After a two-year absence due to the Covid pandemic, the TCM Classic Film Festival triumphantly returned to Hollywood, four-day nirvana for vintage film fans. The festival joyfully celebrated classic cinema, screening mostly 35-millimeter film prints on the big screen the way they were meant to be seen and happily reunited long-missed friends. Overloaded with films, special programming, and celebrity appearances, the event offered the opportunity to immerse oneself in the glamour of Golden Age Hollywood.
For my weekend, I mostly focused on Pre-Code films and special programming. My festival kicked off with a rare screening of the 1933 Columbia film Cocktail Hour starring Bebe Daniels and Randolph Scott, a dashing light aperitif to start off a frantic film weekend. While only slightly risque, the movie revolved around the effervescent, independent artist Daniels, celebrating life and a career on her terms and surrounded by men. Daniels sketches magazine covers for her dandy boss Scott while trading flirty repartee. Chasing excitement she embarks on an Atlantic cruise, pursued by men along the way. Composer/director Victor Schertzinger keeps the film uptempo and energetic, a heady little cocktail featuring an entertaining performance from Daniels, promising early work from Scott, and sprinkled with cameos by character actors like Willie Fung, Sam McDaniel, and Rolfe Sedan. Film historian Cari Beauchamp offered background and history before the film with guest Suzanne Lloyd, granddaughter of silent film great Harold Lloyd, who met Daniels several times.
Looking for a little swashbuckling fun, I trekked to the Hollywood American Legion for a screening of the jaunty and athletic 1950 Warner Bros. film The Flame and the Arrow, featuring a buff and physical Burt Lancaster. Working with his friend and former circus acrobatic partner Nick Cravat, Lancaster shows off his athletic skills in an European version of “Robin Hood.” Preceding the film, Oscar winners, sound designer Ben Burtt and visual effects supervisor Craig Barron, discussed the impressive special effects by director Jacques Tourneur and crew, and also interviewed former child actor Gordon Gebert, who played Lancaster’s son in the film.
That evening, celebrity guests saluted film historian and critic Leonard Maltin before the screening of the 1933 Universal Pre-Code Counsellor at Law, an adaptation of the successful Broadway play directed by a young William Wyler. John Barrymore gives a subtle and dynamic performance as an attorney who finds his career threatened by a past ethical lapse and his wife’s possible infidelity. Impressive tracking and dolly shots and expressive lighting complement the fine acting performances of Barrymore, Daniels, Thelma Todd, and a young Vincent Sherman. TCM host Ben Mankiewicz introduced iconic performer Warren Beatty, who praised Robert Osborne Award winner Maltin before presenting him with his award. Maltin gave a touching and self-deprecating speech detailing his love of film and how he attempts to share that with audiences.
Sunday afternoon featured the frothy and somewhat suggestive 1932 Paramount romantic comedy Evenings for Sale, a comic look at a down-on-his-luck Austrian count (Herbert Marshall) looking for love and money. Offering a sympathetic examination of a former aristocrat now forced to work for his scheming ex-employees, the film could be called Lubitsch light and featured entertaining performances from Charlie Ruggles, Mary Boland, and Marshall.
Later than afternoon I enjoyed delicious scene chewing in a live table read of the 1958 Paramount B movie, I Married a Monster From Outer Space, in which a young bride discovers that her new husband may have been possessed by an alien. TCM Underground and San Francisco Sketchfest premiered what could be called a live radio production of the cheesy film with music and sound effects by composer Eban Schletter. Stand-up artist and sketch comedian Dana Gould provided droll, pointed commentary punctuating the scene while comic actors voiced the spacey dialogue.
The festival concluded with the emotionally resonant and dreamy 1927 Fox silent film 7th Heaven starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. Frank Borzage’s tender romanticism brings to life the story of an optimistic Parisian sewer worker and a delicate waif who slowly fall in love. Gaynor’s sweet vulnerability and expressive eyes just deepen the gossamer love story, accentuated by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra’s lyrical live accompaniment, highlighting the gentle but heart tugging emotions of the film.
Perhaps due to extra cleanliness, technical issues, or rustiness after a two year hiatus, patrons endured longer waits in queue lines. While the festival featured a diverse and eclectic programming slate, only one western and one silent screened over the weekend.
Even with minor baubles, the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival brought the movies dramatically back to life on the big screen, offering fans emotion, entertainment, magic, and nostalgia, a wonderful respite from our often troubling times.