Hansel and Gretel (1954)

HANSEL AND GRETEL (1954)
aka Hansel und Gretel

Article 3578 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-12-2011
Posting Date: 6-1-2011
Directed by Walter Janssen
Featuring Jurgen Micksch, Maren Bielenberg, Barbara Gallauner
Country: West Germany
What it is: Fairy tale

A poor family is in danger of being thrown out of their house by a wicked landlord. In order to save them, the two children seek out a gingerbread house rumored to have a large cache of gold hidden within. However, there’s a witch in the house… and the witch has a taste for little children…

Here are ten thoughts on this adaptation of everyone’s favorite children’s story about cannibalism.

1) The family seems to live on subsistence rations despite the fact that there are rabbits and deer hanging around outside of their rented home in the woods. Methinks the development of rudimentary hunting skills might have benefited them mightily.

2) I was originally going to make a joke here about how the mother and children do all the work (gathering the sticks in the forest and selling baskets in the village) while the father does little more than smoke cheap tobacco. Then I remembered that the father actually weaves the baskets from the sticks, thus contributing his share to the household and undercutting my joke about a dysfunctional family. Still, that doesn’t give him the right to blow tobacco smoke in his own son’s face. Remember, the second-hand smoke is just as bad.

3) There’s a magic snowman in the movie. He hits the landlord with his broom, plays pranks on the family by knocking on the window, and then climbs a tree when winter is over. Really, couldn’t you have done more with the character than this?

4) This is the second movie in a row I’ve seen with an evil landlord. He even threatens to sic the dogs on the family. He also has the goofiest moustache I’ve seen in ages.

5) In their first foray into the forest to find the gingerbread house, Hansel decides to mark the way by using rocks in his pocket, which seems to be an improvement over the old “bread crumbs” idea of the story. Then we see a big bear wandering around. I can’t tell you how much I was expecting the movie to change the story so it involved a rock-eating bear. No such luck.

6) Hint – if the old woman has a pet raven named Satan, she is more likely to be a witch than a kindly old lady.

7) Another hint – if she is able to make food appear out of nowhere by magic, she is more likely to be a witch than a kindly old lady.

8) Another hint – If, despite the fact that she can make food appear out of nowhere, she prefers to eat a stew made up of arsenic, poison mushrooms and toadstool stems, she is probably a witch rather than a kindly old woman. I would also be reluctant to eat anything she offered me.

9) When the witch is shoved into the oven, the whole house breaks apart and falls to pieces. Either her abode was maintained by a witchcraft that disintegrated upon her death, or putting a witch into an oven is somewhat similar to putting something metal in a microwave. Consider this a useful household tip.

10) Okay, I’m having some fun with this movie, and though I usually do my “ten thoughts” lists on movies that are prime stinkers, let’s consider it a compliment in this case. After having seen THE SHOEMAKER AND THE ELVES (a movie which mostly consisted of footage of children dressed as elves building shoes), I was expecting an exercise in tedium of the worst kind. This one was actually efficient, creative and a bit of fun. No, it’s not great, but I know that I was more entertained than I expected to be, and that’s always a plus.

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Haunts of the Very Rich (1972)

HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH (1972)
TV-Movie

Article 3572 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-6-2011
Posting Date: 5-26-2011
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Featuring Lloyd Bridges, Cloris Leachman, Edward Asner
Country: USA
What it is: You’ll know soon enough

Various people are on vacation to a resort called “The Portals of Eden” whose location is secret. When a storm strands them at the resort with no electricity and only a little food and water, their civility begins to deteriorate…

I have to admit that this movie annoyed the hell out of me for a goodly portion of its running time because I was able to get the gist of what was going on before the title credits rolled, as the movie was inspired by a famous and rather archetypal story; it’s not until about the fifty-minute mark that the movie actually reveals the key bit of information I knew was coming. This may not be the movie’s fault, mind you; if you’re not familiar with its model, you may find it enticingly mysterious during this part instead of thuddingly obvious. Still, the movie doesn’t follow its model slavishly, so when you get past the obvious, you find it’s trying to give us an interesting take on what a certain experience would be like, and this allows the name cast some good moments in acting; both Robert Reed and Edward Asner have some very strong moments here, and though I initially disliked Anne Francis’s performance, I eventually realized that it was actually her character that was unlikable rather than her performance. Still, there’s some moments of silliness that mar the movie further, especially the very last sequence. Now, I myself have been coy about the exact nature of the fantastic content in this movie for the simple reason that doing so would give away the game; you’ll probably enjoy the movie more if you don’t see the twist coming as I did, and any attempt to discuss the fantastic content gives the twist away. Let it suffice to say that the movie does become fantastically themed before it’s all over.

