Glamorous Gloria

Gloria Swanson - c. 1920sI’ve been reading Gloria Swanson: The Ultimate Star, Stephen Michael Shearer’s 1913 aptly titled biography of the woman who defined what a real movie star should be. Though I had read parts of Gloria’s autobiography Swanson on Swanson, Shearer’s book exposes that the star’s recollections were colored by selective memory, forgotten details, and overlooked events. I thought I knew a great deal about Swanson, but I discovered that instead of fact, I was hanging onto assumptions and misconceptions. Below are several discoveries about Gloria Swanson that reveal the complexities of her life and career.

Gloria in Chicago: Swanson began her career at Chicago’s Essanay Studio just a few months before Charlie Chaplin arrived to make movies in the Windy City—a venture that proved short-lived. Chaplin tested the teenager for what proved to be his only Chicago film, His New Job. He tried to teach her some basic comic shtick, but she was not good at spontaneous physical humor. More to the point, she didn’t like it. What 15-year-old girl does? She was supposed to bend over to retrieve something and get kicked in the backside. The next day, Chaplin had someone tell her that she would not do as a comic foil, to which Swanson replied, “I think it’s vulgar anyway.” Though Swanson does appear in a bit part as a stenographer in His New Job, she always denied that she was ever in a Chaplin film.

GLORIA AS THE SECRETARY IN CHAPLIN'S 'THE NEW JOB'

GLORIA AS THE SECRETARY IN CHAPLIN’S ‘THE NEW JOB’

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The TCM Classic Film Festival Makes History

By Nathaniel Thompson

As is tradition now at the TCM Classic Film Festival, Sunday is the day the schedule fills out with encore screenings of hot tickets that left many fans clamoring for a second chance after the theaters filled up. Traditionally film noir and pre-Code titles rank at the top of the list, and that was the case again this year as word-of-mouth favorites like REIGN OF TERROR, TOO LATE FOR TEARS, and THE SMILING LIEUTENANT returned along with a bonus screening of HOUDINI complete with a live escape artist demonstration by Dorothy Dietrich, a magician and curator of the Houdini Museum. Never let it be said this festival didn’t know how to go out with a bang!

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The history theme of the entire festival continued on its final day with a variety of surprising and diverse choices that made it difficult to pick only a handful. For example, how do start off your morning: the 70mm grandeur of PATTON or the new digital restoration of the 1939 version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME? I opted for latter, which rarely pops up on the big screen, and it turned out to be spectacular indeed. The film is famous for many reasons: Charles Laughton’s stunning portrayal of Quasimodo, Maureen O’Hara’s American film debut as the gypsy Esmerelda, the striking score by Alfred Newman, and no-expense-spared treatment from RKO Pictures, hot off of another major property the same year, GUNGA DIN (also featured in this year’s programming). As an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel the film is questionable at best, with the Production Code in particular requiring some drastic alterations to both entire characters and major plot points (including the much-discussed ending). However, it’s often cited as the best version of the famed story thanks to its rich, enchanting atmosphere, parceling out one jaw-dropping set piece after another under the sure hand of director William Dieterle, whose magical touch is well in evidence here. The presentation was a stunner throughout with TCM favorite Illeana Douglas offering fine introduction, referring to Laughton as “an actor other actors always talk about” and sharing a great anecdote about celebrating Richard Drefuss’s birthday during a TCM Classic Cruise, with all of the celebrants (including herself, Dreyfuss, Diane Baker, and Shirley Jones) turning their attention to watch this film all the way through when it was playing in the background.

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Speaking of Baker, she’s a familiar face to TCM viewers as well and was present along with Douglas again and star Millie Perkins to introduce a powerhouse screening of George Stevens’s Oscar-winning classic, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. Baker remembered Stevens as wanting “simplicity, naturalness” from the thespians, while Perkins (who, along with Baker, was making her debut) became homesick halfway through the shoot and wanted to go back east to be with her family. Wisely, Stevens gently urged her to stay on, and the rest is history. Among the other memories were Perkins subsisting on Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese and Baker living in costume and without makeup over the nine-month production. They also remembered Shelley Winters (who took home an Academy Award for her performance and donated the statuette to the Anne Frank House) as “a wonderful actress and a pain in the neck! She was wonderful, entertaining all the time.” Among Winters’s acting tips: cracking ammonia capsules to induce crying on camera and getting Perkins tipsy before shooting the Hanukkah scene. However, they closed out on a serious note when asked whether they agreed with the real Anne Frank’s most famous statement, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” When asked whether that was still true, Perkins wistfully stated “I don’t know,” while Baker opined by gesturing to the audience, “We can’t control everyone else, but we can try to be good at heart.”

