Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Jim Healy ""

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Jim Healy

Jim Healy is Director of Programming at the Cinematheque at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as well as Director of Programming of the Wisconsin Film Festival. From 2001-2010, he was Assistant Curator, Exhibitions in the Motion Picture Department at George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. Prior to that, he was a Film Programmer for the Chicago International Film Festival. Jim is also currently the American Programming Correspondent for the Torino Film Festival in Turin, Italy.

Among the 490 films that were new-to-me in 2012, these were the best films I saw made before 2000:

THE NICKEL RIDE (1974, Robert Mulligan)
Another 70s gem waiting for major re-discovery. It’s a contemporary gangster movie set in off-the-beaten-path L.A. locations. I believe it was Mulligan’s follow-up to my favorite film of his, THE OTHER, and, as in that genre exercise, he finds a way to inject a personal sense of melancholic nostalgia to the story. Jason Miller is excellent in the lead and even better than he was in THE EXORCIST the year before. Bo Hopkins is creepily superb as a hitman with ambiguous loyalties and the female lead is Linda Haynes, as memorable here as she was in ROLLING THUNDER. Whatever happened to her?

WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951, William A. Wellman)
This furthers my argument that Wellman can hold his own when stacked up against the big boys like Ford and Hawks. This Fordian western has an authentic, at-times grim view of pioneer life that made it a major influence on MEEK’S CUTOFF. It just came out from Warner Archive a few months ago, but I was very fortunate to see it on a perfect 35mm print.

ANGUISH (1987, Bigas Luna)
It took me 25 years to catch up with this one, even after hearing genre fans rave about it for decades and even after being impressed with other Luna films. This is a highly effective meta horror movie that at one point actually attempts to hypnotize the audience…and I think it works, especially if you see it with an audience in a theater like I did.

CRY TERROR (1959, Andrew L. Stone)
Stone, I’m happily discovering after watching this and THE LAST VOYAGE, was a more than competent director of thrillers. This complex kidnapping/mad bomber movie features a memorable quartet of villains played by Rod Steiger, Angie Dickinson, Neville Brand and the late Jack Klugman. Sadly, I can’t recommend Stone’s JULIE with Doris Day, which I also viewed this year, although it’s certainly watchable.

THE LOCKET (1946, John Brahm)
THE LOCKET is kind of well-known for having a flashback-in-a-flashback-in-a-flashback-in-a-flashback, but it’s not as often championed for being a terrific psychological thriller that, for me anyway, is even better than Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND. This also has a nice role for Robert Mitchum, who was fairly early in his RKO contract here. What happens to his character is one of many surprising and shocking things about this gem and I thank David Bordwell for turning me on to it. His research into offbeat storytelling techniques in 40s cinema has been quite revelatory for me.

THE UNDERWORLD STORY (1950, Cy Endfield)
While this doesn’t quite pack the punch of Endfield’s anti-lynching noir TRY AND GET ME!/THE SOUND OF FURY, which was released later the same year, it is more successful than the other film as an expose of yellow journalism. Dan Duryea is almost the equal of Kirk Douglas in ACE IN THE HOLE (released the following year) as a reporter with less-than-honorable intentions but the standout turn is from Howard Da Silva as a sleazy gangster. Both Da Silva and Endfield were headed for the Hollywood blacklist shortly after this was released.

SAILOR’S LUCK (1933, Raoul Walsh)
ME AND MY GAL (1932, Raoul Walsh)
I caught up with several Walsh films this year thanks to a great retrospective at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, but these two I programmed on a double bill in Madison. The former is an at-times raunchy pre-code comedy with lots of laughs and a fabulous climactic fight scene and the latter is another marvelous comedy with Spencer Tracy. Tracy exhibits as much chemistry with co-star Joan Bennett as he does with Loretta Young in Borzage’s masterful MAN’S CASTLE (which I was fortunate to see in 2006 and twice more this year – on 35mm!).

LA ROMANA (1954, Luigi Zampa)
There was a pretty extensive Zampa retrospective at the 2011 Cinema Ritrovato, my first introduction to the Italian director, but while I enjoyed all of those – most of which were satires of fascism, none topped this marvelous character study of a model from a working-class background who gets involved with more than one wrong guy. Gina Lollobrigida is the title character and I’ve never been more moved by one of her performances. Her work equals Stefania Sandrelli’s in Pietrangeli’s great IO LO CONOSCEVO BENE.

