Alice Through the Looking Glass (1966)

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (1966)
TV-Movie
Article 2908 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-24-2008
Posting Date: 7-30-2009
Directed by Alan Handley
Featuring Judi Rolin, Roy Castle, Jack Palance
Country: USA

Dorothy – no, I mean Alice – goes to Oz – no, I mean through the looking glass – to save the residents from the wicked witch – no, I mean the Jabberwock – so she must follow the yellow brick road – no, I mean the blue road – and… oh, forget it.

Given my love for the works of Lewis Carroll and my belief that faithful versions of the Alice stories may be unfilmable, you might expect that, even if this were a sincere, well-intentioned effort, that I might be disappointed. Unfortunately, it seems to me that someone involved with this production hated Lewis Carroll with a passion. It borrows the characters from the story, the basic concept of a world through the looking glass, selected snippets of the text (such as the first two verses of “Jabberwocky”), tries to shoehorn them into a plot obviously modeled off of the one in THE WIZARD OF OZ, and throws in a character called Lester the Jester (if the trivia of IMDB is correct, the character was an attempt to give the story its own version of the Scarecrow from THE WIZARD OF OZ) and adds lots of Broadway-style songs. If you think Broadway musicals are the pinnacle of human creation, hate real human emotions but love facile attitudinizing projected to the back row of the balcony, hate surreal verbal humor but love sloppily executed slapstick, think the human experience is best summed up in feel-good platitudes, and would like THE WIZARD OF OZ a lot better if it wasn’t scary at all and everyone had belted their lines in songs at top volume, then I suppose this might be for you. Me, I consider it an atrocity that works neither as an acceptable adaptation of the Carroll story or as a ripoff of its real model mentioned above; I found it nearly unwatchable. Yet, for all that, I actually like the casting; Jimmy Durante is a great choice as Humpty Dumpty, the Smothers brothers are inspired choices for Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and the various red and white kings and queens (Nanette Fabray, Agnes Moorehead, Robert Coote and Ricardo Montalban) are all good picks. The best scenes are the quieter ones or the ones where the performers are allowed to let their personalities shine through despite the bad script; Montalban manages to project an honest sincerity in a scene with Judi Rolin (who plays Alice) that marks the only time the movie shows any real heart. Durante and the Smothers Brothers both come through all right in their respective scenes, but it’s Jack Palance (who plays the Jabberwock) who really disappoints; it’s hard to imagine that this master of menace manages to so totally unintimidating. And the less said about the character of Lester the Jester, the better.

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The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963)

THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH (1963)
Episodes of Disney’s “The Wonderful World of Color”
Article 2907 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-23-2009
Posting Date: 7-29-2009
Directed by James Neilson
Featuring Patrick McGoohan, George Cole, Tony Britton
Country: UK

A vicar of the village of Dymchurch has an alter ego; he is also a notorious masked smuggler known as the Scarecrow. He matches his wits against the king’s.

I may be stretching the rules here, but my source does indeed list this series of three episodes from Disney’s “The Wonderful World of Color” as a movie, so here I am covering it. Oh, it was released overseas as a movie, too (under the title DR. SYN ALIAS THE SCARECROW), but that’s not the title my source lists. At any rate, if I am breaking my rules, it was far from an unpleasant experience; this adaptation of the Dr. Syn stories is fun, effective and truly entertaining, without an ounce of the cuteness that I was afraid might infect the production, considering it was a product of Disney. Taken as a whole, it is episodic, given that the three episodes each work as a single story. In the first, the Scarecrow and his men have to outwit a press gang intent on forcing the young men of the village to serve in the royal navy. In the second, the Scarecrow must deal with a traitor who has been pressured into revealing the names of companions in crime. In the third (my favorite), he must rescue some prisoners in Dover castle before they are forced to reveal that it was the vicar that was helping them to hide from the law. All three stories are solid, and Patrick McGoohan’s performance as Syn / the Scarecrow is outstanding; he sharply differentiates the characters so there is little chance of his being recognized as his alter ego. I also love the designs of the masks used by the Scarecrow as well as his cohorts, Hellspite and Curlew; they are scary and effective. It’s only on the borderline as far as fantastic content goes; rumors abound that the Scarecrow is a demon or a ghost, and those masks are certainly scary enough. Quite frankly, this is far and away the most effective version of these stories, and I can see how it would have a great impact on those who saw it when they were kids. Furthermore, the theme song is truly memorable. Recommended.

Tintin et les oranges bleues (1964)

TINTIN ET LES ORANGES BLEUES (1964)
aka Tintin and the Blue Oranges
Article 2906 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-22-2009
Posting Date: 7-28-2009
Directed by Philippe Condroyer
Featuring Jean Bouise, Jean-Pierre Talbot, Felix Fernandez
Country: Spain / France

The mysterious appearance of blue oranges causes Tintin and the Captain to travel to Spain, where they must rescue a kidnapped professor.

Tintin is an incredibly popular comic book character in Europe whose popularity never crossed the ocean to the United States, though that may change if Spielberg manages to get a movie based on the character made. I know very little about the character, and though this movie probably helps by introducing some of the regular characters, it probably won’t serve as a effective introduction; not only does a 4.7 rating on IMDB suggest that the movie isn’t very good, but the fact that the only copy I could find was in unsubtitled French (and for the record, I’m not really surprised by this) means that I’m not going to get much from the movie anyway. It’s got some action and some comedy; the most amusing scene for me was a split screen moment in which two nearly identical men settle in to their respective rooms. Since two professors are kidnapped and appear to be working on some scientific research, I’m assuming that the movie has some science fiction touches surrounding the title fruits, but exactly what their significance is is lost to me. I do know that Tintin has a dog and strange hair, and the captain loves his liquor; the rest may have to wait until I can experience Tintin in a different context.

