May 31, 2016

Seattle International Film Festival 2016: Chinese Silent All-Stars in The Big Road (1935)

Yan Jin the "Rudolph Valentino of Chinese Cinema"

As I walked up to the queue for The Big Road (1935), I heard a man ask, "Is this the line for Donald?" That's Donald Sosin, silent film accompanist and composer, and frequent guest of Seattle International Film Festival. It seems this talented musician has a bit of a following, and it is well deserved. For the first time, I wondered if I might get shut out of an archival screening as the line was held back for a quickly filling house.

This evening Sosin accompanied the screening of a Chinese classic that was most likely shown due to Richie Meyer, SIFF Board Member, Seattle University film professor and expert on Chinese cinema. Meyer introduced the film with a mini lecture about the political climate in which the film was made and the charismatic group of actors who starred. I think this was helpful to the audience. I didn't get the impression there were a lot of Chinese film experts there.

According to Meyer, The Big Road was shot in 1934-35 by a group of left wing progressives and Communists who wanted to protest the Japanese invasion of northeast China. As the airing of such opinions was dangerous, the filmmakers never directly name the enemy, instead making veiled, if obvious references.

Meyer then turned the spotlight on Sosin, challenging him to play snippets of music to go with whatever theme he named. This is a familiar shtick for anyone who has seen these two at a screening, and it's a great way to admire Sosin's skill at the keyboard before the movie begins and he essentially blends into the background. Meyer also introduced Dr. Malin Meyer, who would be translating the subtitles.

Li Lili reminded me a bit of Clara Bow
The story centers on six men and two women from a local eating house who befriend them. While the men struggle to build a road to transport troops, the women try to make their lives a bit happier and more comfortable. They have a hard, but relatively cheerful life until the Japanese capture the men, forcing the women to use their ingenuity to save them.

While the film was made silent, musical sequences were later added. These were charming interludes where the female and male stars take turns singing, and the audience was treated to the film's soundtrack for the songs while Sosin paused. They would have been a bit more charming without Malin translating over the songs, but it was interesting to know what they were saying, and I couldn't think of a better way to meld the two together.

It's easy to see why this group of actors was beloved in China. While a lot can be lost in translation, there's no denying the charisma of these dynamic people. Yan Jin (apparently known as the "Chinese Rudolph Valentino") and Li Lili (the "Chinese Mae West," though she reminded me more of Clara Bow) are particular standouts, both of them funny, gorgeous and a little off-kilter the way a truly relatable star must be. 

There's a nude swimming scene with the six men, where you only get glimpses of the really naughty bits, but I couldn't help but think it was put in there to show all those attractive stars to full advantage. Quite a shocker for 1935!

I also recognized Langen Han as the hapless brother from The Song of the Fisherman, which Meyer and Sosin presented at SIFF 2014. Meant to be comic relief, he was one of the few members of the cast who weren't ridiculously beautiful, and he got teased so much that I began to feel bad for him!

The Big Road makes a lot of sweeping emotional shifts, something I've come to recognize in Chinese cinema. One minute everyone is happy and laughing, the next there's a war plane mowing down innocent workers. It's jarring fatalism with a darkness that is in direct contrast to the Hollywood happy ending. Sometimes it feels like it is an honest reflection of reality, but I sometimes wonder if Chinese filmmakers and audiences almost found joy in everyone being destroyed so they could have big dramatic moments.

Sosin managed all those tonal shifts with ease. He is the most relaxed silent film accompanist I've seen perform, always alert and on point, but also seemingly completely confident and at ease. This is the fourth time I have seen him perform. I sat a couple of rows behind him, mostly because there simply weren't any other seats left, but it ended up being really interesting to see him at work, melding a truly creative performance (at one point he even yelled to punctuate a dramatic moment) with great precision work.

This was such a beautifully-executed presentation: a great film, strong narration, wonderful music and a little film history lesson to tie it all together. I hope to enjoy more Chinese films at SIFF in the future.

On DVD: Marion Davies and Billie Dove Sparkle in Blondie of the Follies (1932)

The stories former Ziegfeld girl Marion Davies told screenwriter Frances Marion about her time hoofing on the stage form the basis of the lively and often touching backstage film Blondie of the Follies (1932). The work of that sharp duo was further enhanced as scribe Anita Loos was hired to punch up the dialogue with real showgirl patter.

Paired with Billie Dove, another former Follies performer, Davies is at her most charming and touching as Blondie McClune. It's the perfect role for her, requiring a down-to-earth personality, but also giving the actress the freedom to cut loose and entertain her audience. The film is one of several newly available titles from Warner Archive which have increased my appreciation of the often misunderstood Ms. Davies.

Blondie lives with her parents and her sister's (Zasu Pitts) family in a New York tenement building. Her friend and former neighbor Lottie (Dove) has hit it big in the Follies. When the showgirl comes to visit one Mother's Day, she convinces Blondie to come spend time with her at her plush apartment. There she meets the man Lottie loves, the handsome and charming Larry (Robert Montgomery). Blondie doesn't know about her friend's crush, and when the two spend a wild night drinking and watching the Follies from backstage, Lottie is furious. She is even more green-eyed when Larry finds Blondie a spot in the show and she quickly becomes a success.

When Blondie learns of Lottie's crush, she tries to distance herself from Larry, though he isn't having it. All sorts of jealousy, and violence follow, much of it making me wonder if Joe Eszterhas watched this film with a notepad on his knee before writing his glorious trashterpiece Showgirls (1995). No one here runs off the rails talking about eating dog food though; there's a busy, chaotic tone to the action that makes it feel real. You can imagine the backstage dramas really happening, and the sight of men carrying set equipment back and forth and crumpled paper on the floor makes it feel all the more authentic.

Davies and Dove

Dove and Davies are a solid comic team, though it's obvious that producer, and Davies sugar daddy, William Randolph Hearst had influence over the final cut. While both actresses have the kind of faces that were meant to be carved into marble and displayed in a temple, it is Davies who gets the loving close-ups. While it is said that Dove left the movie business after this production to raise a family, you can't help but wonder if understandable frustration and envy over the attention her co-star received might have played a role in her retirement.

Of the uniformly pleasing supporting cast, James Gleason stands out as Blondie's father. He is heartbreakingly humble and salt of the earth in the midst of all the film's glamour. When he realizes he must let his daughter grow up and live life her own way, there's a sweet resignation to his acceptance. You can almost sense him envisioning Blondie as a baby and wondering how the years got away from him.

