Medvezhya Svadba (1925)

MEDVEZHYA SVADBA (1925)
aka The Marriage of the Bear
Article 5372 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-16-2017
Directed by Konstantin Eggert and Vladimir Gardin
Featuring Konstantin Eggert, Vera Malinovskaya, B. Afonin
Country: U.S.S.R.
What it is: Horrific drama

On a hunting expedition, a pregnant noblewoman is attacked by a bear. Years later, the son that was born to her and has inherited the estate has taken to stalking women while wearing a bear skin.

Here’s a title that was consigned to my “ones that got away” list many years ago, but which has recently popped up on YouTube; unfortunately, the print does not have English subtitles, and I had to seek the help of a few sketchy plot descriptions to figure out parts of the story. Visually, it’s an interesting movie at times, and it occasionally uses a rapid-fire editing technique that would be interesting to evaluate. However, two circumstances prevented me from enjoying this technique. The first is that since I was unable to read the Russian title cards, I couldn’t quite grasp the context of the scenes. Second, the copy I saw of the movie seemed to be running at a slightly accelerated speed, and the rapid-fire edits went by so quickly it was difficult to focus in on or absorb the images. The story itself is a variation on the werewolf legend, though with something more of psychological transformation rather than a physical one. This is one I may have to give another chance sometime when it has an English translation; as it is, I found the movie a little frustrating. Still, like many of the “ones that got away”, I count myself lucky that I was able to find it at all.

The Moon of Israel (1924)

THE MOON OF ISRAEL (1924)
aka Die Sklavenkonigin
Article 5362 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-3-2017
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Featuring Maria Corda, Adelqui Migliar, Arlette Marchal
Country: Austria / UK
What it is: Biblical epic

During the time of Moses, the son of the Egyptian pharaoh falls in love with a Hebrew slave girl. Complications arise.

The most recent Michael Curtiz movie before this one that I’d seen is NOAH’S ARK from 1928, and from these two movies, I get the sense that he had a penchant during the twenties of adapting Biblical stories with appended elaborate subplots and climaxes that involved lots of extras getting wet. The title refers to the title of the Hebrew slave girl, and most of the movie is concerned with the meeting between her and the pharaoh’s son, and their subsequent romance. There’s a fair amount of spectacle here; outside of the parting of the Red Sea sequence (which is very well done), there’s a scene where the Hebrew slave girl calls on Jehovah to match the power of the Egyptian gods. There are also plenty of impressive crowd scenes. It’s a decent movie, though it’s perhaps very slow to get going; it’s nearly three-quarters over before Moses really swings into action. However, one circumstance added a rather comic touch to my viewing of the movie. My print has title cards in French, but a quick check of my subtitle options indicated that an English translation existed on the print. The latter helped a lot, but it became obvious early on whoever did the translation was not an accomplished linguist; many of the translations felt like they were done on a “word by word” basis by someone who had no idea of how English sentences are structured, and many of the subtitles were comically incoherent.

Mare Nostrum (1926)

MARE NOSTRUM (1926)
Article 5361 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-2-2017
Directed by Rex Ingram
Featuring Apollon Uni, Alex Nova, Kada-Abd-el-Kader
Country: USA
What it is: War drama

During World War I, a married sea captain from Barcelona falls in love with a beautiful woman (who resembles a picture of the sea goddess Amphitrite) while on a visit to Naples. He discovers that she is a German spy and becomes enmeshed in espionage.

The title refers to an ancient phrase for the Mediterranean Sea (where much of the action takes place) as well as the name of the ship of the sea captain. If the story sounds like a doomed romance, that’s because it is. It is, however, a very good one, and it has a number of memorable sequences. My favorites usually involve a German U-Boat prowling through the water in search of ships to sink, but there’s also a memorable chase scene through the streets of Versailles; the movie was shot in European locations. The fantastic elements aren’t a major part of the story, but they are striking and effective. There are two scenes featuring the sea goddess Amphitrite in action; her appearances bookend the movie. There’s also the momentary appearance of a ghost of a certain character (probably a hallucination of guilt), and the appearance of Death whose grotesque hand wipes a ship’s name off of a list. Despite these touches, the movie is primarily a war romance drama.

