Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Thrillers - Eric J. Lawrence ""

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Eric J. Lawrence

Eric J. Lawrence is the Music Librarian over at KCRW(a wonderful radio station) and I have been a fan of his radio show there for more than 10 years now. It is truly my favorite radio program out there. Quite an eclectic mix of new and old songs, it's described on KCRW's site as thus:
"A musical line-up of criminally overlooked tunes, hidden gems, guilty pleasures and standout selections from the latest releases... from Jacques Brel to Mott the Hoople to Gary Numan to the Fall, and everything in between. Like playing poker with dogs -- only better."
I can't really recommend the show higher than a decade of listenership can I? Check it out!

Eric is also an adventurous cinephile whose tastes I respect very much. In fact, it was he who first turned me onto THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS which has slowly become one of my very favorite films.
For more cool film recommendations, check out his 'Film Discoveries' lists for 2011, 2012 & 2013 below:

Find him on Twitter at @ericjlawrence:
Murders in the Zoo (A. Edward Sutherland, 1933)
The Pre-Code Thriller. As part of Paramount’s attempt to get in on the pre-code horror boom of the early ‘30s, this short but sweet programmer is a showcase for Lionel Atwill to flex his villainy. Fresh from such films as Doctor X, The Vampire Bat & Mystery of the Wax Museum, Atwill here plays an insanely jealous wild-game hunter who uses the animals he collects for the zoo as his murder weapons. If death by lion, alligator, boa constrictor or poisonous snake weren’t grim enough, he even sews his first victim’s mouth shut! On the side of the angels is a young Randolph Scott, in one of his urbane, non-western roles. Director Sutherland show no particular skill at creating suspense – he later became better known as a comedic director, having regularly worked with W.C. Fields, although here Charlie Ruggles’ top-billed comic relief as a drunken PR man merely annoys. But the uniqueness of the setting, along with Atwill’s tormented performance and a genuine sense of the macabre; make this a worthy second-tier Golden Age thriller.
Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar) (Steve Sekely, 1948)
The Noir Thriller. Paul Henreid produced & starred in this low-budget crime drama for Eagle-Lion Films, best known for the Anthony Mann directed/John Alton shot noir classics T-Men and Raw Deal, and Alton’s distinctive camera work is on display here as well. Those who know Henreid from his romantic roles in Casablanca and Now, Voyager may be surprised at his playing a murderous criminal here, but he acquits himself just fine. So long as you can accept some pretty ludicrous plot points (Henreid’s character studied psychoanalysis in medical school before he dropped out to become a robber of casinos, and while on the run after a botched robbery he happens to run into an actual psychoanalyst WHO LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE HIM?!?! (it is, in fact, a dual role for Henreid)) and multiple twists worthy of a month’s worth of episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” the viewer can easily get caught up in how Henreid just might get away with it. Joan Bennett plays (and looks) great as the woman buffeted by fate, with a nicely sardonic world-weary attitude throughout. You know the ending is bound to be a bummer for somebody (and maybe everybody) in the movie, but it certainly isn’t a bummer for the noir fan.

No Way to Treat a Lady (Jack Smight, 1968)
The Comedic Thriller. George Segal plays a henpecked NYPD cop constantly nagged by his very Jewish mother. Rod Steiger plays a Broadway impresario with a mother complex, which drives him to become a serial killer of older women who remind him of his mother. Their worlds collide over Segal’s new free-wheeling girlfriend, played by Lee Remick, who becomes targeted by the killer. This black comedy (based on a book by beloved novelist & screenwriter William Goldman) gets most of its chuckles from Steiger’s hammy disguises which he uses to ingratiate himself to his victims before he strangles the life from them, as well as Segal’s hangdog attempts at solving the crimes. The two strike up a relationship via the phone as the murderer begins to taunt the cops. There aren’t too many surprises throughout the film & the end is a little too pat, but the journey getting there is fun, watching some talented actors play it broad. Bonus points for cameo roles for TV favorites Doris Roberts (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) & David Doyle (“Charlie’s Angels”).

The Devil Rides Out (Terrence Fisher, 1968)
The Horror Thriller. Released towards the end of Hammer’s heyday and helmed by their most reliable director, The Devil Rides Out straddles between the studio’s psychological thrillers and their flat-out horror titles. Yes, supernatural things happen, including an appearance from the Devil himself during the centerpiece black mass. But they are countered with dead-serious aplomb and an absence of hand-wringing by the heroes, including Christopher Lee in a rare good guy role. He still manages to be kind of creepy, which lends a certain welcome ambiguity to the first part of the film. If you happen to hear it, I warn you that Lee’s DVD commentary is a bit condescending, but he’s correct in his belief that a remake would be a great idea, given the current state of special effects. Still, this version maintains an intensity and frisson that marks the best thrillers.

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (aka Doppelganger) (Robert Parrish, 1969)
The Sci-Fi Thriller. Written & produced by the “Thunderbirds”/Supermarionation couple of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson as their first live-action venture, this film does feature some impressive models, not to mention a heavy-handed script, typical of their kids shows. But the presence of such robust British actors as Ian Hendry, Patrick Wymark and Herbert Lom (the Pink Panther series) in a weird cameo, plus steely-eyed Roy Thinnes (of “The Invaders” fame) as the American astronaut who takes the titular journey, lend a solidity & believability to an otherwise kooky premise. Adult problems abound, from infertility & spousal abuse to espionage & government funding for space programs, and although deliberately paced, the final act certainly qualifies as thrilling, with some alarming implications in its downbeat conclusion. Overlooked in the wake of Kubrick’s visionary 2001: A Space Odyssey, this film is worth revisiting.

The Hunting Party (Don Medford, 1971)
The Western Thriller. TV veteran Don Medford out-Peckinpahs Peckinpah in this relentless revenge Western. Gene Hackman plays a sadistic rancher who plans a trip with his buddies of whoring and hunting using the latest in long-distance rifle technology. In the meantime, his oft-abused wife (played by a young Candice Bergen) is kidnapped by a desperado (Oliver Reed), who mistakes her for a school teacher (he wants to learn how to read). Thus begins a cat & mouse chase that is as full of carnage as any Death Wish film. Some familiar faces get caught up in the mayhem, including Mitchell Ryan, Simon Oakland & Peckinpah favorite L.Q. Jones. Despite some nice wide-open Western scenery, the ability for the hunters to stalk their human prey at long range makes things quite claustrophobic. Rapes, stabbings, massive bullet wounds, and a general disregard for one’s fellow man add up to one dark, sweaty, misanthropic ride.

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