Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Action/Adventure - Jason Hyde ""

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Jason Hyde

Jason Hyde is a top shelf cinephile. He has a become a regular contributor here at RPS and I am always happy to have him. Most recently he was kind enough to write up a list of his favorite underrated Detective/Mystery films:
He also did an underrated comedies list for my last blog series. Read it here:
In addition to that, he did an underrated dramas list for that series as well: 
Horror is also quite near and dear to him I believe so this is a very cool list as well:

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932; William Cameron Menzies & Marcel Varnel)
Edmund Lowe isn't exactly the most dashing hero (although he did later make for a pretty good Philo Vance in THE GARDEN MURDER CASE), but this radio serial adaptation has other things going for it. First, it's got Bela Lugosi not long after his Dracula triumph as the villainous death ray-wielding Roxor. And Lugosi does not hold anything back, going gloriously over the top. A lot of people tend to think Lugosi was doing this sort of thing all the time, but that's not actually true. He could be pretty restrained (and is as Count Dracula), but when he cut loose it was a thing of beauty, like watching a force of nature running amuck. And that's what you get here. Lugosi sneers and leers his way through this hokum, decked out all the while in a sharp black swami hat combo. Another reason to watch this one: it's co-directed by the great William Cameron Menzies, whose fingerprints are all over it. This means tons of incredible visual effects (which still hold up rather well) and a consistently dazzling visual style that carries the film through any early talkie slow spots. Interestingly, when the time came to for Chandu to return, he was played by Bela Lugosi himself, surely one of the few times that an actor got promoted from villain to hero.

KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (1966; Mario Bava)
SHANE in a Viking setting, courtesy of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava. Of all the non-horror Bavas that I've seen, I think I like this one best, although I still haven't caught up with his other Viking saga ERIK THE CONQUEROR. Dyed-blond Cameron Mitchell stars as the knife-throwing hero who protects a widow and her young son from an evil warlord, all while harboring a dark secret of his own. Like most Mario Bava films, the budget is ridiculously low but it looks absolutely gorgeous, with Bava's typical eye-popping use of color and some terrific scenery and a good lead performance from Mitchell. Basically this is a spaghetti Western transposed to a Norse setting, and it's every bit as good as that sounds.

I like Johnny Weissmuller as much as the next guy, but for my money the best Tarzan movies were the color widescreen ones from producer Sy Weintraub that started in 1960 with TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (probably the best Tarzan film ever made). Weintraub made two with Gordon Scott, then two more with Jock Mahoney before the loin cloth was passed on to former pro-footballer Mike Henry for three films, starting with this film, which essentially updates the character to the James Bond era. He even wears a suit and undergoes a mission briefing at the beginning. He also kills a guy by pushing a giant coke bottle onto him in a bullfight arena. Later he fights a helicopter and wins. It's glorious mid-60s fun, complete with groovy lounge soundtrack. Villainy is provided by David Opatoshu, who is a bit too mild-mannered to be too threatening, with subordinate villainy from B-movie vet Don Megowan (THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS). Nancy Kovack is on hand for damsel-in-distress duty but doesn't get much to do. This is a very manly movie.

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971; Guy Hamilton)
The most underrated Bond ever and a longtime favorite of mine but apparently nobody else's. The goofiness of this entry is a bit jarring after the downbeat ending of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, and it does seem to totally forget that Bond got married and lost his wife at the end of that one. Sure, he's hunting down Blofeld at the start of DIAMONDS, but it doesn't seem to be a particularly driven quest for vengeance. It's more like business as usual for James Bond. Also, Blofeld can walk again for some reason. And he has hair. And he's played by the great Charles Gray with his usual smooth superiority, so all is forgiven. The rest of the frankly bonkers plot takes Bond to Vegas in all its tacky 70s glory and involves diamond smuggling, Blofeld usurping the identity of Howard Hughes stand-in Willard Whyte (sausage king Jimmy Dean!), and the activities of two flamboyantly gay hitmen, one of whom is Crispin Glover's dad Bruce. It all plays out with a nice, laid back, in no hurry to get to the thrills vibe that just works for me, and it is great to see Connery back. He's a bit greyer, slower, and flabbier, but that's what I like about him in this film. I could have done with a few more films with this relaxed, aging Bond, but it wasn't to be. The thing I like most about DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and the two Bonds that immediately followed it is that they just feel different than the other ones. They feel a bit cheaper and less ambitious and they're definitely a lot less serious. Essentially, they're the drive-in Bonds.

