Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Monday, July 21, 2014

Warner Archive Grab Bag - MAGIC BOY

MAGIC BOY (1959; Akira Daikuhara/Taiji Yabushita)
Being cinema-obsessed can be a bit of a double edged sword sometimes. Watching as many films as we cinephiles tend to can have this (perhaps obvious) tendency to kinda burn you out. It really becomes a little unfair to the movies at some point as I'd probably be more lenient on them were I watching fewer in a given year. Sadly, that is not to be and many films fly by without striking much in the way or remarkable interest in me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hater by any means. I actually pride myself on being  as much of a true "movie lover" as I can be. I try to remain positive and generally exercise the practice of "if you have got anything nice to say....". What is conversely pretty fantastic is when a film, despite all that stuff, breaks through and distinguishes itself as something unique and meorable. As my readers are probably aware, I keep an ongoing list of "Film Discoveries" throughout each year which I then publish as part of my favorite series here at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. With my discoveries project in mind, I am always on the lookout for those movies that I really want to celebrate and put on the list. So when I come across something that begins strong and maintains it's robust cinematic greatness all the way through, it really makes me want to stand up and cheer by the end. When I find a movie like that, I find myself sort of subconsciously chanting "don't mess it up! don't mess it up!" in the back of my mind. Anyway, this is all a long winded way of saying that I really liked this movie quite a bit.

From Warner Archive's site:
"Magically gifted boy Sasuke lives in peace, deep in the forest with his animal pals and Oyu, his elder sister. After their forest sanctuary is violated by a demon witch who devours one of Sasuke’s animal companions, Sasuke vows vengeance. Leaving the forest, he sets out to master his magical gifts, making a pilgrimage to the home of the wizard Hakuunsai. While Sasuke learns the ways of magic, Yakusha, the demon witch, terrorizes the countryside, and Sasuke works to complete his training in time. Magic Boy, aka Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke, is a classic piece of anime history - the first full- length animated feature produced in japan to reach the shores of the United States. With much of the original storyline left untouched and centering on pop culture staple hero Sarutobi Sasuke (think of Bomba the jungle Boy crossed with a ninja), Magic Boy is an enchanting precursor to decades of imported Japanese ani-magic."

As indicated above, MAGIC BOY is one of the earliest examples of anime. I heard the good gentlemen of the Warner Archive Podcast say this when they were discussing it and I must admit that it conjured a certain impression in my head. I basically started imagining the movie as a rudimentary SPEED RACER or something along those lines. It isn't that though. The animation is much more fluid and dream-like. It is an intriguing mixture of techniques which all feel very organic, even when the animation is mixed with what look like real photographic plates. The story though is the the thing that hooked me. Boiled down it seems very simple, but as I watched it play out it felt very special to me. Special in a way that it felt not informed by American popular culture, but was coming from a fantastic place of another time and place and the myth's and legends born out of that. There is a lot of darkness in the movie. There is character death and some scary, trippy imagery. I showed it to my 5-year old and she was as mesmerized as I was. She has a tendency to lean towards darker material though so it may not be quite suitable for all 5-year olds. It was such a pleasurable viewing experience all told as we were both transported by the story and the style of its telling. As I mentioned, it's ultimately a very simple tale, but something about it was just a little off from center (in the best possible way). The witch was quite a villain to behold. She was either made of bats or always had them buzzing about her like tsetse flies. There was even a sequence with her that briefly reminded me of the pink elephants in DUMBO. By comparison, Disney released one of its more bland (albeit gorgeous) animated features in 1959 - SLEEPING BEAUTY. MAGIC BOY seemed to harken back to the earlier Disney films like DUMBO and SNOW WHITE, but filtered through a foreign lens of surrealism and gothic fantasy. Who's to say if those movies were even an influence on MAGIC BOY, as it pretty much exists in a universe all its own. I kept thinking it seemed like the kind of film a young Tim Burton would have been fascinated by and obsessed with. This one is definitely one of my favorite Warner Archive releases of 2014 so far. Well worth discovering for yourself.

