Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Laura G ""

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Laura G

Laura G. runs the lovely blog Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, which is a must for any classic film fans!
She's become one of my most regular and favorite list contributors to this site. I am very grateful for her continued willingness to indulge me with lists of underrated Thrillers, Mysteries, Westerns, and Action/Adventure films. Her recommendations are always interesting and have often led me to some of my favorite recent discoveries. Check out her discoveries list from last year and you'll notice a few that made my newest list!
She can be found on Twitter here:
THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH (Henry King, 1926) - I'm slowly warming up to silent movies, and this marvelous film starring Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, and Vilma Banky is one of the reasons why.  An absolute treat, a visual masterpiece with scene after scene of stunning beauty; I felt at times as though I were watching a series of gorgeous paintings, with striking amber, blue, and red tints.  The story is also quite satisfying, a well-told romance with an exciting flood sequence.  On DVD from the Warner Archive.

THE DESERT SONG (Robert Florey, 1943) - I love musicals yet had never seen THE DESERT SONG, which was recently freed from rights issues and released in a gorgeous print by the Warner Archive.  The beautifully staged moment where the mysterious desert leader (Dennis Morgan) sings out and his army comes riding over the sand dunes was such a thrill that my eyes got a bit misty.  My only complaint: It needed even more music!  Rich Technicolor photography by Bert Glennon. On DVD from the Warner Archive.

HOMECOMING (Mervyn LeRoy, 1948) - This MGM WWII drama was a very nice surprise, a sensitive, mature drama about wartime trauma and separations.  Clark Gable gives a fine performance as a self-centered doctor serving on the front lines who is prodded out of his shell by a widowed nurse (Lana Turner).  The lonely doctor grows closer to the nurse than he should, as he has a loving wife (Anne Baxter) waiting for him back home.  At war's end the doctor and his wife must become reacquainted after years of separation and very different life experiences.  On DVD from the Warner Archive.

HARDLY A CRIMINAL (APENAS UN DELINCUENTE) (Hugo Fregonese, 1949) - Hugo Fregonese directed one of my favorite Westerns, Joel McCrea's SADDLE TRAMP (1950), which inspired me to take the plunge and try HARDLY A CRIMINAL, an Argentinian film Fregonese made the previous year.  When I caught it at this year's Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood, I was struck by how much it felt like an American film noir.  The only cast member I knew was Fregonese's wife, Faith Domergue, who has a great cameo, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would like to try more foreign films of this type.

TOO LATE FOR TEARS (Byron Haskin, 1949) - Another discovery thanks to Noir City, this gem about an unspeakably greedy woman (Lizabeth Scott) has terrific dialogue by Roy Huggins (MAVERICK, ROCKFORD FILES), which really sings thanks to fantastic delivery by the one and only Dan Duryea.  A great ride with a lot of laughs, suspense, and an interesting L.A. setting.  Try to see it in the restored version rather than an awful P.D. print.  Hopefully there will be a restored DVD at some point!

WINCHESTER '73 (Anthony Mann, 1950) - One of the highlights of the year for me was UCLA's Anthony Mann retrospective, where I saw 16 films, nine of which were new to me.  Among the titles I saw for the first time was WINCHESTER '73, one of my very favorite movies of the year.  James Stewart leads a fantastic cast, with memorable characters played by Stephen McNally and Millard Mitchell; just when you think the movie couldn't get any better, in jumps Dan Duryea in one of the really great character introductions ever.  A superior screenplay by Borden Chase and Robert L. Richards plus stunning vistas filmed by William H. Daniels.  They don't come any better.  On DVD from Universal.

THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (Don Siegel, 1952) - This film was supremely enjoyable simply as a "darn good Western," an example of the '50s Technicolor Universal Western at its most entertaining.  Stephen McNally plays a sheriff who decides the best way to avoid trouble with a fast-drawing young gambler (Audie Murphy) is to hire him on as deputy.  The sheriff mentors the younger man, yet it's the "kid" who is often the wiser man of the pair.  Murphy shows his continuing development into a fine actor with some great timing and line readings.  Costarring Susan Cabot and Faith Domergue; McNally and Domergue each appear in two titles on this year's Discoveries list.  On DVD from Universal.

MAN BAIT (Terence Fisher, 1952) - This was the year I fell in love with '50s British-made crime films with American stars, many of which were coproductions of two UK and U.S. companies, Hammer and Lippert.  MAN BAIT is a great example, with George Brent and Marguerite Chapman playing characters who remained in London after the war to run a cozy bookshop.  Diana Dors plays a petulant employee who involves Brent in murder.  There are many more fun titles along these lines starring the likes of Zachary Scott, Dan Duryea, Cesar Romero, and Dane Clark.  On DVD from VCI.

THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER (Rudolph Mate, 1953) - Tyrone Power is my favorite actor and I'd especially wanted to see this one for years; it did not disappoint.  A richly detailed film with Power as an honorable gambler who falls in love with chilly Angelique (Piper Laurie) and waits a very long time for her to warm up; it builds to a moving, satisfying conclusion.  It has a great cast including John McIntire and Julie Adams, spectacular costumes by Bill Thomas, and lovely Technicolor photography by Irving Glassberg. On DVD from the Universal Vault Collection.

