The Tortoise and the Hare (1935)

Article 4840 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-3-2015
Directed by Wilfred Jackson
Featuring the voices of Eddie Holden and Ned Norton
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony

Max Hare and Toby Tortoise have a footrace. Max has the obvious advantage, but will his cockiness be his undoing?

Here’s another of Disney’s Silly Symphonies, and, like THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, it’s based on a fairy tale with a moral. Actually, I find this one somewhat more amusing than that one; there’s more funny moments and gags here. Granted, part of the reason for that is that the story of the Tortoise and the Hare is extremely short (you could tell the whole story in three sentences), and it was necessary to add quite a bit to fill out a nine-minute cartoon. The cartoon even enhances the moral lesson a bit by making the hare cocky and rude. It’s somewhat fitting that his downfall is not due to taking a nap (which isn’t a visually interesting event in a cartoon), but in getting caught up in trying to impress a gaggle of girl bunnies with his antics. The animation is top-notch as usual, and I can’t really fault the cartoon. However, unlike my favorites from Warner Brothers or the Fleischers, it doesn’t really call me back for a second viewing. Maybe that’s the reason that when it comes to the shorts, I tend to prefer some of the other studios.

Tit for Tat (1904)

TIT FOR TAT (1904)
aka Une bonne farce avec ma tete
Article 4838 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-1-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Farcical magic trick short

A magician makes a duplicate of his head and then torments it by blowing smoke in its face. But his duplicate head is not going to take this lying down…

Here’s another of Melies’s magic trick shorts, though this one is a little different. He keeps it quite short, and it’s mainly focused on a trick with a story line that more or less illustrates the English title of the short. The moral here is obvious; if you play tricks on your own head, you fully deserve to reap what you sow. It’s minor Melies, but it’s enjoyable on its own terms.

The Tired Tailor’s Dream (1907)

Article 4837 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-31-2015
Directed by Joseph A. Golden
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Stop-motion short

A tired tailor takes a nap and dreams that a ruffian threatens his life if he doesn’t make him a suit in record time. Magically, the tailor’s tools build the suit of their own accord.

I guessed from the title that this was going to be about clothes being made without the tailor’s direct involvement, and sure enough, that’s what we have here. There’s extensive stop-motion animation at work here, and it’s quite well done. It is, however, a little on the dull side; even in stop motion, watching an entire suit being cut out, sewn, and ironed doesn’t make for gripping cinema. A little variety is added when the ruffian returns and is fitted by the same stop-motion method by which the suit was made. This is one of those shorts where you’re more likely to admire the craft that went into making it than to enjoy the results.

The Three Little Pigs (1933)

Article 4834 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-27-2015
Directed by Burt Gillett
Featuring the voices of Billy Bletcher, Pinto Colvig, Dorothy Compton
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony fairy tale

Two lazy pigs who build ramshackle houses must retreat to their smart brother’s brick house when a wolf blows down their own homes.

This may well be the most famous of Disney’s Silly Symphonies, and I think the main reason for this is the inclusion of one of Disney’s most indelible songs, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”. It was one of the first cartoons to be written on storyboards at the studio, and it became a phenomenal success. It must have really struck a chord in its time. Watching it now, it’s a bit difficult to see what all the fuss was about. Make no mistake; it’s a solid, entertaining little cartoon with a very catchy song, but it also looks rather ordinary. That may well be because the innovations introduced here were quickly adopted and imitated by others. It’s more whimsical than funny; probably the biggest laughs I got from the cartoon were noticing the pictures hanging up in the various pigs’ houses; I especially enjoy the one of “father” in the house of bricks.

Tornerose (1922)

aka Dornroschen, Sleeping Beauty
Article 4832 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-25-2015
Directed by Lotte Reiniger
No cast
Country: Germany
What it is: Silhouette animation of a fairy tale

When a princess is born to a king and queen, they invite all the flower fairies to the christening, but neglect to invite the thistle fairy, who lays a curse on the princess and the kingdom.

Of the Lotte Reiniger shorts that I’ve been covering lately, this is the earliest chronologically. If it illustrates anything, it shows how the it takes hard work and practice to become a master of a craft such as silhouette animation, and while the others I’ve seen were the work of a master, this one is the work of one still developing their craft. The animation is noticeably jerkier, slower, and less self-assured. However, one thing I did notice was how complex and elaborate the silhouette puppets are in the first place. This is the least effective of the shorts I’ve seen of Reiniger’s, but it does need to be remembered that it was one of her earlier works.

The ‘Teddy’ Bears (1907)

Article 4826 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-19-2015
Directed by Wallace McCutcheon and Edwin S. Porter
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What is is: Odd mix of fairy tale and satire

Three bears go out for a walk. While they are gone, a young girl shows up, eats their porridge, sleeps in their beds, and steals their teddy bears.

I found this on YouTube, and the site claimed it was a satire on Teddy Roosevelt. I was scratching my head for the most part on that comment; how was a retelling of the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” story a satire on Roosevelt? It doesn’t become apparent until the last two minutes, when Teddy shows up and becomes a participant in the action; apparently, the short was somewhat inspired by a tale of Roosevelt’s where he killed a mother bear but spared its cub. Still, I’m not sure if there was a hidden but coherent critique of Roosevelt here rather than just a riff on a hunting story of his. At any rate, the most impressive sequence is also the most anomalous; at one point, Goldilocks looks through a knothole and sees a collection of stop-motion teddy bears performing acrobatics. While this scene is entertaining enough, it also has little to do with the rest of the short. All in all, this is an odd one.

