Le chevalier de la nuit (1953)

LE CHEVALIER DE LA NUIT (1953)
aka Knight of the Night

Article 3590 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-27-2011
Posting Date: 6-13-2011
Directed by Robert Darene
Featuring Renee Saint-Cyr, Jean-Claude Pascal, Gregoire Aslan
Country: France
What it is: Jekyll-and-Hyde romance

A ballerina’s husband has been split into two personalities, and she finds herself falling in love with one of them while growing to hate the other.

Because I knew my copy of this was going to be in unsubtitled French, I tried finding a few plot descriptions. Those that I found made a bit of a deal about the Jekyll-and-Hyde connection, but I found knowing this sometimes confused the issue when I was trying to watch the movie. One of the personalities seems to be an arsonist who can set fire with his touch, but the other one is the one who seems mean and cruel. This somewhat confuses the issue about which is good and which is evil, though maybe that’s the point; I do know the arsonist seems to mostly work on people who themselves are not good, such as the man who is beating a horse. Still, I wish there were subtitles to help me clarify it, but since this is one of those movies that ended up on my “ones that got away” list after lingering too long on my hunt list, I consider myself lucky just to have seen it. There’s some nice spooky touches, especially in a dark castle during the first part of the movie. Part of my confusion may be due to the fact that it seems more like Poe’s “William Wilson” than “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, if for no other reason in that the two sides of the personality have separate but identical bodies.

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Venus in Furs (1969)

VENUS IN FURS (1969)
aka Paroxismus

Article 3589 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-26-2011
Posting Date: 6-12-2011
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring James Darren, Barbara McNair, Maria Rohm
Country: UK / West Germany / Italy
What it is: Ghost story

A jazz musician finds the body of a beautiful woman washed up on the shore in Istanbul, a woman who he may have seen killed during a sadistic orgy. Then, in Rio, he encounters the woman, seemingly alive, and has a love affair with her. Meanwhile, the other participants of the orgy begin dying one by one.

Jesus Franco’s masterpiece? Given the fact that I think Franco has wasted more celluloid than practically any other director I know, you would think I would be hesitant to proclaim any movie of his a masterpiece. But, truth to tell, when he’s good, he’s very good, and when he’s working on movies where his obsession with sadism dovetails well with the story, he can be very effective, and such is the case here. The movie is focused and has a story, the arty touches are fun and interesting, and even the constant music interludes serve a purpose; after all, the story is largely being told through the point of view of a jazz musician who feels more at ease communicating with his music than with words. Some of the dialogue is fairly dated, and I don’t really care for the touch that the soundtrack breaks into the “Venus in Furs” song after each death, even if it does play a role in the final twist of the movie; I think this latter problem could have been fixed by omitting the vocalist until the final sequence. Yet these are very minor problems, and I don’t think they really detract from what may well be Franco’s most fully realized work. So, yes, I will say this one is probably his masterpiece.

Dos cosmonautos a la fuerza (1965)

DOS COSMONAUTOS A LA FUERZA (1965)
aka 002 operazione Luna

Article 3588 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-26-2011
Posting Date: 6-11-2011
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Featuring Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia, Monica Randall
Country: Italy / Spain
What it is: Franco and Ciccio comedy

When two Russian cosmonauts are lost in space, the KGB kidnaps two petty thieves who happen to resemble them and try to pass them off as the originals. But then the original cosmonauts are found…

I was amazed at the opening scene of this movie. It features Franco and Ciccio being led to a rocket, and during the whole scene, Franco didn’t mug once. Of course, shortly after that I saw a scene with Franco and Ciccio trying to rob a warehouse where the usual mugging is back, and I was quickly able to deduce from this scene that the first scene must have featured two characters who just looked like the comedy team, which gave me a clue to the plot, which was helpful since my copy of this movie is in unsubtitled Italian. It was also helped me to differentiate the Russian cosmonauts from the comedy team throughout the movie; if Franco goes five seconds without making a weird expression, I knew I was watching the cosmonaut. Like most of the movies by this team, I find that, despite the language barrier, there is at least one scene I find fairly amusing, and that occurs early on here, when the two thieves run into problems while performing a theft because two other thieves keep stealing from them. The rest of the movie is the usual Franco and Ciccio experience, and the ending in which we have the comedy being confused with their lookalikes, is all too predictable. I did notice, though, that if Franco mugs in just the right way, he has more than a passing resemblance to James Brown which, given Ciccio’s resemblance to “Weird Al” Yankovic, gave me a bizarre vision of these two musical personalities teaming up for a concert. That’s what happens when you watch a movie in a language you can’t understand; your mind starts to wander.

