The Unpopular Mechanic (1936)

The Unpopular Mechanic (1936)
Article 5711 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-30-2020
Directed by Walter Lantz
Featuring the voice of Bernice Hansen
Country: USA
What it is: Animated whimsy

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit creates a machine that can change a person’s personality. He tries it out on the residents of a boarding home.

From my youth, I remember Walter Lantz’s friendly persona when he appeared in episodes of THE WOODY WOODPECKER SHOW. Yet, it must be said that he wasn’t really in the top line of cartoon creators, and the pickings of his oeuvre from before the creation of Woody are pretty slim. This is a pretty dull stretch of cartoon; it’s almost as if it missed every comic opportunity that presented itself, which is pretty sad given that the central premise is pretty good. At any rate, here’s another cartoon that passes into genre territory that I haven’t found listed in any of my guides.

The Underground World (1943)

The Underground World (1943)
Article 5603 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-21-2018
Directed by Seymour Kneitel
Featuring the voices of Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander, Jackson Beck
Country: USA
What it is: Superman short again

Lois Lane and Clark Kent accompany an explorer on a quest to find a lost underground world. However, the quest is perilous, and Superman soon must come to the rescue.

This is the first of the group I’ve been covering recently that wasn’t directed or co-directed by Dave Fleischer himself. Nonetheless, it’s a good entry, especially insofar as it provides a real change of pace from the other entries; it’s much less interested in non-stop action and more interested in picturesque adventure. One might well feel that a story like this needs more length than the eight-minute format will allow, but if you consider that the “lost civilization” type of story is generally a compendium of cliches, you can admire how this one gets through them in such efficient fashion. Still, it doesn’t say much for the intelligence of some of the protagonists that they put themselves in peril by failing to tie up their boat properly.

The Unusual Honeymoon (1912)

The Unusual Honeymoon (1912)
Article 5549 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-3-2018
Directed by James Young
Featuring Charles Edwards, Flora Finch, Rose Tapley
Country: USA
What it is: Tall tale

A Scotsman and his wife set loose in a hot-air balloon at a local fair, and end up stranded on an island with cannibals, which they keep at bay by playing the bagpipes.

This short got on my suggestions list on the strength of a plot point whereby the natives believe the bagpipes are “magic”. This, along with a couple of other points (the presence of cannibals, and the “tall tale” device of keeping the cannibals at bay by throwing snuff at them, causing them to be too busy sneezing to be a threat) make the short marginally fantastic, but only just so. As might be expected, it’s mostly played for laughs. Beyond that, there’s really not a whole lot to this one, and it’s pretty slow to get the story moving; the couple don’t reach the balloon until a third of the way through.

Ugly Duckling (1939)

Article 5359 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-31-2017
Directed by Jack Cutting and Clyde Geronimi
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Fairy tale adaptation

A duck couple is shocked when one of their hatchlings doesn’t look or sound like the others, and soon the little guy is abandoned and left to find his way through the world.

This is Disney plying the whimsy trade here, and though I prefer my cartoons more comical, this has a few moments. My favorites include the reaction of the father and mother ducks to the discovery of the different-looking offspring (let’s just say that domestic bliss is not attained), and the scene where the hatchling thinks he’s found companionship with a decoy duck. There are no talking animals in the usual sense here, which is not to say they don’t communicate; the ducks do have something of a “quack” language that sounds like Donald Duck without recognizable words. That does, however, leave us in a strange position as far as the fantastic content goes; though we can’t quite call them anthropomorphic, the animals are given certain recognizable human emotions, but admittedly, that’s very light as far as fantastic content goes. It’s been a while since I’ve read the original story, but I don’t think this short follows it; the ending is certainly different from how I remember it.

