The Henpecked Duck (1941)

The Henpecked Duck (1941)
Article 5484 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-27-2017
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Sara Berner
Country: USA
What it is: Daffy Duck cartoon

Daffy is taken to divorce court by his wife when he loses her egg.

I’m setting down a ground rule for my coverage of cartoons for this series. The rule is that when it comes to discussing the fantastic content of the cartoon, it has to have something beyond the two common cartoon traditions of talking/anthropomorphic animals and comic exaggeration. This being a Daffy Duck cartoon, it has both of those elements, but the reason I decided to review it is because it has one extra element, in that the loss of the egg was the result of Daffy performing magic tricks on it and then proving unable to retrieve the egg from the magic ether to which it vanished. This cartoon is about average for the series; it falls a little too conveniently into the overly common comic situation of the nagging wife and the henpecked husband, but it has a few good gags in it. My favorite of the latter involves a funny comment from a chicken near the end of the short. Perhaps the best thing about it is the animation; the animation of Mrs. Duck when she’s screaming for a divorce is pretty sharp.

Bulldog Drummond’s Secret Police (1939)

Bulldog Drummond’s Secret Police (1939)
Article 5483 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-26-2017
Directed by James P. Hogan
Featuring John Howard, Heather Angel, H.B. Warner
Country: USA
What it is: Bulldog Drummond thriller

Drummond’s impending marriage to Phyllis Clavering is interrupted when it is discovered that a hidden fortune can be found in the house… and that a desperate man is willing to kill anyone in his way to get his hands on it.

I’ve covered most of the other Bulldog Drummond movies from the thirties because one of my sources listed them, though they’re all pretty light in terms of fantastic content. Actually, I’m surprised this one was omitted; given that the climax of the movie takes place in spooky underground passages in an old mansion with skeletons and torture chambers, this one seems to have a greater degree of horror content than any of the others. At any rate, I’ve always been fond of the series, and it’s fun to encounter the various characters from the series again, even if they do have to fill in the edges of the running time with clips from the previous entries of the series. It was also fun to encounter the always welcome Leo G. Carroll as the main villain here; I was almost tempted to describe him as a “young” Leo G. Carroll when I checked his birth date and realized he was into his fifties when he made this one. This one is one of the most exciting entries in the series, so I’m glad I’ve finally gotten around to covering it.

Paper and I (1953)

Paper and I (1953)
Article 5482 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-23-2017
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Educational short

A young boy is about to pop a paper sack when it comes to life and takes him on a journey to discover how paper is made and what the world would be like without paper.

This is an example of film ephemera, a term for those movies that are made not for showing to a general audience in a theatrical setting, but for a select audience in a different environment. This is most likely an educational film to be shown in the classroom. It uses a common approach to teaching its subject by having a supernatural visitor appear to someone and instruct them on the ins and outs of its subject; in this case, a talking paper bag teaches a little boy about paper – where it comes from and its various uses. This one is a little more entertaining than most in that it delves into some subplots that most other movies of its ilk would ignore; the family of the little end up being very concerned about their little boys’ strange attachment to his paper bag, and, in a darkly comic twist, the paper bag’s face ages as the short progresses and he eventually requests that the boy perform a mercy killing on him, a sequence which proves hilarious even with its dark undertones.

Ransom Money (1970)

Ransom Money (1970)
Article 5481 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-16-2017
Directed by Dewitt Lee
Featuring Broderick Crawford, Rachel Roman, Gordan Jump
Country: USA
What it is: Crime thriller

A young boy is kidnapped and held for ransom. The distraught mother seeks the help of the police. Can they outwit the kidnapper?

This one popped up in the Mill Creek Action movie set, and is definitely on the side of marginalia, but since it kept throwing marginal content at me throughout the movie, I finally gave in and decided to give it a review. There’s a bit of marginal science fiction here; the kidnapper is an electronics expert, and he performs actions such as sending messages to the mother through the radio in her car and the television in her hotel room. He also tortures her at one point with loud electronic noise. Furthermore, there is a plot element involving an ink that disappears when exposed to light, and there’s a bit of a psychotic touch in the way that he seems to be terrorizing the mother. All of this may be marginal, but it’s there, and I chose to review it.

As for the movie itself, I will warn anyone who has the above mentioned Action set to ignore the plot description attached; Ralph Meeker is not in the movie, and other than the plot element of a boy being kidnapped, the story is different. The movie is definitely on the campy side; some of the dialogue is laughable, the plot relies on some fairly hard-to-swallow coincidences, and the production at times seems rushed. I do wonder if Broderick Crawford walked off the movie before production finished; his character is unceremoniously killed offscreen for very little reason before the climax of the movie. My favorite touch in the movie is that the kidnapper dares the mother to report the kidnapping to the police, so confident is he that he won’t be caught. My least favorite moment is the opening, which is a) a long driving scene, and b) features one of those faux singer-songwriter style ditties of the era that always seem to be so out of place in a movie of this ilk. And you should have no trouble figuring out which of the primary characters has a shady link to the kidnapper.

