Monday, April 24, 2017

Panique (1946) with Pierre Simenon at #TCMFF

Pierre Simenon and Bruce Golstein at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival
Pierre Simenon and Bruce Golstein at TCMFF

Based on Georges Simenon's novel Les Fiançailles de M. Hire, Panique (1946) is a thrilling French Noir directed by the great Julien Duvivier. This rarely seen film was screened at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival . Last year I had attended the screening of the Argentine Noir Los Tallos Amargos (1956) and followed it up this year with an equally dark film. One could say that Panique, like Los Tallos Amargos, puts the Noir in Film Noir.

Panique stars Michel Simon as Monsieur Hire, a lonely voyeur. When murder of a local woman rocks a small town community, Hire has a hunch who did it. He tries to warn Alice (Viviane Romance) about her boyfriend Alfred (Paul Bernard) whom he suspects as the killer. Hire doesn't know that Alfred has already confessed the crime to Alice and fully intends to get away with it. Smitten with her beau, she battles internal conflicts then decides to lure Hire into a trap. The film is relentlessly dark with an ending that is an emotional punch to the gut.

Rialto teamed up with TCM to host a rare screening of Panique, kicking off a tour of the newly restored print. Rialto's Bruce Goldstein was on hand to interview special guest Pierre Simenon, the youngest son of Georges Simenon. Goldstein made it a point that although the novel is in French, Simenon was Belgian. He went on to give the following intro to elder Simenon:

"Simenon is best known for his 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring detective Jules Maigret. But he wrote nearly five times as many books making him a towering figure in French language literature. Simenon was the most translated French language author of the 20th century. And the 17th most translated author of all time according to UNESCO. He died in 1989 at the age of 86."

Both Goldstein and Pierre Simenon shared some interesting facts about Georges Simenon's writing career. He was the most prolific French-language Belgian author of the 20th century. 70 film adaptations and 350 TV adaptations have been made from his novels. Estimates say that Simenon's books have sold 750 million copies, in 55 languages across 44 countries. He wrote his first book at the age of 16 and the last at age 80. It would only take him 7 days to finish one novel.

Georges Simenon
Georges Simenon


Simenon had a love-hate relationship with the movies, with an emphasis on hate. As Pierre Simenon explains, "at the time he was a young writer. [He said,] 'I'm going to write the screenplay, I'm going to give my insight.' He was full of ideas. But of course as we know in Hollywood that's the last thing a producer wants. He wants to do it his own way. So the results were mixed."

The early adaptations included Jean Tarride's The Yellow Dog (1932), Night at the Crossroads (1932) and La tĂȘte d'un homme (1933) directed by Julien Duvivier who was also the director for Panique. Pierre Simenon explained, "my father was not happy with the industry. He quickly discovered that there was a lot of meddlers in the project. When you're a writer, you are just alone with the page. When you dabble in movies, there are hundreds of people with something to say and my dad didn't like that."

At one point Simenon refused to sell film rights to his books and this embargo lasted six years. Pierre Simenon joked that his father was as prolific a writer as we was a spender. There were two things Simenon wanted: money and artistic control. During the 1930s, authors made quite a bit of money with newspaper serializations. Sometimes these papers would trim the novels so sections would fit perfectly on the last page. In essence they were editing down the book; something Simenon despised. He knew there was a lot of money to be made in film and he picked the lesser of two evils by abandoning serialization altogether.

Georges Simenon with son Pierre
Georges Simenon with son Pierre, circa 1980. Photo source: Film Forum

Simenon struck up friendships with many key film industry figures including Jean Renoir, Charlie Chaplin, Frederico Fellini and others. Pierre Simenon shared a potentially apocryphal story of when the great Alfred Hitchcock called up his father. The secretary told Hitchcock that Simenon was too busy to come to the phone because he had just started a new novel. Hitchcock's reply, "It's okay, I'll wait."

Then there was the time Georges Simenon was the president of the Cannes Film Festival jury. His buddy author Henry Miller was on the jury and according to Pierre Simenon pleaded with Georges, "I'm here to see you, to see friends, to see the ladies and to drink a lot. Just tell me who you want me to vote for." Frederico Fellini's La Dolce Vita was up against a lot of other amazing films including L'Avventura which was the favorite to win the Palme D'or. Simenon lobbied for La Dolce Vita and it won. According to Pierre, his father was met with many boos and whistles in opposition. Pierre Simenon reflected, "[my father] was trashed by the critics and he became friends with Fellini. And if you watch the movie now it hasn't aged a bit. It's a masterpiece." Simenon had a life long friendship with Jean Renoir and Pierre remembers sitting on Charlie Chaplin's lap. At this point in the conversation, Bruce Goldstein points out that Norman Lloyd, who worked with both Renoir and Chaplin, was in the audience.  Lloyd stood up for his usual standing ovation. I was so glad to see him again!

Panique (1946)


Goldstein called Panique one of the best adaptations of a Simenon novel and asked Pierre if his father ever saw it. Pierre's response, "nobody knows. And if he did nobody knows if he liked it or not." Panique opened on Thanksgiving day 1947 at the Rialto theatre in New York. According to Goldstein, it got rave reviews in the states but got trashed by French critics. Pierre Simenon noted that in post-WWII Europe, many artists were under serious scrutiny. You were either seen as a collaborator with the Nazis or if you fled you were considered a coward. There was some push back against both stars Michel Simon and Viviane Romance. I'm not sure if Pierre meant it was because of their possible connections to the Nazi regime or not.

