Jennifer (1978)

JENNIFER (1978)
Article 2085 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-30-2006
Posting Date: 4-28-2007
Directed by Brice Mack
Featuring Lisa Pelikan, Bert Convy, Nina Foch

Jennifer, a shy college student at a private school, becomes the object of torment at the hands of shallow society girls. Little do they know that Jennifer has the power to summon snakes.

Believe it or not, this late seventies horror movie is subtly modeled off of another late seventies horror movie. Let’s see if you can figure out which one from the subtle clues below.

1. The movie title consists of a girl’s name, much as the the title of CARRIE does.

2. The title character is tormented by snooty rich kids, much like the way the snooty rich kids in CARRIE treat the title character in that one.

3. The title character has a secret power, much like the title character of CARRIE has. In this case, it is the power to summon and control snakes (a little bit like the main character in STANLEY does). Not just ordinary-sized snakes, mind you, but also those big fake-looking ones that are capable of decapitating people.

4. The title character has a crazy Bible-thumping parent, much as the main character in CARRIE has.

5. There is a scene of shallow people enjoying themselves in a disco much like the movie SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER has ( a movie featuring John Travolta, who is not only name-dropped on one occasion here but also appeared in CARRIE).

Now, can you figure out which movie served as the subtle model for this one? (HINT: It’s not SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER or STANLEY .)

All right, so I made it fairly obvious, but no more so than the movie itself does. Yes, it does manage to dredge up a few differences from its model (in particular, the main character’s parent is not the authority figure to get offed in the story), but whatever points it gains by these differences are lost by the use of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as music at one point (how hackneyed can you get?) and for having a scene that takes place in a disco. If you’re going to drag me back to the seventies, at least don’t drag me to one of those.

 

Jack and the Beanstalk (1902)

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (1902)
Article 2064 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-8-2006
Posting Date: 4-7-2007
Directed by Edwin S. Porter
Featuring Thomas White

Jack trades his cow for magic beans, which grow into a giant beanstalk which he climbs to encounter a giant.

Apparently, Edwin S. Porter used to pirate Melies films for the Edison film company, and would study them closely to figure out how he pulled off his special effects techniques. Here he applies them to his own movie, and he turned out to be an excellent student. Porter’s movies avoid the clutter that occasionally makes some of Melies’ films difficult to follow, and so this one is easy to understand. It is quite amusing, with lots of cinematic tricks (and some not so cinematic – I’m looking at you, guys in the cow outfit). Once again, our giant is just a really tall guy, but he carries one of those neat spiked clubs, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I also couldn’t help but notice that when Jack climbs down the beanstalk clutching the chicken that lays the golden eggs, there’s no way he can gracefully hold that chicken so as to allow it to retain its dignity. The last scene is beautiful.

 

Jungle Jim (1948)

JUNGLE JIM (1948)
Article 1968 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2006
Posting Date: 1-1-2007
Directed by William A. Berke
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Virginia Grey, George Reeves

Jungle Jim is hired to lead an expedition into the jungle to find a lost temple. It is believed that a poison can be found at this temple that can lead to a cure for polio.

Okay, you’ve got Johnny Weissmuller, newly retired from the Tarzan series, and you want to star him in a fresh new series of jungle movies. Naturally, you want to start off the series putting your best foot forward to ensure success, so you decide you’ll have to come up with something extra-special for the plot. So, naturally, you decide upon…a Double-Stuffed Safari-O? For those unfamiliar with the term, I define a Double-Stuffed Safari-O thusly; it is any jungle movie which features exposition on one end, denoument on the other, and is filled in-between with an overly-generous portion of safari. I always take this plot as being the writer’s way of saying that they had no idea in how to fill in the middle of the story.

The safari section does serve some functions, though; it leaves plenty of time for animal antics and establishing that the woman (who is obviously intruding on a man’s world) can’t really hack it in this environment and needs a man to help her out (aka Jungle Jim). Probably the most novel thing the movie does is that it gives Jungle Jim two animal friends, and neither one is a chimp. One is a dog (which, as a pet in a jungle movie, is singularly lame), but the other is a raven (or a crow; I could never tell them apart). Though these pets wouldn’t persist throughout the entire series, I’ve run into them before, and once again, the dog proves near useless (man’s best friend indeed!), while the raven is the one who proves most useful in saving lives. Still, those willing to endure the safari section of the movie will find that the ending is pretty good, and fans of the “The Adventures of Superman” will get a chance to see George Reeves as the villain of the piece. Other than that, it’s pretty routine; elephant stampedes, animal antics, lion wrestling, same ol’, same ol’.

 

Jungle Princess (1936)

JUNGLE PRINCESS (1936)
Article 1936 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-3-2006
Posting Date: 11-30-2006
Directed by Wilhelm Thiele
Featuring Dorothy Lamour, Akim Tamiroff, Ray Milland

An adventurer injures himself in the jungle, and is rescued by a jungle woman who keeps a tiger as a pet.

This wasn’t Dorothy Lamour’s debut movie, but it was the first one where she wore a sarong, and she would become famous for it. The fantastic content is mostly centered around the fact that when the tiger would appear, natives would hear the laughter of the native girl and think it was the tiger, thus spawning a legend about a laughing tiger; other than that, the fantastic content is mostly of the type that is common to jungle movies; namely, that their view of life in the jungle had very little in common with reality. The plot doesn’t have much in the way of surprises, but it’s solidly directed and acted (with a particularly strong turn from Akim Tamiroff), and has some memorable scenes; it is, in fact, one of the better jungle movies you’re likely to see. The climax of the movie is especially exciting; there are have been several movies in which villages have been destroyed by a stampeding elephants (in fact, this movie opens with such a scene), but the final destruction here comes from a totally unexpected group of animals. Lamour and Milland would rendezvous again in the jungle two years later with HER JUNGLE LOVE.

