Dates Announced for 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival + 5 Ways to Keep it Fresh

MMIn Billy Wilder’s 1955 comedy THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, a man begins to lose interest in his spouse of seven years and seeks out greener romantic pastures – in the (shapely) form of Marilyn Monroe.

Turner Classic Movies hopes film buffs won’t do the same with the TCM Classic Film Festival, which today announced its seventh annual edition, scheduled for April 28 – May 1, 2016 in Hollywood.

Still, the network appears to be taking no chances, revealing the date far earlier than in the past (last year they announced in October for a March event) and holding the line on ticket prices after a $50 hike at all pass levels in 2015. TCM has also assured fans that beloved on-air personality Robert Osborne – the face of the network since its 1994 launch – will return as “official host” after missing the 2015 event. The 83-year-old film historian was also absent from the channel following treatment for a “minor health procedure” earlier this year, but has (thankfully) returned to his duties.

Films and guests have not yet been announced and likely won’t be for some time. But the historic TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s) and Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd will once again be key venues and the Roosevelt Hotel will again serve as home base, with a schedule of daily happenings at the “Club TCM” event space. Discounted guest rooms are also available at the Roosevelt, but they’ll be gone by the time you read this. (More hotel suggestions are here.)

Passes for the 2016 TCM Film Fest go on sale November 19, with an exclusive online-only pre-sale for Citi cardmembers beginning November 17 at 10 a.m. (ET).

The top tier Spotlight Pass (aka The Charles Foster Kane Pass) offers “priority entry to all events” (thanks to a separate line) as well as admission to an “exclusive” opening night party and meet-and-greet events with Osborne, fellow host Ben Mankiewicz, and celebrity guests for $1,649. The Essential Pass provides full access to all TCMFF events (excluding the opening night party) for $749. The Classic Pass gives you everything except the opening night red-carpet screening for $599. And the $299 Palace Pass grants access to Grauman’s, the Egyptian and poolside screenings at the Roosevelt Friday through Sunday. (Walk-up admissions are also available to some screenings, but usually not to the panels or special events.)

BusterThe 2016 theme will be Moving Pictures, promising a collection of rousing, inspiring movies “that set our love of cinema in motion.” According to TCM’s press release, selections may include coming-of-age pictures, tearjerkers, sports dramas, and religious epics that elevate our spirits.

If you read this site or follow me on Twitter you know I’ve attended every TCMFF since its inception, and that I’m relentlessly vocal in my support of it (and pretty much everything TCM does). But the 2015 TCMFF was my least favorite so far, and, based on both attendance and conversations with other longtime attendees, I don’t think I was alone in that sentiment.

While the 2014 TCMFF sold out in record time – Essential passes were gone in just five hours and Spotlight a week later – passes were still available just days before the 2015 event began. (TCM doesn’t release the number of passes sold, so I can’t do an apples-to-apples comparison.) Smaller crowds were to be expected after the excitement of the network’s 20th birthday celebration in 2014, but some of the fall-off in 2015 may have been preventable.

And so, here are 5 things TCM can do to keep the Seven Year TCMFF Itch at bay.

1aDon’t over-emphasize the theme.

I have enormous respect for the TCM programmers; they consistently make my life a better place. But, in my opinion, the 2015 theme History According to Hollywood became more of an intellectual exercise than past organizing concepts have been.

For most of us, TCMFF is an emotional experience, an opportunity to leave the real world for four days in another time and place. Past themes like Family (2014), Journeys (2013), Style (2012), and Music (2011) were malleable enough to be all-inclusive, while still providing necessary programming structure.

Happily, the 2016 theme Moving Pictures is similar. It has the potential to be more magical than literal, because we can be moved in a variety of ways. And that’s good news, particularly for someone who found fewer difficult choices in 2015 TCMFF schedule than ever before.

2aKeep it “classic.”

“In the right context, there is no cutoff,” TCM’s Senior VP of Programming Charles Tabesh said at the 2015 TCMFF when asked to define classic.

“(It’s classic) if Charlie says so!” general manager Jennifer Dorian added, cracking up a bunch of film bloggers who know how controversial a question that can be.

I agree, but for many of us who spend thousands of dollars to immerse ourselves in a live, in-person TCM experience, we don’t want “contemporary” films intruding on the party, even if they make good intellectual sense.

