Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies (1925)


Article 3658 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-5-2011
Posting Date: 8-20-2011
Directed by Del Lord
Featuring Billy Bevan, Andy Clyde, Lillian Knight
Country: USA
What it is: Car comedy

An inventor devises a way to run automobiles without gasoline, much to the chagrin of a gas merchant.

I almost reviewed an Andy Clyde short a few weeks back, but it turned out it wasn’t the movie I was looking for but just shared a title with it. So it’s nice to run into him again into this silent short, though Billy Bevan gets the lead listing. It’s a pretty bizarre comedy, and often very fun; my favorite sequence has the inventor’s assistant (Bevan) pushing a car with an empty gas tank home and inadvertently destroying several other cars in the process. On top of the science fiction aspects of the story, the short even ventures into horror territory when the gas merchant sneaks into the inventor’s house at night in order to destroy his machine, and then mistaking the inventor and his friends (who were at a costume party) as ghosts and demons. Sadly, this part of the short tries to get most of its laughs with the stereotypical “scared black man”, once again played by someone in blackface. And for those people who are up on their American history, they’ll get the joke of a character named “T. Potter Doam”.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

Article 3657 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2011
Posting Date: 8-19-2011
Directed by Richard Marquand
Featuring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Country: USA
What it is: Space opera

Luke Skywalker and his friends embark on a mission to save Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hut, and then they must face a final showdown with Darth Vader and the Empire.

A giant monster lies dead. Some men enter the room, and one big shirtless man, obviously the monster’s keeper, looks at it, turns to one of the other men and starts to cry.

If you’ve seen this final episode of the original trilogy in the Star Wars franchise, you probably remember that scene. I mention it specifically because when I was watching it this time, I realized how much light, humorous moments like this defined just how much fun the original trilogy was. This is the third time I’ve seen this movie. The second time was many years ago, and I watched it then with the sort of sad realization that it was the last and least of the series; this was long before the prequel trilogy emerged. This time, I found myself watching the movie with that later trilogy in mind, and I really found myself wondering that, when the time comes for me to revisit that later trilogy, if I was going to light on little favorite moments like this. Somehow, I don’t think so; to my mind, the later trilogy lost that lightness of touch and became mired in its own mythology to the point that the series just wasn’t much fun anymore. As a result, I found myself enjoying this one quite a bit.

Nevertheless, I do still think of it as the weakest of the original trilogy. The first third of the movie is for me the strongest part of it; I like the various creature designs, and I like the way the plot bit by bit weaves in all of the major characters one by one. I’m not quite as down on the Ewoks as some other people are, but then, I have a high tolerance for teddy bears as long as they don’t have rainbows on their bellies and the word “Care” in front of them. But they are a little more cute than is strictly necessary, and the middle of the movie does drag a bit. My biggest disappointment is that the climax of the movie involves another assault on another Death Star; it leaves me with the feeling that the series was really starting to run short of new ideas. And I do want to say that I really liked Ian McDiarmid’s performance as the Emperor, at least for the reason that I rarely hear any mention made of him or his performance in the movie. And, for the record, I watched the original theatrical release of the movie, rather than one of the “digitally enhanced” versions.

Resurrection (1980)

Article 3656 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-3-2011
Posting Date: 8-18-2011
Directed by Daniel Petrie
Featuring Ellen Burstyn, Sam Shepard, Richard Farnsworth
Country: USA
What it is: Fantasy drama

After a car accident, a woman has an after death experience but is brought back to life. Afterwards, she discovers she has the power to heal.

Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Oscar for her role as the healer in this movie, and she well deserved it; her character is so sincere and engaging that she draws us into the drama of the story. In fact, we like her so much that we find ourselves dreading the darkness that hovers on the outskirts of the story; because she doesn’t credit any particular divine entities for her powers (she doesn’t know where the power came from), there are those who come to their own conclusions as to the source of her powers, and some of these people aren’t satisfied with her silence on the matter. The movie is deeply emotional but never cloying; the sincerity of everyone’s performance is apparent, and it fleshes out and adds dimension to the movie. The ending is lovely, and quite logical in its way. Recommended.

Short Stories of Love (1974)

aka Rex Harrison Presents Stories of Love

Article 3655 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-2-2011
Posting Date: 8-17-2011
Directed by John Badham, Arnold Laven, and Jeannot Szwarc
Featuring Rex Harrison, Bill Bixby, Lloyd Bochner
Country: USA
What it is: Anthology series pilot

Rex Harrison presents three short story adaptations on the subject of love. The first involves a shy computer programmer who discovers that the supercomputer he has been working on can write love poetry, and he uses the poems to woo a female co-worker. The second involves a man from the air force who meets and falls in love with a movie usherette, unaware that the woman has a secret. The third involves a French shopkeeper who agrees to help an American painter who loves the shopkeeper’s daughter to sell his paintings… especially when he sees the painter has made a stunning copy of a Watteau.

