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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Jason Chirevas

Quick recap for the uninitiated. As my Twitter profile indicates, I’m a newspaperman, pulp hack and B-movie explorer from New York.

Since I last darkened this particular doorstep, my first novella was published. I might not plug that here, but you’re a movie nerd if you’re reading this and my story is a noiry boxing tale with a Universal horror twinge, so, in the event you’d like to give it a try, you can find it at:

Or, just follow me on Twitter @JasonChirevas and we’ll call it even.

Now then, underrated Action/Adventures. Let’s see…

5. Secret Service of the Air (1939, screenplay by Raymond Schrock, directed by Noel Smith)
Before he put Bonzo to bed and just before he posed for an art class in that photo you’ve seen on Twitter, Ronald Reagan was a Warner contract player bouncing between supporting roles in A pictures and a few starring roles in B’s. Secret Service of the Air is an example of the latter and it’s one of four movies in which Reagan appeared as intrepid Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft. In this first entry, Brass and his comic relief sidekick Gabby Watters (Eddie Foy, Jr.) have to stop a baddie played by James Stephenson from smuggling various shades of foreign men across the border. As he did in all four flicks, Brass goes under cover, in this case using his piloting skills to get in good with the syndicate, and works from there.

Each of the four Brass Bancroft movies—this one, Code of the Secret Service, Smashing the Money Ring and Murder in the Air—is a little different in trappings and setting, and all are punchy little B’s worth your 60 or so minutes.

Plus, Murder in the Air features an airship. I mean, c’mon…

4. Timecop (1994, screenplay by Mark Verheiden, directed by Peter Hyams)
Yes, it’s technically science fiction, so this is a bit of a cheat—more of those to come—but they’re not in space and there’s a lot more kicking, so I figured I could get away with it.

And if you know what that was a reference to, I’ll PayPal you a dollar.

Based on a Dark Horse Comics story by Verheiden, Phil Hester and Marc Warner, Timecop stars Jean-Claude Van Damme in the first of his collaborations with director Hyams. The former kickboxing, cyborg universal soldier plays Walker, an agent for a federal agency tasked with policing the flow of time and making sure no one effs with it. Walker is pretty sure U.S. Senator McComb (the reliable, late, lamented Ron Silver) is doing exactly that and intends to stop him.

In addition to the kicking, there’s also a lot of jumping back and forth to various points in time, some doubling-back on scenes we’ve already seen, and some fun idea and rules about how time travel is allowed to work. Through it all, Van Damme turns in a good performance, probably his best until JCVD, and Hyams keeps things moving at a brisk, understandable pace.

Timecop is not Primer, it’s not even Back to the Future Part III, but it is semi-slick B-movie fun.

Plus, Mia Sara plays Walker’s imperiled wife. I mean, c’mon…

3. The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932, screenplay by Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf and John Willard, directed by Charles Brabin)
Fair warning, this movie contains a lot of racial insensitivity, but it’s really fun.
Boris Karloff and Myra Loy play father and daughter. And Asians. Karloff’s insidious Dr. Fu Manchu is out to get the mask and sword of Genghis Khan, which he believes will enable him to destroy the “white race” obviously. It’s up to a team of adventurers, including Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt and future Durango Kid Charles Starrett, to stop him.

This movie is often packaged as a horror film due to Karloff’s presence, but it’s a pure pulp adventure in the tradition Indiana Jones would later follow into the Temple of Doom.

So, yes, there are mostly-nude African slaves, Caucasians playing Asians and a healthy dose of discomforting Yellow Peril, but The Mask of Fu Manchu is still a high old time if you have the wherewithal to watch it with modern sensibilities in check.

Plus, 1932 Myrna Loy as an evil princess. I mean, c’mon…

2. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001, screenplay by Tab Murphy, directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale)
Here’s my second cheat, a post-2000 film, but I think it’s worth it to get an animated movie on the list.

Largely dismissed as lesser Disney today, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is actually a solid, cool homage to Saturday matinee serials as well as a good, unheralded example of Dieselpunk thanks to the contributions of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola.

The plot is pretty straightforward. Milo (voiced by Michael J. Fox) comes into possession of a book he believes will lead him to the titular lost city, but the leader of the crew of adventurers embarking on the submarine journey (James Garner) might not have the best of intentions for Atlantis or the people living there.

Blending hand-drawn animation with CGI pretty well, Atlantis is also one of the only Disney animated films to not feature songs. It’s not a musical; it’s a straight-ahead action/adventure.

Plus, the voice cast also features Leonard Nimoy, Claudia Christian and Father Guido Sarducci himself, Don Novello. I mean, c’mon…

1. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004, screenplay by director Kerry Conran)
It’s another cheat, I know, but, you guys, I love this movie.
Not sure Kerry Conran will ever be allowed to direct another feature film, and that’s a shame, but I’ll always be grateful for the one he’s done.

If Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a pulp, Saturday matinee serial with a Dieselpunk aesthetic, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow may well be Diselpunk: The Movie. It’s probably going to be remembered most as the first green screen movie, but Sky Captain is a great pulp adventure that draws from everything from King Kong, to Marvel comics, to, most especially, The Wizard of Oz.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays a spunky reporter—is there any other kind—in 1939 New York who’s on the trail of the enigmatic Dr. Totenkopf following the disappearance of several scientists. Sky Captain (Jude Law) is the industrialized hero at her side as they track Totenkopf to his mysterious island.

Here I’ll pause and say I know Sky Captain is not perfect. It’s a bit slowly paced and the characters are not the most dynamic or developed, but Paltrow’s Polly Perkins and Law’s Sky Captain have an easy chemistry and Giovanni Ribisi and Angelina Jolie add color and flavor.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow plays on the gee whiz, World’s Fair vision and version of what the future might hold and includes the kind of pulpy derring-do I’ll never stop loving. See it if you haven’t.

Plus, Angie basically plays Nick Fury and Laurence Olivier—I’m not kidding—plays Totenkopf.

I mean, c’mon…


Professor Brian O'Blivion said...

Nice list! I love Sky Captain. Time Cop and Atlantis are great fun.

dfordoom said...

Those Ronald Reagan Brass Bancroft movies are indeed nifty little B-movies.

The Mask of Fu Manchu is tremendous fun and gets bonus points for outrageous political incorrectness.