MAGIC BOY can be purchased from Warner Archive here:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - SABATA and THE SCALPHUNTERS on Blu-ray

SABATA (1969; Gianfranco Parolini)
Right from it's extremely catchy opening theme song, SABATA lets you know it's going to be a fun time. Spaghetti Westerns of this era find themselves in the unenviable position of existing in the shadow of the work of the masterful Sergio Leone. If one ever wants to demonstrate to a neophyte film fan what a director does, one need only illustrate with a few Leone films and walk away.
SABATA at least has the distinction of a lead role filled by Leone regular and all-around badass Lee Van Cleef. Van Cleef seems a man who was just built for westerns. His profile (especially when shaded by a cowboy hat) and remarkable voice were a resume which no director in their right mind could ignore. To say he made himself iconic in both THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is a drastic understatement. Few actors could go toe-to-toe with Clint Eastwood in a western (or any other setting) and leave you wondering who that "other guy" was and wanting to see him again in another movie as soon as humanly possible. Those who have anointed Steve McQueen as the quintessential cool guy never saw enough Lee Van Cleef movies. The man is cool personified. And SABATA is a fantastic showcase for how cool he can be.
SABATA is a great character for Van Cleef to play. Upon first glance he feels a lot like his character from A FEW DOLLARS MORE, but a bit more altruistic. Sabata is of course a master marksman, almost superhumanly so and even possesses the ability to throw coins strategically. His draw is blindingly fast as well. Sabata doesn't always choose to be lethal with his gunplay though. He's one of those sharpshooters that uses his firearm to do much more entertaining things than killing (like shooting legs off of chairs a clipping strings on banjos). When he does fire his six-shooter, the soundtrack rings out with that indelible "Italian gunshot sound" - that powerful piercing sound we first became accustomed to hearing in Leone's films. I love that sound. It is to spaghetti westerns what the sound of a light saber is to STAR WARS movies. So once we've established that Sabata is awesome, he needs a good villain to challenge him. This film has a good villain in the form of a homicidal rich fella with lots murderous toys to entertain himself with. As Lee Van Cleef characters are known to do, Sabata decides he wants to extort a little money from this evil hombre and that of course leads to the inevitable hiring of another gunman to take Sabata out. It's a showdown worth waiting for most assuredly. There's plenty of great standoffs in the movie as a whole.
This film spawned two follow-ups - first, ADIOS, SABATA in 1970, which saw Yul Brynner taking over the character and then RETURN OF SABATA in 1971 where Van Cleef did indeed return (to the role). All three of these films were directed by Gianfranco Parolini (billed here as the Americanized Frank Kramer) who was unfamiliar to me but is clearly a dude with a good amount of pinache and makes an energetic movie dripping with style.
SABATA is one of several westerns (DEATH RIDES A HORSE comes immediately to mind) that truly makes me wish Van Cleef had been given more opportunities to be an action hero/leading man in Hollywood. He is as dynamic an actor as any of his contemporaries and how the went relatively unrecognized is beyond me.

This Blu-ray has not much in the way of extras (other than a theatrical trailer), but the transfer is quite solid and shows off the stylish 2.35 to 1 compositions rather well. Colors pop pretty good too. 

THE SCALPHUNTERS (1968; Sydney Pollack)
Burt Lancaster never ceases to amaze me with the deftness and flexibility he has to inhabit all different kinds of characters. From an affable Robin Hood-esque hero in something like THE FLAME AND THE ARROW, to a dastardly villain in THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, the man has some unrivaled acting chops. He has gone from an actor I enjoyed to basically one of my favorites as I've watched more and more of his films. One piece if Lancaster cinema I only saw for the first time a few years back was Robert Aldrich's film ULZANA'S RAID. It has a somewhat bleak western setting and and Lancaster slotted into it so perfectly. THE SCALPHUNTERS was a film I was only slightly aware of prior to this Blu-ray release. I must admit that I tend to make assumptions about what a movie is like just based on the cover art. The Blu-ray cover of THE SCALPHUNTERS suggested something a little bleak to me as an initial impression. I was thinking it might be something along the lines of ULZANA'S RAID, which is a film I like quite a bit. The rousing score for THE SCALPHUNTERS from the great Elmer Bernstein sets a pleasant tone right out of the gate though. I was given the immediate impression that this film wouldn't be quite as bleak as I initially ascertained. Joe Bass (Burt Lancaster) is a world weary (but cunning) fur trapper who, while making his way back with a full load of hides, happens upon a group of Kiowa Indians determined to take his wares from him. As a consolatory gesture of trade, the Indians give Bass a runaway house slave (Ossie Davis) they had previously taken off of another group. Bass reluctantly agrees to the "trade", but keeps a close eye on the Kiowas as they begin to celebrate. They get drunk and just as Bass and his slave are about to sneak down and take his hides back, the Kiowa fall under attack from a gang of sleazy "scalphunters" led by an evil fella (Telly Savalas) who kill all but one of them and take their scalps as well as Bass' load of furs. Bass ain't about to let this scum take the fruits of his labor so he pursues the gang. The tone of the film is interesting in that it waivers from mostly light comic western to slightly darker moments at times. It's deftly handled by director Sydney Pollack. THE SCALPHUNTERS falls between some of Pollack's earlier films like THE SLENDER THREAD (his auspicious debut) and THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED and just before one of his early masterpieces , THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY. Pollack is a very solid craftsman and I was pleased to see yet another example of the variety of genres that he took on as a director. The Cast includes of course Lancaster (who is outstanding, as always), but also Shelley Winters and Dabney Coleman  (who is bearded and almost unrecognizeable) among a few other familiar faces. The aforementioned score by Elmer Bernstein is great and it is his music that really gives the film an elegant, jubilant energy as well as evening out the slight tonal shifts.