I always feel a bit antsy when I’m watching a movie anthology that isn’t specifically geared to the genres; I’m always a little afraid that it will turn out to be a false lead and have no fantastic content. However, in this one, two of the stories do hinge on the genres. The first one features Bill Bixby, and is based on the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. short story EPICAC, and is clearly science fiction; despite a rather far-fetched premise, it’s rather endearing and even moving towards the end. The second is based on a Daphne Du Maurier story called KISS ME AGAIN STRANGER, and given that radio announces early on that a serial killer is on the loose who preys on men from the air force, it’s clear that the second one has some horror touches as well. This one features Leonard Nimoy and Juliet Mills; both do quite well, though Nimoy can’t quite hold on to his British accent. The third (Somerset Maugham’s THE FORTUNATE PAINTER) is likable enough and has some fun performances in it from Lorne Greene, Agnes Moorehead and Alan Hale Jr., but it has no fantastic content, and it is also the one that least fits in with the others, as the theme of love seems more of a side issue than the main focus of the story. Still, overall it’s an interesting combination of stories, and it might have been interesting to see what the series would have been like had the pilot sold.

E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982)

Article 3654 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-1-2011
Posting Date: 8-16-2011
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Featuring Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote
Country: USA
What it is: Children’s science fiction movie

A young boy takes in a stranded extraterrestrial in the hopes of saving him from authorities that are searching for him. He develops a bond with the alien, and tries to help him find a way to return home.

It took this second watching for me to realize it, but I have a soft spot in my heart for this one. It’s one of the few movies from the era that I took the trouble to catch in the theater, and I did so before E.T.’s image was plastered over everything, so my first sight of him was in the movie itself, which I consider a real plus. For years I’ve been expressing some disappointment with the movie due to my problems with certain plot elements (especially with the levitation powers of E.T.), but at least one of my major issues turned out to be due to me misremembering certain details, and I’m glad I gave it a rewatching.

Of those that I’ve seen, this is perhaps Spielberg’s most manipulative film, and as such, I’m always a bit tempted to dismiss it on principal alone. Yet, I can’t deny that while the movie is actually playing in front of me, I find myself totally caught up in the actions and the situations; I laugh when it wants me to laugh, I cry when it wants me to cry. If nothing else, it makes me respect Spielberg’s skill at handling this sort of thing, and the only time I felt the movie pushed too hard while I was watching it was at the appearance of a rainbow near the very end. Once it’s all over, there is the temptation to pick it apart, if for no other reason than to avoid admitting that the movie did a number on me while it was on. But that’s what I did after the first time I saw it, and it still worked just as well on my second viewing. So I think I’ll just let it be and enjoy it for what it is.

Quest for Fire (1981)

aka La guerre du feu

Article 3653 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-31-2011
Posting Date: 8-15-2011
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Featuring Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nicholas Kadi
Country: Canada / France / USA
What it is: Caveman movie

When a primitive tribe is attacked by an enemy, the survivors find that they cannot revive their precious fire. They send out three of their tribe on a quest to find some fire and bring it back to them.

This isn’t the first or only caveman movie with an invented language, but I think this is the one that works best. By choosing a storyline that is appropriate and easy to follow, it makes it unnecessary to try to figure out the various languages, and by casting interesting-looking actors with expressive faces, much of the story is told without really having to use the languages. The primitive world is brutal and deadly, but the movie never feels exploitative, and there is plenty of humor to be found along the way; the reactions of two of characters on the quest to the third one’s having fallen in love is priceless, for example. My favorite scene has our three heroes and their new female friend (played by Rae Dawn Chong, who spends the whole movie naked) under attack by a hostile tribe only to be saved by the unexpected appearance of a group of mammoths. All in all, this was a fascinating and satisfying movie.

Outland (1981)

OUTLAND (1981)
Article 3652 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-30-2011
Posting Date: 8-14-2011
Directed by Peter Hyams
Featuring Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen
Country: UK
What it is: Science fiction western

A new Marshall takes charge in a mining colony on the moon of Io and discovers there’s been a number of mysterious deaths caused by people going crazy. His research reveals that the management has been increasing production with a deadly amphetamine drug to increase production.

My first experience with this movie was through having read a review of it that took it to task for its wealth of scientific errors, and for trying to adapt a western story to a science fiction setting, arguing that science fiction should only be used to tell stories that can’t be told any other way. The above plot description doesn’t really touch on the western aspects of the story, but they are there; the movie works itself up to a HIGH NOON-like premise, in which the Marshall must face and defeat hired killers intent on gunning him down. I don’t know how much the scientific errors really bother me, as I doubt that I would have noticed most of them; the one that does bother me is that it does seem pretty dunderheaded to be using projectile weapons in the sort of environment where a hole in the wall could kill everyone in the room. As for the use of a western motif, I suspect that there’s a lot of science fiction movies out there over the years that largely use the science fiction aspects for background and trappings in stories that could be told in other mediums. For what it’s worth, I enjoy this movie a lot more than MOON ZERO TWO, which was roughly trying to do the same thing, but I do know the more that it reveals its western sensibility, the more predictable it becomes. The climax is somewhat disappointing; one of the hit men acts with incredible stupidity, and the final fight sequence looks clumsy in space suits. Yet, overall, I found the movie passable, albeit too long.

