The Witch’s Revenge (1903)

aka Le sorcier
Article 4311 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-15-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What is it: Trick film with a plot

An old man arrested for practicing witchcraft pleads for his freedom to the king, who finally relents when the old man offers to perform tricks for the king’s pleasure.

Apparently, the use of the word “witch” in the English title is meant to be sex-independent, as our magician is male. It’s basically a trick film with a plot attached to it, and, given the fact that the tricks aren’t particularly novel this time round, that’s a good thing; the plot adds some interest to the proceedings. I notice that Melies resists the desire to feature dancing girls in this one; except for the ending where almost all of the characters cake-walk off the screen, there is no dancing. This makes for a mildly amusing three minutes.

The Whispering Chorus (1918)

Article 4309 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-12-2013
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Featuring Raymond Hatton, Kathlyn Williams, Edythe Chapman
Country: USA
What it is: Drama

A clerk guilty of embezzlement at his place of employment ends up faking his own murder in order to clear himself. Unfortunately, he is believed to be guilty of his own murder and finds himself on the run from the law.

Let’s deal with the fantastic content first. The Walt Lee guide from which I culled this title for my project says the fantastic content consists of the way this movie handles the metaphor of having voices in your head leading you on into temptation; the movie does this by having those voices personified by individual heads that speak to the main character. As fantastic content, I must admit that it is somewhat marginal, but the movie has a couple of other fantastic touches as well; one character has premonitions at one point, and a ghost appears at the end of the movie (albeit one that is only seen by the audience).

As for the movie itself, I was actually quite impressed by the first twenty minutes of the movie; its illustration of a basically decent man who is trying to cope the best he can with the troubles in his life makes for a compelling cinematic portrait that is quite moving, because you end up really caring about the character. Had the movie remained in this vein, it would have made for a great drama. However, once the main character conveniently finds a dead body that he can use to fake his own death, the movie begins to crumble under the weight of its plot contrivances and its overly manipulative story. Still, DeMille proves to be a creative enough director (who even has touches of brilliance at times) that he manages to keep the movie interesting even when the story threatens to become laughable. I can only wonder what the movie might have been like if it had managed to maintain the power of its first twenty minutes.

Whence Does He Come? (1906)

aka D’ou vient-il?
Article 4306 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-9-2013
Directed by Ferdinand Zecca
Cast unknown
Country: France
What is it: Trick short

A man in a bathing suit jumps out of the ocean onto a pier, and is followed by the rest of his clothing (which he puts on) and other accessories.

It’s basically a one-trick film; the footage of a man walking backwards up to a pier, tossing into the water his umbrella, dog, pipe and clothing, and then diving in himself is run backwards. I’m not sure whether this one was meant to mystify or amuse; you’d think that the backwards footage trick had been used enough up to that point that it wouldn’t surprise anyone. Yet, when I think of it, I actually haven’t seen backwards footage used that often in the early days of cinema, and I also wonder if the date may be correct. At any rate, we have another silent trick film on hand.

What is Home Without the Boarder (1901)

aka La maison tranquille
Article 4305 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-7-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comedy

Three rambunctious boarders break a hole in the floor to terrorize the residents who live below them.

This movie is listed in the Walt Lee guide, but it neglects to list anything about its fantastic content. I’m guessing that it got in the list on the strength of seeing Melies as the director, because on viewing the short, I really don’t see any fantastic content. The closest it comes is in a scene where one of the boarders drops down to the room below, covers himself with a blanket, and then frightens someone entering the room. Though it could be argued that the resident thought it was a ghost, the fact that the boarder was hunched over and had sticks sticking out of both ends of the blanket leaves me to believe he was imitating an elephant, not a ghost. Therefore, this movie is a bit of a false alarm.

The movie is also devoid of typical Meliesian special effects, as well. The novelty of the short is that both floors are seen at the same time, and it seems to highlight the athleticism of the performers (one of which is probably Melies himself) in performing their feats of dropping down and climbing up to other floors. There’s really no plot to speak of, and it’s not particularly funny; it’s more interesting than effective.

The Waif and the Wizard (1901)


Article 4302 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-3-2013
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Trick short with a twist

A waif goes on stage to help a magician with a trick. He is so amazed by the magician’s prowess that he asks him to come home and solve his family’s problems.

So many of these early shorts cover the same ground that after a while you appreciate whenever something new is added to the mix. In the case of this short, It combines the trick film with the mellerdrammer; the opening scene is standard magician trick film fare, but once we move on to the family problems, the change of scenery adds some novelty. The family’s problems are the stuff of tear-jerking melodrama; there’s no father, the daughter is ailing, and they’re about to be evicted. The solutions to the problems are terse, but sometimes amusing; I like how the magician deals with the landlord. Special effects-wise, there’s nothing really special going on here, but the novelty of throwing in a story to follow does add a little to the proceedings.

Witchcraft (1906)

aka The Village Witch, La jeteuse de sorts
Article 4275 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-27-2013
Director unknown
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Melodrama

When a witch causes a peasant to fall in love with her, the other peasants, out of pity for the man’s fiancee, take vengeance on her.

This is one of those titles that ended up on my “ones that got away” list, and I’m glad it finally came to light. The plot is a little hazy from watching the short itself; if the title didn’t mention witches, one might mistake the woman in question for a common seductress. This is to say that the movie has no special effects that I could tell; it plays like a straight and fairly serious drama; the only macabre touch is a skeleton lying in the back of the witch’s house which is very easy to miss. And, at only four minutes of length, there’s no real way for the story to build up much of a head of steam, and there’s just not enough time to make the story interesting enough to merit more than a single watch.

Wunder der Schopfung (1925)

aka Our Heavenly Bodies
Article 4246 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-8-2013
Directed by Hanns Walter Kornblum
Featuring Paul Bildt, Willy Kaiser-Heyl, Theodor Loos
Country: Germany
What it is: Documentary on heavenly bodies

The nature of the various heavenly bodies is explored, as well as the history of astronomy and speculation on the creation and fate of the Earth.

Though the silent era is heavy on “actualities” (films showing real-life events), the documentary as we understand it seems to be a relative rarity. Being a documentary, I’m not sure this movie could strictly be called science fiction, but I do think it qualifies for this project, not only because the subject matter would prove to be of interest to science fiction fans, but also because the movie does use certain techniques that thrust it into genre area; for example, most of the second half of the movie is envisioned as a trip into outer space to explore the moon and the other planets, with some of the action taking place inside of a spaceship. Though the movie does get a bit dry at times, it is creatively staged, is full of fun (if not always convincing) special effects, and has a real charm to it. I do wonder if all of the footage is original to the movie, though; certain scenes (such as the destruction of the world in the last segment) are so elaborate that they do look like they may have been lifted from other movies; nevertheless, they are well used. I really enjoyed this one.