LA NAVE DELLE DONNE MALEDETTE (1954, Raffaello Matarazzo)
I haven’t had a chance yet to dive into the Matarazzo box set that Criterion put out last year, so this, a European co-production in French, was my first introduction to the Italian director’s work, though I’m told it’s atypical. A costume melodrama if there ever was one, it’s the story of a young woman who takes the heat for her wealthy cousin’s scandal and is sentenced for life to an isolated penal colony for women. On board the ship headed for the prison is, coincidentally, the slutty cousin (played by former Mrs. Sammy Davis Jr., May Britt) and her behavior causes a revolt among the prisoners. The final reel –and-a-half contains a violent and nudity-filled spectacle that is best scene than described by me. It’s some of the most outrageous storytelling I’ve ever witnessed and needless to say, it really knocked me out. Sadly, the copy I saw was an HDCam or DCP transfer of a color print in very bad condition. It’s quite possible that no negative exists and this might be the best existing version, but do seek it out, if you can.

L’ETRANGE MONSIEUR VICTOR (1937, Jean Grémillon)
Grémillon was another major discovery for me this year, thanks largely to the retrospective at Il Cinema Ritrovato. This one was my favorite, the story of a mild-mannered criminal mastermind who passes for a legit citizen in his small town and whose past actions come back to haunt him when an escaped convict comes to hide out in his home. This is a lovely, humanist comedy/drama that puts Grémillon in the company of Jean Renoir.)

HARD TO HANDLE (1933, Mervyn LeRoy)
Another great one from Warner Bros’ pre-code years, this might feature my favorite James Cagney performance from the era. He’s a con artist who goes from one racket to another beginning with a marathon dance contest. He works his way up the ladder to college fundraising, which in the opinion of this movie, is just as much of a racket!

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955, Charles Vidor)
Cagney again, as the brutish gangster manager/husband to singer Ruth Etting, played by an unusually appealing (for me) Doris Day. This is the rare biopic that I can stomach and it’s also a fine musical with great use of scope. I also enjoyed Vidor’s COVER GIRL, a knock-off of MGM musicals he made at Columbia with an out-on-loan Gene Kelly.

SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR (1952, George Stevens)
A genuine revelation; I didn’t even know this movie existed before this year! What’s more, I had basically given up on finding a Stevens movie that I liked after WWII (though I guess I enjoyed GIANT). Ray Milland and Joan Fontaine star as, respectively, a recovering alcoholic Madison Avenue adman and a neurotic actress whom he’s called upon to sponsor after a particularly nasty bender. They fall for each other, but it’s complicated because he’s married to Teresa Wright. Stevens opens the film with a dreamy montage and there’s an unforgettable scene between Wright and Milland where there kids, in a deep focus background, are just about to cause some trouble. Thanks to Dave Kehr and his weekly NY Times video column for turning me on to this one.

EXODUS (1960, Otto Preminger)
I’ve been on a Preminger kick lately and liked just about everything of his that I saw this year (including the much-maligned HURRY SUNDOWN), but EXODUS has a stately, classical style that you rarely see these days and it surprised me and carried me along for its entire 3-hour plus running time. I hope I have a chance to see this in 70mm some day.

KID BLUE (1973, James Frawley)
More evidence that the early 70s, along with the early 30s, is a genuine gold mine of cinema with loads of nuggets yet to be discovered (by me, any way). Dennis Hopper is the title character in this laid-back western, an outlaw trying to go straight in a shit-kicking little town where the primary industry is ceramic souvenir trinkets. In a kind-of Gorch Brothers reunion,Warren Oates is his best pal, who tries to get Hopper a job at the factory and Ben Johnson is the vicious sheriff, who has it in for Hopper.

LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? (1934, Frank Borzage)
Not quite as good as MAN’S CASTLE, but I was very moved by this Borzage classic, particularly by the work from leading lady Margaret Sullavan. The film also has one of the more unusual depictions of a brothel in Hollywood history.

MAX ET LES FERRAILLEURS (1971, Claude Sautet)
This may be coming to a rep house near you thanks to a great new print made by Rialto Pictures. Don’t miss it if you can help it. I haven’t seen much Sautet beyond his last couple of movies and his marvelous CLASSE TOUS RISQUES. Like that film, this is a crime story (which I guess were unusual for Sautet) and it has two of the most unusual and memorable lead characters I’ve ever seen in the genre: an independently wealthy cop (another great turn by Michel Piccoli) obsessed with putting away criminals and the prostitute (my favorite Romy Schneider performance) who is ensnared in his plot to nab a gang of petty thieves.

LAWYER MAN (1932, William Dieterle)
More Warner Bros pre-code wonderfulness, this time with William Powell as a shyster with ambition and Joan Powell as his devoted girl Friday. More entertainment in 69 minutes than most of the major studio releases this year.

