Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Laura G ""

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Laura G

If you weren't already aware, Laura runs the wonderful blog Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, which is a must for any classic film fans:http://laurasmiscmusings.blogspot.com.
She can be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/LaurasMiscMovie


Check out her Film Discoveries of 2017 here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2018/02/film-discoveries-of-2017-laura-g.html
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THE MERRY WIDOW (Ernst Lubitsch, 1934) - This was a year in which I was fortunate to see many films directed by Ernst Lubitsch on a big screen, and the first one I saw, THE MERRY WIDOW (1934), was my favorite. It was a rib-ticklingly funny movie with a serious undercurrent, contemplating life, death, and broken hearts while also making the viewer laugh. I don't think Jeanette MacDonald has ever gotten enough credit for her abilities as a comedic actress along with being a great singer. With a cast also including Maurice Chevalier, Una Merkel, Edward Everett Horton, and Donald Meek, the movie is a funny, visually dazzling joy from start to finish. As the famous waltz music swelled and the movie came to a close, I confess I teared up out of pure happiness.

Available on DVD from the Warner Archive.
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AS THE EARTH TURNS (Alfred E. Green, 1934) - I've loved the Pulitzer Prize nominated book this film was based on since high school, and I was delighted to catch up with the movie version at last thanks to its release on DVD. In this story of two farming families, Jean Muir stars as Jen, who loves farm life and capably cares for everyone in her family, including putting up with her complaining stepmother (Clara Blandick) with equanimity. Jen falls in love with the new farmer (Donald Woods) down the road, but she's cautious about committing to marriage, having seen farmers quit and marriages fail. The film does a remarkably good job wrangling a very large cast, while using the turning pages of the book to help bridge scene changes. David Landau is a standout as Jen's father; I regret his too-early passing in 1935, as he was such a fine actor. My only complaint about this 73-minute film was that it was too short!

Available on DVD from the Warner Archive.
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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (Max Reinhardt, 1935) - Jean Muir also starred as Helena in the Warner Bros. filming of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. The marvelous cast includes Dick Powell, Olivia de Havilland, Victor Jory, Anita Louise, James Cagney, and Mickey Rooney. I had seen it many years ago and wasn't especially excited about seeing it at the TCM Classic Film Festival, but there was nothing else which interested me in the time slot, and I figured the shimmering, silvery photography would look great on a big screen. Choosing this film turned out to be a very happy decision for me, as it ended up as a festival highlight. It was absolutely beautiful; cinematographer Hal Mohr is said to be the only write-in Oscar nominee to ever win, and he surely deserved it. Seen on a big screen, the film's look and mood envelops the viewer in a way I just don't think is possible on a small TV screen. Again, as the film faded out I felt myself tearing up. I seem to cry a lot at the TCM Film Fest!

Available on DVD.
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THE GAY DECEPTION (William Wyler, 1935) - A charming romantic comedy directed by William Wyler, starring Frances Dee as Mirabel, a young lady who wins a sweepstakes prize; when told that investing it all will earn her less per week than her current salary, decides to blow it all at once on things she's only dreamed of, starting with a suite at the Waldorf. Mirabel finds she's lonely in NYC but enjoys getting to know Sandro (Francis Lederer), an impertinent bellhop who alternates between being friendly and annoying. Mirabel is crushed to be treated poorly by snooty society types and cries to Sandro that she'd like to show up at their ball with a king and put everyone in their place, and Sandro asks if a prince would do. Little does Mirabel know that he means it... This has an absolutely marvelous performance by Dee, much of it nonverbal; her expressions when she and Sandro enter the ball are hilarious. This film should be much better known.

Available on DVD from Fox Cinema Archives.
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THE RED HOUSE (Delmer Daves, 1947) - I was fortunate to the world premiere of UCLA's restoration of this fine "Gothic farmhouse noir" at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. It mixes bright, sunny scenes with beautiful young people with a dark, overbearing creepiness and warnings not to ever go into the nearby woods... Edward G. Robinson and Judith Anderson supply much of the "creepy" factor, and the young people are played by Lon McCallister, Allene Roberts, Rory Calhoun, and Julie London. Roberts plays an orphan who's been raised by a brother and sister (Robinson and Anderson), but she has suppressed childhood memories which are bubbling to the fore and seem to have something to do with an abandoned house in the woods. A good story with tons of atmosphere; the terrific location work in Sonora and Columbia, California, gives the film a fresh, unique look, and the young Calhoun and London are absolutely stunning.

