Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Underrated '55 - John Knight

About John Knight:
"From a North London working class background and a genuine Muswell Hillbilly by birth, Rod Stewart lived across the road from me and Ray Davies and I used to loan each other records. He turned me on to Chet Atkins and I turned him on to The Ventures. Always been a life-long film fan and when I met Cineaste and later screenwriter
Chris Wicking in the early Sixties he turned me onto lots of interesting films and directors. It's been a lifelong search and I'm still learning at the age of 68, still so many great people yet to discover.....I am talking vintage films here."

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TIGER BY THE TAIL (UK) John Gilling USA Title Cross-Up
Lisa Daniely enters into a relationship with Larry Parks-but on HER terms: their lives outside their relationship must remain secret to them both. When Parks betrays Daniely's terms his life goes into free-fall. A model Brit B Flick well directed by underrated John Gilling. Troubled, tragic actress Constance Smith is the "good girl" in this one.


TIMESLIP (UK) Ken Hughes USA Title The Atomic Man
Interesting mix of diverse plot elements here:
A scientist (Peter Arne) finds his mind has been transported several seconds into the future.On the case are wisecracking American journo (Gene Nelson) and his resourceful girlfriend (Faith Domergue). Also in the mix are veteran Nazis and sinister South American agents. Carry On's Charles Hawtrey plays a very cheeky "office boy".Would make a wonderful double bill with CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN.
Trivia Note: In Tarantino's much anticipated Western THE HATEFUL EIGHT Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a character called Daisy Domergue. Q.T. loves these homages and it's great that he remembers the queen of Fifties B's.


MAN WITH THE GUN (USA) Richard Wilson
Robert Mitchum is on blistering form as a "town tamer" with a troubled personal life.Luckily there are a host of bad guys for Mitchum to vent his frustration on. A bleak,stark,low budget gem-ripe for re-discovery. Great news that Kino Lorber are soon to release this terrific Western remastered in high-def widescreen on Blu-Ray.


HELL'S ISLAND (USA) Phil Karlson
The jury is still out on, if a film made in Technicolor (and Vista Vision) can still be classed as Film Noir. Certainly this film never reaches the heights of previous Phil Karlson/John Payne classic Noirs 99 RIVER STREET and KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL. Despite all this HELL'S ISLAND offers good entertainment and has a knockout performance from Mary Murphy as a duplicitous Femme Fatale to be reckoned with. Murphy-who never set out to become an actress was somewhat indifferent about her career.Having said that she certainly worked with some heavyweights: Bogart,Brando,Wyler,Losey.
Sadly HELL'S ISLAND is not available on DVD or Blu-Ray


DESERT SANDS (USA) Lesley Selander
The most ambitious (and largest budget) film from the Bel-Air fun factory. Bel-Air's second 1955 Ralph Meeker starrer (the other being the brutal,abrasive BIG HOUSE USA). Color,SuperScope and a most engaging cast:Meeker,Marla English,J Carrol Naish, Ron Randell,Keith Larsen,John Smith,John Carradine,Mort Mills. Hugely entertaining Foreign Legion romp,set in the present day (...well 1955!) with helicopters,and stuff. The cast do pretty well and I rather liked Aussie actor Ron Randell playing a British upper class twit. Second billed Marla English does not enter the picture until 45 minutes have passed. Marla certainly looks striking (in both senses of the word) as she hits Meeker across the face with her riding whip!
As yet not available on DVD; a Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray would be most welcome.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Scream Factory - SHOCKER Collector's Edition on Blu-ray

