Strange Cargo (1929)

Article 3943 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-29-2012
Posting Date: 5-31-2012
Directed by Benjamin Glazer and Arthur Gregor
Featuring Lee Patrick, June Nash, George Barraud
Country: USA
What it is: Old dark yacht movie

People attending a party aboard a yacht become suspected of murder when the host mysteriously vanishes when the light goes out.

This movie has nothing in common with the Clark Gable/Joan Crawford movie from 1940; instead, it’s an “old dark house” mystery, transferred to a yacht. It’s main problem is that it’s an early talkie, which means it’s static and very creaky. It’s also given to some silly melodramatics at time. There’s mysticism, telepathy, and hypnotism as the fantastic elements, though some of these may be faked; the final moments of the movie are a bit obscure due to the quality of my print. There’s a seance in a crow’s nest, an odd assortment of characters, and an ending that is fairly unbelievable. Still, if you can get past the creakiness, it’s entertaining in its own way.

Beatrice Fairfax Episode 11: The Wages of Sin (1916)

Article 3942 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-27-2012
Posting Date: 5-30-2012
Director unknown
Featuring Grace Darling, Harry Fox, Betty Howe
Country: USA
What it is: Episode of series of shorts

The daughter of a famous inventor, now deceased, has been tasked with destroying his final invention, a deadly weapon. But criminals are after the weapon, and have bribed the daughter’s boyfriend to help them. Can Beatrice Fairfax solve the daughter’s problem?

I’m not sure what criteria is used to separate serials from series of shorts (and I’ve encountered serials that don’t use the cliffhanger format, so that isn’t the only criteria), but IMDB does classify each Beatrice Fairfax episode as a separate movie rather than as episodes of a serial; that is why I only found it necessary to watch this single episode of the series. The series centers around an “advice to the lovelorn” columnist who will occasionally show up in person to help those who write her. I’m guessing that most of the episodes were mysteries of one sort or another. This one gets its fantastic content from two directions; the terrible weapon puts it in the realm of science fiction, albeit from a Gizmo Maguffin angle, and the story involves one character pretending to be a ghost, giving it a certain marginal horror atmosphere as well. Actually, I found this a fairly entertaining little short; it’s well-acted and has a fun sense of humor as well. I don’t know if I’ll be covering any others in this series, but if they’re all as good as this one, it would be a pleasure.

Little Moritz enleve Rosalie (1911)

aka Voyage to the Moon
Article 3941 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-26-2012
Posting Date: 5-29-2012
Directed by Henri Gambert and/or Romeo Bosetti
Featuring Maurice Schwartz and Sarah Duhamel
Country: France
What is it: Chase comedy

Little Moritz plans to elope with his girl Rosalie, but complications arise when her father gives chase with a dog.

This movie first entered my hunt list as VOYAGE TO THE MOON with a date of 1906 and having been directed by Romeo Boosetti. Having had no luck in finding it, it ended up on my “ones that got away” list. Here it caught the attention of doctor kiss at the Classic Horror Film Board, who was able to trace the trail of its original (incorrect) listing to this comedy from five years later with a different director. However, since an ad from that period also mentions Bosetti’s name in connection with the movie, I’ve decided to leave the directorial credit to both names. The VOYAGE TO THE MOON title is deceptive; there is a voyage to the moon, but it’s just one of the gags in what is primarily a chase comedy, though I will suggest there may be some even more fantastic content in the design of the bizarre car driven by the main character. The short is mildly amusing, but nothing really special, but I’m glad that the mystery of this movie was solved and I was finally able to catch it.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

Article 3940 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-24-2012
Posting Date: 5-28-2012
Directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber
Featuring Herbert Stern, Hildegarde Watson, Melville Webber
Country: USA
What it is: Arty Poe adaptation

A traveler arrives at the house of Usher to discover that Roderick’s sister has been buried alive.

