Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '55 - Matt Barry ""

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Underrated '55 - 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 ( See also his Underrated '65 list:

THE BIG COMBO (1955; Joseph H. Lewis)
Justly famous for John Alton's masterful high-contrast cinematography, which is practically the textbook example of the film noir style, this superb film is otherwise surprisingly overlooked when talking about the great post-war crime dramas. What makes it so effective is Richard Conte's portrayal of cool, ruthless crime boss Mr. Brown, the head of a crime syndicate so powerful that the police are unable to touch him. Cornel Wilde is the young police lieutenant hell-bent on taking him down, driven as much by envious obsession with Mr. Brown's power and beautiful girlfriend as he is by a desire to see justice take its course.

Despite their obvious technical shortcomings, Ed Wood's films still hold an undeniable appeal for the sheer passion and love of moviemaking that comes through in every one of them. On that note, this is my favorite of his films, featuring memorable performances by Bela Lugosi and Tor Johnson, and wonderfully absurd moments (especially Lugosi wrestling a rubber octopus).

GUYS AND DOLLS (1955; Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
I've never understood why this film is not better known and mentioned in the same breath as the other great screen musicals of the period. Perhaps it's because it lacks the formal inventiveness and style of the best Freed-MGM musicals, and lacks the thematic seriousness of the Rodgers and Hammerstein films of the same era. But everything about it works perfectly, from the inspired casting (headed by Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine) to the splashy color cinematography, the stylized artifice of the New York street settings, and the energetic performances of Frank Loesser's songs.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955; Otto Preminger)
Another film that, while hardly obscure, seems not to receive the attention that it should warrant. Directed by Otto Preminger, this gritty drama stars Frank Sinatra in one of his best roles as a recovering heroin addict struggling to make good. The scene in which Sinatra is locked in his room overnight while going through withdrawal is still incredibly powerful, and one of the best examples of what an excellent actor he was.


NAPOLEON (1955; Sacha Guitry)
Sacha Guitry's epic telling of the life of Napoleon features an all-star cast including Jean Gabin, Jean Marais, Danielle Darrieux, Yves Montand, Maria Schell, Orson Welles, and Erich von Stroheim (as Beethoven!) Not a great film, but certainly an impressively-staged production, lavishly filmed in color and produced on a grand scale.

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