Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '47 - Ira Brooker ""

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Underrated '47 - 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.
Here is his Underrated '87 list as well:

Lured (Directed by Douglas Sirk)
Until viewing this film, I had no idea that “Lucille Ball, Dramatic Leading Lady” was something I needed in my life, but darned if Lucy isn’t something of a revelation playing a brassy, quick-witted taxi dancer helping Scotland Yard track down the serial killer who murdered her friend. While this early effort isn’t the Sirkiest Douglas Sirk flick you’ll ever see, it’s clearly the work of a director with a singular, budding vision.

Sirk makes great use of Ball’s skill set, frequently letting his thriller veer into comedy but never allowing the wackiness to take over. Alongside a truly excellent Lucy, you get George Sanders as her playboy love interest, George Zucco playing against type as a goofy badass inspector, and a show-stealing Boris Karloff going big as a deranged fashion designer. The story sadly peters out into a familiar police procedural in its closing act, but by then it’s built up more than enough goodwill to compensate.
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The Devil on Wheels (Directed by Crane Wilbur)
I’m not certain whether The Devil On Wheels was the first public safety film focused on the dangers of drag-racing, but it stands as one of the most fascinating. Set in the kind of blandly pleasant small town where a guy bringing home a new roadster can set the whole block buzzing for days, this one focuses on a middle-class father and son who each have some troubling issues with responsible motoring: Dad’s got a hot head and a lead foot, and Junior’s been slipping away for road races with the local hot-rod contingent.

This is as preachy and unsubtle as any governmentally commissioned scare flick, but the filmmakers actually bothered to invest in a script and actors who can, y’know, act a little. (Lead teen Darryl Hickman had a 50-year career as an actor, followed by another 30-plus as an acting coach.) You get all the expected lecturing and moralizing, but also a lot of nicely staged stunt driving and fun touches like a group of teens getting trapped in the local morgue after hours. It’s a cool time capsule from an era when cars were enough of a novelty to get pulses pounding, but also enough of a danger to justify making movies like this one.
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Johnny O'Clock (Directed by Robert Rossen)
Acerbic entrepreneur and mob associate Dick Powell is all set to hit it big with a new casino venture, but the various schemers and boneheads in his orbit are determined to hold him down. In no time flat, he’s entangled in business power struggles, illicit love affairs, and one pesky murder investigation that just won’t go away.

Writer-director Robert Rossen is clearly more comfortable in the former role, crafting a script that’s virtually nothing but blistering noir turns-of-phrase, but he pulls off some atmospheric shots when he has to. Powell is delightfully low-key in the lead, playing a jaded straight-shooter who’s slowly realizing that being the smartest guy in the room might not be enough to save his hide. The supporting cast is impeccable, including Lee J. Cobb as the quietly determined detective, Thomas Gomez as the dangerously affable mobster, Evelyn Keyes as the innocent dame, Ellen Drew as the not-so-innocent dame, and Nina Foch as the doomed dame. It’s missing an intangible something that would make it a certifiable classic, but it more than holds its own as an unjustly overlooked genre gem.
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The Upturned Glass (Directed by Lawrence Huntington)
Neurosurgeon James Mason falls in love with the married mother of one of his young patients. When his intended falls from a window to her death, Mason suspects foul play. Soon enough he’s acting as not just an amateur gumshoe, but also an amateur judge, jury, and executioner.

While it’s ultimately sort of slight, this moody, foggy psycho-thriller is pretty much everything you could ask for from a noir-adjacent British b-movie starring James Mason. The acerbic screenplay is written by Mason’s then-wife and frequent collaborator Pamela Kellino, who also comes close to stealing the film as the dead woman’s scheming, social-climbing sister-in-law. Stick around for Brefni O’Rorke’s fantastic third-act appearance as a callous country doctor who prides himself on not caring whether his patients live or die.
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New Orleans (Directed by Arthur Lubin), Hi-De-Ho (Directed by Josh Binney)
I’m always fond of music movies from the pre-television era, when seeing one of the day’s top acts wasn’t as easy as turning the dial. It only made sense for filmmakers to launch the day’s pop stars onto the silver screen and see how much would stick. How much work you wanted to sink into the movie you slapped together around them was up to you.

The 1947 Hi-De-Ho (one of several Cab Calloway features to use that title) makes the barest of efforts, entangling Cab in some nonsense about his no-good girlfriend Minnie (natch!) getting him mixed up with gamblers. For a guy who was the living embodiment of stage presence, Cab Calloway sure couldn’t act a lick, but he’s still the best actor in this cast by a wide margin. It’s a relief when Hi-De-Ho abruptly gives up on being a movie midway through and 40 minutes of electrifying live performances by Cab and his associates. As a film, it ain’t much. As a musical experience, it’s damn near essential.
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New Orleans, on the other hand, leans too far in the opposite direction. Purporting to be a historical narrative about the birth of jazz, the film pulls together a tip-top cast of musicians including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Woody Herman, then makes them take a backseat to a bland story of boring white people making money and pitching woo. But again, you can’t keep a performer like Satchmo down, and the movie redeems itself every time he puts lips to horn. It helps that he’s a pretty good actor, at least when he’s playing a slight variation on himself. I wish I could say the same for Ms. Holiday, but at least her songs sound great. This is another must-see for fans of ‘40s music, and another skippable trifle for everybody else.
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