TARKAN VS. THE VIKINGS (1971; Mehmet Aslan)
Turkish insanity of the highest order. Based on the popular Turkish comic strip hero Tarkan, a heroic hun who does battle with the viking horde and their very unconvincing pet octopus. Assisting Tarkan is his dog Kurt. In my opinion Kurt does most of the heavy lifting here. He's probably the most heroic dog in movie history. At one point, our viking villains try to dispose of him by dumping him in a pit, but they severely underestimated the power of Kurt who claws his way up the sides of the pit to freedom. Kurt deserves top billing. Like seemingly all Turkish movies from this period, TARKAN VS. THE VIKINGS looks like it was made for about what you might spend on lunch in a month. Also like other Turkish movies from this period, it's insanely exciting stuff. A lot of movies promise non-stop action, but Turkish films like TARKAN and THE DEATHLESS DEVIL are the only ones that really deliver in such a way that you feel like you've run a marathon when they're finished. Don't expect historical accuracy, but if you go in hoping for ridiculous wigs and costumes, the most unrealistic octopus in cinema history, and unbeatable dog heroics you will not be disappointed.

THE SHADOW (1994; Russel Mulcahy) 
Hollywood hasn't had much luck with bringing old pulp heroes to the screen. From George Pal's DOC SAVAGE to the recent terrible JOHN CARTER, they just can't seem to catch a break with these guys, but that doesn't mean there haven't been some good movies made in the attempt. I'm actually one of the the minority that kinda likes DOC SAVAGE, even if it does look pretty cheap for a Pal production and the jokey approach to the material fails more often than it succeeds. THE SHADOW is similarly hampered by an uneven tone and by choosing to do an origin story for a character who's never really needed one, but it's still got a lot going for it. For starters, it's got a terrific cast. Alec Baldwin is a lot of fun as the hero, and he looks just like the pulp covers once he's done up in The Shadow's trademark black hat and cloak. He does a fine job on the voice, too, giving it a raspy whisper that's just perfect. Penelope Ann Miller is also good as Margo Lane, and the movie makes a valiant attempt to make her a bit more than the damsel-in-distress that she was on the radio show, even giving her a chance to save The Shadow's bacon on one occasion. John Lone is maybe a bit too subdued as the Shiwan Khan, but he seems to be enjoying the chance to play a villain. There's also memorably supporting work from Ian McKellen, Peter Boyle, Jonathan Winters, and a gloriously unhinged Tim Curry as a secondary villain. Curry's death scene is easily the highlight of the film. Toss in some beautiful 30s Art Deco style and a moody Jerry Goldsmith score, and you've got a film that should really should have been more successful than it was. 


AndyHunt said...

Diamonds are Forever - You are not alone, it's a favourite of mine. I love all the pre craig bond films, but this one shines thru mainly because of its wacky nature. I think everyone involved knew it was definetly Connery's last, had accepted the fact, and just threw as much money at having fun as they could. It also contains my all time favourite death face...That of Mr Glover when dispatched by an explosive bombe' suprise'.
If you havent done so already check out the internet for all the conspiracy concerning the fake moon landing scenes in this film. highly entertaining in its own right.

George White said...

I agree. It feels like a B-film, even the Al Whitlock/Wally Veevers (rather than John Stears) effects feel oddly cheap, esp. the diamond-encrusted satellite.
It even has Sid Haig as the funeral home gangster who says "I got a bruvva!".
And the balloon-type escape pod stolen from Michael Bentine's Potty Time, a UK kids show fronted by one time Goonshow member/founder alongside the likes of Milligan, Sellers and Secombe.
Golden Gun is very exploitationy too, it's a Bond doing Bruceploitation having done Blaxploitation and being one of the defining films in regional hicksploitation as Sheriff Pepper spawned Boss Hogg and Roscoe, Buford Justice, Sheriff Lobo etc, the ur example of comedy yokel sheriffs, and even the shark scenes were done by nature-goes-apeshit B-auteur WIlliam Grefe, director of Stanley and Mako Jaws of Death, Death CUrse of Death.
But Golden Gun underperformed so UA cut their losses and with another disappointment, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot put out a double bill and sold it to drive ins.

George White said...

While in the UK, Hemdale, then quite a big force in exploitation releasing Tommy, Tintorera, Communion, Harlequin, Helterskelter, the Giant Spider Invasion, No 1 of the Secret Service put out a double bill in association with UA of Diamonds are Forever and the Allied Artists non-Bond with Roger Moore, Gold, and did a poster which put Moore in a mining outfit holding a drill and wearing a mining helmet, but with a bowtie on his overalls to make it look like he was playing Bond.