Jimmy Durante gets a prominent spot in the film's billing, but his only appearance is a performance with Davies in a brief party scene. It's a memorable bit though, a spoof on director Edmund Goulding's own hit Grand Hotel (1932) in which Durante is John Barrymore and Davies plays Garbo. I thought it was a clever way to incorporate the actress' talent for impersonations into a film. I'm guessing that skill was typically relegated to being a party trick in her real life.

Overall it's an interesting take on the life of a show girl, though who knows how much of it is actually on the level. Perhaps the most fascinating element of the film is that while Blondie's relationship with Larry is given a lot of weight plotwise, it is her connections with Lottie and her father that seem to hold the most meaning for her. In fact, Blondie only truly gives herself to Larry when those bonds are no longer able to sustain her. It's an unusual comment on movie romance, and you wonder which of the film's authors thought to present those relationships in that way.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

May 29, 2016

Quote of the Week: George Sanders Remembers Marilyn Monroe

Image Source

She was very beautiful and very inquiring and unsure--she was somebody in a play not yet written, uncertain of her part in the over-all plot. As far as I can recall, she was humble, punctual and untemperamental. She wanted people to like her.

-George Sanders, about Marilyn Monroe

Quote Source

May 28, 2016

Seattle International Film Festival 2016: Technicolor Gene Tierney in Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Saturday at the Egyptian Theater, watching Lubitsch on the big screen, turning into an icicle. It really happened.

As we waited in line for a SIFF screening of Heaven Can Wait (1943), we were warned by a festival employee that the air conditioning in the Egyptian had been stuck on all night, and it was a bit chilly inside. However, he also told us that complimentary tea and coffee were available to help ward off the cold. A classy move.

The lady behind me was loaded up with a pillow and blanket, all ready to settle in for five hours of films, so she at least came prepared. She told me that getting ready for a long day at SIFF felt like packing for a camping trip. That's a good comparison, because both things have the same effect on your back. It actually didn't end up being much colder than usual.

Though I've seen and essentially enjoyed it a few times over the years, Heaven Can Wait has always been a problematic movie for me. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and written by the filmmaker's frequent screenwriter Sam Raphaelson, it has the sexy sparkle and sharp wit of his best films, though not quite as much as his pre-code romps. It also has a fantastic supporting cast, with Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, Marjorie Main and Gene Tierney doing some of their best work. My problem, aside from this being a post-code Lubitsch is that I don't like star Don Ameche and I like his character here even less.

The whole concept of this comedy is that Ameche's character, Henry Van Cleve is an imperfect person, but still worthy of entry into heaven. By the end of this screening, I think there were some audience members who still didn't believe he was ready for the pearly gates. I certainly wondered what he had done to redeem himself. Compounding the problem is that Ameche has always struck me as this kind of person in other movies as well: some cad who has it coming to him.

So my approach to this film is to treat Ameche like a talking movie audience member who won't be shushed, I feel tense about him, but I don't let him ruin things for me.

Heaven Can Wait follows Henry from babyhood to death. From the beginning he charms the ladies, and his flirtations with and mistreatment of them are the central pursuit of his life. As a baby his doting mother (Spring Byington) and grandmother (Clara Blandick) fight over him as he gazes up from the cradle. In the pre-teen years, he buys female attention with boxes of beetles. As a teen, he charms his mother's French maid (Signe Hasso) and gets drunk with her in a nightclub.

By the time Henry reaches adulthood, he has advanced to stealing his uptight cousin's (Allyn Joslyn) fiancée, Martha Strabel (Gene Tierney). It shouldn't come as a surprise, but is nevertheless disappointing that he isn't faithful to Martha. Never mind whether or not he should get into heaven, the dear lady should have kicked him to the curb. To make matters worse, when she enters the senior years, she is stuck with a hairdo that looks like an animal trying to eat her head. Even Gene Tierney isn't beautiful enough to overcome that, though she comes close.

With a man like that in the lead, the supporting cast must provide compensation, and it does. Charles Coburn is Henry's mischievous grandfather, and ironically is one of the most loveable characters, despite the fact that he must have been just as much of a cad as his grandson in his day. Eugene Pallette and Marjorie Main play their familiar types with gusto as Martha's strict, but warm-hearted parents. I love Gene Tierney, and would watch her in anything, but I have to admit I didn't previously give her enough credit for her comedy chops in this movie. While she is often stuck in the unrewarding disapproving wife role, she has some comic exchanges that she handles with great skill.

I also love that continuing Lubitsch/Raphaelson tradition of putting the spotlight on the servants. It makes sense to focus some attention on the help; imagine the things they have seen and the talent it must take to manage their employers. In this case there are two fascinating characters: the Van Cleve's butler Fogdell, who reacts with subtle amusement and occasional delight to the dramas of the family and the very amusing Clarence Muse as Jasper, the Strabel's patient and diplomatic servant, who clearly understands the delicate nature of his employees' marriage.

In his small part as the Devil, Laird Cregar deserves special mention. He plays the evil delight of his character perfectly; wide-eyed with amusement from learning all the dirt about his potential residents. Cregar even has the right look for the role: sort of handsome, sort of repellant and definitely dangerous looking.

As much as I dislike Ameche, all these characters, and the sharp wit of the script kept me grinning. You know you've been watching a Lubitsch when your face is sore, but you don't remember any belly laughs. This is a sly sort of humor that gets under your skin.

The film was a digital presentation of a new restoration by the 20th Century Fox, the Academy Film Archive, and The Film Foundation. While I found it beautiful overall, I was especially impressed by how vivid the colors were in the restored version. It's already such a brightly colored film, and in this presentation all those reds and blues really popped. There's also few leading ladies who can make a movie audience collectively hold its breath during a close-up like Gene Tierney does. She was made for Technicolor.

May 27, 2016

UPDATED With Winner: The Warner Archive Forbidden Hollywood Giveaway!

To commemorate the tenth and final volume of Warner Archive's delightful Forbidden Hollywood pre-code series, I am giving away one five-film set to a lucky reader!

The collection includes:

Guilty Hands (1931), with Lionel Barrymore, Kay Francis and Madge Evans

The Mouthpiece (1932), starring Warren William and Sidney Fox

Secrets of  the French Police (1932), featuring Gwili Andre, Gregory Ratoff and Frank Morgan

The Match King (1932), with Warren William, Lili Damita and Glenda Farrell

Ever in My Heart (1933), with Barbara Stanwyck and Ralph Bellamy

For more information about the films, check out my review from yesterday.

