By the time Thursday rolled around, I was more than ready to enjoy my first day of TCM Film Festival. Having connected with many individuals in person for the first time and making some new friends, I was prepared for movies to be added to the merriment.
Since this was my first TCM Film Festival, I thought that it would be a good idea to attend the First-Timers Meetup and catch some basic information on how the film festival functions. I was a bit nervous about how to navigate the lines as someone who was new to the festival. After attending the First-Timers Meetup, I found that the best information you can get is from other seasoned attendees–many of whom I had met the night before.
Essentially, the way the lines work is that you begin to line up for a movie about an hour ahead of time, depending on how badly you want to get into that particular movie, how popular you think that movie will be, and how important it is for you to sit exactly where you want. There is a line for VIP and Spotlight pass holders, and a separate line for everyone else. For me, I found that theater capacities were my best way to gauge when I would line up. Thankfully, this information is readily available on the film festival website. Roughly 30 minutes before the show, the folks in line will have already received their numbers. This gives you a nice window of opportunity to do anything else you need to do before they start letting people in. The staff will tell you what time you need to be back in line, so be sure that you are present when you need to be in order to avoid losing your seat.
Since the opening screenings were not starting up until the evening, I decided to do some sightseeing and checked out the TCM Boutique along the way. The Boutique was housed within Sweet!, located on the second floor of Hollywood and Highland Center. On my way to the shop, I passed by the the Chinese and the red carpet setup work going on in preparation for the screening of When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Billy Crystal’s upcoming handprint ceremony.
The TCM Boutique was full of a sizable amount of TCM merchandise promoting the network and the festival, in addition to some items from festivals past. The store had apparel, accessories, pins, housewares, books, movie snacks, and a broad array of other types of merchandise. Items were grouped by theme, with a theme for the festival, musicals, noir, and more. All of these items were in addition to the products that Sweet! sells on the daily. At the boutique, I stocked up on a sweatshirt, shirts, pins, a book, and mugs. Don’t worry–it wasn’t all for me!
Honestly, the gray sweatshirt I got there with a gold “TCM” sewn onto the front was one of my wisest purchases, in addition to deciding to buy an obnoxiously pink suitcase for this trip. The suitcase is vibrant and easy to spot while I travel and the sweatshirt was perfect for cooler California evenings and the frosty movie theater air conditioning.
Afterwards, I decided to “toast” my first TCMFF with an avocado toast at Rise N Grind and did my sightseeing, which included a visit to the USC campus to see the Douglas Fairbanks statue, among other things.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953):
When evening came around, I had dinner with some friends at the Pig N’ Whistle and we walked over to the Egyptian to catch our first film of the fest, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. This film was one of the four opening film options and was prefaced with an introduction by Yacov Freedman, who runs TCM Backlot. He introduced a sweet segment featuring Ben Mankiewicz interviewing TCM’s founder, Ted Turner. Tuner, now 80, acquired the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio for $1.5 billion. Turner Entertainment retained ownership of MGM’s library of films released up to May 9, 1986. Turner Broadcasting System itself was split into two companies; Turner Broadcasting System and MGM and reincorporated as MGM/UA Communications Co. Turner holds that the smartest decision he ever made was to found CNN and TCM.
After an easygoing and humorous interview, the segment concluded with Mankiewicz bringing up the fact that it is TCM’s 25th anniversary and the 10th Film Festival. Turner quipped, “Long way to go for a party,” to which Mankiewicz responded, “For the record, it’s a really good party.”
After the tribute segment to Turner, Alicia Malone (one of the TCM hosts, introduced Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Tells the story of Dorothy Shaw and Lorelei Lee who travel from France to America and get into some trouble along the way. For Malone, this was one of the films that she saw as a young girl that served as an inspiration for her to pursue enjoying more classic films. Malone recalled wearing out the VHS tape with her sister after pressing the play and pause buttons often as they tried to learn the choreography. Moreover, she watched the film so often that she memorized Australian Film Critic Bill Collins’ intro to the film, though she claims he got a quote wrong. As a result, when she writes her intros, she strives to remain accurate.
Malone held that the character of Lorelei Lee was an iconic role for Monroe and is one of the key roles that audiences envision when they think of Monroe. The part was initially slated for Betty Grable who was unfortunately deemed “ancient” at age 37 and costly, Monroe was cast. Monroe was very insecure during the filming and was pretty inexperienced as an actress. Nonetheless, she delivers one of the most famous lines in the film: “I can be smart when it’s important but most men don’t like it.”
Monroe’s co-star, Jane Russell, was loaned out to Fox for the film and wanted to work with Director Howard Hawks. Malone’s favorite line in the film is delivered by Jane Russell: “The chaperone’s job is to see that no one else is having any fun, but nobody chaperones the chaperone. That’s why I’m so right for this job.”
Malone observes that in addition to wonderful costumes, songs, stars, and a character named Malone, “The theme of friendship is at the center of the film.” Though opposites, they complement one another and remain loyal friends. In fact, it is easy to see the real-life friendship that developed between Russell and Monroe during filming.