SHOCKER (1989, Wes Craven)
Wes Craven's passing is still so fresh, it having happened just days ago, I am still in a state of processing the man and his legacy. He was certainly one of the first directors whose names I came to know. He and John Carpenter's possessory credits were the first indications I became aware of as an indicator of some kind of authorship for a movie. Being a child primarily of the 1980s, Craven was pretty unavoidable in that he was responsible for creating one of the most popular horror franchises of the time. Freddy Krueger was a name that kids in my schools knew well and his knife-fingered persona was one that was almost obligatory around Halloween. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET really tapped into something in the zeitgeist and genuinely frightened (and scarred) a lot of youngsters my age when the movies first appeared on the scene. Craven had helped birth a new monster into the world and he was terrifying (especially in that first ELM STREET movie). Though I prefer Jason Voorhees to Krueger personally, I cannot deny that NIGHTMARE had a profound effect on me when I finally saw it. I actually waited a little while because it had been built up a lot at the time and I feared it would be too much for me. When I finally got to watch it, at least one if not two sequels were already available on VHS. The movie really got to me and I'm pretty sure I had some trouble sleeping for a while after. It was certainly a film that made me want to dive deeper in the horror genre in general. The truly ingenius thing about Krueger as a character was that his domain was the dreamscape and that made him so much more potent as a boogeyman. Potent not only to the other characters in his movies, but also potent to teenagers and others who were susceptible to bad dreams after horror movies anyway. It was like his perfect synergy for making an iconic bad guy. Kids watched his movies and went home and dreamed about him, but that only made him even more popular. It's like Craven knew he could prey on people's subconscious minds to keep the character going. Who knows if he actually thought about all that, but it certainly worked and Craven (though he had had success with other horror movies) himself  became a giant in the horror genre. Fast forward to 1989. My best friend and I saw SHOCKER in the theater and being none the wiser, we thought it was absolutely amazing. It was gory and scary and had a badass killer and a wicked soundtrack My friend and I had started to get into "heavy metal" music around that time and we were already on board with bands like Megadeth and Metallica when the SHOCKER soundtrack came out on CD. I'm pretty sure my friend was actually turned onto the band Dangerous Toys from that soundtrack even. Watching the movie now I have mixed feelings about it. There is a ton of nostalgia there and I think the first third or so is actually pretty intense. There's a point in the movie though where it starts to turn into something else. It's actually when Megadeth's "No More Mr. Nice Guy" plays in the film for the first time. It plays over a scene of the electric chair being prepared for Horace Pinker (the killer in the film). It's a tone shift from the prior scenes which are gritty and emotional. You see, Horace Pinker is an brutal and sadistic (almost bloodthirsty) serial slaughterer of humans. He kills more people in the opening 30 minutes of SHOCKER than Freddy or Jason kill in an entire film. He's known as "The Family Slasher" in the movie so it's clear he's not a one-death-at-a-time kinda guy. He's as evil as any killer I've ever seen in a movie, but he doesn't enter an over-the-top caricature phase until just after that Megadeth song plays in the movie. I understand that the movie lays out that a transformation has just occurred around that time, but the tone shifts so sharply that it's kind of hard to hang on without being thrown from the ride. One of the complaints I've heard about the movie is that it is way too long. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is a pretty tight ninety-one minutes long and there is a lot packed into that time. If SHOCKER has length issues it may have to do with the fact that it seems like a movie and a half. It runs an hour and 50 minutes and you can feel the length I must admit. That said, for a movie with a couple different things in it, it is still quite entertaining. The first part is kind of like a really graphic episode of a TV show with elements of a serial killer and some small bits of supernatural stuff happening. the second two-thirds is where it kind of becomes another NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movie and being as we have seen several sequels to that franchise (the 3rd one being particularly enjoyable) it may seem a little tired in comparison. There's a point just before the execution where Horace Pinker bites the lip of one of the prison guards and it stretches like a cartoon character. My first reaction upon seeing that this time was, "What the hell was Craven thinking??". Then I thought about it a bit more and it all started to make sense. Sam Raimi has a deep affection for the Three Stooges. I never thought that love could be incorporated into a horror film in any way, but Raimi makes it work in EVIL DEAD II. Craven clearly has a similarly twisted sense of humor when it comes to the macabre and so scenes like that one in SHOCKER are examples of that I guess. Does it work as well as when Raimi does it? No. That said, I respect the man trying to stretch things a bit (pun intended) and establish a bizarre universe where terror and slapstick inhabit the same space. Though some might argue this is one of Craven's lesser efforts, I believe he was one of our greatest horror directors and it was his sense of humor that set him apart from a lot of the others. That sense of humor is on display here in the most wicked of ways.

Special Features:
Scream Factory continues their tradition of not skimping on the supplements here with a well rounded Collector's Edition package. First off, the transfer looks quite good and will certainly please all the fans of the film. Beyond that, a bunch of extras are included:

-A (NEW) Audio Commentary With Director Of Photography Jacques Haitkin, Co-Producer Robert Engelman And Composer William Goldstein.

