The Pointer (1939)

Article 5347 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-16-2017
Directed by Clyde Geronimi
Featuring the voices of Walt Disney and Lee Millar
Country: USA
What it is: Pluto cartoon

Mickey Mouse takes Pluto out quail hunting in order to show him how to become a hunting dog.

I’ve been trying to set down some rules for deciding whether any specific animated cartoon truly deserves to be included in the realms of the fantastic; comic exaggeration never quite seems enough of a reason, and anthropomorphic animals have the air of being more a tradition of the form than of signifying true fantastic content. One rule I have devised is this: If an anthropomorphic animal in a cartoon could be replaced by a human character without adversely affecting the story, than the use of the animal is only marginal.

Take this cartoon for example. There are several animals in this cartoon, but only one is truly anthropomorphic, and that is Mickey Mouse; all other animals more or less act like real animals. Mickey could be easily replaced by a human character and the story would work just as well. Hence, I could conclude that the fantastic content in this one is pretty negligible.

On its own terms, the cartoon is a good but not great Disney offering. It’s strength is that Pluto is such a likable character that we care when he makes a mistake and is chewed out by Mickey. However, much of the cartoon uses an old comic gag in which Mickey is followed by a bear, but never turns around to see him and thinks he’s still out with Pluto. I’ve seen this type of gag many times, and though it’s all right here, it’s also been done better elsewhere. It’s Pluto’s (non-anthropomorphic) character that is the real draw here.

The Pleasure Garden (1953)

Article 5346 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-15-2017
Directed by James Broughton
Featuring Jean Anderson, Lindsay Anderson, Maxine Audley
Country: UK
What it is: Experimental film

Several people converge on a public park in search of pleasure, but a cadaverous man tries to prohibit them from experiencing it. Can a witch undo the damage?

Not all experimental films are difficult or incomprehensible; it’s pretty obvious what this one is about. If the title alone doesn’t clue you off, it’s about sex; specifically, it’s about battle between the forces of repression (personified by a group of people in black who want to turn the park into a cemetery) and those of expression (led by the witch and her magic shawl). It’s about as daring as a movie could be made on this subject in 1953. It’s also quite a bit of fun, and since it only runs about 38 minutes, it doesn’t wear out its welcome; a bit longer and the movie would start to bore. It makes fun use of music and has some surreal visual touches. On looking up the oeuvre of director James Broughton, I suspect he made something of a career making shorts on this subject.

Pan Twardowski (1936)

Article 5315 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-5-2016
Directed by Henryk Szaro
Featuring Franciszek Brodniewicz, Kazimierz Junosza-Stepowski, Maria Bogda
Country: Poland
What it is: Faustian legend

Pan Twardowski sells his soul to the devil for supernatural powers, but attempts to trick him by making it impossible for him to collect.

The copy I found of this one was in Polish without English subtitles, but I wasn’t totally lost; it’s a variation on the Faust story, and it’s based on a well known Polish legend, so I was able to do a bit of research and read about the legend. Yes, some of the details did elude me, but I got the gist of it. This one clearly belongs in the realm of fantastic cinema; some of the scenes involving Satan are moody and scary, and Twardowski does exercise his magical powers several times during the course of the movie. It’s a fun movie in its way, though it does have a few problems; the music in particular is problematic, and there are times where it gives the scene a comic touch where none is intended. It’s also well acted, though it does get quite a bit theatrical at times. At any rate, it’s nice to take a foray into the world of Polish cinema, which has rarely happened in this series.

Pochta (1929)

POCHTA (1929)
aka Mail
Article 5309 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-29-2016
Directed by Mikhail Tsekhanovskii and N. Timofeev
No cast
Country: U.S.S.R.
What it is: Tribute to mailmen

A young boy mails a caterpillar to a man in Leningrad, but it is discovered that the recipient of the letter has left to go to Berlin. The letter than begins an around-the-world journey to try to catch up with its target.

I’m beginning to think that the Walt Lee guide added many of its animated movies to the list largely due to a certain innate non-reality inherent to the form. In terms of story, there isn’t really anything here that qualifies (except, perhaps, the impossibility of the survival of a caterpillar in an envelope making an around-the-world journey) as fantastic content, though I will admit that some of the striking imagery is highly stylized. Setting aside this issue, though, I do have to admit that I found myself quite charmed by this animated short; the imagery is striking and entertaining, the story has a certain wit, and the Soviet propaganda is on the good-humored side in its celebration of the dedication of the common worker. Incidentally, I had to watch this one twice; the first copy I found on YouTube was nearly impenetrable, but I almost immediately found another one with English subtitles to help me get the gist of it.

Porky the Wrestler (1937)

Article 5308 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-28-2016
Directed by Tex Avery
Featuring the voice of Joe Dougherty
Country: USA
What it is: Early Warner Brothers cartoon, Tex Avery style

Porky is mistaken for a wrestler and thrown in the ring to battle a huge foe.

