Oramunde (1933)

Article 5286 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-31-2016
Directed by Emlen Etting
Featuring Caresse Crosby and Mary Binney Montgomery
Country: USA
What it is: Experimental cinema

Waves crash on the beach. A figure in white dances in and reacts to various landscapes.

This experimental piece of dance cinema is somehow inspired by the story of Melisande, and I had to look up the story from a play by Maurice Maeterlinck to learn more about it. I’m not sure if it really helped me to appreciate what was going on in this short, but it did give me a starting point. Granted, I’m never sure we’re supposed to understand movies like this in the usual sense; it seems we’re supposed to react more on a primal level. That being said, there does appear to be an emotional core of loss and grief to the short, and some of the visual elements are striking, in particular the final scene. As for the fantastic content… well, it’s certainly not realistic, and that figure in the boat may be another vision of Death. At any rate, I always feel out of my league in trying to discuss movies like this.

Number 4: Manteca (1947)

Article 5285 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-29-2016
Directed by Harry Smith
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Abstract animation

No plot.

My collection of Harry Smith shorts has them all strung together without the benefit of chapter breaks, and since no titles appear, I can only guess which title matches which piece of animation. I think this is the clip involving four long skinny rectangles placed together in sort of an elongated tic-tac-toe pattern. In some ways, it doesn’t matter; watched together, they seem all of a piece, with the same jagged style in each section. I had trouble really describing the other shorts I’ve seen of his, and this one is no different. It’s only fantasy in that it’s certainly not realistic. I do think it’s interesting to watch these, but I wouldn’t make a steady diet of it.

Il monello della strada (1950)

aka Street Urchin
Article 5284 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-28-2016
Directed by Carlo Borghesio
Featuring Erminio Macario, Ciccio Jacono, Luisa Rossi
Country: Italy
What it is: Italian comedy

An Italian working as a miner in Argentina marries a woman by proxy. When he returns to Italy, he discovers the woman he married is dead and that he has become the legal father of the woman’s son. He tries to get rid of the boy, but there’s a mysterious woman who won’t let him do it…

To some extent, I must withhold judgment on this one because the copy I found was in Italian without English subtitles. All I initially had to go on was the fantastic content as listed in the Walt Lee guide, which mentions that the plot involves a mother’s ghost making sure that her son finds a good father. Fortunately, this tidbit of information did make it possible for me to more or less follow the plot, and the fact that it was a comedy which occasionally relies on visuals for its humor means that I wasn’t left completely out of the loop. In short, despite the language barrier and the fact that certain plot points and jokes escaped me, I did rather enjoy this one. There’s a fun sequence in which the main character pretends to be a western hero character in a comic book, and the final sequence of the movie has our hero moving through an entire world frozen in time, and the fact that it’s all done by having people trying (not always successfully) to stand really still doesn’t really interfere with the fun of the moment. I always find it a nice experience when I can somehow appreciate a foreign movie when I can’t understand the language, and it happens often enough that I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time by making the effort.

I Like Babies and Infinks (1937)

Article 5283 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-27-2016
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Seymour Kneitel
Featuring the voices of Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, Gus Wickie
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye cartoon

When Swee’Pea goes on a crying fit, Popeye and Bluto get into a competition to see who can make him laugh.

Since the characters in the Popeye cartoons are more or less human, they can’t usually rely on the presence of anthropomorphic animals to supply the fantastic content, but they do have an ace in the hole – spinach and the super-powers it grants. But how do you contend with a cartoon like this one in which no spinach is consumed? Yes, this is a cartoon where no one eats spinach, although it does get referenced. However, in terms of fantastic content, it gets by; as the pranks put on by Popeye and Bluto get more and more outrageous, we get scenes of Popeye and Bluto riding invisible vehicles and Popeye turning himself into an airplane by using his pipe as a propeller, so it does verge into the fantastic. A lot of the humor arises from the silliness of the pranks, so this one is a lot of fun.

Never Kick a Woman (1936)

Article 5282 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-25-2016
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Seymour Kneitel
Featuring the voices of Mae Questel and Jack Mercer
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye short

Popeye takes Olive Oyl into a gym to teach her the art of self-defense, but she doesn’t take to it… until a sexy female boxer starts flirting with Popeye.

This cartoon pops up in my collection of banned cartoons, but it doesn’t appear to be due to any racial stereotypes. Rather, I think it’s the cartoon’s flirtation with domestic violence as comedy that is the controversial element; after all, Popeye only manages to get Olive Oyl into the gym by nearly assaulting her. Still, I should point out that Olive Oyl here ultimately manages to take care of herself, even if she has to eat a can of Popeye’s spinach to do so. I also need to point out that the can of spinach and the superpowers it brings about remains the only fantastic element here; there are no anthropomorphic animals here to contend with, even if the female boxer describes Popeye as a “fascinating monster”. Overall, this is a pretty good Popeye cartoon, with the mutterings of both Mercer and Questel adding to the fun, as well as whoever voices the female boxer (as a Mae West impersonation).

