The Magnetic Telescope (1942)

The Magnetic Telescope (1942)
Article 5601 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-17-2018
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Featuring the voices of Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander, Jackson Beck
Country: USA
What it is: Superman animated short

When police try to prevent an overzealous scientist from pulling in a comet with his magnetic telescope, the resulting complications cause a comet to come hurtling towards the earth. Can Superman prevent the collision?

I was about to give the whole series a rest for a bit, but this one varies the formula enough that it caught my interest. Rather than a villain or a monster as Superman’s foe, he’s up against a force of nature, and it’s one in which brute force alone cannot solve the problem. Instead, the problem will be solved by Superman’s endurance and quick thinking. It’s also nice that Lois Lane for once proves to be part of the solution rather than as merely someone to be rescued. It also varies a few other minor cliches of the series so it doesn’t come across as derivative. For my money, this is one of the better entries.

Le moine (1972)

Le moine (1972)
aka The Monk
Article 5596 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-13-2018
Directed by Adonis Kyrou
Featuring Franco Nero, Nathalie Delon, Nicol Williamson
Country: France / Italy / West Germany
What it is: Faustian temptation

A charismatic monk succumbs to temptation and falls into sin, crime, sorcery and depravity.

This movie was based on a sensational eighteenth century novel. Apparently, Luis Bunuel had made two attempts to get this one made, but both fell through; this one was directed by a friend of his with a script at least partially inspired by the Bunuel treatment. I wonder what it would have been like if Bunuel had directed; it certainly would have ended up better than this rather tepid affair. The most interesting touches are in the story itself; the title character attempts to reap the benefit of the devil’s help without actually selling his soul, but the devil is tricky enough to entrap the monk in a spiral of misfortune until things get so desperate that the monk is forced to make the deal. From what I can tell, the movie takes some definite liberties with the novel; in particular, the ending is very different. I suspect the ending is very much Bunuel’s contribution to the script, as it fits in well with his anti-clerical attitude. It’s interesting, but it falls short of what it could have been.

The Monkey’s Teeth (1961)

The Monkey’s Teeth (1961)
aka Les dents du singe
Article 5591 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-3-2018
Directed by Rene Laloux
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Therapeutic oddity

A dentist steals his patient’s teeth to give to a rich person. Will the patient find justice?

This short popped up unexpectedly as an extra on my copy of FANTASTIC PLANET. It has a very interesting backstory; Rene Laloux took part in an experiment where he made an animated film in which the story and characters were developed by people in a mental health home. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the resulting short would be more than a little strange; parts of the story are vague and some of it doesn’t make much sense, but it nevertheless makes for a fascinating viewing. The very premise has a strong element of horror, and the story also involves a “monkey magician” as a character (I’m glad I was told that’s what it was, because I wasn’t really sure). This one is very interesting and unusual.

Miracle in Paradise Valley (1948)

Miracle in Paradise Valley (1948)
Article 5570 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-9-2018
Directed by James M. Constable
Featuring Kirby Grant, Eddie Parkes, Jean Mowry
Country: USA
What it is: Farm safety film

A young farmer encounters a mystical character intent on getting him involved in a movement to prevent accidents on the farm. Only by bringing the farmer into the future can the mystical character win him over.

There’s no listing for this forty-minute short IMDB, probably because it’s in that cinematic limbo which includes films that weren’t intended for general cinematic release; it was a farm safety film. I’ve seen several of these types of films, and this is one of the best ones I’ve encountered; it looks professionally done, is generally well-acted, and actually has a bit of punch to it. It’s a good example of a common strategy of these films; create a mystical character whose purpose is to pass the gospel of whatever the message is, and have him teach it to a human. It’s corny and preachy, but it also demonstrates how an effective and dramatic presentation can really bring a subject home; the high point is when the farmer attends a presentation on farm safety, and has to go on stage to keep a crowd of hecklers from derailing the message. The farmer’s ability to make farm safety a subject that touches everyone personally is pretty impressive. In some ways, it reminds me a little of the Rip Van Winkle story I saw recently.

Modern Times (1936)

Modern Times (1936)
Article 5547 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-1-2018
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Featuring Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman
Country: USA
What it is: Chaplin comedy

After he has a nervous breakdown on the job, the little tramp falls in love with a young woman and attempts to find a way to make a living in the modern world.

It’s a tribute to Chaplin’s star power that he was able to make what amounted to a silent movie this late in the sound era. This wasn’t, however, due to slavish idolatry of an antiquated convention; it had been intended as his first sound film, but it became apparent to Chaplin that his “little tramp” character worked best within the silent conventions. Chaplin actually makes very creative use of sound; it gives him control over the musical soundtrack, and he allows words to be heard at strategic moments. In fact, he even lets the tramp sing at one point, albeit in gibberish. This movie and CITY LIGHTS are often praised as Chaplin’s finest moments, but I have to confess I’m a hair disappointed at this one; despite the fact that much of the movie is brilliantly staged, I don’t find myself laughing very much, though I do appreciate both the satirical observations and the pathos. The fantastic contents are mostly confined to the scenes of the futuristic factory, full of enormous machines and closed-circuit televisions; I suspect Chaplin may have been a bit influenced by METROPOLIS here.

My Big Emergency (1936)

My Big Emergency (1936)
aka Oira no hijoji
Article 5535 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-11-2018
Directed by Sanae Yamamoto
No cast
Country: Japan
What it is: Japanese animation

The peaceful members of the world of Frogland have to defend themselves when they are victims of a sneak attack by an evil horde of airplane bombers.

