Satan s’amuse (1907)

Satan s’amuse (1907)
Article 5651 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-15-2019
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Featuring Julienne Mathieu
Country: France
What it is: Trick film

A skeletal Satan keeps himself amused by performing magic tricks. However, he keeps being interrupted by a female rival also adept at magic.

What we have here is Chomon doing his version of one of Melies’s favorite themes – the magic trick show. This one is somewhat longer than similar movies by Melies, but he does hold the interest by coming up with a few types of tricks that Melies didn’t do (Chomon occasionally liked to bring the action forward for close-ups, for one thing), and by adding a rival female magician, he added a smidgen of plot to the mix. It’s not bad, but it’s hardly one of Chomon’s better efforts; the magic trick format only has so much appeal, and there are so many similar films. Still, it’s good to know Satan has a hobby.

Stealing a Dinner (1899)

Stealing a Dinner (1899)
Article 5638 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-24-2019
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Trained animal antics

A dog steals a man’s dinner and frames a cat for the crime.

From what I see here, I’m guessing that this film is a recreation of a trained animal act on the vaudeville circuit; the AMB catalogue refers to a certain Professor Leonidas and his trained cats and dogs. The fantastic content comes toward the end of the short, which implies that dogs have a police force; at least, that’s how I interpret the dog in the police costume who appears at the climax. It’s probably funnier seen live; in this short, the action is a bit too frantic and abrupt to be really funny.

Le squelette joyeux (1898)

Le squelette joyeux (1898)
Article 5637 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-22-2019
Directed by Louis Lumiere
No cast
Country: France
What it is: The first dancing skeleton film?

A skeleton dances despite the fact that he keeps falling apart.

Here’s another fantastically-themed Lumiere short, and in some ways, it has even less in the way of special effects as FAUST: APPARITION DE MEPHISTOPHELES had; it’s a photographed puppet show. Still, it is an entertaining puppet show, and there’s a lot more energy in the presentation here, so this is a lot more satisfying. I also wonder if it’s the first dancing skeleton movie; I’ve seen many animated dancing skeleton shorts, and in some ways, they may have gotten their start here.

Addendum: I have since learned this is not the first dancing skeleton film; it’s predated the THE DANCING SKELETON (1897). Thanks to doctor kiss for the correction!

Secret Agent (1943)

Secret Agent (1943)
Article 5604 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-21-2018
Directed by Seymour Kneitel
Featuring the voices of Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander, Jackson Beck
Country: USA
What it is: Superman short

A blonde secret agent is trying to get information about a spy organization to the authorities. However, she’s being chased by the spies. Can Superman come to her rescue?

Though I haven’t covered all of the Fleischer Superman cartoons, this is the last one I’ll be doing for the time being. It is also, I gather, the last one done by the organization, and maybe it was just as well. It was probably inevitable that the series would eventually turn to wartime propaganda, and this has Superman going against the Nazis. Superman has only two words of dialogue, and Lois Lane is nowhere to be found, though Joan Alexander provides the voice for the female spy. This one really stretches credibility during its climax; Superman takes so long to come to the secret agent’s urgent rescue that rightfully she should have been dead long before he gets to her. And maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t one of the evil spies bear a strong resemblance to Dick Tracy?

Someone at the Top of the Stairs (1973)

Someone at the Top of the Stairs (1973)
Article 5597 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-16-2018
Directed by John Sichel
Featuring Donna Mills, Judy Carne, David de Kayser
Country: UK
What it is: Strange happenings in a boarding house.

Two female students take a room in a boarding house, but there are clues of suspicious activity and the other boarders are a creepy lot. And who is the mysterious tenant in the top floor….?

I’ve seen several movie-length episodes from the British TV series “Thriller”, and in terms of the fantastic content, they’ve mostly been a bit on the marginal side. This is one of the exceptions; the revelations in the final third of the movie take the story in the direction of the supernatural. There’s a few plot holes, and the story doesn’t stand up to close inspection, but the first two-thirds of the movie are creepy enough (and a little depraved as well) that I was almost expecting the final act would be a let-down; fortunately, it doesn’t disappoint in this regard. It’s not the best episode I’ve seen so far, but it’s a good entry in the series.

Shin Godzilla (2016)

Shin Godzilla (2016)
aka Shin Gojira
Article 5576 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-8-2018
Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
Featuring Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara
Country: Japan
What it is: Kaiju political drama

When a rapidly mutating monster attacks Japan, the government finds itself scrambling through the red tape to take action against it.

Given my fondness for kaiju and for Godzilla in particular, I’m a little surprised it took me so long to get around to seeing this somewhat controversial reboot of the classic monster. From what I hear, the American version is quite different, so I opted for the Japanese version with English subtitles, and I’m not entirely sure I made the best choice. The main problem I had was trying to read the subtitles while trying to deal with the rapid-fire editing of the visuals; it’s not easy to read them when the background scene keeps changing. Furthermore, the movie feels very Japanese; I get the feeling that I don’t have the necessary knowledge to truly understand what is going on part of the time. However, it is audacious and gripping, and may be the most serious Godzilla movie since the original. One new twist has Godzilla as a rapidly mutating monster who only achieves the familiar form in his final incarnation. He’s also given some frightening new powers. Part of the story is standard enough, and I do like the use of motifs from the old Ifukube scores. All in all, I was very impressed with this one, though it make take a couple of rewatchings to absorb it.

