Written by: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer
Noir City took place at the Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood March 29 – April 7 2019
The Film Noir Foundation preserves and restores noir films for future generations. The Noir City Film Festival started in San Francisco, but has spread to many cities across the US, including Austin, Boston and Chicago. The theme of the this year’s festival was the 1950s, with a double-bill from each year of the 50s shown each night. Noir City Hollywood was celebrating its 21st year this year and was again hosted by ‘the Czar of Noir’ Eddie Muller.
TCMFF took place at the Egyptian and Chinese Theatres (and other venues) in Hollywood April 11 – April 14 2019
TCM Classic Film Festival was celebrating its 10th year and it is the 25th Anniversary of TCM itself. The theme this year was Follow Your Heart – Love at the Movies. Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal kicked off the festival with When Harry Met Sally and Billy Crystal had his hand and footprint ceremony at the Chinese Theatre. A new venue – Legion Theater at Post 43 came into use for the festival this year (this is where Desert Hearts was shown). The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is the center of activities for the festival and they host screenings around the rooftop pool there.
TCM: Double Wedding (Richard Thorpe, 1937)
Myrna Loy and William Powell made 14 films together and are best known for the Thin Man series, in which they played married couple Nick and Nora Charles. In Double Wedding, they play rivals. Powell plays aspiring film director and painter, Charles Lodge who is a bohemian living in a trailer, refusing to be tied down by conventional society. He is attempting to get a film off the ground starring Irene Agnew (Florence Rice) and Waldo Beaver (John Beal). Irene and Waldo’s are dominated by Irene’s sister Margit (Loy) – who controls every aspect of their lives, including the fact that they’re getting married to one another. Beal’s performance as the cuckolded Waldo is a comedic masterpiece. Margit is a single, independent businesswoman who runs a dress shop (which, lucky for us, means she is always fabulously dressed). She discovers that Irene and Waldo have been sneaking out after dark to rehearse with Lodge and she clashes with him, believing that Irene is having an affair with Charles. Margit and Lodge make a deal – he will stop seeing Irene if Margit poses for a portrait. This of course provides time for them to butt heads, exchange sizzling banter, bicker incessantly and gradually fall in love. The screenplay by Jo Swerling is truly hilarious, with zingers flying back and forth at a blistering pace. The costume design by the great Adrian is stunning, with Loy appearing in a range of striking angular monochrome outfits. There is also plenty of physical comedy and pratfalls from Powell, who was not a young man at this stage. This film was introduced by Illeana Douglas, who explained that her grandfather Melvyn often said that he got the roles rejected by Powell.
TCM: Love Affair (Leo McCarey, 1939)
It would seem that this story has had almost as many iterations as A Star is Born. The first Love Affair was in 1932, with one of Humphrey Bogart’s first roles, however the story was quite different. In 1939’s Love Affair, the cruise ship setting, the Empire State Building meeting and its tragic aftermath all feature. This storyline would get its most famous do-over in 1957’s An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr and of course is heavily referenced in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle. This 1939 version stars Charles Boyer as Michel, a notorious French playboy who draws a lot of attention on the ship and Irene Dunne as Terry, a nightclub singer who is returning to her stable fiancee. The ship ports in Spain, where they visit Michel’s grandmother. They fall in love, but agree to separate for six months, saying that if they still feel the same way, they will meet at the top of the Empire State Building. On the way to the meeting, Terry is knocked down by a car and has to use a wheelchair from then on. She is determined not to get in touch with Michel until she is recovered. The acting in this version is excellent and the sequence with the grandmother in Spain is particularly compelling. However, it is hard not to prefer the technicolor version with the 1950s dresses and, well, Cary Grant.
