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.

When Men Carried Clubs and Women Played Ding-Dong (1971)

When Men Carried Clubs and Women Played Ding-Dong (1971)
aka Quando gli uomini amarono la clava e… con le donne fecero din-don
Article 5472 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-18-2017
Directed by Bruno Corbucci
Featuring Antonio Sabato, Aldo Giuffre, Vittorio Caprioli
Country: Italy
What it is: Caveman bawdiness

When a caveman couple can’t consummate their marriage because the man keeps being called off to fight a war with the lake people, the cavewoman tries a plan of ending the war by organizing a sex strike among the women of both tribes.

What prompted me to cover this movie was a coincidence. I have recently finished reading an edition of the complete extant plays of Aristophanes, and those familiar with the work of that author will no doubt see a strong similarity between the plot above and that of Aristophanes’ play “Lysistrata”. This is not a coincidence; one of the characters in this comedy has the name of Listra, and the movie itself credits Aristophanes’ play (as well as his “Thesmophoriazusae”, from which the movie borrows the plot element of a man disguising himself as a woman to infiltrate a group of them). I might be tempted to complain how this movie makes hash of the work of a great Greek writer if it weren’t for two facts. First of all, ancient Greek comedy is dissimilar enough to cinematic comedy that I wouldn’t expect a faithful adaptation in the first place, and secondly, Aristophanes’ work was pretty bawdy in its own right, which makes it quite similar in tone with this movie. After all, this movie is a semi-sequel to WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS and WHEN WOMEN LOST THEIR TAILS.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean this movie is really what I’d call “good”; it is, like its predecessors, primarily a nonstop compendium of caveman sex jokes with a lot of nudity. Like the second movie, it does have a bit of satiric intent as well; if I have any favorite aspect of this movie, it’s the way it plays with the concept of an arms race, as each side tries to develop a war-winning technology to defeat the others. Still, the movie’s a little too unfocused to make any real headway with its satiric sallies, and though I’d have to say it’s better than the first movie in the series, it’s a step down from the second. The fantastic content is that it takes place in prehistoric times, but it’s too focused on sex to have anything like dinosaurs showing up. My guess is that it would most likely be appreciated by those who think it sounds promising rather than those to whom it sounds stupid.

The Wrecking Crew (1968)

Article 5444 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-5-2017
Directed by Phil Karlson
Featuring Dean Martin, Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate
Country: USA
What it is: Matt Helm movie

Matt Helm is sent out on a mission to recover a horde of stolen gold before the economy collapses.

With all of the spy movies I’ve seen lately, I suppose it was inevitable that I would finally encounter the last of the Matt Helm series, the franchise which put the “eyeing” in “spying” due to it’s high leer content. Actually, it may be due to a tragedy that it’s the last of the series; according to IMDB, Dean Martin was so distraught at the murder of Sharon Tate that he refused to make any more Matt Helm movies, which is why a supposed follow-up, THE RAVAGERS, never happened. Still, I suspect that that explanation may not tell the whole story; if there’s any one impression that I came away with from watching this movie, it was that Dean Martin feels barely involved in the action. Oh, he’s there, all right, but he seems bored and even (if I may say so) drunk, even during the love scenes. And he’s not the only one who seems uninvolved; the movie drags and is full of dead spaces, and I think it’s possible a good twenty to twenty-five minutes could have been cut from the movie without missing anything important. The only one here who seems to be having fun is Sharon Tate as an incompetent fellow agent who continually makes things worse for Matt Helm. I do like it a little better than THE AMBUSHERS, if for no other sake than it isn’t a non-stop barrage of leering and double entendres. But, sadly, this one isn’t much of anything at all, and it has the air of having been one movie too many in a series that had lost its charm. The gadgetry is the main fantastic content. However, I do have one nagging question; what was a shipment of gold being sent from the USA to England doing in train going through Denmark in the first place?

Wild Oranges (1924)

Article 5442 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-3-2017
Directed by King Vidor
Featuring Frank Mayo, Virginia Valli, Ford Sterling
Country: USA
What it is: Drama

A widower, traumatized by the death of his bride in a freak accident, takes to the sea to forget. He gets tangled up with a woman and her grandfather who are trapped on an island and being terrorized by an unstable and violent criminal.

The Walt Lee guide includes this title due to the fact that the criminal is a “homicidal maniac”, and given those are the identical words that appear on a wanted poster during the movie, it’s rather difficult to argue the point. However, that description is also a bit deceptive; the criminal is such a well-drawn and complex character (he is mentally challenged, and plagued by fear and insecurity) that the phrase “homicidal maniac” is a simplification. In fact, that’s one of the strengths of this movie; the three major characters (the criminal, the girl and the widower) are all complex, and it’s hard not to get caught up in their lives. It’s a fairly rare occurrence for this series to find a movie where characterization is the most interesting thing. Still, as far as fantastic content goes, there are a couple of other touches; one character sees visions of another character at one point (we know it’s not a ghost since the other character is alive), and the climax actually feels a bit like a horror movie at times. This one is very good, if marginal.

