How to Stop a Motor Car (1902)

Article 4164 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-23-2013
Directed by Percy Stow
Featuring Cecil M. Hepworth, T.C. Hepworth, Claude Whitten
Country: UK
What it is: Comic trick short

After a policeman is run over by a car he is trying to stop, he consults another policeman on the proper method of stopping a motor vehicle.

My hat’s off to Percy Stow for this one; it’s a one-joke premise, but it’s a pretty amusing joke, at least to my eyes. In a sense, I see it as something of a sequel to HOW IT FEELS TO BE RUN OVER, only this time, there’s some clear fantastic content; after the policeman is run over, he is scattered into several pieces, which reassemble themselves through the use of stop-motion animation, though it is clear that the policeman does suffer some trauma as a result of the accident. The correct method of stopping a car also falls under the category of the fantastic (I certainly wouldn’t try it in real life), but I refuse to give that away for anyone interested in seeing the film. This one was fun.

Jack Jaggs and Dum Dum (1903)

aka Tom Tight et Dum-Dum
Article 4163 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-21-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick short

A magician tries to do his trick, but is interrupted by an intrusive dancing fool.

It’s Melies engaged in his usual tricks here, only with the addition of a comic subplot in which his act is interrupted by a clownish dancer. I’m assuming the magician is Jack Jaggs or Tom Tight, and that the dancer is Dum-Dum, but I can’t guarantee that. If this one were a little tighter and livelier, it would work better, but, as it is, it’s one of Melies’s duller shorts from the period. It does build up to a nice final comic moment, though. As for the tricks, you’ve seen them before in other Melies shorts.

Chandrasena (1935)

Article 4162 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-20-2013
Directed by Rajaram Vankudre Shantaram
Featuring Nalini Tarkhad, Rajani, Sureshbabu Mane
Country: India
What it is: Epic fantasy

Rama and Lakshmana are kidnapped by an underground demon. Can the monkey god Hanuman rescue them?

Given that my copy of this movie is in unsubtitled Marathi, I had to go to IMDB to get a bit of help with that plot description. Even with that help, this wasn’t easy to follow. It’s based on a story from the Ramayana, and I just don’t have the cultural touchstones to follow it. However, there is a wealth of fantastic content, including a tribe of monkey men, people who can fly and appear out of nowhere, a man who can rise from the dead and duplicate himself, a flying crocodile transporting a woman, and a particularly fun sequence in which the monkey god turns into a giant and picks up a normal sized man. There’s some of the strangest props I’ve ever seen in a movie (some of which I think are musical instruments), and some of the most outrageously huge swords I’ve ever encountered. Since I couldn’t quite follow the story, I just let the flow of images wash over me. Like almost all Indian movies, there’s lots of music (though surprisingly little dancing). I was initially amazed that the movie runs under two hours, but according to IMDB, it should run 136 minutes, which means that my copy may be short about thirty minutes. I can’t really evaluate how good the movie is due to the language barrier, but I was entertained well enough.

It’s Got Me Again (1932)

Article 4161 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-19-2013
Director unknown
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Animated cartoon

A gang of mice have a party in a music room until the party is crashed by a hungry cat.

This is one of the early Warner Brothers cartoons that got nominated for an Oscar, and though it’s pretty much a standard cartoon of the era (more singing and dancing than story, characters that look like Mickey Mouse, etc.), it is well animated (especially the fierce-looking cat) and it makes some creative use of the various musical instruments lying around the place. Perhaps the most striking bit involves two mice playing a melody on the piano while doing a version of the Apache dance. The title song is played on a gramophone initially, and then is sung by a cornered mouse with altered lyrics later on. No, it’s not a great cartoon, and it needs to be watched with an appreciation for the nature of animated cartoons at this point of history, but this is one of the better examples.

Eagle of the Night (1928)

Article 4160 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-18-2013
Directed by James P. Fulton
Featuring Frank Clarke, Shirley Palmer, Earl Metcalfe
Country: USA
What it is: Serial thrills

A new invention that muffles the sounds of airplanes is the target of a gang of smugglers. Can the U.S. Government test pilot defeat their plans?