-An Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Wes Craven.
-(NEW) Cable Guy – An All- An Interview With Actor Mitch Pileggi.
-(NEW) Alison's Adventures – An Interview With Actress Cami Cooper.
-(NEW) It's Alive – An Interview With Executive Producer Shep Gordon.
-(NEW) No More Mr. Nice Guy – The Music Of "Shocker," Featuring Interviews With Music Supervisor Desmond Child And Soundtrack Artists Bruce Kulick (KISS), Jason McMaster (DANGEROUS TOYS), Kane Roberts (ALICE COOPER), and Dave Ellefson (MEGADETH).
-2 Vintage Making Of SHOCKER Featurettes Including An interview With Wes Craven
-Theatrical Trailer
-TV Spots
-Radio Spots
-Original Storyboard Gallery




Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Underrated '55 - Tim Everitt

Tim Everitt is a filmmaker who made a string of B films and independent movies in Hollywood, while also working as an animator and VFX artist for the major studios. He is currently living in Seattle, and is prepping a new movie that he would count lucky to make a future underrated list.
On Twitter, he is @tim_everitt.
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Artists & Models (1955; Frank Tashlin)
Standout Martin & Lewis pic, that hooks you from the first scene, showing the deep bond between the sophisto Martin and his oddball friend. They’re sympathetic from the beginning, and that goes a long way. Then add Shirley Maclaine, game to match Lewis gag for gag, and you’ve got a movie. And Dorothy Malone, adding a whole lot of sex appeal. And the general theme of sex and hypocrisy still works. Director Tashlin was an animator, and the film moves like a Warners cartoon.Wonderful, and underrated because today’s crowd just doesn’t appreciate Martin & Lewis.


We’re No Angels (1955; Michael Curtiz)
Bogart as tough guy with a heart of gold, in a pink apron, in a black comedy, that ends up being more like It’s A Wonderful Life in tone. Except dark. Which is interesting. Ustinov gives his dry delivery, with all those odd pauses, and pretty much steals the show. You think he gets all the best lines, but it’s just him. Aldo Ray, Leo G. Carrol and Basil Rathbone show how studio filmmaking was better than today’s independent productions.Also, Vistavision and Technicolor.  Oh, and it’s Curtiz. For some reason this never shows up on lists of Bogart’s films.  But it’s more fun to watch than Petrified Forest or Key Largo.


The Seven Little Foys (1955; Michael Shavelson)
Bob Hope can carry a picture, and this family friendly show-biz story is unfairly bagged on because it’s not really an accurate bio-pic of the Foys. Therefore, critics of a certain age (who were writing in the fifties), who were fans of the Foys, and knew their story, really tore this film to shreds. But it’s truly an enjoyable and charming film, and deserves to be looked at today. I loved it as a kid.


Bride of the Monster (1955; Ed Wood)
Yes, it was 1955. Overall, Ed Wood doesn’t deserve the “worst director of all time” moniker, because there are plenty of films made that are just boring and unwatchable. Thousands of them, and they disappear fast. Wood’s films were never boring. They, in fact, contain off-the-wall visual sequences that make your jaw drop with incredulity. So underappreciated, or anti-appreciated, I’m putting it on the list.


The Cobweb (1955, Vincente Minnelli)
Hey, Minnelli directed film noir, as well as lavish musicals! This is noir in Cinemascope, too. It’s been unfavorably compared to Douglas Sirk films of the era, but I think it shows Minnelli really wringing drama and hysteria from unsympathetic characters, including Lillian Gish in a very dark and disturbing role. Also a lot of smoking and drinking, heavy even for the 50’s, and a little shocking today.  Also, Oscar Levant, in a mental hospital, cynical and insane.  Great melodrama, and deserves a look.


The Long Grey Line (1955; John Ford)
1955 is such a great year, just because of Cinemascope. John Ford only used it this once, and the compositions and epic feel are wonderful. The military setting and Irish immigrant angle were up Ford’s alley, and the film works with both the big production values and the intimate close scenes. Also full of my favorite Ford actors: Ward Bond, Harry Carey Jr., DonaldCrisp… Not to mention Maureen O’Hara. This was a major title in 1955, and a Ford film to boot, so you have to wonder why it isn’t ever listed with his westerns and other top efforts. It’s very entertaining and has great performances from O’Hara and Power. It’s not any more sentimental than The Quiet Man, and way more real than the soundstage scenes from She Wore Yellow Ribbon. It deserves to be raised up.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Kino Lorber Blu-ray Roundup - BURN WITCH BURN, THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD and WAR GODS OF THE DEEP

BURN WITCH BURN (1962; Sidney Hayers)
This films opens perfectly on total blackness and with the immortal voice of Paul Frees (you'll recognize it instantly as the voice from the Haunted Mansion at Disney) speaking warningly about witches and casting a protective spell over the audience. It's all very William Castle-esque and it's great. It's even better than Castle. This is actually one of the best AIP movies I think I've ever seen. Not surprisingly, the script was written by two of my favorites in Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. Both men were responsible for some of the greatest Twilight Zone episodes ever made and this movie has the slight feel of a solid, longer episode of the show. Peter Wyngarde plays a skeptic college professor who must confront his belief or non-belief in witchcraft head on when things start to go very wrong for him. The movie is right up there with things like CURSE OF THE DEMON in terms of the tension and creepy atmosphere that it maintains throughout. Highly recommended.

