Buncoed Stage Johnnie (1908)

aka Pour l’etoile S.V.P.
Article 4841 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-4-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comedy

A star-struck old man gives a stage hand a bouquet to give to an actress, but the stage hand gives it to a fat cleaning lady instead. Comedy ensues.

This movie only exists in fragmentary form, but since it’s the final part of the short, I decided to go ahead and cover it. Fortunately, there’s some opening text to explain the action from the missing footage. This is not to say that it still isn’t a bit confusing; the fragment opens right in the middle of a confusing comic bit that had me scratching my head. After that, the short proceeds to the punch line of the short, but it’s pretty obvious and not really all that funny. More to the point, perhaps, is the issue of fantastic content. It’s listed in the Walt Lee guide, but without an explanation. I suspect that it got in because the story involved a “trick”, but the “trick” in question here (the stage hand’s joke on the old man) isn’t of the fantastic variety. Unless there’s something hidden in the missing footage (which seems unlikely), I’m just going to have to classify this one as a false alarm.

Brotherhood of Man (1945)

Article 4770 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-28-2015
Directed by Robert Cannon
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Animation with a message

A man wakes up in the future to find his world has shrunk so much that he now lives right next to people from other cultures. The two sides of his personality then argue with each other whether to treat his new neighbors with friendliness or hostility.

In many ways, this is a rather striking short. It featured early animation by UPA and was financed by a union. It was quite prescient in recognizing that technological advances were making the world a smaller place and that we would increasingly find ourselves interacting on a regular basis with people from other cultures, and it was also ahead of its time in advocating racial tolerance and understanding. It does so by emphasizing the similarities between the various races instead of dwelling on the differences between them. The message was considered quite controversial, and several people connected with the film were investigated during the McCarthy era. Though in some ways the short is overly optimistic and rather simplistic, the message is still quite relevant, and anyone who keeps track of current events knows that the world still has a long way to go. This one is a piece of history.

The Babes in the Woods (1912)

aka Les enfants perdus dans le foret
Article 4697 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-30-2014
Directed by Georges Denola
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Fairy tale

An evil uncle decides to do away with two children in order to inherit a fortune. They are left stranded in an enchanted forest.

I’ve never seen a version of this fairy tale before, and based on a few short plot descriptions I’d seen, I used to wonder if it was really just another title for HANSEL AND GRETEL. Now that I’ve seen this, I know they are two distinct stories, despite certain similarities. And, if the version I’ve just seen is a faithful telling of the fairy tale, I can see why this one doesn’t get revived a lot; it’s a fairly depressing story in which evil is left unpunished and innocence is put through the wringer, and unless you’re the type of person who equates “being beyond earthly cares” with a happy ending, this one won’t cheer you up. Nevertheless, there’s some striking sequences in the enchanted forest sequence, including one with a fire-breathing dragon. All in all, this one is not badly done, but it is a downer.

The Bibulous Clothier (1899)

Article 4689 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-22-2014
Directed by James H. White
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Comic trick short

A tailor with a taste for the bottle discovers that his customer’s dimensions change every time he (the tailor) takes a drink.

Here’s another one of those shorts that spent some time on my “ones that got away” before a copy finally became available to me, and in cases like those, I find myself not wanting to complain about the quality of the copy when it may be the only chance I have to see it. However, it has to be said that the muddiness of the print I found compounded with an intrusive logo splashed across the middle of the screen made it difficult to me to figure out what was going on; I had to watch it twice and consult a plot description of the movie. I have to admit the central idea is rather cute, but I wasn’t impressed with the execution, though the fact that I found it hard to see may have been a big factor there. At any rate, this isn’t one of the more impressive silent shorts I’ve seen.

Buster in the Jungle (1954)

aka The Gorilla Story
Article 4688 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-21-2014
Directed by Arthur Hilton
Featuring Buster Keaton and Fritz Feld
Country: USA
What it is: Episode of “The Buster Keaton Show”

Buster dreams that he goes to Africa to find the missing link.

Usually, I don’t cover episodes of TV shows, but the story behind this one is this. Walt Lee’s “Reference Guide to Fantastic Films” lists a Buster Keaton short from 1954 called THE GORILLA STORY which was released in England, and he mentions that it was probably an episode from a TV show. The TV show in question was most probably “The Buster Keaton Show”, and the details on the short match those of the episode called “Buster in the Jungle”, and amazingly enough, I had a copy of that episode. As for the episode itself, it’s a mixed bag. One of the things I liked best about Buster Keaton during his classic silent period was the precision of his gags. In comparison, much of the comedy in this episode is sloppy and messy, with only occasional hints of Keaton’s comic genius; a sequence where he is trying to straighten a tent is the best moment here. However, once the talking gorilla shows up, the episode takes a turn into deadpan absurdity that I find rather likable, though you will find yourself wondering why Buster decided to bring a ping-pong table into the jungle with him. It’s certainly not Keaton at his best here, but there is a certain charm to the proceedings.

The Brave Tin Soldier (1934)

Article 4612 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-25-2014
Directed by Shamus Culhane, Al Eugster and Ub Iwerks
Voice cast unknown
Country: US
What it is: Fairy tale cartoon

When a toymaker accidentally breaks the leg of one of his toy tin soldiers, he tosses it in the trash. That night at midnight, the toys come to life for festivities, and the broken tin soldier tries to join in, but is laughed at for his affliction by all but a ballerina. When the king of the toys tries to hit on the ballerina, the soldier comes to her rescue.

