A Study in Choreography for Camera (1946)

Article 5364 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-5-2017
Directed by Maya Deren
Featuring Talley Beatty
Country: USA
What it is: Avant-garde cinema

A dancer dances in several locations.

Let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first; the fluid editing of the short makes it seem as if the dancer is magically transporting himself to different locations, and my guess is that this illusion is clearly intended. It doesn’t really lend itself to any plot point, because there is no plot; it’s an avant-garde mood piece. However, it is a very good one; it’s quite stylish, and Talley Beatty’s dancing is phenomenal. Granted, this is the sort of thing that can get boring after a few minutes, but the length of this short is only two and a half minutes, and it holds the attention for that length.

The Stone Rider (1923)

aka Der steinerne Reiter
Article 5363 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-4-2017
Directed by Fritz Wendhausen
Featuring Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Lucie Mannheim, Gustav von Wangenheim
Country: Germany
What it is: Dark fable

A village in the valley is oppressed by a cruel tyrant who brings tragedy to their weddings. When one visit causes the death of the bride, the bride’s sister vows revenge on the tyrant. But when she gets her opportunity…

If there’s one common theme to the three full-length silent features I’ve watched these last three days, it is that of the doomed romance; each story features an ill-starred love affair. This one features a very memorable performance from Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the tyrant, and it’s the perfect role for him. It also features a great performance by Lucie Mannheim as the vengeful sister. Most of the movie only hints at being a fantasy, largely due to the fact that the sets and costumes have a definite expressionistic quality about them; it’s not as thick as those in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, but they are noticeable. It does, however, have an unambiguous fantastic twist at the climax of the story, so it’s definitely genre. The most memorable sequence for me was when the tyrant appears on a mountain and casts a huge shadow over the whole village during a wedding celebration. I thought this one was very good, though it does appear to be somewhat obscure.

Santa’s Christmas Circus (1966)

Article 5335 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-3-2017
Directed by Frank Wiziarde
Featuring John Bilyeu and Frank Wiziarde
Country: USA
What it is: Christmas movie

Whizzo the clown celebrates Christmas with his children friends and takes them on a magic carpet trip to the North Pole to visit Santa.

Those who hail SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS as the worst Christmas movie ever are probably unaware there’s a whole level of Christmas / children’s movies that make that one look well-crafted and lavishly produced. I’ve seen several of these, but this may be the first one I’ve reviewed. It’s been sitting on my “ones that got away” list with a LOST status like LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, but while that one still is, this one has been found. It’s just hard to imagine anyone looking for it.

It features a character called Whizzo the Clown, and I suspect that we’re dealing with a character who gained fame in the same way that horror hosts did – as a local celebrity who probably hosted a kid’s show that ran cartoons. On that level, the character probably worked well enough; I’ve seen worse children’s clowns. But that doesn’t mean that his shtick can maintain a sixty minute movie, especially one with only a wisp of a plot and probably no set script. The first third of the movie consists of the clown and his children friends performing a perfunctory circus. Then he pulls out his atomic time machine and we get to watch footage from window store displays for about fifteen minutes. Then a magic carpet takes them all to the North Pole for a visit to Santa, who shows them toys and talks about the spirit of Christmas. Then they go back to Whizzo’s place and the movie is over. That’s it. It’s a good example of what I call the “non-event”.

It’s not the worst Christmas movie I’ve ever seen. But it may be the worst one I’ve covered for this series; only THE CHRISTMAS MARTIAN really gives it a run for its money, since it’s as annoying as this one is a snoozefest. It’s perhaps best described as an inconsequential waste of time. Still, I can say two good things about it. One is that one of the kids does an impressive backflip at one point. The other is that the dog puppet is used very sparingly.

Supu jaiantsu – Jinko eisei to jinrui no hametsu (1957)

aka Super Giant 5
Article 5333 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-31-2016
Directed by Teruo Ishii
Featuring Ken Utsui, Utako Mitsuya, Hiroshi Hayashi
Country: Japan
What it is: Super Giant short

Super Giant does battle with Space Nazis who have an artificial satellite orbiting the Earth.

This is the fifth of the nine-part Super Giant series from Japan that was edited into the four “Starman” movies; this one marked the first half of ATTACK FROM SPACE. That was one of the more coherent of the Starman movies, and it appears that may be due to the fact that the sixth short was a direct sequel; in fact, this one ends on a cliffhanger. My copy didn’t have English subtitles, but that’s all right; if I want to know what’s going on, I can consult ATTACK FROM SPACE, but I don’t think I really need to know any more than that it’s Super Giant versus Space Nazis. I have to admit this one is a bit disappointing taken on its own; there’s only one fight scene, and it’s not one of the better ones, though I do notice how the sound effects work overtime to make it sound like there’s actually a fight going on instead of people doing gymnastic routines. This one just has too much time of Super Giant flying around in outer space, a visual image that gets old pretty fast. If I remember ATTACK FROM SPACE, I’m willing to bet the sixth episode in this series will be an improvement.

Some More of Samoa (1941)

Article 5329 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-25-2016
Directed by Del Lord
Featuring Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard
Country: USA
What it is: Three Stooges short

Three idiotic tree surgeons are called in to cure an ailing rare puckerless persimmon tree. They find themselves sent to the distant jungle country of Rhum-Boogie to find a mate for the tree.