For the record: I love movies from all eras, and I would enjoy watching any film that has ever played at TCMFF (with the possible exception of GREASE, particularly the singalong version). But there’s a particular type of film that makes an Old Movie Weirdo want to fly across the country (or the world) to watch with like-minded friends, and a handful of titles screened in 2015 did not fall in that category. (Again, just my opinion. Feel free to disagree in the comments.)

3aCelebrate the obscure.

Along the same lines, the cinematic “deep cuts” at TCMFF (like rare noir and Pre-Codes) are often relegated to the smallest auditorium (the 177-seat Chinese Multiplex theater 4), creating an inevitable mad rush among the hardcores every single time, while higher-profile films play to half-full theaters. And while we may get a second chance to see some of those rarities in the TBA slots on Sunday, it’s often without the special guests that appeared during the scheduled screening.

Technology allowing, I’d like to see more “discoveries” play in larger rooms. Just like with TCM’s brilliantly curated on-air programming, this is an opportunity to create new fans, not just play to the base.

4aMake it personal. 

Each year, TCMFF becomes more about the personal connections I make – both among my fellow attendees and the 300+ people who work behind the scenes.

It’s great to spend time with those folks at opening and closing night parties and while waiting on line for screenings, but TCM needs to work more opportunities for dedicated social interaction into the schedule. Events like the opening day trivia contest are great ways to make screening buddies and find new friends with similar interests. We need more of those, and more creative methods of interaction throughout the weekend, like the trading card swaps at the recent Disney D23 convention. (Hat tip to Laura Grieve for her D23 coverage.)

For many of us, this is the only weekend off the year when we can share something we’ve loved our entire lives. TCM needs to make the most of that.

5aContinue to champion 35 mm.

In 2015 I saw 20 movies at the Festival, 15 of them projected entirely or in part on 35mm film. In fact, TCMFF has screened more movies on film than digital formats every year, and the number of film screenings actually increased this year compared to 2014. Where else do you see that happening?

“(We’re committed to) showing films on film,” festival managing director Genevieve MacGillicuddy told me at the 2013 TCMFF.

That’s a huge selling point for many purists, and I hope it continues. And while they’re at it, upgrade the projection capabilities at the Roosevelt Hotel poolside screenings, where films are presented on DVD. Unless it’s GREASE, then I don’t particularly care.

See you all in Hollywood in 2016.


Posted in TCM Classic Film Festival | Tagged , | 8 Comments

That Time I Met Batgirl

ABC“You were my first crush,” I said to Yvonne Craig, dispensing with the small talk.

It was September of 2006 and Craig was appearing at an event in New York City celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Batman, the TV series that made her an icon. I suspect she had heard those words once or twice before in the intervening decades, but she looked up at me and smiled as if I too were her first.

“Aw, that’s so nice to hear!” she replied, locking eyes with me warmly.

“It’s very exciting to meet you,” I continued, holding her hand far longer than any socially acceptable definition of “handshake.”

Batman was cancelled before I was born, but it lived on in daily syndicated reruns throughout my childhood. Every day after school I would park myself in front of the TV and air-punch along with the Caped Crusaders, as they battled a rogue’s gallery of villains portrayed by aging classic film stars. It was a budding Old Movie Weirdo’s dream, set to a frenetic jazz score.

Once, in first grade, I got so worked up by one of the fight scenes that I actually catapulted myself at the TV set. Some part of me thought that, if I really, really believed it was possible, I could dive head first into the action and battle alongside my heroes. Sadly, it didn’t work. The Zenith teetered, then tumbled backwards, pinning six year-old me under it with a frightening ZAP!

But waiting for my mom to get home and rescue me was just like a Batman cliffhanger, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Yes, Batman got me all sorts of worked up. But Batgirl had an entirely different effect.

CastIn the show’s third and final season, actress and dancer Craig joined the cast as the mysterious heroine (and her librarian alter ego Barbara Gordon) in an effort to reinvigorate a faltering franchise. Batgirl wore a metallic purple costume that appeared to be painted on Craig’s athletic form, beating the crap out of bad guys with ballet twirls and gymnast kicks, her gold-lined cape spinning behind her like a pinwheel.

