Nolte: 7 of the Most Underrated Movies Ever — Part 2

Duel at Diablo partners Sidney Poitier with another one of the all-time greats, James Garner, in one of the best Westerns you’ve never seen.
United Artists/Brien Productions/YouTube, screenshot

For more than 50 years, ever since the day I saw Dirty Harry on the big screen, I’ve been a movie fanatic — every kind of movie, all sorts of movies…

Today, not so much.

In pursuit of political purity, movies have lost their artistry. Characters are identities rather than complicated individuals, themes have been twisted into lectures, and the desire to entertain and enlighten replaced with the desire to preen, divide, and insult.

Hollywood no longer wants us coming together to share a universal experience. Instead, Hollywood wants to pervert our children with gay porn and transsexual voodoo, wants us to cheer our own virtue and judge the other fella based on his hat and skin color.

Instead of exploring human nature, movies are looking to rewire it into a big, conformist pile of pro-establishment blah.

We haven’t changed. We still love movies that do what movies are supposed to do. Spider-Man: No Way Home proved that. While the sycophants in the entertainment media lie about woketard flops being victims of the pandemic, along came a movie eager to entertain that broke box office records and did so at the height of the omicron surge.

The good news is that you will never run out of movies to love. After 50 years, after a half-century of dedicated movie watching, I continue to find gem after gem after gem after gem. Out there — and you don’t have to look very hard, just back — there’s an endless treasure trove of two-hour dreams ready to take you away…

In part two of this series, here are seven titles you might have missed…

  1. Eye of the Tiger (1986)

This is one of those great genre films about an everyday man who returns home wanting nothing more than to live a normal life. In this case, that man is the great Gary Busey. After too many years away, he’s back in the bosom of his family and ready to appreciate the simple things. Unfortunately, political corruption and a motorcycle gang make that impossible.

While the movie’s conclusion is a little over the top in that glorious 80’s fashion, Eye of the Tiger deserves credit for avoiding  silly contrivances. For example, as soon as things get hairy, Busey’s character agrees to skedaddle, but, well, too late…

This is a revenger that does what good revengers do. You hate the bad guys and love seeing them go down. The Mighty Yaphet Kotto supplies the social commentary, Seymour Cassel is beyond sleazy as a corrupt sheriff, and then there’s that scene with the coffin… Holy moly.

 

  1. Duel at Diablo (1966)

We’re only four weeks into 2022 and already the great ones are dropping like flies, and none greater than Sidney Poitier.

Duel at Diablo partners Poitier with another one of the all-time greats, The Mighty James Garner, in one of the best Westerns you’ve never seen.

Poitier is introduced to us as a bit of a dandy, until we discover his character, Toller, is really a down-in-the-dust horse trainer who’s finished his work, bought a new suit of clothes, and wants to open a gambling parlor. Garner plays Jess, a man on a quest to avenge the murder of his Comanche wife.

Ingmar Bergman regular Bibi Andersson plays Ellen. She’s married to the town’s businessman (Dennis Weaver). She’s also a former Apache captive who keeps returning to the Apache for reasons of her own.

The plot effectively turns, Toller and Jess team up to lead a wagon train of munitions across Apache territory, and what happens next is brutal, suspenseful, exciting, and filled with some of the most effective cavalry scenes ever put on film.

This is also the rare Western that tells two truths at once, that recognizes the federal government’s appalling treatment of the American Indian without downplaying the shockingly savage behavior of the Apache.

 

  1. A Civil Action (1998)

John Travolta, Robert Duvall, James Gandolfini, William H. Macy, Kathleen Quinlan, Dan Hedaya, John Lithgow…

Oscar-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian adapted Jonathan Harr’s best-seller and also directs.

This is one of those movies that starts as one thing and then surprises you by being about something bigger. In this case, we have a slick corporate thriller-slash-courtroom drama that catches you off guard as it becomes the poignant story of a mercenary personal injury lawyer (Travolta) who discovers a conscience.

Travolta is superb, everyone’s superb, and the story is a true one.

 

  1. U-Turn (1997)

You’ve seen it before — Red Rock West (1993), The Hot Spot (1990)… A hard-luck guy rolls into a small town full of dark secrets and before long it’s all about steamy sex and murder.

 

In one of his most appealing roles, Sean Penn plays Bobby Cooper, a Vegas-bound degenerate desperate to settle up with an unforgiving bookie. A blown radiator hose and a beautifully-staged robbery strands him in Superior, Arizona. At first, things are looking up in the form of a breathtakingly sexy Jennifer Lopez, but, well…

Written (novel and screenplay) by future Oscar-winner John Ridley, Oliver Stone directs (and sometimes over-directs) his only feature uninterested in social commentary.

A knock-out cast (even in tiny roles), our greatest living director, a terrific script full of believable but shocking plot twists, sex, violence, and gallows humor all add up to a top-notch neo-noir .

 

  1. Land (2021)

You would think Robin Wright’s feature directorial debut would send the Woke Nazis into spasms of joy and launch an ocean of affirmative-action think pieces heralding her genius… Well, Wright didn’t earn much of that because her little movie is deceptively anti-woke.

Edee Holzer (Wright) is an urban professional who suffers a terrible tragedy and discovers that the modern world, with all of its medications, distractions, and therapy sessions, can’t fill the hole.

Desperate for any kind of peace, Edee abandons her old life, moves to the reddest state in the country, goes off the grid, and gets back to basics. No iPhones, no electricity, no vehicle, no Internet, no Starbucks, and no going back. Completely unprepared, she’s deliberately stranded herself in the middle of the wilderness with only a few canned goods, some seeds, and a firearm. Things quickly go sideways and eventually she’s saved (in more ways than one) by … a man.

After a first act that’s a tad overwrought, once this nicely directed, 89-minute gem settles down, it has something interesting to say about grief, rediscovering your purpose in the over-caffeinated modern world, the virtues of rugged individualism, and how no man (or woman) can be an island.

 

  1. Mr. Skeffington (1944)

If you love those classic female-driven melodramas [Mildred Pierce (1945), Dark Victory (1939), A Letter to Three Wives (1949), etc.] as much as I do, Mr. Skeffington (1944) is a real find.

Bette Davis plays a local beauty constantly surrounded by admiring suitors. For all the wrong reasons, she marries Mr. Skeffington (the always brilliant Claude Raines). Addicted to being worshipped, she’s serially unfaithful and then time does what it does and…

Beautifully written by Casablanca scribes Julius and Philip Epstein, expertly directed by Vincent Sherman, and all of it packaged in the brothers’ Warner production values, this is not just a movie about the obvious, but one about forgiveness and how we will find ourselves desperately alone in old age if we forget what matters.

 

  1. Shoot to Kill (1988)

Sidney Poitier’s return to the big screen after a ten-year absence is a dynamite fish-out-of-water thriller about a city cop (Poitier) who teams with a mountain man (Tom Beranger) to hunt down a brutal murderer in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. Overseas, it was titled Deadly Pursuit.

Funny, exciting, action-packed, suspenseful, clever… It’s nuts how forgotten this is. You can’t buy it on Blu-ray.

You can, though, watch a pretty good copy on YouTube … and you should.

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.

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