Ham and the Sausage Factory (1915)

Article 4207 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-20-2013
Directed by Marshall Neilan
Featuring Lloyd Hamilton, Bud Duncan, Charles Inslee
Country: USA
What it is: Slapstick shenanigans

Two starving bums are tempted into taking a job with a grocer who has a sausage making machine in his basement. One man makes the sausages. The other is assigned the task of providing the raw materials for the sausages; dogs, stray or otherwise.

This one ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but I was quickly pointed to a source for it. It’s your basic manic slapstick silent comedy, and let’s face it, it really isn’t in the best of taste. Still, I do think it is interesting to consider in the light of the fact that it’s one of the later manifestations of one of the earliest cinematic science fiction contrivances – the automatic sausage-making machine. In this one, some of the sausages even come to life and follow one of the men around a bit; this adds to the fantastic content. It’s hardly a comedy classic, but I do have to marvel at the chutzpah of this one.

Milk and Money (1936)

Article 4206 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-18-2013
Directed by Tex Avery
Featuring the voices of Billy Bletcher and Joe Dougherty
Country: USA
What it is: Cartoon

In order to save the family farm from foreclosure, Porky Pig takes his horse to the city in order to find a job. He gets a job as a milkman, but will lose his job if he breaks a bottle. And then a hungry horsefly shows up….

The fantastic content here is standard cartoon fare; we have anthropomorphic animals (Porky and his father) and that general sense of animated cartoon surrealism. I do think it’s interesting to balance out the anthropomorphic animals with a human character who occasionally acts like a snake (the aptly named villainous landlord Mr. Viper). Both the Warner Brothers cartoon department and Tex Avery would go on to better things, but if you compare it to their other work at the time, this was a pretty strong showing; you can even see some of the boundary-stretching touches that would become Tex Avery trademarks. My favorite joke is a subtle one; try to figure out why the horsefly attacks Mr. Viper in the final moments. (Hint – What does the horsefly usually attack?)

The Naked World of Harrison Marks (1967)

aka The Dream World of Harrison Marks
Article 4205 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-17-2013
Directed by George Harrison Mark
Starring George Harrison Marks, Chris Bromfield, Deborah DeLacey
Country: UK
What is is: Bizarre nudie

The life of photographer/movie-maker Harrison Marks is explored, and he is featured in several dream sequences.

Here we take another foray into the world of exploitation. Harrison Marks was a nudie director who must have made something of a name for himself, and if this movie is any indication (a fake documentary about himself as a photographer of beautiful women), he at least had some peculiar and offbeat ideas about how to approach his subject. Perhaps the most interesting thing conceptually about this one is that it deals with the subject of identity; there’s a lot of discussion about how Marks sees himself in contrast to how he is seen by others, and the dream sequences are sometimes his own, and sometimes those of other people. This is an interesting enough subject that I really wish his skill as a film-maker was strong enough to pull it off, but when you consider that his ultimate goal was probably to see how many topless women he could get on the screen, maybe it’s no surprise that the movie is more of a curious oddity than anything else. It’s the dream sequences that push this one into the realm of the fantastic, with the final sequence (a parody of a horror movie in which he finds himself in a script being judged for his faults by a vampire-like character) being the most notable in this regard. Let’s chalk it up to being another one of those odd types of movies that this project occasionally throws my way.

Excursion dans la Lune (1908)

aka A Trip to the Moon
Article 4204 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-16-2013
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Mimicked Melies

A scientist concocts a scheme to take himself and a bunch of travelers to the moon.

This movie entered my list as A TRIP TO THE MOON (1903), though it was actually made several years later, but I gather that a great variety of misinformation made the rounds about this one. One thing is for sure; it is a blatant imitation of the Melies film from 1902. Every scene here has an equivalent scene in the Melies film, and the story arcs are largely identical. Still, it isn’t a slavish imitation; for one thing, this one is much shorter and more compact. Chomon also restages and retools certain scenes so that the effects are slightly different; for example, the rocket doesn’t hit the eye of the moon, but enters through its mouth, giving it indigestion. Oddly enough, one of the biggest differences between the two movies is that Chomon adds a dancing girls sequence to the “court on the moon” scene; though no dancing girls appear in that scene in the Melies film, it is exactly the sort of scene you’d expect from Melies. No, it’s not as significant a film as the original, but it’s fairly entertaining in a “variations on a theme” way.

The Melomaniac (1903)

aka Le melomane
Article 4203 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-14-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Musical trick short

A bandleader uses his head in creating music for his band to play.

This is one of the easier Melies shorts to find, as well as being one of his better and more creative ones. In it, Melies (initially disguised as a clown bandleader, but he ditches the disguise to reveal himself) writes the melody of “God Save the Queen” on a musical staff over his head; he throws a musical instrument up there to create a treble clef, tosses batons up to separate the measures, and then uses his own head (which he pulls off several times and pops into the staff) to create the notes. It’s quite fun, especially if the accompanying music chooses to follow the lead and play the appropriate melody. I do notice the French must have some different notes in their “do-re-mi” scale than we do; the musicians display the notes in cards, and one is called “ut”.

Alcofribas, the Master Magician (1903)

aka L’enchanteur Alcofribas
Article 4202 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-13-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies and Jeanne d’Alcy
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

A man pays a magician money to conjure up a woman. The man is hoping to court the woman when she appears, but it seems that the magician has other ideas.

This is another of Melies’s magic trick shorts, though it starts out pretending it has a plot with a man trying to get a magician to conjure up a female companion for him. The reason it doesn’t work out that way is simple; the magician is far more interested in showing off his various magic tricks than fulfilling the man’s wishes. So, once he makes a complete woman appear (his first trick only conjures up half a woman), he then uses her as a prop for other tricks, much to the frustration of the man who paid his money. This isn’t one of his better shorts; it looks ragged around the edges and the special effects seem rather clumsy at times. Melies has done better.

L’Idee (1932)

L’IDEE (1932)
aka The Idea
Article 4201 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-12-2013
Directed by Berthold Bartosch
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated allegory

While contemplating the universe, a man engenders an idea personified by a naked woman whom he sends out to the world. The idea is rejected unless it is clothed, but it refuses to be so. The man tries to defend his idea, but is judged, found guilty, and executed. Can the idea continue to exist without him?

Outside of some opening titles in French, this animated short (it uses paper cutouts for its effects) has no dialogue and tells its story with visuals and music; it seems to be mostly famous for using an instrument known as Ondes Martenot, which I gather is a theremin of some sort. It is primarily an allegory about the rise of, resistance to, and acceptance of new ideas, and despite some moments that are a little obscure, it’s mostly easy to follow and understand. It reminds me somewhat of a movie I’ve seen recently (though not for this series) called HYPOCRITES from 1915; that one also uses a naked woman as a symbol, in that case Truth, and is once again rejected by society because they can’t handle the “naked truth”. It’s quite engaging in its way, it’s thematic obviousness somewhat offset by the fact that it only run 25 minutes. Still, the wonderful, moody animation makes it worth hunting up.