House Hunting Mice (1947)

Article 5281 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-24-2016
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg
Country: USA
What it is: Warner Brothers cartoon

Hubie and Bertie check out a fully automated house, but run afoul of the building’s automatic sweeper.

Here’s another cartoon that doesn’t rely solely on anthropomorphic animals for its fantastic content. Which is not to say it doesn’t have them; Hubie and Bertie are anthropomorphic mice with characters that could be described as being like Abbott and Costello filtered through the Bowery Boys. But on top of that, we have the fully-automated house, full of robots and gadgets that push it into the realm of science fiction. Warner Brothers used the automated house a few times in its cartoons, but I like some of the clever variations here, particularly the automatic phonograph. Usually Hubie and Bertie cartoons had them terrorizing a neurotic cat named Claude; here, they get there comeuppance at the hand of a robot sweeper who mistakes them for garbage. I liked this one.

El planeta de las mujeres invasoras (1966)

aka Planet of the Female Invaders
Article 5280 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-23-2016
Directed by Alfredo B. Cravenna
Featuring Lorena Velazquez, Elizabeth Campbell, Maura Monti
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican space opera

Female outer space invaders have trouble breathing in our atmosphere, so they kidnap some humans in order to see if lung transplants can solve there problem. Can the earthlings be rescued?

With a title like this one, I was half expecting that Santo or one of his masked wrestling cohorts would be on hand in this one, but no such luck. This is not to say that the presence of a masked wrestler would have necessarily improved the movie; rather, the presence of one would have thrown the movie more solidly in the action genre, and given the fact that the print I found of the movie was in Spanish without English subtitles, an action movie would have been much easier to follow. As it is, I had to use the Phil Hardy guide to flesh out the plot description. There is the female eye candy on display to compensate, and I did pick up at least one amusing touch; the aliens kidnap their victims by having their flying saucer pose as an amusement park ride. However, the movie is mostly talk, and I suspect the story is on about the level of QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE. The special effects are on the level of the old Flash Gordon serials, which isn’t really a bad thing; it’s just an observation. Still, in all fairness, I can’t really evaluate this movie fully, though given what I’ve seen, it doesn’t really look promising.

The Desert Hawk (1944)

Article 5279 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-22-2016
Directed by B. Reeves Eason
Featuring Gilbert Roland, Mona Maris, Ben Welden
Country: USA
What it is: Serial

A good caliph is secretly deposed by his evil twin brother who takes his place on the throne. However, the good brother escapes death and goes undercover as a legendary bandit known as The Desert Hawk.

You’d think a serial which flirted with Arabian Nights themes would have more fantastic content, but there are no genies or magic carpets to be found here. There is the fact that the legend of the Desert Hawk is supposed to have supernatural powers or be unkillable, but that’s not established until after we see the deposed caliph take on the persona, so we know it’s just legend. That leaves the two magicians as the main fantastic content here, and within the bounds of the story, it does appear that they have authentic powers. On its own, it’s a moderately entertaining serial, though it does have a few lying cliffhangers to contend with, and I think it would have worked better with 12 episodes instead of fifteen. Despite the setting, this is a pretty ordinary serial.

Hell’s Bells (1929)

Article 5278 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-21-2016
Directed by Ub Iwerks
No voice cast
Country: USA
What it is: Demonic Disney Silly Symphony

Demons play music and dance for Satan in the bowels of hell, but when he starts feeding his minions to Cerberus, he finds one who puts up a resistance.

Well, you can’t fault this one on not having enough fantastic content; the setting is hell, and all sorts of demons and monsters are on hand here. There’s only the barest smidgen of a plot, and that’s pretty much saved for the last minute of cartoon; most of it what you’d expect from cartoons of this era – characters gyrating musically. Which is not to say that it’s not fun in a Halloween sort of way; it is. It’s not the best of the various horror-oriented cartoons out there, but it’s entertaining enough, and among the various musical pieces is a version of “Funeral March of a Marionette”, remembered as Alfred Hitchcock’s theme music.

The Mysterious Portrait (1899)

aka Le portrait mysterieux
Article 5277 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-20-2016
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Early trick short

A magician sets up a portrait and then magically makes himself appear in it. He then has a conversation with his portrait of himself.

Here’s another early short from Melies’s formative years; according to some user comments on IMDB, this short involved his first use of a matte shot, so it can be grouped with those in which he was trying out and using new techniques. It’s a simple trick short with some odd touches, such as the fact that he changes the background of his setting during the length of the short. It’s only a minute long, but it’s charming and fun during its length.