Son of the White Mare (1981)

aka Feherlofia
Article 4603 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-9-2014
Directed by Marcell Jankovics
Featuring the voices of Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Vera Pap, Gyula Szabo
Country: Hungary
What it is: Fantasy epic

A white mare gives birth to three sons, the third of which swears to go into the underworld and rescue three princesses held prisoner by dragons. Towards this end, he teams up with his two brothers and embarks on his quest.

This animated Hungarian movie was based on Hungarian folk tales and legends, and uses experimental animation techniques to tell the story. The result is, quite simply, a stunning visual feast with its animation roots as far back as the early films of Emile Cohl, though I do sense a certain kinship to YELLOW SUBMARINE as well. The use of color and the ways the various scenes melt into each other are simply breathtaking, and though I sense some might not warm to the visual style of the piece, I consider this one of the finest animated movies I’ve seen. While watching this, I found myself thinking about the 3D computer animation techniques that have risen up during the last couple of decades and now seem to dominate the animation landscape. Many fine movies have resulted from this style, but I can’t help but feel that this technique still lacks the breadth of creativity of the older animation techniques; I wonder if these new techniques will ever lend themselves to anything like this movie I’ve just seen. Still, the new animation has many years to grow yet; perhaps it will reach those levels someday.

Spook Sport (1939)

Article 4590 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-26-2014
Directed by Mary Ellen Bute, Norman McLaren, Ted Nemeth
No voice cast
Country: USA
What it is: Arty graveyard dance

It’s midnight, and the ghosts rise from their graves and cavort.

Here we have another cartoon, but this one is somewhat different from the ones I’ve been seeing recently; this one is an experimental art film combining music and animation into a ballet of sorts. I’ve seen some of these before, and most of them I cover because the abstraction of the animation places them somewhat into the category of fantasy. However, this one has a definite horror theme and setting; the shapes represent ghosts and bats cavorting through a graveyard to the tune of “Danse macabre”. In some ways, this is merely a more abstract version of the various “skeleton dance” cartoons that were popular during the thirties, several of which I’ve also covered. Nonetheless, the presence of a definite theme and the fact that the abstract shapes often take on recognizable forms appropriate to the theme make this one one of the more accessible of the abstract musical cartoons I’ve seen; it would fit in nicely in a collection of more conventional Halloween cartoons. I quite liked this one.

The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler (1943)

Article 4575 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-9-2014
Directed by James P. Hogan
Featuring Ludwig Donath, Gale Sondergaard, George Dolenz
Country: USA
What it is: Wartime propaganda thriller

In occupied Austria during World War II, a clerk with an amazing facility for voice mimicry is arrested by the Gestapo after giving an uncanny imitation of the Fuhrer. His family is led to believe he has been shot as a traitor; in reality, he is forced to undergo plastic surgery to make him resemble Adolf Hitler. The motive behind this is that he will serve as decoy to stave off assassination attempts.

This is first and foremost a piece of wartime propaganda, with the intent of showing the evils and the brutality of the Nazi regime, though one should bear in mind that the movie was made before the death camps were public knowledge. It’s somewhat similar to THE MAGIC FACE, though that movie was made after the war was over. It’s a decent enough thriller and propaganda piece, but I most like to speculate about its fantastic content. As a movie of its own era, it might qualify in terms of being speculative political fiction in that it takes place on the world stage. However, it’s also the type of movie that, if events had fallen out a certain way, might have qualified as alternate history after the fact. Without engaging in spoilers, I can’t give away whether the events fall out that way; suffice it to say that the movie remains pretty marginal in terms of its fantastic content. The most interest theme here involves a discussion as to whether or not the death of Hitler alone would be enough to undo the Nazi cause, a question I’m not sure history has really answered. This one is not bad for what it is.

Superman in Exile (1954)

Article 4562 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-16-2014
Directed by George Blair and Thomas Carr
Featuring George Reeves, Noel Neill, Jack Larson
Country: USA
What it is: Superhero TV-to-Movie by editing

Superman has three adventures. In the first, he saves the city from a nuclear accident, but goes into exile when he is soaked with deadly radiation that makes him dangerous to be around. In the second, a criminal gets plastic surgery to make him look like Superman, and he starts a crime wave. In the third, an eccentric scientist accidentally creates a super-explosive, and Superman must prevent it from falling into the hands of criminals.

I’ve done it before and I’m doing it again – I cheated. That is to say that I’ve not actually seen this movie as such. It was part of a group of movies that were made by editing together episodes of the “Adventures of Superman” series and sold overseas. These movies haven’t been seen in ages, but the episodes from which they were edited are readily available, so I watched the three episodes of the TV series that made up this one: “Superman in Exile”, “The Face and the Voice”, and “The Whistling Bird”.

