The Ocean Waif (1916)

Article 4053 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-8-2012
Directed by Alice Guy
Featuring Carlyle Blackwell, Doris Kenyon, Edgar Norton
Country: USA
What it is: Romantic drama

An orphan escapes from her abusive guardian and ends up in a relationship with a famous novelist.

Once again we have a movie which isn’t technically genre, but with touches of the fantastic in the subplot; the young couple meet at a supposedly haunted house, and the girl is initially mistaken for a female ghost. The movie doesn’t really play this up as horror, except in the mind of the writer’s butler. The latter is played by Edgar Norton in his first screen role; he would of course go on to play many more. The movie runs only forty minutes, but there’s enough plot to make it a full length feature. In fact, I suspect that the movie originally ran longer; there’s some jump cuts in the surviving print which makes me think that it’s not complete. The movie is entertaining enough, but since the horror element is minor, the movie remains marginal in terms of genre.

L’Ours (1960)

L’OURS (1960)
aka The Bear
Article 3972 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-8-2012
Directed by Edmond Sechan
Featuring Georges Aminel, Gaby Basset, Francis Blanche
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Loquacious wildlife

A mild-mannered zookeeper has to contend with his tyrannical boss and a talking lovesick bear.

If I found yesterday’s “French movie without English subtitles” impenetrable, I more or less found today’s quite penetrable. Much of this has to do with the central concept; I was never aware of what the point of yesterday’s movie was, while this one is fairly clear. There are some interesting moments in the movie, though I’m not sure they’re necessarily good moments; there are scenes where the zookeeper teaches the bear how to write, a scene where the bear attempts suicide (which is fairly dark for a movie that seems as if it would be aimed at children), and some fairly amusing scenes of the bear walking around the zoo disguised as an old man… and nobody realizing that he’s really a bear. Half of the time the bear is a real bear, and the other half of the time he’s a man in a bear costume; the trouble is that the difference is clearly noticeable. Because I don’t understand French, it’s difficult for me to say how amusing the movie is overall, but I suspect it’s only mildly so. At any rate, this is another movie that I’ve just retrieved from my “ones that got away” list.

O Lucky Man! (1973)

O LUCKY MAN! (1973)
Article 3929 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-7-2012
Posting Date: 5-17-2012
Directed by Lindsay Anderson
Featuring Malcolm McDowell, Ralph Richardson, Rachel Roberts
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Satire

An ambitious and eager coffee salesman is sent out to take over the position of another salesman who has disappeared. This eventually causes him to undertake an odyssey that will put his ambition and eagerness to the test…

This is a sprawling and very long epic, based on an idea from Malcolm McDowell and brought to life by Lindsay Anderson, who is perhaps best know for IF…., which also featured McDowell as a character of the same name as the one he has here. I’d seen it years ago, and though I remember certain individual moments, I didn’t remember it well. The movie’s actually a bit tough to get through, and to some extent it’s because it’s a little hard to find the center of the story because of its rambling, episodic nature; it isn’t until the end that you really see what the story arc is. The movie primarily qualifies as fantastic cinema thanks to a sequence in which the main character volunteers for scientific experimentation and then discovers what his fate is going to be; outside of that, there’s an air of surreal weirdness over much of the action that makes it at least partially a fantasy. With the exception of McDowell and Helen Mirren, all of the major actors have multiple roles. The use of music is striking, with Alan Price actually performing all of the numbers instead of having them heard over the action of the movie; he also appears as a character in the movie itself at one point. The movie works because the ending is strong and memorable, though I wonder how many people were able to make it that far. And I was wondering if the actor playing the film director at the end of the film was Lindsay Anderson himself, and sure enough, it was.

Obsession (1976)

Article 3911 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-19-2012
Posting Date: 4-29-2012
Directed by Brian De Palma
Featuring Cliff Robertson, Genevieve Bujold, John Lithgow
Country: USA
What it is: Arty thriller

A real estate man, torn with guilt over the role he played in the death of his wife, meets a woman who looks just like her in Florence. He decides to marry her… but will he find that history repeats itself…?

