1) “ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS” (1939) directed by Howard Hawks
I regard “Only Angels Have Wings” as one of the truly great action/adventure movies. When it was released in 1939 the world was on the brink of another world war and the film’s story did not appear to be very timely. In the years since, I believe it has become a truly under-rated classic.
Directed by the great Howard Hawks from a screenplay by Jules Furthman, it explores the take on life of “the lost generation” following WW1 and their inability to fit in and their thirst for (almost-suicidal) danger.
Cary Grant showed what a great actor he could be, his character hiding his vulnerabilities with a cynical, tough, even brutal, façade. There is a real darkness cut through Grant’s persona here and I think he handles it brilliantly.
Of course, Hawks was a fine action director and the flying sequences are terrific, enhanced by fine cinematography by Joseph Walker & music score by Dimitri Tiomkin. Made for Columbia. At 2 hours it never seems to outlast its welcome.
2) “KING SOLOMON’S MINES” (1950) directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton
I’m not totally sure if this MGM extravaganza should be described as “under-rated” but its star Stewart Granger certainly is.
H. Rider Haggard’s classic yarn is Hollywood’s first version (talkie anyway) and it follows an expedition into darkest Africa by a group seeking a lost treasure, having hired their guide Allan Quartermain. Of course a woman is along (a lady actually) in the comely form of Deborah Kerr and naturally discomfort and indignity accompanies the obvious and expected dangers. A really nice feature, most unusual for the time, is the total absence of a music score, leaving the noises of the jungle to effectively accompany the travellers.
As I said earlier, I believe Granger is very under-rated, not least by himself, but I think he was a decent actor but, more than that, a fantastic “presence” in action movies like this. Deborah Kerr was a very fine actress and the two contrasted well in their roles.
Screen adaptation was by Helen Deutch and the superb cinematography by Robert Surtees.
“Hi-Jacked” is bound to be “under-rated” as it is probably virtually unknown! It was a cheaply-made B-movie for Lippert Productions starring one of my action favourites, Jim Davis. I was determined to include at least one B-movie in my list and, as these films go, I found it to be quite fast-moving and a fun watch.
The story relates the tale of an ex-con who is now a truck-driver who wants to stay on the straight and narrow and provide a future for his wife, Marsha Jones, and himself. A gang of hi-jackers are determined to frame him in their efforts to steal his load and it is a race against time if he is to stop that happening by bringing the lugs to justice.
Like all B-movies, time is not wasted where unnecessary and the film comes in at 69 mins. The screenplay is by Raymond L. Schrock and Fred Myton from an original story by Myton and Orville Hampton.
4) “CORVETTE K-225” (1943) directed by Richard Rosson*
The subject matter of this film is perhaps more serious than the title “action/adventure” would warrant, I admit. However, I think it is a real classic of its kind and it is certainly not short of either action or adventure.
The background is the Battle of the Atlantic during WW2 and the desperate fight by the Atlantic convoys to keep supply lines open and limit shipping destruction by Hitler’s U-boats. The film is treated in almost documentary style and everything is very realistically-portrayed. The acting is suitably low-key with the very effective lead taken by my favourite western actor, Randolph Scott. A fairly-brief but well-acted romance is covered between Scott and the lovely Ella Raines but really it is the serious stuff that takes centre stage.
I think this is possibly the finest of the submarine warfare movies shot during the conflict. It was made by Universal from an original screenplay by John Rhodes Sturdy, co-directed* uncredited by Howard Hawks with some very effective cinematography by Tony Gaudio.
5) “FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT” (1940) directed byAlfred Hitchcock
OK – a film from Hitchcock “under-rated”?? As his films go, this one does often seem to get overlooked so I am stretching the point to make it fit!
Hitch had not long left his native shores to settle in California and “Foreign Correspondent” was his second film after the move. It was at a time when Britain was under siege from Germany and clearly Hitch intended to influence the American public to join.
Joel McCrea was not Hitch’s first choice to play the US reporter sent to Europe to cover some negotiationstaking place that were intended to hold the peace. However, McCrea is another of my top favourite western actors and I cannot imagine anyone doing a better job here.
Hitchcock was famous for his set-pieces in his films that, to this day, stay in the memory. The sea of umbrellas in the heavy rain on the steps in Holland, the lonely windmill and the fall from the top of St.Paul’sCathedral in London after that kindly-looking actor Edmund Gwenn turns out to be a vicious 5th columnist.
Screenplay was by Charles Bennett and regular Hitch collaborator Joan Harrison for Walter WangerProductions while music was by Alfred Newman and cinematography brilliantly lensed by Rudolph Mate.
A timeless, and maybe under-rated(?) classic.