Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '47 - James Curtiss ""

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Underrated '47 - James Curtiss

James Curtiss is one half of the team behind the podcast “At The Cheap Seats,” where he and his cohort Matt [REDACTED]review the movies you don't want to pay full price for. If you’re tired of paying $14 to sit in a theater with nitwits too busy to stop talking and texting long enough just to watch yet anothersequel to the prequel of the remake of the comic book, they can tell you if it’s worth waiting a month for the same marginally enjoyable experience for just $2 at your local “Dollar House.” James also ran the now defunct IHEARTSEQUELS blog, wherehe spent far too much time a) soapboxing for the much maligned entries in already over-maligned franchises; b) trying to persuade people that a lot of sequels are better than their predecessors, and c) daydreaming about sequels that were never to be. In the end, he is an optimist to a fault, always trying to find something worthwhile in what far too many others have already deemed worthless.
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See his Underrated '87 List here:

The Three Stooges: Fright Night, Out West, Brideless Groom – Whether or not the Stooges are still as iconic as ever isn’t up for debate. People could pick their silhouettes out of a line-up as quickly as those of Mickey Mouse, Alfred Hitchcock and Abraham Lincoln. But (for a plethora of reasons too extensive to get into here) they always seem to come up short on film geeks’ list of great, early comedians next to Chaplin, Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, etc., etc. I’m always willing to go to bat not just for the Stooges, but for the far more underrecognized Shemp years. Due to failing health, Curly would have to leave the trio in 1947, after starring in over a decade of Stooge shorts. As such, older brother Shemp, who had been part of the act during the vaudeville/Ted Healy years, came onboard and played opposite Moe and Larry in three of my favorite shorts that year. “Fright Night,” “Out West,” and “Brideless Groom” are some of the funniest films that were ever put out in the Columbia years. “Out West” in particular is quite adept at taking the kind of potshots at Western clichés that “Blazing Saddles” would perfect three decades later, while a very happy Eric Stoltz can be seen watching “Brideless Groom” in Pulp Fiction right before being rudely interrupted by John Travolta and an OD’ing Uma Thurman. Bonus points: None of the three suffer from what can be justifiably called “problematic” portrayals found in some other Stooges shorts.
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Tom & Jerry: Cat Concerto, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse, Salt Water Tabby – Again, there’s no doubt that Tom & Jerry aren’t recognized by masses the world over. (Also, one of my picks won an Academy Award and is listed as one of Empire’s 500 Greatest movies of all time, which maybe makes my underrated argument a little specious.) It’s just that they haven’t been afforded as much of the canonical recognition of the Looney Tunes or Disney cartoons by the current age of cinephiles. I don’t feel like these cartoons, even “Cat Concerto,” the aforementioned Oscar winner, have been pored over of late. They really should be, especially the three listed here from 1947, which are part of the peak Hanna Barbera years. Before they became synonymous with the production of cheap, limited animation ubiquitous in the latter half of the 20th century, Hanna Barbera helped to produce some of the most vibrant, dynamic, and kinetic comedy cartoons of all time. Just look at the detail in the non-verbal, evocative slapstick on display in “Salt Water Tabby,” and “Cat Concerto,” or the wild, colorful effects in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse.” I don’t know, maybe between my love of the Stooges and Tom & Jerry, the only thing that’s clear is my love for primitive, visceral violence as a benchmark for comedic genius. But, it’s well-crafted violence. More bonus points: Like the Stooges, Tom & Jerry cartoons of the era sometimes feature questionable or “problematic” portrayals, but not so with the three I’ve highlighted.
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Angel and the Badman – Unless the names Howard Hawks or John Ford are attached, many of John Wayne’s pictures seem to be fading out of the film fanatic’s frame of reference. This quaint, little flick is one that has fallen by the wayside in such a fashion, though I think it features one of Wayne’s best all-around performances. In it, he plays Quirt Evans, an ex-lawman turned gunfighter, who, after suffering a gunshot (off-screen before the film even begins), winds up in the care of a Quaker family. Particularly interested in caring for Quirt (God, I just love that name) is the family’s grown daughter Penny. Always only seeing the hope in all men, Penny disregards whatever concerns one might have about this charming, aggressive rogue, and begins to fall in love while nursing him back to help. Much to even his surprise and consternation, Quirt also begins to truly care for Penny. That’s the set-up for everything to come in the flick. This includes some truly wonderful action sequences directed by Yakima Canutt, a hilarious barroom brawl featuring Wayne and obstinate sidekick Lee Dixon, and some of the smartest dialogue to ever be featured in one of the Duke’s pictures. Writer-director James Edward Grant was a good friend of Wayne’s and I think he nailed what made the actor a star, showcasing his bravura, swagger and vulnerability in equal measure. The rest of the cast is also incredible, including Gail Russell as Penny. She’s an actress whose tragic end has left her as an unfortunate footnote in Hollywood’s sordid history. This is too bad, because she gave some truly wonderful performances in her incredibly short career before dying at the age of 36.
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Lured – There’s always one or two films I wanna feature in these write-ups on which some other contributor will beat me to the proverbial punch. This time around it’s this Douglas Sirk-directed, Lucille Ball-starring thriller about an American woman in London, who is used as the titular bait for a serial killer. Ira Booker wrote about it in his Underrated ’47 post and he pretty much nails my feelings. It’s definitely in the short list of pictures Ball excelled in as a non-comedic performer before becoming “Lucy!” to the rest of the world.
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Uncle Silas (aka The Inheritance) – I fell pretty hard for Jean Simmons the first time I saw Guys and Dolls as a kid. (My love for brunette chanteuses is, I think, well-tread territory here.) She was a wonderful actress who had a knack for playing naïve or unassuming women who would see their worlds unravel, for better or worse depending on the material. This UK film was a very early landmark in her career before coming to the States. In it, she plays a teenaged heiress who tragically comes under the care of the titular guardian after her father suddenly dies. Being a capital “M” Melodrama, it doesn’t take us as long as our heroine to figure out that Silas has designs on her fortune and maybe even her, um, virtue. Yeah, MELODRAMA. While Simmons plays the sweet, naïve young woman as genuinely as possible, most of the cast are playing it to the rafters. Those performances couple with some wonderful production design and moody, expressionistic camera work (including some old-fashioned dream sequence stuff) to craft a minor but effective entry in the pantheon of gothic damsel-in-distress yarns.
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Random thought: 1947 offers up a deluge of film noir titles, some quite well-known, some lesser-so (which populate quite a few of the lists in this series), and some that are completely off a people’s radar. I could have made an entire Underrated list of all of the latter, but I really wanted to hit on the above titles. So instead I’ve just bulleted out a list of titles, with some minor info for each. Some of them feature performances by actors who would essay iconic characters later in their careers. Check it out…