This disc has a couple nice supplements in a new on-camera interview with Wyngarde himself (25 mins) and a feature-length audio commentary with Richard Matheson. Both great.
The Blu-ray can be purchased here:
http://amzn.to/1MY38Fg




THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957; Arnold Laven)
An aging Tim Holt stars as a Navy investigator working on the mystery of some sailors who disappeared during routine maneuvers on the Salton Sea. These monsters are kinda like giant snails and they manage to devour a bunch of people whilst the navy team is trying to figure out how where their nest is located. There's also a baby one in a giant egg in a lab just waiting to hatch and cause trouble. Though the movie itself is somewhat light on monster appearances throughout, there's still this sort of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON vibe happening as there are a few underwater diving sequences. Additional cast includes Hans Conreid (voice of Captain Hook in PETER PAN) and a guy who played one of Molly Ringwald's uncles in SIXTEEN CANDLES. I took some pleasure in watching the expression on Tim Holt's face in a few key scenes near the end. In my head, I heard him saying to himself, "I was once directed by Orson Welles and now I'm fighting a giant monster in a labratory". That may or may not have happened. This movie is also one of the earlier incarnations (that I can think of) of the "underwater earthquake unleashes an unspeakable beast" plotline.

The transfer on this movie looks quite nice, better than I would have expected. Very sharp.
Also included is a nice commentary track from stalwart genre expert Tom Weaver (who actually did commentaries for CREATURE and THE WOLFMAN a while back).
The Blu-ray can be purchased here:
http://amzn.to/1NSGjnb




WAR GODS OF THE DEEP (1965; Jacques Tourneur)
Based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe and directed by the great Jacques Tourneur (CAT PEOPLE, OUT OF THE PAST), this tale of mystery and an underwater city sports an exciting cast including Vincent Price, Tab Hunter, David Tomlinson and Susan Hart. It opens, as all films should, with a Vincent Price voiceover. Fans of AT THE EARTH'S CORE, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH and Scooby-Doo will be fans of this I would think. Despite it being based on Poe, there is a very Jules Verne-iness about the proceedings that makes it feel like one of those movies to me. It was especially pleasant to see David Tomlinson in a role outside of a Disney movie. I've always loved him in those films, but this one is a bit darker than anything that Disney would have made at the time so it gave a whole new vibe for Tomlinson to play off of. One of my favorite bits of the movie features our main characters in some neat stylized diving suits (pictured in the alternate poster on the left) and Tomlinson shares his suit with his pet chicken. Oh yes, I forgot to mention Tomlinson's pet chicken. Very amusing and reminiscent of RETURN TO OZ (without the talking). This movie is really all about the last twenty minutes though - diving suits, mer-men, and crossbows!

The widescreen transfer here looks pretty good. Colors quite good.
As for special features, this disc includes an Interview with actor Tab Hunter (11 mins) wherein he discusses his career prior to AIP and working with Vincent Price and others on this movie.

The Blu-ray can be purchased here:
http://amzn.to/1MY2RCl


Friday, August 28, 2015

Underrated '55 - Jerry Entract

Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry but is an English lifelongmovie 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.
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1) “THE LADYKILLERS” (1955) directed by Alexander Mackendrick
STARS: Alec Guiness, Cecil Parker, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom
I don’t really know whether this film qualifies as ‘under-rated’ because I don’t know how well-known it is outside the UK. But if my listing it provokes a few readers out there to go and discover it, then job done!
The last great “classic” comedy from iconic Ealing Studios, this was a terrific black comedy heist movie. A group of crooks move into the boarding house of a meek little old lady while they plan a daring London heist. As the plot unfolds the crooks are gradually “wiped out” unwittingly by the old lady. The cast is classic and Alec Guiness in particular shows his total grasp of wonderful characterisation.
Laugh-out-loud hilarious and not to missed!!
Readily available on DVD as part of “The Ealing Collection”.