 

Junior G-Men of the Air (1942)

JUNIOR G-MEN OF THE AIR (1942)
Serial
Article 1925 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-22-2006
Posting Date: 11-19-2006
Directed by Lewis D. Collins and Ray Taylor
Featuring Billy Halop, Gene Reynolds, Lionel Atwill

A group of street kids find themselves facing off with an organization of Japanese saboteurs called the Black Dragon.

This, the last of the three Dead End Kids / Little Tough Guys serials, must have gone into production shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s very heavy on the propaganda, with stirring pronouncements made over the opening credits about the bravery of these boys in dealing with the horrible Japanese threat. Oddly, it takes place before Pearl Harbor; the acts of sabotage are meant to coincide with the attack. Once again, I find a bit of novelty value in that the main characters here are a bunch of street kids rather than the usual serial hero, and there’s also some fun in having familiar faces Lionel Atwill and Turhan Bey as the main baddie and one of his henchmen. The science fiction elements are sporadic, though the development of a muffler for an airplane is the most prominent. It starts out well, gets rather dull in the middle sections, but then picks up again in the final episodes, where an army-load of stock footage comes into play. Keep your eyes pealed for a cameo of Billy Benedict, once again playing a character named Whitey; he first used the name in THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL , and it would remain his character name during his stint with the Bowery Boys. Not bad, but I always find myself wishing that Leo Gorcey had been in the mix somewhere.

 

Jungle Girl (1941)

JUNGLE GIRL (1941)
Serial
Article 1898 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-26-2006
Posting Date: 10-23-2006
Directed by John English and William Witney
Featuring Frances Gifford, Tom Neal, Trevor Bardette

The father of a woman who was born and raised in the jungle returns to civilization to tend to his ailing twin brother. However, his twin brother is not ailing, and the doctor is killed. The twin brother then impersonates the doctor and goes to Africa. It’s all part of a scheme to get hold of a fortune of diamonds. However, the doctor’s daughter, Nyoka, begins to suspect something is up…

One of the main reasons I was disappointed with VOODOO TIGER yesterday had little to do with the movie itself. When watching serials, I watch an episode as a predecessor to the actual movie of a given day, and on the day I watch the last episode of the serial, that becomes my Movie of the Day, and part of this series. It was an episode of this serial that I watched immediately prior to my viewing of VOODOO TIGER.

Now, a blurb on back of the DVD case for this serial has someone claiming that this is the best jungle serial of them all. I’m inclined to agree with him. I’m not surprised that Frances Gifford was chosen as a substitute Jane figure in TARZAN TRIUMPHS ; with her role as Nyoka here, she had already proved that she was quite adept at jungle movies and Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations. She is fun and engaging here; she’s one of those serial heroines that does a lot more than wait to be rescued.

I like a lot of things about this serial. Unlike most serials, the villainy isn’t the work of a single mastermind and a series of interchangeable henchman. There are at least three main villains, and even though the fake doctor (Trevor Bardette) is something of an underling to Latimer (Gerald Mohr), he doesn’t really have much loyalty to him and is apt to play his own game. Furthermore, the witch doctor Shamba (well played by Frank Lackteen) has his own agenda which sometimes puts him in cahoots with Latimer, and at other times at odds with him. Tom Neal does a fine job as the heroic pilot, and even the comic relief sidekick (Eddie Acuff) and the little kid (Kimbu) are handled well and prove heroic on occasion. The natives are an unpredictable lot, and there are three sets of them; Shamba’s men, Chief Lutembi’s tribe and lion men in the cave of Nacross, and with the exception of Shamba’s men, you never know whose side they’ll be on at any given moment. It’s this type of unpredictability that can go a long ways towards making a serial enjoyable to me. Furthermore, chapter nine is one of those great episodes which actually manages to deliver non-stop excitement.

And that’s why I was so disappointed with VOODOO TIGER; this serial quite frankly puts it to shame.

Jane Eyre (1944)

JANE EYRE (1944)
Article 1867 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-25-2006
Posting Date: 9-22-2006
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Margaret O’Brien

Jane Eyre, an orphan, after years of suffering and abuse, becomes the governess at Thornfield Hall, a gloomy estate presided over by the imposing Edward Rochester. Jane falls in love with Rochester, but there is a secret hidden behind the locked walls of the estate…

No, JANE EYRE is not a horror movie, but it is not totally out of the question to include it with this series, especially as the story belongs to that genre of moody Gothic romance that was in some ways a precursor to horror. The theme of madness does pop up at one point, and there are plenty of ominous shadows and some swirling ground fog to add further to the atmosphere. Furthermore, it’s pretty hard not to get a strong sense of horror during the scene where Jane swabs the blood from the chest of an injured visitor while an unseen and malevolent presence rattles a nearby door. The movie itself is excellent, with fine performances from all. It’s almost hard to pick favorites among the actors, but you won’t soon forget Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Henry Daniell, or Agnes Moorehead in their respective roles. The opening of the movie is pretty Dickensian, with Jane being shunted off by an aunt to to the cruel harshness of a charity school. Which brings up one of those “lesser of two evils” types of question: If you were a child, who would you rather have watch over you, Agnes Moorehead or Henry Daniell? Now, if that isn’t a scary choice…