Although Netflix has allowed me to catch up on a bunch of movies I had missed over the last 20 years, and at some point I’ll write about some of them, this time I want to put the spotlight on five older films that have something in common — most people would say they are rather obscure.
Although I’m not claiming any of them demand to be hailed as all-time great movies, each has a particular aspect to it, a facet, that makes it interesting and worthwhile. As I don’t think I had ever seen any of the five before, it felt like I was discovering them.
The sense of discovery was akin to when I was a kid playing the B-side of a hit record, and finding that I liked it better than the well known cut. My list of five for this week comes from the time of my childhood — all five of them are in black and white.
In alphabetical order, here are my current five favorite obscure oldies from the ’50s/’60s on Netflix:
“Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952): Directed by Roy Ward Baker; Cast: Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft.
“The Intruder” (1962): Directed by Roger Corman; Cast: William Shatner, Frank Maxwell, Beverly Lunsford.
“Man in the Shadow” (1957): Directed by Jack Arnold; Cast: Jeff Chandler, Orson Welles, Colleen Miller.
“The Naked Street” (1955): Directed by Maxwell Shane; Cast: Anthony Quinn, Farley Granger, Peter Graves.
“Patterns” (1956): Directed by Fielder Cook; Cast: Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, Ed Begley.
While “Don’t Bother to Knock” may be the least obscure movie on this list, it has certainly been overshadowed by the larger budget, more popular films Widmark and Monroe made. Look for Elisha Cook, Jr. and Jim Backus in supporting roles.
Basically, it’s the story of a babysitter from hell. What makes this one particularly interesting is Monroe’s quirky performance — she carries the film.
This movie was made before Monroe’s love goddess image had become solidified. In this suspenseful yarn she plays a damaged young woman who has become unhinged. In the flickering of an eye she manages to be attractive, repulsive and then pitiful. Then, too, her performance as the lovelorn Nell Forbes may be closer to who Marilyn really was than some of her more glamorous roles.
“The Intruder” is genuinely obscure and quite unusual. In the time of Massive Resistance in Virginia, who would have expected the king of low budget horror and exploitation movies, Roger Corman, to make a film about racist demagoguery in Southern states?
Corman’s austere style lends itself to the telling of this story, giving it a poor man’s cinéma vérité look. And, it’s fun to see William Shatner overacting long before Star Trek.
Another director known for specializing in trashy films likely to play at a drive-in theater was Jack Arnold. Science fiction monster movies were his usual fare. Which made “Man in the Shadow” a departure for Arnold, because this exposé is about society’s ugly tolerance of the outrageous mistreatment of migrant workers.
Most importantly, Orson Welles is in it. This time Welles is seen as a swaggering super rancher in a modern Western. In other words, he plays the monster. Jeff Chandler is the honest sheriff; he gives Shatner a run for his money when it comes to overacting.
Sometimes the main reason for a movie’s obscurity can be a bad title. “The Naked Street” is about gangsters. Why it got the title it did is a mystery to me. Still, the thing that makes this otherwise ordinary film noir picture memorable is Anthony Quinn’s performance. He absolutely nails the character of the ruthless crime boss bully with a soft spot for his family.
Although the story may seem familiar, at first, the plot turns out to be rather unpredictable. Mobster films made since “The Naked Street” owe plenty to Quinn’s performance. After watching him play the savvy gangster leader, torn by passions and loyalties, I think some lesser actors in the 1960s and ’70s were simply doing imitations of Quinn.
Written by Rod Serling, “Patterns” was first presented live on the Kraft Television Theatre in 1955. It was a big hit and put Serling on the map. A year later “Patterns” was reworked as a feature film.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this story of dog-eat-dog immorality in the business world is how well it holds up. Serling’s dialogue still comes across as crisp and natural. Years before his iconic Twilight Zone series on TV, Serling was finding monsters in the midst of ordinary life and taking delight in exposing them.
At the end of this bitter tale, the viewer is left to wonder: In the 55 years of evolution since “Patterns” premiered — other than the gadgets we have today — what has changed in the way most large corporations operate behind closed doors?
Although I know some young moderns can’t abide watching a black and white flick, I’m assuming anyone who has read this far doesn’t have that sad problem. So, next time you’re looking to watch something sort of different, why not opt for one these obscure films from the Netflix vault of vintage features depicting moral dilemmas in shades of gray?
At this writing, all five titles on the list are available to watch instantly at Netflix.
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