Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Eric Hillis ""

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Eric Hillis

Eric Hillis is a freelance film critic and editor of
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Alternative 3 (1977)
Pre-empting TV movies disguised as fake broadcasts like Special Bulletin, Without Warning and Ghost Watch was this 1977 British production. Presented as an instalment of a current affairs show, Alternative 3 purports to deliver the findings of a lengthy investigation into the disappearance of prominent British scientists, uncovering a galactic conspiracy by the end of the transmission. The very British stiff upper lip presentation makes it all the more convincing, and the broadcaster was flooded with calls from panicked viewers immediately after it aired.
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Assault (1971)
Prior to 2018 I knew Sidney Hayers best as the director of the 1964 horror Night of the Eagle, but he also helmed three effective thrillers in the '70s, all of which I somehow managed to avoid before
2018. All three make my list. The first is this 1971 offering, which despite its British setting has a very giallo feel, aided by the presence of Suzy Kendall in the lead role of a teacher who sets
herself up as bait to trap the killer offing her pupils. The villain even wears the de rigeur black gloves. A curious element is the giant electricity pylon that looms over the school and hums in the
background, a reminder of the fear of progress that was a recurring theme in British TV and cinema of the period.
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The Big Operator (1959)
Producer Albert Zugsmith is best known for his teen comedies, usually starring Mamie Van Doren (see elsewhere on this list), but he also oversaw this gritty Charles Haas directed noir. Mickey Rooney is terrifying as a corrupt, Napoleonic union boss who brings violence on anyone who interrupts his power-hungry plans. There's a shocking scene in which Rooney's thugs set Mel Tormé on fire, but the movie also has a human heart, courtesy of charming home scenes involving Rooney's noble nemesis Steve Cochran, his wife (Van Doren) and their young son.
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Code of Scotland Yard (1947)
Also known as The Shop at Sly Corner, this British crime drama stars Oscar Homolka as a French refugee whose London antique shop is a front for his double life as a criminal dealing in stolen goods. Kenneth Griffith is the employee who attempts to balckmail his boss, and he's so slimy in the role you'll be wiping down your screen after the movie ends. The script by Reginald Long and Katherine Strueby is peppered with sly wit, including a lovely gag involving a greedy flower seller.
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Cry Panic (1974)
In the '70s, movies were full of hapless city dwelling businessmen running into trouble with the redneck locals of small towns. That's the premise of this TV movie, which plays like a b-grade Bad Day at Black Rock yet keeps you guessing throughout. John Forsythe is the city slicker who runs over a man while driving through Hicksville, only to find himself wrapped up in a local conspiracy. Earl Holliman is great as one of those classic crooked '70s sheriffs.
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Deadly Strangers (1975)
Another Sidney Hayers directed thriller, Deadly Strangers is a rare British road movie. Hayley Mills takes a lift from Simon Ward, an oddly behaved young man who she begins to suspect may be an escaped lunatic. The movie keeps us guessing right up to an effective twist ending. Sterling Hayden cameos as an unlikely landed gent who takes a fancy to Mills.
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High School Confidential (1958)
Producer Albert Zugsmith and director Jack Arnold gather a cast packed with '50s teen idols for this proto 21 Jump Street high school crime drama. Russ Tamblyn is an undercover cop posing as a tearaway teen to crack a high school drug ring. Mamie Van Doren is his nymphomaniac aunt who spends the entire movie in incestuous heat. Jerry Lee Lewis performs the theme tune and Teenage Werewolf Michael Landon also pops up. Not for squares, you dig?
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No Place to Hide (1981)
The golden age of TV movies may have been the '70s, but the period stretched into the early '80s. This thriller competes with the slasher boom of the period as art student Kathleen Beller is stalked by a masked creep who repeats the ominous warning "Soon, Amy, soon!" Much like When a Stranger Calls, this one turns into something of a procedural, its highlight an opening scene in which Beller's harasser pops up from the backseat of her car, Michael Myers style.
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One of My Wives Is Missing (1976)
The under-rated Jack Klugman headlines this clever adaptation of a '60s stage play. He plays the small town detective investigating the disappearance of tourist James Franciscus' wife. Trouble is, nobody in the village claims to have ever seen the woman in the first place. I lost count of how many plot twists this one pulls, and I'm not sure they all stand up to logical scrutiny, but it makes for fun viewing, with Klugman seizing a rare meaty role.
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Revenge (1971)
Completing the Sidney Hayers trio is this 1971 thriller. Grimy in the way only '70s British movies can be, Revenge plays a lot like a particularly disturbing episode of Fawlty Towers, with pub landlord James Booth attempting to run his business while he keeps the man he suspects of having killed his daughter tied up in the pub cellar. Things turn for the worse when he learns he abducted the wrong man.
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