Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite film Discoveries of 2014 - Stephen Drangula ""

Monday, January 5, 2015

Favorite film Discoveries of 2014 - Stephen Drangula

Stephen Drangula, whenever he bothers to pull himself away from a black-and-white movie, makes jokes on Twitter as @Drangula.

Check out the Underrated Comedies list he did for RPS a while back:

2014 marks my continued willingness to watch movies on my Kindle Fire or my desktop computer. My younger self, who haunted the Chicago revival theaters several times a week, would have been horrified. Then again, the movies I chose to watch in 2014 tended to fit a small screen well enough. I promise myself I won’t watch The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Rashomon (1950) or Black Orpheus (1959) for the first time on YouTube. For those, I’m holding out for a revival showing, or at least a bigger TV.

Here is a selection of discoveries I made this year:

THE KID FROM BROKEN GUN (1952)—On Twitter, I met the niece of Ed Earl Repp (1901­-1979), a pulp novelist and B­movie screenwriter. And that was a good enough excuse to check out some of Repp’s movies. This one, a B­western marking the last appearance of a bandana­masked hero named The Durango Kid (Charles Starrett), was the most memorable for its unusual (and confusing) flashback structure. Durango sets out to help the title character, an ex­prizefighter named Jack Mahoney (Jock Mahoney), who is falsely accused of murder. Jack’s lawyer is a woman (Angela Stevens), who is the target of sexist prejudice, though any hopes the film will make a feminist statement are dashed when she unconvincingly proves duplicitous.
The flashbacks reveal the true story behind the murder, but the device was born of cheapness, not creativity. They are made of stock footage from an earlier Durango Kid opus called The Fighting Frontiersman (1946), for which Repp got sole writing credit. Barry Shipman gets co­writing credit for this one, and is billed ahead of Repp. My guess is that Shipman wrote everything unique to this movie and that Repp gets credit simply because so much of the movie he did write ends up in this one. Durango’s comic sidekick, Smiley Burnette, has mainly irrelevant comic antics that include disguising himself as a washerwoman; he also sings “It’s the Law” while dressed as various male and female characters, during a superfluous dream sequence. Even with a lot of potentially static courtroom scenes, The Kid from Broken Gun manages to be fast, silly and slightly weird. Most of the action comes from Repp’s Fighting Frontiersman, but the odd yoking of new and old footage sets this one apart.

CRIMINALLY INSANE (1975)—This schlock­horror flick’s alternate title, Crazy Fat Ethel, gives you a better idea of its premise: a psychopath (Priscilla Alden) kills various people who stand in the way of her gluttony—including a grandmother who insists she diet and a delivery boy who demands she pay for her groceries. She hides the bodies in a spare room, but trouble is in the air when the bodies begin to stink. Written and directed incompetently by Nick Millard, this depressing fare includes a perfectly idiotic (and disgusting) punchline that, in a better­written black comedy, would have provided the meat of the story. Despite its fans, and despite some laughable moments, this gory cult favorite is not even bad enough to be good. It goes on this list simply because I’ll never forget it.

FATHER BROWN (1954)—From the repulsive to the “thoroughly civilized” (Leslie Halliwell), we come to G.K. Chesterton’s quietly eccentric detective­priest, given vivid life by the great Alec Guinness, who hopes to catch and reform a master thief named Flambeau (played dextrously by Peter Finch). Wit, intelligence and sheer decency abound in this enjoyable mystery, known as The Detective in the U.S., directed by Robert Hamer from a screenplay by Thelma Moss.

THE SIN OF NORA MORAN (1933)—Zita Johann (the object of Boris Karloff’s obsession in The Mummy) stars as the scandal­ridden title character of this pre­Code melodrama directed by Phil Goldstone. The leaden story of murder and self­sacrifice is of little interest, but its vibrant presentation, filled with flashbacks, theatrical effects and inventive photography, make this low­budgeter at least as noteworthy as the famously racy poster that advertised it.

IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963)—Now, this famous slapstick epic, from producer and director Stanley Kramer, I watched on a big TV, via a beautiful Blu­ray transfer by the always excellent Criterion. Back in the bad old VHS days, I refused to watch this wide­screen farce panned­and­scanned: I’m glad I waited for modern technology and an invitation from a good friend (and huge fan of the movie) to watch it at his house. Chock­filled with comedy stars in big and small roles—with enough room for Spencer Tracy in the crucial role of a wily police detective—the movie, about a greedy group of strangers who happen to learn of a hidden stash of stolen money, proved to be as hilarious and over­the­top as its reputation promised.

BE MY KING (1928)—And this silent comedy short, starring the acrobatic slapstick comedian Lupino Lane, I watched on an outdoor screen; it was part of a motley collection of splendid curiosities presented by the archivist Eric Grayson and hosted by the sculptor and movie fan Todd Bracik at his word­of­mouth Indianapolis event called The Backyard Scrapyard. Lane and his similarly loose­limbed brother Wallace play castaways on a desert island who fall into the clutches of cannibals. No story, no heart, but plenty of crazy gags, including a scene where the two Lanes, in order to avoid marrying an ugly native, fight to be the one who is beheaded instead.
THE PROUD REBEL (1958)—Alan Ladd is an ex­Confederate soldier who takes a job at widow Olivia de Havilland’s farm while desperately attempting to find a doctor who can cure his mute son (played by Ladd’s real­life son, David). Meanwhile, villainous Dean Jagger and his two vile sons (including the young Harry Dean Stanton) hope to drive de Havilland off her land. Still lovely, this melodrama, with its echoes of Shane (1953), was not well­served by a cloudy YouTube video; but once I started watching, I couldn’t stop.

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