To enter the giveaway, just tell me your favorite pre-code film in the comments!

-Deadline to enter Monday, 5/30, 11:59 PST
-Open to USA residents only
-Winner to be announced in an update to this post Tuesday, 6/1 

Good Luck!


The big winner of the Forbidden Hollywood giveaway is----

Ana Roland!

Congratulations Ana! Please send your mailing address to and I will send your prize.

Thank you everyone for entering and thank you to Warner Archive Collection for providing a Forbidden Hollywood set for the giveaway!

May 26, 2016

Warner Archive: The Final Volume of Forbidden Hollywood

I'll admit to being disappointed when I learned that volume 10 of Warner Archive's Forbidden Hollywood series would be the last. From the first installment, these sets of pre-code movies have always been a must-have for me. I've made so many great discoveries through the series over the years, and enjoyed being able to own copies of films I'd only previously had access to through TCM and aging VHS tapes.

There's something to be said for leaving the party while you are still having fun though. Every volume of the series has been well curated and it is good that it is finishing strong with a set of intriguing films. It is also encouraging that Warner Archive has emphasized that it remains committed to releasing pre-code films, something which I have already seen to be true.

Guilty Hands (1931)

Lionel Barrymore plays an oily, amoral D.A. who kills a womanizing client (Alan Mowbray) during a weekend party at his isolated estate when he learns the man plans to marry his much younger daughter (Madge Evans) the next day. Thinking he has committed the perfect crime, he confidently asserts to the police that it is a suicide. He soon realizes that the dead man's long-suffering mistress (Kay Francis) is on to him though, and a battle of wits and wills ensues.

A lot happens in the brief 69 minutes of this efficient little thriller. It's an interesting role for Francis. She's as fashionable as always, but she gets to play a clever sleuth in that string of pearls and satin evening dress. It's amusing to watch the delight she takes in each new discovery as she unravels the particulars of Barrymore's crime. Though she can go a bit too bug-eyed in some of the more dramatic scenes, she hits the right spots emotionally in one of her more intriguing performances.

I found the relationship between Barrymore and Evans a bit odd, with the overly cozy body contact and long kisses on the mouth. Was such contact between fathers and daughters deemed acceptable back in the day? Or is there something to be read from what I found to be the unsettling sensuality of their bond?

The Mouthpiece (1932)

At first this law drama seems to be serving up the same wolfish Warren William to be found in most of his pre-codes. That type is subverted here though, and in an interesting way. You keep thinking the story is settling back into a conventional rut, when it takes another unexpected turn and tricks you yet again.

William is Vince Day, a lawyer who discards his morals and starts representing criminals when he learns he has sent a wrongfully convicted man to the electric chair. He uses unconventional methods to keep crooks out of jail, resorting to sensational behavior like punching state witnesses and taking poison to make his point (only to have his stomach pumped just in time). Young Southern belle Celia Farraday (Sidney Fox) catches his eye, and he prepares to make another conquest, but she is much wiser than her innocent demeanor would have you believe.

When Celia begins to turn the tables on Vince, he is as stunned as if every dastardly Warren William character were lining up to take it on the chin. There is danger of excessive sentimentality, but Fox keeps her character sharp and crisp. Vince, while capable of change, adjusts his personality subtly. You believe that he had good in him all along, but also that the cad is never going to entirely disappear.

Secrets of the French Police (1932)

Despite running barely over an hour, this brisk flick manages to cover several genres, and none of them thoroughly. It's a bit of a romance, mostly a police procedural, sort of a comedy, but with hints of horror.

Frank Morgan stars as police inspector François St. Cyr, an innovative gumshoe with a crime lab and a passion for advanced investigative techniques. Eugenie Dorain (Gwili Andre) and Leon Renault (John Warburton) are lovers, she a flower girl, he a petty criminal. Eugenie is kidnapped by power-mad General Hans Moloff (Gregory Ratoff) who hypnotizes her into believing she is the exiled Princess Anastasia. He also kills women and coats them in wax, just like in that year's Mystery of the Wax Museum (1932).

You are more likely to enjoy this movie if you don't try to understand it. Just take in the visuals, like Morgan's striking method of creating a larger-than-life police sketch, the creepy wax figures and the trippy hypnotism scene. The leads also have just enough to offer. Morgan is lightly amusing and clever; Andre is a bit stiff, but intriguing for her unusual beauty; and Warburton is a slight, but interesting talent with a soft-eyed, gentle, but confident style that reminded me of Cary Elwes as Westly in The Princess Bride.

It isn't quite good, but it's an experience worth having.

The Match King (1932)

An interesting, and rare for the time, pre-credit sequence sets up this quasi-biopic of Swedish match mogul Ivar Krueger like a comedy, but it is always at its core a story of a tragic man. William is Paul Kroll, a Swedish man working various cons in Chicago who heeds a call to return home to save the family business, a struggling match factory.

Kroll is fond of saying, "Never worry about anything till it happens. I'll take care of it then." The only problem is that he seems to tell himself this too, but his chief talent is conning investors and bankers into loans he can't repay.

Though he never makes enough to cover debts, he does know how to build sales: Kroll comes up with Krueger's real-life idea to create the superstition that lighting three cigarettes on a match is bad luck in order to quickly increase sales by a third. He is also not above resorting to murder to stamp out competition and reduce his own risks. Even in the pre-code age, there's no way he's getting away with it all, though it's always interesting to watch him try.

Lili Damita is a fascinating Garbo/Dietrich hybrid as Marta Molnar, an actress who mesmerizes Kroll.

Ever in My Heart (1933)

This movie starts with a perfect romance which unsteadily becomes a tragedy. Stanwyck is Mary Archer, a wealthy small town girl all ready to marry her cousin Jeff (you know she won't because he's Ralph Bellamy, eternal resident of Dumpsville). She changes her plans when she becomes completely smitten by Jeff's German friend Hugo (Otto Kruger). They marry, have a child, and live a happy life as respected members of the community. Then World War I breaks out and Hugo's German heritage is suddenly viewed as a threat by the townspeople.

