The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Article 5039 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-4-2016
Directed by Woody Allen
Featuring Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello
Country: USA
What it is: Fantasy

During the depression, a neglected and abused housewife seeks solace by going to the movies. After seeing a particular movie several times, one of the characters takes notice of her and comes out of the screen to be her lover and to live in the real world.

According to the trivia section of IMDB, Woody Allen was asked why the movie didn’t have a happy ending. Allen replied that the ending it had “was” the happy ending. If this doesn’t make sense at first, it’s important to keep in mind that the movie is about our love for the movies themselves, and not necessarily for specific actors or characters. It borrows a concept developed by Buster Keaton for SHERLOCK, JR. and uses it brilliantly for both comic and poignant effects. It’s no surprise that he chose the time of the Great Depression as his setting; it was perhaps the time in history when the movies were at there most vital at keeping up the spirits of the average American. The scenes where the characters on the movie screen try to deal with the departure of one their own and there conversations with some of the audience members are some of the funniest lines written by Allen, and the script is one of the most focused of the ones I’ve encountered. The cast does fine work throughout, particularly Jeff Daniels in a dual role. I don’t know if this is Allen’s best movie, but I’m willing to bet that this may be the best movie of his that I’m going to cover for this series.

The Private Eyes (1980)

Article 5036 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-1-2016
Directed by Lang Elliott
Featuring Tim Conway, Don Knotts, Trisha Noble
Country: USA
What it is: Old dark house comedy

Two American detectives in England investigate the murder of a couple who lived in an old, spooky mansion.

For a handful of movies during the seventies and eighties, Don Knotts and Tim Conway became something of a comedy team; their most famous pairing was probably THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG. I’m fond of both these comedians, but, to be honest, I hadn’t seen a movie up to this point that made good use of Conway, and Knotts’ best movie work seemed to be long behind him when this was made. So I’ll be honest; I went into this one expecting the worst; a family-friendly “old dark house” pastiche starring a pair of fading comedians seemed to me to be an act of desperation. Well, I’m glad to admit that I was wrong; this was actually a decent comedy, and it got more laughs from me than I ever thought it would. Much of the credit has to go to Conway and Knotts; they may be in over-familiar comic territory, but they never get desperate, overact or mug, and remain firmly confident in their abilities to mine what comic ore they can from the premise. Granted, they get a lot of help from a series of running jokes, including ones involving Wookalars, candles, pigeons, and mangled rhymed messages. It would probably have been rated a “G” if it hadn’t been for a handful of slightly risque jokes, but it’s pretty clean compared to what passes for movie comedy nowadays. The “old dark house” cliches are here in spades, with a series of murders, disappearing bodies, secret passages, and a torture chamber. All in all, I found this a very likable comedy. And, for a bonus, it does fully enter the realm of the fantastic in its final moments.

Phobia (1980)

PHOBIA (1980)
Article 5030 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-26-2015
Directed by John Huston
Featuring Paul Michael Glaser, Susan Hogan, John Calicos
Country: Canada / USA
What it is: Horror mystery

A psychiatrist experiments with “implosion therapy”, a technique where phobics are made to deal with their fears by being immersed in situations that trigger the fear. Because the technique is experimental, his patients are volunteer convicts. However, the volunteers are being murdered in ways inspired by their phobias…

This movie has a very low rating of 3.6 on IMDB at the time of this writing, and I myself am not sure I would rate it that low; whatever the flaws of the movie, it did pique my curiosity in certain ways that kept me watching. This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have problems; in fact, some of them are pretty deep. For one thing, I’m not sure what director John Huston is really trying for here. If it’s horror, then the movie is pretty weak tea; it’s almost bloodless and not very scary, and the R rating is probably more for a single nude sequence than for any horror content. It does seem rather unpleasant (especially when the psychiatrist inundates a woman who is afraid of men with images of women being assaulted), but unpleasant isn’t the same thing as scary. If it’s trying to be a mystery, then it fumbles things early on. When the police investigate the first murder, their theories so completely ignore the “elephant in the room” that the scene practically screams out the identity of the killer at that point. If anything keeps you watching the movie, it’s the hope of discovering the motive; at least, that’s what interested me the most about this one. That being said, I found most of the major characters unlikable; the doctor’s therapy seems cruel, the police are mean-spirited thugs (their interrogation of one of the prisoners is an ugly scene), and it’s hard to warm up to the mostly undeveloped characters who make up the doctor’s various love interests. That leaves the prisoners/volunteers as the most sympathetic characters, and since they’re not developed more deeply than their respective phobias, you’re not expecting any of them to make it through the end of the movie. Except for the opening montage, most of the movie’s direction feels pretty ordinary and bland; it’s really hard to believe this came from the same director who gave us THE MALTESE FALCON, THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE, and THE AFRICAN QUEEN. Which perhaps may be why the rating IS so low on IMDB.

