Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Underrated '55 - Favorites from Sixty Years Ago

In our ongoing series of Underrated Movies here at Rupert Pupkin Speaks, let us move on to the wonderful year 1955. Many gems to be found here, just as there have been on the previous series. Enjoy!
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FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955; Joseph Pevney)
One of my most favorite discoveries over the past five years or so. Joan Crawford plays a grump who moves into a beach house that she had been renting out only to find herself caught up with the morally sketchy locals in webs of romance and intrigue.
Available on DVD from TCM:

http://amzn.to/1gFm9R4


CRASHOUT (1955; Lewis R. Foster)
Another favorite discovery from the past few years. This prison break noir is really fantastic and grim as it shows the difficulties and casualties involved in a large group of men escaping from jail with the law hot on their trail. Lots of uneasy tension as civilians become involved with this bunch of hoodlums.
Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films:
http://amzn.to/1gFmbZg


MAN WITHOUT A STAR (1955; King Vidor)
Excellent and underseen western that I may never have heard of had I not seen Tarantino mention it when he was interviewed circa the release of DJANGO UNCHAINED. He spoke then of the western trope of the experienced gunfighter (in this case, Kirk Douglas) teaching the young cowboy (William Cambell) the tricks of the trade. It's a great trope and I've always been a fan of it. 
Available on all-region import Blu-ray:
http://amzn.to/1OLO9wU


YOU'RE NEVER TOO YOUNG (1955; Norman Taurog)
The oddball flipside of Billy Wilder's THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR. It is pretty hilarious to see Jerry Lewis pretend to be a twelve year old  kid. Screenplay by Sidney Sheldon.
Available in the Martin & Lewis Collection Vol. 2 from Warner Archive:
http://amzn.to/1OLOtM7


IT'S A DOG'S LIFE (1955; Herman Hoffman)
With WHITE GOD just having come out on Blu-ray, this is worth a look. I'm a fan of movies from a dog's point of view and even though this one has some tough moments, overall it's quite uplifting.
Available on DVD from Warner Archive:

http://amzn.to/1UjdVfG



RUN FOR COVER (1955; Nicholas Ray)
Enjoyable western from the great Nicholas Ray. I wish Cagney had made more westerns. He's great in them.
Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films:
http://amzn.to/1eOEHwv


DEMENTIA (1955)
Equal parts film noir, horror and expressionistic nightmare, this movie is a much darker DETOUR type thing and might actually slide into the conversation with something like ERASERHEAD.
Available on DVD from Kino:

http://amzn.to/1M1vjTj


LAND OF THE PHARAOHS (1955; Howard Hawks)
Seen as a camp classic because these characters from ancient times speak and sound like modern-day folk, this is nonetheless a fun tale of love and betrayal from the venerable Howard Hawks.
Available in DVD from Warner Home Video:
http://amzn.to/1OLP1l8


SHACK OUT ON 101 (1955; Edward Dein)
Lee Marvin plays a character called "Slob". Nuff said.

Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films:
http://amzn.to/1KMvovx

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Underrated '65 - Kimberly Lindbergs

Kimberly Lindbergs writes regularly for Turner Classic Movies (she's a Movie Morlock!) and her personal blog can be found at Cinebeats.com

This list was originally posted over at the venerable Movie Morlocks site here:
http://moviemorlocks.com/2015/07/02/underrated-65/ 
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THE 10TH VICTIM (1965; Elio Petri)
Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game has been adapted for the screen many times since its release in 1929 but my favorite take on this twisted tale is Elio Petri’s LA DECIMA VITTIMA aka THE 10TH VICTIM. Petri’s futuristic pop art inspired extravaganza stars Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress who have rarely looked lovelier, as two participants in the 'Big Hunt' where humans are fair game. This incredibly stylish and clever film is an international cult favorite but I am always surprised by the number of people I encounter who haven’t seen it. Backed by an unforgettable score composed by Piero Piccioni, THE 10TH VICTIM makes for one wildly entertaining and eye-opening night at the movies.


