TCMFF 2015 – Day 3

Friday, March 27.

Friday opened bright and early with The Dawn of Technicolor presentation in the Egyptian theatre. Historians and co-authors David Pierce and James Layton gave a stunning glimpse of the early two-strip technicolor process and the films made during that time (1915-1934). Restored snippets of films (mostly lost in their entirety) played after introductions with behind-the-scenes images and facts by Mr. Pierce or Mr. Layton.

It astounded me to realize how much light was required to capture clear images on film. We saw photographs of the sets which were nothing but stages in a cage of massive flood lights. The temperatures were reported to be higher than 100 degrees under the lights, and yet somehow the performers don’t have an ounce of glistening sweat on them. I’m slightly terrified to find out how that was possible. Also of note – a remarkable number of films were made in color with the two-strip process. I had imagined it to be reserved for a selection of high-budget productions and thought this was the reason why so few of the films were still around today. Not so, as it turns out. As the box office success of color films escalated, studios rushed to produce more color films. However, the Technicolor lab fell behind keeping up with the demand of prints of the new films. Audiences were so enamored with the original color films released, they kept going back to see them over and over again.

As soon as the massive applause for our hosts died down, I booked it over to my top pick of the day in the Multiplex: Reign of Terror (1949). My only viewing of it had been years ago, taped from TCM when I was a fledgling 14-year-old film fan and could not appreciate the greatness of a French Revolution themed-Noir directed by Anthony Mann. It takes a higher level of film knowledge to properly view bewigged Richard Basehart’s gleefully evil Robespierre and the delicate beauty of Arlene Dahl in rich black and white. And to add to the thrill, we were treated to a discussion after the film with Eddie Mueller and Norman Lloyd himself.

The best description I can give for Norman Lloyd is delightful. What a lovely man. He enchanted the entire audience from the first word he spoke and when it was time to end, everyone in the audience protested at the injustice of leaving. His main insight about Reign of Terror was the fact that the entire film was made (on a shoestring budget) simply because the sets were built for Joan of Arc. Not to imply the film suffered at all for this fact. The cinematography by John Alton takes your breath away, especially in the newly restored 35mm print we saw.

After tearing myself away from the sparkling wit of Norman Lloyd, I fast-walked my way down Hollywood Blvd for Pinocchio at the El Capitan. I had just enough time to jump in line to secure my number and grab a quick lunch at Baja Fresh down the street. I shamelessly stood in the Pinocchio line near the ElCap and stuffed my face on a taco while wearing one of the fanciest dresses I own. The marvelously kind (and gorgeous!) Tiffany later admitted to catching me at this and seeing my intent expression, decided not to interrupt. Food is gold at TCMFF, folks.

Pinocchio was a first time viewing for me, believe it or not. First time, in the ElCap with a newly restored DCP print and seeing it with Laura and Kristina – nothing better! Laura has a wonderful photo in her recap post taken by the official TCM press photographer and you can clearly see all three of us (me in my orange pillbox hat…) on the right side. I ended up mighty thankful those two ladies were with me because I am here to tell you – Pinocchio is SCARY. Your nose growing every time you fib? Your father gets swallowed by a whale? Boys turning into donkeys and being sold by bad men? Whoever perpetuated the idea Disney films were sugar coated did us massive disservice.

In an effort to recover from the fright of Pinocchio, Laura, Kristina and I took a short break to eat before the next film. We chatted and people-watched from the second level of the Baja Fresh.

We all shared the next pick in the lineup: Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) and headed over to the Egyptian early in the hopes of securing a place at the front of the line. As you can see, it was a popular screening – the gang was all there!

Waiting in line, I identified myself as NoirGirl to the lady chatting with Kristina and a voice behind me piped up with “Excuse me, did you say you are NoirGirl?” It turned out to be none other than Alexis, whom I have known online for years and had somehow managed to miss meeting. There is nothing quite like the beautiful feeling of finding old friends all around you in the land of movies.