Like SABATA, this Blu-ray is also a bare-bones (except for a trailer) release. The transfer is strong though, even better than SABATA. Also like SABATA, THE SCALPHUNTERS was shot in scope and the Blu-ray presentation brings out the color and detail in this gorgeous format. THE SCALPHUNTERS features more majestic outdoor vistas shots in general which looks excellent in widescreen.

Both SABATA and THE SCALPHUNTERS arrive on Blu-ray on July 22nd. For more information head on over to Kino Lorber. Also due out on that day are WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION and THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (which I reviewed here:

FYI - All four titles are currently on sale at Amazon for $16.99 a piece (43% off):

Friday, July 18, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Brad Henderson

Brad Henderson writes for Popshifter and is the co-host of the wonderful Scream Cast podcast (along with Sean Duregger) which is a show I have become a regular part of these days. Check it out here: and follow along on twitter @Scream_Cast
Brad is also a Writer/Director/Producer whose projects include TEDDY, AT NIGHT THEY COME, SEVEN SHADES OF RED, HOWL, THE DARK ONES, THE LAKE, and GREY SKIES.
Brad is a good dude with a huge depth of knowledge about cinema - see his list below to get a taste:
We throw the term “underrated” around quite frequently and I’m sure at this point it has lost its meaning. We throw the term at films like The Boondock Saints, Last Action Hero, Donnie Darko, Dredd, and many more. However, those films bombed at the box office but they have all had major success on VHS/DVD/Blu-ray. At this moment they are not underrated and never will be. Once a film that bombs at the box office or just doesn’t do well but makes a huge success in another market or gains large amounts of popularity throughout time doesn’t make it an underrated movie anymore. At one time Last Action Hero was an underrated film but at this point it has found a major fanbase and is loved by many. Same thing can go for the film Office Space; no one knew what that film was when it came to theatres or hit the video market. At a time Office Space was an underrated film but at this point it has gained large amounts of popularity and the term “underrated” can not be applied. Underrated should only be applied to films that you mention and many can’t haven’t seen or even heard of. Just because a film is a “dud” when it comes out doesn’t mean that it can’t resurface and find it’s audience. Now, just because you may love or have seen these films below doesn’t mean that they aren’t underrated because of what I said above. Just consider yourself part of the in-crowd that has seen these kickass underrated action flicks.

20. Death Ring (1992)
When you can’t get A+ actors you get their C- family members. That is exactly what this film did as it used elements from The Most Dangerous Game. A fun and simple action flick
that has been a favorite for years.

19. Crying Freeman (1995)
Who knew that Christophe Gans made an action film starring Mark Dascasos that wasn’t Brotherhood Of The Wolf. I didn’t until last year and I tracked it down immediately and buried into my eyes.

18. Rage Of Honor (1987)
Anything with Sho Kosugi is badass. It doesn’t matter what it is he always gives an excellent performance when it comes to anything he is in...well, he is a ninja most of the time but a badass ninja.

17. Enemy Territory (1987)
Ray Parker Jr. plays a hero and Tony Todd plays the villain of a gang called The Vampires. Is that enough to get you to hit play?

16. One Down Two To Go (1976)
One of my favorite blaxploitation films of all time and one that stars Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, and Richard Roundtree. With a cast like that you can’t go wrong.

15. Deadlock (1991)
They changed the title to this to Wedlock but it will always be Deadlock to me. I dig this film quite a bit and its sequel and is a film that needs a decent re-release because it is extremely underrated.

14. Tiger On Beat (1988)
Yun-Fat Chow stars in this Hong Kong Lethal Weapon style action flick that is a perfect kooky buddy cop flick.

13. The City Of Violence (2006)
I still say this is one of the best action films ever made. The action sequences are outstanding and the overall story is heartbreaking and sad. I will be the first in line to purchase this once it get a Blu-ray release.

12. No Escape (1994)
This film seemed like it was going to be huge but died way down after its release in the video market and was never really heard from again. This is one that could really use a Blu-ray release but I have a feeling we will be waiting for a while.