Various public domain prints are available on DVD, but the restored edition I viewed has not yet been released.
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FLAMINGO ROAD (Michael Curtiz, 1949) - Another first-time viewing thanks to the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, it's a highly entertaining Joan Crawford melodrama, with Michael Curtiz directing a great cast. Crawford stars as a carny dancer who tires of life on the road and attempts to start a new life as a small-town waitress, but she's harassed by the sheriff (Sydney Greenstreet), and his deputy (Zachary Scott) ends their romance when he has a chance to marry a refined woman (Virginia Huston) who's more appropriate for his political ambitions. Enter another powerful political boss (David Brian) who truly loves Crawford and who will stand up to the evil sheriff. This was such great fun, and for me the revelation was Brian in a strong role; I've found him somewhat bland in the past but he was simply terrific here, and I loved watching his relationship with Crawford develop. A thoroughly good time at the movies.

Available on DVD, including a reissue from the Warner Archive.
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ACT OF VIOLENCE (Fred Zinnemann, 1949) - I saw this for the first time at the Noir City Hollywood Festival and was thoroughly impressed. It's the story of a WWII veteran (Van Heflin) who seems to be riding high, with a successful construction business, a lovely young wife (Janet Leigh), a baby boy, a nice house, and community respect. That all comes to an end as he's stalked by a menacing man with a limp (Robert Ryan), who turns out to be a fellow war veteran with a score to settle. Heflin and Ryan are great as well-rounded characters, neither of them completely bad or good, but for me the film was anchored by 21-year-old Leigh's performance as the young wife; it was just her fifth film, and I was tremendously impressed with her performance, as the film's dramatic arc is continuously mirrored in her expressive eyes. I felt it was Leigh's film, as her character was caught between the two men and then left to pick up the pieces. A terrific movie.

Available on DVD.
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FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE (Yasujiro Ozu, 1952) - A highlight of my viewing over the last half decade has been getting to know the work of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. I saw this wonderful film thanks to the Criterion Channel on the late, lamented FilmStruck service. Shin Saburi and Michiyo Kogure play a financially comfortable, childless couple who have been married some years; their marriage has fallen into something of a rut, with the wife doing silly things like going away for an innocent day at a spa with relatives and pointlessly lying to her husband about where she went. They ultimately clash, with the wife taking a train ride out of town in a huff, not knowing that her husband is about to be sent to Uruguay on business; fortunately she returns, his flight is delayed, and they have a chance to rebuild their relationship, leading to one of the most charming kitchen scenes ever. (It reminded me of the warm ending of the 1996 film BIG NIGHT.) Ozu's gentle films are always tremendously rewarding, and this one is no exception.

Not on DVD; perhaps Criterion will resurrect it on its new streaming service or release it on DVD at a future date.


RED SUNDOWN (Jack Arnold, 1956) - This film has been highly recommended by several friends, and I finally caught up with it. It did not disappoint! Rory Calhoun stars as a gunslinger who rescues an outlaw (James Millican); soon both men are caught up in a shoot-out, with Calhoun promising Millican he'll give up living by the gun. That's soon put to the test as a cagey sheriff (Dean Jagger) offers the young man a job as his deputy. They have their hands full when a loco hired killer (Grant Williams) arrives in town. Calhoun is especially fine in this film, and he's matched by the excellent performances of Jagger and Millican, the latter in an unforgettable, elegaic swansong. (Sadly this was Millican's last film; he died before it was released, just 45 years old.) This is a typically colorful Universal Western with some unique plotting and a great cast. I watch a lot of Westerns, and this was a real favorite last year.

Not on DVD.


THIS COULD BE THE NIGHT (Robert Wise, 1957) - Jean Simmons plays a teacher who takes a second job doing office work at a nightclub; before long she's wrapped up in the lives of everyone there, including a kooky dancer (Neile Adams) who longs to cook; the busboy (Rafael Campos) who needs to pass algebra; and the elegant regular customer (Tom Helmore) who starts eating dinner in her office. Meanwhile the owners (Paul Douglas and Anthony Franciosa) are both smitten with her, and also determined to protect her virtue in their slightly seedy nightclub. Robert Wise directs the fabulous cast, which also includes Joan Blondell, singer Julie Wilson, and band leader Ray Anthony. (Something my favorites of last year all seem to have in common are great casts!) This was a "feel-good" film with a surprisingly vague ending, but that added to its offbeat charm.

Available on DVD from the Warner Archive.
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FOUR FAST GUNS (William J. Hole Jr., 1960) - This is a superior "B" Western with wonderfully creative filmmaking on a shoestring budget. James Craig plays a gunslinger who unexpectedly finds himself hired as a "town tamer," aided only by the drunk (Edgar Buchanan) who sleeps in the jail. The local saloon owner (Paul Richards) doesn't want the town cleaned up and mails letters to three gunmen offering a significant reward to the man who kills Craig. The last of the three men to arrive in town proves to be a surprise who spins the plot in new directions. The economical yet interesting ways the gunfights are staged reminded me of SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956); modern filmmakers would do well to note that sometimes not showing everything is more effective than putting it all on the screen. Craig is terrific, with the genial presence of his lighter '40s films occasionally peeking through his world-weary, edgy persona.

