Monday, September 7, 2015

The Best Movies You May Have Never Seen (Sept 2015)

Have you ever finished watching a movie and found yourself wondering why it wasn't better known? Over the coming months, we want to highlight some of these "hidden gems" of classic cinema as part of a regular feature called The Best Movies You May Have Never Seen. To help us with this endeavor, we will ask some of our favorite fellow film bloggers to review one of their favorite lesser-known films. This month, our guest bloggers are Caftan Woman, Yvette from in so many words..., and John Greco from Twenty Four Frames.

Out of the Blue (1947)   (reviewed by Caftan Woman)

The story of 1947's Out of the Blue by Laura author Vera Caspary concerns a group of Greenwich Village apartment neighbours, bedeviled by the heat and frightened by the news of a serial killer at large. A put-upon husband steps out on his nagging wife and finds himself the prime suspect in a murder and with a body to hide. Prime noir territory, wouldn't you say? This story, however, is played for laughs and the director, Leigh Jason, was noted for such comedy-mystery stories as exemplified by The Mad Miss Manton (Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda), Wise Girl (Miriam Hopkins, Ray Milland) and Dangerous Blondes (Evelyn Keyes, Allyn Joslyn).

Nothing that happens in the apartment complex goes unnoticed by a couple of maiden ladies played by Elizabeth Patterson (Intruder in the Dust) and Julia Dean (The Curse of the Cat People).  From the vantage point of their terrace, they can focus all their attention on the goings-on on the terraces of the 10th floor. One is occupied by a Bohemian playboy artist David Gelleo played by Turhan Bey (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) and his prize-winning German Shepherd, Rabelais, played by Flame.  His next door neighbours are Arthur and Mae Earthleigh.  The hapless Arthur is completely under the thumb of the domineering Mae.  Heartthrob George Brent (My Reputation) plays Arthur and glamourous Carole Landis (I Wake Up Screaming) is the unpleasant spouse.

Two more of Hollywood's glamourous leading ladies are thrown into the mix when debutante Deborah Tyler played by Virginia Mayo (White Heat) proposes to our artist friend that his Rabelais would be a perfect match for her own prize-winning Shepherd. Her proposition gives David other ideas, more human in nature. David is not the only one with romance on his mind. Mae Earthleigh is out of town for the weekend and Arthur is on the loose and ready to howl. At a local tavern, he meets professional interior decorator and amateur souse Olive Jensen played by Ann Dvorak (Three on a Match). Arthur flirts with Olive. Arthur is not very good at flirting, but Olive thinks he's cute and happily returns to his abode where disapproving pictures of Mae squelch any starry-eyed notions.

George Brent and Carole Landis.
The sorts of mishaps that only happen in screwball comedies start happening to Arthur Earthleigh. He thinks he has gotten rid of Olive, but she is passed out in the guest room. Olive had told Arthur about her bad ticker and her propensity for "popping off", but Arthur does not realize the truth of her statement.  An unconscious Olive appears to Arthur to be a dead Olive. He places the body on David's terrace, more in fear of Mae than of any official condemnation. Arthur's action compounds an ongoing feud with David over Rabelais. In the midst of his burgeoning romance with Deborah, David uses Olive in a scheme to get even with Arthur. Olive is quite amenable to David's plans, after all, she gave Arthur the best years of her life!

By now you have the idea that our leading actors are playing characters well removed from their usual fare and carrying it off beautifully: Turhan Bey a sophisticate, Carole Landis a nag and Virginia Mayo the society gal. Mayo, who played her fair share of molls and dames is absolutely adorable in a scene where her dainty deb pretends to be a crook. George Brent is a riot as a man buffeted by fate. He takes one step forward in ill-conceived shenanigans and always winds up two steps back. Ann Dvorak takes the comedy crown as Olive Jenson.  Olive has no impulse control whatsoever and her stream-of-consciousness ramblings are the highlight of a very funny screenplay.