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In between screenings I finally had a moment to sit in one of the new additions this year, the #heartmovies video booth in the main lobby of the TCL Multiplex, where people can record a two-minute video about the film (or films!) that turned them into lifelong movie fans. It’s a great experience that will hopefully be making a return appearance next year. From there it was a jump across the lobby for the most recent film on the schedule, and indeed, one of the most contemporary films to screen at the TCM Classic Film Festival to date: Steven Soderbergh’s OUT OF SIGHT (1998), which seemed right at home thanks to its snappy dialogue (expertly adapted by Scott Frank from Elmore Leonard’s novel), wildly charismatic lead turns by George Clooney and a radiant Jennifer Lopez, stylish direction by Steven Soderbergh, and an incredible roster of supporting actors including Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, and a scene-stealing Dennis Farina, to name just a few. However, the real focus here was Anne V. Coates, who appeared earlier in the weekend to discuss her award-winning work on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. However, she handpicked this film as well to showcase the evolution of her work and regards it as one of her finest achievements, explaining to TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz before the screening that it “has some of my most interesting editing in it.” Our TCM host agreed with her and explained that this is one of his all-time favorite film (having seen it at least a dozen times and finding something new with every viewing), and their conversation also branched out to discuss her work on such films as THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, IN THE LINE OF FIRE, and her surprising recent stint of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, which had one significant flaw: “I didn’t think it was as raunchy as it should have been!” She also shared memories of being hired by John Ford (in his dressing gown), who left her to her own devices after one simple statement: “If you cut for David Lean, you’re good enough for me.” As for her work on OUT OF SIGHT, it’s still as fresh and invigorating today as its opening weekend with such standout moments as the Nicolas Roeg-inspired hotel bar sequence still packing a sexy, witty punch.

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That would more than enough to whet any cinephile’s appetite, but I decided to close out the day and the entire festival with a sweet dessert: KISS ME KATE, the 1953 MGM screen version of the famous Cole Porter musicalizing of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shew, which has experienced a major reappraisal in recent years thanks to the much-needed availability of screenings in 3-D. The flat and 3-D versions are completely different beasts, and the latter works far better thanks to its audacious compositions and killer dance numbers, with Ann Miller, the underrated Tommy Rall, Bobby Van, and a young Bob Fosse (who got to choreograph part of the show-stopping “From This Moment On” number added for the film) often stealing the limelight from barnstorming leads Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson. You couldn’t ask for a tastier way to end the evening, and it’s hard to believe we’ve reached the end of another year and another unforgettable weekend of movie nirvana with hundreds of film-loving friends we’ll all see again next year with plenty of newcomers to join the fun as well.
Nathaniel Thompson runs the website mondo-digital.com, authors the DVD Delirium book series, and is a regular writer for tcm.com.

Norman Lloyd, Sophia Loren and Marie Curie: Three Iconic Figures at the TCM Classic Film Festival

By Jeremy Arnold

2015 TCM Classic Film Festival

Day 3 of this year’s festival, for me, was heavier on interviews than actual screenings. With the likes of Norman Lloyd and Sophia Loren in town, ready to talk about their lives and careers, I was eager to take advantage of the incredible opportunity to hear from them firsthand. And, as always, one of the joys of this annual festival continues to be the camaraderie and new friendships that sprout up simply by walking to and from the venues, hanging out in the Roosevelt Hotel lobby, and standing in lines with like-minded, passionate movie fans. There is simply never nothing to talk about. If there was anything problematic today, it was the hot, hot weather, but TCM came to the rescue by handing out bottles of cold water to grateful fans standing outside in the long lines for Sophia Loren and other events.