Available on DVD from VCI.
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MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) - The last title on my list is much more recent, albeit still from three decades ago, a wonderful animated Japanese film from Hayao Miyazaki. It's a gentle tale about two little girls who move with their professor father to a new home in the country, in order to be closer to their long-hospitalized mother. The film drifts into fantasy as the girls meet creatures of the neighboring forest including the furry, kindly -- and very large -- Totoro. Only children can see Totoro or his friends, including the amazing Cat Bus, which was one of the most delightful concepts I've seen in an animated film. This is a positive and charming film in which the girls are surrounded by love from family and neighbors, including those very special neighbors only they can see. I enjoyed the film's allusions to classic children's literature and films -- both ALICE IN WONDERLAND and MARY POPPINS were clearly influences -- and appreciated the way the movie addressed big life issues in a delicate, reassuring way. For those who have seen it, when the Cat Bus shows up near the end and changes its destination to "Mei," I cried! As may be apparent by now, I tend to do that when movies make me happy, and this one certainly did. It's a joy. I had a wonderful time seeing it a second time in a theater just weeks after my first viewing. I recommend seeing it in Japanese, with English subtitles, rather than with an English voice cast.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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More great discoveries from this year which there's not room to discuss here: BLACK SHEEP (1935), DESIRE (1936), ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC (1943), THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK (1944), THE WEB (1947) MISS TATLOCK'S MILLIONS (1948), THE COWBOY AND THE INDIANS (1949), STRICTLY DISHONORABLE (1951), THE BOY FROM OKLAHOMA (1954), DAY OF THE OUTLAW (1959), WARLOCK (1959), and LOVING LEAH (TV Movie, 2009).

7 comments:

KC said...

Lots of things from this list I need to see Laura! Reminds me that I need to get back to my Ozu binge. I attempted that a couple of years ago, but alas life got in the way. xo

Kristina said...

To twist one of you picks, these posts should be called "As the Watchlist Grows." Great variety of stuff I love, like Flamingo Road, Red Sundown and Act of Violence, and a few more I need to see, including Four Fast Guns and the Ozu. You'd program a great film festival!

Jerry Entract said...

You've had a good 'viewing' year, haven't you, Laura? A wide variety of discoveries, many of which you especially enjoyed on the big screen!

Many of the early films I have not seen. Of course, particular favourites with me are "ACT OF VIOLENCE" & "RED SUNDOWN" but also "WARLOCK" & "DAY OF THE OUTLAW" from your tail-end list.
The film starring Frances Dee sounds delightful.

Hamlette said...

I haven't seen My Neighbor Totoro for close to 20 years, but I remember being utterly charmed by it. I'll have to show it to my kids when they're a bit older!

john knight said...

I must say I do admire the eclectic tastes of yourself and Kristina.
Sadly I rarely venture beyond Westerns,Horror/Sci Fi (traditional not current day)
and the occasional Noir.
Many films on your list I have not seen and a few not for many,many years.
RED SUNDOWN a great favorite and as you quiet rightly say FOUR FAST GUNS shows
what could be done in those days on a micro budget.
I loved the comment regarding modern day film-makers in the FOUR FAST GUNS write up-
how very true.
It goes without saying DAY OF THE OUTLAW and WARLOCK very much in my comfort zone.

Brittaney said...

This Could Be the Night was one of my favorite discoveries this year too! I loved the ambiguous ending. I'll have to add some of these others onto my list, especially the one with Lederer and Francis Dee.

Laura said...

Thank you all so much for your comments! I really enjoyed sharing this list and love your feedback.

KC, I have more Ozu to watch too! It's a shame we can't just watch movies, right? LOL.

Kristina, you were one of those who recommended RED SUNDOWN, along with Jerry, John, Blake, my dad, and I'm sure a couple people I'm forgetting! Thank you! I would love to know what you think of the titles you haven't seen when you get to them.

Jerry, I really did have a great viewing year! Fun to see so many different types of films. If you enjoy Frances Dee I'm sure you'd enjoy THE GAY DECEPTION.

Hamlette, so glad you know MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO also. It would be wonderful to share with your kids. Such a loving and reassuring film. It's instantly jumped onto my list of "comfort films."

John, thank you! I'm glad we can share so many favorite films (except horror for me of course! LOL). You are one of the people who's really helped broaden my Western and noir viewing. Thank you!

Brittaney, how wonderful you also discovered THIS COULD BE THE NIGHT last year! It's funny because the ending might have annoyed me in another film yet here it somehow had an "All's right with the world again" feeling even though what happened next was very open ended. I hope you enjoy trying some of these titles -- I always love to hear what others think of them!

Thanks to you all!
Best wishes,
Laura