The comedy-mystery is a difficult sub-genre to pull off and this early Eagle-Lion release has everything it needs to be as memorable a screwball classic as any big name studio product with its very funny script and top-notch performances.

A New Leaf (1971)   (reviewed by in so many words...)

A New Leaf is a film of the 70s, but one of my favorites of any era--a romantic comedy featuring a splendid cast of the sort you just can’t find anymore. Henry Graham is a spoiled dilettante, obnoxious, pompous and an egocentric snob of the worst sort--in the role, Walter Matthau is perfection. He plays a man who cares for nothing but his own comfort. Fastidious to the nth degree, every whim attended to by his butler/valet, Henry lives a sybaritic lifestyle in a luxurious Manhattan apartment--until the day he is informed that he no longer has any money. Not heeding his banker’s advice, Henry has been living on the capital and not on the interest, and you know how that goes.

Elaine May and Walter Matthau.
Henry must then figure out a way to get his hands on a fortune so he can continue to live in the style to which he has become accustomed. Since, perish the thought, he can hardly be expected to get a job, another way must be found to replenish the coffers. For the misogynistic Henry, marriage offers little attraction, so marriage to an heiress or wealthy widow seems the only answer to his predicament. After several hilarious failed attempts to plunge into the 70s dating game, Henry meets Henrietta Lowell--played to equal perfection by Elaine May (who also wrote the screenplay and directed the film), a fabulously wealthy klutz and professor of botany (hence the film’s title). Henrietta is a hapless social disaster, blithefully unaware of her own inadequacies, concerned only with her botanical research. She lives alone in a huge mansion ignored by a staff of corrupt servants who barely bother with their duties and hold their mistress in contempt.

After a whirlwind courtship, Henry and Henrietta marry, while he plots to arrange for a convenient accident to befall his bride on their honeymoon.

This is a very special movie with a weird charm all its own. I’ve never forgotten it or the wonderful ending. Walter Matthau is superb; I would almost say he was born to play Henry. And Elaine May holds her own opposite Matthau, not an easy task. I’ve always wished there had been some sort of sequel.

Blue Collar (1978)   (reviewed by Twenty Four Frames)

With 1978’s Blue Collar, Paul Schrader made his directorial debut. It was based on a screenplay he co-wrote with his brother, Leonard. The result was one of the bleakest, pessimistic films to come out of Hollywood since Taxi Driver, also penned by Schrader. Fatalistic, noirish, reflecting a working class trapped, kept down in its place with no escape.

It’s the story of three Detroit auto workers, close friends Harvey Keitel, Richard Pryor and Yaphet Kotto. Always in debt, never able to get ahead, they hatch a plan to rob the safe of corrupt union officials. It turned out to only contain $600. However, they also find a book filled with transactions on shady illegal deals. With the book in their possession, the three men take their plan one step further--to blackmail the union. The union leaders don't scare easy. For them, it time to crush these men, their friendship and their lives.

Blue Collar is the story of the have and the have-nots, the powerful and the powerless. Corrupt unions doing whatever possible to keep the working man in their place. A system beating you down, destroying your hopes, dreams and even your decency. In the freeze frame ending with Pryor and Keitel ready to tear into each other, we hear in voiceover Yaphet Kotto say: "They pit the lifers against the new boys, the young against the old, the black against the white, everything they do is to keep us in our place."

Richard Pryor as Zeke.
With Jack Nitzsche's bluesy song, "Hard Workin' Man" contributing to the down and out atmosphere, we see the auto plant as a hellish furnace, allegorically, a dead end. The workers are robotic, jumping at every command; move faster, tighten this piece up, straighten that piece, get it right this time. The only one with the guts to complain is Richard Pryor’s Zeke. In the end though, Zeke sells out to the man. They make him a union representative. One would have expected it to be Keitel’s Jerry, as he’s the weakest. Yaphet Kotto’s Smokey is the brains of the threesome and the most threatening to the union leaders. Subsequently, Smokey has to be eliminated. With Zeke selling out and Smokey dead, it leaves Jerry out in the cold.  Zeke offers him a buy in with a position in the union. He refuses. Jerry knows they cannot and will not leave him alone. He’s trapped.

