Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2016 - Laura G ""

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Laura G

Laura runs the wonderful blog Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, which is a must for any classic film fans:
She can be found on Twitter here:
THE PRAIRIE PIRATE (Edmund Mortimer, 1925) - This silent Western starring Harry Carey Sr. was seen at the 2016 Lone Pine Film Festival with superb original piano accompaniment. While I've seen many of Carey Sr.'s supporting roles -- including his part as the marshal in one of my all-time favorite films, ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947) -- I had never before seen him as a leading man. In this Western he plays Brian, who becomes a masked bandit in order to track down the gang who broke into his home, leading to his sister's death by suicide rather than being taken by the men. He also falls hard for Teresa (Trilby Clark), who's being forced to marry a dastardly saloon owner (Lloyd Whitlock) in return for forgiveness of her father's gambling debts. On Teresa's wedding day, Brian finds a way to simultaneously save Teresa and avenge his sister. It's pure classic melodrama and as such might not be to every viewer's taste, but I found it simply lovely as well as highly entertaining. It was my favorite film seen at the festival!

Available on DVD.
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GET YOUR MAN (Dorothy Arzner, 1927) - My first-ever Clara Bow film was GET YOUR MAN, a sold-out Academy screening of a restored print with piano accompaniment. Two missing reels were filled in thanks to surviving production stills and intertitle cards. It's a truly delightful 57-minute silent comedy in which Robert (Charles "Buddy" Rogers), a young man of European nobility, meets vacationing American Nancy (Bow) in Paris; he's betrothed to Simone (Josephine Dunn) but falls for Nancy after they're stuck together overnight in a wax museum! Robert confesses his "previous commitment" to Nancy, who later shows up at Robert's family estate and sets plans in motion which will allow both Robert and Simone to marry their true loves. Bow has impeccable comic timing, and I watched most of the movie with a smile on my face. Highly recommended.

Not on DVD.

SHANGHAI EXPRESS (Josef von Sternberg, 1932) - I've never been a Marlene Dietrich fan, but SHANGHAI EXPRESS might have made a believer of me. An incredibly stylish film, it's a must-see for those who want to experience great movie-making of the '30s, and it's also a must for film fans who love "train movies." (I'm definitely one of them!) Utilizing a theme familiar from Westerns, two women of "easy virtue" (Dietrich and Anna May Wong) join a disparate group of travelers for a dangerous train trip through war-torn China. Dietrich's Shanghai Lil also discovers an old love (Clive Brook) is one of the passengers. Great dialogue and physical acting, gorgeous gowns by Travis Banton, fantastic photography by Lee Garmes and the uncredited James Wong Howe. An essential.

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THE MAN TRAILER (Lambert Hillyer, 1934) - THE MAN TRAILER was my introduction to Buck Jones Westerns, and it was "love at first watch." Over the course of the year I saw seven more Jones films! THE MAN TRAILER is a great example of a Buck Jones Western, which thus far I've found are all well made and regularly feature interesting "outside the box" touches. Jones plays Track Ames, a good man who's had bad trouble with both a ring of crooks and a Texas lawman. After saving a stagecoach carrying gold and pretty Sally (Cecilia Parker) Track becomes marshal of Sally's town under an assumed name, but trouble is following him. The movie combines a sweet love story with some stylish and economical storytelling devices, and Jones has an endearing sincerity. One of my Western enthusiast friends likes to say "We all need more Buck Jones in our lives," and he's right.

Not on DVD.

TRAIL OF THE VIGILANTES (Allan Dwan, 1940) - This goofy Western, a rarely seen Universal Pictures movie shown at the Lone Pine Film Festival, was great fun, sort of a forerunner of the comedy classic SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969). Franchot Tone stars as a good-natured, clever Eastern marshal sent to a wild and woolly town after the murder of a newspaperman. He goes undercover working on a ranch, where he's tormented and then aided by a pair of cowboys (Andy Devine and Broderick Crawford) and chased by the rancher's pretty young daughter (Peggy Moran), who won't take no for an answer. Supposedly director Allan Dwan had the original "straight" script rewritten as a spoof. The movie should be better known, but like many Universal films it's not on DVD and is hard to see.

Not on DVD.

