Tarzan, the Ape Man (1959)

Article 5439 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-30-2017
Directed by Joseph M. Newman
Featuring Denny Miller, Cesare Danova, Joanna Barnes
Country: USA
What it is: Jungle reboot

An expedition in Africa in search of the elephant’s graveyard encounters a white man who swings through the jungle and says “oongawa”.

I think it’s fair to say that, given the generic title of this one and the fact that it features the first meeting between Tarzan and Jane, this was an attempted reboot to the 27-year old movie series. But really, if you’re going to reboot, you should put in a lot more effort than was exerted here. Any reboot that uses as much footage as this one does from the original TARZAN, THE APE MAN from 1932 (which was in black and white and is being incorporated into a color widescreen movie) as well as stealing the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan call and dubbing it into the movie is, to my mind, tacitly admitting that a reboot is pointless. This one is just weak, especially when we have the embarrassing scenes between Tarzan and Jane. And as for bad special effects, wait until you see the close-ups of the jaguar’s face during the scene where Tarzan wrestles the animal. Many of the sequels to the original series weren’t very good, but I think they were all better than this one. Depressing.

Tarzan and the Great River (1967)

Article 5438 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-29-2017
Directed by Robert Day
Featuring Mike Henry, Jan Murray, Manuel Padilla Jr.
Country: Switzerland / USA
What it is: Tarzan movie

Tarzan goes to Brazil to defeat a killer cult of jaguar men who have been enslaving the native tribes.

After several days of spy movies, it’s a bit of a relief to move on to a Tarzan movie, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re having a return to quality film here. By this time, the Tarzan movies were mechanical affairs, and this one mostly consists of a long voyage upriver, making it something of a Double Stuffed Safari-O. Mike Henry wasn’t a great actor, but he was likable in the role; reportedly, he was bitten in the jaw by the chimp playing Cheta and had to have twenty stitches during the making of this movie. Like most Tarzan movies, the fantastic content is pretty marginal, though the jaguar men add a touch of horror, as does a plot element where a disease epidemic is mistaken for a curse of the jaguar men. It’s passable entertainment, but hardly inspired.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

Article 5417 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-7-2017
Directed by John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller
Featuring Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Vic Morrow
Country: USA
What it is: Horror anthology

Four eerie tales are told. A bigot finds himself thrust back into time, a magical stranger offers youth to residents of an old folks home, a child has amazing mental powers, and a troubled man believes he sees a monster destroying the wing of a plane.

When it comes to watching movie versions of old TV series, I have a rule of thumb; if it doesn’t manage to catch that particular element that made the series memorable, then it hasn’t really succeeded. In this movie version of the Rod Serling anthology series, only the first and fourth stories manage to catch it, though the first suffers because it’s reminiscent of some of the weaker and more obvious episodes of the series (it’s basically the supernatural comeuppance of a jerk) and because it was never completed due to the accident that killed Vic Morrow. The fourth one manages to catch it largely because it’s a well-mounted cinematic version of a series episode that remains relatively faithful to the original. That leaves us the second and third episodes, both also based on episodes of the series but which make radical changes to the story. The second episode (directed by Spielberg) is overthought and overwritten; it tries a bit too much and becomes unfocused. The third story takes one of the most nightmarish episodes of the series and turns it into something of a cartoonish comedy; it feels nothing like the original series, but may be the most entertaining of the bunch because of Joe Dante’s love of fifties SF and cartoons. The cast of this segment features Dick Miller (as Walter Paisley), William Schallert, Kevin McCarthy, and Bill Mumy, who played the boy in the original episode. The cast of this segment also features Nancy Cartwright, and I find her role in the episode to be particularly prescient; she’s the sister who is condemned to spend her life in cartoonland, which is a fitting end for the woman who would become mostly famous as the voice of Bart Simpson. This segment also contains my favorite touch in the whole movie; when the TV is cracking up, I couldn’t help but notice that on the wall to the right there is one of those perfect, cartoon-style mouseholes.

In the end, this one was a real mixed bag. It could have been much better.

