19 August 2017

Jewels From the Bargain Bin

Like many of you, I was shocked and saddened by the recent passing of our friend B.K. Stevens. I can't remember when she and I first met face-to-face--one of the Bouchercons--but we've exchanged (literally) hundreds of emails over the years. I miss her deeply. It was I who, with the blessing of our board, invited her to join SleuthSayers a couple of years ago, and I believe she enjoyed the group. I know I always looked forward to her insights--Bonnie was one of those writers who seemed always to to be able to find the humor in this crazy pastime of ours. I'm pleased that her fictional characters will live on, and I look forward to discovering or re-reading her many stories in back issues of AHMM and other publications. Once again, deepest condolences to Dennis and the rest of her family. 

Not that it matters, but my post today involves one of the many subjects that Bonnie and I often discussed…

I've always loved movies. I grew up in a town too small to have a traffic light, much less a theatre (actually it did have a rickety wooden building that screened what my granddad called "serials," with John Wayne and Tom Mix, but it burned down when I was four or five), so the first cinematic experiences I really remember are the movies my parents or my older cousins took me to in our two nearest "cities," one seven miles west and the other twelve miles east. I can still recall the names of some of those thrilling adventures: The Missouri Traveler, Operation Mad Ball, Old Yeller, Fire Down Below, Calamity Jane, The Seven Year Itch, The Lion and the Horse, Bend of the River, and so on. Later, I devoured movies at every opportunity, in high school, college, and the Air Force, and since by that time I could also see them regularly on TV, I furthered my addiction at home, late at night. Even now, I spend way too much time in front of either the big or small screen (mostly small, via Netflix, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video). I'm hooked--what can I say?

A couple of weeks ago I watched two films I'd somehow never gotten around to seeing: Waterloo Bridge (recommended by Paul Marks) and In a Lonely Place. I liked them both. I've also recently re-watched familiar favorites like L. A. Confidential, Apocalypse Now, The Big Country, Raising Arizona, and Aliens. And, in so doing, it occurred to me that most people's favorite films are probably those that are well-known: the Citizen Kanes, Godfathers, Chinatowns, Casablancas, Fargos, Vertigos, etc. They're great movies, yes, but they're supposed to be. They're classics.

What I especially enjoy, though, is to "discover," either by accident or through the recommendations of friends (thanks again, Paul!), good movies that I've not heard about, or that I didn't think I would like. The following is a list of a round 100 of those "pleasant surprises." Most are those that you might find in the six-foot-diameter, three-to-five-dollar DVD bin at Walmart, but I liked 'em all. And yes, I know I wrote a similar column about guilty-pleasure movies earlier this year, and this list recycles some of those--but more than half of these are new entries. (I've dug through a great many of those discount bins since then.)

Anyhow, if you're ever stuck for something new to watch, give one of these lesser-known gems a try:

From Noon to Three (1976)
The Rocketeer (1991)
Sands of the Kalahari (1965)
Park (2006)
Born Losers (1967)
Magic (1978)
A Family Thing (1996)
The Hanging Tree (1959)
Melancholia (2011)
Used Cars (1980)
Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)
The Gypsy Moths (1969)
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
Duck, You Sucker (1971)
The Last Sunset (1961)
The Dish (2000)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2007)
Waterhole #3 (1967)
Proof (2005)
The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)
The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
Ghost World (2001)
Remo Willians--the Adventure Begins (1985)
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
The Professionals (1966)
Dillinger (1973)
A History of Violence (2005)
Cloverfield Lane (2015)
In Bruge (2008)
Vanishing Point (1971)
What's Up, Doc? (1972)
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Island in the Sky (1953)
Good Neighbor Sam (1964)
Pawn Shop Chronicles (2013)
Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
Cashback (2006)
Copland (1997)
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
Lockout (2012)
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
Red Rock West (1993)
An Unfinished Life (2005)
Edge of Darkness (2010)
Third Man on the Mountain (1959)
Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)
Game Change (2012)
A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
Killer Joe (2011)
Idiocracy (2006)
Nebraska (2013)
What About Bob? (1991)
Mystery Road (2013)
Frequency (2000)
Big (1988)
The Sea of Trees (2015)
Leap of Faith (1992)
The Dead Zone (1983)
The Mexican (2001)
The Great Train Robbery (1979)
Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
Across the Universe (2007)
The History of the World, Part I (1981)
Brassed Off (1996)
Lady in the Water (2006)
Top Secret! (1984)
Ransom (1996)
While You Were Sleeping (1995)
16 Blocks (2006)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
The Cooler (2003)
Seven Men From Now (1956)
Hidalgo (2004)
The Book of Eli (2010)
True Romance (1993)
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
Always (1989)
Heaven's Prisoners (1996)
Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
Manhunter (1986)
Silver Bullet (1985)
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
Secondhand Lions (2003)
Nobody's Fool (1994)
Dead Again (1991)
Will Penny (1967)
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Nevada Smith (1966)
Necessary Roughness (1991)
Bone Tomahawk (2015)
The Edge (1997)
A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966)
Rustler's Rhapsody (1985)
The Great Race (1965)
Undercover Brother (2002)
The Salvation (2014)
The Flim-Flam Man (1967)
Stripes (1981)

