The Mysterious Box (1903)

THE MYSTERIOUS BOX (1903)
aka The Trick Box, La Boite a malice
Article 2550 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-30-2008
Posting Date: 8-5-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France

A magician and his assistant cause a woman to disappear and reappear in a tiny box.

No plot here; just another of Melies’s demonstrations of the magic of movie-making. Yet, somehow, it seems fitting that my Melies-a-Thon should end with one of his simpler magic films; after all, it was magic that drew him to the invention of all of the special effects he pioneered. I just want to take a moment here to thank all of the individuals and companies responsible for making these films available to the public once again, and let us hope they continue onwards in bringing us the forgotten and rarely seen wonders of the early cinema.

 

A Terrible Night (1896)

A TERRIBLE NIGHT (1896)
Article 2549 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-28-2008
Posting Date: 8-4-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France

A man’s rest is interrupted by the appearance of a giant spider.

It’s the first giant bug movie! All right, it’s not in the same league as the big bugs of the fifties, but you still would hate to see this little monstrosity crawling over you while you’re trying to get some rest. This is perhaps the earliest Melies movie I’ve seen, and it’s probably the most primitive special-effects-wise, as the spider seems mostly to be played by a puppet. No story here – just a battle between a man and a spider.

 

The Wizard, the Prince and the Good Fairy (1900)

THE WIZARD, THE PRINCE AND THE GOOD FAIRY (1900)
aka Le Sorcier, le prince et le bon genie
Article 2548 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-27-2008
Posting Date: 8-3-2008
Directed by Goerges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France

A prince pays good money to a wizard, who makes a beautiful woman appear. The prince becomes angry when the beautiful woman disappears, so the wizard torments him. Who will save the prince? (Hint: Notice that one of the title characters hasn’t been mentioned yet).

Melies must have had it in for practitioners of the black arts; both the wizard in this one and the witch in the aptly named THE WITCH get the fuzzy end of the lollipop. At least the wizard here deserved his fate; anyone who conjures up a mob of big-nosed women with pointed sticks to do his vengeance isn’t a nice guy. It’s the usual Melies special effects shenanigans here.

 

The Dream of an Opium Fiend (1908)

THE DREAM OF AN OPIUM FIEND (1908)
aka Le Reve d’un fumeru d’opium
Article 2547 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-26-2008
Posting Date: 8-2-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France

An opium fiend has a strange dream.

So just what kind of dream does an opium fiend have? Well, you can expect the Chinaman who gives you the opium to do a silly little dance (though I’m not sure that’s part of the dream). After that, you can expect to find yourself back home and ready to imbibe from a huge glass of beer (does it strike anyone out there as odd that an opium fiend would dream of having a beer), but those darned heavenly bodies will steal the glass and drink the beer themselves. Sure, you can invite the beautiful woman in the moon down to your room, but if you try to take her in your arms, she’ll just teleport away. And if you do catch her…well, it’s not pretty, believe you me. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be an opium fiend.

 

Faust and Marguerite (1904)

FAUST AND MARGUERITE (1904)
aka Faust et Marguerite
Article 2546 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-25-2008
Posting Date: 8-1-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France

Faust is restored to youth by Mephistopheles and attempts to court Marguerite.

For those who enjoy the hellish antics in FAUST AUX ENFERS and wonder how Faust got himself into that position, here is the prequel. The Melies set claims this is a fragment, though it’s difficult to tell what’s missing. It’s a straightforward rendition of the story, and it also features narration, which is good, because it would have been difficult to figure out if you weren’t familiar with the story already. This is an interesting take on the Faust story, but I still prefer the terrifying ladies and their mops in FAUST AUX ENFERS.

 

The Astronomer’s Dream (1898)

THE ASTRONOMER’S DREAM (1898)
aka La Lune a un metre
Article 2545 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-24-2008
Posting Date: 7-31-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France

An astronomer is tormented by the devil, who plays horrible tricks on him and his equipment.

The devil starts in easy on the astronomer with your basic tricks from THE BEWITCHED INN, but things really get strange from there. Fortunately, the astronomer has a guardian angel who is able to put him back together when he goes to pieces (and I do mean that literally). All in all, this is an extremely amusing short from Melies, and I rank it as one of his best pre-A TRIP TO THE MOON movies. My favorite moment: the astronomer gets to meet a heavenly body up close and personal.

 

Mr. Peek-a-Boo (1951)

MR. PEEK-A-BOO (1951)
aka Le Passe-muraille
Article 2544 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-23-2008
Posting Date: 7-30-2008
Directed by Jean Boyer
Featuring Bourvil, Joan Greenwood, Gerarud Oury
Country: France/Italy

A mild-mannered clerk discovers he has the ability to walk through walls. When he meets a beautiful English woman who has embarked on a life of crime, he decides to use his power to save her and to win her heart.

This is what happens if you take the idea of THE 4D MAN and make it French comic fantasy rather than science-fiction thriller. There are actually two versions of this movie, a French language version and an English language version, both directed by the same man and with partially different casts. I’m not yet sure which one I’ve watched, but I’m guessing I may have seen the English version. It’s quite amusing, largely because of the likable performance by Bourvil as the clerk and Joan Greenwood as the object of his affections. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed by the ending, as he manages to pass on the ability to someone else without giving us any real internal logic as to how he got it in the first place or as to how he was able to pass it on. Still, this is a fun little movie.

 

The Killers Are Challenged (1966)

THE KILLERS ARE CHALLENGED (1966)
aka A 077, sfida ai killers
Article 2543 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-22-2008
Posting Date: 7-29-2008
Directed by Antonio Margheritti
Featuring Richard Harrison, Susy Andersen, Wandisa Guida
Country: Italy/France

A group of noted scientists are working on a new source of energy that will make petroleum obsolete. However, someone is killing them off one by one. CIA agent Bob Fleming assumes the identity of the only living scientist in an attempt to protect him, and to track down the murderers.

We’re taking a little break from our Melies-a-thon for an Italian James Bond ripoff, and, fortunately, it’s one of the more entertaining ones. The plot is relatively easy to follow in this one and the basic setup is rather interesting. There’s an assortment of odd characters; my favorite is a cab driver who used to work for Scotland Yard and drives a vehicle full of protective devices. The fantastic content is mostly of the Gizmo Maguffin variety, with the new source of energy the prize in this one, though a gadget ring that can test drinks for poison is also fun. The best scene is a barroom brawl involving (among others) the secret agent, his mysterious female helper, several drunken sailors, a big guy with a stool stuck on his head, and a feisty dwarf; guess which one is left explaining the brawl to the police when they arrive.

 

The Triple Conjurer and the Living Head (1900)

THE TRIPLE CONJURER AND THE LIVING HEAD (1900)
aka L’Illusioniste double et la tete vivante
Article 2542 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-21-2008
Posting Date: 7-28-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies, Georges Melies, and a special surprise guest appearance by Georges Melies
Country: France

A magician splits himself into two and then produces a living head for our wonderment. Then the devil shows up and ruins everything.

Wait a second – I thought Melies always played the devil in his own movies! How can he be the devil when he’s already on screen? In fact, how can he be the devil when he’s already on the screen twice, for that matter? Wait a second…I think I just answered my question. Short, witty and enjoyable.