Back then I didn’t really understand my feelings for Yvonne Craig, but I do now. Batgirl was established in my developing psyche as the model for the perfect woman: sexy but self-sufficient, with no time for primping when there were asses to be kicked. And this girl was no cling-on (even though Yvonne would later appear on Star Trek), rescuing the Caped Crusaders from danger more than once.

The years passed, I grew older and Batman receded into my childhood. But I never forgot my first love.

“I hope you enjoy coming to these things,” I said to Craig, who was still striking at age 69.

“I didn’t even think we’d be discussing it forty years later,” she laughed. “But the nice thing about having done Batman is, you meet people and they’re watching it with their kids. They saw it when they were little and now they have kids to share it with.”

She looked down and noticed no child accompanying me. Then she smiled again.

“And of course the original fans still love it,” she said, scoring a nice save.

“When I watch episodes now I can still recite lines of dialogue!” I blurted nervously, doubling down on my inner dork.

“That’s better than I can do!” Craig laughed.

As she began to autograph my picture, I asked her why Batman was not yet available on home video.

“I’ll tell you in just a second, otherwise I’ll misspell my name,” she said. “And then it looks like ‘Rat Girl.’”

Craig offered her take on the delay, blaming it primarily on pending litigation with the heir of series creator William Dozier (who died in 1991). I nodded, all the while thinking, I’m talking to Batgirl! And we’re getting along really well!  (Thankfully, the legal issues were resolved and the show made its debut on DVD and Blu-ray in 2014).

Then Yvonne Craig invited me to sit beside her so we could take a picture together. I sat down and gently put my arm around her shoulder like we were old friends, which we kind of were. Then we said our farewells, and I shook her hand. Again.

“You were totally flirting with her!” my girlfriend said afterwards, laughing. “And you were blushing the whole time”

“I know,” I replied. “But do you think she knows how happy I was to meet her?”

“Oh, she knows. Trust me. She knows.”

MeTV will honor Yvonne Craig this Saturday at 7 p.m. (ET) with two episodes of “Batman,” followed at 9 p.m. with her 1969 episode of “Star Trek.”



Posted in Classic TV | 12 Comments

One Last Gasp for #NoirSummer

bfi-00o-2rjWhat did you do this summer? I saw a bunch of people get killed.

Thanks to Turner Classic Movies’ nine-week Summer of Darkness series, I spent June and July with duplicitous dames, menacing mugs and the movie buffs that love them. And although August is half over, I’m not ready to give up this twisted summer romance.

First, some stats: I watched 55 of the 121 films (most of them on the indispensable Watch TCM App) and had previously seen another 26 of the titles in the series (brilliantly curated by TCM programmer Millie De Chirico). I also got to see three of the programmed movies on the big screen in New York City within weeks of their TV airings. Hitchcock’s criminally underrated THE WRONG MAN (1956) and the gorgeous 4K restoration of Carol Reed’s THE THIRD MAN (1949) both played at Film Forum in July, and I caught an outdoor screening of Robert Siodmak’s THE KILLERS (1946) in Bryant Park (which I wrote about here).

lscott-2-lateAll told, I saw (or have seen) 84 of the 121 films in Summer of Darkness. That’s not bad, but I’ve still got plenty of work to do.

My favorite is a three-way tie: Byron Haskin’s TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949) with “tiger” Lizabeth Scott; Richard Fleischer’s NARROW MARGIN (1952) with gravel-voiced noir stalwart Charles McGraw; and Joseph H. Lewis’ seminal GUN CRAZY (1950). Least fav: the talky A WOMAN’S SECRET (1949) with Maureen O’Hara. Biggest what the fuck? David Bradley’s TALK ABOUT A STRANGER (1952) with George Murphy, Nancy Davis (future Mrs. Reagan) and Billy Gray (Bud from Father Knows Best), which apparently failed to kick off the “Dog Noir” sub-genre.

I learned a lot during Noir Summer, thanks to host Eddie Muller’s witty and insightful wrap-arounds and Professor Rich Edwards’ on-line course Investigating Film Noir, presented by Ball State University in conjunction with TCM. But my biggest takeaway from the last two months is this: I prefer pulpy, low-budget noir to the glossier studio product.

And here’s the best part: tons of independently produced and Poverty Row noirs are streaming for free on YouTube. So my love affair can continue. For free.

