How to Steal the World (1968)

Article 2062 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-6-2006
Posting Date: 4-5-2007
Directed by Sutton Roley
Featuring Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Barry Sullivan

When a well-intentioned former UNCLE agent comes by a formula that allows total control of anyone’s will, he kidnaps several noted scientists to help him put into effect a plan to use the formula to put an end to violence and evil in the world. Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin are called upon to stop him.

This movie was culled from the final two episodes of “The Man from UNCLE” TV series, and, quite frankly, you can see that the series had gone downhill. Both Vaughn and McCallum seem to show little interest in the proceedings, and, despite the fact that the story is interesting, the direction is uninspired. Still, there are some good performances here; in particular, Leslie Nielsen gives an excellent performance in an interesting role as a General who is a firm believer in the ends justifying the means, and the conflict between him and Barry Sullivan’s character (as the former UNCLE agent who has hired him as a security expert) adds a lot of interest to the proceedings. I also really took notice of Leo G. Carroll here; his ability to express in his face thoughts that cannot be revealed through his terse dialogue, and his performance in the final moments of this one is great. On a side note, I would like to point out that helicopters play a much bigger role in the proceedings here than they did in THE HELICOPTER SPIES.


The Golden Beetle (1907)

Article 2061 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-5-2006
Posting Date: 4-4-2007
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast Unknown

A magician finds a golden beetle and casts it into a cauldron. It turns into a winged woman who creates a spectacular fountain, and then has the magician cast into a cauldron.

If you get a chance to see this silent short, try to find the hand-tinted version; it is colored exquisitely, especially during the fountain sequence. Plotwise it’s pretty much the same sort of thing that Melies does, but if it lacks the wit of Melies, it does have a nice sense of poetry that Melies never attained. I suspect that this was one of the reasons that Melies eventually fell into disfavor; he was a cinema trickster rather than a full-blown movie director, and he failed to grow as new techniques for story-telling developed. This short gives just a hint of some of the directions he could have gone with his work.


The Damnation of Faust (1903)

Article 2060 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-4-2006
Posting Date: 4-3-2007
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast Unknown (though I’m betting that’s Melies himself as Mephistopheles)

Faust goes to hell. Faust goes directly to hell. He does not pass go. He does not collect $200.

Do you get tired with the endless philosophizing in the Goethe’s Faust story and just wish they would get to the point where he’s dragged into hell? If so, this is the version of the story for you. Unlike yesterday’s scam, here’s a movie that earns its place in the canon of Fantastic cinema. Faust encounters all sorts of horrors on his trip, including a multi-tentacled creature, a gaggle of devils in their underwear (hey, it’s hot down there), and, worst of all, a bunch of ballerinas and marching women with mops; I don’t know about you, but I’m quaking in my boots. Jonathan Edwards (author of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”), eat your heart out; these are horrors even you couldn’t imagine. And it only runs about four minutes.

Postscript -Thanks to Doctor Kiss for the clarification on the exact year on this one.


Ella Lola, a la Trilby (1898)

Article 2059 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-3-2006
Posting Date: 4-2-2007
Director Unknown
Featuring Ella Lola

Ella Lola performs a dance based on the character of Trilby. She twirls around and kicks her bare feet into the air. The movie ends.

This is officially now the earliest movie I’ve covered for this series. It is also a cheat – other than the fact that the character on which Ella Lola based her dance is from a story with certain horrific overtones, there is no fantastic content here. Which brings up an interesting point; do movies whose only fantastic content comes from association to a story that contains some qualify? I’d say not myself, but it’s easy to see why this movie got included in the list.

At least Melies would have turned her into a skeleton.


Long Distance Wireless Photography (1908)

Article 2058 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-2-2006
Posting Date: 4-1-2007
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies

An elderly couple visits an innovative photographer whose larger-than-life photographs come alive. All is fine until the old man decides to have his picture taken, and then…

More special effects silliness from Melies here. I’m not sure where the “long-distance” comes into play here; all of his photographs are of people or things right in the studio. Still, the vision of the old man’s face (which looks like that of a manic monkey puppet) is pretty memorable, and it’s full of fun-looking machinery. And remember to keep your fingers out of the electrical machinery!


The Fabulous Joe (1947)

Article 2057 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-1-2006
Posting Date: 3-31-2007
Directed by Harve Foster
Featuring Walter Abel, Margot Grahame, Marie Wilson

A businessman is surprised to discover that a dog he inherited can talk. The dog then proceeds to help him with his personal problems.

Given the fact that yesterday’s movie was THE DOG FACTORY, it seems like we’re on a run of canine films here. This Hal Roach Jr. production mines the same sort of laughs that the “Francis, the Talking Mule” do, though, for my money, this one is funnier. There are several reasons for this. One is that the movie is less bland; in fact, it gets rather racy at times, with part of the plot revolving around a bedroom farce situation in which a married man must hide a partially clothed woman from his wife and her relatives and friends. Another is that it doesn’t belabor the obvious joke; there is only one scene here where our hapless hero finds himself having to convince other people that the dog talks. And another is that, with a running time under an hour, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s silly and dumb, but good for a few fun laughs. My favorite scene involves the mixing of a drink called “The Mystery Gardenia”.


Dog Factory (1904)

Article 2056 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-31-2006
Posting Date: 3-30-2007
Director Unknown
Cast Unknown

Enterprising businessmen maintain a thriving business turning dogs into sausages – and back again.

The concept of a machine that would turn dogs into sausages actually pops up a few times in early cinema. Apparently, this was a common theme in vaudeville at the time as well. Apparently, turning a dog into sausages doesn’t hurt him, and if you want him back, just pop the sausages back in and voila! Instant Dog. This movie stretches the idea to four minutes and pretty much exhausts the premise. My favorite touch – the sausages are hung on several hooks in the shop, each marked with the breed of dog the sausage came from.

Ahh, the joys of early movie-making…