Mary and Gretel (1916)

Mary and Gretel (1916)
Article 5672 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-3-2019
Director unknown
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Early stop-motion doll animation

Two dolls are brought to life and told not to pick flowers. They meet a white rabbit and characters from the story of Rip Van Winkle.

I will grant that the stop-motion animation here is certainly excellent for such an early film; it’s a pity that IMDB doesn’t have any credits for who is responsible for this. Certain individual scenes have a cute charm to them as well. The downside is that the short is also rather aimless; though the dolls are the putative main characters, most of the footage involves the bowling dwarfs and the white rabbit pilfering some of their grog, scenes that do not involve the wandering dolls at all. Granted, with only a seven minute running time, there really isn’t going to be much of a story to begin with, but you do expect the action to be more focused than what we have here. It’s an interesting oddity.

Rip Van Winkle (1921)

Rip Van Winkle (1921)
Article 5671 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-2-2019
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Featuring Thomas Jefferson, Milla Davenport, Daisy Jefferson
Country: USA
What it is: American fantasy

In an effort to get away from his shrewish wife, Rip Van Winkle escapes to the forest where he encounters a strange group of men. He falls asleep, and wakes up twenty years later.

I found this one on YouTube, and watched it under the impression that it was the 1914 movie of the same name (it was marked as such on YouTube), but when the story description on IMDB didn’t match up with what I saw, I was able to deduce from the cast list that it was the 1921 version I saw. Both versions starred Thomas Jefferson, whose father Joseph Jefferson made a career of playing the role of Rip; I’ve covered some of the very early silent shorts with Joseph in the role. Had it been the 1914 version, I would have found it a bit more praiseworthy; it has a nice sense of humor and fleshes out its story well. However, for a 1921 movie, it comes off as a little creaky for its year. It was based on the Washington Irving story as well as the play version cowritten by Joseph Jefferson and Dion Boucicoult. A couple of sudden transitions and an abrupt ending may indicate the print I saw was not complete, but I rather enjoyed this version anyway.

A Dog’s Love (1914)

A Dog’s Love (1914)
Article 5670 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-28-2019
Directed by Jack Harvey
Featuring Shep the Dog, Helen Badgley, Arthur Bauer
Country: USA
What it is: Tearjerker

A girl’s only friend is Shep, the dog next door. When the girl dies in a car accident, the dog is inconsolable.

All you need to know is that this short is as relentless a tear-jerker as the plot description makes it sound it’s going to be; most of the short involves the dog’s traumatic reaction to the death of the girl. Given the premise, it can’t help but be somewhat effective. It’s biggest problem is that it’s just a tad too gimmicky; having the dog go to a flower store and pick up some flowers to put on the girl’s grave feels too forced. The fantastic content that eventually manifests itself (I won’t reveal what it is, but you’ll know it when you see it) is also a problem; it’s the sort of thing that should alter the arc of the story, but it does no such thing, and feels unnecessary. Still, I will give the short a bit of credit for being out of the ordinary; most tear-jerkers of this sort have the human mourning the death of the animal.

The Magic Cloak (1914)

The Magic Cloak (1914)
aka The Magic Cloak of Oz
Article 5669 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-28-2019
Directed by J. Farrell MacDonald
Featuring Mildred Harris, Violet MacMillan, Fred Woodward
Country: USA
What it is: Another Oz story

A family leaves their home and have a series of adventures; the son unexpectedly becomes king of Noland, the daughter is given a magic cloak by a fairy, and a donkey is stolen by robbers.

This is another of the three Oz movies scripted by L. Frank Baum in 1914. Reportedly, it was as long as the others, but was cut into two shorts for release in England. The original film is lost, but the two shorts survived, and were edited back together to create a shortened version of the original feature. You would think with all of this editing the story would be rendered incomprehensible, but actually, I found it the most coherent of the three films; maybe they ended up editing out the worst of it. Unlike the other Oz stories, this features none of the characters from The Wizard of Oz, but I rather like it doesn’t try to tie it to that other book; after all, Oz is an entire world. Once again, the costumes are the best thing about it, and though the story is coherent, it really isn’t all that good. Still, after having seen the other two movies from this series, this is perhaps the best of the lot.

His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)

His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914)
Article 5668 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-24-2019
Directed by J. Farrell MacDonald
Featuring Violet MacMillan, Frank Moore, Pierre Couderc
Country: USA
What it is: Another adventure in the Land of Oz

When the evil King Krewl is unable to make his daughter marry an unwanted suitor, he has a witch cast a spell over her so that her heart will freeze. Dorothy escapes from the witch, and finds friends to help her save the princess from her fate.

If I were to take a stab at describing this one, it would be as terminally distracted retelling of “The Wizard of Oz”, only with an entirely different plot driving the action. I’d be tempted to call it unfaithful to the spirit of L. Frank Baum, but I can’t, as Baum himself wrote the screenplay. It’s one of those movies that I don’t know how to react to; the plot becomes difficult to follow at times because it keeps being distracted by slapstick scenes with people in animal costumes, and these scenes generally bring the story to a halt. The costumes, however, are the best things about this one; it’s probably more enjoyable if you give up on trying to follow the story and enjoy the spectacle, but even that gets old after a while. All in all, this is a sporadically entertaining mess.

Lena and the Geese (1912)

Lena and the Geese (1912)
Article 5667 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-18-2019
Directed by D.W. Griffith
Featuring Mary Pickford, J. Jiquel Lanoe, Kate Bruce
Country: USA
What it is: Fairy tale short

A noblewoman gets rid of an inconvenient baby by passing her on to a peasant woman. Then, when on her deathbed, the noblewoman regrets her decision and sends for her now-grown daughter to reinstate her. However, the peasant woman decides to send her own child in place of the adopted one.