Is there a living, breathing force of nature other than Norman Lloyd who can, in 2015, connect us to the golden days of Hollywood with as much eloquence, memory, clarity, and humor? Lloyd is a legend and one of the finest raconteurs around. At age 100, he simply shows no signs whatsoever of slowing down. He held TCM festivalgoers in the palm of his hand for 90 minutes as he engaged in conversation with Ben Mankiewicz at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre, a conversation that will eventually air on TCM. “You acted in something for television in 1939 — before anyone even owned a TV!” exclaimed Mankiewicz. “And now you’ve just been directed by Judd Apatow.” Lloyd took it all in stride, proclaiming that “to be known as a professional in this business is the greatest compliment.” He spoke of his earliest days in Hollywood, his work for Orson Welles and John Houseman at the Mercury Theater, his subsequent associations with Alfred Hitchcock (SABOTEUR, 1942), Jean Renoir (THE SOUTHERNER, 1945), Lewis Milestone (A WALK IN THE SUN, 1945) and Charlie Chaplin (LIMELIGHT, 1952), his “greylisting” for four years in the 1950s (he was not formally, literally blacklisted, but the effect was the same) and his work on television’s ST. ELSEWHERE, which he said he considers as important and meaningful as any other single accomplishment of his career. Along the way, he mixed in some priceless memories, among them: Chaplin’s butler, Watson, was an insufferable snob with wooden teeth who looked down on Charlie… Buster Keaton performed selflessly and without ego for Chaplin on LIMELIGHT… a 15-year-old Judy Holliday worked as the switchboard operator at the Mercury Theater in the 1930s… and Lewis Milestone and his wife’s parties were the absolute pinnacle of 1940s Hollywood social life. Lloyd, an avid baseball fan, even threw in a memory from the 1926 World Series in which Babe Ruth ripped his pants sliding into second base and stood regally on the field as a man came out to sew the rip closed. Lloyd’s gift as a speaker is to make all these moments come alive so vividly that one does not just see them but can practically hear and smell them. He was especially eloquent when talking about his long marriage and his virtual blacklisting, including his falling-out with Elia Kazan and subsequent rescue by Alfred Hitchcock and Joan Harrison, who hired him to help produce their ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. This is an interview you will want to see when it shows on TCM.

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One of the special guests at this year’s festival is Sophia Loren. She is a true movie star, and like hundreds of other festivalgoers, I was eagerly anticipating her interview in the Montalban Theatre. Filling in for Robert Osborne as host and interviewer was Loren’s son, filmmaker Edoardo Ponti. Their very deep love and respect for each other emanated throughout their entire talk, lending an intimacy that made for an extraordinary couple of hours indeed. Like the Norman Lloyd conversation, this will be a must-see when it airs on TCM in the future. Loren spoke at great length of her childhood before moving on to her earliest encounters with movies (BLOOD AND SAND [1941] made a particular impression) and her associations with Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio De Sica, and Cary Grant, and her marriage to Carlo Ponti. Every so often, mother and son would break into a banter as if the rest of us weren’t even in the room, usually accompanied by a big, loving smile from Loren. At one point, Ponti asked which of her famous leading men she had NOT been crazy about, and she paused and said, “Why would you ask me that question? I’m going to have to have a talk with you at home tonight!” to great laughter. At other points, Ponti would translate words, phrases, or entire questions into Italian for his mother, which came off as a sweet touch. Her lifelong shyness also came up as a topic, and she admitted that she felt incredibly shy even today when stepping out onto the stage — but now, in the time since the interview had started, she said to all of us, “I consider you a member of my family.” All this endeared her to the audience even more. Asked by her son the secret to career longevity, she replied, “stubbornness” as well as the need to maintain a constant eagerness to “explore life, learn more and give more.” Mother and son also spoke passionately about their recent short film HUMAN VOICE (2014), which he directed and she starred in. It’s based on a famous Jean Cocteau play and was previously adapted to the screen in 1948 with Anna Magnani in the role now played by Loren. Magnani’s performance, Loren said, was pivotal to her decision to become an actress, and to be directed by her son in the role proved to among “the most beautiful weeks and months of my life.” Robert Osborne has certainly been missed during this festival, but in this event at least, the last-minute replacement with Loren’s son certainly wound up making for a uniquely intimate and moving event.

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The theme of this year’s festival is “History According to Hollywood,” and MARIE CURIE (1943) certainly falls into that sphere. On the one hand, it’s a stirring story of Marie Curie’s path to discovering radium. But on the other — and really, this is where the heart of the movie lies — it’s a beautifully romantic love story and star vehicle for Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. He plays Marie’s husband Pierre Curie, himself a scientist who wholeheartedly supported his wife’s professional pursuits in an era in which most women had a tough time being taken as seriously as men in such fields. As directed by Mervyn LeRoy, MADAME CURIE is given a full MGM A-level production, with glamorous rim-lit closeups of the stunning Garson filling the screen in the way we simply never see anymore. She and Pidgeon had starred together in two pictures prior to this, and they were already one of the great screen couples. Audiences in 1943 certainly went to this movie expecting to see, firstly, a Garson-Pidgeon romance, and, secondly, something about Marie Curie and radium. That is the balance the advertising promised, and that’s what the movie delivered, and it holds up as an eminently entertaining, satisfying picture. And that’s not to say the movie gives science short shrift. It still depicts the major steps and experiments of Marie’s work, but it usually does so in the context of her relationship and marriage to Pierre. Even the moment where radium is finally discovered plays as much as a love scene as a scene about science.

