A Trip to Mars (1910)

Article 3373 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-26-2010
Posting Date: 11-8-2010
Directed by Ashley Miller
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Melies-like science fiction

After inventing an anti-gravity powder, a man uses it on himself to propel himself to Mars.

This movie was an early addition to my hunt list, and for the longest time not only could I not find it, but it didn’t even have a listing on IMDB. They added one just about the time I gave up on it and consigned it to my Lost list, but a copy finally became available. This is one that didn’t turn out to be a disappointment; it’s actually quite cleverly done, and works well enough on its own that it transcends being just mock Melies. Some of the special effects are quite impressive, particularly when the traveler interacts with some of Mars’s giant denizens. The movie runs just under five minutes.

Evil Stalks this House (1981)

Article 3372 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-25-2010
Posting Date: 11-7-2010
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Featuring Jack Palance, Cindy Hinds, Helen Hughes
Country: USA / Canada
What it is: Strange little horror movie

A father and his two children become stranded on a lonely road when their car breaks down. They take refuge in the home of two old women and their dimwitted son. The man plots a scheme to loot the home, but it turns out the two old women aren’t quite as helpless as they seem…

Near as I can figure, this movie is edited from episodes of the pilot of a TV series called “Tales of the Haunted”, which would have featured Christopher Lee as a host/narrator. The time is listed as 96 minutes, but the only version I’ve been able to find runs slightly under an hour, and Lee is noticeably absent; the abrupt editing of some of the scenes shows that a lot of trimming went into this. The story starts out in typical “old dark house” fashion, but rapidly goes off in its own direction. The main villain is the father, and Jack Palance plays him as an almost cartoonish parody of the actor at his most malevolent; every line is delivered in whispery menace, whether it’s appropriate or not. Not that this really damages the movie much; the whole movie is a bit of goofy lark, and works pretty well in that mode. We get a mysterious witch cult, a deadly spider, and a pit of quicksand in an unlikely place to enliven the proceedings. The ending is a bit of a jawdropper, but within the context of the rest of the movie, it fits in well enough.

The Mysterious Mr. M (1946)

Article 3371 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-24-2010
Posting Date: 11-6-2010
Directed by Lewis D. Collins and Vernon Keays
Featuring Edmund MacDonald, Pamela Blake, Danny Morton
Country: USA
What it is: Serial with science fiction elements

A professor designs a super-submarine, but enemy spies want the design. The professor is murdered, and a man long believed dead takes on the persona of the Mysterious Mr. M in order to find the various parts of the design. However, the police are on his trail… and his Mr. M persona is stolen by another person who also wants the plans and sends him phonograph records with spoken instructions. Will the plans be found… and who is the Mysterious Mr. M?

As I finish up watching this serial, I find myself musing on how few of them I watch anymore. There was a time in my series that I had so many of them on my hunt list that I think for two years a day wouldn’t go by without me having an episode of a serial to watch. However, as I move forward through time, they became less and less frequent, and I suspect it may be almost a year before I see my next serial. Though I didn’t care for them much at first, I’ve tried to grow in appreciation of them and accept them for what they are.

That being said, this one is rather humdrum. It’s saddled with a somewhat overelaborate premise, which means that a lot of the running time of each chapter is dedicated to reiterating the complicated situation. Like many Universal serials, its long on the talk and short on the action. It is a bit heavier on the fantastic content; outside of the plans for the submarine, we have a few other gadgets, and the existence of a super-hypnotic drug called Hypnotrine which makes willing slaves of people. The best part of the serial is in the next to last chapter with an extending cliffhanger involving a woman who doesn’t know how to fly piloting a plane in for a landing. I did have a little fun trying to figure out who the main culprit would be, and I got it right, too. Nevertheless, this is a fairly dull serial, and I suspect Universal thought so as well; it was their last one.

Death Watch (1980)

aka La mort en direct
Article 3370 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-23-2010
Posting Date: 11-5-2010
Directed by Bernard Tavernier
Featuring Romy Schneider, Harvey Keitel, Harry Dean Stanton
Country: France / West Germany / UK
What it is: Science fiction drama

A television cameraman has a camera installed in his brain and eyes. He has been hired by the makers of a reality TV show to follow and record the final months of life of a woman who is dying of terminal disease.

