Prehistoric Porky (1940)


Article 4588 by Dave Sindelar

Date: 7-24-2014
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Sara Berner, Mel Blanc, Thurl Ravenscroft
Country: USA
What it is: Porky Pig cartoon

Porky Pig the caveman decides that he needs a new suit, and sets out on a quest through his prehistoric land to find one.

This isn’t one of the best of Warner Brother’s cartoons, but when compared with some of the ones from other studios I’ve seen lately (like the Mighty Mouse ones), it’s a relief to find myself in the hands of those who care about quality animation, energy and comic timing. There’s really not much in the way of a plot; it’s mostly a compendium of gags involving dinosaurs and pop culture references; there’s a parody of the song “Those Were Wonderful Days”, a vulture doing an imitation of Ned Sparks, a pet dinosaur named Rover, etc. The action culminates with Porky encountering a sabre-toothed tiger during his hunt for a new suit. It’s fairly well done, but there’s no real standout gags, and the ending is a letdown. Still, even a lesser Warner Brothers cartoon from this era is a lot of fun.

A Phenomenal Contortionist (1901)

Article 4566 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-25-2014
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Sideshow with fantasy elements

A contortionist named St. Elmo illustrates the various positions into which the human body can bend.

I don’t know about you, but I find there’s something a little queasy about seeing a contortionist bend his body into truly inhuman positions, especially when he’s dressed in as skin-tight an outfit as the one here. Still, the expression of contortionistic abilities doesn’t in and of itself qualify as fantastic content. The reason this short gets included in the series is that on top of the contortions, we get a couple of mild Melies-like tricks; he makes a chair vanish and then does the same to himself at points during the short. They’re minor elements to the short, but there they are.

Planet Earth (1974)

Article 4487 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-27-2014
Directed by Marc Daniels
Featuring John Saxon, Janet Margolin, Ted Cassidy
Country: USA
What it is: Genesis II II

A man from the twentieth century finds himself in the 22nd century after the apocalypse. He engages on a mission for a peace-loving city to locate a doctor who can save the life of an important elder. He finds him a prisoner of a matriarchal society that enslaves men.

When I recently covered GENESIS II, I thought I’d already covered one of the TV-Movies that Gene Roddenberry had made in the hopes of starting a new TV series that would be something like an Earthbound “Star Trek”. But when this one came up, I realized I hadn’t. There are a few changes made between this one and GENESIS II, the most striking being the substitution of a new leading man, giving us John Saxon instead of Alex Cord. This one gives us a better idea of what the series would have been like, and it’s here you really notice the similarities to “Star Trek”, as it feels like it could have been an episode of that series slightly modified for the new premise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like one of the better episodes of that series, and there are moments where the movie descends into camp; the scenes where all the females in the city begin doting on John Saxon comes to mind. The movie gets a little better when it begins to see itself as a comedy and plays up the humor, but still, one does get the feeling that the series would have ended up being little more than reheated “Star Trek”. I don’t know if a better script would have sold the series, but it wouldn’t have hurt.

Popeye (1980)

POPEYE (1980)
Article 4486 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-26-2014
Directed by Robert Altman
Featuring Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Ray Walston
Country: USA
What it is: Live-action cartoon

Popeye the sailor arrives in the town of Sweethaven looking for his pappy. There he adopts a child, meets his love, and makes an enemy of the town bully, Bluto.

First of all, I marvel at the casting; Robin Williams does about as good a job at bringing Popeye to life as anyone could, and I love that he adopts the muttering style that Popeye used in the Fleischer cartoons. Shelley Duvall was a perfect choice for Olive Oyl, and all the other familiar characters are very well chosen. I also think the movie looks magnificent; the town of Sweethaven has a stunning ramshackle look, and the use of color is excellent. However, I do have some real problems with the movie. I really think Robert Altman was the wrong choice for this type of film; though he is certainly capable of excellent work, his movies project a unique vibe that really feels out of place for the subject matter here, and the improvised chatter that is his staple often detracts from the slapstick humor that belongs here. The decision to turn it all into a musical only makes it weirder, and the songs by Harry Nilsson often left me scratching my head. Things pick up quite a bit once the movie remembers it has a plot, but that doesn’t really happen until the last quarter; it’s only then that it starts to feel like a Popeye story. For a while I was wondering if there was even going to be any real fantastic content, but we do get super-strength when Popeye finally eats his spinach, and there’s a giant octopus thrown into the mix. Ultimately, I don’t think the movie is a disaster, but it does leave me with such a weird vibe that I can’t call it a success.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