Das Wunder des Malachias (1961)

aka The Miracle of Father Malachia
Article 5423 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-13-2017
Directed by Bernhard Wicki
Featuring Horst Bollmann, Richard Munch, Christiane Nielsen
Country: West Germany
What it is: Be careful what you pray for.

When a nightclub/brothel proves to be an embarrassment to the church next door, a lowly monk prays for God to take the nightclub away. The nightclub vanishes and appears on an island in the North Sea. However, this miracle may prove to cause more problems than it solves…

I had to import a copy of this from Germany, so I’m not surprised my copy didn’t have English subtitles. Therefore, I made the decision to read a plot description of the movie beforehand to help me negotiate the story, though I’m still hesitant to make any real evaluation of the movie. I’m glad I did; the central miracle of the film (and the fantastic content of it as well) doesn’t manifest itself visually, so I would have been at a loss had it not been for the plot descriptions. Furthermore, the first two-thirds of the movie mainly expresses its story verbally. However, I could tell this much; it’s well acted and directed, fast paced, and is interesting to look at. I especially liked Horst Bollmann’s performance as Father Malachias, the innocent monk who sees his miracle take an ugly turn as both the former site of the nightclub (which has now become a commercially-exploited pilgrimage site) and the new site of the nightclub (which is expanded to include a casino and has become a big tourist attraction) become the antithesis of all he believes. The last third of the movie makes good use of visuals to finish the story, and the final scenes of the movie made it worth the struggle of watching the first two-thirds of the movie. IMDB classifies it as a comedy, but it’s more of a sad, very bitter satire about the modern world.

Wavelength (1983)

Article 5419 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-9-2017
Directed by Mike Gray
Featuring Robert Carradine, Cherie Currie, Keenan Wynn
Country: USA
What it is: Aliens and governmental conspiracy

A rock singer and his girlfriend discover that the government is keeping several space aliens hostage in an underground military installation. Will this cost them their lives? Will the aliens break free?

Imagine, if you will, a version of E.T. that takes the “evil government conspiracy” subplot and places it front and center, and I think that basically captures the story here. It’s not a slavish imitation by any means; it’s somewhat more adult, there are more aliens to contend with, and because of its emphasis on the conspiracy, it’s certainly less joyful. There are also plot elements that give a different face to the proceedings; the very presence of the aliens has a possibly fatal effect on the lives of those around it. Nevertheless, the similarity to E.T. becomes rather noticeable, especially towards the end of the movie. The movie itself isn’t badly made, but there’s something about it that feels anticlimactic and uneventful, partially because several of the characters feel like plot conveniences rather than real people; we don’t really care about the rock singer or the girlfriend, though we do get attached to the prospector, largely because he’s played by Keenan Wynn (and it’s nice to see him in a larger role than he was usually given in movies at this time). The most interesting thing about the movie is the attention to the details surrounding the government conspiracy, and though I don’t know the specifics, I hear that it may be at least partially based on true events. Still, I can’t help but speculate how different this movie would have been if it had been made a decade earlier; compare the way conspiracy movies of the seventies end and the way this one ends to see what I mean.

The Woods are Full of Cuckoos (1937)

Articler 5381 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-27-2017
Directed by Frank Tashlin
Featuring the voices of Sara Berner, Mel Blanc, Peter Lind Hayes
Country: USA
What it is: Looney Toons Cartoon

Welcome to the Woodlands Community Swing. Be entertained by the bird celebrities.

I have a collection of Dilbert comics with the title “It’s Not Funny If I Have to Explain It”, and the title is a good description of why certain types of jokes fall flat. I found the title quite relevant as I watched this cartoon; the basic format is that of a radio program in which all of the stars are famous celebrities caricatured as birds. Now, usually I quite like these celebrity based cartoons from Warners, but I found this one a bit of a chore for one simple reason; it throws a big array of celebrity caricatures your way, and with the passage of time, most of them have become rather obscure. My guess is that unless you’re a big fan of thirties radio shows, you’re going to be scratching your head a lot more than you’ll be laughing. In other words, to today’s audience, most of the jokes would need to be explained. Even some of the ones I did recognize took me awhile to identify, and what humor there is in the cartoon requires instant identification. Even at that, I didn’t laugh much even when I could instantly recognize them; about the only thing that amused me was that they included a caricature of Andy Devine. It must have played much better in its time, but I’m afraid now this one is largely a curio. The fantastic content is, of course, the talking animals and little else.