The Wacky World of Mother Goose (1967)

Article 3984 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-19-2012
Directed by Jules Bass
Featuring the voices of Margaret Rutherford, Bob McFadden, Susan Melvin
Country: USA
What it is: Animated fairy tale

When Mother Goose leaves for a visit to her sister, the evil Count Warptwist takes over the kingdom and enslaves the subjects. Two children embark on a quest to find Mother Goose and save the land.

There are some children’s movies that you will watch with your kids, and some that you’ll leave your kids to watch alone. This is one of the latter. With the exception of Margaret Rutherford, the voice acting leaves much to be desired, the animation is limited and dull, the songs are quite awful, and the story largely consists of seeing how many different Mother Goose poems they can shoehorn into the mix. And as for it’s being wacky, I didn’t find a single decent laugh in the movie. This may be the weakest Rankin/Bass production I’ve seen for this series.

What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971)

Article 3980 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-15-2012
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Featuring Debbie Reynolds, Shelley Winters, Dennis Weaver
Country: USA
What is it: Horror hag picture

Two women whose sons have been convicted of a notorious murder change their names, move to Hollywood, and open a dance studio for children intent on breaking into the movies. One of them tries to return to a life of normalcy, while the other, fearing the possible wrath of a vengeance-driven stalker, deteriorates mentally.

This movie came near the end of the “horror hag” cycle that began with WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, and is written by Henry Farell, who provided the stories and/or screenplays for both that earlier movie and for HUSH HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. You can kind of tell that’s the case; there’s definitely a similar vibe that some of the other “horror hag” entries don’t share. In fact, it may be a little too similar; some of the touches feel a little forced; I don’t think there’s any real reason for the Hollywood backdrop, and the Victor Buono character (albeit not played by Buono), though an interesting character in himself, does little more plotwise than scare one of the women every time he appears; it almost seems like the writer is trying to borrow from BABY JANE but to no real purpose. On the plus side, Shelley Winters gives a great performance; she’s careful to underplay whenever she can so that it can contrast with the histrionics when she goes over the edge, and this gives her character an interesting vibe. However, I emerge from the movie not quite satisfied; I’m never quite sure why these two women are hanging around together, and the movie rings a false note in that regard. And the ending doesn’t quite deliver the jolt to make it really effective.

Who Killed Aunt Maggie? (1940)

Article 3979 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-14-2012
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Featuring John Hubbard, Wendy Barrie, Edgar Kennedy
Country: USA
What it is: Old dark house mystery

A radio advertiser tracks his fiancee to her home, an old dark house in the South. There they encounter murders and mystery.

Yes, we’re in the “old dark house” again; I wonder if we’ll ever get to the bottom of the genre. There’s a number of familiar names in this one, such as Edgar Kennedy, Onslow Stevens, Willie Best and Milton Parsons; the latter, amazingly enough, is NOT playing an undertaker, but a tombstone salesman. It’s amusing enough, and it moves pretty quickly, but that may be because I was watching an edited TV version that runs only 53 minutes; the movie in its entirety runs seventy. If anything sets this one apart, it’s a certain self-referential quality; the movie opens with the hero pooh-poohing an “old dark house” script as unbelievable and ridiculous, only to find himself caught up in one. For the record, my favorite moment is the final joke involving a wedding ceremony. The fantastic content is the usual shtick, though we also have a clock that mysteriously stops every time someone dies in the house.

Die Welt ohne Maske (1934)

aka The World Without a Mask
Article 3945 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-2-2012
Directed by Harry Piel
Featuring Harry Piel, Kurt Vespermann, Anni Markart
Country: Germany
What it is: Science fiction comedy

An inventor creates a television that can see through walls, and becomes the target of criminals and spies who want his invention.

