Classic Conversations: Eddie Muller and Dave Karger Preview the 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival

As a huge classic movie fan, I find myself counting the days until the TCM Classic Film Festival that takes place in Hollywood every spring — for us fans it’s like the movie version of Woodstock. I’ve attended every festival since it began in 2010, and have gotten the chance to hear from so many of the greats, including people like Angela Lansbury Kirk Douglas, Jane Powell, Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Maureen O’Hara, Debbie Reynolds, Liza Minnelli, Tony Curtis, Pam Grier, Faye Dunaway, Kim Novak, Mel Brooks, Barbara Rush, Luise Rainer, Dustin Hoffman, Sophia Loren, Mickey Rooney, Nancy Kwan, Betty Garrett, Esther Williams, Warren Beatty, Tippi Hedren, Burt Reynolds, Leslie Caron and so many others including directors Stanley Donen, Martin Scorsese, and William Friedkin. That list is just off the top of my head, I’m sure I’m leaving out dozens of my favorites who have attended the festival, many of them no longer with us. Fans come from all over the world to attend this spectacular event which this year begins on Thursday, April 13th, with the world premiere restoration of Howard Hawks’ 1959 film Rio Bravo.  One of the film’s stars, Angie Dickinson, will be in attendance at the gala opening at the world-famous Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard along with Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson who will be talking about the important work of the Film Foundation that saves so many of these classic movies.

Eddie Muller & Dave Karger

There will be over 80 films and presentations at this year’s festival which lasts until Sunday, many of them running concurrently at several different theaters in Hollywood so festivalgoers are forced to make many difficult choices over the course of the four days. In preparation for Thursday’s opening, I had a great time talking to two of my favorite TCM hosts this week, the “Czar of Noir,” Eddie Muller, and Dave Karger, about what they’re most looking forward to. 

Danny Miller: It’s kind of ridiculous how much I look forward to the festival all year long. I’m part of a Facebook group related to the fest and we talk about it for months beforehand, as soon as the first little bits of info are released. As longtime TCM hosts, do you get a say in the program? Do you share your wish lists with Charlie Tabesh and the other people planning the festival?

Eddie Muller: Putting this festival together is very tricky because you have to take so many different factors into account. Producing my own Noir City festival around the country, I know how difficult it is to balance everything. But yes, I make suggestions to Charlie all year long and then we see if they fit the theme or need to be saved for later. Over the years, Charlie has been very accommodating to my suggestions!

Dave Karger: Charlie and the people on the programming team are the real geniuses of the festival. My favorite part comes after the lineup is settled. They invite us to let them know who we would love to interview and which films we want to introduce. It’s so fun to see the schedule take shape and figure out who I’m going to talk to — and I have some really exciting people that I get to interview this year!

Who’s on your docket?

Well, you know I’m a big musical guy, I absolutely love musicals, so you can imagine how thrilled I am that I’m going to be interviewing Ann-Margret on Saturday at the Bye Bye Birdie screening. 

Ooh, lucky! But don’t remind me of the nightmare choice we all have to make during that time slot because it’s at the same time as Crossing Delancey, which I also love, being introduced by Amy Irving and Peter Riegert. 

Oh, I know, these choices are so difficult! I’m also going to talk to Shirley Jones after The Music Man.

Wow, classic movie musical royalty!

And there’s going to be a little bit of a surprise during that interview, but I can’t tell you what it is. 

Oh my — I’m imagining Ron Howard coming out and singing “The Wells Fargo Wagon” with his big sister, Shirley Jones?

Haha, I can neither confirm nor deny! Also, I’m really excited that I get to interview Frankie Avalon before the poolside 60th anniversary screening of Beach Party on Friday night. As someone who was five years old when Grease came out, I am beyond thrilled, and I feel like Didi Conn about to talk to Teen Angel during “Beauty School Dropout.” It kind of blows my mind, I’m going to try very hard not to dork out with Frankie!

What films are you looking forward to introducing, Eddie?

Well, of course I’m introducing a couple of great noir films such as The Killers and Sorry, Wrong Number, and I love those movies, but I also love getting out of my usual niche at the festival, it’s such a fun opportunity to do that. I’m very excited about introducing a 70mm print of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and a restored 75th anniversary version of Powell & Pressburger’s gorgeous The Red Shoes

Oh, fun. I look forward to having the spectacular Technicolor of The Red Shoes hurt my eyes, I love that movie. 

And I’m very happy to be presenting Joan Micklin Silver’s Crossing Delancey and to talk to Amy Irving and Peter Riegert, who don’t do this kind of thing very much.

Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie, Amy Irving, and Peter Riegert in Crossing Delancey

Oh God, that choice again! I worship both Bye Bye Birdie and Crossing Delancey and I think because I’ve already seen Ann-Margret talk about the former at an Academy screening, I’ll have to head to Delancey. Sorry, Dave!

Dave Karger: Don’t worry, I understand! Some of these choices are impossible!

Eddie Muller: I’m really looking forward to talking to Amy and Peter. It’s a little weird because I just happen to be very good friends with Peter Riegert’s wife so I’ve met him but have never talked about this film with him. 

I always tell everyone, “Marry the Pickle Man!” I was hoping that they’d show a double feature of Crossing Delancey and Joan Micklin Silver’s other fantastic movie about American Jews, Hester Street.

Now you’re thinking like a programmer! That would be a great double bill.

Oh, you should hear our constant debates about which films should be shown. As you know, classic movie fans never lack for strong opinions!

Haha, yes, I know! 

Like the other day on Doris Day’s birthday, I started obsessing on her very hard-hitting film with Ginger Rogers about the KKK called Storm Warning and wishing they’d show that at the fest.

