Rupert Pupkin Speaks: February 2014 ""

Friday, February 28, 2014

My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 (Part Three)

The saga continues! Here is my third post about my favorite Film Discoveries of 2013. I may have another list in me as there was quite an enormous pool of discoveries to draw from...
(And if you haven't checked out parts 1 and 2 of my list, here they are:

THE TALL TARGET (1951; Anthony Mann)
Surprisingly effective paranoid thriller directed by the great Anthony Mann. Reminiscent of 70s Pakula, though it obviously precedes those films by almost 2 decades. This films deals with an extremely tense train ride wherein a Dick Powell stumbles on a possible plot to assassinate president Lincoln.

MAN HUNT (1941; Fritz Lang)
What begins as a lark of an attempt to assassinate Hitler turns into a sadistic vendetta between two men. I really like Dean Treadway's take on it being a "middle brother to serial shorts and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK". It definitely feels like Spielberg and Lucas knew this movie.

MAROONED (1969; John Sturges)
It was neat to see this film after GRAVITY, not because they are so much alike but because it was neat to see a somewhat similar film from about 45 years prior. Gene Hackman, James Franciscus and Richard Crenna play astronauts stuck in a malfunctioning space capsule waiting to be rescued as their air is running out. The pace of MAROONED will seem glacially slow to GRAVITY fans but I thought it was a nice slow burn drama.

BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948; Robert Wise)
Great little slightly noir-ish western directed by Robert Wise (one of his better films) has a great cast including Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Preston, Walter Brennan and Charles McGraw. Scorsese is a fan and I believe he mentions it in his Personal Journey Through American Movies. This one needs a proper dvd stateside release.

BOMBSHELL (1933; Victor Fleming)
One of THE classic Lee Tracy performances and a good one from Jean Harlow as well. I still prefer BLESSED EVENT and THE NUISANCE, but this is darn good Tracy.

GRANDMA'S BOY (1922; Fred C. Newmeyer)
Can't hold up against SAFETY LAST, but this is a wonderful little romp of a comedy where a dorky coward overcomes his fears with the help of a magic charm. Good stuff.

MAYDAY AT 40,000 FEET (1976; Robert Butler)
Unsung, but enjoyable & well-made disaster TV-movie with a great cast. I'm a sucker for this kind of film and goes very well with the AIRPORT movies and the Irwin Allen stuff of the period. Caught up with it on Warner Archive Instant.

BADGE 373 (1973; Howard W. Koch)
Robert Duvall plays a suspended NYC cop on the hunt for his partner's killer in this gritty thriller. Fun to see Duvall in this kind of a leading role, which he never got enough of. He's well suited to it.

FIND THE BLACKMAILER (1943; D. Ross Lederman)
Zippy little Raymond Chandler Jr. type B-movie. Great with the hard boiled dialogue. Some of my favorite examples:
"Oh go on, beat it before I throw a moth in your muffler."
"Oh stand aside junior before I cloud up and rain all over you."

Can be found in the excellent Horror/Mystery Double Features set from Warner Archive. 

NOISES OFF (1992; Peter Bogdanovich)
A madcap screwball farce about a traveling theater group with a whole lot more drama going on behind the scenes than on stage. Filled with many hilarious moments. Bogdanovich loves this kind of movie and it shows. Superb cast.

BACHELOR IN PARADISE (1961; Jack Arnold)
I think my initial introduction to Bob Hope was via his humorous cameo in SPIES LIKE US("Doctor. Doctor. Glad I'm not sick"). I never really paid him much attention at the time. It wasn't until years later when I would hear Woody Allen speak of him in reverent tones about just how big an influence he was. Allen cited Hope's performances in MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE and THE GREAT LOVER as particular impactful and informative in terms of him developing his own comic persona. When I finally watched those films, I could absolutely see the through line.In BACHELOR IN PARADISE, Hope plays a jet-setting author who writes books like 'How The Swedes Live' and 'How The French Live'. After a snafu with his business manager, he is put into a state of "instant poverty" and forced to write a new book called 'How The Americans Live'. His place of research: a family-focused tract development called Paradise Village in the San Fernando Valley. This sort of 1960s suburban milieu is one I very much enjoy, so this film is disarmingly pleasant and funny enough. Henry Mancini adds a layer of lovely tonal ambience with his musical stylings. From the director of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.
THE DEVIL IS A SISSY (1936; W.S. Van Dyke)
This was the 2nd Freddie Bartholomew movie I caught up with in 2013 and though it's not as good as CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (which was on a previous list), it's a great vehicle for Bartholomew doing what he does. He plays the 'entitled rich kid' pretty well in both films. In this one he tries to gain favor with some less-than-reputable classmates (the streetwise Andy Rooney and Jackie Cooper) and they run afoul of the law a bit. Charming film though and all three boys are outstanding. I love Rooney in roles like this. He's perfect.