Scarlet Street (1945)

Scarlet Street (1945)
Article 5574 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-30-2018
Directed by Fritz Lang
Featuring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea
Country: USA
What it is: Film noir

A meek and married bank teller becomes infatuated with an attractive woman when he drives away her attacker, not knowing that the woman’s attacker was her boyfriend. To impress her, he leaves her with the impression he is a famous artist. The woman’s boyfriend talks her into milking the teller for all he’s worth…

I honestly didn’t think I’d be covering this movie when I began to watch it, but towards the end of the movie, the protagonist finds himself tormented by the voices of the dead. Though we know the voices are in his own mind, that still gave me enough in the way of fantastic content (albeit marginal) to give me an excuse to cover it. Yes, I could have just added it to my marginalia category, but I wanted to cover it, if for no other reason that it is a collaboration between one of my favorite directors (Fritz Lang) and one of my favorite actors (Edward G. Robinson). The latter seems initially to be cast against type as the bank teller, but as the story progresses, it prepares us for the violence that will ultimately erupt. Robinson, Bennett and Duryea are all excellent. I’ve loved this movie ever since I first saw it, and I find the final scene in the movie to be heartbreaking. In one regard, it reminds me of Lang’s earlier movie FURY, in that he has to do a little twisting at the end to make the movie fit in with the demands of the Hays Office, but he does it very effectively here. It’s a lesser known film noir, but one of my personal favorites.

Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot (1976)

Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot (1976)
Article 5572 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-23-2018
Directed by Ed Ragozzino
Featuring George Lauris, Steve Boergadine, Jim Bradford
Country: USA
What it is: Bigfoot movie

An expedition is launched in British Columbia to locate possible stomping grounds for the Sasquatch.

This movie apparently came under some criticism because it wasn’t a documentary, and that’s partially the fault of the movie itself; it sets itself up like one in the opening scenes. Because of that, I initially thought it was one, but some of the subsequent scenes dispelled that illusion for me, largely because the characters were portrayed in such a way that made me suspect that they were creations of a writer rather than real people; the colorful guide who talks to his mule certainly didn’t feel like a living, breathing person. This is not to say that the movie can’t be enjoyed somewhat without that illusion; there’s a fair amount of interesting nature footage, even if it’s not relevant to the plot. Still, had it been a documentary, it might have covered up the fact that this movie is, in essence, one long Double-Stuffed Safari-O; not much really happens until you get to the end of the movie, and even that section falls short of satisfying. All in all, it’s passable for a Bigfoot movie, but it’s useful to remember that the bar for Bigfoot movies is set pretty low.

Sky Racket (1937)

Sky Racket (1937)
Article 5566 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-12-2018
Directed by Sam Katzman
Featuring Bruce Bennett, Joan Barclay, Monte Blue
Country: USA
What it is: Action thriller

A runaway bride stows away on a mail plane designed to serve as bait to catch a bunch of criminals using a death ray that kills the engines of planes.

If it’s the thirties and the plot involves an airplane and it has some science fiction content, it’s a fairly safe bet that the movie’s fantastic content will feature a death ray designed to bring down planes; there are exceptions, but not many. Since the opening quarter of the movie consists of about 95 percent of the footage involving the runaway bride (which plays as a comedy) and only 5 percent of the footage setting up the death ray angle, you can forgive me for hoping that the movie was going to vary the formula a bit by combining the plane-downing death ray story with a screwball comedy angle, but in truth it pretty much sticks to the routine, but then, what do you expect from a Sam Katzman cheapie? The cast also features Duncan Renaldo and Hattie McDaniel, which adds a little novelty value to this one. Nonetheless, this one is rather dreary and uninspired.

Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Article 5558 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-27-2018
Directed by Buster Keaton
Featuring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton
Country: USA
What it is: Surreal slapstick fantasy

A movie projectionist aspires to be a detective. When he is framed for the theft of a watch belonging to his girlfriend’s father, he tries to use his amateur detective powers to clear himself.

Ignore for the moment that plot description; it’s not really what makes this short movie special. Most of the movie is Keaton doing what Keaton usually does (which, during this era, is certainly nothing to sneer at; he’s excellent throughout). During these sequences, he plays what amounts to parallel roles; he’s the hapless beau trying to woo his girlfriend in the main story, and the brilliant detective in the movie-within-a-movie that makes up most of the second half. It’s the transition from one story to the next that is Keaton at his most brilliant; he falls into a dream in which he gains the power to enter the movie-within-a-movie itself by walking directly into the screen. The sequence that follows has Keaton attempting to deal with an abruptly changing landscape in which he is the only consistent figure, and this sequence owes much to some of the comic tricks of Melies as later movies would owe to this sequence (both THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO and DUCK AMUCK come to mind). In the end, the movie seems to be smitten with the magic of movies while at the same time recognizing that much of the movie world is a work of deception; I think it’s very fitting that in the final analysis, Buster’s problem is resolved not by any sleuthing tricks but rather by a straightforward question from the girlfriend to the proper individual. This long short (45 minutes) is considered one of Buster’s finest moments, and I’d concur with that.