The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)

THE TELL-TALE HEART (1953)
Animated Short
Article 2271 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2007
Posting Date: 10-31-2007
Directed by Ted Parmelee
Narrated by James Mason

A madman, haunted by a deformed eye and the sound of a beating heart, kills an old man.

UPA developed a unique and striking visual style for the cartoons they made in the fifties. and this may well be their masterpiece. The excellent narration by James Mason uses an abbreviated version of the story that manages to capture its essence; I particularly like a brief but effective coda that uses lines from the beginning of the story after the point where the story usually ends. The non-realistic animation uses abstract imagery in a powerful way, and it also makes wonderful use of sound and music as well. I’ve seen several versions of this story to date, and, along with the expressionistic short version from 1928 , this is one of my favorites.

 

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Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949)

TARZAN’S MAGIC FOUNTAIN (1949)
Article 2270 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-9-2007
Posting Date: 10-30-2007
Directed by Lee Sholem
Featuring Lex Barker, Brenda Joyce, Albert Dekker

Tarzan gets permission from a hidden civilization to take a downed aviatrix that lives there back to civilization, where her testimony will help clear a man of murder. However, since the fifty-year-old woman looks like she’s in her twenties, certain unscrupulous parties become convinced that a legend of a fountain of youth has truth to it, and they decide to seek it out.

Once you see Evelyn Ankers as the aviatrix, you’ll pretty much have the whole movie scoped out; you’ll know the secret of the fountain, you’ll know why Tarzan and the natives of the hidden civilization are so protective of it, and you’ll know that the story will have precious little in the way of real surprises. Still, it’s somewhat fitting that a story about the fountain of youth is the one to usher a new, younger Tarzan into the role; this was the first of Lex Barker’s movies in the character. Still, this one feels very much like the Weissmuller Tarzan movies that came before; they don’t really take advantage of the younger Tarzan until the next in the series, and the biggest difference is that the swimming scenes are greatly abbreviated. probably because Barker, unlike Weissmuller, wasn’t known for his swimming ability. Brenda Joyce is back as Jane, but this would be her last time at the role, and the cast also features Albert Dekker and Alan Napier.

 

Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950)

TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1950)
Article 2269 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-8-2007
Posting Date: 10-29-2007
Directed by Lee Sholem
Featuring Lex Barker, Vanessa Brown, Robert Alda

A lost society in the jungle has been kidnapping women in the hope they will be able to repopulate, as a mysterious disease is killing them off. When Jane and a doctor’s nurse are kidnapped by them, Tarzan leads an expedition into the jungle to rescue the women.

With Johnny Weissmuller consigned to Jungle Jim films, Lex Barker took over the role of Tarzan in the RKO series. This is the first of the series I’ve seen with him in the lead, though it was actually the second of the five films he made as the character. The series does appear to have regained some of its savagery, due no doubt to a combination of the facts that a younger Tarzan was in much better shape for the action sequences, the departure of Boy had dedomesticized the series a little, and the erosion of the Motion Picture Code as beginning to show. There are some nasty scenes here, including a man’s face being cut and an elephant stepping on a man’s arm. Barker doesn’t seem quite at ease with Tarzan’s fractured English, but he’s lithe, athletic and moves like an animal. The story itself is pretty ordinary, and Cheeta’s antics are forgettable. Still, the movie really comes to life in the middle of the movie, when Tarzan encounters a tribe of killers who disguise themselves as bushes; there’s something genuinely unsettling about these natives that adds a sense of horror to the proceedings, which, along with the lost civilization, supply the fantastic aspects of this Tarzan opus. It should be interesting to see some of Barker’s other forays into the character.

 

The Three Caballeros (1944)

THE THREE CABALLEROS (1944)
Article 2253 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-17-2007
Posting Date: 10-13-2007
Directed by Norman Ferguson
Featuring Aurora Miranda, Carmen Molina, Dora Luz

Donald Duck receives a birthday present which consists of some movies, a book on Brazil from his friend Joe Carioca, and a pinata from Panchito.

This is a distinctly minor Disney animated feature, made during the war with the intention of engendering better relations with the countries of Latin America. It starts out with a couple of shorts, one about a penguin who wants to move to a warmer climate, and one about a man who discovers a flying donkey. These are fairly entertaining. But once we get to this point, it embarks on its main mission, which is to celebrate the music and dance of our Latin American neighbors. To that end, Donald is given two friends, Joe Carioca from Brazil and Panchito from Mexico. The rest of the movie is fairly plotless, and the action largely consists of 1) footage of Latin American music and dancing, 2) Donald Duck ogling beautiful women, and 3) Joe Carioca and Panchito playing tricks on Donald. There’s also a wealth of surreal and bizarre animation, and though the latter should win me over to the movie, it lacks the eerie power of similar animation in DUMBO ( “Pink Elephants on Parade”) or the elegant poetry of FANTASIA . Quite frankly, I found myself rapidly losing interest in the movie after the shorts finished up; the lack of any real plot or meaningful conflict means that the interest level here is dependent on your affinity for Latin American music and dancing, and, if this movie is any indication, it just wasn’t enough to tide me over. As of this time, I rank this as the least interesting of Disney’s animated features that I have reviewed.

