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Toronto Film Society: One of the Oldest and Best

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Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 4:56 pm

One of the best reasons to pursue American-Canadian relations is the Toronto Film Society. Its programs are so well chosen that they deserve preservation in The Film Buff Hall Of Fame, if such a hall existed. Headed by Barry Chapman, President, and Caren Feldman, Vice President, the group, which frequently attends US film programs, has such series as the British Invasion films and the Boxer Day weekends at historic Eastman House in Rochester, NY.

    Toronto Film Society (TFS) was founded in 1948 by historian Gerald Pratley, who wrote about Frankenheimer, Preminger, and Canadian Cinema. It is one of the oldest film groups in the world, having been "incorporated under the laws of the Province of Ontario and is a membership-driven, volunteer-based, non-profit organization". World cinema is celebrated by TFS, the majority of film selections being English language, American and British. Ironically, Canadian-made product is not often shown due to the relatively small amount of films made in the Provinces.

    Canadian film production began around 1900, with just a handful of films considered important until the National Film Board of Canada was established in 1939. Documentary maker John Grierson, Canada's Film Commissioner, oversaw the emergence of the country as a leading producer of documentaries, as well as entertainment shorts and cartoons. The Board produced such Academy Award winning shorts as Norman McLaren's Neighbours (1952), Co Hoedeman's Sand Castle (1977), Derek Lamb's Every Child (1979) and Chris Landreth's animated, Ryan (2004). NFBC won an honorary award in 1988 in recognition of its 50th anniversary. The most successful Canadian features tend to cast American actors as stars, including The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz (1974) with Richard Dreyfuss, Open Range (2003) starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall, or The Cabin In The Woods (2012) with Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth and Sigourney Weaver.

    Toronto Film Society's V.P. Caren Feldman and sister Ronda, a member of the group, are the daughters of film programmers, Morris and Delores Feldman, and so grew up in the right circumstances; the average buff is usually not the first member of his or her family to become a movie lover. Society President Barrie Haines began programming films at Eastman House in 1983, while locally programmed series include an International Silent Series and a concentration on films of the Thirties through the Fifties called the Film Buff group. For more than fifty years, there has been a May film seminar, generally held at Kempenfelt Conference Centre at Kempenfelt Bay near Barrie, Ontario. Toronto-born producer/director Norman Jewison is a TFS Patron; ironically, his films are American-made: The Cincinnati Kid, In The Heat Of The Night, The Thomas Crown Affair, Fiddler On The Roof, and ...And Justice For All.

    The personable Bill Sturrup had been President when but died in 2007. In 2011 the Torontonians lost both Pratley and Morris Feldman. The near legendary Harry Purvis was a leading member of the group with total recall of each film he    saw, as well as the day and theatre where he saw them. One of the most colorful Society people, Harry is said to be still living, although no longer active in the Society. Harry's knowledge of films led to some very interesting programming choices.

    Married with children, Caren Feldman is the most visible group member and one of the most inventive. She devised the idea of showing the Steve Martin/Carl Reiner comedy Dead, Man Don't Wear Plaid (1982), along with every one of the eighteen films noirs excerpted in it, in their entirety. They are: The Big Sleep (1946), The Bribe (1949), Dark Passage (1947), Deception (1946), Double Indemnity (1944), The Glass Key (1942), Humoresque (1946), I Walk Alone (1947), In A Lonely Place (1950), Johnny Eager (1941), The Killers (1946), The Lost Weekend (1945), Notorious (1946), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), Suspicion (1941), This Gun For Hire (1942), and White Heat (1949). These were shown May 11-13 at The Carlton Cinema, Toronto with three lunches included with admission. According to Caren, the event was, "A great success. We had 43 full-weekend registrations, 10 single-day registrants and a couple of dozen single-movie walk-ins. We had a meet-and-greet the Thursday night before the event at the Thirty's Bar in Holiday Inn located next door to the theatre. NOW Magazine was the only paper [a free weekly of what's happening in Toronto] to list the event. Program notes were the reviews from Variety, The New York Times and Bill Everson's notes".

    "Another British Invasion", Season 65 Summer Series, was a series of seven Monday night double bills at The Carlton Cinema in 2012. The brochure proudly stated, "We have our own flag, but this summer TFS will be waving the Union Jack".  The schedule was impressive with screenings of rare films including, Sixty Glorious Years (1938, directed by Herbert Wilcox) In honor of Queen Elizabeth's 60th year as monarch, this film was shown in a tribute to her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria (Anna Neagle) and her sixty years. Originally in Technicolor, aka Queen Of Destiny (in the US), and also starring Viennese-born Anton Walbrook as Prince Albert. Plus Folly To Be Wise (1952), Alastair Sim, Elizabeth Allan, Martita Hunt. The next week they showed Too Many Crooks (1958, Mario Zampi), Terry-Thomas, George Cole, Brenda De Banzie. Also: The Dock Brief (1962, James Hill) starring Peter Sellers and Richard Attenborough. US Title: Trial And Error.

