The Robber Symphony (1936)

Article 3178 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-25-2010
Posting Date: 4-27-2010
Directed by Fredrich Feher
Featuring Hans Feher, Magda Sonja, George Graves
Country: UK
What it is: Surreal crime musical?

A bag of loot is stashed in a piano that belongs to a family of traveling entertainers. A gang of robbers tries to get the loot back, and though they kidnap two members of the troop, the third, a young boy, has run off with the piano.

“The Motion Picture Guide” classifies this movie as a fantasy, but whether this movie actually belongs to that classification is a difficult thing to settle. A straightforward discussion of the plot yields little to qualify that classification, but the style in which the movie is shot is determinedly non-realistic, what with its surreal images (an orchestra made up of mustachioed men in bowlers is one touch) and it’s various cinematic techniques (lots of fast motion photography and the occasional moments in which the film is run backwards) tend to give us the feeling that this takes place in another world entirely. Apparently, English and French versions of the movie were made, but the movie tries as much as possible to rely on visuals and music to tell the story (in fact, the credits do not speak of the movie of having been directed but of having been “composed”) that the language is almost secondary; in fact there are moments where the talking is more for the sound of what’s being said rather than for the substance of it. All around, this is one strange and unique movie, sometimes confusing, but made with energy and wit. Director Friedrich Feher appears as an actor in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, and uncredited co-producer Robert Wiene directed that silent classic, so this should give you a bit of an idea of what you’re getting into here.


Robert Macaire and Bertrand (1907)

aka Robert Macaire et Bertrand
Article 3168 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-15-2010
Posting Date: 4-17-2010
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic slapstick chase movie

Two thieves rob a bank and lead the police on a merry chase.

Many of the Melies films I’ve covered are so full of fantastic content that I have no problem justifying my coverage of them. This one is the most problematic in that regard. There are only two touches that throw it into the realm of the fantastic; the first has an explosion launching the thieves on a long journey into the air, and the second is a balloon ascent which, based on the background, shows them being taken into outer space. Both of these elements are pretty slight as far as the content goes, though. This is not to say there isn’t a fair amount of special effects; the trains are obviously not real, and the depiction of an earthquake certainly adds to the special effects content. Mostly, it’s slapstick comedy; it’s sporadically effective, but far from Melies’s best work.

Retorno a la juventud (1954)

aka Return to Youth
Article 3141 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-12-2009
Posting Date: 3-21-2010
Directed by Juan Bustillo Oro
Featuring Andres Soler, Enrique Rambal, Rosario Granados
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican fantasy/horror on the artier side

A doctor, pining for his lost youth, is replaced by the youthful image of himself in his portrait. However, his new youthfulness leads him into actions that result in murder…

My copy is in unsubtitled Spanish, and I’ve been unable to find an adequate plot description to help me with this one, so there may be some inaccuracy above. Furthermore, it looks as if the movie isn’t really straightforward; there’s a point in the proceedings where the sets (particularly the exteriors) take on a strong non-realistic air to them, and certain events seem incredible, even given the premise. This opens the possibility that much of the movie may be a dream (or nightmare, as the case may be). It’s quite moody, and it reminded me of EL HOMBRE SIN ROSTRO, and I was not surprised to discover both movies had the same director. Still, much of the plot seems to involve the amours of the central characters, and the encounters with jealous husbands, etc. do get a little tiring, a problem that is enhanced by the fact that the language barrier keeps me from really understanding the movie. I’m going to have to say the jury is still out on this one until I can see a dubbed/subtitled version, but parts of it certainly look intriguing.

Rasputin (1954)

aka Raspoutine
Article 3099 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2009
Posting Date: 2-7-2010
Directed by Georges Combret
Featuring Pierre Brasseum, Isa Miranda, Renee Faure
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Another Rasputin biopic

Rasputin rises to power because of his healing powers which he uses on the son of the Czar and Czarina. However, his debauched lifestyle makes him many enemies…

Same title as yesterday. Same story. Different movie. This one is also in Italian. My copy has subtitles, but only in Greek. Still, it’s interesting to watch these two movies in close juxtaposition, and I must admit that far and away I prefer yesterday’s version. Neither Pierre Brasseur’s performance or face holds a candle to Harry Baur’s, and unless the dialogue is exquisitely fascinating in this version, it looks like a dull bore, static and unimaginatively directed. Its best moment comes early on, when Rasputin stares down a wolf. Granted, any review I write on a movie in which I don’t understand the language is suspect, but film is a visual medium as well, and just on that level, this version comes in a poor second to yesterday’s, and, despite the fact that this one is in color and yesterday’s was in black and white, it seems less colorful.

I promise tomorrow’s movie won’t also be about Rasputin.

