Jan 1, 2013

My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 (Part 1)

End of year means the usual parade of end of year lists.  My favorite though that was brought to my attention last year is Favorite Film discoveries from the past year.  It's an annual ritual by my friend who runs quite possibly the best film blog on the net - RUPERT PUPKIN SPEAKS - as you won't find anyone as passionate and as in love with film as he is.

He had to break his up into two parts, and I find that I have to do the same.  I was almost worried this year that I watched too many titles I have already seen in the past because it has been a fantastic year for catalog Blu-ray Disc releases (which will also be a future post).  Thanks to great TCM programming (although I ended up canceling my cable mid-year) and some new Scream Factory and Criterion releases, this year has been a very fulfilling movie watching year for me.

In no particular order...

SCANDALOUS JOHN (1971; Directed by: Robert Butler)

I came across this movie almost by accident.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Disney-holic.  There I said it out loud AND I'M PROUD.  I am a member of their Disney Movie Club and collect Disney Movie Rewards and this title is available as part of their exclusive club collection.  I read the write-up on a forum and ordered it as a reward with my points, and wow was I not disappointed.

Brian Keith plays a crotchety old Rancher who refuses to listen to anyone.  He goes on an adventure with his  new companion and what follows is a touching story that will completely win you over.

THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN (1959; Directed by: Ken Annakin)

Another title that I discovered from the Disney club (also through a post I did this past year highlighting the films released in 1959).

All James MacArthur wants to do is climb mountains - especially the daunting mountain that his father died climbing that no one else will dare even approach.  So with the help of Klaatu (or Michael Rennie as he's known to earthlings) well let's just say he gives it a shot.

SO DEAR TO MY HEART (1948; Directed by: Harold D. Schuster and Hamilton Luske)

I decided to keep all the Disney titles together, and here is one that was Disney's first live-action film (it does have animated sequences - although they were added later because the perception was that a Disney film HAD to have animation).

Jeremiah Kincaid (Bobby Driscoll) falls in love with a black lamb that he is determined to take to the county fair and win a Blue ribbon.  First he has to convince his obstinate Grandmother (Beulah Bondi) but thankfully has a supporter in his Uncle played by Burl Ives.  A charming little movie that will have you cheering by the end and yes, I teared up.

DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE (1965; Directed by: Norman Taurog)

Last year TCM had a block of programming dedicated to B-grade Science Fiction and Monster films.  This year their big stunt programming block was Beach and Beach Inspired Movies during spring break.  You're going to see a lot of these titles on this list starting with this awesomely titled one starring Vincent Price who is seeking to rip off rich bachelors through his robotic, bikini-clad women.  The early version of Fembots!

I first saw a bit of this movie as a child during a Saturday afternoon TV movie block, but this was my first screening of it from opening to closing.  I can't remember a time that I had fun watching something like I did while viewing this.

Oh and the main title song is amazing!

FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG (1964; Directed by: Leslie H. Martinson)

For a surfing movie, the teenagers spend very little time at the beach and more time at a night club that local puritans want to shut down run by an off-color (well, by 1964 standards) comedian going by the name of Uncle Woody.  The kids all drink Pepsis.

What fascinated me about this movie is 1) the lack of surfing footage and 2) a really creepy scene where beatnik Bob Denver (that's right, Gilligan) has a face painted upside down on his chin, is buried in the sand and sings this really bizarre song with the surfers all chanting around him like they're about to sacrifice a virgin or something.  I have included the scene here because it has to be seen to be believed.

HOT RODS TO HELL (1967; Directed by: John Brahm)

Dana Andrews is real square man, real square.  He gets skittish after a nasty car accident, buys a hotel in the middle of the Arizona desert and uproots his family to move there.  On the way they are terrorized by some teens in hot rods, and these teens don't mess around.  Bored and dangerous the teens are relentless in their pursuit and this movie never once gets boring.  I truly feared for the family while watching, and felt like the square old man trying to figure out why these kids were so dangerous.

HEAVENLY BODIES (1985; Directed by: Lawrence Dane)

It's that story of David vs. Goliath as a small dancercize studio run by a woman who is passionate about her work takes on a much larger, meaner studio that isn't too happy that they are infringing on their territory.  Shot in my old stomping grounds of Toronto, this one of those rare things that you will never ever hear me say ever - a Canadian based movie worth checking out (for the record I am Canadian, so I can bash my home country if I want to).