Like yesterday, this is a German movie from 1934 that ended up on my “ones that got away” list, only to finally drop into my lap. And, also like yesterday, I have no English subtitles to help me out, though I did read a short description of the premise that did. Unlike yesterday, though, there is definite fantastic content, and though the premise is along the lines of your usual Gizmo Maguffin plot, I can say that the invention is used quite often during the proceedings, often to foil the crooks who are trying to get their hands on the invention. However, the lack of English subtitles does hurt somewhat; though some of the humor is visual, much of it seems verbal and situational, and what I could make out of it was only mildly amusing. Some of it is obvious (the inventor and his assistant watch some showgirls undressing at one point), and nothing really happens that looks unusual or surprising. As a snap judgment, I’d say the movie is fairly ordinary, though there is always the chance that a translated copy might appeal to me more.

The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973)

Article 3932 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-10-2012
Posting Date: 5-20-2012
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Featuring Tim Conway, Jan-Michael Vincent, John Amos
Country: USA
What it is: Shopping cart movie

A coach discovers a boy in the jungles of Zambia who has incredible athletic powers, and tricks the boy into coming back to American with him. But what will happen when the boy’s witch doctor godfather comes to take him back home?

For some reason, I was incredibly eager to see this movie back when I was in Junior High. In retrospect, I think it was the presence of top-billed Tim Conway, a comic actor who I loved from his work on “The Carol Burnett Show”. I never did get a chance to see the movie in a theater, but I caught it several years later on TV … and was promptly underwhelmed. The script is one of the weakest of the Disney shopping cart movies, and the direction is uninspired and pedestrian. As for Conway, he’s stuck in a role that doesn’t play to his strengths, and his comic dialogue is pretty lame; his best moment is when he’s under the spell of a voodoo doll made in his image, which emphasizes physical shtick instead of dialogue. In fact, the best performance here is from Roscoe Lee Browne, who plays Gazenga the witch doctor; it may be a silly role, but Browne plays it with a charming confidence and an authority that transcends the silliness. Actually, the most impressive thing about the film is the presence of a tiger who actually seems to be interacting with the actors and not just trainers; this must have been one well-trained animal.

The Witches Mountain (1972)

aka El Monte de las brujas
Article 3897 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-5-2012
Posting Date: 4-15-2012
Directed by Raul Artigot
Featuring Patty Shepard, Cihangir Giffari, Monica Randall
Country: Spain
What it is: Witch story

A photographer and a new female friend of his go on a trip to take photographs on a mountain. But the mountain is inhabited by witches…

… as well as an opera company that seems to provide the witches with some of the most bombastic music I’ve heard from a witches’ coven (and please note my use of an apostrophe, just to demonstrate I do know where and when they’re supposed to be used, something the people who designed the English titles of this one apparently don’t). Granted, I don’t SEE the opera company, but I’m assuming that string section comes from somewhere, and I don’t see any of the actual witches mouthing along with the lyrics. They apparently also do Gregorian chants as well. There’s one striking sequence in this movie where the photographer takes several pictures of an abandoned village which, upon development, show people in them who weren’t there when the pictures were taken. This was by far the most interesting moment in a movie that I found to be mostly confusing and dull, though I will admit to being impressed by the performance of Cihangir Giffari’s moustache, which steals every scene it’s in. I don’t know if the original Spanish language version of this is better, but the English version is a waste of time.

What, No Men? (1935)

WHAT, NO MEN? (1935)
Musical short
Article 3889 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-29-2012
Posting Date: 4-7-2012
Directed by Ralph Staub
Featuring El Brendel, Wini Shaw, Phil Regan
Country: USA
What it is: Musical comedy short

A team of scientists send a bill collector and a policeman into the stratosphere in a rocket ship. When they come down, they find themselves in the hands of an all-woman Indian tribe, and then a western town which is also devoid of men.

Believe it or not, this silly short subject was nominated for an Academy Award. There’s really no plot to speak of; it’s a series of musical numbers (some of them pretty bizarre) interspersed with comedian El Brendel (an acquired taste) making jokes. The biggest surprise is that it’s pretty racy, especially with the scanty costumes of the Indian women; this one must have gotten in just before the Hays Office went into effect. The rocket into the stratosphere is the only real fantastic content here, but since they land right back on Earth, it has no real effect on the – well, I was going to say “story”, but let’s just say “the ensuing action”. It’s little more than a curiosity nowadays.