Guest Post: Film Discoveries of 2018 at Rupert Pupkin Speaks

To see my favorite film discoveries of 2018, check out my guest post at Brian Sauer's lovely recommendation site Rupert Pupkin Speaks. It's always a pleasure to submit to Brian's various themed series. I highly recommend you follow him, though I must warn you: your "to-watch" list will expand a great deal!

Podcast Roundup: 5 Picks for Classic Film Fans

I dug deep into some podcast archives this month as I explored a few new-to-me shows. Here are five episodes that I found especially interesting:

F For Fake with Tyler Mahan Coe
Episode 56

Host Bob Sham and guest Tyler Mahan Coe (host of podcasts Cocaine and Rhinestones and Your Favorite Band Sucks) have a thought-provoking conversation about Orson Welles’ F for Fake in this episode of a podcast which explores the world of film documentaries. The pair explores the fakery revealed in the film, the possible fakery of the film itself, and have a spirited discussion about fraudulent people and the fantasies they sell. Coe is well known for his dedication to thorough research and is typically knowledgeable and engaging here.

Film Comment
Ida Lupino

Official Film Comment podcast host Nicholas Rapold chats about the directing career of Ida Lupino with guests Farran Smith Nehme and Sheila O’Malley in anticipation of a series of her films that were screened at the Lincoln Film Center last year. Not only are these gals two of the most compelling and informed film writers working today, but they have the lovely, elegant voices of a pair of glamorously gowned ladies in a classic Hollywood film. A purely enjoyable episode, even if you already know a lot about Lupino.

99% Invisible
The Architect of Hollywood
Episode 255

This slickly-produced podcast about the design that affects our daily lives is one of my new favorites. While it isn’t explicitly about the movies, this episode about Paul Williams, the innovative, prolific, and admirably determined architect who helped to mold Hollywood’s eclectic architectural landscape as one of the first African Americans in the field is as inspiring as an epic film biopic.

The Other 50%
Karie Bible
Episode 73

I’ve been working my way through the archives of this new-to-me podcast about women working in the entertainment industry and came upon an old episode featuring Karie Bible, who is the owner of the website Film Radar and co-author of Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays, but is probably best known for being the official tour guide at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Here she has a great conversation with host Julie Harris Walker about women in film, what was then emerging as the Times Up movement, and how she created her own job at the Cemetery.

Criterion Now
FilmStruck, Fandor, and the state of home media
Episode 76

Host joins Jill Blake (The Retroset/TCM/FilmStruck) and Fritzi Kramer (Movies, Silently) in a spirited conversation about the loss of FilmStruck and Fandor and the future of streaming. There’s lots of food for thought here as the three discuss viewing options now available for film fans and anticipate the arrival of new streaming services.

Quote: Howard Hawks on Filmmaking

Hawks with Lauren Bacall/ Image Source

As we work on scenes, I always go back and say, "How would it be if it were directly opposite?" and sometimes it leads to very interesting things, because there is no particular reason that they have to run in a straight line--they can take a jog.

-Howard Hawks


On Blu-ray: Rod Taylor, Jim Brown and Yvette Mimieux in Dark of the Sun (1968)

It has long baffled me that Rod Taylor was not a bigger star. A romantic, heroic figure with acting chops to boot, he was capable of handling any role and capturing a widespread audience. His performance in Dark of the Sun (1968) is one of his best, because it captures every facet of his persona, from the rugged to the gallant. An effective cast joins him in this bleak, but riveting action flick. The film recently made its debut on Blu-ray from Warner Archive.

Taylor is Bruce Curry a mercenary who flies into the Congo with his best friend Ruffo (football-player-turned-thespian Jim Brown) to accept a job. They are on a supposed rescue mission, though they are actually there to recover a fortune in diamonds for the president. The men are given a steam train and a pack of soldiers to take them through territory made treacherous by the violent Simba uprising. Taylor also hires alcoholic Doctor Wreid (Kenneth More) and the shifty, but skilled ex-Nazi Heinlein (Peter Carsten) to fill out the team. Along the way they pick up the traumatized Claire (Yvette Mimieux) whose husband has been killed and house destroyed by the Simbas.