Just meeting people in person, NBD… Oh, wait, it's awesome! @noirgirl39 #tcmff #tcmparty #classicfilm #fans #film

A photo posted by Alexis Morrell (@alexismorrellfilm) on

The print of Steamboat Bill presented was a stunning world premiere restoration accompanied by a brand new score composed and conducted by none other than Maestro Carl Davis himself. A live orchestra played the score right there in the theatre with us! For my first time seeing a silent on the big screen, it could not have been more thrilling. I feel bound to admit, I’ve never appreciated the comedy of slapstick. My tastes run more towards subtle wordplay. However, Buster Keaton surprised me with his impressive physicality and the intricacy of the stunts he insisted on performing himself. Steamboat Bill is a lovely mix of gentle comedy and heavy slapstick. You will no doubt be most surprised to learn my favorite scene occurred in a hat shop. Buster’s father insists he must change his personal style to be more “manly” and in the course of trying on different hats, we are treated to a host of hilarious reactions from father and son alike. All in all, a perfect first big screen silent. And to heighten the experience, I got to see it with a fabulous group of good-looking folks!

audreyhepburn_RomanHolidayThe next block of films gave many of us a difficult Sophie’s Choice. Apollo 13 (1995) vs. Rebecca (1940) vs. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) vs. The War Game (1965) vs. The Bank Dick (1940) vs. Roman Holiday (1953). Since all of my selections so far had been first time viewings, I opted for an indulgent rewatch of a film close to my heart: Roman Holiday. Laura and Kristina had introduced me to the fascinating Stephen earlier and when we ran into each other in the line, we arranged to sit together for the screening. It gave me great joy to share the experience with him and I’m so happy we ended up there in Audrey heaven at the same moment.

elizabethtaylor_boomMy last pick of the evening was ironically one of the first definite decisions I made when the schedule became available in the weeks before the festival. This year, I determined I must take in a midnight screening. Of the two offered, Boom! (1968) promised to be the kookiest experience. Kendhal luckily planned to attend also, so we met up in the line – compatriots in craziness with Daniel of Next on TCM. Daniel charmed us with a story of his first experience seeing Boom! and Kendhal and I so enjoyed his company during the film.

Oh my goodness, Boom! did not disappoint. As you have no doubt heard already, the film is famously ridiculous. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are reported to have been intoxicated throughout much of the filming and you have no reason to doubt it. The film is the two of them shouting nonsensical things at each other while Noel Coward spouts “wisdom” and Elizabeth Taylor parades about in ornate headdresses (which I feel duty-bound to add, are stunning). Describing the film with any degree of competency is quite beyond me, but do check out Hollywood Babylon for a superb review. (Plus, I may have dozed off towards the end and my recollection is fuzzy…)

All in all, a day full of remarkable experiences and I would not change a single decision!

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TCMFF 2015 – Day 2

Thursday, March 26

casey_roDuring my stay in LA, I shared a room with two of the kindest ladies you could ever hope to meet: Laura and Kendhal. Staying with them afforded an opportunity to get to know them better and I cherish our times together. Thursday morning, Laura and I met Kristina for breakfast and spent the morning together making sure she learned her way around. Kristina designed and sewed her own formal dress for The Sound of Music red carpet event and we enjoyed several fabric and sewing discussions in our travels while I attempted to contain my glee in discovering a fellow fabric-nerd. You know you’ve found a friend when she reads the look on your face and asks “You have a big collection of fabric, don’t you?”

olivia tcmboutiqueAfter a stop at the TCL Theatre to marvel over the petiteness of Olivia de Havilland (my HANDS are bigger than her feet), we headed over to the Roosevelt Hotel for a mandatory saunter through the TCM Boutique. Last year, I did not purchase an official festival tote bag and regretted it ever since, so my mission this year was to secure one as soon as humanly possible. I almost ordered the taxi from the airport to take me straight to The Roosevelt just to make sure I’d get one. (Exhaustion and hunger prevailed on that occasion…)

larryedsNext, we made a beeline for Larry Edmund’s Bookshop down the street. It was only my second visit there, but the gentlemen graciously remembered me (or at least they pretended to!). One of my favorite aspects of popping in to the shop is chatting with them. We heard all about Rory Flynn’s republication of her book and how she recently lowered the price to make it more accessible for a larger base of her father’s fans. Rory introduced The Sea Hawk later that evening and signed books in The Roosevelt Hotel over the weekend.

