Carl Davis conducts an orchestra for “Why Worry?” at the TCM festival. Photograph by Tyler Golden / Turner Entertainment Networks.
Blending popular, timeless films with bountiful celebrity appearances, the TCM Classic Film Festival gloriously salutes the epoch of classic American filmmaking from the 1920s through the 1960s during its four-day stay in Hollywood. As in past years, the 2014 festival celebrated iconic cinema moments and glamorous, larger than life personalities in a joyous presentation of beloved motion pictures, geared to those who live in places where classic films are rarely presented on the big screen or feature celebrity appearances.
Turner smartly carries attendees back in time by organizing the festival around the historic built environment of Hollywood, in the actual movie palaces and streets through which legendary stars shaped film and cultural history. The festival employs such famous, striking locations as the El Capitan, Egyptian, Ricardo Montalban and TCL Chinese Theatres as film venues, with the legendary Roosevelt Hotel serving as festival headquarters, just as it did as Hollywood’s party central from the 1920s through the 1950s.
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Alec Baldwin and Maureen O’Hara at the TCM festival. Photograph by Stefanie Keenan / Wireimage/ Turner Entertainment Networks.
This year’s festival saluted TCM’s 20th anniversary of broadcasting classic films uncut and with no commercials, as well as highlighted the joys and sorrows of family life. Attendees could watch films, attend a stamp dedication ceremony, hear celebrities describe their careers, see a handprint ceremony, and envelope themselves in the love of movies. The United Stated Postal Service unveiled the new Charlton Heston stamp at the festival April 11, while TCM immortalized Jerry Lewis with a hand and footprint ceremony April 12 outside the Chinese Theatre. The channel heartily saluted its star, Robert Osborne, with a sort of “This Is Your Life” celebration at the “Ask Robert” event on afternoon of April 11.
With so many attendees, film schedules overlap in the multiple theaters, managing turnout and attendance but limiting the opportunity of viewing all the films or seeing every celebrity. Festival guests can also attend talks and presentations at Club TCM. The festival offers a little something for everyone, even screening films “American Graffiti,” “The Music Man,” and “The Muppet Movie” poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. While I didn’t attend a huge number of events, I enjoyed an eclectic array of films and performers at this year’s festival.
Kim Novak, center, interviewed by Pola Changnon, takes questions during the TCM festival. Photograph by Eddy Chen / Turner Entertainment Networks.
On April 11, I attended the screening of the 1923 Harold Lloyd film, “Why Worry?” at the Egyptian Theatre, which featured the world premiere of maestro Carl Davis’ new score for the film, conducted by the composer himself. An 18-member orchestra, members of Local 47, brought emotional life to Davis’s Mexican-influenced score, which featured plenty of trumpet, accordion, guitar and percussion. Davis included paso dobles, military marches and even a riff on his “Napoleon” main theme in “Why Worry?” Appropriately, the film concluded with a shot of Lloyd running down Hollywood Boulevard and pausing at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga Avenue to reveal his baby’s birth to his friend, the giant policeman. Film historian Leonard Maltin interviewed Lloyd granddaughter and keeper of the flame Suzanne Lloyd before the start of the movie.
A friend and I hurried down to the Chinese complex to watch the slippery heel Warren William star in the pre-code gem, “Employees’ Entrance,” featuring a young Loretta Young. William plays a hard-driving, amoral department store manager who sleeps around with the hired help. Shot on location at downtown’s former Hamburger and later May Co. department store, the film gleefully captured the seamy side of American life during the turbulent days of the Depression. Historian Bruce Goldstein gave a glib, perfunctory overview of the history of pre-codes before the running of the film. Unfortunately, both screenings included focus issues from the projectionists.
Margaret O’Brien at the TCM festival. Photograph by Stefanie Keenan/Wireimage/Getty Images.
On April 12, I attended an early morning screening of Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights,” the sentimental, touching story of the Little Tramp’s efforts to raise money for a life-changing eye operation for blind flower seller, Virginia Cherrill. As in the pre-code film, more than half the audience had never seen the film before, which was touchingly introduced by comedian and actor Jason Lee, who revealed his strong love of Chaplin and his art. “City Lights” contained a scene of Chaplin driving a car down Wilshire Boulevard past the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
In the afternoon, I visited the relaxing Club TCM, which featured talks and interviews with stars along with the opportunity to sit and enjoy a leisurely drink. Gorgeous production and costume designs from “Gone With the Wind” lined the walls, loaned by the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center to salute the 75th anniversary of the film’s release.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Randy Haberkamp and Lynne Kirste once again presented the entertaining Hollywood Home Movies, accompanied by the skillful Michael Mortilla on the piano. The pair screened footage showing behind the scenes filming of “Gone With The Wind” and the “It’s a Wonderful Life” wrap party, as well as Walt Disney driving miniature trains, Fred Zinnemann and Shirley Jones filming “Oklahoma,” Florenz Ziegfeld visiting Hearst Castle with a multitude of 1920s film stars, Jean Harlow posing in her dressing room, Alfred Hitchcock at home, and footage of David O. Selznick, George Cukor, Gilbert Roland, and William Haines on a yacht off Catalina.
Richard Sherman at the TCM festival. Photograph by Mark Hill / Turner Entertainment Networks.
Soon after, Maltin interviewed the boyish and irrepressible Richard Sherman, a young 86, who gladly shared tales of how he and his brother Robert became songwriters for people like Gene Autry and Annette Funicello before penning some of the greatest songs in the history of Walt Disney Studios. Sherman played excerpts of songs at the piano while happily singing along.
I snuck out before the end of the presentation to catch the world-premiere restoration of “Hat Check Girl,” a mild 1932 Fox pre-code starring Sally Eilers and Ben Lyon as a couple from opposite sides of the track that fall in love. A spunky Ginger Rogers plays Eilers’ no-nonsense sidekick. A slimy Monroe Ownsley gets his just desserts, which scene-stealing character actors like Henry Armetta, Charlie Lane and Oscar Apfel play small roles.
On April 13, I attended only one film, Alfred Hitchcock’s stylish 1927 film, “The Lodger,” modeled somewhat on the crimes of Jack the Ripper, and featuring a handsome Ivor Novello in the lead role. Gorgeous young blonds keep turning up dead on the streets of London, with odd duck Novello under suspicion. Rodney Sauer and Mont Alto Orchestra compiled a luscious, romantic score of period song cues with just the right touch of menace and melancholy.
The TCM Classic Film Festival throws a wonderful celebration of film and celebrity, smartly pulled together and offering a mélange of wonderful opportunities to experience just about every type of event honoring and saluting film, while also meeting other dedicated film fans from around the country.