From the beginning of the film, violence is in the air. As Curry and Ruffo ride into town, they look out bullet hole-ridden windows at the litter of violence: trashed cars, cowering people, and the sort of quiet that always means bad news. It is a rare moment of ominous calm.

Once the mission begins, the horror of the conflict roars into view. This was a brutal film for the times, with glimpses of severed limbs, glimpses of rape, and an overall feeling of despair in the face of careless violence. That said it does have its moments of pure excitement. Brown and Taylor are magic together and their effortless athleticism in the actions scenes has a timeless appeal.

This was a perfect role for Taylor because it gave him the opportunity to both show off his action star chops and the emotional complexity he was capable of as an actor. He has a strong masculine energy, but it rarely feels overwhelming. Even when he’s slamming his fist into a desk and barking out a command, there’s a humorous lilt to it. It’s like a caress and he uses that compelling charm on both women and men.

It’s fascinating that the strongest emotional connection in Dark of the Sun is between Taylor and Brown. As in The Time Machine (1960), Mimieux has a pleasant chemistry with Taylor, but like in that film, it never sizzles. Of course this is partly because she doesn’t have much of a part to play. If you cut her out completely, you’d hardly notice.

This is not the case with Brown. He is the moral center of the film. Though it often seems it is the voices of others who are steering the emotionally conflicted Taylor in the right direction, he wouldn’t even listen if it weren’t for the empathy Brown inspires in him. It’s a great platonic love story the likes of which are rarely seen between two men in film.

Jacques Loussier’s bold, sweeping soundtrack perfectly captures the feel of the film. He alternates between pounding piano and lush melancholy strings, trading romance and brawn much the way Taylor does. It has the emotional heft of an Ennio Moriccone score and often sounds a bit like the composer’s work, though not quite as quirky.

Color is such an important part of establishing the mood of this film and the Blu-ray image is the best it’s ever looked to me. Special features include a theatrical trailer and a commentary by screenwriter Larry Karazewski, Josh Olson, Brian Saur, and Elric D. Kane that’s a blast because the guys approach the whole thing like a party celebrating the greatness of the film.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Quote: Lina Wertmüller on Fun

Image Source

I consider fun to be something priceless. Much more so than success.

-Lina Wertmüller

Quote Source

On DVD: Dane Clark, Janis Paige, and Zachary Scott in Her Kind of Man (1946)

One of my favorite things about the snappy programmers cranked out by studios like Warner Bros is that they often feature players who deserve a brighter spotlight. They don’t have the booming personas of the big stars, and they are often called the “poor man’s” version of somebody else, but they are nevertheless a pleasure to watch. Her Kind of Man (1946), which recently made its DVD debut from Warner Archive, is just that kind of film.

Dane Clark, Janis Paige, Zachary Scott, and Faye Emerson are a riveting quartet in this noirish 1920s-set drama. Paige is a nightclub singer who has it bad for gangster (Zachary Scott), despite the best efforts of a newspaper reporter (Clark) to win her over. Maybe the man she loves is trouble, but they connect in an almost innocently romantic way, and it’s clear she’d never go for another guy. As his wise assistant, Emerson is an interesting platonic match for Scott, trying, but failing to point him in the right direction. (They were also a great team in Danger Signal a year earlier.)

This is one of those built-to-be-standard flicks that achieve a little extra magic, thanks to a few special elements. Chief among them is the cast, which is full of reliable players. Here they all connect so well, bringing life to a story with nothing new to offer simply because it's enjoyable to watch them together.

Paige is glamorous, but touchingly sincere, and Scott gets a chance to add a more playful air to his typical scoundrel role. Dane Clark tends to have the air of a guy who knows he’s always going to be second banana. Here he is cheerful about it, putting that persona to very specific use as he strives to impress Paige, but doesn't take himself too seriously. I don’t know that it would have necessarily served the story well, but I found myself craving more of Emerson; the solidity and intelligence of her character grounded the film in an interesting way.

