The Elf and Mr. Little (1953)

The Elf and Mr. Little (1953)
Article 6010 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-11-2021
Director unknown
Featuring the voices of Tommy Alexander, Jack Beveridge, Carol Blessing
Country: USA
What it is: Either a deservedly obscure TV Christmas short or a horror classic waiting to be rediscoveredAr

Toymaker Mr. Little is feeling grouchy after years of trying to keep up with the Christmas demand and offers anything in the shop to someone who will work for him. An elf volunteers. Will the elf lead the toymaker back to the true Christmas spirit? Or will they all be destroyed by fiendish creatures from another dimension?

What happens when you cross A CHRISTMAS CAROL with THE ELVES AND THE SHOEMAKER and PUPPET MASTER. This, and it ain’t pretty. Sure, it’s meant to be a heart-warming variation on the Scrooge story (all done with marionettes), but you’ll suss that out quick enough. No, what makes this memorable (though probably not in the way intended) is that the sight of the boys’ choir that sings all the carols throughout the short is something to make you run screaming; they’re simply nightmarish. They’re the only puppets in the short with movable mouths, and once you see them, you’ll understand why the others don’t have movable mouths. This is the Christmas short the bad little kids got in their stocking.

The Little Lamb: A Christmas Story (1955)

The Little Lamb: A Christmas Story (1955)
Date: 9-11-2021
Director unknown
Featuring Morris Ankrum, Maureen O’Sullivan
Country: USA
What it is: Live action Christmas story on a cartoon set

The shepherds’ search for a lost lamb leads to an encounter with an angel and then with the Christ child himself.

I featured my tirade on non-cartoons appearing on cartoon sets in my last review, so we’ll skip that and cut to the chase here. This cartoon bears a little similarity to another Christmas short on the same set, namely THE LITTLE CHRISTMAS BURRO. I didn’t review that short for the simple reason that outside of the talking animals (no longer in itself sufficient criteria for me to review a cartoon), nothing really fantastic happens; there are no miracles or angelic visitations during the sequence with the Christ child there, whereas this one features an angel’s appearance which causes the stormy weather to calm down. This short has a lower rating on IMDB that the BURRO short (which is a far more elaborate work), but I prefer this one because of its simplicity and directness; I’ve always had a problem with BURRO in that its central theme (the burro, despite trying to put his best hoof forward, is constantly admonished by its owners as being worthless) doesn’t really mesh well with the encounter with the Christ child at the end, and it’s as if the first 3/4 of the short is just a way to fill the running time. This one is considerably shorter, but it does have its problems. One is that the grouchy shepherd’s change of heart feels a little bizarrely forced, and despite the fact that there is concern the child may be freezing in his flimsy clothes, the best they can do is give him a lamb to lay down beside them instead of giving him more clothes. But then, there would be no reason to give the lamb the center of attention it gets here.

Santa in Animal Land (1948)

Santa in Animal Land (1948)
Article 6008 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-10-2021
Directed by Stefan Sharff
Voice and Hand actors unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Christmas short

The animals in Animal Land wonder why they have no Santa Claus. Two of the animals travel to the North Pole to find out why.

For the record, whether a puppet short can be called an animated short depends on the type of puppet. George Pal’s Puppetoons are animated because it requires a frame by frame process to bring the puppets to life. For hand puppets, you just let the camera roll and let the puppeteers do their thing, and this is not animation. I probably wouldn’t make an issue of this, buy my copy is on the Mill Creek 600 Classic Cartoons collection, and it’s not a cartoon. But then, one doesn’t necessarily take the Mill Creek megapacks at their word; I’ve seen movies on their Action movie set that have no action, comedies on their Comedy sets that aren’t funny, Movies on their Horror set that aren’t scary… but I digress.

The rating for this on IMDB is 4.8, and that’s about right. The presentation is static and dull, and there’s very little of interest here. Yes, I understand that some work went in to building the puppets, the scenery and the costumes, but beyond that, it looks like minimal effort was put into it. I’d find this one dull even if I was a kid who loved puppets. You could make a better movie at home, and I really mean it this time.

Santa’s Pocket Watch (1980)

Santa’s Pocket Watch (1980)
Article 6007 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-10-2021
Director unknown
Featuring the voice of William Rushton
Country: UK
What it is: Quaint Christmas whimsicality

What a young boy wants for Christmas is to meet Santa while the man is making his rounds. When he does, he hides in Santa’s bag and is taken to Santa’s workshop. There Santa allows him to spend Christmas celebrating with he himself and his elves.

You’d think that, given the title, that the timepiece would play a more significant role in the proceedings, but it’s merely an Item of Affidavit. And just what is an IOA, you ask? It’s merely that item that exists in a movie to provide proof that the adventure that preceded the character waking up in a familiar place did indeed truly happen. In action, it works like this.

A: Santa gives the boy his pocket watch as a present.
B: The boy wakes up in the corner of the living room, and begins to wonder if he really met Santa or not.
C: The boy finds the pocket watch, which serves as the Item of Affidavit to prove that yes, he did indeed meet Santa Claus.

Oops, did I give away the end of this Christmas short? Yes, it appears I did. But with an ending like that, does it really matter. When you get right down to it, there really isn’t much to this short; most of the running time is concerned with the elves performing gags. The end result isn’t godawful; it’s too congenial to really be that bad. It’s also nothing special, either. It’s a run-of-mill Christmas short that fills up twenty minutes of time.

