Malefices (1962)

MALEFICES (1962)
aka Where the Truth Lies
Article 5355 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-25-2017
Directed by Henri Decoin
Featuring Juliette Greco, Jean-Marc Bory, Liselotte Pulver
Country: France
What it is: Thriller

A female African explorer falls in love with a married veterinarian who comes to treat her jaguar. When he refuses to accompany her back to Africa, his wife suddenly takes ill. Is it possible the explorer is practicing voodoo?

This is another movie that has been rescued from my “ones that got away” list; it became available in France and I was able to order an import DVD. That being the case, I suspected there would be no English dubbing or subtitles, so I armed myself with a plot description so I could follow the movie at least somewhat; nevertheless, I do have to point out that my ability to judge it fairly is hampered by the language difference. I do know this much; several of my sources list the running time as 83 minutes, but my copy runs 101 minutes. Truth to tell, I’d rather have seen the 83 minutes version; at the longer length, it feels like it takes forever for the plot to get moving. Granted, it may be a lot more interesting if I understood the French dialogue, but given that its rating on IMDB is a little on the lukewarm side, I suspect that the pacing is a problem. It does have a nice twist and a memorable ending; the last 15 minutes are easily the best part of the movie. The presence of voodoo or black magic is the fantastic content, but you’ll have to see the movie yourself if you want to find out if that is real or imagined. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by this one.

Along the Moonbeam Trail (1920)

ALONG THE MOONBEAM TRAIL (1920)
Article 5354 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-24-2017
Directed by Herbert M. Dawley and Willis H. O’Brien
Featuring Herbert M. Dawley, Alan Day, Chauncey Day
Country: USA
What it is: Dream fantasy

Two children and their uncle dream they encounter a fairy queen who grants them their wish for a magic aeroplane that will take them into outer space. They end up on a planet inhabited by dinosaurs.

I’ve been a bit lucky lately with movies on my “ones that got away” list; several have turned up in the last few weeks. This one may have been on the list the longest; it was considered lost until its rediscovery recently, and I’ve now had a chance to see the restored copy. The credits above are a combination of what is on IMDB and what I found on the movie itself. I believe the O’Brien credit above may be incorrect and the movie is entirely Dawley’s work. I knew the short involved dinosaurs (which is probably why it was originally attributed to O’Brien), but I always thought it had a curious title for a dinosaur movie. There’s actually a lot more fantastic content here than just the dinosaurs; fairies, magic aeroplanes, cosmic gods subbing as traffic directors, and human-faced moons all make appearances, and the first half is more like a Melies fantasy than a dinosaur movie. The dinosaurs show up for the second half; there’s a Stegosaurus, a Trachodon, a Pterodactyl and a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The short isn’t quite complete; the ending is missing, for one thing, but the restoration has a summary of the ending, though the remaining footage was probably enough for you to figure out how it would end. This fantasy is a lot of fun, and I’m glad it’s become generally available.

Transfigurations (1909)

TRANSFIGURATIONS (1909)
aka Les transfigurations
Article 5353 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-23-2017
Directed by Emile Cohl
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Partially animated silent short

A man with a “future-telling booth” allows customers to look inside to see how they or their loved ones will look in the future.

Despite the fact that the movie has a definite set-up, this is mostly an excuse for Emile Cohl to do what it is that he usually does – engage in stream-of-consciousness animation. Though he does mostly concentrate on changing human faces, he doesn’t limit himself to that; I don’t think anyone’s spouse is going to end up looking like a weather vane. Granted, most of the customers seem very unhappy with what they see in the booth; the only exception is the man who wants to see what his mother-in-law is really like, so the movie ends on a rather obvious joke. It’s pretty typical of the work of Cohl, and it’s a pretty fun short. I’m also not surprised that he had a short with this title; it describes most of his work.

