The Kid (1921)

THE KID (1921)
Article 4732 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-8-2015
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Featuring Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Jackie Coogan
Country: USA
What it is: Heartwarming comedy

A single mother abandons her child in a limousine in a moment of desperation, but the limo is stolen by thieves and the baby is left out in the street. A wandering tramp discovers the child, and eventually decides to raise it as his own. However, later in life, the woman becomes a successful actress, and she begins to long for the child she abandoned…

No, this movie is in essence not a genre movie, but the Walt Lee guide includes the film for a single sequence; late in the movie, the tramp falls asleep in a doorway and dreams that he is in heaven, which is a wonderful place until some devils show up to make mischief. Though it’s a fun sequence, it feels a bit out of place with the rest of the movie, and its purpose is to serve as a transition scene that eventually leads to the final ending. Still, I’m really glad for the opportunity to cover one of Chaplin’s major early works, where he turned away from pure slapstick and started adding an emotional resonance to his work that made it a deeper cinematic experience. Yes, Chaplin does have some great comic moments in this one (I love how he can sometimes with a single look or action reveal what is going through his mind), but the core of the movie is his relationship with the child, who was played by a 7-year old Jackie Coogan, who gives an excellent performance as well. We end up caring for all of the major characters, and this includes the mother, who almost immediately regrets her abandonment of the child and returns to the place she left him, only to find the child gone. This is a wonderful movie, and it’s a good example of the maturity of Chaplin’s craft; it’s one of the reasons he became one of the most respected comedians of this era.

The Time Crystal (1981)

aka Through the Magic Pyramid
Article 4731 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-7-2015
Directed by Ron Howard
Featuring Chris Barnes, Hans Conried, Vic Tayback
Country: USA
What it is: Children’s time-travel sword and sandal movie

A boy with a fascination for all things Egyptian is given a pyramid-shaped crystal that propels him back in time to ancient Egypt. There he becomes embroiled in a plot to kill the Pharaoh Akhenaten and to prevent the rightful heir, Prince Tutankhamen from ascending to the throne.

After sitting through about twenty minutes of this movie, I popped into IMDB out of curiosity to see what its rating would be, and I was initially astonished to see a rating of 7.2. Then I had to remind myself that this was, after all, a children’s movie that had fallen into obscurity, and sure enough, when I read the user comments on the movie, it told a familiar story; most of them come from people who remember seeing it as a child, it had a big impact on them, but they hadn’t seen it in many years. Actually, I can see why it might have a big impact; the main character is an awkward boy who feels bad over having made an embarrassing mistake at a football game, and who redeems himself by going into the past and rescuing the Prince from kidnappers, proving himself heroic and competent and defeating many evil adults along the way. This is the sort of story that hits home for kids of a certain age. Well, I won’t begrudge them their memories, but I think they’d be better off if they didn’t try to dredge up a copy to watch again. To these eyes, it looks like a silly juvenile low-budget sword and sandal movie with time travel thrown into the mix, and I didn’t find it remotely convincing. I hope I’m not the only one who finds it hard to swallow Vic Tayback as an ancient Egyptian, but at least I managed to get my mind around that after a bit; seeing Jo Anne Worley as one was really beyond the pale. Well, at least it has Hans Conried, who I always enjoy. And, to the movie’s credit, it gets better as it goes along. It even has one really good scene when we reach the death of Akhenaten. Beyond that, I can’t really recommend this one.

Ten Little Indians (1974)

aka Ein Unbekannter rechnet ab
Article 4730 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-6-2015
Directed by Peter Collinson
Featuring Charles Aznavour, Maria Rohm, Adolfo Celi
Country: Italy / West Germany / France / Spain / UK
What it is: Agatha Christie mystery

Eight guests are invited to a party at a mansion in the middle of a desert by a host named U.N. Owen, but the host is not present; only two servants are found on the premises. Then a recording is played where the host accuses all ten people of having committed murder. Then the guests and the help begin dying one by one…

For the record, I’ve seen the Rene Clair movie AND THEN THERE WERE NONE twice, and I’ve also read the stage play version of the story twice, once within the last few months. In short, I’m very familiar with the story, and seeing how it’s one of Christie’s most popular works, I’m sure it’s familiar to a lot of other people are as well. And therein lies one of the pitfalls of filming an extremely well known mystery story; the only way you’re really going to surprise a viewer already familiar with the work is by being unfaithful to the story. For the record, this version changes some of the details; for example, the setting is a mansion in the middle of a desert rather than on an island (in either case, there’s no way for the people to leave), and the methods of several of the murders are different, but in essence, it remains faithful to the traditional versions of the story. Still, there are two things that I really like about this one. First of all, I find it hard to dislike any movie that features Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer, Herbert Lom, Richard Attenborough, Gert Frobe, Maria Rohm and Adolfo Celi all at once (all these names together can’t help my make me smile), and the interior sets are stunning; no wonder there are so many long shots in the movie placing all the actors against these sets. Some of the scenes work quite nicely, and there are a couple of clumsy moments, but overall, I rather liked this version of the movie. It just didn’t have a lot in the way of surprises.

