Blue Demon vs el poder satanico (1966)

BLUE DEMON VS EL PODER SATANICO (1966)
aka Blue Demon vs. the Satanical Power
Article 2822 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-28-2009
Posting Date: 5-5-2009
Directed by Chano Urueta
Featuring Alejandro Munoz Moreno, Marta Elena Cervantes, Jaime Fernandez
Country: Mexico

A man with Satanical powers avoids execution by putting himself into a cataleptic state. Fifty years later he is resurrected, and returns to his evil ways by using his mystical powers to seduce and murder women. However, he must deal with the powers of a heroic Mexican wrestler…

For a movie which I’ve seen only in an unsubtitled Spanish-language version, this one is fairly easy to follow. This isn’t necessarily a compliment; the reason it’s so easy to follow is because there’s so little to it. The opening scenes are the best, but once the villain begins his seductive reign of terror, the movie begins padding itself excessively. The movie runs about 75 minutes, but we have four (count ’em, four) wrestling sequences, one of which doesn’t even feature Blue Demon, but his friend (and already established movie star) Santo. We have three sequences where the villain seduces women. We have scenes of Blue Demon pursuing his career as a crimefighter; unfortunately, these mostly consist of him sitting around reading books. In fact, Blue Demon doesn’t lift a finger to battle the villain until the villain decides to use his Satanic powers to try to force Blue Demon to commit suicide. Only then does Blue Demon swing into action, but even this is a disappointment, because… well, I won’t give away the ending, but let me just say that if it weren’t for the wrestling sequences, there wouldn’t be any action scenes in the movie. This one is bad even by Mexican wrestler movie standards.

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Africa Screams (1949)

AFRICA SCREAMS (1949)
Article 2821 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-27-2009
Posting Date: 5-4-2009
Directed by Charles Barton
Featuring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Clyde Beatty
Country: USA

Two book store clerks pass themselves off as big game hunters in order to get themselves added to a safari. The safari is purportedly in pursuit of a giant ape, but in reality, it is searching for a fortune in diamonds.

This was one of the few Abbott and Costello films made outside of Universal or MGM, and the low budget shows; it opens with Costello in a jungle set in a bookstore that looks about as convincing as the jungle sets that pass for the real jungle. It’s not one of their best comedies, but it is fun to see them take on the jungle genre. Furthermore, it has a great array of other duos to play off. To begin with, we have a pair of real-life lion-tamers turned movie stars, Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck. We also have two heavyweight fighters who happen to be brothers with Max and Buddy Baer; one of the highlights has them engaging in a spirited fistfight with each other near the end of the movie (“I’ll hit you harder that Louis ever did!”). Then, to top it off, we have two third Stooges; Joe Besser plays a butler, and Shemp Howard plays a near-sighted hunter; other than in retrospectives about the Stooges that use archive footage, this is the only time these two men appeared together in a movie. Furthermore, we get Charley Gemora in a dual role (as a gorilla and a gorilla, and yes, they are two different characters); personally, I’ve always thought Gemora was the man-in-a-gorilla-suit who had the best knack for comedy. For the most part, the movie remains in the marginal category as far as fantastic content goes (like many jungle movies), but it does deliver a clear qualifying moment towards the end. And for anyone who ever wanted to see the greedy, self-serving Bud Abbott character really get his comeuppance, this is one that really delivers. All in all, this one is good fun.

L’ecrin du rajah (1906)

L’ECRIN DU RAJAH (1906)
aka The Rajah’s Casket
Article 2820 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-26-2009
Posting Date: 5-3-2009
Directed by Gaston Velle
Cast unknown
Country: France

A rajah’s casket is stolen by an evil wizard on a dragon.

Here’s another silent short from Gaston Velle; once again, the influence of Melies is clearly visible. It does manage to have an outdoor shot at one point, though, which is something Melies rarely did. My copy of it opens with a comment about the excellent hand-coloring (which is true) and mentions that it was one of the earliest examples of censorship; since no other explanation is given, I assume he means the various colors that are used to obscure much of the skin of the dancing ladies. The best scene has people looking from a balcony at the wizard flying by on his dragon. It’s fun enough, but the dancing goes on far too long, and the interest level starts to flag.

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)

THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM (1962)
Article 2819 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-25-2009
Posting Date: 5-2-2009
Directed by Henry Levin and George Pal
Featuring Laurence Harvey, Karlheinz Bohm, Claire Bloom
Country: USA

Two brothers try to make ends meet while collecting fairy tales. In the process, three tales are presented. In the first, a woodsman seeks to find out how a princess is wearing out her shoes. In the second, a cobbler, unable to complete his work on time, gets help from an unexpected source. In the third, a knight and his squire seek to kill a dragon.

My comments about yesterday’s movie (WEB OF THE SPIDER) and this one dovetail nicely. For the former, I complained both about the overuse of close-ups and the dreadful pan-and-scan used in the presentation of the movie. My copy of this fares much better than the latter in this regard; it is letterboxed (though, from what I just read, it appears that it is not complete, due to water damage to the original negatives). It is also a movie with some historical interest in this regard; it was the first major motion picture to be released in the Cinerama format (though not the first filmed). Knowing that the movie was filmed for the Cinerama process helped me to understand some of the artistic decisions that were made, and gave me a grasp of why I felt the movie was very uneven.

