Als het verstand zegeviert (1918)

aka The Craving
Article 4685 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-18-2014
Directed by Francis Ford
Featuring Francis Ford, Mae Gaston, Peter Gerald
Country: USA
What it is: Spy intrigue crossed with anti-drinking story

A recovering alcoholic invents a formula for a new super-explosive, but a villain from India is seeking his secret.

This movie had ended up on my “ones that got away” list under the belief it was lost, but it apparently popped up in a private collection. I’m glad I’ve got sources I can consult on the plot; since the intertitles of the print I saw are in Dutch, I would have been really lost in trying to sort this one out. For one thing, I didn’t see any clear demonstration of the explosive itself (unless a war-time sequence and a thrown beaker of liquid are meant to demonstrate it), and I would never have figured out the rather vague “battle of wills” sequence (for that matter, I’m not sure I still do). However, there is some easily spotted fantastic content to this one; when our hero is drinking, he hallucinates, and there are two sequences in the movie – one in which he deals with a series of little people who come out of a bottle and another where he has a strange out-of-body experience – with very marked fantasy content. Nevertheless, I sense this is a rather odd movie that never really finds its focus; I’m not really sure the movie knows what it wants to be. It does have some interesting moments, though.

The Automatic Motorist (1911)

Article 4674 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-7-2014
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Science fantasy trick film

A robot takes a pair of newlyweds for a spin, and the car ends up going to outer space as well as to the bottom of the ocean.

This movie has a lot in common with the one I saw yesterday. For one thing, it too was a title that had been consigned to my “ones that got away” list until BFI put it on their website. It’s also by the same director, Walter R. Booth. It’s something of an expanded remake of the same director’s earlier movie, THE “?” MOTORIST, and repeats that movie’s most memorable sequence in which the car drives on the rings of Saturn; however, it doesn’t stop there, and it breaks into the planet so we get a somewhat Meliesian scene where a policeman who was being dragged behind the car finds himself surrounded by space aliens and ends up romancing a woman from the stars. Some of the special effects look like Gilliam animations. It’s actually a lot of fun, and may be more entertaining than the original version.

The Aerial Submarine (1910)

Article 4673 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-6-2014
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Science fiction action adventure

Two youngsters are kidnapped by pirates who have a submarine that can also fly.

Here’s another title that ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but finally a video of the silent short was posted online by BFI. It’s pretty straightforward action/adventure fare, and many of the special effects are created with animation. In some ways, it’s like a variation of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, and it’s interesting to note that the leader of the pirates is female. Still, if there’s a lesson to be learned from this short, it’s that good help is hard to find; the pirates are finally defeated as the result of gross incompetence on the part of the submarine’s own crew. This one is quite entertaining.

The Amateur William Tell (1909)

Article 4648 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-7-2013
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Comic short

A young boy, enamored with the story of William Tell, makes a bow and arrow and practices using it on the people he meets. Much destruction ensues.

Certain movies are so rare that you have to settle for whatever quality you can in finding a copy. Though I was finally able to find a copy of this, the print is quite bad and much of the detail is lost. It’s rather difficult to evaluate a movie in those circumstances; you’re so busy trying to make out what’s going on that there’s not much room left in the experience to really enjoy it. It does look fitfully amusing, though; a better copy (if one ever manifests itself) might make a lot of difference.

As for the fantastic content, that probably belongs to a sequence near the end of the movie where the boy gets his comeuppance; in short, he has a nightmare where he is tried by a group of hooded figures which turn out to be the people he tormented earlier. He is punished in a fitting way, though, to be truthful, I can only attest to the fact that this happened because I received a plot description explaining what was happening; it was particularly difficult to make out the action in this sequence. The hooded figures certainly give it a touch of horror, though the touch is slight; I’d say this short is fairly marginal in that regard.

Arthur the King (1985)

aka Merlin and the Sword
Article 4639 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-26-2014
Directed by Clive Donner
Featuring Malcolm McDowell, Candice Bergen, Edward Woodward
Country: USA / Yugoslavia
What it is: Arthurian epic

Arthur’s rule at Camelot is threatened by the plottings of Morgan Le Fay and his own illegitimate son Mordred, who hatch a plot to have Guinevere kidnapped by the king of the Picts and taken to an enchanted land.

I was given the choice of watching either the shortened version of this TV-Movie (which goes under the title MERLIN AND THE SWORD) or the full length version, which, according to IMDB, ran 180 minutes. I have to admit that I was somewhat reluctant to choose the latter (though I did), because I really didn’t want to spend three hours with what would no doubt be an overly familiar story. Fortunately, the longer version I found ran only two hours and twenty minutes (perhaps the time on IMDB included the commercials), and the story at least deals with certain aspects of the Arthurian legend that I wasn’t familiar with (though, truth be told, I suspect a lot of liberties were taken here with the story). Unfortunately, I found most of the movie pretty bad. There’s a jarring framing story involving a modern day visitor to Stonehenge falling down a hole and ending up in the cavern where Merlin and Niniane were prisoners; Dyan Cannon’s performance as the modern day visitor is so jarringly at odds with the rest of the movie that I winced every time the movie switched to these scenes. Malcolm McDowell is not really given much to do in the title role, and Candice Bergen’s campy take on Morgan Le Fay rubbed me the wrong way; fortunately, Edward Woodward hits the right notes as Merlin and gives the best performance here. I didn’t find Lancelot to be particularly valiant or charismatic, and Mordred is portrayed as an ineffectual fool. My favorite touch to the movie was the odd “Beauty and the Beast” subplot involving Gawaine and the Lady Ragnell; I don’t know if this was part of the original legends, but it made for an interesting distraction. The fight scenes are pretty weak, and much of the dialogue is hackneyed. Overall, I think it tries to be a light-hearted take on the legend, but it ends up lacking both grandeur and humor. All in all, this one was quite bad. The cast also features Liam Neeson and Michael Gough, the latter in a rather embarrassing cameo in which he utters the tackiest joke in the movie.

