Sandy Claws (1954)

SANDY CLAWS (1954)
Article 5320 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-11-2016
Directed by Friz Freleng
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Bea Benaderet
Country: USA
What it is: Tweety cartoon

Tweety gets stranded on a rock outcropping on the beach when the tide comes in. Sylvester pretends to be a life guard to cover up his real reason for trying to save the bird.

As far as fantastic content goes, we have the anthropomorphic animals on display, but nothing beyond that. That being said, this is a pretty standard Tweety cartoon that benefits from a cute gimmick; having Sylvester mistaken for a hero rather than a predator adds a little bit more novelty to the plot line. The best gags take place in the fishing scene near the beginning and at a point where Granny tries to bring Sylvester out of a faint by throwing a bucket of water on him; the punch line on the latter is probably the most memorable thing about the short. This one was nominated for an Oscar, though I’d hardly call it one of Warner’s best efforts.

Starbirds (1982)

STARBIRDS (1982)
Article 5319 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-10-2016
Directed by Michael Part
Voice cast unknown
Country: Japan / USA
What it is: Japanese TV anime series converted into feature

Winged aliens known as Valerians invade the Earth in order that their own population can move there. Can the earthlings use the super-robot Dynamo to defeat them?

This feature was edited from the anime TV series “Tosho Daimos”; it looks like roughly four episodes were plundered for it. IMDB lists the running time as eighty minutes. The copy I found on YouTube runs only 55 minutes. Usually, I would interpret this as meaning that a good 25 minutes were missing from the print I saw; however, other than a bit from the beginning and a bit from the end, I think I saw the whole thing. How is that possible? Well, to me it appears that YouTube video made a mess of its source, and it appears that the footage is being shown at an heightened pace; for those who remember vinyl, it’s like playing a 33 1/3 record at 45. Furthermore, it looks like the visual presentation is not only slightly cropped at the top and bottom, but it appears to be showing a movie at 4:3 ratio in Cinerama format. The end result? It sounds like it was dubbed by the Chipmunks and everyone is short and extra-wide. However, you can’t say the pace is slow.

No, this is far from the best way to experience a movie, but this one is rare enough that I made the best of it I could. It’s a bit confusing, but given what it is, it could have been far worse. However, the story never really impresses me; it seems like typical anime space opera, and I’m not really a huge fan of that sort of thing unless it finds something really interesting to do with the form. A better presentation might give it more visual appeal, but c’est la vie. However, I did discover one thing – annoying comic-relief robots just get worse when you speed them up. Fortunately, the one here is used sparingly.

Shinel (1926)

SHINEL (1926)
aka The Overcoat
Article 5317 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-7-2016
Directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg
Featuring Antonina Eremeeva, Emil Gal, Sergey Gerasimov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Stylized drama

Two stories are told. In one, a clerk becomes obsessed with a woman only to discover she’s a prostitute. In the second, another clerk (or possibly the same one) dreams of getting a fine overcoat, and his wish comes true… but for how long?

I found a copy of this one on YouTube, and even though it did not feature English subtitles, it’s based on a couple of stories by Nikolai Gogol, and I was able to read summaries of the stories to help me in negotiating the movie. I don’t know if the movie I saw is complete; IMDB lists a running time of 84 minutes, but mine only ran 63 minutes. The copy I found also features a bizarre modern soundtrack that is in some ways rather appropriate for a movie this stylized, but I didn’t find it well-incorporated with the action.

The highly stylized acting is the primary attraction here; at times it reminded me of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, though it doesn’t get quite that bizarre. For those familiar with the stories from which this was adapted (“Nevsky Prospekt” and “The Overcoat”), the latter in its original story form is the one with the fantastic content; a ghost plays into the story near the end. Alas, this adaptation ends at a point before the ghost appears, but there are a couple of dream/fantasy sequences (including a stop-motion overcoat moving of its own volition) that make up for it a bit. It’s an interesting movie, though I don’t think it’s quite as effective as it could have been. Still, there are memorable moments; in particular, I like the way the movie transitions between the two stories, which raises the question as to whether the events happen to two different clerks or to the same one at different times in his life.

