Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops (1961)

Article 2108 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-23-2006
Posting Date: 5-21-2007
Directed by Antonio Leonviola
Featuring Gordon Mitchell, Chelo Alonso, Vira Silenti

Maciste seeks to protect the baby son of Agisander from the wiles of an evil queen who plans to sacrifice him to a cyclops.

The basic premise of this one is pretty good – the descendants of Circe and Polyphemus have sworn revenge on the line of Ulysses for the indignities they suffered from him in “The Odyssey”. When it comes right down to it, though, it translates into the usual sword-and-sandal setup – an evil queen, scheming courtiers, village massacres, lion wrestling, bar-bending, rock rolling and the usual feats of super-strength. Atlas is called Maciste, or course, but that’s also par for the course. He’s played by Gordon Mitchell here, who’s at his best when playing dumb or grimacing. At least Maciste appears in a time period here where his loincloth isn’t out of place, and he does get to battle a real monster at the end of the film. All in all, this is an acceptable and amusing sword-and-sandal movie. The most annoying thing here is the baby, who appears to be a ventriloquist; every time he cries, it sounds like it’s coming from a different room than the one he’s in.


The Asphyx (1973)

Article 2106 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-21-2006
Posting Date: 5-19-2007
Directed by Peter Newbrook
Featuring Robert Stephens, Robert Powell, Jane Lapotaire

A nobleman engages in photography of the dead and, due to a special solution he uses to light his subjects, he is able to photograph a force known as the Asphyx that arrives at the time of death. He soon discovers that the light produced by his solution can be used to trap the Asphyx, and by doing so, he can insure eternal life for the person whose Asphyx he captures.

This one is a mixed bag; it is quite original and engaging at times, and at others it is rife with cliches. There are times where the characters are extraordinarily thoughtful (I love the conversation in which two of the characters consider how best to deal with their guilt at having killed someone they both love), and other times when they are thunderously stupid (the plan to capture the daughter’s Asphyx is truly dunderheaded). It works best when it’s not trying to fit into a formula or put into affect Twilight-Zone style twists. Still, for my money, the strengths of this movie outweigh the weaknesses, and in many ways it is quite fascinating. Recommended with reservations.


The Automobile Chase (1905)

Article 2035 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-10-2006
Posting Date: 3-9-2007
Directed by Georges Melies

An automobile races from Paris to Monte Carlo, wreaking havoc along the way.

The fantastic content in this comic Melies film is somewhat slighter than usual, but a scene in which they run over and flatten a person (who is then returned to the correct shape through the use of tire pumps) moves it into the area of fantasy. The car may also be a science-fiction invention as well; I don’t recall other cars of the era looking that way, and it does get somewhat airborne on occasion, so that might qualify. My favorite scene is when the car hits the biggest obstacle on its trip; a guard uses his big round stomach to push the car back in the direction it came. My print has some of the hand-coloring used at the time, but it ends rather abruptly.


The Apparition (1903)

Article 2034 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-9-2006
Posting Date: 3-8-2007
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies

An old man tries to read, but his candle proves uncooperative. Then he tries to rid the room of ghosts.

Georges Melies made over five hundred short movies during the first 20 years of cinema, and most of them probably have fantastic content. Yet I’ve only covered a handful of them so far, largely due to the fact that my sources for movie titles to this point largely neglect the silent era. That changes with the inclusion of Don Willis’ first volume of “Horror and Science Fiction Films”, which made a real attempt to be complete. Though my hunt list will now be quickly filled with obscure and unfindable early silents, it will also give me a chance to delve more extensively into some of the extant films from the oeuvre of Melies.

The story here is basically comic, with the old man trying to keep a mobile candle in one place long enough to read his paper. With the ghosts, he attempts to do battle with them and ends up wrecking his own room. Beyond that, there’s very little in the way of a story here, but you can enjoy some of these early experiments with double exposure and trick editing.


