Goona-Goona (1932)

aka Kriss
Article 5296 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-12-2016
Directed by Armand Denis and Andre Roosevelt
Featuring natives of Bali
Country: France / USA
What it is: Half documentary / half melodrama

A Balinese prince returns to Bali from Europe to marry the daughter of a raja, but he desires a girl who works in the market who is married to a local worker. However, the local sorcerer has a love potion…

One could argue that this movie wanders away from the plot too often, but that would be missing the point that the movie seems primarily to be a documentary of sorts on the daily life of the natives of Bali. As such, it’s certainly more interesting for its snapshots of Balinese life; I’m especially taken with the native masks worn during a ceremony to drive evil spirits away before a marriage. The main title refers to the love potion that provides the movie’s fantastic content; the alternate title stands for a special type of knife handed down as an heirloom that plays into the story. This movie was distributed on a states right basis, most likely due to the extensive topless nudity in the movie; Balinese women only wear tops during ceremonial occasions. Due to the way it was distributed, lengths of prints of this movie range from 42 to 70 minutes long; for reference purposes, the print I saw ran 65 minutes. The story itself isn’t particularly novel, but it has its uses as a cinematic snapshot of an island culture.


The Bad Lord Byron (1949)

Article 5295 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-11-2016
Directed by David MacDonald
Featuring Dennis Price, Mai Zetterling, Joan Greenwood
Country: UK
What it is: Biography

Lord Byron finds himself on trial in a heavenly court. Was he good or evil?

I love a movie that brings history to life. Unfortunately, this static talkfest isn’t one of them. The fantastic content is there in the plot description; it’s used as a framing device to set up stories from his life. Like too many cinematic biographies, it’s far more interested in his love life than any of his other accomplishments, and most of the movie consists of long conversations between him and the women who knew him. The direction is perfunctory and Price’s performance in the title role fails to make the character much fun. You know a movie is disappointing when you see Ernest Thesiger’s name in the cast and you almost miss him because he barely registers in his role. Lord Byron could well be the subject of an interesting movie, but that’s not this one.

Ginevra degli almieri (1936)

Article 5294 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-10-2016
Directed by Guido Brignone
Featuring Elsa Merlini, Amedeo Nazzari, Uberto Palmerini
Country: Italy
What it is: Historical drama

Two lovers discover the course of true love does not run smooth.

The copy I found of this was in Italian without English subtitles. It’s quite talky, so I can’t say that I was able to follow it very well. From the opening scenes, I would have guessed this was a musical comedy, but IMDB classifies it as a history and a drama, so I wonder if it was based on a true story. At any rate, I’m covering it because it contains plot elements of the “premature burial” sort and features a character being mistaken for a ghost. Though these plot elements alone might make it only marginally fantastic, I will say the sequence where two men break into a crypt during a rainy night and see a woman they believed dead starting to move does have some real authentic horror atmosphere. These sequences are quite effective; the rest of the movie I can’t evaluate because of its heavy reliance on dialogue. This movie also seems somewhat obscure; it’s one of the rare movies I’ve covered that has no votes on IMDB.

The Phable of a Busted Romance (1916)

Article 5293 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-9-2016
Directed by Tom E. Powers and Raoul Barre
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Early animation

A man returns a purse to a rich lady. What will be his reward?

Most of the early animation I’ve covered so far has been from innovators and pioneers like Emile Cohl, Winsor McCay and Wladyslaw Starewicz. Their stuff is outstanding and fascinating. However, there was also a lot of early animation that is primitive and forgettable; here’s one of them. It’s a somewhat confusing moral fable about a man who gets rewarded for a good deed in such a way that leaves him actually worse off than before, though it’s difficult to glean exactly what we’re to learn here. And the fantastic content? There’s no anthropomorphic animals here, and there’s really nothing in the story to merit the fantastic label. The closest I can get is that the main character’s “car” looks vaguely science-fictiony, and before the abrupt cutoff, I thought I might have seen a couple of dolls walking of their own volition, but this went by so fast that I’m probably mistaken. At any rate, this one is hardly essential viewing.

A Pee-kool-yar Sit-chee-ay-shun (1944)

Article 5292 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-8-2016
Directed by Sid Marcus
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Li’l Abner Cartoon

Daisy Mae tries to make Li’l Abner jealous by saying she’s going to marry Disgustin’ Jones. The ploy works, but Li’l Abner has a problem; he has to get past Disgustin’ Jones’ bodyguards to win Daisy Mae back.

It looks like the animation department for Columbia took a shot at producing several shorts based on the L’il Abner comic strip during the mid forties. Given the low user rating for this one on IMDB (4.3), I’m guessing that fans of the comic strip were not charmed by these shorts; they certainly seem more slapsticky than satirical. I actually thought the animation was decent, and some of the gags weren’t too bad, but I was very disappointed by the voice acting; for some reason, they lacked the flavor of the voices in my head when I read the strip. Also, there’s the issue of fantastic content again; the lack of anthropomorphic animals means that most of it would come from the exaggeration of the comic gags. Still, I suppose it could be argued that Mammy Yokum has super-powers, given the way she mops up the place when she swings into action. At any rate, the cartoon is probably mostly for those who were curious to see how they came out.

