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.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1903)

Article 4295 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-24-2013
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Drama about slavery

The story is told of the fortunes of a black slave who is sold by his owners.

Every once in a while I’m startled to consider what I’m covering for this project, and this is one of the examples; I would have never guessed this one would pop up. Granted, I’ve never read the novel, though it was one of the sensations of the nineteenth century and had a big influence on the abolitionist movement. Probably the reason the novel isn’t read much anymore is that the black characters have become stereotypes that are no longer considered acceptable. The novel is somewhat sprawling, and any attempt to condense it into a thirteen-minute short (as is done here) is bound to lack coherence, and sure enough, it’s pretty difficult to follow this one if you haven’t read a plot summary beforehand; back then, the story was so famous, that wasn’t a problem. According to the plot summary I read, I guessed the fantastic content would involve the vision of heaven one dying character has; in this short, the fantastic content manifests itself by having angels appear a couple of times in the action. I couldn’t help but notice that, even with the time condensation necessary, the plot does come to a halt a few times for some unnecessary dance sequences, at least one of which involves a lot of characters doing the cakewalk, and though I’m not really sure about the history of that dance, I suspect its presence here is anachronistic. Nevertheless, whatever faults this short has, there’s no doubt it was a rather ambitious movie for its time.

Die Unheimlichen Wunsche (1939)

aka The Unholy Wish
Article 4175 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-8-2013
Directed by Heinz Hilpert
Featuring Hans Holt, Olga Tschechowa, Kathe Gold
Country: Germany
What it is: Wish fantasy

A young man comes by a skin that grants wishes; unfortunately, for each wish that is granted, the skin shrinks and the wisher loses part of his life.

Here’s another one that I’ve just rescued from my “ones that got away” list. It also is in German without English subtitles, and I really couldn’t find a decent plot description of the movie. However, I did discover that it was based on Honore de Balzac’s novel, “La peau de chagrin”, and I was able to find some plot descriptions of the novel. It appears that the movie more or less follows the novel, though I do get the feeling that the tragic ending of the novel was replaced by a somewhat happier ending here. Still, this is another movie that requires familiarity with the language to appreciate it, and I can only give some vague impressions at this time. My overall feel is that the movie was well acted, but pretty ordinary; the special effects are pretty basic, and I didn’t find it visually enticing. Nevertheless, it is nice to be able to mark this one as having been watched.

Up the Ladder (1925)

Article 4152 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-9-2013
Directed by Edward Sloman
Featuring Virginia Valli, Forrest Stanley, Margaret Livingston
Country: USA
What it is: Romance drama

An heiress sells her estate to raise money so that the man she loves can complete his invention. When he does, he marries the heiress and becomes financially successful. But he is tempted into having an affair with his wife’s best friend…

I read a short plot description of this one before watching the movie, and I was left wondering about the nature of the fantastic content. Not that I doubted that it existed; that was a given. What I wondered was whether the fantastic content (basically, it’s an early version of the video phone) was going to be more than just an incidental detail in the story, or whether it was going to be used in some way to develop the plot. Well, the movie does get some points for incorporating the invention into the story; in some ways, it serves the same function as the similar invention in LOVE AND SCIENCE, albeit with an inversion of the plot of that one. Still, the basic story is pretty obvious here, and for parts of it, the direction and the acting lack the subtlety to make it play effectively. The primary exception is the performance of Virginia Valli as the heiress; she underplays beautifully in all of her scenes, and she becomes as a result the only character we really care about. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it has its moments.

UFO Journals (1978)

Article 4103 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-11-2012
Directed by Richard Martin
No cast listed
Country: USA
What it is: UFO documentary

UFOs are discussed and speculations are made.

Back when I covered WHEN MICHAEL CALLS some years back, I quoted extensively from the blurb on the back of the DVD of the movie, compared the description with the actual movie, and came to the conclusion “Never trust a blurb writer.” Well, it’s time to trot that lesson out again, as the blurb on the DVD of this one says, “This full-length feature film takes a hard, scientific approach to the whole question of UFO existence. Combining current knowledge of space mechanics and navigation with detailed accounts of historical sightings, the producers offer their own investigation of purported landings and visits. The end result is a better understanding of these previously inexplicable phenomena.”

