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Gordon's Precious Obscurities Part 4: 25 Underrated Films To Check Out

25 obscure films that local film historian Gordon Inman recommends!

Hearts of the World (D.W. Griffith, 1918) - After the one-two punch of Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, Griffith traveled to France to film battle scenes for this Great War yarn during the Great War. It’s an incredible feat that directors were still gaining notoriety for doing half a century later. To Griffith’s simultaneous credit and discredit, he clearly would have taken a camera to the Civil War for Birth of a Nation if he could have.

Hindle Wakes (Maurice Elvey, 1927) - The greatest work from England’s first great director, with an ending defiantly reminiscent of A Doll’s House.

That Night’s Wife (Yasujiro Ozu, 1930) - Despite his reputation as the gentle serialized filmmaker he became in his last decade, Ozu may be the most “Taisho” of Japan’s first generation of directors; that is to say, his silent works clearly reflect his love of Western cinema from the time, as he often went so far as to pay clear homage to the stylings of Chaplin (and Harold Lloyd’s glasses), Vidor, and in this case von Sternberg.

Hallelujah, I’m a Bum! (Lewis Milestone, 1933) - The Rodgers & Hart musical about the homeless during the first red scare proves to be a fascinating time capsule, in which the ‘bum’ most motivated to work (probably the only great Harry Langdon speaking role) is ridiculed by the others for his communist tendencies.

Lady Killer (Jean Gremillon, 1937) - A familiar story among those examples of “poetic realism” produced in France in the 1930s, right down to its Jean Gabin protagonist. This example could be called the outlier in its embrace of male friendship over the pursuit of women, which Renoir would explore two years later in The Rules of the Game.

Dreams That Money Can Buy (Hans Richter, 1947)- A broke, recently returned American soldier discovers he has the power to manifest his own and other people’s dreams and sets up a business out of his apartment. While ultimately solely directed by the great Hans Richter, this surrealist anthology, shot entirely in New York City on what I like to call bargain bin technicolor, represents one of the most jaw-dropping artistic collaborations of the 2oth century. Surrealist (and/or debatably Dadaist) masters Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Fernand Leger provided artistic direction for different ‘dreams’; Kenneth MacPherson (the director of Borderline) co-produced with Richter; and composers Paul Bowles, Darius Milhaud, and John Cage provided scores to various segments, although Bowles contributed the lion’s share.

Outrage (Ida Lupino, 1950) - Kino Lorber gave us a gift this year with a newly restored box set of four of Ida Lupino’s directorial efforts. Unfortunately, they left out her masterpiece: an American neorealist study of a woman’s efforts to pick up the pieces of her life after experiencing a (mercifully unseen) sexual assault.

Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! (Leo McCarey, 1958) - McCarey’s final zany romp. While it’s ultimately just a fun cold war sex comedy in the Tashlin style, no less an expert than critic Robin Wood (who will likely always be McCarey’s biggest fan) considered this to be his best work.

The Warped Ones (Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1960) - Nothing less than Japan’s Breathless: a whiplash-inducing crime story in which the characters live up to their title.

The Enchanted Desna (Yuliya Solntseva, 1964) - The third of Solntseva’s adaptations of texts by her late husband, Aleksandr Dovzhenko. This one delves into its protagonist’s childhood memories of the idyllic land of his youth as he surveys its war-torn remains.

Yesterday Girl (Alexander Kluge, 1966) - Based on Kluge’s own short story “Anita G.” and known as something closer to “Goodbye to Yesterday” in the original German. A young girl (Alexandra Kluge, sister of the director) moves from East to West Germany in the early 1960s and practically experiences a new world. Alexander Kluge’s debut is also widely considered to be the start of what we now call the New German Cinema, which would later give us the directorial careers of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders, and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.

79 Primaveras (Santiago Alvarez, 1969) - Cuban agitprop master Alvarez’s short subjects should be taught in introductory film courses alongside Eisenstein’s silents. His whirlwind biography of Ho Chi Minh is likely his ultimate masterpiece among many great works.

Blanche (Walerian Borowczyk, 1971) - Borowczyk has had an unlikely reappraisal in the last few years, but it has been focused almost entirely on his later erotic fantasies and early animation. This drama, adapted from the Slowacki poem Mazepa, has been mostly overlooked. The raw soundtrack comes from the ‘Carmina Burana’ songbook and is played on period instruments, resulting in a remarkable sense of time and place.

Morgiana (Juraj Herz, 1972) - Slovakian director Herz (best known for 1969’s The Cremator) employs a typically brilliant Lubos Fiser film score for this gothic ‘tale of two sisters’ yarn, with both twins played by Iva Janzurová.

Hitler: A Film from Germany (Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, 1977) - The longest entry in this list, at over seven hours. Syberberg, who would likely share a similar level of fame with his New German colleagues if he’d made shorter films, takes a merciless inventory of who Adolf Hitler was, how he was able to fail upwards to such a powerful position, and how the German people