Jupiter’s Thunderballs (1903)

aka Le tonnerre de Jupiter
Article 4169 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-1-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies

The fearsome god Jupiter prepares to wield his terrible thunderbolts… that is, if he can get them to work and not hurt himself in the process.

Quite frankly, this is one of Georges Melies’s stranger shorts, a circumstance that is only made even more prominent by the fact that the soundtrack on my copy substitutes sound effects for music. There seems to be a bit of a story involving him trying to recharge his thunderbolts and to try to get it to rain so he can use them, but the actions is more than a little confusing at times. Melies plays Jupiter as a rotund buffoon who is his own worst enemy. It’s interesting, but I don’t think he quite pulls this one off.

Joan of Arc (1900)

JOAN OF ARC (1900)
aka Jeanne d’Arc
Article 4165 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-24-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Bleuette Barnon, Georges Melies, Jeanne d’Alcy
Country: France
What it is: Biography of a saint

Joan of Arc is called on by visions of saints to help France defeat their English conquerors.

It might be interesting some time to make a list of real-life people whose life stories have qualified in one way or another for this series. This adds another one to the list, as the appearances of the saints to Joan does qualify as fantastic content, and the movie does include that scene, as well as a sequence at the end where we see Joan in heaven. This appears to have been a very ambitious project for its time; it runs over ten minutes. The movie is also hand-tinted, and has a narrator. One of the more interesting things about the latter is his tendency to go off on tangents about the movie itself, commenting on the appearance of Georges Melies in several different roles, as well as pointing out how the parade sequence used the same extras again and again (having them run around the back of the scenery to reappear), and even pointing out the Melies logo in the corner in one scene for copyright reasons. It’s more historically interesting than it is fun to watch, but it has its moments.

Jack Jaggs and Dum Dum (1903)

aka Tom Tight et Dum-Dum
Article 4163 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-21-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick short

A magician tries to do his trick, but is interrupted by an intrusive dancing fool.

It’s Melies engaged in his usual tricks here, only with the addition of a comic subplot in which his act is interrupted by a clownish dancer. I’m assuming the magician is Jack Jaggs or Tom Tight, and that the dancer is Dum-Dum, but I can’t guarantee that. If this one were a little tighter and livelier, it would work better, but, as it is, it’s one of Melies’s duller shorts from the period. It does build up to a nice final comic moment, though. As for the tricks, you’ve seen them before in other Melies shorts.

Jack and the Beanstalk (1912)

Article 4150 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-6-2013
Directed by J. Searle Dawley
Featuring Gladys Hulette, Miriam Nesbitt, Harry Eytinge
Country: USA
What it is: Fairy tale

Jack sells the family cow for a hatful of beans, from which grows a beanstalk that takes him to a giant’s castle.

This is a fairly straightforward version of the story with one quirk; an opening scene establishes that Jack and his mother had previously been residents of the castle, but were thrown out by the giant. About the only reason I could think of for this odd plot change was to take away the questionable moral taint of a story about a man who breaks into another man’s abode, steals his belongings, and then kills him. At least the movie does one thing right; the giant is handled with special effects rather than by casting a really tall guy in the role (I’ve seen that happen several times, and I’ve always hated that.). Overall, this is a fairly standard take at the story, and it’s nothing really special.

Jesus of Nazareth (1912)

aka From the Manger to the Cross
Article 4115 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-25-2012
Directed by Sidney Olcott
Featuring Robert Henderson-Bland, Percy Dyer, Gene Gauntier
Country: USA
What it is: The tale of Jesus Christ

The life of Jesus Christ is told from the angel’s visit to Mary to Jesus’s ascension into heaven.

I do not gear my series toward the holidays, but this one came up spontaneously as my title for Christmas Day, which, though it can’t be called strictly a Christmas movie, is closer than I’ve ever gotten before. It’s listed in the Walt Lee reference guide for fantastic films due to the fact that many of the events (the angelic visitations, the miracles, the resurrection, etc.) qualify as fantastic content, and that is why I’m covering it. It is pretty much what I would expect of a silent treatment of the life of Christ; the movie forgoes Christ’s teachings for the obvious reason that this would swamp the movie with words, and emphasizes the highlights of Christ’s life story. I’m not surprised it’s very faithful; I doubt that the audiences for which it was intended would have tolerated anything else. The movie originally ended with the crucifixion of Christ, but a rerelease several years later added the Resurrection and Ascension sequences that were on the version I saw. This explains one thing I was curious about; throughout the movie, every title card consists of a direct Biblical quote (by verse and chapter) until after the crucifixion, when the technique is abandoned. All in all, it’s an acceptable adaptation for its era.

Jabberwocky (1977)

Article 4001 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-10-2012
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Featuring Michael Palin, Harry H. Corbett, John Le Mesurier
Country: UK
What it is: Comic adventure fantasy

A hapless cooper, forced to leave his small village in the hopes of making it in the city, becomes embroiled in a quest to slay and defeat a hideous monster.

I looked through the trivia section for this movie on IMDB before I started writing this review, and I discovered one piece of information that explains a lot; apparently, the movie was shot with such a low budget that many of the scenes had to be shot in a single take. This explains to me why much of the movie seems messy and muddled and why some of the humor falls flat, and rather than faulting director Terry Gilliam (who was here engaging in his first solo directorial effort of a full-length motion picture) for the mess, I actually end up admiring that he kept it together as well as he did. There are touches that I’ve come to expect from Gilliam, such as that his portrayal of the dark ages was about as squalid as he could make it, and that he has a real flair for the visual sense of dark fantasy, and, to be truthful, the actual monster was much better than I expected it to be, given the film’s budget. Still, there are problems with the script (which he co-wrote); the first half is something of an aimless mess, and the often crude humor often lacks the intelligent panache I’d expect from a member of Monty Python. Nonetheless, the second half works much better, and overall, I was satisfied with the movie. Outside of Michael Palin in the lead role, other Pythons that show up include cameos by Terry Jones and Gilliam himself. The movie is based, of course, on the poem by Lewis Carroll. Gilliam is actually one of the few directors who I think might have actually done a worthy job of bringing Carroll’s Alice books to cinematic life, but this is probably about as close as we’re going to get.

The Jungle Book (1967)

Article 3937 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-17-2012
Posting Date: 5-25-2012
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Featuring the voices of Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Bruce Reitherman
Country: USA
What it is: Animated fantasy

An abandoned baby is raised by wolves in the jungle. When a man-hating tiger returns to the area, a panther undertakes to escort the young boy to the man-village for safety, but the boy wants to remain in the jungle and runs away. Can the panther and a bear befriended by the boy save him before he encounters the tiger?

This is the first movie I actually saw in a theater, so it’s no surprise that I have a real affection for the movie. Had there been home video in those days, I probably would have gotten a copy and seen it over and over again. As it is, many years passed before I saw it again, and by that time, I’d had a chance to see many of Disney’s other animated features, and I came to the sad realization that it didn’t rank with the company’s very best work. Watching it now, I think the primary problem I have with it is that its episodic structure makes the movie seem a bit aimless, and though there is talk of Shere Khan the tiger, he really doesn’t appear until the movie is half over. I think the movie would have worked better had Shere Khan appeared much earlier in the action; it would have added an urgency to the trek to bring the boy to the village. I do like the choice of George Sanders as the voice of the tiger. Still, the one thing I remember most from the initial viewing in the theater is Mowgli’s encounter with the orangutan king, and that remains my favorite musical moment from the movie. And if I don’t place the movie in the front rank of Disney’s animated features, I do at least recognize it as being one of the strongest of Disney’s animated movies from that period in their history.