The Headless Horseman (1922)

Article 4729 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-5-2015
Directed by Edward D. Venturini
Featuring Will Rogers, Lois Meredith, Ben Hendricks Jr.
Country: USA
What it is: A tale of rival lovers

A superstitious Yankee teacher takes up his profession in a small Dutch village and begins romancing the daughter of a rich landowner, much to the chagrin of another suitor of the daughter. However, tales abound of a ghost known as the Headless Horseman…

If I were to make a movie about the Headless Horseman, I would jettison the Washington Irving story about it and build my own one around it. Why? Because I’ve always had personal problems with the story. The horror fan in me wants the Headless Horseman to be a real supernatural entity, and, if my memory is correct, nothing in the story explicitly states that it isn’t. However, there’s a part of me that wants the tale as told to be a single, unified whole, and if the Horseman is truly a supernatural entity, then that leaves the whole story of Crane’s and Bone’s struggle for the woman’s hand to be so much filler, and that hardly leaves one with the sense of a unified whole. As a result, the story never totally satisfies.

I bring this up because if there’s one thing I will credit this movie for, it’s for making explicit the nature of the Headless Horseman. So perhaps I’m not surprised that the movie has a weak reputation; almost every review on IMDB sees it as a pretty pallid affair in compare to the Disney version from the forties. And, to tell the truth, it is rather pallid. I do find the presence of Will Rogers as Ichabod Crane interesting, but the sad fact of the matter is that Will Rogers’ humor was mostly verbal, and a silent movie gives him little opportunity to display it. Furthermore, another problem with the story is that neither Crane nor Bones are sympathetic characters; you grow to dislike them both, and you find yourself wishing that the woman would opt for neither one. As for the Headless Horseman himself, outside of a short token appearance near the beginning of the movie, he doesn’t pop up until the last four minutes, so I suspect horror fans will be rather disappointed by this one. And though I do have problems with the Disney version, at least that one is consistently entertaining.

Time of Roses (1969)

aka Ruusujen aika
Article 4728 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-4-2015
Directed by Risto Jarva
Featuring Arto Tuominen, Ritva Vepsa, Tarja Markus
Country: Finland
What it is: Science fiction art film

In the year 2011, a civil servant who makes documentaries for the state chooses as his subject an ordinary woman forty years earlier and studies her life in order to gain an understanding of the time. Towards that end, he recruits a woman who looks like her, but this woman associates with people who disapprove of the documentarian and the policies of the state.

Here’s something you don’t encounter everyday; a Finnish science fiction art film. As I’d expect from such a movie, it’s light on special effects and heavy on political talk. My copy was apparently designed for English speaking audiences; not only does it have English subtitles, but the opening scenes feature long voice-overs in English explaining the basic situation of the movie; I suspect that these voice-overs were not in the original Finnish version. Actually, I’m grateful for them; given that my copy of the movie is hardly in pristine condition, it makes up for the fact that many of the English subtitles (in white on a black-and-white film, which means that when the background is white, you can’t read a thing) are unintelligible. The theme is basically about political manipulation of the media, which is certainly a topic that is still relevant today. The movie does make a few bows to being a science fiction movie; we see a strange new sport which looks like a cross between basketball and soccer, the movie seemingly predicts the use of personal cell phones, and there’s a scene where dancers in a nightclub wear headphones so no one else is bothered by the music. I’m less impressed by the scenes of (I think) drug use, where people sit in heap together and make strange hand gestures. I suppose it takes place in a dystopia of sorts, but except for a scene where a striker is murdered for breaking into the airwaves, we don’t get a lot of insight into just how this dystopia represses its citizens. All in all, I found it an interesting if flawed movie, but it’s pretty much for the art movie crowd.

Dream City (1973)

aka Traumstadt, Dream Town
Article 4727 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-3-2015
Directed by Johannes Schaaf
Featuring Per Oscarsson, Rosemarie Fendel, Olimpia
Country: West Germany
What it is: Art film

An artist and his wife are invited to live in a hidden city where the residents have complete freedom to pursue their work. However, they discover that “complete freedom” has a way of taking its toll on the human condition.

IMDB lists one of the taglines for this movie as “Bizarre like Fellini. Surreal like Bunuel. Explosive like Cocteau.”. I can see that. It’s also sometimes maddening like Kafka and funny like Monty Python. The trouble is I’m not sure that the movie achieves transcendence like the best works of any of those other people. I’m also not sure whether the movie ultimately has anything more to say than the attempt at this sort of Utopia would result in chaos and madness, a concept that seems rather obvious to me. What I do know is that the more chaotic and out-of-control the situation gets, the more strident and annoying the movie becomes. Maybe that’s why I prefer the first half of the movie when the city comes across as colorful and eccentric. My favorite scene in the first half involves the artist trying to get an audience permit to meet the founder of the city; my favorite scene in the second half is when we finally discover where the white horse that carries bodies through the city is going. In the end, I half like and half dislike the movie, but so much of it seems self-indulgent that I doubt I’ll be giving it another viewing any time soon.