What follows is typically frustrating and heartbreaking, especially after the warmth of the opening scenes. Mary wonders what to do with her life, while from across the room a group of women from the town read each other newspaper horror stories about the war. One woman gasps, "Oh my gracious goodness, why I thought they only did those things in the Bible," and you know the propaganda machine is in full swing. Then begins the patient wait for common sense to prevail, or a believable tragedy to break the tension, but neither happens. This is a movie that stays true to human nature, but not so much to its core characters.

There's a scene where Mary gets a letter from Hugo in which he says he has joined the German army out of frustration with his treatment in America. For just a moment, a surge of tears reveals the force she had as a young actress whenever her character was in pain. It's frustrating though, because instead of spitting out an indignant rebuke of the situation, she suffers in silence. Though it is great acting, it isn't the Stanwyck the film needs. If there was ever a situation in which she needed to get angry and spew vitriol, this is it.

I can't completely dislike this movie, because Stanwyck has never been so beautiful, and she is always worth watching. While Otto Kruger had unconventional looks for a romantic lead, the pair has many tender and charming moments together. They have the unusually-charged chemistry of a pair who no one would think to match, but turns out to be perfectly in sync. This is why the way it all plays out is frustrating and in a lot of ways implausible, but it is worth the watch to see these actors together.

Love pre-codes? Grieving the end of the Forbidden Hollywood series? Check back tomorrow for a very special giveaway!

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

May 25, 2016

Seattle International Film Festival 2016: Orson Welles in Falstaff/ Chimes at Midnight (1965)

It's almost comforting to watch Orson Welles play the title character in Falstaff/ Chimes at Midnight (1965), because he seems so happily at home. The director called it his favorite film, a sentiment that wasn't shared by critics upon its release, but which has changed in the years since. In a new restoration, it is possible to fully appreciate the beauty and madness of Welles' passion project.

The concept for the film began as the 1939 stage play Five Kings, which was written by Welles. He drew parts from Shakespeare's Richard III and Henry IV, V, and VI into one show. That first try was a disaster, as was a 1960 revival, but Orson was determined to produce this ultimate expression of his love for Shakespeare, and his favorite character Sir John Falstaff. Long scorned by Hollywood, he managed to cobble together a Spanish/Swiss production. Given the battle it took to fund and film it's astonishing how beautifully-executed and powerfully acted it is.

Welles had a great sense for how the language of Shakespeare should be presented, alternating between busy tableaux with lots of movement and chatter and the stillness of quiet monologue. He sets his more populated scenes in impeccably designed surroundings, all worn beams and hanging bunches of herbs. He stages extras high and low, and deep in the frame, always keeping the visuals lively. The monologues are stark by comparison, shot in intimate close-ups, with moody lighting reminiscent of an alley scene in a film noir.

As Henry IV, John Gielgud gets the best of that one-on-one attention. I don't think I fully appreciated this actor before I saw him here. Finally I understand how mesmerizing he could be. Though he speaks with passion, there's never the feeling that he is out of control. Even a shot of the back of his neck can bring chills, as you realize his every movement is shot through with power, but carefully calibrated. When he's onscreen, it's impossible to look away.

Playing son of Henry IV Prince Hal, Welsh actor Keith Baxter looks a bit like Anthony Perkins, even possessing some of his youthful tension, which works well for the conflicted character. He shifts believably from playboy cad to imposing royal. You can see the threads of his past within him though; he is never quite to be trusted.

This is essentially a man's world on display, so Jeanne Moreau has little to do as Doll Tearsheet. She doesn't need much to command attention though. In a role like this, you wonder how much further she could have gone as an actress in English language productions.

While I was blindsided by Gielgud, this film is still essentially Welles' playground. He somewhat tamps down the humorous aspects of Falstaff, but there's always a bit of a twinkle to him. It is clear that the character is home to him, the role for which he has the most affection. When looking at his enormous size, it's hard to believe the actor actually had to lose weight to play the part.

Juxtaposed with the alternating merry and elegant tone of the rest of the film, an extended battle scene comes as a bit of a shock. It is shot to show the chaos of war as it directly affects the bodies of soldiers. The charging motion of arms and legs are set off against bodies submerged in mud, and larger vistas are abruptly switched to close-ups of gushing wounds and falling men. It's a bloody spectacle in the midst of another, more civilized demonstration, but you sense the same game is being played.

Chimes at Midnight will return to SIFF Cinemas for a regular engagement once the festival is over. It's well worth a watch for fans of Shakespeare on film and the featured actors. For Welles lovers it's a must see.

May 24, 2016

Seattle International Film Festival 2016: George Sanders Steals Everything in A Scandal in Paris (1946)

This past Sunday, while Captain America boomed away in the next theater, a near-capacity crowd enjoyed George Sanders being his slippery best in Douglas Sirk's A Scandal in Paris (1946). It felt like a minor victory that a small part of Pacific Place Theaters was given to such an unusual classic.

Long one of my favorite films, I thought this was an interesting choice for the festival. A film starring a character actor most famous for playing villains in one of his rare starring roles, and helmed by a director most famous for mid-century melodramas with vivid hues and heartbreaking plot twists, is just the sort of treasure you hope to discover at a film festival.

Set in 18th-century France, it is a loosely-adapted biography of a thief who went by the name Eugène François Vidocq, and had a long career in crime before he switched sides and became a criminologist (in the film he becomes the Parisian chief of police). Here he is accompanied by his accomplice Emile, played by Akim Tamiroff with a magnificent monobrow, troll's face and the twinkling, long-lashed eyes of a pretty girl.

Vidocq is born in prison, and continues to spend his youth there, honing his skill as a thief and increasing his prospects with each attempt. When he agrees to pose for a portrait with Tamiroff, astride a horse dressed as St. George, while his pal plays the dragon, he unknowingly consents to a sort of police sketch. Though he takes off with the steed, the excellent likeness painted by a priest comes back to haunt him.

Until then, he steals jeweled garters while seducing ladies in carriages and gains invitations to country estates where he can clean out the family jewels while enjoying the luxuries of his gullible hosts. He falls for one of his victims though, the seemingly innocent Therese (Signe Hasso) who is the daughter of his host, the police minister (Alan Napier).

At first, Vidocq is enchanted by Therese's placid beauty. He slips into her room at night to kiss her cheek, a moment which she later remembers. She also sees his resemblance in the St. George portrait and with a little detective work begins to understand this handsome stranger. His adoration changes to respect when he realize the object of his affection is smarter than he is.

