Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - William Garver ""

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - William Garver

William T. Garver (a.k.a. garv) is the creator of the movie review and recommendation website IT CAME FROM THE BOTTOM SHELF!, which focuses on forgotten film classics, lesser-known gems, and oddball discoveries. In addition to movie reviews, he posts weekly home video picks, upcoming title announcements, and more.

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LA GRANDE VADROUILLE (Don’t Look Now… We’re Being Shot At!, 1966, Gérard Oury)
As a fan of the all-star epic comedies of the 1960s (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Great Race; etc.), I have wanted to see La Grande Vadrouille for several years. This 124-minute, French entry in the genre uses WWII as a backdrop and features “epic comedy” regular Terry Thomas as the pilot of a RAF bomber plane that is shot down over German-occupied Paris. Popular French comedians André Bourvil and Louis de Funès play Parisians of opposite social classes that are forced to work together to help Thomas and his crew avoid capture. This comedy (which translates as The Great Promenade) stood as the biggest earner in French box office history for 42 years, and it is still a beloved comedy classic throughout much of Europe. However, in the United States it received a paltry “blink and you’ll miss it” release under the uninspiring title of Don’t Look Now… We’re Being Shot At! and was quickly forgotten. A beautiful, subtitled Region B-locked Blu-ray is available in the U.K. from Studio Canal. Here’s my full review: 
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BUSY BODIES (1933; Lloyd French)
The best of Laurel & Hardy’s films give the team a simple task (deliver a player piano, install an radio aerial on the roof, clean the house before the wife gets home, etc.) and then lets the fun begin as Stan and Ollie top poor decisions with inept actions, cumulating in terrific destruction. The 19-minute Busy Bodies fits well within this formula, and it has quickly become my favorite film starring the team. The plot is simple — The boys happily arrive at their new job… IN A SAWMILL!!! Here’s my full review:
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BEAT THE DEVIL (1953; John Huston)
This one is a bit of a cheat in that I’ve seen this film before. However, I’d never seen the version that Twilight Time released this year on Blu-ray. When Beat the Devil initially previewed in 1953 to a handful of perplexed audiences, producers re-cut the film, removing four to five minutes of footage, reordering some of the scenes to tell the story in flashback, and adding opening narration by star Humphrey Bogart. This re-edited version of the film had been the only cut available on video. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray represents the full-length, pre-release version as originally envisioned by director John Huston and writer Truman Capote. While I had previously liked the compromised version of the film, I unabashedly love the pre-release version. It’s become my favorite Bogart film. Here’s my full review:
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WARLOCK (1959; Edward Dmytryk)
Another first-time viewing via a Twilight Time disc was this 1959 Western, based on the exceptional novel by Oakley Hall. I read the novel prior to seeing the film, and while the narrative was greatly condensed for the film, the movie is one of the best adult, psychological Westerns of the 1950s. The narrative puts a dark spin on the trope of a gunfighter being brought in to clean up a wild town, and it subverts many of the cliches of the genre. Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, and Anthony Quinn are all great playing deeply flawed characters.
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THE ROUND-UP (1920; George Melford)
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was one of the few comedians that could co-star with Charles Chaplin or Buster Keaton and not be completely overshadowed. However, when he moved from slapstick shorts to full-length features, Arbuckle decided to depart from the formula that made him a star. His first feature is a straight Western, and Arbuckle proves to be an able dramatic actor and an effective action star. The 300-pound Arbuckle is so light on his feet and is so physically adept that it is easy to buy him as a Western hero. It’s a change of pace, but it works. A Blu-ray is available from CineMuseum LLC, which has an amazingly sharp, beautiful image for a film of this age. Here’s my full review:
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KID GLOVE KILLER (1942; Fred Zinnemann)
Van Heflin was one of the finest actors of the Hollywood studio era, but he is rarely discussed today. As he was approaching stardom, MGM gave him the lead in a couple of B-mystery programmers, Kid Glove Killer and Grand Central Murder, that were released within a month of each other in 1942. The latter is a Thin Man-like murder mystery, which has long been a personal favorite. Kid Glove Killer is much different, in that there is really no mystery. The audience knows the identity of the killer from the beginning, and the suspense is in how a crime lab expert (Heflin) will catch him. This CSI-style thriller has been released on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.
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While I am well versed in the short comedies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, I have only seen a handful of shorts from Harold Lloyd. An Eastern Westerner is 25-minutes of solid laughs and clever physical business. Lloyd plays a city boy who is sent West by his father to bring an end to his late-night partying and to teach him self-reliance. Shortly after his arrival, Lloyd comes to the aid of a girl in distress (his future wife Mildred Davis) against the local head of a Klan-like group of masked riders. This short was included as an extra on Criterion’s Blu-ray release of The Freshman, and it is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.
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THE STEEL HELMET (1951; Sam Fuller)
Sam Fuller made a Korean War film during the Korean War, and it is anything but a flag-waving, patriotic view of American troops in combat. By going to low budget Lippert Pictures, Fuller had the freedom to make a gritty, uncompromising film that confronted American racism and the ugly realities of war. Fuller makes excellent use of limited resources, and Gene Evans is fantastic in the lead.
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GENEVIEVE (1953; Henry Cornelius)
Before William Rose wrote It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, he was best known for this gentle comedy about a couple of antique car enthusiasts who challenge each other to the slowest auto race in cinema history. This utterly charming British comedy is available on Blu-ray from VCI.
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SUE MY LAWYER (1938; Jules White)
Harry Langdon is celebrated today for his silent shorts and features, and some critics refer to him as the fourth comedy genius of the period (along with Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd). However, his sound comedies, which were made after his stardom had faded, are fairly difficult to see today. In 1938, he made Sue My Lawyer at Columbia’s shorts department (best known for The Three Stooges). The short is one of the best ever produced by the studio, and it proves that Langdon still had great comedy chops. Stooge regulars Bud Jamison and Vernon Dent co-star. Unfortunately, I had to seek this one out on YouTube.

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