Le petit-poucet (1909)

LE PETITE-POUCET (1909)
aka Tom Thumb
Article 3397 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-21-2010
Posting Date: 12-2-2010
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Fairy tale

A small boy and his brothers are lost in the woods, and end up at the home of an ogre who has evil plans for them.

This one isn’t a visual marvel like yesterday’s, but it’s much easier to follow, even if the title cards are in French. The title seems curious, as the little boy who is the hero of the piece is hardly as small as anyone’s thumb here, not even that of the giant ogre’s. The special effects are kept to a minimum; it seems to mostly rely on forced perspective to make the ogre look very big. This isn’t quite as fascinating as some the other movies I’ve seen by Chomon.

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Never Pick-Up a Stranger (1979)

NEVER PICK-UP A STRANGER (1979)
aka Bloodrage
Article 3380 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-3-2010
Posting Date: 11-15-2010
Directed by Joseph Zito
Featuring Ian Scott, Jerry McGee, Judith-Marie Bergan
Country: USA
What it is: Psycho-killer movie

After accidentally killing a hooker, a young man runs away to New York hoping to evade capture. However, he soon starts killing hookers intentionally, and a cop from his home town has come to New York to investigate…

There’s part of me that wants to hate this mean-spirited, sleazy and depressing psycho-killer movie. Yet, I do have to give the movie a bit of credit; it does have some interesting ideas, and its disjointed narrative structure and sense of incompleteness occasionally forces you to figure out certain details on your own, and there is a bit of satisfaction to be had by doing so. Still, I do think the movie doesn’t quite succeed; it’s loaded with filler scenes, and I don’t think it ends up being as disturbing as it aspires to be. Incidentally, the title above is exactly how it reads on the screen; I don’t know if it occurred to anyone that if you add a dash between “pick” and “up”, it turns from a verb to a noun. The sleazy atmosphere makes the movie mostly appealing to exploitation fans.

Le Passe-muraille (1951)

LE PASSE-MURAILLE (1951)
Article 3308 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-19-2010
Posting Date: 9-4-2010
Directed by Jean Boyer
Featuring Bourvil, Joan Greenwood, Gerard Oury
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Fantasy comedy

A man stumbles upon the ability to walk through walls.

My copy of this movie is in French with no subtitles, but given that I’ve already seen the English version of this movie (MR. PEEK-A-BOO), you’d think that wouldn’t be an impediment. Unfortunately, I discovered that the English version didn’t really stay with me, so I couldn’t really use my memory to help me with this. Much of the humor is visual, usually involving the protagonist’s use of his ability to play pranks on others, but much is also verbal. I may have to rewatch the English version to see what I think. Based on the ratings on IMDB, this French version is supposed to be the superior; it has a rating of 6.0 to the English version’s 4.1. At any rate, the French version looks fast-moving and fun.

The Phantom of Hollywood (1974)

THE PHANTOM OF HOLLYWOOD (1974)
TV-Movie
Article 3302 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-13-2010
Posting Date: 8-29-2010
Directed by Gene Levitt
Featuring Skye Aubrey, Jack Cassidy, Jackie Coogan
Country: USA
What it is: Masked maniac on the loose

Worldwide Studios is selling their back lots, since all shooting is now done on location. However, there is a secret resident living on one of the back lots, and he doesn’t want them sold… and he’s not afraid to kill those who do.

The story here is no great shakes; it’s basically a variation on THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. However, it’s the milieu that makes this movie memorable, as it takes place on the back lots of MGM. My favorite moment in the movie is near the beginning; as the camera pans across the decrepit and decaying buildings of the back lot, we cut to movie scenes where the buildings were used, and, for movie lovers, there’s something very sad about these scenes. It’s actually quite clever for MGM to use the destruction of their own back lot for a final movie there, and I spent a good deal of the movie watching the familiar scenery and trying to remember the movies where I first saw them. Furthermore, there’s something very ironic about the fact that this movie is both shot on the back lot AND location, since the back lot IS the location of the movie. I also liked the touch that the masked villain occasionally is able to walk about in public at times when the lot is peopled by other actors in costumes. A good performance by Jack Cassidy in a dual role is also a plus.

