The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903)

THE KINGDOM OF THE FAIRIES (1903)
Article #370 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-20-2002
Posting date: 8-6-2002

A prince must go on a quest to save his betrothed from the clutches of an evil witch and her hellish minions.

Only a year after pioneering the science fiction epic, Melies takes on epic fantasy. Those who think of older movies as slow-moving should really check these very early films, which fit almost two hours of storyline into ten minutes. Granted, this one took some real concentration; unlike the other Melies films I’ve discussed, I had no handy narration to explain the action to me this time, but I managed all right. It even takes itself somewhat seriously, with the possible exception of the comic whale which pops up about halfway through the story. I can’t watch these early Melies films without feeling a bit of awe at the vast amount of special effects they contain: I can only imagine the amount of precision work that must have gone into this ten-minute picture.

Jasper (1942-1946)

JASPER (1942-1946) – short films
Article #369 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-19-2002
Posting date: 8-5-2002

The listing in the book I was using just said JASPER, and referred to a series of shorts directed by George Pal in the forties, so I decided to watch a handy sampling of them, specifically JASPER IN A JAM, JASPER IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE and OLIO FOR JASPER. These puppetoons are not likely to show up on TV these days, what with the broadly played black characters therein being quite stereotypical. Still, there is a real surreal charm to these things; they’re certainly more like cartoons than full-length movies, and the jazzy music is a real treat. It’s worth a look for anyone interested in the early years of George Pal.

***NOTE*** Since I posted this entry, I made the decision not to review whole series all at once, so this one is an anomaly.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)
Article #368 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-18-2002
Posting date: 8-4-2002

A doctor returning to the town of Santa Mira after a vacation notices a strangeness in the people. He eventually discovers that the town is being taken over by pods from outer space.

That this is an important and significant science fiction movie from the fifties I cannot deny; it is, in fact, archetypal in its portrayal of the themes of paranoia and loss of identity. But watching it again, I’m reminded of a comment I once read by Clifton Fadiman where he points out that some classic novels can be read again and again to gain new insights (Moby Dick was his example), while others can be read once and never need be picked up again (Tom Jones), though these novels may be no less great. I think this comment applies to movies, too, and I have to admit that the only time I really enjoyed this movie was the first time I saw it. For me, a lot of the tension had to do with not knowing what was going on; on rewatching it, I know all too well what’s going on, and I get bored. Granted, there are still some scenes that hit home, especially the scene on the highway that almost closes the picture (and from the point of view of many, should have closed the picture), but chances are if I watch it again in the future, it will be more out of duty than eagerness.

Jungle Woman (1944)

JUNGLE WOMAN (1944)
Article #367 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-17-2002
Posting date: 8-3-2002

A scientist recovers the body of Paula Dupree, the ape woman, only to discover that she is still alive.

Universal must have made this one for lovers of CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN; in fact, they must have figured that lovers of that movie would like to see a lot of the same footage again, so a good part of the first twenty minutes of this movie (which runs just over an hour) is made up of footage from that movie. They obviously weren’t investing a lot of money in the series. I think the makeup for J. Carrol Naish was very good; I had to double-check the credits to make sure that was him at first. They also give far too much dialogue to Acquanette, who is more effective when she doesn’t say anything. Mostly, the movie wastes its time having people wonder if Paula is actually the same as Cheela, the ape; we already know this is true. Ultimately, the movie is a rehash and a waste of time.

An Impossible Voyage (1904)

AN IMPOSSIBLE VOYAGE (1904)
Article #366 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-16-2002
Posting date: 8-2-2002

Several travellers take a bizarre journey that eventually brings them to the sun itself.

This is another of Melies’ more extended shorts, and it hones pretty closely to the story format he came up with for A TRIP TO THE MOON. This time, after a few misadventures (including a bad car crash), they end up driving a train into the mouth of the sun, and they don’t even notice how hot it is until the sun rises. Entertaining, but once again, if you can get a narrated version, it helps. The one I saw was both narrated and hand-colored. It also may well be one of Melies’ funniest works.