11. Who Dares Wins (1982)
This film is also known as The Final Option which is a decent titles but Who Dares Wins always sticks out. If you already don’t know this was Ronald Reagan's favorite film and if you have seen it you know why. One of the slower action flicks on the list but the badassery from Lewis Collins is one of the greatest things ever in the history of cinema. It still bothers me that Lewis Collins didn’t blow up into a action star or become the next James Bond.

10. The Nest (2002)
I passed this film countless times at my local video store because by the cover it just looked liked everything else around that time and didn’t stand out at all. After a while of perusing the aisles and trying to make my mind up I finally picked it up and took a look and realized it was a French film rather than some B grade action flick. I decided to take it and give it a chance. Holy shit.

9. Gunmen (1993)
Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Denis Leary, Patrick Stewart, Kadeem Hardison, and Brenda Bakke are in this epic action flick that still holds up to this day. I remember the night my mom came home with this and we chilled and watched it that night. Even as a child I thought it was epic and this one holds a certain sentimental value to me as well. My mom is the reason I’m a complete nerd when it comes to cinema and if it wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t be composing this list at this very moment.

8. The Wild Geese (1978)
I’m obsessed with older actors being put as heroes and badasses. Wild Geese is a film where that happens and takes you surprise of how action packed this gem is. They also made a sequel to it years later with Scott Glenn but it wasn’t the same or as good but still watchable.

7. Drive (1997)
My second film that has actors Mark Dacascos and Kadeem Hardison. Drive is a film that is silly but it has some of the best choreographed fight scenes you will ever see.

6. Class Of 1999 (1990)
This is one of my favorite films of all-time and is in my Top 10 of all-time. I can quote this one inside and out and love it to death.

5. Stone Cold (1991)
Brian Bosworth. That is all.

4. Rapid Fire (1992)
Brandon Lee was like a babysitter to me when I was little. I wanted to be him so bad and loved everything he was in...yeah, even Laser Mission.

3. Showdown In Little Tokyo (1991)
Yeah, I wouldn’t just have one Brandon Lee flick in this list.

2. The Perfect Weapon (1991)
Jeff Speakman is one of the most underrated action stars ever and I think this is by far his best film and also shows off his talents in a major way.

1. A Better Tomorrow Trilogy
A perfect trilogy and perfect movies. Yes, it does have some corny music at times but that doesn’t bother me at all. It also has some balls out shootout sequences that are to die for even if they are a little over the top but it works in what I like to call “Woo World”. This films are the best of the best and have some incredible shots and choreography that no one has been able to replicate to this day.

Now I hit my Top 20 but I have one more that goes on the list and this is another one that is on my Top 10 of all-time. The reason why I didn’t put it on this Top 20 list? It is a different breed of action and kind of an odd film itself and needs a certain kind of attention. That film is Raiders Of Atlantis.
0. Raiders Of Atlantis (1983)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Dan Budnik

Dan Budnik is co-author of the book Bleeding Skull!: A 1980s Trash Horror Odyssey. He is currently working on another book containing 100% more Dudikoff.

1) Mister Nice Guy (1997) – A very entertaining Jackie Chan film released right after he almost conquered America withRumble in The Bronx, Supercop and First Strike. Mr. Nice Guy was Jackie’s first Hong Kong action film shot entirely in English. Made in Australia, it was directed by the great and mighty Sammo Hung. And, it kind of passed byunnoticed in the States, which is too bad because it is, more or less, 90 minutes of great action scenes. (The construction site free-for-all is one of my favorite Jackie Fights of all-time.) Jackie kicks ass. Sammo’s action direction isawesome, as always. (Have you seen Eastern Condors?) The film is let down slightly in the ripe acting and perfunctory dialogue departments but don’t let that deter you. (Maybe watch the film in another language with English subtitles?) This one moves and it’s exciting and it’s funny and Jackie’s great. What more do you need?

2) Rescue Force (1989) - Frenetic, late ‘80s nonsense action. People assemble in the desert. They shoot at each other. Someone edits it all together. In the end, the good guys win. Charles Nizet’s masterpiece is semi-incoherent excitementthat features the assembling of a squad of commandos to rescue some guy and his daughter. Phone calls are made. Numerous captions appear on the screen giving us a series of times and locations that become more and more tenuous. Then, the shooting begins and it is an orgy of righteous awesomeness. 

3) American Ninja (1985) – This film just has the sort of title that I giggle at and then ignore. Well, last week, I watched it and loved it. It’s so much fun. It’s a well-made, action packed good time set at an army base in the Philippines. Michael Dudikoff plays Joe, an American Ninja. There’s local corruption and jerks who like punching people. The commander of the base has a lovely daughter who keeps getting kidnapped. It’s simply an entertaining action film. I would guess it’s a great one for watching on the big screen and cheering a lot. And the commander’s daughter is played by Judie Aronson who gets kidnapped as the Mayor’s daughter in the Sledge Hammer! pilot not long after this.