Malefices (1962)

MALEFICES (1962)
aka Where the Truth Lies
Article 5355 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-25-2017
Directed by Henri Decoin
Featuring Juliette Greco, Jean-Marc Bory, Liselotte Pulver
Country: France
What it is: Thriller

A female African explorer falls in love with a married veterinarian who comes to treat her jaguar. When he refuses to accompany her back to Africa, his wife suddenly takes ill. Is it possible the explorer is practicing voodoo?

This is another movie that has been rescued from my “ones that got away” list; it became available in France and I was able to order an import DVD. That being the case, I suspected there would be no English dubbing or subtitles, so I armed myself with a plot description so I could follow the movie at least somewhat; nevertheless, I do have to point out that my ability to judge it fairly is hampered by the language difference. I do know this much; several of my sources list the running time as 83 minutes, but my copy runs 101 minutes. Truth to tell, I’d rather have seen the 83 minutes version; at the longer length, it feels like it takes forever for the plot to get moving. Granted, it may be a lot more interesting if I understood the French dialogue, but given that its rating on IMDB is a little on the lukewarm side, I suspect that the pacing is a problem. It does have a nice twist and a memorable ending; the last 15 minutes are easily the best part of the movie. The presence of voodoo or black magic is the fantastic content, but you’ll have to see the movie yourself if you want to find out if that is real or imagined. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by this one.

The Mouse-merized Cat (1946)

THE MOUSE-MERIZED CAT (1946)
Article 5340 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-9-2017
Directed by Robert McKimson
Featuring the voice of Mel Blanc
Country: USA
What it is: Warner Brothers cartoon

In order to get some food, Babbit hypnotizes Catstello into thinking he’s a dog.

Thinly-disguised Abbott and Costello knock-offs Babbit and Catstello first appeared in A TALE OF TWO KITTIES (the cartoon that first introduced Tweety to the world) as cats; here they are again, only they’ve been transmogrified into mice. The title is a bit deceptive; though the cat does eventually get hypnotized, by and large it is the mouse Catstello that suffers that indignity here. This one is pretty good for a Robert McKimson cartoon. Most of McKimson’s cartoons suffer in comparison the Jones and Freleng cartoons largely because his cartoons suffered a bit from being overly talky; here that problem is kept to a minimum. A few celebrity parodies appear as well; Catstello is hypnotized into doing imitations of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante; apparently, in the original cartoon he also did Rochester from “The Jack Benny Show”, but that’s missing from the print I saw, no doubt because of the racial stereotype. The best moment has Catstello under assault by the hypnotic powers of both Babbit and the cat. This would be the last appearance of this duo other than as cameos in much later projects.

The Magical Hen (1902)

THE MAGICAL HEN (1902)
aka La poule merveilleuse
Article 5336 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-4-2017
Directed by Ferdinand Zecca
Featuring Ferdinand Zecca
Country: France
What it is: Something you can’t unsee

A magician does magic with hens and eggs.

First, a digression. There’s a well-known exploitation movie called BECAUSE OF EVE that is mostly famous for a specific sequence. If you’ve seen or heard of the movie, you probably know which one I mean. Now imagine if you saw that sequence….backwards. This digression will become clear shortly.

I’ve seen lots of these early trick shorts so far, and for the most part, they’re pretty difficult to differentiate. However, there are a few that stand apart for one reason or another (or for good or bad). This is one of them. Why? Well, let me describe in detail the first half of this short.

1 – A magician carries on a hen and removes from its backside six eggs.

  1. He then cracks open each of the eggs and a chick falls out.

That’s the first half of the movie. What happens during the second half? Basically, they run all the footage from the first half backwards. Which means…. well, I’m sure you’ll understand the BECAUSE OF EVE reference now. And I don’t think you can blame for finding this one a bit on the queasy side.

Mission Apocalypse (1966)

MISSION APOCALYPSE (1966)
aka Missione apocalisse
Article 5325 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-19-2016
Directed by Guido Malatesta
Featuring Arthur Hansel, Pamela Tudor, Eduardo Fajardo
Country: Spain / Italy
What it is: Spyghetti

When his scientists manage to develop an invulnerable missile, a villain holds the world for ransom. Can Agent 087 catch him before the time is up?