BRAINSTORM (1965; William Conrad)
William Conrad is probably best remembered today for his acting talent but he was also a prolific TV director and in 1965 he made three interesting low-budget thrillers back-to-back. The films included TWO ON A GUILLOTINE, MY BLOOD RUNS COLD and BRAINSTORM. All three are worth seeking out but my favorite of the bunch might just be this this nifty neo-noir starring Jeffrey Hunter as a scientist named Jim who falls for a dangerous dame (Anne Francis) trapped in an unhappy marriage to a tyrannical business tycoon (Dana Andrews). When her husband refuses to grant her an amicable divorce, Jim comes up with a bizarre murder plan that lands him in a psychiatric hospital with the hope that he’ll eventually be reunited with his ladylove. But is he just pretending to be mad or has Jim really lost his mind along with his heart? Drenched in sixties paranoia and fueled by fear, BRAINSTORM remains a fascinating response to some of decade’s worst crimes including the assassination of an American President.


BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965; Otto Preminger)
Much like THE NANNY (included below) which was also based on a book by Merriam Modell, Otto Preminger’s gripping film explores many similar themes including the helplessness and deep-seated fear that can occur when figures of authority don’t believe what you’re saying. In this case it is a desperate mother (Carol Lynley) trying to convince a British police Superintendent (Laurence Olivier) that her young daughter ‘Bunny’ (Suky Appleby) has gone missing. With help from her brother (Keir Dullea), Lynley’s character tries to overcome her trauma by solving the mystery of Bunny’s disappearance herself as she makes her way through a strangely sinister London and the results of her search are both shocking and incredibly grim. Preminger’s smart and assured direction is matched by Paul Glass’ sophisticated score and Lynley, Oliver and Dullea are all in top form.


DEVILS OF DARKNESS (1965; Lance Comfort)
This odd little British horror film directed by B-movie maestro Lance Comfort tends to get lost among the numerous Hammer and Amicus thrillers that were released during this period but it’s well worth seeking out for fans of sixties horror. William Sylvester stars as a hapless American tourist on holiday with a group of friends who find themselves hunted by a cult of witchy vampires led by the malevolent Count Sinistre (Hubert Noël). It’s a great looking low-budget picture with some nice color photography that references Roger Corman and Mario Bava’s best work and contains some rather dark plot twists as well as a swinging party scene that was typical of the times.


THE FOOL KILLER (1965; Servando Gonzalez)
Mexican filmmaker Servando González directed this southern gothic nightmare starring young Edward Albert (Eddie & Margo Alberts’son) who was just 12-years-old when shooting began. Albert plays an abused youngster who leaves home and makes his way across the war-ravaged American south where he befriends a troubled veteran of the Civil War named Milo, played superbly by Anthony Perkins. As the film progresses the young boy becomes obsessed with a folk tale about the Fool Killer who will “kill anyone who perpetrates some particularly monumental piece of foolishness.” Milo has been told he’s foolish so many times that he begins to believe it and fears he will be murdered as a result. Unfortunately, his fears hold some weight when the mythical Fool Killer of his imagination begins to materialize. I strongly suspect that this deeply unsettling and eerie film influenced Jim Jarmusch's much lauded DEAD MAN (1995).


GUMNAAM (1965; Raja Nawathe)
Agatha Christie adaptations don’t get much looser than this Bollywood production based on And Then There Were None. Many will be familiar with the film’s first show stopping musical number, which played during the opening moments of GHOST WORLD (2001), but GUMNAAM is much more than just a footnote attached to Terry Zwigoff’s popular dramedy. Directed by Raja Nawathe and featuring a lively cast who seem game for just about anything, the film boasts numerous songs composed by Shankar Jaikishan, including a Hindi version of Henry Mancini’s Charade. 50-years later it remains one of the best looking films to emerge from India during the 1960s and it’s got a devoted cult following but more people need to spend time with this amusing, swinging and suspenseful Bollywood delight.


THE NANNY (1965; Seth Holt)
Bette Davis starred in a number of exceptional thrillers throughout the 1960s including WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) and HUSH... HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964), which were both nominated for Academy Awards. But I think her best and most nuanced performance during this turbulent decade can be found in THE NANNY. This black and white Hammer production is artfully directed by Seth Holt and stars 57-year-old Davies as a deeply troubled caregiver who may or may not be a child killer. Her performance is incredibly nuanced and downright chilling at times. Despite this, she manages to earn our sympathies without asking us to sympathize with her crimes. THE NANNY may not be a typical Hammer monster movie but Davies’ character remains one of the most sad and frightening creatures the studio ever created.