The Capture of Bigfoot (1979)

The Capture of Bigfoot (1979)
Article 5480 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-16-2017
Directed by Bill Rebane
Featuring Janus Raudkivi, Randolph Rebane, Stafford Morgan
Country: USA
What it is: Sasquatch shenanigans in the snow

A ruthless small-time entrepreneur tries to capture a Bigfoot-style creature known as the Arak.

The IMDB reviews for this one mostly either refer to this one as a camp classic of sorts and or as a worthless piece of dreck. And, given that it’s directed by Wisconsin film-maker Bill Rebane, it’s tempting to declare open season on this one and give it what-for. However, my heart isn’t in it, and I’m in rather a forgiving mood today. Maybe it’s because the thing that most struck me about this movie was the way it captures its “Wisconsin-in-the-winter” milieu so authentically that I often found myself appreciating the movie on that alone; watching big vehicles plodding through the snow, people trudging through drifts, slipping on icy patches, and reminding myself how Rebane was out in the middle of this filming it is something that is rarely captured by Hollywood productions, and I find myself glad that regional film-makers were out there plugging away on productions like this. This is not to say that the movie is good; though it does show moments of competence, it’s full of dull stretches, and when it’s at its worst, it’s horrendous. The acting is the worst culprit this time, with the scenery-chewing entrepreneur and the annoying Bogart-imitating sheriff the worst offenders; the scene where these two characters meet is the worst in the movie. In short, I don’t quite see it as either a camp classic or a worthless piece of dreck; I see it as a bad movie that has its uses.

Inspirace (1949)

Inspirace (1949)
Article 5479 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-11-2017
Directed by Karel Zeman
Featuring Karel Zeman
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Inspiration in miniature

A maker of glass figurines tries to find inspiration on a rainy day, and dreams of a world inside a drop of water on a leaf.

I’ve long been a fan of the work of fantasist Karel Zeman, but until now, I’ve not delved into any of his early shorts; I thank the friend who pointed me in the direction of this one. It’s a beautifully rendered short, the central scene of which involves a world existing inside a drop of water on a leaf, and a dandelion seed invades the drop, turns into a clown and becomes enamored with a dancing ice skater. This sequence is done in stop motion animation, and if an eleven-minute short can be described as an epic fantasy, this is one, albeit one that is fragile. The short is bookended by some live-action footage of the artist at work, who we only see through the glass of a rain-spattered window. There are also sequences that are reminiscent of the experimental abstract shorts I’ve been known to cover. It’s quite breathtaking, and very unlike the other work I’ve seen from Zeman, but I’m not really surprised; he mastered so many types of special effects that I’d almost expect him to show excellence in a form like this one. This one is highly recommended.

Gamera – Super Monster (1980)

Gamera – Super Monster (1980)
aka Uchu kaiju Gamera
Article 5478 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-8-2017
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Featuring Mach Fumiake, Yaeko Kojima, Yoko Komatsu
Country: Japan
What it is: Kaiju on a budget

Space invaders arrive to conquer Earth armed with a heady supply of monster stock footage. Fortunately, space women and a little boy team up to defeat them… and they have their own supply of Gamera stock footage.

It was the fun of monster movies that drew me to this movie project in the first place, so who can blame me if I go running back to them. Pound for pound, this movie probably has more monster battle footage than any other Gamera movie. The problem is… it’s almost all stock footage from earlier Gamera movies. Yes, there is a smidgen of new Gamera special effects footage here, but it’s mostly of an immobile version of the monster whose sole movement is to open and close his mouth. From what I gather, Daiei was floundering at this point and this movie was supposed to pull them out of debt; as it is, they folded six months later. To keep up to date, they reference both STAR WARS and SUPERMAN in the early scenes, but make no attempts to emulate either of those films. They even tip their hat at Godzilla at one point. Despite the existence of super space women in the movie, they do very little other than try to avoid getting killed and cheer on Gamera. Yes, it’s all a bit of a ripoff, but if in you’re in the mood for an early Gamera movie, this one would work as well as any other. It would be another 15 years before Gamera would return to the screen, and at that time he would finally emerge from outside the shadow of Godzilla to stake his own monster territory. This movie was merely the end of his first era.