Tarantella (1940)

Article 4824 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-17-2015
Directed by Mary Ellen Bute and Ted Nemeth
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Abstract animation

Abstract visuals appear in sync to a tarantella played on a piano.

I believe that in dealing with unusual cinematic concepts and styles that you sometimes just have to see enough of them to get a handle on how to discuss them. So there’s hope that someday I’ll have seen enough of these abstract musical animations to be able to go into more detail about the experience, rather than just say “Well, here’s another one.” I’ve not reached that point yet, and other than pointing out that the jagged, abrupt animation fits in well with the jagged, abrupt music, I’ve little to say about it. At under five minutes, it at least doesn’t wear out its welcome.

Tannhauser (1913)

Article 4821 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-14-2015
Directed by Lucius Henderson
Featuring James Cruze, Marguerite Snow, Florene La Badie
Country: USA
What it is: Silent opera

A minstrel falls in love with a princess, but leaves when her betrothal to a previous suitor is announced. The suitor releases the princess from her vow when he discovers that she loves the minstrel, but the latter has been seduced and put under a spell by the pagan goddess Venus.

Ah, the course of true love ne’er did run smooth. Still, the pitfalls, setbacks and obstacles that beset the lovers in this one are so contrived that one can only shake one’s head. Granted, this one is from an opera, and it might have worked better if the characters could sing, but this being a silent movie, we’re left with the story. It’s a surprisingly slow story, at that; even at only forty minutes, it drags, and the sometimes dull and cluttered staging don’t help things out. As for the fantastic content, we have Venus to contend with as well as a plot element that requires a miracle to solve. You know a story is jerking you around when it coughs up a miracle to solve an impossible situation, and then pulls the rug out from under you by… well, I won’t give away the ending, but to quote Bugs Bunny, “Well, what did expect in an opera? A happy ending?”

The Time Crystal (1981)

aka Through the Magic Pyramid
Article 4731 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-7-2015
Directed by Ron Howard
Featuring Chris Barnes, Hans Conried, Vic Tayback
Country: USA
What it is: Children’s time-travel sword and sandal movie

A boy with a fascination for all things Egyptian is given a pyramid-shaped crystal that propels him back in time to ancient Egypt. There he becomes embroiled in a plot to kill the Pharaoh Akhenaten and to prevent the rightful heir, Prince Tutankhamen from ascending to the throne.

After sitting through about twenty minutes of this movie, I popped into IMDB out of curiosity to see what its rating would be, and I was initially astonished to see a rating of 7.2. Then I had to remind myself that this was, after all, a children’s movie that had fallen into obscurity, and sure enough, when I read the user comments on the movie, it told a familiar story; most of them come from people who remember seeing it as a child, it had a big impact on them, but they hadn’t seen it in many years. Actually, I can see why it might have a big impact; the main character is an awkward boy who feels bad over having made an embarrassing mistake at a football game, and who redeems himself by going into the past and rescuing the Prince from kidnappers, proving himself heroic and competent and defeating many evil adults along the way. This is the sort of story that hits home for kids of a certain age. Well, I won’t begrudge them their memories, but I think they’d be better off if they didn’t try to dredge up a copy to watch again. To these eyes, it looks like a silly juvenile low-budget sword and sandal movie with time travel thrown into the mix, and I didn’t find it remotely convincing. I hope I’m not the only one who finds it hard to swallow Vic Tayback as an ancient Egyptian, but at least I managed to get my mind around that after a bit; seeing Jo Anne Worley as one was really beyond the pale. Well, at least it has Hans Conried, who I always enjoy. And, to the movie’s credit, it gets better as it goes along. It even has one really good scene when we reach the death of Akhenaten. Beyond that, I can’t really recommend this one.

Ten Little Indians (1974)

aka Ein Unbekannter rechnet ab
Article 4730 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-6-2015
Directed by Peter Collinson
Featuring Charles Aznavour, Maria Rohm, Adolfo Celi
Country: Italy / West Germany / France / Spain / UK
What it is: Agatha Christie mystery

Eight guests are invited to a party at a mansion in the middle of a desert by a host named U.N. Owen, but the host is not present; only two servants are found on the premises. Then a recording is played where the host accuses all ten people of having committed murder. Then the guests and the help begin dying one by one…

For the record, I’ve seen the Rene Clair movie AND THEN THERE WERE NONE twice, and I’ve also read the stage play version of the story twice, once within the last few months. In short, I’m very familiar with the story, and seeing how it’s one of Christie’s most popular works, I’m sure it’s familiar to a lot of other people are as well. And therein lies one of the pitfalls of filming an extremely well known mystery story; the only way you’re really going to surprise a viewer already familiar with the work is by being unfaithful to the story. For the record, this version changes some of the details; for example, the setting is a mansion in the middle of a desert rather than on an island (in either case, there’s no way for the people to leave), and the methods of several of the murders are different, but in essence, it remains faithful to the traditional versions of the story. Still, there are two things that I really like about this one. First of all, I find it hard to dislike any movie that features Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer, Herbert Lom, Richard Attenborough, Gert Frobe, Maria Rohm and Adolfo Celi all at once (all these names together can’t help my make me smile), and the interior sets are stunning; no wonder there are so many long shots in the movie placing all the actors against these sets. Some of the scenes work quite nicely, and there are a couple of clumsy moments, but overall, I rather liked this version of the movie. It just didn’t have a lot in the way of surprises.