Tag Archive: Turner Classic Movies

It’s one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest and most celebrated films.  Pairing Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, Hitchcock explored the ultimate con, the perfect murder, and a hopeless love story.  In Hitchcock’s stylish 1958 film Vertigo, the director also paints one of the most beautiful travelogues for the San Francisco Bay area.  The American Film Institute has declared it the all-time best mystery, the #12 best film score, the #18 best romance, the #18 best thriller, and the ninth best movie of all American films.  Over the years international critics’ polls have seen Vertigo move back and forth with Citizen Kane for the designation of best film of all time.  Celebrated directors François Truffaut and Martin Scorcese have heralded the film.  Vertigo is also the only film that featured Hitchcock himself as a trumpet player–you’ll just need to keep a watchful eye for his cameo.  And you can do that this weekend, as Vertigo is returning to theaters nationwide for two days to celebrate its 60th anniversary beginning this Sunday, March 18, 2018, as part of Turner Classic Movies, Universal Pictures and Fathom Events’ retrospective screenings of film classics.

Even more so than Otto Preminger’s haunting 1944 film Laura, Vertigo delves into obsession like no other film.  Stewart’s take on an ex-cop observing the beautiful wife of an old friend at that friend’s request is a character far removed from any other role Stewart had ever taken on.  And Novak really plays two women as the film is cracked into two halves–one a dangerous and enigmatic stranger, the other a young romantic from Salina, Kansas, trying to escape the decisions of her past.  You, too, will find it hard pressed to avoid becoming obsessed with the film (I’ve seen it at least twice in theaters and dozens of times on home video over the decades).

Behind the scenes film aficionados will appreciate that Vertigo was the first film to use the dolly zoom, the camera taking the dolly out while zooming in, thereby creating the dizzying vertigo effect throughout the movie.  John Whitney used an M5 gun director–an actual World War II anti-tank firing predictor, along with famed graphic designer Saul Bass’s spiral motifs, to create the film’s unusual opening title sequence.  Edith Head’s spectacular designs were behind Novak and Stewart’s memorable wardrobes.  The film was nominated for two Oscars, George Dutton for sound, and Hal Pereira, Henry Bumstead, Sam Comer, and Frank R. McKelvy for Art Decoration/Set Decoration.

But probably most significantly for the ambience of the film, Bernard Hermann’s score is one of Hollywood’s finest, and Martin Scorcese summed up the music his way:  “Hitchcock’s film is about obsession, which means that it’s about circling back to the same moment, again and again…  And the music is also built around spirals and circles, fulfilment and despair.  Herrmann really understood what Hitchcock was going for — he wanted to penetrate to the heart of obsession.”  Years later the 2011 Oscar winner for best picture The Artist would use the spiraling love theme from Vertigo to achieve the emotion needed for its key scene.

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Back in September here at we predicted the November Bonhams auction of Robby the Robot and his “space chariot” from the 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Planet would hit the $1 million mark and we even entertained the possibility of a $10 million sale.  Yesterday the hammer fell at $4.5 million at Bonham’s “Out of this World” auction of entertainment memorabilia and with the addition of a buyer’s premium resulting in a final sale price of $5,375,000, Robby and his car became the highest movie prop lot ever to sell at public auction.  Technically a costume that doubled as a prop, Robby the Robot also became the second highest sale price for any piece of entertainment memorabilia to sell at public auction, eclipsed only by the 2011 sale by auction house Profiles in History of the iconic Marilyn Monroe subway vent dress from The Seven Year Itch, which sold for $5.52 million including buyer’s premium (yesterday Bonhams and the mainstream press, including The New York Times and CBS, mistakenly claimed Robby’s sale surpassed the Monroe dress price, but their reports neglected to factor in the buyer’s premium for the dress–a fee the auction house charges bidders based on a percentage of the hammer price, and the Monroe dress had a hammer price of $4.6 million).  The Robby the Robot costume/prop was used in dozens if not hundreds of appearances over the decades, including in key episodes of Lost in Space and The Twilight Zone.

Still, top prop honors is nothing to sneeze at.  The sale of Robby and his car nudged from the top spot the sale of the 1966 Batmobile from the 1960s television series, which sold for $4.62 million in 2013, including buyer’s premium.  The rest of the pantheon of prime public auction screen-used prop and costume sales includes one of two original James Bond Aston Martins from Goldfinger ($4.6085 million/2010), one of the falcon props from The Maltese Falcon ($4.085 million/2013), Audrey Hepburn My Fair Lady and Breakfast at Tiffany’s dresses ($3.7 million/2011 and $807,000/2006, respectively), Sam’s piano from Casablanca ($3.4 million/2014), the Cowardly Lion suit from The Wizard of Oz ($3.1 million/2014), Von Trapp kids’ costumes from The Sound of Music ($1.5 million/2013), Steve McQueen’s racing suit from LeMans ($984,000/2011), and one of four pairs of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz ($666,000/2000).

