Remembering the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival has come and gone, leaving behind countless happy memories of great films enjoyed with wonderful friends...and to top it all off, nitrate!

This year's festival was dedicated to the late Robert Osborne, with tributes to Mr. Osborne preceding Thursday evening's films. His gracious presence was remembered and strongly felt throughout the festival, as I believe it will be for years to come.

Regular TCM hosts Ben Mankiewicz, Tiffany Vazquez, Eddie Muller, and Leonard Maltin were joined by a fine group of presenters, including past network guest hosts Illeana Douglas and Dana Delany, Bruce Goldstein, Cari Beauchamp, Randy Haberkamp, Alicia Malone, and more.

TCM helped pay for the Egyptian's new nitrate projection booth, which debuted last November with Casablanca (1942), and the prints were the talk of the festival. I saw two nitrate films at the festival, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Laura (1944); the other prints screened were Black Narcissus (1947) and Lady in the Dark (1944).

I saw 16 films at this year's fest and a cartoon program, a new record for me.

Of the 16 films I saw six were brand-new to me and ten were repeats; I'd previously seen half of those repeat films on a big screen. That said, I hadn't seen a couple of the "repeats" for many years, so it was like seeing new films! Additionally, all but one of the cartoons were new to me.

The festival theme was "Make 'Em Laugh," and I saw a significant number of classic comedies, including two films directed by Lubitsch and Sturges; two of the comedies starred Irene Dunne, and two more starred Claudette Colbert. My festival tally also included a pair of silent films, a Western, a musical, a foreign film, and a Hitchcock thriller.

I say it every year, but it bears repeating: As much as I love the movies, the most wonderful part of the festival is connecting with friends from all over the country, as well as Canada and the UK. The evening before the festival got rolling in earnest a dozen of us met for a "family reunion" dinner, after which we joined more friends at a party honoring bloggers sponsored by TCM. Held in the Spare Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt, highlights included watching Illeana Douglas bowling!

As the weekend went on, every ticket line or walk down the street provided the chance to say hello and catch up with friends seen in person just once a year. As my friend Joel recently wrote: "Each time I go back, I realize it's more about the people and less about the films."

That said, the films are, of course, extremely important! I had a fantastic time each and every day, starting with the first evening spent at the Egyptian Theater.

My first film was a 35mm print of the William Powell-Myrna Loy comedy Love Crazy (1941), introduced by past TCM guest host Dana Delany. For me Love Crazy is a mid-range Powell-Loy film, pretty good but not a favorite; as with many comedies, seeing it with an audience amplified the funny moments and brought out the humor in Loy's reactions to the crazy goings-on.

Thursday afternoon there had been a special last-minute announcement that Martin Scorsese would be at the Egyptian to introduce the first of the four nitrate prints, Hitchcock's original 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Hearing him rhapsodize about the wonders of nitrate in person was a treat.

The most notable aspect of seeing The Man Who Knew Too Much was the deep, rich black, which was simply beautiful to behold. It was my first time seeing the film so I felt especially fortunate being introduced to it in that format.

Friday, April 7th, was the first full movie day of the festival that began with a program of cartoons by Ub Iwerks, a close collaborator of Walt Disney. There was a very nice crowd on hand for the show, especially given the early 9:00 screening time.

The program included a delightful Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon Hungry Hobos (Disney, 1928); Merry Mannequins (Color Rhapsody, 1937), a wonderful Art Deco department store romance; and Balloon Land (ComiColor, 1935), in which a village of balloons is terrorized by the Pin Cushion Man! The latter was the favorite of Iwerks' granddaughter Leslie, who was briefly interviewed after the show by animation historian Jerry Beck.

Then it was time to quickly get back in line for the next film, Born Yesterday (1950) with Judy Holliday, William Holden, and Broderick Crawford, one of my "must see" films of the festival, given that I'd never seen it. It didn't disappoint! The audience was extremely receptive; what fun to laugh along with a crowd! I loved the way Holliday's character finds fun and freedom in education, and as for William Holden, wow, was he ever dreamy.

Next I was interested in the French crime film Panique (1946), directed by Jules Duvivier, but was unsure I'd make it into line in time. As it turned out there were just a few seats left; I sat in the front row, but it was worth it! This was as close as I came to missing out on seeing a desired film this year, which made for an even better festival experience than usual.

Panique was very engrossing, and I was interested to see what was happening with movie-making in France immediately after the war. The film was a little more risque than we're used to in '40s American films. The "mob mentality" theme reminded me more than a little of Cy Endfield's Try and Get Me (1950) a few years later.

After that I realized that if I was willing to potentially give up my lone post-breakfast meal, I had just enough time to get down the street to the Egyptian and fit in seeing a 35mm print of the silent Lubitsch comedy So This is Paris (1928). Lubitsch vs. food...Lubitsch wins every time! (As it turned out, I was able to squeeze in a meal too!)

So This is Paris had live piano accompaniment by Donald Sosin and was completely delightful. I'm thrilled I had the chance to see it on a big screen. (Last year I didn't see a single silent movie at the festival, but this year I made up for it by seeing two!)

Next up, TCM host Tiffany Vazquez introduced a Carole Lombard medical melodrama I'd never seen, Vigil in the Night (1940), costarring Brian Aherne and Anne Shirley. It was an interesting film which I thoroughly enjoyed. Like many American films of the era, the actresses play British characters without much (if any) attempt at an accent, but it works fine.

