TCM Classic Film Festival: Host Recommendations

TCM Classic Film Festival

Prior to the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival, a number of network hosts offered their recommendations for first-time classic film viewers.

TCM hosts Alicia Malone, Dave Karger, Jacqueline Stewart, and Eddie Muller were among the participants in a roundtable junket this past Monday. Malone and Muller were in one rotation while Karger and Stewart were paired in another. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask the same question of Ben Mankiewicz during the West Side Story rotation.

Both Malone and Muller were paired with Bullitt cast member Jacqueline Bisset. I’ll have more on comments from Jacqueline Bissett on Friday morning. Muller noted how so many San Francisco films seem to get the driving directions wrong. Before diving into my question, this led me to make a comment about both Stripes and When Harry Met Sally. Love both films as I do, they have a few issues with driving directions. That’s a story for another day.

Alicia Malone
Alicia Malone. Courtesy of TCM.

If you had to give three film recommendations out of the program on TCM or HBO Max for someone who’s not familiar with classic film, what would those recommendations be?

Alicia Malone: Well, one thing that I’m really looking forward to on TCM that I think is going to be really fun is the SF Sketchfest table read they’re doing of Plan Nine from Outer Space, the Ed Wood film. I think it’s gonna be really funny to see these comedians take on this pretty weak script. I think that’s gonna be funny and then to watch the film straight afterwards will be a little treat.

As to HBO Max, it’s so exciting that you can have all these extra features so you get to delve into the movie even further to watch the interview with Jacqueline and Eddie after you see Bullitt or before you see Bullitt, but I would say there’s a lot of great films there directed by women. I would encourage Cleo from 5 to 7, which is one of my favorite movies of all time, by Agnes Varda and Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash, which is just so lyrical and beautiful to watch. You’ll get to really experience many more films on HBO Max and I love that we have that partnership.

Eddie Muller
Eddie Muller. Courtesy of TCM.

Eddie Muller: Well, I agree with Alicia. It really is a matter of what is your taste because there’s so much to choose from in these lineups that trying to direct someone to one particular film—you did say if they haven’t seen classic film. When these things are programmed, it’s so essential for the programmers like Charlie Tabesh to realize this is the first time somebody is going to be seeing these movies. A lot of us who are movie geeks and cinephiles, it’s like The Maltese Falcon again but you have to realize it’s always someone’s first time to see a film like that. Or the Powell and Pressburger movies that are being shown, if you haven’t seen those movies, you cannot miss them.

After we show Bullitt, I’m going to be showing this film, They Won’t Believe Me, from 1947, which was produced by the great Joan Harrison. It’s, in my estimation, her masterpiece. She was Alfred Hitchcock’s protégé. This is the first time it’s been shown and it’s complete, uncut, fully restored version. That is the film that I am really touting because when it was reissued in the 1950s as a B feature, 15 minutes were cut out of the movie. Those 15 minutes have been restored and this is the first time it’s ever been shown its proper length on TCM.

Dave Karger
Dave Karger. Courtesy of TCM.

Dave Karger: We actually even did this. I found mine. Here are three that I would say that people should watch. One is The Red Shoes. It’s a movie from the 40s but it feels like it’s a movie from now. It’s this beautiful ballet film by Powell and Pressburger with phenomenal color, phenomenal dance sequences, a globe-trotting love story, and it’s just beautiful. That’s a great one for people who might be a little afraid of a black and white movie.

I also love The Best Years of Our Lives, a Best Picture winner about three men returning from war and trying to re acclimate to their pre-war lives. It’s powerful and a beautiful film that is easily accessible for anyone.

And then, I would recommend a more current movie, Antwone Fisher, which we’re showing on HBO Max, directed by Denzel Washington, an absolutely gorgeous, true story with phenomenal performances and a movie that I was convinced 19 years ago was going to get a ton of Oscar nominations and I was completely wrong. I will never understand why that movie did not take off more than it did because I think it’s beautiful. I hope people discover it because it’s one of the movies that we’re calling a discovery on the festival lineup this year. Those are my three.

Jacqueline Stewart
Jacqueline Stewart. Courtesy of TCM.

Jacqueline Stewart: Okay, I’m going to not repeat any of Dave’s answers. Those are great. Opening night, West Side Story. I mean, it’s one of the most just visually striking. It shows a real kind of maturity with regard to the way that the musical developed over time. I think that we know there’s a new version that’s going to be released soon—the Steven Spielberg version. I always feel like you should see earlier iterations of something before you see a remake. My poor children are constantly watching multiple versions of things so West Side Story just right off the bat.

I have to champion a silent film because that’s my area of specialty. We’re showing the Ernst Lubitsch film, So This Is Paris, which I think is the kind of film that can really change the way that people think they think they know about silent films. It’s just incredibly dynamic and engaging. The acting is just spectacular. Ernst Lubitsch, who is one of the most important directors in the history of filmmaking has such an important kind of personal story as an immigrant filmmaker. We can see how what came to be known as Lubitsch touch—these kinds of really witty, sophisticated, romantic comedies that he directed. We see how he’s developing that even during the silent period. It also has this really crazy Charleston musical number. People don’t necessarily think that silent films have musical numbers but this one does so I definitely want to direct people to that film.

And then, we have an essentials collection of films that’s going to be screened on HBO Max. One of those is my favorite Hitchcock film, North by Northwest, which I think is just—he loved trains and clocks. It’s a film that is paced just perfectly. Cary Grant is always amazing to watch. It’s a film that I think will really help people to understand the complexity and just the care that Hitchcock brought to his work. That’s one that I could watch over and over and over and over again. I’ve taught precisely because I think that it’s such a masterful film.

What would be your favorite year in film as far as classic films go?

Jacqueline Stewart: Oh, that’s such a hard question. Can I just give the easy 1939 answer? I’ll just give that one—the greatest year. This comes from having had a lot of conversation about Gone with the Wind. And yet, I still think that it’s a film that raises such important questions and it achieved so much in terms of its style and in terms of its box office and cultural impact. Thinking about that film and of course, The Wizard of Oz—the way that that Technicolor was really opening up the ways that people could think about both the realism and the fantasy aspects of filmmaking. I think I’d have to stick with 1939.

Dave Karger: Mine’s not too far off. I would say 1942. I love Mrs. Miniver. I know it’s very sentimental and little button-pushing but I think it’s very effective by William Wyler. There’s a lot of other great movies that were released that year like The Magnificent Ambersons, Talk of the Town, which is a great kind of intimate, three character essentially film. Random Harvest is the same year but the other (inaudible) is because it includes one of my favorite unsung movies of all time, which is The Man Who Came to Dinner, a movie that we show occasionally on TCM particularly around the holiday time and a movie that I just tell everyone about whenever we show it because I think Monty Wooley in that movie as Sheridan Whiteside is just so delicious and fun to watch. That’s the classic movie that I could watch over and over again. I love that year. It doesn’t get talked about—oh, and Yankee Doodle Dandy is that year, too. A great musical.

The 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival takes place May 6-9, 2021 on TCM and HBO Max.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.