Swing You Sinners! (1930)

Article 4819 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-11-2015
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Featuring the voice of Billy Murray
Country: USA
What it is: Weird cartoon

Bimbo, on the run for chicken thievery, takes refuge in a cemetery and gets trapped inside.

If there’s one thing you can say about the Fleischers and their cartoons during the early thirties, it’s that they weren’t afraid to unleash demented surrealism when the spirit took them, and it this cartoon, the spirit REALLY took them. The first half of the cartoon where Bimbo crosses swords with a chicken and a cop is relatively sedate; it’s only after Bimbo takes refuge in the cemetery and finds himself set upon ghosts, ghouls and talking tombstones that it kicks into high gear, with all these beasties accusing, condemning and chasing the poor guy, all to the beat of the jazzy/scary music playing. Some of the creatures are indescribable; they’re funny, scary and outlandish in equal parts. This one may be even stranger than BIMBO’S INITIATION.


Lightning Sketches (1907)

Article 4818 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-10-2015
Directed by J. Stuart Blackton
Featuring J. Stuart Blackton
Country: USA
What it is: Trick short with animation

An artist draws lightning-fast sketches of people and things.

Most of this short is just what it sounds like; it’s an artist making sketches in fast motion. This in itself makes it sound thin in the fantastic content department, but there are a few touches here and there. Occasionally, some of the sketches come to life through the use of animation, and the sheets of paper will sometimes crumple themselves up without noticeable human intervention. It’s a fun if non-exceptional short, but it does strike one sour note for today’s audiences. The copy I saw was on YouTube, and the fact that it starts without a title and with the artist already partway through his first sketch made me wonder if the print was incomplete. After reading the full plot description on IMDB, I now believe the short has been censored; the first two sketches involve the artist transforming a word into a face (the second sketch involves changing “Cohen” into a Jewish caricature), and the first face (of a black caricature) is drawn from a racial epithet which is considered offensive nowadays. I won’t say what the word is, but if he had drawn a four-legged animal that looks like it was wearing a mask, it wouldn’t have been.

L’inconnu di Shandigor (1967)

aka The Unknown Man of Shandigor
Article 4817 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-9-2015
Directed by Jean-Louis Ray
Featuring Marie-France Boyer, Ben Carruthers, Jaques Dufilho
Country: Switzerland
What it is: Eurospy, arty comic style

A scientist creates a method of nullifying nuclear bombs, but goes into isolation with only his daughter and his assistant. He becomes the target of several groups of spies, all of which want the scientist’s secret for their own ends.

I was halfway through watching this movie before I realized that I had English subtitles to help me sort out the French dialogue, so I went back to the beginning and watched it with the subtitles. But I don’t consider my half-viewing the first time around to be wasted; having had a chance to concentrate on the visuals and the acting during that time, it made me realize just how comic the movie is, and that’s something I might have missed if I had been concentrating on the story. It’s a spy story shot like an art film, and feels like a sly parody of both. There’s at least five groups of spies in the movie, and in a sense, there’s no real hero, and one is left wondering which of the groups (if any) will prevail. At times the movie gets truly bizarre; the strangest scenes has one group of spies embalming a deceased member of their team while their leader plays and sings a weird ditty on the organ. There’s torture by psychedelic music, a massacre in a bowling alley, and an unseen aquatic monster kept by the scientist in a swimming pool. Howard Vernon is on hand as the closest the movie comes to a James Bond character, a man named Bobby Gun (who, incidentally, uses a knife). The weird-looking Daniel Emilfork almost steals the movie as the scientist. All in all, I was charmed and delighted by the movie, though it might take a couple more viewings to sort out some of the plot details.

Superman (1941)

aka The Mad Scientist
Article 4816 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-8-2015
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Featuring the voices of Joan Alexander, Julian Noa and Bud Collyer
Country: USA
What it is: Animated superhero action

A mad scientist threatens to terrorize Metropolis with his death ray. Can Superman stop him?

