Three Wise Fools (1946)

THREE WISE FOOLS (1946)
Article #718 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-3-2003
Posting Date: 7-31-2003
Directed by Edward Buzzell
Featuring Margaret O’Brien, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone

The three guardians of an orphaned Irish girl try to get hold of her property, which contains a tree she believes is inhabited by fairies.

All right, you have Margaret O’Brien as a sweet delightful young girl brimming with youthful vivacity and Irish charm going up against three curmudgeonly cynics, one of whom is played by Lionel Barrymore, who has always seemed to me to be the one actor most inclined to play the role of a crusty old curmudgeon whose heart would melt at the charm and vivacity of a orphaned irish girl. If you’re a betting man, you should know on whom to place your money in this battle of wills.

And incidentally, the whole movie is narrated by a pixie (as played by Henry Davenport, who I’ve always like as an actor, even a role like this).

When I embarked on this survey of fantastic films, I knew there would be movies like this. Therefore, I will offer no excuses; I’ve made my bed, and I’m sleeping in it.

Oh, and take your insulin shot; you’ll need it.

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Saadia (1953)

SAADIA (1953)
Article #717 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-2-2003
Posting Date: 7-30-2003
Directed by Albert Lewin
Featuring Cornel Wilde, Mel Ferrer, Rita Gam

A French doctor plying his trade in Morocco falls for a girl named Saadia.

If the above description fails to contain any information to explain why this movie falls within the purview of a survey of fantastic cinema, there’s a reason; though there are elements here that are often found in horror films (specifically, the presence of a witch who is jealous of the doctor’s success in both taking away her trade and the companionship of Saadia, and her attempts to lay a curse on him), the movie only uses these elements to point up a recurring theme of the power of the mind to overcome limitations of the body, and the movie never falls into real horror territory. The movie doesn’t appear to be well loved, probably due to the fact that it is very subdued, almost somnambulent at times. It does have a nice sense of exotic culture in the colorful locations and the dancing and singing of the natives, but you really need to be in a pretty patient laid-back mood to enjoy it, and even then, it never really becomes anything more than a fair movie. In short, this is highly marginal and not required viewing.

For Heaven’s Sake (1950)

FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE (1950)
Article #716 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-1-2003
Posting Date: 7-29-2003
Directed by George Seaton
Featuring Clifton Webb, Joan Bennett, Robert Cummings

An angel attempts to help the spirit of an unborn child to manifest herself in the lives of two self-involved theatrical types.

As a self-involved theatrical type myself, the thought that some disembodied spirit has been hanging around me for several years waiting for me to start propagating is pretty scary; nonetheless, this isn’t a horror movie. It’s also not particularly funny or compelling; Clifton Webb can be a fun actor, but watching him spend most of the movie trying to imitate Gary Cooper and making colorful cowpoke metaphors (many with the word “tick” in the title) makes me wish they had gotten Walter Brennan instead. Edmund Gwenn is also on hand, and even though he has long been one of my favorite actors, even he needs something a little less slight than his angelic adviser role here. Joan Blondell steals the movie by just being there, and Whit Bissell is also on hand as a psychiatrist. And if there are any disembodied spirts hanging around my apartment, I’m giving them a fair warning; I’m spraying next week.

Sylvia and the Phantom (1945)

SYLVIA AND THE PHANTOM (1945)
Article #715 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-28-2003
Posting Date: 7-28-2003
Directed by Claude Autant-Lara
Featuring Odette Joyeux, Jacques Tati, Francois Perier

The father of a young woman who has sworn not to marry due to her love for an ancestral phantom decides to hire an actor to impersonate the phantom at a ball.

This movie is sitting with a low rating on IMDB, and I wonder if it might be due to the fact that Jacques Tati, who is better known for his Monsieur Hulot comedies, appears in it; it is certainly not what a fan of his work might expect. Me, I found the subtitles a little confusing on occasion, and I’m sure that I missed some of the subtleties, but ultimately I was charmed by the whole affair. Much of it has to do with the appealing characters that appear throughout the story, and the fact that the story never quite falls out the way I would expect. It’s a gentle, funny and sad movie, and I found myself totally caught up in it. Nonetheless, the low rating at IMDB does serve as a bit of a warning, and Jacques Tati fans in particular may be disappointed.