 

The Two Little Bears (1961)

THE TWO LITTLE BEARS (1961)
Article 2231 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-25-2007
Posting Date: 9-21-2007
Directed by Randall Hood
Featuring Eddie Albert, Jane Wyatt, Soupy Sales

Two little boys want to become bears, much to the consternation of their teacher and their father, the principal of the school. They meet a fortuneteller who tells them they can turn into bears if they put on bear costumes, rub themselves with a salve, and say a witch’s curse. They do so, and discover that it works.

Had I known the basic plot of the movie, taken the time to look at it’s 4.6 average rating on IMDB, and known that it featured cutesy songs by Brenda Lee, I might well have prepared for the worst when I sat down to watch this. As it was, I went into it blind, and instead, I found myself rather taken by the cast, which featured Eddie Albert, Jane Wyatt, Soupy Sales, Butch Patrick, Nancy Kulp and Milton Parsons. Even the potentially saccharine “Honey Bear” song warbled by Miss Lee didn’t drive me off, probably because I found it an easier song to bear with than the one that opened THE WIZARD OF BAGHDAD the other day. As a result, I found myself quite charmed by this one; no, it’s far from a classic, but it’s unpretentious, has a nice sense of gentle magic to it, and in its own ingenuous way it mines some of the same childhood feelings as the superior THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE . All in all, I liked this one, though it may be simply because it hit me in the right mood.

 

The Telephone Book (1971)

THE TELEPHONE BOOK (1971)
Article 2228 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-22-2007
Posting Date: 9-18-2007
Directed by Nelson Lyon
Featuring Sarah Kennedy, Norman Rose, Roger C. Carmel

When a woman receives an unusually effective obscene phone call, she becomes intent on tracking down and meeting the man. All she knows is that his name is John Smith and he lives in Manhattan. She begins calling all of the John Smiths in the telephone book to find him.

First of all, let’s get the fantastic content out of the way. The only content of that sort here is found in the animated sequences that pop up during the climax of the movie; they’re outrageous and could certainly be classified as obscene to some. For a while, I wondered if the movie was going to slip into science fiction when the phone caller, while telling the story of his life, begins to talk about having trained to be an astronaut, but such is not the case. I also thought the movie could turn towards horror before it was all over; after all, it’s quite possible our obscene phone caller could be a serial killer as well, but such is not the case.

To be quite frank, this movie hovers on a strange border between art film, comedy and softcore pornography, and walks it surprisingly well; it actually manages to succeed somewhat as all three. In this context, it’s a little surprised to see names I was familiar with; Roger C. Carmel is known for playing Mudd in a couple of “Star Trek” episodes, and Barry Morse was a regular on “Space 1999”. The Carmel sequence is the funniest in the movie; as an exhibitionist analyst who gets an unexpected comeuppance, he is quite hilarious. Norman Rose plays the obscene phone caller, and his performance is quite impressive, too; given the fact that we never see his complete face (unless he is one of the obscene phone callers who are interviewed during the movie, as there is one who could well be him), and that he wears a pig mask throughout all of his scenes with Sarah Kennedy, he manages to somehow avoid coming off as a repellent creep and instead catches our interest as a human being, which is no mean feat. I was surprisingly taken with this movie, though it is certainly not for everyone. It has plenty of nudity and some simulated sex, but I think, for all that, it manages to avoid being mere exploitation. The movie also features Jill Clayburgh in a small role, and Andy Warhol regulars Ondine and Ultra Violet.

 

The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959)

THE 30 FOOT BRIDE OF CANDY ROCK (1959)
Article 2223 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-17-2007
Posting Date: 9-13-2007
Directed by Sidney Miller
Featuring Lou Costello, Dorothy Provine, Gale Gordon

A garbageman inventor finds himself forced to marry his girlfriend when she enters a radioactive cave that turns her into a giantess. He then must protect her from the military forces, who believe that she is an extraterrestrial invader.

This was the only movie Lou Costello made without his partner Bud Abbott. It was also his last movie, and arguably the weakest of all of his movies. Because of this, it’s tempting to blame the movie’s weakness on the absence of Bud, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true; after all, THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES has a reputation as one of his best movies, and though he did it with Bud, it wasn’t as a team. Furthermore, you could easily have substituted Bud in the Gale Gordon part here, and it wouldn’t have made the movie any better. No, what Lou needed here was a decent script; though he’s putting forth his best effort, his lines simply aren’t funny. Director Sidney Miller had a long career as an actor, but he wasn’t much of a director, and the movie suffers from a lack of energy and imagination. I almost get the feeling that the movie was tossed off without much care, which is a shame, as it would prove to be Costello’s last movie; he died before it was released. At any rate, it really makes me appreciate the quality of his movies with Bud Abbott; even the weakest of those come off as better than this one.