Spooks (1931)

SPOOKS (1931)
Cartoon
Article 3185 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-4-2010
Posting Date: 5-4-2010
Directed by Ub Iwerks
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Funny skeleton cartoon

Flip the Frog takes refuge from a storm in a scary mansion where his host is a friendly skeleton. However, the skeleton has an ulterior motive; it turns out that Flip is just the right size to fill the box that will complete the skeleton’s skeleton collection.

Of course I feel deja vu; it’s another Ub Iwerks skeleton cartoon like yesterday’s. This one isn’t nearly as musically inclined, though there is a musical section which uses one of the same gags as SKELETON FROLICS; namely, a skeleton dancer breaking into two parts after each twirl. Flip the Frog is largely forgotten nowadays, but I kind of like him, mainly because he has a catchy little title melody. My favorite scene here has the host offering dinner to Flip – a chicken skeleton, which Flip finds inedible but feels he must be a gracious guest.

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Skeleton Frolics (1937)

SKELETON FROLICS (1937)
Cartoon
Article 3184 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-3-2010
Posting Date: 5-3-2010
Directed by Ub Iwerks
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Dancing skeleton cartoon

Skeletons arise from the graves and form a band.

There seems to be a sub-genre of musical skeleton cartoons during the early talkie era. This one is directed by Ub Iwerks, who worked as an animator for SKELETON DANCE in 1929, so he was returning to familiar ground. There’s no plot, but the animation is good and the gags are passable, and, unlike the others I’ve seen, this one is in color. This cartoon is available on the DVD of THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA.

Pigs is Pigs (1937)

PIGS IS PIGS (1937)
Cartoon
Article 3183 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-2-2010
Posting Date: 5-2-2010
Directed by Friz Freleng
Featuring the voices of Billy Bletcher, Bernice Hansen and Martha Wentworth
Country: USA
What it is: Animated glutton’s nightmare

A pig with an insatiable appetite has a nightmare where he is force-fed tons of food by an evil scientist.

It’s understandable that my memory incorrectly classified this one as a Porky Pig cartoon, but it isn’t; though Porky went through several changes in his evolution, he always maintained the stutter, and that is noticeably absent in the pig here. I also remember that this cartoon was the stuff of nightmares when I was a kid; despite the fact that this isn’t one of the great Looney Toons cartoons, if you’ve seen it as a kid, it sticks in the memory. Nowadays I appreciate it for the wittiness of the force-feeding inventions; in particular, a machine that serves pies functions like a jukebox, and an olive dispenser is modeled after a gumball machine (a mechanical hand has to keep feeding it pennies). Still, it’s a lot of fun seeing this one again; I hadn’t seen it in four decades.

Killer on the Loose (1936)

KILLER ON THE LOOSE (1936)
aka Killer at Large
Article 3182 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-1-2010
Posting Date: 5-1-2010
Directed by David Selman
Featuring Mary Brian, Russell Hardie, George McKay
Country: USA
What it is: B-Movie crime drama with slight horror elements

When a safe is robbed in a department store and the store manager is murdered, a clerk who is engaged to the female store detective is under suspicion. The detective must find the real killer.

The killer in this case is a designer of wax figures who also specializes in impersonating them, a gimmick that actually plays into the robbery/murder. This isn’t really a spoiler; the identity of the murderer is given to us fairly early in the proceedings, and the movie is more concerned with the pursuit of the criminal. The horror elements are slight; there’s a scene in a warehouse full of wax figures and a cemetery scene that provide some slight horror content, and the killer is a madman of sorts as well. Henry Brandon plays the killer, and he’s the best thing here; he comes across as convincingly malevolent. Still, there really isn’t much to this low-budget movie, though fans of Lon Chaney Jr. will find him here in a small role as one of the killer’s henchmen. All in all, a fairly minor b-movie.

Stop, Look and Listen (1949)

STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN (1949)
Animated cartoon
Article 3181 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-28-2010
Posting Date: 4-30-2010
Directed by Eddie Donnelly
Voice actors unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Animated serial operetta parody

Oilcan Harry has both Pearl Pureheart and Mighty Mouse tied to a bull that is running from a locomotive. Pearl’s father is rushing to drill an oil well to get the money to pay for her ransom. Will Mighty Mouse be able to save the day?

From what I’ve seen of the various Mighty Mouse shorts so far, I’m of the opinion that the series only really achieved transcendence when it introduced Pureheart and Oilcan Harry, took on serials and operetta, and lifted the whole concept to levels of hilarious absurdity. The use of music in these cartoons helps keep the action fast and lively. It takes Mighty Mouse three minutes to remember he has superpowers; if that doesn’t seem all that long, keep in mind that’s half the cartoon. These cartoons may very well represent the pinnacle of Terrytoons’s output.

Mickey’s Mechanical Man (1933)

MICKEY’S MECHANICAL MAN (1933)
Animated cartoon
Article 3180 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-27-2010
Posting Date: 4-29-2010
Director Unknown
Featuring the voices of Walt Disney and Marcellite Garner
Country: USA
What it is: Animated robot boxer short

Mickey is training a robot to battle a gorilla in the boxing ring. Complications ensue when he discovers that Minnie’s car horn drives the robot bonkers.

From this cartoon as well as THE ROBOT, I’ve come to the conclusion that boxing robots have been around (as an idea) for ages. As usual, this one is very well animated, but you’ll find the story utterly predictable; once you see how the robot reacts to Minnie’s car horn, you’ll know exactly how this short will play out. Still, how often do you get to see robots battling gorillas? Okay, there’s KING KONG ESCAPES, but it’s admittedly a rare notion.

One Arabian Night (1920)

ONE ARABIAN NIGHT (1920)
aka Sumurun
Article 3179 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2010
Posting Date: 4-28-2010
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Featuring Ernst Lubitsch, Pola Negri, Paul Wegener
Country: Germany
What it is: Arabian Nights epic

The beautiful favorite wife of a sheik is secretly in love with a handsome merchant. She hatches a plan to find another woman more beautiful than herself to lure the sheik into picking a new favorite wife, thereby leaving her free to pursue her affair. However, the woman she finds is a wild and unpredictable gypsy woman who is loved unrequitedly by a hunchback. Complications ensue.

The only fantastic content in this Arabian Nights story is the presence of a hunchback; other than that, the only reason I can think that this movie would qualify is by association, since many other Arabian Nights stories have more fantastic elements. Of the Lubitsch films I’ve seen for this series, this is my second favorite, but you must bear in mind that two of the others I’ve seen (THE EYES OF THE MUMMY and THAT LADY IN ERMINE) are considered his weakest movies, and this one is considered just a hair better. Lubitsch himself was extremely disappointed by his own performance as the hunchback here, and it was his last acting role. I quite liked the movie, though it is admittedly over the top, but the energy is very high, and it manages to tell its complicated story with verve and clarity. Much of the story is comedic, though it takes some tragic turns towards the end. Pola Negri is definitely memorable as the wild gypsy woman, and Paul Wegener shows up as the jealous sheik. My favorite story thread has the hunchback seeking solace from his pain by imbibing of a drug that puts him into a deathlike state, only to have his supine body embark on a series of unexpected adventures when it is stolen by thieves that mistake it for booty.