If you've heard of some of these, I'm pleased--not many are instantly recognizable. But I think they're worth your while. Some have won awards, many are technically excellent, and a few will make you laugh or cry. If you do watch any of them on my recommendation and they make you laugh or cry for the wrong reasons (believe me, I've seen a lot of those, too), I apologize. My taste is sometimes a little weird.

Here's the question of the day: Do you have any obscure favorites you can point me to? I received a lot of great suggestions from your comments, last time.

My Netflix queue awaits your replies…


  1. I don't know if this movie would be obscure to you, John. But if you haven't seen Little Miss Sunshine, you should. I think you'd enjoy it.

  2. I’ll add a few beyond The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II and Chinatown:

    Body Heat with William Hurt and Kathleen Turner
    Blowup with David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave
    Those Lips, Those Eyes with Frank Langella and Tom Hulce
    Mayerling with Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve
    Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder and Teri Garr

  3. Thanks for the fun post here, John--and for the additional memories of Bonnie too. :-)

    I'm not sure if either of these are obscure, but I really love some of Shane Black's work, particularly Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Last Boyscout.

  4. Hey Barb! Yep, sawLMS, and liked it. In fact I've been surprised to find that this one IS so obscure.

    O'Neil, I've not seen Those Lips, Those Eyes--but I will! Liked all the others you mentioned, and Body Heat is one of my all-time favorites.

  5. Art, that was a wonderful tribute to Bonnie that you made yesterday.

    I too love Shane Black's movies (as you know, not everyone does!)--I especially like the two you listed, plus Lethal Weapon and The Long Kiss Goodnight.

  6. John

    Great list.

    I'm a big fan of DEAD AGAIN. Check out KILL ME AGAIN, Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley.
    SEVEN MEN FROM NOW is the first of the Boetticher/Scotts, so grab the other six.
    COPLAND is a real surprise, an overlooked gem.
    I didn't catch up with ISLAND IN THE SKY until a couple of years ago, either. Wellman made some terrific pictures. Most everybody knows THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY, but take a look at WESTWARD THE WOMEN and (if you can find it) WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD, from 1933.
    DILLINGER is one of my guilty secrets. RED DAWN is another. I'm a big fan of John Milius. THE WIND AND THE LION is terrific.

    Few more obscurities, off the top of my head.
    THE MOUNTAIN, Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner.
    Robert Mitchum in MAN WITH THE GUN - also PURSUED, if you don't know it, both Westerns.
    And a couple of noirs: an Anthony Mann from the late 1940's, BORDER INCIDENT, with Ricardo Montalban, and THE BIG COMBO, Cornel Wilde and Richard Conte. Both shot by John Alton.

    Good hunting.

  7. THE WRONG BOX. Absolutely the zaniest 'crime' film ever made, with all sorts of great Brit names like Ralph Richarson, Michael Caine, Dudley Moore, and even Peter Sellers. It's a cult favourite of comedy writers.

  8. Ed Wood starring Johnny Depp & Martin Landau.
    The Road to Wellville mentioned here a day or two ago in response to another inquiry.
    Gone in 60 Seconds ... the original, directed by & starring Toby Halicki. Some of it takes place in western New York near where I live. The remake with Nicolas Cage is only O.K. I wouldn't watch it again, but that's me.
    Atlantic City starring Burt Lancaster & Susan Sarandon.

