Jan 6, 2013

My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 (Part 2)

Last week I posted the first part of my 2012 FAVORITE FILM DISCOVERIES list which can be accessed HERE.  

As promised here is part 2.  

ROPE OF SAND (1949; Directed by: William Dieterle)

Paul Henreid was a good guy in CASABLANCA, but here he is a ruthless and bloodthirsty security officer for a mining company in the middle of the desert.  Burt Lancaster once stumbled upon a rich deposit of Diamonds, was beaten near death by Henreid and everyone would like him to take him to that location.  Claude Rains hires easy gold-digging Corrinne Calvet to romance the information out of Lancaster who is more concerned with revenge against Henreid.

Nobody is anywhere close to being a good person in this movie, and Henreid is especially nasty in this dark movie that is shot in that great 1940s Warner Bros. style.

STRANGE CARGO (1940; Directed by: Frank Borzage)

Clark Gable is a convict on an inescapable island prison.  He along with several other convicts attempts to escape and takes saloon girl (and really, aren't they always saloon girls in these movies) along with him.  A Christ-like figure who seems to be in tune with future events is among the escapees in a strange plot twist that ends with a daring rescue sequence on a boat caught in a storm at sea.

Recently released on Disc and Digital Download by the Warner Archive.

THE DAY THEY ROBBED THE BANK OF ENGLAND (1960; Directed by: John Guillermin)

Heist movies are a dime a dozen, but most of them work somehow even though they all seem to follow the same rules.

This one is set in 1901 and is about a group of IRA operatives planning to steal Gold from the seemingly impenetrable Bank of England.  Scouting the place out, they do the usual Heist movie activity of clocking in when things happen (which in the world of movies, banks and other secure places hire people who are so good they do their jobs on such a tight time schedule they are never off by even a second).  Deciding that going in through the sewers is the best option, they find their biggest obstacle is Peter O'Toole, a young and extremely suspicious (as always in these movies there is one guy who can sense when even a piece of dust is out of place) guard.

Aldo Ray plays an American helping out the cause who befriends O'Toole's guard for information, and I won't give away if they get in or not I will say that although this follows the bank heist formula almost precisely, it's still a suspenseful movie that sucked me in.  Peter O'Toole is particularly great in this.

GOLDEN SALAMANDER (1950; Directed by: Ronald Neame)

Trevor Howard is an archaeologist who stumbles upon a group of gun runners in North Africa.  The gang suspects that he may know something, but he decides to keep it to himself and go about his business.  He makes the mistake of trying to help one of the gang to escape and run off with his girl resulting in the death of the lad and suddenly Howard feels compelled to report the gun runners to the authorities which gets him more involved than he could possibly have imagined.

It's a little stiff, but then again it is British after all so isn't that par for the course?  Herbert Lom is especially nasty as one of the thugs Howard comes up against.

DARK CITY (1950; Directed by: William Dieterle)

Not to be confused with the Alex Proyas film from 1998 of the same name, this Film Noir starring Charlton Heston is his feature film starring debut.

Heston is a bookie whose operation is shut down, and takes an ex-GI for a night on the town town including poker.  The GI is fleeced by some crooked gamblers for $5000 of his company's money.  The next morning he is found hanged from suicide in his room.  When one of the gamblers is also found dead by hanging, it is discovered that the GI has a crazy brother Sidney who is on a revenge rampage for his brother's death.

Heston spends the movie trying to get a lead on the deranged brother before he winds up a victim himself.  Heston isn't exactly a nice guy here, but that's the great thing about Noir as the heroes are never really heroes.

SCARLET STREET (1945; Directed by: Fritz Lang)

Another Noir where the male is a sitting duck.  Here we have Edward G. Robinson as Chris Cross, a poor cashier that meet a beautiful woman that will eventually ruin his life - but mainly thanks to her scheming boyfriend played by Dan Duryea at his slimy best.

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW also directed by Lang and featuring must of the same cast is a different take on this similar theme.

INTO THE NIGHT (1985; Directed by: John Landis)

Jeff Goldblum has a miserable life and while driving through the streets of L.A. at night meets Michelle Pfeiffer and ends up in a crazy adventure.

This is another one of those movies I have always intended to see but somehow set aside, and was happy to discover I liked it as I finally got around to it.

THE STUNT MAN (1980; Directed by: Richard Rush)

The second title featuring Peter O'Toole on this list has him as a monomaniacal director trying to get a film made and harbors a fugitive who takes a position as a stuntman.