THE PARTY'S OVER (1965; Guy Hamilton)
Many films made during the 1960s explored the down side of recreational drug use and irresponsible alcohol consumption but few are as disturbing as THE PARTY'S OVER. Guy Hamilton directed this taut, dark British drama before he began working on numerous James Bond projects and there’s a roughness about the production that recalls popular Kitchen Sink Dramas of the period. The film stars Oliver Reed as the de facto leader of a group of shifty-eyed beatniks pinning after a posh American bird (Louise Sorel) who doesn’t want anything to do with him. After one particularly wild party, she vanishes and her fiancé (Clifford David) is left to piece the puzzling mystery of her disappearance together. John Barry’s jazzy score adds an element of improvisation to this unusually bleak film that was banned in Britain for two years before it was finally reedited and released.


THE SATAN BUG (1965; John Sturges)
After directing the hugely successful GREAT ESCAPE (1963), director John Sturges helmed this suspenseful cold war thriller involving a mad doctor (Richard Basehart) who steals a deadly virus known as the 'Satan Bug' from a top-secret germ warfare lab and threatens to release it on an unknowing populace. Thankfully, George Maharis, along with Anne Francis and Dana Andrews, are on board to try and put a stop to his evil plan but they’ll have to get past a mob of menacing baddies first that includes TV veterans Ed Asner and Frank Sutton. The plot of THE SATAN BUG might have seemed rather fantastic in 1965 but today it reads like a modern day newspaper headline making the film more relevant than ever. I don’t normally advocate for remakes but if a studio updated this film and released it today with a first-rate cast, I suspect they’d have a major hit on their hands.


THE SKULL (1965; Freddie Francis)
Peter Cushing stars as Dr. Maitland, a passionate collector of macabre esoterica who begins experiencing strange phenomena after coming in contact with the skull of the infamous Marquis de Sade. This atmospheric and surprisingly adult Amicus horror film was directed by the Academy Award winning cinematographer Freddie Francis and benefits from his inspired camerawork, which includes shooting scenes from the POV of the skull, a particularly imaginative dream sequence and an inventive fatal fall through a stained glass window. Besides Cushing, the rest of the cast reads like a Who’s Who of British horror cinema and includes the recently deceased Christopher Lee along with Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee and Michael Gough.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - TRUCK TURNER and REAL MEN on Blu-ray

TRUCK TURNER (1974; Jonathan Kaplan)
When Jonathan Kaplan originally signed up for TRUCK TURNER, he was told by A.I.P. that it was going to be a vehicle for Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin or Robert Mitchum. Something like a day later he was told that it was now an Isaac Hayes movie. Hayes was hot off an Academy Award win for his Theme from SHAFT and A.I.P. was looking to capitalize on that with another all Isaac Hayes soundtrack. I find this interesting because film companies that often deal with exploitation product usually want to take advantage of certain actors for box office value, but in this case it was more about the soundtrack. It was that soundtrack that ended up being Kaplan and Hayes' ticket to being pretty much left alone to make the movie they wanted to make. The script was originally much more of a DIRTY HARRY kinda thing and both Kaplan and Hayes had little interest in that or in a straight action movie in general. What they ended up going for was a movie with much more humor to it and something that was basically a send-up of the Blaxploitation genre in a lot of ways. It is the humor that really makes the movie memorable in my mind. It is the humor and Hayes' approach to the character of Turner that really makes it one of the best films of this cycle for my money. I mean, I am fond of saying that it is truly my favorite Blaxploitation movie and this Blu-ray just reminds me how much I love it. Not only does it have a very solid looking HD transfer to show off, but there are a couple of great supplements that really bring the whole thing up to a Criterion-level package. The first is an excellent anything-goes commentary track with director Jonathan Kaplan. This is a delightful track and it is moderated by the venerable Elijah Drenner (documentary filmmaker behind AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE and THAT GUY DICK MILLER). So often a moderator for a commentary seems somewhat arbitrarily chose and it really leaves the hardcore film fan rather disappointed because there are so many lost opportunities and missed questions that could have been asked. Well Mr. Drenner is "one of us" for lack of a better phrase and is a guy who not only knows Kaplan's filmography very well, but is also just genuinely interested and fascinated by the stories that the director has to tell about this movie. He really helps bring out the best in Kaplan and Kaplan is a great storyteller so it is a truly winning combination. There are tons of great stories and insights packed into this track and it is absolutely fantastic to hear so much of the behind-the-scenes on a movie I have loved so dearly for so long. This may be my favorite commentary track of the year, right up there with Tm Hunter's commentary on RIVER'S EDGE and the Twilight Time track with Dennis Christopher on their BREAKING AWAY Blu-ray.
The second extra feature is a recorded Q&A from a 2008 screening at Los Angeles' New Beverly Cinema. It runs about eight minutes, features Kaplan and Stuntman Bob Minor and is moderated by none other than Joe Dante himself. Some retellings of the commentary stories here, but other stuff too.
Here's a great Trailers From Hell with Ernest Dickerson on TRUCK TURNER:




