The Overcoat (1952)

aka Il cappotto
Article 5345 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-14-2017
Directed by Alberto Lattuada
Featuring Renato Rescel, Yvonne Sanson, Giulio Stival
Country: Italy
What it is: Comedy / Drama

A harried and somewhat hapless government clerk becomes enamored with the idea of getting a fine new coat to replace his raggedy one. When he gets an unexpected bonus, he finally gets his dream… but for how long?

For those familiar with the Gogol story on which this was based, the fantastic content (the appearance of a ghost) doesn’t manifest itself until near the end of the story. This is the third adaptation of the story I’ve seen for this series. The first one I saw increased the amount of fantastic content, but only borrowed aspects of the original story and went in a different direction. The second one was more faithful, but ended the story previous to the manifestation of the ghost. This one, though it updates the action to the present and changes the professions of some of the characters, is perhaps the most faithful and retains the fantastic content.

This movie has a high rating on IMDB, but I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed with the first half of the movie. That’s because the movie is very slow to get moving; it dedicates too much of its running time to comic scenes with the lead actor and to scenes featuring the pompous, self-important mayor. Not that the scenes are bad, mind you; they’re just overlong and interfere with the story getting into gear. The movie improves immensely once it decides to focus on the main plot, and the second half is immensely satisfying. Two scenes in particular stand out. One has the mayor’s dedication ceremony being interrupted by the appearance of a horse-drawn hearse. The other is the final scene in the movie, which should linger on in my memory, even if it somewhat modifies the ending of the Gogol story. This one is recommended, though I advise patience during the first half. And, after two days of foreign movies without subtitles, it’s nice to see one that has English subtitles in all their glory.

The Obedient Flame (1939)

Article 5342 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-11-2017
Directed by Norman McLaren
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Industrial film

The effectiveness of ovens for the kitchen that use gas is demonstrated.

You know, I don’t really mind covering as much animation for this series as I have been recently, since I’m a big fan of animated films. However, it’s become obvious that the selection of genre animated films in the Walt Lee guide (which lists this one) is very scattershot; it’s obvious many of these movies were added to the list with very little knowledge of what they were like. This one is an industrial film about how it is possible to adjust the levels of a gas stove and has demonstrations and explanations as to how the heat can be kept at a steady level. It’s not a useless of pointless film; I actually rather liked it, and I must admit that I learned about how these appliances work. It is, however, devoid of fantastic content; there’s not even an anthropomorphic flame to lead us on our journey to discovery. I do think a discussion of the nature of fantastic content in animation would be interesting; if I ever decide to write a book, that might be something I’d explore. But one thing I do know for sure; animation does not automatically mean fantastic content.

Ombres Chinoises (1908)

aka Les ombres chinoises, Silhouettes
Article 5288 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-4-2016
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Featuring Julienne Mathieu
Country: France
What it is: Special effects short

Two Oriental girls present a magical animated sequence to us.

A user comment on IMDB speculates that Emile Cohl may have been involved with this production, due to the fact that the middle section of this short involves an animated sequence that seems more at home in Cohl’s oeuvre than it does in Chomon’s. Though I suppose it’s a possibility, the sequence doesn’t really remind me of Cohl’s style. It does, however, remind me of the style of Terry Gilliam’s animated sequences for Monty Python, and I suspect the animation was done in roughly the same way with cutout figures. The animated sequence is the most interesting thing here; the framing live-action sequences are not memorable, and I haven’t a clue as to what’s going on during the last forty seconds of the movie when the women restructure a frame to add what looks like a screen only to remove it shortly afterwards. At any rate, this first came to my hunt list under a deceptive name, so I’m glad to have discovered that I actually had a copy handy.

Oramunde (1933)

Article 5286 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-31-2016
Directed by Emlen Etting
Featuring Caresse Crosby and Mary Binney Montgomery
Country: USA
What it is: Experimental cinema

Waves crash on the beach. A figure in white dances in and reacts to various landscapes.

