Monday, May 6, 2013


My view from the red carpet
From Thursday, April 25th through Sunday, April 28th, I attended the 4TH ANNUAL TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL.  The events took place at and around Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, at several of the smaller Chinese Theatre multi-plex screens, with additional events at Grauman’s Egyptian and the Hollywood Arclight aka the Cinerama Dome.   It was my first time, and I was overwhelmed by all of the screenings, activities, and choices that had to be made. 

This is an event for people who are passionate about the movies, and eager to see them on a big screen, often in 35mm, always with someone of note giving an introduction.  But how do you choose when GIANT, ON GOLDEN POND, THE BIG PARADE, THE TRAIN, THEY LIVE BY NIGHT and GUYS AND DOLLS are all showing at once?!  It is truly an embarrassment of riches.

I caught as many movies as I could, but I only managed to catch four on one day, Saturday, which made me a piker by the standards of most attendees.  Chatting while standing on line, I met folks from Kansas City, Missouri; Illinois; Arlington, Virginia; Florida; and Cincinnati, Ohio.  A couple I met waiting to get in to see DELIVERANCE were from outside Raleigh, North Carolina, and confided, “We want to see it on a big screen, so we can recognize our relatives,” then quickly added, “only joking,” in case I was dense.  Interestingly, I didn’t meet a soul from L.A., and the one couple I met from San Diego turned out to be recent transplants from Kentucky.  And none of them were first-timers: on average they were back for their third year. 

It was delightful to be surrounded by so many people who were so enthusiastic, and knowledgeable, about classic film.  Waiting for BONNIE AND CLYDE to start, someone uttered the name Strother Martin, and a dozen voices piped in with their favorite Strother Martin performances.  The event is pricey.  The costliest package, featuring VIP entry to everything, meet-and- reets with stars and TCM hosts, and all manner of extras, costs $1599.  There are a lot of in-between packages, with the least expensive, at $249, getting you admission to only the big-screen venues, the Chinese and Egyptian.  You can also buy single event tickets for $20, but be aware that they are ‘stand-by’, and a lot of shows fill up, though most at the huge Chinese and the Egyptian do not.

I’d picked up my media credentials (when did they stop being ‘press credentials’?) the day before, and hadn’t read their many emails closely enough to realize that I had to apply separately for credentials to cover Thursday night’s gala, featuring the world premiere of the digital restoration of FUNNY GIRL at the Chinese.  I realized my stupidity late Wednesday night, and emailed, begging to be let on the red carpet.  Well, sometimes stupidity pays off: they not only gave me a spot on the red carpet (see the picture), since I was the very last dope to ask, I got the very last spot, which gave me a perfect view straight down the center of the famed ‘footprint’ courtyard.  The first star to come my way was Barbara Rush.  Best known for her role in TV’s PEYTON PLACE, she’s starred in many movies and guested in many series, her best western role being Audra in HOMBRE, opposite Paul Newman. 
Barbara Rush
Next was Coleen Gray.  She first made a splash as the good girl opposite carny grifter Tyrone Power in NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947).  She got her feet wet in westerns the next year, co-starring with Victor Mature in FURY AT FURNACE CREEK, then entered the big-leagues playing John Wayne’s romantic interest in the Howard Hawks classic RED RIVER.  She’s appeared in numerous western and civilian films since then, guest-starring on nearly all of the major western series, and starred opposite Hugh Marlowe in a frequently overlooked top-of-the-line oater, Charles Marquis Warren’s THE BLACK WHIP.     

Coleen Gray

She was followed by Jacqueline White, best known for noirs like CROSSFIRE and THE NARROW MARGIN, but who starred with Randolph Scott in RETURN OF THE BAD MEN, and with Tim Holt in RIDERS OF THE RANGE. 

Jacqueline White

Looking much as she did in MIDRED PIERCE was beautiful Ann Blyth, who would be attending screenings of both PIERCE and KISMET during the festival.  Her only feature western is Zane Grey’s RED CANYON, but she appeared on five episodes of WAGON TRAIN.  I asked her if she had a favorite western role among them.  “That’s always so hard to just pick one.  I’ll get back to you on that.”


