2016 TCM Classic Film Festival: One Potato, Two Potato (1964) & Repeat Performance (1947)

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A couple more memorable discoveries made at TCMFF 2016:

One Potato, Two Potato (1964). Missed it opening night in favour of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, so I’m glad I had a second chance on its Sunday repeat. A white divorcee and single mother (Barbara Barrie) falls in love with and marries her black co-worker (Bernie Hamilton). His parents (Vinnette Carroll and Robert Earl Jones, father of James Earl Jones) are worried about the situation but come to accept it when the newlyweds live on the farm and have a baby. Then Mulligan, who abandoned Barrie and their daughter for a good time in South America, returns to sue for and win sole custody of their little girl Ellen Mary (Marti Mericka).

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Donald Bogle interviewing director Larry Peerce.

I enjoyed the simple authenticity of this movie (at some times it even feels like an improv approach) as it took on such important and complicated issues. The relationship between Barrie and Hamilton is touching, sweet and natural. It’s sobering and adult when they talk over the inevitable problems of interracial romance or face a questioning policeman who makes some insulting assumptions, and it’s playfully childish when they forget all their cares and play hopscotch in the park. It was hard to see Mulligan as such a villain here when I first got to know him on the comedy Soap; here he’s motivated by racism, his midlife crisis and feelings of failure, and his envy over the love his ex has found with a better man. The judge (Harry Bellaver) seems wise and understanding but rules according to how society will view, and might react to the couple’s situation, instead of keeping Ellen safe with the loving and functional family unit she already has. That was tough to watch, as was Barrie’s breakdown on the courthouse steps after losing custody, but those were nothing compared to the heart-wrenching scene when Mulligan comes to the farm to collect his daughter. I kept waiting for him to realize the damage he’s doing, but he persists, and in the process pushes his child to a violent outburst, resentment of her mother, black step-father, and eventually, under her father’s bigoted influence, all black people. The TCMFF theme of “moving pictures” really fit this powerful and devastating film, which had us sobbing in the theatre.

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Repeat Performance (1947) was a surreal crime soap which opens a bit like The Letter, with a stage actress (Joan Leslie) gunning down her failed playwright husband (Louis Hayward) on New Year’s Eve. After the shooting, she makes her way to the party of her producer (Tom Conway), where she’s astonished to find that her crazy wish for a re-do has come true, and she’s been tossed back to the previous New Year’s with time to sort out whatever got her in this mess. Leslie gets to work, on trying to make the right steps this time, and on keeping her husband away from the bottle and from an alluring playwright (Virginia Field), but she can’t prevent a devastating injury from reoccurring. She initially confides in her mentally unstable poet friend (Richard Basehart, in his first major film), and warns him to steer clear of the patron (Natalie Schafer) who will have him committed to an asylum, but that doesn’t completely work out either, so the suspense comes not only from seeing if Leslie can change events, but also from watching her deal with the disheartening possibility that she probably won’t, and how then to avoid that final crime scene. I really liked this cast; Leslie anchored the fantasy with determination and desperation, and I loved how easily she just goes with this Twilight Zone situation (that Serling-ish voice-over was really convincing). Hayward, an underrated actor I enjoy in most anything, did a fine job as an increasingly hurtful and depressed drunk. Really enjoyed this one and and look forward to watching again soon, hopefully it’ll be available in time to rewatch on New Year’s Eve.

More from the fest:

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3 thoughts on “2016 TCM Classic Film Festival: One Potato, Two Potato (1964) & Repeat Performance (1947)”

  1. Peerce sure went on to make some terrible, more commercial and theoretically “professional” films, but I wouldn’t mind seeing this one.

  2. Sorry…the terrible Peerce film I was thinking of was THE SPORTING CLUB…conflated with THE HUNTING PARTY, another terrible film from the same period. While THE INCIDENT is another bad Peerce film, one which is too often treated as if it’s a good film rather than an earnest pile of cliches…a good double-feature with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.

    1. Interesting, haven’t seen the Sporting Club, decent cast. Seem to remember The Incident. He gave a good but short talk (all the intro ones are) at tcm fest about the challenges of filming One Potato in Ohio, etc. Good one to have in the mix, loved the indie movies I saw there.

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