This isn’t the only adaptation of this Poe story from 1928; I covered the striking Jean Epstein version some time ago. Yet this one is equally striking, and it uses some truly astonishing camera tricks. At only 13 minutes, it is an extremely condensed version of the story, and I suspect if you aren’t familiar with the story, you’ll have a pretty tough time figuring out what’s going on. Still, I would be hard pressed to pick between the two versions; both are highly effective and have compelling imagery, with this one using the image of a hammer quite effectively. It’s worth catching.

Haunted Spooks (1920)

Article 3939 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-22-2012
Posting Date: 5-27-2012
Directed by Alfred J. Goulding and Hal Roach
Featuring Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Wallace Howe
Country: USA
What it is: Comic haunted house short

A boy courts an unmarried girl who is the heiress to a fortune, provided she stays there one year with her husband. However, he has rivals for the girl’s affection, and there’s a scheming uncle who wants the inheritance for himself…

This is my only encounter so far with Harold Lloyd in my series, and even though I can’t say I’m familiar with his work, I suspect that this isn’t one of the high points. Still, it’s a pretty decent take on the old haunted house comedy, even though I think the comic high point (Lloyd tries unsuccessfully to commit suicide) comes before we even reach the haunted house section. The film also suffers a bit from the stereotypical scared black, with the entire work crew of the house panicking when they hear the place is haunted. Of course, it’s not really haunted, and we all know that early on. But as far as silent haunted house short comedies go, I think I’ll still opt for Buster Keaton’s THE HAUNTED HOUSE.

The Electric Grandmother (1982)

aka Ray Bradbury’s The Electric Grandmother
Article 3938 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-22-2012
Posting Date: 5-26-2012
Directed by Noel Black
Featuring Maureen Stapleton, Edward Herrmann, Paul Benedict
Country: USA
What it is: Bittersweet science fantasy

A family grieving the loss of the mother decide to take advantage of an offer to get a robot grandmother. The new grandmother wins the hearts of the father and the two boys, but will she be able to win over the inconsolable daughter?

I was a little disappointed by this adaptation of the Ray Bradbury story “I Sing the Body Electric” during the first twenty minutes; I found it lacking in that poetic verve I expect from a Bradbury adaptation. However, the movie does a quick turnaround once the grandmother arrives and the story begins to focus on her relationship with the daughter, whose grief has given way to bitterness and anger. It is the movie’s focus on grief and the fear of loss that gives it its dimension, and it effectively taps into that desire that those we love will be with us forever by giving us a parental figure who won’t go away; the final scene in which the children have become old enough to be grandparents themselves is very moving. The movie isn’t flashy, but it resonates emotionally and it keeps its magic simple. Recommended.

The Jungle Book (1967)

Article 3937 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-17-2012
Posting Date: 5-25-2012
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Featuring the voices of Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Bruce Reitherman
Country: USA
What it is: Animated fantasy

An abandoned baby is raised by wolves in the jungle. When a man-hating tiger returns to the area, a panther undertakes to escort the young boy to the man-village for safety, but the boy wants to remain in the jungle and runs away. Can the panther and a bear befriended by the boy save him before he encounters the tiger?

This is the first movie I actually saw in a theater, so it’s no surprise that I have a real affection for the movie. Had there been home video in those days, I probably would have gotten a copy and seen it over and over again. As it is, many years passed before I saw it again, and by that time, I’d had a chance to see many of Disney’s other animated features, and I came to the sad realization that it didn’t rank with the company’s very best work. Watching it now, I think the primary problem I have with it is that its episodic structure makes the movie seem a bit aimless, and though there is talk of Shere Khan the tiger, he really doesn’t appear until the movie is half over. I think the movie would have worked better had Shere Khan appeared much earlier in the action; it would have added an urgency to the trek to bring the boy to the village. I do like the choice of George Sanders as the voice of the tiger. Still, the one thing I remember most from the initial viewing in the theater is Mowgli’s encounter with the orangutan king, and that remains my favorite musical moment from the movie. And if I don’t place the movie in the front rank of Disney’s animated features, I do at least recognize it as being one of the strongest of Disney’s animated movies from that period in their history.