Le chat botte (1903)

aka Puss in Boots
Article 4842 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-5-2015
Directed by Lucien Nonguet and Ferdinand Zecca
Featuring Brettau and Edmund Boutiloon
Country: France
What it is: Fairy tale

A young man is disappointed that the only thing he inherits from his father is a cat, but once he puts boots on the cat, the cat proceeds to make his fortune.

I managed to find a copy of this one on YouTube in which an orchestra plays music to the action. On the downside, the actual movie is small enough that some of the action is hard to make out. On the plus side, the addition of a live orchestra adds a lot of flavor to the proceedings; the inevitable moments when the story stands still for dance sequences work much better when proper music is added to them. The plot was difficult to follow, but that may be simply because this particular fairy tale has a tendency to not stick with me; I’ve seen a few different versions, but I always forget the storyline. Fortunately, an elaborate plot summary of the action on IMDB helps me out. It was definitely interesting watching the film in a way that it might have been shown in its original era; that’s probably the thing that stands out most here.

Buncoed Stage Johnnie (1908)

aka Pour l’etoile S.V.P.
Article 4841 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-4-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comedy

A star-struck old man gives a stage hand a bouquet to give to an actress, but the stage hand gives it to a fat cleaning lady instead. Comedy ensues.

This movie only exists in fragmentary form, but since it’s the final part of the short, I decided to go ahead and cover it. Fortunately, there’s some opening text to explain the action from the missing footage. This is not to say that it still isn’t a bit confusing; the fragment opens right in the middle of a confusing comic bit that had me scratching my head. After that, the short proceeds to the punch line of the short, but it’s pretty obvious and not really all that funny. More to the point, perhaps, is the issue of fantastic content. It’s listed in the Walt Lee guide, but without an explanation. I suspect that it got in because the story involved a “trick”, but the “trick” in question here (the stage hand’s joke on the old man) isn’t of the fantastic variety. Unless there’s something hidden in the missing footage (which seems unlikely), I’m just going to have to classify this one as a false alarm.

The Tortoise and the Hare (1935)

Article 4840 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-3-2015
Directed by Wilfred Jackson
Featuring the voices of Eddie Holden and Ned Norton
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony

Max Hare and Toby Tortoise have a footrace. Max has the obvious advantage, but will his cockiness be his undoing?

Here’s another of Disney’s Silly Symphonies, and, like THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, it’s based on a fairy tale with a moral. Actually, I find this one somewhat more amusing than that one; there’s more funny moments and gags here. Granted, part of the reason for that is that the story of the Tortoise and the Hare is extremely short (you could tell the whole story in three sentences), and it was necessary to add quite a bit to fill out a nine-minute cartoon. The cartoon even enhances the moral lesson a bit by making the hare cocky and rude. It’s somewhat fitting that his downfall is not due to taking a nap (which isn’t a visually interesting event in a cartoon), but in getting caught up in trying to impress a gaggle of girl bunnies with his antics. The animation is top-notch as usual, and I can’t really fault the cartoon. However, unlike my favorites from Warner Brothers or the Fleischers, it doesn’t really call me back for a second viewing. Maybe that’s the reason that when it comes to the shorts, I tend to prefer some of the other studios.

Planet Mouseola (1960)

Article 4839 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-2-2015
Directed by Seymour Kneitel
Featuring the voices of Jack Mercer and Mae Questal
Country: USA
What it is: Late period Famous studios cartoon

A mouse decides to get rid of the cat that is tormenting him by pretending to be from outer space and tricking the cat into training for a voyage into space to a planet full of mice.

After the Fleischers departed, Famous Studios took over the animation for Popeye and other Paramount studio animated characters. This one is from near the end, and the animation style is so jerky and stiff that it makes the Hanna-Barbera TV animation of the period look good. Reportedly, this is one of the better of the studio’s late-period work, and if so, it’s going to be a chore to see some of their lesser works. The gags are dumb and poorly timed, and the cartoon just sits there and goes through the motions. The sad thing for me is to see the voices of Popeye and Olive Oyl in the credits; it’s a long way from their glory years.

Tit for Tat (1904)

TIT FOR TAT (1904)
aka Une bonne farce avec ma tete
Article 4838 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-1-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Farcical magic trick short

A magician makes a duplicate of his head and then torments it by blowing smoke in its face. But his duplicate head is not going to take this lying down…

Here’s another of Melies’s magic trick shorts, though this one is a little different. He keeps it quite short, and it’s mainly focused on a trick with a story line that more or less illustrates the English title of the short. The moral here is obvious; if you play tricks on your own head, you fully deserve to reap what you sow. It’s minor Melies, but it’s enjoyable on its own terms.

