The Secret of Treasure Island (1938)

THE SECRET OF TREASURE ISLAND (1938)
Serial
Article 2534 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-13-2008
Posting Date: 7-20-2008
Directed by Elmer Clifton
Featuring Don Terry, Gwen Gaze, Walter Miller
Country: USA

A woman learns that she is the heiress to half of a pirate treasure map showing where a fortune is hidden on Treasure Island. Unfortunately, a criminal known as The Shark (who has a fortress on Treasure Island) has the other half of the map, and will stop at nothing to get the missing half.

I like this one, but heck, I like THE LOST CITY. Its 4.7 rating on IMDB does seem to indicate that I’m not in step with other serial fans as far as this one goes, but I find the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach here (which includes a group of underground workers known as Mole Men, a strange professor, a trained crow, a crusty old seaman with a hook for a hand, a room of doors, a suspicious doctor and his nurse, and, finally, the Ghost of the Black Pirate) to be a lot more fun than some of the later serials that seem cut out of the same mold. It’s entertaining as long as it stays on Treasure Island; once the action shifts to the mainland, it gets fairly dull, and I suspect that the serial was expanded to fifteen episodes at the last minute. The cliffhangers are pretty good, but they would have been better had the resolutions not been singularly lame. The story is from L. Ron Hubbard, and there is some science fiction gadgetry to augment the fantastic content beyond that of the ghost (and, if you’re like me, you just know that the latter will be debunked before its all through).

 

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In the Bogie Man’s Cave (1907)

IN THE BOGIE MAN’S CAVE (1907)
aka La Cuisine de l’ogre
Article 2533 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-12-2008
Posting Date: 7-19-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast Unknown
Country: France

A bogie man (or ogre, as the case may be) makes a meal out of a captured man. However, he falls asleep, and dreams that the men that he’s eaten come back to seek revenge.

Melies gives us another argument about why you should watch your diet; what you eat may come back to haunt you. Last night I saw talking cows, pigs, carrots, and heads of lettuce, but then, I was watching “The Muppet Show”. At least they didn’t try to cook me; had they done so, I would have come back to haunt them. It’s a vicious circle, I tell you.

Sorry, I’m rambling. Me, I spell bogie man with two o’s, but that’s a propos of nothing, and I only made that last comment because I wanted to use “a propos” in a sentence. Life is full of its minor pleasures.

All right, I’ll shut up.

 

The Pillar of Fire (1899)

THE PILLAR OF FIRE (1899)
aka La Colonne de feu, Le Danse de feu
Article 2532 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-11-2008
Posting Date: 7-18-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Jeanne d’Alcy, Georges Melies
Country: France

A devil starts a fire, and a woman dances in it.

This is another movie that I’d relegated to my “not found” list, and perhaps it should have stayed there. If the truth be told, I’m not sure that this movie is the same movie. The movie I saw is called LE DANSE DE FEU, with an alternate English title of THE PILLAR OF FIRE. The movie I was looking for is called LA COLONNE DE FEU, with an alternate English title of HAGGARD’S SHE: THE PILLAR OF FIRE. Both titles are listed as having belonged to the year 1899, and I haven’t a source yet that lists the two movies as separate entities. Are they, in fact, the same movie? I’m taking a guess and saying that they are unless I receive other info to clarify the situation. As for the movie itself, there’s little more to it than the above plot description, so I’m considering it one of Melies’s lesser efforts. I’m pretty sure that’s him as the devil; he never missed an opportunity to play one.

NOTE: This was written several months ago. I now notice that the other French title has been added as an altenate title to this one, which I will take as evidence that this is indeed the same movie.

 

The Bewitched Inn (1897)

THE BEWITCHED INN (1897)
aka L’Auberge ensorcelee
Article 2531 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-10-2008
Posting Date: 7-17-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown, but that sure looks like Melies himself
Country: France

A man is plagued by strange events at an inn, where inanimate objects vanish and reappear, and his own clothes take on a life of their own.

I had already consigned this to my unfound list when the long-awaited appearance of a comprehensive Melies collection finally brought it to light. It’s an amusing little short, though a bit obvious nowadays, as the effects have been repeated many times since, and only recently I saw THE BEWITCHED TRAVELER, which owes something to this one. Still, I marvel at the gusto of Melies’s acting, and the comic effectiveness and timing of the various effects; though he had many imitators, there was no early filmmaker quite as fun as Melies.

As you might guess, I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks on reviews from this set, as many of these shorts have been on my hunt list for years. Viva Melies!

 

Count Dracula (1970)

COUNT DRACULA (1970)
aka Nachts, wenn Dracula erwacht, Les Nuits de Dracula
Article 2530 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-8-2008
Posting Date: 7-16-2008
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski
Country: Spain/West Germany/Italy/Liechtenstein

Dracula moves from Transylvania to London, and terrorizes Londoners.

This is often trotted forth as the truest cinematic version of the Bram Stoker novel, and there’s no reason to doubt the assertion. Most of the changes make sense in terms of keeping the movie to a manageable length; the combination of two of Lucy’s suitors into one is the most noticeable. I do miss my favorite part of the story (the voyage to England aboard the ship), but I can understand why it’s gone. Franco keeps his excesses in check here and manages to deliver a moody, coherent movie. Still, I find it detached and uninvolving; Franco’s style does make me feel like I’m watching the story from a distance, and this does little to build anything in the way of suspense. The characters only come across as interesting when I find the actors themselves familiar and interesting; consequently, the three most familiar names in the three most familiar roles (Christopher Lee as Dracula, Herbert Lom as Van Helsing and Klaus Kinski as Renfield) emerge as the most memorable characters. Even at that, I’m still a little disappointed; Kinski does little more than act silently crazy in a cell, which he does well, but which is only mildly interesting, and there’s never a really good face-off between Van Helsing and Dracula; in fact, omitting Van Helsing from the final scenes of the movie is just a plain question mark to me. All in all, this is an acceptable movie (both as a Franco movie and as an adaptation of the novel), but not a particularly great one on either level.

 

The Clown and the Alchemist (1900)

THE CLOWN AND THE ALCHEMIST (1900)
Article 2529 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-7-2008
Posting Date: 4-15-2008
Directed Unknown
Cast Unknown
Country: USA

A clown’s antics annoy an alchemist, who tries to use his magic powers to get rid of him.

Ahh, there’s nothing like the epic struggle between good and evil, is there? The only question here is – which side is good and which side is evil? Well, let’s set out a balance sheet.

Clown

Good qualities
Projects the life-affirming qualities of humor.

Evil qualities
He’s a clown.

 

Alchemist

Evil Qualities
He delves in unholy mystical powers.

Good Qualities
He’s trying to rid the world of a clown.

You can figure up the balance any way you want to. All I know is that when the clown emerges victorious, my heart sinks and the sense of imminent doom manifests itself. I do prefer happy endings.

 

The Bewitched Traveller (1904)

THE BEWITCHED TRAVELLER (1904)
Article 2528 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-6-2008
Posting Date: 7-14-2008
Directed by Cecil M. Hepworth
Cast unknown
Country: UK

A traveler finds his life plagued by mysterious disappearances and reappearances.

This is an early silent short that uses trick photography to tell its amusing story of a traveler who finds things vanishing around him, starting with tables, chairs and clothing, and then works itself up to coaches and trains, thereby frustrating his attempts to get anywhere. It’s quite well done, and it manages to work up to an effective ending which, in its way, is quite logical and even a little bit scary, though the movie is comic in tone. Another example of the creative early origins of cinema.