THE UNFINISHED DANCE (1947; Henry Koster)
To call this film "THE RED SHOES Jr." or something along those lines is a bit reductive certainly, but it sort of captures how I feel about it. Dance/ballerina films aren't particularly my bag, but both this one and THE RED SHOES (obviously) are pretty great (and have lovely color palettes). This one has a touching performance by Margaret O'Brien at the center.

THE DRAGON MURDER CASE (1934; H. Bruce Humberstone)
Warren William was a big hit with me in 2012 when I dove heard first into his filmography and watched 4-5 of his movies. This is one I meant to get to then, but wasn't able to. I liked William quite a bit as Perry Mason, and he's no slouch here either as Philo Vance. He's no William Powell, but then who is. Nonetheless, this is a neat little mystery film and probably my second favorite after the obvious KENNEL MURDER CASE(which I love). Eugene Pallette reprises his role of Detective Heath from KENNEL and he's a welcome bit of character as usual. The mystery itself concerns the disappearance of a man into a deep pool/pond and a supposed monster that lives therein.

HOLD 'EM JAIL (1932; Norman Taurog)
Kind of like HORSE FEATHERS meets THE LONGEST YARD, which is a fun combination. This one reminds me the most of a Marx Bros. film out of all the Wheeler and Woolsey films I've seen.

THE MOON'S OUR HOME (1936; William A. Seiter)
I learned that this film was a favorite of programmer Jerry Harvey's via the Z Channel doc, so I had to see it. Nice complimentary film to SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and THE LADY EVE.

DON'T BET ON BLONDES (1935; Robert Florey)
Former big-time gambler turned outlandish insurance man Warren William agrees to insure Guy Kibbee's daughter (the lovely Claire Dodd) against marriage. Hijinks ensue. Enjoyable screwball fair with William playing his typical dashing self. 

TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (1965; William Conrad)
Wonderful slow-burn haunted house story by way of a love story. Surprised how much this one hooked me by the end. I have a certain affinity for Dean Jones because of his Disney roles and Connie Stevens is pretty adorable here so it's a good ride. Directed by William 'Cannon' Conrad. Plus - Caesar Romero!

TWICE UPON A TIME (1983; John Korty/Charles Swenson)
Truly strange and fascinating animated concoction. FANTASTIC PLANET meets YELLOW SUBMARINE-ish. Almost certainly an influence on Pixar for MONSTERS INC.
Coverage of the film on AICN's "The Vulcan Vault" here: 

NANCY DREW: REPORTER (1939; William Clemens)
A worthy follow-up to NANCY DREW: DETECTIVE which I liked very much and first discovered in 2012. I could see myself having had a crush on Bonita Granville (who was 16 at the time of this movie) had I been a teenager in the late 1930s. There's just something ridiculously adorable about her and her mystery-solving ways that entrances me. Some might find her annoying but it's a similar thing to the way I felt about Patty Duke in high school when I was regularly watching reruns of THE PATTY DUKE SHOW on Nick at Nite. 

