Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '76 - Sean Wicks ""

Friday, July 1, 2016

Underrated '76 - Sean Wicks

Sean is a good friend of mine and he runs the Cinema-Scope blog (http://cinemascope-blog.blogspot.com/) which is very much a sister blog to my own (we often do series in conjunction with each other). An all-around social media lover, he's very active on twitter (https://twitter.com/wixpix), tumblr (http://seanwicks.tumblr.com/) facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WicksFlicks), and letterboxd (http://letterboxd.com/wixpix/).
See his Underrated '86 and '96 lists here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2016/05/underrated-sean-wicks.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2016/03/underrated-96-sean-wicks.html
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You talking to me?

1976, not a year I remember first-hand (I was 3) but a solid film year thanks to films such as Rocky, Taxi Driver, Network and All The President’s Men. It is a year well represented on the majority of my best-of lists.

With titles as big and as memorable as the ones listed above, there was more than ample opportunity for other attention-worthy films to get lost in the shuffle. Here are a few that I feel deserve some love.
THE FRONT (Directed by Martin Ritt)
Populated by people affected by the McCarthy-era blacklists, this Martin Ritt directed film features Woody Allen as a restaurant cashier who poses as a screenwriter for blacklisted artists, the only way they could keep writing for an industry that would not allow them to work.

One of those rare movies Woody did not direct, but he’s perfect in the role as a political-innocent helping others take a stand against a great injustice. Works better as a drama than a comedy, but does feature some humorous moments.

THE LAST TYCOON (Directed by Elia Kazan)
Ah, the irony of listing a Kazan film next to a movie about the blacklist (Kazan was known for being one of the individuals who “named names” that contributed to the Hollywood blacklist).

Based on F. Scot Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel, the picture stars Robert De Niro as a studio-era producer slowly working himself to death. The book was based the life of MGM producer and executive Irving Thalberg, and both the film and novel are a great tribute to the Hollywood of yesteryear and the studio system. It is a somewhat flawed picture which comes from the fact that the source material was never completed (author Scott died of a heart attack before he could finish it), but it features a great cast and looks fantastic. Definitely worthy of some attention.

THE SHOOTIST (Directed by Don Siegel)
John Wayne’s last film is a fitting end to his larger-than-life persona and the effect he had on cinema. It’s also fitting that it’s a western about a gun-fighter about to die from cancer who looking for a more suitable way out for a man of his stature essentially places an open call to other gunfighters to take a shot at him by telling them where to find him at a specific time and place. A personal story for The Duke indeed.

Featuring Ron Howard, Lauren Bacall, Scatman Crothers and James Stewart, this film really took me by surprise given that when I first screened it I had no idea it was Wayne’s last picture, nor what the subject matter was and I thought going in that it was just another western featuring the Duke (I was young, ok!).

I also love Elmer Bernstein’s score for this which was released by La-La Land records in a limited edition of just 3000 units (and is still available – HERE).

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (Directed by John Carpenter)
John Carpenter is one of those directors who makes great movies out of minimalist premises (see Halloween or track down the original script. It is so bare bones you will be shocked at how little is there yet it’s a masterpiece). Pre-Halloween, Assault has an about to close, nearly abandoned and completely isolated Los Angele police precinct come under attack from a ruthless street gang that seem to come from everywhere and have unlimited members that just do not relent. Virtually unstoppable, they give our small band of heroes – which includes a prison bus escorting some nasty criminals on a brief stopover (that they quickly regret) - a lot of grief.

It is a smart, exciting thrill ride that also has something not seen much in action movies of the era, an African American protagonist that is not portrayed as a bad-ass or thug or street-savvy, but just a guy doing his job under the most unfortunate of circumstances.

A 2005 remake is not too bad, but plays it more straight and has less character than the original which will stick with you long after you experience it.

HAWMPS! (Directed by Joe Camp)
Some time ago, within the last 10 years, I read an article that made the case for Joe Camp having one of the worst careers as a director in Hollywood, ever (I want to say it was in Film Comment, but not certain). Primarily known for films such as Benji(plus about 3 or 4 Benji follow-ups) and Oh Heavenly Dog, his name isn’t ever to be listed among the greats like Ford, Spielberg or Hawks, but is more likely to be forgotten (if it has not already). As a kid, I hated Benji while being forced to endure it several times thanks to it being labeled as “family friendly”. Camp’s filmography screams just that, safe, prosaic family films that are forgotten fairly quickly.

Hawmps! is by no means a great or even really an all-that-good film, but has its moments. A Calvary outpost is in need of horses and the captain believes he is about to receive a shipment of Arabians which turns out to be Camels. So essentially we have a western-comedy with Camels. The title says it all, it even tells you how funny it is supposed to be because instead of Humps it is full of Hawmps. That title alone makes you think it is a Disney film, but nope! Family friendly indeed, but it has some laughs and a premise that makes it more memorable than some others, and is likely a title that most people have forgotten let alone even heard of.

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