The Oompahs (1952)

Article 4243 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-5-2013
Directed by Robert Cannon
Featuring the voice of Marvin Miller
Country: USA
What it is: UPA animated cartoon

In a family of musical instruments, staid, traditional Mr. Oompah Pah tries to exert parental authority over his free-spirited jazz-loving son. But will his authority quash the little one’s spirit?

UPA revolutionized animation in the fifties with its spare but stylish abstract look, and this is a good example. The story itself is a fairly common “generation gap” tale, similar in some ways to Warner Brothers’ I WANT TO SINGA. The animation style and the bouncy music are the main attractions here; it even has a bit of poignancy when the father tries to cheer up his son by buying him a dog. All in all, it’s cute, but it’s not up to the level of THE TELL-TALE HEART, just to pick out one of UPA’s better cartoons.

The One-Man Band (1900)

aka L’homme orchestra
Article 4234 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-22-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Early trick short

A man creates a musical combo by duplicating himself.

I like the English title for this one; the phrase “one-man band” conjures up a vision of a guy marching around holding and playing several instruments with a bass drum attached to his back. This movie is Melies’s take on the concept, in which each musician is a duplicate of himself, thus still proving to be a “one-man band”. The movie ends with a few other amusing tricks involving the chairs the men were using. It’s a typical Melies trick short, but one of his more entertaining ones.

Out of the Fog (1962)

aka Fog for a Killer
Article 4209 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-22-2013
Directed by Montgomery Tully
Featuring David Sumner, Susan Travers, John Arnatt
Country: UK
What it is: Crime thriller

An ex-convict’s attempts to go straight are compromised when he finds himself suspected of being a serial killer who has been knocking off blondes in the park during nights with a full moon.

The serial killer is the horror content of this movie, though I should point out that the movie doesn’t really use it as an element of horror. In fact, for most of the movie the killings are only talked about rather than shown. That means that this movie is a bit on the marginal side as far as its fantastic content goes.

The movie itself is a crime thriller that tries to build its suspense on the fact that we’re not supposed to know whether the ex-convict is really the serial killer or not. To its credit, the movie tries to be a little deeper than that; it’s also dealing with the theme of the difficulty of going straight for a man who already has a record and may find himself pre-judged because of it. Though I admire its attempt to be something more, the movie ends up illustrating how difficult it is to balance the mystery/thriller angle with its exploration of the deeper theme. In order to be effective with the “difficulties of an ex-con” theme, the movie really needs to be direct and up-front about the character of the ex-convict; after all, it will be his story that we’re trying to experience. However, in order for the mystery/thriller angle to work, the movie has to make the ex-convict a man of mystery, and that’s not easy to reconcile. It might have worked had the movie been a lot subtler about its deeper theme so that we wouldn’t really know what it was about until the end. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here; the movie wears its theme on its sleeve, and that hoodwinks the mystery aspect of the movie to a great degree. It becomes pretty frustrating when the ex-convict starts acting all suspicious, because we know it’s because the mystery aspect is requiring him to do so, even if it’s out of character for him. Still, the movie is efficiently directed and avoids becoming tedious, so it is a watchable diversion.

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.