Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries - Laura G. ""

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Film Discoveries - Laura G.

If you weren't already aware, Laura runs the wonderful blog Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, which is a must for any classic film fans:
She can be found on Twitter here:
Also, her Film Discoveries list have always proved quite fertile ground for me in finding new discoveries for myself. Check out her lists from the last couple years below:

LONESOME (Pal Fejos, 1928) - I'd never heard of this film before it was recommended to me on Twitter during a Criterion sale. Since I've gradually become more open to silent movies, I decided to give it a try, and I'm certainly glad I did, as it was a highlight of my 2015 viewing. It's a charming romance about two young working people (Barbara Kent and Glenn Tryon) who meet at Coney Island during an Independence Day holiday. They have a wonderful time and seem to be on the cusp of a long-term romance when they're accidentally separated and have no way to find each other again. They need a miracle... This was a remarkably stylish film, from the creative depiction of morning "going to work" routines to the exquisite blue and pink tinting of amusement park signs. It's a "hybrid" film from the dawn of the sound era with a few sound sequences, which add to its historical interest.

On DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.

LUCKY STAR (Frank Borzage, 1929) - Given how much I enjoyed LONESOME, I decided to head for UCLA just a couple of weeks later to see this silent film starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. It was a magical experience, with live piano accompaniment. Gaynor plays a young girl who becomes friendly with a wheelchair-bound WWI veteran (Farrell). It's a simple story but a richly detailed film, tracing the evolution of a relationship over time as they each have a profound impact on one another. The stars are, in a word, luminous. I liked this one so much that I invested in the big Murnau-Borzage-Fox DVD set this Christmas.

On DVD from Fox.

THE PUBLIC DEFENDER (1931) - Richard Dix is an actor who's been slowly growing on me, and this is probably my favorite of his films seen to date. Dix plays a seemingly indolent playboy who is secretly the mysterious "Reckoner," a shadowy justice-seeking character who seems as though he could have been an inspiration for Batman. The Reckoner is aided by the brains of the "Professor" (Boris Karloff) and the brawn of his chauffeur "Doc" (Paul Hurst). Dix has some wonderful romantic hero moments where he comes to the aid of his childhood friend Barbara (Shirley Grey). Great fun and it's over and done in a quick 69 minutes. Since this was also the year I discovered the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe, this early "crime fighter" film fit right in with my viewing!

On DVD from the Warner Archive.

BACHELOR'S AFFAIRS (Alfred L. Werker, 1932) - This was my favorite discovery at UCLA's Festival of Preservation, a hilariously funny, sparkling gem of a comedy. Andrew (Adolphe Menjou), a wealthy businessman, falls for gorgeous but much younger Eva (Joan Marsh) but discovers marriage to Eva isn't quite what he'd hoped. The sweet but dimwitted Eva's constant desire for dancing, cycling, swimming and more wears Andrew out! And she's also got a greedy older sister (Minna Gombell) to contend with. It's Andrew's best friend Luke (Alan Dinehart) to the rescue, with his repeated refrain "Leave everything to me!" This is an endlessly amusing movie with wonderful dialogue and a great cast which also includes Irene Purcell and Herbert Mundin. It's surprising this gem isn't better known, and it's a great example of a cinematic treasure just waiting to be discovered!

Not on DVD.

RIFFRAFF (Ted Tetzlaff, 1947) - This engaging film noir with comedic overtones was a fun surprise when it was released this year by the Warner Archive. It grabs the attention from the opening wordless sequence depicting a stormy plane flight, filmed by George Diskant (ON DANGEROUS GROUND). Pat O'Brien stars as Dan Hammer, a P.I. and "fixer" in Panama whose new client turns up dead. Dan ends up involved with a bunch of shady types, including Walter Slezak and Jerome Cowan, as well as gorgeous blonde nightclub singer Maxine (stunning Anne Jeffreys). Jeffreys gets a chance to sing, and she and O'Brien have excellent chemistry despite a substantial age difference; the film avoids any overt romantic scenes, but there's plenty implied between the lines. There's a nice role for Percy Kilbride as the driver of a broken-down cab who also takes care of Hammer's laundry and serves as his righthand man. A great example of a film which isn't a classic but which packs lots of entertainment value.

