The Miracle of Marcelino (1955)

THE MIRACLE OF MARCELINO (1955)
aka Marcelino pan y vino
Article 2605 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-23-2008
Posting Date: 9-30-200
Directed by Ladislao Vajda
Featuring Rafael Rivelles, Antonio Vico, Juan Calvo
Country: Spain/Italy

A baby is left at the gates of a monastery. The monks attempt to find a home for it, but end up deciding to raise the boy themselves. However, in the process, they end up offending a high-ranking official in the local town, who resolves to have the monks evicted. Several years later, the boy inadvertently causes chaos at the town fair, and the official (now the mayor) uses the event to force the eviction. With only a month left in their home, the monks need a miracle. And it is then the boy discovers a crucifix in an upstairs room in the monastery…

As far as I can tell, this movie was not based on a true story, but on a novel by Jose Maria Sanchez Silva. This is a bit of a relief to me, as I can feel free to call it a fantasy without offending anyone, and I can avoid tiresome discussions about whether the events really happened. All in all, I found the movie quite moving, though at times it’s a little odd (it’s hard to understand why the monks would choose to frighten the boy away from a crucifix) and definitely unsettling at points (there’s a definite streak of darkness when you consider just what the boy is asking for when he makes his final request). The movie alternates comedy and drama for the first half of the movie; the miracle doesn’t start happening until the final third of the movie. It’s nice to see a movie like this that doesn’t bother dwelling on the “proof” of the miracle, which is the usual direction of stories of this kind; instead, it just lets the miracle happen, and it really manages to capture the sense of what it might be like to witness a miracle, an event that you experience vicariously through the character of Brother Cookie (the boy himself takes it all for granted). If anything, the movie demonstrates that a story doesn’t have to be true to be inspirationally moving. The main downside to the movie is that the dubbing is not quite as good as it could have been.

 

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A Slightly Pregnant Man (1973)

A SLIGHTLY PREGNANT MAN (1973)
aka L’Evenement le plus important depuis que l’homme a marche sur la lune
Article 2604 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-22-2008
Posting Date: 9-29-2008
Directed by Jacques Demy
Featuring Catherine Deneuve, Marcello Mastrioianni, Micheline Presle
Country: France/Italy

A male instructor at a driving school discovers that he is pregnant.

I have to admit that I find the idea of a pregnant man only mildly amusing at best, though I suspect that women may like the concept more. As a result, I’m not really surprised that I found this movie mildly amusing at best, dull, predictable and obvious at worst. It’s really hard to gauge the performances; the dubbing is fairly weak throughout, though Marcello Mastrioianni seems to be doing the best he can. There are hints of a much better movie here; one conversation in a beauty parlor brought up the subject of how the world would change if men were able to get pregnant, and a movie that pursued that subject might actually have been interesting. The movie even threatens to move into that direction at one point, but it remains no more than a unfulfilled promise. The most amusing sequence to my eyes involved the pregnant man’s association with a clothing manufacturer who starts putting out a line of men’s maternity (or is it paternity) wear. The ending, however, is a major cop-out, and, more than anything else here, makes this one largely a waste of time. In short, the movie doesn’t deliver.

 

The Phantom Empire (1935)

THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (1935)
Serial
Article 2603 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-21-2008
Posting Date: 9-28-2008
Directed by Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason
Featuring Gene Autry, Frankie Darro, Betsy King Ross
Country: USA

Gene Autry has encountered complications with his daily broadcasts from Radio Ranch; a secret underground kingdom on the same site as his ranch considers him a threat and wants him out of the way.

I can’t believe it took me this long to get to this, one of the most notorious genre-bending serials of all time. Singing cowboy star Gene Autry (playing himself) may be one of the most beleaguered heroes in serial history; not only does he have to contend with the residents of a futuristic underground city (which gets its own listing in the credits, “The Futuristic City of Murania”) who consider him a threat to their security, but he also must contend with attacks from a rebel faction of the city (who wants to vivisect him to find out how he can breathe aboveground), a group of unscrupulous scientists who want the area for themselves to dig for radium, and a sheriff who believes Gene is guilty for the murder of his partner. On top of this, he somehow has to make it back to Radio Ranch once a day in time for his radio broadcast or risk losing the ranch. Helping him out are the teenage offspring of his deceased partner (who have organized a club called the Thunder Riders made up of kids who ride to the rescue while wearing hooked buckets on their heads), and his two comic-relief sidekicks Pete (the straight man) and Oscar (who has an endless supply of harmonicas and a horse that only moves when it hears a certain song). Now this is the way I like serials; wild and somewhat silly. The action starts out a little slow, but it really picks up when Autry finally makes it into Murania, what with its masked riders (the model for the kids’ Thunder Riders club), bizarre weapons, trap doors, execution chambers, rock-melting ray guns, and, most memorably, robots that look like they wear cowboy hats. It’s fun to see the serial trying to deal with the scientific aspects of the story; one of my favorite opening blurbs describes Murania as a place with lots of radio activity (sic), and I can’t help but notice that Murania is almost an anagram of uranium. Still, the movie probably has the first nuclear meltdown in cinema history (and I do mean meltdown). Plus, you get to see Autry sing “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine”. Quite frankly, this one is irresistible.

