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Karie's Blog
Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Apr. 17, 2012 | 9:04 PM

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The TCM Film Festival 2012


TCM has done it again with another stellar line up! This event really has become a mecca to classic movie lovers and I've been amazed to find that most people I meet at the festival have made this their yearly vacation.

The only problem with TCM Fest is that they haven't invented (to my knowledge) a human cloning machine. There are up to 5 fantastic events all going on at the same time over the course of the entire festival. I tend to mull over the schedule for days before making my final decisions and it is never easy. I am a vintage clothing collector and have a huge passion for design, so the theme of "Style in the Movies" was a lure I couldn't resist.

First up, I saw the silent film "Our Dancing Daughters" (1928), which stared Joan Crawford, Anita Page and Dorothy Sebastian. I've seen this before but never on the big screen, so this was an exciting opportunity. Before the film began, TCM conducted an interview with Anita Page's daughter. The interviewer did the best he could, but she didn't have any insights or anything interesting to share. He finally asked to if the rumor was true that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had written her mother fan letters. She confirmed that it was. Then the interviewer asked how she felt about that, to which she deadpanned, "Well, at least it wasn't Hitler." You could have heard a pin drop. The audience all sat in a seemingly long uncomfortable silence. The interviewer smiled and made a fast exit to start the film.

"Our Dancing Daughters" is a wonderful flapper melodrama complete with plenty of eye popping 1920s deco sets, evening gowns and jewelry. Joan Crawford jumps right off the screen and seems in her element dancing on a table top amidst a wild party. In the film she plays a free spirited (but virtuous) flapper who falls in love with a young man who is lured away by her gold digging rival (Anita Page). While the story itself plays out like a soap opera, the performances really elevate the proceedings. This film was a huge hit and spawned two follow up films--"Our Modern Maidens" and "Our Blushing Brides".

I'm a huge fan of film noir and was also eager to see "Gun Crazy" (1950). Out of the all of the films I attended at the festival, this is the one that really brought the house down. Noir czar Eddie Muller introduced the film and brought out star Peggy Cummins for her first Los Angeles appearance in decades. The crowd gave her a standing ovation. She was gracious, classy and didn't disappoint. She recalled the film has being super low budget and none of them had expectations that it would become such a classic. It just just thought of as another "B" movie at the time. Peggy Cummins gives perhaps the most ferocious performance in noir history as a beautiful gun crazed circus sharp shooter intent on living life in the fast lane.
The print of "Gun Crazy" was stunning and it was such a thrill seeing it at the Egyptian Theatre. Film noir has become such a popular and highly influential genre, so I'm really glad to see they are carving out a space for it at the festival.

"Girl Shy" (1924) is perhaps Harold Lloyd's most winningly romantic film. While he hasn't been as well remembered as Chaplin and Keaton, this has changed in recent years. His films have enjoyed screenings at several film festivals along with new books and even a DVD box set. "Girl Shy" was a packed house. In the film Harold Lloyd plays a shy, quiet guy who writes a book on how to seduce and handle women....even though he knows nothing about it. He has numerous fantasies about his conquests of "The Flapper" and "The Vamp". Naturally he meets the woman of his dreams, but trouble ensues along the road to a happy ending. Harold Lloyd's granddaughter spoke before the film. She talked about his incredible attention to detail and how he timed his gags for the maximum audience response. It is obvious that Harold Lloyd was indeed brilliant and worthy of being remembered as one of the comedy greats of the silent era.

Every year TCM has made a point of including a Clara Bow film and I couldn't be happier! This year they showed the rare pre-code goodie "Call Her Savage" (1933). The film was introduced by biographer David Stenn whose Bow biography "Runnin' Wild" is a must read. Clara Bow stars here as a disgraced socialite named Nasa Springer. The film contains enough melodrama for three films and includes pre-code elements such as prostitution, a gay bar, venereal disease, gambling, scandal and attempted rape. Clara Bow elevates the material with an excellent performance, putting to rest any myths that she was unable to make it in "talkies". In truth, Clara was simply tired and ready to retire. This was the second to last film of her career and one that she was particularly proud of. It is always hard to decide what films to see, but the choice is much easier when TCM shows rarities like this one that aren't on DVD.

"Letter From An Unknown Woman" was another film that I had never gotten to see in the big screen format. It was introduced by actress Rose McGowan who seems very smart and knowledgeable about the classics. Directed by Max Ophüls, the film stars Louis Jourdan as a concert pianist who receives a letter from a past lover (Joan Fontaine) who he fails to remember. The film is a heartbreaking, tender drama that moves slowly and requires patience when viewing. It doesn't zip along like many movies, but rather unfolds slowly and with a quiet, deliberate pace. The frustrating thing about this film is that the character played by Joan Fontaine is so spellbound and naive that she refuses to see the truth that has been right in front of her all along. This same material felt infinitely more effective in the film "Only Yesterday" (1933) with Margaret Sullavan and John Boles.

Perhaps the most revelatory screening of the festival for me was the documentary "Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room". Barely two years old at the time, Baby Peggy became a sensation in silent comedies of the early 1920s before making the transition to feature films. Unfortunately her parents squandered her entire fortune through outrageous spending and mismanagement. Baby Peggy performed in vaudeville before eventually running away from home with her sister in an effort to break free from her parents. She eventually found solace in religion and managed to make the transformation from film actress to film historian. I've read her book "Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy" which is a fantastic and vivid account of her life. The documentary effectively tells her life story in photographs, interviews and even recent footage of a now 94 year old Baby Peggy (renamed Diana Serra Cary) interacting with her granddaughter and attending film festivals. This was an excellent documentary and a great treat to see with an audience. TCM also did a separate program of Baby Peggy silent shorts. Diana Serra Cary was in attendance and her memory is excellent. She was able to recall many details about the dangerous stunts, long hours and often hazardous working conditions she endured. She held the audience captive and is a really great story teller. If you haven't read her book, it really is a must.

I also took a break from movie going to play a trivia game called "So You Think You Know Movies" at the Roosevelt Hotel with some other film fans. Unfortunately we lost, but had a great time playing in any case. Several of us went to lunch at the Pig & Whistle afterward. One of the things I enjoy most about the festival is meeting and getting to know other people from around the country and even the world who cherish these films as much as I do. TCM Fest really is a community and a great way for film fans to unite in our shared passion.

I got to spend a few minutes chatting with Ms. Carey (Baby Peggy) after the screening! Pardon the iphone quality photo.


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