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Five Great Films You've Probably Never Seen

I've always had an affinity for obscure and under-appreciated entertainment: musicians that nobody listens to, television shows that never made it past the first season, that sort of thing.

In the spirit of celebrating the obscure and under-appreciated, I present here for your consideration five great films that you've probably never seen and may not have even heard of: some that were once famous but are now mostly forgotten, others that never quite got beyond "cult" status.

The Informer (1935)

"Ten pounds to America! Twenty pounds and the world is ours?"

The Informer is a tightly-written tragedy (in the ancient Greek sense of the word) that plays out in a single foggy night in the low-rent section of town. The setting is Dublin, and the Irish War of Independence is in full swing. Gypo (Victor McLaglen) is a man down on his luck. He's been kicked out of the Irish Republican Army, he's broke and can't find work, and his girlfriend Katy (Heather Angel) is prostituting herself just to make ends meet. On an evening stroll, they see an advertisement offering passage to America (in steerage, of course) for only £10 per person, and dream about moving across the sea to start a new life.

After Katie leaves him to work the night shift, Gypo sees a poster advertising a £20 reward for information leading to the arrest of Frankie (Wallace Ford), one of his old IRA buddies – exactly the amount he needs for steamship tickets. He goes to the "Black & Tans" (paramilitary police) and tells them where they can find Frankie, collects his reward – and things go downhill from there.

The Informer won four Oscars in 1935: Best Actor (Victor McLaglen), Best Director (John Ford), Best Screenplay (Dudley Nichols) and Best Score (Max Steiner).

All the King's Men (1949)

"I tell you there's nothing on the judge."
"Jack, there's something on everybody. Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption."

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men chronicles the rise of country lawyer Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) in the politics of an unnamed Southern state during the Great Depression. He starts out as a genuine reformer with good intentions, but grows cynical and corrupt as time goes on, eventually becoming governor by combining crowd-pleasing populist rhetoric with cutthroat backroom politics. The story is told from the perspective of Jack Burden (John Ireland), a journalist who becomes Willie's chief spin doctor and opposition researcher.

All the King's Men won Best Picture for 1949, Broderick Crawford won Best Actor, and Mercedes McCambridge won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Willie's campaign manager/mistress.

Juggernaut (1974)

"I don't even know the man and he's trying to kill me."
"Haven't I told you about death? It's nature's way of saying you're in the wrong job."

SS Britannic, the flagship of a financially-distressed steamship company, is in the middle of a stormy crossing of the North Atlantic when the company's managing director receives a telephone call from someone calling himself "Juggernaut." He's placed six time bombs on the ship, below the waterline, which will sink Britannic when they explode. Juggernaut offers to give instructions on how to disarm the bombs, but only if the shipping company pays him £1 million before the timers run out.

While a team of Scotland Yard detectives led by Superintendent McLeod (Anthony Hopkins) searches for Juggernaut on land, Royal Navy Lt. Commander Fallon (Richard Harris) and his squad of bomb disposal experts fly out to the ship to disarm the explosives. What follows is a pretty good police procedural interwoven with tense, sweaty, scary scenes of the bomb disposal experts at work. I promise you that if you see this film, you will never look at a pair of wire cutters the same way again.

Local Hero (1983)

"What's the most amazing thing you've ever found?"
"Impossible to say. You see, there's something amazing every two or three weeks."

A workaholic Yuppie junior executive from a Huston-based oil company (Peter Reigert) is sent to the small, quirky coastal village of Furness, Scotland on a mission to buy the town so it can bulldozed to make room for a new refinery to process North Sea oil. This sounds like the setup for a story you've seen a dozen times before: the underdog pastoral villagers against the big greedy nature-destroying corporation, but there's a twist: the townspeople, led by the village accountant and innkeeper (Denis Lawson), are perfectly happy to sell out and become "stinkin' rich," but want to see how much they can run the price up first.

Filmed in some of the most beautiful places on the coasts of Scotland, with an evocative soundtrack by Mark KnopflerLocal Hero is gentle, understated magical realist comedy; simultaneously sad and sweet and warm and wistful. Whovians will appreciate seeing a young Peter Capaldi in his first film role, and Burt Lancaster gives a magnificent performance as an eccentric senior executive with his mind on grander things than corporate administrivia. If you were a fan of Northern Exposure, you'll notice that Furness bears more than a passing resemblance to Cicely, Alaska.

The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)

"I've no idea of the future, but I can see the past quite well. And the present, if the weather's clear."

At the end of World War II, the people living on Roan Inish ("Island of the Seals") abandoned their impoverished village and moved to the mainland in search of better opportunities. Among their number was a little girl named Fiona, whose mother had just died, and whose baby brother was lost at sea during the evacuation. A few years later, Fiona (Jeni Courtney) comes to live with her grandparents, who have settled in an Irish coastal town from which Roan Inish is visible on the horizon. She almost instantly feels a mystical connection to the island and the seals, and this leads her to return to the island in search of her missing brother.

This is an Irish film steeped in Irish culture and tradition, telling a quintessentially Irish story about Irish people who tell each other Irish stories and Irish seals that, well, you'll just have to watch it and find out. It is beautiful and funny and heartbreaking and 100% family-friendly. It gets my seal of approval, and it will get yours, too.


  1. The only one of those I've seen is Local Hero, which is a film of enormous charm. Bill Forsyth had a run of wonderful offbeat films in the 80's: Local Hero, Gregory's Girl, Comfort and Joy.

  2. Oh, Forsyth also made the wonderful Housekeeping--I'd forgotten that was his, too.

  3. I haven't seen any, but I've heard of most of them. Not that that counts. :) An interesting read, Baby M.

  4. It gets my seal of approval, and it will get yours, too.

    I seal what you did there.

  5. The only reason I ever knew about The Informer or All the King's Men was that my father noticed that they were showing on the late late movie and encouraged me to watch them. I'm glad he did.


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