Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948)

Article #1382 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-26-2004
Posting Date: 5-25-2005
Directed by Irving Pichel
Featuring William Powell, Ann Blyth, Irene Harvey

A man coming to terms with his having reached the age of fifty catches a mermaid and falls in love with her, to the frustration of his wife.

Most of the movies about mermaids that I’ve seen aspire to be comedies, and I think this is because a mermaid is one of the sillier mythological creatures. If this one is aspiring to be a comedy, it’s not a good one; outside of the usual gags about people talking about mermaids and other people thinking they’re crazy, the only real humor here is a running joke involving a man who has just given up smoking and drinking. Still, I don’t think this is meant to be a comedy but a drama; the problem I have with it is that it is too subdued to be really effective as either one or the other. It does have a definite theme; Mr. Peabody’s attempt to cope with his aging has a fair amount of substance to it. Unfortunately, the movie fails to make this theme very compelling to me, but that may be a matter of age; as the psychiatrist puts it at one point in the movie, it’s useless discussing these issues with someone who is too young, and since I’m still a few years short of fifty, there is a chance that I simply won’t get it for a few years. Right now I find this one rather dullish, but with a few good things about it. Ann Blyth is extremely attractive as one of the two title characters (you decide which one), and the best scene in the movie is her underwater dance after she overhears Mr. Peabody admitting that he loves her. In fact, I like the mermaid special effects throughout the movie. Maybe I’ll watch it again when I hit fifty.

Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

Article #1381 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-25-2004
Posting Date: 5-24-2005
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Featuring Charles Chaplin, Mady Correll, Allison Roddan

A former bank clerk tries to support his wife and child by becoming a Bluebeard; he marries and then murders women for their money.

This is only the second time I’ve touched upon Chaplin in my cinematic wanderings through fantastic cinema; the first, a weak caveman comedy (HIS PREHISTORIC PAST) was hardly representative of his work. This one is much better, though the fantastic content (the concept of a serial killer is a common horror theme) is even slighter, and it is also unrepresentative of Chaplin’s work in that it places Chaplin in a role that is so different from his “Little Tramp” character that it’s somewhat jarring. Chaplin is trying to pull off some very difficult tricks here; though he’s a serial killer, Verdoux is not portrayed as unsympathetic. You feel his real love for his family, and you can see that underneath it all there’s a real regret for the circumstances that drove him to his current situation; there’s something very powerful about the scene where he chooses not to test a new poison on a vagrant when he discovers that her life has been very similar to his, but that she has not lapsed into his cynicism. Most of the obvious comedy comes with his scenes with Martha Raye, who plays an incredibly lucky person; not only does she keep winning lotteries, but she manages (through sheer luck) to thwart every attempt that is made on her life.

Despite the comic scenes, the movie is ultimately satirical and has a controversial message. Censors of the time had trouble with the subversive nature of the film, and that is to be expected. This message doesn’t manifest itself until the end of the movie, and it does bear considering even if the very act of doing so leaves you feeling uneasy.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

Article #1380 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-24-2004
Posting Date: 5-23-2005
Directed by William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt
Featuring James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, Dick Powell

Fairies play havoc with the lives of lovers and actors that find themselves in the woods late at night.

Several of Shakespeare’s plays have fantastic elements, though this one (along with THE TEMPEST) probably has the greatest amount. This one sticks fairly close to Shakespeare’s language, and sweetens things with the addition of the music of Felix Mendelssohn and Eric Wolfgang Korngold. There’s also some balletic dance sequences, and a plethora of familiar Hollywood faces and names, almost all of which do a fine job. The cast includes James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, Dick Powell, Mickey Rooney, Victor Jory, Ian Hunter, Olivia de Havilland, Grant Mitchell, Frank McHugh, Hugh Herbert, Arthur Treacher, Billy Barty, Kenneth Anger and Angelo Rossitto, and those are just the names I recognize. Visually, it’s stunning, particularly in the scenes involving the fairies; any fan of fantasy will definitely want to take in some of these moments. It does have some problems; if you throw in the overture and the end music, the movie runs two hours and twenty-two minutes, and it could use some pruning throughout its length, In particular, we do have too many sequences of fairies scampering about to little or no purpose. It’s also easy to get annoyed with Mickey Rooney’s Puck; his laugh (which goes up the musical scale and ends with a screech) is overused, as is his character. On the plus side, the comedy is actually quite funny at times (actually being funny wasn’t one of Shakespeare’s strengths), thanks to some shrewd casting. Any movie which gives you a chance to see James Cagney blow kisses to Joe E. Brown through Hugh Herbert’s parted fingers is worth at least one viewing.

Manfish (1956)

MANFISH (1956)
Article #1379 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-23-2004
Posting Date: 5-22-2005
Directed by W. Lee Wilder
Featuring John Bromfield, Victor Jory, Lon Chaney Jr.

When a sailor discovers a skeleton at the bottom of the sea holding a bottle, he retrieves a ring and a map from it. He then tries to force the man with the matching ring to produce his half of the map so they go treasure hunting.