In the weeks leading up to the festival, when Kendra Bean announced on Twitter her intention of attending this year, I grabbed my copy of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait and added it to the top of my To Pack stack. Thursday afternoon, Laura, Kristina and I met her for an unconventional In-n-Out Burger book signing. We asked about how she was able to make the connections to Vivien’s friends for the book. Kendra explained the intricate vetting process she experienced before contacts would even speak to her because the network around Vivien maintained their commitment to shield and protect her, even today. Thank you so much for spending time with us, Kendra. It was a great honor!

After lunch, we headed back to The Roosevelt with Kendra and ran into Joel and his lovely wife transporting luggage down a back alley like Broderick Crawford and Ed Brophy in Larceny, Inc. As they stopped and chatted with us for the better part of 15 minutes in the scorching heat, it became clear they were merely switching hotels and not looking for somewhere to dump illicitly acquired dirt. But hey – you never know.

The Roosevelt played host to the Meet TCM event at which the TCM executives and Ben Mankiewicz fielded questions from the audience about TCM matters. Laura compared it to the press event she had attended the day before and explained how much of the information shared there was a repeat of the previous meeting. The fun aspect for me came with the first question asked out of the audience: Why the trend towards “newer” films at this year’s fest?” This question created drama and intrigue online for weeks before the event and it was a relief to many (including Ben M., I thought) to have it out of the way first thing. The answer provided made sense, pointing to the broad definition of what makes a classic and revealing how the decision to screen Out of Sight (1998) stemmed from the wishes of Anne V. Coates. This, paired with an assurance of maintaining the focus on what us die-hards like to call “true classics” satisfied the question and closed the issue. You know, in the end, TCM will show whatever they deem will appeal to the broadest audience. I think we all understand that. They know the core fan base cares mostly about the films made before 1970. And to that end, let me point out this fact. I saw 17 films at the festival (only 1 away from the maximum possible) and the newest I attended was made in 1968. The earliest was made in 1898. The newer films were not my reason for being there, so having them in the line-up only served to assist in narrowing my selections. (*ducks from the onslaught of tomatoes*)

Anne Marie and I taking selfies for our social media pins in the Roosevelt lobby.

Anne Marie and I taking selfies for our social media pins in the Roosevelt lobby.

I stuck around and watched the So You Think You Know Movies trivia game at Club TCM with Anne Marie and Trevor but thankfully did not participate. The questions were obscure and it became clear that success would only be awarded to a diverse team of fast thinking analyticals.

toolatefortearsFinally, the time for the first screening arrived and it happened to be the film I looked forward to most: Too Late for Tears (1949) with Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea and Arthur Kennedy. I jumped into the line with Lindsay and Chris full of anticipation. You can see my excitement first hand in this quick interview shot by Chris and his hilarious daughter Jasmine.

Too Late For Tears did not disappoint and I’m aiming to do a separate post on it later. (*fingers crossed!*)

errolflynn_seahawkThe Sea Hawk (1940) was my final selection on Thursday for two reasons: the dashing charm of Errol Flynn in 35mm and an appearance by his daughter Rory. Before the film, Rory gave a short talk about the print of the film we saw, explaining how it had been created for a re-release in 1949. She introduced us to her son Sean who calmly sat in the audience next to Jessica during the film. Jessica was just a bit excited about the experience.

At TCMFF, even films you’ve seen 100 times are transformed into new special moments because you are seeing them in a theatre with like-minded fans. Clapping when favorite stars appear on screen, cheers when battles are won, applause when the bad guy is bested and half the room tearing up, just because the music swells at the end. It can’t be beat.

Up next, a full day of films AND LUNCH! (Imagine that!)

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TCMFF 2015 – Day 1

Why hello there! Betcha thought I’d given up blogging, didn’t you? The lack of posts stems from an odd life dominated by a demanding job. My love of writing and exchanging thoughts with all of you remains intact.

After a month of working with one day off per week to prepare for my absence, I packed up two of my best hats and headed out to the land of glamour to experience four days of movie heaven known as the Turner Classic Film Festival. As you may remember, I attended last year (and only wrote one measly post about the experience then…bad Casey) and the trip fulfilled every expectation I had cooked up. It seemed impossible to improve upon such perfection, but remarkably, 2015 brought an even more enjoyable time than the year before.

