Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '55 - Everett Jones ""

Monday, September 14, 2015

Underrated '55 - Everett Jones

Everett is an avid movie watcher and user of Letterboxd like myself - follow him there: http://letterboxd.com/everettjones/ - I've gotten many good film recs this way.
Have a look at his Underrated '85 list as well:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/04/underrated-85-everett-jones.html
and his Underrated '75:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/06/underrated-everett-jones.html
And his Underrated '65:
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Crashout (1955; Lewis R. Foster)
This prison-break movie reminds me of the better-known 1949 prison-mutiny movie Brute Force in that its real genre seems to be the war movie: specifically, the WWII variety that stressed idiosyncratic, varied (yet all-American) personalities and backgrounds of platoon members. That the characters committed, or were at least convicted of, crimes is incidental--their job in the story is to escape and survive. The production values are weak-the opening escape is mostly footage from Don Siegel’s also better-known Riot in Cell Block 11, and a closing mountain snowstorm is an unconvincing optics job--but uncelebrated director Lewis R. Foster skillfully corrals his cast of escapees--there are six, and for much of the time all of them are on-screen. Even if, like me, you’ve never directed a movie, you should know from John Carpenter’s The Thing commentary track this is not an easy task for a director.


Il Bidone (1955; Federico Fellini)
A Fellini film which has gone mostly unreleased in the U.S., I can only guess because it’s pretty much entirely lacking the director’s usual tone of carnivalesque fantasy and humor so distinctive it eventually became its own adjective. Among his credits, it’s closest to La Stradaand Nights of Cabiria, showing those people left out of Italy’s post-WWII prosperity--in this case concentrating on a group of con artists who prey on them. Fellini’s favored theme of Catholic guilt takes a much more earnest, somber here than in 8 ½ and Juliet of the Spirits, as his antiheroes gradually awaken to their consciences, which of course does none of them any material good. There’s a particularly devastating last scene for imported faded-American-star Broderick Crawford, which Francois Truffaut described much more eloquently than I can hope to.


Female on the Beach (1955; Joseph Pevney)
Joan Crawford is not one of my favorite Hollywood stars--maybe it’s the off-set stories, but there’s something deeply off-putting about her performances--but a few of her movies are hard to resist. Mildred Pierce is an undeniable classic, and The Damned Don’t Cry is a terrific and relatively neglected gangster noir. And then there’s this deliriously silly thriller. The opening credits, which take the form of lines in the sand washed away by receding waves and inform us that Albert Zugsmith, of Touch of EvilThe Incredible Shrinking Man, andThe Tarnished Angels fame, produced, serve notice of a very good time in wait. Crawford is a wealthy widow who comes to stay at a beach house--a beautiful, split-level midcentury concoction--she owns and plans to sell, and Jeff Chandler is a hunky beachcomber and the prime suspect in the death of the house’s previous tenant. What ensues is never convincing but always entertaining, with bizarre characters--like the elderly couple who apparently live off Chandler’s earnings as a gigolo--, a tone of barely suppressed hysteria (shared with a lot of ‘50s thrillers, but especially Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly), and campily funny dialogue (as if required to by contract, supporting characters have to mention every few scenes how attractive Crawford is.)


My Sister Eileen (1955; Richard Quine)
Compared to film noir or pre-code, Golden Age Hollywood musicals can be a bad match for contemporary sensibilities--I have a friend who dislikes even Singin’ in the Rain, on the grounds that it’s “too happy!” This Richard Quine film, though, has an unpretentious charm that might work on even the normally resistant. It’s a version of a much-adapted autobiographical story collection by New Yorker writer Ruth McKenney, about moving from the Midwest to 1930s Greenwich Village with her sister. The main source of conflict in this very lightweight story is aspiring-writer Ruth regarding Eileen as “the prettier one”--which in the usual way of movies, isn’t really saying much, as Eileen is played by Janet Leigh (and Ruth by Betty Garrett.) The idea of bohemia depicted here is certainly a mild one, which if you’re in the right frame of mind, just adds to the charm. Quine was one of the more interesting directors to come out of mid-period Hollywood, making a few classics (Strangers When We Meet,Bell, Book and Candle) amid more routine assignments. Blake Edwards--a regular collaborator with Quine then--has a writing credit, and Jack Lemmon--another regular with both filmmakers--a relatively unusual role as a lady-killer magazine editor. The film’s standout feature, though, is a very unexpected face--Bob Fosse, also the production’s choreographer, in a supporting role as Garrett’s love interest, an out-of-his-league soda jerk. He’s boyish, clean-cut, un-black-clad, and positively wholesome-seeming, which is an unmissable spectacle for an All That Jazz fan like me.


The Bespoke Overcoat (1955; Jack Clayton)
I’ve been recently going through Pauline Kael’s collection of capsule reviews, 5001 Nights at the Movies, which isn’t an ideal showcase for her writing, but is a good place for recommendations you won’t get from other sources. One of them is for what she calls “one of the best short-story films ever made,” this 35-minute-long movie made by Jack Clayton as he was leaving a career as John Huston’s associate producer and launching on one directing his own features, including Room at the TopThe Innocents, and the Redford-starring The Great Gatsby. Like The Innocents, it’s a ghost story, of a beautifully atmospheric B&W kind, but it’s also, thanks to scripter Wolf Mankowitz, a comic look at life in the Jewish community of London’s East End. The story, which English majors might recognize as adapted from Gogol’s novella The Overcoat, involves a warehouse clerk’s desire for the titular garment, his boss’s refusal to give it to him, and his tailor friend’s attempt to make him one. It’s at once funny, spooky, and movingly melancholy, which is at least two more emotions than you’ll get from the average 155-minute Marvel Comics blockbuster. 

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