Nabeshima kaibyoden (1949)

aka Nabeshima kaibyou den
Article 5367 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-8-2017
Directed by Kunio Watanabe
Featuring Ureo Egawa, Nijiko Kiyokawa, Soji Kiyokawa
Country: Japan
What it is: Ghost cat movie

A haunted Go game board brings death to those that try to play a game on it.

This is perhaps the earliest ghost-cat movie I’ve seen yet. Most of the others are pretty similar, and I’ve gotten used to the standard scenes from these movies. This one, however, doesn’t seem to follow the same game plan; for example, there’s no scene where the ghost-cat causes its victim to perform tumbling routines via manipulative hand gestures. In fact, the only the thing the ghost-cat does here is appear, which causes her victim to go frantic. I would like to know how the ghost-cat dovetails with the story about the Go board, but my copy of the movie is in Japanese without English subtitles, and almost all of the plot points are verbal rather than visual, so I have to confess that I didn’t get much out of the movie; I certainly can’t make any meaningful evaluation of it. However, I do know that there are many more cats around in this one than I usually find in a movie of this ilk; there’s one popping up every few minutes. However, I think I did get one thing out of the movie; at the time it takes place, it was apparently acceptable behavior to shove a cat in someone’s face during an argument; that seems to happen a lot here. Sometimes when I watch these movies without English subtitles, I can still find a lot to appreciate; however, this is not one of those times.

Adamo ed Eva (1949)

aka Adam and Eve
Article 5366 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-7-2017
Directed by Mario Mattoli
Featuring Erminio Macario, Isa Barzizza, Gianni Agus
Country: Italy
What it is: Comedy

A romantically-entwined man and woman who work together at a salon have a discussion about the conflicts between the sexes after a man reads a book on the subject.

Given that there’s a fair amount of fantastic content in the Biblical “Adam and Eve” story, it’s no surprise that Walt Lee would include any movie so named in his Reference Guide to Fantastic Films. The trouble here is that, despite the title, this isn’t a version of that story, but rather, a musical comedy that mostly serves as a framing device for a series of comic vignettes from throughout history and legend. Still, we’re not short of fantastic content here; the movie does dabble in the original Adam and Eve story near the beginning of the movie, and there’s some definite fantastic content (including a magician) in the Arabian Nights section of the story. Furthermore, there’s the occasional anachronism (cigarettes during the Trojan war sequence, a flame-throwing machine gun during the wild west sequence) to add to the mix, and there’s an air of unreality about the whole exercise; at times, the couple seems to be watching the events unfold on a stage in front of them, and the saloon in which the wild west section takes place looks more like a setting you would find in a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical than anything else. As far as how funny the whole thing is, I can’t really say; I was only able to find a copy of the movie in Italian, and most of the humor is verbal (though the saloon fight has an ample amount of slapstick to it). The movie does come across as rather spirited, but its lukewarm rating on IMDB doesn’t bode well. Still, I have to reserve judgment at this point.

Variations on a Circle (1942)

Article 5365 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-6-2017
Directed by James Whitney
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Abstract animation

Rectangles, triangles and circles appear, disappear and interact.

In the Walt Lee guide, the title is listed as simply VARIATIONS, but since IMDB lists only one John Whitney movie from the given year, I’m assuming it’s the same one. That being said, I have to admit that I never feel more useless than when I’m covering these abstract animated shorts (and from my experience in the last year, I’m guessing I’m going to be covering lots of these). The trouble is I feel there’s just not much I can say about them. Granted, some of them give me a little more than pure abstraction to play with; however, this isn’t one of them. IMDB says it runs nine minutes. The print I saw ran only five minutes, and that was more than enough for me, especially as it didn’t have accompanying music. There’s some fun in trying to pretend the images are Rorschach drawings and trying to figure what you see (I saw lots of sticks of gum with eyes appearing on them). But that, too, wears old fairly quickly. In short, this one is not one of my favorites of the form.

A Study in Choreography for Camera (1946)

Article 5364 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-5-2017
Directed by Maya Deren
Featuring Talley Beatty
Country: USA
What it is: Avant-garde cinema

A dancer dances in several locations.

Let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first; the fluid editing of the short makes it seem as if the dancer is magically transporting himself to different locations, and my guess is that this illusion is clearly intended. It doesn’t really lend itself to any plot point, because there is no plot; it’s an avant-garde mood piece. However, it is a very good one; it’s quite stylish, and Talley Beatty’s dancing is phenomenal. Granted, this is the sort of thing that can get boring after a few minutes, but the length of this short is only two and a half minutes, and it holds the attention for that length.

The Stone Rider (1923)

aka Der steinerne Reiter
Article 5363 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-4-2017
Directed by Fritz Wendhausen
Featuring Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Lucie Mannheim, Gustav von Wangenheim
Country: Germany
What it is: Dark fable

A village in the valley is oppressed by a cruel tyrant who brings tragedy to their weddings. When one visit causes the death of the bride, the bride’s sister vows revenge on the tyrant. But when she gets her opportunity…

If there’s one common theme to the three full-length silent features I’ve watched these last three days, it is that of the doomed romance; each story features an ill-starred love affair. This one features a very memorable performance from Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the tyrant, and it’s the perfect role for him. It also features a great performance by Lucie Mannheim as the vengeful sister. Most of the movie only hints at being a fantasy, largely due to the fact that the sets and costumes have a definite expressionistic quality about them; it’s not as thick as those in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, but they are noticeable. It does, however, have an unambiguous fantastic twist at the climax of the story, so it’s definitely genre. The most memorable sequence for me was when the tyrant appears on a mountain and casts a huge shadow over the whole village during a wedding celebration. I thought this one was very good, though it does appear to be somewhat obscure.

