The Doll (1919)

THE DOLL (1919)
aka Die Puppe
Article 3935 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-15-2012
Posting Date: 5-23-2012
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Featuring Josefine Dora, Victor Janson, Max Kronert
Country: Germany
What it is: Fantasy love story

The timid nephew of a Baron takes refuge in a monastery when his uncle seeks to force the young man into marrying. When the monks discover that the baron is offering a huge dowry to the woman who marries the nephew, they convince the young man to get the money by marrying a life-like automaton created by a doll maker named Hilarius. The nephew marries the automaton, unaware that the doll-maker’s daughter has actually substituted herself for the automaton.

Ernst Lubitsch’s movies don’t venture into the fantastic genres very often; this is only the third one I’ve seen for this series. The other two are considered his two weakest movies by IMDB; this one is easily the best of the bunch. At first I was wondering how much fantastic content there would be; the first description merely talked about the man marrying a doll who wasn’t really a doll, which by itself doesn’t make it qualify, but the elaborateness of the automatons here does push it into science fiction territory. Furthermore, the whole movie is shot in a non-realistic style in much of the same manner as THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI was, though the style is markedly different. The non-realistic approach manifests itself in some interesting ways; the horse-drawn carriage is being drawn by two sets of men in horse suits, and it’s a tribute to how well the movie works that you’re willing to buy into it. There’s also some animation and stop-motion sequences as well. I found the movie highly amusing; Lubitsch does a great job of getting wonderful reactions from his character, and Ossi Oswalda steals the movie in an excellent performance as the girl pretending to be an automaton. This one was delightful.

P.S. Actually, I discovered that I’ve seen two other Lubitsch films for this project, though this one is still towards the top of the list.

Danse Macabre (1922)

Article 3934 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-13-2012
Posting Date: 5-22-2012
Directed by Dudley Murphy
Featuring Adolph Bolm, Olin Howland, Ruth Page
Country: USA
What it is: Eight-minute horror ballet

Youth and Love find themselves threatened by Death.

Lest we forget, silent movies weren’t shown silent; they had musicians performing to them. Therefore it makes a certain amount of sense that a silent ballet could be made out of a well-known classical piece, as this one does of Saint-Saens’s “Danse macabre”. It’s an engaging little short, using animation and double-exposure to tell the tale of a young couple threatened by a fiddle-playing figure of Death. Incidentally, the latter role is played by the old man in THE BLOB; namely, Olin Howland. My favorite part of this one may be the animation of the movie title, in which a number of small animated figures all move slightly to spell out the title.

The Death of Ocean View Park (1979)

Article 3903 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-11-2012
Posting Date: 4-21-2012
Directed by E.W. Swackhamer
Featuring Mike Connors, Diana Canova, Perry Lang
Country: USA
What it is: Amusement park disaster movie

A woman is having premonitions of a disaster at the amusement park where her husband works. Meanwhile, a former owner of the park believes that there is some real danger at the park because of a recent hurricane, but the new owners don’t take him seriously.

If I have the backstory on this movie correct, the park where this was made was bought by Playboy and was to be torn down. They decided to make the park’s destruction a part of a movie, and the script for this one was chosen. I’m glad I discovered this; I was initially thinking of praising the movie for its excellent special effects, but knowing that the destruction scenes were other than the usual movie magic makes it somewhat less impressive. Some of the plot descriptions I’ve found of this one talk about the accidents at the park being due to some supernatural force, but the movie doesn’t bear that out; in the movie itself, all that is discussed is the juxtaposition of various natural phenomena, whereas from a visual point of view, the culprit seems to be a damaged gas line. Still, the presence of the precognition subplot does add the necessary fantastic content, but overall, the script is trite and predictable. Occasionally, the acting and professionalism go a way towards alleviating the script’s weaknesses, and that helps a little. Overall, the movie is only so-so.

