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IMPORTANT NEWS: The 2020 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood has been canceled.
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The World, the Flesh and the Devil

The streets of New York City become a destitute world in this science fiction drama set in the wake of a radioactive attack. Harry Belafonte stars as a coal mine inspector who’s trapped underground while most of humanity is wiped out. He travels to a deserted New York City in search of survivors, finally finding a beautiful white woman (Inger Stevens) and then a white man (Mel Ferrer). The resulting triangle threatens to destroy what little is left of the human race. Although the film sidesteps any real scientific explanation of civilization’s end, it provides some haunting images of Belafonte wandering deserted streets, shot in crisp black and white by Harold J. Marzorati. It also sidesteps many of the story’s racial implications, though all three stars fought for it to go farther. Producer Sol Siegel overruled them, arguing that audiences weren’t ready for an interracial relationship between Belafonte and Stevens. Perhaps they were right. Some Southern states refused to show the film, and a screening at a drive-in theater in Atlanta had to be stopped when racial tensions erupted in the audience. Yet, there’s still a powerful sexual chemistry among the stars due to their performances. It’s also interesting that the one who puts the brakes on the relationship is not Stevens but Belafonte, suggesting the scars a racist society can leave on its marginalized citizens. (d. Ranald MacDougall, 95m, 35mm)

The Wizard of Oz

By now, the fantasy worlds of Munchkinland and Oz that MGM created on its backlot have become legendary. Dorothy’s fight to return home to Kansas continues to strike a chord with filmgoers, though today it’s hard to imagine why she would want to leave the Technicolor wonders of the land over the rainbow. It’s also hard to believe anybody but Judy Garland was ever considered to play Dorothy. (Shirley Temple auditioned but had no vocal range and was nixed.) The role is so connected with her (it earned her a special Oscar for Best Juvenile Performance) that she closed every concert in later years with the score’s biggest hit, “Over the Rainbow.” Her co-stars—Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley and Margaret Hamilton—would also be associated with their roles for the rest of their lives. The film was a highly collaborative effort, with 14 writers and five directors at various times. Yet, its intelligence and the careful integration of music and plot are the hallmarks of producer Mervyn LeRoy’s assistant, Arthur Freed, who would go on to head one of the studio’s musical production unit of the 1940s and 1950s. As great as his later productions were, including the Oscar-winning An American in Paris (1951) and Gigi (1958), this film remains the most beloved of all his films and a tribute to the young at heart everywhere. (d. Victor Fleming, 102m, DCP)

Victor Victoria

After scoring hits as a magical nanny and a singing nun, Julie Andrews went for more adult roles, first baring her breasts in husband director Blake Edwards’ S.O.B. (1981) and then playing a woman pretending to be a man pretending to a woman in this hit comedy with music. The story had originated as a German film, Viktor und Viktoria (1933), which was then remade in English as First a Girl (1935), starring earlier British musical star Jessie Matthews, and then again in German as Viktor und Viktoria (1957). Edwards had the idea for the film in the late 1970s and originally planned to co-star Peter Sellers as Andrews’ gay friend, Toddy. When Sellers died while Andrews and Edwards were making S.O.B., Edwards chose one of that film’s co-stars, Robert Preston, whose performance brought him the only Oscar nomination in his almost 50-year career. As the gangster who falls for Andrews before he knows she’s a woman, they cast James Garner, who had teamed with her in her second film The Americanization of Emily (1964). The film landed seven Oscar nominations, including nods for Andrews and Lesley Ann Warren as Garner’s rejected moll. It won for Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse’s song score. Thirteen years later, Andrews and Edwards turned it into a hit Broadway musical, which they then filmed for television in the same year 1995. (d. Blake Edwards, 134m)