Pray TV (1980)

PRAY TV (1980)
aka KGOD
Article 5007 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-3-2015
Directed by Rick Friedburg
Featuring Dabney Coleman, Archie Hahn, Nancy Morgan
Country: USA
What it is: Satire

A small-town TV station is failing financially, but a new manager is hired who changes the format so that all of the shows have religious themes. However, the manager is a lot more interested in money than in religion…

If the fantastic content of the movie isn’t readily apparent from the above plot description, there’s a reason. The only content that pops up is that a news show covers an exorcism as one of its stories, so we get a short parody of THE EXORCIST. It’s played very broadly, as is the whole movie.

On its own terms, I have to say that those who cynically use religion to make a buck are ripe and relevant targets for satire, but a truly worthwhile exploration of that topic would offend a lot of people and step on some very powerful toes. This is not to say that this movie won’t offend some people; I don’t underestimate the almost bottomless capacity that exists for some people to be offended. It’s just that this movie plays for wacky and silly comedy, and most of its satire is so diffuse that it fails to hit any target at all. The plot itself seems almost thrown away; the movie mostly consists of parodies of TV shows. All in all, I really only enjoyed a few things about the movie; I liked a musical number featuring a Hare Krishna quartet, and I was delighted to see Dr. John and Devo show up as musical performers. Outside of that, I did take notice at the presence of actress Marcia Wallace (“The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Simpsons”) and Paul Reubens from his pre-Pee-Wee Herman days. Other than that, the movie is a lazy and not very funny mess.

Parsifal (1912)

Article 4973 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-30-2015
Directed by Mario Caserini
Featuring Mario Bonnard, Maria Caserini, Filippo Castamagna
Country: Italy
What it is: Arthurian quest

The story of Parsifal’s quest for the holy grail is told.

Here’s another title that ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but finally popped up on YouTube; it’s a silent film adaptation of an opera by Wagner. The copy I found had only Dutch intertitles, so I found it rather difficult to follow, so I read a summary of the story of the opera, and this fifty-minute movie obviously did a lot of condensation of the story. There’s quite a bit of fantastic content to be found, what with various mystical manifestations and the appearance of a couple of wizards who appear to be thwarting Parsifal in his quest. It’s hard to evaluate how effectively the story is told, but the visual elements are nicely done, and even with being unable to to follow the story fully, I found it entertaining.

The Penthouse (1967)

Article 4954 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-10-2015
Directed by Peter Collinson
Featuring Suzy Kendall, Terence Morgan, Tony Beckley
Country: UK
What it is: Thriller (?)

A couple of intruders terrorize an adulterous couple in a penthouse apartment.

The problem with a lot of practical jokes and mind games is that they’re really only funny to the person pulling them, and not funny at all to the victims of them. Watching this movie is like experiencing a practical joke from the point of view of the victim; the ride is not fun, nor are the revelations satisfying. It certainly doesn’t help that the premise itself is one of those unpleasant scenarios that occasionally pops up in cinema; I’ve never really been fond of the “talky psychos terrorizing innocent people in an environment they can’t escape”. The story can be redeemed if the psychos are particularly interesting or if the story really has somewhere good to go with the idea. Unfortunately, in this one, the psychos are mannered and unreal; they feel like literary or theatrical creations rather than living people, and by the end of the movie, nothing has happened to really change that feeling. Ultimately, the movie feels like a film-maker’s joke on the audience, with only one side really feeling the humor in the punch line. This is not my type of movie.

La petite parade (1928)

aka The Little Lame Soldier
Article 4925 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-11-2015
Directed by Wlaydslaw Starewicz
Featuring Nina Star
Country: France
What it is: Animated fantasy

When the toys come to life, a devil lures an ugly nutcracker into trying to woo a beautiful music box dancer, but the latter is under the protection of a toy soldier.

