Porky’s Cafe (1942)

Porky’s Cafe (1942)
Article 5494 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-6-2017
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voice of Mel Blanc
Country: USA
What it is: Porky Pig cartoon

At Porky’s cafe, Porky has to cater to the dining needs of a hungry little man, and his cook has to deal with an ant that has gotten loose in the pancake batter.

For the record, the sequence which qualified this one for review is a scene where Porky prepares eggs and toast for his customer by using an elaborate machine that performs all the necessary functions, which throws the cartoon at least partially into the realm of science fiction. That being said, I’m glad to be dealing with a Chuck Jones cartoon here; I’ve seen several early ones recently, and I’ve noticed a certain pattern that sets him apart from some of the other animators, and that is that he seems to feel very comfortable with scenes with little or no dialogue. Most of the ones I’ve seen recently have featured long scenes in which characters interact without saying a word; most of the scenes with the cook and the ant in this one have no dialogue. Which is not to say that he’s not comfortable with dialogue; there’s plenty of talk in the scenes with Porky and the customer. At any rate, this trend would continue with Jones throughout the years; after all, the Coyote and Road Runner cartoons were almost wordless. It took years for Jones to really master his craft, and some of the gags in this cartoon fall flat. There are a few good moments, though; my favorite is the scene with the aforementioned toast and egg machine.

Get Rich Quick Porky (1937)

Get Rich Quick Porky (1937)
Article 5493 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-5-2017
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc, Earle Hodgins, Cal Howard
Country: USA
What it is: Porky Pig short

Porky Pig and his friend Gabby the Goat are bilked by a con man who sells them a vacant lot that is supposedly full of oil.

For the most part, this cartoon has no fantastic content other than the anthropomorphic animals and the comic exaggeration, but one small element emerges. A subplot of the cartoon involves the appearance of a dog who claims a bone that Porky digs up, and tries to find a place to bury it. He then encounters a gopher magician who performs magic tricks with the bone, and it’s the gopher magician who provides the fantastic content; the character appears again at the end of the cartoon to take part in the main plot. It’s a pretty standard Porky Pig cartoon of the era, but it’s marred by an appearance of the annoying but short-lived character of Gabby the Goat. For me, the best moments involve the dog and the gopher.

Fifth Column Mouse (1943)

Fifth Column Mouse (1943)
Article 5492 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-5-2017
Directed by Friz Freleng
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc, Michael Maltese and the Sportsmen’s Quartet
Country: USA
What it is: Warner Brothers cartoon

A mouse is bribed by a cat to convince his brothers that the cat has friendly intentions and means to protect him, but reallyโ€ฆ

Since anthropomorphic animals alone are not used by me as fantastic criteria for cartoons anymore, I wasn’t quite sure at first whether to review this one or not; the plot ends up having the mice build a dog-shaped tank with which to attack the cat. In an ordinary movie, I’d consider this as possible marginal science fiction content; whether it deserved inclusion would hinge on whether we were dealing with an invention that actually existed at the time. When you start debating on whether animated mice had dog-shaped tanks in 1943, you’re in “seriously divorced from reality” mode, and so I thought I’d go ahead and review.

This is obviously a topical cartoon about the war, a concept that is underlined by the fact that the cat at one moment gives a big “Japanese stereotype” grin and the betraying mouse gives a “Seig Heil” salute. The highlight of the cartoon is a musical number; the mice sing “We Did It Before (and We Can Do It Again)” while preparing for war with the cat. It’s not one of Warner’s best, but it is an entertaining wartime curio for all that. It’s interesting to see that writer Michael Maltese contributed to the voice acting as well as writing the script for this one.

Assault and Flattery (1956)

Assault and Flattery (1956)
Article 5491 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-4-2017
Directed by Izzy Sparber
Featuring the voices of Jack Mercer, Jackson Beck, Mae Questal
Country: USA
What it is: Conservation-minded Popeye cartoon โ€ฆ as in recycling

Bluto brings a charge of assault and battery against Popeye in court.

