Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Andy Wolverton ""

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Andy Wolverton

Andy is the founder and co-host of The Great Movies classic movie series at the Severna Park Library in Severna Park, Maryland, where he works as a librarian. He has also contributed to The Dark Pages: The Newsletter for Film Noir, where he will soon write a regular new releases column. 
You can follow him at his blog Journeys in Darkness and Light, on Twitter @awolverton77 and on Letterboxd.

One of the best parts of being a movie lover is sharing your discoveries with others. Many thanks to RPS for allowing me to share some of my favorite discoveries from 2017, many of which I learned about from podcasts such as The Magic Lantern, Attaboy Clarence, Film Comment, and of course, Pure Cinema Podcast. I hope you’ll find some movies here to investigate:
Terror in a Texas Town (1958; Joseph H. Lewis)
You have to see it to believe it: Sterling Hayden stars as a Swedish whaler (complete with harpoon!) seeking revenge for the murder of his brother at the hands of McNeil (Sebastian Cabot), a greedy businessman whose sole purpose in life is complete control the town of Prairie City, Texas. The film feels so surreal you’re not sure which is weirder: Hayden speaking with a Swedish accent or carrying around an actual harpoon the way other men carry a gun. It’s an odd, yet satisfying Western, the final directorial effort from Joseph H. Lewis. (available on Blu-ray from Arrow with U.S. and UK editions.)
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Les Grandes Manoeuvres (1955; René Clair)
“Love, we are your slaves.”
If I hadn’t heard about this film from writer Imogen Sara Smith on an episode of the Film Comment podcast, I’d probably have missed out on this René Clair treasure. Les Grandes Manoeuvres is an early 20th century costume drama/romance (with definite elements of comedy) starring Gérard Philipe as Armand de la Verne, a lieutenant in the French cavalry stationed in a provincial town before the outbreak of World War I. Armand is quite the womanizer, so confident in his abilities he bets his friends that he can successfully seduce any woman, even one determined by lot. The woman whose number comes up, a Parisian divorcée named Marie-Louise Rivière (Michèle Morgan), already has a suitor and has no interest whatsoever in Armand. Or does she? The film is delightful on many levels and also features Brigitte Bardot in one of her early film appearances. (FilmStruck, no longer available)
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The Offence (1973; Sidney Lumet)
In his first movie after Diamonds Are Forever (his sixth James Bond film), Sean Connery stars as Detective Sergeant Johnson, a burned-out British policeman infuriated by a child molester he’s been unable to identify, much less capture. When Johnson finally detains a suspect, he risks ruining everything and everyone dear to him as he seeks to force a confession. The Offence is a brutal, seldom-seen neo-noir, so brutal that you could legitimately think of it as a psychological horror film. It is both unflinching and masterfully constructed. After seeing it, I guarantee you’ll never look at Sean Connery the same way. A more detailed discussion of the film appeared on my blog. (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
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Went the Day Well? (1942; Albert Cavalcanti)
Went the Day Well? was certainly intended as WWII propaganda, but it holds up far better than what we’ve come to expect from most propaganda pictures. Adapted from a Graham Greene story and produced by Michael Balcon of Ealing Studios, the film chronicles the tension-filled hours of an English village as they come to learn they’ve been infiltrated by a group of Nazi paratroopers disguised as British troops. (Remember that this film was released in 1942 when the threat of a German invasion in Britain was frighteningly real.) Very few people talk about this gripping, suspenseful film anymore, but they should. (FilmStruck)
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Max and the Junkmen (1971; Claude Sautet)
Michel Piccoli plays Max, a former Parisian judge who’s now a police inspector. Frustrated with the rise of bank robbers in the city, Max concocts a plan to compel a group of low-grade criminals to rob a bank so that he can catch them in the act. In order to do so, he’ll have to go undercover and find a way to convince the gang’s leader (Bernard Fresson) that a bank robbery is a good idea. How does he do this? By hiring the leader’s prostitute girlfriend Lily (Romy Schneider), not for sex, but for companionship, slowly earning her confidence and, of course, that of the gang. Although it sounds completely untenable, the plan is brilliant. Yet the character studies of Max and Lily are perhaps even more compelling than the execution of the robbery. An amazing film. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll want to see it again. Many thanks to The Magic Lantern podcast for introducing me to this film that I originally saw on FilmStruck, but has now expired. Max and the Junkmen is available as a European DVD, but is currently unavailable domestically. This would be a great addition to the Criterion Collection.

The Invisible Ray (1936; Lambert Hillyer)
The Invisible Ray is a very strange affair… Astronomer Janos Rukh (a curly-haired Boris Karloff) invents a telescope that can look into space and photograph light rays revealing images from Earth’s ancient past. Rukh invites skeptical scientists Benet (Bela Lugosi) and Stevens (Walter Kingsford) to accompany him on an expedition to Africa to find a meteor that landed there thousands of years ago. Why? Rukh believes the meteor contains Radium X, an element of remarkable healing powers. Things get really weird and, as frequently happens when they’re paired, Karloff outshines Lugosi, but both are excellent. The film is rarely talked about today, but it should be. You can track it down on the Universal DVD set The Bela Lugosi Collection (which also includes several other films worth having) set as well as on a single disc from Universal’s Vault series.
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SteveQ said...

Hillyer directed more than 100 westerns, but his horror films The Invisible Ray and Dracula's Daughter are what he's best known for now. Few of his films lack some interesting shot you wouldn't expect given the film's budget.

Laura said...

Enjoyed your list, Andy! That climactic "shootout" with the harpoon in TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN was sure unique.

I'll second that about Hillyer, some of his work with Buck Jones and Johnny Mack Brown was unexpectedly creative and interesting within the "B" genre.

Best wishes,