I got out of Vigil in the Night with 15 minutes to spare before a nitrate screening of Laura (1944) down the street at the Egyptian. Somehow I made it through the Friday night crowds on Hollywood Boulevard and got from the Chinese multiplex to the Egyptian in eight minutes, a personal record, and got an excellent seat in the balcony.

The nitrate print dated from 1945, when it was submitted to the Academy for Oscar consideration. Nitrate prints tend to be a little rough at the beginnings and ends of reels, simply due to being screened multiple times over many decades, but this print was rougher than others I've seen, especially in the early going.

That said, there were perfect scenes midway through the movie which were absolutely stunning in their beauty. Shots of Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney almost seemed 3-D at certain points thanks to the wonders of nitrate. These moments made the effort to see the film and watch an uneven print absolutely worth it.

After an amazing 24 hours, I still had two full days of movies to go!

If I had to choose just one film as my favorite experience, I believe I'd pick Red River (1948) starring John Wayne, which I'd last seen so long ago I didn't even remember it. The music, the locations, and all the great character actor faces had a big impact. Seeing it on the huge Egyptian screen in a gorgeous 35mm print was truly an epic experience which left me profoundly moved.

Then it was time to head to the Chinese Theatre for the first of two films I'd see there, The Awful Truth (1937), starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. I've never been especially fond of this one, but like the first night's screening of Love Crazy (1940), this film plays better with a big audience laughing along.

I hadn't seen Bye Bye Birdie (1963) for years, and it's a musical I keep returning to thinking, "maybe this time it will be better," but in the end it always strikes me as half of a good movie. Most of the good stuff has to do with Ann-Margret and the dancing; she lights up the screen! Unfortunately other aspects are simply leaden.

My second Irene Dunne film of the day was Theodora Goes Wild (1936), shown in 35mm at the Egyptian. Theodora was introduced by Illeana Douglas, the granddaughter of costar Melvyn Douglas. At the pre-festival party I told her I wondered what he would have thought filming it in the '30s if he could have seen the future and known that a huge crowd would be thrilled to see it decades later -- and that it would be introduced by his granddaughter! It's a film I've found improves on further acquaintance.

Finally it was time to head to the Chinese multiplex for Preston Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours (1948), which was chosen for the festival and introduced by Eddie Muller. The 35mm print was absolutely beautiful, Linda Darnell was divine and her gowns by Bonnie Cashin and Oleg Cassini were gorgeous, and Rudy Vallee and Barbara Lawrence were fun, but this movie, which also stars Rex Harrison, doesn't work for me; it's a one-joke film which wears out its welcome early on. Still, I'm happy I saw it under such wonderful conditions.

Sunday, the final day of the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival, was bright and sunny, the better to offset everyone's sadness that it was almost over!

First thing Sunday I made one more trip to the Egyptian Theatre to see The Egg and I (1947) starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert. It was introduced by Tiffany Vazquez, who interviewed Kate MacMurray, daughter of Fred MacMurray and June Haver. Kate spoke of her parents in glowing terms, relating charming anecdotes. Kate said her father didn't think it was polite to talk about favorite leading ladies, but that enough years had passed that she thought it was all right to say his favorites were Carole Lombard and Claudette Colbert.

A nice surprise was that The Egg and I was preceded by a Merry Melodies cartoon which tied in to the movie's "chicken" theme. I'd love to see this done at the festival more frequently, although I imagine the schedules are already tight enough it might not be easy to pull off.

Next I headed to the Chinese for another Colbert film, The Palm Beach Story (1942). Before the film Cari Beauchamp interviewed costar Joel McCrea's grandson Wyatt, who did a wonderful job sharing stories about his grandfather. Something I'd never noticed before is that the part in McCrea's hair changes midway through the film; director Sturges never noticed!

The Palm Beach Story is one of my all-time favorite comedies. What a joy to see it with a big crowd laughing along! Some of Mary Astor's family were also on hand, and Astor received big applause when she first appeared.

Next I headed for the Chinese multiplex to see Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier in One Hour With You (1932), one of the films selected to be shown a second time on Sunday. I first saw this charmer as a teenager at L.A.'s Vagabond Theater, and I revisited it a few years ago via DVD. Seeing it at the festival was a great experience; we saw UCLA's 35mm print, complete with some scenes in blue and sepia tints!

The very last film of the festival was Harold Lloyd in Speedy (1928). I got in line early, as the movie was showing in a somewhat smaller venue and I didn't want to risk missing out! I was happy to spend a couple of hours waiting, knowing I'd be in the audience for this special closing night screening.

Speedy was presented by Leonard Maltin and Harold Lloyd's granddaughter Suzanne, who shared the same duties three years ago presenting the Harold Lloyd film Why Worry? (1923). The movie was accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra, a three-person ensemble which accompanies silent films at live screenings and on DVDs.

Time for a quick spin through Club TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt to say goodbye to the many friends who are, year after year, the best part of the TCM Classic Film Festival. What a joy to share so many great movies in a warm community of like-minded film fans from across the country and beyond.

I headed for home with countless happy memories, already looking forward to seeing what's ahead at the 2018 festival!

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.