On DVD from the Warner Archive

THE RED SHOES (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948) - This film is very well known by many film fans, but I had put off trying it for years, having seen a small bit of it years ago and not being sure I'd like it. When it was scheduled for the opening night of UCLA's Archive Treasures 50th Anniversary Celebration, I decided I'd never have a better chance to try it than seeing the restored 35mm print on UCLA's big screen...and wow, what an impact! It's a compelling, almost otherworldly film with so many memorable moments, particularly gorgeous Moira Shearer describing why she dances ("Because I must"). The movie is a "must" for dance fans, with stunning Technicolor cinematography by Jack Cardiff. I shouldn't have waited so long to try it, though in a way I'm glad I did, because the big screen experience was so memorable!

On DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.

ABANDONED (Joseph M. Newman, 1949) - One of my favorite films of the year, I was fortunate to see it in 35mm at both the Noir City and Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festivals. How can a film noir fan not love a movie in which reporter Dennis O'Keefe and D.A. Jeff Chandler track down evil baby broker Raymond Burr on the mean streets of Los Angeles?! That's probably about all that needs to be said for someone who loves noir to say "Yes, please!" Gale Storm is the spunky leading lady, who sets the story in motion as she arrives in L.A. to search for her missing sister. There's some terrific location shooting and a sharp and funny script with dialogue by William Bowers. As a side note, I enjoyed the movie sitting next to Bowers' widow, who told me her husband "didn't know he was writing 'film noir'!"

Not on DVD.

COVER UP (Alfred E. Green, 1949) - Like ABANDONED, COVER UP stars Dennis O'Keefe, and also like ABANDONED, I liked it so much I happily watched it twice in 2015! COVER UP was cowritten by the talented O'Keefe under the pen name Jonathan Rix. O'Keefe plays Sam Donovan, an insurance investigator who arrives in a small town just before Christmas to check out the apparent suicide of the most unpopular man in town. No one seems willing to say much, including the sheriff (William Bendix). While in town Sam also romances lovely Anita (Barbara Britton), whom he'd met as he arrived in town. This is a "cozy" mystery with plenty of romance and humor against the backdrop of a small-town Christmas. I loved it and if anything I only wish it were a few minutes longer!

On DVD and Blu-ray from Kino.

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks, 1951) - I've come to '50s sci-fi fairly late in my movie-going life, but it's gradually been growing on me, and I had the chance to see a number of terrific sci-fi films for the very first time at the Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Festival last fall. This classic, which despite the screen credit is universally recognized as actually having been directed by Hawks, was my favorite. It's got it all -- humor, romance, great dialogue, improvisation, and Hawksian camaraderie, as members of an Air Force crew team with scientists to deal with a scary creature (James Arness) which landed at the North Pole via a UFO. There's great suspense, while simultaneously viewers are dropped right into the middle of the developing romantic relationship of Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and scientist's assistant Nikki (Margaret Sheridan); there's lots of flirting and wisecracking alongside dealing with the lethal creature. This was definitely one of those movies that made me wonder "Where has this been all my life?" I'm sure it won't be long before I enjoy it all over again.

On DVD from Turner.

FLIGHT NURSE (Allan Dwan, 1953) - This low-budget Republic film was a nice surprise, a rewarding movie with Joan Leslie in the title role. Leslie plays Lt. Polly Davis, who aids the wounded as they are transferred from front line camps in Korea to military hospitals. She's teamed with Forrest Tucker as an air ambulance pilot. The movie manages to believably create a Korean War story on a shoestring; it has a mature, affecting script by Alan Le May (THE SEARCHERS) and sincere, appealing lead performances. I've always loved Leslie, who ably mixes depth with effervescent good cheer, and this was the year I also came to like Tucker, who is subtle and moving. There's a good supporting role for Jeff Donnell. A great example of a relatively little-known film which has much to recommend it. 

Not on DVD.