4) The Violent Professionals (1973) – This is my favorite Poliziotteschi film. I actually haven’t seen it for a couple years and I’ve never seen it in a good print. But, it has thatrough, raw, slightly confusing feel to it that all the ItalianBullitt/ French Connection rip-offs from this time period have. A tough cop is suspended and goes after some bad guys. There are scenes of great violence. Some of them hilariously inappropriate. And, yes, there are car chases. I love a good car chase and this has several. All of them shot in that no-nonsense style where there is zero Hollywoodsheen to them. No gloss. I always imagine whole neighborhoods in absolute chaos after the production crews left. Wrecked cars and fruit carts everywhere. It’s all real! (That probably didn’t happen though.) If you like an action film that will leave grit in your teeth and Martine Brochard in your mind, hop on this one.

5) Chasing Choo Choos (1927) 20 minutes of silent movie thrills and that’s it. Monty Banks made a movie called Play Safe, a Harold Lloyd-style comedy that segues into thrills at the end. It bombed. So, he removed all but the last 20 minutes. Those minutes consists of a wild silent movie fight scene and a ton of hair-raising stunts on and around a train. I’m not sure if Play Safe still exists. But, ChasingChoo Choos may be all you want or need, as Banks doesn’t seem like much of a comedian. He’s great with the stunts, though. There were so many “nice guy races to the rescue”films in silent times (Girl Shy is a favorite) that creatingone that eliminates everything but the race seems like the smartest thing in the world.

Honorable Mentions:

Freebie and The Bean (1974) – Richard Rush can direct action. The car chases in this one are superb. Especially the one that begins on the streets, then gradually becomes two cars smashing into each other until they can’t go anymore and ends in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant. There’s some humor and a decent plot in here too.

Game of Survival (1989) - The man who starred in Alien Private Eye plays another alien in this film. A bunch of fugitives from outer space are sent to Earth to fight for an orb of some kind. Whoever has the orb at the end wins their freedom. Cheap, yes. Wacky, you got that right. Filled with fights, oh yes. This one is, basically, fight after fight between all different types of strange looking guys. There’s a brief romantic interlude section but no one seems terribly interested. Don’t let that get in the way of your action, friends.

Jungle Hell (1955) – Sabu the Jungle Boy, elephants, UFOs, radioactive rocks and more stock footage than you can imagine. This is a classic of non-adventure. Not much happens in the jungle here. But, I always get the feeling that something should be happening. Watch it and see if you can spot the action. If you do, feel free to be smug. I won’t complain.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Twilight Time - BRANNIGAN and RADIO DAYS on Blu-ray

BRANNIGAN (1975; Douglas Hickox)
BRANNIGAN opens with some glamour shot's of the main character's gun while the credits role. One can't help but recall the title sequence from the television show SLEDGE HAMMER from more than a decade later. This fetishistic approach to firearms seems to clearly delineate that the film you're about to see really wants to be DIRTY HARRY (or perhaps to comment on it a little bit , I can't be sure). I'm a pretty big fan of knockoffs as a general rule. Hollywood (& movie industries outside the U.S. For that matter) has always amused me with its penchant for imitation. Rarely can that lightning in a bottle that makes a hit film be captured again. And yet, on and on they go attempting to give people what they think people want to see (again). Not to sound cynical, because as I said, I find knockoffs to be pretty fun. JAWS knockoffs might be my favorite knockoffs. In BRANNIGAN, what we seem to have is a fairly straightforward DIRTY HARRY knockoff staring John Wayne instead of Clint Eastwood. Also, it takes place in Lindon as opposed to San Francisco. So in that respect it's kind of a fish-out-of-water cop film, which would make it like another Eastwood picture - COOGAN'S BLUFF. I've mentioned in a previous review that Quentin Tarantino has made it know that he is a fan of this film's director Douglas Hickox. In fact, he and Edgar Wright have a brief tangential conversation about both BRANNIGAN and MCQ - two John Wayne cop films from the 1970s. I myself, like Tarantino, have taken a liking to Wayne's films from all phases of his career. Though he is clearly a bit out if his depth playing this super hero police detective, he is nonetheless very entertaining (he makes his entrance into the film by kicking a door down off its hinges and making a quippy remark). BRANNIGAN really is a proto-Schwarzenegger action hero character. He's an exaggerated superman with much ass-kicking to dispense and many clever things to say along the way as he does so. It's this kind of hammy stuff that leads me to think that maybe they were trying to be a torch tongue in cheek at times. The fact that Hickox was the director and that he was the also man responsible for THEATRE OF BLOOD (which has quite a bit of humor to it) makes me think it's likely that BRANNIGAN was probably meant to poke fun at this type of film. So, back to the COOGAN'S BLUFF angle - BRANNIGAN is assigned to extradite a heavyweight american mobster (John Vernon) back to the U.S. from London. He is aided by a lovely Scotland Yard detective (Judy Geeson) and antagonized by her commander (Richard Attenborough) as well as a hitman hired the mobster fella. John Vernon is a sensational bad guy and he played the role quite often in the late 60s and 70s (see POINT BLANK and CHARLEY VARRICK for great examples). He just has the voice and physical stature of a an evil type. One of the great highlights overall from BRANNIGAN is the cast. Just watching actors like John Wayne, Richard Attenborough, John Vernon, Mel Ferrer, Judy Geeson and others onscreen together in a fun action movie is absolutely delightful to a movie fan like myself. Some may categorize this as perhaps more of a minor film in the long and varied career of John Wayne and many may not even bother to week it out because of that. In my mind, that would be a mistake, it's a hoot. 

