Santa Claus (1925)

Santa Claus (1925)
Article 6077 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-4-2022
Directed by Frank E. Kleinschmidt
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Santa’s life on film

Two children wait up for Santa and ask him how he spends the rest of his year.

I’m rather surprised that I haven’t reviewed this one yet. This 29-minute silent short which purports to tell us how Santa Claus spends his time during the rest of the year is a genuinely charming Christmas short, in which I learn (among other things) that Walruses are goblins, the Easter Bunny drops by and trades information with Santa about the children they visit, and that Santa spends Saturdays visiting his closest neighbors, the Eskimos. Sure, these amount to little more than whimsical details, but it displays a certain creativity and is highly entertaining. If I were to put together a collection of the best Christmas shorts I’ve seen, this one would be on it.

The Spirit of ’43 (1943)

The Spirit of ’43 (1943)
Article 6074 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-14-2022
Directed by Jack King
Featuring the voice of Clarence Nash
Country: USA
What it is; WWII Propaganda Piece

It’s payday for Donald Duck. Should he go out and spend his money, or should he save it for taxes?

The fantastic content in this short is not the presence of talking ducks; at this point of time the presence of talking animals is considered by me a tradition of the cartoon genre and not fantastic content per se. Rather, it’s because Donald is tempted by this cartoon’s equivalent of the devil/angel wrong path/right path concept; both the thrifty duck and big spending duck initially appear magically to lead or tempt Donald. It also took a little time for me to see why this cartoon appeared in my Banned Cartoons collection. The wartime setting had me expecting offensive stereotypes of Germans or Japanese, but none appear. It was only when my wife pointed out that the thrifty angel was Scottish that the stereotype alarm finally went off.

As for the cartoon itself, I am a bit in awe of what it was attempting to do, which was to try to make the paying of taxes appear to be a patriotic duty, using the war as its selling point. I do wonder how effective it was at its time; I certainly doubt that message would have any resonance today. Being a Disney cartoon, it is a well-mounted production, but I doubt it was very popular; it’s so focused on its message that it becomes rather tiresome, and Donald is really not given much to do. It’s best taken as a curio of its time.

The Sender (1982)

The Sender (1982)
Article 6070 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-1-2022
Directed by Roger Christian
Featuring Kathryn Harrold, Zeljko Ivanek, Shirley Knight
Country: UK
What it is: Offbeat horror film

A psychiatrist attempts to treat a suicidal amnesiac in a mental ward only to discover the patient has an uncontrollable psychic ability to project his nightmares into the minds of others.

Though I feel this movie has some flaws (such as being a bit muddled at times and having a somewhat unsatisfying ending), I’m really taken with the low-key approach the movie uses to tell its story; it makes the fantastic aspects more unsettling and provides a good contrast to the nightmare sequences. The movie is also anchored by the performances of the leads; Harrold, Ivanek and Knight (as the young man’s mother) all give fine, engaging performances. There are also some odd religious subtexts to the story, given that the young man does not believe he has a father and is mistaken as a Christ figure by some of the other patients. In the end, the positive aspects of the movie are strong enough to make it a worthy view.

String Bean Jack (1938)

String Bean Jack (1938)
Article 6068 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-16-2022
Directed by John Foster
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Slightly comic retelling of fairy tale

Jack is sent out by his mother to sell the family cow for money, but he sells it for a handful of jelly beans. The mother throws them out but they grow into a beanstalk overnight, and you know the rest…

This cartoon from Terrytoons has a certain historical value, in it was the first one the studio did in color. For this studio, it’s not too bad; it does have a little fun with the two-headed giants, and there are a couple of famous comedians referenced (W. C. Fields and Harpo Marx). Still, once you realize it’s a “Jack and the Beanstalk” variation, it has little in the way of surprises, and the giant appears to be no taller than a rather tall man, a disappointing choice for an animated cartoon. Still, it is one of the better Terrytoons out there.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Article 6062 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-23-2022
Directed by Nicholas Meyer
Featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
Country: USA
What it is: The end of an era

Kirk and McCoy get framed for the murder of a Klingon High Chancellor, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew must solve the mystery and rescue their friends from a Klingon prison colony.

This movie more or less marked the end of the original “Star Trek” from the sixties and begins setting things up for the follow-up *Star Trek: The Next Generation”. It’s not as good as the second and fourth movies of the series, but a definite improvement over the fifth of the series. There are a few touches that don’t quite work, but overall, it’s a good story with strong direction and a decent script. The Shakespeare references get a bit tiresome after a while, but I do like the Peter Pan reference that ends the movie. And I wish there was more of David Warner in the movie, but you can’t always get what you want.