The Tired Tailor’s Dream (1907)

Article 4837 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-31-2015
Directed by Joseph A. Golden
Cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Stop-motion short

A tired tailor takes a nap and dreams that a ruffian threatens his life if he doesn’t make him a suit in record time. Magically, the tailor’s tools build the suit of their own accord.

I guessed from the title that this was going to be about clothes being made without the tailor’s direct involvement, and sure enough, that’s what we have here. There’s extensive stop-motion animation at work here, and it’s quite well done. It is, however, a little on the dull side; even in stop motion, watching an entire suit being cut out, sewn, and ironed doesn’t make for gripping cinema. A little variety is added when the ruffian returns and is fitted by the same stop-motion method by which the suit was made. This is one of those shorts where you’re more likely to admire the craft that went into making it than to enjoy the results.

Pepito y el monstruo (1957)

aka Pepito and the Monster
Article 4836 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-29-2015
Directed by Joselito Rodriguez
Featuring Pepe Romay, Titina Romay, Prudencia Grifell
Country: Mexico
What it is: Child detective at work

A young boy witnesses the disposal of a body by a magician and his brutish assistant, but is not believed by the police. He seeks to find evidence on his own.

I found a copy of this on YouTube without English subtitles, but I think the general thrust of the plot is easy enough to follow, even if certain plot details seem a little obscure. Pepe Romay seems to have been a popular child actor who appeared in several movies in the character of Pepito. Though the child is no doubt lovable and cute, I was a bit surprised that the movie doesn’t play as a comedy, as far as I could tell without understanding the dialogue. There are the usual musical interludes; I’m finding that it’s actually pretty unusual to find a Mexican movie from this era that doesn’t have a musical interlude or two. The monster is the brutish assistant, who even appears in a gorilla suit at one point. Though the absence of English makes any judgment I make somewhat flawed, the movie seems rather mediocre.

Ego zvali Robert (1967)

aka My Name is Robert
Article 4835 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-28-2015
Directed by Ilya Olshvanger
Featuring Oleg Strezhenov, Marianna Vertinskaya, Aleksey Dranitsyn
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Science fiction comedy

A scientist creates a robot in his own image in the hopes of sending him to Vega. Since he wants the robot to be an accurate reflection of a human being, he sends the robot out into society to become more like them. Complications ensue.

I’m rather reluctant to pass judgment on this one. To my mind, it has a strange, low-key vibe to it that seems just a bit off. However, this strange vibe may well be the result of the English subtitles not really being able to effectively translate jokes and humor from another culture; frequently, I found myself wondering if I wasn’t getting the jokes because they were untranslatable. Still, there are moments that come through in this exploration of the difference between robots and human beings; for example, I really liked the explanation given for the robot’s fascination with children’s toys. Certain moments stand out in the movie; there’s a memorable scene where the robot attends a theatrical production, as well as one where another man is mistaken for the robot. Some of the humor is of the obvious “robot taking things literally” type, but mostly it’s trying for something more subtle. Though I’m not sure I can say I entirely appreciate the movie, it does have enough points of interest to merit a viewing.

The Three Little Pigs (1933)

Article 4834 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-27-2015
Directed by Burt Gillett
Featuring the voices of Billy Bletcher, Pinto Colvig, Dorothy Compton
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony fairy tale

Two lazy pigs who build ramshackle houses must retreat to their smart brother’s brick house when a wolf blows down their own homes.

This may well be the most famous of Disney’s Silly Symphonies, and I think the main reason for this is the inclusion of one of Disney’s most indelible songs, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”. It was one of the first cartoons to be written on storyboards at the studio, and it became a phenomenal success. It must have really struck a chord in its time. Watching it now, it’s a bit difficult to see what all the fuss was about. Make no mistake; it’s a solid, entertaining little cartoon with a very catchy song, but it also looks rather ordinary. That may well be because the innovations introduced here were quickly adopted and imitated by others. It’s more whimsical than funny; probably the biggest laughs I got from the cartoon were noticing the pictures hanging up in the various pigs’ houses; I especially enjoy the one of “father” in the house of bricks.

Number 5: Circular Tensions: Homage to Oskar Fischinger (1949)

Article 4833 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-26-2015
Directed by Harry Smith
No cast
Country: USA
What it is: Abstract animation

No plot.

If you’ve been following this series lately, you probably recognize the name of Oskar Fischinger and know the type of movie with which he’s associated. So it should be no surprise that a homage to him would be more of the same; what we have here is abstract images set to music. The latter in this case sounds like African tribal music, what with its pulsing drumbeat and general sound. The animation is mostly circles and squares in various configurations. It runs about five minutes long. As far as I could tell, there was nothing about this one to really set it apart from the others of its ilk.