This is one of those shorts where the Stooges are firing on all cylinders. The first half focuses on their work on the tree, while the second half has them in the jungle and dealing with cannibals. The cannibals were the most predictable fantastic content in the movie, but there’s a super tree growth serum as well, and there’s a scene where Curly tussles with a native god who seems to like to slap him around. There are several great moments here – the Stooges showing their skills at tree surgery, their being mistaken for regular surgeons by two women listening outside of a door, Larry picking up Curly’s footsteps, and a tussle with an alligator who has swallowed a tree seedling. Moe and Larry even do an imitation of Amos and Andy at one point. No, the short is not politically correct, but it is one of their funniest outings.

Snow-White (1933)

Article 5328 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-24-2016
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Featuring the voices of Cab Calloway, Billy Murray and Mae Questal
Country: USA
What it is: Betty Boop cartoon

An evil queen with a magic mirror discovers that she’s no longer the fairest in the land when her stepdaughter (Betty Boop as Snow-White) shows up. Snow-White escapes execution only to be frozen into a block of ice.

There were a lot of Betty Boop cartoons, but there’s an informal trilogy of them that stands out; it’s the three that were made in collaboration with bandleader Cab Calloway and featured his signature dance moves in rotoscoped animation. In this one, the song is “Saint James Infirmary Blues”, a song that has little to do with the action, but everything in the cartoon is so bizarre it hardly matters. In this one, Ko-ko the clown gets to perform the dance moves, though he is quickly turned into a strange long-legged ghost; this sequence is easily the highlight of the cartoon. Huge liberties are taken with the original story; there’s no poisoned apple or handsome prince, but the queen gets to turn into dragon creature for the final battle. Like most of the early Betty Boop cartoons, it all takes place in a surreal land where inanimate objects constantly come to life. This is one of my favorites.

Someone at the Door (1950)

Article 5324 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-18-2016
Directed by Francis Searle
Featuring Michael Medwin, Garry Marsh, Yvonne Owen
Country: UK
What it is: Comedy in the “old dark house” mode

A down-on-his luck journalist who lives with his sister in a supposedly haunted house hits upon a scheme to make it big; he plans to fake the murder of his sister and write about the experience. However, the scheme goes awry when a real body turns up…

This pre-horror Hammer comedy has a rating of 4.8 on IMDB, which means it doesn’t have much of a reputation. Well, truth be told, it isn’t much of a movie, but if you take it for what it is (a late-period old dark house variant based on a stage play), it has its uses. There are a few mildly amusing jokes and a couple of decent plot twists, which is more than some examples of this genre have. It also has some dead spots and annoying moments; the opening bit where the brother and sister look for the sources of the scary laughs in the haunted house is tired and obvious. To enjoy it, it helps if you like the “old dark house”‘ subgenre, keep your expectations in check, and ignore the fact that it’s from Hammer.

A Short History (1956)

aka Scura istorie
Article 5323 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-17-2016
Directed by Ion Popescu-Gopo
No cast
Country: Romania
What it is: Animated short

The history of the world is told in three minutes.

It begins with the big bang, or, in this case, the big sneeze. Then we deal with dinosaurs, evolution, and the rise of man. Then… it’s over. It’s tempting to praise the movie for its ambition, but it’s the wit that sells this one; after all, the real trick here is to find the time in this story for the humor. My favorite moment here is how man evolves; I won’t give it away except that it involves an earthquake caused by a dinosaur chasing a bug.

Servants Superceded (1911)

Article 5322 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-15-2016
Directed by Percy Stow
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Trick short

When a manservant accidentally destroys a dinner, his master fires him and decides to replace him with two sleight-of-hand artists.

This short basically takes the trick short gimmicks of chairs moving of their own volition, etc. and gives it a slightly new approach; instead of the diner being victimized by willful furniture, here he is helped by magicians who use their mystical powers to control objects for his benefit. At heart, there really is no plot here; it’s just an illustration of the concept, and several of the magicians’ tricks do go into the realm of the fantastic. Dramatically, it’s a little disappointing; you keep waiting for something to go wrong and the tycoon to get his comeuppance, but such is not the case. At any rate, I can’t help but notice that the title is deceptive; if he has two magicians helping him out to replace one manservant, you can’t really say that the servants have been “superceded”; he still needs them, only now they do magic. There is a certain charm to this short.

Sant Tukaram (1936)

Article 5321 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-12-2016
Directed by Vishnupant Govind Damle and Sheikh Fattelal
Featuring Vishnupant Pagnis, Gauri, B. Nandrekar
Country: India
What it is: Biography

This tells the story of the beloved poet saint Tukaram and the efforts of a corrupt Brahmin priest to discredit him.

Those who follow my “ones that got away” list are most likely aware how rare it is to have such an early film from India as my viewing choice for the day; the vast amount of early Indian cinema is lost, and I suspect the survival of this one is probably due to the fact that it received some international acclaim and attention in its day. Tukaram is a devotee of the god Pandurang, and those who are wondering about the fantastic content of a biography should be aware that this god appears as a character in the film and engages in some miracles during the proceedings. As always with Indian films, there’s plenty of music, and in this case, most of them are the devotional songs of Tukaram. The movie concentrates on his conflicts with the Brahmin Salomalo, a corrupt hypocrite who also engages in acts of plagiarism, but there’s a secondary conflict between Tukaram and his own wife, a woman who mostly puts faith in her own god as well as in her own earthly needs; this last conflict has a bittersweet ending. Vishnupant Pagnis plays Tukaram, and he does a wonderful job; when he is ordered to destroy the songs he has written by drowning them in the river, the scene is heartbreaking. I really liked this one, and I did find it quite interesting that the primary aspect of the spirituality here (that all is done in the name of the god in question) does bear some resemblance to certain aspects of the Christian faith as well.