Le petit soldat (1947)

aka The Little Soldier
Article 4335 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-13-2013
Directed by Paul Grimault
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated fairy tale

A wind-up toy acrobat is in love with a toy ballerina, but when war comes along, he is forced to join the troops, leaving her at the mercy of an evil jack-in-the-box.

I don’t know a lot about Paul Grimault, but it appears he was a highly-respected French animator with only a handful of films to his credit. This lyrical and touching adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen story shows how effective he could be, both as an animator as well as a storyteller. I couldn’t find a copy of this in English, but that’s no matter; outside of the credits and a poster that is placed on the window of the toy shop, there’s nothing that needs translating. The ending is quite exciting, and owes a bit to one of the most memorable moments from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”; I don’t know if it’s that way in the original story. I look forward to seeing more of this man’s work.

Porky’s Hero Agency (1937)

Article 4290 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-17-2013
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc, Bernice Hansen, Tedd Pierce
Country: USA
What it is: Porky Pig cartoon

Porky dreams that he is an ancient Greek hero Porkykarkus, who is given a job to steal a potion from the Gorgon that can bring those turned to stone back to life.

This is one of the more amusing early Porky Pig cartoons. Outside of the “talking animals” motif, we have flying shoes and a monster (though the gorgon turns out to be an old woman with a camera stand with no snakes in her hair) with the ability to turn people into stone and back to provide the fantastic content. It has some fun with the concept, and some of the jokes are subtle; check out the hero’s pricing scheme and the identity of his phone holder, for example. It even manages to sneak in a few racy moments that got by the censors, one of which involves the statue of the discus thrower who is, of course, unclothed. There are references to both Popeye and the Three Stooges in the mix as well. I do question the credits on IMDB; though the voice cast is uncredited, IMDB says that Medusa is voiced by Bernice Hansen and the Gorgon by Tedd Pierce, but since Medusa IS the Gorgon, I’m not sure if this was a mistake or two different voices were used. Apparently, the “picket fence” features the faces of several of the animators on the project.

Playful Pan (1930)

Article 4288 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-15-2013
Director unknown
No voice cast
Country: USA
What it is: A Silly Symphony

A satyr plays his pipes for the benefit of the animals and the plants in the forest. Then a lightning storm sets the forest afire. Can the satyr deal with the crisis?

In structure, this Walt Disney Silly Symphony is standard issue for animated shorts in this period of time; the first half is mostly music, with a crisis only rearing its head at the halfway mark and then being resolved. Still, Disney was in the animation forefront at this time and there’s a real confidence at work here, especially in the ways that the music and the action are juxtaposed. I also like the way the jokes are sometimes handled subtly; it took me a moment or two to realize that in the scene where we see the rabbits running away from the fire, the turtles are also running as well… and faster than the rabbits. It ends with an amusing variation on the “Pied Piper” story, which is a fitting reference to make when your main character is Pan. It’s not one of Disney’s finest moments, but it’s amusing enough.

Princess Nicotine; or, The Smoke Fairy (1909)

Article 4247 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-10-2013
Director unknown
Featuring Paul Panzer and Gladys Hulette
Country: USA
What it is: Weird tobacco fantasy

A tobacco enthusiast discovers fairies living in his tobacco box.

I have to admit I’m not sure what to make of this odd little trick short. It’s a hodgepodge of special effects that includes stop-motion, giant props, and miniaturization via mirrors (as in opposition to double exposure) among its tricks. It really doesn’t seem to have a story per se; it’s basically the smoker and the fairies playing tricks on each other. It will leave you wondering if someone has been smoking something other than tobacco, though.

La posada sangrienta (1943)

aka The Bloody Inn
Article 4244 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-6-2013
Directed by Fernando A. Rivero
Featuring Julio Ahuet, Carolina Barret, Alfonso Carillo
Country: Mexico
What it is: An “old dark inn” movie, in Spanish

A young couple’s car breaks down, and they find themselves at an inn where several murders have taken place… and they find themselves under suspicion.

Given that my copy of the movie is in unsubtitled Spanish, I’m making a few guesses as to the plot line, but I don’t think I’m that far off the mark. It’s definitely an “old dark house” variation, though not a particularly inspired one; quite frankly, the whole movie has the air of having been slapped together without much inspiration or thought. The biggest giveaway in this regard is the score, which appears to be a compendium of stock classical music pieces that are at times quite distracting and inappropriate. The comic relief character is one of those types who gets most of his laughs by reacting to everything with cowering cowardice. Outside of that, the two most striking things about this one are the opening scenes involving people listening to a radio show, and the fact that the police detective bears an uncanny resemblance to Bob Hope. There may be some fun to had in the dialogue, but since I couldn’t understand it, that did me no good; as it is, I found this one pretty forgettable.

Plongeur fantastique (1906)

aka The Fantastic Diver
Article 4241 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-3-2013
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Trick film

A swimmer shows off his unique diving styles.

The fantastic content here is that not only does the diver jump into the water; he also jumps out of the water back onto the diving board in an impossible way (through the magic of running the footage backwards). So we have a series of dives juxtaposed with a series of returns to the diving board, and I will credit the movie with having the foresight to not use the same backwards footage that they just ran forwards, so each scene is a little bit different. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the trick gets old pretty quick; the initial gag is the best in that his first dive is fully clothed, but he returns wearing a swimsuit, but from there, even with the short’s slight running time of about three minutes, it gets tiresome. The Walt Lee book credits Gaston Velle as the director, but IMDB gives it as Chomon, which I assume may be the result that it’s often hard to figure out who actually directed these shorts.

Plane Daffy (1940)

Article 4240 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-2-2013
Directed by Frank Tashlin
Featuring the voices of Sara Berner, Mel Blanc, Robert C. Bruce
Country: USA
What it is: Wartime Warner Brothers cartoon

Secret message couriers are falling prey to the irresistible spy, Hatta Mari. In order to defeat her, they send out their resident woman-hater, Daffy Duck.

You know, after sampling some of the cartoons from the other studios, it really is a treat to return to the Warner Brothers studio during their classic period, and here they’re in top form. This one features Daffy in his manic loose cannon period (before he became the all-too-human antihero in the hands of Chuck Jones), and one thing you can say about him during this era is that you never really know what he’s going to do next. That, combined with the exaggerated speed, split-second comic timing, out-of-left-field gags, superb score (Carl Stalling as always) and voice work (Mel Blanc and others), you barely have time to breathe as this one goes through its paces. Though he’s not as famous as Chuck Jones or Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin was one of the masters of the animated cartoon.