On Friday, April 27, I finally made it to the Cinerama Dome. I was not intending to go initially, but I realized this was something I just had to do. John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix was a movie I’d never seen and this would be the best way to see it for the first time. There’s no way I could miss it.
The 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival was my third time at the event, but I never made it to the Dome before. It is about a 15-20-minute walk from the central locations of the festival, and the movies they show there are always so long. Going there can wipe out two blocks from the schedule. But I put those worries aside and just went for it, especially since I knew so many of my friends were also going.
Although TCM did not show Grand Prix on film, they went above and beyond to recreate the feeling of seeing a real roadshow picture. In the 1950s and 1960s, three-hour movies were big events, like going to the theater or a concert. As we walked in, ushers handed everyone the program, which included the full credits and a brief explainer on Formula 1 racing.
Before the film started, film critic Leonard Maltin gave a very informative introduction and a quick crash course on Cinerama. He also warned everyone sitting close up that people suffered from motion sickness at the time of the film’s release because of the extreme racing scenes.
And then the film began. They closed the curtains and played the full overture. Then, the curtains dramatically opened as the MGM lion roared. I always dreamed about what seeing that would be like, but was not prepared for how glorious it really was. During the 10-minute intermission, the curtains closed again before opening when the film resumed. They cut the exit music short to get to the real reason we were all there – to see Eva Marie Saint again.
I first saw Saint at the 2016 screening of The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, but she is always such a joy to listen to. This time, she came in during the last big racing sequence and complained to Maltin about feeling sick herself! In fact, she admitted the movie is not one of her favorites because of those long racing scenes. However, she still had plenty of great stories to share about working with the legendary French actor Yves Montand.
In one heartbreaking story, Saint said her children were on the set during Montand’s death scene. Saint did not want them there because they were so young, they might not have realized their mother was acting. They started crying when they saw their mother’s in-character outburst!
There was just enough time at the end for some questions from the audience, but Saint only got to take one. A man asked her about working with Marlon Brando, and even Saint thought that was preposterous. Still, being the polite person she is, Saint answered the question with her usual stories of being cast for On The Waterfront.
(Personally, I would have asked if she had any stories to share about the late James Garner. They had no scenes together in the film, but I’d love to know if they still interacted at all behind-the-scenes.)
As for the film itself, it really is the “Grand Hotel of Racing.” Grand Prix is not one of Frankenheimer’s best films and is heavy on the melodramatic side, but the racing sequences are incredible. This really was the best way to see this film for the first time. Now, I can’t imagine ever seeing it on the small screen though.
The Cinerama Dome experience was one of the highlights of the 2018 TCMFF for me. While I’m sure Los Angeles movie fans love going there frequently, it was a one-in-a-lifetime experience for me and one I won’t forget. The closest thing to the Dome I’d ever been in before were those 360 degree movies in EPCOT… and those theaters don’t even have seats.