NATURAL ENEMIES (1979; Jeff Kanew)
This is some bleak shit, but quite haunting. Powerhouse performance from Holbrook. Hard to believe this is from the director of REVENGE OF THE NERDS and GOTCHA! Don't get me wrong, I love those films, but this is something a bit different. Not on dvd (only ever issued on VHS as far as I know) but can be seen via YouTube.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Allan Arkush

Allan Arkush is one of my favorite directors and cinephiles. He's the man behind GET CRAZY, ELVIS MEETS NIXON, SHAKE RATTLE AND ROCK, HEARTBEEPS and the incomparable ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. If watching ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL doesn't make you smile (like it does for me every single time I see it) then you have a heart of stone. It's one of my all-time favorite films and I have a framed original one-sheet for it in my office at work. 
I first met Allan in person years ago at a video store called Laser Blazer. I worked there for several years when I first got to Los Angeles. It was a very special job to me for many reasons, but one of them was the clientele we used to have there. Lots of directors and often actors and musicians who were movie fans would come in on a regular basis. Allan was a pretty regular customer and was always kind enough to allow me to strike up a conversation with him about whatever movies he was browsing or buying. He of course impressed me immediately with his obvious depth of knowledge and pure love for movies. He's the kind of guy I aspire to be. Someone who spreads his love for movies to people all around him. It's a great mission. One way he does this is via Trailers From Hell where he has given lots of insights about lots of his favorite films. Check them out here:

For more Arkush list goodness, check out his Top Ten Criterions as well:
 Below please find a note from Allan that accompanies his list:

"It's that time of year for lists, and yes I have a top 10 list for 2013 but it's kind of like everyone's give or take a few titles and yes it was a very good year for movies. BUT, I also keep track of movies that I am seeing for the first time that did not come out in 2013. So here are my personal discoveries, Movies that thrilled and delighted and that I had some how missed. I'm nothing if not eclectic.
In no real order except for #1- Klimov's COME AND SEE - a GREAT story of war how did I miss that one until now, thank you Larry Karaszewski for your Trailer From Hell. Now for the rest:"

COFFY (1973; Jack Hill)

PITFALL (1948; Andre De Toth)

ROAD HOUSE (1948; Jean Negulesco)

SUMMER WITH MONIKA (1953; Ingmar Bergman)

GALLANT LADY (1933; Gregory La Cava)

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957; Nathan Juran)

BLACKMAIL (1929; Alfred Hitchcock)

HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (1924; Victor Sjostrom)

A PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948; William Dieterle)

I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE (1951; Michael Gordon)

NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957; Jacques Tourneur)

THE UNINVITED (1944; Lewis Allen)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Dean Treadway

Dean Treadway is a co-host and special events correspondent for the popular Movie Geeks United podcast. Dean has been involved in film criticism, film festival programming, and television performance and programming for more than 25 years.  His blog, filmicability (at details his lifelong passion  for the movies. 
 SOME CAME RUNNING (Vincente Minnelli, 1958)
Stunningly beautiful widescreen drama about a contemptuous, alcoholic writer (Frank Sinatra) returning to his home town, with a big city call girl (a magnificent Shirley MacLaine) chasing after him, trying to get him to fall in love with her. Dean Martin completes the picture with his best performance (next to RIO BRAVO) as Sinatra's extremely loyal, hat-wearing best friend, and Arthur Kennedy is good, too, as Sinatra‘s straight-arrow brother. They just don't make anything like this anymore--cynical little stories told on the widest, most lovingly painted canvases. Based on the novel by James Jones (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, THE THIN RED LINE), and with Oscar-nominated cinematography from William C. Daniels. 

MAN HUNT (Fritz Lang, 1941)
A breathtaking middle-brother to serial shorts and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Walter Pidgeon plays a man who's catches Hitler in his gun sights, and then spends the entire movie escaping the Nazis (led by a sly George Sanders). Exciting throughout, with spirited support from cute Joan Bennett (who falls for Pidgeon), a young Roddy McDowell, and menacing John Carradine. One cannot possibly forget its wild final shot, or the travails of its director, who himself escaped the Nazi purge.

PICKUP (Hugo Haas, 1951)
Vintage noir from the poor man's Orson Welles, Hugo Haas (whose movies I had long heard of but had never seen). Beverly Michaels is terrific as the money-hungry floozy who hoodwinks sweet ol'  Haas into marrying her, then acts all snippy when the cash fails to appear…and, of course, it‘s only a matter of time before the murder plans start spinning. Just a good old fashioned B-movie, but when they're done this well, they seem like A-movies to me. 