If you’re jonesing for one more crime film fix before you hang up your #NoirSummer holster, I write about five underrated noirs today for the excellent film blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks. You can read it here.

Let me know what you think of my choices, and tell me your suggestions for others I shouldn’t miss. Because we’re all in this together now, pal. Whether you like it or not.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 7.32.53 PM

Posted in TCM | 3 Comments

Here’s Johnny! Carson Returns to Late Night TV

CCCFrom 1962 until his retirement in 1992, Johnny Carson ruled late night with wit, charm, and a feathered turban. He wasn’t the first host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, nor the last, but he’s considered by just about everyone to be the best. And now, more than two decades after his final sign-off and ten years after his death at age 79, Carson is returning to late night television.

Antenna TV, a nostalgia-themed digital broadcast network owned by Tribune Broadcasting and available in 78% of the country, will begin airing Carson reruns in January, weeknights at 11 p.m. (ET)/8 p.m. (PT) and Saturdays and Sundays at 10 p.m. (ET)/7 p.m. (PT). Because NBC controls the rights to The Tonight Show name, Antenna’s broadcasts will be called simply Johnny Carson. (Jimmy Fallon is undoubtedly breathing a sigh of relief.)

And good news for you cord-cutting Carson fans: Antenna TV is free. The network is available over-the-air (as a digital sub-channel of a broadcast television station) with some affiliates carried by local cable providers. (More info on how to get the channel is here.)

Best of all, Antenna will be running complete episodes, in some cases broadcast in their entirety for the first time since their original airdate.

“This is not a clip show. This is full episodes of Johnny Carson,” Sean Compton, Tribune’s president of strategic programming and acquisitions, told Variety.

JCSadly, only 33 shows from Carson’s first ten years as emcee survive today. Although the episodes broadcast during that decade were recorded on videotape, those tapes were erased and reused as a cost saving measure (common practice in the early days of videotape). Only when the show moved from 30 Rock in New York to NBC Studios in Burbank in 1972 were all daily broadcasts retained.

According to Variety, Tribune is dedicated to keeping each episode “as intact as possible,” which is great news. The extent to which the episodes are edited will largely be determined by music rights clearances, which need to be negotiated on a show-by-show basis – a complicated and expensive proposition for a relatively low-profile network like Antenna. The prohibitive cost of music licensing has wrecked havoc with the afterlife of shows like WKRP in Cincinnati and The Wonder Years and has likely played a role in why music-heavy variety shows are so infrequently rerun.

Tonight was a 90-minute show until 1980, so any pre-1980 episode Antenna airs on a weeknight would have to be edited to fit the shorter time slot. The weekend broadcasts will be ninety minutes, however, so those shows should be largely intact. I was too young to watch Carson in the ’70s, so the prospect of seeing those episodes un-cut is exhilarating. Topical Nixon jokes! Wide collars! Talk show guests smoking on TV! The mind boggles.

This is not the first time Johnny Carson has made a posthumous return to TV. In July of 2013, Turner Classic Movies launched Carson on TCM, a series of 60-minute compilations of Johnny’s conversations with classic film icons, hosted by one of his successors in the hosting chair at Tonight, Conan O’Brien. The package of fifty interviews TCM licensed from Carson Entertainment Group will continue to air on the network “occasionally” as interstitial programming (sans Conan’s intros), a TCM spokesperson told me today.

Johnny also appeared in reruns during his original run as Tonight Show host.

In 1982, Columbia Television syndicated a daily, thirty-minute clip show called Carson’s Comedy Classics that included sketches and comedy bits from the previous decade, as well as a handful of surviving material from the 1962-72 lost episodes. The show also included bridging narration from Ed McMahon, Carson’s beloved sidekick for his entire run. Carson’s Comedy Classics has continued to air sporadically ever since, appearing as recently as 2009 on Reelz Channel.

Complete Carson episodes have also been marketed to collectors on DVD for years, and digital downloads of a handful of shows are now available (including one from 1968). But Antenna TV’s re-launch of the show will provide – by far – Johnny’s greatest visibility since he left the air in 1992. In addition to the scheduled nightly broadcasts, Antenna will also air reruns at 2 a.m. (ET)/11 p.m. (PT) weeknights and 1:30 a.m. (ET)/10:30 p.m. (PT) on Saturdays and Sundays. That adds up to a stunning 16-hour programming commitment each week, or roughly ten percent of Antenna TV’s broadcast schedule.