The Sad Little Guinea Pigs (1938)

The Sad Little Guinea Pigs (1938)
Article 6057 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-5-2022
Directed by Manny Gould and Ben Harrison
No voice actors
Country: USA
What it is: More than a little unsettling

A mad scientist tries out his new tonics on three terrified guinea pigs.

Heaven knows what this nightmarish cartoon’s reputation would be if it were better known and not a forgotten Columbia cartoon. Certainly, animal activists would be appalled, though it would certainly be useful to them from a propagandistic standpoint. It’s basically a mad scientist subjecting his guinea pigs to his various sick-looking tonics (each of which seem to contain a mutant creature) and watching their bodies mutate and contort. No, it’s not whimsically amusing; it’s sheer nightmare, and the fact that the scientist gets a comeuppance at the end doesn’t quite make up for the nastiness. And, lest we forget, this is a children’s cartoon, and no doubt someone somewhere considered it a funny idea. Perhaps obscurity is the best place for this one.

So Does an Automobile (1939)

So Does an Automobile (1939)
Article 6037 by Dave Sindelar
12-23-2021
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Roland Crandall
Featuring the voice of Mae Questel
Country: USA
What it is: More anthropomorphic cars than you could shake a stick at

We visit Betty Boop’s Auto Hospital to find out how sick automobiles are tended to.

Most of the work of Dave and Max Fleischer could arguably fall into the world of the fantastic because they take place in what is clearly an alternate cartoon universe where practically any inanimate object can come to life. This one is packed to the gills with anthropomorphic cars, and even if the cartoon is only fitfully funny, it certainly satisfies in terms of weirdness. Betty is out of her usual costume here; she’s in a jumpsuit, sings a song, and mostly pops in to encourage sick cars to get better. The earlier Betty Boops are better, but I quite like this one, but I have a weak spot for those silly cartoon cars of the thirties.

Spooky Swabs (1957)

Spooky Swabs (1957)
Article 6034 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-13-2021
Directed by Izzy Sparber and Thomas Johnson
Featuring the voices of Jackson Beck, Gilbert Mack, Jack Mercer
Country: USA
What it is: The last Popeye cartoon

Popeye and Olive Oyl are adrift on a raft when they find a ship, unaware that their find is actually haunted, and that its inhabitants don’t want to return to civilization.

The Popeye cartoons of the fifties were pale shadows of the ones made in the thirties, and this one is no exception. Still, they were the best thing Famous Studios were putting out at the time, and given that this was the last theatrical Popeye cartoon, one can’t help but feel a little sad at reaching the end of the line for one of animation’s beloved characters. The cartoon is mostly scenes of the ghosts terrorizing Popeye and Olive Oyl until Popeye eats his spinach and the ghosts get their comeuppance. Still, despite all the ghost action, by favorite bit is before the ghosts appear, and that is the running gag of how Popeye, Olive and their game of checkers react to the waves of the sea. The ghosts look a little bit like the grown-up ones you’d see in a Caspar cartoon. It’s certainly not a high point for Popeye, but it’s sad to see him go nonetheless.

Spooking About Africa (1957)

Spooking About Africa (1957)
Article 6019 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-13-2021
Directed by Seymour Kneitel and Myron Waldman
Featuring the voices of Jack Mercer, Sid Raymond and Cecil Roy
Country: USA
What it is: Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon

Casper befriends a sneezing elephant in Africa. He cures him of his affliction, but what happens when a sneeze is really needed?

By this time, Casper was a lot less angsty than he initially was. Even when he inadvertently scares a zebra, he takes it with what amounts to a shrug and moves on. Without the angst, this cartoon avoids the tear-jerking of most of his other cartoons, but it never quite succeeds on its on new terms; despite trying for bigger laughs, it falls flat. And without his angst, there’s just not a lot of character to Casper; in fact, I think the whole cartoon would have worked better if they just jettisoned Casper from the story. This one isn’t particularly memorable.

Spring Song (1949)

Spring Song (1949)
Article 6013 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-2-2021
Directed by Izzy Sparber and Myron Waldman
Featuring the voices of Jack Mercer and Mae Questel
Country: USA
What it is: Another opportunity to follow the bouncing ball

Spring is here! The sun wakes up, the woodland nymphs play their flutes, and we all get a chance to sing along.

I’ve covered several of Famous studio’s Screen Songs before. If this one varies the formula at all, it’s that instead of opening with a series of blackout gags on its subject, it goes for a series of spring-inspired whimsy. It’s like a shortened version of the Pastoral Symphony sequence from FANTASIA, but that was the dullest section of that work, and this one is little better. There’s quite a few fantasy elements to win its inclusion here, but this is one of the weakest of the series.