TCM Classic Film Festival opens in Hollywood with ‘Oklahoma!’

The curtain goes up Thursday on the fifth TCM Classic Film Festival with the world premiere of the restoration of Fred Zinnemann’s 1955 “Oklahoma!,” based on the landmark Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Shirley Jones, who made her film debut in the hit, will be on hand at the TCL Chinese Theatre Imax to discuss the film with Robert Osborne, Turner Classic Movies’ popular host.

Over the next four days, rabid movie fans will descend on Hollywood to watch beloved classic films and see some of Tinseltown’s most venerable stars, including Jerry Lewis, who will have a hand and footprint ceremony outside the Chinese and appear at the screening of 1963’s “The Nutty Professor”; Kim Novak, who will appear at the screening of 1958’s “Bell, Book and Candle”; Maureen O’Hara, who will be the special guest at the presentation of the 1941 Oscar-winning best film “How Green Was My Valley”; and Mel Brooks, who will be cracking wise at the 40th anniversary celebration of “Blazing Saddles.”

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Those who have bought festival passes — about two-thirds of pass holders this year are from outside of California, according to festival organizers — will also be able to attend intimate interviews at Club TCM at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with actor Richard Dreyfuss, musician Quincy Jones, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and director William Friedkin.

But the festival is also about discovery.

“A big part of the goal in putting together the lineup is that any give time you can go and see a big movie that’s been restored,” said Charlie Tabesh, TCM senior vice president of programming. “But at the same time we want to make sure that you also have a chance to see a movie that not only might you never have seen before, but not have ever heard before.”

This year’s festival also marks the 20th anniversary of Turner Classic Movies. “We tried to live up to that milestone,” Tabesh said. “I guess we tried to make it a little bit bigger.”

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This year’s edition has added more venues, including the Hollywood Museum and the Montalban Theatre. Last year, the festival had two screenings at the El Capitan, and this year it has been extended to an entire day of movies, including 1964’s “Mary Poppins” and 1967’s “The Jungle Book.”

The festival also has become a showcase for studios’ high-profile film restorations. Besides “Oklahoma!,” other world premiere restorations include 1944’s “Double Indemnity,” 1946’s “The Best Years of Our Lives” and Orson Welles’ 1958 classic “Touch of Evil.”

“Oklahoma!” was the first film to be shot in Todd-AO — the format had a frame rate of 30 frames per second rather than the usual 24. “You get a nice sort of smoothness of motion you don’t have in 24 frames,” said Schawn Belston, senior vice president of library and technical services for 20th Century Fox.

The Todd-AO version of “Oklahoma!” was screened at “road show” engagements of the film, while a Cinemascope version was distributed to theaters unable to accommodate the new format.

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“Every single 70-mm print had been made from the original Todd-AO camera negative,” Belston said. “It was in bad shape physically and extremely faded.”

Several years ago, Belston and his crew made a copy of the tattered negative and used that for the painstaking digital restoration, which took eight months to complete.

The original nitrate negative of Billy Wilder’s classic film noir “Double Indemnity” doesn’t even exist. Universal had used a duplicate negative in their vaults for prior transfers, but they searched archives for the best available elements for this restoration, which, as “Oklahoma!, will be released on Blu-ray.

Of course, one of the biggest attractions at the festival is the silver-haired Osborne.

“He is a genuine celebrity,” Tabesh said. “You put him in the context of the film festival and it’s amazing — the adoration and respect people have for him.”

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This year, festival pass holders will have an opportunity to find out more about Osborne on Friday afternoon when he takes center stage at “Ask Robert, with TCM Host Robert Osborne.”

“It’s going to be at the Montalban Theatre, which was so important in my life,” said Osborne. “Growing up, it was where all the Lux Radio Theaters were broadcast from. I used to lay on the floor Monday nights and listen to Lux. I did a play there with Zero Mostel, and I got my star on the Walk of Fame right in front of the theater.”

Osborne admits that he wasn’t “all that excited” when he heard TCM was launching a film festival “because there are so many, but once they started it was so much fun. You realize it is not just for older folks or nostalgia — younger people are getting into film, and they are going to carry on the tradition.”


TCM Classic Film Festival

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Various venues in Hollywood

Tickets: Individual tickets are $20 general admission; $10 with student I.D. For the closing night screening of “The Wizard of Oz” in Imax 3-D, individual tickets are $30 and $15 for students with I.D.