One of the easiest ways to make a cartoon in a hurry is to come up with an idea that allows you to use footage from other cartoons to fill out the running time, and that’s just what happened here. With the format of this episode, it was easy to do; when one of the characters gives testimony, fill it out with footage from another cartoon. This movie borrows from three cartoons, but the lion’s share of the footage is from A BALMY SWAMI from 1949, in which Bluto plays a hypnotist/magician who makes a fool of Popeye and then hypnotizes Olive Oyl. This provides the fantastic content of the cartoon, as Bluto’s magic powers seem to be real; he even hypnotizes a pile of bricks to form into a wall. Maybe someday I’ll review the original cartoon, but unlike this one, that one isn’t in public domain and is a little difficult to find. For the record, I also suspect that GREEK MIRTHOLOGY borrowed its Hercules footage from another Popeye cartoon as well. At any rate, the best laughs here are from the older footage.

Cookin’ With Gags (1955)

Cookin’ with Gags (1955)
Article 5490 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-3-2017
Directed by Izzy Sparber
Featuring the voices of Jackson Beck, Jack Mercer and Mae Questal
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye cartoon

Popeye is the target of a series of April Fools’ Day pranks from Bluto. Can he beat Bluto at his own game and win back Olive Oyl?

This Popeye cartoon has a lot in common with the previous one, in that once again, spinach isn’t used (its one appearance in the cartoon is part of an April Fools’ joke), and the fantastic content in this one is that the final gag hinges on the appearance of a sea monster. Yes, the monster is faked (as were the ghosts in FRIGHT TO THE FINISH), and there’s no denying that this cartoon is more marginal than the previous one. The cartoon is so-so, but one thing I’ve definitely noticed about the fifties Popeye cartoons is how often they recycled the same plot – Popeye and Bluto fighting for Olive’s attentions, Bluto coming out on top initially but Popeye finally prevailing, usually (but not always) with the help of spinach. One really gets the sense that they were just churning these out by this time.

Fright to the Finish (1954)

Fright to the Finish (1954)
Article 5489 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-3-2017
Directed by Seymour Kneitel
Featuring the voices of Jackson Beck, Jack Mercer and Mae Questal
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye cartoon

Olive Oyl reads ghost stories while both Popeye and Bluto impatiently wait for the other to leave so he can be alone with her. Bluto hits upon a scheme of posing as an assortment of spooks and framing Popeye for the gags.

Usually, a Popeye cartoon which doesn’t even feature the use of spinach would be sorely lacking in fantastic content indeed, but the spooky nature of this one compensates for that. We have several faked manifestations of headless men, ghosts and skeletons here, and there’s even one touch of real fantastic content, albeit one that’s pretty common in cartoons; when you rub vanishing cream on your body, you really vanish. It’s pretty standard Popeye fare for this period of time; it’s mildly amusing, and my favorite moment has a skeleton downing a pitcher of water.

The Traveler (2006)

The Traveler (2006)
Article 5488 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-2-2017
Directed by Jonathan R. Skocik
Featuring Shawn Burke, Jonathan R. Skocik, Melanie D’Alessandro
Country: USA
What it is: Nasty low-budget independent horror

A young couple get trapped in an isolated shack known as “The Death House” with several hikers, and encounter an evil demon who plays a game of torture and murder with them.

Well, it didn’t take me long to contradict myself; I said I probably wasn’t going to cover any of the other entries in the “Tomb of Torture” collection unless I found something striking, and whatever its merits or flaws, this one is. The acting, direction and editing in this one are all competent enough that it didn’t consistently take me out of the action, like many of the other movies on the set. It also helps that there are some interesting ideas in the script. However, this review is primarily a warning; to my mind, this is one of the sickest and most mean-spirited movies I’ve ever seen. The first twenty minutes isn’t too bad; the scenes where the couple get lost driving in the woods is rather entertaining, and the early scenes in the house help build a bit of suspense. However, once the title character shows up and begins torturing the people in the house (both physically and psychologically), the movie becomes a repulsive and sadistic exercise in unpleasantness. It’s a definite example of torture porn, and I certainly can’t recommend it. The movie is also too long, and there are some moments that fall flat, such as when a character figures out the identity of the traveler by using anagrams and the “What Would You Do?” ending. Quite frankly, I felt I needed a shower after this one, though I decided I’m glad I went ahead and reviewed it; by getting it out of the way now, it spares me from having an excuse to watch it again, which I don’t care to do.

