The Cricket on the Hearth (1909)

Article 4189 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-28-2013
Directed by D.W. Griffith
Featuring Owen Moore, Violet Mersereau, Linda Arvidson
Country: USA
What it is: Dickensian drama

A young man, having been at sea for three years, finds that his girl is now engaged to a much older man who she doesn’t love. In order to get close to her and win her back, he disguises himself as an old man. However, the disguise is penetrated by a man who thinks the stranger is having an affair with his wife…

From what I gather, a stage version of this story was, for a while, more popular than the stage version of “A Christmas Carol”. I’m assuming that it was still very popular at the time this version was made; I found it rather difficult to follow myself, and this might be because people were expected to already be familiar with the story. After watching it, I had to hunt up a couple of plot descriptions to figure it out, and one thing became apparent; the fantastic content in the story (to wit, a cricket from the hearth that appears as a fairy to keep the jealous husband from committing murder) seems to have been jettisoned completely for this adaptation; the husband does hover around a fireplace a bit, but if he’s talking to a fairy, it’s not apparent. That leaves us with a confusing and not quite satisfying melodrama, and I also found it interesting that the Christmas element seems to be missing as well. This is certainly not Griffith at his best.

Chandrasena (1935)

Article 4162 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-20-2013
Directed by Rajaram Vankudre Shantaram
Featuring Nalini Tarkhad, Rajani, Sureshbabu Mane
Country: India
What it is: Epic fantasy

Rama and Lakshmana are kidnapped by an underground demon. Can the monkey god Hanuman rescue them?

Given that my copy of this movie is in unsubtitled Marathi, I had to go to IMDB to get a bit of help with that plot description. Even with that help, this wasn’t easy to follow. It’s based on a story from the Ramayana, and I just don’t have the cultural touchstones to follow it. However, there is a wealth of fantastic content, including a tribe of monkey men, people who can fly and appear out of nowhere, a man who can rise from the dead and duplicate himself, a flying crocodile transporting a woman, and a particularly fun sequence in which the monkey god turns into a giant and picks up a normal sized man. There’s some of the strangest props I’ve ever seen in a movie (some of which I think are musical instruments), and some of the most outrageously huge swords I’ve ever encountered. Since I couldn’t quite follow the story, I just let the flow of images wash over me. Like almost all Indian movies, there’s lots of music (though surprisingly little dancing). I was initially amazed that the movie runs under two hours, but according to IMDB, it should run 136 minutes, which means that my copy may be short about thirty minutes. I can’t really evaluate how good the movie is due to the language barrier, but I was entertained well enough.

Cubby’s Stratosphere Flight (1934)

Article 4131 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-13-2013
Directed by Vernon Stallings
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Cubby the bear cartoon

Cubby the bear decides to take off for the stratosphere, but he ends up at the North Pole at a walrus night club.

Van Bueren was one of the more obscure cartoon studios of the thirties, and Cubby the Bear wasn’t a particularly memorable character. Still, there are a few decent moments in the cartoon; I like the means of locomotion Cubby uses to rise to the stratosphere (think of the old “horse-and-carrot” trick only using a pelican and a fish), and at least one gag got a laugh out of me (what happens to a fisherman’s can of bait after a giant snowball makes off with him). The rest is pretty typical early thirties animation, with things coming to a dead halt at one point when a quartet of walruses warble a song.

The Cabbage-Patch Fairy (1900)

aka La fee aux choux, ou la naissance des enfants
Article 4120 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-30-2012
Directed by Alice Guy
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Novelty short

A woman displays babies found in a cabbage patch.

Sometimes the title is the main source of the fantastic content of the movie; if this one had been called WOMAN FINDING BABIES HIDDEN IN A GARDEN, no one would have seen any fantastic content at all. It’s the title that tells us that the woman is a fairy, and the garden is where the babies come from. Well, at least the movie doesn’t steal any special effects from Melies, but that’s because there are no special effects to speak of; the babies are hidden behind garden displays, and she just finds them and sets them down in our line of vision. And that’s about all this slight little short gives us.

A Colour Box (1935)

Article 4111 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-21-2012
Directed by Len Lye
No cast
Country: UK
What it is: Abstract animation/commercial

Abstract images pulse along to Brazilian music, and then you find out what a good deal it is to ship your packages with GPO.

This is, like ESCAPE, another venture into the world of abstract animation, which throws it into the realm of borderline fantasy. Reportedly, the film was not originally a commercial for the GPO (General Post Office); the latter bought the rights to the short, and added the advertisements that pop up during the last minute. Still, at least these advertisements seem well integrated into the short, enough so that they actually added a bit of charm to the proceedings. I quite like abstract animation, as long as it doesn’t go on too long, and this clocks in at about three to four minutes.

La cueva de Ali-Baba (1954)

aka The Cave of Ali Baba
Article 4096 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-3-2012
Directed by Mario C. Lugones
Featuring Mario Amaya, Alejandro Anderson, Gogo Andreu
Country: Argentina
What it is: Musical comedy

Two variety performers inherit an old factory that they decide to convert into a nightclub, unaware that the site is being used by a gang of criminals.

Okay, you’re compiling a list of fantasy genre movies, and you come across an Argentine movie with the translated title of THE CAVE OF ALI BABA. You know nothing about the plot of the movie, so you’re left to your own devices to figure out whether it qualifies as genre or not. What would you assume, based on the title? I’d assume it would be a retelling of the classic Arabian nights tale with the magic cave and the “Open Sesame” password. That would certainly seem more likely than assuming that it was the name of a themed nightclub.

This is my way of saying that I can forgive the various sources that listed this one as genre; the latter description is the one that is correct in this case, and, though I may be wrong (my copy is in unsubtitled Spanish), there appears to be no genre elements in this one at all. No, I couldn’t follow it, but it does seem like your typical comedy musical. I missed the jokes, but at least the musical numbers don’t need explanation, and some of them are pretty silly. At least one of the musical numbers is in English; a duo sings a version of Hank Williams’s “Hey, Good Looking”. As a result of the musical numbers, the movie was sporadically entertaining for me. Nevertheless, the lack of real genre content makes this movie one of the false leads that I’ve found on this journey through genre movies.

The Calico Dragon (1935)

Animated short
Article 4065 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-28-2012
Directed by Rudolf Ising
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Animated dream fantasy

A little girl falls asleep reading a story about a princess being held captive by a dragon, and dreams that her dolls and stuffed animals go to the rescue of the princess.

The story itself is pretty ordinary cartoon fodder for the time, but in terms of the design of the fantasy world, it has its charms. The world seems entirely made of various clothing materials like calico and gingham; even the animals and monsters are made of cloth. Occasionally specific pieces of clothing can be spotted as well; for one, the bridge that the characters cross is clearly a corset. The cartoon makes the cloth material part of the story material, so it makes good use of the motif. All in all, this one is quite charming.