Playing a sexier, more outrageous counterpart to Therese is Carole Landis, as showgirl and gold-digger Loretta, who fascinates Vidocq as much as she arouses his need to steal. The actress would make only a few more films before she committed suicide in 1948. Here she is at her best, and demonstrates a unique combination of beauty and comic ability too quickly lost to the world. I like to think she would have been a great sitcom star.

A jumbled cast of wry and hapless characters supports Sanders and his ladies. While I could be content gazing at Sanders and Landis for an entire film, this group is one of the great pleasures of the film.

I especially liked Emile's criminal family, who all have fascinatingly bizarre, bushy-eyebrowed faces that look like they were molded out of clay. The visages of Cousin Pierre (Skelton Knaggs), Cousin Gabriel (Fred Nurney) and Aunt Ernestine (Gisella Werbisek), not to mention Emile, would not be out of place in a horror film. And yet, there's something loveable about them all; they are so determined and diligent in their larceny.

Also intriguing is the child actress Jo Ann Marlowe as Therese's pre-teen sister Mimi. There's no cuteness in this sophisticated and charming performer, she has some of the sharpest lines and she bites into them with precocious delight. You know that when this kid grows up she's going to subvert the restrictions of 18th-century society to her own desires. As her high-living marquise grandmother, Alma Krueger perhaps provides a glimpse into the girl's future.

The story is played lightly, with wry humor, intrigue and tantalizing romance. I always wonder if I'm reading more sex into it than is intended. There's something so erotic about the way Therese caresses a rose with increasing intensity while attempting to seem casual as she discusses her possible sins with a country priest. It also seems like an unmistakably vaginal shape that opens in a paper screen that Loretta sets aflame during her act, before she steps through it to go flirt with the men in the audience.

Of course, I could just be reacting to the sensual gaze of Sanders, which seems to mesmerize both the male and female members of his circle. He is such an appealing romantic lead, a little dangerous, but not so intimidating that you fear for his conquests. He is a gentleman cad and you want them to sample the excitement he offers.

All the romanticism, innocence and violence of the story are nicely symbolized by an early version of a merry-go-round run by pulleys, which is the setting for some of Vidocq's most intense moments. The trilling, but sly musical theme for these scenes ties them together smoothly, setting the stage for a delightfully sophisticated conclusion.

I thought this was a wonderfully unusual choice for the festival. It was a perfect Sunday movie.

May 23, 2016

Happy Birthday Douglas Fairbanks: Five Swashbuckling Facts

Image Source
Though he is mostly only remembered by classic movie fans today, actor, producer and studio owner Douglas Fairbanks was one of the most important and influential figures of early Hollywood. He was a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, presented at the organization's inaugural award ceremony and was one of the group of filmmakers who started the independent studio United Artists. The actor was also one of the first internationally famous stars and part of the first celebrity couple with his even more incredibly famous wife Mary Pickford.

Famous for comedies, fantasies and swashbucklers, in which he played active, charismatic characters, Fairbanks was just as colorful in real life. In celebration of his birthday, here are a few fascinating facts about the groundbreaking actor:

1. He liked to run in the nude.

Just like the ancient Olympians. Fairbanks was comfortable with public nudity, as long as he was concealed from female eyes, but as the sight of a naked movie star running through the streets of Los Angeles would cause a sensation, he had to find a private way to exercise in the buff. His solution? Fairbanks had a special enclosed concrete trench installed at Pickford/Fairbanks Studios. It was two city blocks long, six feet deep and wide enough for him to make turns while he ran laps.

2. He doubled for his own stunt double.

A enthusiastic devotee of physical fitness, Fairbanks was famous for doing his own film stunts. On occasion, and always under protest, he would be forced to use a stuntman for especially death-defying feats. Despite the stern warnings of studio cohorts, loved ones and directors, the actor would still sometimes find a way to perform these acts of daring.

On the set of Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925), he didn't like the way his double was performing a jump and stepped in to demonstrate how to do it, inspiring the man to suggest that he might as well go home. The actor took his determination a step further on the set of Robin Hood (1922), when he secretly switched places with the stunt person for a dangerous climb up a chain, causing his brother and advisor Robert Fairbanks to slump into a chair in shock when he realized he'd been duped.

3. He played a role in the superhero craze.

When Fairbanks made the swashbuckler The Mark of Zorro (1920), the idea of a double identity hero was not yet common in popular culture beyond the eighteenth century literary sensation The Scarlet Pimpernel. Batman creator Bob Kane has said that the actor served as part of the inspiration for his own hero. The influence of the actor's confident stance: with his head back, hands on hips and wide stance can also be seen in Joe Shuster's first Superman comics series, which debuted in 1933.

4. He popularized the suntan.

Fairbanks was a sun worshipper and delighted in having dark skin, which was at the time associated with outdoor labor and low wage earners. He popularized the practice of sunbathing and the pursuit of golden skin with the elite.

5. He allowed tourists to visit his film sets.

For a few years during the silent film age, Hollywood hotel managers were given a set number of passes to distribute to film fans, who would then be given a tour of Pickford/Fairbanks studio and, conditions permitting, a chance to watch filming. Over 23,000 spectators would ultimately visit the studio. The actor's The Thief of Baghdad (1924) director Raoul Walsh was irked by Fairbank's love of an audience, but did concede that the admirers helped to inject more life into the actor's performance.

May 22, 2016

Seattle International Film Festival 2016: Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu of MST3K Riff on Glen or Glenda (1953)

SIFF staffers sent MST3K superfan Jeffery to the front of the line when they saw his Tom Servo robot

I started Seattle International Film Festival 2016 with a bang, watching a midnight screening at the SIFF Egyptian Theater. And I can't think of a better time to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 legends Frank Conniff (TV's Frank) and Trace Beaulieu (Crow T. Robot) doing what they do best, riff on bad movies. I mean, I actually associate Trace Beaulieu's voice with late nights watching MST3K when I couldn't get to sleep after going out. It was almost touching to be mere feet away from him, hearing his familiar, comforting, wise ass comments.

The pair chose Ed Wood Jr's nearly incomprehensible Glen or Glenda (1953) and the hilarious and frightening dating advice short More Dates for Kay (1952). Both movies were odd enough to inspire laughs on their own, but they would have been unbearable without these two weighing in. As it is, there were people in the audience laughing so hard they were choking.

