Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '65 - Ira Brooker ""

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Underrated '65 - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer and editor living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He barely remembers what it's like to watch a well-regarded movie anymore. He writes all over the place, and especially at atalentforidleness.blogspot.com, irabrooker.com and @irabrooker.
(P.S. - check out his Underrated Action/Adventure list:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2014/08/underrated-actionadventure-ira-brooker.html)
Also, his Underrated '85 and '75 lists:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/05/underrated-ira-brooker.html
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Ira Brooker is a writer, editor and trash cinema enthusiast living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His Letterboxd account is a document of a life poorly spent. You can find his writing all over the place, and especially at atalentforidleness.blogspot.com, irabrooker.com and @irabrooker.


Hail! Mafia (Directed by: Raoul Levy)
The notion of Jack Klugman and Henry Silva playing a pair of mismatched American hitmen bickering their way across France should be enough to hook just about any genre film fan, but it turns out this movie has even more going for it than it appears.

For all the bravura of its exclamatory title, this is actually a relatively quiet, talky mobster movie, which is by no means a complaint. As the the crass, cranky Klugman and the cool, professional Silva debate restaurant etiquette, the ethics of killing for money, the great American songbook and more, Hail! Mafia becomes as much a multi-character study as a crime thriller, with cult favorite Eddie Constantine turning in an equally nuanced performance as their mob-informant target. I have no evidence that Quentin Tarantino is a fan of this film, but it feels like as strong a template for his humanized gangsters as I’ve ever seen. Heck, there’s even a fantastic little sequence where Klugman and Silva bond over a French cover of The Animals rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.”

(One note: The only transfer I’ve found of this film is from a truly dreadful print. That’s a real shame, as you can tell the B&W cinematography would be pretty striking with a decent restoration. Fingers crossed that this movie eventually builds enough of a cult to make that happen.)



Nightmare in the Sun (Directed by: John Derek and Marc Lawrence)
John Derek reportedly transitioned to directing in large part because other directors had stopped casting him in lead roles by the time the ‘60s rolled around. His lead performance in his directorial debut doesn’t exactly refute his colleagues’ personnel choices, but neither does it keep Nightmare in the Sun from being a fascinating piece of work.

Hitchhiker Derek rolls into a remote desert town and is promptly set upon by a sex-starved Ursula Andress, whose cross-continental marriage to wealthy village drunk Arthur O’Connell is working out as well as you’d expect. In short order Derek is falsely arrested by sleazy sheriff Aldo Ray and finds himself fleeing through the scorched wasteland in handcuffs, seeking sanctuary with an array of increasingly unhinged locals. These second-act interactions turn Nightmare in the Sun from a serviceable potboiler into an endearingly strange array of sketches anchored by some of 1965’s finest character actors. When you’ve got the likes of Keenan Wynn as a dangerously senile junk dealer, George Tobias and Lurene Tuttle as a pair of militant animal hoarders and Robert Duvall and Richard Jaeckel as bad-tempered bikers in cardigans, you can be forgiven a John Derek or two.



Nightmare Castle (Directed by: Mario Caiano)
Barbara Steele plays a dual role as a spitefully unfaithful wife and her mentally fragile sister. Paul Muller emotes to the rafters as a sadistic mad scientist trying to gaslight his new bride into handing him control of the titular castle. There’s a trippy hallucination sequence with a faceless interloper, an early Ennio Morricone score, and a catacomb-load of gothic atmosphere. Nightmare Castle may not be the fastest-moving Euro horror flick of 1965, nor does it sport the year’s freshest plot, but when it clicks it’s a gleefully nasty delight. Plus you get Barbara Steele as a brunette, a blonde and a disfigured apparition from beyond the grave. Who doesn’t want that?



Vapors (Directed by: Andy Milligan)
It says a lot about Andy Milligan that what’s possibly his least salacious movie is set in a gay bathhouse in early-’60s New York City and ends with ends with a full-frame shot of an unusually large penis. I’m a big defender of the indefensible, hate-dripping trash films for which Milligan is best known, but Vapors stands out in his filmography largely because it’s the work of a man not yet consumed by his cynicism. Basically an extended conversation between some bathhouse regulars (including Milligan mainstays Gerard Jacuzzo and Hal Borske) and a closeted first-timer, this is very much the product of Milligan’s extensive and rather accomplished career as a stage director. It’s dated and talky and not the most artful thing you’ll ever see, but it’s a frank, surprisingly heartfelt glimpse at a corner of mid-century American culture that only rarely gets illuminated.



The Beast from the Beginning of Time (Directed by: Tom Leahy, Jr.)
While it’s arguably the weakest film on my list, it’s also the most underrated, inasmuch as it’s hardly ever been rated at all. The brainchild of Wichita, Kansas TV horror host Tom Leahy, Jr., who somehow talked his local TV station into funding a feature film production, this movie was apparently so embarrassing to everyone involved that upon completion it was immediately tossed into a storage room without so much as a single screening. It finally made its debut 15 years later when the station slapped it into the 1980 Halloween programming schedule, complete with snarky intertitles congratulating the viewers for managing to stay awake. In recent years it’s gathered the tiniest of cults via occasional screenings on Svengoolie-type late-night horror shows.

Taken at face value, The Beast from the Beginning of Time is a decent if unremarkable bit of ‘60s sci-fi horror about scientists unearthing a perfectly preserved caveman who inevitably thaws out and goes on the usual rampage. But taken as a document of a long-lost era of low-budget filmmaking, it’s an irresistible, even heartwarming, piece of cinema history. Leahy (who served as writer, director and monster) proves a surprisingly competent filmmaker, the good people of 1960s Wichita tackle their roles with admirable energy, and everybody has a grand old time. That it’s a film that probably should never have existed makes it all the more important to make sure it’s not forgotten.

1 comment:

Marty McKee said...

Wow, I considered HAIL, MAFIA for my list too. I don't think many of us have seen it. I agree that it's terribly underrated and an interesting character study. I never even heard of THE BEAST FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME, and it's pretty rare to find a genre picture from as recently as the '60s that I didn't know existed. Sure would like to track it down.