Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Willliam T. Garver ""

Friday, March 15, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Willliam T. Garver

William T. Garver (a.k.a. garv) 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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See his Discoveries from last year here:

My film discoveries for 2018 checked off a few of my cinema blind spots, including all the titles in Indicator’s fantastic Five Tall Tales: Budd Boetticher & Randolph Scott at Columbia, 1957-1960 and Criterion’s Dietrich and von Sternberg in Hollywood. Since those two Blu-ray box sets have received a lot of love on this blog and elsewhere, I will focus instead on some of the lesser-known titles that I viewed for the first time during the past year.

SLITHER (1973; Howard Zieff)
This quirky concoction is my favorite film discovery of the year. Ignore the ill-fitting title. Slither (1973) isn’t a horror film, and there isn’t a snake, worm, slug, or squid to be seen. Instead, the 1973 film is an offbeat comedy, one that would not seem out of place in the filmographies of the Coen Brothers, Richard Rush, or Robert Altman. The unfortunate title simply refers (if very obliquely) to the serpentine twisting of the plot, which involves a search for embezzled money that cumulates in a slow chase between multiple recreational vehicles. The movie stars James Caan at his funniest, with able assistance from Peter Boyle, Sally Kellerman, and Louise Lasser. I enjoyed the relaxed, shaggy dog charm of this film so much that I watched it twice in very short order. Here’s my full review:
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SWEATER GIRL (1942; William Clemens)
Every Memorial Day weekend, film fans and collectors gather in Columbus, Ohio for the Cinevent Classic Film Convention -- four days of near-continuous 16mm screenings of rare silent and sound films from the first half of the 20th Century. Most of the films shown are unavailable on home video, so I experienced a lot of first-time viewings this year. Far and away the biggest surprise of the weekend was Sweater Girl (1942). The title promised a college musical of the “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show” variety, but it turned out to be much more than that. In fact, Sweater Girl is a wonderfully bizarre hybrid — a serial killer mystery dressed up as a campus musical. As I sat in the screening room, I was repeatedly astonished by the plot similarities between this World War II era musical and the Italian Giallo thrillers of the 1960s and 70s (which I had recently binged). It’s a wackadoodle wonder. Here’s my full review:

SEA SPOILERS (1936; Frank R. Strayer)
In 1936, sick of making formulaic B-Westerns, John Wayne left Republic Pictures for a one-year contract with Universal Studios. During that year, Wayne made six pictures with larger budgets and better production values than his Republic films. Not a single one of the Universal films was a Western, and they were above-average examples of pre-superstar-status Wayne features Unfortunately, none of the films was a hit, so Wayne had to return to Republic a year later. For some reason, these six films have never been released on home video, and some haven’t aired on television since the 1960s. In Sea Spoilers, which screened at Cinevent, Wayne is a Coast Guard Commander who must save his girlfriend when she is kidnapped by seal poachers led by Russell Hicks (who memorably played con man J. Frothingham Waterbury in The Bank Dick).

THE MEANEST MAN IN THE WORLD (1943; Sidney Lanfield)
Jack Benny was a giant on both radio and television, but despite one true classic (To Be or Not to Be) his film career was spotty. This lesser-known comedy, which also screened at Cinevent, is one of the best of his forgotten pictures. Running a tight 57 minutes, The Meanest Man in the World features Benny as a nice-guy, small-town lawyer who moves to the big city to make his fortune and impress his girl (Priscilla Lane). With help of the hilarious Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Benny finds that the secret of success is literally stealing candy from a baby.
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THE LONG ARM (a.k.a. The Third Key; 1956; Charles Frend)
Ealing Studios is best remembered for their comedies, but the British film company made all types of films, including this effective, noirish police procedural. Jack Hawkins plays a police detective on the trail of a group of safecrackers, and a discarded newspaper provides a surprisingly useful clue. While this screened in the 11:10pm slot at Cinevent, after a full day of films, it easily held the attention of the eye-strained audience.
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THE MAZE (1953; William Cameron Menzies)
While most Cinevent screenings are projected from 16mm prints, the first night included a double-feature of digital projections in 3-D. This beautiful, black & white, mystery/horror/thriller had the best use of 3-D photography I’d ever seen. The sense of depth was stunning. The Maze is a little slow moving at times, but if you stick it out, you’ll be rewarded by one of the nuttiest endings ever inflicted on an audience. This title is also available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (containing both the 2-D and 3-D presentations).
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THE PIP FROM PITTSBURG (1931; James Parrott)
In 2018, dozens of rarely screened comedy short subjects from the Hal Roach Studios (known to employees as the “Lot of Fun”) made their debut on home video. Sprocket Vault released the complete shorts of Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts (1931-1933) and ClassicFlix released the remaining Thelma Todd-starring shorts (1933-1936), in which she was teamed with Patsy Kelly. Sprocket Vault also released the DVD set, Charley Chase at Hal Roach: The Talkies Volume 1 (1930-1931), which features 18 shorts from the lanky comedian. Since Hal Roach’s comics often guest starred in each other’s shorts, Thelma Todd appears in several films in the Chase set.

The Pip From Pittsburgh (1931) features both comedians and is a good representation of the style of the “Lot of Fun.” Charley gets reluctantly roped into a blind double-date with his pal. Having been burned in the past, Charley decides to make himself as unappealing as possible, wearing his friend’s oldest suit, refusing to shave, and chewing garlic. When the date turns out to be beautiful Thelma, Charley must get creative to clean up his act.
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NEVER SAY DIE (1939; Elliott Nugent)
Bob Hope is charming (no, seriously) in this early-career romantic comedy, made before he cemented his wisecracking “brave coward” persona. Preston Sturges contributed to the script, which includes the first instance of a character having to memorize a tongue-twisting phrase to avoid a lethal choice (a comedy bit that was most famously used in the “pellet with the poison” scene in Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester). In the case of Never Say Die, "There's a cross on the muzzle of the pistol with the bullet and a nick on the handle of the pistol with the blank."
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LE GRAND RESTAURANT (1966; Jacques Besnard)
2017 was my year of discovery of the work of the French comedian Louis de Funès, and my deep dive into his filmography spilled over into this year. Of his films that I first experienced in 2018, my favorite was this fast-moving comedy in which Funès plays a short-tempered owner of a Paris restaurant who gets mixed up with police, criminals, and revolutionaries, when a South American President disappears while dining in his establishment. The antics in the restaurant are funnier than the Bob Hope-like crime comedy plot in the second half, but it is all good fun. The film has been released twice on region-free Blu-ray from Gaumont in France. However, only the second release ( has English subtitles.
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DARK OF THE SUN (1968; Jack Cardiff)
I’d like to thank the Pure Cinema Podcast for making me aware of this pulpy “men on a mission” war-adventure-heist-bromance. Dark of the Sun is a deliriously entertaining actioner that doesn’t pull any punches, and the nastiness of the violence is often quite surprising. Rod Taylor gives his most charismatic, brutish, and athletic performance on film; and Jim Brown gets a rare opportunity to display some real acting chops. As an added bonus, the new Warner Archive Blu-ray contains an audio commentary by Trailers From Hell‘s Josh Olson and Larry Karaszewski with the Pure Cinema Podcast‘s Brian Saur and Elric D. Kane. The commentary track is one of the most fun I’ve heard in a long time.
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Here’s my full review:

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