Peer Gynt (1941)

PEER GYNT (1941)
Article 2272 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-11-2007
Posting Date: 11-1-2007
Directed by David Bradley
Featuring Charlton Heston, Betty Hanisee, Mrs. Hubert Hyde

A ne’er-do-well romances the women, defeats a mountain king, and travels around the world, leaving his true love behind.

The novelty value of this one is immense. Here’s a quick rundown of what is novel about it.

1) It features Charlton Heston’s first screen appearance.

2) It’s based on a play written by Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright who pioneered theatrical realism. Incidentally, this was one of the plays he wrote before he turned to realism, and is most likely the only one with enough fantastic elements (the mountain king sequence) to get included in this series. At least two other movie versions were made previous to this one, but those have remained elusive.

3) It was directed by David Bradley, who would hit a career peak with his next movie (JULIUS CAESAR), and then settle down to give us 12 TO THE MOON and THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN.

4) It was shot as an amateur movie on 16mm as a (mostly) silent movie; all but a few of the lines of dialogue are on title cards.

5) The music is by Grieg. It’s the score he originally wrote at Ibsen’s request for the 1876 stage production of “Peer Gynt”. You’ll recognize much of the music, especially the famous “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.

Judged as an amateur film, it is excellent and ambitious. However, since it is an amateur film, it does have some problems. It was shot in Illinois and Wisconsin, and it works all right when it’s trying to pass its location off as Norway, but less well when it passes itself off as Morocco. Charlton Heston (who was 17 at the time) definitely had that cinematic charisma even at this time, though he’s a lot more effective near the beginning of the movie when he’s playing his own age than he is playing much older. The cast was mostly made up of non-professionals, but overall they pass muster. Ultimately, the biggest problem I had with the movie is that the story itself isn’t very engaging; to me, it felt unfocused and overly episodic, and the fact that the character of Peer Gynt isn’t very likable makes it that much more difficult to warm up to. Still, as I said before, the novelty value is immense.

 

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The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)

THE TELL-TALE HEART (1953)
Animated Short
Article 2271 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2007
Posting Date: 10-31-2007
Directed by Ted Parmelee
Narrated by James Mason

A madman, haunted by a deformed eye and the sound of a beating heart, kills an old man.

UPA developed a unique and striking visual style for the cartoons they made in the fifties. and this may well be their masterpiece. The excellent narration by James Mason uses an abbreviated version of the story that manages to capture its essence; I particularly like a brief but effective coda that uses lines from the beginning of the story after the point where the story usually ends. The non-realistic animation uses abstract imagery in a powerful way, and it also makes wonderful use of sound and music as well. I’ve seen several versions of this story to date, and, along with the expressionistic short version from 1928 , this is one of my favorites.

 

Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949)

TARZAN’S MAGIC FOUNTAIN (1949)
Article 2270 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-9-2007
Posting Date: 10-30-2007
Directed by Lee Sholem
Featuring Lex Barker, Brenda Joyce, Albert Dekker

Tarzan gets permission from a hidden civilization to take a downed aviatrix that lives there back to civilization, where her testimony will help clear a man of murder. However, since the fifty-year-old woman looks like she’s in her twenties, certain unscrupulous parties become convinced that a legend of a fountain of youth has truth to it, and they decide to seek it out.

Once you see Evelyn Ankers as the aviatrix, you’ll pretty much have the whole movie scoped out; you’ll know the secret of the fountain, you’ll know why Tarzan and the natives of the hidden civilization are so protective of it, and you’ll know that the story will have precious little in the way of real surprises. Still, it’s somewhat fitting that a story about the fountain of youth is the one to usher a new, younger Tarzan into the role; this was the first of Lex Barker’s movies in the character. Still, this one feels very much like the Weissmuller Tarzan movies that came before; they don’t really take advantage of the younger Tarzan until the next in the series, and the biggest difference is that the swimming scenes are greatly abbreviated. probably because Barker, unlike Weissmuller, wasn’t known for his swimming ability. Brenda Joyce is back as Jane, but this would be her last time at the role, and the cast also features Albert Dekker and Alan Napier.

 

Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950)

TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1950)
Article 2269 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-8-2007
Posting Date: 10-29-2007
Directed by Lee Sholem
Featuring Lex Barker, Vanessa Brown, Robert Alda

A lost society in the jungle has been kidnapping women in the hope they will be able to repopulate, as a mysterious disease is killing them off. When Jane and a doctor’s nurse are kidnapped by them, Tarzan leads an expedition into the jungle to rescue the women.