In the science fiction genre, the artifact to beat was another robot–an R2-D2 that was pieced together from several screen-used components, which sold this past June for $2.76 million, and a Back to the Future III DeLorean time machine sold for $541,000 in 2011.  Robby easily nudged these props aside yesterday.  Would the sale price have been the same without the space car?  You’ll need to track down the anonymous telephone buyer to get the answer to that question (the four final bidders all dueled it out via phone bids), although you might keep an eye out at Paul Allen’s Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, as this is the kind of high-end prop he has purchased in the past.

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Last week The Princess Bride turned 30 and it returned to theaters this week as part of the Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies partnership (more classics are on their way to your local theater so keep an eye on the Fathom Events website for updates).  We’re big fans of The Princess Bride here at–more than five years ago it made 3 of our 4 lists of all-time favorite fantasy films.  This week’s screenings included Ben Mankiewicz interviewing director and producer Rob Reiner, and what shines through is Reiner’s enthusiasm for the film, three decades later.  He’s had several hits, from This is Spinal Tap to A Few Good Men, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and The American President, and more, and now in theaters is his latest–LBJ.  But so few films are beloved like The Princess Bride.

Why does it work so well?  Part of the film’s success is due to its sincerity.  It’s true to its source material, William Goldman’s novel The Princess Bride–the favorite of the author’s works.  Reiner tells a story of the difficulty in getting novelist William Goldman to sign over the film rights.  After countless big names were denied, Reiner was successful by agreeing simply not to change the story.  Goldman, who won Oscars for his screenplays to All the President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, also penned the film adaptation, further ensuring his original vision.  The story is bookended as only a fairy tale could be told (with a few interruptions) by Peter Falk’s Grandpa and Fred Savage’s Grandson, just having storytime.  The Grandson’s 1980s room provides plenty of nostalgia for kids from the period–a “Refrigerator” Perry poster, a Cubs pennant, Burger King The Empire Strikes Back drinking glass, He-Man action figures–this Chicago kid had a fun room.  But the family bonding is the thing–an old book keeping a story that bridges generations, inside the movie and out, told by an old man with glasses, gray hair, and a fedora.  And the story is sweet and about love–nothing in the movie is embarrassing or gross or disturbing–it’s safe territory to kick back and have a good time–for everyone.

Rob Reiner’s humor must also be a big component of the film’s success and appeal.  His choices, his casting, his own humor comes through, no doubt influenced by a lifetime in film thanks to his comedy dad Carl Reiner.  Carl belonged to that classic comedy school that also includes Mel Brooks.  It’s Brooks’ Young Frankenstein that The Princess Bride reminded me of the most in the theater.  What Young Frankenstein was to classic monster movies, The Princess Bride was for the fantasy film genre.  Is The Princess Bride a parody?  It doesn’t have those obvious, direct ties to specific classic scenes like Young Frankenstein, but it’s an homage to several–from Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood to Zorro and from Ivanhoe to Captain Blood and Sleeping Beauty.  The Pit of Despair, where Cary Elwes’s Dread Pirate Roberts is tortured, looks as if it could have been designed by the same crew as the laboratory set in Young Frankenstein (it didn’t but it did share its set designer–Richard Holland–with fantasy classics Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal).  But Rob Reiner’s humor is his own.  He never sits on a joke like the old masters of Hollywood comedy.  He leaves a laugh and keeps moving, which keeps in step with classic fantasyland storytelling.  You can laugh but the goal is the goal:  Rescue the Princess!

The classic archetypes are there: the Princess (Robin Wright), the Farmboy Hero (Elwes), the Three Woodsmen (Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant), a Wizard (Billy Crystal), a Crone (Carol Kane), an Albino (Mel Smith), and plenty of Villains including the Evil King (Chris Sarandon)–with a classic “rescue the Princess” plot.  But the movie is also unique.  What else has Rodents of Unusual Size?  The accents of Wallace Shawn as Vizzini and Peter Cook as the Impressive Clergyman?  An ad-libbing Billy Crystal partnered with a wonderfully badgering Carol Kane (Humperdinck! Humperdinck!)?  A real giant?  Two brave, swashbuckling heroes and two key villains (don’t forget Christopher Guest’s Count Rugen).  And the quotable lines!  It surely has as many big lines as Caddyshack: As you wish… My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my Father.  Prepare to die… Never get involved in a land war in Asia!…  Inconceivable!…  I do not think that word means what you think it means… Mawwiage! … And an endless litany of “boo”s.  The Pit of Despair!  The Cliffs of Insanity!

