“From Page to Screen” is the theme for this year’s annual Turner Classic Movies (TCM) festival. It’s the perfect theme for the early 21st century as the freedom of speech slips into serious peril under threat from the government. With a host of panel discussions, lectures, interviews, parties and screenings, the classic movie lover’s best annual event gets a literary bent.
In what looks to be the best lineup of motion pictures, at least in the years I’ve covered the annual movie festival, this year’s event is impressively chosen, organized and arranged. Selections include The Black Stallion (1979), a sumptuous motion picture about a boy and his horse. Mickey Rooney, who played the jockey in National Velvet, stars here as a trainer in producer Francis Ford Coppola’s take on Walter Farley’s 1941 children’s novel. This magnificent movie, which I first saw in a movie theater upon its release, screens in 35mm.
Inspired by Alfred Tennyson’s poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) is the second film among eight pictures co-starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Directed by Casablanca director Michael Curtiz, shown during the festival in 35mm, this adventure movie with its brutally filmed climactic title scenes, changed the way animals are treated on movie sets.
Conservative comedian and former O’Reilly Factor guest Dennis Miller is the guest for Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) in 3D. This horror classic, the catalyst for Guillermo Del Toro to create his Oscar-winning The Shape of Water, apparently was inspired by stories from Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa in the early 1940s.
Alan Cumming is the featured guest for the festival’s screening of 1948’s Hamlet starring Laurence Olivier. Other guests include Buck Henry, William Friedkin, Linda Woolverton, Randy Haberkamp, Dyan Cannon, Leonard Maltin, Sara Karloff, Lawrence Mirisch, Mario and Melvin Van Peebles, Cicely Tyson, Nancy Kwan, John Carpenter, Jacqueline Bisset, Leonardo DiCaprio, J.B. Kaufman, John Sayles, Taylor Hackford, Tim Matheson, Donald Bogle, Callie Khouri, Andrea Kalas, John Landis, Juliet Mills, Scott Eyman, Mel Brooks and the recipient of TCM’s first Robert Osborne Award, director Martin Scorsese.
As an Objectivist, I would have preferred a screening of the Italian language adaptation of Ayn Rand’s We the Living (1942) starring Alida Valli and Rossano Brazzi or the author’s own The Fountainhead (1949), which was made for TCM parent company Warner Bros. But this year’s picks include some of Hollywood’s best pictures, including Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait (1978), which, like Dirty Dancing, includes a dig at Rand’s 1943 novel about the architect who refuses to become an altruist.
Classic film scholar Cari Beauchamp, who is always a pleasure to listen to and learn from, is scheduled to introduce the 92-minute, Howard Hawks directed comedy, His Girl Friday (1940), adapted from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play The Front Page. Apparently, Hawks, with Hecht’s blessing, revised the story so that the reporter and editor were divorced. Cary Grant was cast as the editor, attempting to win back Rosalind Russell from her fiancé Ralph Bellamy.
Carole Lombard co-stars with Gary Cooper in I Take This Woman (1931), billed by TCM as a dramatic romance adapted from the novel Lost Ecstasy by Mary Roberts Rinehart. A nitrate print of this movie, discovered at the UCLA Film and Television Archives, became the source of this 35 mm restoration, conducted last year by UCLA’s archive, courtesy of the Louis B. Mayer Foundation. Lombard stars in the picture as a society girl sent to her family’s Western ranch to keep her from running off with a married man. The character clashes with and falls for cowboy Cooper.
For the alcoholism drama, The Lost Weekend (1945), Billy Wilder worked to appease the Production Code with co-writer Charles Brackett to change the protagonist’s repressed homosexuality to writer’s block. Wilder, who directed Some Like It Hot and Sunset Boulevard, had purchased the rights to Charles R. Jackson’s novel about a writer who becomes addicted to alcohol. Ray Milland stars as the drunk in a standout performance.
