Port Sinister (1953)
A Christmas Carol (1984)
Article 6078 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Clive Donner
Featuring George C. Scott, Frank Finlay, Angela Pleasence
Country: UK / USA
What it is: You know the story
Ebenezer Scrooge finds himself haunted by spirits intent on making him understand the greatness of Christmas and to abandon his miserly ways before it’s too late…
This version of the Dickens favorite came highly recommended to me from several people, most of them stressing the excellent performance of George C. Scott. And though I have no issue with Scott’s grounded and nuanced take on the Scrooge character, it isn’t the main attraction for me here. Rather, it’s the well-constructed script which keeps a razor-sharp focus on the story it’s telling. It’s clear that this version’s goal is to emphasize just what needs to happen to Scrooge for him to make the necessary changes to his character to emerge as he does in the final moments. That is not an easy task; the story is so famous that it’s easy to get lost in the little traps, such as turning Scrooge into a icon of miserliness or turning the whole show into one big Christmas party. And, like the Alastair Sim version, by keeping its focus, it helps me to appreciate and understand the roles that certain characters play in Dickens’ story; for example, it’s the first movie version where I really felt Fezziwig was a necessary character. The movie has a few very minor flaws, but it is one of the best versions out there, and I’m always glad to see David Warner cast against type, here playing Bob Cratchit.
Santa Claus (1925)
Article 6077 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Frank E. Kleinschmidt
What it is: Santa’s life on film
Two children wait up for Santa and ask him how he spends the rest of his year.
I’m rather surprised that I haven’t reviewed this one yet. This 29-minute silent short which purports to tell us how Santa Claus spends his time during the rest of the year is a genuinely charming Christmas short, in which I learn (among other things) that Walruses are goblins, the Easter Bunny drops by and trades information with Santa about the children they visit, and that Santa spends Saturdays visiting his closest neighbors, the Eskimos. Sure, these amount to little more than whimsical details, but it displays a certain creativity and is highly entertaining. If I were to put together a collection of the best Christmas shorts I’ve seen, this one would be on it.
Article 6076 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Charles Lamont
Featuring Buster Keaton, Gloria Brewster, Barbara Brewster
What it is: Buster Keaton talkie short
An iceman falls in love with one of a pair of twins.
Classifying this one as a genre is a big stretch, but the final scenes of this one not only takes place fifteen years in the future, but it does feature some slight science fiction content; we see a flight of planes towing trailers after them. It’s merely the set-up for a joke that isn’t particularly satisfying, but this wasn’t during Keaton’s prime either. Still, there’s a gag or two that does work well enough to get a laugh, so I’m counting my blessings with this one. Otherwise, watching some of these forgettable shorts would be depressing when we think how brilliant he was during the silent era.
The House of Exorcism (1975)
Article 6075 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Mario Bava and Alfredo Leone
Featuring Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina
Country: Italy, West Germany, Spain
What it is: What happens when you can’t find a distributor
A priest attempts to find out why a tourist has become possessed by the devil.
When this movie originally came up on my hunt list, I opted to watch the original Mario Bava version called LISA AND THE DEVIL, which, despite a few caveats, I really liked. I was encouraged by several people to give this version a watch also, as there was enough new footage to make this reedit of the movie different enough that it became for all practical reasons a separate movie from the original. Having now seen it, I agree that it is substantially a different movie; but I far and away prefer the original.
Basically, in this version of the movie, the events in the original movie become backstory for the events in this one, but the backstory is still far more interesting than the exorcism angle in this edit; most of what happens here are pale imitations of similar scenes in THE EXORCIST, and what they don’t borrow from that movie is its attempt to tie the exorcist angle to the events in LISA AND THE DEVIL, which seems forced and silly. Telly Savalas still steals the movie, though his presence is entirely from backstory footage. The reason for this movie’s existence is that the original was unable to find a distributor, and this reedit was done to make the property more commercial. Bava wasn’t happy with this being done and I don’t blame him. And if the option comes up again to see this one, it’s definitely Bava’s version I’ll choose.
The Spirit of ’43 (1943)
Article 6074 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Jack King
Featuring the voice of Clarence Nash
What it is; WWII Propaganda Piece
It’s payday for Donald Duck. Should he go out and spend his money, or should he save it for taxes?
The fantastic content in this short is not the presence of talking ducks; at this point of time the presence of talking animals is considered by me a tradition of the cartoon genre and not fantastic content per se. Rather, it’s because Donald is tempted by this cartoon’s equivalent of the devil/angel wrong path/right path concept; both the thrifty duck and big spending duck initially appear magically to lead or tempt Donald. It also took a little time for me to see why this cartoon appeared in my Banned Cartoons collection. The wartime setting had me expecting offensive stereotypes of Germans or Japanese, but none appear. It was only when my wife pointed out that the thrifty angel was Scottish that the stereotype alarm finally went off.
As for the cartoon itself, I am a bit in awe of what it was attempting to do, which was to try to make the paying of taxes appear to be a patriotic duty, using the war as its selling point. I do wonder how effective it was at its time; I certainly doubt that message would have any resonance today. Being a Disney cartoon, it is a well-mounted production, but I doubt it was very popular; it’s so focused on its message that it becomes rather tiresome, and Donald is really not given much to do. It’s best taken as a curio of its time.