Clash of the Titans (1981)

CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)
Article 3608 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-16-2011
Posting Date: 7-1-2011
Directed by Desmond Davis
Featuring Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, Maggie Smith
Country: USA
What it is: Harryhausen mythological epic

In order to fulfill his destiny by marrying the princess Andromeda, Perseus must face a number of dangers, including the deformed Calibos, the gorgon Medusa, and the Kraken.

Given that this was the last film of special effects giant Ray Harryhausen, it’s hard to watch this film and not feel a little sad at how the growth of special effects technology had reached the point where Harryhausen’s talents were no longer needed. And, despite the fact that the movie has its flaws (an occasionally clumsy script, some dull stretches, most of the big names in the cast are wasted), it’s also hard not to enjoy it; whatever problems it had, it was still an improvement over SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER. The movie’s high point is Perseus’s battle with Medusa; it’s easily the scariest scene in any Harryhausen movie, and it’s a bit of a shame that it isn’t the climax of the whole movie. There are times when it tips its hat to STAR WARS; the ending sequence involving constellations seems designed to get the movie to end in outer space, and Bubo the Owl seems like it’s supposed to be this movie’s R2D2; I am grateful that Bubo is no more annoying and tiresome than he is. I’m a little disappointed in some of the gratuitous nudity in a movie that’s otherwise a good family film, but I do like that Calibos is not a totally unsympathetic villain. All in all, there’s good points and bad points, but the fact that it marks the end of an era makes it rather special.

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Cathy’s Curse (1977)

CATHY’S CURSE (1977)
aka Cauchemares

Article 3607 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-15-2011
Posting Date: 6-30-2011
Directed by Eddy Matalon
Featuring Alan Scarfe, Beverly Murray, Randi Allen
Country: France / Canada
What it is: A denizen of its own little world

A man moves into his dead father’s home with his wife and daughter. The daughter finds a doll that belonged to her aunt, and gets possessed by the aunt’s spirit. Strange things happen.

I’m mystified as to what effect this strange little movie that hovers in a no-man’s-land somewhere between THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN and CARRIE is trying for. If it’s horror, it missed the mark; however, if it’s head-scratching befuddlement, it succeeds all too well. Oh, it has the trappings of a horror film, all right, but it gets lost somewhere in a labyrinth of confused writing, direction, acting and editing. Scenes follow scenes without continuity, rhyme or reason, people react (or don’t react, as the case may be) in the oddest ways to strange, supernatural events, and if the ghost of the aunt has any real consistent agenda, it’s lost in the muddle. Watching this movie is like listening to someone tell a long, rambling anecdote that you keep listening to in the hope that it has a point, only to discover it’s nothing but one long non sequitur. It’s watchable in its way, but don’t try to think about it too much; it will only give you a headache.

Le courant electrique (1906)

LE COURANT ELECTRIQUE (1906)
aka The Electric Current

Article 3597 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-5-2011
Posting Date: 6-20-2011
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic silent short

A grocer electrifies his goods to prevent thieves from running off with his ware. Unfortunately, the current can’t tell the difference between thieves and other people…

Here’s another Segundo de Chomon movie that I could have covered during my Chomon-o-thon, but it wasn’t until this morning that I was able to match the English title under which it entered my list (THE ELECTRIC CURRENT) with the French title. In fact, IMDB didn’t even have the English title listed under their entry, and it wasn’t until I checked CITWF that I connected the two titles and realized that not only was it listed on IMDB, but I had a copy of the movie. That’s a lot of explanation going towards a movie that barely runs over a minute; it’s mostly a short comic bit where we get to see a bunch of people jumping around spasmodically to electric shocks. I do like the ending twist, though.

Le chevalier de la nuit (1953)

LE CHEVALIER DE LA NUIT (1953)
aka Knight of the Night

Article 3590 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-27-2011
Posting Date: 6-13-2011
Directed by Robert Darene
Featuring Renee Saint-Cyr, Jean-Claude Pascal, Gregoire Aslan
Country: France
What it is: Jekyll-and-Hyde romance

A ballerina’s husband has been split into two personalities, and she finds herself falling in love with one of them while growing to hate the other.