Alf’s Button Afloat (1938)

Article 2010 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-15-2006
Posting Date: 2-12-2007
Directed by Marcel Varnel
Featuring Bud Flanagan, Chesney Allen, Jimmy Nervo

Six men are hoodwinked into joining the marines, but one of them discovers the button on his jacket is actually (through the miracle of recycling) Aladdin’s lamp, and that he has control of the genie. Hilarity ensues.

This is only the second movie I’ve seen featuring a British congregation of comedians known as “The Crazy Gang”, the other being LIFE IS A CIRCUS. I don’t know much about them, but I’m not particularly impressed with their comedy. Maybe it’s just too British, though I don’t have the same problem with Monty Python. In truth, though, I think their slapstick antics, energetic though they are, are uninspired, not particularly well thought out, and repetitive. Part of the problem is that the six characters really aren’t very well differentiated, and they come across most of the time as if all of them are trying to be funny at once, without anything in the way of teamwork, comic give-and-take, or real chemistry, and they fail to establish themselves as distinct personalities. I think this is crucial to slapstick comedy; think of how you can always tell apart the individual characters in Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and the Three Stooges, and you’ll see what I’m getting at. As a result, it’s no surprise that the best moments here are individual gags (Alf’s three-word comment when he first meets the genie, which is then interpreted as a wish is the best moment here) or the ones that feature the best delineated character, the genie as played by Alastair Sim, and he’s not even a member of the gang. Apparently, this was based on a play by W.A. Darlington, who wrote several about Alf Higgins, some of which were converted into movies.


Der Andere (1913)

Article 1988 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-24-2006
Posting Date: 1-21-2007
Directed by Max Mack
Featuring Albert Bassermann, Emmerich Hanus, Nelly Ridon

After an accident riding a horse, a man develops a split personality. He discovers this when his alternate personality helps a criminal to rob his own house.

My copy of this silent movie has no soundtrack, and all the title cards are in German. However, having had a little German in high school, I was able to figure out enough information to follow the plot. It’s not strictly a horror movie, though split personalities can lend themselves to a horror interpretation. It’s more of a drama, as the main character eventually comes to realize that he is living a double life. Exactly how he solves his problem is still a little elusive to me, but I did find this short entertaining enough to hold my interest, and it was good to discover that prints of this movie (which has been sitting on my hunt list for quite some time) do exist.


Angels in the Outfield (1951)

Article 1984 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-20-2006
Posting Date: 1-17-2007
Directed by Clarence Brown
Featuring Paul Douglas, Janet Leigh, Keenan Wynn

A foul-mouthed coach of a losing baseball team is visited by an angel, who offers him a chance to win the pennant if he cleans up his act.

I’m not a baseball fan and I’m not particularly keen on angels, either. As a result, the thought of seeing a movie where angels help a baseball team to win the pennant strikes me not as enthralling, but as corny, and despite the fact that this movie has a decent reputation, I didn’t expect to care for it much. Fortunately, the first twenty-five minutes of this movie are great; the performances of Paul Douglas and Keenan Wynn as the coach and his arch-rival, a news reporter, are hilarious, and when the angel appears (unseen, but voiced by James Whitmore), he proves to be a bit of a tough talker himself. Unfortunately, the coach reforms much too soon, and with his reformation he loses his comic edge. Throw in a cute little orphan girl who can see angels into the proceedings, and the movie not only becomes as cutesy as I was afraid it was going to be, but the plotline becomes very familiar; it turns into a variation on MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET with angels instead of Santa. Still, the movie ends up improving immensely towards the end when the plot ends up turning on the fate of an over-the-hill pitcher, and it brings a hitherto secondary character to the forefront of the story. Bruce Bennett’s nearly wordless performance in this role is fantastic, and he becomes such a real character to us that the movie transcends its cliches. All in all, I enjoyed this one much more than I expected.

Oh, and horror fans may want to keep their eyes open during the wrestling broadcast for a very familiar face.