Nearly half of this ten-episode serial is missing; the first halves of episode three, five, six and ten are gone, as well as episodes seven, eight and nine in their entirety. Still, it doesn’t seem as if any major plot points are missing, but that’s also because the serial is one of those that seems to be written with the “bare-bones serial writing approach” I’ve encountered before; set up the premise in episode one, resolve it in the final episode, and fill the rest with incidental action. The fantastic content is also disappointing; the airplane silencer is pretty much a Gizmo Maguffin of the first order, and the fact that it is used a couple of times during the surviving footage doesn’t really change the fact its use not only has no impact on the plot, but that there’s something very disappointing about this particular fantastic content, as it is a pretty unsatisfying one from a dramatic standpoint for a silent serial; what’s the fun of not being able to hear the airplane with the silencer when you can’t hear them without it either? So the appeal of this serial is a combination of the airplane stunt work, which is pretty good (even if the most striking one in which an airplane lands on and takes off of a moving train is more a trick of editing than anything else), and the fact that the villains are pretty brutish in this one; you’ll be really glad that the heroine is as feisty as she is, because these guys are creeps. This is one of the lesser serials I’ve seen.

An Interesting Story (1904)

Article 4159 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-17-2013
Directed by James Williamson
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Comic short

A man becomes so engrossed in the novel that he is reading that he pays no attention to anything going on around him, and when he leaves to go to work, he becomes a danger to himself and others.

This is one of the better comic shorts of the early silent era; it takes a simple straightforward concept and sticks to it, exploring the comic possibilities for its four-minute running time. It’s actually quite realistic for most of its running time, and it only verges onto the fantastic in its final moments, when, after what would be usually a fatal encounter with a steamroller, he is revived by a couple of passers-by armed with bicycle pumps. This is a charming and fun little short.

The Inn Where No Man Rests (1903)

aka L’auberge du bon repos
Article 4158 By Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-16-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick short

A drunken man tries to settle in at an inn for the night, but strange events prevent him from getting any sleep.

This is something of an earlier version of THE DREAM OF A RAREBIT FIEND, and, like that short, it features a man trying to rest in a bed that won’t stay still. Granted, there are a lot of other things going on in this one, like a painting that blows out candles and eats things, a coatrack that comes to life, and the ubiquitous Meliesian tumbling imp. Of course, one of the ambiguities of this one is whether these events are really happening or whether they’re hallucinations of the drunken man. It’s not one of his best, but it’s fun and mildly entertaining.

The Infernal Cauldron (1903)

aka Le chaudron infernal
Article 4157 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-15-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Eerie trick short

Two devils sacrifice three women in a cauldron and summon forth their spirits.

This is one of Melies’s more impressive trick films, not so much because of the complexity of the special effects, but because the hand-tinted color is particularly vivid, and there’s an authentically eerie air to the proceedings, especially when the three spirits manifest themselves. There’s not really much of a story, and what there is is a bit muddled in the final moments; I suspect that the spirits may be taking revenge on the devils, but it looks like some action is lost in the splices. This may be one of Melies’s most pronounced forays into horror.

In the Barber Shop (1908)

aka Salon de coiffure
Article 4156 By Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-14-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic short

At a barber shop, a black man and a white woman are being served when the entrance of a beautiful woman distracts the barbers, causing unexpected results.

Based on what I’ve seen of Melies’s work from 1908, I think he was really trying to stretch out and experiment with other types of films than the special-effects laden ones he’d been known for, but the results were generally not good. This particular short is not a high point for him. One of Melies’s biggest problems as a director was that he often didn’t know how to stage the action so that the viewer would know what to look at and what was important; there’s too much frantic action over the whole frame. When you’re trying for comedy, that can cause problems, especially when you’re setting up for the big gags. There’s a streak of racism to this one as well; the fantastic content is centered around the fact that both the man and and the woman change their races as a result of the barbers’ distractions, and when the man is black and the woman is white, he’s constantly coming on to her, but when the races are reversed, he spurns her. Yet, for all these problems, the short isn’t a total disaster; there are a few interesting touches, but it’s far from Melies’s best work.

An Impossible Balancing Feat (1902)

aka L’equilibre impossible
Article 4155 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-12-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring the Georges Melies quartet
Country: France
What is it: Trick film

And, for my next trick, I’ll clone myself into three other people, who will balance themselves on my head and hands.

Here’s another trick film from Melies, and it’s a fairly bare-bones one in that it’s largely to illustrate the single trick of having three copies of himself balancing on top of him. It’s not quite as seamless as some of his other trick shorts, but it is rather fun to figure out how he did the trick. It’s minor Melies, and mildly amusing.