The part of Marie Curie was a hotly desired one around Hollywood. In her introduction, film historian Cari Beauchamp said that Luise Rainer left MGM in part because she didn’t get this role. Beauchamp then brought to the stage special guest Darleane Hoffman, an 89-year old nuclear chemist who was so inspired by Curie’s accomplishments, and her ability to “have it all” with marriage and children, that Hoffman, too, built a remarkable career as a scientist while maintaining a 64-year marriage and having children as well. It was a lovely idea for TCM to bring on a professional whose life story is a direct result of the real Marie Curie’s fortitude. Hoffman quoted Curie several times, but this quote especially would inspire anyone, in any pursuit, in any era: “Nothing in life is to feared. It is only to be understood.”

Jeremy Arnold is a film historian and longtime writer for tcm.com. Twitter: @jt_arn

Greetings from the 2015 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

TCMff

I remember back when the first TCM Classic Film Festival came down in 2010 some of us were whispering behind our fans and wondering amongst ourselves if there would ever be another one… and here we are five years later in the breach of No. 6. It’s been little more than a full day (of movies) since things got underway yesterday afternoon with some fun events at Club TCM in the Roosevelt Hotel. Where to begin? At “Meet TCM,” several of the key behind-the-scenes players were on hand to field questions from the channel’s biggest fans and greatest critics. Among the hot topics were the absence this year of TCM quarterback Robert Osborne, who is (wisely) taking some much-needed time off, and the familiar concern about presenting festival-worthy films in digital rather than 35mm. The questions were thoughtful, often probing, and the answers candid and insightful. The panelists — TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, TCM general manager Jennifer Dorian, Vice President of Brand Activations and Partnerships/festival manager  Genevieve McGillicuddy, VP of Studio Production Sean Cameron, Senior Vice President of Programming Charles Tabesh, VP of Talent for TCM, TBS, and TNT Darcy Hettrich, VP of Digital Activation Richard Steiner, and VP of On Air/Creative Director Pola Changnon — were upfront with the reasoning behind certain executive decisions (happily, there is an uptake this year in the sovereignty of film over digital) and never less than passionate about the work they do for TCM and its legion of fans. My favorite quote of the event came from GM Jennifer Dorian, who said about the classics “These movies are the DNA of movies to come.” I wish more people felt that way, but certainly the feelings are mutual here at the TCMFF. [...MORE]

After the Big One: The Better Movie?

I was looking through TCM’s schedule, as I often do, and noticed that Broadcast News was airing on Monday.  I won’t be posting here on Monday and since I wrote the article for it I felt like I had a few things to say about it and so I may as well take the opportunity to say them now.  Then I thought about what I was going to say about it, about how it was James L. Brooks’ first movie after his huge breakthrough with Terms of Endearment, and I started thinking about the movies after the big ones and how, often times, I think they’re better.  Not always, of course.  Sometimes a writer or director or actor responds to sweeping success by trying too hard the second time around and coming up short.  It’s understandable, given the pressure.  But other times a work after a big success can have a sense of ease to it, a sense of confidence that comes from the prior success.  When that happens, for whatever reason, the same success never follows.

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Hammer Noir: A Poster Gallery

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This evening (5 PM PST and 8 PM EST) an interesting batch of British noirs produced by Hammer Films will be making their debut on Turner Classic Movies. The four films scheduled to air include HEAT WAVE aka The House Across the Lake (dir. Ken Hughes, 1954) featuring Hillary Brooke as a seductive blonde who convinces an American writer (Alex Nicol) to help her murder her wealthy husband. This is followed by PAID TO KILL aka Five Days (dir. Montgomery Tully, 1954) where Dane Clark plays a suicidal man with money problems who has second thoughts after he hires a hit man to kill him and the aptly titled GAMBLER AND THE LADY (dir Patrick Jenkins, 1952), which also features Dane Clark as a successful gambler who attempts to “buy his way into British society.” The programming comes to a fun finish with WINGS OF DANGER aka Dead on Course (dir. Terence Fisher, 1952) starring Zachary Scott in one of his more sympathetic roles as a former pilot plagued by unpredictable blackouts who learns that a friend and fellow flyer may be involved with smugglers.

