Das Feuerzeug (1959)

aka The Tinder-Box
Article 4031 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-13-2012
Directed by Siegfried Hartmann
Featuring Rolf Ludwig, Heinz Schubert, Rolf Defrank
Country: East Germany
What it is: Fairy tale

A wandering soldier discovers a magic hollowed-out tree where three giant dogs guard a fortune in gold. He decides to use his money to win the love of a princess, but when he loses his money, all he has left is a tinder-box that he also found in the tree. However, the tinder-box is far from ordinary…

For the third day in a row, I’m saddled with a foreign movie sans English subtitles. However, this one is a fairy tale, and I’ve discovered that these movies are some of the easiest to follow, since the plot elements are usually pretty familiar. I’ve not read the Hans Christian Andersen story this one is based on, but it’s very easy to scope out; it’s basically a variation on the Aladdin story. Some of these German fairy tale movies are pretty dull, but this one seems solid and charming, and is perhaps one of the better ones of its ilk. Furthermore, the special effects are actually pretty decent. I enjoyed this one, even with the language problems involved.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

Article 3940 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-24-2012
Posting Date: 5-28-2012
Directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber
Featuring Herbert Stern, Hildegarde Watson, Melville Webber
Country: USA
What it is: Arty Poe adaptation

A traveler arrives at the house of Usher to discover that Roderick’s sister has been buried alive.

This isn’t the only adaptation of this Poe story from 1928; I covered the striking Jean Epstein version some time ago. Yet this one is equally striking, and it uses some truly astonishing camera tricks. At only 13 minutes, it is an extremely condensed version of the story, and I suspect if you aren’t familiar with the story, you’ll have a pretty tough time figuring out what’s going on. Still, I would be hard pressed to pick between the two versions; both are highly effective and have compelling imagery, with this one using the image of a hammer quite effectively. It’s worth catching.

The Force on Thunder Mountain (1978)

Article 3915 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-23-2012
Posting Date: 5-3-2012
Directed by Peter B. Good
Featuring Christopher Cain, Todd Dutson, Borge West
Country: USA
What it is: Your chance to see stock footage

A man takes his son on a camping trip to hike to Thunder Mountain. Many animals are encountered. A UFO is seen. Strange things happen.

This is one of those movies that seems to be an experiment on how little you can have happen during a movie and still call it a movie. About ninety percent of the movie is banal dialogue, hiking scenes, and animal stock footage. Sporadically, something mysterious happens, but except for a sequence where the hikers vanish from the forest and end up in a desert, the mysterious happenings are incredibly tepid. Eventually the movie works itself up to revealing the secret of Thunder Mountain, and though I’m tempted to call the revelation disappointing, the truth of the matter is that my expectations were so low by this time that the movie would have to have worked pretty hard to lower them any further. The movie has a rating of 1.6 on IMDB, and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. If I myself found the movie a bit on the painless side, that’s only because I have a weak spot for animal footage. If you don’t, then you’ll probably want to avoid this one like the plague.

Fatal Games (1984)

Article 3877 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2012
Posting Date: 3-26-2012
Directed by Michael Elliot
Featuring Sally Kirkland, Lynn Banashek, Sean Masterson
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher film

A group of Olympic hopefuls are being stalked one by one by a killer who uses a javelin as a murder weapon.

Who is the killer? Is it one of the two coaches? The doctor? The nurse? Or one of the students? All I’ll say is that the revelations towards the end of the movie give us one of the silliest slashers I’ve encountered yet for this series. The rest is pretty much by the book, with a lot of nudity towards the beginning, forgettable characters and a lot of pointless scenes. Restricting the slasher’s murder weapon to a single item makes the murders duller than usual. It’s not the worst slasher I’ve seen, but I doubt that I’ll remember much about it in a couple of days.

The Final Eye (1982)

aka Computercide
Article 3849 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-17-2012
Posting Date: 2-27-2012
Directed by Robert Michael Lewis
Featuring Joe Cortese, Tom Clancy, Susan George
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction mystery

In the future, the last remaining private eye undertakes an investigation for a woman who claims that a hospitalized man that is believed to be her father is actually not; he’s twenty years too young. In order to find the truth, he and the woman pretend to be married artists to infiltrate a private paradise community with a secret.

I can’t get a confirmation of this, but I’m willing to bet this was an intended pilot for a TV series; not only did it not result in a series, but this pilot sat on the shelf for five years before even getting shown on network TV. I’m not surprised. As a potential TV series, the premise is flimsy but not unworkable; however, the pilot itself is pretty weak. It’s not the acting, which is fairly decent, and it’s not the writing, which is passable; it’s the production itself that is at fault. It’s an action/suspense premise with little action and no suspense, at least partially because the whole movie takes a sort of wry comic tone that is at odds with any sense of tension; the movie seems to slowly lope from one not-quite-funny scene to another. It certainly doesn’t help that the theme music resembles the theme from the TV series “Get Smart”; if you’re going to try to conjure up something like that, you’d better be a lot funnier than this one is. In the end, the movie just never becomes more compelling than a half-smile is; as a series, it would have died on the vine. In the end, Donald Pleasence steals the movie if for no other reason than he’s Donald Pleasence, but let’s face it, it really didn’t take much.

Flickan och Djavulen (1944)

aka The Girl and the Devil
Article 3792 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-22-2011
Posting Date: 1-1-2012
Directed by Hampe Faustman
Featuring Gunn Wallgren, Stig Jarrel, Kolbjorn Knudsen
Country: Sweden
What it is: Witch’s curse movie

Due to a witch’s curse, a young woman falls under the control of the devil and is used to destroy a family.

Here’s another one from my “ones-that-got-away” list that I finally managed to see, and the copy I found is in unsubtitled Swedish, so much of the detail is lost to me. For me, the most striking section was near the beginning, which (as far as I can tell) deals with a stillborn child thrown into a river followed by a suicide. Gunn Wallgren plays the woman controlled by the devil to destroy the family, and she acquires a split personality; she does an effective job of coming across as two very different people at times. There’s an effective moment involving a barrel of milk, and some nice shots of the devil character tooling around in his horse and cart. All in all, it was interesting enough, but it’s impossible for me to evaluate as a whole until I understand more of the dialogue.

The Flying Saucer (1964)

aka Il disco volante
Article 3768 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-26-2011
Posting Date: 12-8-2011
Directed by Tinto Brass
Featuring Alberto Sordi, Silvana Mangano, Monica Vitti
Country: Italy
What it is: Satire / Black comedy

A small Italian town has undergone a rash of flying saucer sightings. But will any of those actually viewing the saucers and meeting the inhabitants be believed?

I’m not quite sure yet how I feel about this one. It is nice to be watching an Italian comedy that is dry and dark rather than one that is maniacally over the top, but I did find myself wondering if some of the humor simply didn’t translate well in the dubbed version I saw. It’s also a little hard to classify; I used the term “black comedy” above, but it’s not near as consistently dark as other movies for which I’d use the term, yet it’s hard to not feel the inherent darkness to the story when several characters are forced to undergo electroshock therapy because of their claims to have seen the saucers. The downbeat ending seems a little simple and obvious to me, but it is rather interesting to see how the four characters played by Alberto Sordi all end up trapped by the situation, and the movie does leave you guessing at times. Still, my favorite plot situation has to do with Silvano Mangano’s widow, whose scheme to make a fortune off the situation backfires largely as a result of her own scheming. And I found the tale of the drunken priest rather bittersweet. Overall, it’s flawed, but rather interesting.