TCM Classic Film Festival Diary, Saturday Evening

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A coffee that won’t keep you up, some good gravy, and a lot of soap close out Saturday at TCMFF.

Why pick Christmas in July (1940)? Because I had my heart set on Dick Powell in 42nd Street but skipped that to see So Dear to My Heart, and because Preston Sturges. My explanation makes way more sense than Dick Powell’s sloganeering in this movie, a fun and fast film that piles a lot of cringe-worthy and uncomfortable events on a prank gone too far. Powell plays a coffee company employee who enters a slogan contest run by the competition. “If you can’t sleep, it isn’t the coffee, it’s the bunk!” That’s Powell’s entry, a composition so sophisticated or nonsensical that nobody can understand it. He insists it’s nothing less than brilliant, so when he gets a telegram declaring him the grand prize winner, he has no doubt that his genius has finally been recognized. He manages to collect the winnings from clueless CEO Raymond Walburn and starts spending the generous jackpot by shopping for everyone and anyone.

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Trouble is, the prize announcement telegram was sent by some co-workers who lose their nerve as the joke snowballs and don’t admit their prank until everyone wants Powell’s head on a platter. Thanks to Sturges’ fine touch (impressive considering it was his second movie), the comedy stays light and fun without sliding into stupidity, despite the increasingly crazy situations. Ellen Drew plays Powell’s girlfriend, who wears herself out trying to politely explain how flawed the premise of his slogan is, i.e. that coffee actually keeps you awake. With the likable and charming Powell playing a decent guileless character, it’s no surprise she loves him despite his ego. Certainly everyone in the audience feels terrible for him when the prank is revealed and his heart is broken. Nice twist ending, and an appearance by such a young and thin Rod Cameron that I didn’t even realize it was him!

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To this point I hadn’t attended one non-movie event so I’d planned to catch Hollywood Home Movies at Club TCM which was just that, home movies of stars goofing around, socializing and hanging out with friends at home and on set. Jane Withers, Bob Koster (son of director Henry Koster) and Neile Adams McQueen (former wife of Steve McQueen) were present to provide commentary for the films which included footage of a Gary Cooper movie in the making, Charles Laughton mugging, tennis and party time with Dolores Del Rio, her husband Cedric Gibbons and friends (lovely to see what high glamour was considered “casual” and garden party attire back in the day), and some neat experiments by Henry Koster that made it look like his wife, actress Peggy Moran, was playing catch with herself or chasing her doppelganger around the yard. And good gravy, did Jane Withers ever add such fun comments on her segment of footage which was in beautiful condition; it was a joy to listen to her talk about many good Hollywood friends.  

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Grabbed a meal at Baja Fresh and time for evening block which was a tough choice. I was this close to going for The French Connection with William Friedkin in attendance, a great movie I love (and know some people who’ll think I’m crazy to pass), but again I went for the thing I haven’t seen–Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life (1959). I like the Claudette Colbert 1934 version but never saw this one and what we got was maximum soapy melodrama as Lana Turner plays an actress trying to balance her career with her daughter’s needs, until her daughter (Sandra Dee) needs a man who has history with Turner (handsome John Gavin). Meanwhile, Turner’s housekeeper and friend Juanita Moore has her own struggles with a headstrong daughter (Susan Kohner) whose skin is so light she’s happy to disguise her race, pass as white and get far away from the shame she feels having a black mother. Loads of conflict and angst here in Sirk’s last movie as the women go through years of touching moments and trials together, making mistakes and also sacrificing for their girls with little to no gratitude in return, from the time they meet at Coney Island to a major tearjerker of a scene when Kohner realizes the pain she’s caused her mother.DSCN1835

The movie was introduced by Sherry Lansing who spoke of the impact it had on her emotionally and in terms of raising her awareness of racial issues. She said it would make us cry and sure enough, by the time Mahalia Jackson sang, hankies were being wrung out. Lana Turner is beautiful here in gorgeous designer clothes and captured in sumptuous cinematography, all befitting the film’s theme of obsession with appearances. That focus also allows Juanita Moore to steal the show with her character’s authenticity, saintly self-effacing qualities and heartbreak (she was Oscar nominated for this performance).

imitationSaturday was done with 5 films, one from every decade 1920’s through 1950’s, Ford, Sturges, Sirk, silent, Disney, personal footage, and 4 great new discoveries and yet more meetings with bloggers and generally cool people, including but not limited to Chris of Blog of the Darned and his daughter, Nora of The Nitrate Diva and mom Colleen, Jill and Carley of The Black Maria, Jonathan who is writing a book about the Tremors movies (so cool), James “the Bond_age guy”, Theresa, Lindsay. Sometime that morning a big group of us were captured on video holding up our passes, I have no idea where (if ever) that will pop up. That is some day at the movies.

Next: a shortened Sunday with music, revolution, marriage, and a very special finale.

Previously: TCM Classic Film Festival Diary, Day 1TCM Classic Film Festival Diary, Evening 1 Friday Morning, Friday Afternoon, Friday Evening, Saturday

*photos are all mine except for movie scenes

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4 thoughts on “TCM Classic Film Festival Diary, Saturday Evening”

  1. My mouth was literally open when I read that you’d never seen this Imitation of Life before! Did you sob? That’s actually why I didn’t seriously consider seeing it — I have seen it a gazillion times, always start crying at the same point, and am a complete wreck by the end — and I could not imagine losing it in a crowded theater. (Not that I didn’t lose it in a theater at TCMFF last year, but I didn’t know in advance that I was going to!) Wasn’t Jane Withers the cutest? Good golly!

    1. Yes I know, (hangs head in shame– my late 50’s/early 60’s viewing has so many big gaps, Karen you have no idea.) Sherry Lansing talked about how she sobs every time too, I don’t know how anyone could not lose it, Mahalia and frankly, all those last few scenes involving Moore were so powerful. Major hanky movie and yet again I’m glad I chose that.

  2. Oh yes, Susan Kohner opens the flood gates at the end for everybody in the audience.
    Even before that, when Lana Turner’s character finally stops thinking about herself and realises Juanita won’t be there any more.
    Oh, the melodrama and the tears. Gets you every time.
    Glad you’ve finally seen it.

    1. I’m glad I went for that on a big screen, seems ideal way to do it, with a crowd and seeing the colour and melodrama done big. It was not what I was expecting compared to the Claudette version, shows you how a director can re-imagine a story. This seems like a good time to finally get around to seeing Madame X!

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