Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '47 - Kerry Fristoe ""

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Underrated '47 - Kerry Fristoe

I watch a lot of movies. I like large bugs, hard-boiled detectives, scary monsters, and Leeloo. My teenager begs me to stop quoting films, but I’m not going to stand here and see that thing cut open and have that little Kintner boy spill out all over the dock! Oh wait. I write about a weird variety of films on On twitter as @echidnabot.

World War II ended in 1945 and brought a darkness with it. People went through so much in the war, they couldn’t look at the world with the same cockeyed optimism. In 1947, Jacques Tourneur directed Out of the Past, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Black Narcissus, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Even the romantic Muir wasn’t a walk in the park. Film noir, a phrase coined by French film critic Nino Frank, in 1946, referred to a bunch of movies made after the war ended. Bathed in shadow and sarcasm, these films had good guys and bad guys, but they also had guys and girls who weren’t all good or bad. Anyway, here are some cool films from 1947 that I think are noirishly cool.

Brighton Rock (1947; John Boulting)
Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough) leads a gang of small-time crooks in the British seaside town. After he kills a man, his world shrinks. He becomes increasingly paranoid and violent. The film takes place over a few days and the pace increases along with Pinkie’s heartrate as police and his fellow lowlifes close in.
Graham Greene and Terence Rattigan wrote the novel and screenplay and it’s full of great dialogue, seedy characters, and shabby locations. As the story plays out, we see that even a sweet girl like Rose (Carol Marsh) can’t change how grubby and sad Pinkie’s life is. This is a taut little gem full of wonderful British actors like Hermione Baddeley, William Hartnell, and Nigel Stock. Filmed in glorious black and white, Brighton Rock is a great British noir.
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It Always Rains on Sunday (1947; Robert Hamer)
Rose Sandigate (Googie Withers) is stuck in a drab, uneventful life with her husband, his two grown daughters, and their young son. The drudgery of her everyday life is weighing her down when her old love, Tommy Swann (John McCallum) shows up on her doorstep. The only problem is he’s just escaped from jail and needs to lay low in her bedroom a while. With police swarming all over the East End and her family underfoot, can Rose keep Tommy’s presence a secret?
It Always Rains on Sunday is a neat thriller/noir with some British slice-of-life drama thrown in. There are terrific shots of Rose’s working-class neighborhood and fun ancillary stories for atmosphere. There’s real chemistry between the two leads as well. There should be; Withers and McCallum were married for sixty-two years in real life. The cast of great character actors fills up the film with real faces and cinematographer, Douglas Slocombe (Dead of Night, The Servant), who won a gang of awards in his fifty years in movies, does wonderful things with shadows in this one. Produced by Michael Balcon of Ealing Studios, It Always Rains on Sunday influenced many of the kitchen sink British dramas of the 1950s and 60s. Googie Withers was big in the UK, but we don’t hear much about her now. She’s good in this. Worth a shot.
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13 Rue Madeleine (1947; Henry Hathaway)
James Cagney teaches spies at his spy school. He’s getting a batch ready for a special mission in preparation for D-Day when he discovers one of his agents is a traitor. Can Cagney foil the evil double-crosser? This is a cool espionage procedural with a few Cagney flourishes thrown in. Richard Conte, Annabella, Sam Jaffe, and Melville Cooper also star. I like Cagney in these less glamorous films. He comes off as clever, resourceful, and dedicated. It’s entertaining and a good war thriller. Henry Hathaway (Call Northside 777, Niagara) directed. This is a WWII film that’s a little out of the mainstream. Fun spy noir.
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Nightmare Alley (1947; Edmund Goulding)
I don’t know if this is underrated or not, but it’s awesome. Tyrone Power plays Stan, a quasi-sociopathic carny who connives his way up to the big time. He figures he’s so smart, no one can touch him. That always goes well.
Based on the novel Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham, the film takes us behind the tent and into the lives of traveling carnival workers. Joan Blondell plays Zeena, who was once at the top, and Coleen Gray, Molly, the na├»ve, young girl who falls for Stan. Nightmare Alley didn’t do well at the box office when it came out, so Power had to return to swashbuckling. It’s too bad. He’s so good. It’s a smart, nuanced performance in a dark film. Mike Mazurki plays, you guessed it, a big lug. He does a nice job though. Stage actor, Ian Keith is wonderful as Zeena’s husband. I’d have to call this carnival noir.
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Born to Kill (1947; Robert Wise)
You know when you stumble upon the scene of a double murder and find out who did it and invite him to move into your mansion because you’re hot for him? No? Well, ask Claire Trevor about it. In Born to Kill, Trevor plays Helen, who’s a little cold around the heart. She’s engaged to a rich guy who puts her feet to sleep so she throws herself at Sam (Lawrence Tierney), who’s just a tiny bit unbalanced. Sam wants to marry Helen’s wealthy half-sister Georgia (Audrey Long), because she owns a newspaper. When Sam and his less presentable friend, Marty (Elisha Cook, Jr.), move in with Helen and Georgia, things get complicated. Oh yes, remember those murders, well Arnett (Walter Slezak), a Bible-quoting detective, and Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard), the neighbor of one of the murder victims, show up unexpectedly and throw yet another monkey wrench in the works. It’s a fun film and Trevor and Tierney are great together. They both give big, over-the-top performances that are still believable. Elisha Cook is always good, but I think this is Howard’s best film and it may be Slezak’s as well. Robert Wise directed Born to Kill and I don’t think he gets enough credit just because he didn’t specialize. Made by the less prestigious RKO Studios, it’s rougher and more direct than it would have been if MGM had made it. It’s a smaller noir, but worth seeing.
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Jerry Entract said...

A other great selection from a terrific year for movies! And there goes "IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAYS" again - why didn't it find its way into my Underrated '47 list?

john k said...

Boffo selections and great write ups as well.
Great to see yet more love for IT ALWAYS RAINS.....
I'm ashamed to say (I'm 71 BTW) I only recently caught up with NIGHTMARE ALLEY
needless to say it made quiet an impression on me.