Tentacles (1977)

aka Tentacoli
Article 5414 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-4-2017
Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis
Featuring John Huston, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins
Country: Italy USA
What it is: Eight Arms to Hold You With

A giant killer octopus terrorizes a seaside community.

John Huston is an intrepid reporter intent on finding the truth. Shelley Winters is a worried mother. Bo Hopkins is an oceanographer in charge of two killer whales who has a personal reason for killing the octopus. Claude Akins is a sheriff. Henry Fonda is the head of a company called Trojan which may be responsible for creating the killer octopus (I’m guessing the reporter must have found out through a leak or something). And then there’s whoever composed one of the most inappropriate scores in movie history; whatever chance this thriller had of dredging up a shred of suspense is lost in the web of apathy this soundtrack spins over every scene. Not that the movie had a good thing going; except for a couple of well-staged scenes, most of the movie drowns in a sea of smothering dialogue scenes that accomplish nothing and go nowhere. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that so constantly takes the wind out of the sails of the plot. It drifts aimlessly and ends up dead in the water. And when it tries to pull off the same fake scare twice in a row, you’ll want to slap it silly.

Did I mention that the movie wasn’t very good?

Topsy and Eva (1927)

Article 5357 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-29-2017
Directed by Del Lord, D.W. Griffith and Lois Weber
Featuring Rosetta Duncan, Vivian Duncan, Gibson Gowland
Country: USA
What it is: Famed drama recast as slapstick comedy

The St. Claire family buys two slaves who have been auctioned off when the original owners went broke. However, when a fire destroys his cotton crop and he can’t pay for them, the evil and vicious slave seller Simon Legree seeks to recover the slaves.

For the record, I’ve already covered one version of UNCLE TOM’S CABIN for this series; the ending of the story involves a miracle of sorts. The story was so familiar that I can’t really say I’m surprised that a slapstick comic version of the tale exists; though in some ways the story here is told straight, it’s primarily a vehicle for slapstick mayhem courtesy of Rosetta Duncan (a white woman) in the role of the young slave Topsy (a black character). It’s based on a Broadway version of the show that was a musical, much of which must have been lost in a silent movie. IMDB lists Lois Weber as one of the directors, though the trivia section says she refused to direct this one because it was “racially insensitive”. And in some ways it is; stereotypes abound, and Topsy herself comes across at times as a somewhat subhuman character. Still, I can’t help but be impressed at a few things; it’s one of the rare cases where we see Three Stooges-style slapstick taken on by a female (I can’t help but notice Del Lord listed as the director), and Topsy is openly insolent to so many of the white characters in the story that I’m sure some audience members of the time were taken aback; I’m sure the only way they got away with it is because she was being played by a white person in blackface rather than a black person. Oddly enough, the usual fantastic content in the story is soft-pedaled this time; all we see is Topsy praying and Eva reviving, which makes the miracle one that is only implied. Still, there are a few other touches of the fantastic. The opening scene has storks delivering babies, and there is a quick scene in heaven with black angels shooting dice. Still, the most interesting moment in this regard is a scene in a graveyard which plays like a horror comedy; Topsy passes through unaware that several slaves have buried themselves in the snow there, and when they dig themselves out, she thinks the dead are rising from their graves.

Three Little Wolves (1936)

Article 5356 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-28-2017
Directed by David Hand
Featuring the voices of Billy Bletcher, Pinto Colvig, Dorothy Compton
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony

The Big Bad Wolf and his three sons hatch a plot to catch the pigs by pretending to be Little Bo Peep and her sheep.

Lest we forget, one of Disney’s most famous shorts was THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, and I was rather surprised to find they also did one called the above title. I was hoping for an inversion of the original cartoon (with the pigs as the villains and the wolves as the victims), but this turns out to be more of a straightforward sequel which references the original by reprising the song. It borrows from a couple of other sources as well; you’ve seen the Bo Peep reference in the plot description, and the general plot owes quite a bit to the story of the boy who cried “Wolf!”. Like most sequels, it’s not the equal to the original, but it does have two highlights. One is the use of an elaborate machine called a “Wolf Pacifier”. The other is one of the rare times where Disney throws out a joke that totally blindsides me; it’s how the pigs react when the wolf (in his Bo Peep costume) locks them in his house and swallows the key. It’s actually a pretty risque joke for a post-code cartoon.

