Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2020 - Laura G ""

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Laura G

If you weren't already aware, Laura runs the wonderful blog Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, which is a must for any classic film fans:
She can be found on Twitter here:

Check out her Film Discoveries of 2019 here:

WHAT HAPPENED TO JONES? (William A. Seiter, 1926)
It's an honor to share my eighth annual list of Favorite Discoveries! This year I begin with a silent film, my favorite from a wonderful three-film set of '20s comedies starring Reginald Denny. Denny plays a young man who spends his wedding eve at a poker game which is unfortunately raided by the police, leading to a series of amusing situations as he tries to escape. Eventually, after a long, crazy night, he finds himself posing as the bishop scheduled to perform his own wedding ceremony! Denny is a delightful farceur, and it gives those only familiar with his later supporting roles a completely new perspective on his career.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

THE EAGLE'S BROOD (Howard Bretherton, 1935)
This excellent second entry in the long-running Hopalong Cassidy series has a darker, grittier feel than later Hoppy films. The steely-eyed Hoppy is a pretty dangerous customer here, almost scary at times, and then he periodically breaks out into the familiar reassuring Hoppy smile. The story concerns a young boy (George Mari) whose parents are murdered. He's found by a dance hall girl (Joan Woodbury, billed as Nana Martinez), who protects him from the men looking to kill him as well. She writes to the boy's grandfather, the legendary Mexican bandit El Toro (William Farnum). As El Toro heads north to find his grandson, he chances to save the life of Sheriff Cassidy (Boyd); the sheriff orders El Toro to head back south of the border but, in gratitude for El Toro saving his life, he pledges to find the little boy himself and deliver him safely home.

Available on DVD.

I watched several ARABIAN NIGHTS-style fantasies in 2020, perfect escapism for a very challenging year. ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES was a glorious Technicolor spectacle starring the frequently paired team of Jon Hall and Maria Montez, with strong support from Turhan Bey and Andy Devine. Hall plays the orphaned son of a Caliph raised by the thieves, making them "forty and one"; eventually he's reunited with his childhood friend (Montez) and battles to reclaim his lost throne. The film deftly blends action, humor, and romance; the vigorous score by Edward Ward is another plus.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

SONG OF SCHEHERAZADE (Walter Reisch, 1947)
When I saw SONG OF SCHEHERAZADE I described it as "crazy, but in the best possible way." It's a giddy fantasy which, like ALI BABA, provides marvelous Technicolor escapism, including plenty of screen time for one of the most beautiful women ever to be filmed in color, Yvonne De Carlo. The plot, a bunch of nonsense about the adventures of the composer Rimsky-Korsakov, is hard to describe but great fun; the film's pleasures include a hilarious performance by Brian Donlevy as a ship's captain, dances by De Carlo, and the gorgeous music of Rimsky-Kirsakov, supplemented by Miklos Rozsa.

Available on DVD from the Universal Vault Series.

HELLFIRE (R.G. Springsteen, 1949)
This unusual Western, filmed in otherworldly-looking Trucolor, has stuck in my mind since I first saw it. Marie Windsor, in one of her best roles, plays Doll Brown, who as we meet her has just gunned down her abusive ex (Harry Woods). Zeb (William "Wild Bill" Elliott), a former card cheat whose life was turned around by an encounter with a preacher (H.B. Warner), goes after Doll, hoping to use the reward money to fulfill his pledge to the now-deceased preacher to build a church. Doll is on an unstoppable mission: Finding her younger sister Jane, from whom she was separated as a child. Meanwhile Marshal McLean has his own very particular reason for hunting down Doll. The movie is fascinating for a host of reasons, including Windsor's fierce performance and the melding of religious themes with intense violence. Both Windsor and Elliott counted this among their best films.

Not on DVD.

SON OF ALI BABA (Kurt Neumann, 1952)
This film was, plain and simple, one of my most enjoyable viewing experiences of 2020. It might not be great art, but it's great entertainment, and I pretty much smiled from start to finish. (Any movie which has that effect on a viewer perhaps is a kind of art, at that.) Charismatic Tony Curtis plays the title role; he seems to be having grand fun, and so does the audience. It's an adventure film shot in Universal's trademark candybox Technicolor, with Piper Laurie and Susan Cabot as spunky ladies who eagerly join in battle. William Reynolds is engaging as Curtis's pal, and there's even narration by Jeff Chandler. It won't be long before I watch this one again.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and DVD from the Universal Vault Series.

THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP (Norman Leslie, 1955)
This British film takes one of my favorite subgenres, the aviation disaster film, and gives it an otherworldly TWILIGHT ZONE type spin. A British naval commander (Michael Hordern) has a dream about a plane crash which he recounts to other guests at a dinner party...some of whom are planning to fly the next morning, and as they make preparations, the details from the dream seem to be unfolding with uncanny accuracy. There are interesting questions raised about whether or not to get on the flight, building to a very suspenseful third act. Thanks to vividly sketched characters, excellent dialogue, and its overall theme, I found this film completely engaging. Michael Redgrave and Alexander Knox lead an excellent cast.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS (Ronald Neame, 1956)
A fact-based, top-notch "spy procedural" about two British intelligence officers (Clifton Webb and Robert Flemyng) who concoct a plan to draw the Nazis away from Sicily before the Allied invasion, in the hope of lessening casualties. The elaborate ruse involves concocting a fictional persona for a dead body, planting letters in his briefcase showing that the real action will be in Greece and Sardinia, and then making it appear he's an officer who went down in a plane crash near the coast of Spain, where the Nazis are likely to gain access to the man's personal effects. But will the Germans fall for it? This film is equal parts gripping and touching, with Webb superb, displaying his trademark dry wit, mixed here with sensitivity.

Available on DVD from 20th Century-Fox.

RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL (Jesse Hibbs, 1958)
Audie Murphy stars as outlaw Joe Maybe in this very good film, scripted by top Western screenwriter Borden Chase. Joe is mistaken for a marshal who's died and is hired by a wily judge (Walter Matthau) to keep order in a frontier town. Joe's old flame Tessa (Gia Scala) chances to show up and poses as his wife, and in the tradition of films like LARCENY, INC. (1942), Joe and Tessa find they prefer the honest work of their "cover" to a life of crime. Murphy's laconic line readings are perfect in his scenes opposite Matthau, whose hard-drinking judge is an ace with a gun. The film encompasses action, suspense, humor, and family drama, as Joe mentors an orphan (Eddie Little) who reminds him of his own childhood.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and DVD from the TCM Vault Collection.

THE CRIMSON KIMONO (Samuel Fuller, 1959)
This might seem on the surface to be a run-of-the-mill crime drama, but it's also a fascinating interracial romance, played out against fantastic Southern California locations. James Shigeta and Glenn Corbett are police detectives investigating the murder of a burlesque stripper who was gunned down in the middle of a street. Corbett falls for a USC art student (Victoria Shaw) who's a potential witness, but she's more interested in the sensitive and artistically minded Shigeta. I appreciated the uncliched treatment of race and the way that Shigeta and Corbett work to rebuild their friendship after a falling out; I also liked that Shaw wasn't a damsel in distress, but was calm and direct in expressing her feelings. The film is a love letter to Downtown Los Angeles, including Little Tokyo, and it also filmed at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

Available on Blu-ray from Kit Parker Films and Twilight Time and on DVD from Sony in a boxed set or as a single title.

SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN (Harry Keller, 1960)
Audie Murphy makes the list twice, this time thanks to SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN, costarring Barry Sullivan. Murphy plays Seven Ways From Sundown Jones, who joined the Texas Rangers after the death of his older brother, Two. His new commanding officer (Kenneth Tobey) sends Jones out to round up a dangerous outlaw, Jim Flood (Sullivan). Jones is an ace with a rifle but not so much with a handgun, a problem Sgt. Hennessey (John McIntire) does his best to rectify. Jones captures Flood and as they make their way back to town, battling Apaches and more along the way, they develop an uneasy respect. However, Jones is unaware that Flood happens to be his brother's killer. This has an excellent script by Clair Huffaker, based on his novel, and Murphy and Sullivan really strike sparks opposite one another. A superior Murphy Western.

Not on DVD.

