A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1909)

Article 4830 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-23-2015
Directed by Charles Kent and J. Stuart Blackton
Featuring Walter Ackerman, Charles Chapman, Dolores Costello
Country: USA
What it is: Silent Shakespeare

Fairies use magic to play with the affairs of lovers.

Here’s another silent adaptation of a Shakespeare play that cuts down the action to 13 minutes and lacks the Bard’s language. Of course it’s confusing, even with the unwieldy plot summaries that appear between the scenes, but I suspect these little short films were more intended as “highlights of…” rather than full blown productions. It does take advantage of the fact that it’s a movie to engage in cinematic special effects, especially in the scenes of fairies appearing and disappearing, and there are a couple of rather freaky shots of Puck on the wing. It also does play up the comedy, especially during the scenes involving the amateur actors’ production of a play. For what it is, it isn’t half bad.

Martyrs Chretiens (1905)

aka Christian Martyrs, Belshazzar’s Feast
Article 4820 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-13-2015
Directed by Lucien Nonguet
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Biblical scenes

Various Bible scenes are depicted, mostly ones with lions.

This one entered my hunt list as BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST, though that was only one episode of this movie; that’s probably because it was the only part of the movie at the time that was considered extant. I do find its real title rather deceptive; there are four segments to the short, and only in one of them does it look like a Christian is dying. The first scene has a man tussling with a lion, and the action mostly makes me suspect that the man was a lion tamer doing his act. The second scene is where a man is killed by a lion, but I”m not sure who he’s supposed to be. The third scene has Daniel in the lion’s den, and with the appearance of the angel, it’s the first one that has any real fantastic content. The most striking fantastic content comes in the Belshazzar section, in which a giant hand appears and writes on the wall, though I couldn’t read what he wrote. The short is competently done, but I’m afraid I wasn’t particularly impressed with it.

Many a Slip (1927)

MANY A SLIP (1927)
aka The Inventor Bricolo
Article 4771 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-2-2015
Directed by Charles R. Bowers and Harold L. Muller
Featuring Charles R. Bowers, Corinne Powers, Ricca Allen
Country: USA
What it is: Partially animated comedy

An inventor attempts to create a formula that will make banana peels non-slippery.

Charles R. Bowers is one of the more obscure comedians of the silent era, but he’s one of the more interesting and offbeat ones. His most striking quality is that he dabbled in both slapstick comedy and stop-motion animation, sometimes in the same short. In this one, for example, Bowers studies a banana peel under a huge microscope and discovers a bizarre little stop-motion creature that makes the peel slippery. Part of the short involves the repetition of a single gag (there are a lot of people slipping on banana peels); the rest of the short concentrates on gags involving Bower’s bizarre laboratory. There’s something positively surreal about Bower’s work, and some of the gags quite weird. Still, I have a real weak spot for this type of thing, and I thoroughly enjoyed this little short, and I’m really glad to finally be able to cover one of his works.

The Mystical Flame (1903)

aka La flamme mereveilleuse
Article 4769 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-27-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

A magician appears and does several tricks with a handkerchief, and then he proceeds to befuddle his assistant with other tricks.

Here’s another magic trick short from Melies, and this one has the benefit of being only two minutes long, so it doesn’t wear out its welcome. What occurred to me while watching this one was that I’d really like to have seen his live magic act; if he presented his live show with as much energy as he presented his cinematic tricks, he would have been a lot of fun. This one seems less thematically centered than some of his other shorts of this type; the flame only comes into play during a single trick, and if anything, he makes more of a show with his tricks with the handkerchief. This is a fairly solid and entertaining example of his magic trick films.

Madam White Snake (1962)

aka Bai she zhuan
Article 4768 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-25-2015
Directed by Feng Yueh
Featuring Dai Lin, Lei Zhao, Margaret Tu Chuan
Country: Hong Kong
What it is: Chinese fantasy opera

A white snake spirit and her sister, a green snake spirit, arrive in the mortal world in human form. The white snake spirit falls in love and marries a lowly pharmacist, who isn’t aware that he’s married a supernatural being. Then a monk appears who knows the truth…

I’ve encountered this story before in an earlier production the Shaw Brothers produced in conjunction with Toho. This one is based on an operatic version of the story, and though portions of the production are spoken, most of the movie involves singing and dance. Usually, this type of thing would make me less likely to enjoy a movie, but because I’ve seen very little Chinese opera, in this case it adds quite a bit of novelty value; in fact, the musical style reminds me more of Bollywood movies than it does of what I’m used to thinking of as opera. If anything, I prefer this version; it has a nice visual feel, and the dance sequence where the spirit must acquire a magical flower to return her husband to life is the highlight of the movie. There are a few other versions of this story out there which I’ll probably encounter some time in the future.

Mousie Come Home (1946)

Article 4767 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-24-2015
Directed by Shamus Culhane
Featuring the voices of Dick Nelson and Walter Tetley
Country: USA
What it is: Andy Panda cartoon

Andy Panda and his dog, tired of trying to get rid of a mouse, decide to move to a new home. The mouse, traumatized by their departure, contemplates suicide.

