Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Dramas - Jonathan Hertzberg ""

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Favorite Underrated Dramas - Jonathan Hertzberg

Jonathan Hertzberg is a longtime personal friend of mine and he runs the Obscure One-Sheet Blog:
He has turned me on to countless films over the years and my lists often contain movies I may not have watched if not for his urging. My recent Underrated Dramas list, for example, contains Alan Parker's SHOOT THE MOON  which is a movie I saw because of Mr. Hertzberg. Needless to say , he is a driven cinephile, constantly seeking out older films to discover. 
Check out his excellent "Dirty Old New York" Series of videos, which are wonderful pastiches of scenes from films shot in old New York City(the way I'd like to remember it):

1) "Dirty Old New York Subway"
2) "Dirty Old New York aka Fun City, Part I"
3) "Dirty Old New York aka Fun City, Part II"

I'm going to try to shine the light on some titles that I haven't spoken about so much before, but I will also return to some old favorites as well.

The Young Philadelphians (1959, Vincent Sherman) I haven't watched this Paul Newman vehicle in years, but it used to be a late night AMC staple back in the days when the channel still played Golden Age-era Hollywood fare.  I caught it there on multiple occasions in the '90s and although the film has no critical reputation that I know of, it's a nice showcase for the young Newman--in his brash hotshot mode--and it's never less than interesting--in the way that good soaps are--over its 2 hour running time.  It was probably those late night viewings, when I was in high school and early in college, that really turned me onto the talents and charisma of Newman and that's why I mention it here.  Newman is an up-and-coming Main Line lawyer who defends an old pal (Robert Vaughn) against murder charges while juggling a relationship with socialite Barbara Rush.  The film is available in the Newman box set that WHV put out in the mid-'00s.

Personal Best (1982, Robert Towne)  Towne's reputation rests on his remarkable run as a screenwriter and script doctor in the '60s and '70s, but he's never gotten his due when it comes to his directorial debut, Personal Best, no thanks to hatchet jobs like Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.  This is a longtime favorite of mine and I never cease to be moved by the narrative or be blown away by Towne's staging of training sequences and competitive events.  Towne's screenplay is, of course, memorable in terms of dialogue, but it's also authentic thanks to his collaborative efforts with athletes, including co-star Kenny Moore (a former Olympian), and extended exposure to the milieu of said athletes and their training and competitive processes.  The starring trio of Mariel Hemingway, Patrice Donnelly, and Scott Glenn is truly superb.  Tech credits are impressive, including cinematography by Michael Chapman and Caleb Deschanel, editing by Bud Smith, and music by Jack Nitzsche.  I wrote about the film a little more eloquently here, my first ever blog entry.

Laughter in Hell (1932, Edward L. Cahn)  There's been a resurgence in interest in journeyman filmmaker Cahn due primarily to work done by the likes of Dave Kehr and perhaps that helps explain the sudden resurfacing of the long-thought lost Laughter in Hell, a cracking pre-Coder based on a novel by Jim Tully (Beggars of Life) and starring Pat O'Brien as a train conductor who is sent up to a cruel prison labor camp (think I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang and Hell's Highway) after murdering his philandering wife and her lover.  Gloria Stuart emerges in the latter stages of the film, but the less said about her role the better, for one's first-time enjoyment of the film.  In its 70 minutes, Cahn's film segues between melodrama, prison movie cliches, and Gothic fairy tale atmospherics and narrative elements.  It's an odd, unpredictable brew--common for the pre-Code era--that Cahn, Tully, and screenwriter Tom Reed have concocted, but it's a beguiling mix, at least it was for me, and I hope it becomes easier to see now that it's been brought back into circulation.

Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973, Richard C. Sarafian)  Based on a book by future bestselling mystery scribe Sue Grafton, Sarafian's backwoods drama pits Robert Ryan and his brood against neighbor Rod Steiger and his boys.  Never available on home video, I'd wanted to see this one for years and was lucky enough to have an opportunity to view a scope, albeit faded, 35mm print last year.  It hit all the marks for me and I hope that Warner Archive finally gets it out there for more to see.  Vanishing Point helmer Sarafian gets in some of the very best scenery chewers from that much-missed period when Hollywood was crazy for rural addition to Ryan and Steiger, it's a real treat to see Jeff Bridges, Ed Lauter, Kiel Martin, Paul Koslo, Scott Wilson, Gary Busey, Randy Quaid, Joan Goodfellow (Buster and Billie), and Season Hubley (in the title role)--most at or near the start of their careers--sharing the same screen.

September 30, 1955 (1977, James Bridges)  Bridges has become, for me, one of the truly underrated filmmakers of his era.  His career was relatively brief, as he was taken prematurely due to cancer.  Mike's Murder, The China Syndrome, Perfect, and Urban Cowboy are favorites of mine, and I just recently caught up with this, his most personal film, which I wrote about here.  It's one of the truer, more moving evocations of movie love and devotion that I have seen.  Richard Thomas turns in a lovely performance as Jimmy J. a teen obsessed with James Dean who is devastated by the star's untimely passing on 9/30/55.  There is a MOD DVD-R from Universal and the film has also appeared in HD on Netflix Instant.  The good supporting cast includes future Breaking Away co-stars Dennis Christopher and Dennis Quaid, as well as the late Lisa Blount (An Officer and a Gentleman), the late Susan Tyrrell, Tom Hulce, and the late Collin Wilcox (The Revolutionary).


Anonymous said...

PERSONAL BEST & SEPTEMBER 30TH are indeed underrated. I also seem to be one of the few who thought Towne's ASK THE DUSK a litte appreciated gem.

One more significant credit on James Bridges' resume - the screenplay for COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT. Dated tech and all, it's still a stunning future fiction film and script.

Ned Merrill said...

Still need to catch up with ASK THE DUST. Yes, COLOSSUS is a noteworthy Bridges screenwriting credit, as is WHITE HUNTER BLACK HEART.

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks for the kind words, as usual, Rupert!

HalfManHalfMovie said...

Awesome list. Thanks for reminding me about Persona Best. Wish i could get Mike's Murder on DVD.

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks, happy to spread the word about PERSONAL BEST and MIKE'S MURDER!