He can be found on twitter @Mr_Sheldrake/or @PreCodeDotCom.
Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975)
Following up the unremarkable Cleopatra Jones, whose most notable feature was the heroine's car having an extra panel that flips up and allows Cleopatra to get out of the car without it damaging her 'fro, The Casino of Gold runs in the opposite direction with its hands waving wildly in the air. Teaming Tamara Dobson up with Ni Tien is inspired, and the film's many action beats mesh with a plot that's far more pointed than the usual 70s action fare.
The Boy Friend (1971)
I always keep some Ken Russell in reserve for a rainy day, and this one definitely supplied more than its share of sunshine. A theatre company puts on a stage show that becomes something more in the imagination of its talented cast and the famous film director sitting in the box seat. Containing overt homages to Gold Diggers of 1933 and Flying Down to Rio, the pitch perfect re-imaginings and amazing visuals compliment an airy and fun story about the travails of a hard luck troupe who get by thanks to some lovely music.
Ladybug Ladybug (1963)
An alarm indicating a nuclear attack goes off at an elementary and the children are sent home. A series of vignettes about how different children handle the circumstances follow, all wonderfully naturalistic and touching. Even in a world removed from the nuclear brink, this movie probably captures the paranoia and fear that can infect humanity in the face of death better than most other nuclear fear films.
Billy Budd (1962)
Peter Ustinov's adaptation of Herman Melville's novel is touching in its unwinding of a tragedy. Terrence Stamp as the eternally optimistic and kind Billy Budd-- a role I certainly never imagined for him-- goes against the brilliantly devious Robert Ryan on a British naval vessel. The film is frequently thoughtful about society and the roles people are forced into, and just how black of a heart a man can possibly possess.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
Elia Kazan's feature film directorial debut is a sweet and nuanced tale of growing up in the concrete jungle. Though I usually deplore 'coming of age' stories since they all too often fall back on soft focus and wistful music, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn doesn't shy away from the harder facts of life.
Dead Men Tell (1941)
I get on kicks, like I'm sure many other film lovers do, and one of my longest of this year was the series of Charlie Chan detective movies. Ranging from 1926 to 1949 and covering 47 films. That 23 years covers several lead actors and different styles of film making, but my favorites come from the early-40s pictures, which put Chan up against Nazis and other underworld gangsters. Dead Man Tell is probably the best of the lot, even if the picture is goofy and inconsistent, it oozes style from frame one to the last. Sidney Toler is my favorite Chan, patronizing but funny, while Victor Sen Yung always knocks it out of the park as the enthusiastic but unlucky Number Two Son. Other great entries include the wartime thriller Charlie Chan in Panama and the series' only surviving pre-Code entry, The Black Camel.
The Case of The Lucky Legs (1935)
Raymond Burr wasn't the only Perry Mason, and the Warner Archive collection of some of Warren William's turns as the infamous defense attorney is a wild mixture. My favorite of the series teamed William up with one of my most beloved actresses, the ditzy and charming Genevieve Tobin as Mason's secretary cum romantic interest Della. The film frequently deflates itself with some great banter-- "Did you get anything out of Patton?" "Only a knife."-- and Allen Jenkins turns in his usual great supporting work.
This pre-Code entry sees Richard Barthelmess, one of my favorites, as a Native American sharpshooter who returns home to find his reservation being financially ransacked by government agents, gloating businessmen, and even the clergy. Notably unsubtle and still feeling blisteringly relevant, it's a shotgun blast to white racial hegemony, even if Barthelmess as the lead is, you know, really white. There's some great supporting work from Sidney Toler, Dudley Diggs, Clarence Muse (another favorite), and Ann Dvorak.
The Black Cat (1934)
While not treading on racial lines like Massacre, The Black Cat is just as provocative. Director Edward Ulmer infuses the tale with a bizarre dream-like atmosphere that shows a direct lineage to the silents, and the lead duo of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi make the screen crackle with energy. The film's subtext, about the ghosts of World War I, and its rather controversial surface material, from a Satanist mass, necrophiliac undertones, and, of course, a house filled with dynamite. It's such a wonderfully surreal mood piece that it's hard to resist revisiting.
Blonde Crazy (1931)
Look, it has Joan Blondell in a bathtub. I'm only a man.