Pretty Poison (1968)

Article 4380 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-30-2013
Directed by Noel Black
Featuring Anthony Perkins, Tuesday Weld, Beverly Garland
Country: USA
What it is: Blackly comic crime drama

A mentally disturbed man with an overactive imagination lures a teenage girl into a fantasy he’s concocted about being a secret agent. The fantasy spirals out of control when the girl proves to have a murderous streak…

After PSYCHO, the concept of casting Anthony Perkins as a mentally disturbed man must have seemed like an obvious move; for this movie, it’s also an extremely clever move, since it leads the viewer to expect that the movie will go in one direction when it’s actually going somewhere else entirely. It takes quite a while before the movie shows its hand, but when it does, you’ll recognize that you’re not watching a PSYCHO variant, but a cleverly conceived film noir. It’s a great movie with excellent performances from all of the major characters, and Perkins’ character is quite different from that of Norman Bates. The plot has some fascinating twists before it all ends, and it is one of those movies for which I’d actually like to see a sequel. There is some question as to whether it might strictly be genre; it’s another movie that only the Lentz guide mentions, and though mental illness and madness weave their way into the plot, I’m not sure it really qualifies. It is, however, highly recommended.

Paris – When It Sizzles (1964)

Article 4379 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-28-2013
Directed by Richard Quine
Featuring William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Gregoire Aslan
Country: USA
What it is: Romantic comedy

A female typist is hired to help a screenwriter complete a promised screenplay, and discovers that not only has no writing taken place at all, but that the script is due in two days.

Romantic comedies don’t crop up very often in this series, but then, I wouldn’t expect them to, and those that do are probably more than a little bit weird around the edges. This one manages to get included because of the presence of a vampire and a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde character into the action, as well as references to both werewolves and Frankenstein. It’s the central conceit of this movie that makes these touches possible; half of the movie deals with the relationship between the screenwriter and the typist, but the other half of the movie deals with the screenplay being written, which is featured in the action of the movie rather than just being the subject of conversation. The vampire scene appears when the typist, having been plied with drink, begins speculating on the further plot developments and imagines that the main male character in the screenplay turns out to be one of the undead, and the Jekyll/Hyde character shows up at a costume party later in the screenplay. Though it’s only mentioned in passing, the Frankenstein reference is one of the more interesting moments in the movie, as the screenwriter begins dwelling on innate plot similarities between the movies FRANKENSTEIN and MY FAIR LADY.

In fact, that last point hinges upon the oddest aspect of this movie; in the writing of the screenplay, we are treated somewhat to a blow-by-blow account of screenplay writing, which deconstructs the action in the “movie within a movie” at the same time it’s going on. It’s the various parallels between the real-life making of this movie, the action in the main plot of the movie, and the story in the “movie within a movie” that go a long ways towards making this one fun to watch. Just for example, this movie features William Holden as a man with a drinking problem, and in real life, the production was held up when Holden had to check into a clinic for alcoholics. I also find it interesting that the title of the “movie within a movie” (called THE GIRL WHO STOLE THE EIFFEL TOWER) turns out to be a “movie within a movie within a movie” as well in a plot twist that I won’t give away here. My favorite touch in the movie turns out to be have been a change made during the middle of filming when Holden became unavailable and Tony Curtis was called in to appear in a bizarre role that was doctored up at the last minute; he plays “Second Policeman” as an egotistical actor who can’t quite accept that he’s playing an unimportant featured role, and the way this character figures in the story is rather mind-boggling.

Still, with all the weirdness here and its attempt to deconstruct and show up the cliches in a “super criminal vs. the police” plot, I can’t help but notice that it makes no attempt to deconstruct its own “romantic comedy” plot, and so the movie does manage to fall prey to its own cliches before it’s all over. Nevertheless, it’s to the movie’s credit that it didn’t make me want to cover my eyes and ears and sing loudly while it was on, and that says something about it.

