Gekko Kamen (1958)

aka Moonlight Mask
Article 4135 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-20-2013
Directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi
Featuring Sen Hara, Mitsue Komiya, Hiroko Mine
Country: Japan
What it is: Masked hero hijinks

The evil Skull Mask is after the plans for a new bomb, but runs into resistance from a hero called Gekko Kamen, aka Moonlight Mask.

From what I gather, the whole “Gekko Kamen” movie series is pretty confusing, but the one I’m watching is an American welding of the first two Japanese movies into one. That’s ideally, of course; the fact of the matter is that I couldn’t find the American version, but I did get hold of the two Japanese movies that were welded together, and given that these two movies are 51 minutes each, and the American version was timed at 102 minutes, I’m guessing little was cut. And, as you might guess, the version I saw was in Japanese with no English subtitles.

So, what’s it like? Well, I’d say it’s similar to PRINCE OF SPACE, INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN, or the various Starman/Super Giant movies. It certainly beats all three in terms of its production values, and, taking into account the language barrier on this one, I’d rate it better than the two movies listed above, but I would have to say it lacks some of the energy and outrageousness that makes the Starman movies work for me. It’s hard to say whether the heroes and villains have superpowers; Gekko Kamen is either bulletproof, or he’s unflappable in the face of henchmen who have the targeting ability of Imperial Stormtroopers. He does seem to be able to vanish pretty efficiently. As for the villain, he blows fire on a couple of occasions. Some of the fight scenes suffer from the pulled punch syndrome of the Starman movies (where you watch them in full confidence that no one is getting hurt), but some of the stunt work is impressive, and an extended scene where everyone is chasing after a bag is a lot of fun. The two movies edit together very well, since the first ends in a cliffhanger resolved by the second, so the movie can be easily seen as a single story. However, it is convenient to split them into two movies in one way; I realized how much more fun the first one was than the second, since all the most interesting scenes (from a visual sense) occur there. Granted, that judgment might change is I could see them with subtitles, but even with the language barrier, the action seems pretty straightforward.

Gulliver’s Travels among the Lilliputians and the Giants (1902)

aka Le voyage de Gulliver a Lilliput et chez les geants
Article 4130 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-12-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Special effects adaptation of classic novel

Gulliver spends time with the Lilliputians and the Brobdingnags.

With a running time of only four minutes, no, you’re not going to get much of the satirical thrust of the Swift novel. It does serve, however, as a nice inspiration for Melies to practice on and develop his special effects techniques, and he rises to the occasion with some at times very impressive special effects. I like the way it forces Melies to use close-ups more extensively than is his wont, and certain effects (such as the scene where the Lilliputians shoot arrows into Gulliver) are very well handled. When it’s not just showing off the effects, it goes for laughs, such as the scene where Gulliver puts out a fire with a seltzer bottle and the one where he falls into a teacup. Simply in terms of its special effects challenges, this is one of Melies’s most impressive shorts.

The Ghost of Rosy Taylor (1918)

Article 4127 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-9-2013
Directed by Edward Sloman and Henry King
Featuring Mary Miles Minter, Allan Forrest, George Periolat
Country: USA
What it is: Odd drama/mystery

A woman is startled to discover that the maid she hired to clean her house actually died several weeks ago… but the house is being tended and cleaned while she is out. She believes it may be the ghost of the maid…but there’s another explanation…

One thing I will give this movie; it throws in the fantastic content so quickly and decisively in the opening scenes that, for a few fleeting minutes, you’re hoping that this will turn out to be a real ghost story. Of course, the movie eventually shifts into the explanation of the ghostly actions of this sequence, but even when it reaches this point, I still admired the movie’s set-up of its premise. The rest of this story verges on the depressing, as it tells the tale of a young woman who, after having been taken away from American and raised in France as a child, suddenly finds herself without a family, money, stranded back in America, and with no means of survival. Things continue to deteriorate, but at least the movie alleviates some of this with touches of humor and acts of kindness from certain characters. The story ultimately relies on a some pretty outrageous coincidences, but that’s forgivable; in fact, when all is said and done, the movie is rather fun. I only wish the print I saw was in better shape, but sometimes we have to be satisfied that these movies still exist at all.

