Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2020 - Sean Wicks ""

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Sean Wicks

A former Creative Executive for Academy Award nominated Producer Andrew Lazar (10 Things I Hate About You; Space Cowboys), a past long-time social media volunteer for the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles and currently working in Visual Effects Production and a member of VES (Visual Effects Society -, Sean is movie obsessed and passionate about all-things cinema and physical media – and especially a strong side-interest in film scores. Active on Twitter when life allows (, Tumblr ( and Letterboxd ( he also blogs about movies (what else!) from time-to-time (

So much more movie watching time in 2020 made for a big list of discoveries to choose from. A wealth of riches, and here are the top titles.

GERMANY YEAR ZERO (1948; Directed by Roberto Rossellini)
This is one heart breaking picture to watch. It follows the struggles of a young boy in war-torn Italy as he tries to help his family survive. The boy comes across as naïve, unable to fully comprehend just how bad things are, and this naivete sets him up with some shady characters. One set are extremely nasty, the shocking thing is that for a picture made in 1948, it does not stray away from depicting a probable pedophile who fondles the boy lustfully and openly.

Uplifting this is not and made even more depressing thanks to the neo-realistic camerawork and lighting that director Rossellini is known for. You have to be in the mindset for this one.

Viewed via The Criterion Channel.

DAY OF THE OUTLAW (1959; Directed by Andre de Toth)
For a year filled with real-life downers, I ended up watching a lot of dark and dreary pictures. Day of the Outlaw is one of those. Featured as part of the Criterion Channel’s Noir Westerns programming, it starts off as one thing, and quickly transitions into a whole other story entirely.

At first you have Robert Ryan, a rancher and clearly a former gunslinger at odds with homesteaders in an isolated mountain community. Not only is there a land dispute, but as usual a woman factors in – in this case the wife of one of the homesteaders (Tina Louise – that’s right, Ginger). However, just as that story is about to explode into conflict a group of soldiers turned outlaws arrive in town after pulling a job, on the run from the army. These guys are mean, real mean. They are tired, they are hungry, and they are horny. The latter appetite they do not even try to hide, pretty much ready to ravage (meaning rape) any woman they see, and well Tina Louise, she more than exudes sensuality.

The bandits are led by Burl Ives. He has been shot. He can barely keep them under control while clearly his health is in jeopardy from the gunshot, and even worse, once he has gone there is nothing stopping the men from tearing the town and its residents to shreds. As they beat on and harass the homesteaders, Ryan comes up with an ingenious plan to get them out of the mess, one that has dire consequences for him. Once again, he is forced to help a town, but lose for himself.

This is one fantastic motion picture. I kind of wanted to watch it again shortly after. Ryan and Ives are perfect in their roles, and the outlaws are truly the mangiest, angriest, and most dangerous bunch seen on screen. The only weak factor is Tina Louise. Her looks help as the sexpot vibe drives the already worked up outlaws over the edge, but her acting is flat. In a love moment with Ryan, there is barely any chemistry at all. It is not enough to ruin the picture though that has easily made it onto my list of great discoveries.

SCANDAL SHEET (1952; Directed by Phil Karlson)
This picture reminded me of The Big Clock or No Way Out but instead of the person trying to hide an investigation that would declare an innocent person guilty, the main character (Broderick Crawford) is guilty as sin. That is not a spoiler at all. The one sheet and even all the descriptions of it give this fact away. Crawford in this case is the publisher of a sensationalist newspaper, and his protégé is John Derek who is cocky as he is talented. He butts heads with co-worker Donna Reed and clearly there is sexual tension between them even if she is totally disgusted by the way he operates. Someone from Crawford’s past appears and Crawford commits a murder. Derek is on the case and reporting to Crawford is clearly investigating a murder that implicates his boss. Crawford continues being a publisher, knowing he cannot stop Derek without implicating himself, but knowing that if Derek succeeds, he is also doomed.

Based on a novel by Samuel Fuller this is one fun picture. Watching the conflict as Crawford the murderer internally battles Crawford the publisher who knows the story of his own crime is increasing sales of his paper. Yes, he tries to stop Derek from digging deeper, but then his newsman instinct keeps it going. This is one role that Crawford fits into perfect, the sleazy sensationalist newspaper publisher as well as a man who will kill to get what he needs.