Don’t let the title fool you; this is not a variant on THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON; the manfish of the title is the name of a boat. And don’t let the fact that the movie is adapted from two Poe stories lead you into thinking it’s a horror movie; “The Gold Bug” is one of Poe’s non-horror stories, and the borrowings from “The Tell-Tale Heart” have little horror content to them. Yet, because of the title and the Poe and Chaney connections, some people lump this in to the horror category when it’s really just an adventure story of sorts with a small snatch of horror at times. On the plus side, some of the underwater imagery is memorable, Chaney has a decent role as the only really likable major character, Jory does a good job with his role even if he does chew the scenery a bit, and the Jamaican settings are suitably exotic. On the down side, the story isn’t much fun, especially as the two primary characters are both unpleasant characters; you get really tired of people calling each other “stupid” in the movie. It’s also turgidly directed, and even the Jamaican music isn’t particularly memorable. All in all, it’s a bit of a snoozer, if not totally worthless.

The Man in the Trunk (1942)

Article #1378 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-22-2004
Posting Date: 5-21-2005
Directed by Malcolm St. Clair
Featuring Lynne Roberts, George Holmes, Raymond Walburn

A lawyer makes a last ditch effort to save his client from execution when he discovers a body in a trunk that may end up clearing the man. He ends up with an unexpected sidekick when the dead man’s ghost also begins to take a hand in the proceedings.

Initially, I expected this comic mystery to be one of those movies that only got in under the bar due to marginal horror elements; the dead body in the trunk is a bit on the grisly side, and there is a moderately scary scene in an attic. The addition of the ghost to the mix puts it clearly into the realm of the fantastic. The ghost is largely used for comic purposes, and though his comic shtick threatens to become tiresome, Raymond Walburn’s bright performance keeps his character likable and fun. His best moments come from the character’s gimmick; he isn’t quite a “first-class ghost” yet, and so he’s unable to knock on tables or walk through walls. Some of his best bits involve him trying to get the humans around him to open locked doors for him. Still, his contributions to solving the mystery are pretty slight. In fact, the movie could have been done as a straight and somewhat suspenseful mystery had they omitted the ghost and made the prisoner on death row more sympathetic. This wouldn’t have solved the movie’s worst problem, though; the story itself is very confusing. Still, with the array of familiar names and faces in the cast (I recognized the names of J. Carrol Naish and Milton Parsons right off the bat, and though her name escaped me at first, I instantly recognized Eily Malyon), this proves to be a minor problem only.

Man in Black (1949)

Article #1377 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-21-2004
Posting Date: 5-20-2005
Directed by Francis Searle
Featuring Betty Ann Davies, Sheila Burrell, Sid James

When an old man dies as a result of a freak yoga “accident”, scheming relatives try to get hold of the heiress’s fortune by trying to frighten her into madness.

This movie starts out like an “old dark house” variant, but then shortly switches to a “Gaslight” variant. Given my general dislike for “Gaslight” variants, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how engaging this one is. There are actually a number of reasons for this. First of all, the movie doesn’t try to fool the viewer into thinking that any of the scare attempts are the result of real hauntings; we see and understand the scheming behind them from square one. Furthermore, the schemers consist of something more than a single man masquerading as a loving husband; here we have a conspiracy of three people, and at least one of them has designs of his own that threaten to undercut the plot. Another plus is that it is all put forth with a great deal of British wit and subtlety, and this keeps me engaged; most “Gaslight” variants seem rather crass and obvious in contrast. Perhaps the biggest plus of all is that the movie has some truly stunning tricks up its sleeve which it doesn’t start dealing out until the last fifteen minutes; as the movie nears its conclusion, you will be left wondering as to a) who is really going mad, b) who is falling into whose trap, and c) who is dead and who is alive. The ending is a real satisfying surprise. The title role is the narrator of the story, and he’s played by Valentine Dyall. Hammer fans will notice several familiar names in the credits, and sure enough, this is another one of Hammer’s earlier forays into horror. This one is highly recommended.

The Magic Carpet (1951)

Article #1376 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-20-2004
Posting Date: 5-19-2005
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Lucille Ball, John Agar, Patricia Medina

When a caliph is assassinated and a usurper takes his place at the throne, the original heir to the throne is spirited away on a flying carpet. Years later, the heir becomes a hero known as The Scarlet Falcon intent on removing the usurper from the throne.

This Arabian Nights epic never really gels; it either takes itself too seriously or not seriously enough; it depends on whether you consider the darker scenes (the torture sequence, the murder of the caliph and his family) or the lighter scenes (the hiccups sequence in particular) to be the ones that don’t belong. At any rate, there wouldn’t be much of interest to this one if it weren’t for the cast, but even the cast is a problem. John Agar does all right with the action scenes (and he seems to be having fun with them) but in the scenes where he’s supposed to be charming and sexy (such as the scene where the women of the harem flirt with him), he’s humorously wooden. And whatever her reputation as one of the greatest of television’s comedic actresses, Lucille Ball is so unconvincing as an Arabian Princess that she’s a major distraction; at least if she had been given the Patricia Medina role, she might have had a little comic shtick to do. I just read a piece of trivia that said that this movie was designed as a punishment to Lucille Ball for complaining about the quality of the roles she was getting, and I find this quite believable. Still, any movie in which Lucille Ball flirts with both John Agar and Raymond Burr is one that’s hard to ignore.