    On the third week they screened Candlelight In Algeria (1943, George King) James Mason, Carla Lehmann and Walter Rilla. Paired With: Contraband (1940, Michael Powell) Conrad Veidt as a Danish merchant sea captain and Valerie Hobson, British Naval Intelligence. This was Deborah Kerr's film debut, but she was edited out. The fourth week featured The Glass Mountain (1949, Henry Cass), a story of love, music, adultery in the Italian Alps. Valentina Cortese and Tito Gobbi and the La Scala singers head the Italian contingent while real life husband and wife Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray also star. They were married from 1939 until his death in 1998. This was a tribute to Gray, who died Nov. 15, 2011, five days before her 96th birthday.  And: The Devil's Disciple (1959, Guy Hamilton) Shaw's view of the American Revolution; Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Eva Le Galliene and Janette Scott.

    Week five featured Train Thrillers: The Ghost Train (1941, Walter Forde) with Arthur Askey, Kathleen Harrison, Richard Murdoch, Sleeping Car To Trieste (1948, John Paddy Carstairs) with Jean Kent, Albert Lieven, Derrick de Marney, a remake of the classic Rome Express (1932).

    Week six featured Storm In A Teacup (1937, Ian Dalrymple/Victor Saville) Rex Harrison, Vivien Leigh and Sara Allgood, before Hollywood, in Scotland. Paired with: Trouble In Store (1953, John Paddy Carstairs) with Norman Wisdom who became a star in his first leading role, while Margaret Rutherford shined as a shop lifter.

    The final week had Stars In The Making. The Blue Lamp (1949, Basil Dearden) Dirk Bogarde as a young killer, Jack Warner (not Warners' Jack L.) as his policeman victim. Glynis Johns, already a star, has a walk-on. British Academy Award winner. Then Tiger Bay (1959, J. Lee Thompson) with Hayley Mills in her sensational debut, before adolescent stardom at Disney, opposite father John and Germany's Horst Buchholz; set in the Tiger Bay area of Cardiff, South Wales.

    For Eastman House screenings in Rochester, NY, retired Professor Graham Petrie coordinates with Jared Case of Eastman, Barry and Caren having the final say on selections. Last year at Eastman on Sunday, August 5 they showed Topaze 1933, Harry D'Abbadie D'Arrast) John Barrymore, Myrna Loy, nitrate print; Jane On Strike (1911 short); Three Women (1924, Ernst Lubitsch) Pauline Frederick, May McAvoy and Marie Prevost in one of Lubitsch's first US-made films; The Beggar Maid (1921 short), considered to be the debut of Mary Astor, then aged 15; The Hoodlum (1919, Sidney Franklin), a rare Mary Pickford; Smilin' Through (1941, Frank Borzage), Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond in their only film together, in glorious Technicolor, also with Brian Aherne and Ian Hunter; Lucky Nick Cain/I'll Get You For This (1951, Joseph M. Newman) starring George Raft and Coleen Gray in a Brit pic made in Italy; La Cucaracha (1934, Lloyd Corrigan), Academy Award winner, Best Comedy Short of 1934, in Technicolor, with Steffi Duna and Don Alvarado; Colorado Territory (1949, Raoul Walsh) Warners' second version of High Sierra (1941), as a Western, with Joel McCrea, Virginia Mayo, Dorothy Malone, Henry Hull.

    On August 6 at Eastman they showed Cleopatra (1928 short); The First Year (1926, Frank Borzage), Matt Moore and Katherine Perry as a young couple in the first year of their marriage; La Maternelle/Children Of Montmartre (1933, Jean Benoit-Levy/Marie Epstein), Madeleine Renaud and Paulette Elambert, in French; The Heart Of Nora Flynn (1916, Cecil B. DeMille) Marie Doro and Elliott Dexter; drama of The New Woman; Prix De Beaute/Beauty Prize/Miss Europe (1930, Augusto Genina) Louise Brooks in her last major work, in French; and Trilby (1915, Maurice Tourneur) Clara Kimball Young in the Svengali story, restored print.  Dr. Phil Carli was pianist for the silents.

    Obviously the Toronto Film Society is doing a superb job getting rare films on the screen. Their efforts are worthy of wider support. For general Inquiries you should email:  info@torontofilmsociety.com or write to:  Toronto Film Society, 173 B Front Street East, Toronto, ON M5A 3Z4. For membership Inquiries, phone:  (416) 785-0335, or write to:  Terri Lipton, 15 Canyon Avenue, Suite 706, Toronto, ON  M3H 4X9.