Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Alison Major ""

Friday, January 10, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Alison Major

Alison Major: Data analyst. William Powell stan. Blind-buyer. Frequently asked to explain her Gena Rowlands tattoo. Follow her on Twitter @MjrAlison and on Letterboxd here:

Hester Street (1975)
Imagine a distant cousin of Marriage Story that takes place in late-19th century New York City. Swap out the coastal relocation for a different continent, add in a Russian Jewish family, and then you've got Hester Street. Jake arrives in America three years before the story begins. He's quick drop his Jewish customs to become a New Yorker. The life he's created is nearly ruined once Gitl, Carol Kane, who gives an Oscar-nominated performance, arrives with their son. It's of the utmost importance his son becomes an American boy. His name must be changed, and his curly hair must be cut off. Gitl can't process her new home or the man her husband has become while Jake is frustrated by her puritanical ways. It doesn't take long for Gitl's hesitancy to turn into determination.

Joan Micklin Silver's feature debut took me by complete surprise. Despite a shoestring budget, she's able to recreate the look and feel of the late 19th century. Her characters are empathetic and fully realized, and she never exploits their pain for the purpose of the plot. Think of it as cinematic comfort food without the cheesiness.
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The Reckless Moment (1949)
Max Ophüls’ final American movie is a female-lead film noir about a woman who will stop at nothing to protect her child. Housewife Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett) struggles to maintain a home while her husband is perpetually away on business. Her father-in-law questions all her decisions, her son doesn't listen, and her daughter (Geraldine Page) is involved with a shady older man. After she finds the dead body of her daughter's love interest, Harper sees no choice but to cover up the potential murder by dumping him in the lake. She’s lead further down the dangerous path her decisions have created when James Mason arrives with $25,000 worth of blackmail. What she endures is a suburban-style hellscape, and she refuses to break until it’s all over. And once she does, it’s one hell of a meltdown. If Ophüls and Mason aren’t appealing enough, seek this out solely for Bennett’s incredible performance.
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Run for Cover (1955)
The same year Rebel Without a Cause was released, Nicholas Ray directed a lesser-known follow-up to Johnny Guitar. It’s a well-executed melodramatic western that fits beautifully into his filmography. James Cagney and John Derek are mistaken for robbers by a passing train. Its occupants, rather than risk being robbed, toss them a bag full of money. Returning the money to the nearest town results in their arrest, and through a series of asinine events, Cagney and Derek are asked to become the new lawmen. What follows are twists and turns, love and betrayal, and little Ernest Borgnine. Massive amounts of melodrama are packed so tightly into 93-minutes it should make for a god-awful movie. Luckily, Nicholas Ray has experience with this type of thing and makes it immensely more enjoyable than it has any right to be.
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The Heavenly Body (1944)
An astronomer’s (William Powell) marriage is in jeopardy when his wife (Hedy Lamarr) takes an interest in astrology. While he works nights and is on the verge of discovering a new comet, Lamarr becomes increasingly frustrated by his absence and the absence of a traditional household. She turns to an astrologer whose reading of her horoscope reveals a new love will enter her life. Having bought into this prediction, she decides to separate from her husband. What follows is a delightful descent into screwball madness.

Powell utilizes every expression he mastered during the Silent Era and pulls a few punches Nick Charles would approve of. Lamarr is hilarious and shockingly immune to Powell’s charm. She’s subtly seductive on a Hayes Code violating level. Seriously, there are a couple moments that probably should’ve been flagged. While it’s runtime could stand to lose 15 minutes, there’s plenty to enjoy.

(Full Disclosure: William Powell is one of my all-time favorite actors, so I can’t help but be a little bit biased).
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Middle of the Night (1959)
We’ve all seen it: a silver fox falls for a much younger woman, they quickly get married, credits roll. There’s no reason to dive into the complications their age gap may cause. Paddy Chayefsky wants to do just that. In this adaptation of his play, a widowed Fredric March is interested in significantly younger divorcee Kim Novak. When they begin seeing each other, they doubt the relationship could work. They ask themselves if any of it is worth their current troubles and those to come.

Raw emotions are the focus of this film. Novak, giving one of her greatest performances, is open to confronting the major daddy issues stirred up by his affections. March effortlessly switches between compassionate lover and scolding father in a way that only complicates their relationship further. There's no flashy filmmaking here, and there doesn't need to be.
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