The New Gulliver (1935)

The New Gulliver (1935)
aka Novyy Gulliver
Article 5477 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-3-2017
Directed by Aleksandr Ptushko
Featuring Vladimir Konstantinov, Ivan Yudin, Ivan Bobrov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: The Lilliput adventure, Soviet style

While listening to a reading of the Jonathan Swift novel, a young boy falls asleep and dreams that he’s Gulliver in Lilliput.

This early movie from Russian fantasist Aleksandr Ptushko surprised me in a couple of ways, though I really should have seen at least one of the surprises coming. The first surprise is that most of the movie is stop-motion animated; the Lilliputians are animated creations rather than real people, and I don’t think I’ve encountered Ptushko using that technique before. The other surprise that shouldn’t have surprised me was to find the Gulliver story had been retooled as a work of Soviet propaganda; Lilliput is a dictatorship where the workers have been enslaved, and Gulliver becomes the hero of a worker’s revolution. I should have seen this coming; all of the other work I’ve seen by Ptushko is from the fifties onward, but this one was made in 1935, and movies from this era were expected to have a heavy dose of communistic philosophy. Not that I really expected a faithful rendition of Swift’s novel; after all, “Gulliver’s Travels” was never really a children’s book to begin with, but a satire, and I expected the movie to juvenilize the book like all of the other versions I’ve seen. For what it’s worth, this movie does retain some of its satirical bite; the scene where a bickering Congress meets while a prime minister puts words in the mouth of a grinning idiot king is rife with satire, and it’s perhaps my favorite scene in the movie. But once we meet the enslaved underground workers, I knew exactly how the rest of the movie would play out; once you know what the message is going to be, you lose the element of surprise. Still, it was fun to see some early Ptushko, and much of the movie is quite entertaining.

Nabeshima kaibyoden (1949)

aka Nabeshima kaibyou den
Article 5367 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-8-2017
Directed by Kunio Watanabe
Featuring Ureo Egawa, Nijiko Kiyokawa, Soji Kiyokawa
Country: Japan
What it is: Ghost cat movie

A haunted Go game board brings death to those that try to play a game on it.

This is perhaps the earliest ghost-cat movie I’ve seen yet. Most of the others are pretty similar, and I’ve gotten used to the standard scenes from these movies. This one, however, doesn’t seem to follow the same game plan; for example, there’s no scene where the ghost-cat causes its victim to perform tumbling routines via manipulative hand gestures. In fact, the only the thing the ghost-cat does here is appear, which causes her victim to go frantic. I would like to know how the ghost-cat dovetails with the story about the Go board, but my copy of the movie is in Japanese without English subtitles, and almost all of the plot points are verbal rather than visual, so I have to confess that I didn’t get much out of the movie; I certainly can’t make any meaningful evaluation of it. However, I do know that there are many more cats around in this one than I usually find in a movie of this ilk; there’s one popping up every few minutes. However, I think I did get one thing out of the movie; at the time it takes place, it was apparently acceptable behavior to shove a cat in someone’s face during an argument; that seems to happen a lot here. Sometimes when I watch these movies without English subtitles, I can still find a lot to appreciate; however, this is not one of those times.

No More Bald Men (1908)

aka No More Bald Heads
Article 5351 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-21-2017
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic special effects short

A bald man is delighted when he is given a hair-growing potion that works. However, he isn’t very careful in his use of it…

Here’s another title that languished on my “ones that got away” only to be finally resurrected on YouTube under a slightly different title. It’s a pretty delightful short; it finds just the right comic tone, and it handles the special effects of hair suddenly appearing on a man’s head with skill. However, the person who directed my attention to the availability of this short brought up some interesting questions as to the actual date of this short. Apparently, Pathe Freres on occasion was given to shooting remakes of earlier shorts whose prints had deteriorated and replacing those prints with those of the remakes. My source claims this may actually be a 1912 remake of a 1904 film; notice that neither of these dates is 1908, the date on IMDB. I tend to agree with this evaluation, mainly because I’ve now had a chance to see many films from this era, and one thing I noticed is that it movie acting evolved during this time. The acting in this short seems much more assured in its style than what I’d expect from 1904 or 1908; it does seem to fit in well with 1912, though.