Noir City: A Kiss Before Dying (Gerd Oswald, 1956)
Joanne Woodward stars as Dorie Kingship, a college student who at the very start of the film, is telling her fellow student and boyfriend Bud (Robert Wagner) that she is pregnant. A film opening with two young people discussing pregnancy out of wedlock is pretty bold for the mid-50s. Bud has ambitions to marry Dorie because she is a mining heiress and he realizes that this ‘accident’ could jeopardize this. He tries to give her poison which will cause her to miscarry, under the pretense that it is medicine that will help the baby (yep – this film is pretty dark). She wants to elope with Bud, but if they do, he will not get the benefit of her money. So when they meet at a registry office high up in an office block, he pushes her off the top and stages a suicide note. Her then turns her attentions to her sister Ellen (Virginia Leith), but has aroused the suspicions of Gordon Grant (Jeffrey Hunter), a fellow student and friend of Dorie, who happens to assist his uncle at the police station. The plotting is pretty ingenious – with plenty of unpredictable twists and turns which make great use of dramatic irony. Wagner is sublime as the evil but charming Bud and Jeffrey Hunter is a revelation as the bespectacled amateur sleuth. Mary Astor plays Bud’s mother and George Macready plays Dorie and Ellen’s father – both give wonderful performances. This movie covers some dark and daring themes for the time and features several dramatic set-pieces, including the afore-mentioned roof-top scene and the climatic finale which takes place at the Kingship quarry. A fantastic noir and of course it is worth seeing on the big screen, if you have the opportunity.
Noir City: Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle, 1958)
A European noir which came right before the birth of the French New Wave; this movie is known for its cinematography by Henri Decae, the performance of Jeanne Moreau and perhaps most of all, its phenomenal score by Miles Davis. Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) murders his boss in his office and stages it as a suicide, however he forgets an incriminating rope (which leads to his own office) and then gets trapped in an elevator when the power to the building gets shut off for the night. Meanwhile, his lover Florence (the boss’ wife, played by Moreau) believes she has been stood up, so proceeds to spend the rest of the film wondering the streets of Paris looking beautiful and morose. There is a side-plot involving two young lovers who steal Tavernier’s car and most of the action of the film follows them. Malle and his editor Leonide Azar do keep cutting back to Tavernier at carefully timed intervals so we can witness his attempts to escape the elevator, which get increasingly more elaborate as he gets more desperate. The tension is expertly built and the plotting is deliberately paced, with Davis’ improvised jazz score giving a sense of urgency and madness to the whole thing. An exquisitely crafted piece, which juggles many different elements and tones to produce a stunning work of art.
TCM: Hello, Dolly! (Gene Kelly, 1969)
This thrilling tornado of color and song was made to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. The scale of this mammoth musical needs to be seen to be believed – hundreds of extras, enormous, intricate sets and sumptuous costumes absolutely overwhelm the senses. Barbra Streisand stars as Dolly Levi – a jack-of-all-trades, who mainly deals in match-making services. Walter Matthau plays Horace Vandergelder, a crotchety horse supplies salesman in Yonkers and Michael Crawford plays his clerk, Cornelius Hackl. Marianne McAndrew plays Irene Molloy, the owner of a hat shop in New York City. The various sets, including the hat shop, but also the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant where the thrilling finale takes place are breath-taking in the level of detail. One spends the entire time musing on the budget of this film, which was astronomical, but it is clear to see why. In terms of musical numbers, the highlight is “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” – begun by Michael Crawford, but then involving an enormous cast of townsfolk from Yonkers, as they parade to the train station. The costumes are eye-poppingly bright and again, the level of craftsmanship is staggering. An absolute highlight of the festival, to see this at the Chinese Theatre, introduced by TCM stalwart Alicia Malone.
TCM: A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
Gena Rowlands’ performance as Mabel Longhetti is rightly hailed as one of the all-time great on-screen acting feats. More over-looked, but equally as strong in its own way is Peter Falk’s performance as her husband Nick Longhetti. The pair depict the everyday struggles of a marriage, whilst attempting to cope with Mabel’s mental illness. They have three children and two mothers involved in their lives, as well as Nick’s work friends to cope with and the film does an authentic job of depicting how busy and chaotic normal family life can be. There is no clear-cut answer as to who is to blame for how bad things get within the marriage – Cassavetes reveals the nuance and complexities of relationships in an extremely raw and real way. The pacing and editing is exquisite, as well as the framing of each room of this household. By using several members of his own family – including the children and mothers, Cassavetes has bravely explored and exposed the truth of family dynamics. It is mind-boggling to think of how a real family survived going through this on-screen therapy, but we, the viewer, can only be grateful that we get to witness something this brave. Every nerve and wound is laid open for us to experience. A grueling but ground-breaking film.