BAMBI (multiple directors, 1942) - I'm a big Disney fan and knew all the characters and music and had seen some of the scenes, yet I'd always avoided sitting down and actually watching the entire movie, knowing it has at least one heartbreaking moment. My time to see BAMBI finally came at last year's TCM Classic Film Festival. It was preceded by an inspiring talk by Donnie Dunagan, who voiced young Bambi. To my surprise I was in tears almost from the moment the movie began -- not due to sadness, but completely enraptured by the movie's incredible art. (Ironically, I was fine with the movie's saddest moment.) I wasn't the only viewer who was emotionally overcome by the movie's beauty and had wet eyes at the end, as we thanked Dunagan for coming and he told us "Go out and have a great life!" Anyone who has put off seeing this film as I did should make haste to watch it.

On DVD and Blu-ray.
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FLESH AND FANTASY (Julien Duvivier, 1943) and DESTINY (Reginald Le Borg and Julien Duvivier, 1944) - FLESH AND FANTASY and DESTINY are a pair of related Universal Pictures 
films which were shown at this year's Noir City Hollywood Festival. FLESH AND FANTASY is an anthology film consisting of two otherworldly romances on either side of a murder tale, starring Robert Cummings, Betty Field, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, and Charles Boyer. DESTINY was originally conceived as the opening story in FLESH AND FANTASY, but it was expanded into a feature-length film, which was completed by a different director, and its initially planned dark ending became something inspiring. Gloria Jean (who turned 90 last year) stars in DESTINY as Jane, a blind farm girl who reforms an ex-con (Alan Curtis). Jane's soprano singing and relationships with animals call to mind a Disney princess, which is underscored by a nightmarish forest sequence which is like a scene from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937) come to life. At the same time, both movies are unusual, stylish, and compelling viewing.

FLESH AND FANTASY is available on DVD; DESTINY is not.
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FLESH AND FURY (Joseph Pevney, 1952) - Another terrific Universal Pictures film seen at this year's Noir City Hollywood Festival. Tony Curtis plays a deaf boxer who is manipulated by a boxing groupie named Sonia (Jan Sterling), who sees him as a meal ticket; he ultimately finds love with a magazine reporter (Mona Freeman) whose father is deaf. Curtis was on his way to bigtime stardom when he made this, and he's terrific -- and, it must be said, very handsome. The superb supporting cast includes Wallace Ford, Connie Gilchrist, and Louis Jean Heydt. There's also great black and white photography by Irving Glassberg, capturing the trails of cigar and cigarette smoke around the boxing ring. Most enjoyable.

On Region 2 DVD.
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THE DESPERADO (Thomas Carr, 1954) - I developed a new appreciation for Wayne Morris thanks to seeing his fine work in several '50s films. Morris's film career started in the '30s, with time out for WWII, where he was a decorated flying ace. It's a shame he passed on from a heart ailment in 1959, only 45 years old, as he was developing into quite an interesting character actor. My favorite Morris film last year was THE DESPERADO, in which he plays Sam, a weather-beaten gunslinger who takes young Tom (James Lydon) under his wing when Tom must flee his Texas home town during the Civil War. The older gunman teaches young Tom some tricks for staying alive, which come in handy when they deal with a horse thief (Lee Van Cleef) and his twin brother (also Lee Van Cleef!). Lydon is unexpectedly good as a Western lead, and there's a fine supporting performance by Dabbs Greer (Rev. Alden of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) as a cagey marshal who has a respectful relationship with Sam. Western fans will find this movie quite a nice surprise.

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DIAL RED O (Daniel B. Ullman, 1955) - Bill Elliott was my most-watched actor in 2016; I saw 13 Elliott films -- not counting several additional films in which he had bit roles in the '30s! My favorite Elliott films were his five detective films, beginning with DIAL RED O. They may not be great art, but I found them great fun. The "just the facts" style and solid casts are reminiscent of DRAGNET, and the short running times (DIAL RED O is just 63 minutes) make it easy to slip seeing one in at the end of a busy day. I regret Elliott didn't make more detective films before retiring in 1957.

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STRANGER AT MY DOOR (William Witney, 1956) - This Western, which I saw at the 2016 Lone Pine Film Festival, was also included in my Underrated 1956 list at this site. Macdonald Carey plays a minister whose farm is invaded by a bank robber (Skip Homeier) on the run. The minister hopes he can break through to the young man, but doesn't count on complications, such as his son (Stephen Wootton) developing an attachment to the man or his young second wife (Patricia Medina) struggling with attraction to the exciting newcomer in their midst. This is a thought-provoking film with interesting themes, and viewers won't soon forget the terrifying sequence in which a wild horse tears up the farm.