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Review by C.J. Bunce

I can’t hazard a guess as to how many times I have watched E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Probably a handful of times in 1982 and 1983, and at least once during a return to theaters in the past 35 years, plus a few times on VHS.  What stood out today, watching the film as part of the Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies 35th anniversary re-release screenings, is how ageless the film is.  A teenager sitting behind me caught every single joke.  In a time when parents don’t think to take their kids to classic film opportunities like this, the kids are truly missing a great experience.  The film is a giant adventure story set in the backyard of a boy and his brother and sister.  It’s relatable.  Just check out Elliott’s room.  There’s a toy Star Destroyer on the table.  A TIE Fighter across the room.  He carefully explains who Greedo, Hammerhead, Walrus Man, Snaggletooth, Lando, and Boba Fett are to E.T.  And that advance LEGO builder set on the shelf.  How many kids’ homes today, after all these years, still look so similar?  And someone nearby is getting ready to dress up as Yoda, or a character from his neighborhood, in only a few weeks, much like the kid E.T. tries to run off with on Halloween.

It’s not only relatable, it’s about that subject that sci-fi does best when done right:  Communication.  Last year’s acclaimed sci-fi film Arrival was all about it, but does it reach into each of us like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has?  We celebrated one of the best episodes of television this year here at, discussing the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest of all Star Trek episodes, Darmok from The Next Generation, a story entirely about the practical, real-world difficulty of communication.  Elliott, played so well by Henry Thomas, and later Gertie, played equally well by the younger Drew Barrymore, each use what knowledge a little kid has to try to relate to an outsider.  And we immediately see the problems–the barriers–that get in the way.  Elliott tries to convey to the very curious new alien visitor so willing to learn that this giant object is a peanut.  “You eat them, only you can’t eat this one because it’s not real.”  He’s describing a bank that was made to look like a peanut.  He then puts money in it.  And the result: E.T. next tries to eat a toy car.  Just as Dathon and Picard found, communication isn’t all that easy.  Only when Gertie gets her only one-on-one opportunity, of the three kids she is the one who helps E.T. gain his vocabulary.  The innocent and the youngest and the most awestruck.  And she’s also the first to understand he is trying to phone home.  Communication is difficult sometimes, but if kids can figure this out, what can adults do?


This week’s release was the original cut, as seen in theaters in 1982, not with any modifications.  This is the first time the film has screened in theaters since the death of writer Melissa Mathison in 2015 (you might not have seen the laserdisc version of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the only version ever released to feature Mathison’s then kinda-sorta well-known boyfriend Harrison Ford in the shadows as Elliott’s principal, meeting Elliott’s mom Mary (Dee Wallace) after his frog rescue–a bad scene, justifiably deleted).  I did not recall how much we see E.T. in the film’s first scene as he and other botanists search out samples.  E.T. carefully digs up what appears to be a Redwood sapling.  But I now understand what Spielberg was thinking in his later re-cut version.  As a kid I thought the humans were the enemy and yet this time I found no evidence of the humans trying to do anything other than learn about E.T.–much like the humans in Close Encounters of the Third Kind were scientists attempting to communicate.  In Close Encounters, the presence of weapons are to scare the public from the faked quarantine area.  Maybe that was the purpose of the weapons in the original E.T. cut.  But somehow the rifles seemed out-of-place when the kids were escaping on bikes, after E.T. dies, after showing all the adults desperately try to help, to save E.T, some even in tears.  This was the differentiator of Spielberg’s alien films from those that came before–the same spirit that only a few years earlier guided scientists to launch a couple of records into space hoping to communicate with someone out there.  So swapping out car phones or walkie talkies for rifles actually is consistent with the actions of the adults in the rest of the film.  I also can understand why so many little kids look back on the film as scary.  There’s plenty to scare little kids–those same things that scare E.T. throughout the film, as well as what might be many kids’ first introduction to death.  But the scene is gracefully done, and three decades later it’s great to hear that the adults are clearly heard attempting all those real-world, life-saving techniques to save our new alien friend.  Mathison masterfully blended a science fiction, a fantasy adventure, and a coming-of-age story all in one package.