Let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first – there is none. However, I can understand why this was classified as a fantasy; it is based on a fairy tale, and in general it is assumed fairy tales are fantasies. It’s just that this particular story has no fantastic touches.

As for the movie itself, for me the most striking thing about it was Mary Pickford’s performance. I would not have noticed had I not been on my recent chronological coverage of fantastic films, but Pickford’s performance seems to take silent film acting to a new level; she seems to be the first actress to really master the art of acting in this medium. As such, this is one of the first silent films in which the acting itself is the main attraction, and it’s easy to see why she became one of the first silent film stars. The acting is what lifts the story, especially during the sequence when Pickford’s character tries to master the alien (to her) art of etiquette. Pickford herself chose the story based on the fairy tale “The Goose Girl”, though I wonder about the retitling, which seems to imply that the geese will play more of a role than they ultimately do.

The Portrait of the Lady Anne (1912)

The Portrait of the Lady Anne (1912)
Article 5666 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-17-2019
Directed by Lloyd Lonergan
Featuring Florence La Badie, Justin D. Barnes, William Russell
Country: USA
What it is: Ancestral spirit story

In the eighteenth century, a woman breaks up an engagement in a fit of jealousy, and marries another man. She lives to regret it and dies of grief. Many years later, a descendant of hers is about to make the same mistake. Can her spirit save her descendant?

I’ve been going through movies in a roughly chronological order lately, and I’ve definitely noticed that the second decade of the twentieth century marked a definite shift from the first decade; there’s less wild experimentation with trick photography and a concentration on story-telling and making the tricks fit the story. The main trick effect here is the spirit emerging from her portrait. The trick is nothing new, but here it is part and parcel of the story; in fact, the portrait with the missing person proves to be a clue to the descendant as to what’s going on. Florence La Badie seems to have been a star of the era; I’ve seen her name pop up a lot, and here she has a dual role, as both ancestor and descendant. The story is merely okay, but it’s well done and moderately entertaining.

Entente cordiale (1912)

Entente cordiale (1912)
Article 5665 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-16-2019
Directed by Max Linder
Featuring Max Linder, Jane Renouardt, Stacia Napierkowska
Country: France
What it is: Max Linder comedy short

Max allows a friend to stay in his apartment. When they both fall in love with a beautiful maid, the rivalry causes them to engage in a duel.

Yes, there’s no apparent fantastic content in the plot description, and given that I recently covered a Max Linder short that (to my mind) was mistakenly classified as a fantasy, I found myself wondering if the same problem would crop up in this one. However, such is not the case; there is some clear fantastic content to be found here in the final scene, which involves dancing inanimate objects. There’s also some implied fantastic content when several characters believed dead come back to life, and though it’s clear they were faking being dead, I couldn’t help but note that one of the characters was a chicken, which certainly seems rather outre. Then there’s a touch of surrealism to the short, such as the scene where a piano is hitched up to the rear of a horse and buggy. As for the short itself, I found it genuinely amusing and a clear example of how Max Linder paved the way for Charlie Chaplin; there are some great comic bits here and there. This one is a lot of fun.

The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912)

The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912)
Article 5664 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-15-2019
Directed by Harold M. Shaw
Featuring Martin Fuller, Mrs. William Bechtel, Walter Edwin
Country: USA
What it is: Drama with fantastic elements

A poor newsboy lives in squalor with his abusive grandmother. However, he comes by a ticket to a picnic hosted by the Fresh Air Fund, an organization which takes poor city kids out to the country to enjoy nature.

From what I gather, the Fresh Air Fund was a real organization (which, according to IMDB, still exists), and this short amounts to a commercial for the charitable group. In some ways, it’s quite effective; the opening scenes with the boy in the city are rather depressing and make you feel for the boy. The fantastic elements have to do with a story told to the boy at the picnic about a boy who escapes from a wicked witch with the help of the fairies and is allowed to escape by boat to the Land Beyond the Sunset, a world without worries. The story is shown visually, and it’s pretty apparent who the witch and the fairies are within the context of what’s happening. The ending is both fascinating and problematic; when the picnic breaks up, we’re left wondering whether it was just a momentary respite in the boy’s life; does he have any option other than returning the squalor of his daily existence? The movie gives him an out, and even though the ending is somewhat haunting and ambiguous, one is left wondering a little whether the Fresh Air Fund may have been exaggerating their influence. Still, it’s the ending that really makes this one memorable.

Cinderella (1911)

Cinderella (1911)
Article 5663 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-11-2019
Directed by George Nichols
Featuring Florence La Badie, Harry Benham, Anna Rosemond
Country: USA
What it is: Fairy tale

Thanks to her fairy godmother, Cinderella gets a chance to go the ball and dance with the prince. What will happen?

If you’re going to do a comprehensive review of fantastic cinema, you’re going to encounter a lot of fairy tale adaptations, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the story of Cinderella proved to be the most common of these. I’ve seen so many versions that after a while, I grow to appreciate any new detail that adds a bit of novelty to the story. This short take on the tale has a few. To begin with, Cinderella’s father actually appears as a character; in most versions, he either never appears or is assumed to be dead. Granted, the most he’s really given to do is to have a scroll grabbed from him by the dominating stepmother, but at least he’s present. Another novelty is that the coach, horses and footmen and magically created indoors rather than outside, which forces the fairy godmother to create a magic exit for the coach to go through. Last is that the fairy godmother makes a final appearance at the climax of the story. These may be small details, but with a story that is so familiar, I found them to be welcome distractions, though taken as a whole, this is just another version of a familiar tale.