Inspirace (1949)

Inspirace (1949)
Article 5479 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-11-2017
Directed by Karel Zeman
Featuring Karel Zeman
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Inspiration in miniature

A maker of glass figurines tries to find inspiration on a rainy day, and dreams of a world inside a drop of water on a leaf.

I’ve long been a fan of the work of fantasist Karel Zeman, but until now, I’ve not delved into any of his early shorts; I thank the friend who pointed me in the direction of this one. It’s a beautifully rendered short, the central scene of which involves a world existing inside a drop of water on a leaf, and a dandelion seed invades the drop, turns into a clown and becomes enamored with a dancing ice skater. This sequence is done in stop motion animation, and if an eleven-minute short can be described as an epic fantasy, this is one, albeit one that is fragile. The short is bookended by some live-action footage of the artist at work, who we only see through the glass of a rain-spattered window. There are also sequences that are reminiscent of the experimental abstract shorts I’ve been known to cover. It’s quite breathtaking, and very unlike the other work I’ve seen from Zeman, but I’m not really surprised; he mastered so many types of special effects that I’d almost expect him to show excellence in a form like this one. This one is highly recommended.

I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You (1932)

I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You (1932)
Article 5465 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-29-2017
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Featuring Louis Armstrong, and the voices of Ann Little and Billy Murray
Country: USA
What it is: Betty Boop cartoon

When Betty Boop is kidnapped by cannibals while on safari, her friends Koko and Bimbo must rescue her.

I’ve seen enough marginally fantastic jungle movies that I’m within my rights to classify this jungle movie cartoon as fantastically themed as well; furthermore, cannibalism seems to be a fit subject for horror. Still, I think in terms of fantastic content, the big selling point of this one is that one of the cannibals transforms himself into the flying disembodied head of Louis Armstrong, which is sufficient to thrust this cartoon into the world of fantasy. The presence of Armstrong makes this cartoon similar to the three that featured Cab Calloway, but in comparison to those, this one is a pretty tepid affair. The main reason for this is that Louis Armstrong, as great and important an entertainer as he is, doesn’t have the dance moves of Calloway that inspired the rotoscoped dances of his cartoons; in short, Calloway’s style lent itself to a visual treat that just can’t be equaled by a mere flying head. Betty herself doesn’t appear much; after her kidnapping, we’re mostly treated to the antics of Koko and Bimbo. The title song is certainly entertaining, and the cartoon is probably more memorable for that than any gags this one has to offer.

I’ll See You in Hell (1960)

aka Ti aspettero all’inferno
Article 5408 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-29-2017
Directed by Piero Regnoli
Featuring John Drew Barrymore, Eva Bartok, Antonio Pierfederici
Country: Italy
What it is: Crime movie, and maybe something else…

When a jewel heist results in the death of a night watchman, the three thieves take it on the lam. On their way to a hideout, one of them falls into quicksand and is not saved by the other two. Will the dead man strike back from the grave?

Could this heist movie turn out to be an actual “revenge from beyond the grave” horror movie as well? Or could it be that someone found a new way to doctor DIABOLIQUE once again? I’m not going to say which is true, but you may want to bear in mind there are other possibilities, and though I will credit the movie for keeping me guessing in this respect, I don’t think the movie necessarily chose the most interesting of its options. The movie works all right part of the time; at other times, it feels unfocused and distracted, partly due to the fact that the plot is a bit on the thin side when you look at it as a whole, and seems padded to fill the running time. Also, I don’t feel the John Drew Barrymore character really comes across as convincing, but that may be that the movie doesn’t really achieve the intimacy with the character that it needs to do so. All in all, it’s interesting, but it’s a mixed bag.

The Ice Pirates (1984)

Article 5399 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-19-2017
Directed by Stewart Raffill
Featuring Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts
Country: USA
What it is: Comic space opera

In the future where water is the most valuable commodity, a group of space pirates are captured by the empire that controls ice, but rescued by a princess who wishes to secure their help to find her missing father.

Right off the bat you’ll be able to tell that this was inspired by the Star Wars movies, and that it plans to take a comic approach to the story. It’s got a likable cast of familiar faces (Robert Urich, Angelica Huston, John Matuszak and Ron Perlman), and it lopes along well enough for the first twenty minutes or so. But then the fact that the characters aren’t particularly well-developed and that the story is somewhat muddled start to take their toll, and the humor starts to miss a lot more often than it hits. There’s a disappointing cameo from John Carradine, lots of mildly amusing robots, a running joke inspired by ALIEN that falls flat, and I’m still wondering if that was Angelo Rossitto I saw for a moment (there’s no credit for him on IMDB). Reportedly, Max von Sydow makes a cameo appearance, but when and where I can’t say. The ending final battle in which characters keep warping through time and aging rapidly is clever in concept, confusing and strange in execution. By the time the movie ended, I was just glad it was all over; it was one of those movies that showed some promise before careening out of control.

Une indigestion (1902)

aka Up-to-Date Surgery
Article 5358 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-30-2017
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Grotesque trick short

A man with a stomach ache goes to the doctor and gets “treated”.

This is one of the few extant Melies shorts that didn’t make it to the DVD sets. It’s also one of his most grotesque shorts; the treatment requires the removal of the arms, legs and head of the patient with a saw at one point. The patient is then cut open and all manner of paraphernalia is removed from his innards, though the doctor does remove the heart at one point as well. Granted, it’s all done in the typical Melies style, so it’s more for laughs than horror. I’m glad to say that surgery is much less invasive nowadays. And, to his credit, after the operation, the surgeon does reattach the limbs (albeit not without some difficulty).