REAL MEN (1987; Dennis Feldman)
The name Dennis Feldman may not immediately ring a bell with you the first time you hear it, but believe me, you know the man's work. He wrote the script for JUST ONE OF THE GUYS (which is one of my favorite 80s movies), as well as THE GOLDEN CHILD (which is an underrated Eddie Murphy movie for sure). On top of that, he also wrote SPECIES! Anyway, REAL MEN is clearly the vision of one individual cause it's just weird enough to have somehow gotten made in 1987 with Feldman writing and directing. It's one of those wild adventure movie comedies that we just don't see anymore. Kind of a James Bond spoof, but also just a farce of a certain kind of wackiness that I remember fondly from that era. Enjoyably cast as the everyman turned action-hero here is the late great John Ritter. He is brought into a far-reaching and out there (literally) conspiracy by a near-rogue C.I.A. agent played by Jim Belushi. This was prime time for Belushi's comedy stylings for me. He would make RED HEAT the next year and K-9 the year after that. He certainly elevated both of those movies and does exactly the same here. His ability to play comedy in what would otherwise be seen as an extremely serious scene is something I've always been wowed by. Belushi genes I guess. And as for Ritter, I see him as one of the somewhat unsung comic geniuses of his generation. He was a physical comedian of the highest order first and foremost and could have held his own with the Chaplins and the Keatons of cinema in my opinion. His ability to make his body got to jelly at a moment's notice is something I think a lot of people forgot about when they were so eager to sing the praises of Jim Carrey during his comedic heyday. Ritter and Belushi are a superb duo here and they really keep the energy of this very frenetic and fast-talking screwball of a movie trucking right along. I think that this is one that a lot of folks caught on VHS back when and so it has a bit of a cult following now, but not nearly what it should have. I am elated to see it get the Blu-ray treatment and know that this will mean more fans joining the REAL MEN team shortly.
Transfer is good here too, no complaints. It is certainly nice to see the film widescreen after a 4x3 DVD prior to this release.





Thursday, July 30, 2015

Underrated '65 - Sarah Jane

Sarah Jane has seen over 4,500 films. She is partial to exploitation genre. She originally hails from Southern California but it currently stuck somewhere in the South West. She once studied to be a script supervisor. She generally uses a lot of curse words in her writing. Her ramblings can be found at letterboxd.com/fookthis.

She's also on twitter:
www.twitter.com/fookthis
See her Underrated '85 and '75 lists below:
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Bad Girls Go to Hell - Directed by Doris Wishman
Doris Wishman was something of a rebel. Even now, the majority of films are directed by men and Doris was directing as early as the late 1950s. Granted, they were nudies, but still, she was out there making movies. Bad Girls Go to Hell marksWishman’s foray into the sexploitation genre. The plot involves a housewife who kills a man for attacking her. She goes on the run in New York City and moves from situation to situation. Doris Wishman films are an amazing time capsule of an NYC long gone. Streets and the people are equally grimy, especially on 42nd Street. You’re also pretty much always guaranteed a lot of shots of women walking around in a lonely and cold Central Park.


Beach Blanket Bingo - Directed by William Asher
Before I met my husband, I had never seen a “Beach Party” movie. Sure, I’d seen pieces of them on the television over the years, but I hadn’t sat and watched one all the way through. And, if I’m honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it all thatmuch. In my film snobby way, I had dismissed these as silly. Well, yeah, they still are that but they are also a whole lot more; they are sweet and charming. They have an innocence about them. Beach Blanket Bingo is the 5th in the series of AIP Beach Party films. Although these movies are supposed to be about Frankie and Dee Dee, it is the co-stars that interest me. This film really packs them in; John Ashley, Debra Walley, Jody, McCrea,Timothy Carey, Harvey Lembeck, and one of my favorite people of all time, Don Rickles. The plot of the movie is just too involved to include here but it does include a mermaid, sky-diving, amazing swimsuits, a buzz-saw, and Rickles laying into Frankie and Dee Dee, “You’re 40 years old!”