Given the way “Reality TV” has taken over the television airwaves (although I should point out that I consider much of what passes for the form to be merely elaborate game shows of one sort or another), this movie remains quite relevant, and one can see the possibility of a show like this actually coming into being, though I suspect it would be more likely to attract exhibitionists as its subjects rather than those who, like the woman in the story, find their death to be a very private experience. The movie is a bit too long and things occasionally get vague and muddled, but the cast and performances are excellent, particularly from Romy Schneider as the dying woman and Harvey Keitel as the man with the camera in his eyes. Certain scenes stand out very strongly; my favorite involves a very long tracking shot in which the camera follows a limo driver (played by Robbie Coltrane) walking through a village marketplace looking for the dying woman who is making her escape, and then following the woman as she goes through the marketplace and makes her way to the dock. The movie also features good performances from Harry Dean Stanton and Max von Sydow (who doesn’t appear until the end of the movie). The movie explores the themes of greed, guilt and redemption, and the ending is powerful and moving as much for what it doesn’t show as for what it does. In the end, the movie is flawed but memorable, and well worth watching.

Chariots of the Gods (1970)

aka Erinnerungen an die Zukunft
Article 3369 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-22-2010
Posting Date: 11-4-2010
Directed by Harald Reinl
Featuring the voices of Heinz-Detlev Bock, Klaus Kindler, Christian Marschall
Country: West Germany
What it is: Ancient astronaut speculative documentary

We travel the world looking for evidence that astronauts visited our planet in ancient times.

Near the end of the movie, the narrator says “We may doubt our conclusions…”, which is a rather odd statement coming from him, as he seems absolutely convinced of his conclusions throughout the rest of the movie. Well, whether you accept or reject the premise, at the very least the movie can be enjoyed as an exotic travelogue of an assortment of truly mysterious wonders of the world. It does get tiresome at times, so you’re grateful for some of the digressions. I do have favorite moments; one of the early scenes deals with a primitive tribe which, after having been visited by men in an airplane, have now built a fetish of the airplane and wait longingly for its return with the gods within. This scene has a certain power until you realize that one of these gods is probably standing nearby with a camera filming all this, and the feeling that it’s all been posed starts to manifest itself. I also like the story of the archaeologist who discovered the ruins of Troy; though I’ve heard the tale several times, it always makes for an engaging story. The evidence is usually one of three different types; we hear of an ancient story which may be interpreted as a visit by extraterrestrials, we see strange looking characters in ancient works of art that may be astronauts, or we see architectural wonders that appear to be impossible for the men of their time to build without the help of extraterrestrials. The earlier two approaches get old quickly, but the architectural wonders hold the interest. Overall, this is a fairly decent example of this type of movie.

Tarzan’s Savage Fury (1952)

Article 3368 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-21-2010
Posting Date: 11-3-2010
Directed by Cy Endfield
Featuring Lex Barker, Dorothy Hart, Patric Knowles
Country: USA
What it is: Tarzan movie

A cousin of Tarzan’s is murdered by a spy. The spy gets an accomplice to impersonate the murdered cousin in order to fool Tarzan to lead them to the tribe of the Wazuris… and their supply of diamonds.

Nice title, huh? Still, if anyone really wants to see Tarzan’s savage fury (the emotion) rather than TARZAN’S SAVAGE FURY (the movie), they’d be better off checking out some of the precode Tarzan movies. Besides, any Tarzan movie that opens with Tarzan finding a substitute for the departed Boy is bound to be one of the more domesticated ones. Overall, it’s a so-so Tarzan movie with some good scenes (the scene where the natives kill crocodiles by using children as bait is a little shocking, and the scene where we first encounter the Wazuri is effectively handled) and some silly scenes (Cheta on the radio set with the pilots). As usual, the fantastic content is the mild fantasy element of the whole Tarzan mythos, though the Wazuri’s witch doctor appears to have some real magical powers when his magic is used to figure out the plot of the spy. There’s a fair amount of animal footage in this one as well. With this movie, I finish off the Lex Barker Tarzan movies.

Un golpe de mil millones (1966)

aka A Stroke of a Thousand Millions, Un colpo da mille milliardi
Article 3367 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-20-2010
Posting Date: 11-2-2010
Directed by Paolo Heusch
Featuring Rik Van Nutter, Marilu Tolo, Eduardo Fajardo
Country: Italy / Spain / France
What it is: Spyghetti

A spy must foil a plot to turn the Suez canal radioactive.

I was intrigued enough by the English title of this one that I was severely disappointed to discover that the only copy I could find was in unsubtitled Spanish. The plot description came from the back of my DVD case for the movie, and it’s about the only plot description I can find. Spy movies can be difficult to follow even when they’re in English, so I have to admit being completely lost in this one. It does look like it’s a bit heavier on the science fiction gadgetry, though. I didn’t see much to make this one special, but since I didn’t see it in my native language, I’ll have to reserve judgment on it.