This experimental piece of dance cinema is somehow inspired by the story of Melisande, and I had to look up the story from a play by Maurice Maeterlinck to learn more about it. I’m not sure if it really helped me to appreciate what was going on in this short, but it did give me a starting point. Granted, I’m never sure we’re supposed to understand movies like this in the usual sense; it seems we’re supposed to react more on a primal level. That being said, there does appear to be an emotional core of loss and grief to the short, and some of the visual elements are striking, in particular the final scene. As for the fantastic content… well, it’s certainly not realistic, and that figure in the boat may be another vision of Death. At any rate, I always feel out of my league in trying to discuss movies like this.

The Other Hell (1981)

aka L’altro inferno
Article 5181 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-14-2016
Directed by Bruno Mattei
Featuring Franca Stoppi, Carlo De Mejo, Francesca Carmeno
Country: Italy
What it is: Nunsploitation horror

Sisters are being brutally murdered at a convent. An ecclesiastical investigator is sent to look into them. Are they caused by the devil, or is it human evil?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Italian horror films from the seventies, it’s that convents are not havens of sanity and healthy minds; in fact, you’d probably find better adjusted residents in an asylum. I also know why the nuns’ outfits have white parts to them; it’s so that the blood shows up more clearly. That being said, I will have to admit this isn’t your usual foray into nunsploitation; for one thing, it eschews the usual sexual antics of that type of movie (at least visually – there is talk). It chooses to clearly go the route of horror rather than exploitation, but it does get pretty sleazy in that regard. It also goes in some odd directions; I was suspecting something in the vein of THE EXORCIST, but if anything, it ultimately owes a bit more to CARRIE before it’s all over. It even owes a bit to the more gothic Italian horror of the sixties, especially in the climax. It also gets more than a bit silly, but that may be partially due to the English dubbing. At any rate, it’s one of the odder examples of this type of movie.

L’oiseau bleu (1908)

aka The Blue Bird
Article 5177 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-6-2016
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Fairy tale

An evil queen schemes to have her ugly daughter marry a visiting prince, but the prince prefers the queen’s other daughter, who is beautiful. The beautiful daughter is imprisoned and the prince is turned into a blue bird. Will he be able to rescue her?

I’ve seen a couple of other movies with the title THE BLUE BIRD based on the Maeterlinck play and was expecting this to be an earlier version, but it’s an entirely different story with the same name. It’s a fairly standard fairy tale, though in these condensed early silent shirts, it can be a little difficult following the plot. The print I saw is in fairly poor shape, but it does look like the hand-painted color effects were well done. All in all, it’s a passable silent short of the era.

Once Upon a Midnight Scary (1979)

aka Once Upon a Midnight Dreary
Article 5073 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-7-2016
Directed by Nell Cox
Featuring Vincent Price, Rene Auberjonois, Severn Darden
Country: USA
What it is: Biblio-propaganda

Vincent Price serves as host and narrator to a trio of horror stories based on famous books – “The Ghost Belonged to Me”, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “The House With a Clock in Its Walls”.

This was originally an episode of a TV series called “CBS Library”, the purpose of which was to foster interest among the young to read. Given this as its intended purpose, it should be no surprise that the adaptations of the three stories are rather threadbare; they were never meant to be full-blown adaptations of the stories and shouldn’t be judged as such. However, all three of the stories do feel complete within their own respective arcs, and as far as the only one I’m familiar with (“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”), what is mostly missing is background and setup, while the climactic scene is on display. Incidentally, “Hollow” is my favorite of the bunch, largely because I like the way the segment mounts the chase between Ichabod and the Headless Horseman; it’s low budget but fun. Vincent Price adds some flavor as host and narrator, and the other stories (or what there is of them) are passable. However, it is important to keep the expectations within the limits of what was intended by the show.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Article 5029 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-25-2015
Directed by Peter R. Hunt
Featuring George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas
Country: UK / USA
What it is: James Bond film

James Bond saves the life of a troubled woman, an act which eventually puts him on the trail of his old nemesis, Blofeld from SPECTRE.