I suppose it could be argued that the Fleischer Superman cartoons suffered from bare-bones plots and thin characterization, but to do so would miss the point that those were the least important aspects of the productions. What mattered was the nonstop action, the bright colors, the superb animation and the rousing score, and those are here in spades, and I’m willing to bet that’s just what the Superman fans of the time wanted. Apparently, the Fleischers were initially reluctant to take on the task of animating Superman, claiming it would require a huge budget to pull off the realistic animation necessary to make it work; amazingly enough, Paramount coughed up the dough and it was the most expensive cartoon series of its time. The only element that seems out of place is the mad scientist’s comic-relief pet vulture, a touch that seems to belong in a different cartoon. Other than that, this is a pretty rousing introduction of Superman to the big screen.

The Stupid Cupid (1944)

Article 4815 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-7-2015
Directed by Frank Tashlin
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Frank Graham
Country: USA
What it is: Warner Brothers cartoon

Cupid is on the loose again and causing all of the animals to fall in love. He sets his sights on Daffy, but Daffy, who has bad memories of his last amour, wants none of it. However, he may not have a choice…

There is a certain perverse logic to casting Elmer Fudd as Cupid given his well-known love of hunting. Furthermore, Daffy Duck (in his manic incarnation) is a good choice for his victim. This is a fairly standard Warner Brothers cartoon of the period, but it does have a few standout moments. My favorites include a snapshot of Daffy’s family which shows that there is a strain of genetic mutations in his DNA, and there’s a fun variation on the “Well, now I’ve seen everything…” gag. Oddly enough, Blanc does the voice of Elmer Fudd in this one, but that’s explained by the fact that Elmer doesn’t have any dialogue; he just giggles. Director Tashlin would move on to non-animated features after his stint as an animator; he brought a certain cartoony quality to many Jerry Lewis movies.

The Atoms (1947)

THE ATOMS (1947)
aka Atom na rozcesti
Article 4814 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Cenek Duba
Voice cast unknown
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Animated allegory

A mad scientist is trying to invent the atom, but when his assistant beats him to it by inventing the good atom, the scientist locks the atom away and invents an evil atom. To demonstrate its power, he locks the evil atom in a bomb and intends to test it on a small inhabited island. Can the assistant prevent this?

This title just recently ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but since their was no listing on IMDB, I harbored very little hope of ever seeing it. However, almost immediately, a friend posted a link to the short on YouTube, where it was listed as THE ATOMS and dubbed into English. It’s an allegory about the good and evil uses of science; the good atom produces abundance and rebuilds the world, while the evil one destroys things. The animation is excellent, and the English narration is quite effective; it’s an interesting and effective short. From the looks of it, the YouTube video was culled from its appearance on a “Something Weird” tape or disc. I’m glad to see that this one was available.

Le destin execrable de Guillemette Babin (1948)

aka Guillemette Babin
Article 4813 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-4-2015
Directed by Guillaume Radot
Featuring Helena Bossis, Michel Barbey, Germain Kerjean
Country: France
What it is: Witch drama

A young woman’s mother is caught and executed for witchcraft. The woman herself finds, as she grows older, that the call of witchcraft is in her blood as well.

My copy of this movie is in French without English subtitles, so I am no doubt missing certain subtleties in the movie. However, much of the movie is told visually, and if you go in armed with a certain amount of info about the subject matter, it isn’t really all that difficult to follow. Granted, the story is familiar enough; I’ve seen a few other movies that tell similar stories. The most surprising thing about this one is that the witchcraft seems real; there are sequences in which a woman disappears into mid air, a man is turned into a donkey, and a woman’s scars magically heal themselves. There’s also a black mass sequence that made the movie rather controversial for its time, as it was far more explicit than audiences of the time were used to seeing. All in all, I found the movie interesting enough, but mostly rather ordinary, but the fact that I don’t understand French means that this evaluation should be taken with a grain of salt.