The Time Machine

According to producer/director George Pal’s imaginative adaptation of the H.G. Wells’ classic, we shouldn’t just be celebrating this picture’s 60th anniversary this year, but also the 54th anniversary of a nuclear holocaust that ended civilization as we know it in 1966. Like most films predicting the future, Pal’s sci-fi adventure gets a lot wrong (though there’s a “tubeless TV” in 1966 that resembles today’s flat screens). What it gets right, however, is the sense of adventure and discovery that first fascinated readers when H.G. Wells’ classic novel was published in 1895. Rod Taylor stars as the machine’s inventor, who travels to the year 802,701, populated by the beautiful, surface-dwelling Eloi and the vicious, subterranean Morlocks. MGM gave Pal a limited budget. As a result, he went for Taylor and the then-unknown Yvette Mimieux as his leads. Both became stars as a result. Pal also used props and costumes from other MGM films, most notably Forbidden Planet (1956). The film won the Oscar for Best Special Effects and has grown in popularity since then. With its use of Victorian design elements to create a futuristic invention, the film’s time machine helped inspire the rise of steampunk in the late 1980s. (d. George Pal, 103m, 35mm)

That Night in Rio

With the loss of the European market at the start of World War II, Hollywood turned to Latin America as a new source of income, a move that fit with President Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy of fostering U.S.-Latin relations. To appeal to this hitherto untapped audience, 20th Century-Fox hired one of Brazil’s biggest singing stars, Carmen Miranda, for a series of Technicolor musicals often set south of the border. With her outsized personality, she was usually confined to stereotyped supporting roles that presented her mangling the English language, displaying her “fiery Latin temperament” and singing a few high-energy songs. For her second Fox film, she’s the girlfriend of an American entertainer (Don Ameche) who so strongly resembles a Brazilian Baron (also Ameche), he’s hired to take his place for a night. This leads to romantic complications when Ameche finds himself attracted to the man’s wife (Alice Faye). Along the way, the stars sing, dance and clown charmingly, with Miranda stealing the show with her songs “Chica-Chica-Boom-Chic” and “I, Yi, Yi Yi, Yi (I Like You Very Much).” Although similar to The Prisoner of Zenda, the story was actually based on an Austrian play previously filmed as Folies Bergere de Paris (1935), with Maurice Chevalier, Merle Oberon and Ann Sothern. Fox would remake this one and release it 10 years later as On the Riviera (1951), with Danny Kaye, Gene Tierney and Corinne Calvet. (d. Irving Cummings, 91m, 35mm)

That Brennan Girl

Along with John Ford and Alan Dwan, Alfred Santell was one of the top directors lured to Republic Pictures to help raise the Poverty Row studio’s image. For Santell, a veteran of silent films who had directed Richard Barthelmess’ Oscar-nominated performance in The Patent Leather Kid (1927), it marked the end of the road, as studio head Herbert Yates’ penny-pinching ways drove him into retirement. Before that, however, Santell turned in this recently rediscovered gem starring Mona Freeman as a young woman lured into a life of crime after being raised by a negligent mother (June Duprez). Along the way she falls in with a con artist (James Dunn), falls for a soldier and struggles with motherhood, although she has never had a caring mother of her own. Santell got his old friend Adela Rogers St. John to write the original story, and Santell directed with great visual flair. There are scenes played out in silhouette, scenes done in pantomime (a call back to Santell’s beginnings in silent film) and a wonderful set of shots following Freeman up three floors in an apartment building. The film’s visual bravura is on full display in this recent restoration, presented by Paramount Pictures and Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation in an effort to preserve the best of Republic’s films. (d. Alfred Santell, 95m, DCP)

The Sword in the Stone

Walt Disney’s 18th animated feature, which would also prove to be his last, turned from classic fairy tales to the world of legend. The animation wizard had bought the rights to T.H. White’s novel about King Arthur’s childhood in 1939, but it took more than two decades to develop it into a film. Finally, after seeing Camelot, another White adaptation, on Broadway, Disney gave the project a go. The film focuses on the conflict between young Arthur’s training to be a squire and Merlin’s efforts to teach him there are more important things than warfare. That leads to transformations into a fish, a squirrel and a bird, and a confrontation with the evil witch, Madam Mim. Although the cartoon was Disney’s last, it would also be the first animated feature with songs by brothers Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, who had first worked from him on The Absent Minded Professor (1961). They would continue writing songs for Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures through 2000’s The Tigger Movie. Some of the images in the film—most notably the designs under the opening credits, and for Archimedes the owl and Madam Mim’s dragon form—were taken from Sleeping Beauty (1959). To create Merlin, character designer Bill Peet used Disney’s own features without telling the boss. (d. Wolfgang Reitherman, 79m, DCP)

