Mickey’s Mechanical Man (1933)

MICKEY’S MECHANICAL MAN (1933)
Animated cartoon
Article 3180 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-27-2010
Posting Date: 4-29-2010
Director Unknown
Featuring the voices of Walt Disney and Marcellite Garner
Country: USA
What it is: Animated robot boxer short

Mickey is training a robot to battle a gorilla in the boxing ring. Complications ensue when he discovers that Minnie’s car horn drives the robot bonkers.

From this cartoon as well as THE ROBOT, I’ve come to the conclusion that boxing robots have been around (as an idea) for ages. As usual, this one is very well animated, but you’ll find the story utterly predictable; once you see how the robot reacts to Minnie’s car horn, you’ll know exactly how this short will play out. Still, how often do you get to see robots battling gorillas? Okay, there’s KING KONG ESCAPES, but it’s admittedly a rare notion.

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The Mysterious Island (1905)

THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1905)
aka L’ile de Calypso: Ulysse et le geant Polypheme, Ulysses and Giant Polyphemus
Article 3169 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-16-2010
Posting Date: 4-18-2010
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Mini Homeric epic

Ulysses returns to the island of Calypso; there he encounters the cyclops.

The deceptive English title makes it sound like it’s another Verne adaptation, but such is not the case. It’s something of a sequel to “The Odyssey”, with Ulysses seeking Calypso and doing battle with Polyphemus, all in under four minutes. The special effects are rather fun; I like the moving eye in the cyclops’s forehead.

Tomorrow we take a small break from the Melies-a-thon.

Marguerite de la nuit (1955)

MARGUERITE DE LA NUIT (1955)
aka Marguerite of the Night
Article 3136 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-6-2010
Posting Date: 3-15-2010
Directed by Claude Autant-Lara
Featuring Michele Morgan, Yves Montand, Jean Debucourt
Country: Italy/France
What it is: Updated Faust story

An old doctor sells his soul to the devil to possess the beautiful Marguerite, but finds his joy may be short-lived…

I finally got a chance to watch this movie, and, even though my copy is in unsubtitled French, I found it quite enjoyable. It helped, of course, to have a certain familiarity with the Faust story to begin with, but it helps that there are some excellent performances here from Michele Morgan and Yves Montand (I’ve come to discover that, even in a language you don’t understand, good acting shines through) and from some stunning set design and excellent use of color. In some ways, it looks like a Douglas Sirk movie with touches of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI around the edges. The sets look artificial, but this is intentional, and I think that the opening scene in which we watch the final scene of an opera about Faust hints that the movie itself is no less staged than the opera. The first thirty minutes work best, as I love the visual touches and tricks, such as the cigarette that won’t go out, the shadow of the hand, and the bright red entrance of the nightclub which makes it look like a descent into hell. Things get a big draggy in the middle, and it took a while for me to pick up from the visual clues just where the story was going, but I eventually figured it out. Granted, it would have been better had I had English subtitles to help, but as far as watching movies in foreign languages go, I found this was one of the easier ones to follow.

The Man Called Flintstone (1966)

THE MAN CALLED FLINTSTONE (1966)
Article 3104 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-22-1009
Posting Date: 2-12-2010
Directed by Joseph Barbera and William Hanna
Featuring the voices of Alan Reed, Mel Blanc, Jean Vander Pyl
Country: USA
What it is: Prehistoric Animated TV show converted to feature film as a James Bond parody

Due to his resemblance to a spy called Rock Slag, Fred Flintstone is hired by the government to help them capture a super-criminal known as the Green Ghost.

At the outset, I think it’s necessary to establish how I feel about the “The Flintstones” to begin with. Though I watched it as a kid, it never really became a favorite; I watched it because it was a cartoon and it was on. In retrospect, about the only element I remember fondly was the creative ways they would come up with stone-age appliances (baby elephant vacuum cleaner, anyone?). So, the concept of a full-length feature version of the series doesn’t really excite me, and the added aspect of a James Bond parody doesn’t seem clever as much as obvious.

Having now seen the movie, I can report that the movie is pretty much just what I thought it would be; a rehash of the usual antics of the series with a contrived spy storyline. On the plus side, the extra money helped them jazz up the animation, if only slightly. For the most part, it’s watchable but uninspired. My biggest complaint is the songs. To begin with, I never quite understood why those who made children’s animated features felt it necessary to always throw in songs (the TV show didn’t bother adding them). The best things about the songs is it occasionally inspired the animators to show more creativity than they did in the more predictable sections of the movie, but the songs themselves are very poor and very unnecessary; every one brings the plot (such as it is) to a screeching halt.