It looks like I’m in mouse-chasing cartoonland mode for the second day running; Andy Panda even consults a book on how to catch mice as Tom did in yesterday’s cartoon. At least, that’s how the first half of this cartoon plays out; it’s a series of gags in which Andy and his dim-witted dog are outwitted by a crafty mouse. The second half turns unexpectedly dark when the mouse makes several unsuccessful attempts to commit suicide, though it’s played with typical cartoon aplomb. The cartoon is well-animated and sporadically funny, but it suffers from the fact that the characters aren’t particularly fun. The dog comes off best, though he’s little more than a stupid cartoon dog cliche. Andy Panda is practically a non-entity, but he’s obviously the least important character here. The biggest problem is the mouse; instead of being charming and zany, he’s tiresome and annoying, plus he has a truly horrible trademark laugh. Since the mouse is the main character, this is definitely a problem, and his presence drags the cartoon down a bit. Still, it has its moments, and I couldn’t help but notice that in its short running time, the cartoon makes two separate joke references to Carmen Miranda.

Mouse Trouble (1944)

Article 4766 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-23-2015
Directed by Joseph Barbera and William Hanna
No voice cast credited
Country: USA
What it is: Tom and Jerry short

Tom gets a book in the mail on mouse-catching, but when he tries the tricks on Jerry, they all backfire.

As might be guessed, the presence of anthropomorphic animals is the primary piece of fantastic content in this short. That being said, I’m going to have to face a rather sad fact that my love for the classic Warner Brothers cartoons may have spoiled me somewhat. I mention this because this one gets a lot of praise on IMDB for being one of the very best of the Tom and Jerry shorts, and I’m willing to believe it is. Yet, while watching it, I find myself smiling a little at the gags, but I never quite lose myself in their hilarity. It’s as if there is always something very subtle missing, and I’m beginning to suspect it has something to do with the precision with which the Warner Brothers team would set up and set off a gag; the gags in this cartoon seem just a hair off in the timing department. I know in particular I miss the precision of the musical scores that Carl Stalling did for the Warner cartoons. There might also be an emotional element involved as well. In some ways, this cartoon is reminiscent of the Road Runner cartoons with Tom as the coyote and Jerry as the Road Runner. Once I made this observation, I realized that I relate on an emotional level with the coyote; I find something appealingly human about his perpetual frustration and the sense that everything (including the laws of physics) are against him. I feel no such emotional connection to Tom; there’s a certain sense of cruelty to him that turns me away, and I don’t really care what happens to him. Still, this cartoon does have one moment thing that stands out, and that’s that the wind-up female mouse toy that Tom uses to lure Jerry does a Mae West imitation, and that’s the type of extra little detail that can make a difference.

A Miracle Under the Inquisition (1904)

aka Un miracle dous l’inquisition
Article 4761 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-17-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Tale of divine retribution

A cruel inquisitor ignores the pleadings of a woman and burns her at the stake. However, when an angel appears, he finds he will have to pay a price for his cruelty…

This is one of Melies’s more serious shorts; its tale of divine retribution is not played for laughs. In punishment for the inquisitor’s act, the woman is revived and set free, while the inquisitor is forced to take the woman’s place on the stake. The fact that an angel administers the punishment does seem to imply that he finds nothing divinely inspired by the acts of the inquisition, and I find it still relevant today to consider that not everything done in the name of God is necessarily holy. The special effects aren’t some of Melies’s best, and I’m curious about the very ending of the piece; the fire unexpectedly goes out but we still see the inquisitor struggling. I’m not sure if something was neglected in the special effects or if mercy was being given to the inquisitor. The short is interesting, but it doesn’t rank with Melies’s best.

The Milky Way (1940)

Article 4760 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-15-2015
Directed by Rudolf Ising
Featuring the voice of Bernice Hansen
Country: USA
What it is: Animated whimsy

The three little kittens who lost their mittens are sent to their room without any milk. They decide to tie three balloons to a basket, which will lift them up to the Milky Way… and all the milk they want.

For some reason, this short won the Academy award for Best Animated Short of its year. Out of curiosity, I did a power search on IMDB looking for animated shorts from the year 1940 and sorted them by the user ratings, and not only is this short nowhere near the top (it came in 50th behind mostly a whole slew of Warner Brothers and Disney cartoons), it’s not even the highest rated MGM short from that year; that honor goes to PUSS GETS THE BOOT, a watershed cartoon that would eventually give way to the “Tom and Jerry” series. Granted, one-off cartoons are more likely to be overlooked nowadays, and those that emphasize whimsy over laughs (as this one does) have a further strike against them. Nevertheless, this is a likable little cartoon; I’m quite fond of cartoons that take place in surreal fantasy worlds, and there’s a lot of creativity to the way the Milky Way is portrayed here. It even managed to get one good laugh out of me; I love the way the planet Mars is portrayed. In short, this is a good cartoon, but I wouldn’t call it a great one.

Mickey’s Orphans (1931)

Article 4758 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-13-2015
Directed by Burt Gillett
Featuring the voices of Walt Disney and Marcellite Garner
Country: USA
What it is: Mickey Mouse cartoon

Mickey and Minnie find themselves unexpected recipients of a basket on Christmas Eve – which contains hundreds of kittens.

Having watched cartoons from other studios from this era several times recently, I’m once again reminded how far ahead of the animation pack Disney was in those days; in terms of animation technique alone, this looks so much better than the others. I also notice that, though there is some music involved in the short, it doesn’t bring things to a complete halt for the mere sake of adding a song, which means the cartoon devotes itself wholeheartedly to animated antics. I am, however, a little surprised at the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a story; once the kittens show up, it’s just a non-stop barrage of destruction, and you wait in vain for Mickey to lose his patience with the brats. I suppose Mickey is just too good-hearted to lose his temper, but you’ll end up wishing Donald Duck was the star of this one, as then the sparks would really fly. And as good as the animation is, it’s never quite as funny as you might wish it would be. As you can probably guess, the fantastic content consists primarily of the various anthropomorphic animals on hand.