DEAR HEART (Delbert Mann, 1964)
I've heard good things about DEAR HEART from friends for years and am glad I finally caught up with it. It's a sweetly funny, charming romance about Harry (Glenn Ford), a salesman who's also a former playboy ready to embrace domesticity, and Edie (Geraldine Page), a quirky postal service employee Harry happens to meet at a convention in New York. Harry has recently proposed to a widow named Phyllis (Angela Lansbury) but gradually comes to realize that he and Phyllis want very different things from life, while he and Edie share common goals. Ford is especially good in this, with some wonderful comedic reactions, and Page is a delight as an unusual character who's simultaneously awkward, warm, and thoughtful. It's typically Edie to learn the names of every hotel staffer and thank them for their help; a scene near the end where she checks out of the hotel was unexpectedly moving. It's also a very Edie thing to have herself paged in the hotel lobby, just for the thrill of hearing her name called! An amusing and heartwarming film.

Available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

A dozen more great discoveries from this year which there's not room to discuss here: FAST AND LOOSE (1930), SPAWN OF THE NORTH (1938), PHANTOM OF CHINATOWN (1940), TANKS A MILLION (1941), KISMET (1944), DAKOTA (1945), RED BALL EXPRESS (1952), THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956), THE BADGE OF MARSHAL BRENNAN (1957), THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974), TIN CUP (1996), and SELENA (1997).


KC said...

Love this list Laura. You've got me wanting to revisit all those colorful fantasy flicks. Didn't have a clue about the early career of Reginald Denny; will definitely check him out.

john k said...

As expected a wonderful selection of firm favorites of mine and several I have yet to catch up with. I was thrilled to see THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS get included,this film somehow always seems to get overlooked. HELLFIRE and SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN are very entertaining Westerns our friend Toby will be most pleased to see HELLFIRE included. 2021 looks to be an even more exciting year for "discoveries" I note that Kino Lorber have announced a 4K restoration of a favorite of us both LARCENY.

Laura said...

Thanks, KC! Those Technicolor fantasy movies were just the right viewing for 2020! I hope you enjoy checking out those along with Reginald Denny! Thanks for your note.

Best wishes,

Laura said...

Thank you so much, John! Great to hear that you're also a fan of THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS. I thoroughly enjoyed it -- so much that I also got the book it was based on.

I'm glad Toby's Marie Windsor Blogathon gave me the impetus to pull HELLFIRE out of my watch stack -- what a memorable film!

I'm thrilled about the upcoming release of LARCENY! As you may know, Kino Lorber has some other exciting "not on DVD" movies coming, including THE WEB and ALIAS NICK BEAL.

Thanks, as always, for reading and for your comment!

Best wishes,

Walter S. said...

Laura, an outstanding list and your write-ups of each one are a joy to read. I've never viewed WHAT HAPPENED TO JONES? and THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP. Because of your good words, I'll have to seek them out in the near future.

Keep doing what you are doing, because I enjoy and appreciate your wonderful efforts.

Jerry Entract said...

A great and varied list of discoveries, Laura. I can detect a strong current of escapism to cheer the spirit through this long slog.
Good choice of westerns as well as some among the listed but not reviewed. Glad too you found much to like in those British films. Michael Redgrave was a highly-regarded stage actor but he was excellent in many movies too.
Great too to see discussion generated about "THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS", with Clifton Webb superbly underplaying. True story of course.

Laura said...

Walter, I hope you'll enjoy those movies! I just handed my husband a Blu-ray of THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP a while ago, as he wasn't able to watch it with me last year. Thank you so much for the encouragement!!

Jerry, those desert fantasies were definitely the perfect escapist entertainment for 2020! It was also encouraging to watch a movie like THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS in 2020 and spend time with people confronting a hugely significant challenge of another era, WWII. A reminder to "Keep calm and carry on," so to speak, and persevere through our own modern-day difficulties.

Best wishes,

Kristina said...

These are great as usual Laura! You always have a nice variety, and good westerns, to explore... I love THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS and Webb's performance there. You included a handful of other faves here that I love to see get more attention, plus I'm eager to check out the new-to-me ones, esp THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP and HELLFIRE. cheers!

Laura said...

Thank you so much, Kristina! I have a feeling you'll like THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP especially. I'd love to know your thoughts when you see it. Thanks so much for your note and the feedback!

Best wishes,