The Miracle of Marcelino (1955)

THE MIRACLE OF MARCELINO (1955)
aka Marcelino pan y vino
Article 2605 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-23-2008
Posting Date: 9-30-200
Directed by Ladislao Vajda
Featuring Rafael Rivelles, Antonio Vico, Juan Calvo
Country: Spain/Italy

A baby is left at the gates of a monastery. The monks attempt to find a home for it, but end up deciding to raise the boy themselves. However, in the process, they end up offending a high-ranking official in the local town, who resolves to have the monks evicted. Several years later, the boy inadvertently causes chaos at the town fair, and the official (now the mayor) uses the event to force the eviction. With only a month left in their home, the monks need a miracle. And it is then the boy discovers a crucifix in an upstairs room in the monastery…

As far as I can tell, this movie was not based on a true story, but on a novel by Jose Maria Sanchez Silva. This is a bit of a relief to me, as I can feel free to call it a fantasy without offending anyone, and I can avoid tiresome discussions about whether the events really happened. All in all, I found the movie quite moving, though at times it’s a little odd (it’s hard to understand why the monks would choose to frighten the boy away from a crucifix) and definitely unsettling at points (there’s a definite streak of darkness when you consider just what the boy is asking for when he makes his final request). The movie alternates comedy and drama for the first half of the movie; the miracle doesn’t start happening until the final third of the movie. It’s nice to see a movie like this that doesn’t bother dwelling on the “proof” of the miracle, which is the usual direction of stories of this kind; instead, it just lets the miracle happen, and it really manages to capture the sense of what it might be like to witness a miracle, an event that you experience vicariously through the character of Brother Cookie (the boy himself takes it all for granted). If anything, the movie demonstrates that a story doesn’t have to be true to be inspirationally moving. The main downside to the movie is that the dubbing is not quite as good as it could have been.

 

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Misterios de la magia negra (1958)

MISTERIOS DE LA MAGIA NEGRA (1958)
aka Mysteries of Black Magic, Return from the Beyond
Article 2601 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-19-2008
Posting Date: 9-26-200
Directed by Miguel M. Delgado
Featuring Nadia Haro Oliva, Carlos Riquelme, Aldo Monti
Country: Mexico

A female hypnotist/magician is actually a witch who sets her sights on the destruction of a professor and his family.

The movie is in unsubtitled Spanish, so I’m naturally a little weak on precise plot details, though, overall, it looks like pretty familiar stuff. The low rating on IMDB (2.3) seems to say that it isn’t a very good movie, but until I see a copy I can understand fully, I can’t say myself. I will say this, though; the hypnotist/magician act that opens the movie is very striking; the hypnotist at one point drives a nail through the hand of one man while another subject feels the pain and shows the wound, and she also gets the husband of a scoffing couple to threaten his wife with a knife. There’s also a voodoo sequence involving blindness that is fairly memorable. On the side, we have the magicians not-quite-human assistant (check out the ears), and an eerie secret behind a secret panel with the number 4 on it. Quite frankly, I liked what I saw.

 

Mary Poppins (1964)

MARY POPPINS (1964)
Article 2597 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-15-2008
Posting Date: 9-22-2008
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson
Country: USA

A magical nanny brings joy to the home of a stodgy banker.

MARY POPPINS has long had the reputation of being one of Disney’s undisputed classics. It’s easy to see why; much of the movie is brilliant, Julie Andrew’s singing, Dick Van Dyke’s dancing, and the special effects machine at Disney are all in top form here. Still, the fact of the matter here is that I emerge from watching it feeling a little emptier than I think I should. I first start getting antsy when they all go to the animated fantasy world, and the kids go one way while Andrews and Van Dyke go another, Van Dyke singing a song about how wonderful Mary Poppins is. Now, I have a cardinal rule about songs like this; they’re unnecessary, as we should be able to tell a character is wonderful by their actions rather than having someone sing to us how wonderful they are.

That’s not the only scene I have problems with. Overall, I think the movie, despite its truly great moments, is overlong, and somewhat bloated with whimsy. When I first saw it years ago, I thought the movie was plotless. Watching it again, I know it isn’t, but I do feel the plot is given short shrift in order to make way for more whimsy. Practically every big musical number goes on too long, and I get tired of the way the movie constantly regurgitates certain themes, especially the “spoonful of sugar” philosophy. In short, I don’t place this one the same level as Disney’s early animated features, which seem to be more enjoyable on a broader level than this one.

