For part 4 of my festival coverage I'm going to rewind a bit and go back to Anna Karina Day. While I did spend 99.99% of that day thinking about and planning for the Band of Outsiders screening, my brain took an Anna break for two hours to indulge in some pre-code goodness!
Admittedly I haven't been a good pre-code fan for the past few years (a quick glance at my letterboxd history reveals an paltry 7 pre-codes since I started logging movies in January 2015. YIKES!) It's weird how sometimes you don't even realize you've neglected something you love until you're literally keeping a diary that tracks your daily habits. I love the pre-code era (hence my blog title, although you'd be hard-pressed to find evidence of my affection in my recent archives) so it was a pleasure to revisit it on the big screen during the festival and reignite a flame that needed a little oxygen.
My first movie of the day was A House Divided, which was introduced by film noir expert Eddie Muller and director William Wyler's son, David Wyler. While A House Divided is firmly planted in pre-code territory, it also exhibits a lot of the stylistic elements that later distinguished the film noir genre -- it hearkens forward (is that even a thing) to those seedy, grainy, rough-around-the-edges movies, the ones that feel raw and prickly, not the polished noir of The Maltese Falcon or Double Indemnity.
The film stars Walter Huston in a doozy of a role, playing a tough, rough alcoholic who decides to mail-order a bride to do the housework after his wife passes away. Before the screening his performance was described as a "force of nature" and I couldn't agree more! He was practically reverberating off the screen in every scene. And his wicked energy just makes you like his son -- played with delicate subtlety by Douglass Montgomery -- even more.
What initially drew me into watching this was this part of the description from the festival guide, "Wyler also made creative use of sound in the climactic storm scene and an early sequence in which two young men leave their mother’s funeral only to stop at the sound of dirt hitting her coffin." [sidenote: it's actually a father and son, not two young men, but anywayyyyy] The scene was just as powerful as I anticipated, and I'm glad it was singled out in the review or I might not have a) even seen the movie and b) noticed that innovative use of sound! All in all I'm really thrilled I caught this (and on 35mm to boot!) When it turns up on the TCM schedule I highly recommend checking it out.
Next up was one more pre-code, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, which turned out to be my favorite new-to-me movie of the festival. I actually didn't read the festival write-up on this one, so I went into the screening with no background information whatsoever. To be honest, I saw "Ronald Colman" in the cast list and was like, "SOLD!" I didn't need to read any further.
The film was introduced by Michael Schlesinger, who informed us that this was only the second screening of this movie in California in the last 80 years. Not only that, but it apparently has never been shown on tv, and never officially released on DVD. I'm not entirely sure if I have this completely correct, but my understanding is that 20th Century Fox owns the movie, Criterion owns the Bulldog Drummond property, and MoMA owns the print of the film. So in order for this to be released on DVD, it would have to go through three different parties. Nevertheless, I'm pretty sure every twitter-user in that audience was whipping out their phones to pester Criterion as soon as the credits rolled on Bulldog Drummond Strikes Again. It's practically impossible to watch this movie without wanting desperately to watch it again.
It's actually a bit of a send-up on other Bulldog Drummond (and I guess most murder mystery) films, with Ronald Colman poking fun at his super suave character, bodies constantly disappearing, and Una Merkel having the most hilariously frustrating wedding night in movie history. Not to mention pre-code Loretta Young (my favorite kind of Loretta Young), and some first rate second bananas like C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Butterworth and E.E. Clive.
And can we talk for a second about how the audience burst into applause when C. Aubrey Smith appeared onscreen? Warm fuzzies doesn't even begin to describe how that feels. "I have found my people."
Before I headed back to the hotel to change into my Anna Karina inspired outfit I ducked into the famous Musso & Frank Grill for a light lunch (and by "light" I mean a whole basket of bread, french fries, and spaghetti with tomato sauce) As much as I love food, though, the real appeal here is the history. A little bit of background from their menu:
"Early on, Charlie Chaplin dined at the restaurant so often that he was given his own booth, which still occupies the southwest corner of the restaurant. His party regularly included Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Rudolph Valentino."Not being an expert on geographical coordinates, and always too shy to ask when I'm curious about something, I glanced around the edges of the room... my eyes settling on each booth as I pondered which one was situated in the southwest corner.
"It was not uncommon to see Greta Garbo discussing a new script with Gary Cooper, or Humphrey Bogart dining with Dashiell Hammett or Lauren Bacall. From Orson Welles to Jimmy Stewart, a star-studded cast filled the dining room and bar from the silent film era through the 'Golden Age of Film' and beyond."