The transfer on this new Blu-ray is quite lovely. The colorful London locations pop with color and detail. Very nice overall.
Special Features:
-An audio commentary with Nick Redman and actress Judy Geeson. This track is a very pleasant listen. Geeson has some lovely and entertaining anecdotes about the jovial John Wayne (including a funny one about how she was first cast) and the production in general. She is and was quite find of both John Wayne and Richard Attenborough and she absurdly paints them both in a kindly, generous light. I awaits love to hear things like that about virtuoso actors like these.

-Judy Geeson's "Behind the Scenes" Home Movie Footage (3 mins)
This is a nice little 'day on the set' kind of slice of life wherein we see John Wayne, Richard Attenborough, director Douglas Hickox and others preparing for a big scene. Though there is no sound (except for some snappy music played over image) it's still really fun to watch John Wayne work. He's mostly just gesturing and pointing, but it's fantastic nonetheless.

- An Isolated Score Track - Dominic Frontiere's music is some pretty fun stuff. Light and bubbly and brassy, very much of the period and very propulsive when it needs to be. It's a shame Frontiere didn't do more film work. His other credits include things like THE STUNT MAN, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN and CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD.

RADIO DAYS (1987 Woody Allen)
In a career as prolific as Woody Allen's, it's easy to see how some of his movies might slip through the cracks a bit. Even some of the very good ones. RADIO DAYS is among those very-good-but-lesser-remembered movies in his lengthy  filmography. I have always thought of it in terms or Neil Simon and his BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS (the film version of which was a family staple around my house as a kid). It would seem reasonable that this play which premiered in 1983 (and was made into the subsequent movie in 1986) could have had some impact on Woody Allen. There's something of a theatrical nature to RADIO DAYS as well which is another reason I can't help but think of Simon when I return to it. He's not one to tout his influences too much though so who knows. Outside of Neil Simon this movie reminds me a bit of A CHRISTMAS STORY as well. The chief similarity for this comparison has to do with the little boy protagonists and their overwhelming obsession with acquiring that special item that will make their lives complete. In the case of A CHRISTMAS STORY, as we all remember, Peter Billigsley's character is seeking a Red Ryder BB gun as though it were a literal holy grail. In RADIO DAYS, the protagonist youngster (played wonderfully by Seth Green) wants to get a Masked Avenger (his favorite radio program) Secret Compartment Ring. Unlike A CHRISTMAS STORY though , RADIO DAYS is more of an ensemble piece. While Woody Allen (who is recalling his childhood days in Rockaway Beach, New York) narrates the whole episodic narrative, we get glimpses of not only the little boy's life, but of the lives of his family members and some radio stars as well. It's very much like Woody Allen's AMERICAN GRAFFITI. While it isn't wall-to-wall music like GRAFFITI, it gives a healthy dose of some delightful music from the period (the 1940s). Both films are steeped to the eyeballs in nostalgia, which I am always a fan of. Nostalgia, good music and some cute, anectdotal storytelling is often a sucker play for me. Throw in your standard Woody Allen all-star cast (this one includes Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker and Josh Mostel) and you've absolutely got my attention. Even the supporting players are a crackerjack bunch. Kenneth Mars, Jeff Daniels, Wallace Shawn, Danny Aiello, Larry David and even Diane Keaton all have small parts as well. I even saw William H. Macy onscreen for about 10 seconds at one point. As I said, this is certainly an underappreciated Woody Allen movie, at this point more worthy of discovery as I think many have never seen it.

Twilight Time Blu-rays can be purchased via Screen Archives here:

Underrated Action/Adventure - Jerry Entract

Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry but is an English lifelong movie fan and amateur student of classic cinema (American and British). Main passions are the western and detective/mystery/film noir. Enjoys seeking out lesser-known (even downright obscure) old movies.