One of the things I’ve liked about the episodes I’ve seen in the series is that they emphasized stories in which Superman has to use his powers carefully and thoughtfully; in the first story here, he has to figure a way to capture criminals who have stolen crown jewels and are holding Lois hostage without getting close enough to irradiate them. In the third story, I love the fast thinking he uses in preventing a volatile flask of liquid from exploding and destroying the lab; it’s the comic highlight of a mostly comedic story. The second one gives George Reeves a dual role; on top of playing Clark Kent/Superman, he also plays the dull-witted thug who imitates Superman, and is a lot of fun in the role. All in all, these aren’t the most impressive episodes of the series, but the entire series was of high enough quality that these remain fun to watch.

The Six Million Dollar Man (1973)

Article 4541 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-22-2014
Directed by Richard Irving
Featuring Lee Majors, Barbara Anderson, Martin Balsam
Country: USA
What it is: TV-Pilot (Successful variety)

When a former astronaut is badly injured in an accident, a secret government organization finances an operation to replace his missing parts with bionic, super-powerful replacements. But what will they ask the injured man in return for it?

I was a fan of the TV series for the first couple of seasons, though I stopped watching when I tired of it. I never saw the pilot, though, and it’s always a bit strange to watch a pilot once one is already familiar with the series, as there are usually some significant changes made to the format during the transition. In this case, the biggest difference is the absence of Richard Anderson; in the pilot, the person in the equivalent role is Darren McGavin. Quite frankly, I would have preferred McGavin; one cannot entirely trust his character, and that extra layer would have added more intrigue to the series than was ultimately there. The movie is mostly concerned with the backstory of Steve Austin with a token action setpiece near the end to give an idea of what the series would be like; it’s solid, well-done, and quite entertaining, and it does a good job of demonstrating that the concept would work well as a TV series, which is the ultimate goal of a pilot. My only problem is that it hints at how the TV series itself could have been a lot better.

The Spirit of 1976 (1935)

THE SPIRIT OF 1976 (1935)
Article 4533 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-13-2014
Directed by Leigh Jason
Featuring Walter Woolf King, Betty Grable, Lynne Carver
Country: USA
What it is: Utopian satire

In the Utopian society of 1976, the new leader outlaws work and opens the treasury to the people so they can live in perpetual leisure and vacation. However, after several months of this, a rumble of revolution is heard among the people, who start participating in the illegal activity of work.

What we have here is a 21-minute musical, and if you think about it in any realistic terms, it’s pretty silly. Still, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its uses as satirical science fiction. For one thing, it explores the attractiveness of illegal activities, and it’s pretty easy to find the parallels here to Prohibition and bootlegging, as the short makes it pretty clear. It also deals with the issue of man’s need to create, an activity that clearly requires work. Still, I think the ultimate theme being explored here is that of moderation; after all, the solution the short ends up tendering to solve the Utopian problem at hand is even more ridiculous and extreme than the initial premise, and it’s pretty clear that the public will soon get even more sick of the solution than the problem. In short, despite the fact that what we have here is a silly musical short, it does provide food for thought and speculation.

Still of the Night (1982)

Article 4513 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-23-2014
Directed by Robert Benton
Featuring Roy Scheider, Meryl Streep, Jessica Tandy
Country: USA
What it is: Hitchcock homage

When one of his patients is killed, a psychiatrist becomes involved with a woman who the patient had been having an affair with… and who just might have been his murderer.

One name that is probably not going to pop up very often in this series is Meryl Streep’s. She has the reputation of being one of the finest modern film actresses, but she rarely appears in anything that even comes close to the genres that I’m covering; in fact, I can only think of one other movie off the top of my head that I’ll be covering of hers. I’m even a bit surprised that she appears in this one, but I’m assuming that it may have something to do with the fact that director Robert Benton’s previous film was KRAMER VS KRAMER, which won several Oscars, including one for Streep. Still, I don’t begrudge her her reputation; it’s fascinating to watch how she physicalizes her character and makes it live and breathe. The movie is a Hitchcock homage; it’s played very subtly, and many of the Hitchcock references (I see some to REAR WINDOW, VERTIGO and PSYCHO, and if I were up on my Hitchcock, I’d catch some more) feel organic and well-placed within the story. Scheider does his usual fine job as well, and I do like the Hitchcockian sense of humor that pops up now and again. Overall, I’d say it’s very well done, but it’s one of those movies that seems a little less than the sum of its parts; individual moments work quite well, but as a whole, it’s not quite satisfying; it feels second-hand (probably because it is a homage) and the mystery seems a little obvious. In short, it’s good, but it’s not a classic while reminding you of many movies that are.