In addition to the fine cast, the look of Her Kind of Man rises well above programmer grade. Paige benefits the most from the glimmering cinematography, especially in her nightclub numbers. The night scenes are also a gorgeously moody backdrop for danger and betrayal.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Favorite Classic Film Books 2018

In the interest of diversifying my offerings on A Classic Movie Blog, I didn’t review as many books in 2018 as I have in previous years. However, much of what I did read inspired me and in many cases greatly expanded my film knowledge. These are the works that stuck with me. I have excerpted my reviews below, titles link to the full post:

The Female Gaze: Essential Movies Made by Women
Alicia Malone

While Backwards and In Heels focused on the full array of women working behind-the-scenes in film, The Female Gaze spotlights the films they have directed. In a fascinating move, Malone does this by recruiting more female voices. Of the fifty movies discussed in the book, she has written several extensive essays herself, which are complemented by shorter essays contributed by working and aspiring female film critics. When it comes to elevating the voices of women, Malone is clearly serious about covering her bases....The Female Gaze is a fun read and an essential work in a world where the film industry is starting to head down the right track where female filmmakers are concerned, but still has a long way to go.

Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story
Mollie Gregory

University Press of Kentucky, 2015 (paperback 2018)

It took decades of fighting for women to find their place in the boy’s club of stunt work. In addition to sexual harassment, replacement by men for female roles, and closed hiring practices, women who did find work were held to higher standards. If a man made a mistake, he was forgiven. If a woman faltered, she was deemed unqualified for the job....

Gregory covers these struggles in detail, but she also consistently focuses on the joy of the profession. These women fought and continue to fight for better conditions and more access to jobs because they are passionate about performing stunts. In several stunt performer profiles, Gregory shares the many ways these women enjoy the thrill of this physical, risky, and rewarding work.

Hooked on Hollywood: Discoveries from a Lifetime of Film Fandom
Leonard Maltin

Good Knight Books, 2018

Before the movie guidebooks, television review gig, and thriving podcast, film critic Leonard Maltin was a teenage cinema fanatic living in New York City. There he had access to archives, rare film screenings, and some of the best performers and creators in the business. He made the most of these connections, writing thoughtful reviews of what he saw, putting in diligent research, and coming to interviews with a wealth of knowledge about and respect for his subjects…. 

I enjoyed the earnest tone and thorough research of Maltin’s early writings, but it was the interviews that moved me the most. In his respectful, even reverential treatment of these people who for the most part had been forgotten by the public, or at the very least undervalued, he reminded me a lot of the gentlemanly way Robert Osborne would celebrate industry greats. As much as I have seen Maltin as a promoter and lover of all aspects of film history, I hadn’t seen this side of him before. It wasn’t surprising, but it was a pleasant revelation.

Magnificent Obsession: The Outrageous History of Film Buffs, Collectors, Scholars, and Fanatics
Anthony Slide

University Press of Mississippi, 2018

This is a community with which Slide is intimately familiar, which gives the book an authenticity that would be impossible to achieve as an objective observer. He goes into the history of movie fandom, collecting, and the connecting culture, even explaining the origin of the term “film buff.” There is also much attention given to the habitat of the film fanatic, from theaters and bookstores to trade shows and private screenings.

Most fascinating of all though, are the people from this world. Slide has known many of them personally and they are an unusual bunch. Though I already knew a lot about the social awkwardness, theft, and eccentric personalities to be found in this milieu, I found plenty to surprise me here. I had also had a taste of the bizarre behavior to be found in this scene via a series of difficult and oddly amusing phone calls with one of the men featured in this book in the process of arranging an interview with an actor several years ago. Despite all this, I didn’t expect the level of aggressively antisocial, sexually depraved, and mentally unstable behavior I found here.

Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece
Michael Benson

Simon & Schuster, 2018

So much of the story is related directly by people who made the film that you get a palpable feeling of what it was like to be there. For that reason, this is an especially lively and engrossing production history.

Having access to so much first source information has also enabled Benson to dig into the complexities of making the film, where second unit location shooting often held as much drama as Kubrick’s action at the studio. It is easy to see why movies go over budget and schedule when presented with how many tasks make up the creation of a scene, let alone an entire production. Understanding the importance of all of those elements is what made Kubrick an effective, and occasionally infuriating, filmmaker….

Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give this book is that I went into it not a particular fan of 2001: Space Odyssey and came away eager to give it another chance. Rewatching the film afterwards, I found the experience profoundly different because I had a greater understanding of the passion and intelligence behind it.

My deepest respect and thanks to these authors for all that they do to inform and entertain film lovers!

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