It Had to Be You (1947)

Article 5327 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-23-2016
Directed by Don Hartman and Rudolph Mate
Featuring Ginger Rogers, Cornel Wilde, Percy Waram
Country: USA
What it is: Romantic comedy

A socialite who has backed out of three marriages at the last minute is about to try for her fourth, but a man dressed as an Indian enters her dreams and tells her she’s the man she really loves… and then manifests himself in the real world.

The fact that this movie took so long to pop up on my hunt list made me suspect that whatever fantastic content it had was going to be too slight to catch the attention of the other guides which failed to mention it, but that’s not the case. As it turns out, though, the fantastic content here is significant; the character that appears remains a supernatural being, even after his real life equivalent makes an appearance as a second character (Cornel Wilde plays this dual role). I’m not big on romantic comedies (and they rarely come up in this series), but I rather liked this one; Ginger Rogers does a great job as the socialite with a commitment problem, and there are lots of fun actors in the supporting cast, including Spring Byington. Yes, it’s pretty silly, but I got a few laughs out of it; my favorite line is “I’d like to report a fire.”. I ended up enjoying this one much more than I expected I would.

I Like Babies and Infinks (1937)

Article 5283 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-27-2016
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Seymour Kneitel
Featuring the voices of Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, Gus Wickie
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye cartoon

When Swee’Pea goes on a crying fit, Popeye and Bluto get into a competition to see who can make him laugh.

Since the characters in the Popeye cartoons are more or less human, they can’t usually rely on the presence of anthropomorphic animals to supply the fantastic content, but they do have an ace in the hole – spinach and the super-powers it grants. But how do you contend with a cartoon like this one in which no spinach is consumed? Yes, this is a cartoon where no one eats spinach, although it does get referenced. However, in terms of fantastic content, it gets by; as the pranks put on by Popeye and Bluto get more and more outrageous, we get scenes of Popeye and Bluto riding invisible vehicles and Popeye turning himself into an airplane by using his pipe as a propeller, so it does verge into the fantastic. A lot of the humor arises from the silliness of the pranks, so this one is a lot of fun.

Ibong Adarna (1941)

Article 5239 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-28-2016
Directed by Vicente Salumbides
Featuring Mila del Sol, Fred Cortes, Ester Magalona
Country: Philippines
What it is: Epic fantasy

A prince embarks on an adventure to find a magical bird to cure his father, but his evil brother may have other plans…

This is the earliest movie I’ve seen from the Philippines, and though some of the opening credits are in English, the copy I found was in Filipino/Tagalog without English subtitles. This wasn’t a big problem at first; the story is from a fifteenth century novel, and the production gives it the feel of an Arabian Nights story, and the first half (the quest for the bird) is easy enough to follow. The second half is much more obscure, but it amounts to a second quest which involves the hero having further adventures and meeting several princesses and having to decide which one to marry. I found a summary of the novel on Wikipedia, and it appears the movie doesn’t quite follow the novel closely during this section. There’s the magical bird, a fight with a giant, several magical acts, and a musical number involving miniature people to add to the fantastic elements. The movie is somewhat similar to Bollywood productions in its use of music, and some of these moments are high points in the production. Overall, I found it a big long and dull, though this may have a lot to do with not being able to follow the dialogue.

The Invisible Mouse (1947)

Article 5214 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-25-2016
Directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Tom and Jerry Cartoon

Jerry jumps into a bottle of invisible ink while escaping from Tom, and discovers it makes him transparent. He decides to use this ability to torment Tom.

Recently, I read that Chuck Jones envisioned the Road Runner cartoons initially as a parody of the Tom and Jerry cartoons, with the intent of showing how stupid the whole chase format was. They ended up becoming popular in their own right, and I think much of that has to do with the Jones’s exquisite comic timing and the heightened air of absurdity to the whole concept. I love the Road Runner cartoons, but despite the fact that I’d like to like them, I’m afraid a lot of the Tom and Jerrys leave me cold. Even this one, which has the fantastic gimmick of Jerry turning invisible, feels like a routine exercise in the duo’s modus operandi of torturing each other; except for a section in the middle where Tom thinks he’s going out of his head, the invisibility gimmick doesn’t do a whole lot to change the pattern. This one is rated pretty high on IMDB which means it’s probably a favorite of fans of the series, but the gags just don’t hit my funny bone; they seem obvious and predictable. It may just come down to the fact that I’m not a Tom and Jerry fan.

The Insects’ Christmas (1913)

aka Rozhdestvo obitateley lesa, Christmas for the Forest Inhabitants
Article 5187 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-20-2016
Directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz
No cast
Country: Russia
What it is: Stop-motion holiday whimsy

A tree ornament Santa Claus climbs down, goes outside, and brings Christmas to the insects in the middle of winter.

There’s no real plot to this holiday whimsy; it’s really just a group of setpieces on the theme. That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable; Starewicz’s beautifully realized stop-motion animation (of the tree ornament Santa, a doll, several insects and a frog) plus his attention to fun little details (such as the fact that some of the insects don’t just walk off screen – they join into a wheel and roll off screen) are as enthralling as ever. As great as the animation is, I think it’s really Starewicz’s wonderful imagination that really brings these things to life. I hope someday that this man and his work become as famous as he deserves to be.