Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Matt Barry ""

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Matt Barry

Matt Barry is a New York City-based writer, filmmaker and all-around cinephile. His favorite genres are classic comedies and film noir. You can read more of his thoughts on film at his blog, The Art and Culture of Movies (

Also, he contributed lists to my Underrated Action/Adventure and my Underrated Thrillers series which I must recommend you have a look at:

A tough, colorful pre-Code comedy-drama starring Wallace Beery and George Raft as rival saloon owners in 1890s New York. Directed by Raoul Walsh with real flourish and an uncanny sense of period detail.

Fun pre-Code crime drama from Warner Bros., notable as the only film to star both Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney. Robinson plays a small-town gambler who heads to the big city and works his way up to the top of a gambling racket, assisted by Cagney as a young hood.

Although William Powell famously portrayed S.S. Van Dine's gentleman sleuth Philo Vance in four films, it is only the final one (THE KENNEL MURDER CASE, produced by Warner Bros.) that is most frequently seen today. The first three, made for Paramount, helped shape Powell's screen image as a star. THE GREENE MURDER CASE is probably the best of the Paramount Powell-Vance series, filled with intriguing characters, plot twists, and some interesting cinematography.

Bill Murray stars as Hunter S. Thompson in this often funny if uneven comedy that follows the Gonzo journalist through a series of zany and drug-fueled episodes. Murray as Thompson is inspired casting, but Peter Boyle, as his activist lawyer, steals the show with his memorable performance.

Errol Flynn, in a good late-career performance, stars in this effective thriller set in pre-Castro Cuba. Features good location photography and a well-staged climactic chase at Morro Castle.

An infamous pre-Code musical/sci-fi/comedy/romance that I'd heard much about but hadn't seen till this past year. Lavishly produced by Fox, it really has to be seen to be believed. The production design, by Stephen Goosson and Ralph Hammeras, is a delirious blend of Art Deco and Futurism.

Clever, witty British farce with the incomparable Margaret Rutherford as an eccentric bird enthusiast who campaigns at the League of Nations to protect the rights of English birds abroad. Written by Terrence Rattigan and Anatole de Grunwald, the film is a sharp satire of British wartime attitudes and is a fine showcase for Rutherford's wonderful comic talents.

Another pre-Coder, this one starring Edward G. Robinson as an assassin in San Francisco's Chinatown, who raises -- and eventually marries -- the daughter of the man he was dispatched to kill. An offbeat crime drama, it is marred by the insensitive racial characterizations and "Yellow Peril" trope common in Hollywood films of the time. Nonetheless, it is stylishly directed by William Wellman and remains certainly one of his most unusual films he directed for Warners in this period.

I had seen just about every Shirley Temple film except for this one, which I watched just after her passing last year. It's the film that really made her a star -- and it's easy to see why. Based on a Damon Runyon story, it's one of the very best films Temple ever appeared in, with a good script and a colorful cast of characters, especially Adolphe Menjou in a splendidly moving performance as Sorrowful Jones, a bookie who reluctantly takes in the young orphan after her father's death. Charles Bickford is quite good as the tough gangster who is redeemed at the end when given the chance to save little Shirley's life. It's sentimental stuff, to be sure, but it works.

Probably the best film I saw for the first time last year. Erich von Stroheim's final directorial effort is an unflinching romantic drama about a young couple (James Dunn and Boots Mallory) struggling to survive in Depression-era New York. Astonishingly frank and uncompromising at times, it remains one of the most extreme examples of the kind of material that was permissible in the pre-Code era. Originally titled WALKING DOWN BROADWAY, it was directed by Stroheim (and completed on time and under-budget) in 1932, but taken away from him by the studio and re-worked with new material shot by a team of directors that included Alfred Werker and Raoul Walsh, and released under the title HELLO SISTER, which is what survives today (Stroheim's original version is lost). Still, what remains is a remarkable film, a minor classic perhaps, and a fitting swan song to Stroheim's filmmaking career.

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