Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall attended the Bradford International Film Festival in Bradford, England last week. Here is Lee Pfeiffer's second report:
They don't make movies like Where Eagles Dare any more - in fact, they don't make movie POSTERS like the one for this film.
On our first full day of the Bradford International Film Festival, we learned there aren't many slouchers when it comes to maximizing the screenings of classic movies. The first screening was at 10:00 AM - and we had been up half the night socializing with other attendees at the pub of the Midland Hotel. Still, even the temptation of crawling back under the covers could not override the opportunity to see This is Cinerama presented on the big screen in its original three panel format. I had only seen one film in true Cinerama since I originally viewed How the West Was Won at age 6. That additional opportunity came in the late 1990s when I drove to Dayton, Ohio to see the same movie presented at the Neon Theater during it's extended run in Cinerama. There are precious few venues left in which to see this wonderful process and Bradford's National Media Museum's Pictureville Cinema provides one of the most inviting settings. A sizeable crowd enthusiastically awaited the introductory comments by Dave Strohmaier and Randy Gitsch, creators of the documentary Cinerama Adventure, itself a masterpiece of filmmaking. This is Cinerama was released in 1952 and was intended as a test film for the Cinerama format. There is no narrative storyline. Instead, the film is a disconnected series of thrill ride footage, travelogues and filmed stage presentations. The format still thrills, but it must have been a sensation when witnessed during its early premiere engagements, when audiences were primarily used to black and white TV shows as a primary means of entertainment. In fact, Cinerama was an attempt by the motion picture industry to fight off the perceived threat of television by providing audiences with the type of thrill they couldn't possibly experience in their living rooms. The film has a slapped-together look that is part of its charm. It opens with a prolonged, one-panel flat screen introduction by Lowell Thomas that is intentionally mundane so that when the screen expands to three panels and reveals the Coney Island rollercoast footage, the effect is thrilling. For a film dedicated to big screen action, there are some bizarre segments that are as dull as they are claustrophobic. For example, a seemingly endless sequence features nothing but a choir singing in a cathedral. Another segment features the spectacular finale of Aida in a mammoth stage production, but a snippet of the sequence would have sufficed. I confess that when I attended a production of the play in Rome as a college student, I couldn't last through the entire affair, as even the abundance of gyrating slave girls in skimpy outfits wears thin quickly. However, the second part of the film picks up considerably with extensive travelogue segments showing spectacular aerial views of natural wonders. In what might have been one of the first instances of product placement, most of the second half of the film is shot in Cypress Gardens, a Florida tourist attraction that features water-based stunt shows. The few attempts at humor featuring the performers are as corny as they are quaint. The movie was "directed" by Merian C. Cooper and Michael Todd, but it's really the cameramen who were the creative forces. The main interest in the film is as a historical curiosity, but it's a most welcome one - especially in three panel Cinerama.
Original Japanese souvenir program for This is Cinerama. (Photo: Cinema Retro archive)
The film was followed by a 70mm showing of Franco Zeffirelli's 1966 production of The Taming of the Shrew starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, along with a fine supporting cast including Michael Hordern and young Michael York. I had never seen this film, as I thought the emphasis on pure Shakespearean dialogue might be too heavy for a kid from Jersey City. However, I found it to be delightful and very entertaining - proof, once again, that not all of Liz and Dick's screen pairings were meaningless vanity pieces. Taylor's heaving bosom tests the limits of a wide screen and Burton is very amusing as her drunken suitor, determined to win the tempermental temptresses' hand - and her dowry. Unfortunately, the print was quite red - an indication of how studio's have allowed their libraries to deteriorate.
Festival programmer Thomas Hauerslev with Derren Nesbitt and chief projectionist Duncan McGregor. (Photo:www.in70mm.com)
Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall introduce Where Eagles Dare. (Photo: www.in70mm.com)
We returned in the evening for the festival's sell-out 70mm presentation of Where Eagles Dare. The only 70mm print known to exist was imported from Sweden, thus it contained Swedish sub-titles, though they did not prove to be too distracting. Fortunately, while the print was "warm", it had not turned as red as many feared. Cinema Retro sponsored this screening, and it was quite an honor to see the magazine's logo on the screen shot of sponsors that included Dolby and Eon Productions. Prior to the screening, the museum's Artistic Director Tony Earnshaw had an on-stage interview with actor Derren Nesbitt, who portrayed the villain Major Von Hapen in the film. Nesbitt, a distringuished actor of stage and screen, brought the house down with hilarious anecdotes about making the film, praising director Brian G. Hutton and co-stars Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. He also related amusing stories about the less-than-pleasant circumstances involving the filming of The Naked Runner, though he had nothing but good things to say about star Frank Sinatra. Charmingly self-deprecating, Nesbitt kept the audience in stitches.
(Photo: Jim Moran)
Following Nesbitt's appearance, Dave Worrall and I introduced the film and gave some background on the strange career of Brian G. Hutton, who retired from show business at the height of his success to pursue real estate investments. We also showed some samples of Retro's forthcoming special edition tribute to Where Eagles Dare. I had never seen the film on the big screen, a rarity for me in terms of Clint Eastwood's early movies. Seeing it in 70mm with a magnificent soundtrack was quite a thrill. The movie also contained the original intermission, which was not included on general release prints in America. The degree of fanaticism among movie fans for this film is extraordinary. Some attendees told me they had flown in from other countries primarily to see Where Eagles Dare. Suffice it to say, you haven't lived until you've seen it on the big screen.
The post-screening celebration of Where Eagles Dare continued back at the Midland Hotel. (L to R: Dave Worrall, Neil Thompson, a contributor to Retro's special edition tribute to the film, actor Derren Nesbitt, author Sheldon Hall and Lee Pfeiffer). (Photo: Cinema Retro).
At the end of the evening, many of the attendees followed what would be the nightly ritual of returning to the pub at the Midland Hotel. Everyone was pumped to talk about the events of the day and the evening only became more enjoyable when I ran into Darren Nesbitt and his charming wife at the bar and they enthusiastically joined our party. He regaled us with hilarious stories about his long career in show business and gave us candid assessments of the legends he worked with. (He loved Sinatra, deplored Patrick McGoohan with whom he had co-starred as #2 in an episode of The Prisoner.) Finally, the day's activities and ample ingestions of lager took their toll and the party broke up shortly before 3:00 AM. We all needed our strength for round three the following day.
(For festival organizer Thomas Hauerslev's report, visit his site www.in70mm.com)