THE BIG COUNTRY (William Wyler, 1958)
Sweeping wide-screen western with Gregory Peck as an East Coaster who arrives west and finds himself in the middle of a land dispute. Stellar cast--Charlton Heston, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Chuck Connors, Charles Bickford and an Oscar-winning Burl Ives as the straight-talking patriarch of one of the warring families. True to its title and setting, it's a film that needs the biggest screen possible, so as to take in cinematographer Franz Planer’s superb compositions. Jerome Moross' score is one of the best ever written.

LOOKIN’ TO GET OUT (Hal Ashby, 1982)
An overlooked comedy from the always reliable Hal Ashby, with Jon Voight as a reckless gambler who escapes his New York debt crisis by cajoling his best friend (Burt Young) into an impromptu Vegas trip. Lots of amiable laffs all the way through, and the two leads have a ridiculously warm bond. The supporting cast includes Ann-Margret, Burt Remsen, Richard Bradford and, in the final scene, a very young Angelina Jolie. Photographed by the always great Haskell Wexler. 

SANJURO (Akira Kurosawa, 1962)
Mifune plays the mysterious stranger who arrives to assist a milquetoast band of samurais in their fight against a vicious warlord. Searing black-and-white scope photography and an urgent but fun sense of pacing, plus a stern showing from Mifune--all the things one expects from a Kurosawa film of this time period. 

BREEZY (Clint Eastwood, 1973) Affecting account of a May-December romance between a serious L.A. businessman (William Holden) and a free-spirited hippie girl (Kay Lenz, whose utter enthusiasm is wonderful). Eastwood's first directorial effort without him as its star, it's an unexpectedly longing and romantic outing for him. Excellent score by Michel Legrand, with a splendid title song sung by Shelby Flint.

FOURTEEN HOURS (Henry Hathaway, 1951)
Tense, real-time telling of the chaos that results on a New York street when a depressed man (Richard Basehart) steps out on a high-rise’s ledge and threatens to jump. Paul Douglas is lively as the beat cop who tries to talk him down. The cast is filled out by Agnes Moorehead (as the man's needling mother), Barbara Bel Geddes (as the confused woman he may or may not love), Debra Paget and Jeffery Hunter as two flirtatious kids in the crowd of onlookers, Grace Kelly (in a strangely superfluous, early-career supporting role), and Howard Da Silva (as the police captain). Striking early NYC location work as well. 

JUBAL (Delmer Daves, 1956)
The usually blah Glenn Ford comes to life here as a ranch hand who strikes up a friendship with his amiable new boss (Ernest Borgnine) and then finds himself on the receiving end of romantic advances from Borgnine's dissatisfied wife (Valerie French) and violent ones from a jealous former top hand (Rod Steiger). Engrossing through and through.

I SAW WHAT YOU DID (William Castle, 1965)
Ridiculous but fun comedy/horror nuttiness with two teenage girls spending their sleepover making prank calls, and then finding themselves in deep dung when one of their victims (a murderous Joan Crawford) begins to suspect the girls really DO know about the dead body lying in her bathroom. Very campy--especially with the over-the-hill Crawford on-board--but the film seems in on the joke, and that makes it even more hilarious. The B&W photography by Joseph Biroc is quite spooky, though.

WARNING SHOT (Buzz Kulik, 1967) 
Excellent late-60s TV movie, with David Jannsen is an L.A. detective who shoots a respected doctor while on a stakeout, and then has to defend himself when the gun Janssen said the doctor pulled on him can't be found. The massive, constantly surprising supporting cast includes--get ready: Lillian Gish, Ed Begley, Carroll O'Connor, Walter Pidgeon, Joan Collins, Keenan Wynn, George Sanders, Eleanor Parker, Steve Allen, Stefanie Powers and a hipster George Grizzard. The screenplay is very fine, keeping the tale’s central mystery constantly baffling, and the late-60s TV look to it, with all those bright colors and lights, often approaches an odd surrealism. 

