Duel Personalities (1939)

Article 5201 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-9-2016
Directed by George Sidney
Featuring Our Gang, Allan Randall, Ruth Tobey
Country: USA
What it is: Our Gang short

Alfalfa is place under hypnosis and made to believe he is D’Artagnan. He challenges Butch to a duel for the hand of Darla, but the spell is broken before the duel…

I’m not extremely familiar with the Our Gang / Little Rascals series of shorts, only having seen a couple of them for this series, but I hear tell that the quality went down after MGM took over production of the series in 1938. This is apparently one of the better ones of that era, with Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer giving a good performance, especially when he is under hypnosis believing he’s in THE THREE MUSKETEERS. The hypnotism is the fantastic content here, or course. It also has a logical but amusing ending, so this one is fairly decent. Only time will tell if I will be encountering other episodes from the series.

Calino a mange du cheval (1908)

aka Result of Eating Horse Flesh
Article 5200 by Dave SIndelar
Date: 7-8-2016
Directed by Romeo Bosetti
Featuring Paul Bertho
Country: France
What it is: You are what you eat in action

Calino, unhappy with his meal at home, goes to a butcher who deals in horse flesh and buys a cut. He brings it home, and eats too much of it. And then…

You know, there’s one good thing about so many of the silent era movies being lost; it spares me from having to watch the many variations on this theme that were made at the time. For the record, the result of eating horse flesh is the same as drinking a bottle of horse embrocation; you act like a horse. Is it obvious? Yes. Is it funny? Not really; most of the movie has the title character running around with a cart and creating predictable mayhem. It does come up with a creative ending gag, but that’s about it. As it is, it’s just another in a long line of shorts in which humans are made to act like animals for comic effect. Actually, I think I’ve only seen two of these (both involving men acting like horses); I know there’s quite a few of them finding ways to get men to act like monkeys.

The Red Spectre (1907)

aka Le spectre rouge
Article 5199 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-7-2016
Directed by Segundo de Chomon and Ferdinand Zecca
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic short plus

A devilish skeletal figure presents his magic act; unfortunately, he may be thwarted by a good spirit.

This short can be described as a variation of Melies’s many magic-themed shorts in which a magician appears and does his act. What sets this one apart is that the magician is a devilish skeletal figure whose tricks are surrounded by a hellish atmosphere, and the presence of the whisper of a plot involving his conflict with a good spirit. The plot as such isn’t much, but the vivid hand-coloring of the print and the macabre atmosphere add so much flavor to the proceedings that this becomes one of the most entertaining variations I’ve seen of this theme. I think my favorite moments involve the main character advancing to the camera to perform some of this tricks up close; this is an approach that I don’t think Melies ever tried. It’s not as slickly done as the Melies shorts at their best, but this still may be my favorite example of the early silent era magic short.

The Dover Boys at Pimento University, or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall (1942)

Article 5198 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-5-2016
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc, Bea Benaderet, John McLeish
Country: USA
What it is: Old-time juvenile boys books parody

The Dover Boys romance the lovely Dora Standpipe, but must come to her rescue when she is kidnapped by that cad, Dan Backslide.

This is perhaps Chuck Jones’s first classic cartoon, and he almost lost his job over it. In parodying juvenile adventure books from a half a century earlier, he radically changed the style of animation by having characters strike exaggerated poses while keeping the transitions to a minimum, creating a style of incredible speed. The result is a hilarious cartoon, with one of the highlights being Mel Blanc’s vocal performance as Dan Backslide. The cartoon was so innovative that it almost didn’t get a release and Jones was almost fired; however, Warner Brothers did release it (they had to fill a quota) and Jones was retained, although it would be several years before he would return to experimenting with this type of movement.

However, the fantastic content in this one is a little more difficult to pin down. Unlike most cartoons, there are no talking or anthropomorphic animals (although an argument could be made that the sailor character who provides a running gag isn’t quite human), nor or there any of the usual horror, science fiction or fantasy elements to be found. Still, there is one moment; super-strength is on display when a tree is uprooted, though the cartoon plays it more as an oversight. Barring that, it is probably the animated exaggeration that makes the cartoon qualify as a virtual fantasy.

David et Goliath (1910)

aka David and Goliath
Article 5197 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-3-2016
Directed by Henri Andreani
Featuring Berthe Bovy
Country: France
What it is: Biblical rock slinging

Young shepherd David fights a battle with the giant Goliath.

Well, it’s time for another edition of “Dave grousing about some technical detail of a movie that everyone else seems to accept”, but I’ll just fall back on the defense that I’m covering these movies due to their fantastic content. And, in the case of the David and Goliath story, the fantastic content is the presence of a giant. Now, when you promise me a “giant” and offer me no more than a big man whose size is within the bounds of normal human variation… well, maybe I can understand the difficulties of offering me a REAL giant in a film like this, but I’m still not only going to be disappointed, but I will point out that it severely defantasticizes the fantastic content of the concept. Nor do I really understand the strategy of using “Peter Pan” casting (having an actress portray a young man) for the role of David; you’re telling me they couldn’t find a slight young man able to pull off the thespic load of this role? Still, I’d put up with that if they’d given me a REAL giant. As it is, it’s a pretty standard silent short treatment of the familiar story, and I suppose it accomplishes what it sets out to do. For the record, though, my favorite scene is when David demonstrates his slingshot prowess against an eagle in the first scene.

Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur (1939)

Article 5196 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-30-2016
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Jack Lescoulie
Country: USA
What it is: Warner Brothers cartoon

Casper Caveman and his pet dinosaur Fido go on an expedition to catch a duck for breakfast. But their target is Daffy Duck, so…

If this cartoon had been made a few years later, the caveman would have probably been Elmer Fudd and the prey would have been Bugs Bunny. As it is, the caveman is modeled after Jack Benny and Daffy is the prey, but it plays out pretty much the same. This is an early Chuck Jones effort; it’s good but not great. The two extended gags include Daffy trying to avoid a rock from a slingshot, and a sequence where the caveman follows a series of signs (some of which are parodies of thirties-era advertisements) to a duck breakfast. The dinosaur is used for a couple of gags, but it really doesn’t play much of a role in the proceedings; with minor modifications, it could have been set in the present. My favorite gags are some of the signs, and the scene where a rock realizes it’s just been tricked.

Topper (1979)

TOPPER (1979)
Article 5195 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-28-2016
Directed by Charles S. Dubin
Featuring Kate Jackson, Andrew Stevens, Jack Warden
Country: USA
What it is: Supernatural TV-Pilot comedy

Two fun-loving socialites die in an automobile accident, but they can’t go to heaven until they do a good deed. They decide to help a stuffy financial adviser to cut loose and have a good time.

The original had Cary Grant. This one has scenes in a disco. Okay, that’s a bit of a cheap shot from someone who hated the whole disco scene, but one of the lines from the movie during the disco scene is “Nobody comes here for sparkling conversation!”, and that’s an apt description for this version of the movie, though not the original. I don’t object to Jack Warden in the title role, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Roland Young; in fact, I don’t think there’s anyone in the cast I would prefer over the equivalent actor in the original. Nor is there wit in the script nor energy in the direction; this movie just seems to meander absent-mindedly through its plot. If there’s anyone here that stands out, I’d have to choose Kate Jackson; at least she seems to be trying to tap into the spirit of the original movie, and given that she’s one of the executive producers and was hoping this would make it into a series, that’s understandable. But the movie is glum and joyless. Fortunately, the original is still around, and it’s much easier to find than this forgotten remake.

And the Villain Still Pursued Her; or, The Author’s Dream (1906)

Article 5194 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-27-2016l
Directed by J. Stuart Blackton
Featuring Paul Panzer
Country: USA
What it is: Bizarre comedy

A rather down-on-his-luck author falls asleep and dreams he is the unlikely hero in a mellerdrammer.

This is a title that had been consigned to me “ones that got away”, list, but it turns out that it was one of a series of unidentified shorts at the Library of Congress, and I was able to acquire a copy of it. I’m glad I did; though there are plenty of special effects to the short, they are there to serve the weird comic vibe of the short rather than for their own purposes. There’s a duel sequence that wouldn’t be out of place in a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin short, a makeshift operation to remove a bullet lodged in someone’s head, an “escape by dumbwaiter” sequence involving an absurdly stretched leg… this one left my mouth hanging open a couple of times. It’s also one of those special effects shorts that doesn’t feel like an attempt to imitate Melies. Now that this short has been identified, it should become generally available in the next couple of years, and I’m glad; it’s one that is worth catching.

Princess Iron Fan (1941)

aka Tie shan gong zhu
Article 5193 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-26-2016
Directed by Wan Guchan and Wan Laiming
Featuring the voices of Wan Chaochen, Wan Guchan, Wan Laiming
Country: China
What it is: Animated fantasy allegory

A monk and his three apprentices are on a quest, but their way is blocked by a mountain of fire. A nearby princess has an iron fan with which to quench the flames, and the monk sends his three apprentices (a monkey, a pig and a stuttering man) to get the fan. This may prove a difficult task.

There’s a lot of novelty value to this one; it was the first full-length animated feature from China, and it was made while the country was under occupation by the Japanese. Much of the animation was rotoscoped, which is very apparent in certain scenes. The characters are apparently well-known Chinese archetypes, with the monkey character having been especially popular; I suspect Asians and those steeped in Asian cultures will probably be the ones most likely to appreciate this one. I do find it interesting that the opening titles seem to want to distant this obvious fantasy from the fantasy genre by insisting it’s an allegory rather than a fantasy; I don’t think the former necessarily cancels out the latter. It does take a little while to adjust to the different animation style, and the humorous sections don’t seem to translate very well. At any rate, it makes for a novel viewing experience.

The Cook in Trouble (1904)

aka Sorcellerie culinaire
Article 5192 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-25-2016
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic curse

When a cook refuses to spare a crumb for an old beggar, the latter reveals himself to be a magician and places a nightmarish curse on the cook…

I don’t know about you, but there’s two things I always associate with the work of Melies – dancing girls and tumbling imps. Those partial to the former would be better off with one of his other shorts. Those who prefer the latter have hit the jackpot here; once the curse gets underway, there’s no end to the tumbling imp action here. They even have the ability to change color; if you get tired of the standard black tumbling imp, they’ll change to the new-style white tumbling imps. Still, under either color they’ll wreck your kitchen, ruin your cooking, and probably stuff you in the pot, but that’s what tumbling imps do. All in all, it’s another moderately entertaining Melies short.