Sunday, April 16, 2017

TCM Day 3: A fistful of mediocre choices

Saturday was another fine day, much better than the movie choices, frankly. There was plenty to choose from, just none of it all that appealing. I suppose I could have just slept in, but hate to waste a slot. What I had to choose from was the odious Court Jester, with the even more odious Danny Kaye, Arsenic and Old Lace, with Cary Grant’s too-far-over-the-top performance (if only Warners had been able to borrow the perfect Bob Hope for the role!) and Raymond Massey making one miss Boris Karloff every second he’s on screen, Red River (been there, done that), The China Syndrome (probably there because they were honoring Michael Douglas), and the Cinerama showing of, well, This Is Cinerama. (My opinion on Arsenic was obviously in the minority, though, as it was so crowded that a rescreening was announced almost immediately, which is unprecedented in my memory.)
While the last one was tempting, I ended up at Stalag 17. I’d never seen it in a theatre and didn’t want to have to make the long walk back from the Dome afterward. It was a pretty good beginning to the day. It’s a good picture with a good cast (even if both the villain’s identity and the California filming locations show themselves a little too obviously) and passed quickly.

The prisoners of Woodland Hills, CA

There was a lot competing for attention in the noon slot: an interview with Michael Douglas (him again!), David and Lisa (a dull picture best exemplified by Noel Coward’s dismissal of the star: “Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow”), The Great Dictator (Chaplin? No thanks!), and Rear Window (which I’ve seen a lot and didn’t feel like seeing again). Adhering to my “If I haven’t seen it, go” rule, I went with The Last Picture Show, which had always escaped me, and was more than glad I went. It may have been the highlight of the festival, which surprised me, given its relative newness. Peter Bogdanovich was interviewed before the picture, and I always find him an entertaining raconteur, so that was an added bonus. It’s just an exceptional movie, sharp, well-observed, well-acted (even Cybill Shepherd!), and so well-directed that it makes me wonder what happened to the guy who did direct it, and why so many of his later films are so bad. (It also made me really want to see its sequel, Texasville, but I can’t find it on any of the streaming services.) 

 I can't say enough good things about this movie

Mid-afternoon brought an embarrassment of things I wasn’t excited about. There was The Jerk (again, elongating the concept of “classic” [Steve Martin really must be the most beloved guy in show business; he’s done so many awful movies and is still popular]), America, America (it takes a lot to get me into a movie directed by Elia Kazan), and Bye Bye Birdie (despite it being edited by the father of an ex-girlfriend, it’s a terrible, terrible picture). I was very close to hoofing it down to the Egyptian for a noir called The Underworld Story, but at the last minute decided that I didn’t want to miss Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, so I saw the double bill of The Music Box (where they drag the piano up the stairs)* and Way Out West (the one where they do the dance that seemingly everyone on YouTube has set to different pieces of music). Unfortunately, Mr. Cavett was back to introduce it, and, in-between pieces of misinformation, kind of killed the mood. The Boys were good enough that the short killed as effectively as had the Fields short the day before, although (as a friend pointed out) the short feature was just a little long. It was still well received, though, and it’s always a pleasure to spend time with them.

Yes, this clip. There are fewer more charming 
scenes in film history

Evening rolled around, and more unappealing things followed. There were King of Hearts and Saturday Night Fever (movies whose appeal I have never understood), Best in Show (an okay film, but not Christopher Guest’s best and another one that’s hard to consider a “classic”), Theodora Goes Wild (a screwball comedy that I like but is never as good as I want it to be), and Planet of the Apes out by the pool. Despite the presence of a special guest (Dr. Zaius) at the last, I ended up at Street Scene, a 1931 version of Elmer Rice’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play that takes place on the sidewalk in front of a Hell’s Kitchen tenement over one hot summer day. The director, King Vidor, resisted the temptation to “open it up” (ironic, given its outdoor setting) and played by the rules, keeping everything on the sidewalk. Despite its melodrama, it’s a fabulous picture, with a great debut by Beulah Bondi (one of my favorite character actors) playing an unconsciously racist tenant. I just had a whale of a time with it. 

 The whole movie is variations on this shot, but it's electrifying

The dearth of choices continued into the evening shows. The Incident, about hoodlums holding a subway car hostage, held no interest (not even with Martin Sheen in attendance), nor did Top Secret (again: not a “classic"), or The Graduate (a movie I have never liked and find wildly overrated). A nitrate of Black Narcissus was showing, and despite its reputation as one of the most-beautifully photographed Technicolor movies ever, it was produced and directed by Pressburger and Powell, and I always have a physical, near-nauseated reaction to the cinematography in their films and didn’t want to take the chance. Fortunately, Unfaithfully Yours, Preston Sturges’s last good movie was showing, and I hadn’t seen it in years—especially in a theatre, so the choice was pretty obvious. I don’t think many people had seen it before, and, given its intro by Eddie Muller, who knows more about films noir than just about anyone and describes it as a noir comedy, I don’t think most of them knew quite how to receive it. It’s not particularly funny until the last half, but needs that first half to make the end pay off, so it ended up getting a great reception, and showed how skilled a physical comedian Rex Harrison was and just how good Linda Darnell can be.

 Couldn't do it; just couldn't

Rex tries to do the decent thing. It doesn't come off well

The midnight shows always vary in quality, but I’m willing to give them a break because of their (literal) “midnight movie” factor. Even though I’d passed on Zardoz, I wanted to give The Kentucky Fried Movie a try, mainly due to the pre-show presence of John Landis and the Zucker brothers, who directed, wrote, and produced it. They were very good, and I could have just listened to them and been happy. Once the picture started, though, the later it got, the more I realized that the longer I stayed, the less sleep I was going to get—and it was going to be a long day Sunday—so I tiptoed out at about 1:00 am, after about 16 hours of moviegoing, so I’d be as fresh as possible for more movies.

   "A Fistful of Yen"

(*Thanks, Tor!)

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