The Phantom City (1928)

Article 4650 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-19-2014
Directed by Albert S. Rogell
Featuring Ken Maynard, Eugenia Gilbert, Jim Mason
Country: USA
What it is: Weird Western

Several owners of a gold mine are drawn to a ghost town by a mysterious letter. There, a struggle for the gold in the mine takes place, with a phantom taking part in the proceedings.

The original negative for this silent weird western was destroyed in 1932 when it was cannibalized for stock footage to be used in a scene-by-scene remake called HAUNTED GOLD. All that remains is about ten minutes of fragmentary footage that by itself wouldn’t tell a coherent story. However, a friend of mine who possessed the footage managed to construct a digest version of the movie using the remaining footage, the footage borrowed by HAUNTED GOLD, and, by incorporating stock music, sound fragments, and title cards; the result is coherent and quite enjoyable. Granted, I still can’t really judge the quality of the original movie, but it does look like some of the most striking footage from HAUNTED GOLD (namely, a fight scene in an aerial cable car and some wonderful acting from Ken Maynard’s horse Tarzan) came from the original silent movie. Still, a good deal of the surviving footage involves one of the most problematic things about the movie, which is Blue Washington’s stereotyped turn as the scared black man; he appeared in the same role in both versions of the movie. For the most part, the plots between the two movies are the same. I consider myself quite fortunate to have had a chance to see this version of a movie which otherwise would have ended up on my “ones that got away” list.

The Would-Be Conjuror (1899)

Article 4649 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-8-2014
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Comic magic short

A yokel helps a magician perform a magic trick. The magician sets the yokel’s hat on the ground and holds the yokel’s nose above it, and then pours coins from the hat. The yokel goes home and tries the same trick on his wife, but….

This short runs less than a minute long, and moves along so swiftly that it’s almost a bit hard to follow. A synopsis I found merely says that the magician “holds the nose” of the yokel, but it certainly looks like he’s making the drippings from the yokel’s nose fall into the hat, which makes this a rather crude trick of sorts. You can probably guess how the yokel’s wife reacts when her husband unsuccessfully tries to pull the same trick on her; it’s amusing and quite logical. No, there’s not much to this one, and the fantastic content really only consists of the trick in question, but it was entertaining enough for its length.

The Amateur William Tell (1909)

Article 4648 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-7-2013
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Comic short

A young boy, enamored with the story of William Tell, makes a bow and arrow and practices using it on the people he meets. Much destruction ensues.

Certain movies are so rare that you have to settle for whatever quality you can in finding a copy. Though I was finally able to find a copy of this, the print is quite bad and much of the detail is lost. It’s rather difficult to evaluate a movie in those circumstances; you’re so busy trying to make out what’s going on that there’s not much room left in the experience to really enjoy it. It does look fitfully amusing, though; a better copy (if one ever manifests itself) might make a lot of difference.

As for the fantastic content, that probably belongs to a sequence near the end of the movie where the boy gets his comeuppance; in short, he has a nightmare where he is tried by a group of hooded figures which turn out to be the people he tormented earlier. He is punished in a fitting way, though, to be truthful, I can only attest to the fact that this happened because I received a plot description explaining what was happening; it was particularly difficult to make out the action in this sequence. The hooded figures certainly give it a touch of horror, though the touch is slight; I’d say this short is fairly marginal in that regard.

The Sorcerer’s Scissors (1907)

Article 4647 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-6-2014
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Trick film

The hands of a sorcerer use scissors to cut out of paper the figure of a woman, which takes form as a real woman and performs a dance. Other similar tricks follow.

There’s no real plot here; it’s more of an illustration of a trick technique where hand-manipulated inanimate objects transform themselves into real people and back again. In some ways, it’s similar to the Melies technique of statues coming to life, but the rapid-fire linking segments give a very distinct look to this one that owes nothing to Melies. I do rather wish the woman who is constantly recreated would do something more than perform dances, but that’s par for the course of early silent cinema. Though I can’t list any examples of the top of my head, I get the impression that the techniques in question were mostly used in later years during TV and Movie opening credits sequences. It’s an interesting work in pioneer cinema.

Dreams of Toyland (1908)

Article 4646 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-5-2014
Directed by Arthur Melbourne Cooper
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Early stop-motion animation

A mother takes her little boy to a toy store, where he picks out an assortment of toys. That night he dreams the toys come to life.

This short is half real-life and half stop-motion animation; it is the dream that is fully animated. At heart, it seems like a pretty standard trick short with no real plot; once you get to the dream, you expect nothing more than whimsical, happy scenes of toys moving of their own accord. Then you start to notice things; the little toy who is running from a bus that is trying to chase him down, the bear attacking passers-by, various animals attacking the toys and vehicles running them down…no, this short is anything but whimsical and happy, and the word “dreams” can be taken rather ironically here. The stop motion is fun, if primitive, and I did like how the dark turn added some variety to the action at hand. I managed to find this on YouTube.

Un drame chez les fantoches (1908)

aka Drama Among the Puppets
Article 4645 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-4-2014
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated story

A woman finds herself beset upon by suitors, but a helpful cop comes to her rescue.

This animated short by pioneer animator Emile Cohl is a bit of a rarity in that it actually seems to tell a story rather than to merely set forth an array of shifting images. Granted, the plot isn’t particularly strong, and I had to read another description of the short to figure the motives for the characters that were bothering the woman. There is a bit of abstract animation, such as a scene where the cop mutates into the bars in the window of a prison cell, but these transitions are kept to a minimum. Though it’s interesting to see Cohl stretching himself a little here, I didn’t find it as intriguing as his more abstract shorts.

More Wild Wild West(1980)

Article 4644 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-3-2014
Directed by Burt Kennedy
Featuring Robert Conrad, Ross Martin, Jonathan Winters
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Movie update of an older TV series

James West and Artemus Gordon are called out of retirement to hunt down a madman who has the ability to make himself invisible… and has created a devastating bomb that may help him take over the world.

This is the second TV-Movie revival of “The Wild, Wild West”, my favorite TV show as a child. For those interested in my reaction to the earlier TV-Movie (THE WILD, WILD WEST REVISITED), go check my review on it. This is cut from the same cloth, and it has roughly the same strengths (it captures some of the ambiance of the original series, Robert Conrad and Ross Martin work well together, etc.) and weaknesses (it replaces the slyly satirical spy story played straight with overt comedy). The odd thing for me about watching this one is that I found I was getting used to that shift; as jarring as it was with the first movie, I found myself settling in and growing to accept it with this one, even if I did sense that it left the show in a weird limbo where it was neither fish nor fowl. All I can say is this; if the TV series had been revived (it was discussed, but the death of Ross Martin the next year put an end to that plan), it would’ve needed much better scripts and funnier jokes than there is here; despite my acceptance of the shift, I still didn’t find much to laugh at here. The thing that I liked the best here was to see Victor Buono appear as a parody of Henry Kissinger; he pretty much steals what there is to steal. I do think it’s a shame that I’ll not be covering anything from the original series, as none of the episodes have been edited into movies.