American Gothic (1987)
Article 6039 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by John Hough
Featuring Rod Steiger, Yvonne De Carlo, Sarah Torgov
Country: United Kingdom / Canada
What it is: Encounters with strange families
Several young adults taking an airplane trip find themselves stranded on an island whose only inhabitants are a family of God-fearing homicidal maniacs.
The beginning of this movie emphasizes that one adult has undergone the traumatic loss of her baby who drowned in a bathtub, a situation in which she herself was partially to blame. Given at that time I thought this movie was going to be just another slasher film of sorts, I thought this detail would prove to be just another pointless attempt at character development in a subgenre that has little use for it, but as a complete viewing made clear, this isn’t your usual slasher fare; at the point where most movies of this ilk are just finishing up, this one has a twist that adds a whole new act to the proceedings, one in which the death of the baby plays a crucial role in how the final act unfolds.
As a result, I found myself liking this one a lot more than I thought I would. Granted, there are a few problems; for one thing, the movie is fairly slow at getting off the ground. I also find it a bit difficult to believe that a family this God-fearing would tolerate either jazz music or dancing (especially of a scandalous dance like the Charleston), much less having a gramophone and records in the first place. I also find it hard to believe that the father’s last act would be as extreme as it is here, even considering what he has just undergone, though I know why it happens in terms of story. Still, despite its flaws, this is one of the more compelling movies about a homicidal family that I’ve seen.
Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986)
Article 6038 from Dave Sindelar
Directed by Gary Nelson
Featuring Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone, James Earl Jones
Country: United States / Israel
What it is: trying to be an Indiana Jones movie
Allan Quatermain embarks on a hunt for lost city of gold in the hopes of finding his lost brother.
This sequel to KING SOLOMON’S MINES was filmed at the same time; both movies were hoping to cash in on the resurgence in popularity of old-time adventure films as a result of the popularity of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. However, when KING SOLOMON’S MINES failed to set the box office on fire, this one went directly to video in most places. The chintziness of the production is probably one of its biggest problems; some of the scenes involving miniatures are dreadful, and some of the costuming is horrendous, especially anything worn by Henry Silva. Still, I think the worst problem is that two of Quatermain’s companions are extremely irritating; the only reason the whiny girlfriend isn’t the most annoying thing in the picture is that the cowardly Arab is even worse. The fact that the big climax of the movie is devoid of any real thrills is another problem. Though fitfully entertaining, this movie is a dud.
So Does an Automobile (1939)
Article 6037 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Dave Fleischer and Roland Crandall
Featuring the voice of Mae Questel
What it is: More anthropomorphic cars than you could shake a stick at
We visit Betty Boop’s Auto Hospital to find out how sick automobiles are tended to.
Most of the work of Dave and Max Fleischer could arguably fall into the world of the fantastic because they take place in what is clearly an alternate cartoon universe where practically any inanimate object can come to life. This one is packed to the gills with anthropomorphic cars, and even if the cartoon is only fitfully funny, it certainly satisfies in terms of weirdness. Betty is out of her usual costume here; she’s in a jumpsuit, sings a song, and mostly pops in to encourage sick cars to get better. The earlier Betty Boops are better, but I quite like this one, but I have a weak spot for those silly cartoon cars of the thirties.
Big Bad Sindbad (1952)
Article 6036 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Seymour Kneitel, Willard Bowsky and Dave Fleischer
Featuring the voices of Jackson Beck, Jack Mercer and Mae Questel
What it is: Popeye the Recycler Man
While on a visit to a museum, Popeye tells his nephews about his encounter with Sindbad the sailor.
IMDB calls this the final cartoon directed by Dave Fleischer, but that hides a not-so-secret secret about this cartoon, which is to say that it mostly consists of footage from the 1936 opus, POPEYE THE SAILOR MEETS SINDBAD THE SAILOR, arguably the best Popeye short. And I suppose if you wanted to catch highlights of that one rather than watching the complete sixteen minute cartoon, you might opt for this one. Still, I really find it rather tedious finding yet another Famous Studios cartoon that cuts corners by recycling earlier and better cartoons. I’ve already covered the earlier cartoon; this version is a unneeded redux.