  9. Some of my favorite obscure movies are on your list. Will definitely check into the many listed that I haven’t seen. A few others I liked:

    Hard Rain (1998): An epic flood destroys a small town, confounding an armored car heist. Minnie Driver, Morgan Freeman, Dennis Hopper, Christian Slater.

    The Iceman (2012): Michael Shannon as a legendary hitman who strives to hide his occupation from his wife and children.

    A Little Trip to Heaven (2005): Forrest Whittaker is an investigator on the trail of a life-insurance scam. With Jeremy Renner and Julia Stiles.

    A Simple Plan (1998): Routine rural lives turn chaotic after Bridget Fonda, Bill Paxton, and Billy Bob Thornton appropriate a stash of drug money from a smuggler's downed plane.

    I also want to mention how moving it is to see the many tributes to Bonnie Stevens. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but when she very graciously hosted me on her blog I was really struck by her warmth and encouragement.

  10. Melodie - YES! to The Wrong Box! Hilarious!

    Other, more obscure Peter Sellers movies:
    I Love You, Alice B. Toklas
    The World of Henry Orient
    The Mouse that Roared
    The Party

  11. Peter DiChellis19 August, 2017 16:26

    Ooops! Correction to my post (above). Dennis Hopper did not appear in Hard Rain.

  12. David,
    And THE SAND PEBBLES. Love movies set around the turn of the century.

  13. I watched A LOT of films growing up in the fifties, and I remember many of these up to about 1970. I'd add the original version of 3:10 to Yuma, and maybe even the original Magnificent Seven, although it's not exactly obscure.

    As a former theater person, I loathed the film of Proof, which made every possible wrong choice from casting Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow to opening up the locations. I played the Hopkins role on-stage and it was one of the highlights of my dubious career.

    Oddly enough, even though I seldom watch films today, the most helpful book I ever found on plotting is actually geared toward screenwriting, John Truby's The Anatomy of Story.

  14. Thanks, everyone, for the comments and suggestions in my absence. I was a panelist at our annual state book festival today, and only just got back home from that. It was held as usual on the grounds of the state capitol and MAN was it hot out there.

    David, the first time I watched Dead Again I expected nothing--and I was blown away. Loved that movie, and I'm always surprised at how few folks have heard about it. And I enjoyed Kill Me Again as well. I think I've seen all the Boetticher/Scott westerns, but I'll have to check to make sure. So many younger moviegoers have of course never heard of Randolph Scott. Do you know, I have NOT seen Westward the Women OR Wild Boys of the Road, but I promise you I will. I'm a big fan of (the original) Red Dawn and The Wind and the Lion. I have seen and enjoyed all the rest of the movies you mentioned except for Border Incident and The Big Combo--didn't even know about those two, and I love it when that happens!! I owe you, brother.

    Melodie, The Wrong Box truly IS zany. Glad you mentioned this one, and wish I had listed it, because nobody seems to know about it.

    I've seen those you listed, Liz--thanks--and I'm especially fond of The Road to Wellville. Another one that I should've included.

    Peter, thanks for stopping by. I've heard of the first three movies you mentioned but have not seen them (!!), and I thoroughly enjoyed The Simple Plan--I saw it shortly after reading the novel, which is also excellent.

    Eve, I've not seen The Mouse That Roared. One of the funniest things I ever heard about Peter Sellers was that Henry Kissinger was actually Sellers in disguise.

    Loved The Sand Pebbles, O'Neil. An unlikely role, I thought, for Steve McQueen, but excellent (again, like the novel that preceded it). I watched it again not long ago just to listen to the music.

    Steve, I liked Proof, mostly because of the stunning reveal, but I must confess that I never saw the play. I later found and read the play, though, and it was fantastic. Nobody I know seems to have heard of either version. I would love to have seen you in it!!!!

    Thanks again, everybody.

  15. Thanks for the shout out, John. And I would agree with David Edgerly Gates about Kill Me Again. Great neo noir by John Dahl. He did three noirs around the same time and I like them all. The other two are Red Rock West and The Last Seduction. All good ones.

  16. Paul, I'm glad David mentioned Kill Me Again--I saw it long ago and had almost forgotten it. And I thought Red Rock West was outstanding, but never got around to seeing The Last Seduction. Bruce Willis, right? Or maybe Bill Pullman--I can't recall.

    I think it'll soon be time for the two of us to swap a personal-favorites list again. Mine keeps changing.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>