Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Jill Blake ""

Friday, December 27, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - 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. 
Unfortunately, 2013 has been a year of not many new-to-me movies. Thus is the life of a  toddler wrangler. However, I finally managed to watch some films that, for one reason or  another, had remained elusive to me. I’ve selected six films, two of which I saw for the  first time in truly grand style at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. Although  most of these films have been known to the entire world for decades, they only became known to me these last few months. Some of the films I’ve selected would generally be  considered major classics, and I would say I’m ashamed to have only seen them this  year, but I’m not. They are my greatest discoveries of 2013.

To Be or Not to Be (1942)
d. Ernst Lubitsch

Starring Carole Lombard and Jack Benny
I’ll be honest: Prior to 2013, I had seen bits and pieces of Lubitsch’s wartime dark  comedy, but never enough to really know exactly what was going on. I’ll admit I’ve  largely avoided this film over the years because...well, I don’t know exactly why I avoided it. All that matters is, thanks to a beautiful transfer from Criterion, I finally sat  down and watched Lubitsch’s masterpiece (yes, I said masterpiece). It is, by far, one of  the edgiest and funniest comedies ever made. It’s an absolute treasure even if the topic  is a hard sale to friends and coworkers (“it’s a comedy about Nazi occupied Poland”).

3:10 to Yuma (1957)
d. Delmer Daves

Starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin
I’m not typically a fan of Westerns (or of Glenn Ford), but I had heard great things about  3:10 to Yuma and its atypical style for the genre. Once again, Criterion released the film  on Blu-ray (it is definitely one of the greatest releases of the year), and it piqued my  interest. I thought I would never say this, but Ford’s performance is outstanding, as is  Heflin’s (of course I always think Heflin is great). Yuma is quickly becoming one of my  all-time favorites.

The General (1926)
d. Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton

Starring: Buster Keaton and Marion Mack
Alright. This is a big one. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched many silent films. I would  definitely label myself a novice, but I have seen quite a bit of Buster Keaton’s films. I  was taking a film class in college and was first introduced to Keaton’s work through Our  Hospitality (1923). I fell in love. Over the years I saw more, but whenever The General  was on, I turned the television off. For some reason it didn’t feel right to watch it for the  first time that way. I had an opportunity to see The General at The Fox Theatre here in  Atlanta back in 2010. Ben Mankiewicz from TCM was there to introduce and there was  live organ accompaniment. At the time I was about 8 months pregnant and sitting  through a movie without making 15 trips to the bathroom was an impossibility. This year  at the TCM Classic Film Festival, the closing night film was Keaton’s The General with  live accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra. This was the very last screening in TCL  Chinese Theatre (Grauman’s!) before the conversion to a stadium-style IMAX  arrangement (although the upgrade was true to the original elements of the theatre). I  waited in line with friends for two hours to get a seat in the capacity screening. Robert  Osborne introduced the film which also featured the Keaton short One Week. To say it  was one of the greatest theatre-going experiences of my life would be an  understatement. It goes without saying that The General is a favorite. I am so glad I  waited to see it.

Journey to Italy (1954)
d. Roberto Rossellini

Starring: Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders
This is another film I saw for the first time at the TCM Classic Film Festival. I hadn’t  originally planned on attending the screening for it. In all honesty, I knew very little about  this film; who was in it or what it was about. When I discovered that two of my favorite  actors, Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders co-starred, I had to check it out. Bergman  and Sanders starred together in one of Bergman’s first American films, and one of my  favorites, Rage in Heaven (1941). Although the two seem like an odd pairing, their  romance in Heaven is believable. In Rossellini’s Journey to Italy, Bergman and Sanders  are married and their relationship is falling apart. It’s beautiful, real, and devastating. I  had an emotional experience watching this film that I will never forget. Like To Be or Not to Be and 3:10 to Yuma, Journey to Italy has been released by Criterion as part of the 3  Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman set.

The Macomber Affair (1947)
d. Zoltan Korda

Starring Gregory Peck and Joan Bennett
I was introduced to The Macomber Affair by Theresa Brown (who wrote a wonderful guest post on the film on my site for the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon). I am a  huge Gregory Peck fan and this was one of a few of his films I hadn’t seen yet. To my  knowledge it isn’t available on video and the print shown on TCM wasn’t the greatest quality. However, the print quality didn’t matter. I was completely transfixed by this film.  It’s full of passion, sexual tension, big game hunting (it is a Hemingway story) and masculinity. I must see it again, and a better copy at that. Here’s hoping someone like Warner Archive can obtain and release it.

The Great Sinner (1949)
d. Robert Siodmak

Starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner
Gregory Peck and Ava Garner made three films together: The Snows of Kilimanjaro 1952), On the Beach (1959), and The Great Sinner (1949) which was their first pairing. The two were great friends, and that is always evident in their performances together. I found The Great Sinner through Warner Archive and was sold not only based on the two leads Peck and Gardner, but the stellar supporting cast: Melvyn Douglas, Walter Huston, Ethel Barrymore, Frank Morgan, and Agnes Moorehead. This film is incredibly dark, especially for MGM, and I found myself watching it two nights in a row to take it all in.

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