The 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival — Even More Adventures in Paradise – Part 7
Now that we’re into a new year and the countdown to the upcoming TCM Film Festival is in full force, it’s time time for another installment of my year-long look at the 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival! And this month, you get two for the price of one!
Hollywood Home Movies
For the second year in a row, I took in a special presentation at the festival by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which screened home movies featuring a wide variety of Hollywood stars.
“It’s so nice to get an intimate look at people that you’ve only seen as characters,” said Lynne Kirste, AMPAS Curator for Special Collections. The presentation also featured Randy Haberkamp, Director of Educational Programs for AMPAS, and the silent home movies were accompanied on piano by Michael Mortilla.
Here are some of the many highlights of this fascinating presentation:
- Footage of the Wampas Baby Stars of 1931 – WAMPAS stands for the Western Association ofMmotion Picture Advertisers, and each year from 1922 through 1934, WAMPAS held a promotional campaign that honored young actresses that they believed to be future screen stars. The stars of 1931 included Frances Dee, Joan Blondell, Anita Louise, Karen Morley, Marian Marsh, and Constance Cummings; the footage of the 1931 group was shot at Paramount Studios.
- On-location filming in Arizona for the 1931 version of The Squaw Man, showing Warner Baxter, Lupe Velez, Dickie Moore, and director Cecil B. DeMille, clad in jodhpurs and boots. The footage also showed the microphone for the shoot, which looked like a giant disco ball.
- Footage from the set of The More the Merrier, featuring director George Stevens and stars Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn (who was caught, shall we say, REALLY enjoying the rehearsal of a group of dancing girls). The movie also showed actor Grady Sutton, who worked in a total of 17 George Stevens films.
- At the Beverly Hills Tennis Club in 1935, showing a veritable Who’s Who of Hollywood notables, including Gene Raymond, Janet Gaynor, Frank Capra, Frank Morgan, David O. Selznick and his wife, Irene, Basil Rathbone and Constance Bennett. There were also shots at the club’s pool, showing John Garfield, Billy Wilder, and Errol Flynn.The footage was shot by actor Gilbert Roland, who was considered to be the best tennis player in Hollywood and who, in 1941, would become Constance Bennett’s fourth husband. (The clip below contains several of the movies shown at the film fest.)
- Color footage of Ginger Rogers at her home in Coldwater Canyon, which she designed and built after her divorce from Lew Ayres. The home movies showed Rogers with her natural auburn-colored hair – it was rare to see her in color, Kirste said, because she made few color feature films. The movie showed Rogers swimming (she swam every day, Kirste revealed), as well as playing with her dog and playing tennis. The tennis footage drew a loud laugh from the audience – Rogers’s opponent was a man smoking a pipe while playing!
- On location at the Hoboken, New Jersey, set of On the Waterfront, shot by an extra in the film. The footage showed stars Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb, as well as director Elia Kazan; Kirste told the audience that there were also several bodyguards on set because “they weren’t sure how the longshoremen would perceive their portrayal” in the film.
- A 1957 visit to Disneyland showed a rare shot of Walt Disney smoking a cigarette – he usually did not allow himself to be photographed smoking.
- On location at Scrim Lake, New York, on the set of Marjorie Morningstar, on which a number of townspeople served as extras. The footage included a shirtless Gene Kelly and Martin Milner playing ping pong. (Yowza!) At the time of the shoot, we were told, the film’s star, Natalie Wood was being wooed by her soon-to-be-husband Robert Wagner. We could see several lacy, white spots on the movie – we learned that this was mold on the film, which served as a warning not to store film when damp.
The grand finale of the presentation featured an appearance by Tony Nicholas, son of Fayard Nicholas who, along with his brother Harold, formed the famed dancing group The Nicholas Brothers. Tony provided interesting details about numerous home movies featuring his father and uncle. “They never had a dance lesson in their lives. They taught themselves how to dance,” Tony said. “It was a joy for them to perform because they loved each other and loved to perform.” The footage included the following:
- Performance at the Cotton Club with Ethel Waters and Duke Ellington.
- Footage with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Tony’s godfather.
- In Rio DeJaneiro with their mother. The brothers made their first film with Carmen Miranda, who became a good friend, and was present at Harold’s wedding in 1942 to Dorothy Dandridge.
- Shots of the boys’ sister, Dorothy who, at age 95, lives in Hollywood.
- Footage of Tony as a child, dancing with Harold. (“I’m so glad they had that footage of me doing the splits on film,” Tony joked, “because I can’t do that anymore.”)
The second part of this month’s post focuses on the screening of Double Harness, a 1933 pre-Code gem that I discuss in detail here, as it was one of my monthly Pre-Code Crazy pics last year. The story surrounding this film was a bit interesting (at least, it’s interesting to me!) – I missed the film’s first showing on Friday, as I opted instead to grab a spot in line to see Francis Ford Coppola and The Conversation. I heard through the TCM grapevine, though, that it was a wildly popular screening, so much so that many disappointed attendees were turned away. This popularity led to the film being screened a second time, on the last day of the festival, and this time, I was determined to see it.
Shortly before the movie was to begin, I was delighted to learn that actor James Cromwell, son of the film’s director John Cromwell, would once again be addressing the audience. In my previous TCM film fest experiences, special guests who’d appeared in an initial screening were not always – if ever – at the encore showings, so Cromwell’s presence was the cherry on top of my Double Harness sundae!
“My father would be so pleased that you all showed up to a second screening for his film,” Cromwell said.
The actor – who has appeared in such films as Babe and L.A. Confidential, and television shows including Six Feet Under, 24, and Boardwalk Empire – shared with the packed theater his admiration for his father’s directorial prowess, citing a scene early in Double Harness.
“When I saw [the movie] the second time, I noticed that he blocked the first scene in the kitchen really well,” Cromwell said. “It’s really hard to know how to move a lot of people in a scene and make it flow.”
Cromwell revealed that, in a move that Alfred Hitchcock would later make famous, his father made a cameo appearance in the film – you can spot him for a few seconds standing outside a movie theater. He also commented also focused on the fascinating pre-Code aspects of the film.
“The casting of the man who designs the wedding dresses as gay, the risqueness of the dialogue, the subtlety of [Ann Harding’s] mechanism to trap [William Powell], what she has on when her father arrives – and of course, the main theme of the picture, that she sees marriage as a business opportunity,” Cromwell said. “Of course, this could not have happened later.”
Double Harness was one of four films directed by John Cromwell in 1933 – the others were Ann Vickers and The Silver Cord, both starring Irene Dunne, and Sweepings, a little-seen Lionel Barrymore feature.
Stay tuned for more from the 2016 TCM Film Festival . . .