Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '47 - Gems from Seventy Years Ago! ""

Monday, June 5, 2017

Underrated '47 - Gems from Seventy Years Ago!

Apologies if it seems weird, but I've decided to jump around a bit in time this year with regards to the Underrated year lists. As much as I enjoy the natural progression of moving backwards through time in ten year increments, I felt like it might be fun to change it up and get some even older films in the mix before too late in the year!

RIFF-RAFF (1947; Ted Tetzlaff)
From its excellent (and stylish) six-minute, wordless opening - RIFF-RAFF is a movie that lets you know you are in good hands. The opening its is a really neat little short film unto itself that sets up the proceedings nicely. It deals with a tiny group of people prepping to board a small private flight from an eerie deserted hangar during a thunderstorm downpour. It's really just about exchanged looks, glances mostly, between the seven or eight characters in the opening. It is a simply lovely piece of filmmaking and I've said this before, but movies don't bother much with opening sequences anymore. You do see the occasional well thought out introduction to a film, (the latest MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film comes to mind) but it's mostly a thing that directors rush through to get the movie going. I really do think that your movie's opening is really like the front room of someone's house. It can give you an accurate indication of who lives there. When people take time to craft a proper opening sequence it both takes advantage of the cinematic medium and gently lays a foundation for the story you are about to see unfold. Anyway, RIFF-RAFF is a really good little Noir. Pat O'Brien plays Dan Hammer (seriously). He's a private dick of sorts and he has Panama wired. He knows everyone there and need only scribble onto a business card to call in any number of favors he seems to have at his disposal. His town is invaded by oil-hungry low-lifes who will do anything to get their hands on a map to a large group of unregistered claims. A map - that's right. Like something out of Scooby-Doo, but I love it. It's kind of like a mini-MALTESE FALCON or something though. Dan Hammer is a bit more of a grafter than Sam Spade, but he's just as charismatic. And there's a dame of course, there almost always is. Thankfully she's played to charming perfection by Anne Jeffreys. This is easily my favorite Pat O'Brien role. I like him as an actor, but I've not been able to connect with a lot of his second fiddle performances. Here he really owns the Hammer character and makes him one of the more memorable on-screen private eyes in movies. He even wears a pimp hat. Few characters like this have pulled off a pimp hat, but somehow he does it.
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CHEYENNE (1947; Raoul Walsh)
Suspected card sharp James Wylie (Dennis Morgan) is poker-ing in Laramie whilst on the run from a bad skirmish he got into back in Carson City. The law catches up with him there and offers him a deal. Amnesty in exchange for help capturing a notorious robber known only as 'The Poet'. Morgan ends up on with Jane Wyman's character on the stage to Cheyenne(where he's to infiltrate The Poet's gang) and she couldn't be more grumpy. She's always played a pretty decent grouch though and here's no exception. This film reminded me slightly of Fritz Lang's RANCHO NOTORIOUS, but with a few different nooks and crannies. Arthur Kennedy being in both movies certainly ties them together a little bit. Overall, just a well-made, twisty-turny, mystery western. All the back and forth stuff makes it feel noirish (not unlike PURSUED - also from 1947 and also underrated).
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IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE (1947; Roy Del Ruth)
A holiday classic in the making that doesn't get enough love. I put it right up there with HOLIDAY AFFAIR and even IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE in terms of movies I enjoy watching around Christmas time. Basically, a homeless man in New York City takes up residence in the mansion of some rich folks that are out of town for the winter and before long, he as friends joining him there and even the actual owners of the house!
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SONG OF THE THIN MAN (1947; Edward Buzzell)
I love me some THIN MAN movies and they are all worth a look for sure. William Powell and Myrna Loy are still one of the greatest on screen couples in the history of cinema and they carry that off in this movie as much as in the ones that preceded it. This one is fun because it has Dean Stockwell as Nick Charles Jr. and also stars Keenan Wynn (who I always enjoy in pretty much everything). Nick and Nora investigate the death of a band leader this go round and the script Steve Fisher (who I also love) among others helps make it a worthwhile entry in the series.
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THE RED HOUSE (1947; Delmer Daves)
Edward G. Robinson stars in this one and it deals with the terrible secrets of an abandond red farmhouse deep in the woods near where he and his wife and adopted daughter live. Shyamalan before Shyamalan? Not exactly, but I feel like maybe he watched this film at some point. Maybe. Nah, nevermind.
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ROAD TO RIO (1947; Norman Z. McLeod)
My favorite of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's "Road to" pictures. I love their names in this one - Bing is "Scat Sweeney" and Hope is "Hot Lips Barton". It's directed by the same guy (Norman McLeod) who did some of my all-time favorite comedies like IT'S A GIFT with W.C. Fields and HORSE FEATHERS with the Marx Brothers. I must credit him in some way for at least part of my enjoyment of this film. I own it on HDDVD, but thankfully it is also getting a Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber in July.
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Robert M. Lindsey said...

It Happened on 5th Ave is a fun film.

Laura said...

A terrific list!

Agree so much about RIFF-RAFF, which made my list of Favorite Discoveries of 2015 for your site!

I also really liked CHEYENNE. I'm overdue to circle back to it. I remember there being a very well-staged shootout.

IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE has joined my rotation of Christmas movie viewing thanks to discovering it on TCM a while back. Love Don DeFore and Gale Storm, in particular.

Always enjoy your series and the various contributions which invariably give me some new viewing ideas. Thanks again for hosting!!

Best wishes,