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Jan 15, 2014

MY FAVORITE FILM DISCOVERIES FROM 2013 - THE SEQUEL

This year turned out to be a great one for me in terms of Film Discoveries in that narrowing down the list to just a few became difficult.  It turned into a two-parter so like most things in Hollywood, here's the sequel.

I gave the preamble in the previous entry which can be read HERE.  

So without further delay...


THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966; Frank Tashlin)

Frank Tashlin has become a director that I greatly admire and have been trying to watch and collect his entire filmography.




While I had seen many Tashlin films in the past, I first became aware of him as a directorial voice from several commentaries gushing about his work on Warner Bros. Looney Tunes DVD/Blu-ray sets.  

Tashlin got his start in animation, working for Leon Schlesinger on the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series.  Fired when he was outed for writing a comic strip for the Los Angeles Times and refusing to share his profits with Schlesinger, Tashlin moved into the live action feature realm in the 1950s.  Even in features his cartoon sensibilities were clearly visible, especially in his work with Jerry Lewis who almost comes across as a living, breathing cartoon creation.  Tashlin's The Girl Can't Help It from 1956 with Jayne Mansfield and Tom Ewell is a personal favorite of mine.  I first discovered it during Elwy Yost's Saturday Night at the Movies on TVOntario (kind of like a Canadian PBS) and have re-visited it many times since.  




The Glass Bottom Boat is one of his later films and it stars Doris Day (with a ill-advised hairdo) as a clumsy assistant at a research lab who meets Rod Taylor, a scientist working on a top-secret project destined to secure America's lead in the space race against the Russians.




The movie starts out really slow, and features a few superfluous comic set pieces (for instance one where Day does battle with a robot vacuum, and another involving an out-of-control boat).  There is also a moment where the movie practically comes to a halt so Ms. Day can sing.  I could almost imagine the studio note of "Frank you can have Doris, but make sure she sings in it".  Once the movie settles into the main plot however, that's when it really shines and is filled with plenty of comic mayhem, great slapstick as well as clever sight and mistaken identity gags.  Paul Lynde and Dom DeLuise in particular really go into overdrive.




In the opening scene, Day and Taylor butt heads and I don't think it's a spoiler to reveal that the two are destined to fall in love very quickly.  Of course Day figures out that Taylor is her boss.  He in turn is instantly attracted to her and in order to get closer to her, she is promoted to be his personal assistant.  This is during the cold war and when an over-paranoid security guard (played by Paul Lynde) overhears her making a "secret call" to a Vladimir, she is instantly suspected as being a "commie" spy.  The thing is Vladimir is her dog that she rings the phone for daily so he can run around and get some exercise while she's not home.  What follows is a zany cartoon-like story where everyone thinks that Day is a communist spy and will go to whatever length necessary to catch her in the act, [SPOILER ALERT] while she on the other hand figures out their suspicions and concocts a revenge plot to turn the tables and make them all look stupid.




Watch out for some great Man From U.N.C.L.E. Easter eggs including a cameo by Robert Vaughn and some score cues.

On DVD from Warner home Video.




TERRORVISION (1986; Ted Nicolaou)

Scream Factory provides yet another entry to my list and I can almost guarantee that there will be Scream titles on future lists for many years to come.




Terrorvision is a fun B-comedy/sci-fi/horror that features a family trying to battle a nasty alien that has arrived at their house via a new satellite dish with a remote control that is bigger than most books.




There's a crazy Elvira-like character named Medusa (whose cleavage I think out-Elvira's Elvira if you can imagine that) played by Jennifer Richards, a heavy metal stoner named (fittingly) O.D. played by Jon Gries (Men in Black, Taken) and the spandex-clad, oversexed mother played by Mary Woronov is worth the price of admission alone.




So cheesy, so much fun and now available in stunning Blu-ray high definition!  







LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962; David Miller)

Kirk Douglas is at the top of his game (which he seems to always be at in general) in this role as an independent thinking cowboy who wants nothing to do with modern society, and lives on the edge of the "grid".  He gets himself arrested in an attempt to help his closest friend break free - problem is the guy doesn't want to go with him.  Douglas escapes and tries to stay ahead of the law - led by a sheriff played by Walter Matthau -  and flees on horseback while being chased by helicopters and jeeps.




This is another one of those movies that I can't figure out why it has taken me so long to get to as I know it is highly acclaimed.  The black-and-white anamorphic photography adds a layer of isolation to a story about society quickly engulfing a man running away from it - literally and metaphorically.




What really sells this movie are Kirk's performance, a scene where Kirk ends up in a bar fight with a one-armed man who just won't take "I don't want to fight" for an answer, and Jerry Goldsmith's score.




On DVD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.




ROAD HOUSE (1948; Jean Negulesco)

Ok so first off to be clear, this is NOT the 1989 action film starring Patrick Swayze.




Richard Widmark owns a night club (that also has a bowling alley) in a small town near the Canadian border and tends to act impulsively while his manager (played by Cornel Wilde) is a lot more subdued.  Enter Ida Lupino as Lily, a singer that Widmark has claimed as his "property".  Of course she and Wilde are attracted to one another which doesn't sit well with Widmark.  He responds by framing Wilde for embezzlement who is placed in parole under Widmark's "charge".  Widmark maniacally uses his power position to torture both Wilde and Lupino and get what he wants - by force.




Is there anybody who can play unhinged better than Widmark?  Especially during this time period, and in Noir films in general (No Way Out anyone?).  Widmark is at his crazy best here as a man who lets his passions get the better of him, and his revenge plot is downright nasty - not to mention original.  There's a great bar fight and the final sequence of the movie that plays out at a remote cabin in the woods is not to be missed.




