2012 TCM Classic Film Festival: Review
This is the first of my reviews of the 16 films I saw over the course of four days at the TCM Festival this past April.
HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962; James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds) at Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome, Sunday April 15, 9 a.m.
The lure: A restoration; 1st time!; Cinerama print! Cinerama Dome theater!!
If I could’ve cloned myself: (In order to see HTWWW, I had to miss all these Festival films, which were playing concurrently): To Catch a Thief and Black Narcissus (painful to have to pass on those two…), A Trip to the Moon, Rosemary’s Baby, The Grapes of Wrath, Trouble in Paradise, Charade).
Thoughts: Loved it. It was far from the plodding, talky “horse opera” I’d anticipated. I’d almost decided against going, partly due to the movie’s length (close to four hours with one intermission) and partly because Black Narcissus and To Catch a Thief (along with some others) were playing at the same time. It was a tough choice. But after all, this was Cinerama!, to paraphrase Lowell Thomas, and it was the Cinerama Dome. A once-in-a-lifetime chance.
On the Dome’s big, curved screen, the sweeping, episodic film was breathtaking. Some of the fun was wondering which Hollywood star would make their appearance next. Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Robert Preston, Gregory Peck, Walter Brennan. (John Wayne’s had an impact similar to Welles’ in The Third Man).
Debbie Reynolds chatted with TCM host Robert Osborne afterwards. She recalled having had a lot of fun with co-star Thelma Ritter (“she was a sonofabitch with the horses”), and how director Henry Hathaway gave Reynolds a slug of whisky before she had to shoot some of the more dangerous scenes (Reynolds’ double was in the audience as well). Hathaway wrote scenes during the filming, and “really pulled the picture together”.
Two stunt doubles died during the river raft sequence; another lost his leg while filming the movie’s spectacular, concluding train wreck–a sequence which received applause from the sold-out, very appreciative audience. This was a truly unique experience. The film’s big, bulky Cinerama camera was on display in the lobby.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch: The restored version of HTWWW is widely available, including on Blu-Ray. Obviously, this movie will be much better on the biggest screen possible. Even better–if you have a projection system–would be a wide, white, inwardly-curving wall. (If you have three projectors, feel creative, and want to experiment, see if you can set them up so that you recreate Cinerama’s three-film-strip presentation. Then let us know the results!) The movie’s long. I mean really long (164 minutes), but there are very few dull moments, and if your guests are classic movie fans, they’ll love the endless parade of cameos. For vittles, I’d serve this film with–what else–anything cooked with BBQ sauce, preferably outdoors on the grill, beans, and a jug of powerful likker. Suggested shorts: Droopy in The Shooting of Dan McGoo, or Devilwood ( available on iTunes).