Tulips Shall Grow (1942)

Tulips Shall Grow (1942)
Article 6006 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-6-2021
Directed by George Pal
Featuring the voices of Rex Ingram and Victor Jory
Country: USA
What it is: Wartime propaganda

A Dutch boy and girl sing and frolic in their tulip-filled windmill wonderland, until…

Don’t be thrown off by the cheery whimsy of the first couple of minutes in this short, because after that, things get quite dark quickly. After all, it was made during WWII and the Nazis had occupied the Netherlands, and the scenes of this little wonderland being destroyed are a bit shocking. The fantastic content consists off how the Nazis are portrayed in this film; instead of using the usual symbols, the attackers are portrayed as inhuman machines; they are called the Screwballs, and their presence adds touches of science fiction to the mix. It’s actually a fairly powerful metaphor that the invaders are defeated by the lightning and rain of a thunderstorm; rain is a life-giving substance for what is living, but rusts and corrodes the metallic intruders. The ending scene is life-affirming. Yes, it may be wartime propaganda, but that’s not necessarily a negative thing when the message is inspirational, as it is here. Very well done.

Tubby the Tuba (1947)

Tubby the Tuba (1947)
Article 6005 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-5-2021
Directed by George Pal
Featuring the voice of Victor Jory
Country: USA
What it is: Puppetoon fable

Tubby the Tuba becomes depressed because the tuba is never given any interesting melodies to play in the orchestra. Can a helpful frog cheer him up and help find a way out of his dilemma?

I’ve covered several of George Pal’s Puppetoons so far, and currently this one is my favorite of the lot. This tale of a tuba trying to find his own voice is perfectly charming, especially as the melody he is taught by the frog is an ideal piece for a tuba solo. The animation is strong, and the characters of the various instruments are interesting. This is one worth catching.

The Ship of the Ether (1934)

The Ship of the Ether (1934)
Article 6004 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-5-2021
Directed by George Pal
No cast
Country: The Netherlands
What it is: Advertisement

A ship filled with music from all nations floats through the ether.

This was a very early Puppetoon by George Pal designed to promote the Philips Radio of 1934. Though it has recognizable characters, it’s similar to some of the more abstract animation of the time in feel; there’s no plot to speak of, it’s propelled by the music, and it’s mostly trying to impress with atmosphere rather than with laughs or whimsy. It is also very much a product of its time; I’m not exactly sure what’s going on during the sequence where a variety of music performances take place with a label for each one appearing, but I suspect I would know if I lived in that time. It is, however, an interesting curiosity nowadays.

Alien Seed (1989)

Alien Seed (1989)
Article 6003 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-29-2021
Directed by Robert Hyatt
Featuring Erik Estrada, Heide Paine, Steven Blade
Country: USA
What it is: For conspiracy addicts

A writer befriends a woman who had been abducted and impregnated by aliens. They run afoul of secret government agencies and their sadistic employees.

Here’s one of the ways to identify an exploitation film. If two of the characters just happen to work at a topless dancing bar so that the movie can show some nudity by setting some scenes there, the movie is probably at heart an exploitation film. And if you want to make a movie about space aliens so you can tap into the whole government conspiracy themes surrounding the subject, you’re also probably an exploitation film at heart. You get a mish-mash of science fiction and mysticism, but most of the movie seems to be about people involved in government conspiracies killing and/or torturing everybody who knows anything on sight. And once the central female character figures out she knows how to use guns as well, you won’t be surprised how this movie ends up. Erik Estrada is the name star here, and his evil Dr. Stone character is so broadly played that he finds himself in competition with several others for giving the worst performance in the film. This one is a forgotten obscurity, and I see no reason to change that status.

At the Hypnotist’s (1897)

At the Hypnotist’s (1897)
aka Chez le magnetiseur
Article 6002 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-28-2021
Directed by Alice Guy
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Early special effects short

A hypnotist magically adds and removes clothing from people.

Alice Guy didn’t direct many movies that had fantastic content, but this is one exception. It basically borrows some of Melies’ special effects to show the title character plying his trade, though it’s another case in which what we’re seeing has little to do with real hypnotism. It’s passable, but it’s mostly a curiosity of its time anymore.

Alien Nation (1988)

Alien Nation (1988)
Article 6001 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-24-2021
Directed by Graham Baker
Featuring James Caan, Mandy Pantinkin, Terence Stamp
Country: USA
What it is: Alternate Universe buddy cop story

In an alternate universe where mankind has welcomed a large group of travelling aliens to live on the planet with them, a cop teams up with an alien despite his prejudices. His goal is to use the new cop’s expertise on his race to track down the alien who killed his former partner.

Easily the most interesting thing here is the basic premise that mankind is sharing earth with another sentient non-human race. I consider this a very promising set-up; you could do a lot of cultural exploration if you used the premise creatively and thoughtfully. That’s why it disappoints me a little that the movie chooses to use the buddy cop approach; it’s such a familiar plot set-up that when it does deal with the cultural differences between the two races, it feels more gimmicky than substantive. Not that it’s a bad movie, mind you; it’s entertaining enough in its own way. But if feels like a missed opportunity in that it could have been something a whole lot more. Still, I’m glad to see a TV-series was based on this; the premise would work better in a TV series than as a movie. Unfortunately, it appears that the series wasn’t all that much better.