Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '56 - Ira Brooker ""

Friday, November 25, 2016

Underrated '56 - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer, editor and trash cinema enthusiast living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His Letterboxd account is a document of a life poorly spent. You can find his writing all over the place, and especially at, and @irabrooker.
Check out his Underrated '96, '86, '76 & '66 lists too:

The Gamma People (Directed by John Gilling)
Two journalists on their way to a music festival find themselves stranded in a tiny European country with no transportation or external communications, a situation that becomes all the more dire after a run-in with a rogue geneticist who’s building dual armies of brainless zombies and super-intelligent fascist children.
This wonderfully strange horror-humor hybrid from future Hammer stalwart John Gilling is part mad scientist flick, part fish-out-of-water comedy in the “Local Hero” vein, and part Cold War espionage thriller. The pieces fit together far better than there’s any reason to expect. The comedy is so bone-dry that it never distracts from the creepiness of the proceedings - the scene where an adolescent dictator berates a peer for playing the piano with too much feeling is genuinely chilling. Paul Douglas’s acerbic American newsman and Leslie Phillips’s rakish British photographer play off each other so marvelously that I wish they’d gotten their own Abbott and Costello-ish horror film series. This is exactly the kind of buried gem I hope to unearth every time I start researching one of these lists.
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Female Jungle (Directed by Bruno VeSota)
Alcoholic tough-guy cop Lawrence Tierney (talk about casting against type!) emerges from a blackout bender just in time to learn that a starlet has been murdered outside his favorite bar, and he can’t be certain he’s not the guilty party. On the other hand there’s also plenty of reason to suspect super-suave gossip columnist John Carradine, sexually irresistible caricature artist Burt Kaiser, or sultry femme fatale Jayne Mansfield.
It’s mainly remembered for being Mansfield’s first film. The cast is impeccable, the story is surprising if occasionally silly, and the score is a solid chunk of noir blues. Heck, seeing John Carradine play a hip dude with an eye for the ladies is worth the price of admission by itself.
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Runaway Daughters (Directed by Edward L. Cahn)
In an idyllic American small town, three teen girls struggle against three distinct strains of poor parenting: Mary’s widower father keeps her under strict supervision and forbids her to date her soldier boyfriend, Audrey’s bohemian parents spend most of their time throwing drunken parties and hooking up with neighbors, and Angie’s mom took off on an extended vacation and left the kid to fend for herself. Stir all of that in with the usual high school hang-ups of cruel gossips, snobby cliques and horny boys and naturally you end up with three girls lamming it to California in a hot car.
This soapy little number rises above the glut of preachy ‘50s teensploitation flicks partly via its refreshingly bleak worldview - nobody here is faultless and solutions don’t come easily, or sometimes at all - and partly via crackerjack casting. Among the many B-movie lifers on display are 1930s screen stars Anna Sten and John Litel as the maddeningly libertine parents, noir dame Adele Jergens as a grifter with a heart of gold, and the incomparable Frank Gorshin as a fratty high school jerk. Gloria Castillo comes close to stealing the show as the wildest of the runaways, an acid-tongued dynamo with tragic charisma to burn. Even reliably adequate workhorse director Edward L. Cahn seems to be feeling his oats with a few atypically artsy compositions.
(Odd footnote: Joe Dante remade this for TV in the ‘90s with Julie Bowen and Paul Rudd in featured roles. I haven’t seen that version but it certainly sounds like something.)
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Shake, Rattle and Rock! (Directed by Edward L. Cahn)
Radio DJ and rock ‘n’ roll evangelist Mike Connors believes his “American Bandstand” style TV dance party is uniting teenagers as a force for good in the community. The local league of elderly busybodies believes he’s a corrupting influence and borderline pornographer. The local mob boss believes he’s ruining business by getting all of the petty thugs and young hoodlums off the street. You know where this is heading: a wacky courtroom showdown to determine whether rock music is objectively good or evil, obviously!
This is deeply stupid pro-rock propaganda from an era when that meant something, all presented with such goofy good-nature that I can’t help loving it. It’s largely a vehicle for lip-synced performances by some of the era’s top rockers, most notably Fats Domino and Big Joe Turner, but the material surrounding the songs is surprisingly fun. Along with Margaret Dumont and Douglass Dumbrille soaking up moldy insults like the pros they are, the highlight is a bravura broad-comedy performance by Sterling Holloway as Connors’s jive-babbling hipster sidekick. Even if I didn’t find this movie a blast, no way am I not gonna be on board with hearing Winnie the dang Pooh spout lines like "Now dig this: there's a brigade of blue-noses out to smash this whole bust up. I need a shoulder, so make with the quill and the parchment please and keep 'em coming in, else the whole works'll blow up!"
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The Flesh Merchant (Directed by W. Merle Connell)
A naive young lady heads to the city in hopes of replicating her big sister’s supposedly thriving career in modeling. If you’ve read the title and/or seen a movie before, I don’t have to tell you what line of work she ends up in.
This is fairly standard ‘50s exploitation, but executed with a sleazy panache that keeps things crackling along. In between all the stilted deliveries and leering hints at nudity, moments of compelling delirium keep rising to the surface. Heck, the whole thing’s worth it just for Lisa Rack (in her only credited film appearance) berating the johns with this super-heated monologue: “Look at yourselves! You're all drunks and lechers! It's your money we're after! Lots of it! And we'll sell you all the sex, liquor and degradation you can afford. All of it! Except nobody can afford these kinds of things. It takes more from you than just your money." ‘50s sleaze-flick morals don’t come more quintessential than that.
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Anonymous said...

Some genuine rarities here. I've been meaning to catch up on Female Jungle for a while now, so thanks for the reminder.

Silver Screenings said...

I agree with the previous commenter. There are some REAL rarities here. I'm especially intrigued by the bleakness of "Runaway Daughters". Thanks for putting it on my radar. :)