The Sign of Four (1983)

Article 4062 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-24-2012
Directed by Desmond Davis
Featuring Ian Richardson, David Healy, Thorley Walters
Country: UK
What it is: Sherlock Holmes adaptation

When a beautiful woman receives a mysterious and rare diamond with a note that she has been wronged, she hires Sherlock Holmes to help unravel the mystery, which eventually leads to a long history of murder and betrayal.

The biggest mistake this adaptation of the second of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels makes is apparent right off the bat; rather than revealing the backstory as Holmes unravels the clues, we are given a sizable portion of it in the opening scenes; in other words, the “mystery” portion of this mystery is undercut. Nevertheless, I quite like this movie; the performances are solid, the atmosphere is quite strong, and it’s mostly rather faithful to the original story, with a scene involving a carnival being the primary exception. Also, because of the way it chooses to tell the story, we actual have the horror content upped somewhat, as we see a lot more of the cannibalistic pygmy character than we would otherwise. At any rate, this is a nice change of pace from all of the silent shorts I’ve been watching lately.

Sonicman (1979)

aka Supersonic Man
Article 4060 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-19-2012
Directed by Juan Piquer Simon
Featuring Antonio Cantafora, Cameron Mitchell, Jose Luis Ayestaran
Country: Spain
What it is: Superhero hijinks

Supersonic Man comes from outer space to prevent an evil genius’s plan to conquer the world.

If you’ve committed to making a low-budget rip on SUPERMAN and you know it’s going to end up bad, you could do worse than make it at least colorful and goofy, which this one does. It has Cameron Mitchell as the villain, a flame-throwing robot, lots of people running around with blasters, a comic relief begging wino and a stupid theme song. Granted, it’s not in the same league as INFRA-MAN as far as inspired goofiness goes, but it’s at least much better than THE PUMA MAN. And, truth to tell, I would have liked to see a sequel… but only if they followed up on the ending of this one and gave the comic-relief wino the super powers as they seem to be doing. But I’m not going to hold my breath for the release of SUPERSONIC WINO.

Sunny Italy (1950)

Article 4057 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-15-2012
Directed by Connie Rasinski
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Mighty Mouse cartoon

Mighty Mouse must save his girlfriend from Oilcan Harry in various Italian locations.

Ten thoughts on SUNNY ITALY:

1) I remember thinking the first time I saw one of the operetta-style Mighty Mouse cartoons that the series finally found its voice. Unfortunately, I’m finding out with this one that the concept (animated serial-style thrills combined with opera warbling) wears thin rather quickly.

2) Granted, some of my reaction may have been affected by the fact that the copy that I watched was the only one on Youtube… and seems to have been enhanced with an unremoveable Spanish voice translation layered over the cartoon. This is annoying and distracting, to say the least.

3) One problem I have with certain superheroes is that there’s no clear delineation of the extent of their powers, and if this cartoon is any indication, Mighty Mouse is one of the great offenders. Please reference the rest of the items on this list.

4) While Oilcan Harry has Mighty Mouse’s girlfriend suspended from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Mighty Mouse is unable to free her because he’s fighting lions in the Colosseum. But there’s no top on the Colosseum, so why doesn’t he ignore the lions and fly to her rescue.

5) Mighty Mouse has the ability to beat up ten lions, but lacks the power to break out of a plaster statue.

6) Why does Oilcan Harry break the plaster statue surrounding Mighty Mouse (rather easily by hitting it with his cane) when it’s obvious that the latter can’t do anything while he’s encased in it?

7) Why, when he’s not strong enough to break a plaster statue, does Mighty Mouse have the power to close off a volcano with a lasso?

8) Mighty Mouse apparently has the ability to hypnotize and frighten lava. How many times in his life would he find this a useful ability?

9) Why am I spending so much time on the logic errors in a Mighty Mouse cartoon?

10) This cartoon seems particularly heavy on the opera, with a long sequence where the girlfriend sings while being held prisoner on a Venetian gondola. Maybe it’s because this one takes place in Italy…

Yes, this is all pretty nit-picky, but that’s what ran through my mind while watching this. Granted, since the cartoon runs less than six minutes, it was hardly a great burden on my life.

