La cite foudroyee (1924)

aka The Thunderstruck City
Article 4851 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-19-2015
Directed by Luitz-Morat
Featuring Daniel Mendaille, Jane Maguenat, Armand Morins
Country: France
What it is: An epic of destruction…maybe

An angry scientist has come up with an idea for a machine that can control lightning and cause it to strike where he pleases. Such a machine could be used to blackmail the city of Paris…

The full-length version of this movie runs about 72 minutes, and I’ve not seen it. However, I have seen a cut-down show-at-home version which reduces the story to six small reels that altogether run about a quarter of the length of the movie. Seeing how this may well be the only way I’ll be able to see this one at all, I’m going for it. Yes, in this format the story is very rushed, but there are some truly moody scenes and impressive scenes of destruction. In some ways, it’s quite impressive…. that is, until the final reel comes around. Now, being that this is an edited version of the original movie, there is the real possibility that the ending of this cut-down version may not match the ending of the full version, but if that’s not the case, then this movie has the most jaw-droppingly maddening plot twist of all time, and I don’t mean that in a complimentary way. In fact, I imagine the plot twist would be even worse if it was encountered after seeing a full-length feature film. It’s still worth seeing for the good scenes, but beware of that last reel; it’s a doozy.

Le chat botte (1903)

aka Puss in Boots
Article 4842 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-5-2015
Directed by Lucien Nonguet and Ferdinand Zecca
Featuring Brettau and Edmund Boutiloon
Country: France
What it is: Fairy tale

A young man is disappointed that the only thing he inherits from his father is a cat, but once he puts boots on the cat, the cat proceeds to make his fortune.

I managed to find a copy of this one on YouTube in which an orchestra plays music to the action. On the downside, the actual movie is small enough that some of the action is hard to make out. On the plus side, the addition of a live orchestra adds a lot of flavor to the proceedings; the inevitable moments when the story stands still for dance sequences work much better when proper music is added to them. The plot was difficult to follow, but that may be simply because this particular fairy tale has a tendency to not stick with me; I’ve seen a few different versions, but I always forget the storyline. Fortunately, an elaborate plot summary of the action on IMDB helps me out. It was definitely interesting watching the film in a way that it might have been shown in its original era; that’s probably the thing that stands out most here.

Les cocottes en papier (1909)

aka Paper Cock-a-Doodles
Article 4825 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-18-2015
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Featuring Julienne Mathieu
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

A woman magician performs tricks, many of which involve chickens made out of paper.

This short epitomizes just what you’d expect from a Segundo de Chomon magic trick short. He borrows several touches from Melies (the basic format, finding times to fit in dancing girls and acrobats), but adds a few of his own touches (such as the extensive use of stop motion animation). The most striking moment to me is when the magician walks in front of the special effects; usually, these type of shorts have the magician steering clear of doing something like that (which I assumed was to avoid calling attention to the double-exposure of the effect), but here she twice walks in front of the illusion to position herself at the opposite side. The special effects are very solid in this one as well. This one is a strong example of the early magic trick shorts.

Curse of the Oily Man (1956)

aka Sumpah orang minyak
Article 4812 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-3-2015
Directed by P. Ramlee
Featuring P. Ramlee, Sri Dewi, Ahmad C.
Country: Singapore / Malaysia
What it is: Fantasy/Horror

A hunchback, tormented by ruffians in a nearby village, is given a another chance by a supernatural entity that changes him into a handsome man. However, will he prove worthy of this change, and what will the price be if he fails?

The oily man is apparently a creature of Malaysian legend, a human-like creature that was a serial rapist; the oil covering was to make him hard to catch. This is one of several movies based on the legend; it basically concocts an elaborate story on how the creature came to be. The title creature really doesn’t appear until near the end of the movie; for the most part, the movie feels more like a moody fairy tale than a horror movie. The middle section of the movie, where the hunchback is drawn into a supernatural environment is the most memorable sequence here, though there are plenty of effective touches throughout; there are a couple of impressive storm sequences as well. My print of the movie is in Malay rather than English, so certain plot details evade me. However, the general thrust of the story is quite easy to follow, and this is one of those foreign-language movies that I can recommend even to those not familiar with the language. All in all, this is atmospheric and well-done.

Courtship of Miles Sandwich (1923)

Article 4798 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-12-2015
Directed by Charley Chase
Featuring ‘Snub’ Pollard, Marie Mosquini, James Finlayson
Country: USA
What it is: Slapstick comedy

When an insistent child wants to know the meaning of Thanksgiving, his papa tells him the story of the first Thanksgiving with the pilgrims.

First, let’s get the fantastic content out of the way. Much of the movie takes place in colonial times, and it’s awash with anachronisms. I see an automobile and a telephone, to begin with, but there may be some others I’d have to research; at any rate, I suspect they’re intentionally there for comic effect. The movie itself is a lot of fun, with James Finlayson playing Miles Sandwich and ‘Snub’ Pollard as John Alldone; the latter in particular has some nice bits, such as when he destroys the kitchen table in an attempt to carve a turkey, and when he is cursed with misfortune during his attempt to write a simple letter. Some of it is inspired, some of it is obvious, and some of it is silly, but it works well enough overall that I enjoyed it thoroughly, though I do wonder if it’s really possible to nail anything into snow.

