2014 TCM Classic Film Festival Overview

The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival took place over four glorious days in April, and I think everyone who attended would have been happy if the festival went on much, much longer -- if only things like eating, sleeping, and earning a living weren't necessary!

Last year's festival was wonderful, and if anything the 2014 edition was even better! To say that this year's festival was a memorably happy experience is an understatement. It was pure joy from start to finish.

This year even more classic film bloggers and Twitter users were in attendance, and between reconnecting with friends met last year and meeting certain people in person for the very first time, the festival took on the feel of a big reunion.

There are friendly, familiar faces around every corner -- in line, in the theaters, even in Starbucks! I feel that spending time enjoying wonderful movies with friends is just one of the best parts of the festival.

TCM puts on a very classy operation; as the New York Post's Lou Lumenick tweeted, 'Some other film festivals I've been to could learn a lot about how to treat audiences from TCMFF.'

I also appreciate that TCM acknowledges the role bloggers and Twitter users play in covering and supporting the network and the festival, including providing many of us with credentials allowing us to cover the event in its entirety.

This year TCM invited a number of bloggers and Tweeters to a small 'Tweet-up' party the evening before the start of the festival, with both Ben Mankiewicz and Illeana Douglas stopping by to visit with us.

The first official day of the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival began bright and early Thursday, April 10th with a press conference at the Chinese Multiplex on Hollywood Boulevard.

Robert Osborne was the first to speak, explaining that TCM would have loved to have Olivia de Havilland attend in honor of Gone With the Wind‘s anniversary, but she finds adjusting to the time changes when traveling to and from California from Paris too arduous at this stage of her life. He said the last time she visited her daughter in Southern California it took her a year to recover.

Osborne also said that he had traveled to Paris at one point to film a Private Screenings interview with Miss de Havilland, but when the TCM team arrived she was in the hospital, and a later attempt to connect in New York was also thwarted due to illness.

Osborne shared interesting information that over 60% of TCM viewers are in the 18-49 age range; additionally, roughly half of festival attendees are under the age of 30. This year TCM drew more attendees in their 20s and 30s than ever before, all lured by their love for classic films. Osborne said when he took the job he thought TCM would be a 'nostalgia channel,' but instead its developed a very robust audience of younger people who love them.

He also listed his favorite films for us: The Razor's Edge (1946), Sunset Blvd. (1950), A Place In The Sun (1951), and This Is Spinal Tap (1984).

Ben Mankiewicz joined us next. He spoke of his gratitude for his job at TCM and of the bond that the network has with its audience. He reminisced about spending one-on-one time with Mickey Rooney on the TCM Classic Cruise and shared the names of people which he'd felt starstruck to interview, Peter Bogdanovich and Max von Sydow. He also mentioned the work that goes into preparing for the many introductions and interviews which take place in a short time frame at the festival.

Last up were TCM's programming director, Charlie Tabesh, and festival director Genevieve McGillicuddy. Among the topics they covered were TCM being a community beyond the channel itself, including their presence on social media and at the festival, and they mentioned paying attention to opinions about the channel shared via social media.

Tabesh also said it's a thrill for him when someone at the festival enjoys a film they've never seen before or perhaps never even heard of.

I spent opening night enjoying old favorites Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) and Bachelor Mother (1939), and then it was time to sleep before a five-film day on Friday, starting with Stagecoach (1939).

Somehow I hadn't seen Stagecoach since watching it on commercial television as a child, despite loving John Wayne and John Ford. To say I loved it would be an understatement. The movie absolutely blew me away; from the star-making performance of Wayne to Yakima Canutt's stunt work (applauded by the audience) to the rest of the great cast; as I wrote before the festival, 'It's even got Tim Holt!'

From Stagecoach it was on to the first of back-to-back films at the Chinese Theatre starting with Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958). The digital print was beautiful and I was glad to finally see it, though it was probably the movie I enjoyed the least of my 14 festival films. As I watched the movie the phrase 'carnival of weirdoes' popped into my head, and I think it's an apt description.

Charlton Heston's son Fraser presented a graceful introduction beforehand and mentioned TCM founder Ted Turner had given him his first directing job. He described Touch of Evil as a 'disturbingly dark film noir' and said his father referred to it as the 'best B movie ever made.'

Then it was back into the Chinese line for Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), one of my three most favorite films of all time, introduced by Margaret O'Brien. The digital projection of this movie was disappointingly fuzzy on the Chinese screen, but at the same time I enjoyed watching it projected in such a large size, enabling me to pay close attention to all the details in the corners of the picture. I consider Meet Me In St. Louis a perfect film and it never gets old.

The high point of the festival might have been that evening's screening of Harold Lloyd in Why Worry? (1923) in 35mm at the Egyptian Theatre.

Leonard Maltin and Harold Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne introduced the film, which was accompanied by Carl Davis conducting a live orchestra debuting his new score.

Some of the film's comedy was mind-blowingly funny -- Harold climbing up the giant made me laugh till I cried -- and the lively score was a delight. The audience stood and cheered the orchestra at the end.

After Why Worry? I dashed down Hollywood Boulevard to make it to the screening of Employees' Entrance (1933) getting there just in time! Employees' Entrance was preceded by a special lecture on 'Pre-Code 101' by Bruce Goldstein of New York's Film Forum, and it was terrific. He used well-chosen clips to present a brief overview defining pre-Codes and the greatest stars of the era.  It provided wonderful context for the movie.

