Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Thrillers - Kristen Lopez ""

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Kristen Lopez

Kristen writes for a multitude of publications regarding classic film including ClassicFlix and Awards Circuit. Shes also the owner/found of Journeys in Classic Film. You can check out whats she watching on Letterboxd.
She is on twitter @Journeys_Film.

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Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958)
This Hitchcockian thriller that plays like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone follows a wealthy heiress (Anne Baxter) attempting to prove that a mysterious man (Richard Todd) isnt truly her brother as he claims. Michael Andersons story could easily have fallen into ridiculousness, and wouldnt work at all with modern technology, but instead the twists and turns of a fine script leave the audience questioning every scene. Is the opening we just saw - denouncing Todds character immediately - a red herring? Is Baxters heiress mentally unstable? Adding to the mystique is the fact that not everything is answered for us. Baxters character is proven to be something, but youre still unnerved as to whether her story is plausible. It sounds confusing but thats because Im trying to keep some of the mystery to myself. Warner Archive recently released this on DVD and its worth a viewing as proof that not every thriller had to be directed by the Master of Suspense.

Night Nurse (1931)
A classic pre-Code film starring Barbara Stanwyck as Lora Hart, a nurse trying to care for two neglected children. All the pre-Code tropes are present: booze, drugs, skimpy clothing, and, my personal favorite, pre-Code Clark Gable. Stanwyck certainly treads the dark waters of the genre, investing herself fully in a race against time to save two children. Clark Gable is the best, and most sexually enticing, villain out there. Hes even unafraid to slap the indomitable Stanwyck, and she doesnt suffer fools gladly. Theres almost a campy quality in how director William Wellman relishes what he can show, especially in the scenes where Stanwyck and Joan Blondell undress, but what elevates this about trashy pap is the breathless movement of the plot. By the end, youre left as emotionally drained as Lora.

The Bad Seed (1956)
Mervyn LeRoy turns high camp into art with his adaptation of Maxwell Andersons play, The Bad SeedThe Bad Seedis a film that gets better upon subsequent viewings, the camp and the drama increasing in equal measure. The film follows a picture-perfect suburban family, led by matriarch Nancy Kelly, and the realization by Kellys character that her daughter, Rhoda (Patty McCormack) might be a little less than an angel sent down from Heaven. Kellys Christine is a mouse trapped, torn between her love for her daughter and the fear of what her child has become. This duality becomes psychologically strengthened by the filmsnature vs. nurture discussions with regards to Christines parentage. The thrilling aspect stems from what Christine will do: Will she protect her daughter or find some way to stop her child from committing further crimes? The Bad Seed answers this with one of the more hilarious film endings - a near-literal hand of God moment - that negates everything laid out in the film but satisfied the censors of the day.

Cape Fear (1962)
I know the theme is underrated but I had to include easily my favorite thriller of all time: the original Cape Fear. If anything, I use the loophole that I know more people who remember the 1990s Martin Scorsese remake than its originator. This version follows the same layout as Scorseses take: Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) squares off with deranged psychopath Max Cady (Robert Mitchum). Where this film achieves legendary status is our two leads. Robert Mitchum turns Max Cady into a dog in heat, his sexuality dripping off him by the end. Its hard to fathom lusting after a character so evil, but Mitchum certainly steams up the screen despite the horrors hes inflicting on others. Conversely, Peck, the father of honesty as evidenced by his work in To Kill a Mockingbird, is the mild-mannered family man who must tap into his inner animal to protect his family. So much of Cape Fearssuspense is just waiting for one of these two men to proverbially blink first.

The Collector (1965)
The Collector has the distinction of being the best film discovery Ive made this year. Directed by legend William Wyler, it follows Freddie Clegg (Terence Stamp) as he stalks and kidnaps Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar). His intentions are pure, or as pure as a kidnapper can get: he just wants the joy of her company. Stamp is another charming villain, albeit without an ounce of overt violence in his being, and hes complimented by the beautiful Samantha Eggar. The odd thing is the suspense builds and builds throughout. Miranda is kidnapped within the first few minutes, and from there youre left wondering, like her, how shell escape this situation. The Collector is also rife with symbolism, specifically the concept of trapping butterflies for exhibition. Wyler was well-regarded for his sumptuous dramas, but this is a dank and frightening thriller with real-world implications.

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