Noah’s Ark (1928)

NOAH’S ARK (1928)
Article 5349 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-19-2017
Directed by Michael Curtiz and Darryl F. Zanuck
Featuring Dolores Costello, George O’Brien, Noah Beery
Country: USA
What it is: Thinks it’s INTOLERANCE

An American soldier in Europe falls in love with a German woman from a theatrical troupe on the eve of WW1. When war comes, the man feels compelled to join the army, and is separated from his love, with whom he is now married. What will be their fates?

Yes, you’ve read that right – a movie about the Great Flood of the Bible is mostly a drama about World War 1. That’s because the movie has a conceit, and that is that WW1 was the modern (at that time) equivalent of the flood. If that conceit seems a bit forced, join the club; even by expanding the Noah story (which the movie eventually gets around to telling) with an elaborate sword-and-sandal style subplot, the parallel never quite gels, and the movie comes off as a bit of a head-scratcher. This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have its moments; there is some impressive spectacle here. Yet even this is marred by the fact that some of the spectacle was handled irresponsibly; huge amounts of water was dumped on many untrained and unprepared extras, and three actors were killed and many more were seriously injured. Eventually, this incident would lead to the drafting of new stunt safety regulations. Reportedly, two of the extras to survive the movie were John Wayne and Andy Devine, according to IMDB. My favorite scene is the one where God finally gets around to telling Noah to build the ark, giving him instructions in a huge rock book with burning letters. As corny as that sounds, it makes for an impressive visual feast in the movie; it’s certainly more impressive than just having a Twitter account.

Nature in the Wrong (1933)

Article 5341 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-10-2017
Directed by Charley Chase
Featuring Charley Chase, Muriel Evans, Carlton Griffin
Country: USA
What it is: Charley Chase short

In order to marry his beloved, Charley must prove he has blue blood in his veins, but when he contacts an ancestry company from Texas, he is told he is the descendant of Tarzan. Initially disappointed, he decides ultimately to emulate his ancestor.

The first half of this short sets up the situation; the second half has Charley dreaming he’s Tarzan in his jungle home. Actually, this short has probably more fantastic content than the average Tarzan movie; in his adventures, he encounters a talking lion and a talking gorilla (the always welcome Charley Gemora). It’s pretty silly, and it’s hardly Charley Chase at his best, but the short is fun in its goofy way. There’s a bit of pre-code humor with Charley swinging on a vine over a nudist camp, a few in-jokes (the Lion’s brother works for MGM), and some sequences are downright bizarre, such as the one in which Charley tries to get milk for the baby. Oddly enough, there’s one detail that the short misses. Being a descendant of Tarzan would make him a blue-blood; Tarzan was Lord Greystoke, after all.

Nurse-Mates (1940)

Article 5304 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-23-2016
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Orestes Calpini
Featuring the voices of Pinto Colvig, Margie Hines, Jack Mercer
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye cartoon

Popeye and Bluto compete to see who can care for Swee’Pea while Olive goes to the beauty parlor.

When I covered I LIKE BABIES AND INFINKS, I found myself in the position of dealing with a Popeye cartoon in which no character was given superpowers by the consumption of spinach, a plot element that remains this series’ biggest ace in the hole as far as fantastic content is concerned. Basically, this cartoon is more of the same, only less; not only is no spinach consumed, but the foodstuff makes no appearance whatsoever here. Furthermore, the gags are less wild and are less likely to verge into the fantastic; the biggest exception (and for my money, the best gag in the cartoon) is when Popeye uses spot remover on Swee’Pea to remove ink stains and believes he’s removed the baby’s face as well. All in all, I found this a little less entertaining than that previous short. Jack Mercer still does some of his trademark muttering for Popeye, but the humor doesn’t seem quite as pointed. It’s still much better than the Popeye cartoons of the fifties, however.

Number 4: Manteca (1947)

Article 5285 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-29-2016
Directed by Harry Smith
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Abstract animation

No plot.

