Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2016 - Spenser Hoyt ""

Monday, February 6, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Spenser Hoyt

Hi Guys and Happy New Year. I’m Spenser. I contributed to the amaze-zing film book Destroy All Movies!!!  I’m still sort-of involved with The Grand Illusion Cinema. And I used to work at Scarecrow Video. I need to do something new and notable this year so I can have a more bad assed bio! You can follow me on Letterboxd as Hoytoid.

To The Last Man (1933, Henry Hathaway)
Perhaps my biggest regret of 2016 was getting so mad at my cable provider that I cancelled my cable “package” which included TCM, which is where I caught this beauty. To The Last Man has been available on a crap transfer DVD from Alpha under the title Law of Vengeance for yearsThe version they showed on TCM was struck from a restored print courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art and looked sensational. It’s a Pre-Code, Zane Grey, Romeo and Juliet, family feud story. And this ain’t no Richard Dawson/Steve Harvey type family feud as there are all sorts of casualties. The film should really be called To The Last Man, Woman, Child, Dog, Doll, Horse, House and the Last Few Cows Too. It’s an early talkie western with a terrific cast (be still my beating heart, where has Esther Ralston been hiding all these years????). To The Last Man is a movie with a lot of “favorite parts” but topping the list may be how each character gets a little title card with the actor and character’s name when they show up on screen. This goes on for over 20 minutes when Randolph Scott (as Lynn Hayden) finally shows up to charm and feud.  

