Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '65 - Sean Gilman ""

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Underrated '65 - Sean Gilman

Sean is co-host of a cool a little movie podcast called The George Sanders Show. I am a big fan of it and you should check out ASAP if you haven't. I am always pleased to have a new list from Sean for sure.
See his Underrated '85 list here:

I was sorry to miss out on the Underrated 1975 series, but it’s probably for the best – with only 23, I’ve seen fewer movies from that year than any other since 1930 (with the exception of 1977, from which I’ve seen a mere 20). I fare a bit better in 1965, with 31 movies seen, but really this period from the mid-60s through the late 70s is the period of film history with which I’m the least familiar. 1965 is the year we’ve chosen to focus on for our End of the Year wrap up episode of The George Sanders Show this year (we’ve previously covered 1933 and 1984), so I’m hoping to find a lot of good suggestions in this series. The following are some of the 1965 movies I’ve seen so far that seem to me to be underrated.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Bill Melendez)
Though it is hardly underrated in any strict sense of the word, I feel no shame including this first Peanuts special on the list because while it is a beloved classic watched and rewatched by millions every holiday season (or any time of the year if, like me, your kids are obsessed with Peanuts specials), it never gets included in Best Movies lists. That is primarily, of course, because it was made for television. But screens are screens and I refuse to let that provincial dog ruin my Christmas.

2. Simon of the Desert (Luis Buñuel)
Lost in the shuffle of Buñuel’s great string of late-career classics in the 60s and early 70s, nestled amongst the blinding lights of Viridiana, The Exterminating Angel, Belle de jour and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, is this short (42 minutes) based on the life of real 5th century saint Simeon, who spent 39 years living on top of a pillar. His son Simon also takes to the pillar life and has a series of adventures and temptations and is eventually led by Satan (Sylvia Pinal) to the present day. Put it on a double bill with Gimme Shelter.

3. The War Game (Peter Watkins)
Another short and another one made for televisionthough you see it categorized more often as cinema than the Peanutsfilm. That’s probably because it didn’t actually air on the BBC, they said “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting (they did eventually air it in 1985). A docudrama imagining of what would happen in the event of a nuclear war, Watkins takes us through the mundane details of civil defense, the vast inadequacy of our institutions and structures in dealing with the fallout (literal and metaphorical) of such a disaster. The sober form of the newsreel, the public information film, cuts through the hysteria and make-believe of that paranoid era to something more purely horrifying.

4. The Naked Prey (Cornel Wilde)
Cornel Wilde went into the South African veldt to film himself as a Great White Hunter being chased down by a tribe of angry natives in this adventure film, a transitional film from Hollywood action films like Run of the Arrow, which shares a similar premise but is much more concerned with traditional storytelling devices like character, and the grittier,more focused exploitation films that would come to dominate the genre over the next decade. That’s not to say thatThe Naked Prey is lacking in social relevance, of course. The Africans are more defined and differentiated than they are in, for example, 1964’s Zulu, the film works hard not to be reduced to the ‘white man terrorized by savages’reading it could easily devolve into. But it’s best enjoyed for the purity of its adventure filmmaking: a man alone in the wilderness trying desperately to survive. It’s the best possible version of that episode where Captain Kirk has to fight the Lizard Alien alone on that desert planet and makes a laser out ofrocks.

5. Temple of the Red Lotus (Hsu Tseng-hung)
One of the first wuxia films made by the Shaw Brothers, as the studio made a conscious decision to refocus on martial arts films at the expense of the highly successful series of musicals that had been the studio’s hallmark for the previous decade. Director Hsu had been a writer and cinematographer and would go on to be a minor director in theShaws heyday, not finding nearly the success of another writer-turned-director who made his debut in 1965, ChangCheh (with The Butterfly Chalice, which I haven’t seen yet). But here he draws the assignment of adapting the oft-told story of the Red Lotus Temple, a 1928 serial adaptation of which is one of the world’s most-distressingly lost films. Jimmy Wang Yu and Lo Lieh, both making their debuts, play rivals for the daughter of a gangster family led by Tien Feng who is in the midst of a war with another gang, in the middle of which poor Wang finds himself caught. The action is too sped up, the cutting too quick, but all the rudiments of the later classics are present. Familiar faces abound among the extras, including future choreographer-directors Lau Kar-leung, Yuen Woo-ping and TongGaai in supporting roles. Musical superstar Ivy Ling Po (she starred in Li Han-hsiang’s 1963 mega-hit masterpieceThe Love Eterne) floats around the edges of the story as well, as with Cheng Pei-pei (who would also make her wuxiadebut in 1965, in The Lotus Lamp) in King Hu’s 1966 Come Drink with Me,marking the unification of the musical and martial traditions of the studio into a new and unique cinematic form.

Sons of the Good Earth (King Hu)
Another signpost of the shift in Shaw Brothers from musicals to action is this, the second film directed by King Hu, who would revolutionize the genre the next year with Come Drink with Me. This one is one of the few Hus to be set in the 20th Century, located in the midst of the Anti-Japanese War. It begins with the great star Betty Loh Ti being forced into prostitution. She's rescued by Peter Chen Ho, a local sign painter and Loh's real-life husband. The two, with the help of Chen's buddy and fellow painter and the various motley residents of a tenement house (looking forward to The House of 72 Tenants) manage to outwit the pimps who try to recapture her and everything ends in a happy celebration of togetherness and community. And then the Japanese invade and blow everything to hell. The community splinters into various factions, the women end up suffering as much if not more than the men (the film's highlight involves a minor character, a singer who sings a pointed folk song at the Japanese army and pays for it with her body as soon as someone translates it for the officers). The middle third of the film is packed with reversals and betrayals, finally splitting apart the protagonists and driving Chen into the wilderness to join the resistance and culminating in an all-out war movie with King Hu himself leading the Chinese in an invasion of the town. The standout scene comes before a battle, as Hu addresses all his rebel men while a pharmacist pulls a bullet out of his shoulder. He makes barely a sound despite the agonizing pain, so strong is his resolution to fight for his country. 


highwayknees said...

Please tell me-why does your opening icon pic-the bearded lady with the lamb, look so familiar? Yet I can't place the source film. Oh and I totally agree about A Charlie Brown Christmas!

Rupert Pupkin said...