Carry On, Cowboy - Directed by Gerald Thomas
My introduction to the Carry On series was when I went to live in England after graduating high school. My uncle was watching Carry On, Cleo. I was hooked right from there. For those who are unaware of the Carry On films, they are your typical naughty British sex comedies. Lots of broad jokes, winks and nudges (know what I mean, know what I mean?), double-entendres and buxom women. The films are set in various time periods in history (Carry On, Cleo) and take on different genres (Carry On, Nurse, Carry On, Screaming). This film takes on the Western. You get silly names like Marshall P. Knutt, Chief Big Heap (these films are not terribly PC, either) and equally silly situations. Kenneth Williams is one of my favorites of the series and he never disappoints. I do not usually like these types of films but there can be something charming about them.


In Harm’s Way - Directed by Otto Preminger
In Harm’s Way is one of my favorite war films. The fact it is shot in black and white lends to the manner in how it depicts World War II in the Pacific before and after Pearl Harbor. The film isn’t flashy or garish; it is no-nonsense. It doesn’t glamorize the war, it tells it like it is. The cast is almost as expansive as its storylines; it includes John Wayne, Pat Neal, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Slim Pickens, Carol O’Conner, and Burgess Meredith. I’m not the biggest John Wayne fan but he won me over in this. His relationship with Neal is lovely. Great performances all around.


Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors - Directed by Freddie Francis
This is the first of the Amicus anthology series of films. I used to think of Amicus as a rather low-rent version of Hammer. But, if it’s good enough for Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, it is good enough for me. The wrap-around story here is five men board a train in London. Another man enters their car toting a pack of tarot cards. He whips ‘em out and proceeds to tell each of the five men their fate. Directed by the most excellent Freddie Francis and starring the aforementioned Cushing and Lee, along with Roy Castle, Michael Gough, Bernard Lee, and Donald SutherlandThe nice thing about these anthologies is if youdidn’t like the story, you didn’t have to wait long before the next one came up.


Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! - Directed by Russ Meyer
Yeah, yeah, I know, this is another choice of mine that isn’t exactly underrated in the sense that it is one of the most awesome pieces of exploitation ever committed to film. But, if you polled the average American (then again, why would youreally want to?), I’m pretty sure they haven’t heard of Russ Meyer or this movie. So, in that sense, it is underrated and it is going on this list. And, what isn’t there to love about this movie? Three go-go dancers go to the desert and mayhem ensues. If that doesn’t make you want to watch this, there is something wrong with you. Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams are your three pneumatic leads. They kick, punch, and wrestle their way through the film in the most fantastic way ever. If it has been awhile since you’ve watched it, pop it in this weekend and give yourself a little 83 minute black and white treat.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Underrated '65 - Justine Johnson

Justine Johnson is an obsessive former video-store employee and current midnight movie curator at The Black Box in Providence, Rhode Island. You can reach her via the internet on Twitter @moviessexa.
Have a peek at her Underrated '85 list here:
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Underrated '65:

Inside Daisy Clover (1965)
Directed by Robert Mulligan


The Sandpiper (1965)
Directed by Vincente Minelli


Gypsy Girl (Sky West and Crooked) (1965)
Directed John Mills


Bus Riley's Back In Town (1965)
Directed by Harvey Hart


Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)
Directed by Silvio Narizzano


I Saw What You Did! (1965)
Directed by William Castle


Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965)
Directed by Joseph Cates

Monday, July 27, 2015

Underrated '65 - Samuel B. Prime

Samuel B. Prime is a writer, film curator, and archivist based in Los Angeles, where he currently works in film distribution. He is presently writing and editing a two-volume set for The Critical Press on the pioneering and highly influential LA-based pay cable station, the Z Channel, which existed from 1974 - 1989. As a film curator, he has helmed high-profile screening events for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and UCLA's Melnitz Movies. Otherwise, he deeply admires Dick Cavett's savoir faire. Find him online at www.lacinesalon.com for essays and free streaming movies.
Samuel also moderated a cool commentary track with director James B. Harris on the new Blu-ray of SOME CALL IT LOVING which just recently came out from Etiquette Pictures:
Have a look at his Film Discoveries list for RPS from back in 2012 in which he mentions SCIL:



Also Check out his Underrated '85, and '75 lists here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/03/underrated-samuel-b-prime.html
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1. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MR. LEONARD COHEN (Don Owen, 1965)
Don Owen is a gentleman who hustled hard and made the films he wanted to with money from the Canadian government. Often he was under contract to produce and direct short documentaries, but would instead make narrative features (ex. NOBODY WAVED GOODBYE, THE ERNIE GAME) or in this case a forty-five minute portrait of Leonard Cohen when he was a poet but the world didn't know it. This is pre-songwriting Leonard Cohen. All three of the films mentioned here are freely available to stream via the National Film Board of Canada: https://www.nfb.ca/explore-all-directors/don-owen/.

2. DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE (Norman Taurog, 1965)
Vincent Price as a mad scientist. Sexy bikini-clad ladybots. A catchy theme song by The Supremes. If this is not mankind's greatest achievement, it is surely one of its very strangest. 

3. THE KNACK... AND HOW TO GET IT (Richard Lester, 1965)
Dick Lester's Palme d'Or-winning satire that is too often dismissed in today's world as a willfully misogynist fairy tale. The central joke is the chasm of gossipy disdain made manifest by the elder generation in reaction to the mods, rockers, and other youth in various stages of finding out who, what, and why they are. Absolutely one of the most unforgiving, wonderfully uncomfortable and funniest films ever.

4. THE 10TH VICTIM (Elio Petri, 1965)
In the not-so-distant future, the 'most dangerous game' is also the nation's favorite sport. This is kind of like the art house predecessor to Paul Bartel's DEATH RACE 2000, but since it features Marcello Mastroianni you know that it is more about marriage and romance than murder-sports. 

5. FILM (Alan Schneider, 1965)
Samuel Beckett's first and final filmic foray. Buster Keaton must go on, can't, though he will. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Underrated '65 - Eric J. Lawrence

Eric J. Lawrence is the Music Librarian over at KCRW(a wonderful radio station) and I have been a fan of his radio show there for more than 12 years now. It is truly my favorite radio program out there. Quite an eclectic mix of new and old songs, it's described on KCRW's site as thus:
"A musical line-up of criminally overlooked tunes, hidden gems, guilty pleasures and standout selections from the latest releases... from Jacques Brel to Mott the Hoople to Gary Numan to the Fall, and everything in between. Like playing poker with dogs -- only better."
I can't really recommend the show higher than a decade of listenership can I? Check it out!
http://www.kcrw.com/music/programs/dn
check out his Film Discoveries of 2014 list too:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/02/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2014-eric.html

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1965 is an interesting year to be thinking about film, as I feel that the pop music explosion going on in the wake of the British invasion, Motown, etc. was sucking up much of the creative energies in the commercial arts (just look at all the films that featured on-screen appearance from live bands). For the movies, the studio system was long gone, and the old school Hollywood stars were entering their twilight; television was in its ascendancy, serving as the replacement for revival house cinemas, while contemporary B-movie sub-genres like Hammer films were past their prime; even the French New Wave’s first fiery burst had died down, while the gritty realism, sex & violence of the American New Wave hadn’t really kicked in yet. This is why you’ll probably find more commonalities amongst the various contributors’ “underrated” selections for this year – in a shallow pool, the best of the bunch are obvious & fairly easy to spot. But I’m honored to throw my two cents into the mix and share some of my favorites from that year.

Two on a Guillotine/Brainstorm (both dir. William Conrad)
I have no clue what led to character actor Conrad directing three feature films for Warner Bros. in 1965. He had helmed a slew of TV shows, from “Have Gun – Will Travel” to “77 Sunset Strip,” and as an actor he was a familiar face and especially a familiar voice, being an iron man of radio drama and the narrator on shows like “The Fugitive” and “Rocky & Bullwinkle.” But why three quickie B&W thrillers in ’65? Dunno, but they are very watchable little films, at least the two that I’ve seen. “Two on a Guillotine” is an “Old Dark House” variant with a couple of genuine shocks, as Connie Stevens is menaced by the legacy of her crazy stage magician father (played by Cesar Romero, on the cusp of his late career stardom as the Joker). Dean Jones gets a nice fairly-straight role too, just before becoming the face of Disney’s live action films. “Brainstorm” is more intense, working like a cross between “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Shock Corridor,” as computer scientist Jeffrey Hunter falls for his boss’ wife (Anne Francis, and who wouldn’t!) and embarks on a plan to kill him & get away with it by feigning insanity. Hunter’s tragic death a few years later hinders his acting legacy (he was the original captain of the Enterprise, you know), but this film is a great showcase for him, devolving from clean-cut company man to genuinely certifiable. I’ve never seen eyes sparkle so intense than Hunter & Francis’ here. Dana Andrews gives a nice noir touch as the domineering boss. Both films offer a nostalgic glimpse of mid-60s California, with the third feature, “My Blood Runs Cold,” putting a virtual close on Conrad’s directing career.