THE QUIET GUN (William F. Claxton, 1957) - Another excellent Forrest Tucker performance, as world-weary Sheriff Carl Brandon, an honorable man who sometimes seems to battle his town's unsupportive citizens as much as he does the bad guys. His performance as a man who's tired and frustrated but won't back down from doing the right thing requires close attention, as much of it is wordless. I especially loved an early scene where he goes in a saloon and eyeballs the evil heavy, played by Lee Van Cleef; you can see the measure of the man in that moment. A beautiful black and white widescreen Regalscope film, this is one of those "darn good Westerns" which is so worth seeing. Jim Davis, Kathleen Crowley, and Mara Corday costar.

On DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.

HIGH AND LOW (Akira Kurosawa, 1963) - I've been gradually delving into Japanese cinema, with one of the first films I'd seen directed by Yasujiro Ozu making my "Favorite Discoveries" list a couple of years ago. 2015 was the year I discovered Akira Kurosawa, starting with HIGH AND LOW. Toshiro Mifune stars as the self-made head of a shoe manufacturing company who must decide whether to pay ransom when his chauffeur's little boy is kidnapped. There are many great set pieces, including one involving a high-speed train, and a wonderful sequence in which various detectives stand up and report on what they've learned about the kidnapper, which is tremendously exciting despite being a combination of individual speeches and flashbacks. The movie also has a wonderful sleek black and white 'early '60s look. Later in the year I also enjoyed Mifune in THE HIDDEN FORTRESS and STRAY DOG. I'll be watching more Kurosawa and Mifune in 2016!

On DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.

A baker's dozen of more great discoveries from this year which there's not room to discuss here: WHY BE GOOD? (1929), MADAM SATAN (1930), FOLLOW THRU (1930), IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD (1937), PACIFIC BLACKOUT (1941), LADY, LET'S DANCE! (1944), I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU (1946), GUNFIGHTERS (1947), WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950), THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), THEM! (1954), THE PROUD REBEL (1958), and IRON MAN (2008).


Jerry Entract said...

Cracker of a list of discoveries, Laura! Also vary varied. You stepped outside your comfort zone this year maybe and found classic sci-fi, Japanese cinema and silent movies. I applaud.
Knowing me as you do, it will be no surprise that "RIFF-RAFF", "ABANDONED" & "COVER UP" are films I like a lot. Do you know another great Pat O'Brien film from the same period, "CRACK-UP"??
I guess my favourite of your discoveries though is "THE QUIET GUN", a minor western only now getting the recognition it so richly deserves. I have never seen Tucker better.
Oh.....and I loved the comment from William Bowers' widow!!

Hal said...

A great list. And I think The Quiet Gun is probably Tucker's best western as a leading man. Also, thanks for reminding me that I need to get around to reviewing Flight Nurse!

Laura said...

Thanks so much for your feedback, Jerry and Hal, I really appreciate it, and I'm glad you left your own thoughts as well. I hope others will try some of these movies.

Hal, I'd be very interested in reading your thoughts on FLIGHT NURSE.

Jerry, I really did step out of my comfort zone last year! It's been great finding whole new areas of film to explore and enjoy. I haven't seen CRACK-UP but just yesterday I fished my copy of it out of the cupboard, having seen a reference to it and thinking another mid '40s crime film with O'Brien sounded good! Glad you to get your recommendation.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Big selection of stuff there, Laura. Lots, particularly the early material, is unknown to me. Once you hit the 40s and 50s there are more familiar titles for me - I don't believe I've seen RIFF RAFF or ABANDONED but they interest me.


john k said...

A most engaging,not to mention, eclectic list
Richard Dix's reputation continues to soar among serious film fanatics.
Not one but TWO Tucker them both.
Do wish someone would release FLIGHT NURSE....great Dwan picture.

Laura said...

Thanks, Colin and John! I appreciate you stopping by to check out my list! :)

It's really interesting that Richard Dix and Forrest Tucker were slow to grow on me yet they are both represented on my main list and Dix also has a title in my "honorable mentions"! There's definitely something about both actors that stays with you.

FLIGHT NURSE really needs a release!! As do ABANDONED and BACHELOR'S AFFAIRS. All such good movies!

Best wishes,