Going to Bed Under Difficulties (1900)

aka Le deshabillage impossible
Article 4124 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick film

A man’s attempt to retire for the night is hampered by the magical appearance of new pieces of clothing on him as he tries to undress.

Sometimes I get the feeling that Melies’s sense of humor was sharpest in his earlier films; this surreal piece of absurdity is perhaps his single funniest film. What makes it work is that the man becomes more frantic and desperate as new clothes constantly materialize on him; he can’t even ignore them and go to sleep because his bed vanishes as well. Perhaps it’s fitting as well that the movie has no ending; this man will be removing clothes forever. It’s not surprising that this silly little short engendered a few imitations from other directors.

La glace a trois faces (1927)

aka The Three-Sided Mirror
Article 4123 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-3-2013
Directed by Jean Epstein
Featuring Jeanne Helbling, Suzy Pierson, Olga Day
Country: France
What it is: Psychological avant-garde drama

The story of a man and his affairs with three women is told.

Let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first. This is one of those cases where it’s not embedded in the plot, but rather, in the distorted cinematic styles employed in the movie. The Walt Lee guide describes them as “dynamic distortions of reality”, and that’s about as good a way to describe it as any; we often see double and triple exposures that reflect the mental life of a particular character, and this at least nudges up against the genre of fantasy.

It does make for some fascinating viewing. Director Jean Epstein had a real talent for capturing telling facial expressions and expressive movements that can often tell volumes about a character while keeping the dialogue (or, in the case of this silent movie, title cards) to a minimum. It is sometimes elusive and difficult, but that’s not entirely unexpected. Still, one has to have a taste for this sort of thing, and I suspect fans of fantastic cinema will probably prefer to stick with his version of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.

Get Along Little Zombie (1946)

Article 4090 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-26-2012
Directed by Edward Bernds
Featuring Hugh Herbert, Christine McIntyre, Dick Curtis
Country: USA
What it is: Haunted house comedy short

A real estate salesman accidentally kisses another man’s wife, enraging the woman’s husband. Later, he has an appointment to show a spooky house to a couple, not knowing they’re the same people he just offended. Furthermore, the creepy caretakers of the house plan to scare them all off.

The comedy stylings of Hugh Herbert are apparently an acquired taste, but fortunately, I quite like him myself, and he did give me the biggest laugh here. Still, the real strength of this short is the energetic direction from Edward Bernds, who keeps things moving quickly. There’s the obligatory scared black chauffeur of the era, but at least Dudley Dickerson helps keep the energy up. One of the nicer things in this one is that there is a real monster running around; he’s played by professional boxer Jack Roper, and he’s scary enough. This is supposed to be one of Herbert’s better shorts, and I found it quite entertaining.

Goofy Ghosts (1928)

Article 4082 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-18-2012
Directed by Harold Beaudine
Featuring Jimmie Adams, Lorraine McLean, Billy Engle
Country: USA
What it is: Old Dark House, slapstick short style

A man, his wife, and their dog visit an uncle, who is being terrorized by a villain known as the Skull.

I’ve seen lots of “old dark house” movies, but I’ve rarely seen ones reduced to a slapstick short in this manner before. Which is not to say that I haven’t seen the idea in comic shorts before; shorts by Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd come to mind. But this one is done in the manic “Keystone Kops” style, with non-stop slapstick shtick and frantic behavior, and that makes it a little bit different. My copy is in the accelerated speed that I’ve come to recognize as usually being a sign that the projection speed hasn’t been adjusted, but it’s the type of short that actually benefits from that; since it’s working in a farcical mode, the extra energy is a plus. If you’re not a fan of slapstick, this isn’t likely to appeal to you. It does have a few fun moments; the sequence where various parties try to get a hold of a bag of money suspended on a chandelier is pretty amusing, and a sequence where the villain tries to grab the bag of money out the hand of the uncle benefits from the speedy timing. On top of the villain in the skull mask, we have some people mistaken for ghosts because sheets are thrown over them to add to the faked fantastic content. It’s disposable, of course, but I will say this much; the scared black manservant cliche present here is much less offensive when all of the characters are acting with the same manic “frightened out of our wits” behavior.