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Fans of the beloved Steven Spielberg film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial have only one more day to catch Steven Spielberg’s 1982 hit film in theaters.  As part of the TCM Big Screen Classics and Fathom Events celebration of the 35th anniversary of some of the greatest films of all time, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial will be in theaters for only one more day via two screenings in hundreds of theaters nationwide.

You can still get tickets for one of two screenings showing locally Wednesday, September 20, 2017, at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.  For more information, to check theater availability, and to order tickets, check out the Fathom Events website here.

After unprecedented commercial success with Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg did the unthinkable, directing a fourth blockbuster that would outperform them all, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial saw the big screen breakout roles of Drew Barrymore, Henry Thomas, and C. Thomas Howell.  Nominated for nine Academy Awards, it would take home four awards, for John Williams’ vibrant score, for sound, visual effects, and sound effects editing.  The film is the only movie from the 1980s that is among the top 50 all-time box office record-holders, currently holding its place at#15.

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Robby the Robot.  He’s probably the only robot who has his own “Actor” page in the Internet Movie Database.  In the history of robots he is probably the most significant and the most game-changing robot of all time.  In the world of science fiction, few came before who achieved such fame, but many would follow.  Most who created the robots that came after–call them droids, androids and variants like fembots or even cyborgs, like the Terminator T-800, Cylons, and Cybermen, R2-D2 and C-3PO, and K-2So and BB-8–all can point back to Robby as inspiration and a critical step in the evolution of robots in cinema.  Robby would become a household name as a co-star and the focus of publicity for Forbidden Planet in 1956 (the classic sci-fi take on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest), and would go on to have guest appearances along with B-9 in Lost in Space, two episodes of The Twilight Zone, and all sorts of classic TV appearances (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Hazel, Dobie Gillis, The Addams Family, Columbo, Wonder Woman, The Love Boat, Mork & Mindy), and later he can even be spotted in the movies Gremlins and Clueless. 

As pop culture is concerned, there is likely no single, intact, tangible piece of entertainment memorabilia in science fiction that compares to the robot prop itself, which doubled as a costume worn by Frankie Darrow and voiced by Marvin Miller.  The word “iconic” was created for the likes of Robby the Robot.  So no wonder our heads began to spin when it became public this month that the actual robot from the groundbreaking science fiction film Forbidden Planet was going to hit the auction block this year.  And unlike most auctions of original, screen-used, Hollywood memorabilia, Robby the Robot is being sold with a host of original materials used with the Robot throughout his incredible run, and from the auction photos it appears his light-up electronics are still functional.

Bonhams is the lucky auction house that will sell off Robby later this year, presented by Turner Classic Movies.  The auction house posted preview images from its catalog (expected to be available sometime in October) and it’s clear each accompanying production item in the photos could have been auctioned off separately in its own right.  All we know so far is the listing itself and photos, with no idea of the auction estimate or any other details that may be released, including its provenance:   “Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet, together with Robby’s car, his alternative head, his control panel, and original MGM packing cases.  Also 2 rings for his head, 2 additional arms with pinschers, a stand, a harness, another part for the stand.”

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After unprecedented commercial success with Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg did the unthinkable, directing a fourth blockbuster that would outperform them all, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  And it happened over that magical Summer of 1982.  On its way to proving that 2017 may be the biggest year of returning classic films to the theater, Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events are partnering again as part of their TCM Big Screen Classics Series to bring E.T. back to the big screen.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial saw the big screen breakout roles of Drew Barrymore, Henry Thomas, and C. Thomas Howell.  Nominated for nine Academy Awards, it would take home four awards, for John Williams’ vibrant score, for sound, visual effects, and sound effects editing.  The film is the only movie from the 1980s that is among the top 50 all-time box office record-holders, currently holding its place at#15.

Phone Home.  Be good.  I’ll be right here.

The 35th anniversary screenings of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial will be the first nationwide re-release of the film in 15 years.  The original theatrical version will be presented at four screenings, which will include a special commentary by TCM Primetime Host Ben Mankiewicz.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment also celebrates the film’s anniversary with a special gift set, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial 35th Anniversary Limited Edition on 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray™+ Digital, available on September 12.

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If you could only study one filmmaker for the rest of your life you could hardly select anyone with a better catalog of films than Sir Alfred Hitchcock.  Known as the master of suspense, his broad range of films encompass much more.  Next month Turner Classic Movies is delving deep into the works of Hitchcock as it presents TCM Spotlight: 50 years of Hitchcock, exploring 44 of the films he directed.