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This week on TCM Underground: Bone (1972)

Bone One sheet

Beverly Hills homeowners have their personal space invaded by a stranger who is most definitely not an exterminator… but whose presence draws out an entirely different kind of rat.

BONE (aka HOUSEWIFE1972)

Cast: Yaphet Kotto (Bone), Andrew Duggan (Bill Lennick), Joyce Van Patten (Bernadette Lennick), Jeannie Berlin (The Girl), Casey King (The Boy), Brett Somers (X-Ray Lady), Dick Yarmy (Bank Teller), James Lee (Woody). Producer/Writer/Director: Larry Cohen. Co-producer: Janelle Webb. Music: Gil Melle. Cinematography: George Folsey, Jr. Special Effects/Make-up: Rick Baker.

Color – 96 min.

Showtime: Saturday March 28th, 11:00pm PST/2:00am EST [...MORE]

Uninvited Guest: Stranger at my Door (1956)

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“For me salvation is a clean pistol and a good horse.” – Clay Anderson (Skip Homeier) in Stranger at my Door

William Witney directed over ninety serials and feature films in his career, and he considered  Stranger at my Door (1956) to be his favorite. One of the great unsung action directors of the American cinema, Witney virtually invented the job of stunt choreographer. In the mid-1930s he was inspired by watching Busby Berkeley rehearse one high leg kick until “you could have shot a bullet down the line and not hit anyone.” From then on he worked out each shot of a fight sequence with his stuntmen, making sure each movement would match the next, creating an unbroken ribbon of action. He was able to hone his craft for decades at Republic Pictures, starting on adventure serials with friend and co-director John English (Daredevils of the Red Circle (1939) is the prime cut from this period), and transitioning to Roy Rogers Westerns after serving five years in a Marine Corps combat camera crew during WWII.

Stranger at my Door was a fifteen-day Western quickie produced at the end of his 20-year run at Republic, as the studio would cease active production in 1958. Made outside of the bankable series Witney usually worked in, it is a psychologically intense feature about preacher Hollis Jarret (MacDonald Carey), who believes he can save the soul of wanted bank robber Clay Anderson (Skip Homeier), putting his wife Peg (Patricia Medina) and son Dodie (Stephen Wootton) in mortal danger in the process. The self-sacrifice inherent in proper Christian practice is pushed to uncomfortable extremes as Hollis privileges Clay’s soul over the lives of his family. The fulcrum of the story is a terrifying sequence in which Rex the Wonder Horse goes feral, trying to stamp out the eyes of the preacher’s cute kid. Witney and horse trainer Glenn H. Randall Sr. worked with Rex every morning of that fifteen day shoot until they captured the authentic animal fury they were seeking. No director exhibited bodies in peril with more visceral impact than Witney, and Stranger at my Door pairs that talent with the finest script he was ever assigned (by Barry Shipman), which ponders what happens when a man of the cloth puts God before his family. Stranger at my Door comes out on DVD and Blu-ray next week from Olive Films, which will hopefully introduce Witney’s work to a wider audience.

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Remembering Albert Maysles

Albertopener

Tonight TCM celebrates the career of filmmaker Albert Maysles by showing four of the documentaries he made with his brother David: Grey Gardens, Salesman, Gimme Shelter, and Meet Marlon Brando. Albert died on March 5, leaving only D.A. Pennebaker and Frederick Wiseman as the last of the cinema verite giants.

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70mm Returns to Portland

Marquee before showtime

I had hoped to attend the TCM Classic Film Festival this year because it’s one of the last festivals still screening 35mm prints, and I really love watching movies at 24-frames-a-second. But the stars were not in alignment for that to happen, so I instead treated myself to a trip to Portland for what was to be my third pilgrimage to see 2001: A Space Odyssey on 70mm film. (My second pilgrimage was flying to Seattle to see it there on 70mm at the Cinerama, some 15 years ago or so, the first time I saw it on 70mm they still had such facilities at home in Boulder, Colorado.) What follows is a transcript of Dan Halsted’s introduction to the screening last night – which was absolutely fantastic on all levels (quality of print, sound, and presentation). [...MORE]

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