The 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Even More Adventures in Paradise – Part 5
What time is it? Time for another installment of the 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Even More Adventures in Paradise! And today’s installment covers one of my most memorable experiences – an interview with Angela Lansbury, followed by her Oscar-nominated performance in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), which tells the story of a brainwashed ex-soldier whose mother involves him in a diabolical plot to assassinate the candidate for president of the United States.
First of all, a little background, in case you’ve never been to the TCM film festival. To see a movie, you have to line up in front of the theater where the film is showing, and at a certain point, a film festival worker will give the patrons a number, starting with number 1 with the first person in line and continuing chronologically. (You can then leave the line if you like, but you have to return about 30 minutes before the movie starts and get back in your numbered place in line.)
Well, I was determined that I was going to have a prime seat to see Miss Lansbury, and as it happened, I had a block of free time several hours before the film was to begin at Grauman’s (I refuse to call it anything else) Chinese Theater. After a few minutes of wandering aimlessly amongst the hand and footprints in the forecourt, I decided to stand next to the sign in front of the theater which still showed the name of the movie that had recently started inside – It’s a Wonderful Life. Eventually, I was joined by another patron, and the line continued from there. All told, I stood there for more than three hours – but doggone it, I wound up with the number one ticket! It was the first time in the four years that I’ve been going to the festival! that I’d ever had the number one! I tell you, I felt like a celebrity. And although I was quite cold (Danny from Pre-Code.Com even offered to get me a blanket), I saw several old friends while standing there, and made some new ones, too! (Incidentally, I got my prime seat — third row, center!)
Angela Lansbury looked absolutely fantastic. She entered the theater with no assistance, with a spry and springy step that totally belied her 90 years, and was interviewed by the always-fabulous Alec Baldwin. Lansbury told the packed audience that she was “blown away” by the novel by Richard Condon upon which the film was based, and that her role as the brainwashed man’s monstrous mother was “like nothing I had ever read. [The film] was very, very original and extraordinary. There’s never been anything before or since like it.” Interestingly, Lansbury was only 36 years old when she made the movie, only a few years older than Laurence Harvey, who portrayed her son.
The Manchurian Candidate was produced by Artanis, the company owned by Frank Sinatra, who also starred in the film. Lansbury said that the actor originally wanted Lucille Ball to play the part of the mother, but that director John Frankenheimer “put his foot down.” And what a great choice he made: “It’s a lot of fun to play a well-written villain,” Lansbury admitted. Lansbury had high praise for the performances of Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey, opining that Sinatra gave “one of the best performances of his career,” and that although Harvey “took it like a joke,” he was “awfully good” in the part of the tortured, brainwashed former solider.
The actress called The Manchurian Candidate “the last great movie I appeared in. After that, I said ‘enough already,’ and I shot off to Broadway.” On stage, Lansbury appeared in a variety of outstanding productions, including as Mame, Sweeney Todd, Gypsy, and The King and I. During her lengthy career on the stage and the big screen, she has earned two Oscar nominations, five Tony Awards, six Golden Globes, and an Olivier Award. And in 2013, Lansbury received an honorary Academy Award; it was presented to her by TCM’s very own Robert Osborne, whom the actress selected personally. “There is no question in my mind that he was the right person,” Lansbury said, briefly overcome with emotion, “and I’m so glad he did.”
Lansbury, who is reportedly returning to Broadway for the 2017-2018 season in the revival of The Chalk Garden, said that she never plans to retire.
“I always say you’ve got to keep moving,” she said. “I love the idea that you, the audience, are there, and we’re in this together.”
If you’ve never seen The Manchurian Candidate, do yourself a huge favor and check it out. The first-rate cast also includes Janet Leigh, James Edwards, Henry Silva, James Gregory, and John McGiver. My viewing at TCM was actually the second time I’ve seen it on the big screen. The first time I saw it, I was in my late 20s, and I think I was just too young to appreciate it – I have to admit that it was totally over my head, and I wasn’t really sure what was going on. But I’ve seen it numerous times since, and I’ve found it to be absolutely riveting every time. It’s a breathtaking, frightening, brilliant piece of filmmaking.
And Angela Lansbury is simply superb.
Stay tuned for more from the 2016 TCM Film Festival . . .