Untamed Mistress (1956)

Article 5204 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-13-2016
Directed by Ron Ormond and Allan Nixon
Featuring Allan Nixon, Jacqueline Fontaine, Byron Keith
Country: USA
What it is: Bungle in the Jungle

A safari tries to locate a tribe of gorillas. They bring along a woman who was raised by the gorillas and then civilized, but will her return to the jungle cause her to revert to her savage ways?

“The Motion Picture Guide” calls it a horror movie, which is how it got onto my hunt list. To its credit, it does have some talk about a cursed shrunken head and a magic talisman, and though that’s slight as far as fantastic content goes, it’s closer than some other jungle movies. IMDB calls it a drama, which accords the movie more dignity than it really merits. I’m calling it as I see it; it’s a Double-Stuffed Safari-O with a heavy exploitation angle (lots of topless women) that ultimately manifests itself as an inadvertent comedy. Jacqueline Fontaine’s appeal has little to do with her acting abilities, and this is a fairly daring movie for 1956. There’s lots of stock footage incorporated into the movie, and some of it is ridiculous; when the men encounter a native dance in the middle of the jungle, the fact that the dance footage features people watching from tiered bleachers in the background makes us realize they were nowhere near a jungle when this was filmed. Yes, it’s really bad, but it’s also quite funny bad, and I will say the ending is pretty novel for this sort of movie. Incidentally, whoever wrote up the cast list for this movie on IMDB engaged in a bit of editorializing; Allan Nixon is billed as playing “Insipid Hero”.

Up From the Depths (1979)

Article 5140 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-26-2016
Directed by Charles B. Griffith
Featuring Sam Bottoms, Susanne Reed, Virgil Frye
Country: USA
What it is: Bottom of the fish barrel

An aquatic man-eating monster threatens people staying at a Hawaiian resort.

There’s a user comment on IMDB from someone claiming to have played a photographer in the movie, and he claims that both the soundtrack and original script were lost at one point, and so the remaining actors tried to redub the movie based on the lip movements on the footage and their memories about what was being said. If this is true, then it goes a long way toward explaining why there seems to be a bizarre and jarring disconnect between action you’re seeing and the words you’re hearing. Granted, even without this problem, this movie would have been fairly weak tea; the special effects are horrid and the humor invariably falls flat. It was directed by Charles B. Griffith, who is most famous for having penned some of Roger Corman’s better movies from the fifties and early sixties. Based on what I see here, he reached his level of incompetence as a director. It almost comes across as a cross between JAWS and CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, which Griffith penned, although he apparently didn’t pen the script for this one, which is credited to Alfred M. Sweeney, but given that this movie is his sole screen credit, I smell the faint odor of a nom de plume. There’s a couple of interesting plot elements in the movie, but most of it is an incompetent and incomprehensible mess. The best thing about this one is the poster.

Up-to-Date Spiritualism (1900)

aka Spiritisme abracadabrant
Article 4845 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-11-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick short

A hapless buffoon finds himself tormented by spirits when he tries to remove his hat and coat.

IMDB lists this movie as being from 1903, but my other sources say 1900 (including the Melies boxed set which features the short), and my gut reaction is that this is the correct year. This also has the advantage of placing it slightly before GOING TO BED UNDER DIFFICULTIES, a much funnier short which takes the central premise of a man running into problems removing his clothing (the clothes keep reappearing on his body) and kicks it into the stratosphere. Maybe it’s just because I’d rather like to see this one as the short that came up with an idea he improved upon rather than seeing it as a tepid recycling of a gag he’d done earlier. On its own terms, this is amusing enough, and it manages to hold the interest throughout its two-minute running time, though I’m not sure whether the spiritualism on show here is particularly up-to-date.

Urban Warriors (1987)

Article 4725 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-1-2015
Directed by Giuseppe Vari
Featuring Bruno Bilotta, Alex Vitale, Bjorn Hammer
Country: Italy
What it is: An hour and a half of footage

Three computer technicians escape from their underground bunker to discover that it’s after the apocalypse, and roving gangs are killing people. They seek out other human beings (who are not in roving gangs killing people).

