Beanstalk Bunny (1955)

BEANSTALK BUNNY (1955)
Article 5170 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-29-2016
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan
Country: USA
What it is: Bugs Bunny cartoon

Jack climbs the beanstalk and meets the giant… only this time he has a rabbit for his companion.

Chuck Jones made four cartoons in which he incorporated the characters of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd; this is perhaps the least of them. This is perhaps because the other three used them as a comedy team adept at verbal gymnastics, the end result being that Bugs always bamboozled Elmer into shooting Daffy rather than him. This one takes a more conventional route by casting them in “Jack and the Beanstalk”, with Daffy as Jack, Elmer as the Giant, and Bugs as a rabbit who just happens to follow along (not a regular character in the story). Nonetheless, this is still a solid Warner Brothers cartoon, with two great lines (one is Elmer’s comment when he picks up a pepper mill, and the other is Daffy’s first line after having been caught in a mousetrap), and some fun slapstick. One of the odd touches of this one is that the characters know they’re playing characters in a fairy tale, so we get some self-referential humor as well. The cartoon also has one of my three favorite moments in which Bugs Bunny proves the effectiveness of tripping an enemy.

The Band Concert (1935)

THE BAND CONCERT (1935)
Article 5169 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-28-2016
Directed by Wilfred Jackson
Featuring the voice of Clarence Nash
Country: USA
What it is: Mickey Mouse cartoon

Mickey Mouse attempts to conduct The William Tell Overture despite interference from an ice-cream selling duck (whose flute-playing causes to orchestra to break into “Turkey in the Straw”), a bee, and a tornado.

This was Mickey Mouse’s first color cartoon, and it’s one of the most impressive Disney shorts ever made. The use of music is exemplary (especially the melding of the two different tunes during the Donald Duck sequences) and the animation is excellent; in fact, it’s positively breathtaking during the tornado sequence in which the band continues to play while being blown in circles around the screen. I’ve tended to be a little hard on some of the Disney shorts because in terms of humor, they fall a bit short of the Warner Brothers cartoons at their best, but this one is so impressively mounted that I find it impossible not to marvel at it. The anthropomorphic animals make up the primary fantastic content, but there are also some park benches that come to life in the process. This one is highly recommended.

Ballet Mecanique (1924)

BALLET MECANIQUE (1924)
Article 5168 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-27-2016
Directed by Fernand Leger and Dudley Murphy
Featuring Fernand Leger, Dudley Murphy, Katherine Murphy
Country: France
What it is: Early experimental film

Putting down a plot description for this type of film is useless. It is basically a cascade of images, some animated, some abstract, some concrete but used in abstract ways. The emphasis is on movement, rhythm and repetition; an image of a woman carrying a bag up a flight of stairs becomes something other than mundane if repeated on a rhythmic loop. One of the animated segments looks like a cubist’s version of Charlie Chaplin, and we get visions of a woman swinging from some unsettling angles. As always, these abstract films become fantasies by dint of the fact that they are simply not realistic. This won’t convert anyone not fond of experimental films, but those with a bent for non-linear abstraction should enjoy this one.

The Project Begins

It was the middle of March in 2021.

I found myself flipping through one of my several books on genre movies, and considering how much things had changed in the previous twenty years. In 1981, my only chance of seeing a genre movie was if it showed up at a reasonable hour on television of if it was magically revived for theatrical showings. Twenty years later, I had a huge collection of movies recorded off of television and purchased from video stores. If I was looking for a specific movie, I could check against a plethora of cable channels or check out the catalogs of several movie dealers.

I found myself wondering if just possibly I could go through these lists of movies I had, and find out how many I could actually get my hands on. I was willing to bet that the majority of the movies could be found and watched.

That’s when I hit on the movie-watching project. What if I made a list of movies to initially find, and began watching them one a day. How long could I go on before I would be unable to find one? So, I picked a book with a good starting selection of common genre movies (fantasy, science fiction and/or horror) and using a filtering system too complicated to explain at this point, began compiling a list.

My first movie? ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. It seemed a good place to start. So I began my movie-watching project. However, the project was only half-formed at this point, though I didn’t realize it at the time. It was another five months before I extended the project…. but that’s for the next post in the series.