Beaulieu and Conniff sat to the right of the screen, with their faces slightly illuminated. It was pretty amusing to have the rare chance to actually see what they look like when they make all those comments. It was weird though, just like live accompaniment for silent movies I got used to them being there and eventually forgot to look over.
Beaulieu and Conniff between films
I know these guys plan and practice for a performance, but they somehow make it seem like they're making it all up as they go along. It was amazing how closely they matched the spirit and tone of MST3K. Of course, they did take advantage of the freedom to be a lot raunchier. Makes you wonder want an uncensored version of the TV series would have been like.

The pair made much of the fact that More Dates for Kay (1952) essentially encouraged mid-century teenagers to stalk men. Apparently desperation, manipulation and a total lack of self-respect were A-Okay back in the day if it meant finding a boyfriend.

Then began the utter confusion of Glen or Glenda, the kind of movie that makes you feel like you've fallen asleep for a few minutes, even though you've been unable to tear your eyes away. Somewhere inside this 68 minute movie, there's a five minute film about a man who struggles with transvestism in an age where men in female clothes could face arrest.

@IngyandMillie wore Tom Servo and Crow earrings
To pad out the wispy storyline there are long passages of Bela Lugosi squinting and making people appear and disappear, extended shots of cars rushing down the freeway--supposedly to represent the masses of ordinary, non-transvestite people, an endless dream sequence featuring a lady rocking on a sideways couch, and a jauntily-scored series of S&M scenarios with ladies writhing on a couch that looks like it was found on the curb and fighting off rape from what looks like the devil. That last part made me ask out loud if I'd been sleeping.

Glen or Glenda is full of scenes that start, but never quite end. For some reason it has a lot of people waving their hands around at different times. Wood seemed to think that hands were the key to good drama. I watch and enjoy a lot of so-called bad movies, so I thought I was pretty strong, but this one hurt my brain.

Basically, these guys chose wisely; this movie was crazy, and I never would have made it through without them. I usually can't help drifting off a bit at midnight screenings, but this time I stayed wide awake, and laughed the whole time. A great start to SIFF 2016.

May 19, 2016

TCM Classic Film Festival 2016: The Films, Part Two

By day three of TCMFF, I was already starting to drag. The excitement of the Manchurian Candidate experience drained me a lot more than I'd expected. Fortunately, an early morning walk down a remarkably calm Hollywood Boulevard, and a little quiet time sitting in the sun in the forecourt of the Egyptian Theatre helped to revive me. It also helped that my first event of the day was one of my festival favorites.

Day Three

Ron Hutchinson of The Vitaphone Project
90th Anniversary of Vitaphone

This fascinating presentation is one of those festival events that could stand alone as a remarkable night at the movies, much like the hand-cranked films presented at TCMFF 2015. Ron Hutchinson of The Vitaphone Project gave a detailed, but sprightly lecture about the history of Vitaphone machines, the first  widespread method of combining film and sound, followed by a program of seven Vitaphone shorts. I was blown away that one of the films, Little Miss Everybody starring impressionist Zelda Santly, had not been screened in public for 80 years. How magical it was to be able to be among the first to see her spot-on impressions of Mae West (pre-film West that is), Fanny Brice and Maurice Chevalier after all these years!

I'll admit that I went into the presentation thinking the films would be charming artifacts, pleasant, but perhaps with comedy that didn't completely translate to the present day. I was humbled by the timeless humor of what I saw. George Burns and Gracie Allen dancing a soft shoe and cracking jokes, the seven-years-going-on- 40 panache of baby chanteuse Baby Rose Marie and the deadpan perfection of the comedy team Shaw and Lee, among many more--these acts demonstrated how fresh and timeless vaudeville could be.

When you think about it, it makes sense. If you are playing to a demanding live audience accustomed to a wide array of acts, you've got to tap into something elemental to grab their attention. It's more than current fashion or events, but rather finding what makes the human animal laugh until the tears come.

It was an invigorating way to begin the day.

Eddie Muller and David Wyler
A House Divided (1931)

William Wyler is one of my favorite directors, and I think the best of the studio era, so this pre-code was a must-see for me. Eddie Mueller of the Film Noir Foundation spoke with the director's son David before the film, which made sense to me once I soaked up the dark fatalism of this film. Wyler Jr. had only just seen the film himself, as it had not been available until recently.

David talked about how John Huston had an early job writing dialogue for the film and how star Walter Huston was a bit of a troublemaker on the production at first. If that is so about Papa Huston, you can see how it benefited the film. He is so overbearing and scary as the patriarch of a broken family who orders a mail order bride. Sometimes I felt like I was watching a horror film.

The tension, forbidden romance and horror reminded me a lot of the pre-code Kongo (1932), which also starred Huston.

Academy Conversations: The War of the Worlds (1953)

Attending this presentation was one of my best schedule changes of the festival. I've had a growing interest in classic sci-fi, especially films made in Technicolor, so this seemed a perfect way to expand my horizons.

I'd never attended one of the programs put on by visual effects artist Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt, but I'd heard they were popular, so I thought it might be interesting.

I was so happy I'd attended, because I not only learned how many of the effects were achieved in the film, but I discovered, in essence, a new way to study film. By reconstructing the effects for War of the Worlds, Barron and Burtt basically got into the minds of the filmmakers of the era. They showed how creative and inventive these technicians could be and how much every detail of sound and image improved the film.

Later in the festival, I had the pleasure of chatting with Barron and Burtt at Club TCM. It was great to be able to thank them for their fascinating presentation, and even more fun to get their rundown of The Scent of Mystery, which I had been a bit disappointed to miss the last morning of the festival (they agreed that I was right to go with Shanghai Express though). I love this pic of them:

 But they were right to insist I get one which goes with the "Scent" theme:

Nice guys.

Back to the presentation:

It was also fun to hear from War of the Worlds lead actress Ann Robinson, who was in the audience. There was only time for her to share a couple of stories about the production, which was a shame, but it was still great to have her there. She also took a moment to chat with fans in the lobby after the film.

After all that background information, it was impossible not to enjoy the film, but I think I would have liked it anyway. The effects really are impressive, the action is paced just right, and how amazing to see a leading lady with an advanced degree in a mid-century film. I especially appreciated how the aliens were kept under wraps, with only a few brief full-body glimpses or wrinkly fingers in view. It was a great way to increase suspense and I'm sure it also helped to make the film a bit more timeless.

I'd love to see more classic sci-fi on the big screen. My curiosity was definitely whetted by this experience.