Ann Blyth
Marvin Kaplan

Comedian Marvin Kaplan of IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD was next, and then I was talking to former child star Jane Withers, who would be the special guest at her film, GIANT, the next night.  Of all the stars entering the Chinese that night, she was probably the only one who would be walking by her own footprints in cement.  I asked her which was her favorite western, SHOOTING HIGH, with Gene Autry, or GIANT, with Rock Hudson and James Dean.  “Oh, bless your heart for knowing about both!  I did five westerns as a kid, and I loved them all, oh gosh, because cowboys are my favorite people in the world.   Monte Hale and Gene Autry and Roy and Dale were always very close friends.  Roy and Dale and I became neighbors years later; our kids all went to church and Sunday School together.  I’ve had the most unique and interesting life of anyone I know.  And I’m so grateful – I’ve just had my 87th birthday, and Fox Home Entertainment is rereleasing all my early Jane Withers films from the ‘30s and the ‘40s, and I’m just thrilled.”

Jane Withers
Jane's footprints

Next came the great Theodore Bikel, who appeared in episodes of HOTEL DE PAREE, WAGON TRAIN, RAWHIDE, GUNSMOKE, and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.  When I asked him what his favorite was, he said, “I can’t tell you.  Some of them I liked.” 

Theodore Bikel

When I asked Karen Sharpe Kramer about her favorite western, she might have said MAN WITH A GUN (1955), where she starred opposite Robert Mitchum, or JOHNNY RINGO (1959), her western series, but I wasn’t surprised at her answer.  “HIGH NOON, of course.”  She’s the widow of producer/director Stanley Kramer, who made HIGH NOON.  “I like THE SEARCHERS, I like TRUE GRIT as well.  But HIGH NOON has something to say, which I think is important.  So I would always search out a movie that would leave you with something, instead of just being entertaining.” 

Karen Sharpe Kramer

I next saw Wink Martindale, DJ and game show host who, a few decades ago, had the number one record in the country, not a song, but a spoken recording.  I asked him, “When are you going to do another recording like A Deck of Cards?” 
Wink Martindale
“Oh, I don’t know!  That was one of those rare ones – you don’t find those very often.  Would you believe that was recorded in 1959?  Or was it 1859?”

“Off-subject, let me ask you, what’s your favorite western?”

“I think it would be HIGH NOON, without any question at all, because I loved Gary Cooper’s performance in that; great story.” 

Next came beautiful Anne Jeffreys, Marion Kerby to those of us who grew up watching TOPPER, still lovely at ninety.  “Which is your favorite of all your westerns?”

Anne Jeffreys

“Ahh…NEVADA (1944), with Robert Mitchum.”

“Terrific.  Any favorites among you Wild Bill Elliot films?” 

“No, except with Gabby Hayes.”  There are eight of those to choose from. 
Mitzi Gaynor

By then the staffers were trying to hurry the guests into the theatre – we glimpsed Mitzi Gaynor, Marge Champion, France Nuyen, Tippi Hedron , Robert Hays, Eva Marie Saint and film historian Kevin Brownlow zipping by.  Although Barbra Streisand lives in town, she didn’t attend the screening.  She was in New York, at another event, presenting an award.  Cher filled in for her, doing the introduction to FUNNY GIRL.    
Marge Champion

I rushed off to see a movie, chose ROAD TO UTOPIA, a north-western comedy set in the Klondike Gold Rush, starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour.  It was introduced by Greg Proops, one of the improvisational comedians from WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?, who gave an excellent talk about the chemistry of Hope and Crosby in the ROAD pictures, and that underscoring the humor was the ruthlessness of their attempts to cut each other off in the pursuit of both money and Lamour.  It was hysterical.
France Nuyen

Next week, in Part 2, I’ll discuss the screenings of RIVER OF NO RETURN, HONDO and DELIVERANCE.



