Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Thrillers - Matt Barry ""

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Matt Barry

Matt Barry is a New York City-based writer, filmmaker and all-around cinephile. His favorite genres are classic comedies and film noir. You can read more of his thoughts on film at his blog, The Art and Culture of Movies (
He can be found on twitter here:
Also, he contributed a list to my Underrated Action/Adventure series which I recommend you have a look at:
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945, dir: Rene Clair)
First-rate adaptation of the Agatha Christie story about ten strangers gathered for dinner on a remote island who learn there is a murderer among them. A fine cast of character actors, including Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, C. Aubrey Smith, Richard Haydn, and Roland Young, among others, under the breezy and stylish direction of Rene Clair, make this mystery-thriller one of the best of its kind.

SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN (1929, dir: Benjamin Christensen)
Directed by the eccentric, brilliant visual stylist who also gave us HAXAN (WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES), this is a nightmarish twist on the “Old Dark House” genre that was so popular during this time.  Christensen plunges his two protagonists (Creighton Hale and Thelma Todd) into a terrifying plot that involves them having to escape from a house belonging to a Satanic cult. An offbeat but highly entertaining (and genuinely scary) late-silent era gem.

There have been many films of the “Sweeney Todd” story, but this one has the major advantage of starring the great character actor Tod Slaughter in the title role. Slaughter was a larger-than-life performer who’d learned his craft on the Victorian stage, and brought a mix of over-the-top theatrics and genuine menace to his roles in a number of British horror films during this period. This gruesome thriller features Slaughter in probably his most memorable performance, and remains an effective screen version of this classic story.

THE PHANTOM FIEND (1932, dir: Maurice Elvey)
Early talkie adaptation of the novel “The Lodger”, which had been famously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1926, and had also starred Ivor Novello in the title role.  While obviously overshadowed by the Hitchcock classic, this version of the story is still an effective and atmospheric thriller. The rather dialogue-heavy script (co-written by documentarian and film theorist Paul Rotha) is enlivened by some interesting touches from director Maurice Elvey, often working with the same kind of high-contrast visual style that he brought to his silent “Sherlock Holmes” series.  This is one of those public domain films that is readily available on budget DVD sets at Walmart as well as online, so it’s an easy one to see.

YOUNG AND INNOCENT (1937, dir: Alfred Hitchcock)
I’m not sure I can qualify any Hitchcock film as “underrated”, but this is an oddly overlooked film from his British period. Maybe that’s because it comes between the well-known masterworks of THE 39 STEPS and THE LADY VANISHES. Or perhaps it’s because this one is a relatively low-key film lacking the kind of really memorable set pieces that mark Hitchcock’s best-known work. Regardless, it’s a tight, suspenseful thriller that is every bit as good as the best films Hitchcock was making during this period of his career, and contains his favorite theme of the wrong man accused of a crime he did not commit. Expertly directed, tightly-plotted, and featuring one of the most audacious and impressive camera moves ever executed.

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