WARLOCK (Edward Dmytryk, 1959)
This morally complex western has Henry Fonda as a famed gunslinger hired by the troubled town of Warlock to clean up its streets, which are being terrorized by a gang of animalistic goons (including Richard Widmark and Bones himself, DeForrest Kelley). Anthony Quinn is Fonda's loyal but hobbled compatriot, and Dorothy Malone is the woman who accuses the heroes of a terrible crime. Unfairly dismissed, Dmytryk's film deserves a higher reputation than it now enjoys.

Late-period Lang--maybe his last worthwhile film--has Dana Andrews as a writer who conspires with a newspaper editor (Sidney Blackmer) to confess to a murder that he didn't commit, in order to prove--along with his innocence--that capital punishment is a barbaric practice. The outlandish story is given real weight by the convincing, twisty script. Joan Fontaine is particularly good here as the woman who questions her love for the redoubtable Andrews. Remade in 2009 by Peter Hyams. 

CISCO PIKE (Bill L. Norton, 1972) 
In his first film, Kris Kristofferson (who also supplies much of the movie's music--including that one song, “The Pilgrim,” that Cybill Shepherd references in TAXI DRIVER) plays a retired pot dealer cajoled back into the game by a harried, crooked cop (Gene Hackman). First-rate 70s California feel, with a seedy  supporting cast that includes Harry Dean Stanton, Karen Black, and Warhol-stamped star Viva.  

ALEX IN WONDERLAND (Paul Mazursky, 1970)
Donald Sutherland has one of his most meaty lead roles here as a newly-minted director searching for his next project. It's this director's take on 8 1/2, and as such, it includes a rare cameo appearance by Federico Fellini (whom Mazursky idolizes). Sometimes uncomfortably chaotic, and always filled with that terrific dialogue Mazursky is known for (he also has a role as a wine-swilling producer), it also features Ellen Burstyn and the director's daughter Meg in notable performances.


BULLETS OR BALLOTS (William Keighley, 1936)
Edward G. Robinson is former NYC detective tapped by the police commissioner to infiltrate the mob, led by a business-like Barton McClane. McClane’s second is a perennially suspicious gunman, played with seething malevolence by Humphrey Bogart. On the flip side, Joan Blondell is pretty but fades from memory as Robinson’s love interest (the movie luckily doesn’t spend much time on this). Quite flashy throughout, with a tremendous, bullet-riddled climax, Keighley’s film also sports some surprisingly luscious black-and-white imagery. 

MR. SARDONICUS (William Castle, 1961)
Our title character (Guy Rolfe) is a man who once committed an unspeakable wrong and, as penance, has to spend his life with a hideously frozen face. Oscar Homolka is very creepy as his leering, damaged henchman. Originally, in the theaters, Castle offered viewers a “Punishment Poll” so they could decide the fate of the lead character (Castle only filmed one ending). A weird and kind of lovable cult favorite.

Bizarre Czech art film which, because of its copious nudity, was sold to early’70s porno palaces but which deserves more serious consideration. Jaroslava Schallerova is transfixing as a sexually-bursting 13-year-old whose allure  bedevils everyone around her--men, women, priests, vampires and crazy aunts. Jires’ dreamy direction is as filled with gorgeous absurdities as anything by Fellini or Russell, Jan Curik’s cinematography is wondrous, and the score by Lubos Fiser and Jan Klusak is its perfect compliment.

DARK OF THE SUN (Jack Cardiff, 1968)
A Tarantino favorite, this nasty caper/war film has Rod Taylor--who’s never been better--as the leader of mercenaries out to traverse the jungles of a civil war-torn Congo, with a healthy cache of uncut diamonds as their ultimate goal. Jim Brown is very good as Taylor’s right-hand man, and Peter Carsten is pretty slimy as the former Nazi who becomes this thrilling film’s nominal villain (there really no one to root for here). Kenneth More, Calvin Lockhart and Yvette Mimieux co-star, and the memorable score is by Jacques Loussier.

WENT THE DAY WELL (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942)
Taut British film tells the story of a rural village targeted by the German army as the site for a secret invasion of Nazi troops, and how the town’s residents slowly learn of this plot, and then decisively act to combat their foes. Finely edited with a sharp attention to suspense and space, and with an able cast of mostly unrecognizable actors, Cavalcanti’s film is a rousing, well-written bit of UK WWII patriotism.