Dual Alibi – Herbert Lom (Inspector Dreyfus!) plays twin (!!) trapezists who seek revenge on the woman who betrayed them and absconded with the twins’ winning lottery ticket. Lom is great and there’s some wonderfully grimy atmosphere in the circus setting.

Blackmail – A P.I. is approached by a bigshot who is being blackmailed. Even before he can say yes, he winds up being targeted by the outfit behind the blackmail. Man, this movie is one big advertisement for cigarettes masquerading as a movie. Awesome.

Whispering City – Canadian Noir! A twisty little noir about a reporter, the man she’s investigating, and the musician being blackmailed into making sure the case doesn’t get anywhere. Coming low-budget out of the Great White north, it’s a real cheapie with some stellar performances.
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Fear in the Night – DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy!) plays a man who wakes from a dream convinced that he has committed a real murder. This breezy little noir was based on a story by Cornell Woolrich (Rear Window, The Bride Wore Black) and was later remade as Nightmare by the same director in 1956, with Kevin McCarthy in the lead.
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Bury Me Dead – This flick’s ludicrous premise is played dead straight and it’s all the better for it. A woman attends her own funeral, leading her to investigate who really died and whether her philandering husband (is there any other kind?) was behind it all. Starring everybody’s favorite TV mom, June Lockhart (Lassie, Lost in Space) AND everybody’s favorite TV dad, Hugh Beaumont (Leave it to Beaver).

The Devil Thumbs a Ride – Lawrence Tierney had the market cornered on crazy killers in 1947 with Born to Kill and this equally lurid bit of noir nastiness. This time, Tierney plays a killer hitching a ride with an unaware trio, while the law is two too many steps behind in pursuit. I think this makes for a nice double with the low-budget Arch Hall Jr. cult number The Sadist.
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Ira Brooker said...

Thanks for the shout-out, and for the closing noir list. Those are getting added to my watchlist forthwith. Any excuse to watch Lawrence Tierney get creepy.

john k said...

I was very tempted to offer my "list" but I just can't compete with all this.
A doozy of a list and great to see DUAL ALIBI and BLACKMAIL included.
The latter title IS awesome a barrage of great one-liners-Marshall must be
the most unlikable private eye in screen history...a jaw dropping list.