Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Spenser Hoyt ""

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Spenser Hoyt

Hello, my name is Spenser Hoyt. I live in Seattle and work at the public library. I also serve on the board of directors of the Grand Illusion Cinema and am still involved with Scarecrow Video. I like to watch movies and eat toast. You can follow me on twitter (though I haven’t tweeted much lately – the handle is @hoytoid) and letterboxd where I failed with my “movie a day in 2014” vow and I’m already behind in 2015.

Foreign Correspondent (1940) - Alfred Hitchcock
More than once last year I watched a film I was pretty sure I had seen but then, upon viewing, figured out I was wrong. Damn wrong. Foreign Correspondent was one such example though I’m sure I’ve seen excerpts. Hitchcock’s second American film is mostly set in Europe on the verge of WWII. Joel McCrea plays a typical “Joel McCrea” type, this time he’s an American reporter who attempts to bust some secret agents, but the plot mostly exists to connect together several stunning set pieces that still impress today.

Waterloo Bridge (1931) - James Whale
Here’s another one that I had “viewing assumptions” about but I must have been thinking of the better-known 40s version with Vivien Leigh. This pre-code drama seems considerably more modern and fresh than the later adaptation. Some of this has to do with the Hays Code but much of the film’s charm comes from its two leads (Mae Clarke in particular) and Whale’s sympathetic direction. Miss Clarke had a long career in showbiz but here she exudes a virtually unmatched earthy charm and radiant sex appeal.

Hobson’s Choice (1954) - David Lean
I’ll readily admit I suffer from David Lean E-P-I-C burnout but that has foolishly made me overlook some of his earlier, simpler films like this little gem. Charles Laughton displays graceful big man mobility that is reminiscent of Oliver Hardy and John Mills offers up an atypical John Mills performance. My only real complaint is the use of “funny” music to signify “funny” scenes. There are many fine quotes but my favorite line is easily, “You’re a dunderheaded lump of obstinacy.”
A Southern Yankee (1948) - Edward Sedgwick
Much of 2014 was spent catching up with the filmography of Red Skelton. He’s one of those guys who I thought I knew all about but, in reality, I hadn’t seen many of his films. Out of the 8 or so I watched this one really stood out. At the time Red was MGM’s version of Bob Hope with a similar wise-cracking disposition. While A Southern Yankee was typical Skelton it also serves as a throwback to silent comedy. Buster Keaton supplied some of the picture’s most inspired gags and the director got his start in silents.

The Mercenary (1968) - Sergio Corbucci
I was pretty darn sure I’d seen all of Corbucci’s late sixties westerns but dunderheaded me somehow missed this cracking picture. Typically, “the other Sergio” throws in lots of politics and oddball characters. It’s set during the Mexican revolution, there’s a Morricone score, Tony Musante disguises himself as a rodeo clown and Jack Palance plays a tough guy named Curly. While it shares a lot of similarities with Corbucci’s excellent Companeros, this film should not be overlooked.

Kennel Murder Case (1933) - Michael Curtiz
Swell vintage detective film with some surprisingly fluid camerawork and typically dependable direction from Michael Curtiz. It stars the great William Powell as Philo Vance. This was the fourth time Powell portrayed Vance but I haven’t seen any of the other films. Kennel Murder Case has all the ingredients found in the best of this genre and it certainly satisfies.

Raw Deal (1986) - John Irvin
Somehow I missed this Schwarzenegger vehicle the first time around. Raw Deal was sandwiched between two of Arnold’s best (Commando and Predator) but I’m still not sure why I had this gaping void in my viewing history. It doesn’t quite match up with those other two films- the zingers aren't particularly sharp ("magic? magnet!") and there are too many characters to keep track of (but that's okay cuz most of them get shot). As a bonus Darren McGavin gets to say "fuck justice." So I liked it quite a bit.

My Reputation (1946) - Curtis Bernhardt
You probably already know this but James Wong Howe is a freakin' artist of the highest degree. Barbara Stanwyck ain't no slouch either. This picture is a Sirk-ish melodrama about a widow trying to keep her dignity and also move on with her life. Gossipy women and lecherous men almost derail Stanwyck’s attempt to begin a romance with a genuinely nice guy played by George Brent.

The Guardsman (1931) - Sidney Franklin
Amusing '30s fun. It's an adaptation of a play and the leads are better known for their stage work. As a matter of fact this movie comes across as a straight up production of the play captured on celluloid without much of any cinematic enhancements. Real life spouses Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne play a husband and wife acting team. Suspecting that the actress may be unfaithful the actor goes undercover as a Russian guardsman and attempts to woo his wife. The film has a nicely offbeat sense of humor and pacing plus Zasu Pitts and Roland Young show up in supporting roles which is always a bonus in my book.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931) - Rouben Mamoulian
I was pretty sure I'd seen this before but I was WRONG AGAIN! While the story is familiar to all of us this adaptation features some stunning cinematography and Fredric March certainly deserves his oscar. It also teams March with the lovely Miriam Hopkins and this film would make an interesting double bill with Design For Living which reunited the pair two years later.

Honorable Mention:
Death Screams (1982) - David Nelson
Directed by Ozzie and Harriet’s other son this cheapie reminded me how much I enjoy 80s slasher films and how I am strangely fascinated by the career of Worth Keeter.

Alabama’s Ghost (1973) - Fredric Hobbs
I waited a while to see this surreal smorgasbord from singular oddball outsider Fredric Hobbs.

Berlin Express (1948) - Jacques Tourneur
The parts were much better than the whole and it wasn’t quite as good as it should be. Certainly worthy of a viewing or two.

Mrs. O’Malley & Mr. Malone (1950) - Norman Taurog
This was potentially the first film in a series starring Marjorie Main and James Whitmore. I’m a big fan of Ms. Main and thoroughly enjoyed this modest MGM time filler.

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