Rupert Pupkin turned me onto this, and I loved it so much I watched it twice.  The ending is one of the best uplifting underdog moments I have ever witnessed on film.  High praise I know, but it works.

THE BUCCANEER (1958; Directed by: Anthony Quinn)

This past year I read a biography on famed director Cecil B. DeMille as I am fascinated with his showmanship approach to film making which while not always successful was worth it for the spectacle.  DeMille was originally slated to direct this movie about a group of Buccaneers headed by Yul Brynner who join up with Andrew Jackson (Charlton Heston) to fend off the British during the war of 1812.  After reading about this I had to check it out.

I wouldn't call this movie great (or even good for that matter) by any means, but it's worth watching for Heston alone.  Even better is his aide who is this crazy hillbilly that spouts crazy words of wisdom and looks after Andrew Jackson's well being.

Was released by Olive films this past year on both Blu-ray Disc and DVD.

THE ISLAND (1980; Directed by: Michael Ritchie)

I love pirate movies and I love pirates.  The films of Errol Flynn like THE SEA HAWK fascinate me and I love the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series with Johnny Depp (although I openly admit they are flawed, they feel like Disney throwbacks to me).

Here though is a different look at the Pirate genre.  Michael Caine is a reporter who heads to Florida to investigate a series of mysterious ship attacks, and he and his son are captured by a group of pirates.  His son is possessed by some force and joins with the pirates against his father who is constantly trying to escape.

What fascinated me about this movie is how evil and degenerate the pirates are.  They're filthy, missing teeth and downright mean.  These are not the dashing swashbucklers of Errol Flynn nor the goofy crew of the Black Pearl.  These are are real pirates and they are scary.  Off-setting the nastiness is Ennio Morricone's score which hearkens back to the Erich Wolfgang Korngold scores of the Flynn movies while the pirates uncomfortably loot, murder and rape.  I have never felt more satisfied by any scene more than the finale when Michael Caine guns them down in cold blood with a machine gun after they murder a ship-load of Coast Guard officers.

Just released last month as part of Shout! Factory's Scream Factory label of horror movies on both Blu-ray Disc and DVD.

VERBOTEN! (1959; Directed by: Samuel Fuller)

I first learned about VERBOTEN while listening to an interview with actor James Best (who is the star here) as he talked about his work with director Samuel Fuller on the Warner Archive podcast.  I had to have this movie and ordered it immediately and am glad I did.

James Best is a soldier who after the fall of the Third Reich risks his military career by falling for a young German woman.  He supplies her with food and more but unfortunately is being eyed as a pawn for a guerrilla Nazi movement.

Available on DVD and as a Digital Download through the Warner Archive.

ANOTHER MAN'S POISON (1951; Directed by: Irving Rapper)

Bette Davis is a murder mystery writer who messes around with her much younger secretary.  Her estranged husband suddenly appears and she murders him and tries to dispose of the body.  Of course, murder plans never go as smoothly as expected.  Bette Davis is at her most devious best here.

WHERE DANGER LIVES (1950; Directed by: John Farrow)

Robert Mitchum and a very disturbed Faith Domergue fall in love, a murder happens and they find themselves making a run from the law for the Mexican border.

Filled with the requisite noir twists and turns, and of course you can't have this type of plot without Robert Mitchum.

THE SILVER CHALICE (1954; Directed by: Victor Saville)

This movie isn't even close to being remotely good, but the production design (which is just bizarre and weirdly minimalist for the story setting) and very miscast Paul Newman make it worth checking out.

Newman is an artisan who has designed the cup of Christ while Jack Palance tries to convince everyone that he is the messiah and well, it doesn't go well for him.

Paul Newman's film debut.

CLAMBAKE (1967; Directed by: Arthur H. Nadel)

Elvis is a rich man who trades places with a poor ski-instructor at a Florida hotel to see if the girls will like him for who he really is and not his money.  Man I wish I had that problem.

The opening scene of Elvis driving in his hot rod singing the title song gets you jazzed up for the usual Elvis shenanigans which of course ends with a race (this time it's boats) where Elvis has to prove himself.

I don't care how many times they copied this formula, it's a riot every single time.

