Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Action/Adventure - Jim Healy ""

Friday, August 22, 2014

Underrated Action/Adventure - Jim Healy

Jim Healy is the Director of Programming for the University of Wisconsin Cinematheque (http://cinema.wisc.edu) as well as the fella who heads up the Wisconsin Film Festival (http://wifilmfest.org). The UW Cinematheque can be found on Twitter here:
For another great list, check out Jim's Underrated Westerns from a few months back:
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FIVE CAME BACK (John Farrow, 1939) 
12 people bound for Panama board a twin-propeller clipper plane. They crash in the middle of a South American jungle. Five come back. I like a good action-survival story as much as anyone else and this one is a genuine prototype for the multi-character disaster movie that would get further developed by Wellman’s The High and the Mighty and have its apotheosis in the early 70s with the Airport series, The Poseidon AdventureEarthquake, et al. In fact, Farrow (a really fine, underrated director) would refine the subgenre himself with his own excellent remake of Five Came Backin 1956, entitled Back from Eternity. For me, the original trumps the remake only by having Lucille Ball in the cast as the floozy with a heart-of-gold. Anita Ekberg is fine in the part in the remake, but this might be Lucy’s finest non-comedic performance. The 16mm print of Five Came Backthat I saw clearly came from inferior 35mm source material and I think this may point to why the film has never been released on DVD. Hopefully, it will get restored and re-released in some format soon.

THE NIGHT CALLER (aka FEAR OVER THE CITY/PEUR SUR LA VILLE, Henri Verneuil, 1975) 
Jean-Paul Belmondo is a cop tracking a serial killer. There’s nothing terribly memorable about the plot of this policier, but it has a great, creepy Ennio Morricone score andBelmondo, performing all of his own stunts like hanging from a helicopter and jumping from rooftop to rooftop in Paris, is truly remarkable. It’s a shame that in the U.S.Belmondo is primarily known as an art-house figure. I guess that’s because of his work with Godard and in stuff like Melville’s Leon Morin and Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid. His popular entertainments make it clear that he was in a league with Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan. Maybe the upcoming re-releases of That Man from Rio andUp to His Ears will remind audiences here of his incredible range and talents. I’ve only seen the American release version of Peur sur la ville, which cut almost a half hour from the European version and was retitled and dubbed into English. I don’t like it as much as The Burglars, one of the other Verneuil-Belmondo collaborations, but it is well worth seeing, even in the truncated cut.

COUNTER-ATTACK (Zoltan Korda, 1945) 
A typically hammy Paul Muni plays a Russian partisan who, after a building collapses, is trapped in a basement with a wounded fellow partisan and a handful of Nazi officers. Neither Muni (who has the only gun) or the Germans know who is on the outside trying to dig them out, so, while they wait, each side tries to pry secret information from the other. This is told on a much smaller-scale than Korda’swonderful Sahara (1943), but considering most of the action takes place in one room, the amount of twists and suspense is rather astonishing.

EXTREME PREJUDICE (Walter Hill, 1987) 
After failing to expand his audience with Streets of Fire, Brewster’s Millions, and Crossroads, Hill returned to straight-forwardaction with this fun and well-acted modern Western, avariation on The Wild Bunch. Nick Nolte is a Texas Ranger and Powers Boothe is his old buddy who is now selling drugs out of his south-of-the-border fortress. Nolte joins forces with a group of secret government operatives to take down Boothe, leading to a very bloody showdown. While the climax pales in comparison to The Wild Bunch, I like the way Hill mines the material to bring out themes familiar to Peckinpah fans, particularly the way it melancholically reflects on old traditions dying out. The whole movie is kind of in mourning for the Western, but the way it mixes contemporary action-movie trends with classical elements makes the story kind of unpredictable. The performances are pretty solid all-around especially Nolte and Rip Torn, who plays Nolte’s fellow Ranger and mentor.

SANTIAGO (1956, Gordon Douglas) 
When considering anything “underrated”, I would be neglectful if I didn’t include at least one selection from the enormously prolific and versatile Gordon Douglas. For my money, this is probably the best of Alan Ladd’s post-Shane cycle of adventure pictures, though I have yet to see the Douglas-directed Western The Big Land. Ladd and Lloyd Nolan play rival gun-runners who reluctantly team up to sell weapons to the rebels during the late 19th century Cuban War of Independence. They journey to Cuba on old Mississippi riverboat captained by Chill Wills. There’s nothing terribly memorable about the story, unless you count Chill Wills’sclimactic act of self-sacrifice, but Ladd is reliably sturdy and Douglas has a way of carrying you through the story and frequently startling you with ahead-of-its-time violence. It’s a solid entertainment. Set your DVRs, Santiago is airing on TCM Sunday August, 31 2014 at 02:00 AM!

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