This year, my aim focused on trying new films I had not seen before and of the 17 total performances I attended, 12 of them were new-to-me films or documentaries. I attended all three Film Noir screenings (all of which were new viewings for me), every silent film shown and can now brag with pride that I have seen my beloved Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on the big screen in Gunga Din – an event I almost passed up and would have sincerely regretted missing had it not been for the responsible voice of my dear friend Kate.

And in the middle of all these showings, I met and reconnected with the world of friends I have known online for 7 years now. For those who have never been, TCMFF is akin to the largest family reunion you could imagine. Everyone standing in line alongside you is a long-lost relation – just waiting for the chance to gush about Edna May Oliver’s Hildegarde Withers series or share their experience wearing vintage in everyday life. It feels like coming home.

However – enough of the sentimentality for now. There will be more later, you can depend upon it!

micelisThe weekend officially began for me on Wednesday night when Laura and her husband Doug, Kendhal, Raquelle and her husband Carlos and I met for dinner at Miceli’s. As we chatted, the waiters and waitresses took turns singing with incredible skill to the accompaniment of a live pianist. After stuffing ourselves (little did I know it was the only real “meal” I would end up having the whole time), we were on to The Formosa for the annual pre-fest party.

TCMFF15 dinnerThe Formosa was brimming with festival-goers when we arrived. I barely managed to make it in and claim a seat for myself. But, luckily, not before snagging a copy of Holiday in Mexico from the ever-hilarious Matt Patterson of Warner Archive. (Thank you very much, sir!) While there, I was able to catch up with Anne Marie, Trevor, Jessica and Angela and met Theresa, LH and Kendra.

Up next, an actual post about the films! (And yes, there really will be one this time…I promise!)

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My 2014 TCMFF Adventure {Part 1}

I can’t believe my first trip to the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival was already a month ago. It all flew by and I spend a great portion of my days now wishing I could go back and relive the experience. Where’s Rod Taylor when you need him?

Let’s begin this account of my exploits.

thenfs

The Official Non-fleshie Selfie

The main purpose of this trip was meeting my four Non-fleshie pals: Kate, Millie, Nicola and Sarah. We’ve known each other for 5 years online, corresponding over our classic film loves (Dana Andrews, Hedy Lamarr, Jeffrey Lynn, Julie Christie, DFJ, Dirk Bogarde, Natalie Wood) and agreeing to disagree over some stars (*cough*Tyrone Power…Jimmy Stewart*cough*). We always said that for our 5 year anniversary, a grand meetup simply MUST take place. We had no idea how we could make it work, but the notion persisted. Honestly, I never thought we would actually pull it off, but by golly, we did!

I rose before the sun and arrived bright and early for my flight to LA. I chose a direct flight and it turned out to be one of many smart newbie decisions I made this trip. Landed in LA, I texted the ladies and put the pedal to the metal for our meeting place. The inscrutable Millie sat perched on the edge of a plastic chair watching the door for me and we flew at each other screaming hellos as soon as I came through the door. After marveling over the fact that neither of us turned out to be creepy old men pulling an enormous con on unsuspecting girls, we sat ourselves on the plastic chairs of LAX and awaited the arrival of Kate, Nicola and Sarah. Kate and Nicola arrived in short order and more screaming ensued, but Sarah’s flight did not land for several hours, so we occupied ourselves people watching, taking selfies and chatting like we’ve been fleshies all this time. When we finally retrieved Sarah from the dark hole in which she landed, we stuffed ourselves (all 5 of us, mind you) into a little Uber sedan for the ride to our hotel. (Lesson learned: request an Uber SUV when transporting 5 girls. And demand the use of the air conditioner.)

If we didn’t feel close before, we certainly bonded over that Uber ride. Poor Millie spent the trip with my bony elbow in her ribs – and still liked me afterwards! Let me just interject here that these 4 lasses could not be kinder, sweeter or more hilarious. I am so thankful to have them in my life and so thankful to have had this opportunity to spend time with them.

nicola_snowhite

Nicola marveling over Snow White in her cafe. Photo by Kate.

Since our last meals were eaten (what felt like) days before, our first official act in LA was a late lunch. The Snow White Cafe on Hollywood Blvd fit the bill nicely and offered a Disney theme to the delight of Kate and Nicola. The gals set about getting the lay of the land with a little sightseeing and I headed back to our hotel to meet Raquelle for a secret mission. She is even nicer and kinder in person than she appears online. And she is beautiful! Even when she doesn’t feel well! I so appreciate her taking me under her wing for the next part of our evening.

