Highlights From the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival
The Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Film Festival wrapped up its 5th annual hoorah in Hollywood on Sunday and this year was chock full of joyful and exciting films and special guests. There were so many wonderful old movies that most people have seen, but for me the true thrill was the chance to see a beloved movie on the big screen, the way it was intended.
Throw in some amazing guests and it was absolute gold.
Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967)
Screened at the beautiful El Capitan Theater, The Jungle Book was the last Disney animated feature that was overseen by Walt Disney himself. After the success of Mary Poppins and other Disney hits such as The Parent Trap, The Absent Minded Professor and The Sword in the Stone, Disney went back to the well and asked songwriters Bobby and Richard Sherman to take a swing at its animated version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. What resulted were instant classics such as “The Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.”
Commonplace now with big budget animated features, The Jungle Book was really the beginning of using well known actors and musicians as voice talent. Fans at the time would have recognized the voices of TV and film stars Phil Harris (Baloo the bear), Sebastian Cabot (Bagheera the panther), Louis Prima (King Louie of the Apes) and Sterling Holloway (Kaa the snake) of Winnie the Pooh fame.
Mary Poppins (1964) – Special Guest Richard Sherman
Also screened at the El Capitan Theater, Mary Poppins was followed by a discussion with famed songwriter Richard Sherman, who recounted many of the true stories featured in last year’s film Saving Mr. Banks, which told the story of how author P.L. Travers was finally convinced by Walt Disney to bring her famous British nanny to the big screen.
My favorite story is the one about the 1964 Academy Awards. After being passed over for the screen version of My Fair Lady that same year, Julie Andrews won the Best Actress Oscar for Mary Poppins. Audrey Hepburn, who ended up playing Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady because she was a bigger star at the time, was not even nominated.
The Goodbye Girl (1977) Special Guest Richard Dreyfuss
This was the film that made Richard Dreyfuss the youngest Best Actor Oscar winner at the time – and in a role that, in a different script, was originally supposed to be played by Robert DeNiro! Screenwriter Neil Simon decided Dreyfuss was more of an every-man that audiences would better identify with. Dreyfuss was already a star thanks to huge box office hits American Graffiti (1973) and Jaws (1975). 1977 saw no slowing down for Dreyfuss who starred in both The Goodbye Girl and Close Encounters of the Third Kind that same year.
Before the film, Dreyfuss sat down with TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz and told of how after things weren’t going well with DeNiro on the project (originally titled “Bogart Slept Here”) he was brought out to read with Marsha Mason and their chemistry is what led Neil Simon to rewrite the entire script in a different direction.
Fiddler on The Roof (1971)
Special Guests Norman Jewison (director), Lynn Stalmaster (casting director) and John Williams (composer)
This is one of those films that is a must-see on the big screen for movie musical fans. An adaptation of the 1964 Broadway musical, Fiddler On The Roof won 3 Academy Awards, including one for arranger-conductor John Williams, his first of five. The film was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor (Chaim Topol as Tevye).
After the film, director Norman Jewison sat down with John Williams and casting director Lynn Stalmaster to discuss the film. One of the most interesting stories was how Jewison actually went to Chicago to personally ask famed violinist Isaac Stern if he would record the part of “the fiddler.”
Said Jewison, “I thought, well, if you’re going to have a musician to play that famous music, why not get the best in the world?” Jewison also explained his reasoning behind wanting Topol as Tevye (who played the role on stage in London) rather than Zero Mostel, who originated the role on Broadway: “After seeing Chaim play Tevye in London, I just knew he embodied the spirit and the character of who I thought Tevye was.” Indeed.
Conversation with Richard Sherman – Club TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
Festival-goers that were lucky enough to get a seat were treated to a delightful sit-down with songwriter Richard Sherman, hosted by Leonard Maltin.
Sitting at a piano, Sherman not only recounted his Hollywood/Disney background, but also turned the conversation into a sing-a-long of his best known hits as half of The Sherman Brothers (with brother Bobby). The Sherman Brothers started their careers writing pop songs for artists like Annette Funicello and Johnny Burnette in the 50’s.
Sherman reminisced about growing up in Hollywood and how working as staff writers for Disney changed their lives.
When the discussion turned to current projects (yes, even at age 86!), Sherman confirmed he is working on a stage version of the Disney classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks for next year, as well as a stage version of The Jungle Book.