Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Sean Wicks ""

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Sean Wicks

Sean is a movie obsessed, all-around social media lover, he's very active on twitter (https://twitter.com/wixpix), tumblr (http://seanwicks.tumblr.com/) facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WicksFlicks), and letterboxd (http://letterboxd.com/wixpix/).

My favorite blog post of the year – the annual discoveries list for Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

This was an odd movie watching year for me. It started out weak, initially involved a lot of re-watching, but somehow picked up at the end of the summer and I ended up cracking the 300-film mark before the end of the year (thank you Letterboxd, so that we cinephiles can obsessively track stats like that).

Although my overall choices for discoveries was smaller than in previous years, the list was a solid one and it has been difficult to narrow it down to just a few key ones.

Here we go!

LA POISON (1951; Directed by Sacha Guitry)
Talk about an unhappy marriage. In this French film directed by Sacha Guitry, Michel Simon and Germaine Reuver play a couple bent on killing each other. She has procured poison that she plans (but keeps changing her mind at the last second) to slip into his wine while he plots a way to murder her and get away with it. He even talks to the local priest about it openly! When a lawyer who defends only the guilty brags about his 100% acquittal rate on the radio, the husband sees his opening and visits the attorney with plans for carrying out his evil deed. Who ends up killing whom first I am not at liberty to reveal as that would ruin what is a delightfully dark comedy. The wife spends most of the film completely drunk, so much so that she can barely lift her head off the table, while the husband just mopes around wishing he could kill his wife.

The picture begins with the director walking about the set and locations thanking the various cast and crew members for their hard work on the picture. It’s a light and unique opening to what is a very funny picture, that is thankfully available on Blu-ray disc and DVD from the Criterion Collection for all to discover.
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SISTERS (1972; Directed by Brian De Palma)
My second discovery is another Criterion release. I am torn on the work of Brian De Palma. I recently came to embrace Raising Cain thanks to the recent Scream Factory Blu-ray Disc release, but am still cold on films such as Dressed to Kill.

Sisters is one of De Palma’s earlier films about a murder witnessed by a VERY nosy neighbor played by Jennifer Salt (voyeurism is a big theme in De Palma’s work) who becomes obsessed with proving that a gentleman who had a one-night stand with a model played by Margot Kidder, didn’t leave – well, alive anyway. Why this neighbor is so set in meddling in this affair is beyond confusing. Maybe it is for her own sanity, but after a while you end up cheering for the murderer simply because this other woman is just so annoying.

Like the aforementioned Raising Cain, the picture takes a wild psychological turn that is as unsettling as it is intriguing. Even if you are as lukewarm on De Palma as I am, this is one title worth checking out.
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THE SEARCH (1948; Directed by Fred Zinnemann)
The Search was a purely delightful discovery that I stumbled upon in the best way possible, while killing some time at my local library. It is the heart-warming tale of a Czech boy who has been separated from his mother, and has run away from the American liberators in post-World War II Berlin thinking that they are as bad as the Nazis. He is presumed to have drowned in the escape while the mother begins to volunteer at the hospital he was staying at. Not having given much information as to his identity, she is unaware that he was even there. Meanwhile the very alive boy finds G.I. Montgomery Clift who takes him under his wing. The boy also presumes his mother to be dead, but each of them continue to believe, somehow, that the other is alive.

This is such an uplifting movie and so unexpected a find. Clift is sympathetic as the friendly G.I. who helps the boy adapt to the new post-war reality, but what carries the picture is the message of hope as mother and son believe they will be reunited, even when everyone around them is sure that the other individual is dead.

Ivan Jandl won a well-deserved Oscar for outstanding juvenile performance for this. The film is available on DVD from The Warner Archive.
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THE LUSTY MEN (1952; Directed by Nicholas Ray)
Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men is one of those pictures that has been on my “to be watched” list for years thanks to its high-standing in critical circles. It’s an awkward title for a stand-out motion picture about a washed-up rodeo star (Robert Mitchum) who signs on to be a ranch-hand only to find himself mentoring Arthur Kennedy in the ways of the rodeo. Kennedy just wants to get a nest egg fast, so he can buy a quiet little ranch and settle down to a peaceful existence with his wife, Susan Hayward. But the fast-paced life of a rodeo star gets to his head and he loses sight of his original dreams as he finds fame and fortune. Of course, two men and one woman makes the perfect love triangle and the dynamic between the three stars makes for a great personal conflict, juxtaposed next to the rodeo action which has its own set of cinematic thrills. Ray balances it all perfectly in what truly is an outstanding work.

