Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978)
Article 6041 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by John De Bello
Featuring David Miller, George Wilson, Sharon Taylor
What it is: Both intentionally bad and just plain bad
Killer tomatoes attack the country. The government tries to fight back.
If this movie is famous for anything, it might be that it was one of the earliest movies to try to tap in on a trendy “bad movie” craze that was taking shape. However, it feels more like one of those wild and crazy comedies that would reach its apex with AIRPLANE!, a movie far superior to this one. I’d seen this one years ago and didn’t think much of it then; the most memorable thing about it from that viewing was the joke involving the Japanese scientist. The thing I’ll remember most from this viewing is the harrowing scene of the helicopter crash, and I wasn’t surprised to discover that the crash was genuine; apparently, more than half of the movie’s budget was spent dealing with this incident. Other than that, there’s just not much to recommend here; it’s mostly a barrage of unfunny running gags (especially the one involving the parachutist who never removes his parachute). It’s an unfocused mess, and it feels like the movie was mostly a depositary for pointless gags people had lying around and were trying to use. Oh, it has its supporters, but it feels more like a genuinely a bad movie (and not a fun one) instead of a parody of same.
aka Mendelssohn’s Spring Song
Article 6031 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Herman Roessle
What it is: Odd but entrancing
Various insects cavort to the title tune.
The best moment comes early on when you find out that the object that appears to be a train turns out to be something else entirely. It’s a magical little moment, but it’s memorable enough that I decided at that moment that I really liked this cartoon. It’s a good thing it won me over early, though; it does have its problems, mostly in that they don’t know when to end certain sequences; the scene of the butterfly jumping from pole to pole gets old before it’s over. My copy is in black and white, but there are color versions, and the credits make a lot of noise about it, but it retains its charms even without the color. This one seems to hover somewhere in a world between your average theatrical cartoon and and some forms of abstract animations.
SPIRITUALIST PHOTOGRAPHER (1903)
aka Le portrait spirituel
Article 4265 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
What it is: Magic film
A magician turns a woman into a portrait of herself, and then back.
This is a pretty ordinary Melies trick film, and I’d probably be largely finished with this review if it weren’t for one interesting little touch. It opens with a man holding up two placards, one in French and one in English, which convey to the viewer the knowledge that a dissolve effect will be demonstrated in the short without the use of a black background, and that this is a novel effect, and, if the truth be told, I do remember that this particular trick was almost always done with a black background up to this point. I don’t know just how difficult it was to switch to a technique using a white background, but it must have been tricky enough for Melies to take the trouble to explain the change in the film itself. If anything, this does demonstrate that the purpose of some of these magic shorts was to experiment with new techniques, which makes this short at least a little more interesting historically.
SOVIET TOYS (1924)
aka Sovietski igrushki
Directed by Dziga Vertov
What it is: Animated Soviet propaganda
A greedy capitalist devours everything and gives nothing back. Can the worker and the peasant force him to put his excess funds into the state bank?
What we have here is another foray in Soviet propaganda; it’s basically an allegory about conditions that arose in USSR at the time that Lenin instituted a New Economic Policy that resulted in the rise of greedy entrepreneurs. Much of the imagery is grotesque, especially the sequence where the capitalist gorges himself, vomits into a barrel, and then drinks the contents of the barrel. It verges into fantasy several times, the most striking of which is the merging of the peasant and the worker into a single two-headed creature that was capable of extracting the funds from the capitalist. The animation has a vaguely Emile Cohl-ish quality to it, which makes it a bit primitive for the time. I found it somewhat interesting but also quite predictable at times, and it is best viewed as a product of its time and place.
CAPTAIN APPLEJACK (1931)
Article 4249 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Hobart Henley
Featuring John Halliday, Mary Brian, Kay Strozzi
What it is: Almost an “old dark house” movie
An aristocrat, bored of his staid existence, decides to sell his ancestral home and take off for a life of adventure. He finds himself in the middle of one when he encounters a Russian duchess on the run from a spy. In the process, he discovers that the ancestral founder of the home was a pirate, and that a fortune may be hidden in the house.
This movie features hidden passages, a concealed treasure, travelers dropping by the mansion in the middle of rainy night when their car breaks down, and a spiritualist. Put these elements together in a different way and you’d have the makings of an “old dark house” thriller for sure, but this one doesn’t arrange them in the usual way, and isn’t trying for that type of thrill. Actually, the most interesting fantastic element in this one is the implication that the main character may actually be something of a reincarnation of his pirate ancestor, and one sequence of the movie takes place aboard a pirate ship, with the various cast members taking on dual roles as pirates and their victims. It’s based on a play, and the first half suffers somewhat from being rather stage-bound, but it opens up a bit in the second half. It’s also rather racy at times in a way that certainly wouldn’t be allowed when the Code went into effect. All in all, this is an interesting curiosity.
THE CABBAGE-PATCH FAIRY (1900)
aka La fee aux choux, ou la naissance des enfants
Article 4120 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Alice Guy
What it is: Novelty short
A woman displays babies found in a cabbage patch.
Sometimes the title is the main source of the fantastic content of the movie; if this one had been called WOMAN FINDING BABIES HIDDEN IN A GARDEN, no one would have seen any fantastic content at all. It’s the title that tells us that the woman is a fairy, and the garden is where the babies come from. Well, at least the movie doesn’t steal any special effects from Melies, but that’s because there are no special effects to speak of; the babies are hidden behind garden displays, and she just finds them and sets them down in our line of vision. And that’s about all this slight little short gives us.