Persecution (1974)

PERSECUTION (1974)
Article 3301 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-12-2010
Posting Date: 8-28-2010
Directed by Don Chaffey
Featuring Lana Turner, Trevor Howard, Ralph Bates
Country: UK
What it is: Psychological horror

A boy kills his mother’s cat out of jealousy, and she proceeds to punish him for the deed for the rest of his life. When the boy grows up, gets married and has a child of his own, his mother begins scheming on how to destroy the marriage. However, she herself has a few skeletons in the closet…

This bizarre foray into psychological horror is much maligned, no doubt due to the over-deliberate pacing and the fact that there’s a sense of absurdity underlying much of the action in the movie. Nevertheless, the movie has its supporters, and I count myself among them. I find something fascinating here about the ways in which the mother torments her child, and I’m entranced by the way that every atrocity that is committed in the household has a parallel atrocity at another part of the story. I’m not sure exactly what role the cat plays in the story, but I suspect that it serves the most evil person in the house; notice how the son can only embrace the cat when he himself turns the corner into madness. It’s a very sad story at times; watching the son burn his boyhood toys one by one, and then reliving his mother’s rejection of a Christmas present is hard to take. There’s certain moments that bother me; I’m not sure to what degree the death of the baby is an accident or intentional (due to the ambiguity of the role of the cat), and I think the final line of the movie overdoes things just a bit, but I generally found the movie interesting and satisfying.

The Phantom (1943)

THE PHANTOM (1943)
Serial
Article 3299 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-10-2010
Posting Date: 8-26-2010
Directed by B. Reeves Eason
Featuring Tom Tyler, Jeanne Bates, Kenneth MacDonald
Country: USA
What it is: Masked hero jungle movie

A masked hero known as the Phantom must protect the native tribes from a group of spies planning to build a secret airstrip in a lost city.

If you can get your mind around the patently absurd premise (that for years a family of white men have been protecting the native jungle tribes under the guise of the masked bejumpsuited immortal hero known as the Phantom) and the strangeness of seeing an urban-style masked hero in jungle settings, you should find this to be one of the sturdier and more enjoyable serials out there. At least one advantage of the jungle settings is that we don’t have a single bail-out cliffhanger in the bunch, for one thing. Western actor Tom Tyler does a good job as the title character, and Kenneth MacDonald does one of the better jobs of playing a villain who manages to successfully cover up that role when dealing with the heroes. The plot also has enough story to avoid being repetitive, but not so much to be confusing. One of the episodes had to be redubbed due to the deterioration of the soundtrack, and you’ll spot the episode right off the bat with the opening narration. The most prominent fantastic content surrounds the legend of the Phantom’s immortality (which we know is faked); outside of that, it’s mostly marginally fantastic in that jungle-movie sort of way. This is one of the better serials out there.

Passport to Pimlico (1949)

PASSPORT TO PIMLICO (1949)
Article 3287 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-24-2010
Posting Date: 8-14-2010
Directed by Henry Cornelius
Featuring Stanley Holloway, Betty Warren, Barbara Murray
Country: UK
What it is: Political science fiction comedy

When a bomb is actually set off in the small community of Pimlico in London, it uncovers treasure as well as documentation attesting to the fact that the area in question actually belongs to the country of Burgundy. When the residents realize that this status as a foreign territory relieves them of adherence to some of the more annoying British laws, they decide to stand by their rights to be Burgundians rather than Britons, a move that starts an escalating chain of events as Britain and Pimlico must come to terms with each other.

When I saw this movie many years ago, it never occurred to me that it could be interpreted as science fiction, and I could understand why some might argue that it doesn’t belong. However, it is speculative political fiction, and it’s very intelligently done as well; it explores the whole world of foreign relations with the twist that the foreigners are practically next door. The movie has a great ensemble cast, and watching the various events unfold (the installation of customs stations, the arrival of an heir to the Burgundian crown, the “closing of the frontiers” in an attempt to force the residents to evacuate, etc.) is fascinating. This comedy becomes even more charming as it goes along, with the scene where three children pioneer a method of saving the Burgundians from starvation a particular high point. This is one movie that is worth rewatching.