I don’t know if I’ve correctly assigned the Japanese title to this animated short that was passed on to me under the main title above, but it was the only movie listed on IMDB from 1936 that is credited to Sanae Yamamoto, so I’m making a leap of faith. Of the early Japanese shorts I’ve been watching lately, this is the one closest in style to equivalent American cartoons of the era. It has some Felix the Cat touches, and the pilots of the bombers look quite similar to the character of Bimbo from the Fleischer brothers shorts. It’s actually quite creative and very well done, with the anthropomorphic animals being the main fantastic content. However, as an American, I can’t view the cartoon without feeling a great sense of irony in the fact that this short about a clearly evil sneak air attack came from the same country responsible for the sneak air attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Milpitas Monster (1976)

The Milpitas Monster (1976)
Article 5530 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-9-2018
Directed by Robert L. Burrill
Featuring Paul Frees, Doug Hagdahl, ‘Crazy George’ Henderson
Country: USA
What it is: Low-budget monster mayhem, Milpitas style

What is causing the disappearance of all the garbage cans in the town of Milpitas? And what is making those giant footprints around town? And what about the mischievous high school kids and the town drunk? Will the authorities solve the mystery?

Currently I’m watching a collection of extreme low-budget independent movies called “Tomb of Terrors”, almost all of which were made from in the years 2004 through 2006. I’m thinking that this tiny-budgeted movie from the mid-seventies might be that decade’s equivalent to the movies on this set. However, there is a difference; while I find going through that set of movies rather painful, I found this one a lot of fun. It’s not that this movie is so much better (its 2.8 rating on IMDB is about right); it’s more that its badness is the fun type of badness that makes this project enjoyable for me. The movie is clearly intended to be a comedy (that’s apparent from the opening logo), and the fact that most of the intended laughs are pretty awful (you’ll see way too much of the comic-relief drunk) doesn’t really kill the fun. There’s a giant winged monster made of garbage on the loose, and many of the scenes suffer from bad sound and/or bad lighting. The story is pretty unfocused, but individual moments are pretty amusing; I like the monsters encounter with a garbage truck and the machine known as the Odorola. It took three years to make this movie, and though the movie is a mess and it stinks, it’s also aware that it is. Paul Frees contributes only opening and closing narration, with the final bit ridiculously reprising a modified version of the last line of KING KONG. It’s the type of low-budget independent film that makes me smile; I have yet to see a single movie on that movie set that has entertained me this much.

Nonsense Story Volume One: Monkey Island (1931)

Nonsense Story Volume One: Monkey Island (1931)
Article 5529 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-4-2018
Directed by Kenzo Masaoka
No cast
Country: Japan
What it is: Early Japanese animation

A human baby is washed off a ship and lands on an island inhabited by monkeys. He is brought up by them, but eventually trouble erupts and he becomes ostracized due to his lack of a tail.

One impression I’m getting from checking out these early Japanese animated shorts is that they really can’t be compared with the American animated shorts from the same era. They’re playing a very different game; in comparison with American shorts, this one is longer, more realistic, slower, and less given to cartoon exaggeration. In fact, it may be a little too slow; there are moments here (such as when the human child gets into a race with some other monkeys to reach a hill) that go on so long that you become antsy waiting for something to happen. There is humor here, but it’s a bit drier and doesn’t quite satisfy; it might not be very accessible to a non-Japanese audience. On the other hand, the animation is quite good; I especially like the animation of the clouds during the storm sequence. It makes for interesting viewing, but I didn’t find it to be entirely successful.

Manga: Kobutori (1929)

Manga: Kobutori (1929)
Article 5528 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-19-2018
Directed by Chuzo Aochi and Yasuji Murata
No cast
Country: Japan
What it is: Animated fantasy

Two men (one industrious, the other lazy and dishonest) both have disfiguring lumps on their heads. When the former has his lump removed after an encounter with an immortal and his bird minions, the other decides to meet them as well in the hopes of having the same fate.

Japan has a long tradition of animation, but this is the earliest one I’ve seen to date. The style is much more realistic than the American animation from the same time period, and it is much more adult in spirit as well. I was quite entertained and charmed by this little tale. One thing I’m very glad has happened with this project is that it’s given me an opportunity to encounter animation from other lands; though I’m a big fan of animation, I really didn’t encounter much that wasn’t American in origin for many years.

Maria, the Magic Weaver (1960)

Maria, the Magic Weaver (1960)
aka Mariya-iskusnitsa
Article 5508 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-27-2017
Directed by Aleksandr Rou
Featuring Mikhail Kuznetsov, Viktor Perevalov, Anatoli Kubatsky,
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Fantasy

A wandering soldier with a magic drum helps a young boy whose mother has been abducted by a water wizard.

Over the years, I’ve grown to really enjoy watching children’s movies and fantasies from other countries; they have a way of capturing cultural differences while keeping the stories simple and fun. This one is extremely colorful, especially when we enter the underwater palace of the wizard and meet his bizarre minions, including a gaggle of pirates and a frog-turned-more-or-less-human. My favorite scene is truly surreal; while the heroes make their escape with the rescued mother, the villains are incapacitated by a psaltery whose music forces them all to dance. There’s a real sense of magic to this one, and it’s a joy to watch. I look forward to seeing more from Rou, whose oeuvre includes a movie that was featured on MST3K, JACK FROST.