Dennis Cozzalio is a fantastic film writer and a driven cinephile that has truly inspired me. As I've said before, it was his list of his 100 favorite films(which he says may be a touch outdated now) on Sergio Leone and The Infield Fly Rule which made me want to write my own such list. One list led to another, and the main content idea for my blog was born. Dennis, like me, is a true lover of all kinds of films. He is always championing older films(and even often maligned newer films like THE WOLFMAN remake-which we both like). He has really taught me to be true to my own sensibilities. To be upfront and not ashamed to admit I like a film that others may not. He is a true gentleman and his site is a glorious tribute to an undying affection for all things cinema. Read him or you are dumb.
(P.S. - check out Dennis' Underrated Horror Films list here as well!)
DENNIS' LIST OF 10 (+1) CLASSIC MOVIES NOT SEEN BEFORE 2011 When Rupert Pupkin Speaks, everyone listens. (Who’s old enough here to get that reference, which seems now to speak to us from an entirely different world?) Well, everyone except me listens, it seems. It feels like a long time ago indeed that Mssr. Pupkin, Listmaster Extraordinaire and proprietor of his fine blog, asked me to compile a short list of favorite films I’d seen for the first time over the past year. I jumped on that request fairly quickly (I think!). It’s been less long ago—about a month and a half, maybe— but still plenty long enough since he asked me to do the same thing again this year, and this time it’s been a little more difficult for me to find time to respond. But in an attempt to avoid further fraying of Rupe’s patience or otherwise taking advantage of its rather flexible nature, complete it I finally have. This list is actually one of my favorite exercises in looking back on the year past in movies, and I’ll have a more complete version of it when I present my own year-end package in a couple of weeks. But for now, here are the highlights, presented for Mr. Pupkin and anyone else who might be interested of some of the golden oldies whose light shadows flitted past my eyes for the first time during the past year. How many of these movies have you seen? I ask because I’m curious, but also to defuse the inevitable catcalls directed toward me and the giant, glaring gaps in my own experience with film history. Here’s the short list, in alphabetical order:
CHATO’S LAND (Michael Winner; 1972) The landscape of the Southwest isn’t the only thing that’s unforgiving in this first collaboration between Charles Bronson, rising action icon, and his notorious director. Bronson stars as a Mestizo Indian on the run from a posse of excellent character actors (Jack Palance, Richard Basehart and James Whitmore among ‘em) after shooting a deputy sheriff. Winner plays sympathy for Bronson against his lead’s acknowledged brutality as well as his (justifiable) actions and the unexpected wrinkles in what at first appear to be a passel of stock characterizations among his pursuers. It’s not subtle—it’s a Michael Winner film, remember—but it’s smashingly effective in its casual despair over the shredding of human decency in the old West.
DEADLIER THAN THE MALE (Ralph Thomas; 1966) Bulldog Drummond as James Bond done up ever so slightly meaner, thanks largely to Richard Johnson’s hard-shell performance, and even sexier thanks to a female assassination squad, headed by Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina, dispatched by the movie’s delicious villain, the identity of whom you’ll not hear from me. This is post-007 action cinema at its most droll and delightful.
DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK (Roy Ward Baker; 1952) Forget what you think you know about Marilyn Monroe’s abilities as an actress. Her performance in this nervy noir thriller, as a woman with a unstable past who is hired to baby-sit a young girl and inadvertently attracts the attention of an on-the-rebound Richard Widmark, ought to floor you. It certainly did me.
ELEPHANT BOY (Robert Flaherty, Zoltan Korda; 1937) Based on Rudyard Kipling’s Toomai of the Elephants, this wonderful movie, split between one director’s ethnographic tendencies and the other’s instinct for popular adventure, is most notable as the world’s introduction to Sabu. His utterly charming presence, signaled in an introductory passage addressed directly to the audience , is pure joy. In this sequence, and in the movie, the audience gets to see a most unusual star in the process of being born.
HANDS OF THE RIPPER (Peter Sasdy; 1971) An unusually grim picture from Hammer Studios in which Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter) takes in the infant daughter of Jack the Ripper and is fraught with suspicions when she grows up (and becomes Angharad Rees) that she might be carrying on her father’s homicidal practice. Porter shades the movie slightly toward unseemly attraction toward his ward as well, which adds a warped richness to his already strange performance and the movie as a whole.
KES (Ken Loach; 1969) I was completely unprepared for just how deeply this unsentimental tale of a boy and his love for a falcon would cut into my resistance. Loach gives us the relationship and its socioeconomic underpinnings but never pushes the weight of metaphor, as if this sort of story had never been told—and it hadn’t been, in quite this way. The result is a movie that earns our respect and our tears.
THE NIGHT DIGGER (Alastair Reid; 1971) Queasily macabre early ‘70s psychosexual thriller par excellence, adapted from Joy Cowley’s novel by Roald Dahl as a vehicle for his wife, Patricia Neal. She plays a middle-aged spinster existing in servitude to her domineering mother (a spectacular Pamela Brown) who falls under the spell of a sexy drifter on a motorbike (Excalibur’s Nicholas Clay), a moody young tough who carries a secret or two along with him on his mysterious night rides. This was the first film Neal made after returning to the screen from a real-life stroke, and the circumstances of that condition were deftly and effectively woven into the story by her husband. This one really deserves to be better known.
THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (a.k.a. THE CREEPING UNKNOWN) (Val Guest; 1955) A terrific early Hammer sci-fi outing which introduced Professor Bernard Quatermass, from Nigel Kneale’s teleplay, to the big screen with memorable effect. A manned missile returns to Earth, and the lone survivor begins a freakish metamorphosis which the good doctor is at pains to explain. But we know what it means—Invasion! This is Hammer firing on all cylinders, and it stands tall among the classics of the genre for raising gooseflesh.
ROBOT MONSTER (Phil Tucker; 1953) The reputation of this certifiable sci-fi specimen certainly proceeded me, but I wanted my first encounter with it to be MST3K-free. Seen without accompanying snark (pre-recorded or otherwise), the movie is left to its own devices, meager and strange as they may be, and ends up coming off like some sort of demented masterpiece of low-budget ingenuity and cracked visionary purity. I sincerely loved it.
WENT THE DAY WELL? (Alberto Calvalcanti; 1942) I wrote about this one after seeing it last year at the Turner Classic Movie Festival. One of the genuine highlights of this year or any other.
THE WRONG MAN (Alfred Hitchcock; 1953) I had to include this one as evidence that even the masters make bad moves. Everything about this earnest drama, in which Henry Fonda’s working-class jazz musician, loving husband and devoted father is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, screams signature Hitchcock themes. But it’s that “earnest” part which proves to be the fly in the ointment, and the old “based on a true story” crutch is no help either. Hitchcock plods through his paces, hitting all the familiar notes, with leaden, documentary-like fastidiousness. All that’s missing is the director’s customary demented glee, or even a sense that the movie was something other than a chore for him to make. Ironically, despite its claim to headline immediacy, The Wrong Man is one of Hitchcock’s least convincing pictures, right down to Vera Miles’ muted, out-of-left-field shift into madness when the pressure of her husband’s persecution becomes just too much! Everything that happens in The Wrong Man feels, well, wrong. When he eventually regained his sense of humor Hitchcock rechanneled the same impulses, this time with energy and urgency, into North by Northwest, the great comic mistaken identity action-thriller, making it a lot easier to forget this wet firecracker, a movie that Jack Webb probably loved.