Fantasia (1940)

FANTASIA (1940)
Article #714 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-27-2003
Posting Date: 7-27-2003
Featuring Leopold Stokowski, Deems Taylor

Several pieces of classical music are presented with accompanying animation.

At least one of my reference books points out that most animated movies would fall under the category of fantastic cinema, what with their obsession with talking animals and the like, but I have covered precious little animation so far, because the books I’ve been using so far for this project omit them on principle. This is one of the exceptions, which may seem odd for what is essentially a series of mood pieces. Nonetheless, it definitely qualifies; fantasy fans can enjoy “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (with Mickey Mouse trying to keep an animated broom under control) and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. The latter features an endless parade of satyrs, centaurs, unicorns and flying horses, all done in Disney’s cutest style, and would win my vote for what is far and away the dullest segment of the movie. Science fiction fans can enjoy the “Rite of Spring” segment, which covers the creation of the world and features extensive dinosaur animation (and not a single dinosaur has a squeaky “land-before-time” kiddie voice, thank goodness), while horror fans can enjoy the demonic and very un-Disneyesque “Night on Bald Mountain” segment; rumors abound that the demon here was drawn around footage of Bela Lugosi. Horror fans will definitely recognize the melody of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, even if it’s played by a full orchestra and not John Carradine at an organ. Nonetheless, my favorite segment is “Dance of the Hours”, a ballet populated by the most singularly ungraceful array of creatures to ever dance their way to your funny bone. Disney had hoped to regularly rerelease the movie with new segments on a regular basis, but that plan was axed when the movie proved to be a monumental flop on its initial release. Time has been more than kind to it.

House of Fear (1939)

HOUSE OF FEAR (1939)
Article #713 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2003
Posting Date: 7-26-2003
Directed by Joe May
Featuring Irene Harvey, William Gargan, Alan Dinehart

An actor is murdered during a performance of a play, and his body vanishes soon afterwards. A year later, a policeman tries to solve the mystery by reopening the play in the same theater, now said to be haunted by the actor’s ghost.

Cross your basic “old dark house” movie with “The Phantom of the Opera”, and this is what you get; an “old dark theater” movie. This one is slightly better than average for this kind of thing, with some interesting and surprising plot twists, as well as a fairly entertaining array of characters. The cast also features JUST IMAGINE’s El Brendel as (surprise, surprise) a Scandinavian stagehand. The director’s name also rang a bell with me; Joe May directed a couple of Fritz Lang scripts during the silent years, including THE INDIAN TOMB.

Hellzapoppin’ (1941)

HELLZAPOPPIN’ (1941)
Article #712 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-25-2003
Posting Date: 7-25-2003
Directed by H. C. Potter
Featuring Ole Olson, Chick Johnson, Martha Raye

If you think a plot description will tell you anything about this movie, you’re on the wrong track.

Having already encountered Olsen and Johnson in GHOST CATCHERS, I was prepared enough not to be blindsided by this one. Any movie this wild is bound to slip over into fantastic cinema territory a few times before it’s all through, so here’s a few of the genre elements: the opening musical number takes place in hell, at one point both Olsen and Johnson become half invisible (one from the waist up, the other from the waist down), and the Frankenstein monster pops in for a cameo at one point. As for the rest, try to imagine Busby Berkeley, Spike Jones and Tex Avery all pooling their talents to put together a live-action movie, and you might have an idea of the mayhem in store. Once again, there are so many gags that the bad ones don’t count, though my favorite is a CITIZEN KANE reference. The actors talk directly to the audience (specifically to the projectionist played by Shemp Howard), run into trouble from the Hays office, encounter talking animals and the world’s fastest quick-change master of disguise, and interrupt a romantic musical number by requesting that Stinky Miller leave the theater and go home. Actually, the big finish where Olsen and Johnson try to wreck a musical revue to save their friend from marrying a (censored) is relatively sedate compared to the first half of the movie, but that’s only because the first half is nearly impossible to beat. Elisha Cook Jr. is on hand. He gets shot several times. I won’t tell you whether he dies or not. I suspect that both Mel Brooks and Zucker-Abraham-Zucker could have been inspired by these guys.