A Safe Place (1971)

Article 4051 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-6-2012
Directed by Henry Jaglom
Featuring Tuesday Weld, Orson Welles, Jack Nicholson
Country: USA
What it is: Art film

A woman deals with her two lovers, as well as memories of her encounter with a magician and her having been able to fly.

When movies as singularly personal as this come along, it’s often difficult to discuss the fantastic content, as there doesn’t seem to be an objective reality to use as a reference point. Did the woman really fly? Does she end up flying at the end of the movie? Does the magician really make anything disappear? And, on the movie’s terms, does it even matter whether these questions have answers? It can also be difficult to give them meaningful reviews, especially if the movie remains elusive to the reviewer. Did the filmmaker fail to make himself understood, or is there simply too great a distance between the individual minds? So I’m just going to settle with saying that, even though I can’t point to anything specific about the movie that doesn’t work, I found myself a little bored by the whole affair, even though I do recognize why others might be entranced by it. In some ways, Jaglom’s work reminds me of the work of Fellini, but Fellini can fascinate me consistently, whereas Jaglom can’t. Still, I do have to admire a man who can gather this amount of talent for his first movie; on top of the three performers listed above, the movie also features Firesign Theater’s Phil Proctor.

Skullduggery (1970)

Article 4044 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-29-2012
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Featuring Burt Reynolds, Susan Clark, Roger C. Carmel
Country: USA
What it is: Meditation on humanity

A pair of fortune seekers finagle their way into an anthropological expedition in the hope of using it as a cover in their search for rare minerals. However, the situation becomes complicated when a race of missing links is discovered… and the possibility of their being exploited to serve the purpose of mining the minerals.

This movie has a fairly low rating on IMDB, and in some ways, it deserves it; the direction isn’t particularly strong, the script, as interesting as it in some ways, is muddled in others, and there’s something of a dull, hangdog feel to the proceedings. If it didn’t touch on what I consider a very interesting issue, I wouldn’t find much to recommend here. But the issue of the humanity of the missing links (which impacts on whether they would be considered employees or pack animals by their exploiters, as well as how they should be treated in other crucial ways) is fascinating, and the best part of the movie is in the final third, when one of the fortune seekers claims to have killed one of the missing links in order to force a court of law to decide on the humanity of the species. I’m not surprised that the movie ends as it does, though it is a little too abrupt about getting to the end credits; even though it was dramatically effective to leave certain issues unresolved, there are other issues that did need some sort of resolution. All in all, it’s a mediocre movie with a good idea.

Le sorcier arabe (1906)

aka An Arabian Magician
Article 4028 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-10-2012
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Standard trick film

An Arabian magician makes women appear and disappear.

What we have here is your typical Melies-style trick film in which a magician performs the usual cinematic tricks. There’s not much to this one, though the hand-drawn coloring adds a touch of pizzazz, and a few of the tricks are done quite smoothly. Otherwise, this is pretty standard issue.

Something Evil (1972)

Article 4016 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-28-2012
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Featuring Sandy Dennis, Darren McGavin, Ralph Bellamy
Country: USA
What it is: House with a malignant force

A couple buys and moves into a country farmhouse, only to discover there’s a demonic presence there.

A house with a malignant evil in it is hardly an original idea, and the weakest thing about this movie is the script, which dabbles in cliches and occasional fits of silliness; I find it hard to take seriously either the crying jar of goo or the demon eyes in the window. Still, the movie redeems itself with a solid cast (which also includes Johnny Whitaker, Jeff Corey and Bruno Ve Sota), creative direction from Steven Spielberg, and some effective camerawork; I particular like how the climax of the movie is handled. What I enjoyed most about the movie was seeing Spielberg honing his craft; I like the way he handles the party and crowd scenes and little touches like the conversation between the wife and her friend’s son in which we see their expressions through the chain lock on a door. It isn’t one of Spielberg’s great movies, by any means, but it probably would have been somewhat weaker in someone else’s hands. And there is something genuinely upsetting about seeing the likable family start to come apart when the evil sets in.