The Pigeon Fairy (1906)

THE PIGEON FAIRY (1906)
aka La fee aux pigeons
Article 4701 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-6-2014
Directed by Gaston Velle
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Decorative trick short

A beautiful woman performs magic with pigeons.

This is an example of what I’ve come to call the “decorative trick short”. These are short special effects extravaganzas that seem primarily intended to display a series of pretty images rather than to show off the effects or tell a story. The scenes break into roughly four sections. In the first, she calls pigeons to herself through the use reversing the film. She then turns the pigeons into a flurry of feathers, transforms into a winged creature, and then into a statue. It’s pretty enough, though it’s hardly compelling. Apparently, the short is occasionally mistakenly believed to have been directed by Segundo de Chomon.

Puss in Boots (1934)

PUSS IN BOOTS (1934)
Article 4698 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-2-2014
Directed by Ub Iwerks, Shamus Culhane and Al Eugster
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Comicolor cartoon

A boot-wearing cat decides to help a young man win a princess after the latter saves his kittens from drowning.

This animated version of the classic fairy tale takes the basic premise of the fairy tale and builds its own assortment of gags around the concept. The end result is more mildly whimsical than outright funny. The ogre is the most interesting character here, as the hero or the cats don’t really have a lot of personality, and that’s probably why most of the gags involve him. There’s a running gag involving the cats playing tic-tac-toe, often on parts of other characters’ anatomy. If there’s any lesson here, it’s that it’s not a good idea to let a bunch of angry kittens get into your pants.

Probe (1972)

PROBE (1972)
TV-Movie
Article 4683 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-16-2014
Directed by Russ Mayberry
Featuring Hugh O’Brian, Elke Sommer, Burgess Meredith
Country: USA
What it is: Superspy TV pilot

A high-tech spy organization embarks on a mission to locate a set of missing diamonds.

This pilot for a TV-Series did manage to yield one; it was called SEARCH and it lasted for one season. Still, that series is highly rated on IMDB, which makes me suspect that it’s fondly remembered. I’m not surprised by that however; though this TV-Movie has a few flaws, the central premise is strong enough that I could see how it would make for an interesting series; it’s basically a James Bond-style superspy variation with the central gimmick being that the spy remains in constant contact with headquarters through the use of implanted transmitters and seeing-eye gadgets that he carries on his person. I’ve not seen the series, but I do hope it jettisoned or downplayed the biggest running joke in the movie, which is that the woman who monitors the spy’s physiological reactions (as well as those of people nearby) makes jealous catty comments about the spy’s encounter with beautiful women; this joke grew old quickly. Nevertheless, the movie makes clever use of the premise. The series apparently rotated three actors as the lead spy in each episode, which almost by default made Burgess Meredith the main star of the series.

Psycho Girls (1985)

PSYCHO GIRLS (1985)
Article 4678 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-11-2014
Directed by Gerry Ciccoritti
Featuring John Haslett Cuff, Darlene Mignacco, Rose Graham
Country: Canada
What it is: Psychos on the loose

A female psycho who killed her parents when she was a child escapes from an asylum with two other inmates. They embark on a spree of torture and killing.

A cursory review of the story line of this comedy-horror movie makes it sound like a pretty run-of-the-mill “inmates on the loose” type of story. However, there’s a really odd vibe to this movie that makes it stand out a little from the crowd; the characters and relationships are a little more interesting than in the usual run of movies of this sort. Granted, this odd vibe is both a blessing and a curse; though it enhances several moments in the movie, it also brings it to a screeching halt in the middle of the movie where we end up at an interminable dinner party caught up in an endless discussion about psychiatry and its failings. It’s very hard to take this scene seriously when people make blanket claims such as most psychiatrists being impotent, and if there’s one impression I get from the movie, it’s that someone has a real issue with the whole profession. It also doesn’t help that some of the acting in the movie is pretty dodgy. Nevertheless, it does work occasionally, and overall, I’d say it’s more successful with the horror then the comedy. Though I wouldn’t say the movie is good, it does have point of interest for the patient viewer.

Praying Mantis (1983)

PRAYING MANTIS (1983)
TV-Movie
Article 4677 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-10-2014
Directed by Jack Gold
Featuring Jonathan Pryce, Cherie Lunghi, Carmen Du Sautoy
Country: UK
What it is: Noirish thriller

Is a professor’s second wife plotting to kill him for his fortune? If so, how will she do it?

I’m being purposefully vague on the plot here for a very good reason; this is one of those movies where much of the pleasure is derived from growing to understand the situations and the characters, and it’s more enjoyable if you only have your suspicions to go on at first. It’s tempting to describe it as another variation on DIABOLIQUE, but that’s short-changing it a bit; it’s probably better to think of it as a post-DIABOLIQUE thriller in which a conspiracy runs into problems when one of the conspiracy’s intended victims turns out to be a match for the conspirators, and if the first part of the movie is concerned with the conspiracy itself, the second is concerned with the battle of wills between the various parties. That being said, this is a truly impressive movie; the acting performances are great, the script is impeccable, the direction is strong, and the editing is wonderful. It has a complex story to tell, and it clips along at a breathtaking pace while managing to keep you from getting lost in the intricacies of the plot. However, in terms of its fantastic content, however, it comes up short. Its surface similarities to DIABOLIQUE, the presence of a sociopath, and a plot element where one character is believed dead by another when they’re not (we, the audience, know that in advance) are the closest we get to horror content, and it’s not very close at all. Therefore, those looking for a horror movie are advised to stay away; those in the mood for a superb noirish thriller will really appreciate this one.