Because I knew my copy of this was going to be in unsubtitled French, I tried finding a few plot descriptions. Those that I found made a bit of a deal about the Jekyll-and-Hyde connection, but I found knowing this sometimes confused the issue when I was trying to watch the movie. One of the personalities seems to be an arsonist who can set fire with his touch, but the other one is the one who seems mean and cruel. This somewhat confuses the issue about which is good and which is evil, though maybe that’s the point; I do know the arsonist seems to mostly work on people who themselves are not good, such as the man who is beating a horse. Still, I wish there were subtitles to help me clarify it, but since this is one of those movies that ended up on my “ones that got away” list after lingering too long on my hunt list, I consider myself lucky just to have seen it. There’s some nice spooky touches, especially in a dark castle during the first part of the movie. Part of my confusion may be due to the fact that it seems more like Poe’s “William Wilson” than “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, if for no other reason in that the two sides of the personality have separate but identical bodies.

Les cinq gentlemen maudits (1931)

LES CINQ GENTLEMEN MAUDITS (1931)
Article 3570 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-1-2011
Posting Date: 5-24-2011
Directed by Julien Duvivier
Featuring Harry Baur, Rene Lefevre, Rosine Derean
Country: France
What it is: Curse movie

After attempting to remove the veil from a woman, five men are placed under a curse by an Algerian beggar, who lists the order of their deaths. Then they begin to die, one by one…

My copy of this movie is in unsubtitled French, so part of the plot description comes from other sources and a few reviews I read. The basic plot appears to be straightforward enough, and with a little foreknowledge it’s easy to see the significance of a number of the scenes; I was even able to figure out a little what was going on with the plot twists towards the end. Nevertheless, I don’t think it was really the story that works best here; what is really effective are some of Duvivier’s directorial touches and the effective use location footage in Morocco, where the story takes place. The use of music is also quite effective; you really get a sense that you’ve been transported to an alien culture from the very first moments in the movie. The movie doesn’t have a really high reputation, but I liked what I saw; bear in mind, of course, that I couldn’t understand the dialogue, which no doubt makes a difference. I’ve seen Harry Baur before and quite like his work, but despite his getting top billing, it appears that he really has a secondary role here.

Candles at Nine (1944)

CANDLES AT NINE (1944)
Article 3536 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-26-2011
Posting Date: 4-20-2011
Directed by John Harlow
Featuring Jessie Matthews, Beatrix Lehmann, John Stuart
Country: UK
What it is: Old dark house movie

A singer is the heir to an old man’s fortune, but she can only inherit if she spends a month living in the old man’s spooky mansion.

By the mid-forties, the “old dark house” genre was on its last legs, but this movie does have some novelty value. First of all, unlike most of the others, this one comes from Britain. Secondly, the plot does occasionally go off in different directions other than what you’d expect from the genre. Unfortunately, this is because the movie wanders a bit; I get the feeling that the makers weren’t quite sure what to do with the concept, as if they realized they were swimming in heavily cliched waters and knew they had to do something to freshen things up, but weren’t sure what to do. As a result, the movie just doesn’t achieve any consistent tone; it tries a bit of everything (some comedy, some music, some mystery, some horror, some romance) but never really settles on anything. The mystery elements come across as weak; the true villains are obvious, and the backstory that explains the events is held back from us by the detective until the end of the movie for no real good reason. My favorite character is the old man, who has one great scene before he dies, but that’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened in this genre. Jessie Matthews was apparently a big star in her time, but this catches her on the way back down the ladder, though she would pop up in movies and TV shows for another 35 years.

Le charcuterie mecanique (1895)

LE CHARCUTERIE MECANIQUE (1895)
aka The Mechanical Butcher
Article 3500 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-17-2011
Posting Date: 3-15-2011
Directed by Louis Lumiere
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Early science fiction

A pig is fed into a machine and pork products come out the other side.

One of the first names you’ll encounter in any comprehensive history of film is that of the Lumiere brothers, whose filmed snippets of everyday life were the the very first movies ever made. Most were plotless, and did little more than capture everyday events; people walking out of a factory, babies being fed, children playing, men at work…that sort of thing. I do remember reading somewhere that these films weren’t always quite as spontaneous as they seemed; the action was sometimes rehearsed to make for an interesting visual sensation. A few were obviously contrived; there’s one involving a prank with a hose that was obviously being acted, and in this one, the machine in question is obviously made up. This is the first science fiction movie, and, unless the machine counts (it’s a box with a spinning wheel in back), there’s no special effects; they put a pig in one end and pull out pork products from the other, all in one take. Oddly enough, there would be a trend of similar films, usually involving dogs being turned to sausages. This is now officially the earliest film I’ve seen for this series.