Blue Underground has just released a beautiful new version of 1972’s THE GRAND DUEL, starring Lee Van Cleef, directed by Giancarlo Santi from Ernesto Gastaldi’s screenplay. It’s one of the best of the Spaghetti Westerns from the end of the cycle. This was Santi’s first film as a director, but he’d made his bones as assistant director to Sergio Leone on THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, as well as the excellent DEATH RIDES A HORSE.  Screenwriter Gastaldi has a staggering 121 writing credits, from cult horror favorites like VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA and WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS’ DORMITORY to Westerns like the ARIZONA COLT and SARTANA series, but is probably best known for MY NAME IS NOBODY – he even did uncredited script-work on Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. 

The story revolves around wanted man Philip Vermeer (Peter O’Brien aka Alberto Dentice), hunted for murder by ex-Sheriff Clayton (Lee Van Cleef), and a passel of bounty hunters.  The dead man, Samuel Saxon, referred to as ‘The Patriarch,’ and only seen in dramatic black & white flashbacks, has three sons, a businessman; a lawman; and a flamboyant, syphilitic pock-marked ne’er-do-well, all of them obsessed with Vermeer’s capture and punishment.  Clayton is convinced Vermeer is being framed, and they join forces to learn and expose the truth.


Shot in unfamiliar and striking locations by Mario Vulpiani, edited by Roberto Perpignani, who also cut LAST TANGO IN PARIS and IL POSTINO, the film is full of striking compositions and sequences, among them Van Cleef slyly tipping Vermeer to the location of the bounty hunters, a remarkable chase shot from overhead, a nighttime attack on a stage-coach stop, and the wonderfully staged ‘grand duel’ at the end of the film.  There is also a sometimes haunting, sometimes thrilling score by Luis Bacalov and Sergio Bardotti.
'Killing of the Old Man' sequence

The degree of corruption in the town is striking, and because this is so common to the sub-genre, over the years, many American viewers have bristled at the sense that many Spaghetti Westerns are anti-American.  I think this is a misreading of the intent.  I think the corrupt and degenerate brothers who run the town, like the hooded thugs in DJANGO and the homosexual ‘Zorros’ of DJANGO KILL! are not references to America at all, but to Italian Fascism, which had, until a short time before these films were made, enslaved Italy.

from the duel

It would be disingenuous of me not to also mention that screenwriter and film historian C. Courtney Joyner and myself provide a commentary track, which has been well-reviewed (I didn’t  realize that people actually reviewed commentary tracks) and here are a couple of links for reviews of this version of THE GRAND DUEL: from 10K BULLETS, and from DVD LATESHOW.   Also included is a Spaghetti Western Trailer Reel featuring some of Blue Underground’s other fine releases.   The official release day is May 21st.  The price is $14.98.  You can learn more HERE.

On Saturday at 1:30, HUD will have its 50th anniversary marked with a screening at the Autry as part of their What is a Western ? series.  I’ve never seen HUD, but I’ve been hearing about it for years.  It earned three Oscars, for Best Actress Patricia Neal, Best Supporting Actor Melvyn Douglas, and Best Black & White Cinematography by James Wong Howe.  It stars Paul Newman as a selfish and reckless cowboy who risks his family’s ranch over a feud with his father.  Curator Jeffrey Richardson will introduce the film, discussing HUD’s unflinching social commentary as part of the Western genre’s transformation in the 1960s. 


More headaches for the trouble-plagued set of JANE GOT A GUN, the new western starring and co-produced by Natalie Portman.  First, on the day the cameras were to roll in April, director Lynne Ramsey was a no-show. Then lead villain Jude Law quit because Lynne had quit.  He was replaced by Bradley Cooper – right after his SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK success.  But now Cooper is leaving because of his previous commitment to David O. Russell.  More details coming soon!


That’ll have to do for today.  Happy Cinco de Mayo, and happy birthday to my mom, to Monica Lewis, and to Will ‘Sugarfoot’ Hutchins.  With Saturday being Stephanie’s and my 28th wedding anniversary, I’m a little surprised I got this posted and written tonight.  Next week I’ll have part two of my TCM Fest coverage, and soon I’ll have reviews of  a Pat Buttram biography, the home video release of BORDERTOWN, and ‘HOWDY KIDS!! A Saturday Afternoon Western Round-up’ from the Shout Factory.

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright May 2013 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved

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