The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962)

aka Die unsichtbaren Krallen des Dr. Mabuse
Article 4331 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-9-2013
Directed by Harald Reinl
Featuring Lex Barker, Karin Dor, Siegfried Lowitz
Country: West Germany
What it is: Dr. Mabuse thriller

A gang of criminals is after something known as Operation X, and an FBI agent is sent abroad to stop them. He comes to the conclusion that the mastermind is none other than Dr. Mabuse, who was believed to be dead.

I’ve never been quite sure just what defines the “krimi” films from Germany in the sixties, so I’m not quite sure whether the Dr. Mabuse films were actually part of that genre or not, since they’re not based on the works of Edgar Wallace. They are, however, pretty much in the same style as the krimis, and often shared the same casts and directors. In general, the Dr. Mabuse films were better than the usual run of the krimis; they were much easier to follow, and Mabuse himself was a fascinating villain. This isn’t one of the stronger of the Mabuse films, as Mabuse doesn’t come across as quite as much of a clever threat as he does in some of the others. It is, however, much heavier on the fantastic content, as invisibility plays a major role in the storyline of this one. The plot also involves an operetta of the French revolution, an evil Clown (yeah, I know, that’s redundant), a nasty torture sequence, and a badly mutilated scientist to add to the mix. It’s fairly light on the humor this time round, with no painfully obvious comic relief character. All in all, this one is moderately entertaining, though I will point out that the English title is inaccurate, as Dr. Mabuse himself never really becomes invisible.

I.N.R.I. (1923)

I.N.R.I. (1923)
Article 4273 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-26-2013
Directed by Robert Wiene
Featuring Gregori Chmara, Henny Porten, Asta Nielsen
Country: Germany
What it is: Retelling of the Passion

The story or Jesus Christ is told, with emphasis on the events leading up to the crucifixion.

You know, the idea of the director of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI taking on the story of the Passion of Christ isn’t a bad idea in theory; one could envision what he might do with it. However, those attracted to the movie on this basis will be sorely disappointed; it never approaches the level of audaciousness of his earlier work. This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have a sense of style; it does, but the style is far too similar to the usual ways this story is filmed. At times, it feels like a photographed stage play, and there are scenes where the characters move so slowly and deliberately that I found myself wishing the movie had been recorded at the wrong projection speed so that things would start moving a little faster. Granted, I do have to point out that my copy of the movie had no music and featured title cards in some East European language I couldn’t understand, so I can’t say I saw it under ideal circumstances. Still, it tells a very familiar story, and except for a few short segments of a framing story that were intended to turn the story into anti-Bolshevist propaganda, I found it easy to follow. But even the fact that my version runs only 72 minutes (a good half-hour short of the 102 running time listed on IMDB), I found this one rather tedious.

On a side note, the movie as I saw it qualifies for fantastic cinema in one element only, and that is that there seem to be angels in the opening scene in the manger. The miracles aren’t shown, and the movie ends with death of Christ on the cross, so we don’t have anyone returning to life or ascending to heaven. Granted, if the movie is missing thirty minutes, these scenes might have existed at one point. But if it weren’t for the angels, there would be no fantastic content here, and I’ve never been quite sure whether movies based on stories with fantastic content that have removed that content really qualify as genre. It’s a side issue, but one I’ve run into before.

Les invisibles (1906)

aka Invisible Thief
Article 4239 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-31-2013
Directed by Gaston Velle
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: A bizarre trick short

A scientist concocts a potion that can turn people invisible for short periods of time. Two crooks steal the potion and go on a crime spree.

Somehow I think it’s rather apt that the opening scene of this one has the scientist blowing his mind – literally. That’s because this early invisibility short goes off on a couple of mind-blowing tangents before it’s all over. Most of the effects are of the Melies variety, but there’s some original tricks here as well; for example, I love the way they concoct a chase scene through the use of silhouettes at one point. A few effects come out of left field; when the scientist puts his potion away, he stores it in the closet where he keeps a skeleton (which is a joke in itself). When the thieves open the closet door, the skeleton comes to life, goes to pieces and does a dance. Still, the strangest moment comes at the very end, and I won’t give it away, but if anyone out there remembers the old animated series “Hoppity Hooper” and recalls a story known as “The Traffic Zone”, you’ll be prepared for the final scene. I thought this one was going to be lost; I’m delighted to see it still exists, because it’s a lot of fun.