Ballad in Blue (dir. Paul Henreid)
I love unexpected pairings in the movies, but this is one of unlikeliest I’ve encountered. What is Paul Henreid (of “Now, Voyager” & “Casablanca” fame) doing directing Ray Charles (as himself) mentoring a young boy through his own struggles with blindness smack in the middle of London’s Swinging 60s? Seeming influenced by the flood of rock & roll movies popular at the time, this one is more “Room at the Top” than “A Hard Day’s Night,” with a heavy dose of kitchen-sink melodrama laid over Charles’ stylized music performance sequences. There are lots of weird moments (See Ray Charles shave! See Ray demonstrate his braille watch! See Ray drive a bumper car!), the acting is a little sketchy, and the plot is wildly implausible (everyone is so damned nice!) But there is something genuinely heartwarming and almost tear-jerking about the whole affair. Henreid cowrote the story and even cast his daughter in it, so he must have been invested, but still seems an odd combo!

The Railrodder/Buster Keaton Rides Again (dir. Gerald Potterton/John Spotton)
Buster Keaton’s final silent film, the 24-minute short “The Railrodder,” is often paired with the documentary, “Buster Keaton Rides Again,” which documents the making of the aforementioned film (and happens to be over twice as long!) Either way, one gets the pleasure of seeing one of the great cinematic comedians at the top of his game despite his age and infirmity (he would die of lung cancer, almost certainly exacerbated by his alcoholism, the following year). In the short Keaton crisscrosses Canada by means of a speeder rail car, demonstrating typical Stone Face gags the whole way. The doc makes clear how precise and intuitive a comic he was, relying on a seemingly-endless strength of physicality to make something so simple as sitting up dead straight in a fast-moving car really punctuate the joke. The doc also gives a glimpse into his private life, relying on his wife for support, shying away from the official spotlight of the adult world, but loving signing autographs for young fans. An elegant through-line to the Golden Age of Silent Films of nearly 50 years prior.

The Sleeping Car Murders (dir. Costa-Gavras)
Greek-French director Costa-Gavras made his feature debut with this nifty late-noir. A perfect blend of Maigret-like, hard-nosed police detective work (with Yves Montand in the role of the inspector in charge of a baffling murder aboard a train) and a “Hill Street Blues”/Ed McBain 87th Precinct-style procedural, as a whole slew of familiar French faces filling the roles of various policemen work together to solve the case. Loads of other legendary actors participate, including Simone Signoret (from “Les Diaboliques” & “Room at the Top,” as well as Montand’s wife at the time), Catherine Allegret (“Last Tango in Paris” & Montand’s step-daughter), Michel Piccoli (“Contempt,” “Topaz”) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (“The Conformist,” “A Man and a Woman”). Mostly devoid of the political themes with which Costa-Gavras later made his name, this is pure entertainment, with some unexpected twists, bursts of violence, a ridiculously catchy theme song and a stunning car chase finale, making for a great blend of B-movie satisfaction for the Francophile.

The Bedford Incident (dir. James B. Harris)
The quintessential submarine hunting movie, this Cold War relic still holds its power and anti-war message, mostly through the conviction of its stellar cast. Richard Widmark stars (and co-produces) as crusty & self-proclaimed “mean bastard” Capt. Finlander, who revels in his mission. Sidney Poitier plays a reporter embedded on the ship, while Martin Balsam, Wally Cox and “Hawaii 5-O”’s James MacArthur are all on duty & suffer at the hands of the Captain’s monomania (Donald Sutherland also makes a brief appearance). Finally Eric Portman, one of my favorite British actors, plays a former German Commodore, who advises Widmark on his hunt. One can be just as claustrophobic on a Destroyer ship as one can aboard a sub (at least cinematically speaking), and director Harris keeps things fairly tightly confined, so that one can fully appreciate the weariness the crew must be experiencing, a weariness that proves to be dangerous by the film’s dramatic conclusion.
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