Crazy long scene of an escape on a building goes on way longer than any film take would run for but that's the point of this movie which is surreal and incredibly engaging.

THE DRESSER (1983; Directed by: Peter Yates)

This movie completely captivated me.  A critical success from 1983 that has Albert Finney as a Shakespearean actor who can barely put coherent and sane thoughts together backstage but onstage is brilliant.  It's up to his dresser played by Tom Courtney to make sure he makes it TO the stage which in itself  proves to be a task of herculean proportions.

ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN (1948; Directed by: Vincent Sherman)

Errol Flynn in this Warner Bros. swashbuckler about the legendary lover who tries to mend his ways for Queen Margaret.  Flynn is accompanied by regular sidekick Alan Hale and how can you go wrong in glorious technicolor!

THE OUTLAW (1943; Directed by: Howard Hughes)

Jane Russell turns heads in the old west.  Jane Russell = wow!

CINDERFELLA (1960; Directed by: Frank Tashlin)

Jerry Lewis teams with frequent collaborator Frank Tashlin for this reverse-gender tale of Cinderella.  The dance sequence at the end makes it a must see.

GIRL HAPPY (1965; Directed by: Boris Sagal)

Elvis is a rock-and-roll singer (acting stretch for him) sent to Fort Lauderdale on spring break to make sure a mobster's daughter stays pure.  I love how in these 60s version of spring break, the couples never even get remotely close to taking their clothes off.  As usual, the musical numbers are fantastic.

GIDGET (1959; Directed by: Paul Wendkos)

Sandra Dee hits the beach and befriends boys with names like Moondoggie and The Big Kahuna and learns to surf.  One of THE quintessential surfing movies.

K-Earth 101 an Oldies radio station in Los Angeles used to have a holiday give away that involved "Kahuna Claus".  Now I know where they got that from.

PAJAMA PARTY (1964; Directed by: Don Weis)

Tommy Kirk comes to Earth to prepare an invasion from Mars and falls for Annette Funicello (Frankie stayed on Mars for this one - literally.  He's the head of the Martians).  Buster Keaton runs around in the most racist Indian outfit imaginable - but pulls it off because he's Buster Keaton.

These surfing movies really have me fascinated.  I'm sure parents back in the 50s a 60s freaked out beyond belief over these. However I will add that Bobbi Shaw's body should alone get an R rating.

THE BIG HEAT (1953; Directed by: Fritz Lang)

Another Fritz Lang Noir on my list with Glenn Ford as a cop taking on a crime syndicate.  It gets real personal when a bomb meant for him gets his wife instead.

Gloria Grahame spends the latter part of the movie in an extreme face bandage when thug Lee Marvin viciously throws scalding hot coffee in her face.  The scene is intense, especially for the period.

Twilight Time recently released this on Blu-ray Disc.

THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948; Directed by: Nicholas Ray)

Farley Granger escapes from jail with 3 other guys and wants to just go off in peace, but they won't let him forcing him to help them with jobs for which he gets labeled as the leader of the gang.

Nicholas Ray was another biography I read this year, and I was excited to see this since two of his films KING OF KINGS and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE rank very highly with me.

CUL-DE-SAC (1966; Directed by: Roman Polanski)

Quite possibly one of the most bizarre films I have ever seen.

When a pair of criminals - one of them dying from a gunshot wound - stop at a beachfront castle, a meek Englishman (Pleasence) and his French wife become their unwitting hosts.

Beyond that I couldn't even begin to try and describe this movie if I tried, but it has a freewheeling chaotic spirit about it that is impossible not to like.  Plus I am a great admirer of Polanski's work (I tend to ignore his personal umm issues when it comes to the movies).

NEIGHBORS (1981; Directed by: John G. Avildsen)

I'd like to think audiences stepped into this expecting a straight up Hollywood comedy with Belushi and Aykroyd and instead got this surreal piece of film making that would make for a perfect double feature with CUL-DE-SAC (see above).

Belushi is a schlub whose life is turned upside down when neighbors (hey look, the title) Dan Aykroyd and Cathy Moriarty move in.  Another movie that I somehow kept seeing the box for but didn't watch, and another movie that has to be seen to be believed.

THE JAMES DEAN STORY (1957; Directed by: Robert Altman)

Robert Altman directs this unique documentary about the life of James Dean shortly after his death through the use of stills, narration and outtakes from films and publicity appearances.