The original novel, translated into English as Monsieur Hire's Engagement, is very different from the film. Pierre Simenon explained that in the book there is a lack of intense action and that the lead character was very ambiguous. His voyeuristic tendencies were more pathological. Duvivier and screenwriter Charles Spaak added "social commentary about mob justice and prejudice" according to Pierre. The book was published in 1933 but the film adaptation speaks more to the post-WWII era.

Rialto continues it's nation-wide tour of Panique starting next month. Check out the full schedule here. I hope a North American Blu-Ray/DVD release is in store for this title so a wider audience can have the pleasure of seeing the film.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Graduate (1967)


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the cultural phenomenon that is The Graduate (1967). Prior to this month I had never watched the film in its entirety. Key scenes are so ingrained in our collective pop culture knowledge that there's no escaping them. And no one could spoil the movie for me because I knew the famous ending well. Why did it take me so long to watch The Graduate? I must have been holding out for just the right moment and that opportunity arose I attended this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

Author Beverly Gray

On the first day of the festival and a couple days before the screening, I had the opportunity to speak to author Beverly Gray on the red carpet. She's been hard at work writing a new book all about The Graduate. Here's what she had to say:




On day three of the festival, Ben Mankiewicz interviewed screenwriter and actor Buck Henry on stage at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Buck had suffered a stroke and Mankiewicz was the kindest and most patient interviewer helping Buck when we was struggling with answers. Mankiewicz reassured Buck that he was in front of the most patient crowd in the world and it was true. But we didn't have to be too patient because Buck had many clever and witty responses to Mankiewicz's questions and had us all laughing with delight.



Mankiewicz and Buck Henry discussed the making of The Graduate at length. Based on the novel by Charles Webb, Buck Henry along with Calder Willingham the story for the screen. Buck also has a small part as a hotel clerk in the film. According to Mankiewicz, Webb's book only sold a couple thousand copies. Buck had read it previously but it took producer Lawrence Truman to get the concept to director Nichols in order for the project to move forward. Buck joked that he was one of the "brave two thousand" to read the novel.

Director Mike Nichols had his eye on Robert Redford for the lead role. Looking back now it seems impossible that anyone other than Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock. According to Mankiewicz, Redford's persona was closer to the depiction in the book than what was presented on screen. When asked whether Redford would have been wrong for the film role, Buck Henry replied "according to Redford, yes." Nichols desperately tried to woo Redford. They had discussed the part and Redford told Nichols that he just couldn't understand the role. Nichols offered to fix anything Redford didn't like. Nichols said "Bob you must have made dates with girls in your long career as an eligible male and had them stand you up?". Redford replied, "what does that mean?" And that was the end of that.

Dustin Hoffman was under contract to be in stage production of The Producers and was let go to make The Graduate. Mankiewicz joked that Mel Brooks being married to the film's lead actress Anne Bancroft probably helped a little. Hoffman was considered by many to be an odd choice for the lead role. Buck Henry once said about Hoffman, "the reaction in Hollywood was that his nose was too big, he was funny looking, his voice was too strangled, he walks funny and he has odd cadence."

Gene Hackman was originally supposed to be in the film but he was fired three weeks into filming. Buck thought Nichols was "slightly insane" for letting him go. Mankiewicz pointed out that because Hackman was not in The Graduate he was able to make Bonnie and Clyde.  As they say, when one door closes another one opens!

Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (1967) - Photo credit: Rialto Pictures



Did you know that the iconic shot of Anne Bancroft's leg framing Dustin Hoffman was storyboard artist Harold Michelson's idea? After you watch The Graduate for the 50th anniversary make sure you watch Daniel Raim's documentary Harold and Lillian to learn about Harold Michelson and his wife film researcher Lillian Michelson (who happens to be one of my personal heroes). Harold and Lillian opens theatrically later this month in NY and Los Angeles and will be playing in more cities soon.

Rialto's 4k restoration of The Graduate is part of Fathom Events and TCM's Big Screen Classics series. It will be screened across the US in theaters on April 23rd and 26th.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

TCM Classic Film Festival 2017 Red Carpet




Conducting red carpet interviews has always been a dream of mine and I can't believe I've been able to do it. Twice! I had the privilege of being on the red carpet again for this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. The opening night premiere was for the 50th anniversary of In the Heat of the Night (1967). 

I was at the end of the line and not in the best spot for capturing quality audio, I did manage to get five quality interviews and lots of photos. Unfortunately Sidney Poitier didn't walk the red carpet so I didn't get to see him. However I saw plenty of other stars and special guests and I snapped a lot of photos.




Interviews with:
Film Critic Leonard Maltin
Actor Stathis Giallelis, America America (1963)
Author Beverly Gray
Director Producer Todd Fisher
Talk Show Host Dick Cavett



And here are some photos of who I saw on the red carpet.

TCM's Sean Cameron and TCMFF red carpet spectators

Wyatt McCrea

Angela Allen

Stathis Giallelis

Producer Walter Mirisch

Keir Dullea
Beau Bridges

Lee Grant


John Landis

Dick Cavett

Todd Fisher
Fred Willard

I had a great moment with Fred Willard. As I saw him walking down the red carpet I yelled out "Hey handsome!" He stopped to pose for me and I got a couple quick shots. I said "looking good" and thanked him.


Bob Balaban

Ruta Lee
Then came the beautiful Ruta Lee who looked absolutely stunning. I called out to her and told her she was beautiful and she quickly posed so I could get a shot. Doesn't she look fantastic?




Special shout out to Danny Reid who helped me with equipment, photography and live tweeted my red carpet interviews and to Marya Gates of TCM who helped guide Dick Cavett down the line to my spot. And thank you to my friends in the bleachers especially Kate Gabrielle, Millie and Casey who cheered for me from the stands and to Nikki and Brian who took photos of me. I appreciate your support!

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