Motor Pirates (1906)

aka The Modern Pirates
Article 4134 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2013
Directed by Arthur Melbourne Cooper
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Science fiction thriller

Criminals use an armored car to perform robberies, but the police get on their trail.

Armored cars aren’t science fiction anymore, but back in 1906, they were, and this one (which is vaguely submarine-shaped and has a hood that opens up like a monster opening its mouth) looks pretty exotic. Even more interesting is that this short is played more for thrills than laughs, which is rather unusual for its time. This is not to say that there aren’t a few laughs here; some of the cops’ actions seem vaguely comic, and there is something rather funny about seeing the car open its “mouth” and swallow things. Still, the emphasis is on action and thrills, with several people killed in the opening scene and some early stunt work. In some ways, this is a fairly impressive little short, and I’m glad it just got saved from my “ones-that-got-away” list, which it entered yesterday.

The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador (1912)

aka Le mystere des roches de Kador, In the Grip of the Vampire
Article 4116 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-26-2012
Directed by Leonce Perret
Featuring Suzanne Grandais, Emile Keppens, Leonce Perret
Country: France
What it is: Melodrama

An heiress is under the guardianship of her tutor, but the latter stands to inherit the fortune for himself is something happens to his ward. The tutor plots against the heiress…

One of the first things I noticed about this one was how familiar the basic premise was. Then I realized it was the same premise that drives the whole serial THE PERILS OF PAULINE, and the fact that the villain of that serial resembles the villain of this short (played by the director, Leonce Perret) makes me wonder if this might have influenced the other one. This is also one of those movies that ended up on my “ones that got away” list because I hadn’t been able to match up the title that I was given (IN THE GRIP OF THE VAMPIRE) with the French title of this one; it was only with the help of a member of CHFB that I was able to make the connection. The fantastic content of this one includes a drug that renders the heroine unconscious, and an original and rather intriguing cure for the madness of the heroine; the crime is recreated in a film and shown to the heiress, thus restoring her sanity. On the surface the story seems a bit silly, but Leonce Perret was a skilled and innovative director, and that skill goes a long way towards making this one an intriguing and fun movie, with strong acting, creative staging, and a nice sense of character.

Ein Mann Geht durch die Wand (1959)

aka The Man Who Walked through the Wall
Article 4114 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-24-2012
Directed by Ladislao Vajda
Featuring Heinz Ruhmann, Rudolf Vogel, Hubert von Meyerinck
Country: West Germany
What it is: Fantasy comedy

When a clerk develops the ability to walk through walls, he uses it to take vengeance on his boss and to romance a young lady he has fallen for.

When I noticed that this movie was classified as a ‘comedy’ and a ‘romance’ on IMDB, and knowing that the movie was about a man who developed the ability to walk through walls, I found myself wondering if this was a remake of MR. PEEK-A-BOO. And, sure enough, both movies are based on the same source novel. I was only able to find this one in a German language version, but having already a certain familiarity with the basic story, and the fact that much of what happens is conveyed visually, I more or less was able to follow the main thread of the action. And, despite the language barrier, I found I liked this one better than either of the other two versions I’ve seen; it not only makes much better use of the central gimmick, but I sense it has a bit more warmth and likability around the edges. Heinz Ruhmann is quite effective in the title role, and my favorite scene has him getting drunk and using his power frivolously. All in all, the language barrier didn’t keep me from enjoying this one.

Monsieur de Crac (1912)

aka Baron Munchhausen
Article 4035 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-18-2012
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated comic adventures

Monsieur de Crac travels the world and has a series of amazing adventures.

Emile Cohl was a lot better at animating flights of fancy than he was at telling a story, and this is largely a disconnected series of adventures in which various strange and amazing things happen. Monsieur de Crac travels the world on his horse, survives being cut in half, descends into a volcano, learns to fly, etc. Though it’s amusing enough, one can start sensing a little the limitations of his style here, and I can’t help but think that that Winsor McCay was just around the corner here preparing to take animation to a whole new level. Still, it is a lot of fun to see these Cohl animated shorts.

M.M.M. 83 (1966)

M.M.M. 83 (1966)
aka Missione mortale Molo 83
Article 4024 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-5-2012
Directed by Sergio Bergonzelli
Featuring Fred Beir, Gerard Blain, Alberto Dalbes
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Spyghetti

When half of a secret formula for a super fuel is stolen and the noted scientist who invented it is murdered, a secret agent is assigned to a) protect the scientist’s assistant, and b) recover the formula.

Outside of the opening scene where the fuel is being used in a car race, the science fiction content in this one is pure Gizmo Maguffin; it’s never used again, and merely serves as the prize in a typical Eurospy outing. This one even lacks the gimmickry which can often enhance the fantastic content of a Bond-era spy story. As for the movie itself, I’d rate it about average; I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse. There’s lots of car chases, fist fights and gunplay, but nothing you haven’t seen before. This one’s a time-killer.

Mr. Freedom (1969)

MR. FREEDOM (1969)
Article 4012 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-23-2012
Directed by William Klein
Featuring Delphine Seyrig, John Abbey, Donald Pleasence
Country: France
What it is: Superhero satire

An American superhero is sent to France to save the country from communism, and he uses drastic means to achieve his goal.

Though it uses a superhero motif, this movie is less a parody of the superhero genre than it is a counter-cultural satire on the United States and its policies during the era of the Vietnam War. Mr. Freedom himself is a parody of the extremist right-wing mindset. Some of the satire is still relevant; after all, extremism isn’t restricted to any particular era of history. My problem with the movie is that once you see where it’s coming from, it’s all a little too obvious, and I’m afraid that the humor that is supposed to redeem it falls pretty flat for me. And though Klein is a creative director (I’m intrigued, for example, by the way he handles Mr. Freedom’s encounter with a window-washer), without the laughs the movie becomes loud, busy, distracting and overbearing. It’s also one of those movies that is so focused on its political viewpoint that it never conjures up a single real, living, breathing character amid the caricatures. I’m afraid I found this one a disappointment.

La madre e la morte (1911)

aka If One Could See into the Future
Article 4008 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-20-2012
Directed by Arrigo Frusta
Featuring Paolo Azzurri, Maria Bay, Oreste Grandi
Country: Italy
What it is: Tragic fantasy

A woman, bereft at having her young son taken by Death, seeks out the Grim Reaper and asks that her son be returned. He takes her to a pool that shows how the child’s life would have turned out had he lived.

The English title of this one makes it sound like a work of science fiction, but it’s not; it’s a fantasy in which it is not the future of the world that is seen, but what the ultimate fate of a child would have been if it had lived. When this one popped up on my “ones that got away” list, I commented that it sounded pretty depressing, and sure enough, it is; you really feel sorry for the woman in this one who not only loses her child, but her hope that the child would have grown up to be something wonderful. Like yesterday’s movie, there is at least one truly startling effect; in the opening scenes, when Death picks up the baby, he doesn’t just vanished in the “jump cut” sense we’re used to, but he almost seems to implode. More and more I find myself respecting the early pioneers of cinema.