I also can recommend these:

NO BLADE OF GRASS (1970, Cornel Wilde)
REMORQUES (1941, Jean Grémillon)
WHAT PRICE GLORY? (1926, Raoul Walsh)
DISTANT DRUMS (1951, Raoul Walsh)
GUEULE D’AMOUR (1937, Jean Grémillon)
KOMEDIE OM GELD (1936, Max Ophuls SOLDIER GIRLS (1981, Nick Broomfield & Joan Churchill)
SURF’S UP (2007, Ash Brannon & Chris Buck)
THE BABYSITTER (1969, Don Henderson)
THE PLAINSMAN (1936, Cecil B. DeMille)
THE PACK (1977, Robert Clouse)
LA TETE D’UN HOMME (1933, Julien Duvivier)
BAND OF ANGELS (1957, Raoul Walsh)
A HERO NEVER DIES (1998, Johnnie To)
THE KING STEPS OUT (1936, Josef von Sternberg)
SKY RIDERS (1976, Douglas Hickox)
THE BIG FIX (1978, Jeremy Kagan)
EXTREME MEASURES (1996, Michael Apted)
GOODBYE, MY LADY (1956, William A. Wellman)
ROTAIE (1929, Mario Camerini)
SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949, Cecil B. DeMille)
THE YELLOW TICKET (1931, Raoul Walsh)
PATTES BLANCHE (1948, Jean Grémillon)
LA CIEL EST A VOUS (1943, Jean Grémillon)
RAMPAGE (1963, Phil Karlson)
DEATH RIDES A HORSE (1967, Giulio Petroni)
BLACK TUESDAY (1954, Hugo Fregonese)
THE WOMAN IN RED (1935, Robert Florey)
LE RAYON VERT (1986, Eric Rohmer)
THUNDERBOLT (1929, Josef von Sternberg)
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1945, Fritz Lang)
QUEIMADA (1969, Gillo Pontecorvo)
BATTLE HYMN (1956, Douglas Sirk)
GRAY LADY DOWN (1978, David Greene)
THE LIBERATION OF L.B. JONES (1970, William Wyler)
KING RAT (1965, Bryan Forbes)
LE CHATTE DE DEUX TETES (2002, Jacques Nolot)
STAGECOACH (1966, Gordon Douglas)
UNTAMED FRONTIER (1952, Hugo Fregonese)
JIMMY THE GENT (1934, Michael Curtiz)
KID GALAHAD (1937, Michael Curtiz)​
MANPOWER (1941, Raoul Walsh)
SWAMP WATER (1941, Jean Renoir)
HURRY SUNDOWN (1967, Otto Preminger)
THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY (1959, Robert Parrish)
SPECIAL EFFECTS (1984, Larry Cohen)
DAVID GOLDER (1931, Julien Duvivier)
FIGHT, ZATOICHI, FIGHT (1964, Kenji Misumi)
PECCATO CHE SIA UNA CANAGLIA (1954, Alessandro Blasetti)
THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS (1956, Raoul Walsh)
MISTER SARDONICUS (1961, William Castle)
YOTSUYA KAIDAN (1959, Kenji Misumi)
PARDON US (1932, James Parrott)
TAZA, SON OF COCHISE (1954, Douglas Sirk)
WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO (1971, Curtis Harrington)
MISTER CORY (1957, Blake Edwards)
MAN WANTED (1932, William Dieterle)
WILD GIRL (1932, Raoul Walsh)
I LOVE MELVIN (1953, Don Weis)
I FIDANZATI (1962, Ermanno Olmi)
THE CONQUERORS (1932, William Wellman)
FULL CONTACT (1992, Ringo Lam)
THIRTY DAY PRINCESS (1934, Marion Gering)
DRAGON INN (1967, King Hu)
KING AND COUNTRY (1964, Joseph Losey)
WHISKY GALORE! (1949, Alexander Mackendrick)
TAXI FOR TOBRUK (1960, Denys de la Patilliere)
DIARY OF A LOST GIRL (1929, G.W. Pabst)
CHILD’S PLAY (1972, Sidney Lumet)
COVER GIRL (1944, Charles Vidor)
THEY CALL IT SIN (1932, Thornton Freeland)
THREE STRANGERS (1946, Jean Negulesco)
THE GEISHA BOY (1958, Frank Tashlin)
COME NEXT SPRING (1956, R.G. Springsteen)


Robert M. Lindsey said...

Some great stuff here! I almost put Exodus on my list this year.

Kid Blue, Dennis Hopper, Warren Oates, AND Ben Johnson?!? Must see.

I love the '30s and '40s films and will try to look up many of these.

I see you have The Big Fix in your "also" list. That's one I really enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Frank Borzage is THE most underrated American Director of the first half of the 20th Century. It is an absolute crime that he isn't as well known as Ford, Hitchcock, Wellman etc etc. Nice to see LITTLE MAN on your list.

Ned Merrill said...

An embarrassment of riches here, Jim. NICKEL RIDE was one of my favorite discoveries a few years back:

MANY, I have to see on this list. As a big admirer of Endfield's TRY AND GET ME / SOUND OF FURY, UNDERWORLD STORY moves up the list. SAILOR'S LUCK is another favorite of mine...I wish Fox would start unleashing some of their pre-Code titles to physical media. I love Powell and pre-Code though I did not adore LAWYER MAN quite as much as you did, but I will always agree about the merits of pre-Code brevity!