Psycho II (1983)

PSYCHO II (1983)
Date: 10-27-2013
Directed by Richard Franklin
Featuring Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly
Country: USA
What it is: Sequel to a classic

Having been cured of his madness, Norman Bates has been released from the mental institution. However, on returning to his home, he begins to find clues that his mother is still alive…

I’m going to forgo the question as to whether there should have been any sequels to the original Hitchcock masterpiece in the first place. Instead, I’m just going to be grateful that the first sequel, whether it should have been made or not, didn’t take the easy way out and merely recycle the original. Rather, it addresses the issue as to what might happen if Norman was released from the asylum, and how those who would rather he stayed there for life react to such an event. As such, it does give Anthony Perkins a chance to elaborate on the character for which he was most famous, and the story does have its share of effective moments and decent plot twists, though with plenty of references to the original movie. In short, it’s not an embarrassment. It is, however, far from perfect; the plot is extremely contrived, and there are several plot holes to make the road somewhat bumpy. I do feel rather ambivalent about the ending; as much as I admire the audacity of taking the movie in a full circle with the original one, I can’t help but feel a little dismay that it sets things up so that any further sequels can feel free to imitate the original movie if they wish. And, though I haven’t seen them yet, there were further sequels.

Prisoners of the Lost Universe (1983)

Article 4348 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-26-2013
Directed by Terry Marcel
Featuring Richard Hatch, Kay Lenz, John Saxon
Country: UK
What it is: Epic fantasy

A woman TV host, an electrician and a scientist fall into a machine that warps them to a different dimension. There they must battle an evil warlord.

While I was watching this movie, I looked up the director’s name on IMDB to see what else he did, and I was surprised to discover that I’d encountered him before; he also gave us HAWK THE SLAYER. That movie had a few good moments, but was badly flawed. In this one, the director tries a somewhat lighter touch, but that turns out to be a mistake; he really doesn’t have the feel for it, and the humor feels forced. The movie does have some effective moments, such as when a bunch of demon men rise out of the ground. But the budget seems even lower than it was last time, and the flaws seem deeper. Probably one of the worst problems I had with this one was with the female character; she’s obviously supposed to be cute, lovable, spunky, and the moral center of the movie, but she comes across as annoying, not particularly smart, and humorless. She becomes more and more unlikable as the movie progresses, and seeing how the main plot thread involves rescuing her from the evil warlord, we begin to care less and less whether that happens or not. There are better epic fantasies out there.

Piranha (1978)

PIRANHA (1978)
Article 4343 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-21-2013
Directed by Joe Dante
Featuring Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy
Country: USA
What it is: JAWS-inspired thriller

A strain of genetically mutated piranha are accidentally released from an abandoned army site into a nearby river. Is there any way to stop them before they reach the ocean?

According to IMDB, Universal originally intended to sue New Line for this movie because of its similarities to JAWS; however, Spielberg saw an advance copy of this movie and loved it, so the suit was dropped. I’m not sure whether the suit would have stuck; though the movie does have some similarities (an underwater terror and an attempt by authorities to downplay the threat), it’s far from a slavish imitation of its source. This is the first movie I’ve covered from the oeuvre of Joe Dante, a director whose work I generally enjoy; his love of using actors from older genre movies and his references to those earlier films add a lot of fun to the proceedings. On top of the actors listed above, the movie also features Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, Keenan Wynn, Paul Bartel and Richard Deacon. It also features the screenwriting debut of John Sayles. Overall, the movie is fairly uneven, and there are moments where the editing could be better, but there are a number of individual moments I really like; in particular, the scene inside the laboratory (which also features a little bit of stop-motion animation with a miniature monster running around) is very entertaining. One thing it certainly does is to up the fantastic content a bit; by making the piranha genetic mutations, there’s some science fiction added to the plot as well. I look forward to covering more of Dante’s films in the future.

The People that Time Forgot (1977)

Article 4342 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-20-2013
Directed by Kevin Connor
Featuring Patrick Wayne, Doug McClure, Sarah Douglas
Country: UK
What it is: Burroughsian sequel

A group of adventures arrive in the prehistoric land of Caprona to see if they can locate the hero of the previous movie.