Target… Earth? (1980)

TARGET… EARTH? (1980)
Article 5167 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-26-2016
Directed by Joost van Rees
Featuring Victor Buono, Rick Overton, Isaac Asimov
Country: USA
What it is: Documentary?

A researcher aboard a space ship is tasked with understanding the Tunguska Event from 1908, its cause, and the effect it had on humanity.

This is not to be confused with the 1954 alien invasion movie from 1954 (TARGET EARTH) nor the investigation of alien presence movie from 1974 (UFO: TARGET EARTH). No, this is another example of a movie subgenre I’ve already encountered several times in this series; it’s an “aliens from outer space have visited us” documentary. If you’re not familiar with the Tunguska Event of 1908, it involves a huge explosion supposedly caused by a meteorite impact, only, since there was no impact crater, it is believed that the meteorite exploded above the ground.

I will admit to a certain fondness for this one, though not necessarily because it’s so convincing. Rather, I’m fond of the way it was so eccentrically staged. Rather than an earnest authority figure of sorts narrating for us, we get a fictionalized framing device in which a man named Homer the Archivist (played by Victor Buono) living in a spaceship is tasked with researching the event by his computer-with-an-attitude (voiced by Rick Overton). Buono waxes philosophic about human nature, banters with his computer, and talks to frogs. These scenes alternate with documentary footage, interviews, and some strange footage involving alien women aboard another spaceship. I’m not sure if it really works, but I will admit that Buono is very entertaining and has some great lines. It’s this truly strange framing device that instills what fun there is in this documentary. At any rate, I will say that this movie does earn the question mark in its title.

On a side note, you will see Isaac Asimov’s name in the cast list above; according to IMDB, he was one of the people interviewed. In truth, I did not see him; either I did not recognize him (though those sideburns are hard to miss) or he was on so briefly I missed it when I was out of the room for a second…or, he wasn’t in it at all. However, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle both appear, as well as Carl Sagan.

La marmite diabolique (1902)

LA MARMITE DIABOLIQUE (1902)
Article 5166 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-25-2016
Directed by Gaston Velle
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Early trick short

A cook throws a young boy into a boiling pot, thus incurring the wrath of a devil.

Adventures in movie-hunting: The Walt Lee guide from which I culled this title lists the movie as being a 1903 production directed by Gaston Velle and produced by Pathe Freres. The problem is that this listing mixes up things. There are two movies of the same title: one from 1902 directed by Velle for Lumiere, and a 1904 version with an unknown director for Pathe Freres. The first of these is extant, while the second one is lost, so I’m going to use this listing to both review the extant version and write the other one to my “ones that got away” list.

The IMDB listing is for the 1904 version, and the plot description there almost sounds like the 1902 version, except it has events out of order and events that don’t occur; it was obviously a remake of this one. It’s a fairly ordinary trick short, similar to the many Melies shorts of the time, though it lacks the energy of those shorts. This earlier version is available currently on YouTube for anyone who might be interested. It is, however, nothing particularly special.

Stoogemania (1986)

STOOGEMANIA (1986)
Article 5165 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-23-2016
Directed by Chuck Workman
Featuring Josh Mostel, Melanie Chartoff, Sid Caesar
Country: USA
What it is: Recycling gone horribly wrong

A prospective bridegroom calls off his marriage when it becomes apparent that he suffers from an affliction called Stoogemania, in which he hallucinates Three Stooges footage and acts like an idiot.

The fantastic content of this movie is the title disease, and if you think that’s lame… well, yes, it is. Nor is it a promising premise for a movie, though I will acknowledge it as an affectionate nod to the comic team in question. The challenge with attempting a tribute of this sort is coming up with new comic business that is as inspired and funny as the Three Stooges at their best, and I’m afraid it doesn’t succeed; all too often, the movie just collapses into loud, messy undisciplined slapstick. To further underline this, a good thirty to forty percent of the movie consists of authentic Three Stooges footage (which allows you to compare the real thing with the new footage), and I suspect all of it is from the handful of shorts that fell into public domain. You can get those shorts for a song, and if you do, you have the best parts of the movie there. The rest is unnecessary and a waste of time. And, for the record, movie, it’s “nyuk nyuk nyuk”, not “nuk nuk nuk”.

