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My recap of a stupendous TCM Classic Film Festival

Over dinner with my friend Michael in Los Feliz tonight, I was going on and on about the TCM Classic Film Festival.

It ended its four-day run in Hollywood on Sunday and, apparently, I’m not ready to let it go!

In all, I saw 10 films including Chinatown, Singin’ in the Rain, Marathon Man, Vertigo, Rosemary’s Baby, The Thomas Crown Affair, and Rio Bravo. The final one was Annie Hall and as I was walking out of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and over to the after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel last night, I mentioned to a guy that I was exhausted after so many movies.

Not him. He had traveled from the East Coast and seen EIGHTEEN movies.

OMG.

Anyway, I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend and to be around such devoted film buffs.

We were treated to such film stars, directors, screenwriters and producers as Liza Minnelli, Kim Novak, Debbie Reynolds, Kirk Douglas, Angie Dickinson, Robert Wagner, Norman Jewison, Robert Evans, Robert Towne, Stanley Donen, and John Landis.

Two of my favorite movies were two I had not been familiar with: Sullivan’s Travels starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake and Counselor at Law starring John Barrymore.

I took notes at screenings so I could share some of what was said.

Let’s start with Angie Dickinson who, at 81, is still looking very glamorous and lovely. How wonderful it was to have her on hand to talk about Rio Bravo, a film she starred in with John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson back in 1959.

Of John Wayne she said: “He had that size – you were just bowled over. He never tried to be bigger than he was. He was a very tender man. In Rio Bravo, he’s cute. It was his cute movie.”

The two got along well throughout the shoot – probably because they never talked politics.

“I knew John Wayne was Right and I just decided never to get into it. It was clear that I was a Democrat and a woman and I’ll leave it at that.”

While Dickinson is best known for her hit television series Police Woman, appeared in many films including the original Ocean’s Eleven and Dressed to Kill.

But Rio Bravo is clearly her favorite: “It really is the best vision of me and I’d like to think that’s how people will think of me in the future.”

Festival-goers got to see a lot of producer Robert Evans who was there to talk about five of his most successful films all of which were screened: Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Marathon Man, Love Story and Black Sunday.

Evans talked about working with Roman Polanski on Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown: “This man became a very close friend of mine and I think, quite possibly, the best director I’ve ever worked with.”

He had plenty of juicy stories including how Rosemary’s Baby star Mia Farrow was served with divorce papers on the set by then-husband Frank Sinatra because he wanted her to leave the picture to star with him in The Detective.

“They broke up over it,” Evans recalled. “Sinatra wasn’t very happy but it made Mia a star.”

The movies ended up opening on the same weekend with Rosemary’s Baby, made on a budget of just $2.3 million, going on to gross $33 million at the domestic box office – a huge number for 1968.

Evans also talked about how difficult it was to get insurance for Laurence Olivier who he wanted to star opposite Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man: “He was broke … he didn’t have the money to send his son to college.”

Finally getting Lloyds of London to insure Oliver, the great actor went on to earn a best actor Academy Award nomination for his performance.

“He got his dignity back,” Evans said of Oliver. “He couldn’t breathe if he wasn’t an actor.”

Norman Jewison, whose films Moonstruck and The Thomas Crown Affair were screened, talked about working with Steve McQueen in the latter film: “Steve was so far away from this character. … It was fascinating because no one had seen him dressed up… He just looked wonderful and he liked it.”

Since McQueen and Jewison were close in age, the director would not be the father figure that the actor seemed to be looking for: “When he worked with an older director, he felt more comfortable. They were like a father just telling him what to do. I told him, ‘I can’t be your father. … But I can be your older brother. … I’ll always look out for you and I’ll always be there for you.”

I have to say, one of the real highlights for me was seeing Kim Novak in person for the first time. This gorgeous star got her footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Saturday. The night before, she was on hand to talk about Vertigo, the Alfred Hitchcock thriller in which she starred opposite James Stewart.

Novak said of Hitchcock: “I liked working with him. He knew exactly what he wanted. … He knew when to let you take charge. I felt like I could just be the character.”

The film, which has since become a classic, initially was not embraced by critics or the public.

“I enjoyed working on it and I was proud of it,” Novak said. “When it was rediscovered, I felt redeemed.”

And finally, the unsinkable Debbie Reynolds.

She was an absolute delight at the screening of Singin’ in the Rain and it was clear that the audience would have been happy to just have the Q&A go on and on. Miss Reynolds is so full of good cheer, humor and wonderful stories. Why we don’t see her on Inside the Actors Studio I do not know. It would be a wonderful hour.

Of her leading man Gene Kelly she said: “He was a terrific guy. I became 18 on the movie. Donald [O'Connor] was 27 and Gene was 39. I thought he was really ancient. We had a wonderful time making [the movie]. Donald O’Connor was the most fun and brilliant.”

At 80, Reynolds is as feisty and fit as ever telling the audience that she still dances: “I just tie my tits down and go!”

Anyway, festival host Robert Osbourne shared some wonderful news with us at the final screening: the festival, which just completed its third year, will be back for a fourth.

I’ll be there!

FILE UNDER: Film Festivals

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One Remark

  1. Like Greg,
    I,too am a Kim Novak fan!
    Here couple of maybe not so well known of her films that I really like,her fans might want to revisit.
    Strangers When We Meet (1960) with Kirk Douglas and a great cast that you may not expect!
    The Notorious Landlady (1962) with fabulous Jack Lemmon and a not dancing Fred Astaire!

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