Will they find him? Well, given that Doug McClure’s name is in the credits (though not as the lead) pretty much answers that question. You know, you really can’t blame them for making a sequel to THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT; after all, Edgar Rice Burroughs did as well, and this is based on that sequel. I really should read those books; I’m rather curious as to how closely this movie follows the book. It has the same fun-but-not-quite-convincing dinosaur action, various primitive tribes of people, and ample proof that they had hairdressers and Frederick’s of Hollywood in primitive lands. Now I know in an adventure movie of this sort, one is supposed to concentrate on the episodic action rather than dwell on the the whole story arc. However, when I do the latter, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that the ultimate purpose of this movie is to put in place the commonest “lost world” cliche of them all, a cliche that the previous movie overlooked (if it hadn’t, there would have been no sequel). The minute they mention the volcano, I should have seen it coming. Still, I did learn one thing here – there are no volcanoes in Nebraska. All in all, this is one is silly but passable, though not as much fun as the original.

Le petit soldat (1947)

aka The Little Soldier
Article 4335 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-13-2013
Directed by Paul Grimault
No cast
Country: France
What it is: Animated fairy tale

A wind-up toy acrobat is in love with a toy ballerina, but when war comes along, he is forced to join the troops, leaving her at the mercy of an evil jack-in-the-box.

I don’t know a lot about Paul Grimault, but it appears he was a highly-respected French animator with only a handful of films to his credit. This lyrical and touching adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen story shows how effective he could be, both as an animator as well as a storyteller. I couldn’t find a copy of this in English, but that’s no matter; outside of the credits and a poster that is placed on the window of the toy shop, there’s nothing that needs translating. The ending is quite exciting, and owes a bit to one of the most memorable moments from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”; I don’t know if it’s that way in the original story. I look forward to seeing more of this man’s work.

Porky’s Hero Agency (1937)

Article 4290 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-17-2013
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc, Bernice Hansen, Tedd Pierce
Country: USA
What it is: Porky Pig cartoon

Porky dreams that he is an ancient Greek hero Porkykarkus, who is given a job to steal a potion from the Gorgon that can bring those turned to stone back to life.

This is one of the more amusing early Porky Pig cartoons. Outside of the “talking animals” motif, we have flying shoes and a monster (though the gorgon turns out to be an old woman with a camera stand with no snakes in her hair) with the ability to turn people into stone and back to provide the fantastic content. It has some fun with the concept, and some of the jokes are subtle; check out the hero’s pricing scheme and the identity of his phone holder, for example. It even manages to sneak in a few racy moments that got by the censors, one of which involves the statue of the discus thrower who is, of course, unclothed. There are references to both Popeye and the Three Stooges in the mix as well. I do question the credits on IMDB; though the voice cast is uncredited, IMDB says that Medusa is voiced by Bernice Hansen and the Gorgon by Tedd Pierce, but since Medusa IS the Gorgon, I’m not sure if this was a mistake or two different voices were used. Apparently, the “picket fence” features the faces of several of the animators on the project.

Playful Pan (1930)

Article 4288 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-15-2013
Director unknown
No voice cast
Country: USA
What it is: A Silly Symphony

A satyr plays his pipes for the benefit of the animals and the plants in the forest. Then a lightning storm sets the forest afire. Can the satyr deal with the crisis?

In structure, this Walt Disney Silly Symphony is standard issue for animated shorts in this period of time; the first half is mostly music, with a crisis only rearing its head at the halfway mark and then being resolved. Still, Disney was in the animation forefront at this time and there’s a real confidence at work here, especially in the ways that the music and the action are juxtaposed. I also like the way the jokes are sometimes handled subtly; it took me a moment or two to realize that in the scene where we see the rabbits running away from the fire, the turtles are also running as well… and faster than the rabbits. It ends with an amusing variation on the “Pied Piper” story, which is a fitting reference to make when your main character is Pan. It’s not one of Disney’s finest moments, but it’s amusing enough.

Princess Nicotine; or, The Smoke Fairy (1909)

Article 4247 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-10-2013
Director unknown
Featuring Paul Panzer and Gladys Hulette
Country: USA
What it is: Weird tobacco fantasy

A tobacco enthusiast discovers fairies living in his tobacco box.

I have to admit I’m not sure what to make of this odd little trick short. It’s a hodgepodge of special effects that includes stop-motion, giant props, and miniaturization via mirrors (as in opposition to double exposure) among its tricks. It really doesn’t seem to have a story per se; it’s basically the smoker and the fairies playing tricks on each other. It will leave you wondering if someone has been smoking something other than tobacco, though.