Revenge of the Mysterons from Mars (1981)

REVENGE OF THE MYSTERONS FROM MARS (1981)
Article 5164 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-22-2016
Directed by Brian Burgess, Robert Lynn and Ken Turner
Featuring the voices of Francis Matthews, Ed Bishop, Donald Gray
Country: UK
What it is: TV-Movie compilation of episodes from “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons”

Spectrum agent Captain Scarlet and his cohorts match wits with an alien race known as the Mysterons.

This TV-Movie has four episodes from “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” stitched together to create a feature; they are “Shadow of Fear”, “Lunarville 7”, “Crater 101” and “Dangerous Rendezvous”; the last three episodes do seem to be semi-sequels to each other, though they weren’t originally shown in direct succession. It was another one of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Supermarionation series. I suspect the Andersons took these shows quite seriously; a lot of effort went into making the marionettes as lifelike as possible, and sometimes when you squint they almost look and act human. However, they never found an effective way to show them walking, so the shows were framed so you never saw their legs moving. That’s why so many of the action sequences were more likely to involve hardware and vehicles. I don’t know if there was any resolution to the central conflict between Spectrum and the Mysterons in the original series, but if there was, it would have come in the last episode, which is not among the bunch in this compilation, so the movie never really resolves itself. It’s mildly entertaining, but the series is better experienced in thirty-minute segments; it gets rather dull stretched out to a feature. Nowadays, this feature version is probably best remembered as one of the first features to have gotten the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment back in its KTMA days, though the episode hasn’t been in circulation in years and probably will never be.

Arsenal (1929)

ARSENAL (1929)
Article 5163 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-21-2016
Directed by Aleksandr Dovzhenko
Featuring Semyon Svashenko, Amvrosi Buchma, Georgi Khorkov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Revolutionary drama

After surviving a brutal war and a train wreck, a soldier/worker returns to his home in the Ukraine to organize a worker’s revolution that will center at the town’s arsenal.

The movie is based on an incident during the Russian Civil War in 1918 when workers in Kiev aided the Bolshevik army against the ruling class in the city. Given the time and place where this was made, there’s little doubt as to what the ideological content will be here. Still, ideology can sometimes tap into a creative energy that can imbue a movie with a spirit that can be appreciated, even if you choose to reject the propagandistic message. There is definitely a kinetic energy to this movie (especially during a memorable train wreck sequence in which an accordion serves as a visual counterpoint to the proceedings), and I can even admire the way it symbolically argues its points; in short, it’s an effective movie. The Walt Lee guide lists the fantastic content as being a scene where a dead soldier continues to walk, but I was unable to spot a particular moment in question. However, there are a few other incidents that push it into the fantastic. There’s a scene where a painting briefly comes to life. Also, certain title cards seem to imply that the words being spoken are by animals. Also, the final scene has a man refusing to fall after being shot, implying that he is invincible, another symbolic touch.

Das Geheimnis der Chinesischen Nelke (1964)

DAS GEHEIMNIS DER CHINESISCHEN NELKE (1964)
aka Secret of the Chinese Carnation
Article 5162 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-20-2016
Directed by Rudolf Zehetgruber
Featuring Paul Dahlke, Olga Schoberova, Dietmar Schonherr
Country: West Germany / Italy / France
What it is: Alternative krimi

Several parties try to get their hands on a microfilm that contains the secret of a new source of energy.

Though it’s not part of the series of Edgar Wallace movies that make up most of krimis of the time, this is part of that basic genre. Krimis are a bit hard to follow in the first place, and knowing that I was going into this one without the help of English dubbing or subtitles, I didn’t exactly anticipate having much luck following the story as is. Therefore, I just tried to enjoy what I could. This one is a bit on the talky side, but there is an amusing fight in a Chinese bar, a novel way to stop a ticking bomb, and a truly interesting place to hide a piece of microfilm. The fantastic content is the formula on the microfilm (a Gizmo Maguffin if ever there was one) and a bit of spy-oriented gadgetry. The cast also includes Brad Harris and Klaus Kinski to add to the star power. All in all, this one looks pretty ordinary. The director would go on to the Superbug movies.