The New Gulliver (1935)

The New Gulliver (1935)
aka Novyy Gulliver
Article 5477 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-3-2017
Directed by Aleksandr Ptushko
Featuring Vladimir Konstantinov, Ivan Yudin, Ivan Bobrov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: The Lilliput adventure, Soviet style

While listening to a reading of the Jonathan Swift novel, a young boy falls asleep and dreams that he’s Gulliver in Lilliput.

This early movie from Russian fantasist Aleksandr Ptushko surprised me in a couple of ways, though I really should have seen at least one of the surprises coming. The first surprise is that most of the movie is stop-motion animated; the Lilliputians are animated creations rather than real people, and I don’t think I’ve encountered Ptushko using that technique before. The other surprise that shouldn’t have surprised me was to find the Gulliver story had been retooled as a work of Soviet propaganda; Lilliput is a dictatorship where the workers have been enslaved, and Gulliver becomes the hero of a worker’s revolution. I should have seen this coming; all of the other work I’ve seen by Ptushko is from the fifties onward, but this one was made in 1935, and movies from this era were expected to have a heavy dose of communistic philosophy. Not that I really expected a faithful rendition of Swift’s novel; after all, “Gulliver’s Travels” was never really a children’s book to begin with, but a satire, and I expected the movie to juvenilize the book like all of the other versions I’ve seen. For what it’s worth, this movie does retain some of its satirical bite; the scene where a bickering Congress meets while a prime minister puts words in the mouth of a grinning idiot king is rife with satire, and it’s perhaps my favorite scene in the movie. But once we meet the enslaved underground workers, I knew exactly how the rest of the movie would play out; once you know what the message is going to be, you lose the element of surprise. Still, it was fun to see some early Ptushko, and much of the movie is quite entertaining.

She’s Alive: Creating the Bride of Frankenstein (1999)

She’s Alive! Creating the Bride of Frankenstein (1999)
Article 5476 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-1-2017
Directed by David J. Skal
Featuring Joe Dante, Christopher Bram, Scott MacQueen
Country: USA
What it is: Horror movie DVD documentary

The story of the production of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is told.

If a movie is given special treatment in a DVD release, it will sometimes feature an extra like this – a documentary about the making of the movie. If the movie is old enough, you will probably not get any of the original stars appearing (as most of them are dead); the closest this one gets is to feature the son of Dwight Frye and the daughter of Boris Karloff. Instead, you get commentary from assorted experts on the genre; the most familiar names here are Joe Dante and Clive Barker, but Rick Baker and Gregory W. Mank are also familiar names among fans of horror. The documentary is entertaining if not compelling, and there are usually a few interesting pieces of trivia that come out. Much of the info will be repeated if one also watches the movie with the commentary track. All in all, this is a standard example of this kind of thing.

NOTE For the record, I’m not about to start reviewing every documentary found on DVDs for genre movies; life is a little too short, and I’m doubtful that I would be able to say anything about them that’s much different from what I said about this one. I’m reviewing this one as a representative example. However, if I do find one that is exceptionally interesting, I may review that one as well.

War of the Planets (1977)

War of the Planets (1977)
aka Anno zero – Guerra nello spazio, Cosmos – War of the Planets
Article 5475 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-30-2017
Directed by Alfonso Brescia
Featuring John Richardson, Yanti Somer, West Buchanan
Country: Italy
What it is: Space adventure

A spaceship crashes on an alien planet, where they discover a group of telepathic people trapped by the tyranny of a homicidal robot.

For the first thirty minutes or so the movie seems to wander randomly from scene to scene before finally settling down on the plot described above. It sticks to that plot for about thirty minutes or so before starting to wander around again, but finally settles in for an ending. The movie is a confused mess, and even when it gets around to the plot, it gives you a headache while trying to follow it. All in all, it’s a very subpar Italian science fiction epic that makes the Antonio Margheriti examples from the previous decade seem bright and inspired. Granted, a lot of the badness I experienced may be the result of the bad dubbing and the pan-and-scanned print, but I think the problems run a bit deeper than that.

The movie did make me realize one thing, though, and that is, in a science fiction film, I’d rather have bad special effects than no special effects. One of the big annoyances of this movie was that once it reached the alien planet, many of the scenes were so full of inky blackness that you never get a sense of what the planet looks like. Furthermore, so many of the sequences involved close-ups of the actors talking against black backgrounds. The source of my irritation finally became clear; what’s the use of having an adventure on another planet if you can’t get a look at it?

I remember once having been appalled by the final scene in WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, in which an alien landscape is portrayed by an obvious painted backdrop. This movie made me realize that wasn’t the worst way for that one to have ended. If the movie hadn’t shown the planet at all, but only close-ups of the people looking out at it and saying how wonderful it was, and then ended the movie without giving us a view, that would have been much worse. I’d rather have the obvious painted backdrop than nothing at all.