My collection of Harry Smith shorts has them all strung together without the benefit of chapter breaks, and since no titles appear, I can only guess which title matches which piece of animation. I think this is the clip involving four long skinny rectangles placed together in sort of an elongated tic-tac-toe pattern. In some ways, it doesn’t matter; watched together, they seem all of a piece, with the same jagged style in each section. I had trouble really describing the other shorts I’ve seen of his, and this one is no different. It’s only fantasy in that it’s certainly not realistic. I do think it’s interesting to watch these, but I wouldn’t make a steady diet of it.

Nocturne (1954)

Ariticle 5234 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-21-2016
Directed by Alexander Alexeieff and Georges Violet
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated blanket advertisement

A butterfly represents the ideal body temperature for sleeping.

At the time this short/advertisement was passed on to me, I was told that that it was perhaps the least interesting work from animator Alexeieff as well as the one with the least fantastic content. Now, I’ve had one other encounter with Alexeieff in my cinematic journeys (NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN from 1933), so I know how interesting he can get. This one consists mostly of a fluttering stop-motion butterfly whose only function is to represent 37 degrees Centigrade, the ideal body temperature for sleeping; it’s a blanket commercial. If this doesn’t sound compelling… well, it isn’t. The butterfly is well animated, but without anything to really do, it never rises above what it is. And, for that matter, an animated fluttering butterfly hardly qualifies for fantastic content, either.

A Nymph of the Waves (1900)

Article 5233 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-20-2016
Director unknown
Featuring Catarino Bartho
Country: USA
What it is: Not much

A woman dances while superimposed waves roll by.

Pardon me while I kick myself. This short is listed as a 1903 movie in the Walt Lee guide. When I searched on the title on IMDB, I found a movie from 1900 and one from 1903; naturally, I chose the one with the matching date. Since the 1903 listing has a handful of votes on IMDB, I did several searches for the movie over the years and found myself frustrated because all the hits I found on the movie turned out to be the 1900 movie of the same title; after a while, I got very annoyed with this. Finally, the movie was about to hop into my “ones that got away” list, and while preparing the write-up for it, I went back and double-checked the Walt Lee guide for the nature of its fantastic content. It was only then that I realized something. Though the Walt Lee guide listed the 1903 date, the cast list and company name didn’t match the IMDB movie; instead, they matched that of the title listed for 1900. So, for three years or more, I’ve been hunting for the wrong movie and getting annoyed at the fact that I’ve been only been finding the right movie. And, to top it all off, what does the movie consist of? Nothing but a dancing girl superimposed over rolling waves. That’s it! Okay, maybe she’s supposed to be a nymph, but I can’t think of a bigger cheat in terms of its fantastic content since I covered ELLA LOLA A LA TRILBY.

Nothing Lasts Forever (1984)

Article 5173 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-1-2016
Directed by Tom Schiller
Featuring Zach Galligan, Apollonia van Ravenstein, Lauren Tom
Country: USA
What it is: Art film of sorts

An aspiring artist returns to New York in the hope of finding out what type of artist he should be, but when he fails the art test, he is consigned to supervising drivers entering the Holland tunnel. However, his kindness to a bum outside of Carnegie Hall has unexpected results…

Director Schiller’s writing and directing credits are mostly for “Saturday Night Live”, and the fact that the producer for this movie is Lorne Michaels and the credits include Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd would lead one to believe that it’s primarily a comedy. And, truth to tell, perhaps it is. However, that’s far from an apt description that is part art film, part cultural satire, part stylistic exercise, and part love story. It may be science fiction with the action taking place either in the future or in an alternate universe, but it would be better described as a surrealistic fantasy. The movie is shot in the style of an old-time Hollywood movie; it’s mostly in black-and-white, though color creeps in during two pivotal scenes. There’s quite a bit of stock footage and references to other classic movies; there are scenes from UN CHIEN ANDALOU, INTOLERANCE, and BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, among others. The satire is mostly aimed at pretentious conceptual art (which is a tad ironic for an art film) and consumerism. The plot involves a secret society hidden under the city and bus rides to the moon. Does it work? I’m not sure it really does; there’s a lot going on here, but I can’t say it all really hangs together. There is a definite charm to the proceedings, though, and I did find the movie modestly enjoyable. The cast also features Sam Jaffe and Eddie Fisher, the latter playing himself.