The Cinerama process was basically about spectacle, and many of the decisions were made to make use of this aspect. I’m sure that’s the reason it opens with a war scene when the war has precious little to do with the story. It’s also the reason for the protracted carriage ride in the second story, in which we get many POV shots of the horse carriage barreling down the road. It also made me fully aware that, though I was seeing a letterboxed print, that I simply wasn’t experiencing the movie in the way that it was intended. This may well be true for any theatrical movie shown on television that I’ve seen, but this may be the movie I’ve seen where I’ve most felt the loss. Alas, the opportunity to see it as it was originally intended will most likely never come, so I may have to make do with this.

Since the fairy tales themselves are matters of spectacle, they come across the strongest; each one of them is a delight, and each one is delightful in its own special way. From the dancing in the first story to the puppetoon animation in the second to the stop-motion work in the third, all augmented by fun performances from familiar faces, these are the highlights of the film. Incidentally, the tales are directed by George Pal.

My problems arise with the biography section of the story. That they would choose a more light-hearted Hollywood-style version of the lives of the Brothers Grimm is perhaps no surprise, but even this type of approach requires that we gain a little intimacy with the characters. One good way to get that intimacy is the use of close-ups. Unfortunately, as good as Cinerama may be for spectacle, it’s less effective for intimacy, and it’s hard to get involved with the characters when the movie is too busy trying to impress you with the set for the village; a few close-ups, especially in the early sections of the movie, would have helped. At any rate, I never get interested in the biographical section of the movie; only when it veers into fantasy by having one of the brothers be visited by characters from his fairy tales during a fever dream does it hold my attention. I somehow think it would have been more satisfying to jettison this section of the movie and just show several fairy tales.

I do wonder, though, whether it might not have worked better if George Pal had been given his first choices for the actors portraying the brother; he wanted Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness. That would have been something to see.

Web of the Spider (1971)

WEB OF THE SPIDER (1971)
Nella stretta morsa del ragno
Article 2818 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-24-2009
Posting Date: 5-1-2009
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Anthony Franciosa, Michele Mercier, Klaus Kinski
Country: France / Italy / West Germany

An American reporter takes a bet that he can spend the night in a haunted castle without dying.

If I had to choose what I considered Antonio Margheriti’s best movie, I would unhesitatingly choose CASTLE OF BLOOD; though made of familiar elements, there’s something innovative and genuinely spooky in the way he combines them for that film, and the ending is indelible. Margheriti must have sensed there was something special about the movie, too; seven years later he remade it, and this is the result. In some ways, I feel I should have to go easy on this one, because my copy of the movie is quite bad; the colors seem badly faded, and the use of pan-and-scan is truly awful. It’s one of those pan-and-scan jobs where the picture will jerk from one end of the frame to another in a distracting way, a technique that always reminds you that you’re watching a movie that should be seen in widescreen. However, there are other aspects that I don’t care for that don’t seem to be the result of a bad copy of the movie. I was not impressed with either Anthony Franciosa’s performance (if often feels forced and unconvincing) or Klaus Kinski’s performance as Edgar Allan Poe; though Poe did indeed have a drinking problem, seeing him recite the story of “Berenice” as a slovenly drunk feels more like you’re watching an actor showing off than a carefully considered artistic decision. I also think the the movie overuses closeups; in a movie about a haunted castle, you want to see the actors and actresses amidst the surroundings rather than having constant close-ups of their faces. Ultimately, there’s the simple fact that the remake was unnecessary; the most memorable scenes here were better done in the original, and it all has the air of a futile attempt to relive a past glory.

I guess you know which version I’m going to watch the next time I want to see this story.

Rollerball (1975)

ROLLERBALL (1975)
Article 2817 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2009
Posting Date: 4-30-2009
Directed by Norman Jewison
Featuring James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams
Country: UK

In the future, the world is controlled by a cartel of corporations who sponsor a sporting event called Rollerball, a violent variation of roller derby. The reigning star of the sport, a man known as Jonathan E., is being urged to retire from the sport, and seeks to find out why.

I remember that there was quite a controversy about this movie when it came out due to the violent content and the perceived glorification of that violence. However, there is a difference between the glorification of violence and the use of it in a way that is essential to the story. The violence is necessary here, as the story has no meaning without it. Still, I can understand the concern; the hero of the movie is one of the most violent players of the game, and the movie does pander a bit when he takes revenge for the near-killing of a teammate.

Overall, I quite like the movie with a few reservations. I think it runs on a bit too long, and I’m never quite satisfied with the vagueness surrounding the corporate view of the game and their desire to force Jonathan E. to retire. But I do like the creative vision of the future. Certain sequences stand out; I love the way the opening game gives us a clear understanding of the sport and how it is played. I also love a sequence where a drunken group of partyers use a gun to decimate trees. I also love Ralph Richardson’s scene-stealing performance as a somewhat dotty librarian, even though the scene seems strangely out of place in the movie. But I remember seeing bits and pieces of this one many years ago, and the final moment has always stood out strongly in my mind. I do wonder somewhat about the choice of music; though the use of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” is interesting, it feels really weird in this context.

The Airship Destroyer (1909)

THE AIRSHIP DESTROYER (1909)
Article 2816 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2009
Posting Date: 4-29-2009
Directed by Walter R. Booth
Cast Unknown
Country: UK

An inventor is denied the hand of his true love by her father. However, he comes to the rescue when the country is invaded by attackers who drop bombs from zeppelins.

The special effects in this early silent aren’t convincing, but they are ambitious and fun. I especially love a sequence in which a biplane takes on the zeppelin in a dogfight, which features some very odd camera tricks. The story itself is pretty standard, but that hardly matters; it’s the special effects that really make this one a treat. It’s another movie I found on YouTube, which is proving to be a great place to find some of these old silent shorts.