King Neptune (1932)

Article 5291 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-7-2016
Directed by Burt Gillett
Featuring the voices of Marcellite Garner, Allan Watson
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony

Huge King Neptune, God of the Seas, takes revenge on a group of pirates when they kidnap a mermaid.

Can you say “pre-code”? I don’t mean that lightly in this case; with a passel of topless mermaids and a story line which involves pirates trying to engage in the other half of a two-verb phrase that includes the word “pillage”, we’re definitely not in whimsy territory here. This one is heavy in violence and strange visuals involving a variety of sea creatures. It is a pretty engaging cartoon, and I do have admire a cartoon that has more going on than just a series of whimsical visuals (a crime of which many cartoons of the era is guilty). Still, this one is really not for the kiddies.

Kashtanka (1952)

Article 5290 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-6-2016
Directed by Mikhail Tsekhanovskii
Featuring the voices of Boris Chirkov, Vladimir Feoktistov, Vladimir Gribkov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Dog story

A dog is separated from her owner during a long trip to the city and is adopted by a man who works in the circus and has a trained animal act.

This short animated film is based on a story by Anton Chekhov that is told from the dog’s point of view, which makes it somewhat similar to IT’S A DOG’S LIFE. However, it is perhaps even less of a fantasy than that movie; for one thing, the dog never addresses us directly – her thoughts and feelings are told to us by a narrator. The Walt Lee guide describes the fantastic content as being that of “a dog and his (sic) animal friends”, but if that conjures up visions of “Charlotte’s Web”, it should be noted that at no time do the animals talk to or fully understand each other; when a goose goes off on a speech (honking, not talking), all the dog realizes is that it must be important and that she can’t understand a word of it. So I’d have to say the fantastic content here is very marginal, and even the presence of a clown doesn’t turn it into a horror movie. That being said, it’s an excellent and moving little piece, and the animation is outstanding; I suspect it was rotoscoped, but if it was, it was still one of the most effective uses of that method I’ve seen; the characters move with such natural and realistic grace. My favorite moment is when the animal suddenly finds herself in a situation where she must choose between her old owners and her new one. All in all, this is a lovely piece.

Kaleidoscope (1935)

Article 5289 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-5-2016
Directed by Len Lye
No cast
Country: UK
What it is: Abstract animation

No plot.

Some of these abstract animations are kind of fun, and some of them are a drag, and sometimes I find it a little hard to say what it is about each one that makes it one or the other. I found this one to be fun, and I do have a few reasons why. One is that I like the jazzy music (BIGUINE D’AMOUR) that serves as the soundtrack. Another is that the animation itself is lively, fast-moving, and fun to look at. Another is that the short makes a few concessions from being a purely abstract piece by simply interspersing the film credits into the action during the first minute, and then by revealing itself to be an advertising piece for Churchman’s cigarettes in the final minute. Yes, this film does double duty as a cigarette commercial as well. My only complaint is the site at Daily Motion where I found this short insists on a running an ad for something else that you have to sit through before seeing the short; I really don’t think you should have to watch a commercial to see a commercial.

Ombres Chinoises (1908)

aka Les ombres chinoises, Silhouettes
Article 5288 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-4-2016
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Featuring Julienne Mathieu
Country: France
What it is: Special effects short

Two Oriental girls present a magical animated sequence to us.

A user comment on IMDB speculates that Emile Cohl may have been involved with this production, due to the fact that the middle section of this short involves an animated sequence that seems more at home in Cohl’s oeuvre than it does in Chomon’s. Though I suppose it’s a possibility, the sequence doesn’t really remind me of Cohl’s style. It does, however, remind me of the style of Terry Gilliam’s animated sequences for Monty Python, and I suspect the animation was done in roughly the same way with cutout figures. The animated sequence is the most interesting thing here; the framing live-action sequences are not memorable, and I haven’t a clue as to what’s going on during the last forty seconds of the movie when the women restructure a frame to add what looks like a screen only to remove it shortly afterwards. At any rate, this first came to my hunt list under a deceptive name, so I’m glad to have discovered that I actually had a copy handy.

Joan the Woman (1916)

Article 5287 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-2-2016
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Featuring Geraldine Farrar, Raymond Hatton, Hobart Bosworth
Country: USA
What it is: Biography

The story of Joan of Arc is told.

Given that Joan of Arc heard voices and saw visions of angels, the fantastic content is already built into the story. However, the movie as such augments that content by having a few minor miracles (such as having Joan identify the true king of France when she is presented to a pretender) and by adding a framing story which throws reincarnation into the mix as well. Now I’m not intimately familiar with the full story of Joan of Arc, so I can’t say for sure what is true to the story and what is made up, but moments of this movie don’t ring true; certainly, the romance/betrayal subplot seems fake and largely exists to connect the framing story to the main biography. As for the movie itself, some of the spectacle is quite impressive during the Orleans battle sequence, some of it is silly (the flower sequence), and some of it is rather dull; the last third of the movie in particular drags badly. All in all, the movie was okay but too long, and it didn’t really blow me away.