Little film gems which escaped wide attention and perhaps yours too.
by greg moss
Under The Radar is a semi-regular post in which I bring to light little-seen films, which got lost in the crowd due to lousy distribution or were misunderstood at the time of their release, but which deserve to be seen for one reason or another.
First up this week …
Directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection), based on the novel The Wages Of Fear by Georges Arnaud with a screenplay by Walon Green (The Wild Bunch).
It stars Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Ramon Bieri and Amidou.
In a bid to escape a squalid Latin American hell hole of a town, four desperate fugitives volunteer to transport a haul of unstable nitroglycerine aboard a couple of rickety old trucks across two hundred miles of treacherous jungle terrain in order to extinguish an oil fire.
Why it’s worth seeing:
Unfairly pulled from its initial release to make way for the sudden success of Star Wars in 1977, this unrelenting thriller never stood a chance at the box office, earning just $5.9 million on a budget of $22 million. And it’s a shame, as the film is truly an intensely suspenseful experience. Having seen the original 1952 French version The Wages Of Fear on the big screen in a re-release in the late 80’s, I can safely say Friedkin’s film is far superior in terms of its verisimilitude and sheer audacity. The suspension bridge-crossing sequence (all done for real) has to be seen to be believed.
A suitably eerie electronic score by German band Tangerine Dream only heightens the tension.
And it’s probably the muddiest, wettest film you’ll ever see.
A lost masterpiece long overdue for reappraisal. Highly recommended.
And still in thriller-mode …
MIRACLE MILE (1989)
Written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt. Starring Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham.
Harry, an incurable romantic, finds the girl of his dreams, only to mistakenly receive a phone call telling him a nuclear attack has been launched on the United States. Harry has less than an hour to find his dream girl and get the Hell out of LA before the big one drops.
Why it’s worth seeing:
What would you do if you only had an hour to live? This is the subtext of this clever race-against-time romantic thriller.
Set almost entirely in the down-town strip of LA known as the Miracle Mile, during the wee hours of the morning, the film effectively conveys a sense of time and place much like Scorsese’s (again underrated) After Hours. The escalation of pandemonium as the city awakens to the news of imminent nuclear attack is masterfully orchestrated by De Jarnatt. Anthony Edwards gives a fine performance and the score by Tangerine Dream (again) gives the film an unrelenting momentum which will leave you breathless by the end.
It’s interesting to note, De Jarnatt’s screenplay came close to being the script for Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983, before Spielberg decided against a stand-alone story and instead went with the anthology format at the eleventh hour.
Once again, highly recommended.
Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.