2) “LOST” (1955) directed by Guy Green
STARS: David Farrar, David Knight & Julia Arnall
A fast-moving suspense thriller from the Rank Organisation and filmed in glorious Eastman Colour. A well-heeled young couple’s baby is snatched from her pram in a London street. The hunt is on! A race against time for the police (headed by David Farrar) and the young parents as the film reaches its climax on Beachy Head atop the white cliffs of Dover.
Quite a classy film actually with good playing by the cast and some nice London location shooting.
Unfortunately the film is not available on DVD. Well worth looking-out for if it turns up on TV.


3) “FINGER MAN” (1955) directed by Harold D. Schuster
STARS: Frank Lovejoy, Forrest Tucker & Peggie Castle
The cast alone would sell this film to me. Two fine tough guys sandwiching the luminously beautiful Peggie Castle.
Lovejoy plays an ex-con who goes undercover for the feds to “finger” the crime czar (Tucker) who turned his sister into a drug addict. The film is tough and gritty ,especially for the time, and thoroughly recommended IF you can find a way of catching it. Sadly, like many great little movies put out by Allied Artists it is not available on DVD.


4) “THE FAR COUNTRY” (1955) directed by Anthony Mann
STARS: James Stewart, Corinne Calvet, Ruth Roman, Walter Brennan
OK – this western is “under-rated”? No Way, I hear you say!! Mann’s great series of classic westerns with Stewart are, of course, highly-rated. BUT I am making a personal point here. Of the films made this one is generally considered the least of them, it seems. I would heartily disagree (I rate it over “The Naked Spur” certainly) and think it deserves a place near the top of the list.
The story, like many of the best westerns of the time, is one of redemption set in the Klondike gold rush. Stewart’s character is pretty self-serving to start with until the shock of losing his best friend makes him see the light.
William H. Daniels Technicolor photography of the Athabasca Glacier in Canada is breathtaking and the film, for me certainly, one of my favourite westerns. Happily this one is readily available on DVD. No western fan should not know it intimately!


5) “SHOTGUN” (1955) directed by Lesley Selander
STARS: Sterling Hayden, Yvonne De Carlo & Zachary Scott
When it came to tough action westerns made the way they should be, Allied Artists delivered and the director, Lesley Selander was the maestro.
Sterling Hayden made a series of low-budget westerns in the 50s, this one being a higher budget than someand one of the best. The film is no classic but will entertain most hardened western fans. It is tough and violent and De Carlo’s character not treated with kid gloves exactly.
Another Allied Artists film not available on DVD on its own in the USA sadly.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Underrated '55 - James David Patrick

James David Patrick is a writer with a lifelong habit of obsessive movie watching. His current project, #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media Project can be found at thejamesbondsocialmediaproject.com. Find him on twitter at @007hertzrumble.

Check out his Underrated '85, '75 and '65 lists too:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/03/underrated-james-david-patrick.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/05/underrated-75-james-david-patrick.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/07/underrated-james-david-patrick.html
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Due to my late summer travels, I haven't had time to compulsively compile, rewatch and overanalyze my choices for the Underrated films of 1955. I've had time to look at the list of films released in 1955 and pick the ones that most people just don't talk about. (Not that I often get together with folks and go "So, what's good from 1955?" Though I do think that would be a great way to arrest most bad conversations before they even begin.) This list has been selected according to the whimsy of my potentially faulty memory. I'm okay with that as long as you're okay with potentially checking out one or two of these movies and going "What the bloody hell was that moron thinking?" And that's my escape clause if you disagree with one or all of these picks. The following five features amount to an A-list director making a B-grade picture, a B-list actor directing a feature with A-grade aspirations, and three B-pictures made by B+/A- list actors. That about covers it. 

Il Bidoni (1955, dir. Federico Fellini) 
Fellini directed this "lesser" picture between La Strada and Nights of Cabiria. Two of the Italian master's greatest films and two of the most respected films ever made. So naturally the tepid sandwich meat between the two legendary slices of bread is going to feel like a disappointment. But ho! What's that? It's not tepid capicola after all? Let's have some straight talk. La Strada and Cabiria are great films, stunning tragicomedies of desperation and loneliness. Fellini manages to entertain while his characters endure spiritual and existential crises. (Not an easy balance.) Il Bidoni (The Swindle) places a chubby, unlikable petty crook (Broderick Crawford) in the pariah role at the center of the struggle, at the center of what boils down to an overly sentimental heist film. He steals from farmers and the church. He's no good, I tell you! The recognition of his empty life comes when he happens across his teenage daughter. The crook decides on a final swindle. He aims to dupe his cohorts, retire from crime and start anew. Fellini manages the trick of redeeming this goon by making his final targets even more despicable than the goon himself (a nice, if highly regular twist for a heist film). Fellini's brand of ironic humor enervates the final scenes, which culminate in memorable confrontation along a snowy mountain pass. I can't place Il Bidoni among my favorite few Fellinis, but even that shouldn't be considered damning. I've never seen a Fellini movie that wasn't worth watching. And despite the sentimental warts, I consider Il Bedoni as interesting (maybe even more interesting) than those inarguable classics casting their long shadows over this lesser Fellini. (Available on Blu-ray in R2 from Eureka: Masters of Cinema) 


