Pocket Boxers (1903)

Article 4843 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-7-2015
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Trick short

Two men sitting at a table argue about which boxer is better. To settle the argument, they each pull out their boxer and have them fight on the table top.

This trick short has pretty much one single attraction to it, and that is the spectacle of watching miniature boxers fight on a table top. Still, that’s all this short needs to work. It plays with our expectations well; the acting is solid enough that it is rather startling when the special effects pop in; we aren’t quite expecting them. The short is only a minute and a half long, and it seems just the right length for what it’s trying to do. I quite like this one.

Planet Mouseola (1960)

Article 4839 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-2-2015
Directed by Seymour Kneitel
Featuring the voices of Jack Mercer and Mae Questal
Country: USA
What it is: Late period Famous studios cartoon

A mouse decides to get rid of the cat that is tormenting him by pretending to be from outer space and tricking the cat into training for a voyage into space to a planet full of mice.

After the Fleischers departed, Famous Studios took over the animation for Popeye and other Paramount studio animated characters. This one is from near the end, and the animation style is so jerky and stiff that it makes the Hanna-Barbera TV animation of the period look good. Reportedly, this is one of the better of the studio’s late-period work, and if so, it’s going to be a chore to see some of their lesser works. The gags are dumb and poorly timed, and the cartoon just sits there and goes through the motions. The sad thing for me is to see the voices of Popeye and Olive Oyl in the credits; it’s a long way from their glory years.

Pepito y el monstruo (1957)

aka Pepito and the Monster
Article 4836 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-29-2015
Directed by Joselito Rodriguez
Featuring Pepe Romay, Titina Romay, Prudencia Grifell
Country: Mexico
What it is: Child detective at work

A young boy witnesses the disposal of a body by a magician and his brutish assistant, but is not believed by the police. He seeks to find evidence on his own.

I found a copy of this on YouTube without English subtitles, but I think the general thrust of the plot is easy enough to follow, even if certain plot details seem a little obscure. Pepe Romay seems to have been a popular child actor who appeared in several movies in the character of Pepito. Though the child is no doubt lovable and cute, I was a bit surprised that the movie doesn’t play as a comedy, as far as I could tell without understanding the dialogue. There are the usual musical interludes; I’m finding that it’s actually pretty unusual to find a Mexican movie from this era that doesn’t have a musical interlude or two. The monster is the brutish assistant, who even appears in a gorilla suit at one point. Though the absence of English makes any judgment I make somewhat flawed, the movie seems rather mediocre.

Pillole portentose (1910)

aka Wonderful Pills
Article 4796 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-10-2015
Director unknown
Featuring Giuseppe Gambardella, Polidor
Country: Italy
What it is: Trick short

A hunter suffering from exhaustion is revived by his hunting buddy, Cyrano de Bergerac, who brings him some pills that fill him with vim and vigor. They go out hunting, giving passers-by samples of the pills along the way.

I don’t know if that’s really Cyrano in the short, but once I got a look at his nose, that’s the first name that came to mind. The main special effect on display here is the use of undercranking; everyone who takes the pills moves at a frantic pace. Quite frankly, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the short; once you figure out the central gag, you notice that the movie really doesn’t get much comic inspiration out of the idea; for the most part, things just move really fast. The closest the short gets to being funny is when the two hunters begin scooting around on their butts at an accelerated pace. The rest of it is pretty uninspired. This is, however, another movie that was saved from my “ones that got away” list.

The Pirates of 1920 (1911)

THE PIRATES OF 1920 (1911)
Article 4795 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-9-2015
Directed by David Aylott and A.E. Coleby
Country: UK
What it is: Futuristic thriller

Thieves in an airship steal the gold off of an ocean liner and bomb the ship. But they really go too far when they kidnap the hero’s girlfriend…

My copy of this movie is not complete; it’s missing the ending. However, most of the film is there, and the ending is pretty obvious; it’s not one of those movies where evil is going to triumph. The story itself isn’t particularly original, but the special effects are a treat here; the miniature work is excellent for its time, and it manages to look pretty convincing. It does move at a nice pace, and it was quite popular in its day; I’m glad most of it seems to have survived. This is one that has been on my “ones that got away” list for a while, so it’s a treat to finally have seen it.

