Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Thrillers - Patrick Cooper ""

Friday, October 3, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Patrick Cooper

Patrick Cooper managed to sneak his way into the Florida Films Critic Circle and he writes for Bloody Disgusting and the Orlando Weekly. Over at his personal site, New Granada Recreation Center, he writes about old crime flicks. He’s trying to break into crime fiction with his first short story being published at Spinetingler Magazine. You can bug him on Twitter and Letterboxd.
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QUICKSAND (1950)
 Here’s a mean little morality play about the pitfalls of blind greed and what happens when you cross Peter Lorre. 30-year-old Mickey Rooney plays Danny Brady, a disgruntled grease monkey who borrows $20 from the till with the intention of returning it on payday. This small theft sets Danny down a perilous spiral transforming him from mechanic to wanted man. Lorre plays a seedy arcade owner involved with Danny’s love interest, man-eater Jeanne Cagney (James’ lil sis). Danny essentially spends 90 minutes making everything worse, piling one crime on top of the next to save his skin and pay back the goddamn $20. In the end, he finds himself a sap consumed by the big, bad world where everyone is cutting throats to grasp the almighty dollar. While it’s not as stylish as more popular noir of the classic period, Irving Pichel’sQUICKSAND boasts a breakneck pace and top notch performances from some of Hollywood’s royalty.

HIT! (1973)
You wanna talk about versatility? Sidney J. Furiedirected IRON EAGLE and LADYBUGS. The man had range. With his hard-edged revenge thriller HIT!,he sends Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, and a ragtag group of violent misfits over to France to murder nine leaders of a drug ring. Billy Dee plays a federal agent who goes rogue after his daughter ODs on heroin. He assembles a team of specialists whose lives have been ruined by drug-related tragedies, most notably Richard Pryor, who plays a wisecracking construction worker that gets one truly awesome moment of retribution. The gang also features a hooker (Gwen Welles), a rogue cop (Warren J.Kemmerling), a sniper turned professor (Paul Hampton), and an elderly Jewish couple who also happen to be top-notch assassins.

The film see-saws between calm moments of preparation where we get to know the characters and bitchin’ moments of revenge worth a slow cap. HIT!was shot by legend John A. Alonzo (CHINATOWN) and features a score by jazz wizard Lalp Schifrin (BULLIT). Olive Films put out a barebones Blu-ray back in 2012, which is still available on their site.

THE HITCH-HIKER (1953)
I wouldn’t exactly call this one “underrated,” but it consistently fails to appear on “Best Noir” lists across the net. That’s criminal in my book.

The only noir of the classic period directed by a woman (Ida Lupino), HE HITCH-HIKER is a nightmarish joyride of murder and unrelenting tension that no big studio would come near. Produced independently, the film is based on the real-life murder spree of Billy Cook, who rampaged through the southwestern roads from ’50 to ’51. Two blue-collar blokes (noir staple Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) are taken hostage by a homicidal tramp played by perpetual villain William Talman. With his heavy forehead and reptilian eyes, Talman played baddies in great noirs like CRASHOUT and CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS. In THE HITCH-HIKER,Talman’s bug eyes make it so the two men can never tell if he’s sleeping or not, which makes for some wonderfully tense moments. The whole fun is a slow burning build up of anxiety until its inevitable climax.It’s available on Blu-ray from the fine folks at KinoLorber Classics.

PALMETTO (1998)
One of the best films to come out of the wave of ‘90s erotic thrillers is Volker Schlöndorff’s steamy, sweaty slice of Florida neo-noir, PALMETTOFlorida is the perfect playground for noir. Not the theme parks and retirement homes, no. It’s the sultry haze, the secrets buried in the Everglades, and the Spanish moss dangling on the edge of America that gives the Sunshine State its lush noir atmosphere. And PALMETTO is swollen with it.

Woody Harrelson, at his morose best, stars as ajournalist fresh outta the pen. Shortly after his release,he’s lured into a phony kidnapping plot by ElisabethShue. From there the plot has more twists and turns than grandma’s varicose veins. Like in a lot of noirs, Harrelson winds up with Shue’s claws stuck in him and he soon finds himself in way over his head. One of the most interesting aspects is that Harrelson is both the criminal and the journalist working for the police. Everybody delivers too: Harrelson, Shue, (a surprisingly good) Gina Gershon, Michael Rapaport,Chloë Sevigny, and TRUE DETECTIVE’s Tom Wright.It’s got some pacing issues, but ultimately PALMETTO is a deliciously gripping thriller drenched in atmosphere.

STREET LAW (1974)
Greatest. Opening credits. In history. Like (I can only imagine) being mugged actually feels, the opening of the great Enzo G. Castellari’s poliziotteschi STREET LAW knocks you on your ass. The first bit we’re treated to is a bunch of hoods trashing a house and making a bonfire of the furniture. Then we’re treated to a series of random crimes, with perfect freeze-frames as the credits appear over Guido and Maurizio De Angelis’ booming “Goodbye My Friends. Italy is under siege by lawless men in turtleneck sweaters!It’a wholly striking intro and I would go on and on about just the opening if the movie wasn’t equallyarresting.

Franco Nero stars as an engineer who’s taken hostage during a scary intense bank robbery. He’s beaten to hell and scared silly during the incident, but the hoods leave him alive as they escape. When the police drop the case, Nero takes the law into his own hands – amassing an arsenal and enlisting a street hood as his gateway to the underworld. Here Nero is the everyman, subverting the gun-slinging badass his image was based on at the time. It’s a violent, gritty, and fearless dose of cinematic meth propelled byCastellari’s assured hand. STREET LAW was released the same year as its American counterpart,DEATH WISH, and both share a perfectly chilling final shot that sends the message, “I’M TIRED OF (the police’s) GODDAMN INDIFFERENCE!!!”

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