Supergirl (1971)

TV-Movie aka Supergirl – Das Madchen von den Sternen

Article 3651 by Dave Sindelar

Viewing Date: 7-29-2011
Posting Date: 8-13-2011
Directed by Rudolf Thome
Featuring Iris Berben, Marquard Bohm, Nikolaus Dutsch
Country: West Germany
What it is: Either an art film or somebody’s idea of a joke… and maybe both

A woman from space comes down to Earth to warn of an impending invasion… maybe.

SUPERGIRL! – You will believe a woman can…. uhh… walk around and talk to people. Yes, the movie indeed has the title above, and the credits match that of my source for the movie. According to John Stanley’s movie guide, the girl comes to Earth to warn of an impending invasion, but everyone just wants to sleep with her; I’m glad he had that description, because it gave me the only clue to just what this movie is about. However, the plot description makes it sound more exciting and sexier than it is. You see, the problem is that my copy of this movie is in unsubtitled German, and the only visual hint I have that this movie has any fantastic content at all is the title. No super powers, no spaceships, no strange-looking aliens – a woman goes around and talks to people who drink a lot, and the only hint we get that something interesting is supposed to be going on is that the soundtrack goes all crazy whenever a black Cadillac shows up. The only sign of action we get (if we discount the moment when a man throws a newspaper on the floor) is when someone shoots a gun at someone in a garden, but if that goes anywhere, it’s a mystery to me. The biggest item of interest here is that Rainer Werner Fassbinder is in the movie, though he goes uncredited; I think think he plays the guy in the Cadillac. If there is anything at all exciting here, it’s hidden in the dialogue, but given that the movie has a rating of 3.6 on IMDB (which hopefully was rated by people who understood the language), I suspect there’s really nothing much here worth digging out.

The Omen (1976)

THE OMEN (1976)
Article 3650 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-28-2010
Posting Date: 8-12-2011
Directed by Richard Donner
Featuring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner
Country: UK / USA
What it is: The Antichrist

When an ambassador’s wife’s newborn child dies shortly after birth, he agrees to substitute another child for it. However, the substitute may be more than just a child, and evidence begins to mount that it is the Antichrist.

I’ve never been quite as taken with this movie as I am with some of the other similarly themed movies from within the same ten years; both THE EXORCIST and ROSEMARY’S BABY come to mind. Part of it is that I have a little problem with the powers of evil in this movie; though they can work up an elaborate death involving a storm and a lightning rod, they seem to be fairly slow about dealing with the threat of Gregory Peck. Somehow, I think the Prince of Lies would function with more subtlety and efficiency than he does here. Still, the movie gets its greatest strength by the presence of a strong set of actors, including Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, one-time Doctor Patrick Troughton, and Leo McKern; they manage to sell the movie very well. For me, the most interesting moment is the death of the nanny; in the case of all the other deaths in the movie, you know the reason for them and so they come as no surprise, but the nanny’s death comes out of the blue, and it’s not until later that you realize why she had to die. The movie spawned two lesser sequels and a remake, none of which quite had the impact of this movie, though how scary it is may depend on just how much credence you give to theories about the Book of Revelation in the Bible.

Cagliostro (1929)

aka Cagliostro – Liebe und Leben eines grosssen Abenteurers

Article 3649 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-27-2011
Posting Date: 8-11-2011
Directed by Richard Oswald
Featuring Hans Stuwe, Renee Heribel, Alfred Abel
Country: Germany / France / Sweden
What it is: Historical intrigue

An adventurer who dabbles in alchemy and the black arts becomes embroiled in the intrigues of the court of France just before the revolution, and has a brush with the Inquisition.

Here’s another movie that was rescued from my “ones that got away” list, and I was quite delighted to find that my print had English title cards. It only runs 53 minutes so it may not be complete, but the story is clear enough. It’s supposed to be based on a novel, but Cagliostro is a historical personage, albeit one shrouded in mystery. The movie deals mostly with his disgrace when he makes an unfortunate prediction about Marie Antoinette’s fate, and his plans for revenge which involve a diamond necklace. Afterwards, he is arrested by the Inquisition, but the movie seems to have an ending that doesn’t coincide with what happened in real life. The movie is actually quite entertaining, but the fantastic content only plays a partial role in the proceedings, though he does dabble in alchemy, black magic, faith healing, mind reading, and predicting the future. At heart, it’s a love story as well, as it covers the journey he must take to finally fully win the heart of his wife. It’s nice to finally have seen this one.