You know, every once in a while you encounter one of those movies whose sole reason for existence is to 1) employ stuntmen and second-unit directors, 2) provide fodder for the grindhouse circuit, and 3) serve as a platform for the use of stock footage. One gets the sense that the least important person in the making of the movie is the writer, and though it might be possible that the script and dialogue might be better in the original Italian version of the movie (rather than in the dubbed English version I saw), I really rather doubt it in this case. About the only plot element that is the least bit novel in this one is that the roving gangs are after spinal cord fluid (apparently as a side effect of the radiation), and that idea feels like it was lifted from an old forties horror movie. Furthermore, that plot element doesn’t make one iota of difference in the way the movie unfolds. So all we really have here is a lazy, bare-bones version of the after-the-apocalypse movie with as little intelligence used or care taken as possible. It’s ninety minutes of footage that has all been done better elsewhere.

UFOs: It Has Begun (1979)

Article 4555 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-6-2014
Directed by Ray Rivas
Featuring Jose Ferrer, Burgess Meredith, Rod Serling
Country: USA
What it is: UFO documentary

The existence and nature of UFOs are discussed, with particular emphasis on government research and cattle mutilations.

When I first started reviewing UFO documentaries for this series, I decided to keep my own skepticism in check and watch them in regard to their entertainment value, and some of them worked well enough on this level. I’ve seen enough of them by this time that any novelty value has worn off. This one has a fairly high rating on IMDB, which makes me suspect it’s one of the more highly regarded of these types of movies, and though I do find the proceedings less sensationalistic than usual, the movie amounts to mostly lots of people talking about UFO experiences combined with re-enactments involving actors, and overall, it’s a bit on the dull side and doesn’t really contain a lot that is new, though this is the first one I’ve seen that really delves into the cattle mutilations. Most of it is narrated by Serling (with aid during one sequence by Ferrer and Meredith) while the whole cattle mutilation sequence is narrated by someone else and feels somewhat tacked on to the movie. My guess is that the movie will be a lot more interesting for believers than skeptics, though I doubt it will change anyone’s mind on the subject.

The Uncanny (1977)

Article 4419 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-11-2014
Directed by Denis Heroux
Featuring Peter Cushing, Ray Milland, Joan Greenwood
Country: Canada / UK
What it is: Horror anthology

A writer tries to convince a publisher that his collection of cat horror stories are all true and proof of the evil intent of the animals. In the first, an old woman wills her fortune to her cats, but two prospective heirs hatch a plan to get the money themselves. In the second, a young orphan girl whose only friend is her cat is terrorized by an older girl who is jealous of her cat. In the third, a horror star who has engineered the death of his cat-loving former wife finds himself a target for the revenge of the pet.

Given that cats have often been used as instruments of horror, I supposed I’m not really surprised that a movie anthology exists that consists entirely of horror stories involving cats; I am, however, a bit surprised that there are two of them, the latter being CAT’S EYE from 1985. The first story is probably the most effective; it’s also the most straightforward and the goriest. The second one is a bit off the theme; despite the fact that it mines scares from a cat in the same way that THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN does, the cat is certainly not the primary force of evil here. The third one features Donald Pleasence in a rare comic role as a somewhat foppish horror actor, and though he does a good job, the segment isn’t very funny and there’s some historical inaccuracy here as well; it takes place in Hollywood in 1936, and given that the Hays office was in place at that time, there’s no way the horror movie we see being shot would have approved, and a reference to Tweety Bird is at least a decade too early. Furthermore, there seem to be key scenes missing as well; we never learn how the cat escapes in the second story, for example. The framing story is fairly obvious, but at least it features the talents of Peter Cushing and Ray Milland to spice them up. All in all, it has the feel of a weak Amicus anthology, and though it’s not from Amicus, the presence of producer Milton Subotsky may explain why it feels that way.