Sculpteur moderne (1908)

SCULPTEUR MODERNE (1908)
aka Modern Sculptors
Article 5267 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-10-2016
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Featuring Julienne Mathieu and Andre Deed
Country: France
What it is: Special effects short

A woman presents a variety of sculptures and paintings, some of which come to life and others which create themselves.

I like Chomon best when he goes off the deep end and produces something truly bizarre. This, however, is not one of those; it’s merely a parade of special effects set pieces, some of which are obviously people pretending to be statues until they movie of their own accord, and others which are the work of stop-motion animation. In fact, some of the sculptures don’t move at all, which is a little disappointing. The special effects are well done, but the short is pretty ordinary overall. This is minor Chomon.

Scotland Yard (1930)

SCOTLAND YARD (1930)
Article 5265 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-7-2016
Directed by William K. Howard
Featuring Edmund Lowe, Joan Bennett, Donald Crisp
Country: USA
What it is: Crime drama

During World War I, a criminal joins the army to evade the police, but has his face destroyed in an enemy barrage. A French plastic surgeon restores his face under the assumption that the photograph in a locket the criminal was carrying was his own face; in fact, he had stolen it from a banker. The criminal decides to use his resemblance to the banker for his own purposes.

The fantastic content of this movie, as explained by the Don Willis guide, was that plastic surgery in the movie was beyond the capabilities of plastic surgery in real life, and I can see where he’s coming from; it’s similar to the exaggerations movies applied to hypnotism and lifelike face masks, just to name a couple. However, I can also see putting this phenomenon into the realm of movie convention rather than in outright science fiction; I don’t recall within the movie there being any mention of the surgeon having developed any new techniques, so I’d have to say the fantastic content is extremely marginal. The movie is very much an early talkie, which is to say it creaks and paces itself so deliberately that you could visit the refrigerator in the spaces between the lines. It’s based on a stage play, but it least it does some interesting things with the framing, occasionally focusing on close-ups of objects, and this helps it fight the “photographed stage play” feeling. Still, the script itself is rather creaky, especially when it attempts to be subtle about meanings that are blatantly obvious. Still, it does have some points of interest, but it requires a certain amount of patience and a little forgiveness.

Studie Nr. 6/Studie Nr. 7 (1930)/(1931)

STUDIE NR. 6 / STUDIE NR. 7 (1930)/(1931)
Articles 5211/5212 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-22-2016 / 7-23-2016
Directed by Oskar Fischinger
No cast
Country: Germany
What it is: Abstract animation

Yes, I’m reviewing two movies at once, but given the fact that they’re two movies of a 14-part series that consist of abstract animated shapes moving in sync to the music on the soundtrack, I think my decision is understandable. Actually, the Walt Lee guide which listed these lists numbers five through eleven of the series as a single entry; why it didn’t include the first four or the last three is unknown by me. At any rate, they’re cut from the same cloth; the first has mostly bird-like shapes moving around to “Los Verderones”, while the second has mostly flat paper-shapes dancing around to Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 5”. They’re both well done and short enough so that they don’t overstay their welcome. I suspect the rest of the series is similar, but these appear to be the only two that are quickly and easily available for viewing; I saw excerpts for 5 and 8, but would prefer to cover the full shorts when they become available. Believe it or not, the Nazis labeled him a degenerate due to the abstract nature of these shorts, no doubt because they were suspicious of anything they couldn’t understand. He would later help design the abstract sequence in FANTASIA, but would quit when the powers that be made his abstract designs more representational.

Spermula (1976)

Spermula (1976)
aka L’amour est un fleuve en Russie
Article 5208 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-18-2016
Directed by Charles Matton
Featuring Dayle Haddon, Udo Kier, Francois Dunoyer
Country: France
What it is: Adult art film

A secret society that developed supernatural powers concerned with the “Rapture of Being” vanished in 1935, only to return to the world many years later where they possess the women and use the men. However, have they returned too soon…?

Quite frankly, I expected porn, and given the title, can you blame me? I was very surprised when a copy of this one showed up on YouTube, of all places, and that was a big tip-off to me that this movie didn’t quite fit that pigeonhole. Granted, there are several versions of this movie out there (and I hear tell that the English language version is very silly), but the French version I saw, while still clearly an adult film of sorts, is more stylistically surreal than openly erotic; even when the sex shows up, I was more entranced than aroused. It’s not an easy movie; much of it is confusing, and it takes a bit of work to sort through the characters, but it did catch my interest enough that I think it might be worth revisiting. Now if only the title wasn’t so crass; the French title translates as “Love is a River in Russia”, a line from the movie.