Band of Outsiders (1964)

The whole inspiring, overwhelming experience of being two feet away from Anna Karina shot me through with so much adrenaline that I was sure I wouldn't be able to sit through the film to follow. This is one of my favorite Godard flicks though, and it would be the first Karina film I had seen on the big screen.

I ended up next to the VIP section after the interview, and quickly found myself practically with a row to myself. Yes, this film is not for everyone. For all its classic moments: the saucy Madison dance scene, the literal minute of silence, the madcap run through the Louvre, it can still try the patience.

The reason I love it? It is a rebellion against everything: narrative structure, stardom, society. If you listen to the narration, there's so much emotional logic to it, but then the images on the screen proceed to flip the bird at anything you've got. This is a film full of children at play, and they don't want your approval. I find that incredibly exciting.

GOG in 3D (1954)

My Karina adrenaline, and some roaring laughter, got me through this midnight screening with only the briefest of naps. Still, I'm not sure I caught the full plot of this madcap sci-fi. All I can remember is a frozen monkey, a hysterical woman getting slapped, Herbert Marshall with a flame-thrower, some robots and a lady who seemed almost delighted to have taken on an extra bit of radiation.

I've also got this strong memory of wishing the monkey was behind everything, like it was some kind of a monkey revenge flick. I suppose I need to watch this again just to figure out what that means.

There's something very touching about the fact that this insane film was so lovingly restored. Yes, the audience was laughing at it, but my goodness it looked gorgeous. 3D films usually give me a headache, but I enjoyed every moment of this one. It was a lot of fun.

Day Four
Nicholas von Sternberg
Shanghai Express (1932)

Like Brief Encounter, this Josef von Sternberg/Marlene Dietrich collaboration was a must-see for me because I'd seen it so many times in the past and I wanted to elevate the experience by seeing a restored print in a theater. I was so disappointed to miss the first screening due to the handprint ceremony at the Chinese Theater, and delighted to have another chance to see it.

I was also happy that von Sternberg's son Nicholas came back to talk with Jeremy Arnold again before the film. He shared that the "von" in his family name was pure pretension, added because it "sounded more aristocratic." He also shared that Emil Jannings hated the director, and that he would sit on Dietrich's lap as a child. I was also fascinated to learn just how strong the collaboration between Dietrich and von Sternberg was: he would give directions and then she would add embellishments and make improvements.

The film's restoration just sparkled. I throw around the word magic a lot when I talk about TCMFF experiences, but here the description couldn't be more apt. While the plot is of little consequence and you are really just admiring Dietrich and the eternally hip Anna Mae Wong lounging around, there is something more profound than a series of poses going on here. Both actresses understood the power of creating their own images and they shared a lot about the experience of being a woman in doing so.

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966)

Seeing Stacy Keach before John Huston's Fat City had long been one of my must-sees of the festival, but when the time came to line up, I couldn't bear to see such a heavy drama. It was a beautiful day and I was a bit tired and emotional. I decided I needed to see a comedy and the opportunity to finally see Eva Marie Saint in person finalized my decision.

I think I might have actually been a bit bored watching this long-for-a-comedy film by myself, but in the theater, with an enthusiastic audience, it was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen. The physical humor, satire and goofy lines were meant to be seen blown up larger than life. Some movies just don't translate to the small screen. That said, I think I'd enjoy this film in any format now that I've got the memory of this experience to enhance it.

Is it just me, or does the combo of that tagline and and the picture make you blush too?
The Band Wagon (1953)

I changed my mind many times about which film would be best to finish TCMFF 2016. At first I thought it would be best to see Cinema Paradiso in the magnificent Chinese Theatre; then I was intrigued by the prospect of seeing Fay Dunaway before the still-relevant news drama Network. In the end though, I wanted to close the festival with a shot of romantic, elegant Hollywood glamour. I thought about the glorious Dancing in the Dark, where Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire demonstrate their emerging love in a swooningly romantic number, and I decided I couldn't do better than that.

It was such a relief to get that final queue number of the festival! No more running to get in line. No more schedule strategizing and indecision. While the thought of leaving it all was bittersweet, I was ready to call it a day. Amusingly enough, I was so tired that I almost slept through the Dancing in the Dark number, but something in my snoozing brain screamed at me to wake up, and I only missed a few moments. It was astonishing to see this film on the big screen. I chose wisely.

Check out my full TCMFF 2016 coverage here.

May 18, 2016

TCM Classic Film Festival 2016: The Films, Part One

Sometimes you can get so wrapped up in the excitement of spending time with fellow movie obsessives  and getting to see real life movie stars and cinema experts that the films at TCM Classic Film Festival could almost seem to take a backseat. 

It isn't so though. Festivalgoers obsess over their schedules, stand in line for hours to see their favorites, and yes that passion often has much to do with wanting to see special guests, but there is still much love for the thing that brought us all together: films that move us.

We love watching our favorites on the big screen: seeing a widescreen presentation on a truly wide screen in the Egyptian, enjoying a silent film with live accompaniment, or seeing a pre-code you can't see anywhere else, with an enthusiastic audience, in a packed theater. It's even more exciting to take a chance on a movie you haven't seen before and find you love it. It is exhausting, but exhilarating to spend four days gorging yourself on this diverse cinematic glory.

It is common knowledge among TCMFF attendees that watching 3-5 films a day without proper food and rest is a killer. The result: everyone ends up falling asleep, at least for a minute or two in a screening. As one friend noted, "sometimes it's better to just give in for a moment  so you can make it through the rest of the day." It sounds crazy, but it is so hard to say no to once-in-a-lifetime screenings, many festivalgoers are unwilling to miss anything in favor of a full night's rest.

In the interest of having a higher quality experience, this year I did my best to lessen that exhaustion. I watched fewer films, thirteen instead of the fifteen to sixteen in years past. 

It was still a lot to absorb in four days, but I felt like I enjoyed the experience more than I would have if I'd insisted on seeing more. I took time to eat every day; I went for a long walk down Hollywood Boulevard and  I even slept in one morning. I highly recommend this slower festival experience.

Cinematically speaking, TCMFF 2016 was one pleasant surprise after another for me. I made dramatic changes to my planned schedule, resulting in a few disappointments, like missing The Passion of Joan of Arc with live musical accompaniment and not seeing Rita Moreno and The King and I because I wanted to get in line early for other events. For the most part I was happy though, as I caught a handful of favorites and enjoyed many new-to-me films, some of them exciting discoveries.