Rasputin (1938)

aka La tragedie imperiale
Article 3098 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2009
Posting Date: 2-6-2010
Directed by Marcel L’Herbier
Featuring Harry Baur, Marcelle Chantal, Pierre Richard-Willm
Country: France
What it is: Another stab at the story of Rasputin

This is the story of the rise and fall of the monk Rasputin, who had a hold over the family of the Czar Nicholas after miraculously curing his child.

My copy of this French version of the story of Rasputin is superbly dubbed… into Italian, that is. No, I don’t understand Italian any more than I do French, but you can still tell a good dubbing job from a bad one, even if you don’t know the language; for about the first twenty minutes, I wasn’t even aware it was dubbed, and the actors doing the dubbing give fine performances. In fact, I find it necessary to praise both Harry Baur and whoever dubbed him for this for their excellent portrayal of the title character. He’s presented as a master manipulator; I’m especially impressed on how effective he is at projecting humility and gentleness when his situation calls for it, and it’s extremely easy in this version to see why he is both revered and loathed by those around him. The scene where he cures the young prince is especially effective, even if I can’t understand a word of it. Fortunately, the fact that I was already familiar with the Rasputin story from several other versions helped me quite a bit with this one. The fantastic content is the usual for the story; though he doesn’t appear to use hypnotism, his healing abilities and his near indestructibility provide the fantastic content. In fact, it occurred to me that the slasher cliche of the monster who keeps rising from the dead after being killed may actually have its archetype in the Rasputin story. Incidentally, actor Harry Baur met a very tragic end; he went to Germany to make a movie, and was arrested afterwards and tortured to death by the Gestapo.

The Ruling Class (1972)

Article 3094 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-7-2009
Posting Date: 2-2-2010
Directed by Peter Medak
Featuring Peter O’Toole, Alastair Sim, Arthur Lowe
Country: UK
What it is: Black Comic Satire on the Upper Classes of Britain

When the 13th Earl of Gurney dies from a bizarre and stupid accident, the estate passes on to his son, the 14th Earl of Gurney, who is quite mad and believes himself to be Jesus Christ. Scheming relatives seek to get hold of the estate, and in the process, they undertake to cure him of his illness. However, they end up merely replacing one delusion with another…

At two and a half hours, this dark satire goes on too long, but it’s anchored by a fantastic performance by Peter O’Toole (who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance) as the mad 14th Earl of Gurney. The rest of the cast is also great, with special notice going to Arthur Lowe as a butler who is really an anarchist, Alastair Sim as a bishop, and Nigel Green as another madman (though, sadly, not his voice; he committed suicide shortly after this production and was redubbed). The bigger laughs are towards the beginning of the movie, but that’s only because we haven’t been introduced to the darker turns the story takes in the latter half. The fantastic content is there; the theme of madness is present throughout, and we have a character who is able to shoot electricity from his fingers at the halfway point. However, the fantastic content is most prominent towards the end when the movie begins to swerve into real horror territory, but to say more would be to give too much away; suffice it to say that every other plot description I’ve read gives away a plot point that I feel is best left as a surprise, and I have no intention of letting it slip here. Reportedly, Alastair Sim cast himself as the Bishop, and nobody else involved with the production could bring themselves to turn him down.

Roseland (1970)

Article 3087 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-29-2009
Posting Date: 1-26-2010
Directed by Fredric Hobbs
Featuring E. Kerrigan Prescott, Christopher Brooks, Victor Alter
Country: USA
What it is: Psychedelic pornographic musical fantasy art film

A singer’s life goes downhill when he is fired after singing a risque song on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, and he becomes a criminal known as “The Black Bandit” who steals pornography. He is caught and forced to go to a psychiatrist who feeds him LSD to help him dredge up his sexual fantasies; however, the psychiatrist throws him out when he can’t afford to pay. Can he find a job to pay his psychiatrist by working at a burlesque house, or will he need the help of Hieronymous Bosch?

The only other movie I’ve seen from director Fredric Hobbs is the freaky horror movie, ALABAMA’S GHOST. I didn’t think about it the time, but had I done so, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that he also had given the world a psychedelic pornographic fantasy musical art film. Well, I guess it’s my week to watch movies of other people’s sexual fantasies, but at least this one is redeemed somewhat by its sense of humor. John Stanley describes the movie as a “self-indulgent mish-mash” in one of his books, and I can see his point. The DVD blurb claims that Rolling Stone compared the movie favorably to the works of Fellini… and, believe it or not, I can see that as well; through all the self-indulgence, there is a legitimate surreal vision to this movie. And it has one of the oddest narrators this side of movies like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and BLOOD FREAK. The more I see from this guy, the more I look forward to watching GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS, or of finding TROIKA, which has been on my hunt list for ages.