Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Jim Healy ""

Monday, January 11, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Jim Healy

Jim Healy is the Director of Programming for the University of Wisconsin Cinematheque (http://cinema.wisc.edu) as well as the fella who heads up the Wisconsin Film Festival (http://wifilmfest.org). The UW Cinematheque can be found on Twitter here:
https://twitter.com/uwcinematheque
Jim's lists are always outstanding and a great resource for me personally in deciding what films to start with for my new discoveries each year.

Check out Jim's Discoveries list from 2012, 2013 & 2014 for more good stuff:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2013/01/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2012-jim.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2014/01/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2013-jim.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/01/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2014-jim.html
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BEYOND THE FOREST (1949, King Vidor)
This WB Bette Davis melodrama is best known for being quoted in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, where Elizabeth Taylor mimics Davis saying “What a dump!” Outside of that, it has a reputation for being an overripe piece of camp, and maybe, at times, it is, but I loved every second of it. Sure, Davis is over-the-top as a rural Wisconsin housewife who breathes heavily for her lover in Chicago while ignoring the affections of her doctor husband (Joseph Cotten). But Vidor’s mise-en-scène and noir-ish atmosphere make a perfect fit for Bette’s histrionics. The director’s training in silent-era cinema is evident in the visual flourishes. The “city vs. country” imagery is as strong here as it is in Murnau’s Sunrise (1928) and I was particularly impressed with how Vidor uses the billowing, industrial smokestacks to represent pent-up desires - the same way he uses the volcano in Bird of Paradise (1932).

DAÏNAH LA MÉTISSE (1932, Jean Grémillon)
A real knockout, this 48-minute masterpiece by one of French cinema’s most underappreciated directors is about amarried bi-racial woman (the title, roughly translated, means “Daïnah the Half-Breed”) who, along with her wealthy black husband, takes an ocean voyage. Various crimes and the racism of the other passengers and crew figure into the often surreal story, but what’s really memorable is the dreamlike atmosphere that Grémillonconjures, particularly through the use of pop songs (like “Chloe”) and other music on the soundtrack and one especially creepy sequence where Daïnah’s husband performs an indescribable magic act while everyone who is watching wears bizarre face masks. Grémillon took his name off the credits and denounced the released version of the film. He claimed that the running time was chopped in half by the distributor, but, while it is short, it’s hard to imagine what could be missing. It certainly didn’t leave we wanting!


DANGEROUS TO KNOW (1938, Robert Florey)
In a rare leading role, Akim Tamiroff is a powerful racketeer who tries to go straight. His plans include romancing a rich society woman (Gail Patrick), but that means casting aside his loyal, longtime mistress (Anna Way Wong). The beautifully edited climactic scene where Tamiroff gives Wong the bad news and she enacts her revenge is a clip that should be included in all anthologies of great 30s cinema. In October, I showed a great 35mm print of this gem along with another Florey/Wong vehicle, Daughter of Shanghai (1937). It’s fun too, but not as memorable. Anthony Quinn is in both movies!


KIDNAP SYNDICATE ("La città sconvolta: caccia spietata ai rapitori, 1975, Fernando Di Leo)
Another gritty, violent and well-told crime tale from Di Leo, this sleazy gem stars the great James Mason as a rich dude who (with echoes of Kurosawa’s High and Low) callously jeopardizes the life of a working class boy who is kidnapped along with his own child. I was grateful to hear Mason’s wonderful voice on the English language track of the blu-ray release. You can buy it in a Di Leo set that also includes his fantastic Shoot First, Die Later (1974), but alas, for that movie, Richard Conte’s voice is dubbed by another actor in both the Italian and English versions.


KING OF THE WILD STALLIONS (1959, R.G. Springsteen)
Springsteen is an often forgotten auteur who specialized in westerns and crime dramas. This oater concerns itself with a widow’s child who tries to save his family’s land by capturing a legendary wild black horse and collecting the reward money offered by a villainous rancher (the always fine Emile Meyer). There’s nothing especially memorable about the movie, but it’s a nice, entertaining picture that rises above most of the cheapo westerns from the era.


OKAY, AMERICA! (1932, Tay Garnett)
A real proto-noir, this one: Lew Ayres channels Walter Winchell as a popular columnist and radio host who gets tangled up with drug dealers and the mob and follows a trail that leads him to the White House! The Ayres character really abuses his power and, like a lot of noir protagonists, his ultimate trajectory is the one that leads him to redemption, even if that means his own demise. This was the second Garnett movie to blow my mind in as many years (last year I discovered his 1943 The Cross of Lorraine). Now how can I get my hands on Garnett’s Her Man (1930)?


ONE CROWDED NIGHT (1940, Irving Reis)
Call this one Grand Motel: it’s another multi-character, multi-plotted melodrama that centers around the owners and denizens of a roadside flophouse and filling station in the Mojave Desert. Gangsters and hidden identities play a part in the story, and it’s all wrapped up in a breathtakingly entertaining 68 minutes. Produced by RKO’s low-budget unit, the cast features few famous actors (Anne Revere and Gale Storm play key roles), but the standout amongst the players is John Ford repertory member J.M. Kerrigan, who plays a well-lubricated medicine man.


PICKUP (1951, Hugo Haas)
Haas is another forgotten auteur and if he’s ever remembered, he’s remembered as a bad filmmaker. I’ve only seen two of his movies: last year I saw Bait, his entertaining low-budget 1954 variation on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Greed and I liked this noir item as well. Haas, who was usually his own leading man, stars as an older railroad worker who marries a scheming con artist (Beverly Michaels) looking to get her hands on his $7,000 “fortune”. When Haas loses his hearing for psychosomatic reasons, she begins an affair with his younger colleague and together they begin plotting to bump Haas off and collect his loot. But just as quick as it came on, the deafness goes away and the talkative young lovers who think they can’t be heard have no idea that Haas knows what they’re up to! The sleazy, pulpy story triumphs over Haas lack of ability to add more than the basic visual grace notes, but Michaels is pretty hard to forget as Betty the tramp. She gives Ann Savage in Detour a run for her money.


THE SINS OF RACHEL CADE (1961, Gordon Douglas)
Douglas, of course, specialized in westerns and action movies, but I think he was pretty good at melodramas in the Delmer Daves mode too, as evidenced by this movie and Claudelle Inglish, also released in 1961. Angie Dickinson stars as a repressed doctor volunteering at a clinic in the Belgian Congo at the start of WWII who blossoms when she’s romanced by a downed RAF pilot (Roger Moore, who co-starred in Douglas’ wonderful Gold of the Seven Saints, also released in ’61!), but their love affair weakens her moral authority. The cast is fine, especially Peter Finch, whose love for Rachel goes unrequited, and there are appearances by Woody Strode and Juano Hernandez too.


THE SYSTEM (1953, Lewis Seiler)
This is the rare WB gangster movie that asks for our complete and total sympathy for its mobster hero, and it works because the always-reliable Frank Lovejoy plays him. Lovejoy particularly shines here as a reluctant racketeer and it stands up to his work in Cy Endfield’s masterful Try and Get Me! (The Sound of Fury, 1951).


Here's Jim's full list of Favorites from the UW Cinematheque Blog:
http://cinema.wisc.edu/blog/2016/01/03/favorites-2015-jim-healy

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