 

The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World (1965)

THE SECOND BEST SECRET AGENT IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (1965)
aka Licensed to Kill
Article 2602 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-20-2008
Posting Date: 9-27-2008
Directed by Lindsay Shonteff
Featuring Tom Adams, Karel Stepanek, Peter Bull
Country: UK

A secret agent is assigned to guard a scientist who is on the verge of creating an invention that will be called a Regrav, a device that will bend the laws of gravity. However, enemy agents are also after the scientist…

I’m not entirely sure what this is; it’s either a parody of the James Bond movies, or a rather self-conscious low-budget imitation of them. The title certainly seems to indicate the former, and some of the plot developments (particularly the head-swimming series of double-crosses and plot revelations that take up the last fifteen minutes of the movie) also do as well. However, if it is a parody, it mostly works on such a subtle level that it becomes rather indistinguishable from what it’s parodying, and it’s good to remember that the James Bond movies themselves are parodies to begin with. As a result, the movie often plays like an imitation, though one with a significantly lower budget and, at times, a sense of tiredness. If you go in expecting it to flip back and forth between the two extremes, you’ll have a good idea of what this one like. It’s still worth catching for that ending, though; you might even want to give the movie a second watching just to sort out the whole twisted affair. And as for the Gizmo Maguffin science fiction content of the Regrav device…, well, let’s just say that the degree to which this element contributes to the science fiction content of the movie is one of the punch lines at the end of the movie. To say more would give far too much away.

 

Misterios de la magia negra (1958)

MISTERIOS DE LA MAGIA NEGRA (1958)
aka Mysteries of Black Magic, Return from the Beyond
Article 2601 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-19-2008
Posting Date: 9-26-200
Directed by Miguel M. Delgado
Featuring Nadia Haro Oliva, Carlos Riquelme, Aldo Monti
Country: Mexico

A female hypnotist/magician is actually a witch who sets her sights on the destruction of a professor and his family.

The movie is in unsubtitled Spanish, so I’m naturally a little weak on precise plot details, though, overall, it looks like pretty familiar stuff. The low rating on IMDB (2.3) seems to say that it isn’t a very good movie, but until I see a copy I can understand fully, I can’t say myself. I will say this, though; the hypnotist/magician act that opens the movie is very striking; the hypnotist at one point drives a nail through the hand of one man while another subject feels the pain and shows the wound, and she also gets the husband of a scoffing couple to threaten his wife with a knife. There’s also a voodoo sequence involving blindness that is fairly memorable. On the side, we have the magicians not-quite-human assistant (check out the ears), and an eerie secret behind a secret panel with the number 4 on it. Quite frankly, I liked what I saw.

 

Liquid Dreams (1991)

LIQUID DREAMS (1991)
Article 2600 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-18-2008
Posting Date: 9-25-2998
Directed by Mark S. Manos
Featuring Candice Daly, Richard Steinmetz, Juan Fernandez
Country: USA

In the future, a woman comes from Kansas to the big city to move in with her sister. She finds her sister dead, and learns that she was working for an organization that specializes in erotic dancing and videos. She hooks up with a cop and decides to work undercover, joining the organization as a dancer to get to the truth.

Here we are taking another anomalous leap into the nineties with what the video box describes as a “futuristic erotic thriller”. Well, it seems to be futuristic enough. As for erotic, I’ve always believed that one man’s erotic fantasy is another man’s consummate silliness, and if you find MTV-style editing, garish nightclub milieus, bizarre costumes, throbbing robotic techno beats, and “sex is power” messages to be your cup of tea, this might be the movie for you. As for the thriller part, I can only say that the more things change, the more they remain the same; despite all the modern trappings, what we have here is just an old-fashioned mad scientist story. It holds the interest well enough in some respects what with the curiosity value of finding out what’s going on and the presence of such performers as Paul Bartel (who has a great cameo) and John Waters veteran Mink Stole. But for its premise, I found it pretty tame, it has some singularly bad cussing and questionable performances, and the “let’s kill everyone off because it’s the end of the movie” ending makes it hard to take seriously.

 

I diavoli di Spartivento (1963)

I DIAVOLI DI SPARTIVENTO (1963)
aka The Devils of Spartivento, Weapons of Vengeance
Article 2599 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-17-2008
Posting Date: 9-24-2008
Directed by Leopoldo Savano
Featuring John Drew Barrymore, Scilla Gabel, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart
Country: Italy/France

Rebels battle evil tyrants, or true Prince against pretender to the throne; I’m not sure which.

The vague plot description above is just my way of saying that I’m watching this one in unsubtitled Italian, and the precise plot details are lost to me. Nonetheless, it does involve a group of rebels with a charismatic leader doing battle with the forces of an evil lord. It’s basically a period swashbuckler piece, and the fantastic content is that the rebels enter an ostensibly haunted forest and encounter a follower of Da Vinci, who is trying to bring his scientific ideas to life, so in the course of the movie we have a series of anachronistic inventions (including a device that can launch multiple arrows, a fire-spitting tank of sorts, a poison gas, and several flying machines). When these items show up, the movie is a lot more fun to fans of fantastic cinema and the fact that the plot details are unknown doesn’t matter so much. It’s quite similar to THE CRIMSON PIRATE, even to the point of having a Nick Cravat-like sidekick (doesn’t talk, uses sign language) appear. It’s entertaining enough in a sword-and-sandal style, though it doesn’t really belong to that genre.