This was the first movie of the Bond series that did not feature Sean Connery as Bond, and his replacement, George Lazenby, was so poorly received that he did not return to the role. Having watched this one again, I can understand why; though I don’t think his performance is bad, there’s a certain quality to Bond that I can’t quite define, but which I don’t think Lazenby possessed. However, I think this particular entry in the Bond series makes good use of him; this is, in many ways, one of the least typical entries of the series. For one thing, it’s one of the only ones I’ve seen where Bond’s emotional attachment to a woman plays a profound role in the proceedings; I find it interesting that this seems to be the series entry where none of the female characters has a sexy double-entendre name (unless Irma Bunt qualifies). It’s also less sprawling than the others; most of the action takes place in Switzerland in or around Blofeld’s fortress there. Most of the action sequences take place in this snow-covered location, with the sled chase my favorite one of these. It runs on a bit too long, but its ending is genuinely moving, and truth to tell, I’m not sure I would have bought into it quite as completely if Connery had been playing him in this one. Besides, Connery wouldn’t have been given Lazenby’s funniest line in this one (the one right before the opening credits). Some Bond fans don’t care for this one, but I have real fondness for this one. Besides, it has Diana Rigg as well. And furthermore, given that there’s a Christmas scene in this one, this is one of the few times where my movie for Christmas day actually could be called a Christmas movie.

Oasis of the Zombies (1982)

aka La tumba de los muertos vivientes, Grave of the Living Dead
Article 4990 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-16-2015
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Manuel Gelin, Eduardo Fajardo, France Lomay
Country: France / Spain
What it is: Zombie movie

A company of Nazis with a shipment of gold is slaughtered in an oasis. Visitors find themselves attacked by the zombies of these men.

Franco has his defenders, and even I will admit that he is capable of good work on occasion. But even his defenders don’t seem to have much good to say about this one, and I certainly don’t see much treasure to be found here, either. I did get to the point where I felt the best way to appreciate the movie was to try to enjoy discrete visual moments that show a little evocative poetry. But that was only after I realized that nothing interesting was going to happen in the story, none of the characters were memorable, there was no quotable dialogue (except for the line about about the zombies coming out of “the sand which is there” which amused me because it could be heard as “the sandwiches there”), and the same musical motifs, though effective when used sparingly, would drone on and on until you were sick of them. I got really tired of Franco’s style here; he relies so much on close-ups of everything and everybody that it’s impossible to get any sense of the physical location of anything; it’s really hard to work up any suspense during a zombie attack when you don’t where the victims are in relation to the zombies. You shouldn’t come out of a horror movie feeling not much of anything, but that’s the case here. It’s Franco at his worst.

L’Odissea (1911)

L’ODISSEA (1911)
aka Homer’s Odyssey
Article 4801 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-16-2015
Directed by Francesco Bertolini, Giuseppe de Liguoro, Adolfo Padovan
Featuring Giuseppe de Liguoro, Eugenia Tettoni Fior, Ubaldo Maria Del Colle
Country: Italy
What it is: Epic Greek poem

Ulysses encounters many perils on his voyage home from the Trojan war.

The Italians were the first to take their hands at truly epic cinema, and they produced some amazing work during the early days of the movies. This one, though it has some nice special effects and impressive moments, is a little bit disappointing however. The problem is that they use what I think of as the “Classics Illustrated” approach to the story. By this I mean that, instead of trying to make the story flow in a cinematic fashion, they use the title cards to describe which famous scene you’re going to see, and then you see it. The effect is somewhat like flipping through an illustrated book, and rather than capturing the excitement of the story, it just makes it feel distant and stodgy. The print I saw ran about 45 minutes, but I’ve heard it’s incomplete. Still, given the episodic quality of the story, it’s hard to tell; the only major thing I noticed missing is the encounter with Circe. Nevertheless, the somewhat mechanical presentation makes this one a bit dull.