The Naked Dawn (1955, dir. Edgar G. Ulmer) 
The first thing that'll strike you about The Naked Dawn is the score. Right from the Universal International logo, the guitar wants you to know that this is darn Western picture set in Mexico. If William Castle had directed The Naked Dawn it would have been filmed in Mariachi-Vision (each theater would have had a roving band of mariachis). Next you'll notice Arthur Kennedy as Santiago with died black hair and a greasy cheeseburger beard. This is initially a little bit of a curiosity for anyone that actually recognizes the longtime supporting actor. Until The Naked Dawn I only considered Arthur Kennedy to be capable background, not even necessarily memorable. Despite being nominated for an Academy Award five times, I'm pretty certain Arthur Kennedy's business cards read: Arthur Kennedy, Capable and there. It's around the 10-minute mark when I thought to myself that Arthur Kennedy really was a great actor. He just needed more to do. And in the Naked Dawn, Edgar G. Ulmer gives him plenty of screen time and plenty to do. Maybe he's miscast as a Mexican bandido robbing freight trains. Or maybe B-movie maverick Ulmer knew all Kennedy needed was some scenery to chew and a role meant for Fernando Lamas. The movie's not long on story. Santiago loses his partner in crime during a train-raid gone wrong then happens across the farm of young Manuel and Maria. Santiago the jolly, anarchical bandido upsets the status quo (as those smarmy, anarchical bandidos tend to do). Manuel becomes corrupted by what he sees as an easy path to prosperity, and Santiago falls in love with Maria. Talky bits and shifts in character ensue. The Naked Dawn distances itself from the typical 1950's Western by being dialogue-heavy and allegorical. It's a love triangle with a heap of moralism and a terrific, witty script from Julian Zimet (best known for writing Horror Express, not exactly a resplendent feather in his cap). The film is also notable for being underpopulated (only 7 actors) and a rare example of Edgar G. Ulmer in Technicolor. Fans of the traditional Western might balk at this one, but I found it to be a highly worthwhile genre-progressive oddity. (Available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShKd-ORg6SU


Shack Out On 101 (1955, dir. Edward Dein) 
Speaking of oddities, let's talk about Shack Out On 101. Cold War shenanigans beget the use of a roadside greaseball diner along the Pacific Coast Highway as a front for a Communist spy ring. This, in and of itself, makes for compelling cinema. And then Lee Marvin, playing a short order cook named Slob, walks out in a scuba suit. I don't doubt that this movie went largely unnoticed at the time of its release. Here's a gaggle of character actors making a movie with a director (Edward Dein) that doesn't even have his own Wikipedia page. From our perspective, however, Shack becomes something else entirely. Lee Marvin playing goofy before he becomes a cinematic icon of the masculine ideal. The use of stereotypes as shorthand. The sarcastic war vet. The sexpot waitress. The reverence and fear of "science" played out through nuclear fears and paranoia. This is the B-noir version of Chris Farley's "van down by the river sketch." Shack Out on 101 feels like low-budget guerrilla filmmaking. Almost everything takes place in the "shack" and the characters ham and mug for the camera to varying degrees. Shack stands out among the litany of other noir B-pictures of the era because it feels like no other noir you've ever seen. If you put a harpoon to my head, I'd be forced to compare Shack to something like The Petrified Forest. Except campy and intentionally funny. You also won't be able to miss Seinfeld's Uncle Leo (Len Lesser) in a supporting turn. I found myself saying "HELLO" at the screen whenever he appeared. Audience participation encouraged. (Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films and on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4p13ozSx1e0