Ramper, der Tiermensch (1927)

RAMPER, DER TIERMENSCH (1927)
aka The Strange Case of Captain Ramper
Article 5352 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-22-2017
Directed by Max Reichmann
Featuring Paul Wegener, Mary Johnson, Hugo Doblin
Country: Germany
What it is: Bizarre drama

A noted aviator crashes his plane while making a daring flight over the polar regions. In order to survive, he lives a brutal, beast-like existence that buries his humanity. Many years later, he is captured as a “polar ape”, and then is sold as a sideshow attraction, despite the fact that the seller has been told that he is human…

Here’s another movie that ended up on my “ones that got away” list years ago; I had been aware that some footage existed, but I was never sure there was enough to make it worth a viewing. Then, just recently, an incomplete print practically dropped into my lap (and a hearty thanks to the man who sent this to me) and I got a chance to see it. I’m glad I did; this may be one of the most interesting of the Paul Wegener movies I’ve seen. It falls somewhat into the area of science fiction at one point with a theory about the existence of a gland that can be used to restore humanity to a debased man. From what I see, the movie explores the nature of humanity and whether a man can truly say he has a better existence than that of a beast. The movie is not complete, and much of the ending is missing, but there is enough here to enjoy the movie and to guess how things could have turned out; I’m halfway tempted to hunt down the original play and see how it panned out. I’m very glad to have seen it; if it was complete, I think it may have a chance to be judged as Wegener’s best movie.

No More Bald Men (1908)

NO MORE BALD MEN (1908)
aka No More Bald Heads
Article 5351 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-21-2017
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic special effects short

A bald man is delighted when he is given a hair-growing potion that works. However, he isn’t very careful in his use of it…

Here’s another title that languished on my “ones that got away” only to be finally resurrected on YouTube under a slightly different title. It’s a pretty delightful short; it finds just the right comic tone, and it handles the special effects of hair suddenly appearing on a man’s head with skill. However, the person who directed my attention to the availability of this short brought up some interesting questions as to the actual date of this short. Apparently, Pathe Freres on occasion was given to shooting remakes of earlier shorts whose prints had deteriorated and replacing those prints with those of the remakes. My source claims this may actually be a 1912 remake of a 1904 film; notice that neither of these dates is 1908, the date on IMDB. I tend to agree with this evaluation, mainly because I’ve now had a chance to see many films from this era, and one thing I noticed is that it movie acting evolved during this time. The acting in this short seems much more assured in its style than what I’d expect from 1904 or 1908; it does seem to fit in well with 1912, though.

Koneko no rakugaki (1957)

KONEKO NO RAKUGAKI (1957)
aka The Scribbling Cat
Article 5350 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-20-2017
Directed by Taiji Yabushita
No cast
Country: Japan
What it is: Whimsical animated short

A cat’s scribblings on a big white wall come to life. However, when two mice steal his pencil, the cat must chase them in his drawn universe.

One advantage of making a short without any dialogue is that it can be readily appreciated by people who speak other languages without dubbing or subtitles. This utterly charming short is an example of such a film; it tells its fun and whimsical story with a great deal of imagination. It’s one of those concepts that requires animation to work. I’ve encountered Yabushita at least one before; he also gave us PANDA AND THE MAGIC SERPENT as well as ALAKAZAM THE GREAT. All in all, this is another fun foray into the world of Japanese animation.

Noah’s Ark (1928)

NOAH’S ARK (1928)
Article 5349 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-19-2017
Directed by Michael Curtiz and Darryl F. Zanuck
Featuring Dolores Costello, George O’Brien, Noah Beery
Country: USA
What it is: Thinks it’s INTOLERANCE

An American soldier in Europe falls in love with a German woman from a theatrical troupe on the eve of WW1. When war comes, the man feels compelled to join the army, and is separated from his love, with whom he is now married. What will be their fates?