Brave New World (1980)

BRAVE NEW WORLD (1980)
TV-Movie
Article 2905 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-21-2009
Posting Date: 7-27-2009
Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff
Featuring Keir Dullea, Bud Cort, Kristoffer Tabori
Country: USA

In the future, people are bred to belong to select classes and are kept happy through the ingestion of a drug called soma. When an alpha male and a beta female visit a primitive colony on a vacation, they set off a chain of events in which a civilized man, brought up as a savage, is taken out of his setting and introduced to the world of the civilized men.

It’s been years since I’ve read Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, which I’ve always seen as something of a companion piece to George Orwell’s 1984, only with a remarkably different dystopia. I’m going to give this movie the benefit of the doubt at this point, and assume that it more or less captures the story of the novel. I say this because I find the story very interesting indeed; it follows the adventures of several characters in this future world, and explores the way cultures can develop different and irreconcilable forms of morality. It also explores the theme of how the removal of pain, sadness and suffering can also remove the spark of human spirit; in particular, the use of the works of Shakespeare as a counterpoint to the bland events of this “brave new world” demonstrates that greatness will not exist where suffering does not exist. The movie (which ran over two nights and runs about three hours long without commercials) is also well cast; in particular, I like Bud Cort as Bernard Marx, who was allowed to live and develop despite the fact that his embryo had been damaged while still in the bag. Also memorable are Keir Dullea, Julie Cobb, Ron O’Neal, Marcia Strassman, and Dick Anthony Williams. The direction is only so-so, and, despite the fact that the movie does have a sense of humor, I do think certain moments are unintentionally funny. Nevertheless, the strong story and the good performances prevail.

The Gold Ghost (1934)

THE GOLD GHOST (1934)
Short
Article 2904 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2009
Posting Date: 7-26-2009
Directed by Buster Keaton and Charles Lamont
Featuring Buster Keaton, Warren Hymer, Dorothy Dix
Country: USA

A young socialite named Wally decides he wants to be alone, so he moves into a ghost town and makes himself sheriff. However, when gold is rediscovered in the area, he soon finds himself the sheriff of a bustling town.

I’m familiar with Buster Keaton’s years as a great silent comedian, and I’m also familiar with his appearances in TV and movies during the fifties and sixties, when he underwent a bit of a career revival. However, his early talkie career was a vast unexplored area to me. So I’m glad for the opportunity to check out one of his talkie shorts. It’s obvious that Keaton still felt more at home with visual and slapstick humor; he keeps the talking to a minimum, and the best moments here are ones that could have worked just as well during the silent era. My favorite moment has him playing cards with one of the dustiest decks ever found in a movie. It’s far from a great short, but it has its moments, and I’m glad I saw it. The fantastic content can be found in a short sequence where he encounters a gang of ghosts (possibly imaginary) and disposes of them with his gun.

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971)
Article 2903 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-19-2009
Posting Date: 7-25-2009
Directed by Seth Holt and Michael Carreras
Featuring Andrew Keir, Valerio Leon, James Villiers
Country: UK

An Egyptologist, who once headed a mysterious expedition into the tomb of Queen Tera, gives his daughter a ring found on the severed hand of the queen. It is meant to protect her from the curse of the evil Queen, who looks just like her. However, the queen will not be denied…

On the plus side, I really like that Hammer decided not to go the usual mummy route for this exercise in Egyptian horror; in fact, there’s really no mummy to speak of (and the Queen’s body is too well-preserved to really count). There are also some effective and eerie moments in the movie. However, there are also a fair amount of clumsy ones, the characters aren’t really developed enough to make their motivations clear, and I came out of this one more than a little unsatisfied. Granted, the production was plagued with problems of its own; its original star (Peter Cushing) had to back out due to his wife’s illness, and the director died before the production was complete, necessitating a replacement for the last few days of shooting. There’s some wonderfully subtle moments here, but there’s also some strident and forced ones as well. I do like the nod to the director of the original DRACULA in the boyfriend’s name, though. I just wish this movie worked better overall.

Birds Do It (1966)

BIRDS DO IT (1966)
Article 2902 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-18-2009
Posting Date: 7-24-2009
Directed by Andrew Marton
Featuring Soupy Sales, Tab Hunter, Arthur O’Connell
Country: USA

A janitor at a military/scientific installation accidentally gets trapped inside a machine that pumps him full of ions. This gives him the ability to fly and makes him irresistible to the opposite sex.

Imagine a cross between a Disney shopping cart movie and a Jerry Lewis movie. Now imagine that it’s about the quality of THE FAT SPY or THE NASTY RABBIT. That should give you a sense of what this dreadful comedy is like. It’s one of those movies that tries to be a laugh riot for every second of its running time, but none of the jokes hit and all that’s left is a sense of desperation. Of the three leads listed above, it’s Tab Hunter that comes off best, but that may be because he’s the only one who doesn’t come across as desperate. On the plus side, I will take my hat off to the special effects crew and the chimp (the former because they do a decent job and the latter because I like chimps). As for the rest… really, you’re better off with IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD. Just one thing – please, someone reassure me that that wasn’t Groucho Marx in a cameo!