The union corruption theme is reminiscent of Kazan's On the Waterfront. It reflects how little has changed in the twenty-five years or so between the two films. Vincent Canby in his review called Blue Collar "a poor man's On the Waterfront...a movie that often simply--sometimes primitively--describes corruption in a Detroit auto workers' local without ever making the corruption a matter of conscience. Corruption is there. It exists. It's part of the system."  Schrader makes it all seem so inevitable that you want to scream "power to the people!"


  1. Just saw A New Leaf last wk and thoroughly enjoyed the film. Good starring cast that includes witty lines courtesy of May. I would also recommend the film Petulia to this list.

    1. I remember PETULIA well. Hopefully, someone will write about it for a future installment!

  2. New Leaf was May's flrst eplc battle wlth a studlo. Her orlglnal cut much longer, much darker, undercuttlng that warm fuzzy endlng. Her cut, rumored to be three hours, gone. Unless she has it. She's been in dlrector purgatory ever slnce ishtar.

  3. I just realized comments I make on this blog from my phone don't go through for some reason. And I common most often from my phone. Oh well.

    In any case - this is a great idea for a series, Rick! The new-to-me entry noted here is A NEW LEAF, which I can't wait to see now. I'm a huge fan of May and Matthau so I'm not sure how this one escaped me. Looking forward to future entries.


  4. I've seen Out of the Blue, which is quite a goofy comedy - Ann Dvorak really shines, hilarious as a perpetually tipsy lady who refuses to stay put. What a terrific, underused talent.

  5. Another role Matthau was born to play! He is that sort of actor. "A New Leaf" moves to the top of the list.

    I'd never heard of "Blue Collar" which wounds utterly depressing and marvelous.

    The new series is already proving a boon to this film fan.

  6. I saw A New Leaf many years ago and have alway wished they studio would have left the film in Ms. May's hands. She's brilliant. Still, it is a wonderful dark comedy. Not familiar with Out of the Blue but will keep a look out for it.

  7. Good review of Schrader's Blue Collar, a powerful social commentary. I liked his overlooked Hardcore as well, which contains a great George C. Scott performance.

    1. Thanks! Hardcore is another very much under appreciated, and again dark, film that should be better known. Scott never is bad.

  8. Three great picks to kick off this feature! The one I haven't seen is OUT OF THE BLUE, but I love quirky comedies and the cast is delightful. Matthau and May are a wonderful pair in A NEW LEAF and I can find no fault with the ending used. I haven't BLUE COLLAR in a long time, but was reminded how poorly Hollywood used Richard Pryor once he became successful. Thanks to all three bloggers for their quality contributions.

  9. New Leaf was glven a conventlonal happy endlng in the edltlng. May's verslon involved Matthau commlttlng two murders to clear the way. Hls turnlng over a new leaf not so optlmlstlc. From wlkl.

  10. Interesting picks, definitely some to add to my queue.

  11. I love posts like this! I have only seen "Blue Collar" and it was a mighty long time ago. "Out of the Blue" especially intrigues me. And I truly enjoy watching Walter Matthau. Great posts, Caftan Woman, Yvette, and John!

  12. What a great idea, Rick! I've seen Blue Collar (because I LOVED Richard Pryor), but I've never even heard of the other two, and it's time for a Blue Collar rewatch. So I've got three movies to put on my must-see list!

  13. I loved this -- OUT OF THE BLUE is a "must" for me, with Brent, Mayo and Landis, not to mention Dvorak! Wish it were easier to get ahold of.

    Best wishes,

  14. A New Leaf is excellent and it's such a shame that Elaine May hasn't directed any films since 1987.