Raquelle and I walked to Sadie Kitchen and Lounge for the TCM Tweet Up. I knew nothing of what to expect for this. My invite came via the lovely Nora (official TCM social media coordinator) and the details were sparse, except promising a chance to meet my famous Twitter chums. Sadie’s has a real speakeasy feel with the password door and all. We spent our time there in The Parlor. After Raquelle and I were royally welcomed by Nora, I had the great opportunity to begin meeting and chatting with those aforementioned famous Twitter folks. Laura, Trevor, Paula Guthat, Kellee, Aurora, Jessica, Lindsay, Marya, Anne Marie, Christy and Daniel all among them.

Jessica and I at the TCM Tweet-Up, snapped by Raquelle.

Jessica and I in front of the speakeasy door at the TCM Tweet-Up, snapped by Raquelle.

As I was highly engrossed in a conversation with Raquelle and Jessica about our dresses, who walks in but Illeana Douglas! As if her miraculous and unannounced appearance was the most normal thing in the world. I’m sure my jaw dropped. She moved around the room visiting and snapping selfies with the fans. A very classy dame, indeed.

My jaw dropped for my first celebrity sighting, I admit. But I did you proud for my second. Engaged in a chat with Marya and Daniel, I felt someone walk up and stand beside me. I glanced over assuming it was Raquelle. Not quite – the one and only Ben Mankiewicz stood to my left munching a grilled cheese sandwich, nodding along to our conversation. He and I talked for a bit, mostly about The Narrow Margin and his write up about it in the TCM Now Playing guide. No embarrassing novice moments in sight, due mostly to the fact that he is a joy to talk with and quite a laid back person.

Must admit, I’ve been the ultimate Robert Osborne fan from the beginning and always will be in his camp. When Ben came to TCM as a host years ago, I held my ardor. Bobby O. is the only host for me and watching Ben introduce my favorite films (one very irreverent intro to Sinbad the Sailor is burned on my memory…) pained me. His introductions and knowledge improved over the years and my respect for him grew in tiny increments, but meeting him in person truly changed my opinion of him for the better. He’s just a regular guy – remarkably kind, always willing to discuss classic movies and his love for them and he does honestly appreciate these films as much as we do. A true gentleman if there ever was one.

The second part of the evening sped by with a lightning fast round of quiz trivia hosted by Paula Guthat. Then, everyone broke into small groups for classic film chats. One hosted by Laura, one by Trevor and one with Tiffany Vazquez and Peter Tulba, two of the TCM Fan Programmers.

Peter in mid-laugh (sorry, Peter, you moved!) and Laura's table in the back with Jessica, Raquelle and Aurora chatting.

Peter in mid-laugh (sorry, Peter, you moved!) and Laura’s table in the back with Jessica, Raquelle and Aurora chatting.

I chose to sit with Tiffany and Peter and talking with them was a blast. Two young people with a genuine love for classic films brought together in this remarkable place, sharing their expertise with me…I was in heaven! Both are incredibly knowledgeable and well-viewed (is that a term?). Tiffany most kindly indulged my compliments on her wardrobe and Peter cracked us up multiple times. I’m thrilled to have met them both. I spent the next days waving to each of them as we whizzed past each other on the way to screenings.

JessicaTweet

Jessica’s tweets on the go are pure genius.

The Formosa Cafe

The Formosa Cafe

After Sadie’s, a few of us headed over to The Formosa for the Warner Archive tweet-up. Laura graciously offered to drive Raquelle, Lindsay, Jessica and I.

Matt Patterson and I engaged in conversation. Photo by Raquelle. (Thanks so much for this, Raquelle!)

Matt Patterson and I engaged in conversation. Photo by Raquelle. (Thanks so much for this, Raquelle!)

Raquelle introduced me to Matt, the man behind the Warner Archive twitter feed and host of the podcast. And at the Formosa, I got to meet Kendall, aka KC. Contrary to popular belief among those in my *real life*, my famous love for an early bedtime began to catch up with me and happily, my cohorts felt the same. We called it a night around 12 (yeah, not actually early). A very full first day!

