Wolf! Wolf! (1944)

Wolf! Wolf! (1944)
Article 5612 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-27-2018
Directed by Mannie Davis
Featuring the voice of Tom Morrison
Country: USA
What it is: Mighty Mouse cartoon

Wolves capture a stray sheep. Can Mighty Mouse save it?

As you may have guessed, I’m watching a collection of public domain cartoons at the moment, and this seems to be the only one with Mighty Mouse that qualifies for it. I’m covering it because Mighty Mouse has superpowers. As for the cartoon itself, it’s a pretty forgettable entry in the series; it mostly uses the premise for a series of unmemorable gags and action sequences. It’s certainly not the series at its best.

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Article 5586 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-23-2018
Directed by Rich Moore
Featuring the voices of John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch
Country: USA
What it is: Animated comedy

A massive video-game villain, hurting for the lack of acclaim he’s gotten for the role he played in a successful video game, vows to win a medal in the hopes of getting the respect of his fellow video-game characters. Unfortunately, this requires him to invade other video games and runs the risk of causing his own game to be shut down.

My experience with animated features during the last few decades has been almost exclusively with the mostly excellent entries from Pixar, but this one (from Disney’s other animation arm) attracted my attention due to its subject matter; I spent my early adult years during the video arcade craze, and this one hit a key of nostalgia in me, especially with the inclusion of several classic era video game characters (including Q*Bert, a personal favorite). No, it doesn’t live up to the best of the Pixar features (though it sometimes comes across as Pixar Lite), but overall I found it quite enjoyable. The first half-hour is only so-so, but once the action switches to the shenanigans in a hilariously cutesy video racing game called SUGAR RUSH, it starts working very well. In some ways, the movie can be compared with Pixar’s INSIDE OUT, though this movie lacks the emotional depth of that one. Outside of the references to other video games, the movie references a few other movies, including ALIENS and THE WIZARD OF OZ; the march of the witch’s guards from that movie is parodied to good effect. Still, one overall impression the movie left me with is that their is a group of basic plot mechanisms that are constantly being recycled in some of these animated films; though it didn’t really hurt my enjoyment of this one, I can see a time where this type of movie can start being very predictable.

Weekend of Fear (1966)

Weekend of Fear (1966)
Article 5577 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-14-2018
Directed by Joe Danford
Featuring Mikki Malone, Kenneth Washman, Tory Alburn
Country: USA
What it is: Thriller

A woman finds herself being stalked by a mysterious man.

This very obscure regional movie ended up on my “ones that got away” list, and I wasn’t sure it even existed anymore. As it turns out, it does, and if you have a chance to see it and wish to do so, I’d advise you to avoid any of the plot descriptions you find other than the vague one I have above; all the other ones I’ve seen commit two crimes, as they engage in massive spoilers and contain a specific repeated plot error. As for the movie itself, it’s listed as ‘horror’ by a few sources, but it’s one of those movies that hangs off the border separating ‘horror’ and ‘suspense’; its biggest claim to horror is that there is a character who is not sane. From what I gather, the movie was shown once many years ago, gathered several bad reviews, and vanished. And it must be said that it somewhat deserves its bad reviews, not so much for the extreme cheapness of the movie (it’s one that is shot silent and post-dubbed, and it’s readily apparent that that is the case), but that even with its short running time (63 minutes), it gets bogged down in boring repetition; the threatened woman’s internal monologue constantly goes over the same ground. Still, the movie isn’t entirely devoid of interest; I have to admit that the nature of one character’s madness is a bit on the novel side, and it takes an odd turn in the final moment that is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Still, the movie is mostly a snoozefest.

The World of Abbott and Costello (1965)

The World of Abbott and Costello (1965)
Article 5564 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-29-2018
Directed by various
Featuring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Jack E. Leonard
Country: USA
What it is: Film clips

Footage from various Abbott and Costello movies is edited together.

A good assortment of the best moments from the movies of the comedy team Abbott and Costello would be something desirable, but I have to say this one doesn’t really do them justice. The team’s best work was primarily verbal, but this movie seems to emphasize visual slapstick. Only occasionally does it hit on them at their actual best; the inevitable “Who’s on First” routine, a craps-playing sequence from BUCK PRIVATES, and the priceless and surreal Susquehanna Hat Company sequence. Still, for those interested in the fantastic content from their movies, this compilation has its uses. Yes, it has the inevitable clips from ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS and their encounters with Frankenstein and the Mummy, but you’d probably see those anyway. It also contains fantastically themed clips from some of the movie which otherwise aren’t fantastically themed; there’s the encounter with the witch from COMIN’ ROUND THE MOUNTAIN, part of the mirage sequence from ABBOTT AND COSTELLO IN THE FOREIGN LEGION, as well as some reality stretching gags (including a covered wagon crossing magically across a gap between mountains) from ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KEYSTONE KOPS. The clips are supposedly cobbled together to tell very loosely about their rise to fame as movie stars, but that’s just an excuse for Jack E. Leonard to make occasional comic commentary. All in all, it’s a mixed bag that could have been so much better.