His Prehistoric Past (1914)

HIS PREHISTORIC PAST (1914)
Article #365 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-15-2002
Posting date: 8-1-2002

The little tramp dreams he is a castaway in stone-age times.

I once said that the primary reason for caveman movies was to see dinosaurs, plus women in skimpy outfits. Well, there’s women in this one, but the outfits are none too skimpy, and instead of dinosaurs, we have Charlie Chaplin. This should seem like a fair trade; after all, Chaplin was considered a comic genius. Unfortunately, this pointless, aimless and tiresome set of slapstick gags features the genius on one of his off-days; there is nary a laugh to be had, and you really begin to wish a slurpasaur would show up. Where’re Ignatz and Rumsford when you need them?

Hercules Unchained (1959)

HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959)
Article #364 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-14-2002
Posting date: 7-31-2002

Hercules tries to prevent a war between the two sons of Oedipus, but ends up ensnared by the evil queen of Lydia.

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite sword and sandal movies; like its predecessor (HERCULES), it begins with a specific story in Greek mythology; in this case the Seven Against Thebes legend about the struggle between Eteocles and Polynieces for the kingdom of Thebes. Then, about thirty minutes into the movie, it takes a turn into typical sword and sandal territory; namely, Hercules is seduced by an evil queen. Still, it doesn’t stint on the spectacle, especially in the last half hour of the movie. Plus, Hercules gets to wrestle with Antaeus (Primo Carnera) at one point, gets to throw a big table at a bunch of hapless guards, fights a tiger, and bends some bars (underwater this time; is their no limit to this man’s talents?). Sword and sandal doesn’t get more fun than this.

The Black Room (1935)

THE BLACK ROOM (1935)
Article #363 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-13-2002
Posting date: 7-30-2002

A corrupt baron unpopular with his subjects turns his domain over to his twin brother, while in actuality killing him and taking his place.

Other than the presence of a curse on the baron’s family and the presence of Karloff, this really isn’t a horror movie; it’s more of a costume melodrama. It is, however, one of Boris Karloff’s finest perfomances, playing both the evil Gregor and his kindly brother Anton, and finally, playing Gregor playing Anton; this is what dual roles are all about. It’s this performance that makes this movie more than a standard melodrama, and shows superbly the range of Karloff’s talent.

Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)

BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER (1960)
Article #362 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-12-2002
Posting date: 7-29-2002

A pilot on a test flight breaks the time barrier and ends up 64 years in the future, after a plague has decimated the earth.

This is one of those movies that really aspires to be a serious science fiction drama; it’s also a movie plagued with an incredible amount of talk, and a budget so low that you spend a lot of the movie wondering how some of the scenes might have come off if a little more money had been thrown its way. Robert Clarke produced this one, and he got Edgar G. Ulmer to direct, but Ulmer was either past his prime at this point or simply didn’t have enough resources to do more than he did; I find none of the atmosphere that permeated his earlier genre movies, and the movie becomes a long, difficult slog. It’s a bit of a shame; I think there’s some interesting things going on here, but it was really hard not to get distracted. Chalk it up as another one that may have to wait until I’m really in the right mood for it.

Before I Hang (1940)

BEFORE I HANG (1940)
Article #361 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 3-11-2002
Posting date: 7-28-2002

A doctor convicted of murder (a mercy killing) tests a dangerous serum on himself right before his execution, and when he has a stay of execution, discovers that the serum restores youth. However, since the blood of a murderer was used to create the serum, it also turns him homicidal.

I have no doubt that Boris Karloff got quite weary of playing essentially the same character in movie after movie, but then one of the reasons he was typecast in this way was because he was extremely good at that character. The Columbia mad-scientist series were not innovative; they were conceived not as works of art but as product, but that doesn’t make them worthless. They were done with a certain amount of professionalism, and were therefore quite watchable. Karloff is quite good, as expected, and the movie is a fairly solid time-killer; still, one is glad for Karloff that the next decade would return him to the stage, and give him more of a chance to stretch himself than this movie gives him.