Maurice (1987) does not conceal its main character’s sexuality. On the contrary, James Ivory, who wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for 2017’s Call Me By Your Name, adapted E.M. Forster’s posthumously published novel about a young man’s reckoning with his homosexuality, deals with being gay with candor. And with Hugh Grant co-starring in his first major role.
Romantic love also powers the light comedy The Merry Widow (1934) in what turned out to be director Ernst Lubitsch’s last operetta, taken from Franz Lehár’s operetta (and previously filmed in a 1925 silent movie directed by Erich von Stroheim). Co-starring Maurice Chevalier as a prince who courts a wealthy widow, played by Jeanette MacDonald, this delightful musical comedy lost money when it was released. TCM will screen the classic in 35 mm.
These pictures are a small selection of what’s playing at the TCM Classic Film Festival this month in Hollywood. Every screening features a guest to discuss the movie, often with facts, context and insight, sometimes with cast or crew in a brief Q & A.
Putting writers, such as Robert Benton, front and center at the festival demonstrates the seriousness and sense of purpose in the Turner Classic Movies brand.
Speaking of Robert Benton, one of two of his featured films for which he’s slated to be interviewed is his 1979 dramatic breakthrough Kramer Vs. Kramer. Based upon the novel by Avery Corman, this divorce story busts the sex stereotype and depicts a woman who leaves her family while the man chooses to embrace parenthood and fight for custody of his child. Though TCM notes that Mr. Benton’s first choice to play Ted Kramer’s (Dustin Hoffman) estranged wife was actress Kate Jackson, who apparently couldn’t get out of her contract playing Sabrina Duncan on ABC’s Charlie’s Angels, he gave the role of Billy Kramer’s mother, Joanna, to Meryl Streep.
Streep made her career based on the success of Kramer vs. Kramer, which went on to become 1979’s highest-grossing motion picture. This movie underscores TCM’s 2018 festival theme, showing why the writer, in this case Robert Benton, is perfectly suited to make the most meaningful, emotional and powerful movie.
For a special screening of the writer-director’s seminal Places in the Heart (1984), Robert Benton will be interviewed again, this time by the leading Hollywood actress he directed to win the Academy Award for her performance in the film: Sally Field.
Of course, Robert Benton had already won Academy Awards for writing and directing Kramer vs. Kramer and he won an Oscar, too, for Best Original Screenplay for Places in the Heart. The depression-era movie, which I plan to review, also features Danny Glover, Lindsay Crouse, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and John Malkovich.
1998’s cult classic The Big Lebowski screens this year, too, with plot points about kidnapping, a disabled millionaire and pornography. Festival notes indicate that Joel and Ethan Coen’s script was inspired by director Robert Altman’s controversially modern adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1973). Jeff Bridges stars as Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski.
Other films being screened during the festival include the original Murder on the Orient Express (1974), based on Agatha Christie’s novel, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), based on Lewis R. Foster’s original story “The Gentleman from Montana,” and Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career (1979) which came about after producer Margaret Fink discovered the 1901 book when it was republished in 1965, spending the next 14 years trying to get the motion picture version made.
George Romero’s 50-year-old horror movie, Night of the Living Dead (1968), is also scheduled. So are that same year’s Neil Simon hit, The Odd Couple, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the opening night film, Mel Brooks’s absurdist The Producers, and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West.
Also screening: 1957’s Japanese Macbeth adaptation, Throne of Blood, and Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power in the 1957 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution. Eva Marie Saint is scheduled to make an appearance for the screening of her Korean War era, morphine addiction-themed movie, A Hatful of Rain, directed by Fred Zinnemann and based on Michael V. Gazzo’s 1955 Broadway play.
Woman of the Year (1942) co-starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, the Howard Hawks classic To Have and Have Not (1944), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) and Strangers on a Train (1951), The Right Stuff (1983) based on Tom Wolfe’s novel, Sounder (1971) and Stage Door (1937), all worth seeing or great films, are also on the schedule. I have never seen 1937’s A Star is Born starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March, which is about to remade yet again starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. I hope to get to watch it on screen for the first time.