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

The Wizard of Oz (1925)
Article 5542 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-20-2018
Directed by Larry Semon
Featuring Larry Semon, Dorothy Dwan, Oliver Hardy
Country: USA
What it is: Not quite what you’d expect

Court intrigue in the land of Oz affects the lives of several residents of a farm.

I’d heard about this movie for years, but I’d never seen it until now. I was mainly curious as to why the movie had such a poor reputation. Sure, I didn’t expect it to live up to the 1939 version, but not many movies do. But what really ended up startling me about this film was something I really didn’t expect; its fantastic content is in question. Instead of Oz being a fantasy land, here it’s just another in a long line of mythical countries. Munchkins, flying monkeys, witches, talking trees, magic of all sorts – none of these things are to be found here Sure, there’s a wizard, but he’s established as a charlatan huckster in the opening reel. Yes, we have a scarecrow, a tin woodsman and a cowardly lion, but not as separate entities; they’re all disguises taken on by the farmhands for one reason or another. What we have left is an alternate take of the Baum story, stripped of its fantasy elements and made to serve the purposes of slapstick comedy; it only qualifies as marginally fantastic due to the mythical country angle and some cartoon-like moments of comic exaggeration. Most of the movie consists of either court intrigue or slapstick antics, and most of that is pretty lame. It does have a few items of interest; one is the presence of Oliver Hardy lacking his moustache and some of his poundage. The other is that this is the earliest movie I know of to have a recurring slapstick concept – that of somebody mistaking a wild animal for a man in a costume. No, the movie’s not a total loss, but if I were a big Baum fan going into this one with certain understandable expectations, I’d be appalled.

War of the Worlds (1952)

War of the Worlds (1952)
Article 5520 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-16-2017
Directed by L.F. Broom
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Amateur Wells Adaptation

Martians arrive on Earth and terrorize a British town.

This being an amateur film, I’m not surprised there isn’t a listing for it on IMDB. And, this being an amateur film, I find myself cutting it quite a bit of slack and accepting certain things of which I’d be more critical if it had been a professional production. Yet, on certain levels, I’m not sure I really need to make these extra allowances; the movie is more coherent, better acted, and more exciting than some professional productions I’ve seen. The fact that it is an amateur film does add a generous dollop of charm to the proceedings; for example, I couldn’t help but notice that the movie advances its plot through narration and its music is a stock classical music piece (I think it might be Holst’s Mars – The Bringer of War from The Planets), yet both touches add to the excitement and effectiveness. Even the primitive stop-motion effects and make-up add to the flavor, and the sincere acting is a big plus. In the end, I love and applaud this little amateur film.

Weltraumschiff 1 startet… (1937)

Weltraumschiff 1 startet… (1937)
Article 5506 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-10-2017
Directed by Anton Kutter
Featuring Fritz Reiff, Rolf Wernicke, Carl Wery
Country: Germany
What it is: A trip to the moon

A rocket is launched to circle the moon and return to Earth.

The copy I found of this odd little German science fiction movie was in German without English subtitles, and seeing as to how half of the movie is primarily talk, that is certainly an obstacle to following it. However, the general thrust of the action seems simple enough; the first half of the movie consists of a scientist explaining to the press the nature of the trip to the moon, whereas the the second half of the movie is the journey itself. However, since the movie is only 23 minutes long, it’s never really too elaborate to follow, and since the voyage itself almost entirely consists of special effects footage peppered with narration, and since nothing from a plot perspective happens other than the trip to the moon (there is virtually no human interaction in the second half of the movie), it’s devoid of long sections of film where you can’t tell what’s going on. The special effects themselves are the highlight of the film, and they’re pretty good and quite entertaining; in fact, I found myself wondering why they would put this much work into a short. The answer is simple; the short was edited down from footage from two incomplete feature films that were abandoned when Germany went to war, so this was no doubt intended to keep the films from going to waste. As it is, the movie serves as an interesting little stepping stone between some of the space travel films of the silent era and the coming science fiction boom of the fifties; in fact, I found myself thinking of ROCKETSHIP X-M, DESTINATION MOON, and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (especially when you see the launch ramp) while watching this. All in all, it’s an interesting and useful curiosity, and worth seeing even if you can’t understand the language.