Fantastic movie. I’m showing it later this year on Noir Alley on TCM with a new intro, but it’s also screening on the network this month because of the Warner Bros. centennial which we’re also celebrating at the festival. It’s one of the great Warner Bros. films that has been restored by the Film Foundation. And Doris is so wonderful in it. I’ve read some criticism by people saying that she and Ginger Rogers are not believable as sisters, but I could not disagree more. Do you know a little piece of Doris Day trivia concerning that film?

No, what?

Of all her movies, it’s the only one in which she dies.

Spoiler alert! So interesting, even though she’s come close in a bunch of other movies. I’ll definitely be there on Sunday morning to watch her being terrorized in Hitchcock’s brilliant The Man Who Knew Too Much at the Chinese. I know it’s an impossible question, but do either of you have a dream interview, alive or dead, that you wish you could do at the festival?

Dave Karger: That is a tough one! The first thing that comes to mind is how sad I am that I never got to meet Cary Grant or Randolph Scott, they’re two of my absolute favorites. Of the living, I would love to talk to Harrison Ford even though I know he can be a challenging interview. I hope to talk to him at the festival some day and show some of his lesser-known films such as The Conversation or The Mosquito Coast or maybe even Witness — something that is not part of a big franchise. And then, because I’m such a 1980s person, I’d love to have Molly Ringwald at the festival as we expand the scope of what is considered classic. As you’ve noticed, we have some films from the 80s and 90s this year, and even a film from after 2000, A Mighty Wind. I think there’s definitely room for someone like Molly at the festival. 

I totally agree, the crowd would love it. I love the idea of showing The Mosquito Coast and you could also bring in Martha Plimpton who is so interesting talking about her career as a young actress. 

 Oh my God, that would be fantastic!

Barbara Stanwyck

Eddie Muller: My absolute dream, which is obviously impossible since she is no longer around, would be to do a full-on in-person tribute to Barbara Stanwyck, in my view the greatest actress in motion picture history. Wouldn’t it be something to do a retrospective of her films, from the pre-Codes of the early 1930s all the way up to the end, and have her there the whole time talking about her movies?

Oh lord, I’d get in line a year in advance. My 13-year-old son’s bedroom is lined with pictures of Stanwyck, she’s a favorite in my house, and she really helped to get us through the pandemic. 

It sounds like you’re doing good work as a parent!

Have you noticed any shifts in the demographics of the festival over the years? I’m always excited to see younger people there, as obsessed about the classic movies as we are. 

I have. I’m surprised and delighted to see how the festival draws an increasingly younger audience each year. I’m also very happy about the strength of the African American audience that attends. I’ve gotten to know many of these diehard fans who come from all over the country. That audience has only grown since I started doing the festival and the TCM cruises. 

Dave Karger: I love seeing people of all ages. One thing I have really liked that they’ve done lately is invite local students to come including from USC and other local universities. That’s exciting to me because it will keep classic film alive way longer than we’re going to be around. 

Yes, totally. That made me remember a festival screening of Children of a Lesser God a few years ago that Marlee Matlin invited a lot of young deaf students to attend. They loved the film and I really believe their interaction with Marlee may have changed some lives — I can see some of those kids deciding to go into the arts after that inspiring screening and discussion.

Absolutely. And how wonderful if we can be a tiny part of something like that. I’ve interviewed Marlee Matlin before and it was a total joy. 

Robert Osborne at the TCM Classic Film Festival

I think you two and all the current hosts do such a great job on the network and at the festival, but of course the memory of the great Robert Osborne still looms large. Did your time at TCM overlap with his?

I actually met Robert for the first time in 2007 when I was working at Entertainment Weekly. I was invited to go down to Atlanta and co-host with Robert as part of the 31 Days of Oscar. We spent the whole day together and really hit it off, I really connected with him. What ended up happening was that when he was still alive, but too Ill to film his segments, he actually gave the blessing for me to fill in for him. I have him to thank for my role at TCM.

Eddie Muller: I definitely credit Robert with getting my gig at TCM. Did you know that before TCM started he used to run his own film festival? He invited me to come introduce some movies there, I remember talking with him at a screening of Double Indemnity and it was like getting an audience with the Pope! It was a wonderful experience and the cherry on top was that the person who was supposed to introduce Robert’s favorite movie, All About Eve, which we’re also showing this year, didn’t show up and he asked me if I wanted to do it with him. I don’t know that movie nearly as well as he does, but boy, did I get an education including on how to deal with people so beautifully in a public situation. Robert was so kind to me, we got along famously. And, I have to point out, and I don’t mean to be weird about this, but the day that I began my regular Noir Alley gig on TCM, March 6, 2017, was that day that Robert died. 

Oh wow, that’s so meaningful, I’m sure he was looking down on you. 

He was just a wonderful guy. Even though I had already been doing my own festivals and screenings for seven or eight years before I met Robert, I learned more in 10 minutes on stage with him than I did in all that time. Just watching him and understanding how he handled a microphone, how he sat on the stage, how he would bring another person into a conversation — that was the best education I could ever get. He always said that the point was not to try to impress upon people how much you know about movies, and he knew plenty, the point was to make people feel good about being there to watch a movie together.

The TCM Classic Film Festival takes place in Hollywood from Thursday, April 13 to Sunday, April 16. Click here to see the schedule of this year’s films and events.


–Danny Miller for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Danny’s Classic Conversation Articles Here

Danny Miller is a freelance writer, book editor, and co-author of  About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the StarsYou can read more of Danny’s articles at Cinephiled, or you can follow him on Twitter at @dannymmiller

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