THE GANG'S ALL HERE (1943; Directed by: Busby Berkeley)

A soldier dispatched to the pacific falls for a woman just before he's shipped out but gives her an assumed name.  He returns to find that his parents have arranged a marriage for him, and well...things get crazy from there.

The final number - "The Polka Dot Polka" is surreal in that typical Busby Berkeley way.

WORLD WITHOUT END (1956; Directed by: Edward Bernds)

You gotta hate going into space and getting propelled forward to an Earth that is inhospitable compared to the one you left.  Heston found apes that treated him like an animal, and here Hugh Marlowe and crew end up on a Post-apocalyptic Earth populated by mutants and where "normal humans" live safely underground.

This has everything - mutant cavemen, a giant spider, the women are of course sexy beyond belief and the remaining humans are all suspicious and mean fuddie duddies in weird hats.  Perfect 1950s science fiction schlock.

RIDE THE WILD SURF (1964; Directed by: Don Taylor)

Fabian, Tab Hunter and Peter Brown are surfers from California hit the waves in Hawaii and find love - one of them with Barbara Eden who builds this crazy rocket that she plans to set off, but is more likely to blow up in an atomic sized blast.

Of course to be accepted by the Hawaii surfers (led by one they call Eskimo played by James Mitchum who is the spitting image of his father Robert) by riding a legendary wave that only the most brave dare take on.

Even crazier is a subplot where Tab Hunter falls for a girl whose mother HATES surfers.  I mean she loathes them.  She wants this guy to stay away from her daughter no matter what because when it comes down to it, he will always love the waves more than her.

Like groovy man, grooooooveeeeee!

THE BIG STEAL (1949; Directed by: Don Siegel)

Lots of Robert Mitchum (and family) making the list this year.  Here in this tightly paced ad exciting Noir Thriller, he is accused of robbery and along with the thief's fiance chases him through Mexico.

Mitchum + Don Siegel + Noir = awesome as usual.

DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933; Directed by: Ernst Lubitsch)

This is the point where Rupert Pupkin gets so worked up he starts swearing (Lubitsch does that to him).

This was released by the Criterion Collection and is extremely modern for a 1933 film.  Miriam Hopkins can't choose between Fredric March and Gary Cooper so they form this open relationship - with no sex - but of course an arrangement like this can only last so long without sparks flying.

CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER R.N. (1951; Directed by: Raoul Walsh)

Gregory Peck as a sea captain and Virginia Mayo is along for the ride.  Swashbuckling adventures on the high seas and in glorious technicolor.  Nuff said.

SIDE STREET (1950; Directed by: Anthony Mann)

Farley Granger is a poor postal worker who gives into temptation and steals a large amount of money from some nasty blackmailers.  Then he leaves it with a friend who steals it from him.  Things just get worse when he decides to give the money back.  This is Noir after all.  The good guys always finish last.

RED PLANET MARS (1952; Directed by: Harry Horner)

A scientist builds a communication device and thinks he reaches life on Mars.  Interesting science fiction movie has a strong religious aspect.

ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942; Directed by: John Rawlins)

Great technicolor adventure film with the usual story of an evil brother stealing the throne, a daring rescue with sword fights and of course a beautiful dancing girl.  Not much to be said except classic Hollywood at its finest.

TENSION (1949; Directed by: John Berry)

A pharmacist played by Richard Basehart concocts a devious plan to murder bully Lloyd Gough who steals his rather unpleasant wife away from him.  Trouble arises when someone else murders the guy first, and Basehart is the prime suspect of a murder he planned yet did not commit.

Here's what I have learned from Noir films.  STAY AWAY FROM ALL WOMEN.  You'll end up murdering for them, or being murdered or blamed for a murder.  Any way you look at's all bad.

IT'S A BIKINI WORLD (1967; Directed by: Stephanie Rothman)

Tommy Kirk is the coolest guy on the beach, also the most arrogant and chauvinistic one.  He hits on Deborah Walley who shuts him down, then disguise himself as a more book-read twin brother to win her over.

He of course falls for her, she figures out his scheme and it ends with a massive race to see who is better that is so crazy you have to see it to to believe it.  Also features plenty of great 1960s beach musical numbers.

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932; Directed by: Erie C. Kenton)

Great adaptation of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU has Charles Laughton doing the crazy gene splicing and trying to mate one of his creations with Richard Arlen.

The lovely Criterion Blu-ray Disc (and DVD) release of this is a must own.