1) “ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS” (1939) directed by Howard Hawks
I regard “Only Angels Have Wings” as one of the truly great action/adventure movies. When it was released in 1939 the world was on the brink of another world war and the film’s story did not appear to be very timely. In the years since, I believe it has become a truly under-rated classic.

Directed by the great Howard Hawks from a screenplay by Jules Furthman, it explores the take on life of “the lost generation” following WW1 and their inability to fit in and their thirst for (almost-suicidal) danger.

Cary Grant showed what a great actor he could be, his character hiding his vulnerabilities with a cynical, tough, even brutal, fa├žade. There is a real darkness cut through Grant’s persona here and I think he handles it brilliantly.

Of course, Hawks was a fine action director and the flying sequences are terrific, enhanced by fine cinematography by Joseph Walker & music score by Dimitri Tiomkin. Made for Columbia. At 2 hours it never seems to outlast its welcome.

2) “KING SOLOMON’S MINES” (1950) directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton
I’m not totally sure if this MGM extravaganza should be described as “under-rated” but its star Stewart Granger certainly is.

H. Rider Haggard’s classic yarn is Hollywood’s first version (talkie anyway) and it follows an expedition into darkest Africa by a group seeking a lost treasure, having hired their guide Allan Quartermain. Of course a woman is along (a lady actually) in the comely form of Deborah Kerr and naturally discomfort and indignity accompanies the obvious and expected dangers. A really nice feature, most unusual for the time, is the total absence of a music score, leaving the noises of the jungle to effectively accompany the travellers.

As I said earlier, I believe Granger is very under-rated, not least by himself, but I think he was a decent actor but, more than that, a fantastic “presence” in action movies like this. Deborah Kerr was a very fine actress and the two contrasted well in their roles.

Screen adaptation was by Helen Deutch and the superb cinematography by Robert Surtees.

3) “HI-JACKED” (1950) directed by Sam Newfield
“Hi-Jacked” is bound to be “under-rated” as it is probably virtually unknown! It was a cheaply-made B-movie for Lippert Productions starring one of my action favourites, Jim Davis. I was determined to include at least one B-movie in my list and, as these films go, I found it to be quite fast-moving and a fun watch.

The story relates the tale of an ex-con who is now a truck-driver who wants to stay on the straight and narrow and provide a future for his wife, Marsha Jones, and himself. A gang of hi-jackers are determined to frame him in their efforts to steal his load and it is a race against time if he is to stop that happening by bringing the lugs to justice.

Like all B-movies, time is not wasted where unnecessary and the film comes in at 69 mins. The screenplay is by Raymond L. Schrock and Fred Myton from an original story by Myton and Orville Hampton.

4) “CORVETTE K-225” (1943) directed by Richard Rosson*
The subject matter of this film is perhaps more serious than the title “action/adventure” would warrant, I admit. However, I think it is a real classic of its kind and it is certainly not short of either action or adventure.

The background is the Battle of the Atlantic during WW2 and the desperate fight by the Atlantic convoys to keep supply lines open and limit shipping destruction by Hitler’s U-boats. The film is treated in almost documentary style and everything is very realistically-portrayed. The acting is suitably low-key with the very effective lead taken by my favourite western actor, Randolph Scott. A fairly-brief but well-acted romance is covered between Scott and the lovely Ella Raines but really it is the serious stuff that takes centre stage.

I think this is possibly the finest of the submarine warfare movies shot during the conflict. It was made by Universal from an original screenplay by John Rhodes Sturdy, co-directed* uncredited by Howard Hawks with some very effective cinematography by Tony Gaudio.

5) “FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT” (1940) directed byAlfred Hitchcock
OK – a film from Hitchcock “under-rated”?? As his films go, this one does often seem to get overlooked so I am stretching the point to make it fit!

Hitch had not long left his native shores to settle in California and “Foreign Correspondent” was his second film after the move. It was at a time when Britain was under siege from Germany and clearly Hitch intended to influence the American public to join.

Joel McCrea was not Hitch’s first choice to play the US reporter sent to Europe to cover some negotiationstaking place that were intended to hold the peace. However, McCrea is another of my top favourite western actors and I cannot imagine anyone doing a better job here.

Hitchcock was famous for his set-pieces in his films that, to this day, stay in the memory. The sea of umbrellas in the heavy rain on the steps in Holland, the lonely windmill and the fall from the top of St.Paul’sCathedral in London after that kindly-looking actor Edmund Gwenn turns out to be a vicious 5th columnist.

