Week End (1967)

WEEK END (1967)
Article 1950 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-17-2006
Posting Date: 12-14-2006
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Featuring Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne, Jean-Pierre Kalfon

A bourgeois couple takes a weekend trip and encounters an endless stream of traffic accidents, annoying people, and strange characters.

I suppose fantasy is as good a classification as any for this bizarre and at times (intentionally) annoying foray into surrealistic politically-themed French new wave cinema by one of the masters of the form. Unless I’m mistaken, I’ve only covered one other movie by Godard (ALPHAVILLE), and even when he’s being straightforward (relatively, anyway) as he was with that one, I have trouble with him. Still, I suspect that this one isn’t quite as difficult as it seems at first; its political themes and hatred of the bourgeois are out in the open, and once you realize that certain scenes exist primarily to yank our chains as viewers (including the description of the erotic encounter near the beginning of the movie and the endless traffic-jam sequence), it does give you a sense that you could probably sort it all out. The trouble is, I’m not sure Godard really makes me want to go through the trouble; his cinematic style doesn’t really speak to me in the way that, say, Cocteau or Fellini does. Even though I will admit that he can be quite effective here on occasion, he doesn’t make me want to watch the movie again, and once he decides to show the onscreen slaughter of a pig and a chicken to make his points, he loses a great deal of my sympathy. I think I’ll leave this one to fans of the director’s oeuvre.

 

Whom the Gods Wish to Destroy (1966)

WHOM THE GODS WISH TO DESTROY (1966)
aka Die Nibelungen, Teil 1: Siegfried
Article 1911 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-8-2006
Posting Date: 11-5-2006
Directed by Harold Reinl
Featuring Uwe Beyer, Rolf Henniger, Siegfried Wischnewski

Siegfried kills a dragon and bathes in its blood, making himself invincible. He seeks to marry the lovely Kriemhild, but the king will only allow it if he manages to help him marry the queen of Iceland, Brunhilde.

This, like the Fritz Lang silent version , is the first half of the Nibelungen story. The last time I had to deal with it was with SIGFRIDO , which, being undubbed and unsubtitled, gave me little to work with. I almost feared I’d undergo the same problem here, but it is dubbed into English (and subtitled in, I think, Russian). Though I don’t think it holds a candle to the Lang version, it’s not a bad movie, even if it doesn’t quite attain the grandeur towards which it aspires. What I most like about this version is that it includes certain plot turns that I failed to notice in the other versions; in particular, there’s a whole “sleeping beauty” plot element which goes a long ways towards establishing the relationship between Siegfried and Brunhilde, and helps to set up the motivations for the actions in the last part of the story. At first, I was afraid this version of the movie was going to exclude the fight with the dragon (as the event is brought up as something that occurred in the past), but that’s what flashbacks are for. All in all, this is a good version of the story.

I do have a question about the English title, though. “Whom the Gods wish to destroy” is traditionally followed by “they first make mad”, and, quite frankly, no one is “made mad” in this story. Maybe it refers to Kriemhilde, but that would be only in the second half of the story, which is not included here. Still, I suspect that it ended up with this title because it sounded good, and not because it made sense within the context of the story. Ah, well….

Whistling in the Dark (1941)

WHISTLING IN THE DARK (1941)
Article 1901 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-29-2006
Posting Date: 10-26-2006
Directed by S. Sylvan Simon
Featuring Red Skelton, Conrad Veidt, Ann Rutherford

Whan a moon worship cult discovers that it may lose an inheritance to an unexpected nephew of one of its members, it decides to murder the nephew. In order to avoid drawing the police to its activities, it decides that the murder must be fullproof. They kidnap a radio personality who specializes in clever crime stories to write a scenario for the perfect murder.

Fantastic content: The horror content in this mystery/comedy consists of some horror touches, particularly during a sequence when the prisoners of the cult try to make their escape via a secret passage in their room to a place filled with mummies and Egyptian artifacts.

I’ve always found Red Skelton to be likable and charming, though I rarely find myself laughing as much as I would with other comedians. This is one of his early comedies, and the first of a series of three where he plays a radio entertainer known as “The Fox”. I didn’t find it extremely funny, but it was quite spirited, and the story is very clever at times. I was surprised to see Conrad Veidt in the cast, as I usually don’t see him as someone playing the heavy in comedies, but his presence adds a sense of danger to the proceedings. Probably having the most fun with Red is former boxer Rags Ragland as the strong-arm man and chauffeur of the cult, and he has a lot of fun during the best scene in the movie, in which Red and the other prisoners try to juryrig a radio to use it in lieu of a telephone to call for help, and they convince Sylvester (Ragland’s character) that they’re just rehearsing for a new show and get him to reveal important information over the airwaves.

War-Gods of the Deep (1965)

WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP (1965)
aka The City Under the Sea
Article 1900 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-28-2006
Posting Date: 10-25-2006
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Featuring Vincent Price, Tab Hunter, Herbert the Rooster

When a woman vanishes from her room, a man and his chicken-toting friend discover a secret passage that takes them to a hidden city under the sea.

