticated (and nothing at all like the dame with a “face like a bucket of mud” that she portrayed in the 1944 film noir Murder, My Sweet). Merrily also co-stars Skeets Gallagher, in one of his patented best pal roles, offering such bon mots as “What this world needs is more blondes like that and more men like me,” and “What this country needs is less ventilation and more smoke.”

Merrily was directed by Dorothy Arzner, the first woman to join the Directors Guild of America, who is credited with fostering March’s rise to fame, having also helmed him in three previous films, The Wild Party (1929), Sarah and Son (1930), and Honor Among Lovers (1931). Upon the film’s release, March was praised in The New York Times for his “excellent” acting and in Variety for his “light and graceful” performance.

(One more interesting note – March’s co-star Sylvia Sidney, who also appeared with the actor in 1934’s Good Dame, once remarked that March had “the reputation of being a ladies’ man. But he never laid a hand on me, never made a pass at me! Freddie was happily married. He’d tease me by saying, ‘Look at those boobs!’ or ‘Look at that toosh!’ But it was all in fun.”)

Merrily We Go to Hell is one of six pictures included in Universal’s Pre-Code Hollywood Collection. The set also includes such gems as The Cheat (1931) and Hot Saturday (1932), but for my money, the set is worth looking into for March’s performance in Merrily alone. Check it out.

You only owe it to yourself.

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Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the blog Shadows and Satin, which is lovingly devoted to her two cinematic passions, the pre-Code and film noir eras. Karen is also the author of Femme Noir: Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir, and editor of the bi-monthly, hard copy film noir newsletter (now also available in electronic form!), The Dark Pages.

Gary Cooper: Enduring Style

From Gary Cooper: Enduring Style by G. Bruce Boyer and Maria Cooper Janis, published by powerHouse Books
From Gary Cooper: Enduring Style by G. Bruce Boyer and Maria Cooper Janis, published by powerHouse Books

When thinking about men’s fashion in old Hollywood, there are two actors who immediately come to mind: Cary Grant and Gary Cooper. Both had impeccable taste and appreciated high quality, custom tailored clothing, and both had wardrobes inspired by European fashion. Although Grant looked great in everything, he didn’t always look comfortable in more casual attire. This is not the case with Gary Cooper. He somehow made a cowboy hat and jeans look attainable to the every man, yet kept a look of sophistication.

Gary Cooper: Enduring Style is a lovely collection of private family photos showcasing Cooper’s sartorial elegance, beginning from his days in a prestigious private school in England, up to and around the time of his death in 1961. The book is reminiscent of a family album, with one or two photos to a page. Images of Gary and his wife Rocky relaxing poolside, on hunting trips with Clark Gable, and skiing with Ingrid Bergman are all wonderful additions.  The captions are minimal, allowing the photos to speak for themselves.

With a foreward by Ralph Lauren, a brief yet thorough biography by G. Bruce Boyer, and afterward by Cooper’s only child Maria Cooper Janis, Gary Cooper: Enduring Style is a wonderful tribute to a beloved Hollywood icon. I appreciate the artistic quality of the book in the images selected. For the serious Gary Cooper fan,  Enduring Style is a must have.

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Gary Cooper: Enduring Style
ISBN: 9781576875865
PowerHouse Books
November 2011
200 pages

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of Gary Cooper: Enduring Style for review directly from the publisher, powerHouse Books. The book is available for purchase here. I would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.