Screenplay was by Charles Bennett and regular Hitch collaborator Joan Harrison for Walter WangerProductions while music was by Alfred Newman and cinematography brilliantly lensed by Rudolph Mate.

A timeless, and maybe under-rated(?) classic.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Hal Horn

Hal Horn's collaboration with Rupert Pupkin Speaks stretches back to the dawn of time (or circa 2010 - near the beginning). He is always Mr. Johnny-On-The-Spot with a great list of truly underappreciated cinema from a man who clearly adores it. I love his blog, The Horn Section( and give it my highest personal recommendation, so scoot on over there!
In the last of his pirate adventures, Errol Flynn (CAPTAIN BLOOD) is a British officer posing as a deserter to infiltrate a pirate’s base. , Flynn is eyed suspiciously by pirate leader Anthony Quinn but has less trouble convincing the only female Coast Captain, Maureen O’Hara.  As Flynn slowly gathers the needed evidence, O’Hara falls in love with him.  Flynn made this one out on loan to Universal near the end of his long Warner Brothers contract, and it is arguably the most handsomely produced of his post-World War II vehicles, with Quinn making a terrific villain.  Directed by frequent John Wayne collaborator George Sherman, who proves to be very capable outside the western genre.

“B” noir from Allied Artists stars Frank Lovejoy as an ex-con attempting to go straight by cutting a deal with the Feds.  They’ll grant him immunity from prosecution for his last heist, he’ll work undercover and get the needed evidence on mobster Forrest Tucker.  Watched this one initially as a Tuck fan, and found it to be a tight, solid little B film with plenty of action and convincing performances.  Peggie Castle (LAWMAN) and Evelyn Eaton (who both died way too young) are eye catching beauties, but the real show-stealer is a crazed Timothy Carey as Tucker’s main henchman.  Hard to find these days: hopefully it will join the wealth of Fifties treasures that have popped up on Netflix and Epix for streaming.  Directed by Harold D. Schuster (DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE).

Directed by John Huston, Errol Flynn’s penultimate film would have been a much more fitting swan song than the ultra-cheap and clumsy CUBAN REBEL GIRLS was.  Arguably the greatest Hollywood action hero of the 1930’s and 1940’s, Flynn played a disgraced British officer seeking redemption by helping conservationalist Trevor Howard in his crusade against elephant poaching..  Juliette Greco, Eddie Albert, Paul Lukas and Orson Welles co-star.  William Holden was originally cast in Howard’s role, and Howard comes across as too abrasive at times, but the film’s conservationalist stance is admirable and sadly, the topic is more relevant than ever a half century later.  THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN was filmed entirely on location in Chad.  It turns up occasionally on Fox Movie Channel.

Emphasis on adventure here.  THE REIVERS is based on a Faulkner novel, received two Oscar nominations and comes from the height of Steve McQueen’s stardom, but still seems lost in the shuffle these days compared to his better known action films of the period.   At the turn of the 20th century, 11 year old Mitch Vogel lives in Mississippi and his grandfather gets the area’s first automobile: a yellow Winton Flyer.  While Gramps is away, handyman McQueen steals the car, taking Vogel and black stowaway Rupert Crosse with him.   Memphis is the physical destination, but Vogel is really headed for the adult world, and lessons on everything from racism to courage.  Wonderfully understated film contains some of McQueen’s finest work; Crosse (who died of cancer just three years later) received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Yeah, it’s derivative (of both ROAD WARRIOR and REAR WINDOW) but distinguished by a rare heroic turn for Stacy Keach (at least, outside of his MIKE HAMMER TV series) and the Australian outback.  Keach is a motor mouthed trucker whose only companion is a pet dingo(!) as he drives across those plains with a delivery of frozen meat, commenting on anything and everything he sees.  Hearing radio reports of a deranged killer at large and noticing the driver of a green van behaving and driving in a peculiar fashion arouses Keach’s suspicions.   Keach picks up hitchhiker Jamie Lee Curtis, who also suspects something is amiss, and a potentially deadly game is afoot.   Unsettling film best watched late at night, but not really horror.   TCM Underground aired this in the Spring; well worth keeping an eye out for the inevitable repeat showing.

Fictionalized version of a true 1961 story, the fate of the Brigantine Albatross.  Emphasis on adventure again; a school sailing trip, with skipper Jeff Bridges leading a group of fourteen male students (Ryan Phillipe and Jeremy Sisto among them) through the Caribbean.  The boys are taught discipline by their tough captain, which will be much needed when the vessel is threatened by the title storm.  Directed by Ridley Scott, WHITE SQUALL is overlong and bombed at the box office, but contains a typically solid performance by Bridges, and hey, who can resist a good seafaring adventure that doubles as a coming of age tale? 
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