Curse of the Oily Man (1956)

aka Sumpah orang minyak
Article 4812 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-3-2015
Directed by P. Ramlee
Featuring P. Ramlee, Sri Dewi, Ahmad C.
Country: Singapore / Malaysia
What it is: Fantasy/Horror

A hunchback, tormented by ruffians in a nearby village, is given a another chance by a supernatural entity that changes him into a handsome man. However, will he prove worthy of this change, and what will the price be if he fails?

The oily man is apparently a creature of Malaysian legend, a human-like creature that was a serial rapist; the oil covering was to make him hard to catch. This is one of several movies based on the legend; it basically concocts an elaborate story on how the creature came to be. The title creature really doesn’t appear until near the end of the movie; for the most part, the movie feels more like a moody fairy tale than a horror movie. The middle section of the movie, where the hunchback is drawn into a supernatural environment is the most memorable sequence here, though there are plenty of effective touches throughout; there are a couple of impressive storm sequences as well. My print of the movie is in Malay rather than English, so certain plot details evade me. However, the general thrust of the story is quite easy to follow, and this is one of those foreign-language movies that I can recommend even to those not familiar with the language. All in all, this is atmospheric and well-done.

Gunnar Hedes Saga (1923)

aka The Story of Gunnar Hede
Article 4811 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-2-2015
Directed by Mauritz Stiller
Featuring Gustav Aronson, Stina Berg, Hugo Bjorne
Country: Sweden
What it is: Drama

A young man is enamored with the story of his grandfather (who began life as a wandering violinist and then made his fortune in a reindeer migration scheme) much to the chagrin of his somewhat dictatorial mother. The young man rebels and leaves home with a juggling troupe, but then decides to invest his money in a reindeer migration scheme similar to his grandfather’s. However, things go horribly wrong…

Technically, this movie is a drama with a few fantastic touches, but to my mind, the fantastic touches are impressive and bizarre enough to warrant mentioning. There’s a sequence where a portrait of the hero’s grandfather seems to come to life, there are a few moments of precognition (especially when the hero’s girlfriend has a dream involving a sleigh being pulled by what look like bears to me), and there’s a hallucinatory moment or two when the hero goes mad after a truly freaky accident involving a reindeer. As for the movie itself, it’s well worth watching; it’s the story of how a mother and her son both go through their own personal hells in order to come to terms with one another, and it’s partly very familiar and partly like nothing else I’ve seen before. The scenes involving the reindeer migration are in particular quite spectacular. Sadly, the movie does not exist in its entirety; my print only runs half the length of the original, but though there are a few gaps, it does tell a coherent story. I definitely recommend this one to anyone who can find a copy.

The Star of Bethlehem (1912)

Article 4810 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-1-2015
Directed by Lawrence Marston
Featuring Florence La Badie, James Cruze, William Russell
Country: USA
What it is: Biblical tale

Three wise men from the east follow a star to Bethlehem so they may worship the birth of a new king.

According to a useful user comment on IMDB, this movie was three reels long, but all that survives is a condensation reel that runs about fifteen minutes. I somehow sensed the movie was incomplete, though I do wonder what was cut. My gut feeling is that the movie either told more of the story involving Herod (the movie opens with scenes involving Herod who drops out of the action afterwards) or it goes farther back in time to watch the Magi leave on their quest. I suspect this condensation was put together by a very devoted Christian; most of the movie seems to involve people seeing the star, kneeling down in worship, and then getting up long enough to follow it some more, then kneeling down and worshiping some more, and then getting up etc. This is very reverent, no doubt, but dramatically, it’s more than a bit dull. It’s interesting to note that the star seems to be fairly low hanging; during a scene in a doorway, it only seems to be hanging a few feet above their heads. I do find it a bit ironic, though, that a movie as reverent as this one opens with a lengthy sequence in which dancing girls perform for Herod, a scene that is dramatically unnecessary and starts the movie off at a snail’s pace.