April is always “TCM Classic Film Fest month” in my house. It’s a combination of Christmas, New Year’s, and your birthday wrapped into one. For four days we get to congregate in glorious old movie houses and watch the classics in a way we only wish home viewing experiences could be like. Occasionally we get to rub elbows with TCM people we watch on television, giving off the feeling that everyone can be ingrained in the Hollywood world regardless of stature. This year’s festival, themed to Powerful Words: The Page On-Screen was the best lineup of films I’ve seen in the five years I’ve attended. In previous years, where the theme is often just incidental, many of the movies fit into it perfectly.
I arrive in Los Angeles a day early to meet up with friends and get my bearings for the chaos to come. Thanks to the fine folks at TCM Backlot I won the opportunity to take in the new exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Art of the Movie Poster: Highlights from the Mike Kaplan Collection. I’ve yet to visit the LACMA in all my years visiting the city and I need to come back because I was dazzled by the scale of everything. It’s an utterly beautiful museum, and that’s without looking at the art. Kaplan discussed his collection with the small group assembled, showing us the twelve posters on display between now and May 12th – the museum adds a new twelve after that. The artwork, ranging from a foreign poster for 1942’s Casablanca to the 1941 Betty Grable musical Moon Over Miami are exquisite. The framing done by the LACMA perfectly highlights each poster’s attributes, but more than anything the exhibit lets you look at the artwork up-close. You can see the fine detailing and painterly skill, the slight creases where three-sheets were pasted together to cover a wall. It’s a reminder of why poster art from this era remains so otherworldly, it’s literally art. You can learn more about the exhibit at the LACMA website; I highly recommend dropping in if you’re in the area.
From there I dropped in on the TCM welcome reception for media, a brief event that’s taken the place of the old press conference. Executive Vice President Jennifer Dorian said a few words about this year’s festival, including the presentation of the inaugural Robert Osborne award to director Martin Scorsese. The entire event was relatively informal compared to the previous year’s press conferences. If press did have questions there wasn’t time to ask as the quick hellos segued into light drinks and banter with fellow press and TCM personalities. Later in the evening there was a private TCM mixer with various social influencers – my previous work as a social producer for TCM got me access. It was great seeing the gang of friends, new and old, setting up the whirlwind that was to follow.
Since the first day of the fest doesn’t actually kick off till the evening I spent some time showing my travel buddy the Hollywood Museum in the old Max Factor building. I absolutely love this place and make time for a quick visit every year. This year the museum is hosting an exhibit around Adam West’s Batman television series so you can see an utterly expansive display that includes the Batmobile and various costumes worn by Batman, Robin, and Gotham’s rogues gallery. If you haven’t caught the Jean Harlow display from last year it’s still around, albeit truncated and moved to a different part of the museum. There are also new costumes on display, including Jennifer Jones’ dress from Madam Bovary (1949) and the gown worn by Merle Oberon in Lydia (1941). You can see more at the Hollywood Museum website.
From there it was off to my first serious event of the fest, covering the opening night red carpet. This year’s red carpet film honored Mel Brooks’ The Producers (1968) and space was at a premium with so many reporters hoping to catch a glimpse of Martin Scorsese. I was one of six lucky writers culled from the classic film world to cover the carpet and I was in awe. I got to chat with various heads of TCM and Turner, as well as FilmStruck collaborators like Malcolm Mays – who is one of the funniest people around. I talked to Olivia Hussey – Juliet from 1968’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – about her guest appearance on Boy Meets World; actress Rosanna Arquette was taken aback by my asking about her second film role in Blake Edward’s S.O.B. (1981), but mentioned how William Holden advised her to travel more; Eva Marie Saint stopped for me to discuss James Garner, her co-star in Grand Prix (1966) about his irritation at not being able to drive the race cars; and Ruta Lee came by to praise my lily white skin, declaring I was a “rotten bitch.” (Said with love, of course! Ruta is the best.)
I don’t often make a point of seeing movies the first night, since red carpet can take a lot out of ya, but with so many amazing options I made an attempt. A TCM friend recommended I see Detour (1945) that night. Detour is one of those features you can find in bad public domain prints online, and it’s for that reason I’d tended to avoid it. But since I wanted to secure an easier way of getting to my second movie I gave it a chance. I’ll have a full review of Detour soon, but I thoroughly enjoyed this dark and gritty noir. Unlike Double Indemnity (1944) or other noirs in the “lovers on the lam” subgenre, there’s nothing glossy or romantic about Detour. The movie is about two rotten people who hate each other while doing bad things for a little over an hour. It’s noir at its bleakest, violent, and cynical. After that I was far too tired to walk all the way down to the Egyptian, no matter how much I wanted to see the ladies of Stage Door (1937), so I decided to watch a movie I’d just seen for the first time two months ago, Michael Curtiz’s The Sea Wolf (1941).
I watched The Sea Wolf as part of my Ida Lupino Centennial Celebration, and while I enjoyed it I knew I was missing out on the rediscovered restoration that brought back fourteen minutes of excised footage. The film was introduced by Curtiz biographer Alan K. Rode, who you might recall I interviewed recently. Rode discussed the making of the feature and the deletion of the footage. Watching the film on the big screen was revelatory for so many reasons. Again, I’ll have a full review soon, but I was enthralled with this dark tale of madness, self-indulgence and ego. The facial expressions in this movie need to be watched on a big screen, particularly Edward G. Robinson’s. My girl Ida Lupino was solid as always, but this movie gave me Mr. John Garfield. If you’ll recall my Out of the Fog (1941) I mentioned noticing Garfield – and his ability to rock a coat – but watching him in this had all the power of fireworks going off. I’m officially in love with a man who’s been dead for 66 years. It’s a problem. But, hey, he did give me inspiration for a new series I’m debuting on the site soon.
By the time The Sea Wolf ended I’d noticed far more than my adoration of John Garfield. I discovered that the sore throat I’d developed that morning wasn’t from burning the midnight oil the night before. It was the first indication of a full-fledged cold. Yep, this was the first day of having to navigate the fest while ill.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.