Usually with De Palma, I tend to go on about his obsession with the work of Alfred Hitchcock, but even I’m a little bored with that anymore. I find it more useful to consider him as someone who likes to play variations on some of Hitchcock’s themes. Here he’s taking one of the central gimmicks in VERTIGO and doing his spin on it. He manages to gather some strong talent to help him out; the three leads all do fine work (especially Cliff Robertson), Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography is excellent, and so is Bernard Herrmann’s score. There’s some story problems, especially towards the end of the movie, when certain characters start acting with uncharacteristic stupidity. But I think the primary problem I have with this movie is that I find myself emotionally detached from it; there’s a number of times where the camera tricks and arty touches call too much attention to themselves, drawing us away from the suspense and emotion. I do have to admit that De Palma can surprise you on occasion; I certainly wasn’t expecting the movie to end on the note that it did, but even that final moment is hoodwinked by the camera trickery. Incidentally, I’m not sure just how much the movie can be considered genre; it flirts with madness and touches momentarily (and not quite explicitly) on the theme of reincarnation. But then, I’ve also covered VERTIGO and had the same reservations about that one as well.

On the Comet (1970)

aka Na komete
Article 3910 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-18-2012
Posting Date: 4-28-2012
Directed by Karel Zeman
Featuring Emil Horvath, Magda Vasaryova, Frantisek Flipovsky
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Science fiction comedy

A comet passes close to the Earth, and pulls off a section of North Africa with it when it goes. The people living on that section find their personal and political lives changed by the event.

Frankly, the concept of the movie is one of Jules Verne’s more outrageous and hard-to-swallow ideas. Somehow, that doesn’t bother me when the adaptation is in Karel Zeman’s hands; Zeman works in such a non-realistic mode that he’s a natural choice for such a concept. The visual style he uses here is the style of old postcards, and though there were always touches of comedy in his other movies, this is the one that seems most overtly comic; the story takes satirical aim at imperialism and at inflexible mindsets, and some of the antics of the French army in trying to adjust to the change of conditions are hilarious. As usual, it’s half animated and half real-life, with the two styles juxtaposed in his usual fashion. It’s also one of his most streamlined movies; at only 74 minutes, it doesn’t have time for some of the dull spots that occasionally pop up in his movies. My favorite scene involves an encounter with dinosaurs and its aftermath. This one is definitely recommended, especially if you’re a fan of Zeman.

One Spy Too Many (1966)

Feature version of two episodes of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
Article 3834 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-2-2012
Posting Date: 2-12-2012
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Featuring Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Rip Torn
Country: USA
What it is: Spy thrills, TV style

A latter-day Alexander the Great has a plan to take over the world while breaking the ten commandments. Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin are sent on a mission to defeat him.

Here’s another theatrical version of two episodes of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” grafted together, in this case, the two part story “The Alexander the Greater Affair”. The title, like ONE OF OUR SPIES IS MISSING, has absolutely nothing to do with the story. It starts out with a Gizmo Maguffin in the form of a special gas devised by the military designed to make enemies docile, but once the gas is stolen, it ceases to play any active part in the plot other than to be occasionally mentioned; this is pretty poor use of a Maguffin, if you ask me. Overall, this seems to be one of the weaker of these movies; it’s a lot heavier on the comedy, which often feels stale and forced, and the pacing is a bit too turgid for the action sequences to keep things interesting. Even a potentially interesting scene in an Egyptian architectural dig falls flat. There’s a few fantastic touches here and there, including a sequence where a mad scientist tries to turn Ilya Kuryakin into a mummy, but I really suspect that this worked a lot better as two episodes of a TV series than it does here.

Operation Kid Brother (1967)

aka OK Connery
Article 3830 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-29-2012
Posting Date: 2-8-2012
Directed by Alberto De Martino
Featuring Neil Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi
Country: Italy
What it is: Spyghetti

When a crime syndicate plots to steal a magnetic wave generator with the intention of destroying all steel-based power in the world, a secret service organization recruits a plastic surgeon with hypnotic powers to help defeat them.

Now here’s a gimmick movie if ever there was one; an Italian spy movie aping the James Bond movies with Sean Connery’s brother Neil Connery as the secret agent, and featuring several actors and actresses who appeared in the official Bond movies; Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi and Anthony Dawson. If it was intended as the start of a series, it didn’t pan out, which is just as well; the market must have been pretty flooded with Italian spy flicks at the time. Unlike yesterday’s movie, this one is loaded with enough gimmickry to make it qualify as science fiction. The story is messy, convoluted, and more than a little silly; the sequence where the military is trapped by a bevy of can-can dancers may be the goofiest scene in the picture. This was Neil Connery’s first movie, but apparently his English voice is dubbed, and most of his work afterwards is pretty minor. My copy of the movie is horribly panned-and-scanned, which is especially noticeable during the hypnotism sequences; I know they’re supposed to be close-ups of the eyes, but what we end up with is close-ups of the bridge of the nose, which is not particularly engaging. It’s extreme low rating on IMDB (2.5) is due to its having been featured on MST3K, but it’s really no worse than most of the other Italian spy flicks of the era.