Stella Dallas

Made at a time when spectacles ruled the box office, independent producer Samuel Goldwyn’s simple adaptation of Olive Higgins Prouty’s tale of a mother’s love was a surprise hit hailed by many contemporaries as the greatest movie ever made. Writer Frances Marion inserted enough humor to keep things from becoming too maudlin in the story of a low-class woman who gives up her beloved daughter to ensure the girl’s future. Director Henry King shot the story with restraint, using mostly medium shots and saving close-ups for key dramatic moments. When Goldwyn announced he had bought the story as a vehicle for Ronald Colman, Marion asked if his new star was going to do the title role in drag. Colman played Stella’s high-society husband, and Goldwyn wanted Laurette Taylor for the female lead. When she turned him down, Marion lobbied hard for him to cast Belle Bennett, an older actress who had performed in everything from serious dramas to the circus. Her test moved Goldwyn to tears, and the role would typecast her as mothers for the rest of her brief career (she died seven years later at 41). Goldwyn insisted on only the best for the film, even when it meant borrowing additional money to finish it. That devotion to quality was the hallmark of the “Goldwyn touch,” which would distinguish his productions for the next three decades. World premiere restoration by The Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation with support from The George Lucas Family Foundation. (d. Henry King, 110m, DCP)

Spartacus

When Kirk Douglas lost the title role in Ben-Hur (1959) to Charlton Heston, he decided to make his own Roman epic. A move he would later call “childish” produced one of the great film epics. Loosely based on historical events, the film contrasts escaped slave Spartacus’ fight for freedom and human dignity with the corruption of the Roman Empire. Blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo’s credit for this screenplay and Exodus (1960), not to mention President-elect John F. Kennedy’s ringing endorsement of this film, effectively ended the blacklist. Anthony Mann started out as the original director, but after a week of filming, he and Douglas clashed. Remembering how well they had collaborated on Paths of Glory (1957), Douglas replaced Mann with director Stanley Kubrick. He would come to regret that when he and Kubrick clashed throughout production, mainly because Kubrick didn’t like the script. Cinematographer Russell Metty also quarreled with Kubrick and threatened to leave the production. However, both Metty and Kubrick finished shooting the film, and Metty earned an Oscar win for it. The film also won for art direction, costume design and Peter Ustinov’s supporting performance as the head of a gladiator slave training ring. The film was Universal’s biggest hit at that time, but censors cut some violent moments and Roman general Laurence Olivier’s attempt to seduce a Greek poet played by Tony Curtis. Those scenes were returned in a 1991 restoration. (d. Stanley Kubrick, 197m, DCP)

Spaceballs

After parodying Westerns in Blazing Saddles (1974), horror films in Young Frankenstein (1974) and Alfred Hitchcock in High Anxiety (1977), producer-director-writer Mel Brooks realized he had never turned to science fiction. The result was this spirited send-up of the Star Wars saga, with nods to Planet of the Apes (1968), Star Trek, Alien (both 1979) and even a little of The Wizard of Oz (1939). It took him six months to come up with a screenplay so witty that George Lucas approved it with only one condition: that Brooks do no merchandising tie-ins. In fact, Lucas was so impressed, he offered help from his Industrial Light & Magic with the special effects and even allowed the Millennium Falcon to make a cameo parked at the space diner. The script has Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his sidekick Barf (John Candy) trying to rescue the kidnapped Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) and her robot friend, Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers), from Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis). That provided an excuse for an avalanche of jokes on everything from Jewish culture (Yogurt the sage teaches Lone Starr to use “The Schwartz”) to advertising tie-ins. Critics carped that the satire came out ten years after its subject, but nobody could deny how funny it was. (d. Mel Brooks, 96m, DCP)