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.

Upside Down: or, The Human Flies (1899)

Article 4300 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-30-2013
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: USA / UK
What it is: Trick short

A magician performs for a handful of people, and then does his most amazing trick; he causes his audience to walk on the ceiling.

The main special effect here is simple enough; it looks like we have two rooms with identical decor, except one is upside down. This one he films with the camera upside down, making it look like the people are walking around and dancing on the ceiling. One thing I thought was interesting is that this particular trick doesn’t appear to be copped from Melies; at least, I can’t remember any of his early shorts that tried this particular trick, but then, a lot of his shorts are missing. It’s a minor short, but it is interesting to see an early silent whose trick hasn’t been overused.

The Untamable Whiskers (1904)

aka Le roi du maquillage
Article 4298 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-28-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Trick short

A magician draws caricatures of bearded men on a blackboard, and then magically changes into those characters.

This is Melies demonstrating a single special effect repeated over and over; it basically demonstrates a crossfade being used to change one character into another. It’s one of his more focused trick shorts, and I suspect what he was demonstrating here was the technique of having these things happening against a fully decorated background instead of just a black area. It’s not one of his best works, but it’s mildly amusing.

Undressing Extraordinary (1901)

Article 4296 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-25-2013
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Comic trick short

A man is removing his clothes in preparation for a good night’s sleep, but new clothes keep reappearing on him as he does.

We’ve been here before; this is one of the several imitations of Georges Melies’s GOING TO BED UNDER DIFFICULTIES. That movie is one of Melies’s funniest, partly because it builds up to a frantic breakneck pace. Most of the imitations fail to achieve that pace, and this one is no exception. It tries to offset that by having the unfortunate disrober finding himself in some pretty silly costumes, but that doesn’t quite cover up the fact that this three-and-a-half minute short is running too long on what is basically a one-gag premise. Still, the transitions are smooth and well done.