Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '66 - Everett Jones ""

Friday, October 21, 2016

Underrated '66 - Everett Jones

Everett is an avid movie watcher and user of Letterboxd like myself - follow him there: http://letterboxd.com/everettjones/ - I've gotten many good film recs this way.

See his Underrated '96, '86 & '76 lists here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2016/04/underrated-everett-jones.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2016/06/underrated-everett-jones.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2016/08/underrated-76-everett-jones.html
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Gambit
Ronald Neame tends to be an underrated director in general--except, clearly, by the Criterion Collection, which has seen fit to release three films of his (not including this one.) In set-up and casting, this is a fairly standard ‘60s caper film, starring Michael Caine as a suave con artist, Shirley MacLaine as a Hong Kong nightclub dancer, and Herbert Lom as the Arab Sheikh whose dead wife MacLaine is a dead ringer for. It’s also a typically penny-pinching Universal production of the era, rarely moving too far off the studio backlot despite the globe-trotting storyline, which seems to fit the visually straightforward Neame just fine. It’s where the screenplay, co-written by the celebrated Alvin Sargent, takes this basic setup in the story’s second act that makes GAMBIT much more than just a vintage genre artifact. It upends the expectations one has of a mid-sixties PINK PANTHER/TOPKAPI imitation in a way that’s ingenious and even unexpectedly moving.

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Faraon
Like probably many cinephiles, I find that recreating past historical periods is one of the most enjoyable things the movies can do, even while I almost never find these recreations exactly convincing. This Polish epic of ancient Egypt isn’t exactly convincing either--there are far too many Polish actors running around in brownface and tunics for that--but it does capture a sense of the alienness of past times in a way that Hollywood movies are naturally incapable of. The opening is unforgettable: a shot from high above the desert, which then turns out to be very close it, as two scarab beetles come into view, fighting over a ball of dung. A wider shot reveals an Egyptian messenger, running back through thousands of troops to tell the pharaoh that the army’s march has to be diverted to avoid bothering the sacred insects. This is a far cry from THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956), and well worth seeking out, whether in the restored version included on the recent MASTERPIECES OF POLISH CINEMA set, if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford it, or the pretty good versions currently streaming on YouTube.

Is Paris Burning?
Though I was already a fan of director Rene Clement, it took Spike Lee picking this for a “100 greatest films” list for me to me to watch his depiction of occupied Paris. I’d actually known of it for a long time; it just had a lousy reputation with the critics and paperback movie guides I grew up reading. This sprawling epic has its flaws, moreso than Clement’s first film about the Resistance, and first film altogether, the spare THE BATTLE OF THE RAILS, made soon after Liberation (and . PARIS took flak for its uneven storyline, scripted by the unlikely pair of Francis Ford Coppola and Gore Vidal, and sometimes distractingly star-crammed cast (including Kirk Douglas as the least ever convincing General Patton.) But it also has its share of stunning sequences, particularly a joyous final montage of the liberation. Clement was unfairly written off by critics for a long time for having moved from serious arthouse fare like FORBIDDEN GAMES (1952) to glossy thrillers like PURPLE NOON (1960), but he was a filmmaker of underrated skill, evident in the confident scope of this movie, in which no character is as important as Paris itself.

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10:30 P.M. Summer
I haven’t seen it yet, but the reviews I’ve read and the ads I’ve watched for last year’s BY THE SEA, Angelina Jolie’s little-seen art film, remind me of this Jules Dassin film. It’s pretentious, but in an enjoyable and even admirable way. Coming off a string of successful commercial films like RIFIFI, TOPKAPI, and NEVER ON SUNDAY, Dassin clearly entered the project with a mind to joining the then-cutting edge in European arthouse filmmaking: the New Wave, Bergman, Resnais, and especially Antonioni. The script, by former Resnais writer (HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR) and future director (LA CAMION) Marguerite Duras, from her own novella, involves married couple (Peter Finch and Melina Mercouri, Dassin’s wife), their young daughter, and a slinky friend of theirs (Romy Schneider) on vacation in a remote corner of Spain. This being an Art Film, a vacation will necessarily involve two obligatory ingredients, infidelity and death (for a more recent example, see this year’s A BIGGER SPLASH). Sure enough, Finch and Schneider’s characters are soon circling each other, while the alcoholic Mercouri, left to her own devices, takes more interest in a recent murder in the area, and in the young suspect now on the run. Just to be certain the bourgeoisie are properly shocked, there’s a little bisexual frisson between Mercouri and Schneider as well (though not as exploited as it would’ve been in the following decade of CABARET and LAST TANGO IN PARIS.) Dassin creates an air of heady claustrophobia that might have drifted over from the sets of Bergman’s THE SILENCE or Antonioni’s L’ECLISSE, but he’s too much the Hollywood showman to be satisfied with their modernist visuals. The look here is more Gothic, like horror maestro Mario Bava with a budget. It’s a gorgeous-looking movie, very deserving of rediscovery by repertory theater audiences and a Blu-ray release by a good home video company (Criterion might be too much to hope for, but either Kino Lorber or Twilight Time would be ideal.)

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How to Steal a Million
William Wyler rarely catches a break from reviewers and biographers for directing this piece of fluff instead of a prestigious award-winner. To me, it seems a well-deserved and enjoyable, for him and us, rest after a career crammed with classics (THE LITTLE FOXES, THE LETTER) and worthy tries at classics (THE BIG COUNTRY, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR.) It’s a caper film that unlike, say, GAMBIT, doesn’t introduce any innovations to what by the mid’-60s had become a very well-worn formula--this is decidedly toward the lighter end of the scale, more TOPKAPI than RIFIFI--but it’s one of the best-crafted. Wyler doesn’t condescend to the genre, creating the same sense of tangibly real characters and places as he does in his classics. Working again with Audrey Hepburn, his “discovery” of sorts from ROMAN HOLIDAY, and for the first time with Peter O’Toole, he doesn’t call on them to do anything new with their own well-established personas. It’s still a pleasure to spend two hours in their company (the movie admittedly is a little long, like many of its time), and with them in company with each other--Hepburn for once has a leading man older than her by a few years, instead of a few decades. I also really enjoy seeing O’Toole here, in an unpretentiously assured piece of entertainment, as it feels like one of his few true star-vehicle roles--his ‘60s career after the breakout of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is a bit of a letdown, and his movie career after the ‘60s became a very strange and infrequently spotted beast. And of course, Eli Wallach is always a pleasure--as Hepburn’s gentleman suitor, he’s maybe the only person here striking out into unfamiliar territory, and all the better for it.
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1 comment:

Sergio Mims said...

Twilght Time will be releasing How to Steal a Million sometime next year on blu-ray. But how I wish Is Paris Burning was on blu-ray. I'm an unabashed fan of that film