An Artist’s Dream (1900)

Article 4609 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-17-2014
Directed by Edwin S. Porter
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Early trick film

An artist dreams that the women in his portraits have come to life and stepped out of the frames.

It looks like I’m not finished with trick shorts from the very early days of cinema; here’s another one. It’s a standard Melies imitation, with a devil showing up and running the proceedings, though that plot element does raise the question as to whether the artist is just dreaming or if the devil is playing a trick on him. It’s passable, but nothing really sets it apart from the pack.

Alice in Wonderland (1915)

Article 4607 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-14-2014
Directed by W.W. Young
Featuring Viola Savoy, Herbert Rice
Country: USA
What it is: Lewis Carroll adaptation

Alice dreams she goes down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.

This version of the Lewis Carroll classic is a serviceable if not particularly inspired series of highlights from the story; one of the more interesting aspects is it tries to be somewhat faithful visually to the Tenniel illustrations. Granted, one person’s highlights may not be the same as the next person’s, but that’s one of the oddities of the original story; as there’s no real plot to speak of, it’s open for the directors and writers to choose which scenes to include and which to exclude. This one includes scenes that most of the others skip (the animal convention and the recitation of “You are Old, Father William” come to mind) while omitting other scenes that I would consider essential (the mad tea party is conspicuously absent). Granted, the full movie was only about fifty minutes, and my print runs only forty minutes, so it could be in the missing footage. Granted, I don’t think there’s really a way for a silent version of this story to be truly effective; most of the charms of the book are verbal, and that requires the advent of sound. Still, it has a little curiosity value.

Abou Ben Boogie (1944)

Article 4601 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-7-2014
Directed by Shamus Culhane
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Swing Symphony cartoon

A dancing girl sings the title song in an Arabian nighclub.

I’ve now returned to the Walt Lee book in my compilation of my movie hunt lists, and this increases the number of cartoons I’ll be watching in the near future, as that is one of the only sources I have that lists many of these. Most cartoons have a certain amount of fantastic content to them simply due to the fact that they defy so many physical laws; in this cartoon, a pianist plays his tunes on a roll of paper, which is then cut up into paper men that dance. There’s also a lot of exaggerated reactions to the sexy dancer (eyes getting impossibly big, etc.). The cartoon has the usual structure for these song-oriented ones; the first half is an assortment of gags involving Arab stereotypes, and the second half is the song itself. The most striking thing about this cartoon is the design of the title character, who appears halfway through the song; the outline of the character resembles the style that was used by UPA during the fifties, and that makes this cartoon a little ahead of its time. All in all, this cartoon is fairly decent, though it does overuse a running gag involving the accidental kissing of camels.

America 3000 (1986)

AMERICA 3000 (1986)
Article 4516 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-26-2014
Directed by David Engelbach
Featuring Chuck Wagner, Laurene Landon, William Wallace
Country: USA
What it is: Post-apocalyptic absurdity

It’s 900 years after the apocalypse. A female society enslaves men. Some men escape to do battle with the women. Then one of the men discovers artifacts from the distant past…

You know, the idea of a society ruled by women that enslaves men isn’t a totally useless idea, but it’s so rarely used in any worthwhile way that the second it’s trotted out, I expect the worst. And there are a couple of moments here and there where I sense that there was an interesting idea or two lying underneath the surface. But the movie is so mired in its bad ideas, it’s improbabilities, it’s incredible silliness, and it’s shamefaced obviousness (I’ll give you one guess how the society of women and the society of men come to an understanding), that the movie never rises above its status as one of the campiest bad movies of all time. Between the ludicrous lingo developed for the people of the future, the boombox that survives 900 years into the future without even needing a change in batteries, the smarmy and self-conscious narration that peppers the movie, the made-in-the-eighties big hair, and the existence of a hairy mutant character known as Argh the Awful, you’ll find an endless supply of jaw-dropping ridiculousness. No, I’m not surprised that the movie has a surprisingly high rating of 4.3 on IMDB; it’s bound to have a cult following that revels in it all. Whatever else you can say about it, this movie is an experience.

Acceptable Risks (1986)

Article 4514 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-24-2014
Directed by Rick Wallace
Featuring Brian Dennehy, Kenneth McMillan, Christine Ebersole
Country: USA
What it is: A building sense of dread

A housing development is built close to a plant that has been working with a toxic and potentially dangerous chemical, one which could cause disaster if something were to go wrong.

On the surface, the movie has a certain resemblance to THE CHINA SYNDROME, in that it involves a worst case scenario of what could happen in a potentially dangerous industry. However, it ends up reminding more of DR. STRANGELOVE in that it’s less focused with finding a particular scapegoat for what happens than in showing how a conjunction of various details could bring about an otherwise avoidable disaster. Because of the way it is formatted, it takes a little while for things to get off the ground, but that’s because it’s building up a wealth of detail. It’s also a bit hard to follow, and unless you have a strong familiarity of the chemicals involved (if they’re not totally fictional), you might find your head swimming on occasion. Still, I really like this movie, at least partially because it doesn’t simplify the problem; in the final analysis, quite a few people end up sharing the responsibility for what happens, and I find this fairly intriguing. It’s a bit marginal in terms of its fantastic content, but it’s not until the disaster occurs and we see the extent of the damage where I think it finally moves into the area of science fiction. Brian Dennehy gives an excellent performance of a man desperately trying to juggle the demands of those above him and the realities of the situation; I found myself really feeling for his situation. All in all, I found this to be quite powerful and provocative, especially for a TV movie.