Yes, you’ve read that right – a movie about the Great Flood of the Bible is mostly a drama about World War 1. That’s because the movie has a conceit, and that is that WW1 was the modern (at that time) equivalent of the flood. If that conceit seems a bit forced, join the club; even by expanding the Noah story (which the movie eventually gets around to telling) with an elaborate sword-and-sandal style subplot, the parallel never quite gels, and the movie comes off as a bit of a head-scratcher. This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have its moments; there is some impressive spectacle here. Yet even this is marred by the fact that some of the spectacle was handled irresponsibly; huge amounts of water was dumped on many untrained and unprepared extras, and three actors were killed and many more were seriously injured. Eventually, this incident would lead to the drafting of new stunt safety regulations. Reportedly, two of the extras to survive the movie were John Wayne and Andy Devine, according to IMDB. My favorite scene is the one where God finally gets around to telling Noah to build the ark, giving him instructions in a huge rock book with burning letters. As corny as that sounds, it makes for an impressive visual feast in the movie; it’s certainly more impressive than just having a Twitter account.

Le tout petit Faust (1910)

LE TOUT PETIT FAUST (1910)
Article 5348 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-18-2017
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: The Faust story with stop-motion puppets

Faust makes a deal with the devil and tries to win the hand of Marguerite.

Emile Cohl is a bit out of his usual element here in doing a five-minute adaptation of the first part of Goethe’s play with stop-motion puppets. I like Cohl, but I don’t think he was at his best with puppet animation; the movement seems pretty ragged to me. Nor does a five-minute condensation of the Faust story really do it justice, though we do have plenty of fantastic content, with Mephistopheles appearing and disappearing, and Marguerite eventually going to heaven. It’s probably best viewed as a curiosity, and it’s hardly Cohl’s best work.

The Pointer (1939)

THE POINTER (1939)
Article 5347 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-16-2017
Directed by Clyde Geronimi
Featuring the voices of Walt Disney and Lee Millar
Country: USA
What it is: Pluto cartoon

Mickey Mouse takes Pluto out quail hunting in order to show him how to become a hunting dog.

I’ve been trying to set down some rules for deciding whether any specific animated cartoon truly deserves to be included in the realms of the fantastic; comic exaggeration never quite seems enough of a reason, and anthropomorphic animals have the air of being more a tradition of the form than of signifying true fantastic content. One rule I have devised is this: If an anthropomorphic animal in a cartoon could be replaced by a human character without adversely affecting the story, than the use of the animal is only marginal.

Take this cartoon for example. There are several animals in this cartoon, but only one is truly anthropomorphic, and that is Mickey Mouse; all other animals more or less act like real animals. Mickey could be easily replaced by a human character and the story would work just as well. Hence, I could conclude that the fantastic content in this one is pretty negligible.

On its own terms, the cartoon is a good but not great Disney offering. It’s strength is that Pluto is such a likable character that we care when he makes a mistake and is chewed out by Mickey. However, much of the cartoon uses an old comic gag in which Mickey is followed by a bear, but never turns around to see him and thinks he’s still out with Pluto. I’ve seen this type of gag many times, and though it’s all right here, it’s also been done better elsewhere. It’s Pluto’s (non-anthropomorphic) character that is the real draw here.

The Pleasure Garden (1953)

THE PLEASURE GARDEN (1953)
Article 5346 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-15-2017
Directed by James Broughton
Featuring Jean Anderson, Lindsay Anderson, Maxine Audley
Country: UK
What it is: Experimental film

Several people converge on a public park in search of pleasure, but a cadaverous man tries to prohibit them from experiencing it. Can a witch undo the damage?

Not all experimental films are difficult or incomprehensible; it’s pretty obvious what this one is about. If the title alone doesn’t clue you off, it’s about sex; specifically, it’s about battle between the forces of repression (personified by a group of people in black who want to turn the park into a cemetery) and those of expression (led by the witch and her magic shawl). It’s about as daring as a movie could be made on this subject in 1953. It’s also quite a bit of fun, and since it only runs about 38 minutes, it doesn’t wear out its welcome; a bit longer and the movie would start to bore. It makes fun use of music and has some surreal visual touches. On looking up the oeuvre of director James Broughton, I suspect he made something of a career making shorts on this subject.