The Long Night (1947, Anatole Litvak)/Le Jour Se Leve (1939, Marcel Carne’)
So I stumbled into The Long Night, back before I got pissed at Comcast and cancelled my cable. I’d never heard of it and here on my TV was a depressed, chain-smoking Henry Fonda, Vincent Price as a sleaze-ball showman, Ann Dvorak as an aging showgirl, and Barbara Bel Geddes as an “innocent” all wrapped into a story of murder and maybe sex unfolding alongside a pro-proletariat subtext. After The Long Night, I got my head on straight and figured out it was a remake of a French film that’d I’d embarrassingly never seen. I said, “I need towatch that right now! ...or as soon as possible.” Needless to say Le Jour Se Leve was even better. Perhaps one of the best. Jean Gabin was Henry Fonda, Jules Berry was Vincent Price, Arletty was Ann Dvorak, and Jacqueline Laurent was Barbara Bel Geddes. I have to say I was glad I watched the remake first as I might not have liked it so much. The American version was produced almost 10 years later but prudishly tiptoes around the story’s more sordid details. Still, I dug them both and remember them fondly.
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The Killer Shrews (1959, Ray Kellogg)
Here’s one that usually gets stuck in that “so bad, it’s good” category...but back off for a second. Yeah, it’s cheap as hell but it ain’t “so bad” and it is good!  Yeah, they use dogs with fake fangs and fur outfits for the monsters but, in my book, there are not nearly enough scary fake fang/fur outfitted dog movies. Plus, some may claim shrews aren’t much of a threat. Then why did Shakespeare write The Taming of the Shrew? Shrews are hard to tame, that’s why! And they are mean too!! The guys that made this movie knew they had maybe 300 bucks to spend on special effects but they still produced a tight little “trapped on an island with monsters” thriller. Isn’t that feat more impressive than a modern, bottomless budget, two and a half hour, bratty modern motion picture spectacle? I wish there were 20 more cheap horror films featuring dogs in monster costumes. I’d watch ‘em all! And, if there is, le’me know! (Note: I have seen Deadly Eyes and dig that one too).
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Child’s Play (1988, Tom Holland) 
Most assuredly, I’ve seen much of this franchise but on All Hallows Eve 2016 I discovered I probably hadn’t watched the first. And if I did I was blackout drunk. Now I have watched with attentiveness and it’s a really good one. They don’t waste time with the obvious, manage to slip in a little social commentary and keep the scares and tensions occurring with dependable regularity. Tom Holland had a very respectable run till Hollywood BS brought him down. Imagine what Tom Holland could do with a dogs in monster costume project? 
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The Connection (1961, Shirley Clarke)
Gimmicky art film from a human best known for her documentaries. I like her non-fiction stuff but the DVD packaging for The Connection made this sucker look like some sort of beatnik jazz performance film. Which some of it is...but it is also much more. An adaption of a beat era play, Clarke tweaks its basic conceit, creating a pseudo-documentary about junkie jazz musicians whose realm pulls the “documentary filmmakers” away from observation and into participation. While it is somewhat of a technical exercise the movie still connects on many different cinematic levels.
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Chandu The Magician (1932, William Cameron Menzies & Marcel Varnel)
Another thing I did in 2016 was delve deeper into the filmography of Bela Lugosi. This was one of my favorites. Bela does not play Chandu, he’s actually a death ray craving bad guy named Roxor. Lugosi did end up playing Chandu in a later serial though. Speaking of serials, Chandu The Magician unfolds like a serial with lots of cliffhangers, exotic locations and sundry shenanigans crammed into its brief running time. Probably the best parts of the film are the incredible special effects and stunning visuals courtesy of cinematic greats William Cameron Menzies and James Wong Howe. 
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The Invisible Man (1933, James Whale)
Since I’d seen Abbot and Costello Meet The Invisible Man and pretty much every other invisible man movie (even The Man Who Wasn’t There and The Invisible Maniac) I was feeling pretty cocky about my invisible movie film quota. Consequently, my misfiring brain also assumed I’d seen the original. Also, James Whale has made so many great movies his filmography tends to overshadow itself. You could also say the same of Claude Rains. Even though Rains is invisible for most of this film he is always present and provides the definitive invisible man voice and attitude. It’s amazing to think that this was his first substantial film role as his confidence and abilities are constantly on display even when they aren’t necessarily visible.
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Son of Frankenstein (1939, Rowland V. Lee) 
After realizing the error of my ways with The Invisible ManI got busy catching up on all those other Universal Horrors I’d been lying to myself about. Again, here’s another one that is great--maybe even super great--and whose boat I’d previously missed. I’m pretty sure I saw the condensed Ken Films Super-8 version back in twerpdom, but I’ve been missing out on the full Son experience. Rowland V. Lee capably takes over from James Whale and continues much of the weirdness, humor, and artistry developed in Bride of Frankenstein. The film’s highlights include: The nifty art deco / expressionistic sets, Lionel Atwill as the local, wooden-armed constable and Bela Lugosi (in what might be his best performance) utterly rules as the crazed broken-necked Ygor. Basil Rathbone does his regular Basil Rathbone thing as Wolf von Frankenstein and, sadly, they don’t do much with Boris Karloff’s monster besides put him in a Barney Rubble type fur vest. He doesn’t even get to talk or smoke or drink. 
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Universal horrors get the B movie treatment
So I continued my Universal horror exploration...and these guys stood out--
The Scarlet Claw (1944, Roy William Neill)
Like a lot of people I know I had a nasty cold at the end of October. Fortunately I had a nice DVD collection from MPI simply titled “The Sherlock Holmes Collection Volume 2” to keep me company. The set featured four of the spookier Universal Holmes films and all shared much of the same atmosphere as Universal’s horror films from the same era-- foggy sets, swamps, graveyards, creepy mansions, angry villagers, a little Rondo Hatton, The Son of Frankenstein as Holmes, etc. The Scarlet Claw was my favorite of the bunch, though all were all quite enjoyable. In The Scarlet Claw, Holmes and Watson travel to a small Canadian village that is being terrorized by a glowing, throat-ripping ghost. Sherlock Holmes don’t believe in no ghosts and gets to work deducting who the real killer is. 
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The Mummy’s Ghost (1944, Reginald LeBorg)
Once again, I’ve seen a lot of mummy movies but somehow missed Universal’s forties mummy quadrilogy. The films share similar plots, use lots of recycled footage, were cheaply made and each run about an hour in length. There’s tana leaves, some sort of reincarnated Egyptian princess and, typically, a bad guy with a fez and a good guy with a pith helmet. The cycle is not essential and all four pictures are certainly lesser monster films but they did me right and served their intended purpose. The Mummy’s Hand (1940) wasn’t so much of a sequel to the 1932 Karloff film. Instead the film was a re-boot and introduced a tana fueled mummy named Kharis (Tom Tyler). In the remaining films Lon Chaney, Jr. took over as Kharis to add name value to the franchise even though it could be just about anybody in those bandages. The Mummy’s Tomb(1942), is a direct sequel to Hand with the setting changed from Egypt to Massachusetts. The series hit its stride in 1944 with the lumbering one-two punch of The Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse. I liked The Mummy’s Ghost the most--it has a heroic dog and a bummer ending. Plus ravishing Ramsay Ames co-stars as the reincarnated Egyptian Princess Anaka. The Mummy’s Curse changes the location to Louisiana so they could stage the most striking scene in the whole series. Heck, it should be in the top ten awesome horror images. Princess Anaka (now played by Virginia “Mrs. Olson” Christine) rises from the dead, tears her way out of the ground and wanders--dazed and dirt covered--through a swamp into a pond. They undercranked the camera for this sequence giving it an extra creepy, nightmare vibe. If you watch any mummy movie this year make it these four!
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Also watched and declared “Well Above Average!!” 
Hangover Square (1945, John Brahm)
Love and Death (1975, Woody Allen)
Yellow Cab Man (1950, Jack Donohue)
Tension at Table Rock (1956, Charles Marquis Warren)
Cheyenne (1947, Raoul Walsh)
Raw Deal (1948, Anthony Mann)
Ride The Pink Horse (1947, Robert Montgomery)
Cry Terror! (1958, Andrew L. Stone)
Plunder Road (1957, Hubert Cornfield)

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