It’s always a satisfying experience to finally cover a movie that had previously been on my “ones that got away” list, but that has more to do with the personal satisfaction of having ultimately succeeded in the hunt than any quality of the movie itself. This one is part of a subgenre from which I’ve learned not to expect a whole lot; namely, the Italian “James Bond” imitation movie. For the record, this one looks a little less cheap than most of the others I’ve seen, and it seems more overtly imitative of a Bond movie as well, if one was shot at only the fraction of the budget of a Bond movie. Plotwise, this one seems particularly thin; after the setup, it mostly consists of the hero chasing the villain from one European location to another, meeting him, and escaping traps set by the villain; about the only mystery is where the spy will go next. I found it predictable and quite mechanical, but at least I can cross it off the list.

Mama’s Little Pirate (1934)

MAMA’S LITTLE PIRATE (1934)
Article 5299 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-15-2016
Directed by Gus Meins
Featuring George ‘Spanky’ McFarland, Matthew ‘Stymie’ Beard, Scotty Beckett
Country: USA
What it is: Our Gang short

After hearing a newspaper article about the discovery of pirate treasure in a cave, Spanky gathers together the other members of his gang and they set out on a spelunking expedition.

During the first half of the short, I was thinking that the fantastic content would consist of the fact that Spanky has a conversation with his evil doppelganger in which the latter tries to tempt him into disobeying his mother. However, when the kids discover a huge treasure chest, the short takes a turn into full-blown fantasy, and this is further enhanced when they end up in the home of a full-blown medieval giant. Sure, the giant is played by a “really tall guy”, but it works in this case because the kids are so small that he really does tower over them. The sequence with the treasure chest and the giant is indeed a lot of fun, but I do feel a little disturbed by other aspects of this short. In particular, a scene where Spanky decides to anchor a spool of string by tying one end around a little black girl’s neck manages to go beyond political incorrectness and into the realm of real irresponsibility; I’d feel queasy about it no matter what color the child was. It’s the biggest sour note in what is otherwise a fairly entertaining short, and it really isn’t alleviated by the fact that the little girl is being played by a little boy.

Il monello della strada (1950)

IL MONELLO DELLA STRADA (1950)
aka Street Urchin
Article 5284 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-28-2016
Directed by Carlo Borghesio
Featuring Erminio Macario, Ciccio Jacono, Luisa Rossi
Country: Italy
What it is: Italian comedy

An Italian working as a miner in Argentina marries a woman by proxy. When he returns to Italy, he discovers the woman he married is dead and that he has become the legal father of the woman’s son. He tries to get rid of the boy, but there’s a mysterious woman who won’t let him do it…

To some extent, I must withhold judgment on this one because the copy I found was in Italian without English subtitles. All I initially had to go on was the fantastic content as listed in the Walt Lee guide, which mentions that the plot involves a mother’s ghost making sure that her son finds a good father. Fortunately, this tidbit of information did make it possible for me to more or less follow the plot, and the fact that it was a comedy which occasionally relies on visuals for its humor means that I wasn’t left completely out of the loop. In short, despite the language barrier and the fact that certain plot points and jokes escaped me, I did rather enjoy this one. There’s a fun sequence in which the main character pretends to be a western hero character in a comic book, and the final sequence of the movie has our hero moving through an entire world frozen in time, and the fact that it’s all done by having people trying (not always successfully) to stand really still doesn’t really interfere with the fun of the moment. I always find it a nice experience when I can somehow appreciate a foreign movie when I can’t understand the language, and it happens often enough that I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time by making the effort.

The Mysterious Portrait (1899)

THE MYSTERIOUS PORTRAIT (1899)
aka Le portrait mysterieux
Article 5277 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-20-2016
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Early trick short

A magician sets up a portrait and then magically makes himself appear in it. He then has a conversation with his portrait of himself.

Here’s another early short from Melies’s formative years; according to some user comments on IMDB, this short involved his first use of a matte shot, so it can be grouped with those in which he was trying out and using new techniques. It’s a simple trick short with some odd touches, such as the fact that he changes the background of his setting during the length of the short. It’s only a minute long, but it’s charming and fun during its length.