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Arts & Culture

Rants And Raves: TCM Classic Film Festival

A lobby card for the film noir, "Too Late For Tears," which screened opening night of the fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival.
United Artists
A lobby card for the film noir, "Too Late For Tears," which screened opening night of the fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival.

If you love classic movies then you can find heaven on earth this weekend at the sixth annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.

TCM offers film buffs a steady stream of classic cinema on its cable channel, and once a year they run an actual film festival in the heart of Hollywood to bring film buffs out of their living rooms and into the theater.

What’s great about the festival is the care it takes in making sure that the films screened are presented in the best possible manner. Sometimes that’s a restored digital copy but increasingly it is a pristine 35mm print. The festival seeks out archival prints and sometimes even has prints struck specifically for the festival. For a die-hard film geek, this makes going into the cinema like entering a church to worship.

Each year they focus on a theme. This year they described it this way: “The central theme of the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival is History According to Hollywood. The Old West. Medieval England. Ancient Rome. Hollywood has found endless inspiration in re-creating historical moments and bringing to life the heroes and villains of the past, creating a form of time travel for audiences through the ages and around the world. These films, however, are not always true to the historical record - filmmakers have often created works about the past that are a reflection of the period in which they were made, or change facts to suit their storyline. The 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival will explore how cinema has shaped how we view, and remember, history.”

The festival opened Thursday night with a gala screening of “The Sound of Music,” based on the true story of the Von Trapp Family.

But what was far more interesting to this film noir nerd had less to do with history and the festival’s primary theme and more to do with shadowy streets and dark motives. So I attended a screening of a restored print of “Too Late for Tears” (1949) starring Lizbeth Scott, who died earlier this year. The film was introduced by Eddie Muller, who is head of the Film Noir Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving noir and a key player in bringing “Too Late for Tears” back to its full glory.

Scott plays a ruthless dame who has a suitcase full of money land in her lap and is willing to kill anyone who stands in her way of keeping it.

When tough guy Dan Duryea crosses her path, even he’s impressed by her ruthlessness. At one point he tells her, “Hey Tiger, don’t ever change, I wouldn’t like you with a heart.” But my favorite line might be when she asks him at their first meeting, “What do I call you beside stupid?” Damn, that’s a fun film.

As Muller pointed out in his intro, noir might be dark and full of murder and deceit but it is also deliciously entertaining, mostly because of the sharp writing.

Next up was a 35mm print from the Eastman Kodak vault of “The Sea Hawk” (1940), a swashbuckler starring the ever-charming Errol Flynn. His daughter Rory Flynn introduced the film and my friends and I were sitting in the row behind her son Sean, who has a little of his grandad's dashing good looks.

The film boasts a glorious score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (we might not have John Williams' epic "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" scores without him) and an amazing final sword fight intensified by towering shadows on the castle walls.

I’m not a snob about seeing films in digital projection or off of DVD. It’s the films and not how they are presented that I am most interested in. But seeing these gorgeous prints are a reminder of how light projected through a frame of film has a quality of life that is enchantingly unique.

The rest of the festival serves up one painful choice after another — “Chimes at Midnight” or “Limelight”? “Adam’s Rib” or handcranked films projected on vintage machines? Aaargh!

So difficult to decide but no matter what you choose you are never disappointed.

You can also check out my interview with UCSD alumni Charles Tabesh who is the senior vice president in charge of programming at Turner Classic Movies.