Day One

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

I started the festival with an emotional whopper. Based on the classic novel by Betty Smith, this drama of poverty in the Brooklyn tenements in the early 20th century is full of tragedy and heartache, but also a lot of love and hope. 

Everyone in this film is on the top of their game, including child actor Ted Donaldson, who was on hand to introduce the film, James Dunn who is a simultaneously lovable and hapless alcoholic husband and father, Dorothy McGuire as an underappreciated, but steely and resourceful mother and Peggy Ann Garner as their dreamy, but intellectual daughter. Lloyd Nolan is immensely touching as a good-hearted neighborhood policeman and no one but Joan Blondell could have found the right combination of naughtiness and good cheer to play the story's free-spirited Aunt Sissy.

Sitting there in my first movie of the festival, I found myself already getting a bit homesick because Garner reminded me so much of my daughter. I realized I hadn't seen the movie since I'd become a parent. Her character's obsessive love of books, penchant for  daydreaming and the way she wrapped her arms around her father's neck reminded me so much of her.

I was lost in these thoughts when some winner in the TCL Chinese Multiplex set off the fire alarm. Even though we were all ripped out of a major climactic and emotional moment in our movies when it happened, everyone was so calm and orderly, from the various audiences to the TCMFF staff, that the interruption was almost more amusing than annoying. Fortunately everyone was given the opportunity to go back and finish watching, with all films set back a few minutes so that everyone could get adjusted to the story again.

Brief Encounter (1945)

Though I was looking forward to watching the Argentinian noir Los Tallos Amargos, I just missed getting a number. That didn't bother me too much though, because Brief Encounter has been one of my favorite movies since I first saw it as a teenager. I got shivers watching the commuter train swoop across the opening credits to the strains of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. It was so powerful to see that familiar sight on the big screen.

While I could have probably recited every line of this story of the doomed romance between a married British doctor and housewife, I found that I experienced it differently than I had in previous viewings. When I was younger, I focused on the delightful tension of the romance, relishing the way leads Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard could barely restrain their passion. Now, eleven years into a strong marriage, I saw the heartbreak in the story, because I understood how much these two, and particularly Johnson, had put into their marriages. As strongly as these two felt for each other, I could see how their love was not worth the cost of those happy, if not freshly romantic unions.

Day Two

Trapeze (1956)

I had a hard time deciding what to see first on day two of the festival, but ended up deciding to watch this circus drama because I would be certain to see one of Gina Lollobrigida's appearances at the festival. While seeing the actress in person justified my choice, the film was my least satisfying experience of TCMFF. I do like the warmth of 35mm film, but this print was in shabby condition and the picture often seemed out of focus. It was one of the few times in my life that a bad print distracted from my theater experience.

This film was also the first time I'd experienced significantly rude behavior from audience members. I sat in front of and next to a handful of VIP seats. The two women next to me would not stop making loud comments, though I asked them to stop multiple times. A man behind me was equally inconsiderate of other audience members, for a moment respecting, but then ultimately ignoring my requests that he stop talking. Frankly, it ruined the movie for me.

Part of the reason I love TCMFF is that the audiences are so committed to being there and thus more respectful than a lot of the people I share theater space with back home. After that experience I decided to at least increase my odds of respectful behavior by avoiding sitting near the VIP section. My theory: when you've paid a lot of money for a pass, you're going to be much less likely to yammer away through a movie.

It probably doesn't help that Trapeze has never been one of my favorites, though it does have a lot to recommend it. As the romantic triangle at the center of the drama, Lollobrigida, Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, the stunts are exciting and there's always something interesting to see at the circus. Of course there's also the magnificence of Lancaster's butt, which I was pleased to see in many close-ups.

Private Property (1960)

My next movie experience that day obliterated the bad taste of Trapeze in every way. It was a tense, sleazy independent thriller that left the audience in stunned, uncomfortable silence. This was my favorite film of the festival, a real find.

I'd originally planned to try to snag a seat for the pre-code comedy Pleasure Cruise, but, as she does, Farran Smith Nehme wrote an intriguing review of the film for Film Comment and convinced me I had to see it. I also figured I couldn't go wrong with a Warren Oates flick.

Made in five days for $59,000 and starring the director's wife, this film had a pedigree for either disaster or wild success. It has all the markings of exploitation: a pair of slimy drifters played with menace by Corey Allen and Warren Oates, a plot of sexual obsession and dysfunction and the ever present threat of violence. That is why it is so impressive the emotional impact it has, how strong the performances are and how beautifully filmed it is, with great attention to staging and a stunning action scene in a pool that definitely doesn't seem low budget.

The film is essentially a three-hander, with Allen as a high-strung psychopath, Oates as his doofy sidekick and the deeply sympathetic Kate Manx as a sexually unfulfilled housewife. There are so many elements that should make Private Property a joke, from the fake swear words to the plentiful double entendres Manx lays on her inattentive husband.

It all works though. There's a constant feeling of dread and burgeoning eroticism that keeps you on the edge. One moment the action gets steamy, and the next you feel like you're watching a horror film. This movie was an intense, unusual experience. I hope to get the chance to see it again.

The Manchurian Candidate

After enjoying Angela Lansbury's interview with Alec Baldwin, I was ready for a long winter's nap. Still, the awesome sight of this bleak political thriller on such an enormous screen was enough to keep me alert for a while. 

This is a movie of performances that get in your gut: Lansbury, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and especially an unusually vulnerable Frank Sinatra. They all feel so real, with clear motives and emotions, so that even though the movie gives you the feeling of life going tragically wrong, there's hope that the good among them will find a way to make a change in the rot on display.

I was glad that I'd recently seen the film, after reading the massive second volume of Sinatra's biography, so that the fact that I passed out from exhaustion a few times didn't keep me from understanding this somewhat complex story. In my somewhat delirious state, I found myself fixating on things that only such an enormous screen could reveal, like why have I never noticed that mole on the bridge of Sinatra's nose?

Before the movie started, Aurora turned to me and said, "after this film, the festival will be half over." I couldn't believe it.

Though I'd considered going to check out the Midnight movie presentation of Roar, I was too tired from standing in line so long. As we all literally staggered up the aisle after the movie, someone commented that it looked like the zombie apocalypse. Well said.

Come back tomorrow for Part Two of TCM Classic Film Festival: The Films.

Check out my full TCMFF 2016 coverage here.