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The Great TCMFF Adventure

Yup, that’s right. I’m heading out to the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival tomorrow! I’m still pinching myself at the thought. My favorite part of the preparation has been discussing this excursion with my clients in the store where I work. You would think that in this age of 3D blockbusters, the idea that I would travel across the country to spend my vacation watching old black and white movies in vintage theatres would be met with horror. But to my great delight, everyone I shared my plans with was enthusiastic, fascinated and even envious. It sparked a fast paced conversation with one lady regarding All About Eve and the merits of George Sanders. You see, in my daily life, my conversations very rarely include references to Maureen O’Hara, Double Indemnity and Tom Conway. But this week, I shamelessly gushed about them every day to anyone who would listen.

Even more astounding for me was the discovery that the majority of my guinea pigs were well aware of exactly what the festival was and who would be there – the dear Bobby Osborne. I’ve been tasked with coming back with a photo of myself with him.

The warm reaction I received is a true testament to the power of classic film and TCM to bring people together. I can’t wait to share the experiences upon my return!

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Dismount and Murder Bookcover and Giveaway

Dismount and MurderBook #3 in Jacqueline Lynch’s Double V Mystery series is here! The cover is designed by yours truly and I can’t wait to read the third installment in the series. I’ve become quite attached to Elmer and Juliet and their adventures. Head over to Jacqueline’s blog for the complete lowdown on the plot and where to purchase your copy. If you are quick and send her an email tonight, you can even enter to win a copy of the book in paperback!

What are you waiting for? Go visit her!

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Breaking Bad and The Bribe (1949)

RobertTaylor_thebribeA husband with a fatal medical condition, trying to provide for his family by performing illegal services for a conglomerate. A wife doing what she can to get through it and make ends meet with a simple job. A cop who is too close to the situation and questions whose side he is on.

Sound familiar? Nope, I’m not actually describing the plot of Breaking Bad. The above are the main highlights of The Bribe, a lesser-known Noir from 1949 starring Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, John Hodiak, Vincent Price and amazingly enough, Charles Laughton.

[Warning – there will be some frank talking about plot points of Breaking Bad here. If you wish to avoid spoilers and have not seen the final season, avert your eyes now!]

To anyone who has seen the film, it’s not a really solid parallel, no. John Hodiak’s character is pathetic, pitiable and rather annoying, but he is by no means Walter White. He merely develops a medical condition that grounds him as a flier and then uses his knowledge of planes to help a deliciously evil Vincent Price test planes for nefarious ends. Ava Gardner as his wife does not experience the incredible transformation of character Skyler White goes through, but she does show glimmers of the calculating femme fatale Skyler became. Especially when her family (in this case, husband John Hodiak) is on the line. Robert Taylor shines as the special agent sent to ferret out the illegal dealings. He’s straight as a pin when he begins the crusade and by the end of the film, his feelings for Ava have so changed him, he questions everything he ever believed in. It’s somewhat like Walter White’s DEA brother-in-law Hank Schrader, who suffers such a betrayal with Walt’s choice of career, it causes him to become obsessed with taking Walt down.

The movie is an enjoyable Noir with some gorgeous 40s fashions, a fun little song and a host of remarkable stars. But by far, my favorite aspect of all is Charles Laughton’s Pie Shape. The fact that the great Charles Laughton would ever deign to play such a preposterous character is notable in itself. And then to have played him with such sincerity and perfection, it’s just unforgettable. Pie Shape is hard to peg at first. He’s just in the background, being remarked upon with bewilderment by Robert Taylor’s character. In between his whiny complaints about the condition of his feet and his completely serious showcase of the foot x-rays explaining his pain, he somehow becomes endearing. And that is the genius of Laughton: the ability to make even the most unlikable of characters human.

So, perhaps my parallel is a stretch, but it’s similar enough to deserve commentary, even if it’s purely coincidental. And being the rabid classic film fan I am, I would love to believe The Bribe was a source of inspiration to Vince Gilligan. Plus, there is one little line that connected a few dots for me in the similarities. When Ava Gardner is having a particularly hard time of it with her husband, Charles Laughton walks in, sets down his rain soaked poncho and asks “Things breaking bad?”

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