Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Hal Horn ""

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Hal Horn

Hal Horn is one of my favorite film bloggers and has become one of my regular contributors here. His blog THE HORN SECTION has always been an excellent source for me to add things to my potential new discoveries list each year. His lists and his site always leave me with things to seek out.


I was surprised to learn that Milton Berle only made one stab at big screen stardom at the height of his TV fame, which was this 1949 curio with excellent support from Ruth Roman, Bert Lahr, Virginia Mayo and Alan Hale Sr. The film’s message (that “stealing” material from others didn’t help him rise to the top) can be seen as Uncle Miltie’s response to critics who nicknamed him “The Thief of Badgags”. LAUGHING is more than an ego trip though: Lahr, Roman and Mayo all get to help perform some true vaudeville chestnuts.

Directed by Ossie Davis. BLACK GIRL was a chick flick before anyone called them that, playwright J. E. Franklin’s depiction of a family handing dysfunction down from generation to generation and the frustration of trying to break the vicious cycle. Franklin expressed frustration with this adaptation, but BLACK GIRL deserves a second look today. Quietly rewarding and ahead of its time. A great showcase for some underrated talents, BLACK GIRL remains the only film to date by Franklin and also revered stage actress Peggy Pettit (22 at the time). Gloria Edwards, Rhetta Greene and Louise Stubbs also give choice performances in key roles, and Davis’ wife Ruby Dee has a pivotal scene.

Continuing the theme of cautionary drug tales, DEATH IN SMALL DOSES isn’t quite a REEFER MADNESS for the 1950’s. Still, it’s an often unintentionally funny expose of amphetamine abuse among truck drivers by Allied Artists. Truckers have one hand on the wheel and a vial in the other, hallucinations seem to be as frequent as gas stops, and pep pills induce the same homicidal rages that marijuana did in MADNESS. (Who knew they were so lethal???) What really makes DOSES consistently entertaining is the contrast between super-square, stoic Peter Graves and a pre-RIFLEMAN Chuck Connors who literally can’t stand still. Connors spouts his hep patter at an auctioneer’s pace, grins ear to ear and seems to sleep about 37 minutes a week. Highly recommended.

Will be reviewing this one at length on the Section at a later date. This dog tale (produced by John Wayne’s Batjac productions) isn’t as widely known as OLD YELLER, but perhaps it should be. Brandon de Wilde is a youth (living in a cabin with his poor old Uncle) who finds, befriends and trains a stray Basenji in the southern swamps. No locals (not even expert Portier) are familiar with the breed, baffled when the dog yodels or laughs instead of barking, cries real tears and possesses uncanny hunting instincts. Just like in YELLER, the boy is forced to “become a man”, but in a less heartbreaking way (at least in my opinion). GOODBYE MY LADY had a real life happy ending: the Basenji (named My Lady of the Congo) bonded so well with de Wilde that she was gifted to the young actor upon completion of filming. A terrific cast with Walter Brennan, Sidney Poitier, Louise Beavers, William Hopper and Phil Harris directed by the legendary William Wellman.

Mike Judge’s uncomfortably perceptive satire barely got released to theatres, but seems less like fantasy with each passing year already. Thirty years from now IDIOCRACY may be considered as prescient as A FACE IN THE CROWD and NETWORK are today, which is a scary thought. Much like the cult Britcom RED DWARF, IDIOCRACY opens with suspended animation gone wrong, and a Joe Average (Luke Wilson) emerges 500 years from the present as the smartest man alive. He quickly learns that anti-intellectualism, corporatism, and rampant commercialism have run wild in the interim. The end result in the Year 2505: the average IQ drops well into the low double digits, individuality is essentially eliminated altogether (a bar code tattoo is required for all) and the most popular show on television is called “Ow! My Balls!”. There’s evidence of post production tampering, but Judge’s trademark wit remains mostly intact. You wonder how the human race could possibly survive at all to that point, and IDIOCRACY isn’t as quotable as OFFICE SPACE, but it still deserved a better fate then and deserves a wider audience now.

In this documentary we meet Maggie Cogan, a fortyish homeless woman in New York who claims to be married to the god Jupiter and the daughter of late actor Robert Ryan. We learn that Maggie in fact was something of a minor celebrity in the Sixties as the very first female horse and carriage driver in Central Park. She was the subject of a Universal newsreel and appeared on WHAT’S MY LINE? Cogan’s mental state is unsettling; her devotion to animals extremely touching. One also wonders about filmmaker Michel Negroponte’s motivation and mental state while watching it; certainly a fascinating, disturbing and often moving documentary that won a Grand Jury prize at Sundance.

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