There are several anthropomorphic animals in this one, and if this weren’t a Tex Avery cartoon, that would probably be the total fantastic content here. But since this is a Tex Avery cartoon, there’s always a chance that the jokes could become so outrageously strange that it turns into a virtual fantasy. That moment happens here after the huge wrestler swallows someone’s pipe, and then proceeds to go into an imitation of a locomotive, a gag that starts sending its tendrils in some positively surreal situations. It’s not Avery at his best (he had to leave Warners before that would happen), but it’s still very good for a thirties Warners cartoon, and it was certainly a lot more fun than the previous Porky Pig cartoon I saw. Outside of the train gags, the best gag is a running one involving one wrestler’s unpronounceable name.

Puss in Boots (1936)

Article 5303 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-21-2016
Directed by Lotte Reiniger
Voice cast unknown
Country: Germany
What it is: Silhouette-animated fairy tale

A boy is sent out into the world with only a few items and a cat to keep him company. However, when he buys boots for the cat, the cat helps him to be a success.

The songs and dialogue in this short are in German, but the story is familiar enough and the short pretty much follows the standard story. Like all of Reiniger’s shorts, the silhouette animation is engaging and creative; I especially like the encounter with the giant that makes for the climax of the story. I also like the closing scene, which I don’t recall from previous versions of the story, but which gives a nice, fitting close to it. It’s not one of Reiniger’s most breathtaking efforts, but it is very enjoyable.

Porky’s Road Race (1937)

Article 5302 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-19-2016
Directed by Frank Tashlin
Featuring the voices of Elvia Allman, Dave Barry, Billy Bletcher
Country: USA
What it is: Porky Pig cartoon

Porky enters a road race. Will he win?

Porky Pig = Anthropomorphic animal, but he’s the only one in this cartoon. So who are the other racers? They’re a wide assortment of stars of the period, and though I can’t name them all, we get Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Greta Garbo (her feet, anyway), Charles Laughton (as Captain Bligh), Clark Gable, etc. However, to up the fantastic content, we get a character named Borax Karoff as the Frankenstein Monster, and he’s the villain of the piece (as you might expect), so we get a little horror into the mix as well. Actually, it’s a good thing this one is swimming with stars to add to the fun; the jokes aren’t particularly inspiring this time round. In fact, the best joke may be the opening blurb, which emphasizes the fact that the cartoon is pure fiction and that the characters within have no connection with real people.

The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)

Article 5301 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-18-2016
Directed by Maurice Tourneur
Featuring Mary Pickford, Madlaine Traverse, Charles Wellesley
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy/Drama

The daughter of a businessman (who is too busy trying to make money on Wall Street) and a mother (who is obsessed with making it in society) feels isolated and lonely, and tries to find fun and joy in her life.

Mary Pickford was in her mid-twenties, but thanks to her vivaciousness, energy and charm, she manages to pull off the challenge of playing an eleven-year-old girl in this one; in fact, her charm is easily the best thing about this movie, which ends up being less than subtle in dishing out its moral lesson. Still, I do find the fantastic content to be rather interesting here. It doesn’t really fully come into play until the second half of the movie when the girl is almost fatally poisoned by a neglectful servant and has a delirious fever dream in which she sees several metaphorical phrases given physical manifestation; a woman who is two-faced has two faces, a servant described as a snake-in-the-grass is literally seen as such, and her father makes money using a huge machine that does just that. Some slightly odd touches here and there also add a bit of fun to the proceedings and keep things from getting too stodgy.

Plane Crazy (1928)

Article 5300 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-16-2016
Directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks
Featuring the voice of Walt Disney
Country: USA
What it is: Mickey Mouse cartoon

Mickey seeks to become a pilot like Lindbergh, and invites Minnie to accompany him in the first flight aboard a makeshift plane. Things do not go smoothly.

This was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon. It was shot silent, but after STEAMBOAT WILLIE was released, a soundtrack was added and it was re-released. There are plenty of anthropomorphic animals and impossible gags to add to the fantastic content. There’s a fair amount of risque humor here, including jokes about Clarabelle Cow’s udders, outhouses, and Minnie’s underwear. Despite his later reputation, Mickey is hardly a nice guy in this one; he’s a veritable masher as he makes unwanted passes to Minnie while in the airplane and ends up trying to scare her when she resists. The cartoon is quite well done, but it is working in that early animation style that looks pretty rubbery today.

The Pit (1962)

THE PIT (1962)
Article 5298 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-14-2016
Directed by Edward Abraham
Featuring Burt Letts, Dave Lloyd, Brian Peck
Country: UK
What it is: Poe adaptation

A man is sentenced to death by the Inquisition and undergoes horrible torments.

In case you haven’t figured it out from the title and plot description, this is an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”. As such, it is one of the only ones that retains the Inquisition setting, and, at a length of only about 27 minutes long, it doesn’t feel compelled to add unnecessary elaborations to the story. It’s also one of the most faithful versions of the story I’ve encountered. There are a couple of differences; one involves the absence of rats in the movie, which, given this was an experimental film that no doubt had certain budgetary constraints, is probably due the logistical problems of adding them to the mix. The other difference is in the ending of the movie, and I think this is due to the fact that one of the goals of the movie was to shoot it with as little dialogue as possible; the only coherent spoken word is “morte”. The ending as written would most likely have required more dialogue; as filmed, no more was needed. It’s moody, evocative and quite effective; still, I feel the change in ending does weaken the story, at least in my eyes.