Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '45 - Ira Brooker ""

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Underrated '45 - Ira Brooker

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.
Check out his Underrated '55 list too:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/08/underrated-ira-brooker.html
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The Purple Monster Strikes (Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Fred C. Bannon)
A pompous, flamboyantly attired Martian who bills himself as “The Purple Monster” plots to steal Earth-made “space jet” technology that could enable a full-scale invasion. Over the course of two-plus hours, he possesses multiple human bodies, recruits an opportunistic mob boss to sell out mankind, and sets a series of booby traps that would do Sergio Arragones proud.
I don’t always have the patience for these old serials, what with all the repetition and exposition the form requires. When the action crackles as much as it does here, though, I can forgive a few rehashed plot points. It’s fast-paced fun packed with top-flight stunt coordination, cool miniature effects and better acting than you find in a lot similar serials. Roy Barcroft camps it up to the rafters as the titular Monster, Bud Geary makes for a singularly sleazy turncoat and Linda Stirling embodies the plucky ‘40s heroine to a tee.

Allotment Wives (Directed by William Nigh)
Kay Francis’s star had long since descended when she signed on to this Poverty Row potboiler, but that didn’t make her any less of a presence on the screen. This is a seedy, sleazy little piece of work about a sort-of prostitution ring targeting American servicemen: Kay’s girls seduce troops on furlough into quickie weddings, then abscond with their paychecks and life insurance payouts. This being a ‘40s flick, there’s also some melodrama involving Kay’s dream of settling down with her avuncular accomplice/boyfriend, and her attempts to hide her shady business from her wild-child teenage daughter.
Although Allotment Wives can’t get quite as sleazy as the material demands, it works best when it embraces its unpleasantness, especially in a surprisingly nasty showdown with rival bigamy-madame Gertrude Michael. As endearing as the trademark Kay Francis speech impediment generally is, it becomes downright chilling when it’s coming from a place of evil.

My Name is Julia Ross (Directed by Joseph H. Lewis)
A down-on-her-luck young Londoner is delighted to land a job as a personal assistant to a wealthy matron, but soon finds herself held prisoner in a remote country estate where her employer’s insane son grooms her to replace his dead wife. While there’s certainly a bit of Gaslight in this movie’s DNA, this rises above knock-off status with a real sense of dread and a traumatized heroine (Nina Foch in quite a good performance) who will not go gently. The academically inclined could probably find an essay’s worth of material here about the invisibility and disposability of working-class women in a plutocratic society. Everybody else can just root for those rich creeps to get their well-earned comeuppance.

The Great Flamarion (Directed by Anthony Mann)
Erich von Stroheim isn’t the first guy who comes to mind when you think of a film noir patsy, nor is he the first guy you’d think of to play a trick-shooting pistol marksman on the vaudeville stage. The Great Flamarion posits him as both of those things, and it works. That’s partly due to stylish, confident direction by a young Anthony Mann and partly due to a peculiarly perfect cast. Von Stroheim’s icy-yet-vulnerable pomposity makes him a toothsome target for his sneakily fatale assistant Mary Beth Hughes, and Dan Duryea is a delightfully pitiful bundle of self-loathing as the alcoholic husband she wants bumped off. The noir itself is fairly by-the-book, but the execution (wordplay intended) is a good bit of fun.

The Vampire’s Ghost (Directed by Lesley Selander)
Someone is draining the blood from residents of an African colonial outpost. You don’t suppose the suave new casino owner who has supernaturally good luck and only comes out at night has anything to do with it, do you?
I doubt The Vampire’s Ghost was intended as a grim satire on white privilege - the portrayal of the “natives” still brims over with vintage ‘40s racism, for one thing - but viewed in a modern context you can sure read it that way. Even if all the white folks weren’t heedless of the locals’ insistence that there’s a vampire at work, they wouldn’t think to suspect a wealthy WASP like John Abbott if he bit them on the neck (which, of course, he eventually does). Subtext aside, this one is worth watching for Abbott’s take on the vampire persona. He’s no romanticized Dracula or feral Nosferatu, just an undying dude with physiological needs and a lot of hours to fill. Abbott pulls off the scary/sympathetic duality with a type of aplomb few vampire movies have approached.

3 comments:

Jerry Entract said...

An enjoyable list, Ira! Interesting that we both chose 'MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS' which should be something of a recommendation to other readers in itself!!

Rik Tod Johnson said...

Argh! I am kind of mad that I didn't include The Purple Monster Strikes in my list. I love it so, but I didn't consider serials. Well done, Ira!

Ira Brooker said...

Thanks fellas. I think Julia Ross might have found a following if any of its stars were better remembered today. As it stands it’s probably destined to stay under the radar, which is rather a shame. It’s genuinely harrowing in a lot of spots.

The Purple Monster Strikes is just plain fun. So many deadly games of cat and mouse going on all over the place, and also Linda Stirling. Linda Stirling rules.