TCM Classic Film Festival 2012 in Hollywood – Day 2

Three Roberts: Robert Evans, Robert Towne and Robert Osborne at TCM Classic Film Festival.  Photo by Linda Wiegman

Yesterday, Day 2, was a long but invigorating day that started at 9:00 am with a screening of director William Wellman’s 1927 WWI drama “Wings” and ended at midnight following a screening of Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown.”

While yesterday’s films ran the gamut from a silent, to film noir, to dramas, a consistent theme seemed to be vigorous movie people in their 90s who showed up to speak at the screenings of their films.  The most visible of these was Kirk Douglas who entered Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to a sustained standing ovation from SRO crowd.  He was there to introduce his 1954 film “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”At one point Douglas declared  himself to be the oldest person in the room.  He asked if there were any other 95 year-olds present.  Not a hand went up.  Douglas, who was interviewed by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, held the audience in the palm of his hand as he told stories, jokes and even sang “A Whale of a Tale” from “20,000 Leagues.”  Douglas also talked about his role in ending the blacklist by employing and crediting blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo on his film “Spartacus.”  While Douglas was there to introduce “20,000 Leauges,”  his all too brief, 15 minute, introduction proved to be better than the film itself!

Actress Marsha Hunt, also in her 90s, gave a riveting interview following a screening of her 1948 film “Raw Deal.”  Hunt, elegantly dressed and walking with a cane (she told us not to worry and that she was fine)  had also been blacklisted.  She gave us a mini history lesson on the Blacklist and her part in speaking out against it, which only got her into trouble.  Hunt also  talked about working with director Anthony Mann and fellow cast members Dennis O’Keefe and Claire Trevor on “Raw Deal.”  She was interviewed by film noir expert Eddie Muller.

Ninety something, and still working, Paramount producer A.C. Lyles introduced a screening of a killer, restored print of the movie “Wings.”  Lyles told how he first saw “Wings” in 1927 at a movie theatre in Florida.  He told how he parlayed the experience into being hired by the theatre, owned by Paramount, and eventually parlayed that into a job working at Paramount Studios in LA where he has been ever since.  Lyles talked about his relationship with Paramount head Adolph Zucker and director Cecille B. DeMille.  Lyles was office boy for both men.  He remembered advice given to him by Zucker which included “Dress British but think Yiddish.”

The “Wings” screening was followed by an appearance by William Wellman, Jr. son of the film’s director William Wellman.  While Wellman Sr. had the nickname “Wild Bill,” Wellman Jr. told us that he was “Mild Bill.”  Wellman told how the original budget for “Wings” was 1.2 million but soared to 2 million.  Wellman pointed out that when one takes into account the cost to the military, who cooperated in the production, the budget was actually around 16 million which, in today’s dollars would be 1.5 billion (with a “b”).  Every penny was up on the screen.  “Wings” featured incredible aerial stunts – there was no faking it with effects in 1927.  Wellman talked about how his father, a former combat pilot who was shot down five times, would demonstrate to the stunt pilots how he wanted them to crash the planes by landing the planes himself and rolling them over himself.  Wellman also described how his father would actually send his actors up in real two seater planes for the aerial scenes.  They would go up, after a few flying lessons, with a safety pilot.  When it was time to film the safety pilot would duck out of the way of the camera.  The actor would then turn on the camera, which was pointed at him, and act away until the camera ran out of film.  In other words  the actor w2as a director, camera operator and pilot.

Director Stanley Donen was interviewed by Mankiewicz prior to a screening of his 1967 film “Two for the Road.”  Mankiewicz said he had the best job in the world – interviewing Kirk Douglas, earlier in the day and now Donen.  Donen, known for his direction of musicals such as “Singin’ in the Rain,” also featured at the festival, talked about his transition to making dramas.  Donen remembered  how movie  musicals began to not do as well in foreign markets.  As a result he had to make different kinds of films.  Fortunately for Donen he had a great love of movies and was very familiar with different directors, styles and genres.  He explained that moving away from musicals was a survival mechanism.  Donen said that “We stupidly think the future will be like the present.”  Donen recalled how his “Two for the Road” script was turned down by every major studio, although eventual “Two for the Road” star Audrey Hepburn loved the script.  Donen said his last hope was Dick Zanuck, who, after reading the script on a airplance trip, said, “I want to make the movie.”

The evening ended with a screening of “Chinatown” at Grauman’s.  The film was introduced by former Paramount head Robert Evans and Oscar winning “Chinatown” screenwriter Robert Towne.  The two Roberts were interviewed by a third Robert, TCM host Robert Osborne.  Evans talked about how no one could understand the script but that he considers Towne to be the best screen writer ever.  The two men talked about how director Polanski (not in attendance) changed the ending to what they considered to be too simplistic for such a complex film, but that it worked.  After the introduction we screened an absolutely drop dead gorgeous, digitally restored  print of “Chinatown” made even more amazing on the mammoth screen at Grauman’s.  Incidentally all of the prints I have seen so far have been pristine, many digitally restored, and well worth having flown  across the country to see.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on April 14, 2012, in Feature Articles, TCM Classic Film Festival and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Imagine having the energy to get dressed up and do some major public speaking while in your 90’s as those two actors did – that’s amazing in itself. Interesting reviews!!

    • unpaidfilmcritic

      Thanks Alexis! Just got back. Had a great time but now down to work. Gotta write my column and prep for two classes tomorrow!

      I’ll tell one thing. It’s warmer here than in Hollywood!

      Best, Seth


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