2014 TCM Film Festival: Hat Check Girl (1932)

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After each TCM Film Festival, I’ve had a film that I considered my “discovery” of the Fest. It helps that TCM has a Discovery section dedicated to lesser-known and rediscovered films, but even out of that group, there’s usually one I latch on to as the one that makes me grateful for the Fest and for going in blind to so many of the Discovery films. In previous years, it’s been Lonesome, Hoop-La, or This is the Night – almost always late ’20s, early ’30s films. This year I pegged Hat Check Girl as most likely to be that film because it was one of only a couple Discoveries from that era; turns out I was wrong and the delightful The Stranger’s Return turned out to be my discovery, but that doesn’t mean Hat Check Girl wasn’t quite enjoyable.

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Sally Eilers plays Gerry Marsh, a hat check girl who wants to stay clean and honest, but keeps being pressured by her boss to sell bootlegged liquor and be an escort at fancy parties. At one such party, she winds up staying late and taking up the host on his offer to stay in a neighboring apartment whose tenant (Buster) is out of town – only he comes back IN town while she’s sleeping in his bed. Yes, this is a Pre-Code. There’s a lot more plot, with Buster romancing Gerry and getting involved in a murder, and it kind of goes off the rails because of course in a 64-minute movie you want to throw in everything but the kitchen sink.

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2014 TCM Film Festival: The Stranger’s Return (1933)

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The tightest scheduling block I attempted was between How Green Was My Valley (see here) and this film, and I was extremely lucky to get in – I was, in fact, the LAST person into a very full theatre. I felt kind of bad (and still do, since I know several people who tried the same schedule and didn’t make it in), because this was initially a filler film on my schedule. It’s short and fit in between How Green and Hat Check Girl, the Pre-Code comedy and MOMA restoration that I expected would be my favorite discovery of the festival. For some reason I didn’t read the program carefully on this film, and I thought “the stranger” was an aging man coming home to be with his family and their struggles in accepting him. I have NO IDEA why I thought that based on this program.

In the end, though, I’m very glad I did make it in, because THIS, not Hat Check Girl (though that’s fine too, post forthcoming), turned out to my gleeful discovery of the fest. Unlike the description I gave above, the story actually concerns a quick-witted and cantankerous old gentleman played by Lionel Barrymore sporting a gruff-looking beard, whose dubious excuse for a family is basically waiting around for him to die so they can take over his lucrative farm. The “stranger” of the title is his orphaned granddaughter from the city (Miriam Hopkins), who has never been to the farm but is cut from the same cloth as Grandpa.

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2014 TCM Film Festival: How Green Was My Valley

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[Spoiler content: I describe a couple of comical vignettes in relative detail, and I mention vaguely the trajectory of Angharad’s plot thread.]

This timeslot was easily the toughest choice of the festival for me, with John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley in the El Capitan with Maureen O’Hara in attendance vying with a specially curated program of John and Faith Hubley animated shorts introduced by Leonard Maltin (among other tempting things, but those were the most tempting for me). Neither one is likely to be repeatable. I’m not usually a star-watcher and I rarely choose TCM Fest screenings based on the guests, but I finally decided that I’d regret missing the chance to see a 94-year-old Maureen O’Hara more and headed over to the El Capitan line super-early, because the buzz going around was that this was going to be a HOT ticket. And that was certainly true – I got there an hour early, and I was somewhere around number 260 in the passholder’s line. Every seat was full in the 1000-seat theatre.

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The love for O’Hara as soon as she came on the stage was just about overwhelming. I was up in the balcony, far from the stage, but looking at the press photos later, she looks pretty great at 94, eh? Robert Osborne started off asking her about John Ford; her response: “I thought I was here to talk about me.” Fabulous, and with a gorgeous Irish lilt. After that, Robert’s planned list of questions fell by the wayside as Maureen clearly had her thoughts on the end of life, the comfort of her faith, and the importance of joy, especially in later life. It wasn’t necessarily what you’d expect of a guest appearance, but the audience didn’t care. I felt privileged to have seen her at all, and heard what she wanted to talk about, and in a way it was refreshing to have that instead of yet another response to “what was it like to work with [insert director and actor].” It also set the mood well for the pleasures of How Green Was My Valley, which deals with the nostalgia, joy, simple pleasures, and hope of a Welsh coal mining community in the face of everyday danger and death.