As much as I’ve enjoyed the excerpted interviews on TCM, to fully appreciate the brilliance of Carson and the charm of his breezy, off-the cuff interactions with guests and staff, you have to see the shows unfold in real time. That’s part of why this initiative is so important, and potentially groundbreaking. If it works – and Tribune’s financial commitment and pledge to be “nimble in programming episodes on short notice to respond to headlines and current events” has me feeling optimistic – Carson’s legacy may live on for a whole new generation of fans.

And if the Carson reruns succeed, what other treats from the variety or talk show genres might we see on the growing number of venues catering to fans of classic content? The answer is locked in a mayonnaise jar under Funk and Wagnalls’ porch, and on Antenna TV next year.

Posted in Classic TV | Tagged | 7 Comments

POW! Classic Film Stars Reimagined as Comic Book Heroes

BATAs Hollywood maps out a future almost entirely reliant on superhero movies – the soft opening of Marvel’s ANT-MAN notwithstanding – it’s important to remember that comic books were not always on Hollywood’s A-list.

In their first live-action screen incarnations in the 1940s, superstars like Batman and Superman were relegated to low-budget, Saturday morning adventure serials produced by Columbia Pictures and marketed primarily to children. The often unintentionally hilarious cliffhangers found our heroes battling low-rent, contemporary bad guys – Batman fights a Japanese scientist played by J. Carroll Naish in yellowface in his 1943 debut – and, while they’re fun to watch ironically today, they bear little resemblance to what was to come.

It took the ratings success of ABC’s twice-weekly TV series to bring the Caped Crusader back to movie screens (courtesy of 20th Century Fox) in BATMAN (1966), but that was more campy comedy than action-adventure. And after George Reeves’ Adventures of Superman defined the character for a generation of TV viewers (first during its 1952-58 run, then in two decades of syndicated reruns), Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN (1978) finally brought the last son of Kypton to feature films (from Warner Bros., corporate cousin of DC comics since 1989).

But what if that wasn’t the case? What if superheroes had been as integral to classic film as they are to today’s movies?

BATMAN_byJoePhillipsJoe Phillips has an idea of what that might have looked like. The San Diego-based artist, a veteran of comic book titles like Wonder Woman and Superboy, has drawn a series of stunningly gorgeous posters recasting Studio Era stars as comic book icons. He calls the work Silver Screen Heroes, and it’s the stuff classic Hollywood dreams are made of.

“I am a huge classic film fan,” Phillips told me via Facebook message. “It certainly influenced my work and how I craft stories with pictures.”

Imagine Cary Grant as Batman, Gregory Peck as Superman, James Cagney as the Hulk, Buster Crabbe as Aquaman, Marilyn Monroe as Power Girl, Clark Gable as Iron Man, and Humphrey Bogart as Hellboy. The mind reels. Then thrown in a rogues’ gallery of villains, including Katharine Hepburn as a whip-wielding Catwoman, Yul Brynner as Lex Luthor, Danny Kaye as the Joker, and Shirley MacLaine as wise-cracking Harley Quinn.

While all of this is unfortunately entirely fictional, Phillips does a great job of retro casting, matching frequent co-stars in era-appropriate vehicles. Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland co-star in TEEN TITANS, the most action-packed 1930s musical MGM never made. Real-life husband and wife William Powell and Carole Lombard team up in a spooky, sexy Pre-Code production of DOCTOR STRANGE. And Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman join forces for a Eisenhower era WONDER WOMAN – quite a departure from their 1958 co-starring vehicle CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF.

I’ll admit to losing patience with the ponderous, violent epics that superhero movies have become, particularly in the DC universe. But imagine Cary Grant vs. Gregory Peck in BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN with a cameo by Elizabeth Taylor? Somebody please invent a time machine.

Phillips is offering limited edition 11×17″ signed prints of the Silver Screen Heroes series for sale. Only 10 of each are available. Visit his eBay page for more info. And a big hat tip to Andrew Wheeler of Comics Alliance, where I first learned of this project. 


Posted in Classic Film | 11 Comments

It’s a Wonderful Podcast

CLARThis week marks the third anniversary of Cinematically Insane, and nobody is more surprised than I am – except maybe my accountant, who advised me to stop working for free years ago.