The Moon of Israel (1924)

aka Die Sklavenkonigin
Article 5362 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-3-2017
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Featuring Maria Corda, Adelqui Migliar, Arlette Marchal
Country: Austria / UK
What it is: Biblical epic

During the time of Moses, the son of the Egyptian pharaoh falls in love with a Hebrew slave girl. Complications arise.

The most recent Michael Curtiz movie before this one that I’d seen is NOAH’S ARK from 1928, and from these two movies, I get the sense that he had a penchant during the twenties of adapting Biblical stories with appended elaborate subplots and climaxes that involved lots of extras getting wet. The title refers to the title of the Hebrew slave girl, and most of the movie is concerned with the meeting between her and the pharaoh’s son, and their subsequent romance. There’s a fair amount of spectacle here; outside of the parting of the Red Sea sequence (which is very well done), there’s a scene where the Hebrew slave girl calls on Jehovah to match the power of the Egyptian gods. There are also plenty of impressive crowd scenes. It’s a decent movie, though it’s perhaps very slow to get going; it’s nearly three-quarters over before Moses really swings into action. However, one circumstance added a rather comic touch to my viewing of the movie. My print has title cards in French, but a quick check of my subtitle options indicated that an English translation existed on the print. The latter helped a lot, but it became obvious early on whoever did the translation was not an accomplished linguist; many of the translations felt like they were done on a “word by word” basis by someone who had no idea of how English sentences are structured, and many of the subtitles were comically incoherent.

Mare Nostrum (1926)

Article 5361 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-2-2017
Directed by Rex Ingram
Featuring Apollon Uni, Alex Nova, Kada-Abd-el-Kader
Country: USA
What it is: War drama

During World War I, a married sea captain from Barcelona falls in love with a beautiful woman (who resembles a picture of the sea goddess Amphitrite) while on a visit to Naples. He discovers that she is a German spy and becomes enmeshed in espionage.

The title refers to an ancient phrase for the Mediterranean Sea (where much of the action takes place) as well as the name of the ship of the sea captain. If the story sounds like a doomed romance, that’s because it is. It is, however, a very good one, and it has a number of memorable sequences. My favorites usually involve a German U-Boat prowling through the water in search of ships to sink, but there’s also a memorable chase scene through the streets of Versailles; the movie was shot in European locations. The fantastic elements aren’t a major part of the story, but they are striking and effective. There are two scenes featuring the sea goddess Amphitrite in action; her appearances bookend the movie. There’s also the momentary appearance of a ghost of a certain character (probably a hallucination of guilt), and the appearance of Death whose grotesque hand wipes a ship’s name off of a list. Despite these touches, the movie is primarily a war romance drama.

V for Victory (1941)

Article 5360 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-1-2017
Directed by Norman McLaren
No cast
Country: Canada
What it is: Victory bonds commercial

Buy Victory Bonds!

This is another one of those shorts that ends up being a virtual fantasy by dint of the simple fact that it’s non-realistic. The action consists of a stick figure man marching to a rousing march; he keeps transfiguring himself into a giant V which causes the words “Victory Bonds” to appear; it’s obviously intended to help the war effort. So, basically I’m reviewing a public service commercial, but I’ve done that before. I couldn’t help but notice that the short basically uses the same animation approach to the work of Emile Cohl, albeit more focused and less given to “stream of consciousness”. It’s entertaining enough, but I’m glad it doesn’t run much longer than two minutes.

Ugly Duckling (1939)

Article 5359 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-31-2017
Directed by Jack Cutting and Clyde Geronimi
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Fairy tale adaptation

A duck couple is shocked when one of their hatchlings doesn’t look or sound like the others, and soon the little guy is abandoned and left to find his way through the world.

This is Disney plying the whimsy trade here, and though I prefer my cartoons more comical, this has a few moments. My favorites include the reaction of the father and mother ducks to the discovery of the different-looking offspring (let’s just say that domestic bliss is not attained), and the scene where the hatchling thinks he’s found companionship with a decoy duck. There are no talking animals in the usual sense here, which is not to say they don’t communicate; the ducks do have something of a “quack” language that sounds like Donald Duck without recognizable words. That does, however, leave us in a strange position as far as the fantastic content goes; though we can’t quite call them anthropomorphic, the animals are given certain recognizable human emotions, but admittedly, that’s very light as far as fantastic content goes. It’s been a while since I’ve read the original story, but I don’t think this short follows it; the ending is certainly different from how I remember it.

Une indigestion (1902)

aka Up-to-Date Surgery
Article 5358 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-30-2017
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Grotesque trick short

A man with a stomach ache goes to the doctor and gets “treated”.

This is one of the few extant Melies shorts that didn’t make it to the DVD sets. It’s also one of his most grotesque shorts; the treatment requires the removal of the arms, legs and head of the patient with a saw at one point. The patient is then cut open and all manner of paraphernalia is removed from his innards, though the doctor does remove the heart at one point as well. Granted, it’s all done in the typical Melies style, so it’s more for laughs than horror. I’m glad to say that surgery is much less invasive nowadays. And, to his credit, after the operation, the surgeon does reattach the limbs (albeit not without some difficulty).