To close her introduction, Malone shared some parody lyrics she penned to the tune of “Two Little Girls From Little Rock.” According to Malone, “This will dispel any myth you might have […] that I am a cool person.” Malone read us the following verses:
I was just a little girl in Australia
and I felt like I lived on the wrong side of the equator
But then one day a glamorous film I did see
It captured my heart and inspired me to be
A classic film lover and aspiring curator
Then in high school, I started my own film club
But to my screenings of this movie, nobody was there
Like a little lost lamb, I roamed about
I discovered TCM and I found out
That my kindred spirits are truly everywhere
I was young and ambitious
And a move to Hollywood seemed auspicious
So I worked really hard all around the clock
And I dreamt of the moment I would finally get to talk
With fellow film lovers for who this movie cut through
To their little movie-loving hearts
Like my little movie-loving heart
In Australia, Australia, Australia
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947):
After highly enjoying Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which certainly set the tone for the festival on my end, I was in movie heaven and exactly where I needed to be to catch the next film I wanted to see. On the agenda was a nitrate screening of The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, which happened to be Shirley Temple’s own copy of the film.
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer was introduced by Director of the Academy Film Archive Michael Pogorzelski and Film Critic and Journalist Tara McNamara. Pogorzeski began the introduction by discussing the Egyptian’s capability to show nitrate and how important it is to be able to have access to nitrate prints.
“I think it’s important that we regain our ability to look back at nitrate prints,” said Pogorzelski. “I think that it’s great that it puts us directly in connection with the film itself. This is exactly how audiences in 1947 saw The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. And it’s even more special to be screening this particular print because this nitrate print came to the Academy Film Archive from Shirley Temple herself.”
Temple donated a portion of her collection to the Academy, which included home movies, scripts, correspondence, costumes, and an 8-year-old-sized director’s chair. Moreover, she also shared a set of four practice steps given to her by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson for rehearsal purposes.
Pogorzelski also promoted the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is currently under construction. The museum is to be located on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax in Los Angeles, California. Temple’s generosity also shaped the future museum.
“She gave a generous donation. […] The gift that she gave means that the education center–the very first place that children and students will experience in the museum–will be known as the Shirley Temple Black Education Center.”
McNamara described the plot of the film, mentioning that a teenage girl falls for a middle-aged man and dates him at her family’s insistence. While McNamara felt that this type of film would not be made by today’s standards and that no actor would take the role, she also argued that the plotline was uncomfortable during the time of the film’s release.
“You might think, you know, it was 60 years ago, the times were different. No. Just so you know, in 1947, it still wasn’t OK. In fact, that is evidenced in the opening dialogue. At the kitchen table, they talk about an old man running away with a 16-year-old and how long he was sentenced for,” said McNamara. “It is also greatly evidenced in the hilarious reactions of Cary Grant, who is so uncomfortable with the whole situation.”
In addition to the obvious contrasts in age, Grant’s character is also bored with what Temple’s character enjoys. While Grant’s character is revolted at his situation on screen, it is worth addressing that this gap in age did occasionally occur in relationships off-screen. For example, actors such as Errol Flynn dated women much younger than them.
Sadly, in Temple’s autobiography, Temple discussed many moments in which older men at the studio made advances towards her at a young age. When Temple was to be married at age 17, she told her boss, David O. Selznick, that she was engaged. Selznick tried to entice her by saying that, “Actresses who hold out are loaned out.” Though she escaped and Selznick paid for her wedding, she was loaned out frequently–and for this film.
Temple and her character, Susan, do share some commonalities. One of the strongest ones is that both she and Susan want to be seen as grown-ups. Off-screen, Temple got married and was working to be seen as a more mature actress after enjoying a career as a child star. Almost as though it were a comedy plot, She and her high school classmates had a competition for who would be married first. Temple won.
“At the time she accepted Sergeant Jack’s proposal, she was actually wearing a promise ring from her high school sweetheart. She picked Sergeant Jack because he had a better chin and because his ring had a diamond,” said McNamara.
In terms of her image, Temple was looking to be portrayed as more of an adult and was interested in wearing her hair up for part of the film. When she mentioned it to the makeup artist, the makeup artist felt that her ears would stick out. As a result, her ears were glued back. Though Temple was assured that the glue would keep for a few hours, it was no match for the warm studio lighting.
While Temple strove to be portrayed as more mature than her past child roles, she did have a sense of humor. During production for this film, Temple played practical jokes on Myrna Loy and would intentionally block her shots for fun. She also impersonated Grant until she was caught by him one day and was a bit embarrassed. However, all was well and the cast was obviously able to complete the film. Though this may have been irritating to her co-stars, Temple was ultimately a sort of trendsetter, as it is not unusual to hear of actors playing occasional jokes on one another during long days of filming.
Overall, the film received a positive response among audiences at the fest. Grant’s character elicited much laughter at his exasperation with Loy at Temple. Loy’s quick wit and snappy dialogue is just as enjoyable as ever. Moreover, Temple’s idealistic character and dreamy visions of romance are portrayed wonderfully.
This first day of TCM Film Festival proved to be an energetic opening to the festival. After a delightful double feature enjoyed by a fabulous crowd from all over the map, I was excited for the next day–a full day of programming and panels coordinated by TCM.