Article 4484 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-24-2014
Directed by Blake Edwards
Featuring Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Lesley-Anne Down
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Pink Panther movie

Former inspector Dreyfus, having been driven mad by his encounters with Inspector Clouseau, escapes from the asylum, and hatches a scheme to hold the world for ransom against the sweep of a deadly death ray. The price the world must pay for its survival – kill Clouseau.

This is probably the only movie from the Pink Panther series that I will be covering in my series, as it seems to be the only one with overt fantastic content. This is not to say that I don’t already have a certain familiarity with the character of Inspector Clouseau and the world he lives in; I’m pretty sure I’ve seen all of Pink Panther movies at one time or another, though I should probably restrict that statement to those that feature Sellers. I do have to confess, though, that with one exception (A SHOT IN THE DARK), I emerge from the movies feeling somewhat disappointed. It has nothing to do with the performances of Peter Sellers or Herbert Lom, both of whom are excellent in their respective roles. No, the problem I usually have is with the scripts; I generally find them overlong, full of dead space, and too leisurely paced. It’s not that the laughs aren’t there; it’s more that there aren’t quite enough of them. In this one, it seems like there’s a certain attempt at a James Bond feel here, what with a Dreyfus turning into a supervillain and an ex-Russian spy falling for Clouseau, but it never really turns into an overt parody. My favorite laugh is from the gag I most remember from my earlier viewing; it involves a dropped roll of toilet paper. All in all, I’d say it’s a good movie that should have been better.

Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Article 4479 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-19-2014
Directed by Don Chaffey
Featuring Sean Marshall, Helen Reddy, Jim Dale
Country: USA
What it is: Disney fantasy
A dragon saves a young boy from an abusive family. Can he find a home for him in a nearby town as well?

This ambitious Disney combination of live-action and animation is sometimes cute, sometimes effective, and is quite colorful. I also have no doubt that it has its fans; any Disney children’s movie is probably going to be some child’s first taste of cinematic magic. But at 128 minutes, I found myself frequently feeling itchy and seeking to take breaks, especially when the folks at hand burst into another song; I would gladly jettison nearly half of the musical numbers in this one. The incessant broadness of the acting is also a sticking point as well; with almost everyone in the cast playing as big as possible, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards Helen Reddy as my favorite performer here, as she’s the only one who seemed to opt to play a recognizable human being and not an overwrought cliche. Maybe I would have loved it if I’d seen it as a kid, but I also suspect that I might have gotten bored with some of the musical numbers as well. At any rate, I don’t consider this Disney at its best.

Panic (1982)

PANIC (1982)
aka Bakterion
Article 4478 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-18-2014
Directed by Tonino Ricci
Featuring David Warbeck, Janet Agren, Roberto Ricci
Country: Italy / Spain
What it is: Monster on the loose.

A man infected by a plague virus has turned into a hideous blood-drinking monster. Can the authorities apprehend and destroy him before the government destroys the city in a cover-up?

What we’ve got here is you basic “monster on the loose” movie, and that’s something you don’t see too often from Italian cinema of this period. That gives the movie a certain novelty value. Unfortunately, that’s about all the movie has going for it. It’s a dreary, repetitive, barely plotted mess that just seems to rotate three scenes – monster attacks, investigations, government cover-up. You might get a snicker out of the fact that our hero is called Captain Kirk, and you may wonder why the police don’t wear gas-masks when they go into the sewers, especially since they know the fumes are poisonous. However, I will give the movie credit for pulling one thing off; when a young couple decides to go to a movie, the film they end up watching (which appears to consist of nothing but cars driving around while goofy music plays) looks even worse than the movie they’re in.