Not all advice is meant to be heeded, of course, even if it’s for the best. But here’s a suggestion I think any classic film fan will appreciate: subscribe to the Attaboy Clarence podcast.

Named for the final line spoken by Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, this audio celebration of 1930s and ’40s movies and radio shows launched last January and has delivered a Jack Benny-esque 39 episodes so far. Every week or so, host Adam Roche (a Brit who works as a chef by day) chats enthusiastically – and often hilariously – about his recent film discoveries, most of which are the sort of rarities or genre classics I love. Films are often shared on the show’s website, where you can watch them for free (there’s that word again).

Attaboy+Clarence+Podcast+ArtworkEach episode also includes one or two vintage radio shows, often related to films discussed. For example, this week’s installment is a salute to James Cagney, and after a discussion of LADY KILLER (1933), GREAT GUY (1936) and THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE (1941), Adam plays a 1948 episode of Suspense featuring Cagney. It’s all great stuff, made even more enjoyable by the host’s dry British wit and his tendency to milk unintentionally hilarious classic radio commercials for comedy.

The show frequently makes me chuckle out loud, and one episode reduced me to tears of laughter on the subway late at night (whereupon my car-mates slowly moved away from me as if I were a pungent homeless man). It’s also extraordinarily well-produced, which is always a nice surprise in the world of non-professional podcasting.

New+ArtworkAs if that wasn’t enough, Roche has recently launched a second podcast series called The Secret History of Hollywood, which is also very much worth your time. These episodes focus on a single era, topic or classic Hollywood figure and can run for multiple hours (perfect for long car rides, unexpected incarcerations, or boring work days). The Secret History has focused on Universal horror movies, Pre-Code films, Sherlock Holmes, and Disney and an on-going series on Alfred Hitchcock has already passed the ten-hour mark (with more to come). Unlike the often raucous Clarence, the spin-off is a more sober affair, unfolding in a narrative non-fiction style that’s as engaging and well-researched as any written history of the era I’ve read.

And best of all, you can jump into either show from the current episode without feeling like to have to listen to all you’ve missed (though you’ll probably want to).

So let me amend my above advice and suggest you subscribe to two podcasts: Attaboy Clarence and The Secret History of HollywoodAnd let’s hope that Adam doesn’t take my accountant’s advice any time soon.


Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Screening Report: THE KILLERS (1946) at the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival

sherlockThere are many things I like to do outside; watching movies isn’t one of them. Especially in New York City. Especially in the summer.

The popularity of outdoor screenings has always baffled me: humidity; bugs; no seats; imperfect projection; ambient noise/light; shady bathrooms (if any); and throngs of annoying people chatting with annoying friends about their annoying lives during the film. Any one of these would be a deal breaker; together they’re like a conspiracy by people I don’t like to ruin something I do.

Technically precise presentation of a film is an art form, and that sort of thing is becoming rare today, even in movie theaters. So why would I choose to see a film in the one place that’s worse than a contemporary multiplex?

Because of a dame. 

“Somebody on Facebook said they’re showing an old film noir in the park tonight,” my girlfriend said last Monday. “You wanna go?”

Much as I love Maggie, she doesn’t share my mania for old movies. So anytime she suggests we watch one together, it’s a game-changer. Plus, thanks to TCM’s Summer of Darkness series, I’ve watched more film noir in the last month than in the previous 540 (give or take). Peeking over my shoulder, avoiding dark alleys, and being prepared for random violence is part of my daily life as a New Yorker, so what better reason to rescind my No Outdoor Screenings policy than to see one of the most iconic noirs on a big screen in the middle of the Big Apple?

lancaster6So, with my emotional baggage – and my own personal femme fatale – in tow, I attended a screening of Robert Siodmak’s THE KILLERS in Manhattan’s Bryant Park last week. The 1946 film was the second of ten screenings to be presented by HBO in the park this summer – and yes, despite the fact that I’ve lived in New York City since 1992, this is the first time I’ve gone to the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival in its 23 years of existence.

Because when I don’t like something, I don’t like something.

The show is advertised as beginning at dusk, so we arrived shortly before 9 p.m and found the football field-sized Bryant Park green patch-worked to capacity with blankets and towels. While chairs aren’t allowed on the green, there were plenty of them scattered along the perimeter on three sides along with small, round, folding tables and a few fixed benches.