Yesterday’s foray into the world of Starewicz was a mostly live-action drama that only lapsed into fantasy when the animation came into play. Today’s is more of a full-blown example of the animator’s imagination and creativity; except for a couple of short moments, it is fully animated and contains dozens of characters. Yesterday’s was charming; today’s is breathtaking. My copy had French dialogue without English subtitles, but the dialogue is superfluous; the short was originally filmed as a silent and can be easily understood without the dialogue, which was added later to turn a silent into a talkie. It’s based on a Hans Christian Andersen tale that I know I’ve seen before, and like the other version, the ending is sad. Nevertheless, with the amazing animation of toys, rats, mermaids, soldiers, devils, etc, it’s a truly magical adventure, and I often wonder just how Starewicz was able to pull off such amazing effects. It’s not up to the level of THE MASCOT (Starewicz’s masterpiece), but it’s a fine addition to his oeuvre.

La petite chanteuse des rues (1924)

aka The Little Street Singer
Article 4924 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-10-2015
Directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz
Featuring Nina Star
Country: France
What it is: Charming fantasy

After her and her mother are thrown out of their home by a cruel landlord, a little girl, along with her pet monkey, tries to fend for herself by becoming a street singer. When they encounter the landlord again, the monkey decides to take things into his own hands…

I was a little surprised at first at how this movie seemed to be live-action; after all, Starewicz was known for his animation. However, a little ways into the short, you notice that the monkey isn’t always played by a monkey; it is sometimes, in fact, an animated Starewicz creation. It’s the antics and cleverness of the animated monkey that add the elements of the fantastic to this little tale; it’s called on to perform tasks that display an uncommon intelligence for an animal. Starewicz adds so much character to this creation (and he doesn’t do a bad job with an animated snake that pops up as well) that it makes this short a thoroughly charming affair. Plus, it all has a happy ending. I truly enjoy this man’s work.

Peau d’ane (1908)

PEAU D’ANE (1908)
aka Donkey Skin
Article 4911 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-27-2015
Directed by Albert Capellani
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Fairy tale

When a woman turns down an ugly suitor, a fairy godmother appears to her and tells her to hold off on getting married until she is given the skin of a magic donkey. When she gets the skin, she wears it until she meets a handsome prince. Will she win him?

This is a title that ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but as soon as it did, someone pointed me the way to a copy. The intertitles were in French, but there was a handy plot description on IMDB to help me out. Still, I have to admit that the story seems very odd; maybe if I read the original story, it might help, but in this form, the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, in that it seems to come across as a series of unconnected events rather than a story. Stylistically, I couldn’t help but notice how similar it was to the work of Melies. Granted, a lot of the early fantasists borrowed from Melies, but this one even borrowed his penchant for confusing crowd sequences; there are a few of them here. And, of course, there’s a scene with dancing girls. There’s lots of magic, even in scenes where you wouldn’t expect any, such as the cake-baking scene. Overall, this one is odd and not quite satisfying.

Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979)

Article 4906 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-21-2015
Directed by Robert S. Fiveson
Featuring Tim Donnelly, Paulette Breen, Peter Graves
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction conspiracy

A group of young men and women are brought up to practice physical fitness in isolation with the promise that when they’re ready, they will be sent to live in the Utopian world of America. One of the young men becomes curious about the secrets being kept from them, and decides to escape to America to find out the truth.

This movie currently has a fairly low rating of 3.4 on IMDB, and this is partly due to the fact that MST3K fans tend to give bad ratings to every movie they did. I think the movie is a little better than that; it does have an interesting premise that combines the concept of cloning with that of another concept (which I won’t give away here because it’s the big surprise of the movie) that doesn’t pop up very often, and it fits it neatly with the conspiracy movies of the era. It is, however, not really very convincing; it’s full of little errors in logic and unanswered questions that tend to build up over the length of the movie. I kept finding myself asking nagging questions, such as: why does the main character become suspicious that he’s being watched when he has no doubt been watched his entire life? Why is it so easy for him to infiltrate a building whose security should be much higher than it is? Why do some of the villains of the piece ACT like villains when it would be much better to take a kindly and friendly tone with those they deal with? I do get the sense that a certain amount of thought went into the script, but not nearly enough to make the movie convincing as a whole. Certain scenes are handled so badly that they become laughable; this is probably due to the fact that the budget was rather small and it was the director’s first stab at a feature film. Ultimately, it’s one of those movies in which a strong premise is hamstringed by a weak production.