L’Idee (1932)

L’IDEE (1932)
aka The Idea
Article 4201 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-12-2013
Directed by Berthold Bartosch
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated allegory

While contemplating the universe, a man engenders an idea personified by a naked woman whom he sends out to the world. The idea is rejected unless it is clothed, but it refuses to be so. The man tries to defend his idea, but is judged, found guilty, and executed. Can the idea continue to exist without him?

Outside of some opening titles in French, this animated short (it uses paper cutouts for its effects) has no dialogue and tells its story with visuals and music; it seems to be mostly famous for using an instrument known as Ondes Martenot, which I gather is a theremin of some sort. It is primarily an allegory about the rise of, resistance to, and acceptance of new ideas, and despite some moments that are a little obscure, it’s mostly easy to follow and understand. It reminds me somewhat of a movie I’ve seen recently (though not for this series) called HYPOCRITES from 1915; that one also uses a naked woman as a symbol, in that case Truth, and is once again rejected by society because they can’t handle the “naked truth”. It’s quite engaging in its way, it’s thematic obviousness somewhat offset by the fact that it only run 25 minutes. Still, the wonderful, moody animation makes it worth hunting up.

I am Suzanne! (1933)

I AM SUZANNE! (1933)
Article 4173 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-6-2013
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Featuring Lilian Harvey, Gene Raymond, Leslie Banks
Country: USA
What it is: Musical romance

A dancer falls in love with a puppeteer, much to the consternation of her manipulative manager. The puppeteer himself seems more interested in his puppets than in romance with her. Can she find true love?

The above plot description doesn’t really capture the bizarre and surreal flavor of this strange but compelling movie. The two putative stars are merely okay (among the actors, it’s Leslie Banks who steals the show as the unctuous manipulative manager), but the real star of the movie is The Yale Puppeteers, who handled the fascinating elaborate marionette work used throughout the production. The script (by director Lee and Edwin Justus Meyer) is also surprisingly sturdy, using the whole puppet theme as a metaphor for the way the title character is manipulated and controlled by others in her life; it’s fitting that the title of the movie is uttered by two other characters before Suzanne has the strength to say it herself. The movie has a few fantasy elements; a snowman comes to life in an early musical number, and there’s a dream sequence where Suzanne finds herself on trial for murdering a puppet. The final sequence us a combination of live action and puppet show in which Satan is shown to be a cruel puppet master capable of controlling and destroying those under him, and this adds some horror to the proceedings as well. The end result is truly unusual, and is particularly recommended to fans of puppetry. It’s one of those movies that inhabits its own unique place in the world of cinema; there’s really nothing else quite like it out there.

It’s Got Me Again (1932)

Article 4161 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-19-2013
Director unknown
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Animated cartoon

A gang of mice have a party in a music room until the party is crashed by a hungry cat.

This is one of the early Warner Brothers cartoons that got nominated for an Oscar, and though it’s pretty much a standard cartoon of the era (more singing and dancing than story, characters that look like Mickey Mouse, etc.), it is well animated (especially the fierce-looking cat) and it makes some creative use of the various musical instruments lying around the place. Perhaps the most striking bit involves two mice playing a melody on the piano while doing a version of the Apache dance. The title song is played on a gramophone initially, and then is sung by a cornered mouse with altered lyrics later on. No, it’s not a great cartoon, and it needs to be watched with an appreciation for the nature of animated cartoons at this point of history, but this is one of the better examples.

An Interesting Story (1904)

Article 4159 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-17-2013
Directed by James Williamson
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Comic short

A man becomes so engrossed in the novel that he is reading that he pays no attention to anything going on around him, and when he leaves to go to work, he becomes a danger to himself and others.

This is one of the better comic shorts of the early silent era; it takes a simple straightforward concept and sticks to it, exploring the comic possibilities for its four-minute running time. It’s actually quite realistic for most of its running time, and it only verges onto the fantastic in its final moments, when, after what would be usually a fatal encounter with a steamroller, he is revived by a couple of passers-by armed with bicycle pumps. This is a charming and fun little short.