Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - William T. Garver ""

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - William T. Garver

William T. Garver (a.k.a. garv), formerly of boozemovies.com, is the creator of the movie recommendation website IT CAME FROM THE BOTTOM SHELF!, which focuses on forgotten film classics, lesser-known gems, and oddball discoveries.
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For me, the year 2017 will forever be associated with the work of French film star Louis de Funès. I first saw a photograph of the diminutive comedian thirty years ago when I was traveling in France; and as a comedy nerd, I was surprised that I had never heard of him. While de Funès was the most popular comedian in France in the late Sixties to early Eighties, he was virtually unknown outside of Europe, and I found that his work was almost impossible to acquire (except in the original un-subtitled French). It wasn’t until recently that a few of his films were released on Blu-ray in France with an English subtitle option. Consequently, my 2017 “Film Discoveries” list will be top-heavy with Louis de Funès titles.


OSCAR (1967; Édouard Molinaro)
It was a television airing of OSCAR that I saw advertised thirty years ago which initially piqued my interest in Louis de Funès. Few movies can live up to thirty years of anticipation, but I found everything about this film utterly delightful. The movie was based on a popular farce, which had become a hit on the Paris stage nine years earlier when de Funès assumed the lead role of Bertrand Barnier, a wealthy industrialist having an extremely hectic day which includes multiple misunderstandings, mistaken identities, exaggerated outbursts, slamming doors, and a lot of running about. Also figuring into the action are three identical suitcases — one containing jewels, one containing millions in cash, and another containing a lady’s underthings. It’s enough to cause a man to have a nervous breakdown in the most amusing ways. The 1967 film adaptation of the play is a classic French farce with Louis de Funès as the magnetic bundle of hyperactive energy at its center. It is the perfect introduction to a comedian known for his hyperbolic physical reactions. Gaumont, the French film and video company, has released OSCAR on a region-free Blu-ray with optional English subtitles. Here’s my full review: https://bottomshelfmovies.com/oscar-1967/
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HIBERNATUS (1969; Édouard Molinaro)
De Funès reunited with his OSCAR director for this breezy farce about another businessman whose life is thrown into chaos when the body of his wife’s grandfather is discovered frozen in a block of ice at the North Pole. The rediscovered patriarch survives his 65-year hibernation when the body is thawed out, and de Funès wife (frequent co-star Claude Gensac) insists that the government return her grandfather to the family. The government eventually relents. However, to avoid damaging the iceman’s fragile mental health, the family is forced to disguise themselves and redecorate their surroundings to make it appear that it is still 1905. What could possibly go wrong? HIBERNATUS isn’t quite as successful as OSCAR, due to cramming a very complex plot into an 82 minute running time. Several scenes, including the ending, are overly abrupt. Still, given the bizarre situation, Louis de Funès has plenty of opportunity to explode with anger, which is always fun to watch. HIBERNATUS is also available on a region-free Blu-ray from Gaumont with English subtitles.
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FANTÔMAS (1964; André Hunebelle)
Gaumont Studios revived the character of pulp supervillain Fantômas in the 1960s as their answer to the James Bond phenomenon. FANTÔMAS starred a 50 year-old Jean Marais (best remembered as the Prince/Beast in Jean Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) in the dual role of the criminal mastermind, Fantômas (who wears a blue, rubber mask that makes him look like a devious eraser), and the journalist, Jérôme Fandor, who becomes the supervillain’s arch enemy. Louis de Funès was added to the proceedings in the role of overmatched Police Commissaire Juve as a bit of comedy relief, but he ended up stealing the film (much to the chagrin of the Marais, who reportedly loathed the comedian). Due to the comedic aspect, FANTÔMAS comes across as an attempt to capitalize on both the success of DR. NO and THE PINK PANTHER; and the film has