Available on DVD from the Warner Archive.
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HANGOVER SQUARE (1945; Directed by John Brahm)
I want to know where this gem has been hiding for so long! One of my Noirvember watches, Hangover Square is a Noir tale of an early 20th Century composed (Laird Cregar) living in London who experiences strange blackouts when ever he hears strange musical combinations. A murder occurs during one of his blackouts and he seeks help from a Scotland Yard doctor (George Sanders) who tells him he is innocent. That doesn’t last all that long for the composer meets a music hall dancer (Linda Darnell) who he makes famous by writing music for her. He is brilliant and strange, she is beautiful and young which is not a great combo and leads to some unfortunate incidents brought on by his increasingly darkened mood.

Cregar, Darnell, Sanders and the camera-work make this a picture that demands some attention. There is bonfire scene that is visually stunning, a murder that is brilliantly executed, and oh did I mention a score by Barnard Herrmann?

Recently released on Blu-ray Disc by Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
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THE STRANGE LOVES OF MARTHA IVERS (1946; Directed by Lewis Milestone)
This is another gem of a movie that caught me by surprise during Noirvember.

Another Film-Noir with the deadliest of triangles – the love one involving two men and one woman. The men in this case are street-wise, bad-boy Van Heflin and book-smart, good-boy Kirk Douglas who are both infatuated from childhood with Martha, played in adulthood by the Femme Fatale-ist of them all, Barbara Stanwyck.

As a child, Stanwyck is forced to endure a hard life under her domineering aunt who she accidentally sends tumbling down a staircase to her death. Heflin witnesses it, then lies to protect the girl he is clearly in love with. Years later, Heflin loses his concentration while driving and ends up literally crashing into his hometown that he had been avoiding all these years. Stanwyck is married to Kirk Douglas, another childhood friend who is now the town district attorney. Heflin describes him as looking like a “scared little boy”. The couple do not believe Heflin is in town by accident, but is there to cash in on the dark knowledge from their past life.

A perfect Noir on all fronts, I was mesmerized by this picture and it has joined my list of all-time favorites.

Available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo from Film Chest.
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BACHELOR MOTHER (1939; Directed by Garsin Kanin)
Bachelor Mother is movie strictly of its time. The scenario would never happen in modern day, and thanks to delightful performances from a very funny Ginger Rogers and David Niven, is a complete joy to watch.

Single Ginger Rogers is about to be let go from her job. Mistaken by an orphanage to be the mother of a child that another woman was abandoning, the orphanage reports this to her boss (Niven) who immediately ensures that she keep her job dependent on her keeping the baby. As we know though (and he doesn’t), the baby isn’t hers. Nobody believes it isn’t hers (even though the woman was never pregnant, so it would be easy to prove but nobody seems to consider this step) but thanks to some overbearing orphanage officials, it becomes hers whether she likes it or not. The baby brings she and Niven (a wealthy man, she not so much) together. A series of outrageous comedic errors ensues, each one crazier than the last (and for the characters, more infuriating). Key moments include a dance competition where Niven tries to butt in and confront Rogers about her lack of motherhood skills.

Yet another fabulous Warner Archive DVD release.
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MAN-TRAP (1961; Directed by Edmond O’Brien)
Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to do a good deed. In the case of Matt Jameson (Jeffrey Hunter) saving the life of Korean war buddy Vince Biskay (David Janssen) causes him nothing but grief when Janssen returns years after the war to return the favor. That returned favor comes in the form of a botched and extremely violent heist which makes both men the target of a South American dictator and the authorities.

Hunter’s life isn’t so hot to begin with. He’s working for his wife’s father (the wife is played by Stella Stevens) and the wife is a sexpot who has eyes for every man that walks by her, it seems just to drive Hunter crazy.

What makes this thriller so incredible is not only the stark black-and-white photography, nor the outstanding performances by the three leads, but the lavish and openly sexually liberated, yet ignorantly stifled, middle class existence they live in. The neighbors (which includes Hogan Heroes star Bob Crane) are in a state of constant, drunken partying and seem obsessed by a naughty game called “Braille” where blindfolded husbands must identify their wives by groping all the women. In fact, it’s one of the neighbor’s wives that keeps bringing it up! It’s a surreal scene of middle-class inclusiveness, completely oblivious to anything but their own pleasures while the violent conflict between the two men rages on right under their noses.

Available on Blu-day disc and DVD from Olive Films.
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