Saturday morning started with The Jungle Book (1967) at Disney's El Capitan Theatre. Ben Mankiewicz joined us to introduce the film, which was shown in a digital format. He shared that he had just seen the picture for the first time a few days prior as part of his preparation. He said he wasn't sure if his reaction was because he's a parent, but that it moved him to tears, and he also described the movie as '78 minutes of joy.' And that it was.

Still a bit teary from the happy glow of The Jungle Book, I went back across the street to the Chinese Multiplex for another great experience, seeing a restored digital print of Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). I saw the film on a big screen years ago, but not as long ago as The Jungle Book! You simply can't go wrong with Jean Arthur paired with Gary Cooper.

After Mr. Deeds I raced back across the street to join the huge line at the El Capitan, where Maureen O'Hara was introducing How Green Was My Valley (1941)!

Robert Osborne came out to introduce Maureen, and they had a short but spirited chat. Miss O'Hara is a bit frail now but she remains as fiery as ever. When Mr. Osborne asked her a question about working with John Ford, she quipped 'I thought we were here to talk about me!'

In all seriousness, though, it meant a great deal being a part of the crowd expressing our love and admiration for the truly legendary actress, and she appeared deeply moved by the prolonged standing ovation. I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to be there. O'Hara told the adoring crowd 'Don't be fooled into thinking I do magic things.' I think the audience would disagree.

I'd seen How Green Was My Valley recently so ducked out after seeing Miss O'Hara in order to get to Written on the Wind (1956). I anticipated this Douglas Sirk film would be a visual feast on a big screen, but in all honesty the 35mm print was probably the most disappointing of the festival. It didn't have any skips or major flaws, but the level of dark graininess was not what I would have expected. Despite the fact that the movie wasn't as visually dazzling as it otherwise might have been, I love this film in all its glorious excess, starting with its fantastic title sequence, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I ended my movie going day with one of my favorite screenings among the many great movies seen at the festival, Edgar Ulmer's little-known PRC film Her Sister's Secret (1946), starring Nancy Coleman and Margaret Lindsay. The movie was engagingly introduced by the director's well-informed daughter, Arianne Ulmer Cipes, along with Jan-Christopher Horak of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

On the last day of the festival there were many difficult options. I chose to start the day with the charming romantic comedy Sunday In New York (1963). It seemed like the perfect way to start Sunday, and indeed it was. There were quite a number of my fellow Rod Taylor fans in attendance!

Robert Osborne was there bright and early introducing the film. We had an interesting surprise in store -- the 35mm print had a card at the start indicating it was from Britain, and it turned out to have a slightly different ending than the U.S. version most of us had previously seen via Turner Classic Movies or Warner Archive. This created a buzz after the film among those of us who had seen the movie previously.

Next up was a 35mm screening of the rarely seen British comedy On Approval (1944), which had been a sellout earlier in the festival and was awarded one of the slots left open for repeat showings on Sunday. The second showing I attended was also completely full! On Approval, based on a play by Frederick Lonsdale, starred Clive Brook, Beatrice Lillie, Googie Withers, and Ronald Culver was introduced by film historian Jeffrey Vance.

There were a lot of funny lines in the film, although I confess I briefly 'zoned out' partway through -- 14 films in 72 hours, without much food or quite enough sleep, does that to you! -- and found myself a bit lost. I enjoyed the film, so I hope to watch it again via last year's Blu-ray release in order to get more out of it!

Next it was over to the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where Robert Osborne and Maureen O'Hara conducted a brief interview in the lobby surrounded by fans. O'Hara spoke of the key role Charles Laughton played in her life, working with her in Jamaica Inn (1939) and bringing her to America for The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). She very much wanted everyone to know he was a wonderful person and how grateful she was to him.

After dinner and attending an event where Robert Osborne autographed his new 'Conversations with Robert Osborne' DVD, it was immediately back across the street for my 14th and final film of the festival, The Wizard of Oz (1939). Oz was shown in IMAX 3D at the Chinese Theatre. There was a huge line which went upstairs and down several hallways, but fortunately I got in!

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the 3D experience. While I wouldn't want to see the film this way normally, I took it in a whole new way. I felt at times that I was at the very edge of the action, a sensation I've never before had watching a 3D film. It was rather remarkable. The Flying Monkeys actually made me jump in my seat at one point; the 3D action was so realistic!

While the digital print of Garland's Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) was too fuzzy on the big screen at the Chinese that wasn’t an issue with OZ. Every sequin on Glinda's gown was distinguishable. The only problem I had was being careful not to tilt my head; if I did the picture blurred and made me feel seasick. I talked to others later who had similar issues; as long as I looked at the picture with my head completely straight, it looked (and felt) great.

The festival closed out with Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz giving the network a 20th anniversary champagne toast at the Club TCM party, after which many bloggers convened poolside for final photos and goodbyes.

All in all, it was a remarkable few days, with so many opportunities available that I could have easily chosen a completely different schedule and still been thrilled with the experience. Any classic film fans that’ve considered attending but haven't yet given it a try should make every effort to be there in 2015!

Laura Grieve is a lifelong film enthusiast whose thoughts on classic films, Disney, and other topics can be found at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005.