Hail (1973)

HAIL (1973)
aka Hail to the Chief

Article 3562 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-23-2011
Posting Date: 5-16-2011
Directed by Fred Levinson
Featuring Dan Resin, Richard B. Shull, Dick O’Neill
Country: USA
What it is: Political satire

The Secretary of Health becomes concerned when his close friend, the President, starts having paranoid delusions and creates a private army to suppress dissenters.

This political satire suffers somewhat from self-aggrandizement (the opening crawl) and heavy-handedness (the Christ-walking-on-water sequence comes to mind). It’s also, thanks to an emphasis on hippies, more than a little dated. It does, however, manage to be one of the darkest of satirical comedies, and the fact that the movie does eventually promote the assassination of the President as a solution, there’s no doubt it was subversive enough that it had to sit on the shelf for a few years before any distributor would touch it. Nevertheless, it does have effective moments and occasionally seems relevant, and the ending is quite memorable. And it does leave one wondering what would happen if the paranoia of being in high office were to spiral out of control. All in all, it’s flawed and one-sided, but interesting, and it’s best to remember that it IS a satire.

Hansel and Gretel (1908)

HANSEL AND GRETEL (1908)
Article 3554 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-15-2011
Posting Date: 5-8-2011
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: Germany
What it is: Fairy tale

Two children get lost in the woods and encounter a witch who means to eat them.

With a running time of only three minutes, there’s really not a whole lot to say about this early short from Fita-Film. Still, I do admire sometimes how efficiently these early silents can tell familiar stories, and this one does a decent job of hitting the main points of the story and telling it clearly and concisely. It’s not a bad little silent short.

Der Hexer (1964)

DER HEXER (1964)
aka The Mysterious Magician
Article 3543 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2011
Posting Date: 4-27-2011
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
Featuring Joachim Fuchsberger, Heinz Drache, Sophie Hardy
Country: West Germany
What it is: Krimi

Scotland Yard investigates the murder of a woman whose body was found in the Thames. It turns out the woman is the sister of a known vigilante known as the Ringer who now lives in Australia. When the Ringer’s wife shows up in London, they suspect the Ringer himself is in town. Scotland Yard now has a double mission; catch the murderers of the woman and also prevent them from being killed by the Ringer.

Outside of a little horror atmosphere in this one, there’s really not much in the way of fantastic content here. It is, however, one of the most entertaining of the krimis; it’s easy to follow, has an interesting premise, and the humorous content is fairly good. The movie even has a bit of William Castle-like gimmick feel to it; a card comes up near the end of the movie to ask the audience if they’ve identified who the Ringer is (for the record, I got it wrong). The version I saw was dubbed into English, but the title and writing throughout is in German, so I’m probably seeing the original print. One thing that is curious is that on IMDB, the USA version runs 13 minutes longer; I’m really curious as to what was added. At any rate, this is a very good choice for anyone out there interested in trying out a krimi.

L’Homme aimante (1907)

L’HOMME AIMANTE (1907)
aka The Magnetized Man
Article 3505 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-23-2011
Posting Date: 3-20-2011
Directed by Louis Feuillade
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic science fiction short

A man terrorized by ruffians decides to protect himself by buying some chain mail. However, the delivery boy leaves the chain mail next to a dynamo, thus magnetizing it. When he delivers it to the man, hilarity ensues.

Here’s another silent short that ended up on my “Ones that got away” list, but I was pointed in the direction of a French film collection that contained it. In fact, the collection will supply me with several days of silent shorts. This one is quite amusing, though a little obvious; the magnetized armor attracts store signs and a manhole cover. Actually, the movie gets a little risque when the man encounters some gendarmes; the rising of their swords in attraction to the armor looks quite suggestive, and the movie plays it up for all that its worth. Minor, but fun.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977)
Article 3466 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-4-2011
Posting Date: 2-9-2011
Directed by Wes Craven
Featuring Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer
Country: USA
What it is: Family feud

A middle-class family gets stuck in the middle of nowhere looking for a silver mine, and find themselves the target of a family of cannibalistic mutants.

It was a good half a decade before Wes Craven returned to horror movies after his notorious THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and this is the result. It lacks that gritty sense of reality that made his earlier movie so memorable, but the production values are higher, it’s better paced, and it avoids the comic relief that badly marred the other movie. Yet, I find myself somewhat disappointed by this one. The first half of the movie works the best; with one exception, our glimpses of the mutant family are so fleeting and quick that a genuine sense of dread is built up. However, once we start seeing the mutants regularly, the dread starts to dissipate; they’re overly chatty and even a little bit cartoony. Furthermore, the concept that this middle class family will prove just as violent and brutal as the mutants (the element that is supposed to make the movie disturbing) isn’t new, even for Craven; that was one of the whole points of the last part of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT as well. Still, Michael Berryman is scary just standing there. There would be a sequel, as well as a remake.