October Highlights on TCM
When I started making pictures, nostalgia for the "Golden Age of Hollywood" was at its peak. The revival house circuit was not only still in existence but thriving. On pre-cable television, the films of the studio era were shown constantly. Aging stars, directors and craftspeople made regular appearances on the talk shows. The old system and its publicity machine were gone, but you still heard the term "movie magic"--as if those pictures had been conjured into life by the enchanted few who knew the "secret." Now that this need to sell older movies as magical creations is more or less finished, I think the best of the studio era seems even more impressive than ever--the films no longer have to be sold, they're just there to be seen and appreciated and studied, and the level of artistry and dedication have become more powerfully evident. A case in point: there's a salute this month on TCM to actresses who specialized in comedy, including Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight. Harlow's beauty and the glamorous portraits of her by George Hurrell are one thing, but her formidable control as an actress and the expert timing of her performance in that picture, particularly in her scenes with Wallace Beery...something else again. There's another picture being shown this month that was made 20 years later at a different studio by the same director, George Cukor. Take a fresh look at Cukor's version of A Star Is Born and you'll see something we once took for granted but that now seems precious: the convergence of multiple artists and craftsmen to create one remarkable film experience--that includes Gene Allen (Production Designer), George Hoyningen-Huene (Color Advisor), Sam Leavitt (DP), Jean Louis and Mary Ann Nyberg (Costume Design), Richard Barstow (Choreographer), Moss Hart (Screenwriter--apparently, Ben Hecht and others made uncredited contributions), Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin (the songwriters--Roger Edens and Leonard Gershe wrote "Born in a Trunk"), Charles Bickford, Jack Carson, James Mason and Judy Garland (the stars) and of course, Cukor. And maybe it's time to take another look at Rio Bravo, made a few years later. When I was young, John Wayne was the most popular star in movies. He was beloved as a personality who always "played himself." Later, of course, the film came to be appreciated as a purely directorial creation by Howard Hawks. That it is. But the creation didn't happen alone in a room. It happened in the moment of contact with all the people Hawks brought together, including Wayne, a true artist with an absolute mastery of his instrument, which was his own presence. When you watch Wayne, Dean Martin and Walter Brennan at work with Hawks, responding and shaping behind the camera and then in the editing room, when you forget about all the legends and the packaging and just concentrate on what's on the screen, you realize that you're sitting before something as unique as a painting by Manet or Cézanne, something to marvel at.
by Martin Scorsese