After a bag check by a staffer who copped a half-hearted feel of just one of the dozens of pockets in my backpack, we grabbed a bench corner and sat down. (I guess I don’t look suspicious enough, which is definitely something I need to work on if I want to build my noir bona fides.)

First impression: the crowd was delightfully diverse, with New Yorkers of all ages and ethnicities caring enough about a black-and-white film to show up, and show up early. This was a nice change from the typical repertory cinema crowd, which is almost entirely white, middle-aged or older, and flying solo (and yes, I’m usually all of the above).

Like with the Old Movie Weirdos who bring all manner of outside edibles to rep screenings, food is a key component of the outdoor film experience. But unlike the rep crowd, the park audience didn’t crinkle their plastic bags throughout the film, nor did they stink up the joint with homemade liverwurst sandwiches they’d been carrying in their pockets. Pizza was a popular choice at Bryant Park, perhaps because a single item will serve a group without the need for cutlery or Biblical miracles. Wine also flowed copiously, furthering the Scriptural vibe.

The sun finally dipped behind the Time Square skyscrapers and the show began with a series of trailers for upcoming theatrical releases, including one for PIXELS, a Columbia film. This was a welcome surprise, considering that sponsor HBO is a corporate cousin of Warner Bros. Then the lights were dimmed and a cheer rose from the assemblage as Bugs Bunny appeared on screen.

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 7.04.08 PMHere’s a tip: if you’re trying to win me over, show me a Bugs Bunny cartoon, particularly LITTLE RED RIDING RABBIT, a 1946 short from director Friz Freleng. This was one of my favorite Looney Tunes (actually, Merrie Melodies) shorts when I was a kid, and I can still quote it verbatim. There’s nothing better than watching Bugs Bunny entertain a crowd of thousands of people of all ages, and as I watched kids around me laughing at the same jokes that cracked me up 40 years ago, I felt warmth in that frozen chamber that used to house my heart.

And then I snapped out of it.

“But why are there kids at a 1946 film noir?” I asked my girlfriend.

“Because it’s a nice night,” Maggie answered. “And it’s free.”

“Well, they probably won’t like it,” I complained.

“Be quiet, Grampa. The movie is starting.”

And then the film began, preceded by the circa 1983 HBO intro that still gets me excited 3o-plus years later. As the title characters (Charles McGraw and William Conrad) enter a small town diner searching for The Swede (Burt Lancaster), police cars sped down Sixth Avenue, sirens squealing. The crowd laughed in unison, as New York City played an unplanned role in the film and the audience’s experience of it.

GGGThe deliberate pacing of THE KILLERS and the back-and-forth flashback structure makes it not the best choice for a venue with a built-in distraction factor. And there was a certain amount of attrition among the attendees, especially those with kids, as we approached 11 p.m. on a week night. But, the vast majority of the audience stayed in place and was remarkably attentive throughout the film’s 97-minute running time. I guess it doesn’t hurt when you have Lancaster and Ava Gardner on screen to hold your attention.

People were also surprisingly well-behaved, considering that attendance was pretty much open to anyone. The park’s tree-lined borders did a good job of blocking ambient light, and the projected image on the screen looked remarkably sharp and appropriately shadowy. (I’m not sure of screening format, but it wasn’t 35 mm.) Sound was crisp as well, with the dialogue (and Miklos Rozsa’s rousing score) as audible near the back of the greeen as it was in the front.

Look, I’m not going to jog down the streets of New York City like George Bailey proclaiming my love for outdoor movies. I’m always going to choose the comfortable theater, with the expensive projector and a toilet that’s not housed in a plastic box. But anything that gets new eyes on classic film is okay in my book.

After the film, as Maggie and I were headed toward the subway, I noticed a tween and and his father chatting.

“…and CHINATOWN is playing in August, so we should definitely see that,” the kid said, as they headed west on 40th Street.

Maybe that kid was the rare pre-teen classic film fan. Or maybe he, and a few others, learned on that summer night that old movies aren’t just for Old Movie Weirdos.

The HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival continues on Monday, July 13 with I’M NO ANGEL (1933) starring Mae West and Cary Grant. For more information, visit the website


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