Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Eric Hillis ""

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Eric Hillis

Eric Hillis is a freelance film critic and editor of
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A Time for Dying (1969; Budd Boetticher)
Budd Boetticher's final film is a curious blend of a classic Hollywood western and the sort of pessimistic genre films that began emerging in the late 1960s. The amateurish Richard Lapp plays a Roy Rogers type cowboy whose 'golly gee' outlook is in stark contrast to the rest of the film, populated as it is by the sort of sweaty varmints you might find in a spaghetti western. Despite a generally light tone throughout, it boasts a shockingly downbeat ending. I can't help wonder if this movie influenced the opening segment of the Coens' western anthology Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
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Shoot It Black, Shoot It Blue (1974; Dennis McGuire)
Sometimes movies are decades ahead of their time. One of the defining images of recent years is that of police shootings of young black men caught on camera by witnesses. Remarkably, that's the premise of this 1974 drama, in which crooked cop Michael Moriarty is filmed gunning down an unarmed black man by film student Eric Laneuville. We then spend most of the film in the company of Moriarty, suspended pending an investigation, as he drifts around Los Angeles in the manner of Gary Lockwood in Model Shop. An unflinching, confrontational examination of American bigotry that's crying out for a remake.

The Incubus (1981; John Hough)
John Cassavetes is rumoured to have rewritten the script for this bizarre, distasteful yet fascinating supernatural thriller. Cassavetes plays a doctor in a small town ravaged by a spate of sexual assaults and murders that appear to be the work of something inhuman. The creepiest thing about the film is how the good doctor ogles his teenage daughter as she undresses. Knock back a shot of White Russian every time Cassavetes mentions "sperm" and you'll be legless by the end of the first act.
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Baby Blue Marine (1976; John D. Hancock)
Director John D. Hancock is one of those '70s filmmakers whose work has been unfortunately overshadowed by that of his more famous peers, but he delivered some of the decade's most interesting films. Baby Blue Marine stars Jan-Michael Vincent as a WWII marine sent home from training in disgrace. After trading uniforms with Richard Gere's officer, who wishes to avoid the frontline, he finds himself in a small Californian town, where he is hailed as a hero for the uniform he hasn’t earned. The townsfolk are a loveable bunch, but the introduction of a subplot involving escapees from a nearby Japanese internment camp is a reminder that even the nicest of people can hold despicable views.
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Phantom Lady (1944; Robert Siodmak)
What's most interesting about Robert Siodmak's noir is how it reverses a gender trope. When her boss (Alan Curtis), with whom she is infatuated, is accused of killing his wife, secretary Ella Raines sets out to prove his innocence. It seems the real killer has gone to great lengths to cover their tracks, with potential witnesses denying ever seeing Curtis and refusing to provide alibis. The film's highlight sees Raines pretend to seduce a drummer played by the great Elisha Cook Jr, resulting in the musician performing a ritualistic drum solo in an attempt to impress her.
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The Party's Over (1965; Guy Hamilton)
Best known for directing four James Bond movies, Guy Hamilton helmed this gritty drama, which couldn't be further from the glamorous exploits of 007. Oliver Reed is at his monstrous best as the leader of a gang of London beatniks who cover up the accidental death and subsequent necrophilic rape of a young American woman. With its unfeeling young characters and quiet rage against a disenfranchised society, Hamilton's film plays like a companion piece to Tim Hunter's similar River's Edge.
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Nightfall (1956; Jacques Tourneur)
Jacques Tourneur's Nightfall is often lumped in with the noir movement, but it owes more to the 1930s chase thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock. Photographer Aldo Ray and model Anne Bancroft set off to Wyoming in search of a bag of cash buried in the snow, attempting to keep ahead of the pair of goons (Brian Keith and Rudy Bond) on their tails. Ray and Bancroft are thoroughly charming together, both exhibiting a loveable goofiness that makes their characters all the more easy to root for.
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The Mad Miss Manton (1938; Leigh Jason)
This screwball mystery stars the great Barbara Stanwyck as a socialite who comes across a murdered corpse and swiftly rounds up her posse of high society girlfriends to solve the crime. Her bumbling love interest is played by Henry Fonda, and their repartee plays like a trial run for their acclaimed coupling in Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve three years later. I wish this had spawned an ongoing series, as Stanwyck's Miss Manton really is a delightfully kooky character.
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Nightkill (1980; Ted Post)
Imagine Blood Simple by way of Jess Franco and you'll have some idea of the unique tone of this '80s noir. Director Ted Post is often thought of as the very definition of a journeyman director, but Nightkill feels like the work of a European arthouse filmmaker who has landed a Hollywood gig yet isn't about to deliver a generic thriller. Jaclyn Smith finds herself caught up in a murderous scheme concocted by the man she's cheating with behind her husband's back. Robert Mitchum arrives on the scene as a detective who suspects Smith of murder. With its Arizona setting and curiously European feel, Nightkill makes an ideal double bill partner with Donald Cammell's White of the Eye.
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The Third Secret (1964; Charles Crichton)
Like a decidedly downbeat '60s British Léon the Professional, Crichton's film sees a newsreader (Stephen Boyd) investigating the suspicious death of his therapist with the man's young daughter (Pamela Franklin) in tow. Robert L. Joseph's dialogue is a tad on the flowery side but Crichton's downbeat direction and a powerhouse performance from the prodigious Franklin make this a moody and melancholy treat.
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