Viewed via a Samuel Fuller DVD set
THE SPY IN BLACK (1939; Directed by Michael Powell)
For a while, The Spy In Black will make you think that it is treating the German U-Boat captain (Conrad Veidt) who is behind enemy lines in Scotland to coordinate an attack on the British Fleet with a disgruntled British officer is the hero of the piece. There is a schoolteacher who is a German plant to help him out, and everything seems geared for him to succeed. A British director making a War picture where a German is the hero? Diabolical!

Of course, I do not want to talk about the picture much more as it would spoil the journey, and this is a good one at that. Directed by Michael Powell (Screenplay by Emeric Pressburger) I was surprised I had not come across this picture earlier. Veidt is solid as the lead, so much so that even though deep down you do not want him to succeed because technically, he is a villain, you sort of root for him at the same time as he carries out his plot to destroy the British fleet. Not at all what you will suspect it to be, and that works for it in spades.

Viewed via The Criterion Channel.

LUST FOR GOLD (1949; Directed by S. Sylvan Simon)
I remember as a child seeing numerous cartoons with the message of “all that glitters is not gold” but in this case, the gold indeed glitters and it inspires a whole lot of greed and larceny. This picture is also Gold spanning 3 time periods – the first, a massacre that leaves a large stash of gold buried in a remote location, the second, a flashback that has Glenn Ford finding that gold and being deceived by Femme Fatale Ida Lupino, and the third, present day where William Prince is trying to find the secret of the gold. In all cases there is gold fever, and people die and are turned into murderers as they try to get their hands on it.

Part of the “Western Noirs” programming on the Criterion Channel that whole lineup of pictures that are pure gold.

WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950; Directed by Norman Foster)
The irony of Woman on the Run is that it is not actually the woman (Ann Sheridan) who is on the run, but her husband. He just so happened to witness a big murder while walking his dog and is told by the police that he now must testify against a mob syndicate. He makes a run for it, leaving Sheridan to hold the bag as the cops and a pesky reporter badger her to get to him. The thing is, they were not getting along so well so Sheridan isn’t too keen about the spot she’s in.

A great Film Noir that uses the suspense story to also work out marital difficulties between Sheridan and her husband. The twist is a solid one, and there is an element of the dog that really makes things interesting. It is while walking the dog that the husband finds himself caught up in the mess, and the dog is prevalent throughout the entire picture, so much so that the police detective in charge of the case is seen walking him even while they hunt down suspects. I grew fond of that dog, and this picture.

Viewed on Kanopy.

THE WALKING HILLS (1949; Directed by John Sturges)
Another “Western Noir” from the Criterion Channel, another gold-level picture. In this case, a group of card players go on the hunt for a legendary wagonload of gold said to be buried in the Mexican desert. IN addition, a detective played by John Ireland is tracking one of them suspected of murder. The minute he reveals what his agenda is, the entire game changes as secrets brimming under the surface of all the gold-hunters increase the tension.

Directed by John Sturges (who would go on to direct The Great Escape among other titles) this one has layers of twists you do not see coming, many of them underplayed in such a way that they are truly a surprise when they are revealed. It all culminates in an epic sandstorm set piece that brings a fitting end to an already exciting picture.

HOPSCOTCH (1980; Directed by Ronald Neame)
Talk about one fun picture, this sees Walter Matthau as a CIA agent who after being regulated to a desk job due to office politics, decides to retire and write a tell-all memoir which gets his former bosses on his trail to make sure that said memoir never gets published. Matthau spends the entire picture comfortably outwitting and staying well ahead of his pursuers.

The irony with this is I had just re-watched Burn After Reading which had a somewhat similar premise (John Malkovich being the memoir writer in that). It made for a great double feature.

Viewed on The Criterion Channel.

ISLAND IN THE SKY (1953; Directed by William A. Wellman)
John Wayne’s transport plane goes down in the frozen north of Quebec, and he and his men fight to survive hostile conditions while searchers try to locate them.

Tense movie that succeeds on several levels, with Wayne and company doing everything they can to stay alive while the other pilots, including Andy Devine, do everything they can to locate them. Most of these pictures tend to be claustrophobic, but the wide-open territory where Wayne’s plane went down somehow adds to the desperation as there is so much wide open terrain around them, that they feel so completely like a needle in a haystack, not to mention the temperature issues making the search difficult.

Viewed on DVD.

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