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

aka L’annee derniere a Marienbad
Article 3366 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-19-2010
Posting Date: 11-1-2010
Directed by Alain Resnais
Featuring Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoeff
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Art film

At a luxurious hotel, a man tries to convince a woman that they met last year (either here or somewhere else), but the woman does not seem to remember.

It’s considered an art film classic by many and reviled by others; I first encountered the title from the Medveds’ book “The 50 Worst Films of All Time”, to give you an example of the latter. It’s easy to see why there is such a variance of opinion; the movie is infuriating because it doesn’t play by the rules that we’re expecting, and if you get caught up in trying to figure out what is “real” or “true”, it could drive you crazy. It’s at least partially about the defectiveness of memory. There’s no doubt it has a fascinating visual quality, and at times it almost feels like a silent film. There are moments of high drama, but they’re fleeting and possibly deceptive. There are moments where what we see and what we hear are not in sync; for example, during a concert we see two violinists and hear an organ. The question becomes – do we believe what we see or what we hear, or does it alternate? And if it alternates, what do we believe when? It’s a fascinating movie in its way. Of course, the fact that I’m covering it means that I must address the nature of its fantastic content. All I can say is this; when a movie is this ambiguous, than the fantastic content could be anything a feverish imagination might conjure up. I do know this much; there are moments where the man speculates if the woman he is speaking with is alive, and we see a scene later on that makes it look as if the woman has been murdered by the man who may be her husband. But in a movie of this nature, that’s no proof of anything. As to whether the movie is a classic or a piece of twaddle, let’s just say that it’s an enigma, and how much you take to it may depend on how much you like enigmas.

The Hawks and the Sparrows (1966)

aka Uccellacci e uccellini
Article 3365 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-18-2010
Posting Date: 10-31-2010
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Featuring Toto, Ninetto Davoli, Femi Benussi
Country: Italy
What it is: Italian political art film comedy

Two men walking down the road of life encounter a talking raven who tells them a fable about a saint intent on converting the hawks and the sparrows to Christianity.

Up until now, all the Toto movies I’ve seen have been in unsubtitled Italian, and though I liked what I’d seen, I can’t really say that I was able to follow them. This is the first time I’ve encountered him with subtitles, but I highly doubt this is a typical movie of his. This is also the first movie I’ve encountered by Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, though I suspect it won’t be the last. The plot description above only covers about the first half of the movie, but I can’t really put into plot terms what happens beyond that; the various comments about it say that it deals with the church, Marxism, ideology, and any other number of subjects. One of the user comments on IMDB made me feel that to properly understand it, I need a strong grounding on the political situation in Italy at the time it was made, and that is most likely true. Still, Toto is a sharp enough comic actor that I was able to find some enjoyment in the various situations, and I think I did at least notice the theme of how ideologies flounder under the attack of human nature. The talking raven is the most prominent fantastic content in the movie, though the fable about the hawks and the sparrows contains other touches. It was an interesting viewing experience and may bear rewatching, but I think there will always be limitations in my being fully able to appreciate it.

I Killed Rasputin (1967)

aka J’ai tue Raspoutine
Article 3364 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-17-2010
Posting Date: 10-30-2010
Directed by Robert Hossein
Featuring Gert Frobe, Peter McEnery, Robert Hossein
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Another take on the Rasputin story

Prince Felix Yusupov recounts the tale of his meeting with and subsequent assassination of Grigori Rasputin, the faith healer that held great sway over the royal family in Russia prior to the revolution.

I’m rather surprised that I’ve seen so many versions of the Rasputin tale, largely because I didn’t know so many were made. This one takes an interesting approach; it tells the story from the point of view of Prince Yusupov and deals with his relationship with Rasputin, and his plan to have the man assassinated. As such, many of the scenes usually associated with the Rasputin story are omitted, as the focus is more on the Prince. It’s based on the book co-written by the Prince himself, and the opening of the movie features an interview with him and his wife; unfortunately, my print seems to be missing this scene. Considering the involvement of the Prince himself, it’s no real surprise to discover that (according to some user comments on IMDB) his character has been somewhat whitewashed; apparently, the Prince considered some of the other versions of the story to be slanderous. The movie is a little slow and dull on occasion, though it does give a clearer picture of why Rasputin was a threat to the country than some of the other versions, and Gert Frobe gives a good underplayed spin on Rasputin. As usual with this story, the fantastic aspects include the use of hypnotism, faith healing, and the near indestructibility of Rasputin in the final scenes. It’s not my favorite version of the story, but it has its uses.