Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on September 20, 2009
What do André de Toth, Michael Curtiz, and Leo McCarey have in common? These three directors were represented at the last Telluride Film Festival thanks to Alexander Payne, a Guest Director who introduced films from these cinematic stalwarts as part of his presentation on Forgotten Hollywood. Payne got his start with Citizen Ruth (1996), and then gave Matthew Broderick a memorable role in Election (1999), he cast Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt (2002), and followed this with an Oscar win for Sideways (2004). Payne’s selection of films for TFF was, as he was the first to admit, a selfish one: these were all rare films that he, personally, wanted to see on the big screen. In his introduction to Curtiz’ The Breaking Point he mentioned how TCM was to blame, because one day he woke up, turned on TCM, and only managed to see the last third of the film, which blew him away. But he’s always wanted to see the rest of it, and it’s not on DVD. Toth’s Day of the Outlaw? That 35mm print had to be secured by the TFF staff from Martin Scorsese’s personal archive. McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow? Well… if you have a PAL player and don’t mind buying the DVD from France, you’re in luck. But if you were in Telluride last Labor Day weekend, you had a chance to see rare 35mm print screenings of all three films that were sure to put you in the clouds.
The Breaking Point
Of over 20 films screened at TFF 2009, this was one of my absolute favorites. The dialogue between John Garfield and Patricia Neal sizzled from word one and onward. The script was written by Ranald MacDougall based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel of To Have And Have Not. Garfield deserves special kudos for helping to develop the African-American role (and later paying the price by being blacklisted for “being too liberal” – a stress that aggravated a pre-existing heart condition and led to an early death at the age of 39). Garfield plays the role of a husband and father of two girls who is trying as hard as he can to scrape a living off a fishing boat, but he keeps finding himself with bad cargo. It ultimately involves a lot of guns, blood, and death.
Here’s what Payne writes in the TFF program:
Day of the Outlaw
In the interest of full disclosure, I am sad to report that I missed this screening as it was concurrent to the Red Riding Trilogy (which I covered two weeks ago). But this is what my friend Kris Kerr (who did see it) had to say:
And here’s what Payne writes about the film in the progam notes:
This one recently did come out on DVD and can be readily obtained at a good price.
Make Way for Tomorrow
It was made over 70 years ago, but this film has a lot in common with these troubled times where a record number of people saw their retirement savings evaporate or, even worse, found themselves unable to make their mortgage payments. Based on the novel The Years Are So Long, by Josephine Lawrence, and scripted by Viña Delmar, this story is about an elderly couple, Barkley ‘Pa’ Cooper (Victor Moore) and his wife Lucy ‘Ma’ Cooper (Beulah Bondi), who run into hard times. They convene their three adult children and break the bad news: they’re losing their house and have nowhere to go.
Make Way for Tomorrow is that rare film that focuses on the problems that come with old age and dares to look at how we marginalize our elders or try to nudge them into retirement homes, but it does all this without being preachy or stodgy in the process. It’s a humanist drama laced with humor and heart – a mature work, but playful, endearing, and timeless.
Here’s what Payne wrote for this film:
I should mention that Payne also programmed three other international films as the Guest Director: El Verdugo, Daisan No Kagemusha: The Third Shadow Warrior, and Le Gagazze di Piazzi Di Spagna. I tried to see them all but can only vouch for El Verdugo – a great black comedy from Spain, shot in beautiful black-and-white, about a reluctant executioner.
Payne clearly enjoyed his role as Guest Director, and even mentioned how he felt he was getting more compliments on the streets of Telluride for the films he programmed than for the films he directed. Count me in as a fan for both.
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