IF... (1968; Directed by: Lindsay Anderson)

If you ever watch movies about boarding schools you get the idea that the students that attend them are so much more messed up than those of us who were stuck in public ones.

Here in this allegorical tale, Malcolm McDowell leads a revolution at a very stuffy British one and who better than the man who killed James T. Kirk and lover of the old Ludwig Van to do so.

ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK (1956; Directed by: Fred F. Sears)

A small time music promoter discovers Bill Haley and the Comets and plans to take them to the big time, but a successful record producer doesn't like the fact that her advances have been spurned (and to make matters worse the promoter starts dating a woman involved in the act) and goes out of her way with a vengeance to make sure they fail.  Rock-and-roll hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Not a fantastic movie, but the 50s time period and the rock-and-roll music make it enjoyable.

NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS (1958; Directed by: Mervyn LeRoy)

Andy Griffith passed away this year, and I caught this film where he plays a hillbilly drafted into the Air Force during his tribute day on TCM.

Griffith of course wins everybody over even when there are those that just want to disgrace and make him go away, and the end features a very scathing look at military bureaucracy.

I'm guessing that when the producers of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW decided to spin off into GOMER PYLE, USMC that this film was the inspiration for that.  

THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE (1959; Directed by: Michael Anderson)

Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston in the same movie.  That is almost the only selling point necessary.

Gary Cooper plays a disgraced ship captain that stays with his sinking vessel in order to prove that it was deliberately scuttled and wants to vindicate his good name.  He has Charlton Heston on his side which is half the battle right there.

The opening sequence when Heston first discovers Cooper's ship is incredibly creepy.

DEATH WISH (1974; Directed by: Michael Winner)

I have the GENTLEMEN'S GUIDE TO MIDNIGHT CINEMA podcast to thank for finally getting me to watch this movie which for some strange reason I didn't get to until now (and I also squeezed in DEATH WISH 2, but haven't gone beyond that...yet).  This is like their patron saint movie, and with every interview they always ask participants "what's your favorite Bronson movie" and it gets referenced every episode.

It's one of those titles I always saw sitting on the shelf at the video store but avoided for whatever reason - wasn't in the mood, was looking for something else.  That wrong has been righted as this was a lot more shocking and gritty than I expected it to be.

Bronson is an architect whose wife is raped and murdered and his daughter raped into a vegetative state by a group of thugs (one being Jeff Goldblum) who break follow them home from the grocery store and violate the sanctity of his secure apartment.  The rape and attack scene is so disturbing it is difficult to watch, and Bronson spends the rest of the movie as a vigilante hunting down street thugs which fascinates the city but gets the cops on his trail in an attempt to get him to stop.

This is 70s cinema at its finest with a New York City that you wouldn't dare walk around at night - or even in the daylight for that matter.  Bronson is a cold blooded vengeance seeker and really sells the detached nature of his character once he starts fulfilling his new mission to rid the streets of scum.

Can't wait to see DEATH WISH 3 which seems to get even more praise from the GGTMC crowd as well as Rupert Pupkin from the Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog.  Look on this list next year to see if DEATH WISH 3 makes the cut.

IT'S A GIFT (1934; Directed by: Norman Z. McLeod)

A title that I know will make Rupert Pupkin proud.

W.C. Fields is a grocer from New Jersey that heads out to California to grow oranges.  What follows is a series of screwball comic scenes that are some of the funniest I have seen.  Of note are:

- a blind man stumbling around Fields' grocery store destroying it while Fields attempts to keep him at bay and is being yelled at by an irate customer seeing "Kumquats".

- a bizarre scene where one of his associates babysits a kid and it ends with the store floor covered in Molasses.

- even more bizarre scene where Fields and his wife try to get some sleep in what looks to be the middle of the day as it is sunny and everyone else seems to be fully dressed and awake.

- and a crazy scene of a picnic on private estate grounds.

The 1930s was truly a golden era for comedy and comedians.

CHARLEY VARRICK (1973; Directed by: Don Siegel)

Walter Matthau isn't the first name that comes to mind in a heist movie, but here he is leading a raid on a bank run by the mob and he spends the rest of the film just trying to stay alive.

Best scene is where Matthau ends up in the apartment of the head mobster's secretary to get in contact with them, and moments later ends up in bed with her.  Real smooth Walter, real smooth.