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2014 TCM Film Festival: Touch of Evil

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I knew this TCM Film Festival was going to be a brief one for me, as having a one-year-old daughter lessens ones flexibility considerably, even with a very considerate husband. My major goal was to find one thing that he and I could go to together since he was going to spend a lot of the rest of the time alone with our daughter while I galavanted off to watch movies. As soon as I looked at the schedule, it was clear which film that would be. We both name Touch of Evil as likely our favorite Orson Welles film (yes, over Citizen Kane), and have done so long before we even knew each other. The chance to see it at the TCL Chinese (no, I’m still not used to calling it that) in the version cut according to Orson Welles’ notes – it was just meant to be.

Going to a movie at the TCM Film Festival when one of you has a pass and the other is depending on the standby line is something of a stressful situation, but thankfully we got there early and he got in fine. It was the first time I had been in the Chinese theatre since TCL bought and remodeled it, and I’m a bit ambivalent on the new look. The decor is as resplendent as ever, but it’s all stadium seating now, which results in some 230 fewer seats (though 900 seats is still a lot) and generally makes it feel much less communal than it did before. It’s still a great way to see a movie, but it didn’t feel as much like a classic movie palace experience. But I’m being nostalgic for a time I never knew.

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TCM Classic Film Fest 2014: A Preview

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After missing last year’s TCM Classic Film Festival due to a minor thing like having a baby, I’ve been really excited to jump back in this year, and thankfully, I was able to secure a media credential to cover the fest despite taking a year off. My schedule will necessarily be a little less manic this year thanks to not wanting to completely abandon my husband and child for the weekend, but I hope to make it to enough things to make my coverage worthwhile.

In the meantime, here’s a preview of the fest now that this year’s schedule has been released. Since the TCM Fest splits pretty well into time slots (aside from a few special events and extra-long movies), I figured I’d just go through each time slot and identify some best bets if you’re planning to attend. Passes are already sold out, but individual tickets will be sold on space-available basis before each screening.

The overall theme this year is Families in the Movies: The Ties That Bind, which is a pretty broad theme, and indeed, you’ll find films about aging parents, fathers and daughters, single mothers, sisters, and dysfunctional families scattered throughout the festival along with the usual assortment of films considered Essential and Discoveries by the programmers (and Tributes and Special Presentations that have special guests or unique experiences attached to them).

Thursday, April 10

PRE-SLOT SPECIAL EVENTS

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In addition to the films, the TCM Fest always has a lot of special events – panels, parties, exhibits, etc. These are generally all passholder-only, so no individual tickets are available. They run concurrently with movies throughout the weekend, but they start up earlier on Thursday. These first three are all before any films start playing, and are all for passholders only, so I’ll separate them out.

2:00pm – Meet TCM (Egyptian Theatre) – From the program: “As TCM celebrates its 20th year, join TCM staffers as we share insight into the network, how it is produced and what is on the horizonas we look forward to the next 20 years.” TCM has done such a great job attracting fans as a brand, and even though I’ve never made it to one of these, I bet it’s fun to hear some behind the scenes info.

3:30pm – Sons of Gods and Monsters (Hollywood Museum) – Makeup artist Rick Baker and director Joe Dante will be on hand to discuss the legacy of monsters in classic cinema, with moderation from TCM producer Scott McGee (who’s a great guy). Should be a great time.

5:00pm – Welcome Party / TCM at 30 Exhibit (Club TCM @ Roosevelt) – Robert Osborne and several guest stars will welcome passholders to the festival and talk about their favorite classic movie moments. I’ve never been big on the parties at Club TCM, either, but this is one of the best chances to mix and meet and greet other film fans as well as famous classic era actors and actresses.

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