The Phantom City (1928)

THE PHANTOM CITY (1928)
Article 4650 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-19-2014
Directed by Albert S. Rogell
Featuring Ken Maynard, Eugenia Gilbert, Jim Mason
Country: USA
What it is: Weird Western

Several owners of a gold mine are drawn to a ghost town by a mysterious letter. There, a struggle for the gold in the mine takes place, with a phantom taking part in the proceedings.

The original negative for this silent weird western was destroyed in 1932 when it was cannibalized for stock footage to be used in a scene-by-scene remake called HAUNTED GOLD. All that remains is about ten minutes of fragmentary footage that by itself wouldn’t tell a coherent story. However, a friend of mine who possessed the footage managed to construct a digest version of the movie using the remaining footage, the footage borrowed by HAUNTED GOLD, and, by incorporating stock music, sound fragments, and title cards; the result is coherent and quite enjoyable. Granted, I still can’t really judge the quality of the original movie, but it does look like some of the most striking footage from HAUNTED GOLD (namely, a fight scene in an aerial cable car and some wonderful acting from Ken Maynard’s horse Tarzan) came from the original silent movie. Still, a good deal of the surviving footage involves one of the most problematic things about the movie, which is Blue Washington’s stereotyped turn as the scared black man; he appeared in the same role in both versions of the movie. For the most part, the plots between the two movies are the same. I consider myself quite fortunate to have had a chance to see this version of a movie which otherwise would have ended up on my “ones that got away” list.

Pauvre mere (1906)

PAUVRE MERE (1906)
aka Poor Mother
Article 4643 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-2-2014
Directed by Albert Capellani
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Tear-jerker

When her daughter dies after falling from a window, a mother proves inconsolable and turns to drink.

If there’s anything you can really say about the early silent shorts, they were very good at condensing time. You wouldn’t think a mere six minutes would be enough to really put someone through the wringer, but that’s what this downright depressing short does. Granted, with that short a length, I can’t say it really transcends being anything more than a tear-jerker; there’s no real emotional purge here, because there isn’t enough time. Still, the short does have a certain power. The fantastic content involves the woman’s drunken hallucinations that her child is still there.

Pinocchio (1967)

PINOCCHIO (1967)
aka Turlis Abenteuer
Article 4640 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-28-2014
Directed by Walter Beck and Ron Merk
Featuring Martin Florchinger, Alfred Muller, Martin Hellberg
Country: East Germany
What it is: Fairy tale adaptation

A lowly carpenter carves a puppet out of a magic block of wood and names him Pinocchio. The puppet boy causes his creator much grief due to his irresponsibility and tendency to fall into temptation. Can the puppet grow up and bring joy to his father, and become a real boy in the process?

No, this version of Carlo Collodi story doesn’t match up to the Disney version, but within the limitations of its much lower budget and the burden of having been dubbed from a foreign language, it is anything but an embarrassment. Part of the charm is the conceit of making it a combination of real life and puppetry; Pinocchio is performed by a marionette (with visible strings), and this choice is very fitting for the story at hand. Furthermore, both the acting and the dubbed acting are well done, so you don’t get the bizarre feeling of disconnect that often happens with dubbed movies. Also, there’s a real sense of other-worldly fantasy in the set design, especially in a creepy forest sequence and in the sequence where the kids end up in Playland. As a result, the movie works quite well indeed, and it is certainly one of the more entertainingly mounted children’s movie I’ve seen. It does manage to have its own sense of magic.

Polidor al club della morte (1912)

POLIDOR AL CLUB DELLA MORTE (1912)
aka Polidor at the Death Club
Article 4623 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-6-2014
Director unknown
Featuring Polidor
Country: Italy
What it is: Parody of Robert Louis Stevenson story

Polidor dreams that he has become a member of the death club, a society for those tired of life. The loser of a card game must commit suicide, and Polidor is dealt the wrong card…

This is a parody of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Suicide Club”. I’ve seen several versions of this story, and though admittedly there’s a certain macabre aspect to the concept, they’ve been pretty light on the fantastic content. If there’s one thing that can be said about this short, it ups the fantastic content considerably; on top of the basic premise, all of the other members of the club look pretty cadaverous, there’s a floating skull that pops up, several hooded members of the club appear out of nowhere, and much of the action takes place in a locked room with bizarre trap doors. Furthermore, Polidor is an amusing comedian who makes good use of the concept, and the short remains amusing after all these years. This is one of those movies that I couldn’t find for years and finally ended up on my “ones that got away” list; it’s good to see it finally appear.

Prehistoric Porky (1940)

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.