DAWN AT SOCORRO (George Sherman, 1954) - One of the best Westerns seen this year, a moody, atmospheric spin on Doc Holliday (Rory Calhoun) and Wyatt Earp (James Millican).  The opening OK Corral sequence is just the start of the action in George Zuckerman's excellent screenplay.  Piper Laurie costars as a young woman running out of survival options after being tossed out by her father.  On DVD from the TCM Vault Collection.
RIFIFI (DU RIFIFI CHEZ LES HOMMES) (Jules Dassin, 1955) - This French heist film was somewhat darker than I tend to like, but the UCLA screening I attended was a real "wow" experience which reeled me in and didn't let go, completely mesmerizing until the very last shot.  Many memorable highlights, whether it's Magali Noel's performance of the title song, the wordless extended burglary sequence, or the final surreal drive by Jean Servais through the streets of Paris.  A must-see. On Blu-ray from Criterion.

THE STORM RIDER (Edward Bernds, 1957) - THE STORM RIDER is one of those entertaining discoveries which encourages me to keep trying out the more obscure titles available to stream at Netflix or Amazon Prime.  Scott Brady is excellent as a gunfighter who doesn't dare sleep in his own bed, where he'll be vulnerable to attack.  He helps a group of struggling ranchers, including a fiery widow (Mala Powers) who takes a shine to the stranger, unaware he killed her husband.  Bill Williams costars as the sheriff in love with the widow.  It may be a low-budget movie, but it has a tight, well-plotted script, good performances which bring out shadings beyond the script, and a notably good score by Les Baxter.
More great discoveries from this year which there's not room to discuss here: WHY WORRY? (1923), STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND (1935), PERSONS IN HIDING (1939), HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946), STAGE STRUCK (1948), ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949), STARS IN MY CROWN (1950), FORCE OF ARMS (1951), THE FAR COUNTRY (1954), and GUNSMOKE IN TUCSON (1958).


Robert M. Lindsey said...

Thanks Laura. I looked for Too Late for Tears on Netflix and it came up with Film Noir Collection: Killer Bait which looks like it might be the same movie. Same year, director, stars. "A bickering married couple finds a bag of money that's been dropped in the back seat of their car. The upstanding husband (Arthur Kennedy) wants to turn the illicit cash in to the authorities, but his money-hungry wife (Lizabeth Scott) has a different idea: She regards the loot as their personal jackpot. Dan Duryea is great as the "heavy" in this atmospheric noir directed by Byron Haskin."

john k said...

Terrific choices Laura,with some of my favourites in the list as well,plus
more titles to track down.
Don't know why TOO LATE FOR TEARS has eluded me for so long but I am
going to sort that out right away.
Really cannot understand why WINCHESTER'73 has so far been denied a Blu-Ray
release.those cats at Universal think we are in more need of a Blu-Ray edition
of KING KONG's a funny old World!

Laura said...

Hi Robert!

Yes, the movie you describe is definitely TOO LATE FOR TEARS. It's true that Duryea is great! :) The Netflix copy is probably a poor public domain print, unfortunately. Let's hope for a great-looking DVD release in the future!

Thanks so much, John! Hope you'll enjoy tracking down the unseen titles. Much great viewing here!

Best wishes,

Laura said...

Brian, thanks again for your very kind words in the intro to this post. I'm especially delighted that you have enjoyed some of my recommendations so much, and I hope some of your readers will check them out and enjoy them with your added endorsement! :)

Thanks once more for giving me the platform to share some of my favorites with your readers!

Best wishes,

Blake Lucas said...

Great list!

I've seen most of them but have a few to look forward to still. HARDLY A CRIMINAL fell on a night that I simply couldn't make--that really hurt and I only hope I get another chance.

You know how much I love such movies as DAWN AT SOCORRO and THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER, but what really knocked me out here was seeing you come over to silents the way you did with the very beautiful THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH.

Some of the runner-up choices are ones I wouldn't have minded seeing on the main list, especially FORCE OF ARMS. But in any event, I remember your glowing review of that as of the others I have just mentioned.

Laura said...

Thanks so much for your feedback, Blake! I would happily see HARDLY A CRIMINAL again and hope we'll each have a chance one day in the future!

I am really glad that I have so enjoyed several silent movies in the last couple of years, also including Harold Lloyd films and SUNRISE. Bit by bit I'm easing into what is for me a whole new world of cinema!

It was really hard making that final list and FORCE OF ARMS could easily have been on it! All of the movies in both sections of my post I will definitely be revisiting in the years to come, as once was not nearly enough!

Best wishes,

Jerry E said...

A fine list of choices, Laura!

Many of the films there are films I like a whole lot too - the two Anthony Mann/James Stewarts would be at the top of the list for me and I am so glad you found these two classic westerns for the first time in 2014.

Everything you have said about "THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH" makes me want to catch it. Silents are rather "off my radar" - maybe they shouldn't be!!

Laura said...

Thanks so much, Jerry! Those Mann-Stewart films will definitely get repeat play from me.

I see that BARBARA WORTH is also on the new Favorite Discoveries list of Nora, the Nitrate Diva -- definitely one to check out and you're all the more likely to enjoy it since it's a Western! :)

Best wishes,