TCM: Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
Re-watching this favorite film after many years, and on a big screen for the first time confirms what a perfect miracle of a movie it really is. To juggle this many characters, storylines, songs and locations is an astonishing achievement and to make something so well edited and coherent makes it nothing short of a masterpiece. The individual elements are so strong; with Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Chaplin, Shelley Duvall and Henry Gibson being particular highlights. They are woven together with several recurring motifs – one being the political campaign van which spews its propaganda over loudspeaker and another being Jeff Goldblum’s mysterious tricycle man who turns up everywhere doing his magic tricks. Elliott Gould and Julie Christie crop up in cameos playing themselves and the music seamlessly saturates the whole thing, just as it does in the real city. The shocking ending is ingeniously foreshadowed with misdirection and themes such as Vietnam and the politics are subtly threaded through. The script (and improvisations around it) is infused with humor – Chaplin’s BBC journalist is particularly brilliantly funny. After a long festival day, this 2 hour 40 minute movie still absolutely captured the attention throughout and captivated the heart once again. The introduction from Ronee Blakley (Barbara Jean), Keith Carradine (Tom Frank), Jeff Goldblum (Tricycle Man) and writer Joan Tewkesbury illuminated Altman’s process. A joy.
TCM: Desert Hearts (Donna Deitch, 1985)
This seminal work of LGBTQ cinema was one of the very few films depicting a lesbian romance until Bound came along in 1996, this movie tells the story of a summer romance between college professor Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver) and the younger, free-spirited Cay Rivvers (Patricia Charbonneau). The year is 1959 and Vivian has come to Reno to get a quickie divorce – she stays at a ranch owned by Frances Parker (Audra Lindley) and there she meets Frances’ step-daughter Cay, who works in a local casino. Cay is pretty open and relaxed about her affairs with women, but it takes Vivian longer to come to terms with her attraction to Cay. The period clothes and cars are great, but it definitely screams 1980s. The acting from Lindley, Shaver and particularly Charbonneau is fantastic. The film ends on a hopeful note and the romance is depicted tenderly and positively. Mostly, it is impossible to overstate the importance of this film to generations of LGBTQ women. A truly significant film.
TCM: Steel Magnolias (James L. Brooks, 1989)
A beloved childhood favorite, again, not revisited for many years. Seeing it again was like a family reunion, being surrounded by eccentric but beloved women – their familiarity enveloping one like a warm bath. One of the most perfect casts ever assembled – Dolly Parton as Truvy – the owner as the salon, where many pivotal scenes take place, Darryl Hannah as Annelle, Olympia Dukakis as Clairee, Shirley McClaine as Ouiser, Sally Fields as M’Lynn and Julia Roberts, in one of her very first roles as M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby. The supporting men ain’t too shabby either, with Tom Skerritt, Sam Shepard and Dylan McDermott playing husbands. The film opens with Shelby’s “blush and bashful” wedding, with just the groom’s “armadilla” cake and Tom Skerritt’s trigger happy father-of-the-bride adding a sour note to the gorgeously pretty proceedings. The film takes us through the seasons, with Christmas and Easter, weddings and funerals punctuating the lives of these women in what is a perfectly constructed and paced screenplay. Writer Robert Harling introduced the film and spoke movingly about his sister, who the character of Shelby was based on. It’s a cliche to say “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry” – but this is genuinely one of the funniest and most moving films of all time. Along with Terms of Endearment and Beaches, the 80s really leaned into weepies featuring terminal illnesses, but there is a time and a place to sob your entire face off and we should be grateful to have such brilliantly written and acted movies to do it with. The love these women have for one another exudes off the screen – the camaraderie of the salon is so atmospheric and positively glows with warmth. Steel Magnolias is truly a happy place to escape to and if you haven’t done it for a long time, a revisit is strongly recommended.
Author: Fiona Underhill, CC2K Staff Writer
Brit living in Southern California.
Former teacher of Media and Film Studies.
Current film writer for jumpcutonline.com, moviejawn.com and others.