The Devil’s Man (1967)

aka Devilman Story
Article 4726 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-2-2015
Directed by Paolo Bianchini
Featuring Guy Madison, Luisa Baratto, Diana Lorys
Country: Italy
What it is: Pseudo-Spyghetti

A journalist investigates the kidnapping of a scientist. His trail leads him to a secret in an African desert.

Because our hero is a journalist rather than a superspy, this doesn’t entirely qualify as an example of “Spyghetti”. However, it could be argued that that is the only sticking point here; the way the movie is plotted is pretty much identical with one of those movies, and the hero could have just as easily been a spy. it does, however, have a significant degree of science fiction content above and beyond the usual gadgetry found in that genre; several of the villain’s minions appear to be under a hypnotic control, and the plot involves the creation of an artificial brain capable of being placed in someone’s head that is not susceptible to the flaws of our organic ones. I don’t want to be too hard on this one; it’s a bit of a rarity, and my copy is in fairly wretched shape, and that makes watching the movie a little difficult; however, based on what I can make out, the movie seems ordinary at best, and like yesterday’s movie, it feels churned out. I’d have to see a better copy before I could give a more detailed critique.

Urban Warriors (1987)

Article 4725 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-1-2015
Directed by Giuseppe Vari
Featuring Bruno Bilotta, Alex Vitale, Bjorn Hammer
Country: Italy
What it is: An hour and a half of footage

Three computer technicians escape from their underground bunker to discover that it’s after the apocalypse, and roving gangs are killing people. They seek out other human beings (who are not in roving gangs killing people).

You know, every once in a while you encounter one of those movies whose sole reason for existence is to 1) employ stuntmen and second-unit directors, 2) provide fodder for the grindhouse circuit, and 3) serve as a platform for the use of stock footage. One gets the sense that the least important person in the making of the movie is the writer, and though it might be possible that the script and dialogue might be better in the original Italian version of the movie (rather than in the dubbed English version I saw), I really rather doubt it in this case. About the only plot element that is the least bit novel in this one is that the roving gangs are after spinal cord fluid (apparently as a side effect of the radiation), and that idea feels like it was lifted from an old forties horror movie. Furthermore, that plot element doesn’t make one iota of difference in the way the movie unfolds. So all we really have here is a lazy, bare-bones version of the after-the-apocalypse movie with as little intelligence used or care taken as possible. It’s ninety minutes of footage that has all been done better elsewhere.

Transmutations (1985)

aka Underworld
Article 4724 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-31-2014
Directed by George Pavlou
Featuring Denholm Elliott, Steven Berkoff, Larry Lamb
Country: UK
What it is: ’80s Horror

A prostitute is kidnapped by a gang of mutated humans. A crimelord hires a detective to track down the missing prostitute. It’s all tied to a mysterious drug that no one wants to talk about.

I really don’t have a strong familiarity with the work of Clive Barker at this point, but I’m aware of his reputation, and I know I’ve read at least one short story of his. This appears to be the first feature-length movie for which he wrote the script, so that makes it at least of historical interest. However, I’m aware that Barker himself has disowned the results, and the movie has a pretty low reputation; it’s rating of 3.6 on IMDB certainly doesn’t make it appear that the movie is viewed with great affection. As a result, I went into this one expecting the worst. Instead, I found myself liking a few things about it; there are offbeat touches to the story, and there’s the occasional moment I liked, such as the scene where the detective traps the thug who is tailing him… and invites him out for a drink. Granted, that doesn’t mean that the movie works; the movie is packed with an assortment of cliches, the pulsing eighties music is an annoyance, there’s a certain amount of silliness, and the direction isn’t exactly inspired. Ultimately, the weaknesses do dominate the movie, but that doesn’t mean that it’s devoid of interest; it’s a case of some good ideas having been badly handled. It’s bad, but hardly the worst I’ve seen.

Shogun Assassin (1980)

Article 4723 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-30-2014
Directed by Robert Houston
Featuring Tomisaburo Wakayama, Kayo Matsuo, Minoru Oki
Country: Japan / USA
What it is: Mystical samurai bloodbath

After his own master attempts to have him assassinated, a samurai executioner wanders the world pushing his son in a cart, seeking revenge and working as a paid assassin.

I’d heard about the Lone Wolf and Cub series years ago, but I was never sure whether I’d encounter any of the movies in my cinematic excursions. Well, here are the first two episodes of the series condensed into a single feature and given English dubbing. It’s as bloody as I’d been led to believe it would be (possibly even more-so), and some of the action is pretty outrageous. Yet, for some reason, it never really seems gratuitous nor falls into camp; there’s something elegant and poetic about the proceedings, even operatic at times. it’s one of those movies where a character, dying from having his throat slashed, waxes philosophic about the sound of the spray of blood from his neck… and you don’t roll your eyes in disbelief, because it just seems right for this movie. The fantastic content is a bit elusive, but there are comments about the assassin’s sword having mystical qualities, some of the assassin’s powers seem superhuman, there’s a definite surreal air to the proceedings, and the whole thing may take place in a fantasy land of some sort. At any rate, I found it hypnotic and entrancing, sometimes touching, and sometimes quite funny as well. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to react to this movie, but in the end, I was rather entranced by the whole thing.