You already know his most popular films: Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Birds, Strangers on a Train, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, Rope, Dial “M” for Murder, To Catch a Thief, Rebecca, The Birds, The Paradine Case, Lifeboat, The Wrong Man, The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Jamaica Inn, and Shadow of a Doubt.  But have you seen The Ring, Foreign Correspondent, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Blackmail, Murder! (aka Mary), The Skin Game, Saboteur, Suspicion, Stage Fright, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, and Family Plot?  TCM is airing all of these, and more.


TCM isn’t leaving much out.  But you’ll need to track down eight of the earliest of Hitchcock’s works on your own: His directorial debut The Pleasure Garden (1925), the Jack the Ripper inspired The Lodger from 1927, the 1928 romance Easy Virtue, the Irish civil war story Juno and the Paycock (1930), the 1930 musical Elstree Calling, the musical Waltzes from Vienna (1934), the Peter Lorre/John Gielgud mistaken identity film Secret Agent (1936), and the 1937 crime thriller Young and Innocent.  The line-up also does not include the 1949 Ingrid Bergman/Joseph Cotton historical thriller Under Capricorn and the 1955 Cary Grant/Grace Kelly hit To Catch a Thief.  Hitchcock directed another full-length film, the 1926 film The Mountain Eagle–a lost film considered by many to be the most sought after missing film of all time. 

And TCM isn’t going to stop with only a screening of 44 of Hitchcock’s films.

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1959.  A gallon of gas cost a quarter.  Movie tickets were a dollar and color was replacing black and white film.  You could buy a new car for $2,000.  In technology the Soviets beat the United States to the Moon, with a hitch, crashing their Luna 2 spacecraft into the lunar surface.  The U.S. selected seven astronauts for their Mercury space program.  Xerox began selling copiers to companies, IBM made headway with its mainframe computer, and Jack Kilby invented the microchip.  Kids first began playing with Play-doh, Etch-a-Sketch, and Barbie dolls.  On one end of the country The Sound of Music opened on Broadway and everywhere music fans faced the day the music died.  The world first witnessed The Twilight Zone.  The gray flannel suit defined the businessman.  And in 1959 the great filmmaker Billy Wilder produced and directed his own screenplay and the film would become the best reviewed comedy of all time, pegging the number one spot on the American Film Institute’s registry of best American comedies.  The film was Some Like It Hot.  And it’s back in theaters this weekend for a limited release.

Some Like It Hot has it all.  Marilyn Monroe in arguably her best performance.  Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon only at the beginning of their long and distinguished careers.  The movie doesn’t take place in 1959–it is set 30 years earlier in the heyday of speakeasies and Depression era mobs.  Tony Curtis is Joe, a ladies’ man and gambler–the sax player.  Jack Lemmon is Jerry, a straight arrow–the double-bass player.  They play in a band in a speakeasy (disguised as a funeral home) run by mob boss “Spats” Colombo (George Raft).  When Joe and Jerry accidentally witness a Valentine’s Day massacre-inspired mob hit, they must go on the run.  They find an all-female band heading to Miami via train and disguise themselves as the original bosom buddies, Josephine and Daphne, befriending the band’s gorgeous and upbeat lead singer and ukulele player, Sugar Kane, played by Marilyn Monroe.  That’s where the laughs begin, and a back-up cast of classic Hollywood staples, including Pat O’Brien and Joe E. Brown, fill in the gaps.


Despite the popularity of color film, Wilder shot Some Like It Hot in a steamy black and white.  Wilder had already directed Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, so the pairing was an obvious fit.  Wilder and Lemmon would start a partnership that lasted until 1981.  Wilder was the true King of Comedy.  He worked on nothing but hit movies over the course of his career–serious stuff like Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, The Spirit of St. Louis, and Witness for the Prosecution, in addition to comedies including Sabrina, The Seven Year Itch, The Apartment, Ocean’s 11, Irma la Douce, The Fortune Cookie, and Casino Royale.

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North by Northwest–With such incredible suspense thrillers like Rear Window, Vertigo, The Birds, Rebecca, Dial M for Murder, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic North by Northwest sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.  But what a great action film, and what an iconic role for Cary Grant.  He plays an advertising executive mistaken for a spy, being chased cross country to a brilliant action sequence battle on the face of Mt. Rushmore.

With the suave Cary Grant is the elegant Eva Marie Saint, plus James Mason portrays another of his own trademark villains.  It’s a must see, and even better on the big screen.

Nominated for three Academy Awards, including one for screenwriter Ernest Lehman, North by Northwest is returning to theaters next month as the next retrospective screening from the theater buff’s favorite team-up, Turner Classic Movies and the Fathom Event series.

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