Private Eye Popeye (1954)
Article 6035 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Seymour Kneitel and Thomas Johnson
Featuring the voices of Jackson Beck, Jack Mercer and Mae Questel
What it is: Popeye cartoon
Popeye is hired by Olive Oyl to protect a huge emerald from theft.
The fantastic content is a bit light here; it has a couple of moments that fit into the “spooky old house” category, and the butler seems to be driving a kind of rocket sled at one point. As for the cartoon itself, it does vary the formula that the Popeye cartoons were settling into; instead of Popeye having to contend with a competing Bluto, he has to deal with a larcenous butler. In fact, the cartoon may actually be a parody of Droopy cartoons; no matter what the butler does, he always finds Popeye one step ahead of him like Droopy is with his antagonists. Still, the butler’s reactions to Popeye’s appearance are a far cry from those of the similar characters in Droopy cartoons, making this a far weaker cartoon. All in all, this is another mediocre Popeye cartoon.
Spooky Swabs (1957)
Article 6034 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Izzy Sparber and Thomas Johnson
Featuring the voices of Jackson Beck, Gilbert Mack, Jack Mercer
What it is: The last Popeye cartoon
Popeye and Olive Oyl are adrift on a raft when they find a ship, unaware that their find is actually haunted, and that its inhabitants don’t want to return to civilization.
The Popeye cartoons of the fifties were pale shadows of the ones made in the thirties, and this one is no exception. Still, they were the best thing Famous Studios were putting out at the time, and given that this was the last theatrical Popeye cartoon, one can’t help but feel a little sad at reaching the end of the line for one of animation’s beloved characters. The cartoon is mostly scenes of the ghosts terrorizing Popeye and Olive Oyl until Popeye eats his spinach and the ghosts get their comeuppance. Still, despite all the ghost action, by favorite bit is before the ghosts appear, and that is the running gag of how Popeye, Olive and their game of checkers react to the waves of the sea. The ghosts look a little bit like the grown-up ones you’d see in a Caspar cartoon. It’s certainly not a high point for Popeye, but it’s sad to see him go nonetheless.
Laser Mission (1989)
Article 6033 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by B. J. Davis
Featuring Brandon Lee, Debi A. Monahan, Ernest Borgnine
Country: West Germany, South Africa and USA
What it is: Action
A freelance spy is hired by the United States to find a kidnapped expert on laser technology. This leads to a lot of chase scenes and explosions.
This movie appears in a couple of collections that purport to be of science fiction movies, and the title certainly makes it sound like it belongs to the genre, but upon closer examination, there’s little more here than vague hints of Gizmo McGuffinry. I almost skipped reviewing this one altogether, but it’s been a while since my last one, and warning people of lack of genre content is an acceptable excuse. Brandon Lee was Bruce Lee’s son and like him, died at an early age. I’ve not seen any of his movies before, but if this is representative of his work, I haven’t missed much. I’m tempted to say that its sense of humor is the movie’s saving grace, but that’s wishful thinking. It’s an hour and a half of time-killer for the uncritical action fan.
Once Upon a Time (1937)
Article 6032 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by F. Lyle Goldman
Voice cast unknown
What it is: Public service driving safety cartoon
In the world of fairy tales, two demons (Carelessness and Discourtesy) escape from Pandora’s box and encourage residents to engage in reckless driving.
I was a bit surprised this cartoon was made during the thirties, as it has moments that feel like belongs to the psychedelic era of the sixties. Still, the style didn’t feel like the sixties either; in fact, it has rather a style of its own. This sense of style is what makes this cartoon rather fun; I quite enjoyed this despite its didactic quality. Worth checking out for those of us who like exploring the nooks and crannies of animation.
aka Mendelssohn’s Spring Song
Article 6031 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Herman Roessle
What it is: Odd but entrancing
Various insects cavort to the title tune.
The best moment comes early on when you find out that the object that appears to be a train turns out to be something else entirely. It’s a magical little moment, but it’s memorable enough that I decided at that moment that I really liked this cartoon. It’s a good thing it won me over early, though; it does have its problems, mostly in that they don’t know when to end certain sequences; the scene of the butterfly jumping from pole to pole gets old before it’s over. My copy is in black and white, but there are color versions, and the credits make a lot of noise about it, but it retains its charms even without the color. This one seems to hover somewhere in a world between your average theatrical cartoon and and some forms of abstract animations.