Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Action/Adventure Films Series ""

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure Films Series

I am sad to say that it kind of feels like we've moved away from making fun "adventure" type action films these days, but I have some hope that the genre will return at some point. With this series, I hope to explore some films that had that were imbued with that older spirit of adventure as well as some more straight action films that deserve a spotlight!


AT SWORD'S POINT (1952; Lewis Allen)
I had never heard of this movie at all until I came across it whilst looking over the laserdiscs that had been purchased on Quentin Tarantino's account at an old video store where I used to work. Sure, scanning his purchase history was a little stalker-y I know, but I couldn't help myself. When I was finally able to see this swashbuckler starring Cornel Wilde, Maureen O'Hara and Alan Hale Jr., I was not disappointed. Think of it as SON (& DAUGHTER) OF THE THREE MUSKETEERS. The alt title was actually SONS OF THE MUSKETEERS.

SAHARA (1943; Zoltan Korda)
I really have to give a huge amount of credit to films that can movie me emotionally even if they are as old as this one is. I mean, sure, a good weepy romance or tearjerker type drama can get me most of the time regardless of its age. But when a film like this, ostensibly a war drama/action movie can hook me it is really unexpected and wonderful. As big of a Bogart fan as I was when I was a youngster, I somehow missed seeing this until about 2010 (thanks to a recommend from my friend Pat Healy). A truly great film.

HAWK THE SLAYER (1980; Terry Marcel)
This film may fall more squarely into the "Fantasy" genre, but I think it has quite a swashbuckling spirit about it with some fantastic elements mixed in. Some who've seen it might associate it with something like KRULL (which it preceded by three years), but obviously done on a smaller scale. 

CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (1937; Victor Fleming)
Discovered this one thanks to Larry Karaszewski during Trailers From Hell's Spencer Tracy Week:
Clearly an influence on CABIN BOY. Great epic coming of age story. Spoiled rich kid makes good. I found Spencer Tracy's Portugese 'accent" initially distracting(reminded me of Chico Marx) but eventually he made it his own and really became the character. Just great acting. Lionel Barrymore and John Carradine ain't too slouchy neither. Plus the kid was really good and sounded a bit like Linus from the Peanuts gang so that helped too .

I first discovered this film when I noticed a poster for it on the wall in one of the bars in Tarantino's DEATH PROOF. Over the years I have come to keep a close eye on the walls in his sets as to note which posters he's chosen to display. I've found several interesting films this way. This one featured Gordon Scott as Tarzan, who I had never heard of before this movie. It was this film that also made me start to look into just how many Tarzan films have been made over the years and how many actors have played him. I knew Tarzan best as played by Johnny Weissmuller, but had also heard of Lex Barker in the role. Gordon Scott is my second favorite Tarzan after Weismuller and part of it is the way he plays the character. Tarzan speaks much more like a normal person here and seems more intelligent than I was accustomed to seeing him portrayed. It's a solid Tarzan adventure flick from director John Guillermin (THE TOWERING INFERNO, THE BLUE MAX, KING KONG, SHAFT IN AFRICA) and features a pre-James Bond Sean Connery which is always a plus.

THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN (1985; Jeremy Kagan)
When I was very young and my family got our first VCR, we rented a whole lot of Disney films. We ran out of animated fair real quick so my parents started renting live-action Disney movies. I remember we must have seen a trailer for this one on one of the HERBIE films or something and we tracked it down. This was my introduction to the young and lovely Meredith Salenger. I was instantly smitten and my smit would only continue as I'd see her in films over the next 3-4 years. Here, she plays the title role of Natty Gann - a runaway tomboy in the 1930s on the hunt to find her real-life father (Ray Wise) who had to leave her in foster care because he was seeking work some 2000 miles away. Natty Gann is totally cute, an absolute badass and made even cooler by the fact that she had a pet wolf in the movie. This was one of the darker, grittier Disney films I'd seen at the time and I was quite taken with it. The supporting cast is quite spectacular and includes the likes of John Cusack (in that charming sweet spot as his career was taking off), Lainie Kazan, Verna Bloom, Barry Miller and the always amazing Scatman Crothers. It was also directed by Jeremy Kagan who did one of my favorite Underrated Detective/Mystery films in THE BIG FIX.

7 WOMEN (1966; John Ford)
Speaking of badass ladies, John Ford has something to say on the subject. With this his last film, he tells the tale of  seven missionary gals in China circa 1935 trying to protect themselves from the advances of a barbaric Mongolian warlord and his extremely not-so-nice gang of warrior goons. This is a pretty tense movie, almost a siege flick and it has a pretty heavy duty ending that is quite memorable indeed. This movie is really the Anne Bancroft show and she is damned tough. I have been fascinated by Bancroft's career ever since stumbling on some of her pre-GRADUATE work (like NIGHTFALL, THE GIRL IN BLACK STOCKINGS etc.) years after I had classified her exclusively as 'Mrs. Robinson' from that film. The supporting cast includes Sue Lyon (LOLITA), Eddie Albert and Woody Strode. What I remember loving about 7 WOMEN was this sense of dread that hangs over everything and how much it hooked me. It is actually among my favorite Ford films all told. I am sad to say that at the time of this writing, the film has never received a proper DVD release, however, I believe it falls under Warner Archive's jurisdiction so we can hope that they may put out a lovely remaster widescreen (2.35 to1 Panavision) version at a later date.

