Recapping the TCM Classic Film Festival 2017

by Scott Holleran (@ScottHolleran)

The Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival breezed in and out of Hollywood for an eighth consecutive year earlier this month. The four-day festival was strictly a showcase for movies. Time Warner-owned TCM now offers an online movie database, streaming, books, DVDs, and wine. But Turner Classic Movies exists to show movies and so does the Classic Film Festival, which TCM embellishes by having scholars, movie stars (and those connected to them), and storytellers at each screening.

As General Manager Jennifer Dorian said at the press conference, TCM is like Hollywood’s “keeper of the flame.”

Club TCM at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Photo by Scott Holleran © Copyright 2017 Scott Holleran. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.

Fans and festival pass holders are a hardy band of classic movie geeks, romanticists, and individualists that descend upon Hollywood Boulevard, walking purposefully to the Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard or Musso and Frank for lunch or Club TCM for a drink or discussion of movies. Venues included the ArcLight Hollywood, TCL Chinese Theatres including Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Grauman’s The Egyptian, and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Much of this year’s excitement emanated from new nitrate screenings, especially Laura (1944), The Lady in the Dark (1944), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), and Black Narcissus (1947), all shown in American Cinematheque’s recently renovated theater, Sid Grauman’s The Egyptian on Hollywood Boulevard. The original nitrate print showings were well received, though hungry pass holders contended with the fact that the Egyptian’s concession stand was not fully functional during renovations due to government regulations. Nitrate screenings were made possible through the Academy Film Archive, George Eastman Museum, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Dana Gould as Dr. Zaius attends Citi’s poolside screening of ‘Planet of The Apes’ during the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival on April 8, 2017 (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for TCM)

Screenings earning pass holder enthusiasm this year included David Lean’s Oscar-winning The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Jean Harlow’s biting Red-Headed Woman (1932), and Ernst Lubitsch’s One Hour With You (1932). The latter two pictures were screened a second time due to high demand, though no one was turned away from a screening, as has happened at past festivals.

Howard Hawks’s Red River (1948) starring John Wayne, shown at the Egyptian, won praise, as did Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 (1953) with William Holden. Judging by festival chatter, pass holders also seemed to enjoy seeing Panique (1946); Cry, the Beloved Country (1951) with thoughts from film scholar Donald Bogle; The Palm Beach Story (1942) with an appearance from Joel McCrea‘s grandson, Wyatt McCrea; and of course, Singin’ in the Rain (1952) with its references to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where it was screened. Several audience members who attended the Love Crazy (1941) screening raved about actress and occasional TCM hostess Dana Delany’s knowledgeable, thoughtful introduction.

In the wake of the recent death of longtime host Robert Osborne, to whom TCM dedicated 2017’s Classic Film Festival, TCM’s on-air talent and heirs apparent were a top festival topic. Fans fondly remembered Robert Osborne throughout the festival. TCM sponsored a tribute panel of those who knew him and erected a memorial wall for fans to write thoughts about the distinguished host, journalist, and former actor (to be shared with his surviving family).

Most fans wrote that they will remember Robert O for his warmth, wealth of knowledge, and passion about classic movies, qualities that many said in various festival conversations they find lacking among current TCM hosts. Pass holders generally tolerate or approve of Ben Mankiewicz, whom they appear to regard as an innocuous stand-in or comic relief. Actress and sometime hostess Illeana Douglas, who, like Mankiewicz, is known and touted as being related by blood to a famous Hollywood talent, elicits both groans and approval. However, most fans gave negative reviews to Tiffany Vazquez, a TCM hostess hired last year to make weekend introductions. Occasional TCM hosts and seasoned TV professionals Leonard Maltin, Alex Trebek, and Dana Delany fare better among TCM’s festival audience.

Questions about Robert Osborne dominated the press conference, too, with journalists (including this writer), asking about plans for programming, streaming, and home entertainment of the host’s original movie introductions and his Private Screenings series. Programming boss Charlie Tabesh explained that airing the Private Screenings episodes is “very expensive” and that certain episode rights have unfortunately lapsed, but that TCM’s goal is to bring them back.

Turner Classic Movies’ General Manager Jennifer Dorian announced a new online course, TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock, in association with Ball State. The six-week course on Alfred Hitchcock movies is free and runs in conjunction with TCM’s summer programming of Hitchcock movies. Dorian said that TCM is also giving a free 30-day trial of its club membership for TCM Backlot and may explore other streaming options, such as iTunes, in addition to its proprietary streaming partnership with Criterion Collection, FilmStruck. TCM also has a new wine club, which includes a “deliciously spicy” Alfred Hitchcock Zinfandel.

Movies screened during the festival included What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), So This is Paris (1926), America America (1963), The Awful Truth (1937), and The Great Dictator (1940). Three movies released in 1971—The Last Picture Show, Harold and Maude, and Gene Wilder‘s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory—were shown as well as Rear Window (1954) and the opening night picture, In the Heat of the Night (1967), which started over 30 minutes late due to tardy composer Quincy Jones, who joined producer Walter Mirisch, actress Lee Grant, and director Norman Jewison for a discussion. The movie’s leading man, actor, producer and director Sidney Poitier (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), who is 90 years old, also appeared during opening night, though he did not participate in the exchange.

Other guest appearances included Michael Douglas (Streets of San Francisco, Wall Street, Falling Down) in the lead interview (last year’s guest was Faye Dunaway), talking about his career from television to producing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and, recently, starring as Liberace. Dick Cavett entertained with tales about interviewing Groucho Marx. Mel Brooks was interviewed for the 40th anniversary screening of his Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety (1977) and was congratulated by Albert Brooks and Billy Crystal.

Other one on one exchanges featured Lee Grant, Peter Bogdanovich, and Leonard Maltin. Father and son filmmakers Carl Reiner and Rob Reiner were recognized with a hand and footprint ceremony at the Chinese Theater forecourt. Actresses Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were remembered at screenings of Stanley Donen’s Singin’ In The Rain (1952) and Mike Nichols’ Postcards from the Edge (1990) with family members Todd Fisher and Billie Lourd in conversations at both screenings. Actor and screenwriter Buck Henry introduced a 50th anniversary restoration from Rialto Pictures of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate (1967).


Former Box Office Mojo editor and partner Scott Holleran writes scripts and teaches media and storytelling workshops and courses in LA. He posts movie reviews on his blog, where he writes about news, culture, and ideas.

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