a light, campy feel, similar to that of a Patrick Macnee-led AVENGERS episode. It’s all quite silly, but it’s a lot of fun. FANTÔMAS has been released on Blu-ray in Europe multiple times, but most of those discs do not include English subtitles, so do your research before purchasing. Gaumont’s latest transfer (released June 22, 2016) does include English subtitles and is region-free. You can purchase this new transfer of the film as a standalone Blu-ray or as part of the 3-Disc Blu-ray box set, which includes the films’ two sequels, which feature the same principal cast, writers, and director. I reviewed the first series entry in full here: https://bottomshelfmovies.com/fantomas-1964/
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FANTÔMAS SE DÉCHAÎNE (a.k.a. FANTÔMAS UNLEASHED; 1964; André Hunebelle)
The first sequel is the best of the FANTÔMAS series, and it features even greater ties to both James Bond and THE PINK PANTHER. Early in FANTÔMAS SE DÉCHAÎNE, Commissaire Juve (de Funès) mentions 007 directly, when discussing his inspiration for inventing a series of Q-Branch-like gadgets to use in his battles against Fantômas. Then, a later sequence in the film is set at a masquerade party, which seems to be a direct lift from Blake Edwards’ first PANTHER film. FANTÔMAS SE DÉCHAÎNE is an expertly blended cocktail of comedy and action. Even de Funès character is a perfect mixture of hero and comic relief. Commissaire Juve has the arrogance and bluster of Clouseau, but at the same time, he is actually good at his job; and his inventions, which are used for comedic effect when initially demonstrated, prove to be quite useful in the field. One other way in which this sequel excels over the original is that the beautiful and talented actress Mylène Demongeot, who plays Fandor’s girlfriend Hélène in all three films, figures more prominently in the plot, and the movie is better for her increased contribution. Like the previous film, FANTÔMAS SE DÉCHAÎNE has been released multiple times on Blu-ray, but only Gaumont’s most recent region-free revisit to the title has English subtitles.
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FANTÔMAS CONTRE SCOTLAND YARD (a.k.a. FANTÔMAS VS. SCOTLAND YARD; 1967; André Hunebelle)
The FANTÔMAS series came to an end with this entry, which takes Fandor, Juve, and Hélène to Scotland to foil the villain’s latest plot. At this point, Louis de Funès was a bigger star than Jean Marais. As a result, FANTÔMAS CONTRE SCOTLAND YARD focuses too heavily on comedic misadventures, at the expense of the action. In addition, Marais’ dislike of de Funès becomes more apparent in this outing, to the extent that they are often filmed separately, even when they are supposed to be in the same room. Unfortunately, the trilogy ends with a whimper, rather than a bang. Still, the “devious eraser” has a few more tricks up his sleeve, and if you are a completist like me, you’ll have to see the series to the end. Again, only the latest of several Blu-ray releases of FANTÔMAS CONTRE SCOTLAND YARD has the option of English subtitles.
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BEGGARS OF LIFE (1928; William A. Wellman)
Moving beyond the works of Louis de Funès, BEGGARS OF LIFE was my favorite silent discovery of the year. William Wellman may have won the Oscar for WINGS, but this was his personal favorite of his silent output. It’s easy to see why, because BEGGAR’S OF LIFE is one of cinema’s greatest examples of the art of visual storytelling. Kino Lorber’s new 2k restoration is a thing of beauty, and it features the lovely Louise Brooks and the mush-faced Wallace Berry as hobos. What more could you want? Here’s my full review: https://bottomshelfmovies.com/beggars-of-life-1928/
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DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE (1939; John English & William Witney)
Of the few serials that I’ve watched all the way through, DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE is far and away the best. Serials were never meant to be watched in a single sitting, as the action, cliffhangers, and recaps tend to get repetitive. However, this 12-episode chapterplay is an exception to the rule. Pitting circus acrobats against a murder-mad escaped convict is a crackerjack premise for a serial; and there is enough variety to the situations, action, and stunt-work that DAREDEVILS plays well either in weekly installments or watched all at once (which is the way I enjoyed it). However, viewers should be warned that this serial contains a particularly egregious example of racial stereotyping against an African-American character, which is bad even in comparison to the standards of the day. These cringe-worthy scenes only add up to about ten minutes of screen time in a 211 minute serial, but they are jarring just the same. You can find my full review here: https://bottomshelfmovies.com/daredevils-of-the-red-circle-1939/
