National Lampoon’s Class Reunion (1982)

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CLASS REUNION (1982)
Article 4025 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-6-2012
Directed by Michael Miller
Featuring Gerrit Graham, Michael Lerner, Misty Rowe
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher comedy

A high school class reunion is crashed by a former student, the victim of a cruel prank, who went insane and now seeks revenge.

The most famous movie with the “National Lampoon” moniker on it is, of course, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE, a movie that is considered a genuine comedy classic. I’m going to confess right now that, despite its reputation, that movie left me cold; I remember laughing twice at it. So if their acknowledged classic left me cold, how do you think I’ll feel about this one, which died at the box office and suffered from horrible reviews? For one thing, I’m not going on any campaign to change this movie’s reputation; outside of a single joke that raised a smile (and, much as I hate to admit, it’s probably the most disgusting joke in the movie), I found it obnoxious and desperate. The script (by John Hughes, who would go on to bigger and better things but had to start somewhere) is a major culprit, but not the biggest one; the sloppy execution and uninspired direction are what really sink this one. It’s almost as if the movie wants to get by on energy and good intentions without taking the trouble of actually trying to get individual moments to work. There’s lots of bizarre characters floating around (including a vampire and a former cripple who overcame her problem by making a pact with the devil), but the only ones I found genuinely amusing were the two stoners. It certainly doesn’t work as a parody of the slasher genre; it makes no good use of the various conventions and cliches of the form. All in all, this is just one big, loud, bad comedy.

M.M.M. 83 (1966)

M.M.M. 83 (1966)
aka Missione mortale Molo 83
Article 4024 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-5-2012
Directed by Sergio Bergonzelli
Featuring Fred Beir, Gerard Blain, Alberto Dalbes
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Spyghetti

When half of a secret formula for a super fuel is stolen and the noted scientist who invented it is murdered, a secret agent is assigned to a) protect the scientist’s assistant, and b) recover the formula.

Outside of the opening scene where the fuel is being used in a car race, the science fiction content in this one is pure Gizmo Maguffin; it’s never used again, and merely serves as the prize in a typical Eurospy outing. This one even lacks the gimmickry which can often enhance the fantastic content of a Bond-era spy story. As for the movie itself, I’d rate it about average; I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse. There’s lots of car chases, fist fights and gunplay, but nothing you haven’t seen before. This one’s a time-killer.

Alice in Wonderland (1903)

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1903)
Article 4023 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-4-2012
Directed by Cecil M. Hepworth and Percy Stow
Featuring May Clark, Cecil M. Hepworth, Blair
Country: UK
What it is: Lewis Carroll adaptation

Alice falls down the rabbit hole and has adventures.

Being only about eight minutes long, it can’t tell much of the story; however, the story, which is pretty episodic and meandering, isn’t really the main attraction of the book to begin with. However, since I find the primary appeal of the books is the verbal banter, the movie, being a silent, can’t really capture that either. That gives us the middle ground of the visuals, and it looks like the movie has some scenes that seem modeled directly off the Tenniel illustrations which are pretty charming. It also gives the filmmakers a chance to play with some special effects, especially during the “Eat me/Drink me” section of the story where Alice keeps changing size. This was clearly an ambitious undertaking; I just wish my copy wasn’t it such poor shape, but that’s about the best we can expect from some of these old silents; we’re lucky they still exist at all.

Ali Baba et les quarante voleurs (1902)

ALI BABA ET LES QUARANTE VOLEURS (1902)
aka Ali Baba
Article 4022 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-3-2012
Directed by Ferdinand Zecca (?)
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Arabian nights story

Ali Baba discovers a magic cave which contains the loot of a band of forty thieves.

Though in some ways this Arabian Nights epic uses the techniques of Georges Melies, it doesn’t quite throw out the special effects with the wild abandon of its model; except for the repeated effect of the cave opening and a beheading sequence, it saves most of its effects for a flashy final tableau. The hand tinting adds a lot of appeal to the short, but it seems to be one of those shorts where the makers assume you know the story already. Though I’ve encountered the story before, it’s not fresh in my memory, and outside of the cave sequence, I have trouble sorting out what’s going on in the rest of the scenes. The question mark after the director’s name has to do with the fact that there appears to be a little controversy as to who actually directed it; I’ve heard that Romeo Bosetti may have actually been the real director. All in all, this one is interesting enough to look at, but if you want to experience the story, you may want to look elsewhere.

L’agent a le bras long (1909)

L’AGENT A LE BRAS LONG (1909)
Article 4021 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-2-2012
Directed by Romeo Bosetti
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick short

A cop uses his super-powers to help citizens and catch criminals.

There’s no English title listed on the IMDB listing for this movie, but it wouldn’t take a genius to come up with THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW. That’s the cop’s super-power; he can stretch his right arm out to unbelievable lengths. This is one of the funnier shorts I’ve encountered from the era; my favorite sequence is when the cop stretches out his arm over a canal so someone can walk across on it, only to have a variety of other people show up and decide to take the same route, including a man with a wheelbarrow. The final sequence has him chasing a criminal to the roof of a house, but when the criminal ducks down a chimney, the cop has to reach his arm into several different chimneys and ends up disturbing perfectly innocent residents. Many of these sequences have stop-motion animation.

Adventures of William Tell (1898)

ADVENTURES OF WILLIAM TELL (1898)
aka Guillaume Tell et le clown
Article 4020 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-1-2012
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick short

A clown keeps trying to build a statue of William Tell only to have it come to life and assault him.

Woe be it to anyone who only reads the English title and expects this one minute short film to have anything to do with the story of William Tell. The French title (which translates as WILLIAM TELL AND THE CLOWN) is much more accurate. The short is fairly amusing, and there’s a lesson to be learned – Never send a clown to do the work of a sculptor. In fact, I would be hard pressed to think of a profession in which it would be appropriate to hire a clown, except, of course, if you’re looking to hire a clown in the first place.

Easy Street (1917)

EASY STREET (1917)
Short
Article 4019 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-31-2012
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Featuring Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell
Country: USA
What it is: Comic short

When the little tramp falls for a beautiful organist at a mission, he reforms and gets a job as a cop. However, his first beat takes him into an encounter with an enormous and nearly indestructible bully.

I’ve only had the opportunity to cover two other Charlie Chaplin movies for this series, and one (MONSIEUR VERDOUX) could hardly be called representative, while the other (HIS PREHISTORIC PAST) caught him at his weakest. This one is much more representative, and does capture him with his strengths intact. However, the fantastic content is a little ambiguous; the Don Willis guide talks about a mad scientist’s formula making Chaplin super strong, but I think the Walt Lee guide, which merely says that Chaplin is injected with a hypo that makes him hyperactive, is much closer to the truth. The impression I got from watching the movie is that the man with the hypo is not a mad scientist, but some sort of drug addict, which fits the setting and the action much better. Nevertheless, this element only plays into the story momentarily near the end; one could also make the argument that the movie qualifies by the fact that the nearly indestructible bully has superpowers, as he can resist repeated hits on the head with truncheons, and is powerful enough to break out of handcuffs. Still, that’s more in line with the idea of comic exaggeration. Much of the movie is slapstick antics, but you notice Chaplin’s talent much more in the quieter, less frantic scenes. All in all, this was a lot of fun.