Devil Monster (1946)

Devil Monster (1946)
Article 5471 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-11-2017
Directed by S. Edwin Graham
Featuring Barry Norton, Blanche Mehaffey, Jack Barty
Country: USA
What it is: A good reason to stay on a tropical island without movie theaters

A man embarks on a trip to the South Seas to learn the fate of a sailor whose schooner disappeared without a trace. Will he find the sailor, and will the sailor wish to return? And what about the devil fish that destroyed the schooner?

This was edited down from a 1936 film called THE SEA FIEND, which is now considered lost. I don’t know how much of the copious stock footage was from this original film or whether it was added for this edit, but it’s quite possible that greater than half the film consists of stock footage, either of undersea life, sea lions, South Seas natives (with topless nudity – this movie obviously was shown on the road show circuits) or tuna fishing. Much of the stock footage is from the silent era as well. The title monster is a manta ray, and I think it’s supposed to be huge, but since you never really get a good look at it or a comparison with it against any humans, it’s hard to say. The special effects are incompetent and unconvincing. It has its uses as a bad movie curiosity piece, but its entertainment value is negligible.

However, I do have an amusing story to tell about this one. I chose this as a selection to run for my bad movie group, and my wife (who had never seen the movie) chose an accompanying short called FISH FROM HELL (which I had never seen). One thing became very clear when the short and the movie were shown; they both used identical stock footage in their respective scenes. I still think everyone believes it was a joke on our part rather than coincidence.

The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973)

aka Il plenilunio delle vergini
Article 5391 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-11-2017
Directed by Luigi Batzella and Joe D’Amato
Featuring Mark Damon, Rosalba Neri, Esmeraldo Barros
Country: Italy
What it is: Vampires and virgins

A scholar hunting for the ring of the Nibelungen visits Dracula’s castle to find it. There he becomes enmeshed in the net of a vampiress.

Take the Nibelungen legend, mix well with the Dracula story and the legend of Countess Bathory, throw in a bit Edgar Allan Poe and lots of nudity and sex, edit some of the scenes in a Cuisinart and throw in some abstract footage to let people know you’ve seen 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and what do you get? Yes, I know… a mess. I only wish it was a more interesting mess, but its attempts at artiness tend to leave more annoyed than fascinated, and the muddled presentation leaves me more bored than enticingly mystified. My guess is that this one will appeal more to those who are into the exploitation elements than the story. This one just didn’t work for me.

La duquesa diabolica (1964)

aka The Diabolic Duchess
Article 5387 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-7-2017
Directed by Arturo Martinez
Featuring Sergio Barrios, Rene Cardona, Roberto Canedo
Country: Mexico
What it is: Swashbuckling drama

In days of yore, an evil duchess escapes from prison by drinking a potion that allows her to fake her own death. She teams up with the doctor who prepared the potion and poses as her twin sister. She has a plot do drive a wedge between a father and a son.

After all of the cheap-looking horror movies I’ve seen that came from Mexico, I’m a little surprised that this one, which looks like it has higher production values all around and is in color, has languished in obscurity; in fact, it doesn’t have any votes on IMDB, and it doesn’t appear to be that hard to find. The costumes are great and colorful, and the sword fights actually look pretty good. I suspect its obscurity has something to do with its failure to exploit its more fun qualities. IMDB classifies it as horror and fantasy as well as adventure and drama, but the horror is practically nonexistent, and the only fantastic content is the presence of a few potions. It also doesn’t help that there are a lot of static talking scenes to slow things down. I wish I could say more about this, but I was unable to find a copy of this with English subtitles, and that means I can’t give a real evaluation. However, I do get the feeling that overall, the movie isn’t particularly engaging overall, despite its production values.

Dobry vojak Svejk (1955)

aka Usody dobreho vojaka Svejka, The Good Soldier Svejk
Article 5314 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-4-2016
Directed by Jiri Trnka
Featuring the voice of Jan Werich
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Puppet animation satire

An eager recruit named Svejk wishes to serve his country during World War I, but he drives his superiors crazy. Is he an imbecile? Insane? Or possibly a spy?

The last movie I saw by Jiri Trnka told its adaptation of a Decamaron story without a word of dialogue, so it could be understood by someone not familiar with the Czech language. That’s not the case with this one; it’s heavy with dialogue, and the print I saw was not only in Czech, but featured a second voice-over saying the dialogue in a different language, probably Russian. Was I able to follow it? No, not a word. I do know, however, that “The Good Soldier Svejk” is a popular Czechoslovakian satire about a WWI soldier who drives his superior crazy due to his antics. I was hoping to find a plot description of the book to help me, but the novel is quite episodic, and this adaptation only covers three incidents in the book. The book sounds quite interesting, and I may try to find an English copy and read it some day. This does not help me at this point, though. The movie is well-animated, and it looks like it could be a lot of fun; I particularly love Svejk’s always-smiling demeanor. However, as far as the story goes, I’m totally lost. Furthermore, I was unable to find a shred of fantastic content, and the Walt Lee guide which lists this gives no clue as to what that content might be. Is it possible that the fact that it involved puppet animation was the sole reason for its conclusion? I don’t know, but if I read the novel someday, maybe I’ll know.

The Desert Hawk (1944)

Article 5279 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-22-2016
Directed by B. Reeves Eason
Featuring Gilbert Roland, Mona Maris, Ben Welden
Country: USA
What it is: Serial

A good caliph is secretly deposed by his evil twin brother who takes his place on the throne. However, the good brother escapes death and goes undercover as a legendary bandit known as The Desert Hawk.