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DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE (Harold D. Schuster, 1957) - By now it's probably clear that I like Westerns! And DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE was one of my favorites seen in 2016. It was written by actor-screenwriter Warren Douglas, who has a small role. It's the classic Western theme of travelers banding together on a dangerous journey. Captain Matt Riordan (Dennis O'Keefe) is the only survivor of an Indian attack on his regiment; he meets up with a wagon carrying criminals (Barry Sullivan and Jack Elam) and a group of stagecoach passengers (including Mona Freeman and Katy Jurado). As Indians pick off some of the group and their horses, true character is revealed, with the two "bad guys" who have nothing to lose proving to be among the bravest of the bunch. Sullivan pretty much steals the movie in a great part...and then Elam in turn steals it from him!

On Region 2 DVD.
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More great discoveries from this year which there's not room to discuss here: A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931), STATE FAIR (1933), JUDGE PRIEST (1934), BOSS OF LONELY VALLEY (1937), ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (1942), THE AFFAIRS OF SUSAN (1945), FLAME OF THE WEST (1945), HE RAN ALL THE WAY (1951), SIERRA PASSAGE (1951), and DOMINO KID (1957).


Anonymous said...

Some very interesting stuff there, Laura. I'm not familiar with all of that but I will say Shanghai Express is a fabulous bit of filmmaking - Brook is very wooden and poor but Dietrich, Garmes and Von Sternberg easily make up for that.

Of the two "Flesh" films, I have to say Joseph Pevney always impresses and his name invariably gets my attention, The Duvivier movie is only half successful for me, the Boyer segment just didn't work at all last time I saw it.

And can I just say it is a crying shame that a proper restored version of Dragoon Wells, in the correct aspect ratio, is unavailable - super little movie.


Jerry Entract said...

A fine and varied selection of discoveries there, Laura! I love that both Buck Jones and Bill Elliott are there (of course) but there are some other films across the board that I like a lot too.

I have never really discovered 'silent' era cinema though I have seen a few examples in the past. I have just one in my own collection - 1926 western starring the great Tom Mix, "THE GREAT K & A TRAIN ROBBERY". (Actually, that sounds like one you might like, come to think of it LOL).

john k said...

Awesome list Laura!

Really, something for everyone.
Great to see you spread the word on both Buck Jones and Lambert Hillyer.
I second Colin's statement that someone really needs to release
DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE remastered in the correct ratio.
Nice to see a nod for the underrated Pevney,who as Colin quiet correctly says
"always impresses.

Kristina said...

Wow, great list-- I've only seen Bambi and Shanghai Express, so I have some catching up to do! Dragoon looks amazing, love that cast. (...the watchlist grows...)

Laura said...

Thanks to you all for taking the time to stop by and comment!

It's interesting, Colin, I rather got to like Clive Brook in SHANGHAI EXPRESS, he seemed right for the part. Thought it was kind of funny two different "Flesh" films made the list. I hope that FLESH AND FURY will eventually make it to DVD -- perhaps in the Universal Vault series? I suspect my fellow Pevney fans would like it. Completely agree re the need for a good DRAGOON WELLS DVD!

Jerry, I have you and my fellow Western fans to thank for helping lead me to both Jones and Elliott, I was completely unfamiliar with them before learning about them from my Westerns friends! I have come to silent cinema very late; I've recounted here before that the biggest part of my problem in years past was boredom with the intertitles, being a super-fast reader. Harold Lloyd, with his minimal use of title cards -- which are also very witty -- helped ease me over this hurdle. Live orchestras and piano performances also helped reel me in, along with, of course, the artistry of the films themselves. I'm much more patient about the time the titles take now (grin). I bet I'd like that Tom Mix film! I hope you get to try some more silents yourself, I've seen some real gems in the last couple years.

Thanks, John! It's definitely an eclectic batch of movies. And thanks again for your role in helping me to see some of these films!

You definitely have to catch up, Kristina! LOL. I suspect you would appreciate a lot of the titles. DRAGOON was a terrific little movie, and you'll especially like it if you're a fan of Barry Sullivan.

Thanks again to you all!

Best wishes,