Ub Iwerks was an early animator for Disney who struck out on his own in the early thirties with his own animation studio. He had a couple of continuing characters as well as a series of color fairy tales, and this cartoon belongs to that series. Both the animation and color are quite good in this cartoon, and it has some striking elements (both good and bad) that make it interesting. One is that the cartoon, though it changes quite a bit from the source story, retains a very downbeat ending found in the original fairy tale; given that the basic premise of the cartoon has occurred many times in cartoons and we’re used to the usual way this story pans out, it’s rather startling when we reach that point. I couldn’t help but notice, though, that a coda was added to give the story a (more or less) happy ending. I also noted that the use of Hollywood caricatures doesn’t really work in this one, especially when the caricatures include such obviously comic characters as Laurel and Hardy and two of the Marx brothers; probably the reason they don’t work in this cartoon is that it’s more of a tear-jerker than a comedy. Still, the retention of the darker elements of the story make it an interesting watch.

Barbe-Bleue (1901)

aka Bluebeard
Article 4610 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-21-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies, Jeanne d’Alcy, Bleuette Bernon
Country: France
What it is: A flight of fancy

A man wins the hand of a woman by bribing her father, but the woman makes a horrific discovery; the man has the bodies of his seven previous wives hidden in the cellar.

Up to this point, all the movies I’ve seen involving Bluebeard have been based on the character of Landru, who married and killed several wives for their money. I’m assuming he got the “Bluebeard” nickname from the French folktale on which this version was based. If the summary of the original folk tale on Wikipedia is to be trusted, the only real fantastic content to the original story is the serial killer aspect; however, this being a Melies film we’re talking about, several liberties are taken that up the fantastic content dramatically, including the appearance of a tumbling imp, a fairy godmother, bizarre nightmares, an impalement that seems to result more in inconvenience than death, and the resurrection of the dead. It does take a bit of a wait for these elements to come forth; the first half of this ten-minute movie is a fairly straightforward telling of the original tale up to the discovery of the bodies, and that’s when the Melies-style hell breaks loose. It’s a pretty good entry in the Melies oeuvre, and it was fairly ambitious for its time.

Cape Fear (1962)

CAPE FEAR (1962)
Article 4605 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-11-2014
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Featuring Gregory Pick, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller

An ex-con, released after serving eight years on an assault charge, blames the lawyer who witnessed his attack for his incarceration. He begins to subtly stalk the lawyer, using the knowledge he gained in prison about law to keep himself on the right side of it. Will the lawyer be able to defend himself and his family, and will he himself break the law in his struggle to defend them?

Given that I’ve covered such marginal thrillers as WAIT UNTIL DARK and THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER for this series, I’m not surprised that someone somewhere would consider this movie as belonging to the realm of horror. The biggest argument for its inclusion to the genre is probably the fact that Robert Mitchum plays one very scary and smart sociopath here. Nevertheless, the thematic focus of this one is on the plight of the lawyer; he wants to protect his family, but he can’t get the help of the law until after the sociopath commits a crime, which may be too late. The movie is really about his temptation to break the law by being proactive, and finding a way to remove the threat before it takes action. It’s a nail-biting thriller with substance, and it’s enhanced to two stunning performances from Peck and (especially) Mitchum. The movie was powerful enough that Martin Scorsese would remake it thirty years later; I have seen that one (though it’s been a while), and it doesn’t quite have the impact as this one. My favorite moment in this movie may be the ending; given the theme of the movie and what we know about the characters, it’s just about perfect.

Bewitched Matches (1913)

Article 4558 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-10-2014
Directed by Emile Cohl
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Animated fantasy

Three girls seeking to have their fortunes told invite a witch over. When the girls’ father offends the witch, she puts a hex on him and his matches.

Despite the semblance of a plot here, the purpose of this short is primarily to have an extended sequence of abstract animation involving the manipulation of matches. They turn into a horse, a windmill, a skeleton… you get the picture. Like Cohl’s animated shorts in general, this is fairly amusing if you’re in the mood for it.

Burned at the Stake (1981)

aka The Coming
Article 4523 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-3-2014
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Featuring Susan Swift, Albert Salmi, Guy Stockwell
Country: USA
What it is: Weird witch possession movie

A man whose daughter is on trial for being a witch travels through time to the present day, where he encounters a girl who may be the reincarnation of the one who is accusing is daughter of witchcraft – Ann Putnam.

For the first ten minutes of the movie, I thought this was going to be another of those dramas about the Salem witch trials; it’s quite bad during this sequence (at least partially because of the very clumsy period dialogue being used), and I was glad when the movie took a left turn into the present. Still, that left turn is pretty bizarre, and the story (which is kind of a cross between THE EXORCIST and a reverse-angle version of one of those “witches returning from the dead” stories) really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For some reason, the possession of the girl gives her witch-like powers (despite the fact that Ann Putnam was not a witch but merely accused others of witchcraft), and in order to save her the powers of a real witch are needed. The more I try to sort it out, the less sense the movie makes. Still, for a movie that is often quite bad, it has its moments; my favorite is a scene in which a real witch threatens the captain of the police department. Susan Swift (as both Ann Putnam and the girl she possesses) gives a good performance, but I did get very annoyed with her constant yelling and crying, a problem I’m more likely to attribute to bad direction than to her talent. It’s a strange entry into the oeuvre of Bert I. Gordon, and though it has some interesting ideas, it never comes together.