Gojira (1954)

GOJIRA (1954)
Article 3587 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-23-2011
Posting Date: 6-10-2011
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Featuring Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata
Country: Japan
What it is: Kaiju – the beginning

A wave of shipping disasters is brought about by a giant radioactive prehistoric creature let loose upon the world by the A-bomb tests.

I’ve already covered the Raymond Burr version of the movie, but since IMDB (which I use as a guide to help me) will occasionally create separate listings for two versions of the same movie when they diverge sufficiently, I now have the opportunity to review the original, undiluted Japanese version. In truth, the American version doesn’t do a bad job of adapting the movie, but it just doesn’t have the emotional punch of the original, especially in the ways it develops Takashi Shimura’s scientist character and fleshes out the love triangle that proves significant in the way it dovetails with the final efforts to destroy Godzilla. I also found the post-destruction sequence to be much more powerful as well. Outside of that, I found myself enjoying some of my favorite moments and images from this movie; I love the shot of Godzilla behind the aviary at one point, and though I always find Akira Ifukube’s score gripping, I’m particularly taken by subdued and sublime music used during the final underwater sequences. Looking over the cast list, I can’t help but notice a few cool cameos; two of the actors who play Godzilla appear as an editor and a power station worker at one point, and the hand that flips the switch on the electric fence is that of Ishiro Honda’s.

Warning Shadows: A Nocturnal Hallucination (1923)

WARNING SHADOWS: A NOCTURNAL HALLUCINATION (1923)
aka Schatten – Eine nachtliche Halluzination

Article 3586 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-21-2011
Posting Date: 6-9-2011
Directed by Arthur Robison
Featuring Alexander Granach, Max Gulstorff, Lilli Herder
Country: German
What it is: A shadowy warning

A count is afraid that his wife is engaging in acts of infidelity, a situation made more acute by the arrival of four male guests. Into this situation wanders an entertainer who specializes in shadow plays…

I found this one on YouTube. As originally presented, it had no intertitles, and this restoration of the film retains that quality, which means that you do have to rely on the visual cues to follow the story, which isn’t always easy. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating movie in the way that it explores how shadows can tell stories, and can equally well deceive the viewer; for example, the entertainer shows how it is possible to place candles in such a way to make it look as if two people are holding hands when they actually aren’t. Though the story is totally different, it has a plot device very similar to that of INVASION USA, though this may not be apparent until the very end of the movie. I found the movie quite engaging, if a little confusing at times, but it is one that I’d revisit to clarify some of the plot points. There are touches of magic at various points in the story; people and things occasionally disappear, and a sort of hypnotism may also be at work here. This is truly an interesting silent film to seek out.

The Mummy Strikes (1943)

THE MUMMY STRIKES (1943)
Cartoon

Article 3585 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-20-2011
Posting Date: 6-8-2011
Directed by Izzy Sparber
Featuring the voices of Joan Alexander, Jackson Beck, Bud Collyer
Country: USA
What it is: Superman cartoon

While investigating the murder of a heiroglyphics expert, Superman must battle with mummies come to life.

I’m actually surprised it took me this long to get around to reviewing any of the Superman cartoons from the early forties, but that’s the luck of the draw. In many ways, these cartoons are truly superior; the animation is excellent, and the use of color is outstanding. Nevertheless, I’ve always felt a twinge of dissatisfaction from the series. This is due to the fact that they often try to tell stories that needed a greater length of time to tell correctly, and they often feel rushed. Though I can admire the efficiency, I find that the suspense never really gets a chance to build, and that they’re over before they’ve really begun. This one is further marred by pitting Superman against supernatural menaces, which is a fairly odd juxtaposition. Nevertheless, there’s always the fine animation to be enjoyed.

Rocket to Mars (1946)

ROCKET TO MARS (1946)
Animated Cartoon

Article 3584 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-19-2011
Posting Date: 6-7-2011
Directed by Bill Tytla
Featuring the voices of Jack Mercer, Harry Welch, and Jackson Beck
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye cartoon

Popeye is accidentally rocketed to Mars, where he discovers an impending invasion of the Earth.

This is only the second Popeye cartoon I’ve covered; the other one was POPEYE THE SAILOR MEETS SINBAD THE SAILOR from a decade earlier. I didn’t expect this one to live up to that one; after all, the earlier one was designed as a special project, and this one was probably just another entry in the Popeye series. By this time, the characteristic mumbling and the three-dimensional backgrounds had gone by the wayside, and I really miss them; they both served to make the earlier cartoons a bit more special. This was made fairly soon after the war ended, and there are a few references; in outer space, one of the planets is an Eight Ball with a Japanese character behind it, and after he takes his spinach, the imagery in Popeye’s muscles are of A-bombs. The head of the Martian army serves as the Bluto character here. It has some amusing moments, but it’s just not as much fun as the earlier cartoons.