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.

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.

Angel Puss (1944)

Article 5161 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-19-2016
Directed by Chuck Jones
Featuring the voice of Mel Blanc
Country: USA
What it is: Animated cartoon

A black boy undertakes to drown a cat in the lake, but the cat escapes and disguises himself as a ghost to scare the boy.

There’s a group of Warner Brothers cartoons known as the “Censored 11”. These were cartoons that were removed from syndication due to the fact that the racial stereotypes were deemed far too offensive for modern audiences. This group includes at least one cartoon that over the years has gained the reputation of an animated classic (COAL BLACK AND DE SEBBEN DWARFS), and it also includes this one, which, as far as I know, is on no one’s list of great animated cartoons. In fact, it may be one of the weakest Warner Brothers cartoons of the era, and it’s not even because of the racial stereotype (which involves a black boy named Sambo who is easily scared and hypnotized by rattling dice); it’s mainly because there’s something lazy and routine about the way it puts forth it gags. It was directed by Chuck Jones, who is usually better with these things, but he wasn’t working with his usual writers, either. There are other cartoons with similar premises that do a much better job; this one is only really worth seeking out if you’re a Warner Brothers completist.

Alien 2 (1980)

ALIEN 2 (1980)
aka Alien 2 sulla Terra, Strangers
Article 5152 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-10-2016
Directed by Ciro Ippolito and Biagio Proietti
Featuring Belinda Mayne, Mark Bodin, Roberto Barrese
Country: Italy
What it is: Not a sequel, but owes a bit to the original

A space capsule brings living rocks to Earth, where they inhabit human bodies and cause them to explode. Can a telepathic woman do battle with them while spelunking?

Reportedly, 20th Century Fox wanted to sue the makers of this film for using “Alien” in the title, but they lost the case because it was found that a novel from the thirties also had the title “Alien”. Not that anyone is likely to mistake this low-budget Italian movie for a real sequel to the original; the musical score during the opening credits convinced me this movie wasn’t even in the same universe. This is not to say that the movie wasn’t inspired by ALIEN, but all it’s really interested in imitating is the use of gory “aliens-bursting-out-of-human-bodies” special effects, only having them burst out of the head rather than the chest, not because it makes more sense, but because it’s grosser. Those choosing to wend their way through this movie will have to endure quite a bit of shaky camerawork and dead time before the gory effects manifest themselves; most of the movie consists of hanging around with a bunch of young adults in a cave. The movie generates very little suspense, despite the best efforts of a musical score to make it seem gripping. The ending is no better than the rest of the movie. I am left with one question, though; why, at the end of the movie, is the machinery in the bowling alley going gangbusters at setting up pins and delivering bowling balls when the place is deserted?

The Adventures of Robert Macaire (1925)

aka Les aventures de Robert Macaire
Article 5147 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-4-2016
Directed by Jean Epstein
Featuring Jean Angelo, Alex Allin, Suzanne Bianchetti
Country: France
What it is: Roguish adventures of a bandit

Noted bandit Robert Macaire and his faithful assistant Bertrand arrive at a new town and begin to ply their trade. But will there affections for the women they love be their undoing?

I’ve encountered Jean Epstein before. He directed that excellent, highly stylized French version of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER from 1928. This movie is three times the length of that one and, as far as style goes, is almost distressingly ordinary. This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have its moments; Jean Angelo is truly charming in the title role, and many of the situations are rather amusing. It’s just not quite amusing enough to make you forget its three hours of length. Also, since it’s primarily about the larcenous adventures of a pair of rogues, it’s certainly marginal in the fantastic content department. However, three touches do cause it to nudge up to the fantastic. One of the tricks they play involves them disguising themselves as the ghost of a saint and a gold-smelling hog from purgatory. Then there is a minor plot element in which Bertrand mistakes someone for a ghost. The most prominent has the two bandits pulling off a phony mind-reading scam. It’s mildly entertaining, but overlong.

A propos de Nice (1930)

Article 5146 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-3-2016
Directed by Jean Vigo
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Avant-garde documentary

A fractured day in the life of the resort city of Nice is portrayed.

Jean Vigo was an openly political avant-garde filmmaker who was hoping to inspire revolution with his work. Whatever his intentions, one thing he was clearly able to do was to imbue seemingly ordinary scenes with a kinetic, visual rhythm that makes them fascinating, and I found it hard to tear myself away from this twenty-five minute barrage of bizarre images. Though it can’t really be described as fully genre, it does manage to lapse into scenes of fantasy at times, such as a scene where a woman sitting cross-legged in a chair appears in various items of clothing until we reach a shot where she is naked. Sexual imagery abounds, some of it subtle, some of it less so. It’s quite surrealistic at times, and there are moments where the movement of people is made to look like it’s mechanical, or even similar to the flow of blood through the veins. Part of the action takes place during a carnival with people wearing grotesque costumes, and it’s hard to miss a political statement of some sort where we see a person peering out from one of the costumes in a way that makes him look like he is imprisoned in jail. Jean Vigo directed only a tiny handful of films, and this is the third of the four he made that I’ve seen. So far, this is perhaps my favorite of the bunch.

A la conquete de l’air (1901)

aka The Conquest of the Air, The Flying Machine
Article 5122 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-31-2016
Directed by Ferdinand Zecca
Cast unknown
Country: France
What is is: Trick film

A man pedals his flying machine over a city.