SECRET OF THE INCAS(1954; Jerry Hopper)
Heston as Indiana Jones? Kind of, but with much less action. I have read though that this film was indeed an influence on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and you can certainly see that. By way of example, this clip of the film with RAIDERS music laid under it is pretty fun:

Heston's character, Harry Steele (great name) is far sleazier and more of a hustler than our old pal Indiana, but that's no problem for me as I like him as this kind of dude. You've also got Robert Young, Glenda Farrell and Thomas Mitchell here as well. Oh, and Yma Sumac on the soundtrack and in the movie as well!
This one's not on DVD in the states, but can be viewed via Amazon Instant should you so desire:

HATARI (1962; Howard Hawks)
This one is borderline underrated at this point as I feel its fanbase has grown over the past decade. It's no secret that I adore Howard Hawks and he's one of my all-time favorite directors. That said, even I took some time to come around to this one. I have always loved Mancini's score for the film (it is one of my very favorite scores), but there were some things about the movie that didn't sit quite right for me. There's the obvious issue of it's length (2 hrs 37 minutes) and the fact that Hawks is very much paraphrasing some characters, situations and thematic tropes (professionalism, redemption etc) that he's done much better in other films. The romantic subplots in the film initially didn't click with me, especially the one with John Wayne as he was a little too old to play that kind of role at this point (with a younger girl like this at least). It just came off creepy as charming as Wayne can be. Over time though, I've been able to let all that go and just enjoy the film on its own merits, of which it has many. First and foremost are the action scenes. Still very exciting to this day and that is saying something. It's hard not to have an exciting scene with live animals running loose in the frame. The rhino sequences are absolutely breathtaking. It's just a wonderful reminder of how films used to be made pre-CG and how that process brings with it an weight and heft that cannot be duplicated any other way. And as much as the romance stuff is pretty much ripped right out of RIO BRAVO (and the women in this film can't hold a candle to Angie Dickinson in any way) at least he's stealing from himself and one of my favorite movies ever made so I can't help but love it. This film is now out on Blu-ray (though many have bemoaned the transfer) and on Amazon Instant in HD should you care to indulge.

CONDORMAN (1981; Charles Jarrott)
Like NATTY GANN, this was an early Disney Live-action favorite for me as a kid. I had no filter at all as far as judging the quality of a film at that time, so the apparent "badness" of this film completely eluded me. I was too busy getting caught up in the comic books and adventure and gadgetry of this silly screwball tale of espionage and cold war spies. I love it to this day and have the British Quad poster in my home. I even have a ringtone made from Henry Mancini's wonderful theme to the film. Also, it was the film that introduced me to Oliver Reed and for that, I am forever in its debt.

Put simply, this is kind of a mashup of a Tarzan film and a James Bond film. I've never seen anything like it. Pretty fun. 


More Disney Live-Action! This story of Davy Crockett (as played by Fess Parker) was something of a cult movie at some point (or so Danny Peary's Guide for the Film Fanatic indicated to me) but has since more or less dropped into obscurity. It is apparently a film compiled and comprised from three stitched-together episodes of the DAVY CROCKETT TV series - the first three episodes I guess (DAVY CROCKET INDIAN FIGHTER, DAVY CROCKETT GOES TO CONGRESS and DAVY CROCKETT AT THE ALAMO). All interesting episodes I guess as it makes for a decent movie. Fess Parker was seemingly born to play this role.

THE NAKED JUNGLE(1954; Byron Haskin)
I couldn't resist putting one more Heston adventure flick on this list. THE NAKED JUNGLE features Heston vs. ants! Here, he runs a South American cocoa plantation that comes under attack by 2-mile wide and 20-mile long colony of army ants. There's some other lovey dovey drama going on in the mix too(with Eleanor Parker and William "Cannon" Conrad), but who gives a crap about that stuff right? It's all about man vs. nature for me. I have expressed my love for the "Animals Attack" genre here before and it is a truly undying passion that I have for these films. This is one of the earlier examples of this that I can think of and I am so pleased about Heston being in it. Two great tastes that taste great together!

80s Honorables:

GOTCHA! (1985; Jeff Kanew)

Director Kanew (who I'm told pronounces his name "Canoe") followed his smash success REVENGE OF THE NERDS with this very Hitchcock, yet very 80s espionage adventure starring Anthony Edwards (in a very non Gilbert kind of role). Edwards plays a dude in college obsessed with the ladies and playing a paintball assassination game called of course "Gotcha". Through an odd turn of events, he find himself abroad and mixed up with a secy lady spy (Linda Fiorentino) whilst desperately trying to find a way out. I love that this is one of a handful of films in which the exclamation point is officially part of the title of the film. HATARI! is the same way. Exciting!

IF LOOKS COULD KILL (1991; William Dear)
This is another "adventure abroad" 80s movie (even though it came out in 1991) starring 21 JUMP STREET (the TV Show) leading man Richard Grieco as a high school student on a trip with his high school French class who is mistaken for a super spy who was thought to be dead. Wackiness does ensue and it is wackiness at the hands of writer (and director) Fred Dekker among others. Silly, but fun and a nice double with GOTCHA!

1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

Good choice of Tarzans there. Valley of Gold is worth it simply for the scene in the sports stadium where he kills a guy with a giant Coke bottle. If you like Greatest Adventure Tarzan the Magnficent is nearly as good. Looking forward to this new series very much.