Transfigurations (1909)

aka Les transfigurations
Article 5353 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-23-2017
Directed by Emile Cohl
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Partially animated silent short

A man with a “future-telling booth” allows customers to look inside to see how they or their loved ones will look in the future.

Despite the fact that the movie has a definite set-up, this is mostly an excuse for Emile Cohl to do what it is that he usually does – engage in stream-of-consciousness animation. Though he does mostly concentrate on changing human faces, he doesn’t limit himself to that; I don’t think anyone’s spouse is going to end up looking like a weather vane. Granted, most of the customers seem very unhappy with what they see in the booth; the only exception is the man who wants to see what his mother-in-law is really like, so the movie ends on a rather obvious joke. It’s pretty typical of the work of Cohl, and it’s a pretty fun short. I’m also not surprised that he had a short with this title; it describes most of his work.

Le tout petit Faust (1910)

Article 5348 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-18-2017
Directed by Emile Cohl
No cast
Country: France
What it is: The Faust story with stop-motion puppets

Faust makes a deal with the devil and tries to win the hand of Marguerite.

Emile Cohl is a bit out of his usual element here in doing a five-minute adaptation of the first part of Goethe’s play with stop-motion puppets. I like Cohl, but I don’t think he was at his best with puppet animation; the movement seems pretty ragged to me. Nor does a five-minute condensation of the Faust story really do it justice, though we do have plenty of fantastic content, with Mephistopheles appearing and disappearing, and Marguerite eventually going to heaven. It’s probably best viewed as a curiosity, and it’s hardly Cohl’s best work.

The Tempest (1908)

Article 5337 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-5-2017
Directed by Percy Stow
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Silent Shakespeare adaptation

The survivors of a ship sunk by a tempest find themselves stranded on an island inhabited by a sorcerer, his daughter, and two mystical creatures.

I’m surprised I don’t have more of a working familiarity with the play that inspired this one; it is, after all, with the possible exception of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, the play of Shakespeare’s that has the greatest amount of fantastic content. However, every time I try to read it, I get lost in the language and lose the thread of the story. As a result, I actually got something out of this version; bereft of the language and shortened to twelve minutes, I came out of it with at least an outline of the story to help me when I tackle reading it again in the future. On its own terms, it’s not bad for what it is – an abbreviated “high points” summary of a familiar story, and it’s entertaining enough for its length. And of course, I couldn’t resist trying to match up the various characters with their equivalents in the science fiction classic modeled off the story, FORBIDDEN PLANET. All in all, I found this viewing quite useful.

Thiruneelakandar (1939)

aka Thiruneelakantar
Article 5326 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-21-2016
Directed by Raja Sandow
Featuring M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, Tirunelveli Paapa, “Yaanai” Vaidyanatha Iyer
Country: India
What it is: Mystical drama

A devout potter and his wife face trials in their lives.

Almost immediately after I consigned this to my “ones that got away” list and assumed this was one of the many early Indian movies that had been lost, I was pointed in the direction of a YouTube video of the movie. Unfortunately, it was in Tamil without English subtitles, and it appears to be one of those movies that is nearly impenetrable to me in that form; there’s very little action to speak of, and it’s mostly a series of long dialogue sequences between characters and the occasional musical number. Reportedly, this was very popular in India, and I imagine even if it were in English, I’m not sure I’d be able to penetrate Hindu spirituality enough to really appreciate this one. I do know part of the plot involves romantic entanglements (there are several scenes of women falling to the floors and crying), and there’s an overt comic character who looks a little bit like Jim Carrey. There is also definite fantastic content, though it seems to be quite a ways into the movie before it noticeably manifests itself to me. Of course, being from India, it’s long – it runs nearly two and a half hours, so I deserve some sort of endurance award for this one. Still, my inability to follow the story guarantees that I can’t really can’t pass any judgment on this one.