Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Thrillers - Retroclassics ""

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Retroclassics

Retroclassic (@retroclassics1 on Twitter and pinterest/retroclassic/ on Pinterest) is a small and unpretentious collective of classic tv and film connoisseurs. We research, collect, promote and write about classic tv and film with a particular fondness for silents; pre-code Hollywood; B-movies; film noir; serials; Hollywood’s Golden Era; French New Wave and Italian Neorealism. Please feel free to follow us on Twitter, we follow back!
A very special thank you to Rupert Pupkin for allowing us to contribute to his wonderfully informative and useful blog, Rupert Pupkin Speaks!
1. Without Warning! - 1952 is a film noir shot on location in Los Angeles California. Equal parts police procedural (similar to tv's Dragnet) and thriller, representing a very early take on the psychology of a serial killer – something quite new to a 1950s audience. This United Artist's release marked the directorial debut of Arnold Laven ("Down Three Dark Streets"; "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue") who later co-founded Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions (producers of classic tv westerns The Rifleman and The Big Valley). Adam Williams is the lead and his role precedes the portrayal of a car bomber in The Big Heat and Valerian in North by Northwest. Williams is quite convincing as Carl Martin, San Fernando Valley gardener by day, serial killer by night. For Los Angeles history buffs there are some wonderful location footage of the historic Union Station; the former Chavez Ravine neighborhood; new sections of Hollywood Freeway stretching from San Fernando Valley to downtown LA prior to its grand opening and the historic Central Produce Market. DVD released in 2005 by Dark Sky Films, a subsidiary of MPI Media Group. For many years the film was considered lost and unavailable for viewings, although by the early 2000s it was included in some film noir movie festivals.

2. The Asphalt Jungle - 1950 is a hardboiled film noir and early heist/caper film by John Huston. The outstanding cast includes Sterling Hayden (“Manhandled”; “Crime Wave”; “Naked Alibi”) and a very underrated actor in our opinion; John McIntyre (“Naked City”); Jean Hagen (“Side Street”; “The Big Knife”); Louis Calhern; James Whitmore (“Them!”; “Crime In the Streets”); Sam Jaffe (“Rope of Sand”; “Under The Gun”) and Marilyn Monroe’s screen debut in a minor but absolutely unforgettable performance. While the MGM $1.2M big budget release garnered four Academy Award nominations it ultimately did not earn a single Oscar. In fact, we include it on the Underrated Thrillers list primarily due to Sterling Hayden’s outstanding but very underrated lead performance in addition to the unique perspective of the story telling with its emphasis on the point of view of the criminal and its reliance on their deep multi-layered character studies each with his own vice and the ironic twists of fate in store for all of them along the way. This A-movie production more closely resembles a B-movie noir and was based on a novel by W.R. Burnett, who also wrote a novel that formed the basis of the 1930s gangster film, “Little Caesar”.

3. Murder by Contract - 1958 is a film noir by Irving Lerner (“Edge of Fury”; “City of Fear”). Ben Maddow (“The Asphalt Jungle”) did some uncredited work on the film. The Columbia Pictures release was shot in seven days in Los Angeles California. It depicts the atypical and existential hit man, Claude (played by Vince Edwards – tv’s “Ben Casey”) who as a disaffected businessman becomes a contract killer but never carries a gun! For fans of Jean-Luc Godard and the “new wave” of French cinema, this film borrows heavily from those filmmakers both in style and approach. In fact, Martin Scorsese has cited this film as the film that has influenced him the most. Be sure to catch the comparisons during the “waiting for the phone call” scenes where Claude spends weeks in his hotel room and finds creative ways to keep himself occupied. Scorsese would create a similar scene in Taxi Driver. Lucien Ballard (“The Killing”; “A Kiss Before Dying”) does some excellent cinematography work with a sparse and economical budget. Columbia Pictures included this film in their Film Noir Classics Vol. 1 release from 2009 which also includes “The Big Heat”; “The Lineup”; “The Sniper” and 5 Against the House”, it’s a fantastic set of films for any crime/thriller/noir fan.

4. The Conversation – 1974 is a conspiracy thriller and character study of Harry Caul, a lonely and detached electronic surveillance expert “bugger” written, produced and directed by Frances Ford Coppola and influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966). While it was nominated for three Academy Awards it lost to another Coppola film, The Godfather Part II. The film depicts the moral dilemma and paranoia of the bugger, played by Gene Hackman. The uncanny timeliness and use of the very same surveillance equipment that members of the Nixon Administration used to spy on political opponents during the Watergate scandal are purely coincidental according to Coppola. The film was shot on location in San Francisco California and features a recently opened Embarcadero Center; the defunct City of Paris department store and Union Square along with the massive full city long block, Jack Tar Hotel, at Geary and Van Ness which was built in 1960 and demolished in 2013. John Cazale (“The Godfather Parts I & II”; “Dog Day Afternoon”) plays Caul’s colleague, Stan. Also starring Harrison Ford; Cindy Williams and Robert Duvall. This is an exceptional psychological thriller that, while successful upon release, seems to have fallen off the radar in recent years and deserves another viewing.
5. Experiment in Terror - 1962 is a suspense-thriller about a killer who uses a campaign of terror to force a bank teller to steal $100,000 for him and is directed by Blake Edwards and released by Columbia Pictures. The film stars Glenn Ford as John “Rip” Ripley, an FBI agent or “G-Man”; Lee Remick as Kelly Sherwood, the bank teller; Ross Martin (tv’s “The Wild Wild West) and Stefanie Powers (tv’s “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.” and “The Interns”) as Toby Sherwood, Kelly’s younger sister. With a score by Henry Mancini, who had paired with Edwards for the Peter Gunn tv series in the late 1950s, the soundtrack sets the tone early on and intensifies and sustains the mood throughout. Ross Martin is particularly effective and believable as the asthmatic psychotic killer, Garland “Red” Lynch. The on-location filming in and around San Francisco California includes the Crocker-Anglo Bank (presently Wells Fargo Bank) atOne Montgomery St.; Fisherman’s Wharf; North Beach including great scenes inside the Roaring 20’s nightclub; the Richmond District neighborhood including George Washington High School; Twin Peaks (Sherwood residence is located at 100 St. Germaine St.) and the soon-to-be demolished Candlestick Park with some actual baseball game footage between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers (with Vin Scully announcing!). Memorable line: Kelly Sherwood tells Red Lynch “I’ll scream and this is a dead end street” with Red replying “You won’t scream and I know what kind of a street this is!”

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