In the final analysis, this movie is for fans of the show; if you liked the show, you’ll like the movie just fine. The rest of us can pass.

Morianerna (1965)

MORIANERNA (1965)
aka Morianna
Article 3089 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-31-2009
Posting Date: 1-28-2010
Directed by Anne Mattsson
Featuring Anders Henrikson, Eva Dahlbeck, Heinz Hopf
Country: Sweden
What it is: Swedish horror thriller…

A hated patriarch is murdered. His family are the immediate suspects. But is he really dead…?

Most of the above plot description is culled from one I found at several locations on the internet; it makes the movie sound something like an “old dark house” thriller. Since my own copy of this movie is in unsubtitled Swedish, I can’t verify too much of the plot, but things seem a little complex. The fantastic content is vague; the Willis guide mentions a killer appearing suddenly “like an avenging ghost”, and the Lee guide talks about the murders, a dead man mysteriously appearing in his favorite chair, and a phone call from Death. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to combine these hints into what seems to me like a coherent story, and, truth to tell, it may not be; with only a 5.0 rating on IMDB, there’s reason to believe the movie isn’t very good, and the one plot description I found said the movie was more memorable for the nude scenes than anything else. For me, the moments that stand out include a man’s unexpected appearance when I thought he had been killed, and a scene where a doll is burned at the stake. I found this one impenetrable, and must wait for an English version before I can make sense of it.

The Mystic (1925)

THE MYSTIC (1925)
Article 3079 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-21-2009
Posting Date: 1-18-2010
Directed by Tod Browning
Featuring Aileen Pringle, Conway Tearle, Mitchell Lewis
Country: USA
What it is: A love story disguised as a crime story about mystics

Three gypsies are recruited by an American con man to take part in the bilking of an heiress. However, when the con man has a change of heart about the plan, he discovers the gypsies aren’t so ready to give up their share…

One of the gypsies plays the part of a mystic who can summon the dead, and the scenes involving her show are fun and eerie; this is what provides the fantastic content to this Tod Browning movie. The story itself is pretty clever; it’s fascinating to watch the way the various parties involved (the heiress, the con man, the police, and the three gypsies) play against each other, with the power constantly shifting from one party to another. Lon Chaney is not in this one, but that’s understandable; there really doesn’t seem to be an ideal part for him here. Aileen Pringle is a lot of fun as the gypsy woman/mystic; whether holding a seance, or casually eating food while the knife-thrower practices his craft with her, she’s a joy to watch. It’s one of those movies that is quite unpredictable, and it’s definitely one of Browning’s better efforts.

Murderers’ Row (1966)

MURDERERS’ ROW (1966)
Article 3047 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-11-2009
Posting Date: 12-17-2009
Directed by Henry Levin
Featuring Dean Martin, Ann-Margret, Karl Malden
Country: USA
What it is: Faux James Bond, Matt Helm style

Matt Helm must locate a scientist who has the secret to a powerful death ray… before he falls into the wrong hands.

Watching this movie so soon after having seen a Disney shopping cart movie gave me an interesting perspective on it. It occurred to me that, despite the endless drinking, pulchritude and double entendres that populate this movie, it felt like it exuded the same sense of innocence as the Disney comedies. The key here is in the double entendres; they’re handled with such a light touch that the movie has the air of a good-natured wink (unlike THE AMBUSHERS, where the same elements were handled so crassly that they came across like a smarmy smirk). This sense of innocent fun is what set the Matt Helm movies apart from the James Bond films, which they otherwise emulate. Unfortunately, as the movie goes along, it moves away from the humor and starts emphasizing the action, and when it does this, you’re fully aware you’re watching a second-rate James Bond imitation, and the lethargic pacing (which infects the whole movie) becomes especially noticeable. Still, it’s likable enough, with some great Ann-Margret dancing and some Crosby-Hope Road movie referential humor (in moments which involve Karl Malden, Frank Sinatra, and the group Dino, Desi & Billy). The ending, unfortunately, tries to get too much mileage out of a repeated running gag involving a time-delayed gun; it should have been used twice at best but it pops up repeatedly.

This leaves one more Matt Helm movie to go in the series.