Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Hal Horn ""

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Hal Horn

Hal Horn runs the irreplaceable Horn Section Blog ('reviewing the obscure, overlooked and sometimes the very old').

Also read his previous Discoveries lists for Rupert Pupkin Speaks:

MAVERICK auteur Roy Huggins produced and co-wrote this screenplay in his attempt to translate his wild success on the tube (77 SUNSET STRIP, THE FUGITIVE) to the big screen. While it is clear that Huggins and his two stars were best suited for television, this is still an interesting failure. DA Jack Kelly and judge Efrem Zimbalist Jr. are both considering running for Governor in an upcoming election. The latter is presiding over a high profile murder case prosecuted by Kelly which has implications for the political ambitions of both. Kelly turns ruthless in his quest for the conviction, while corrupt U.S. Senator Don Ameche complicates matters by planning his own gubernatorial campaign. Kelly overplays and Huggins overwrites, but this curio is worth seeing once. I caught it on Warner Archive Instant (off now, but it should be back) and it is available on DVD through the Archive as well. Carroll O’Connor, Angie Dickinson, Andra Martin and Herbert Marshall also star; directed by Vincent Sherman and based on the novel by William Pearson.

This might be more accurately called a re-discovery, since I do remember seeing it as a young child. But SNOWFIRE has been almost impossible to see for decades, and certainly retained a loyal cult following, judging from the long list of reviews and comments about it on IMDB. Warner Archive Instant made it available for streaming for six months during 2015, so I was able to see it as an adult for the first time. Don Megowan and Claire Kelly are ranchers dueling over ownership of the titular white stallion, but Megowan has the upper hand, since daughter Molly McGowan has the ability to communicate with the wild horse. In fact, Molly claims that Snowfire talks, but only she can hear him. (Shades of MR. ED!)

Originally conceived as a TV series by Buck and Stuart McGowan (HELLFIRE--they apparently liked “fire” in their titles), who truly made this feature a family affair; older daughter Melody appears as well. SNOWFIRE’s low budget definitely shows, but it is a must for any horse aficionado. Ahead of its time in regards to animal rights issues--Molly almost brands herself in an effort to stop the ranch hands from doing the same to Snowfire. Never released on VHS, SNOWFIRE arrives on DVD for the first time via WA in January 5, 2016. Sadly, Molly McGowan only appeared once more onscreen (THE BASHFUL ELEPHANT, another family project in 1962) and passed away from cancer in 1965; she was only 18 years old.

Starting the HONDO episode guide got me interested in watching some of the film work by series star Ralph Taeger. He only made a half dozen features, all as a supporting player, but watching them led me to this, likely the best of the A.C. Lyles westerns for Paramount. Sheriff Barry Sullivan has to track down two brothers who have stolen $50,000 from the bank. Sullivan kills one in the ensuing shootout and captures Taeger, the remaining brother. Turns out Taeger’s father Keenan Wynn practically adopted and raised Sullivan as well, and judge Robert Strauss suspects that Sullivan’s personal involvement might come ahead of duty. So the judge hires Scott Brady to track them down. Also stars Lon Chaney, Jr., Joan Blondell, Marilyn Maxwell, Wanda Hendrix and a teenage Morgan Brittany. Directed by William F. Claxton. While nowhere near as good as Claxton’s THE QUIET GUN (1957), which has similar themes, it’s worth a look. Streaming on Epix HD.

Tina Mabry was unable to find theatrical distribution for her heartbreaking debut despite many festival accolades throughout 2009. Fortunately, it is now available on Netflix. Based on the writer/director’s childhood in Tupelo, MISSISSIPPI DAMNED tells the story of three youths growing up in the titular state: closeted lesbian Chastity Kershal Hammite (Leigh), her younger sister Kylee Russell (Keri), and budding basketball star Malcolm David Kelly (Sammy). The cycle of poverty, trauma and abuse is passed down from one generation to the next with tragic results as the film moves from the 1986 childhood to the 1998 adulthood of its protagonists. An excellent early performance by Tessa Thompson (DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, CREED) as the adult Keri is one more reason to watch this ambitious, but (be warned) depressing low budget feature.


Jerry Entract said...

I like your list of discoveries, Hal. Some good finds here!
I was initially struck by that still that introduces your list - recognised (before I read your review) Jack Kelly and Efrem Zimbalist jr. And isn't the other guy Robert Colbert, another Warner contractee at the time?

Hal said...

I believe you are right, Jerry (re: Colbert). The film has Andra Martin, Saundra Edwards and, uncredited, Luis Delgado, James Garner's longtime standin and Roy Huggins' brother in law. Any MAVERICK fan is going to love spotting the familiar faces.

Warner Archive Instant is probably my favorite streaming option these days, though I use Epix HD and good old Netflix a lot too.

Always glad to do these lists; I think 2016's list will be longer--I spent a lot more time on classic TV last year. :)

john k said...

Very interesting stuff Hal.

Very sad about Molly McGowan. I note on imdb Don McGowan (no relation) was in the
Fifties in a card school with Clint Eastwood,Clint Walker and Jack Elam.
Jeepers! imagine being in a room with those four!!!
I really wish someone would release those A C lyles Westerns on DVD or Blu Ray.
As a "hardcore Luddite" I'm not into streaming but Hal please enlighten me,
when streamed are these Lyles flicks in the original Techniscope ratio?
I know these films are cheesy but i rather like them.