Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Hal Horn ""

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Hal Horn

Hal Horn runs the irreplaceable Horn Section Blog ('reviewing the obscure, overlooked and sometimes the very old'). I HIGHLY recommend you read him regularly! In fact, read his recent coverage of GET CHRISTIE LOVE! right away!

Also read his previous Discoveries lists for Rupert Pupkin Speaks:

THE SEA WOLF (1941)Lengthier review forthcoming at the Section.  The 1904 Jack London classic has been filmed several times (including a 1993 version with Charles Bronson) but this Warner Brothers version remains the best.  With Edward G. Robinson starring as Wolf Larsen, John Garfield and Ida Lupino co-starring and Michael Curtiz directing.   Sound good?  It is, trust me.  

Being a big fan of Paul Muni, and especially of his performance in Howard Hawks’ SCARFACE, I should have been familiar with this one by now.  Particularly since it is ubiquitous due to its public domain status for the past forty years.  Still, for some reason I never got around to it until last year.  The last film from director Archie Mayo (A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA), ANGEL ON MY SHOULDER finds Muni playing a gangster again, only deceased this time.  Think HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, only with the Devil arranging for the trip back to Earth to do his bidding.   Claude Rains plays you know who.   A thoroughly charming fantasy, with the always great Muni getting a chance to play a lighter role for a change.  Also stars Anne Baxter.  I recommend the VCI DVD release, which has a wonderful added bonus: the 1951 Leon Errol short, “Lord Epping Returns”, in which Errol reprises his dual role from the MEXICAN SPITFIRE series.  

Never released on home video and only rarely shown on television, THE JOKER IS WILD is a biopic starring Frank Sinatra as Joe E. Lewis.   An up and coming singer and comedian in the 1920’s, Lewis was attacked and left for dead by “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn (whose name is changed for the film; other real names are used) after leaving his club for more money elsewhere.  After a grueling multi-year recovery from the attack (in which his tongue and larynx were sliced and his skull fractured), Lewis, who had to relearn speaking, resumed his career with comedy as the new focus of his act.  

Some liberties were taken, as always, but this might well be Frank Sinatra’s very best screen performance.  He doesn’t downplay Lewis’ personal fissures, and he absolutely nails the onstage persona (that fellow Rat Packer Dean Martin lifted from considerably).  Eddie Albert plays Lewis’ most loyal friend and pianist, while Mitzi Gaynor and Jeanne Crain play the women in Lewis’ life.  Peters out at the end, but highly recommended regardless.  Song “All the Way” was deservedly nominated for an Oscar.  Full review here: The HORN Section: Film Review: THE JOKER IS WILD (1957).

J.W. COOP (1971)
In the wake of his Academy Award for Best Actor (CHARLY), Cliff Robertson had the clout to direct, co-write and star in this drama.  Robertson is the titular rodeo cowboy, attempting to rejoin the circuit after losing a decade of his life and career to prison.   The rodeo circuit has changed a great deal since Coop was last part of it, and so has the rest of the outside world.   Still, Coop gamely tries to pick up the pieces and reestablish himself professionally.  Along the way he attracts much younger hippie chick Christina Ferrare and tries to reestablish contact with mother Geraldine Page.  Robertson is an actor’s director who elicits fine performances (including his own) but gets a little indulgent with zooming and the (intentionally) contemplative tone.  Co-written with Bud Shrake, J.W. COOP is a perfect double feature with Steve McQueen’s JUNIOR BONNER (released the following year).  It has turned up recently on Retroplex and Encore’s Westerns Channel.

The last feature film directed by Gordon Parks, Sr. (LEADBELLY, SHAFT) that I hadn’t seen.  In the wake of SERPICO, this is essentially the same tale, only with levity and based on the exploits of two real-life New York cops instead of one.  In this case, Robert Hantz (David Selby) and David Greenberg (Ron Liebman).   Our newcomers quickly establish themselves as eager beavers, even making arrests while they’re still cadets.  They are immediately (and correctly) determined to be threats to the status quo, and find little cooperation from those profiting from it--including, of course, some of their fellow policemen.  The D.A. isn’t crazy about them either.  The flair for humor is easily explained: Lorenzo Semple was responsible for the script.  Stunning Sheila Frazier plays a key informant and potential romantic interest.  Thoroughly entertaining, and one more reason to wish that Parks had directed more.  After butting heads with Paramount over the marketing of his followup film LEADBELLY, Parks passed on directing another feature.  THE SUPER COPS aired on TCM Underground last June.  It's well worth keeping an eye out for a repeat showing.

1 comment:

Hal said...

Many thanks for the kind words and the invite, Brian. As always, had a blast doing a list and reading all the other great lists.