Porky’s Poppa (1938)

Article 4788 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-25-2015
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Robert Clampett
Country: USA
What it is: Warner Brothers cartoon

When Porky’s father gets a mechanical cow, Porky tries his best to get the old cow on the farm to produce more milk so she won’t be turned into hamburgers.

Warner Brothers hadn’t quite hit their stride yet, and this isn’t one of their better known Porky Pig cartoons, but it’s one of those cartoons where you can see where the studio was going. The most interesting thing about this one is the speed with which it trots out its various gags; you’re barely through with one gag and they’ve already started on the next, starting with a parody of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” and ending with a furious chase scene where both cows vie for all the hay on the farm. I quite like that some of the gags are unexpected and rather bizarre. It’s also nice that the mechanical cow adds some further fantastic content on top of the usual anthropomorphic animals. There’s a duck who bears a little resemblance to Daffy, though his voice (Robert Clampett) sounds more like Donald. All in all, this was a fun watch.

Petit Jules Verne (1907)

Article 4786 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-20-2015
Directed by Gaston Velle
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Whimsical tribute to Verne

A little boy reads an adventure story by Jules Verne before going to bed, and dreams about him afterwards.

This is a cute tribute to Jules Verne that references a few of his works; the opening bit in which a train goes around the world probably refers to “Around the World in Eighty Days”, and it’s followed by an outer space sequence that probably refers to “Around the Moon”. Then the boy takes a trip in a balloon; this could refer to any of a number of Verne stories. Then he ends up on the bottom of the ocean, which would have referenced “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” if a submarine had showed up; instead, he encounters a group of dancing underwater nymphs (which references nothing from Verne, but was typical of shorts from this period) and wrestles an octopus. It’s a pretty typical special effects film of the period, but it is nice to find one that actually mentions by name a man who inspired so many of them.

Parcel Post Pete’s Nightmare (1916)

Article 4784 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-18-2015
Directed by Tom E. Powers
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Early cartoon

Parcel Post Pete encounters a lion who chases him.

Once you get away from some of the better known names in early animation (like Emile Cohl and Winsor McCay), one finds a severe dropping off of quality; in fact, many of them come across as barely more than slightly animated comic strips. This one at least has a certain amount of action to it, there’s more footage of the lion chasing the postman around than there is of people speaking words in comic strip balloons. Still, the animation is very sloppy (though the poor quality of my print and the choice of anonymous-sounding “silent movie” music bear part of the blame) and the comic timing is nonexistent. As for the fantastic content, some of the action is patently impossible (characters running across telephone wires, for example) and there’s a scene where the lion doubles in size (though, quite frankly, you’re not sure whether it’s an intentional effect or a side effect of the sloppy technique). In short, this one is best appreciated for its historical value; beyond that, there’s little reason to give it a viewing.

Le peintre neo-impressionniste (1910)

aka The Neo-Impressionist Painter
Article 4772 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-3-2015
Directed by Emile Cohl
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Illustrated joke

An artist is interrupted in his work by a potential buyer for his paintings. The artist shows the buyer some of his work.

The above description doesn’t give any clue to the fantastic content of the short, so all I’m going to say is that Cohl illustrates each of the paintings with an animated sequence, one of which at least displays a supernatural creature. As for the short itself, it’s largely a set-up for several variations on the same joke, and if you know the significance of the phrase “a polar bear eating marshmallows in a blizzard”, you know the joke. In short, the artist shows up various pictures that, thanks to hand-coloring, are all of single hue, and then describes in the way the phrase above would be used to illustrate a totally white canvas. I couldn’t totally understand the title cards (as they’re in French), but Cohl then runs a short animation of each painting and you get the gist of what it’s claiming to portray. There’s also a two-tone painting that has a different description depending on whether it’s viewed right side up or upside down. It’s a fairly cute concept, but it’s hardly one of Cohl’s best, nor is it very representative of his work.

Les papillons Japonais (1908)

aka Japanese Butterflies
Article 4719 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-26-2014
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

A Japanese magician performs a series of tricks, some of which involve butterflies.

Yes, it’s another “magic trick” short, but this one is from Segundo de Chomon, so that gives it a different feel. For one thing, the magician is more likely to leave the screen to let certain transitions and tricks move on their own, as he does here when a drawn cocoon develops into a color-changing butterfly. There are some nice touches here; I like the trick where the Japanese dancers disappear behind their twirling umbrellas, as well as the color-changing butterfly mentioned above. This is a fairly decent example of the “magic trick” film.