I've selected ten movies, all from different decades with different directors and different stars. None are exactly obscure, but none are regulars on favorite movie lists or are considered classics. Also, all are available on DVD. Most importantly, they're all damn good films that will have appeal to most discerning viewers, and some of you undiscerning viewers as well.
The Circus (1928). Of Charlie Chaplin's later silent era films, this is the one that gets lost in the shuffle. Many who've seen it compare it favorably with The Gold Rush (1925) and a few even prefer it. One would assume that the Little Tramp set loose in a circus would be a recipe for hilarity. One would be correct in this assumption. There is romance, there are chases, there is pathos, the usual Chaplin fare and its all too good for you to have missed it.
The Mayor of Hell (1933). A favorite topic of pre code films like this one was social injustices. In this instance the victimization of the young is explored. James Cagney plays that rare combination of gangster and social crusader, the latter quite by accident. He finds himself in charge of a reform school and gains an interest in it when he falls for the school's activist nurse. In opposition to the corrupt head of the school, our hero supports a program of reform where the inmates run the asylum (to great effect, mind you). Complications ensue. There's a lot going on in this 90 minute film: intrigue, romance and melodrama aplenty. Archie Mayo directed and did a fine job.
The Long Voyage Home (1940). John Ford cranked out a couple of dozen or so excellent films so its no surprise this one is often forgotten. While many of his usual cast including John Wayne is aboard (as a Swede!) this time the setting is a ship rather than the Old West. I only discovered TLVH a year ago and fell head over heels. The opening scene, sans dialogue for a full five minutes, is positively mesmerizing and will suck you into an captivating film. As the son and brother of one-time merchant marines I appreciated its depiction of the sea faring life. You will too.
Sudden Fear (1952). Somebody named David Miller directed this largely forgotten noir. 1952 was when Hollywood was cranking out noirs and here again we have a case of movie that gets overlooked among others of its type. Joan Crawford stars as a newlywed whose younger husband (Jack Palance) is conspiring to off her, with the help of his mistress (Gloria Grahame). The streets of San Francisco are beautifully utilized in the telling of this suspenseful tale. You haven't seen it, have you? Give it a shot, thank me later.
Ride the High Country (1962). A Sam Peckinpah Western before the blood started spewing. This is one of my all time favorites. Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott were aging actors playing aging lawmen at cross purposes as they set out to transport gold through dangerous country. Along the way they are side tracked by a mission to rescue a girl held by some of the nastier villains in filmdom. Mariette Hartley is positively sumptuous as the girl. McCrea and Scott were getting on in years but were in peak form and Peckinpah was as good here as he'd ever be. Here's what I wrote about RTHC a few years ago.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973). With friends like Eddie's got, who needs enemies. Am I right? You wouldn't know if you're among the many who've missed this fine film from director Peter Yates (best known for Bullitt (1968)). Robert Mitchum was, in my opinion, never better than in this performance as the title character, a career criminal looking to avoid another stretch in stir by ratting out his friends. Do they know? Will they "take him out"? It's a superbly told story with many subtleties and strong performances all around. They were making a lot of really good films in the 1970's and this was one of them.
Local Hero (1983). Question: did Burt Lancaster and Peter Reigert ever co-star in a quirky comedy set in Houston Texas and Northern Scotland? Answer: yes and this is it. Local Hero is a criminally neglected film that I couldn't recommend more. Reigert is an American Oil company employee sent to Scotland to buy a village. He falls in love. With the village. His boss, Lancaster, eventually joins him. He too falls in love. And you'll fall in love if you wisely decide to watch Local Hero. Kudos to director Bill Forsyth.
A Bronx Tale (1993). Okay, you've probably seen this one but in case you haven't....Robert DeNiro directed and co-stars along with Chazz Palminteri and Lilo Brancato (who's been in a spot of bother with the law of late). The film is based on Palminteri's play of the same which is based on his childhood experiences. Brancato plays a young man torn between his honest hard-working bus driver father (DeNiro) and the local crime boss (Palminteri). Oh yes, he also falls for an African American schoolmate in a time when such a romance in that area was a no-no. One of the better film scripts ever in a memorable film that every young person in America should see. For that matter youngsters of other countries should see it to as well as us old fogeys.
Notes on a Scandal (2006). Master classes in acting by Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench and Bill Nighy highlight Notes. It is the powerful story of an older teacher (Dench) who befriends a younger married teacher (Blanchett). There's something rather creepy about the older woman and the manner in which she ingratiates herself into her new friend's family. Matters take a dramatic turn when Blanchett's character has an affair -- with a student. Egads! Nighy plays the cuckolded husband. It is a powerful and memorable film. NOAS received four Oscar nominations but won none. Typical.
The American (2010). Only recently in theaters but missed by many. It was a George Clooney vehicle that did not appeal to the masses. The American calls to mind French thrillers of the 1960's in that it was more about characters than action. There is a leisurely pace to this story about a hitman (Clooney) in a small Italian town who finds romance. I thought Clooney was particularly good as a suave but mostly silent, ruminative and meticulous craftsman. His craft was killing, but still.... Italian actress Violante Placido was enchanting as the love interest. Anton Corbjin, from Holland directed.