Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Dramas - Jill Blake ""

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Favorite Underrated Dramas - Jill Blake

Jill Blake is the owner/managing editor of the classic film website Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. She is also the co-host of the annual Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. In 2012, she was interviewed on-air by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz, and a featured guest on the TCM podcast in 2013. In her spare time, Jill is a stay-at-home mom, wife, fried okra connoisseur, and the neighborhood’s own L.B. Jeffries. Follow Jill on Twitter at @biscuitkitten.


1) Stray Dog (1949)
d. Akira Kurosawa
Starring Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura

Murakami (Mifune) is a rookie detective in post-WWII Tokyo. During the hottest day of the year, his pistol is stolen by a pickpocket. Through a series of events, the pistol finds its way into the seedy underbelly of Tokyo, almost taking on a life of its own. Murakami seeks the help of veteran detective Sato (Shimura) while in eager pursuit to reclaim his pistol. Stray Dog explores a society that’s been destroyed by war and is in the process of rebuilding. Its identity is changing, obviously with some Americanized elements (e.g. clothing).

Stray Dog was my first Kurosawa film. Ironically, my husband and I watched it on the hottest day of the year in Atlanta with an air conditioner running at about thirty percent. Between our sweltering home and Kurosawa’s depiction of Tokyo, we were forced to strip down to our skivvies. I thought to myself, “Damn. This guy is good.” Of course he is. Even if our home had not been a hot and humid mess, Kurosawa makes sure the viewer feels the stifling heat, all very much in the same vein as Victor Fleming’s Red Dust (1932) with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. Stray Dog is an excellent underrated crime drama/film noir, one that is often ignored in Kurosawa’s filmography.


2) Middle of the Night (1959)
d. Delbert Mann
Starring Fredric March and Kim Novak

One of my favorite actors is Fredric March. With the exception of a couple films, his entire career was filled with underrated work-- at least underrated today. During the time, March was one of the the most respected working actors of stage and screen. In the 1930s he experienced success as a romantic leading man. During this decade he received his first Academy Award for Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, (1931) along with two other nominations. After WWII and his second Academy Award in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), d. William Wyler, March knew he was past his leading man prime. For the rest of his career, he carefully selected his roles--something he had little control over during his days as a Paramount contract star.

One of March’s greatest roles came near the end of his career: Middle of the Night, directed by Delbert Mann, written by the great Paddy Chayefsky. March is Jerry Kingsley, owner of a small clothing factory. He is 59, recently widowed, and lives with his overbearing, bitter sister. Afraid of living the rest of his life afraid and alone, Jerry seeks the friendship of the company’s young secretary, Betty (Kim Novak). The pair find themselves opening up to one another, especially Betty, who confesses she recently left a loveless marriage. Jerry and Betty fall head first into a serious romantic relationship, but face harsh criticism from their own families due to the drastic age difference.
Paddy Chayefsky is probably better known for his Academy Award winning screenplays for Marty (1955) and Network (1976), but his heartbreaking portrait of late in life love and loss should resonate with us all. This underrated film is one that the mere thought of brings tears to my eyes. It’s not because Middle of the Night is a melodramatic, five-hankie picture. It’s not, it’s just incredibly human. It exposes the most basic needs, love and companionship, no matter the age.


3) The Eagle and the Hawk (1933)
d.Stuart Walker
Starring Fredric March and Cary Grant

A second Fredric March film. Yes, I know. But I really wanted to have my other favorite actor, Cary Grant, represented on this list. Early on in his career, Grant was under contract at Paramount Studios. In most of these films he was relegated to pretty boy tuxedo roles, like the home-wrecking fling or superficial plastic surgeon who sleeps with his patients...but that’s another list for another time. During his time with Paramount, Grant was fed the scraps from their top star Gary Cooper, at least when it came to many of the leading romantic roles. For dramatic roles, Paramount’s star and Academy Award winner for Best Actor, Fredric March was often the go-to. In 1933, Paramount paired March and Grant in the WWI film The Eagle and the Hawk, the first of only two movies they made together.

March is Jerry Young, a pilot in the Royal Air Force in German occupied France during WWI. He is accompanied into combat by a co-pilot who serves as his gunman. Obviously it’s important that this relationship is built on trust. Jerry’s flying partner is his best friend Mike (Jack Oakie), and both have seen their share of harrowing combat missions.

Enter the young hot-shot pilot Henry Crocker (Cary Grant).

He and Jerry immediately butt heads, as the two men have very different philosophies of dealing with the enemy. For example, Jerry believes once a man has ejected his plane and pulled his parachute, he shouldn’t be shot down. Crocker takes the opposite approach: if the enemy solider gathered sensitive information about the RAF’s position and was able to radio in before his capture, the entire outfit would be endangered. As they find themselves deeper into the war with a kill record to match, Jerry slowly loses his grip. It’s what we know today as PTSD.

The Eagle and the Hawk is an excellent Pre-code drama in which we see an early glimpse of the Cary Grant that is to come.


4) A Taste of Honey (1961)
d.Tony Richardson
Starring Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin

One evening my mom sends me a text “You need to watch the movie A Taste of Honey.” I replied back “Sure!” and forgot about it. The next time I talked to her on the phone, she asked if I had watched the movie yet. Of course I hadn’t. Not because I didn’t have any interest in it, but I have a running list of movies I have to see. It’s so long that I know I’ll likely die before I’ll ever get to it. There’s a depressing thought...

After months of hounding from my mom, I made the decision to move A Taste of Honey to the top of the list. One word: incredible.

A Taste of Honey is one of the so-called “kitchen sink” British dramas. Rita Tushingham is Jo, a white teenage girl living with her alcoholic, single mother. Jo falls in love with a young black fisherman. Before he is set to sail with his ship, the two spend the night together. Jo says goodbye to her beau unaware that she just had a one night stand. It isn’t long before she discovers she is pregnant. Helen, Jo’s mother, is insensitive to the entire situation and is more concerned with finding a man for herself than with raising her daughter. When Helen decides to marry, Jo moves out with her friend Geoffrey, who is gay. Geoffrey and Jo set up a home together, and Geoffrey pledges to stay by Jo’s side.

Although the film is quite melodramatic and its so-called “problems” seem a bit dated for our modern sensibilities, it’s remarkable this film was made at the time.


5) Night People (1954)
d.Nunnally Johnson
Starring Gregory Peck and Broderick Crawford

A few years ago, I spent a couple months working my way through Gregory Peck’s filmography, what I called a Peck-a-thon. I rented movies, borrowed them from the library, and DVR’d them from TCM and Fox Movie Channel. One afternoon I managed to catch the suspense drama Night People, starring Peck and Broderick Crawford...or as my mom calls him, “the one who yells all the time.”

Peck is COL Steve Van Dyke, an officer stationed in post-WWII Berlin, working in the intelligence department for the U.S. Army. Van Dyke is alerted to the kidnapping of a young soldier, CPL John Leatherby, the son of Charles Leatherby (Broderick Crawford), an incredibly wealthy businessman with great political pull in Washington D.C. Mr. Leatherby flies to Berlin to find his son, employing every tactic he knows in an attempt to get any leads. His brash personality and almost childish insistence conflict with COL Van Dyke’s calm and planned methodology. When Leatherby finally understands that his son’s kidnapping has more implications than first realized, he realizes that money and political power isn’t the solution.

1 comment:

sundersartwork said...

Night People did not grab me, but i will definitely watch the Kim Novak one.