The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912)

aka Mest kinematograficheskogo operatoro, The Revenge of the Kinematograph Cameraman
Article 4790 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-31-2015
Directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz
No cast
Country: Russia
What it is: A sordid spectacle

A husband is having a torrid affair with a nightclub dancer. When he attacks a cameraman flirting with his lover, the latter decides to take revenge by filming their tryst. Meanwhile, the husband’s mate hasn’t exactly been idle herself…

Those not familiar with either the director’s name or the title of this short are probably wondering just what the fantastic content is in this sordid little story; those familiar with either one already know. Wladyslaw Starewicz was a pioneer Russian stop-motion animator who specialized at this time in using insects as his subject, so the story involves realistic-looking beetles, grasshoppers and dragonflies as its characters. It’s actually a bit startling to see these characters in a singularly adult story; this one is definitely not meant for the kiddies. I will say this much; it’s pretty unnerving to watch insects make out. Nevertheless, this is a memorable classic that won’t be soon forgotten.

Cupid’s Pranks (1908)

Article 4781 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-14-2015
Directed by J. Searle Dawley
Featuring Violette Hill, Mr. Barry, Marie Murray
Country: USA
What it is: Whimsical fantasy

Cupid decides to play matchmaker at a dance. Will he be successful?

This short has some cute touches to it. I like the fact that we see Cupid making his own arrows at a forge. I also like the effect of him taking off in flight. I also like some of his antics, especially the fact that in order to get two people together at the dance, he lassos one to drag him towards the lady (with what can no doubt be called his “lariat of love”). However, the short has severe pacing issues; even a ten-minute movie can drag if it should only run about five minutes, and several of the scenes either go on longer than they need to or could be cut entirely. The worst offender is a scene where Cupid waits outside the dance hall for two potential partners to show up; in general, scenes of people waiting around don’t make for energetic cinema, and the whole sequence could have been cut without damaging the story. All in all, this is a cute idea that could have used some editing.

Civilization (1916)

Article 4776 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-8-2015
Directed by Reginald Barker, Thomas H. Ince, Raymond B. West, Walter Edwards, David Hartford, Jay Hunt, J. Parker Read Jr.
Featuring Howard C. Hickman, Enid Markey, Lola May
Country: USA
What it is: Anti-war allegory

The king of a mythical country declares war to further his ambitions. The war devastates the country until a Count, in limbo between life and death, meets Jesus Christ, who takes over the Count’s body to bring peace.

This movie was apparently inspired by the phrase that was crucial to Woodrow Wilson’s presidency campaign of 1916, “He kept us out of war.” It’s a message movie that wears its message on its sleeve, which is simply that we can’t really call ourselves civilized while we still wage war. It takes place in what is probably a mythical country, but given the costume designs, I suspect that it’s a stand-in for Germany; the subplot about the use of submarines to wage war further backs this up. Though the movie is technically well made, it is naive and rather threadbare in terms of character and plot; it’s too busy trying to preach to come up with either interesting characters or a compelling story. In fact, the movie is ultimately a variation on the Scrooge story, only it takes three-quarters of its running time before the King is finally visited by this movie’s version of that story’s ghosts. As a result, the movie gets rather dull and predictable. And, given what happened in history after the movie was made, it wasn’t particularly effectual in preaching its message.

Christus (1916)

Article 4773 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-4-2015
Directed by Giulio Antamoro
Featuring Alberto Pasquali, Amleto Novelli, Leda Gys
Country: Italy
What it is: Telling of the Christ story

The story of Jesus Christ is told from his birth to his ascension into heaven.

I was able to find this movie on YouTube, and though the title cards were in Italian, I didn’t foresee any problems with following it because of the familiarity of the story. And, for the most part, I was correct. As might be expected from a silent movie, it concentrates on the events that can be told visually rather than on Jesus’s preaching, and since the emphasis is on spectacle, we get lots of crowd scenes and plenty of special effects. Many of the latter are the expected ones (we get a scene of Jesus walking on the water) while others are not expected, as they seem to be elaborations of story elements that do not appear to be in the Bible; for example, there’s a scene where a large group of angels magically appear to set the table for the last supper and then disappear again. Some of the scenes are very well done, but others are a bit dull, though my inability to read the Italian titles may play into this. The movie also recreates some famous paintings, such as da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”.

Comical Conjuring (1903)

aka Jacques et Jim, Jack and Jim
Article 4715 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-22-2014
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: “Magic Trick” short

A clown and his assistant perform magic tricks.

For those of you who have been following this series recently, all I can say is that we have another one of Melies’s “magic trick” shorts here. This one takes more of an overt slapstick approach, which is a bit of a pity, because Melies was better at visual wit than slapstick. Most of the tricks involve a barrel and a vat filled (or not filled, as the case may be) with water. It’s one of Melies’s lesser takes on this type of thing.