I haven’t seen the complete version of this silent short, but I’ve been told that the YouTube video for it pretty much captures the experience; in this case, all I’m missing is about 23 more seconds of the man pedaling over the city. The special effect is the whole story here; the man alternates between pedaling his vehicle and occasionally tipping his hat. It’s similar to THE TWENTIETH CENTURY TRAMP, except I think this one has better special effects; there isn’t that sharp delineation on the screen between the man in the sky and the cityscape, so it looks more convincing. That being said, there’s not a whole lot to this short, but I do have one question; I can understand the vehicle in question having one of those spoked steering wheels you see on ships, but wouldn’t it have been better to have the wheel facing the pedaling man rather than facing the audience?

El amor brujo (1967)

aka Witch Love, Bewitched Love
Article 5028 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-24-2015
Directed by Francisco Rovira Beleta
Featuring Antonio Gades, La Polaca, Rafael de Cordoba
Country: Spain
What it is: Drama

Two men vie for the heart of the same woman.

The only copy I was able to find of this one was in Spanish without subtitles, so I had to do a little research on it. The movie is based on a ballet about a woman in an arranged marriage who loves another man. When her husband dies, she thinks she’s free to pursue her true love, but the husband’s ghost refuses to let her go, and she must find a way to get rid of him to win her true love. However, the movie version appears to modify this plot, largely removing the ghost angle and turning the story into two lovers, one good and one evil, competing for the same woman. However, the ghost angle does not appear to have been jettisoned completely; at the beginning of the movie, she thinks her husband is dead and that his reappearance is that of a ghost.

Despite having been based on a ballet, the movie is not one, though it does use dance extensively, particularly in some rather striking and eerie dream sequences, particularly one in which the woman is chased by several zombie-like characters. The language problem prevented me from effectively following the plot, but it is directed with a striking visual sense and is very well acted. It was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film for the year it was released, so it’s definitely a more cultured affair than most of the Spanish movies I cover for this series (which usually star Paul Naschy). I was able to enjoy many of the visual elements, but until I get around the language problem, my enjoyment of this one will be somewhat limited.

The Archer: Fugitive from the Empire (1981)

Article 5017 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-13-2015
Directed by Nicholas Corea
Featuring Lane Caudell, Belinda Bauer, Victor Campos
Country: USA
What it is: Epic fantasy, TV-Movie style

Several tribes band together to do battle with an empire run by a magician with a band of snake men. When the tribes are betrayed, the leader’s son becomes a fugitive, inherits a powerful bow, and sets out on a quest to seek a magician who can help him.

This is an unsold TV pilot, and knowing this about any movie potentially gives you a warning, to wit – there’s a strong possibility that some major plot element will remain unresolved so that the series it would have spawned would have somewhere to go. Unfortunately, that usually means that the movie by itself will inevitably be a little disappointing because it will feel incomplete. Given this, there are parts of this one I quite like; TV rarely tried for epic fantasy in those days, and this one has some nice flavor, a sense of humor, and the requisite sense of wonder, even if it is sometimes cheaply done. On the down side, there’s a certain problem inherent to the whole genre of epic fantasy; it’s so full of standard plots and cliched situations that if you don’t have some specific element that sets it apart from the many examples out there, you run the risk of doing little more than walking through overly familiar territory. And, sadly, that’s the problem here; there’s nothing to really set this one apart or make it special. Other than that, its main problem might be that there’s some truly monumentally bad over-acting from time to time; the movie is strewed with chewed scenery. In short, it has its joys, but it’s nothing special.

Amuck! (1972)

AMUCK! (1972)
aka Alla ricerca del piacere
Article 5016 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-12-2015
Directed by Silvio Amadio
Featuring Farley Granger, Barbara Bouchet, Rosalba Neri
Country: Italy
What it is: Sexy crime movie

In order to find out what happened to her female lover, a woman takes the last job her lover had – as the secretary to a writer whose wife is addicted to strange sex games.

Every once in a while a movie has the dubious distinction of making me realize that I’ve seen a certain plot set-up one too many times. It isn’t necessarily the fault of that movie itself; it just happens to be the one where my brain says “Enough!” That’s the case here; I’m really sick of the concept of someone trying to solve the murder/disappearance of a friend/relative/lover by putting themselves in the same situation that caused the friend/relative/lover to die/disappear in the first place. In almost every case where that plot is used, the heroine (and it’s almost always a female who tries this) needlessly puts herself in danger and hasn’t adequately prepared herself for that danger. That’s the basic story here, and I really find it hard to sympathize with a character who is being that foolish and short-sighted.

This movie is supposed to be a giallo, but I don’t think that’s a good fit; there’s very little blood here, and it seems a lot more interested in getting as much nudity and sex into the story as it can. In short, it’s mostly a sexploitation crime movie, though there is a truly repulsive scene where an eel is killed and gutted onscreen for what seems to be purely shock value. Beyond that, the closest it gets to any fantastic content is when the wife comes down with what amounts to an “attack of ESP” where she becomes possessed by the spirit of a dead woman, though in all honesty, it seems to be a ruse designed to mislead another character. There is one good suspenseful scene when the heroine investigates a cellar, but most of the rest of the movie is sleazy variant of an overly familiar story. I’m afraid I didn’t really care for this one.