Greek Mirthology (1954)

Greek Mirthology (1954)
Article 5487 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-1-2017
Directed by Seymour Kneitel and Tom Golden
Featuring the voices of Jackson Beck and Jack Mercer
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye cartoon

In order to get his four nephews to eat spinach, Popeye regales them with the tale of Hercules and how he discovered spinach would give him super strength.

Another ground rule I’ve recently set to help me decide whether I was going to review certain cartoons is pertinent to the Popeye cartoons specifically, and that is that use of spinach to give Popeye strength was not in and of itself enough to make the cartoon qualify. This one enhances the fantastic content by featuring the character of Hercules (as played by Popeye) who gets his strength initially by sniffing garlic. It also helps that the cartoon uses the spinach gimmick as its central theme also makes it a bit more relevant. Though I wouldn’t call this one a great cartoon, it is one of the better of the fifties Popeye cartoons, and the ancient Greek setting gives it a bit of a change from the domestic settings of most of the others. IMDB list the participation of Mae Questal as the voice of Olive Oyl in this one, but I’ve chosen to omit her in the credits above for one simple reason; Olive does not appear in this one at all. Instead, we get Popeye’s four nephews who would rather have ice cream than spinach, and, of course, Bluto.

Lifeblood (2006)

Lifeblood (2006)
Article 5486 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-29-2017
Directed by Steven J. Niles
Featuring Steven J. Niles, Kimberly Niles, Marci Kotay
Country: USA
What it is: Starvation-budgeted indie horror movie

A man driven to destroy the vampire that killed his wife encounters a cult of the monsters intent on resurrecting a former leader of theirs who was burnt at the stake 300 years ago.

First, a little background. Mill Creek Entertainment puts out fifty-movie sets of public domain movies, and I must admit to being rather inexplicably fond of them. They also put out four sets of latter-day independent horror movies, and by independent, I mean maybe a step or two above student films. I picked up the first two sets out of curiosity; I passed on the other two sets because once my curiosity was satisfied (I saw a handful of movies from the sets), I figured it just wasn’t worth the investment; almost every movie I saw was ghastly and annoying. Since I currently am going through my entire collection and watching everything, I decided finally it was time to address one of these sets. However, I have no intention of reviewing all of these movies; in fact, unless any of the entries end up being particularly striking, I may end up only reviewing this one as mostly an acknowledgment that these collections exist. I would have reviewed the first movie off the “Tomb of Terrors” set (called DISK JOCKEY), but I decided not to, as I came to the conclusion after seeing it that it wasn’t even genre.

This, the second movie on the set, is perhaps the most competent movie I’ve seen so far from these sets. At any rate, it was the least annoying of the bunch; it didn’t suffer from the endless non-stop cussing, gratuitous nudity, horrible acting and stupid editing decisions that I’ve encountered before. The most annoying thing about this one is endlessly pulsating soundtrack music that infects many of the scenes. Many of the scenes during the first half of the movie are lit very dimly as well, and the first third of the movie is very muddled. That being said, the movie occasionally shows moments of competence, and the special effects of vampires disintegrating aren’t bad for the budget. Still, the story isn’t particularly engaging, and like all the other movies from these sets, it’s not the least bit scary. And the fight scenes are truly awful.

As stated earlier, this review may stand as my sole comment on these two boxed sets. Unless one of the other movies strikes me in any strong way to inspire another review, this may be the last I mention of them.

A Coy Decoy (1941)

A Coy Decoy (1941)
Article 5485 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-27-2017
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voice of Mel Blanc
Country: USA
What it is: Daffy Duck cartoon

In a bookstore where books come to life, Daffy finds repose in “The Lake”, only to be pursued by the ravenous “Wolf of Wall Street”.

The extra fantastic content in this cartoon is, of course, that it takes place in an environment where characters in books come to life and other characters can enter the environments on the covers of books. Warner Brothers used this gimmick in several other cartoons, such as HAVE YOU GOT ANY CASTLES?, and these cartoons can usually be rather entertaining. This one, however, is a bit of a disappointment, as it never really goes wild with the idea, and the main action in the cartoon mostly takes place in a single book where the wolf lays a trap for Daffy. It also features a few songs and a cameo appearance by Porky Pig. The laughs are a little thin here, though the final gag is perhaps the best moment.