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MAIGRET SETS A TRAP (a.k.a. MAIGRET TEND UN PIÈGE; 1958; Jean Delannoy)
This year, Kino Lorber debuted new digital restorations of the first two Inspector Maigret movies starring Jean Gabin. While they are both solid detective films with beautiful black & white Blu-ray transfers, I found the first film to be the better of the two. A “Jack the Ripper” style serial killer is stalking the cobblestoned streets and back alleys of the Montmartre district of Paris, and Gabin’s gruff police inspector is on the case. The film has a mid-century Euro-noir feel, which is enjoyable whether or not you are already familiar with the character (who has probably been portrayed by more actors than any other fictional detective apart from Sherlock Holmes). The film may even encourage you (as it did me) to check out the original novels by Georges Simenon. Here is my full review: https://bottomshelfmovies.com/maigret-sets-a-trap-maigret-tend-un-piege-1958/
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ERIK THE CONQUEROR (a.k.a. GLI INVASORI; 1961; Mario Bava)
In my opinion, Mario Bava is one of the finest directors in the history of cinema. Just how good is he? I generally hate sword and shield pictures, but I absolutely loved ERIK THE CONQUER. The plot hardly matters. It is just an excuse for florid acting, land and sea battles (which effectively make the most of the low budget), and Bava’s masterful, candy-colored lighting and camera work. With Mario Bava at the helm, the whole ridiculous enterprise is a lot more fun and memorable than it has any right to be. My full review of the Arrow Video Blu-ray release can be found here: https://bottomshelfmovies.com/erik-the-conqueror-gli-invasori-1961/
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STAGECOACH (1966; Gordon Douglas)
This color Cinemascope remake of the 1939 John Ford classic was a staple of Sunday afternoon TV back in the 1970s, but it has all but disappeared in recent years. I had seen bits and pieces of the film when I was a kid, but I don’t believe I ever saw the film as a whole until Signal One Entertainment released a Region B-locked Blu-ray of the movie this year. I found the film to be much better than its reputation. If you can get around the “remake” of it all, STAGECOACH (1966) is a handsomely mounted, highly entertaining, big-budget Western, with a fantastic all-star cast (Bing Crosby, Van Heflin, and Robert Cummings are particular standouts). While Alex Cord did not become a household name by playing the Ringo Kid, as John Wayne had before him, he fills Wayne’s figurative boots quite well. If you own a region-free Blu-ray player (or live in Europe), I highly recommend giving this disc a try.
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SUMMER NIGHT (a.k.a. NOTTE D’ESTATE CON PROFILO GRECO, OCCHI A MANDORLA E ODORE DI BASILICO; 1986; Lina Wertmüller)
This year, Kino Lorber released 2K restorations of four of Lina Wertmüller’s politically-charged Italian comedies, including a beautiful Blu-ray of her masterpiece, SEVEN BEAUTIES (which has long been a personal favorite of mine). Of the other three titles, which I viewed for the first time this year, I was surprised how much I enjoyed SUMMER NIGHT (originally titled SUMMER NIGHT WITH GREEK PROFILE, ALMOND EYES, AND SCENT OF BASIL). This film, which reunited the director with her SWEPT AWAY star Mariangela Melato, has often been derided as a lesser work. I admit that the film, about a rich, female industrialist that kidnaps a terrorist, is probably the silliest movie that Wertmüller ever made. Still, they can’t all be masterpieces. There is nothing wrong with a film existing simply to entertain, and SUMMER NIGHT is a vibrantly-colored, sexy, funny romp. You can find my full review here: https://bottomshelfmovies.com/summer-night-notte-destate-con-profilo-greco-occhi-a-mandorla-e-odore-di-basilico-1986/
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1 comment:

Spuddie said...

Oscar was remade in 1991 with Sylvester Stallone of all people!