Shotgun (1955, dir. Lesley Selander) 
Some time ago I went on a Sterling Hayden binge, plucking a few entries from YouTube based on an intricate system of checks and balances (whatever popped up when I searched for Sterling Hayden). I picked this one because of co-star Yvonne De Carlo (who I've always found to be a firecracker). A quick scrub of the movie revealed some nice Technicolor cinematography and a rousing, if especially Western-typical, score. Shotgun amply rewarded my stringent vetting process. (Many others did not. I can't recommend Timberjack, by the way.) Sterling Hayden doesn't need complexity of character or narrative twists. Sterling Hayden just needs time and space to be Sterling Hayden. Walking that line between grouchy and off-putting and charismatic badass. B-movie veteran director Selander understood this Tenant of Hayden perfectly. Vengeful gunslinger Ben Thompson murders Marshal Mark Fletcher. Hayden's deputy vows to track down his boss' murderer. Along the way he happens across damsel-in-distress De Carlo and a bounty hunter (Zachary Scott) who join his band of plucky do-gooders as they track the Thompson gang into the heart of Apache country. When things get grim, Hayden redoubles his intensity and determination. Classic Sterling Hayden. The prosaic title doesn't sell itself, sadly. Since "Shotgun" probably doesn't frost your cookie, consider the far more interesting Brazilian title: Escreveu seu nome a bala (He Wrote His Name with Bullets), which sounds more like a killer spaghetti Western directed by Antonio Margheriti. Selander himself is a bit of an anonymous legend, having worked in Hollywood for 40+ years and claiming 145 directorial credits (most of which are 50's-era Westerns). (Available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNG5RShC8Zk_


Pete Kelly's Blues (1955, dir. Jack Webb) 
Jack Webb directed and starred in this crime-drama about the perils of jazz, crazy dames and answering phone calls while drunk. Only in the 1920's would a gangster/racketeer type want to horn in on the hot jazz action of a seven-piece speakeasy band. Then the hothead drummer mouths off (you know how drummers are) to the wrong people and gets himself shot. It will come as no great shock that Webb plays the titular Pete Kelly with great rigidity. Edmund O'Brien and Lee Marvin (in a sixth-man kind of role) get far too little to do as the gangster angling for a slice of Pete's action and a former band mate. Janet Leigh (Ivy) and Jack Webb don't exactly radiate chemistry. Yet somehow the film comes together. Richard L. Breen's screenplay (Breen wrote the 1954 Dragnet movie also, obviously, starring Webb) and Webb's direction keep the pace moving at a lively clip, and though I'd be hard pressed to call this a by-the-book Noir because of the often bright WarnerColor cinematography and softer, melodramatic elements, the cadence and delivery of the dialogue often recalls the Noir genre. For example: Ivy: What are you doing? Pete: Making tea. Ivy: Could I have some? Pete: You won't like it. I'm using water. Ultimately, however, it's the music (played by Matty Matlock's Dixieland Jazz Band) and musicians that elevate Pete Kelly's Blues. Webb reportedly based the film on his own favorite Dixieland jazz band, Eddie Condon's Dixielanders (who had trouble with meddlesome gangsters). Ella Fitzgerald not only gets to sing a little ditty but act alongside Webb as well, delivering a few lines with an arguable measure of ability. Peggy Lee's Oscar-nominated performance as the hard-drinking lounge singer elevates the sluggish middle bits. If there's one reason to watch Pete Kelly's Blues it's the music. If there's a second reason, it's probably Peggy Lee. Her renditions of standards "Sugar" and "Somebody Loves Me" alone make it essential viewing for Jazz aficionados. I can't help but think that Webb just wasn't the right actor for the role of Pete Kelly, (Lee Marvin, anyone? He's in the movie, after all), but this was a labor of love for the actor. The results reflect that. The deadpan star takes Joe Friday back to the Roaring 20's and there's at least a modicum of novelty in watching Webb in a role meant for someone with a little more easygoing panache. Blink and you'll miss Harry Morgan, silent film comedian "Snub" Pollard, and Jayne Mansfield, in a star-making turn as a befuddled cigarette girl. (Available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive and on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE4uoASL748)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Olive Films - THE SENDER and THE BABYSITTER on Blu-ray

