Motor Pirates (1906)

aka The Modern Pirates
Article 4134 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2013
Directed by Arthur Melbourne Cooper
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Science fiction thriller

Criminals use an armored car to perform robberies, but the police get on their trail.

Armored cars aren’t science fiction anymore, but back in 1906, they were, and this one (which is vaguely submarine-shaped and has a hood that opens up like a monster opening its mouth) looks pretty exotic. Even more interesting is that this short is played more for thrills than laughs, which is rather unusual for its time. This is not to say that there aren’t a few laughs here; some of the cops’ actions seem vaguely comic, and there is something rather funny about seeing the car open its “mouth” and swallow things. Still, the emphasis is on action and thrills, with several people killed in the opening scene and some early stunt work. In some ways, this is a fairly impressive little short, and I’m glad it just got saved from my “ones-that-got-away” list, which it entered yesterday.

The Hat with Many Surprises (1901)

aka Le chapeau a surprises
Article 4133 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-17-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What is it: Magic film

A gentleman uses his hat to set up a fancy dinner, using it to provide tableware, chairs, and even dinner guests.

This is another of Melies’s “magic” films, but it does have a little novelty in the fact that it actually has something of a theme; rather than using the hat to produce random items, it’s actually focused on the issue of setting up a dinner. He even has to increase the size of the hat at one point so it can disgorge chairs and dinner guests, as well as a servant. Granted, it all goes to pieces during the last half minute or so, with the table vanishing and a painting coming to life, but that’s Melies for you. I’d rate this one as one of the better of this particular genre of short for him.

Hare Ribbin’ (1944)

Article 4132 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-16-2013
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Sam Wolfe
Country: USA
What it is: Bugs Bunny cartoon

Bugs Bunny has to contend with a red Russian poodle who is stalking him.

Since Bugs Bunny is a talking rabbit, he falls under the classification of “fantasy” and is fair game for this series. This isn’t the best of the Bugs Bunny cartoons, but it is pretty typical of the period; Bugs runs into a fairly dim character who is hunting him, and humiliates him through various means. In this one, Bugs dresses up as a mermaid and plays a game of tag with the dog; he also pretends to be a French waiter trying to make him a rabbit sandwich (which leads him to put on an Elmer Fudd accent, who does not appear in the short), and finally, tricks the dog into committing suicide; I think the latter gag is the reason the cartoon also appears on a set of banned cartoons I have. The user comments on IMDB seem mystified by the dog and his Russian accent, but I suspect he’s a parody of Bert Gordon, the Mad Russian, a comic actor of the era; he does use Gordon’s “How do you do!” catchphrase at one point.

Cubby’s Stratosphere Flight (1934)

Article 4131 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-13-2013
Directed by Vernon Stallings
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Cubby the bear cartoon

Cubby the bear decides to take off for the stratosphere, but he ends up at the North Pole at a walrus night club.

Van Bueren was one of the more obscure cartoon studios of the thirties, and Cubby the Bear wasn’t a particularly memorable character. Still, there are a few decent moments in the cartoon; I like the means of locomotion Cubby uses to rise to the stratosphere (think of the old “horse-and-carrot” trick only using a pelican and a fish), and at least one gag got a laugh out of me (what happens to a fisherman’s can of bait after a giant snowball makes off with him). The rest is pretty typical early thirties animation, with things coming to a dead halt at one point when a quartet of walruses warble a song.

Gulliver’s Travels among the Lilliputians and the Giants (1902)

aka Le voyage de Gulliver a Lilliput et chez les geants
Article 4130 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-12-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Special effects adaptation of classic novel

Gulliver spends time with the Lilliputians and the Brobdingnags.

With a running time of only four minutes, no, you’re not going to get much of the satirical thrust of the Swift novel. It does serve, however, as a nice inspiration for Melies to practice on and develop his special effects techniques, and he rises to the occasion with some at times very impressive special effects. I like the way it forces Melies to use close-ups more extensively than is his wont, and certain effects (such as the scene where the Lilliputians shoot arrows into Gulliver) are very well handled. When it’s not just showing off the effects, it goes for laughs, such as the scene where Gulliver puts out a fire with a seltzer bottle and the one where he falls into a teacup. Simply in terms of its special effects challenges, this is one of Melies’s most impressive shorts.

Beau Brummel (1924)

Article 4129 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-10-2013
Directed by Harry Beaumont
Featuring John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Willard Louis
Country: USA
What it is: Biopic

A military officer loses the woman he loves because he has no rank or fortune. He decides to take revenge by winnowing his way into the court, becoming a dandy and an avatar of fashion, and living a life of scandal. But things take a turn for the worse for him when he falls afoul of the Prince of Wales…

The last movie I saw from 1924 was HOT WATER, and like that one, this one saves all of its fantastic content for the last few minutes. But then, I didn’t really expect it to have much; after all, this is mostly a love story/biopic about George Bryan “Beau” Brummel, and with very few exceptions (movies about Rasputin, for example), these don’t really fall into genre territory. It’s an entertaining movie, though it gets a bit confusing and dull in the middle, but this may be partially due to the fact that my print isn’t complete; it runs only 80 minutes, whereas the full film ran two hours and fifteen minutes. It’s anchored by a solid performance by John Barrymore, and one thing I do admire about him as that even though he was considered one of the most handsome men in Hollywood, he wasn’t afraid to have himself made up to look decrepit; the final scenes where Brummel has become senile are played with real gusto and feeling by Barrymore. The last scene is also the most touching in the movie, especially when he is visited by his former manservant, who manages to break through the man’s senility at least for a few minutes. The fantastic content is that ghosts of several of the important characters appear in the last few moments; they may be part of someone’s imagination, but they are there in the movie nonetheless.

The Phantom Light (1935)

Article 4128 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-10-2013
Directed by Michael Powell
Featuring Binnie Hale, Gordon Harker, Donald Calthrop
Country: UK
What it is: Mystery thriller

A lighthouse keeper comes to Wales to take over the management of a lighthouse that is supposedly haunted; its last two keepers have vanished mysteriously, and one of the men in the lighthouse has gone mad. Is the lighthouse really haunted, or is there another explanation…?

Even great directors sometimes have to serve apprenticeships, and Michael Powell (who directed such movies as THE RED SHOES, STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN and TALES OF HOFFMANN) spent most of the thirties serving one. This movie is largely a variation of THE GHOST TRAIN, and I’m quite surprised that so many genre guides reject this one; even though the threat turns out to not be supernatural at all, I’ve covered plenty of movies listed in those other guides which have even less fantastic content than this one. At the very least, there’s a lot of talk about the lighthouse being haunted. It’s pretty standard fare, but there’s some nice visual moments here and there, and the editing during some of the climactic scenes is sharply done. The Welsh setting also adds a little color to the proceedings. This one is pretty minor, but not bad.