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.

Willoughby’s Magic Hat (1943)

Article 5373 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-17-2017
Directed by Bob Wickersham
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Columbia cartoon

A magical hat knitted from Samson’s hair ends up in the possession of a tiny little man named Willoughby, who is given super-strength when he wears it. Will he be able to rescue a damsel in distress and manage to keep his hat on?

There are no anthropomorphic animals on hand in this cartoon, but that doesn’t mean there’s no fantastic content; we have a magic hat, Samson, Hercules, Atlas and a villain that looks like a robot version of the Frankenstein monster. Columbia didn’t really come into its own until UPA took over in the fifties, so I’ve learned not to expect too much from their pre-UPA material. Sure enough, there are problems here; some gags don’t work (there’s no reason for Nero or Napoleon to be wearing the hat, for example), and there’s at least one big glaring dead spot in the cartoon where nothing is happening. Nevertheless, the premise is unusual and interesting, and it manages to have some solid fun with the concept; for example, I like the sequence where our hero first gets the cap and has to contend with his own strength. Also, there are moments when the sketchy background illustrations are reminiscent of the work of UPA, which is interesting. No, it’s not a great cartoon, but it’s a good one, and it may be one of Columbia’s best from the period.

When the Devil Drives (1907)

Article 5370 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-14-2017
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Fun trick short

The devil hijacks a coach and a train and takes its passengers on a merry ride.

This ended up on my “ones that got away” list, but a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of a YouTube video, though he also passed on a warning that this particular print of the short movie is horrid. And it is. Not only does the print cut off huge sections of the original frame (it’s hard to find a scene where the devil’s head is NOT cut off), it’s running at the wrong projection speed (cutting a five-minute short down to three minutes), and the action is obscured by an obnoxious watermark logo in the center of the screen, a website flag on the top of the screen, and time lapse indicator near the bottom of the screen. This is a damned shame, because from what I could see, this is really a creative special effects short; it reminded me somewhat of THE ? MOTORIST. We see visions of the train riding on telephone waters, travelling underwater (which is pretty surreal), assembling itself on the side of a mountain, and flying off into the clouds. There’s a wonderful Melies collection out there, and I hope someday someone takes an interest in some of the lesser-known special effects directors out there and produces high-quality sets of their shorts as well. This is one I hope someday to see in a pristine condition; I know there are much better copies out there.

Tarzan and King Kong (1965)

Article 5334 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-2-2017
Directed by A. Shamsheer
Featuring Randhawa, Mumtaz, Bela Bose
Country: India
What it is: An exercise in expectations

Tarzan rescues survivors of an airplane wreck and becomes the target of an evil native king.

This is probably the most famous title of an Indian series of Tarzan movies, and let’s face it – the title is a bit irresistible, even if you know disappointment is inevitable. Most of the movie is about Tarzan (as you might expect), and he’s your standard stocky guy in an animal skin with one of the dullest Tarzan yells on record. Still, you have to respect the yell, as it summons forth a huge legion of elephants to his aid (though I should point out that most of that is stock footage), and it is Tarzan’s “ace in the hole”, as you realize when you reach the end of the movie. Still, if you’re like me, the real question on your mind is “how do they pull off King Kong?” All I’m going to say is – think “man in a (not very good) gorilla suit in both execution and size”. Heck, the fight between Tarzan and Kong isn’t even the climax of the movie. There’s lots of singing and dancing (of course), a lot of fight scenes (and some go on way too long), a bit of wrestling (including a wrestler that looks like a cross between Tor Johnson and Mad Dog Vachon). Yes, it’s a disappointment, but not out of line with what I was expecting. All in all, the title is the best thing about it, and I do think an interesting movie could be made mixing Kong and Tarzan. Just not this one.

I should also mention that my copy didn’t have English dubbing or subtitles, but I’m not sure it’s one of those movies where it makes a difference.

The Witch’s Cat (1948)

aka Mighty Mouse in The Witch’s Cat
Article 5266 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-8-2016
Directed by Mannie Davis
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Mighty Mouse cartoon

Mice celebrating Halloween are threatened by a witch who wants to feed them to her cat. Can Mighty Mouse save the day?

At first this looks like it’s shaping up to be largely a repeat of the approach used in GYPSY LIFE; it’s another operetta-style cartoon without the serial elements. However, unlike that earlier cartoon, it concentrates less on the singing and tries to add a little humor to the mix; the latter doesn’t always work, but I’m glad they gave it a try. Instead of a bunch of evil cats, there’s only one this time and he’s rather stupid. Furthermore, Mighty Mouse doesn’t have quite as easy a time with things as he usually does, as the witch comes up with a potion that takes him out of the action for a bit. Ultimately, I like this one better than that previous example. And, for those who are into slightly risque humor, try counting how many pairs of bloomers the witch wears.