THE SENDER (1982; Roger Christian)
This is one of those little-known gems that makes you want to keep digging through the masses of old movies from years ago to keep trying to find more like it. It's a unique animal, but the best I could do to describe it would be to call it an X-Men origin story meets A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Maybe even a tiny bit of Stephen King mixed in there. THE DEAD ZONE comes to mind. THE SENDER is all about a man (Ċ½eljko Ivanek) who attempts to drown himself and then ends up in the care of a state facility wherein he is taken under the wing of one of the doctors there (Kathryn Harrold). It takes a little time for her and the rest of the staff to figure this guy out. At first he's just seen as a suicidal amnesiac, but they slowly come rob realize that he is quite extraordinary (and rather scary). I like the movie a lot for the atmosphere that's created and this looming sense of dread that cloaks the whole thing. The movie also creates a constant questioning of reality that keeps the viewer uneasy throughout. Hopefully I'm not overselling it, but I truly think it is a remarkably effective horror thriller and one of the better efforts from thst year. Though I've have only been aware of for only the last 4-5 years, it's becer something of a favorite. I once read that Quentin Tarantino was quite fond of it as well. I believe he once called it his favorite horror film of 1982. Not only that, but there's a story about him creating an alternate cut of the movie with some footage from a version that was taped off of TV and that he would rent that version out at the video store where he used to work. Based on how much I like the available cut of this movie, I'd love to see that TV footage some day.
This movie fits nicely alongside things like FIRESTARTER, SCANNERS and THE FURY, even though it is much more quiet and reserved than those films. Kathryn Harrold is a highlight here and I am a devoted fan of hers. Look for her in MODERN ROMANCE and INTO THE NIGHT if you get the chance. THE SENDER also features actor Paul Freeman, who is best known as "Belloq" from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

Just as an aside, I can't believe this film was made by the same guy that did BATTLEFIELD EARTH.


THE BABYSITTER (1995; Guy Ferland)
In the past few years, I've started revisiting a lot of films from the 1990s with a nostalgic eye and it's been oddly comforting. Not only am I far enough removed from that decade now for it to be its own distinct thing (like the 80s), but I've actually come to miss a lot of the actors that were popular during that time.  I'm ever fascinated (and saddened) by the way that Hollywood and the public at large cycles through actors and how their popularity wanes often for no reason at all. Just the mere idea that people and the media can be totally obsessed with a person in a really intense way for a decent amount of time and then completely forget about them has always been disheartening. 
The 1990s were a particularly potent time for me because I was working in video stores for the major part of that decade. This meant that all of the stars of that period were even more amplified for me because I was at least aware of pretty much every movie that they did. Alicia Silverstone was one of those "It Girl" actors of the time that I ended up getting a little sick of. It might have had something to do with the kinds of characters she played and her go-to smirky look that was a staple of her acting arsenal. There just seemed to be an arrogance of "yeah I'm the hottest gal around" that came through that kind of turned me off. This was of course amplified by my having to see her face on the many different movies she made during the 90s via all the VHS tapes that I often had to return to our rental shelves at the video store. So needless to say, I grew tired of her and never really gave her a fair shake as an actor. I wasn't even a fan of CLUELESS back then. But twenty years or so is a long time and the lens of retrospect can really make a difference in one's viewpoint. As I mentioned, the 90s are now a time I recall with a lot more fondness regardless of the actual quality of a lot of the movies that came out back then. The 90s has it tougher than the 80s though in that the 80s has a much more distinct flavor of music fashion and other general aesthetics that create a deeper cache of entertainment value, even in the bad movies. The 90s has it's own tunes and styles of course, but they are a bit more bland in my mind so what's left to stand out is the actors. 
Another thing that was quite popular in the 1990s was the thriller genre. This probably stemmed from the success of movies like BASIC INSTINCT in the early part of the decade and perhaps even FATAL ATTRACTION in the late 80s. Again, my awareness of 90s thrillers was most certainly magnified by the video store environment I was working in, because it certainly felt like we were getting new thrillers in constantly. I remember the movie FEAR (with Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon) was a really big renter for us for some reason. Another big thing that spawned off of that was the rise in popularity of "erotic thrillers". Shannon Tweed made many of these and I recall they were also quite popular renters at my video store. So THE  BABYSITTER falls into that category really. The movie plays out as a series of fantasies (usually involving Alicia Silverstone) had by the various characters. While it isn't the most original thing I have ever seen, I was absolutely drawn in and entertained by the cast and the movie's blurring of the lines between what was real and what wasn't. Silverstone was fine, but there was a lot more going on here. The oft-underused Nicky Katt played a great unstable assh*le and Jeremy London (MALLRATS) an interesting straight ahead boyfriend type who finds himself in a messed up situation. Katt has always been able to get right to the core of a certain kind of scary dickhead that really hits close to home for me. There were a few guys in my high school class that harassed me from time to time and Katt seems to have been channeling  their essence in this movie and DAZED AND CONFUSED. Katt is a great actor though and I have the utmost respect for him. I wish he was used more. His appearances in movies have dropped off a bit in the last 5 years and that is quite unfortunate. Also not to be underrated is the late, great J.T. Walsh who also plays a pivotal role in the movie.

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