With Johnny Weissmuller consigned to Jungle Jim films, Lex Barker took over the role of Tarzan in the RKO series. This is the first of the series I’ve seen with him in the lead, though it was actually the second of the five films he made as the character. The series does appear to have regained some of its savagery, due no doubt to a combination of the facts that a younger Tarzan was in much better shape for the action sequences, the departure of Boy had dedomesticized the series a little, and the erosion of the Motion Picture Code as beginning to show. There are some nasty scenes here, including a man’s face being cut and an elephant stepping on a man’s arm. Barker doesn’t seem quite at ease with Tarzan’s fractured English, but he’s lithe, athletic and moves like an animal. The story itself is pretty ordinary, and Cheeta’s antics are forgettable. Still, the movie really comes to life in the middle of the movie, when Tarzan encounters a tribe of killers who disguise themselves as bushes; there’s something genuinely unsettling about these natives that adds a sense of horror to the proceedings, which, along with the lost civilization, supply the fantastic aspects of this Tarzan opus. It should be interesting to see some of Barker’s other forays into the character.

 

Son of Flubber (1963)

SON OF FLUBBER (1963)
Article 2268 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-6-2007
Posting Date: 10-28-2007
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Fred MacMurray, Nancy Olson, Keenan Wynn

When payment for his invention of flubber is held up by bureaucratic red tape, Professor Brainard finds himself once again trying to save Medfield college, inventing a machine that can create rainstorms anywhere, and using flubber to help the football team.

THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR is one of my favorite of the Disney shopping cart movies. I’m much less impressed with this, its sequel. I think part of the problem is that the screenwriters never came up with an effective story to follow in the steps of the original, and the movie caroms back and forth between recycling the original and working on new ideas that just aren’t near as effective. The plot is fairly muddled, and the middle portion of the story about an old flame of Professor Brainard’s is really forgettable. Still, there are some good things here; I like the satirical jabs at the government, which is slow to pay but quick to tax. I also love the commercial concocted by a business who wants to invest in flubber. The football game is a recycling of the basketball game of the original, but it’s still the funniest moment here, and it does feature some inspired casting of Paul Lynde as a sports commentator. Other than that, this sequel feels like a sequel.

 

Road to Utopia (1946)

ROAD TO UTOPIA (1946)
Article 2267 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-4-2007
Posting Date: 10-27-27
Directed by Hal Walker
Featuring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour

Two con men find a map to a gold mine which they steal from some desperate criminals. They pose as the criminals in the hope that they can find the treasure.

You’d think that with a title like ROAD TO UTOPIA, this would be the road movie that would be heaviest on the fantastic content. Such is not the case. By Utopia, they mean Alaska (because of all the gold they hope to find there), and the fantastic elements are singularly slight; an appearance by Santa Claus, and jokes involving talking animals are the sum total of such elements. As for the movie itself, well… let’s just say that you have to be in the right mood to enjoy one of the Hope/Crosby road movies, and there’s a distinct chance I wasn’t in the mood when I saw this one. I generally like them, and this is supposed to be one of the best, but when I’m not in the mood, I find the gags too mild, the pace too languid, and the music dull. My favorite touch isn’t used near enough; Robert Benchley serves as a narrator who appears on occasion (ostensibly to help clarify the plot), but he isn’t used near enough. Maybe it’s because there never really seems to be enough room in one of these movies for humor from anyone else but Bob, Bing and Dorothy. At any rate, I came out of this one a little disappointed. Maybe if I watch it again the next time I’m in the mood…

 

The Risk (1960)

THE RISK (1960)
aka Suspect
Article 2266 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-3-2007
Posting Date: 10-26-2007
Directed by John and Roy Boulting
Featuring Tony Britton, Virginia Maskell, Ian Bannen

A group of scientists researching plague cures is denied the chance to publish their results when their project is put under top secret security. One scientist, angered at how the inability to publish the work because of the many lives that could be saved, ends up meeting a man who offers him a chance to get it secretly published. However, things may not be what they seem…

This movie spends enough time at the beginning of the movie discussing the scientific methods used for the research that I found myself hoping it would actually emerge as a full-blown science fiction movie. But once the government makes the project top secret, the plague cure becomes the Gizmo Maguffin in another spy thriller. My disappointment was checked, however, by the fact that it is a good one, with an unusual story line and interesting character relationships. A good cast also helps; along with the ones listed above, the movie also features Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence and “Goon Show” regular Spike Milligan as a genuinely amusing comic relief lab assistant. Still, despite the star power, the movie is stolen by the most interesting characters in the movie; Ian Bannen plays the armless war veteran who turns the life of his lover (a female scientist working on the project) into a living hell, and has special plans for his rival (another scientist on the project), and Thorley Walters, who plays the special agent in charge of security on the project as an absent-minded eccentric. It’s the way the plot unfolds that really makes this movie work; we get to see how the various forces at work conspire to tempt the scientist played by Tony Britton into turning into a traitor. I really liked this movie, though the science fiction content remains marginal.