Sometimes it’s hard to say exactly why it is that a movie falls flat, but I’m afraid that’s what this one does. It’s certainly not the performances; with the exception of the dull Tab Hunter, everyone does a fine job. The special effects also aren’t bad for what was no doubt a low-budget affair. I think the real problem is a story that doesn’t know where to go once we reach the underwater city, and so we’re stuck with people talking to each other repeatedly, and it feels like we’re caught in endless exposition. The movie certainly spends more time establishing the peril of the deadly volcano than was really necessary; after a while, you’re just left twiddling your thumbs waiting for the big destruction scene that you know won’t come until the end of the movie. It also doesn’t help that most of the big chase scene takes place underwater, where it’s impossible to tell who is in what diving outfit, and where the constant cut shots of close-ups of faces in the diving helmets does absolutely nothing to help. In the end, the most memorable thing about this movie is Herbert the chicken, and outside of escaping from his owner a few times and peaking his head out of a basket, he doesn’t do anything. The end result is a disappointment; it’s not awful by any means, but it’s tired and uninspired. This is probably the least interesting of the AIP Poe movies.

Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? (1969)
Article 1859 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-17-2006
Posting Date: 9-14-2006
Directed by Lee H. Katzin
Featuring Geraldine Page, Ruth Gordon, Rosemary Forsyth

After discovering that her deceased husband had lost his entire fortune before his death (and leaving her nothing but his stamp collection), a disgruntled heiress decides to make ends meet by employing personal companions and then murdering them for their life savings. However, her new hire suspects that something is up…

The cycle of horror films about “horror hags” (the popular term for horror movies featuring well-known elderly actresses) was one of the more interesting trends of the genre, but I often can’t quite bring myself to look at them as full-blown horror movies. Yes, they have some elements of the genre (this one has a serial killer, of course), but there’s generally a feel about a number of them that makes me want to shunt them off to the “marginalia” category. Still, I’m not sure whether there’s an easy genre classification for these eccentric exercises in gothic black-comedy that fits them any better. At any rate, they’re popularly considered as horror movies, so I’m covering them.

This was the third of Aldrich’s assays into the genre, though this time he’s only a producer rather than a director as well. It’s quite good, but I’m afraid I’m a little disappointed by it, largely because it reminds me so much of two other movies. It certainly has a similarity to WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE , and though both Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon do well enough, I just don’t feel the same fireworks as I do watching Bette Davis and Joan Crawford going at it. The other movie it reminds me of is SCREAM OF FEAR , and I’m afraid that this movie just doesn’t have the delicious twists of that one. In fact, this movie’s biggest twist (which I won’t give away here, but anyone who recognizes the movie from the plot description will probably remember it) is brought forward at an awkward, somewhat inappropriate moment that reduces its effect a little bit. Still, it’s a fairly clever movie, and if the occasional moment falls flat, there are some that work very well indeed. Still, I wonder what it would have been like had Aldrich actually directed it. Granted, that’s not a guarantee of quality, as THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE comes to mind. Still, it would have been interesting…

A Witch Without a Broom (1967)

A WITCH WITHOUT A BROOM (1967)
aka Una Bruja sin escoba
Article 1827 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-16-2006
Posting Date: 8-13-2006
Directed by Jose Maria Elorrieta
Featuring Jeffrey Hunter, Maria Perschy, Gustavo Rojo

A twentieth century professor becomes the romantic choice of a sixteenth-century witch who sends him on an adventure through time.

It strikes me that nothing is as potentially awkward as trying to dub a foreign comedy so that it delivers the laughs in another country. It can be done, of course; I think THE TENTH VICTIM is quite successful in this regard. However, it’s much more likely that it will fall flat, and in this case, I doubt that the original language version of this was much of a laugh riot either. The basic plot is almost embarrassing; a man keeps being dropped into another time period where he catches the eye of a woman who tries to seduce him, and just as she is about to succeed, a jealous lover comes in and threatens his life, but he escapes to another time period, where he catches the eye of a woman who tries to seduce him, etc. etc. Now, unless you find this bedroom-farce-style idea the height of hilarity, this comedy will wear out its welcome very quickly indeed. Quite frankly, the best thing about this is Maria Perschy, who was beautiful enough for me to understand why the professor gets so distracted in class. Nonetheless, there are better witch comedies out there (I MARRIED A WITCH , anyone?) and better time travel comedies as well (heck, you’re even better off with FIDDLERS THREE ). This one is aimless, distracted and forgettable.

Willy McBean and his Magic Machine (1965)

WILLY MCBEAN AND HIS MAGIC MACHINE (1965)
(a.k.a. WILLIE MCBEAN AND HIS MAGIC MACHINE)
Article #1671 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-11-2005
Posting Date: 3-10-2006
Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr.
Featuring the voices of Larry D. Mann, Billie Mae Richards, Paul Soles

When a mad professor goes back in time to make himself famous, his talking monkey escapes and enlists the aid of a young boy to help defeat the professor’s evil scheme.

When it comes to children’s movies, I have a strong preference for those with a sense of absurd silliness, and this puppet-animated movie has that. This is no real surprise, with the director being Arthur Rankin Jr., who was one of the people responsible for those perennial TV holiday classics such as RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER and SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN. The movie takes the viewer into several historical scenarios; we end up at Little Big Horn, the town of Tombstone, a Roman coliseum, Egypt at the time of the building of the pyramids, King Arthur’s court, and finally into prehistory for the invention of fire. The movie is consistently amusing, the characters fun and likable (even the villain), and this makes up for the fact that the songs are pretty ordinary. I do find myself wondering why the villain Professor von Rotten would choose as his first mission to become the greatest gunfighter in history; it would seem to me that if this attempt at fame went horribly wrong, it would undermine the chances for any further attempts, but then, I’m not a mad professor.

But I’m working on it.