You’d think a serial which flirted with Arabian Nights themes would have more fantastic content, but there are no genies or magic carpets to be found here. There is the fact that the legend of the Desert Hawk is supposed to have supernatural powers or be unkillable, but that’s not established until after we see the deposed caliph take on the persona, so we know it’s just legend. That leaves the two magicians as the main fantastic content here, and within the bounds of the story, it does appear that they have authentic powers. On its own, it’s a moderately entertaining serial, though it does have a few lying cliffhangers to contend with, and I think it would have worked better with 12 episodes instead of fifteen. Despite the setting, this is a pretty ordinary serial.

Dizzy Dishes (1930)

Article 5260 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-2-2016
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Featuring the voices of William Costello, Margie Hines, Billy Murray
Country: USA
What it is: Fleischer cartoon

A waiter at a nightclub is too busy participating in the floor show to effectively serve a customer waiting for his roast duck.

This cartoon is primarily remembered as the one to first feature the character of Betty Boop, albeit as a dog rather than as a human. She has a short musical number in the middle of the cartoon. The rest of the cartoon focuses on the antics of a waiter who, in the midst of his dancing and enjoying the floor show, never manages to get his food to his customers in a timely fashion. The cartoon really isn’t all that funny, though I did get a big laugh at the joke of the waiter trying to cut a hair with his knife. Nevertheless, I’m quite fond of the cartoon, or for that matter, with pre-code Fleischer cartoons in general; they were so weird that I can’t tear my eyes away from them. This one is so full of bizarre images (such as a dancing headless roast duck) and risque humor that I find myself entranced. Lots of anthropomorphic animals and bizarre characters add to the fantastic content. It’s worth a watch.

The Dog Outwits the Kidnapper (1908)

aka Rover Drives a Car
Article 5255 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-25-2016
Directed by Lewin Fitzhamon
Featuring Blair, Barbara Hepworth, Cecil Hepworth
Country: UK
What it is: Comic trick short

A kidnapper makes off with a little girl, but the girl’s dog gives chase… and proves rather resourceful.

This entered my hunt list as ROVER DRIVES A CAR, but that was never an official title for the short, so I couldn’t find it until I was clued in to someone in the know. The gimmick is simple; the short contains footage of a dog driving a car, which puts it at least partially in the realm of fantasy. In some of the scenes, you clearly see the dog in the driver’s seat; in others, it’s a little too far away to tell whether it’s someone in a dog costume. It’s cute, but only partially effective; the movie tends to let scenes go on too long for their own good, so it drags a little. Other than that, it’s moderately entertaining.

Day of Triumph (1954)

Article 5254 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-23-2016
Directed by John T. Coyle and Irving Pichel
Featuring Lee J. Cobb, James Griffith, Ralph Freud
Country: USA
What it is: The Christ story

The story of Christ’s life is seen through the eyes of a man leading a Jewish resistance group against the Romans.

Since the Christ story is awash with miracles and fantastic happenings, I’m probably destined to watch every extant movie version of the story. IMDB claims that this is the first widescreen depiction of the story, and though that may be true, the saying of it makes it sound as if it’s going to be bigger and more epic than it is. As it is, the movie feels cramped and static, and it looks like it was doing its best to make a lowly budget stretch to fit the movie. I wasn’t surprised to discover that the movie was an independent film made by a newly created company which in a previous incarnation specialized in shorter films distributed to church groups.

Yet, despite this, I rather like the movie. For one thing, the decision to tell the story through the eyes of the leader of a rebel resistance group manages to bring an air of freshness to the scene, and the political backdrop manages to find ways to flesh out the characters of Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate in particular. I also like Robert Wilson’s performance as Jesus; though some feel he’s dull, I like the sense that he both a) feels very comfortable in the role, as well he should, as he’d played the role in those earlier short movies for the churches and b) he manages to avoid coming across as too sanctimonious. It’s an interesting way to tell the story, and it somewhat offsets the rather hangdog air of the movie. Incidentally, this was Irving Pichel’s last directorial effort.

Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House (1921)

Article 5217 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-29-2016
Directed by Winsor McCay
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Animated strange dream

A husband and wife go to bed after having had rarebits for dinner. The woman dreams that her husband adds an airplane engine to the house and gives it the ability to fly in a bid to evade the landlord.

This is one of the small handful of films made by Winsor McCay; it’s not up to the level of GERTIE THE DINOSAUR or THE PET, but it’s still pretty interesting. Once it gets going, it’s mostly a series of comic/absurd setpieces, with my favorite scene being one where they fly into outer space, land on the moon, and then have a tussle with the giant man in the moon and his big flyswatter. Of the great animators during the early silent era (I rate him with Emile Cohl and Wladyslaw Starewicz), McCay was probably the one that was the most conventional, and even at that, some of his work is pretty weird. Fans of McCay’s surreal humor will probably like this one best.

Duel Personalities (1939)

Article 5201 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-9-2016
Directed by George Sidney
Featuring Our Gang, Allan Randall, Ruth Tobey
Country: USA
What it is: Our Gang short

Alfalfa is place under hypnosis and made to believe he is D’Artagnan. He challenges Butch to a duel for the hand of Darla, but the spell is broken before the duel…

I’m not extremely familiar with the Our Gang / Little Rascals series of shorts, only having seen a couple of them for this series, but I hear tell that the quality went down after MGM took over production of the series in 1938. This is apparently one of the better ones of that era, with Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer giving a good performance, especially when he is under hypnosis believing he’s in THE THREE MUSKETEERS. The hypnotism is the fantastic content here, or course. It also has a logical but amusing ending, so this one is fairly decent. Only time will tell if I will be encountering other episodes from the series.