Demented (1980)

Article 3873 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-13-2012
Posting Date: 3-22-2012
Directed by Arthur Jeffreys
Featuring Sallee Young, Harry Reems, Deborah Alter
Country: USA
What it is: Rape victim freaks out

A rape victim, still troubled by her experience, returns home with her husband. When some hoods begin threatening her, she is not believed by her husband or the cops, since they think she’s having a flashback. When the hoods return, she snaps, and…

You know, the subject matter, unpleasant as it is, isn’t unworkable, but there’s at least three things you need – a decent script, strong acting (especially from the woman playing the rape victim) and solid direction. For this movie, that means “Three strikes, you’re out!” The script is obvious, loaded with cliches, and has no subtlety; it’s one of those scripts where the characters remind you that the woman was raped every five minutes or so, just in case you forget. Sallee Young is really trying her best in the central role, but she just doesn’t have the acting chops to pull it off, and the crazier her character gets, the worse her performance gets. And the functional-at-best, petrified-at-worst direction just makes the whole experience seem lifeless; it’s one of those movies where you realize the only thing that keeps you from going to sleep is the high exploitation quotient (nudity and violence). I’m sure that’s enough for some; me, I found this one just plain lousy.

Death Valley (1982)

Article 3851 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-19-2012
Posting Date: 2-29-2012
Directed by Dick Richards
Featuring Paul Le Mat, Catherine Hicks, Stephen McHattie
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho killer movie

A young child, on vacation in Death Valley with his divorced mother and her boyfriend, discovers a clue that may lead to the solution of a number of serial killings in the area. But the killer knows about the boy…

Peter Billingsley is most remembered as having played Ralphie in the holiday perennial, A CHRISTMAS STORY. I don’t know if this movie played any role in helping him get the part in that movie, but I could see how it might; Billingsley is so likable and natural here that his presence is probably the best thing about the movie; despite fifth billing, he is more or less the lead character. The other performances are acceptable, and this makes the movie watchable enough. However, the plot is incredibly weak, and relies so heavily on a series of incredible coincidences that it really becomes difficult to swallow. It doesn’t help that many characters act with real stupidity at several points of the story. This one is better watched for the performances than the story.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Article 3840 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-8-2012
Posting Date: 2-18-2012
Directed by George A. Romero
Featuring David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger
Country: Italy / USA
What it is: Zombie apocalypse movie

Four people, trying to escape the onslaught of man-eating zombies, take refuge in a shopping mall.

On the surface, George Romero’s sequel to his classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD comes across as another take at the original story with the antes upped; it’s the same basic premise with fewer (but better trained) trapped humans and a more expansive setting (a shopping mall rather than an isolated house), with more gore and in color as well. What makes it a classic in its own right is that it takes a different tone; there’s are wicked streaks of humor and satire at play here, while the pristine shopping mall settings and the often ludicrous elevator music underscore its jaundiced look at consumerism. It’s not as intense or scary as the first movie, but it manages to take a fresh and fascinating look at the situation at hand and the world that is being created in its wake. It even had an ending that surprised me, though a different ending was at one time planned.

After I finished watching this movie (for the first time, I might add), I found myself checking the quotes on IMDB to see if it featured the line of the movie that will most stick with me. It wasn’t there, but for me, it was the most telling line of the film. I can’t remember the exact words, but it involves a character pondering as to “what has become of us”. It’s the type of line you’d expect from someone thinking about how brutal they’ve become in their battle for survival, but here, it’s about how they’ve take to petty squabbling when they feel relatively safe and secure. Somehow, the idea that the battle for survival makes them more human than they are when they are in idle comfort is a telling critique of human nature. All in all, I found this movie fascinating and satisfying.

The Day the Fish Came Out (1967)

Article 3799 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-29-2011
Posting Date: 1-8-2012
Directed by Mihalis Kakogiannis
Featuring Tom Courtenay, Colin Blakely, Sam Wanamaker
Country: Greece / UK / USA
What it is: Satire

A damaged plane discards two bombs and a mysterious box on a Greek island before crashing in the hopes that they can be recovered before there is an international incident A special military team is sent to the island under the guise of being hoteliers in order to find the items, but they underestimate the native villagers, and soon things spiral out of control.

I’d first heard about this movie from the Golden Turkey Awards books; Candice Bergen had been nominated for her “awful” performance in the movie. I didn’t personally find her performance all that bad, but she does seem out of place in the movie, her character is really little more than a plot device, and her entrance does mark the point (for me anyway) where the movie really starts to lose its steam, though I don’t think that’s really her fault. Up to that point, it had been a flawed but entertaining enough to get by, and there were a few laughs to be had; my biggest came at seeing the ridiculous tourist get-up of the military team. It is interesting to watch how the situation careens out of control, but what really holds the interest is curiosity about the contents of the mysterious box; the latter also provides the primary science fiction content in the story. Nevertheless, the revelation was a massive disappointment, and that’s what probably is going to stick in my mind about the movie more than anything else. In short, it’s a nice try, but it falls flat.