Stoogemania (1986)

STOOGEMANIA (1986)
Article 5165 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-23-2016
Directed by Chuck Workman
Featuring Josh Mostel, Melanie Chartoff, Sid Caesar
Country: USA
What it is: Recycling gone horribly wrong

A prospective bridegroom calls off his marriage when it becomes apparent that he suffers from an affliction called Stoogemania, in which he hallucinates Three Stooges footage and acts like an idiot.

The fantastic content of this movie is the title disease, and if you think that’s lame… well, yes, it is. Nor is it a promising premise for a movie, though I will acknowledge it as an affectionate nod to the comic team in question. The challenge with attempting a tribute of this sort is coming up with new comic business that is as inspired and funny as the Three Stooges at their best, and I’m afraid it doesn’t succeed; all too often, the movie just collapses into loud, messy undisciplined slapstick. To further underline this, a good thirty to forty percent of the movie consists of authentic Three Stooges footage (which allows you to compare the real thing with the new footage), and I suspect all of it is from the handful of shorts that fell into public domain. You can get those shorts for a song, and if you do, you have the best parts of the movie there. The rest is unnecessary and a waste of time. And, for the record, movie, it’s “nyuk nyuk nyuk”, not “nuk nuk nuk”.

Sumpah Pontianak (1958)

SUMPAH PONTIANAK (1958)
aka The Vampire’s Curse
Article 5160 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-18-2016
Directed by B. Narayan Rao
Featuring Maria Menado, Mustapha Maarof, Salmah Ahmad
Country: Singapore
What it is: Exotic strangeness

The residents of a small village have to deal with a series of monsters, including a pontianak, a shape-shifting female vampire.

One of the most interesting aspects of this project of mine is having the chance to visit the cinema of countries that are off the beaten path. This returns me to Singapore; the last movie I saw from there was CURSE OF THE OILY MAN. This one was apparently the third of a trilogy about a pontianak, a shape-shifting flying female vampire. We also encounter an ugly forest zombie and a strange lizard creature before it’s all over. Since the dialogue was in Malay, I can’t claim I that I was able to follow the plot, and the fact that it was the third movie in a trilogy in which I haven’t seen the first two movies further complicates things. Still, it’s fun when the monsters show up, but that really doesn’t happen until the middle of the movie. Until then you get a lot of dull talk broken up by some entertaining musical numbers; the movie is as much a musical as it is a horror movie. The special effects are pretty weak, but for this one, it’s part of the charm. Perhaps the most striking moment for me in the movie had nothing to do with the monsters; it was the final musical number that blew me away, as the musicians tell a song acted out by three dancers who move in such a stiff, jerky fashion that they look like poorly stop-motion animated marionettes, and it was indescribably fascinating. I love taking cinematic adventures like this.

The Sex Machine (1975)

THE SEX MACHINE (1975)
aka Conviene far bene l’amore
Article 5151 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-9-2016
Directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile
Featuring Gigi Proietti, Agostina Belli, Eleanora Giorgi
Country: Italy
What it is: Science fiction sex comedy

In the year 2000, mankind has exhausted its energy resources and has regressed to a relatively primitive existence. However, a scientist hopes to tap into a heretofore unsuspected source of energy; that produced by the human body during sex.

Given that the director of this one was the same person who gave us the horrid WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS, I didn’t exactly hold high hopes for this Italian exploitation comedy. Sure enough, as a sex comedy, I found it witless, though I should point out that much of the blame may go to the translation and dubbing into English; much is usually lost when this happens. Nevertheless, the movie swings into full-blown satire in the second half, and at this point the movie becomes much more interesting, as it investigates the mutability of the civic and religious authorities in coping with the discovery, and their willingness to bend, break, and rewrite the laws of morality to suit this new world. There’s enough thoughtful material in this part of the movie that I wish the whole movie had been focused on that part of the story, but let’s face it; sex is more salable than satire. Nonetheless, I’m glad there is a bit more to this movie than the leering.