It is TCM Classic Film Festival time again in Hollywood as the film-centric cable channel throws its 7th Annual fest devoted to all things good about old movies. Actually I hate to use the term “old movies,” because if you’ve never seen it, it’s brand new in a way, and “classic” never goes out of style. Last night at the TCL Chinese Theatre the fest got political with its main opening attraction, a 40th anniversary screening of All The President’s Men. And although neither of its legendary two stars, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, made the scene, the man Hoffman portrays, Washington Post Pulitizer Prize winner Carl Bernstein did appear for the pre-screening conversation with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz (filling in for ailing TCM God and Guru Robert Osborne, who is skipping the fest for the second year in a row). Joining them for a discussion on the ongoing importance of the movie and what it says about the disappearing art of investigative reporting were recent Spotlight Oscar winning screenwriters Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, whose film about the Boston Globe’s expose on the molestation scandal involving Catholic priests just won Best Picture as well.
At the W Hotel after-party, Bernstein told me it was fun seeing the film again as he hadn’t seen it in several years but, he said when I asked about its relevance to the current Presidential campaign and the way it is being breathlessly covered by cable news 24/7, he doesn’t feel the thrust of the film about Bob Woodward and his uncovering of the 1972 Watergate scandal is political. “This movie really is just about reporting,” he said simply. On the red carpet, McCarthy told me it was nice for a change to be doing a screening conversation that wasn’t about them, but rather about this, yes, classic Oscar winning 1976 film. Singer said he purposely didn’t watch All The President’s Men while he was writing the Spotlight script. He knew the two movies would likely be compared anyway. Mankiewicz opined that the two films are now tied as the best ever made about journalism, but Bernstein piped in and gave a shout out to Howard Hawk’s 1940 comedy His Girl Friday. The crowd of movie buffs who come to this festival each year from all around the country erupted into applause at the mention of that classic Cary Grant movie. “Oh sure, nothing like pandering to this group,” Mankiewicz smiled.
Actually the TCM Classic Film Festival has always opened with a restoration of a big movie musical like past openers The Sound Of Music, Cabaret, Oklahoma and A Star Is Born. This was a different kind of choice and entirely appropriate for this election year. In the audience was Ben Bradlee Jr. who in real life played a key role in the Spotlight investigation, and also happens to be the son of then-Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, played superbly by the late Jason Robards in an Oscar winning performance. It would have been nice to have him on the panel as well as All The President’s Men‘s Oscar nominated producer Walter Coblenz who was also in the audience.
For whatever reason no one mentioned William Goldman’s superb Academy Award-winning script, but they should have. Setting the tone for the evening’s political tinge, Mankiewicz began by telling the crowd about the reported “favorite movie” of each of the remaining five Presidential contenders. For Ted Cruz it’s, oddly, The Princess Bride for which Mankiewicz said the Texas Senator could recite all the dialogue. Hillary Clinton names three movies: Casablanca, The Wizard Of Oz and Out Of Africa. Bernie Sanders didn’t name one but Mankiewicz said he discovered the Vermont Senator actually had a decent-sized role in something called My Ex-Girlfriend’s Wedding Reception. John Kasich went negative, instead choosing one he and his wife were apparently offended by – Fargo – with Mankiewicz saying that Kasich actually took it back to Blockbuster Video at the time and asked them to take it off the shelves. Say what? Finally he said, ironically Donald Trump chose 1941’s Citizen Kane which won a screenplay Oscar for Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz (a member of Ben’s show business clan).
Over the course of the weekend TCM will be unleashing all sorts of films, panels, star appearances and, as always, will have the attendees for this unique festival in pure movie heaven. A lot of the chosen films are tied to anniversaries, restorations, star availability, etc. Most are now presented digitally because decent film prints are getting much harder to come by. The Fest is moving with the times, but not everything on the list this year can be called a “classic.” One of the “highlights” will be a Cinerama Dome screening of Holiday In Spain, a 1966 re-cut version of Mike Todd’s 1960 faux Cinerama movie Scent Of Mystery, which was advertised as showing in “Smell-O-Vision,” a technique where smells from the movie were piped into the theatre. (“First They Moved. Then They Talked. Now They Smell” said an ad at the time). TCM organizers say they have figured out how to do it again (oh joy). I saw this movie at the Arclight’s Cinerama festival a couple of years ago and it was truly a stinker, even without the smells.
A much better bet on Sunday is the restored version of The Marx Brothers’ 1932 Horse Feathers, or the 50th anniversary screening of 1966’s still very relevant The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!, with co-star Eva Marie Saint on hand to chat about it. There’s something for everyone. You just have to seek it out. A big treat for me was seeing Italian bombshell Gina Lollobrigida before a screening of her Trapeze (1956) this afternoon at the Egyptian. She will be back Saturday with another one of her pics, 1969’s Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, which actually was the uncredited inspiration for the story in Mamma Mia. Angela Lansbury, Rita Moreno, Faye Dunaway, Marlee Matlin, Francis Ford Coppola (who got the hand and footprint treatment this morning at the Chinese) and many others will be making appearances. The Fest even went to the dogs earlier today with an Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sponsored panel called “Man’s Best Friend: Dogs In Film.” Lassie showed for that one. And with movies like the aforementioned All The President’s Men, The Manchurian Candidate, Network, A Face In The Crowd and others, this is one film festival that may not be showing any “new” movies, but certainly deserves to be called “relevant” for shining a spotlight on movies that are never old, but stand the test of time.