Sunday, last day at TCMFF took me to “Chica-gey,” Paris and Philadelphia.
Remember when I said I would go for new-to-me movies and only allow myself two favourite films at the fest? My Darling Clementine was the first and Calamity Jane (1953) was the second. I adore Doris Day, I love this movie, and once again, seeing it with an audience full of people who feel the same was pure magic. Doris is the tomboyish Calam, on a mission to deliver a beautiful and much-desired actress to the men of Deadwood. They haven’t seen a real woman in ages, at least their idea of one; they don’t recognize that the heroic Calamity has the potential to be a lady, if she wasn’t so busy saving the stagecoaches and the men from Indians, or falling in the mud.
Day ends up unknowingly bringing back an impostor (Allyn Ann McLerie) who becomes a popular attraction in her own right, ends up teaching Day some more feminine ways, then appears to steal Doris’ crush Phil Carey, leaving her to discover whether Howard Keel is the right man. Doris is just brilliant, delivering several signature songs in the best form and with loads of emotion. It was as fantastic a musical comedy as I always thought, and a joy to experience on the last day (even if our dream of having Doris herself there for a big surprise appearance didn’t come true.)
aiming for the lowest line number is way more fun than golf.
Reign of Terror, aka The Black Book (1949) got one of the TBA slots reserved for repeat showings of movies that were hot tickets in previous days. I’d seen and liked this great Anthony Mann French Revolution noir before, but it was a horrible quality dvd, so I wasn’t going to pass up a fresh new look at the movie. It has a great cast, with Robert Cummings, Arlene Dahl, Richard Basehart, Norman Lloyd, Richard Hart, Arnold Moss, Beulah Bondi and a scary Charles McGraw as Basehart’s henchman. Basehart is delightfully bad as Robespierre, the ambitious tyrant with some memorable quirks, such as juicing a lemon til it begs for mercy, taking offense to being called Max and being known for his lack of interest in the ladies.
Cummings is perfect as the resourceful hero who never knows who to trust; he gets plenty of juicy scenes, fighting or lying his way out of deadly situations. In one nail biting sequence, he’s consumed by terror as he approaches what he thinks is the real wife of the man he’s impersonating, who’s been summoned there to identify or expose him. Turns out she’s an ally sent to help him escape, so you watch him go from confusion to relief to nerves again as they try to make a cool exit past the real wife waiting at the gate. The picture is pure tension, paranoia, betrayal and corruption, as everyone searches for Robespierre’s black book of enemies to be executed, as the big wheels try to secure their place in the new order and the fate of a nation hangs in the balance. Reign of Terror features gorgeous cinematography by John Alton, with dramatic angles used to show character or danger, and the dominant darks as rich and glossy as ink, capturing nighttime scrambles along cobblestone, subterfuge in bakery cellars, dungeons, dark fields and hidden passageways. Glad I had the chance to see this, it was a big highlight of the fest.
The next movie would be my last one at TCMFF. To get to the airport on time for my flight back home, I had to say my goodbyes before the screening because depending on the intro length I’d likely be sneaking out in the dark in the last few minutes of The Philadelphia Story (1940). I wouldn’t call this one a favourite but I knew I wanted to end with something light and you can’t go wrong picking an all-star essential in the “big” Chinese theatre. The guest was a big plus too: Madeleine Stowe, who spoke of how classic movies got her through a painful time caring for her ailing father. She revealed that she initially aspired to be a film critic which got a fun reaction from interviewer Illeana Douglas.
For those who don’t know, The Philadelphia Story concerns recently divorced Katharine Hepburn, about to marry the nice but dull John Howard, when her ex Cary Grant and reporters Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey arrive to wreck it. Simple structure on which to layer lots of screwball complications, satire, witty lines and character development, mainly for Hepburn who needs to realize and mend her icy, aloof ways. Everyone does great work here (I’ve always loved the adlibbed apology Cary makes when Stewart hiccups) but this time I gained a new appreciation for Virginia Weidler’s hilarious performance; her eyerolls and comebacks are so perfectly timed, and she delivers a great rendition of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” In past viewings I overlooked both hers and Hussey’s fine work; it’s not easy keeping up, let alone standing out, among lead actors of this caliber and all the supporting players did just that.
With the movie wedding about to begin, it was time for me to go so I made as quiet an exit as I could and started back to my hotel. It’s a weird (and sad) feeling to walk out of a theatre as magnificent as that, with the sound of the movie still within earshot and hardly anyone outside in the sun. Only a few steps later, I was passing Ben Mankiewicz on the stairs (lucky man would interview Sophia Loren at the very next screening). He was kind enough to stop there for a moment, ask about me, where I was from, and how I enjoyed the festival. It’s no news to anyone that he genuinely appreciates TCM fans, and after having to cut my fest short, I couldn’t have asked for a nicer finale to my weekend!
Next: a wrap up and some newbie lessons learned.
*photos are mine except for movie scenes