So what do we get? We get lots and lots of still photos of UFOs, none of which I’ve seen before and some of which look very unconvincing. We get lots of anecdotal musings by various people, all of whom are absolutely convinced of visits by extraterrestrials and some of which have “Dr.” in front of their names. We get musings on the destruction of Atlantis. We get to see an arc-like model based on dimensions of the ark in the Bible that is supposed to prove that Einstein’s theory of relativity is wrong. We get a man who is psychically connected to an alien named Zoltar. We get claims that mankind came from the planet of Moldec, which existed where the asteroid belt is now found. We get to see an expert on Kirlian photography play a harmonica solo. We get to hear the story of the man who, while in a trance, tattooed a spider onto his arm. We meet a man who can provide proof that he met an extraterrestrial because he has a crystal. And we get lots and lots of references to the Bible, which, whatever positive things you might say about the book, is not a good reference source for those seeking a “hard, scientific approach.” And you get a documentary that feels like it was thrown together randomly from whatever odd bits and pieces that were lying around that could be remotely connected to UFOs, and which simply muddies up the UFO waters rather than clarifying them. And, for all that, this may be one of the dullest documentaries of its sort.

Now I don’t know how this movie was marketed back when it was made, but I suspect it was no better back then than it is now. However, the blurb was right on one point – this was a full-length feature film.

Unusual Cooking (1908)

aka Cuisine magnetique, Cuisine abracadabrante
Article 4079 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: A bad cutlery Busby Berkeley nightmare

A bizarre dance number is performed with giant cutlery.

It starts out like a typical Melies magic short, but it rapidly evolves into something even weirder. Before long, we have cooks of all sizes and shapes dancing with giant knives, forks and spoons. We also have the cutlery becoming anthropomorphosized (which is to say, given faces, arms and legs) along with the pans. The only cooking involves one of the cooks being dismembered and thrown into a pot, which, I will admit, does qualify for the “unusual” adjective. It’s all pretty plotless, but there’s a real demented charm to this strange short, and may be on of Chomon’s best.

Up to Mars (1930)

UP TO MARS (1930)
Animated short
Article 3745 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-3-2011
Posting Date: 11-15-2011
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Voice actors unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Bimbo cartoon

Bimbo gets into a tussle with a mouse, who outwits him and sends him rocketing to Mars on a fireworks rocket. There Bimbo encounters Martians.

Bimbo was the Fleischer’s star cartoon character in the period after Koko the Clown and before Betty Boop and Popeye. Though Bimbo was a fairly colorless character, he did have one really great cartoon in him (the classic BIMBO’S INITIATION, in which he is terrorized into joining a bizarre cult). This one ultimately promises more than it delivers; some of the gags look forward to CRAZY TOWN and PORKY IN WACKYLAND, but eventually the cartoon settles into a rather ordinary extended routine involving Bimbo being thrown into the Martian army and having to take part in a drill routine to music. Still, I do find it interesting that though Bimbo is your basic anthropomorphic dog, he ends up behaving like a real dog on a couple of occasions when his instinct in dealing with the drill sergeant is to bite him. All in all, this one is passable, but hardly one of the Fleischers’ best.

The Untameable (1923)

Article 3693 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-9-2011
Posting Date: 9-24-2011
Directed by Herbert Blache
Featuring Gladys Walton, Malcolm McGregor, John St. Polis
Country: USA
What it is: Drama with horror overtones

When an architect is injured in an auto accident, he is taken to the house of a beautiful young heiress to recuperate. He falls in love with her, but one day she undergoes a strange personality transformation and throws him out of the house. He begins to suspect she has a dual personality, and begins to wonder if her doctor is actually helping her or if he has a more sinister purpose in mind.

With hypnotism and dual personalities on hand, this has a fair amount of fantastic content, though I wouldn’t call it a horror movie. It’s quite entertaining, with much of the credit going to Gladys Walton’s performance; the first time we meet her second personality, the shift is quite alarming, and Walton plays it to the hilt. I’ve don’t think I’ve seen the split personality theme handled in quite this way before, so the story has a bit of novelty value as well. And at only 65 minutes, it moves along at a brisk pace.