On DVD from Fox Home Entertainment as part of their outstanding Fox Film Noir collection.









HOMBRE (1967; Martin Ritt)

In many ways Hombre brought the 1939 John Ford masterpiece Stagecoach to mind as they are both westerns that bring together a group of people comprised from different parts of society who are forced to band together under difficult circumstances.  Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, the movie re-teams Paul Newman with Hud director Martin Ritt.  It's a collaboration that proves lightning can strike twice.




Newman is John Russell, a white man raised by Apaches who discovers he has inherited a lodging-house in town - a place he definitely doesn't want to settle in preferring his Indian brothers over white society.  Deciding to sell the place instead, he ends up on a stagecoach (oh this movie was so channeling Ford) that is held up by desperadoes and Newman becomes their only chance for survival.  The wilderness is not the only thing they have to survive as they are chased by the bandits and have to deal with a duplicitous and greedy government reservation agent who carrying a large satchel of money meant to be dispersed to Indian tribes.  Needless to say all the cultures involved clash while Newman does his best to keep everyone alive under the circumstances.




I love Newman in this role as he brings a hard edge that just makes him come across as well...the best way to put it is bad-ass.  He says very little, lets his actions speak louder than words and is not someone to be trifled with.  Even though Newman delivers a powerhouse performance, the rest of their cast holds their own making this a well-rounded movie that deserves plenty of attention.




Available via Netflix Streaming (or least it was when I watched it - not sure if still is) and on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment.




THE SEVEN-UPS (1973; Philip D'Antoni)

Cop movies really hit their stride in the 70s, and The Seven-Ups is no exception.




Roy Scheider is a New York cop who goes after the murderer of his partner, but uncovers a much more devious scheme that involves kidnapping mobsters for ransom.




It has that great gritty 70s look and feel that made movies like Serpico (which came out the same year) and The French Connection come across as so realistic - a type of realism that hadn't really been seen in cinema before this period - and Scheider, as always, is great.




Viewed via Netflix streaming and available on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment.




LIFEFORCE (1985; Tobe Hooper)

Yet another discovery for me thanks to the fine folks at Scream Factory and is now available from them in a collector's edition Blu-ray disc.

This movie starts off with a bang thanks to an excellent opening titles sequence and a bombastic score by Henry Mancini.  It's directed by Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) who is a horror maestro in his own right.




Astronauts find a group of beings in the tail of Halley's Comet and bring them back to Earth where they awaken - without clothes and stay that way through the entire movie (which I'll get to in a second) - and start sucking the "lifeforce" out of the human race.

Even though the baddies are "vampires" in a sense, the word is never actually uttered and the fact that they don't suck blood like their traditional brethren brings a fresh approach to the material.




This brings me to the nudity.  One of the things that is constantly mentioned about this movie is the fact that the female "vampire" played by Mathilda May is completely nude through the entire film (and she's very easy on the eyes at that).  However, after a few scenes you grow used to it and forget to pay attention to it and focus more on her character and the plot as a whole.  It's also handled with a large amount of class - not that this didn't stop this film from being a big hit with teenage boys (ok so more like all breathing heterosexual males) as I'm sure it brought many a young male viewer into the world of puberty.






THE CRYSTAL BALL (1943; Elliot Nugent)

This delightful 1940s comedy has a broke Paulette Godard posing as a fortune teller to help worm her way into Ray Milland's life.  He is courting another woman so Godard uses her "powers" to drive them apart.




Very simple premise in a movie that has all the elements that make 40s romantic comedies so great.  The excellent cast makes it appear as though they had a lot of fun making this - almost as much fun as I did watching it.

Available via Netflix streaming.



TIME LIMIT (1957; Karl Malden)

This is one of those moments where I have to commend Netflix for their recommendations system, for without it I doubt I would have come across this movie anytime soon.




In Road House (see above), Richard Widmark was the bad guy but here he's the hero, a military lawyer investigating a case of a Korean War POW (Richard Basehart) accused of treason.  A top-ranking general whose deceased son served time as a POW with the accused wants the case wrapped up fast, but Widmark wants to be thorough which drives everyone nuts - including the accused who just wants to be tried and convicted as quickly as possible.  As you can imagine, not everything is as it seems.




Directed by actor Karl Malden, this movie has a mysterious and stark edge to it - especially in the very few flashback sequences to the Korean POW camp.  I would definitely place this in the category of Noir given the subject matter and the photography, not to mention the twist in the narrative that comes as a nice surprise - even though it is obvious from the start that there is more going on here than anyone is letting on.  I mean come on, without that element there would be no movie here.




It is also a testament to the talents of Richard Widmark who could easily slide into roles as psychopathic heavies (No Way Out, Kiss of Death, Road House) yet still manage to play a hero (Panic in the Streets).  There is always an element of unsettled rage in each of his performances - even in The Alamo (1960) that could erupt at any moment for either the greater good, or as a maniac.

As mentioned above, it was (and I believe still is) available via Netflix streaming, and on DVD from MGM.  I also believe it is streaming on Amazon Instant Video.




THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956; Budd Boetticher)

Another movie that was introduced to me thanks to the Netflix recommendation system.




Wendell Corey plays a seemingly mild-mannered bank employee who is discovered to be the "inside man" for a robbery.  Joseph Cotten is the detective that sniffs out his involvement, but while apprehending him, accidentally kills Corey's wife.  Corey in a fit of rage while on trial promises revenge on Cotten, and upon release sets out to make good on his promise.




What really sells this movie is Corey, who seems so meek and timid but deep within he's an obsessive, psychopathic maniac.  It's a B Film Noir that feels like an A title list thanks to the solid direction and the performances.

Viewed via Netflix but also available on DVD from MGM and Amazon Instant Streaming.