 

The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970)

THE MIND OF MR. SOAMES (1970)
Article 2588 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-6-2008
Posting Date: 9-13-2008
Directed by Alan Cooke
Featuring Terence Stamp, Robert Vaughn, Nigel Davenport
Country: UK

A man who has been in a coma since birth is revived after a successful operation on his brain. However, the revived man has the mind of a baby. Two doctors try to raise him, but they differ sharply in their beliefs and methods. The revived man eventually escapes from the institute where he’s being held, but he isn’t ready to deal with the real world…

This movie is an excellent combination of science fiction drama, character study and tense thriller. It’s anchored by an excellent performance by Terence Stamp in the title role, and also features top-notch performances from Robert Vaughn (this is the finest performance I’ve seen him give) and Nigel Davenport. Though the characters are specific “types”, they never become stereotypes; Nigel Davenport’s somewhat cold and overly disciplined Dr. Maitland could have easily been a cliche, but he remains a very real person. The movie underplays and uses subtlety, and we grow very attached to all of the characters. This is especially powerful when Mr. Soames gets loose in the real world; we feel both how he feels as well as the feelings of those he meets, and this gives rise to a lot of tension. The scene in which Mr. Soames ends up sharing a train car with a very scared young woman who doesn’t understand the man she’s dealing with is one of the tensest scenes I’ve encountered in a long while. Many people feel unhappy with the ending which neither offers easy answers nor resolves all the issues, but I found the final actions of the doctors’ assistant in the ambulance to give me the satisfaction I desire. Personally, I like it a lot better and and find it more honest than the somewhat similar CHARLY.

 

The Mysterious Box (1903)

THE MYSTERIOUS BOX (1903)
aka The Trick Box, La Boite a malice
Article 2550 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-30-2008
Posting Date: 8-5-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France

A magician and his assistant cause a woman to disappear and reappear in a tiny box.

No plot here; just another of Melies’s demonstrations of the magic of movie-making. Yet, somehow, it seems fitting that my Melies-a-Thon should end with one of his simpler magic films; after all, it was magic that drew him to the invention of all of the special effects he pioneered. I just want to take a moment here to thank all of the individuals and companies responsible for making these films available to the public once again, and let us hope they continue onwards in bringing us the forgotten and rarely seen wonders of the early cinema.

 

Mr. Peek-a-Boo (1951)

MR. PEEK-A-BOO (1951)
aka Le Passe-muraille
Article 2544 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-23-2008
Posting Date: 7-30-2008
Directed by Jean Boyer
Featuring Bourvil, Joan Greenwood, Gerarud Oury
Country: France/Italy

A mild-mannered clerk discovers he has the ability to walk through walls. When he meets a beautiful English woman who has embarked on a life of crime, he decides to use his power to save her and to win her heart.

This is what happens if you take the idea of THE 4D MAN and make it French comic fantasy rather than science-fiction thriller. There are actually two versions of this movie, a French language version and an English language version, both directed by the same man and with partially different casts. I’m not yet sure which one I’ve watched, but I’m guessing I may have seen the English version. It’s quite amusing, largely because of the likable performance by Bourvil as the clerk and Joan Greenwood as the object of his affections. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed by the ending, as he manages to pass on the ability to someone else without giving us any real internal logic as to how he got it in the first place or as to how he was able to pass it on. Still, this is a fun little movie.

 

The Mad Executioners (1963)

THE MAD EXECUTIONERS (1963)
aka Der Henker von London
Article 2518 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-25-2008
Posting Date: 7-4-2008
Directed by Edwin Zbonek
Featuring Hansfjorg Felmy, Maria Perschy, Dieter Borsche
Country: Germany

A secret society captures, tries, and executes criminals who have somehow managed to evade punishment by the law. A Scotland Yard inspector is on the case. He also must contend with a serial killer who decapitates his female victims.

For those interested in trying out the German Edgar Wallace thrillers of the early sixties but aren’t sure where to start, this is a good one to begin with. I don’t quite rank it with the best ones, but it’s one of the most straightforward and least confusing of the bunch, and it manages to keep the comic relief down to a minimum. Even the subplot about the serial killer weaves nicely into the main plot, and it’s this subplot that adds a goodly portion of the fantastic content to the story, with both the horror element of a serial killer and a science fiction element that manifests itself when you understand what the serial killer is trying to accomplish. Granted, the group of hooded executioners adds its own horror element as well. There are some very nice moments in this one, including a sequence where we witness two mock trials concurrently, and the moment where we discover how the executioners are able to get the noose from a locked safe. Again, it’s not the best of the genre, but it’s perhaps the most accessible.