The Wacky Wabbit (1942)

The Wacky Wabbit (1942)
Article 5495 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-7-2017
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan
Country: USA
What it is: Bugs Bunny cartoon

Bugs torments Elmer Fudd, who is out prospecting for gold in the desert.

The fantastic content that made this cartoon qualify is a bit marginal, but it’s there nonetheless; in his initial encounter with Elmer, Bugs is wearing the skull of some sort of horned animal that must have died in the desert. The fact that Bugs calls out “Boo!” while wearing the skull does indicate that a slight touch of horror is intended, though in all honesty, the only one getting scared is Elmer. This is one of the better early Bugs Bunny cartoons; in particular, I like the fact that Elmer is consistently given songs that emphasize his speech impediment – a modified version of “Oh Susannah” (with the line “I’m a rough and rugged rebel from the wild and woolly west”) and, of course, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”. It is one of those, though, in which Bugs starts pestering Elmer before the latter has done anything to deserve it; it works a little better when Bugs is taking revenge on those who deserve it rather than just tormenting someone for fun.

War of the Planets (1977)

War of the Planets (1977)
aka Anno zero – Guerra nello spazio, Cosmos – War of the Planets
Article 5475 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-30-2017
Directed by Alfonso Brescia
Featuring John Richardson, Yanti Somer, West Buchanan
Country: Italy
What it is: Space adventure

A spaceship crashes on an alien planet, where they discover a group of telepathic people trapped by the tyranny of a homicidal robot.

For the first thirty minutes or so the movie seems to wander randomly from scene to scene before finally settling down on the plot described above. It sticks to that plot for about thirty minutes or so before starting to wander around again, but finally settles in for an ending. The movie is a confused mess, and even when it gets around to the plot, it gives you a headache while trying to follow it. All in all, it’s a very subpar Italian science fiction epic that makes the Antonio Margheriti examples from the previous decade seem bright and inspired. Granted, a lot of the badness I experienced may be the result of the bad dubbing and the pan-and-scanned print, but I think the problems run a bit deeper than that.

The movie did make me realize one thing, though, and that is, in a science fiction film, I’d rather have bad special effects than no special effects. One of the big annoyances of this movie was that once it reached the alien planet, many of the scenes were so full of inky blackness that you never get a sense of what the planet looks like. Furthermore, so many of the sequences involved close-ups of the actors talking against black backgrounds. The source of my irritation finally became clear; what’s the use of having an adventure on another planet if you can’t get a look at it?

I remember once having been appalled by the final scene in WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, in which an alien landscape is portrayed by an obvious painted backdrop. This movie made me realize that wasn’t the worst way for that one to have ended. If the movie hadn’t shown the planet at all, but only close-ups of the people looking out at it and saying how wonderful it was, and then ended the movie without giving us a view, that would have been much worse. I’d rather have the obvious painted backdrop than nothing at all.

The White Orchid (1954)

The White Orchid (1954)
Article 5474 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-23-2017
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Featuring William Lundigan, Peggie Castle, Armando Silvestre
Country: Mexico / USA
What it is: Mexican jungle movie

An archaeologist tries to organize an expedition into the jungle to find a tribe of descendants from the ancient Toltecs, but is only able to get the services of the necessary guide through the help of a female photographer who he doesn’t want along on the expedition. A romantic triangle develops.

I stumbled across this movie on the Mill Creek Action Classics set, and though none of my sources list this as genre, I’m making a judgment call here. The movie’s concept that an ancient culture still lives on in a tribe of people in uncharted territory puts the movie at least a bit into the “lost civilization” fantasy subgenre, and since they do encounter the tribe in question, this comes closer to genre territory than a lot of other jungle movies I’ve seen. Granted, the main thrust of the plot here is the romantic triangle, and it’s as hackneyed as you might expect; you won’t be surprised at the fate of one of the men. Yet, for all that, I found this one at least a little more entertaining than I would have expected, and I attribute this to a few interesting touches in the script. Even the direction by the usually dull Reginald Le Borg is better than usual for him. Yes, it’s marginal, but it came close enough for me to get an actual review rather than be consigned to the “too marginal” list.